Friday, November 04, 2011

The gentlemen of the highways...

I’ve been traveling extensively since I was a kid. When we were small we rarely spent a weekend at home. Weekends were synonymous with travel. We hit the road every weekend and I went to school on Mondays with a note to explain missed weekend homework. Karnataka has something called Dussehra holidays that comes as a welcome break during October. Dussera hols lasted ten days and we traveled a little further like Darjeeling or Jaipur or Kashmir. Summer break usually meant a holiday in Kerala or abroad. My Dad’s love for driving has seen us driving through pitch dark jungles roads, getting a puncture in deserted places and getting stranded on a mountain with a ruptured fuel pipe. But he was an experienced driver and had a remedy for every eventuality.

Nowadays when I read about highway accidents I wonder how my Dad managed to drive almost on every road in South India without a scratch. Road trips always remind me of long distance (LD) lorry drivers. And this post is about these people, who have actually carved out a kind of Highway Code that ensures that accidents are rare. Accidents do happen but a lot of people don’t know that if you follow the highway code you can ensure a safe journey, unless someone deliberately rams into you.

The highway code is simple. Overtake when the LD lorry driver tells you to and more or less follow his instructions that he will give you through hand signals. This means if you are trying to over take a slow moving LD lorry, you make your presence felt by appearing in his rear view mirror and honking. If the road ahead is clear he will tell you to overtake with a wave of his hand. If not he will tell you to wait by holding up his hand. This basic procedure can keep you safe on the road. Whenever he over took a lorry, dad would give a ‘thank you’ with a short blast of the horn. I would watch keenly to see the driver acknowledging it with a nod and just as quickly returning his attention to the road. Small courtesies, but these matter a lot on the highway. On our travels we have met only friendly LD lorry drivers and most of them will tell you that it is newcomers to the highways who cause accidents. Long distance lorry drivers have carved a discipline on the road over years of lonely long distance driving.

Once we were climbing down a mountain and mist swirled up making visibility almost zero. A lorry driver going downhill spotted us and told us to drive close behind. We climbed down the steep mountain without a scratch. Making friends and talking to people helps. And when these drivers see a gentleman talking to them with respect they will go all out to help. Sometimes I think the highway code is nothing but a gentleman’s code. And only true gentlemen recognize that.

Of course there are some precautions to be taken on the highway. Like when you see our good ‘ol reliable and trustworthy KSRTC or a BMTC, you should get down from the vehicle and run like mad and not stop till you have reached a hill or a high place. Come back later with a tow away truck to take the wreckage of your car to the nearest garage. It will be neatly pulverized into a more manageable size with a little bow on top to show there are no hard feelings. Their reliability and trustworthiness in hitting you even if you were parked a mile away from the road is legendary.

If the highway was used only by the LD guys, or if everyone driving on the highway used the Highway Code, we would have safer highways.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The new lower class

I got out of Bangalore airport with my American colleague and looked for the taxi driver who normally picked up my colleague. He was smiling and waving and pretty soon we were on our way to the city. I had decided to share my colleagues cab this time as it was hired for a whole days run, my facilities staff had informed me. That would save us some serious monies in cab bills. On the way he chatted with my colleague and my colleague asked him questions about his family and other general stuff like the weather. The two had known each other for two years since my American colleague started his quarterly trips to India.

It felt good to see the bond between the American and this smiling man from India’s vast lower class. The driver spoke in broken English but managed to make himself understood. He had been talking English for some time now and was fairly good at it.

My colleague told me of the drivers sister’s wedding and how he had contributed to it by buying the wedding saree and some jewelry. It had helped the family a lot and they had become family friends.

We drove into the Oberoi and I watched as the driver quickly retrieved the bags and deposited it with the bell boy. Shaking my colleague’s hands and bidding him good night and promising him to pick him up in the morning, the driver came back to the car. He got in looked around and asked me tersely where I wanted to be dropped. The sudden change in tone of this amiable man was startling. He drove out quietly when I gave him my address. I asked him a few questions about the road near my house that was under repair. I wanted to avoid it. First he refused to answer and then when I repeated the question snapped that it was still under repair. I asked him to bypass the road and gave him directions to the bypass. He replied rudely that if he was going to deviate then it would cost me more. By this time I had had enough and snapped that if he charged me more than whole days hire rate then he can find himself another company to work for.

He fell silent. A few yards away from my house he stopped the car and asked me to get out. I refused and told him to drop me to the gate. He drove to the gate a couple of hundred yards from where we had stopped grumbling under his breath.

I got out and he opened the boot sullenly. I removed my bag and thanked him. He replied by banging the cover of the hood with a thud and getting into the car without looking back.

As he drove away I couldn’t help marveling at his change in behavior because I was Indian. And it is not only me but a whole lot of my colleagues who report the same behavior by cab drivers and another people associated with the hospitality industry. Let us just say that we Indians are second class citizens in a certain sector of the economy now :)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Dummies guide to social acceptability

I have often been told by “some” mallu guys from Kerala that non mallu girls shy away from them. In fact it is so bad that even NRK girls don’t want anything to do with them unless forced to marry one by their parents. After studying the phenomenon for some time, I can give a few tips that might make “some” of you mallu studs from Kerala, a little more acceptable to the gals…even if it is only in friendship. Of course the majority of you can ignore the post. This post is for a select crowd only. You can see them hanging out at Brigade Road on weekends, talking loudly and discussing the ladies assets as they pass by.

1. When you leave the borders of Kerala, remember you are no more in Kerala. You are entering an alien land, where people live and interact very differently from what you are used to. Look around you and take at look at the way guys your age behave. You could learn a lot.

2. When you see a girl on the road or in the mall, she is here for shopping for necessary stuff. This is not a secret code that she is easy and available. She is dead serious about shopping.

3. When you see ladies going for early morning or late evening walks, they are obeying their doctor orders to walk their way to good health, or generally because they are conscious about the need to maintain a good fitness regimen for the sake of their health. They are not wanton women looking for an affair with young men by walking in front of their homes. Roads in the rest of India go past people’s homes, so it is natural that they have to walk past your building.

4. Hanging out at Brigade Road is cool. Remember the rest of the young crowd also think the same. That includes girls. These girls are not hanging out because they want attention from guys. It is a ritual in other parts of India for girls to go shopping with friends.

5. When a girl at work comes and says “Hi” she is being courteous. Just as she is courteous to the hundreds of guys at the office. She is not to my knowledge saying “I am interested in you.”

6. When a girl adds you to her email forward list it means she wants to share some nice forwards with you. This is not a secret code that says. “I am in love with you and these forwards are my love missiles towards you.” Take a look at the people the email is forwarded to and you will realize that you are one among the many recipients. If you are in BCC, it means she values the privacy of the recipients. It does not mean you are the only recipient.

7. When you see a girl, remember that she is visible to other guys too. So she may be a little surprised that you consider sighting her as an automatic claim to her person. So please don’t be miffed if she doesn’t understand that you can lay claim to her.

8. Married ladies and middle aged ladies are not pining for your attention when they go shopping alone. They prefer to shop alone or with friends because their husbands are not interested in shopping.

9. Girls will generally refuse your expression of interest because they have something called “rights”. A right can be described as the freedom under the law to say “no” to random guys who think they are the best thing to happen to her.

10. Friendship between guys and gals exist. Just look around.

11. Groups of guys and gals in the office going for lunch, movie etc is due to a phenomenon called “friendship”. It is an extension of college life they left behind. They do not end up in each other’s apartments in orgies. They lead boring lives. Please do not look at them and giggle and poke each other or expect the girls to come out with you too.

12. Stalking a girl will not make her fall in love with you. She will go to the police or HR. It is a perfectly normal thing to do and she is by no means being disrespectful of you or challenging your manhood.

13. Don’t get upset by the girl’s total lack of interest in guys. It is normal. They are happy being just girls till the right guy comes along. Till then they will be engrossed in chatting, shopping, movies, hanging-out together etc. This is normal and you don’t need to intervene to put some romance in their life.

14. A girl will meet and find a guy she likes eventually, or she will get married to a guy her parents chose. It may seem unbelievable but it is the truth. So chill and get a life. Your intervention is not necessary.

15. If you talk loudly people will look at you. It is natural for people to think there is something wrong when someone shouts. It does not mean they are looking at you in admiration due to your ability to produce high decibels of sounds. God promise!

16. A girl dresses up in certain ways because it is her style statement. A style statement is an extension of her personality. It has nothing to do with guys. It may seem unbelievable, but it is the truth. And no, she is not a lesbian because she is not interested in guys she is not interested in.

17. It is perfectly natural for a girl to sit next to you in the bus. She considers you just another passenger. It is definitely not a cue that she wants to be groped.

18. It is also perfectly normal for girls to be seen in the company of guys who are not their boyfriends. It does not mean the girls will go out with you too. These are friends out for a meal together in a city where there is nothing else to do. They will go their separate ways after the movie, meal, game of cards etc.

19. When a girl says “no”. She actually means it.

20. If you can look at a girl like a friend who is of the opposite gender who will never be romantically interested in you, you will be respected and befriended.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Forced parenthoods

I was sitting on the stone bench outside the church. The church was overflowing due to the Holy Week service. Kids were playing around while the teens gossiped and young parents ran behind their tots. It was a jovial atmosphere notwithstanding the Stations of the Cross going on inside the church.

An elderly lady from Kerala was walking around and rocking a baby who looked a month or so old. Time and again she would peep into the church as though looking for someone. When the baby got restless, she went inside and came out with a young girl. The young girl went into a car and fed the baby and gave it back to the lady who I presume was her mother or mother-in-law. The baby got restless again. The lady peeped into the church apologetically, her face pleading with the girl inside. The girl walked outside in some annoyance and grabbed the baby and went to the car to feed the baby again. I heard the lady telling her to feed the baby well. In five minutes the young girl was out of the car again and after handing over the baby to the lady in disgust, she walked back to church to join her husband. The baby, mercifully fell asleep. I felt bad for the lady who seemed to be the only person who cared for the baby.

Somewhere in the middle of the service, a young girl in jeans and her young hubby walked into the church. Another Malayalee couple. It was obvious she was new to Bangalore. They stood outside the jam-packed church and looked uncomfortable. The reason was obvious. The baby who looked about six months old was getting restless and wanted to be walked around. The poor girl walked for some time and came back and the baby started crying the moment she stopped walking. The young father took the baby from the mom and walked around for some time. The baby watched the people with fascination. But he started crying the moment the poor father stopped walking and took shelter under a tree. After some time the annoyed couple left the church.

I see these sights every Sunday in church. Somehow the new set of parents these days don’t seem to ready to be parents or seem to be forced into parenthood. And it is not just these couples. My colleagues from other states too narrate similar tales... of young couples with babies who are neglected because the parents were forced into parenthood by their parents. One such child, the niece of my North Indian colleague has stopped talking due to sustained neglect by parents. The parents do not beat the child or verbally abuse her. They just don’t care about her.

All these incidents have a culprit and it is the grandparents. The people who start hinting from day one to full scale nagging from day two of the marriage of their offspring. People change, but the changes in our society in the past 15 years have made the change faster for most of us young people, though our parents still lag behind in the 70’s. And this disconnect is making life really difficult for the most vulnerable section of our society…the kids.

Child neglect is increasing and will keep increasing say all my married colleagues and they don’t blame the young parents. As a young mom in my office told us at lunch, “I told my parents that I will have kids if they look after the kid. They agreed and moved to Bangalore. They will go back to Andhra when he is in high school.”

Now that’s what I call a sensible lady. Wish every young couple who are nagged by parents to have kids do the same. I am sure it will work wonders for them.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Suppression and Expression

An aunt from our family friends circle is a journalist. She contributes to international magazines. She writes mostly about social issues in India.

Recently we were all recipients of a mail from her with a link to her blog. She requested the recipients of the mail to take a look at her blog. I opened the mail rather late and saw that she had very few hits and no comments. She sent the mail out again. But the post was not getting the attention she was seeking.

She was surprised. Her article in magazines always led to comments and discussions. Finally this Sunday I went over to her blog and was surprised to read some very tepid post on violence on women. I called her and told her that she had got blogs all wrong. She had married reporting with a narrative style and made a hash of the topic in the process. It was also obvious she and chosen the topic because she thought it would arouse interest. Her thinking was very journalistic with an eye on webhits.

Now this aunt has not been to my blog, but I do send out my posts from this blog to a group of people in my family and friends circle who prefer it by mail. And this aunt is one of the recipients. She was encouraged by the discussions and comments in the mail thread to take to blogging.

Aunt called me for some tips and tricks and I told her that unlike her articles in magazines, her blog was a medium to express her personal views on matters where she hold strong views. Tips and tricks would not help her. She was clearly looking for a medium for ego massage.

She didn’t say anything about my advice. She clearly didn’t like someone with no experience or legacy in the professional writing field advising her. Her ‘made-up’ posts continued with no responses. Finally she admitted that blogging was way too difficult for someone like her who was used to mere reporting. She had no concept of a personal view after so many years in the field.

Journalists like her are not comfortable with the new popular mediums like blogs, twitter etc. And they cannot understand how ordinary people can write on topics without formal training and evoke interest, create an interactive readership than reading people like her. She has no appreciation of popular views and is used to manipulate popular views. After a few more tries she gave up blogging.

I am not saying that journalists cannot blog. There are many who are really good bloggers. And these are people who understand the distinction between paid writing and sincere expression.

This whole episode reminds me of a once popular television (whose reputation lies in the ditch today) and her rising alarm over ordinary junta beginning to express their views on everything (including her spotless reputation) which made her go on a rampage in her insecurity to portray bloggers as some kind of underground movement that might be a threat to the society. Sadly for her, the very audience she tried to instigate turned the tables on her making her look like a fool.

While celebrity bloggers have a default readership, ordinary bloggers like us have begun to perhaps crack the hard shell of apathy that grips our nation. Having a medium to express ones views is like an outlet for people who were simmering without a voice for so long.

The new IT Act will however take care of that too by coming down hard on bloggers because we cannot be bought like the media. And that is the day I will quit blogging.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gender imbalance of a different kind

I watched a program on Asianet recently. The subject was very interesting and I wanted to see what the modern Malayalee thought of the same. The subject in question was that women felt unsafe in buses in Kerala.

The panel consisted of a few educated, articulate young ladies one of whom was a very well spoken actress. On the opposite side were not people who held a contrary view, but men, mostly middle aged (and a few young guys too) who I observed were present only to oppose the view. Instead of this show being a discussion that concerns the entire society, it turned out to be a man vs women kind of a fight with the men opposing the view only for the sake of opposing. They had no concrete facts to support their argument and instead tried to dismiss the whole issue by trivializing it. It was almost as if, they opposed the ladies having a view point and more importantly a platform for airing it.

Not a single man sitting in the chairs behind the panel of men spoke up for their sisters, mothers, daughter, wives etc.

The debate started with the women articulating very eloquently and with a lot of clarity the experiences they had in Kerala buses. But if you think the men let them have their say, think again. The men merely shouted down the women, wouldn’t let them talk and when they expressed their opinion, it was so stupid that you wondered if they knew anything about the subject let alone any other subject worth discussing.

Then I remembered my posts on Kerala here and at other places like DOC where people landed up to defend anything written about Kerala that they did not like. They had no clue to what we were talking about but considered it their right to shout down anyone who says anything they do not endorse. It was almost as if they were afraid and angered by people having a voice.

What was surprising about this show was that there wasn’t a single man in the audience or panel who talked with some understanding of the subject or who knew how to participate or behave in a debate. Most of the men were only interested in opposing anything the women had to say and if possible making noises so that the ladies did not get to speak.

The moderator of the program can easily put Arnab Goswami to shame. Just when a lady was making a point in a clear and concise manner he would interrupt or pose another question to the men. Then the whole program would descend into pandemonium. It was the most frustrating thing to watch.

After a time I stopped watching because I just could not believe that grown up men could behave like this. One man went on to say that Kerala is the safest place in India for women. Another said that Kerala men were very decent and the fact that he wasn’t keeping his daughter as his wife was proof that he was a decent guy (believe it or not).

Then they went on to allege that women enjoyed the attention of men and that they invited it either by showing interest or by dressing provocatively. The discussion was not worth airing on a channel like Asianet. Even illiterate people from Bihar and UP know how to behave themselves better than the men from the 100% literate state that appeared in this debate!

What struck me most about this program was that the ladies participants in the program were way ahead of the men in etiquette, decorum, articulation abilities and knowledge. They took part in the discussion with dignity, stating their experiences in a matter of fact manner while the men just misbehaved as they had no point to counter the ladies and most importantly did not want the ladies to have a say.

And that is when it struck me that this was a very good spectacle of what women in Kerala go through, not only in buses but in life in general. The debate was an eye opener to the kind of people the ladies have to put up with daily.

All I got to say in conclusion is that the Kerala society seems skewed. On one hand we have the women, who are educated, progressive and intelligent, on the other hand they are dominated by men who are completely opposite to them in every aspect. A very sad situation indeed! No wonder the state is leading in divorces. How can women in such a society find partners who are their equals in every aspect!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A slice of life

I like Art movies. I like art movies for its deliciously stark portrayal of real life. It’s a relief from commercial cinema that has no resemblance to real life. I find Art movies refreshing. The more stark the reality the better. It is like a purge, a purge from the one sided vista, commercial cinema brainwashes you with, whether it is patriotism, family relations, poverty, love, and relationships… anything and everything and the way it is shown.

For people like us, who live in concrete cages, Art movies are like a bite of real life.

While growing upon a steady diet of Malayalam and Hindi movies thanks to my Dads collection, I learnt to look at life through pink tinted glasses. Elders were nice. Poor people were humble, grateful and loyal to their benefactors. Boyfriends sang songs to their girlfriends and girlfriends pledge eternal troth to their boyfriends. Husbands were pillars of the family and mothers, the foundation. And lot of other blah blah.

Then came Art cinema, the next item in my Dad’s menu and I saw my first “Ankur” like swallowing a bitter pill. A very bitter pill. I didn’t like it and wanted some nice mushy movie. But Ankur fascinated me. It raised a lot of questions that my folks had to answer red faced, perhaps cursing themselves under their breath for opening a can of worms.

That movie also taught my mom to get over the reticence of her upbringing and face her metro kid and tell her what adultery was all about. What landlords of yore were and the social system that existed in villages and between upper castes and lower castes, the rich and the poor.

Reality is a bitter pill to swallow and but it makes you feel so much better after that. I mean it felt good to see people with shades of grey unlike the black and white portrayal in commercial cinema. For very love story there existed ten of betrayal, for every good husband there were ten bad ones and for every chaste woman there existed many who were not. It explained a lot of things that puzzled me from real life.

Today I relish Art movies. They are like a sneak peek into the real India. A break from the untiringly nice Moms, as portrayed by commercial cinema to the woman who has needs and a personality and frailties of her own as shown by art cinema. I would say that Art cinema has its fingers on the pulse of change that is taking place in a transitional society like ours. And keeping us in touch with it.

What we need is more Art cinema. I think the public is ripe for it.

And with this I complete 300 posts at My Think Pad . Thank you for your support and interest :)