Archive for July, 2020

When everyone enjoyed a good cough

In one of the annual college musical competitions, I dared to try out a popular film number of those times that had a long stretch of higher notes peaking towards the end.  A proficient singer would invariably rapt the listeners in delight when those higher octaves, in cascading rhythms, were delivered with ease and would clinch him a standing ovation for the musical prowess displayed. I too fancied to be a recipient of such a veneration as I stretched my vocal cords to its limits and then, it buckled. Instead of presenting the song in ascending notes and in shriller decibels, what came out of my mouth was a jarring screech that one would only let out on seeing a cobra hissing in the living room. Becoming aware of the disaster, I soon gathered my wits and managed to throw a couple of quick coughs to let the audience know that I really had a bad throat that didn’t allow me to offer them an exhilarating musical experience. As I coughed my way out, the crowd sympathised with me and the judges on stage wished me a quick recovery and a better luck next year!

“As I am suffering from cough and fever, I will not be able to attend the office today” is the standard email line that is copied and pasted by a lazy employee to take a day’s unscheduled off from work. The boss would immediately sanction the absence as he himself has used the line many a times to stay at home on a week day. Cough, cold and fever have always been to our rescue to buck a difficult situation and were equally handy to avoid the bad ones and they have delivered, every time.  Used with perfection and with great effectiveness, these little ailments are a panacea for our mundane difficulties that otherwise would have turned life boring and monotonous. When a tough maths unit test is scheduled for the day, an unprepared pupil just has to feign a bad cough or cold to avoid the school and thus the paper. A maid would marshal the cough and fever excuse that her child is suffering from and then stay at her home to escape the extra load of dishwashing when you organise a weekend party at your place. And many of the invited guests would drop out also siting the same reason only to be out to watch the Friday release, the very first show. When you don’t want to say a direct no, the cough and fever alternative is the time tested weapon that serves the purpose and also keep relations intact. 

An intermittent cough is also deployed as a pause by many accomplished speakers to gather their train of thoughts and deliver them with added punch. When about to reveal the central message of the talk, seasoned orators let out a mild cough that puts the audience to a state of heightened alertness so that the intended communication is hammered well and is fully delivered. A boss walks into the meeting room coughing so that the atmosphere turns business-like and when his presence is still not noticed, a bolder cough or a two would draw the attention of all and acknowledge him with exchange of pleasantries. A cough could be a pause, a siren or a prelude and it all depends on who you would want to position it .

But cough and fever as an aliment was never taken seriously and the treatment meted out were casual and meagre. When we have experts and specialists to diagnose and treat more serious illnesses, it is just a general prescription or even an over-the-counter drug that often is the line of treatment and many a time the concocted kitchen remedy would do the trick. Consulting a doctor for cough and fever was indeed a luxury but not anymore!

In these days of the Corona pandemic, the slightest suggestion of cough creates much anxiety and if there is fever to accompany it, then all hell breaks loose. From immediate home quarantine to swab test, the cough has come to symbolise the dreaded Covid infection and is to be kept at bay at all costs. From twice a day warm water gargle to an overdose of lemon and pepper in daily diet, humanity these days would do whatever it takes to not let out a cough.

But now I am coughing non-stop as the masala fumes emanating from the kitchen is irritating my delicate throat…. It signals a delicious dinner in the making and I am just loving the bout! 

Yours 

Narayanan

July 27, 2020 at 6:48 pm 3 comments

Blend it like a Thali

Every late evening, before retiring for the day, my mother would boil a litre of milk, allow it to cool under the fan that is set to rotate at the highest speed and then do an obnoxious act of pouring a scoopful of butter milk on to it. The mix is then closed with a lid and kept aside overnight. The scene of adulterating a pot of pure, creamy and soul nourishing cow’s milk that I could, in those days, drain down in one single gulp, with a highly pungent, sour and almost spoilt liquid was, for a ten year old, insensible and intriguing as it was equally revolting. It could be, I thought then, a sort of a ritual to ward off the malignant affects of an evil eye rather than a procedure to manufacture the daily supply of dairy products for the family. The pot would have invariably vanished the next morning by the time I woke up only to re-appear with a fresh litre of boiling milk in the night!

The realisation that fermenting the milk is an essential process in making the curd had to wait till the chemistry teacher dealt the topic at the high school, but the lesson learnt was much deeper than about the chemical process involved. It let me realise that anything that is pure and intrinsic in nature is by itself of limited value and only when it is blended with other lesser substances, often with opposite characteristics, that it assumes higher significance and purpose. The curd and thereafter the butter and the ghee would have been impossible without the milk blending itself and allowing it to merge with the inferior butter milk just as the finest ornaments could be crafted only on the gold that is mixed with copper. The pristine white paper turned priceless only when the dark ink is smeared over it to create the finest literature that a million readers would behold and treasure. Without the paper let go its fairness, it would still continue to be pure and without blemish, and also blank and empty. Many a fine textile are created by blending different fabric, each supplementing the other to make a composite whole that give expression to many delicate attires.

And when it comes to the blending of different flavours, the Indian platter, the Thali, is the richest example that caters to the demands of every taste bud and yet nutritionally complete and wholesome. The six tastes of sweet, hot, bitter, sour, salt and pungent are lavishly experienced  separately through specific dishes while the whole meal is delicately balanced by the sequence in which they are savoured. And when the last morsel is finished, the feeling one derives is of complete fullness and satisfaction, a gourmet’s delight! In nature too, the most beautiful scenes are reserved during dawn and dusk, when the day’s light blends with the darkness of the night, to spread a panorama of visual splendour. Just when the first rays of the impending sunrise splash on the sky, a celestial display of a thousand birds fluttering jubilantly on the coloured landscape is a sight to behold. And with the first brush of darkness, the vast aerial canvas draped in myriad hues turn serene, filling the hearts with peace and tranquility. 

And during these days of the pandemic, it is the capacity to blend new skills with traditional wisdom that would help one survive and emerge stronger in every department of life. While discharging office responsibilities, the tactic is to seamlessly integrate the conventional method of work with the online interactive meetings that would ensure continuity at job. And at the personal level, it is the blending of household chores, recreational activities and creative endeavours that would keep us in fine fettle. The teachers are blending their delivery with online learning tools to supplement the chalk and talk method and the brick and mortar businesses are seamlessly integrating with e-commerce model. Religious services are delivered on Goggle Meet for the rituals that are conducted physically and payments received via bank transfers!. That’s blending of the most innovative kind!    

The age of blending has indeed arrived and is here to stay…and the future is of those who embrace it willingly!

Yours

Narayanan

July 20, 2020 at 11:46 pm 20 comments

Guru Dakshina

Ambuja Iyer, an octogenarian, logs to her computer every morning to conduct classes to hundreds of her students, online. She has mastered the technique to teach complex mathematical ideas on the digital medium so that her children do not miss out the lessons when the schools are closed during the lockdown and beyond. When many, half her age, are grappling to understand the fundamentals of various online platforms and to effectively transform them for the ‘Work From Home’ culture, here is a passionate teacher juggling the digital tools with such ease that her online classes are billed as vibrant, interactive and trend-setting. Her virtual classes today are a rage among the students and their numbers are only growing!

Moumita, a Pune-based Chemistry teacher, was at her innovative best when it came to creating a lively classroom environment for her online sessions. She used a cloth hanger tied with strings to an armchair and to the ceiling to keep the camera of her mobile phone focused on the board as she explained the complex chemical reactions and derived the equations on it. The students, sitting in the comforts of their homes, could easily understand the concepts explained as effectively as they would have in a physical classroom. And what’s more, many even recorded her sessions to recapitulate the lessons at their convenience.   

And in Kochi, Elizabeth Fernandez and her teacher colleagues of the St. John Bosco school tread miles every working day during lockdown to teach children of migrant workers living under a bridge in the city. The teachers download the content for the online classes to a laptop and play it to the children who mill around them as they explain the lesson, with masks on. The under-the-bridge classes can only be conducted after eleven, when the day has really turned hot, to facilitate children accompany their parents every morning to go for fishing, which is their livelihood. 

Ambuja Iyer, Moumita, Elizabeth and thousands of other teachers across the country struggle day in and day out to prepare lessons, conduct online classes and design offline activities so that our children remain focussed and engaged with their studies through out the pandemic period. They leave no stone unturned to understand the workings of online teaching methods, that were quite alien to them till the other day, and stretch themselves to gain expertise on various digital platforms so that student interest is sustained, classes remain effective and learning objectives, accomplished. These teachers spend hours on end recording video lessons and audio files, designing worksheets and assessment tools, and uploading feedbacks with comments…and all these are in addition to the regular job of conducting online classes. Webinars, teacher training programs and online parent meetings… and the job of a teacher during lockdown is nothing short than being herculean.

But sadly, as the physical schools are not functioning, many parents are not willing to pay up the regular school fees even when their incomes are not impacted and their children fully engaged with the online classes. As the revenue of the schools drop drastically, the schools, in turn, have resorted to cutting down the salaries of teachers and, in many cases, even stopped paying them completely resulting in desperation among the teaching fraternity. And to give vent to their anger and to bring their plight to the notice of the public, teachers, in many places, have taken to the streets, with slogans and placards.  And it was indeed a pathetic sight that, those who are entrusted with the task of shaping the destiny of our children are made to shout and plead for their basic rights, the salaries, in city squares!

The Indian ethos have always accorded a venerated position to the Guru, the Preceptor and it firmly proclaims that it is only with the blessings of the teacher, that one attains glory and fulfilment in life. And paying up for the knowledge received, the Guru Dakshina, is the binding duty so that the knowledge bears fruition.

An Ekalavya paid the Guru Dakshina by cutting his thumb for the imagined instruction received from his Guru… And we, belonging to that lineage, should show no reluctance to pay our teachers their due… without they asking for it.   

Yours

Narayanan

Post script: A Kochi teacher is using Augmented Reality (AR) to teach primary class children that gives a 3D effect.

https://m.timesofindia.com/videos/city/kochi/kochi-school-teacher-uses-augmented-reality-technology-for-conducting-lower-primary-online-classes/videoshow/76958894.cms

July 12, 2020 at 6:57 pm 18 comments

The Brew Beckons

The alarm that is set to wake me up every morning does not ring a bell. It, instead, lets out an invigorating aroma that wafts through the entire house which would even jumpstart a person in deep anaesthesia. That’s the magic of the brew my wife concocts in our kitchen every dawn that’s seductive to inhale and heavenly to sip! Filter coffee is instantaneously refreshing and therapeutically stimulating that it has, for ages, mesmerised both the connoisseur and the commoner alike and also everyone in between!

Cultivated to the level of a fine art, it is the filter that is central to the entire process of preparing this brand of coffee. A two layered vertical container with a top lid, the base of the upper compartment  of the coffee filter is minutely and evenly perforated and sit atop the lower one which is meant to collect the black liquor as it filters down. Copious spoonfuls of finely granulated coffee powder, which are at times freshly ground and dried, is packed on the upper part and steaming hot water is poured over it till the brim. The covered container is put aside till the hot water, penetrating through  the thick layer of the coffee powder, drips down, absorbing the essence of the coffee and its fragrance and collects as decoction in the lower portion. The decoction, a dark and highly viscous liquid, is the sum and substratum of the filter coffee business that sets its apart from other variants of the beverage.

And concocting a memorial cup of coffee is akin to creating a symphony, à la Beethoven, where the decoction is the central theme and other ingredients merge in to complete the perfect orchestra. And what makes the drink a classic, just as the symphony, is the right proportion and the sequence of these ingredients that compliment each other and present a wholesome experience of taste and texture. A little more of sugar and the alluring bitterness of coffee is lost and a little less of milk and the creaminess of the brew is compromised, the first one leaves a jarring sweet note and the other spoils the rhyme of the drink.  And as you finish the cup of a perfect filter coffee to the last froth, an ethereal taste lingers on your mouth for hours on end, just as the musical notes that plays on in your head much after the concert is over!

And the tradition of filter coffee has many a local variations, each having its own distinctiveness and of course, its own ardent followers. While in some regions, sugar has given way to jaggery while in others milk is totally done away and substituted with other creamy thickeners. Whatever be the different avatars, the filter coffee retains its pride of place just because the decoction remains a common denominator to all these versions.

But this art of brewing the filter coffee is fast losing its hold as we switch over to more lazy way of fixing the drink, with instant coffee powders and whiteners. It might just be so easy to make a cup of coffee, anywhere and anytime of the day but that’s not what the connoisseurs of the drink would ever bargain for, conveniences be what it is.  

There is only drink that can surpass the taste of a cup of filter coffee and that is a jar of filter coffee!  

Yours 

Narayanan

July 5, 2020 at 4:29 pm 19 comments


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