Saturday, 17 December 2011

Apna gaon- Gurgaon

Gurgaon is a hep and happening place. Cruising on the toll road one can see the brightly lit multistoried landmarks which makes this Haryana town look like Manhattan. The plush Hotels which line the highway include the giants like Leela Kempinski (Indo European tie up) and Crowne Plaza. All international names would want a presence in this gaon (village), Gurgaon, thanks to the IT hub it has become.

The well signposted toll road gives way to a traffic maze at most times, which leads into the concrete jungle, dotted with numerous residential complexes, shopping malls (big and small), offices, huge hospitals (wonder how many people are sick at any one time), overhead Metro tracks and metro stations, hotels and schools.

I had been in touch with some of my college friends, thanks only to Mark Zuckerberg's invention- the Facebook. It was therefore easy to get in touch with each other and organize a meeting in the posh Ambience Mall. It reminded me of the Seef Mall in Bahrain but needless to say such a meeting of all brands international and national along with the indigenous, in such luxurious surroundings made me remember where I had come from- a sleepy seaside village (town seems a overstatement) in rural East England where the biggest establishment is probably the hospital I work in.

We ate at Frescoe's- an Italian joint with youngsters belting out live music in form of popular numbers from our college years. I happened to comment that these young people seem to be singing songs from "our time", only to be rebuked by the youngest at heart in the group- "what do you mean our time, THIS is our time!"
I had to agree. Being with college mates who you have had both escapades and petty fall outs with twenty something years strangely uplifting, therapeutic and wonderful.

I was only having French fries as they call them in India (its chips in England), due to religious reasons, but the food looked very authentic and delicious. The poor waiter cum manager was threatened by at least three of us to ensure my food had no extra ingredients in case it invites the wrath of the Gods. "Are you married?" one asked, "You want a good wife, don't you?" threatened another. Poor guy came back to tell me that the usual potato wedges are preseasoned with masala, hence he will organize a plate of pure French Fries-ideal fast food (Vrat khana). I told the young man I will pray he gets a good wife.

I met some very unusual people too. A farmer, who studied till high school, who dresses in white shirt and trousers, who sold half his agricultural land when the development started and built a home each for his two sons in Gurgaon and now lives in a three story guest house cum home where people can rent single accommodation with breakfast and dinner for monthly lump sum or on a daily basis. Money is not a problem any more for this farmer and his family as their fortunes turned when IT companies put their anchors down in Gurgaon.

Another person I met was a retired Professor of the degree College in Gurgaon. He told me that his illiterate farmer parents had given him an education.  Uncleji's sons are now abroad, Manchester and Birmingham. He helps his daughter in law in the boutique he has helped establish in neighbouring Hong Kong Mall. Shopping there reminded me of the time when I had come to England for the first time. I would calculate the price of a cup of coffee by converting it into rupees and then wonder whether it was worth it. I seem to be doing the reverse now in India. Everything seems to cost above a thousand rupees which in my mental calculation goes much above ten pounds and then I think- maybe...maybe not after all. A hundred rupee note is like a pound coin, even though a pound doesn't even fetch a hundred rupees.

Newspapers seem to have a lot of news on schools and children's achievements. One of the key achievements being top SAT scores, the entry ticket to top Ivy League Universities in the US. US education even if it is at post graduate level like an MBA allows people to be employed by multinationals with huge salaries in dollars and some are now resettling back in India while earning a fat dollar pay packet.

All this feels good, but the problems of India remain, corruption being top of the list. The threat of Anna Hazare's campaign looms large over the Government who is trying to shut people up by threatening to clamp down on media and social networking sites! But Change- is inevitable whether the Govt likes it or not!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Life- a game?

KBC has been changing ordinary people's lives and the thrill of watching it all unfold on the small screen has caught everybody's imagination.

Sushil Kumar, a computer operator from Bihar played like a pro to win the final jackpot of 5 crore rupees and it was a dramatic moment to say the least, when Amitabh Bachchan screamed with his arms outstretched-"Adbhut! adbhut!" The young man and his even younger wife, just didn't seem to know what to do with themselves as they tried to digest the reality of the situation.

Similarly, a teacher who has a stammering problem, went on to win 50 lakhs and both these contestants spoke about the setbacks and disappointments they had faced in life and how blessed they felt to be on the hotseat facing Big B on KBC.

Music reality shows too, one might argue, make celebrities out of ordinary folk, but they tend to do a lot, for just a few, whereas KBC seems to provide an oppurtunity to many.

Yet, nothing succeeds like success. Media and ordinary people on social network websites or over a cup of coffee spend hours analysing what makes a winner. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was one person who after winning the World Cup, became the subject of detailed analysis about his attributes which made him so successful.

Everybody likes a winner and everybody would like to be a winner but not everybody is a winner. We as a family, have been playing Monopoly over the summer holidays and I have often thought that life is actually a game of Monopoly. You need to make the right investments early in life- they being education and self development in real life as opposed to property in the game of Monopoly, to be able to reap the rewards later. Ofcourse the dice can lead you to jail or unnecessary losses, but worrying about the losses still to come, can easily drag you into a hole of bankrupcy. No risk, No gain.

Plenty of people have likened the ups and downs one faces in life, to a game of  Snakes and Ladders. Similarly the skills required for a game show like KBC have often been the most basic life skills like playing with a cool head, taking calculated risks, having faith in oneself, making the right decisions etc etc.

So I do think life is a lot like a game and even though winning is important, one must be able to lose cheerfully. It is important not lose faith in one's abilities, understand that sometimes the dice of destiny decides our fate and be able to plunge into life's next game without being afraid. I think all the big winners dared to dream and were not afraid to lose. Without the courage to be able to take a risk, one is unlikely to land a big jackpot.

It is not without reason that people say "Live like there is no tomorrow". That is the way to live, really! I think we let too many "what if"s ruin our lives. And the most unlikely people become winners because they were at a juncture of their lives where they had nothing to lose. I know that when life's situations become such that one feels it can't become any worse, one seems to be able to think and act with much better clarity, direction and purpose.

This reminds me of the poem by Rabindra Nath Tagore- "Where the mind is without fear..."

That is exactly the state of mind which helps us perform to the best of our ability and to our highest potential- when we are devoid of fear- fear of losing, fear of not succeeding, fear of being ridiculed, fear of going wrong, fear of not doing what looks good (even though it doesnt feel good), fear of not being able to live up to other's expectations, fear of not being able to do the necessary preparation (I think I wasted more time before my exams wondering how I will complete the syllabus rather than getting on and doing it) and the list can go on...

But is not being afraid an inborn trait? Or can we develop it? The truth is probably midway. So friends let go of your fears and you might hit the jackpot in real life!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Acceptable Etiquette and daughter-in-laws

One of our friends said he wanted to buy a book on etiquette to be able to teach his children good manners. Yet, much to his dismay, he did not find a book and thus still considers himself ill equipped to teach his children growing up in England, what the correct code of conduct should be.

I should hope that kids are taught that in school but looking around at young people today makes you wonder.

Recently a mother in law's letter of admonition to her future daughter in law went viral on the internet attracting attention from young and old. Lots of older people hailed the mum in law as a hero who had spoken up against what was an onslaught of "uncouthness and lack of grace" which they have had to endure from the younger lot on a continual basis. Ofcourse the young bride-to-be too, had her crowd of sympathizers.

It is no surprise for anyone to know whose side I would like to be on. Here is an excerpt from the legendary letter from the mother in law-

 "It is high time someone explained to you about good manners. Yours are obvious by their absence and I feel sorry for you.

Here are a few examples of your lack of manners:

When you are a guest in another’s house, you do not declare what you will and will not eat – unless you are positively allergic to something. You do not remark that you do not have enough food. You do not start before everyone else. You do not take additional helpings without being invited to by your host.

When a guest in another’s house, you do not lie in bed until late morning in households that rise early – you fall in line with house norms.

You should never ever insult the family you are about to join at any time and most definitely not in public. I gather you passed this off as a joke but the reaction in the pub was one of shock, not laughter........

I, like million others identify with this letter. I remember when I moved from Asansol, a small town to the capital,Delhi, I suffered from a culture shock. I moved from a Convent into a Public School (the much acclaimed Delhi Public School RK Puram)

I stood in the school ground on the first day listening to a succession of bells trying to decipher the direction I was meant to walk towards. Unlike my previous school where, within minutes or seconds, girls could be seen to assemble in an orderly fashion in a certain direction, this coeducational school was just a marketplace of children dragging their feet, laughing and joking, completely oblivious of teachers carrying armloads of notebooks in the corridors. It was shocking, to say the least, for me to witness time and time again this complete disregard for teachers. Young people who acknowledged them did so with an obvious sense of familiarity and the deference to authority which I still believe should be there between a parent and child, a teacher and student was disappearing even those many years ago.

And not unexpectedly I hear about the stories in classrooms today, both in India and in England from my children, which make me wonder what the world will be like in times to come.

But then again change is the only thing constant in our lives. My behaviour was a culture shock to my mother in law, when I got married, so there is not much point in my holier than thou attitude today. Acceptable behaviours change as do interpersonal dynamics, over time.

My mother in law was shocked not so much by my behaviour towards her and other members of the family (because I seemed to have learnt the good bahu ritual well from the movies) but my behaviour towards my lord and master, my husband, my pati parmeshwar. Which from her point of view was lacking in grace and bordering towards unacceptable, but perfectly natural for me.

I now think all my friends who have daughters are probably lucky in one way. They won't have to put up with uncouth behaviour from pretty young things in the twilight years of our lives- after all son in laws usually never stay long, do they? Or maybe that will change too!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Habitat-Ye tera ghar, ye mera ghar!

This summer, my landlady managed to empty out the old caravan, which had been standing outside our door. It had remained there, stuffed with household goods, which the landlady's removal van at the time of her move, had not been able to accommodate.

She handed me the keys and said the kids could use it. My 10 year old promptly invited a friend for a sleepover in the caravan. Soon I was inspecting it for health and safety, and promptly the friend's mum was on the phone forcing me to tell her that actually it was not connected to any electric point and therefore was going to be dark, cold and that it was also difficult to bolt from the inside.

Needless to say that the catalyst, who had been encouraging this weird adventure was the "wanting to look cool" dad who then had to pitch in with ideas about mobiles,torches, quilts etc. Soon the two boys were in the caravan with their ipods, having bid us good night.

I didn't have to wait long while trying to calm myself with self talk about not being a spoilsport and trying to let go, when we heard the door banging. A quick rush down the stairs found the boys, mobiles, quilts and all frantically knocking. When we were all safely inside again, we listened to the story-"There are spiders in the caravan!"

Why didn't you kill them was my question, to which my son replied-"Spiders have rights too, I can't drive them away from their habitat." Caravan is OUR habitat I protested in vain. Anyway, never mind...I know nobody is scared of spiders, it is just pure concern for their habitats, naturally!

I wish we could all be a bit more scared. It is not nice to hear about sharks mistaking people for seals on busy beaches, polar bears killing teenagers on adventure camping trips and deer running amok on the motorways in the cities.

Back in Chhattisgarh, the local TV channel enabled us to watch in horror the drama which unfolded after a panther entered a village. The forest officials were informed as were the district magistrate and the police. All arrived on the scene one by one. The media was there to photograph all the jeeps and white ambassadors, while this panther was trapped in a house, looking terrified and agitated (not surprisingly). The drama carried on, filmed by media crews, as the authorities kept waiting for more senior input until the sun was about to set and then the villagers took their own decision. The world watched as the villagers got the panther in the courtyard, poured kerosene on him from the roof  and set him alight.

It wasn't unusual to hear about children being killed in villages close to the forests, by panthers in Chhattisgarh. It was awful when a little girl on her way to school was snatched by the "tendua". Here was the world talking about bringing down barriers to educating the girl child. Did anybody imagine that they can be killed on the  way to school by a wild animal?

In its defense, the panthers had been driven away from their habitats due to the forest cover being eroded by deforestation, illegal mining etc. No evidence of any development though! It was indeed heart rending to watch the poor animal being burnt alive as the forest ofiicials, district administration and others watched.

Money, I dont believe has ever been a problem for Government agencies, as the crores come tumbling out of the closets. Surely they should have ways to overpower such beasts or standard operating procedures for what was a commonplace occurence. Hungry tide by Amitava Ghosh is again a heart rending story about the havoc the tigers cause in the Sunderbans while for the rest of the world it remains a protected endangered species.

While we try to invade habitats by going on arctic cruises and treks into nowhere, there are humans in the more populated part of the world who find it difficult to find a safe habitat.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Babul ki duaein leti jaa! So long Farewell!

Over the years I have fond memories of the cars I have been associated with.

The first one was my dad's first car (even though it was second hand), a bright blue Fiat. It must have been an important part of my life because I drew and coloured a blue car to win a first prize in my very first drawing competition as a four year old. Life as a four year old was wonderful and I distinctly remember the joy of standing on the front seat of the car to have a bird's eye view of the world, next to my father chattering to him as he drove around town.

The second car I remember was a steel grey Ambassador, which was bought close to my nephew's birth when I was ten years old. Well, all of us have very happy memories of this spacious Ambassador, which would house God knows how many of us, including the white haired dog (nicknamed "Bidesi kukur" by passersby), who travelled with us with his head poking out of the front left window.

When the grey Ambassador was sold at last, my nephew was close to becoming a software engineer. My dad was nearly singing bidai (farewell)songs - Babul ki duain leti jaa, jaa tujhe sukhi sansaar mile!

I recently read an article in Time magazine "Driven off the road by MBAs"- it discussed a book written by Bob Lutz, former chairman of General Motors who believes like I do, that if we want economies to grow in the real sense, make top class products or provide top class services, we should "fire the managers" and let the technocrats run the show. In yesteryears we believed that if our product excelled, customers would come. But then came the MBAs and taught us what was taught to them- how to try to get almonds for the price of peanuts!

Quoting from the article- ".... a trend toward short-term, myopically balance-sheet-driven management has infected American business."

Our parents used to own and treasure things for longer not just because the culture of incessant buying and throwing away, wasn't rife but also because things were of better quality, made to last a lifetime....because then, the shoe companies were run by shoemakers and auto companies were run by engineers as Lutz suggests should happen.

Nowadays people change cars and jobs easily. I remember treasuring my first watch, but nowadays kids have too much hardware around to get emotionally attached to anything and anyway everything needs updating and changing every 1-2 years.

Consider your mobile phone, which then became smart and then acquired a touch screen and then flattened out to enable you to do everything, while you were on the go. The VCR, VCDs, DVDs and Audio CDs and their respective players replaced cassettes and records and now everything is going to the landfill to make place for downloading ipods. Not only that, everything needs to be synchronized to each other and thus the whole lot need will need updating at frequent intervals. Not to forget the Wiis, Xboxes and playstations. God bless our planet.

Then comes rivalry between competing providers. Last week we spent nearly an hour trying to get the Storz cable to work on the Olympus stack (Storz and Olympus being top companies providing laparoscopic equipment).

So in this horde for possessing "STUFF" from all the different competing companies which needs an upgrade before it is launched.....people are buying more than they need or can afford.

Apart from how it has affected lifestyles and relationships (people have no one to talk to but have 200 friends on facebook), it has done away with singing bidai songs to cars!

Friday, 3 June 2011

House work- Mai bhi raani, tu bhi raani kaun bharega paani?

This was actually something I heard my Orthopaedic professor in Lady Hardinge Medical College, mutter under his breath, in the operating theatre when faced with lack of sterile equipment for his operation. He was referring to the theatre nursing staff and was generally disgruntled by the fact that there were so many nurses, yet none seemed competent for the job.

However, it seems a very appropriate and timeless saying about housework. I have witnessed major wars being played out in the home between mom-in-law and daughter-in-law, between sisters-in-law, between spouses, between friends or cousins staying together and so on. Somebody always begrudgingly does more or believes he or she does more until the percieved imbalance starts putting a strain on the relationship. For most people, doing housework is a thankless and endless job which has little to show for itself.

A lot of people on the other hand, will find cleaning quite therapeutic, decorating a matter of pride, cooking a pleasure and housework in general, a part of life.

I remember regularly meeting a colleague of mine on the steps of my flat as he made trips to and from his home at lunch time to have home cooked Indian food prepared and served hot by his dear wife everyday. I said to him once- "Wish I too had a wife."

Honestly, with a preschooler at home I used to struggle to find time for anything and would have liked someone to cook and serve me a meal, at least once in a while....

Going back to India and having live in help, made my wish come true. My live in help was a very clean and efficient lady, who loved my children and was an excellent cook. I remember her often, but my husband remembers her more. Domestic help is often cited as a reason people want to stay or move back to India.

I have been reminded often by my dear husband about the concept of two types of people in this world- the one half who do the work and the other half who get the work done. To me it is quite clear which half do the house work!!!???

So I have been told I don't need to do it, just need to know how to get it done. Unfortunately, my year long stay in Bahrain saw the biggest turnover of maids in my life and has made me run miles from any live in help in the house.

So any such suggestions about hiring live in help were met with a very grumpy, argumentative, suspicious and stubborn me.

However, circumstances prevailed and I had to give in. My Egyptian colleague, while betraying his own fantasies, did warn me against hiring a long legged blonde beauty to stay home while I was at work, but I had no option.

I registered (paid money to) on a au pair website to find an aupair ( meaning- on equal terms in French). Soon, I was corresponding on email to this pretty young woman (I made sure she was dark haired) who then arrived at midnight from Spain. We had no problem recognizing each other as we had exchanged photographs on email and I was soon showing her the high street in our little town. I thought she was very smart with directions until she said she had seen the house, roads and the high street on google earth. Wonder what would happen to the world without google.

Life has been relaxed with her around, contrary to my own expectations. She has been teaching French, looking for a disco, booking an English course amongst other things, while I remain a suspicious spoilt sport, but who knows I might just get used to the idea of getting work done, rather than doing it.....? Sounds too good to be true!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Small town mentality

This was a phrase often used in big cities like Delhi, when I was growing up. It is a bit like "that sounds so middle class". It was not such a nice thing to belong to a small town, the overall conviction being that people from small towns don't have what it takes, to chase their dreams with ruthless determination....possibly pushing everything and everyone who comes in the way, I would have thought.

No wonder then that so much is being made out about the fact that a lot of the world class cricketers in Team India actually belong to small towns. Though I believe their love and passion for the game rather than where they came from has brought them where they are today.

But talking of small towns, they were small towns before Indira Gandhi linked them with Doordarshan and before the Indian National Satellite System (INSAT) helped desperate housewives in small towns swoon over handsome hulks in The Bold and the Beautiful.

Before the television took up everybody's time and before the remote became the crown in the house, women had time to hang out of their balconies and solve the problems of the universe, starting with the neighbour's children, garden or pet.

This was when my brother would complain that everytime he enters or leaves the house he can see curtains moving in the house in front and can feel that he is being watched. Don't people have anything better to do? Probably not.

This was when my friend's mom in the neighbourhood would tell me that my frock needed retiring as it was too short for anyone's good or that I did not seem to have had a "head bath" today (an essential for Bengalis, wonder if it is so today).

It was also when people knew which couples argued into the night and would be at hand to mediate when the wife got beaten or was turned out of the house. If you were a couple, who were found out having some indiscrete fun in a house (the owners being on holiday and having asked someone to sleep there at night as a security measure), you could be taken to court by the "unemployed brothers" and forced to get married to make your escapade legitimate.

Pillion riding with a young man on his bike was the ultimate escapade for young girls, which if witnessed by an "uncle" enjoying paan on the roadside would mean a huge showdown at home with threats of binding matrimony for the young girl or termination of any further education for her.

Similar fate would await boys if someone in the neighbourhood (usually a spoilt sport frustrated adult in the youngster's view) decided he or she had definitely seen cigarette smoke puffing out of the young man's mouth. For God's sake- Get a life!

But with everybody knowing everything about everybody, the pluses were many. Festivals, marriages, births as well as sickness and death were shared experiences with in-built support in societies. Marriage counsellers, career counsellers, business advisors, health promoters were all free and would pop up anywhere. It would be up to you to take their advice or just smile and sit through it.

I am talking about the time when modes of communication were love letters or slips of paper tucked into people's fists, books or snacks and when the girl's longlasting looks rather than her facebook profile told you whether she was single and what or who she was interested in.

It was also the time it was customary to enjoy a cup of tea with neighbours, just like that, without prior warning or without an agenda at hand.

Then came Satellite Television. MTV and its saucy music videos changed the way young India dressed and behaved. Salwar kameez and braids became extinct while synthetic spaghetti tops, figure hugging jeans and shocks of hair covering the face in the sweltering temperatures of North India became the norm.

Today Small towns are no longer small because they are connected with the television, internet and mobiles to the rest of the world and it has opened up numerous oppurtunities. More and more corporates are seeing the advantages of including them in the big growth story. While living in big cities like Bangalore is a headache for anyone trying to get home after work in the rush hour traffic, Magarpatta (a new township) in Pune allows you to live and work in the same area.

With the world being so connected all youngsters seem to watch the same Disney channels, like the same menus in McDonalds and use the same software to upload stuff on You Tube.

I realized how small towns had changed when I witnessed the brisk business the florist in Raipur was doing on Valentines day and when I actually saw the young people in the street, atleast a hundred of them in bikes...girls clinging on, all naturally in Western wear, carrying balloons, shouting laughing creating a riot on the busy street- all in the name of Valentine's day! I felt definitely old and ancient and that was a good few years ago.

Today, being able to see the moonlight flood my bedroom and my garden or being able greet the wood pigeon on my window as I try to do yoga are the pluses of being in a small place but other than that we are all connected, are able to keep track of world events, are able to take advantage of possible oppurtunities and thus no longer isolated and prisoner of "small town mentality"!

Whether the erosion of small town communities as a result, is an essential fallout is a debate we can have in our own time. Howzzat!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Krishna-leela (antics of God)

I always enjoy reading the subtitles of Bollywood songs while watching them on television- I met you, my heart plucked up, what else do I need to live.......Nowadays my feet don't touch the ground, tell me have you seen me flying....or  Love Love Love...just a little love is needed...oh my darling, please agree to what I say..... But some are acutely funny and sound as incongruous as Sardarji Mika Singh would, performing in a Carnatic classical music concert. 

Similarly that day in the hospital, I started sounding off key, while discussing religion with a colleague. She was telling me how her wedding had cost next to nothing, because she is an atheist and had just had a registrar wedding followed by a holiday.

I found that very interesting and asked her what she had against religion. She said she did not like the fatalistic view which people who believe in religion have, and how they seem to have no control over their own lives as everything is blamed on God's will.

The karmayogi in me, jumped to religion's rescue.  I asked her if she knew what karma meant (she didn't, she thought it was something to do with mood) and went on to elaborate how in the story of what is like Bible to us i.e. The Holy Geeta, two sets of brothers are at war and one of the brothers refuses to fight against his brothers and other family. I explained how that seemed to be the starting point of the discourse by God, the charioteer.  God askes the brother to do his duty (the doing one's duty being karma) and shoot his brother.....

Well, may be I could have put it better, but the words from my mouth like the arrows from the quiver, had left their abode and I realized when I saw her shocked face- "So God asked him to shoot his brother?? I thought Hinduism was a non violent religion, so what happens, who wins the war, now I am really curious....?"

The confusion and perplexity was writ large on her face. I tried to make amends and she was pacified by having learnt what "karma" meant...a word so loosely used by the English like guru, mantra, pucca apart from garam masala, bhaji, naan, pilao, korma etc.

Quite perturbed, I then confessed to an Indian colleague about the incident and hoping to gather empathy and sympathy I complained about how wrong it sounded that Geeta was all about Lord Krishna asking Arjun to shoot his brothers. My Indian colleague then thoughtfully said that this seemed to be so only because it was not in context. Maybe I should gift a Mahabharat to our colleague.

You must be joking! I thought to myself, what with all the questions about the legitimacy of the birth of the Pandavas, a woman having five husbands, men losing their one and only wife to cousins in a game of I think her view of Hinduism is good the way it is without reading the context of the Holy Book.

After all Geeta's teachings are relevant today because it was written in Kalyug, the modern age. Excerpts are often quoted in management and self help books. That is because our Lord Krishna is God incarnated as a contemporary man. He is as cute as Brad Pitt, has twinkling eyes, is a huge flirt, is allowed to steal beautiful young women's clothes while they are bathing (Krishna karen to leela, hum karen to paap), is allowed to steal butter from the kitchen, is a cunning strategist in the war, is all powerful and last but not the least he is a favourite with women. His legendary devotees are beautiful young women....Now that is how every man would wish his facebook profile to be.

Lord Krishna would like us to live life to the full, never holding back and enjoying all the emotions, colours, seasons, tastes, smells and sounds, while maintaining the right direction. None of our Gods are saints. The saints are not Gods, either, but they help people realize their potential and thus come closer to God.

On a separate note, this incident has taught me how to make sure I talk about cricket, taxes and the British weather! So long!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Charity, Children and old age!

We had seen the dancing musical fountain in one of the famous Casino Hotels, Bellagio in Las Vegas and found it a wonderfully inspiring sight.

Yet, the jubilation in our hearts when we saw the tallest musical dancing fountain (I am not quite sure whether it was taller than Bellagio) next to the tallest building in the world (with scope to go up if anybody dares competing) in Dubai, was unmatched. Thanks to the traditional Bollywood music with ghungroo, dholak and bansuri, that the fountain was dancing to-Dhoom tana tan tanana dhoom tana tana tan..terana terana..kaise sss naino se nain milaoon sajna...

But everywhere in Dubai it was just like the fountains. Since the percentage of Indians and the Westerners is more than the locals, music at public places like malls, dhow cruises and fountains usually takes turns with English, Arabic and Bollywood....very heartwarming, I must say.

Back in the UK the theme of cuts to public budgets carries on. There is huge debate in the media about International Aid. Most people are aware that even after years of International Aid, no country's progress or turnaround can be attributed to the aid. It is more to do with the very fashionable- growth rate.

The broadcaster on Sky news was asking the question-"Why shouldnt India send us aid?" This was after he read out facts like- India has a growth rate close to 10%, spends billions on a space program, has a nuclear deterrant and has a 400 billion  defence budget, has more billionaires than the UK (many more starving people too, somebody pointed out), yet we send India "aid"?!

I wonder how many people do an annual budget presentation at home with comparisons year on year about deficits, outlays, spending on gadgets and clothes per person, holidays, education, charity, pensions etc. Would be interesting...and like the budget speech in parliament would never get past debate.... within the very few members of the household.

Talking about pensions, I recently met friends who are starting to worry about the cost of old age homes, rising incidence of dementia etc. This was more in context to the fact that they had no children to be there for them as advocates or financial managers.

I must say this is the first time I have heard a practical view about this. Most often we say we shouldn't have the expectation that our children will look after us in old age. But the very British friend's pragmatic views were that she wouldn't want her parents or in laws to move in with her, though, if they could live at the end of her garden, it would be handy...and therefore she was sure that if she had had kids she wouldn't expect physical care, yet she was worried that she would have nobody to speak for her when she would not be able to.

This is unfortunately a very real and ominous future ahead of us but is there any point worrying about it?....Not really! I think having children at least ensures you have no time to think about a future past school trips and "Take your daughter to work day".

Yes, I had to take my fourteen year old to work with me for a day to the hospital, where amongst other things like watching a baby's heart beat being monitored, holding babies, attending a video conference with another hospital for a multidisciplinary team meeting for cancer and sitting through a children's clinic, she also managed to see a baby being born by caesarean operation. Brave girl!

Outcome- "I want to do something interesting!" For instance? one may have said- but I said nothing. So long!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

My take on democracy

The protestors in Egypt have been shouting for freedom! They want their country to regain the lost glory, want democracy. The movement there is being looked upon with great interest by the whole world, as the revolution seems to be a by product of modern technology and communication and is in danger of replicating itself elsewhere in the non democratic Arab world.

Meanwhile the Western world is realizing its folly over numerous things like supporting corrupt allies amidst hollow cries for democracy. Today on Sky news, one commentator said- Democracy is ok for the developed world but places like Egypt, are they ready for it? It left me outraged.

So let me guess, he means- democracy is ok for the people in England who won't take to the streets even when the bankers, British Petroleum bosses and the like, liase with politicians to make public policy such, as to fill their pockets and empty ours. Democracy is fine for the developed world of broken society and frayed families, where alcoholism on the streets is threatening to derail the NHS budget, where parts of the country exist where three generations have never gone to work and live off benefits. So these people can handle democracy while Egypt can't, a vibrant populous country of people who have to work to ensure they get a meal for themselves and their families, even as they combat widespread corruption and decay in the public system.

The so called International Community has always had double standards and till date they consider themselves a league above the rest. Slowly they will prove to the world that they can't digest democracy with all its claws and open markets just means open enough to benefit them. Soon they will admit that human rights and humanitarian aid, civil liberties and self determination all have different purposes, different definitions and different paths to what is percieved by the rest of the world.

The Crown Prince of Bahrain had once said when the popular parliamentary candidates all seemed to be from fundamental Islamist factions- "We have to have the strength to accept the verdict of the people." True, you can't go back on democracy.  If people want Shariat, that is what you asked for, Mr Obama.

I remember what my friend's mum said in the 1990s, while having a go at my friend for postponing pregnancy. "Why should you have a baby? You won't have a baby, you wont go and vote...because you are too posh to have a baby or babies for that matter and too educated and busy to go and cast your vote. Hence we have ministers like Laloo Yadav, who have 9 children, amass votes from backward castes,  minorities and the like, get huge audiences in rallies for saying roads can't be like Hema Malini's cheeks....while you crib about the state of affairs in the country in your drawing room."

We had to agree and hang our heads in shame.

Democracy is a double edged sword. If most of the population in the villages gets money to spend it on alcohol and gambling, through corrupt National Rural Employment Guarantee Act schemes, the number of votes cast in favour will be large....The party which raises most funds through industrialist's monetary support will manage to get the most votes, to come to power.... to ensure large scale fertile land take over for Special Economic Zones. These are some of the various ways in which democracy works.

Yet the other pillars of democracy need to function too. Do people have to take to the streets to ensure that the Government rids itself of rampant corruption at every step, to ensure that media is unbiased and that the courts do their job?

I remember the Department of Health, Chhattisgarh gearing up for Vidhan Sabha questions. It used to be a hectic time as each question's answer was prepared by looking up various statistics and each day the minister (a dismissed Govt doctor, who decided to stand for elections and won to become the dismissing health secretary's boss) had training sessions in what to say and how.

According to some intellectuals this was the face of democracy when the whole department was on its toes making sure they did not manage to incur the oppositions's wrath. Right to information act, likewise has in many instances been an empowering tool in recent times. Laws against domestic violence against women have ensured that women keep their peace in the house by threatening a trip to the "thana".  So democracy is always better than no democracy......but it is not a cure for all ills.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Cavemen in disguise

The world has gone topsy turvy, upside down. There has been snow in Vegas, floods in California, rains and floods in Australia and we in UK, have had the coldest November in history.

Having come out of the worst weather, I dont want any surprises in the spring and summer. I like those seasons the best in UK and won't want them to break any records of any kind. Just a nice temperate climate is what would be nice. Do you think anybody up there is listening?

Well, down here people can become mighty unpleasant when the weather worsens. Just after that horrible November night when everything was covered in snow, I had to drive to the station to get to London for a course. I had a lot of trouble driving, saw a few cars up on pavements or bashed into the trees. But, I continued to drive with a cool head at 20 miles an hour, even though I was managing to stop only a good 15-30 seconds after I put all my strength on to my foot on the brake. After all this, I reached the white field which was the parking lot of the station, parked, paid for the ticket on the machine, put the ticket on display in the car and had just managed to lock the car and reach into the train when the doors closed and the departure was announced.

Yet when I came back, there was a nasty note on the windscreen saying I needed to go to a driving school! Honestly, if only I could get hold of the guy who wrote it (I am positive it must be a man, only men have the time to write notes on strangers cars!), I would give him a piece of my mind.

Obviously when I saw the note and possibly when my esteemed "windscreen note friend" saw the car, the snow had all melted, revealing clear and dark white lines demarcating parking slots! My car was parked obliquely, with one of the rear tyres slightly off the white line. Obviously it did not occur to him that I might have been parking when I was guessing where the lines were, trying to struggle in low visibility ahead and zero visibility on the road, in a hurry due to unusually slow drive in....well I have to resort to deep breathing and counting to ten whenever I recount this incident.

I wonder why it boils my blood so much. It must be to do with the constant comments one hears from brothers, husband(s), male friends and colleagues about women drivers. It also takes the form of forwarded emails on the internet or videos on Youtube, yet I will have to accept that I personally would not call myself an expert and even though driving on a nice road with good music can be enjoyable once in a while, I dont pride myself in being able to trouble shoot myself out of difficult situations.

I do get into them though, like the time I was sitting in the car in the middle of a residential area of an unknown town at 2 AM, tired out after the Diwali party in a sari with fading make up and two sleepy kids at the back, listening to the Satellite Navigation system say "You have reached your destination" with no Premier Inns in sight and with no idea about where I was. Thank God for the mobile phone!

Speaking of the stereotypes which we women have had to fight against, all our lives, one remembers the movie- Chak de India. I identified with the fighting spirit of the girls, who all had a point to prove. The spectacular success of the women athletes in Commonwealth games, the individual inspirational stories of all these women speaks a lot about how life has indeed changed for the better half in our country.

There are very few professions now where women have not entered. We have rickshaw drivers, policewomen, pilots, film directors, CEOs, Chief ministers, judges, District Magistrates, speakers and Presidents.

I was recently reading an article by a Western woman interviewing Islamic women in veils or head scarves, while trying to understand their perspective on religion and cultural practices like these. I detected a tendency by the author to romanticize the concept of "preserving yourself for your man" and glorifying "the pride in being treated like a prized possession".

I wonder what the Western civilization has achieved by liberating the women. While in India more mothers die from preventable causes like bleeding and high blood pressure, in the confidential enquiry into maternal deaths in the UK, there is a big chapter on domestic violence, homicides, suicides....

I wonder if many of us, including the western journalist doing the Islamic veil story, after having spent our lives fighting against stereotypes to be able to do this and that, are now wanting to turn the clock back. Afterall being able to drive and cook usually means double the work and responsibilty, with little time left to look beautiful and smile.

Roles are constantly changing for the man and the woman in the household, but I wonder if true natures actually change. I believe most men under their pinstriped suits and metrosexual behaviours are actually hunters by nature and instead of tiger skins in their drawing rooms, they have fancy gadgets and cars to show off their conquests. Do you remember the picture of the bearded man with an animal skin around his waist, dragging the woman by her hair? That is how a lot of men and many women would like the dynamics to be. Dont you think?