Friday, July 25, 2008

Affidavits, notaries, and keeping your cool....क्या कूल है हम

For some time now, my time has been dedicated to perusing various forms and documents , and getting guidance from various offices and entities on legal and not-so-legal procedures. A lot of my researching time is spent in the environs of courts. Lest you think that I am currently defending myself against a plethora of accusations, I hasten to clarify, that good-old-middle-class me, is involved in doing very simple things like getting things notarized and preparing affidavits, subsequent to a family death.

Cut to the very narrow lane leading to the Andheri court premises. As I turn into this lane, a bunch of guys in black coats, and sheaves of important looking papers kind of sidle up to you in a Pssst kind of way. The low tone chants of "Affidavit, affidavit", " notarize,notarize" draw my attention. I silently salute the bhajiwallas for their patenting of this approach, and half expect someone to say, " Today only !", "Notarize 2, one free" , or "Do one affidavit and get one notarization free" etc.

Back to the present....

I state my requirement : notarizing a bunch of copies of a death certificate. One of the chaps, (his judicial brethren watching the fun from the background), eyebrows raised, desperately trying to look important asks to see the original. I show it. An imperceptible shake of the head . Eyebrows shoot up further. A look trying to ascertain my stupidity. "This death has happened in Pune . " , he said. Trying to look my stupidest, I ask , "So" ?

"That will cost you more to notarize. 125 Rs a copy".

Its time for me to look up and raise my eyebrows (which are much better than his anyway). "Pune is in India, a citizen is free to live and die anywhere, I think you are misguiding and overcharging, and if you have a problem with that, let me have your registration number ", I said. I ask for my papers back, ready to look for a more ethical lawyer.

There is an amazing change . He is troubled by my non-stupidity. A bunch of his aforementioned brethren, vanish, and head down, my documents in hand, he asks me to follow. In my best running-behind-the-coolie-on-the-railway-platform-lest-my-lugguage-disappear style, I sprint after him, to land up at some broken concrete structure, next to a tree, all this in the paan-stained environment of the court. There is another man leaning filmy style, sunglasses and all, against the tree, pen in hand. He is the, notary ! In an amazing display of co-operative work, one guy stamps , one guy sticks, another guy makes some entries, and the stuff is given to the notary who signs it , changing his angle against the tree, as he endeavours to look important,wise and superior , simultaneously.

The notary has not even asked me to show the original, even once.

Out of sheer compulsion, I have become a great fan of "affidavits". Particularly when done in Pune. I was directed to this place by a well meaning gentleman, who saw me repeatedly looking unsuccessfully for stamp vendors in the official set up in Pune, after being told that they exist under various trees and behind courtyards within the official premises.

Far from the madding city crowd, on the other bank of the river, stands a ruin of an old hotel. Broken staircases creaking up three floors, flapping cracked and loosened window frames, assorted clothes drying in unexpected places , maybe they use it as a film set at night. Then there is a huge courtyard, where of all things, a large number of huge Volvo buses are being cleaned and washed. If you follow the various resulting streams and trickles of water that converge on to, what may be called a reasonably level piece of land , you reach a stamp vendor, a lady. A fine professional, she follows all the required procedures, gets you to sign at various places and in various registers, shouts at people who try to bypass the queue, and you get your stamp paper. The uneven rocky terrain is studded with multicoloured beach umbrellas, under which are guys in black coats and collars, sitting/standing next to typewriters, which would have delighted the late Mr Remington . (I assume Mr Rand is a different person, and I suppose he would be delighted too).

You show them or dictate the affidavit text, sitting next to them on a stool which always has uneven legs, and you inadvertently do Kegel's exercises, and exercises that tone your abs and quadriceps, as you try and balance yourself, sitting on a stool that is actually meant for a child. They ask you some very pointed questions as they do the needful. Ten minutes, a few angry glares at the muttering neighboring advocate, a few requests to the next customer to wait, a confident swish of the lever, and my affidavit is done.

Notarizing the affidavit is so much better here than in Andheri. You sit in front of an elderly gent, who sits with a pen in hand, while assorted minions affix various stamps, seals, , make entries, and do everything short of holding the gentleman's hand while he signs. In the meanwhile, the old gentleman makes small talk with you about big things. What the world is coming to, how bad the politicians are, how everything is expensive, how the oil companies that give us the cooking gas cylinders are being unnecessarily difficult about transferring names , even though connections are now much easier to get, etc etc. Just when he is cursing someone orally, his hand sort of flies across your affidavit, and lo behold, it's his notary signature !

Once again, no one really cares to check the numbers in my gas consumer book against those in the affidavit, before notarizing . A crisp fee of a hundred rupees is smilingly charged, and happily accepted.

I find my way out through a rocky terrain, clutching the sheets, and checking the original documents which no one wanted to look at.

A sudden rocky obstruction, a slight twist of an ankle followed by an involuntary loosening of my chappal straps. My next project has just presented itself. Search for a cobbler . I try and walk regardless, then drag my foot a bit, in an effort to cover some ground. No good. I bend down to remove the offending chappal and try fixing it with a safety pin. No success. Taking a deep breath, cursing the judiciary that has these creative locations for doing this terribly non creative work, I look up and notice a very ornamental sign, above a ramshackle shed. "Notary Canteen . Cutting chai : Rs 3"

That seems to be the first sensible thing I have seen all day.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What NOT to see .......डोळे मिटून बसा......

A noticeably non-trivial correlation between television as a medium, and distraction and effect of it on school children has tended to cause bad blood between parents and cable operators. In many households, cable TV subscriptions are simply cancelled during January to March, so that school children can pay more attention to conjugation of verbs, factorization, theorems, latin names of plants and shakespeare , rather than get distracted by motorcycle chases, murders, secret rendezvous, revengeful k-serail mother-in-laws, and advertisements for cellphones.

That leaves them with Doordarshan. If at all it is watched. It used to be that one watched the news every evening . And given whats being shown these days, I really hope no child watches it.

Welcome to the Parliament of India.

Parliament today, can be held up as an example of how a class should NOT function.

No one listening to the teacher, drowning his voice out; when one member is reciting something, others talk loudly and incessantly, drowning out the performance. When the teacher says something unpalatable, you rush to the front of the class and scream at the teacher.

Grown men sitting at desks, laughing at another's misfortune or discomfiture; suddenly elevating themselves full length, to snarl and shake fingers menacingly at someone , all the while trying to make a point; another one droning on and on and on making points across literature, sociology,politics,sanskrit, infrastructure, and even songs from hindi films whose lyrics fit the occasion like a motichoor laddoo fits in the palm of my hand

Meanwhile. the teacher type sitting at a podium, with what looks like a guard by his side, pleads with everyone to sit down. Repeatedly. he is soundly ignored and some peope rush down to the well of the hall, raising their hands and slogans, to make some points which could have been heard even from their seats. Some others start wandering around in between the aisles, some approach the officers , to try and interfere in their work. Meanwhile some three other guys, hitherto unknown for anything else, suddenly open a bag and start throwing around bundles and wads of money, as behind them, an entire group of people rise is support, raucously shoutng and making , what they think , is , their point.

We actually mugged up all kinds of things about Parliament, its functions, and its occupants in our schooldays; we were passed or failed based on our knowledege about it. Civics was an eminently boring subject. And now it appears, that a lot of what we learned, was simply not the case.

Had this happened in my school, the troublemakers would have been caned and made to kneel outside the class, for crimes, much,much less than this. Their parents would have been called. Some kids would have been marked as troublemakers, monitored, and an honest effort made to help them change. Shouting at the teacher was a no-no. You simply didnt rush to his/her desk and stand staring at her/him with a false bravado, mouthing disrespectful words. If your teacher didnt punish you , your parents would. School was sacrosanct.

And today , we read , day in and day out, about people being "bought" for crores of rupees. These are people we voted for , in what is considered the greatest example of a functioning democracy in the world. Issues be damned. Its all about payment. You pay , and they will vote against the Women's Reservation bill, and the women of India can go to hell. (If some of them actually have not already gone much further, if such a thing is possible). You pay and they will vote against a bill that ensures free education for some children upto graduation, and everything else be damned; their children are educated, arent they ? Want them to shout against a particular religion, pay them.

The young of India are learning , and how. Children kidnapping their friends trying to demand fake ransoms to make easy money ; stealing their family jewellery to finance the secret jailed paramour's bail; a youth creating a false correspondence with NASA and almost convincing a state government(Maharsahtra) to fund so called "further studies abroad" ; and of course, stealing credit cards, and splurging on malls , bars and similar stuff before the slow, long , corrupt, long hand of the law, catches up.

We need to fire these MP's and call an election.

Not because so many are itching to go nuclear and so many others cannot bear the thought, and rules demand that there be a count etc.

But because the recent scenes in Parliament, the crowning glory being the going-ons during the trust vote on July 22nd, make every simple minded, middle class , tax-paying, hard working, God-fearing,law-abiding, worried-about-children's-future-and-studies Indian, hold his head down on shame. Our representatives are a bad example .

And just out of typical middle-class curiosity, I have always wondered what happens to those currency notes that sort of flutter around and come to a stop in little known niches and gaps amongst the hallowed benches, when an exercise in undertaken to throw around bundles of currency notes in Parliament. Does someone (who sold his vote to the highest bidder, maybe, five minutes before the trust vote), suddenly get righteous, pick up a 1000 rupee note and take it to the speaker and say "here, see what I found, take it back etc" ? Does someone actually go around sweepping the stuff ? Do they keep track of how much was flung around ?

Is there checking of peoples' bags while entering Parliament? People who sell themselves for money may simply graduate to more. We have hardened criminals serving life terms coming in to vote in these situations.

Will there be a future where MP's will be subject to the same rules as a normal citizen ? Will a security officer of the august body, not allow his eyes to turn after seeing huge stash of currency notes being taken in to the main hall , and stop it forthwith? Is there something like 'contempt of Parliament' (akin to Contempt of Court ), where misbehaving rogue members can be straightened out and taught a lesson , without appointing a committee?

In the meanwhile, while TV channels continue to show the latest in the Saga of the Crores in Parliament, my neighbor, Mrs Sharma, has just packed off her TV in its original box, and had someone put it high up in the loft. Her son has just started 10th grade, and she fears elections late in the year.

Good luck, young man....

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Golden Jubilee of an Innovatively Educated Illiterate Lady एका अनपढ़ हुशार बाईची कहाणी....

Intellectual brilliance, excellence in teaching, rigour and innovation in world class research.

When an entity celebrates this after 50 years of its existence, applause rises in a crescendo, the air is rife with congratulations, awards are declared, publicized, and celebrations echo across alumni-space, if the entity happens to be an institution. A familiar picture is that of parents, once students at the same place, exchanging notes about how their own children sailed through the same learning institute ,after them, and now straddle institutes of even higher education, not to mention higher pay, across continents.

Click to a story about someone, who grew up on the periphery of such an institution.

Her father was an employee, who all his life, proudly walked behind the mason, putting together crumbling parts of edifices, as part of his job. His male children attended school. The only female child, was married off in a mofussil area of Maharashtra, and had 4 children, and a very unhappy life, replete with violence . The old man, saw opportunities open up for the offspring of colleagues, thanks to easily available primary and secondary education on campus.

He had one of the most open minds that I know of. Against prevailing norms, with implicit belief in the strength of his daughters mind, he brought her home, with her four children, beseeched no one for help, and gave his daughter the finest gift she would ever know. A strong mind, an implicit belief that honest trying gets you everywhere, and a realization that ALL her children , including her daughter, must go to school, and learn from life s well as books.

They learnt very well from life.

Her daughter, completed her 7th grade, then found it difficult. Did a sewing class, and now freelances, sewing stuff , while doing a daytime factory job.

Her younger son, was of a age where he saw PC's around him, and his innate curiosity, and never-say-die efforts to grab every opportunity that allowed him to fiddle around with keyboards, wiggled his way into a group that did data entry for industries in the area. Intel may never know what it Inside this child's restless brain. Today he works on a PC , doing data entry from home, thanks to falling hardware prices, and a family of 9, that shares the single room tenement with him, and pretends not to hear the clackety clack of the keyboard in the dead of the night , as he plods on, dreams of success coloring his horizon.

Her two older sons, passed their school leaving exams. One of them assists in a Xerox copy centre, the other is a Man Friday/Messenger for a research company based on campus.

The most educated member in the family is the elder daughter-in-law. In a way, she has the most enlightened , and in a way, the most non-formally educated lady for a mother-in-law.

This daughter-in-law, has done her higher secondary schooling. Soon after marriage, she had an opportunity to do a library assistant's course. Her mother-in-law couldn't wait for her to start the course. She asked me about it, deputed an elder from the extended family to accompany the girl for completing formalities, and proudly reported to me a few days ago, about the successful completion of that by her daughter-in-law.

Mind you, life went on , all this while, and two small children were now on the scene.

But no reasonable requests for enhancing learning were denied, and theories of chaps getting a complex because their wife was more educated than them were relegated to where they belonged; in the text books, and to a world where everyone had so much, they paid more attention to heir egos than their vision.

This mason's illiterate, uneducated daughter, who helps me with the housework, recently came telling me about the Maharashtra State Certificate in Information Technology course that her daughter-in-law wanted to do, now that the older child was starting nursery school. I don't know about the young girl, but her mother-in-law was more excited than anyone I have seen whose child got a rank, say, in the JEE.......

"I told her to go by all means..." she told me; " I am at home in the evenings, and I will look after her kids. My other sons too will help and take turns".

They say God helps those who help themselves. Some of these Gods also decided to help me. I came to know of a a Trust that financed such course fees for women in need.

The young girl's application for aid was accepted, and to day she goes 3 evenings a week, with her mother-in-law's active support, to immerse herself in softwares, clicks, and other contraptions, that make magic on a screen , as well, as in her life, looking into the future.

Perhaps, nothing brought this home more than a conversation I had with her mother-in-law, my household help, as we walked together, a couple of days ago, she to her next household job and me, to the post office.

" She is having exams soon. Her roll number indicates that her examination center is a bit far away; but its OK. Her husband will go leave her and my younger son will go escort her back; she is new to that area, you know. "

She paused.

" They have a week off. And my "soonbai****" told me, that they are going to learn something called 'tailey'. Everyone talks about it in her class. Do you know what it is ? Is it difficult ? ..........."

Well, she certainly immortalized the accounting software "Tally", as far as I was concerned.

Here was this formally uneducated, unskilled lady, with a heart greater than any I have seen around me. Won't recognize a thing on the keyboard, or the screen; cannot read or write (except her name); but has been the finest example a child can ever have within a family. And she suspects , that "Tailey" as she calls it is something useful to learn.......

She has a knack for knowing what is good to learn and encourages it. If she doesn't know, she finds out who does. She has given her children a great attitude. Nothing intimidates her. Software, hardware, humanware. She believes there is always a solution . And she believes in keeping her eyes and ears wide open.

Its our turn to standby, mouths wide open, in amazed wonder.

In the golden jubilee celebration year of the institute where I reside on campus, my totally illiterate , but amazingly educated and aware household help, will be 50 this year. She spent her childhood and a large part of her married adulthood and motherhood here, while her father was alive.

What a wonderful example of what an educational environment can do in an ordinary struggling life.

What a great golden jubilee in her life.

( And to hell with all those degrees.........).

***** marathi for daughter-in-law

Friday, July 04, 2008

Going nowhere, very fast ? इतकी धावपळ ?

My parents got our first telephone (early sixties), when I was in class 8. The typical Tring-tring of the black rotary phone threw my friends and me into technologically superior raptures. Mahmud of Ghazni, East India Company, Crops in Africa, Shakespeare's Tempest, Scientific reasons, short notes, long notes, theorems etc were discussed endlessly over it, till an unseen hand (I actually know whose hand it was), came and pressed some buttons to disconnect us, following that up with a disapproving stare, some angry words, and a hint that someone else would soon be home.

The middle eighties heralded the advent of TV in our house. Black and white. 1 channel. And "surfing" was something you saw in Hollywood movies.. We got our first color TV in the early nineties. Cable television in late nineties. Cell phones entered our life about 3 years ago. With the advent of IT, desktops and laptops started being a "required" item for anyone being "educated".

It has occurred to me that this excessive technicalization, and ability to communicate with machines, has actually been a setback, and instead of evolving our brains to a version 2.1, we have probably regressed back to something like version 0.5.

Why else have we regressed from parents who knew "mathematical tables" of 0.5. 1.5. , 0.75. all the way up to 30, to my generation that considers it an achievement to know the tables up to 16, and the new IT generation that doesn't know tables, but starts tapping away on their keyboards or cellphones , at the slightest hint of an imminent two digit multiplication or division ?

Why else have we given up on writing letters as a means of communication, while some of us still preserve , even in tatters , old letters written by those longer there, because reading them makes us feel that they are around us ; and today's communicators excel in speaking in abbreviations and emoticons, (despite the fact that electrons are free ), all the while missing out on an actual wink from someone, a secret smile, a ringing laugh, and a quiet hand on someones shoulder, saying "don't worry".... all this being available for the asking, if we only took the trouble.

Bus travel is no longer fun. Smiling at your neighbor in the next seat is a suspicious activity. As soon as you get in the bus, out comes the cell phone, and everyone starts tapping the keypad, either to play asinine games , or to read messages about earning fortunes by answering pachvi-pass questions. Some like to make calls continuously indicating their whereabouts along the bus route, even if they are 20 miles away, giving updates every now and then in so detailed a manner that it would teach the various pilot cars of political dignitaries , a lesson or two.

Sometimes you learn a lesson or two you don't need to learn. Such as , two college girls , standing beside our seat in a crowded bus , talking to folks back home saying they were busy in extra practicals , at their college, actually fifteen miles back westwards. Or a gentleman who mistook his cellphone for a loudspeaker, and publicly spoke across the bus about how he was fibbing to someone about some price.

So, while a mother calling out to a teenage son in the house may get no immediate response, verbally or non verbally, thanks to the earpiece of the cellphone sticking into his ear, various typed out responses continue to emanate forth from his cellphone, relating to random questions regarding hollywood,bollywood, cricket, one lakh in prizes , who is your ideal soul mate, what your name means etc etc.

Notice the unwillingness of today's teenager to attend a social function in the same space-time as his parents. Notice how most teenagers who emerge out of their rooms to meet family guests, have really nothing much to say, completely enamoured as they are of all the language killing communication vocabulary prevalent on wireless contraptions today. Bus stops are not for awaiting buses, or noticing new interesting people waiting for the same bus as you. Bus stops are for staring into your cell phones, tapping away to chase some snake on the screen into some imaginary hole, or a ball away from some imaginary bat. Bus stops are also for sending messages to your friend standing 10 feet away from you , in what is sometimes called, the bus-queue. (What stops them from shouting a full blooded hello is beyond me).

It amazes me no end to recall, that we never had any of these contraptions in our childhood, but were never at a loss for anything to entertain us. Hide and seek , chor-police, land-and-sea, there were so many games just waiting to be played. Sports classes to be attended, music to be learnt, birthdays to be celebrated. We even attended social functions with the family, and made unembarrassed decent conversation with folks we met, related or otherwise.

So, it is very strange that in an effort to go higher, faster, quicker ( and I am not referring to the Olympics), we keep acquiring so called smarter hardware, which is, all the while, making us dumber and dumber. Unless I have a TV that shows Wimbledon, the World cup and the Asia cup finals in the same screen, I am not getting anywhere in life. And it is now easier to shout and shake your head,hands etc at Dhoni, Sehwag, Venus,Serena, not to forget Nadal and Federer, than it is to have a decent conversation with your neighbour. And I deliberately don't mention the football types.

Stupid , technologically disabled me. I still use the old telephone. It still rings with the old tring. I don't need Enrico Iglesias and Himesh Reshammiya singing to tell me I have reached someone on the phone. As if the excessive attention to cricket is not enough, some people even have a sample cricket commentary , (complete with stadium erupting in joy etc). playing when you call them.

And I have never understood the need to combine the camera with the phone . You never see a reputed photographer, with a camera that rings and you never see him talking into his camera . So why this combination ? If you are soaking wet in the rain and trying to squeeze your clothes to get the water out, someone can click you from a moving bus on a camera phone and you might just see yourself in the pages of a local tabloid the next day, under an article saying "Soaking wet woman trying to squeeze out water next to Mumbai's second largest pothole".

Are we accelerating too fast in our surge towards becoming what is defined as a "developed nation"? Everyone in a big hurry to get nowhere
. A Google search taking seconds makes you restless, because on some other machine it takes milliseconds. Downloading speeds of several thousand bytes per second are stone age speeds, and BSNL, our desi service provider has commercials on TV with geeky types dancing to celebrate 2 Mbps "super" speeds on offer.

Personal computers become obsolete much before your stored yearly supply of rice gets over, and someone like me who sticks to an ancient P3 while blogging is considered a misinformed dud. But.
The heart still beats at the same speed, trees and flowers still follow the seasons, a full term pregnancy is still 280 days, and you still stir the milk at a slow speed on your way to making a kheer. Our minds have a fixed bandwidth. With so much information trying to force itself in at such fast speeds, essentially attention spans have reduced. Television has abused eyes into becoming a sort of viewing brain. You see and react. Thinking be damned. Takes too much time.

Nevertheless, succumbing to the "caller tune" lobby, as it were, I once downloaded an old Marathi devotional ****song (click to play), that implores the Lord to accept the singer as a someone looking for a key to the "treasury of devotion" and asks Him to open the door to the treasure chest . A wonderful old Marathi classic, and my daughter , completely freaked out on calling me. Why blame her, so do many other people. "Such a slow song !" and "How many times must we listen to someone going on and on, imploring God to open the doors ?"

But the crowning episode was when once, on my way home, i spotted the son of some acquaintances, walking with his head down ahead of me. On the campus where I stay, the people density is low. Suddenly he shook his head and laughed. Touched his ear. On going closer, he appeared to be having an animated conversation with himself. I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but this kind of behaviour , was hitherto considered by me to be prerogative of geniuses immersed in their own world. Since this discovery, I have seen various individuals ,regardless of age,sex or economic strata, behaving similarly.

I just wonder, if this rush to basically go nowhere fast, is to hide away from the real problems that face us. Overpopulation, lack of meaningful education methods, lack of primary education emphasis , dwindling infrastructure, pollution..... the list is endless.

Maybe we seriously need to slow down, a bit, and start thinking about Brain version 2.1 ?

****देहाची तिजोरी , भक्तीचाच ठेवा , उघड दार देवा आता, उघड दार देवा ......
(Click to listen to the song )