Friday, December 17, 2010

The Root Cause

It has been a family outing. To the dentist. I would like to blame it on the genes. At least that is what the last dentist I visited told me, probably to make me feel I was not wholly responsible for the condition of my teeth.

They say all our problems started once we evolved to standing on our own two feet! And then discarding the neem twig to adapt to the modern 360 degree angled toothbrush, with ultra designed bristles, curved handle, cheek and tongue cleaners and the different flavoured mouthwashes. The ‘get close’ has only been with the dentist.

I get one of the best smiles from the dentist. And I must admit he has a good set. It does instill confidence. I remember a visit to a dermatologist who had bad skin, and we discarded the prescription she gave us.

This guy is also suave and sophisticated. Just the right age. Not too young, to make us feel like guinea pigs, nor too old to wonder about the steadiness of his hand. I have been clinic hopping the past few years, and very critical of the guys who peer into my mouth. There are some who do not wear a mask or gloves. I mean if they do not care about their health safety , they probably care even less for ours.

The clinic is neat and clean. Not even the faint sign of dust on his shelves. The spouse is also a dentist. And you have posters of how good teeth should look. This also for me is a plus factor. I hate sitting in the waiting room looking at framed pictures of ugly stained and broken teeth and bleeding gums.

His chairs are comfortable too. If they were not so huge and ugly, they would make ideal ones for home. Adjustable to different levels, the little side tray for small eats and a beverage, the adjustable reading light…. I guess I had time to take it all in after the anaesthesia set in.

I did panic a little though. When he said, lift your left hand if you want me to stop. I have this problem. It takes me a while to figure out left from right. A difficulty I face even while I give directions. I quickly settle that issue and keep my left hand on top.

The dental procedures so far have been painless, marring some slight discomfort. Far different from the visits to the dentists in the past. And they all of course come for a price.

I would have to be taking my younger one when she comes home this month end. Her stay is short. The doctor tells me to bring her in as soon as she comes. She might need repeated visits, he says, you never know. But I say, you must be closed for Christmas. He says ‘no’. But she may be tired the day she arrives. He assures me he is working on Sundays too. Whaaat?

I feel a little sorry for him. I mean he is making money. My contribution to his wealth has been substantial. He must be laughing his way to the bank. But no holidays? I should try and peer into his garage the next time and see if he has a swank new car parked in there.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Motivation Factor

I was reading an article about motivation for employees, and was reminded of the carrot on the stick story. I also remember reading about the carrot and the stick . When you say carrot on a stick, it is likely to mean an incentive, as it was supposedly dangled in front of a lazy donkey. The other carrot and stick approach was used by the British when they finally got hold of Quebec . They knew they were outnumbered by the Canadians but had to be careful about how they had to keep them in control, yet keep them without rebelling while still enforcing the law.

Either way, the carrot and stick refers to achieving the goal with one of them - the reward or the threat.

There are those who look at it philosophically too. How with every step one took towards the carrot, the carrot moves forward too! To say, that with each step, the destination moves ahead and so on…
The stick remains the same. As punishment. The carrot could be a motivation, a reward, a bribe, a perk… and it starts early in life. Even though Dr Spock was very critical about using a reward in enforcing discipline, at some point in time, every parent would have tried the reward approach. You do this, I will give you that…. And tried to pass it off as motivation rather than a bribe.

As, I said the whole thing started when I read this article – For a Thin Employee, a Fat Bonus. It appears there are only two things that keep the human race going. One is getting rich and the other, the obsession with getting thin. And employers are aware that healthy employees can mean only good things for the organisation. They tried providing a healthy environment. A good gym. Flexible work hours to get you to use the gym and so on. I guess it did not always work.  You can take the horse to the water....

A survey found that it is more likely that an employee will join lifestyle management programs when offered some incentive.  And soon the incentive programme evolved.

GE offers employees money to quit smoking.

IBM employees who participate in wellness programs get cash rebates.

And so, corporates gained more productive employees and lower health care costs..

It’s not just these big companies. Some countries include this approach in their health programmes.

Countries like Mexico, Nicaragua, Jamaica offer incentives for parents bringing their children for vaccinations.

In Scotland, cash for groceries is offered to those who quit smoking

In Tanzania, a World Bank sponsored programme pays young men and women $45 for every negative test for a sexually transmitted  disease

Women belonging to low income group in Minnesota receive a $10 benefit for undergoing a mammogram

A non profit organisation in the US pays teenagers to not get pregnant and to attend school. The money is kept aside for college enrolment.

Well? Some argue that incentives should not be used to induce people to move to a healthy lifestyle. Others feel, this at least gets them started. Some may not feel the benefits of a health programme immediately and may need some motivation to start off.

And all for a healthy cause, it couldn’t be better! And whoever dangles that carrot in front of the stick, would not do it if they did not stand to benefit. Right?  And what about those who do not have these generous employers. I guess one can indulge in some self motivation. Nothing can be more self -rewarding.
Cartoon source -

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It's Official

Educational trips that we took when we were in school were not all about fun and enjoyment. We were given an orientation of the site we were to visit. And continuous inputs as we were taken around the place. Assignments to be completed on our return. And of course, we paid for our trips. At least our parents did.

Our city has a Mayor. It appears that some of the other cities in India have one too. Does anyone know what their powers are? And what they actually do? Besides going on jaunts abroad? Our mayor went on one such tour. She came back and said she wanted to pull down all the hoardings. Which is probably a good thing. But that was the only press note that appeared in the newspapers. Was that the only thing the mayor learnt on her trip abroad?

Isn’t it time of our officials went back to school?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Playing Paparazzi

It was a girls day out.  A friend whose husband was out of town,  said she wanted to paint the town red. It was only a matter of speech.  So she asked us if we could take a day off and go out someplace.

And we did, armed with a nice picnic hamper, a camera, comfortable walking shoes.  We decided to be tourists in our own city.  We set off to the Chowmahalla Palace.  Since I had already been there, I decided to generally appreciate what I might have missed out earlier. 

And of course, admire the garden.  While I was busy taking pictures, there was a sudden flurry of activity.  A car ( that itself was unusual, because vehicles are not allowed inside) came in, and a lady got out. 

K, who was taking in the scene, whispered, 'Is that the Princess?' 

The Princess was indeed in town, as there were reports in the local papers.  I had no clue. 

And she said 'Quick, take a picture'.
 I said 'Are you sure she is the Princess?' 
She said 'No, but take the picture, she must be someone important, we can always find out later'.

So I turned the camera away from the flowers and took this.  (I have blurred her face).  I did get a better one too. 

I felt quite like the paparazzi.  Another security guard did say she was royalty.  He said the Nizam too was expected later in the evening.  Anyway, not quite the right thing to do, invading their privacy.

 Ah well, we giggled like we used to in our college days.  We did not paint the town red, but went home at the end of the day feeling all relaxed and happy.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Diwali was quiet this year. For the first time in 28 years, we did not have either of the kids with us. I think it is something we need to get used to. But we were not the only ones. Obviously, there are many others our age, who had a quiet festival. Not that it gave us any extra comfort, but it was a sign of times to come.

A festival sans noise, confusion, the extra pair of hands… but we managed pretty well. It was also a year, when we left on schedule for the temple visit early in the morning.

We made the traditional sweets, distributed some, went visiting relatives and friends, lit the diyas, made a small floating floral arrangement, doodled, watched TV, exercised, entertained, .. it was not too bad. As I said, probably an indication of retirement days that are not too far ahead.

I have joined a basic art class. So, I am busy drawing various shapes. All the different shaped mugs, glasses were taken out and I laboriously tried to sketch them in my new ‘Classmate drawing book’, that I bought at Landmark. A book that reminds me of childhood. Where you have a printed page for name, class and school.

In my art class, I am the oldest. I have got used to this situation. 15 years ago, when I went for a music class , I was the oldest. 7 years ago, in my French class it was no different. And at my present age, it is no real surprise to find that happening once again. The next oldest is some 20 years younger. Which makes me believe that the generation next to mine, those in the 40s are probably caught up in their own lives and no time for relaxation. Those in their 20s and 30s I find are able to juggle their careers with other options as well.

I could be wrong.

I have also begun to enjoy a bit of photography. Easy with a digi-cam ( thanks to my bro, who realised how much I enjoy this new hobby). And am obsessed with taking pictures of trees and flowers, despite the warning by SG on his blog that it is a sure sign of getting old. My younger one, instinctively moves away and disowns me the minute my camera comes out.

Talking of age. I grew a year older last month. Somehow, I have lost count of the years (conveniently?), and give it a thought whenever I need to book a ticket or write down age particulars in a relevant form. Then I pause, do a bit of math and write down my age. Quite often I do a bit of wrong calculation. At the end of the year, I realise I have been declaring myself a year older than I actually am. It has a positive side, suddelnly I feel a lot younger on the corresponding birthday!

That reminds me, I need to update my profile page. Maybe, I will next year..

clip art source -

Sunday, October 24, 2010

How much is your Rupee worth?

We love replicating anything the West has to offer. From their reality shows, soap operas, songs to films…  with the Indianised version.

This concept however cannot be tweaked to a 1  Store. 

I mean what would one get for one Rupee? While we have a new symbol, nothing much has changed.

When I was younger, I would wonder why grandparents harped about one anna  ( 6 paise ) and what it was worth. Now, I know better. I find myself talking about the times money got me more goods, the times when a rupee coin was not left carelessly on the table.

 I paid a princely sum of Rs 6/- as fees per month for class VII (No, I did not go to the local Zilla Parishad school).  But a popular private school. Prior to that, the fees might have been lower, but I was not entrusted with the task of carrying the money, as I traveled by public transport....what if I lost the money enroute? My mother would come personally and make the payment.  Bus fare was 7 ps for the journey of 4 kms from home to school. We normally had 10ps with us and the conductor always returned the change .

I found a diary which my mother kept for everyday transactions. It makes interesting reading.

It says:
Milk - 3.78 Rs
I remember there were about 6 half liter milk bottles, so that was probably the cost of 3 liters of milk. 
Bread - 0.70 ps
Supplies - 0.70 ps ( I wonder what supplies meant!)
Plantains - 1.0 Re - that could be for a dozen
Udaya Stores - 45.00 Rs ( was that for the monthly provisions?)

It is precisely the reason why I found the project that  Jonathan Blaustein ( a photographer) undertook when recession hit the economy, very fascinating. He checked what he could buy for a dollar across the world. 

And so on a ‘jobless Sunday’ – not really, I finished all my chores in the morning and am taking a well deserved rest – I thought I would do a survey of my kitchen and with some rough calculation arrived at what a rupee would buy.

Take a look -
2 tbsp wheat flour ( barely sufficient for a small roti) , 30 ml milk ( a few cups of dilute tea) , 5 bhendi  ( insufficient for a curry ), a small ladle of sugar ( enough for the diluted tea) , a tablespoon of dal ( sufficient for seasoning), a lime ( may make  a small glass of lemonade), half a handful of red chilies ( to spice up a curry) and two chocolate eclairs ( that might make a litle kid happy).

A 1 ` store just would not work!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The 'Classy'fied Ad

Have you noticed that classified ads for houses have undergone a makeover? They read a lot like matrimonial ads.

Only superlatives.

While it is good looking/well educated / good family / tall, beautiful, handsome in the matrimonial ad, it is  beautiful, classy, posh, state of the art for the house.

Nothing short of being located in a posh locality. Italian flooring…. designed by international certified architect…. It does not matter if the rooms are match box sized, but the apartment you are viewing is a deluxe three bedroom.

Of course, we are great ones for vaastu. East facing, north-east facing, 100% vaastu compliant they say. The master has to occupy a particular bedroom even if it is the worst, only because it is ‘right direction facing’. I am not sure how it could be as per vaastu when the room has no natural lighting. Do you think experts have lost the core of vaastu science?

The park facing room is one which overlooks an unkempt open piece of land full of weeds and scraggly bushes. The one facing a lake is a threat, a heavy downpour and your home could pass off for a fortress with a moat. Stone throw from a school could mean that you would have to live with badly parked cars, autorickshaws and school buses.

A bit of luck is what you need. The title may be good, the papers may be clear, sign on the dotted line…. Move in and then you realize the impact of your decision. Are we talking of the house or the spouse?

( picture source : )

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Zzzzz Factor

At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps….. invariably I am awake.

I took it in my stride but last night I had a good eight hours of sleep, and I realize what a difference it made. I got up refreshed and had this feel good factor. So is this what I have been missing? I have not been one to crib earlier. So what if one does not sleep? There are so many other things I could do. Read, solve a crossword, blog without disturbance, surf or watch TV ( which is a last option). But by the third day of sleep deprivation, I would become drowsy during the day, and the headaches would increase..

They say as you grow older sleeping patterns change and you sleep much less. If it held true for all those of my generation, I might not crib.  All of them sleep the minute the head touches the pillow. Some of them have a great respect for my ‘keeping awake’ ability.

As is my habit, I rushed to the web to check solutions for the problem. There appear to be zillion theories and solutions to match each one. But one thing I am assured and reassured is that I am not the only one. There are not too many statistics for sleep deprived Indians, but it seems that it is a major problem that plague many in the land of opportunity. Americans are known to spend $24 billion a year on sleep aids like mattresses, 600 thread count sheets, high end sound machines that simulate the surf or chirping birds.

It is evident that all of us need sleep. And one third of our lives is spent sleeping. So by the age of  70 one would have spent 20-23 of his years with his head to the pillow!

Thomas Edison thought sleep was a waste of time, boasting that he needed less than four hours of sleep. But he conveniently neglected to mention that he took regular naps during the day. Some feel that we owe the light bulb to one of Edison’s power naps that he took in the daytime. Napping in daytime has been found to be refreshing and productive. Some organisations even provide napping time for employees for better inputs from their employees. Do you work for such wonderful employers?

All that apart, I recognize that I have a huge ‘sleep debt’. I am a little confused whether I suffer from transient insomnia, intermittent insomnia or chronic insomnia.

I find that in normal times when the brain is awake, I do have this ability to switch off when I find subjects that are boring. If only I could find that slumber switch. It is not a term that I have coined. It appears that there are scientists who are toiling to find the ‘slumber switch’ in the brain.

I hope with last night’s sleep my sleeping pattern has changed. And it makes no sense to ponder and wonder and lose more sleep. I hope I have regained the Zzzz factor.

Picture source -

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Grandparents on Strike

Grandparents on Strike
Not in India. But the UGT ( General Workers Union) in Spain has asked grandparents to protest and go on a strike the coming Wednesday ( 29 September). Some have called it a ‘generational revolt’. Half of the grandparents’ population in Spain looks after their grandchildren on a daily basis. They take care of their daily needs, feed them, bathe them, take them to school, putting in atleast 8-9 hours of work each day

Spanish work culture has probably something to do with this trend.  Long lunch hours force the workers to stay back longer and employees are not allowed to leave before the boss leaves office.  Work hours thus get stretched. Child care is expensive. And parents are obvious choice for free child care.

It is a fact that the unpaid work of the senior population  in Spain has helped prop up the country’s economy. Children are free to pursue their careers.

 The UGT has urged Babysitter grandparents to say NO and not feel guilty about it.  It would be interesting to see what actually happens next week.

While it is tiring, most grandparents do enjoy having the children in their care. Doctors argue that this keeps the elders active and healthier and happier, but there will always be some for whom this is a burden.

My children missed having their grandmothers around, but the grandfathers made up for it. My father loved having my children at home with him during the day. Of course, there was someone to change the nappies. He was not too good when they were still babies. But as soon as they began to respond and gurgle and laugh at his little trick of sliding his spectacles down his nose, he would warm up to them. And when they showed signs of understanding the spoken word, he was at his best. Teaching them nursery rhymes, no not the simple Jack and Jill,  but longer ones like 'This is the House that Jack built..... and continously  talking or reading to them, pointing out flowers, flags, birds and animals. By the time my children were 3 and before they started school they could identify the flags of each country . Of course, it was done without pressure like only a grandparent can, and the children picked it up without any problem. It was not study, it was only fun.

The F-I-L on the other hand was great when it was nap time. He would put them across his lap and start singing carnatic songs. In the process, I picked up some songs too ( for someone who was only listened to English pop at that time, it was a surprise for me too). And all stories from Mahabharata to Three Musketeers were narrated as they grew older. Of course Rama was Raman and so on… And to this day, they are so good at Indian mythology.

This is the generation of the jetsetting grandparents. . They travel across continents. There are some who do admit it is tough as they grow older. The stress of travel, the lack of household help, the cold… but the love for both their children and the little ones keeps them going. And of course, the youngsters do throw in a visit to Niagara Falls or to the White House as perks!

I am not a grandparent yet.  I will wait ... am in no major hurry.  But I do peek into the childrens section at the bookstore and look at the colourful little books and dream of reading them to a little one sitting on my lap.  Of course, I am not thinking of nappy changing and bottle feeding.  I will worry about that later. It will take some time getting used to that again!  But going on a strike?  As a parent ....maybe, but as a grandparent... never.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

No News is Good News

No news is good news.

This saying is attributed to English King James I, who wrote in 1616, 'No newis is bettir than evill newis.'

We heard this often in times when we had no internet and cell phones. No news would be a source of worry, but also in a way comforting in the belief that bad news would have been conveyed immediately. Therefore no news, could only mean good.

I don’t hear this being said as frequently anymore. But sometimes when I watch the news on TV, I am reminded of it.

There are times I wonder if our TV news anchors watch soap operas. News presentation used to be so staid and serious, even as recent as the 90s. Those who have heard Melville Demello read out the bulletin at 9 pm on All India Radio would agree.  A subtle change in tone, to indicate the mood. No dramatics. No arrogance. No reporter screaming her guts out. And since it was only audio, obviously no visuals, no graphics.

Now, apart from news we have forums, debates, discussions where you have the same faces invited by almost all the channels. Are they the only ones who have something important to contribute or are their PR agencies doing a good job?

What is aired first is almost always some sensational news . News like good developmental work, awards that have not been bought, art and culture shows not sponsored by a liquor company are telecast at the end, by which time you have lost interest and have changed the channel.

I wonder if news channels took a different stance whether some good would result.

For instance, if a road that has been laid a year ago is still in good condition and  no potholes even after the rains.  Believe me, that is news these days! Why not call the contractor, the construction company, the municipal officer and make a big noise about it?

Or if electrification of a village has been done with turbines for under Rs 1.5 lakhs ( as it has in Dakshin Kanara district), give it wide publicity. Call the legislator, the department responsible and give them an award.

Create widespread interest. Report such activities and keep praising the good work of government bodies. There may be few to begin with, but with generated mass interest, would it lead to more? After all everyone wants publicity.

Let breaking news be good news. Let the headlines be developmental news. Interview those who are doing good. Responsible journalism may initially bring down TRPs but in the long run may win more viewers. It could be an idea? Sirjee?

Does anyone agree?

As an aside - A king's joker loved to make puns, so much so that the king, in disgust, ordered him hanged. But the king's minister prevailed on him to grant the joker a reprieve. Upon learning it, the joker immediately said, "Well, no noose is good noose." So the king decided to hang him anyway.

PS - I just read Manju's post and then wanted to check how old this blog was, and I realise that I have completed 3 years of blogging on Sept 10.  Thank you L for  that nudge.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Trivia - The Elusive Whites

Above is a nice ad by Tide on Independence Day. Think about it. Almost all detergent ads have a picture of gleaming white garments. In small print, they do mention that coloured clothes retain their colours. But there is always the image of white vs off white.

It is unfortunate that almost all schools have white in their prescribed uniform for the children, and keeping them looking new is no joke. Then of course the white socks, the white handkerchiefs, bed linen, the white formal shirts, the new white kurta…..

While the detergent industry makes money beaming ads at how their product scores over the rest, the truth is the fault most times, is in the fabric itself. 

Some facts I found interesting in this article.  India is the third largest producer of cotton in the world. Yet, it is expensive to make 'white' Indian cotton. The fibres are contaminated because of our poor harvesting techniques. And millions of dollars are spent combing out dirt from the cotton every year. It requires a high dose of chemical treatment and faces risk of damage at the same time. The fabric thus produced turns drab and dingy after a few washes, the fibre too fragile to bleach and its brightness too quick to fade.

While we ( or maybe it was just me) thought that only Coke keeps their ‘composition’ under wraps,I was surprised that the chemistry that imparts the strength and whiteness of a fabric in the textile industry is a closely guarded secret!

While all fabrics of different colours have their problems, white is most difficult to stabilize. And a lot of research and technology goes into their making. If you have wondered why the white shirt is more expensive than most other clothing, it is becase the mills in India depend on American and Egyptian cotton to manufacture the pristine white for their brands. On the international standard for whiteness, our cotton ranks 145, American and Egyptian fabric 155 and 160 respectively. The gap may not seem large, but visually the difference is huge and the whiteness in their fabrics remain longer.

While we still go and choose the colour of our toothbrush with a lot of thought and care ( who ever buys a plain white toothbrush?), we do overlook brighter colours and still go in for the white in our wardrobe. Rave and rant when it gets dull with wash.  Blame the dhobi, blame the detergent, blame the brand, blame the hard water. 

Therefore, if you ever receive a mail from your cousin in the US who is on his way to India, asking you what you want, don't hesitate, it makes sense to ask for a white shirt!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sum up your life

The International Congress of Mathematicians is being held in Hyderabad. I wonder about the delegates. A hall full of brains. Would they all be nerds? The serious, bespectacled types? Or would they have a sense of humour? Just a thought. I have always regarded anyone good at the subject with awe and have the greatest respect for them. It is just that we never had fun loving math teachers at school.

Few have nice memories of their mathematics classes at school. Everyone complains about those who taught them the subject. The teachers are in general short on patience and subsequently rude and short-tempered. Always commenting on how useless the student is, and that there was no hope for them. No extra effort would be made by the teacher to explain the sum to the student. Maths teachers were also rather pompous. They took on the role of the unofficial principal. They would send for the parents at the slightest provocation. Give them a lecture about how useless their ward was and suggest that the parent send their child out for extra tuition classes. To make their job easier.

And I guess parents have a problem too. It did not matter if we ( read me) were never good at the subject, but we always secretly hope our child could score 100% in mathematics. My daughter ( the younger one), I thought was brilliant at the subject. At least till the 8th class. As long as the lazy teacher set the test paper with sums from the text book, she had no problem. This was lost on me initially. I had great hopes of sending her to IIT. Being endowed with a good memory, she knew the answers to each sum in the text book and would work toward getting that answer. But all that changed when the papers were set with sums that did not figure in the book. She heaved a sigh of relief when she did not have to deal with the subject anymore . The elder one after a lot of coaxing, did continue to take the subject well into her graduation. From where she made the switch to statistics.

Of late, I find many send their children to abacus classes. They say it helps. I remember in childhood, all of us at some time or the other had an elementary abacus at home. I think we all learnt basics of addition and subtraction from the equipment. The ones that the children use at the abacus classes now seem more complicated, with more rows of beads.

We still do a lot of mathematics in our head. All the multiplications, divisions, additions of the amount that needs to be given to the vegetable vendor, the dhobi, the maid. Mental mathematics is not given as much importance now as it used to be earlier. Thanks to our dependence on calculators. I remember the time, my father had gone to a store in the US. He bought a couple of items and went to the billing counter and handed the money to the lady at the counter,and told her how much she had to return. This was way before the more sophisticated billing machines appeared at the supermarkets. The lady took out her calculator, punched in the prices, and subtracted it from the money she had received . She saw the same amount that my father had told her. She looked up from the calculator and asked him – ‘You, mathematician?’ It amused him no end.

I wish we had better teachers. We have the best mathematical brains in our country. If we could make teaching positions more attractive in our own schools and universities and have teachers who could explain the subject with a little more patience in a logical sequence, we could have some Nobel Prize winners as well as some happy children and parents. It is also a pity, that those who teach the subject are not in touch with the industry. Most have no clue about the applied aspects of the subject.

I came across a series of articles that appeared in the NYT written by Steven Strogatz a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell Universitya. Like I said, I am not particularly good at the subject , but I read them for the sheer manner of presentation. He has such a lovely style of writing. And introduces humour in a subject that I thought was drab. The articles held my interest even though the mathematical portions were still were beyond me.If you have the time, go through them here.

While it is true that those who are duds at mathematics do well in life in other fields. It is also true that mathematics does teach you to think logically, whether you end up being a mathematician or not.  So how does one sum up?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pains of Parenthood

It is difficult when kids leave home.
When they are living far away. And when they are unwell, it is even worse. It could even be a slight cold. Or a touch of fever.

The elder one told me the other day that she was feeling slightly under the weather. Its crazy , but I immediately had ‘sympathetic pains’( I know it sounds silly, but it's true!). And told her so.

Her reaction –‘Are you sure they are sympathetic pains?’ 'Nothing serious?'

‘Do you need to go to the doctor?’

A week later scene shifts to the younger one. I am worried sick. At least the elder one is married. She has someone to take care of her.  But this one, poor thing is on her own.  With another roommate as young as her.  Again the sympathetic pains. I know I should not tell her, but I do.

‘I have these sympathetic pains’.

‘Don’t be silly’. ‘You are only trying to get some attention away from me!!’

For a moment, she does not sound weak and ill.
Am I offended? No, not one bit. I am reassured.

All Izz Well...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Under the Scanner

You can get under the scanner for simply the right reasons.  Which is very wrong!

Have you paid your taxes.  Are you paying more than you did previously? They you may be under the IT scanner too. For all the wrong reasons. You need a refund? You won't get it easy. Until some 'formalities' are completed. The IT department is sitting on  1000 crores of unpaid refunds. Read it here. No wonder people look for ways to evade tax.

Most harassment comes from the Government departments.  And the private ones are at times as bad.

There are millions who use unlicenced software.  They have no reason to worry. In fact, they are probably happy.  They have saved a lot of money.  But the minute you buy licensed software, your details are immediately noted.  Microsoft, Corel, Adobe... atleast those are the ones we use at work.

It is interesting that calls, mails, visits are made to only those who have bought software.  MS for instance makes innumerable calls.   And besides they are not polite either.  Bill Gates would not sound as pompous.

You tell them you have no IT Manager.
How is it possible? We need a software audit.
Call later, we are busy. 
No it is urgent. 

The calls increase.  The mails increase.  Until we tell them, they are free to come down and check.

We cannot. 
We are in Delhi. 
Then please do not harass. 

There are so many who have no legal software.  Yet you harass those who buy, just because you have our name and contact numbers????

While we continue to do what we feel right, it does not feel 'right' anymore.  But we cannot do anything else.  Any solutions?

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Family Outings

Family outings can conjure up many images to mind. A picnic at a park. A holiday at the beach. Maybe even an evening watching a movie ( more about that later). But, in my city, it seems, the favourite family outing is to the local supermarket.

It is not just ma, pa, two kids. But the whole extended family. Ma in law, Pa in law, granny all in tow. Our supermarkets, however big, are not enough for the teeming millions. The aisles always seem narrow. Two persons and their shopping carts are enough to create a ‘jam’. And you can well imagine the scene, when a lady and her mother- in- law are discussing which of the pastas to buy, or why the cooker should be bought at the other store where it is cheaper, while their kids are having a whale of a time playing hide and seek behind racks and weaving in and out at 100 miles per hour between shoppers and their carts.

I guess it is the great family bonding. But at the supermarket?

Well, maybe then the eateries? My daughter, tells me that in the UK, at any restaurant, if you ever hear the voices of children after 7 pm, you can be sure it is an Asian family. They are the only ones who bring their kids out so late. Wee Willie Winkie has no bearing on them. Are your children in their beds for it’s past 8 o’clock? No way!

I am no kid hater. I am fond of them. But I cannot have a screaming kid at the next table, throwing cutlery on the floor, or in this situation still playing hide and seek, but under the table. While I sit nervously through the meal, wondering when the table cloth will be brought down with the butter chicken and the biryani, the family is enjoying theirs with no worry or anxiety. Next to me, is my companion, gritting teeth and holding a fork so menacingly, that it adds to my tension. A mild… beta, baby, sweetie and other endearments occasionally being uttered. Am I glad to finish and get out of the place? You bet.

As far as I am concerned, kids, loud and ill-behaved, even if they are mine, are brats.

Late night movies are no exception. Any given day, there are children as young as five who are watching movies with their parents . They must be getting into bed well after midnight and setting off for school the next day, all bleary eyed.

I do realise that the disappearance of joint families may be the cause for kids tagging along with parents to social dos and such outings. But some amount of ‘sacrifice’ on part of elders may be appropriate.

Before the children arrived, we watched movies every week , dined out, met friends and generally had fun. The elder one arrived and all that changed. Everything came to a halt. We did not step into a movie theatre for almost two years.

Finally there was this movie that was a big hit. My father in law, a movie buff, had seen it four times already. We decided to go and watch the movie, almost a month after it had been released. With an understanding that F-I-L will take the child outside if required. So we trooped into the theatre. The theatre was full! I guess everyone else with the exception of us, were watching it for the nth time. The ‘baby’ enjoyed the ads, and as the lights dimmed, we hoped she would fall asleep. Somewhere after the first half hour the theatre guys turned up the sound, disturbed her slumber and she whimpered. We looked at F-I-L, but he was engrossed, even quietly singing along. Out went the father. A good fifteen minutes later, feeling rather guilty, I went out too, hoping our absence would be noticed. But it did not work. We went home, without watching the movie. FIL enjoyed the movie the 5th time.

I narrated this to the elder one recently. Told her when she had kids she could perhaps stay at home, so that unpleasant situations in public places are avoided. Gave her my favourite sermon that ‘adults need to make sacrifices’. ‘Stay at home’. ‘Missing a social event, a movie is no big deal’, I told her.

‘Why should I?’, she said, 'when I can leave the kids behind in your care?'

Life has come a full circle. The next generation family outings will just be the adults minus kids. While we would still be home holding the fort.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Go Slow

For some time now there has been a debate whether Google has made us stupid.  And now it is also said that internet encourages fast reading.  We are constantly doing so many things online at the same time.  So many tabs open.  Reading news, reading/writing blogs, social networking, mailing, speaking over the phone....even working... and in the process only skimming through information.

And that according to Nicholas Carr, is only making us stupid. He says our mental faculties are getting slower.

The Stanford Poynter Project has also been researching this aspect for the past four years now. Initially it was to gather information of what people were reading. Now they even have eye tracking equipment to track where people pause to read and how much they skim matter online. Early results suggest that many no longer have the concentration to read articles. People are in general becoming less attentive. The process of analyzing information, contemplation is no longer there

And this has also a similar impact on the printed word. People are becoming less attentive book readers.

It has even led Pierre Bayard a Paris University literature professor, to write a book that went on to become a best-seller -  How to Talk About Books that You Haven't Read, so that "It's possible to have a passionate conversation about a book that one has not read, including, perhaps especially, with someone else who has not read it".   Bayard  offers tips on how to cover up ignorance of a "must read" book.  I must add here that I am just writing what I read about the book, I have not read it.  Nor do I intend reading it.

But let's give some credence to the research that is going on.  After all it is does not hurt if we did slow down reading. 

Personally, I could stay away from the internet maybe for a week.  I do not want to try that. It would have been of immense help if I had access when I was a student.  Maybe I am wiser ( in the absence of internet).  Who knows? is time to -  Slow down and Feel Groovy.

Slow down, you move too fast.

You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin' groovy.

Simon And Garfunkel - The 59th Street Bridge Song
PS: Is the word 'groovy' in usage?  I only hear words like hip, hot and cool.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Life Rocks?

This is a temporary slum that shelters construction workers.  These workers have just finished constructing the five star Park Hotel that is a stone's throw away from their dwellings.

To waterproof their homes they use flex, vinyl material that is discarded.  It is ironical that one of them has a flex that proclaims 'Life Rocks'. 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Have A Nice Day

HDFC bank has this message on their page– (reproducing it as it appears) - Effective June 1 2010, debit card holders will need to call PhoneBanking to place a request for the accrued cash back to their account. I have always found bank/government official language to be strange. But then one has to make sense of it, otherwise you are the loser.

I called phone banking only to realise I did not have the PIN number. Then I tried the customer service . And it is a long story.

I tried the first number that was listed. I had to wait  a while, hear some music, press some numbers as the recorded message gave me the options, and finally after about 5 minutes, it connected me to an operator. I had to wait till the voice at the other end introduced herself, and finally asked, how may I help you? She heard me out patiently and said, we do not deal with debit cards. She gave me another number

I dialled again. Same story. Dial, wait, press keys, listen to music and finally the voice. This time it was a male voice that said - Good afternoon, I am so and so, how may I help you? He heard me out too. He asks  Debit card number, Madam? . I tell him. He asks for address, the date of birth and then finally says, I cannot help you, I shall transfer your call to Mumbai. ( Why did he ask me all the details? )

He transferred my call. Again I wait… again the options, and finally the voice. Good Afternoon. ( It was already 15 mins since I had dialled the first number… shouldn’t he have said Good Evening? ) How may I help you?. I said, I have a debit card… I was getting tired of repeating the same thing over and over again.

Debit card number, Madam. Debit card number, the address, date of birth. He is not done. He wants to know more.

Landmark given for the address? I had filled the form over 3 years ago. How was I to remember?

I rattled off three landmarks. One worked.

Nomination.? Again three names. One worked again.

Then he says, I need to know the ATM PIN . I say I don't remember. Never used my debit card at the ATM. Telebanking number. I do not remember that either. I tell him, that I have answered all other questions regarding my identity. And besides it is my debit card. My money that I am spending. And all that I ask is the money that the bank promised as an incentive for my usage, to be credited to my account. So what is the problem? Sorry, madam, we need all these details.

Then he says, Madam, you search for the number and call me back ( It is close to 25 minutes now). I said - WAIT! ( did I scream in desperation?). I cannot go through this process again,

I have this practice of entering all these numbers in my mobile phone. But then cautious me, I have coded it, so that none will realise it is a telebanking number ( after all the mobile can be stolen). And doesn’t the bank communication state clearly that we are to remember the number and tear the piece of paper?

I had to decode the entry. It took me time to figure it out myself. I try different combinations. Finally ….I get a number. . I was not sure if I had the right one. ( But I felt a little victorious.. I had kept the customer service guy waiting ).

I was connected to a recorded message again to key in the telebanking number and then at the end of the message was transferred to the customer service person. He thanked me for confirming my identity. ?????  He said you have Rs 294/- out of which Rs 250 will be credited to your account. I said what about the balance. He said, we can only credit it once it reaches Rs 250/-.

So, can I give you instructions to that effect. No madam, you will have to call again each time!!! Anything else? Thanks for calling.  Have a nice day!

All this to get Rs 250/- credited to my account? Is it worth it? I am not sure. Will I go through this again. I do not know. I guess that is their intention. How many will have the patience to keep track? And then call and inform them to transfer it to the account?  A case of daylight robbery.

 cartoon source

Friday, June 11, 2010

Book Review – The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

The book that won the Man Booker Prize in 2008 was in circulation for a long while at the library. I guess it has done its rounds and I finally managed to lay my hands on it.

My first reaction after a couple of pages was to put the book aside. It describes the dark side of India that I do not want to read about. I mean we have seen so many foreign documentaries that show the filth, the poverty and so on. Almost like what Slumdog Millionaire did… this was even worse. And it goes on through all the pages of the book. Brand India takes a beating… and some of it is rather exaggerated.

But despite being upset with the author, you do realise that there is some truth in what he writes. Maybe not totally as he projects it. 

Notwithstanding first reactions, if you have picked up the book, chances are you will continue to read on like I did. The author has an engrossing story to narrate. The language is simple, easy to read and the the book does not drag. But does it deserve a Man Booker Prize? That is questionable.

The protagonist, Balram Halwai grows up in Laxmangarh, Bihar (  referred to as Darkness). Balram refers to himself as half baked – someone who did not finish school and has partial knowledge, like so many children in India, who are pulled out of school to earn a living. No boy remembers his schooling like one who was taken out of school’.

An intelligent child who impresses the school inspector, who calls him a white tiger, a rare prized animal. He is promised a scholarship, but unfortunately is pulled out of school when there is a marriage of his (girl) cousin, and the family needs more earning members to pay off the debts that result .

The story is narrated in letters ( seven of them) that Balram writes to the Chinese Premier who is due on a visit to India. Why the Chinese Premier? China is making impressive progress in all fields, however it lacks entrepreneurs, and the Premier wants to meet some of them on his tour to India.  And Balram considers himself an entrepreneur – a half baked successful entrepreneur.

The story progresses as he moves from working in a tea shop to how he gets the family to support his driving lessons. This lands him a job as a driver of the richest family in the village. How he moves with them to Delhi and the city life as seen by the poor. The conversations that he eavesdrops on between his employer ,his brother, his wife, the politicians they associate with, all as he drives them around.

He describes the glass houses the rich live in while the workers wait on them. See, the poor dream all their lives of getting enough to eat and looking like the rich. And what do the rich dream of?? Losing weight and looking like the poor."

The corruption, rigging of elections, the evil landlords, filth, poverty. Name it and it is all there in this book.

"It's amazing. The moment you show cash, everyone knows your language."

He likens the life of the poor to the roosters in a coop. The birds are huddled in the coop as the butcher picks up a bird and kills it, the others await their turn. They do not rebel. Just like the worker class. Why? Because of family ties. They remain faithful to their employers, for if they didn’t, there would be terrible repercussions on their family.

Ultimately, Balram does not seem to care about his relatives back home, he knows they will probably be erased from the earth, yet he decides to flee from the Roosters Coop, murders his employer Mr Ashok ( I have not given away the plot for those who may have wanted to read the book- it is mentioned all along from the early pages) – steals his money, and runs away. With his ill gotten wealth he starts a business of his own. He is now ‘one of the rich’ and behaves like one.

And so he ends his tale through his letters to the Chinese Premier. It could have been addressed to just about anyone. Did I miss something apart from the entrepreneur bit?

All in all, a book that makes an interesting read. I know I have to return the book to the library soon. Which I will without regret. I am not too sure if I would like a copy of the book to sit on my book shelf.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Horn Please, OK.

It's official. You can now prepone your meeting. As children, we were told repeatedly not to use the word. ‘There is no such word’, said my father. And we never used it. Now I can. But I doubt if I ever will!

English in India was introduced by the British. Specifically for trade. And Lord Macaulay later in his Minute on Education in 1853, recommended that English be promoted as lingua franca and the medium of education in India. He thought it had the necessary vocabulary for teaching modern science, philosophy, law and history.

He seemed to be a far sighted person. But he would never have imagined what Indians would do to the language. Each year, more number of words borrowed from the Indian dialect or the words coined in India are making their way into the English Dictionary.

The author of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language , David Crystal, predicts that Indian English will become the most widely spoken variant. 'If 100 million Indians pronounce an English word in a certain way,' he says, 'this is more than Britain's population—so, it's the only way to pronounce it’.

The Prince of Wales at a dinner for the British Asian Community, Windsor Castle in his speech spoke among other things, about the sharing of language. He said – quote ‘The most well-known examples are probably “bungalow”, “verandah” and, indeed, “shampoo”. And more recently, “chuddies” seemed to crept into the English language’. unquote

We are really a nation that believes we speak the Queen’s language. All the while, we introduce new words that we pass off as English and what probably sounds Greek to the British.

Over the years we have adapted the language too. There probably would be very few who do not use a word of English in their daily conversation. Right from the maid who will walk in and tell you why she is ‘late’… to the watchman who comes to collect ‘maintenance’ each month.

Vernacular language clubbed with English words has become the norm. The VJs, RJs, the politicians… all use it. Pepsi probably led the way with their Dil Mange More campaign and it led to a whole lot of advertising messages that became a part of accepted speech.

The film industry, which interestingly is called Bollywood, have movies which have titles in English. More recently, we have Kites, 3 idiots, Wanted, Houseful to a mix that has a local flavour like Jab We Met ( When we Met) to Love Aaj Kal ( Love Today Tomorrow – or is it Love these days?) .  When we have just Hindi titles, we have a mouthful and so we reduce them like in case of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge to DDLJ.

While we may ‘feel off’ ( a word I 'learnt' from my daughters) that so many words have crept into the OALD ( Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary), there has to be a difference in the English that is spoken at work and that which is spoken with friends.

As someone said – the difference is between English and Hinglish. One is the language for work and the other for fun. Otherwise we may have only one place to seek jobs – at MTV India.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I Wish You Would Not Ask...

Are you one of those who will not ask, fearing you might be turned down?  And also one who is uncomfortable with those who ask without any reservations, and put you in a spot, since you find it so difficult to say NO?

I can identify with that kind.

This huge debate is on – spurred by a web posting by Andrea Donderi and subsequently an article by Burkeman that appeared in The Guardian – which I shall quote from liberally.

Whether you Ask or Guess, they say depends a lot on your upbringing. In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it's OK to ask for anything at all, but you got to realize you might get no for an answer. This is the Ask Culture. People who ask for just about anything. For a favour, for a raise. They believe they can ask for something, even if the answer may be No. But they will try anyway.

The Guess Culture on the other hand– are people, who will only request ( not ask) if they think the answer is yes. They will debate within themselves and send out feelers till they are sure, and in most cases may receive an offer even before they can pose the question.

Both seem right in their own way. But the problem is when an Asker meets a Guesser. An Asker might ask to borrow your favourite book; invite himself home to stay. And as a Guesser, you would think he is rude to ask and be put to a lot of agony by giving in, or through more pain having to refuse.

Among nationalities, the Japanese are said to belong to the Guess Culture. While the Russians are classified as Askers and sometimes thought to be rude persons to deal with. 

I think (GUESS?) it is good to have a healthy mix of both. I personally feel I am more of a Guess person, but there are times I will not hesitate to Ask, but that is only with people I am comfortable with and may take a little advantage of.  And having to say NO is tough.  But I am learning.... .  And sometimes the agony of having said No, can really weigh you down.  At times, I secretly admire the nerve of those who ask unabashedly.  I could never do it most times. Is it a virtue?  I don't know.

There are others like Jonathan Chait who think it is perfectly right to Ask, and that Guessing culture is a recipe for frustration.  He writes: Guessers, who are usually trying to be nice and are holding themselves to a higher level of politeness, ruin things for the rest of us.  I feel that this is being pretty harsh on Guessers

What do you classify as? An Asker or a Guesser?

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Heat does strange things to men...

I realise the impact of the printed word. We were getting along fine, braving the summer heat, till now .

But two days ago we woke up to read ‘Hottest day at 44.5C’ in large, bold font in all the newspapers. The TV channels took it from there. With added visual effects, shots of dry lake beds, blazing sun et al. Suddenly the heat became unbearable. People had dour expressions.

The smiles vanished.

Fans, coolers, ACs were kept running at maximum speed and lowest temperatures. Apparently, these machines are not ‘India ready’ as some claim to be. The Electricity Department immediately took note of the increased power consumption and enforced longer hours of power cut.

I see fellow humans complaining of the heat, not stirring out of air conditioned rooms, guzzling unhealthy drinks to quench thirst. But then it does baffle me, when at mealtime, they forget their woes and find themselves seated in front of a plate of hot steaming rice over which is poured a spoon of ghee and a decent ( or should I say indecent ) serving of fresh avakayya – the famous Andhra mango pickle – made with the spiciest of Guntur red chillies. They eat with relish.

Beads of perspiration line the forehead. It is only then he smiles,

Strange are the ways of men.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I will not repeat myself... I will not repeat myself.... I will

My daughter said ‘ Ma, I think you are getting old. You are repeating yourself. ’

At least one thing was clear, she was listening to me. How else would she know I had repeated myself? That was a good sign. Sometimes, I get the feeling these kids do not listen at all . They ask a question and by the time you collect your thoughts and answer, they are deep in conversation with another or maybe absorbed in a book. So, I am not perturbed about the repetition and neither am I about getting old.

In a column Jonathan Wolff, head of philosophy at University College London, writes … Don't stop me if I've told you this before. We academics live by repeating ourselves. He continues .. that though people crave novelty, they prefer the familiar. Children watch the same videos over and over again. Adults return to familiar music. And some ( also the daughter who made the comment) read a particular book over and over again. Till the book finally fell apart.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant, when in old age and losing his memory, used to write notes of his dinner conservations on the table cloth, in order to avoid introducing the same topic twice in one evening. I cannot do that for fear that they will think ( in their lingo) that I have ‘lost it’.

We are also guilty of  repetitive patterns that become habits. Quite a few that become involuntary becoming a familiar part of our lives. We get three newspapers at home. The other inmate, likes to read them in a particular order and does not like the pattern disturbed. So, I settle for any paper that is not being read. See, I do not get bound by habits .  At least, this particular one.  

Someone suggests that to be more aware of these repetitive things that we do, one should change the pattern. If you brush your teeth and then wash your face, they suggest that you alter the pattern. Wash your face and then brush your teeth. How does this help? The changes, even in these seemingly small insignificant habits, can bring about a better awareness of what is being done. Shift this to more important areas like those patterns at the workplace and this could throw up other choices that might be there. For better results. Well, I would like to think I am too old to try ( it helps using the age factor when it suits you!!), those young(er) can try. 

I have digressed. Repetition can be quite an engrossing subject. For the time being, maybe I should be more aware of what I am saying. Focus and concentrate. If that cannot be avoided. At least, sound wise. Well, Robert Frost could. But for that I have ‘ (And) miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep….'


Would I sound wise if I did say in Latin
Bis repetita non placent ?

o Translation: "Repetitions are not well received

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Handmade and Sun-kissed

A UK store refers to Papads or Poppadums as they call them - products that are handmade and sun kissed.....

Sun kissed? That could just produce a mild tan at the most.. definitely not a papad, that requires to be thoroughly dried.

We do anything these days to get away from the heat . Coolers, ACs, fizzy sodas, iced stuff. But in the past, summer was literally a time for everything under the sun. The ‘sun’ being the key word.

For elders, it was time to plan and prepare items for the rest of the year. Elaborate shopping lists were prepared and ingredients bought with great care. My mother's Potato Papads (Batata Happal) were a big favourite . Made with potatoes, ragi, rock salt and chilli powder . Large plastic sheets and clean muslin cloth were made ready. Suitable stones sourced to place at four corners of the sheet, just so that it stayed in place. The household ( not us!) woke up earlier than normal that day and ingredients cooked, mashed, mixed and kept ready. The papad making activity commenced as soon as the men were sent off to work. Open verandas and terraces were ideal locations. As kids, we loved eating the boiled mash - it was the tastiest thing on earth. The women rolled the perfect round papads and these were placed on the plastic sheet/cloth and kept out for the sun to do the job. All this in lightning speed to make sure there were sufficient hours of drying. As children, we were to ensure that the birds, ants, dust and pets were kept away. This was a chore that lost its charm after the initial eating of the mash was done with. We would rather be playing.

The papads were then carefully brought in as the sun went down. And kept out for another day of drying. Then they went into tins immediately for storage. Some were fried that very day, more for the compliments. Of course, those days, whatever was made at home had to be distributed. The joy was more in the sharing. Parcels ( that was another elaborate process) made and sent to various parts of the country. And sure enough, after a week, there would be the letters of appreciation.

Dehydrated vegetables, crispies of all kinds - sago, rice, dal, chillies in curd... name it and we had them dried in various forms and shapes. For consumption the year round.

Papad- making fortunately was an art that survived. From home-scale to small scale. It is an item that cannot be mechanised. And thus providing livelihood to many women. The papads left our shores and soon became a popular food abroad. In Britain, about 2 million handmade ‘poppadums’ are consumed each day. As hors d’oeuvres served with apĂ©ritif  and cocktails.

A food - it has evolved from an accompaniment with our rice and rasam to an item of fine dining in the West. It’s versatility is amazing. Fry, roast, microwave it… eat it plain, crush it in rice, add it to a salad or whatever. But as a lifestyle product…? That’s something new. But read this. It appeared in Smart Buy a lifestyle supplement of Business Line

Tick Tock, papad style

Giving the crunchy Indian papad a new lease of life, designer Mukul Goyal has launched the Papadum clocks. Available in small and large sizes in chrome and gold, these clocks are sure to add a pop of spirit to your homes. Head to lifestyle boutiques for more.

Rs 1,550 to Rs 5,695 –

Well….. what’s your take?

Friday, April 9, 2010

When the Shoe Shines Each Morning

 Good news for shoe polish manufacturers. Shoe care it appears has once again become important in the days of recession. For the past few years it appears ( in this article in The Guardian) the sales director of Cherry Blossom was a sad man. Shoe sales had gone up, but his product showed no increasing sales. When shoes got scruffy, people just went out and bought a new pair. No one tried to make the old pair last. Now, finally, thanks to recession people have rediscovered the art of shoe-care.

Apparently shoe care seems to make economic sense. Cherry Blossom sales in the UK are now 200,000 small boxes a week!  And from five colours last year, they now have 35 trendy colours on offer. Shoe repairers are also in demand

I particularly liked this bit of the article and I quote - Black still accounts for 60% of sales. And most are to those over 50 – the generation brought up to clean their shoes by parents who knew both rationing and self-respect, who knew the golden rule of shoe cleaning: that the sparkle comes only through the application of elbow grease to polish. Unquote

Shoe care. That was one of our daily tasks of school days. Each evening, while school uniforms were ironed and kept ready, shoes were arranged in pairs. First, dirt had to be wiped off the shoes and the leather cleaned. Polish was applied and then made to shine with a flannel cloth. While canvas shoes were washed each week, scrubbed in fact, and once dry, a coat of white wet polish was applied and allowed to stand overnight.  The next day we had sparkling white shoes. Inspections were carried out at the school assembly by our seniors,  and those possessing dirty shoes were made to stand separately and given a dressing down.

Those were the days of black Bata shoes and white Carona canvas.

We also had these little boys with shoe polish kits who were always present at bus stops. I always wondered why people used their services, I mean all of us polished our shoes at home, so why did anyone need to have them polished outside? But generally they were men, probably on their way to work or possibly for an interview. Of course, these boys managed better looking shoes with their labour.  They also inspired a Raj Kapoor film - Boot Polish. 

When Cherry Blossom completed 100 years of the brand, they used a Charlie Chaplin like figure to emphasise "100 years of making perfect gentlemen..."
Most shoe care polish kits these days are a little different. Not little tins, but a tube with a little brush attached. You press it on the shoe and polish it right away. The shine is not the same, but the effort is much less. And as for the white canvas shoes – I do not see many children wearing them. They have been replaced by the expensive Reeboks and Nikes.

Would polished shoes be back again?  Hard to say.  Here is a generation that spends good money buying torn jeans.  But then, this is also a generation that is unpredictable.  It could well be a case of India Shining.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


This picture was taken outside Mahalaxmi Temple, Mumbai.  There was this elderly muslim gentleman going around with incense ( unfortunately I was not quick enough and I just managed to capture the scene as he left the place ) collecting alms from the shopkeepers  Not a common sight .  He would have in most places stayed close to his own place of worship.  But the shopkeepers here did not seem to find it unusual.    

Right now in my city, there are communal riots.  And most believe it is politically motivated.  Which makes me wonder, why religion is given so much importance?  I recite the Hanuman Chalisa each day, but to be frank I did not know it was the Hanuman Jayanti today!!  And that I realised when I saw some noisy ruffians on two wheelers carrying saffron flags.  I do not ever remember the festival being celebrated in this fashion.
I have always claimed that I am not overly religious. Yet, I do as I said recite the Chalisa, listen to devotional music in the morning, light the lamp in the evening. And there is no real compulsion for me to visit the temple. As a dutch comedian is reported to have said - I do believe in God, but I do not trust his ground personnel. 
I would rather observe my faith in my own manner, within the walls of my home.

I must  also confess that I recite the Hanuman Chalisa on nights when sleep does not come easy..... a far better thing to do than counting sheep....

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Game...Set... Match

They say the job market has opened up.  People are moving. Some for money.  Some for a more satisfying job.

But it does seem that one can be successful even when you are not enjoying the job.  Take for instance Andre Agassi.  I read the review ( actually read it over and over again to make sure I read right!) of his autobiography OPEN.  The winner of 8 grand slams actually admits that he hated and still hates the game! And yet he was so good at it!  There are many, I'm sure, who would envy his wealth and lavish lifestyle. 

There are other reasons that might prompt a job change. And those who wish a change should give it a good thought.  Is it worth it?  This article asks you to question yourself -

Do you have the skills, interests and personality to do well in your “dream job”?  Do you know the entry-level requirements  and training available to get them? Are you willing and financially able to go back to school or get that training?  Are you comfortable with starting at the bottom of a different profession?  Does the marketplace need what you want to do? Have you talked to people about the job, and do you understand it?  And do family members support changes in their lives and the family budget that might come with a job change?

Andre Agassi was sent for his training to the famous Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Florida at the age of 13.  The training was so intense that he had to drop out of school.  It is said that with the possible exception of boxers, tennis players have less formal schooling than any other pro athletes and this leaves them with very few options.  This probably also left Agassi with no choice than to do his best.

There will be Monday morning blues!  But I guess if you are those who sometimes feels that you should have a better 'more satisfying job' -do be on the lookout .....and meanwhile think of Andre Agassi - you could be a winner too, no matter what you do. 

Agassi picture -

Sunday, March 7, 2010

May I Have Your Attention Please?

I read a tongue-in-cheek article in The Mint, by Harish Bhat COO, Titan Industries. He writes that organisations are worried about the employees losing battle to Continuous Partial Attention ( more about this later). Things like constantly checking mails, texting on mobiles are not the main threat. According to him, the most potent factor disrupting corporate discussions is the cookie platter. Especially if it constitutes delicious blackberries, cashew nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and flavoured creams. Attention he writes, shifts from the discussion to the plate. Each eyeing the coveted cookie. And he has this amusing cookie classification of managers. I could not resist posting it here.

1. The Grabber- who identifies his favourite cookie and grabs it – no concern about the others. This man has absolute clarity on what he wants in life and will waste no time getting there

2. The Vacillator who cannot choose between the cashew and the chocolate cookie. Will forever be dissatisfied with his choices in life;

3. Health Fanatic who may push the plate away – a man for whom life is a constant struggle with a fat-obsessed society. Or if he succumbs, may do away with dinner.

4. The Picky Eater, who will pick out the chocolate chip or the cashew from the cookie. This one is likely to pick and choose his way through life

5. A Civilized Sacrificer, who will wait for the last cookie, a nice guy to have around, particularly if you want to borrow money;

6. A Carrybag, who pockets the cookies left on the platter. After all the company would have paid for it all and it makes no sense to leave them behind. He has a maximizing approach to life and will claim every penny which he perceives is due to him.

I found it amusing. For me the biggest dilemma is being faced with an assorted ‘mitai' box. The sweet tooth of mine wants all, but cannot decide. I could be the Vacillator, the Picky Eater or the Health Fanatic! But never the grabber ( honest)

I am glad that I do not have Mr Bhat to analyse my actions.

And now to the CPA. There is never a dearth of jargon these days . I guess it grew with the christening of the Personnel Department to Human Resources. The CPA or the Continuous Partial Attention is supposedly different from multi-tasking.

We all do an enormous amount of multi-tasking. We did not have the term for it in our yesteryears. We just got up each morning as if endowed with a new pair of hands. Cooking, serving breakfast, packing lunch boxes, school bags …..and having to get ready for work. We did not even have an interesting term like multi-tasking. The work was plain, dull, boring and mundane. If work had to be done, we had no choice but to do it. No two ways about it. How else would we have sent the kids to school, leave for work on time, and keep the elders happy?

Linda Stone, who coined the word CPA, says when one multi-tasks, there is a motivation by a desire to be more productive and more efficient. But here each activity has the same priority . Like eating lunch and filing papers. Where one or more activities is somewhat automatic. That activity can be paired with another activity that’s also automatic or with an activity that requires more cognition, like writing an email or talking on the phone. We multi-task to create more opportunity for ourselves – more time to do more and time to relax more.

That makes sense. And CPA? In the case of continuous partial attention, one is motivated by a desire not to miss anything. A person is engaged in two activities that both demand cognition. Like talking on the phone and driving. Mailing and participating in a conference call. Carrying on a conversation while texting at the same time. Both need attention. And however much the youngsters think they are smart doing two or more such tasks, there are bound to be slip-ups.

If you pause to think, there is some truth in all this. And if you do more than pause and ponder, there is more likelihood that one will come up with newer jargon, only serving to complicate life further.

The only concurrence is that whether it is CPA or multi-tasking, while doing more than just one job, attention shifts focus all the time. One can never be engaged in deep thought. And attention is our most powerful tool.

Well right now, my thoughts are with that small helping of frozen dessert in my freezer. We have been informed that we are in for power cuts. And I would hate to think of it melting and refreezing. Not good for frozen food. And the Health Fanatic that I am, I would rather have it right now. When it is in good condition . And no other activity to accompany it either. This requires total attention!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Khare Master - A book review

I honestly do not know why I picked this book at the library. It had a rather eerie cover. The pages were yellow and the text in small print.

I found it rather difficult at first to proceed. But as the book progressed it held my interest. Originally written in Marathi, it is set in the early 1900. A story of a middle class Maharashtrian family. It covers the relationship between parents and their children, with spouse, with friends. Aspects of the national movement, conversions ( yes, even then!), conflicts and loneliness.

The book written by Malati Bedekar under the pen name Vibhavari Shirurkar, when she was 88, is a semibiographical account of her father, Anantrao Khare. A man from a small village of Guhargar, who was so forward thinking for one of his time or perhaps even today.

Kharemaster left his village when he was 14 and came to Bombay, as it was known then, to study art. Here he came in contact with Raosaheb Rege, who realised that this young boy was not like any ordinary village lad . Raosaheb also taught his daughter at home, because he believed that women must expand their role beyond the rolling pin and sharpen their intellectual skills. This seemed to have a lasting effect on the young Khare.

When there was a plague epidemic in Bombay, he left for Godnadi where he was an art teacher at a local missionary school. His first two children were daughters, but this did not bother Kharemaster at all, and on the other hand - he vowed to educate them.

There were times of inner conflict for Kharemaster. He supported the cause of independence but at the same time had to work for a school run by the British. He had several mouths to feed and realised he had no alternative but to continue his job and earn to support the family He felt he was a coward in many ways, but his friend Deshpandemaster said that he should stop thinking on those lines, ‘We are all a little scared inside. Even a wrestler has to start exercising slowly and build his muscles up gradually. It’s the same thing with courage. Slowly one faces more and more difficult situations and bravery becomes second nature. Without your knowing it, that’s exactly what you‟ve been doing. When you’re convinced something is right, haven’t you been following the dictates of your conscience without worrying about what anyone says or feels?’

He ultimately decided to limit the reform to his house and strenghtened his resolve to educate his children. When he felt the teachers at the girls school were not competent, he sent his daughters to a boys school… something that was not done. During famine, he got into milk business, which was unheard of …considering that they belonged to the Brahmin community. But it atleast ensured that there was milk at home and excess was sold to the villagers.

As he sent the children away from home for further education, the author writes .. that her father did not realize then, that he had planted the seeds of his future loneliness.

The children were engrossed in their own lives, and though they acknowledged his presence and perhaps, loved and respected him, he felt communication had been lost . It was ironical that he had educated his children, and yet felt inadequate and believed he was a source of embarassment for them and their friends as he was not educated! He was also disillusioned when his son, who had become an engineer, had to bribe to earn a contract. He was very disturbed. Why had values changed?

It is an engrossing book. And each one will relate to it in their own way. It will remind you, perhaps of real-life stories narrated by parents and grandparents. I found some kind soul had uploaded the book and if the review has interested you, read it here.
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