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??


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Online Shopping - Part 2

Dedicated to my youngest reader, who lives around the corner - Anjali Mallena. Thank you, Anjali.
Preface:  We are all ageing by the day in modern world, so to help those who have become victims of partial or complete amnesia or other related maladies in the intervening two months, here is how the earlier serving on Online Shopping ended: "To be fair, we (meaning, the author's family) do order a few things online nowadays and not many have gone wrong.  (To be continued in Part Two)".......Now, with that bit of restoration having been done, we can move along.

A few months ago, about that time in the morning when this scribe usually enjoys his best sleep, he was shaken up with a fair degree of violence (granted, that was unusual) by his dear wife.  When he woke up all bleary-eyed and flustered, he saw the lady standing by the bed-side, arms akimbo and eyes flashing - a typical posture assumed to signal that all was not well, especially for the individual trying to stir up.  Empirical knowledge oozing from accumulated wisdom and very swift analysis of the stored data relating thereto made the author recognize pronto, the unfriendly environment for what it was, even though he was still coming abreast of the fuller details of early morning existence.   Without a cheery`howdy' or other preliminary niceties, she opened the proceedings in that deliberately 'controlled' (those who are sympathetic to the author may choose to substitute `menacing', without straying too far from the truth) tone she employs to barely conceal irritation and/or disappointment (like Aunt Agatha did with Bertie Wooster).

"What flight did you book my mother on"? she queried.  Even as the victim was mildly bewildered as to why on earth her mother - always calm, kind, truly grounded and soft-spoken - had to take flight, the portends slowly sunk into his brain, which was still crackling out of slumber.  His distressed demeanour, akin to that of the veritable deer-in-the-headlight, must have broadcast his confusion with FM clarity --  that the intake rate and comprehension levels were way below par. For she proceeded to clarify by crisply adding: "Flight from Mangalore"?  Now, you must admit that your author is smart as needles otherwise and vividly captures the picture once adequate pointers are provided by the counterpart; but here he was, labouring below peak form under foggy conditions as he was shifting posture from horizantality to perpendicularity for the first time on the day.  Despite all those handicaps, it all came to him in a flash and he remembered that his mother-in-law and brother-in-law were to fly that morning to Bangalore on tickets booked by himself online earlier.  Masterfully suppressing the trepidation that was rising from his stomach-pit, he managed to mumble  "Why, what happened"?  The response was clear, cold and like the knife gliding through soft butter - "They are at the airport and have been told that their tickets are booked for the same date two months later".  All you need to know is they had to buy fresh tickets at an exorbitant price to fly that day and the author's perilously positioned stock nosedived even further on that side of the family. 

That fiasco came about only because this author did not follow the rigour that online booking of tickets demands, without giving one too much leeway to correct mistakes.  Especially if one had looked high and low for tickets for flexible dates and did not conclude the booking process for some reason.  When you return later to triumphantly seal the best deal of the day, you should not assume that the dates of travel you had in mind are captured correctly on Kayak or Jet Airways, whatever.  Remember, two decades back all this work was thrust on the travel agent, who earned his commission doing this for a job.  Now we tend to go over the top, over-analyzing available options online, simply because the entire airline schedule is at our finger tips, literally.  By the time you experiment with all the permutations and combinations of airline, departure time, date, pricing, auspicious day for travel etc, fatigue sets in and you tend to overlook something critical.   For some reason, while booking this ticket, the wrong date was picked for one leg and the rest was misery for one individual, the booker! It was another story that I had to write 100 times, reminiscent of the imposition in school days - doled out as punishment to atone for some misdeed - that "my mother-in-law was obviously welcome at our home any time"!! 

I had no defence the second time this happened, when at the airport we found that our tickets were again for the wrong date and we had to take an unplanned road trip to Madras. I can assure you that had not even the remotest resemblance to the one Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif enjoy in `Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara'.  Another disaster that strikes when some smart alec tries to play the system endlessly to get the best possible deal. A friend lost the last remaining seats for USA on a good flight because he was avaricious enough to wait overnight.  He ended up paying some 60% extra for the same seats when he woke up next morning.

If that was a date-related goof-up, venue-related hiccup is not far behind.  I booked tickets for a movie recently and we presented ourselves at the box-office at the appointed hour to collect the same.  We were flabbergasted to be told that the movie was not showing in that multiplex at all.  Bristling at this nonsense that they would issue tickets for a no-show, I was preparing for an onslaught when something deep inside me demurred. Before my belligerence got the better of me, I checked the ticket and lo and behold, it was for a multiplex with a similar sounding name belonging to the same group, about 15 kms away.  We grinned in embarrassment and bought fresh tickets for another movie and enjoyed it too.  The redeeming feature was that the loss this time was only Rs.200 for two tickets since it was a morning show!!  It was my imbecility alright, lulled into a comfort zone by the oh-so-familiar online platform; I swear it would not have happened, had I gone to the theatre and booked my tickets like in the good old days.  But, let this scribe declare in unequivocal terms that the immense convenience of the new age process beats the old one hands down, no doubt (especially in booking train/event/bus/airline tickets), so long as one is not averse to face up to the occasional discomfiture resulting from errors of commission and omission.

One thing I intensely dislike about some e-commerce portals is the way refunds are handled, assuming clients are dummies.  Even if you had paid by a credit card earlier, they try to take the mickey out of you by crediting the refund to your account with `them' instead of crediting the card account.  That way they believe they are doing smart business because you have to buy something from them again to use the refunded amount and they are not out of funds at all - dual benefits for them.  Somewhat like the practice of toll booths on highways trying to pay you the balance (change) in `chocolates', when one is not even sure whether you are getting the right value back.  Once, when I got 4 chocolates as change, I tried to give them to the next toll both (belonging to the same company) for the same value.  I had to argue for 5 minutes before they got accepted, not because the attendant was convinced by my argument but because of the persistent honking of the drivers behind!!

Now, let me go back to the first mishap mentioned in this blog, the Mangalore-Bangalore ticket for my mother-in-law. When all the hubbub had subsided and I imagined I was clearly out of the danger-zone, I ventured to politely ask my dear wife as to why none of them (she herself, her brother and mother), who had checked the ticket after booking, picked up the error and got it corrected.  Valid question, you would think?  All I got was a benign stare like the one she usually reserves for one of her less-gifted and errant children in school and she asked blithely `Now, trying to shift the blame, are we'??  I knew better than to answer, because all the people involved were from the other side of the family! 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

When God Is Out Of His Depth!!

All of us have probably sympathized with a friend or relative, who has gone through a rather prolonged rough patch in life for an inordinately long time, without any sign of remission on the horizon.  To such an extent that the `patch' seems to expand and envelope the land mass around the victim.  This happens, for instance, when an individual builds a house on a lake-bed which has been bone-dry for half a century just in time for incessant rains and a deluge to destroy it. Then he invests in a transport business, hoping to reap the reward of moving grains after a bountiful harvest, but an unusual diesel shortage and an enforced ban on movement of trucks ruin his chances.  When he decides to sell umbrellas there is drought for a few years and when he chooses money-lending business because he had been a good borrower, he ends up with 50% bad loans. Add to this a weird accident which comes visiting without advance notice and in an unscheduled illness afflicting someone near and dear.  My readers being intelligent and perceptive, would have grasped the lay of the land by now.  There is no reprieve for this chap and when he cries in desperation `Oh God, why are you doing this to me', we tend to soulfully join in the sufferer's bleating plea.  There are only so many blows on the snout that a man can take, you see.  But what if God is in a similar plight?? Where does He look for succour?

During the recent Ganesh Chathurthi festival, as we were stranded in traffic due to that ubiquitous procession with an idol, this author's mind wandered to the aforementioned scenario and his dear wife gave the usual sympathetic and understanding ear to his ramblings.  In that context, he wondered how big the Ganesha idols would end up in about ten years, having grown from 9" in height during his childhood to a mammoth 12' now.  This was an absolutely thoughtless remark, which turned out to be a red rag to the bull of an ecological warrior in my wife and she turned an impassioned orator for one, for the next half hour.  The car was completely stationary, providing a good and helpful platform for this and readers should imagine what happens to a captive audience in such circumstances.  She was almost hoarse by the time she concluded her denunciation of the entire process of the so-called-immersion --recklessly dumping the huge idols in lakes, rivers and miscellaneous water bodies, thereby causing irreparable damage to the ecosystem. There is really no way of knowing whether it was the physical exhaustion or the incapacitated larynx or the emotional drain, which brought the proceedings to a halt, but let us say they cumulatively silenced her then. But I got to hear the left-over, two last paras of the declamation at home in the evening, when she picked up the strain exactly and effortlessly where she left it in the afternoon -- an uncanny ability indeed, you will agree!!

That night I had that strange and bewildering dream! A huge Ganesha idol, lying on His side, half immersed in sea water, some body parts badly damaged in the process of providing entertainment to man during the festivities, was crying out in anguish as to why people do this to Him year after year.  He was carefully holding his trunk aloft above the water level, to avoid inadvertent intake of salt water  -- understandably that was not His favourite beverage either --  just as we do while snorkeling. But doing that for long hours can be physically taxing and so traumatic even for the Gods apparently and Ganesha was close to breaking point....errrr....actually He was pleading to be broken up completely and immersed properly, so that He could get home and rest in peace rather than in pieces. This state of limbo in which He had to dwell for a few days (until people finished with revelry, help arrived and all the idols were disposed of some haphazard way) was roughly the equivalent of people being left struggling and gasping for breath, deep down in the debris of a collapsed building, He said. He wanted to avoid the same nasty predicament in future and looked like he was soliciting ideas.  I must have blabbered something in my sleep, to the effect that if as God He did not know the way out, as a mere mortal, I was damned if I had a clue!! Very cogent for a sleeping man, you would agree.  At this stage, the game was over because my dear wife was shaking me up violently, predictably wanting to gather information as to who I was in conversation with, why and about what.

Really, think of what we do to Ganesha in the name of a celebration.  This spectacle of pandals, processions and immersions are way out of line as far as religion is concerned. They seem to be social manifestations of man's desire to impose his will on God. Otherwise, why would the simple ritual of a half-foot Ganesha idol in clay being piously moved from one's home to the well in the backyard for immersion in 10 minutes become such a farce?  This cannot be called evolution, obviously because everything around the festival has only degenerated over the decades.  Every part in this modern spectacle -- the unreasonable size of idols, the pomp, the collection of money etc, the drunken revelry, the blaring music and the contorted dance movements (the same dance as performed during marriages, funerals and festivals) and finally the damage caused by the immersion process -- should strike a rational community as woefully deviant, if only we pause to think.  One is certainly not against the festival or celebrations but is sad as to how things are done.  Nobody should be surprised if even the Gods are complaining actually.

I remember a story I read somewhere.  Three friends of three different religious denominations, who do not know swimming, go out boating.  In the middle of the lake, the boat suddenly springs a huge leak and begins to take water in.  Everybody prays to his personal God.  Two guys, whose Gods arrive promptly, are saved forthwith from drowning and taken ashore.  The third one, predictably a Hindu, seeks the help of Ganesha.  Lo and behold, Ganesha arrives and begins dancing to some blaring music, on the water around the sinking boat, much to the consternation of the devotee.  When the frightened man questions Ganesha as to why He is not playing the saviour, Ganesha merely says `I am just doing what you people do to me every year'!! The story was not taken to conclusion, but being Ganesha, I am sure He did not let the devotee be `immersed' painfully slowly.

Yes, this author can empathize with Ganesha and fully understand His sentiments. Hopefully people would not wait till He decides to show his anger in some form!