Monday, March 25, 2013

Wonders of the Ordinary.......

Food and drink reviews are a comparatively recent phenomena.

Earlier, you quietly ate whatever appeared on your plate,  drank whatever was there, and got on with your activities. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that going out to eat was not an frequent activity, for the simple reason that there weren't so many places around you could go to, and advertising was almost nonexistent.

Today, reviewing food is a job. International food has sneaked its way into the country, smitten the young, they are totally spoilt for choice where contents of glasses are concerned,  and the papers are full of visuals and descriptions, and special deals to celebrate special days. Like someone recently highlighted National Breakfast Day. I guess next will be National Brush-your-teeth day.  Never mind.

It has, however come to my attention, that it is all in the marketing and description of food and drink.  And I must confess, that the inspiration has come from a friend who went into raptures imbibing  Black Dog alcohol with terms that you wouldn't associate with drinks, but more with, say a grandmother's lap.  ( mellow / woody / complex yet delicate / harmony of delight / the old world charm and leisure /fruity sweetness / spreads cheer and warmth in all circumstances / deep, golden / round and mellow ....)

I often wonder if we could market healthy stuff  using the same word attitude.

Some possibilities  occur .

Chinch-gulaachi Amti : Madame Toor, whistled at under pressure, getting her act together, as she waits to meet the spice of her life.  Hot oil, complete with mustard crackles, asafoetidish comments, and flaming chiilies with kadhipatta .  A bit of soaked tamarind pulp, and  a stubborn jaggery piece, salt, goda-masala , all boiling in excitement as the coconut and dhaniya leaves fall in.   Enjoy the earthy rich aroma and taste with plain rice  (and ghee), on a cool afternoon, with the papad and pickle-in-waiting standing by, as the old fan gently turns whirs, a sudden chilly crunch, a savouring of textures , and a warm flow down your hungry throat.

Sol Kadhi :  Or is it Soul Kadhi ?  Soup for the Amphibian Soul ?  Sipping pleasure for a thirsty mind ?  Like the woman of today, a mixture of wholesome coconut milk, the sharp kokum, the zing of garlic and green chilly, adorned with coriander greens, amidst secrets of clever cumin . Pretend to be on a Kokan beach eyeing the fish catch, as you delight in the myriad flavors bursting on your tongue, as you sip in style. Or hark back to your childhood, as you slurp it with steaming rice.  Age no bar, it is also an after dinner aperitif....  a delight for the sol or is it soul ?  P. S.  NO SUGAR !

Mango Panha :   Like a popular queen, she is everything to everyone.  A  sophisticated  sipping for those enamoured of glasses with narrow stem bases, in places with twinkling 5 stars,  and a wow-I am-thirsty seasonal delight for those coming in from the unyielding non-AC summer  Sun. Allow the mango blossoms to flower in your mind, as you swish around your mouth, the yummy concoction of cooked  raw mango mush, with sugar, water , ice, a dash of cardamom, and  trick of roasted cumin and rocksalt, with a hint of leafy mint, as you wander in a mind-aamrai on a hot summer afternoon, suddenly coming down to earth , as you  come across the floating saffron strands tickling your tongue.  A simply non-nonsense drink , like your Mom,  adding the saffron not because it looks good, but because ayurveda says  this is ideally cooling for hot summer days....   

Kadhi :  Like a great Indian leader, (the likes of which  we don't seem to see these days),  this buttermilk preparation is pan-Indian, and loved by all. Main coalition partners being buttermlk and besan,  the rest of the stuff is based on which region we are talking about. Slightly thinner south of the Vindhyas. A bit spicy with strictly crackling mustard seeds and turmeric in the Kokan. Much sweeter, and sometimes a bit less yellow, and thicker in Gujarat.  Lashed with tadkas of cumin, cloves ,kadhipatta, and tough looking red chillies.  North of the Vindhyas, like in Delhi , the capital , this is thicker, and often studded with pakodas that sit inside slowly getting drunk on all that kadhi power. Punjab with its Lassi might simply smirk at the southern thin kadhis.  The southern folks have a pakoda variety too, but the kadhi is thinner. The all time comfort food,  to be imbibed with rice, and sometimes, even drunk by the bowlful, tangling with a troublesome kadhipatta. To be had, in a great big lunch with family and friends, just before a lazy afternoon nap , on a Sunday afternoon.     

There is always more, like cutting and non-cutting chai, filter kaapi and simulations of Girasappa falls as the kaapi hurtles across several feet between two steel containers, the original espresso method.  I am not sure serving it in posh containers helps.  

Alcohols,  like short term avaricious governments,  change your perception for a short time.  You are always aware of the pitfalls, but alcohol makes you close the mind. Aur ek drink. Chalta hai .  ....

Give me the above any day.  Sometimes sweet, sometimes bitingly spicy, sometimes slurpingly eye-shutting pungent,  sometimes like the touch an old maternal  comfortable soft saree covering you as you sleep , and sometimes,  like a good friend, with whom you laugh , backslap, fight and make up.  

Yes, and none of these are named after Dogs.  And colors. 

Just saying ......


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mammary Tales.....

 The Times of India recently had a full page report on the incidence of female cancers. In Mumbai. There were statistics,  warning signs, and opinions by leading doctors.  There  was information on preventive checkups that you could do. Every year, or every two years.

Sometimes knowledge frightens.  Up to a point, knowledge looks useful. Then it alarms.  What you feel about all this knowledge is also a function of your life stage.

The last time I went for one of these checkups was 11 years ago. Mumbai's leading cancer hospital had then offered complimentary checkups for Mumbai's women as part of their Women's Day initiative. A group of us had gone. Learned about the warning signs, the required checkups. The visit to the hospital was an eye opener.

Some of the checkups were known to me. Some like mammography, were new. There was this small room with this huge black machine inside. Almost floor to ceiling. You stood on one side of the machine, shorn of all your (upper abdominal) modesty. The male technicians, very matter of factly, requested you to stand in various postures, a few with one hand stretched upward, while you pressed on some metal stuff. The images were captured on what looked like cassettes , like you used in VCR's.  My friends went through their stuff, and it was my turn. After one side images were captured, something happened to the cassette , and I ended up standing in a filmy raised-hand pose, in solitary splendor, while the technician went off to get another cassette, till one of my friends came to check the delay, and a sympathetic nurse had me give up the pose , and relax, nicely covered , in a corner.

By and by, the ordeal over, we waited with baited breath while the doctor examined the film. There would be sonography , in case the doctor had a doubt.   I didnt need the sonography,  and a few hours later, one got the all-clear.

Advancing age, assorted pains,niggles, and worries, and the aforementioned  article had me alarmed, as I had let 11 years go by . In between life stages  had changed. One's physiology had got a bit modified. You were supposed to do these checkups every year.  I consulted my doctor, and was advised that it would be a good idea.

 Things had changed. There were now many hospitals you could go to. There was a leading hospital close by , which didn't exist 11 years ago. I got myself an appointment.  The hospital had a web page. With diagrams and pictures. Telling you what to expect and how to prepare for the mammography test. No DEO, no lotions, no talcum powder.

In these 11  years, the Internet had copious amounts of people writing their experiences about this. I spent some time going through all  of them. Looked at pictures of machines that bore no resemblance to 11 years ago. Some people cribbed about the pain. Some said they hated doing the mammography. And then waiting in suspense for days, till the reports came.

I landed up on the appointed day and time. A waiting room surrounded  by all kinds of chambers on all sides. X-rays, MRI, CT-Scans, Ultrasonography, Mammography, OPG's . The works. Folks in uniform manning counters, TV's overhead, blaring some asinine serial with a tough looking mother-in-law saying her piece,  folks sitting on chairs, imbibing from bottles of water in a bored fashion. (I had done the water thing before, and was thrilled to bits that I didn't have to do it again).

My name was called. A cheerful young female technician led me into the room. Turns out that this hospital had  a  female crew handling mammographies.  I marvelled at the irony. There had been male technicians, 11 years ago,  when I was uncomfortable about things. Now that I couldn't care less, they had an all woman crew. Never mind.

She had me put on some hospital gown.  The machine itself was a grey white contraption almost half the length and breadth of the earlier one . Next to it was a huge monitor and a  patient bed. All spick and span and smelling of antiseptic stuff.  She had me stand in poses, with the hospital gown partially off. In another location, I might have even qualified for the Lakme India Fashion Week, with this off-the-shoulder attitude.  This time, there was no hand raised high. But another filmy pose, with the hand bent, and me bending towards it as I held on to a railing; like you would, if you were waving out to someone from the open door of a Mumbai suburban train.  A few buzzes, a few changes of posture, and she had me sitting in the waiting room till she developed/created  the film.

I watched folks moving around, arriving in wheelchairs, a pregnant lady with a worried look, a young girl who spent at least 30 minutes, talking to someone on her cell, as she walked up and down the length of the hall.  I had brought a book to read.  Half an hour had passed, and I had no word. I tried to look for the lady technician. I was told she was inside. 

Fifteen minutes later, I was told that they would now do a sonography.   For a minute , I almost missed a beat. I remembered, how 11 years ago, a sonography requirement meant that the doctor had seen something, they wanted to check more.     

Once again  new hospital gown, but I lay on the bed waiting for footsteps. The doctor arrived with a shutting off of the room lights. A friendly lady , she asked the usual questions, and then asked if I was, what, 43 ?  Maybe she was fooling, maybe she wanted to lighten the tension before telling the bad news, and I told her she was wrong by 20 years. We went through all the steps with lotions being slathered and probes being moved around , armpits being checked and so on. Everything completed, she smiled, looked at me and said . " Everything looks OK . "

The technician/sister came in and told me I was done, and to collect the report the next day.  I asked her why they did the sonography.  And was aghast to hear that they did the sonography for everyone, regardless of what the mammogram showed !

And here I was , worried because they had decided to a sonography, based on my logic from 11 years ago.

 So while technology has become smarter and smarter, we are also doing redundant stuff.  It was  just an unnecessary extra, that had put me in tension .

And I honestly wondered what people did 50 years ago.  There were, then,  more doctors who treated you life long, knew your entire family history, learnt more from physical examination, palpating things, checking pulses, and lung-congestion.  The only machines I would see then were BP machines and stethoscopes. And sometimes X-rays.I didn't know a single person of my mother's generation who had cancer. Mostly, people died of a ripe old age. There wasn't much discussion about warning signs of cancer , and stuff, but there as a non-nonsense  aspect to their lifestyles. 

Were there no cancers then ? Maybe, there were, but we didn't know them, or they ran their course quietly.  Were you happier because you didn't know something ? I don't know.

There is a quest of knowledge. There is also a need to know what it means.

I am yet to get my report.  I think I do not need to worry.

Yet ....

Sometimes I do get a feeling, that there can be something like too much knowledge.     


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Seedhi Baatein ......

This is  a great time to be a manufacturer of shampoo tubes and bottles. A wide range of colors, names,  and dedicated ways in which various shampoos can serve humankind. And you can be run off your feet keeping track of orders and meeting deadlines, while you slog and become a Hair Saviour.  

There are companies, falling all over themselves, coming out with shampoos of every persuasion. Shampoos for strength (you can pull stalled cars with your hair), shampoos for killing the dandruff and getting back to wearing little black dresses (without white sprays), shampoos for fooling folks into believing that your hair has more volume than it does, and shampoos that detangle your hair. I mean even babies  have their own shampoos, despite a noticeable sole wisp of hair standing up in solitary protest.

I've never understood this. Back in the ancient days when Sundays were about someone washing your hair with a Shikekai solution in a no nonsense manner, and you secretly pining for the lone Tata Oil Shampoo that suddenly appeared at the chemists, it was all about accepting the hair you were born with. Plaits were the order of the day,  you dried you hair, as a bunch of two small side tiny control plaits, met at the back, keeping the entire open expanse under check.

You never questioned all this as you were surrounded by folks , who then, even in their late 70's and 80's sported silky black , albeit thinned hair, having followed the same wash and dry routine. Leaving your long hair combed wide open, and attending social do's never happened. I remember someone being called Seeta-from-AshokVan, when she did that.

Today, you comb, backcomb, turn, twist, color and  clip your hair in myriads of ways. Leaving it all open is also a hairstyle. Sometimes you even do something to your hair to make it look as if it is permanently wet.  Some folks, particularly men, think, having a forest of hair strands standing up straight  on top of your head, makes you irresistible.

Shoulder length curly wavy hair in the summer is not a good idea. Any attempt to tie it up to feel cool never succeeds, because so many strands and curls escape. And I have always secretly envied folks who could cleanly tie their hair together without the filmy tendrils.

And so it was with a sense of relief that I noticed the Sunsilk folks coming up with a shampoo that would leave my hair straight after a wash. Very recently, a  sample appeared in the mail thanks to Indiblogger, who I must say , has been supremely concerned about blogger hair, in the recent months.

Just read the instructions to ensure I didn't miss out on something. Fairly simple. I used the shampoo and the conditioner as mentioned, and emerged, with the hair wrapped, warrior style.  It had already come to my attention that quantities of shampoo and conditioner had dramatically receded before I got there. That's what happens when you have a straight hair obsessed daughter in the house.

She rushed in , convinced as she is about my amazing ignorance about "modern hair". Kind of dabbed at  my hair with the towel, and then sort of moved her fingers around in the hair, to loosen lumps and disentangle stuff a bit. Got one of the large toothed combs she uses, and did a gentle wandering through the hair.

She seemed to be observing and thinking.  Possibly how to keep the rest of the shampoo stuff from me, so she could use it herself.

"Ya, looks a bit straightened, doesn't it ?  But hey , I've never see these white strands before ! How come they are here ? ...."  this from someone who keeps pointing out appearances of grey in my hair, as if it is the worst thing to befall me.

What she hasn't realized is that the natural curls and waves  often played a stellar role in falling over certain areas out of sheer habit.  These areas were those with , what I call wise hair.  :-)    You straighten out everything, and everything is open to the world, including previously invisible grey and white patches of hair. It's OK .....

Yes, there is a bit of straightening towards the lower ends, which normally show waves and curls.  The straightening lasted for a couple of days.   Maybe it would have lasted longer had I obsessively bothered about my hair in all that time. Like   combing through it frequently. Lightly and delicately brushing it every now and then. Covering it in the Sun and polluted Mumbai air.  NOT shoving it back with flour on my hands.  NOT giving it a vigorous brush after coming in on a hot sweaty afternoon, and then haphazardly pinning it up.

It seems to me that this is as good a time to take a good look at what we inflict on ourselves in the name of fashion .  Constant unnatural hair color changes, streaks in the hair , metallic color,  piercing of the anatomy in weird places for displaying jewellery , excessive chemical treatments to lighten complexions, and finally, changing your God given features under the scalpel.  You may change the physique, and at some point it changes the psyche.

It is simpler to occasionally make reversible changes, and enjoy. Keeping your original self intact, inside and outside.  

Enjoy the Sun.  The flowing Silk of your hair. 

Its a good idea to straighten out.

Your lives.  As well as your hair.     

This post is a product review for the Sunsilk Perfect Straight Shampoo & Conditioner pack I received from  Indiblogger as part of the contest powered by Sunsilk Perfect Straight Hair initiative.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

One Day at the Single Window....

Mid-March is a bad time to come here. An old  high-footfall branch of a nationalized bank, handling a huge amount of salary and pension accounts, not to mention all the other stuff that banks must do.  Just when you think the salary rush is subsiding, the last minute invest-before-March-end rush begins.

 They say the best time to go is just when it opens , or just when it is about to close. It isn't always possible and so one lands up just before noon.

And acquires a token number from an automated machine. A quick look at the currently processed token gives no respite. 40 more numbers to go.

Ever since this token number thing started, the place resembles a crowded waiting room. Except, in a waiting room, some folks are sprawled, some enjoy shut-eyes, and some are having a good crib and / or laugh about something. This actually resembles, sometimes, a wedding reception set-up, where the important types sit on stage, and the guests who are taking a breather before going up to greet the main folks, are sitting facing the stage, like in an auditorium; watching the going ons.  Like in a reception, the front row, has sofas, meant for important folks , mostly a euphemism for "the grooms side".  The other rows have slightly less value chairs. There are , of course, a large number of folks, wandering around, emerging from doors with intimidating notices and designations. Some with "Unauthorized Entry strictly prohibited".  Nothing is said about Exits.

An old lady , who could be in her late 80's sits in a row in front, with someone who looks to be her grandson, in his thirties or forties. Very thick glasses, a tough looking walking stick, and a piercing gaze.  They have been there since a long time. Occasionally, the grandson gets up, walks around, using his phone, checks something with a counter, looks at some papers in his bag, and returns.  Once in a while, the old lady will close her eyes, mutter something seriously by herself, possibly prayers. The sound of a token number change notification alerts her. Her grandson shakes his head. She waits. This goes on for an hour .

Up ahead, there are eight glass fronted counters, bearing the redundant words "Single window".  Except for a six inch by six inch opening, the rest of the window has glass.  Behind 6 out of the eight windows there is no one. There are some other windows with different signs. With some people behind them. The hierarchy of windows is complete.

A request to open more windows is deemed impossible. Everyone is  busy, no one to handle new counters, there is some excuse put forth about disks. Computer storage disks. In these terrabyte, fancy-networking  times,  it sounds a bit odd.   

Behind 2 windows who seem to be bearing the brunt of the waiting numbers , now exceeding 40, are two folks, busily doing their stuff.  To complicate things in a world of queues, these 2 windows bear large notices, saying, you can use your ATM card there, WITHOUT being in a queue.  It called the Green Channel . There is this small card swiping machine, and presumably , counter staff gives the money/accepts deposits on some kind of automatic notification.  The chanel may be Green for ATM types, but is clearly turning Red for those waiting in lines with tokens, to sit behind the two 6x6"  small windows   and do their business.

Finally, the lady's token number happens. The grandson  has mobilized himself and more importantly, his grandmother,  a couple numbers ago. She stands up with great difficulty, pressing on her walking stick, oscillates a bit, before stabilizing, and approaches the window with tiny steps; there is already a smart ATM type there doing his stuff, almost blocking the counter, and she and her grandson wait for some time, before a chair can be pulled out for her at the counter. Passbooks, and forms are passed in and out, signatures done, things are stamped, and she has been looking on, in full concentration, at the man inside, who is staring at a screen.

Five minutes later, she is done. The grandson moves on gesticulating to her. She stands up again, bends, straightens up, oscillates again, as the grandson rushes to help her stabilize in place. She is off, small steps, and the tapping stick, when she suddenly stops, and looks around. Suddenly finds what she is looking for.

Far away to one side, on a shelf, high above an empty desk, is a bunch of photos of  the Goddesses of Learning and Fortune. Garlanded with fragrant flowers. She has noticed these when she came in.

She stops, does a namaskar with a bent head in the general direction, touches her hand to her head, and laboriously turns around, smiling at her grandson who has reached the door.  The tiny steps, with the shaking stick, resume their journey.

 At the end of the day, she is probably happier,wiser and less stressed than so many educated, expert types.

Nothing has fazed her. She knows WHO is in charge.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Ending the Split !

Dove Beautiful Ends to your Beautiful Braids! IndiBlogger Contest

Runners Up in the Dove-Indiblogger "Beautiful ends to your beautiful braids"  contest

There is something worrisome about "splits" and "ends", in general, unless of course you are "end"ing a meal with a banana "split", and/or, doing an amazing "split" at the "end" of a great exercise session . 

Maybe I moved in circles, where you kept opinions on your own hair and even someone else's hair, to yourself. Maybe I was never really bothered about my hair as a young girl.  I was possibly born in what might today be considered ancient times.  But honestly, I had not heard about the words "split ends"  with regard to hair, till I was twenty .

Childhood was about splits and bifurcations galore. In friendships, as well as hair.

Waist length hair, compulsory oiling  (chipchip style), freshly boiled shikekai hair wash, stuff burning the eyes, air and solar drying, not to mention the "whacky" style towel cleaning to get the shikekai out in particles,  and the most traumatic stage was when  the comb and the tangles fought.

School was all about hair gracefully bifurcated, then each side again trifurcated,  some no nonsense braids done with great care, a black ribbon woven in, and then the entire braid turned up and tied at the base of the braid, with a huge black bow. On each side above your ears. Prominently.

This was a school requirement, avidly complied with by most parents.  Single braids were simply not allowed at school, but were the style of choice when you did classical dances . As if splits and bifurcations were not enough, we also had a style of braiding that can only be called "quanti"fication or splitting into 5.  This was called braiding of the 5 parts you divided your hair into, and not everyone knew how to do that.  And I don't ever remember examining the ends of my braids.

In the daughter's world, things have been  different. 

 Scalp hugging jet black radial curls as a kid, then two ponytails in school, when the curls kind of grew and fell under their own weight. Endless haircuts and trimmings. Somewhere in middle school, wistful glances at ladies with waist length hair on TV, and the graceful swishing of their hair, as they looked at her cunningly from below the cascading tresses  and blinking lashes.

And then the onslaught on her hair.  The perils and tensions of pubertal thinking, the chlorine from an intense interest in swimming, the crushing sweat from travelling long distances in public transport in a polluted Mumbai, and the constant concern that the hair appear just so at all times. Eggs, lentils, papayas, curds, cream, olive oil, you name it, and they had had a visitation with the hair. Possibly only Shreekhand was missing. 

An interest in photography slipped into an obsession about hair, that had her clicking even the golden tresses of baby corn and blogging about it.

At one point the numerous braids sported by Venus Williams were a big attraction, and the entire box of rubber bands disappeared overnight, as they wove themselves into tiny braids , hundreds of them, painstakingly created while watching Fear Factor on TV, tightly standing , designed to get the curl out.  

But it allowed her to attend a blogmeet by the Dove folks, which included , as they say, "practicals'.  Folks slathered stuff called serums and masques, and combed out your hair, and you came out feeling like the lady on TV.  After massive discussions at home , cajoling, glaring et al, the actual straightening of hair happened.
Today, she goes around with straight shoulder length hair(and more), which kind of gracefully falls and tickles you, as she bends to type something on your keyboard. You also do not see a thing on your monitor screen through the hair screen cascading in front. Most free time is spent appearing with stuff slathered on to her hair after washing it. And then rinsing it off. To be followed , by bits and pieces of hair held between two warm plates,  and patted all across the length.  Occasionally , bangs and fringes happen, an errant set of strands is shown its place by a clip. Sometimes, she acts like she discovered braids, and the hair settles down into a single compliant braid.

Unlike folks in commercials that breeze through torrential winds and rains with unmoving hair, and sometimes in limousines, her life is more about careening around in buses and rickshaws, suffering puffs or diesel from aged bus engines  at eye level.  Then there is that occasional  secret foray getting streaks in the hair. All this, while worrying about an increasingly difficult life in this metro. It doesn't help that the open straight hair combed just so, never remains so at the end of the journey, tangled in its own worries. The trappings of modern life start showing their stuff, and most of her time, late at night , while checking mail, and fooling around on WhatsApp, is spent checking out the ends of the hair, showing them to me  and cribbing bitterly about split ends. 

I guess she will now embark on another treatment. I hope it is about eating curds, and papaya, and eggs, and lentils, and not messing around an applying it all to her hair.  She has heard of some Split Ends Rescue System from the Dove types, That reduces the split ends by a factor of four, and one such set has made its appearance in the house.

Once again, she will sit, wet hair slathered with this stuff, then washing it all, and combing it out.  She will then maybe bifurcate or trifurcate her hair, and braid it.  Unfortunately, they don't allow the mothers to braid it for them. Big black ribbon bows are passe.

Some fashionable folks who cannot braid their hair properly in the centre of the back, have now introduced a cheeky one sided braid, which sits to one side of your face , falling in front over your shoulder, and others are blindly following this.  

The real test will be when she once again bends over my keyboard, trying to type in something to show me a great page, and turns, swishing my face with smooth ends of hair at the end of her pigtails.

Or does a great fugdi performance  with friends, her braids flying out in wild abandon, fearless and smooth in the ends, as they whack someone passing dangerously near.

Or gets her hair put up , Khopa style, when she gets to wear her 9 yard saree that she is waiting to purchase, and has a lady exclaiming about her hair.

Me thinks the world has come full circle. Good no-nonsense hair care is back.

Except for mothers, and tying up the braids in cheerful black ribbons.

Okay, make them red.

We had mothers .

The daughter , apparently, has Dove.


Submitted as an entry to the "Beautiful ends to your beautiful Braids"  contest  by  Indiblogger  and the Dove Split Ends Rescue System.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Budget tales....

I normally don't watch the Budget session in Parliament. Earlier, because I was a working person, and lately, because you get to hear a summary later, on any of the news channels.  Economic jargon is not my strong point, and even it is was,  the session is all about someone decreeing some new rules, without asking what I think.

This year, well into my retirement years,  I was waiting for folks to come home at lunchtime, and simply switched on the idiot box .  And something made me pay attention to what the speaker was saying while presenting the budget.  No, it wasn't about allocations for toilets in rural schools, or adult literacy amongst women workers or things like that.

Turns out that folks coming back from "abroad" and carrying purchases of jewelery, often cribbed about "harassment" from the customs people; so the budget had upped the limit of jewelery people could purchase and bring into the country, without paying duty. Up to  Rs 1 lakh for women and Rs 50,000 for men !

I was totally thunderstruck by the ministerial empathy, and the official response to the "harassment"

Actually , I doubt if raising the allowance of dutiable gold was the answer to the harassment.

About 20 years ago, my late mother (she would have been 95 next month), went to the US on a family visit.  Unlike today, where people change jewellery to match their outfits, her generation, at 75, was all about wearing some standard typical traditional jewelery which was hardly ever removed. Many times, the jewellery had some family memories associated. Like her traditional diamond studs , which were given to her by her father, when she had her first child, way back in the forties. 

This was not her first visit abroad, and she was a bit surprised on her return, when someone in the Customs section  decided to ask her some questions. This was around the beginning of the Green Chanel days, and for someone , who had absolutely no interest in electronics, but enjoyed buying excellent vegetable peelers, cardigans with hoods,  and pyrex bowls, she was about to go through the Green channel.

The guy pointed to her earring studs, an asked about them. Indicated that it might be dutiable.

(Harassment was common, but not an "acceptable" noun then).  

The Customs guy got a withering look from her.

What he didn't realize, is that she knew all about diamonds, how to judge them for purity, the various cuts;  she knew how her earring stones  were cut, and she also knew , that the current modern cut prevalent in jewellery was different. Many younger ladies in the extended family often took her along when making wedding jewelery purchases and stuff.

He was told in no uncertain terms, the history of the acquisition of these earrings, the specific cut of the crystal then in the 40's , the name of the older cut, the occasion on which these earrings were presented. He was also told that the older cut was now replaced by a newer cut (she even knew the name), thanks to some newer technology. And all modern jewellery sported this.

He was  given a short lecture on what the current 'cut' prevalent on the diamonds was, and that is could be observed by an expert studying contemporary jewellery. 

She also indicated to him, that wearing these was a common feature with ladies her age, and these pieces of jewelery , like mangalsutras and nose rings, were not not subject to frequent removals.
 Watching a grandma level lady lecturing one of their own, got some other officers interested, and they all came by to listen.  At the end of it all, she admonished them saying, she was stickler for rules, would have herself declared  any jewelery ,  she might have purchased. And that she was ashamed that they intimated old ladies like this.

  (Never mind, that she thought Indian jewellery was amazing, the best  and that we had some very talented and clever karigars, and why would anyone want to by jewellery abroad? )

 And she requested them that they should upgrade their knowledge about diamonds before troubling folks and wasting their time.

I doubt if the current raising of allowances  on dutiable  jewellery will make a difference.  I wonder if it would help to train the customs folks better. Maybe they already have this training now, since  the profile of the international traveler has changed a lot. 

For harassment to reduce, we must be well informed.  Raising allowances will not work.

But I just remembered this story.

And the sense that it gives me, that "learning" is  really the gold standard in life.

Regardless of age.....