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

Reach for the Rani Muthu!

I am sure ‘Rani Muthu’ means nothing to anyone except Tamilians. But to them, it means a lot! Rani Muthu is a daily tear-away calendar, without which no Mami can operate!

blog picIt is amazing how much information a page of approx. 2.5 inches square can pack. Not only does it give the ‘English month, date’ and day, but equally boldly, the Tamil day, date and month. This is just the start. Other information includes:

  • Rahu kalam: This is the period ofRahu— a certain period of time every day that is considered inauspicious for any new venture.(Of course, self-respecting Tams don’t need to consult an almanac for this, they know it offhand. For the next tier of not-so-well informed, there are mnemonics like Mother SaFather Wearing ThTurban Suddenly. Too complex to explain to the uninitiated, but a breeze for the savvy ones)

 

  • Yama gandam: Yamagandam means death time. Only death ceremonies are performed during Yamagandam. Any activity commenced during this time invites the ‘death’ of the work or energies relating to that work. So activities during Yamagandam leads to a failure or destruction of the end-result.

But it is not all gloom and doom. The page will also give you:

  • Nalla nayram: Good time to start anything.
  • Festivals falling on the date (local, regional, national, pan-religious included).
  • Phases of the moon
  • Whether the day is auspicious for house-warmings, and other sundry celebrations.

Last but not the least. Quirky little illustrations enliven the pages. You have to look closely to figure them out, but it is worth it.

The size and the colour illustration on the main card board have remained unchanged for as long as I can remember (and that is pretty long!). A very benevolent pic of the God-child Subramanian is a pleasant sight to look at first thing in the morning.

Sadly, I could find no reference to the history of the Rani Muthu. And, as journalists say, e-mail to the concerned did not get any response till time of publication. A senior uncle says it goes back at least to the ‘50s.

Rani Muthu is a Tamil household essential. Many regions and states in India have their own calendar-almanacs, which are as basic to a home as a threshold.

What would life be without Rani Muthu!

–Meena

Scrambling to buy a Rani Muthu by Jan 1 was one of my year-end tasks. Alas, with the passing of my mother, this is one more ritual that I will no longer undertake.

Chronicling the Years

Many years ago, I visited a Native American Museum. There I saw a long scroll, with a series of pictures. Though they were all done in the same style, and at first glance looked like one piece, but upon looking closely, they seemed to be several pieces, done at different times and by different hands.

We were told that these scrolls were living history books. Some of the tribes used this technique to document their life and times. The tribe/community would sit together at the end of each year, and collectively decide on what was the most significant event that had taken place that year. The event could be anything—from an epidemic, to a victory over another tribe, to a bear attack on one of the members.  And they would then add it on to the scroll. And so it went on, from year to year, generation to generation.

What a beautiful and democratic way to record history.  Collective decision making. Having to prioritize the ONE important thing. And then recording it in pictures, as a continuum with the previous years! What a chronicle!

We thought we too should put on record what was the important event in our life in the year gone by. For the MM, surely it was the blog!

What did it do for us?

  • Got us back into writing regularly
  • Brought us the discipline of putting out three pieces a week
  • Gave us a platform to muse, to share, to vent and to celebrate.
  • It was an opportunity to learn, research, reflect, and travel down memory lane.
  • Helped us look at things around us differently…exploring and discovering much to write about.
  • Forced us to learn new skills—even getting on to WordPress was major step forward for the tech-shy MMs!
  • Made us more conscious of the power of pictures, above and beyond the power of words.
  • And the greatest gift, brought us new ‘virtual friends’, our readers!

So thank you from the Millennial Matriarchs, to each one of you—the regular readers, the occasional readers, the one-time readers, and the readers-to-be!

We wish you a Happy, Healthy, Enriching and Satisfying 2019!

–MM

Time Passages

“It was late in December…
I felt the beat of my mind go
Drifting into time passages
Years go falling in the fading light
Time passages
The years run too short and the days too fast…”

Remembering, this morning, the words from Al Stewart, one of my favourite singers in the nineteen eighties, and wondering where the years have flown… As most of us will be doing this week, looking back, and perhaps wishing we had had more of that elusive TIME…here is something to pause and ponder over.

“Without time nothing is possible. Everything requires time. Time is the only permanent and absolute ruler in the universe. But she is a scrupulously fair ruler. She treats every living person exactly alike each day. Time is one great leveller. Everyone has the same amount of time to spend every day.

The next time you feel you haven’t the time to do what you really want to do it may be worthwhile for you to remember that you have as much time as anyone else—twenty-four hours a day. How you spend the twenty-four hours is up to you.” (William J. Reilly)

Before we turn the page, and greet a new year with renewed resolutions, remember…

peanuts time.jpg
source: Google

Busy is a decision…you don’t have to find the time to do things—you make the time to do things.

–Mamata

 

 

Take the Time to Look at the Squirrels

I had the good fortune to work for two decades at Centre for Environment Education, Ahmedabad. Apart from the work and the work environment, the campus itself was a boon. 14 acres of both ‘groomed’ and ‘wild’ spaces. A variety of trees, undergrowth, lawns, water-body and the attendant birds, snakes, small mammals, rodents, butterflies, etc. etc.
IMG_20181217_114832We were an earnest and idealistic bunch. We had the benefit of mentoring by some of the wisest of people. One of them was Dr.PR Pisharoty, Father of Indian Meteorology and Remote Sensing. On one of his visits in the early days, he listened to all of us presenting our work and holding forth. With a gentle twinkle in his eyes, he told us: ‘You are all doing wonderful work. But I hope you don’t forget to take time off to look at the squirrels.’

We took that lesson to heart. Being immersed in nature at the workplace is a luxury few have today. But I think, looking back, that this made a difference to our work, our interactions and us as people and an organization. Being ‘distracted’ by a bird call in the middle of a meeting and the whole group rushing to look through the window or refer to ‘the Book’ (Salim Ali of course), broke up many a tension. Waiting for a monitor lizard to amble across the path as one rushed from one dept. to another was a good way to get a sense of ‘Nothing is that urgent. They have survived without rushing for millennia’. When ideas dried up, gazing out of the window at the squirrels chasing each other usually did the trick and the brain got unclogged. Feeding the fish at lunch brought people from unconnected work spaces together.

Did the campus make us more creative? More strongly bonded as teams? More lateral-thinking? More empathetic as people? I like to think so!

Business case for green campuses made! After all, today nothing can get approved without a business case! And by green campus, I don’t mean manicured lawns and potted plants. But a bit of wildness and a bit of wildlife!

–Meena

Illustration credit: CEE