Saturday, May 30, 2009

Racism Down Under - Wake up Call for India

The solution to the resentment towards Indian students who can afford education abroad does not lie in diplomatic efforts. That’s a stop gap and contingent solution. But the real long term solution lies in India improving the educational infrastructure in the country.

With the type of media coverage it is getting, there is likelihood of this resentment spreading to other parts of the developed world which have been wooing Indian students both for the revenue (income from international students is a major source of revenue for Australia) they bring and their contribution to research. But racist attacks are often beyond the control of the governments. Its increase in these difficult times of financial meltdown is an indication of the rightful-heir-being-denied –the -legacy –by-the-adopted syndrome. This is the most dangerous type of resentment ‘cos at the bottom of it is the feeling of righteousness, of fighting and killing for a just cause.

In addition to this is this branding of Asians as terrorists. The Indian students in Australia have reported that they often have had to confront hostile queries about whether they are Afghans or Pakistanis, and whether their jacket conceals bombs!

It is the most undesirable situation that we have here.

Why does a country like India which exports such a huge number of techies and researchers to the world, depend on these developed countries for quality higher education for her students?

Sixty years of independence is a long time. The issue should be addressed aggressively. We have the educational infrastructure. It’s not as though we have to start from the scratch. We have to bring them up to international standards. There are a few suggestions to address this very serious issue.

· Keep Centres of learning totally free from politics. No unions, be it those of students, employees or the teaching faculty.
· Invest hugely in research infrastructure.
· Provide sufficient funding for deserving researchers in place of the shameful pittance doled out to them now. A decent package will attract to our universities the best hands that, in the present scenario, go to foreign universities for quality, state of the art education and become vulnerable to shameful racist attacks.
· Offer enviable package to the faculty. This will attract the best hands to the teaching profession. This move is already set afoot in the country under pressure from the UGC.
· Attract funds by offering very attractive tax benefits to corporates who donate to the cause of education in proportion to the profit.
· Have in place a fool proof accountability system for the universities.
· Ensure efficient administrative machinery in the universities. The red-tapism that is the bane of any university with government funding is a huge drain on the resources of the university in terms of time and performance.
· Every state should have such universities in proportion to its population.

None of these is impossible or unrealistic suggestions. WE only need the political will to do it. It is time the people of India began to clamour for it. If we let things by, the status quo will continue.

Only the crying baby gets milk.

Perhaps the wails should emanate from the blogsphere.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In the Name of God

They make me uneasy. those prayer cum threat (sometimes veiled) forwards.

I know many who just delete them without a second thought. But somehow i find it difficult, though of late i have begun to do it selectively.

You claim to be a rational creature, i tell myself. but the truth, i guess is, i am not.

Or, why do i still insist that we are not three in number when we set out from the house for an auspicious or important occasion? I remember the daily routine during my daughter's SSLC exams. My husband , i and my daughter set out from the house together. She was dropped at the school, i at the bus station and then he went to the office. Since she was going to appear for the crucial exams which were to decide her future, i would wait at the gate so that we didn't set out in three, a number which was considered ill omened! My husband who, as a rule, is dismissive about such "superstitious practices", did not protest . Guess, he too didn't want to take a chance :-) . I still do it, but make sure it is done without drawing attention .

I have this habit of branding certain clothes and accessories as 'unlucky'. I remember the silk salwar suit i was wearing when the radiologist dropped the bombshell about me being diagnosed with a dangerous disease. We had dropped in at the the Diagnostic clinic after a party. I was wearing the most expensive Salwar suit i ever bought.

I gave it away to my maid who nearly fainted on receiving the expensive gift. She knew it was a brand new outfit.

"Why pass on an unlucky object to her?", my friend asked me when i told her.

"What's unlucky for me need not be unlucky for another person", i replied. 'Anyway, i didn't give her the Dupetta. So the unlucky combination is not complete".

My friend shook her head in disbelief. I thought she even looked disgusted when i told her about the fate of my brand new Biba salwar suits that I'd worn during the visits to the docs who confirmed the disease. I gave them to my sister in law who had to tamper with their perfect cut to suit her measurements. I thought my sister in law too looked incredulous when i told her why i am giving her those clothes, and why i refused to give the complete set(to break the unlucky combination).

And i always describe myself as a rational being!

Thus it is that i hesitate to delete those forwards which come with threats of divine retribution if i don't forward them to the specified number of people. Why take a chance with the ire of the almighty?

For a sample of the threats:

Some are blatant. They go something like this.

'If you don't sent this to 10 people, within 24 hours something terrible will happen to you". Some mails specify the nature of misfortune that will, without doubt, befall you if you break the chain- like loosing all your money, disease invading your family, losing job and the like. These mails sometimes give list of people whom disaster struck like a thunderbolt. That makes it really scary.

Some threats are subtle and use emotional blackmail as a tool.

"You have No hesitation to forward jokes, even vulgar ones. Cant you do this for God" or "Not only are you depriving yourself of a big bonanza, you are also depriving 10 others(instructions are to send to 10) of a fortune.

Some of the prayers/thoughts forwarded are truly inspiring or appropriate to your mood or the crisis which you find yourself in. But the minute i see the attempt to threaten/cajole/emotionally blackmail, i withdraw into a protective shell, and ponder over how to handle it.

Earlier, i sent them to those i knew believed in God and his bountiful as well a retributive nature.

Now, i edit them. I remove all the threats and pass them on, hoping that at least one of the recipients will forward to someone. Thus I wont have to carry the burden of the guilt of having broken the chain.
Now, i have started deleting them. I delete them without opening 'cos i know that once i read and see the samples of the disasters that will pursue me in a battalion, I'll lose the courage to delete.
I ask myself: Why am i like this? I ought to be totally unaffected by these forwards. I ought to know that whoever generate these mails are not prophets or seers or messengers of god, but - - . But who are they? Why do they do this?
Are these the efforts of well meaning souls to do their bit to establish the kingdom of God? Do they want to build up a virtual army of God to implement his laws on earth?
And who are these 'theys', these 'start' points from which these messages originate and spread all over the virtual world through the agency of even the so called rational people like me, who, for some strange reason cannot mete out the dismissive treatment these forwards deserve?
Questions and questions for which i have no answer.
Are you any wiser, dear blog visitor?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bathroom Tamasha -1

I just read a hilarious post on European Bathrooms which brought memories of bathroom experiences rushing to my mind.

I've experienced the same sense of insecurity that Aparna describes in her post. It happened in a Pondicherry boarding school where I did my high school. The school was the Indian /English wing of the French school. French influence was heavy, what with nuns and matrons being French or francoindians (is there such a term?).

I had just returned from the summer vacation. We were told that the boarding was shifted from the magnificent Villa Maria to the English medium high school building (the high school had shifted to the suburbs). As the maids were lugging my suitcases to the dorm, I went in search of the toilet, the first destination of anyone after an overnight Kochin-Madras train journey followed by a torturous bus journey from Madras to Pondicherry.

Miss Aureli, our matron told me in her broken English that the attached bathrooms could only be used as lavs. The bathing arrangement was near the small quadrangle where the non resident students used to sit around and talk. Curious to know how they had converted that beautiful space into bathrooms, I rushed excitedly to the quadrangle. A few boarders were already there and were looking utterly dismayed.

“Where are the bathrooms?”

“There”, they pointed to the veranda that skirted the quadrangle. The veranda was partitioned into 15 bathing rooms with temporary partition material. There were no doors. Only green plastic curtains with floral prints taking over the function of doors!!

“Oh my God. How can we bathe with only the curtains as protection?” said I with all the Nazrani-upbringing-induced indignation and outrage.

“I refuse to bathe here”, said Uma Mahadevan. Her sister Latha echoed her words even more vehemently.

“Let's tell Mother Edel that we refuse to bathe if she doesn’t replace the curtains with doors” That was Gnaneswari, besides herself with r age. The little boarders shifted their gaze from one speaker to the other, their faces registering appropriate expressions.

“Come, let us go to Mother Edel”, said the brilliant Bharathi Balasubramanium.

“Here I am, girls”, said Mother Edel who had apparently been eavesdropping.

WE loved Mother Edel, the half Irish boarding mistress. Though a disciplinarian, she was the very epitome of fairness and impartiality.

"What’s your problem, girls?” asked Mother Edel gently.


“All fine?”

“Curtains”, blurted out the valiant Bharathi Balasubramanium.

“Pretty, aren't they?” She asked with a sweet smile.

”Yes”, whimpered the boarders.

"Freshen up, girls. I have lovely snacks waiting for you. Be in the dining hall in half an hour?” she said looking at her watch.

All of us nodded meekly.

She flashed another sweet smile and vanished.

Mother Edel was a stickler for punctuality. Half an hour to wash off all that dirt from the coal powered trains. We ran to the dorm, picked up the change of clothes and met in the quadrangle.

WE strategized quickly on how to indicate the occupancy of each bathroom.

“Put the pre- shower clothes on the curtain rod’, declared Gnaneswari.

Then we charged into the cubicular bathrooms. WE started out bath, each shouting out to the other, updating each other on the stage that each was in. Somehow, that gave us a sense of security.

And then nature played truant. A huge wind came from some where and up went the curtains!

WE screamed in unison.

Uma Mahadevan was always the one with great presence of mind.

“GRAB THE CURTAIN AND WRAP YOURSELF IN THEM”, she ordered thunderously.

We did as instructed and ended up with nothing but green floral plastic curtains wrapped around us and our head sticking out above the curtains and looking at each other, some laughing, some crying, some raising socialist slogans.

“Ennaamma?” said a male voice.

A young worker who’d been whitewashing the adjacent building, stood there, at the entrance of the quadrangle. Apparently, he had come to find out what the screams were about.

In rapid, hysterical Tamil, Uma Mahadevan and Lath Mahadevan and Bharathi Balasubramaium and Gnaneswari, and little Jayanthi, and the still more little Azhakarazi screamed at the boy, asking him to go away. I joined in with my Malayalam ‘poda, poda’.

By then the matron Aureli reached the quadrangle, all panting from transporting her heavy mass from the first floor.

She saw the boy looking bewildered at the sight of girls of all sizes wrapped in green floral plastic curtains, hurling abuses at him.

Miss Aureli shooed him away, and with the green floral plastic curtains wrapped around us, we poured all our woes to her. She nodded her wise head and assured us that she’ll arrange to have the tin doors of Villa Maria bathing rooms relocated to these bathrooms.

Till I completed my high school at Cluny, the plastic curtains remained. But, by then, we had learned to deal with eventualities of bathing with the protection of only a green, plastic curtain with floral prints.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Shopping With Husband

I have yet to hear a woman say that her husband enjoys shopping. I perhaps am the lone person on this planet whose worse half (if I am the 'better', he must be the antonym) takes immense pleasure in shopping.

Of course, shopping means two different things to us. To me it means going to the shop to buy something. To him it means - -it can’t be packaged in a sentence. It calls for an entire blog to explain what shopping means to him.

The minute we enter the shop, our behaviour acquires totally different patterns. I usually walk up to an employee and ask him where I can find what I want, and then I make a bee line for that section. My husband, on the other hand - - - No. Description may not do justice to reality. Shall present it.

WE, residing in a small town in Kerala, walk into a Nalli Textiles in a big metro.

Husband (From now on H): Ask that man what you want.
ME: I know! I am about to ask him.
Having found out the section I want, I walk towards it. I look back to see my husband, his hands stuffed in the pockets, looking around – to get an overall idea of what, I really don’t know-or have cared to find out. But he sure appears as though he had come to buy up the Nalli chain!

Then he starts his inspection. Of the details.

In no time I find what I want. Since it runs into a few thousands, I want his opinion. I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t evolved enough as an independent woman to dump his likes and dislikes regarding my clothes into the trash bin.

We start walking back towards the Kanchhevaram silk section where I have kept aside a saree for his approval.

Me: I think I have found what I wanted.
H: You know Molly, can you think of a single shop in Kerala where they have such variety?
Me: It’s a pretty piece, you know, a peacock blue with magenta border.
H: And the sales men! Their body language. So professional.
Me: But it is a little expensive.
H: They know their job.
We reach the section and the sales man places the selected saree on the counter.
Me: This is the saree.
Usually our tastes converge.
H: Check it for damage.
Irritated, I ask the salesman who has already begun doing it.
Salesman: No damage, sir.
Husband: But what is that?

To date, I have never been able to find out how his eyes fall on some defect or how every piece I choose happens to have some defect. There are times when I have thought that he can create damage on fabric just by looking at it.

I start searching for another sari while he wanders about, deeply engrossed in his assessment of the shop, its business, its systems, its efficiency, its clientele, its stock, its floor management, its method of handling the crowd at the payment counter, parcel counter, and and and and - - - - . Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!


If it is a lifestyle type of mall, he moves from section to section, picks up items, turns them upside down, finds something to read on every item and then puts it back. When I see him picking up delicate crystals, I walk up and tell him not to touch or break. For all the attention he pays me, I need not have existed.

In a mall, he seems to be eternally disappearing – something I find most annoying. There are times when I have had to call him on the cell phone, after he performs his vanishing trick.

Yesterday, we went to the Bed Bath and Beyond in Chicago. I picked up some stuff, put them in the trolley and started off on that husband hunting expedition. Sure enough, I found him after three rounds of walking up and down that gigantic shop. Needless to say, he was scrutinizing the underside of an exotic crockery item. For the life of me, I cannot understand why he cannot just look at that piece of art with its right side up and drink in its beauty.

As we walked back to the billing counter, I said: I have taken these items. Think we can carry them?
H: All the items in this shop are Chinese.
Me: I know these pans are heavy but I haven’t seen such quality stuff in India
H; These Chinese seem to have taken over manufacture completely.
Me: All three are stainless steel
H: And the finish of each product! These Chinese!! We really should salute them.
I try again: Do you think these will be too heavy?
H: And Molly, see how cordial and helpful these employees are?

By now, I was trying to keep in check that terrible impulse to pick the heavies steel frying pan and bring it crashing down on his head!

Instead, I looked at him, taking care that my expression didn't betray my feelings.

H: Really, we have a lot to learn from the Americans.
Me: Listen, (my voice become slightly hysterical). Do you think we should buy these items? Will they be overweight?
Husband, gesturing with his head at the friendly conversation between the sales boy and a customer at the billing counter, openened his mouth to say something.
My patience snapped.
Me: I don’t care a s--- how cordial these guys are, how earnest they are or whatever. All I want to know is whether we will be able to take these items to India if I buy them.

At last, he looked at the trolley. Took up the frying pan, turned it over.

Chinese again, declared the husband triumphantly!!!!!!!


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Racism in the Skies.,&SectionName=pWehHe7IsSU=

A woman claimed that barring Indians, all the other passengers were given good hotel accommodation since their flight was delayed.
The airline allegedly did not give any reason for the delay and dumped all Indians in a small room, she told reporters.
Another passenger accused Air France of not providing Indians with proper food or water during the ordeal.(An extract from the above link)

If this is true, what a shame!

Air France has denied doling out discriminatory treatment, but I’d rather give more credence to the passengers’version. Why should they make such a false claim? The airlines has every reason to deny the allegation.

Leave alone the ethical aspect of the issue, it is the absence of commercial wisdom which causes many international airlines not to make an all out effort to neutralize the racially discriminative approach/ attitude of its employees.

I have heard many Indian frequent travelers complaining about subtle racist slur in the treatment meted out to them.

International aviation industry should realise that non-European customers contribute hugely to their income. Guess it’ll do good to have the following quote put up in places frequented by all airlines employees.

A customer is the most important visitor on our premises.
He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him.
He is not an interruption in our work - he is the purpose of it.
We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to serve him.- Mahatma Gandhi

Just imagine what will happen if, the allegation of the passengers being found true, the Government of India issues a fatwa to Indians to boycott Air France!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Silence of the Ashes

The blog visitor (to ): Why no update?

My muse goes into hibernation
I do not know why.

When it stirs
and struggles in the cocoon
and finally breaks free
into the light of the day

It gets singed.
No colourful wings.

Only ashes.

The struggle to be born
to fly about
to exist
the pain of death

lost in silence.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Arrival at Chicago

"Move on, move on. Dont stand there", said the black security official as we walked down the corridor leading to the immigration counter at Chicago airport. He was talking to a 70+ well suited and booted Gujarathi passenger who, like us, had alighted from the Air India Flight.
The passenger stood his ground, looking back towards the aerobridge, and refused to move. Then security personnel walked towards him and repeated the command.
"I'm waiting for my wife", replied the irritated passenger.
"That's fine. But move on. Dont stand there. She'll find you'
The passenger was angry now. "How can she find me? She is not educated!".(I could have punched him on the nose for that loud declaration! Surely he owed something to his wife's image!)
The security personal laughed and told him:" Dont worry man. She doesn't need education to find you. Guess she's been you wife for a long time now?"
"I tell you she is not educated and - - -". He stopped when he heard some one call him from the front. All of us looked ahead towards the shrill, irritated voice and found an elderly woman, saree worn the Gujarati style, saying something rapidly and gesticulating to the husband.
"There she is" said the man, with Archmedean excitement and joy.

The security man laughed explosively and said to me who was watching this short exchange: "I told you. you dont need education to find your husband. And look, no education and she is way ahead of him!!"

Guess basic instincts are stronger when not diluted by education!