Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Virtually me

What can be worse than Google-ing your name on internet and finding nothing? "– A friend recently posed this question and my reply was, “ May be Google-ing your name and finding that there is another You – the virtual you, who has little or no traces of the real you.” Even without this little experiment I am daily finding proof of existence of my virtual self.
The growth of mobile phones and internet has resulted in a death- ….. the death of distance, the death of reality and also the death of privacy . The physical location of you is now immaterial. You are always connected, always near and always here.” I was amazed at the argument of this speaker few years back, in a class on Changes in society due to Development of Technology. Something which was a matter of poetry and imagination is now true. You need not be physically present in a place to meet people , to impress them, to build relationships, to feel human emotions of love, camaraderie or…. even hurt . Your virtual avatar is capable of all sensations and emotions like the real you…and who knows, may be more than real you.
My journey on this time square of the global village of tomorrow- that is on internet, started off in 1999-2000 when my sis introduced me to email and Google . That was the birth of the virtual me . After finding information on most strange subjects, meeting my long lost friends and making impossible tasks happen in minutes- I am convinced that internet is God …or virtually God . I know many net-addicts like me who use internet almost as a pensieve of thoughts, we exist as much on net as in real world . For last few days almost every day I get to know of something which is strengthening my suspicion that this virtual me is getting more well known than the real me. I realized long back that Internet is so big, so powerful and pointless that for some people it is a complete substitute for life…they exist almost exclusively on the virtual web. But was convinced that I am not one such addict. It was only recently that media and social experts started making noises about the other side of this liberation . The virtually empowered people were losing their social skills in the real world for lack of practice. "Now that we are online Let's chat "
Technology that was built to shrink distances to bring us closer actually begin to encourage us to live a virtual life by pushing us towards seeking face-to-face interactions through the use of these devices and not the real way . My first such experience came with Yahoo messenger chats. Through chatrooms , I could meet people with similar interest. Though not all of them were nice to interact with after few chats but it was through net that I found some of my (now) close real life friends. I would not easily forget the expression of confusion plus anxiety on a friend S’s face when we first met face to face. We had talked over phone a day back…so all he could manage to utter was … “Say something, so that I know you are really you .” We continue to be as good friends in real world as we were in the virtual one. But I have seen cases where it is not like that . Once people lose the thin cover of appearing on the computer screen they do not look/sound that good. The way net chatting and socializing has liberated us reminds me of the famous song from musical Chicago-
“In fifty years or so
It's gonna change, you know
But, oh, it's heaven
You can like the life you're livin'
You can live the life you like….
...And that'sGood, isn't it?
Grand, isn't it?
Great, isn't it?
Swell, isn't it?
Fun, isn't it...”
Yes it is all that and more…it can also be dangerous, criminal and even fraudulent . But now we have choices even in our mode of socializing on net as well. I could never understand the logic of social networking sites as they invade in your privacy too much beyond my imagination. So I gradually limited my use of these. What I finally got hooked to is blogging. Yeah, there is a hoot , a hint of thinly coated narcissism in each post one makes on a blog. Having unknown random visitors coming and reading your posts, giving their comments and appreciation…is a happy flattering feeling. Even criticisms sounds so mild when you find that in terms of comments…..but the real buzz factor lies in the possibility that someday I might just be able to transform this virtual connections into a real ones. I got one pleasant surprise the other day when Alan Shaw , the author of war memoirs "Marching on to Laffan's Plain" send me a letter after reading an excerpt of his book in one of my post (this one ) . I was thrilled to know that my 90+ friend from the virtual world took trouble to make a real life connection. I learnt so much more from his regular emails since then about an India he lived in the Raj days. Then on another occasion I once called a business associate and his secretary before connecting the phone asked me if I am the same Atoorva who writes a blog called “A Blue dot of thoughts”. Well, I was stunned . Then marched a vague and unsure 'scrap' on my orkut profile from a guy whom I remember only as a 7-8 year old younger brother of my best friend from school . Me and this friend had lost touch after her marriage and now after decades I came to know that she tried all methods of real world to know my whereabout and finally we were able to re-establish connection only through Orkut. The most recent is someone calling my sis on her company’s intranet inquiring if I am her sister . He read a post on my name( this one ) and discovered that her little daughter’s name (Atoorva) is not unique. I share the disappointment with this young father but somehow, it is a nice feeling that the real world is coming close to me through my virtual existence.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The lost knitting needles

There is something about winters that I miss for last two three seasons and I am not talking about Phantom sweet cigarettes . Actually, I do not see many women engaged in knitting sweaters( and shawls and scarf and many other things) ….in parks, in buses…err…even in offices and schools . Something which was so common in my growing up years is now a rarity. Somehow, the fad of knitting is gone….not that I was ever good in that, but it always intrigued me how women can keep themselves engaged and entertained in something so monotonous . As I was always a beneficiary of the art and never the practitioner, my knowledge about various kinds of wool, their suitability for this design or that and my curiosity to guess the design for sweater someone is wearing on the street is very limited. I was blessed with mom and sisters who could always oblige my whims to wear some crazy design. Like once I remember I was very jealous of my elder sister’s pretty sweater with 4-5 pink flowers made of crochet and insisted that I want a “more beautiful” sweater for my birthday. So on my 6th birthday mom made me a lovely ( to my eyes) sweaters full of flowers and leaves attached on it. That I was looking ridiculously funny wearing that was immaterial. Even now in old pictures , you will find me wearing a huge smile whenever I wore that sweater . Similar fond memories are associated with many other mufflers, shawls and other woolen clothes knitted and gifted to me by aunts, granny and friends. Though I was and still am , a totally talentless creature in this field, I do appreciate the amount of labour it takes to make a perfect sweater. The machine made sweaters may be the call of the day now but can never match the mamma made ones.
Growing up in small towns , I have many memories related to knitting in winter months. Whenever two ladies of the neighborhoods met, the talk usually came down to the progress of knitting project in hand and the future plans for copying this design and that . Getting the right shade of wool and the right number of knitting needles was also a major fuss. I remember my sis, always poor in her estimate , would fall short by few “lines” to complete a sweater and then would make me go shop to shop hunting the same colour of wool . My mom also had a knack of losing one of her knitting needles and then she would look for it in all probable places for days . It must have been a very acceptable hobby to pursue worldwide as I have seen at least half a dozen portraits of women with their knitting going uninterrupted. Like this one by famous french painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau : I also remember old posters , biscuit tin images and even Christmas cards when the mother in the picture has her hands busy in knitting. Somehow, knitting being a hobby one can pursue while doing other things made it so popular among women. I can recall teachers knitting in school busses and even in recess times .
In the changing world of speed , I miss those ladies and their wool balls . Last night , when I was taking out my winter clothes I suddenly remembered the fun it used to be to ‘ help’ mummy in getting her wool sorted and made into balls , my sister’s experimental designs and her re-knitting (mis) adventures with old sweaters and their creative ideas to use the leftover wool . The emotions attached to the sweaters gifted to babies ,fathers and husbands are all woven within the colourful world of knitting. And just in case anyone find this whole business of knitting very very sexist – I at least know a male friend from my university days who was equally fond of knitting. He even knitted sweaters for his dogs and ( my ) dolls…..however much we laughed at him, he never mind inquiring about a new pattern of sweater from our moms and no wonder was always welcome in our house.
Well, we still wear sweaters, may be far more stylish then ever but the fun and joy associated with those home made beauties is lost . I do not know many friends who still knit ….my sis is now more busy writing programming code for IBM than knitting sweaters for me and even mom hardly pick up her knitting needles . Though with the care she has still kept her knitting box shows how precious it must be for her. I wonder if they still get those knitting pattern books . Just found that these are now probably replaced by knitting pattern websites. Changing world indeed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Look here , I am austere !

Suddenly the latest fad in Indian political circles is to go austere. People who own property and assets worth billions go for this tokenism and travel by economy class. We should be indebted to them for joining our ranks perhaps. By not staying in five stars (when press is looking) and by not flying by chartered flights it seems (or so the media claims) they are leading towards cost cutting in these difficult days of drought and recession. Incidentally it is not the first time in our political history that politicians are stepping down to match the lifestyle of people they represent. In the war times leaders of those years appealed people to cut on one meal to save food grain (If one person gives up one meal in a day, some other person gets his only meal of the day") and people complied. Many leaders during freedom struggle also took simple lifestyles despite having means to live lavishly. I am sure it helps them in connecting with the people. But Then, I think it’s not the same feeling anymore.
The big cynic in me fails to ignore the difference. Why I do not find this newly invented hallow of austerity real or even admirable ? Perhaps the difference between real cost cutting and this token austerity is too big to ignore.
In the pre independence days, if Gandhi turned into a “half naked fakir” I do not think he did it for publicity alone. He was mocked and ridiculed by most of his peers but it was his conviction in simplicity that made him continue the way he did. He did not do this only for a day or two, it remained a lifelong practice for him. I firmly believe , it was not merely a style statement but a deep felt conviction in his case. So was the case of former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri , who was an austere man to begin with and is said to have died, leaving behind a loan and no swanky cars and houses for his family. The tokenism and the need to adopt such simplicity as a style statement perhaps got footing with Nehru. A born rich, he was always used to a luxurious lifestyle and gave it up only to keep appearances of the prevailing philosophy of the time . No wonder, his family even after four generations is keeping up appearances of austerity with matching (in) sincerity.
The funny part about the whole austerity episode this time is that it started off from a stupid media report about Shashi Tharoor and SM Krishna, both of whom were actually paying their own money to stay in five star hotels. Interestingly both of these ministers have legal ways to have means to afford such lifestyle. But the veterans of Indian politics make them realize that in a country like ours appearances matter much more than reality. My only comment on this particular episode of misguided media proactivism is what Confucius said - In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of." No wonder both ministers shifted to more modest looking places immediately.
I wonder where these journalists are when the parliamentary committee members draw their TA/DA and stay at 5 star resorts in any city they visited for the official work- shamelessly at the expense of government departments? I have yet to see one MP (even communists) who refused this hospitality despite that strictly worded letter fom Lok Sabha Secretariat that arrives before their visits telling us that our hon’ble representatives are expected to stay in government guest houses and get TA/DA for these visits . A study of Parliamentary Hindi Committee’s tours on exotic locations across India would be a good sample to test for this. Not only that, these token austerity measures are not going to lessen the number of vehicles PSUs are providing to the controlling ministries and their political masters. Of course blinded by the holy light of such tokenism our leaders would fail to notice these vehicles parked in all government buildings. They also fail to notice the rising figures of non plan expenditure in all government departments. All it needs is a careful reading of Expenditure budget to realize that crores of rupees are being spent for each minister’s entertainment and travelling. I wonder why no one questions official dinners and even after budget press conferences being held in Five star hotels? All senior journalists accompanying PM and President are treated lavishly on each foreign visit .Who is financing these? But it is in the interest of holy trinity- politician, bureaucrats and businessmen(including media) to overlook the real issue and keep mum on such practices . Unfortunately real issues seldom make good copy. And in such scenario Rahul and Sonia Gandhi’s foolish austerity measures look laughable to me.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

On Tax Code, Taxman and history ...

History is mesmerizing. It is all encompassing and is there in each one of us. Most of the times of course, we neither know about it nor realize how it is affecting our present situation and decisions . I have been thinking about the western frontier of India and how the activities there since the arrival of Aryans has literally dictated what we today call –Indian History. I was planning to write about James Nicholson , Henry Lawrence and about the NWFP in the British days …..but then a number of factors made me write this post before that one.
Being a tax auditor , I was naturally following the news about the new Tax Code of India with great interest. Just in that context , my husband informed me that a taxman in Kolkata has recently discovered the grave of James B Wilson- the father of Taxation in India. Deeply intrigued, I searched out the news item on the internet and am spellbound by the odd coincident that the New Tax Law is coming exactly 150 years after the introduction of Income Tax in India by James Wilson. Yesterday was the 150th interment day of Wilson , the Scotsman who came to India, spent eight months in the heat and dust of this jewel in the crown and lies buried here at Mullickbazar cemetery. James Wilson, by the way, had other notable contributions in the form of the Economist magazine and Standard Charted Bank(then the Chartered Bank of India, Australia, China.)- both of which he founded . In India, he imposed an income tax, created a government paper currency and remodelled the whole system of finance. He is known as the man who “evoked order out of the chaos of Indian finance” after the 1857 war of independence.
In all probability as Member Finance of the Viceroy’s council (almost equivalent to Finance Minister of today) this man, during his stay in India(at Kolkata) had his office in the same Treasury buildings where my Kolkata office was. History is definitely the biggest pulp fiction ever written- or being written all the time. Imagine the fact that it took a taxman, an assistant Commissioner of Income Tax, one Mr. Bhatia to dig out the location of Wilson’s grave . Bhatia had been researching India’s fiscal history for some time to write a book on the country’s taxation history, when he came upon the reference to Wilson and his great contribution. He also discovered that Wilson, who had been offered the post of finance member of the Viceroy of India Council, by Lord Palmerston, the then British Prime Minister, in 1859, had died in Calcutta. I was glad to know that I was not the only weirdo visiting cemeteries and checking church records to look for people I have read about. It seems, Mr. Bhatia visited various cemeteries and checked out the records at Kolkata to locate this grave . At the National Library he found the gazette published on the day of Wilson’s death which said: “He died on 11th August 1860 at the young age of 55 years after suffering from dysentery… Flags were unfurled at half mast and guns were ordered to be fired for 15 minutes from the ramparts of Fort William at the time of his burial.”
The inscription on his tombstone(painstakingly restored and made legible recently with efforts of Mr. Bhatia) declares that Wilson was born on June 3, 1805, at Hawick, a small border town in Scotland, and died in Calcutta on August 11, 1860, “from the combined effects of climate, anxiety and labour within eight months after his arrival in India
The incident, though very exciting and newsworthy also reflects how indifferent we are about history of things and institutions around us. The news item informs that there was also a statue of James Wilson at Dalhousie Institute and was removed later to built the Telephone bhawan. The statue is missing – much like the numerous other monuments, manuscripts and items of invaluable historical value .
Wilson was definitely a man worth remembering and for reasons more than income tax . James Wilson’s life shows a smooth upward rising graph. Son of a wealthy textile mill owner , he was expected to join his father’s business . But as things turned out, at the age of 16, after attempting a number of other jobs James was apprenticed to a local hat maker. After only a few months, he progressed from apprentice to partner when his father bought the business for James and his elder brother William. The business thrived and by the time he was 19 it had outgrown Hawick and the brothers moved to London and continuing trading until 1831.Wilson by this time was a wealthy man, he worked hard and believed strongly, as did his early hero Adam Smith, that there was a, “Scotchman inside every man. with a universal desire to make money and a universal willingness to work for it.”
In 1843 he established The Economist as a newspaper to campaign for free trade, and acted as Chief editor and sole proprietor for sixteen years. In the early days Wilson wrote most of the content himself until handing the reins to his son-in-law Walter Bagehot. Perhaps it was inevitable that such an influential figure should consider politics as the next step in an already rich and varied career. In 1847, he was elected to Parliament as Liberal member for Westbury and within six months he was offered the position of Joint Secretary to the Board of Control for India.
The Australian Gold Rush (1851) was the catalyst for his next venture, with miners from around the world pouring into the country there was an almost overnight need for, “The common necessities of life.”Tea, coffee, rum, tobacco, and spices were all in great demand and James Wilson immediately saw the need for a new bank to facilitate this new and growing trade. On October 9, 1852, The Economist announced the issuing of the prospectus of the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China. The Chartered Bank was later to merge with the Standard Bank (Standard Chartered Bank) and remains today a powerful force in modern global banking.
By 1859, Lord Palmerston offered the post of Finance Member of the Viceroy of India Council. Probably more out of a sense of public duty rather than a real desire to turn his back on the House of Commons he left Britain for Calcutta . There, “gigantic difficulties” awaited him as, in essence the Chancellor of the Exchequer as after the 1857 mutiny the financial health of British India was precarious .His work in India was cut short when, like many Westerners unused to the harsh climate he died of dysentery. But in the eight months of his stay he introduced a number of changes in the tax management and fiscal administration, most of which continue till date . For more than a century and half his grave was lying there in Kolkata without any care or even recognition- much like thousands of other graves across the country . Suddenly an amateur historian rediscovered the grave and also generated so much interest in Wilson’s life and work among people like me.
Strange yet true……. and this is not definitely the strangest thing history has in its store. I remember when ace shooter Abhinav Bindra won his gold medal in Olympics last year , a very innocuous Google search revealed to me another of history’s secrets lying just in front of us. From his mother’s side Abhinav is fifth generation descendant of legendary sikh warrior Hari Singh Nalva,the Commander-in-Chief of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. You may say – so what ? Now go further in the history of Hari singh Nalva and you will find that he was born to a maratha princess, Dharmabai(d/o of Kashibai) who was the grand daughter of the great and fearless Sadashivrao Bhau, Commander-in-Chief of the Maratha army in the Third battle of Panipat. If you find it strange how a Maratha lady was married to a Sikh family in those days , the answer again lies in the history . The story goes that Kashibai and her maternal cousin were left in the house of Sardar Ramdas of Majitha as her father, confident of his victory in the battle brought the two girls along but finally left them with his friend’s family . When news of the total rout of Maratha forces, the death of Kashibai’s father Sadashivrao Bhau reached them following Sikh tradition, Sardar Ramdas gave refuge to these ladies and as per the prevailing Hindu custom of marrying a daughter within the first calendar year of her father’s death, Kashibai was married off to Sardar Ramdas’ son Sardar Hardas Singh next year . Later when the daughter Dhrambai/Dharam Kaur born out of this alliance , died during childbirth , her son Hari singh was brought up and tutored by his maternal grandmother, who made special arrangements for teaching her grandchild to be a fearless administrator and an expert in archery, armoury and musketry. Naik Fateh Khan Gardi, captain of Sadashivrao Bhau’s personal guards, played a big part in teaching Hari Singh the use of mechanics-mathematics in firing artillery-muskets. Under the training of this ace shooter of that age, the man who introduced gun firing in Indian battles, Hari singh become the legendary Hari Singh Nalwa…..and five generation after him, another ace shooter was born in the family. I hope you too will now realize the fascinating twists and turns of history
History is all around us and yet, we still have people who do not believe in fairy tales and stories beginning with “ Once upon a time…..” . Sad, I would say .

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Weber’s monster and me

Musings on Why I am a Civil Servant ?
I first heard of Max Weber’s views of Bureaucracy as a student of Public Administration in my University days. The good thing about Weber’s analysis is that while recognizing the importance of bureaucracy as collective organizational structure, procedures, protocols and set of regulations in place to manage activity in large organizations and government, he also indicated dysfuntionalities that it may tend to get over a period of time. As we all know now the dysfuntionalities of bureaucracy are so apparent that the word itself has taken a negative connotation and represents delays, shirking of responsibilities and red tape for a common man. Few years after my first introduction to Weber’s analysis, I become a part of bureaucracy. Soon afterwards, a friend gifted me a book titled” Why I am Not a Civil Servant ?” . The book written by an ex-civil servant (IAS-MP Cadre) who had resigned from service as he considered the entire system so unbearable for himself, made me very angry. Not that his analysis was incorrect…but in my view , his decision was. I told very arrogantly to my friend that these are all the more reasons why good and gutsy people should join the civil services. After all if a system is malfunctioning, it need some rectification- and in this case it can only be from inside . I also remember telling him that the title of the book is very right as it is narrating the very things for which I am not here , there are higher things to aspire for . “ One taste of glory …one mouthful of sky!!” Nine years from those early days of being a bureaucrat- I am writing this blog , though still adamant on my views, but somewhat excepting the power of this giant mechanism operated by pygmies.. The particular incident is not important, neither are the players, for me the important factor in the entire experience was the way a wrong was done and how everyone involved found a right reason to do the wrong. A very senior colleague in some other context has remarked jokingly that if you are good you will be entrusted with more work, but if you are Really good, you’d find a way to come out of the responsibility. As it turned out, I was just good and not –Really good. So stuck with this particular work, I did it with full honesty and delivered what I was asked to do. Then the work was sent for a series of approvals by well, some of those who probably have forgotten how much effort such a product takes from the nameless, faceless subordinates, who are at the cutting edge of our system. Unaware of details and unwilling to take responsibility , an easy decision of diluting the entire exercise was taken. I may be accused of not understanding the constraints at that level or may be of my inability to see the so called macro picture but the example set was typical bureaucratic. What you cannot understand-ignore.

We fought and argued but to no avail. They, with years of experience , after all, have long perfected the art of seeing only what they wanted to see, which is an essential accomplishment if you want to be world’s master and not it’s victim( a la Salman Rushdie ) . It was painful when it was going through but on the hindsight one learns to accept that if sometimes you are the pigeon on others you must be the statue too.

But all are not alike. So sympathizing with my anguish at the whole affair , my former boss commented that though with time one start to accept things that cannot be changed overnight things do change ultimately. Labour and struggle do turn stones even though in the short run they may seem futile. They leave an lasting impression if nothing else and if right, this only grows stronger and stronger, and in doing so ultimately gathers enough force to effect a change in our mindset. I have realised that we only need to change our mindset to effect any change anywhere. Opinions will differ, especially in a diverse society like ours and the difference is healthy and natural. In fact when opinions start converging, we should start getting concerned.

Though soothing , these words left me thinking, if after few years I will also turn into an apathetic, cynical babu much like the ones I talk about so negatively now. Whether the Weber’s monster is finally going to kill the purpose for which it was made . . I hope and pray – that I will not. I am very sure at the moment that given another chance , I will again do the way I did …including my reactions and open admission of disappointment of decision taken by high and mighty. I do take solace in the words of Alexander Pope “ ….act well your part and there all the honour lies!” but it was indeed a bitter pill to digest .

Discouraging though it was, the whole affair was also hilarious in its own way. It was amusing how the guiding principle of bureaucracy in general remain as follows:

1. When in charge, ponder.

2. When in trouble, delegate.

3. When in doubt, mumble.

Once again, It confirmed my assertion that the system need people to raise questions and act like decision makers they once thought they will be. It is however, equally important to come out a winner in each such tussle with the indecisive self perpetuating pygmies. If not a winner , I at least hope that on every such occasion I come out what in Mahabharat Bhishma called “ Hridayen Aparajit”- undefeated in heart .

PS: I am sorry to bore my readers with this gloomy post as I usually talk about beauty and good things about life. But I need to come out of this bad mood by thinking philosophically on the issue and sometimes I have to to write in order to think .

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Yeh Tera ghar Yeh mera ghar

“ If you have to name your house, what it will be?” Her eyes were shining with excitement when this friend asked this rather unusual question one morning. I promised that I will think about it and forget it immediately. Next morning on our way to office she repeated this question. This time I thought a bit but could not find an answer immediately so ended up promising once again that I will come up with an answer. She told me she is also looking for a name for her house.
I started thinking of a name – first instinct was to remember the names I have read in books or seen in movies. For example I thought of Pemberly of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice where the famous Mr.Darcy lived .Then there was Manderley which even featured in the first line of the novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier "Last night I dreamt I was at Manderley again...”. There is also short and sweet –Tara for the fans of Gone with the Wind or Elsinore for fans of Shakespeare….but none of my liking .
In Indian princely states too there are famous Kothis and bungalows with names of their own. I can think of Chattar manzil and Machhi Bhawan of Lucknow and of course “Constantia”, the imposing centre-point of La Martiniere Lucknow , which was the country house of Major-General Claude Martin. I just can’t miss Yarrows- which was Jinnah’s summer house in Shimla . Talking of that, Shimla has a number of beautiful houses with equally beautiful names like Peterhoff, Woodville, Retreat etc. Once again none that can define my present abode.
In search of a name for my house I tried remembering name plates in front of beautiful houses I have seen in various cities. Most of the time it is either indicating the person who is living in the house or some remarkable feature of the house .Not many of them were creative enough to fancy me say Asha sadan or Malti kunj or may be Lake house, Palm view cottage . But why should a house have a name of its own? Why an address is not good enough? I never lived in a house which was distinguished enough to have a name of its own and yet many of them were warm, homely and comfortable…..leaving fond memories for rest of my life. So how can one decide that this house needs a name .My answer is that you need a name for everyone and everything you value. Me and sister even used to nick-name plants in our garden . Our old fridge has a name and so did our car . So why not the house. Of course there is no evidence that Neanderthals named their caves, but it seems likely that people have always named their houses. House names dating back to Babylonian and Assyrian times have been documented, and patrician Romans often gave descriptive names to their villas. The ancient German city of Trier still boasts of its House of the Three Magi, built in 1230, and Lincoln has The Jew's House, which dates to around 1150. It seems likely too that these names were given as identification marks as I assume in those days there was no numbering of houses. It may have started with Aristocrats, who had the luxury of unique houses. Houses which were large and prominent enough to have an identity of their own. Such names were often single, free-standing words: Belmont, Broadlands, or the Rosings and even Pemberly . These is also a huge number of residences given dual name with a ‘villa’ , ‘Lodge’ or ‘cottage’ suffixed to it . If you want to make it more personal you can jolly well call it “Bill and Anne’s house’ or may be name your house after your dead ancestors, family name or community. It is your house so you name it as you like it . Well, it may sounds pretentious to call a semi-detached house in the suburbs Rose Villa, but Roseville is just right . I have read in Victorian novels that people were known by the houses they work in or live at. Here is an example of creative naming and the owner makes it very clear that he /she is paying a huge house loan. I am told that giving a name to a house can dramatically affect its resale value too. In Britain they even have a survey of most common names for the houses. ( these Brits!) So I could conclude that naming your house is not as simple as it seems , it can turn a mere building into an expression of its owner's character: in short, it helps make a house a home.Coming back to my choice of names- first I thought of some fancy name like Belmont or Beaumont - means "beautiful mountain" in French or may be Spanish "Sobre las Nubes" - above the clouds (as in "Villa Sobre las Nubes") which I also find a very spiritual name for any place. "Buena Vista" is Spanish for beautiful view and not uncommon as a house name.May be Beaulieu which means "beautiful place" A white colored house can be called Casablanca - white house (also, naturally, the name of a beautiful and exotic Moroccan town; and an artistic tribute to the great film.)A red house can by same logic be named Casa Rosa and a blue one Casa Azul (which was also name of Frida Kahlo's house).
So there was choice abundant and yet no one name was appealing to me. Busy with these thoughts I was about to enter my house and saw pretty pink and white periwinkles flowing with the wind. I never planted these in front of my gate. They decided to make it their home on their own. And It was decided that this house at least should be named Periwinkle cottage . Not very creative I know but will do till I find a better one….may be you can suggest something . Of course it was decided that the name will go to whichever house I will live (a friend commented it’s like Air Force One- whichever plane president boards !) Now, if you think that I am the only one who is finding it difficult to select a good name for my house , read what Christopher Morley has to say on on Naming a House
When I a householder became
I had to give my house a name.
I thought I'd call it "Poplar Trees",
Or "Widdershins" or "Velvet Bees",
Or "Just Beneath a Star".
Or "As You Like It," "If You Please",
Or "Nicotine" or "Bread and Cheese",
"Full Moon" or "Doors Ajar."
But still I sought some subtle charm,
Some rune to guard my roof from harm
And keep the devil far;
A thought of this,
and I was saved!
I had my letter-heads engraved
"The House Where Brown Eyes Are".
[which is a fine name for a house!].

PS: The most creative however, was my friend’s choice. First she settled on Blue Jay -after her favorite bird but then changed it to ‘Sqaure one’ – She said coolly “ It is simple you know, whatever I do, wherever I go, I will come back to square one.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Me first and the rest can wait

“ If someone hits your car on the road, you should not show any kind of emotion. Not even a facial expression. You may in fact think of thanking him for teaching you a right lesson for being on his way . No harsh words , no intention of fight shanti shanti shanti…..” This was the sane advice from a colleague who regularly drives down to work from Delhi to NOIDA when I told him that I am planning to buy a car . He claims that he has seen people getting shot by country made pistol in these petty you-hit-my car fights . That is not road rage, that is simple Delhi male machismo. It is not unusual in Delhi for any car to get a dent even when it is perfectly parked or standing at a red light . It is also not unusual for people to get out of cars to settle the case on the road. Crash and there goes the front mirror. Bang and here is for your front seat ! A punch for the face may be with appropriate sound effects right there right now! Who believes in police anyways?
The metro roads on most Indian cities are buzzing with these musical sounds – which some lunatics see as noise. Getting hit by another car for no fault of yours, is just one of the perils of driving on Indian roads . Rash, reckless and even drunken driving has come of age . Its a deadly cocktail of loud music, alcohal and speeding without a reason .The Delhi drivers, fully aware of their social responsibility towards vehicles nearby , believe in playing their music on full volume. Music is good , why not share it with others. Not only that, have you not noticed that some drivers just love the sound of their horn. In a jam , just to ensure that the horn is alright , they keep buzzing it again and again. I at time feel like turning back and yelling – I am still driving an old version that can’t fly .
Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you , but not in the one ahead. --Bill Mcglashen
In smaller metros like Lucknow there is another problem of VIP sirens . Almost every second car has a dignitary passenger who claims the right of priority passage by blowing the sirens. Some intelligent car drivers even have detachable sirens, which can be used only when they can effectively pull some weight . Please do not think that our VIPs (mind you even ex-panchayat member is one!) are making noises on roads . We always have ambulances taking the nursing staff from their residences blowing a siren. In general my feelings about giving way to ambulances is echoed in this beautiful blog by Alice. But in Kolkata for the first time I noticed that ambulances of private hospitals being used for carrying the hospital staff from their residences. They shamelessly blow the sirens in a crowded street and no wonder even if there is a genuine case with a patient inside , the ambulances hardly get a way . On second thoughts , however, I feel that despite the misuse, one must give way to ambulances as just the thought of having a loved one inside it, is disturbing. Coming back to the musical roads of India , I must mention the autowallahs who feel their vehicles have model like waists and can catwalk between the zigzag of other vehicles. The scratches and marks contributed by their efforts to reach about 30 seconds earlier ….well they are incidental. Be ready for choicest of adjectives if you bar their way on the roads . If these categories of music are not enough to make Indian roads –alive with the sound of music , we also have brave hearts in pedestrians who always want to cross the road when traffic is on. You touch them and there will be a new melody instantly . Take it from me, even if the pedestrian was at fault, everyone is going to blame it on the car driver . Though sometimes, say in rainy season, when I see a car speeding and splashing the water on the poor office going pedestrians , I too feel bad. . is it that in our anxiety and urgency we fail to understand that they are exposed to the elements that we are not, or are we doing this without the slightest regard to the lesser privileged people (in terms of vehicle ownership!)?
Best sight and sound of all is the moving market on the traffic signals. So far I had seen magazines, newspapers, balloons , car cleaning service, strawberry packs and flowers …but on Delhi NOIDA highway(no.24) one can also find suit pieces , toys, vases, sport equipments and even watches with these street vendors . They must be world’s smartest salespersons for their business call time is in seconds. Their deals are unbelievable, bargain period is less then a minute and yet they do a decent business everyday . The flourish on roads because they are good for everybody- the traffic policeman gets some money from them, the passengers get some bargain deals and for rest they are tolerable distractions at signals.

I have often seen people coming back from other countries admiring the fact how people there drive without honking or without breaking rules. But all of us forget to behave in that manner in our own roads. While breaking the rules is extremely subjective in a country like India, at least the noise factor is something we can slowly progress towards abolishing. A little bit of common sense and patience if used by all , will go a long long way in improving the situations that we drive in these days. Recently in Delhi there was a drive to promote less honking. It does not appear to be very effective because an average Indian loves everything from cinema to cricket with sounds of music . A friend from Bangalore once told me that he has given up honking. “What is the use? " he argued “ …Its futile and doesn't affect anyone - animals, humans, scooter drivers , auto drivers, bus drivers et all." I don’t know if it is our ego driving our cars or our attitude of “me first at any cost” . Everyone wants to get ahead of the other even if it is a matter of seconds . We do not respect others' rights.The key is perhaps lack of COMMON SENSE. I have lost count of the number of times these "Me first at any cost" drivers overtake on the wrong side. Only to find later that our desi Schumacher is just a couple of cars ahead... or worse, cooling his heels at the next signal !!This attitude problem not only reflects in our driving style but also in our upkeep of our surroundings. I've seen educated people spitting paan on roads, chucking wrappers, banana peels and whole lot of other stuff - out of their car windows. The same lot admires the American/continental streets in more glorifying terms . The same colleague who gave me the advice for Delhi road driving, once told me the sad fact that a common thing in India is that courtesy is abused/overused instead of being appreciated. If you let one person/vehicle pass through, there will invariably be 101 vehicles behind him trying to get through.. to rub salt, they will be DEMANDING courtesy by tooting their stupid horns. Well , we do need some meditation (om shanti shanti shanti!) and some basic lessons in patience . Which on roads is definitely , the ability to idle your motors when you feel like stripping your gears.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Me and my representatives:

A muse on democracy

These days everyone in India- more so in Delhi, is talking about the next general elections. Newspapers are full of them. The candidates and their supporters are already infected with the bug. The crazy statements and counter statements (in most rude manner and bad taste) are going on full steam on the media . Even housewives talk less of the tearjerkers and more of which politician said what . In all, very interesting and happening times for our democracy.

I too joined the bandwagon recently when I got curious about the candidate profiles. Under the rules framed by the Election Commission (EC), all candidates for election to the Parliament or state legislatures are required to declare their movable and immovable assets and liabilities/overdue to public financial institutions and government dues as well as those of their family members and dependents. Every morning , in the newspaper I find well known names of candidates and details of their assets. Going by these profiles, it appears that our representatives are a super rich lot. Of course we always knew that. But the fact that they are declaring their 3-4 cars and two houses , shares and bank balances openly, should be a cause of concern for Income Tax Department . Most of them are crorepatis . Most own several vehicles and more than one house. I must feel privileged that such rich people are interesting in representing poor me . Yeah , I feel almost poor when I look at their assets. I also feel that Politics is a very lucrative career option...

Take a case of celebrity politician Rahul Gandhi . He is almost my age. Never really worked ( I don’t consider Politics as employment ) . Within one tenure of MP-ship his assets have gone up ten times!! In 2004, he declared total assets of Rs 22 lakh. In five years, the assets of this first-time MP have shot up 10 times to 2.25 crore. While in 2004, he held bank deposits of Rs 11 lakh, £30,000 and $19,200; shares of Rs 3.9 lakh; LIC and other savings certificates in Rs 3.80 lakh; jewellery worth Rs 1.25 lakh; and a farm house worth Rs 9.8 lakh., in 2009, he holds bank deposits of about Rs 20 lakh, LIC and other savings certificates of Rs 10.2 lakh; land worth Rs 40 lakh, jewellery worth Rs 1.5 lakh; and two shops in a mall worth Rs 1.63 crore. I wonder what can be the source of such steep growth.

Rahul Gandhi is not alone . Take another case of R.V Deshpande who was the Congress candidate from Haliyal constituency(Karnataka ) in the 2008 assembly elections. He had filed the mandatory affidavit before the returning officer, and every line of it reveals why Deshpande has been so cagey about his assets and liabilities. (He resisted revealing his assets under RTI several times before Lokayukta .claiming it an intrusion in his privacy .)Deshpande’s assets at the time of the May 2004 elections: Rs 9 crore. His assets at the time of the May 2008 elections were up by more than 1000% and stood at Rs 145 crore. This beats all stock markets and investment options . Then there is a classic case of Mayawati and her party. I sincerely feel that we Auditors can learn some accounting from this lady and her elephant . I do not think that nothing can be done about it under the law. If nothing is being done , however, the fault lies in the implementers of laws. People like me and my colleagues.

Another point to note is that Politics in the family is good for women empowerment. I mean all dependent women, wives and daughters of these politicians are very rich and growing richer with every election . They own vehicles, shares, bonds , cash and of course jewellery . I know enough tax laws to understand the reason of such magnanimity towards women of the family .

These details are disturbing but they still leave many questions unanswered . My first question is -How well these super rich politicians can represent me ? What do they know of my struggles and my problems. Or as they say in administration – my ‘felt’ needs .

Check out this article for further details on my argument . I find it sad that people who made faces when Rabri devi claimed her jail going husband’s Chief minister ship as her family property , also feel that Rahul Gandhi is ‘ hope of young India’ .In my eyes the only difference between Sonia Gandhi and Rabri devi’s entry into politics is that latter is less glamorous than the former. The other day I found a well known fashion designer claiming that Rahul Gandhi is the most appropriate candidate for PM. It’s a shame that we no longer question the family members of politicians claiming the political seats as their family business. It is further shameful that even educated Indians find it a matter of fact that politicians will be corrupt and powerful. They will abuse their powers and there is nothing one can do about it . This indifference , this placid acceptance of wrong – is very frustrating . The least we can do is to ask at every possible forum – the source of this rising income .

But who cares for democracy ? As ordinary voters have we not accepted that for us democracy remains ‘the art of running the circus from the monkey cage’? We are happy with the tamasha going on around us. The 24X 7 entertainment these politicians provide us – these days live on our TV screens .Someone drinking water in a dalit household and someone else turning a poster boy overnight after a hate speech .All elements of drama and action . Better than even reality TV.

This reminds me of my father’s favorite my-school-days-story . He had a friend who was very good in science and maths but was a foot-dragger in the literature subjects. Essay paper was specially his Achilles’ heel . My father and his friend made a deal before exams . My father wrote few essays for him which he learnt by heart and he helped my father with science subjects in return . Dad had selected the essay topics carefully but it so happened that in that year instead of usual topics the paper setters decided to test students on ‘General Elections in India . This friend had learnt ususal topics like My favorite poet , A family vacation and 'Festivals of India' . Now after spending 15 confused minutes in the examination hall, he turned creative . He started his essay with “ General Elections in India are like a big festival. Election time is almost a festive time for us. It brings a lot of business and everybody participates in some way or the other . Other than general elections, India has several major festivals ……..” This was followed by the essay on Festivals of India which the fella had learnt by heart. If my father is to be believed , the examiner found his essay very creative and his friend passed the paper. It is so sad , however, that even after decades , elections by and large still remain just that for us- a business opportunity for us , entertainment for others .

Friday, April 10, 2009

Totto Chan and my school days

(This picture is not of my school..I have taken it from Net and worked on it through Photoshop .This is nearest to how I remember my school chapel . )

Perception is a strange element of mind . Things and events that make part of our memory , may often be perceived quite differently as they actually were. Yesterday afternoon I watched a movie 'Fireflies in the garden’ where a son perceived his relationship with his strict father in a very selective way. He had childhood memories of being afraid of him, his disciplines and his bad behaviour but he failed to remember the happy moments they spent together . Its not always like this. In our childhood memories, many of us often remember only the happy parts while deleting the embarrassing or bitter moments . Perhaps it has to do with our overall frame of mind, what those times made us feel...and what touches our heart and goes to permanent memory is a mystery most cases it is unconsciously selective. For example I have been thinking about my old schools . I had 5 in all . I remember different things about all five . Last week I was reading this cute little book ‘Totto Chan :The little Girl at the Window’ by Japanese writer Tetsuko Kuroyanagi . Tetsuko Kuroyanagi writes about her childhood in a unique school in Japan. I finished rereading the book last night. This beautiful book about author’s school days and unconventional schooling reminded me of my own. Let me confess . I hated schools….all of them . Resisted going there for years and finally as an alternative plan decided to clear them off at the earliest. I always believed that I am better with my story books at home rather than sitting in the class of 25 and doing what I am told to do. I liked the Totto Chan book because I too was rebelling of the school discipline….of studying the subjects in one order…as per syllabus and not doing what you want to do. Incidentally, the book begins with Totto-chan's mother coming to know of her daughter's expulsion from public school. Come to think of it, how many schools give freedom of expression to its pupils? Many children are looked as indisciplined and somewhat 'abnormal' when they show their independent mind or are simply hyperactive like Totto Chan . It was lucky for Totto chan that her mother realizes that what she needs is a school where more freedom of expression is permitted. Thus, she takes Totto-chan to meet Mr. Kobayashi, the headmaster of the new school , Tomoe Gakuen. The book goes on to describe the times that Totto-chan has, the friends she makes, the lessons she learns, and the vibrant atmosphere that she imbibes. More importantly the book is about what she remembers about those days . Her perception of things and people around her .
The book brought back memories of my five schools . My parents unlike most parents of today, were totally cool about schooling of their kids. My father believed in sending his children to the nearest good school and never went competitive in search of the Best one. He was confident that once a basic school structure is there, he can take care of rest of learning outside the school . I like the way my parents brought us up. Without religion. Without tradition. Without the dogma of being good and doing right . I am grateful to them for letting me keep my mind the way God gave it to me. For being proud of their children when there were no reasons to be……for loving us so unconditionally, so freely… helplessly…for so many other things. And so it was for all three of us. We were never barred from reading any book, magazine, paper available in our house. I used to read my elder sisters’ books(specially literature text books) from elementary classes. We invented weird games and of course there was no TV/DVD in those days. To top it all, we had friends of all types. There were no bars on being friends with people elder to us or with children living in servant quarters. When I see children around me these days, I find them very conscious of their class . We were most carefree lot.

Most unconventionally I started my schooling from a university. My father was at that time posted at Pantnagar Agriculture university and in the Home Science Department an experiment of learning behaviour of children was going on. Me along with few other kids of the campus were enrolled as Guinea pigs of the project and started our nursery from a university . It was an interesting ‘school’.There were two teachers (PG students of Home Science) per students. We were not taught writing but encouraged to learn orally .The hypothesis which was being tested says that children who spent initially two years of schooling without learning to write pick up information much faster and greater details ,later on. So while we were told everything about colours, fruits and things around us ….we were still illiterates as far as writing was concerned . In the end of that year instead of one page report card….my parents got a thick file on my behaviour, learning and other characteristics. Later on reading this ‘performance report' - in my teenage days , was hilarious. Interestingly , they judged my strengths and weaknesses in various subjects quite accurately. But then, dad got his transfer . In the new city when I went for an admission test , the teachers were shocked to find my level of enlightenment when they tested me . I am told I spoke in complete sentences about how apple is good for health and what vitamins it contains.(The question was to identify apple from its picture.) Impressed by my performance they decided to put me in 1st standard directly…but then someone thought of testing me on writing alphabets . Now there I proved to be a total failure .I did not even know how to hold a pencil. They were dumbfounded by this strange profile of their future student . But instead of giving me up as abnormal, they decided to work on me ..and they did. I hated the forced education but loved that school .
Now looking back….At times I feel I must go for a pilgrimage of all old schools and universities of mine . I need to know how they fared with the test of time. Those lovely places which I used to hate . I also want to complete my memory of these places, specially my school at Jhansi ( H.M Memorial School -in the mission compound) with its huge Chapel and a church on a hillock nearby . This school was built in 1926 by the Canadian Presbyterian Church to offer education for daughters of the poor.We had many tribal girls studying with us. All I have now is hazy memories of places and people. I remember attending midnight mass in the school, there are memories of a ‘jail’ inside the school and I can recollect some faces- e.g. Ms. Wordsworth, our school manager . A tall Canadian lady worked extensively for tribal children of Bundelkhand . I wonder how are those places now? Where are those people ? Sometimes I also doubt whether my memory of my early school days is factual or not ? I need to check out the real places to ensure that .

Memories of old days coming back like floods…A desperate urge to live back the happy parts of past ....a sure sign of old age .

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I protest!

My four years in Bengal did not go in vain. Some of that famous ’pratibadi chetna’(loosly translated as spirit of protest) has got into me . There is definitely something in the water and air over there that people protest on anything they find wrong. A good and aware citizen in those parts of the world is expected to know about the injustices and excesses on groups /individuals in the rest of the world and they happily protest for these excesses. The spirit is very visible in the daily working (and non-working) also.
Of late I found myself doing the same. In any case I was always one who believed in doing things right-if for nothing else then to gratify few and to astonish the rest (a la Mark Twain ). So far it worked well for me.To cite few incidents I once marched off my class (in 12th standard) because I found my teacher (a favorite otherwise!) was glorifying the kar seva and demolition of Babri mosque structure at Ayodhya. I just stood up and blurted out that I don’t think you should be teaching this in Hindi literature class and walked off. She was stunned but thankfully did not raised the issue again. Then once I fought with my batchmates during a train journey when they first used their government I- cards and then offered bribe to the ticket collector for few confirmed seats. Surprisingly they budge in to my bossiness. But in all these events my protest was very principled and calm. I never thought I can feel angry and frustrated with the ‘wrongs’. Things started changing once I moved to Delhi. As I wrote earlier on this blog, this city celebrates both Gods and Anti Gods and with same fervor . Nepotism, favoritism, power play by politicians is looked upto and when I crib on such issues, they look at me with surprise. I still find it difficult to accept the negative opinion of colleagues about sharing information, spoils system prevailing in the government and the faulty premises on which most important decisions are taken in the system. But for this post , I would like to note only my complaints in personal capacity. Surprisingly I find ample opportunity for that too, even when I often close my eyes to the daily excesses one witness on streets.( Finding a police car accepting currency notes from a rickshaw wallah or driver is not uncommon in NOIDA) . During my last train journey from Lucknow to Delhi I noticed that the service quality, cleanliness and even the food has gone down. I politely asked the train supervisor for suggestion /complaint book . He first asked me what I want to write. I said I am not interested in verbal complaints. He nodded and said he will send it. The complaint book never came, despite my reminded thrice and even going in search of it. When I was about to get down and IRCTC person came with a one page feedback form and laughingly said –you can write whatever you want on this. I shot back that I will now write an email to railways . He smugly replied-“As if anyone reads those.” I was so angry with the incident that I could not get peace till next morning when I actually send that email. Well, he was right…there is no reply. I still feel so angry about the incident .
Then the other day I was in Lal Quila with my nephew and niece and we found an ITDC run restaurant ‘Dawatkhana ‘ .They were terribly thirsty and wanted to drink something. When we went inside we found that the place was untidy and full of dust. There were about 4-5 boys in uniform but no one paid any attention to us. When asked they rudely said-“We don’t serve anything but water and cold drinks . “ The same reply was given to few foreign tourists in front of me. First I asked him to call the manager, to which his confident reply was : Manager comes only once a month. Then since the kids badly wanted water we asked for a bottle of mineral water. After 5 minutes of wait an old Bisleri bottle refilled with tap water was passed on to for double the charge. I was furious. When I started creating ruckus asking manager’s number, the fellow changed the bottle. I refused to let this go so easily and asked him to give me number of ITDC officials. He gave me a mobile number and when I called there the manager was not very willing to listen. Forced by the circumstances, I decided to reveal my official identity. The scene changed thereafter . The person with a polite tone started apologizing and insisting that I may not complaint against him. So much so that by the time we came out of the fort we found the boy who at first refused to give manager’s number was standing on the gate pleading that I should not complaint or he’d lose his job. They were not so worried when I as a common person I threatened to complaint. So much for our democracy!!! I find the entire episode very pathetic. Today I tried calling ITDC for launching complaint. There was no reply on the phone. No email on website . They just do not presume any complaint may come. I then wrote a letter to the Secretary concerned and am sending it my post (I told you the infatigueable pratibadi chetna!)
My net God Google reveled that there are many such harassed consumers and citizens like me and of course there are several fancy agencies doing the work of grievance redressal. But I wonder how efficient is the system. The common citizen still feel so powerless in front of huge sarkari machinery-railways or any other department.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Waking up with cuckoo’s song

I woke up suddenly when I heard the recognizable sweet sound almost in my dreams . There was a distinct aroma of familiarity in the room. It was still early in the morning and the last hints of winters were enveloping the place. I could not make out what was different for quite a few seconds. Then suddenly it dawned on me that I was in my parents’ house at Lucknow. The sound was of course from the koel sitting on the mango tree and announcing the arrival of spring. Now things were becoming clearer to me. Why the bed was feeling so comfortable last night. Why there were no bugging alarms in the morning and why the breeze bore a faint smell of bela- carefully planted by mom outside my window. Its intoxicating smell in the summer months was my constant companion in my college days . Oh,There is nothing like your childhood home to sleep in and wake up into.Even the old wall clock looks like a long lost friend .
Yesterday was a ‘diamond day’ for me. There is nothing like your own town to go shopping and of course there is no better companion that your own sister for such an expedition. I had the luxury of both yesterday. I was home after almost a year and that too only for two days. There was so much to squeeze in those 48 hours of blissful existence. No wonder , more than the shopping my mind was engrossed in the sounds and sights of my beloved Lucknow. I was delighted to find that even my driver took time to stop and comment on small things like the flowering of mango trees or the blood red semal flowers decorating the streets(this for a change was nature’s not CM’s initiative !) One of the surest signs of coming of spring (month of phalgun) is this erupting of the Semal (Silk Cotton tree) into flowers. Bereft of leaves, the flowering Semul plays host to a large variety of birds, bees and flies who congregate to enjoy the nectar. The same tree decorates Delhi roads also…but I wonder if anyone notices. But why blame Delhi, even Lucknow is changing fast before my own eyes. Everyone I met in the city this time , complained about the extensive stone work that is going on at each nook and corner with giant size statues of political leaders enhancing the so called beauty of the city. (There were also huge posters announcing this beautification and also giving thanks to the CM –supposedly from common people, for her thoughtful initiatives.)
Most of Lucknowites like me try to ignore these and carry on with their daily lives- kind of living in a dream world of what the city used to be. Some signs of those days are still there . May be just in some crumpling walls of aminabad kothis and few sepia photographs hanging on these walls . The old world charm and the magic of old days are perhaps outdated. What is the worth of a place where a quick repartee is valued more than a new Merc? Or where style and not speed was the hallmark of success. The old world is replaced suitably by the new one. The fast and furious world of selfish ambitions and insensitive power is here for good. But for non residents like me some places and some institutions are so much part of our Lucknow that it is difficult to imagine the city without them and their old ways. My favorite bookstore took exactly 10 seconds in giving me the title I was looking for on Meer Taqi ‘Meer’ and the person also told me about three related books . In contrast , the fancy New Delhi bookstores could not even understand which ‘Meer’ I am talking about. One even suggested I may like to look into the section selling self-development books and another(disappointingly OUP-the publisher of the title I was looking for ) thought I am asking for Titu meer!! These are comforst for which each one of us crave for a home- comfort of being understood, comfort of familiarity and comfort of the existence of the world as it should be .
During this journey I was reading a heartwarming book ‘Diddi-My mother’s Voice’ by Ira Pande. It is a collection of stories and articles by famous Hindi Writer Gaura Pant ‘Shivani’ . The book was echoing my sentiments about the old days and the magical world of childhood.Its so fascinating to travel through someone’s life- almost as if one is living another life. This book and my being in Lucknow reminded me once again that “Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies that matters,—mothers and fathers don't die…… Tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow if you're busy havingfun,/Is plenty of time to say, /"I'm sorry, mother." “ and yes the other part of this poem is also true that “To be grown up is to sit at the table/ with people who have died,/who neither listen nor speak;/Who do not drink their tea, /though they always said/ Tea was such a comfort ."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Pink beauty

Here is a pair of lovely sweet-pea from my garden wishing everybody a love-ful day .
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Saturday, February 7, 2009

The mystery of disappearing things..

Yesterday evening I suddenly realized that one of my files is missing from our little study. Now the documents it contained were no way valuable but the fact that it was missing was strange. In my small house there are very limited places for a file to stay unnoticed and there are absolutely no visitors in that room . Also since it went missing, I realized I need it badly and urgently.(well , it happens!) So 11 PM in the night , me and hubby started searching the house. We even opened the freezer and washing machine to be sure .(Well, one of my aunt one day realised that her mobile phone and her specs are missing together . After two hours of search the mobile was located in the deep freezer and the specs on her eyes . ) But no , the file was nowhere . The incident was even more annoying as it is the second such ‘disappearance ‘ from the study . First was also equally puzzling. One day suddenly the cable connecting computer with my external hard disk disappeared. One moment it was there and the other it wasn’t. I searched whole house for it but … This second incident made me very irritated, puzzled …even sad. The thing is , I take pride in being ‘well’ organized (hubby would have used the words control freak ) . I am almost arrogant about my planning and arranging skills-both in office and at home . It was almost a personal blow that things(however small and value-less) went missing from my house .More than that, looking at the circumstances of the disappearance, I can’t blame anyone else . As this is no TV soap the other possibility of it being taken by an ET or a ghost would not stand either .So it must be me who misplaced the things . I was still mad one hour after the unsuccessful search operation , when I went to bed. Then me and hubby consoling each other, shared one story each from our childhood days when such disappearance of things left us puzzled . I will begin with his story . In schooldays, he used to collect cards with cricketers' pictures on it . Some uncle gifted him a beautiful dairy and he decided to paste these cards on it. That perhaps was not best of the ideas , as it made the diary bulky and puffed up . But then for a schoolboy’s eyes , it was still beautiful. Immensely proud of his collection ,he used to carry it everywhere . As it was his prized possession, he was always extra careful about its upkeep. It was time of his summer holidays and the family was going to Mumbai where his uncle was staying at that time. He was told that the diary cannot travel all the way to Mumbai as it will add additional weight to already exploding luggage . Dear boy thought it out hard where he can safely keep his diary . After two weeks of fun filled holidays at Mumbai when they came back diary was nowhere to be found. Everything else in the house was intact but diary disappeared .He obviously searched every nook and corner but to no avail. Poor boy was crestfallen by this loss . One year went by and it was another summer holiday and they were all set to go for another trip. When the large suitcase was pulled out from top of a steel almirah , with a ‘thud’ the diary re-appeared . Delighted beyond words, he suddenly remembered that last year when the family was about to leave , he thought the newly vacated top of the almirah a safe place for his diary .
My story is also similar in essence . I had once written about our craze for comics particularly for Amar Chitra Katha in our childhood.(here) Once I was ‘issued’ a comic titled Ratnavali (based on famous Sanskrit drama supposedly penned by King Harsha ) by my elder sis Anu. I gave it back after reading but soon afterwards Anu reported that it is missing. She even started doubting that I had ever returned it . This lead to some well fought sisterly fights , followed by yelling and tears from both sisters. But then with frantic searches and even cross checking by our eldest sister, the comic was nowhere. Both of them concluded that it must be me who has misplaced the comic and was now claiming that it was returned . Well, the accusation which was to be proven false later on continued on my head till one day after 4-5 months we were shifting from that house . It turned out that the comic somehow slipped between the old newspaper at the bottom of the rack and was safely lying there all the time when poor me was branded ‘careless’ and worthless creature (with a hurtful ban on further borrowing of comics)by two elder sisters .
Well , I hope soon I find my cable and my missing file also and the mystery of their disappearance resolves or perhaps , the day is come when I should also declare like Garfield-the-cat that -"Organised is my middle name and poorly is my first "

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

O God!

We discussed Gods and myths during lunch hour today . Surprised, are u? Yes…rightly so if you are. I mean lunch hour is meant to discuss tyrannical bosses, useless colleagues, hopeless subordinates, food, politics, traffic and weather only. That too in this order strictly. Where do the heavenly matters of Gods fit in this menu?
Actually the talk started when we started discussing the latest fad towards Buddhism. Someone said that the kind of Buddhism that flourished world over is not the puritan Buddhism which Buddha preached in his times to get rid of ritualistic and prejudiced Hinduism . This is because a normal person need symbols to worship, she argued . I casually commented that this is why in Hinduism many traits and virtues have been deity-fied . Hindus worship meaning behind their statues and the demarcation of virtues is so minute that there are many gods and goddesses functioning in a similar jurisdiction of virtues.

Just to illustrate the point I named Kuber and Laxmi- both of them are worshipped for wealth and money making . There is of course a slight difference between the two . Another colleague jumped in with the argument that the Gods and goddesses too have a hierarchical system . He claimed to be well aware of this as he has watched all mythical animation films with his 3 year old son . I tried arguing back that its not only hierarchy but also the genesis of a particular god. The gods worshipped today in what we loosely understand as Hinduism come from various streams. Some folk traditions, some Vedic gods modified to suit modern needs , even borrowed gods from other religions and of course historical persons turned into deities. If we take one God say Ganesha and start counting the myths associated with him we may find several weird and contradictory myths. But that is perhaps the beauty of myths. They touch you at some very basic level. Simple tales given status higher than that of a folktale and fables. Let us take Kuber for instance. I remember standing on the floating hotel of Kolkata (Floatel) a friend was looking at the banks of the river Ganges. It could have easily been converted into a tourist site –someone commented. There are ample number of businessmen in this Badabazar area itself who can invest in such a project-somebody else chipped in . This friend wisely commented that "well it is not the same thing to worship Laxmi and to worship Kuber. These seths of Badabazar are worshipper of Kuber- the guardian of money , they do not believe in creating wealth." Well, his comment may not be correct completely in that context but it certainly speaks a lot about the difference between the two deities.
Freshly curious about Kuber, I did the most natural thing of googling his name. The wikipeadia gave me the information I needed on this mythical, semi historical and common god between Hinduism and Buddhism.
Kuberin our myths is King of Yakshas.He is mentioned as guardian of directions. He is the Lokpal of the treasury of Indra.(That is why his statue in front of Reserve Bank of India) .He and the capital city of his kingdom Alkapuri is mentioned in Kalidasa’s Meghadutam too, if you remember . In Sanskrit literature this Alkapuri is taken to be in Kashmir and thus Kuber is rightly the keeper of North direction . Kubera is also the son of Sage Vishrava (hence he is also called Vaisravana) The banks of river Narmada is described as the birth place of Kubera, where his father Visravas, lived. It is also a territory of Gandharvas as the Mahabharata informs us. The same Kuber –in Buddhist tradition was a King of Lanka. He was banished from his kingdom by none other than Ravana –his younger brother , who succeeded him on the throne of Srilanka. So one can conclude that Kuber was a much traveled person – from Lanka he settled down to Himalayas .And why not- to facilitate his travels he owned the first aircraft –the pushpaka yan, which was later on notoriously used to abduct Seeeta . Now comes the connection between him and Laxmi, his house was supposed to be the abode of Adilaxmi – the deity of all riches. Kuber was so rich that he in south Indian traditions is also credited to have loaned money to Lord Vishnu, to meet his expenses of marrying Laxmi. (The myth also says that Vishnu is still paying the interest part only and is yet to pay the principal!)

Some of you may find it amusing , but to me these myths are captivating stuff. They speak so much about the imagination and fantasies of our ancient wise persons and common folks. Don't think that Hindus are the only ones who claim protection of 33 crore Gods and Goddesses The other day some one was telling me about deities/patron saints in Catholic traditions specially in Italy . It is a similar tradition like Hinduism and there are patron saints for horses, cancer patients, housewives and even for 'falsely accused'. Internet will give you comprehensive list of these saints and their functional jurisdictions.

Well, the discussion on the lunch table turned quite heated till finally one wise colleague (incidentally a Sikh gentleman) commented “ Perhaps that is why they made that movie-GODS MUST BE CRAZY!) and broke the divine contemplation . Later on someone quipped that had this discussion continued for few more minutes, disturbed by the fact that a group of auditors is discussing their jurisdiction , Gods would have sent down their organisational chart as reply to auditors' observations.