Tuesday, October 08, 2019

The book penseive

This morning, I took upon myself the onerous task of cleaning my book shelf. Mine, I say possessively, though it was a gift for our wedding from our friends. Mine, I say possessively, because anything books is always mine. My favourite bookmark, my favourite bookshop, my favourite reviewer, my favourite recommender of books, my favourite books all of them. Almost. There is a bunch of non fiction across those racks I will never claim to be mine. Not over my dead body. Those are V’s. 

As I cleaned the racks, a lot of dust got raked up. Literally. But, figuratively too. The P. G. Wodehouse omnibuses beckoning me to drop everything and start reading immediately. The Vikram Seths wondering where I had absconded for so long. The always dependable Jeffrey Archers smiling as if to say, “I knew you will come back to me.” That random book about Marie Antoinette I had picked up at a bookshop in Paris asking me how I felt about history now that I had read another take on the woman who famously said, “Let them eat cake” (apparently, she didn’t, as per this book). A customised book my colleagues at EY had gifted me on my last day, reminding me of happy days, great memories. A travel diary I had filled up while tripping across Eastern Europe sparking memories of a cute and cosy hostel room and a very dear friend. The first ABC book I had got for my kid telling me how far she has come, reading through pages of the Monkey Puzzle and the Pout Pout Fish. 

Books are like pensieves. Once you look down a book, you won’t know what memory might draw you in, spawning a hundred other related thoughts. 

What today’s clean(s)ing experience gave me is also a lot of clarity. I think I have known this forever but never acknowledged - the Kindle can never replace a book. Never have I opened my list of books on a Kindle and felt a pensieve drawing me in. Never have those books on the Kindle beckoned me with outstretched hands saying, “drop everything you are doing right now and lose yourself in the scent of my pages.”

I know what I will do when I grow up and grow old and have a lot of money and a room of my own. A huge bookshelf with hard copies (preferably hard bounded copies) of all those books I would have read on the kindle by then. Only point to note - it will be a covered bookshelf (with glass doors) so I don’t ever have to do deep cleaning of books again, only enjoy looking at them all day long. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

A confession

I have been thinking about Greta Thunberg a lot of late. Predictably so. She has been all over the news. Anyway, this post isn’t about her or what she is doing. I don’t care whether she is a child actor, or has been instigated by certain elements, or whatever. She has been talking about a burning issue that a lot of eminent scientists and environmentalists have been drawing our attention to, for years. And she has been phenomenally more successful than all those eminent adults, even if it means attracting vitriolic comments from full grown adults, and trolling from none other than the POTUS

This post is about me and my own relationship with climate change. I know climate change is real, because I have seen my hometown Chennai drowning in 2015, I have seen my lovetown Mumbai witness increasingly erratic weather and monsoons. I worry about climate change incessantly. But I don’t care enough to do anything about it. In that way, I am a bit like Anushka Sharma, at my own level. 

I don’t use public transport, I like disposables, I enjoy AC, I love gadgets, I used to be a flying consultant. I haven’t done a single thing that contributes positively to the environment. Except I am not a flying consultant anymore. And I have always been a vegetarian. Those two aren’t conscious choices for the sake of the environment, so nay! No brownie points there. 

When a 16 year old takes a stance like this and travels across the sea from Sweden to UN, it takes tremendous effort and focus. When I can do 1/1000th of that change to my life, I will be in a marginally better position to comment on Greta Thunberg. And meanwhile, I am going to work hard to see what’s that one change I can make to my own life that will make me feel like I have taken a step in the right direction as far as the environment is concerned.

While I am at it, I will sit back and enjoy how Greta is taking on the biggest troll in the world

Saturday, August 03, 2019

The monsoon convert


Everyone in India has a monsoon story. Mostly more than one.

And none of them start with, “It was a windy afternoon and as I looked out of the window while sipping tea, the drizzling started, slowly at first, coming down in sheets thereon. As the rainbow appeared from afar, I contemplated swimming in the brook up ahead, to the pitter patter in the background.”

Because everyone I know has a monsoon story from our cities, our ever-imploding, under-serviced, groaning-under-our-weight cities.

I have one memorable story from each city I have lived in – Chennai, Mumbai, Gurgaon.

And ALL of them have to do with how I was stranded in waist deep water with nowhere to go, and it was dark but not lonely, because there were thousands of others stranded exactly like me. Apologies, my Gurgaon story is a little different. I was stranded but inside my car. I don’t think I would be here writing this post if I had been stranded outside. You don’t know why? Oh, you na├»ve being, don’t ever get stranded outside a car in Gurgaon in a bid to figure out why.

Anyway, I digress. This post isn’t about run-of-the-mill, cities flooding, cars floating and drowning, sewage dumps opening and devouring people kind of stories.

It is about the spirit of the monsoons. Wait, isn’t that the spirit of Mumbai? It is actually about the spirit of Mumbai during monsoons.

I don’t know if this is true about other cities (definitely not Chennai) but Mumbai wholeheartedly celebrates the rains. And like how! At the sight of the first rains, these mad, mad people are on the roads dancing (to avoid potholes), getting drenched in the rain (because it is too windy to carry umbrellas) and generally getting gleeful and happier (it’s true, the grins are wider).

Come June-mid, consumerism goes to a high, as every store in the city announces a monsoon sale that goes on for at least two months, running up to ‘Ganpati Bappa Moraya’. The roads of Dadar overflow with people holding colorfully large umbrellas big enough to engulf you, your family, and your one room kitchen Mumbai house, as they cross the jammed and crowded roads of Khabutar Khana in a bid to reach the stores. Matunga is a bit saner, as always, the elder sister to its chaotic Dadar sibling, the responsible adult in the works. Here, aunties in Lucknawi kurtas with exquisitely embroidered dupattas get down from BMWs that they hopped into on the adjacent lane, as they make their way slowly across to buy sarees they may never wear in their lifetime (I am your friendly neighborhood judgmental Saree connoisseur). The malls drown under the weight of the early morning shoppers as the trial rooms start overflowing with people and dresses.

My first full-fledged Mumbai monsoon was in 2008. And was it an experience or what. I was scared stiff, tired, and forever damp. Everything got damp and moldy, the furniture, the clothes, the footwear, the books. Even the laptop looked at me with sad camera eyes, begging for a blanket that would keep the dampness away. By day 3 of the season, I started asking around when this would taper off. Remember, I grew up in the Chennai of the 90s and 00s where monsoons lasted all of two days. That’s when some kind soul at work informed me this will go on for 3 months. It was the most horrible time of my life, I assure you.

We are in 2019 now. This year, the monsoons have been quite the rage. Unlike last year and last to last year when we were all sad the lakes (and the city pavements) weren’t filling up fast enough, this year, Mumbai has been in over achievement mode. Potential to be rated 5, in corporate employee parlance. But then again, exceptional rain is only expected performance from Mumbai, hence we will have to settle at a 3 ok.

A colleague of mine who has recently moved from Delhi looks out every day at the rains lashing down outside the office windows, worriedly saying “Aaj bahut kharab lag raha hai. Ghar kaise jaayenge?” A Mumbai boy amongst us assures him it isn’t as bad as it looks, we are on the 17th floor, too near to the clouds to get an unbiased dataset, and anyway the weather always clears up in half an hour in Mumbai. I am not so kind, nor do I remember I was that scared colleague over a decade back. I guffaw and say, “It is Mumbai. It is July. It is supposed to rain in July in Mumbai. Otherwise, how does the world make sense?”

I am a convert, the Mumbai type, who steps out to get drenched in the rains of the first week, who checks the lake levels and gets happy, as if it is some personal achievement deserving of additional bonus. I am also a convert from the beginning of the monsoon when I didn’t want my Little Person to get any exposure to the rain to the middle of the monsoon when I happily pick her up and take her to school come rain, or pouring rain, all the while singing “It is raining, it is pouring.”

This has got nothing to do with the spirit of Mumbai, which, in probability, doesn't exist, except on sensational TV channels (branded ‘news’). This is exactly what normalizing extraordinary situations looks like. And, when habits get formed across many years, it is hard to remember what your normal was before you got introduced to all this madness.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Parenting - A restraining order

Parenting is 99% restraint. Another 99% perspiration. A further 99% patience. Looks like I exceeded the 100% mark way back there. Anyway, all I want to focus on today is restraint.

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Toy stories: Recommendations for all age groups, almost

In the past week, I have proven my worth as a toy expert more than once. And I have done it so well that I am thinking of updating my Twitter bio to “Toy buyer for hire”. It has a nice rhythmic ring to it too.

Anyway, for now, I think I will share my expertise for free, so the next time you grapple with the question of “What should I buy for my friend’s or relative’s X year old kid”, this post could come in handy.

You can read the entire article here.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Language pangs, or perhaps not

When I first made my foray into Bombay, the thing I struggled the most with wasn’t home food or monsoons or living alone, but language. For someone whose primary languages back home are Tamil and English, the Marathi mixed Hindi was a challenge. It still is, when people reference Hindi idioms and quote famous Bollywood dialogues in context.

You can read the entire article here.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The vicious cycle of mandatory attendance


A friend threw a question at me yesterday – “Should attendance be mandatory in undergrad colleges?”

It takes us to the fundamental input vs outcome-linked model. Let’s break that down.

If books can teach everything and the teachers in class and debates between students add little value, while the exams are linked purely to the books, then there is no true worth to attending a class.

If books can only guide students to learn while the teacher can take it a notch up and help in the application of those learnings, encouraging debates and discussions in class, whether or not the exams are linked to mugging up the textbooks or are application oriented, there is merit in attending the class.

In college, all of us have gone through both these types of classes – the ones where the teaching is only a verbalization of the book and the ones where the teaching is so many notches higher in giving insights that the textbook becomes only a supporting guide.

So, the onus is really on educational institutes to be able to provide quality teaching to attract students to the class and get quality outcome. Reducing learning to an input based, mandatory attendance model is detrimental in the long run.

And do you know how detrimental? Let’s move on to the step after college. These students become office goers, the two types there. The input-focused ones and the outcome-focused ones.

The former exhibit and inculcate a culture of spending time in office, putting in long hours, staying till lights go off, speaking about how they spend 14 hours in office because life is a ‘desk-sitting’ competition, analyzing every other colleague from that perspective.

The latter work towards outcomes, have sensible meetings when required, stretch hours if there is an urgent team delivery involved, pack up and go home when the outcomes are achieved, and take flak from the input-focused team for leaving in ‘half a day’ when leaving at 6 pm.

So, perhaps it is time to start at college, to help students understand how value addition needs to be measured so that we can build better team leaders, managers, business heads, and CEOs. Who fill focus on adding value to their clients and shareholders rather than increase the OpEx with an extended use of electricity and pantry in office.

Friday, June 07, 2019

A periodic forever


I started getting my periods around 1996. Or 1997. Sometime thereabouts. My parents kept it a well-guarded secret for years after, not wanting anyone in the extended family to treat me differently or indulge in difficult conversations. But, the practices I saw around me were all pervasive. Most of my extended family followed a “No kitchen, no Pooja room, no touching bed, not even the sofa, no physical contact with anyone” kind of model those days. I think they still do. Those images have stayed with me for a long time now.

For many years I didn’t believe in idol worship. Then I moved to being agnostic. Now I am a full time atheist, the kind who goes to temples to admire the architecture and then stand and stare as the Aarti takes place. But, I hesitate before walking into the kitchen that houses the Pooja area when I am having my periods.

I am an unabashed feminist. Mostly. I am part of the D&I committee at work, I try to attract all my ex-female colleagues to my place of work so we can be a more balanced organization, I worry about the lack of representation at the head of the table. I am the works. But, I carry my fresh sanitary pad well concealed in my purse from the office desk to the toilet.

Conditioning acts in strange ways. It makes us irrational and illogical, unquestioning of processes that have been followed forever (our own definition of forever) and takes us a step beyond, making us sticklers to follow those processes. Because. Because, we don’t know any other way it is done.

It explains why we don’t put our feet on books, for instance. I try to ‘logicise’ that our feet are dirty because the ground is dirty, because Indian floors always try to attract dirt so it will make the books dirty. But, really? Who am I kidding? I have been told for a long time I am not supposed to put my feet on books because books are a manifestation of “Goddess Saraswathi” and putting our feet on books is as good (or as bad) as putting our feet on the Goddess herself.

Anyway, last week was my first step towards breaking away from this conditioning. No, I don’t think I will ever bring myself to putting my feet on books because that conditioning is too strong. But, after 11 years and roughly 430 period days (adjusting for maternity) in an office environment, I found the courage to walk to the toilet from my desk with the pad in my hand, and not in a purse. Even then, I had it in the inside of my palm so it wasn’t out there in plain sight. But, baby steps.

I dream of giving my daughter a world where she goes about her period days like any other normal day, carries the tampon to the toilet in plain sight, explains to her male friends / colleagues why she looks sick, and thinks of menstruation as the most normal thing to happen to a healthy girl (even more normal than contracting a cold because a cold is really nothing to wear on the sleeve like a badge of honor).

This dream of mine is simple and doable, compared to every other dream, because it is so in my control. All I need to do is to call out ‘conditioning’ to her when she encounters it, so she doesn’t have to work it backwards after 30 years of spending life on this Earth.

Monday, June 03, 2019

The imposition syndrome


I learnt Hindi back in 1996 for three years. At school. It was my third language, like that distant cousin who you might be polite to at a wedding party once in a while but cannot really stand in regular WA groups.

In my traumatized 3-year relationship with Hindi, which was kind of the mandatory third, because the only other option was Sanskrit (the Latinest of the Latins in my world), I am happy to inform you that I aced the subject. If you don’t know me, you wouldn’t know that I am undoubtedly the biggest mugger upper alive. Context or no context, science or no science, logic or no logic, I can actually ace anything (I learnt Mandarin three years back and topped that too, only difference being I really liked learning it and wanted to learn it Xie Xie).

Anyway, coming back to Hindi, very good help those three years of Hindi imposition did, because I turned up in Bombay in 2008, and asked the auto wallah what Sau meant, can he please say that in English. As an aside, in Chennai, we call them autos, not rickshaws.

It took me years and constant reminders to colleagues and friends at lunch and dinner tables to explain what that Hindi statement they made just then was, and after being (still am) the butt of many a joke, I have mastered the difference between pone bara and sava bara. But, I am informed that I don’t really know Hindi because I think cucumber is kakadi and potato is batata. Well, well, when you learn the pure Hindi of Bombay, it does morph into Marathi eventually.

Point being, Hindi imposition doesn’t really help. It makes us, the ones who didn’t make the choice to learn the language, very defensive. We learn the other languages better than the one being imposed on us. Also, we learn to survive with the languages we know. We learn to navigate the societies we live in, picking up local languages on the way.

So, if someone is selling this trope that learning Hindi is useful for the Southest of the South Indian, the Tamil, to survive in the Northest of the North Indias (which is all of it beyond the Vindhyas as far as we are concerned), sorry not required. We will fall and rise and fall and rise.

To sum up, TR style:
Say no to Hindi imposition
While doing Tamil composition.
Our right to the constitution
Cannot have any substitution.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Super Deluxe - Super? Deluxe? Neither?

Honestly, I am not sure so many many people could have enjoyed a movie this lengthy (2h 50m). But the reviews say so. My timeline says so. So, it must be true. No?

As for me, I didn’t enjoy it in its wholesome fulsome form. I didn’t enjoy that wonderful extra marital affair ending up with a dead body culminating in a loud “what the fuck” with an impressionable little boy in the vicinity, transforming into some Maniratnam-esque drivel in a Jeep, albeit with no whispers (small mercies). I didn’t enjoy that theism-atheism-maybe theism twist of Arputham ending in a shower of diamonds. I most definitely didn’t enjoy the alien sub plot set amidst all that uncanny reality. 

What I did enjoy was that another little boy and his phenomenal acting, as he waits for his father, as he parades his father around, as he hits his father who attempts to run away again from him. I enjoyed the escapades of those boys, the raw need for adolescent masturbation, the silly mistakes and the even sillier misplaced virtuosity. I enjoyed the erstwhile porn star running from pillar to post trying to save the life of her son who tried to kill her because he saw her in the porn movie he tried watching. 

I enjoyed those Ilaiyaraja songs, though I had to read up the reviews post facto to understand the placement. I guess I didn’t have a childhood that could relate to the song placements. Or, I was just not concentrating enough. 

V says he doesn’t like stories that are agenda driven. Fiction needs to be fiction, agenda needs to be agenda. One shouldn’t try to weave a story around an agenda to force fit messaging. I honestly don’t care. Some of those agenda driven scenes were riveting and they worked for the masala driven fan in me. The one where the father and son are caught in the toilet, the one in half light and half darkness where one person confessed to another about their sins.m, the one about the wife who gets the raw end of the deal.

But that’s the problem. It is a movie in parts. And I don’t think it was worthy enough sitting through 3 hours to enjoy parts of a movie rather than a movie as a whole.