Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Birthdays and Biryanis

Sometimes I think Oprah should interview her.  My household help, S, that is.

Hitherto the subject of many blog posts here, and who now actually has a kind of following.

For one thing, she is much more interesting. Than Aishwarya Rai  or Parmeshwar Godrej.

Has tolerated a lot in her life, struggled a lot, found solutions on her own,  kept her family together.  Is greatly popular with her daughters-in-law,  and she also supports her only daughter who returned home after a fraud marriage. In an area where every alternate house has someone addicted to drinking and beating, and fighting, she, by popular demand, is the president of the local womens' association.  She is also the treasurer, despite being unable to read and write. She also knows about Google, and that it gives some answers to things, and often asks me to check out stuff for her,  when someone tries to mislead her. 

Last evening my daughter and I attended the first birthday party of one of her grandsons.  We had attended that of her eldest grandson 5 years ago, and this was the 3rd grandson. He was born last year and I had blogged about it here

S. kind of checks out her plans with me, whenever there is to be some kind of get together.  Now that she, her 3 sons, her daughter and a daughter-in-law were working, time was at a premium, and the money situation was better.  She said her sons had decided to order out for some Chicken Biryani from a local eatery.  She knows I am a vegetarian, but she also knows the daughter eats everything, and loves chicken.  

My daughter and S go along way back.  S has been  with us, since the last 25 years. When my daughter was learning baking as part of her vocational course. S was presented  with an iced birthday cake baked  by her,  with her name  on it, probably the first birthday cake of her life.  She thought it was really special, took it home, her family was totally amused, and her aged mother was impressed. 

Armed with a cartoon cake and a small cricket set, we landed up a bit early, since the daughter is obsessed with running these days, and would be going for that later.   S. had put up lights outside the house. The birthday child's other grandparents had come in from Pune, and the main and only small room of the house was agog with  folks, with the younger women  bustling around and the sons organizing seating et al outside , while keeping an eye on the playing children.  Every one , along with the kids and birthday boy, would gather at the Community Buddha Vihar later, pay their respects, and would enjoy the ordered special community meal.

We were introduced to all the daughters-in-law (I already knew the sons),  aunts, uncles, and relatives. My daughter, who always moves around with her camera, took some family pictures, with S holding the birthday boy, amidst all. S's son also took a few pictures of us with the birthday boy. The kids kept "accidentally" gravitating towards the cake, since one of them found out it had a cartoon face. By popular demand, this cake was cut amidst the kids. The eldest grandkid, who is obsessed with history and swords,  held the cake knife in a warrior pose and was slowly dissuaded to hand it to the birthday kid, who was helped by his parents, to cut it. No  messing around, no smearing of faces with the icing , and S. had the daughters-in-law do the distribution, but not before, one of the restless grandkids,  decided the stuff on the knife shouldn't be wasted and decided to lick it up.

Some more aunts appeared.  S.'s own daughter returned from work, and the entire gaggle of kids ran to greet her outside.   Some more photos,  and then S. went inside her kitchen for a longish time. Her youngest daughter-in-law, quietly came out, opened an old almirah, and took out some white blouses and went in.  When S. emerged, she had changed into a very conservative white saree with gentle embroidery,  in preparation for their visit to the Buddha Vihar.

We had been there for an hour, not realizing  how time flew. It was a delight to see everyone enjoying as well as helping out.  S.'s youngest grandchild was all of 3 months,  and was lying in the lap of his cousin's maternal grandma, being patted to sleep. There was this huge sense of unity despite the differences in generations and thinkng, and economic wellbeing.

It was time for us to leave, after enjoying the cake and some other stuff.   S. offered us Frooti . And no, we didn't see any of the kids throwing a tantrum because they wanted a Cola or anything. They were just too busy climbing around and playing. S. walked with us to the corner.  We bid her goodbye.

Late , around 9:30 pm or so, the doorbell rang.  Mumbai is having an unusual winter, fewer people out on the roads, and we wondered who it could be.

It was "S".  She was carrying a steel container. Their ceremony and celebrations at the Buddha Vihar were done, the food had arrived in time, and most of her guests, many who came from long distances , had left.

The stuff inside the container was hot. She handed me the stuff at the door, and left in a hurry, to attend to folks who were staying over at her small house.

It was my daughter's share of the Chicken Biryani :-).  Straight from the giant container at the celebration. 

The daughter often works late into the night, after running etc , when she has some assignment to complete. Sometimes she works in the living room so as to not disturb us with stuff that she keeps playing in the background on her laptop. 

I think yesterday she was also busy with something else.

The steel container felt considerably lighter this morning.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beg your pardon....?

The school I attended in Pune 50 years ago,  had vast grounds, old buildings, lots of sports infrastructure,  a residential section  for boarders,  and a busy neighborhood,  consisting of the residential campus of a major medical college, and hundreds of government offices.

(Except for the medical college bit,  replace "medical" by  "engineering" , and  this description might also apply to where I stay today).

When we then celebrated  Republic Day,  3 students  from the Girl Guides troupe were selected, and  they practiced  quietly, greatly and well, for the flag hoisting function, as per the guidance and commands of their strict PE teacher.  The usual march past by the others,  commands , salutes,  and speeches were there, but I do not remember endless loud rehearsals and stuff, announcers going berserk on the PA system, or any of  the neighbors complaining.  And mind you,  all we did was give commands to the marchers, and sing the National Anthem.

Today, living as I do between two large school grounds , used for everything but sports , the  last 10 days, have been a cacophony, of teachers shouting at children, various very loud songs being played  so the children could practice dances, someone  trying to read the daily newspaper headlines in the morning assembly in a shouting manner on the PA system.   As if this was not sufficient, hundreds of kids from both the schools, were made to march on the roads, as they shouted  "left, left, left-right-left-right-left-right-left" at the top of their voices,  for reasons that confuse me  (the shouting, not the marching). Of course in all this, there was a single tone marching band continuously practicing loudly in the background.

There is also huge construction going on on the remaining two sides of my building,  now offering the additional facility of an echo. And so much of my time is spent listening to  concrete mixer trucks, that keep coming throughout the day, and keep going into reverse gear accompanied by some really unimaginative loud endless beeping sounds. That is, when I am not listening to sounds of metals being cut with some shivering sounds, and assorted banging on things.  Not to mention noises of the mosquito fogging machine being used  frequently, given the sudden influx of water, construction people, materials, and inadequate sanitation  

All this was preceded by what is called a TechFest, an activity of much older college level students, where people gather around to see robots and remote control-built cars fighting;  I have no problems with this, except when some kind of compere , continues to shout into the microphone ignoring its amplifying properties,  for a full day;  so much so, that even if I close my doors and windows, I still know who is winning.  And I live way high up, not even anywhere close to the ground.

All this noise creation happens very close to the academic area where classes are held, and people work.  

We presumably wait for someone to make a rule, as common sense is probably  considered invalid. 

We had annual days in our time, we had amazing founder's day calisthenics, flag hoistings on national days.  But it was more folk dances of various regions of India, songs sung by the better singers of our school,  and  no one ever came and complained to the school. While today, dances are performed to the latest hit songs, from films, ignoring their meanings and a weird display of what can politely be called simple harmonic motion of certain body parts, everything  gets played on a PA system, with a compromised amplifier.

I've never understood this. I mean , we had school, we had elections, we had festivals.  We had public celebrations, but it was never as earsplitting as today. 

We live amidst a philosophy of excesses.

Since we cannot show the results of our work , we need to shout from the rooftops that we are working. Publicity is deemed essential, and we have massive announcements happening , not because someone needs to know, but because it feels like we are doing something, finally.  Its like how we have now hit upon the solution of putting up CCTV's everywhere, as a solution to Law and Order problems and crimes.  And never mind that most of them will not work, because someone doesn't have the money to maintain them, or monitor visuals on a regular basis.

So we cannot have an election without some candidate's praises being sung over a loud PA system,  with a road being blocked to construct a podium, which would have probably collapsed by itself in shame had it known the criminal antecedents of the candidate.

When one community calls the faithful to attend prayers using a daily PA system in the early hours, another community responds by broadcasting its prayers at high decibel levels. The authorities  stay mute in the interests of communal harmony.

Cars have radios, which are now played very loud and within closed windows. Fellows who would have trouble getting up and walking to a land line, sit and continuously  speak on cell phones in cars while driving, oblivious to pedestrians and signals.  When there is a traffic jam, they can see there is no place to move, but they still insist on honking away endlessly to register their anger.

Then there are  supermarkets where it is felt that latest hits need to be played to encourage better sales.  These are played so loudly, that you cannot hear what the sales person is saying.  I have once requested them to pipe down  the volume because I couldn't hear, and was  given strange looks. 

There are several suburban train stations, where the announcer faithfully announces every train and/or the changes, but the loudspeakers are messed up and folks on the platform become experts in listening to approximate announcements. Super loud, noise-intensive, longer than usual announcements in 3 languages, means you observe the remaining passengers, and suddenly follow them in a huge rush, across staircases to different platforms where the train is now expected , because that's what the announcement was supposed to be about.Twenty years down the line if we suddenly started doing well in track events and hurdles,  remember, the Railways had something to do with it.

I once got into a rickshaw  where the driver was probably proud of his new music system, set to play only item number disco songs.  Imagine driving in rush hour traffic,  me sitting in the back seat,  unable to hear any ringing of a phone etc,  and we zoom up to a red light with a loud song playing with the woofer on,  the driver sitting with a red handkerchief  tied around his collar , kind of nodding to the beat, pressing the accelerator every now ad then.  At every change of traffic lights, he would accelerate wildly, as if participating in a race, weave in and out of traffic, all the while the music playing, all this, enjoyed amidst smiles, by the helmeted bikers alongside. I had to finally tell the guy that I was not in a race to go somewhere, coming last was fine with me, and while his music system was wonderful, he needed to just cut it off for a while, to allow me to give him the directions to where I wanted to go.  Notice, how the element of "offering a public transport service"  or "a oldish passenger being embarrassed by this filmy mode of travel"  is not important. I could  always get off if I didn't like it.  

I reach home, and press the elevator button.  Its an ancient elevator. Someone has forgotten to close the doors properly on some other upper floor. And there is a continuous beep emanating loudly from the elevator, beseeching folks to close the door, so that the elevator can answer the summons. 

But doors are closed.  No one has heard the loud beep.

Inside homes, TV's are on, blaring the latest cricket test match, and in an amazing temporary display of Darwinian evolution, every one's ears are closed.

I lug my bags, turn around , and proceed up the stairs. Somewhere , as I am catching my breath at the 5th floor,  convinced that I should get my blood lipids tests done, there is a loud roar.

A wicket has fallen somewhere.  The commentators are  shouting themselves hoarse.

I can hear this clearly through all the closed doors.

My wicket is about to fall out of sheer fatigue  as I ring the doorbell.  It rings a bit longer than usual, thanks to my delayed and tired reflexes.

Footsteps.  The door opens. And a voice goes ," Why did you have to ring the bell so loudly ?".....




Friday, January 20, 2012

Kolaveri C (or is it A/B/See?)

When I started working in the mid seventies (for, may I  add, one of today's leading  IT blue chip  companies; then,  less blue and more chip (of the old block)....),  it was customary for a company to extend its grudging admiration, to you and your aptitude (for work), to sponsor you for some kind of week long program somewhere, the more residential the better,  and I was surprised to be selected to attend an executive development program, at a leading local industrial engineering training institute. 

Contrary to what you may think, you don't have to be an engineer to attend these.  Its more about learning to seek an enhanced solution to a perceived problem, through some good analyses, brainstorming with colleagues, using all your on-the-job experiences and observations.

One of the concepts that has stayed with me since then , is something they used to call ABC Analysis earlier.  It might possibly be called by some posher name today, given the tendency of managerial folks to wallow in convoluted  jargon, to the eternal confusion of the hoi-polloi.

It was all about assigning priorities and values to things you stocked, based on the possible loss to you, if suddenly, those things were not there.  The actual cost price of the thing, was not the only thing that decided whether you would stock the item. For example, in a big hospital, a life saving drug may cost a huge amount, but you don't begrudge locking up your money in that because not stocking the drug would cost in terms of reputation  and success, and loss of more future patients.  Or some key chemical , in a factory, which costs a lot, even for a small quantity, but absence of which will hold up production. Such items were called "A" class items, and you remained very alert to these items in your inventory control.  "B" class items, were slightly less important, maybe alternatives existed, but nevertheless you defined the importance. "C" class items, were those that remained. Likes various nuts and bolts, stationery items, commonly available chemicals, spares,  and so on.  It wasn't worth it to spend inordinate amounts of time and money dealing with policies for these.

Living the industrial and corporate life, according to ABC classification  was the key to success and profitability.

Unknowingly, in the early  60's and 70's , people applied this philosophy to their lives.  Education was considered greatly essential, show was not; and so parents  invested greatly in education of their children.  That was "A" class.  Inordinate spending on "show" stuff  was properly frowned upon, even in weddings and so on.  These things were B-class.   Maybe even tending to "C".

Today,  as a society and a nation, we  have completely corrupted this concept. Priorities have gone for a toss. We ignore the real important things , and spend inordinate amounts of time and money discussing trivialities.

This entire week, the biggest crisis is what should be taken as the Army Chief's birth date .  Ministries, Courts, and political commentators endlessly speculate, who is right. It's all about 1 year.  Instead of this year, maybe he will retire next year. So we go to court, file PIL's, bring up army civilian confrontation, speculate on armed forces morale , why the PM is silent and so on.

Please.  Birth certificates are required on those born after 1989, when it became mandatory to register births. Until then it was  all about random affidavits, some one's thinking and remembrance and possibly school certificates. The army chief is in the latter category.  Where the age mentioned was likely to be approximate  anyway.  Why not find a via media, allow the army chief to complete six months into the disputed year and then retire ? It will encourage people to clarify their data much prior to last minute retirement days, and the army chief  can get on with what he is meant to do.   Does the nation not have any other issues to spend time and money on ?    Why this sudden "A" class  treatment ?

Then there is this thing about elephants. The UP Chief Minister built several parks with huge statues of herself, party heads, and hundreds of replicas of their party symbol, the elephants. While this was commented on by the authorities, but not acted upon,  as a willful "C"  class thing, despite costing inordinate number of crores,  come election time, and the thing is suddenly transformed into an "A" class consideration.  The election commission , suddenly justified and ordered the state purchase of pink plastic worth crores and possible employment of sudden hundreds,  to cover all these elephants, presumably as they would bias the public. The elephants were the same, the public was the same,  what changed ?  And has the public been fooled as yet by the coverings ?  (I wondered, why pink; but gosh, that's such a C class question....)

Has the EC  done a countrywide  study of how party symbols are being abused /not abused by various parties ?  Why has no one suggested the radical step of allocating a random election symbol to a party  only after elections are announced ?  If symbols are only to guide the illiterate in the voting process,   the party can always announce the new symbol each time they fight elections.

We catch/file court cases on  traffic constables  because they are seen accepting 100  Rs  bribes.  "A"  class bribes  in crores ,taken by  elected representatives, allow them years of freedom before a case is filed.  "A" class  attention to "C" class folks, and vice versa.  

Mumbai's roads really need  "A" class  planning  and attention.  The development of a city like Mumbai depends on excellent working infrastructure.  But we  give it "C" class treatment persisting with corrupt road contractors and unsupervised repairs. We demote the roads in importance.  Because "A" class priorities are extended to  giving unauthorized land grabbing the shuteye, in the interest of vote bank generation.

Over the years, those in power have been applying the ABC classification thing  more on a knee-jerk basis that actual analysis.

Priorities are set depending on election time and voters.   Rest of the time, we the ordinary citizens,  plod on with our "C" class lives, watching the inflation soar,  things disappear from the market because they are suddenly declared  "A" class  , thanks to another misdirected government policy.  While investing in food storage facilities should have been  an "A"  class investment, we let the grains rot in the rain, as the "A"  class folks somewhere take "C"  class decisions.

ABC classification was based on cost and importance. That assumed money was important and scarce, and not there for throwing around.

Today, money per se, itself, is the only "A" class thing. Money buys money.

Things like education, values, loyalty, gratitude, altruism, earlier all super "A " class items,  are now, simply, things  money can buy.

For everything else, you can always sing "Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri  C ".......





Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Modern Chaos and the need for planned roundabouts....

One often doesn't realize the value of things one has, until they are taken away from you,  or when you start experience the  effects of that loss.....

I have suddenly developed a huge respect for traffic roundabouts.  You would too,  if you daily encounter what I do.

Picture yourself daily, in the centre of this mess. Sometimes , I am the purple line exiting the main gate, and sometimes I am the red line trying to enter in.  And mind you, these lines above  are indicative of vehicular movements. What introduces randomly infinite degrees of freedom in this are the pedestrians trying to cross across the newly widened arterial road, before someone runs over them . 

While folks travelling east west and vice versa are always given priority on this road, an effort has been made to keep things as difficult as possible for those  originating at right angles to that. School buses, construction material trucks, cement mixer trucks, family cars, ambulances emerging and trying to enter/leave the main gate, often have to face simultaneous on coming traffic from 3 directions; as if this is not enough, some kind of diagonal  traffic from the south west is suddenly  given the go ahead to get on the east west road towards the northeastern direction, , by a partly visible policeman somewhere.

There is of course an entire police chowky nearby as shown in the diagram, set in the sylvan surroundings amongst fruit,vegetable, stalls, pastry shops, cobblers, and chat stalls.  Not to mention some political party offices. One often sees  cops in 2's and 3's , not in this square, but further along the east west road in both directions, all geared to waving in, motorcycle chaps, questionably loaded trucks and  sometimes, actually someone who went through a light.

Motorcycles, congregate at the red traffic light in the east west direction,  ahead of all the other traffic, intruding into pedestrian crossing space , and literally stand revving up their engines, straining at the leash, so to speak.  It is quite common to see the entire straining-at-the-leash-traffic simply burst forth even before the traffic signal says it can, catching some unfortunate pedestrian or family car in its path.  Of course there are also  sedans that cruise past through red lights, oblivious to crossing pedestrians, who have now taken to hitting such  cars with whatever is available at hand,  as it barely misses their foot.

A complaint about this to the police sometimes results in corrective action, cops at the intersection, whistles activated, and hands barring traffic movement, for about 30 minutes. maximum. And then it stops. Sometimes I think this must be a reward or prize posting for cops.

So what is the solution ?  The area at the crossroads in certainly not big enough for a large roundabout, but what stops the vehicular department/police from having a small (6-8 feet diameter) circle with a raised central covered piece on which a traffic police can stand ?   Similar to what you still see in smaller towns. You could even find some industry types to sponsor some plants and their maintenance within that circle. Besides making someone visible to all the traffic, it would define a central point  , to the left of which everyone would need to keep while doing the north south cross. At least half the random collisions, road rages and injuries would be prevented.

I've had extensive personal traumatic experience of daily pedestrian crossings, daily car crossings, altercations with motorcycles being driven wildly  at 6 am threatening students on cycles trying to cross, and even road crossings by ambulance  in emergency medical situations.

I once asked a cop, why the time for pedestrian crossing was so little as to make old people and very young children panic wile walking . I was told that any increase in that time, would cause untold traffic jams at some junction 2 kilometres away, and would have a cascade effect.

And so all this forces me to ask, who all this "progress" is for ? Motor vehicles ? Undisciplined 3 wheeler rickshaws who flout traffic rules with impunity under the cops' noses ?  Bikes flouting traffic, pollution, and safety rules ?

I hear that the  Municipal  budget for Ward “S” ( where one resides) which  is spread over 64 sq. kilometres with a population of 7 Lakhs for last year was approx 300 crore rupees. 

What do we have to show for it ?  Potholes ? Where has all that money gone ?  Or has it been allowed to lapse , as it usually happens ?  

Do we need someone to represent us , who is apolitical , but socially aware  , honest, experienced and educated? 

I hear Municipal elections are about to happen.

Promises will be made,  heads will be bowed, banners erected. Without any concern for blocking the view of traffic signals.

I just thought this was a good time to put forth some problems faced in this area on a daily basis.  

Like I thought, old style traffic roundabouts were an excellent invention, and a great idea.  

Some other stuff like old style honesty, and old style dedication to work, is also something I think will be useful.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The armed forces and I....:-)

Me and the Armed Forces. We go back a long way. 

Unlike the police with whom I've tangled a bit because of their fairly arbitrary application of traffic rules (where I was concerned) and certain exchanges of valuable papers (between them and fellows on motorbikes) observed by me from a distance,   my interaction with the armed forces  has been something that I only have praise for.

My earliest experience was as a child in Ahmednagar, a town near Pune. My father, part of the civil service, was posted in Ahmednagar, and we spent our vacations there, while schooling in Pune. We had been put up in quarters at the Circuit House, since they were still trying to allocate goverment accomodation. This was in some kind of Civil Lines area outside the main city. And there was some kind of military range nearby. 

Summer meant hot dry air, and sarees and stuff was always hung out to dry on a line in the big gardens. My brother and I must have been in single digit ages, when one day , there was a mother of a windstorm, and before we knew what happened, my mother's  drying  saree had suddenly risen up into the air like a parachute, and was literally flying in a vague direction. There were these sudden cries, and my young brother and I took off, running behind it, going around hedges, crossing roads, and out over the fields.  We finally ended up retreiving it in what appeared to be a firing range, with an entire line of fellows lying in a line on the ground, looking through, what looked like rifles.  

Their supervisor /leader called out and gestured to us, and asked after us. They had seen the saree drama in the distance.  Naturally we asked about the shooting , was it real bullets , and so on. And of course, shamelessly asked if we could hold the gun for a bit.  Amazingly, the teacher agreed.  He showed us how to lie prone, look through the viewfinder, allowed us to touch the trigger and we came back from this trip totally zapped.

The next time was when many years, college, marriage, etc later, we were on a trip south by car, landed in Ooty, and I remembered that I had a cousin whose husband was posted at Wellington. I only knew her married name.  Not her husband's  designation or anything, and neither did I know army hierarchy stuff.  I arbitrarily decided he was a Major, and we drove around asking for Major K. My cousin was someone who was culinarily highly enabled, and did classes and stuff, and we'd ask about her too.

Did an entire round driving, and even landed up at something called Flagstaff House , which was very impressive, and the guard, probably flabbergasted at seeing an ancient Fiat merrily and a bit noisily trundling up,   politely advised us to turn back. :-)  .  While we had a lovely drive, stopping intermittently to ask about Major K (and sometimes his wife),  there were so many folks on the road who stopped to guide us, sometimes in detail.  The biggest reward was knocking on a door, and seeing my cousin's flabbergasted face, as she saw us on her doorstep, as she opened the door. It turned out that her husband was a Major (as I suspected), and he was about to leave for some stuff, and she was bustling around with some of his uniform stuff.    This whole thing was nothing short of miraculous.

Many years later, my knowledge about designations had marginally improved. I was working in an educational institution of great repute, my immediate superior was called away in an emergency, and in an age when mainframe computers, punchcards, and "computer runs" were the order of the day, I was left managing access/bookings  of users to these.  We had several folks from the armed forces who joined to work for a post graduate degree and were sponsored by the government, and they stood out in their very disciplined way of conducting conversations, peppered with Sir and Ma'am, and I had occasion to observe a Captain, a Major, and  a Squadron Leader.

One day, one of our oldest respected employees, L., who expertly punched cards, that held every user's programs,  came up to me with a complaint.  It was submission time, there was a crowd, and folks were being asked to form a queue to get their stuff punched, at several punching machines.  Mostly students, some staff, and some folks were getting upset . Suddenly, this one guy , the Captain, starts cribbing, and abusing the setup and the people, arguing.  Maybe he had submission tensions, maybe he was running late, but so were many others, and L was taking folks in a proper queue. When he made improper remarks about her favouring folks, she was hurt, and came up to me to complain, saying that never in her 25 years of work had this happened, and that she was so pained, she had to complain.

I felt bad for her, and was wondering how to handle this, given that I had no real authority, and I was just standing in for my superior .  I suddenly had an idea.  I sent word to the Squadron Leader, a very impressive Sardar.

Confided in him, and told him that this episode had simply shaken the impression I had about the armed forces, and the way they conducted themselves, particularly vis-vis ladies, in a professional environment. The lady in question was someone with more than 25 years dedicated work experience, working for many years with many people, and if she was hurt, then something was wrong.  Told him I didnt know where a  Squadron Leader of the air force stood vis-a-vis a Captain, but we needed his help to communicate something to the guy, and this was a question of the prestige of the armed forces.   He understood, agreed, and said he would act. 

That same afternoon, L., came up to my office, waited till we were alone, and then asked me, what I had done. Turns out that the Captain in question, had come down to her and  apologized.  Profusely. And said he would see to it that this wouldn't repeat. She had never seen such a thing (quick response, action etc) in all her years of work, and had come to ask me.  She was totally amused with the Squadron leader story, and to this day, we have a laugh over it. 

I later learned that the Squadron Leader had had  "words" with the Captain. And I had a great time, imagining the folks at attention, the clipped responses of "Sir!" accompanied by feet stamping, twirling moustaches,  angry  and possibly pseudo-repentant looks, hurt egos ,  and many other things.

There is something to be said for technology that included people as an integral part.

Today, the mainframes have gone, the punching machines were actually transported away in a junk truck,  and the big hall where the machines lumbered, are now a bustling lab with 103 PC's, and folks fidlling away , day and night,  keying in stuff, doing assignments and so on.  Today it's all about you and your machine. When the machine is a laptop, you could even be working under a tree, making it all , even more exclusive.

But you learn less about people. And how to work in a hierarchy.

And then someone tells you to take a course in management, organizational behavior, managing human resources and so on.

I think I had much more fun learning it the hard way. 

And made many more friends.

One person even thanked me in the preface of his degree project report.   And no, it wasn't the Captain :-)


Thursday, January 05, 2012

Review of " Gujarati Kitchen: Family Recipes for the Global Palate "

I received  this book, " Gujarati Kitchen: Family Recipes for the Global Palate " as part  of the Blogadda Book Reviews Program.

Bhanu Hajratwalla, is a descendant of those Gujaratis who migrated to Fiji, and herself has lived in Fiji, New Zealand and the US. The book is written with an immense knowledge of these countries, their cultures, and  their  agriculture.  The initial preamble deals with Bhanu's life in Fiji, her marriage, cooking customs, and her subsequent travels across the world , wherever her husband's job took them.

We in India, are lucky to have a huge variety of agriculture, weather, and native customs, and even within Gujarat, it is clear , that many dishes and methods of preparation are based on the staple foods grown there, occupation of the local people and even the seasons.  The various rotis/rotlas/breads based on the many types of grains available, traditional rustic recipes like Undhiyo cooked using local produce, in fields, in inverted Matkas, under coal fire, and Chuundo, taking advantage of the strong dry  summer  days in parts of Gujarat, and sweets made out of milk, dals and so on, are some of the dishes I have associated with Gujarat. Some of the dishes like Khandvi are made also in Maharashtra  with minor local variations.

The book has some very useful tables , before starting out with the recipes.  One of the most useful that I found was a comparative display of metric and non metric measures of size and weight. Not to mention cooking temperatures.  The correspondence between ounces, grams and cups,tablespoons and so on as been very thoughtfully included.

Bhanu also defines a few basic masalas, that are often used in Gujarati cooking, and indicates their application in the various recipes in the various sections.

But what was a huge revelation to me, was the fact that there actually existed Gujaratis who traditionally cooked non-vegetarian meals.  To me , Gujaratis have always been vegetarian, and the Jains even more so, with their several seasonal diet rules. I have many friends who are Gujaratis, but all vegetarian. So this was a learning experience, to read about some traditional seafood and mutton recipes, that have been followed by Gujarati Kshatriyas , all the way in Fiji and around the world.

I am a vegetarian, and so these pages went by very fast. But I am sure that they would interest young folks today, who are more adventurous in their cuisine at home.

I suspect Bhanu is my age. I identify with living on campus in the US, in the last few decades of the last century, not having any Indian stores nearby, and having to make do with , say, Schilling spices available in the supermarket, and limited veggie variety.

And I completely identify with Bhanu's sense of outrage, when some fancy caterer at some place selected , due to some rules, for her son's wedding reception, declared that yes , he would make Shrikhand, and garnish it with coriander......Yikes !

A childhood spent in a traditional Gujarati family in a New World,  stir in some amazing knowledge from mothers,  sautee these mixtures in different countries with available ingredients,  spice it up with  various family and social events, and garnish it with a lifetime of cooking knowledge.

The book is a very interesting read, and because of her personal observations, wonderfully succeeds in being more kitchen than chemistry......

A book you should have on your shelves....

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