The Domestic Treaty

The bilateral treaty that I and my wife entered into during this lockdown period covers areas of responsibility in discharging the household chores and it has no clause for unilateral exit. The agreement is binding on both the parties as long as the other maintain all the conventions and does not indulge in acts of omissions, tantamount to breach of contract. The broad contours of the treaty are so framed that there is equitable distribution of work with scope for minimal infringement into each other’s territory. When all matters relating to the external affairs are purely under my realm, the operational jurisdiction of my wife’s work encompass kitchen and laundry, both critical departments that demand seasoned expertise and deep domain knowledge. And I have the responsibility to do the ground work that would facilitate seamless preparation (meaning cutting the vegetables) of sustenance food by my wife. With additional charge to ensure that the living spaces are secured for human habitation (sweeping and mopping the floor) and to oversee that all essential equipment are made ‘Mission Ready’ for the next day’s operations (in other words, cleaning the dirty utensils before going to bed), I have my KRAs clearly spelt out.  By a special provision in the agreement, I am exempted from liability that could be incurred by any act of a persona non grata, the entry of anyone into the house uninvited, and that is a big concession in these days of the Covid spread!

The cutting of the vegetables for many could be a cultivated art but for me it is nothing short than a commando planning before a surgical strike. When chopping a bunch of beans, for example, each of the pods need to be stripped off the external fibre, levelled them to uniform size and cut into pieces of equal micro length, an exercise that demands operational precision and clinical execution. When it comes to dealing with the unruly leafy vegetables, it could be an absolute nightmare with many strains intruding into the operational area while a whole stacked bunch jumps off and escape the chopping knife. Thanks to the many youtube videos, I could, at last, gain a semblance of working knowledge on the subject, after doing a few dry-runs on paper napkins.  Such is the level of the challenges that are thrown at me during this lockdown period that twenty-five years of work experience and a twenty years of education preceding it,  is hardy of any relevance today. 

 The sweeping and mopping the floor, I thought would be much simpler, like clearing the trash box of the laptop….press Ctrl+Alt+Del and all the junk is gone! But after every sweeping assignment, I need to embark upon the task of cajoling my jarred hip muscle with a lavish dose of self-massage. And when mopping becomes an essential follow-up activity, the limbs, the elbows and the calf muscles all join the chorus for an extended period of physiotherapeutic appeasement. If the going gets little harder, they all request for a moratorium from work, at least for two consecutive days, without any penalty, a demand that is in contravention to the terms of the treaty!

 The external agencies that I am to contend with are the milk supplier, the grocery store owner and the vegetable vendor. Interacting with them demand skill sets in negotiation, in supply chain management along with sorting and assorting techniques. Purchase of the vegetables, for instance, has to precede a reconnaissance mission to all the nearby vendors with the objective to make a fair assessment of the price band of each of the veggies. Armed with such a scientifically collated data, I would be in an extolled position to extract the best deal. And in these days of serious monetary constraints, when alacrity needs to take precedence over callousness, such analytics help withstand the pressure of lobbying by the vendors. 

Even after such intense planning, there were instances when I could not fully comply with the finer points of the agreement seriously jeopardising its operation. But with the help of the interlocutor, my daughter, we managed to thrash out the issues and bring truce with my wife and salvage it for another day. 

With the third extension of the lockdown announced with many relaxations, the period of the treaty too is now extended, without any relaxation!!!

Ho, it’s just about time for the next activity and a sink full of vessels is staring at me!

Regards

Narayanan

May 4, 2020 at 4:36 pm 18 comments

The great digital divide

Moolchand’s cheap Chinese handset has, of late, turned silent. Not that the instrument has conked off but, the pre-paid number in the mobile is now “out of service” as it is not topped-up for days on end. It takes a minimum of Rs. 50 to keep the mobile active but in this extended period of lockdown and weeks of zero income, Moolchand scarcely has any money left with him for the purpose. And even when he manages to cough up the little currency needed, he could neither find a shop open to get it done nor has the knowledge and the access to charge it online. His wife, living in a remote village in Purnia district of Bihar, has no clue of either his whereabouts or his wellbeing as the only line of communication with the family now lay in tatters. Moolchand is desperate to reach out to his family for about a month now but even the most advanced mobile technology won’t allow him do just that without putting money to the account!

The new age connectivity of the mobile and the internet is touted as a great leveller that would ensure seamless access to information and to services that would ensure equality among all the citizens. But as the days of COVID-19 pandemic get prolonged, what emerges as a stark reality is the great digital divide that segregates the poor and the marginalised from the rest of the countrymen. When basic food and other essential needs are out of bounds in the normal bazar, it gets usurped and hoarded by the upwardly mobile through a web of online purchases and modes of payment. While the likes of Moolchand struggle to survive through a mixture of community handouts and government doles, the tech savvy class indulge in many an online activity of fun and leisure, all from the comforts of their homes. The shutdown robbed the urban poor of both their income and the self esteem and digital technology is nowhere near to their rescue. 

With the penetration of the high-speed internet and the easy access to digital platforms , the idea of “work from home” was quickly lapped up by the privileged few while the vast majority of the populace lost their livelihood to the Corona onslaught. Many innovative methods to transact business online were smartly adopted and soon Zoom meetings, Webinars and the likes became the order of the day just when multitudes in innumerable shelters despaired to quell hunger and thirst. The drawing rooms of the middle class households increasingly morphed as office spaces in the new scheme of things while every conceivable space in the relief camps where taken up for human occupation. The access to technology has endowed the fortunate class with newer privileges and its very denial to the vast majority is threatening their survival. The Coronavirus has indeed demarcated the digital haves from the digital have-nots in the most cruel way.

As in business, the elites have quickly integrated the digital offerings for the purpose of education too and now almost all private schools conduct classes online. Lessons are taught through a combination of Google classrooms, whiteboard demos and interactive activities with teachers and students secured in the safe environs of their homes. This new methodology is bringing about a paradigm shift in the ways lessons are transacted while the less fortunate children on the wrong side of the digital divide have neither their schools running nor have the wherewithal to harness the technological advantage. This would further widen the knowledge base and the skill sets among students from different economic strata that is already skewed over many fault-lines.  Digital technology thus is fasting emerging as the new differentiator with those without access to it hugely marginalised and even losing the battle for survival.

Meanwhile Moolchand’s mobile got an SMS alert which read thus “ Your mobile services are temporarily disconnected. You can reactivate the number by paying online by clicking at the link given below”. He neither could read the message nor did he care to know what it meant…he just waits for things to become normal so that he could charge his mobile from the nearby petty shop.

Yours

Narayanan

PS: Moolchand is only a representative of the vast number of migrant workers who are stranded in various cities across India.

April 24, 2020 at 11:32 am 12 comments

Compassion Quarantined

For many a Holi, along with the colours, the dance and the attendant bonhomie, it is the mesmerizing delicacies of Pyare Lal, that add flavour to the celebrations in our housing society.  It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Pyare has wizardry culinary skills when it comes to dishing out hot Pakodas, juicy Jalebis or spongy Doklas, all gastronomical essentials to complete the festive revelry. And the best of bartender would still have a trick or two to learn from him in the cultivated art of creating the Bang, the intoxicating beverage exclusively concocted for the occasion.  And Pyare does it all, for every Holi, for a nominal fee that is part of his income at this time of the year.

But this Holi, there was little celebration, lesser colours, zero partying and no work for Pyare Lal, courtesy the Covid-19.  Kids stayed indoors, Whatsapp hooked the parents with continuous Corona updates and Pyare Lal sat at home, without an income.  The five thousand rupees which he could have earned from our society would have ensured that his two children stay in school the next academic session, but that now is doubtful.  And this loss of income was across to many in the similar economic strata, the colour sellers, the water gun vendors, the drum beaters … as all of them look forward to this season to earn a little extra but now stare to a bleak year ahead.

And the trail of consequence that Covid-19 is leaving behind is mostly impacting the economically disadvantaged though it does cause collateral damage to the privileged class as well. When air travel is suspended, the taxi drivers are idle, when corporate announce the “work from home” scheme,  the house-keeping staff is terminated and when we choose to cut down on our outings and the “eat outs”, the jobs of auto-wallas  and the restaurant managers, and of everyone in between, are in serious jeopardy.  When the cheap cloth mask is selling at the exponential rate of its original price, the Samosas of the poor tea-seller across the street is crying out for a buyer, many suspecting it to be the carrier of the deadly virus.

The impact of any eventuality, be it natural or man-made, economic or technological or even socially engineered, is always invariably on the disadvantaged as it is nay impossible for them to shield from its consequences.  When a flood could only inconvenience many of us, it destroys the entire produce of a poor farmer and thus his meagre annual income and an economic slowdown lays down thousands of labourers in the construction industry. The invention of the wheeled suitcase though has made our travel more comfortable and less cumbersome; it also has thrown hundred of coolies out of their jobs in our many railway stations.  A communal riot irreparably damages the lives of its victims as they struggle to come to terms with their personal losses and almost all of them are under-privileged. The poor is spared by none!

While we make newer and bolder innovations, as we adopt sophisticated technologies for our mundane work, it is indeed the poor who bear the brunt of these advances as their livelihoods are snatched away by cold machines.  Add to this the present lock-down and the “social distancing”, it the poor who are truly quarantined, of human compassion!

Yours

Narayanan

March 15, 2020 at 12:58 am 11 comments

We The People

For the nation emerging from the shackles of a long and debilitating colonial rule and limping its feet in the sands of time bloodied by a communal carnage of colossal magnitude, the Indian Constitution  was the sanctified gospel, echoing the consecrated aspirations of half a billion people for a life that is just, liberal and free from prejudice. With 395 articles spread over 22 parts, the Constitution of India is the largest written document for governance anywhere in the world. It has, among others, adopted features from the British, American and French constitutions and thus resonates the values and principles that are universal, gained and refined through centuries of struggle. 

The guiding signposts for awarding ourselves with such an enlightened document, more so when the other country that simultaneously acquired independence opting for a highly sectarian and religiously bigoted statehood, are the timeless ethos of the Indian philosophical thought, enshrined in the Vedas and the Upanishads and etched deeply in the Indian psyche. The belief in the essential oneness of all human beings, in the idea that different sects are but limbs of the one Supreme Being formed the bedrock of an elevated idealism that translated into a workable political doctrine. And it stood the country in good stead!

The idea of equality of religions, for example, has its genesis in the Vedic dictum,” Ekam Sat, Vipra Bahudha Vadanti”,  meaning, that “the truth is one and wise men describe it differently. The acknowledgement of the fact that there could be multiple ways to inquire into the nature of truth, and that different religions are but varied pathways towards the same goal, paved to accept and integrate people of every religion into our mainstream politics. This principle afforded the state to treat every religion equally and confer equality to its practitioners, a salutary accomplishment that many nations still find hard to achieve. 

Again, the concept of justice, of social, economic and political, has its underpinnings in the Upanishadic verse “Isavasyam idam sarvam”, meaning that the whole universe is permeated with divinity and differential treatment of individuals is alien to our philosophy. This approach compelled the state to see poor and downtrodden as “ Daridra Narayanas” , worthy of special focus and targeted schemes to alleviate their poverty. At the social level, these “Harijans”, were seamlessly integrated through affirmative actions of the state, made possible only by the high ideals derived from our Vedic past.

The principle of fraternity that is embedded in the preamble of our constitution again can be traced to the Vedic roots which says :  Saha Nau-Avatu, Saha Nau Bhunaktu Saha Viiryam Karavaavahai” meaning “May we protect us both together; may we nourish us both together; May we work conjointly with great energy”. This idea of kinship and camaraderie, so essential for nation building, has fuelled us to conquer newer heights in scientific and technological advancements and thereby help resolve many a teething problems of a young nation.

It could thus be established that it is the glorious Vedic school of thought that we have freely drawn from to frame our constitution that inspire and instil a sense of awe in all of us. And it would indeed be unfortunate to tamper with its fundamentals and that too with the avowed objective of building a new “Rashtra” that is in variance to the idea of India that we know of and are justifiably proud of.

We could only turn again to the Vedas and pick a prayer so that better senses prevail:

Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Nir-Aamayaah 
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet 
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih 

Meaning: 
May all become happy
May none fall ill |
May all see auspiciousness everywhere
May none ever feel sorrow |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

Yours 

Narayanan

December 23, 2019 at 1:06 am 4 comments

The Marriage of Cultures

The dangling string of pearls, the ‘Mundavlya’ , tied horizontally on the bride’s forehead gets entangled with the groom’s ‘Poonal’ as he bends to wipe her temple with his “Angavastram”. The ‘Kolapuri Saaj’, the crafted gold necklace, dazzles in the rays of the morning sun just as the glittering crimson tinged border of the ‘Panchakacham’ the boy is draped with. The three horizontal streaks of ”Vibhuthi”, the hallmark of a ‘TamBram’ male, gels effortlessly with the distinctly Marathi “ Maang Tikka” ,  latched at the centre of the  bride’s hairdo .  The ‘Navari’, bridal trousseau is as exquisitely elegant as the ‘Madisar Pudavai’ worn by the groom’s mother.  The marriage ceremony of the Tamil boy with the Marathi girl was at once unique and colourful, showcasing the intermingling of two divergent cultures, both rich and vibrant in their own ways.

Set in the backdrop of green carpeted hills that’s partially wrapped in the morning mist, the wedding of my nephew was solemn and serene, interspersed with the rituals of both the traditions.  With festoons in hues of gold, lily and strawberry pink, the tastefully decorated floral ‘Mandap’ was delicately subtle yet stately, quite reminiscent of the Maratha regality. The ‘Ganapati Puja’, worshipping the auspicious Lord Ganesha preceded the’ Punyavachan’, the ritual of seeking blessings from the august assembly which was showered in copious measure.  And the ’Antarpat’, the drawing of the curtain in front of the groom was as much fun as it was meaningful  as was the ‘Kanyadaan’ the ritual of offering the girl to the groom. The  “Mangalya Dharanam”, the traditional  knotting of the holy ‘Mangalasutra’ was conducted with the bride dressed up in the typical Tamil Brahmin “Koorai Pudavai”  to the raining of “ Akshadai”, the holy grain, and to the strains of  “Nadaswaram” , the South Indian Shehnai  . As the couple completed the marriage vows, the Gods above and the denizens below lavished their choicest blessings for a life of heavenly togetherness.

The Wedding feast was a thoughtful spread of the finest Marathi cuisine and to the many South Indian “connoisseurs of food” present on the occasion, it was an open invitation to gastronomic indulgence.  And as one relished the dishes one by one, the cravng to tuck in more was palpable and at the end of it all, none felt guilty… after all, it’s a marriage with a difference!

The event concluded with everyone wearing the “ Pagri”, the traditional colourful headgear that added to the bonding and the  bonhomie between two cultures. The “Namaskar” was exchanged with a warm “ Vannakam”.

Yours

Narayanan

December 1, 2019 at 9:11 pm 7 comments

Ik Onkar

We pay our reverence to Guru Nanak Dev Ji on the 550th year of Prakash Parv.

Continue Reading November 11, 2019 at 8:35 pm 4 comments

Band 7 point something

 

IMG_1748Simran Kaur, a chubby eighteen year, was making the last minute polishing of her listening skills as she jot down points of the anglicised lecture that is streaming through her earphones.  She is desperate to clock an overall Band score of anything between 7 and 7.5, which is eluding her in the last two attempts, to secure a seat for a two year random diploma course in a Canadian university.  A decent score card in International English Language Testing System or, IELTS in short, is the passport for thousands of youngsters like Simran who see a future only in countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada and a foreign university course is a well crafted route to move, study, work and finally settle in developed countries.  And of the four skills in English language proficiency that this exam tests a student, Listening has been the one that Simran is finding hard to crack…having only listened to Punjabi throughout her school days… But this time around, she is exceedingly confident as she enters the sound proof chamber of the designated examiner.

Preparing for IELTS is now an obsession among almost all who have crossed seventeen and the size of the coaching business, maybe, is next only to the famed textile industry of Punjab. From farmhouses to havelis, from posh offices in swanky malls to scrambled rooms in shanty buildings, IELTS coaching centres have occupied every conceivable space in the state…across cities, towns and also in the ‘Pind’, the village. And the hoardings that call-out students to enrol to these centres evenly dot the skyline, pop-up in the middle of the fields and also are in display on the rear of most public transports. As you travel through the cities and hinterlands of the state, there is no way you can miss the import of this exam, both for the economy of the state as well as for the future of its youth.

IMG_1749A parent typically spends about Rs. 40.00 lacs on his straight-out-of-the-school child’s two year course in one of these foreign universities.   This amount is not just an investment to his education but also an insurance premium that guarantees a good life for him beyond the campus. As soon as he gets into the university, the student scouts for and gets odd jobs that give him the money to meet his immediate needs and the two-year period is spent as much to get acquainted to the work life of the country as it is to acquire the degree. Once out of college, work permit becomes the next goal to be achieved and after a period of struggle, everyone manages to get it and enter into a life that would remain a dream back home. Green card, PR and citizenship, all follow one after the other and before long, one slips into the ease and comfort of the adopted country. It is estimated that, from Punjab alone, there is an annual outgo of Rs. 40,000 crores to foreign universities to acquire these  degrees/diplomas. 

While it is desirable and even admirable that our children take foreign degrees and work there, once it becomes an unending exodus of the prime resource of the society, its youth, the impact it leaves on the state is indeed catastrophic. The young population is becoming scantier with each passing year and the one that are passing out of the schools have their eyes set on foreign soils. When the working population is fast ageing and there isn’t enough young people to take up their positions, the consequence of it is all too glaring…unattended fields, fast vanishing social life and mushrooming number of old age homes. Empty malls, vacant theatres & shopping arcades and cities fast losing its usual hustle and bustle…. the symptoms are all too evident to ignore.  And there isn’t yet a sign to stem the tide or to bring back the qualified.

Meanwhile, Simran is done with her IELTS exam and is in all smiles. This time, she is sure to score a Band of 8 plus!!!

And it’s now time to celebrate…. with बैंड बाजा!

Yours

Narayanan

August 25, 2019 at 4:13 pm 4 comments

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