Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ich suche.....Wir suchen

I have been noticing someone visiting this blog often from what is sometimes listed as Paderborn, Nordrhein-Westfalen, or sometimes as Oldenburg, Niedersachsen in Germany. (Sitemeter/Feedjit have their own ways of looking at Geography)

Coincidentally, we have been looking from someone from Paderborn, who came to India and spent a year here. This person returned to the University at Paderborn in the early 90's.

If you are the visitor from Paderborn, could you leave a comment and/or contact me by email available on my blogger profile ?

I would be most grateful !

Sunday, March 28, 2010


S., my household help. is worried these days. Participating in her life is so educative, sometimes I feel I should do a separate blog on her.

You see, she has two married sons, and one of them has 2 kids. The other one has been now married for 4 years, and no kids yet. There appear to be some gynaec issues. His wife's parents are near Pune, and there is apparently a well known doctor in that area, with presumably a great success rate, and her mother wanted them to go have a consultation there. S, has very cordial relations with her son's in laws, accepts that everyone has the couple's welfare at heart, and immediately agreed.

Every month , the young couple goes down to see the doctor. There are at least 100 people in the queue to see him, and so they call a day earlier to a pharmacy fellow nearby, who gets them a consultation token number for the doctor's consultation the next day, and they avoid being at the end of the queue. There are several such folks like the Pharmacy fellow making a quick buck there, and I am sure the doctor there is aware of this. Unlike some cases I know , even amongst the so called educated, S.'s son understands that he is part of the system, and is open to undergoing whatever tests he is asked to do.

I can always tell when S. has some misgivings about something. She will bring me a nice cup of tea, kind of hang around, and then bombard me with questions, to which she is convinced I know the answers. Most of the time I know someone very good and reliable who can give her sensible excellent advice.

"Ata bagha(=..See...)", she said, folding some kitchen cloths on the side, "every few months, when they go for a consultation, he will examine them, look at some papers, write down some stuff on a paper for them, and say ,'according to me, I see a possibility this time'. My children come back, looking forward to things, only to have their hopes dashed in a fortnight or less. "

She had a suspicious , troubled look on her face.

"This has happened several times. Not just once. And that's why I am worried. Her monthly cycle is not regular, and that's another thing. Can I bring and show you the papers ?"

(This is when I don't know what to say. I am interested in the subject, but I am not a gynaec doctor. I am aware of the types of problems, and treatments, and how very complicated, detailed and personalised they can be, simply because I have friends who involved me in their quests for solutions at times. And one of my very good friends, is a very wise gynaec.)

One of the things that incenses me is their doctor saying, "according to me, i see a possibility this time".....

I ask her if he conducts a urine pregnancy test. The answer is NO. How does he see a "possibility" ? Does he "see" some magic "partial" pregnancy that will reach a "full blown 100% " on some magic day ? Does the couple look different suddenly ?

She brings some papers and reports to show me. I promise to get her an appointment to see my friend. The reports are from a year ago. She shows me the meds . One is progesterone, one is vitamin E with Primrose Oil, and one is an antacid to control acid reflux. The man has been glancing at these year old reports and making his so called predictions and announcements.

Then she asks me something.

" These days they don't clean the 'bag' , is it ?" She means a D and C.

S. with her powers of observation, discussions with other mothers, and women she works for, has decided that one of the first logical things to do is to "clean the bag".

" The well will hold water only when its base and walls are pucca and strong. This doctor didn't ask us to do that..." and she looks at me questioningly.

S. herself had 4 children, took no special meds in any pregnancy, delivered all at home, and shortly got back to field work at her in laws. She understands that today's environment is different, foods contain additives, eating habits have deteriorated, and so things are not likely to be for her daughter-in-law , like they were for her. But she understands the basics.

I call my friend, the wise gynaec. She is amused at my outrageous reactions to the other doctor. She hears these things all the time. She will have a look at the papers and counsel and advise the couple, and suggest a proper course of action and treatment.

Its time for S. to go on to her next household help job. Like at my place, she has worked with them too, for 20-22 years.

She washes her hands, takes a quick drink of water from the flowing tap, and moves towards the door. Then stops.

"You now, I wanted to go see the other doctor earlier, because I kept feeling something was not quite right. But then there were two things. One, the son's mother-in-law was looking after things at that end, and it shouldn't look like I doubted her.

The other thing, is, that some gadiwali (=with cars) ladies are coming daily at 4 pm weekdays and holding a adult literacy class at the Balwadi (reserved children's play area) in our locality. I thought that I should at least learn to read and write my name , and so I attend this class. Enough of giving the thumb print everywhere. I need to learn to read numbers. And my biggest supporter is my eldest grandson, in first grade, who accompanies me there, because, he says, I accompanied him to school in kindergaarten."

This is so impressive. Here is a lady, who is so well educated by life but theoretically illiterate. She is the respected head of her own household. Very aware of modern winds blowing through the current generation, she conducts a veritable circus ensuring that the small house is peaceful, privacy of sorts is respected, and no opinions are forced on anyone in her family.

I suspect she wants to help her grandkids with their lessons . She will be getting on in years, and her children and daughters-in-law will be working . Once she stops working houses, she needs to be useful.....

I just wonder how many of us plan like this . And how we take reading and writing ability for granted. And how, S., with her complete inability to read/write and understand documents, was able to explain the crux of her doubts and problems in this case.

Learning to read and write may brand her as a literate. But as far as I am concerned , she's been there, done that, and imbibed the best from what life has had to offer her.

Like a Ph. D (Life).....

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Respiratory emissions of the musical type

Growing up with two brothers, and a set of parents who ensured that you got every opportunity that they got ( and more), meant that you often wanted to learn and do everything that they did. While I lost out in competitions of eating raw very hot green chillies straight, I managed to succeed at some other things, like whistling. Not the standard method where you narrowed your lips politely, but a more fancy method, where you looked like you were smiling , but were actually exhaling air and whistling by situating your tongue suitable on the palate behind the teeth.

I found this very useful later in life when one had to , say , hum a tune to explain something, and risked a immediate loss of audience on activating the larynx. Folks were always amused to see a middle aged lady explaining a tune by whistling it, and those who couldn't hear thought I was smiling.

Whistling is an art. And like many types of art and media, this has been misused. Specifically by men. When they use it to lech about some woman in their field of vision, sometimes by themselves, and sometimes en masse with others.

I suspect we have imported this habit. Notice that I do not use the Royal "We". Those habituated to thinking of themselves in powerful terms, live by different standards.

Our (ordinary unroyal we) native literature is all about lidded looks and eye messages, following someone around, secret meetings in parks, in the rain, passing letters, threatening to cut wrists, letters written in blood, family enmity, running away etc etc. Anyone smitten, never really whistled at unknowns, and admiration of beauty by such open crass reactions such as wolf whistles came with so called social freedom , grabbed basically by men, as they became aware of the world. Early Hindi movies would often show a heroine taking off her slipper and thrashing some guy who ogled and whistled at her.

Those who consider themselves qualified for a "Royal We", are generally powerful folks, like Ravan, who simply kidnapped Sita and flew her away to Sri Lanka against her wishes. Or unscrupulous kings of yore, who spied, desired and acquired a woman by simply abducting her. And these are the ones to whom whistling would be an option.

The current remark by a political leader about whistling in Parliament needs to be seen in that context. That a powerful , Member of Parliament says that the Women's Reservation Bill will benefit only socially highly placed women, and they will face whistles in Parliament, says more about the whistling Parliamentarians, than the women. Why, so-called-whistlable-attributes should be a function of economic level and social strata is a different point altogether, open to debate, , and those blinded by money, money and more money are not expected to understand in their myopic state.

Other opponents have made comments on hair cuts of the women parliamentarians. And these same worthies, have made it their business to offer parliament seats to movie actresses and their own daughters-in-law.

Nothing is surprising. These are the same guys who specialize in running down the aisles in parliament, throwing themselves into the well of the Parliament, flinging furniture and microphones around, and yanking and tearing the Speaker's papers. (If I had done that in school , I would have been permanently debarred.)

So the problem is not with which type of how many ladies enter Parliament, but with the government implementing some kind of strict behaviour code in Parliament.

These same worthies also fear that 10 years hence, given the intricacies of rotating seat reservations in constituencies, 80 % of Parliament will have female MP's. (Hurrah! Mooh me ghee shakkar)

So what ? Shame on these fellows for even saying this. Does the constitution specify anywhere that the default MP has to be a male ? After 50 years on male domination in Parliament, the logical thing to do is to see if women perform better.

But something needs to be done about the insult to the art of whistling.

I know women who whistle entire classical songs. Their non whistling life is that of a traditional Indian middle class woman, and the family encourages them to whistle. In the days of yore in my childhood, before Ipods and Mp3 messed up things, people would whistle songs while going somewhere, working around the house, and in general whistling promoted a cheerful optimistic atmosphere around. We had fewer depressed people. Whistling was therapeutic without someone publishing reams about it.

My brother had a friend who had a signature whistle, and he would announce himself by whistling the tune below our first floor window. My brother would reply with his own signature tune, and I once even confused things by trying to whistle in between myself.

Mind you, whistling is fairly strenuous hard respiratory work when done seriously. There are folks who are professional whistling types , musically speaking. Women attend their performances and applaud. Some women themselves whistle and perform on stage. The Kala Ghoda festival-2010 in Mumbai recently had an outstanding whistling program.

And all these whistling types have their own All India Webpage. The Official site of the Indian Whistlers Association. Have a look.

Recently, the IWA has entered the LIMCA BOOK of RECORDS 2009 with 48 whistlers from all over India whistling "sare jahan se achha " (a patriotic song praising the country as the best in the world), in unison.

Watch :

And here is a future Parliamentarian whistling "Dhoom Machale (=Create great excitement)"

Unfortunately, the Parliamentary whistling types, do not understand either the sentiment or the words......

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Looking Up at Down's.....

I reached there about 5.30 pm yesterday. Spread out before me , was a 25 metre pool, its water a blue azure, not seen at too many pools in Mumbai. The entire pool was longitudinally split into lanes, and in each lane, folks were swimming up and down , lap after lap. At the deep end , at the head of each lane were some folks sitting and marking laps as each person in a lane completed them..

This is our Institute pool, and various events are held there throughout the year, besides daily batches. The Swimmathon, which I had come for, was a 12 hour, non-stop swimming event, that would begin at 5 pm and go on till Sunday dawn, at 5 am. You went back and forth continuously and stopped for predefined hydration breaks and so on. Lest anyone get the idea that our pool is a kind of a Slow Senior Swimming Heaven, let me hasten to add, that I wasn't participating, but my daughter was.

I duly landed up suitably armed with bags full of liquid hydrating nutrition, of various varieties. Along with some chocolates. And settled in for an exciting night amidst chlorine smells and occasional unintentional sprays of water....

A long stint of staying for 30 years in one area, and a daughter who has been training at the pool since a child, in single digit years, means that I end up knowing lots of folks there. I don't accompany my daughter to the pool now like I did when she was younger. I think she's grown up, she thinks that I cramp her style.

And so I put down all my stuff near the high diving area, and went around to say hi to folks.

I saw a colleague from the old days at the end of another lane, and turned out that her son was participating. A searching glance in that lane and I saw a young fellow in a multicolor speedo cap and goggles, pacing slowly trough the lane , freestyling with great effort . Full of concentration, he kept at it, oblivious to all kinds of folks speeding beside him.

R, the son, is a special child. He has Down's syndrome. I would see him as a youngster, riding pillion on his mother's two wheeler, as he attended various types of vocational schools. In 2005, he joined a beginners swimming camp on campus, during summer. In early 2006, he simply participated in the first Swimmathon of his life. And has never looked back. Every year , he participates , and completes the twelve hour swimming. Like all children , he needs a bit of cajoling when he has his off moments in the pool, or he gets tired, and the fact that his parents attend these meets with great enthusiasm, always helps.

Down's syndrome is all about slowing of development of various kinds. Normal people , go through a storm of defiant emotions, when they see themselves being overtaken by more powerful swimmers, and someone urging them to continue in the race. And here was this chap, going at his own speed, one arm over , then the other, feet kicking, making a slow determined progress , lap by lap. Occasionally he would reach the edge, look up at his folks, and someone would pass him a sipper bottle. Energized, remotivated, with encouragement from so many around, he would push against the wall, and take off again, on a slow crawl to the other side.

Several participants left before the 12 hours got over. Some left within 8 hours, out of boredom. Some left as there wasn't anyone standing around applauding them and encouraging them; some took advantage of the coach going in for a short meeting , to escape from the pool. Every now and then some of the kids would hang on to the ladders, and sip their stuff, demanding something new each time, and we would see a bunch of parents coming and going at short intervals. Someone would a blow a warning whistle and the swimming would continue once again.

But R, is almost like a Swimmathon veteran. He doesn't go all out physically from the word "go" . He thinks and he conserves energy. Looks like he is in a steady state level, as lap after lap, with great effort, he maintains an unchanged, as they say in cricket, line and length. Kind of swimming in the zone , as it were.

21st of March. The Swimmathon draws to a close in the early change of lights in the sky, mobilizing for another hot sweltering day in Mumbai. The closing whistle blows , and the desperate last minute sprint to reach the deep end happens. The background music playing popular hits comes to a stop, and the coach asks everyone to relax in the water. And then gather on the pool deck.

R is amongst the student swimmers, gathered at the shallow end. The coach announces that in the history of our Swimmathon, this time we have had the maximum amount of folks sticking on, swimming away, till the last 12 hr completion whistle blew. Applause. Then he asks the swimmers to come out. R is given the honor of leading the guys. The participants in the pool, the parents cheering everyone the whole night, the pool staff, the student organizers , even the public-address-system personnel shake his hands . The coach pats his back. And he returns to the folds of a family who hand him a towel, rub him vigorously to warm him, and he goes off to change with all the other guys.

A slow, steady, extremely dedicated 9.6 kilometres in 12 hours.

Opinions vary about educating those with Down's Syndrome. There are special schools. There are special vocational skills taught. There are wonderful schools in Mumbai, that train these children in crafts and some industries that have a sense of pride in placing orders for things with these schools, as well as absorbing these children as some part of their work force. And there is a school of thought that says integrate these children into normal schools. Whenever and however possible.

Sometimes it's not just about lessons. He is a great learner. He is wonderfully trained in not just swimming, but also in the art of certain handicrafts. A family friend is now giving him daily lessons to teach him English.

I don't think anyone in our pool has been reading up on all these theories. They just think that's the way it has to be. R has always been a great part of our Swimmathons ever since he learnt swimming along with the other campus children , as a beginner. There is always a bunch of students who turn up to cheer participants at the unearthly hours like 3 am. And one is never ever surprised to know that he is greatly cheered and encouraged, even by the event commentator who treats him on par with the others, announcing things dramatically, publicising his tremendous effort, and that of others who are racing to the finish.

Like my daughter, who won overall with a distance of 32 kilometres in 12 hours. But she looks up in awe at R's performance and achievement. And the great family and coaching effort that has brought him to this level.

I just found out that March 21st is celebrated as World Down Syndrome Day, and the particular date has something to do with something called the "triplication of the 21st chromosome" in a human cell that gives rise to this physiological condition.

It is absolutely in the fitness of things that the dawn of today, 21st March teaches us something new about folks like R, and how folks like him tackle life.

Down's syndrome was named after John Langdon Down, the British physician who described the syndrome in 1866. The disorder was identified as a chromosome 21 thing by Jérôme Lejeune in 1959.

I just think the Syndrome is unfortunately named.

There is nothing Down about it.

One simply looks UP at R in awe....

Click below to watch. R swimming in the lane with the lady in a green saree noting the laps at the deep end....

Friday, March 19, 2010

Life through a bus window

Returning back in a Volvo bus from Pune to Mumbai normally gets me home in 3 hours. And this includes all kinds of unpredictable traffic, while leaving Pune, and a similar situation for entering Mumbai. But in the years and years that I have done this, never has the bus come to a complete standstill for a non-trivial length of time. Most of the time, the hold ups happen in the mountainous Ghat section, since Pune is at an elevation, and there is a lot of heavy loaded truck traffic on the road at all hours.

So I was very surprised when we zipped down through the mountains and reached the outskirts of New Bombay, and the traffic appeared to be at a complete standstill. Unlike other times, there were just a few cops around. Doing the waving, whistling, walking-over-with-their-ticket-books routine, trying to keep the queue jumpers in check.

There is an amazing similarity in the manner and philosophy of entering-a-bus-and-squeezing-to-the-front-of-the-standees-in-the-aisle, and the method followed by n-wheeled vehicles, while cutting into little gaps and stuff in the traffic, and pushing ahead to find a great opening.

Anticipating disembarkation in 20 minutes , I was trying to get organized with my stuff, when I suddenly heard a lady's voice, shouting at someone outside in the traffic, and using some very colorful swear words in Hindi.

Turns out there was a car in front of our bus, and this lady's van (she was a passenger) was between our bus and the road divider on the right. Apparently the car in front suddenly appeared and blocked her path. It was also very clear that between the angle of our bus, and the size of her van, she couldn't have proceeded ahead anyway. It certainly didn't help that the car in front was emblazoned with all kinds of names, declarations of owners, and a luggage carrier on top, which displayed running and blinking electric rights around the periphery whenever the ignition was on.

She came out of her van, wearing a burkha, face uncovered. He, a swarthy young fellow emerged with a sense of political bravado from his car. They both were standing on the broad road divider, pointing fingers at their vehicles, then at each other, all this within hitting distance of each other. The conversation was shrill, loud, and if this was television, they would have used a beeper to beep out some words. The surprising thing was most of the beepable abuse came from the lady . There were male passengers in her van and not one came out to aid in the fight, including the driver. The guy in front was the only occupant in his vehicle, and every time he stepped out to fight and counter argue, the car would block everyone else.

This went on and on. None wanted to have the second last word. No sign of the cops anywhere. Our driver had rolled down the window on his side and was watching the whole thing , the wordy thrusts and parries, his neck nodding this way and that, like at Wimbledon. Then out of the corner of his eye he saw the traffic ahead mobilizing to move.

"Oye ! Stop it. We are all Mumbaiwallas together, and we are all stuck. These things happen. Why bring in history, geography, sociology, anatomy at each other ? Keep organizing IPL cricket matches in a city which is already bursting with traffic, and this is what you get. Move it !"

The opponents glared . I half expected one of them to throw the cliche question "Is this your father's road that you advise me on how to drive on it ?". But I think the huge size of the bus was a bit intimidating. Some bus drivers like to teach errant cars a lesson. The fellow got back into the car and the electric decorative carrier lights started running around again, while the lady kept up a steady stream of abuse from the open window of her van. Surprisingly, no one else from the van uttered a word.

These are strange times that we live in. Trying to set life's priorities based on observation and your bringing up, certainly doesn't seem to be happening.

A burkha is worn in certain communities to give protection and anonymity to the woman behind the veil. And here was a woman, representing the van passengers, most males, her veil pushed back, slugging it out with the other guy, word for word, swear words included, even to the extent of shouting at the guy across lanes later on.

Here was a guy, shaking fingers at the lady, matching her word for word, throwing names around, justifying bad driving, and creating additional hassles in the jammed traffic.

There was an explanation of the absence of cops during the argument and fight.

The IPL Cricket matches were being held at a New Bombay stadium beside the expressway. The area outside the stadium was thick with cops. Every intersection leading to stadium gates, had a posse of cops directing cars to parking areas, and there were so many cars going there that normal expressway traffic was given second priority.

Helicopters were being used to bring so called eminent folks , from politics and entertainment directly to the stadium.

And this, in a city, where, almost 18 months ago, terrorists struck, the NSG commandoes from Delhi were flown down from Delhi almost 8-9 hours late, and they used ordinary city buses to ferry the troops over to the attacked hotels and buildings. Because there were no helicopters and stuff available.

According to reports 1600 cops were deputed for the IPL cricket matches, and the helicopters made 16 sorties to and fro to fly in Bollywood celebrities and political folks from across Mumbai, in the airspace above one of India's busiest international airports. .

Sometimes I wonder. Are we going too fast ? Are cops and police supposed to be "accessories" for "eminent" people ? How is eminence defined these days ? Is everything a function of money ? And does that include our security ? Is it the government's job to provide police protection for cricket matches to teams where millions are paid to people to go out into the middle with a fancy uniform, and whack a ball somewhere , and doesn't it make sense to ask the teams to get in their own security for the stadium? And pay for it ?

I wonder how many people from offices reached home several hours late that day . I wonder how ambulances with sick people made their way through the chaos that day. I wonder how many mothers of young working girls across Mumbai, worried themselves sick over when their daughter would turn up, in all that traffic chaos . I wonder how many places in Mumbai were deprived of normal protection, due to reallocation of cops for IPL Cricket matches that day .

I wonder if I am actually being stupid , wondering about all this ......

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lessons in reservations

Reservation today is a loaded word. In India. Means different things to different folks.

It takes me back to a monsoon evening 2 years ago. My daughter and I were returning home, unfortunately, during the evening rush hour. The bus route was one that spanned from the city's coastal west to the industrial innards on the city's east, and , thanks to surging crowds, we had made an involuntary automatic entry into the bus , while waiting for the bus, at some point in the middle of the route.

For some years now, the bus and train systems of the city, have thrown small beneficial crumbs at the ladies, in terms of a few seats reserved for ladies in the front of the bus, and two Ladies Special Ttrains, during the morning and evening rush hour. While men making surreptitious entries into these trains has not been reported, the "ladies seats" in buses have been the cause of innumerable fights in buses.

The thing to do once you get a foothold in the bus, is to use your purses, umbrellas, sideways movements and whatever else, to squeeze ahead through the packed aisle, and land up next to the already occupied "ladies seats". The sitting ladies are very cooperative and they always gesture and tell you which lady may be getting off next.

This was a expressway road under construction, with plenty of potholes, and thanks to the rain, there was a huge traffic jam. The driver had a tough time advancing . He was stopping for large periods of time every few minutes, and this prompted one of the seated ladies to get off, as walking would be faster for her now that her home was near. Before we could organize to occupy the vacated seat, we were preempted in the act, by a yuppie style gent, with a briefcase and cell phone adorning his neck, who simply plonked himself there in a tearing hurry.

We personally follow a certain code of ethics while occupying "ladies seats" in buses. The rule allows us , to evict whoever is wrongly occupying the seat. But we never disturb, elderly couples, men with small children, injured types, rural folks transiting between construction sites, children on hips. Prosperous looking young yuppie types, with ties, busy on their cell phones, are requested with great alacrity, to get up, and most do.

This gent settled into the seat defiantly. His co-occupant on the two seater gave him a disgusted look, and the lady behind him, gestured to me to ask the fellow to get up.

"Excuse me, but this is a ladies seat " He pretends he has not heard. There is a cacophony of traffic outside, rain is constant, the traffic jam means that the bus moves ahead in jerks, and its huge size prevents it from making quick darts in the traffic here and there to create a path for itself. He pretends to adjust his glasses and peer through the windshield (some distance from him), at the chaos.

This time we tap his shoulder till he responds.

" Ladies seat? But only at the bus route starting point. " He says, and sinks further into the seat.

We point to the painted rule on the bus wall, and the indication on the seat, declaring it as a seat for ladies, exclusively. He is adamant.

"How can this be ? They get to occupy our general seats freely. In addition , now they have reserved seats. Not fair. Not fair at all . Why should I get up ?"

We try again .

"The rule says so. Read. There, on your left. No mention of starting points and stuff. You cannot make up your own rules ." Some ladies around vociferously agree.

He decides to make an issue of it.

"Did they ask me when they made a rule ? No. I have been standing as long as you have. I have a right to sit. These women are having it really good. Reserved seats. Hmm. "....

Most audiences in ordinary public transport in Mumbai, are suckers for discussions. The more the crowd the better the discussion. Topics vary from cricket, taxes, corruption, police, to someone getting advantages that folks feel they shouldn't. Everyone enjoys a good argument. Everyone pipes in. A sympathetic chap from the back booms , in his support to this guy. Someone on the right, nodding and talking through the gaps in the tightly packed aisle, makes some supportive remark, giving the ladies a look and a stare. The ladies stare right back. The decibel level is increasing.

Suddenly there is a lady standing in the aisle, who has something to say.

"You want to be equal ? For these seats ? Then be equal everywhere. Do a day's full time job, come home through a crowd like this, and immediately start cooking your family's evening meals. Ever done that ? All you know is to get ready made tea and sit with your feet up ...."

Things are getting uncontrollable. The conductor tries to subdue the loud discussions and the din. Outside the rain has increased, rivulets run down the glass windows, a few leaking into the bus, which continues to be packed with standees in the aisle. No fan, no AC. The traffic jam is getting worse. The driver is getting impatient, and every now and then you here the roar of a stationary acceleration of the bus.

Suddenly, we notice a middle aged lady from another side of the bus , get up, leave her bag on her seat (asking a standee to guard her seat), and struggle to make her way up to the driver. They have a discussion, and she returns. Her seat has been respectfully guarded by a total unknown and returned to her.

There is a biggish acceleration of the stationary bus, the engine makes a sneezing noise and the ignition is switched off. The driver jumps over the engine block and emerges in the passenger area, near the offending chap.

" Sir, you are an educated chap. And you behave like someone who cannot read. "

The man bristled in his seat. Held his briefcase with more determination.

" The rule says that this seat must be given to a lady on demand. Its none of my concern whether you agree with the rule or not. If you don't like the rule, write to the authorities, go to court, do whatever, but at the moment, get up and vacate the seat. "

The seated man pooh poohed the whole thing. Whoever got threatened by conductors and drivers ?

"Fine. Please read the fine writing on the bus wall . 'If anyone complains about this to the driver of the bus, the driver may request the occupant to get up and leave the bus, and failure to follow this request will incur fines/imprisonment under section' ."

"I am asking you to get out of the bus, as the elderly lady on the other side has complained about you. "

The fellow was aghast. He looked around him. His so called vocal supporters, were busy, looking at their newspapers, the rain, their cell phones, the traffic; everything, but him. He slowly got up.

We offered the seat to another older lady who had been standing in the aisle behind us. For the gent, leaving the bus in torrential rain made no sense, now that there was a traffic jam and it was getting dark. He looked at the driver . Who shrugged and left to get back to his perch in the bus.

"He can stand and take whichever other general seat falls vacant. He needn't leave the bus in this terrible rain." one of the ladies said.

His supporters slunk further into their seats. The driver was busy honking at the 3 wheeler which was trying to cut in from the left. There was an exchange of words from the window. Disgusted looks. The bus gave off a whiff of exhaust in desperation, as the driver accelerated in place, and clanged into gear at noticing a slight movement ahead of him.

There are no reservations in traffic. Its a free for all.

Like our Parliament. Where the introduction of the Women's Reservation Bill results in shouting, gesturing, and running and charging down the aisles to the Speaker , where the esteemed members make a display of their bad manners and destructive attitudes. Whats more this gets shown on television daily.

The driver of our bus got more respect than the Speaker of the House, whose papers were snatched, torn and microphone yanked out of its base. The House asked the members to leave, they refused, and were finally carried out by Marshall's who outnumbered them 16 to 1.

The troublesome passenger was allowed to stay on the bus by his co passengers. The violent House members who should have been rusticated, were taken back within a day.

And so there are reservations and reservations. Some bring out the best in people, some display the worst.

And the terrible part is, that ones who are the worst are the ones we elected.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A touch of a thousand words....

I just got some very bad news. Someone , now 85, who has literally known me from birth, and who I have been closely in touch with, had a stroke, and is now in hospital ICCU. She is my last connection with the past generation. No umbilical or genetic connection, but something more than that, if there was a name for it.

She never married, but dedicated her entire life to her parents and siblings, their welfare, and her practice of her chosen profession. The last of her generation, a beloved aunt to folks like me, her nephews rushed her to hospital, and were taking turns being with her.

It is difficult to believe. Like my parents, I thought she would go on for ever. She is a leading doctor. I cannot use the word "was", because she keeps getting consulted about surgeries and stuff even now. A couple of days before her stroke.

I land up at the suburban Mumbai stop for the Volvo bus, that runs every half hour between the two cities. There has been no sleep since the news, and I use that to make a very early start . The bus point is an hour away. The unpredictable Mumbai traffic even at 6 am works in my favour. A bus appears within 5 minutes and there is a seat for me. Right in the front. Good omen.

Across the aisle are two ladies older to me, in all white, including their hair, and they smile at me as I sit down. The white bothers me. It is not a color I want to know right now. They seem to be Sindhi. Many of this community have settled in Pune, and I had many Sindhi classmates when I went to school here. They are wearing salwar suits in white, but with some wonderful light embroidery on it in a few colors. A good lesson in not reading too many meanings into colors, or the lack of them.

The bus stops for a tea break. I am the first off. They follow me and one hesitates on the last step. We specialize in non standard buses and steps. And the last step in too high. I hold out a hand automatically. She clutches it tight, steps down, and smiles at me. We trundle away. And get in line to buy coupons for some hot mini breakfasts to be eaten on the bus, since it will not wait much if we have a sit down snack.

I get a newspaper, and am back in my seat, reading about the Women's Reservation Bill, assorted opponents, corruption in this and that, and how thousands of cops will be deployed for the third session of the IPL cricket matches. Pointless stuff. The bus has started again and we are in the mountains, facing a great sunrise.

I have finished eating my stuff when I feel a tap against my shoulder. Its the ladies again. They have brought several apples , already cut, in a bunch of zip lock bags, and are offering me some. They are making an offer I couldn't refuse. And will not. They like that. We get talking. In Hindi.

They are returning after a similar visit to Mumbai. They ask after me. They hear why I am going. And where. They have heard of the lady I am going to see. They tell me its good I have come. Regardless of whether the person in hospital is conscious or not, these vibrations get passed on, they say. Every now and then one's eyes fill up, and they understand. And don't act surprised.

I get off at an intermittent stop, and mentally mobilize to find a three wheeler willing to take me to the hospital. They often refuse to service that area. But there is a driver actually gesturing at me and in a great display of the attitude of the city I am visiting, he agrees to take me there, after letting me know that the correct full name of the hospital is so-and-so, and not what I call it.

I reach there, and proceed as told by her nephews . No one stops me. I look for her name outside, and enter the ICCU area and remove my footwear. A uniformed person arrives. I take a deep breath. A light one would have sufficed. He says to take in the footwear to another area outside the ICCU patients visitors' area. No one stops me . I am right outside the room where she lies, deep in sleep, oblivious to the clicks and beeps of life happening around her.

A nephew sits reading in the anteroom. He welcomes me. I have seen him as a small child visiting his aunt during vacations. Now he lives there. He, his brother and their families, are making sure she gets the best help, and taking turns being there. I offer to relieve them for the time I am there, 4-5 hours, but the doctor visits in the morning, and he needs to stay. We sit , talking, reminiscing, across the years.

There is an amazing line of visitors. She started attending Sanskrit classes 5 years ago, at 80, and one of her classmates, comes trundling in with a four pronged walking stick, wiping a sweaty face and neck, having just braved a strong morning sun. Then there is a doctor, an assistant from her old days at the teaching hospital. She is retired, stays a bit far, but has been coming twice a day.

Several doctors come by. They trained under her, and she taught them as undergraduates in med school. Some come in through the sterile area inside where the nurses are, check on her, and go. Some later come out where we are and speak a few words of solace. Ma'am has been a tough teacher, a demanding one, but one who greatly enjoyed their career and life successes, and today, some of these docs who are my age, and leading luminaries in their fields, swallow, as they see her lying there.

Its time for me to leave to catch my bus. Its a Friday afternoon, and I expect big lines for tickets. I take the usual precautions, and go in to see her. She is in deep sleep, head to one side, and the eyelids intermittently make minor movements within themselves. She has a determined look on her face. I touch her feet, and call out to her. Massage her ankles. No response. Her nephew looks at me as if to say, "I told you so". I try again. No change.

I move to her good side. Her entire left side is paralyzed , and that will not change. Her right palm lies open on the bed, amidst a plethora of contraptions designed to introduce all kinds of life saving and maintaining medicines into her system, little by little. She is breathing on her own, which is a good sign.

I put my fingers in her open palm and call out to her once more. There is some movement of her fingers. They seem to be checking out the outlines of mine. And then they close around them. Gripping them . I look up. Hold my breath. A lump in my throat. Stunned. At the nephew who has been watching.

Her grip loosens. The palm is open once again. I prepare to leave. Touch her feet, wish her well in my mind, and hope the vibrations get through, like the ladies in the bus said.

The nephew tells me that this has been happening for some time now. But the doctors have told him that its an automatic response by her fingers to some touch. She doesn't know its another human.

Its OK. But I like to believe what the ladies in the bus said. I think the vibrations got passed on. Some came back to me too.

Sometimes it is nice NOT being a doctor. You believe these little signs. To me its a sign that she has not given up the fight yet. That's why the determined look on her face.

I leave , wondering at meeting the old ladies in the bus, what they said, my easy entry into what is always a tough thing to manage in the face of hospital rules, and the opportunity to spend quality time with her.

I think she knows. I think her own anatomy has eyes and ears. She is watching and listening. and she spoke a thousand words to me in her determined clutch of my fingers.....

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Profiles in courage

Reservations, no reservations, reservations about reservations. But I had to write about this.

She came in today , a bit later than usual, as I was checking my email. Yes, that's S., my household help, who has been with me now for more than 20 years. The same who I have blogged about various times, and who folks have admired and commented on.......

Her family now consists of three sons, two of whom are married . And one daughter, who braved a terrible marriage, left the fellow, came back and now stays very happily, with her folks, while doing a day job.

There are also two grandchildren, the son's sons, and I have lately been involved in helping her with documents to get the older one into kindergaarten, where he recently braved an interview. The kid takes after his grandmother, and floored the school folks with his answers. His admission is now secure.

She was very upset about something when she came in. After discussing the usual mundane house stuff with me, and finishing her morning chores, she brought me a cup of tea to share, as she had hers.

"You know these ration-shop chaps ? They are cheats . " We knew that . Hmm.

"Why ? What happened ?" I ask, expecting a usual story of false weights etc.

"You know both my daughters-in-law are listed as members of the family on the ration card. The older one is entitled to 9 litres of kerosene per month. Last month was the first time the younger one could claim her quota, and she got 7 litres. I ignored it that time because I thought stocks were less or something. "

"Then today, when I went in the morning, they again offered 7 litres !" she bristled.

Turns out, that she went up to the guy at the counter, and asked him why 7 litres .

"You take it if you want it" "he, unconcerned.

"Why not 9 litres ? As is written in the ration card ?" S.

"Don't waste my time. OK. Take 8 litres". He didn't realize who he was tangling with.

People behind her in the queue, mostly women, who had work pending in their homes, and workplaces, far from being upset with the delay, started talking, about the fact that this was happening for everyone.

" Open your book and show me the rule that says I cannot get my entitlement. You have 2 queues here. One for the rationed kerosene, and one for kerosene at black market rates, which you sell by cheating me out of my quota. " and there is a buzz in the people behind her.

An old man, bent, white haired, with a wizened face, comes forward . And stares at the shopkeeper.

"Every single time I have come, I have never got my entitlement", and a shake of the head.

S. bristled in anger.

" Either give us what is written in our books, or give me in writing that you will not give the full quota. I will go to the rationing office, meet the sahib, and ask them if this is allowed. I don't care if no one is with me, I will go alone, but this will be the last time you make up your own rules. "

She tucks in her saree at the waist. Picks up her kerosene can and turns to go.

" Give the lady her 9 litres, and stamp the book. " The shopkeeper knows when he has lost.

He didn't know how badly.

S waited there, suffused with anger and energy, saree tucked in, hands on her hips, watching the queue, as everyone behind her got their complete quota this morning.

Her son met her halfway on his bicycle and lugged the cans home for her, while she came over to my place to work.

And told me this story over a cup of tea.

Then she took my empty cup, flicked an imaginary wet spot on the table, and stopped. She is getting on in years, and she sometimes stops and rubs her back when she gets up, before getting on with her stuff.

"I was just wondering. I did say I would go to the rationing office sahib and complain. But would you write out for me a proper complaint, with lots of "official English words", to give to the sahib at the office ? They may not let me in, of course, but I can always give in this sheet with signatures........I was actually going to ask if you would help ....."

.....Of course I would ! The rationing office is something I have tangled with before. Not only will I write a proper complaint for her with some "official English words", but I will even accompany her there.

I am sure S. will succeed.

She never went to school. She never learnt civics. She doesn't believe a word of what the local corporator says when he comes begging for votes, hands folded. And she believes, that laws and rules are to be understood and followed.

Most of all, she is not afraid to learn.

Forget those Page 3's with their Hand holding chains protests wearing designer sunglasses, , walks and banners....

She is the original Page 1.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Resuscitated Fashions in 9 yards......

"The novelties of one generation are only the resuscitated fashions of the generation before last."
---George Bernard Shaw

Every once in a while, certain folks who make it their business to design impractical clothes, hype themselves into conference mode, and celebrate a fashion week. Or is it fashion weak? Over the years , photos appear in the papers, showing models wearing alternately too much and too little, and walking as if someone has stuck a muzzle into their L5-S1 (tail bone to you non medical types) region in the posterior, forcing them into that convoluted walk.

A look at this page of the Bombay Times of March 7th, 2010 , will immediately tell you, that, having exhausted all the outlandish fashion, with metal straps, feathers, see through and peek through stuff, mismatched trouser lengths, and headgear with nests, and acrylic floating strips, the designers are now all copying the traditional Indian, and just to make it look different , getting celebrities to model it.

While the lady in the yellow frock seems to be wearing something that has been seen in the bylanes of Bandra last year) at probably a tenth of the cost (pre bargaining), the lady in full red with her head covered can be found in any traditional Indian wedding, and Rajasthan. About the celebrated actress on the left wearing a perfectly ordinary saree, let me just say, that someone needs to do something about the blouse. Wearing your overweight, wide-shouldered, grandmother's blouse may suit Serena Williams, but it looks distinctly disabled here, what with the other two kind of propping the sides up.

But then , you have this ! Dhoti Saree, if you please. And while those on the chairs may possibly be desperately computing the dynamic fluid flow of the pleats , I don't know a single mother who would allow her daughter to appear like this at a social function, attended by "nice " folks. And like my household help, K, said as I was typing this, "Ago Baya (=Oh My!), blouse wisarli ka kai ? (=did she forget the blouse ?)".......

The nine yard saree, upon which this is based has a very old history. Sarees go back 5000 years, are mentioned in the Vedas(oldest surviving literature), and the name is based on "Chira" , Sanskrit for cloth. Cotton was grown and woven in India then. Varying in length from 5.5 yards to 9 yards, the saree, is today wrapped in 15-16 different ways, traditionally, in various parts of India. The nine yard saree, something my grandmother wore, lends itself to intricate embellishments, embroidery and gold thread designing, with opulent borders. Particularly in fine cotton and silk.

While the loose wrap of the dhoti/nine yard saree is identical, and very comfortable in a tropical country, the saree involves a section of the fabric, thrown across one or more shoulders in the interests of the woman's modesty, while the dhoti, has no such requirement. Both involve a section of the voluminous pleats, taken between the legs and tucked in at the waist at the back. For a society, where earlier, beauty was all about a narrow waist flaring into a wide bosom and wider hips, this type of saree was a matter of popular choice. Today, traditional religious and social occasions demand the wearing of these , and in some weddings in the south, it is mandatory for the bride to wear this during the ceremonies.

When I was in 6th grade, in school, I attended a daily evening exercise class, where our teachers wore well tucked 9 yard sarees, and came on bicycles wearing those, and performed all the exercises better than us. Of course, only the brave wore swimsuits in pools then, and while we as children were comfortable in swimsuits, it was not unusual to see a lady in a nine yards saree, executing a smooth dive into the deep end of the pool, and freestyling over to the other side, without having any, as they are called today, wardrobe malfunctions. Indian history is replete with stories of heroic stateswoman queens, who led armies, riding at the head , swishing swords, wearing nine yards, all the weaponry, and sometimes, even a child strapped behind her on the horse.

So I find myself totally unimpressed by these designers.

While I may be supremely unqualified to talk about cuts, pleats, bias, fall, and whatever else, I just wondered what would happen, if the real, modest, ordinary-woman's home style nine yard wonder saree, ever became a fashion item .

Have a look :

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Joy of Giving

Selected by GlobalVoices Online on March 4, 2010

Second quarter of twentieth century. She grew up in a male household, having lost her own mother when she was a very small child. Her father saw a certain spark in her, and encouraged her in various learning pursuits. She was a good student, very alert about things around her. And he never let her miss out on the any of the things little girls like. Braiding your hair in two plaits was the done thing, and at one point, the latest was some complicated way of braiding, which all the girls were doing. He was known to have got up early one morning, and driven her more than 10 kilometres away to an aunt's place in Mumbai, so the indulgent aunt could do the necessary complicated braiding, which was beyond him as an engineer. (He actually plaited his daughter's hair every day before school).

She grew up and went to college in Pune , brought great pleasure to her father by her success. After a very difficult childhood himself, her father was now in a responsible administrative position, and she observed him setting aside a part of his income to help economically underprivileged students each year.

When she had her own family, and the children were young, she once expressed a wish to help an unfortunate but very intelligent lady, with her school fees. And her father chided her, bid her attend to her own family responsibilities first, and decided to help her friend himself. By and by , her children grew up, and moved away to study at various places, but always observed the various young students from the local engineering college who came to them and were helped with their fees and books. Some of these older students even became their friends. But the predominant feeling was, that at every satisfying and "perceived" successful moment in one's life, one remembered those not so fortunate with resources , and helped.

She and her husband continued this habit well into their old age. But sometimes this gene has a habit of settling into one of your favourite protein strands, particularly of the children.

Luckily , her daughter married into a family with a very similar thinking. The daughter and her family didn't always have great furniture, or the latest electronic gadgetry, but they never forgot an annual donation to some very deserving educational and children's welfare organizations, and no one ever knew about this except the immediate family. Special birthday occasions of family elders were celebrated with a decent donation to a needy cause, and no fanfare about it.

Occasionally, there were unexpected incomes , like the time she was paid some amount for correcting some exam papers in Marathi, her mother tongue. (She would accompany her young daughter to a specific afternoon school every day, and wait there. The principal of that Jesuit school, requested the help for Marathi papers, after he ascertained her qualifications and she and a friend ended up correcting papers in the library. ) They gave her an envelope. But the feeling of wanting to help was overriding, and she and her friend, donated the money back for sports equipment for the hostel boys there.

For a long time , in her family , Divali time was also a time to take sweets to the local children's home, and spend time playing with them, mostly on Bhai Dooj day. When you celebrated the brother sister bond.

Her children are now grown up.

The son graduated , after an internship of six months, which was less about money and more about slogging and experience. He came home one fine day, with a cheque which was proudly deposited into a fairly dormant account. The amount was not huge, but probably just enough for , say, 2-3 months groceries in a full house. His first earning from work, so to speak. And then he wrote out a cheque for a tenth of the amount, payable to the Children's Home, and persuaded his parents to come with him , when he gave it. There was no expectation of applause, but he wanted to make sure the paperwork was OK. And it was something that he felt very proud doing.

There have been other graduations. After a really tough period at college, having to appear for papers, in subjects, you were not thrilled about at all. So many of life's distractions. So many friends whose parents didn't take any interest in their child's education. Sometimes she felt her parents took too much interest, and rebelled. But her folks knew exactly how she was doing, and stood behind her like a supporting tree, while she fell and got up, and fell and got up again, slowly getting ahead. And reached the final post. A very happy girl, much at peace with herself. Things falling slowly into place.

Good wishes and congratulations from friends and family, pedhas and sweets distributed , gifts from indulgent aunts and uncles, wonderful letters from across the seas, from folks four times her age, possibly standing in for her long gone grandparents, and she looks up from her lunch.

"I have an idea. Do you think we can go and distribute some special sweets this time at the Children's Home ?" and she pours herself a glass of water.

"Hmmm .." and her mother passes some veggies to her.

" And I want to play a bit longer this time with the babies and smaller kids..." she says.

Then, quietly, " I have decided I want to give Rs 501 for the children. Maybe its too small an amount. But its from all the gift envelopes folks gave me. Can you check with their office if its is OK ?"

Her mother is speechless. Totally amazed at how children observe and learn. The ethos of helping, of feeling that one should do that because one has so much more. Quietly, without making a song and a dance about the giving. In a world , where you are supposed to hanker after smarter and smarter phones, costing more and more, even fancy vehicles, outlandish inappropriate clothes, where you pay for some one's lapel name, and music systems that plug into your brains at a huge cost, it boggles the mind, that that someone should think of the children who have so little to call their own. And decide to do something about it.

It is fashionable to attribute things to genetics, to the altruistic DNA swishing around in your cells.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Just maybe, the environment matters more . One lives, observes and learns. One sees, swallows, masticates, digests and absorbs "values". Sometimes they manifest themselves as those little squiggles in your cells that pass for the "giving gene" .

Some call it nature. Others call it nurture.

It's actually just the Joy of Giving.