Thursday, February 26, 2009

MRI Rock.....संगीत एम. आर आय

Laughter is God's hand on the shoulder of a troubled world"......

But when the shoulder itself is troubled, the laughter tends to become a Rock Music moment.

I have never been a great science fiction fan. People with triangular faces and pointy noses giving villainous commands in space and speaking like a robot is not my idea of fun. Neither are folks with tubes attached, automatically sliding into circular magnets, while a bunch of enemies charge the magnets up, my idea of smart folks.

So while I have been acknowledging pitiful stares from neighbors, worried stares from family, and suspicious looks from some who think I am making muscular mountains out of twisted molehills, the continued pain combined with some some movement hampering, prompted my doctor to suggest an MRI .

To those acronymically disabled, this ,means Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The whole idea, is that a magnetic field thoughtfully and cleverly applied around you at the troublesome points, cajoles and more or less forces all the hydrogen atoms in your body (which are everywhere), to simply align themselves in one way, regardless of what they were doing before.

Really brought back memories of Miss Desouza, my second standard teacher, who would walk around with a longish scale, as the class dissolved into an unruly mess just prior to leaving in the evening. A certain angle of raising her hand along with the scale, brought visions of descending thwacks across knuckles, and the entire unruly class fell into an amazing line, which was the required thing in school, before we filed out to go home.

You never know where the hydrogen atoms might actually learn their stuff.

Once the hydrogen atoms are lined up, some radio waves are then directed towards these areas, and the reflected stuff caught as images on a computer. They also appear on film sheets. What you get is some really terrible looking images showing how you are inside; though I must say, that some people manage to display the terrible stuff outside on a daily basis as well.

This business of getting pictures of what's happening inside, regardless of whether its a bone, a tissue, a tendon, or a muscle, is a very useful thing.. Many times MRI's are able to show up stuff we do not suspect at all.

I was asked to remove all metal ornaments, clips, specs, phones etc, and given this very dull looking wrap to wear. I handed my purse and stuff to my daughter and entered a room outside which, were alarming notices, about magnetic fields, no pacemakers and metallic implants allowed etc . Two guys had me climb on to a platform on which were some kind of flat planks, and they strapped me in after placing my neck in a sort of inverse guillotine position. The AC was killing me, and they had a rug around me.

They didn't think too much of my Shavasana pose, and to make things really dramatic, they had me cross my hands across my chest, so I would look suitably submissive as I was driven into the Magnetic Mayhem. They told me not to move. What if I coughed? They gave me a weird look, and gave me a ringer call thing to hold.
I had some doubts about the width of the magnetic thing vis-a-vis my own non-trivial width. Before I could ask about being stuck in the entrance and setting off alarms, they closed the door and left.

All of a sudden, the plank thing started moving into, what i call the Circle of Magnetic Mayhem. (CMM).
I entered into the thing, head first, at a slow pace, designed to heighten the suspense. Eyes closed, bit of a racing heartbeat. Me telling myself, "I told you so ". Another me saying,"Cool it. ". The sliding stopped and i felt like I was in a planetarium, where the sky was 1 foot away from me, and there were no stars. Of course it didn't occur to me that with me there, no other stars would be needed....

I tried to get a shuteye, And there was some knocking. Fairly loud.

I almost responded with a "Yes?".

The frequency of the knocking increased. I defiantly lay silent. This time, eyes closed. Way in the background, I could hear some noise of unoiled hinges being made to open and close. Sometimes it sounded like quietly moaning dogs, at a low decibel level. And one of the sounds, that was rhythmically happening in the background, throughout , was similar to what one hears in rural areas, where they use bulls and cows to turn the big rod that crushes oil seeds, in traditional oil mills. The cowbells and movement make a very sweet rhythmic sound.
It could possibly be the hydrogen atoms in my ears or something, but this rural sound actually lulled me into a misleading sleep.

Misleading, because soon, I heard something that sounded like the drill they use to break up concrete road surfaces. Fast and loud drilling. Non stop. Once in a while it would change direction. The pitch would alter. And the rat-atat-ta thing would continue. Almost sounded like machine gun fire.

All the rural cow imagery vanished.. I wasn't really in trouble, but this was a test. I wanted to shout and say STOP. TURN THE VOLUME DOWN. But I guess those hydrogen atoms had really changed loyalties.
When in trouble, we always think of the One Above. And so I started saying a Sanskrit prayer in my mind, which is health related , and I have often used it. The wonderful thing is, that the prayer could be set to the beats of the drilling in the Magnetic Mayhem. I started doing several recitations of this prayer in my mind, and also deep breathing simultaneously. It was actually fun trying to figure out how many recitations of the prayer I could do in one drilling session.

The drilling noises increased, in volume as well as in duration. Every time they stopped, I would think it was over. Just to spite me, the plank would move further inward, and the entire racket would start all over again with the suspicious knocking and stuff. Now i thought of another prayer, the one we used to say as children when we were frightened . That too worked out wonderfully well to the drilling beat.

There was soon an encouraging pause. No knocking, no drilling, no clicks.

And then, deliverance.

The plank thing actually slid out with me, without setting off any alarms. I was about to get off, when the guys said there was another session, this time for the shoulder. Apparently, the one before was for the spine.

They again changed some planks, wrapped something that looked like a heating pad thing across my shoulders, and had me lie down in a sort of slightly tilted way. This time,i escaped the guillotine, and was rewarded with a pillow. One hand was outstretched and the other was still in the submissive pose, clutching the ringer call bell. The fellows disappeared and the I was once again introduced into the Magnetic Mayhem center.

This time I was ready.

I knew all the knocking, drilling, dogs cooing, cowbells in the background, hinges creaking . I lay with my eyes closed, enjoying the drilling beats. This time, i was more adventurous. I started thinking of other songs.

Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire was particularly appropriate. Jai Ho is a celebration. And i was singing, in my mind, a remixed version of Jai Ho, to the very rhythmic drilling beat, holding notes over several rattling noises, celebrating my victory , over the one-track mind of the wilful hydrogen atoms. Once in a while, I used to think that I was taking God for granted, and would instantly get back to my original prayer. That too felt now like a celebration.

The fear and unease had gone. The drilling didn't bother me at all. I had several more songs lined up.

I started thinking of a new genre of music. MRI Rock.

You sing songs to all those drilling bits. You compose inside the Magnetic Mayhem center. And record. Maybe they can attach an electrode to my mind, and hear all those songs in mp3 format on the same computer that is doing the terrible images of torn muscles, and tendons and other destructive stuff.

You could have different songs for different tissues and areas of the body. You could sing "These boots are made for walking " better than Nancy Sinatra as you take a knee MRI; "Candle in the wind " sung while doing a lung MRI would teach Elton John the real song; Stevie Wonder would join you in singing "I just called to say...." as you did a ear MRI; you could probably croon "light my fire" better than Iglesias as you do a sluggish thyroid MRI; and who better to show than Roberta Flack, as you sing "first time ever I saw your face" while doing a facial MRI. They could even give you a CD with all the images with the songs playing in the background , as your doctor peruses the stuff.......and I haven't even started with the Hindi stuff.

Suddenly something shook. No, it wasn't the earth responding to this huge outpouring of talent.

The dream was over. The plank slid out. For a change, there was a smiling face. I was asked to rest and relax for a few moments till they just rechecked the images.

The original guys came in. They were smiling.

Maybe they heard my songs.

Maybe they were actually very happy to get rid of me.


I will get the report in a day.

Should I ask about the songs CD ? ......:-)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

VillaCat Threadbare

Notwithstanding the various shows that are held in Mumbai, where dogs bathed with special shampoo, and brushed till Garnier Nutrisse gets a complex, sort of "perform" to exhibit their abilities to follow human commands, to the average Indian, a dog is some animal, who , unkempt, scavenging around garbage, running with a pack of like minded friends, sometimes is seen lying down , possibly out of sheer fatigue and or boredom, on the steps that lead to the entrance of an imposing railway station. You stamp your foot, wave your bag, the dog stays put after giving you a bored look.

So being called a dog, is not a great achievement, unless of course , you happen to be a dog. Least of all if you happen to stay in the cinematically highlighted high density enclosure called the Mumbai slum.

Mumbai with its 17 million teeming humans, is a miniaturised clone of India.

We are the traditional Mumbai. We are also the middle class Mumbai. We are also the place -of-opportunity Mumbai. We are also the evil and amoral Mumbai. We are also the "educated" Mumbai. And finally, we are also the Mumbai of folks who buy real estate like you and I buy guavas in the market on a sunny weekend morning.

India has areas where development gallops. Some other places, where it breeds cynicism. In some places , it has never been seen. In many places, when natural calamities occur, people don't wait for the government to act. They simply move out. En masse. Word gets around. And migration happens. Sometimes, elsewhere. Mostly to Mumbai.

Shalini is 20. Her mother works as a household helper. She lives with her mother, and 3 brothers in a locality, which can be politely termed a slum. Anyone who can identify 2 potentially supportive walls, can construct the other two under the benevolent eye of a local goon, who may occasionally decide to shut it. His eye, that is. Shalini has studied up to high school. She works early mornings in a factory and does some sewing work for a tailor at home in the remaining time. Her family has relatives who are better off financially. But they don't like to ask.

And so the girl attended school till she had a brother attending a higher class at the same school. When he left, it was no longer safe for her to go by herself, now that she was in her teens. Her mother and eldest brother burn the midnight oil working and staying up worrying about everyone who comes late from work. Toilets are not part of the house. They are a common shared facility. And it is not uncommon to see women congregate there in the abnormally early dawn hours , seeking safety in numbers and anonymity in the semi darkness. The body cooperates in wondrous ways.

Every morning when she leaves for her factory, she has to walk through a narrow path lined with half sleepy folk chewing and spitting outside, in various stages of dress or undress, some under the haze of alcohol, leching, and she tries to avoid stepping on various varieties of trash , dumped by the residents, hoping it will get washed away in the open gutters that network through the area.

efore she leaves for work, she fills water for the house from the communal tap. The power games played here with the blessings of the local males, often decides who gets water first. But no longer.

A local goon hero, threatened Shalini at the tap, with words, and made the mistake of touching her shoulder patronizingly. He didn't know what hit him, as she gave him a wide stinging slap, which would have had Venus Williams applauding the forehand stroke. Told him to stay away, and leave the water woes to the ladies. Besides his cheek, his ego hurts. She has been threatened. he calls out to her in the worst possible terms as she walks to work in the morning, except when her brother is with her. Which isn't always possible....

And it is difficult being good and remaining that way.

The neighbor lady has two drunkard sons, who abuse their wives. They carry on the tradition of the drunkard lady's husband. The lady is jealous of Shalini's stable household, and likes to pick up fights by doing irritating things, like pouring buckets of water at Shalini's entrance , so the young kids in the house cannot play there, or if they do, they slip. The neighbors are also illegally building another floor, and destroying the strength of one of Shalini's house walls by hammering and banging away. The electric meter which Shalini's family managed to install in the early day, now has a lot of undefined wires resulting in several households enjoying free electricity at her cost. The complaint gets nowhere, as the inspectors are paid off.

But she plods on, taking all possible precautions, being super aware of her environment when moving, and basically minding her own business. She is a God fearing, parent respecting girl who thinks the world of her brothers, who are so different than what she sees around her. She has seen girls who move around with the local goons. She has seen the sudden comeuppance in the world. But she is determined to keep saving, so she can get some useful training and get a better job.

So terribly unlike the pseudo society doyennes, who rule the pages, as they entertain in style at parties to celebrate one more step in the power world; construction projects completed by their husbands, and huge profits generated by importing cheap labor from elsewhere in the country. Clothes are planned , analysed, worn and discarded for their ability to expose rather than cover. Those in more power are fawned over, even tolerated. And while you decide the tonnage of the air conditioner for your pet's bathroom, these laborers return to their 2.5 walls in a slum, created by default. Quick money blinds,and more relatives arrive to claim their own 2.5 walls , resting on some others.

I don't know any millionaires from slums, even potential ones. I don't see any dogs from slums either.

But yes, I do read about folks entertaining other celebrities in their villas, cuddling their pet-cat-with-the-diamond-neck-piece fashioned in Paris. Crocodiles would sell their patent on tears, after hearing how these people's children "slum' it on trips by flying economy class; "oh wow, how simply exquisitely proletarian...."

They tint their window glasses on their latest cars, to avoid facing the dirty dusty world, as they drive to the premiere of the film based on the Mumbai slums. They have Oscar parties where huge screens show the victories of creative people, and they toast each other with the priciest of champagne at the end of it all -- happy in their cocoon of security, imagery, contrived conversations, and money.

Sometimes one looks for solidity. And finds the termites of the society. Gnawing away with their money power . Leaving things threadbare. Like their super fashionable designer clothes, a strip here, a hole there.

In the meanwhile , Shalini has just returned from work, raging against some comment heard on the way. She washes her face with minimal wastage of water, takes a drink of water, exchanges a glance with her mother as if to say "what else is new", and sits down to late frugal meal, while watching on their ten year old TV, the entire brouhaha over a certain film about Mumbai slums and some guy making it big.

Well, good for him.

She washes up, and gets down to her afternoon tailoring work, as her mother leaves for her afternoon work in 3 households, and asks her to ensure the door is locked properly.

She isn't looking to be a millionaire.

Its a huge achievement just getting on with life.

As for the lady in the villa, what can be better than a sequel by Danny Boyle called VillaCat Threadbare?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Life in the slow lane

Household grocery shopping, once consisted of rushing through , dodging traffic through the dust, carrying a tote bag which was the epitome of toughness and sturdiness. In turn, there were several other cloth bags of various persuasions inside, which could be hung on to your persona when they were filled. Some at the elbow, some draped on your shoulder, and some just lugged by hand, as you tilted to one side to balance several kilograms of stuff.

Uncrowded, cool, swanky superstores, where you walked by the merchandise, pushing a shiny cart, inobtrusive music in the background, instead of standing at a counter with a list, was a vision of the future.

Now that this vision is being translated into occasional supermarkets in several areas, I often hanker after the earlier personalized shops. Typical.

Rasikbhai was the first to start a grain shop outside our campus. He belongs to a community which has a sixth sense as regards business. There was absolutely nothing in the area when he started his shop. You crossed the road and had a captive market at a residential campus. Some small vegetable stalls, stationery shops, repair shops, fruit stalls and the like were beginning to proliferate, given the easy terms from the landlord, and soon Rasikbhai had competition.

He then initiated a system of cycling chaps who came to your house every single day to ascertain your needs, jotted the details , and delivered the stuff the same afternoon. He maintained individual books for every household, where they wrote down their requirements. Bills were totaled at the end of the month. Paid by cheque, which was a novelty then. Slightly late bill payment , did not result in acrimonious conversations, as his delivery boys appraised him about someone's family problems, someone being out of town, and so on. Rasikbhai came from a village in Rajasthan, a state known for its business enterprise sense. He had not studied much , but interned in his uncle's shop, and then another relative called him over to Mumbai, to help.

Being close to a campus has its advantages. There was an excellent school for children, where he sent his children. His wife, from his own village, steeped in the tradition of being seen but not heard, enjoyed the daily trips to leave the children at school, interaction with the teachers, attending annual days, and seeing her daughter enjoying school, something she would have loved, but was unable
to enjoy in her childhood.

Intelligent sourcing of his delivery boys, some from his native village and some locally, allowed him to depend on them without worrying about turnover of staff, as he knew many of their parents back home. These delivery chaps soon became a fixture each morning , as we indicated our requirements at the door, as our children, still too young to start school, made all kinds of silly conversation with them, went out to admire their bicycles, and were occasionally given a short ride in the compound.....These young chaps, were traditionally brought up, and would behave very respectfully with visiting grandparents in each house.

And so it wasn't a terrible surprise , when my son, then 4, on one of his birthdays, insisted on inviting 3 of the delivery boys for the party. He went with me to the shop, to give them these little invitation things, with their names spelt out there. Rasikbhai very seriously accepted the stuff, called his chaps. On the evening of the party, he let these 3 chaps go , at a considerable commercial inconvenience, and since they knew almost all the kids attending and their parents, they were a big hit. The BIG candy bar each of them brought for my son, was the preferred gift, over all kinds of dinky cars, coloring books and the like. They stayed on till dinnertime, and left after respectfully touching the feet of the birthday boy's grandparents.

Rasikbhai soon earned so much goodwill in the area, that his clientele increased, and he was able to diversify into cooking utensils, electronic goods and a fabric shop, all run by his relatives, with seed money by him. His grain shop enlarged, but the delivery boys continued. In an age when there were no ATM's, and payment by cheque was treated with suspicion, a person (whom he knew), needing money at night in an emergency could write him a cheque, and get cash , provided he landed up before 10 pm, his closing time.

The birthday boy and his friend, now 6, once ventured near the campus gate, to watch some bulldozers. The friend met someone he knew and left. After sometime spent admiring various varieties of traffic, wandering cows, the policeman and the security at the gate, he suddenly remembered the house, but couldn't remember the way home. Bravado slowly turned to panic, wide eyes, with the various traditional bogeymen like police etc operating near by on the outside road.

Fifteen minutes later, saw one of Rasikbhai's delivery boys, appearing at our house, with the little boy riding on the handlebar; he came to deliver a lost boy, who he saw at the gate and recognized, and asked where he thought he was off to.

By and by Rasikbhai's son finished college, something unheard off back in his village. Going to an excellent school and having friends who planned college, showed him a way, and Rasikbhai was thrilled. The boy got selected in campus interviews.

A few years ago, Rasikbhai came to our house to invite us for his daughter's marriage. She finished school, then did a diploma in catering. He told us his son was off to the US on an assignment for his company, and he wanted to have the first family wedding before his son left. Almost all of his customers attended the wedding reception. There are always some , what I call, self defined superior types, who think it is a blot on their status to attend a wedding in their "shopkeepers" house. But we stupid inferior types thoroughly enjoyed the traditional decorations, the food specialities, and the color , that goes along with every Rajasthani wedding.

These days Raskibhai has a nephew who sits at the counter sometimes. A new generation needs to be trained. Not just in the commerce, but in customer relations. Typical of Rasikbhai, he maintains excellent relations with all official types that visit his shop for checking.

For a man who hailed from a conservative family in a even more conservative village, where family was the ultimate consideration, Rasikbhai has great regard for anyone venturing into a socially beneficial action. Due to historical economic reasons, all of us here have been allotted what are called Ration cards, which basically serve to identify our households. Adding a child's name on a ration card is supposed to be a procedure which is time consuming because of checking of facts with neighbors and so on. A family who had adopted a little girl and wished to have her name added, were overcome with gratitude, when Rasikbhai , on his own, told them that the Rationing Officers visited his shop every week, and if they gave him the papers, he would get this done in his shop itself, as he would identify and vouch for the family. It was his way showing his approval and admiration.

Last year, I didn't see Rasikbhai for several months. When I queried the delivery boys, they said he was travelling. I thought maybe he was visiting his native village. Then I heard his wife too was travelling with him.

I met a worldly wise Rasikbhai sometime later, as I had gone to his shop one morning soon after opening time.

He was busy garlanding the statues of Gods, high up, to the left of where he sat, and burning incense sticks, which he then placed in their holders. He folded his hands, said a short prayer, something he did every morning.

Sat down at the counter. Yelled out some instructions to someone. And smiled at me.

"You know my son is in Ohio. In software", and he smiled, pride suffusing his face. "He has been calling us for a visit. To see the country. And I don't know when I would get so much free time again. My daughter is expecting, and my wife will be very busy with that in six months time. So I took my wife on a combined trip to Europe and America. A conducted tour. So language was never a problem. And we got strict vegetarian food. We saw the English Queen's palace, and the Alps, and so many wonderful cities and places. Then we went and relaxed at our son's house in America. Of course he took us to DisneyWorld in Florida. , as well as Epcot, Washington, the White house ....everything simply fuss-class....." (He wasnt signifying the mode of travel, but his total approval of what he saw)

From a society where women covered their heads at the sight of men in the family, Rasikbhai had graduated to taking his wife on rides in Disneyworld, showing her Europe, and even then, being aware of her traditional duties as a prospective grandmother, returning well in time to help his daughter, with her first delivery, traditionally happening at her parents home....

Rasikbhai had come a long, long way ..... and what a way it was !

Yes, we do have a spanking new supermarket. They have shiny carts, piped music, special sales, wonderful merchandise, employees in uniforms and aprons and stuff wishing you, and hovering about you, , ringing cash registers, monogrammed plastic bags.........

Maybe its age. Maybe its just plain good sense.

But give me Rasikbhai and his delivery boys any day.....

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Carving to Communicate : 2nd part of Scratching the surface...

Lest people confuse Henna(Mehendi) designs with Tattoos, let me rush and add that this distinction is similar to what they say about Sachin Tendulkar, when he makes anything less than a 100 runs.

They say Form is Temporary, Class is Permanent. Mehendi/Henna is temporary, Tattoos are permanent.

And this is about Tattoos. And their ability to function as disseminaters and communicators of information.

Gerard Cote, of Texas A&M University, and Michael Pishko, of the chemical engineering department at Penn State University, have come up with, what can only be called the glowing diabetic tattoo. A special tattoo is inscribed on/in your skin. It is blood- glucose sensitive, and is scheduled to glow when your glucose levels change. My late mother-in-law, who lived in the days before disposable syringes would have been thrilled.

Dr Garry Hellerman, writing in Genetic Vaccines and Therapy, says research indicates that many vaccines could now be given in tattoo form. Tests indicate that tattoo vaccines generate 16 times more antibodies in you than normal pokes, and stuff looks more promising for vaccines for HPV and cervical cancer.

While all this is something that gives long range tattoo benefits, there are some folks who don't have the patience.

Just in case you are unclear about his right or left brain proclivities, this guy has made good use of his bald state. Though constantly visualizing his dormant grey-red matter would be a bit traumatic. And I wouldn't fight to sit behind him in a lecture hall.

Here ---> is someone who thinks he needs to educate his doctor, about his muscle pain. I mean, we all know, BUT, Just in case the doctor gets confused about triceps brachia and the biceps brachia, you just land up, roll up your sleeves (if you have some), and point to the 3rd muscle fibre 6 inches above the elbow. Eureka!

A spectacularly cool device for "vein contrast enhancement" called the VeinViewer, , is now in use throughout the Memphis-based Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare system.

We have something cheaper.

Not to be outdone, and probably to help in his med school Viva exams, this guy has his entire arm veins blood supply displayed. They ask you a question and you simply point. The guy above too, probably had this ulterior motive in mind for the Muscles exam.

Next time you see a med student wearing Bermudas at his Vivas, and looking down and depressed, you know its not true. He is actually checking to see the answer to the question about the left coronary artery,, the pulmonary vein. and the Bundle of His.

(It might entertain folks to know that in my language, Bundle is another word for Fib.)

And just in case someone needs to give someone's backside a much wished kick, you can now pick and choose which of this gent's vertebrae and ribs will take the load. No need for Xrays. Just point and kick. This is the WYSIWYG method, the last G stands for " give" and not "get" . (WUSIWYG =What You See Is What You Give/Get).

Like late ex-President Nixon was fond of saying, this guy is really making things "
perfectly clear"...... just in case you thought the heart was on the doctors left, in lieu of your left, this needs no explanatory words. Very useful for folks thinking of making an incision in your chest to operate on you.

Should you decide to have that operation.......
A great example of how tattoos can help when the surgeon says, "make an incision of 6 inches....." ....never thought these medical types had a mathematical side to them. But the key question is, does the other hand display tattoos in the metric system ?

Is it time to look for math tattoos ?

Here is a functionally disabled fellow. He has rested , but not before showing the fist with the function f(x) = 1/x. So apt. for someone whose life may have just turned upside down ....

A fine way to postulate the theory of infinitely integrated love..... Of course, no one has ever found the solution to this problem, although everyone from Afghanistan to Zanzibar is trying, even the Nobel folks are trying, on the off chance that they can get the prize themselves .....

A great way to fudge your electrical engineering exams. The "circuits" are permanent, and the examiner cannot remove the stuff." without breaking your arm"

A great way to remain charged at all times

You know, I have always been intrigued by the number "pi", shown tattooed alongside, divided by 2. What tickles me no end, is that the word "pi" in my language, Marathi, means "leg, and this is so fitting, that one single leg in tattooed with "pi divided by 2" ! How they would tattoo the whole "pi" is a different problem, but since pi = 3.14 something, we can talk about it on 3/14 which is, what else, "international PI day ie March 14.....!"

Some people with lots of time calculated the value of pi to 100 decimal places. Some other people with more time, tattooed this value on their entire arm . It seems at first glance you can only see 73 decimal places. .......Now that "mine eyes have seen " seen the 74th decimal place, I can die ..........

And finally Maxwell, who postulated the equations for the speed of light in a dilelectric medium (OK, I know you all know about them, but accuracy is important , like in tattooing) , must be feeling positively sorry for this guy who tattooed the equations, and their effect in terms of something from Genesis,cutting in too hard, hoping that his girlfriend taking the exam sitting behind him, would, maybe , finally, see the light.....
Pass the soframycin, will ya ?

There are so many ways one can do complicated subjects, aided by tattoos. Folks doing geography can tattoo maps to remember that Urals are not in Nebraska, the Taj Mahal is in Agra and not Mumbai, And Alaska is near to Russia, but you cant see there even if you are Palin; the cooking and eating types can tattoo caloric values and obese figures on their palms. Physics Folks can tattoo equations on their back and sit for a price, in front of those who fool around throughout the semseter. David Beckham can Tatoo his wife's picture on his back, and offer a buy-one-get-one-free deal, even if he returns to Spain and she sticks to LA. All corporate cheaters can be tattooed with the dollar amount that they defrauded the country with.

The possibilities are endless.

But the final say has to rest with these two.

The one of the left , telling us of future events.

The one below, very much having to do with this blog.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Scratching the surface......

Never has such a fuss been made over tattoos.

Baywatch-ian Ms. P. Anderson and her erstwhile husband get tattoos done with the same needle to exhibit their erstwhile togetherness, and then crib about Hepatitis C, and split, probably in reverse order. Newspapers report religiously about some current hear throb tattooing something insignificant on an
even more insignificant part of his or her anatomy. Some kind of west centric fashion diktats followed slavishly by the "in"-folks spur a temporary upsurge in some businesses in India, and tattoos appear to be one of those.

As a child, one saw tattoos and took it for granted, just like the red dot (kunku or tikka) on the forehead of women in our families. Its not that women in your family had tattoos; but chances are, if your household consisted of an old great grandmother or grandmother , who earlier possibly lived in a native rural area, you probably saw a small design or spot on her forehead. You noticed tattooes on the arms of, say your household help, or your daily vegetable vendor lady, or the lady who delivered the pooja (worship) flowers to your house everyday. One didn't think too much about it and attributed it to the different background milieu of those ladies.

With the current brouhaha about tattooes, one took another look.

Sagunabai , one of the great ladies featured on this blog earlier, almost 80, has a host of figures tattooed on her right arm. Pictures of folks from the Ramayana, one of our religious epics, are prominent. Then another thing is the pictures of deities from Maharashtra's very well known pilgrim centre, Pandharpur. Then there is a bluish spot in the middle of her forehead. And something that looks like a branch and leaves on the inner side of the forearm. Contrary to research that says that tattooes were a sign of branding,ownership,groupings etc, it turns out that when Sagunabai was a little girl, this was a "hot" thing to do.

There was hardly any social life in an agrarian patriarchal milieu, in rural areas. Whatever was there was always related to religion. But there were some artist ladies who came home with special needles and vegetable dyes prepared right there, and an indulgent parent would let the little girls of the family get certain things tattooed , say, on the arms, and palms and fingers.

The choice was always amongst scripture personalities, and nature. Amazingly, the most popular tattoo seen on Sagunabai and her friends' hands is of the Tulsi(basil leaf), which has much religious and medical significance. Maybe it had also something to do with the fact that devotees always wore necklaces made out of basil/tulsi seeds. There was never a problem of things turning septic, bursting with infection and so on. And the lady who came to do this, was often compensated with a homely meal and some great produce from the fields. There were no fixed rates and no appointments.

Today, Sagunabai needs glasses to see her own tattoos, and her wrinkled and sagging skin has made all the gods look geriatric too. I guess its fun growing old together.

Sagunabai's daughter, Kumkum, also featured on this blog earlier, around 50, who helps me with the housework, has very different tattoos. By the time, she was a little girl, village fairs were looked forward to. You always went for them with a gaggle of your friends. Women were a bit more free socially then, and the fashion then was more about eternal friendship tattoos. Gods had gone out of fashion, and Sagunabai's daughter and her 2 girlfriends, had identical tattoos done on their hands in the village fair. Nothing alarming, just all their 3 names one below the other. This was amazing artwork, for 3 girls who never went to school , cannot read, and today, only know how to sign their names. To them their signatures, like their tattoos , were just another design. But 40 years down the line, everyone remembers the names of girls in that group.

"Tattoo ladies" coming home, often did the spots in the middle of the forehead for these girls, along with some "beautyspots " on the face .Sometimes, intricate designs on the wrist and hands. When I questioned Kumkum about this , she had an interesting explanation. She said the tattooing of the forehead spot ,had to do with the fact that Moslems did not have this custom. A red dot was put daily, and was removable. This was not. It identified you . Mothers insisted on daughters getting this done. Maybe a result of oral history of invasions being passed down the generations, for safety of little girls who never went to school, to learn history.

I asked her about the attitudes to tattoos when marriage happened. . She just waived her hand as if it wasn't anything worth discussing further. Tattoos were stuff that girls enjoyed getting done with their friends. There wasn't anything like forbidden tattoos. When marriages happened, Tattoos was the last thing anyone concerned themselves with. Most of the time the bride and groom saw each other the morning of the wedding day.

I asked her, if girls, got names of boys tattooed on their arms . (There had to be some girls in society treading a dangerous path. ) Well, yes it seems, but many times, the women would get their children's names tattooed on their arms. Occasiionally , prior to marriage, a girl would have her brother's name tattooed. However, in a society where husbands were never addressed in the second person singular or by their first names, she hadn't known anyone who had their husband's name tattooed on their arm.

I was just thinking what would happen if people in the West, say Hollywood had this custom. Freer social customs would encourage spouse name tattooes. Everytime a husband or wife got replaced, or changed, there would be a new tattoo. Elizabeth Taylor, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Madonna, etc would be the most decorated folks. In situations where marriages are done in secret, TV cameras would zero in on someones arm to see if a new name has been tattooed.

In this information age, when information can be transmitted, detected, and used in so many ways, maybe tattooing can be considered an organic method of propagating information.

I am on to some new research :-) . More about that in the next post.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Games of life in the time of e....

50 years after I graduated from playing hopscotch, known in my childhood as "tipri", every time I see wonderful Shahbad stone floors, say in older houses, I have to restrain my self from doing the stuff, mostly out of consideration for the hosts floors, but also out of a sense of consideration for folks having to face certain embarrassing visuals.

So it was with a great sense of delight that I learned that a bunch of parents who did surveys at a parenting website, had declared the following to be the Top 10 playground games in the world
: Hopscotch, Hide and Seek, Skipping, What's the Time Mr Wolf?, British Bulldog, Conkers, Kiss Chase, Chinese Whispers, Cats cradle, Oranges and Lemons....

Except for the 1st 3, and the last, I cannot recall ever having played the others, partially because (a) I do not and have not stayed in Britain, (b) We have active Moral Police, (c) With all the whispering going on here, why would anyone be interested in Chinese whispers , and (d) I don't play with Wolves and Cats.

There was a huge patio with a swing in our childhood house, and the floor was paved with Shahbad stone. The masons seemed to have been thinking of us when they fixed the stone. Tipri or hopscotch was a favourite with us girls, and we never needed to draw chalk outlines on this stone. We girls would be busy hopping on one leg, sometimes even leaping on one foot over certain squares, taking turns, and it wasn't unknown for our brothers and other similarly motivated folks to sit on that large swing, and casually activate it so that someone at the last square had to counter with the swinging stuff , and would loose her balance, and thus, a turn. For some reason, boys never played tipri.

Hide and Seek , of course , was the game of choice which was played with several variations. the original game had a person who was the "den" who counted up to 100, while all of us went to hide. Smart dens counted in tables of 10. And then searched for the hidden folks, all over the house, including behind people.

A variation of this was a game , which for some reason, was called "Dabba Ice Pice". And it had absolutely nothing to do with the Dabbawalas's who attended Prince Charles's second wedding, Ice, or Pice, the last of which was actually the name of our old currency, before 1957, the value of which was 1/64th of a rupee. The game had the person who was the den doing the usual counting of numbers, but there was a ramshackle tin box placed prominently in the playing area. Every time the den spotted someone, he would shout, "so-and-so, dabba-ice-pice" and the person was declared"out". During this phase if someone (hiding), managed to suddenly appear and kick the tin box from its place, all the caught people were declared free and went to hide again, to the intense trauma of the "den".

Running and catching each other , were again, games played with different variations. I like to think there was one which was unique to our house. There was a huge annular space around our house, and thanks to the tradition of having common medicinal plants growing in the garden area, we had a few lemon grass plants. We used to play a usual game of the "den" running after and catching others. Whoever was caught had to lie down right there, whether it was in a flower bed, dirt, path of approaching guests or just at the garage door etc.

The den continued the catching process of others elsewhere. Those uncaught, would tear some lemongrass and rush with it , and hold it to the caught person's nose, shouting "medicine, medicine", and the earlier caught child would be de-caught and could again run. This game was called "Medicine". We used the love the smell of the lemon grass, and even today , when gardens have lost out in Mumbai, and I still see lemongrass being sold in markets , it takes me back to those "medicine" days.

Several ball games involved running around and hitting a person with a tennis ball to get him out. which was a bit difficult in gardens with sudden constructions at corners, approaching visitors , parked cars and the like, but might explain abilities of certain bowlers in Cricket. Notice that India does well in games where a small size ball has to be thrown by hand. Football, basketball, volleyball, hockey, well, now you know, why we are still trying there.....

While Skipping and oranges and lemons were really considered sissy games, played mostly in the recess at school ( I never saw my brother skipping), there would be certain poems we sang while doing this skipping, vaguely having to do with "two little dicky birds. (Nothing to do with the one Cricket Umpire of the same name.) ". It must be explained here that my experience was with a school where the medium of instruction was English. I probably missed out on even more wonderful games in other language schools.

Sagargote (shown alongside while a child demonstrates to a tourist, on a table), was a game unique amongst girls in my childhood. Turns out that a lot of the government state gazettes of the old days, writing about recreation amidst the population then, mention this game.

These were special rounded seeds/pebbles, usually grey in color. You started by strewing them around as you sat on the floor, one foot outstretched. One pebble/ sagargota was flung up, and you picked up one from the floor before you caught it back. Once you had picked up all, without disturbing any on the floor, you again strew them on the floor, and this time you picked them two at a time, before catching the flung one. If you disturbed any on the floor (not marked for pickup), you missed a chance. Champion sagargota players were capable of picking up widely strewn 6-7 gotas at a time, by throwing the single flung sagargota high enough and then catching it. This game took some learning, but was an amazing recreation on hot summer afternoons in cool balconies and verandahs, when you had had your fill of climbing mango trees, plucking raw mangoes and surreptitiously enjoying them with salt and cayenne pepper.......

There was this great game called Statue. Whenever some person who was the den, said "statue" and gesticulated as if with a gun (for some weird reason), those of us running towards him had to go into a dead stop. Some had perfected the art, of freezing with a grin, an angry face, an arm out to hit someone, and even someone trying to smooth a flying skirt. The den then proceeded to appear in front of each and say things to make us laugh, thereby getting us to move, and be disqualified. Most of the time, the rest of the statues were in splits. Sometimes, someone's desperate parents, would be calling out for some work, and it was a divided loyalty between being a statue and answering parental summons.

At various points in all games, one could hold a fist (fingers outward) against one's lips, lick the back of the hand, loudly, say "Time please", and keep things in "abeyance"; that this was used by tricky players in lots of unscrupulous ways was known, accepted, and sometimes admired.

It is impossible to name all the games we played. These games weren't defined anywhere. They got written about later because they were first played by children who had nothing ready-made. Organized sports was there. In schools and otherwise. But that was a different world.

This was where we could innovate. Change rules. Fight. Take revenge for perceived wrongs. Stand up for our friends. Laugh. Cry. And get back to our houses, faces shining with perspiration, clothes muddy but smelling of lemon grass and mud, to be told to wash and get organized for predinner prayers, and yes, recitation of maths tables. We never questioned that. Maybe we thought of it as a game. Maybe not. But the maths improved.

Today's games have Instruction sheets, Documentations, Help, and are essentially repetitive. They are played on screens by pushing some buttons on a keyboard. Whether its driving a fancy car that can go at 500 mph flouting all known rules, or a soldier who can burst through a cement wall, or a dragon that can eat an army, its all achieved with a movement of an inch or so to the left or right, by your finger, as you sit, muscles tense, neck tense, and eyes glaring at a screen.

Whats worse, these games cost. Money. ( We talk about health some other time ). Shops have sales, and children demand that these be bought. Then someone starts making a noise about "multiplayer" games. A profit crazed company organizes competitions, someone at some university does research to show how some kind of learning is happening, Microsoft makes news when it buys this company, prizes are declared, and an entire generation of children become e-children.

I have a firm belief in the cyclic patterns in life.

We are slowly reaching the excess level as far as e-games are concerned. Hospscotch, hide and seek, statues etc caused no garbage. All these e-games do. Think of millions of children , holding these little screens, and clicking away to irritating sounds, and you'll get mounds of unbiodegradable garbage.

Then global warming hits you. Inconvenient or not.

What surely would be wonderful, is to sit back in the fag evening of ones life, and watch the children in your family once again enjoy the hopsscotch, the skipping, the running, the medicine, and yes, the Dabba Ice Pice......Call out to them at dinnertime, and NOT HAVE THEM EMERGE FROM THE COMPUTER ROOM, BRAINS IN BROWNIAN MOTION...........

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Whose culture is it anyway ? Yours, mine or ours ?

As long as I remember, there has been a February 14th. (Someone in the family has a birthday on the 13th)...
But its only in the last 20 years or so, that I hear it being celebrated here, as Valentines Day. And its only the last 10 years or so that certain pockets of society, and politicians have been objecting to its celebration, with a lot of violence, destruction of shops selling valentines stuff, and shouting from the rooftops. This year has seen the Ram Sene getting into the act in a Mangalore pub, beating up boys and girls, who were supposed to be drinking etc, in direct contravention, of what this Ram Sene says is "Indian culture" .....

When I was a child, explicit socializing between boys and girls was non existent. Yes, we were aware that in certain more emancipated sections of society such as Christians, the armed forces, and a few Parsees, a western lifestyle that was followed, allowed the practice of such socializing. And while my parents were extremely broad minded about us mixing with boys as a part of your school,college, sports etc, it was understood, that any extra attention from anyone, secretive meetings, fibbing to parents etc was simply not on. And we never suffered from the Friday night syndrome.

Staying away at college, traveling abroad for grad school, etc gave us a very balanced view about the whole thing, which was generally suited to the way the world and India were developing at that time as a society. But I had friends who were not allowed to talk to boys, period. I once played mixed doubles in badminton with a fellow in college tournaments, and my mother heard about it, ( with special meaningful emphasis on the fellow) from someone else's mother, both of them 150 miles away ! It is another thing that everyone who told my mother about this got a large piece of her very angry mind , as she was already following my progress through my letters, and very pleased about my participation, mixed or not..

Indian culture is a strange thing. The country is so rich in it. But that isn't the culture these so called "custodians of culture" have understood. They deal with a different culture.

It is OK, if you cavort around trees in pouring rain , in transparent sarees, in fashions that are based on fabric-famine, and throw yourself at the hero, in a Hindi or even Southern movie. It is even more OK, if you perform the sort of body movements in movies, that would make Britney Spears a nobody. You buy a ticket, go see the movie. listen to the catcalls and whistles. But if you and your friend appear to be walking together a bit too often, the "custodians of Indian culture" attack.

I honestly wish they had met my grandmother.

Born at the dawn of the 20th centrury, she was married at 13, to my grandfather, much older than her, and a widower. She was one of 9 sisters, and 1 brother, and the sisters learned the basic three R's at home, while the son went on to be an engineer. She lived at a time, when, if you had to pass through a room in the house where your husband or father-in-law was sitting, you dared not look up, you covered your head, and talking to your own husband in front of even family was a complete no-no. You ate after the menfolk did. You didn't sit somewhere with your feet up munching peanuts in your free time. . And mothers-in-law usually lived up to their standard image of being tough. And , by tradition, daughter-in-laws were troubled by mother-in-laws.....

So, not surprisingly, women of her time dedicated themselves to a lot of religious observances, which was a great education as well as a nice way of spending what little free time you had.
One of the things she followed, involved wearing of special "holy, anointed, pure, just-washed etc" sarees while worshipping and performing religious rituals. My grandmother stayed downstairs, and we had a free run of the whole place as children. Whenever my grandmother was wearing one of these special sarees, you couldn't touch her. Even if that saree was hanging somewhere to dry, you couldn't touch it. (In my language, Marathi, it was called "sowla" सोवळं ).

My cousins and I , always "accidentally" managed to touch her, more so , after we found out that the antidote was for her to have another bath. Things hanging to dry at a height, suddenly found us playing games, like jumping from a bed etc near it. When things became unbearable, my grandmother would complain bitterly to our mother, and we'd miss our nightly stories from her that day. By and by we grew up into womanhood, and I remember my mother telling us how lucky we were, not to have to follow certain customs during menstruating days. In her time, EVERYONE is the family knew , because you were made to sit isolated somewhere in the house, you ate by yourself, had baths elsewhere, you didn't wander anywhere near the gods or the kitchen (in fact sometimes you cooked your own food ), and you made sure you never touched grandma.
This was called "sitting out". (Used to make me laugh when I used to read in the papers in the US about "coming out "parties"..)
My grandmother, uneducated as she was, and very firm in her religious and social beliefs, knew how to move with the times. It did not require a special effort. Just good observation. She never made me "sit out". She never made snide comments to my mother about me cycling at all hours to go for badminton practice, where , of course, you played in shorts, but wore a long skirt over it when you cycled. She enjoyed my frilled sleeveless frocks as much as my parkar-polkas (pictured on left), and she would tell her sisters with a great amount of smugness about how well we were doing at school, and speaking in English etc etc.

When I graduated and decided to go to the US for grad school, folks got into action, filling her ears, with, amazing pieces of knowledge, like, what a folly it was to send a girl of marriageable age to the US like this. Never once did she talk to my parents about this, though she knew enough to tell her sisters etc that I had been granted an assistantship, which was great and that it was an honor to go and study like this. She was fairly old then, mostly house bound, but was part of a huge busload of folks that came to see me off when i left. Maybe some thought they would not see me again.Maybe they secretly felt I would return wearing a frock, and with blonde hair or something. I am sure there was all kinds of alarming talk in the bus on the way back, spoken loud enough for my grandmother to hear....

That I returned basically unchanged (except for shorter hair), is another matter, but that was the time, my elder brother , who was working in the US, was considered a "catch", and we would get a lot or proposals from the various girls' parents. Due to some visa restrictions, an earlier 6 week trip of my brother's had to be postponed, and this got a whole bunch of relatives and interested folks chattering.They would come to her and tell her, "what if he married a "gori" (white woman) ? Maybe he had someone in mind and that's why he was postponing . What if she is not a Hindu ? What if he secretly married her and simply landed up ? "...... The possibilities were endless, once you decided he could do lots of undesirable things.

She was then staying with us in Mumbai and her sister came to visit. Much whispering and sudden silences when we were around. Then her sister thought she could have some fun. She loudly asked what my grandmother would do, if the next day, her grandson appeared at the door with a "gori" wife ?

This was getting interesting. My grandma gave her sister a pitying look. Blew her nose. Shook her head to the side in a sort of defiant, determined way.
"Look" , she said, " You know, I know my grandson, and the values that his parents have given him. Should he come with a "gori" , I know she will have all the qualities that we look for in the eldest and first granddaughter-in-law of the family. She will have her religion , just like ours. But if my grandson has chosen her,she must be wonderful, I will welcome her with an "arti" , anoint her forehead with a red dot and grains of rice, and have her perform the house entering ritual (see above), at the door, that any new bride will perform ! She will be my first grand-daughter-in-law , I will present her with wedding silk sarees, and I will tell the world about it ! So. !

(We don't remember her sister's reaction).

It so happened that my brother came later on, and married a wonderful girl, from India, in India, and I could almost see my grandmother preening in the wedding whenever her sisters were around. She lived to see two of her grandchildren get married, but did not live long enough to see the great grandchildren.

She outlived her husband almost by 30 years. Saw a lot of changes in social attitudes, clothes, emancipation of women issues. She lived her own life exactly the way she wanted. But was very happy to be part of a society that was , maybe, following rules, that were a bit different.

30 years later today, I see the benefit of her attitudes , her courage, and her observations about how we need to change with society, tempered by the values that have come down to us.

I wonder what her take on Valentines day would have been.

And I honestly wish the "custodians of India's culture" could see her and talk to her about it.

Maybe there is something to be learnt....

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with