Sep 10, 2012

The Lady's Personal Lady

Its been more than a year since I last recollected my ramblings together. The reason I'd like to scapegoat for the dormancy is the rather insipid weather around the year at Delhi, that caused my grey cells to mature a trifle too fast, rendering me what common-sensical people would commonly call  'worldly wise'! A characteristic consequence of the afore-mentioned attribute is a distinct lack of inspiration in worldly affairs! Maybe I had a blogger's block! Or simply stated, maybe I was busy (read as lazy)! Whatever deadlock it was, the semaphore that resuscitated me was the Indian house maid, an Indian lady's personal lady! (The astute ready most assuredly would know where I pinched that phrase from, it's good old Wodehouse!) 

The average Indian lady (working or otherwise) rarely manages the household without a maid. Some ladies are loosely dependent on them, requiring them just for 'trivia' like the sporadic sweep or the 'pocha'! Some have more intricate needs like coloring the lady's hair or playing the masseuse to relieve a hamstring. I know a few 'career-oriented' women who believe that "behind every successful woman, there are atleast three maids - one to cook, one to wash and another to babysit". In any case,a maid is an indispensable unit of every Indian home. And even if it is a less-homely home of bachelory lifestyle, a maid is required  to 'dry the clothes and do the dishes'! There are also a few Indian homes where the maid is next to kinsfolk, having served the home earnestly for a generation.

In many ways, the Indian maid is congruent to the English governess! She has her own demands materialistic or matriarchal, she is notoriously popular for what she does or what she does not, and she does not step outside her comfort zone of jurisdiction. The average Indian maid is also known to be quite picky and ephemeral  about her employers. After all, India is supposedly riding on its wave of economic torrent. There are opportunities for everyone alike, democratically speaking! As with any well-run organization, the household should make sure they have a contingency plan in place to manage the attrition! Not to mention, there are quite a few consultancy agencies that body-shop women from rural backgrounds to be employed in the capacity of house-maids for metropolitan ladies who suffer from medical conditions of depression (or stress)  because their maid vanished into thin air without a proper notice!

More often than not, the delineation between the employer (the lady) and the employed (the maid) becomes fuzzy with time. Demands on what domiciliary items should be bought and brought into the home, the menu for the evening, the spices and condiments for the food are points of contention between the lady and her personal lady routinely. And unless the lady of the house has a magic whip in her hand constantly, the delicate balance of power is likely to shift in the maid's favor. It really depends on the personalities of the duo to say if that is a favorable situation. It might have been all right in case of the Bertie Wooster-Jeeves duo, but as they say, women are simply complicated!

In conclusion, every home needs a maid, like it or not, and every maid needs to be handled with caution and care. She is after all a lady!

Oct 28, 2011

Meenakshi Pattinam

For all those who didn't know and were not astute enough to guess, I grew up in the 'Temple City' of Madurai. Raised amidst the temples in the temples city, I once believed that there is no world outside this city and its Gods (and its eternally reigning Goddess). That was when I had barely seen ten winters (For the astute reader: this is a Classical English style of declaring your age, notwithstanding the fact that Madurai does not have a marked winter). As I continued to see more winters, I could not help but accrue a different set of perceptions about the place. Honestly, the city (or pattinam as it is called in Tamil) did not morph much, but I metamorphosed.

If you pick a few random Maduraites who live or live not in Madurai now, (but have spent atleast a couple of years in the place in a bygone era) and inquire for any three spotlights of the city,  and compute the statistical modes of the answers, you are likely to get - Meenakshi Amman temple, Malligai (Jasmine flowers - All women in Madurai love flowers), Azhagar Aathu thiruvizha (the festival where Lord Kazhagar (a form of Lord Vishnu) is brought from a neigboring village to witness the celestial wedding of his sister, Goddess Meenakshi, a day late on purpose, and consequently immersed into the Madurai river in disappointment and despair).  If it is not evident, Madurai is replete with Pandyan history  and the 'thiruvilaiyadal' (Roughly translated as the celestial games played by the Gods) of Lord Shiva. The movie Thiruvilaiyadal has not left much to imagination.

If you ask me to pick "my spotlights" of the city, I would simply refuse, for the city and what it offers is too close to my heart to be partisan to a select few. The city is associated with childhood innocence (read as ignorance), a largely uncomplicated life, exam-fearing school days, petty girlie squabbles with girls and tomboyish battles with the boys, mom's vengaya sambar, the continual common colds, family doctor visits, the Vaigai super-fast(?) train,  town buses like 73A, manned tea-stalls, fresh milk and vegetables, and .... As the astute reader can guess, the list is pretty much bottomless. The top of the list is however - Meenakshi Amman and Her marvelous abode. It is said that every question about life , Universe and everything gets answered in a quiet few minutes inside her praharam.

Life in a city like Madurai is blissful as long as one stays put in the same place - probably a state of unconscious bliss. When one steps out to see the larger world outside, the pedestal of expectations, anticipations augments and eventually despondency ensues - a state of conscious perturbation?. It is also likely that one might fall out of love with their roots in a quest to branch out to the sky.  Seldom does one realize that one can attain a soulfully successful state, one should stay in frequent touch (at the least) with one's homeground. Visiting the place I grew up in after some stints of the "outside world", was what I would call a "religious experience" in the true sense of the word. I beheld Meenakshi amman with a new sense of wisdom, held the people of Madurai closer to my heart and appreciated the purer air and fresher vegetables, better.

The "outside world" makes one expand horizontally, face brittler rocks, and surge ahead materialistically while I believe that one's homeground makes  one grow deeper within onself. I had many an emotional moment when I was visiting the  school where I first learned the alphabet, the  house where I spent my innocuous years or the  Pillayar temple at the corner of the road which I used to frequent. That the old school bus drivers could recognize me even after a two decades and enquire my wellbeing with the same childlike enthusiasm, made me humbler. I had a newfound respect for the "outside world" which I believe made me endorse my roots more.

 As I strode across the Meenakshi amman temple corridor, reflecting on many little somethings that I had demanded from Her then and the few big nothings that I pray from Her now, it occurred to me that I had aged across the years, but not the Goddess, nor the city.

"Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety"

How true!

Sep 13, 2011

A Passage to China..

As the astute reader of this blog would astutely guess, this blog is not replete with travelogues. Not that I don't get to travel, but I was afraid I would not be able to provide a comprehensive recount of the details of all things under the sun (things-to-do, things-to-eat, things-to-see, things-to-travel-by). However a recent trip to this mystic land (China) incited me to narrate my emoted experiences during my journey into this another part of the Orient.Another reason why I decided to key down my experiences is that I realized that China, in spite being an immediate neighbor of India is not as frequently frequented by Indians as the North America or Europe is. We must afterall 'love, atleast check-out thy neighbor' before falling in love with a stranger.

As a kid, I had conjured up a few things about China in my mind's eye - yellow skinned thin-waisted ladies with thinning eyelids wearing long highly intricate silk dresses and sporting a nice hand-fan, a very difficult-to-decipher, but easy-to-recognize script, some very different names, the Great Wall, the martial arts, Communism, statistics like the largest population in the world, some rank for the biggest area in the world, cute looking kids and good athletes. As I grew up, I also had a privilege of working with some Chinese folks as well. But what really expanded my knowledge about this Oriental  land was my  marriage to  my dear husband, who had spent a good couple of years in China, managed to stay vegetarian, shape up a better character and fall in love with the Chinese people. When he was traveling to his first-visited-country again, it was pre-destined that I join him for a  vacation. 

As I was preparing to travel, I've to admit that I had slight apprehensions about the language and the availability of vegetarian food. But the urge to see another man-made wonder of the world and more generally a country as ancient as my motherland is, took over, as I boarded the flight to Beijing. The flight journey was unfortunately uneventful (it wasn't a long flight from Delhi to Beijing), save a lone incident, when I chose to have the Chinese tea for a drink, instead of  the American coffee or the Indian masala chai (having been inspired by the green-tea-fads in India and having been fascinated by the tea-tasting culture in China). The air-host gave me a second look, before she gave me a yellow liquid which I could not ingest beyond a sip, inspite of self-assurances about its anti-oxidant benefits. It dawned upon me later that the Chinese drink the Chinese tea (with a lot of herbs) sans sugar and sans milk, instead of plain water to hydrate themselves. And that was one of the first secrets of their good health and youth !

As I landed in China and boarded the Airport express to reach my hotel,  I tried to reconfirm my route (and stops) with the local Chinese co-passengers (inspite of detailed instructions from my husband, lest I meander  along a different tributary). It seemed to me that the Chinese had difficulty in 'parsing' English, as my Japanese friend would often phrase, and yet when any of them is approached with a query, one can be rest assured that it is answered either in parts of English or through more direct means of communication like hand-gestures and smiles. If needed, people flocked together to help each other to help us out. The Chinese are a benevolent kind of people , and could cross over the language barrier to go the extra mile to make their guests feel at home. It was only when we flipped through a book of Beginner's Chinese, that we realized that the Chinese language, pictographic that it is, does not have a direct correspondence with the alphabet. It is a more effective communicating medium, and that the Chinese people are constantly decoding and encoding while cross-communicating in another alphabet based language like English. Take a bow, people!

The best part of the China trip was the looks of admiration that we gathered as we tread along the streets. I was truly glorified when a woman sitting next to me in a local train complimented me with a perfect smile "You're so beautiful" :) and this was when I had just landed from a nocturnal flight and had managed to drag myself and my luggage into a coach. I had a inimitable emotion that I was being appreciated for what I was, not for what I wore or how made up I was. A lot of young girls wanted to take pictures with us, that was when the girls tried to cling on to my husband to get a picture of a lifetime and I was also invited to the party, as a gesture of true good-will.  I didn't mind a bit, the Chinese were making us feel like ourselves (superstars that we are :) ). 

No trip to China is complete without a visit to the Great Wall. There are a few places in the world that leave you admiring, a few places that leave you gasping, but there are only very few places that take your breath away. The Great Wall is one of them. It seemed to me like the Wall was a bit like Lord Shiva - there didn't seem to be a beginning or an end to the Wall (these cannot be found in a day, apparently). The Wall is a testimony to the fact that the Chinese used a simple, yet persevering and resilient technique to defend their homeland, so much like them. What make the Wall even more attractive are  the scintillating mountain ranges and fresh-breaths of pure air that one gets to inhale while on a trek across the Wall.  The writing is clear on the Wall - It is a man-made master-piece cutting through some  majestic mountains masterly crafted by Nature.

A few other nice things in China -  I learnt to sharpen my  bargaining skills (not that I had any while in India) in the Chinese markets (Silk market, Pearl Market in Beijing). We were also treated to a gracious vegetarian dinner in an ancient Chinese restaurant by my husband's  colleagues. And we loved the Chinese kids (not to mention, the beautiful ladies), bubbly, blemishlessly skinned, ever smiling and hanging around with their grandparents. It was good to see another country that preserved the grandparent-parent-child tradition.The ancient Chinese temples, dress, food and culture were all enthralling to us. It was also heart-warming to realize that we did share some of the culture - like Buddha, the prince-saint from India who had spread the the spiritual knowledge amongst the vast Chinese and Indian population alike.

So my dear Chinese brethren, this post is dedicated to you all. Thanks for being truly yourselves! 

Jul 18, 2011

A Train to India

         I was born in an Independent India, so the astute reader can decipher that I am not too old. I was born in an India whose economy was still Nehruvian. Now, my dear astute reader can  deduce that I am neither too young. I was born in an India when Indian Airlines was the only airline operator covering the "major cities" of this country and when the Indian Railways covered the length and breadth of this land through one of the largest rail networks of the world. Now, a couple of decades later, Indian Airlines might not be the only airline operator in the country (thankfully), but Indian Railways is statistically the fourth largest rail network in the world, which my dear astute reader, has many implications and explications.

           This post is not about the analyzing the track records of  the politics and economics of the Indian rail, it's more about cherishing a few romantic dates with it. True, the first railroads of the country were laid by the 'developed' rulers, in an attempt to travel  the country in the same blue-blooded comfort that they enjoyed in their motherland. Not unexpectedly, this is one legacy that has been fostered and held high  by every Indian even after the friendly foes departed. Every villager loved the passenger train that passed by the railway 'station' in his remote hamlet, even if it did not care to stop by. Every middle-class Indian knew the 'railway time tables' of all the major 'Express' trains that departed and arrived in their city , truly 'by heart'. Every high-class 'government servant' wanted to travel first-class in a train, just like his saheb putting his LTC allowance to good use. The rail was an integral part of many an Indian's life.

        The railway-crossing (manned or unmanned) in a village was always a rustic Keats sight. Picture this: bullocks and the carts, men and the tricycles, womenfolk with their burden( of all kinds), half-naked kids with their fun-games, all waiting eagerly to steal a glance at the all-powerful passenger train that passes by. If it was in a city, trains seemed to enjoy retrogressive popularity at the crossings.  One can see the impatient busy office-mongers trying to kill time looking at each others' frustrated faces. Some mathematically-inclined ones try to count the number of coaches in the train (especially if it was a goods train and had nothing better to offer than a few mundane-looking coaches). Kids spent their time at the crossings either preparing for some surprise quizzes or making some eleventh-hour attempts to finish a pending homework.

        A lot of India still lives in its villages.If you would like to discover the country, get onto the trains. Get onto the second or third class of a long-distance train, if you want to experience the "real India". You would experience a lot of unpleasant and unethical occupation of your berths or seats, chances are that you  might be pushed out of the  window by a  dirty looking woman and her two "healthy-looking" daughters-in-law. It is also highly likely that you might never want to answer any of nature's calls in your life again , after having taken a bio-break in a loo in the compartment. You might also have to forsake a couple of nights sleep, either because of an uncle in the upper berth who didn't stop snoring or because a few cranky kids who didn't stop crying or because a couple of couples who didn't stop bantering.

          And yet, my astute reader, if you observe, you are completely entertained.  As the train moves across the states, the transition in the languages, the attires of the local population, the complexions of the kids, the manners and demeanor of the people might befuddle you, and yet, everyone ethical gets the same kind of ticket to board the specific class in the train. Isn't it a startling case of Unity in Diversity ? Not only does a train journey give you enough time with yourself to ponder over your mundaneness, but it also shows you a rich heuristic display of colors that make you realize that the country is much bigger and much more stronger (strength coming from its diversity and adaptability) than you had ever imagined.

          The Indian rail might not be on time, might have unfriendly staff , might have not-so-healthy food to offer, might even collapse or burn  once in a while, and yet, it brings out the best in you! A train in India is certainly a train that takes you through the journey to the heart of India!

Dec 17, 2010

The Truth is Out There..

This is not the Truth about Life, the Universe and Everything. Neither is this truth about the extraterrestrial 'X files' that is out there. Nor is it the Truth about some layman's doleful life that, when dared, gets intriguing.  This is probably the truth about the Indian State and one of its Estates. This is about how we as a state, are capable of manipulating the truth about what transpired beneath the tables, and between the cables, as well as the The Source could create the all-fooling Matrix. And this is also about how a sect of people called themselves the fearless media, go to the limits of the Source to extricate the Truth. The question is - Is their quest for the Truth ethically and philanthropically justified ?

Consider the recent furore over the breaking news that seems to break every other minute in the assorted news channels. The anti-corruption wave that has swept the country and the consequent actions/reactions/inaction by the state has brought many camouflaged  faces into the much longed limelight and has parallely put many millions of heads into a melanged state of fury, inquisitiveness (over who's next and what's next?), helplessness and probably hopelessness. There has been an overload of not-so-good information making it impossible for the average Indian's brain to process them, making the brains less efficient and completing a vicious circle.
Is this really necessary ?

Does the media really break the breaking news in a quest to bring the crooked to books ? Always ? Or do they have less noble intentions? Money, PR ratings, getting there first, makeup, flashlights, power to influence the votes, gambles with governments or hypnoses with the human minds -  you name it and they got it. Should I surmise that the fourth estate or the television channels let the dirty cats out of the bags just to enlighten or educate the public ? And what use is the information to the common man if he is not vested with powers to act on them? Junk ? And what use is of the information if it causes him distress? Let me know if you know.

Again, don't get me wrong. Am not saying that the corrupt must be let to thrive. The fact that they exist and propagate like malignant beings in the state is a symptom of cancer in the system. Am just imploring the media on the right treatment to root it out. Investigative journalism is truly commendable, but it must be handed over to the right authorities for arbitration. When broken to public in bits and pieces, it just creates a complicated jigsaw puzzle along with some pandemonium. Infact it alerts the wrong-doers to fix their leaks before its too late.

And the ethics of new making and news breaking -  Well, is there any ? If there had been ethics, there would have certainly been some love for the fellow countrymen or the larger mankind. I do not think there is room for any of these values in the news business. They mean business. The cables of the Wikileaks were pretty amusing to say the least. It gave us mere mortals, the true opinions  of the heads of the states, behind the screens, at the cost of their embarrassments. And yet, were they right in leaking the information ethically speaking? To leak or not to leak? That is the question!

There is a lot of hidden truth that mankind has made up - Truth taken to the volcanic mountains lying dormant for years, or to the depths of the Mariana Trench, laying unexplored. I laud the journalists who risk quite a lot to get to those places. But please dear media-men, make sure, your ends are noble enough to justify your means. Please break the right news at the right time in the right way. Democracy has given the fourth estate a few additional powers and sacred responsibilities to shoulder. Please,  have good heads over those shoulders.We are afterall your fellow countrymen and earthlings, I guess it doesn't take much to love us.

Nov 25, 2010

Queen of Sciences?

Yes, it is Mathematics. I am pretty sure that to the astute reader of this blog, this mathematically  knotty question of 'What is' the 'queen of sciences' is a no-brainer. How about 'whosaidit'. That's Gauss. That wasn't bumpy either. And now field this - Why did this great German mathematician call it the 'Queen' but not the 'King' of Sciences? Or why not 'Father' of Sciences? Well, am aware of many such conflicting phrases and sobriquets that extol one gender against the other(you don't have to spin-doctor against me), but not all of them have the same grounds of explanation. So what is the  plausible elucidation to the original question in specific reference to the context of Sciences?

I do not know the correct answer. And I cannot possibly find out from Gauss either. Maybe he liked women in a good sense.Maybe not. Whatever it is, this peek into the transcript of a letter that he once wrote to a prominent French female  mathematician is certainly a clue:

"But when a person of the sex which, according to our customs and prejudices, must encounter infinitely more difficulties than men to familiarize herself with these thorny researches, succeeds nevertheless in surmounting these obstacles and penetrating the most obscure parts of them, then without doubt she must have the noblest courage, quite extraordinary talents and superior genius. Indeed nothing could prove to me in so flattering and less equivocal manner that the attractions of this science, which has enriched my life with so many joys, are not chimerical, as the predilection with which you have honored it."

Not unexpectedly, this was in an era when women were banned from studying the subject even in Europe. The revolutionary crusader who was the subject and predicate of Gauss's letter was Sophie Germain. She was so committed to the science, that she contributed to it by corresponding with eminent mathematicians (including Gauss) under the false identity of a male. Her nom de plume was Antoine-August Le Blanc. There are more revolutionary stories of women soldiers who fought for their love of the quintessential truth that is - Mathematics.

Apparently, that is a pretty long list of female mathematicians that matter. My question for this post is however, larger than that long list. What percentage is this list in the large realm of mathematics? It is certainly quite humbler than the male contribution ratio. If you need more stats for women in math, you could take a look at this.  The causal factors for the lower turnout of women in this field,  if not obvious, are cultural and gender based demarcation. But that's certainly antiquated.

What about now? There is quite negligible gender discrimination, and yet why hasn't the stats leveled up as yet? Girls seem to outsmart the boys in math in high school, however the boys have the last laugh in PhDs (in the 'Queen of Sciences'). Is it that the average genius-woman loses charm in the queen of sciences and prefers to be an adept obstetrician or an enterprising engineer or a satiated home-maker? Is it that to the above-average woman who loves colors and spices finds math quite devoid of them both? Does mathematics appeal to a woman's feminine senses at all?

One of my friends points out - "Statistically true, but what I have observed is , women dont like them (Maths) much easily. for what ever reason.. but once they like it, there is possibly no difference that one can say between men and women in this subject".
Before you embark on a journey to ponder about femininity and mathematics, here is a cue - Florence Nightingale, best known for her nursing accomplishments, was also an adroit mathematician. This page has more details.

So the number discrepancy question cannot be answered by just the stats that are enlisted. And you know what I think about stats, don't you? The fact that women mathematicians existed and exist is a tribute to the dexterity of women in this Science. I'd like to give the last word to my friend in this context.  Once a woman finds beauty in infinity, there is no stopping her, infact we know that she can turn into a male if the world wants her to.And going by the number of battles that a woman fights in whatever era, Mathematics is definitely the "Queen" of Sciences.

Apr 24, 2010

Family Doctor

Are you someone who takes some common pills for common-cold? Do you love to look more feverish than fever itself when you have one and flaunt your flu? Do you atone your once-in-a-while restaurant sins  with 'Digene' or 'Eno'? Or are you someone who does not prefer those extraneous  antibodies and depend on your own body to corroborate its internal police force and resurrect itself during those "minor, 'mostly harmless' injuries" ? - Or maybe, one of  those 'home-made organic medicine' lovers. You could be one of these categories, or a few of these, or even none, and yet, there are fair chances that you would have had a family doctor, for atleast a while..

A family doctor is not that just that  doctor at the clinic in the corner of the road who treats your occasional childhood wounds. He (or she) is someone who you grow up with, someone whom you can talk to about your favorite cricket player or your most-hated school teacher, as he checks your throat and pulse, someone   who can see through your 'little too detailed' or 'rather skimmed' description of your physical problem and diagnose (and prognose ) with a knowledgeable nod, someone who does not 'blow up' your frantic symptoms or 'play down' your insignificant secondary references. Simply put, a good family doctor knows how your body and soul work.

Quite often, the family doctor is a physician, who practises general medicine. Of course, there could be specifications and specialization - for each listed and unlisted organ of the body. Largely, the family doctor caters to many or all families in the neighborhood. He is someone, whom old friends can visit together in an evening walk to get their blood pressure checked or get a minor new nuisance treated. Habitually, the doctor prescribes the same set of medicines for a specific illness for a specific patient(unless he has more medical-representatives than patients waiting outside his door, with newer formulation of newly discovered compounded medicine), and there are a few smart patients who could map the medicine to the illness with data-mining from past history, and yet, to get the  family doctor's good old touch, they go see him.

I grew up having a good family doctor. I vividly remember being a 'patient' patient waiting outside the doors of the clinic, looking at the various poster children and re-reading the phrases -  'Sshhhh...Doctor is in....', 'Silence' and 'Doctor is in/out' hanging. There were a few diagrams of some colorful part of the body and some interesting parts of the skeleton. I tried to concentrate hard on a few of them associating them with my biology lessons and explaining them to  my beaming 'patient' parents. If there was a new illness explained with some symptoms, I correlated them with mine circutitiously and concluded the worst. I was that kind. It was then, that my dad decided that he should discourage my becoming a medical professional. He was more concerned about the benefit of the society.

Our doctor was a petite person, and greeted everyone with a broad mustache and a warm smile. He did not talk much, but made some quirky comments when he found my rattles medically funny.Atypically, he had a good handwriting and even a layperson could read his prescription. I'd like to believe that he took a special paternal interest in me, and my rather 'scientific' queries. I have just a couple of words for his treatment. It worked. It still works. I first call him up whenever I have a medical issue I cant ignore - and he responds with the same quirks followed by his prescription. Inspite of a huge personal loss, he still caters to the needs of his patients and has permeated the lives in so many households.

Thank you dear doctor, I think you are one of a kind..