Wednesday, September 22, 2010

PurpleMoon's on a break!

PurpleMoon turns four this October. However, this year it is going to get the gift of complete silence, at least for a year. I have been contemplating a break for a long time. However, the proximity of a medium to express your thoughts and the eagerness to do it right away, has always interfered with that resolve. Since I grew up with increasingly sophisticated technology at my finger tips every year, I am curious to know whether I can hold my thoughts back and ruminate on them a bit. It is going to be just as difficult as it was in school when I was asked not to talk. Sometimes, when no one mentioned not talking, I would be quite for hours at a stretch. However, as soon as someone told me not to, I would get this obsessive compulsive urge to say something.
I think it is going to be an interesting experiment. :)
Thanks for being with PurpleMoon!!
I will see you next year, hopefully.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Is this what you want Mr. Thakrey?

I have always opined on various issues. Whether it is discrimination against Indians in Australia or Indians in India. Living away from home, it is very easy to read something and fight over it on the internet.
I buzzed about an article in TOI a few days ago that documented the amazingly foolish verbal garbage that the MNS leader seems to dispense from time to time. Little did I know that this time, I am going to get to hear about the 'taste of Raj's own venom' so close to home.
One of my mother's staff members from Maarc Labs Pvt.Ltd., Pune, was bashed black and blue in Simbholi, UP, solely for being a Maharashtrian. He had to spend a week in the hospital.
Milind Paingikar, an engineer who comes from a village near Kolhapur was at the Simbholi Sugar Mills in Uttar Pradesh to carry out a quality control training for the chemists. He was mobbed by a group of goons and bashed unconscious as soon as they found out that he is from Maharashtra.
He recovered from his injuries and came back, only to confess that he is not going to give up his job just because he was beaten up. He is determined to go back to Uttar Pradesh again and continue with his work. He said that the beating did not hurt as much as the pain of being targeted as a Maharashtrian. It is brave of Milind to come back with a new courage but this could also have led to something else.
I don't want to go into a gross generalization but if a young Marathi man, coming from exactly the kind of "humble" background that Mr.Thakrey describes has to go through something so unexpectedly violent for no fault of his own, is Thakrey's propaganda really working?
Linguistic, religious and economic polarization should be stopped. Period.
Indians need to collaborate with other Indians. Any entrepreneur will know the value of nationwide networking.
We have to see through this as Indians and not let political polarization get to the streets, for that will only hurt the innocent.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Food for thought

I have been following Jamie Oliver's food revolution for a while now. For those of you who haven't heard of him read here. He is also the recipient of the 2010 TED prize. His Food Revolution is a campaign that is run in the U.K. and the U.S., to understand how kids (and their parents) think about the process of making and consuming everyday meals. In his TED talk, he talks about how most deaths in the developed (and in the affluent parts of the developing) world are totally preventable.
It also shows little videos where Jamie goes to schools with a bag of vegetables and none of the kids can correctly name what he is holding up. I was following him on television too, where he went into high school kitchens and asked the cooks why the meals in the cafeteria were mostly pizza and french fries. The answer was that it is cheap and easy to cook and THAT IS WHAT THEY ARE BEING TOLD TO DO.
He interviewed some obese teenagers and asked them what they eat. The answers were shocking and so were their confessions about how they feel about being obese. I think being overweight/obese in your teenage years leaves much more than just weight to deal with for the rest of your life. It is a situation that has to be dealt with great care, love and a lot of positive thinking from the parents' side. Obesity does not get as much "sympathy" as malnourishment, mostly because it is a result of excess consumption, which is often related to indulgence and lack of self-restraint. Ellen Gustafson describes obesity and hunger as two sides of the same coin. Although her perspective is different, I think if hunger denotes the complete lack of food, obesity denotes lack of understanding about food. In that respect, Jamie has indeed done us all a big favor by being so blunt and outspoken about what is going on in our society.
Cooking a healthy meal is not that difficult. It needs a bit of creativity and patience. I was watching Jamie Oliver on one of his culinary adventures in Istambul. He went to the bazaar and bought an earthen pot. As he walked browsing through the market, he kept adding ingredients to his pot. Carrots, beans, pumpkin, okra, tomatoes, stock, lean meat etc. In the end he stopped at a spice shop and seasoned the contents with the spices that appealed to him. He put his earthen pot straight on to the fire. It was like coming home from the supermarket and putting your shopping bags in the oven!
Cooking also keeps you mentally healthy. The planning and execution that goes into it brings you out of your everyday stress. It is a healthy distraction if you are one of those work-obsessed people. From my own personal experience, cooking and exercise are the most frequently done activities that take me away from my computer. I consider the times that I am not using a computer very important times of my day. This is where cooking and exercise become a part of my emotional well being too. Growing up around parents who constantly experimented with food in all possible ways, it was inspiring to see how much of a change in attitude a mere change in diet brings about. One of the noteworthy experiences was when my mom was going through a detox diet that did not allow her to eat anything solid for four days. She became particularly toxic at work that week. :)
My dad's experiments with his blood sugar levels by controlling variables like diet, insulin doses, water intake, exercise etc., made me aware of all the chemical reactions that go on behind our skins. The dejection that baba faced at his failures, his dedication in going as far as plotting excel charts for his blood sugar levels and on his "25 years with diabetes" anniversary, calling the disease his best friend made me aware that very few things can be taken for granted when it comes to the chemicals in your body.
Life should not be all about food. Investing a little time in cooking everyday does not mean turning into a gourmand with epicurean tastes. However, taking that balanced time out and planning a meal for yourself, even if it is just for yourself, is equally important. It is not just food for the body, it is also food for thought. :)

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Art of Choosing

I am currently reading this book by Sheena Iyengar. This talk prompted the purchase and since it is relatively new, I could not buy it second hand - an obsession I have acquired recently. I decided to write a review before I finish it because these days, my creative writing is at the mercy of the little breaks between my experiments and thesis writing. The reading actually takes place on the train and half an hour before I go to bed.
This book is a collection of psychological experiments and their balanced interpretation on how human beings or even laboratory animals choose their circumstances. Sheena did her PhD in social psychology from Stanford University. Her thesis titled 'Choice and its Discontents' won the Best Dissertation Award from the Society of Social Experimental Psychology in 1998. However, more than the award and the topic of study, what inspires me the most about her is that she has achieved this in spite of suffering from a rare form of visual impairment called 'retinitis pigmentosa'. In this book, she clearly mentions why she was driven to get a PhD in choice. Coming from a family of conservative Sikh immigrants, she had a limited choice of aspirations at home. However, she was meant to live an inevitable double life in the U.S., where free choice is at the center of the American Dream. One more constraint was added when at the tender age of thirteen she lost almost ninety percent of her vision, being able to perceive only the difference between darkness and light. In this book, she does full justice to that ability.
She has included cross-cultural experiments between societies that are rated highly individualistic and highly collective. In countries like China, India and Japan individual decisions are often influenced by a 'greater good' or a 'collective motive'. She explains this beautifully by using the rationale behind an Indian arranged marriage, which seems ridiculous in a Western society. On the other hand, in a Western, or individualistic society, kids are taught to exercise their own choice as soon as they start talking. In today's highly globalized world, where cultures are mixing, these basic differences in attitudes pose a lot of challenges in work places.
Rather than taking a 'black and white' approach to how one should choose, this book takes a balanced empirical stand on the exercise of choice across the world. I find it quite relevant to today's society that is being driven by instant gratification and very powerful, yet inadequately used technology. How we choose to utilize the technological power we are being given can reshape the new world. However, it is equally possible that we just drown ourselves into an incoherent noise.
She gives a voice to many thoughts that I used to have in my mind as an immigrant living in a highly individualistic society (Geert Hofstede ranks Australia at 90/100 in his comprehensive ranking for individualistic nations; India being 50/100). Even though I realize the futility of pleasing people by my individual decisions, I cannot bring myself to program my thoughts accordingly. I can process my thoughts to be more individualistic later, but I cannot, naturally, think that I have no constraints in choosing my 'destiny'. This schism sets me apart from my Western friends to a certain degree that is perhaps only obvious to me. Although, the idea of 'me first' sounds very appealing in theory, I am also equally intrigued by the actions of the 'passive (s)heroes' I have seen growing up. Even though having more money, more space and more time to think entirely for yourself is the mantra of self-development, the character that is built in close knit families, where people have little choice as to what will happen to them adds another important dimension to the human mind.
Hence when I see people who, quite reasonably, equate 'collective societies' to 'primitive societies', I sense that they are victims of a situation where they have studied only one side carefully. This book, brings together an in depth analysis of both sides. That is why, I had to write a review even before I finished it. :)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


In the past few weeks, I have had to wash my sheets three times. Our new cat Tom-Tom (we gave him this politically correct name after we were ridiculed for calling him G-string, and also after discovering one day, that he was a boy, contrary to our assumption) invaded my bedroom one day and declared it as his recreational toilet. He is toilet trained (Western people! Sheesh!) and also goes out in the bush like a real man (oops! labels Saee, labels!!). Somehow, for some unfathomable reason, he also likes to pee in my bed, whenever he gets the opportunity. Some of these Western habits of turning pets into humans astound me. Like, cat food. Every time I open a packet of Whiskas for Tom-Tom, I turn into a cynical, mocking Indian auntie. Why would you go fishing for cats, turn their fish into a disgusting paste, add all possible vitamins to it and sell it to people who own cats? Then, because they should have something harder to chew on, they make pellets of bone meal. Isn't all this processing and packaging in two different brands essentially serving the purpose of a whole mouse with its bones and flesh intact? This, the cat would find on its own, if it is treated like a cat and given freedom to roam around.
The fact that my bedroom has two doors, one that opens on the deck, and another that opens into the lounge makes it much harder. So there is a new, "have-I-forgotten-something" feeling in the already long list that I usually go through on the bus stop, sometimes making me return to check if I have both the doors closed. There is nothing like coming home to a smelly present in your bed. The last time I discovered cat urine on my sheets, I had just put a bunch of fragrant lilies in my room. So now, that fragrance has been tagged forever in my memory, with cat pee, like an unwanted, ugly picture on Facebook (yes, it is time that bloggers incorporate new similes in their writing).
So now, there is a cold war going on in the house. Between me and Tom-Tom. Initially, I was really concerned about it. Having lived with a compassionate flatmate, I think I have caught some of her cat-psychology bugs. So I started wondering what it means when a cat pees in your bed. I even went on to discuss this with friends who have cats. The general opinion seemed to indicate that the cat was jealous of me. He was apparently being territorial on me, maybe because he felt that I was getting more attention from my flatmate than him. I was foolish enough to try and analyze it further until I realized that it was just an experiment in anthropomorphizing animals. So I gave up on uncovering his psychological issues and decided to use combat instead.
First experiment was spraying my room with black pepper. Cats have really fleshy, tender paws. So I decided to deter him from entering my room by burning his ever-so-innocent-pink paws with pepper. It worked well. Every time Tom-Tom walked in, he used to start lifting his paws out of tune like a horse with an obsessive compulsive disorder. It worked so well, that I even thought of replacing pepper with chili flakes. Until that night, when I sneezed about a hundred times. In my sneeze induced high, I even remember hallucinating that my lungs were waving at me from outside my body. Second experiment, involved a spray bottle and some eucalyptus oil. Every time Tom-Tom walked in, I used to spray him with a five percent solution of aqueous eucalyptus. That did deter him but it also turned me into a maniac who would never want to leave her room, just so that she could spray the cat.
Over time, I realized that not forgetting to shut the door was the only practical solution. However, I also made two little gaps for Tom-Tom to step in and out of the house without having to depend on us to open the door. This seems to have alleviated his anger at my bed. The cold war is still on. It is more like a game now.
A little bit of retrospection also led me to believe in the power of Karma. As a kid, throwing cats off my grandma's balcony was perhaps my most favorite hobby. I cunningly categorize it as an educational experience now and with due respect to all the compassionate animal lovers, I think it IS an essential growing up experience to watch a cat fall off a balcony. In the first few seconds, you could see sheer panic in the cat's eyes. Half way through the fall, the cat somehow fluidized its body and always landed on all fours. It is a source of great inspiration in my unnecessarily romanticized metaphorical falls. I think this cat is taking revenge on behalf of his Indian brethren from a long time ago. Shame I cannot remember how many times I threw them off the balcony. I was also cruel enough to put about four kittens under a cardboard box and watch them go rudderless in panic. Can't remember how many times I did that either.
These episodes of Tom-Tom leaking in my bed have not in the least aroused any kind of kind forgiveness inside me, if that is what the Universal plan is. They have given me many more ways to get back at the feline species. Like clapping loudly around his ears when he sleeps too much, picking him up upside down with two paws in each hand, pretending to roast him on a spit, dangling a rag puppet around him until he gets exhausted trying to chase it, closing the cupboard when he gets in with his Sherlock Holmes whiskers, not stopping him if he dips into a wine glass that is still half full and hoping ,that he somehow drinks it. If all these descriptions have started getting him reader sympathy, let me also describe what he does in retaliation.
Climbing the big mango tree in the yard when I go out to get him in, leaving dirty paw marks on a freshly cleaned table, lying belly up at seven in the morning in my way to work to remind me of the luxuries he gets, emerging suspiciously from my room (without peeing) and making me abandon everything at hand in panic, using me to cuddle with when no one else is available and then ignoring me when his favorite girl is around.
I never really actively observe them in order to write about them. But if there is a creature that makes me philosophical, it is a cat. They will always awe me. I think, I will always have a love-hate relationship with the feline species. The only psycho-analysis I can do with this feeling is that both of us like to be the center of attention, in a craftily manipulated underplay. :)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

मावसबोलीतल्या कविता


Σα βγεις στον πηγαιμό για την Ιθάκη,
να εύχεσαι νάναι μακρύς ο δρόμος,
γεμάτος περιπέτειες, γεμάτος γνώσεις.
Τους Λαιστρυγόνας και τους Κύκλωπας,
τον θυμωμένο Ποσειδώνα μη φοβάσαι,
τέτοια στον δρόμο σου ποτέ σου δεν θα βρεις,
αν μέν’ η σκέψις σου υψηλή, αν εκλεκτή
συγκίνησις το πνεύμα και το σώμα σου αγγίζει.
Τους Λαιστρυγόνας και τους Κύκλωπας,
τον άγριο Ποσειδώνα δεν θα συναντήσεις,
αν δεν τους κουβανείς μες στην ψυχή σου,
αν η ψυχή σου δεν τους στήνει εμπρός σου.

Να εύχεσαι νάναι μακρύς ο δρόμος.
Πολλά τα καλοκαιρινά πρωιά να είναι
που με τι ευχαρίστησι, με τι χαρά
θα μπαίνεις σε λιμένας πρωτοειδωμένους·
να σταματήσεις σ’ εμπορεία Φοινικικά,
και τες καλές πραγμάτειες ν’ αποκτήσεις,
σεντέφια και κοράλλια, κεχριμπάρια κ’ έβενους,
και ηδονικά μυρωδικά κάθε λογής,
όσο μπορείς πιο άφθονα ηδονικά μυρωδικά·
σε πόλεις Aιγυπτιακές πολλές να πας,
να μάθεις και να μάθεις απ’ τους σπουδασμένους.

Πάντα στον νου σου νάχεις την Ιθάκη.
Το φθάσιμον εκεί είν’ ο προορισμός σου.
Aλλά μη βιάζεις το ταξείδι διόλου.
Καλλίτερα χρόνια πολλά να διαρκέσει·
και γέρος πια ν’ αράξεις στο νησί,
πλούσιος με όσα κέρδισες στον δρόμο,
μη προσδοκώντας πλούτη να σε δώσει η Ιθάκη.

Η Ιθάκη σ’ έδωσε τ’ ωραίο ταξείδι.
Χωρίς αυτήν δεν θάβγαινες στον δρόμο.
Άλλα δεν έχει να σε δώσει πια.

Κι αν πτωχική την βρεις, η Ιθάκη δεν σε γέλασε.
Έτσι σοφός που έγινες, με τόση πείρα,
ήδη θα το κατάλαβες η Ιθάκες τι σημαίνουν.

by Konstantinos Kavafis (1911)
(English translation. Source unknown)

As you set out for Ithaca
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - don't be afraid of them:
you' ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon - you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbours you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind -
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.


इथाकीला परत येताना..

इथाकीला परत येताना, नेहमी, रस्ता लांब असू द्या,
अनुभवसंपन्न आणि चिन्मयी असू द्या
आणि वाटेत भेटणा-या अक्राळ-विक्राळ नरभक्षक राक्षसांची, किंवा
त्या क्रोधांध, खवळलेल्या महासागराची भीती मुळीच बाळगू नका..
निर्धार पक्का असेल, आणि देहाभोवती त्या अलौकिक चैतन्याचा पहारा असेल,
तर हे राक्षस आणि राक्षसी सागर दिसणारच नाहीत..
कारण ते नेहमी मनाच्या त्या भयभीत कोप-यातूनच उदयाला येतात!

त्या रस्त्यावरच्या प्रत्येक रात्रीनंतर, एक नवा उष:काल व्हावा..
आणि प्राचीच्या त्या गुलाबी हास्यात, प्रत्येक पहाटेची
एक वेगळी भूपाळी असावी, जी अळवताना, भैरवीचा विसर पडावा..
तो रस्ता आडवळणाने यावा, छोट्या मोठ्या बाजार हटातून
आणि परदेशी व्यापा-याच्या सुगंधी पेठांतून..
आणि झोळी कधी मोत्या-पोवळ्यानी भरून जावी..
तर कधी थकलेल्या मनगटाला, गुलाब-चंदनाचा स्पर्श व्हावा..
पण पैंजणाच्या रुणुझुणूला, नेहमी, एक सुजाण, विनयी ताल असावा..

इथाकीची तजेलदार आठवण तुमच्या मनात नेहमी असू द्या..
इथाकीला परत येणं, हे जणू प्राक्तनच आहे..
पण म्हणून परत येण्याची घाई करू नका..
काळ्यामध्ये थोडे भुरे, थोडे पांढरे व्हावे,
झोळीमध्ये नक्षत्र असावी, पण त्यांची फिकीर नसावी..
इथाकीनी मला काय दिलं, हा सवाल मनात मुळी नसावा..
कारण इथाकिनी तुम्हाला हा प्रवास दिला..
हे पुरागमन तुमचं संचितही आहे!

कदाचित परत आल्यावर ती गरीब आणि थकलेली वाटेल,
पण तो तुमचा भ्रम निश्चितच नाही..
तुमच्या प्रवासानी तुमच्यासाठी
सगळ्या इथाकी उलगडल्या असतील!

राजनी खो दिल्यावर डोक्यात आलेली पहिली कविता निवडली. यापूर्वी कधीच मराठीत अनुवाद केला नाहीये, त्यामुळे मन बदलायच्या आत पूर्ण करायचं आणि पोस्ट करायचं ठरवलं. ही कविता ग्रीक भाषेत आहे. पण इथे त्याचा इंग्रजी अनुवाद देते आहे. ग्रीकमध्ये "इथाका" न म्हणता "इथाकी" म्हणतात. म्हणून मी मराठीत तोच गोंडस शब्द ठेवलाय.
"घरी परतण्याकडे" असं बघायला मला फार आवडत. मग ते नुसतं रोज कामावरून घरी जाण असलं तरी. आणि जगात कुठेही भेटणारे, पण मनात त्यांची इथाकी घेऊन वावरणारे लोक भेटले की कावाफीच्या या उदात्त कवितेची आठवण होते. :)
माझा खो मंदारला.
ता.क. हा स्वैर अनुवाद आहे. कारण मला त्या कवितेला मराठमोळायचा मोह आवरला नाही. न राहून इथाकीच्या ऐवेजी सारखं कोल्हापूर लिहावसं वाटत होतं.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Don't call me a feminist!

How many articles have we read about the role of women in a particular field?
Every morning as I walk to work, I listen to SBS radio, a radio station that is in liaison with the BBC World service. Every other day, I get a lecture on the 'role of women' in some male dominated aspect of work. Today, however, I am going to lecture you on something else. I am going to list the funniest women I have come across in the field of entertainment.
Not getting into the details of why women are not routinely known for being funny, I am going to start with Alice Tinker.
Emma Chambers plays the dopey Alice Tinker in BBC's Vicar of Dibley . Although her character in the show is peripheral, she personifies Alice. The show itself, is a far cry from the popular American sitcoms. It is about a woman Vicar, Geraldine Granger, who is sent to the small, country parish of Dibley. Unlike the chiseled leads in other shows, Ms.Granger is blissfully obese. The other characters in this show are equally "imperfect" in their own way, but that only adds charm if anything to the whole story. I think if I had to pick one example of Alice's goofy humor, it would be this.
Another funny woman, I came across in Australia is Kitty Flanagan . She is a regular on a T.V. show on the national network. She always manages to get everyone in splits. Kitty is the perfect example of how a just a little bit of wit can make someone bypass all the usual rules of getting noticed.
The crown, however, goes to Sofia Vergara of Modern Family . She plays Gloria in the show. For the first few episodes you are just wowed by the sheer oomph she adds to the show. If the entertainment industry is a medium of objectifying sexuality, Sofia is a solid example of how that is done. But the one thing bigger than her breasts, is of course, her sense of humor and comic timing. :) Her Colombian accent adds to the hilarity of her lines. Towards the end of the show, you realize that she is a completely clued up, sensitive and bright bimbo. Something you would not expect first time you see her. I could not find the funnier parts of the show on Youtube, but here's a teaser. You don't have to worry about losing interest. ;)
These three women have made me laugh a good deal in the past few years. Feel free to add your favorite funny women to this database too!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The degree of Indian-ness

This , and related discussion on my buzz prompted this post.
I have nothing against people questioning their own identity. I do that many times. I think it is a sign of a healthy, functioning mind. However, when it comes to being Indian, there is no single rule that can define us all. Living away from home, I actually go through a series of panic attacks every time I have to go back home for a holiday. I attribute that fear to the fact that I am not yet strong enough to handle this culture switch gracefully. The discussion on buzz reminded me of a first hand 'Indian experience' I went through about two years ago.
I was supposed to be in India for six weeks in December 2008. As soon as I made my travel arrangements, I went out with my Australian and other international friends to celebrate. We were sitting in a gloomy bar, on a weekday afternoon, with the fresh memories of experimental failures haunting us. All of a sudden someone suggested that they should meet me in India for a back-packing trip!
I was not exactly supportive of this idea in the beginning. However, they talked me into it. All along at the back of my mind, I was worried to the core. I did not want them to be overwhelmed. I knew them all well and knew they had open minds. However, accompanying someone on a low budget trip around Rajasthan, was not exactly, my cup of tea. I had never done anything low-budget in my life in India. I had never traveled around on my own, around my own country. I had seen everything from the point of view of a spoilt tourist. Apart from that, the people I was supposedly going to escort had never been to India before. Their ideas about what goes on in India ranged from riding on an elephant to one's own wedding, to a land where everyone does Yoga on those silly, non-slipping Yoga mats!
The idea made me admire their courage (or ignorance) and the skeptic in me eventually unruffled her feathers. I spent a week in Pune before my gang of friends arrived in Mumbai from Goa. Since they were all using "Lonely Planet" as their travel Bible, they chose places recommended by the book. When I got into a taxi in Mumbai, the driver was a bit surprised when I told him to take me to a hotel close to cafe Leopold. He quizzed me about what a normal looking Indian girl is going to do in this firangi ghetto. I had to explain to him how I was showing around my Australian friends (actually by this time, two people from Holland had joined us too since they were friends of a friend I met in Australia, who was also in the group). This explanation was then stuck with me for the rest of the two weeks. I had to explain to every second person on the train, restaurant, hotel, rikshaw etc., what I was doing with these bunch of goras. We got bored of the same story so two days into it, we started making up stories just to see how our interrogators react. In one of them, I was married to one of the guys in the group. I made up some very creative Bollywoody answers to the questions related to the whole 'how-did-your-parents-take-it? question. Mumbai was extremely overwhelming for all of them. The sheer density of population on the streets was enough to make them claustrophobic. On top of that, a few of them got taken for a ride by beggars and taxi drivers. Overall the reaction was tepid, just as I had expected. Since all of us were committed to making it a fun experience, everyone was trying to look at the brighter side. There were plenty. Just walking down the streets of South Mumbai was enough to cheer everyone up. We had the much awaited "Mumbai-local" ride. Although it was not the cleanest places to be, everyone had to admit that the number of people it dutifully transports, ranging from women with huge, open baskets of fish to working class people, would put any transport system under stress.
The day we left for Jaipur, the Taj was bombed by terrorists. Some of my friends panicked and considered going back. But all roads back home went through Mumbai. So we decided to stay in Rajasthan and continue with our trip. By this time, they swore that it would have made no difference had they been traveling with an Italian or a Spanish girl instead of me. I was as clueless just about everything as them. The only advantage being, I could bargain in Hindi (they accepted this only because they did not know how Marathi my Hindi really is). We had to constantly keep accounts, haggle, wait for rooms to be cleaned, then wait again because they were not 'clean enough'. It was one of the most stressful times of my life, especially with the additional fear of more terror attacks. By this time, the colors of Rajasthan, the cheap, yummy vegetarian food, bangles, skirts with mirrors etc., had infused the much needed enjoyment in our journey.
Every person we met, however inquisitive about our personal lives had an air of harmless curiosity about them. Initially, even walking down the street with my friends was stressful. But when you come out of your own awkwardness and face people with the same honesty that you face yourself with, everyone joins in. We went to a really old Meera temple in Jaipur. At first, the priest gave me the look that seemed to say, "I hope you know what you are doing". Each one of my friends, then asked him questions about the temple, its architecture, about Meera, Lord Krishna and I was translating it for all of them. In the end, he called me back just as I was about to leave the temple and handed me a laddoo. As a gift for showing people around who are not from my culture. He only had one request, "Just the way you are showing them a slice of our culture, also explain to them the importance of being vegetarian". I was really touched by the way he put it.
The philosophy of this travel group was very simple. Eat everything, walk a lot, talk to as many people as you can and respect the local customs. We hardly ate any meat in Jaipur. We were eating hot street food only. One day, when we were in Ajmer, one of the guys in the group started craving meat. Since we did not want to take any chances, we went to a fairly expensive restaurant (from the Lonely Planet list) and paid Rs.500 for a single portion of continental chicken. That night, he became violently ill. We were living in a simple hotel called the Haveli Inn, in Ajmer. I woke up the owners who lived downstairs. The next morning, we had to take him to the local government hospital. This was my first time in a public hospital. I thought this is going to be one of the biggest points on their 'bad sides of India' list. The room was humble, but spotless. He was given intra-venous medicines all day and all night. All of that, including the rent for the room came to only Rs.2500. The actual medicines cost lesser than the chicken that had made him sick. The owners of the hotel sent their domestic help with bland, Indian, sick-man's food that was just what he needed. His firang charm made sure that he always had company in the hospital. With all the nurses asking him questions about his personal life. :)
He walked out feeling as strong as he was before. All of them took a list of medicines that the hospital needed frequently for treating kids with diarrhea, since that was the most common cause of hospitalization amongst kids living in poor neighborhoods. My friends bought a stock of those for people who might not have enough money to afford the medicines (and the fact that there are people who cannot afford it says a lot about where we are going). This was the only exception to an otherwise low-budget trip. They only kept enough cash to get by until they reached Nepal, donating the rest to the hospital. Without any intervention on my part, they were given receipts of all the donations and informed where they were going to be used. The hospital turned out to be the highest point of appreciation.
When I returned to Brisbane, we had a beer over our experiences. Although India seemed overwhelming at times, most of my friends were sure they were going to go back for a slightly upgraded holiday. Some were enticed by their visits to Yoga schools while others were floored by the beauty of the Himalayas. All of them chirped in unison that they definitely wanted to go back to Goa.

That trip was an lesson in many ways. Firstly, it was a lesson in honesty, where even though people look at you funny, you go ahead and do what you have set out for yourself. To be able to accept that your country is not perfect. To be able to present to people India, in her real form and let them make their own judgement. In the end, the message that I really wanted to put across got through. Without my having to spell it out. India doesn't care if you are a proud Indian! And Indians don't either. If you attract enough attention, they would give you a few curious looks. If you are dupe-worthy and look loaded, they would dupe you without any of their thirty three billion gods stopping them. Most of them are just looking for simple survival. In a deluge of people wanting to replace their place in this world. The country herself seems to me like this complacent mother cat. Watching a new batch of kittens amuse themselves as she lies down for rest. She does not care if you are proud to be a part of her litter. As long as you get your mouse and get by, all is well. :)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Think before you blink!

I recently collected some karma points by being an experimental subject. Every now and then, graduate students get these near desperate emails in their inbox. Some psychology or optometry student wants them to be their experimental subject. Whenever I have time, I try and take part in these kind of experiments. Sometimes, for the students because they are good friends. At others, because I am interested in the experiment.
I find the role of being a "subject" oddly relaxing. :)
For one, you have to be a complete lab-rat. Without unnecessarily opining on what they are trying to do. Apart from that, it gives you an insight into how many factors control a single experiment - something that I myself have trouble monitoring, especially in the scary forests of organic chemistry.
These experiments were carried out using a range of contact lenses. As a "healthy" subject I was required to have no acquaintance with the usage of any kind of contact lenses. I had to go through a routine visual acquity test (I aced it, btw) and then I wore a pair of contacts. The movement of my eyes was filmed in an upward and a downward gaze. We started with soft, silicon lenses and ended with hard, poly (methyl metacrylate) ones. I was not told exactly what she was trying to find out. So during filming, I was asked to count from zero onwards until she asked me to stop. I did exactly what I was told. At the end of each session, my cornea was desensitized using aneasthetic eye drops. The numb cornea was then filmed for the same duration.
The moment she told me to stop, I stopped counting.
After all the tests were over, I rated the lenses according to the level of comfort. Just before I left, she confessed that she was getting inconsistent data.
She told me that she was monitoring the blinking patterns of her subjects. Even after desensitizing the cornea, she was getting inconsistent blinking patterns. Which made me pause for thought. I realized then that I was mechanically counting numbers without trying to control the thoughts in my head. All these years that I have been successfully using my eyes, I have realized that thinking affects blinking. I blink more when I think. To study my physical blinking pattern, I think the experimentor would need to numb my mind more than my cornea. When I told her this, she said,"I asked you to count! So that I keep you in the experiment."
And count I did! With an avalanche of thoughts going on in my mind at the same time. Those ten minutes of filming were like a gold mine of time! I organized so many experiments, wrote so many new posts, planned and scrapped so many dinner menus in those ten minutes!
A little bit of Googling led me to this . I should have probably offered a repeat analysis. I took the easy way out, by not doing so.
Next time, I will think before I blink! =)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

About fears..

Sometimes, accepting that you cannot handle a situation is more of a grown-up thing to do, than getting into it and being "grown-up" about it.
When in doubt, growing up is a better state of being than being grown up.
I don't know how long I will take to grow up with some aspects of my mind. But I think I have been a grown up about a lot of things since I was a kid. :)

Sometimes, when you are really angry, you can hear a voice inside that say,
"Calm down. This is not you. This is your jealousy talking". Initially I used to feel really mad at that voice. The basic question being, "How can I be jealous?".
Or sometimes when you get slapped in the face (figuratively), you mope about it as if the whole world is being unfair. Then this voice says, "I hope you know it, this is not you, this is your ego".

I know that I don't like swimming in the sea. It has been my problem since I was a little baby. I used to get moody on the beach and then start sobbing. I took swimming lessons. I love swimming in lakes and ponds. Or even a finite waterfall. I still can't handle the ocean. I have rationalized it so many times.
Maybe it is the vastness. The limitlessness that makes you feel insignificant.
Maybe it is the uncertainty.
You know you are not going to drown.
Why can't you just assume it is a vast lake and it ends on the other side of the horizon!
Nothing works.

Then I accept that some things just cannot be rationalized.
Growing up is not really doing everything without fear. It is knowing your fears better and better every day. :)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Big Bollywood Bubble

Although I am not much of a Sci-fi geek, I believe that human beings are capable of living many realities simultaneously. There is an evolutionary trend which, when observed in retrospect, makes one think that people tend to arrive at the same conclusions using different roads. Alternatively, people also come to accept their own realities using different vehicles. If we take an imaginary picture of human beings on the Earth living their own realities, it would look like a model for some sort of a meta-physical string theory. Where people exist on all levels of emotional, economic,moral,cultural and psychological dimensions. One of these dimensions is Bollywood.

The reason for this long, winding introduction is the fact that I am trying to copy Raj.
Bollywood is a bubble. For people who enjoy being a part of it as a viewer, actor, director, underworld venture capitalist etc., it is a reality. Once you step out of it however, you cannot go back to it. I am very sure of the last statement. Whoever thinks that they can step in and out of the Bollywood bubble are most certainly still in it.
When I was a kid, about ten years old, I loved Sunday mornings for a number of reasons. The most important being a television program called "Rangoli". They used to telecast Bollywood songs from movies across the decades. One day, we had a self-proclaimed disciplinarian over for an early morning breakfast on a Sunday. When I stepped out of my room for my dose of early morning show, I was rudely denied access to it! I wasn't by any stretch of imagination an ego-less ten year old. If anything I had more of it then that I have now. It has taken sixteen years of ego-bashing to bring me to my current level of impudence.

I was caught unprepared. I gathered myself quickly and asked him why I cannot watch it. In reply, he asked me a few questions.
"Do you think, before they conceived you, your mom and dad ran around trees like the people in these songs do?"
"How do I know? I wasn't there. I don't care if they did!!"
"Would you like to see them dance around trees like that in real life? Would you like it if say, we go out for a picnic and all of a sudden, your mom and dad start dancing?"
"No." (Actually I was quite sure of that)
"That's why you cannot watch it. Because it is not going to change your reality for you. It is just going to take you away from it."

That exactly is my point. I am amazed at the sheer power of this mechanism called Bollywood, to turn a mind-numbing number of people away from reality. To an extent where it has become a new dimension in the different realities we can exist in!
With an annual turnover of $750 million, the employment it generates is a definitely valid and happy reality. The movies however remain as unreal and melodramatic as ever. An average Bollywood movie has survived on the girl-meets-boy-falls-in-love theme for too long. In recent years, there have been shorter experimental takes. However, big production houses still go for the traditional song and dance route. I realized how badly I was engulfed when I did not watch Bollywood movies for about eighteen months. After this de-toxifying hiatus, I had the terrible misfortune of watching Rab ne bana di jodi. That killed any "regrowth" of the Bollywood weed in my head. About a year later, I saw Love Aaj Kal which made me confirm that I should come out of the closet about Bollywood soon.

The more I get drawn away from the Karan Johar factory, the better I appreciate real cinema in India. Smita Patil in Bhoomika, Naseeruddin Shah in Masoom and Nandita Das in Fire. Masoom is one of those movies that makes me cry every time I watch it. The anguish of a betrayed wife, the guilt of the betraying husband and the chemistry between them that almost ruins a perfect family, has been portrayed with great care by Shekhar Kapur. And although it has songs, they merge with the movie almost impalpably. Prabhat theatre has produced some of the most meaningful Marathi cinema. Kunku is one such movie that is close to my heart. It brings forth the honest, angry and revolutionary rebellion of a young bride married to a very old man.
Some movies however, have to be appreciated for the music only. Guide is one such movie. I cannot, for the life of me, get over the songs and the lyrics of Guide. All the Guru Dutt movies have beautiful soundtracks. He was a person who was truly 'ahead of his times'. Some of the Marathi films like Honaji Bala, Ram Shastri and in recent times Natrang have music that has set its own unattainable benchmark.

What I don't understand is why do we still have to rely on the same routine if so much of an experimental cinema already exists in India? Why do Indian people prefer 'impractical' love to a nice and acceptable reality? Do we really, still, need the bubble?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sugar- A bittersweet history

I bought this book from the legendary Citylights book shop in San Francisco.True to the history of the bookshop, this book entertains you to the core in spite of its rather scholarly structure. The writer, Elizabeth Abbot is the former Dean of Women Trinity College, University of Toronto. She explains the evolution of sugar production along with the anthropological milestones it achieved on its way. In today's world, where sugar has already caused enough havoc, it is amusing to read about the initial reactions to the sweetener. It was a regular custom at Royal gatherings to make plates and spoons out of sugar and eat the cutlery when the dinner was over. To regale the grand audience, sometimes sculptures were made out of sugar. Sugar sculpture was a booming business in the early eighteenth century. Hollow sculptures were built around live doves and frogs. When the guests ate enough of the sculpture, the helpless birds flew out for their lives and the frogs jumped at the ladies' elaborate dressing gowns. Crazy as it may sound, in today's health and safety obsessed world, it was a big part of entertaining guests for rich people.
During the industrial revolution, sugar fueled the workers in factories in the form of tea breaks. The concept of high tea evolved during this time, when working women could not organize elaborate meals for the family.
This is just one face of sugar-evolution. It has a more serious and almost literally, dark face. Sugar Industry started slave trade across Africa. African slaves were sent to all the European colonies to work in cane fields. Abbot describes the plight of sugar slaves in well referenced, yet immensely moving descriptions. Although blacks were considered totally inferior to the whites, white men did not hesitate to devour their women. After a few generations of inter-racial mixing, the masters devised, like the writer puts it 'bizarre and complex' ways to categorize the offspring.
The offspring of a black and white was a mulatto. The offspring of a mulatto and a black was a sambo; the offspring of a sambo and a black was a black. The offspring of a mulatto and a white was a quadroon; the offspring of a quadroon and a white was a mustee; the offspring of a white and a mustee was a musteephino; the offspring of a musteephino and a white was a quintroon and the offspring of a quintroon and a white was an octoroon. Most of the last two classifications were 'white' enough to pass off as whites and therefore were considered whites!
Brazilian, French and Spanish sugar colonies had racial distinctions with as many as 128 permutations of mixes between native and white, native and black and native and mestizos (people of mixed European and native ancestry).
Skin color dictated the amount of back-breaking labor the slaves were 'destined' to perform. Slaves with a lighter skin tone were given domestic duties. As the skin tone got darker and darker the jobs went further away into the hot cane fields. This also lead to an establishment of hierarchy between the slaves which served the master's ultimate objective of keeping the slaves divided.
As the French chefs were inventing their irresistible chocolate mousse, slaves in Haiti and Jamaica were taking whiplashes on empty stomachs. Ironically, just like her creators, even sugar was subjected to color discrimination. Initially it came in a brown loaf, just like bread, as it was coated with molasses. However, towards the end of the eighteenth century sugar refining became just as lucrative as sugar plantation. The colonizers started shipping raw sugar back to the refineries in Europe in order to keep a monopoly in making the finest white sugar.
As the British strong hold in cane sugar manufacturing increased, Napoleon commissioned his scholars to discover ways of making sugar from sugar beet. Beet sugar is still produced in parts of Europe with climate that is unfavorable for sugarcane. Sugar trade played an important part in post-war treaties.
As the men and women in England began to realize the abject exploitation behind their cups of tea, an abolition movement was started. This motivated the British to move bases to East India (or India). The East Indian sugar was free of exploitation as it was not made by slaves.

Before I read this book, I had never thought of globalization in this perspective. Sugar trade put Africans in Louisiana and Florida, Indians in Fiji and South Africa and led to so much of mixing of races even in a time where it was completely against the social structure. And as sugar refining met international standards with the help of scientific commissions like ICUMSA, the minds and motives behind the commodity also underwent great refinement. My mother works as a referee to ICUMSA. It is not unusual now for black, brown, white, male and female sugar scientists to sit together at a table and exchange methods. However, if we look back to the times when it all started, this day feels like some sort of a Divine intervention!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Fusion Food

I have had ample moments of "stupid enlightenment". It is when you arrive at a certain thought or a phrase on your own, only to find out later (courtesy-Google), that it has been arrived at and published decades before you were even conceived. "Fusion Food" is one such phrase. My usual way to unwind after work is call my mom. I give her an account of my extremely banal life by adding some spice to it. Not the dishonest kind though. I believe that you can only fit your curves the way you want. You have no moral right to create new data points. Anyway, I should get to the point before the nerd in me comes to life.
Owing to my obvious aversion towards talking about work, I end up giving my mom accounts of my culinary adventures. She has made herself a place in her circle with her empirically established epicurean tastes and likes to pass judgment, for no reason, on the food others cook. Since I volunteer to place my neck between the blades of her guillotine, I end up enjoying her judgments to a great extent.
What I like about her judgment is that she ends up anthropomorphizing all the ingredients.
"What did you cook for dinner last night?"
"I made Greek Easter Soup"
" Really? What are the ingredients?"
"I used chicken, mushrooms and spring onion"
"Oh! Poor spring onion. Why would you put a nice green vegetable like that in a soup with chicken and mushroom?"
"The recipe said so. Actually the recipe says we should use entrails of lamb and other animals that are slaughtered. I replaced that with chicken because you cannot buy entrails without the animals around them"
"That is just disgusting! I won't be able to get over this for a while. Why can't you cook normal food?"
I have no idea what "normal food" means. She thinks I am taking advantage of the innocence of my flatmates when I cook roast vegetables for them.
"How can you just chop pumpkin, zucchini, eggplant and onion and toss it in the oven without any spice? And they agree to do the dishes in exchange of THAT?"
"No! I add spice. Basil and chili flakes. I coat all of that with lots of olive oil too!"

The other day, when I told her that I made chole with Spanish chorizo, she requested me not to share my bizarre recipes with her anymore. She pulls a Raj Thakrey at the idea of making a cheese sandwich with Maharashtrian dry potato curry. She finds it culturally threatening that when I have my friends over, I sometimes serve mixed vegetables and paneer with tzaziki. When I told her that tzaziki is actually made from cucumber and yogurt with just an addition of garlic and vinegar she almost accused the Greeks of plagiarism. Indeed it is quite plausible that Alexander the Great allured one of her great^n grandmothers and stole her recipe of kakdichi koshimbir on his way out. Then when he was back in his home town entertaining his ten thousandth girl/boyfriend he suddenly ran out of mustard seeds and decided to replace them with garlic and vinegar instead!

Today, I was describing to her what we had for dinner last night. My new flatmate from New Zealand cooked a "fish pie". The ingredients of which are as follows :-
1. (Mandatory) canned fish fillets
2. Boiled, mashed potato
3. (Mandatory) canned corn
4. Hard boiled eggs
5. Half a kilo of cheese
6. Tomato
The end result was too much even for a left/liberal foodizen like me. In fact, the consistency and the appearance of the end result was too much even for the cook. So we were thinking about a makeover for the leftovers. Amongst things like deep-fried fish pie balls, fish pie popsicle, fish pie soup (5 times dilution),etc., we also ended up creating a fish-pie-roast-veggie-sandwich.
And instead of her usual state of horror, my mom surprised me with her two cents. Fish-pie thalipeeth and fish-pie kothimbir vadi. Making me write about it was her idea too. I am sure she would be a bit miffed with the way I paint her!
Kudos to you aai. I dream of the day when I can make you eat all that I cook!

Friday, April 02, 2010


We still live the story of Adam and Eve
That began with a simple,
Unambiguous Divine instruction,
Of not eating the Fruit of Knowledge.
The innocent, primeval couple left it
Faithfully unquestioned, until..
Their oblivious bliss was choked
Between the glistening coils,
Of a slithering serpent from Hell.
It spun a web of irresistible
Almost compulsive attraction around Eve
And Eve gave in.

She could not hold herself back
From the Fruit, she surrendered!
And the coiling Serpent left,
With the scars of a million Births
On her primal, unsure Womb.

I love Eve.
Even the Garden of Eden faded
In the light of her careless Blunder
And Adam was dragged with her
Into the river of abysmal Sorrow.
Not just Adam, but the entire
Human existence as well!

Although they both created it,
Adam is just the Reason of Chance,
But Eve, in all her beauty,
Is the sole,Reason and Agent of Choice..

She appeals to me, not for the Philosophy
That surrounds her.
I like her way of self-surrender.
She chose her inevitable destiny
To have the fruit
And Lust was born.

Lust, is a labyrinth..
Eve may have given us
A lifetime of suffering
But she is also the one
Who opened this labyrinth for us
And showed us the beauty of
An unassuming, empirical God
That is silently superior
To the Obvious.

That is the debt humanity owes her
And can never pay her back!
She stands like a Goddess
In our circles of Lust and Sorrow
Because of her very first surrender..

(Translation of a Grace Poem from Marathi)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Gods of Small Things

This post is inspired by Tejas's post here.
I have always admired the Indian attitude towards newspapers. I see all the newspapers being dumped in the recycle bin here. However there is so much character about recycling news in India. :). Whether it is bringing up an old piece of gossip to refresh public memories before talking about a new Bollywood linkup or just plain old recycling of printed news.
With a little help from Wiki (as usual), I found out that India is the second country in the world with respect to largest newspaper circulation. As a kid, it was entertaining to travel just from Pune to Belgaum via Kolhapur to find so much variety in the newspapers and the attitude that goes into them. People actually judge other people by the newspaper they read! So a Sakal reader would have his brow furrowed around a Samna regular.

What intrigues me however is how just like our age old philosophy states,
वासांसि जीर्णानी यथा विहाय नवानि गृहणाति नरोपराणि
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देहि॥
(Like a person discards worn out clothes and gets new ones, the soul discards worn out bodies and attains new bodies.)

the newspapers in India have so many after-lives in different forms. The "lowest" birth a newspaper could get (being politically correct lowest being of lowest value in terms of use) is the birth as the humble brown bag's Indian counterpart. Or even the "disposable plastic plate's" Indian step-brother. You can see it in all the bhel-puri stalls. On days when an enormous ennui engulfs your soul in the middle of an engineering exam, this newspaper plate makes a good after-snack reading.
Then the slightly higher form is this.

Beautifully hidden behind the colorful coils, this is certainly a higher birth for the humble visitor that comes to us each morning. :)
Some stores like Either Or, have made shopping bags out of newspapers. I find that concept very appealing. Not just in terms of the low cost of production but also in the way where for a store like that it is also a style statement.
I thought this was one of the most creative re-births of Indian paper. Where old Bollywood movie posters are used to make bags and sold by children on the street.
Another "higher" birth attained by the Indian news is the skirt of a kathakali dancer. We used to have a doll long time ago that eventually gave in to the monsoon weather. I realized how meticulously the newspaper was packed inside to give it almost the look of painted wood. Some of the not-so-spectacular lower births include wrapping papers for laundry. I was pleasantly nostalgic to find a Marathi newspaper bit in a kurta I wore first time after coming back from India. Also interesting is the use of newspapers in the kitchens. To wipe mirrors in the bathroom, to wrap green vegetables so that they don't go limp in the fridge. Painters use it to line the metal before painting, fruit sellers have custom-made newspaper bags for grapes and figs. When I was in school, I also used newspapers to cover my books instead of buying a separate brown paper just for that purpose!

During Diwali, newspapers help soak oil from all the fried savory stuff. Not to mention they are also an integral part of the atom bomb! One of the annoying images of newspaper recycling is the "morning after" Diwali where all the streets are lined with bits of "exploded" newspapers from all the fire-works. I was surprised to see this in a small Hippie town called Malenie close to Sunshine Coast, Brisbane.
It was bangles made from newspapers imported from India!! They were sold for $3 a piece and people seem to really agree with them! I hope some of it at least went back to the artists who made it!
I think this could classify as a higher birth too.

And of course, perhaps the most insignificant reuse of newspapers is the cows on the street using it as a source of fibre. But hey! Wait a minute. They can actually use it as a source of energy! There you go, I think this is holiest point where this post can be concluded.
Although waste management in India is not something that any Indian would be proud of, I am really proud of my country for being so resourceful with newspapers. It is interesting to see how seemingly insignificant jobs can lead to so much diversity in the use of the same product. The rag pickers, the raddiwalahs, the bhelpuri walahs, the maids, the housewives, the artisans hidden in remote parts of Indian countryside are silently coming together to make such a big statement! I think we should be grateful for all these Gods of Small Things.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Learning Curve. :)

I like to teach myself. It is a great way to live life.
I have taught myself a lot of things since I stopped growing vertically (and that was a very long time ago). First, with a little help from my mom, I taught myself cooking. It was around the time when I was twelve.Risking the big revelation about my age, fourteen years down the line, I am still learning. :)
Then I learnt to feel good about myself. That's true, I did!
It is not easy to feel good about yourself in a rational world. The moment you step out you are given a million magnified images of all the little things that are wrong with you. This is not because I am cynical. This is true. In different contexts, different people see what you don't have. Sometimes, they put it across by excessively praising what you have. At others, they mumble and fumble and kind of blurt it out. Some are really direct. So they wait all morning to meet you, picking the juiciest adjectives they could embellish it with. Then, when they see you, you can see the splendour of a thousand sunrises on their face. If you have to, you take it. If you can't, which is a rare situation, you just fume and leave the room.
But when you sit down later, with a mug of hot chocolate (forsaking the marshmallow as a sign of mourning for the self respect you have just killed) you know, somewhere inside, that you are good. :) I have come to love that feeling. Only because I taught myself how to feel that way. You see, that feeling should not come draped in anger, or as a stilt for a dwindling ego, or as an equal and opposite reaction. It should be there. Like the very last, unnoticed mango in a crate full of hay. It is not easy. Feeling (really) good about yourself is a very difficult thing.
As years pass by, "feeling good" changes so many faces.So many strong winds carve tiny lines on the faces that want to feel good. I hope that voice inside does not get tired. I have a funny feeling it won't either.
I also learnt to learn. Sometimes, all of a sudden, you start feeling like you are all cooked and ready to be served. Then if someone tries to check you with a fork, it hurts! Precisely because you are not cooked yet. There was a time when I wanted to be cooked right away and not being able to step out of the oven made me really angry. Now I see it. God really prefers slow cooking and we should let him do it his way. Even if we oppose, it is not like a chicken can really get up and march towards the plate with angry slogans. :)
So even though I feel good, I never really let myself think that I am the best I could be. This is hard too, especially when you have learnt to feel good. It takes a while to get that balance. Needless to say that you topple and trip over many situations you would rather not live again.
Plus every new situation has many small situations hidden in it. So you never really know where you are going to trip. It is best to have a past. It keeps on accumulating anyway. I guess miles and miles of trudging through present is wisdom after all. :)
One of the most difficult thing to teach myself was to wait. I don't think I have done it successfully even now. You know how when you are in a long line, right at the end and someone jumps the queue in the front. There is so much learning to do from the time you start swearing in that situation to the point where you just change the music to a happier track when that happens. You learn to wait for things that you cannot help. Also for things, that would get much better if you wait. To make words wait until anger has left. To wait for rain for weeks and still find things you could cheer yourself up with. To wait for friends to understand what you meant when they got upset. To wait for a lot of things that could be done right away if you want but you know they must wait for you too!
One of the most useful things I have learnt is to be regular. Do something everyday. It gives your life a pace.Then retarding forces can slow you down only a little. Even if it is just watering the chili or running by the river or even cleaning the stove before you go to bed. :) It often gives you certainty that is many times absent from larger things.
Most importantly though, I have learnt not to stop dancing. You never really stop dancing even if you try. You just lose the audience..and then it gets better than you ever thought it would!
For as long as the music is in your ears, you should dance. Does not matter if it's the kitchen, the bathroom, the walk-in freezer or a deserted bus stop. :)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Little Prince

I just read this book, which was a present. It came with an assurance that I would love it because of the person that I am. :) It was completely true. It is widely known as a children's book but I think it is more an adults' book. It is about a little prince, who comes from an asteroid and shares his candid opinion about grown-ups with the writer.It is enthralling with all its fantastic ideas and innocent illustrations. Of little planets where there are one thousand, four hundred and forty sunsets in twenty four hours, big enough to be occupied only by a solitary, tired lamplighter!
For an adult, every line is a new hope. A new way of looking at ordinary life. To care for flowers, or even a single flower with full responsibility. To weep, to open your eyes wide and see what you have around you. To slow down and drink water. To see the stars just because they are pretty and not because they guide us to our destinations.To make every simple thing in your life a source of joy. To have friends and to think of them all the time!

We are all proud of our achievements as adults. The way we use the freedom we get as a consequence of being an adult, what we build for ourselves in whatever space that is "ours" in this world, and the constant urge to get somewhere that we yet have to get to! The pride we take in moving on and still being strong.
No one really pays attention to the huge sacrifice we make in order to turn into an adult. We lose our ability to believe in something just because it is true for us. We lose the ability of not comprehending failure and going for it as though it does not exist.
This is all brought back to life in this book by the prince and his flower. :)

You find yourself giggling like a kid in some parts and in some, your eyes well up even before you realize.
My flower is ephemeral, the little prince said to himself, and she has only four thorns with which to defend herself against the world! And I've left her alone where I live!

A must read, especially if you think you are a grown-up!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The side effects of globalization!

Just a few weeks before I came back to Australia this year, an Indian was stabbed to death in Melbourne. Since then, at every dinner party, I had to explain the "real situation" to everyone. Indian television media is extremely hyperactive. I have said this before and I would say it again. The government had to issue an order of restraint to the media following similar reports of Indians being attacked after the unfortunate incident. Although this causes a lot of anxiety to people who have sent their kids to Australia and also others who have family members living here, one good thing about the whole media coverage is that both Australian police and the Australian government have been put in the spotlight. We cannot deny that it has not helped in a certain way. In today's times, any country would be reluctant to admit that racism is even a small element of their culture. Moreover, labeling Australia as a racist country is unfair. Some Australians could be racist but that certainly does not imply that the whole country is racist.
Amidst this frenzy we had statements from various Australian authorities. The Victorian Police Chief admitted that Indians were being overrepresented in the robbery statistics. Here's a quote from his statement:
"I have said from day one undoubtedly some of these attacks have a racist motive or there is racist elements to these attacks. Regardless of who they are, what they are, what colour they are, what occupation they are, my job is to make the state as safe as I can for everyone."

Now, lets go back to Mumbai. In the good old days of Mahatma Gandhi, Indians learned to boycott. We still do that in our own fancy ways by boycotting something as peripheral and frivolous as a game of cricket. So Mr.Bal Thakrey promptly roared in his own secure forest- Samna that he would stop the Aussie cricket team from playing in Maharashtra. The direct Gandhian line has taken to "relay fastings" where one member of the group sits on the podium on a "hunger strike" to wait for someone who takes his place later. :)
The radical groups have taken to violent boycotting of everything that comes in the way of what they want. In fact, these days it is hard to tell if they really want the end that they are striving for. These kind of statements can be compared to a Rakhi Sawant arranging her own Swayamwar on "reality" television. The whole saga is not really to get a husband, it is for getting everything that she would on the way to her alleged destination. Do we ever have a Mumbai chief admitting that he is responsible for every person's safety? When a Sachin Tendulkar says, "I am an Indian first and then a Maharashtrain", all the hyenas in Mumbai start tearing him apart. When the statement he made is so relevant because he represents India, not Maharashtra everywhere he goes!
Around the same time as the Aussie attacks came to light two years ago, Mumbai witnessed a similar style of attacks. The Marathi-Bihari debate that is still giving votes to the Thakrey family. Mumbai is the most sought after city in India. Everyone wants to be in Mumbai. Naturally people who speak the same language as the rest of Maharashtra would want to assert their importance. The latest official reaction to this issue is seen in the headlines today. To be a cabbie in Mumbai now, you have to know Marathi well and you should present a proof of over fifteen years of residence in Mumbai!
The day I returned, I got into a cab driven by an Aussie gentleman. He shed some light on the "other side" of the whole racist debate. Indian cabbies are attacked in Australia mostly because
1. They do not know the streets at all. They jump into a cab the moment they land in Australia and sometimes even do not know how to use the GPS.
2. They misuse the meter by hitting buttons when the passenger is not looking. Unless you ask for your printed receipt, you will never know you were duped.
3. They play Punjabi (Indian Bollywood) songs in the taxi when they have passengers.
4. Some or all of this is done on Friday and Saturday nights when most cabs are used by Australians who go clubbing and can't drive because they are absolutely sloshed.
Imagine if this happens in Pune. If you get into a rickshaw and the driver has no clue where you want to go and you have no clue either! If he plays loud Ganesh festival music while you are trying to have a conversation with your friend sitting next to you. Worst still, if they charge you Rs.1oo for a journey you know for sure should not cost more than Rs.25! Even if you are absolutely sober, you would pick up a fight with him.
I accept that not all "Indian cabbies" have these ways just the way I say that all of Australia is not racist. But the ones who get attacked and the ones who attack them both fall into the same minority!

Whether in Mumbai, or in Brisbane, the problem should be "unprofessional taxi drivers" instead of "Bihari (non-marathi)" or "Indian taxi drivers".

We should all condemn the attacks, in India as well as Australia. But we should not close our eyes to the reasons that cause them.
All of us know that it is unfair to attack people just because they come from a different country or claim our jobs but hey! this is globalization for you. This has been happening and will happen until the world becomes one color from mixing. Until the time when every person in the world cannot correctly trace their origins to a single ethnicity. Just the way Indian media and politicians make a big hype about "Indians" in Australia, with all sincerity and gratefulness, I would request them to do something about the intra-country racism that exists blatantly within India itself. This is an underlying reality about every nation. Whether it is visa procedures made more "stringent" for only certain passports or cabbies being abused openly and attacked in a faraway land. Just like the fear of unpredictable terrorism, everyone who is not white lives under a subconscious fear of being pointed out at! It is a choice that people living outside their country make very consciously. The only precaution you can take is to abide by the laws of the land and make sure you are not found helpless at wrong times.
Above this murky, angry and sensational reality lies another one too! Where Australia, India, China, UK, Poland, Jamaica and Fiji meet for beer in a pub after work on a Friday night. :)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sarpanch Sahib!

This is a new post in brand new year. Let me wish all my readers a very happy and more importantly peaceful new year. :)
I am in India for four weeks. So I have been very lazy with writing. I got my hands on some interesting books while I was out shopping. Sarpanch Sahib is one of them. This is a collection of seven biographies of female Sarpanchs (village heads) of seven different remote villages in India. What is more interesting is that each of these stories is written by a different female journalist who had to get out of her metropolitan existence to meet her subject in a far off village. Edited by Manjima Bhattacharjya, this book shows you a completely different and honest face of the Indian woman.
It starts off more or less to review the effects of the 73rd constitutional amendment that was done in 1993. It mandated elections to be held for membership to the panchayti Raj and reserved one-third of the seats for women. Since then over three million Indian women have become politically active and one million are elected to political office every five years.
However, the role of women in politics is still looked upon with doubts. This book travels through all the trials and triumphs associated with a woman leader and puts them across honestly, without even a hint of dramatic feminism.
There is Sunita, an Adivasi woman, Sarpanch of a Brahmin dominated Tighra village in Madhya Pradesh. I found her story inspiring. It took her about a year and nine months just to open her own account and access the funds granted to her for developmental work. She had to fight with men of power, men of higher castes and initially men (and women) of her own family. All of this just to start working as a Sarpanch after being elected by people. Journalist Manju Kapur narrates Sunita's journey from a ghunghat-clad skinny daughter-in-law to a fuller Sarpanch who looks into her opponent's eyes. She even jokes that all the fighting made her put on weight!
Or even the illiterate Chinapappa of Pachikanapalli, Tamil Nadu. She helped twenty one kids of the nomad Irular tribe with enrollment in a nearby school. She takes us through the struggles of being an illiterate Dalit woman. Each adjective adding a new constraint to her efficiency.
I am always stumped by the "images" that foreigners carry with them about India. Many times, their travel diaries are full of descriptions of the non-existence of women in India. I myself have been caught in never ending, heated debates about how Indian women are not as helpless as the West perceives. Reading this book opened my eyes to a new reality.
We should learn to measure success relatively. For me, Sunita who was married at ten, entered politics at twenty two years of age from a mute Adivasi background is much more emancipated than any metropolitan Indian or even Western woman. Not getting things done with bribes, getting out of her house to go to court because she has been accused on fake charges and silencing higher caste men are her achievements. They are probably bigger than any qualified politician (if there is a term as a "qualified politician"). If these struggles are delaying developmental work, it is like latent heat being absorbed to make something invisible happen- the empowerment of these women. Once they are powerful enough not to care, development will take place with a greater speed and honesty.
Over the past few years, I have learned to open my eyes to these realities that exist around me. It is easy to get wrapped up in your happiness (or sorrow) and not look around. But in every humble woman lies a great power. When you take a step back to look around you find that women who are on the so called lower rungs of the society pyramid are actually emotionally and professionally much more successful than you. Mostly because they have to deal with struggles that would never cross the path of an educated, modern woman. Their expectations are humble and their everyday life makes it impossible for them to dwell on their problems.
It is not so important to be better than everyone else. Sometimes that leads to loss of compassion. The true beauty of a life well lived is to be better than what you were yesterday and also to help others on your way, achieve that dream!