Monday, August 29, 2011

Happy Fourth Birthday!

Of This and That is four years old today!
Happy 4th Birthday, Blog.
Here is one of my favourite photographs, the leaves of an Indian almond tree.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I wonder where you are now, Lali

Three years since you left this mortal coil,
Do you find juicy, challenging cryptic crossword puzzles
in your little corner of heaven?
Can heaven even be heaven for you without fodder for your
phenomenal mind?

It's supposed to be just the soul that rises,
way above mere thought and other functions of life,
but who really knows???

This other world I imagine you inhabiting now
has crossword puzzles and sharp pencils,
and a mother who makes sure
her son's life is on track, in the world she left long years ago.
Her beloved is with her now,
and together forever, they look over a densely wooded lake
hearing the bird calls at dawn and dusk,
and he plays his ragas to her, and she translates Rafi songs....
And always, always the crossword puzzles,
an ironic passion for one
who rarely uttered a cross word.

My imagination fails magnificently,
I can only see you as you were.
I can only pray that your soul is at peace.
Rest in peace, my friend.
Rest in peace.

26th August, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Contrariness and other travel tales

I realize that I am far more difficult to please than I ought to be. On our recent break, we spent some time near Nahan, at a resort in Jamta, in Himachal Pradesh. Believe me, I love being in the mountains, or hills, as these were. What I hate is getting to them. Driving on hilly roads is, to me, utter torture. I no longer get car sick, but I hate swerving as each bend approaches, and the narrowness of the hill roads scares me no end. It so happens that in the past year or so, we have been to Bhutan, Darjeeling, and now Nahan. Ideally, I'd like a helicopter or a cable car to take me directly to whichever mountain resort we are visiting! I marvel at the people who live in the hills, also at the people who carve roads out of sheer mountainsides. The SRE has my profound sympathies- he had to deal with my (I insist) uncharacteristic grumpiness!

Actually being in the hills, though, is a different story. It is cool, and tranquil, and beautiful. The air smells fresh and lovely, and the people all seem gentle and courteous.
Lotuses in Renuka Lake
The turtle enjoyed his snacks, as did the big fat fish in the lake!
A glimpse of heaven!
Badolia Falls- a temple in a waterfall, between Jamta and Renuka Lake.
Did I tell you I love pine trees?
The colours of the lantana- Nature is so generous here.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Having got back a few days ago to a house musty and fungus-ridden due to heavy rainfall while we were away, and a computer that is not behaving very well, I'm being rather lazy about writing a fresh post. However, I am posting something that I'd meant to post as soon as I'd first read it. This is an article by my dear Chacha which I think deserves a wide audience. Please do read and comment.Link

Getting a suitable domestic help in urban areas in India is becoming increasingly difficult. Since we are having a servant quarter to offer to the likely candidate, we were placed in a slightly better position. So when Verma family, husband, wife, a son, a daughter, and a grown up brother of the husband offered to move in, we had an internal debate. Oh! What a large family. They will gobble up our water and electricity resources, and considering that they may have occasional visitors too, our house may become some sort of a serai. Eternal noise, with the rumbustious younger siblings fighting daggers drawn, as is customary, was another issue for consideration. But the family appeared to be neat and clean, with good reputation, as Mr.Verma was known to us for some time as a good and popular sweetmeat maker of the area. The grown up brother was a contract worker in the steel plant, Mr.Verma engaged mostly in his cooking assignments outside the house, children likely to be away in their respective schools, the bespectacled wife who was our main target for being appointed as the maid-in-waiting appearing to be sufficiently dim-witted; this was the combination which could be acceptable inspite of having large number of parts. There being no other alternative available at that point of time, we said, yes, and the crowd marched in pronto. This was some five years ago.
Mr.Verma was totally illiterate. I offered to teach him the Hindi alphabet, as a starter. But he was adamant in not learning, for he considered that he was a good cook only because he was illiterate, and even a rudimentary knowledge of letters will separate him from his art irrevocably. His wife could read and write a little bit of Hindi, but also appeared to subscribe to the theory of proficiency in cooking and literacy being incompatible to each other. We were informed that the children were earlier forced to join the school by their uncle, who himself did not have a formal education, but was an avid reader of Hindi newspapers. This guy appeared to be the most reasonable of the lot. The son, however had a surfeit of his father’s genes and never put his mind to studies. Only the daughter, who was about thirteen years of age, was good in studies and showed some promise in this direction.
After about one year of their having joined us, Mr.Verma started developing ambitions of making it big, and assembled a mobile fast-food stall. The shop became something of a hit in course of time as the quality of fare served was quite good. He borrowed more and more money to keep the joint running, and expanding it further, without knowing how to regulate the growth of his business, or where to stop for a breather. The end result was that he failed to timely repay the instalments on the loans and got into the debt-trap irretrievably. One fine morning after intense pressure was mounted by the loan sharks for repayment, he just disappeared, never to show his face again in this city or anywhere in its proximity. The loan givers pestered his family members for several months, confiscated the mobile cart and then faded away from the scene, realizing that nothing more could be achieved by knocking at our doors. All this time we shielded the Verma family as they were serving us loyally. The maid was working quite sincerely doing all sorts of odd jobs around the house willingly, although she was visually-challenged, and was drawing a princely sum of two hundred and fifty rupees per month from the state government, as compensation. We had developed sympathy and sense of protection for the lady for the misfortune of her husband having deserted her, and for her infirmity. Other family members also were doing their bit in running our household. A sort of equilibrium had thus been achieved. And then suddenly, another bolt from the blue struck the Verma family. The youngest member, the ten-year old boy, could not withstand the pressure of studies and constant exhortation of elders to do better on this front. Following in the footsteps of his father, and having inherited from him the habit of usurping others’ money, he too disappeared to an undisclosed destination with some four thousand rupees in his pocket.
We were all deeply upset, and his mother was simply devastated. She stopped taking any food, and was crying all the time. Her husband who left her about a year and half ago was a grown up man and could take care of himself, but the son was a mere child, she used to tell everybody. Was he able to feed himself? Did he have a shelter over his head? Was he even alive?, she went on thinking on these lines and the thoughts used to be followed by fresh bout of crying. I contacted the local City Superintendent of Police along with an influential friend of mine to lodge a formal complaint about the missing boy, and sought his help in locating the boy. There was no result. I came to know later-on that such complaints are not followed up vigorously as the Police have to handle more serious assignments in their normal work schedule. We did our best to console the maid, but she became something like a zombie, and lost the will to live.
A local shop keeper who is also a family friend of the Vermas brought a good news one day that he had seen the missing boy a day earlier in a nearby town, where he had gone in connection with his business. The boy is working as a waiter in a road-side eatery, he informed, and when he addressed him by his first name, the boy disowned his own name and just bolted from the place. The owner of the eatery was quite helpful and sympathetic, and surprised the boy by arranging a meeting with his mother and uncle next week in his own shop. The boy although cornered, refused to return home, but agreed to remain in touch with his mother by telephone, and occasionally visit her at his convenience. This too was a big relief to the beleaguered mother, as she found her son hale, hearty and happily living his own life; and she came back home quite satisfied.
The girl-child in our psyche is not only a non-asset, but a positive liability. She has to be kept under close supervision lest she goes astray, and married off at the first opportunity. So, why spend money in educating her? Our maid servant was firmly convinced of this philosophy, and didn’t like her daughter studying any further. We tried our best to convince the lady otherwise, giving her several examples, including one from our own close family when the daughter looked after the ageing parents with great love and care till their last days. We even agreed to bear all the expenses of educating her daughter as long as she cared to continue her studies. The mother reluctantly agreed, but the girl was quite enthusiastic about further studies. She passed her class twelve examination in first division last year and then did a course to acquire proficiency in computer application. Her education continues even now for a bachelor’s degree in commerce, and on computer-application, on part time basis. She came to know from her friends that there are many openings for young educated girls in the hospitality sector, in malls which have mushroomed in the state capital during the last few years and in a multinational fast food joint, the branch of which had opened in our neighbourhood recently. She applied for the job, and due to her good educational record and knowledge of computers, she was selected in all the establishments. Both her mother and uncle were quite upset by this development, as once the girl accepts the job, they thought they will lose all control over her, and maybe she could fall in bad company due to lack of their supervision. The girl had by now achieved the age of eighteen, and was mature enough to take her own decisions. She dug her heels in for taking up a job, assisted indirectly by us; and as a compromise formula she was allowed to join the fast-food outlet, which is situated close to our house. The gross salary offered to her in this place was the least of the three options, but still more than the combined take-home pay of the other three earning members of her family.
In a short time, she developed good credibility in her place of work, due to hard work, her basic intelligence, pleasant personality and courteous behavior. Her fast-food shop which was a favourite destination for my grandchildren anyway, became more so because of the personalized care now being given while servicing their order. Orders for supply of food items are being accepted in this joint telephonically, but sometimes we place the order personally also, as the shop is situated close by.
A few days ago, I walked into the shop, and asked the manager to call Miss Verma. The manager who had seen me on earlier occasions also chatting with this girl did not take kindly to this request. He said, “Sir, I will call her, but tell me why you want to meet Miss Verma? And how do you know her?” I liked his protective instinct, as there are a few young girls working in the outlet; and it was good of the guy to feel responsible for them. Meanwhile the girl also came out from inside the shop, and overheard the query of the manager. I could read the concern on her face, as my reply could lead to lowering of her social status amongst her colleagues. I said to the manager, “Son, this young lady shares her residential address with us. Her mother is our governess, and she manages our household. I have come here to place order for some food items.” The manager seemed to be satisfied; and so was the girl, as evidenced by the broad smile on her face. I took the seat at a corner table, waiting for my order to be processed. And having nothing better to do, I started having some random thoughts, with the Vermas centre-stage.
God Almighty has ordained that all features of the universe should have balance, and so should the sex ratio of human race. For every male child born somewhere, a female child also takes birth such that parity is maintained on overall basis. Any act to artificially disturb this balance by termination of pregnancy with female child can upset the societal fabric of the race, and is fraught with grave danger. Still, when a girl child is born in many regions of our country, it is an occasion of great disappointment, particularly when it is the first or subsequent issue. The fact is, and it has been proved time and again, that daughters are more affectionate, devoted, helpful and loving towards other family members, and specially towards the parents. The preferential behavior towards the male child has therefore to end. On the literacy front, the percentage of literates to overall population of India has increased from 12% in the year 1947 to 74% in current year, which is an encouraging figure. But the literacy figures of males and females in the year 2011 are 82% and 65% respectively, which again shows a bias against females. The percentage of formally educated persons, of both sexes, has also to increase exponentially. History has shown that no nation can advance towards leadership position till its citizens, both men and women, are well educated. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, women are oppressed, kept under wraps, insulated from education and treated as second class citizens. Such societies can never raise their standard of living or make a mark in the comity of nations; in science and technology, in sports, in humanities, in literature, in healthcare or in any branch of human endeavour. For example the nationalities of Nobel laureates or Olympic medal winners can be seen for comparison. It will be found that higher is the level of education, more stellar is the performance. This message has to go down to people, loud and clear.
Suddenly I heard my order number called on the intercom system, loud and clear. I picked up my parcel of food, paid my bill, and made my way home.
Author: S.S.Seth
Published in Daily ‘HITAVADA’ on Sunday, July 17, 2011