On Time

“Time you old gypsy man, will you not stay? Put up your caravan just for one day?

hourglass.jpg
Source: Google

These lines from a poem learnt by rote in school, still remembered. Time had a different connotation when one was just fifteen. It was more about the “present”, and something one needed to cram in all the activities of teenage life.  Today with several decades behind one, Time is more about looking back, while Time the old gypsy man seems to be flashing past at the speed of light.

Today we live “by the clock”. Not only are our daily activities monitored by the clock, we depend on Apps to remind us to get up, to drink water, and to call our friends. Interestingly, the regular linear time line, cut up into days and weeks, is barely two and a half centuries old. In ancient times, time-keeping was more of an art than a science. People in most old civilizations relied on natural events–the turn of the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon as some ways to measure time.  Different cultures had their own ways of measuring time.

The concept of time has always been relative and contextual. An essay that I read explores these dimensions of time through different cultures and history. Titled Cartographies of Time, the two-part essay by authors Jonny Miller and Dorothy Sanders is fascinating reading. Sharing some excerpts.

In Madagascar if you asked how long something was going to take, you might be told it would be “the time of rice cooking (about half an hour) or “the frying of a locust” (a few minutes).

For monks in Burma there is no need for alarm clocks. They know when it is time to get up when “there is enough light to see the veins on their hand.”

The Andamanese, a tribe that lives on the Andaman Islands have constructed an annual calendar built around the sequence of dominant smells of trees and flowers in their environment. Instead of living by a calendar, this tribe “simply smell the odours outside their door.’

The Amondawa tribe that lives in the Amazon Rainforest have no specific word in their language for ‘time’ nor do they determine any discrete periods of time such as a month or a year. They only have divisions for night and day, and rainy and dry seasons. Even more intriguing is that nobody in the community has an age. Instead they change their names to reflect their stage of life and position within the community. What a wonderful way to go through life, rather than our obsession with the number of candles on a birthday cake!

The fact remains that time, at least the way we understand it today, is always passing. But what we make of it, is entirely up to us.

As the Dalai Lama has said: “Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend, or a meaningful day.”

–Mamata

 

Distances Are Measured In..

Musings as the monsoons approach….

 

How strange to live in a world (or shall I say, a city)

Where distances are measured not in units of length

But in units of time!!

So that when Kiran says

“I am at Bannerghatta. How far is your place?’

I say not ‘10 kms or 12 kms’

But ‘40 minutes–keep your fingers crossed’.

 

And distances depend on time of day and day of week!

So that when Pramod asks me on a Sunday afternoon

‘How long will it take me to get to your place?’

I say ‘I will put on the tea. You can be here in 10 minutes.’

But when his wife calls on Tuesday evening and asks me the same question,

I say ‘Oh, oh! Our other guests will be here in 15 minutes,

And its going to take you at least 45!’

 

They also depend on time of year

For after the monsoons, when the roads are more holes than road,

A 1 km stretch is a 15-minute ride

While in winter, with the roads freshly—if superficially—done up,

It is a whiz-past of 2 minutes!

 

And did you know, distances depend on who is in town?

For when the PM or the FM or any other M visits,

We count distances in hours, not in minutes.

 

My science teacher, who poor soul,

Lived in as high an ivory tower as is possible,

Will be most deeply disturbed

Because it seems

That nothing is absolute anymore!

 

–Meena Raghunathan

 

PS: I live in Bangalore, most notorious of all cities in regard to traffic. But many others are not far behind, unfortunately. When will we plan for sustainable cities?

Our Life Our Story

The wonderful tradition of keeping diaries and journals is ages old. The exercise of recording one’s thoughts, memorable moments, and pouring out teen-age angst was pretty much a part of our growing up years. And now, many years down history as it were, revisiting these is a wonderful trip down memory lane. Sadly in this an age of instant communication (often only in limited characters) and fleeting memory, there seems to be no time to spend on recording what will, some day, be history—our own and that of the world we live in.

The recent engagement of the Matriarchs in developing textbooks for young children has brought us again and again to the challenge of ‘how do we instil in children a sense of history?’ Not history in terms of dates and names and events, but the idea that where each of us is today, is one point in the continuum of time and generations. In this age of small nuclear (and often single-child) families, the tradition of oral histories passed on through generations seems to be getting lost. Children need to know “where do we come from, what is our family like, what have we learnt from our family experiences and history?”

Well here is someone who is trying to address similar concerns in a new way through History Hive, the brainchild of Moon Moon Jetley, a historian and researcher, who looks beyond academia.

Moon Moon and I worked together on a project last year, and bonded over many shared interests, and love for cold coffee and French fries! I was excited when she told me about her project-in-making for trying to connect people with history in an innovative way.

This is now up and running as History Hive, with its first product My History Kit. The inspiration behind the kit is personal history and the necessity to record it. This is a hands-on creative history experience that helps its users to connect with, and record their personal history with family stories, experiences and milestones. The kit contains a journal, a map, a dice and a puzzle. The Journal is a space to write your own story, the dice is a writing prompt, the puzzle a fun element, and My History Map is a space to creatively recreate your story, not only in words but by sticking mementos of the moments—pictures, souvenirs and anything associated with the experience.

The kit can be used by a wide age group (15-95 years) and people from diverse professions–doctors, writers, lawyers, home makers, teachers, travellers, entrepreneurs, start up owners, actors, and just about anyone who wants to tell, and keep their own stories.

Make your own history! Check out https://www.historyhive.in/

–Mamata

 

The Worshipful Bull

In Indian mythology, Nandi the bull is both the guardian of Mount Kailash, and the vehicle of Lord Shiva. The worship of Shiva and Nandi goes back to the time of the Indus Valley Civilization. The bull-seals found in Mohenjodaro and Harappa  have led some researchers to conclude that Nandi worship goes back many thousands of years.

A statue of a seated Nandi is often found in front of Shiva temples, facing the God. In metaphysical terms, Nandi represents the individual soul, looking to unite with the universal soul or Shiva. At a mundane level, people often use Nandi as a communication medium, whispering wishes into his ears, so that he may convey them to Shiva, who may listen to him more readily than to us!

Why suddenly this interest in Nandi? Because I was in Orissa this week, and did a three-hour road journey and also visited 5-6 villages.

Still doesn’t explain it?

nandi

Well, it was the number of Nandi statues I saw in this time. Almost every hamlet and village had one. Pretty big and prominent. Sometimes the shrines they were in front of were smaller than the Nandis. And there were also some stand-alone Nandis! They were in all shapes and sizes.  A few small, most medium sized and a few really large. Some smiling, some serious, some with inscrutable expressions. Some puny and under-fed, some healthy. Some in proportion and some not-so.  But Nandi, after Nandi, after Nandi.

I have travelled to several states. I have seen ever-increasing number of stand-alone Hanuman statues; and several Shiva statues. But as far as I can recall, I have not come across so many Nandis. I am not sure why there should be so many in Orissa particularly, because traditionally, large Nandi statues are more prevalent in the South—Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamilnadu. But I do not recall that Nandi statues are found so commonly in these states.

The largest bull statue is in the Mahanadiswara Swamy temple in Kurnool, AP. It stands 15ft by 27 ft. This is followed by the bull in the Lepakshi Temple, also in AP. Other prominent Nandis are the ones at Chamundi Hills, Karnataka, Brahadishwara Temple, Tamilnadu, and of course, Banagalore’s own Bull Temple. Orissa does have one of the big 10 Nandis, at Bhanjanagar town.

But I think the state must beat all simply in the number of Nandis dotting the state scape. These are not old—would not think many are over a decade in age. It would indeed be interesting if someone could undertake a study to understand why there is such a proliferation in recent times. Wish it could be me, but sadly, I don’t think I can do it at the moment. So when I go back to Orissa, I will content myself with just looking out for them, counting them and clicking them

–Meena

What-a-Melon!

What is red and green and white,

And a summer delight?watermelon slices.jpg

Watermelon!

This uncomplicated sweet and juicy fruit has always marked the onset of summer (prelude to the more sensuous, refined flavours of the mango!).

A recent family discussion on whether there was more to this melon than a lovely colour, sugar and water led me to explore. This is what I discovered!

Yes, it is 91.5% water, and thus a great antidote to dehydration; the juice is also full of good electrolytes which can even help prevent heat stroke.

But what else?

Watermelon is great for your health! It not just refreshes, a watermelon…

Is loaded with vitamin C and vitamin A, and contains essential minerals like potassium.

Has dietary fibre for digestive health.

Is bursting with lypocene which is considered to be a super antioxidant that prevents damage to cells and immune system.

Contains a natural substance called citrulline that is said to improved artery function and lower blood pressure, as well as protect against muscle pain. Watermelon juice before a gruelling workout may help reduce muscle soreness. But guess where citrulline is concentrated most? In the white flesh near the rind, which also has blood-building chlorophyll! So instead of throwing this away–try putting it in a blender with some lime for a healthy, refreshing treat.

And for something that tastes sinfully good, it is fat-free, and very low in sodium and calories.

Curiously the watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) wears a dual hat of being fruit as well as vegetable, belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family which includes cucumber and pumpkin.

It is believed to have originated in the Kalahari desert of South Africa. It may have been carried by seafaring merchants across the world–as far as China which is today said to be the highest producer of watermelons. It is believed that it reached the United States with the slaves from Africa.  Today watermelon is the most consumed melon in the United States, where July is celebrated as National Watermelon Month!

And we thought that it was our own special summer delight!

What-a-Melon! Supermelon!

–Mamata

Game of Thrones

The small screen is definitely dominated by GOT currently. Whether the much-awaited HBO release, or the Indian elections.

GOT-HBO is a debate at some level on the divine right of kings and queens; defining bloodlines and who has the right to inherit; and on the need for popular support even if one thinks one has the ‘divine right’.

Not unlike the Indian elections!

But that is not the substance of my Election Day piece.

What’s in a Word?

It really started with a confusion about the word ‘suffrage’. We learnt it by rote in middle school Civics, as in ‘India has Universal Adult Suffrage.’ Such a strange word. Seems more related to suffering than anything else. But surely that couldn’t be!

The origin of the word is not clear. To quote Merriam Webster dictionary, ‘suffrage has been used since the 14th century to mean “prayer” (especially a prayer requesting divine help or intercession). So how did “suffrage” come to mean “a vote” or “the right to vote”? To answer that, we must look to the word’s Latin ancestor, suffragium, which can be translated as “vote,” “support,” or “prayer.” That term produced descendants in a number of languages, and English picked up its senses of “suffrage” from two different places. We took the “prayer” sense from a Middle French suffragium offspring that emphasized the word’s spiritual aspects, and we elected to adopt the “voting” senses directly from the original Latin.’

Another theory says that the voting meaning comes from the second element frangere, and the notion is “use a broken piece of tile as a ballot”, and seems to go back to the 1530s. The meaning as in “political right to vote” in English is first found in the U.S. Constitution, 1787. (https: //www. etymonline.com/word/suffrage)

Making It Universal

Well, as our Civics books told us, India has Universal Adult Franchise. At 12 years of age, I did not understand how profound that was. Each and every citizen of the country who has crossed a certain age, irrespective of gender, education, caste, creed, religion, properly ownership, can vote. And this has been in force from our very first elections in 1951-52. Many countries of older democratic tradition came to adult suffrage only by slow and painful steps. For instance, in most countries, originally only land owners could vote. Universal suffrage came to South Africa only in 1993. Between the 1890s and 1960s, many state governments in the US insisted that voters pass a literacy tests before they could be allowed to vote—a ruse to exclude African-Americans and other racial minorities from voting.

The most vigorous battles of course were for Women’s Suffrage—fought by women on the streets of many countries including the UK and the US. In most countries, there was a lag of a generation between adult men getting the franchise, and women getting it.

Women in India got this automatically from 1950. But while we had the vote from the very first elections, there were many women who did not exercise this the first time around. Here are some very interesting insights from a piece in the Economic Times: ‘During the creation of the electoral roll, a number of women, nearly all in North India, wanted to be registered not under their own names, but as “wife of..” or “daughter of…”. This was the practice in their communities and when this issue first came up in provincial elections in the 1930s, colonial bureaucrats allowed this.  But now the officials of independent India refused. “The introduction of adult franchise is intended to confer on every adult, male or female, the right to participate in the establishment of a fully democratic system of Government,” the government of the United Provinces (now UP) wrote, emphasising the need that “no adult, male or female, is as far as possible left unrecorded in the electoral rolls”.

Many women could not vote in the first election: The Chief Election Commissioner of that time, Sukumar Sen, estimated that ‘out of a total of nearly 80 million women voters in the country, nearly 2.8 million failed to disclose their name, and the entries relating to them had to be deleted from the rolls. Sen decided that registrations would happen by the next elections. Votes for women, in their own identities as citizens of India, was a principle that could not be compromised.’  (https:// economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/on-the-centenary-of-womens-suffrage-a-look-at-how-india-achieved-electoral-equality/articleshow/63150595.cms).

Something to be said for the strength of conviction of the Chief Election Commissioner!

Voting Age

While most countries—over 100–have 18 as the minimum age for voting, there are some countries who hold the age as 16, and a few at 17. There are a handful of countries who have set the age at above 18. For example, South Korea’s legal voting age is 19 years; Nauru, Taiwan, and Bahrain hold it at 20 years; Oman, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Singapore, Malaysia, Kuwait, Jersey, and Cameroon at 21. The United Arab Emirates has the oldest legal voting age in the world. Citizens can only vote when they attain the age of 25 or older.

Many may not remember, but in India, we started out with a voting age of 21. The Sixty-first Constitutional Amendment brought about in 1988, lowered the voting age from 21 years to 18 years.

Vote, vote thoughtfully, vote with the hope that exercising suffrage reduces suffering!

–Meena

BREXIT

Some want to hex it?

Others want to max it?

Who wants to jinx it?

You want to nix it?

Does someone want to tax it?

Are the protests somewhat sexist?

Is there no way to fix it?

 

I have it up to my eyes with it!

Nothing but to call a pox on it!

 

Do what you like..

Exit

Greexit

 

BREXIT.

Just leave me out of it!

–Meena

PS: Apologies for the terrible verse. But I am just so stressed with being assaulted with news of this!

The Lost Charm of Train Travel

A recent relatively short train journey was an unexpected eye opener. When we were young, travel meant long train journeys. This was a much-planned programme, and one of the highlights of a vacation whether it was the annual summer holiday at the family home, or a Diwali get-together at the home of a close relative.

It was a while since I had travelled by train. I was looking forward to re-experiencing the small things that had characterised those train journeys. One of these was the sampling of ‘speciality snacks’ of different stations. Almost every station traditionally had something sizzling—being deep fried in large cauldrons on the platform, and wrapped steaming hot in old newspaper or banana leaves, depending on the region. Between stations there was a constant stream of hawkers calling out their special wares—from masala peanuts to the fruit of the season to the ubiquitous “chai garam.” Another ritual while starting a journey was the buying of ‘filmy’ magazines and comics from the cluttered AH Wheeler stall—a treat that marked the mood of a textbook-free month.

Buoyed by these memories I embarked on my journey. The first disappointment was to not find a single newspaper vendor around. There was no AH Wheeler stall on our platform, and the one on the platform across was shut even though it was not so early in the morning. So no “time pass” magazines or newspapers. Disappointment two was the food scene. No sizzling pans and oily bhajiyas and puri bhaji. Every station had the same looking stalls with their array of packets of chips, chips, and chips and similar packaged snacks in the standard multiple ‘international’ flavours—ranging from schezwan to barbeque to French onion! Oh yes, they all had a small pile of cold stale bread pakodas and vada pao that no one seemed to want. What a homogenization of the rich, savoury and distinctive flavour of railway platform culture, and a sterile tribute to an age of rip, crunch, munch and throw-away culture.

In the train itself the story repeated itself. I think I learned a great deal of geography simply by looking the passing landscape, with my father pointing out to the different crops that were growing in the fields, the changing appearances of the people and the houses, flashes of birds, animals or trees as the train rushed by. This was supplemented by a railway timetable that listed the names of the stations en route, and comparing the arrival and departure time of our train with what was scheduled as per the time table. Even the names of different stations had their own stories and histories.  Till today, I can travel for days by road or rail happily gazing out of the window.

This time it was a bizarre sight to see every person in the compartment—old and young—glued to the small screens of mobile phones as the wonderful 70mm mega screen scenery flew by unnoticed. Children whined and complained of being “bored” when they tired of whatever it was they were watching on their phone, and were presented with yet another packet of chips or frooti drink; not one parent looked up to point to the window and say, “why don’t you look out?” I watched helpless and sad…What a sad waste of opportunities.

Perhaps the ultimate blow came when some of the passengers ordered food online, which was delivered at the notified station. One young woman stopped watching her third movie on her phone only long enough to alight at the next station to pick up her order of Domino’s pizza!

–Mamata