Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Voting, throwing of shoes, and so on.......

In the spirit of the National Elections being held in India, the nominations for which are already over, I thought I'd do a safe vote appeal for my Mothers Day Contest Blog , and hopefully escape the shoe and chappal throwing which seems to be in fashion today........

(I also do a Limerick Blog with some blogger friends, so here is a Limerick appeal )

Its been decades since I've taken a test,

Now I'm 'doing' a Mothers Day Contest,
read & vote my blog , please,
And may your tribe increase :-),
My mother always asked me to try my best......

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Thought for food.....

You never know where pictures posted on blogs may lead you.

From his blog he appears to be someone who likes to announce it to the world when he has enjoyed something. Be it a play, a garden, a person, sometimes even a particular dish. He always posts the relevant graphics. With a pithy comment. He posted one such mouth watering graphic, about a sizzler dish, that was cooked over a weekend in Pune , and almost immediately in Mumbai, several eyes widened, and minds buzzed with the prospect of a lunch. He'd been actually hinting that a bloggers' lunch was long overdue, and now that I look back, I can see his master strategy in making it all happen.......

And so the five of them met again. For sizzlers.

One , who delayed his weekend trip to his family in Pune by a day, and arrived at the lunch with his luggage.

Another , who left her two princesses at home, and braved the Mumbai public transport to travel a long way , to meet folks she had seen only once; of course the long ride was utilised two study the Mumbai election supervisors manual, which she needed for her assigned duties as an election officer around the month end; and never mind that she almost used her red pen to tick off grammatical mistakes, and deadly imperatives as her bus kept her awake bouncing through the potholes.

Another , probably looked upon this as a great way to escape anxieties and formalities associated with career and life stages; a couple of hours away from it all, with lots of laughs, and conversation, and missing cell phone contact numbers. Technology has advanced, but not so far as to have a robotic voice warn you that you are carrying the wrong phone.

Of course, there was also one who cannot resist carrying tote bags, in anticipation of meeting in a Mall type environment. She stayed the closest, and came by a three wheeler, whose driver was a bit upset about the fare remaining in single digits, despite him revving up the accelerator and making darting stops here and there, trying to overtake an open truck carrying huge boulders. But he had a nice look at her bandaged hand, and decided not to show his displeasure to someone who was already hurting (!)....

And finally, there is this guy who is probably the fittest of the lot. Lives fairly close by. He has been off rice recently, twitters occasionally when he hits the gym, and for a while one thought that he was going to arrive , say, jogging , since the mid-day sun was today being occasionally snubbed by a few clouds doing their thing.

The place had all these columns, balconies, and balustrades, where you could stand and watch the hoi-polloi traipsing by, and there was a suggestion that the four of them stand there, waiting for the fittest fifth. They would all applaud and wave at him as he came puffing by, and everyone, including the general public would have a great time. Then someone mentioned his camera. You'd never know when he clicked. And the next thing , all four would appear on his blog waving to no one in particular, a la folks in Buckingham Palace. The waving plan was hastily abandoned, and we proceeded to the sizzler place , where we would meet him in a short while.

The place is a branch of a well known sizzler restaurant. But we were unfashionably early. And the staff was suitably startled by a bunch of middle and senior citizen types arriving with luggage, pickles, several tote bags, election manuals and the works. A bit of a change for a place which has raucous fashionable young peoples groups, fellows calling themselves "dudes" having late lunches. The staff was so smitten they forgot to switch on the AC.

By and by , folks recovered. The staff, that is. Menus were perused. Lips, pursed on noticing the outrageous prices, relaxed on realizing that sizzler meals were not likely to be getting the government's special attention, as a possible sop during election time. And the country was not yet ready for the stimulating policies of Kevin Rudd. (Hi Lilly!)...

The stuff arrived, one sizzling plate at a time, suitably obscuring everyone's vision with the sizzling vapour, and fogging the spectacles of two oldies and one of the younger fittest.....And ice arrived in irregular shapes, to fog the water glassses, so necessary in the Mumbai summer......

Five sizzling dishes later, it has occurred to me, that there can be smoke of different types.

There are some smokes that need a fire at one end and a fool at the other. These harm.

Then there are some smokes that happen because of a little water sprinkled on a heap of delicious pasta/rice and veggies sizzling on a hot iron serving skillet. These are great.

Lots of laughs and good conversation and ribbing amidst flavoured steam rising from sizzling cutlets, green beans, rice, lightly heat-scarred cabbage,cauliflower,tomatoes, and the eternal favourite, french-fries. The fittest one was secretly noticed smiling to himself over the french fries, after he publicly opted for pasta after his recent anti-rice blog, read by the world.

Folks went home , mostly all having overeaten. One went off with another to catch a transport to Pune, discussing technicalities of retirement. Another went off, seriously calculating the number of years he would have to swear off his wife's delicious rice and sambhar, now that he had this sizzling forbidden meal. The two ladies, wandered off to look at some nice shops, and do some shopping. The country doesn't believe in stimulus payments . But still we spend. Amazing, isn't it ?

We have really all met only once. In December. Except for those who work in the same organization , we hardly talk, even on the phone. In real life.

But thanks to our black and white , electronic life, it feels like we meet often. We share in everyone's ups and downs. We sense things unwritten in blogs, because we can now visualize the persona.

Its a great way to be friends.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Special ones come from the heart....

They were a family of 3. Two of them and their son.

Years passed, and there were signs that there would be another member joining the family. One fine day a baby appeared on the scene. All was well. At least all appeared well. But it was not to be. And within two months, they were back to being a family of 3 again, immeasurably impoverished in a world where children and joy are synonymous.

Years passed, and the older child waited. Ignorant of the limitations of physiology.

And so they decided to adopt. A little girl. Except, now that the son was about 11, she needed to be at least three, so that you didn't run the risk of suddenly having 3 adults and one child in the house within a few years.

She came in like a cheerful ray of sunshine. They had not heard her speak. She would just nod and smile and hum to herself. There was no apprehension, just a childlike confidence, stemming from listening to the caretakers (at the orphanage she was from), telling all, that she would be going to her Mom and Dad ; and here she was.

Turns out, that children who have had to "grow up" by themselves, without anyone talking to them as babies, playing with them, throwing them up in the air, and then catching them back with a whoop, often withdraw into themselves. You see, food, clothing and shelter, are never the only requirements. She was three, and chances are she had had her share of isolation in her time. And she had dealt with it, in her own childlike way.

The day she became part of the family , was the day they heard her point to a lady on TV, (who was reading the news, whose hairstyle vaguely resembled Mom's ), and say "Aai !" in a ringing confident voice.

And she hasn't stopped talking ever since.

An active little girl, she got enthused by little things , such as bringing out her new frocks and storybooks and toys from her closets to show everyone. When she started school, she wanted a schoolbag exactly like her brother's, and it didnt matter if he was in 10th grade and needed to carry a lot more stuff.

By and by she got into sports, in particular swimming. She swam because she loved to swim. You could get her to do all kinds of homework etc, under the threat of grounding the swimming. She was a bit on the darker side, and when children unwittingly teased her about being a dark sister of a fair brother, she turned up her nose at them, saying , maybe they themselves were green. (They probably were , green, with envy).

There came a time when studies started taking up more time. And the swimming started taking a back seat.

And one day they found out, that she was not doing as well they thought in school. Maths and Science was a problem. She rebelled against what she thought was totally pointless learning. Geometry was a bummer. But give her a book on Origami. At eight years of age, she looked at such a book, and a single perusal of folding patterns was enough to motivate her to memorise the various steps to coming up with a peacock with dancing steps, or a bird with moving wings.

The girl took up Open Schooling. You could choose your subjects, some vocational, but rules were rules and were to be followed strictly. You just took your own time appearing for the tests. There were NO grades in class.

But something else had happened while in her old school.Some of her friends had started commenting, unable to counter her popularity as a sportsperson. Unwise comments about her origin, sowed some seeds of doubt. But the girl was so confident of her family, that she let the thoughts slip away. Teenage beckoned, and the ensuing personality transformations. Some rebellion, some anger. She would clam shut when angry about her studies. her eyes would almost send out laser beams of anger as she endeavoured to deal with , what she considered , folks ganging up against her. Her friends, by whispering rumours, her teachers, by implying hat she was no good in the prescribed level of studies , and her parents, by looking troubled, every time her schoolwork came up .

And one day, her father started a story around the dinner table. The story about a little girl who came to the house, and did all these wonderful things, that lit up the house with a sense of childhood fun and wonder. She came because Mom had a problem. About having a baby. A medical reason. And she was the answer to all the prayers to God. The story continued over two days, and she looked forward to it, although her father was sure she knew what this was all about. She learnt she was the high point for the three of them, a favourite child and favourite sister of an indulgent brother. And she absorbed all these strengths. She belonged here.

This was her introduction to the concept of adoption. She thought the whole idea rocked. That year and subsequently every Divali, she went with the family with Divali sweets and gifts for the children at the orphanage; and the caretaker ladies there were absolutely thrilled to bits about her. They had held her as a baby, and here she was; a confident young teenager, very comfortable with who she was, reassured by her place in the family, surrounded by indulgent father, mother,brother and grandparents.

Today, this little girl has almost finished college. She has discovered boys.. She worries about her weight, spends hours agonising about some minor eruption on the skin on her face, and her favourite peoples' list, family wise, currently has in descending order of popularity, her brother, her father,and lastly, her mother .....

Her folks were once invited for the inauguration of some new thing at the college library. The librarian is a very perceptive wonderful lady. The girl swam for her college in her first year, and got medals. So everyone knows her; she stood next to her Mom and Dad , sort of itching to get away to the refreshments , but still restrained by something the Librarian lady was saying.

The librarian, turned to her Mom, then turned to her , and said, "You know, you even smile like your Mom !"

Her face lit up. She has a wonderful smile , much nicer than her Mom's. Her eyes crinkled, her smile couldn't get any wider, and the Librarian lady indulgently waved her away in the direction of her friends, where a pizza was in the process of being devoured.

And her mother looked on. And silently remembered something she had told her daughter when they talked about babies and stuff as puberty loomed on the horizon.

Some children came from the womb.

And some children, special ones, came from the heart....

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Attention : Entry for Staph Only......

I don't really blame you.

When I first heard about Staph Aureus, I thought it was a brother of Aurora Borealis. But very glamorous as these may sound, I consider it my duty as a serious concerned citizen, to inform everyone, that Aureus and Borealis are as different as hell and heaven respectively.

Not that I have any personal experience. Of heaven and hell, that is. But still. In these economically uncertain times , one can speculate.

While Aurora Borealis is all about heavenly lights in the northern skies, and something to gladden the eyes, Staph is all about being a bacteria, with the impressive name of Staphylococci Aureus, and entering here and there, dangerously, surreptitiously, unlawfully, and with dedicated bad intention.

Almost like a terrorist.

Smitten as it is, by the human body, it simply ignores the God given apertures and openings that every normal being is known to have. Looks for little cuts and breaks, nooks and folds, where it can burrow in, unnoticed. And so it is ecstatic, when it finds, that little cut on your palm, that you ignored while cutting raw mangoes for pickle as you sat watching your favourite TV serial. I suppose even Staphs find the mango season irresistible.

Once inside , Staph simply runs haywire.

Almost like a terrorist.

Hoards of body commandos gear up to fight Staph. But Staph works in devious ways. It manages to get together with other Staphs, who, similarly indoctrinated about human blood, have also managed to enter. Massive encounters between the commandos and the Staphs. Fights. Conflagrations at the top of the skin. Lots of debris and destruction lying around. The commandos try different tactics, aided by the newly inducted Antibiotic Corps. Some signs of success . But some Staphs may still be hiding somewhere.

Just like the terrorist.

Four days of Staph. The skin rises in a crescendo on the palm. Shades of red and purple. Things flowing here and there inside. Like 26/11, it is painful to watch, and painstaking to fight. And early one morning, amidst the misleading quiet of a dawn, and the immense fatigue setting in, the commandos finally see an opening . On the surface of the swelling. And throw out stuff . Through a pinhole.

Just like the final dead 26/11 commando thrown out of the Taj window, to complete the terrorist count.

The mopping up operations are on. Its almost like minor surgery . Dead and useless (t)issues are cut and thrown out. Medicated comfort sets in. Some kind of fine poking around is necessary to ensure that every nook and cranny of the palm is covered, and that's painful. Some things need to be covered till they heal. Wallowing in the care of concerned fingers, careful antiseptic washing and patting with clean therapeutic thought. The palm needs to be kept away from things for some period of time. In its normal hanging position,with the lymph and blood types rushing there, just like visitors crowding a patient, it is painful. So you are advised to try and hold it up , against the heart , supporting, as it were.

Just like the remaining staff of the
Taj did, for the Taj, in the aftermath of the 26/11.

And so we come to the "staff".

We Indians, love to put up instructional notices . Particularly in public sector/education sector/government type places, in
environments which are not-so-corporate

Except its always for "staff" and not "Staph". Thanks to the US English, we can now pronounce both, the same way.

"Attention : Only staff allowed ". (I can't see who is checking)

"No admission without permission" ( i have always felt the originator was onomatopoeically super enabled...)

"No entry: Trespassers will be prosecuted" (Where and when ? Still waiting)

"No thoroughfare" (wont know where this road goes till I try....)

"Restricted Entry : Staff Only"

The best part is that one reads, and one goes ahead. Sometimes, one doesn't read, and still goes ahead. ....

I have wandered freely, in various places like airport innards (where airline offices are), insurance company archives ( where two guys at a darkened desk amidst the file racks sold revenue stamps that I needed on an application, for double the cost), and the Mumbai University Examination Section (while following up on a request for my son's degree certificate while he was in the US.)

Nobody stopped me.

Maybe I look like staff. Or even Staph ?

Sometimes I think the Deadly Staph Aureus probably saw the last sign. "Restricted Entry : Staff Only".

It must have derisively laughed at the spelling abilities of the Homo Sapiens, studded with all those cells, acting superior.

Then it decided to do what I do.

Just venture in .

Serves me right, I guess.

(Blogged while coming out of a mean looking staph infection on the palm. I have pictures. But will not put them here as this is a family type blog. And I need the thing to heal fast.

So I sit, one hand bandaged impressively, while the other stirs the solar cooked mango Chunnda preserves, which I need to get ready before I attend a "sizzling" bloggers' lunch.....in a few days....
The lunch is supposed to sizzle, not the bloggers :-)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Preserving" and democracy in the season of mangoes...

Summer in Mumbai is terrible. Unless of course , you are the type who lives in a centrally air conditioned house, travels in a chauffeur driven air conditioned car, and your main activity of the day, is to discuss the days meals with your cook in your air conditioned kitchen, and then , wearing your designer outfit from your summer collection, glide into your air conditioned car, to go to your air conditioned club and meet friends for, what else, an air conditioned lunch !

While I do not recommend subjecting your latest high heels to our famous potholes, or trying to climb into the bus in your latest bare shouldered outfit while battling folks with oily hair, poky briefcases, and pushy attitude, there is an overriding conviction that grows in one's mind, that all these exclusive type people, miss out on the colors and smells of mumbai, as summer proliferates around, full blast.

Summer , for ordinary middle class types, is a time for making all kinds of long term pickles and preserves. Raw mangoes, are Gods own fruit, and one can make pickles, jams, chutneys, syrups, squashes, from them. A very traditional thing , native to Western India, and patented by the Gujarati's , who are avid foodies, is Chunnda, or Chunndo. This is a preparation of grated raw mangoes. It contains zero oil, is not excessively spicy, and falls into the category where you cant make up your mind whether its is sweet or hot(cayenne hot).....

I make large (about 6-8 kg) of chunndo every year, and so last weekend saw me in a suburb of Mumbai, looking for chaps selling a particular variety of mango, called Rajapuri. (We certainly don't eat all of it, but it gets distributed amongst various friends and relatives, who are busy folks. ).

These raw mango sellers are folks who occupy a particular area , beneath a tree, every summer, and the entire family attend to you when you come. There are baskets full of Rajapuri Raw mangoes, , and some from the Western regions of India.
Specific mangoes designed for specific usage. The women will be sitting with various industrial strength cutting and shredding implements. The men call out to you, bargain, advise, and do small talk with elderly experienced grandmother types who appear with their grandchildren in tow. The air is redolent with the fresh whiffs of raw mango, as they cut one to offer you a taste, before you buy.

This time there were fewer folks selling. And there was a huge stage being erected bang across the middle of the road. Actually, all roadside hawkers of things need a license to sell. The fellows who work for the Municipality in this field, check licenses; worse, they allow various unlicensed types of folks to sell their wares for a fee, which is regularly demanded, and never accounted for.

It turns out that as part of the current election brouhaha, an election meeting of some influential candidate was scheduled. All the other mango vendors had shifted out on being threatened with confiscation of goods (by the same chaps that took bribes). The few fellows left were the defiant ones.

This year the mango yield has been bad. Unseasonal winter rains have spoilt the mango blossoms. So the mangoes are very expensive. True to my calling, I still bargained. The fellows know their customers, and this one knew me from before. We agreed on a price, and he offered to do some of the processing for me. His wife would wash, peel and grate the 6 kilograms (13.2 lbs) of mangoes in front of me, and pack it up, with the seeds, to make my further work easier. I agreed.

Occasional other customers came.

"Psst. How much per kilo did he charge you", a query from the side of the mouth.

I glance at the vendor. He is watching. Lip reading. He has seen this before. He lifts 5 fingers of his hand by his side, and shakes them as if to emphasize, unseen by the new customer. That's a signal for me to add Rs 5 more when I tell the lady the price. Each one to haggle for their own end-price. I agree. Each customer is separate. He offers me a small stool to sit on as his wife is down to the last two mangoes to be shredded. The shining old style brass plate is getting full by the minute with light green, shreds , letting of a fresh scent of mangoes, that goes past you to mingle with the car exhausts, and snack-vendors-hisses as they smack a blob of butter on a hot griddle.

"They've come !they've come"......a little boy comes running in shouting. He is a young family member whose job it is to look out for municipal authorities who come by to confiscate the hawkers goods. (These are taken , then impounded, and then surreptitiously given back to the hawker for a fee. ).

In a flash, the man of the family grabs all the huge mango filled baskets, piles them up, and makes a run across the road to the compound of a sari shop. His children carry the remaining baskets, the scale, the weights, and assorted hardware that is part of their life. His wife calmly finishes the last shredding of the last mango.

I am desperate and fear for these folks. I glance around to see where the family head has disappeared. I see him gesturing to another vendor asking him to join up with him in the compound. Sends his older son to help his colleague to bring in his mangoes.

In the meanwhile, the so called municipal watch dogs, come by with serious faces. Pretend not to recognize the folks from whom they regularly demand and get a "fee" for being allowed to sit there. The wife has just finished packing my freshly shredded mango, and places it carefully in my shoulder bag. We calculate and I pay her the money agreed upon. She glances at her husband across the road. Holds up 3 fingers. He nods. The transaction is complete.

The municipal rogues are there. She quickly grabs the big brass plate, her stool, her shredding and cutting hardware, (which is custom made) . One of the municipal types tries to put his hand to the stuff. She yanks it back, and lets loose some choice words. By the time the fellow looks at his boss and turns back , she has gone.

Come evening, and a portly person in a pure white outfit , white shoes, several gold rings on his fingers, and what I call mafia sunglasses, will arrive with his hanger-ons, wishing and greeting people all around; The biggest sign of power is when his his cellphone rings, he takes it out of his copious pocket, holds it out to a flunky, who looks at the details of the caller, presses some key, and hands it back to the boss to speak. The call is disposed off, and they get down to business. With a speaker system and amplifier that can be heard across several streets, the candidate then proceeds to give false assurances, lots of fibs, and the benefit of his smile to the audience, as he stands below the photographs of the Indian Prime Minister, and Mrs Sonia Gandhi (power behind the throne). He will work on special plazas for hawkers. Replace the existing 1950's water pipe in that area with a larger one, recommend a new bridge across the railway tracks to the government. Some kind of paid audience probably listens to all this, as various housewives in a hurry, curse him in their minds for blocking their access to the vegetable vendors.

This is a peak time for the mango vendors. Once the sun has gone down, there are many folks out in the market. They must make a decent take home profit today, that will be distributed between the cost of the mangoes to them, their transport, food for the family that day, and if possible, some savings, as they trudge back to a far flung suburb of Mumbai , where they have put up with some relative.

I take a three wheeler back home, clutching the shredded stuff. Late into the night, the mixture of salt sugar and the mango is measured and mixed, and a clean white cloth tied to the surface. This will be kept in the hot sun on the terrace , just above. It will slowly cook for 10 days, and turn golden yellow, as it revels in the salty sugar syrup. Cayenne pepper and Cumin powder in appropriate quantities complete the final spicing. The stuff will be nicely mixed and then stored for the next full year, in a huge glass jar.

The stage will be dismantled the next day. Hopefully , the mango vendors will be back with their full quorum. The so called election candidates and leaders, will now catch hold of another crowded area to go tell some more fibs. For them its dream time. Visions of power, grandeur, people coming to them for favours, a car with a red beacon, and yes, air conditioning, being invited for political receptions, special security, and preferred entry into moneyed places.

Nothing changes. The air conditioned types will think they've advanced in the world . The mango vendors will plan another summer of Chunnda mangoes and pickle mangoes, and maybe now a younger child will join in the shredding effort along with the mother. An unpaid summer job of sorts, in a "family" firm. I will look at the vanishing levels of Chunndo in the big jar and resign myself for another visit, an annual trip, as it were.

The only good thing is we have national elections every 5 years. Next year, I hope to have a peaceful mango purchase, unhindered by politics and corrupt municipal flunkeys. Hopefully, there will be a better mango harvest, and plenty of mangoes in the market.

The best part is that there wont be any political obstructions to the raw mangoes then.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Net benefits

Whenever we have to complain about a service or product here in Mumbai, the gut feeling one first experiences, is that "nothing is going to happen". Words are creatively interpreted, issues are sidestepped, you feel like a fool for not reading the finest print. You often try and find out if anyone knows someone at the company, who would attend to your complaint. This has given rise to a set of "entrepreneurs", who provide these links, organize the ignoring of certain things, and attention to some others etc. You quote some rule, and they enunciate the loophole.

We must have , what I call, a loophole supremacy.

Which, I suppose, is now set to change.

Companies who populate the Net with their comprehensive details , may not know what they are doing.
But no one here is complaining.

My late mother, then 82, returned from a trip to her children in the US, very angry with this particular airline, based in SE Asia. She was a veteran flyer, was not smitten and tongue tied with the glamour , and she declared that she wouldn't be flying with them again.
Travel fares in rupees are often more than several months salaries in India for middle class folks, and I was upset over the fact that with all these costs, and the advertising they do, my mother had this experience.

I surfed the Net for their homepage. By the time I reached their "contact" page, I was livid with the claims of hospitality, and I fired off an email to someone at their SE Asian headquarters, telling them off. Imagine my surprise, when the Mumbai manager for the airline, had his secretary get in touch with me, to get the exact details. I poured out my disgust over delays in wheelchairs, side stepping of responsibilities with meals, and misleading advertisements.
I have no idea who all attended to this, but a year later, when my mother, flew, on what was to be her last trip to attend a graduation of an eldest grandchild, I got in touch with them again, and the airport experience at Mumbai was amazing. There was one lady with high-heels-and-walkie-talkie who created a wheelchair almost out of thin air , so to speak, and then another who kept by my mother's side till she boarded. She would constantly check and ask if my mother wanted anything, till my mother, patted her on her back, and told her not to worry, she would ask.....

There were
massive comments listed against my Mother's name on the list that the girl carried. :-) . They checked-in my mother's baggage in Business class although she was flying Economy. With the result, that she was disembarked and embarked as priority during connecting flights, and my brothers in California were amazed to see her luggage and her emerge before anyone else. Of course, I was very happy about things, and wrote to the airline to complement their staff, by name (which I noted at the airport). I got personal replies from their Mumbai manager, and the head office, and the 24 hr travel was exemplary for a tired 83 year old grandmother, who insisted on being there for her grandson's graduation.

To this day, I cannot picturize who I dealt with, why they listened seriously to what I said, in particular the person in Singapore , who initially received an angry email from me.

The next time was when the Canon digital camera suddenly started making me look long and slim through the viewfinder.
That couldn't be. And so it was taken to their service centre, where a scientific type looking person, explained the malfunctioning of some part to me, and then gave me the good news that Canon folks had decided that to recall and replace all these cameras. Lengthy paperwork preceded the handing over of my camera. For two weeks nothing happened. Every time I called, they would say they were waiting to hear from the New Delhi office.

I rushed to Google. Canon had a regional office in Singapore. They even had a set of names mentioned, and a contact form. I wrote in a very angry and upset email, wondering how a Universal company like this could go haywire over its inventory of cameras when they knew they had used bad judgement and faulty parts earlier. About this "waiting to hear from New Delhi", out of sheer desperation, I mentioned, that by now someone could have
walked over from Delhi and said what they had to say.....

One thing that always works ,is if you say, that you don't expect a great company like Canon to deal this way with its customers. I, of course, mentioned the reference numbers etc associated with my complaint.

The next day I get a call from the camera place, saying my replacement had come, could I come pick it up, or should they send a man over with the paperwork ? Of course I went to the place. Wouldnt want to miss the fun. The receptionist was trying to figure out what pull, a middle class, dull looking, but angry female could have with the head office, The scientific type also came out to wish me, and show me the intricacies of the camera. I
am not used to all this. I actually started suspecting those guys, took my camera, and vamoosed.

The final straw was when a Sony Ericsson phone in the family suddenly went blank. It was on warranty, and what I consider, expensive. (To some, it is oh-so-cheap; but numeric abilities vary.) Service centres were approached, massive paperwork done, and when we called 7 days later, nothing had been done, and they couldn't say when it would be ready. It was a case of we'll call you, do not bother us.

Well, the fingers itched to Google in the name of Sony Ericsson. Bedazzled by pictures of elegant models (phone, not human), I slowly surfed, to finally land up on the
contact page. Shut my eyes at the snail mail address. Brushed aside the 1-800 toll free number. And got set to write an email, to whoever , wherever, which expressed my amazement and disgust that a company like Sony could behave like this, over a small matter of my phone. Inability to diagnose my phone over 7 days, had me casting grave doubts over Sony's Indian set up.

This happened on a Saturday. Monday morning at noon, I got a call from the service centre that the phone was ready, and should they send it over ?

I have even tried this when our building lift was stuck, and was being subject to patchwork repairs, when the need was for some basic replacements. The only email address I got was that of Manager, Corporate Communications. I wont bore you with what I wrote and how they rushed, but I get the feeling that if you can learn to needle a company in a subtle manner, your work is done.

The question is, should I start an alternate career as a Problem Fixer, and Emailer to Companies ? I seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time composing very corporate, hi-fi-sounding emails to folks all over Asia. Or should I wait before I get World Wide expertise ?

The Internet is a great equalizer. Not only does it give you the ability to communicate with someone you have never seen or met before, but it gives one the freedom to play with words, so that the person you are communicating with, gets a totally different impression of you, all basically based on your language style.

You could be on email to a big-shot-sitting-in-an-air-conditioned-office-bigger-than-your-house, as you type away, in your pajamas, on your desktop, in a room you share with 2 siblings, the sewing machine and and your grandfathers book collection. And your way with words could fool the guy into thinking that you move in rarefied circles at the top.

Or you could be a high society star who gets stressed out over what to wear, where, while the way you structure and phrase your electronic missives might indicate that you've just logged into GMail after doing the dishes.

I know there are moves afoot to make email visual, in the sense that people could see you in the email.

But I don't think its such a great idea. :-)

Takes all the fun out of cribbing to solve problems. And seeing the amazement and disgust on someone's face, when they realize that the person who they think has great corporate connections, who gets quick action everywhere, is actually an ordinary middle class female senior citizen-to-be, typing away on her desktop, between cooking , throwing the trash, hanging up the washed clothes, and worrying about the rising price this year for Alphonso mangoes in the summer .....

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lawful solutions

You never know what the day brings you. This was going to be a day with the police.

At the outset it needs to be clarified, that the household help system where I live, has some informal arrangements that click in according to circumstances. My long time household help (25 years), K, needed to pay a visit to her native place last year , and had offered me a substitute lady, who would do the work in her absence. A neighbor of hers, a widow, was not looking for regular work, but this short term thing suited her.

This substitute lady,(call her C), had 2 sons. One was married with children and lived with her. The other, believe it or not, was recently let out from jail, where he had spent the last few months as a result of being entangled with the wrong sort of folks doing worse things.

The women of C's family, C and her daughter-in-law, worked houses to supplement C's late husband's pension. The married son was a drunkard. The day C's jailed son was let off, she proceeded to her native place as she thought that way the fellow would keep out of trouble, away from his bad company.

That day, K came in agitated. Quietly started her work. Wrapping it up, she made a nice cuppa for both of us, and said she need my help.

"I need to go to the police. "she said.

I almost dropped the tea cup.

C was back in the neighborhood with her jailbird son. The other son could barely sit vertical thanks to the alcohol. His wife, a waif of a woman , was trying to bring up 2 children in such a violent environment. The jailbird son started eyeing his sister-in-law. Invited her to go shopping with him for clothes for his little nephew and niece. She didn't like the look in his eyes, and demurred. C understood and suggested this plan be dropped. The fellow growled his displeasure. The evening saw the fellow take off with his sister-in-law and her elder son, who was tactfully sent along.

Late at night, my household help, K, saw the lady return in a rickshaw, almost carried by her son, barely able to walk. She was black and blue. So was he, a boy of 14. Apparently the jailbird had taken her to some relatives, made his advances, and beaten up everyone there in a fit of rage. The next morning he was back, unrepentant. His mother, non-plussed, shocked, but still holding on to a shred of doubt over what could have happened, kept quiet . The daughter-in-law would have talked, but was unable to do so, due to a swollen hurt jaw. The children were upset, frightened, and had grown up overnight.

K noticed all this, and also noticed the look in the fellow's eyes. There were young girls around, some going to school, some working. Heavy population density and inadequate facilities of living, meant you shared things and crossed paths often. You basically learned to mind your own business and carried on.

Now she was worried. If he could try molesting his own sister-in-law, he wouldn't spare anyone. She herself had two young daughters-in-law and one daughter, and she worried for their safety when she came to work.

"We need to make a complaint to the police, and have him kept away. No one will listen to me . Besides, if he finds out that I am the complainant, he will target my family some other time. Tell me what we can do. Maybe you can come with me. " she pleaded.

The police post is a fair distance away from my house.

Then again, the mechanics of registering a First Information Report(FIR) is complicated, in the sense, that for various reasons having to do with unnecessary paperwork over frivolous FIR's, the cops often discourage filing an FIR. To get official police action you need an FIR.

I would probably get more response from the cops if I went along with her. But I too wanted to keep away from anything "police".

But something had to be done. If K had the guts to plan such action, she needed to be helped. Immediately.

We contacted the molested lady's brother and informed him, hoping he would file a complaint. But as is many times the case, he expressed his inability to do anything. He didn't want to get involved with the police, least of all against a jailbird chap, who misbehaved . A poignant example of how a married daughter is lost to her birth family and must suffer in her marital home.

Then I had an idea.

K and I went to the road outside our Institute where traffic goes totally haywire due to some long term road construction going on. This means, that, there is a reasonable amount of traffic police there.

Sometimes there is some police boss person, wearing a different uniform , a few more badges, and sunglasses , over am angry disgusted face, standing outside the police vehicle, twirling his cane, as he leans on the jeep.

One of the benefits of cribbing to the police about unruly motorcycle drivers, and how the police don't catch and fine them, has meant that the cops know me by sight, and often shake their head with a bemused expression as I approach them. They have seen me use my whistle at cars that don't stop for us to cross the road, whenever the light turns red. I know they have their whistles, but I worry about being run over. Mumbai has a very bad population-police ratio, which is probably why it is not worth their while to throw the law at me.

We were lucky. An officer type was there. In his usual pose. He raised his eyebrows as we appeared. Noticed K with me. At first he did his typical curt police attitude. Then as he heard us out, his eyes took on a look. We explained the situation, and asked if he could arrange to send a police detail to C's place, and generally make it look like the cops were looking out for her son. They were to act official and warn him about being resent to jail, or dispatched out of city limits (called "tadipaar" ), write fake notes and stuff. But something to put the fear into the fellow, and give some reassurance to the neighbor women.

He sort of shook his head. This wasn't what traffic police did. God knows the traffic management needed even more cops. How were things to work if they also handled the crimes in that area ? There were other cops for that ......

But those of us who have lived in Mumbai, and have a sense of experimentation about getting solutions, don't give up easily. Both K and I looked at him, half beseeching, and half appealing to his innate sense of superiority as a law enforcer out to save society. The raging sun, the rivulets of sweat pouring down our faces, the continuing whoosh of traffic, and a possible fear that we would stick around there till he did something about the problem, probably forced him to act.

That afternoon, when K reached her locality post lunchtime, there was a police jeep with a few constables (who otherwise yelled at the traffic offenders). The officer sat on a stool outside C's house, with the family in front. The constables glared. C's son was brought out of the house. His eyes widened on seeing the police, despite his stupor brought on by a violent loss of energy. Police canes were rapped on the ground. Voices were raised. Indian penal code sections were mentioned, and the fellow was properly warned.

The next day, saw C and her jailbird son leave, to return to the native place. The entire neighborhood and K's folks breathed easy once again. Young girls were safe.

A few days later, K ran into the cops while crossing the road on her way to my place. They asked if there was still any problem. She shook her head, folded her hands to thank them. And hurried away.

We talk about democracy. We talk about elections. So called "people's" candidates tour these localities where K and C live, hands folded, garlands swaying at the neck, sunglasses hiding their disgust, a groupie holding an umbrella overhead against the harsh sun. The peoples' candidate assures new taps , sanitation blocks, maybe a new school, with a meal scheme. After the big show, he goes away, and someone later comes around to distribute sarees and clothes, free.

Years have passed. We have electronic voting machines, psephologists on TV, people campaigning in helicopters and planes, fancy cars, candiddates with false educational qualifications, birthdates and the like, crores (millions) declared as assets; we even have shoes to throw at someone we don't like.

Life hasn't really changed for K. She has her material difficulties , with 10 people staying in 1.5 rooms. She has learnt to laugh about the promises made by the election candidates.

These fellows have wile. But she has guts, and a sense of wanting to do her best for her neigborhood. Which is why she stuck her neck out in this case.

Guts. Sticking her neck out.

She has her community support.

But she will never be an election candidate.

For one thing, she speaks the truth. For another, she doesn't have that kind of money. And yes, if she gets hit by a shoe , she will probably hit back with her sandals, but wont, as that's the only pair she has.....

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Exercising the Deltoids

Throwing is an interesting activity. Not the sort of throwing that happens as part of a well defined sport like cricket, baseball , and the like, where dedicated sportsmen practice for hours together, to make a throw reach its target to wild applause from one million folks in the stands.

When I was a child, I remember we had a 8 mm movie projector in the house. The world wasn't flush with cd's, dvd's and cameras then , and the few movies that we had, were basically home movies made by my father, and
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello stuff , sent to us by indulgent uncle types . Every showing of home movies would end with an Abbott and Costello movie, by popular demand. I remember being introduced to the concept of throwing pies and birthday cakes at the main characters, who would look suitably shocked with all the cream and frosting clinging to their facial nooks and crevices, not to mention dripping from moustaches. Peals of innocent laughter would always be followed by sneaking a look at my mother, who didn't think this was such a great idea anyway, and was uncomfortable with the popularity of the idea.

In an age, where anything left on the dinner plate elicited heavy parental disapproval, and food was never thrown away, somewhere I used to wonder how in some places folks thought nothing about spending hours on decorating a cake, and then lifting and aiming it at someones face, to spatter all over the room. The thought that someone secretly picked up the pieces, also traversed a confused mind. And I clearly sympathized with whoever had to cleanup the walls and stuff later on.

In public life, throwing of stuff on people who rattle you and people who you disagree with, has always had a connection with democracy. Either you were fighting for it, or it gave you the right to protest, as well as be punished for it under the nations democratic rule.

Recently Leila Deen, an environmental activist from Brighton, was protesting about the Government's decision to proceed with a third runaway at Heathrow Airport. She expressed it by flinging green custard on Lord Peter Mandelson, who was involved in the decision, and was attending a meeting on carbon emissions. Soon after he was elected PM in 1970. Edward Heath was the recipient of a pot of red paint thrown at him by an angry lady outside 10 Downing St. In 1972, Heath, was in Brussels to sign Treaty of Accession to the European Common Market, and got a canister of black printing ink on his face, thanks to a Karen Cooper, who was upset about an urban renewal project in London, but preferred to show it in Brussels.

While electioneering MP's like John Prescott and Ruth Kelly have been targeted with egg on their faces, folks have shown their combined anger when , in the House of Commons, they threw CS gas canisters into the debating chamber in 1970, or when manure rained down on the heads of MPs during a Scottish devolution debate in 1978. Clare Short had four custard pies thrown at her, Nick Brown was a recipient of gooey chocolate eclairs,
and Tony Blair, of some overripe organic tomatoes.

A study of history indicates that throwing stuff at people has great precedents.

Thousands of years ago, Vespasian , in line for Roman Emperorship, had to face a barrage of turnips before he could ascend the throne. In medieval times, in England, special things called pillories were erected, in which accused and criminal types were made to sit entangled at the neck and feet, while the public swirled around aiming rotten eggs, tomatoes, refuse, dead cats, and other unmentionable stuff. Sometimes people even died because of this. It appears though , that while in the Mediterranean countries, flinging tomatoes and vegetables at each other was more in the nature of a festive action, in England , it developed into a punishment, often meted out to criminals, people with religious differences , and so on, and thence got exported around the world where colonies existed.

In India, we don't take very kindly to flinging foodstuff. Except maybe red chilly powder (Cayenne pepper). It has been known to have been flung by thieves , and on thieves (by women who were attacked), but politics was never involved. Daler Mehendi, one of India's Punjabi Pop singers, was accused of being involved in an immigration racket, and was pelted with rotten eggs and , tomatoes, by the enraged public, on his way to the court. Very often , someone arrested after a long search for a heinous crime , particularly involving children and so on, is pelted with things and spat upon as they are taken to court, and the police have a tough time. The most disturbing thing one reads about is the flinging of acids and other hurtful liquids on to a girl's face by a rejected suitor. Thanks to the influx of media and entertainment into our lives, for some, dreams are reality, and they emulate the villains in movies, once they realize, that their position as hero is in the doldrums, thanks to the heroines rejection. One sees more and more of such things today, due to the increase in , as they say, crimes of passion.

One of the most interesting things to happen in our legislatures , is the flinging of furniture , with scant regard for the Taxpayers money. Microphone flinging was an old art, and doesn't excite people any more. So once in a while, so many times a year, you suddenly see visuals of enraged legislators, yanking out microphones and flinging them at the speaker or opposition, while simultaneously ducking a chair thrown at them by an opposition member. Guys shaking tables are often aided by their colleagues, so it can be lifted and hurled at someone. Women are often seen participating and then being led out by security in a show of chivalry. The done thing, is to fling the furniture and then rush to the "well" of the House to confront the Speaker, who can't be heard anyway. I don't know who pays for all this . Maybe they have insurance. Who knows.

Election meetings are more interesting. While shoe throwing is old hat, what is actually done with more finesse, is the garlanding of someone with a garland made out of chappals(open toed sandals). This is the ultimate insult, just like the ultimate accolade for someone is to be garlanded with a garland made of currency notes, supposedly for the benefit of the party.

But ever since the Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at ex President George Bush, this custom is seeing a revival.

Chinese Premier Wen faced shoes at Cambridge, England.
Kerala's (one of the southern states in India) state CPM secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, recently dodged a pair of chappals flung by a disgruntled partyman, after just having reviewed a guard of honor.Very recently, as recent as yesterday, our Home Minister P. Chidambaram, faced an almost accurate throw of shoes from a Sikh Journalist, who didn't get straight answers at a press briefing, relating to the clearing of charges against someone who was known to have instigated the anti-Sikh riots, post assassination of Indira Gandhi.

And while ducking the shoes, estimating shoe sizes, acting nonchalant, and cracking jokes, and/or acting "forgiving" after the episode may improve your stature amongst the populace, it is very clear today, that the mentality of the citizens is undergoing a change. they will not be fooled, and lulled into some kind of fake assurances of progress, and semi-lies or semi-truths.

It appears, that while the western world is replete with examples of foodstuff being creatively thrown at folks, it still remains an unregulated social custom. In India, I think we specialize in throwing liquids, furniture and items of individual wear.

Else where , there appears to be worrying developments.

Stone throwing at the law enforcement authorities by folks in the Mosques at Srinagar in Kashmir, has come in for criticism from some as an UnIslamic activity. They quote rules from the scriptures. Then there are some who again quote a different part of the scriptures to justify the stone throwing. A burning mixture of the state and religion.

The worst and most disturbing throw has been what we recently saw on video. In the Taliban controlled parts of a Pakistan spiralling into chaos, a teenage girl, publicly being the recipient of the throw of a leather whip, again, and again, and again, 40 times, screaming at them to stop. while her own family members held her by the hands and legs.H er crime ? Being a woman. And communicating with a male electrician in their house.

Democracy there is in danger. The Government there has officially handed over that area to the Taliban to govern. In a world where walls between nations are crumbling, it is disturbing to see a nation , with avowed democratic ideals, slipping deep into medieval chaos, sliding away from progress.

And while one agonizes about a society that gathers to watch the young girl subjected to the throw of the whip, I guess the nation is being thrown into the deep end.

Throwing of the worst kind.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Googlees of my life......

First there 's Google. Then there are the Googlers. And finally, there are those, who I call Googlees.

(I can see Commonwealth types going tsk tsk, and cricket types behaving as if faced with an incompetent cricket fool, and i would just like to say, with more than a reasonable amount of confidence, that yes, it is, Googlees, and NOT the convoluted manner of throwing the cricket ball, without any rhyme or reason, called the Googly. (Hi there, Hitchwriter!)

This is all about the Googlees. The various topics on which folks look at millions of search results, while actually looking for a few in single digits. Frequently, unsuspecting types, end up seeing my blog amidst their search results, and click. Surprisngly, some of them appear to be actually searching for me.

I used to think Google Analytics(hereafter called GA), is an IT technical jargon term , for basically poking your nose into other people's lives. While that may still hold, one of the side benefits of having that peer into your blog, is to tell you a lot about the Googlees. Search terms.

Take Samit Dravid, and Arjun Tendulkar. The ages of these two combined in still less than ten, and they are the innocent offspring of 2 of India's iconic popular cricket players. I wonder of Google makes printing mistakes, but the Dravid scion leads as a googlee in my GA , closely followed about 3 steps down by the other. I mean where is the connection ? In my almost 200 posts, just one refers to them. And the searchers are all from Gujarat, our western state .

The next most popular thing that drives folks here is "Layman Brothers". I am positive no one with such a name exists. Lehman brothers, would be mortified, bankrupt or not, to be compared to my neighborhood Layman brothers, whose core competency was vegetables, and diversification. But folks from around the world simply think the Lehmans are Laymen. I guess certain banks would agree.....

Then there is this wild obsession with hair. And I can sense their disappointment when they reach me, and find no information. Folks desperate to find out about " Chinese beauty parlour at Chennai for semi-straightening hair", "combing & braiding of long hair in Kerala" , "a bride with oiled hair" , "lettuce oil for hair
", stories of hair oiling and combing from India" ," washing hair in Navratri".

You get the idea. But one is still trying to understand , "to grow hairin baldness happened in Kerala". Some of these queries originate in London and Newark.

Clothes and makeup come close. "Best colors worn during spring navratri", "can i send a saree blouse piece somewhere for stitching?"," daughter colors with very dark colors", "denim jean fm ulhasnagar", "learning stitching in Pune".

But I fail to understand where I come in with , " desi gairls pice","transparent saree photo"," soapy massage parlour near hotel ambassador" ,"
research studies on circular hip massage labour pain management", and the most terrible one, "bus saree blouse squeeze". The dicey ones emanate in Bangalore & Chennai.

There is an entire set of people looking for information on notaries and notarization in Mumbai. OK. But what do you think of " hip hop notaries to big bilder" ? Someone from a place called Celle. Right on, man !

It is understandable that in these extreme times, people would try and look for, say "middle brain", but someone from Goldsboro, wherever that is, looking for "middle brain teachers" is simply exciting. Actually, I am not sure myself, if there is something , like a middle brain, but it doesn't stop Googlers from Greenville , from looking for
" middle brain characteristics"
, and "middle brain oriented"....

Several Googlers look for information on personalities, addresses and medical conditions. (I give their locations in parenthesis).

But what do you say about "x-fight 2nd carving info
" (Sandefjord, Norway), "what is the percentage of surrogate mother's who change their mind " (Easly, USA), "what colours should an 80 year old lady wear on her birthday? (from Accra,Ghana)", " tomorrow s English learning salions today" (from Medellin ,Columbia), "senior 12 days of Christmas" (from Placida,USA), "bears smelling flowers graphics ", (from New York), "Ronald Reagan left handed or right? " (from Prescott valley,Arizona), "pearl pills for burping " (from Chicago), "milk men + Pune " (from Kandivli, Mumbai),.....

But I have no answers for , "google ground shove 2009 nova godina " from Sydney, and "roshni mitra brother " from Chandler,Arizona. (Hi, Roshni)

While I am pretty sure , they do not know anything about the fancy moves in the "Google ground shove" even in Mountain View, Roshni, you better check out whats happening in Arizona, and why your brother and you are Googlees on Gappa.......

In the meanwhile, someone actually looked for, "gappa sleep aid " from Sacramento !

Maybe its Arnold S. (Can't spell his last name...)

All that working out. Must be tiring.

And the Republicans are worried.

I never knew my blog was a sedative.

Ah well. Zzzzzzzzzz. Snore.....