Friday, April 23, 2021

Taking Flight Again

The title is reminiscent of an incapacitated, stricken bird trying to fly again.  Desperately.  But I am talking about my dear wife and I boarding a plane almost after 16 months, during which time we had all developed a morbid fear of getting into a flight due to the raging pestilence.  While we, like hordes of others, were immobilised by overwhelming paranoia, we did notice that many others were indeed flying around as if things were very normal - be it for work or a vacation.  When we spoke to such people and wondered why they were being reckless, they looked at us in a very leering and mocking way to convey their contempt for lily-livered folks like us, for just being cautious.  Just before the breakout of this Covid 2 menace, we decided to loosen up a bit and take a flight ourselves, even though our mindset was that of one negotiating a minefield.

Seemingly the precautions being taken by the airlines were thorough and impressive.  But as usual they turned out to be only on paper, literally so.  While booking tickets, we are made aware of the need for a E-pass for travel, to be printed and kept ready for verification while checking-in.  Same was the case with a self declaration about flier's current relationship with Covid - to confirm that he or she does not suffer from the virus.  We were even advised to register the plate number and name + phone number of the driver of the vehicle we would use to get away from the destination airport.  Very pleased with the strict monitoring being done, we got everything ready and submitted the papers along with the single sheet boarding pass usually handed in.  Got a rude shock when the airline representative almost threw all the papers out, taking only the boarding pass.  She sweetly smiled and said she did not need anything else, since they were not asked to check them. For that matter, even at the destination airport nobody would have bothered even if one was carried out on a stretcher with a couple of oxygen cylinders attached to the nostrils.  So lax was everything, we just breezed into the outside world and our car without a soul asking us for any shred of document to verify anything.

The check-in line, as usual, had the normal bunch of eager beavers, jostling because there was not enough space for social distancing - three sets of passengers standing in a 6-foot line. I guess the airline staff were jut focusing on the 6-foot-rule without worrying about how many people were being packed into that space. People were pretending to be aware of the requirement but simultaneously trying to push their way through check-in quickly.  The chap directing people was very peeved when I refused to move closer to the counter, to stand two feet behind the previous passenger.  He probably found my conduct extremely inimical to the interests of the airline and passengers.  Some people behind us in the line were also expressing their discontent with my fussy behaviour in a well orchestrated chorus of murmurs. The security area was a better controlled because it was less crowded and the police khaki was omnipresent. 

All the seats in the waiting areas near the boarding gates were fully occupied, without any concern for social distancing and we realised that this was just a trailer for the seating inside the plane.  In the South Indian restaurant fliers were cramming idlis, dosas, assorted vadas etc into their mouths, as if they believed that meal to be the very last one of their lives.  Boarding process was very normal, a congested line waiting on the jetway to get into the plane, people scrupulously avoiding to leave even one foot space between them.  As we entered the plane, we saw the cabin crew clad in PPE gowns and they resembled personnel in a nuclear facility which has recently been decommissioned, but was rumbling to get rough again.  They generally stayed away from the passengers as if every one of us was thoroughly infected, to be best kept at as good a distance as the plane's interiors would permit.  I guess only they were trying to practise social distancing to the extent practical!

During the transfer from the terminal to the plane, somewhere along the line we all got face shields and PPEs for middle seaters.  The quality of the face shields coupled with our own breathing ensured that within a minute, our entire outlook became very hazy and misty.  Almost as if we were airborne with all doors and windows open.  The middle seaters who got the PPEs early, wore them grimly before occupying their seats.  Those who did not think too much about the process, tried to get away by waving the PPEs in the face of the cabin crew, without even opening the package.  When told to wear them, they had to do some acrobatic wriggling at their seats, sitting or standing, to squeeze themselves into the gowns. With space being scarce for a dressing room, some thrashing about wildly was inevitable, guys inadvertently hitting (or may be deliberately) the neighbours on both sides a few times in the bargain.  Some neighbours reacted angrily and the rest of the flight saw simmering tension throughout.  To add further discomfiture to others, the middle seaters invariably had the knack of boarding late, forcing the aisle seaters make way for the moon-walkers in white gowns.  

The cabin crew made the announcements much more rapidly than usual, being in a hurry to move away from the contaminating looks of passengers.  Not even a gulp of water was served.  And the flight itself was over quickly. The crew seemed to smile inside their PPEs for the first time, glad to be free of company.

My dear wife's assessment was that the only differences in a Covid flight were the face shield and white gowns.  And both those features caused more strain to the passengers.  We concluded we desired no more flights for a while.  Safer and more comfortable on the ground. 



Friday, February 26, 2021

Healthy Eating

 A month ago, when I met this recently-retired friend of mine, he had the glow of  ultimate contentment on his face and a genuine `life is good' attitude about him, as he was enthusiastically humming an old film song in his own chaotic tune.  He was clearly transmitting signals of all being well with the world and God was in His heaven - to borrow a line from Browning.  I was very impressed and somewhat nonplussed because this man was perennially subjugated to pulp by a domineering wife, which made any sign of even casual exuberance absolutely unwarranted.  The lady nonchalantly dictated the terms on which their lives should run without ever  including his feelings or requirements as necessary ingredients for the way forward.  She always treated all those peripheral things including the husband himself as unavoidable appendages to her own vision of life.  Whenever her bullying image crosses my mind, with her arms akimbo and a stern glare on her furrowed face, intent on cowing own all opposition, I immediately remind myself I should build a temple for my own dear wife soon!  But, the man, with unbelievably mature and complete wisdom of what was good for him, had fully surrendered and followed the grand dame in all matters like Mary's own little lamb. That was how I found him, in a supremely happy frame of mind, a month ago.

But, when I chanced upon him a couple of days back, there seemed to be something amiss; the happy glow was conspicuously absent; the man was distraught, agitated to the point of getting aggressive in his behaviour, a trait which he was never guilty of earlier. I offered him a cup of his favourite coffee and he reacted with violent horror, as if I was forcing hemlock down his throat.  He continued to flail and look around wildly as if a disagreeable ghost, which was haunting him, had nudged him hard as a reminder of its presence.  After a few minutes of small talk and then some persistent cajoling, to my simple question as to why he was behaving strangely, he just said `health food'.  Some time passed and he nervously emptied all his agony on my coffee table and in summary, his disquiet has been brought about by the recently acquired penchant of his wife's -- an unrelenting obsession with health food of all hues, not only for herself but for him too.  What compounded the matter, he confessed, was the fact that his wife was influenced by myriad opinions on health good, with an abundance of cheap advice and was unable to make up her mind as to the most desired items for consumption.

The first simple problem my friend encountered was that he was unable to consume everything that was shoved in his direction as wholesome food or good for health. It all began with a glass of warm water with honey and lemon at first, to be taken on empty stomach, which he gladly gulped down, least realising what he was in for.  After a week, the wife received another input about the goodness of chia seeds/flax seeds with water on empty stomach.  Now, this mix cannot be taken technically on empty stomach, which already was sloshing with honey and lemon water.  This logical point was dismissed rudely by the wife who insisted that this second glass of water also went in forthwith in close pursuit.  Now came solids -- a mix of six almonds, six pepper corns and six raisins, soaked overnight in water, to be taken on the same empty stomach, which was already half full with liquids.  Once all these are pushed down the plumbing system, there was sadly no space for any breakfast after that, was the primary complaint of my friend.

The lady had also seen sponsored ads about the goodness of eggs.  She, like a lot of us, was confused about the acceptable number, one or two daily.  In her wisdom, augmented immeasurably by sustained discussions in social media with her friends (one realised that there was a widespread experimentation with guinea pigs of  husbands, by the group), she decided to err on the side of surplus and stuck with two.  All protestations on his hind legs by my friend that eggs (he hated them, he confessed) can cause cholesterol excess, in which area he was already super-rich and was under medication, were swatted away disdainfully. With the appearance of eggs on the menu, all his favourite breakfast items like idli, dosa, upma, vada etc were peremptorily banished without notice or any other consideration, causing immense agony to the true South Indian that my friend is.  To help him wash down the eggs, the wife sweetly made fresh orange juice, sugarless obviously, too sour to some extent.  That being the third or sometimes fourth glass of liquid before 8.30 in the morning, the man was beginning to feel like a barrel of liquid.

To my friend's horror, rice was summarily reduced to twice a week during lunch and that too measured originally in spoons for quantity but grudgingly amended to small bowls after unprecendented domestic warfare broke out on a few occasions. The vacated space was given to soups and salads of all sorts, some meant for horses, my friend felt.  Even the fact that the uncooked salad ended up in food-poisoning of some sort for both of them a couple of times did not deter the lady and she just rode roughshod in her path with extreme zest, having no regard for the whining of our man.  Someone planted the idea in her mind that olive oil was better than home grown oils.  This meant that on the odd occasion when something was shallow fried at home, the end product did not taste as good.  When it was pointed out that she was spending twice the money on olive oil as against sesame oil, she cleverly justified that by saying they were saving enough by not consuming rice daily. 

Coffee was now with skimmed milk and the man, an avid South Indian filter coffee afficianado, was getting increasingly rebellious by the day, just wanted to skin the woman.  The lady's relentless pursuit of her new found objective meant dinner was oats porridge or something lifelessly similar (with skimmed milk, of course) and my friend saw no relief or end to his daily privations, after one long month.  By then, he had not only lost some three kilos but also most of the will to live such an abysmal existence.  The savage woman took all the money off him, to deprive him of any chance of eating any interesting food outside the home.  That was how I found out how health food was aggravating him no end - when he, bleating like a hungry lamb, asked me for some money, just enough to buy vada and sambar plus coffee in a restaurant. 

Why can't the women have all the health food they want and leave the menfolk alone?  Logically everyone would be happier with that kind of arrangement, right? But then, health food or otherwise, the higher objective always seems to be to make the man fall in line with what is judged to be good for him!! Since he cannot think of such things himself.  God help him, poor chap.             

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Nostalgia Afflicted Elders (NAEs)

Nostalgia is good, especially if the person indulging in it is a good raconteur. Many a time, such a gifted and acerbic story-teller can enthrall a group with rib tickling tales from the past, as a part of his nostalgic visits. Nostalgia is a balm too, especially for lonely elders, who physically cannot and do not want to grapple with the complexities of current lives.  My take on nostalgia, especially when pining older people are involved, is that people resort to nostalgia not only because life `then' was nicer and they themselves were happier. But also because they just don't want to adapt to less appealing conditions, which they find unseemly. They have consciously erected this mental block of an aversion to make changes in their own attitude towards daily life and cope with simple but new demands.  While everyone is entitled to a bit of nostalgia now and then, if people tend to take refuge in it and make it a permanent nest, it only means they would like to ignore reality and live elsewhere, in a space they were comfortable, long back.  What such people fail to comprehend is that there is a definite limit to the quantum of their nostalgia others can digest. 

Some elders have this compulsive habit of recollecting bits of their own lives about four/five decades ago, given any excuse or opening; this has youngsters around them invariably scurrying to all available exit routes.  They disperse like marathon runners when the gunshot is heard - only that they scoot in any direction they can find, with the sole intention of avoiding the elder chewing his cud.  Even grandchildren tend to make faces when an old man begins `You know, in our school days.....' and try to decamp.  While this kind of recollections are eminently suitable for peer sessions in which all participants are known to each other and they share knowledge of the subject matter, they invariably repel other audiences.

Nostalgia Afflicted Elders (NAEs) have this tendency to screw up their noses at many things contemporary, including current movies.  They would rather be watching some 1950s movie, where people stood rooted to one place and delivered long dialogues (actually monologues mostly); that is, when they get tired of singing a few songs at a stretch. Five minutes into the new movie on Netflix which the family sits down to watch together, the NAE would make appropriate noises and detach himself from the group rapidly and recede into nostalgia.  Later on he would be kind enough to explain that he found the goings on in the movie too fast, too bizarre (he is probably right, I have no beef with this) and it was all beyond his comprehension.  Truth is, the movie was not as slow as the old ones he likes, in which you could miss twenty minutes completely and come back to find that the two characters have just moved sideways about one inch each, while incessantly talking.  Even if you take an NAE to a movie in a multiplex, chances are bright that fifteen minutes into the movie, you would receive some input like `you see, in our days we had only touring talkies and they were so much more enjoyable' as a preface before he passionately launches into the merits of old cinema halls, preventing others from enjoying the experience. 

If you take an avid NAE to a restaurant, even one which serves all-time favourites which they too enjoy, as soon as a plate of idli and vadai makes its appearance on the table, the nostalgia bomb which had started ticking minutes ago goes `boom'.  There will be a painful comparison of the idli and vadai - shape, size, colour, softness and other attributes - to those served in some restaurant which had ceased to exist some five decades back.  There will be critical comments about the service, extolling the virtues of the server in that old restaurant which had passed into oblivion.  Of course, prices of the dishes would be a constant issue on all such occasions, as if inflation is something irrelevant to life and should be totally ignored to keep prices frozen. Wonder if all NAEs would have accepted salaries paid to people in 1960s, even at their prime or before their retirement in 1990s or 2000s.

Once a friend, who had bought a new BMW too his visiting uncle for a ride. To the mortification of the friend who just wanted to give the old man some good time and also show off a bit, the NAE got hit with a serious bout of nostalgia, as soon as he settled in his seat.  He looked at the all the dials, panels and gadgets inside the car and his sensibility rebelled immediately, preventing him from even understanding what is what.  He promptly declared that in his days, life was very simple with only Ambassador and Premier Padmini as the cars available.  You selected one or the other, if you wanted a car and that was uncomplicated.  Nowadays, he lamented, there are fifty cars to select from; as if wider choice of cars is a negative factor.  He just ignored the quality of the cars and the technological improvements that have been brought in.  I thought this NAE was a classic example of someone who cannot come abreast of developments at least to the extent necessary.

Such an NAE is most likely to say, with an air of dismissiveness (a) Vijay Manjrekar's cover drive was more delightful to watch (when Virat Kholi has just done a majestic cover drive on TV); (b) Rod Laver had a fluidity in his strokes that is unmatched (looking at Roger Federer moving around the court and demonstrating his artistry with the tennis racquet); (c) Ashwin or Nathan Lyon cannot hold a candle to the off spinning abilities of Jim Laker.  No doubt all those worthies from the past were brilliant performers in their own right and people have every right to recall their greatness.  But, the problem lies in the fact that the NAE would just not recognize the virtues of contemporary sportsmen or life in general. That is the nub.

Don't get me wrong.  Nostalgia is good as a release valve and works like one of the restoratives Jeeves makes for Wooster, so long as the time and context is right.  But for anyone, nostalgia cannot become life.  Surely, there are plenty of old people, who enjoy contemporary life as much as their nostalgic recollections and that is probably a much better state to be in. 

When my dear wife finished reading this, with a sarcastic smile she told me `let me look out for the next time when you start ruminating about your school days in Tuticorin',  Touche!!


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Labour Of Love

 As a writer, I must confess that I have reached a stage where finding a topic to write on has become a pain, a nightmare.  Having been at it for over 10 years, with nearly 150 blog posts in that period, the landscape seems to have turned sterile in terms of subject matter.  And then, I have very clear expectations from readers that serious writing is taboo - everybody and his uncle is doing just that.  Multiple subjects which are topical today deselect themselves for one reason or the other - like Farmers' Protest (nothing to be joking about, even though it has the looks of a horror comedy); Covid (has been rehashed so much that one is more afraid of reading anything about Covid than Covid itself); Congress (the party is so good at making a mockery of itself, there is no scope left for others to compete); Indian Cricket team (I abhor the idea of writing about something on which there are billion experts shredding the subject to bits daily).  Choosing a subject has always been a challenge, but earlier that task has never left me feeling like a moron , who cannot see ten feet around him. These days I spend more time raking my brains - whatever is left of that - about what to write than actually writing the blog once the title is nailed.  

I wonder if this inability to latch on to something as a topic has something to do with the serious matter of ageing,  with the faculties not taking cognizance of readily available opportunities.  But, actually I have known some extraordinarily acidic, decrepit individuals become sharper and better entertainers with their trenchant cynicism and no-holds-barred assaults on anything within sight.  Such people become so wonderfully unpredictable that they could turn on their best friends without provocation and reduce them to tears with their barbs.  Such oldies never pause to scan the horizon for any subject, they just thrive on whatever comes into focus.  Should one take a leaf out of such specimens and move like a bulldozer to overcome the perceived paucity of topics??  But unlike such cynics who are beyond the pale in most respects, I need friends and goodwill, so cannot just ride roughshod over my immediate periphery without worrying about consequences.  Not yet.  Anyway, my dear wife demurs that the current struggle of mine has anything to do with age because if she agrees that would mean she is ageing too.

If the subject and the treatment are not light hearted and breezy some readers are disappointed, with good reason.  There is a multitude of writers who take upon themselves the role of gurus, to advise the world  how to behave, chastising people for all types of errors of omission and commission.  `Why do you want to join that horde' is the question they pose to me and I have no intention of wandering there because pontificating is not for me.  So, even if it is an inviting subject laden with potent possibilities, unless one can treat it with humour, distilling any sign of seriousness out, it seems to fall outside my assigned domain and I eschew them automatically.  Thus the pool of topics available to me is further shrunk.

I had to be abreast of times, perforce look at my supply side carefully and add WhatsApp to my channels, bowing to demands from a set of readers.  This, I erroneously presumed, is an one time effort and it seemed so at first.  But, as we went along, requests started coming, saying `I don't like WhatsApp, so send by email' or `I forward your blogs to other friends and this is easier done on WhatsApp, so send me the blogposts both by email and WhatsApp',   This process involved some chipping and chopping until it settled to everyone's satisfaction.  Thus the maintenance activity on the delivery channels has become an added dimension of work.  Am waiting for someone to ask blogposts to be delivered by SMS or by courier - there are people with all kinds of preferences supported by their own sound logic, right?

During Covid, any logical person would conclude readership of anything reasonable will increase, due to the perception that people have additional time on hand at home.  I thought so about my blogposts too, but surprisingly, it looks like somewhat fewer people seem to be reading the blogs.  Is it possible that with WFH and a lot more time at their disposal, people have started reading other things they have identified recently and are ignoring old pests like me??  Or is it because people are so peeved with the distressing state of affairs, they don't want to read anything at all and just want to sulk??  Or there are other, more enjoyable activities to engage in, like spending time with kids, grandkids, so reading a blogpost is not priority? Hard to tell from my end.  Is it likely that because of Covid many more writers have sprouted, for want of any other work, with diverse subjects and styles and readers' time is distributed among all of them?

One activity that has increased with the blog is readers providing feedback to the blogs. This is a conundrum I would like to sit and untangle -  fewer readers but more feedback; I am trying to link this also to Covid, but logically am not able to.

I am glad I made a topic of this and got one more blogpost out.  Now I will start squeezing my brain for the next topic for the blog.  All said and done, for me it is a labour of love and I will have to find something to write on.  I guess I will.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Dog's Tail

 One oft-repeated statement of despair family members have heard from our father during childhood days (we will refrain from  getting into the circumstances which prompted that) was that `a dog's tail can never be straightened'.  Obviously his angst came out in that form when the same stupid error was committed by some errant individual. He used to elucidate for the uninitiated that so long as a small stone is tied to any dog's tail, that part will stay politely down and the moment the stone is removed, the tail will resume status-quo-ante.  Now, in the context of the current pandemic, his desperation-driven judgement appears to be justified and magnified, reminding us of dog's tail at every turn in daily life when people are involved in numbers. 

On simple analysis, one can see that extensive violations of edicts occur because of (a) sheer lack of space for a family to spend a whole day cooped up together (b) the absence of avenues of pastime in a rather constricted atmosphere and  (c) absolute impudence of pachyderm-like citizens who just do not care and want to callously execute their will regardless of the outcome staring us in the face.  The best specimen in this last category is the eminently-gone, but mule-headed former president of USA.  Come to think of it, there can be no better example of a dog's tail than this individual.  Actually it may be even more difficult to attach a stone to this defiant tail.

We do not have to venture too far to get evidence of the reckless, dog's-tail crowd behaviour.  Photos/videos in newspapers/TV news, of people shopping for festivals with gay abandon, would make us wonder if the somewhat careful among us are living in some bizarre world. While one section of the people ultra-carefully step out when the crowd is the least on the roads and in shops and only if unavoidable, others are seen milling around in narrow bazaars as if there is no tomorrow.  There is no way any authority can monitor or control such wildness on such humongous scale and even jail cells would not have adequate space even if incarceration is the punishment for not wearing a mask or not maintaining social distancing.  These perverse violators are perfectly aware of that and tend to use that knowledge `effectively' to some advantage - god knows what; hence the insolent disregard for all controls laid down with good intent . 

But what is baffling is that such deliberate disregard of norms to indulge in recklessly negligent behaviour would primarily affect the same set of people.  And they are the ones who can ill afford to get into a mess health-wise. Financially too, because with a single line decree, the government can decide that there should be a curfew for the next month, stopping all commercial activities and means of livelihood. 

The government is also concerned about votes, so they are more interested in making noises and rules like even a family of four cannot travel in their own car together; or that even a single driver/passenger in a car should be wearing mask and maintain social distancing from himself/herself!! 

So, when both the power-wielders and majority of the subjects prefer chaotic rule, we have a classic case of multitudes of dog's tails!!

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Where All The Deeds Are Done

My dear wife and I have been to quite a few of these offices in various cities. So, it is not as if we get surprised by what we find.  For government offices, these are pretty clean without any sign of ageing files and musty, dusty documents piled up to the rafters; and they are efficient in their own way.  With well-kept floors and decent, if not five-star working areas.That is thanks to the digitization that has prevailed for a decade or more, despite strident efforts by vested interests.  The old bandicoots would have preferred to stay with loads of paper which were shoved into bottomless, black holes, never to be retrieved in future, even when needed. That was yet another convenient avenue, the ubiquitous missing document, to make some more money on the side from the suckers that the suffering public has become!!

Notwithstanding prior visits, my dear wife nose is instinctively screwed askew, as if it is a defence mechanism against some anticipated offensive odour, even though there isn't any.  She says that it is something to do with the unctuous ambience of the place.  She is on the coin, with that adjective, 'unctuous' it is.  One feels the lurking presence of some unseen grease and oil and the consequent imaginary, accompanying smell that seems to be pervasive.  But these are all just palpable manifestations of the way transactions are put through in that slippery place -- the Registrar's or Sub-Registrar's office where all deeds are registered.

Recently a friend narrated the story of his tribulations at the aforementioned venerable office, where he had gone to register his newly established charitable trust.  This low grade transaction, simply because the stamp duty was pittance and the revenue potential was not significant enough to merit attention, took much longer than a property registration transaction, which involved crores and hefty stamp duty.  Obviously, higher the value of the deal, greater the grease money that oiled the process!!  On top of that, this `do-it-yourself ' specialist of a friend, intent to avoid paying any grease money, went without an agent bravely to negotiate the murky corridors of that office.  That was a double whammy and he had an excruciating time, jumping through umpteen hoops before a seemingly innocuous deviation in one document put paid to his heroic efforts.  Such `unprofitable' transactions are assigned the lowest priority and get queued for the last hour of the day despite the friend vehemently protesting while standing on his hind-legs. Only to be brutally rejected for the flimsiest of excuses in the climax. That he returned another day, with the same documents and an agent spearheading the deal and got the job done in half an hour is a testimony as well as tribute to the power of the grease money that flowed through the intermediary and made all the difference.  

If one goes agent-less for a registration, the first contact person in the office earnestly does all the counselling and hand-holding until one is handed over to one of the `recognized' agents in-house.  This facilitator of an agent not only examines your paper-work and fixes a comma here and a date there but also acts as a faithful conduit to the 'authorized' collector for the speed money you shell out.  This collector invariably happens to be the trustworthy henchman of the office chief and is strategically located off-site, just in case there is a raid in the office to check corruption!! He is never in the same location for more than two hours at a time and follows a strict Standard Operating Procedure.  He does not entertain anyone except known and `authorized' agents, to avoid any likely trap sadistically set by unknown individuals.  This agent-collector-office staff nexus is so powerful and efficient that it could be a Harvard case study for Super Efficient Government Offices.  If you hallucinate about the prospects of getting the job done without speed money and an agent, you should be resigned to suffering the same fate as the previously referenced friend.  Once you are identified as an agent-less orphan, while the entire staff politely smiles at you and nicely tells you to just wait, you clearly realise you are getting the short shrift.  The results generally indicate this.

The agent is very useful because he has the magic key which gives him access to all the rooms and staff members, which/who are so out of reach for you as an individual.  He is helpful in moving the papers from one stage to the next as quickly as possible and there are about eight such stages to go through. Some desks require your presence along with the agent, for showing your mug or affixing your signature; but some stages are entirely managed by the agent, without you being any wiser for what is transpiring.  Actually, your file may just be lying on one of the desks, to give you the impression that the process is that much more convoluted than you think.  This serves two purposes - ensures that you never again venture into such an exercise without an agent; it also gives you full satisfaction and value for the cash stripped off you.  In between the agent will hustle in and out few times, waving some paper vaguely in your face and this induces in your mind a illusory feeling of progress -- it may not be your file at all, for all you know. 

The real test for you begins only when you reach the penultimate stage when you are asked to sign a few hundred times and if you do not have an agent as an accomplice, you are, ab initio, presumed to be an impersonator. Until you prove them wrong with your signature absolutely matching the evidentiary document you carry.  If there is a discrepancy, you are bluntly told the deal is a no-go, you should scoot and get the signature right. But as in all matters bureaucratic, there is always an exit route -- you should just get an agent and pay the grease money. The same signature is good as gold and works like a charm. The staff actually admire you for signing so like the original, so consistently hundreds of times!! We actually saw someone whose right hand was in a sling and he was condescendingly asked to sign with the left hand and the same got accepted with appreciative nods and a bland explanation `we are seeing you in person, so this is okay'.

You start feverishly signing wherever the agent puts his index finger, sometimes on it if he does not nimbly withdraw in time.  Obviously the signature varies a lot by the time you reach the last page of the deed because you have been labouring for some time. The agent and the assigned staff member look at each other and then at you, as if you are on a ventilator struggling to breath and they have no hope. They tut-tut or ch-ch-ch according their individual preference, to indicate their displeasure.  If the deviation is more than minor, the grease money component goes up by a bit once more.  Remember, this charge is nothing but a compounding penalty for all the minor or major holes that can be punched in the entire transaction process and keeps building up from a determined base amount, all through the 3-4 hours you spend in that office.  The increase in the charge from the base is directly proportional to  all the stupid mistakes you make out of tiredness, frustration or indifference.

The final authority, the regal presence so to say, of this place is the Registrar or sub-registrar and he makes it abundantly clear that he is above all and everything, by sitting on a platform; the purpose of that edifice is not otherwise clear. May be to let him view the assemblage with eagle eyes from a vantage point? Or just to ensure that his own staff does not indulge in any hanky-panky, of course, other than what is duly authorised by him as part of SOP.  This is usually a very reticent individual, who counts the words he utters, as of he does not want to waste his edicts on common men. He invariably conducts all his interactions with the supplicants through his minions or the agent, seldom directly. Only in the final stages of the actual registration, this Supreme Leader deigns to mumble a couple of questions to the parties to the transaction.  His whole demeanour betrays a sullen distrust in the legitimacy of the seller to own the property in question or of the right of the buyer to possess the funds required for the purchase.  He seems only to be willing to condone all such shenanigans because philosophically he is above all such issues.

Then you go get your mug shot for a historical record the transaction.  A bunch of people involved in other transactions are always milling around you and the person handling the camera.  If she and you are not careful, the photo might emerge as having two heads or three faces, so it pays to be acutely aware of your position and who is around.  The camera is usually at an angle which makes you look up and the photo comes out as if you are beseeching the heavens for mercy and a swift end to this sordid affair.

The finale involves you scurrying out of that hole as if somebody has lit a live cracker on  your tail.  But you cannot get too far because the agent stops you at a discreet distance away from the pell-mell and collects his fees plus the grease/speed money.  And you are told the transaction is over. You are indeed glad it is.  My wife definitely was and said she regretted owning any property in her name.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Working From Home (WFH)

If some widespread pestilence had compelled me to work from home 25 years ago for a long duration, how would I have reacted?  With immense happiness, no doubt; for one single, stupid reason. Simply because all those absolutely redundant and most unproductive conference calls would have vapourised. Those where one logged in with a sickening feeling,  could say one's name to mark presence pretty much like a kid does in the class room and then hit the `mute' button forthwith.  Only to un-mute it after an hour, without any guilty feeling of deprivation of knowledge.  Actually, there was an even chance that one would have unwittingly avoided some impairment of knowledge because one meticulously shunned the proceedings. This benefit usually accrues if certain types of people participated in the call and they invariably did. And all those no-content, all-trash short meetings that surfaced every hour in the office would have vanished as well.  

Surprisingly many people whom I interviewed for this piece this week, expressed similar sentiments about the plethora of meetings, conference calls etc which prove to be routine impediments to a productive day at work.  Nothing seems to have changed for the better despite the passage of time.  Someone even told me that a few managers today keep the phone engaged for up to an hour at a stretch, just to get relief from annoying,  unscheduled conference calls.  It is another matter that Zoom and Skype have evolved to deny people a similar escape route.  Perforce you have to make an appearance with a serious, thoughtful face on the screen and are obliged to pretend to listen to a truck load of bunkum, because you can be seen and are subject to scrutiny.

Come to think of it, WFH has been in vogue for many jobs and households are used to this for many years.  With all those professions where the primary work is in the field or duties involved working the phone or computer all the time and the practitioner goes to an office for a few hours once a week to file some reports, show the face to the boss and convince he is alive, therefore deserves the next pay cheque.  Such households are probably silently smirking about the new WFH regime, wondering what the heck is new about all this. Women in such homes are probably the best candidates to mentor and provide psychological succour to all those clueless and harassed wives of today, who find themselves suddenly married to their husbands' jobs also besides their husbands, full time at home.  As my dear wife says, such wives deserve all the empathy because not only have they lost their freedom to air themselves a bit for shopping, pow-wow with friends and kitty parties, but are also coerced to baby-sit the husbands apart from real kids.  Multiple jeopardy, at one go!!  House work increases manifold because everyone is at home with heartless and hefty demands while women folk lose whatever little leeway they had.  

Many respondents clearly preferred the current blissful state of affairs, WFH.  No commute (big relief in almost all the cities), they said and lot more productive days because there are no disruptive meetings (mercifully, nobody to meet), no frequent chai-coffee breaks (one has to make one's own coffee or tea at home, so carefully avoided), no chit-chats and gossip (wives seldom entertain such trash).  Even other folks at home tend to carefully side-step those who are staring into their computers all day with severely screwed up visages and have massive, forbidding head-phones attached in order to keep intruders away. Of course, it is entirely possible that the husbands are watching You-Tube clips or even a TV show, but then why fiddle with something if that can be left well alone for the common good?  Other advantages are, there is no need to waste time in grooming yourself much, no pressure to dress up for office.  Unkempt looks are fashionable now and also convey the message that you are working so hard from home, you do not have time for routine chores. 

There are some problems, of course.  Not everyone is equipped to handle work from home.  Space, presence of too many suffering and therefore, volatile family members, inappropriate home location etc become irritants and issues, which prevent a good day's work being executed. The WFH candidate ends up ruffling too many feathers, with major long term consequences.  Some managers find it tiresome to co-ordinate meetings (one should assume they are the unavoidable and useful ones, otherwise why would you go seeking a meeting?) with all the constraints, real and imaginary, of the participants.  A few people believe there is always the risk of getting immersed in work and losing track of time, thereby work-time encroaching family-time. This is disastrous on a normal day, but with the wife already bristling under pressure due to WFH, such an outcome is not in the interests of the well-being of the home-worker.  

Then there are the others who would not do WFH for a day more than dictated by the current stifling circumstances. They miss the workplace magic, the buzz in the ambience, the constant interaction with colleagues, the lunches and coffees with buddies etc. The extra perks that landed on their tables, like commute by Uber, dinners if you work beyond 8 pm and the like are powerful incentives to be at the work place, especially if you are a solitary reaper and no-one is waiting for you at home. For many such people, this working-inside-a-vacuum feeling is not very appetising. 

A technology wizard rightly points out the serious danger of home wi-fi networks being vulnerable to malware which can infect the corporate networks; and, privacy of customer data can also be compromised in an unsupervised WFH environment. How far can companies go to keep an eye on the employee working from home or monitor him otherwise without the rest of the household going up in arms against what they would see as terrible intrusion into their homes? 

In the midst of all this, I happen to stumble upon one curious case of an individual who was doing the reverse of WFH.  She was cooking and sleeping in the office.  Nothing to do with Covid.  Her apartment was involved in a fire accident and she had to temporarily switch to some temporary residence to continue living.  The organization was good enough to accommodate her needs and she was a Living At Work specimen for a few months.  So, I realised that occasionally it works both ways.  But imagine some hundred employees asking for accommodation and food at the office simultaneously for legitimate reasons.  

As usual, the bottom line is if people working from home are going to be compensated for all the additional expenses they incur as well as the hardships they impose on the other family members in this process.  A few companies have already commenced sending some moolah their way, but I am not sure that practice is going to be universal.  If the money is good and people are happy, would companies start getting out of rentals and sell their furniture and equipment to settle for WFH permanently?? Moot point, as my dear wife decrees and no further debate on that, since she usually tends to be right.