Monday, October 25, 2010 4 comments

Jane Kahan Gaye Woh Din- health drinks and hard times

I read somewhere that there are roughly three stages in a person's life - Stage 1 " My daddy can beat your daddy"  followed by Stage 2 " Oh dad you dont know anything" and finally " My father used to say....". I guess I am fast approaching stage 3 because I have often been thinking about what it used to be like those days when we were growing up.

Somehow, health drinks seem to be the triggers that cause these musings- Ovaltine, Horlicks and Bournvita being the important brands. I remember my childhood when my grandmother used to refer to all chocholate flavoured powders to be mixed into milk as "Ovaltine". " Drink up your ovaltine" she used to say and I remember gazing at  those orange coloured tins lining her kitchen shelves. Followed by Ovaltine are memories of primary school days when radio jingles and programs used to talk about some one called "Suchitra" and her healthy family consisting of her husband Shankar and children Sujata and a son whose name I am unable to recollect. Suchitra was this smart housewife who used to manage her house efficiently and keep her family on a healthy diet of which Horlicks was an important part. The Horlicks stage was replaced by Bournvita - memories mainly being of Amin Sayani and his "Bournvita Quiz Contest".  Lunch time on Sundays were never complete without hearing Amin Sayani's cheerful voice saying "Cadbury's presents the Bournvita Quiz Contest" followed by the jingle " At school at play all through each day .. with that energy .. you stay ahead.."

Today when I go shopping I see so many brands but somehow  the mind is unable to focus on a particular brand. I wonder if I am getting Attention Deficit Disorder in my middle age.

But coming back to the health drinks- I remember the Bournvita tins and collecting the labels to buy the Bournvita book of knowledge. I remember being  crazy about the Moscow olympics mascot Misha popularized by Bournvita . I had so many posters of this bear that I think it caused a psychological stress on my poor grandmother who once had a nightmare that she was frying dosas and suddenly found the bear sitting on the tava. She woke up shouting "Help! Help !".

I wonder how my mother managed the family during those hard times when there was a shortage of almost everything. Guess Suchitra of Horlicks was modeled around women like her. An era of shortages also included I guess a shortage of wants. The most exotic thing that I have ever wanted while in primary school was a "scent rubber"- an eraser which had a mild perfume ( or so we thought). One of my friends craved for a "parle orange ball" - an orange plastic ball filled with orange coloured hard boiled sweets. We used to spend hours fantasising over what it would be like when we could actually get these things.

Today when I spend over Rs 1000 every time I go for a mid month  casual grocery shopping  I feel guilty because I wonder if my father would approve of some of the things I have bought - frankly, even I know that I dont need them. I sometimes cringe over the number of plastic shopping bags that I bring into the house thinking of the newspaper packs and the wicker baskets of my parents' grocery shopping expeditions.  I do not total grocery bills and recheck them and I often do not count small change.

How have I become so careless and callous? Suchitra, I am sure would not have approved. But then today's efficient housewife or mom is not a Suchitra. She is a fashionable , multi - tasking super woman who like me, is a super consumer. 

Everyone is aspiring for this and much more. Wants are replaced by more wants... But the question is whether and how long we can sustain this?
Sunday, October 17, 2010 5 comments

Tall, Dark and Handsome Men... whatever happened to them?

The year was 1982 when I first came across this description- Tall, Dark and Handsome ( hence forth to be referred as TDH) . These were adjectives used to describe the central male charachters in the romances that we used to devour through our teens. All these romances  brought out by a publication house called "Mills and Boon" played an important part in the shaping of our growing female dreams and fantasies. We used to have a TDH scale on which we graded film stars that we swooned over (being in an all girls school we had limited opportunities to meet real males worthy of being rated on the TDH meter!). Later in college, when we did meet guys, we found  many of them modelling themselves around these charachters- some successfully and some disastrously unsuccessfully!!

Today nearly nearly quarter of a century  later  I was curious to know what or who fueled my nearly thirteen year old daughter and her peers' fantasies. So began my journey into the world of what is called the "Twilight saga". Written by someone called Stephenie Meyer these books have interesting names like " Twilight", "Eclipse", "Breaking Dawn". The central charachter in this book is a person called Edward Cullen who is .. hold your breath- A VAMPIRE !!! Being a vampire he is immortal and is frozen at the age of seventeen though he is in reality about a hundred years older. So who falls in love with him? An eighteen year old girl called Bella who longs for him to bite her and turn her into another vampire...!!! There is also a small love triangle in this folks- another guy called Jacob who is a werewolf...!!!! Vampires and Werewolves apparently dont get along ...!!! All these charachters study in some American High School...! Bella wants to marry Edward and become an immortal vampire like him. Her parents ( who are divorced) are surprised but agree because she is eighteen and can anyway get married with or without their blessings. There are other interesting parts of this love story- a baby who is part human, part vampire and apparently part werewolf. It has to be fed on donated blood ( formula does not agree with them)... and so life goes on..

These books throw up an interesting question about teenagers today. Is "normal"  so boring? Are S&M fantasies going to shape their sexuality? How then would they relate to a real person? As a mom I am a little concerned. Though my daughter is a late entrant into this world of vampires she has read four books in a matter of four weeks just so she could relate to her peers and join in the discussions around Bella and Edward.

Going back to my school days I wonder if our thinking about TDH  males was considered abnormal by our parents? Though I dont think we actually allowed them to know that we were reading such books as they were carefully covered in newspapers ( to guard prying eyes from looking at those lurid covers), people like my father who were naturally nosy did find them and I think even read a couple of them finally pronouncing them as "trash"!! He also felt that the only real kind of person(s) who might actually meet up to the description of the central male charachter would be the rickshaw wallahs of Kolkata- his way of dealing with   discomfort about his daughter's growing female sexuality!!

But seriously folks.. I wonder what is so attractive about a thin, white and cold vampire who longs to suck blood? Are we talking about a future where men might start modelling themselves along these lines or are Haemophlic men going to be the icons of the future?

I (and I am sure a hundred other moms ) certainly do not want a vampire for a son-in-law...nor do we want grandchildren who have to be fed on donated blood..!!!
Thursday, October 14, 2010 5 comments

The loss of passion

Last week one of my colleagues accused  me of  "having lost my passion". He told me that he now sees me "just doing my job". I have been reflecting ever since on that..

 I go back in time to my student days when "passion" was my problem. I was told to remain "emotionally detached" by one of my professors.

I wonder what has happened to me within the one and a half decades of work in the development sector?

One of the answers that I can think of is that over the years one goes from being an individual who is working for change to being an employee of an organization that specializes in the change business. Though organizations like these are supposedly driven by a collectivisation of passion for change it is very rarely the case.. these are organizations just like others and over the years people's dreams of social change begin to include in them dreams of individual achievements.  Not something to be ashamed of - we are afterall not Mother Teresa. We work as paid employees in an organization.

But I realize that passion is probably a premium that is very much in demand.. Organizations view such passionate people as the adrenalin that keeps them on a high. But the problem is that passion is not something that is in unlimited supply. It is something that has to be kept alive. Each of us goes through different life experiences and often the passion runs out. Human failings keep cropping up - afterall even true love comes with  blemishes like jelousy.

So the question is  should someone be blamed for the loss of passion?

And anyway what is wrong with doing "one's job"? After all in India we celebrate the performance of one's duty- "Kartavya Palan"!!! We can then save the passion for something or someone that we really love.. organizations are unfortunately not so -they are self perpetuating.

But that brings us back of the issue of the loss of my passion -
I would like to say that passion for issues does not die out but passion for work on those issues along the lines of organizational deliverables may rise or fall depending on the extent of motivation. That folks is not an individual failing but probably an organizational one.... !!!
Friday, October 1, 2010 1 comments

GARBAGE……………………… and its disposal

After a very “insightful” first blog ( your words…  not mine !) I am now going to write about Garbage!!!

My life is very closely associated with Garbage- there is a garbage bin right outside our gate. It has become such a permanent fixture there now that we have decided to formalize its presence  by mentioning it as a land mark – “ the house next to the Kuppa Thotti” is what  we say while defining where we stay. The years that it has stayed there undisturbed has led to the Corporation authorities deciding to designate the pavement outside our house as THE SPOT for residents of 2nd

Main Road  to dispose their garbage in- they have even built a small little alcove for it to rest in comfort!
So what happens when there is a garbage bin outside one’s home?

Garbage becomes an integral part of one’s existence!

We found  that our home took on the character of  the stands of a football/basket ball stadium. We, as strategically positioned spectators watched  when “missed goals” in the form of garbage bags aimed carelessly landed inside our compound wall. Unfortunately, we did not feel like cheering. In fact, the various maids from the surrounding flats who were the star strikers/shooters in this basket ball/ foot ball match did not pause for us. They left the spot even before we could say “hey”!!!

We thought often of putting up sign boards that say “ Please do not aim your garbage into the bin- remember to throw it in” . But  it was a little baffling to decide which language to use – Tamil or English. We were also not sure if the offenders would read them ( after all there are so many such “preachy” sign boards all across the city). My husband , who is more experienced than me  in communicating with people with lower IQs and shorter attention spans said that we should instead have a sign board that  that read “ Do you want to learn how to aim right? Contact xxxxxxxxx”

But as Indians we spend such a lot of our time making decisions  that when it comes to implementation we find that the situation has changed. This is exactly what happened.

Old age stuck the bin and it began to groan under the weight of its contents. The Corporation authorities decided to replace it – with an even older bin ( I think our bin was not old but “experienced” !) The last I heard , our experienced old bin  was seen on  Warren road (where many VIPS live)  reveling in celebrity garbage.

Meanwhile the new bin found the load of garbage on 2nd Main Road too much to handle. With so many twice born citizens populating the area, there was heavy cleaning of homes twice, thrice and often more in the name of ritual purity. While homes sparkled, garbage started overflowing onto the pavement outside our house . To add to this problem ,we found that all the inner road garbage was being collected by the Corporation authorities and brought all the way to this poor bin. So, we were literally surrounded by garbage which made its way inside our compound and right up to our front door!!

I was amazed at the kind of things that people were trying to dispose off - thermocole sheets being one of them- these huge sheets were flying all around the compound ready to hit any one who was not careful enough to avoid them. The sea breeze did not make life any easier as garbage lifted itself to higher levels moving on to our first floor balcony.

Complaints to the corporation authorities did not result in action. Garbage continued to pile up and be strewn around.

It was then that I decided to take action. Years of experience in the social sector with enough   interaction with “rights based groups” had taught me a few things. One of them being – Communities address a problem only when it is common to all its members. My daughter and I devised an ingenious plan- we would drag the bin to the middle of the road early one morning and topple it over! Garbage would then be strewn all across the main road ( not to mention bits that would take the aerial path into the balconies of the flats nearby). We were almost finalizing the last strategic bits when the daughter in all her enthusiasm decided to share it with her father.

Unfortunately, her father does not believe in “rights based approaches” to problem solving. Poor man, being a diplomat was horrified ( I don’t know what alarmed him more- the outcome of flying garbage across the main road or visions of his wife and daughter pushing a garbage bin across the road). He started leveraging all his contacts. To say I was impressed is an understatement! He called beaureucrats, he called elected representatives, he called opposition parties. As Sir Walter Scott writes in Lochinvar –        “ Fosters, Fenwicks, Musgraves- they rode and they ran”! Calls came on mobile phones, land lines – upstairs and downstairs. Before I could say "Garbage",  I found a fat new bin outside – this time with a lid!!

My daughter is really impressed that even the threat of “direct action” could result in such a quick remedy to a difficult situation. She has shared it with all who care to hear about it. I now feel like a small celebrity in my circle of friends and relatives. People ask me “ Would you really have done it?”. “ Why not ?” I ask.

A week passed. Other things began to occupy our minds and we forgot about this until we had a visiting relative from overseas. A relative. with whom there is no love lost from my side. I don’t know if she had heard through the family grape vine about my travails in the garbage disposal arena or not but I must tell you something- this wife of a high profile banker, brought for me all the way from the US,a “wonderful” gift – a pack of bin liners!!!!