Saturday, February 24, 2018

GreyHair Goes To A Filmi Concert

Waving the newspaper vigorously, my wife wafted in, all aflutter and effervescent.  She gesticulated to an advertisement for a forthcoming Shreya Ghosal (SG) concert at a popular mall in Bangalore and I immediately had the foreboding of doom.  She archly said `You like her songs'.  Of course, who doesn't?  The next installment of her statement turned out more malignant - `I want to treat you for your birthday; let us go to the concert'.  She has been desperately trying to shepherd me to a concert for years but I had been managing to ward off all such nefarious designs.  See, I am of the firm belief that there comes a time in your life when you can watch a cricket match more comfortably on TV than in a ground and listen to your favourite singers on your own music system within the cool confines of the home.  In my case, that time had clocked in at least a decade back and I had furiously thwarted most attempts to drag me, screaming and kicking, to some match or concert.  My dear wife was well aware of my predilection and yet was putting on this orchestrated show - why?  Because SHE wanted to go to the concert and so, that conveniently became a birthday gift for me!!  I urged, then begged her to go with her band of friends, who would very gleefully join the hustle, bustle, chaos and noise usually associated with this kind of concerts.  But she was adamant, she went with me or didn't go at all!  That Brahmaastra settled it and I trundled along, like a lamb to slaughter.

When we reached the venue, there were at least three long lines snaking along endlessly and we chose to take our position at the end of one, after some serious scrutiny for the most desirable line.  Just to find after fifteen minutes that it was for those who already exchanged their on-line booking confirmation for ticket cards.  Nobody could tell us where the line for the exchange was.  I cursed SG and the organizers in that order and led a combing operation; after a strenuous workout for fifteen minutes, we discovered three more lines twisting from ticket boxes some distance away.  The way people were jostling here made one wonder if there was free admission for everyone.  Another twenty minutes had passed and we were nowhere near the ticket box, but the wife breezily dismissed my concerns about not finding our seats before the concert starts.  When we got the tickets, it was already half an hour beyond the scheduled start time, but due to a carefully concealed conspiracy, except me everyone seemed to know the concert would start late - very late.  After getting squashed heavily by the crowd and feeling like some kind of pulp, we reached the seating area and found, to our chagrin, that it was free for all, meaning `open seating'.  We got pushed a few more rows back by the wave of people and finally found two seats, from where the stage itself was a tiny speck and the occupants of the stage were even tinier specks.

It is probably an open secret that all such concerts are a few hours late, that by design.  One should not blame the star artists, but the callous organizers who collect all the money and still want to exploit the captive audience mercilessly.  As it turned out, for the next ninety minutes, a couple of raving and ranting lunatics who seemed to have swallowed high-decibel mics recently, were belting out some marketing stuff for an Academy of Music in a raucous way.  Didn't augur well for the academy, but no one seemed to mind or care.  These monstrosities parading as comperes, wielded the mics as instruments of mass irritation and bellowed out incoherent babble, punctuated by some strange music originating from Jupiter or some similar far-away planet.  Their intent seemed solely to bludgeon the hapless audience, who had already withered after going through the gruelling entry experience, with words and noise of no consequence.  My wife looked at me pleasantly and asked `Bored, eh'?  Very considerate of her but I was beyond the pale of questions, answers and niceties at this stage.

Then it became worse.  Music blared out even more aloud and one lunatic announced that there would be a fashion show by one of the sponsors!! Fashion Show??  When even the stage was almost invisible from where we were??  The sadistic organizers were proving themselves to be more mindless than we first concluded.  We wondered whether those in the fashion show were wearing anything at all because it was all a haze.  There was indeed a TV screen half a mile away, but even that couldn't digest the proceedings and promptly went kaput.  Appreciating the sensitivity of the TV screen and encouraged, I also tried to switch myself off, but the bloody-minded comperes would have none of that.  They started urging the audience to clap, howl, whistle, sing and screech with them and some of their brethren on the stage, increasing the overall noise levels multi-fold.  Parts of the crowd had gotten restless and directed most of its angry howling and screeching at the organizers, but those poor sods could not distinguish anything and were giddy with pleasure at the interactive participation.

As we were being put through the above wringers, there was some additional personal irritants for me, seated on an aisle seat.  Since the concert had not started, the aisle was akin to a peak time thoroughfare, with milling traffic making its way to the facilities outside and back.  In their anxiety to squeeze the last seat into the available space, the organizers had ensured that every passing bum, male or female, brushed my body generously and one was thankful that it was always the bum, providentially.  Could have been worse, my wife pointed out when I complained to her.  On top of that there were small children and inept adults passing through, juggling and scarcely balancing some seriously dangerous foodstuff on paper plates, perilously hanging down to one side due to overloading.  While I just got blessed with bhel puri, pop corn and some cola, again providentially escaped from being anointed with pizza sauce, mint/tamarind chutney and the like.

Finally some two hours and ten minutes behind schedule, SG appeared on the stage (we did think it was she and not an impersonator, but could n't be certain until she sang) but never appeared clearer, throughout the entire concert, than a silhouette in the maniacally bright stage lights.  And that kicked up the frenzy among the audience to take videos of the stage proceedings.  Oblivious of others, many people stood up on their chairs and each other and captured something on the video for ten minutes. I would love to find out what they got on the video - something vaguely red moving like an apparition on the stage??  While SG sang all her favourite numbers during the next two hours and we enjoyed ourselves, she decided from time to time to give some relief to her vocal chords by asking the tuneless but enthusiastic audience to sing along!!  Par for the course, I guess.
At the end, I just validated my take that it is best to listen to such music from the safety and security of homes, on a good music system; use Youtube if you want videos.  Why pay and suffer all the above indignities?? People immediately jump up and hold a flag for `ambience'.  Well, that is there but the value of that seems grossly exaggerated, compared to the pain one has to go through.  And one nagging suspicion rankles me - what if the organizers put up an impersonator to lip-sync and we never knew??  My dear wife, as usual, had the answer to that too - `Those closest to the stage would have noticed, right'?  Touche!

I prefer the home ambience, for sure.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

We Are A Country Of Crooks!!

The following is not an apology for the shortcomings in the implementation of the Demonitization exercise by the authorities, but a commentary on the way Indians at large reacted and behaved as a nation.
About this time last year, this author was stricken with an intense feeling of guilt - so traumatising  that even Macbeth, haunted by the benign ghost of Banquo, would have sympathized.  Now wait; I committed no such heinous crime, but was made to cringe for a while anyway.  By the whiplash of criticism that accompanied the Demonitization (Dem) exercise. Many of the Indian brethren, desirous of seeing a more disciplined and law abiding population were happy that a bold move is being made to reduce black money and widen the tax net.  But the overwhelmingly vituperative discourse that all the opposition parties and corrupt businessmen engaged in, along with the price we inevitably pay for greed, avarice and of course, poor implementation process in terms of human suffering, made one feel nauseous in the short run. On the face of it, the intent seemed genuinely to improve financial discipline in the country and the execution would never have been perfect, considering the chaotic and complex responses from people at large.  What made one hang the head in shame was the well orchestrated skulduggery, at various levels, that went into defeating the objective of the initiative.  Critics sniggered and gleefully rubbed their hands, saying `We told you so; it won't work in India'.  Why?  Because we are collectively a nation of scheming crooks.  The outcome left nobody in doubt.

Dem exercise was hailed and hauled over coals by the populace,  divided by their own vulnerability insofaras black money is concerned. If one had something to hide, one vilified the initiative; the generally tax compliant, who did everything above board, welcomed it as a step in the right direction.  This was expected, par for the course.  But people across various sections of society went on to exploit every devious opportunity available to ensure that their hidden wealth was laundered at any cost.  The affected parties cooked up diabolical schemes and willing accomplices pitched in to help, for some immediate and shameful gratification.  This is the part that hurt most, but surprisingly many quarters in the country shrugged indifferently and with arched brows said `What did you expect in India'?  Such confidence in the collective deceitfulness of the country!!

Politicians of various opposition parties used words like scam, scandal, etc to describe the exercise, without actually explaining who in the government or specific quarters benefited. And the accusers were primarily that tribe who knew what scams were about and how to preside over them.  All the while, such political parties and politicians were working at a feverish pace to launder their illegal hoard, even as they were drumming up popular criticism of the effort - as hurting the common man!!
Critics lambasted the government and said this should have been thought out better and notice should have been given to the public. Laughable - when without notice, banks seem to have received more high value notes than they thought were printed. Imagine what would have happened if advance notice were to be given - people would have printed high value notes and deposited them, using all kinds of fraudulent avenues!

Businessmen, who thrived on black money and used it generously for political patronage, ganged up with the politicians and used every greedy soul looking for a quick buck, to defeat the regulatory authorities.  Family members, young and old, were put to use.  Some older and sick members of the society unfortunately could not stand the stress of standing in lines and passed away.  While the inefficient process was blamed, it was unbelievable that such individuals were allowed by their families to subject themselves to that kind of stress.  Agents readily mushroomed all over the country, with access to banks and an army of people willing to supplant rule of law. They connected the dots and formed a well-oiled mechanism to route deposits to banks, in which some corrupt personnel were only too happy to collude and ignore the rules governing acceptance of such deposits.

Dishonest bankers, driven by the lure of the lucre, gave priority to helping launder black money and deprived the agitated public at large, of adequate supply of cash through ATMs.  Much of the cash intended for public use was diverted, so the ATMs were shut more often than necessary.  Hoards of new notes, recovered in many raids by authorities, with no explanation forthcoming from the hoarders, bore testimony to this racket.  Rural areas, which obviously needed more small denomination notes, did not get the supplies and suffered.  While the actual distribution system was faulty to an extent and the government should take a portion of the blame, major misery was the product of the machinations of the politicos and businessmen with some bankers in cahoots.

Common men, who saw an opening for making some money rapidly by indulging in small time crookery, helped the bigwigs by pitching in with their physical effort.  They willingly let the black money bags use their own small accounts in various banks to put through deposits and launder the money.  Millions of such accounts have been identified all over the country, in which the previous few years saw a few hundred rupees of balance and during this turbulence the deposits grew to hundreds of thousands.  Common men became con-men, for a service charge.  After doing this and pocketing the money, the same chaps turned around and indulged in breast-beating about lack of cash for their use.

Small businesses obviously suffered because they normally used cash, but they had received adequate indications from the government that sooner or later electronic means of payments will take over.  Still, they ignored those indicators and when the difficulties hit them, promptly blamed everybody else except themselves.  I personally know of a bunch of shop owners, who ingeniously decided to take cheques for small amounts and gave credit to customers for a day or two, in order to continue doing business.  Many very promptly acquired readily available electronic payment methods to continue with their business.  The obvious wish was that more people should have done that instead of crying foul and letting their business be affected.

Economists wobbled and found fault with the programme because it shrank the GDP due to the difficulties some sectors like Realty, Jewellery, etc faced.  Obviously these are the ones which played truant more than others and encouraged black money transactions all the time.  When the axe fell, they would clearly suffer, which happened.  Very logical and if the GDP suffers because of this, so be it.  Instead of that line of thinking, many intellectuals and economists blamed the government for this hit to the growth rate.

The primary lesson one learnt from all this is something like a reconfirmation of the long held belief that we are a nation of crooks, always ready to commit fraud if we believe we can get away or if the majority are doing it all around -  whether you are a politician, businessman, bank personnel, trader or common man; the primary objective always is to make money any which way and evade taxes.  Rules and laws be damned!!  Of course, with due apologies to the small segment which respects laws and pays taxes!!

Can we nurture a semblance of hope about the current mindset changing?  The optimist in me says `May be, if we persist with tough measures for a few decades'.  The realist in me frowns, shakes his head sadly and says sarcastically, `Our collective crookedness will always prevail'!!


Monday, November 27, 2017

Ortho Viral Fever

`Ortho Viral Fever' (OVF), declared the young doctor at Emergency in the hospital, almost gleefully at first - as if he had succeeded in a scientific discovery after torturous research.  And then, when he realised it was far from a Eureka moment for anyone else there,  he modulated the voice to just sound triumphant, shorn of the intense happiness one sensed in the previous declaration.  Considering the fact that the patient was a young girl of thirteen or so without any earlier history of bone related problems, we were surprised about the `ortho' connotation and waited for the excited doctor to cool down and formulate his explanation.  Eventually he did that and told us that OVF meant very high fever for 4-5 days, accompanied by body pain.  Then the fever subsides but the body pain, with particular reference to aches at the joints, persists for anything between two weeks to four months, depending on the level of affinity the pain develops for one's body.  Hence the inclusion of `ortho' in the name of the fever.  Many of those in the Emergency room that day cluck-clucked or shook our heads in disbelief in sympathy for the kid, but forgot all about it after an hour.  Until OVF decided to descend on us in our household - one by one, in some vague order, which we are yet to decipher.

Initially the blasted OVF just starts with high fever for a few days.  Of course, accompanied by severe body pain.  We realised that the doctors in the hospital called this Dolo650 fever, because that seemed to be the fixed prescription, on which there was astoundingly rare unanimity among the doctors.  That itself is some kind of a record engineered by this disease, since usually no two doctors agree - neither on the diagnosis nor on the prescription!  For the record, this author is not recommending anyone starts on that tablet without checking with a real doctor, who might just confirm that prescription.  The body seems to constantly receive external heating directly from a thermal or hydel source and the fever is high enough for one to end up bleary-eyed, thirsty and weak after 2 days.  When you enjoy some marginal success in moving from the bed, you really do not know where you are going  -- to the bathroom or kitchen (because you have lost a significant part of your steering capabilities), until you get unusally kind words of direction from the loving wife (she is eminently qualified because she went through the whole process a couple of weeks before I did).  And then, you find that you cannot move back to the bed because all the energy you had, has been expended in that 20-step sojourn.  So, you wait, pretty much like the astronaut who has just completed an exhausting space-walk, waits to enter the International Space Station.  You feel very flaky too, because you have no memory of walking to your temporary parking space five minutes earlier.

The doctors make it clear that OVF is probably just the staging area for one to get Dengue and/or Chikungunya.  So, as is customary with hospitals, they insist you be tested for all these and few more things in one sweep.  I am sure everyone has this experience of going to get a small bruise treated and returning home wondering whether it was leukemia or HIV or cerebral hemorrhage or something more serious.  Until the 33 tests done by the hospital all indicate it is just a bruise.  Likewise, after the plethora of tests (all those that hospital is equipped to do), you are declared a victim of mere OVF --without any likelihood of being upgraded to Dengue or Chikungunya-- by the medical staff, who just cannot mask their terrible disappointment.  So, here is a disease which sets you back by a few thousand rupees in the `testing' phase but costs you less than hundred rupees for the actual treatment because it is Dolo650 all the way and nothing else.  I guess this compounds the confusion of the already delirious patient as to whether be happy about the latter or complain about the former.

The patient is advised to drink a lot of fluids.  The obvious reason given is to avoid dehydration, but given the fact that everything the patient attempts to consume tastes like paper (no, this author assures he has never eaten that but making the aforesaid statement purely on hearsay) and seems to involve forcing things through a much narrower gap where the throat used to exist, fluids make better sense.  Water, especially, since as we all learnt during school, it is tasteless anyway -- Aristotle said so! The one single part of the body which completely forgets its function during the period of OVF is the tongue.  While one can feel its physical presence at the appointed place, it is like some absolutely useless spare part added to an automobile, God knows why.  You hurriedly go through this phase in life --struggling with anxiety and fear -- so that you can reassure yourself that this eminent part of the body will regain its functionality  eventually!  And, it does, God bless!!

But the most distinct feature of OVF is that the joint pain that afflicts the patient for a disproportionately longer time, compared to the fever that seemed to introduce it to the body in the first place.  Two things happen with the joints -- one, all of them like ankles, knees, elbows, shoulders uniformly pain jointly and severally; two, those joints which already had a diagnosed problem, like one somewhat arthritic knee or one partially frozen shoulder, are blessed with special, incremental pain.  As if, the bacteria knew uncannily where exactly the chinks in your armour are and direct themselves to be residents of such places to increase the pain value.  One also is able to generally come to be re-acquainted with many joints and bones one had forgotten as a child.  So, as a pure journey of self-discovery, I would rank OVF higher than most other meditative or yogic experiences -- primarily because the latter are not so easy to attain and require sublime mental adjustments!

So, here I am, after three good weeks, still struggling to climb stairs and lift somewhat heavy substances.  My dear wife points out I have developed a unique style of climbing up/down the stairs, with the knees kept wider apart than usual and a resultant wide-angled movement so that a beholder would not, at first sight, know whether I am moving up/down or sideways.  I live in the hope that eventually, after a couple of months, I would revert to my original style.  But that seems very far off, at this juncture.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Worry, That Staple!

'How can you be so indifferent?  After all, this is a bosom friend of yours, right'?  My very-distraught-dear wife demanded, arched eyebrows and arms akimbo as the situation demanded. She was being eloquently emotional in her criticism of my refusal to be unduly stressed about a bothersome situation a friend had inserted himself into.  One must hasten to add that her accusation was not that I did not empathize with the friend - she didn't suggest that at all.  Actually, both she and I had spent enormous time and effort to help the family in whatever way we could and had also committed to further assistance, as required.  My wife was actually haranguing me that I should be more worried about the friend than I seemingly appeared to be. Now, that flummoxed me. I have never been able to figure out how, my long-distance worrying about him from thousands of miles away, was going to please him or ease his plight.  Unless, of course, he was the truly sadistic type who wants everyone to suffer with him. And, that is the crux of the matter!

Worry is that sizzling (because of ongoing combustion) and shining (because constant use keeps it well burnished)  pot which every family has in a special corner of the home,  It is ceaselessly boiling with all kinds of unhealthy ingredients added each passing day by the various constituents.  Now, if each household boasts of its own share of patients with hypertension, diabetes and the like -- age being no bar for the early acquisition of these ailments -- we all know why.  Our own over-worked doctors would vouch for this.  Questionable lifestyles and habits apart, one major common denominator in all such cases is the tendency to worry all the time about everything in and out of sight.  Mothers think their motherhood will be questioned if they stop worrying about something/anything at all, even during toilet breaks.  Actually, may be that space provides privacy to even shed a few tears to water that plant of festering worry.  Those furrows on the foreheads of mothers, ploughed by stress, are no less symbolic than the stigmata.  Fathers are probably marginally less prone to worrying, but are emotionally flogged into joining the bandwagon to avoid being labelled `irresponsible'.  While I am not willing to be drawn and quartered for this, I am making bold to venture a guess that women (especially if they are in a group) worry more than men. Now, please don't ask for meta data analysis to support that.

A few years back, I caught my father and his good friend, stricken by some unseen bug and staring ahead vacantly, an indication they were not all there.  Last seen and heard, they were passionately discussing the state of cricket in India and for the life of me, I could not figure what would have propelled them from there to that orbit of despondency. I decided to let them be and went out for a while and when I returned, there was no perceptible change in the sombre atmosphere.  So, I decided to investigate.  The two gentlemen danced around the periphery a bit but came clean after a few blandishments. My father's friend sheepishly confessed that they were heart-broken with worry by the prospect of India potentially losing to Zimbabwe in a test match by 2 runs in the last possible over, in about five years' time.  Whether the cause would be India's abject deterioration or Zimbabwe's upward climb in cricket, he could not coherently clarify but I was so flabbergasted I left with in a daze. What a thing to worry about!!

Recently a friend went through the depressing hospital circuit with age-related issues, got diagnosed with problems which are par for the course for his age but got home without any apparent, serious damage. While we were all relieved and happy, the subject continued to luxuriously wallow in frothing and comforting self-pity.  He shut down routine operations, went monkish, ate sparingly, spoke seldom, sniffled and moaned endlessly -- causing untold agony to the family. When all sympathy for his erstwhile medical status dried up completely, in justification of his behaviour, he summed up his worry thus: `I wonder why I got these ailments?  How did I deserve that'?  As if he was part of some specially chosen tribe of God, exempt by right from normal human infirmities. As if he would have been happier if the rest of the family got afflicted instead.  This worry seems to be the life-force that keeps him going today.  A very sorry state of affairs.

Some other outrageous worries this author has come across:

-- A grandmother worrying about Trump needling Kim Jong Un into launching nuclear weapons. That is bad enough in itself; but this sheer idiocy gets compounded,  if the latter was to get confused about the co-ordinates and send that missile to Mylapore in Madras.

-- A lone individual, sitting alone in a chauffeur-driven car in messy traffic, worrying about most cars having a single occupant and why people are not sensible enough to share rides.

-- Someone in Asansol looking up at the evening sky and worrying about if and when that blasted, disintegrating Russian satellite plunging towards Vladivastok would change direction and shake him out of slumber

-- An inveterate worrier in his mid 60s being stressed sick about losing his contract job as and when the inimical combination of Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality would invade in his small world.

But this one should take the cake and all the baking paraphernalia too.  Some decades back, when my mother was sitting alone in a very pensive mood, I asked her what her worry was -- now that all her children were married well, settled down in life with nice families, holding decent jobs, the entire brood in good health.  Without batting an eyelid she said `My worry is that at this rate, there will be nothing left to worry about'!! Beat that!


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Relentless Advice Givers (RAGs)

Most of us would have encountered these specimens of the species frequently in our lives - the Relentless Advice Givers (RAGs). Some of us are probably purblind, so can be excused for not identifying them for what they are appropriately.  Others choose to ignore because they believe such characters are par for the course. And the worst part is that all of us periodically succumb to this irritating if not offensive tendency to assume an advisory position; even when no one sought our counsel, so long as we are certain that the counter-party is not violent enough to throw acid in our face in retaliation. Offering unsolicited advice, even to a complete stranger, comes naturally to human beings of all hues and it does take a Herculean effort to keep that impulsive urge under constant control.

One very attractive attribute of the RAG role is that it requires very little expertise or qualification.  So long as one has existed in this world - in whatever limited capacity - for long enough, one is egregiously entitled to plunge into this pastime (because no one will pay for such advice, considering it is unsolicited and mostly useless).  Longevity seems to bestow some invisible thrust to the least sociable of people and push them into this activity.  Recently, when this author went looking for his roots in his village (diligently done once in a couple of years to assuage that lumpy feeling of guilt), he met an old class mate.  This shy chap has retired, having served a lifetime in a local bank and having never ventured too far from his home pasture.  This post owes its birth to this worthy individual.

Obviously in what is a well crunched routine, post-breakfast, he assumes his perch outside his home, almost on the street and watches some eighty percent of the daily activities of all his busier neighbours.  What amuses one is the unfailing regularity with which he spoke to anyone who attempted to pass him either way. To one, it was `Did you tell your grand daughter not to go to USA for higher studies? Singapore is the best'. To the next, `I hear that doctor you have selected for your wife's knee operation is not good. Go to MPK hospital'. To a youngster who seemed intentionally speeding past on a cycle to avoid a verbal assault, the RAG expertly accelerated his own delivery speed to catch up before the former faded away. `You should avoid that nefarious group of boys, otherwise you are going to be ruined for ever', he hollered belligerently, in what seemed a continuing one-way communication.

In the next hour they were together, the author noticed that this RAG had advice to offer in fields afar as what NASA should do next (this to the automobile mechanic in the village), how they should prevent sea erosion in some of those Polynesian islands (this to a poor farmer, who probably hadn't had adequate water for his crops one mile away) and why the local temple should not perform the next round of festivals at that time.  And, barring one forlorn individual who, it turned out, was deaf and thought the author had said something to him and demanded clarification with a `What?', no one even looked askance at the RAG.  They all hurried away as if he/she/it wanted to avoid the pestilence.  It was a futile monologue all the way, but unsurprisingly had no adverse effect on the RAG.  Another superlative attribute of the species, `never take rejection to heart'.

This complete lack of response did not faze the RAG and there was no stemming the flow of dollops of advice for the entire period.  In between various streams, the author managed a few words edge-ways and wanted to know how he of such a few words during younger days turned into such a prolific, almost formidable, advisor. The answer was very elucidating.  The friend said `I am bored, not having anything better to do.  Nobody anyway hears or listens to me when I speak to them.  So I decided to take this avuncular role and offload all my thoughts on them, not caring whether they take them or leave them'.  And inexplicably he deliberately refrained from offering a single advice in his only area of expertise -- banking or finance -- to anyone.  He demystified me on that count with `Oh, I am not knowledgeable enough on that subject and anyway, it is boring'.

The ironical aspect of such RAGs is that not one would have taken similar advice from any one else.  They are such strong personalities that they can sustain giving all the way without taking anything.  What is even more galling is that many of them cannot and obviously do not even follow their own advice.  Take that obese auntie who is advising the young girl on how to lose two kilograms in ten days, when actually she herself can lose more than that during one meal!!  Or that profligate uncle, subsisting with a small monthly allowance from his kind nephew, advising someone on how to financially secure his future!!  This list can go on and some of these specimens, when rebuked, brazenly even seek to arrogate authority to themselves by assuming the mantle of someone who has erred and has never learnt!

We cannot leave the politicians out of this, can we?  Like anything else, politicians have no memory of their own past and have a lot of time for superficial, unwanted advising.  On the subject of Kashmir, recently a Congress leader who stands severely discredited by his own partymen, advised that the current government's policies in Kashmir are all wrong and misdirected. Apparently he wanted every government to follow what Congress did for 60 years and failed miserably.  And another leader, very junior but aspiring to be very senior suddenly, who will remain unnamed and has not even got enough credit till now for him to be discredited ever, has some advice to avert the kind of disaster that consumed the lives of babies in hospital recently.  If only we, as a country, had made some progress annually in the area of public health, education and other social sectors in the last 60 years!!

My dear wife is vigorously nodding her head in agreement.  She has sworn not to open her mouth for a while, lest what falls out is seen as advice.  Why? Probably because she recognizes usually it is? I am not saying anything.

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!