Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Death of a Newspaper

(Based on thoughts generated by the article in my previous post)
When I see the Times these days, I wonder whether I can continue subscribing to this paper for long. From a paper who believed in serious journalism it has degenerated into a rag which mostly prints syndicated material with some writing here and there by correspondents. My uncle was an eminent journalist with the Times, my cousin was the Editor for a while, I grew up with discussions about politics and happenings at the newspaper office and somehow Times has been a habit for as long as I can remember.
Now it has grown into a massive media juggernaut and the groups priorities seem to have shifted and it seems they take the slogan 'sex sells' very seriously indeed. They can read the minds of the strapped for time urban lot who prefer light reading. They know exactly how to add spice to each and every section. Even Economic Times has the occasional titillating picture or a 'juicy' snippet. The morons that we are, we fall straight into the trap and now we expect all publications to have similar 'juicy' bits and the ones which don’t appear dull.
Thanks to Times, now any teenager is well versed with various sexual positions, abnormalities, fantasies and dysfunctions, perhaps the space would be better utilized for AIDS awareness. My relatives in Calcutta are quite amazed that I know how many minutes Bipasha spends on the treadmill, the name of Priety's boyfriend, who coined the term 'Sollywood' and all sorts of rubbish that isn't really worth knowing but comes in handy as conversation fillers. Thanks to Times, now I and many others are experts on partying lot of Mumbai.
At times when I fall behind on current affairs, I desperately try to find some 'news' in the main paper but finally come across nothing that makes me think or adds to my knowledge. I wonder if this is a reflection about the state of journalism today and whether the so called newspapers are slowly turning into magazines for leisure reading. What is more worrying is that perhaps there are fewer takers for serious meaningful writing in newspapers.
Like a recent HT ad campaign said 'Let There Be Light'. Maybe there is hope after all...

Monday, March 27, 2006

India - The Darker Side

I came across this article in Outlook by P Sainath, which is almost an exact opposite to Fareed Zakaria's article. We who work in the sunshine sectors and live in major metros have absolutely no idea about how the rural majority live. I read somewhere that Ashutosh Gowariker is heading some foundation that encourages the youth to contribute and participate in projects which benefit the rural communities. The publication also advised that the 'mallrats' residing in cities should get moving and do something useful instead of making the rich richer by buying things we don't need.
It's a long read but definitely an eye opener...
Lost The Compass?
Rural India is a giant canvas that is begging the media to do a portrait, many portraits. But it has failed — resoundingly.
P. Sainath
70,000 Indian millionaires...and growing Page 1 headline, The Times of India, June 11, 2005 "The bottom 400 million is a disappointment and a social responsibility, and while it harbours value (maybe not a fortune), it is a difficult market to tap." Economic Times, March 26, 2005
A lot of reporting on rural India nowadays simply views people there as buyers. Real or potential. How many cellphones are selling. How many cars. Stories of great yields from miracle seeds. (Never mind that states have begun to ban some of those seeds as the underside of the miracle pops up.) Never mind, too, that nutritional data across the country shows dismal trends.
So the ‘bottom 400 million’ are not to be viewed as people. (As a separate nation, they’d be the third biggest in the world.) Just as ‘a difficult market to tap’. And hence, ‘a disappointment’. Shame on you guys down there in the bottom 400 million. That’s enough distress and despair. Time to pull up your socks and be better buyers. (And whaddya mean, what socks?) What are the malls for, anyway?
Their own disappointments matter little. The average family is absorbing 100 kg of foodgrain less than what it did in 1991. That should have been a matter of urgent concern anywhere in the world. It hardly draws comment in the media here.
For hundreds of millions of poor, the brave new world of the ’90s meant globalisation of prices, Indianisation of incomes. As we moved to boost our welfare state for the wealthy, India turned its back on the poor. Investment in agriculture collapsed, and with it, countless human lives. In the cities, banks offered loans with which you could buy a Mercedes Benz at the lowest interest rates. At the same time, rural credit was wound down. Rural indebtedness soared.
Thousands of farmers took their own lives. As many as 3,000 of them in a single district of Andhra Pradesh. Work vanished in the countryside. Distress migrations from the villages—to just about anywhere—rose in tens of millions. Foodgrain available per Indian fell almost every year in the ‘reforms’ period. And by 2002-03, it was less than it had been at the time of the great Bengal famine.
Even as the world hailed our Tiger Economy, the country slipped to rank 127 (from 124) in the United Nations Human Development Index of 2003. This means it was better to be a poor person in Botswana—or even the occupied territories of Palestine—than in India. In the last decade, the Supreme Court pulled up state governments over rising hunger deaths.
But it wasn’t just the state that turned away from the poor. Much of the media led the charge in the other direction, celebrating the new order. Through this crisis, it would be hard to find major papers creating new beats to deal with the situation. No full-time reporters to cover agrarian distress. Not even to look at rural poverty as a whole. Very few to track the suicides and migrations. Or the soaring input costs and crashing output prices driving the farmer to despair. Or the hunger of the landless poor.
Now, to appreciate the enormity of this, look at the other end of the spectrum.
Take the 2005 Lakme India Fashion Week. It reflects well the world the media inhabits. Journalists outnumbered buyers three to one. Unlike the bottom 400 million, the tiny number of buyers is not a disappointment. What’s more, buyers at the show were dependent on designers for their passes. The media were not. Their place was assured. What would the LIFW and the media do without each other?
Right now, if all the agricultural labour unions in the country held a press conference in Delhi, they would be lucky if half-a-dozen journalists turn up If they marched in lakhs down the streets of the capital, they might make a photograph and two columns. Never mind that this class is the most vulnerable section of the Indian poor. Or that they—meaning tens of millions of human beings—are at the receiving end of a man-made crisis. It does not make news. Not much.
The LIFW-2004 edition produced, in one count, some 4,00,000 words in print. Over 1,000 minutes in television coverage. Some 800 hours of TV and video footage were shot. And close to 10,000 rolls of film exposed.
Consider that this was the main media event in a country where less than 0.2 per cent of people sport designer clothes. Where per capita consumption of textiles in 2002, at 19 metres, was way below the world average. And this show, too, drew more journalists than buyers.
Or look at the 2004 Diwali special issue of our largest English weekly. It proudly proclaimed an ‘India Deluxe’. The cover story was pleased with our progress. In present-day India, it noted, 1,00,000 families earn Rs 50 lakh to a crore each year. There would be 53,000 families earning over a crore by March 2005. And there were 20,000 already at that level.
India has over 180 million households. And the high-income ones add up to a fraction of that total. Indeed, the India Today story does admit that just about one per cent of the population can be called ‘seriously rich and affluent’. (As against the frivolously wealthy?)
Consider that this is how it is after last year’s polls. It’s as if the elections of May 2004 never happened. As if they held no message or warning at all. India Shining might have been rejected by the voters. The media still give it a two-thirds majority.
A two-day dip in the Sensex after the election results were out was covered with far greater passion and intensity than the polls themselves. With much larger headlines, in any case.
The Times of India front page recalled 9/11 as its chosen analogy for the May 17 slide of the Sensex. It splashed the figure 2,340,000,000,000 across the front page just under the masthead. A strap shrieked that 2.34 lakh crore of ‘investor wealth’ had been ‘wiped out’. The loss of this paper wealth was declared in eight-column headlines as Ground Zero. The report’s graphic mimicked the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York. An image of the Stock Exchange building in Dalal Street exploding in flames. And yes, with the Left supporting the new government, the villains were clear. The hijacked aircraft ploughing into the Stock Exchange building had the Communist hammer and sickle on its tail. The villains were easy to locate since the Left had said it would back a Congress-led government.
Within two days, the Sensex showed what The Times now called ‘instant recovery’. Paper wealth was back. Fact: an estimated 1.15 per cent of Indian households invest in stocks. On the other side of the fence are 65 per cent of households who do not have even a bank account, let alone investments. (In rural India, that is 70 per cent, according to an analysis of the Census of India household survey.) And where tens of millions of farmers live and die in debt.
The death by suicide in 2004 of a bright and talented model, Nafisa Joseph, got more coverage on television in an evening than the suicide deaths of thousands of farmers had in some years. Nafisa was an aspiring actress, a young life snuffed out in its prime. Surely a very sad event. It first came in as breaking news. It spilt over into numerous sectors of TV programming bar the sports news. It was in the news at prime time. It was there on the celebrity and party shows. Then it returned in the business bulletins for its possible impact on the fashion industry and the stress levels in that sector.
Her death was a tragedy. But no less a tragedy were the thousands of farmers’ suicides. Those are still to get anything approaching the coverage and enquiry they deserve.
Throughout its history, journalism has attained greatness or notoriety depending on how relevant it made itself to the great processes of its time. That was true of Thomas Paine and the American Revolution. True of John Reed and his Ten Days that Shook the World. And as true of Mahatma Gandhi, B.R. Ambedkar or a Tilak.
If we were to look back at Indian journalism of the last 15 years—how relevant would it be? There were huge technological advances. Major gains in reach and technique. But how did the media connect with, say, the giant processes gripping the Indian countryside? Did it achieve greatness? Even goodness? Perhaps its mediocrity was too pronounced for it to gain even notoriety. (Though a few did manage that.)
So what are the great processes of our time? There are several. Let’s look at just six that are surely worthy of urgent media attention.
One, the rapid rise of inequality in our society. Inequality, not IT or software, has been the fastest growing Indian sector this past decade. It has increased at a pace not seen since the time of the colonial raj. And how has journalism dealt with this issue?
The ’90s marked the coming of ‘theme weddings’ in a big way. In these, the wedding is held in a specially constructed replica of some great monument or event. These have ranged from the Sistine Chapel (set up for a Calcutta wedding) to forts and palaces and such. Delhi’s unique contribution was a replica of the Kargil conflict. Huge, snowy white tents with dead plastic soldiers, too. Doubtless to remind the young couple of the solemnity of the occasion.
Some of these weddings can cost crores of rupees. They’ve spawned an allied, wholly new segment of the fashion industry. Of course, all these efforts were put in the shade by the wedding of Laxmi Mittal’s daughter. No replica of the Versailles palace would do. It had to be the real thing. And for US $60 million or more, it was. You can see the local variants in any major Indian city today. By and large, the media have celebrated rather than questioned the growth of inequality.
Compare these weddings with what is going on in the countryside. In Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, and Wayanad, Kerala, for instance, weddings have fallen sharply. No one has the money. A few of the suicides occurred when the farmer found he could not afford his daughter’s marriage. Sometimes, the girl also took her own life, blaming herself for her father’s death.
Another massive process crying for attention is the ongoing agrarian crisis. The crisis of farmers is not just one of agriculture. It touches every sphere of our lives. The suicides of thousands of farmers are a symptom, not the disease. They are the result, not the cause, of a much wider and deeper rural distress. Indeed, the Manmohan Singh government did, to some extent, recognise this. One of its early actions was to set up the National Farmers Commission under Dr M.S. Swaminathan to study the problem. The very first meeting of that commission—poorly covered by the national media—was stunning.
People from sharply differing, even antagonistic perspectives, were present. When you put bankers and farmers in the same room today, you’re organising a riot. And there was quite a bit of fire. There were farmers, labour unions, bank bosses, insurance officers, government officials, scientists and journalists. Yet, across this spectrum, there was unanimity on two things. One, the Indian countryside was seeing its worst crisis in decades. Two, this was policy-driven. Sure, they blamed each other for it. And differed on which policies were at fault and which ones were needed. But on this they agreed: there was a terrible crisis and it was policy-driven.
The meeting threw up some scary facts. The Andhra Pradesh Kisan Sabha brought up hard data on input and output prices in that state. It turned out that you could be a farmer owning eight acres of paddy in Warangal—and still be below the poverty line. This is because the earning per acre of paddy had slipped by Rs 600 to Rs 900 in 10 years. This has to do with a slew of policy measures inflicted on Indian agriculture in the ’90s. The collapse of investment in agriculture, the chaos brought into rural credit, and many other policies. It is surely worth investigating. But it’s hard to do that when you are celebrating those very measures as the arrival of the Golden Age.
Where is that debate in the media?
They have covered PM Manmohan Singh on the need for bank reforms. But have said almost nothing about the fact that rural branches of banks have declined every year since 1991. Between 1969 and 1990, the number of such branches more than trebled. Once the ‘reforms’ began, branches began to close. As Dr P.S.M. Rao points out, in 1990 there were nearly 35,000 branches in rural regions. That is, over 58 per cent of total branches. By 2003, rural branches were down. Both in absolute numbers and percentage. Now, they account for under half of the total branches. The more the banks wiggle out, the more moneylenders thrive.
So there’s one link of the rural credit crisis staring us in the face. But we don’t investigate it. Through the ‘reform’ years, the rich could get a loan at six per cent interest to buy a Mercedes Benz. A farmer paid more than twice, perhaps even thrice that rate if he wished to buy a tractor.
Growing hunger amongst the poorer sections is another great process. With well over 400 million hungry people, India alone has more undernourished human beings than all of sub-Saharan Africa combined. But this does not seem a matter of grave concern within the media.
Another alarming figure comes from the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. The FAO’s State of Food Insecurity in the World report 2003 was happy to note that the number of those in chronic hunger fell by 80 million in 19 countries. Yet, it had risen by 19 million in India since 1996-97. Even though this number understates the reality, it’s bad enough. Nineteen million is almost the population of the continent of Australia.
It also means that in this period, the number of hungry rose in India and fell in Ethiopia. Both ways, in millions. This face of India Shining finds passing mention in the odd edit. Close-up coverage? Investigation? You must be joking.
The last few years saw another new development. For the first time since Independence, the Supreme Court admonished at least six state governments for their failure to halt hunger deaths. The court even held the states’ chief secretaries personally responsible for the deaths. Maybe not a great idea. But at least the court was taking seriously what the media fail to. A child dies of hunger every five seconds in the world. The largest numbers of such kids are Indians.
The next great process going poorly covered is the privatisation of basic services. Private hospitals and institutions have given a whole new meaning to the old adage: Health is Wealth. It puts billions of rupees in their pockets. All the while, the access of the poor to health is falling rapidly. Across most of the country, health has emerged as the second fastest growing component of rural family debt. We now have well-documented cases of farmers in Telangana and Vidarbha regions mortgaging their lands in order to pay hospital bills.
It has gotten so bad that 21 per cent of rural Indians no longer seek medical treatment for their ailments. That’s up from 11 per cent a decade ago. Millions are unable to afford the most basic things. And this is made worse by the collapse of rural employment in the last decade—which still continues. In the late ’90s, we chalked up our worst rate of growth in rural employment since we first began keeping data. All of 0.67 per cent. Way below the rate at which the workforce populace grew. Working less, for the poor, means eating less. Especially for women who eat last in the Indian household.
Our spending on health is abysmal, less than one per cent of GDP. India ranks 189 out of 192 countries in terms of how much the government spends on health as a share of total health spending. How many newspapers and magazines have full-time health correspondents? How many speak up for public investment in health?
And then there’s the privatisation of basic resources. With water being the latest on the agenda. This is a country where almost every long-term crisis has been linked one way or the other to water. Take the Cauvery dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Or the Kerala-Karnataka feud over the Kabini’s waters. Or the Almatti dam quarrel that set Andhra Pradesh against Karnataka. Or the explosive Krishna waters issue that divides the regions of Andhra Pradesh. Even the Punjab problem of the 1980s had much to do with water disputes between Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana.
Privatising irrigation and drinking water invites such troubles on a scale we may never have seen. But quite a bit of the media have been supportive of the process. Without even the pretence of investigating it seriously. Meanwhile, Maharashtra has been rewarded with Rs 1,700 crore by the World Bank for doing its bidding. For steering water towards privatisation. Few editorials or in-depth stories. If ever there was a process demanding immediate attention it is this: the rapid move towards water as a commercial good, not as a natural human right.
Through the summer of 2005 when it was a raging 45-48 degree C in the Nagpur rural region, water ‘theme parks’ and ‘snowdomes’ functioned in that district. One of them, consuming millions of litres of water, is located in a village where people got water once in five or even ten days.
And of course, there was the assault on the livelihoods on the poor. The state following the worst policies in this regard was Andhra Pradesh. There, not just farmers, but also weavers and other groups, took their lives in despair. There were also hunger deaths as livelihoods vanished. Carpenters in Telangana died of starvation when farming collapsed. When not a single new plough was ordered, when not one new cart was made, when farmers did not recycle their tools—that smashed the carpenters. Remember this was the state the big media held up as the model. No chief minister ever got the press Chandrababu Naidu did.
A conscious drive to get people off agriculture was also a major feature of what happened in Andhra Pradesh. This, without a clue as to where to redeploy them. Countless thousands went broke and some even lost their lands as they sank in debt. Lakhs boarded buses or trains and left the state in search of work elsewhere. The number of daily buses from Mahbubnagar in Andhra Pradesh to Mumbai was one a week in 1993.It was forty-seven a week in 2003.
Wayanad was once one of the richest districts in Kerala. A huge foreign exchange earner for the state with its cash crop exports. Now, destroyed by our own policies and the new WTO world order. Coffee prices boom in London while coffee growers commit suicide in Kerala. Wayanad was once the only part of Kerala which had more migrants coming in than going out. Today, the reverse is true. There were six buses a day from Mananthavady in Wayanad to Kutta in Karnataka in 1995.Now, there are 24 daily, a 400 per cent increase. The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation is about the only profit-making body in the district.
And, of course, there was an intensification of forced displacement across the country. Adivasis fighting to save their lands from mining interests. People of the Taungiyas were victimised in and around the Rajaji National Park. And many more.
This was the deadly drama of the countryside. All in all, a giant canvas begging the media to do a portrait, many portraits. We failed that challenge—and resoundingly.
Why? Sure, there are the old faults of the media. Elitism, ignorance, paisa-pinching and the rest. And, of course, the central problem of ever-growing monopoly. The stifling of smaller voices. The death of dissent. Media as commerce and nothing but. And the growing frustration of the many journalists who really want to connect with their society but cannot. These remain crucial. Yet, there are new important barriers that render the media unable to get a handle on what’s going on. Whether in rural India, or with the Indian poor as a whole.
For much of the media, the ideology of the new age is infallible. The celebration of the world of Market Fundamentalism is a given. James Galbraith Jr puts two of the tacitly held ‘rules’ coming out of this with gentle irony. All successes are due to globalisation. All failures are national. And—the global market is beyond reproach.
To these we can add a third. The words ‘exploitation’ and ‘oppression’ now barely exist in the media lexicon. Certainly not as causes for deprivation and poverty. Those are the outcome of ‘bad governance’. And there’s another axiom, the less government there is, the less the state does, the better. Any questioning of these commandments is heresy. Do it as a journalist and you’re at once branded a ‘jholawala’ or ‘poverty mafia.’ On the other hand, spend day after day churning out corporate press releases as ‘news’ and you’re a professional.
The media have lost their compass and, with it, their compassion. What Prof Prabhat Patnaik, one of our foremost economists, calls ‘the moral universe’ of the media has changed a lot for the worse. All their awesome technological advances cannot hide this. Indian journals of the freedom struggle had differing perspectives, angry debates. There was richness and variety. Today, you have McMedia. It tastes the same everywhere. Yet, there are so many talented young journalists, dying to do something better. That is a tribute to the great legacy of the freedom struggle and the media traditions it bequeathed upon us.
Youngsters are still drawn to the profession by idealism. There’s a lot more money to be made elsewhere. Whether it is a Narasimha Reddy in Anantapur; or a Purushottam Thakur or a Bijaya Sahis or Jagadish Suna from the Kalahandi region; or a Dayamani Barla in Jharkhand; or a Jaideep Hardikar in Vidarbha; or a K.A.Shaji in Kerala, younger journalists have put their seniors to shame. Their energy and commitment, and that of many like them, is an inspiration. Journalists like these have worked against enormous odds and often in the face of active hostility, to tell the stories of the rural poor.
No less positive is that so many media audiences are so far ahead of the editors and owners. For a decade, we’ve seen the formula peddled that it was page 3 that sold The Times of India in Mumbai. It was monopoly, actually. There was little need to show any regard for the readers in a game too costly for most others to break into. The Times of India, Mumbai, in June 2005, is for now a transformed paper. Six city pages, the return of a books page, some very good stories (and even some analysis) have made it so.
That two major newspapers have set up shop in Mumbai had a lot to do with the change. Now, you have to show the readers some respect. They might find out they had options. True, how the newcomers shape their content will also decide a lot of things. If they, too, buy into the old formula of The Times, we could be halfway back to where we were just a few months ago.
The problems of the media are not beyond solution. But they cannot be solved within the media. The larger public must and will play its role. It was the voters, not the editors and owners, who took on and slammed corrupt and debased governments in May 2004. The big media, in nearly every sense, found themselves on the wrong side of that great battle. The disconnect between mass media and mass reality stood exposed. The challenge now is to reconnect with the people. And rediscover the greater traditions of the Indian media.

Friday, March 24, 2006

India Shining

AT Kearney has ranked India as the most preferred country for offshore outsourcing. India is among top few in the emerging markets in the retail sphere. The World Economic Forum at Davos featured 'Incredible India' as a theme. George W Bush has suggested that Americans learn Hindi and Chinese. Indian stock markets are booming. Automobiles, healthcare, supercomputing, biotechnology, education, technology and many more sectors in India are steadily climbing to be the best in the world. All publications talk about the burgeoning Indian middle class and the demographic advantage that India has with more than 50% of the population being under 30.
When I read all this I am reminded of the time when I was growing up when Indians as a race suffered from low self esteem, all things across shores towards west seemed so attractive. Kids at school loved showing off their pens, pecilboxes, toys and gadgets from abroad. Most students (they still do I think) studied hard to clear SAT/GMAT/GRE examinations. "Idhar rakha hi kya hai?" (No future here) they would say. Those of us who have relatives abroad would wait impatiently for the suitcases of our relatives to be opened, which seemed to have a characteristic 'foreign' smell. We would be so thrilled to receive gifts of foreign chocolates, clothes, shampoos, soaps, cosmetics, foodstuffs, gadgets and so on. Nothing which was Indian seemed to appeal, we were a dismal lot who were never happy with our country.
The self esteem levels were quite low even about 7-8 years back but gradually it started changing. What changed our perception about our country? The poor are still poor, people still sleep on the pavements, the children still beg on the streets, Mumbai still has the world's largest slum, the politicians are still corrupt and the system still does not work. In a recent article in Newsweek by Fareed Zakaria, there were few lines which seemed interesting and relevant, they are as follows:
India has vast and growing numbers of entrepreneurs who want to make money. And somehow they find a way to do it, overcoming the obstacles, bypassing the bureaucracy. "The government sleeps at night and the economy grows," says Gurcharan Das, former CEO of Procter Gamble in India.
It was all happening right under our noses but we never realized that we are getting somewhere. The first to spot this as an opportunity was the ruling political party BJP who put together the 'India Shining' election campaign which I thought was quite well done. The message was loud and clear - India is happening - the new India has arrived. The middle class may be educated enough to see through crafty strategies of political parties but somehow the message was rooted in their sub concience. They woke up and looked around and found that a lot is really changing for the better and they felt good about themselves and the country. Now whether BJP had brought about the positive changes in the economy is open for debate, but their ad did wonders for realization.
The media and the international consulting firms stepped in as well and the newspapers and magazines were and still are flooded about various reports and analysis about India's bright future. People like me who grew up beleiving that nothing good can ever happen to this country now have happily altered their view point for the better and now we work towards that goal and beleive in the reality 'India Shining'.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Vegetarian Recipe

Anonymous asked me to come up with a vegetarian recipe so here I am trying to cook up one. Now that I sit and try to think of something I am quite blank. Yesterday the egg man knocked and said that all is fine with bird flu and I promptly bought a dozen eggs and now all I can think of are egg recipes! Besides Bengalis cannot think vegetarian so this is indeed a challenge. Here goes...

Lou Ghonto (Bottle Gourd Mish Mash)
(I have no idea how to translate 'Ghonto'!)

You need
1 longish bottle gourd (lauki)
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp sugar
1 bunch coriander leaves
4 slit green chilies
2 tbsp oil (mustard oil is preferable)
Salt to taste
Handful Mung Dal vadi (optional)

Peel the bottle gourd (reserve the peels which you can fry with potato peels, poppy seeds and onion later) and chop into small cubes. Heat oil till hot, reduce flame and add cumin seeds. Add the bottle gourd when the cumin seeds are fragrant. Cover and forget about it for a while. Lots of water will come out, allow the vegetable to cook in its own liquids on a low flame till the water reduces. Add salt, sugar, coriander and green chilies, stir, cover and cook for a few minutes. Additionally fried mung dal vadi can be crushed and sprinkled over the vegetable to give it some crunch.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Under Seige

My time under seige, hopefully I will be able to write tomorrow. I discovered this interesting concept of a word cloud thanks to Anindita so I went ahead and gave it a try and the results seemed worth publishing.

I have also been discovering
tanabana and its deeper meanings in this new blog.
I also realized that I have been spammed in the comments, I happily thought that I have yet another visitor who had been kind enough to leave a comment but when I checked I found some sort of an advertisement and a vague link so I have turned on word verification now which will hopefully stop such entries.

Here are my blog word clouds - I have a preference for Cloud No 9!

Cloud 9

Cloud 7

Friday, March 17, 2006

Manic Weekends!

I have this love and hate relationship with weekends, when the weekend approaches, I have so many plans that I will sit and laze around, read one of the five books I am in the midst of, see Memoirs of a Geisha in Wadala, window shop and eat a subway tuna in a nearby mall. The weekend looks full of possibilities to have a great time and in anticipation I finish all my household chores on Friday so that I can have a longer Saturday.
But of course the above is just a dream which only comes true in parts once in a year or so, if at all. As soon as Saturday dawns, any one of the following things can happen:
  • I can see cobwebs on the ceiling which need to be dusted off immediately
  • The curtains and upholstery suddenly appear to be very dirty and need to be washed immediately
  • I suddenly remember that the Parent Teacher meeting at school is at an unearthly time of 2:30 PM in the afternoon which spoils my plans to do anything
  • There seem to be just too many mailers and letters strewn all about which need to be sorted and destroyed as required
  • One of the almirahs at any given point of time has things tumbling out whenever the doors are opened, they need to be tidied up
  • My maid announces that either vegetables or meat, fish etc are out of stock and they need to be purchased by who else but me
  • My husband decides to take Saturday off and he politely requests for some food and I being the ideal wife that I am, oblige and cook for the family
  • The refridgerator and the kitchen is coated with layers of solidified gravy and grease, thankfully all I have to do is order my maid to clean, but I still have to supervise
  • My son announces (or his teacher sends a threatening note) that there are some tests next week so I have to be a stern Mother and supervise his studies
For the last six months any of these one events has taken place without fail and all the five books that I was reading are stuck mid way. In case you are curious, they are: Winning, Blink, Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, Shantaram (made some progress on this) and Felu Da's Last Case. How I long for a Saturday where I had some time to have some coffee, switch the A.C to full blast, get under the covers and read a book and eventually drift off to sleep - maybe when I retire...
Sundays are different, I get up late and eating elaborate breakfasts, lunches and dinners (thankfully not cooked by me) leaves very little time to do anything except read 5 newspapers, talk with family and watch some TV.
I have of late come to the conclusion that Mondays are not all that manic after all!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Loo Sojourn

Every morning when I land at work, I have to rush to the washroom for obvious reasons and to rectify my scarecrow like appearance to suit the sleek corporate environs. As soon as I enter I am assailed by this bevy of beauties chatting constantly while applying various forms of paints, powders and creams on their faces and brushing their carefully streaked, styled and rebonded manes (perms are out of fashion). My focus is to push through and find an open door.

While I am inside I get to hear the most amazing conversations and juicy bits of gossip which is kind of difficult to come by in the circles I move in. So yes I am guilty of staying inside and eavesdropping at times like these while feeling quite miserable about my shoes and handbags which never match, my unpainted trimmed nails, my boring black hair, my two lipsticks which are at least six years old and my seemingly dowdy loose fitting clothes. Eavesdropping was my sweet revenge!

There are some queen bees who lead this pack and are trend setters and then there are some painfully obvious 'wannabes' who will do anything to ape the leaders. A lot of critical appraisals happen inside the hallowed chambers where the wannabes shower praises on the queens and the queens give out some of their beauty secrets to these poor hapless souls.

The conversations I have overheard are mostly about makeup, clothes and men. The men being the most interesting as I get to hear some tid-bits about the top honchos in the workplace and what they did at a party, about boyfriends and insecurities, about husbands who beat one of these ladies when drunk, about the pass their boss made at them and so on.

Their world is so far removed from mine so its easy for me to draw conclusions about them but after all my eavesdropping I know now that the administrative sales and support staff (who I thought were hired just to look decorative and do this and that) have equally if not more difficult jobs than us but they always do it with a smile on their face.

Friday, March 10, 2006

A Railway Platform

Railway platforms can be rather interesting places if one cares to be an observer rather than fret and fume about the delayed arrival of a train. I had reached earlier to receive my Mother and discovered that the train was due to arrive 30 minutes later that expected. So I stood around and waited amongst the ebbing and flowing sea of people. I observed the arrival of three trains during my wait, trying my best to ignore the rather unpleasant smells all around me which are unique to only India railway platforms.

Bangalore Express arrived on platform 4, hordes of people alighted from the train, women clad in kanjeevaram silks, men in white lungis, children brightly attired, most of them carrying their own luggage and studiously avoiding all the rickshaw and taxi drivers who pestered them. I saw many Europeans and Americans with their back packs, the women had short hair and the men had long hair and were in clothes which had seen far better days. I truly admire their courage to go around India irrespective of language barriers and so many other challenges.

Then came Kanpur Express. This bunch of harried travelers seemed to be in more of a hurry than the previous bunch, there seemed to be more men than women, the Muslims with their white caps and some men in dhotis and Nehru caps. It seemed to be like a rather business like crowd who knew exactly what to do and where to go and traveled light. Incidentally almost all of Bombay's fruit sellers and Building Watchmen are from the UP region and are fondly(?) called 'bhaiyyas'!

Finally the Howrah Express leisurely chugged in after waiting in queue as there were no empty platforms for the train to come in. Many people seemed to be waiting for their relatives or friends, there were many 'coolies' also waiting to leap into the moving train to get customers. People alighted, greeted and hugged; some touched the feet of elders, noisily haggled with the 'coolies' about rates and complained about the food on the train. The 'Coolies' made a killing as everybody seemed to have at least 3 bulky pieces of baggage. There seemed to be a lot of happy chatter all around, some people huffed and puffed as they ran behind the 'coolie' and others walked leisurely.

In all an interesting morning!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

There Are No Shortcuts to Success

That’s the old adage, many of us may have heard from the generations above us saying these words. As we progress, we have gadgets and services which save us time but no matter how much time we save we still don’t have time for tried and tested ways or taking a more proper approach, today everything is about shortcuts in all spheres of life.

Cooking

Instant chapattis, ready made meals and frozen dinners may have made an entry into Indian markets but I haven't seen too many families using these products. I myself use shortcuts a lot during cooking though and the two tried and tested 'shortcuts' are listed below:

Spaghetti Bolognese
Mix packaged tomato soup with fried mince meat, add cheese and seasonings and ladle over boiled spaghetti. No one can tell the difference - I haven't tried this on Italians though.

Alu Posto (Potatoes with poppy seeds)
This is a low cal quick version. In a pressure cooker, pour about 2 tbsp oil, temper this oil with nigella (kalonji) seeds, split green chilies and some red chili powder. Add the poppy seed paste, fry it a bit, and add chopped raw potatoes, salt, turmeric and sufficient water and pressure cook it for 5 minutes.

Both have saved me about 30 minutes time each and the end result is the same. So shortcuts are better!

Love

The latest shortcut to find 'love' is speed dating, which happens to be quite a rage in Bombay. Each person talks to a person of the opposite sex for 3 minutes and makes a snap decision about that person. The couple now graduates to a first date after investing only a few minutes of their time. Imagine how much of time is saved avoiding the gradual build up, the shy glances, finding silly excuses to speak to a person, asking friends to intervene and deal with the fear of rejection and starting all over again.

I am not so convinced that shortcuts are better in this respect as one may also miss out on the euphoria of making a connection.

Career

Is it better to be smart, visible, well dressed and a smooth talker and good at your work or is it better to sit quietly in your corner and work with your heads down? The former is definitely the proven faster way up the corporate ladder with a bit of buttering on your way up.

So shortcuts or rather faster tracks are not so bad in the corporate environment either.

Roads

In a city like Bombay, there are no shortcuts; this is one place where a shortcut could land you in a complete mess. You can at most try to be a top rung movie star or an industrialist and then you can have your own helicopter but do keep in mind that there are only 3 helipads in the city!

Monday, March 06, 2006

A Dog's Life

We have known Oscar for the last 6 years, he was dark skinned, had these long doleful eyes, floppy ears and his general demeanor was friendly and playful. We often heard from his Daddy that he loved to eat eggs and had three boiled eggs every day. At times he would wander into our house if our door was open, inspect all rooms, sniff around and walk out. At times he played with the children and either ran off with the balls or got them back from wherever they had landed. All the residents of the building whom he liked were rewarded with a few wags of his tail and the chosen few with licks.

Oscar had been suffering from a chronic illness for the past few months and yesterday we heard that he passed away at 4 AM in the morning. We met his Daddy downstairs when going out for a walk and offered our condolences. Any grieving person finds solace in describing the passing away and the last few moments, so we lingered on to hear about it.

Oscar's Daddy took him to the hospital everyday for the last few days but the Doctor was not very hopeful. For the past week Oscar carefully avoided sleeping at the feet of his Daddy and slept in the vacant adjacent room perhaps because he did not want to disturb the sleep by his constant shuffling. On his last day, he came to his Daddy's room and lay down before the mini temple in the room. His Daddy instinctively knew that these were the last few moments and he instructed his wife to get some 'gangajal' (holy water from the river Ganges), put a few drops in Oscar's mouth, chanted shlokas from The Geeta and the Mahamritunjaya and Gayatri mantras as he slowly breathed his last in his Daddy's arms.

He was bathed with rose water, sandalwood paste was applied to his forehead, and he was wrapped in a new sheet and taken to the crematorium for pets. All who loved Oscar tearfully said goodbye while the priest chanted passages from The Geeta.

At the end of this narration, even my eyes were misty with emotion and I wondered that a Dog's life is not so bad after all...

Friday, March 03, 2006

Hello!

I am about two months old as far as blogging goes, I am not sure what was the motivation behind blogging but my writing attempts are about a few years old. I started off with soulful philosophical letters to people, and then I moved on to writing editorials for an in-house publication, then some articles for the company magazine and now this blog. Hopefully I will graduate someday to full time writing ... guess only time will tell.

I am utterly charmed by the whole concept, it is like sitting in a breezy sunlit room with all my thoughts spread out and people drop by from all over the world across cultures and communities, browse through the sheaf of my thoughts and leave their comments. At times I wish I had eyes and ears to see these visitors, offer them tea and biscuits, chat a while and hope that I'll see them again soon. I like following the footprints people leave and go around the whole world and discover so much more than I would have done without discovering blogs.

A big Thank You to all the visitors who have stopped by and thanks to TCP for encouraging me to blog!