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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

End of exams celebrations--the environment

I was out shopping in the corner mini market. It was evening time and suddenly there was a hullabaloo outside and a bunch of strapping young men rushed into the shop smeared with Holi powder, a virulent pink at that. Holi had gone by some time back and I was wondering what the occasion was.

When I walked out of the shop about twenty boys were hanging around all in high spirits with the tell tale pink powder smeared on them. The front of the store and the neighbouring bakery was littered with the pink powder, smeared, heaped, scattered any which way. I deduced that +12 exams had just got over and the boys were in exuberant spirits.

However, I was angry at the way they had dirtied the neighbourhood and asked them in a raised tone, “Who has done this?” each one shrugged off responsibility, or shook their heads in denial though the evidence was patent. One showed me that he was the victim for his paper had gone off extremely well and he was the nerd who had to be congratulated/ penalised.

I continued “Is this not a public place? How can you, educated and knowledgeable boys, do this?” Again there was no reply and I was being looked on by all the passers by in a strange manner. The auto drivers too, who knew me well, looked on wondering, “What has happened to this Amma she is shrieking in rage?”

I went into the bakery and cooled down, did my purchases and walked out. The heap of electric pink powder on the pavement poked fun at me. The boys who were still hanging around turned away when they saw me. “Boys! I am sorry” I said. “I should not have yelled at you. I was upset that you youngsters who are so much more aware of environment have done this. Do you think that this was correct? Should not celebrations be done in a private space, within your homes? Who has the responsibility of cleaning this mess? Then your generation blames mine for spoiling the earth and environment…”

There was silence. One lanky boy came up bravely and said, “Sorry Aunty! I did not do it but I will clean up this mess”. He then rounded up a couple of his friends, got some paper and picked up most of the powder from the pavement. When I tried to help with my creaky knees, they kindly said, “No! We will do it”.

I walked back home with a good feeling. The original fault was mine for losing my temper. The lads were on the defensive and passed the buck. Yet when I apologised, the youngsters immediately responded positively and cleaned the mess up. However, the pavement, after nearly a week still brandishes the pink stains.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

DREAM MERCHANTS

We live in a world that is governed by advertisements—they are all over the place, in your face, attacking you through all your senses.

The first Seller of Dreams was the Serpent in Eden and the first Consumer—Eve. The product was a red apple.

And the men have been blaming women since then for everything that goes wrong! Yet it is men who have made it their life’s purpose to make money and success by selling these dreams since then! Since that time we are still trying to find our way back into paradise through the ideas sold by dream merchants.

Who are these Dream Merchants? They are mainly the promoters of Consumerism. They give the public an exposure to products, services etc. through ads. They promote a Utopian lifestyle that seemingly is within the reach of anyone. The sale of a product or service all boils down to creating awareness and then promoting the product through blitzkrieg media exposure.

Consumerism came into being with the discovery or invention of Desire. The Desire was then exploited by creating a product or service to satisfy it and resorting to promotional advertisements containing truths, half truths and plain lies about the new product to establish a market. Desire was blown into a Demand as opposed to a genuine need.

Next came the competitors to exploit the market in the name of consumer awareness and choice. Soon ad budgets occupied a large percentage of the product price. The consumer willingly fell into the trap and bought the dream. Soon he began to dream in technicolor and wanted and demanded upgradation and more. The vicious circle of demand – advertisement – purchase- consumption – discard-repurchase enveloped more and more people and has now assumed threatening proportions, destroying natural resources and raising the spectre of mankind itself being consumed.

Consumerism begins when you are born—in the choice of hospital, the doctor who delivers you, the paediatrician who checks you out first, the choice and usage of baby products and today even the choice of cord blood stem cell banking for possible need in the future.

Life takes you through a gamut of needs—education, career, marriage, family—that have to be satisfied and that never end. Even after you are dead consumerism goes on—wood or electric cremation, ashes to be immersed in the sea or in a river or the Ganga itself; burial services, choice of coffins, flowers, eulogies. And in all this the stretched hand that will give or receive, stays extended.

The Dream Merchants build castles in the air and we occupy them without checking out the solidity or the foundations of these illusions. All of us are perpetrators. All of us are victims.

DREAM MERCHANTS

We live in a world that is governed by advertisements—they are all over the place, in your face, attacking you through all your senses.

The first Seller of Dreams was the Serpent in Eden and the first Consumer—Eve. The product was a red apple.

And the men have been blaming women since then for everything that goes wrong! Yet it is men who have made it their life’s purpose to make money and success by selling these dreams since then! Since that time we are still trying to find our way back into paradise through the ideas sold by dream merchants.

Who are these Dream Merchants? They are mainly the promoters of Consumerism. They give the public an exposure to products, services etc. through ads. They promote a Utopian lifestyle that seemingly is within the reach of anyone. The sale of a product or service all boils down to creating awareness and then promoting the product through blitzkrieg media exposure.

Consumerism came into being with the discovery or invention of Desire. The Desire was then exploited by creating a product or service to satisfy it and resorting to promotional advertisements containing truths, half truths and plain lies about the new product to establish a market. Desire was blown into a Demand as opposed to a genuine need.

Next came the competitors to exploit the market in the name of consumer awareness and choice. Soon ad budgets occupied a large percentage of the product price. The consumer willingly fell into the trap and bought the dream. Soon he began to dream in technicolor and wanted and demanded upgradation and more. The vicious circle of demand – advertisement – purchase- consumption – discard-repurchase enveloped more and more people and has now assumed threatening proportions, destroying natural resources and raising the spectre of mankind itself being consumed.

Consumerism begins when you are born—in the choice of hospital, the doctor who delivers you, the paediatrician who checks you out first, the choice and usage of baby products and today even the choice of cord blood stem cell banking for possible need in the future.

Life takes you through a gamut of needs—education, career, marriage, family—that have to be satisfied and that never end. Even after you are dead consumerism goes on—wood or electric cremation, ashes to be immersed in the sea or in a river or the Ganga itself; burial services, choice of coffins, flowers, eulogies. And in all this the stretched hand that will give or receive, stays extended.

The Dream Merchants build castles in the air and we occupy them without checking out the solidity or the foundations of these illusions. All of us are perpetrators. All of us are victims.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Community interaction in Urban Life

The community in the villages used to be very close. If there was a function in a family, the whole street would come together and actively take part in every activity associated with the event. Each house provided food items from their sources: sacks of rice, dhals, gur, coconuts, bananas, vegetables and other fruits to be used in the cooking. People also gave their services and helped in the cooking, making the sweetmeats, erecting the pandals, shelters and tents with dried palms and even opened their homes to accommodate guests coming from other parts of the state. The special treatment of the guests—ubacharam—the hospitality and care showered on outsiders was all taken care of by neighbours.

However when the urban resettlement took place gradually each family isolated itself in compounds and behind gates. Only in cities like Mumbai or Delhi, when the Tamil community relocated, they continued to support each other.

I remember my Aunt’s house in Matunga. For the wedding of each of her three daughters, her group of friends would turn up a few days before the wedding and sit together to make the sweets and savouries that were given to the groom’s family as ‘seer’. There was no telephone and the gathering took place by word of mouth, fixed by the ladies in the vegetable market the previous evening.

They would come after their morning chores were done, including finishing their lunch. Two would take the responsibility of getting the rice powdered and one would sit in front of the wok and hot oil. The others would spread themselves in the two room flats and deftly make the murukku, laddu, adirasam etc. They would have coffee and maybe a snack and then after three or four in the afternoon, having finished the sweetmeat preparations, would go back home to the rest of the day’s work.

A few years ago, in the UK, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, street parties were thrown with each family contributing food and drink for the all night party. Neighbourhood shops too contributed their goods and services and that was a memorable community celebration.

Today with technology and a great deal of easing of labour, people prefer to buy stuff or order with a caterer. Kitty parties and birthday celebrations are held in hotels. Catering for a crowd, beyond the immediate family, has become tedious with women having to face many other pressures from their workplace and lifestyles. I see that even the pot luck parties are slowly dying.

The village has now been recreated to some extent in apartment blocks. As a result there is an effort to get the kids to perform dances and skits, for people to cook dishes and bring it to the event. Festivals and occasions are being celebrated with some community effort. This effort is not widely spread but now with the economic downtrend, maybe this sense of sharing and joint celebrations will become popular.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

ARIGATO—Thank you

Today I had the unique experience of interacting with a group of Japanese women visiting Chennai.

There were four of them:

  • Akemi Yoshii, works with a Chennai software company as a Japanese translator and is also a freelance food writer who has completed her Master’s in Gastronomy at the University of Adelaide, Australia) and writes about Indian cuisine for Japanese media.
  • Kurumi Arimoto, cook book author is the daughter of the most famous cookery author in Japan,Yoko Arimoto.
  • Maiko Shimizu, is a professional writer, editor and photographer and Radio presenter. She is running a web site “One doodle Land (http://onedoodle.jugem.jp/)” and planning to introduce Kurumi’s travel of Chennai through her web site.
  • Akemi Kimura who owns a boutique in Yamaguchi, Japan.
    They wanted to learn how to make South Indian dishes and my friend Viji Varadarajan, who has authored many cookbooks, arranged a session in her house. We were contacted through the internet and it was a very satisfying experience teaching them important dishes from the Chennai cuisine..

    The main item on the menu was Kozhakattai/modak that is made for Lord Ganesha. They were surprised that it was just like their wontons and they showed a remarkable dexterity in making the sweetmeat. It is not an easy dish to prepare for seasoned cooks but it was amazing that they could manipulate and shape the dough, (made of rice flour and water and cooked into a paste) with élan.

    I took Akemi Kimura to a French company, Vastralaya, that is custom making hand embroidered furnishings in Chennai for designers from Paris and Europe. She was completely taken aback at the quality of the embroidery and its intricacies. The workers are all men in this establishment and they truly do fantastic Ari, Zardozi and appliqué work apart from crewel and other Indian embroideries. It seems that the traditional expertise in hand embroidery in Europe is now practically extinct. The East is still maintaining its hold over traditional crafts but that too may disappear as the children of all these craftsmen are training and moving over to white collar jobs.

    A couple of months ago I had the chance of meeting a Saurashtrian family of silk weavers, Veerayya Silks, that can trace its roots in the same house that still stands to seven generations. They are making silk saris and have found out that direct marketing to a select clientele is more remunerative. They come to the client’s house with their saris. They have had no training in Avon/Oriflame marketing strategies; they don’t advertise but are able to successfully run their business by sheer word of mouth.

    The enterprising initiatives by entrepreneurs from different parts of the world is very interesting for a people watcher like me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Master Tailor

In India we have this wonderful service given by tailors and Istriwallas (Ironing man) at a fraction of the prices charged elsewhere in the world. Custom made garments are easily rustled up for men and women by the hoards of these guys sitting in little holes in the wall all over cities, towns, and villages. A R Rahman wore a bespoke suit, not an Armani, made by a Chennai Suit Maker—you can’t call them tailors can you—and made a fashion statement on the red carpet!

I have a varied experience with tailors in many cities—wherever I have lived. The first encounter was being measured up for uniforms by run-of-the-mill school tailors as my mother used to sew all my clothes.

A truly awesome and unforgettable experience was with a Master called Rozario, (who never put in a stitch into any of my garments). His establishment was a space under the staircase of a dingy old building in Bombay/ Mumbai. But boy! His address was equal to any Saville Row establishment, absolutely top notch for these parts—opposite the Gateway, right next to the Taj Mahal Hotel. He was my uncle’s tailor and was highly recommended to my father.

The process of getting a suit made was not simple. First the cloth was chosen and taken to Rozario for approval, then only paid for—something you could do in ‘those’ days. Then the design was debated and mulled over, chosen from old Burlington catalogues. Even the lining, the lapel, placement of pockets were seriously considered, shortlisted, rejected and with a sigh finally approved by the Master. “I need two trials, both times around four PM. After dark wont do Sir!” was the injunction and a date after three weeks was fixed in Master’s diary for the first trial.

The trial was not a simple case of trying out the suit in a half finished state with pins and threads and chalk marks all over the place. Rozario would ask my father to don the pieces—it was still not a suit or trousers and jacket—and looking like a scarecrow with bits of white lining hanging all over Rozario would undertake a survey. My Dad had to stand in various positions—on the stairs, pavement, getting out of the car, squatting stylishly on the worn wooden treads of the shop, sitting on top of the counter with a little leap and even occupying the wooden stool used by the Master...all this to check out the fall of the suit, the drape, the crease, pleats etc. This exercise would take close to an hour give the rest of us who accompanied Dad enough time to take a stroll on the cobbled pavement along the sea, have a snack of peanuts and chick peas, do a little shopping in the bylanes of Colaba and then come back in time to hear Rozario fix up the second trial a fortnight later.

The second trial saw the garment in a nearly-finished condition with tacks of thread in a contrasting colour running all over the lapel, pockets and other prominent spots on the suit. The same process of examining the garment in various positions was carried out; adjustments to the length of the trouser (Dad had to wear shoes and socks compulsorily for this stage of affairs) and the tightness of the jacket seriously debated, finalised and the final date of delivery mutually decided upon. This too would take about forty minutes to an hour.

A week later, the outfit was ready and Dad had to wear the suit for any final tweaking. The bill was settled and finally Rozario would open up about lighter matters of discussion like politics, cricket, poverty and slum life.

The important aspect about this whole enterprise was Rozario would accept only one suit commission at a time and my father, affectionately called Tiger by his sons and nephews, and not naturally known for his patience or forbearance, behaved with the utmost equanimity while he was in Rozario’s hands.

Years later I went in search for Rozario but the under-the-staircase space was occupied by a leather handbag shop. My husband as a banker in need of suits, settled for readymade stuff from a famous brand.

Monday, March 2, 2009

On a Clear Day You can see Forever…

When I was in College there used to be a song from a failed musical that could not find an audience. Barbara Streisand, my all time favourite, had sung 'On a Clear Day you can see Forever'. This blog is not about the song or movie.

Last week Chennai, known to have only three kinds of weather, Hot, Hotter and Hottest had unprecedented fog in the early hours of the morning and flights were delayed….absolutely strange for this city.

Fog was something that we associated with Delhi, London and San Francisco. In Chennai other than for a few days in December-January even mist was a strange phenomenon. Even on these days, people were up early in the morning to take part in the Nagara Sankeerthanam or Bhajan Procession around the neighbourhood. So they experienced a few wisps of mist floating around the city structures.

There used to be a time when I could see clearly all the way to the line of the horizon from the beach in Marina or Eliots. Today I can only see a murky blurring between the sea and the sky, grey, mauve and pepper and salt black.

There are no more clear days, however hot it is in Chennai, and you can’t see forever.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Equanimity--Samatvam

I have been doing some research on this subject....
It is not easy to first think leave alone achieve a sense of equanimity.

We grow up opinionated--frankly all of us have a strong view on every topic under the sun. Some of us are more articulate, some mildly expressive and others keep a piece of their mind to themselves. I am of the first kind, you may say. I love to hear the sound of my own voice!

This has led me into plenty of hot water, mainly to chronic laryngitis. I used to be on the stage where I found expression for this opinionatedness. I had to give that up--the stage I mean--as I was ending up on a merry-go-round of stage appearance-->throat infection--> strong medication and bed. So now I am being opinionated on this blogspot.

Will I achieve this equanimity--just writing and not bothering about anybody sharing my thoughts? Will somebody read all this....Oh well time will tell.