Monday, December 31, 2007

Going back in time - Happy New year all the same!

With everyone looking forward to Year 2008 I plan to take you back in time to my grandfather’s place some 45 years back. Yes, to life in a Tambram household that seems so different to the life I lead now.

“Mmmmmaaaaaa……….” Lakshmi the cow calls out almost simultaneously with the milkman’s call from the gate. It is nearing 5 o’clock in the morning and Lakshmi has sensed his presence.


My mami or mother would open the gate for him and the day has just begun.

As a child I’d try to keep off all sounds from my ears to catch a few more minutes of sleep. No way. The entire neighborhood has woken up and one has no option but to do in Rome as the Romans do. With sleepy eyes we look for the ‘Nanjangud’ tooth powder with a slightly sweet and refreshing taste and proceed to the inner courtyard or ‘mitham’ where a specific corner is marked out for the purpose. A huge brass vessel called ‘jodothavalai’ has already been properly cleaned with tamarind pulp and filled with water from the well. Till date I wonder how the ladies of the house, so methodical in their regular duties, could start the day with such energy. Between you and me, I need the coffee provided by my husband to even think of what has to be done on a particular day. I secretly hope that he sleeps an hour longer but no, the man is up at 5 in the morning and starts waking me up as if I am a school going kid who needs to get ready by 6:30 A.M. But I’ll keep that for a later post.

So, where was I?? Oh yes we were brushing our teeth with Nanjangud tooth powder and coffee is already ready. Mama would buy coffee powder, freshly ground in 250 gram packs, every alternate day so as to have fresh coffee in the morning. School going children would be given milk and my mother would begin calling out to my brothers who needed no wake up call. They would have had a bath by now and with a broad band of vibhuti smeared across their forehead have already started memorizing their tables.

“The boiler is on. Will the next one go for a bath? The water will turn cold. Don’t forget to pour a bucketful of cold water for the next person. And shove in some dried palm leaves to keep it burning.” calls my mother who has already had a bath and with a wet sari wrapped around her frail body she has started the tedious process of filling water for cooking and drinking purposes.

The motor is on, Moopachi the servant maid has arrived with her brood of school going grandchildren to assist her and our cook Narayana mama has started cooking on the firewood hearth. It is just around six in the morning and the day’s news paper has just arrived. My grandfather and the older cousins who shared his room on the first floor have arrived on the scene.

With around ten school going grandchildren vying for their slot in the bathroom my grandfather opts to bathe by the well. He washes his clothes himself. Moopachi would monitor the activities of her grandchildren treating them to a slap or two as occasion demanded. They would clean up the cowshed gathering cow dung in a bamboo basket to be made into cakes for use as fuel. They would then soak the vessels in water after having emptied the left over food in vessels of their own and take care of the sweeping and swabbing of the house. Moopachi would wash the portico and the pathway leading to the gate and finally sprinkle a generous mixture of dung and water at the gateway and finally call out to one of us to adorn it with a massive rangoli to welcome goddess Lakshmi into the house. We dared not disobey her or delay our response. She had as much authority over us as with her grandkids.

“Which mother in law is going to put up with your lazy ways?” she’d demand. “A little house work will not harm you.”

Since I’d be there on a vacation from school or college I’d be regularly treated to a piece of her mind. She would expect me to help her with washing clothes and send me to supervise the granddaughter who swept the rooms in the first floor. I felt that my brothers and the other boys had an easy time at her hands for they were never assigned chores. She’d wash vessels and spread them out in the sun, brass vessels sparkling like gold and steel ware would appear as though they were up for sale. Clothes would be dried out without a crease and her grandchildren would breakfast on left over food before leaving for school. Such was her loyalty and managerial skills that she’d never put up with shoddy work and would make them do the work all over again if it was not done to her satisfaction.

Finally the war of words between the cook and Moopachi would begin.

“You call this coffee?? Worse than gutter water. How does he expect the children to eat this food? No taste at all. I wonder how the master manages to eat this kind of food?”

The cook would rush out ladle in hand.

“Do you think I am being paid to cook for your grandchildren? Who asks you to bring them any way? The entire family feeds on our left over food and look at their cheek. They have the audacity to criticize my culinary skills. I’ll see to it that you are thrown out.”

“We’ve been serving this family for more than forty years and you new comer ……….pooh! what would you know about our loyalty? Try filling the master’s head against me and you’d be thrown out before you know it.”

“I’ll deal with you later after the master leaves for court.” Narayan mama would finally give in.

In the meanwhile the ladies of the house would divide work among themselves. The one who bathed early would help in the kitchen and the others would get the children ready for school. The girls would line up to have their hair oiled, combed and plaited tight. The mother or aunt who sat down with oil and comb would run her fingers across the forehead of each child as a sign of blessing so it was customary for us to turn around and let them do it before getting up. Breakfast would be curd rice and pickle usually tender mangoes in salt water. I remember the principal of our school attributing the intelligence of Tambrams to the curd rice they consumed for breakfast.

Vessels washed by the servant would never be stacked without being rinsed with water filled by the lady of the house after having bathed. Her sanctity was complete only if she wore clothes hung out of reach on a wire tied to nails or hooks that almost touched the ceiling. A bamboo pole was used to dry out and/or remove clothes from their aerial position. As children we’d feel depressed at not being allowed to touch our mothers till she had recited her slokas and offered food to the Gods. This self imposed quarantine was called ‘Madi’ and my mother being a strict follower of rules would confine herself to the kitchen and pooja room till she had her food.

“May I touch you?” I’d ask even as a sixteen year old as if I wanted to sleep on her lap.

Children’s clothes washed by the servant could be dried out by her but she’d leave my mother’s clothes as well as that of my mami to be rinsed again in sanctified water and dried out by them. Initially we had to ask for water to drink because we’d never be sure as to which vessel contained water that had been used for cooking. We could not drink out of it before food had been duly offered to god. Later my mother would fill a brass pot with water and leave it in the dining area with strict instructions not to immerse spittled glasses unwashed hands into it. We older ones were expected to take care of these things. In my enthusiasm to learn to cook I sometimes offered to relieve my mother or mami of duties in the kitchen after Narayan Mama passed away and the family decided not to replace him. I wasn’t easy to remain confined to the kitchen for hours and I kept forgetting that even if I entered the drawing room or bedroom I was not supposed to sit on the sofa or touch bed linen.

Meals would be served at ten in the morning and tiffin at two or three in the afternoon. School going children would come home for lunch and be treated to a filling evening meal on their return. In a way there seemed to be a continuous routine being followed one merging into the other. Modern gadgets were not available and grinding, cleaning etc were done in the afternoons. Yet there was no indication that the women were over worked. Division of labor was such that they took turns to relax. They would do embroidery work, prepare papad/vadams pickles and still have time for an occasional social visit. Lessons of adjustment and peaceful co existence were easily imbibed and the journey to an independent existence had already begun albeit in an insignificant manner.

True, demands of society vary with time and all this may not make sense in the 21st century but a glimpse into my past has rekindled fond memories and makes me wish to go back in time. If only that were possible……..

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Defending the indefensible??

A lot has been said about the use of cell phones in colleges and how far a teacher is supposed to go with her role as a disciplinarian etc. Who gets to decide these things? A teacher? Then students are bound to cry foul. Students? Then teachers would say that the students were too immature to decide. Parents perhaps? But then the late adolescence is a rebellious one and parent/children communication is at its nadir. Someone has to bear the brunt. 'Bell the cat' as one would say. So let me be the bad person who stifles the freedom of the student community. The old woman who ought to ought to opt for early retirement. Remember that I have already surrendered by calling myself a 'Living Fossil' here.

Kurrodu says-

"It is also important that teachers maintain a good rapport with the students. The importance of this cannot be emphasized enough.

The lack of a healthy relationship between a parent and the kid gives room to these bad influences. A teacher is of great help to such kids."

Very true. I am sorry to say that I seem to be defending the indefensible and there are sadly several teachers who for reasons of their own vent their frustration on innocent children and do irreparable damage to their soaring spirits. The reasons are many but none strong enough to justify their attitude. But a sensitive management can do wonders and no teacher would want to lose his/her job. The government should also have a system in place that monitors aspects such as student/teacher ratio, the number of periods allotted etc. and affiliation of private schools and colleges ought to be withdrawn if teachers are found to be over exploited. If in spite of being given the best facility a teacher is found to be temperamentally unsuited, his/her probation period may be extended and in ultimate cases services may be terminated.

The kid says:- "Even in this case, you made some sweeping assumptions on why the student was charging the cell phone. Which could be true or false, but they were assumptions nevertheless.

There is a zero tolerance, unjust and automatic assumption of guilt, and arbitrary prosecution of students by the teachers."

I agree that these were assumptions but they were not entirely baseless. And our fears are not unfounded. Parents in India continue to worry about their married children who have kids of their own. I know that I do. There are teachers who consider their students similarly and automatically feel responsible for their safety. Let us pamper you while we can. Why grudge us the pleasure? I am sure students can differentiate between genuine concern and a power monger’s display of might.

Vishesh says-

“the funny thing is the purpose of imposing discipline is so that we pass it on...but the fact is there are people who hold other virtues, Well my question is does our society have the capacity for holding so many different views?”

I think he means other views. I feel our society is a fairly tolerant one and one person’s definition of discipline may be different to another’s. Within limits no one minds. But broadly speaking I feel that a student’s mind is very impressionable and needs to be given direction. This can be done by involving them in creative and productive activities and more importantly appreciating their efforts when their pursuits yield the desired results and by giving them a second or third chance if they falter or fail. A judgmental attitude will not help. We have to accept that they are dealing with much more competition and need to prepare themselves accordingly. If a student senses good intentions and has faith in you he/she will not mind an occasional dressing down and these are the very people who will see to it that others follow rules. I have shared my experience here and I have seen it when we take students out on study tours.

If we say “you can go out on your own but return by 8 in the evening”, chances are that they will return before the stipulated time to live up to the faith you place on them. But they have to be convinced that you mean well.

Preethi says-

“i mean society as in parents, teachers the whole rigamole) can’t teach responsibility and caution at what 18-19? will they ever learn?? I doubt it unless they are burnt?? After all college going students are adults!!”

Quite right. College students are almost adults at the undergrad level. They must be allowed to learn from their mistakes. But burns can be of varying degrees. A singe or a mild scald is okay. But what if chances are that it may result in a third degree burn that may take years to heal and cause a permanent scar? Would it not be wiser to impose rules or issue stern warnings than to allow them to walk into danger zones and trust them to retreat at the appropriate time? I am sure this argument is going to evoke strong responses from my young readers but I’d still risk it.

Finally NSK says-

“This is convincing, but don't we have too much of distractions in today’s environment that boundaries are easily broken?”

This was exactly the purpose of my writing this post and the previous one. Too many distractions is all the more reason why youth energy needs to be given proper outlet and direction. The girl mentioned in the post is a smart and intelligent girl who could be an asset to her family and society provided her energy is channelized. She is not a Science student but even without have interacted much with her I could make out that we were dealing with a very smart girl. Could we afford to let her think that it was okay to be manipulative or that being smart and devious were the same?

There have been times when I have scolded students for being late. Pooja was one such girl who walked in when the practical class was almost over. When reprimanded she was very rude in her response.

“You come by car ma’am. How would you understand what it means to wait for hours to board a bus?”

She was almost in tears.

“You have to leave home sufficiently early. This excuse will not hold” I said.

She sat sulking for half an hour. Realizing her mistake she came again to ask if I’d explain the practical to her and I did as if nothing had transpired. From that day I could sense a positive change in her attitude towards me. It was the same with another girl Jyoti and there have been more cases when a mild rebuke has actually strengthened the bond between me and my students. As I’ve said before they have to be convinced that one means well. And dealing with bright children has never been easy.

A merry X'mas and a Happy New year to all of you.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hi all,
I meant to highlight the fact that youth energy needs to be channelized by narrating the incident. Unfortunately importance is being given to use of cell phones in the college premises. Now that the question has cropped up let me clarify.

Our college bans USE of cell phones not bringing them. In the college they can always use it with permission in case of emergency and once out of campus no one goes checking whether they are using or misusing it. Most of our students belong to middle class homes and students cannot afford to spend money on unnecessary phone calls and we trust them to use it prudently. I agree that just because of a few over smart ones all students are being punished but can it be helped? Doesn't it always happen that way?

We are aware that girls like S.....N.... are quite capable of looking after themselves. We are more worried about the innocent ones who may be influenced by their peers who may mislead them. I do not have any conclusive evidence to prove my point but in a recent program conducted for teachers on World AIDS day it was pointed out that college girls clad in burkhas regardless of their religious affiliation regularly met boys at a crossroad near the YMCA office and sped off in two wheelers to a nearby park. They are doing this during college hours and one need not be a Perry Mason to understand that their families are unaware of their activities. The use of electricity to charge their phones is not as objectionable as the fact that they seem to own cell phones unknown to their parents. If it were not so why would they charge the phone as soon as they arrived? The next question is who is providing them with mobile phones and why? Are the smarter ones being used to trap other vulnerable girls? These are concerns that bother me as a teacher. I quote the kid who says

The teachers/lecturers are threatened by the cell phone usage, be it the rapid advancement that the teachers are not able to keep up or the wealth associated with it.

He further adds-

What exactly do you achieve by banning these things? a sense of superiority?It is neither. It is just a genuine concern for those innocent girls in their teens or early twenties who have been a part of my working life.

A certain amount of discipline needs to be imposed on students in our effort to prepare them for life. Schools do not allow boys to sport a beard or grow their hair. Girls are expected to plait their hair or tie it up. They are made to wear uniforms so that the poorer ones may not feel inferior just because they don’t wear designer wear. A boy or girl does not become more or less intelligent on account of his hairstyle. But rules are laid down and no one objects. An undergrad is only a year or two older. He/she needs to be gradually initiated into adulthood and a little discipline will not harm them and teachers are not their enemies. On the day of the interview I stayed back with the placement in charge till 7 in the evening and we left only after the last girl left college. We arranged for them to go in groups and requested the few guardians who had come over to escort the girls who lived in their neighborhood. We were accountable for all 22 of them. They are likely to take up jobs in a year or two but we still felt responsible for their safety. Yet Pratap says that

Teachers in India cannot handle the responsibility.’

When my son was young the rule was that he had to come home by seven in the evening. If he did not turn up I went downstairs to fetch him home. He hated it then but I went all the same. He appreciates it now.

When my daughters were young it was understood that they could not stay out after dark but when later when my older daughter got a job in a metro I trusted her to look after herself. Once values are imbibed and boundaries are drawn our duty is done and they can decide and discriminate be they children or students. Till then we have to keep a watch on them however unpopular our stand. After all is that not part of life?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Teaching Experience-4

When I started out on my previous post I meant to write about a lighter side of my teaching experience. However, my anguish took over and I lamented the changing values of society and the lack of motivation that seems to prevent talented youngsters from taking up the teaching profession at the school and undergrad levels. I had written a related post some time back here.

As for college teachers, there seems to be two categories. Those that work as ad hoc teachers in the innumerable private colleges where they are paid on a per class basis and terminated before the vacations and others who receive UGC benefits. In my own college we have a good number of ad hoc teachers who are not paid anything at all and depend on tuitions for their survival. Is it any wonder that they have marked out their areas and students throng their classes for the notes they provide? There seems to be a symbiotic understanding and both groups benefit. Our college being in the heart of the city a number of coaching centers thrive in the neighborhood and students are given notes keeping in mind the questions that are likely to be asked in the examination. Reference work in the college library?? Who has the time? The students are busy preparing for entrance exams and job interviews and a teacher who gives concise notes is the one that is most sought after. I am sorry to be cribbing and the only way to get over my foul mood is to harp on the lighter side of my teaching experience. What cannot be cured may as well be endured.

On the day we had our placement interview the teacher in charge of the placement cell was asked by the visiting team to allot a hall where one of their team mates would conduct the first round of interview. She stepped into a lecture hall and found two students charging their cell phones while simultaneously talking to someone over the phone. They were so engrossed in their conversation that they did not see her enter.

Our college does not permit the use of cell phone in the college. The reasons need to be dealt with in a separate post so I shall not elaborate. Our honors students carry cell phones but keep it either switched off or in the vibration mode. In case of an emergent call they check the number and talk with our permission for a minute or two. Even when they go on study tour they abide by our instruction and talk only once a day to their parents just to inform them that they are fine. These girls were not only breaking the rule but were endangering their lives by talking while their phone was being charged. That they were using the electricity for which the college was paying did not seem to concern them at all. The placement officer confiscated the phone and asked them to meet her with their parents the following day. One of the girls realized the futility of trying to coax the teacher to return the cell phone. Not so the other girl.

At first she claimed that the mobile phone was not hers and it belonged to a friend who had asked her to receive an important call on her behalf. The friend was waiting outside the room but refused to come in when called. After sometime she corrected herself and said that the phone was her own and pleaded that it be returned to her promising never to use it in college.

“Ask your parents to meet me. I will return the phone to them.” said my colleague.

“My parents would think that I’ve lent it to someone or lost it.”

“Give them my cell number. I’ll confirm the fact that I have the phone.”

Not knowing how to respond the girl went away. In the meantime there were frantic calls from a particular number that my colleague ignored. We later came to know that within minutes of confiscating the phone our Principal got a call from the Student Union leader of a boy’s college briefing her of the situation and asking her to advise the concerned teacher to return the phone.

The girl returned in about half an hour’s time along with an elderly gentleman and a young man who appeared to be in his early twenties. She introduced them as her uncle and brother.

“I did not ask you to bring them. I am busy today and I will only meet your parents and that too tomorrow” said the teacher.

“I am her brother ma’am” said the boy.

“Will you both please stay out of the room?” said the placement in charge. “I will have nothing to do with you. I will talk to her parents if and when they come.”

“Ma’am, my father in Saudi Arabia and cannot come. My mother is not a very confident person. She avoids talking to strangers. I have brought my uncle. Why don’t you talk to him?”

“Did your father leave for Arabia after I seized your phone? I will have none of this nonsense. Either your parents come to meet me or you forego your cell phone. The choice is yours.”

During the entire conversation the elderly gentleman remained silent but on seeing that the teacher was unrelenting he started saying that since his brother was in Arabia it was not possible for him to come in person. My colleague interrupted him mid sentence.

“Sir, I am not her enemy. Please let me deal with her the way I deem fit”.

In the meantime the Principal was under pressure from different quarters to ask her placement in charge to return the phone. Finally the girl approached her but she refused to intervene saying that it was a busy day and she could not disturb the placement committee. While the girl was talking to her the man who had posed as the girl’s uncle asked to meet the principal regarding his daughter’s admission.

“It is already December. All admissions are closed.” She said. Around this time our bursar who had been with us when the girl brought him in as her uncle, walked into the Principal’s chamber.

“Aren’t you S…….. N……’s uncle?” she asked.

The Principal who had his application in hand looked confused.

“This is Mr. T…….. and how could he be S……. N…..’s uncle?”

It so happened that the girl was a muslim and this gentleman was clearly a Hindu. The man muttered something and hastened out of the room. The boy was also not her real brother but an actor playing his role in the drama.

The girl was not going to give up that soon. After college hours when the Principal came to see how our girls were faring in the interview, the girl approached the placement in charge once again in the presence of the Principal. She now brought her friend who actually owned the cell phone. The friend cried as if some irreparable damage had been done to her. For whatever reason, she did not want to involve her parents. She kept apologizing and promised never to repeat the mistake. Finally at the behest of the Principal the Placement in charge returned the cell phone after a severe warning.

We could make out that these girls were rather intelligent. Who else could think of convincing strangers to pose as her uncle and brother? Right or wrong, the student union is also quick to defend them. All I wish is that this immense potential is channelized to purposeful activities.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Enjoy this

these were beautiful pictures sent by my cousin.too good to miss.

some more here for you to enjoy

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Teaching Experience-3

We recently had IBM visit our campus to recruit candidates for their call centre. We were glad that 22 of our students were selected. It also underscored the fact that regular course study was taking a beating and aptitude /logical reasoning and basic intelligence is the requirement of the day. The next big question is whether we are going to find good teachers to train young minds or are we going to make do with those who were left behind and could not land good job? At least 13 of the selected candidates were science students 8 from the Biology stream and 5 from the Maths group. The choice was unmistakably fair and these were the best the college had to offer. It was not as if the company settled for the best among the bad lot. Some of these girls had made it to Wipro also and the company did not select a single candidate from another college in town. Some of our students are doing their masters from another local college and the best among them were also selected. This brings up the next question. If young minds are going to be lured into taking lucrative jobs in multinationals where the course they’ve studied is not being put to use is it not time we revised and restructured the course?

I remember a batch we had 2 years back. The final year students would attend classes only on the days they had practicals. After the practical class was over they would excuse themselves to go to the canteen and vanish from there. We had a kind of counseling session with them but at the end of it was they who counseled us in their own way. They were all either attending coaching classes for MBA admission or taking lessons in Computer centres. They saw no future in our outdated syllabus and they took admission in our college since a degree was the minimum requirement for an IT job, a bank PO’s post or for admission to an MBA program. I felt certain that their results would suffer and tried to reason that some companies did not even let second divisioners apply for a job.

“We can manage madam” was the reply. “this is only a repetition of what we learnt in 12th standard and we have no intention of doing our masters or going in for research.”

The fact that struck me odd was that the girls who were vocal were also the most focused and they all managed to get a first class. They are pursuing their studies in reputed institutes outside the state where campus selection ensures that they land good jobs.

My friend and colleague Dr. K. Shukla made a very pertinent observation. She went to attend a pre registration seminar in the PG department of Botany with a candidate who wanted to do research under her. The Post Graduate students seemed to be a disinterested lot with no quest for knowledge and seemed to be there just because they had no better option. She remembered her own days as student in the same department and rued the fact that lack of motivation had perhaps led to such a situation.

My experience as a novice was very encouraging. We did not have an honors course then but pass course students showed a keen interest that delighted us. Their depth of knowledge was amazing. One could not misinform them and get away with it. We’d have animated discussions about the evolutionary trends of living organisms and try to find the affiliations among different groups. I did my masters around that time and I was greatly helped by my interaction with these students since teaching was the best way to learn. Our first Honors batch produced excellent results with 7 out of 8 students securing a first division. I don’t remember them ever missing a class. Many of them got married and their daughters and nieces are now our students. The priorities of the present generation have changed in keeping with times. My only regret is that we already have a dearth of good teachers in Physics and Mathematics. Soon good Biology teachers may also disappear from the scene and when it happens what is going to be the future of the teaching profession? I am not in a position to comment on Arts and Commerce students but I guess it is the same there too.Or am I perhaps over reacting?

My next post will deal with a lighter side of my teaching experience. Do forgive this rather serious post. Couldn't help it.

One with Nature.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The years gone by.........

This is part II of the tag by Dipali. A list of 10 things that I miss from the years gone by. Well the very thought makes me nostalgic-

I miss the quiet confidence that my mother exhibited when we were growing up. A frail women with failing eyes but sharp intelligence, she was a wonderful combination of polite manners and a steely heart. Her advice when heeded always fetched the desired result. I haven’t met anyone quite like her. She never demanded respect, she got it without asking. In short she commanded it.

I miss my mother in law who taught me to respect the woman in me. She’d defend me against my husband and shoo him off in matters that she strongly felt were best dealt with by women. She was the one who taught me that one had to speak out to be heard unlike my mother who believed that her silence said much more than her words. I am indeed lucky to have been groomed by two wonderful women.

I really and truly miss the jasmine flowers that were a part of me during my college days. I’d buy flowers every evening wear it after freshening up, remove it and carefully place them in a wet handkerchief and wear them to college the next day. The stuff that passes off for jasmines in Jampot has no fragrance and I don’t wear them at all.

I miss the days in my grandfather’s house when we cousins would gather during vacations and live like one big family. We did not have any of the modern means of entertainment yet we had a fulfilling time.

I miss the time when my children were in their primary school and trusted me to solve their little problems. The attitude was ‘if mom is around things would be okay.’ Now that they’ve realize that mommy is not the super woman they thought she was, I feel a wee bit unwanted and under utilized. I guess this is natural but I miss it all the same.

I miss not having my daughters around to pitch in and help where ever possible. I have this habit of starting something, remembering something else and finally feeling frustrated with a number of chores in hand, all half done. I’ve always had them taking over and relieving me of the monotony of house keeping. Nowadays I make do with things that are absolutely essential since I know that no one is going to take over from where I left.

Strangely I miss the time when money was short and every little pleasure was a luxury. We then had something to look forward to and we appreciated the value of every penny spent. Today my affordability has increased but the pleasure is gone. With limited money we’d think of the needs of each member of our family first and place ourselves last. But we never felt deprived or wanting. I cannot understand this paradoxical turn that my life has taken.

I miss the mountains; I mean the Nilgiri hills where I spent 4 years of my life in a boarding school. Those were the formative years that made me what I am today. I had led a very protected life till then but it was there that I learnt the meaning of ‘survival of the fittest’ and peaceful co existence. A stint in the hostel taught me more than what I could have ever learnt at home.

As a child we’d sleep outdoors on hot summer nights and awaken to the chirps and cooing of innumerable birds. Strangely I seem to miss their melodious sounds when I go for my morning walk. Where have all the birds gone/ And what have we done to our environment? The ecological balance, I am afraid, has been badly disturbed And the consequences are not going to be good.

Since this is part II of an earlier tag I ask the same group to carry it forward.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

On being sixty..........

I’ve been tagged by Dipali to reveal ten things I want to do before I turn sixty. She also wants me to enlist ten things I miss from the years that have gone by. I’ll do it in two parts and here’s Part I about things I want to do in the next three years. Oh my God! I seem to be running out of time. Thanks Dipali for bringing it to my notice.

I want to learn web trading about which the whole world seems so excited. I hear that housewives in Bihar start their day checking out details of their investment and performance of their stocks and there are tutorials where the ‘trick of the trade’ is taught. I feel a misfit with a capital M so I’ve decided to know what it is all about. If it is not interesting by my standards, then I can always return to blogging.

My son recently sprang a surprise by paying a visit unannounced. He came around 10 in the evening (night perhaps?) and as usual the shock of suddenly seeing him in flesh and blood caused a kind of mental block and I did not know how to react. If he had expected me to shed copious tears of joy and hug him in true bollywood style, I am sorry to have disappointed him. I stood staring at him and finally asked him if he wanted to have coffee or prefer to have dinner straight away as if he had returned after an evening out with friends. He was visiting me after a year and 9 months and had come all the way from the US of A. I AM going to get rid of this stupid habit of saying things out of context. I was indeed delighted to see him and may as well learn to say it in words. He is my son and would probably understand but if he brings home a wife, she’s bound to consider me nuts.

I am really and truly going to learn to use both hands while typing. I use only one finger and to be frank I am in awe of school going kids type as if they learnt to use computers while in their mommy’s tummy.

Like Dipali I too want to get rid of hundreds of things that clutter my house. We have so much of unwanted stuff that could be given to others who could put them to good use. But my husband has an inborn affection for all things that were ‘bought with great difficulty’ and refuses to part with anything that was bought by his parents or himself. He also won’t let me throw off things that my mother gave me because she also must have given them to me under ‘very difficult’ circumstances. How do I explain to him that before the IT boom we all led difficult lives and while I appreciate his concern I need to give away things from time to time? It has a kind of soothing effect on my troubled nerves and helps control my soaring blood pressure? Any suggestion to the effect would make him file a divorce suit since he would consider me unworthy of his affection. I cannot think of a better soul mate. So before I turn 60 I plan to learn to treat every unwanted item with the affection it deserves. This includes the blunt knife with a red handle which he uses to cut coconut.

On a serious note I want to start a lending library for the children in our complex. The reading habit is perhaps missing among many of those kids. I want them to enjoy reading good books very much the way I did as a child.

I want to get more involved with the projects undertaken by Adarsh Seva Sansthan an NGO group operating in Jamshedpur. They are concentrating on creating awareness against female feticide. I want to spare some more time for them.

I want to set aside some money towards enabling a deserving child from the economically underprivileged class to buy brand new books and other study material at the beginning of the academic year.

I think I’ll pamper myself with a Kerala style massage and a steam bath in a spa before I turn 60. I hear that it does wonders to one’s health.

I am indeed going to spoil my grand children sick by being the indulgent grand mother and together we’d irritate their mothers who would not be able to do a thing about it. Wow! The very thought is so fulfilling.

And finally I am going to try and get my papers filed and put in order. It is going to be difficult but has to be done nonetheless. I have a good agent who deals with all the paper work rather well but I too need to do my bit.

I think I’ll tag Usha, hillg’mom, madhumita and altoid to reveal what they plan to do before they step into the next decade of their lives. Anyone else who wants to take it up is welcome to do so.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The wicked 'me'!

There have been incidents when I’ve been deliberately wicked. How did Itching to write ever come to know of it? The sixth sense at work perhaps? She’s tagged me to reveal the evil ‘me’ so here I go.

My husband once blasted me for not being able to find a comb to comb his receding hair or whatever was left of it. All the while the comb was lying right in front of him. I decided then that he should go without a comb for the rest of his life. I hid every comb in the house including the pocket combs that I got for Navaratri. The poor man cannot ‘see’ things that are right in front of him. From where would he find a hidden comb? He’d find my hair combed and tied up but could not bring himself to ask for one. He simply ran his fingers through his hair and looked around to see if by some magic a comb would fall into his hand from nowhere. I was certainly not relenting. This went on for 3 days when unknown to me he noticed me extracting a comb from my purse. The next day I saw his hair in place and realized that he had indeed outsmarted me. I still wonder why he didn’t go to a nearby shop and buy himself a comb? Wouldn’t it have been better than pulling a long face as if the whole world had turned against him. I would have done that if I had been in his place. Another gender rule I suppose. ‘Do what you want all your life, when things go wrong blame your wife.’

The former Principal of our college once withdrew the facility of using the telephone from her office even in emergency situations. We finally agreed to pay and use it. She kept a small ‘hundi’ near her table and staff members would drop two rupees into it before using it. Many self respecting staff members preferred to go to a pay phone booth to using the telephone in her office. Those were days before mobile phones had become popular. I’d deliberately go to her office, dial up a non existent number or insert a 25 or 50 paise coin and talk for at least 10 minutes.

When I first learnt to drive a car I used to get nervous when people overtook me without a warning.So when I gained confidence I’d make it a point not to give a pass to any one who wanted to overtake without indicating. ‘If you want to overtake, you better take my permission.’ I’ve gotten over that phase now.

When my brother in law visited us he’d listen to loud music of his choice on the internet till about two in the night. I deliberately disabled the connection and the poor man did not even suspect foul play. I felt lousy for being mean and enabled it after two days. That is also a problem with me. I start feeling bad for the target of my wickedness and end up relenting.

There have been other occasions when on an after thought I’ve felt that I should have retaliated in this or that manner when I was at the receiving end of atrocious behavior. But I never really have been able to do so. An acquaintance of mine often cites the following example-

A dominating relative of his would often visit them, have her way in everything, act mean to the entire family and leave everyone depressed by the end of her visit. The moment she left there would be a buzzing sound in the house. People would form groups and the conversation would be something like this-

“It would take me a minute to give her a fitting reply. I just controlled myself.”

“I almost said ‘this’ or ‘that’ but I kept quiet. Then what would be the difference between me and her?”

The truth is that most of us are happy being good. It is so much easier. We take the liberty of being wicked with those who are either very close to us or those who don’t matter at all. On the occasions mentioned above I did get a sadistic pleasure at least temporarily. It was like being someone else. Have I told you that I liked Ravan’s acting better than Ram’s in Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan? I do hope the real Ram was not like Arun Govil’s lifeless depiction of the character. Remember, our mythological character was not only a good and just king but also a valiant soldier. And with his plastic smile Arun Govil hardly looked either of them!