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

 

Sweet Potato Garden

First it was Green Tea.

Then Quinoa.

And now, the latest magical health food—the humble Sweet Potato.

All these years, I knew of only two ways to eat it. Boil, peel, cut, eat. Or roast, peel, cut, eat.

Now the net has tens of recipes. Outnumbered only by articles which list the benefits of eating sweet potatoes.

IMG_20190311_091629__01So were we excited when someone told us a super-simple way to  grow them! Just cut the bottom half off (cook the rest!). And put this bottom half into a container of water, partly submerged in it. Put the container in a place with good light (outside for a few hours is good). Don’t forget to change the water every 3 days. And you will see magic in a week! Small leaves in shades of green, red and purple, then more leaves. Growing lush and tall

 

Once you see enough leaves, plant this in the ground or in a pot.

And voila, you will have your own sweet potato farm!

Be green, have fun, eat healthy!

–Meena

PS: Apparently, bandicoots and rats love sweet potatoes. So I think the first part involving the container is the easy part. Who knows what will happen when we put them in the ground!?! But we will be optimistic.

PPS: A joint project of Anuradha, Sudha and Meena.

Promoting GI, Protecting Diversity

Last week, I happened to go to Goa (regretfully, not a holiday!). The airport, as many airports across the country, is full of shops.

Apart from the usual brand shops and the special Goa memorabilia shops, I came across a fascinating outlet here. It was a ‘GIs of India’ shop!

Oh, I have jumped the gun! GI could stand for any number of things. I am referring to Geographical Indication, which is “an indication which identifies goods such as agricultural goods, natural goods or manufactured goods as originating, or manufactured in the territory of a country, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of such goods is essentially attributable to its geographical origin and in case where such goods are manufactured goods one of the activities of either the production or of processing or preparation of the goods concerned takes place in such territory, region or locality, as the case may be.”. GI is a type of intellectual property right, which certifies a product as having originated in a specific geographic location—for instance, that the Mysore silk you just bought is indeed produced in Mysore; or the Jaipur Blue Pottery is indeed from Jaipur.

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Madurai Sungudi is GI registered

India enacted the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act in 1999. The first GI product to be registered was Darjeeling Tea. Now there are 330 GI registered products—a fascinating range, from the usual suspects to the completely unexpected—from Kanpur Saddlery, to Beed Custard Apple; from Coimbatore Wet Grinder, to Varanasi Glass Beads!

The shop at the Goa Airport was very new, just being set up. But the staff were extremely enthusiastic and eager not just to sell their products, but also share information on the concept of GI shops. They said that a large chain of these was coming up across the country.

Indeed an exciting way to create a market for these amazing products, and preserve the diversity, both natural and cultural.

I’ll be on the lookout for these GI shops, for sure!

–Meena

Language is More Than Words

2019 has been declared as The International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019) by UNESCO.  The official launch of IYIL was held on 28 January 2019.  The aim of IYIL is to “draw attention to the critical loss of indigenous languages and the urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote indigenous languages around the world”.

Of the 6000-7000 languages in the world today, about 97% of the world’s population speaks only 4 % of these languages, while only 3% of the world speak 96% of all remaining languages. A great majority of those languages are spoken mainly by indigenous peoples.

India is one of four countries, along with Nigeria, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, with the largest number of living languages. A mammoth project to conduct a comprehensive survey of Indian languages was launched in 2010. Initiated by Prof. G.N. Devy, founder of the Bhasha Research and Publication Centre in Vadodara, and undertaken by a large team of scholars, the project called the People’s Linguistic Survey Of India (PLSI) set out to document and preserve 780 languages which are being spoken in India today. These are being published in the multi-volume People’s Linguistic Survey of India, towards providing an overview of the extant and dying languages of India, as evolved till 2011, and as perceived by their speakers. The volumes chronicle the evolution of these languages in all their socio-political and linguistic dimensions, and encapsulate the worldview of their speakers. PLSI proposes to complete its task of publishing 92 volumes by 2020.

In the last couple of years, I have had the enriching opportunity to learn about some of the indigenous people of the north east of India and a glimpse of not just the incredibly rich traditions of textiles in the region, but equally the close ties between language of the people and the language of their textiles. Not only does every tribe have their own dialect, but each dialect has wonderfully nuanced words to describe every textile that they weave, and even every motif that is woven on these.

Names of textiles of the tribes have references to the history and geography of the tribe, as well as names that literally relate to colour, size, on which part of the body they are worn, as well as referring to age and status of the wearer. There are specific shawls for elder men or women, for those who have special social status (as in the Naga the Feast of Merit shawl), for a new bride to wear to her marital home, and for covering the deceased.

As Ganesh Devy puts it “in every manner without any exception, the language we learn or use is the absolute condition of our narrative of the world and the way we see the world.”

Of the numerous examples of this, is that of a textile of the Bodo Kachari tr

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Aronai with Hawjagor pattern

ibe of Assam.The multi-use decorative textile called Aronai is characterised by a zig-zag motif called Hawjagor (hill pattern) in the Bodo dialect. This pattern is inspired by the hills which form an important part of the history as well as the geography of the Bodo people who settled by the foothills, on the north bank of the Brahmaputra in Assam.

It is in the names of motifs that women weave onto the textiles that the symbiosis between life, nature and culture is most evident. The names not just reflect how nature inspires form, but also reveal a keen eye for subtle detail and the richness of language to reflect this.

A common triangular motif on wrap skirts of the women of a small Naga tribe is called impeak bam. The word Impeak translates to ‘stretching out/extending/ spreading out’ and bam means ‘wings’; and the motif symbolises a flying Hornbill. While a similar but smaller triangular motif is named to mean the wings of the bird called a Swift.

Some of the motifs of the Liangmai Naga tribe in Manipur are named literally to represent elements such as fish bone (kakhara thua), cow’s teeth (kabui hu), and ripples in a lake (kazai kapai). There is even a woven line stitch line called matiang kang meaning ‘group of ants.’ These are only the tip of the iceberg of detail, as it were.

One of the traditional shawls of a small Naga tribe of the Manipur Naga Hills has a motif called  inchitatpi that translates to ‘head of a long worm’ found in the woods. Another has a pattern representing cucumber seed called angi thei ru. Getting into even more minute detail, another tribe has a popular motif called aphinamik which literally means the ‘eye of a dove’.

There are patterns representing frog’s feet called sangkang nou ban and grasshoppers’ egg called changkow gum, and even a stitch called kabi n’dui where kabi translates to ‘good’ and ndui translates to ‘egg’, relating to the arrangement of eggs on a paddy plant!

What evocative words and how beautifully they capture richness of life lived in synergy with one’s environment. These are only a tiny sprinkling of the vocabulary of a tiny segment of indigenous people and languages.

Sadly with ‘modernisation’ comes homogenisation. A lot of the local weaving traditions are being replaced with mass-produced machine-made garments, and with it are lost not just the textiles and motifs but also the language that represented these.

According to UNESCO, approximately 600 languages have disappeared in the last century, and they continue to disappear at a rate of one language every two weeks. Up to 90 perccent of the world’s languages are likely to disappear before the end of this century if current trends are allowed to continue.

And Ganesh Devy expresses the Domino Effect that this has—“When a language dies, its speakers decide to migrate. First, they migrate to another language and then they physically start migrating to another region. The second thing that happens is that their traditional livelihood patterns go down. They may have some special skills and that disappears. Thirdly, a unique way of looking at the world disappears.”

–Mamata

 

 

 

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

 

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

One Man’s Meat….

‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison’. This expression is often used when two people disagree over something, especially food. Believed to have been coined by Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius in the first century BC, the expression is a pithy reflection of how deeply food tastes and taboos are ingrained in every culture (and indeed every family). What is tasty and what is not; what is healthy and what is harmful; what is culturally acceptable and what is not…the history of food and cultures has laid down norms since time immemorial.

I was reminded of this when I read about the Disgusting Food Museum which opened recently in the city of Malmo in Sweden. The museum features 80 dishes from around the world that, for one reason or another, have earned the epithet of being “disgusting.” Among these are Surströmming: fermented herring from Sweden; Cuy: roasted guinea pigs from Peru; Casu marzu: maggot-infested cheese from Sardinia; Mouse wine from China; Hákarl: well-aged shark from Iceland, and Durian: the infamously stinky fruit from Thailand.

The purpose of the museum is not so much to sensationalize the weird and the exotic, but rather to sensitize to the fact that food-related notions are subjective. What is delicious to one person can be revolting to another. The Museum invites visitors to explore the world of food and challenge their notions of what is and what isn’t edible.

This made me think about the many examples of these notions that are so intrinsically entwined with our food and food habits. In a country as diverse as India, the notions are as diverse as the nation; the state, the region, religion, schools of health (from hot and cold foods in Ayurveda to mutually incompatible foods in other systems), and above all family traditions and cuisines—all these combine to define what kind of food each one of us considers suitable, tasty and palatable.

This diversity presented a challenge when I had the opportunity to be a part of an exercise to develop national textbooks for primary students. One of the objectives was to develop lessons that celebrated the richness of diversity, especially food. How to do this led to numerous debates within the team itself—to talk about the fried caterpillar larvae as a delicacy in the Northeast of India, to talk about “non-vegetarian” food, even to talk about the different cooking oils used in different parts of the country? And how to present these in a manner that evokes not disgust and shutting out of ‘what is different’ but rather curiosity and openness about the richness of cuisines and cultures.

When I was in school we did not have too many such theoretical lessons, but every recess time was a live lesson. It was food that connected us—lunch boxes were opened, food was shared and tasted, and new tastes were cultivated; mothers exchanged recipes, and exploring and discovering different food that you and your friends ate was an everyday adventure, not part of a visit to a food museum!

Today with the homogenization of food (I suspect many lunch boxes contain the ubiquitous Maggi and Lays) we are losing such a rich link. Even more worrying is the fact that food is being used to create boundaries rather than bonds. The old Lucretius expression is, sadly, more true than ever before. It is time to remember another adage “Sharing a meal is the best way to turn strangers into friends.”

–Mamata

 

Old Wine in New Bottles

In recent days the life and style sections of the newspapers are carrying numerous articles with titles like 10 Beauty Hacks to Make you Glow, Be the Best Hostess With These 20 Useful Party Hacks; 15 Kitchen Hacks to Save Time; Have a Sparkling Diwali With These Simple Hacks…

I was intrigued by this oft-used word Hack. My vocabulary dates back to days before even Computer Hackers became news. The only meaning of Hack that I could recall related to the act of roughly chopping down a tree or, as we read in novels, a word used to refer to a slogging journalist or so-so writer. How the word leant itself to beauty and parties and kitchens was a mystery to me.

Being the curious word aficionado that I am, I looked up the word Hack in the dictionary. I was surprised to find the word had many more meanings than I had imagined:

Cut away

Fix a computer programme piecemeal until it works

Significantly cut up a manuscript

Cough spasmodically

Be able to manage successfully

Kick on the shins

One who works hard at boring tasks

A mediocre and disdained writer

An old-fashioned taxi

An old and overworked horse.

This search, having significantly expanded my list of two meanings, still did not reveal what I was looking for—the links with beauty, kitchens and parties. I thought to myself “What the Hack”!

And then Eureka—I came upon the word Life Hacks! And I discovered…

Life hack (or life hacking) refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life.

It is a tool or technique that makes some aspect of one’s life easier or more efficient.

Aha thought I,  at last!

Then came the more amusing part. I discovered that there are so many websites offering innumerable Life Hacks for everything from how to get up in the morning, to how to carry out some of the most basic functions of life and living—from the sublime to the absurd! For example: ‘Do a 20 minute good workout in the morning and you can be lazy the whole day without feeling guilty!’ OR  ‘If you left home and forgot to brush your teeth or you ran out of toothpaste, chewing an apple can help with bad breath.’

I am sure one could come across some handy tips, but thinking back a bit…

Were these nifty suggestions not too long ago shared widely as DIY TIPS!

Baking soda and hot water to clean drains; a face pack of honey, cream and turmeric for that glowing skin…where did I hear those before? From mothers and aunts, of course. And magazines carried them under the title Grandmother’s Secrets!

I certainly spent an amusing hour browsing the many sites, and along the way I also found what I think is the best way to describe this term: A life hack is a colloquial term for common sense that makes people feel good about their basic creativity, or lack thereof. Typically life hacks are not all that helpful, they are simply advertised well so as to provide a false sense of improvement in the user’s day-to-day operation.

Well well well. What a great way of repackaging tried and tested ‘do-it-yourself’ ideas. Why go to Granny when Youtube will show you how!

–Mamata

It’s All in the Name!

In Gujarat it was, till quite recently, very common to ask for “Amul ni Cadbury”, where Cadbury was used as the generic name for chocolate! In the days of yore, (before Amul became utterly butterly ubiquitous) was a time when one used to “lagaao Polson” or in other words “Butter someone up” as it were!

Similarly all photocopy related matters were clubbed under “Xerox”. So one would get papers Xeroxed from a Xeroxer and enclose Xeroxes with applications! Then of course, even older, was something called “Bata price” for anything that was priced at 9.99 or the same in higher figures.

Brand names often become synonymous with a generic product or process, and trip easily over millions of tongues. Brand names are critical—they are what gives a product a single universally recognised identity that leads to the best consumer recall. It is said that more time is spent in deciding the name of a new product than on any other aspect of its development. Inventing a new name that does not clash with the already registered trade marks is a highly complex and time-consuming process. Several hundred names need to be proposed and each has to be checked from a linguistic, marketing and legal aspect.

An old story about the well-known Dunlop tyres is a case in point. The company spent over two years researching a name for a new tyre, to no avail. They then launched an international campaign among their employers, receiving over 10,000 entries. 300 names were shortlisted from these, but not one was found to be legally available in all the countries where it was to be marketed. After further work, a viable name was found–Denovo–for the world’s first ‘fail-safe’ tyre.

A word pronounceable in one language may be impossible to say in another, or unanticipated connotations may creep in. Here is the latest one on this.

Starbucks has recently sued the Indian coffee chain SardarBuksh for sounding too close to them for comfort! Newspapers report that Delhi’s home-grown coffeewalalogo.jpgs have agreed to change their brand to Sardarji-Bakhsh on a condition that it, too, would be allowed to sue any businesses who tried to use the name ‘Baksh’ in their branding!  Star Wars continue!

–Mamata

In Fashion

“Fashion sometimes ignores convenience, sometimes even causes inconvenience. All fashions may not have great thinking behind them, and sometimes thinking people fall prey to fashion.

Children of fashion-conscious parents have also to swim with the tides of the times. Children are often made to exhibit what parents find fashionable or what is ‘in style’ at the moment.

Take an example of girls’ dresses. Most of these have buttons at the back. No one knows who thought of this style, but children wear it, parents demand it and tailors stitch accordingly. So far, so good.

But what happens when a child wears a dress with buttons at the back. “Mother do my buttons.””Papa please fasten my hooks.” The parents are hassled with other tasks. The mother calls for the older sister. “Help her with her buttons”, or she calls for the servant,”Why don’t you close the buttons for her?”

The child with her own two hands is helpless. She is dependent on someone else to complete dressing. She cannot go out unless someone is there to button her up. She has to request, or plead, or shout for this. She is dependent all for the sake of being dressed in the fashion, a dress with buttons at the back!

That is just for dressing. What about undressing?

If the dress gets wet the child cannot take it off. If she is feeling hot, she can’t take it off. And, heaven forbid, if her dress catches fire, she can’t take it off.

But still the child wears such dresses. She likes them because her parents do. They like them because they want their child to be ‘well dressed.’

But fashion is really a series of fads. Started somewhere by someone who wants to be different, it sometimes catches on, and then everyone wants to follow blindly.

Sometimes the glamour of being different, or being in style blinds people to the basic tenets of simplicity, comfort, and practicality in the way they dress.

We might, as adults, indulge in this. But when it comes to our children we must first think of their comfort and convenience with respect to what they wear. Even infants often show distinct preferences for what they like, or do not like, to wear.

At our Balmandir we have a ‘front button’ attendance. Children whose clothes have buttons at the back take home a note requesting parents to get them clothes with buttons in the front. And parents do make an attempt to do so.

Sometimes they have not even thought about the difference it would make: that changing the orientation of a few buttons is indeed rendering a great service to their child.”

This is not taken from, nor meant for, a magazine on New-age Parenting. These words were written in the early 1930s–nearly 90 years ago, by my grandfather. The author Gijubhai Badheka is well known not only as the creator of some of the best loved and popular children’s literature in Gujarat, but equally for his writings for parents and teachers. He was also one of the pioneers of the Montessori system of education in India. Gijubhai observed children and adults and recorded his thoughts; he described dilemmas faced by both, and explored how these could be handled. Many of these were complied in a series of books in Gujarati called It Is Not Easy Being Parents.

This is one of the many pieces translated from the original Gujarati by me.

–Mamata