Wednesday, December 30, 2009

'Crafty' Animals

Ever since prehistoric days, man has always depicted animals in his drawings -

And now through his craft . 

Handcrafted in Kashmir, this quaint tea cozy is embroidered with wool fibers. Legend is that the first cozy was crafted of wool by a farmer's wife. When coming in from work, her husband threw his woolen cap on the table and it landed on the teapot. Much to their surprise, the cap kept the tea steaming hot for some time. 

Leather craft from Nimmalakunta, a village from Andhra Pradesh.  The craft of making leather puppets or Tolu Bommalu, which they practice, is quite an old craft.  Because of low demand for the puppets, most of craftsmen have shifted to making lampshades and other decorative artefacts.

Gujarat applique is mainly based on patchwork , has a distinctive style of its own.  Coloured and patterned fabric is finely cut in different sizes and shapes and sewn together on a plain background . The stitches in gaudy colours are not hidden and add to the beauty of the patchwork.

And the wooden animal figurines with brass inlay work.

And Madhubani paintings from Bihar. Cotton is wrapped around a bamboo stick to serve as a brush, which is dipped in colors and applied on to the fabric. The outline is done with double lines. No shading is done. The gaps between the two lines are filled with cross or straight lines.

Wrought iron figures - Bastar Tribal arts               

Papier-Mache figures
Only a few ..... the list is endless.
Pictures taken at Dili Haat, Delhi and Shilparamam, Hyderabad.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

When The Days of The Trees are Numbered

In my childhood, holiday travel was mostly by road. And all along the drive,  were trees which had numbers etched on them. I would count as we went along, looking for missing numbers. I was told that was how various government departments made sure trees were not felled by unscrupulous elements.

And to think that presently trees are being numbered in the Delhi University Campus to facilitate their cutting to make space for events in the forthcoming Commonwealth Games. While the construction of stadia is a matter of concern, the cutting of trees is not.

It is probably the sight of barren land that has awakened my love for nature. I gush with delight when I see trees, flowers, birds ….  

( pic courtesy - VP )

The Banyan Tree, that is fast disappearing,  brings back vivid memories of the pages in my science book. Illustrate the parts of a tree was an oft repeated question and we would invariably reproduce the diagram of the Banyan Tree, neatly labeled. These trees were most visible as we drove along the highway, and constantly served as a bus shelter where district buses would stop to pick up their passengers.

Remember the famous lines by Joyce Kilmer?

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

This poem, so popular was/is thought to be  simplistic and lacking in substance. 
There is even a parody by Odgen Nash "Song of the Open Road" with more than an ounce of truth

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Indeed, unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all

( replace billboard with apartments/malls for Indian scenario)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Imagine All the People Living Life in Peace – The Bahá’í Temple

Was John Lennon inspired by the Bahá’í Faith when he penned the lyrics of the song ‘Imagine’. He and the Prophet founder of the faith Bahá’u’lláh, who said “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens,” seem to have a lot in common.

I was in Delhi for a short visit and made a visit to the Bahá'í Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, better known as the "Lotus Temple" ( Kamal Mandir as the auto drivers of Delhi know it). As you approach the temple, one gets the first glimpse as the road takes a curve, and you gasp. Then it goes out of sight till you are almost there.

As you walk into their premises, every step, seems to be the ideal photo op. Cameras, mobile phones all work overtime. People who may otherwise be camera shy request you to take their picture with the temple in the background.

Constructed to resemble a lotus flower, the temple made of marble, cement, dolomite and sand stands on 26 acres of land, . The Persian architect Fariborz Sahba from Canada, created the beautiful structure composed of 27 free-standing marble clad "petals" arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides. Nine pools encompass the building and nine doors open on to a central hall.

The structure is slightly more than 40 metres tall and it took 800 engineers, technicians, workers and artisans almost ten years to complete the task. At a lecture at Yale, the architecht is reported to have said that the temple was built with primitive methods, but the dedication of the workers more than made up for the lack of technology available at that time. The doors of the temple were thrown open to the public in December 1986

As we approach the temple, we are requested to remove our footwear and maintain silence within the main inner hall. Volunteers of different nationalities guide the tourists. ‘You may sit as long as you wish. You may belong to any religion, but you are free to pray ’ . Photography is not permitted inside and therefore one could not capture the beautifully structured dome. No idols, no noise, no bells, no chants. It is so peaceful and the silence unconsciously nudges you into closing your eyes in prayer. What is more amazing is that the average Indian known for his noisy demeanour is silent without being monitored. Such is the effect of the magnificent structure .

The building uses natural light that streams through the inner folds of the petals of the temple, and the construction is based on the Mughal ventilation technique and has an amazing inflow of fresh air and therefore banishes the need for an AC – that is conspicuous by its absence.

As we walk out, we are asked if we have the time to visit the museum at the other end which houses literature of the faith and pictures of the Bahá’í places of worship in other parts of the world. It is worth a quick visit, and if you have more time, view the video that shows the construction of the temple at different stages.

I did not feel the need to be a Bahá’í to appreciate their ideology. I guess all peace loving individuals feel that way. I wish all places of worship were like the Bahá'í Mashriqu'l-Adhkar temple – clean surroundings, peaceful and quiet – conducive to meditation and prayer.

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What's In Your Garbage Bin?

Left-over food, outer leaf of a cabbage, squishy vegetables, rancid fries……. you may not give it too much of thought, after all it is not everyday that you discard food, but then by oversight you missed that pack tucked away in the vegetable tray. You went out for dinner last night and what do you do with that little food from the previous meal. Many other plausible reasons. All valid. Or so you think. But just consider some thousands of families doing the same, and the food that is collectively going waste. That  really is food for thought.

Tristam Stuart is a freegan - living off food thrown in the trash can, and not because he cannot afford it, but to prove to the world that food fit for consumption is being thrown away in UK.  He is used to dining well from the food that supermarkets throw out. And the food he salvages is not dirty and inedible.  Each year 484 million unopened yoghurts;1.6 billion untouched apples; bananas worth £370 million; 2.6 billion slices of bread are junked.

In his book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal , he brings all this to light . He is appalled at the food going waste. 

 Consider these startling facts:

Supermarkets in the UK chuck out 1.6 million tonnes of food a year due to overstocking. They don’t see gaps in shelves as good business so often order more than they need.

Marks and Spencer requires its sandwich suppliers to get rid of the crusts and the first slices at each end of each loaf that they use. These four slices from each loaf amounts to one factory throwing out 13000 slices of fresh bread everyday.

A farmer supplying spinach to a supermarket had to waste a whole crop because blades of grass were found between the growing spinach.

Asda, the British supermarket chain owned by WalMart wastes 20-30% of carrots because they’re not perfectly straight. A British wholesaler had to throw away 5000 kiwi fruit away because they were each 4g below the EU minimum of 62g. last year.

The European Union’s bizarre legislation on the cosmetic quality of fruit and vegetables sold throughout the EU compounds the problem. For instance Class I cucumbers must "be reasonably well shaped and practically straight " - with measurements specified in most cases. Some of these laws were changed in November this year, but there are still 26 categories, including apples, strawberries, pears and kiwi fruit where this legislation still applies.

All fresh produce has a sell by date and anything close to that is dumped by major supermarkets.The sell by food label has nothing to do with food safety. So,effectively the food is not spoilt. This food goes into landfills so that gases like methane are not released into the environment! In places like Korea and Taiwan such food goes as pig feed, while in Europe, the pigs are fed with expensive feed that the farmer in such hardtimes can ill afford!

The FAO predicts that the number of people (especially in developing countries ) without enough to eat will exceed 1 billion in 2009. In India – millions of tonnes of vegetables are lost annually due to a poor supply chain apart from other reasons that are not likely to be under our control.

We can do our bit to control the food that we throw away.  Over-ripe fruits and vegetables can be converted into smoothies, pies, desserts, soups and even ice creams. Left over rice can be deliciously turned into a nicely seasoned product. As long as the food is edible and without compromising on food safety, there can always be way to convert the product into something edible. 
I have always admired the lovely looking fruits and vegetables that one finds stocked in super markets abroad. But now, I think I know better.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Woman Power

Margaret Thatcher is reported to have said – If you want anything said, ask a man; if you want anything done, ask a woman.

Arvind Singhal in his article writes that India has after China, the second largest number of women in the workforce. An estimated 480 million jobs are being performed by women. Till recently, most of these jobs were largely relating to physical, menial labour. And rather than helping in the empowerment of women, added to their exploitation since they not only had to be a wife and mother and homemaker, but also a secondary wage earner having little or no control on utilisation of what they earned through their hard labour. A silent revolution has since begun.

So different from what it was in the late ‘60s. My mother wrote to my grandfather. I have an offer to work in a bank. The children are grown up and I have some time to spare. I am contemplating taking up the job. Her father, gently admonished her, your husband is a senior government officer, what will people think? That he is not earning enough to keep you and the children happy? ( My father’s salary to be honest, was really a pittance as were the salaries of that time). Is that the impression you want to convey? I do not think you are doing the right thing. And heeding his advice, my mother never took up the job.

By the time I grew up, things had begun to change. Girls were educated, and many went ahead to do their post graduation too. For few, it was to bide time till their parents found a suitable partner. Some of us were lucky, we were allowed to work. There were not many opportunities, and it was not easy,

Now, it is a different scene altogether. There are an equal number of women working in any given organisation. Not just soft skills. They have entered areas that were once exclusively a man’s domain . The first woman on the shop floor is reported to be Sudha Murthy ( wife of Infosys Technologies founder Narayan Murthy). In 1974, she was upset when an advertisement for engineers in Telco ( now Tata Motors) specifically barred women from the post. She sent off a letter in protest to J.R.D Tata, and with due credit to the great man, she soon received a call for an interview and thus became the first woman engineer in their organisation. Women have since proved they can get out of their offices, work at project sites, get their hands dirty and meet deadlines with ease. Late hours have not deterred their enthusiasm either. And their multi tasking abilities ( hitherto proved at home ) stand in good stead along with their inter personal skills.

A surge of women working in white collar jobs will have a great impact on a number of factors in the coming years especially in urban India. An increase in dual income households. Women with lesser time to devote to the home. An increase in demand for ready-to-eat meals, of third parties who can take up routine housekeeping roles, a requirement for nannies, cooks, for online shopping and home delivered goods. Products targeting women – like formal wear, financial services, grooming centres will be sure to mushroom. That would mean no waiting at the ‘chakki’ centre to have whole wheat ground to flour, no pulses to be soaked for the next day’s breakfast, no tamarind to be soaked, no nappies to be washed, no peas to be shelled, no queuing up outside movie theatres on weekends, thanks to a host of conveniences that were unavailable to us few years ago.

With more freedom and confidence, women will probably look at their role in the home differently. As it is ‘marriageable age’ has undergone a huge change, a few grandmothers themselves ( having probably been home bound at a very tender age and living their dreams through their granddaughters) recommend that the children work and attain some level of financial independence before they get married. How often we hear people say, she is just 22, let her work and enjoy life , why burden her with responsibilities, a husband and children? Which may be a good sign but consider the impact it will have – late marriages, fewer children. The dynamics of the family in India will definitely undergoing a change. How well, we adapt to the changes and yet not let go of our family values will remain to be seen.

I am sure it affects every family. My elder one is married, but says babies can wait. The younger one who has just begun her career, says marriage can wait. I have no problems either. But there are issues. I worry when the younger one is still at work late in the night. And I am getting older too. Would I have the same energy to step into the role of a grandmother with ease many years hence? Can the nanny substitute the grandparent? We’ll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How Odd.

Odd jobs -described as any of various non specialised, unrelated jobs, usually domestic, unskilled or menial.

All of us do odd jobs. And sometimes for others too. I am no different. And I would not have given it a second thought had it not been for my sis in law, who feels my services have been used for the oddest of odd jobs by family and friends. She is guilty too, but appreciative. So here I was  being requested to make slides for a presentation , copy editing, proofreading, booking air tickets,train tickets, hotel accommodation, movie tickets and even recently keeping a SIM card active.

I should have realised the enormity of the situation earlier. It only slowly started to dawn on me when I was being hounded by a credit card customer service executive. I said I did not need an extra credit card. She emphatically said I did, stating that there would be no transaction fee while booking online train tickets with this particular card. I said all the more reason, since I did not need one of those for sure. ‘But Ma’am, she continued, you have booked tickets worth 24000 Rupees last year!’ Whaaaat!!!! It was then that I realised the late night, last minute calls – Aunty can you please book my ticket – from my daughter’s law school friends, were what made me a potential target for the credit card company.

My daughter graduated this year, and I hoped that would mean the end of  online bookings, much to the disappointment of the executive. And to my relief. But that also was short lived. I promptly got a call from a distant land requesting me to book train tickets for the coming month.
Of course, I have lost money too. Maybe a small price to pay for the huge goodwill generated. I hope so, I mean about the goodwill. I have not been the recipient of many thank you speeches.

And well yesterday, I was in for a big surprise. I received an sms from the younger one, who is now working and away from home. Tickets booked, coming home for New Year. Tickets booked? And that too without my services!

I said– you seem to have changed your travel agent
And she promptly replies – I can afford to!

(Image -

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Being Professional - A book review

I read this book - The Professional - by Subroto Bagchi.  This is not like one of the Who moved my Cheese.. kind of books.  Not as well written in my opinion, but makes up for it, in that it has a lot to offer for someone who hopes to be a good professional.

He does not discriminate between jobs. This is not just for the managerial cadre.  (I have never understood the term 'professional courses' in our country - does that mean, all those who are not engineers, doctors, lawyers are not professionals? ) .  All of us, whatever our jobs may be, according to the author, are professionals - and ultimately he says being a professional is a matter of personal choice, and the values we opt to live by.

Integrity is important, and he laments that this  quality is very poorly understood.  Even little things like misusing office stationery, long phone calls are all that one should consciously not be doing.  He also feels that one has to look beyond money, while base comforts are necessary, apart from that, the quest for material success erodes self worth.  As you advance in  your profession, he adds one should keep touch with the basics even as you start delegating to others, otherwise he warns, decay sets in.

Towards the end he lists out what being unprofessional is - missing deadlines, not respecting privacy of information, passing on the blame, mindless job hopping ....among others.

He writes, the day you feel empty, shift attention from yourself to others - go spend time time with those who have just joined the organisation, help an intern with his work, take on pro-bono work with an industry association - and - see how the pitcher of emptiness begins to fill again.

There is a nice bit of advice for the mid-career professional, for those who want to make a difference to society. Do small things on a sustained basis he says, do things for your profession; do not worry about changing the world.

Like I said, this may not be the best book, even though he has quoted a few incidents to illustrate various aspects, some of which I thought were unnecessary, it can even drag at parts, but this is writing that are not just words meant to impress.  It is a sincere narration of what he truly believes are values one should possess to be a good professional. A book that is easy to relate to.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Indian Tribal Art...

We discovered this store of tribal arts. When we first went past the dimly lit store, we almost didn't give it a second glance. But sensing a potential customer the lights came on, the air conditioners hurriedly pressed into operation. And lo! before us were shelves of rather messy, but beautiful tribal art pieces. At prices that were so reasonable .

What made shopping there even more enjoyable was the enthusiastic sales girl, who took delight in showing us around. Art pieces from all over India. This has now become our one stop shop for gifts.

Since then, I have been wondering how long these arts will survive. And what about the tribes?
For instance, the lambadas. I remember seeing so many of them in my childhood. They were in our city in such large numbers. They would set up home in any vacant land. But I guess as open spaces vanished, along with them the lambadas did too. I did not realise that their numbers had dwindled and they were no longer around , until I spotted one of them recently

I wonder how many of the tribe remain - or have they joined the mainstream?

There are mixed opinions on welfare programmes for the tribal. In case of the Jarawa tribes of the Andamans, there was a huge hue and cry that they had become objects of tourist curiosity and that their territory should be kept out of bounds to the civilians. When they are so close to civilisation, is it right to insist that they go back to their restricted area?
There are uncontacted tribes in the world, and in their case, it may seem justified to leave them alone. But what of those who are aware of the changing world around them?
And, selfishly, what of these wonderful arts? With rehabilitation programmes, would these be lost ?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The NRI and the Nobel Prize

Every time a NRI gets some recognition, the media goes berserk. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He left India when he was 19. The question some ask is : could he have won the Nobel Prize if he had continued to live in India? Good question.

My first job right after college was at a premier research institution. I was on cloud nine. I was in awe of the place, since I had used their library for reference work for my thesis . And to think I had landed a job there, that too my first job, straight after college.

I could walk in without being questioned. I did not have to sign the visitors book. I had to don a white coat and my name came up on the employee board right up at the entrance. It was a great feeling. The place was like I imagined it to be. The large well designed laboratories, the best equipment, the latest journals. The right atmosphere for anyone with a scientific bent of mind. Or so I thought.

The first thing that set off the disillusionment was the caste politics that existed. You would think science and religion did not go together. I was wrong.

Once a month, presentations were made of the latest research on various topics. I found the occasion seemed more for the staff to catch up on a nap. And for the young enthusiastic newcomers like myself, it was quite an effort to present a paper to a sleeping audience, that woke up just in time to ask a few questions.

There were also meetings with the director, where every group had to discuss their ongoing projects. This was another sham. The seniors presented the plan of work. Almost every project was ripped apart, and members told in no uncertain terms that the work carried out was insignificant. In some cases modifications were suggested. I was impressed. After all, one needed inputs from others.

When the group met next with the director, I realised to my shock that the projects discussed at the previous meeting continued as before. This happened meeting after meeting. And all that would come out of these meaningless projects were several papers that were sent off to journals. A lot of them would be rejected, but here the perseverance of the staff member paid off. The paper that came back would be sent to another journal, till it was finally accepted for publication.

It was not as if facilities were not available. They were the best, the brains were the best too, but the will to do something worthwhile was missing. The sub standard work that was carried out resulted in publishing of research papers that were essentially for furthering their career.

I worked at the research institute for over 2 years before I left. Long enough to be totally disillusioned. This was in the '80s. I am hoping the situation is different now. Only then can we hope to have a resident Indian who can bring laurels to the country.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Jaws - 3

So, how much land does a man need? It brings to mind the story that was in my school book (many,many years ago for sure) – the story by Leo Tolstoy – How much land does a man need? A story which has remained etched in my mind.

In brief, Pahom a peasant is deep into debts. Some time later, he comes in possession of a small piece of land, and is able to pay off his debts and lead a comfortable life. But as is human nature, he gets greedy for more, stating "if I had plenty of land, I shouldn't fear the Devil himself!" In his quest for more land he is given a strange offer, where for a thousand roubles he can get as much land as he can cover in a day. The condition being, he marks his route as he sets out, but he has to return to the starting point by sunset. In his greed he covers a very large area, and when he realises the sun is setting, he has to run back. The crowd that has gathered cheers him on, and he finally manages to complete his task, but collapses as he does so. The crowd digs a grave for him of six feet in length. Six feet, ironically is how the story ends and is the answer to the question of how much land does a man need!

Morbid, but food for thought.
It is not that man does not have a need for property. He does. A roof over one’s head is definitely what one should strive for. But how?

We had the worst flood in recent history, and it was not just nature’s fury that was to blame. If it were not for land encroachments and indifference of officials some precious lives may have been saved, loss of property minimised.

Land sharks, it appears, has the backing of the underworld, the politicians, the MNCs.

In their greed, land meant for agriculture has been bought at throwaway prices for commercial purposes. Lake beds have been gobbled up . The dead are not spared either. Burial grounds that were probably on the outskirts when they were first earmarked for the purpose, are now large centrally located spaces , attracting the attention of unscrupulous elements. .

Illegal constructions come up or deviations from the original plan made with the connivance of the powers that be. Instead of punishing the errant builders, the government in AP has ordered those who have moved into these buildings to get the plan regularised for a fee. Thus penalising the innocent, and allowing the wrongdoers to go scot free.

Land grab occurs in the name of God too. Places of worship sprout overnight. These are novel methods by which public land is being seized . Some of them right in the middle of the road causing traffic snarls .

The statistics are startling. No single community can be blamed. The 2001 Census of India threw up numbers that are mind boggling. There were 2.4 million places of worship in the country (exceeding the number of schools, at 2.1 million) and most of them unauthorised. And therefore the Supreme Court’s interim order banning the construction of any temple, church, gurudwara, or mosque on any roadside or other public space comes as a relief. As the editorial in The Hindu states, banning fresh construction is the easy part, The real challenge is to deal with existing illegal places of worship, the number is anyone’s guess. Religion being a sensitive issue, it remains to be seen how the respective states act upon this order.

Jaws 3 seems more frightening than the prequel.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Why Don't People Laugh Anymore?

A lot has been said about Shashi Tharoor and his tweet (for the story click here). If the folks in power did not find it funny, the least they could have done was keep silent instead of branding Tharoor as insensitive. I am sure he had no intention to hurt anyone. It was a spontaneous reply to a question. I personally found it funny, though I do think he should tweet less and work more.

A child they say laughs around 300 times a day. As he grows to an adult he laughs less, as few as 15 times a day. The Indian politician, not only stops laughing but loses his sense of humour.

I think more of our politicians could do with some laughter and cheer. It is ironical that Tharoor seems to have forgotten his earlier writings. Much before he joined the political scene, he wrote in The Hindu ( 2001), that as far as political humour is concerned, our national cupboard is bare. The Indian nationalist leaders and the politicians, he said, are a humourless lot; and if the incidence of wit and humor in national politics is a fair indication of the health of a democracy, India could use a good laugh.

Well, not everyone can be an Al Gore. He lost a closely fought election and one would think he would be very bitter person. But the former presidential candidate for a long time began his speeches with “Hello, my name is Al Gore, and I used to be the next president of the United States.” And it won him many admirers.

Humour, especially in public life or in general can help defuse a tense situation. One can even play safe by allowing the joke to be targeted at themselves, to ensure none are offended. Self-deprecation has its advantages. Psychologist Michael Cunningham says "Self-effacing humor isn't threatening because it points out that a someone is confident enough to risk looking silly." But a word of caution - Don’t poke fun at yourself simply so someone else defends the opposite. This will appear manipulative and narcissistic.

Laughter they say is good for health, and triggers release of endorphins, the natural painkillers and induces a sense of well being. As Grouch Marx is reported to have said ...yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it - cartoon source

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Meteorite Impact ?

This could easily pass off as one.

The photograph appeared in the Times of India, with the caption - Do potholes have to be this big to catch the officials attention?

Thankfully, it was noticed during the day and before the whole portion caved in. Otherwise one shudders to think of the casualties. The road is a major link between the twin cities and also leads to a spot where city dwellers like to relax in the evenings.

Potholes are not restricted to our city or our part of the world. It appears to be a major problem even in the West. But the official apathy here is unequalled. We could even win a few awards.

Apparently, Fidel Castro in 1995, proclaimed he ''would not vote for the New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, not just because he didn't invite him to dinner, but because on his way into town from the airport there were such enormous potholes.'' Potholes seem to be a problem even now, but one can appeal for action. If a vehicle is damaged by a pothole, a claim can be filed with the city of New York . New York State Trial Lawyers Association have also formed the Big Apple Pothole Protective Committee.

It will be ages before we have some helplines like these. The city municipality website was launched with fanfare. It gave us some hope that there was someone you could turn to for assistance. Initially, I must admit, there was some response. It is not easy to find out which ward, circle, zone you belong to and then find out which of the departments to direct the complaint. That is a huge effort by itself. But of late, I wonder if the officials log in to check the grievances at all. The status of the complaint remains unchanged. And by then, we learn to accept and live with the situation. The tolerant nation that we are!

The millions that are lost in damage to health - the effect is enormous on the back and neck - and vehicles are huge. Are any statistics at all? Let us hope the size of this particular pothole would have at least woken up some official to take action.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Man's Best Friend

For all dog lovers and owners there is a gadget that has been launched in the market. Bowlingual, a translator gadget released by Japanese toymaker Takara Tomy, can turn barks into words. You may indeed find out what your dog thinks of you!!

Tomy says there is a scientifically developed system that recognises the canine vocalisations. Your dog might be telling you that he likes you, he is happy or just that he does not want to eat the **##** food that you serve him every day. Now, how does that make him different from anyone else in the house?

I do not own a dog, but according to me what makes a dog a perfect companion is his inability to converse and express his opinion. I'd rather have him curl up at my feet or wag its tail and let me interpret his actions.

Fortunately, the Bowlingual translation is in Japanese and you may need another translator to understand what your dog is actually trying to tell you. So, it may not be economical to invest in one right now.

And if at some point they can translate the barks to a written word, there may be a situation when the old adage 'On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog' made popular by this Pete Steiner cartoon, may indeed come true -

P.S: I completed two years of blogging on Sepember 10.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Chovy ?

A friend sent his car to the garage. A car had rammed into his Chevrolet. It came back with all dents and scratches set right. And a new name!

( Picture courtesy - my brother VP who noticed it! )

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Quick Brown Fox….

At one time offices resounded with the clicking of the keys of typewriters and the pleasant sound of the bell as the typewriter carriage approached the end of the paper. Not any more, with computers replacing almost all of them in offices. At least, it has in ours.

As students, our projects and assignments had to be neatly typed before submission . And most trooped in to typewriting institutes to seek the services of a typist. I was lucky, since my grandfather’s typewriter - the Underwood Champion - was available at home and weeks of practice every summer had ensured that I had not totally forgotten how to type. To save on money, I painstakingly typed the first draft of my thesis ( for my postgraduate requirement). It was an effort considering that those days we had no whitener solution to mask the errors. All we had was a typewriter eraser that was made with hard rubber, that invariably smudged the paper. And one had to master the art of typing with just the right amount of pressure, so as not to puncture a hole in the paper. Well, when I went to my advisor with the draft, she had one look at it and asked me to change the typist!

I continued to use the typewriter for many years ( and had subsequently improved my typing skills!) till a problem cropped up with the space bar of the machine. And the guy who came in to repair the more recent typewriters ( this is about 15 years ago) had no clue on how to set it right. And there it was laid to rest…. Until I read this blog of note.

Homes with a typewriter , almost always had a Pitman manual to help you learn to use one. There was even an illustration in the first few pages to show how to be seated while typing. Feet together, back erect, placement of fingers on the keyboard and so on...

Those who did not own a typewriter had to go to the institute, and there was one in almost every locality, to learn. And it was important since typing was at one time considered an added qualification for any job!

Who ever imagined that one day the machine would be obsolete and taken over by the computer. I was in for a surprise when I tried to date my typewriter. I have not really succeeded in doing so, but it seems to have been introduced in the 1930s.

I gather that the typewriter is made of 1800 movable parts! And that factories that made typewriters used the same equipment and methods as factories that made guns, and so, when US entered the Second World War, most of the manufacturers changed to making rifle barrels as there was more need for arms.

The first typewriter was made commercially by Remington & Sons in 1873. And 550 were made in the first year. Initially people did not think that it would replace the written word, but it did. And its introduction contributed greatly to the emancipation of women. They entered the work force in great numbers.

There are now only two companies that manufacture typewriters and the largest manufacturer is Godrej and Boyce in Mumbai, India, who still make at least 12,000 units each year (the other company being Olympia). A major number is exported to countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Angola, Mozambique, Morrocco, and the UAE . The remaining is sold in India in 15 Indian languages The company expects the demand to last only for another 3-5 years before they fade into history .

The typewriter may disappear, but the QWERTY keyboard has remained the universal keyboard right from the experimental machines to the present day computers. Nobody really knows why the letters were arranged in this manner. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog – is the panagram ( that contains all the 26 letters of the alphabet) used to test the typewriter and computer keyboard

So, what does one do with their old typewriters. Suddenly, it appears that they have become valuable and are sold on eBay. And what about the one I own? Well, it shall remain with me for a long, long time. For all the memories associated with it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chowmahalla Palace

It was like rediscovering my city as I took my brother and his family around the various touristy sites. I had heard that the Chowmahalla Palace was open to public , but then this was a place that had gone unnoticed the many times I had gone past it on the way to a friend's place in the old city. Of course, one had no inkling of what lay beyond the tall walls of the palace.

Rather reluctantly and hoping not to be disappointed we made our way to the Palace. And what we saw was amazing.

The Chowmahalla Palace, built over 200 years ago was the seat of the Asaf Jahi dynasty where the Nizams entertained their official guests and royal visitors. Chowmahalla as the name indicates comprises of four palaces and is supposedly a replica of the Shah of Iran's palace in Teheran. Of the 45 acres on which the Palace was originally built, only 12 acres remain.

The Shishe-Alat ,which was once used as guest rooms for officials accompanying visiting dignitaries . 'Shishe' meaning mirror image of the Bara Imam - a long corridor of rooms on the east side that housed the administrative wing .

The Khilwat, the grand Durbar Hall with a distinct Persian influence . The beautiful belgian chandeliers take your breath away. The hall has a pure marble platform on which the Takht-e-Nishan or the royal seat was laid

The ornate ceiling:

The clock above the main gate to Chowmahalla Palace is the Khilwat Clock. It has been kept ticking away mainly due to the efforts of a family of clock repairers that wind the mechanical clock every week .

The lovely windows from the exterior.

A view through the window

The Mehtab Mahal

I seem to have got carried away. And these are just few of the pictures that were taken. One could spend the whole day just admiring the architecture, the carved furniture, the lovely chandeliers, the vintage cars, and all that is synonymous with royalty.

The castles of Scotland can wait a while, let me first discover the beautiful palaces in my neighbourhood.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What Do I Get?

I cannot remember if I ever asked my parents that! When we were growing up, there were rules and duties that we had to adhere to or were assigned and it had to be done. And nothing was ever promised in return. Nor did we expect it.

It seems to be a different game altogether now. Tell a child to do something and often enough , the child asks ‘so what do I get?’ If ever we had done that, I am sure it would have been a sound spanking.

But I guess one has to change, this is a world that moves on incentives, perks and rewards.

And therefore this column by Gouri Dange was interesting. It was about the distinction between bribing or offering incentives to a child. Ms Dange says there is a very thin line between the two and she cites an example from the adult world.

An organisation may offer an incentive for every job that is completed well and on time. And this serves as a motivation to work and finish by the given deadline. If the organisation, on completion of the project, sends a special box of sweets or takes the employees out for a meal that is a reward. If on the other hand, the employee will undertake the job only after a payment is made, then that would be a bribe.

And the difference essentially is that an incentive and reward is made when the work is completed whereas in the case of the bribe, the work does not get initiated unless the bribe is made.

And she therefore counsels that when bringing up a child, the incentive and reward can be encouraged, but bribing the child to study, eat, play or behave is like being held to ransom where nothing will move without the ‘bribe’. And she concludes that children of parents who bribe have never been taught the intrinsic value of doing something, whereas those who receive an incentive or reward realise that some jobs need to be done even if they are not fun, and that makes the parents happy to give him a reward.

But, I am not totally convinced that it is essential to give children incentives and rewards all the time. Especially when they are young. The corporate world is a different situation altogether. But a word of appreciation should serve as motivation enough for a child without him/her having to expect something for every job done. Some activities should never, in the first place, be considered a 'job' like behaving well, cleaning up their room, completing the homework. We grew up fine without these rewards and that is still the better way of bringing up children.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Magnificent Golconda Fort

I love forts. I may not dwell too much into their history, but am amazed by the engineering skills of the ancient times, all without mechanical aids that are used in modern day construction. And to think they have withstood battles, foreign invasions and natural calamities are a marvel.

The ardous climb

View from the top

The fort wall

The Golconda fort was built in the 13th century. The perimeter of the fort is about 7 miles. It has 87 semi circular bastions. Like most forts in India, it a huge gate which has sharp iron knobs to protect from attack of elephants. The center porch was acoustically designed, and the sounds from here could be heard at the centre point at the top of the fort, and the arrival of any visitor would be immediately conveyed in this manner. The fort houses arms depot, the baths, barracks, watering canals, the stables and reservoirs ( these were constructed at different levels and the irrigation systems at the fort were considered extremely superior). The general assembly or the Balahisar is located at the summit of the fort, which is 400 ft above the sea level.

The fort is invariably on the itinerary of any visitor to our city. But with bad roads and terrible traffic, the thought of visiting the fort is a nightmare. To avoid these hardships, guests would be generally put on the sight-seeing bus . But when my brother who was here on a holiday from the U S of A with his family expressed a desire to see the fort, I decided to take them there. And it was well worth the effort, as always.
The path to the fort has encroachments, in fact, the shops and houses led almost to the entrance of the fort, and a golf course that is coming in the vicinity is a major threat to the lovely structure. One must compliment the archaeological department for keeping the place 'fairly' clean. And to allow cameras to be taken in without a fee.
However, signs like this cause some amusement.

And one wonders if this signboard (below),considering the condition of the board, is as ancient as the fort itself.

One would wish there were more descriptions of the various structures and direction boards to help you along. But these cannot detract from the magnificence of the structure.

If only the locals would appreciate the beauty of the monument and help preserve the site, our city would truly have come a long way.

Check out this link -
- my post on Golconda Fort was accepted for the Carnival of Cities.

Friday, July 31, 2009

So, Where are We Heading?

I live in what was once a nice quaint place known for its ‘nawabi culture' . People were polite and courteous. And unlike a bustling metropolis like Bombay ( as it was known then) our small city had a laid-back attitude where life was slow-paced and considered an ideal place to retire. But, now, that is debatable.

It could have been the migration of people from other areas. We suddenly had a new set of inhabitants who were aggressive and brash. And in no time, it seemed, the city embraced not just the people, but their habits as well. And now, every rule is broken with utter disregard, the courteous nature has disappeared, the thugs – it could be the locality hooligan, the roadside ruffian or the political heavyweight - but they are all there throwing their weight around.

Traffic rules are no longer observed. People speed recklessly, go through the red signal at intersections, drive on the wrong side of the street. Construction workers dump their rubble, bricks, cement on the road. Litter is strewn on the streets. As a conscientious citizen if you as much as stop and question any of them, they are quick to retaliate.

Where are we heading?

Ulrich of the U of Texas, states that that small acts of disrespect and lawlessness are the kind of behavior that could easily be reformed. Superficially it may appear to be a minor infraction but is actually a small act of anarchy. Even a traffic violation is lawless in the sense that it is carried out in defiance of the law. It entails an attitude towards the rules of society not merely the legal rules but also the lesser guidelines that have been tacitly established by society to enable us all to live in close proximity without hostility . The lawless are openly scornful of these rules, and when they act according to their inclinations, they attack, even if inadvertently, the very fabric of our civilization.

It thus seems that lawlessness spreads via small acts and it may be more important to tackle these than to concentrate only on the seemingly big problems.

It is this very concept that is the focus of the Broken Window Theory by George L. Kelling and Catherine Coles . A successful strategy for preventing vandalism, they say is to fix the problems when they are small. Repairing broken windows in a building within a short time, will reduce the risk of vandals breaking more windows and doing more damage. By cleaning up the sidewalk every day, the tendency for litter not to accumulate is lessened. Problems thus do not escalate and the neighborhood is more likely to have respectable inhabitants.

Unfortunately, not much is being done in this direction and at times it seems that this state of lawlessness has lead to a situation where perpetrators of petty crimes are viewed with sympathy. A news report appeared in the papers last week. A fatal accident occurred in our neighbourhood. The victims were on a two wheeler that was moving on the wrong side of a one way street when they were struck down by a vehicle . The report stated that a case was registered against the driver of the vehicle that knocked down the persons on the two wheeler for reckless and negligent driving. It was regrettable that lives were lost, but strange that action was being taken against a person who unfortunately was involved in an accident that was not his doing. And he was not breaking any law!

BN Harish, an advocate in Chennai writing in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks also stresses on this topic. He says, we seem to be heading into a state of lawlessness, not just that of the external terrorist attacks , but that of lawlessness of our own making. If our governing institutions are not used to, or know how to carry out their duties properly on a day-to-day basis in times of calm and peace, is it surprising that they are found wanting in times of crisis? Law enforcement cannot make a distinction between 'our' goons and 'their' goons. It has to make a distinction between goons and law abiding citizens. We need to start respecting the law and internalise the integrity needed for the governance for this country.

And if no corrective steps are taken now, we will be at a point of no return.
So, where are we are heading?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Weaving Magic - A Visit to Pochampally

Pochampally is a little village in Andhra Pradesh which is famous for the Ikkat fabric - a tie and dye weave. I tagged along with a niece as she took her young daughters on an educational tour. And the magic came alive.

The weaving is done by the villagers in their homes. The homes are kept open and one can walk in and watch them weaving. They are used to tourists and carry on with their work. Some of them are communicative and answer your questions, while some just do not want to be disturbed, but at the same time allow you to wander around .

These are some of the pictures taken in different homes, and most of the steps in the weaving process have been captured.
yarn being wound from hank to bobbin

Weft on the tie-dye frame where the design is marked with charcoal . Designs are generally worked out on graph paper. The areas where the original colour is to be retained is wrapped with water repellent material like the inner tubes of a bicycle which is cut into strips. This has to be done with great care for the design to be achieved.

After wrapping, the threads are dyed. Above the threads are ready for the dyeing process

Dyeing of thread in progress
.....and then hung to dry. According to the design the yarn is dyed in different colour as many times as required. After which the tubings (ties) are removed to expose the parts that are left undyed.

The tie-dyed yarn is placed on the frame for rewinding...

The yarn is then wound again. The warp is placed on the loom and the weft is placed on the shuttle . And the weaving commences...the pit loom

One came back from the village in awe of the effort of the weavers. A sari is ready after 5-7 days of continuous and precise weaving.

I have always appreciated handloom fabrics and they form a major part of my wardrobe. And hope in my own way I have contributed to keeping the handloom industry alive.

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