Saturday, January 30, 2010

Multitudes on the moon

"India has planned the first manned mission to the moon, in 2016. The manned mission will cost 124 billion rupees ($2,676,740,597), and New Delhi has given permission for the mission. The second unmanned project, Chandrayaan-II, will be launched in the first quarter of 2013 - a prelude to the manned space mission. There are also ambitious plans to launch a mission to Mars in 2030."

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is also looking at the possibility of setting up a base on the moon; "Chandravihar" a concept mentioned in a pop science book, released by ISRO, introduces the concept of a base being set up on the moon, buzzing with engineers, geologists, astronomers and biologists.

If you find any logic in all this, let me know. Like what purpose is served by spending fortunes, on sending someone to the moon to do something that was done several decades ago by Neil Armstrong. Unless something is happening on the moon that none of us know about.

The United Nations passed a law in 1967, preventing governments from reserving/occupying/claiming places like this in outer space/moon etc. But someone found a loophole, and the Dreamcricket Lunar Cricket Field, has been registered with the Lunar registry. The United Nations never thought private entities would register cricket fields. It also appears, that matinee idol Shahrukh Khan, owner of the IPL Kolkatta Knightriders (cricket) team, is now the dubious owner of a plot on the moon.

And now that going to the moon is officially a full budgeted activity for the nation, I can see how things will get interesting , say by 2020.

Cut. Fast Forward.

According to the latest buzz, Chief Minsiter Mayawati has written to ISRO about including sculptors , in the group of people likely to reside in the Chandravihar. When appraised about the possible relearning of sculpting specific to lunar gravity situations, she mentioned the setting up of the BabaSaheb Ambedkar Gurutwakarshanvirodhi Murti Nigam, where such guys would be trained in gravityless enclosures imported from NASA. She has also emphasized the advantages of sculpting her own statues on the moon, where they would undoubtedly weigh less ( and then she could get some more statues in, say, bordering the dark side of the moon. ).

Reports indicate that the Delhi Cricket Association, hitherto in the docks for messing around with the Delhi Kotla pitch making it unplayable, during the India -Sri-Lanka series, already had secret information on the moon mission and the cricket field there. Headed by various politicians, it is natural for the association to now focus its eyes on controlling the moon stadium, and it is very clear how and why , the Kotla pitch actually resembles the moons surface.

They have also written to ISRO demanding places/seats , for several DCA office bearers in the manned Moon mission. Meanwhile, the International Cricket Council(ICC), which toes the line drawn by the Board of Control for Cricket in India(BCCI), which is populated by many from the Delhi Cricket Association, is obsessed with the job of making new cricket rules for Lunar surfaces.

like Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar, not to mention Zaheer Khan are looking forward to hitting huge boundaries with feather-touch gentle sweeps on the moon.

Rumors are rife in Delhi about a secret meeting between Amar Singh, and Lalu Prasad Yadav held in a five star cowshed. They are planning to lead a delegation to President (Smt) P. Vadra for demanding the new state of ChandraPradesh, on the moon. They are rumored to be hiding a report on the moon minerals, prepared by the Bulgarians. Who have actually also sold it, it seems to Madhu Koda and Jayalalitha and S. Pawar.

Amar Singh has lined up several industrialists willing to invest in the new State, with the younger Ambanis offering to set up a state-of-the-gravity Hosiptal. Not to be outdone, the older Ambanis have offered to set up the Chandrapur International University, as they think it's better than setting it up in the Chandrapur that is in Vidarbha. Like Mrs Nita Ambani said , " Mumbai belongs to all, we belong to Maharashtra, but don't want any part of Vidarbha....."!

Lalit Modi, has just announced the 6th auctions for the Interplanetary Premier Cricket League, and along with the players , he is also buying the audience. And Coke, Pepsi and some Champagne companies are fast tracking their research into how to get the bubbly liquid,
on the moon, to fall into the champions mouth, when poured . Of course, the matter concerning cheerleaders is in court, after someone did a practice kick on the moon and was thrown clear out of the stadium. Lots of talk about the skirts of the cheer leaders not staying down on the moon, but the matter is sub-judice, and we need to stop right here.

The Congress party , bending over backwards to appear secular, is planning to send representatives of all religions to the moon in the first trip, so that they may cater to the spiritual requirements of the Indian population on the moon. Various builders in Mumbai are licking their lips in anticipation of doing construction on the moon, because, no one will really come to check the unauthorized floors. Lifts/elevators wont be required, as people can just take a concentrated strong step on a trampoline, to climb into their apartment in a single step. The energy savings are mindbloggling.

Bollywood of course, has imported some rockets from the US , to carry some of their crew for location shooting in the Sea of Tranquility on the moon. Of course the burning question of shooting the heroine's final suicide scene at the Crater Manillus is giving everyone ulcers. Everytime the heroine jumps into the crater, she bounces back out on the other side.

Other problems are being faced by the music directors, as acrobatic dances to fast music are impossible on the lunar surface. One, you wear an oxygen mask, and two, a slight jump, bounces you out of camera range.

A special committee of Parliamentarians, actually on its way to study the implementation of Hindi in the Finland,Greenland and Iceland consulates, will be doing a side trip to what will soon be Chandrapradesh.

They will concentrate on studying the aerodynamics of throws in the legislative domain.

Tumultuous sessions are expected to happen in the ChandraPradesh assembly, and throwing of chairs, microphones, etc and rushing into the well of the chamber, may actually take you and the objects elsewhere.

Our correspondent from the South reports that certain humble farmer ex-PM types, are lining up to push their luck, (read influence) to make the inaugural trip to the ChandraPradesh Vidhan Sabha. Ever since the Bangalore-Mysore highway was constructed 7 years ago, he has been itching to have a proper profane fight . There is of course , intense competition from the Indian Parliament and some of the Assemblies in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Chattisgarh, to just name a few.

The sad thing is, that these guys think, they can call anyone anything, and like other things on the moon, the words will hit and rebound far away.

They don't realise, that unlike microphones , chairs, tables, and other items of taxpayer munificence, words are not affected by the lunar gravitation set up, or the lack of it. They reach someone, and stay there. Always.

So be ready to look forward to skirmishes in the Chandra Pradesh Assembly, with a massive wastage of words. With no relevant useful outcome.

But Eureka ! the same keeps happening with our politicians even now, right here.

I have always felt their words had no weight.

Now they themselves will have no weight, idiomatically and physically speaking...

And finally, I am happy to report, that the the contract for construction of roads in Chandra Pradesh , has been unanimously granted to the Mumbai Metropolitan Development Authority(MMRDA), dues to their expertise in unique potholes, as well as their success in simulating the lunar landscape in Mumbai....

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What is metaphysics ? :-)

We often go ga ga today over the numerous educational choices available today. We admire folks who breeze through degrees after degrees, and have a bunch of jobs, simply waiting for them to join. And for those who revel in the acquisitions of showy prestige, the props available are limitless and mind boggling.

Those not so fortunate, and those not so monetarily well off, often struggle along the path longer, but emerge more sensible and tough , in the bargain. A lot of it has to do with how you are brought up, with what values. Whether you have the guts to refuse something, regardless of how attractive it is, because it had dicey human values. Whether you can turn your eyes away from blinding illusions. Whether you see and participate in meaningful communication, within your family, and later around you.

And this often involves, parents giving you a lot of their time in your growing years. Making little plus-minus corrections, to teach you stand up strong in a giddy world. It doesn't always mean folks giving up jobs to be with you. But a thoughtful prioritising . And sharing. And if that doesn't happen, all that education shows up for naught. Money has never been able to substitute for basic common sense and courtesy.

Like in this story.

Somewhere in the 70's , many young girls in their twenties, sensed an opening up of opportunities for them, in Mumbai, in education as well as careers. That was also a time when parents were keen on getting their daughters married, and the age old bride-groom-seeing sessions had given way to informal meetings of families, where the girl and boy actually chatted, and/ or even kind of went out to talk and walk around.

We stayed in an apartment complex where everyone was a government person; either the civil service, police or judiciary at various levels. Everyone kind of knew everyone, though you knew some folks better. I had just returned a year ago after grad school in the US, had a job, and was scheduled to get married within the year. So for various ladies in the building with daughters of marriageable age, my mother was a safe person to consult regarding information about prospective grooms and so on, since she wasn't now looking out for any "rishtas(=proposals)" for me.

The K's lived 2 floors above, and had 2 daughters. The older one was my friend. The younger one, M., was considered super smart, beautiful in a very traditional sense, and was just about to graduate with some really outstanding grades. The girl wanted to take the Civil Service exams, which was fine and OK. But. There was this concern about timely marriage. K's were very conservative folks, and were concerned about being very proper when figuring out proposals suitable for their daughter M., and approaching parents of prospective grooms.

One evening , getting home from work, I saw Mrs K, deep in conversation with my mother, and she left after a lot of nodding and searching looks. A growing number of fellows were going abroad to study; some stayed there, and some returned, and all of them were considered excellent catches then. Apparently, some one's son had just returned from abroad, with a very prestigious degree, and a job with an even more prestigious firm in Mumbai, in a very high post. A chauffeur driven car came for him every morning. The boy's folks were also in the same buildings complex. My folks knew these people through some kind of old family connection, and M's mother wanted us to help forward their daughters proposal for this guy.

(I'd heard about this person earlier, had met him at some function, and found him to be slightly pompous. He also wore a wig, which was really no one else's business, but his ma would go blue in the face denying that. I also thought there was something fake about him. Word had it that his arrival from abroad suddenly seemingly enhanced the families stature, and this had resulted in the family refusing to travel in the elevator with others, who had to wait.)

There were entire sets of girls' parents going ga-ga over this person, and I did mention my observation to my mother after listening to what the K's wanted her to help with. I was told to strictly keep my so called opinions to myself, that our role was restricted to facilitating a meeting as we knew both parties, and for all I knew, maybe the girl would have a different opinion about the fellow . Who knew ?

The proposal was duly sent, the girl's father made a respectful trip to the boy's parents , and invited them. In a sudden spurt of broad mindedness, the boy's family suggested that he would come over by himself, and maybe later ,the parents could meet, if required. Mrs K kept us appraised of these details.

Finally the D-day dawned. Since the girl's sister would be at work, and I was available that day, Mrs K . requested me to come help with the preparations, but more so, because she knew I knew the chap, and she felt I was a harmless useful bridge between the old-style-seeing-sessions and this new-fangled-girl-boy-meeting. Sort of to smooth things around and fill in the blanks so to speak.

The girl probably didn't like all this brouhaha , but as per the customs then, she had to simply go through them all. She looked wonderful in a lovely silk saree, and there was a flurry of anticipation when the door bell chimed. In walks a guy in a suit , wishes everyone respectfully, is a bit surprised to see me there. I pretend to answer summons from the dining room, and leave, as the girl comes in and is introduced.

Greetings all around, and the elders kind of accidentally preoccupied themselves after a while, and the two got talking. At some point in between a high tea happened. That's where I was helping. You are supposed to move around and offer seconds, and more tea etc, and I could sense that the girl was a bit puzzled at one point, but trying to act civil.

Then I saw the fellow trying to eat a rava ladoo with a fork. To me that was blasphemy. As far as I was concerned , he flunked right there. But everything is fair in a "seeing" session, particularly if you are the boy, and after about 30 minutes , the visit ended with the fellow bidding everyone goodbye, shaking hands with the father, and departing, doubtlessly to travel, once again, in supreme exclusivity in the elevator.

He said they would be in touch. (A loaded statement, that can mean many things)

We sat down for a dissection of the visit, as often happens. The girl looked puzzled. I asked her what happened.

She said she asked him about his hobbies, and his school, and his company where he had just joined. Thinking of finding some common ground. Then in the middle of everything :

"He asked me what subjects I had for my final year. " She gulped some water.

"I told him I was doing philosophy , and then he asked me 'Tell me, what is metaphysics ?'..." .........

My jaw dropped and remained that way. About 25 years earlier, there were cases of asking girls to sing, and walk(to check limb disabilities), and that was bad enough. Times had changed. Girls were doing better than boys in school and college, and other competitive exams.

The guy was the absolute pits. This sounded like the guy was interviewing her for a job appointment.

"And what did you say? " Me. Hoping she told him off.

"I told him it wasn't there in our syllabus. So I couldn't say. "


M's mother, who had tensed up after hearing my question, let out a slow sigh. It didn't matter that this guy was bad news, and had totally undesirable attitudes and hangups and complexes. It didn't matter that he had a weird idea of "interviewing" a possible bride . I could see the girl wasn't impressed at all. She thought he was strange. She herself was very accomplished, in the arts, sciences, elocution, and what have you, had lots of friends, had her own ideas of a life partner, and this guy was bad news. Except her parents thought he was a "catch" ; upmarket family, comfortably placed, good job, education, moved in exalted circles, and you could always ignore the wig. (M was not asked what she thought of it)

The girl confided in me, but dared not say anything in front of her father. She didn't like the boy at all. We even had a huge laugh over the questions he asked. And the possible funny answers she could have given but didn't. She was a very pretty girl, tall and statuesque, and it was possible that the boy's mother would give that more weight. M hoped not.

I reported on all this back home, and after a a few days, after consulting M's parents, my mother casually spoke to the boy's mother about the visit. Apparently the boy was on tour and they would decide on his return. (That turned out to be a fib)

A few days later, the boy's younger brother casually came over to the M.'s house one evening, and smilingly gave them an envelope . And left.

It was the wedding invitation of the boy with another girl.

All through the time the fellow was playing metaphysical games with M, he was in the process of getting hitched up elsewhere. No wonder his parents didn't come. They didn't have the guts to ask M's folks to wait before setting up the meeting. For the boy it was a fun thing. Meeting girls. getting drunk on adoring attitudes from their parents. While his parents were finalizing his life elsewhere.

No amount of education would help this guy, as there was a basic flaw in his bringing up. I was just glad M was out. She deserved better. She herself was immensely relieved. Her father was outraged. But silent .

My mother, equally outraged by this behaviour, spoke to the boy's mother in no uncertain terms. The result was that she was not invited to the wedding.

Which was just fine.

She wouldn't have enjoyed seeing another girl being led to and sacrificed at the altar , doddering under the weight of false prestige, despicable attitude, and a fellow whose wig actually hid something more than his baldness.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

In praise of Individual sports...

Days of runs and sports. 16734.

We always knew he wanted to run on the Sea Link. But running a half marathon for that is just too much !

The fittest blogger who secretly made the french fries vanish during our blogger lunches, completed the half marathon a few hours ago. 21.09 kilometres in 2 hrs and 14 munutes !

We are speechless. Except for three words : Congratulations, Well done !

Another blogger from the lunch set, who lives in two places, and blogs as two different names on a whim, actually stood at vantage points in South Mumbai, in single minded devotion, early on a Sunday morning, and managed to click a wonderful picture. And by the time he called us, totally thrilled, and posted this, 16734 had reached and busted the tape.

Priceless performance.

And talking of price, there's another game being played out there.

A cricket test match between the BCR (Be Cha Ra ) 11, and the Party 11.

The Party 11's have some erstwhile good players like Tur Daal Amtiwale, Moong Singh Halwai, Shakkar Lal, Udad Idlikar, Moongphali Telwale, and lets not forget the expert bowlers, Doodhisingh Tees, Gobikumar , Hara Beany, and finally, Bharata Baingankar.

On the other hand, the BCR's have had a tense time rustling up 11 players, due to various injuries. Sadha Aadmiwale, Kuchnahi Khanalal, Bhajisingh Mehenge, Rationlal Chuppelal, Batata Gul, Kandabua Chaleeskar , not to mention Methilal Palaklal Pacheesi.

The Party 11, have complete control over the pitch. The umpires are actually the guys who push the roller in their free time. And the match referee is their boss at work. Not only that, they do the toss with a coin which is identical on both sides. So they always win the toss, and always choose to bat first. They always win the Man of the Match, which, of course , goes into the Party 11 coffers.

Tur Dal Amtiwale, and Moong Singh Halwai opened the innings, and did a century each. Tur Dal Amtiwale is still there, closing in on 125. Moong Singh Halwai, was declared shame-before-public at 90, on the middle stump bowling off Kuchnahi Khanalal. Udad Idlikar came in and tried to shore up the innings with a steaming 85, before Batata Gul caught him at deep fine leg in a diving catch. Shakkar Lal came in with the new ball. Despite heroic efforts and middle stump bowling by Sadha Admiwale, and Rationlal Chupelal, at tea time, Shakkar lal was comfortably batting on 50.

Questions are being asked as to why Bharata Baingankar, and Doodhisingh Tees from the Party 11 were seen in the enclosure of the BCR 11 after tea. Unconfirmed reports indicate that they are unhappy with the second class grade payment made to them compared with the Amtiwale,Halwai and Idlikar. Reliable sources indicate that the BCR management and public is demanding an investigation into the pitch-fixing allegations that are now emerging against the Party 11, after disgruntled players from their team were seen in the opposition camp..

The Sports Ministry has promised to appoint a committee when it is free of the Commonwealth Games Crisis, and the Abhinav Bindra Episode.

Back to our hero 16734, whose heroics have now convinced everyone that it is better to practice on your own and participate in sports on an individual basis. Dedicated efforts and practice here always yields results. Unlike when you depend on administrators, who decide what your value is, sometimes based on their election memories..

In the meanwhile, stocks of red colored powder suddenly disappeared from the suburban godown of a well known paint company. They were finally traced to another close by suburb, where a huge celebration was in process with a lot of this powder being joyfully smeared amidst the company's human resources, dancing wildly.

One hears that a bloggy reception is being planned soon, to commemorate the exploits of 16734.

Details awaited.

Friday, January 15, 2010

In the eyes of the world.....

As a woman, your identity continues to go from being some one's daughter, to some one's sister, to some one's in-law, to being some one's wife, daughter-in-law, and mother. Concurrent to that, if you happen to be a working person, you have an office identity as well. If you work in the same organization as your spouse, they never let you forget it. And if your job enables you to live in a campus community, you have some other identities which override all the above.

As we found out.

More than 25 years ago when we were just 3 people in the family, and my son, K. was like 5 years old. Birthdays were different things then. Grandparents within and outside Mumbai started arriving sufficiently in advance, after having serious discussions with the grandson about desired presents. Assorted aunts, uncles, their children, K's friends from campus, our doctor (her daughter was K's friend), neighbors from the old building, new building, school friends, creche friends; at one point, K had a special invitation pad on which he filled in the name, and he carried it to the dentist (when we went to yank a crowding milk tooth), and ended up inviting our dentist too. He had a son, a bit older than K, I urged him to come with his whole family. It was not unknown to have 40-50 folks attending.

Everything that was eaten was made at home, and it was almost like a meal, with puranpolis, batatavadas, spouts misal, idli, and a custom designed home made cake (which was always cut in the midst of chaos so no one could criticise my art abilities which were found severely wanting).

One of my sisters-in-law came from another suburb, and was a bit flummoxed by the new construction happening then on campus . The last time she was here, her husband, our alumni, simply drove her to the house since he knew all the nooks and crannies of the place. This time she came alone by rickshaw, and the driver, inspired by the sudden open roads, lack of chaotic crowds, greenery, and ability to speed, had driven her way beyond the turn off that led to the house.

Our campus extends from a crowded main road (often cursed in my posts), through lots of wooded areas, to a lake on one side, a hill on the other. It also severely lacked then, (probably even now), some good signage. By the time she stopped to ask someone the address and/or the name, she was way near the hill. Our house fronted the lake, way to the west. She let go of the rickshaw , when some misguided soul, told her that the place she was looking for was just a little walk away.

This lady is actually a very beautiful person in a very classical traditional way. And young. And it probably explained why people gave her erroneous advice and offered to walk with her and show her the house. She literally covered hill and dale, academic corridors, lawns and woods, all in the wrong part of campus.

She'd ask K's father's name and get pointed to all sorts of areas. After an hour of what was compulsory sight seeing, she saw a sliver of light shining on water through a gap in the trees, and ran into a little chap, on his tricycle, trying to ride roughshod , at various speeds, over a tree branch that he had arranged , neatly across the road. He seemed to go back and forth across the branch with a thump and a smile, and finally noticed her .

"Hi ! Do you know where Prof D. stays ? " and she mentioned the apartment number .

The fellow looked up, decided she was OK, then shook his head. No. He did not.

He did one more turn over the branch. Then he stopped. Something rang a vague bell. The name. Maybe that was, his best-friend-K's father. Who knows. But the lady was a nice person, and he would ask her the details.

"You mean K's father ? Are you looking for K's house ? "

She could have sat down right there out of sheer relief.

" Yes ! I am his aunt, and its his birthday . I am probably late ...would you take me there ?"

His face lit up .

"Actually, the games and prizes are over. But I know the place. Follow me."

The fellow, immediately took an expert turn on his tricycle, and rode it alongside her, pedaling away busily, escorting her in five minutes to our house. After a few folks berated her for coming so late, she told us about this massive tour she did before landing up at our place.

She relaxed and then enjoyed her visit with the birthday boy, and his friends, and spent some time with the older folks. On the way back, she ribbed the boy's father good naturedly.

"Isn't it surprising ? You live here, you work here, you may do earth shattering research, but your best identity is K's father. "

.....Its OK. I've heard stranger stuff.

When K's younger sister P was around 6, she was inordinately fond of a golden dog who would walk on a leash every evening with his master. A whole bunch of children would stop and pet him and talk to him, till they realized it was a her, and answered to the name Lassie.

Lassie's master was a prominent and highly respected person, and occupied a position of great authority and responsibility. We were once driving by with the children when P noticed Lassie, and stuck her hand out of the car. While Lassie gave her a look like a Diva , shook her drooping ears, and continued, her master nodded his head and smiled at P.

We asked her if she knew who it was.

She looked at us like we were a bunch of ignorant types.

"Lassie's father, of course"....

K and P are now both much older, and when we attend their contemporaries' wedding receptions, we still get recognized as K and P's parents.

Which is just fine and wonderful.

Every identity has a time of its own.

And this one is permanent.....!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Generations, Gaps, and Fillers

Customary as it is today to talk about generations gaps, the olden days, the newer attitudes, how things are difficult to understand , and so on, I listen to it all, and often think about the generations that were born at the beginning on the 20th century, how fast things changed for them, particularly in the latter half century, and how they handled it, personally, socially, and mentally.

And I think often about G. Aji.

When I was a child of 8, there were several old ladies that I used to call Aji (=grandma). There was only one real grandma, the paternal one, but she had at least 4 sisters that I personally knew (and many more that I didn't, because they lived far away in other states and were totally busy with their lives there). All of them were called Aji by us, and it amazes me now to think about how they knew who we were talking to, when all of them were present together, like in a family wedding.

While my own paternal one, and some of her sisters, closer to her in age, were a bit more likely to act their age , if you know what I mean, there was the youngest sister, that is the youngest grandma, G., who we really loved to interact with. She was married very young, in her teens, and had had 3 daughters and 2 sons , before she lost her husband. She had lived, in one of the cities in the Central provinces, which had a rich royal culture, and she never tired of telling us descriptions of events she attended there. Her eyes would shine , and after a lot of cajoling and pretending to hesitate , she would bring out and display the studded sword which was part of her husband's regalia in his younger days. The only material thing she now had to show, having lost her husband early and then struggled to bring her children up all alone, in Mumbai, far removed from those graceful days.

While all the other grandmas lived a fairly sedate life , this particular grandma, was very spirited. As children, one of our beloved activities , was to trouble her. During family events like thread ceremonies and weddings, when everyone would make it a point to attend, an entire gaggle of kids would get yelled at by her, and then retaliate by hiding some of her things. She was fond of writing occasion based poetry, and wedding lunches were never complete, unless she sang one of her poems, extolling the entire family history of either the bride or groom , depending on whose side she was from. Brides entering into the family, were often cajoled by her into saying an Ukhana , and would get a little intimidated. Like you didn't say ordinary Ukhanas in front of a poetic mother-in-law type.

Out of all her nieces-in-law, I think she secretly admired my mother for beating new paths, sending children to English schools, travelling to the US to study in 1948, and then being a bit different, driving a Hillman car herself, across the small and complicated lanes of Pune city, something considered a novelty in those days. My mother knew all her relatives in Pune, and this grandma would feel really special driving up with my mother in this green Hillman car to their places. She was a voracious reader of prose as well as verse. Not educated as such, but self taught and practiced. In her time 13 was considered a late age to get married.

I was one of her grandnieces , who didn't follow the usual path. Playing intercollegiate sports (in shorts), music, cycling around, later driving "fearlessly" in Mumbai, going to the US to study, and coming back, I'd be visiting her wearing jeans, and she would often despair indulgently over how I was ever going to be approved by future in-laws :-) .

Once when her granddaughter's marriage was fixed and she was showing us the grand sarees purchased, she suddenly looked up and questioned me about what I was planning to wear. Kind of chastising me and hoping I'd do the sensible thing and wear a traditional saree. I did. But the opportunity was too good to miss, and I told her with a serious look that I had just cut up a grand silk to get some bell bottomed pants made and would be wearing zari(gold embroidred) pants . (Bell bottoms were in fashion then). Her immediate shocked look was replaced with a big thump on my back, as her entire family cracked up watching the fun.

She was the only grandma who came in a big bus to the airport (amidst at least 30 relatives), to see me off when I went to the US for grad school in 1969 , and quietly thrust a newspaper wrapped packet of metkut (spiced mixture made of pulses) into my purse , bidding me to pass it on to my brother. The US customs in Honolulu were not amused by my efforts at telling them what it was.

Amidst lots of disapproving glances from her older sisters, this grandma did a very revolutionary thing. She switched from 9 yard sarees to 6 yard sarees. This was actually a burning topic of conversation at that time. She simply loved to meet people, and when it so happened that my in laws lived in the same suburb as her in Mumbai, she made a special visit with my mother to get introduced to them. He own children , married and with kids, were spread out across Mumbai and Pune, and everyone would vie to come and have her stay with them. She treated my mother the same, and always spent a few days with us when in Pune.

A great admirer of good literature, a fledgling poet (of the old school, rhyming), she loved attending literary events, plays and stuff, and was known to walk up to eminent folks who she admired, , and introduce herself.

She had strong opinions about things and didn't hesitate to ask when something bothered her. Like when, about 33 years ago, my mother-in-law had a cataract operation. In those days it was a 10 day thing with stitches being removed, sneezing not allowed in case the stitches broke, and so you had to be very careful with what lunch you brought for the patient. This grandma thought it was her duty to go see my ma-in-law as a responsible elder from my maternal side. At that time I was functioning as a fairly efficient driver taking all kinds of relatives to and from from the house to the hospital, transporting messages and lunch, and changes of clothes and stuff. This grandma kind of pursed her lips seeing me in jeans, and could stay silent no longer. After the initial niceties, she pulls the chair closer to the patient, nudges her slightly, and asks , "Tell me, is it OK with you that your daughter-in-law wears all this even now ?"

My mother-in-law, slightly moved her head, (eyes in bandages), put out her hand, and said " You know what, our times were different. We never ventured out. Today, the girls do everything. My daughter-in-law even talks to the doctor for me, travels through crowded trains, tangles and stops traffic when we cross the road at our slow speed, and right now she has been driving my sisters etc back and forth. Obviously , its more convenient to wear trousers with so much running around .....but when she attends haldikumkum with me, she always wears a sari !

Although this answer was kind of unexpected for Aji, she nodded at me with an encouraging look that said , "Lucky you !" :-).

Aji enjoyed listening to news about someone she liked, coming up in the world. She was always curious about my nieces and nephews in the US, applauded their proficiency in Marathi, and always asked after them when their parents visited her.

Many many years later, well into her late eighties, and she had been having eye problems. For a lady who emanated so much joie de vivre, her affliction had to do with non stop watering of the eyes. In her final days, she was bedridden, with eyes closed, but her mind supremely open.

My brother from the US had come down, and we rushed to her place to see her. Someone told her who had come, and her face broke into a beaming smile. It's just that hearing was difficult, and you had to shout to make her hear. She asked after each and every person, including our parents in Pune, gestured to someone about organizing some tea. Her hand had a wonderful grip as she held mine, as she would occasionally try to cover it with her other hand. She was unable to get up, and unable to open her eyes, which had stopped watering as such, due to some medicine.

I have never seen a person that old, emanate so much people-energy as it were, although physically weak. She nodded smilingly when told that my nephew was now attending a very good college in the US. Then my brother told her that he (the nephew) had also begun driving ! For some reason, she thought this was a great qualification. Lying there, her eyebrows moved a bit, as she turned to where she thought we sat, and she beamd at us, saying "Wah ! Wah !", and sort of nodded her head; her eyes appeared to close a bit tighter, and slowly, a single tear laboriously trikcled down the corner on to the pillowcase.

A week later she was no more.

Strangely, whenever I think of her, her age is never a factor. It never was. I think of her as a liberated lady of her time, a perfect fit in every age that she lived in. Her own elder sisters thought she was too liberated (9 yard sarees ---> 6 yard sarees). But it was OK.

She thrived amidst relatives who were like friends, and friends who were treated like family.

Even our age was never a factor. She was independently friends with our parents and us.

I wish she was still around.

Would have asked her to dictate a guest blog on , what else, the Generation Gap .


Sunday, January 10, 2010

On and Off : In the Brain

Folks of the older generation, including some of my own generation, still subscribe to the habit of having fluorescent lights , or as we call them, "tubes" , for lighting up the house. Although incandescent bulbs a la Edison, in lampshades, make the house look cosy and warm, some find the electricity bills a concern and prefer the former. These tubes , when switched on, often momentarily hesitate, the hesitation then becomes more pronounced with a noticeable flicker, and the tube finally "burns" or lights up. It is not unknown for folks to prod the tube along , by touching a long wooden stick to the tube holder, just to give it a final encouraging push.

Consequently, those of us , in our younger days, who took things very literally in language, and never understood implied meanings, would suddenly nod in understanding several minutes after everyone, and would be subject to someone , saying ,"So, has the tube lit up finally in your head ?" ("
काय , ट्यूब पेटली का डोक्यातली ?")....

Turns out, that lights and the insides of your head have a connection.

New Scientist reports on brain cells can be switched on and off like light bulbs. Except instead of hardware switches you end up using newly identified microbial proteins that are sensitive to the colour of laser light. Brain Cells or neurons get activated when ions move in and out across their membranes creating an electric potential. Turns out that some proteins, which are light-sensitive, can do the same thing when engineered into these neurons. Which means, certain brain circuits, some possibly even corrupted , can be simply shutdown and/or activated by shining specific color laser lights on them.

With our current knowledge of how memories are stored , neuroplasticity, and research being done into afflictions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, there is a huge possibility that lights of different colors can be used to turn off faulty brain circuits, and more finely pinpoint things for treatment, which is not possible pharmacologically.

The mind boggles with the possible applications of this research.

Blindness could have a new treatment, along with Spinal cord injuries, because we would be able to pinpoint the exact group "managing" neurons , with possibility of shutting them off. Deep brain stimulation of Parkinson patients, may get more meaningful , since we now know the culprit set of neurons, as a result of seeing which light up in such patients.

Study of behaviour could be the next best thing to happen.


Terrorist guys who are brainwashed and arrive in other countries, could be neutralized simply by shining some light on them after a quick protein inserting operation. No need for hanging them upside down, standing on nails, sleeping on ice, and all such tortures. Along with possible punishments like hanging, electric chairs and life imprisonment, they will have an additional thing called "light" punishment, which will actually be a light treatment to straighten out neurons that make these guys obsessive about violence, religion and paradise.

Psychiatric illnesses, like certain obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD), depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, various manias, addictions etc, may be treatable, because we are now able to pinpoint exactly which are the culprit neurons, and direct our drug therapy more intelligently, keeping these drugs away from places that don't need them.

What would be nice though, is if someone could identify neurons that make a person prone to , say, lying. A five star treatment at a seven star neural hospital for ministers and government bigwigs should be then mandatory.

Shining lights into their brains.

There would be a flood of ministers owning up to cheating on taxes, accepting hush money, changing rules to suit some industrialist on payment of astronomical sums.

Presidents owning up to making a huge fortune out of some war, and others coming clean about ordering murders of people they didn't like

Governors confessing about their very ungovernor like activities in official residences, and civil servants pouring out the tricks they used to stay out of the clutches of the law, when arrest loomed imminent.

Chief Ministers finally confessing on how they engineered their wife's appointment to their own position, after the court indicted them, and how they fudged some accounts later at the centre to show more profits than losses.

All families, accused of killing their daughter-in-law for dowry, wife beaters, and wife cheaters, should be prime contenders for this light treatment. Identification of neurons that light up or shut down in their avaricious brains can be identified, and appropriately treated and shut down permanently.

Offenders who prey on young children and molest them , would be given extra strong light treatment.

But in India, the problem is never in the conceptualization, but in the implementation. There will be a committee appointed by education minister Kapil Sibal. The PM will announce funding from a special quota for acquiring the research hardware, software and human ware.

Microsoft, Intel, IBM, etc will start sending delegations to New Delhi. The Marxists in Parliament will shout themselves hoarse over the imperialistic hegemony. Hilary Clinton will visit India, with a business delegation, cover her head, and head over to our neighbors.

States will vie to have the research centre on their land. The Communists will fight this tooth and nail for some reason or the other. When the venue is finally decided and agreed upon, contractors will be rubbing their hands in glee over getting the various contracts. Some TV station folks will do a sting operation showing some hitherto considered "safe and innocent" type person accepting bags of stuff .

Parliament will be in an uproar. There will be walkouts.

The research centre's development will be halted. Hardware will sit around in boxes and become obsolete. In the meanwhile Microsoft and Linux will have undergone a huge update in their respective OS's . Things will be at a standstill.

And somewhere in Delhi, there will be someone, in crisp white and a shawl , of anatomically convex tendencies, who surrounded by various hangers-on, will smile and lean back in his rocking chair with a know-it-all look, clap and signal for a golden spittoon, then chew away, bending forward to spit the red into the gold.

"Hmm. You really thought this centre would happen ? Keep waiting . There is something you should know. About what we know and what we don't know. Long time ago, someone powerful in the US, who has a first name*** similar to Donald Duck, said something, which I have always liked. Like this :

As we know, There are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know. There are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things We do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Please. I really don't want to know.

I hope someone can throw some light, laser or otherwise, on that.

*** Donald Rumsfeld, Defence secretary during President Bush's time.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Rooms, Mates and Reminisces

She had always shared a room with someone since her childhood. Mostly her younger brother, who she went to school with. The pattern amazingly continued, when she went to college in Pune, since her father had a transferable job, and her mother who had all along maintained a home in Pune through the schooldays, now thought she was old enough to manage by herself.

And so she had a wonderful roommate in college. Both of them were 15-16 years old, from fairly middle class families, fathers-working-in-the-government , conservative homes, with similar attitudes towards studies, sports, expenditure, money, and the opposite sex. Except that she herself, had some very well defined activities in sports, and music, and so college was really a busy time rushing around and organizing various schedules, while remembering that studies really were the main thing. The last year at college, was about keeping certain confidences of her roommate and a friend, and being inordinately delighted that they both, unknowingly confided their feelings for each other, to her !

By and by she had the opportunity of attending graduate school in the US. The University had apartments for graduate students. You got on to a list, by indicating your need, and paying the required fees, and you got allocated a roommate according to your position in the queue, who else required one, and of course, your sex. There was no concept of co-ed sharing, there being basically only two people to an apartment.

There was certainly as much to learn, living with a person from another culture, as there was, in the academic departments. It was an education and growing up, of the best kind.

Fate decreed that her first roommate/introduction to the life in the US, would be a slightly older (by 7 years), girl, from a close-knit Catholic family, who was about to graduate in a year. There was no one around when she went to the apartment with her luggage, and organized the remaining room for herself. Late in the evening, the key turned in the door, and a slim girl in boots (it was early January), came in. That was Kitty. Kitty had absolutely no idea, that her roommate from India would be rustling up some comfort food, as it were, in the kitchen, using her(Kitty's) utensils, amidst crackling noises of mustard seeds bursting with excitement in the oil.

Things were supposed to be a bit formal . She had been warned that things are not as informal as here in India. The only thing you share is the kitchen, fridge, bathroom and living room space. Not the contents. Without asking, that is.

But she was a lucky girl, always had been so , where roommates were concerned. The smell of cumin and cayenne pepper kind of drew Kitty to the kitchen. The girls bonded big time, with the younger one looking up to the older one for experience in tackling dicey situations, and sensible shopping. The older one was delighted to note that the family closeness, regardless of countries of origin , was similar, and they soon became very very good friends. Which has remained so to this day. The younger one saw the older one through various stages of attachment to eligible males, as it were, and they would both sit and discuss things over cookies and stuff, the younger one giving the older one some amusing perspectives as it were. A year later the younger one appeared in a grand saree at the church where she attended the older one's marriage to a wonderful man , and celebrated with her very close knit family.

In the meanwhile , the university allocated new roommates to replace Kitty. She wasn't really surprised that she doesn't remember some names. There were some roommates, who were nerdish, some who lived in a cloud of cigarette fumes, some who would crib about their parents, while accepting things from them with great alacrity; and so she moved.

To another life in another apartment.

It was the summer of 71, and one afternoon, her roommate-less apartment was host to a couple from New York. The girl, J., was attending summer school, and she and her husband had come down to spend a few days travelling around till her session started. Seeing an Indian roommate kind of threw assumptions out of the window.

By then , she was getting very good at handling situations. She welcomed them, they had Indian food with her, and she indicated that there would be no hassles if the extra person wanted to use the couch . These folks were a bit older, slightly more formal, but were delighted. The husband went back after a day, and the girls spent a wonderful summer, studying, summer schooling, and the younger one promised to see them in New York, en route to India. Which she eventually did....

Summer over, and she was roommate-less for a while. Then she came home from the department one day, to find all kinds of luggage, a music system, etc in the living room. That was Carol. She had no idea who to expect, since she only knew her roommate's name from the housing office, and it didn't sound anything American. Carol was thirsty when she came, and she found a Coke in the fridge. As soon she came in, Carol introduced herself, and mentioned borrowing the Coke.

She had never understood this concept of living in the same house, sharing kitchens, and "borrowing" food. She told Carol, she was welcome to have whatever was there, and there was no "borrowing". That cut the ice. Carol was an African American from a very close knit family , and she and Carol got along like a house on fire. Thanksgiving meals were attended at her house up North, meeting up with her brothers and sisters. When her family came down for graduation , a special potato salad was made by Carol's Mom for the Indian roommate. Carol's boyfriend who appeared to be two timing her, got a piece of the Indian mind, and was so shocked , he got back on to the straight road. She told him she wouldn't tolerate such things happening to her roommates in India, and neither would she tolerate them in the US. :-).....

(It helped that he often appeared evenings at the apartment when she was cooking an Indian dinner, which he often enjoyed along with Carol, and it gave her a bit of authority, she felt, in telling him off, as it were).

She returned to her home country in 1972.

It has been 38 years, and she is still in touch with two of her old roommates . Her summer school roommate from New York, J., visited India in 1973, with her husband, and stayed with her and her parents. Having known her, they knew what to expect, and so many years later, when J. and her husband decided to separate, J, who had lost her parents by then, actually wrote a letter to her Indian roommate's mother, who she had gotten close too in India. J went on to become a leading academician and public figure, (she remains one today), and her Indian mother was always proud of her.

It has been wonderful, keeping in touch with these women and their families. She has celebrated wonderful events in their lives in spirit, and condoled with them in their days of loss. So have they. When she lost her mother, and sounded distraught, Kitty and her children quietly organized a Mass at their church in honor of their friend's mother. At the end of the day, Some One Up There was the same, regardless of language, religion and method of approach.

Email and chat have reduced distances. Occasional visits by her to her own family, to the US have enabled meetings, and the roommates take great pleasure in taking their Indian niece for lunches, and taking her side when there is a shopping disagreement between the niece and her still conservative mother. The Indian niece in turn, does Mehndi patterns on the palms of the American aunts (and their sisters), and things are oohed and aahed over. American nieces have received mangalsutras at their marriages....

There is too much strife today in the world. And a feeling that the art of holding out a hand in friendship has been forgotten. Differences that should actually be making life interesting are being used to stoke violent emotions and religious fires.

The world is certainly a different place today.

But she looks back, resting at a milestone in her life, she feels that she has been very lucky.

Rolling in riches, as they say.

"People-rich", not money-rich. In friendship.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Ration card blues...

Ration cards and my life have been indeterminably entwined, since the last 60 years.

Lest those that grew up as children listed for 2 units on the modern Indian Ration card, wonder about the mention of 60 years, I must issue a clarification.

Rationing really came into its own during the Second World War. Many countries amongst the Allies resorted to rationing to ensure that the populace was decently fed, and India, then part of the British Raj was no exception. A few years into the late 40's the rationing seems to have continued.

The reason I know about this is because, in the late 40's , my mother worked for the Rationing Office in Mumbai as a Rationing Inspector, and I have heard many stories from her as well as some admiring relatives about how she would cross the railway lines at Dadar, and exit through a barbed wire fence as a shortcut back to our house, so she could feed me as a baby (still on mother's milk), during her lunch hour, and return to office the same way. By and by a younger brother appeared on the scene, we moved to Pune, and for a while Ration cards disappeared from the scene.

Cut to the late 60's and early 70's, and a small red book, with permanently semi-stapled loose pages, was almost always prized as a Ration card. Every family had to have a Ration card, and it listed out the head of the family and the other members. And your entitlement.

By now it had actually started to serve as a proof of your existence as a citizen, and was greatly valued.

Strangely it listed the actual age instead of date of birth. And so I am permanently enshrined in the latest updated version, as being 49 years old.

Its not as if there was no free market sale, but the Ration card helped some, get the various staple grains and cooking fuel(kerosene) at controlled prices. Very soon, bad quality grains and the rationed variety became synonymous, and I would hear people talking about small sugar granules, and big sugar granules, how the shopkeeper is hoarding kerosene, and how folks are mixing weird things like white stones with the rice.

My individual interaction with the Ration card was when marriage necessitated a shift of residence and a new name, and one had to visit the Rationing office to strike your name off one (parent's) Ration card, and add it to another (husband's) Ration card. You had to come up with all kinds of proofs to confirm your shift in status and address. This was in the mid 70's, and registration of marriages not yet being the norm, a certificate of marriage registration was a novelty to the personnel who manned the counter at the Rationing office.

We arrived at the window and presented the papers. One to prove I was struck off my parent's ration card. One, an application praying that I be added to my husband's ration card. And the copy of the marriage registration certificate, to prove that I wasn't lying.

The fellow looked at both of us. Then at the papers. A bit more closely at the marriage registration. His eyes widened. He looked up from his desk at the window, where we stood anticipating some procedural advice...

Kind of gave a sly glance , and asked , " Run-away-marriage eh ?"

For a while the jaws dropped and stayed that way. There was some clearing of throats.

It was really none of his business, and he was probably bored deleting and adding names day in and day out. But this query really made us laugh. Most people then would provide copies of marriage invitations and photos of the event as proof. We had the relatives and family in full attendance, it was a civil ceremony, and there weren't any fancy receptions and stuff . So we gave a legal proof.

"Why do you ask ? Does it make a difference to the rationing authority ? Whether we ran or walked and who accompanied us ? How about the entire extended family running with us ?"

" Please . " He held up his hand. Probably trying to contain his mirth over possible visuals of folks of various ages running in their finery behind the couple, everyone in keds.

"Just asking..." And he picks up a pen to make some entries in a register, scribbles something on a form, attaches it to the existing ration card, and then directs us to another window to get some one's signature.

By this time there was some palpable excitement. My being highly untraditional, in a pair of jeans had convinced someone about this being a run away variety. And by and by , the excitement died down.

Nothing dramatic was happening. Should have landed up in a gold and red silk , with jewelery, and with my face covered.


The entire office was looking as the older gentleman made entries here and there, then did an almighty stamp on the last page and handed the book back to us. I was finally on another ration card.

Today, registration of marriages is the norm, and nobody looks at you twice when you go to add your name on the card. In the seventies, it was assumed that most normal folks had routine marriages in fancy decorated halls, complete with 500 guests, tons of presents , and 50-100 extended relatives wandering about, everyone undergoing several changes of clothes, menus, and attitudes throughout the whole day. Court/civil marriages were those for folks who were defying something or someone, were from different religions, or had a dramatic reason, like violent parental opposition, threats of revenge, perceived insult of family prestige, etc to run away and get married.

Over the last few decades, this dependence on ration cards to prove your citizen status has been misused, and an entire bogus ration card industry has enabled migrants from neighboring countries to claim residence and facilities in Mumbai. Surprisingly, at no point has anyone insisted on a photo display on a ration card.

Passports, PAN cards, Voter cards, Senior citizen cards, Drivers licences, all have now become identity proofs. All bearing different code/id numbers for a single individual. None of these code numbers are linked to each other on a master list. As a possible final death knell for the ration card, the central government has now ambitiously embarked on a UID (Unique Id) project headed by an IT Giant. Whereby every citizen would get a unique ID. Which will have pointers to all the different card-id's as mentioned above. Hopefully.

But the secret of success is in the implementation at the lowest level. And fine supervision of the same. Which has always been the key ingredient in the success or failure of anything in India.

A few weeks ago, the government suddenly announced a project for verification of ration cards . Certain forms were to be filled and ration card and other proofs/copies attached. The forms were insufficient, there were huge crowds at rations shops willing to pay for the free forms, and photos of the chaos appeared in the papers. In these days of "IT shining" no one thought of offering downloads of these forms.

A friend and I spent the last few hours before going out of town around Christmas, doing back and forth runs and brisk walks, one evening, to the neighbor ration shop, to collect, and organize our ration card verification forms and necessary proofs, so as to submit them before the day closed.

I asked the shopkeeper what happens now.

" I have no idea" he said. And shook his head with exasperation. "They will just take all these forms and the photos, put them in a file, and do something".

The rationing authority has a staff of 1200 to handle about 30 million ration card consumer accounts , spread across greater Mumbai across the North west and North east. The government has no money to upgrade these facilities , while allocating obscene amounts of money for putting up statues of historical figures in the ocean as a vote catching gimmick.

Methinks the forms will all go into files, which will be packed way up there somewhere on floor-to-ceiling shelves. Termites will probably taste the stuff with relish, and proceed to other files after converting some to fine powder, photographs and all.

.........A cloudy afternoon in 2025. Global warming has shifted the warming up north, and Mumbai now has cloudy weather. I slowly make my way through a sky walk to the Rationing office, cursing my arthritic legs, and myopic eyes. The rationing office is now a hall full of terminals. Inside the actual offices, a whole bunch of folks sit around having tea and munching chana.

I settle into the fancy chair (the minister's brother-in-law's son in law has been given the furniture contract), pull out the keyboard and type in my UID number. Something whirs. The screen goes blank, and says "please wait...".

I look up at the old lady who has shuffled over to see what my monitor says. Suddenly her face shows some recognition. She has a cynical smile. And she shakes her head. "So many years, so many forms. So many places I submitted copies of the card. And now , they make me come all this way, and the screen has the temerity to say , "card not found !" ?

And the two old ladies, painfully get up, and shuffle over to a window where it says "May I help you ?".

No one at the window.

Nothing has changed.