Friday, May 29, 2009

Someone's "Stepping out".....

A little shrub, facing up,
All alone, amidst the seasons,
They came and went, and then
One day it took root
Reaching up to the sky
Gurgling in its growth ....

The sky is closer,
The sun is a friend,
The moon winks in confidence,
As the arms turn to branches,
Laden with growth,
Green and blooming....

A thing of beauty,

Some say, and it smiles,
Happy in its greenness,
Held close by the brown trunk;
Narrow waisted,

flowering into a canopy of Comfort....

The time for fruiting is near,
The wind and clouds hold hands,
As the rains drizzle in agreement,
There is growth once again,
A coming out into the world,
Reaching out to the sky,
Basking in the Sun...
And the warmth in life....

(Written for someone, just coming into her own. I wrote the poem first and actually found the graphic later. Looks like it was meant to be....a girl-tree reaching out to the world......)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What your orthopedic doctor won't tell you :-)

He was about 78 then.

An avid practitioner of Yoga since his teenage years, he was finding it difficult to come to terms with the fact that despite a weight-under-control, and blood tests with values, which would qualify for a special framing , there was this pain in his back that refused to go away. A very exercise conscious, enthusiastic walker, and admirer of all things Ayurvedic, he sometimes handled things on will power alone, and managed to succeed.

Something his children observed , again and again, as he traipsed through his geriatric years.

In their own childhood, his children often practiced their own version of yoga alongside him, trying to copy him, as he did his deep breathing and Pranayam, often exhaling in a certain audible tone, (which was how the exercise was actually supposed to be done); and his children would sit, performimg alongside and suddenly "up" the volume of their moans, as they pretended to follow, till out of the corner of their half open eyes, they saw their mother approaching them , reproach in her eyes, shaking her head, and signalling them to vamoose from there if they couldn't behave. Headstands were an opportunity to test how books balanced themselves on his upturned feet, till the children themselves grew up and realized the merits of trying to walk with books balanced on their heads.......

By and by, the grandchildren happened. Trips to visit him were always fun for them, as there were numerous visits to parks and hills near their homes, where interesting snacks like peanuts and cucumbers were carried alongside, and imbibed by sweating, red-faced kids, as they looked forward to a visit to the sugarcane juice person on the hill temple, who was so old, he had even served the juice to their parents.....

There would be yoga exercises after returning, and recitation of prayers, and lots of giggling over some young cousins' drastic mispronunciation of Sanskrit.

This time his back started hurting really badly. To the point that he couldn't sit on a chair at all. He could stand, or lie down, and nothing in between.He would lie on his stomach and his wife would help him with the tray of food, as he occasionally winced in pain. He would come up with these amazing Ayurvedic herbal wraps he wanted his wife to prepare. This were things which were grated,cooked, mixed, applied and smeared on his back. His wife was an angina patient, almost his age, and apart from the varied preparation at odd hours, she was not able to help him turn, which involved a bit of lifting, which was contraindicated for her.

His married daughter was visiting then and his wife conspired to get him to go see an orthopaedic surgeon nearby. The daughter and son-in-law would assist with the lifting etc. Of course, sitting in a wheelchair was out.He simply refused to hear that.

His wife had earlier briefed the young orthopaedic doctor on this possibly difficult patient. In the community, she knew most of the doctor's aunts and uncles, and as such, the doctors were always respectful of age, as they dealt with wilful folks. She had rejoiced with their parents when , as youngsters, they got admission into med school, and given them gifts when they came by; almost always to bend an touch the feet of elders, as they distributed sweets to celebrate the success.....

They were called in as soon as they arrived. The old man assumed the demeanor of someone actually doing a huge favour to the doctor by appearing there.

He winced as he lay down. Looked at the doctor with skepticism as he listened to talk about X-rays, MRI's and even surgeries. Shook his head.

"I wont do any X-ray or MRI. If you want you can look at my last years stuff. its just a way of enhancing the cost to the patient.....And why do you talk about surgery ? So much expense, people believe you, and then things continue , as they have been before. Hmm. What a rip off ......"

His daughter looked down. She knew where all this was leading. She quickly brought up the topic of pain relief . The doctor prescribed a bunch of stuff, carefully explaining what each medicine did. NSAID's, antacid/enzymes to ease the stomach after ingesting the meds, and so on.

"Are you sure you are NOT giving antibiotics ? Because I will not take them ", and he glared at the doctor and his daughter.

You normally didn't glare at your son-in-law.

They came home. That night,
lying down horizontal, he argued with his daughter for an hour about taking the pain reliever.

She was the only one, who never gave up. Probably got it from him.

With a great celebration of relief the prescribed pain reliever was taken, along with the various wraps and stuff that were a nightly program.

Next morning, when the daughter woke up, she saw her father, miraculously , sitting at the dining table, having his breakfast, with her mother. She knew it was the NSAID, which had brought temporary relief, and thereby a little enhancement in quality of life. And here was her father, waxing eloquent on the use of herbal wraps, how the stuff had worked for him, how the doctor was actually useless, and how this was a victory for Ayurveda. Sometime during the day, when the pain looked like it was returning, he quietly took another pill.

What he did after that was amazing.

His was a case of severe disc herniation. Age was a big cause. He used the relief from the NSAID's to go visit a yoga-orthopaedic clinic run by an orthopaedic surgeon who adapted yoga for his use. They taught him exercises , mild ones, to be done, in the house, using some kind of thickish rope, and the dining table surface. Some exercises were done with pillows.

He religiously did these exercises every single day. He visited the clinic once a fortnight where they evaluated his progress, and advised some alternate exercises. Soon he was up and about. They had a problematic car sitting in the garage, he didn't like it at all, and he always walked to the clinic.

He would walk past the original orthopaedic doctor's office, and kind of give the place a smug look, hoping that the young doctor would look out of the window and see him saunter by.

His daughter came by for a visit during her children's vactions. He was back to his activities with the children. Visiting parks, the hill. Their car had been, in the meanwhile, repaired , much to his chagrin, but it worked for driving short distances when the children were there, the cousins joined in, and taking the car was a good management alternative.

He was out with the children once and going through a rather biggish pothole, the car battery left its moorings, and tumbled down on the starter, where the spilling acid, burned up stuff and there was a loud noise and smoke. The children thought this was super exciting, he had an "I told you so" , look on his face, and that was the end of the car. He preferred to walk...

Into his eighties, he continued his yoga and his walking and the special exercises. Niggling health issues were summarily dismissed, as were some doctors. After the death of his wife, his daughter took upon herself the mantle of consulting suitable doctors, as age related medical situations arose. There was always a separate visit by her to the doctors, which was required before he agreed to see them. This was so she could alert them about his convictions and apologize in advance for any fearless drastic telling-off that he might do.

Some of the doctors looked upon him with awe. Many times he would surprise them, with his energy and blood values, not to mention, his firm conviction that they were wrong. :-)

Diagnosed with an abdominal aneurysm beyond the danger size, he was soon uncomfortable with the exercise restrictions the doctor suggested, and threw away the medications that the doctor said would not worsen things. Whats more, he called up the doctor and told him that. (His daughter was distraught. The doctor told her that a simple fall could burst the aneurysm, and it would be instantly fatal. )

His organs were tiring out, his legs didn't support him anymore, and he actually used a "chair with small luggage-type wheels" rather than a wheel chair, around the house.

Sometime during his last days, a doctor /surgeon friend of his daughter, who came to visit, was alarmed at how blithely we treated the abdominal area (whenever we had to move him), where the aneurysm could now be visually noticed, thanks to his minimal fat.

Then, on examination, he found out , something nobody had realized. The dangerous, shaky walled aneurysm , hitherto considered a danger thing, had actually calcified, and was actually not a threat anymore.

A few months before he passed away, he once sat in the balcony, having a herbal tea with his daughter , and told her, how more than anything else, a mental attitude, that said "I will overcome this" , repeated to yourself frequently, actually helped you heal faster.

She had a distinct suspicion, Someone Up There had been listening to him all along.....

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Weather : Nothing official about it....

One way of classifying countries is the way they treat "weather".....

Till I left the shores of India in 1970 (for a few years), I had never realized that it could be a topic for conversation. I mean, it was fine in cases where rain flooded the entire first floor of your house, and someone else was talking about boating in their garden, but smiling and nodding at rank strangers and saying ,"Wonderful day, isn't it?", when nothing alarmingly exciting was happening, used to feel a bit pseudo, if you get what I mean.

And then I realized, that watching news on television and paying great attention to the weatherman/woman forecasting the next days situation, , was something folks took seriously. People cancelled weekend camping if rain was forecast. And, no surprise, it always rained when they said it would. People packed a few more warm clothes when temperatures were scheduled to dip in winter, and there was no chance that you would be suddenly sweating instead.

They took weather seriously. And so , it was discussed, not suffered.

Way back, when I was in middle school, weather was not such a hot topic. I mean you had seasons, which more or less stuck to their schedule, and weather forecasts in newspapers (there was no TV then), mainly consisted , of showing, a bunch of maximum and minimum temperatures here and there, mainly to fill up columns. There was great attention paid to "accurately" describing possible rainfall in terms like , "scattered rain likely in parts of south central Maharashtra"; which really said nothing you didn't know.

Then TV happened. And you always got the impression that the weather part of the news was there to fill in a few minutes, while the main anchor had a much needed drink of water. The weatherperson , always announced things in a way, that implied that he/she had some extra secret information , and they always showed us some INSAT-1B satellite pictures to create a high-tech impression. And never mind that it indicated the then current weather and nobody knew what would happen the next day......

Nothing has changed, except the dresses worn by the weather anchor.

So it was not surprising at all, that we were suddenly inundated yesterday, regarding news , about a cyclone hitting West Bengal, and Kolkatta, as the innocent populace there, went about their daily grind.

This has been the pattern of weather prediction.

A few days ago, there was a news report, about some bureaucratic scholarly meteorologist talking about a "depression" in the Bay of Bengal. While people concentrated on using big words, and getting their name spellings correct in newspapers, this Depression moved around, and possibly grew and spread. A Department of meteorology should have been able to give early warnings about possible havoc in relevant parts of the country. Cyclone movements are eminently traceable.

But , as it happens every year, the meteorological department has such a hang up, about predicting the onset of the Southwest Monsoon, and whether it will rain in Mumbai 10 days after it reaches Kerala (in the southern tip of the country), that folks in Kolkatta were caught totally unawares, by the sudden darkness at noon , followed by massive winds and rain. Flights were disrupted, trees were uprooted in the cities, causing serious destruction , human and non human, huge amount of flooding in other parts of West Bengal ravaged the countryside, leading to horrendous damage, and loss of life.

And amidst reports in the press of the ensuing havoc, a smug announcement from the weather-types, saying. "We can confirm that the the monsoon has set in, in Kerala". (So would thousands of citizens , who have learned by trialo and error to anticipate the monsoon)......

The government grant for Plan Budget outlays to IMD for the 8th, 9th and 10th Five Year Plans were Rupees 130 crores, Rupees 254 crores and Rupees 309 crores respectively. (This from an answer given in Parliament by the concerned minister). I crore Rs = 10,000,000 Rs = 210,228.04 USD at today's conversion rate.

A few questions.

Like in education, do we have our priorities wrong ? While , for some reason , we seem to be concentrating on being no 1 in ownership of cell phones in the world, and planning for bullet trains, someone needs to pay attention, to some kind of cost benefit analysis, regarding the functioning of the Meteorological department, and its interface with other administrative and operations related urban/rural set ups.

Disaster Action Committees set lofty aims, and are crammed with politicians. Mumbai has had several traumatic monsoon events, since 2005, but other than "meeting ", minuting and publicizing, no one has bothered to check if the plans are being adhered to, if deviations from it are being rectified, and whether the quality of the "completed" work stands up to strict scrutiny. And while some completely IT-disabled, politically-enabled folks acquire official laptops as part of the "handouts", no one bothers to show them how they can see the progress of the cyclone on a map on the Internet.

So while the IMD kept mum about a developing heavy rain cloud cover of 15 miles height, till it discharged itself horrendously over Mumbai on 26th July 2005, four years down the line, the big excitement is about when the rains will hit Mumbai.

The various city agencies have suitably incomplete road projects, all dug up, to ensure maximum flooding. They are also pointing guilty fingers at other municipal agencies, and someone has caught on to the fact that the tide is going to be the highest it has been in the last hundred years , on July 24, 2009. There is a planned effort to psyche people into staying home on that day. Pregnant ladies scheduled to deliver around that date are in tension about going in to hospital 4 days earlier. The authorities are recommending that schools declare holidays (on their own initiative), and the populace is being asked not to venture out unnecessarily. (No one who travels by public transport in the monsoon thinks it is a picnic. They go because, for many, their day's earning, and their family's food, depends on it )

In a world where cyclones are sedately named after women, the IMD even got that wrong.

The Kolkatta cyclone was named "Aila".....

While to western ears this may sound like a sweet feminine name, in my language, Marathi, which is widely spoken in Mumbai, it is an expletive, and had I uttered it in my family in my childhood or even later, a few palms would have made strong contact with my face, besides branding me uncouth.

Maybe its time we went back to natural methods of weather prediction, that farmers know. Like bird calls, appearances of certain insects, direction of the wind, appearances of certain clouds, behaviour of animals.....

Or maybe, we can outsource this to the US ? Mr Obama, are you listening?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Virtually Art.....

June Saville, of Northern Rivers NSW, Australia, did some innovative art work in MSPaint, and suggested that people try and design their own and send the output to her.

Well, some did, and she is having an exhibition.

The Virtual 70 Plus Art Exhibition, (the 70 plus part having to do with the name of her blog). is of course open to all.

She is serving wine and cheese.

If you don't like what you see, virtual tomatoes, eggs, and shoes are available.....though I would think that your triceps and biceps can be put to better use.

Can you think of a more wonderful thing to do on a weekend :-)

Go have a look.....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dabbling and Doodling : ArtNews

I don't know about you but I have never done bungee jumping.

Not that an average , avoirdupois enabled, loud-voiced , approaching-60, blogger, routinely bungee-jumps (think of the bridge undergoing trauma), but that's how I feel when I am attempting something totally new, without any training, per se, and an entire family standing behind, mouths agape, hands covering their mouth, some even shaking their get the idea.

wasn't something the Lord remembered when he was distributing genes, in my case.

But a diet of persistent trying, fooling around with colors in the Windows Paint program, encouragement from some of my blogger friends, and an ability to have an opinion on everything, has allowed me to "methylate" the gene; that is, temporarily change settings in my genes blaming it on the environment. That's Epigenetics for you.

And so I am convinced that I need to have an ArtNews blog. In addition to this one.

Have a look at Reghotya

And in keeping with the latest mode of reacting and commenting, shoes, sandals, tomatoes and comments will be gratefully dodged........

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Little minds, Big questions.....

                                                            For 2011 :

They lived on the shores of the lake. The house was actually ancient, and the unusually small size of the windows, and the tantalizingly non horizontal window ledges often gave you the feeling of staying on a ship. Right next door was a brand new, modernistic, official looking guest house of the Institute, with undulating lawns that swept a graceful curve down to the lake.

For the little boy who lived in the old house, it was the place that he could visit on his own, to play with his friends. No traffic , no roads to cross, no dark corners and eerily moving tree branches, and he would rush home as soon as it got dark. He lived on a wooded campus, and these buildings bordering the lake had a bit more natural light than the others.

His grandmother had moved in with them. Earlier, Both his grandfather and grandmother would come to stay. But sometime when he was in first grade, his grandfather fell sick. He would often bring his cars and other things and play with them in his grandfathers room, actually because everyone was always doing something there, but mostly because his grandfather liked to watch him play and chat with him. One day, he was taken to an aunts house after school, and when he returned home in the late evening, he found that his grandfather was no longer around, and his grandmother looked different.

"God has taken him to heaven" , they told him, "because he was so sick. He will be well there".

They told him the same thing when he lost his baby brother 2 years earlier. He himself was younger then, and believed what everyone was saying. And now his grandfather. This whole thing about God was getting a bit suspicious. No one explained just how God came and took the folks with him. Was he invisible, did he come at night, how come no one heard ? And this was broad daylight. How come no one noticed anything going on ? Heaven was somewhere up there . Birds flew, but you could still watch them......

By and by his grandmother came to live with them and they settled into a nice routine. His parents worked, but came home for lunch. His mother would glance through his school books in the afternoon, and give him some assignments to do if there was no homework. His grandmother would take a short nap while he played, and then would supervise his studies as she had her afternoon tea. He was two years older now, and they were learning stuff in History at school about which his grandmother knew things. Like the struggle for Independence. She had even seen some of the people for real, when she was a young girl . And he only had photos in his text books.

Come 5 o'clock, and his friends would land up , calling out to him in sing song voices, as they tried to grab his attention , as they jumped up and down outside his window, calling him to come out and play. They were all at an age, where normal modes of entries and exits into gardens and things were to be avoided. One entered through broken fences, slid down bansiters instead of descending stairs, and the bigger their mother's eyes became, the more they tried to do such things.

He'd be just about done, and he'd then rush out with his friends to play, sometimes in the garden and sometimes on the slopes of the guest house next to their house. His grandma had her own group of other grandmas who met on the lawns there. But they waited for their sons and daughters-in-law to get home at sundown. The day was a bit cooler then, and walking was more pleasant. The elderly ladies often sat there till dinner time. The little boy would be intermittently back home with his entire gaggle of friends to drink water, attend to freshly acquired wounds and scrapes, and sometimes, simply to show off some freshly acquired book or toy contraption . He and his grandmother shared a room and the boys would be all over the place with their grubby hands and feet. Around eightish, his mother would dispatch him once again next door to the guest house lawns, to escort his grandma home. She didn't see too well in the dark, and he would go meet her and escort her back , holding on to her hand, to the highly approving glances of her friends, whose grandchildren were older and so, otherwise busy.

Into this well set wonderful routine, his mother came home one day to find a strange expression on her mother -in-law's face. Her eyes were full, but there was no sadness. Just a sense of wonder.

That afternoon, they had sat down to do history. Talking about the new stuff he was learning.

"Aji (=grandma), just be grateful you didn't live around the time Raja Ram Mohan Roy lived", he said, his finger on some filling-in-the-blanks-assignment on a page of his book.

(Raja Ram Mohun Roy of Bengal was one of India's greatest social reformers in the 19th century, and many of these reforms were beneficial to women. He was opposed to the idea of, and worked for the abolition of the practice of "Sati" where widows burnt themselves on their husbands funeral pyre)

She was nonplussed.

What was wrong with Raja Ram Mohun Roy, and of all the people she could think of, why was this 7 year old chap against him ? Where did she come into all this talk of freedom fighters, great leaders of India, and the Independence movement etc ?

She looked at him questioningly, taking him very seriously, as only grandmothers can.

He looked at her, alarm in his eyes. Then he put out his arm, and placed his hand in her lap, as if to let her know, that, come what may, he was there...

"You know , if Aba (=grandpa) and you had lived during those times, people would have made you perform "Sati" after he died !".....

He probably had gory visions based on the terrible descriptions and graphics shown in various textbooks , and for a minute, he just held on tight to her hand.

She was stunned. His grandfather's death still played on his mind. When he studied the social reforms introduced by the Bengali gentleman in class, this must have occurred to him. For a child with a penchant for vivid imagination, this was just too traumatic. First they told him that God took his grandfather, and now Ram Mohun Roy and the terrible practice of Sati.

Then the humor just hit her. Which was as well, as the whole scenario was getting a bit serious. It was more than a century since the terrible custom was abolished. Even in her own childhood, she didn't wonder too much about these things; widow remarriage, even then, was being encouraged, education for girls was considered useful. And h
ere was this 7 year old chap, totally trauma struck, with the concept of his grandpa's death, his grandma, and Sati.

"Not to worry. Your grandfather would not have permitted that. Those were the old days, and everything has changed now. Everyone's mother today is educated, and some , like your mother and aunts , even work. And all this is because Raja Ram Mohun Roy convinced the government then to make a law saying Sati was not allowed. "

She got up to make a cup of tea, and bring him his afternoon glass of milk; but really to wipe away her tears. She couldn't figure out whether they were of joy or sadness. Certainly more of the former than the latter. She and her grandson were 70 years apart. She had other, much older grandchildren, but this was the first one to get into a panic over an age old practice followed in the early 19th century, and worry about her .

He went off shortly to play with his friends and his grandma entertained her son and daughter-in-aw with this story when they returned.

He and his grandmother enjoyed each other's company for a few more years. She passed away one night in her sleep, when he was asleep . He was still a young child.

Wordlessly, stoically, chin up,
after bending and touching his grandma's feet, he went off to his normal day at school , taken care of , by the neighbors, for the day. Young children are not part of the various formalities associated with funerals.

By then I think he had figured out what happens. When he came back with his friend's parents, late that evening after everyone reached home, he didn't ask any questions. There were a whole bunch of folks staying over. He kept fiddling with his books, pestering a cousin to sharpen his pencil just so. He went into the kitchen before bedtime, and poured himself a glass of milk, his hand unaccustomed to handling steel containers with about 2 litres of milk; mixed the cocoa into it, just like his grandma did for him, and came and sipped it, slowly, as he sat leaning next to his Dad. He wouldn't be sleeping in the room he shared with grandma for a long time after that.

This time there was no confusion about the mechanics of how one went away with God without anyone noticing.

Miraculously, he had learned the most difficult. He had learned to accept. Death.

(A true story....)

Get your story published in The Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul – A book of Miracles at BlogAdda

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The BIG three

What is it about women and the electoral process in India ?

More than 500 seats to be won, and every party trying to cobble together a coalition.

The major parties, putting on a face of bravado. Various regional and state parties, playing hard to get in the face of their being avidly viewed as alliance partners, by any party trying to cobble up the required number of votes to form a coalition government.

There are big political names in the fray, veterans in politics and government, "career" minister types. There are professional doctors, economists, engineers, lawyers, artists, movie actors, cricketers, and even criminals , in the fray. (The trick is to have a lot of court cases, but delay them, so there are no convictions, thus allowing you to contest. ) .

There are even some children of ministers; by definition, they are all supposed to have inherited the
election winning gene; but, I presume they have never heard of epigenetics, a field which investigates how our external environment, makes certain genetic characteristics "inoperative" , leaving the DNA unchanged.

As the election results day approaches, it is not unknown in recent days, for entire sets of elected party members of the smaller and regional parties, to be whisked off by their leaders to resorts and unknown places, so that they remain "occupied" and "unpoached " by the major parties. The papers are full of pictures of new MP's waving from luxury buses and planes, as they are being whisked off for all expenses and more type trips , till the additions and subtractions of government formation are finalised. As a lowly ex-employee who had to provide several documents to justify a Leave-Travel_Concession(LTC) by modes of travel specified by the government, I often wonder who pays for these pleasure jaunts of the MP's. Then I just read that a the country's leading industrial icons had just paid a visit to the big bosses of the incumbent government. Figures.

These are all small fry.

For some reason, national governance in India, has always had a lot to do with women.

The President of India, today is a lady, who was a former Parliamentarian. Its been a long time since the late Indira Gandhi was the PM, and there has been no woman PM since.

There are actually 3 women , whose every utterance and every action will be watched with great care in the next few days.

And who are the most important players in the whole thing?

Madam no 1. Sonia Gandhi.

A great example of how starting at the top of everything in life, works. She came as a bride into the PM's house, when the late Indira Gandhi was PM. Till to-date, she continues to enjoy the government's hospitality, residencewise, securitywise, and establishmentwise. Either she is very smart herself, or has some very smart advisers. I think the former is a more plausible alternative.

She has perfected the art of being the string puller. The puppets change. But they continue to dance as per her directions.
She has also probably perfected the ability to forgive and forget, though one feels the former is done, and the latter is a function of electoral alliances for a possible coalition at the centre. And so she smilingly shares the dais with a person who is the lead supporter of the man who claims to have organized her husband's assassination.

Her son is being projected as the next saviour of the country.
Once again starting at the top. Her daughter helps out, simultaneously declaring her distance from active politics, and gives her considered opinion that her brother, a novice, with no experience, would be an good PM.

Madam no 2. Mayawati.

A great example of starting from the rock bottom. Studied to be a lawyer. Met the right people at the right time, and took the "right" decisions. Very very creditable for someone who grew up in slums, experienced the male dominated society around her, opposed her father when he wanted to marry a second time for a son as his first yielded 3 daughters . Met her mentor is politics, learnt at his feet, and today, after fighting elections with all the associated unpleasant activities, controls a simple majority in her state, and hence a big chunk of possible electoral votes. Her state, the most populous, and backward, has the highest number of electoral votes assigned to it. Knows how to drive a hard bargain, will insist on the top spot, and so far has left all the political parties guessing on what she will do.

Has no qualms about erecting 18 statues to herself, 3 of which were dismantled because they were 3 feet shorter than she wanted. (She herself is 5 feet tall). Inaugurates her own statues, wears diamonds on her birthday with a 53 kg cake signifying the years she has walked the earth, and flies to Delhi the same day, in her own state aircraft, to have another celebration there. The current PM , on a trip to China, takes time out to call and wish her, and so does madam no 1 .

Madam no 3. Jayalalitha.

The south's contribution to the triumvirate that will actually decide, totally independently, who will be India's next PM. Started off as a heart-throb of millions in Tamil cinema, and made a wonderful pair with with the most popular actor there. This man fell out with another man (we will call him K), and started his own party, and dragged Jayalalitha with him. She remained, and has remained completely loyal to him, and heads the party now. Has a sort of following bordering on blind adoration . Her state TamilNadu, has been ruled alternately by her, and the aforementioned K, and both have tried their utmost best to humiliate the other while in power, in the very worst kind of physical way.

While her views about statues are not yet clear, she is great competition for Madam no 2, where massive, larger than life size cutouts are concerned. In actual life size, Madam no 3 is ahead of madam no 2.
Madam no 3, controls a largish chunk of votes, which will do her bidding , if, as they say, the price is right.

As they say, these three ladies hold the key. Madams no 2 and 3 will drive a hard bargain. As they say, there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics.

But yes. I did read, that one of the statue-obsessed-Madams, has a special statue, her own, all organized and ready for installing , in its marble splendour, in Delhi, should the circumstances so indicate.

Stupid me.

I thought times were bad. Jobs were scarce. People were being fired. Salaries were being frozen. Fees were increasing. Infrastructure was crumbling. And affordable housing was becoming scarce.

But I guess all these folks use a different currency for money.......

Monday, May 11, 2009

In praise of constructive sinning

Sheela must have been in her late thirties then. Hailing from a very traditional Gujarati family, she was the eldest of 3 sisters. She had just lost her mother, having lost her father years ago. As it happens when one is suddenly made aware of being the eldest of the remaining family, Sheela was particular about making an effort to be a tolerant, wise, cooperative guide for the remaining famly, in the highest tradition of her parents.

We used to meet her at the school in Mumbai, where Open Schooling contact lectures were held everyday. Her son was a junior there.

She had an older daughter, who was in college, and doing fine for herself. The son was a slow learner, and they had been advised Open Schooling so as to be able to study at the child's pace, in subjects that the child enjoyed. He was an artist, like his sister. He often behaved as if he was younger than his chronological age, and was an extremely friendly person.

For various reasons , many of us parents would wait at the school in the afternoons and return with the children after school. We'd sit under a tree on the grounds, or sometimes, when it rained, in a covered area meant for playing. Occasionally , we helped the school in their library and so were allowed to sit there.

Over the 2-3 years , we came to know everyone in each others families without ever meeting them.

Sheela lived a strictly traditional life. A daily temple visit was mandatory. She had a small house, where the children shared rooms, and every room doubled as another room most of the time. A single bathroom , hot Mumbai weather, and the technicalities of worship timings, and baths, meant that the place was used like clockwork, while everyone strived to meet their daily appointments, at the temple and at work, school etc.

Greatly involved in religious activities,fasts and seasonal observances prescribed for them, she was a very thrifty lady who managed to save by making so many things at home, which she could have bought outside. She would make different traditional delicacies from even leftovers, and bring them for her son to eat at recess. She always bought extra for a few of us who were her friends, and definitely not so expert at stuff. The stuff was delicious and wonderful, and had a little extra something, that had to do with her great sense of hospitality and freindship. And it was amazing to see the patience with which she managed her son, without sounding like a disciplinarian, and yet tended to him throughout the time we were there.

One of the things traditional , all over India, is the hospitality that is offered to visiting relatives from the in-laws side. This is true regardless of religion, community etc.

To Sheela, this came naturally. She was always correct , and firm about things , but went out of her way being hospitable to anyone with a tenuous connection on her husband's side.

That particular week, she had been looking particularly tired everyday. We knew a nephew of sorts was visiting. But then, relatives were always coming and going, that we knew of.

Then we happened to see her hands. Roughened in parts with skin peeling in places. That couldn't be due to her cooking.

A lot of prodding and cajoling , and what she told us was shocking.

The particular nephew was doing badly in business. He was currently trying to avoid the creditors, and moving around. Arriving at Sheela's was part of the hoodwinking of creditors. This guy spent his days seeing movies and visiting other friends and relatives. He also chewed tobacco and smoked. Knowing Sheela's attitude about smoking, he was constantly going in and out whenever he felt like a smoke. However, he kept chewing tobacco, and as per the typical habit, kept spitting it in the bathroom, generating huge trickles and blobs of red juice.

Every time he remained at home, she had to ensure that her college going daughter wasn't alone there. Both were at a difficult age. The guy kept watching TV when he was home. In the small house , the children found it difficult to do their school assignments and studies. The daughter finally took to going to the neighbor's flat to study

The first time Sheela saw the red stuff, she was alarmed. Then she realised what it was. Her attitude that guests were God, didnt allow her to give the nephew an earful, or request him to indulge in his vices elsewhere. So everyday, twice or thrice, she was given to heavily scrubbing the floor, using all kinds of harsh abrasive stuff. The shameless fellow continued his spitting. Sheela's daughter was upset, but kept quiet on her mother's insistence. Sheela's husband came home late, after braving the crowds in Mumbai's trains, and she didn't want to bother him about his nephew's exploits.

We were absolutely incensed. We had slightly easier lives, and we did not follow many limiting customs. Here someone was simply taking advantage of the in-law-centric social set up. The nephew appeared to be totally shameless. We even offered to come and tell the fellow that he better clean his own spitting, or simply, spit elsewhere, far way. Sheela was under the pressure, of this nephew being the son of her husband's elder sister, and so telling him off was not an option, and would lead to loss of peace in her own household. That the fellow was hiding from creditors was additional pressure, in case they actually landed up.

There comes a time in every one's life , when one has to do something uncharacteristic, in the interests of general social good. Like sin.

We hatched a plan.

We wrote a letter in Marathi, which was the language of the creditors. It helped that it was the mother tongue of two of us. We simply indicated in the letter that we had been following him, and knew where he was and where he had been till now; we were urging him to make his loan payments promptly, to avoid unpleasant meetings; and we also wrote that the matter would now go to the police, something we really didn't want to do. This letter was posted for us by someone who lived in a different suburb of Mumbai than any of us.

Sheela , looked on open mouthed. A part of her , approved that we were doing something that someone should have done long time ago. The entire obedient-daughter-in-law-in-the -in-law's-house syndrome didn't allow her to undertake tricks like this.

Two days later, Sheela arrived bursting with information, but waited till the school bell rang, and her son went to class. Just before she left home to catch the suburban bus train combination that brought her to school, the letter had arrived in the mailbox. Sheela had not seen the envelope, so she innocently brought it up, saying the nephew has a letter.

The minute her husband saw the nephew's name and his own address , he saw red. The envelope was torn open, and they read the unsigned message.

Sheela was getting late for school, so she left. Traditionally too, this wasn't what women of the house handled. She knew her husband, a god fearing man. When she bid goodbye, there was talk of the nephew shifting elsewhere, now that his current refuge was known to his creditors. As she appraised us of the events, there was a lightness in her voice and a twinkle in he eye. She was sure the nephew would have left by the time she reached back.

An hour later, her daughter called to say that the chap had left with his bag and baggage, now to some other aunt's place.

He appeared upset, bothered and a bit alarmed, but thought moving was best.

We thought so too. Had been thinking so for the last several days, ever since we heard about our friend scrubbing her hands away, to keep her bathroom clean from vice laden shameless chaps.

She smiled at us. Told us how grateful she was . And also told us, never ever to mention his to anyone that she and us knew in common. She was at peace. Her daughter would now be able to study in peace, and remain at home by herself. Safely. Bathing was once again a pleasurable activity. And the bathroom was clean as a whistle.

A bunch of us rushed to he store opposite the school.

Bought a bottle of Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion, and presented it to her.

She would go home, prepare a great meal for her family in a peaceful frame of mind. Everyone would say how terrible it was that the nephew had to shift elsewhere. Her son would be sprawled on the floor completing his homework. Her daughter would be on the phone, simultaneously filing her nails. Her husband would be sitting, his feet up, after a hard day at work, vaguely watching the news.

And Sheela would finish clearing the kitchen, shut of the light there, wipe her hands on her saree palloo, and come take her favourite seat in the living room , cum familyroom, cum bedroom, cum studyroom.

She'd put her feet up.

She would lean back in her chair, shaking her head at the audacity of her friends. She must remember to pray for them at the temple tomorrow. Maybe her God would understand.

Then she'd take a little bit of that Vaseline Lotion, and rub it on her palms, fingers and wrists.

Cooling down. Smoothing down a life . That had erupted so suddenly.

And tomorrow was another day.......

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Mothers and daughters

It must have been around 1968.

She was a junior at college and stayed in the women's hostel. Living there since she was almost 16, she was exposed to girls from different backgrounds. Her own, was that of a family that was conservative about monetary and educational matters, but a bit more open when it was a question of pursuing sports, music, and such. College was not about suddenly facing the free and wonderful big world where you did as you liked. True, there was no one checking up on her. But she had herself.

And so she would watch in amazement, as some girls suddenly picked up certain mannerisms overnight, altered their gait imperceptibly, suddenly started exchanging chemistry notes with guys in the class, who came to their hostel specially for the purpose, and wonder of wonders, actually started using the type of makeup folks used in movies.......

Where she came from, the height of fashion was making a fancy braid of your hair. Beauty routines consisted , of heating milk everyday, and applying the cream on your face, along with turmeric , which was a routine bath time thing. You never left your hair open unless you had just washed it, and it was always braided. Always. Regardless of your attire; which was severe skirts and blouses, unambiguously covering, from the neck, down below the knees, which later progressed to salwar suits and even sarees. In this environment, those of us who played badminton for the college, would arrive for practice wearing a skirt over another short culotte type sports skirt, which gave things, what you could call a "royal" flare. . You played in a short skirt, but when you stepped outside your skirt looked like a poor mans version of the queen's gown. That one cycled wearing that, was amazing in itself, but didn't help matters.

That was me, 40 years ago.

So it kind of amazed me, when , on a trip to Mumbai(it was Bombay then), my mother took me to this place in Churchgate (downtown Bombay's "boulevard"), where a tiny old French lady ran a pastel green place called" Marise Marel". The place had the sort of stuff you saw in movies, ladies sitting with curlers under hairdryers, folks getting their nails done, and several staff that looked to me like they were straight out of Hollywood. Mme. Marel gave me a look over, and wonder of wonders, for the very first time, I got my eyebrows done. Threaded. As my mother looked on, silently hoping that i wouldn't make a scene about the initial pain.

For someone who studied at Columbia University, then returned back home before I was born,
comfortable with her roots, and was a strict no-nonsense person , it now appeared that my mother was aware all along of what was happening in the world of young girls. Hitting 18 was a good time to introduce me to the idea, that originals could be marginally improved. She used to observe, read and communicate widely, and this was her way of changing in her own way, where her daughter was concerned.

Cut to 2009.

My daughter lives in jeans. Which must fit a certain way. And must have a certain color. Her table in her room has more lotions that books. And she and her friends pour over certain fashion magazines. While she knows how to cook a decent meal, and no one will go hungry in my absence, the kitchen is actually used to soak all kinds of lentils, and other stuff, that is later blended with cream or eggs or rosewater or what have you, and assorted eating items, only to be slathered on the face and dried. The days of washing your hair and then cycling around in the sun running errands for your folks as the hair dried , are over. You have driers, straighteners, curlers. I am just grateful they don't have twisters and cutters. (Maybe they do. Who knows.) Every time she leaves to go to college, she leaves behind a huge ,and I mean huge, whiff of some mild perfume, which even remains in the elevator after she goes.

I watch on. Wide eyed. Sometimes feeling stupid. Sometimes feeling grateful, that I grew up the time I did.

She recently heard of a new place that opened in the neighborhood. Its a sort of a brand name beauty place. Stark in decor, as is the current trend. With trained fellows who wash and cut your hair. Their training is through a very well know hairstylist, who frequents Bollywood stars, and gets written about for his styling. She's been wanting to try that.

It costs. Probably not more than a branded pair of jeans. Once is OK. But its not advisable to get habituated to such places, when the rest of your life is on a different plane.

She doesn't really adamantly demand, but chips away at it, little by little. Showing me ads. Telling me who else amongst her friends went there. She wants me to come with her. Naturally as the purse carrier.

We call and land up one day. She is thrilled. The equipment is different. Techniques are slightly different. There is less of a crowd. I wait outside in the lounge as she gets transformed with great wash, a cut here and a flick there. She basically has great hair quality, thanks to her minute attention to things, in the face of my very casual approach.

To me, you are what you are. To her, you are what you try.

She wants me to try the cut there. I hesitate. Costs intimidate me. Its OK for her. Her time is now. I am happy with my God given features.

I think back to the Marise Marel days. What it must have taken someone like my mother, to convince herself, that it was time to think of such things for her much more obedient, though stubborn daughter. My mother never changed her style of hair as far as I remember. It was always a bun. Even when age thinned the volume. But she indulged me later , every time I wanted to try a new cut, and was interested in things like facials. She hesitated to get one herself, but always encouraged me.

My daughter emerged from the inner sanctum, looking different, but very pleased with herself. True. The cut did something for her. Maybe confidence. These times were different. Techniques had developed.

Forty years later, I wondered what must have gone through my mothers mind as she saw an old petite French lady thread my eyebrows, and smile at her , waiting for her comment. To her what she did was nothing short of revolutionary. The difficult thing was to decide to go and get it done, as it wasn't a common thing in our type of society.

The folks at this place are very good at PR. My daughter is pleased about her hair. I wonder if I should give it a try. The idea takes seed. In my generation, doing these kind of things is probably old hat and routine. I am a late entrant.

We book an appointment. My daughter is relieved that her mother is finally seeing light somewhere. We walk out, her hair flying in the breeze, my own, tied in a no nonsense rubber band.

I wonder how my mother felt that day, 40 years ago, as we stepped out of Marise Marel. I think she approved of the transformation. She was positive she wouldn't be getting similar things done to herself. But she was full of admiration for the little old French lady, and it was interesting to see them communicate with no verbal stuff in common.

It was my introduction , by my mother, to techniques for improving on the original.

How times have changed.

My daughter was now introducing me to the same . :-)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Capricornian run up to the finals...:-)

I should have known.

My country and I have the same Sun Sign. Capricorn.

The country is in election mode. I face some too.

And like the National Elections, currently on, these too have been frought with spurious cookie based tricks, bogus votes, and booth capturing tactics.

And like our Election Commission of India, the organizers here have taken prompt and corrective action, and weeded out the "innovatively" voted candidates.

Thanks to all my blogger friends who voted, my post for the Mothers Day contest now stands 7th in the Top Ten. ( Any time someone says Top Ten, I feel like I am Whitney Houston :-)

The final voting for the Top 3 is now on, and results are to be declared on Mothers Day. The new page is at :

Which among the top ten Blog entry for the Mothers day contest do you like the most?

I would be most grateful if you could put in a vote for Ugich Konitari of Gappa (as I am listed there, 7 levels down....).. A single click should suffice. Fingers are not being inked , but still....

(For those who are hearing about this for the first time, the competition post may be read at :

Special ones come me from the heart....)

In the meanwhile,

Electioneering, they say, is a difficult art,
But someone, somewhere must make a start,
In a rough road with bends,
It helps if you have friends,
Who read your post & vote with their heart....

P. S. No shoes and chappals thrown and or dodged so far......

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Whither Impudicus Gestures

Somewhere around the fag end of the sixth decade of your life, you, an-until-now-vacillating-member -on the cusp-of-two-generations, suddenly realize, that , notwithstanding the fact you are amazingly and blindingly young-in-mind, you are about to cross over somewhere....

You suddenly start attaching great nostalgic values to childhood things and values. This is particularly true when you think of gestures, their types , and the big hype.... While gestures in personal life, remain that way, possibly throughout life, tempered by a lifetime of living with like minded types, what is really worrisome is the public gesturing that happens today.

In my childhood, if you said "television", I wouldn't have known what to visualize. I had not seen one, did not know anyone who had one, and did not see the need for one. Yes, the country had celebrations, and prominent visitors. Things appeared in the papers, were avidly read. I remember, as a child of 8-9, returning one morning, from a visit to the Parvati hill temple near my home in Pune , only to see folks gathered on both sides of a road we needed to cross. There wasn't any alarming security stuff, but loitering in the middle of the road was being discouraged. Those who had work to do were being allowed to carry on, and no one was stopped.

Soon there was something like a siren sound, a bunch of motorcycles leading a procession, and an open car passed by with Pandit Nehru, and a largish man with a ruddy complexion and a fur hat, sitting next to him. They smiled, we smiled. They waved , we waved back. Some folks threw garlands and flowers are them , and succeeded in garlanding the spare wheel. But we had just see Khrushchev and Nehru going by, for a visit to the National Defence Academy....

Ever since visual media has become part of life, it is clear that there are some folks who are very good at what may be called mass public gesturing.

It isn't necessary to believe or even understand in the root of that gesture. You gesture because it looks nice on TV.
We have a lake that is slowly getting silted, thanks to indiscriminate construction around it, and effluents flowing into it. Parasitic plants have had a wild time propagating, and those living on the banks were worried. One summer, when the lake bed dried up, an effort was initiated to get going a volunteer group to clean the lake bed , of that dried parasitic plant vegetation. A few dedicated folks joined, a few more offered to land up with refreshments, and children who were shorter than the plant even distributed biscuits to the several uncles and aunties.

But by and large, most people smirked and drove on.

A few articles
appeared in the papers about the lake many who smirked earlier ,gave quotes, joined up in various organizations whch regularly get mentioned in the press, and organized a "protest chain". Hundreds of school children, in the noon day searing sun, were made to stand holding hands and sometimes banners, along the lake shore, as the organizer ladies, went buzzing around in vehicles, in crisp cottons, sunglasses, and attitude, as the television crew panned , and took interviews of the plinths and pillars of the movement. Everyone then went home, and the weary children trudged back, sweaty,tired and hungry, empty water bottles around their tired necks, avoiding the traffic rush, waiting to get home through it all.

The same thing happened when the country's first citizen was scheduled to come our way. Schools were let out. Even children from primary classes were involved. Every inch of the path had to be lined. With the future citizens holding banners and flags. Some children were so small they didn't know who was who. The first citizen came by 2 hours late, in a cavalcade of 15 cars, all with tinted glasses, and the children probably waved at the attending doctors' vehicle for all they knew. But the gesture was duly recorded, acknowledged and applauded where it mattered.

Currently, the most popular thing to do is to walk around with lighted candles. Some television folks made a TRP killing getting Page 3 types to mix with the masses carrying candles in front of the Taj, last November, which made for impressive visuals against the still smoking domes and turrets of the hotel, late in the evening. Everyone commented on how governance should improve, how security was bad, and how we must vote the culprits out. Folks looked suitably important. Then when the elections actually happened last week, 55% didn't vote because they preferred to be away on a weekend , or it was , oh-so-hot.

I don't ever remember doing these things in my childhood. Yes, we were aware of events; we sympathized with those who suffered; we worked behind the scenes collecting donations, and documentation. We visited flooded areas as part of our learning in school after the Pune 1961 floods. But there was no bunking and missing school, for holding hands in chains, banners and stuff, and least of all , there were no interviews. No one came to ask, no one talked, but everyone worked.

And there really wasn't any "show" involved.

Today, you need to
show your hand.

And, the ruling Congress Party chooses the upheld palm as its election symbol.

It probably couldn't afford to go deeper into detail. Like the fingers.

The thumb can support or anger the public. The thumb held up with a closed fist is supposed to be a supportive gesture. Twist that by 180 degrees, and its another name for booing or, failure. When Coca Cola was thrown out of India by the government in the 70's, the country never missed it because something called Thumbs Up immediately appeared on the scene to replace it. Same color, same bottle, similar taste, similar bad ingredients, and no one was surprised when Coca Cola types came back and the Thumbs Up types sold out to them for a neat profit. Today, there is an obnoxious guy on TV, selling some Dubai club deal to folks, and he darts into the screen with a smile and thumbs-up, and immediately probably loses a bunch of prospective clients with his over thumbing.

The index finger is probably more impressive. We have several statues of folks , national leaders, all standing and holding their hand up, with a raised finger. One of them wrote our constitution, the other was a brave freedom fighter of Bengal, and one of them is even a revered woman in a southern state. All of them pointing somewhere with their index fingers. The last statue mentioned was surreptitiously removed by civic authorities from its place on a Chennai beach, and resulted in a huge hue and cry due to the perceived insult to Southern Womanhood, by folks who should have known better.

Hundreds of cricket umpires, have secretly rejoiced in seeing the trauma on a batsman's face as they raised their index finger. Some raise the arm slowly, with an already unfurled finger, some unfurl it as it rises, and some simply shoot it up. Millions of cricket fans in India die a thousand deaths every time an umpire raises his index finger against Sachin Tendulkar.

The little finger
, certainly has its little uses. Mostly by little ones. When they raise their hand in kindergaarten and signify a need to visit the toilet. It is even sometimes used by older folks, to signal someone confidentially, that they are looking for the bathroom.

Specific to India, the little finger is also used , when held up and the closed wrist moved side ways and back, with an accusing look at someone in front, to say that there is to be no further communication between the two . This is called " being Katti" with someone. Children excel in its usage, particularly vis-a-vis mothers, combined with an angry red face, and accusing looks.

That leaves us with the ring finger and the middle finger. Both of which I used to think were completely harmless and innocent. Part of a graceful hand, that you saw, in an ad for nail varnish, or diamond rings, which unknown fingers gently slid on some one's ring finger in that hand. Or a bejewelled hand that curled and dipped one of these fingers into vermilion, before applying it to your forehead and wishing you well.

But this government, which has chosen the hand as its symbol, is obsessed. Normally everyone who votes gets a spot of indelible ink on their index finger , at the base of the nail. This time the government decreed, supposedly due to some other local interfering elections, that the indelible ink would now sit on the middle finger.

Its that problem of public gesturing again.

Fifty years ago, I would have gone home, tried to get the ink off with some reasonable effort, ignored any failure to do so, and got on with my life, like everyone else.

Today the print and electronic media are going to town over all those publicity hungry folks, posing and showing the middle finger and smiling , and never mind if you cant remember who you voted for. There are some conservative ,rural, powerful type politicians, not yet updated on gestures, who have been widely photographed with their even more conservative wives , holding up their finger prominently, showing the ink on their middle finger.

While one may Google and find out the significance, my young friend tells me that the gesture, is also a gesture of defiance, amongst the many many meanings defined , which cannot be put on a family type blog.

I am just trying to figure out who is defying who.......the government that pays more attention to fingers and dynastic politics, when rising prices, energy bills, and falling incomes and jobs should be the worrying factor; or the people, who have learned over the ages, that in a democracy you can throw out someone who doesn't perform or fibs, and this is their way of indicating, that they will do just that, when the time comes......