Friday, April 29, 2011

Ukhanas in the time of Will and Kate...(edited with new contributions)

Almost 2 years ago, I wrote a blog post "Ukhanas in the time of IT : Taking the name". Subsequently, a few blog friends, and some who subsequently became blog friends, asked me to make some Ukhanas for them.

For those still wondering what I am talking about, and want to know the gist of it, Ukhanas are rhyming couplets, where the bride pronounces her husband's name as part of the poetry, and vice versa. Most Ukhanas are recited while offering the partner a piece of some sweet which is part of the wedding lunch , which is an elaborate affair, not in courses, but with everything being served together.

Some Ukhanas came to mind/formulated themselves, on the occasion of the British Royal Wedding.

Imagining William and Kate saying these, complete with downcast eyes, shy looks, and sideways glances, mother-in-law, grandmother-in-law looking on, watched by hundreds and thousands of stiff upper lip folks, is a cause for much entertainment.

In these days where people may often be called names, period, it may be slightly comical to recite each others names like this; this was all significant in the days when husbands were never called by name by the wives, but were generally referred to, as in the local vernacular translation of "Thou", and later on, as "so-and-so's father"...

Normally, only wives recited Ukhanas. In keeping with the times, today grooms recite them too.

Some Ukhanas below with English translations . The Marathi UkhaNas rhyme, the English translation will give you the gist, but unfortunately, not the flavor.....

Some Ukhanas for William to recite (weaving in Kate's name):

ट्रफालगर्च्या चौकात कबुतरं असतात फार ,
'केट'च नाव घेउन, अडमिरल नेल्सन ला नमस्कार .....
(Pigeons congregate in Trafalgar Square, and I say Kate's name , paying respects to Admiral Nelson(standing there)....)

रथातून फिरते राणी , डोक्यावर तिच्या हा मुगुट ,
'केट ' ला मी घास देतो, तूप भात आणि मेतकुट ....

(The Queen moves around in a carriage, and she wears a crown; and i give Kate a spoonful of ghee rice, and metkut (comfort food)...)

भाऊ माझा हरी , आणि मेव्हणी माझी पिपा ,
"केट" चं नाव घेउन देतो तिला हिर्याच्या क्लिपा .....
(My brother is Harry, my sister-in-law is Pippa; I present Kate with these diamond hair clips....)

लंडन च्या रस्त्यावर अक्षतांची दिसते रांगोळी ,
"अग केट, हि घे तुला घासाची पुरणपोळी ...."

( Confetti is strewn in a design on the rods of London; I give Kate a piece of PuranPoli, an Indian delicacy)

Then some verses for Kate to say (weaving in Williams name) :

वेस्टमिनिस्टर कार्यालयात आज शुभमंगल सावधान ,
विल्यम चं नाव घेउन ठेवते हो सासुबाइन्चा मान .....
(the final marriage customs at Westminster today, and I pay my respects to my mother-in-law as I say Williams name here....)

माहेर माझा बकलसबरी , आता सासर माझा लंडन ,
विल्यम चं नाव घेउन, राणीसाहेबांना करते वंदन ..
(My maternal home is Bucklesbury, marital home is London, I pay respects to the Queen, as I say Williams name here....)

हा लंडन चा बॉबी , आणि हा मुंबईचा पांडू ,
विल्यम, सोमरस हळू हळू प्या, खाली नका सांडू ...
(London has its Bobbies, and Mumbai has the Pandus, but William, you need to drink a bit slowly, without spilling stuff, okay ?")

Just a little something on the occasion of their Big Day ......

Edited to add contributions from PoetMamma !

For Kate:
राणीच्या महालात थाटात रुखवत आपण मांडू
जगाचं सोड, पण विल्यम, आपण तरी नकोया भांडू

For William:
लंडन म्हणती जगाला- या, लग्नाची सर्कस बघा
पिप्पा चा बरा असला तरी, मला आवडतो केट चाच झगा

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

HR Management at the THREAT Institute

It was inevitable that this would happen.

The Tihar Human Resources Entrepreneurship And Training Institute, otherwise known as THREAT, is now in the headlines.

Currently in the news for some high profile "recruitment" , it was clearly a matter of time before this became a reality. Tens of thousands of residents, in a place meant of half as many, and there are now plans of considerable expansions to the premises.

Starting with the gates. Some Pawarful types came asking if we meant Bill and Melinda and we had to quickly refute that....

Given the questionable , but nevertheless considerable eminence of those now entering it, manifested by the huge posse of security and police that accompany such an entry, walking into the complex, it has been decided that either a subway, or a flyover will be constructed for entry into Tihar Jail ; pardon me, the THREAT Institute.

New entrants will now be driven straight to the big gates, which are being fitted with automatic gate opening hardware. Cars carrying the people will have wireless contraptions that will activate the gate openers. Rumors circulating indicate that free donation and installation of these contraptions is a quid pro quid between the rulers and the convicted, in exchange for higher star facilities for certain Reliable folks resident therein.

Since the Institute already has a well organized and income earning mechanical workshop, as well as a computer section manned by the ill advised, wayward offsprings of political heavyweights, it was recommended that the recent entrants be directed to other departments, some of which , do not exist.

Mr KingRaja , of telecom fame, is considered the front runner for the new Call Centre to be set up in the THREAT Institute premises. Given the spate of murders and killings arising out of lone employees returning home, being at the mercy of evil minded office transport personnel, this call centre is supposed to be do away with the entire concept of employee transport, since everyone lives in the Institute premises.

Of course , with the expertise of Mr Balwa-nt, and Mr Joke Goenka in creating star facility hotels, on land which doesn't belong to them, they will be entrusted with the setting up of the Department of Expansion.

The THREAT Institute has immense land and even more immense manpower, and they will be entrusted with preparing the plans for converting THREAT Institute into a model educational set up, where facilities for training of women and men, in the hospitality, accounting, managerial, and security functions will be set up. A school for children , who currently reside in the Institute for no fault of theirs is also in the plans.

It is noted with great pleasure that the sports loving folks at the Institute are excited over the recent arrival of the Indian Overspending Committee Chairman Mr Kuresh Dalbati. Always aware of the fine nuances of being a reluctant celebrity, and in keeping with all the pain, great folks like George Bush, Putin etc , that have gone through this, it is widely believed that he encouraged , for some consideration , of course, a willing gent to fling a chappal at him as he bravely walked to the Institute doors with all his X-Y-Z security posse.

Mr Dalbati is expected to be saddled with the responsibility of constructing the sports complex of the Institute. Currently there is only a Yoga Hall, and a Table Tennis facility.

It is considered very inconvenient that only 2 people on one side can play table tennis doubles. It is expected, that Mr Dalbati with his wide contacts in the sports control bodies across the world, can effect a change in the table tennis rules, that allow a huge team to take turns in twos, playing on one side, in a single game. Nothing short of revolutionary.

Of course, he has tough competition from a Badminton gent, who is also there with him, possibly because he got very creative with shuttles, rackets, and scoring stuff. Mr O. K. Vermi(n), erstwhile Badminton Boss of India, has been insisting on building Badminton courts inside the THREAT Institute, but they will wait till the skirt controversy is solved, as there is an uncle's son-in-law in the garment manufacturing business. I guess old habits die hard.

There has been some concern ,voiced over what kind of security systems the THREAT Institute will have, in addition to the guards at the entrance, and maybe in the watch towers. But here again, an ex IPS officer, who actually is serving a life term for killing a lady journalist, came to the rescue, after much cajoling, Sharmaa-Sharmaa ke.....

And then of course , they have heard that Virendra Sehwag and Murli Kartik came to visit the Tihar Jail , and now everyone wants to have a THREAT Institute IPL5 team. This wish has been considerably bolstered by the fact that according to the latest from the Entry register, a Reliance head has taken up residence inside the THREAT Institute, and the inmates now feel they can have a proper team (a la Mumbai Indians) with a striped uniform in black and white. Suggestions for names for the IPL team, were requested, and the winning entry was the Supreme Court Sixers.

So we are all set now . The THREAT Institute will now be a reality, the world's first example of how a democracy organizes its Human Resources, which are, to put it succinctly, captive.

A question about forming the Governing Council of the Institute did arise, and someone wanted to ask it in Parliament; but given that one political party or the other keeps stalling proceedings, it was decided to wait, till some new inmates arrive at the THREAT Institute campus. Those with outside senior corporate experience, may be co-opted on to the council.

We await further details.

But Wait.

There is Breaking News.

Funjay Dutt, (no connection with Barkha Dutt), has just announced a film called Kyun Ji, 2G, Suno Ji, 3G (KJ2GSJ3G), starring various children of politicians, beginning with the letter K.

In the meanwhile, Seedha Aadmi Productions has commisioned Karan Johar to produce a film called "Kaha Gaye Woh Din ?", and he was last seen , drowning his sorrow, in a cup of coffee, shaking his head, and saying , "Laapata, Laapata !".....

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Customer dis-service

I just saw this post written by a blogger friend, and was about to comment on her post, when I was overcome with so many similar memories , that I thought I should make it into a post.

At one time, when IT was all about punched cards being fed into huge card readers, and NOT about a bunch of people swinging on swivel chairs, typing stuff on to the screen, I actually worked for India's then (and possibly even today) leading company. Companies actually sent, say, Inventory transactions, which were punched on to cards, and these were read, checked and edited several times, by means of batch totals, tallying and all kinds of controls, before they were actually processed against the earlier months closing. There was a lot of interaction between the IT wallahs and the staff of the company that we designed and ran systems for.

The PC had not yet appeared on the scene. Internet was yet to arrive. Credit cards were not yet around. Thankfully neither were cell phones. And people still worried about being accurate, than fast.

In this big rush towards the e-fication of every aspect of our lives, and hankering after a wireless life, no one has the time to check and recheck data . This is causing immense confusion in systems where centralization is being tried.

--And so you have my friend, getting, possibly automated calls, wrongly triggered by corrupted data, and she finds out that the number which keeps calling her does not exist.

---And so you have India's leading premier nationalized bank, that handles government pension accounts, making a big thing explaining how the account must have a single name (no joint names) and so on. You send in a request for a new checkbook, and the name that comes printed on each check, is someone else's; and no one bothers to check before mailing the stuff to you, that too after charging you the postage. When you go in to crib about this, they act as if the correction to be done is a huge favor to you, and yes, you will be charged the postage again. This doesn't dent my fortune, but their shamelessness is so rich.

---Another cell phone service provider, affiliated to a highly regarded private sector blue chip company, advertises their prepaid schemes. You get a connection, and have no problems recharging after intervals. Then you start getting letters saying, "you have a post paid connection, have been ignoring bills, which have piled up, and you better pay up, or else."

When you check, they have wrong data for you. Which is why these letters get generated. But somewhere, when you recharge, the system remembers your real situation, as a prepaid system customer. The data has lost all integrity. When you call them up, they have no answer to this and no solution, except that one should go visit their head office somewhere in the innards of the city.

Why blame these guys ?

Your own ex-employers have a matching performance to display.

One takes early retirement and stuff goes off like clockwork, with you getting intimation to come pickup cheques and stuff on designated days. Six months later, you try and login for fun, in the employee record system, thinking it will deny you access. It doesn't. Not only that, it shows accumulated leave for six months after you left. Which can theoretically be cashed.

One also undergoes a change of status as a family, after the primary member, who is a government employee retires. You still live in the same gated community, so systems are in place to issue new identification cards. You believe in the system. And then you are in for a shock.

The parents get their id cards. But children, who have enjoyed the benefits as dependents, as per the laws of the nation , for the last quarter of a century, are denied an id card that simply says they exist as family members (forget enjoying any benefits) as they continue to live in the same premises. In a shameful recent episode , the child of a just retired person, was allocated a daily non-employee entry pass, normally given to vegetable vendors, maids, raddiwalaas, home delivery grocery folks and so on. The parents then requested such entry passes themselves , which they would renew periodically, like every month. At this point people woke up.

A cursory study of the system revealed, that there was no clear definition and control about who can change what data; higher ups did not get a summary report on changes effected to records, and sometimes they actually didn't know at all what was going on. The problem was later solved by vociferous protests, pointing to rules, and a slight raising of voice, which always makes folks listen.

And as a crowning episode, here is a story of someone, whose bank account was routinely credited and debited (the next day), each month by 15,000 Rs, and this went on for 6 months before she noticed it, as she lived in a another city, and didn't trust net banking. She did not recognize that transaction as hers, but did question the bank, who seemed to think that their job ended after crediting and debiting. She asked them what would happen, if some smart customer person owning that account decided to withdraw the amount before they could debit, since there was a time pattern to the whole thing. The manager had no clue. She was told something about "reversing" entries; and she asked if that meant some valid entries could also have been reversed and should she check.....

It finally transpired, that they had introduced an extension counter of that branch, and erred in the codification of the accounts managed by that counter. The account number is subsidiary to that particular branch, and by not giving that extension counter a unique id code, they had a case of duplicate account codes, as the manager issued orders for some codes randomly. The customer asked about user manuals followed by the bank, coding systems, who did the software etc. because she had worked in a similar field. And what emerged was that what fell short at the end of the day was training of all personnel from the top down, at various levels of responsibility.

Not a day goes by without Mumbai University authorities facing yet another complaint about erroneous result declarations, and delays in paper corrections, and someone always comes out and says that everything is being computerized , and hence the problems.

Sometimes, I think we are simply being "clobbered by data". Those who are entering data are doing something akin to pouring sand , through a sieve, where the fibres have become weak, and allow anything to pass. Advancement in technology is represented by folks above a certain level having PC's on their desks, more as a prestige issue, an not by innovative methods of validating data. Much like our Members of Parliament, being gifted free laptops.

We once had to use the SWIFT code method of sending funds in foreign currency, for registering to attend an overseas academic conference. Our bank which boasts of impressive assets, and deposits, and is a participant in this SWIFT technology based funds transfer technology, apologized. There was only one staff member who did that work. he had an accident the previous day, and fractured his limbs and was on medical leave. No one else, I repeat, no one else , was capable of doing that work, in a section that had 10 other people working there. Would we mind going to the next available bank branch 10 kilometres away, before it closed, and getting it done ?

Like they say, here it is a seller's market. The customer is the beggar. And most of the time, crooks are kings.

If I were a computer, I would be mortified.

And reboot in agony.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Beautification of badminton ?

Sometimes I wonder if , along with the Ice Age, Stone Age, and any other assorted ancient Ages, we are now in a Facetious Age. It might even be called Anything-goes Age .

I just read about the World Badminton Federation laying down the no-shorts-only-skirts rule.

I mean , you could do so many things to encourage the sport. Like sell shuttlecocks at subsidized rates, give grants for upgrading old badminton courts, or tie up with corporates to encourage badminton in schools and so on. Use your clout.

But no. They want to change a perfectly good sport, and make it market friendly. The actual rule on the Federation's site attributes the change to a suggestion from some marketing company they consulted, and the announcement is a masterpiece in fooling folks with big words. It is also relevant to note that the majority at the managing committee at the Federation, is male. Only 2 female members.

And my first impulse was to wonder if Sharad Pawar/Kalmadi /Lalit Modi had anything to do with the Federation, and whether someone's uncle/relative was now into sports clothes manufacturing.

But no. And so we will now be shown, TV closeups of skirts that ride up on a player, stretching on court to retrieve a shot. Watch what happens on tennis courts, when folks play in skirts. The simple commonsense , of maximizing degrees of freedom of movement for a player, only possible in a decent pair of shorts , is totally lost.

Having said this, one may think of many other situations where a change is dress rules in warranted. Of course, like in badminton, we need to specify locations where the dress code will apply.

---Like young girls in jeans, traveling in public transport, in Mumbai (Am not qualified to talk about other cities) , need to wear tops, that extend at least 12 inches below the waist, given the compulsions of standing in the aisle, and holding on to rods and loops above you. A raised vertical hand gives an unrestricted view of the skin show inside, made all the more shameless by compulsions of wearing jeans , low on the hips. What is worse, is that when they sit in a seat ahead of you and bend forward , natural partitions in the human anatomy manifest themselves. Not done.

--- How can we leave chaps behind ? Possibly, an apparel manufacturer decided on this after receiving a shorter roll of denim , necessitating shorter jeans to be made in the same amount of material. But the mind boggles at those who think this is fashion, and wear jeans so low , that you constantly worry about them falling off. Then someone decided that it was posh to show what color underwear you are wearing, and we get glimpses of that from a permanently descending pair of jeans. There needs to be a rule that jeans necessarily need to be worn at what a normal human being decides is a "waist", and underwear must remain under.

--The minute a person becomes politically relevant in India, he starts wearing white khadi . Apart from giving a false sense of "being clean" , the long kurta actually serves to cover the pant pockets, and if the pants are tapering, the pockets are built into the kurta. There needs to be a rule, that the pockets, need to be on the outside , and made of transparent material. So the general public can see what goes into the pockets.

---There must also be a rule for people sent to jails. Like all normal prisoners, those who are considered corrupt in scams etc, must wear the regular prison uniform. And when they make appearances in court, they must sport this uniform, whether it is a case for murder, or for giving or taking a bribe.

------The government needs to decide about the nurses uniforms. Based on practical considerations, and not because something looks good somewhere. Nurses in Mumbai have been seen in white sarees, white dresses, white salwar kurtas with medical aprons, then at one point someone decreed that not only must the color be a dull pink-brown, but that everyone must now wear frocks. Nurses groups have been known to agitate for decent uniforms . It makes sense to talk to the nurses, and not base your stuff on how someone can be given a huge order for nurse uniforms, earning someone else many things besides eternal gratitude.

There are also cases where the government doesn't really come in to the picture, except as an end result when something happens.

And the rules need to be self-learned.

The new fashion of leaving one shoulder bare with a prominently visible bra-strap, to say, clarify the situation. Sometimes both the shoulders are bare. Sometimes one wonders at sari blouses, that seem to have only sleeves and nothing else. There is a growing tendency of folks to wear outfits with massively cut necks, that kind of stop short of the waist. And all this covered by a clearly transparent saree, where the pallu is thrown over, like a towel thrown on the shoulder by a waiter in a Udipi Hotel, as he takes down your order.

At the moment there is a huge mismatch with the clothes and the occasions. Mostly encouraged by Bollywood movies where logic has never been a strong point.

I lived as a young person, at a time when the variety of clothes was less, there weren't so many readymades on offer, and there were assumed limits (regarding lengths and fashion cuts) on anything you got stitched at a a tailor's. We certainly played sports, but initially always did fine with what we had, and never rushed out for sport specific branded stuff desperately, as happens today. I've seen graceful swimming pool dives by ladies in innovatively wrapped nine yard sarees, girls wearing their brother's half pants to participate in kabaddi matches and kho-kh0 games, and women excelling at tennis and badminton in 6 yard sarees, firmly tucked at the waist, sweating it out.

There has always been a sense of trying to excel regardless of what you wore. Nobody decreed it. It came from inside, and it was encouraged by families. There was a sense of balance in that no one tried to swim in a six yard sari, or Victorian gown, and you didn't wear outfits with kaftan sleeves when playing games that needed your arms to move freely.

I once ran into a lady at our swimming pool, who otherwise was the epitome of conservative womanhood. You never saw her in anything but a saree with traditional fabrics, prints and borders, with all the traditional compulsory ornaments, like the mangalsuutra, nose ring, toe rings etc. She came to the edge of the pool sporting a frilled swimsuit with longish frills. She wore her saree blouse inside , so as to be free of worries about slipping swimming suit necks. Her mangalsutra and nosering kind of glinted in the morning Sun. She stood midpool along the length, and executed the most graceful dive I have seen. She came out of the water, and stroked her way beautifully to the other end of the pool, in an amazingly fluid display of the freestyle stroke.

I asked her where she learned swimming. And she said, that she lived in Benares as a child, and learned swimming in the flowing waters of the then clean Ganga. Those were the 50's and as a child she wore a a a long skirt, pulled between the legs and tucked at the back at the waist, along with an ordinary blouse.

Her powerful strokes were an example of someone who had learned to counter the strong river current.

Today, folks find it very convenient to drift along with the current, be it in fashion, politics or anything else.

The World Badminton Federation is following in the steps of the IPL folks, by trying to glamorize an already wonderful sport. Its not an earth shattering change, but its a useless change .

And yes, it is amazing to note that the National Commission on Women (NCW) in India has slammed the skirt rule and shot off a letter to the Badminton federation folks telling them that it is "reflective of reactionary and patriarchal mindset".....

I wish they had something to say about cheerleader gyrations and outfits in the IPL too....

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Kulfi Kronicles or Another Blogger Meet....

This was the first time we decided to meet in a Mall. In the unrelenting humidity of a Mumbai summer, the central airconditioning and multilevel parking was most welcome, and so was the choice of eateries. Of course we always look for a place where we can be ourselves - a motley group, chatting and laughing away, casually eating, occupying long tables. And we also look for a place, where no one kind of breathes down your neck, having promised your table to someone else. This time the ages were spread across a spectrum from 3 to 61.

The Generation Next of the bloggers was present , aged 24, 10,5, and 3. And there was so much for them to learn.

-- Observing that endless traipsing around wasn't pleasurable to some elder blogger types, one of our young chivalrous professional adda types requested them to sit somewhere, and that he and someone else would scout out a good place and then have us come there. Much appreciated. But everyone went together.

-- Some Generation Next's youngest bloggers, kind of sprinted around, and one of them made his displeasure known at being weaned away from the entrance to the game places. Maybe we should have showed him the fish feet- massage place.

-- Generation Next bloggers got presents. The eldest blogger also got a "congratulating" mug from the second eldest. Coincidentally the eldest blogger was sitting amidst the youngest folks, so maybe some folks thought that's why she got it :-) . But the thoughtfulness and wonderful mug was greatly appreciated.

--Some guys who keep running hundreds of kilometres a week for practice, end up crawling when driving in our Mumbai traffic. And arrive last. These folks are given a place at the head of the table, and the honor of ordering the food, and they do an excellent job with the menu. Just a decent vegetarian menu, with variety baskets of rotis, a nice selection of veggies and a pitcher of cold "chhaas", so welcome on a day like this in Mumbai.

-- So many of our group are on to new things.

One is pursuing a doctorate in English at a Technology Institute.

Another combines her legal and sports watching activities, with a penchant for teaching, and manages to have students who have cricket match tickets to spare, allowing her to watch "God" get his first IPL century.

A retired elder blogger, continues in academia, teaching at well known institutes, guiding younger folks in his field.

A younger corporate type, manages to seamlessly interface managing colorful stuff and colorful people, travelling the length and breadth of this land, and running hundreds of kilometres a month in Mumbai in the early hours of dawn. And he still has the energy to tweet and do wonderful photography about just about anything; buildings, animals, payasam....

One younger member, who already teaches, is now spearheading a funded project doing research about blogging and bloggers, and we are her initial data points.

A still younger member excels at running behind a hugely active, expressive, cartoon loving very young son, who is on his second blogger lunch, and shows great promise.

Then there is someone who writes blog posts that make you think about the world and what is happening in our country, and she often comes up with suitable Sanskrit verses. She is limited a bit by her health problem, but she just leaves those behind when she makes it to these lunches, and we like to think these blogger meets are a nice change.

And then there is the adda-ish one, who is so infatuated with his Fiat Punto, he drove it to the bloggers meet. And even convinced his boss to drop by.

But this was a day of amazing coincidences.

What is a blog meet without a dessert of kulfi ? And so we wandered over to the Food Court, where there was a mind boggling variety of Kulfis , and the younger kids got to choose to their heart's content. A point to be noted is that most bloggers in their 30's preferred to lick kulfi sticks, while those double that age, actually had theirs in a frozen earthen pot.

As they say on Twitter, #just saying.

In the meanwhile the youngest member, aged 3, had flown into a huge rage, at being deflected from the game parlours, and being bodily carried away by his mother. He continued to be supremely unmoved by the kulfi.

But, suddenly, the boss of the adda-type arrived. He probably wanted to put faces to the words he probably reads so often and enjoys from time to time, and he was providentially carrying a bag containing some wonderful Ferrero Rocher chocolates for everyone. The little one, quietened down, eyed the booty, and forgot about the game parlours. He was presented the nice bag of chocolates.

I am positive the adda-types will go very far and have a bright future for their company. They already know how to woo the Generation Next bloggers.

The only thing missing was the photographs.

One of the elder bloggers spied , what looked like an American, sitting at a table next to where we had collected. The man seemed to be doing nothing much except waiting for someone, and so he was requested to click us. He graciously agreed, and asked who the group was. The age range, looks, and languages was baffling, and we couldn't possibly be a family.

Here's the coincidence.

When he heard about our blogger lunch, he introduced himself as a blogger too ! From Virginia. And he was also involved in some conflict resolution stuff in the work he was professionally doing here in India. One of our retired elder bloggers, actually teaches this currently , and was amazed to meet this guy. The adda-types too were interested.

You don't run into unknown bloggers in Food Courts with hundreds of kids running around, staff cleaning floors, and waiters trying to avoid coming between folks doing photographs of groups.

Everyone was requested to come together. Those of us smiling for the camera didn't notice that ALL the male bloggers, including the adda-types, were busy discussing something, where this American guy had stood a moment ago. He left them to take our photograph, and a couple of us got introduced to him and his family , who arrived by then , with their food trays.

He did take our photograph. On various cameras .

But the interesting thing is, on my camera , it looks like he left almost ALL the men out of the frame.

Strange ?

All I can say , is Hmm.....

And more Hmm.....

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Unusual applications by ordinary folks

This has been a week for reminiscing. A younger blogger friend recently posted a picture of some old 5 paise , 10 paise coins in his post on "change". The sight of those slightly blackened, light, coins, unknown to today's children, took me back many years. And a day later, I had the opportunity to meet and have lunch with someone I went to college with, 42 years ago.....

School mostly finished by 15-16 years of age then, and we were residents at the hostel of one of Pune's best known and highly regarded (even today) colleges. Society, per se, even in educated circles, was still conservative, and the standard dress for us girls was a decently long skirt with gathers, with a nondescript blouse (with sleeves). In case we thought our parents were conservative, we had an entire batch of girls in our class who wore sarees, and mostly walked around with both shoulders covered.

Which is not to say that the defiant modern ones did not exist. They did, with the full knowledge of their parents , too. Rucksacks and things were unknown, and the done thing was to walk to class clutching your notebooks, pens, and mostly in groups. And we would secretly observe a smart one who drove her family's car to college, parked it under the shade of a tree opposite our hostel, and wore a variety of clothes, including sleeveless blouses, which to us, was a mind blowing kind of thing.

We were however, much more liberated in mind, and there was an easy camaraderie between us and the fellows in our class. Many of us were in sports , we did laboratory sessions together, went for class picnics and so on. Then there were things like Science Clubs and Hobby centres on campus. And we would join those , not because it looked good on our CV (we didn't know what a CV was then) , because we thought it would be fun.

Why did I remember this ?

Sometime during my college life, we went through a revolutionary change in dress. Those of us who were being prodded, to kind of shift, towards permanent saree wearing, suddenly discovered what we called the Punjabi Dress. (For my non-Indian friends : Basically a knee (or below the knee) length tunic, with a pair of skin hugging trousers (chudidars) or loose tapering trousers( salwars) , with a matching long scarf that was thrown across the top half of your torso).

Most progressive parents didn't object. It covered more than the saree, and furthermore, was one of our national dresses. And so a friend and I attending a 1968 summer school in physics at IIT Delhi, went berserk, buying the wonderfully cheap handloom and other cotton block printed kurtas and salwars/chudidars at Janpath and Khadi Bhandaar. These often had a short button strip down the front, and you bought some nice jingly cuff link style things to weave into those strips.

I remember returning to the new year in college, and noticing that one of the kurtas had extra large button holes, and the existing collection of jingly cuff link stuff was not working.

This is where the Science club came in useful. Most people there would be infatuated with electronics, and soldering irons, and amplifiers and stuff. Me, I was infatuated with more mechanical things like drills.

And so one evening found me with four 10 paise coins, which I placed on the drilling platform. Activated the electricity, attached the size of the drill bit, which I wanted, and you had a handle that you brought down to make the drill bit cut a hole. Very soon , like in 5 minutes, I had four 10 paise coins, with four small holes at the centre of each coin. Various people there, thought that I was mad, unpatriotic, or just playing around with the drill. But I went home, and sewed these on as buttons on one side of the button strip. The size was perfect for the extra large button holes, and I enjoyed wearing that kurta and having people remark on the unusual buttons many years after that.

Which was a nice introduction to unusual uses of routine things. Like staplers, for example.

Early seventies saw me working in Mumbai, and I was back to sarees, and enjoying them. You now had an immense variety in the fabrics and designs, and sarees was the approved wear in offices, unless you wore formal western clothes. But the trouble was that the Mumbai suburban trains and the public buses, which were my usual mode of transport, often involved lots of pushing, shoving, stamping on feet, others stamping on your feet, and in general dealing with a war situation, and it so happened, that one ended up having lots of saree "falls" becoming unattached in theses skirmishes. (The Fall is a length of matching saree fabric, about 5" wide, sown into the bottom inside edge of a saree; helps the saree to "fall" well when draped).

These had to be stitched back, many ladies carried needle and thread systems in their purses, but never had the time to stitch the stuff when in the office.

I discovered by accident, that the length of the office stapler was equal to the width of the saree fall, and several occasions after emerging from desperate skirmishes in the train/bus, saw me bending down to simply staple the fall all around back in place. This worked so well, particularly in darker printed sarees, that I forgot to do the needle and thread stuff later. And so I always , for many years, simply carried a stapler in my purse.

The irreverence continues.

I now have a huge family collection of various knee caps, ankle caps, wrist wraps, shoulder slings, forearm splints, palm wraps, dorsal belts, rib belts , thanks to family members doing sports, and my several occasional falls , fractures and stuff. The ongoing war of My Bones/Ligaments/Muscles vs Me has had me wearing a back belt . (No, its not a misprint. I did not mean Black Belt).

But the mechanics of running a house, does not allow you to lie back in a recumbent pose, and get other people to do stuff, despite, illegible scrawls in your file that say "Ad. Rest".

The back belt is a monstrous thing. It has you sitting in weird postures , say, on a chair, while you eat etc. One has discovered, that when going out is inevitable, and you do not want to wear this thing , the rib belt is often useful, and actually fits like a younger version of the thing. And so, one comfortably wears a rib belt around the midriff, the support is excellent unless you are planning to walk miles, or dance or something. It does not show up from various apertures in your outfits, and is easy to tug , when you are feeling uncomfortably scratchy.

At all other times, the back belt is fine.

But I must point out something.

This system does not work for those whose vital statistics elicit oohs, aahs and whistles.

If you are the 36-24-36 type , the system of interchanging multitasking belts is unworkable .

For that it helps to be cylindrical.....:-)

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Hello Hippocrates !

When I was in the 6th grade, I went to a school in Pune that subscribed to, what was then called "Senior Cambridge" school board. It was affiliated with something in England, the things we learned were slightly different than those prescribed by the local State board, and we had a favourite subject called Physiology and Hygiene, where we learnt lots of anatomy names.

I used to love this, and it so came to pass that one day, when my mother was on the phone with our family doctor consulting about my non healing sore throat, I told her in a hugely hoarse voice to say that I had an "inflammation of the pharynx". She got a bit alarmed and handed over the phone to me. Doctor Uncle was completely amused, and he continued to be immensely amused even many years later, when I took my children to him on my trips to see my parents.

It also helped that I went to school by the municipal city bus, and that my school was very close to Pune's well known B. J. Medical College. The bus would be full of lady medical students , in sarees, holding thick books , we became friends, and I absolutely enjoyed leafing through their Gray's Anatomy's, and marvelling at pictures of bones and skeletons, something we were learning in class too.

I actually did marginally better in Biology than in Maths in college, but the system then allowed us to choose one or the other, and it was more or less expected that I choose Maths. Which I did. I wont say the world missed out on a decent doctor, but since then, I have had an abiding sustained interest, in all things medical and anatomical, to the immense disgust , wonder and surprise of not just family, but also some doctors.

Fortunately or unfortunately (depends on who is thinking), I have had doctor friends from across the age spectrum. I recently lost one who was in her mid-eighties, another is almost my age, and never complains about being treated as an encyclopedia, and even being questioned . Another friend , is the above mentioned Doctor Uncle's grandson, who is my son's age, but did home visits for my (late) ailing father, every alternate day, simply because I requested it, and was bombarded by lots of troubled questions by me when I was witness to the marvellous fight back capacities of a body, when faced with a terminal slowing down.

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion, that the best doctors are those who explain things to you, don't glare in a superior manner when you ask questions, and appreciate the fact that you want to know, and possibly learn something. It's your body, so the attitude should not surprise anyone. I suspect , that those that brush away your questions rudely saying "how is it your concern", are actually insecure about their knowledge or about communicating it to a layman.

Many doctors of the old school love getting questions. A close family elder, who was diabetic had just had surgery, and I was posted in his room, while others went downstairs to attend some paperwork and stuff. A nurse suddenly appeared with an injection. I asked her what it was , and she told me it was a maintenance dose of insulin.

I got alarmed; I had been a close witness to this relative getting into an hypoglycemic (low sugar levels) coma once, because he didn't reduce his dose corresponding to his reduced food intake during a digestive infection. Prior to surgery his intake had been very light. I knew the signs of a coma first hand, and I appealed to her to give that injection only in the doctor's presence. An argument ensued, and went on till everyone returned with the doctor, a very respected senior name in the field, now no more today.

He heard me out, asked us to keep a banana ready along with some fruit juice, and the injection , as prescribed was given. Within moments, the words became slurred, eyes kind of unfocussed, and the doctor , who was holding the patients hand , noticed the signs even before me, and asked us to give him the juice. The patient was able to stand the insulin dose needed post surgery, and the great doctor, smiled, patted me on my shoulder, nodded at the nurse and left.

Many times it has been a skirmish for knowledge, in a dicey health situation. Skirmish, because , very clearly, some doctors don't like to be asked. It has become a habit to ask details about any medicines that someone recommends that I take. Sometimes one has read something about a particular medicine, and has some questions about safety.

Caretaking of elders of the willful type often needs a different interaction with the doctor. I once did this for someone who was the type who threatened to do what he liked after prostate surgery , like cycling , and lifting luggage up the stairs.

The urologist surgeon was totally amused to see me with a chart, listing out do's and dont's , contraindicated Yoga postures, and instructions for medications , all written in large letters for someone with a cataractic eye. I thanked him for his suggestions to my questions, requested him to sign at the bottom, and had the hospital office put a bunch of stamps there. This particular doctor had a lot of geriatric patients and he even asked me for a copy of the chart !

When the elder in question, lifted his bag on reaching home , and pooh-poohed my suggestion, I whipped out the chart. And no further words were required. Even the rickshawallah who transported us was amused.

This tendency of asking questions , has somehow seeped into the anatomy. I have had general anaesthesia given to me for various things in my lifetime, and the one noticeable feature has been that I always tend to come out of it before anyone expects me to.

While science sometimes says, that it has to do with the amount of fat in your body , that can absorb a particular type of anaesthesia, I think it's the tendency to question stuff that is embroidered in the DNA, so to speak, that keeps something ticking below all that anesthesia.

And so I can fully understand the irritation in the voice of the surgeon, who was helping to wheel me out into a recovery area after an investigative procedure, and had me suddenly asking him , from under heavily lidded but desperately trying-to-open eyes, as to "What he found ...".... I was politely told to rest .

While the Internet has been a gift from the Gods for someone like me, who likes to check out her own diagnoses with the doctor's, not many doctors are thrilled about answering questions, starting with "Why" . But some are amused.

The knees started to pain a couple of years after I had a fall that fractured the ribs in 2005. I poured over pictures of muscles, ligaments, tendons, and read related articles on the Net. Finally, I was convinced about the ligament (Anterior Cruciate ligament) that was not behaving itself. I went to my doctor friend, who was not surprised at all this, and possibly agreed with my discovery, but she advised X-rays, and a consultation with the more experienced Orthopaedic expert.

And so there I was lying on the examination table. My doctor friend had come along, as this was in the same hospital premises where she worked. The orthopaedic expert had me move my legs, bend them, and then did some twisting and turning of his own , eliciting some occasional painful exclamations fro me. He then turned to my friend , muttering, something-something of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament, and proceeded to write up something in my file.

To this day he cannot figure out why a bad injury should have brought a wide smile on my face, and why I barely stopped myself from hi-fiving my doctor friend, who was trying to hide a smile. He advised some knee caps and physiotherapy etc, which was duly followed.

But to this day , he always smiles when he sees me otherwise.

And then there was the time, I was waiting for the aforementioned investigative procedure, and suddenly the nurse turns up to ask about the next of kin. The husband had stepped out to make a call. It seems they needed his signature to say that it was OK to put me under anesthesia.

This was too much. I wasn't invalid,was in my complete senses (though some folks tend to disagree occasionally), this was my body they were discussing and if anyone was going to give permission to put me under, it would be me. The nurse looked stricken at hearing this. Such things were not done. They must have a finger to point at someone who signed and gave permission, in case something happened to me. She disappeared to return some time later with the doctor

The doctor came, took one look at me, shook his head, and allowed me to sign. If I was well enough to have a surgery, my vital signs were fine, and this was a minor procedure, then I should be qualified to sign . That's what I thought. The doctor actually just wanted to get over with it. :-) ....

This post came about after I read this blog post. About maintaining secrecy about the patients treatment file. About the nurse mentioning how the particular doctor did not like nurses to see it too.

I have always thought , that the file or chart for the patient that is maintained at the bedside , lists chronologically the treatment he/she has received, the recommendations of visiting experts, and instructions for modifying doses etc. I don't see why nurse cannot see the stuff. In fact, they must.

Not that it is legible or understandable, but It possibly makes sense to keep the stuff confidential from relatives who visit.

But just think of how the this problem can be solved, if the doctor could quietly explain the stuff to the attending relatives, in addition to writing it down. There would be more confidence , less doubts , about what was going on.

Its about your body. You need to ask questions, and demand answers.

And so, it hurts when one sees, those who spend enormous amounts of time getting technical about cars and cellphones, talk about taking "red pills", and "white pills", and "green capsules", without finding out what they do.

Maybe it's time for some senior citizen lady type to tap them on their shoulder, smile a toothy smile , and ask how their Anterior Cruciate Ligament is doing, or why their Bundle of His in their heart , is twitching so much .....

And enjoy the look on their faces......:-))

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Faking Times

No matter where or what, there are makers, takers, and fakers.

I don't know when someone called Robert Heinlein, a science fiction writer said this, but nothing is more true as of today.

I mean here is a set of 11 people in a cricket team, who "made " themselves into a match winning team by sheer hard work, guts and intelligent application of mind, they "took" the Cricket World Cup, in a closely fought nail biting final watched by billions across the world. Before the players could reach home, questions were being raised about the trophy being a fake trophy. Why, because an identical world cup trophy came in the baggage of some International Cricket Council official, duty was payable , which was refused, and the trophy now probably is being held together with contraband of all sorts in a cupboard belonging to Customs.

What makes this dicey, is the explanation is that this was a trophy used for promotion purposes, a duty of 15 lakhs Rs was applicable, and the ICC which probably spends that on its annual dinner, refused. I wonder what promotions they were talking about. I wonder if the ICC President who happens to be a central minister thought he could get the duty waived. But it got a huge outcry in the press, which claimed that the players received a Fake trophy.

That this should happen at all is a shame.

But we are not surprised. This is simply the latest occurrence of the dreaded disease of "Fak-itis". Rampant now , within India and even outside it.

There are entire surreptitious industries churning out fake diplomas and degrees , for a price. You do not need to go to college. Or even school. You can choose the University, and the discipline. The advent of the Internet has seen the mushrooming of fake Universities in the US and UK, unrecognized, but shelling out degrees for a price. We are now called the Fake Degree capital of the world. 729 cases of fake degrees of University of Pune, being submitted by people, for jobs, were detected, and 237 such cases for the University of Mumbai. These are currently being investigated. But what do you say of cases, where the University Grants Commission has declared that some of the universities themselves are fake ?

Professional degrees are also being Faked. We have fake medical degrees, fake engineering degrees, and even cases of fake doctorates, purchased from fake US Universities.

Most ordinary folks, start studying for a course when it is declared a requirement for holding a particular post. They declare a doctorate as an essential qualification for being considered for a principalship of any of Mumbai University affiliated colleges. A couple of years ago, the principal of Mumbai's oldest prestigious professional college was removed from his post because it was found that he purchased a doctorate degree from a fake US University. No one noticed when he was appointed, but later enquiries revealed the cheating.

When airline pilots start faking degrees, in collusion with some folks in power, then it becomes a situation of life and death. The news, recently, has been chock-a-block, with daily arrests and investigations of fake pilots, and fake training schools. All being certified, for a price.

Of course, it also becomes a life and death situation when you fake medical degrees, and you start believing that this is actually so when the head of the National Medical Council is arrested for certifying flaky medical colleges and hospitals. For a price , of course.

Faking of birth, death and marriage certificates is child's play. These things are counterfeited to get extra service years before retirement, usurping of assets like land (by declaring someone dead, and this happens in less educated rural areas in UP) , and so on. Faking of passports and various necessary certificates and Ration cards , has been around , but now people are being caught even for faking visas of other countries. Which can not happen without "international co-operation" to put it euphemistically.

Very recently, the police arrested a person in the Thane town planning office, who was actually a fake employee, not even on the payroll, but who sat there for 18 months and sanctioned permissions and stuff (all for a price, of course). He was brought in by the office boss, now in jail .

Apart from faking live people, there is also this issue of counterfeiting everything from money, to drugs, to even cosmetics and chocolates.

That our neighbor countries are dedicated to introducing counterfeit currency into our system is well known .

Then there are some countries, like China, which are now introducing substandard fake drugs into the country. What is more, they are also supplying these drugs to places like Nigeria, with fake "Made in India" tags. A shipment worth crores, of Ciprotab, a flagship item of an Indian company was spuriously made in China without any proper active ingredients , and sent to Nigeria via Frankfurt, without touching Indian shores, but with a made in India tag.

The Indian Commerce ministry is in contact with the Chinese about this. But the counterfeiting continues.

The latest is that they are also supplying cotton outfits to Nigerians, again with the spurious tags , despite shipments coming from China. The Indian government has complained about this too. .

That we have a thriving market in fake international cosmetic brands, purses, clothes, perfumes, and films , is well known, and at least, as far as piracy of films is concerned , something is being done. One secretly admires the workmanship of those, who make copies of international stuff with unpronounceable French names, and sell it for a fraction of the cost to some, and at original cost to some others .

Closer to home, even chocolates haven't escaped counterfeiting. The rural market in India is now very significant. And we have folks who make identical looking chocolates at a fraction of the cost, and supply them to these areas , with a variation in the chocolate name , difficult to notice. Such spurious chocolates now claim to eat into almost 30% of the sales of the authentic manfacturers. And so you have, :

S. No.

Original Product

Fake Product


Dairy Milk
Kit Kat
Coffee Bite
Mango Bite

Daily Milk
Kir Kat
Coffee Toffee
Mango ripe and mango bits

And so when was the last time you had a fake Coke or Fanta ?

At the end of the day, you learn to suspect everyone and everything. You learn to examine everything carefully, whether its a branded phone, a branded outfit, a branded designer thing, a branded electric item , for that matter anything.

Sometimes you even suspect people. And this becomes chronic when you see the fake poverty displayed by election candidates when they specify their earnings and assets , only to have everything multiply "n" times in 5 years, while the real middle class who voted for them remains unchanged, paying their taxes, and cribbing about the price of oils and grains.

After more than 3 decades of working and living in this community , our status recently changed to "retired" folks. For all these years I have been faithfully walking in and out of the Institute Gate to do my marketing for vegetables and sundry items. Some of the security staff has grown up along with me, and are themselves close to retirement.

But lately, every time I struggle in my my bags full of fruits and veggies, I am asked to show my identity card before I can continue in to my residence. Which is a bit of a problem if your small purse containing the card is at the bottom of tomatoes, beans and melons and apples.

But its OK. I don't complain.

It's a sign of the times.

I know !

Maybe , they think I am a fake.......

Friday, April 01, 2011

Lunchless in Mohali

It's called jumping on to the bandwagon. Its the easiest thing to do. Someone else does the slogging and hard work, something becomes popular, and you just take a light step up, climb onto the bandwagon, and enjoy the benefits. Free.

The lines between "sports" and "circus" are blurring fast.

What is routine in this country, is that you spend and dedicate amazing number of hours to practice , workouts, and fitness. Sometimes you travel hours just to get there. In places like Mumbai, you even battle another war as you struggle to travel in suburban trains with your kitbag. Then you appear for selections , where spending on athletes/players is really the lowest priority. Once you are selected you attend camps, where you build up your immunity by being subject to suspect environments in air and water. And of course there is a Godfather system, and a Geographical equal opportunity system.

Our politicians, by definition are part , nay, the whole, of sports management in this country. In Cricket, they have reached International levels in management, while in other sports, they tangle at the CWG level, staying true to their aptitude for making dark hued money, while denying our sportsmen and women, simple things like travel allowances, and decent lodgings during meets..

When it looks like you are going to play a cracker of a match with a politically significant opponent country and this is becoming a world event, you invite the PM of the opponent country to watch.

And that's when the circus starts.

Our Indian team, played their semifinal of the World cup at Mohali at 2:30 pm without lunch .

Why ?

Because with all the security cordons, restrictions, no fly, no drive, no walk zones, and checking of anything that resembles a closed box, the caterers could not reach in time, to allow the team a light lunch.

Why, because two PM's, and their assorted total staff of 100's , decided to attend, and sometime during the match, they went off for a fancy sit down dinner at the stadium. Channels cooed over the menu, and who sat next to whom, and read meanings into things.

While the boys played their hearts out on the cricket field. Lunchless.

I now hear that the Presidents of India and Sri Lanka will atend the final in Mumbai. With their individual entourages. Once again, there are no fly, no park, no walk zones, and thousands of security checks.

Maybe they will have a sit down dinner. They will sit side by side and shake hands with the teams and with each other. There will be photo opportunities, and menu discussions. Glum looks or practiced smiles depending on what is happening.

And the circus will start all over again.

There's just one encouraging thought.

Last time this kind of thing happened , a few days ago in Mohali, we won.

Maybe the Taj can now send lunch dabbas for our team in the team bus itself.