Monday, March 31, 2008

Who giveth this woman?

The bride being given away by her father was part of the Hindu and Christian wedding ceremony, if not of the wedding rituals of many other communities. She was, as it were, symbolically handed over to the groom, the man who was supposed to take care of her 'till death do us part'.
When I got married, some decades ago, it was a part of the ceremony. I was happy to be marrying the man I loved, and this part of the ceremony didn't really impinge upon my consciousness or offend me in any way. I had been working for a couple of years, had lived away from home for one year, so I thought of myself as quite 'independent'.
Decades later, we gave away our daughter's hand in marriage too, again without much thought- it was as much a part of the ceremony as the 'Jaimala' and the 'saat pheraas', the seven steps around the sacred fire. Dealing with the logistics of a not very big, fat Indian wedding was more of a pre-occupation for us. It was only recently, when an NRI friend had written in detail on the SRE's college mail group, about Hindu wedding rituals for the sake of his American friends, that this question came up. The SRE wondered whether 'kanyadaan' as a concept had any validity today, among the urban, upper-middle class, where many girls lived away from home, often with their chosen partners, before they actually got married.
Many question the institution of marriage itself. Without venturing into such perilous terrain, I'd like to know what you, my readers, think of this entire 'kanyadaan' business. Is it valid/relevant today? If you are getting married, thinking of getting married, or are just re-examining old rituals in the context of life in the twenty-first century, where do you stand on this issue?
I personally feel that it no longer makes sense for a girl to be 'handed' over by her father to her husband. She is as capable, if not more, of taking care of herself and the people close to her, as menfolk were supposed to be. Nor is she 'property' to be handed over. Does removing this part of the marriage ritual detract from the sanctity of marriage in any way? I think not. Now tell me what YOU think.

Edited to add: Hey, you are perfectly free to disagree, people. I'm trying to see what are the different points of view on this subject.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Branded for Life

Things changed , as I recall, when labels appeared on the outside of ready-made garments instead of on the inside. You were no longer just wearing a garment, you were advertising it as well. The manufacturers ought to have paid you a fee for displaying their logo or label on your person. Instead, you were paying them larger and larger sums for the privilege of advertising their goods. No longer was the appearance, cut and fit of your garment paramount. It had to be good because it was such-and-such a brand. Inexorably, the concept of brands entered our lives. An item was a desirable possession primarily in terms of its pedigree.
Obtaining this pedigree used to take years and years. Since there were fewer goods available to begin with and fewer choices to make, the concept of a 'brand' wasn't very significant a few years ago. Some particular goods were generically known by the names of popular brands, as, for example, the ubiquitous steel almirah was generally known as a Godrej, and a photocopy is usually called a Xerox copy. Some brands did creep into our psyche, especially with the advent of radio jingles, and advertisements on the newly introduced colour television. But these were goods where the price was linked to the quality of the product. And garment manufacturer's labels were where they belonged- on the inside the garment.
The first logo that I remember seeing on a garment was the tiny, fairly unobtrusive embroidered horse and rider on a collared tee-shirt. Of course, I forget the brand. Perhaps it was Jockey, and it was probably given to my husband by some NRI member of the family. (Sorry, my brand recall is very poor- it was actually Polo by Ralph Lauren- had to Google it to confirm!) The next logo I became aware of was the Louis Philippe coronet- our niece was getting engaged, and her fiance` was wearing this smart striped shirt with little embroidered coronets on the cuffs. Till then my husband had been getting his shirts sewn by good old Diplomat Tailor(Lucknow), and we had just started buying the occasional ready-made shirt, a brand called Four Seasons, which was well made, cool, comfortable and affordable- a mere three to four hundred rupees, compared to the approximately thousand rupee basic price of Louis Philippe. This was in the early nineties. Logos were still tiny and very discreet, like the tiny crocodile on another popular brand of tee-shirt. There were some brand labels that were proudly displayed even then - the Levis jeans label was displayed with great pride, but it was visible only on the rear of the wearer, and so was not really obtrusive.
One fine day this dinosaur discovered that the labels had overtaken the garments- I'd see youngsters wearing tee-shirts with a great big BOSS written in front, and I'd wonder who was the boss anyway, and why did it have to be announced in such bold letters. And then more and more names began impinging on my consciousness, and a veritable alphabet of logos appeared, associated with new and strange slogans.
Nike exhorted us to 'just do it', without telling us what 'it' was. The sardarji joke had it that the sardar could never buy an Arrow shirt, because the arrow on the sign always guided him to the shop next door. Children became passionate adherents of particular brands, to the great mystification of their parents, who were mostly dinosaurs like me. What is interesting is that several 'international' brands are manufactured locally, under franchise, but are still sold at far higher prices than similar, non-branded versions.

When I was newly married, living in a small industrial township far from the rest of civilisation, where everybody was most concerned about everyone else's business, there was one thing that really irritated me. Whenever anyone wore a new sari, the first thing asked was the price. Apparently a sari was good only if it was perceived to be expensive. It was also good if it had originally been expensive but you managed to buy it for less in a sale. The beauty, colours, design or anything else were never considered. I guess my response to labels on clothes stems from those early associations. Good garment design involves a great deal of creativity, knowledge and skill. A well designed, well finished garment will look good. Surely it doesn't have to wear its heart on its sleeve, as it were. Imagine going around with our parents' names tattooed on our foreheads- as though we are stating the names of the people who made us. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? It's just about as ridiculous as garments announcing loud and clear who made them. Aren't they confident of the quality of the product? Are they selling quality, or are they simply selling a brand?
What is the value addition? The saddest part is that young children become brand conscious very early in life, and tend to stay away from the unbranded, unknown segment of goods, which may be at least as good. And people tend to pre-judge others by the little tags or big bold names they see on their clothes. It seems like a very superficial short cut to actually knowing what a person stands for.
Let me clarify that brands definitely do help in choosing what to buy. Branding per se is a useful concept. Carrying it to an extreme is what I don't like. The entire rant is about 'spoiling' clothes by affixing brand names or logos on the outside of the garment, where I don't think they belong.

I may be a dinosaur, but if there's one thing I'm quite sure of, it's this:
really good quality never needs to label itself- it simply is.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Chhannulal's magic

Chhannulal Mishra: I first encountered this rather unusual name more than nine years ago, in a music review in India Today. Thanks to Google, here it is:

India Today, October 25, 1999
Metro Scape

The Music Review
Krishna (From the Heart of Benaras) -- Pandit Chhannulal Mishra: (Ninaad; Rs 75). The first in a series on the theme of Krishna, this album covers a wide range of classical and light classical forms like the thumri and badhaiya. While Shyam bina chain na aaye is about the longing for Krishna, the rather more joyous Nand ghar baaje badhaiya proclaims his birth. The album also contains saint-poet Meera's composition Koi shyam manohar le lo. Soulful and evocative.

On my next visit to Music World I spent seventy-five rupees for a cassette of music by a singer whom I had never heard of before reading that tiny paragraph.
Money well spent. (And spent again and again. I bought this particular cassette for my parents, my brother, my uncle and a couple of friends at least. I subsequently bought myself the CD, gave it to a young singer who was visiting us, and promptly bought myself another copy).
Chhannulal Mishra has an amazing voice. It is a caressing, velvety voice with just a hint of gruffness. And the songs.....the songs evoke more emotion than you'd think possible. You may or may not worship Krishna, but if you have grown up in India you are very likely to have heard many stories about him, starting from the story of his birth, and subsequent transportation across the river Yamuna in full monsoon spate, to the home of his foster parents, Yashoda and Nand, his childhood exploits, and the love and longing the gopis had for him. All of these are perhaps part of our collective unconscious, and it is this deep seated cultural chord which is struck. For me, although each composition was new, it was part of a familiar cultural setting. One of the loveliest of the songs is the 'badhaiya'- the celebration of Baby Krishna's arrival at Nand's house. And such a wonderful celebration it is: with the music of twelve pairs of nagaada drums, sixteen pairs of shehnais, and a joyous Yashoda giving away gifts of money and grain! Young Krishna grows up into a mischievous child, who troubles the gopis by blocking their path (Roko na dagar ), and swinging them too hard on the jhula (Jhula dheere se jhulao). Holi is celebrated with Radha threatening to colour the dark Krishna red with gulal( Rang Darungi). A very poignant song is one in which the gopis plead with Krishna to stop playing his flute, which is bewitching them( Ab Na Bajao Shyam Bansuriya). The last song on this recording is one of the most beautiful Meera bhajans I have ever heard- "Koi Shyam Manohar le Lo'. The gopis are out with pots of curd on their heads to sell, but they are all so entranced by their love for Krishna that they forget what they are selling, and say 'buy Krishna' instead. What incredible devotion, what 'bhakti'! And it is sung so beautifully that it gives me goose flesh every time I hear it.

That was the first I heard of Channulal ji. I have yet to hear him live, but I have enjoyed many other recordings of his, including some excellent khayals and an amazing selection of Kabir bhajans. His forte, however, seems to be the light classical and folk idioms that are specialities of Benares- the hori,chaiti, kajri, saawan, jhula- all forms celebrating different seasons, and the ever popular thumris and dadras that are so characteristic of Benares, a city with a musical heritage all of its very own.

(Incidentally, the entire Ninaad Krishna series is an excellent one. They subsequently issued recordings by Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, Sanjeev Abhyankar, Raja Kale, Shruti Sadolikar and Mukul Shivputra- each of them wonderful, but Chhannulal's Krishna has a very special place in my heart).

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happiness is...

Kiran tagged me for this- what makes me happy. Lots of things. Here goes:

Early mornings- the air, the freshness, the birdsong. An early morning walk gives me all of these.

Birds- magical creatures, especially the not so common ones like orioles and drongos.

Trees- fascinating, life-enhancing, joy giving.

Water bodies- the bigger, the better.

The Sometimes Resident Engineer snoring his head off! It means he's there with me.

Recognising a raga on the radio! I'm an untrained aficionada of Hindustani classical music, have been listening with great pleasure for the last thirty five years. I heard shades of both Raga Nand and Raga Kedar in a composition on the radio, and was thrilled to learn that it was actually Nand Kedar. Major joy, though rare:) Some compositions resonate within, so do some ragas.

A good book.

A perfect cup of tea.

Being with friends.

Being with my kids, and with several members of the extended family (not all!).

Lots of music.

A good meal with friends, especially something I've made. I like my rather eclectic combos.

Hindi fillums- unless they are truly ghastly- I usually enjoy myself thoroughly.

Babies and little kids.

My house when it's nice and tidy.

Some of my clothes:)

A good haircut.

Let me pass this tag on to Nat, 2b's mommy, Neera, Usha, Lekhni and Jawahara.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Chandni tagged me for this one.

Eight things I am passionate about:

My family
Morning walks
My home

Eight things I want to do before I die (In no particular order):


Lose a significant amount of weight- the pall bearers will suffer too much if I don't!

Live in my own house and not have shifted residence for several years.

Get all my stuff in order, after which I'll happily die in peace from sheer exhaustion.

Tune in properly to my inner self, learn to meditate.

Be a well loved M-I-L and grandmother.

Write something worth publishing, and get it published!

Learn to live with zero guilt.

Eight things I say often:

Are you listening?

C'est la vie







Eight books I’ve read recently:

The Music Room by Namita Devidayal

Delhi Metropolitan-The Making of an Unlikely City by Ranjana Sengupta

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

Chowringhee by Shankar

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Home Products by Amitava Kumar

The Assassin's Song by MG Vassanji

Just in case you're interested, on my shelf just now are Jahajin by Peggy Mohan, The Age of Shiva by Manil Suri, A Year in Green Tea and Tuk-Tuks By Rory Spowers, and Mark Tully's India's Unending Journey.

Eight songs I could listen to, over and over:

Madhuban mein Radhika Naachi Re (film: Kohinoor)

Laaga chunri mein daag ( the Manna Dey original)

Do you love me? ( from Fiddler on the Roof)

If I were a Rich Man ( " " " "" ")

Baat Chalat Nai chunari rang daari ( Film: Rani Roopmati)

Pandit Jasraj's Adana- Mata Kaalika

Channula Misra's Krishna CD, esp. the last Meera bhajan
'Sir dhare matakiya dole re
koi Shyam Manohar lo re
dahi ko naam bisar gaye gwaalan,
Hari lo hari lo boley re
Koi Shyam Manohar lo re.'

Channu Lal's Kabir Bhajan in Raga Hamsadhwani-
Amarpur le chalo ho sajna

Eight things that attract me to my best friends:

The ability to listen
Some passion in common
Having time for me
The good food they feed me

Eight people I think should do this tag:

Aanchal, Sur, Sue, Choxbox, The Mad Momma, Sundar, Neha, Gauri

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Privileged Childhood?

(This post has been inspired by the Mad Momma's angst about her son's nursery school admission and her unease at the prospect of him having only privileged, rich children as peers)
In retrospect, yes, I was extremely privileged. My father was a junior government employee who went, on assignment, to England when I was not even two years old. We lived on the first floor of a house with a beautiful bay window, and we had toys, books, good clothes and a good education in private schools. What we didn't have was a sense of belonging. This was in the late fifties and early sixties, when Britain was nowhere as multicultural as it is today. A sense of alienation was a part of my psyche for a very long time after that. We returned when I was eight years old, to an India of which my sister and I had neither memory nor concept. Since our knowledge of Hindi was rudimentary at best, despite my mother's sincere efforts, our educational options were restricted to 'English medium' schools. We went to a convent school for four years, where our fluency in English was an asset. My father paid far more than he could really afford, but my sister and I were happy students and did well. Other children's socio-economic status was neither apparent nor distressing. Some girls did come to school by car, and a rare invitation to a birthday party took us to a larger, fancier home. My sister and I used public transport, along with several other girls from our school. As academic achievers, we were generally confident and self-assured.
Our home was in a middle-class, government 'colony'. The several hundred houses of the kind we lived in were divided into blocks. Each house had a large front verandah, a small room, a big room, a small back verandah, kitchen and store room, a bathroom and a toilet. If you were lucky enough to live on the first floor, as we were, you also had a large private terrace with high walls, and an open 'barsaati'.
In our particular block of eight flats, we were privileged for several reasons. We had lived in England, and so we had material goods that were considered to be luxury items in the early sixties- a fridge, a transistor radio, an electric cooking range, Pyrex dishes, good cardigans and coats. (We had no furniture for a long time, but our home was comfortable with aesthetically covered trunks as settees, and pretty covers for our beds, which were, of course, string cots - charpais). We also went to a convent school, which was considered very expensive then. All our neighbours' children went to government schools. Our particular block of eight flats had a peculiar demographic- three families had eight or nine children each, the others had maybe four or five. The people with many children all sublet the smaller room to a tenant. In our immediate neighbourhood, we were at the top of the heap. My father also had an uncle and a cousin in the civil services, so we also had people with cars visit us fairly often. I assume that the rest of our colony was as mixed as our little part of it was. My father had an old friend who lived in another block, he also had five children and had also sublet a room, but he did make sure that his children went to better schools than the government run ones.(One of his sons went to one of the IITs, a daughter did a PhD). The same structure was used in several ways. Several people got the front and/or back verandah glazed, or the upstairs barsaati 'covered'. There were many fairly prosperous residents whose homes were well decorated as well. We used to play outdoors with our neighbours' children, but though they were people we played with, with whom we had lots of fun, lots of wild games of cricket and 'pitthoo' and 'staapu', they were not friends, not people we confided in or shared our deepest thoughts with. We were far too snooty ourselves to think of them as friends. Our 'friends' were all part of the 'decent', English speaking world of our school! ( Any sense of compassion and equality that I now possess is a result of my fabulous college education). Our extended family also thought we were very special girls because of our stay abroad at an early age, so we were generally made much off and yet kept thoroughly grounded by various relatives at different times!
After four years in the convent, when my sister was about to enter the ninth grade, my father decided that we should now move to a government aided higher secondary school, where the syllabus would be more conducive to college admissions later on. This was a school with an excellent academic record. At the time of the admission test the crowd of applicants was enormous, even that many years ago. Well, we got into this school which was very different from our convent. For one thing, there was no uniform- the Principal loved seeing all the students in different kinds of colourful clothes. The hours were also much longer, so instead of the sandwich snack we were used to, my sister and I carried a 'proper' lunch of parathas and sabzi. Tiffins became an introduction to different kinds of cuisine. There are many dishes that I became familiar with only from school friends' lunch boxes! Since our school had a large percentage of Bengali students, the week after the Puja holidays was rather painful to the non-Bengalis, because for four to six days, all the Bengali girls would wear a brand new outfit every day! Once we realised that this was an annual affair, and the only time of year these girls got new clothes, it ceased to matter. For the rest of us, new clothes were perhaps bought for Diwali, or for a family event like a wedding. And they were simple clothes which were quite multi-purpose: the churidar kurtas I wore for my cousin's wedding were simple enough to wear to school. My mother would sew skirts and blouses for us, and also had lots of interesting material that she'd bought in England, and would pull it out of her stock and sew whatever was needed. (My sister was a very determined sort of person- she stitched a beautiful frilly dress for me when she was all of twelve years old). My brother was still studying in England when we came back to India, and once he started working, we were really in clover. He would bring us lovely twin sets and really fashionable trousers and tops and the knee-length lacy white socks that were in fashion then. ( Socks we were supposed to wash ourselves. My mother would wash our clothes, but our sweaty, smelly socks and handkerchiefs we had to wash ourselves.
For years and years we only had the rather smelly and one-eyed, scary looking sweeper woman who came to clean the bathroom and toilet, as our sole employee. My mother would cook, clean,launder, sew, make pickles, and always but always have a dabba-full (an old Cheeslings tin) of some home-made snack. She would also read magazines ( we used to get Femina regularly) and have an afternoon nap. I was probably in the ninth or tenth grade when she finally employed a part time maid. During the summer holidays, my sister and I had to take over the cleaning of the house i.e. the sweeping and swabbing, and in the evening we would take turns making dinner. As I child I loved going out, anywhere. My father used to buy vegetables every week from a small mandi that was atop a slope. I would tag along for the sheer pleasure of coasting down the hill on his bicycle. Putting the veggies away was fun too- first I'd be a sabzi-wali, and arrange all the vegetables neatly, and then put them away. We didn't have much money, but life was good.My father's uncle was very pleased whenever we did well in our exams, and as a reward would take us to the bookshop near his house and allow us to choose one book each. We also used to borrow books from him. Buying books and music was a luxury. In those days the Delhi Public Library had mobile vans, which would park near our house every Monday afternoon. We managed to read a great deal, borrowing from various sources, and having a few good books of our own. My father also had a beautiful radio, a record changer and a few records, and lots of music taped on his spool playing tape-recorder. As we grew older and less interested in ruffianly games in our 'block', we would be allowed to visit friends who lived within an easy walking distance of our house, which meant people of a largely similar social stratum as ours.
Our school had a large fleet of buses, including a double-decker, so practically everyone used the school bus. There was one rather well-to-do girl in our class who would occasionally come to school in her chauffeur-driven Ambassador, but that was it, I think. Among our peers, what really mattered was how well you were doing in class, in sports, in dramatics, writing, art and photography... Whatever talents you had were nurtured. Science students were encouraged to sit for the Science Talent Scholarship exam.
My sister also happened to become the head girl of the school, so I inevitably got to bask in her reflected glory. We had the usual teenage woes, crushes, complexes, but, although we knew that there was not much money available and we weren't rich, we were most certainly not poor either. I have rather broad and unbeautiful feet so I can rarely find or wear fancy footwear that fits me, and I used to be quite miserable about it, until my father very gently pointed out that I should be thankful for having functional, healthy feet. Reminds me of the saying, "I cried because I had no shoes till I saw the man who had no feet".
I honestly don't think I ever felt less than privileged as a youngster. We were so much better off than many other people whom we saw everyday.