Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Expert Advice On Eating

Forty five years ago our own fledgling doctor, my brother, was just learning his ropes in the medical college.  Since he was the first one in our extended family to be studying medicine, he had already become a de facto specialist on many subjects related to health.  I vividly recall that evening when he returned from his college, armed with the important edict that coconut oil and sesame seed oil were downright unhealthy and should be banished from the household forthwith.  As usual, elders in the house feverishly harked back down memory lane, had hushed pow-wows with relatives far and wide and arrived at the conclusion that those oils were being used as cooking media for at least four generations.  So, they had a justifiable counter, tinged in rebellion, as to how they could be unhealthy just because some upstart doctor (actually not even that) says so.

But, new-found knowledge freshly minted at western research institutions, supported by esoteric scientific research difficult to question, was not to be denied. After a brief struggle, one cooking tradition quietly died a little-mourned death and we lost the flavour of those oils for ever. Interestingly, those hard-balls in Kerala who never budged and continued to use coconut oil through the decades, had the last and good, boisterous laugh, when a few years back global research elevated coconut oil to a position of primacy for its goodness.  I believe some 1500 studies have proved that coconut oil is one of the healthiest foods on this planet!!

So, how is it that something which was considered harmful to health four decades back has suddenly become manna from heaven? Research, as the answer does not cut it, because even if it is dynamic and continuous, how does one rely on research which turns age-old beliefs and traditionally proven theories on their heads at a whim? The primary reason for the callous dismissal of those oils from the kitchens was cholesterol related and ironically both those oils are considered to be extremely good from a cholesterol and heart's health perspective now.  So, there may be something to the conspiracy theory that some vested interests with investments in hectares of land planted with sunflowers and the like were responsible. And how well they did for a few decades!!

What about cholesterol itself?  Something which saw the demise of a few traditional items of food, kept a lot of doctors in practice and made for flourishing business in some pharmaceutical companies has itself been called into question now.  In 2015 the US Government decided to withdraw many of its warnings about cholesterol, sending shivers of disappointment down the spines of generations of people who were sadistically deprived of their desired quota of fried and rich foods in their prime years.

Under the circumstances, how does anyone decide what is good to eat?  One cannot go by what nutritional oracles or other food experts wave their flags for, because they are dime a dozen and have a few hundred opinions among themselves, which are usually contradictory -- sometime ridiculously so.  Moreover, they do not appear to value their own opinions seriously enough to stick to them for long.  Flip-flops are not uncommon.  All those individuals seeking quick reduction in weight and willing to empty their pockets on that count, will stand testimony to the fact that nothing but starvation helps and gradually that is what the so-called experts lead you by your nose to!

Take for example, my dear wife's theory that rice is fattening - period, based on a number of proclamations put out by the expert community.  My bleating remonstration that my grandmother lived healthily for 92 years and my own father for 91 and both were primarily rice eaters, fell on very deaf ears.  Obviously not proof enough.  Brown rice was better than white, was another theory floated probably by people who wanted to get back at White Supremacists with vengeance, with whatever they could lay their hands on - even if they happen to be a few grains of rice!  But, as in the case of cholesterol, the theory that the excess starch in white rice might lead to diabetes seems to have been demolished recently.  The funny thing is no one seems to care any more - those who wanted to eat white rice continue to and those who threw it out of their windows kept it out.

Olive oil is better than other oils, ran another fad.  I have stared in disbelief in friends' homes where their idlis and dosas are eaten with chilly powder mixed with olive oil, (can there be a greater anathema?) instead of sesame oil, as is customary. Pakoras are being friend in olive oil in households to bless them with incremental sanctity.  Dr Devi Shetty, the well-known cardiologist nailed all these theories by saying simply `All oils are equally bad'.  But nutritionists, backed by olive oil importers, have continued to prop up the commodity.

The list is endless.  Ghee was taboo till recently.  Now it seems to have acquired a desirable gloss, just because some western scientists have blessed it.  Jury is still out as to whether milk and yogurt are good or bad.  Tomatoes are hailed as a great food item generally, but some reports have indicted it for possible deleterious side effects. Wheat, which provides sustenance in  multiple forms to millions around the world has come under the stick recently.  Expert opinion has it that there are some serious reasons for completely shutting out wheat from our food and the anti-gluten brigade just adds its voice to this cacophony.  So, brown or white, bread is to be shunned.

Where does one go for information on what to eat?  If you go by the various opinions voiced by experts around you, you cannot eat anything in peace.  What you have for breakfast, recommended by one set, may become the absolutely wrong thing to consume by lunch time.  That is the proven reality.

As my father always said, eat everything in moderation!  That should do the trick.

Friday, May 26, 2017

We Need Our CD Player, Please!

Two separate incidents within a month showed my dear wife and myself how technological advances with reference to music-listening can be an irritant or a major hindrance, depending on how desperate one is.  The pain experienced by us had a multiplier effect because all we were trying to do was to maintain status quo and listen to our music the way we have always done for the past 30 years.  And we were made to feel very guilty in that process.

First, our Bose Lifestyle system - CD Player and speakers with a sub-whoofer, which was a couple of decades old but was fully functional, decided to fade away suddenly.  Right in the middle of a song, it figured it had lived its life and had to call it a day; so went out with a `whoosh' -- no other notice of the impending disaster or indication of an ailment, let alone a terminal one.  We went to the experts, the Bose guys, who took less than ten minutes to confirm the system's demise - "You have to junk the whole lot, sir; there is no way we can repair this because parts are not available" was their diagnosis.  The look accompanying that fateful declaration was akin to what one would have had if one was looking at a picture of a Tyrannosaurus Rex or Diplodocus!  Without batting an eyelid or caring for the sea of remorse in which we were floating, they promptly busied themselves with attempting a fresh sale to us.  Pretty much like a marriage broker trying to induce interest in a second liaison in someone who was holding the ashes of his/her erstwhile partner.  We decided to carry the system back as if it were on a ventilator and needed some out-of-the-box solution from a conventional Jugaad specialist.  But that excursion also yielded no encouraging result.  That was the moment of realisation in us that the music system that lilted through the best part of our lives was history - gone!

Even as were in mourning, a friend who is blessed with the technological brilliance to make a business of cobbling up music systems from scratch, enthusiastically came on the scene.  He went into a rhapsody about all the contraptions he could bless us with, to enrich our listening experience.  He was almost delirious talking of brands, pieces of equipment, degrees of acoustic fidelity etc.  While most of the content of his delivery flew some thirty thousand feet above our head -- fortunately, without causing any bodily harm, I must confess -- we did comprehend that our way of listening to music had become antediluvian.  My wife made a valiant attempt to gently steer this friend towards telling us if we could stay with a basic, good CD player.  But to him that idea was simply anathema and he continued to rave, rant and froth around his mouth about hi-fidelity speakers in each room connected by Bluetooth with a slick digital platform, which played all music through a remote.  Even after we banished him from our home, we saw him walking to his car, furiously indulging in a monologue about the virtues of the music he could help us listen to.

Our primary worry was what to do with all the CDs and the priceless music we have accumulated over the years.  The mind boggling thought that we had to transfer all that music to some new gadget was a still-born because it was throttled without ceremony, by my wife.  She was adamant she just wanted another CD player, nothing more, nothing less.  She just could not level with the process of using a remote and a panel to identify a song to play; and said so in a tone which resonated with finality and brooked no resistance.  She reasoned that she knew her CDs well, with our superbly indexed storage and where to locate a song in a specific CD.  So, we went back to Bose and got a simple, glitzier CD Player!  And, all was well with the world and God was in his heaven!  So, we thought.

Within a couple of weeks, disaster struck again and the Panasonic CD Player/Radio which provided non-stop entertainment in the kitchen (almost like a tea-shop) decided to go kaput, in sympathy with the Bose, probably.  The earlier context was easier to handle because Bose replacement was the only solution we were looking at. Now, it got a bit more complicated because we did not require a Bose replacement, so the laborious search began forthwith for a suitable system.  When my sustained on-line forays did not throw many alternatives, we thought it was best to source something from an electronic store.  Our many jaunts through multiple shops confirmed our suspicion, vague to begin with but growing by the minute, that what we were looking for belonged to some long forgotten era.  We located one Philips CD/Radio, which was so anaemic that we were certain it could be carbon-dated to the same time our Bose was manufactured, some twenty years back.  The salesman mumbled there was only one brand, one model and what I was holding was the last specimen.  We could get a discount of 30% if we wanted to take it because it was the display piece.   He looked sympathetically at us and soothingly conveyed the clincher - "Nobody buys these things any more".  But we sensed that he wanted to be rid of that piece and move on in life, to some other less moribund, more exciting section of the store!

We decided it was beneath our dignity to take the last piece of the last model or the last brand and walked out, holding our heads high.  The kitchen is still without a CD/Radio and our housekeeper is very unhappy.  I, for one, can vouch that the quality of food coming out of that kitchen is not the same! 

Friday, April 21, 2017

What Do Women Want?

Disclaimer, especially, to all the women of the world: No offence meant. Laugh this one also off!
Before even the mildest of the woman-power advocates jump up in a chorus of objections, let this clarification be humbly submitted that the original title was indeed `What Do People Want'?  But, once the blog was completed and looked set, it was pretty obvious that most of the situations involved women demonstrating either, ahem, ambivalence or inconsistency about their current intent, future direction or past decisions.  This author realises, above all, that men are no geniuses in these matters, but being embodiment of laziness and inertia, they present such a scarce body of public evidence for an author to raise the same question about them with any authority.

Women are seen as intuitively better wired to be taking charge of problems, which are palpable in their eyes and mostly imagined in the perception of men; and earnestly looking for immediate solutions, which are badly needed from women's view-point and absolutely redundant because there is nothing to solve, in the eyes of men.  These God-given traits logically make for easier conclusions with women as protagonists, since men's imprint in such matters is seldom visible to the naked eye. This, it should also be clear to readers, is probably due to the fact that the male of the species generally just wants to be left alone to idle; not to be dragged into doing anything, if that is possible, so that they can really enjoy their limbo! Most men also spitefully imagine that what women want most is to throw some serious spanner into this specific machinery of the menfolk and jump-start them to do something - anything for that matter, like forcing them to stand up or move their limbs a bit.  Under the circumstances, this author made a judicious decision to leave `What Do Men Want?' for a future essay, hoping that time will provide incremental fodder, even on this flimsy subject.

Recently while travelling to Madras from Bangalore by the airport bus + turbo-prop plane combo (the bus seemed to cover 60% of the distance and the plane 40% - at least it looked that way), there was this hassled, young mother boarding the bus.  She was with one unhappy-almost-militant toddler tugging violently at her clothes and a wriggling infant on hand, struggling to balance the kids and a cabin bag.  There was indeed a man with her and one could reasonably surmise it was her husband because he was trying to look at all the others in the bus, certainly impelled by the humanitarian desire to help (anyone else, except his own wife and children).  A lady who was seated, got up and offered her seat to the harried young mother and her brood.   Even as I was appreciative of the yielder of the seat for her graciousness, the young mother reacted as if someone had stepped, with pin-point-accuracy, on her little toe.  May be, the idea of taking a seat offered by another woman, not much older than herself, did not appeal to her?? Because it showed she is a bit more vulnerable than the other lady?? Whatever the reason, she glowered at her good-Samaritan husband, barked him into the vacant seat and dumped the kids and the bag on him, all in one sweep a la Virat Kohli pouncing on a rapidly advancing cricket ball.  Then she stood very erect next to the other lady, as if she wanted to drive home a point (whatever that was), to the utter bemusement of those around. Of course, the husband was pretty pleased that he assumed a position he likes second-best (lateral would have been better), despite carrying all the baggage, including children.

What came flooding back into memory in this context was another scene from another similar airport bus. A techie-nerd (not all of them are that, let me state for the record), completely lost in his own world, blessed with a pair of unseeing eyes - no he was not blind - was occupying a seat.  An older lady was dangling by the strap above because she was too short, right beside him.  A younger accompanying lady was looking to evacuate someone and procure a seat, understandably.  She saw this techie and gently, with a smile, signalled to him to yield the seat.  The techie was probably close to attaining the software-solution-equivalent of nirvana in his mind, did not see the girl nor heard anything.  The embarrassed girl tried again, less gently, but to no avail. She then let out one bloody scream asking the guy to get up and boy, did he hear that!! Not only that seat, but a few more including the driver's, fell vacant in a jiffy!! And both the ladies occupied the seats, with the younger lady displaying dissatisfaction at the utter lack of energy of the men around her in terms of movements - justifiably so!

There is this husband and wife team, which should be the delight of any satirist. The husband seldom attempts anything more prolific than monosyllabic conversation within the confines of home, plainly because he has reached a state of self-awareness in which he knows he is not equipped to defend himself from the resultant reactions of the lady.  The lady's mouth is very rarely closed - she is either eating or talking or sucking in a deep breath in between those two activities. Most of the time, the subject matter of the virulent monologue is the husband's 'nincompoop' ways, catalogued with phenomenal precision as for content, right from the day after the marriage.  The perceptive reader may question why not from the same day!  All the revelries and rituals of the day prevented any form of real observation or extended communication on the wedding day, the author understands.

But when they are outside home in the midst of others, they want to pretend that both are very normal conversationalists, with extreme sensitivity to equal opportunity etc, even though the ground situation is an ill-kept secret.  The problem with this is that the husband woefully lacks practice and is like a two-left-footed dancer.  He cannot put tongue to palate without causing the wife to bristle and retort snidely.  Yet, he is not allowed to be quiet because she does not want the home-scenario to play out in public and paint a portrait of her as someone she exactly IS!  When a close friend noticed this terrible dilemma and spoke to the husband sympathetically for thirty seconds, the wife came hurtling like a bulldozer, keen to find out what all that phus-phus between the men was about!

Due to the offensive ways of over-weening, macho men, some women take umbrage at even the simplest of compliments or statements nowadays.  Sexist or condescending or patronizing, they say - the complimenter may have some ulterior motive.  Surely some of them do and perhaps this happens more often when the complimenter is not known well to the complimentee.  If a guy does not say something complimentary in some circumstances, he becomes a boor, brute.  This author would suggest a Supreme-Court-compiled list of compliments, approved by a thirteen-judge-bench (if they do not have enough spare judges for this, the government should appoint more forthwith; it can resume the fight with the Collegium later) that can be used in all situations.  Such a list should also mandate where the man should look while delivering the compliment, so that the woman does not misinterpret it, the look,  as leering or malignant in any other way. So what is required here is a complete move away from the natural to the artificially well-structured, dictated lines and at least the women may be happy.

When my dear wife saw what I was writing, she said I must include one item without fail - the utterly basic desire of women to walk around the streets, without feeling that ocular molestation has already begun and physical one is soon to follow.  And this should be possible, even in the dead of night, even when the woman is alone, even if she is sozzled and even if she chooses to be in an area known to be infested by animals masquerading as men. This author completely agrees with this Utopian vision and we should all work towards that.  But as of now, we are nowhere near that kind of ideal situation and women know that.  So, isn't it necessary for a woman to exercise sound judgement in this matter?  What is the idea behind willfully inserting one's hand into a snake-pit and wailing that one is bitten?  Yes, we can always beat that snake to death, but what about the damage done to you?  Can you wash it away?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Child Is The Father Of Man

Readers will realise that the tone of this post is very different.  For a reason.  This was written for another website called Stillness Project.  It is reproduced here.

Decades ago, when we lived in Hong Kong, I used to see an advertisement for some housing project on TV every evening. Because we neither had the desire nor the resources to buy property in Hong Kong, swan-like, we disdainfully ignored the salient features of the project, but were captivated by the tagline on the commercial — `Let us leave our planet in a better state than what we found it in’. At that time, people were still perfecting the art and science of destroying the earth, so there was no great furore yet about ecological degradation of the earth, caused by man’s greed compounded by stupidity. But what one did not realize then was that tagline represented the initial alarm bells which had started ringing, about the damage being inflicted on our environment in the name of development.

I wish all the saner elements in the world had got together at that time and dinned that singularly important message into the kids growing up at that time – much more aggressively. May be, we would not be staring at the disastrous scenario we are mired in today – what with the reduced green cover meaning highly erratic rainfall, ending up in unpredictable cycles of droughts and floods all the over the world; enormous green-house gases heating up the entire planet so much that temperatures have gone up everywhere by a few degrees (including our own Bangalore, where for the first time in living memory, we recently experienced temperatures nudging up to 40 C); arctic ice is melting and glaciers all over the world are retreating alarmingly.

Simply stated, the previous generations – meaning, we — did not do a good job of maintaining the intricate balance on the earth and now, our children and grand children are paying for that dearly. We were so engrossed in churning out great quantities of gadgets for our own convenience, indiscriminately focusing on the so-called life-changing technological developments that we omitted to lead by example when it came to tending to mother Earth. Alas, on the contrary, we actively engaged in destroying our own planet and our children, who cannot be blamed for seldom holding parents as role models, thrived in our foot-steps in actively pursuing that suicidal mission of destruction.

Now that the damage to earth is becoming more apparent and we are ourselves suffering the consequences, it is gratifying to see that children are asking the inevitable questions as to what we were thinking. But because of the precedent we have set up showing the wrong way, we owe it to the world to also wean our progeny from all those terrible practices prevailing in the name of development.

Today, many of the ecologically driven initiatives in big cities are supported vociferously in no small measure by school children, if you notice. We see youngsters involved in planting saplings in the same places from where rapacious men had felled mammoth trees for some factory or highway. They are refusing to even buy fire crackers for celebrations because of their awareness of the damage they could cause, while grown-ups are still merrily engaged in that pernicious activity. Generally children today are far more intelligent in their use of water or other resources, being a lot more concerned about preserving our planet. It is for the elders to do much more and join the youngsters in making decisions which would help in keeping Earth in good shape.

Wordsworth said `child is the father of man’ and in this context particularly, children can probably take the lead and restore the planet to good health. But, for that the oldies have to work with the children!! That’s the least we can do, after being an active part of the `destructive’ generation.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Mid-life Crisis Too Soon!!

I was 56 then.  When I announced, with a muted sense of elation and perceptible relief, `I have decided to retire; no more full time employment for me', my dear wife was neither shocked nor upset because she had had some prior inkling. In nearly three decades of marriage, she had learnt to live with my periodic bouts of stupidity.  Nevertheless, she rolled her eyes and asked pointedly `So, what would you do for the next 30 years'?  Her rationale was simple; retirement is concurrent with the act of kicking the bucket or whatever else one kicks as a terminal effort.  Half-measures like part-time consulting, usually floated as trial balloons before one fades away, are not for the traditionalist in her.  This is not due to any desire to see the spouse out of the house during the day; it never came to such a pause because she herself has had a bustling and enjoyable career all along.  The simple explanation is that she would have rightfully belonged in Japan, where the concept of Shushin Koyo or Life-time Employment has been taken a bit too literally.

Since then, in the past few years, my path has been strewn with bright men with a munificent supply of grey cells, who used to be young but can no longer carry the tag of `youth'.  Unsurprisingly this bunch has been afflicted by the modern malady of antipathy to normal employment.  They chuck well-paying jobs and `retire' at forty.  After that it is a roller-coaster (metaphorically, nothing to do with the pace of life) of sabbaticals, part-time jobs, occasional bouts of mentoring, hesitant peeks into that esoteric world of startups where hordes of companies start, but very few go up except in smoke -- all these generously punctuated by more sabbaticals!  One cannot divine  what their state of mind is because while they do not display any predilection to ecstasy, they are not sombre either.  Nor do they divulge anything concrete as to what they are looking for in their `unemployed', free state.

The previous generation in India would have, a la Japan, gleefully worked the full quota of forty years in the same office/factory (preferably and probably at the same work station - stability was such a virtue!). They then euphorically accepted another decade of periodic extensions, so that they could one day seamlessly transfer to la la land - of course, without any expectations of Oscars.  Wives did not even twitch a facial muscle in disagreement with this absolutely delightful turn of events, whereby there was little or no disruption to  their own routine in life and they didn't have to suddenly suffer irritable doses of undesirable intrusion from you know who.  Logical, unless you were one of those brave wives demanding a greater slice of the post-retirement-husband, despite all the well-documented, attendant handicaps of such an arrangement.  This would have worked only if the wife had trained the husband in virtues like docility, servility etc., in which case the husband, if he had any sense (is that an oxymoron?) would never retire anyway!

This author has an avowed policy of maintaining unwavering neutrality, primarily in the interests of saving his skin and has no intention of recording approbation or condemnation for the previous generation's steadfastness or the next's seeming skittishness.  Having said that, he would like to document for posterity (otherwise, he would be failing in his solemn role as a chronicler of contemporary trends and behaviour), some genuine perceptions of the current propensity to prematurely wade into what used to be a mid-life crisis. The disclaimer here is, this probably is not the case with everyone, but this author has come across enough specimens to make a compelling case for what this piece is about. Again, what follows are perceptions collated from various sources, not necessarily the author's views.        

If one asks any youngster who has recently entered any employment, regardless of employer, salary, location or the type of work, the one strong and prevalent sentiment expressed would be that he/she does not like what he/she is doing - there could be exceptions, but they are just that.  So, these youngsters study for four to six years and prepare themselves for a career and are disenchanted almost forthwith, without giving themselves or the career a decent run.  When a puzzled someone questions why, the invariable answer is `this is not what I expected to do; I am not enjoying this; it is boring'.  Boring, in three months?? Not that they are clear about what they want to do.  Something should be wrong with the system which prepares them for careers this way.  Also, the youngsters probably are very ambivalent (ignorant would be more like it?) about their own expectations from jobs/careers.  So, this affliction sets in pretty early in life now, unlike the old days, when once someone was fortunate to grab a job (there was no question of liking it or not, for lack of choices) one stuck to it, come hell or high water, until one managed to find something less traumatizing in a couple of decades.  Solidity was the dominating trait those days.

Natural progression takes over from this stage and after about twenty years, some of this crop have changed multiple jobs, bolstered their savings a bit and believe they have attained some level of financial security.  The time-tested routine of bachelor's degree in India, Masters in USA or something similar, followed by a decent job takes care of life up to this point.  But, a query as to why they are dissatisfied with their careers and are looking at premature retirement, or what they wanted to do, elicits an answer startlingly similar to what a fresher says at the beginning of his career - boring job, not enjoying it, etc.  Very surprising, because in this time and age when the ability to carefully arrange two idlis, one vadai, chutney and sambar or a few colourful vegetables and leaves on a plate can fetch a lucrative job as a Food Curator, why are talented people still struggling to find what they like or love to do?

The above conundrum unravelled one day when a smart guy in his forties hit the proverbial nail on the head, saying `I am looking to retire because I am not making any impact'.  Eh?? Obviously not the kind of impact he wanted to make, because he just has to look around to see a happy, contented family, enjoying a good standard of life.  On the surface, for an average onlooker, all is well but subcutaneously something is nagging such people to move to a higher plane, real or imaginary, keeping them growling till they do something about it.  But, the problem is that one has to take cognizance of all pertinent issues - (a) Not everyone is a super man with the potential to make a massive impact. (b) Most people are built not for creative zest but for trudging utility; each one should know where his limit is and where he belongs. There lies the pointer to simple success in life. (c) Try one must - to achieve, but with the caveat that at some point, one has to be realistic about the way forward and settle down, in order not to betray the interests of loved ones (d) If not, one can cause immense damage to self-belief, family, one's own health etc.  Straightforward, but people could be myopic when it comes to such things.

I am reminded of a line very senior managers regularly use to convince junior managers to be balanced while rating performance - `We can't all be stars and walking on water. Nor do we need that because then, who will do the actual work'??  Very true, I think.      

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Domestic Problems

My dear wife stood there and glared her trade-mark glare again, trying one more time to accomplish something she has attempted relentlessly for many years now - convert that semblance of potential energy in me into the kinetic form, early in the morning.  This posturing has been happening a bit too frequently now, as the readers can also vouch if only they chose to go back and refer to some recent posts.  The problem could be that I told her she looked impressive in her `glaring' posture and that compliment may have become an unintended incentive.  Or it is entirely possible that those around her (why should I be the sole culprit?) are slipping up more often in the due discharge of their assigned duties.  This is forcing her to take that patented stand, to yank the offending issues centre-stage, for a mutually acceptable and amicable resolution, obviously aligned with her stated position.  She has been voluble in the past weeks about tiny, mundane issues of routine life causing serious problems to her lately - something I have maintained is an 'antithetical oxymoron'. That morning, another flaming trigger was provided - the gardener has been absent for four days and she wanted me to stir up and be the substitute.  Hence the glaring.

Life teaches you that domestic trouble is par for the course; everybody has an inevitable dose now and then.  No, I am not going to wash dirty linen in public.  Bringing my dear wife into each blog in a sentence or two is more like an invocation I am used to and I do penance for that privately. Actually, that is one of the reasons I have not graduated to something elongated like a novel or increased the frequency of my posts, because there would be seismic consequences for multiple references.  But this is digression -- domestic trouble is par for the course, meaning, problems bundled with having many domestic staff members are manifold too.  And one cannot escape the fate of hiring a gardener, a maid, a driver and a handyman if one has an independent house, a penchant for relative comfort and some disposable income.  Once you become a bulk employer in the neighbourhood with a complement of domestic staff, you cannot avert going into frequent tailspins and sustaining heart-burns, as we will see.

With due recognition of and apologies to the small minority of the tribe which is very punctual, extremely dependable and regular, let me venture to say that one inherently essential attribute of a domestic staff member is the need to take time off frequently and at the most inopportune times, if possible.  Think of that day when your stickler of a boss wanted to borrow your car and driver for an airport drop at an ungodly hour and you had given the driver one month's notice of the impending event.  On the D-day, even as `dawn' is only a vague and distant suggestion in the cold darkness, the driver calls frantically to deliver the shattering news.  That he has to take the first bus to his village to deal with the critical illness of an elder, who is so distantly related that he might as well be in a parallel universe and the driver has to use a worm-hole to reach him!  He is kind enough to return a week later, after you have incurred the red-hot wrath of your boss and are still assessing the extensive damage to your career.  His, the driver's, first lament is lack of liquidity to even feed the family and his request for a hefty advance has to be catered to without demur.  Otherwise, you will be like Arjuna with the bow poised and your Krishna doing an unscheduled vanishing act in Mahabharath.  Only way worse, because those worthies were not stricken by Bangalore traffic at 2.5 kmph peak speed, compounded by the deadly hazardous particulate matter suspended right overhead.

The housemaids, who help our harried wives to hold the edifice together, have their own set of problems - many genuinely do and others pretend that they do.  Invariably - again, there are exceptions, let me state for the record - they seem to be in wedlock with willfully under-employed husbands, if not hopelessly unemployable ones.  One wonders how they all make the same choice!  And, the situation is complicated further by errant, unsupervised children and mothers-in-law made out to be eye-gouging monsters.  Either way, they toil for 48 hours a day as primary bread-winners to support the family - these people deserve to be mentoring investment bankers who seem to work as hard and late into the night, just to rehash the pitch book with no deals in sight. Not just that. To be left alone with their kids to lead their lives, they also provide a decent bribe to their menfolk to imbibe liquor and stay in a state of perennial, stuporous apathy. Confronted with emergencies, this tribe has to take time off and at the extremity, they resort to 'killing' the same non-existent uncles and aunts over and over again, to play on sympathies.  When this becomes too repetitive, our lives face huge disruptions in multiple ways.  Then the employers recognize the importance of maids, just as a freshly minted amputee learns to appreciate a limb of the body which has been forcibly separated.

The flare-up referred to in the first para of this post had come to pass due to our gardener playing truant, to attend his nephew's wedding.  He returned to work 'temporarily' and sought additional indulgence for a niece's marriage. Surely he must have reasoned that one more nephew getting married so soon would have been less acceptable.  When he encountered serious resistance from his multiple masters (poor chap, his was all part time assignments, which meant being reluctantly yoked to too many ploughs simultaneously), he was inventive enough to try something novel.  He came with a bandaged foot (my wife swears there was a tinge of blood visible) and limped his way into our hearts, stating he had a cut with some implement elsewhere and needed medical rehabilitation.  Then he went and told the other part-time benefactor that the unplanned incision occurred in our garden.  When the employers chatted during some perambulatory movement which usually passed for exercise, truth surfaced.  All he wanted was to have his way with time off, which he did.  My wife, without realizing that untrained replacements would actually have a couple of real injuries doing what the gardener does effortlessly, was insisting I literally chip in!!  Readers can hopefully comprehend my reluctance and empathize.

Our community's email platform, just like everywhere else, is fully leveraged by those sending out angry/insistent/pleading/resigned communication (1) seeking new domestic staff because they, the employers do not like the ones they have (2) same as (1) above but the issue being (not stated clearly for obvious reasons) that the domestic staff do not like the employers and have walked out wordlessly (3) levelling minor/major allegations against domestic staff and advising others not to employ them ever in the future at any cost (4) expressing deep disappointment and pain because an immediate neighbour in dire need did precisely the opposite of what was sought in (3), the very next day.  An attempt to compile a list of `undesirable' domestic staff (a blacklist, if you will) didn't see the light of day because there were concerns that (a) employers may manipulate willfully to include names out of anger and unreasonable personal grudge and (b) anyway, the black list would turn grey shortly and lily-white eventually due to the acute shortage of domestic staff.  That should explain why 80% of maids had at some point or other worked at 80% of the homes here.

But, this scribe heard confidentially from reliable sources that the blacklist did not emerge because some of the aggressive domestic staff made it known that if it was indeed published, there would be a retaliatory negative list of employers in the community, with detailed 'inside' information for each.  Now, who wants his/her dirty linen paraded (not even washed) in public, that too by the domestic staff? 


Friday, December 23, 2016

Life Is Different For Kids Now!

The last fifty years have seen a transformation in the way kids live their childhood days, if you think about it.  Children of the 60's/70's grew up differently, compared to the current pack, in several ways.  This author would not venture to hazard a statement to the effect that one is better than the other because that is a matter of perspective and personal experience; and also, he knows what is good for him.  The safest way of describing the situation would be to fall back on that TV commercial about Maggi sweet and sour sauce - `it is different'.  To reiterate, this is not an attempt to pass judgement on anything relating to the different generations figuring in this essay.

To begin with, do kids have to go to 'school' at the delicate and vulnerable young age of 3, when they are just attempting to differentiate between home folks and strangers?  This diabolical oh-so-early-to-school conspiracy must have been hatched by a bunch of harried working parents with no family support for managing life's chores, so that they can park the kids in some seemingly safe place for the better part of the day.  We are all sympathetic spectators to the sight of the wailing and flailing child being stuffed into some vehicle which is built to hold only half of its current consignment.  As a post-script to this morning ritual, a concerned parent jogs along the wobbly contraption, administering the final admonition to the driver:`Ensure that she does not fall off in transit'.  With that the lopsided journey into `development' begins for the child and symbolically the vehicle is so overloaded that it is at least entertaining vague thoughts of tilting to one side.  Would the kid be happier to be playing randomly with other children in the neighbourhood, learning a bit in the natural environment, as was the case earlier?  We will have to wait for some elite market research company to publish an investigative  report on this, as there is no known record of kids' preference on this particular issue.

During the later years in school, a veritable rat-race inevitably takes over and all parents are compelled to participate and children are left with no choice.  Earlier, if a child went for tuition, that meant he/she is marginal in a specific subject; today, however good he/she is, tuition classes after the school are de rigueur and are akin to an insurance policy the parents gladly elect to take.  They baulk at the thought of a cynical neighbour or interfering uncle laying the blame squarely at their door if the kid has sub-optimal marks  in a critical test and consequently misses out on, err..... whatever.  Coaching classes for competitive examinations are an incremental burden for the children to carry, making their already bustling lives hectic.  I would love to decipher if these kids miss flying out of homes after  school, playing two or three different games serially every evening and spending a lot of time in the open with friends??  May be not, because they don't know better and they are likely to be satisfied and comfortable with their video games and other in-home entertainment.

When children are a bit more seasoned, say at 5, they begin to take buses to `international' schools (the only determinant factor here is the hefty fees, one would think) which are suitably located farther away.  They spend some 3 hours daily in the commute in some cities, shrivelling in the heat, pollution -- go to school half asleep, bleary-eyed and return almost unconscious! I wish somebody would do a study to see if kids who begin schooling only at 5 or 6 (if this tribe is still around) are any less `successful' in adult life.  It is entirely possible that due to the later start and lack of early use of the brain, they will be something other than software engineers - how bad can that be??  We were able to walk/cycle to school, come home for lunch and be free by 4.30 pm.  This is not to suggest we turned out to be geniuses but at least life definitely was not so painful.  `And that explains a lot', one can hear a representative from the later crop, smirking a bit more than usual.  And my dear wife seem to agree, going by that smile of hers!

The previous generations' males, even the alpha-ones, to the chagrin of their spouses, often betrayed this child-like weakness, a heart-wrenching yearning for their mother's cooking from time to time.  This was the inescapable result of being tied into mom-cooked delicacies consumed avidly till one moved out of home. While there may still be some lingering signs of this now, it may not be as prevalent to be a serious point of friction between the spouses as it used to be.  Obviously the older trend was primarily due to the home-bound eating habits of the family those days.  Restaurant meals were frowned upon, considered unhealthy and it was also an avoidable expense -- except on very rare, special occasions.  Children being blessed with pocket money was a rarity.  Today, kids thrive on restaurant food, aided and abetted by tired and willingly collaborative parents (who themselves are forced to eat out) and they grow to like and prefer that fare.  No blaming the working parents, who understandably have genuine difficulty in catering to all such requirements, while they hurtle back and forth like the shuttle in the weaver's loom.   With due respect to those moms who still engage in cooking for the children without the intervention of external agents, let me say that a majority of the grown-up children living away from parents today are likely to beat a straight line to a favourite restaurant of theirs in their home-town, directly from the train station!!  The good thing is they think that is par for the course.

Take festivals now.  Deepavali always was synonymous with a plethora of sweets and crackers for the earlier generation.  Today, one can see the ironic sight of middle-aged fathers going berserk with explosive crackers and smoking rockets, while their children, big and small, keep protesting from the sidelines about pollution of all sorts and the resultant damage to the earth.  The kids are absolutely right, no doubt, in their `child-is-the-father-of-the-man' behaviour and in thinking that the older generations have actually brought things to this pass.  Having said that, one wonders if even some rejoicing in the traditional way on Deepavali is taboo for these kids!  Dietary restrictions bellowed out by mothers to kids kick in when it comes to consumption of sweets on Deepavali or any other festival day, even as we see fathers nursing bellies of varied sizes, stuffing their mouths with all the goodies.  How life has changed!

One other facet of life has undergone a metamorphosis and that is the family reunions that kids used to enjoy during holidays.  All members of a family enthusiastically congregated every year at the native place and spent a few days in a celebratory and convivial atmosphere; renewing relationships, with the kids enjoying the warm and somewhat exaggerated attention of the elder relatives.  A lot of mirth was on offer during the helter-skelter of group interaction.  Reality today is that many kids sadly do not even know the existence relatives somewhat removed.  Honestly, where is the time when the children are busier with their school schedule than the elders?  When it is time for a vacation, families settle on a fashionable venue in a distant land rather than converging at the native village or town every year.

It would be fantastic to gauge whether kids of today would prefer the other kind of childhood.  But that is going to be well-nigh impossible to fathom.  So, the easier alternative is for the older generations to chew the cud on this and determine whether they would have preferred to live their childhood like today's kids. What say??