Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Pass or perish

Sometime back an iron rod fell on my toe. It was quite painful but there was no visible injuries. I have this penchant since childhood of ignoring injuries leading to various complications and last minute rush to hospitals. This time too I ignored the toe and the pain lessened in a few days. But my toe looked greenish blue and yesterday when I trimmed my toe nails, a gush of pus and blood came out from underneath the nail. It wouldn’t stop and every time I walked the nail would spurt some more liquidy stuff from the nail bed. The nail drained out and the then the needle like pain began. I finally showed it to my brother and he rushed me to hospital. I was taken into the Outpatient Ward and made to lie down.

There were other beds too in the ward cordoned off by curtains. In the next bed a lot of activity was going on. Nurses were rushing around. Since there was no one to attend to me, I lay there listening to the noise and sounds of the ward. Hospitals have always intimidated me and the reassuring sight of a doctor was always a welcome relief. But the doctors on duty were also busy attending to the patient in the next bed. From the conversation of the nurses I could make out that the patient had tried to commit suicide. The nurses worked very efficiently joking amongst themselves. There was no anxiety or tension in the room like they show in those American Medical Serials. The patient’s stomach was cleaned and she was stabilized. Her mom in Burqa hovered close by in shock. A young man with tears in his eyes kept coming in to check on the patient only to be shooed away.

By this time my brother panicked and came to see what the delay was all about. He was told to buy syringes and bandages and medicines and thought that it was something serious. Besides there was no one inside to advice him about me. He walked in to check on me and was relived to see me chatting with the nurse who was bandaging me. He was a little annoyed at the lack of information. That is when I told him of the suicide attemptee in the next bed. He parted the curtains and peeped in a saw a young girl. I saw her later and she looked like an angel sleeping on the hospital bed. She was frail and looked so cute and vulnerable. I couldn’t imagine why someone so young would want to end here life. Later my brother stuck up conversation with the men in the girl’s family and learnt that she had failed in her 12th standard exams.

As they wheeled me out I heard the doctor telling the family that they needed to find out what it was that the girl had ingested, which meant tests. I don’t know what happened after that.

A doctor who is a family friend tells us that for every reported suicide attempts there are several that go unreported. This year during school results time the cops were patrolling areas where students generally try to commit suicides. But they could not prevent the record number of suicides. Instead of patrolling lakes and railway lines and high rise buildings, wouldn’t it be more prudent to revise the education system that has long outlived it’s utility and is now putting a tremendous amount of pressure on the students?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Cancer on Earth

When you are in the company of people you have grown up with, you tend to speak without thinking. It is a level of comfort that makes you let your guard down and you make conversation with ease. It is a comfort level born of years being together. At my meeting with S, the heroine of my last post, S asked me casually, why every organism on Earth is important. She has put up with my impassioned talks on environment, wildlife protection for years. And she was also a willing volunteer when I had launched the “No plastics" month in college.

The conversation went something like this.

S: Why is every animal important for the environment?
Me: Every animal and living thing is placed by Nature for a purpose.
S: Even rats? ( she hates rats)
Me: Yes, even rats.
S: How can rats be useful to the environment?
Me: Well they are food for snakes, owls, vultures etc. A vulture is nature’s scavenger and because of vultures we don’t have pandemics. But alas their numbers are shrinking.
S: Even insects are important? (she is terrified of insects)
Me: Yes. Look the Earth is a healthy body. The environment and wild life and other life forms are its metabolism. It needs all these to function as a healthy body. Every thing on Earth is important except human beings. Humans are like a Cancer on the healthy body of Earth. I think, natural calamities are the Earth’s immune system keeping our numbers in check to protect it from being overwhelmed and destroyed. But I think Earth is losing the battle.

The conversation stopped and a comfortable silence fell between us. And then in tandem after a minute or two both of us looked at each other startled. And I suddenly realized what I had said, while S reeled from the import of what I had said. A broody silence again fell between us after that as we mulled over things. S finally giggled and said "Thank God, the Ransom Girls are not around. This would have been the drop of blood for the sharks."

Ransom Girls was a group in college diametrically opposite to our group. When I organized “No Plastics Month” they organized the “Plastic Awareness Month”. They put up posters describing the revolution bought about by plastics by making us less dependent on natural resources like wood, metal etc. The theme for their campaign “ Plastic satisfies your every need”. In retaliation we put up a poster on the Notice Board. I will leave you to guess the content of the poster. It was pulled down before the faculty arrived in the morning and put back during lunch break on the cafeteria walls. It left the Ransom Girls very red faced for a very long time to come.

Now why were they called Ransom Girls? That is something I shall not reveal. One of them blogs you see. I do not want a war developing here :p

Finally...I am now wondering uneasily if my remark that human beings are like cancerous organisms on Earth might be true. Forget what religion says about all of us being God’s children and being on earth for a purpose and all that jazz. On a baser level as animals we serve no purpose. We do not give to the Environment. We only take. I don’t see where we fit in the scheme of things. I have tried and tried to think of one use of humans on Earth and I find none.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Giggles from the past...

Thanks to incessant rains I am stuck in the house. So I thought I would pen down something about a friend I met yesterday. 'S' is one of my friends from school through college. A really sweet Gujju girl. S was the most innocent gal in our group and I frankly don’t know how she survived the wonder years with us. Most people in college thought she was the misfit in our group.

I remember a fashion show in college. S walked out to the catwalk carrying her saree dupatta in hand, sashaying languidly. The rest of us were waiting for our cue to walk out to the catwalk. Just when she was half way through her catwalk I whispered loudly in a theatrical whisper “hey your blouse is open at the back!!!”. S froze, fumbled for her saree dupatta , covered herself tightly without turning around and then ran to the back of the stage holding a hand over her mouth to suppress a scream. All of us collapsed laughing. Of course there was no problem with the blouse but then S was someone we loved to rag. She would end up giggling uncontrollably when she realized that she had been had. Never once did she get angry at our pranks.

Once on a summer hol trip to Kodai, S went to change her clothes in the cottage restroom. After waiting for 5 minutes, we all said loudly “S we can see you”. There was a piercing shriek from the toilet and S quickly wrapped herself with a towel and sat on the commode looking fearfully around for open windows or vents. Inspite of repeated assurances she refused to come out of the toilet. Finally she did come out after we had given her a bedsheet to cover herself. She changed after we had held a few bedhseet around her as she refused to go into the toilet. The whole thing boomeranged on us when S refused to go to the toilet after that and kept jumping up and down cos she wanted to pee really bad. Finally we had to conduct a live demo to show her that the toilet was safe and we were indeed joking.

Another time for my 21st birthday, we had a party at my house. My 21st birthday fell on a weekday and we had the party on a Friday night. S’s dad is a very strict man and disapproves of drinking and coming late etc. But then back then most of my friends parents thought I was a model friend to their daughters. I had this readymade angelic face you see :p Perfect foil for evil. S was given permission to come as it was my house.

This was the first time we all had Vodka as all of us were turning 21 that year. My brother M was the bar tender ( and supervisor as my parents were away for a wedding) and he made some wonderful but unknown to us, very low alcoholic content cocktails for us. S got slightly bold after she realized that she was quite fine after a Bloody Mary. So she had another and then another. By this time most of us were dancing to some loud music and garish home made disco lights courtesy M. No one noticed S steadily plowing through my drink and the other glasses scattered around various tables in the hall. By the time the party wound up she must have had some 6 small Vodkas (or more I dunno). She was very tipsy and was giggling like a Hyena at every thing we said.

Me: Looks like you had too much to drink tonight!
S: *giggle*
Nina: You better have some black coffee.
S: ha ha ha ha
Tia: Drink some water, you will feel much better.
S : Ahahahahahahahah hoo hoo hoo hee hee hee (rolling on the sofa )

We were in big trouble now. S had to return home as per orders. As we debated what to do, we heard S taking to someone on the phone. A dim wit friend of mine, Bhanu had convinced S to call her Mom and ask permission to stay back at my house. To her bad luck her Dad picked up the phone.

S: Hello
S’s Dad: Hello
S (cupping the mouthpiece and whispering to Bhanu): Oh my god it’s my dad
Bhanu: Put the phone down quick.
But S was already talking to her Dad in a fake voice.
S( trying hard not to slur): Mr Patel? Can I speak to you wife?

The genius thought that her Dad would not recognize her voice!

To cut the story short, I did manage to convince her Dad that she had just a bit of wine and she got permission to stay at my house.

S entertained us throughout our school and college days with her innocence and simplicity. Now she is getting married, to an equally sweet guy. I wish her the best and hope she keeps smiling and giggling through life like she always did.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Mothers Day!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mommies. My cousin sister in Bangalore called us up to wish my Mom and her sisters all of who are here for another Engagement. She made her little daughter wish me. It was so cute to hear her say "Happy Mothers Day chechi". I am her regular babysitter you see and it was very sweet of my cuz sis to do that. Before my cuz sis could put the receiver down I heard her daughter ask her why she should wish me for Mothers Day as I am not a mommy. That question bought a flood of memories and I am dedicating this post to a special person in my life, who was like a second mother to me throughout my growing years. And this person is my mom’s youngest sister Ann.

Ann is nearly 12 years younger to my mom and was ( and still is) a breathtaking beauty. All the girls in the family were famed for their beauty but Ann was the best. Poor thing was also born into an ultra orthodox Syrian Catholic family, which means she was berated if a guy even looked in her direction. She grew up never appreciating her own beauty and always felt it was her fault because someone made a remark about her good looks. Such remarks were construed as shameful and she would get a scolding. Good Syrian Catholic girls did not attract undue attention to themselves according to norms in those days.

Inspite of having the ‘handicap’ of being extremely beautiful, she was a happy go lucky gal, who was absolutely crazy about me. For Dassara and Christmas holidays, she would insist that I be sent to Kerala and I remember flying as an Unaccompanied Minor with Indian Airlines. (We get about 10 days for Dassara and X'mas)The joy of seeing her face among the sea of people waiting at the airport is indescribable. She would lift me up and refuse to put me down and then I was her daughter for the duration of the stay. She would jealously refuse even my Ammachi from taking me to church, or the chandha, the farmers market which I loved to attend. Neither would she leave my side for a minute.

People would tease her saying that now that I am home, Ann will ignore everybody or they would say “wait till she goes back, then you will have to talk to us”. She is a gifted artist and wrote small articles for Femina in the 70’s. On the insistence of my Mom and her other sister’s, my grandparents let her complete her MA. They were afraid to keep a beautiful daughter unwed at home for too long.

For her wedding I threw a tantrum and hated her husband at sight. I didn’t understand why she had to go away with some strange man . And my uncle understood my hostility and promised me at the reception that he would take good care of her. It took me many months to get over the hostility and talk to him. But he kept his promise and is a wonderful husband and Uncle to me. He is also my favorite Uncle because he is a birder like me and we have been to many expeditions together. Today he is taking me to a place where he has seen some rare birds. Their greatest regret…that they have only sons and no daughter. A fact that saddens her to this day. Sometimes she sighs and says, maybe it was her greed for a daughter that made God punish her.

If she did have a daughter then that little girl would have been the luckiest girl in the whole world to have her as a mother.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Ladies of the Slum

Warning: Very long post.

There is a small slum next to Infant Jesus church. You will pass it on the way to Koramangala from M.G Road. Most of the domestic workers who work in M G Road, Brigade Road and surrounding areas reside here. A hut costs anything between Rs. 200 to Rs. 500 in rent. Many families share space to reduce rent.

The place is mostly populated by immigrants from Tamil Nadu who came here generations ago. Most of them don’t even remember the name of their ancestral village in TN. As you walk into the slum, you are struck by the cleanliness despite its drab appearance from the outside. The houses are small but very neat and clean. A Neem tree or two grow wherever a small patch of earth is left uncemented. Most of the houses have at least a pot with some ornamental plant on the roof or in front of the door. Possessions are kept to a bare minimum and the kitchen sparkles with clean and neatly arranged utensils. The kitchen is the pride of the lady of the houses even if the kitchen fires burn but rarely. Even the surrounding areas of the huts are clean. If you were to give your old stuff to these ladies they will sell it to the Marwari in exchange for a saree or a utensil.

These intrepid ladies are free from domestic work by afternoon. Most of them work in four or five houses. They leave home around 5:30 in the morning after getting the kids ready for school and walk to their places of work. They go to work neatly dressed, with a red pottu on the forehead and fresh jasmine flowers on their oiled hair. Their children go to school walking or by bus.

Most of them wear the wash n wear sarees. In fact if you were give them a Silk Saree they will exchange it for a wash n wear saree at the Marwari shop. On Sundays when they go to the temple or church they wear colorful sarees with a bit of gold work. The culture passed onto them from their ancestors remains intact. Their homes, food, festivals reflect their lifestyle of their village back home in TN. It’s like they live in a time warp.

The marwari is an important part of these people’s lives. They lend money, buy used household items that they get from the place of work and sell things at very reasonable rates to these people. Of course they are unscrupulous too.

Once the ladies get back from work, they cook the afternoon meal. Those who can afford will buy a bun in the morning, but most of these folks live on two meals a day. Their diet is simple, rice and dal and the leftovers they bring with them from work. Since the ladies are free most of the day, they sit around chatting and sweeping. They sweep their homes every hour or so. Which is why the slum is spick and span. Many hut owners have now made pucca houses. As you walk through the streets skirting goats and chickens, it is difficult to believe you are in the heart of Bangalore. The place looks like those small villages you pass by when driving out of the city.

Small shops border the slum. You get everything at dirt-cheap rates here. From Whitewash to used engine oil to cooking oil and provisions. These shops cater to the slum crowd and you will see some brands that you didn’t know existed. For an MTR Turmeric powder you have a Mary Turmeric powder or a Raja Chilli powder and Rani coconut oil. A peek into these small shops will give you a glimpse of a thriving parallel economy. The shelves are neatly arranged and the shopkeeper usually sits outside on a stool. On Thursdays after Mass at the Shrine, crowds of worshippers come to these shops and they do brisk business.

What strikes you most as you walk into the slum is the absence of men during daytime as most of them hold 9 to 5 jobs as construction workers, masons, car mechanics etc.

The air in the slum is one of quite contentment. However by 7 ‘0’ clock the calm is shattered as the men return, drunk. Then the air rends with the weeping and wailing of women getting beaten up and raucous fights. This goes on till the men fall into a stupor and calm returns to the slum. In the morning everything will be forgotten as husbands are expected to behave in such manner. The women are resigned to it besides the presence of a man in their life makes a lot of difference in a slum. She will have a certain social standing and escape the lustful gaze of other men.

I have been into this slum several times with my Mom. Most of the times it was to pull out a badly beaten up maid and take her to hospital. After we moved out of the city, I have lost contact with the ladies of the slum. I do not know how things are now, but whenever I pass by in the Auto, I see that nothing much has changed. The houses are still neat and clean and the village like atmosphere still prevails. I do hope that the lot of the ladies, who carried me around, combed my hair and tut tutted at my mom because she didn’t put the black dot on my face to ward off evil eyes, is better now.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Culture shock!

This incident happened two weeks back. I was sitting at my comp when my expat colleague W walked past and playfully pulled my pony tail. He would always say that it reminded him of the tails of the miniature horses in his farm back home. This particular day he stopped and asked me if I wasn’t fed up of the long hair and the maintenance that comes with it. He said girls in the US tried different kind of styles. Without thinking I told him "I would love to, but my Mom will kill me". A typical off the cuff remark from an Indian girl. W suddenly froze and seemed taken aback at what I had said. I felt a sinking feeling like when you realize that you have made an embarrassing slip of the tongue but you quite don’t know what. I desperately tried to remember what I had just said to him.

Flashes of an incident at my Induction came to my mind. Miss Nair joining as a CA in this company with me, standing at the podium answering questions thrown at her. When asked about her extra curricular activities she blurted out “ I am doing an Inter Course” ( the last two words were said together). There was pin drop silence as people froze and politely refrained from laughing till I burst into giggles. There were embarrassed half smiles from the guys in the audience and muffled and uneasy giggling from the gals. Miss Nair never realized what she had said and left the podium a little confused at the reaction of the audience.

Now I was sure I had committed a similar gaffe too. I blushed red. W, recovering from the shock drawled in his Texan drawl. ( I have never heard a Texan drawl but I guess his accent came close to what I thought was a drawl) “ Do you have to take permission from your mother to cut your hair??????” It suddenly dawned on me that for a Westerner like him this sounded ridiculous. I groaned inwardly. Far from presenting my country as a high tech destination I had in a single swoop reduced it to the land of the Maharaja’s, snake charmers and subservient daughters.

I tried my best to explain to him about the Indian family and respect for parents and Indian values etc. but I guess I was blabbering because W suddenly said “You know, there was this time I colored my hair and my mother threw a fit!” He was clearly throwing me a lifeline to pull my country and myself out of the hole I had dug it into. And I grabbed it gratefully. We chatted for a few minutes more.

Just then my colleague R who is expecting a baby walked past. I introduced her to W and told him “ Do you know she hasn’t told her mom she is expecting? Her mom will be very distressed if she comes to know that R is expecting another baby. She doesn’t want R to go through the trouble of raising another baby without any help!” W froze again taken aback at what I had just said.

We were back to square one.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The girly things in life...

Many summers ago my folks enrolled me for a Summer Camp. I was told that I would learn swimming, painting and that I will have loads of fun. Since my friend Rita too was joining I happily went along as there was still a week for school to start. I made loads of friends my pint size and among them was a boy who came to me and said shyly.

Him: I want to be your Boy Friend
Me: But we are friend’s naah!
Him: No, we will be Boy Friend and Girl Friend
Me: What does that mean?
Him: It means we will sit and have lunch together and
play together
Me: Ok

A few days later

Me: I wanna play with Rita
Him: No, you will only play with me.
Me: But I really wanna play with Rita
Him: No!!!!!
Me: Get lost!!!!!!!

BF bawled his head out and the Camp Conductor told me to shake hands and make up with my BF. I did shake hands and make up with him but refused to be his GF or whatever it was. This was circa early 90’s.

Nothing much has changed from the last century I see. Yesterday my friend fought with her BF and broke up because she wanted to hang out with us... our gang. He just doesn’t understand why she needs to be with her friends and needs her space. Men !!!!

Why are guys like this?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Little people

Deepa wrote a lovely post on the world of dreams that we retreat into when the real world gets too distressing to handle. She writes about a girl whose make believe world has two brothers. This was because she was an only child with very busy parents. I felt annoyed after reading this. I have always talked for and I will always talk for Children’s Rights. Children should have rights too even if they are minors. I am talking of the right to a childhood with the attention of parents the natural guardians and care takers for a child.

I heard a Priest tell my newly wed friend and his wife rather sermonizingly that as good Christian they should have children soon and that they should not deny life. I was furious. I wanted to tell the Priest that the good Lord who had made the Reproductive Organs had made the Brains too. So why should we use only the Reproductive Organs? I was hopping mad at the irresponsible statement.

It is not just this Priest, but also most busy young parents of today who are guilty for bringing children into the world just for the sake of it. They don't have the time or the help needed to bring up a child yet go ahead and have kids. (Here I am talking about educated people.)

As a detached observer I have always wondered about the exact reason people have children. Is it because they want a child as a token of their love that they want to cherish and bring up, or is it because it happens naturally after marriage or is it to continue the family name ?

When I see young parents dropping off kids to crèches and picking them late in the evening I feel an enormous amount of pity for these kids. They look lost, lonely, cranky and sometimes terribly quite after a day spent at the Crèche when they should ideally be spending the precious childhood with a family. Why should they suffer because the responsibility of carrying on the family name rests on their tender shoulders? Don’t they count as individuals? When will we have a voice or a law that will speak for the child?

There is a young couple in my neighborhood. Both work long hours and they have a 4-year-old daughter they leave with a lady who runs a Crèche. In the evening around 6 ‘o’ clock the mother comes and picks up the child. The child effectively gets about three hours time of ‘waking time’ at her ‘home’. During this time the mother is busy cooking.

Besides she is pregnant with another child.

When will this senseless reproduction stop?

May Day

Labor Day is a glorious holiday because your child will be going back to school the next day. It would have been called Independence Day, but that name was already taken.

-Bill Dodds