Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bridging the gap?

“Mere bache yeh sab kaam nahi karenge.” my kaamwali bai pondered aloud as she mopped the floor. “Wo sab school jate hai. Padh likh lenge, achi naukri mil jaegi. Tumhare bachon ko apna kaam khud karma padega” she announced. “Acha hai, acha hai” I replied, not knowing what else to say.
I pored over my morning newspaper, filled with reports of the financial turmoil in the US, the Fed Reserve bailout and chiefly about it’s impact on the jobs outsourced to India. Jobs which are not part of ‘core activities’, which need to be done but it’s ok if someone else would do them- for cheap. I glanced briefly at the outsourced mopping activity and returned to my newspaper. “Will I ever be able to say it?” I wondered. “Humare bachon ko quality education milta hai. Wo technically aur intellectually strong hai aur apna product khud banaenge. Tumhare bachon ko yeh outsourced kaam khud karne honge.” Will I ever say it? I don’t know. But one thing’s for sure- several deprived children- like my bai’s kids, will study hard and compete for jobs available in India- outsourced or not. I remember meeting a group of 7th grade kids on a football ground near my home last week. One of them ran a good 2 rounds of the 8 I usually do at the ground daily; he eagerly introduced me to his friends who were playing cricket in a corner. As the conversation shifted from sports to studies, I discovered that they studied at a govt. school; they loved the free khichdi provided for lunch daily and the kheer they got on some days! One of them excitedly ranted on the dozen 100 and 200 page notebooks they’d got, distributed free of cost by the owner of a local small scale factory. My little running companion interrupted him and asked me “ Tumhi kay shiklay?” (What have you studied?) “ Engineering”, I replied as his eyes glowed at the prospect. “Amhi pan engineer honar”(We too will become engineers) three of them replied in unision. “Hua. Pan running sodu naka”. (Do so, but don’t quit running) I replied as I took their leave.
Deprived of quality education on home turf, several Indians are pursuing higher education abroad. They are not different from the poor kids I met; they’re burdened with loans, but fuelled with ambition and a desire to become competent. They’ll graduate to join the likes of Microsoft and Goldman Sachs(it survived, I guess); in short they’ll join clients of the outsourcing industry. But will outsourcing ever stop? I doubt. They’ll be glad on the client side and we’ll be content with outsourced jobs. Sure my kaamwali’s kids won’t do any mopping; but someone else’s kids will. You cannot bridge all gaps but hey-on the brighter side, you’ll still have a job- all you have to do is compromise on the pay!


Admist the noise of a dozen different engine sounds, I waited patiently at an important(and crowded) junction on J.M. road, Pune on a happening Saturday evening. I turned off the engine of my beloved old-model-CBZ(sadly out of production now.) The seconds counter below the red light read 93, yet half the engines were idling around, their owners wary of turning of their engines, never mind even the ones who had the enviable button start option. With nothing much to do, I looked around at my fellow road users. The rickshaw behind to my right was ferrying two pretty young things sporting cool T-shirts and hip jeans. One of them even wore shades (though I wonder why anyone would want those at 6:30 in the evening??) I checked if they were looking at me; they were not and even if they were, it wasn’t much use-they’d be gone in another 80 seconds. A quick glance around and I counted four couples perched closely on their bikes. The girls of course, like every other Pune girl had bundled their faces in Taliban-style scarves (They say it’s for the pollution. Really, not to ‘cover their faces’?). Plenty of cars idled at my right followed my a long line of cars I didn’t bother to study. The countdown reached 10. Napping engines awoke with a roar, rickshaw engines roared the loudest (hats off to their high treble engines). Clutch-Click-Gear1-Kickstart.Throttle.
As the signal turned a welcome green, I squeezed my way into every available inch, not allowing anyone the liberty of cutting me off. I’m a seasoned, rider on these city roads. I worked on the accelerator and clicked to gear 3, whizzing past Pizza Hut to my right and a crowded bus-stop to my left. I race past the 3 couples but could not beat the 4th fellow( have never come even close to beating a Karizma till date). Time to slow down as I see another red light glaring back. As I click into neutral and wait, I quickly watch new age nuclear families waiting outside McDonalds and a small groups of youngsters enjoying their quick-weekend-junk-fodder. The Crossword bookstore next door was also doing brisk business-I’m assuming there weren’t too many window shoppers browsing through books and CDs in there.
Another roar of engines (This time a bus peaked the decibel levels with its high- bass-grumble) and I got back to city-riding. Up the Garware bridge and onto a fully congested street. You will never want to be a pedestrian on this road ever, leave alone crossing, even walking on this road is not a safe exercise. I crawled past Champion sports on gear2-It’s one of the oldest and most reliable sports shops in Pune. Business is still run here the old Puneri way (Shop timings :10 am to 1 pm. 4 :30 pm to 8:30 pm. Mondays closed.). And yes, find your own innovative parking solution if you want to drop by for your sports gear please! I finally came to halt at Good Luck chowk( It’s named so after the Good Luck café to my left, the all time favorite of the old-time Punekars). From behind me a Piaggo’s engine tattered away and I found myself irritated by the noise, despite my helmet. Right ahead, I see a Honda Dio and a fit young lady, her face hidden beneath multiple layers of scarf of course. She was wearing low waist denims. Hey! Wait a second! What’s that? I see a partition. Just above the rim of her low waist denim. Ah, I get it now. They’re low butt jeans, must be the latest fashion. (It’s been three years since I’ve left college, I should have thought of that before). I look away, beyond the red signal. Diagonally across, was our very own Sagar Arcade, the ‘mall’ where you could buy ‘imported clothes’ and electronic goods. It once used to be a booming internet café hosting building- the entire first and second floors were let out for internet surfing and chating in 1998-99. From the second floor, a huge Career Launcher board seeked attention of onlookers. It’s the place where hundreds of students pay anything between 15k and 18k for CAT/GMAT/GRE and other ‘important’ examinations. I’m no different. I should’ve put all that time and money to good use and traveled across India by the now-efficient Indian Railways. To my left was Bhandarkar road which connected to Dilip Oaks-The GRE Coaching Destination and Status gym-where the famous Rocky Poonawala conducts Latin Dance classes.
Roar. I ‘ride’ into FC road- one of the most popular roads of Pune city. Cars parked on the leftmost lane, traffic on whatever was left. Click-Gear3-Cruise; I see valiant cyclists to my left. A little ahead I dodge brave-heart double seat cyclists. I see Vaishali hotel (the SPDP specialist) to my right where young ‘young girls’, young ‘young boys’ and families waiting for their turn to get inside and eat. FC road is always like this, bustling with activity, full of students eating, chatting, laughing and eying each other. Meanwhile, I better my own lowest speed of ‘feet still on the bike record’ and see IMS- another CAT training centre and Apache-the popular Pune pub. (Study hard, Booze harder you see. Beer is good for health, so cheers everybody!). If riding here is bad, parking is a horrid nightmare. Period. I move past Fergusson college to my left and the road decongests a little and – I crossed 35kmph for the first time in the last 20 minutes. Only to slow down and halt at Dnyaneshwar Paduka chowk. If you take a left you can reach Model colony, one of the older societies for rich Puneites. A right turn will take you to a humbler Modern college, my college and the WIE sports complex, the badminton/table-tennis coaching arena. (The Who’s Who of badminton visit the WIE sports complex every other month of the year).
I’m nearly at my wits end now. 156 cc, 12.5 bhp power going unutilized is unbearable. I open throttle. The countdown timer reads 3. Click- Gear1-Go. 2 more clicks. Weave, slide, glide-brake, naah I don’t collide, as I said earlier I’m a seasoned Pune rider. Click, click. 40 45 50 kmph. I slow down once under the flyover that runs across over head and takes traffic leftward to Aundh, Baner and Pashan and go into a divider-less stretch of a Shivajinagar street. I now feel like I’m riding a motorbike- the bike does feel like a CBZ. I’m going to use a subway and get onto the old Mumbai- Pune highway. Riding is much better there, you get enough free space to feed fuel through throttle. As I smile silently under my helmet I feel sane now- and why not? I’m in Gear 5- I AM, in my gear!

Monday, September 1, 2008


When my friend Ajay asked me to accompany him to the Arangetram performance of one of his lady friends, I was not very sure if I would enjoy such a program. But on second thoughts, I reflected that it would be a welcome change; I've only been watching movies, going to restaurants and occasionally visiting clubs lately. So on a Saturday evening at 4, Ajay, I and Mridul left for an Arangetram performance at the Yashwantrao Chauhan Hall in Kothrud. For the uninitiated, Arangetram is a graduation performance for students of the BharatNatyam dance; one may start teaching BharatNatyam only after delivering an Arangetram successfully. We reached the venue at 5:20 p.m. (with 10 minutes to spare for the event to commence). At the entrance were two smiling ladies who welcomed us with a fresh rose and a sweet each. We walked across the corridor and moved straight into the hall to ensure we got our seats.
We waited for about 20 minutes in the packed to capacity, dimly lit standard- 'Natyagraha' (Drama hall) styled architecture, listening to classical singing and accompaniment in the background. As we chatted amongst ourselves, the maroon colored curtains with vertical golden linings opened up and it took me a moment to realize that the background music was actually a live performance by artists who were to provide accompaniment throughout the Arangetram. The stage backdrop was dark blue in color and at both sides of the stage, dark blue rectangular boards were placed one behind another in increasing order of width- it gave the stage a neat trough like appearance. It was a well decorated stage - artificial banana trees were set up on both sides with two -three little diyas placed along the length of each of their trunks. Two singers( a man and a lady) and a live accompaniment comprising a violin, a mridang and a flute player were seated on a raised wooden platform on the left side of the stage (left side for the audience.) On the right side a Ganesha idol was placed on the topmost step of what looked like a three step wooden stand. The stage was decorated with a combination of marigold other flowers in pretty garland like patterns. After a brief introduction by two MoC’s (Master of Ceremonies), the three Arangetram performers came on stage and offered flowers and prayers to Lord Ganesha. Following this, all three performed a dance sequence, probably to seek the blessings of Lord Ganesha. During the dance, I couldn't help notice the elaborate dressing and make- up of the dancers. They had worn bright colored sarees (combinations of orange and white or maroon and orange. Interestingly, the portion of their sarees just below the waist had folds giving a look akin to a bunch of keys hanging along a key-ring, the portion just above the feet had larger folds and seemed like a hand-held fan. Their faces had elaborate make-up; a crown of white and orange flowers adorned their head and almost all of them had waist long hair (wigs, I presume). Decorative ornaments adorned the sides of their heads and extended across their ears, some jewelry covered the line along which their hair was split in the middle. Ghungroos were worn on both ankles; their feet and hands were daubed in red paint. All the dancers wore bangles, red colored bangles between two bordering white bangles at the ends, on each hand.
Following the first dance offered to Lord Ganesha, the two MoC's (Master of Ceremonies) introduced the next dance. I don't quite remember the theme of this dance but contrary to my expectation, all the 3 dancers always performed together (I was initially under the impression that Arangetram was an individual performance.) The dance depicted the sequences which covered the friendship among three ‘sakhis’(a woman's close female friend, a bosom friend.) After this was a dance in which one dancer played the role of Goddess Parvati performing tapasya(penance) in order to be forgiven by Lord Shiv. A second dancer was pleading Parvathi to stop the tapasya and that Lord Shiv had forgiven her now. During the dance, each dancer kept switching the role of Goddess Parvathi and the pacifier turn by turn, so much so that by the end I could not make out who was playing who! Next was a dance sequence in which sakhis were to help Subhadra deck up for Lord Krishna's visit. The 'sakhis' helped her with make-up and also told her about dos and don'ts for her important meeting with Lord Krishna. (If the Lord liked her, then he would marry her you see) Then, we were presented with a gossip sequence in which all three of them gossiped using varied facial expressions and dance steps. I could not grasp a lot of what was being portrayed in the gossip sequence and was relieved when they took a break to felicitate the dance teacher and parents of the Arangetram performers; this took about half an hour. In the meantime the dancers changed into bright white colored sarees and gave a final power packed performance which involved careful coordination among all three participants. I could not make much sense of what they were trying to convey but their moves and expressions were certainly commendable. With this final performance, the curtains were pulled across without so much of a hint or a warning- the show had come to an end. I’m sure that all of them (Gayatri, Rutuja and Nimisha) had passed their Arangetram with flying colors and would now be permitted to teach interested people the beautiful BharatNatyam dance of Indian culture. So the next time someone invites you over to an Arangetram, or for that matter any play or cultural program do grab it with both hands- you will definitely feel connected to our deep cultural roots.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dowry Today, Alimony Tomorrow

India, they say- is shining. Yes, in more ways than one, India is indeed shining. Look at the phenomenal increase in the number of new jobs created. Look at the large no. of employable MBA degree holders. Malls and multiplexes, McDonalds and Café Coffee Day are ‘normal hangouts’ on all the popular roads of urban India. Everybody, including autowallahs and taxi-drivers are earning money. In short, people have money today, a lot more than they had about 7 years ago in early 2000. Today even a 22-23 year old graduate can easily earn a reasonable sum i.e. more than 2.4 lacs per annum with a decent educational qualification. Women are getting equal opportunities in the career market today, not to mention equivalent salaries and lesser taxes.(Marry a working woman, I’d suggest :))
With such a rosy picture, it has become easier for the young moneyed to invest a good amount of time and money in courting potential partners and finding a suitable match for themselves. With good education, a ‘stable job’ and a reasonably steady financial condition arises the desire to ‘settle-down’-early. The marriageable age, esp. for young men, seems to have reduced because of this, though even today the educated Indian girl is generally married off at an average age of 24-26 years of age. Be it arranged marriage or a love-marriage, marriages in India still involve a certain level of parental intervention, which, I may add is not bad. It is good, as long as the parents do not play spoilsport and indulge in the soft-dowry game. The dowry system, as it exists in today’s society has mellowed down in the educated households, but-it exists. Down south, in states like Kerala, people still prefer to send their girl to a new home with substantial amount of gold(100 tolas of dowry gold is commonplace there). Up north, well-off people ‘gift’ their daughters with the keys of a new flat, or a new car. Other families across India also do their best in terms of showering their little girls with ‘presents’.
But why give dowry, even when the woman is educated enough and can fend for herself? Alas! Parents, like us are the victims of peer pressure too. This ‘Voluntary Dowry Scheme’ is, more often than not, an effort on their part to show the world, that they too have power- money power. Their gifts are a reflection of the amount of this power they wield. Their gifts are given out of hope that it’s a one-time investment, that their children too will be married happily-ever-after like most couples their age. A good number of these marriages will last till the end and it is my heartfelt wish that they will. But, the truth of new age urban marriages must be faced- there is a steady increase in the number of divorce petitions over the past decade, the maximum number in the later half of this decade. Here, let me take a moment to point out that though divorce-rates are going up, there are many educated families who do not entertain dowry requests/expectations of any kind, and the wife in question is living a happy married life.

Why the change? Why the increase in probability of divorce? Shouldn’t prosperity and the virility of youth result in harmonious accompaniment? Perhaps a sneak-peek into the past will answer our million dollar question. Why did so many couples, who married in the late 70’s and early eighties stick together for so long? One might blame it on the initial years they spent in a conservative-rural setup; but a better understanding of their socio-economic condition reveals more than meets the eye. Most individuals(read men) were burdened by family responsibility of various kinds. The responsibilities varied from sending a large chunk of their salary to their parents in the village to taking loans for their sisters wedding (which also included dowry I presume). The percentage of employed women, though increasing was still very small. In short, people were not prosperous and lived a frugal lifestyle, with more focus on the essentials and an occasional spending on the luxuries of life. Saving preceded investment and even popular avenues of investment like Bonds, Fixed Deposits and National Savings Certificate were savings oriented. The market was full of local goods, and the popular names of those times were Raymond, Bombay Deing and Vimal. I remember grown-ups saying that Bata shoes were the best- they lasted longest. Even these were luxuries for the majority of the generation that grew up spending most of their childhood without owning a pair of slippers. The very children who risked an animated scolding if they lost a pencil, who completed their entire education with not more than three ‘fountain-pens’, this era was a fresh breath of a good life.
Public transport was commonly used and many people were proud owners of Kinetic Hondas and Bajaj scooters, owning a Fiat Padmini or a Maruti 800 meant that you were rich. This was also the time when queues were ubiquitous. You spent time queuing with complete strangers in almost everything ranging from bank deposits, to train tickets, and even admissions to kindergarten. It might sound strange to us, but most folks have fond memories of some such queues in their life. (Of course they must have been in some horrid queues too!).
Public transport, queues and adversity meant that people were interdependent on each other and had to cooperate to get things done-unlike today, where we’d rather travel by car and have everything online by sitting in a corner, saving time and doing other important tasks. Let me illustrate this further. In the early days of T.V. watching T.V was a social activity, (people assembled to watch their favorite show at the enviable Onida-neighbor). As TV got cheaper and affordable, it became a private affair. Just one example of how a social activity became a private affair. The ubiquitous computer and the mobile phones are the chief culprits in the creation of today’s individualistic, independent citizen. (We are still interdependent on each other, but these devices offer a false sense of independence). In spite of considerable time saving devices which execute almost everything at the click of a mouse, today’s youth seem to be falling short of time- and patience.

The older generation experienced the diversity of adversity. They had to interact, cooperate and quarrel daily with myriad people in their bus/local train, unavoidable queues, had to bargain in crowded bazaars, but with every experience they were directly exposed to the diversity of people around them. On the contrary, the current generation lives the Uniformity of prosperity. They all have similar jobs, live in similar houses, drive the same cars, hang out at the same malls, pubs and gyms and hardly ever have to interact with people outside their circle, except on their mobilephones or watching them through the comforts of their company bus, helmet visors or comfortable cars. And with uniformity, people get bored. Life becomes insipid and uninspiring. It is this boredom that drives most people to take up Latin dance classes, guitar classes, learning a foreign language- mind you that these activities are usually taken up, not out of passion but of boredom and an avenue to keep the mind occupied. If passion is missing, the person keeps jumping to a new avenue and it’s no different with marriage-the person looks for another spouse.
Whose fault is it anyway? Nobody knows. But when it comes to divorce you have to pay a price- and this price, unlike dowry, is authorized by the law. It’s called the alimony or maintenance money that the husband must pay his wife throughout her life.(as on 22nd July 2008. Times, they are changing. Someday it may very well be the other way round J). It is very difficult for a man to escape the alimony and I would better not discuss the ways and means by which he can escape. One of the easiest ways is to get away with a permanent settlement.(Again too vast to cover here.). But it is worth a mention that many a times men are looted in court by the same smart woman they had once chosen to marry. In western countries divorces are commonplace; statistically about 50% of marriages in the US end up in a divorce. Relationship phobia has also given rise to a steady rise in the number of single parents, well-to-do individuals willing to adopt a child and raise it alone. Even the unauthorized live-in relationships are no guarantee to a happy marriage-unauthorized because hardly anyone in India bothers to sign the legal documents of a live-in. They just get together and, well, “live-in”.
We all want to get married and stay married-at least most of us do. First and foremost, it is important to understand that the vast majority of couples who stuck together through adversity, stuck together till the end. Secondly, this generation was not heavily dependent on technology.(remember how you keep telling them where to double-click their mouse and where not to. Plus, most of them know very basic cell phone functions). The canvas of their lives had the perfect hues of technology and adversity, which might well be the secret of their marathon partnership. Adversity automatically fosters empathy and triggers cooperation, prosperity ignites the flame of performance and fiery intolerance for non-performers.(Imagine being subjected to a periodic conjugal appraisal- with the fear of being ‘pink-slipped’!!). Sadly, I’m unable to come up with a brilliant idea for ‘adversity-simulation’; you must figure out a way for yourself. But we can always cut down on technology dependence-by exercising self control. Watch less T.V.-read more, memorize the songs you listen on your ipod- sing it and entertain others, remember the catchy jokes- narrate them to an appreciative audience, watch less sports-play more. There are many ways to reduce technology dependence and increase human dependence. (Dependence here is certainly not a bad thing- we are all dependent in one way or another). Technological advancement is a little like driving; it’s feels good to be driving at high speeds but you must sometimes apply the brakes-in order to stay alive. It’s high time we applied the brakes to our technologically advanced dependence, time we fixed the likely harm it has already done to our personal, social and married lives. Do you want the next generation to boast of digitally signed e-marriage certificates and somber e-divorce certificates? (which, by the way will also calculate the estimated alimony you are likely to cough up.) We can still sail through gracefully, we can still make our marriages last. It’s all in our hands. It could either be nightmare or reality-this dowry and that alimony.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Nagpur trip

Well well well. I suddenly realize that I've reached my mid-twenties and haven't achieved anything substantial in life.(just the little things like an engg degree and a cushy job.) Damn, my butt's getting softer sitting on that chair all day long. Thank God, I make it a point to go regularly for my early morning runs; that reminds me, I've got to learn swimming this summer(don't know if I will ever get the chance again in my life.
Coming to the Point, I'd been to Nagpur last week. Nice place with very good infrastructure and less population. People are generally smarter than Puneites, they have a habit of taking a good look at you as you walk past by; certainly the smarter race I'd say. Nagpur happpens to be a nice clean place, people generally have a better standard of living than their counterparts in urban India. Land is cheaper, the air is cleaner, and the traffic is just perfect. If not for the scorching sun in the afternoon, Nagpur could easily be the favorite destination for people seeking new opportunities (esp. youngsters who prefer anonymity and the freedom to exercise their choices away from authoritative relatives and old bosses; not that the new bosses would be any different, but freedom from the old villains certainly help :):) ).
Nagpur's railway station happens to be a heritage structure in itself, rickwallas; like their counterparts elsewhere, immediately recognise outsiders and charge "outsider rates". {will complete this blog later; too sleepy now)