November 16, 2009

The Great Wall of Mumbai

Yesterday was incredible!
Yesterday I drove by the Tulsi Pipe Road from Mahim to Lower Parel and was blown away by the graffiti art on what has now been dubbed the Great Wall of Mumbai. It has totally transformed the dirty, drab wall along the Western Railway line until it is one of the most interesting, vibrantly colourful pieces of public property I've seen in a very long time.

Can you believe this is in Mumbai?
Okay, with a stretch of your imagination maybe you can. And you can see the all-too familiar lines and geegaws that go with the railway tracks just on the other side of the wall.
But can you believe that this wildly, impossibly colourful stretch was actually sanctioned by the BMC, the tradition-bound, red-tape-shackled corporation that runs Mumbai city?
I love it!

The Wall Project is the initiative of a group of very talented and super-creative artists who go around transforming dull, boring walls into superb works of art . When the BMC offered this kilometres-long stretch of wall as a canvas, there was a flurry of activity, both online and on-site. Messages were posted, the grapevine buzzed and on the appointed days (first in August and again in October this year) all interested artists and assistants let their creative juices flow.
And what was once the receptacle of paan-juices and a surface for crudely printed handbills, is now the showcase of the creativity of the city's artistically inclined .

What fun! I wish I could've been there. Maybe if there is another call going out for artists ... And I'm sure there will be, there're plenty of unpainted sections left in that wall still.

There are still portions of the wall , especially near Mahim, where it provides shelter to pavement-dwellers. I saw this family busy preparing their dinner and couldn't help thinking that they're living in the shadow of some artist's concern and love for this city.

This little boy was sitting near the women and as soon as he saw that we had stopped to click photos, he ran up with the widest smile on his face. He was thrilled to see that I had clicked his photo and immediately asked me to click one of his family too.
Do you see his dinner cooking in the background?

Further down the road, Michael Jackson was one of the recurring themes on the wall. I think a lot of fans poured out their grief in paint here.

As if Mumbai could ever do without its film stars! They were all here, larger than life . And there were so many more that I enjoyed.
Some I couldn't get a good shot of because it was too dark, and long stretches were blocked by the vehicles parked in front of them. Even more were a blur because I had a lot of cars impatiently honking from behind and telling me to "move, or else...!".
But, take a look at some of the others that I did get...

But the one that said it all had to be this one!

October 4, 2009

A petty issue

Have you noticed how you're getting short-changed at the shops nowadays?
Every time I go to a provision store or a supermarket, I'm handed a bill which totals up to an amount that has been rounded off... almost always to the next highest 50 paisa denomination.
I get bills for xy Rupees twenty-eight paise or sixty-nine paise. I mean , come on! Is a proper change for such amounts even existent in our currency? Have you even seen a 1 paise or 2 paise coin in use nowadays ?
Apparently the 5, 10 and 25-pase coins are still legal tender. Officially, at least, but I've yet to see anyone who carries those coins. Or even someone who'll accept them.
Incidentally, I've even had stores offering me toffees in lieu of small change! Hmmm ... I wonder whether they would accept them in lieu of payment?

One cashier was almost apologetic and vaguely embarassed about it. "It's all because of the VAT amounts," she said. "It usually adds up to odd figures and we don't have the small change for them. No one has! "
So the amounts are conveniently rolled over into the next biggest 50-paise denomination and no one's the wiser. Or bothers to speak up even if they notice it. It's such a measly little amount, after all. Hardly worth talking about.

Well, that may be petty change for one shopper, but hey, do the maths.... that's a nice bit of extra profit for a store which sees hundreds, if not thousands, of shoppers every day!
No, wait ... actually, it does add up to quite a significant amount even for the individual shopper who is spending more than necessary every single day, albeit at the rate of a few paise each time. It may not exactly pinch or throw the budget off-kilter, but what it does is make me feel slightly cheated and a little indignant about it.

Hmmm ... so who does get the balance, I wonder. If it's the store, that's money collected unfairly, isn't it? If it's the Revenue department, then they're collecting more tax than they're entitled to.
For my part, I'd say "you're welcome to it " if they could just prove they've put that money to some good use rather than to line their pockets.
Employment opportunities for the underprivileged, or maybe better education in the rural areas, and what about better medical facilities in tribal areas , and ... oh, the potential "good uses " are too many to count, aren't they?
Imagine! if our small change could create a big change...

October 1, 2009

The finer details

I have to tell you at the very outset that I share my home with 2 cricket-obsessed males. But I suppose you would've guessed anyway by the dirty heap of cricket whites that can be found heaped in various spots of the house at any given time. And the long line of cricket bats, balls, helmets, gloves , etc., etc. that mark the way from the verandah to the bedrooms. Beautiful urns lovingly placed in various corners of the house become "ideal to store cricket stumps and bats". You get the picture, right?

The first, my husband, is one of those whose every second sentence is about cricket (the sport, not the animal!). His greatest satisfaction is not what he achieved in his academics or career, but that he learnt cricket on his own ("using the stump of a coconut-leaf as a bat"), set up a cricket team in his school and managed to play well enough to get his name and face and team in the papers more than once .

He later went on to climb the ladder of cricket-obsession by leaps and bounds. One of his more crazy cricket-ruled moves was to take admission in a college in a sleepy little town just because there was a better chance of being selected for the state team from there. He lasted just one month before the sleepiness became too much for him and he ran back to Bombay, but that's another story.
He went on to play for his college and then for his company where he immediately chose to work the dreaded night-shift so that it would give him time to play cricket in the daytime!

Post-marriage, my greatest challenge was coming to terms with his obsession with cricket. Heck! It was worse than having another woman in the equation. I could've fought that but how could I fight a sport on a TV set or the brotherhood of a group of grimy, sweaty men ?
There were days when at the end of one match, another would be starting somewhere else in the world, and then another. And my man religiously watched all of them. From the pitch report to the awards ceremony .
His work took second place to it too. If there was a match due to start, all appointments were cancelled.
"Sorry, I'm not feeling well today."
Yeah, he had cricket-fever!

Then, came our son. My husband was so excited about the next potential cricketer in the house that he prepared a professional cricket-pitch in our grounds as soon as he knew that I was pregnant. Everyone, including me, thought he was nuts. He was taking up the most fertile piece of land in our property but did he care? Naaah! He wanted to grow a cricketer.
He went to some of the cricket stadiums to check on what grass they use. Then he bought a huge roller (which needs 3 men to even move it) to roll and level the pitch. And he waited.

As per tradition, I went to my mother's home for the delivery and my husband followed me there. Not to spend time with me but to join a cricket club there. The day after our son was born, the proud new father was very busy... playing cricket in matches all aound the district!

The day our son turned 4, the coaching started. My husband would bowl and our tiny little cricketer would bravely try to hit the ball. Every connected ball was crowed over like it was the World Cup's decisive knock. And every so often the 'coach' would feel our son's biceps to see if it was developing yet. He needs strong arms to hit the ball well, you see.

More than once we had rip-roaring fights in the house because my husband was using a leather ball to bowl to him (if you're new to the sport, the leather cricket ball is what is used by professionals to play. It's the size of a fist and as hard as a rock).
"You'll give him brain-damage", I cried.
"I'm toughening him up," he roared back.
"At least use a rubber ball," I pleaded.
"That'll ruin his game !"

To give him credit, our son was equally mad about cricket. Any attempt to stop the coaching till he was older was met with fierce rebellion from the pint-sized cricketer-in-the-making. He hungered to master the sport.
Every match was avidly watched on TV by father and son. Every ball, every stroke, was dissected and analysed by them. They groaned over every wrong move made by the players and celebrated every major win as if they had played in the match themselves.
The stance, the angle of the throw, the placement of the foot, the crook of the elbow ... surely there was more going on here than a mere sport.
Googlies and maiden-overs were tossed around the dining table with relish.
They played all day long outside. Then when it got too dark, they moved indoors and played inside the house.
"Just a few strokes, nothing more".
It took him several broken pots and urns to decide that he was not made for indoor cricket ... it was way too sissy!

Then when our son was in the first standard, my husband saw the most electrifying notice! A famous cricket club in the city was having its selections. Our son had to, just had to, go for that.
"He's only 6" I said.
"But have you seen his game? He's way better than I ever was at his age. He's better than anyone I've seen. Just one look at his shots and he'll be snapped up like that!"
I guess I don't need to tell you what happened to that episode, right? The coach who was trying out the candidates struggled to keep a straight face but to give him full credit, he did allow our son to face one of the bowlers.
That incident is the source of a lot of hilarity in our family still. That my husband wanted our 6-year old to compete against 16 and 17-year olds and was so sure that he was better than any of them. Few children can claim that their father has so much confidence in them!

Well, he is 16 now and even I can tell (very grudgingly) that he does seem to play well. Okay,okay , so he plays really well. I wish I could be happier about his talent like all those exemplary doting story-book mothers seem to be. Where he goes with his ability is up to Fate but I do admit that I wish his fate was not in the hands of a sport .
If nothing else, he learnt to travel all over Mumbai on his own, toting a cumbersome cricket kit and holding his own in jam-packed Mumbai trains!

So why am I telling you all this? So that you'll know the depth of cricket passion that reigns in our home (among the males, at least) . They play cricket as if their soul depends on it. They watch cricket as if getting up from their chair while the batsman is still batting will put a jinx on it. They talk cricket as if that is all that matters to them.

Yet, a few years ago , my husband took me out to this swanky restaurant in a popular 5-star hotel. We found that the Italian restaurant had a fixed menu for the day and it was vegetarian. Since we were not in the mood for vegetarian Italian cuisine, we walked out, planning to go elsewhere instead. Just as we were walking down the passage, Sachin Tendulkar, one of India's greatest cicketers ever ( or maybe that's one of the world's greatest cricketers ever) was walking in with his wife.
My husband, the cricket-mad, 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-of-the-year cricket freak didn't twitch a muscle.
He didn't recognise him!
"It must be because he wasn't wearing cricket whites," he argued when I teased him about it.

Then, last year, we took our children to the same restaurant to celebrate (I forget what) and guess who was sitting at the very next table?
Mohammad Azharuddin, another cricket icon, who captained the Indian team for so many years (but who unfortunately went down in a blaze of controversy).
Neither my cricket-obsessed husband nor my equally cricket-mad son even recognised this cricket Great sitting just 3 feet away from them!
But I did.

Moral of the story : men may see the overall picture but it takes a woman to see the finer details!

September 27, 2009

Happy birthday, Google!

I did a double-take when I dropped by the Google site today. Something was not quite right. And then I saw it!
Somebody had not done the proofreading right, I thought. And giggled a little to think of such a massive mistake... one tiny mis-spelling, one huge red face for someone.

Then I moved the mouse over it and found out that I should be laughing at myself instead. Someone at Google is very clever. That's their way of announcing that Google is 11!

Happy birthday, Google. Thanks for being around and saving the day on too many occasions to count.
Especially when my children have a project to submit on some topic I have no clue about and don't want to admit it !

September 12, 2009

Ji, Aunty-ji !

Aunt : the sister of one's father or mother. Or the wife of one's uncle.
(Origin - Old French ante )

Unless, of course, one lives in India. When every girl goes through a weird metamorphosis the minute she ties the knot and even before she steps out of the marriage hall. She is now Aunty to every one under 20.
Hey, so what if the addressor is all of 19 ? Our glowing bride is now a very respectable Aunty... even if she was thought to be the hottest babe in town just yesterday!

The silk saris dripping zari and that new tag of Mrs. before her name brings with it heavy burdens. Not the least of them being this Aunty-fication!
Not 'Aunt X' or 'Aunt Y', but a very universal Aunty to the young.
To the others, she is a stop-gap bhabhi (sister-in-law). No matter that she may have never seen them before nor likely to ever again, and irrespective of a decided lack of any family connections either by blood or marriage. She is still their bhabhi; her mangalsutra/ sindoor/ wedding-band has seen to that!

Then the first heir to the family genes appears. Now our Aunty-to-the-young takes on wider responsibilities in more ways than one. She is now Aunty to the world in general, age no bar. Even 40-somethings take the liberty of "aunty"-ing her. The young newly marrieds call her Aunty. So does the balding man in the provision store . As do all the children in her building, road and city. How very respectful!
And demoralising.
Not to mention, restricting!

Of late my son has taken to this new form of repressal :"Mama, don't be such an Aunty!"
Aunties, apparently, aren't fun people. Gulp!

August 21, 2009

Co-writer to the world

Ever fancied yourself as an author? Join the whole world in writing a book! The project has come up with this brilliant idea of giving every person in this world a chance to co-write a book ... a snippet at a time!

The idea is to give each and every one of us ... from you, me and Chottu down the street, to Igor , Andre, Heather, Makame and Ling at the other corners of the globe ... a chance to write a snippet of the story, continuing from the first one published online by TWWAB team . Every day a new snippet is selected from all those submitted and the story rolls forward.

There is no pre-set plot ... that's up to you (and the 6 billion odd people populating this world) to decide. You can add new twists and turns, introduce new characters or kill them off, turn a hero into a villain or vice versa ... the mind boggles!

There are no guidelines except that you can submit only a snippet of 140 characters at a time and that you have to write it in english.

And here's where it gets really interesting ... the person with the most number of accepted snippets stands to win a Grand Prize of $25,000 !
Incentive enough? I would think that the chance to have a say in which way a story sways is more than good enough. But this really does sweeten the deal, doesn't it?

This book already looks set to become a best-seller to beat 'em all. After all, who wouldn't buy a book which they've written a part of ... even if that part is only 140 characters long! That's a definite market of about 6 billion books .

So what's the story so far? Read it here.
And hopefully your name is going to show up in that column in the accepted entry list.

August 17, 2009

Too much of a good thing

The thing I looked forward to the most when I was a kid (okay, when I grew up too) was ... vacations!
Sleep late, roll out of bed late, breakfast at noon, lie on the lawn and watch the clouds drift by, stroll, hang out with friends, watch movies, read and read and read ... oh, the sheer deliciousness of it!
There is a magical something in the very aimlessness and let-your-hair-down quality that these long holidays conjures up. Something that makes you long for it and count the days till you can revel in it again.

This is exactly what my son (and his parents too) was looking forward to when he finished his Std. X Board exams in March this year. In the long, grimy, tough days while he was preparing for his exams, my favourite motivational talk was all about "study now and you'll have such a long vaction ... at least 3-4 months .... after your exams to enjoy yourself" .
And so with tempting pictures of what he would, or rather, would not do in these days of grace, I persuaded him to stick his nose to his books.

The exams wound up and sure enough, his books were flung aside. Then followed a feast of 'doing-nothing', alternated sometimes with 'nothing doing'! Football on the beach, meeting friends, making friends, movies, eating out, staying up late, watching videos till midnight, cell-phoneitis till 2 a.m., doze off at 4, wake up at noon (except when there's football on the beach!)... mmmm, nothing changes except what we choose to do , or rather, don't do during the languid days of Vacation. The deliciousness, though, remains the same .

Or does it? I wonder...
This year seems to have a record-breaking long Vacation. First there was all that drama about the online admissions and the court case about a quota for SSC Board students. And the date of reopening was extended till the first week of August when the normal date is somewhere in mid-July.

Oh that's great, he said and promptly organised some more football in the rain and more outings with his friends. And then went down to his new college to check out the place and other friends and seniors from his school who're already studying there.

He came back filled with anticipation. He had tried out for the football team and had been selected. Classes haven't started but football has!
Oh yes, and there are some college festivals he's been hearing all about and waiting to take part in...

Then, Mumbai was swamped under the swine flu epidemic and all schools and colleges have been shut till the 20th of August . Which means my son's Junior College has still not re-opened.
This time his reaction was "Oh no!" .
Actually it was more like "Oh s..t!" but I freely translated that in the interests of maintaining motherly dignity (don't know why I bother! )
Anyway, back to the son's reaction ... "When are they going to open my college anyway? Its almost the end of August! "

Hmmm .... looks like trouble in paradise. A severe case of discontent if nothing else. He's actually waiting for college to reopen now!
Maybe too much of ennui has got the better of him ?
Are too much of holidays just too much of a good thing?

July 24, 2009

The tide of a lifetime !

Today is special! Mumbai saw what the highest tide of the century looks like.

And in my apartment close to the raging sea, I actually felt it. With each ginormous wave that crashed against a suddenly puny-looking wall, a strong vibration thudded through the table where I was resting my arms . My questioning (or was it terrified?) look was answered by my son who was lying down on his bed. He had felt it too.

The sea had become a gigantic hammer!

I ran to my balcony, camera in hand. Down on the road, throngs of people had the same idea. There was a carnival atmosphere and everyone was looking at the super spectacle put up by the sea.
Huge waves crashed against retaining walls and threw spray high into the air, sometimes 5-storeys high, and the eager wind carried it inland to rain on all the laughing people. I didn't see fear in anyone's face. Instead there was a jubilant mood, shouting in approval with each super-high plume of spray. Trying to match the sea roar for roar.

Very soon, the road was flooded knee-high with water. Not because it was raining but because there wasn't enough time for the water from each giant wave to drain away before the next one hit. But the ever-growing crowd couldn't care less. All they wanted to do was to join in this momentous natural phenomenon taking place in their backyard!

Not satisfied with the view from my balcony, I went up to the terrace of our building for a better view. And this is what I saw in a neighbouring compound!

What can I say?
The fence had been ripped up and thrown aside like a flimsy piece of tissue paper.
And guess what else I saw? The sea was belching up all the plastic bags so carelessly tossed into it by the citizens of Mumbai !
Revenge of the Sea? Definitely! And a powerful warning not to take its placid appearance lightly.

(Incidentally, these photos were taken at mid-day but it was so cloudy that I didnt get any colour into the photos. Somehow, I think it looks better this way)

July 14, 2009

Home by the sea

This has to be the ultimate home by the sea!
Okay, so I'm stretching facts a bit ... apparently 'this' is not a home but a restaurant on the sunny coat of Zanzibar, just down the beach from Monsoon Garden (sigh! I even love the name!).
But it looks more home-y, doesn't it?

I'm not too keen about the sunniness factor ... but isn't it way too cool a spot to dream awhile, safely perched on a rock, with the tides literally lapping at my feet?

(Image courtesy : Monsoon Garden)

June 23, 2009

Jewellery ? But naturally!

Who would've thought something like carambola would make such exquisite jewellery! It's a fruit for heaven's sake!
But then, this is the work of Nubia Goncalves from Rio de Janeiro. Nubia uses Brazilian natural products, including gemstones and nuts, to craft such beautiful jewellery and sells these on Etsy.

And yes, this is the same Starfruit (aka Bilimbi) which you'll find kids buying by the cartload from the bhaiyya outside their school-gates. Who knew it would have their mums lusting for it too?! Oh... watch that drool... this is a natural product so take care to keep it away from moisture.

(I wonder whether I'd feel like munching on it if I was wearing it?
Maybe. Probably... sigh!)

So would you fancy blue rosebuds around your neck? Apparently they're actually Abacaxizinhos (don't ask me how that's pronounced, please!) and dotted with pearls.
Want a translation? I did, and checked out a couple of translation sites which told me that abacaxi means pineapple in Portuguese. So would these be the head of the pineapple? Maybe very tiny, baby ones?
In any case, isn't their resemblance to rosebuds amazing?

Now this is super fun!
As zesty as chilled lemonade on a hot day, these coco discs in bright sunshiny colours can bring a smile to anyone.

Or try an earthy one for a change.
Mmmm...hmmm...! I've got to find a way to turn a skull-breaking coconut into a mind-boggling piece of jewellery!

(Images courtesy : Nubia Goncalves )

June 15, 2009

Children of Lesser Boards - 2

I had written the previous post 'Children of Lesser Boards' when the issue had just come up and then had put it aside, intending to publish it later. Actually I was a bit concerned that in my shock and dismay, maybe I was not being objective enough . Then Life took over and I got too involved with other things to have time for blogging.

In the meantime, the 90%-10% issue progressed with the Chief Minister stepping in and declaring that it would not come into effect as the legal opinion was that it is unfair (well, I could've told you that!) and brings up issues of equality.
I can think of more things that it can be called... discriminatory, unjust, favoritism, undemocratic, unconstitutional and downright shocking!

In any case, I debated whether I should still publish my post seeing how the situation had changed and have decided that I will. Just to make my opinion known too, for what it's worth.

The education ministry feels that the other Boards should start their own colleges and that the students should stick to those. Why? If the student likes another college for whatever reason, why should he be denied a fair chance of getting admission there?

I can't understand why the few days before the admissions start are always riddled with such controversies. Each time it is the students who have to bear the burden for whatever things their Board did or didn't do. If you really need to change things around, change the system. Why should the students suffer because one Board gives more marks and the other doesn't?

The parents are already wrung out after a whole year of putting aside their own lives and concentrating on their child's studies. The children are just getting over the stress of tutorials, lectures, hours of study and exams themselves. We really don't need this now or ever!

June 9, 2009

Children of Lesser Boards

90% of the seats for Junior Colleges in Maharashtra are going to be reserved for SSC students!
Not 30% ... or even 50% ... but a whole, walloping 90% ! Outrageously unfair!

Apparently the state education ministry feels that the SSC students need a very strong push because their marks are not as high as that of students from other Boards.

Hmmm.... I know how much the ICSE student has to study because my son just wrote that exam. And I've seen some of the books studied by his friends in SSC schools. The SSC books and the depth which the syllabus seems to skims through is barely a fraction of that which my son had to study in the same class.

After fretting, sweating and slogging the whole year, cutting down on sports and other activities, and nearly turning purple in the face with the amount of studying done, if my ICSE boy gets better scores than his SSC friend (who already has the advantage of having less to study), then does he really have to be punished for it?

So... the marking system in ICSE system makes it easier for the students to score high. Well, what's stopping the SSC Board from adopting a similar system? Change the system, don't penalise the students who chose to follow another system.

Reports in the newspapers quote parents of SSC students claiming that the marks given by the other Boards are "abnormally high". Really? Well, I find the amount of studies covered by an SSC student in comparison with that of an ICSE student, is equally unfair!

On the one hand, you have the ICSE Board which forces the students to study tons and tons of stuff (which I've grumbled about before) and prepare projects and submit assignments in each subject. For these projects they are assessed internally for a maximum of 20 marks. No, they're not just freely 'given' those marks. They do have to work for it, only not in a question & answer form.

On the other hand, you have the SSC Board which covers far less portions in the syllabus, prescribes easier textbooks and offers a much easier job of studying but the marking is rather strict, from what I've heard.

So where is the inequality for the SSC student? Doesn't it all even out in the end?

Incidentally, I do not for a single minute think that the SSC students are less intelligent or capable than their counterparts in ICSE, CBSE or IB schools. No way! So why on earth do they need a crutch like this?
Why are the other children handicapped for no fault of theirs? Why are they made out to be less equal?

Apparently, the officials wants to bring about more parity between the marks scored in the SSC and other Boards. Well, first bring about the same parity in the standard of education. How can you penalise someone for studying more?

Let them build colleges for their students says the minister about the fate of the students from other Boards relegated to a mere 10% statistic. Why do I hear echoes of Marie-Antoinette's "let them eat cake!" ?

I wonder why the same education ministry sanctioned all those ICSE, CBSE and IB schools if they had no intention of allowing the students to compete fairly for seats in quality colleges.
Now here's a fact for you : there just aren't that many good quality colleges in Mumbai. There are some, true. But not enough.

What on earth happened to good old Merit? Why is everything about reservations and quotas nowadays? Soon will they introduce reservations on whom one can marry?
Where and when will we begin to live as truly equal citizens in this country? Why is it that if you score more or earn more, you automatically go to the bottom of the ladder to make way, almost guiltily, for those who didn't?

I know! At the end of the next elections, the person who gets the least amount of votes should be declared the winner.
Same logic, no?

p.s. This post is not a sneering put-down of the capabilities of the SSC Board or its students. Nor is it a song of praise glorifying the students of other Boards. It is just one mother's shocked reaction to what I see as sheer injustice and discrimination.

June 4, 2009

Kochi to Trivandrum

This is what I woke up to on my first day in Kochi. A glowering sun trying to burn through looming monsoon clouds which threatened to unload any minute. Luckily for me, the sunshine won out.
I wouldn't normally say 'luckily' about rain not showing up but it applied here because I had a long drive ahead of me from Kochi (formerly called Cochin) to Trivandrum (well, it's called 'Thiruvananthapuram' now but its too much of a tongue-twister for me and just about everyone else, I think).

The General Election results had just been announced and everywhere I looked,

I saw jubilant people riding in all kinds of vehicles,
waving their flags and celebrating .
The others were sulking at home, I suppose.

Just about the first word I think you would use to describe Kerala is 'green' .
Rambling, clambering... luxuriantly, verdantly, jade-moss-emerald-forest and every shade in between ... unabashedly GREEN!
And the pre-monsoon showers were definitely helping things along !
See what I mean?

And if it isn't the greenery, what really catches your eye and pulls at your heart-strings are the soothing stretches of water!

Glimpses of the sea,

vast palm-fringed serenely beautiful backwaters,

little streams and rivers running to the sea,

paddy-fields in-waiting filling up with rain,
quaint little temple-ponds ...
Kerala is all about the melding and merging of earth and water in myriad impossibly beautiful ways.

And all along the way, the highway is dotted with tiny little shops, often filled with the produce of the land.

Simple and unassuming they might be but they're definitely colourful!

Some of them, usually the little tea-shops, even seem to double up as the local meeting-place. A place to hail old friends and, maybe, yarn awhile or tut-tut about the state of politics and the world in general.
Kerala isn't the country's first state with 100% literacy for nothing. Everyone always has an opinion about everything and they're not shy about voicing it.

I wonder if this is how it has always been ... when King Solomon sent his ships to Kerala to buy some 'black gold' ( pepper ), or when the ancient Romans sailed in for precious cardamom and timber, did they hang around with the locals and chat like this?

(Most of these photos were taken from a fast-moving car. So if they appear a bit fuzzy or splotchy, you know why)

May 5, 2009

An exercise in dis-organisation

A touch of concern : cases of swine flu have crossed borders and are showing up in India too. The papers this morning reported 2 cases but by evening now there seem to be 5 cases detected in India.
Scary? You bet! But you know what, if my experiences were anything to go by, I wouldn't be surprised if more cases show up with the virus being literally forced on the patients at our airports.

A couple of weeks ago, I crossed the Singapore border to go to Malaysia by train. When the initial documentation checks were done at the Singapore railway station, we were handed a health form to fill in along with our immigration form. This was the usual ' have you been to Africa / South America in the last 10 days' kind of form but we had plenty of time to fill it in while travelling to the Malaysian border.
This was back when CNN and BBC were getting all worked up about the illness but there were no cases reported in the Asian continent yet so I suppose the Malaysian authorities were quite relaxed about physical health checks. It was something which seemed to affect only the Americas and Europe.

By the time we were finished with lazing around the beaches of Tioman and heading back to Singapore a week later, matters had definitely become more serious and even in the miniscule airport of Tioman, the tension was palpable. We were all handed small forms to fill in while we were waiting to take off and asked to add our address and connecting flight details too. We were warned to make sure we filled it in before reaching Singapore or we would have to stand in long queues later (any holiday-maker's nightmare!).

We did end up standing in a very slow queue for our immigration but with a scanner/ camera / watchamacallit placed innocuously next to the winding but very small line of passengers, getting our temperatures read or symptoms checked without us even realising it, I suppose. One Caucasian couple did get a very polite request to step out of the line and a digital thermometer was very efficiently put to work. But that's it.

Yesterday we checked in at Changi airport to fly back to India. We were handed the mandatory immigration declaration form with one standard question on whether we had travelled to Africa or South America. No health form here.

When we landed in Mumbai, weary and ready to catch up on all the sleep we had missed, we rushed to the immigration counter happy to be back in India (its amazing! a short 2 week holiday away from home can still make me feel like shouting "Jai Hind!" when we were finally flying over the Indian landmass).

Well, welcome back ... the immigration hall had these rows demarcated for international passengers and others for domestic passengers. Just as we were rushing to the counter for domestic passengers, we were suddenly told by a very harassed looking official that everyone had to first get a form from another counter, fill it in and submit it at a desk for approval!

Hey! If you had just thought of that 5 hours ago before the flight took off and handed us some forms at Changi airport, everyone would've had their forms filled in and ready, wouldn't they?
As it was, it was like the biggest stampede you ever saw!
About 200 very confused people were determined to get their forms but had no idea where they were. After a treasure-hunt of sorts with tired and disgruntled passengers refusing to give way to anyone who even thought of cutting their line to cross to the other side, my daughter was nearly in tears.

What was supposed to be a single-line queue soon morphed into a rugby huddle . Now there were about 200 (it seemed like a thousand ! ) sweaty, impatient people of all races and sizes crammed cheek-to-cheek and nose-to-shoulder trying to juggle paper and pen and fill in the forms while struggling to keep their place in 5 (or was it 10?) imaginary lines which seemed to blend and merge at haphazard points.
I swear if this scene had appeared in one of our hindi movies, it would have been censored for obscenely close proximity.

Total chaos!
Tempers were fraying. Voices were rising. The officials were struggling to keep up with the onslaught. Finally it came down to a shouted "where are you from?" to a man who rushed in from behind me with a filled form .
"London", he said.
"You have no fever, no?"
A shake of the head, and the form was stamped!

My 12-year old daughter who finished her turn before me was lost, not knowing where to go because there was no place to stand beside me till I had finished and there seemed to be no place to which she could retreat where she could still see me or I her. She was forced to move on and by the time I could find her again after a lot of frantic searching, I was ready to punch someone.
Maybe I'm over-protective but I totally resent that the airport authorities forced that situation on me.
The health declaration form was not something which sprang up in the 5 hours during our flight so why couldn't they have given us the form to fill in earlier before we landed?
Why were there no demarcated lines with dividing ropes or whatever, already in place at the health check desk before the flight landed ?
Who was keeping a check on the checkers? If they were not actually checking for symptoms along with collecting the forms, what was the need for this new form of torture?

I'm 100% sure that if I contract swine flu or any other contagious disease, I got it at that horrendous immigration hall at Mumbai international airport!

April 22, 2009

On Holiday

I finally did it! I'm in Singapore right now and drooling over the absolutely fantastic orchids blooming their heads off in every nook and corner . And I'm so envious of the very trim figures I see everywhere.
I'm busy having fun but had to pop in here to let all of you know that I'll posting again in a little while but right now I'm on holiday. Okay?
Talk to you soon!

April 16, 2009

Educating Junior

Whoever drew this brilliant cartoon (do click on it) has my full sympathy ... and absolute understanding. Actually I'm not too sure it is a cartoon. It looks more like a page from my son's notebook. Or that of any of the thousands of 16-year olds in India.

I've been stewing all of this past year, not because of anything I have to do, but because my son was preparing for his Board exams this year. Now, if you're not from India, chances are that you won't know the sheer hell of this phase!

Last June, I checked out the papers and magazines to research what percentage was likely to guarantee an easy admission into the best colleges. Then I had to double-back and check which were considered the good colleges. It didn't help that he had no clue what he wanted to do with his life except play football and cricket ! Okay, so he's good at those, but a career built on them ... ?

After collecting paper cuttings, scraping every website on the subject, and compiling reams of statistics on colleges, courses and percentages, I realised that some of the good colleges were quoting a cut-off mark of 90% for Arts !
That meant if you get 89% (which is fantastic in my personal opinion) you don't need to even bother putting in an application?
And that was for the Arts stream which has always been considered the soft one... the one you could apply for if you're not particularly strong in academics. What would my son with his dreams of Science do?

Then started the marathon! Every day of the week had an allotted special tutorial class, sometimes in school, sometimes elsewhere.
He struggled, I cringed with guilt. This was not what I wanted for my child. I wanted him to enjoy his childhood.
But then I also want him to enjoy his adulthood too. I don't want him to feel held back at any point because a lack of a few measly marks prevent him from doing what he wants to do. What a cruel world we have built for our children!

Then it came to the portions allotted. If I could get my hands on the brainiac who sets the syllabus, I'm going to make them make a list of the times when a person is ever likely to use half the stuff they make the children learn.
How many times have you used logarithms after you left school? Or trignometry, for that matter ?
How many times have you used a topographical map of a place to find out what the main occupation of that place is likely to be?

I'll stand up and clap if they'll teach our children to survive the mean streets of Mumbai. Or teach them to really use their imagination and creative skills constructively.
But if they're trying to stuff the kids with a zillion never-to-be-used facts just to plump up the syllabus, I feel like throwing rotten tomatoes.

Now the major part of this Herculean labour is over; the books were learnt and the exams were written. Who knows what lies ahead?
But one thing I'm very sure of : if there was a task that could've made Hercules stumble, surely it would have been the attempt at modern education.

April 7, 2009

Kexy isn't Sexy !

If you like words... just twisting them around, tasting them and licking your lips with them, then this one's for you.

A whole bunch of words are going to go off the board . You won't find them in any dictionary anymore and only you can save them . Dont laugh, but some of them are absolutely delicious. Throw them at Mr. Know-it-all at the desk down the corridor and watch his face stumble! Or toss them at hubby / wifey / kiddo in the middle of the spat of the century and walk away with the last word. Every time !

Okay, here's the deal. First go to Save the Word and try out some lovely, scrumptious words for yourself. You're sure to find some beauties !I loved these :

fallaciloquence : deceitful speech
As in, dont give me any of your fallaciloquence !

And you're going to love this one...
snollygoster : a shrewd, unprincipled person, especially a politician
(not my words, I swear! but I couldn't have said it better myself)
As in, we should know better than to invite those snollygosters to loot us every five years !

kexy : brittle, withered
As in, kexy just isn't sexy !

I wish I had known this one about 2 months ago when I was egging my son to study...
pigritude : laziness
As in, I can't believe your absolute pigritude when you know your exams are just 1 month away!

Go ahead, go to the site and pick out some luscious words for yourself... and use them! They're too good to throw away.

(I learnt that one over there... go find out what it means)

March 29, 2009

Who took the fun out of travelling?

A week or two, max. And then it's vacation time in Mumbai.

The burdensome Board exams wind up and so do the other less-dreaded end-of-year ones in each school and college. Time for kids to throw their books away. My son is planning a bonfire.
"Wait," I screech," let's see your results first! "
Who cares! that's another month or two away. In the meantime, it's time to wipe off the worry lines and ... holiday!

"Why don't you go to foreign?" suggests the travel agent. "Best time. Recession, hai na ? Everything's going empty. Very cheap!"
Hmmm... that is very tempting. The kids are grown up enough not to need their hands held every minute. And we're not so old that we need to pack walking sticks too. Yeah, maybe it is the perfect time.

So the process starts. Where do we go?
"Europe," booms hubby. "Let the kids see another culture." Er... that's what they do see every other day in the movies they watch and the Archie comics they devour. Not to mention the fast-food they reach for every time we go out.
"Can we go somewhere cold," pleads my daughter, wilting in the summer heat.
"Ha!" smirks my son, "who nearly passed out on Rohtang Pass? " snigger, snigger, snigger
But I'm fine with Europe too. We developed a soft corner for the European countryside ever since we holidayed there on our honeymoon eons ago (no, we didnt sing on the slopes of Switzerland) . Heck, I'm fine with anything, just so long as we're going somewhere !

Okay, visa time and back to the travel guy.
"Hmmm... problem hai, sir. Do you have relatives in the countries you're going to? Or friends?"
Say what???
"See, you have to give letters from someone living there. Or you have to have a confirmed hotel booking. If you want, I can book. We have peoples in all countries. No problem."

Yes, problem. Yes, very big problem! Britain is the only place where we have relatives who can vouch for us just passing through with no intentions of hanging on.
What about Bavaria or that beautiful little b&b cottage in the Swiss Alps where I had set my heart on staying?
And the Romantic Road! I've been dying to travel down that road ever since I heard its name.
And Salzburg and Munich and Paris !

"Mey-dom, see, I told you. No problem, just book hotel now. I will do it for you. Or go on group tour ..."
Noooo ! I don't want to stick to any schedules and routes and dates. I'm on holiday!
I want to travel as the fancy takes me. Pick up my bags and set off when my traveller's legs start to itch. Put them down and vegetate when my mood says so...
If I book rooms and tickets, then where is the fun of travelling?
I want to travel down intriguing roads, stop when I see a beautiful landscape, wait to talk to the locals... not rush to the next dot on the map just because I've a confirmed booking there.

So, it looks like Europe is out. And my worry lines are back in.
As an afterthought, though, I just realised that at least the cancelled plans have saved us another worry ... how we're going to pay for this grand holiday!

But ... does this mean there's no place "foreign" which is okay with our kind of travel? Where you don't need to know where you're going to be the next day?
How sad! I wonder what Marco Polo would've thought of that !

(The image of the poster is from the collection of David Levine . He's got a fantastic collection of travel posters. Go check it out! )

The Carrot Eyewash

How does it feel when one of the great near-gospel truths of your childhood is ripped apart?
'Devastated' doesn't even begin to cover it, right? Imagine how I felt when the papers published the secret behind one of the most strongly held beliefs of our childhood ... carrots are great for the eyes. Well, you can stop feeding Junior the orange stuff.

Apparently it was all a big eye-wash carefully crafted during the World War. The British had set up a chain of radar stations along the coast and didn't want the Germans to find out how they were detecting so many of the enemy planes. So they concocted this great myth of how they were feeding their men carrots to improve their sight! All the better to see you with ...

Now how much of this is truth and how much is just the stuff of urban legend, I don't even want to begin to guess. But it led to generations of mothers forcing the kiddies to "eat up! it's good for your eyes ".
In short, carrots are only good for dangling before a donkey, according to this new version of an old story. If true, we really have been the donkeys, haven't we?

I just hope that at least the part about spinach and iron is true. I'd hate to think I shovelled in tons of the green gunk for nothing !

March 22, 2009

Fuel conservation, Indian-style

I was driving by Inorbit mall the other day when I saw this very funny sight. What on earth are they up to? Did the guy in front run out of fuel and his friend was giving him a helping hand... er, foot?

Then I looked around and saw more autorickshaw guys driving like this. I think they're actually trying to save fuel. They didnt look in any particular hurry to reach anywhere, so one of them possibly switches off the engine and gets his friend to push him around ! I wonder whether they switch places after sometime.

Friendship really can take you places... sometimes with a kick in the rear!

March 19, 2009

Natural protection

From Hollywood to Malibu, the Cote d'Azur to Juhu, the glam-dolls and A-listers will soon be wearing ... hippo sweat!
Throw away your outdated tubes of sunscreen loaded with chemicals and get natural. Hippo is the way to screen, it seems.

Remember all those Discovery and National Geo programs which zoomed in close on 'bleeding' hippos only to tell you,"ha! ha! that's not blood, folks, but sweat. Isn't that amazing!" .
Now this amazing sweat is proving to be more incredible than anyone ever thought, going by the efficiency with which it scatters light and protects from sunburn.

But hey, don't we put up with enough sweat as it is, especially in India? In trains and buses, classrooms and queues... now we're going to slather hippo sweat on us too?

Can you imagine that classic come-on line substituted with, "will you rub some hippo sweat on me, please? "

March 16, 2009

Damn ! I'm old !

Here's the very cheerful discovery I made thanks to the papers today. I'm old ! Over the hill ! Ancient!
In fact I was old at 27!

Excuse me! I was busy having babies at 27 ! That isn't old. No way !
But there is the little matter of forgetting names (too frequent to be comfortable) , the struggle to remember why I entered a certain room so purposefully, and that slight twinge in the knee when I try to run up the stairs (okay, so I walk; 'run' just sounded better ) ... aah well! I guess I am old .

At least that's what a new study says... you are old at 27 ! (why is it echoing in here?) And 22 is the age when you're most likely to have your big brainwave of an idea. Why ? 'Coz that's when your brain peaks, apparently. And from there it's all downhill. How depressing.

So... will they start giving out pensions at this ripe old age ?

March 13, 2009

Union memsaab?

Apparently there is a move in Kerala to organise a trade union for housewives. I read about it in an opinion poll in Mumbai Mirror and was totally intrigued by the idea. So many ideas and possibilities, what-ifs and why-nots kept boomeranging around in my thoughts. Some thoroughly flippant, some deserving of deeper thought.

If implemented, housewives would earn a minimum salary for doing everyday chores in their own homes. I wonder who would decide what that basic salary should be. And I wonder what they will base that decision on.

Will a housewife with a washing machine, vacuum cleaner, dish-washer, etc. command a lower salary than her harder-worked sisters who are deprived of these electronic assistants ?

Will those with cooks and maids to help them, have to undergo a salary cut?

What if she isn't efficient at her work ... will she get a pink slip?

And what about the working women who rush back home after work and act the role of homemaker too?

Next, will the bread-winner of the family organise another trade union to take care of his own interests? I wonder what his demands will be !

Questions, questions... open Pandora's box and see what happens! What do you think?

March 12, 2009

Come, sit ... have some tea

This has to be the refrain heard most often all over India. Welcome the guests, make them comfortable, offer hospitality i.e., a cup of tea ( or twenty ). And then ... chat, gossip, or rant to your heart's content. We do love to talk, dont we?

First things first, the warm welcome accompanied by a hot cup of tea. As light and close to coloured water as you like, or as murky and cut-with-a knife thick as the roadside tea-stalls brew. Then, there's the masala chai ... fragrant, spicy, ginger-cardamom infused tea, as Indian as it can get.

Take your pick. Get comfortable. And let's chat!