Tuesday, February 28, 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.


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.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Music and Memories

"Nasha yeh pyaar ka nasha hai" (This is the intoxication of love) crooned Udit Narayan. I was lost in ecstasy, immersed in the music. I had actually bought an audio cassette of Mann, just for this song, which is totally unlike me. (I rarely buy new Hindi movie albums. I listen to it, but refrain from buying it). I was trying to get my sister to listen to it and enjoy it. She and I have very similar tastes in almost everything, including music.
But she listened to the song with me, and said, "Yes, it's very good, but nothing to go crazy, raving mad about. Why do you like it so much?"
I was stumped. "But it's such a lovely song! Don't you see it? Come on, listen to it again, it has such an atmosphere!" I said, and tried to stuff the notes into her ear.
"You probably have an association with this song. Where did you hear it first?" she asked.
Ah, I said.

I heard it for the first time when I had just moved out of home into the hostel. A very nice couple, our family friends, lived in the same city. They used to pick me up from my hostel, take me to their home, ply me with goodies, and drop me back to the hostel. They realized that I was lonely and missing home, and did all they could to make me feel comfortable.

I heard the song sitting in their car. Cocooned in the comfort of the A/C car, protected from the burning heat outside. "Nashe mein yaar doob jaao" coaxed Udit Narayan (Drown, my friend, in the intoxication). I did. I did drown in the intoxication of that moment. That moment of peace. That moment of cool comfort. That moment where I felt I was not alone any longer. A small drop of home in an ocean of unfamiliarity.

This feeling of comfort, of assurance, envelops me whenever I listen to this song. Each time. Even after all these years. Little wonder that I like the song so much!

Same is the case with Sonu Nigam's "Deewana". I heard it for the first time in Gangtok. While driving in a jeep through narrow winding roads. The chill in the air, the mountains and the greenery. The snow. The feeling of ecstasy, of camaraderie. The thrill of seeing the wheels of the jeep just inches away from the edge of the road, and knowing that one wrong turn means certain death. The feeling of recklessness. Of satisfaction. Of joy.

Even after eight years, the first few notes of any song from Deewana takes me back. Gangtok gets merged with Darjeeling, which we had visited right after Gangtok. I can feel the chill. I can see Kanchenjunga. I can smell Darjeeling Tea, and I can taste hot veg momos. I can hear the chanting in the monastery. Added to it, I can feel the mountains, the clouds, the snow. If I want to revisit Gangtok and Darjeeling, all I need to do is close my eyes and listen to Deewana.

There have been unpleasant associations too. Like the song that was playing early in the morning, when the newspapers came full of the news of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, with gory pictures splattered all over the pages. Even now, that song makes me uncomfortable.

That's why, I never call a song or a piece of music good or bad. I just say "I like it" or "I don't like it". For every person who doesn't like a song, there is surely a person who has a pleasant association and so loves that song.

Google tells me that many Alzheimer's patients have retrieved lost memory through listening to particular types of music. Apparently, processing music involves the use of memory and also aids in the retrieval of past memories. Obviously, there must be a strong connection between memory centers of the brain as well as those that process music.

Continuing with this assumption, listening to music regularly might stimulate the memory centres, and improve your memory! Now that's a great memory enhancer for you!

There must be research going on in this area, somewhere on earth. Wonder if they would like a volunteer? ;)

Scholarship to go to Stanford?

Hi everybody! My sister has got an admit at Stanford University for Environmental Engineering! Yes! :) But they are not offering her aid. :( And Stanford is very very expensive! Do you happen to know of any scholarship that she might be eligible for? Actually any kind of information on how to go about this, will be of great help. Thanks in advance.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A book tag.

Shyamala Ramanathan-Edwards, who goes by the misleading name "Shyam", :) has tagged me with a very interesting tag, and here it is:

1. What is the total number of books you've owned?

If you include Tinkles and Amar Chitra Kathas, probably around a million.
Excluding them, probably around 500 - 1000? That reminds me, I should do an inventory sometime soon.

2. What is the last book you bought?

Folktales from India - by A.K. Ramanujam

3. What is the last book you've read?

My grandfather's autobiography in Kannada - Nenapina Alegalu (Waves of Memories) by Prof J.R.Lakshmana Rao.

4. What are you currently reading?

RK Narayan's Gods, Demons and Others. It is his rendering of the Ramayana, Mahabharatha, and other mythical stories, all in one book. A delightful read, and will make a wonderful gift, especially for youngsters.

5. What are the 5 books that have meant a lot to you or that you particularly enjoyed?

This one is difficult. If I choose five, I will be doing an injustice to the others. Also, these books might not count among my favourite ones. But they have made a difference to me, or have been a turning point in my life :)

The Source - James A Michener. One of the best books ever. Michener chooses a plot of land in Israel, and traces the developments on that piece of land, across centuries. It is a thrilling story and a historical piece of work all rolled into one. Most of his books - Hawaii, Poland, The Covenant(about S. Africa) are written in a similar vein. It took me places, and opened up my mind. Out of the world. Alex Haley's Roots is also a similar piece of work. I would have wanted to add it separately, but I need the space for the other books :)

Gone with the wind - Changed my world. Changed my ideas of life, romance, my ideas of a novel, and how it should be written. The characters were my friends. The story was happening around me. I was immersed in the book so thoroughly, that I had to keep reminding myself that I was not in Southern USA before the civil war.

The Great Indian Novel - by Shashi Tharoor. - Enjoyed it just for the idea and the wonderful play with words. Opened up a new genre of writing for me. New ideas and new avenues. Difficult to explain.

The Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens (abridged version) - for the simple reason that this is the first book that made me cry. I was 11 years old when I read it, I finished reading it, closed the book, and burst into tears. I remember that my mother was so worried.:) I do not remember the story very well, nor have I read the original, but I just remember it as the first book that made me cry.

Nenapina Alegalu - by Prof. J.R.Lakshmana Rao - An autobiography of my grandfather. Written in his typical style - can almost hear him speak. This book is special for many reasons. One is that it is a story of my own grandfather, a popular science writer in Kannada, a winner of many Sahitya Akademi awards, and a national award winner for popularization of science. This is his only non-scientific book. The second reason is that his story is of interest to everybody, coz for one, it speaks evocatively of life in those days. He talks about people, with such characters, that it is difficult to imagine that such people existed. It is so surprising that people could be so good, so kind, so helping and so honest, and so generous and unselfish. The third reason is that during his life and work, he came across many nationally and internationally renowned figures, and was fortunate enough to be close to them and know them well. This brings to light their other, lesser-known characteristics, and is thus a very interesting read.
Review of this book in The Hindu

6. What book(s) would you wish to buy next?

I want to buy a book which has the complete history of the world, condensed and made easy-to-read. I am looking for such a book, but have not found one which meets my criteria :)

7. What book(s) caught your attention but you never had a chance to read?

Nope, if something catches my attention, the next moment, I will have my paws on it. :) So this question will be bypassed :)

8. What book(s) have you owned for long but never read?

Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and War & Peace. I bought them coz I wanted to own them :) But haven't got a chance to read them.

9. Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why

No, no, I am not passing the baton to anybody! But believe me, if you like books, this is a very very interesting tag to do. So please consider yourself tagged :)


The "Seven" Tag was passed on to me by Anitha the ThoughtRaker, who has a blog with some exquisite writing. I am in love with her poem on tearing up a rainbow!

Though I told her that my list would look almost like hers, I am making my own anyway.

7 things I wish to do before I die

1. Write a best-selling, award-winning book :)
2. Get fit enough to effortlessly run a marathon.
3. Travel around the world
4. Learn at least one song each in all major languages of the world.
5. Bring out an album.
6. Give a speech at a UN Conference.
7. Adopt a village, make it self-sufficient and raise it above the poverty line.

7 things I do not enjoy

1. Impoliteness
2. Pollution
3. Papayas
4. Hypocrisy
5. Bureaucracy
6. Corruption
7. Dirty toilets

7 things that attracted me to Blogging

1. The fact that everybody had a blog. :)
2. The fact that I felt I could write better than some of the bloggers I came across.
3. The fact that I love to write, and I thought a blog would be the right test-pad.
Yup, that's it! :)

7 things I say most often

1) Oh mannnn....
2) Wow!
3) What a life!
4) Yen gottha.. (Kannada for "Know what?")
5) Relax!
6) Just forget it.
7) Whatever!

7 Books I like

1. Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
2. The Great Indian Novel - Shashi Tharoor
3. India Unbound and The Elephant Paradigm - Gurcharan Das
4. All books by James Herriott
5. Books by James Michener - especially The Source and Hawaii
6. Enid Blyton's mystery series - Probably got hooked on to books thanks to "Dear Old Enid"
7. Ruskin Bond, RK Narayan
and Arthur Hailey, Robin Cook, Jeffrey Archer, Roald Dahl, P.G.Wodehouse and lots more!

7 Movies I want to watch

Mmmm.. many of them.. cannot think of any right now, except Rang De Basanti. :)

7 pieces of Music I enjoy

This is going to be very difficult.

1. Raag Bhairav - by Pt.Dinkar Kaikini
2. Balaji Pancharatnamala by M.S.Subbulakshmi
3. Flute by Hariprasad Chaurasia
4. Careless Whispers, Nothing's gonna change my love for you, and thousands of other soft pop..
5. Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, etc. etc.
6. Old Hindi Melodies, and a few new ones.
7. Folk songs.

No, I cannot stop, nor can I continue...... Aaaaaaaarghhh Help!!!

7 people I am tagging

Nopes, not tagging anybody :) I hereby declare that I am breaking the chain!

Thank you, Anitha, I enjoyed doing this :)

The perfect guy!

It is tag-time!!

Three bloggers tagged me during the last two months, and I have not been able to work on them at all! So here I go, one by one.

Anil tagged me to write down 8 qualities of my dream lover. Now, when I started listing it in my head, I realized that I was being very biased and listing down the characteristics of my .. umm.. hubby :D. So I gave up on it. But Anil requested me again to write it anyway, in his own words, "from an experienced person's perspective". ;)

So here I list down 8 qualities which a guy must possess in order for a girl like me to have a happy married life with him. For a moment, I will forget that I am married :)

1) Loving, caring, sensitive. Cliched, but still, top of the chart. Without this, even if all the other 7 qualities exist, it is of no use. Empathetic - He must understand my needs, desires, dreams, ideas(however silly they may be). He need not agree with them, but he needs to understand why I feel that way, so that it can lead to further discussion. In short, I must not hesitate to tell him my innermost thoughts, for fear of being ridiculed.

2) He must be pleasant-looking, well-mannered, neat and organized, cultured and polite.

3) He must have similar attitudes towards life, and similar interests as mine. If he does not, he must be supportive, and must be enthusiastic to learn and participate in activities that I love.

4) He must love and respect his own family - only then can I expect him to love and accept my family, and consequently, that's the only way I can expect him to be a caring and committed father to our children.

5) Must be intelligent, well-informed, enthusiastic to learn, curious.

6) Must be passionate about what he does, must be positive and confident, must have a good sense of humour, and must know how to enjoy himself.

7) Someone once told me, "I love him. He makes me laugh". I told her, "It is not important if the guy makes you laugh. What is important is whether he can make you smile." See the difference? I had said this before I got married, but after marriage, I found that I was right! :)

8) He must not snore. :)

I understand this is a lot more than eight qualities, and I have very "cleverly" categorized them into eight points. :)

Hope this serves as a guideline for all you unmarried people out there. :)

Monday, February 20, 2006

It's the time to be on time!

You are swamped with work, when you receive a mail, requesting you to come at 4 pm to the cafeteria, to discuss which songs should be sung for the annual day celebrations. You plan your work accordingly; reschedule a meeting with the client, and at 4 pm sharp, you go the cafeteria, to be greeted by empty chairs and tables. You sit there for ten minutes, drumming your fingers on the table, irritation mounting. One person turns up, and apologizes for the delay. You point out that you need to leave in twenty minutes, so can we start the discussion? He suggests that we wait for five more minutes for the others. Five minutes pass by, without any change in the number of occupied chairs. You say, fine, let us at least start. He agrees, and you spend ten minutes trying not to argue with each other. At this stage, the others enter, and they say, "Sorry, we had work", and you say to yourself, "Yeah, and I was surfing on the beach." Anyway it is time for you to leave. They request you to stay on, but you leave anyway, extracting from them a promise that they will come on time the next day. The next day, history repeats itself. What do you do?

I dropped out. I told them that if this is the dedication and sincerity, then I don't want to be associated with this kind of a singing group. They tried to dissuade me, but I did not budge. And I am glad.

I usually do not indulge in much confrontation and argument. But when it comes to people who do not care about other people's time, I become ruthless.

My sister had exams but had promised to help clear some doubts that her junior had. She waited and waited for the junior to arrive, even giving up on her evening walk to accommodate her. But she did not turn up. Then the next day when my sister was deeply immersed in studies, she lands up and says, "Hi, here I am". My sister, being the sweet girl she is, got up to go and help her anyway. But I happened to be around, and forbade her to step out of her room, saying, "If she cannot value your time, you need not help her". But she pacified me, and convinced me that she would spend just five minutes on her. She was true to her word, but I also knew she was very irritated. So I brainwashed her a bit before I left, to make sure this does not happen again.

Why are people like that? If they have a genuine reason for being late, then it's fine. But more often than not, most people just take their own sweet time. "I only follow IST - Indian Stretchable Time", they announce, with pride, while laughing expansively. It irritates me no end. I hate to be kept waiting, and so I do not make people wait. So I just cannot understand what gives people this "Chalta Hai" (Anything’s ok) attitude.

I know some people who say "Anyway the other person will be late, so I will also go late". My argument is - don't do that. Remain true to yourself. If each one of us makes an effort, the whole society can change. It is possible. One more reason they give is "Too much traffic". So? Don't you know Bangalore's traffic? Would you take a risk when you need to catch a flight? Wouldn't you leave much earlier? Then do it here.

If you are held up for some valid reason, then call. Communicate. Let the person who is waiting for you know that you are held up, so that s/he can do something else in the meantime. Do not think this is some kind of a formality. Do this when it comes to your loved ones too. When my husband and I need to go out somewhere during weekdays, I travel from my office to my husband's, and then we go out from there together. I give him an estimate of when I will reach his office, so that he can schedule his activities accordingly. Even if I am just fifteen minutes late, I call him and tell him that, so that he won't pack up prematurely, and he can spend that time doing something useful.

I think that we should start young. Inculcate timeliness in your children. I, in fact, got it because my parents were so particular about keeping time. I always recollect going for dinner invitations on the dot. I even remember the time my father was supposed to pick up a colleague at a particular point, and because the colleague was too late, and did not care to inform him either, my father just drove away. And sure enough, the colleague learnt a lesson.

Fortunately for me, my husband is also a stickler for time, which trait, I am sure, he got from his parents too. Recently, a couple of LIC agents who were supposed to come home were almost an hour late, and had not given any explanation either. My father-in-law just called them and asked them to do a right-about-turn and go back, wherever they might be. Needless to say, at the next appointment, they were at our place before time!

It is possible to change other people's way of thinking, if you lead by example. Why do my colleagues go to the conference room ten minutes in advance for the teleconference with the American client, and why do they go ten minutes late to the meeting organized by their manager? It is because they know that the American will start right on time, but their manager will not. If you want to ape the Americans, then ape this trait.

If you create the impression of being prompt, and get labeled as being particular about keeping time, people will have to co-operate, and hopefully, in the process, they will also change. Am I being too optimistic? Well, the world lives on hope, and I thrive on it!

Friday, February 17, 2006

My entry into the blogosphere.

Many light years ago, I was sitting in office, jobless, when my inbox told me that I had got a mail from my uncle. I opened the mail to see a link. I clicked on it and followed it to an Indiatimes blog. A blog? What on earth was that? I employed the services of Google and was swamped with millions of results. I did some exploring, and a new term, a new concept found a place in my brain.

I promptly started a blog of my own in Indiatimes. Then the thought struck me. Why on earth would people want to read what I write? Coming to think of it, why would I want to put up my thoughts on the net for all to read? I immediately abandoned it, and my brand new blog languished, empty and wordless.

A few days later, I started getting a particular forward repeatedly. "Travails of Single South Indian Men...." it said, and it was a laughter riot. I must have received it at least 50 times, no exaggeration. As always I wanted to find out who wrote it. No clue in the forward. It went on for a few months. Each time I got the forward, I opened it to see if there was any clue as to the author of the piece. [A note to the reader: If you ever forward a piece of writing to people, or spread it around, always, please, acknowledge the author or the source, and include a link.] Finally one forward contained the words "By Sidin Vandukut" (sic). Aha, I had my clue! I turned to Google again, and got lost briefly, thanks to the mis-spelling. But I was back on track in no time, and landed at Sidin Vadukut's uproariously funny blog. Blog! Again! This thing must be catching up, I thought. I found some more blogs through his. I realised that I needed a Blogger account to comment on some of those, so I dutifully signed up and started a blog, and had a one line post in it too.

Shortly after that, I opened a copy of The Week to read Jon Stock's column "Last Word". He had an interesting piece on blogging and the internet. It was about how he thinks that thanks to the power of the internet, bloggers are accountable for what they write, despite their impression that they don't have too much of an audience. He narrated how he was googling for his new book, and found a "review" on a blog which belonged to Vivek. You can read the entire article here. I admit I was rather tickled at this. Visions arose, of me reviewing books by my favourite authors, and they googling me out and arriving at my site. The visions vanished when it struck me that most of my favourite authors are dead. Anyway, I left a comment on Vivek's blog using my brand new Blogger id. Vivek followed the link back to my blog, and was kind enough to leave the first comment on my one-line post. And yes, I still follow his writing. :)

Finally I decided it was time to test blogging waters, and resurrected my Indiatimes blog, and wrote some random nonsense under a pseudonym. To my surprise, I got positive feedback. But I was still not convinced. Before I started a proper blog under my own name, I wanted to know what people write about and why they do it. I desperately wanted some blogs to read, but did not know where to find them, and so I was just groping in the dark. Finally I chanced upon the IIPM-bloggers controversy, and discovered simultaneously, the power of the blogosphere, and some very read-worthy blogs. Then I found Desipundit. Just want I wanted. A guide to some good Indian writing on the net. Over the next couple of months, I read a lot of well-written stuff in the Indian blogosphere.

Finally I was ready to start blogging. But I still did not. Hesitation. Then one day, Ravi came to my blog via a comment, and left the second comment on my single-line post. I replied to him, and we struck up a friendship, with him urging me to start blogging. That was probably the trigger. I had some stuff that I had written, lying around, and I very bravely put it up as a post. That was it. There has been no stopping me ever since.

Now you know whom to blame.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Birdwatching at Kukkarahalli Kere(Lake).

Had been to Mysore over the weekend. One place I visit each time, is Kukkarahalli lake, which is half a kilometer away from my grandparents' house. I have been going there for as long as I remember. Many happy hours have been spent walking on the bank, many fond memories are associated with it, and one particularly frightening childhood nightmare too. Anyway, Kukkarahalli Kere is a major part of my life.

Earlier, only one side of the lake, adjacent to the main road, was accessible for walking. Half of Mysore seemed to be there in the mornings and evenings. [The other half would be climbing Chamundi Betta(Hill)] Now they have built a walking track all around the lake. I do not know what the total distance round the lake is, but it is substantial.

This time around too, we set out in a huge group to walk round the lake. Since we were now going into the woods, on the path round the lake, there was a chance of seeing many hitherto unseen sights (read birds). My birdwatcher aunt brought along a pair of binoculars. The walk was absolutely delightful! I saw more birds in one hour, than I have seen in probably ten years.

We saw frisky herons, pure white cattle egrets and brilliantly hued Moor Hens in plenty. [ "Look look, Moor Hen!". "Where? I can see only one." ;) - (Mooru means "Three" in Kannada). PJ]. There were loads of chattering Mynas. There were bright yellow bee-eaters with pointed tails and pointed beaks, and a kingfisher with an insect in it's beak. [Kinginsecter?] There was a crow (wait, hear me out!) with an egg in it's mouth! An egg! Such a small, simple thing, and I had never seen it before! "How will the crow eat the egg?" I wondered. It had never crossed my mind. "Simple", said one cousin. "It takes a fork, breaks the egg into a pan, and cooks itself an omelette". PJ. But seriously, how?

We saw hundreds of painted storks(Who painted them?) in brilliant reds and pinks and whites. One painted stork repeatedly flew up and down with a straw in it's mouth, probably building a nest. There was one clump of trees in the middle of the lake, where these painted storks had made their home. Hundreds of them. On a nearby tree, perched right on top, was a Brahminy Kite, surveying it's kingdom. Far into the distance, we could discern a pelican swimming meditatively on the calm waters of the lake.

I am going to a Bird sanctuary, people say, and travel long distances to reach them. I have not seen more birds in one place in any bird sanctuary, and here I see them in Kukkarahalli Kere. Just half a km from home, right in the middle of the city. A world within another. A peaceful, pure, ecosystem amidst the hustle and bustle of the town.

I had a wonderful time. But I have one regret - I had not carried a camera with me. Well, next time. And it had better be soon. Before the corporates get fed up of Bangalore and discover the peace of Mysore and descend upon it in droves, and drive all the birds away.

Update: Anoop has some lovely snaps of Kukkarahalli kere - Check them out here.

Bangalore vs. Mysore

I am going to treat you to some numbers.

Taking into consideration the least expensive mode of transport every time, I am going to compare the costs of going to watch a movie in Bangalore, and going all the way to Mysore to watch the same movie.

(All costs in Rupees)

Going to watch a movie in Bangalore.

Location: Inox, Garuda Mall.
Bus fare from home to Garuda Mall: 10 + 10 = 20 [We have to change buses]
Ticket = 150
Bus fare from Garuda Mall to home: 10 + 10 = 20
TOTAL: Rs.190

Going to Mysore just to watch a movie.

Location: Sterling, Mysore.

Bus fare from home to Bangalore Railway Station = 10
Train fare between Bangalore and Mysore = 50
Bus fare from Mysore Railway Station to Sterling = 8
Movie ticket = 35 (Balcony)
Bus fare from Sterling to Mysore Railway Station = 8
Train fare from Mysore to Bangalore = 50
Bus fare from Bangalore Railway Station to home = 10.
TOTAL: Rs.171.

A difference of Rs.19, favourably tilted towards Mysore.

Now, considering the fact that I usually travel by autorickshaw within the city, and not in bus, and substituting auto fares for bus fares everywhere [Won't bother you with further calculations], the price comes up to
Bangalore - Rs. 350.
Mysore - Rs. 300

Now if you say that I will be saving time by watching the movie in Bangalore, let me tell you that it will take me a total of 6 hours to go up and down from Mysore by train, and it will take me 4 hours to go to Inox and come back, in peak hour traffic.

Next. A visit to a very upscale beauty parlour in Mysore, cost my sister, my aunt and me, the same amount that I would have shelled out only for myself, if I visited my next-door-not-very-sophisticated-parlour in Bangalore. And we finished the whole thing in 1 hour flat, including commuting.

If you want to go anywhere in Mysore, the auto fare won't be more than Rs.30. In fact they say, "Oh that shop is very very far away. Almost thirty bucks by auto!". For me in Bangalore, a place 30 bucks away is my backyard.

I can go on and on giving you examples, but it hurts me all the more to put it all in writing. So I will stop here. The only thing I can say, is that it is worth taking a Friday off and making a weekend trip to Mysore once in every three months, and finishing all your work and getting back. Other than the inexpensiveness and convenience, an added advantage is the huge amount of fun I have with my aunt and cousins, and the utmost pampering I get from my grandparents.

I rest my case.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Reading in your mother-tongue.

They say you realize the value of something only when you it's gone. I realized that it holds good for your mother tongue too!

I am a voracious reader, but my reading was limited only to English. I have read hundreds of books of all varieties - classics to thrillers, from all over the world. Short stories, novels, novellas, essays - they have all gripped me and taken me to different worlds, given me ideas, put thoughts in my head, and made my brain a highly imaginative one.

Even in my childhood, my parents knew only one way to keep me truly engaged. Put a good book in my hand. They were very happy that they were successful in inculcating in me the reading habit. But they had one complaint. That I did not read anything in Kannada. I could read Kannada very well, I spoke it every day at home, and it was after all, my mother tongue. Then why didn't I read anything in Kannada? Once my mother caught me complaining, "Oh there are millions of books all around the world waiting to be read! I wish I knew all languages so that I could read all of them!" She quietly told me, "You know Kannada and haven't read even one Kannada book.. what will you do with knowing other languages? And it is not as if Kannada doesn't have good literature. Do you know that Karnataka has got the highest number of Jnanapith awardees? There is a huge treasure out there waiting to be read in your own language. And you are worrying about other languages".

Even this lecture did not affect me. I happily trotted off to a corner and curled up with yet another English book.

Then I went to study in a different state. In the hostel, there were very few Kannadigas. I got to communicate only in English and Hindi. I never knew how much I had taken Kannada for granted. I desperately wanted to speak in my language to somebody. I regularly called home to speak in Kannada, and caught myself singing Kannada songs, which I did not even know I knew. On a visit home, I cribbed about it. My mom spotted a golden opportunity and slipped a slim book into my bag while I was leaving. I went back to the hostel, and while unpacking, uncovered this little book "Rangannana Kanasina Dinagalu" (The dreamy days of Ranganna) by M.R. Srinivasamurthy. It is a very simple, light and humorous story about an idealistic village school inspector. Something in Kannada! I was drawn to it. Reading the first few pages was painful as I had not read Kannada after I studied for the last Kannada examination in school. But once I got the hang of it, I read full speed. I absolutely devoured the book. A totally new world opened to me. My own world!

One simple sentence in the book did it. "Ranganna entered the restaurant at Chickpet, and had a hot cup of filter coffee and steaming hot idlis with the butter melting on them".
I had read books from all over the world - but nothing had touched me this way.
I had sighed with Alexei Ivanovich, the serf, when he removed his galoshes and entered his house to accept some tea from his wife Marsha, served from the boiling samovar.
I had been privy to the thoughts of Denise Legrand when she sat at her favourite restaurant at the Champs-Elysees and sipped a Chardonnay while waiting for a rendevouz with her beau.

But this was something I totally related to! I actually KNEW Chickpet ( an old locality in Bangalore).. I could smell the filter coffee, and taste the melting butter and idlis! I could feel it with Ranganna! When Ranganna talked about a certain variety of banana, I knew which one he meant. I knew what it looked like and how it tasted. When he wore a piece of clothing, I knew which kind it was. In all the other "foreign" books, I could only imagine and wonder! Of course, these took me to another place and time, and I enjoyed that a lot, being interested in different cultures and customs. But this was a different kind of enjoyment. It was something I could relate to. I felt the same warmth that I felt when reading RK Narayan, but this was warmer - because the turns of phrase, and the idioms and the language, everything was my own! I followed this with a string of other books in Kannada. The more I read, the more I enjoyed it.

Yes, English books still heavily outnumber Kannada ones, but now Kannada also has a respectable place on my bookshelf! All of you out there, if you can read in your mother tongue, but haven't tried reading any literature in it, go do it. It is a different experience altogether!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Back in time.

One of the things I would love to do is to go back in time. No, not the time machine kinds where I get into a machine, and type in "I want to see Socrates drink hemlock" or "I want to witness the Battle of Plassey".

I want to see what was in this place where I am standing right now.

Back 50 years. Probably empty land.
Back 100 years. Probably some trees. Maybe an English regiment is passing through.
Back 200 years. Probably Tipu Sultan has tied his horse to a tree and resting here a while.
Back 300 years. Probably Shivaji is sitting here, lost in contemplation.
Back 500 years. Probably this was a part of the Bangalore fort. Maybe someone's house stood here. Maybe the house of the maid who waited on Kempegowda's wife. Maybe the trees were planted by the maid.
Back 1000 years. Probably a wild wasteland.
Back 2000 years. Probably a flourishing village.
Back 2 million years. Probably the paleolithic man has a cave here
Back 200 million years. Probably a dinosaur is looking for food.
Back to the beginning of the world - imagination endless.

[Note 1: Though my history is shaky and these periods have been approximated by me, they are not too much off the mark.
Note 2: I know there have been no evidence of prehistoric man or dinosaurs found in this part of the world, but there are no limits to the imagination :)]

How wonderful would that be? To see what has happened in this very place over the centuries? To see what wonders this bit of land has seen?

If you have read books by James Michener, you will know where I got this idea from. If you haven't read Michener, then go ahead and read him. He is my favourite author.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Driving me crazy

Thought it is time to write about all the drivers who have driven me.... nuts. Before you think I am a bigshot who has a personal car and a driver, let me clarify. I am talking about the drivers of the company cabs, in which I spend half of my life on Bangalore roads, commuting to and from office.

Each driver is a specimen, worthy of being immersed in formalin and placed on the shelves of my memory.

There was one fellow, who was so slow that it seemed like the whole world was passing you by. He drove like he was window-shopping on M.G. Road. Not that he was so conscientous and followed traffic rules. He just probably thought that the whole road was his kingdom, and thought he was on an elephant, a king out to survey his country. I used to get home so late that even my poor mom would have lost patience and had her dinner. The last straw was when a bullock cart overtook us. We immediately went and demanded a change in driver for our route. And we got it.

The next guy was the opposite. Probably the supervisor thought, do these people want a fast driver? Here is Schumacher. He zoomed in and out of the traffic like a maniac. I started wondering why 42-seaters mazdas don't have seat belts in each seat. All you could do was just grip the seat in front of you till your knuckles went white, and pray to God to deliver you safely to your doorstep. It was like a roller coaster, where your body turned and twisted with each movement of the cab. Then he would flout traffic rules. He would jump red lights, drive on the wrong side of the road, change lanes, everything possible. And his style of driving was accelerate-brake, accelerate-break. When I started getting RSI in my back, I went up to him and told him politely to go slow. Now he was a huge, well-built man, and he glared back at me and told me, "I just feel sorry that you live so far away from office, and want you to get home early and spend time with your family". Now who could disagree with that logic? Besides I was scared of him. Finally someone made an anonymous call to the company administration department, and told them that he was nearly run down by a cab, and gave the cab number of this guy. The driver was changed, and my life was spared.

Then came a guy who was fond of changing radio stations. He would concentrate more on the radio than on the road. He hated slow, melodious songs, and loved the dhinchak-boom-boom ones. The moment a nice soft song started, I would smile and settle down to listen to it, and he would change the station, and my ears would burst. If there was an ad-break in the next channel, he would change the station again. If he reached a channel which was in the middle of a news-program, he would wait just until the point where the newsreader said - "In Cricket, India playing against Pakistan scored - " Bam. Station change. We used to scream and scream until he heard us over the din of traffic, and then he would change it back, just as the cricket news got over. We could not even sleep. The constant changing of stations was nerve-wracking. We split our throats trying to tell him to stick to one station. And the worst part is, complaining to the cab supervisor about him was not easy either. What do we say? "He is a good driver but he changes radio stations". Duh.

Anyway, we thanked our stars the day a different driver drove us, probably as a stop-gap arrangement. Now most drivers think they know best about roads and directions, which may be true to a certain extent. But this driver had the greatest ego ever. He snapped at us if we tried to show him the route, or tell him to go this way or that way to avoid a signal. I was the last person to be dropped off, and when we reached our area, I wanted to take over and guide him. There was a flyover being built, and the whole place had become a maze of one-ways. Only a person who knew the changes and traveled regularly could find the way. I started giving the driver directions. He ignored me. He did not even acknowledge me, he just drove on.
I said, "Hey listen, listen... you should have taken a left there!"
He said, "I know madam, I know this area, I will take you to your place".
I fell silent. Soon enough, he got lost. He drove back and got stuck in one more one-way. He got totally confused. I tried again.
"Just take a... "
"No! I know the way".
Fine. Suffer. I sat back and enjoyed myself as he took the cab round and round. Then I suddenly realised that I was the one getting late. I tried again.
"Take a right here". I said.
"No, I know madam.." he persisted.
I went, and sat right behind him. I assumed my most menacing tone.
"Do you want to lose your job?" I hissed.
He finally established eye-contact with me.
"No", he said.
"Then take a right here." I continued in the same voice.
He obeyed. Five minutes later, we were at my house. If he had continued on my route, I would have probably complained, but I have never seen him again.

The next driver brought rainbows to our lives. He was the Perfect Driver of your dreams. He was very fast, but not rash. He drove smoothly, followed all traffic rules, found out little streets into which he could manouever his 42-seater and avoid all the major signals. He was polite, friendly, stuck to one radio station ;). He did not lose his cool in the Bangalore traffic. Horns and people shouting did not faze him. He had complete control over his vehicle. AND he got us home 40 minutes before anybody else could. Life was beautiful. But all good things have to come to an end. I got married, moved to another place, and now belong to another cab route. [Note to the hubby: I do not mean to say that I got married and hence all good things came to an end. Well, you know what I mean :)]

But since my new home is much closer to office, commuting time is much lesser. So it hasn't been that much of a problem either. And on some days, to my delight, the perfect driver is assigned to my route, and I reach home at least 15 minutes earlier. Which in itself is such a lovely thing.

Now I am travelling for the next month from my parents' place, and the Perfect Driver is sometimes assigned to this route. And I save 40 minutes on those days. I complimented the Perfect Driver on that, and he told me, "Why don't you ask the supervisor to make me permanent on this route? You can save 40 minutes every day." Now if he is made permanent for this route, he will not come to drive us back to my regular route and I will not be able to save 15 minutes on that route. Now I am in a dilemma. Do I want to save 40 minutes a day for the next 4 weeks, or do I want to save 15 minutes a day intermittently, note, intermittently after the 4 weeks? I have to go now and talk to the cab supervisor..............

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Circle of Life - A short story.

This story of mine was placed third in a company-wide short-storywriting competition.

The Circle of Life

She banged the door shut, locked it and walked out. He was not there to hear her, but she felt strangely satisfied by the loud noise of the banging door. She fingered her new string of pearls as she walked to work. He was so preoccupied that he had not even noticed her wearing the pearls that he had gifted her. He had been curt, to the point. She had no idea what was bothering him. Had she irritated him, or was it work? What is with these men, she wondered. Why don't they speak out?

The sky was as dark as her mood. The clouds opened up and so did her umbrella. A little boy in his uniform was running past her. He was getting wet. She automatically pulled him under her umbrella. He looked up at her, with urgent eyes. “My bus!” he said, pointing. A big yellow bus was pulling slowly out of the bus stop on the other side of the road. In one sweeping movement, she picked up the little boy, crossed the road, ran after the bus, and banged on the side of the bus. It stopped. She deposited the boy on the steps, and closed the door. As the bus moved away, she saw the boy’s nose pressed against the glass. He was smiling a most angelic smile, and was waving at her. She waved back, and suddenly her heart felt light. She resumed walking with a smile on her face.


The little boy sat at his usual window seat. At the next stop, a senior student got on the bus, and with a frown on her face, looked around and sat next to him. He ventured a “Good morning!” to her. She looked away with a snort. Undaunted, he took out his drawing book and opened the page to his favorite drawing of a clown. He poked and prodded the girl next to him until she looked at him, ready to snap. She then looked at the book the boy was holding out, and burst into laughter. She pinched the boy’s cheeks, ruffled his hair and gave the book back to him. She leaned back on the seat.


As soon as the bus reached school, she got down from the bus and went to her class, hoping that the class bully did not make fun of her braces again. She had gone ready with her own comments against him. But even when she saw him, she felt no antagonism against him. She had no idea why. She found herself smiling and saying, “Hi! Did you finish your homework?” and left him there, mouth agape.


Nobody had ever smiled at him before, let alone ask a polite question. He felt good. He felt strange. He went through the day, dazed, and was even polite to the teachers. In the lunch break, he went out to eat his lunch all by himself, as usual. The gardener came by, watering his bushes. He carefully kept out of the boy’s way. The boy suddenly wanted someone to speak to. “Ahoy!” he shouted at the gardener. The gardener peered at him suspiciously through the corner of his eyes. “Here! Taste this Pulao! Its delicious!” The gardener walked up slowly and held out his hand, and the boy piled a couple of spoonfuls on his dirty palm. “It is delicious! Please tell your mother”, he said. “I will!” said the boy. “And by the way, my mother thinks that the school garden is the prettiest one she has ever seen!” The gardener smiled a wide, toothless smile.


He walked away, smiling to himself, deep in thought. So there are people who appreciate good things, after all! He thought that nobody, except his daughter, thought that his beloved garden was beautiful. His daughter! The poor girl. She does so much for me; I never do anything for her. I should take something for her on the way home. He stopped at a sweet shop and bought a couple of her favorite laddus. He entered his little house to see his daughter stirring the dal on the stove. “Come and sit down. I will serve lunch in a moment!” she called out. He touched her shoulder, and she turned around. He handed her the packet. She opened it curiously. Tears stung her eyes. How she loved laddus! She ate one, and offered one to her father. Both of them sat, side by side, silently eating the sweet, savoring the moment. Suddenly with a horrified look she jumped up. “The dal!” she cried.


The dal was slightly overdone, but neither of them cared. As they ate, she smiled to herself. Father is such a dear. He is so forgetful, always obsessed with his garden. But he does care for me after all! Humming a popular Bollywood tune, she cleared the plates. She took them out to wash them at the common tap in the locality. The boy who lived on the next street walked past, looking at her furtively. They said he was a nice boy and that he worked as an odd-job man in a good company. Everybody knew that he liked her, and that he was summoning up enough courage to talk to her old father. She kind of liked him too, but she never acknowledged his presence. Today she looked at him. He immediately averted his eyes, but slowly looked back at her again. She smiled.


His heart turned somersaults. She had never even looked at him before, and today she smiled at him! Her dimpled cheeks, the sunlight on her hair – she looked divine. I will surely talk to the gardener this Saturday, he thought and smiled. His lunch break was coming to a close, else maybe he would have gone and talked to her. He hurried back. Sir would be waiting. He peeped in into Sir’s office. He was rubbing his temples. Maybe Sir has a headache. Sir wasn’t well and hasn’t been in office all these days. And so much work. I’ll make him some good ginger tea. The boy whistled as he made the tea, and took it to Sir’s office. He had never disturbed Sir like this before, but today he was too happy to care about what Sir would say. As he entered with the tea, Sir looked up absently. He took the tea and sipped it. “Its good to have you back, Sir” said the boy. Sir just smiled and waved him away.


The tea was refreshing. He felt much better. His mind cleared. He smiled as his fingers tapped the keys with a new urgency. He found a proposal that had to be dealt with at the earliest. Twenty minutes later, he nodded with satisfaction, glanced through the proposal one last time, typed out the email and clicked on send.


“You’ve got a new message. Do you want to open it now?” asked the pop-up box on the young man’s screen. But he did not see it. He was sitting at his desk, brooding, playing with a paper clip. He was so sure that his proposal would be accepted and that his company would get the contract. But when? He had sent in his proposal almost a week ago. Still no response. He was to submit his appraisal form for promotion today. If the acceptance mail came in today, he could include it as one of his achievements. It would really boost his performance records, as this contract was a big one for the company. Of course, he could always mention it in the next appraisal, but that was months away. He fretted. It’s just an email! He had checked his inbox for new mail countless times since morning. Mechanically he turned back to the monitor. He saw the pop-up box. His heart skipped a beat. He hurriedly clicked on “Yes”. A cursory glance confirmed that it was what he hoped it would be. His heart beat like a rock concert, and a smile spread across his face. He quickly forwarded the mail to his seniors, and went to tell his boss about it personally. He came back and added this achievement to his appraisal form. He then saved and submitted it, and relaxed in his chair.

He thought about his wife. He couldn’t wait to tell her. He looked at his watch. He could go and pick her up from work and surprise her. He left immediately, drove to her office, and persuaded her to leave early. She came out of her office, smiling, and got into the car. “What’s all this about?” She asked. “You’ll see”, he winked, “Where do you want to go?” “Anywhere”, she said. “Ok”, he said, “And dear, those pearls look beautiful on you.”

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Random thoughts....

This is a very rough summary of a poem. I will not call it a translation, because I do not know the exact words of the original poem, which is in Kannada. But this is what the poem says:

When a sapling bursts out from the seed, do you hear any cymbals clashing?
When a fruit is formed, and ripens, are any trumpets blown?
The sun and the moon come everyday, giving light and life to this earth, but is there any fanfare?
They just come quietly, do their work, and go.
Such wonderful things are happening all the time, in nature - without any sound.
Then why do you, a mere man, have to tell everybody about everything you do?
Keep your lips sealed, do your work silently. That is real greatness.

Isn't it a beautiful thought?

This is just one poem, out of a beautiful collection of 4-line poetic gems. This collection, known as Mankuthimmana Kagga (Literally, Foolish Thimma's song), is like anything but it's name. Each poem holds within itself the most sublime philosophical thoughts ever. This has been written by Dr. D.V.Gundappa, or DVG, as he is popularly known. He is one of the greatest writers ever.

This collection, and another, Marulu Muniyana Kagga(Literally, Crazy Muniya's song) are similar, in that each is a treasury of little poems like this. There are hundreds of such beautifully worded poems in each of these collections. Ask any Kannadiga, and s/he will speak with reverence of these two works of greatness.

A few years back, my mother gave me the collection of poems, and would read out two of them to me each night, and we would discuss what it meant. The poems bring tears to the eyes. They are so simple, yet hold the most complex thoughts in them. But each thought hits the nail on the head.

Now why did I remember this, all of a sudden? A character in a serial recited this poem last night. This is a very good serial, called Muktha, which is aired every day on E TV Kannada. I avoid serials of any language. But this one, is a serial with a difference. The director, TN Seetaram, has been bringing serials of quality for the past few years. This is the third in his very successful and highly acclaimed series of serials (After Mayamruga and Manvantara). What makes it so popular is that it is the story of you and me. No huge mansions and improbable relationships here. It is a direct, straightforward story, sprinkled with titbits of knowledge, poetic references, and a very keen understanding of human relationships. People who never watch TV have been rescheduling their work to fit this serial into their schedules. (me included). It is better than any serial I have watched in any language, in a long long time. It has its share of irritants and discrepancies, but the overall quality of the serial makes you magnanimous and you tend to ignore all the shortcomings!

Producers and directors say that they give the masses what they ask for. I think that is a sad apology for their movies which are reaching abysmal levels. How did this man TN Seetaram come up with a decent wholesome family serial, when none existed before, and how did it become so successful? The audience did not know that such serials could exist until he came along. Now that they know, they have embraced it wholeheartedly. Can't it work for the rest of the entertainment industry too?

I think there is too much mediocrity everywhere, and we are just being tolerant. Mediocre newspapers, television shows, books, movies..... what I am worried about is - are we getting used to mediocrity? Can we recognize and resist it?

Update: For all of you who have come here looking for details on Mukta - you can try going here. There is a whole lot of discussion going on out there.
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