Monday, February 28, 2011

The Gift of Excellence.....

There are qualities one looks up to in life.

Personally strives for. Admires in other people.

But one has to be incredibly lucky , to experience them in death......

Now 83, she had just flown in, without any escort, from the US, to her daughter in Mumbai, full of graduation stories of an eldest grandson . Divali was imminent and she would stay with her daughter, and leave after the festival, for her own house in Pune.

She never did.

On the last day of Divali, the grandchildren insisted she come to the Mall. She returned back, late afternoon, and went to take a nap. Her daughter, putting away the purchases, heard her move and came to find her, trying to sit on her knees in vajrasana, typically seeking her own solutions, trying to breath deeply, with great effort. She was in great distress, and so they rushed her to their doctor at the local primary care hospital.

A patient of angina, she always anticipated something like this, but didn't believe it would happen. She collapsed while the ECG was happening, and the doctor, who had chatted amiably with her on arrival, immediately organized an ambulance with oxygen, and a nurse with a kidney tray carrying some key injections, along with an attendant to help with stretchers and stuff. Her daughter jumped in, to assist with the cardiac massage and they sped off, to one of Mumbai's biggest municipal hospitals, where the ICCU was considered good; and luckily, the patient's niece was a senior doctor there.

A good thirty minutes away, and suddenly she started frothing at the mouth. Her daughter, stunned, called out to her, and still , in desperation, mechanically continued the cardiac massage, as the nurse managed to accurately intravenously inject some medicine, despite the potholed roads on which the ambulance rushed.

A massive hospital, lots of folks hanging about, and there was no oxygen as she was rushed , on the run, down a corridor, up an elevator, and into an ICCU. In the meanwhile, the referring hospital's doctor had called and briefed them, the patient's niece had alerted the reception, and she was soon lying down, oblivious to the world, all possible body apertures connected to tubes, with metres hissing and beeping, when her doctor niece reached .

Doctors on duty there, were those doing post graduation speciality in cardiac stuff, and the young fellow on duty, had done some amazingly clever treatment and stabilized , a lady, who many thought was no more, when she had arrived.

Her doctor niece saw the charts, spoke with the young doctors on duty, and called out to her aunt, on seeing the blood pressure improving. There was a chance she would hear. She did. She opened her eyes, and followed the voice.

Positive signs.

For 48 hours, they monitored her, adjusting respirators and other medications, up and down, slowly reducing the dependence. They allowed one family member to sit at her bedside. Duty doctors were always available at a moments notice, in a room inside the ICCU, where they intermittently rested, studied papers, reports and had discussions, amidst, what were always, emergency calls from cubicles.

Shored up with the best that technology and smart minds could offer, she slowly mentally recovered back to normal after 36 hours. Surprsingly, with all systems tired but normal. The tubes in her nose and mouth were out, she was breathing on her own, but was very very weak in body, having emerged from a mother of all fights with fate. When the head doctor came on his rounds, she asked for a decent cup of tea ......

The young worried doctors, smiled whenever they saw her daughter now. She was the sole caretaker till her siblings arrived from across the seas. And she worried a lot, and remained awake for 36 hours. Asked them a lot of questions, was well informed herself. They explained the situation to her. Her mother's recovery was amazing, but one had to be vigilant. They showed her where she could go and grab a bite to eat late at night, at the resident doctors mess, and when she wondered if it might be for doctors only, they smiled and told her, not to worry, she would pass for one .....

This was not a posh hospital, with n-star infrastructure. The resident doctors lived in atrocious housing, earning an even more atrocious stipend. The papers were full of it. And worked endless hours. Relatives of patients had almost no waiting facilities, and her daughter slept on the floor in the corridor, when someone came to relieve her. So, other than medical treatment matters, patients often asked many other questions to the doctors, and the young doctors , would patiently explain.

Destiny often misleads, and pulls wool over our eyes.

While everyone thought she was improving, it was actually to be her last day on this earth. Towards evening, she stopped recognizing her daughter. Just like that. Giving blank looks. The young doctor promptly did blood tests, administered glucose, and the patient was soon back to normal, tired, yet berating the daughter for ignoring her children who were home alone. The smile was back on the young doctor's face. With a slight tinge of worry.

It was late night, and the daughter was joined by a brother straight there from the US. They were allowed to sit in a corner of the room where she lay. No words were exchanged , but looks were understood between the doctors and the relatives.

The daughter had just sat back in her place after pressing her mother's feet and very lightly dusting her neck with some talcum powder to freshen her, when she heard a disturbed loud intake of breath . With no exhalation....

She shouted for the doctor who appeared instantly. The daughter and son were asked to wait outside, and there began the last fight , of the patient and the two doctors and nurses versus fate. The final test. They tried everything they could. Injections, cardiac massages, electric plates to shock the heart into beating, the works.

For more than an hour. With no success.

They stood by as the daughter and son were called in. No words were necessary. The daughter's voice broke, as she thanked them for their herculean efforts.

The two doctors , shook their heads, eyes full. They told her , that her mother was as good as dead on arrival at the hospital. Her entire response to the treatment and subsequent protocols, was a complete miracle of some sort. Something they don't see often, but when they do, and then lose the patient , it is very difficult to take.

They quietly covered the face, and the daughter and son waited outside , now a deathly quiet at 2 am.

Age and emotion cannot blind you to duty, and they came over sometime later to ask if eye donation would be considered. The daughter and son, in the throes of a massive loss, had completely forgotten their mother's wish. And they nodded, and did the necessary paperwork. When they were bequeathed her body a few hours later, she seemed to be calmly sleeping, a sense of peace on her tired face.

The patient was my mother.

Someone who was a stickler for excellence in whatever work you were allotted, whether it was sweeping a room, cooking, driving a car, or solving a differential equation. She inspired such work ethic in so many she knew, and due to her own example.

And so she was gifted something in death, that not many folks are lucky to get.

Mumbai's often criticized municipal hospitals, (their very proletarian facilities for patients kin, their permanent need for more funding , their very ordinary utility style furnishings, and their always insufficient and depleting inventory), had not just matched, but surpassed the best , where medical care, doctors, timely interventions, patient care and communication matters were concerned.

Such outstanding dedication to work, subject expertise, and respect for experience and learning, from folks young enough to be her grandchildren .

I can imagine her smiling, nodding her head in agreement and appreciation, perhaps , with a virtual pat on their tired backs.

For someone who demanded and got excellence in life, getting it in death , was totally and completely special.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

A loaf(er) friend, a peg on the rocks, and Ouch !

Honestly, I am not making fun of the great man who went ballistic on " a loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou "....

Time and again I read some posts, and become aware of my age; How things were, how things have changed, lifestyles have changed.

I've been reading some interesting posts on "Family Introduction to Alcohol 101", so to speak, by some of my friends, here and here, and it took me back to my life and times in the 60's.....

When I was a child, alcohol never figured anywhere in my home life. No one in my immediate or even extended family drank. I didn't even know how a liquor bottle looked like, till I saw a drunk villain in a movie and/or a hero pining for a heroine singing a besura song in front of a bottle with golden looking stuff inside. At the end of which he would drop his head down on the table with a thud, and fall asleep, while the camera zoomed in to show him closing his hitherto bloodshot eyes. Very dramatic.

When I was a little older, and studying late at night, there would sometimes be a loudly cursing rambling slurring voice passing by on the road below, and I would see someone who was possibly a daily wage worker , totally out of control, weaving this way and that, stuffed to the gills , being herded home by his very alert but disgusted wife.

My folks never had to worry about introducing us to "drinks". They took it so seriously, that even Coca Cola which was considered glamorous by us then was frowned upon and never kept in the house. ( I had Parsi friends where they offered it to visitors, and needless to say we looked forward to the visits.)

It might amaze folks to know that I actually got to drink proper tea on a regular basis, some where in 11th grade, because it helped me keep my eyes open when I got up at dawn to study for my board exams. Until then it was 80% milk with a 20% tea concoction. :-)

Surprisingly, I don't ever remember anyone sitting us down and holding forth on bad things about alcohol. But I do remember some friends shaking their heads , and talking disparagingly about someone who they said, "drank". My association with alcohol was an image of someone who took a glassful, and fell into a stupor.

I saw, for the very first time, a real life person having alcohol, when I sat in a plane to go to the US for my graduate school studies at 19, in 1969. It was nice to know that those people didn't got reeling through the aisles on their way to the loo in the plane, and I always wondered why the stewardess smiled at the guy while bringing him his drink. (Later on, I had the misfortune of seeing inebriated folks in planes, having their last fill of stuff before deplaning into a dry country, and that was never a pleasant sight. )

The next two years were an introduction to a new world. Where wine was a part of living, beer was drunk like I drank lemonade, fruit drinks were spiked with hard liqueur and given outlandish names and consumed, nobody cursed anyone who "drank" , and no one laughed at anyone who did not. I saw very few, of those, whom one defines as "drunk" people.

Having observed that this was a way of life, possibly routine for cold climes, it was apparent that alcohol in moderation was acceptable.

A stable childhood allows you to decide on forays into uncharted territories with balance.

And so, I decided to taste , with an open mind, all types of alcohol, before deciding the good , bad and cursable.

I tried wine. Tried a variety of wines from different regions . Enjoyed the experience.

I tried beer. I honestly tried beer, but developed a healthy disrespect for those who smirked and said you needed to develop a taste for it. I hated it.

I even tried sips of hard liquor, and thought it reminded me of the cough mixture that my childhood family doctor would give us. Some folks went ga-ga on some tiny bottles of what they called "liqueur". I remember something called drambuie.

I decided I didn't like any of the stuff except wine. And even that, to me , was something to be enjoyed at a celebratory event. Something to take a sip of , on some great happy occasion for someone. I didn't need any of the alcohol stuff to accompany my predominantly vegetarian dal-bhat-chapati-sabji intake.

I never bought any, and never really missed drinking any.

And so I followed the principle of don't-drink-but-let-drink. And came to my own conclusions.

20 years after that, in the early 90's, our family lived in Germany for a year, and the only thing I consumed there , on occasion was champagne, at Christmas , and other celebratory days. In a country more or less immersed in wine, beer, pork, and all kinds of meats and seafood, I managed to enjoy all the vegetarian stuff I cooked, or my German friends cooked for me. Strangely, no one commented on my teetotalling, or the vegetarianism. The children were free to try out anything foodwise, and their father enjoyed his beer with his friends occasionally.

Back in India, one slipped back into one's very middle class lifestyle, fairly comfortably. We still don't keep alcohol at home. Occasional getting together with old friends over some beer is always possible, more like a few times a year. Beer and wine has occasionally made an appearance at home.

But strictly no hard liquor. Because no one is in awe of it.

And my attitude towards alcohol is like that of UPA towards the NDA/BJP We don't mix.

The children, now adults, have learned that there is nothing glamorous about alcohol. It's a lifestyle , and not something you binge on. There is an understanding of what it is, there are limits and pitfalls, and like all thing sin life, you need to think and decide. There is no bugaboo element in all this. I have seen them making their own decisions on this.

And as in everything else, like uncontrolled binging on sweets, sugar, heavy spicy stuff, colas, and even fruits, there needs to be a balance. You don't drink because its a style, or because you are gutless and cannot say no. You drink , knowing what you are drinking.
(Apply that to eating too.)

Many years ago, I heard one of my aunts discuss a particular neighbor of hers, because someone was of a very marriageable age there, and folks were making enquiries. This was a community of small and large family bungalows, folks were well educated and higher middle class. She looked totally dismissive of the folks , as she shook her head, and mentioned to my mother, that the girl was nice, but her father regularly sat on his terrace in solitary splendour at sundown, and "drank". He was clearly observable , from her terrace, one floor higher up, and she was totally upset seeing this facet of someone , who she thought of earlier as the pillar of the neighborhood. I think she half expected him to collapse in a drunken heap, a la Hindi movies, if he tried to get up, but this told me a lot about what kind of thinking and messages were being sent to the young kids in that family.

At the end of the day, its not about habit, or style , or needing a drink. It is not mandatory in any lifestyle, corporate, filmy or otherwise. Its about making informed choices yourself, and training your children to make such choices in their lives. And allowing the kids to view the natural pros and cons in life, where alcohol is concerned , is useful.

Its about making a rational decision, knowing when something exceeds limits, occasionally being sane enough to respect someone's wishes, age or whatever and say a confident NO, and finally, not being secretive about things (like the aforementioned gentleman on the terrace), so as to send your kids the wrong message.

Having said all this, my current favourite is Kokum Sarbat. Sometimes called Amrut Kokum. ****

With ice cold water, a sprinkle of jeera powder, possibly a sliver of lemon, and as they say, On the Rocks.

Don't need any Somras no more .....:-)

Yes . And before I forget, Cheers !

The Amrut Kokum or Brindao, i.e. a syrup made from the flesh fleshy rind[ or
sol] of the Kokum or Brindonna (Garcinia indica Choisy) fruit, is a
refreshing summer drink. This is pure sol and sugar preparation with no
preservatives, additives or colourants. The brindao has a natural scarlet to
burgundy red colour. It is generally consumed within the same summer season,
although the natural para hydroxyl citric acid acts as a preservative
ensuring a shelf life of a year or more..

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mubaarak : Ho, Na Ho.....

An Egyptian family has named their first baby daughter Facebook in honor of the part played by it in the recent Revolution.

While folks out here are cracking jokes about what will happen if she marries Google Patel, possibly have children called Twitter and Orkut, have a pet Dog called Tumblr, and show a Flickring interest in Picasabhai, one wonders , what a name bonanza awaits us if we decide to name kids based on significant things happening in our country and those that make it happen.

This takes me back to how names have come about.

Two generations ago, at least in the area where I come from, Gods and Goddesses were the most popular.

I think my grandmother was the last generation to follow the custom of being named after goddesses. She and her sisters were named after the popular goddesses of learning, valour and the like. For every one's naming convenience , a single goddess in Hindu mythology may boast of several names, all having to do with her inherent great qualities, her ability to be a certain God's wife and so on. My grandma probably named her children (my father and uncle) after Gods, to be on the safe side; but after that, the names were all on the slightly abstract side for boys (undefeatbale, victorious), except mine, where I was supposed to be named after a highly fragrant flower that grows in our native place (which I have not spotted till now). Sigh.

The diversity of this country, the dialects and pronunciations can have the same name appear different depending on the place you come from. Some regions have a complete aversion to saying "sh", converting them to "s" and some areas pronounce every name with a distinct O-fication, as well as converting, with a vengeance , all ordinary "s's" into "sh's".

Today, the style seems to have zeroed in on having short names, for both girls and boys, at least in my state. These names often have some connection with Gods and Goddesses, given that some of the Gods have like 1008 names. But unlike our Egyptian friend, we have been singularly uninterested in naming kids after current country heroes.

Yes, folks earlier named their children Jawaharlal (after Nehru) , Indira (Gandhi) and so on.

But today there is a singular lack of heroes (in public life), after which people can name their children. The only exception one can think of is Sachin Tendulkar who is again, considered "Godlike " in Cricket, and so people happily name their children after him.

Today the situation in the country is such, that despite having great meanings and stuff, there probably exists a blacklist of names; names no one wants their children to have.

Like .

Raja, of the Telecom scam, a name that earlier bespoke grandeur and nobility, and generosity. In Arabic it means anticipation, and in Sanskrit , it means radiant (as in King). He certainly "anticipated" stuff well and cleverly too, and cannot be anything else but "radiant" with all the 2G/3G wireless Spectrum stuff. Of course it helped to have a political boss called Karunanidhi , which is supposed to mean "someone whose heart is full of kindness" . Must be kindness laced with a frill of deals with powerful ladies.

But today it means a crook and a cheat.

Nira Radia , again of the 2G/3G spectrum scam. For one thing, the origins of the name Nira are Hebrew, and Nira means plow or a loom. No wonder, she was able to weave the various industrialists and ministers together, as she endeavoured to plow back into her PR business, the tangible benefits of knowing the right phone numbers in Mumbai and Delhi. Maybe she should have spelt her name Neera. That's a name , which in India means ,"by oneself, or complete " , but also has origins in Greek and Spanish , where it means " young, devastating, and capable of great destruction"......

Anyway, Raja and Radia as a pair were destined to be.....

Suresh (as in Kalmadi) , of the Commonwealth Games Scam , is supposed to mean Lord of the Gods. Also another name for Lord Vishnu. Kalmadi certainly knew how to Lord it over people, but I think if Heaven has courts, Lord Vishnu would rush to file an affidavit to delete Suresh as a name from the list.

Of course , can Ashok , (Ashok Chavan, ex-CM of Maharashtra ) and lately of the Adarsh building scam lag behind ? In Sanskrit his name means "not causing sorrow". Maybe all those folks putting money in the building believed that. Maybe he himself believed that, and so did his ma-in-law, and assorted defence warrior types. But sometimes one tends to fool oneself......

And how can you forget Lalu Prasad Yadav, of the Fodder Scam. Making money off food meant for our four legged friends. A wide search on Google confirms the fact that this name has an unknown origin, but some enterprising types, used numerology to find out that the sum of alphabetical order of letters in LALU is 46 and this makes LALU arithmetic buddies with words like Amicable, Adept, Best, Fast, Magical, Frail. Don't know what happens if you spell him LALOO. But I dont see a rush anywhere to name the children after him.

We certainly cannot leave aside UP Chief Minister Mayawati . Supposed to mean "full of illusions" , she definitely creates many for the people she purports to represent. Any illusions of power that she creates certainly do not reach in her rural areas where her legislators continue to molest helpless women; and people have no illusions of what the police are likely to do, if you went there to complain. The Maya is on full display when she fights for the highest taxpayer title, and flaunts her real estate holdings and diamond jewellery, not to mention boot polishing security....

While the severe lack of public figures to uphold as examples and name children after, is something that is obvious and possibly worrisome, , it has always been safe to name kids after the 5 elements; you cannot go wrong naming children after Fire, Water, Earth, Air and so on.

Maybe it is time to abandon all these naming conventions and give modern names and initials to folks. Like GPRS Mahadevan, or S. S. Bluetoothay, or Sam Sung Tooji, Black Beri Threeji, GSM Sharma, or Kapil Croray. You could even have ROFL Amarsingh, or UMMV Gandhi.

But to getting back to Baby Facebook , one certainly wonders ....

When folks will come to attend the naming ceremony party in Egypt, for Baby Facebook, what do you think they will say to her delighted folks ?

Mubaarak ho ?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Shameful Stress....

One of the side effects of thinking too much, is stress.

While not thinking properly and deeply about things may result in losses of opportunity, money, education or whatever, I have a secret sneaky admiration for folks, who face life in real time, tangle with hard knocks, fall down, gather themselves up, and start walking again.

In Mumbai, almost anything can stress you. Crossing a complicated road, with malfunctioning traffic signals, unexpected jams when you are trying to catch a train, a family member supposed to have returned 2 hours ago who yet has not, combined with unreachable cell phone numbers, inability to get the gas agency on the phone for a couple of days, when trying to order a replacement-cooking-gas-cylinder, even possible results of a pathological test....

When you get to be my age, wild driving on highways is a major stressor. In Mumbai, driving is truly an art, not a science. And so instead of rules , you have people doing their own stuff, so to speak. There are people overtaking you from the wrong side, when you are faithfully following speed limits, there are bikers, weaving in and out of traffic , with alarming bends, and buses bearing down in your lane, honking away, while you patiently look for an opening to change lanes. If you are a driver yourself, but are not driving, the stress is even worse.

And when you sense the flyover on which you are driving, vibrating , it gets too much .

This happened to me recently. We were driving into town for a visit, and all the above got combined with the fact that there was a massive jam half way there.

Stress affects people differently. I know people who suddenly blabber, some who burst out crying , some who suddenly develop dry mouths, and low sugars, as well as some who simply lose control and get violent. In my case, the brain has learnt to behave, but it always affects my digestive system nerves. I often have to seek out a bathroom, after the first flush of the crises has subsided.

Combine this with unnaturally reclined positions of car seats, and seat belts scrimping on length, and at some point I started sensing that I needed to desperately visit the loo. The problem got magnified after every thump of a pothole, and burp across a invisible speed breaker, and realized, that Mumbai, straining at the leash to get accepted as an International city, has a severe dearth on non-star decent ordinary loos for folks on the move, on foot, trains, buses, or whatever.

Yes, there are Malls, where one could dash in, but in the part of the city where we were driving, space was at a premium, lots of government buildings and offices, very few malls, and given the slow traffic, and newly changed road restrictions , I started looking around for what are known as Sulabh Shauchalaya. (Do click on that to see what a wonderful service this is, by one man Bindeshwar Patahk, who has made it his life's mission.).

Just before we reached what would possibly be considered the Page -3 kind of part of Mumbai, I spied one of these places. They need to have these outside every railway station and major bus stops and markets, but the city gets its money out of rezoning recreational public land into the laps of avaricious builders, and we lose out.

They look a bit alarming given the populace hanging outside, but once you go in, there is a counter with a polite chap/lady who accepts the Rs 2 fee, and points you in. Separate sections and entrances for men and women. There was a passage with a mirror and sinks, and there were several loos, and they were clean, and I couldn't thank my stars enough, that I had spied this place. It was literally a huge load of my mind, as I emerged out , setting every one's mind at rest.

There is a general thinking amidst the populace, that these places are dirty, populated by strange people, dangerous attitudes etc. I've seen an attitude of disdain for these places in the city. And while this isn't a perfumed atmosphere, with monogrammed soaps, and a smiling attendant, and someone constantly mopping the place with a phenyled mop, it serves the purpose admirably, if you mind your own business and leave after doing your stuff. Chances are, you may be breathing worse air outside, and eating E-Coli burgers at fancy places.

And I then I think of all those living in Mumbai, for whom this is a daily problem.

The thousands of women who have no toilets, who must live in slums, and wake up at all odd times, and walk around in the dark with containers of water for washing.

Young girls who have no privacy, pregnant ladies, old women, who are even today bound by limitations of dress, who must actually time their visits to a public loo, some distance from their place of residence.

There are taps that get no water, water pipes that spout illegal branches, and a water tanker mafia.

And a city, that prides itself on advertising high rise apartments with swimming pools, landscaped ponds, Jacuzzis on terraces, the latest in sanitary fittings, imported from Italy and Germany....

The strange thing is, we , who should not have anything to crib about here, are the ones who get stressed. We, who can have showers at will, have a choice of bathrooms, have excellent water supply, and can occasionally pay for a royal bathroom treatment in a 5 star environment. We crib about the heat, the lack of breeze, get suffocated in a crowd, make a great fuss about the need to have the third shower of the day ......

My household help, S., has no toilet in her house. She is one of those, who lives with 9 people in 1.5 rooms, gets up very early , along with the others, to finish her stuff and help with the grandchildren, before people take off for work and school.

She has a key to my house. I have never ever seen her come in, and say, rush to use our bathrooms. She has never asked if she could bring her grandchildren in to have hot showers/baths. The most she has ever done, after asking me, is carried home pots of drinking water from my house, because the water supply in her area didn't look clean.

And she never talks about stress.

Which is not to say she doesn't have any. There is plenty of it . Lack of sufficient money, marriage of a daughter who has returned home from an abusive earlier one, worry about the health of S.'s aged mother, who is slowly going blind, a possible court case with a fellow illegally occupying part of her native abode in another place, the ever increasing fees in Mumbai's schools where she hopes to educate her grandchildren......

And I get stressed, make a fuss about the effects of age, stress , seat belts, roads, and write about loos, which possibly could be maintained cleaner but are not......

Shhaa ! Shame on you, Ugich Konitari .....

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Kavikala : The homecoming (edited)

I hadn't realized it, but for the last 46 years, since the age of 15, when I went to stay at the college hostel for my undergarduate studies in Pune, (if you leave out about 3 years in the seventies), I have always lived on some kind of college campus. First as an undergrad, then postgraduate studies in the US, and finally as a family member as well as institute employee, at the place I live now.

So it was kind of in the fitness of things, that one of the landmark events in my life, that happened yesterday, Feb 12th, was also taking place on a college campus.

The publication of a book of Visual Poetry "KaviKala" , by the group called Madness Mandalis, where I am a poem contributor , and now a member, took place at Mumbai's Wilson College..

As a child, rhyming was something that intrigued me, and making poems , for me, was a kind of hobby. Nothing serious about minds and stuff, but this was occasion-dedicated poetry.

Someone got a prize in sports, I wrote a poem. Someone else got engaged, I wrote. An uncle was honored with an award, I wrote. Pune had the Panshet floods, I had to write. Post my father's transfer to Ahmednagar in the civil services, we saw so many historical places , I had to write.

Much later, friends' daughters would be subject to biographical poems on their engagements, retiring best friends got poems , recited during farewell programs, and subsequent to a very well conducted 3-month Yoga program on campus, the main Guruji and his assistants also had a poem bequeathed to them. At one point , in his stubborn eighties, my father managed to convert two simple surgeries into 3 complicated surgeries due to some adamant demands, and both he and the nice, immensely tolerant doctor were presented with a poem in honor of that.

Post my taking voluntary retirement from my job, I started blogging. Among many other blogs (like this one) , I have a poetry blog, which happened because some people posted such wonderful photos and pictures on their blogs, that I was inspired to comment in verse. The poetry blog happened, so I could store all these verse pieces together. I had got over my obsession with rhyming, and the world had changed.

Sheer chance introduced me to a set of people called Madness Mandali. All young people my children's' age. They were doing a book on Visual Poetry. My poetry blog was actually Poetic Visualization, and I sent a few sample poems in and got selected. Simultaneously, they were selecting artists who had sent in their work. I was assigned a wonderful lady artist, Sonal Goyal, from New Delhi , and she would illustrate my poem . The book , to be called " Kavikala " would be , as they called it, a "mash-up" of 33 poets and 33 artists sponging ideas off each other, in pairs.

So far all my communication was by email. Occasionally , things were communicated on Facebook and assorted chats. But I had not yet met a single human associated with this project in person. Most of the young folks involved in the primary running around were recent alumni of Wilson College. The college authorities, hosting an Alumni dinner very kindly allowed this book publication to be a special event leading up to the dinner. Contracts were sent, signed, deadlines were decided, various announcements happened.

This was to be a publish-on-demand venture, removing the possibilities of unsold inventories.

They needn't have worried.

Their publication date constructively clashed with the Kala Ghoda Lit fest in Mumbai, and they were offered a table there. Well known senior poets (Gieve Patel), and screenwriters(Sooni Taraporevala of Salaam Bombay) , Sarnath Banarjee , Blue Frog's Ashutosh Phatak and many others, visited and bought the book at the fest.

At the publication function yesterday in Wilson College, the sale desk was thronged, and they had to close the counter early , so that they had copies to sell at the Kala Ghoda Fest today. The Principal of the College graced the occasion and declared the book published.

When the main person behind the book, Paras Sharma, got up to speak on stage, there were supportive hoots, whistles and shouts from the audience. A few of us poets who were present ( the book boasts of an all India spread of poets and artists, and some of the Mumbai types attended), were asked to come up on stage, and say as they say , "a few words". Several kind of nimbly ran up to the stage , greatly in contrast with what can only be called a slow tentative walk by me, holding on to things as I climbed a bunch of steps that reminded me of the old tough steep staircase in my late parent's house. So much so, that when I said my piece and climbed down gingerly, one of the young organizers actually ran up to help me, which was quite wonderful and greatly appreciated.

There was no excessive fashion, no tinkling of glasses, no folks lounging on sofas in style, no arched eyebrows, very few people in formal suits, and plenty of folks in jeans and tees.

There were some funny moments. As there should be. With folks who call themselves Madness Mandalis.

I was attending with my daughter. At some point during the proceedings, the starters and soft drinks started coming around, in our vicinity.

We were not part of the Alumni dinner folks, we weren't expecting to be part of it, would be leaving after the publication , but a lemonade in sultry Mumbai is always appreciated. The guy with the tray, probably thought, that given my very visible age, and an accompanying daughter, I was probably an alumni, and was very pleased to offer us lemonade. Shortly thereafter a delicious spread of starters appeared on a tray, and although food was far from my mind, I saw my daughter quite thoroughly relishing some yummy looking stuff on a toothpick....... :-)

Although I studied in English, my late parents greatly encouraged this hobby of mine in both Marathi and English, and I was exposed to and was indulged in, the best of literature in both the languages irrespective of the then current obsession with Maths and Science.

Going through their almost empty house , a few years , after they were no more, I came across a file of cuttings of so many things I wrote, which got published as a child, all neatly put together.

Which lies with me today.

That these things survived an almost complete paper cutting onslaught, typical of an almost 90 Alzheimerish dementia afflicted person was totally amazing, because I was now in a house that gave "paperless" a new meaning.

I always think of my parents at all my big moments, and those of my family. I think they would have enjoyed seeing this book, would have got tickled at seeing my name in the initial pages, which says I hold the copyright to my poem, and would have appreciated the dedicated artwork, by Sonal Goyal, who illustrated it. They would have lugged several copies to Pune to distribute to their friends. (Who would be immensely relieved to learn that this poem had nothing to do with them, as might have happened in the past.)...

I honestly wish my parents could have been around for this wondrous occasion......

P. S. The entire first printing stock was sold out by Sunday (the day after I wrote this ), at the Kala Ghoda Fest. The last copy was bought by the gent who owns the Crossword bookstore. :-)

Feb 14, 2011
Those wishing, may order the book from the publisher's site here.
(Current international rate ($1 ~ Rs 46)

Feb 21 2011 Also available at A1books , here

It will also be shortly available on some other B & M and other on-line sites. Details will be added as and when known ...

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Work and Life in the 21st century

Going to work and /or starting a job today, is not about what you know and how you analyse and complete things. Of course I assume you don't own a company or companies, and make other people slog for you.

Several decades ago, when I started work, in a fairly well known , highly regarded, path breaking blue chip Indian company , the work force was an all-India thing. We had people wearing conservative clothes , who displayed vibhuti on their foreheads ; we had women who always had both shoulders covered with a sari pallu; we had fellows who were defined as natty dressers, and paid great attention to their ties; we had some women who looked like they were straight out of what is now called Page 3; their hair stayed in place even when they pulled it out of frustration, and the length of their saree blouse and the exposed midriff was always equal.

The first two categories always talked about poli-bhaji & idlis, applying for shares, the 10 LTD bus, how harbor branch trains were never crowded, and having to renew their suburban railway pass, while the last two categories always harped on parties, wine decanters , and having lunch at the Oberoi. What was common in both, was that they were very serious about their work, and did it seriously , and nobody grudged the other their likes ,dislikes and dressing habits. There was a nice intermingling, and nobody felt odd about anything , even on client visits where some folks looked like they stepped off a foreign boat a while ago.

The reason this came to mind was the introduction of a young woman , P. to what may be called her first work experience. Circa 2011. A so-called internship , gratis.

It was a small, newly started, specialized office of a design/branding consulting firm. P rummaged through her overstuffed cupboard, and identified what she thought were "suitable clothes", and stuff was scheduled to be ironed, sent off to the cleaners etc etc. Next came footwear. Chappals were out. Heels were in (despite my observation that running for a bus in those was injurious for your health). Hair was carefully done with a conditioner and straightener, and organized to fall just so. And she always whizzed off for work leaving some kind of fragrance trailing her all the way to the elevator. 6 full days a week.

Then one day, there was to be a client visit with the boss. And it seems you needed "Formals". I suggested wearing a slightly dressy but smart conservative salwar suit, since sarees hadn't entered the scheme of things as yet. This was treated as sheer blasphemy. Formals meant dark trousers , with some kind of shirt thing on top, and always, but always, some chunky stuff around your neck, possibly with a scarf that fell just so. So we dashed off to Westside in the Mall.

I was certainly learning.

Apparently quietly putting your head down and doing your assigned work, and interacting as required for work (only), was not the thing to do. You smiled, you interacted, you cracked jokes, and acted as if you grew up playing marbles with the boss's wife who , as a professional , also worked there. This was a new office, P was the first one to start work, and when another person joined, she found out exactly what she wasn't doing in terms of interaction. That every person has a unique personality and takes some time to flower in non-work mode , was apparently not an acceptable management dictum.

When the internship ended, the girl and the folks mutually decided not to continue. She was told she didn't "interact"; she should be constantly in and out of their office, which she didn't do (it was bit difficult when you were working a laptop with a mouse); and the girl returned home, to continue her other design classes which she had been attending early mornings all along.

The girl has many hobbies and activities, and is a serious swimmer (15 years) who still goes daily for workouts and stuff, just to keep fit. She's just been asked to assist as a swimming coach for children at a prestigious local club, and occasionally take over when the main coach cannot take the classes. The girl has a knack for getting along with young children, and likes the whole idea. There isn't really any problem, except transport. No bus goes in that area so early (5:30 am), and all her childhood cycles are no more. The actual coach cycles there everyday, and so she now has a new cycle. Costing more than the formals.

I've been so out of touch, I did not realize that the cycles have kept place with the inflation.

Maybe I've really been out of touch with things.

When she first started serious swimming at 8 years, she was asked to get speedos. These are very expensive here, given that most suits are imported , and not considered cheap even abroad. So I told the coach then (who is also the same now) , that I would want to see how serious she was about things and her progress, before I bought anything so expensive. He understood.

She swam in a favourite frilled red swimsuit till anyone could see how the frills were dragging her speed, and she was indeed doing very well, frills and all. This time the coach suggested that a speedo would improve things . The time had come. I agreed. And she has never looked back. When she had to do lap workouts with loads , to improve timing, we got shorts with pockets, loaded the pockets with pebbles, and stitched them up . She wore those shorts over her suit, for these load workouts. And everyone was pleased.

Today, she sees her students, probably in single digit ages, not yet anywhere in proficiency , but trying to learn, and all of them come wearing fancy speedos, tinted goggles , carrying flippers, pool buoys,floats and all kinds of stuff, not to mention branded sippers. Demanded by them and provided avidly by parents.

I guess times have changed. We had to earn whatever we needed by good performance and visible hard work. Nothing was made available right at the start. It's not as if we dressed informally , wore lounging clothes or unironed stuff, or were disrespectful to anyone at work. But it was clear, that if you worked well, the rest of the stuff was immaterial.

There was so much diversity of clothes, fashion, language and demeanour in this land, we had learned to appreciate it.

I guess, what is happening now , is the downside, if one may call it so, of Globalization. Cell phones and SMS-ing has a uniform international lingo, so does Facebook. Brands are universal. Some things are unneccessarily important. We now kowtow to international habits. And sometimes lose out to innovation. Personal, that is.

In my time , Bata sold one type of Canvas shoes, and they were just fine for tennis, badminton, running, walking, or even stepping and stamping into puddles .

Guess what. The daughter needs jogging shoes for her non-swimming workouts. The old ones are so worn out, they now allow you to feel the road surface. I've just been to a Nike shop, where I was shown walking shoes, running shoes, tennis shoes, footballs shoes and possibly some other special shoes, which I couldn't hear, because I was too overcome. .

They even showed some shoes that cost 7000 Rs. (No , we didn't buy them).

I was told that was nothing. There were more costly shoes, they could show. I politely refused. My eyes were blinded.

But buying the good old Bata canvas shoes doesn't work anymore. It has to be a brand. You can't walk in tennis shoes, and play tennis in running shoes. We don't play football, so its OK.

Then they have these shoes with spikes, and it occurs to me that they would be perfect for stepping on the toes of a troublesome leching person in the crowded bus, while simultaneously using an umbrella to shove into his midrif.

I mention it to P. She looks at me. She is speechless. The salesman has overheard. He is a young chap, probably has a sister, and maybe secretly agrees with me.

I buy the stuff she needs. Accessorizing is important.

Life has changed.

I am not sure its for the better. Maybe , in some ways....

But so long as folks are swimming, and running, instead of getting addicted to fashionable vices and beep-worthy objectionable language, I am not complaining......

Friday, February 04, 2011

Shortage of Shame ....

A hot summer morning two years ago. S. , my house hold help of 25 years was away at work at the two-three houses she goes to everyday. She, her 3 sons, 2 daughters-in-law, 1 daughter and 1 little grandson (around 2 years plus) lived quite peacefully in the 1.5 room set up, with creatively made lofts, a spic and span functional kitchen, and a sense of trying to be happy with what they have .

One daughter in law, was pregnant for the second time, and was alone in the house, waiting for the other younger daughter-in-law to return from some errand, when a lady with a file and a sling bag landed up at the door. She smiled, asked about everyone, and introduced herself as a health worker.

They got talking about the older one's pregnancy, and the health worker starts a spiel about how her child and the forthcoming one were too closely spaced. It was yet two months, and maybe she could help do something (abort) about it. She gave a bunch of facts on how it's not good for the health of the mother to have pregnancies so close together. Besides the government gave you a money grant if you underwent these procedures when and as advised.....

Soon the other (younger) daughter-in-law returned and heard all this. The older one thanked the persistent health worker, but said that she would consult her ma-in-law on such matters. And only then decide .

The health worker lady, left after painting a alarming picture of health for the pregnant lady because her 2 pregnancies were too close. Besides she , the health worker, had just lost out on a monetary incentive from the government (for motivating folks to use family planning measures).

S. told me about this when it happened. Urging someone to abort , when another school of thought said, this way the two children would grow up together, and the mother could always get sterilization done after her delivery. The older one would be more than 3 years by then ! There were many folks in the house to help, and the only reason the health worker lady was saying what she did, was for her incentive commission from the government.

(Aside : In stratas of society where no incentive is required and folks are materially secure and overinformed, I once knew someone 20 years ago, who simply went to a fancy place and got an abortion done, because the older child had just started school and this was SO inconvenient....She never got a second chance.....)

Not all health workers are like this. Some have great understanding , knowledge and empathy. But wonder what would have happened if the household was not as enlightened and united as S.'s. Planning children is one thing. Giving misleading information to someone already pregnant , might even endanger lives.

But then it's all about quick earnings.

Very recently, the other daughter-in-law got pregnant . (S. had worried about some gynaec treatments, and asked me and I had blogged about her).

She was rushed to hospital for her delivery 10 days ago.

S., her entire family, and the girls parents all took turns being there while attending to household matters. This was a municipal hospital near the suburb where we live, and S. had registered her second daughter-in-law's name there for pre-natal checkups and delivery. The entire thing was free of cost. That it was close by, would save on transport costs.

Post the 26/11 carnage, when one of South Mumbai's Municipal Children's Hospitals was attacked, security at these hospitals has been increased. Stories about babies disappearing from hospitals still show how bad the security is, but S. is someone who abides by rules.

So when they told the entire family to wait outside the hospital (almost on the roadside), while only the daughter-in-law in contractions was taken upstairs, S. asked people to stop cribbing, and have patience. Rules were rules.

They stood there for a couple of hours with no news. Talking amongst themselves. Then suddenly, their name was announced on the P.A system, and one person was called to the door. Her son went, and came back to announce the birth of his son.....

They still weren't allowed in. And while they all breathed a sigh of relief at everything going off well, and celebrated the new addition to the family, two attendant ladies (ayahs) came to the door.

Did they want to see the child ? They would have to pay 200 Rs to these ladies. Then they would bring the child , swaddled in the first clothes of his life, to show them.

And S., who had given birth to 4 children herself years ago, educated not only her kids, but also daughters-in-law after marriage, decided to splurge. They would scrimp on something else. ( She had requested me last year for a loan of Rs 500 to pay the fees of one of her daughters in law for some computer course, which I had gladly helped with).

But this was about welcoming the latest member. Without much thought, they all emptied their pockets, organized those 200 Rs, and once these were pocketed by the attendant ladies, the grandson was brought out to be admired in his first hour or more on earth.

What an introduction to life , as it exists in Mumbai.

Doors are locked for security, but open for as little or as much as Rs 200.

There is really no difference between the health worker, and these ayahs. The former gives misleading and incomplete information to presumably uneducated folks, and is paid for it , by the government, once someone has an abortion or sterilisation. The latter, untrained but street smart, give real time correct information, and extract unofficial money from worried family members.

S told me this story last week. And we thought how it was all about making money any which way one could. And playing with peoples emotions and aspirations.

All you needed was an immense shortage of shame.........

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

RFID Reflections....

I have lately been researching RFID's.

Ever since the students at the exposed sham university in California (more on that later) were shown wearing ankle tags, that would tell the US Government where they were at any given moment, I have thought about how our government could use such RFID's.

The closest we have come to using these is for tagging tigers in wild life sanctuaries, to keep track of their dwindling numbers.

I can think of lots of other things that continue to dwindle in this country.

Honest politicians, principled businessmen, bureaucrats with integrity, ministers with a sense of shame and scruples, political parties with courage , parents of girls with guts, onions, chillies, tomatoes.....; the list can go on and on.

Tagging all these folks with RFID's might trigger a constitutional outcry, creating a windfall for some greedy lawyers.But there are some distinctly useful possibilities.

RFID chips were invented in 1969, and patented in 1979. In their simplest form, they can be as small as 1/3rd ,millimetre across, and can be embedded in things. They can be activated by a radio signal , and they get activated and respond, with data, that becomes useful information. Airline companies, shipping companies and militaries use this technology to trace their shipments.

This lends itself to several India centric applications.

1. To start with, create special RFID embedded stationery in Mantralaya in General and the Urban Development Dept in particular. All construction project-permissions /applications/clearances etc to be done on such RFID papers, with each project given a special RFID. This way you can track where the paper moves, and how long it stays there. Just think of how things would have been if Adarsh stuff had been RFID-ed.

2. So many court cases in India stagnate because the concerned parties do not turn up., and some cases that are filed are frivolous and waste the court's time. Sometimes the police deliberately delay filing things at the behest of powerful folks. It would be ideal if both parties could be RFID-ed, the minute a case was admitted in court. There would be no shame in this happening as several folks are routinely known to wear chains, amulets, rings and assorted things supposedly to protect them. A small RFID chip here and there shouldn't matter. This will result in an immediate drop in court cases filed in frivolity as some people will be faced with loss of face. The court will know how the defendant/respondent or whoever is moving around and where, and the law and order folks will get some pointers on what activities are going on. People can be cross questioned, but machines that report on you inertly, cannot.

3. All people consigned to jail must be RFID-ed. This way you can find out who is meeting who in jail. You can also follow the whereabouts of someone who has escaped from jail, and catch him.

4. Members of Legislatures and Parliaments, should voluntarily offer to be RFID-ed in the interests of the nation. It would be interesting to know where some members spend a lot of their time, when in Delhi, (and outside it) , and one could trace absent members . For those elected members who specialize in fighting and winning elections from jail , this would mean wearing 2 RFID's, and one would then be assigned to their P.A.

5. Municipal hospitals in Mumbai have been seeing a spate of babies being stolen from the gynaec and neonatal wards. It sounds a bit drastic but miniature RFID embedded tags for the newborns, embeddable by something like an inoculation action could be useful, and the baby would be traceable at all times, say, till it went home or was a year old etc.

Of course, in all these activities, the information gleaned from the response of the RFID to a signal from a server, will need to be observed , analysed and acted upon immediately by a human.

Currently, an indicting paper can be crushed and stuffed into a drawer and action can be delayed against some accused, if the law enforcement person is unscrupulous and greedy. Such folks will always exist, but the information received by the server will be read by many people, and hopefully, good people will outnumber the bad.

I wonder how things would have been if this technology was installed right at the inception of the CWG games in Delhi. I wonder what we would find out about spheres of influence ,if everyone in CBI was tagged with RFID tags.

At the end of the day, life is all about reading,observing,thinking, formulating an opinion and then acting on it.

RFID's or no RFID's.

I am not in the habit of googling RFID's. I got interested when I read about the TRi-Valley University.

Its web page is amazing and very badly written.

The website says "Tri-Valley University is a Christian Higher Education Institution" and its aim is :
to make Christian scientists, engineers, business leaders and lawyers for the glory of God, with both solid academic professionalism and Christian faith, therefore to live out Christ-like characters, value and compassion in the world, to make an impact and shine as its light. Our Institution Objective is to equip individual with academic excellence, practical skillfulness and spiritual maturity. We advocate Academic Excellence, Character Integrity, Christ-like Compassion, Inclusion and non-discrimination, and Integration-integration of academic professionalism with Christian faith, integration of principle with practical application, integration of career pursuit with spiritual growth.
A glance at the curriculum, description and qualifications of faculty, and announcements of Conferences is a lesson in how blatant, shameless and in-your-face the "university" was in attracting students whose objective was different from learning and education.

I felt bad seeing the students there being made to wear RFID tracking chips on their ankles.

Now I wonder .

I have personally seen first hand how students in India research universities, rankings, liaise with ex-students, and consult when deciding to apply for graduate school. I did that myself, fairly laboriously 40 years ago in the Non Internet days. And now I firmly believe that the students knew what they were getting themselves in to. That they were granted valid visas by the US is also true. However subsequent to that no one seems to have found anything strange in the fact that they all had the same California addresses and yet continued to live all over the US instead. And I would certainly expect the US government to clamp down heavily on such fake universities functioning under false pretences.

The faculty and alumni pages of the university are predominantly graced by folks , almost 95% of whom are from Andhra Pradesh, and China, and the description of alumni often ends with the sentence "he works for a company". (!). A few folks seem to be from Gujarat, but a minuscule quantity.

For an institution that offers undergraduate,postgraduate and doctoral "programs", the Research Page claims that its library boasts of a total of 10,000 books, and a computer lab with 13 laptops and 5 desktops with "Window" and Unix.

Did no one in the US Government read this ? And still at the end of the day, the students are treated as criminals with RFID tags, while the University personnel, face only a civil suit ?

Does this mean that this is an inspiration to the corner Internet Cafe place down the street from my house, to upgrade itself and call itself a University ? And does this mean some with a avaricious glint in their eyes and connections in useful places may possibly come up with something ? By possibly naming it after the currently popular leaders ?

On second thoughts have we done this somewhere before already ?

Just wondering.