Friday, March 31, 2006

The day that changed my life.

Exactly two years ago, when I was working in Mumbai, the client arranged for everybody working on our project, to go on a visit to EsselWorld. Having seen the EsselWorld ads repeatedly on TV, with declarations of "Esselworld mein rahunga main! Ghar nahin jaaunga main!" [I will stay on in Esselworld, I will not go home!], I couldn't wait to go and see what was so special about it.

I went armed with a mini first-aid kit, on my mom's insistence. [Yes, she has heard too many horror stories involving fun parks.] Her advice rang in my ears. "You are over-adventurous. Don't go on rides which are too crazy." Well, moms will be moms. Anyway, after promising to send her an sms every one hour to prove that I am still alive, I joined my colleagues on the bus to EsselWorld. Just as the bus started, I got another sms from my mom. "Be careful. If the ride looks too dangerous, do NOT go on it. Remember, there are people who love you waiting for you back home." Phew! "Ok mom!" I replied, and we were on our way.

At the gates of EsselWorld, a couple of colleagues went to buy tickets. The rest of us, more than 60 of us, were just waiting around. Someone suggested a game to play to while away the time. It was an improvised version of kho-kho. The players stand in pairs, one behind another, in two concentric circles. There is one guy who is the chaser, and he chases a designated runner. When the runner is tired, he tags one of the pairs, and the player in the pair who belongs to the outer concentric circle turns into the runner.

Well, the game progressed, and finally, somebody tagged me. I did a little of smart running and dodging, and then decided to tag somebody else. I approached someone, tagged him, and stopped with an awkward jerky movement. Suddenly, my left ankle twisted beneath me. I desperately clawed the air for a handhold, and the guy nearest to me tried to prevent me from falling, but I went crashing down. A number of hands immediately helped me up. I stood up, put my weight on my left foot, and promptly went down again in pain. I hopped over to the side, sat, and suddenly found that my left shoe was too tight. I took off my shoes and socks, to find my ankle twice its size. It was throbbing in pain. I was half-laughing, half-crying. An ambulance materialized out of nowhere, and took me to the "medical centre" in Essel World. There was a very gentle and soft-spoken doctor on duty. She examined my foot, and declared that it could not be just a sprain. It could be a fracture. Whaaaaat? Yes, she said, and advised me to either go back home to Andheri and show it to an expert, or, go to Bhayander, a suburb close by, to a doctor on EsselWorld's payroll. Going back to Andheri would mean that someone would have to go with me, and that would mean that s/he would lose out on a fun-filled day. Going to Bhayander would take just a couple of hours, and my escort could continue with enjoying himself/herself in Esselworld. I chose the latter. The ambulance again came for me. First they confirmed that I indeed held a valid EsselWorld ticket, failing which they would have probably cast me out just like that.

We set out, my colleague Bhupi, and I. Now Bhupi is one of those people who has helped me a million times when I have been in trouble , and has been a very good friend, but unfortunately, I have never been able to acknowledge how much his efforts have meant to me. Maybe it is just that sometimes you can never thank some people adequately. Anyway, Bhupi accompanied me in the ambulance to the doc in Bhayander. On the way, my mom sent me a message, "How are the rides?", and Bhupi prompted me to write back, "Enjoying a very special ride!" :)

The ambulance ride was pretty painful. The road was bumpy, and my poor ankle kept getting tossed about. I gritted my teeth and bore it. After too long a journey, we arrived at the Bhayander hospital, and I went hopping in on one leg. The doctor examined my foot, said that it was not a fracture (a sigh of relief) but looked like a ligament tear (whaaat?). He bound my foot with a crepe bandage, and told me to go to a specialist. I decided to do that the next day, and went back to the EsselWorld medical centre. I was given a clean bed in a cool room smelling of disinfectant. I convinced Bhupi that I would be fine and he went to join the others.

I lay down there and called mom and told her what happened. I philosophized to her, telling her that you can never know what will happen, and when. See? You were so afraid that I would hurt myself on some ride. I hurt my ankle even before I could enter EsselWorld! Anyway, After that, left with nothing to do, I made a lot of calls, and played games on my mobile. Finally it was lunch time, and the ambulance came for me again. I joined the rest of my colleagues, to a lot of solicitous questions and pampering. After lunch, I got back and slept well, until another colleague, who was feeling woozy after a particularly dizzying ride, joined me. We chatted and kept each other company until it was time to go back home.

I reached my paying guest accommodation, and got pampered by PG Auntie. Then I went into the bathroom. I was hopping on one foot, and the toilet was wet, and well, you know. I crashed again. I tried not to howl, but just took painkillers and went to bed. The next day, I went to an orthopaedist close by. He took some X-Rays, and said that it indeed looked like a ligament tear, and he said he would refer me to an expert. [What was he?] He said, you need bed rest for at least 2 weeks. Whaaat? Then might I as well go back to Bangalore and get treated there? That would be best, said the doc. Fine. Then Bhupi arrived, heard of my predicament and immediately went to the airport to arrange for tickets. Meanwhile I got back and called office to tell them that they would have to do without me for a while. They were supportive, and I packed whatever I could while I hopped on one foot. Bhupi came back with some really economical tickets, for a flight which started at... 3 am! Well, obviously I needed an escort at that time of the night.. and naturally Bhupi volunteered. Well, he took me to the airport, and found that we needed to have booked wheelchairs while booking the tickets. So there are no wheelchairs, sorry. Sigh.. I made a very sad face, and hopped very helplessly around, while Bhupi did some pretty good convincing. Then the airport authorities felt sorry for me and gave me a wheelchair. [My experiences with the wheelchair here]. Bhupi checked me in, and went back. I reached Bangalore early next morning, and horrors! - my entire family had come to receive me. My mother got all teary-eyed to see her dear daughter in a wheelchair.

Anyway a quick trip to the best orthopaedist followed... after confirming that my ligaments were indeed torn, they had to determine how bad it was. So a particularly painful x-ray followed. The doc said "Ready? This will hurt!" and grabbed my ankle and twisted it with all his might, and the x-ray guy took the x-ray. The whole twisting thing probably lasted for just 3-4 seconds but my I saw red and black spots and i clenched the sides of the bed. I was sweating and whimpering with pain by the time it was done. This was to see how much damage my ligament had undergone? Ha! The ligament would have suffered the most damage during that x-ray. Sob sob :( Anyway, doc knows best! Then the doc took one look at the x-ray and declared that my foot needed to be in a cast for a minimum of six weeks. Whaaaaaat? Well, my leg was put in a cool blue fibreglass cast, a walker was obtained, and I was a pampered invalid for the next six weeks. Then of course, i needed two weeks to be able to walk after the cast was removed, and it was 2 months before I could go back to Mumbai.

Now why did that fall change my life? Well, some of you know why.. for others, I will just say that this little, but painful incident, drastically and unexpectedly changed the course of my life in a very positive way - I met the guy I would marry. ;)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

My aunt's new blog!

At last! My aunt finally got herself a blog! It took quite a lot of persuading, though.:) I love her style of writing. She intends to write about her extensive travels, her life in UK and Singapore, and other interesting bits and pieces along the way. Look out for her at Anu's "Walk a-musing".

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bring on the darkness!

Summer is here! Bringing with it, the inevitable power-cuts. A power-cut during the day is simply a nuisance. But power-cuts at night have always been an event, for as long as I remember!

Age 5 - We lived in a colony with lots of kids. Lots of screaming just as the lights went out, and everybody assembles to play hide and seek. Terrified as I am of imaginary creepy-crawlies in the dark, I avoid that game where I will have to hide in nooks and crannies - what if a giant tarantula lived in there?! I run home and busy myself in bugging my kid sister, or just get in everybody's way until my father devises some cool games to keep me occupied. And I laugh and play until the lights come back. Then I scream..."Nooooooooo lets switch off the lights again!"

Age 6 - My father entertains me with shadow figures that he makes using his hands. He performs an entire story, complete with dialogues and sound effects. I watch fascinated, and try my hand (pun not intended) at it, but succeed in getting only a little yapping shadow puppy on the wall.

Age 7 - I am a regular little bookworm. You can always spot me with my nose in a book. When the lights go out, I just pull my chair close to the candle and continue reading. No amount of coaxing by my parents will tear me away from my book. Then I go too close to the candle and get a couple of hair on my head burnt by the flame of the candle, and I withdraw, screaming, with the smell of burnt hair in my nostrils.

Age 8 - I have realized that reading in the dark is bad for the eyes. So I just keep my book aside when the lights go out, and go out and play running and catching in the dark. Or I play word-building with my parents. If some of my friends dropped by, we play Antakshari or play some games which involve very silly songs and lots of hand-clapping. ;)

Age 9 - I sit around with the other kids and exchange ghost stories. There are half a dozen tamarind trees in our colony, and these apparently house ghosts. We dare each other to walk under the tamarind trees. If a slightly reckless soul steps forward to take up the dare, we follow, making eerie, creepy, howling and creaking noises, and the brave kid turns into a bawling kid.

Age 10 - Influenced by the freedom-fighters, I hold my palm at the level of the candle flame but not right above it, and mouth patriotic dialogues. My little sister, watching from one side, looks at me admiringly, probably thinking how brave her Akka is, to hold a palm to a candle. Of course, like a responsible big sister, I make sure that she gets nowhere near the flame.

Age 11 - I spend all my time staring at the candle flame, and comparing it with the diagram of a flame in my science book. My father has taught me how to run my fingers through the candle flame without getting burnt, and I spend hours doing it, not getting bored. Then he teaches me how to light a candle out of the still hot smoke of a just-extinguished candle. I think this is next only to magic, and blow out and light candles until the table becomes a mess of wax much to my mother's exasperation.

Age 13 - My friends and I take walks around the colony, or sit somewhere and just chat. We whisper secrets to each other and wonder about the mysteries of life. We comment on the guys, and giggle uncontrollably. We look up at the sky and try to identify the constellations. Or count the stars. Or hope to see a shooting star. Horses were needed to drag us home.

Age 15 - Exam time. Just curse the electricity board and continue studying with the aid of an emergency lamp.

Age 17 - My sister and I are into serious singing. The moment the lights go out, left with no alternative, i.e. no books and no TV, we automatically pick up the Tanpura, tune it and start singing. The deep resonant twanging of the Tanpura. Our clear voices in perfect harmony with it soar through the darkness. We revel in the sound of our own voices in the silence. My mother, half-ground chutney in the mixer forgotten, just sits and listen to us, probably thanking the darkness for hiding her tears of joy at hearing us sing.

Age 20 and after - Quiet moments on the terrace or balcony, alone. Breathing the crisp night air. Looking at the moon.
Or precious moments with parents. A mat on the terrace floor, lying on it, with my head on my mother's lap, looking at the sky. Serious discussions underway, about the future.
Quiet conversations with my sister. About life, love, friends, hopes and dreams. Spontaneously bursting into song.
Or just sitting with eyes closed listening to my mother hum, or my father play plaintive notes on his Hawaiian guitar.

Yesterday - A lovely walk. After dinner, Just sit and talk with S. Slip into a comfortable silence. Enjoy the peace and happiness that comes with being together and doing nothing. Listen to the silence of the night.

Rather strange, isn't it? Power cuts have caused loads of misery and inconvenience, but if I think back, all I remember are the happy moments!

Friday, March 24, 2006

A mountain out of a molehill?

Do you know who Hari Sadu is? No? Right now, he is very famous. ;) Remember that ad for naukri.com? The ad where a tyrant boss called Hari Sadu is having trouble spelling out his name to a caller, and his junior offers to spell it out for him, and says "Write down, Hari. H for Hitler, A for Arrogant, R for Rascal and I for Idiot" - all this bravado because he has just landed a job, thanks to naukri.com. I thought it was a cool ad. But now I hear that a 11-year old boy called Hari Bhanot has sued naukri.com because his classmates have been harassing him and making fun of him because his name is Hari. Naukri.com has issued a press release here

This made me laugh out loud. Yes, LOL in the true sense of the word. Though I feel really sorry for little Hari, because I know how demeaning it is to be laughed at, especially at that tender age, I think he has over-reacted. How many ads, how many movies exist that have made fun at fat people, thin people, bald people, dark people, bespectacled people, nerdy people, physically challenged people, people of certain regions, and what have you. And simultaneously created stereotypes like, this-guy-is-fat-and-so-he-has-to-be-laughed-at. Going by Hari Bhanot's example, 90 percent of India should be busy suing film-makers and ad-makers.

And all those of you who want to challenge me and say that "No, no, movies and ads do not influence people and make them laugh at 'different' people" can take a trip. I know what I am talking about.

And no, I absolutely do NOT subscribe to what these ad-makers do. I think ads which ridicule somebody are in terribly bad taste. I do not buy products that demean a trait or a character or looks. But the naukri.com ad was making fun of just one particularly obnoxious Hari, and so, it did not fall under my category of bad ads. Well, apparently some people do think otherwise!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Subtle brainwashing.

My first reaction to Rang De Basanti was that the movie gives out a dangerous message. Just because our freedom fighters avenged a wrong by employing extreme means of retaliation, it does not make it okay to do the same thing now. Yes, the protagonists in the movie did not get anywhere by doing what they did. But it did portray them as heroes. Martyred heroes.

But I think this movie might not really encourage such extreme behaviour, as some fear, because I think that the average viewer is rather discerning, and knows that what they did in the movie was quite idiotic. But that is because it is a direct, in-your-face message. Compared to this, far more alarming are the subtle messages that movies and television serials send across every day. Nothing as dramatic and controversial as Rang De Basanti. But far more dangerous. Slow poison. You will not even realize that your brain is receiving those signals. It seeps into your sub-conscious when you are not looking, and corrodes the collective psyches of the entire nation.

Everybody can see what Rang De Basanti seems to be telling us. But nobody realizes what serials are doing to us.

Take the saas-bahu serials. Repeatedly, they send across the message that the place of the woman is at home, looking after the affairs of the house. All the protagonists are paragons of virtue. They look after their husbands and in-laws, cook and feed them, and act as the wall of the family. They are traditional, have a lot of respect for "sanskaar"(culture) - how I have started hating that word! On the other hand, there is the scheming woman who is invariably highly professional, or ambitious. She is bold, confident and always wants to have her own way. Her husband is either her partner in crime, or a weakling. Watch this serial for a year, and you will develop an inherent bias towards the bold, ambitious woman.

Consider any ordinary soap. There are no grey characters. Everything is either black or white. All emotions are extreme. Rivalry, jealousy, quarrels, infidelity, backstabbing, and what have you. Relationships are never straightforward. No word spoken can be taken at face value. Every word, every look, every action has to be analyzed to ensure that there is no scheme behind it. A harmless sentence spoken by a mother-in-law is contrived by the daughter-in-law to mean something entirely different. I wonder how many perfectly fine MIL-DIL are going down the drain due to "maybe this is her actual intention" thoughts.

There are hundreds of situations which give the same message again and again in every serial, every language.

A guy molested a girl? How will she get married now that her "good name" has gone? So get her married to that very molester.
Did you get married? Give up your dreams and goals, cross over from jeans to a aaree, wear your hair in a bun, and make the kitchen your home.
No matter how much of an ugly spoilt brat the guy is, the girl should be "beautiful, virtuous and from a good family".
Observe fasts for the long life of your husband. No matter if he is a first class crook. After all, being a "Suhagan"(woman whose husband is alive, to put it crudely) is the supreme state.
Send your harrassed daughter back to her wife-beating, womanizing husband, because a "woman's place is in her husband's home".
Got a child? Make sure that he always comes first in the class in studies. Any other talent can go to the dustbin.
Your mother-in-law, sister-in-law, or daughter-in-law, or any damn female in-law can never have your good at heart. All she says is just a farce, and her real "face" will come out sometime very soon.
Any problem or bad phase can be overcome by appeasing the Gods by having an expensive pooja, homa or havan.
If a character is afflicted with a life-threatening disease, he/she is most likely to die. All medical breakthroughs are coolly ignored.
Utter rubbish.

Such conservative beliefs, superstitions and myths, are being continuously drilled into our somnambulent brains each time we watch a crappy movie or a serial.

You and I are "educated, broad-minded", and we know that these serials are "rubbish", and we are "superior" and do not get affected by any such "stupid" serials. But you and I do not make up India. You and I are not the sole bearers of Indian culture. We are just two among a billion and more. There are millions of people who watch these serials everyday. Millions who are still steeped in ignorance and backwardness. These people need a positive example, they need to be brought out of the darkness.

Instead, these serials are just reiterating and reaffirming the blind beliefs of yore and pushing the masses backwards into the eighteenth century.

Subtle brainwashing, working beautifully.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The results are out!

A colleague just walked by, and he had in his hand a sheaf of papers. When I saw him, he was smiling and rustling the papers at some person behind me, and his gesture was one of "Look, here it is!"

I suddenly froze, and a familiar, yet forgotten feeling crept over me. That was the same gesture that "Pyjama Tata" used to make when he brought the examination results to the department! That feeling of dread, of foreboding, of excitement, all mixed with the smell of suspense in the air!

The four years of engineering were just a blur of exams and results. We wrote eight exams and had to go through the ordeal of receiving the results eight times. Bangalore University was notorious for churning out unexpected results. You could be confident of having fared beautifully in an exam, but you could be certain that you have cleared it only after you had seen the results. So the results were much more than just a reflection of how you wrote your exam. It also told you how much luck had favoured you.

Little wonder then, that the results were awaited with so much anxiety. Even the battle-hardened veterans had to cope with increased pulse rates. Bangalore University was also very infamous for not being prompt with the results. The most common rumour in the campus was "I heard the results will be put up today!" This rumour could go on for two months, and yet we students would believe it every time!

On the day the results finally arrived, there would be a hush in the college. Urgent whispers could be heard. Someone would say that he saw Nagendra, the main office-guy, bring a huge folder and take it to the Administration building. On protests of "It could have been anything!", the informer would say, "No, no, Nagendra had a knowing look in his eyes". This bit of information would be repeated and reiterated until some guys went up to the admin building and nailed Nagendra and got him to confess that what he had brought were indeed the results and he had indeed gone to the University to get them. When this information reached the rest of the waiting populace, blood pressures would soar, barrels of water would be downed, and there would be a queue outside the toilets.

Even the seemingly unconcerned hostelites would get the message, tumble out of their beds, and come to the department, hair tousled, and eyes anxious. There The Wait would commence. Any office person coming towards the department from the direction of the Admin Department would be examined. Any person with a sheaf of papers in his hand would be scrutinized.

Many red herrings later, someone would think of Pyjama Tata. He was an ancient little man with no teeth, no cheeks, no hair, but with a jutting out jaw and an uncommonly loud voice. His role in the department was indefinite. His identifying feature was a loose, flapping pair of pyjamas. Nobody knew his name. Everybody called him Pyjama Tata.[Tata - Grandfather]. It was to him that we would finally go. He would cackle loudly and say, "I was just about to go to the Principal's office and get the results".

It would be half an hour more of drinking water and going to the loo until we saw Pyjama Tata's dirty white pyjamas flapping from far off. We would watch every step of his until he approached the department. It was then that he would smile and shake the papers at us and make that gesture of "here it is!". The excitement would reach a painful peak. As he climbed the stairs of the department, we would flock about him and beg to be shown "just one page". He would resolutely shake his head and take it straight to the Head Of Dept's office. We would watch the door of HOD's office for the next ten minutes, shifting our weights from one foot to another.

Finally, Pyjama Tata would appear from inside, pick up some board pins and with deliberate sluggishness, he would proceed to the notice board and start pinning up each page. That was one of the times I wished my name started with "A". He used to put it up alphabetically and all the As and the Bs would flock around and start calling out to each other. Then I would wait with my teeth gritted. D, J, L-M, N-P, R, and then S, finally! I would rush forward, only to be pushed and pulled, and someone would shove their elbow into my nose and I would hang on to somebody's plait for balance and then crane my neck and look at the board. And invariably, read the result of the person before or after me. My heart would plunge to my feet and my head would buzz and my vision would get blurred, and then suddenly, someone would be patting my shoulder and saying "Hey Shruthi, great results!".. and I would say, "What the..".. and would look at the board again in renewed hope, and this time read my own result. I would put out my finger and trace a straight line between my name and the new result, confirm it, and would come away from the board in whoops of joy.

I would quickly look at the faces of my friends, to verify that it went well for them. Coz if hadn't for even one, then my own success would seem insipid. Then after a series of palm-burning high-fives, we would run to the nearest phone booth to call our parents[It was the era when only a privileged few owned cells]. After that, it was time for celebration, until it was time for the next results!

By the time we reached the final year, Bangalore University had become very tech-savvy, and the results of the final two semesters were put up online. This was anxiety of a different sort. Sitting up at midnight and refreshing the web page repeatedly until we read the golden words "Results announced for 7th sem - Click here". But nope, nothing compared to the collective tension of the mass of perspiring students, waiting for the bits of paper that contained their "passports to a good life".

It seems so funny now, to think back on it. I can hardly remember the marks I scored or the percentage I got in any of those semesters. Yet, at that time, it seemed to us like a matter of life and death! :D

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I just HAVE to do it!

The remarkable match between South Africa and Australia got me thinking. Australia had set a seemingly unattainable target, a score that looked like it would stay in the record books for years to come. Yet, just hours later, South Africa went ahead and surpassed that figure in style. It was unthinkable, unimaginable. If Australia had set a target of say, 350, which by itself is a respectable total, then how many runs would South Africa have scored? Would they have reached 350 with the same nail-biting finish? Or would they have reached 350 with many more wickets and overs to spare?

My knowledge of cricket is woefully inadequate to comment on the whys and hows of this incredible feat. But I tend to think that this impossible target spurred the South Africans to such an extent that they exerted their complete potential to attain this goal. Why else, with so many thousands of matches being played, with so many fantastic players, hadn't the figure of 400 ever been reached? Then on one single day, that figure is reached and surpassed by both the playing teams?

The point of this post is not to go into raptures at the will and grit of the South African team, nor is it to debate on whether it was the greatness of the batsmen or the failure of the bowlers. That I leave to the expert. This is to explore what it is that drives a person to succeed.

Probably a lesser team would have looked at that figure of 434 and said, "Ok, lets just go out there and get it over with, now this is one target that is unreachable". What is it it that causes the same situation to motivate one person so highly, and discourage the other person equally effectively?

I have observed some common situations that inspire people, or discourage them, and I always wonder what brings about that attitude in them.

Motivated by example: There are many people who look at a successful person and think, "Yes, I want to be like him. He is my idol. I will not stop until I achieve what he has". Then there is another kind of person who looks at a famous person and says, "What shoddy work! What ignorance! How on earth has he attained such heights? I am definitely better than him. If he can do it, so can I!". Both of them seem to work equally well.

Motivated by Acknowledgement: Then there are those who get motivated by praise, or the lack of it. After a long hard day's work, or after struggling for hours at a job, if faults are found with your work, it ignites some people. "I have to do it better! I will show him next time!", they think, and forge ahead. But there are also some who need appreciation. If the work they do is met with criticism, they immediately withdraw and say, "Fine, if you do not like what I do, then don't ask me to do it for you." If these people are first praised, or thanked, and then the flaws in the work are then pointed out, they might be able accept it with grace and make sure to incorporate the corrections the next time they do the work.

Motivated by results: Then there are those who get motivated by failures. They firmly believe in "Failures are the stepping stones to success" and plod on until they prove the adage right. And then there are those who get disheartened at the first sign of failure. If their first attempt ends in success, then they have the ability to take future failures in their stride. But if the first attempt itself is a failure, you can be sure that they will immediately shut shop.

Motivated by the urge to be one-up:
If a rival, or a person you hate happens to become successful, then you tend to work hard to prove to that person (or prove it more to yourself, maybe), that you can do it too. Or if you have been insulted by somebody, and called incapable, there is the feeling of "I'll show her!". Very strong motivators, these.

Motivation by association: Scott Adams of Dilbert fame touches upon this on his very funny blog. I think that is the secret of two siblings making it big in their own fields. RK Laxman - RK Narayan, Lata-Asha, IK Gujral - Satish Gujral, lots, lots more.

These are, of course, external motivating factors. True motivation or determination comes from within. Sometimes I wonder if it is a built-in feature, that comes with only some selected fortunate "models"! Or maybe childhood circumstances, or extreme situations in life shape and model a person into being determined.

You cannot alter the inherent motivation of the person you are dealing with. But you have control on exercising external motivating factors on him. You really need to know what it is that turns off the person you are dealing with. Then you can use your words accordingly and turn the situation to your advantage.

Easier said than done! But it helps to know that maybe, just maybe, you have the power to control people! ;)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Pearls of Wisdom from Oliver Hardy!

There are some pieces of logic which are so simple, yet absolutely irrefutable.

I got one of them from, hold your breath, a Laurel and Hardy comic. Laurel and Hardy are planning to go to the circus the next day. Laurel is so excited that he cannot sleep.
He says, "Ollie, I cannot wait for tomorrow!" and he is all fidgety.
Hardy tells him, "Go to sleep, Stan. Tomorrow always comes sooner once you are asleep."

I was delighted. What wonderful reasoning! I have relied on this astute bit of acumen ever since. Whenever I am looking forward to something, and when I cannot wait for "Tomorrow" to become "Today", what do I do? Have an early dinner and go to bed. The next thing I know, I am waking up, and its "Today"!

[It works the other way too. If I do not want Today to end, or if Tomorrow is going to bring with it something very unpleasant, then I avoid going to bed Today. I put it off as much as possible in the vain hope that Today will go on forever. Now you know why I look hungover every Monday morning!]

Hardy's tip is priceless. It saves you a lot of the agony of waiting, and it saves other people the irritation of seeing you jumping around, saying, "I just can't wait for tomorrow!"

[If you could guess why I wrote about this today, please keep it to yourself!! :)]

Do you have any such pearls of wisdom, that you found in a totally unlikely place?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Why?

In my previous post, I fleetingly touched upon why men indulge in eve-teasing. I propose to explore the reasons slightly more.
Note 1: If you are sick and tired of hearing about eve-teasing, please feel free to skip this post :)
Note 2: This is not a Feminist Woman's Day post :)


In this post, I had written:

My mother tells me that eve-teasing was rampant in her younger days. Her reasoning is that it was the only way the poor males could establish contact with the girls, because the times were such that males and females did not talk to each other, even in college. Now, it is much more open, youngsters go out in mixed groups all the time, so males are not really frustrated, and thus eve-teasing has reduced.


My uncle and I had a discussion on this. He posed a question to me.
"If that is one of the main reasons for eve-teasing", he said, "then consider your grandfather's generation. Contact between men and women, not of the same family, was even more scarce at that time. Was there any eve-teasing then?"
I was almost amused. "No", I said emphatically.
"Why? It is because of urbanization, and hence anonymity. In those days, there were smaller towns, and everybody knew everybody else. You could never hope to go unnoticed if you as much as looked at another girl. Now, you are just one in a crowd. You can do anything and get away with it. With that confidence, men go ahead and do anything."

He had a point. But one more reason could be that women rarely went out unescorted in my grandfather's generation. But this got me thinking. If this was one of the
reasons, then why has eve-teasing reduced, from the time I was in my teens, to now? Bangalore is bigger, anonymity is greater - then why? If I consider eve-teasing as something which men do just coz they think women are inferior and hence their property, with whom they can do anything they want to, then there is an explanation. I tend to think that men have finally recognized that women are as good as, if not better than men. Or if not anything else, that women are educated, confident, and can stand up for themselves. They probably do not want to take a risk with getting on the wrong side of a woman, coz there is no saying what she might do. Can this be a reason?

Next reason, movies. I think this is the greatest culprit. Movie-makers claim that art imitates life. Then what instance in real life inspired the first idiot to put in an eve-teasing scene in his film? Boy teases girl, girl gets horrified, boy persists, girl resists, boys sings to girl in public, girl melts into boy's arms, and they live happily ever after. How many movies stand on this theme? Within a span of one silly song, the boy and girl move from being strangers to being married. If this does not inspire men, then what will?

They must naturally think that if they tease a random girl on the street and compliment different parts of her body, she will get all flattered and fall for him, and all's well that ends well. Utter rubbish. Show me a single instance where eve-teasing has led to marriage in real life, and I will eat my words.

Then, once again, why has eve-teasing reduced now? I do not really have an answer. Maybe the boy-teasing-girl-on-street kind of movies have reduced. Maybe men have realized that it doesn't work after all. But behind all this comes one more question. Why do married men indulge in this activity? What is the reason for all the groping and touching? The first answer that comes to my mind is JFK - Just For Kicks. He feels like a hero. He feels superior. He feels like a "man", a word that has a perverted meaning in his stunted intelligence.

[Sidenote: Am I the only one who thinks that eve-teasing has reduced in Bangalore? Please note, I am not saying its not there at all. I am just saying that it seems to be much less from what my teenage memories tell me. Or is it that I do not notice it any longer? Or is it that I have become too old to get eve-teased? :)]

Also, reading all the experiences of other bloggers, I realized one thing. Those from the north have faced even more severe instances of eve-teasing. My experiences sound like mosquito bites compared to their snake-bites. But why? From what I have read, I gather that over the centuries, a woman's place in society has been much higher in the south, than in the north of India. Probably men take women for granted even more in the north. Maybe that is why eve-teasing is more rampant there. [I might be wrong, I am open to correction.]

Well, I don't really know. I can just take refuge in the fact that eve-teasing is not the outcome of just one or two reasons. It is a combination of complex social and psychological issues. Also, I would love it if somebody comes out with a small-town perspective. I haven't seen much of that. Maybe we can get a clearer idea.

Why am I looking for reasons? In the hope that if we are able to put our finger on it [Sigh! Wrong expression!], there might be hope for our daughters. I would not want my daughter to avoid doing something she wants to do, just out of fear of men, as I have very often found myself doing. I want my daughter to live the life that I haven't.

I would really appreciate your thoughts on this. Of both men and women.

[Note: My apologies to all the wonderful men I know, for using the generic "men" in this post, instead of "some men". Out of every 10 men I know, 9 are absolutely beyond censure, but the horrible 1 man brings disrepute to the entire male populace.]

Update: Please read the comments too.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Can you hear it?

Many many years ago. A hot summer's day. First day of the academic year. I was walking back from school with a new friend. We reached an intersection, and she and I had to go different ways.
"Bye! It was good to meet you!" I called out to her.
There were a group of guys in a car parked close to us.
"Bye to her... now meet ussssss", they called out, with wolf-whistles.
I was being eve-teased. For the first time in my life. I was horrified, and nearly struck dumb. But I desperately wanted to impress my new friend.
"Mind your own business, Mister, or I will tell the police", I hollered, in true Bollywood style.
"Oye!" said one, and opened one door of the car.
That was it. All my bravado vanished and I ran home as fast as my skinny ten-year-old legs could carry me. I reached home and half-proud, half-scared, poured it all out to my mother. She listened, eyes widening.
"Where was that car parked?"
"In front of the bar!", said I, nonchalantly.
"Shruthi! Those guys could have been drunk! They could have done anything! Do not, I repeat, DO NOT answer back to them! Just ignore them!"

So I obediently ignored all subsequent eve-teasers until I was in my mid-teens. That age when you want to rebel against everything. That age when your blood starts getting heated up. And also that age, when eve-teasing really takes root in a girl's life. I started retaliating. I began with glares. I considered answering back. But I heard from my friends' experiences, that answering back just encourages them, and that many of the girls ended up being followed all the way home. So I gave up on that. If anybody "accidentally" brushed passed me, I would lash out with all my strength. Soon, I became street-smart. I could identify potential eve-teasers, and when they walked towards me, arms swinging, fingers poised to make contact with me, I would just swerve at the last moment and walk away coolly.

But after some time, verbal harassment became so commonplace that it did not even register in my head. Or probably I just pretended that nothing ever happened, in concern for my own sanity and mood. I wonder at what point we give up. At what point we give it up as a lost case. At what point we become immune.

But what is unfair for the men, is that just because of a few obnoxious specimens, we tend to look at every man with suspicion. But that does not mean we loosen up and start giving the men the benefit of doubt. We cannot afford that luxury.

My mother tells me that eve-teasing was rampant in her younger days. Her reasoning is that it was the only way the poor males could establish contact with the girls, because the times were such that males and females did not talk to each other, even in college. My mother had not talked to any of the guys in her class. Now, it is much more open, youngsters go out in mixed groups all the time, so males are not really frustrated, and thus eve-teasing has reduced. I see sense in her logic.

Probably that is why I find that eve-teasing has reduced drastically here in Bangalore. I can now walk on the roads with ease, without worrying about being bothered. I think men are definitely better-behaved nowadays, at least in Bangalore.

Even Mumbai, of which I had heard so much, was kind to me. Ok, granted, I did not travel too often in the local trains, but I personally found that the men kept to themselves. I was actually surprised. What a sad state of affairs! Being surprised when a man behaves decently! Anyway, I have heard lots of stories of Mumbai, but luckily, I was spared of all the degradation.

In stark contrast was Delhi. I spent just four days there, and I felt terribly violated, just by the way the men looked at me. In fact, the first day, I had worn jeans and a short top, and so the next day, I came out with baggy trousers and a loose shirt (hadn't carried Indian clothes with me, else would have worn that). But still it did not get better. I realized it was not my clothes, but it was just that I was a female. Harassment need not be just verbal or physical, I realized. The lewd look, eyes glazed, mouth open, saliva almost dripping.... to say the least, I was disgusted. Good I do not live in Delhi. How do the women there put up with it?

Once bitten, twice shy. Even now, when I see suspicious would-be perpetuators on the street, automatically my shoulders straighten up, my chin goes up, my stride becomes longer, my arms swing faster, and every muscle of the body is poised - for what? For ignoring them? For that is what happens usually!

Written in support of Blank Noise Project Blog-a-thon 2006. I am not sure how much this write-up will help in improving the situation. Maybe enough testimonials might cause a snowballing effect, and result in a law being passed against eve-teasers that recognizes eve-teasing as the heinous offence that it is. Or maybe someone, somewhere, will read this and think twice before stooping low. Unlikely? But is there a law against hoping?

Exploring the reasons behind eve-teasing..

Monday, March 06, 2006

Kya Jaadu Dala...

More than twenty years ago, a hassled mother wanted to attend a concert by Smt. Girija Devi. But she had no idea what to do with her restless three-year old brat. She finally hit upon the solution. There was only one way in which her little daughter could be kept engaged. Food. She took a bag of seedless grapes to the concert, and proceeded to feed the kid. But the little one did not like the skin on the grapes. So the mom actually spent three hours, skinning each grape, and shoving the soft sweet pulp of the grape into the kid's waiting mouth. The little girl was totally occupied, and the mom got to listen to three hours of wonderful music.

If you have not already guessed, the harassed lady was my mom and the brat was, well, yours truly.

Actually I am surprised that my mom had to resort to this to keep me silent, because she tells me that I was a great fan of Girija Devi even then. If my mom hummed or sang as she moved about the house, I would order her to stop, and play a tape of Girija Devi instead.

Well, that was a long long time ago. Yesterday, I listened to Girija Devi again. Live. At the Chowdaiah Memorial Hall, Bangalore. And before you ask, no, this time, I did not need grapes to keep me occupied.

I was a little hesitant at first, to actually go and listen to her sing. I knew that she was far into her seventies. I writhe uncomfortably listening to Lata Mangeshkar, who is around the same age as Girija Devi. Lately, even Asha Bhonsle makes me want to clap my palms on my ears and run for my life. And she is younger. Then how would I be able to sit and listen to this seventy-six year old sing?

[Disclaimer: I am a big fan of both Lata and Asha, and mean no disrespect to them. I have spent many happy hours listening to Lata's unbelievably sweet voice and Asha's tantalizing, versatile music. But they should know when to stop. Or, music directors should stop asking them to sing for them. I have lost count of the number of beautiful songs that would have sounded far better if sung by singers who did not sound like they had marbles stuck in their throats].

Before Girija Devi began, she spoke to the audience in a soft, quavering voice. I was now almost sure that it was going to be an evening of respectful squirming in my seat.

Then she began. The first few notes of the beautiful and plaintive Raag Jog. The hall fell silent. My mouth fell open. Her voice filled the auditorium. Rich. Clear. Vibrant. Resonant. Like the tinkle of a rich brass bell. Effortless. Powerful. She sang like the stage was her domain, and the Raag was her playground. The magic in her voice was undiminished. The lady sitting on the stage was no longer seventy-six years old. The power in her voice belied her age. Her range, her effortless movement from note to note, her absolute ease while singing the high notes, the total command over her voice - it was a captivating performance.

I wished she would never stop. I was hungry and tired and it was very late in the night, but I would have gladly stayed on if she had continued. But everything has to come to an end! At the end, of course, she received a standing ovation, and after the concert, the crowd back-stage was unmanageable. But still, my sister and I pushed through the crowd and paid our respects to her.

One of the pieces she sang was a Thumri, the first line of which goes "Kya Jaadu Dala, Deewana kiye Shyaam" [What magic have you played upon me? You have driven me crazy, O Krishna]. Actually, I could sing that about her. She was the one who wrought magic upon the audience. And how!

May her tribe increase.

Friday, March 03, 2006

KISS

This is a word-to-word conversation I had with someone, lets call him A. He buzzed me on the office chat program. This is how it went.

[Me pretending to work very hard, eyebrows knitted, staring at the screen, while all I am doing is counting the number of lines of email that can fit into the preview pane window of Outlook]

A: Hi Shruthi, how are you? How is work? I hope it is piling up now.

[Duh! Who's this guy? And what kind of a person would say "I hope your work is piling up"... what exactly did he mean to say? And why is he asking me that? And that brings me to the first question - who is this guy?]

Me: Hi.. I am sorry I don't recognize you.

[Long silence]

A: Hi, please permit me to inquire if I am interacting with Shruthi of XYZ dept?

[Permit? Inquire? Interact?]

Me: No.

[Short silence]

A: I'm sorry for botheration, I was in the impression of speaking to the right person.

[Check out the formality, dude!]

Me: No problem.

A: Bye.

[Thank God he did not say "permit me to take your leave"]

Me: Bye.


This conversation could have gone as follows:

A: Hi Shruthi, how are you? How's work?

Me: I'm sorry, I don't recognize you.

A: Oh, aren't you Shruthi of XYZ dept?

Me: No, I'm not.

A: Sorry to bother you.

Me: No problem

Then the goodbyes.

Short and sweet. No excessive pressure on the keyboard. No extra brain signals required to decipher the meaning of the formal and long words.

Why do people strive to make their words so ceremonial and ponderous? This is especially obvious in mails and chats. Is it to give the impression that they know more English than they do? Whatever it is, it never ceases to amuse me.

In all the courses on email etiquette, we are taught to keep our communication simple. Indians have a tendency to sound too formal and use complex sentences in official correspondence. Just lighten up, use short and simple sentences. Use the active voice, run a spell-check, and avoid sms language (ur, gr8, etc). Go easy on the formality, steer clear of clichés, and be wary of Indianisms - they just slip into our writing every now and then. These tips should help for any kind of written communication, including blogging! Very often, a beautiful piece of writing is marred by such slip-ups, which can easily be avoided with a little awareness.

To sum up, I will take refuge in a cliché, so please forgive me. :) Just remember to K.I.S.S - Keep It Short and Simple!

Happy writing! :) And yes, if anybody knows the meaning of "Hope your work is piling up", please let me know! :)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The CPE Census - What is happening here?

Picture this. A hot summer afternoon. The sun beating down mercilessly. Two respectably-dressed middle-aged women, walking down your street. Rather, dragging their feet. The pallus of their sarees wrapped round their heads. Handbags slung across shoulders. A pad, with sheets of paper fixed on them, in one hand, and a pen in the other. They enter a house on your street. Or rather go upto the gate, and stop, daunted by the "Beware of Dog" board hanging from the gate.
They rattle the gate, calling "Excuse me?"
A dog starts barking somewhere from inside.
A voice calls out from within. "We don't want any of your products, please leave!"
"Census!" call out the two ladies.
The voice answers back, "We don't want to give any survey, please go away!" Followed by a mumble, "Irritating people, have to disturb me right when I want to take a nap".
The ladies are insistent. "Please ma'am, this is the CPE Census, and we are teachers."
Reluctant opening of the door, a mumbling of replies to the questions, and then a decisive slam of the door. The two teachers wearily move on to the next house.

Not a movie. Not a story. If you are at home the next 3-4 days, you will see this scene enacted out right in front of you. It's time for the annual Compulsory Primary Education (CPE) Census. Those three days in a year where thousands of teachers go on a wild goose chase on the hot dusty roads of the state.

Every year, the Education Board conducts a census. The primary aim of the census is to collect data on the number of children younger than 14 years of age, and to find out whether they go to school. But why doesn't the census work? Here are a few reasons.

1) The Education Board announces three days of holidays to all schools, to enable the hapless teachers to go and conduct the census. Seizing this opportunity, enthusiastic parents go off on a holiday with the children, leaving the houses locked. The information has to be collected from obliging neighbours.

2) More and more ladies are working nowadays. The mothers leave the children elsewhere on these holidays, and the house remains locked. Again, the information has to be collected from neighbours. This too, might not work, considering how little neighbours know about each other in big cities these days.

3) In the places from where they really do need to collect data - the low-income areas, slums and settlements, everybody, including the children, will have gone out to work. Yes, even children less than 14 years of age, will be away, working as maids, or helpers, or waiters at hotels.... the very section of society the Census aims to help, is involved in the very activity it supposedly seeks to abolish. And there is nobody to tell that to the people conducting the census.

And this is just the urban scenario. I do not have the means to find out how it is in rural areas.

So that makes the census data fallacious, at its best. What about the state of the teachers who are forced to do this work?

1) All primary school teachers, of government schools, government-aided schools, and private institutions, are pushed into this work, irrespective of their age, state of health, and inclination.

2) But what hold does the Board have on private institutions? Can't the school refuse to send it's teachers for the Census? It can. A few schools have actually held out, and the Board has accepted. But when the time comes for that school to approach the Board for something, for example, for permission to start a new section in each class, then the Board plays a high hand. "You refuse to lend your teachers for the Board's work, and now you come running to us for favours", is the refrain.

3) When on the rounds, the teachers are insulted by all and sundry, like the example I have given in the beginning. Once they finish taking data from one house, the teachers are required to mark it by inscribing "CPE" and the Census year, on the wall of the house. As soon as they leave, the occupants of the house wipe out the mark, on the pretext that it is disfiguring their beautiful house. Then, if the officials come around to check if the Census is being conducted or not, they don't see the marks, and they accuse the teacher allocated to that street, of fabricating data.

4) Most of the teachers are ladies. Not only do they have to walk long distances in the sun, but also have to make their way through seedy localities, knock on the doors of lonely houses and fend off advances from lecherous men.

And all this, to probably help line the pockets of some officials in the Board. I have no idea how much money is released for this entire drama, but I know for sure, what amount is paid to the teachers for this.

A measly Rs.25 per day.

Is it possible to conduct the Census meaningfully? Here are a few ways..

1) Make the entire process transparent. The Board should let us know what is happening, where the money is coming from, and where it is going, and what exactly is being done with the data. From the outside, it looks like the data just vanishes into thin air, and this is just a money-making venture.

2) Recruit unemployed educated youth to do the Census work and pay them reasonably.

3) Conduct the survey in the evenings or on weekdays, when there is a higher probability of people being at home to answer questions.

4) Streamline the entire process, make it systematic.

There should be more solutions, but this is what I could come up with. I am sure that informed people can come up with better ideas.

Meanwhile, what can you do about it? The least you can do is this. If someone comes to your doorstep to collect data for the CPE Census, please be polite, and make an offer of a chair and a cool drink. Remember, they are our teachers.

Blog-a-thon

A group of people have taken upon themselves the responsibility of collecting testimonies from people to prove that Street harrassment (Eve-teasing) is a serious issue. They call it the Blank Noise Project

Street harassment is an offence. It has been granted normalcy due to its daily recurrence. Street harassment also known as eve teasing needs to be addressed on the streets. The project in its current phase seeks to build testimonies of street harassment in the public space and making them public. The project also seeks to recognize eve teasing as a crime, something that may be normal, but is unacceptable.


They are conducting a Blog-a-thon, where they just want you to get to your blog on March 7th, and post your views on street harrassment.

You can write about anything related to the topic: testimonies, opinions on harassment, comments about the Blank Noise project, would all be great. It doesn't matter where you're from, where you live, or whether you're a man or a woman.


I will be putting up a post on this issue on March 7th. If you do not have a blog, but would want to share some of your experiences with me, do leave it in the comments, and I will include it in my post.
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