Friday, November 1, 2013

Invasion of Private Space, Wish for Outer

Have you ever, while reading a newspaper, or standing in a line in a store, had that eerie feeling that a curious face is peering over your shoulder, so uncomfortably close that you can almost feel its breath wafting across your shrinking body? Guess what? Your personal space has just been invaded by bad breath and body odour, and that too by an entity that is not even aware that it is trespassing!
The queue system can be quite harrowing. You stand in a line along with myriad others, holding a basket filled with the bare necessities, and just as you get to the front of the line, comes a cheeky arm over your shoulder, and hey presto, there appears a basket on the counter, as cheeky as its owner. I always object, but often, a sheepish smile with a “Please, Madam, only two items!” accompanied by the aforesaid body odour makes me retreat in haste.
A moving queue is even worse, especially when you are going into a movie theatre, or climbing up a flight of stairs. The swell of the crowd carries you along, as you are hemmed in, with umbrella handles, sharp edged handbags, elbows at 90 degrees [have you ever realized that even the fattest of arms have bony elbows?], and of course, the ubiquitous smell of faded jasmine flowers and sickly sweet deodorants!
Traffic jams are the order of the day! At busy signals, vehicles jostle for space, even as they stand, bumper to bumper. There is never any personal space on an Indian road, as impatient drivers begin to honk even before the signal turns green. It is as though they have a personal race they have to win, at all costs!
I once remember going on an international flight to Dubai, where the man sitting next to me was hugely obese. Not that he could be blamed for his size, because some folks are just made that way, but since he bulged out in every direction possible, I found myself cowering in the large space that made up his armpit! [Not the pleasantest of experiences, I can assure you!] Luckily, the air hostess was able to shift me to another seat, and for the rest of the flight, the gentleman could spread himself out liberally! And thankfully, so could I!
The worst kind of invasion of privacy is, however, when people stare at you with beady eyes, wondering which planet you come from, followed by nosy questions. This happens when one is travelling by train, when hours and hours stretch before you, and the fact that you are busy with a book, seems not enough of an excuse to stop the chatter around you. “Are you married?” Your nod provokes the next question. “How many children?” The fact that you have a solitary offspring who “shines like a good deed in a naughty world” does not appease their avid curiosity. “Why did you stop at one?”is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. You look down your snub nose with disdain as best as you can, and burrow more deeply into your book.
The electronic world brims over with invasion of private space... hackers, paedophiles, sex offenders, spurned lovers et al! Rapists add a dreadful dimension, as perceived in the heinous cases in the recent past. With Big Brother spying openly on countries, this invasion has taken on international tones!

Would going into outer space, or Mars, give us more elbow space, I wonder!

New Indian Express
October 17th 2013

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Everyone has a Reason to Pray!

God and I share this wonderful relationship. When I was born, He said, “Let there be light!” And my parents named me Deepti, meaning ‘light’ in Sanskrit. My grandparents were very religious, and they had this enormous pooja room filled with idols of all sizes and shapes.  My favourites were the pot bellied Elephant God, who was always a ally in arms, and a tall blue Krishna who stood in a glass cabinet with a friendly smile on His face.
My parents were never temple-goers, but they made sure they never even harmed a fly, a philosophy which implied that God was in every creature. This, maybe, made me love all creatures, dogs in particular.
When my daughter was five, we were out for a walk one day. As we stopped at a traffic signal, by a temple, I suddenly noticed her making the sign of the cross. That was a huge moment for me... here was my little one acknowledging in her own way that all religions were the same; God was one, whether Rama, Allah or Christ, such a profound philosophy encapsulated in a little gesture!
When in the Army, we would celebrate every festival with equal fervour. We would immerse Ganeshas, light lamps, eat langar at gurudwaras, sit in silence within the cool interiors of a church and find joy in every moment the festival lasted. The festival of colours would find us drenched in colour, and Id would consist of mutton biryani that melted in the mouth.
Diwali is one occasion we look forward to every year, that time of the year when the whole country looks star-studded, with lights and crackers that light up the inky sky. Goddess Lakshmi glides into homes, brimming over with agarbathis, diyas, ghee-laden aromas and sheer happiness.
What better way could we choose to welcome the Goddess in than by using the Sampoorna Lakshmi Pooja Pack this year? The idea of performing our own pooja is appealing, with the shlokas playing mellifluously in the background! Our prayers have always come straight from deep within our hearts, almost as if we were having a conversation with a friend and a guide. What better way to communicate with Him than through the intonation of shlokas, the smoke of the agabathis, the sparkle of the lamps and, of course, the thought of all those wonderful sweets smiling up at us out of highly decorated boxes?
After all, God Himself loves His goodies, be it Krishna or the adorable Ganesha!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Unpleasant exit of good old pleasantries

Being an Army kid does have its advantages! I remember mom admonishing me when I was a little more than a toddler for not wishing an uncle good morning. “You do not look through people, or act coy and peep out at them from behind me!” she warned. “You must wish them properly!” And so I did, and the habit has stayed with me for decades now.
I would sometimes even startle folks by jumping out at them from behind a tree, chirping cheerily, “Good afternoon, auntie, uncle!” It came to a point when they started looking over their shoulders any time they passed my house, for fear that they would suddenly be waylaid by my beaming little face and squeaky voice.
Not surprisingly, at a certain event my name was called out and I was given a little medal for being the best behaved child in the cantonment, a feat mom was rather proud of. My daughter too began lisping ‘Goomoning!” even when she was toddling about on her chubby legs.
However, it is distressful that this habit of wishing people, especially elders, has died out in today’s world. I have come across children who will either ignore you, as if that would make you disappear from sight, or glare at you, wondering why you were ever born to torture them. The other option is to smile shyly and hide behind a curtain, a chair or their mother’s sari, whichever is within arm’s length.
Of course, there are young souls who glance at you and say hi or hello in clear ringing tones, even if they are about four decades younger than you. But it is acceptable as a frivolous greeting is better than none!
It comes as a shock when you walk into someone’s house, and prepare to sit on their one free chair (the rest covered with books, magazines and pets!), only to find a small form ensconced comfortably within it, eyes glued to the television, hardly breathing, and in no mood to shift. Alternatively it could be a big hulk, sprawled out, hairy legs stretched out, straddling most of the room, accompanied by his friends. Not even by a flicker of an eyelid do they acknowledge there is a bewildered person in their vicinity!
In both cases, you look about feebly, even as the host says warmly, “Sit down please!” and disappears within to call his wife, his mother, his daughter in law, and the family dog!
It is sad to think that many youngsters miss out on the bountiful blessings of people older than them, blessings that go a long way to ensure that benevolence and love envelop them wherever they go. There is no denying that the good wishes of grandparents, teachers, elders and even compassionate strangers play a vital role in bringing positivity into young lives.
Our epics describe instances where irate gurus and ill-tempered sanyasis would curse those who disrespected them. Thank God those days have disappeared into the annals of history, or slipped into the Harry Potter chronicles.
Finally, to quote Thomas Sowell, “Politeness and consideration for others is like investing pennies and getting dollars back.” Now, there’s an inspiring thought!

New Indian Express
26th September 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Watch Out for the Weirdos!

Dante’s Inferno could not be more chaotic, I muse! Our car crawls along on a surface, choc-o-bloc with vehicles, bumper to bumper in four wavy lanes, originally meant to house two orderly lines, ‘orderly’ being a misnomer, of course! The signal glints red, and before it turns ochre, buses start blowing their horns frantically, noisily revving their engines. The car ahead moves forward tentatively, not wanting to ram into a scooter that is a miracle in itself, with five people clinging on to one another - a father, a mother and three children of varying sizes, all pasted together like a club sandwich! The bus behind complains incessantly, ignoring dirty looks, as the signal turns green with reluctance, and a cacophony of horns break out, as at the start of an ancient battle.
As the vehicles begin to move, two jay walkers dart across the road, holding up their hands in supplication, causing curses to add to the confusion. An auto rickshaw driver, hardly the most polite homo sapien alive, sticks his head out, hawks loudly and lets out a stream of red spittle, narrowly missing our windscreen. Our driver screams at him, and the aforesaid homo sapien decides to sidle out, finger his collar and stick his head through our window to scream back. By now one can sense tempers around us getting frayed.
Four lanes of vehicles lurch forward, brakes squeal and heads hit windscreens, smoke and pollution redden eyes, and the stench of petrol [for those who hate the smell!] fills the interior, making me gag! On one occasion, we were stuck at a signal, and my daughter, who gets car sick at the sight of a car, felt faint. On the other side, my mother lolled against her window, trying not to breathe in the fumes. I was caught between them, wondering whom to attend to first. When the car moved, both recovered, but not before they had scared the daylights out of me!
One television advertisement always evokes a smile, the one that says, “Watch out – there are idiots on the road!” So true, especially when you are cruising along happily and suddenly an energetic driver cuts from your left, and zooms across to take a cheeky right, millimetres in front of you! And to add insult to injury, he has the gall to flip the finger at you as well! Or the woman who puts one tentative foot out to cross the road just as the traffic gets going, causing folks to swerve violently. No wonder my aunt says all her prayers in the car!
Most rule breakers are educated, canny, and oh-so-well behaved when they drive anywhere abroad. They stick to their lanes, avoid honking and wait for pedestrians to cross the road patiently. However, the moment they drive in India, a little imp forces them to run berserk, skittering around like cats on a hot tin roof.
Maybe the only time drivers do slow down is when they are forced to do so! Like when a VIP makes an appearance, causing a galaxy of cops to stand around, mobiles in hand, waiting for a sighting in the horizon which causes them to stand to attention, while a mighty traffic jam forms around, growing larger every restive minute.
And to end, a grandfather would take his young granddaughter driving every Sunday in order to bond with her. Once he fell ill, and his wife opted to take the little girl out. When they got back, the grandfather asked the little one how she had enjoyed her drive. Prompt came the reply, “It was fun, and guess what! We didn’t see a single ‘Idiot’, ‘Moron’ or ‘Blind Fool’ on the way today!”

Deepti Menon

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"As Beautiful as Your Work!" Contest

Beauty, it is said, lies in the eyes of the beholder! As I behold my mother, Nalini Chandran, the beauty of the universe comes together, even as she lives life, queen-size, even at the age of 76. Do I feel this way because I fell in love with her, the day I opened my eyes for the first time, only to see her smiling down at me in wonder? Life was more vibrant when she was around, getting me ready for school, taking a history lesson where I was part of a rapt class, or moulding my nature to mirror hers as she made friends, with the ease of a butterfly drawing out honey from a willing flower!
She never preached, just led by example. Her home was always filled with friends who drew inspiration from her joie-de-vivre. A teacher all her life, she honed her skills, only to create a wonderful school, which started with six students and went on to take her home town by storm, as it took on her wonderful personality and made it its own. She loved being with children, as she turned into a child, gamboling with them like a frisky lamb. Yet she could be a lioness in her den with errant students or cursory teachers.
History and Literature were subjects which she adored! She took pains to make them come alive, as her silver tongue combined facts with trivia, and transported her students into a world of knowledge and pure fun. Whether it was the three witches in Macbeth or the advent of Mohenjo Daro, Nalini Miss, as she was universally called, would make it fun! No wonder, her students remembered her classes with fondness, years after they left school!
But that was not her only passion! “My students have to be citizens of the world!” she often declared. She made it her mission to instill ideas of etiquette and behaviour, soft skills as they are called today.  Respect to elders and honesty to the core were also part of her educational programme.  Her amazing sense of humour  and her outspokenness were also traits she shared with people, traits she loved to see in people around her.
The true beauty that we have seen in her, over the decades, is her zest for life that keeps her going. She can drop everything and decide to traipse around the country, with a crazy British friend, also a grandmother, and end up having adventures with gusto! Her heart is so large that she can be taken in by sob stories, and she loosens her purse strings with ease. Whatever the case, life can never be dull when she is around, and maybe that is exactly why her repertoire overflows with life experiences that could fill reams of paper! And maybe why  she shines on like a jewel,  even though she is unaware of her own lustre, a fact that endears her to many! May her tribe increase!

By Deepti Menon 

Mia, in the TV ad, embodies the true woman of substance. She is vibrant, confident and very much a woman of the world. Her Tanishq earrings go perfectly with her personality as they are fun, beautiful and eye catching, just as she herself is!

Real men trump celluloid heroes

Gone are the days when heroes in Hindi films ran after buxom heroines with coquettish pouts, dragging them down forcibly, and wooing them with typical caveman techniques, singing songs to kindle sparks in their fluttering hearts. Today’s macho man prefers to show off his six packs, and handle wicked villains with one flick of his arm, along with dialogues on orifices in the body. These men are unreal heroes, meant only for celluloid. Who is a real man in today’s world?
So much depends on upbringing. A man who abuses his wife, strikes and enslaves her will have sons made from the same mould. On the other hand, a man who adores his wife and does little things to keep her happy, and treats her with respect and love will father sons who grow up with the same values. The child is the father of the man, after all!
Real men do not think they are God’s gift to women. They appreciate their womenfolk, treat the elderly with reverence and love their fellow human beings, which brings to mind the wondrous poem Abou Ben Adhem.
Real men play sports and learn to win with honour and lose with grace. They work in tandem with others, without giving in to ugly rage which makes them lose their heads and resort to violence. Real men are never bullies, who start ugly fights with those weaker than themselves, and yet, turn into blubbering jelly when accosted by someone stronger. Real men can not only defend themselves, but those along with them, and always stand up for the truth.
Education and knowledge play a vital role in defining what one is, apart from one’s basic nature. These, along with generous doses of advice and grandma’s tales, go a long way in moulding the character of the young child. A boy who has a good moral grounding and a loving family will rarely go wrong in life.
The grown man is strong and tender at different times. He ensures that the women in his life realise their potential, and do well in whatever they want to do. His is the sturdy shoulder they lean on, but it is not unmanly to give in to grief and use their shoulders, in times of need.
Real men do not mind admitting that they enjoy churning out delicious dishes or buying groceries for home. They are ready to change diapers of babies at midnight or keep a hot water bag for their spouses who return home after a stressful day. A sense of humour can be a great ice-breaker. Little spats add to love, as long as they are not carried on till they turn serious. When things go awry, a really bad joke or a silly pun can bring back equanimity. A family that laughs together stays together. And a family that stays together will have men who care.
The key word in a great relationship has always been “respect” — towards every person who comes one’s way, chivalry towards women of all ages, and the realisation that every creature on earth has the right to live freely.

22nd July 2013 07:24 AM 
The New Indian Express

Master who Learnt from beggar, baul

28th July 2013 12:00 AM
Before becoming a household name, Sachin Dev Burman had become synonymous at the start of his journey with the Tippera flute, Tripura’s own instrument. So much so that for those who knew him “the haunting tunes of the flute in the dead of the night would convey the message far and wide: Sachin-karta was in town”!
Khagesh Dev Burman’s biography, translated from the Bengali version by the author and S K Chaudhuri, is filled with such delightful anecdotes and rich details of the legendary composer. It begins with a twist of circumstances, establishing S D Burman’s royal antecedents, and of how in the succession struggle that ensued, his father, Nabadwip Chandra, was deprived of his rightful due, the kingship of Tripura. As a result, he moved to his palatial home in Chartha, Comilla, where Sachin was born on October 1, 1906, the youngest of nine siblings. From the start he was surrounded by music. His father was a painter, sculptor and sitar player with an outstanding voice. His mother, Nirupama Devi, was from the royal family of Tripura and loved music and dance.
Sachin was deeply influenced by the two cultural streams of his lineage and the mysticism of folk music pervading Tripura. He once spoke of everyone in the Tripura palace singing – the king, the queen, the maids, the servants even. “Perhaps that is why I spent my entire life on songs and songs alone — music is my first love.” He imbibed the musical spirit of the common folk, breaking free of the palace culture to create a new tradition that would, one day, be revered. He started losing interest in studies, and was sent to Kumar Boarding at Agartala, and later Yusuf School back in Comilla, relieved that he could resume music lessons from his father, as well as roam around in rural Bengal, and “like a honeybee collecting and storing honey, build his collection of tunes and music”.
Sachin continued his quest for musical jewels, with no qualms about lessons from “the farmer and the boatman, the beggar and the baul, the fakir and the servant”, striding into film music to be one of the greatest.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Equality fight in an unequal world #Feminisn #bookreview #SundayReading

Feminism is not being part of an organisation; rather it takes inspiration from past heroines, aiding women to feel a continued responsibility, explains Nivedita Menon’s Seeing Like a Feminist. The title is inspired by James Scott’s Seeing Like a State, where the state “seeing” is all powerful, compared to the marginal position of the feminist.
This is a book about women and patriarchy, and about how the feminist views the operation of gendered modes of power. It is divided into six chapters, which deal with vital, interrelated themes.
Efforts have always been made to shield the institution of the patriarchal heterosexual family. Couples who choose inappropriate marriage partners come under the scanner. Women have been relegated to domestic work, which is less valued and unpaid, despite the Equal Remuneration Act of 1976. Domestic work is more demeaning and exhausting than that of a sex worker, probably why 71% of ‘servants’ have moved voluntarily to sex work.
In North India, a woman has no rights in her natal home after she moves to her husband’s home. In Kerala, only vestiges of the matrilineal system are seen. The Hindu Code Bills empowered Hindu women to choose their partners, and marry outside their caste. The Hindu Women’s Right to Property gave widows rights to their husband’s property, but the Hindu Succession Act nullified the position of daughters under matrilineal laws, by granting equal inheritance rights to sons. The three interlinked features of the Indian family are patriarchy, patriliny and vivilocality.
Dowry has spread its tentacles almost everywhere, as women go to their husband’s homes to survive with limited rights, despite the Dowry Prohibition Act which deems both giver and taker guilty. Women, right from childhood, prepare for marriage, which sometimes leads to the ‘implosion of marriage’, when young girls refuse to conform to docile roles of wife and daughter-in-law. The author avers that feminists need to build up the strength to live in ways in which marriage is voluntary, and create alternate non-marriage communities.
In ancient times, the universality of gender as a social category was challenged in African and the North American countries, and even in the lives of the Bhakti saints. But the creation of a distinction between sex and gender is intrinsic to feminism, as from childhood onwards, girls and boys pick up gender-specific forms of behaviour, training to conform to set roles.
In the 1990s, the media began airing sexually explicit images, through cable and television channels. Questions on homosexuality and issues revolving around the civil liberties of eunuchs, bisexual and transgendered people have all been viewed through the lens of the feminist here.
Patriarchal forces call rape a blot against family honour, while feminists denounce it as a crime against a woman’s bodily integrity. The Pink Chaddi protest was a non-violent gesture of ridicule against intolerance. The modern slut walks are the latest chapter in a long, powerful history of inspirational feminist struggle.
Caste politics and patriarchy have stalled the passing of the Women’s Reservation Bill to reserve 33% of seats in Parliament for women.
There is mention of the commoditisation of the female body, through advertisements showing scantily clad bodies and pornography. Feminists expose how this outlook can be transformed by thinking of women as consumers instead of victims.
Pregnancy and child bearing are the sole responsibility of the woman. The ideal feminist world is one in which women can control when and under what circumstances they deliver their children. Sexual harassment charges against celebrities, the ban of the veil in France, forcing women badminton players to wear skirts and queer politics have all been touched upon in this revealing book.
Thus, for Nivedita Menon, feminism is not about one triumphant moment against patriarchy, but about the ongoing shift that enables young women to say, “I believe in equal rights for women, but I’m not a feminist.” Many new positions, energies and challenges have transformed the feminist field over the years, and this book takes a bold look at these.
“It comes slowly, slowly, feminism does. But it just keeps on coming!”

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dearest Amma, Every year, Mother's Day comes and goes, and I call you and wish you for a few moments, but have I ever told you how much you mean to me, to all of us? In actual written words? Maybe not, but you do know that your daughters adore you, not only for what you are, but for what you have made them into! Life, as we were growing up, was a roller coaster, as we travelled from place to place with you and Achan, enjoying the hospitality of the Indian Army. Watching you as an Army wife taught us how to live life happily, and enjoy the wonders of the world, despite financial constraints. Life was never a matter of money, after all! When Achan passed away and you were left, a young widow, to take care of three daughters all on your own, we learnt the lessons of fortitude and of how to survive in a world that can be cruel at times. Despite all odds, you still made life fun for us, teaching us basic lessons, not through sermons but through practical and humorous ways. Luckily we all inherited your quirky sense of humour... Today, when we are all grown women, we look back on all that you have taught us, as we strive to hand over to our own children much of what you have given us - a sense of right and wrong, a heart that is compassionate sometimes to the point of no return, the miracle of seeing the world through deeply imbued rose coloured spectacles, and above all, the fierce determination to fight our own battles, and rise above them. If we have been able to give our little ones even a fraction of these amazing principles, I think we can be proud of ourselves. So today, on Mother's Day, and on every other day, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart and say, "God could not be everywhere, but He created you to be there for us!" Age cannot wither you, not custom stale your infinite variety, and we love you for what you are, a precious blend of endearing traits, foibles and idiosyncrasies... and we would have it no other way, for if you were not the way you are, we would not be what we are today! We love you very, very much! Deepti Published by IDIVA ished by IDIVA

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Made in heaven but born in war

The love story of Lt General Prem Bhagat and his wife Mohini has now been preserved for posterity by their adoring daughter, Ashali Varma, whose life was transformed by the people who worshipped her charismatic parents. The much-admired Mohini from cosmopolitan Poona, was “mesmerised by... the kindliest and most compelling eyes she had ever seen.” Commissioned in 1939, Prem joined the Bombay Sappers and was assigned to 21 Field Company—an event that would catapult him to fame as an expert in explosives and building bridges and roads. From North Africa in 1940, Prem wrote long and chatty letters to Mohini, peppered with humour. When he witnessed the horrors of war, with lives snuffed out in seconds, he felt guilt and sorrow, emotions that he hid from her. On January 31, 1941, the retreating Italians booby-trapped the roads with mines. Prem, leading from the front, had two close shaves with death. He ran into an ambush. The powerful blast shattered his eardrum. Yet he continued what his Commanding Officer termed “the longest continued feat I have ever seen of sheer cold courage”. The feat won him the Victoria Cross, the highest British award for gallantry! The book has anecdotes and memorable photographs. While having dinner at the Taj Hotel, Mumbai, to his embarrassment and her glee, the menu had a picture of him saluting, the Victoria Cross pinned on. He proposed to her over candlelight, and they got married on February 24, 1942. Marriage was a close, loving partnership. When Mohini was expecting her first child, Prem was worried about the pain she would undergo, as also about the new interest in her life. When their son, Dubby was born, he fell in love all over again. Nine years later, Ashali, completed their family. In 1949, as Commandant of the Bombay Sappers, he turned the outfit into a model training centre, taking bold steps to unite his men by introducing common dining, clubs and sports facilities. Later, as Commandant of the Indian Military Academy, he would invite cadets for delicious home-cooked meals. The parents of the cadets, often from rural areas, were invited to pip their wards. Stress on values like loyalty and integrity was paramount. Towards the end of an illustrious career, Prem was cheated of the post of the Army Chief because he was outspoken and popular. Manekshaw, who considered him his natural successor, said, “The Army missed a first rate chief.” Mohini stood by his side. From Jammu to Calcutta, tearful jawans, officers and their wives mobbed them at every station. Post-retirement, Prem was made Chairman of the Damodar Valley Corporation. Once again, he left the stamp of his leadership with his concern for subordinates. The idyllic love story ended when Prem succumbed to a massive allergic drug reaction. Mohini asked for a ceremonial military funeral. As the nation wept at the passing of a war hero, Mohini stood dry-eyed, aware she had a lifetime ahead to mourn him. For 30 years, she kept his memory alive, having presented his Victoria Cross to the Bombay Sappers. Her end came after a painful struggle with cancer. 13th January, 2013 New Indian Express

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Words of wisdom in Shakespearean style

A new son has just risen, one who earlier refused to be coerced into taking up a position of power, preferring to start as a mere worker. He made sure that he was visible, as he went around the villages, and sat down with the aam aadmi, having meals with them and making himself quite at home. However, D day is here! The young man has been taken into the bosom of his party, and is all set to take up the reins. As expected, the party members are thrilled, and have already begun suggesting that he is meant for higher, much higher things. Whoever said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, was obviously not talking about our political scenario. A canny old man named Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is best known for having given some shrewd and practical advice to his son Laertes. Surprisingly, if one shaves the Bard’s language of its extra fittings and trims off the lard, the advice would be just perfect for the heir apparent, advice which his mother could offer to him, in the manner below: Do not speak all that you think, ‘give thy thoughts no tongue’, or act on rash desires, that are out of harmony with the occasion. Words calculated to make one look before one leaps, so as to say! Or again, in Shakespearean words, ‘discretion before valour’. ‘Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar’. Be friendly, but remember that familiarity breeds contempt, and often, nepotism, as well. Be friends with a few, and keep them close to your soul ‘with hoops of steel’, but do not soil your palm by being over-effusive with every chance newcomer. Be respectful, but maintain your distance from sycophants and hangers-on who want to perch on your shoulder, and train their guns from there. Do not get provoked into fights, but if they are forced upon you, stand tall and give a goodly account of yourself — a principle that sits well in politics, where sitting on the fence is a well-known quality. Lend your ear to every man’s censure or opinion, but ‘reserve your judgment’. Too many gaffes by leaders and politicians have turned them into a laughing stock in today’s scenario. Cut your coat according to your purse, and dress elegantly, not ostentatiously, ‘for the apparel oft proclaims the man’. Cut down on affectation, so that others may not wonder just what you have been up to, to have obtained such wealth. ‘Neither a borrower or a lender be’, for you might end up losing the loan and the friend you held a hand out to. Think of all the diatribes and the poisonous words being used by allies who are dissatisfied with what they have been given, all regular Oliver Twists! The most vital piece of advice of all ... ‘to thine ownself be true!’ Set high moral standards for yourself and for those around you, stick to your principles, and remain above reproach, like Caesar’s wife. Behave responsibly and practically, make integrity your watchword! Isn’t it strange how a master wordsmith from the Elizabethan era could make such perfect sense even today? By Deepti Menon 26th January 2013 07:36 AM

Monday, January 21, 2013

Our leaders suffer from foot-in-mouthitis

Somehow one grew up with the idea that only Sagittarians, like me, suffered from foot-in-mouthitis, an ailment almost as dangerous as the mad cow disease. The disease has now gone viral with prominent people, irrespective of their star signs, shooting their mouths off with nary a qualm. Makes for great entertainment, provided one does not take their remarks too seriously. Like the minister who scoffed at the idea that a senior minister would touch a scam for ‘an amount like Rs 70 lakh’. Or the son-in-law who proclaimed that ‘we are a mango people in a banana republic’, fully aware that he was part of a family in charge of the said republic. Or the suave ex-CM who spoke of the day when there would be ‘no girls to marry and we’ll all become gays’. Then came the dig by an irreverent MP, who was astounded that a woman in politics who had ‘been doing jigs on TV for money’ had now turned into ‘a political analyst’. Followed by a Union minister who claimed that ‘as time passes by, a wife gets old’, even as others sneered about Rs 50 crore girlfriends’ and a ‘love affairs ministry’. The mother of all gaffes was a seasoned politician comparing Swami Vivekananda to Dawood Ibrahim. Journalist Michael Kinsley came up with the Kinsley gaffe, when he said, “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth — some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.” The year 2012 ended very tragically with a horrendous gang rape case. She died after a brave fight, but her death brought young people out in droves, as they took to the streets to protest against crimes against women. This time the jibes that came were not funny in the least, with one illustrious scion pointing his crude finger at protesters ‘all highly dented-painted’ who were not serious about the cause they espoused. Obviously he had no idea what he meant because the next time one saw him, he was mumbling apologies and disappearing into his chair. Then one heard a woman CM declaring that rapes happened because ‘men and women are interacting more freely’, followed by another wisecrack by an opposition MLA who felt that schoolgirls in skirts attract ‘sharp and dirty glances and lewd comments’ from miscreants. A woman can be another woman’s biggest enemy, a statement that was proved when a woman politician termed a particular rape ‘a misunderstanding between a lady and her client’. Of course, rape is never rape when it is inflicted on someone else. It is time for us to hang our heads in shame! Another gentleman proclaimed pontifically, “Just because India achieved freedom at midnight does not mean that women can venture out after dark.” Does that mean that India can never come out from the shadows? When will we start giving the benefit of the doubt to the victims, and stringent punishment to the attackers? The new term bandied around is ‘chemical castration’, which sounds like a sound idea. However, if offending body parts were to be rendered impotent, too many garrulous folks would lose their tongues! The New Indian Express 10th January 2013 12:00 AM

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Goodness of Coconut for the Skin

The beauteous Cleopatra only bathed in ass’s milk because she believed that it enhanced her beauty. Age could not wither her, it is quoted. However, had her mother spoken of the goodness of coconut for the skin, as modern mamas do, her beauty would have been unsurpassed! For a nut that is hard to crack, the coconut has a rather tender heart. As a child, I remember standing alongside my grandma, as she cut up little slivers of coconut to cook, and grabbing handfuls and cramming them into my mouth before she could stop me. In revenge, she would haul me into the bathroom, and douse me liberally with coconut oil, made from coconut roasted on the stove. The aroma of that oil has stayed in my memory, longer than the oil stayed on my hair and my body. Winters in Delhi found us on the terrace, while Mum rubbed coconut oil on our shivering limbs and made us bask in the warm caresses of the sun. As a teenager, I discovered coconut milk which not only tasted delicious in curries, but, when mixed with oatmeal, worked like a soft soothing layer over my skin, leaving it with a feeling of goodness. Friends pored over pimples, acne and spots on their faces, wondering how I had escaped the ravages of time. My preoccupation with the coconut sworked out rather well for me! And so the preoccupation continues! My hair craves for a nourishing coconut milk shampoo with oil that rehydrates and strengthens. The coconut conditioner, which boasts of Vitamin E as well, leaves my hair so lustrous that sun rays reflect off it, dazzling the eyes of the beholder! Bathing has always been a pleasure, with a coconut body scrub that I use about three times a week, which leaves my skin softer than a baby’s bottom. And then the ultimate joy of dipping into an exotic coconut body lotion that is not only light to use, but soaks into my skin like a hot knife into butter, enveloping me in an aroma that sings of tropical islands and carefree vacations. Coconut hand and foot creams are the ultimate step to feeling pampered, as they help repair the moisture barrier in the skin, and replenish and moisturize all the year around. Who needs a manicure or a pedicure when you have taken the coconut route anyway? And let me tell you that a coconut cream lip balm works wonders as well! And even as I write this, I am sipping at a glass of coconut water, sweet and refreshing, a glass that is low on calories, yet rich on taste, believed to have anti-aging properties! After all, hope lies eternal in the human breast!

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Victims are Always Made to Feel Small

Farhan Akhtar wrote an anguished poem on the heinous rape of a young 23 year old girl in a Delhi bus recently -“What is This Country that I Live in?” The girl, returning after a movie along with a male friend, was accosted by six drunken beasts, who decided to play judge and “teach her a lesson for being out at night with a man.” They gang-raped her, brutalized the duo with iron rods, hiding behind tinted windows, and finally hurled them, unconscious, on the road. The young girl lies in a coma, her internal organs in chaos, as a large part of her intestines have been removed to prevent gangrene. As she fights for her life, mammoth protests have been launched across the country by deeply moved citizens, shell-shocked at the tragedy. Three of the accused have been arrested and have confessed to their guilt. “Hang me!” says one fiend. The other pretends that he is ashamed as he has “committed a big crime.” Can they ever fathom the depth of the damage they have caused to a young girl who had just begun life? What guarantee is there that, given a chance, they will not rape again? Take the case of 23 year old Soumya, who was thrown out of a speeding train by a handicapped man, Govindaswamy, who had been arrested twice earlier for sexual assault? He raped her on the tracks, and she died in hospital, six days after the attack. Aruna Shanbaug lies in a vegetative state since 1973, after a ward boy sexually assaulted her. Her life was brutally cut down while the rapist, Sohanlal Walmiki, was convicted, not for rape but for assault and robbery, and did two concurrent 7 year sentences in jail, [painfully short for the rest of us!]. He still struts around as ward boy, his life hardly affected by the grotesque crime he had committed. She exists in limbo, dead to the world! Rapists are cold-blooded criminals, confident that they can get away with the crime. Often they commit multiple rapes before they are caught, according to a study done in Tihar Jail. The victims are always made to feel small by people around them – from the rapist to the cops to the lawyers, who point fingers at their dress, their habits, sometimes even their conduct! They are punished over and over again, having to cope with the trauma of the brutish act, and the stigma of it as well. Where does the common man [read woman] go for justice, when all the worst crimes possible – female foeticide, acid attacks, domestic violence, dowry deaths, incest – are committed against women? A survey done by the Thomson Reuters Foundation reveals that India is fourth in line as far as societal threats to women are concerned, the other three countries being Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan! To add substance to that statistic, 580 girls and women have been sexually assaulted this year in Delhi alone! Opinions vary! Some say the death sentence is too easy for these monsters. Others mention castration, or slow painful torture. Meanwhile, the wheels of justice grind slowly and inexorably, and often, delays punish the innocent and reward the guilty. Why on earth would anyone want to raise children here? The New Indian Express

Dignity is synonymous with leadership

America has just emerged from a gruelling election, and once again, Barack Obama has come out on top. As Americans celebrated, Mitt Romney congratulated his rival, even as he spoke of having fought hard, and of working together with the president to take America ahead. When Obama appeared, the applause echoed around as people cheered for the man who was president again. Then the magic began, as Obama addressed his countrymen, in accents simple and moving, the beauty of his words competing with his sincerity. He spoke as if his speech could have no ending, about gratitude, progress and togetherness, every word clearly measured. His silver-tongued oratory left goose-bumps and teardrops in their wake. We Indians watched in envy. Where were the master politicians back home? History had Gandhiji, Jawaharlal Nehru, Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Tilak and Gokhale. Nehru’s ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech equalled all great speeches made before. His daughter, Indira, rose above the epithet of ‘goongi gudiya’ to turn effective leader. Why is there this vacuum in politics today, a rarefied field where mediocrity is the catchword? Where being a parliamentarian is no honour, as khadi-clad politicians sit apart, and aim salvos at one another. The language used is crude, the noise levels deafening and rickety chairs unlikely missiles. The well of the house is not ‘well’ at all, as every dissenter rushes in where angels fear to tread, creating a ruckus paralleling Satan’s pandemonium. Most likely, Bigg Boss was inspired by someone who watched Lok Sabha TV, where every action, speech and behaviour in Parliament is unparliamentary. Compare the discussions in Parliament with the discussions between Obama and Romney, where they debated issues, controversial or otherwise, with perfect decorum. They were dead serious, and their language acceptable. Even dirty linen was washed in public with dignity. That is the word that shines through — dignity. Dignity is there in the clothes worn, in the words spoken and in how they carry themselves; dignity in the public eye and in the privacy of their chambers, and; dignity even when caught in a sting operation, as they resign from public gaze with the least fuss. Unlike fossils here who get stuck in paternity suits well in their dotage, dodging the ‘issue’ till they get caught, or stick-in-the-mud leaders who stymie the government’s working, jailing so-called offenders for drawing cartoons. President Obama can easily be termed Orator of the Millennium. He appreciated the dedication of Romney and his family, and vowed to work hand-in-hand with him. He openly lauded the First Lady Michelle, for having made him the man he was now. Have our politicians ever given credit to their wives for their own growth? The eloquent words flowed, his spellbound followers applauded with their hearts in their eyes. When will a leader be able to sway our nation likewise? The time has come to telecast these speeches and discussions in our Parliament, at meetings where our leaders congregate, to prove that the word ‘dignity’ is synonymous with leadership. We might just stop cracking jokes about collective nouns and baboons, for instance! The New Indian Express 09th November 2012 11:46 PM

Walking is the Perfect Form of Amusement!

Some days I am up with the lark! Days that are rare, I concede, but once I am up, I go for an invigorating walk. The breeze blows gently and the world sparkles at that hour. I soon find myself surrounded by walkers of all sizes, shapes and ages. An Olympic- style walker whizzes around the block at the speed of light, arms akimbo, staring ahead in fierce concentration. There are no short cuts in his book, and by the end of his marathon, he is puffing like a chimney, sweat pouring profusely off his brow. A rotund old gentleman waddles ahead of me, with a strangely jerky walk. At one point he stops, looks around furtively, and takes out a plastic cover from within the recesses of his shirt. He proceeds to pluck flowers that grow strategically under a board that states baldly, 'Please do not pluck flowers!' A young girl jogs past, headphones and an attitude cutting her off from the rest of the world, as she goes by! She does not believe in niceties, not even deigning to wave to the world around her. She turns corners abruptly, scaring birds and little tots alike. Another failed Olympian walks by with athletic steps, and suddenly beats his tummy rapidly, giving persons strolling behind the shock of their lives! This African dance movement is followed by a hop, skip and a jump, and then all is normal again! Till the next bout, that is! The lady with a cell phone talks incessantly, sari pallu tucked into her waist, walking shoes on. She is evidently killing two birds with one stone. She gets her daily dose of exercise, plus a roundup of all the gossip that enlivens her mundane life, judging by her avid expression. A loud series of honks cut through the air, startling me almost out of my wits. I turn hurriedly to look for the road roller that seems to be dogging my footsteps, only to find that it is an aspiring singer, plugged into his IPod, singing with the ease that comes from an indifference to lesser mortals around, who suddenly feel caught up in a nightmarish musical movie! The most colourful are a host of older women, resplendent in their Kanjivaram saris and diamond nose pins, who amble along in twos and threes, exchanging notes on religion, cookery and their daughters in law, all in the same breath! A harassed housewife gallops by, angry at her husband/child/ the world in general, needing to make a statement to prove her mettle. She strides on - militant, stern- faced and strong-jawed, probably thinking of how to win her next battle at home. Next to appear is the in-style walker, the style freak, in his Reebok head band, Nike shoes and designer togs, grooving to a different drummer, as he sports his attire. He revels in the looks thrown at him, and the actual walk comes only a poor second! The walkie- talkies are interesting. They talk as they walk, stop at junctions without missing a word, and pause every ten yards to chat with acquaintances - anything to stop walking, a activity forced on them due to peer pressure, and burgeoning weight! And finally one gets to see those denizens who actually need their walks desperately, as they heave about, body parts appearing round corners before they do, with nary a smile as they walk seriously! It is another matter that they go back home, relax with a cup of sugar-laden tea and oily samosas/ vadas, and muse soporifically about dinner ahead. Walking is the perfect form of amusement, isn't it? Open Page, The Hindu

Putting Price Tags on Humans!

The nation has the right to be disgusted! How can the Chief Minister of a state stand up in front of a large crowd and talk disparagingly about the wife of a fellow minister, calling her a 50 crore girlfriend, the snide note in his voice and the sneer on his face giving out the same message... "I am invincible! Hence, I can talk rubbish and get away with impunity!" Maybe a new commandment needs to be tagged on within political circles - Thou shalt not insult thy fellow politician's wife! And this is not the first time the man has shot his mouth off. Earlier when a journalist asked him about why women in his state were malnourished, he aimed another salvo that bordered on idiocy, expounding on how girls were beauty conscious and not health conscious, and hence, resorted to dieting, by refusing to drink milk. What he forgot to add was the very same girls had no food to eat in the first place! Much akin to Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake!” retort! The aforesaid lady's suave husband reacted saying that his wife was priceless, and that only people who had love in their hearts could understand that. Promptly came a response from other quarters as another politician created a ruckus by hinting at a Ministry of Love Affairs to be headed by an international love guru so that the nation could gain from his experience! As Ben Franklin put it so succinctly, “The worst wheel of a cart makes the most noise.” Belittling women seems to be the trend of the day! One prominent actress turned MP was cautioned against giving her viewpoint with the derogatory comment that the subject under discussion was a serious issue, and not the subject of a film. Yet another politician sniggered as he spoke of wives losing charm over time, a remark that not only raised Cain, but also made many people wonder how such an unattractive man had the temerity to make such a disgusting and sexist remark! And whether his wife hauled him over the coals when he got home! Why do such ridiculous comments get thrown around in the first place? There is only one answer. The men who speak in this fashion have zero respect for women, an attitude that has been prevalent in a patriarchal society where women are only meant to bow down, breed children, and have no minds of their own. These male specimens do not realize that their breed is fast disappearing, especially now that women are standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. When we were young, the law used to be laid down very firmly by our parents. If we talked rudely or used bad words, we had to wash our mouths out with soap, which quickly put an end to the habit! Unfortunately, no such remedy seems to be forthcoming in the case of many of our politicians, as the filth is deep within their minds. Besides, it is patently clear that nation building and character moulding are nowhere in their minds, as all they are concerned about is how well they can grab the eyeballs to win the populist vote. Which makes the following quote so relevant: “The difference is that a statesman thinks he belongs to the State, and a politician thinks the State belongs to him.” Open Page, The Hindu Nov 27th, 2012


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