Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Elixir of Life-Part II

How much water do I drink? Quite a lot. According to my sons I suffer from a unique medical condition called 'sonothirstitis'- I will ask them for a glass of water every time I see either of them, whether or not I am actually thirsty. (I doubt the veracity of this statement. Now that all the kids have flown the nest I still drink lots of water, and even manage to make myself a cup of tea in the afternoon).
When we were children, my sister and I would get a ticking-off from our(normally very mild mannered) father if he ever heard either of us ask the other for a glass of water. It was the height of indolence and utterly disgraceful to be so lazy that you couldn't get yourself a drink of water. So I guess my sonothirstitis is all my father's fault- my repressed childhood tendencies leading to present symptoms.
(According to my mother practically everything on the planet is my father's fault, including his falls and fractured hips, but I digress). I also happen to perspire copiously, so drinking lots of water is a survival strategy. I've also lived in places that are either very hot, and/or very humid, which is why I'm loving the long winter we had this year in Kolkata.
Water shortages are something I have personally rarely suffered from. But I am aware of the disruptions of normal life that such shortages create. And of the fact that millions of our countrymen have no access to clean drinking water. Water-borne diseases are rampant. Women spend a great deal of time carrying heavy pots of water to their homes for cooking and drinking use. Bathing and washing clothes is often done at a public facility. Clean toilets, or perhaps any toilets, are rare. These are issues we associate with people in rural areas and urban slum dwellers, with whom we do not really identify or empathise,as they are not part of the great middle class, or 'People Like Us'. In the last couple of decades, though, water shortages have seriously affected 'people like us'. Many citizens of Delhi and Chennai have suffered greatly from the insufficient supply of clean water. In Chennai, private water tankers were a common sight. The ubiquitous plastic 'matka' became part of the city scape. The non-potable water available was often so turgid that laundry would become discoloured, and it was quite unkind to skin and hair.
Conservation of any resource depends upon its availability. In earlier times, we would hear of people spending money like water. I don't think we can afford to spend water like water anymore. One of the most chilling scenarios of a global water shortage is envisaged in Ruchir Joshi's excellent first novel, "The Last Jet Engine Laugh" (Flamingo, HarperCollins India, 2001). In the not so distant future that Joshi writes about, water is so contaminated that one can neither bathe in it nor drink it. Elaborate gadgets take care of personal hygiene and water tablets control thirst. A cup of coffee is a huge triumph. Water tankers are held up at gunpoint, and riots over water are commonplace. Truly frightening. Yet for many people even today water is not the easiest of commodities to obtain. If you have have access to clean potable water and sufficient water for your other daily requirements, you are truly blessed. Future generations also need to be similarly blessed.
I heard a story about an old man in some very arid part of Rajasthan who would bathe with a small, measured quantity of water, whilst sitting in a shallow vessel so that not a drop was spilled. He would then wash his clothes in the water that he had bathed in, and then use the water he had washed his clothes in to water his plants. This may just be a story, but it certainly has a message for us all.
Water is a precious commodity, use it well.

God help us all- 40 questions!

I was tagged by Sue for this rather long set of questions. Here goes:

1. What did you do in 2007 that you'd never done before?
Started my blog!

2. Did you keep your new years resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I never make new year resolutions.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Friends had grandchildren. And of course the Mad Momma had Beanie, but we met much later.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My beloved Phupha. He was over ninety. One of the sweetest, nicest people I ever knew.

5. What places did you visit?
Orchcha in Madhya Pradesh, Houston, Austin, Atlanta, Raleigh, Washington DC, New York, Niagara Falls,London, Delhi, Noida.

6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?
More time, less routine.

7. What date from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
None in particular

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not losing weight.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Had severe vertigo for the first time ever.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
My Corelle plates that we use now everyday- my mother used to find the old china ones too heavy, and would complain!

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
No one's in particular. My parents were much more chilled out after my US trip, but celebration is too strong a term!

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and/or depressed?
The spoilsports who think banning a creative work is a legitimate human activity.

14. Where did most of your money go?
On normal, day to day life.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The Dover Lane concerts 2007

16. What song will always remind you of 2007?
The songs from TZP.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?
Much the same:)

18. Thinner or fatter?
I wish!

19. What do you wish you'd done more of?

20. What do you wish you'd done less of?

21. How will you be spending Christmas?
Saw two movies, not quite back-to-back.

22. Did you fall in love in 2007?
Permanently fallen many long years ago.

23. How many one night stands?

24. What was your favourite TV programme?
Hats'Off productions like Baa,Bahu aur Baby, or Sarabhai vs.Sarabhai.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Raj Thackeray, for being so parochial.

26. What was the best book you read?
The Road, Cormac McCarthy, and The Music Room by Namita Devidayal, among others.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Kaushiki Chakraborty

28. What did you want and get?
Books, music.

29. What did you want and not get?
More time!

30. What was your favourite film of this year?
Jhoom Baraabar Jhoom, for just being fun.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Saw Om Shanti Om after a Chinese meal. Fifty two.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Less waiting for my husband.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007?
Back in jeans after a gap of a few years, physique notwithstanding.

34. What kept you sane?
Books, music, blogging

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
The stupid MNS brouhaha. Divisive politics at its worst.

37. Who did you miss?
My late brother.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Sue and the Mad Momma and their beautiful kids

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007.
The more loving I am, the better my life is.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
Jhoom Barabar Jhoom!

I hereby tag Lekhni.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Elixir of Life-Part I

Good old drinking water- my favourite drink. (I've even had a poem written about me and the quantities of water I drink- but I digress). I have to like the taste of the water I drink, though. Anyone who says that water is a tasteless, colourless liquid is probably quoting a chemistry text book. Water has a taste. And the taste of water also determines the taste of your tea, and of much of the food you cook. This post is about my first and second hand experiences of both the availability and potability of the domestic water supply.

Long decades ago, when I was a mere child, drinking water was the stuff that emerged from every tap in the house, twenty-four hours a day. ( Which led to its own set of problems. One neighbour would wash clothes every morning at 4 a.m., banging away at her laundry with a 'sota', a wooden, cricket bat like object that was used to beat the dirt out of the wet, soapy clothes, and my poor mother, a light sleeper at the best of times, would suffer). That was the stuff we drank, cooked with, that I tried to avoid filling the fridge bottles with, bathed with , washed clothes, dishes, mopped floors with etc. Water was one thing that, like clean air, was taken for granted. Slowly and steadily, scarcity crept into something as simple and innocuous as the domestic water supply. The supply was now timed- a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening. The already rather small bathroom was filled with buckets of water to meet various contingencies. Similarly, the kitchen also had some stored water too. But it was water, on tap, and that's how it was consumed.
Decades later, water became the subject of much angst. Either it was not available in sufficient quantity, or the supply was erratic, or it was impossible to drink. As cities expanded, the traditional single municipal supply became inadequate, and tubewells and borewells became commonplace. Sintex tanks found a booming market, as did domestic pump sets. There would be terrible tension between upstairs and downstairs neighbours, as the upstairs homes wouldn't get any water at all if the taps were open downstairs. Relationships were often soured because of water woes. Certain areas would have to rely on tankers to provide them with water. People would spend sleepless nights waiting for water.
In many cities, the potable water was now supplied only to the kitchen tap, and other sources were used for washing, bathing and lavatory use. The incidence of gastro-intestinal diseases also seemed to rise, and very soon drinking water was blamed for a number of ills from jaundice to typhoid to cholera and worse. Whether the source of these ills was the humble kitchen tap or the filthy fingernails of the roadside chaat-wallah, drinking water came under the scanner. Huge pans were procured in which to boil the family's supply of drinking water. Many appliances came into the market, starting with the dual chambered candle filter and the small filter that was put directly onto the kitchen tap. Much research went into the potable water business. Various kinds of equipment such as the Aquaguard and its variants came into being. Initially the emphasis was on making sure that the water was free of pathogens. (My youngest was almost a year old when we installed our Aquaguard. A cousin came to visit, and we were showing off our new acquisition. He was most amused to find the little one sitting in the garden and drinking water from the hosepipe!)
As cities expanded, and the sources tapped to supply domestic water perforce increased, water seemed to acquire variations in taste over every few kilometres. The same preparations, made by the same person, using the same brand of salt, could now easily be oversalted due to the high salinity of the water used for cooking. Though the water was rendered germ-free by various methods, the potability was suspect. Bottled water in twenty or twenty-five litre containers came onto the scene- one more delivery for the housewife to monitor. This bottled water was supplied by companies which desalinated the water by a process known as reverse osmosis. The manufactures of the reverse osmosis(RO)equipment discovered an enormous domestic market: consumers would no longer be at the mercy of unscrupulous delivery men or suppliers if they could desalinate drinking water in their own kitchens. Thus the domestic Reverse Osmosis water purifier became a part of modern life, total convenience and freedom from both water-borne diseases and excessive salinity.
But......what appliance doesn't have a 'but' attached to it, these days?
The RO machine, besides requiring periodic cleaning and routine maintenance, has an unanticipated annoying, guilt inducing feature: the waste water pipe running into the kitchen sink. When you buy your bottles of Kinley or Aquafina you don't really register that water purification involves some waste water also. After years and years of learning to be careful in one's use of water, it is rather disturbing to have clean looking water discharge into your sink intermittently. The sound of running water inspires one to go and shut the tap tightly, but here this can't be done. You learn to live with it, but it isn't a happy situation. This discharge happens at seemingly random hours- you never know when to expect it. If the discharge pipe is not securely in position, it can also soak your kitchen floor. But these are of course very trivial issues, which one does learn to live with. Thanks to the RO machine I am far less paranoid about drinking water than I used to be, but my father will still only drink the bottled supply. So now I have to deal with the
bottled water delivery guys, clean the RO tank, deal with its maintenance and also tolerate the sound of the waste water running into the sink. Bah.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Alphabet tag

Just managed to delete the whole post trying to make the font look civilised. Bah.
Ah well, here I go again.

A -Available?

Totally depends on what for!

B-Best friend:

Hubbyji, aka the Sometimes Resident Engineer

C-Cake or Pie?

Why not both?

D-Drink of choice:

Water, green tea

E-Essential thing used everyday:

My toothbrush

F-Favourite colour:

Sunshine-y, ripe mango-ey golden yellow

G-Gummi bears or worms:

Didn't I tell you I'm a vegetarian:)


Saaddi Dilli


Dark chocolate

J-January or February:

Both- My sons are both born in January, spouseji in February!

K-Kids and names:

Two daughters, two sons, but they will remain nameless on the blog.


Use it well.

M-Marriage date:

Early April, decades ago!

N-Number of siblings:

Two, but one is now no more

O-Oranges or apples:

Oranges, any day.


None, but cockroaches I do find repulsive.


Tough times never last, tough people do.

R-Reason to smile:

A toddler toddling, a puppy, a lark dropping out of the sky and then flying up again at the last possible moment......


Whenever you don't need artificial heating or cooling, with a slight nip in the air.

T-Tag three people:

Nat, Space Bar, Banno

U-Unknown fact about me:

Unknown on the blog, you mean- I love listening to Hindustani classical vocal music.

V-Vegetable you do not like:

Lauki- I cook it everyday, practically, for my father.

W-Worst habit:


X-x-rays you have had:


Y-Your favorite food:

Piping hot soup.



For Parul and Adi

In a recent post, Parul talks of Adi's first baby steps.
I quote, "Yesterday, I came across a Johnny Walker ad somewhere and instead of conjuring up the intended image of an inviting glass of pure alcohol, all it brought to the mind was a toddler walking up and down the house."
Parul, our old friend Ogden Nash has apparently had several thousands of bright ideas long before anyone of either your generation or mine was anywhere on the scene, and this particular idea has been expounded brilliantly in his poem " It Must Be The Milk" ( from The Bad Parents' Garden of Verse, 1936). With great pleasure I dedicate an excerpt from this poem to Adi and Parul, and all the tiny toddlers staggering around the planet.

There is a thought that I have tried not to but cannot help but think,
Which is, My goodness how much infants resemble people who have had too much to drink.
Tots and sots, so different and yet so identical!
What a humiliating coincidence for pride parentical!
Yet when you see your little dumpling set sail across the nursery floor,
Can you conscientiously deny the resemblance to somebody who is leaving a tavern after having tried to leave it a dozen times and each time turned back for just one more?
Each step achieved
Is simply too good to be believed;
Foot somehow follows foot
And somehow manages to stay put;
Arms wildly semaphore,
Wild eyes seem to ask, Whatever did we get in such a dilemma for?
And their gait is more that of a duckling than a Greek goddessling or godling,
And in inebriates it's called staggering and in infants it's called toddling.
So I hope you will agree that it is very hard to tell an infant from somebody who has gazed too long into the cup.
And really the only way you can tell them apart is to wait till next day and the infant is the one that feels all right when it wakes up.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

An Early Troll who Wasn't.......

I've always enjoyed Ogden Nash's poetry. Sometimes he's just great fun, sometimes poignant.
His verses on matrimony are immortal. And he writes about babies and children, mostly with affection. But in one of his earliest poems he is just about as annoyed by babies and their parents and the associated industries as Falstaff is wont to be. And even dear Yashodhara found babies quite ugly and unappealing, in the bad old days before Peanut appeared on the scene.

So here's dear Mr.Nash trashing babies, little realising, perhaps, that they would be the inspiration for some of his most loved poems.

Did Someone Say 'Babies'?

Everybody who has a baby thinks everybody who hasn't a baby ought
to have a baby.
Which accounts for the success of such plays as the Irish Rose of Abie.
The idea apparently that just being fruitful
You are doing something beautiful.
Which if it is true
Means that the common housefly is several million times more beautiful
than me or you.
Who is responsible for this propaganda that fills all our houses from
their attics to their kitchens?
Is it the perambulator trust or safety pin manufacturers or the census
takers or the obstetrichens?
Men and women everywhere would have a lot more chance of acquiring
recreation and fame and financial independence
If they didn't have to spend most of their time and money tending and
supporting two or three unattractive descendants.
We could soon upset this kettle of fish, forsooth.
If every adult would come out and tell every other adult the truth.
To arms, adults! Kindle the beacon fires!
Women, do you want to be nothing but dams? Men, do you want to be
nothing but sires?
To arms, Mr. President! Call out the army, the navy, the marines the
militia, the cadets and the middies.
Down with the kiddies!
( from Free Wheeling, 1931)

This anti-baby stance doesn't seem to last for very long. In his poem,
'Some of my best friends are children'( Happy Days, 1933), he goes on to conclude:

The Politician, the Parent, the Preacher,
Were each of them once a kiddie.
The child is indeed a talented creature.
Do I want one? Oh God forbidde!

Of course there's always our child,
But our child's adorable,
Our child's an angel
Fairer than the flowers;
Our child fascinates
One who's rather borable;
And incidentally,
Our child is ours.

I guess that says it all!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Five Pointed Tag

I've been tagged by Aanchal for this one. Somewhat tricky as I've only written thirty-odd posts. (Alright, alright, I know that some of them are very odd).

Here are the rules:
Post 5 links to 5 of your previously written posts. The posts have to relate to the 5 key words given (family, friend, yourself, your love, anything you like). Tag 5 other friends to do this meme. Try to tag at least 2 new acquaintances (if not, your current blog buddies will do) so that you get to know them each a little bit better. Now don’t forget to read the archived posts and leave comments.

Family: My family seems to figure in lots of my posts, including the last one on my parents' wedding anniversary. But here I'll go back to a post that is about the next generation, about my children. Though I was very wary of their response, my kids were kind enough not to slaughter me when I wrote this.

Friend: To the very first friend I made in the blog world, Lalita, a tribute on her fiftieth birthday.

Yourself: My quirks, as requested by fellow bloggers, in two instalments, here and here.

Your love: I realise that I have used the word 'love' only once in all my posts till now, in my very first post about cellphones. (In the very last paragraph). Though I haven't said it before on this blog, the Sometimes Resident Engineer is the love of my life, so in his honour I'm adding one post by him, and one post about one of his more irritating habits.

Anything you like: Something that I have loved for almost forty years now is Desiderata.
A post of mine that I really like is this one, about changes that I've seen in both language and architecture.

The people I would like to tag are Neera, CeeKay, Jawahara, Yashodhara and Kiran.