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

Needs, Wants and Luxuries

So the ultimate in luxury seems to be “Make Google Do It”! As the ads remind us your little Google Assistant will do it all for you—Play music, Cast videos, Control your lights, Get step-by-step cooking recipes, Stay updated with news and sports, and anything else that you shall wish for—Just Ask and your wish is its command. This is the new age Aladdin’s Lamp, no less!

Not so long ago, we still remember walking back and forth from the Black and White television set to change the channel (from the limited selection available). Then came the Remote! And its fallout—a generation of couch potatoes! And more recently, the Fitbit and Gym generation that needs to burn the calories collected courtesy the hard-working Bot!

It is the age of too much, an age of choices galore. For those who can afford it, the choice is no longer ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’, but staying ahead of ‘Those who have Everything.’

But what are the choices being offered, and what are we choosing?

I am reminded of a simulation exercise that we often did as environmental educators. We would ask participants to imagine that they have to leave their home due to a sudden disaster in the area. Before they leave they have time to take just 20 things that they can carry with them. They are not allowed to take money. They do not know where they are going, when they will reach, and if and when they will be able to return. They must make a list of these 20 things. Once they had done this, they were told that the truck that was carrying them is overloaded, and they have to drop 5 of the 20 things they were carrying. What would they choose to leave? Once they have done this, they were further told that the truck has broken down and they will have to walk. Which 5 of the 15 items will they discard? Now the list has 10 items. As they go ahead they are stopped by a gang of dacoits who demand five items from the ones they are carrying. Which ones will they give, and which ones will they keep? Now they are left with 5 items.

At the end we would review each one’s list, and think about the choices each one made, and the reasons for these. We would, perhaps for the first time, review our own belongings from the perspective of Needs–those that were essential for survival; Wants–those that were desirable but not indispensable, and those that were things we owned because we could afford to—Luxuries.

This is not simply an abstract exercise;  in news reports every day we see heart-rending  scenes of millions of refugees—ousted from their countries and homes by natural calamities, political upheavals, social and cultural persecution. People with nothing to their name. People for whom simple survival is a luxury.

For those of us fortunate enough to have choices, and the luxury of more than we need, it may be worth sparing some thought to our personal List of 20-5-5-5. How much do we really need?

“He who knows he has enough is rich.” (From the Tao Te Ching an ancient Chinese philosophical poetry.)

–Mamata

Starry, Starry Village

Last week, I was in interior Andhra Pradesh. We were felicitating high-performing Std. 10 students from government schools of villages in our project area.

All was routine, till they announced one of the winners as Keerthi Chawla. I wasn’t sure I had heard right. It was too North-Indian a name for a village in AP. So I asked again what the child’s name was, and she reiterated that it was Keerthi Chawla. And she was speaking Telugu. I asked her if she belonged to those parts or her family had moved there. She told me she was very much from Dosari village. And also told me her full name, which was Vangapudi Keerthi Chawla.

I couldn’t wait for the function to finish to catch hold of my colleagues to ask what this was about. They told me that the trend in Dosari village was to name children after film stars. That is not an unusual trend—we all know that many a Rajesh or Dilip or Aishwarya were named about the eponymous stars. What was unusual of course was the adoption of the name—lock, stock and surname!

We thought we should get a little more into it. A very quick count in the primary school and Bala Badi in the village threw up 81 children who were named after stars: from Trishas to Tamannas to Anushas (these ladies don’t use surnames, I think). From among those who do use surnames, we found apart from Keerthi Chawla, also a Vidya Balan. Among the boys there were Nageswar Raos, Ram Charans and Prabhas.

(I have met many a Jhansi, Jhansi Rani and Jhansi Lakshmi from AP/Telangana. Not sure why these names are so popular here.)

I thought mine was my Keerthi Chawla was the most exciting find. But I was deflated when my colleague told me that in her previous job, where they used to provide education support for children from Tamilnadu slums, they had one child called David Beckham (Muthu David Beckham).

With what dreams do parents name their children?

How we look up to the stars!

Do they know?

–Meena

Matchmaker, Matchmaker….

Shared memories are probably what define a community or nation or any grouping.

And one indelible memory shared by millions of Indians is seeing miles and miles of walls painted with:

‘Rishtey hi rishtey

Prof. Arora

Mil to lein’.

Prof. Arora rocked social media before social media was invented!

But this piece is not so much about the ‘world-famous in India’ professor, as about how matches were and are made.

Detail from ‘Matchmaker’: A painting by Nilofer Suleman

1FC2B36C-B161-48B1-8E85-4B144E33018D

 

When we were young (and for centuries before that, I would imagine), it was about

Pushy pishis

Mission-mode mamas

Chatty chachis

Anxious ammammas

Each activating their network of relatives, friends, acquaintances; chatting up people chance-met at weddings or house warmings or whatever; reaching out to guests of their neighbours, sisters in law of their cousins, whoever. But the fundamental strategy was ‘pass the word, pass the word’.

And boy, did it work! Everyone (except the resolutely resistant), did end up getting married.

‘Matchmaker’: Nilofer Suleman

1EBC476B-FA84-4731-AD93-0D1C690EB499

 

And then came a generation where it was considered OK to put up a matrimonial ad in TOI or Hindu or whatever the local dominant newspaper was. This seemed to work fairly OK too.

Today, with so-called efficient networks and all manner of specialized networking sites, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. I meet so many 30+ people who are not married. It could be that they don’t want to get married. But I know at least half of them do want to. But they never seem to find the right person. The trick seems to be to find a soulmate in school or college. It seems to get increasingly difficult afterwards.

Then parents come into the picture. And they are pretty clueless!

Which makes me think that we have to find some other means to fix matches. Have no idea what, but maybe go back to real-live human beings as intermediaries, rather than just bits and bytes of information floating in the ether?

—Meena