Image and Imagery

An alley of rows of young men and women, clad in cool attires and sitting in ergonomic chairs, are glued to their laptops.  Their trendy glassed office overlook a vast expanse of swanky business towers that dot the skyline. Sipping endless cups of coffee and working extended hours, they always are in a hurry to beat the excruciating client deadlines to complete the project in hand and move over to the next. These smart, tech savvy and highly paid bunch of youngsters are the Indian IT professionals tasked to develop top notch software products for companies worldwide..and millions of such techies work in cities across the country fulfilling an ever increasing global demand for IT services.  They were the poster boys and ambassadors of the new nation,  a confident and aspirant India taking rapid strides in frontier technologies … and the world lapped up this image, until the events that followed the lockdown altered it completely. 

The nation came to a screeching halt when the lockdown was announced on the night of March 24 to contain the Covid spread with factories shut, offices closed and all construction activities suspended immediately.  And with that, the millions who manned the factories, guarded the offices and the workers who laid the roads and erected the homes lost their jobs and the livelihoods.  Unable to pay the paltry rent, they were evicted out of their shanty dwellings and soon, in every mega city of the country, millions spilled over to the streets, hungry, helpless and turned destitute, all in a matter of just few days. With trains out of the tracks and other conceivable mode of transport in the docks, they despaired to be in the comforts of their dear ones in distant villages and soon braced themselves to a ridiculously torturous journey back home, by foot! As the pictures of millions, trudging along for thousands of kilometres in scorching heat with luggages on their heads and babies on their arms flashed across the international media, the image of a nation, as confident and resilient, turned to its head to become a grim visual of a sea of desperate and uncared humanity on the move, overnight!

The migrant workers are the ones who move the wheels of the Indian economy silently, without being noticed, much less acknowledged in every formal and informal sectors. While they built malls and housing complexes, ran every small and medium industries in hazardous settings, did the cleaning and washing chores in almost all middle class households and kept the cities liveable and functioning, the denizens comprehensively failed to integrate them into the city they choose to serve and in the process left them vulnerable to abject poverty. They lived in sub-human conditions, ducked in the underbelly of every metropolis with no social security to rely on or fall back to, in times of distress. It is this callousness on the part of the ruled and the better-off of the society that led to the very tragic exodus of millions and seriously dented the image of a nation, known for its democratic and equitable principles. 

The advent of information and other allied technologies indeed have provided the educated youths with opportunities for lucrative employment which, in turn, has led to the creation of a gentry of neo-rich people. But while creating such a privileged class, it has also widened the gulf of inequality in the society to unacceptable levels. Though Capitalism, by its very nature, breeds inequality, it is the binding duty of a welfare state to mitigate its malignant affects through affirmative actions. Failure to adopt such an interventionist approach would, as history has repeatedly shown us, make societies extremely unstable, as events subsequent to the lockdown has shown.

As much in politics, it is the perception that carries weight and swings opinion in international arena.  And perhaps this sordid imagery of hapless immigrants under lockdown could have been avoided if only we had taken care of our less fortunate brethren a little better. 

Yours

Narayanan

June 28, 2020 at 5:29 pm 5 comments

Guest post by my daughter

I think Appa started Chapter18 in 2010 or 2011. I was all of ten years old and frankly, too worried about my middle-school friendships to care or even attempt to understand what he wrote. The most distinct memory I have which reminded me of the existence of this blog on a daily was the sound of Appa switching off the lights in the living room at 2 am or 3 am and coming to bed happy and content with what he wrote. How I know he was content? He wouldn’t sleep if he was not.

I have been taught by both my parents to put 100% effort into whatever I do. I have never quite seen Appa put that into practice until this blog came along (sorry, dad :P). He would read books, articles and have conversations with people only so that his writing is rooted in reality and resonates with the people reading. However, like all good things come to an end, this did too. In 2012 when our family hit absolute rock-bottom so did Appa’s will to write. He no longer had the insatiable desire to tell stories to the world and no one in his corner would push him or motivate him to. In retrospect, I wish someone did.

The road to start writing again took a very long 5 years. It took perseverance and determination. By me. To convince him. He would usually retort with “What should I write about? Onnume illai (there’s nothing)”. I thought that was a bit rich coming from someone who dedicated an entire blogpost to the saree (you can read that: https://chapter18.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/the-great-indian-stitch-less-garment/). After months of bickering he finally started writing consistently in January of 2019. And thanks to the God he keeps asking me to pray to, there hasn’t been a dry spell since.

The Narayanan of 2020 is a much more relaxed man than the Narayanan of 2010. He no longer has a teenage daughter to worry about, no dog to take to the vet (you can read about Viju: https://chapter18.wordpress.com/2019/08/11/an-eulogy-for-viju-our-pet/) and he has always had an independent and self-sufficient wife. He spends more time learning, reading and cooking than ever before. And he does it so that he can write about it. So that he can share stories from his childhood and his household with everyone.

Chapter18 hit 100 subscriptions on 26 June 2020. Appa very proudly shows his statistics to Amma and I. “I have people reading my blog from Italy, Pragya!!!!” This blog has been a constant source of inspiration and joy for me. I often read out my Appa’s blogposts to my friends and feel an irreplaceable sense of pride. So, thank you to all of you. For reading and learning with Appa. We now know that if 2012 were to have a re-run we will have 100 others in Appa’s corner motivating him to write.

Yours,

Pragya

June 26, 2020 at 6:22 pm 10 comments

Taming the Dragon

The gruesome killing of twenty of our soldiers by a bunch of Chinese army men, nay butchers, in a pre-planned, diabolical attack has rightly caused immense outrage, not just within the country but among all right thinking citizens of the world. What is so sinister about this onslaught is that, it was carried out just as the negotiated de-escalating process was in progress! And, as if to make a mockery of all established conventions, the bodies of the martyred soldiers were mutilated and flung into the raging Galwan river causing revulsion at the audacity of the act. While the nation mourns at the loss of its valiant sons along with the bereaved families, it also steels the resolve of a race, long acclaimed for its forbearance, to avenge the inflicted wrong and decisively tame and rein-in the dragon that, of late, has gone amok.

When the entire humanity is fighting the corona pandemic that originated from the Chinese soil and struggling to come to terms with the incalculable misery it has unleashed, the Red Army, as a diversionary tactic, is in an expansionist mood. When serious doubts are raised world-wide on the theory that the virus originated naturally and as evidence mount on the possibility of it being artificially manufactured, a rattled establishment is on an all out spree to change the narrative through a maze of geopolitical misadventures.  And to aid it in this agenda is a well crafted web of media blitzkrieg aimed to misguide, misinform and misdirect the public opinion and thus push the subcontinent towards a dangerous confrontation. The game becomes all the more cataclysmic when friendly neighbours are wooed to turn hostile and are induced to act against India. And the nation is well within its rights to bring in an immediate correction and secure its borders.

To neutralise the Chinese forces and push them back from the LAC is of immediate import but a long term strategy to counter the Chinese aggression, both military and economic, calls for a deeper and unbiased understanding of the enemy’s strength. When the stated policy is to “hide the strength and bid for the right time” it becomes all the more imperative to unravel those strengths and how they were acquired in a short span of two to three decades.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc. recently made a telling commentary as to why they manufacture their iPhones in China and it is not the cost factor. “ The number one reason why we like to be in China is the people. China has extraordinary skills. And the part that’s the most unknown is there’s almost two million application developers in China that write apps for the iOS App Store. These are some of the most innovative mobile apps in the world…” says Tim. And this extraordinarily high level of technical skills spans across all the manufacturing sectors making it not just the preferred location, but almost an inevitable one. And that is not all… what the Chinese have achieved is that they have seamlessly integrated high level of craftsmanship with the latest robotics technology that makes the products rolled out of their factories technically world class and aesthetically superior, a lethal combine for any nation to beat. This level of competency among its working class is built by assiduously strengthening their school and technical education systems that has one-point focus on quality. It is no surprise that many of the top class universities in the world today are in China!

And the only hope for India to catch up with the Chinese and acquire a matching technical expertise across sectors is to totally revamp our school education system which today, is largely in shambles. There has to be a re-focus towards skills development right from the middle school as against the present day rote learning and there is an urgent need to jettison the outdated syllabus and align the technical education to the demands of the modern industry. Our engineers passing out of colleges should not be doing coding jobs in IT companies or attending calls at BPO centres but rather be designing a variety of innovative products at innumerable R&D centres. Only with such a shift in priorities would we ever be able to make India a manufacturing hub of comparable quality and effectively neutralise the challenges thrown to us as a nation. 

The taming of the dragon is now no more a choice but a compelling need. 

Yours

Narayanan

June 19, 2020 at 6:30 pm 12 comments

Gandhiji’s Talisman

The grandfather clock in our house was an ancestral property and my father’s was the third generation to inherit it. It was a mammoth time machine with many a needles, dials, wheels and a huge pendulum, all encased in an exquisitely crafted wooden box. The pendulum was kept in perfect oscillation by a network of wheels rotating at varying speeds, the cogs of the bigger ones pushing that of the smaller wheels. The margin of error of the time it displayed was 1/100th of a second, a precision standard that could be the envy of the most modern atomic clock. While it struck a single bell for half-an-hour, the number of the bells it let out every hour matched the hour count it displayed, the peaks being the noons and the midnights. The machine needed regular oiling and servicing and once in a week winding of the keys, an exercise that my father undertook with clockwork precision. It also served as cocoon to sparrows that seamlessly flew into the drawing room from the courtyard and built their nest on the broad upper curvature of the clock to lay the seasonal eggs. The machine served well for generations and kept a close watch and a benevolent glance on all of us siblings during our growing up years. 

But one noon there was no more ticking of the seconds hand nor was there the tolling of the bells at the appointed hour. The grandfather clock had ceased to work completely with all the needles looking upwards as if to convey that the life of it has moved to the heavenly direction. No amount of cajoling the pendulum and winding of the keys could bring it back to life as it stood motionless, up on the walls. Slowly we stopped expecting the hourly strokes and the habit of looking up to check the time also soon left us. But the clock remained on the wall for many more years because it continued to be the home for the tiny birds to nestle its babies as my mother resisted all attempts to disturb their habitat with the zeal of an activist. The sparrows flew in and out of the drawing room umpteen times everyday, dirtying the floors with every flight with its droppings and mother would endlessly clean them without a murmur, only to ensure that the birds happily raised their families in our house. This went on for years until the sparrows themselves became a rare species owing to the unending constructions all over, leaving them with little space to whiz around and thrive. But the grandfather clock continued to hang on the wall, waiting for the sparrows to come and build their nest on it. The clock episode taught us all the cardinal lesson of putting the interests of the less privileged above our little inconveniences and that it is the binding duty of the fortunate ones to take care of those who are dependent on us, even if that means taking upon ourselves the extra burden. 

This sensitisation to put the interests of others above that of oneself stood me in good stead when faced with many a moral dilemmas later in life.  Be it the question of cutting down staff to increase profitability, or finding newer ways and methods to spruce up sales, the interest of the less vocal and more disadvantaged were always protected, even when it meant slower growth, increased expenses or compromised efficiency. The hand woven cloth was preferred to machine made synthetic fibre, purchase from the local stores superseded the temptation to relieve the hi-tech shopping experience of the malls while the services of maids, washermen and the like were continued to be availed even when surrounded with modern gadgets meant to replace these manual work.  

As  advances in web technology, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and the like are making forays into our everyday life  and adversely impacting the lives and livelihoods of millions, the need for a human compass based on compassion is most acutely felt now than ever before. And it is here the talisman given by Gandhi, would serve as guiding post to resolve the moral dilemmas of the present age and help us arrive at the right choices, be it the individual decisions or the policies at the government level. Gandhi exhorts us to recall the face of the poorest man and benchmark whether the decisions we contemplate to take be of any help to him and if the inner voice is in the affirmative, then we should follow that course of action with abandon. This way, a simplest and the most effective tool is granted to us by one of the greatest human beings ever to walk on the face of this earth, that could make the most complex decisions easy and morally upright.

Yet, sadly, it is this very fundamental yardstick that we fail to gauge our decisions with that result in colossal damage to society and the nation at large. If only we remind ourselves of the poorest man and place his welfare as the centre of our actions, we would invariably arrive at the right choices always and would be spared the agony of causing distress to the ones whom we are meant to serve.

Yours 

Narayanan

June 10, 2020 at 12:05 am 15 comments

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 20 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 8 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 5 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

An Eulogy for Viju – Our Pet

The velvety skin, flush with radiant golden-hue fur stretching till the tail end, is an irresistible invitation to caress and to cuddle him. The rounded brownish nose, sitting pretty on the pouted mouth, transfix the onlooker by the sheer perfection of its geometry.  The two eyes are beaming search lights that are eloquently expressive while its graceful glances convey unfathomable affection.  The ears that droop on the sides are ornamental drapes fit only for the most regal and the central mark on the forehead is a natural crest jewel of immense beauty. Chiselled to perfection and flawlessly symmetrical, the paws resemble the artwork of a seasoned craftsman that affords the canine a look, most majestic. On the whole, Viju , our pet doggie, was  at once handsome and adorable.

When the physical charm is captivating, his actions and activities are equally mesmerising. With a horse-like gallop and a quick pace to match it, the strides Viju makes are rapid and rhythmical, inspiring awe and instilling admiration. Endowed with athletic power and agility, every morning stroll with him is a cardio session that makes gym a passé.  And with a vocal tone that is pure timber, each bark of his resonates and echoes, that is so distinctively Viju. His friendly demeanour attracts every kid in the colony and is their willing playmate and his popularity among them is vouched by the young visitors he gets every day.

While his outdoor conduct is endearing to all, his behaviour in-house is exemplary.  Habits of food and leisure, of playfulness and mischief, are so well measured and timed that it never fails to engage and entertain and seldom exceed the limits set.   Such were the pristine virtues of our dear Viju that when he breathed last this Tuesday, our lives were broken and stood altered.

It’s said that persons come to your lives because of some past connect and there is a purpose in each relationship. And I am now tempted to believe that there is even a greater purpose in pets coming to our lives as the impact they leave on us are so overwhelming that  you no longer is the person you used to be before they came into your life.  And on the flip side, they leave behind such a huge void, which, I suspect, even time would fail to fill. But then, that is life… an enduring pain in every relationship.

Thank you Viju for coming into our lives and enriching it…We are blessed of our lives because we shared a part of it with you.

Rest in Peace.

Narayanan

August 11, 2019 at 2:20 am 5 comments

Election in a bye-gone era

When Ramunni Master campaigned for the elections in my parliamentary constituency way back in the 80s, he never asked the people to vote for him. He would rather, tell the electorate why they should not vote for his opponent, Prof. Achudhanandan, a popular columnist, an electrifying orator and above all, a distinguished professor of Physics in one of the prestigious universities of Kerala. If Achudhanandan goes to Parliament, Ramunni Master would argue, the citizens would be deprived of their regular Sunday treat of listening to the professor in the local town hall. With masterly dialectical reasoning that is delivered with the prowess of a flawless language, Prof. Achudhanandan would intellectually dissect the most contentious social and cultural issues of the times and, with wit, sarcasm and political pun would rip into the idiosyncrasies of his opponents, week after week. And to lose a professor who has, time and again, produced many of the country’s finest scientific minds, Ramunni would remind his audience, is a direct disservice to the younger generation. And if all these are not good enough reasons to keep the professor away from parliament, a compassionate Ramunni would ask the citizens to at least show some concern for his health which is not fit enough to withstand the extreme cold and heat of Delhi and would thus insist to desist from voting for him.

When Ramunni asks the voters not to vote for his opponent, professor would in turn, ask them sarcastically, why they should vote for Ramunni, and for good reasons. With his well-known trait of mixing up facts and figures, Ramunni would add the much needed laughter to our otherwise humour starved parliament, professor asserted. “When once asked to Ramunni why the Malayali nurses are coming back from the gulf in large numbers”, professor informs the audience with a smirk that is hardly concealed “the answer of our Master was that the mothers-in-law in Kerala want to be nursed by their nurse daughters-in-law!”. “ And to a reporter’s query whether Kerala should demand for nuclear plant, he resorted “ yes, yes…such trees are good for our state’s climate!”.  And this grip of Ramunni over the English language is only matched with his abundant skills in “ Kalari Payyatu” and a huge lung power to go with it…which, the Professor felt, would make Ramunni a great ambassador of both the martial art and the renowned art of sloganeering of the state, which would be in ample display in the portals of parliament.

While the candidates demonstrated great ingenuity in the styles of their campaigns, the participation of their supporters in the entire election process showcased an amazing degree of variety and distinctiveness. When one set of supporters organised street plays to drive home a political message, other one converted a huge wall into a canvas for political graffiti… and the entire city wore a festive look. Parodies of hit film numbers that spared none in the political hierarchy, marches in party uniforms to the tunes of bands, caparisoned pachyderms mounted with party symbols and flags to the  accompaniments of traditional Panchavadyams ( set of five musical instruments)…. the list of colourful cavalcades is long and mesmerizing.  And when the season is one of celebration and mass bonhomie, it also afforded the young and the stylish to flaunt themselves in their fineries, a beauty pageantry of sorts. In this magnificent Mela of sound, music, dance and theatre, a panoramic view of that gigantic democratic process, wherein the voice of every citizen echoed its august presence, was in display in all its grandeur… filling every heart with pride for a young nation and ushering in hope to an assured future.

The day of the polling started early with long and winding queues dotting across the booths… with the young, the old and the infirm… all lined up with keenness to exercise their franchise. Voters were ferried to and fro by fellow citizens and the party enthusiasts kept themselves busy explaining how to mark our preference in the ballot paper and how important it is not to waste a single vote. And everybody listened and agreed. The occasion was serious and solemn and all took it that way, a date with the Indian democracy.

When the results were declared, the winner and the vanquished, both rejoiced and hugged each other and wished well to one another accepting the verdict of their master, “The People”.  And the people celebrated the victory of the democracy… because every vote counted.

Yours

Narayanan

February 25, 2019 at 12:05 am Leave a comment

Follow the sequence

After a hectic week of work overload, my wife was lazing last Sunday without attending to her routine morning chores, meaning, disinterested to prepare her usual mesmerizing breakfast for the three of us.  A considerate husband that I am, I offered my services to fix a quick meal and suggested to dish out “Upma”, a semi-solid savory, which when properly prepared is at once tasty and wholesome.  My wife quickly accepted the gesture, not because she had any great faith in my culinary skills but honestly believed that the recipe would keep the pangs of hunger at bay till lunch time, a reasonable enough duration for her to shake off the fatigue and drape the apron again.

I, at once, set out to the task of churning out the Upma….cut the vegetables, smashed the coriander and other spicy essentials and placed the pan on fire, half filled with water. Stirring steadily the boiling water with all the ingredients in it, I poured down the Semolina (Sooji), the base material, leaving the salt to be added at the end of the process.  As the mixture bubbled up and transformed into a more solid state, a lavish dose of ghee was splashed over the hot concoction, the aroma emanating from which, drew my wife to the kitchen. When I reached out to the salt bottle, my wife opened her mouth aghast. She at once was furious that I have not sprinkled the sodium when the water was still boiling.  I tried to reason with her that it can always be added to taste at the end and that the sequence doesn’t really matter.  And I was terribly wrong!  How much ever I tried to mix the cooked stuff with salt, it refused to spread evenly, leaving a small portion heavily salted and the larger one, bland and tasteless. On the whole, my tryst with cookery that day ended in unbridled disaster with even my pet doggie, who otherwise instinctively obeys all my instructions, just refusing to even sniff the stuff, served to him warm and with much generosity.

It is only then that the importance of the correct sequence dawned on me with much force and it is just not confined to order of a recipe preparation. In the usage of the language, a jumbled up sequence of letters could make the “sacred words on the shore” a “scared sword on the horse” and a “tender heart” could become a “rented hater”. And if you mix up the order of your dressing, it could spell more catastrophic than the wardrobe malfunction…the shirt would precede the vest and you may well end up wearing the underwear over the pants, a ‘la Spiderman!!!  Correct sequencing, both in matters of words uttered and attire worn are of paramount importance, to sound sensible and to look human.

And while dealing with the machines, sequence would well mean a choice between task well accomplished or a disaster invited.  I cannot, while driving, change the gear before pressing the clutch nor can stamp the accelerator without releasing the break. And to follow a set of instructions in a preset order, a Standard Operating Procedure is critical and non-negotiable in almost all arenas of human enterprise- be it in aviation, in medical care or in developing software.

The nature too adheres to a well set order and it is repeated with clock like precision. The chirping of the birds precede the sunrise, thunder follows lightning and the trees shedding their leaves proclaim the advent of winter.  Flowers blossom when the bees hum, fishes multiply just after the rains and frogs croak in anticipation of the monsoon. There is enchanting beauty in this well orchestrated symphony, a flawless rhythm of sequence and a profound melody of orderliness.

Just as in nature, human societies too are preserved and nurtured by a strict compliance to order and our well-being and progress is guaranteed only when sequence become sacrosanct. Early years are dedicated to education while the middle life is spent in acquiring wealth and in supporting the family. The years for reflection and counsel are reserved for the later part of the life when one is looked upon for guidance and support by the younger generations. Childhood and adolescence are followed by formal wedding and marriage precedes companionship and family life.  This sequence in human life has ensured order and continuity in society, ensuring stability with security, and endow purpose and meaning to our existence.

But sadly today, we find an onslaught on this time tested pattern of our earthy sojourn as orders are recklessly scrambled and social fabric fatally destroyed. “Live-in” is one such fad wherein youngsters live as wedded couples without entering into the vows and commitments of a formal marriage. They seek to enjoy companionship without responsibility and decide on mutual congruity only after a long spell of living together. Paranoid to face life as it comes, they prey for instant gratification rather than for life-long commitment that is based on true love and understanding. Putting the coach before the engine, this behavior destroys the lives of the people involved and eats on the vitals of the society and the social order. A great scourge and a threat to civilization, it is absolutely essential that this tendency is purged to its roots and normal human behavior is strengthened so that generations to come would have a family to fall back to and a culture to be proud of.

Human life is designed to achieve a higher purpose and should not be reduced to a blind game of cards, shuffled at whim. Otherwise, life would be a tasteless waste, much like my botched up Upma!

Yours

Narayanan

January 15, 2019 at 11:49 pm 8 comments

A day@a publishing house

@8.15 AM: Sweta is fast hopping the office stairs to reach her desk on the second floor. “Morning, Sweta!” greeted Rajashree from the right corner workstation just as she was stepping in to her cubicle. Both of them are members of the core team assigned with the task of publishing an English language series and for the past one and half years, they have been working twelve hours a day, six days a week…. After all, there is a deadline to bring out these twenty-four high quality language textbooks which would be the flagship series for the company the coming year.

@9.30 AM: “We need to have a critical writing exercise for this unit to reinforce gender understanding and for the usage of the new vocab that is being introduced here.” Sweta was at her convincing best with her publishing head who is reluctant to go with her on this play “The Bread-Winner.” She had in fact, prepared the outline for the exercise and being a Ph.D. holder herself on Somerset Maugham’s plays, she is more than sure that “The Bread Winner” offers great scope for critical writing tasks. Saraswati, the publishing head, finds Sweta‘s point persuasive and the exercises quite innovative and puts her stamp of approval. Sweta walks out triumphantly, having won a point of view on literary merit!

@11.00 AM: The in-house illustrator, Kaustubh is spreading out his drawings on to the table and the entire editorial team has milled around him to scrutinise each one and pass judgements. This is the fifth time Kaustubh has re-drawn the entire set of eighty-four illustrations that is to feature in book –VIII and has marshalled all his skills to make each of them vibrant with life. “Great job, Kaustubh … this is what we know you are capable of” the publishing head lavished her praise as she flipped though them, one by one. Kaustubh let a sigh of relief for having at last okayed his labour of last two weeks.

@1.30 PM: The sales head calls an urgent meeting of the key editorial staff to bring to their notice the latest CBSE missive on the need to include Indian cultural lessons on English textbooks! They get into a huddle and create a taskforce to plan out the lessons to be included, book by book. The guiding principle for selection of lessons in Indian culture is prepared and circulated and in the next one hour, a grid is ready on the lessons to go in each book!! WoW!!

@3.00 PM: The digital team has prepared their presentation on the animations created based on Augmented Reality. These animated characters create a riot on the screen and dovetailed with the textbooks, they are a great visual aid to the learning process. Each animation is supported with crispy voiceovers and the unique combination of text, sound and visuals gives every child a 360° learning experience that is just hard to replicate. Kudos, the digital team, this is one of its kind, a sure winner, a game changer and the approval for it is instant… the extended round of applause is definitely an indicator.

@5.00 PM: The editorial team has assembled at the first floor to review the progress on the project and there is a palpable tension in the air. The books have to go to press in about three weeks and there are many a loose ends still to be tied. The teacher App support, for which Sharmila is the head, is garbling with technical issues and it is decided to dedicate a full time App developer for the project. The manuscripts for books five and seven are still being fine-tuned and an urgent telecon with the authors is fixed for tomorrow morning. The In-Design pagination team is waiting for the final sets of illustrations and the four cover designs that are short-listed need to be finalised by next Monday. Shoba is assigned with job of coordinating these tasks and ensure compliance by Friday next!

@7.30 PM: A tired Sweta walks into Suchi’s cubicle who is finalising the activity sheets for Book IV. “We are putting everything into these materials so that the children get the best but what if….” Her eyes fell on the worn out NCERT books that is staked on the left side of the table. She lazily picked up one of them and flipped it through and just could not contain her anguish at the sheer variance in the quality of the books she is currently working on and the one she is now looking at.“ This is not done. Hope our labour of love does not go down the drain and in the garb of low-priced books, our children are not denied quality textbooks.” The pain and desperation in her voice is hardly to be missed.
“We will continue to do our good work Sweta, and any number of circulars expounding the merits of these books is no substitute to quality learning materials.” Sweta couldn’t agree more.

Claimer: Characters in the piece are inspired by hardworking publishing professionals and any resemblance to any one in real life is definitely not a coincidence!
Yours
Narayanan

May 25, 2017 at 10:59 pm 11 comments

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