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

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

 

Did You Not Want to Ask…

A woman’s greatness is measured by the ‘sacrifices’ she makes. Has much changed?

As Women’s Day approaches, these unasked questions trouble me…

Sita:

A question I have asked myself

Did you not have the option

To leave the kingdom to your brothers

And come with me?

You left the kingdom to them once before

Oh, I remember!

That was your duty to your father.

Duty to a wife

Obviously does not come

Above duty to a kingdom.

Radha:

You vowed you loved me

But you knew you were never coming back

And you went ahead and married so many women

Did you ever look back?

Draupadi:

You fought for me and won me

But you didn’t utter a word

And went out of your way to not show special love for me

And why did I, such a confident princess

With a powerful father,

Accept this?

Was it that you felt inferior to me

And powerless.

And you wanted to prove you were powerful

By your treatment of me?

Parvati:

Your indifference

And I had to keep

Coaxing you

Sati always hovered over my head

Like Rebecca.

IMG_20190304_154701__01__01

–Meena

PS: Picture is the cover of DURYODHANA, By V. Raghunathan. Harper Collins. Illustrator: Nilofer Suleman

Caring and Sharing

The excitement began in the first week of March. What shall we do this year? Shall we have a theme? What about the lunch? Shall we order it or have a pIMG_20190302_112325.jpgot luck? Shall it be a particular cuisine or a celebration of diversity? And of course, it will be our Sari Day, but shall we have a colour code this year? Intercoms buzzed and Prepcoms were held.

It was the run up to Women’s Day at CEE! This was not the day to make a great political statement, nor a significant feminist event. It was simply a time to meet, eat, laugh and play together—a celebration of sisterhood.

For me this sisterhood was one of the many things that made CEE so special. What may have been the first link in the chain was a true “sense of belonging” to an organisation. But that was lengthened and strengthened by numerous bonds that brought the new and the old; the different tiers of formal designations, and the several generations that made up the ‘woman power’ of the institution.  It was the shared cups of tea and the lunch dabbas; it was the shared agonising over children, parents and in laws; it was the exchange of news and views, and the show-and-tell of things bought or made. This was a constant underground stream that flowed round the year, giving energy to our daily tasks at work. This seamless blending of many generations, and the mutual caring and sharing that made our lives so rich.

For us the Matriarchs, this sisterhood was the mainspring of our daily life. And we revelled in it as we scolded and moulded the fledglings; laughed and cried with our contemporaries; celebrated births and mourned the passings; bedecked ourselves for weddings, and planned office parties with much gusto. It was in many ways a time of innocence, a time when comfort and joy was derived from the feeling of going through life together. It was so much more than a coming together on a single day of the year.

“You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.” Maya Angelou

In this week, we look back and remember with gratitude and love all the wonderful women that we had the fortune to have met and worked with, and who have enriched us in so many ways.

–Mamata and Meena

 

Streetwise

One of the most important parts of my day at work was the walk home at the end of the day. It was not a very long walk (under 15 minutes) and certainly not a route that offered great beauty of nature or landscape. For me, the walk was more than the act of getting from the physical space of work to that of home. It was an important ritual that helped in the transition from the mental space of ‘work’ to ‘home’. Through my three decades of work there were different transitions that took place. As a young mother, it was the bridge between leaving behind of the role of busy professional and bracing for an evening with the mental and physical energy required in parenting young children. As the children grew older, and one’s parents older still, it was the period of putting behind the challenges of the job to tackle the challenges of coping with geriatric health and care-taking issues. When both children and parents no longer needed the sort of support I could give, it was simply the luxury of going over the day—hours which had passed, and the few hours ahead. Walking thus was form of therapy for me.

I like walking. And I enjoy walking on busy streets. I like observing people and activities, and my walk home offered much. There were the familiar regulars—walkers like myself, and others that I would cross or pass on the way. Strangers at one level, but a familiar and comforting daily cast of characters—I used to imagine who they were, what they did, and what awaited them that evening. As someone aptly put it, “Simply by being outside on the street, people are inadvertently revealing their life histories in their bodies, in their steps, in the hunch of their shoulders, or set of their jaw.”

Walking thus, even as one is observing people there is an odd sense that you are invisible yourself! I was occasionally reminded of the fact that others may be “doing unto you what you do unto them” when someone I did not recognise would tell me “we don’t see you walking these days” or “I know where I have seen you—you walk everyday on that road.”

There were the little ‘milestones’ on the route–the small Hanuman temple at the corner, and the Momo mobile stall, and the busy tailor with his sewing machine right on the footpath; the pavement dwellers lounging on the battered tattered sofa that they had salvaged; the ‘party plot’, where in the wedding season one could see last night’s decorations being taken down in the morning while going to work, and new ones being put up in the evening for that night’s wedding.

There were the trees along the route, especially the huge mango tree—and always the eagerness to spot the first blossoms on it. The big open ground which hosted a variety of water birds when it filled with the monsoon water, and which hosted a variety of handloom and handicraft melas in the winter. There were the cows that crossed the road along with you, and the dangerously straying puppies in puppy season.

Of course there were no real footpaths or pavements! It was an exercise in agility and alertness—sidestepping the cowpats and litter; circumventing the potholes and muddy patches; dodging the scooters and cars that veered dangerously close, and finding the perfect moment to cross the road amid the chaos of the traffic. Whatever the challenges, the walk was always an adventure!

As one of my favourite authors Ruskin Bond puts it so well—“The adventure is not in arriving, it’s the on-the-way experience. It is not the expected; it’s the surprise. You are not choosing what you shall see in the world, but are giving the world an even chance to see you.”

–Mamata

 

SOPing my Life

I am a great believer in Standard Operating Procedures.

SOPs had their origin in manufacturing, specifically pharma. An SOP is simply a documented process that an organization has to ensure services/products are delivered consistently every time.

But I find SOPs even more important in my personal life! I am pretty forgetful and not very organized. SOPs are what come to my rescue! Whenever something goes wrong more than once, I know it is time to find a systems solution.

For instance:

  • It happens pretty often specially during longer travels, that I reach where I need to go and find I have forgotten something important. So this has a two-fold SOP. First, I have drawn up a standard list of things needed during travel. And second, I bring down the suitcase the weekend before, and start putting in things as I remember. Not just clothes and things, but gifts to be taken, medicines, books for the journey, walking shoes, etc.
  • I know I need to take my cheque book to office the next day. Or, I have to take the strip of antibiotics that I am on. But I also know that I am sure to forget. So I have a designated place in the cupboard. Whatever I have to take with me to office the next day is put there, the moment I think of it. It could be a document I have been working on, work-related brochures I picked up on my tours and were in my suitcase, whatever…. Yes, it does mean going up and down with each item. But I have found it is quite a fool-proof method. The alternative is a good 75% chance I will leave it behind.
  • I often forget my specs and am at the other end of where I need them. So the SOP is to duplicate my reading glasses. I keep a pair in each handbag, in offices where I travel to often, as well as one in my bedroom and one in the living room of my house. Sounds extravagant? Not really! I buy them at Rs. 250 a pair!
  • I have organized my sari-blouses and my salwars and chudidars by colour. And have one organizer kitbag for each. So there is the a white salwars bag, cream salwars bag, greens and blues bag, reds and maroons bag, etc. I think it has helped. Rather than messing up a whole cupboard shelf, I only mess up one kit bag. Not quite Marie Kondo but…
  • And so on and so forth….

I am sure many people are organized enough without these aids. And even those that do have them, don’t necessarily think of  them as SOPs. But I just feel very organized and professional calling them that!

–Meena

Who Stole the Magic of the Movies?

Wasn’t movie-going a magical experience?

9b25c6ed-5b6b-40a3-a117-3852fd9590f7But a bit of the magic went away with the advent of TV and the proliferation of channels showing movies through the week. And then came videotapes and CDs and DVDs. And then came movies on demand. And then came movies on internet. And then came Netflix and Amazon Prime… Each reducing the magic a bit more.

But in-between  came multiplexes! So fancy, so luxurious. Such sinkable seats, such expensive eats. Amazing sound, luminous pictures. With this development, a lot of people thought that whatever the convenience of watching movies at home, people would flock back to theaters for the community-watching experience. The hush of the hall punctuated by collective laughs and sighs. The magic of a shared emotional experience.

But while technology is getting better, human behaviour is getting worse! So today, when I pay between Rs. 300 and 500 for a ticket, I have to contend with (a) mobile calls in loud voices which typically start ‘Ahhh Hello. I am in the theatre. Watching xxx…’ and go on for 3 minutes! (b) light flashing in my eyes in the middle of movies as people look at their SMS, Instagram, FB; (c) children running along the aisles, screaming and shouting, with no check; (d) babes in arms bawling; (e) my seat being shaken by the person behind who has their feet up on it; (f) loud conversations and discussions.

I remember my mother telling me that till I was about 3 years old, my parents never went for movies. They were no exceptions. In the days of yore, people with children did not go for movies because they didn’t want to disturb the other people in the hall. They did it because that was the socially responsible thing to do. And that at a time when there was no TV, no alternative source of entertainment.

Contrast this to something that happened to me a few months ago. Raghu and I were at a movie when the guy next to me got a call. His phone rang loudly and he started a conversation during the movie. After a minute, I really got mad and gestured to him not to talk. To no avail. After another minute, I told him firmly to ‘Please don’t disturb all of us. We are trying to watch the movie.’ He made a face at me and said into the phone ‘OK yaar, I’ll call you later. There are some people near me and they are making a big fuss. These oldies are such a pain.’ Or words to that effect! (I solemnly attest that this happened!).

So I don’t want to go theatres anymore. It is not for positive reasons like the convenience of watching a movie when I want, or the comfort of the armchair in my room. It is for negative reasons…wanting to avoid the anger and sadness of seeing people not caring for others, not observing basic courtesies, not taking responsibility for their behaviour or that of their children. And the knowledge hat these problems are not confined to movie halls, but pervade so many aspects of life.

Is it only me, or do other oldies have this problem too?

–Meena

 

Back to Brighton

This morning’s Google Doodle triggered the trip back in time. I was intrigued by the doodle of what looked like Indian spices, and an unknown face and name– Sake Dean Mahomed. Clicking on, I discovered not just the interesting life and times of this man, but also a link to mine own days of yore!

Sake Dean Mahomed was a man of many talents and accomplishments—author, entrepreneur, restaurateur, and pioneer masseur and spa owner! He was the first Indian author to publish a book in English; to establish, the first Indian restaurant in Britain named the Hindostanee Coffee House, and the first to introduce Indian style champi or massage in Brighton!

Brighton! The name took me back to my own Brighton (or fringe thereof) year, many moons ago. It was to the University of Sussex that I headed for my second Master’s degree—a small progressive campus nestled amidst the rolling Sussex Downs. That was a special year—opening of new windows, explorations and discoveries, and above all the starting of the bonds of friendship that have not only lasted, but strengthened over the decades. Cocooned as we were in the routine of the campus, the highlight of the week was a trip into Brighton, the nearest town, which was about 6 km away.

In the initial months we did the necessary “must see” sights—the Pavilion, the pier, the crescents, and the Baths. But then, our weekly trip into town consisted of what we then considered Splurge Saturday! In our early twenties, and with a very shoestring student budget, this meant taking the bus into town, a window-shopping walk around, finding something interesting and cheap to eat, and finally a movie! And, then the last bus back to campus with a sense of a day well spent! Simple joys, multiplied many times over by the excitement of the Friday evening pre-planning (where to eat, what to see that week), and the exuberant spirit of pure friendship and sharing.

Today I learnt, that more than a century and half before I explored and discovered Brighton, Sake Dean Mahomed (a Person of Indian Origin!) set up in Brighton, Mahomed’s Baths, which became known for its champi or massage followed by a steaming bath of Indian herbs and oils. Mahomed’s Baths gave a new twist to the early 19th century trend for seaside spa treatments, and it was hugely successful. Mahomed became known as “Dr Brighton”. Hospitals referred patients to him and he was appointed as ‘shampooing surgeon’ to both King George IV and William IV.

Incidentally, I also found out that the word “shampoo” did not take on its modern meaning of washing the hair until the 1860s, but as early as 1838, Mahomed wrote about  Shampooing or benefits resulting from the use of the Indian Medicated Bath.  I suspect this was simply an anglicised version of good old champi!

I must admit that I had no clue about Mahomed nor his famous baths while I was in Brighton. But thank you Google doodle and Dr Brighton for taking me back to Brighton today!

–Mamata

 

Intelligent Design

The very first rule on good parenting is

Any decent psychologist will give you is

‘The consequences of the act should be clear to the child

Reward or punish the behaviour immediately and consistently

And make the connection obvious’

 

And when my friend bought a puppy the other day

The kennel owner gave him the same advice

 

Which brought to my mind a question

‘How come God doesn’t seem to know this rule

Which so many mere mortals seem to understand?

How come in His world

We do not see wicked deeds being punished

Or good ones rewarded?

On the contrary

The wicked seem to flourish

And seldom is good returned for good’.

 

Oh! Maybe I just don’t get it

Maybe I am an ignoramus

Maybe we humans are supposed to be so evolved

As to do right

Because it is right

And shun wrong

Because it is wrong

And not bother about consequences and rewards

Yes indeed! That in fact is what the Gita tells us

 

But for me

I am not at that high plane

I don’t know if there is a world or a life

Beyond this one

And, as a rational being,

I do not see why I should do right

If it is not rewarded

Or not do wrong

If it is

 

Without getting into the debate

On intelligent design

I would say

That this is

Not Very Intelligent Design!

–Meena

Humpty-Dumpty Words

One of my all-time favourite authors has been Lewis Carrol with his Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandThrough the Looking-Glass, and The Hunting of the Snark. More than the story it has been the language that always amused and fascinated me. The made-up, nonsensical sounding words like slithy and mimsy, frabjous and galumph were such fun to read aloud, and try to use in other contexts, even though one did not exactly know what they meant. Alice herself was equally confused on this count, and in the story she approaches Humpty Dumpty and asks him to elucidate the meaning of the some of these.  Humpty Dumpty replies: “Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy’. ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active’. You see it’s like a portmanteau–there are two meanings packed up into one word.” Humpty Dumpty uses the analogy of a portmanteau–the French word for a dual-compartment suitcase to explain that these are words that contain aspects of two distinct words fused into one new word. So ‘mimsy’ is a blending of flimsy and miserable, and  ‘frabjous’ is a blend of either fabulous and joyous, or fair and joyous, while  ‘galumph’ comes from a blend of ‘triumph’ and ‘gallop’.

And so it is that Humpty Dumpty introduced the concept and term Portmanteau words to describe a word that is formed by combining two different terms to create a new entity.

Today Portmanteau words have become so much a part of our vocabulary that we do not realise that they are blended and coined words. We use words like smog (smoke+fog), motel (motor+hotel), modem (modulation+demodulation), motorcade (motor+cavalcade), netizen (internet + citizen), and even internet (international+network), as if they have always been there.

Portmanteau words are a great favourite with the entertainment industry—from Cineplex, infotainment and infomercial, to Bollywood; from Brangelina to our own Nickyanka; from celebutant(e) to chillax we even have emoticons and fanzines that coin and create a whole new vocabulary!

People no longer rough it out, they go glamping (glamour+camping), and bigger than big is ginormous (giant+enormous)! There are some who suffer from affluenza (affluence+influenza), while others are beset with anticipointment (anticipation+disappointment), and both may end up as chocoholics (or workaholics)!? (There is even a word for !?–interrobang (interrogative+bang).

If we stop and think about the words that we use and see every day we would be surprised to find how many of these are Portmanteau words. And while we imagine that we are so trendy to be coining words like BREXIT, and yes, even BLOG, let us remember that Humpty Dumpty thought of it first in 1871!

–Mamata