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!