Name Fame

Sodawaterbottleopenerwala. Quite a mouthful isn’t it? Imagine that you had to fit in this every time you filled a form which asked for your surname! Yes indeed, this is a real Parsi surname! While this may be the longest of them all, many surnames incorporate the suffix wala or vala, which indicates a vocation, or association with a particular food or item. In colonial Bombay there were Masalawalas –the sellers of spices, Narielwalas—the coconut vendors and Paowallas who served up the Pao—the distinctive Portuguese-influenced bread. Supporting the culinary individuals were Canteenwalas, Confectioners, Messmans, Bakerywalas, Hotelwalas, and Commissariats.

The Parsis are not the only community in India that took names that reflected their traditional professions. We have Doctors, Contractors and Engineers who today may not necessarily ply those trades. Similar in a sense perhaps to Mr Baker, Mr Cook, Mr Carpenter, and Mr Mason.

While we not have as colourful a gamut of names as Mr White, Mr Green and Mr Brown, we do have a menagerie that includes Mr Elephant (Hathi), Ms Mosquito (Macchhar), Dr Horse (Ghoda), and little Miss Mankad (Bedbug)!

Every state and every community has a huge melange of surnames, the study of which has engaged scholars over the years. The study of names is called onomastics; this covers the naming of all things, including place names (toponyms) and personal names (anthroponyms). Given names, often called first names, and surnames, often called last names, usually derive from words with distinct origins.

On a less academic note, I found a listing that tried to imagine a fit match between the possible titles of books with probable authors. These are certainly very English, but good for a chuckle!

Bits and Pieces    Miss E. Laneous

Without You I am Nothing   Dee Pendent

Arranging Letters   Ann A. Gram

Fall of an Empire   De Cline

Stringed Instruments   Vi O. Lin

Cardiac Attack   Hart A. Tack

Jean Machine   Den Him

Don’t be Small   B. Tall

Not Very Nice   Terry Ball

Lazy Medic   Dr Doolittle

Comedians   Joe Kerr

Runny Nose   Hank A. Chief

Time    San d’Glass

Horoscopes  Zoe d’Iack

It would be fun to make similar lists for desi names too. A good game for the next party!

–Mamata

Silent Reading

Remember how in school we were sometimes asked to read aloud a poem or text to rest of the class, and sometimes we were told that we had to do ‘silent reading’ in which each of us was to read silently to ourselves? I recalled this when I recently read about a concept that is apparently becoming popular. The idea of a silent book club!

The name itself is a bit of an oxymoron.  A book club conjures up a picture of a group of bibliophiles earnestly meeting at designated intervals to discuss at length the ‘assigned’ book. Silent reading brings to mind the concentrated academic reading done in a library, or the simple joy of curling up in a favourite chair with a friendly book; and most often this contentment is a solitary pleasure enjoyed in one’s own home.

The Silent Book Club combines the act of reading, surrounded by other people in a common space, with each person engaged in ‘silent reading’ of their own book. The concept was started in 2012 by two friends in San Francisco–Guinevere de la Mare and Laura Gluhanich. While both loved to read, and also enjoyed the idea of having someone with whom to discuss something they had read, they were equally uncomfortable with book clubs and the pressures of assigned readings and presentations. They imagined a situation where friends could meet together, but with each one reading whatever they liked for a designated time; after which the option to mingle and share remained open.

Unexpectedly, this simple idea has started to become global movement with chapters of the Silent Book Clubs opening in towns and cities across the world. The mandate is simple–bringing people and books together once a month to read in companionable silence in what the founders describe as “introvert happy hour!”

I was intrigued when I read about this concept. Even amused when I read that people are willing to pay handsomely for sitting in a café and drinking coffee while browsing through their book. Why? Because they feel that they cannot make the time for this at home, what with the continuous and overbearing demands of their virtual universe, and distractions of Netflix! Imagine having to wean yourself away from social media for just a couple of hours by physically putting yourself in an alternate space! And I wonder, after the designated time, would one be able to put aside a gripping murder mystery book for the next month, without finding out ‘whodunnit’?

Somewhat difficult for me to get wildly excited over! Luckily for me, (or so I believe) I belong to generation where books were as much a part of, and way of life, as eating and sleeping. When reading could happen at anywhere, anytime, without needing to carve out a special time and space for this. And reading was for one’s own pleasure, rather than an activity to be seen and heard being done. I can’t but help feeling a bit sorry for a generation that needs to be lured into ‘switching off’ and opening a physical book for the simple joy or reading. But if that’s what it takes today, I’m all for it!

The words of Hermann Hesse on the magic of books are reassuring, and timeless: “We need not fear a future elimination of the book. On the contrary, the more that certain needs for entertainment and education are satisfied through other inventions, the more the book will win back in dignity and authority. …And for every true reader this endless world of books looks different, everyone seeks and recognizes himself in it… A thousand ways lead through the jungle to a thousand goals, and no goal is the final one; with each step new expanses open.”

–Mamata

 

Going Back to the Roots

Last week a friend from France was visiting, and we had bhindi vegetable for lunch. The conversation turned to what this vegetable was called, and how it was eaten, in different parts of the world– from crisply fried Lady’s Fingers, to Okra soup.  This not particularly fancy nor exotic vegetable boasts of a long list of synonyms including gombo, gumbo, quingombo, okro, ochro, bamia, bamie, quiabo!

Fruits and vegetables are such an integral part of our daily diet, but most of us are not aware of their intriguing histories. Many vegetable names simply refer to their shape, colour and taste. In the case of Drumstick, this makes sense, but to imagine bhindi as Lady’s Fingers does take a leap of imagination!

The names of many vegetables and fruits in English have their origins in languages like Latin, Spanish, and French; and sometimes the original meanings lie hidden in their names.

Eggplant was given its name by Europeans in the middle of the eighteenth century because the variety they knew had fruits that were of a whitish or yellowish colour, and the shape and size of goose eggs. The purple variety that we are most familiar with, and call baingan or brinjal may have been derived from the Sanskrit vatimgana. This word travelled through Persian to the Arabic name al-badinjan, and further filtered through Portuguese and Catalan to become aubergine in Britain and Europe.

Cabbage gets its name from Middle French caboche which means ‘head’. It was derived as a diminutive from Latin caput which means head as it resembled the head of a person.

Orange, the fruit on the other hand, was not named for its colour, but the other way round.  The word is believed to have its origins from the Sanskrit naranga; which explains why, in several Indian languages, it is called narangi.

Pineapple seems to be a simple joining of two English words–pine and apple.  But surprisingly this word was originally used for what we call pine cone; although it is inexplicable why an inedible, hard piece of a tree should be called a pine ‘apple’. To confuse things further, melon is the Greek word for apple!

In a similar vein, Gooseberry has nothing to do with geese. It was originally gorseberry, derived from the ‘gorst’ which meant rough. This berry was so called because it grew on a rough and thorny shrub.

Raspberry comes from the German verb raspen which means to rub together or rub as with a file. The marks on the berry were thought to resemble file markings.

Strawberry is a corruption of ‘strayberry’ which was so named because of the way the runners from this plant stray all over the place!

Currants were so called because they first came from Corinth. Cherries got their name from the city of Cerasus. The term grape is the English equivalent of the Italian grappo, and the Dutch and the French grappe, all meaning bunch. Raisin is a French word that comes from the Latin racenus, a dried grape.

Kiwi however takes the cake! It is so called not because it originated in New Zealand—the home of the Kiwi bird. It is the Chinese missionaries who brought the fruit to this country, and they called them Chinese gooseberries because they were from China and similar in flavour to gooseberries. It wasn’t until the 1960s, when New Zealand began exporting the fruit, that people started calling it Kiwi fruit.

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Vegetable or Fruit?

And then there is the tomato. In culinary terms we consider it a vegetable; but this is actually a fruit in terms of its botanical characteristics—it is edible, contains a seed, is at least somewhat sweet, and grows on a plant.

16 October is celebrated every year as World Food Day. This marks the date of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.  Let each day be one of thanksgiving and celebration of the food we eat, by whatever name we may call it. After all, a mango by any other name will taste just as delicious!

–Mamata

 

A Smile A Day

It is the face that launched a thousand (and more) emoticons. It is the ubiquitous SMILEY! Probably one of the most recognizable icons across the world, this simple graphic had humble beginnings, and an interesting history.

The original version was created in 1963 by an American graphic artist and ad man Harvey Ross Ball. He was commissioned by an insurance company that had recently been merged with another, and was facing low employee morale. His brief was to create a visual icon to accompany a morale-boosting ‘friendship campaign’ that the company was planning to launch.

smiley.jpg
The original Smiley face Source https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/

Harvey Ball  picked up a black pen and a yellow piece of paper and started with just a grinning mouth on a perfect circle. Then he realised that this could be easily inverted to send a “frowney” message, and he added the small oval eyes. The left eye was deliberately created slightly smaller than the right, and the right side of the mouth thicker, larger and slightly off centre, in order to humanize the drawing through its imperfection. Thus emerged the world’s first Smiley Face! The design took Harvey ten minutes, and he was paid $45 for it.

 

The company first produced this design on a hundred buttons with a 7/8 inch radius, for its employees. But soon their clients also started requesting these, and the company ordered thousands of buttons. Soon the face started appearing on posters and signs also. It is not known to what extent it boosted morale, but the round yellow graphic made up only of two dots and a lopsided line was an instant hit!

Neither Harvey Ball nor the company had thought of taking a trademark or copyright on the design. With its unanticipated popularity, it was only a matter of time before the immense commercial potential of this was exploited. In the early 1970s, two brothers Bernard and Murray Spain added the tagline ‘Have a happy day’ (later changed to ‘Have a nice day’) and copyrighted the logo/slogan combination in 1971. The Spain brothers sold an estimated 50 million Smiley Face buttons, as well as an avalanche of other Smiley merchandise including coffee mugs, T-shirts, posters and, you name it… Beginning in 1996, Walmart tried to claim ownership of the design which they started using in their stores and TV ads. The disputed case dragged on for 10 years before they lost their claim to the Smiley Face.

Over the years as Harvey Ball saw how his simple idea for sharing a smile had changed. He observed that “Smiley has become so commercialized that its original message of spreading good will and good cheer has all but disappeared. I needed to do something to change that.” In 1999, he announced the formation of the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation, a charitable trust that supports various children’s causes. Its slogan is “Do an act of kindness – help one person smile!”

Harvey Ball died in 2001 at the age of 79. He never regretted the fact that he did not make a penny more than $45 from the million-dollar industry that his Smiley spawned. He was satisfied that the smiling face, “has gone around the world. It’s reached everybody. Its message is as good as you can get.” Proud to be its creator, he often said, “I made the world smile.”

To spread his message, the first Friday in October is celebrated as World Smile Day. A reminder that a smile can make a difference!

–Mamata

Gandhi, in and on Newspapers

It is Gandhi week, and newspapers are full of articles and pieces aIMG_20191001_104301.jpgbout Gandhi, his thoughts and deeds. This year it is with renewed vigour as it marks the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth. Being the prolific writer that he was, and the wide spectrum of subjects and areas on which he expressed his thoughts, every writer today can find some words of wisdom from Gandhi with respect to whatever they may choose to contribute for the ‘Gandhi special’ editions.

Gandhi himself was no exception to the pressure of meeting a newspaper deadline. Sometime in the second half on 1917 he wrote: I promised the Editor a contribution for the Diwali number of Hindustan. I find that I have no time to make good the promise, but thinking that I must write something, I place before the readers my views on newspapers. Under pressure of circumstances, I had to work in a newspaper office in South Africa and this gave me an opportunity to think on the subject. I have put in practice all the ideas that I venture to advance here.

Continuing, he went on to express his views on the business and ethics of newspapers of the day.

Newspapers are meant primarily to educate the people. They make the latter familiar with contemporary history. This is a work of no mean responsibility. It is a fact however, that the readers cannot always trust newspapers. Often the facts are found to be quite the opposite of what has been reported.  If newspapers realised that it was their duty to educate the people, they could not but wait to check a report before publishing it. It is true that often they have to work under difficult conditions. They have to sift the true from the false in but a short time, and can only guess at the truth. Even then I am of the opinion that it is better not to publish a report at all if it has not been found possible to verify it.

How interesting that the same debate about Fake news, and news used to provoke and promote dissension and distrust, continues to rage even today, albeit now, in the context not only of the print media, but all other media also.

Equally thought provoking and relevant are his concerns about the potentially dangerous role that newspapers can play.

It is often observed that newspapers publish any matter that they have, just to fill in space. This practice is almost universal. The reason is that most newspapers have their eye on profits. There is no doubt that newspapers have done great service. …But to my mind they have done no less harm. …many are full of prejudices, create or increase ill will among people. At times they produce bitterness and strife between different families and communities. …On the whole, it would seem that the existence of newspapers promotes good and evil in equal measure. 

He continues with his canny observations on how revenue from advertising tends to override other journalistic responsibilities. And this was over a hundred years ago!

It is now an established practice with newspapers to depend for revenues mainly on advertisements, rather than on subscriptions. The result has been deplorable. The very newspaper which writes against the drink-evil publishes advertisements in praise of drink. Medical advertisements are the largest source of revenue, though today they have done and are doing, incalculable harm to people.  I have been an eye witness to the harm done by them. Many people are lured into buying harmful medicines. …No matter at what cost or effort we must put an end to this undesirable practice or, at least, reform. It is the duty of every newspaper to exercise some restraint in the matter of advertisements.

Ironically my newspaper today has ten full-glossy pages creating aspirations of ”dream” lifestyles, and wooing consumers with advertisements of state-of-the art luxurious residences, gadgets, and holidays; and profligate indulgences in food, drink, clothes, cosmetics and more. The other ten pages has the kind of news that Gandhi had been so concerned about (violence, intolerance, discrimination and disparity), along with a sprinkling of pieces about the Gandhian tenets of simplicity, honesty and truthfulness, and introspection! Contradiction, or comfortable and convenient co-existence? Something to think about indeed!

Written by Gandhi sometime before 14 November 1917 (originally in Gujarati) Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol.14. https://www.gandhiheritageportal.org

–Mamata

 

Mary Poppins 2.0

Remember the loveable character of Mary Poppins who could fix messes in homes and families? Don’t we all sometimes wish that Mary Poppins would fly into our lives and set things straight? Someone who could discipline us to set ourselves in order? Believe it or not there is a real new-age Mary Poppins, and her name is Marie Kondo!clutter.jpg

Who is this new Marie and what does she do? Marie Kondo is a Japanese “tidying expert!” She helps people to clear up the clutter in their homes, and guides them towards creating spaces of order and serenity.

Marie was born in Japan in a culture which celebrates beauty in simplicity. Marie grew up with the ingenious origami art of folding, artistic ikebana, beautifully orchestrated tea ceremonies, and the art of creating minimalistic but serene surroundings, as well as an inborn gift for creating order out of chaos. She added to this, a canny entrepreneurial spirit when she started her “tidying consultant” business as a 19-year old university student in Tokyo. Realising the immense need and scope of “tidiness consulting” in an age when people lives were ‘cluttered’ in every which way, she went on to write a best-selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”

Where Mary Poppins created magic with the wave of her umbrella and a catchy tune on her lips, Marie Kondo starts her process of transformation in a more oriental style by making her clients calmly meditate on how their space is special to them, and to give thanks for this. She then proceeds to gently but firmly get them to review all their possessions, and let go whatever does not “spark joy” in them, after thanking these for their service! She then advises on how to rearrange and reorganise the remaining belongings by category, following the KonMari Method.

Today Marie is a global expert with her own Netflix’s hit show “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, and founder of KonMari Media Inc.

I admire this young woman who has found herself a natty niche, and is smart enough to make a successful enterprise out of it. But I cannot but help thinking of the generations of homemakers who have kept beautifully organised and managed homes with limited resources, but much hard work, care and creativity. For them it was a way of life, into which they were oriented by mothers and mothers-in-law. Today when we have much more of everything, except time and patience, voila, Marie Kondo is at your service!

–Mamata

Celebrating the Teacher

September 5–Teacher’s Day in India is marked by awards, articles, and essays  remembering and honouring those who instruct and inspire.  Across the world, and across generations, there have been many who have left behind their legacy on the young minds and lives. Films and books have tried to capture some of this in their own small way.

A film that I saw recently was a new addition to this list of ‘must watch and must read’. Freedom Writers  tells the story of an idealistic young teacher confronted with the challenge of teaching ‘unteachable, at-risk’ students, and her non-conformist attempts at making meaningful connections.

The movie is based on the real experiences of Erin Gruwell that she documented in a book titled The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them. The book was published in 1999.

Erin was a 23-year-old white American when she stepped into her classroom of a motley group of African American and Latino teenagers coming from a world of broken homes, violence, and every form of social, cultural and economic discrimination. Instead of giving up, and simply labelling her charges as ‘unteachable’, Erin realised that these young people were deprived of exposure, attention and respect. One way to open up their vision and world was to introduce them to writings that shared similar histories of discrimination, beginning with The Diary of Anne Frank, and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo, and including a visit to the Holocaust Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Despite initial resistance, the students began to see the parallels between these books and events in history, and their own lives; they realised that they were not alone in their struggles. Erin then moved on to encouraging every student to keep a journal in which they recorded their thoughts and feelings about their past, present and future.

The students were so inspired by Anne Frank’s story that they organised a “Read-a-thon for Tolerance” and collected funds to invite Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who sheltered Anne Frank’s family, to visit them in California during the 1994/1995 school year. Miep declared that Erin Gruwell’s students were “the real heroes”. As a testament to Erin’s dauntless efforts, all 150 Freedom Writers graduated from high school and many went on to attend college—a hitherto unachieved triumph.

The book The Freedom Writers Diary is a compilation of the journals kept by these students. Its title The Freedom Writers is a tribute to the name of the 1960s US civil rights group called Freedom Riders. Erin’s book was a huge success. She went on to set up The Freedom Writers Foundation, which functions to promote Erin’s successful teaching methods.

The film brought to mind another path-breaking movie To Sir, With Love. Released in 1967, this is also based on an autobiographical novel by E.R. Braithwaite which recounts his experiences as a teacher in London. In this case, it was the challenge of a teacher of colour teaching a class of white, economically and socially-deprived teenagers in a working-class area of London. Facing similar challenges of teaching a set curriculum to semi-literate and disinterested, hostile students, Braithwaite took on the challenge by switching to unconventional teaching methods including visits to museums, and allowing students to discuss what was meaningful to them, in the class. Like Erin, he broke through the barriers, and succeeded where others had thrown up their hands in despair.

Inspiring films both. Also a reminder that, in any time and place, a single individual can make a big difference. A tribute to every teacher, who in his or her own way, touches countless minds and hearts, and changes lives.

–Mamata

 

Green Amber Red

Imagine that you are cruising along a highway; enjoying the smooth flow and passage of time and miles. On the other hand, imagine you are in a city, driving at the required speed, eagerly crossing the green lights, slowing at the amber, and every now and then, stopping at the red light. There is a sense in both the experiences; in both cases, a different kind of pace is set.

The act of writing could perhaps be compared to this. Every writer sets their own pace and rhythm of how the words flow. For some the long uninterrupted cruise is the mode of choice; others prefer the ordered structure of breaking the flow, sometimes with a pause and sometimes with a longer halt—from green to amber to red. It is the punctuation marks that represent these traffic lights.

Many writers have expressed their thoughts on these—essential parts of tImage result for image punctuation marks cartoonhe tools of their trade. Some have celebrated punctuation as the friendly spirits whose bodiless presence nourishes the body of language”,  while another believes that each writer has a lifetime quota of them, to be used judiciously. I myself have always enjoyed the mental exercise of fixing the appropriate place for the appropriate mark, and am always attracted by how authors perceive and practice the use of punctuation marks.

I recently read a delightful articulation of this in an article which had excerpts from an essay titled Notes on Punctuation by Lewis Thomas. Thomas was an American physician, poet, etymologist, essayist, administrator, educator, researcher and teacher. Amidst his serious research and writing, Thomas applied equal affectionate attention to the traffic signals, giving each one a distinct character and identity.

Sharing some in his own words.

, The commas are the most useful and usable of all the stops. It is highly important to put them in place as you go along. If you try to come back after doing a paragraph and stick them in the various spots that tempt you you will discover that they tend to swarm like minnows into all sorts of crevices whose existence you hadn’t realized and before you know it the whole long sentence becomes immobilized and lashed up squirming in commas. Better to use them sparingly, and with affection, precisely when the need for each one arises, nicely, by itself.

; I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added; it reminds you sometimes of the Greek usage. It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.

: Colons are a lot less attractive, for several reasons: firstly, they give you the feeling of being rather ordered around, or at least having your nose pointed in a direction you might not be inclined to take if left to yourself, and, secondly, you suspect you’re in for one of those sentences that will be labeling the points to be made: firstly, secondly and so forth, with the implication that you haven’t sense enough to keep track of a sequence of notions without having them numbered.

!!! Exclamation points are the most irritating of all. Look! they say, look at what I just said! How amazing is my thought! It is like being forced to watch someone else’s small child jumping up and down crazily in the center of the living room shouting to attract attention. If a sentence really has something of importance to say, something quite remarkable, it doesn’t need a mark to point it out. And if it is really, after all, a banal sentence needing more zing, the exclamation point simply emphasizes its banality!

As for me, I do so love the comma, and simply cannot resist the !!!

–Mamata

 

 

Ode to the Saree

It is the day of tributes and nationalistic fervour. The news is replete IMG_20190815_101428069.jpgwith people sharing thoughts and feelings about what India means to them. This is my small paean to what, for me, represents the essence of India. It is an ode to the saree!

I wore my first formal saree when I was 16 years old. I still remember it—a magenta-pink Venkatagiri brought by my friend’s mother from Chennai. And I fell in love with sarees. Not just the finished draped version but simply this seemingly endless flow of fabric, with its mind-blowing variety of textures, weaves, designs, and colours. It was the start of an enchanting journey of discovery—learning, over the years, about the unique features of sarees from every part of India. Luckily for me it was the period of rediscovery of the rich heritage of our textiles which manifested in national handloom exhibitions where weavers displayed their wondrous skills. Oh the excitement of adding, one by one, traditional sarees of different states—the stunning kanjeevarams; the intricate ikats; the rustling golden tussars; the vibrant bandhanis and patolas; the summery kotas, and the sturdy handlooms. With every piece was the attempt to know more about the place and people who wove the masterpieces, the dyes and the motifs, the warp and the weft. It was an exploration of my country—its geography and history, culture and tradition, and craft and craftsmanship.

I was already part of a committed saree-wearing cadre when I started my career as an environmental educator. To my delight, one of the early statements by my Director Kartikeya Sarabhai, beautifully summed up the very special features of the saree. “The saree is a designed piece of clothing worn all over India. Over the years very beautiful designs, patterns and textures have been printed and woven into the Indian saree and yet, several thousand years of Indian history has not tried to stitch the saree. It is worn in many ways and fits all sizes. It is equally good for working, dressing up or sleeping in. The final effect is the combined effort of the person who designs the cloth and the person who wears it—of the designer and the user. This is a very different concept from that of designing, say, a well-stitched dress. The garment either fits or doesn’t fit, and where it fits, leaves very little room for the wearer to be innovative in its use.”

I have worn a saree every day of my working life. I have looked forward to choosing the one for the day, and it has become the symbol of my identity. I have worn my saree at home and at work; while travelling and sleeping; rain and shine. I have experienced the joys of putting together my own collection of the multitude of woven flavours of this wonderful country, and revelling in the rich bequest that is ours to savour and share

I am saddened at the ebbing of the saree today. Appalled that it has been reduced to a hashtag; that sarees have become exclusive “designer outfits” with tips on outre ways of draping a saree or, even worse, the stitched saree! I am amused when people think I am an ‘amma from the days of yore’ when I am the only one in a large gathering wearing a saree.  I am disturbed that in our race for globalisation and international Brands, we seem to be losing a crucial common thread of identity.

For me the saree represents the essential spirit of my country—the heritage and the history; the multiplicity and the uniqueness; the weaving of warp and weft to create a strong resilient fabric. It represents a unique common identity which subsumes the incredible diversity of textures and motifs. It represents the magic of being a seamless length of fabric that takes on the individual character of its wearer.

I may not wear my patriotism on my sleeve, but every time I wear my saree I celebrate the wonder that is India!

–Mamata

Two Sides of the Mirror

Time was, not so long ago, when photo albums were treasured family heirlooms.  Looking at old photos was one of the shared activities at a family get-together, with the elders pleasurably sinking into nostalgia, and youngsters playing guessing games at identifying the people in the pictures. There was a special excitement in flipping through the pages and sharing a laugh at “how much hair dear uncle had”, as compared with his bald pate today; or comparing the picture of the slim young girl with the comfortably chubby aunt today!

Photographs recorded the phases of life—the baby pictures taken by fond parents to record milestones; the awkward and self-conscious pictures of the gawky teenage years; the fancy wedding photo album; and the next cycle of young parents, their babies and doting grandparents.

There was a certain charm in seeing these transitions through the captured images. There was also a certain ceremony attached to the process of documenting. In the early years, this took the form of special posed pictures taken by professional photographers. With cameras becoming more user-friendly and available, it brought the process closer to home, but there was still the waiting period between the giving of the film for developing and getting back the prints and the negatives to discover what they revealed! Over time the technology and format of film, cameras and processing changed. The Polaroid camera was magic in a box—click, and voila the photo appears. …And then came the mobile phones with the ease of capturing images in an instant; along with all the many many Apps to do what you wish with the image. And everyone went crazy…every second of every day to be not only recorded, but immediately shared. Followed by the anxiety of how many views and how many likes. A deluge of images, sweeping across the screen of life, fleeting, momentary and, alas not as magical as turning the pages of an album to peruse history.

And now the new rage—FaceApp! The wand that reveals what you will look like when you are OLD! Celebrities across the world are posting pictures of what technology turns them into, projecting into the future. Of course every one of them looks suitably dignified and gracefully old, and feels reassured that “I am going to age well.”

Even more thought provoking is the news that this may also be used for not-as-legit facial recognition purposes. This makes me wonder. One the one hand, for millions of millennials, self-esteem and self- image hinge on being, at all times, visible on social media and “liked”. Then how can this be selective?

I am totally flummoxed by this. Here is a generation of self-obsessed young people living in an age where Image matters most. Here are the celebrities who spend millions on “looking young”. Here are the people who believe that life is in the here and now. Here is the technology which allows you to Photoshop away every trace of wrinkle or sagging skin, every blemish or hint of the passage of time. And yet these same people are clambering on the new high of “looking old.” Sadly, if only they stopped to think, life is more complex than an App, and who can tell what traces the ravages of time and experience will leave on our visage.

As for me, I would rather browse through the passage of time from my photo albums, than fast forward to the future!

–Mamata