Sunday, May 25, 2008

The dark face of honour.

I just finished reading the controversial Norma Khouri’s ‘Forbidden Love’ few weeks ago– the so-called true (subsequently proven as fabricated) story of a young Muslim woman in Jordan who was stabbed to death by her family for defying the cardinal Islamic rule – of falling in love with a Catholic man.

While that might NOT be the case in this instance, the fact that Honour killings still exist in many parts of the world (and maybe in Jordan as well) cannot be denied- UN figures estimate that at least 5000 women are killed every year. For these families, the woman is not a person – just a procreation object who (unfortunately for them), has a rather important role in the propagation of the family name. Any perceived transgression on this object’s part has direct repercussions on the future pure-blooded genealogy of the family name and hence, merits appropriately harsh punishment.

In India, honour killings happen often enough, for one to be quite blasé about them– every other day you have a write up in some publication, about some woman who was stoned to death or hung from a tree for falling in love with a man from another caste or talking to a unknown man or something of the sort. Occasionally, it makes front page news like the Priyanka –Rizwanur case (one of the rare instances where the man was the bigger victim). Most of the times it just tucked away in some small corner of the newspapers.

One would like to think this phenomenon is confined to the illiterate, rural poor – it doesn’t happen to families such as ours we say. Families which are urban, middle class, educated and exposed to the global, cosmopolitan world view.

Not true.

In my circle of acquaintances there was a girl from a reasonably well-off Muslim family in the UK who used to apparently get regularly thrashed by her parents for misdemeanours as trivial as wearing figure hugging clothes or talking to a male acquaintances. A common friend, aghast, had told me that her father and mother used to kick her on her chest, and neck for offences such as that. The thought of someone being kicked like that still makes me feel ill – her mother participating in the brutality is even more unforgivable for some reason.

Perhaps she was one of the lucky few in her community. I had heard about someone else from a similar background- from an educated, affluent family, who met with a “fatal accident” while eloping with a boy from another community – that rumours hinted was orchestrated by her enraged father.

And as if such instances were not inhuman enough, I read of an even more disturbing trend– outsourced murder which also included honour killings (to where else but the outsourced capital of the world – India) . It went on to mention how foreign residents – especially NRI would request the Indian counterpart (typically a family member) to kill the female relative who had besmirched their family name. And for a price, the deed is done. Outsourced supari and reclaimed honour.

I can’t help but wonder about the inner dynamics of the perpetrators of honour killings and beatings.

One would think that people living under one roof for years would have some bond which is forged based on shared blood-ties and common memories. When you set out to kill or maim a sister or daughter won’t there be flashbacks to her playing with a doll as a child or a cooking a special dish for you or sitting up all night to bathe your forehead for a fever which just won’t go down? How can the THAT picture be reconciled with that of an enemy who needs to be eradicated at all costs? After the deed is done, is there regret or only self-righteousness? Are these blood ties of so gossamer fragile, that they snap in the face of bloodlust?

What about a society and community which not only condones, but celebrates honour killings. Where if you kill a supposedly tainted kinswoman, you are not a criminal, but a cause célèbre?

The point is how does one change these attitudes which are so deeply woven into the cultural fabric? How does one condone the denial of basic right of choice for millions of women across the world to live and die as they please?

Sometimes I wonder whether we actually need a cleansing of the world – the proverbial Noah’s downpour or perhaps a Kalki to change the ways for I fear no ordinary mortal person can.

And yet again, I am so grateful to be born in a family where love for a child (female or male) was a hell of lot more important than family name.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hobson’s Choice

One of the biggest burdens of adulthood is choice.

Some say that it is a liberty, the reward of growing up. Perhaps it is. It would be if the choices were between good and better or between nice and nicer. More often than not it’s a Hobson’s choice. Where each involves a sacrifice, compromise and the promise of pain or guilt.

The most thorny of these, the most difficult to negotiate through are the choices where the past and the future collide.

I have a friend in the US. A troubled friend –in the unenviable position of having to decide whether to stay in the US and live with the guilt of being physically absent from an ailing, ageing father ( and a in-need-of-moral-support-mother) OR coming back to India and severely limiting his future career prospects and growth (not too many options for his particular specialization in India). His parents of course, are urging him to continue the current way. But for him, and for any reasonably sensitive person like him, every trip to India is a harsh confrontation of additional wrinkles, a slower gait and greyer hairs in the parents. A constant reminder that they are slowly entering into the twilight years of their lives and that there is not much he can/or is doing to retard this unwelcome progression.

What is the right way to reach in such a case? In both the cases, the consequences are painful. But it’s a decision which needs to be made. Future prospects or present responsibilities? Support for parents or curtailing career? “Get the parents to come and stay with you in the US” – could be the convenient answer. But is it really fair to uproot them from their homes, familiar environment, support system, friends to instil them in an alien place, dependent on the child for everything?

This predicament – call it Hobson’s choice or Cornelian dilemma can take many forms.

Take the case of a surviving parent who has sentimentally stored every memento of a forty year old marriage moving into the house of a child – what takes precedence, the memories that the parent HAD created with his or her spouse or the memories that a child WILL create with his/her spouse and the growing family? Does the child act as a repository of his parents keepsakes or does he build his future homes on the foundations of his dreams? When does sentiment cease to be sentiment and become baggage or even worse, a millstone around the child’s neck?

Take a situation where there is a newborn child in the household. The new grandparent has some strongly held beliefs on child-rearing which have been contravened by medical practioners. It becomes a potential minefield on deciding which diametrically opposing path to traverse.

How does one reconcile these two polarities of each situation and yet, not be consumed by guilt or regret of a choice poorly made.
The common sense answer would be the future - that is the decision which you will live with for a greater part of your life. But then, how can you ignore the fact that you are the reflection and the culmination of decisions the people in the past had taken about their future.

There IS no right way.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Red Pink City

Yesterday there were blasts in Jaipur – serial blasts.

Somehow these shook me out of the desensitized state I have been for the last couple of years (about blasts and explosions). – So common a phenomenon that one is almost blasé about it.

Perhaps it was because two very close friends are from Rajasthan, and in fact one of them, N used to stay at a place which is at the epicentre of the explosions yesterday. She still has her extended family there and a cousin who has a shop almost adjacent to one of the targeted temples. Fortunately, none of her family was in any way injured. Not this time.

But it is almost a matter of time, before someone one knows becomes an innocent victim of some random bomb or explosion or RDX of whatever these Government types call it. It’s almost a matter of time, before one is caught in some arbitrary act of carnage in a small market, in a small town.

Somehow, perversely, it’s significantly worse when it is a smaller town rather than a bigger place. A megapolis like Mumbai, one thinks, it is almost inevitably, going to be a target for these attacks (and this inspite of the fact, that I have spent more than half my life in the city). The pound of flesh (almost literally) one pays for being the political, financial and commercial hub of a country. I don’t condone it, no. But I think I have almost begun to expect it.
But when this terror starts percolating down the town classes to the smaller places, the innocent places, that’s when suddenly one realizes there is no safe haven anymore.

There is no safe place one can move to – away from the madding crowd, away from the terror squads, away some psychotic terrorist trying to prove some warped point of view.
The daily haunts – the bus, the shopping mall, the station – none of it can be taken for granted, there is no place one can go to boldly without peering over one’s shoulder anymore.

The fact that I, and others like me have become so nonchalant and matter-of-fact about blasts also worries me – because it is symptomatic of the fact that it is becoming so very common, such an ordinary an occurrence, that it fails to shake one up or move one. A WTC disaster seven years ago, in a different country was so horrifying that I couldn’t sleep for days. A terrorist attack in the backyard today – results in an “Oh God, I hope no one I know is hurt” and after establishing the fact that everyone is safe, one’s mind moves on to other things. Soon, people will be taking it in their stride, the ordinary risk of living in a country like our – at par and almost as common, as say, an accident on the expressway.

What is the solution – avoid these places? Where all can one avoid? The local vegetable market (ours had a cycle explosion some three years ago- my mother SAW bloodied, injured people being rushed to hospitals), the train? The bus? The airport? The schools? Is it realistically possible to insulate oneself from these random acts, without burying oneself altogether?

That is no way to live. But neither is this. The only option seems to be to go out with a prayer on one's lips.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Survival guide for the corporate jungle

It’s a rat race out there. Dog eat dog world. The survival of the bitchiest. And all sorts of other animalistic and atavistic analogies one can cite. So for the new and not so new professionals on the threshold of a career;

Presenting the Cynic's 7C-GUIDE to Surviving the Corporate Jungle (CCC for Short) *Tadaaaaa*

Rule #1: CHANNEL the power of FUKITOL!!!
Are you living the lifestyle? Start your weekday with 1000 mg of Fukitol tablet. On Mondays, don’t stint – have two. The super powerful Fukitol tablet releases endorphins such as
“Illegitimi non Carbodium” (don’t let the b****** get you down),
“Every dog has his day and so will you”

And all other such delightful adages to help you stay fortified through the working day.

Rule #2: CALL a friend.
Telemarketers are extremely annoying specimens of humanity who WILL call and irk one in the midst of professional chaos – right? Wrong! Telemarketers can be your friends. All you need to do know is how to use them well. When a telemarketer calls, one does not snap “Busy – not interested.” Instead, one says:
"Oh thank you so much for calling. For xyz reasons I cannot afford your credit- card/housing loan/ personal loan – however I know a person who has been searching DESPERATELY for it - Please DO call him up – his name is Mr. X (Mr. X is the particular not-so-gentleman who might have pissed you off on that particular day) – oh and also, you have got my name wrong – its not Cynic but Cynelle – just so that he doesn’t get confused in case you give him my reference”

Rule #3: See the CC
Have you looked at your outlook or Lotus Notes carefully? There is a very useful invention called the CC. its not there for decorative purposes. USE IT. Use it wisely and use it WELL. CC everyone – don’t stint. CC bosses, colleagues, their wives, their pet dogs. Don’t underestimate the power of CC in another very important C in your life – the CYA.

Rule #4: The CoCo principle
And you thought CoCo meant CoCo Jambo or CoCo Chanel (depending on your gender or musical affiliations)? The CoCo principle has its genesis in advertising industry – where there is a great deal of interaction which takes place with fairly clueless but stubborn-as-hell clients. This useful principle can be adapted to all corporates as well and can be used judiciously on colleagues and senior management. The underlying principle of this is if you can’t CONVINCE, Confuse. Use multi coloured graphs. Use hyperlinks. Use cross tabs. Use arrows and the other entire useful thingummy which Power point has specifically made for this purpose. Wow them with the designs – overload them with numbers - annotate their heads with bullet points- and sock them with English which is open to various interpretations. Confuse the s*** out of ‘em until their eyes glaze over and their heads start drooping from fatigue.

Rule #5: CHUCK De Work
Have you ever played beach volleyball? Well it has some very interesting features that MUST be appropriated into your workplace viz. the art of lobbying! One can’t underestimate the role of lobbying in the workplace – it is CRITICAL. Whether it’s lobbying insults with moronic colleagues, or lobbying bills from one department to another or lobbying work to others.
Master this art until you are a professional lobbyer – especially lobbying work to the boss.
If uneasy voices protest, tell them to shut up and remind them that the boss is paid five times your salary. And remember, when in doubt ALWAYS UPWARDLY DELEGATE.

Rule #6: CLASS Participation
Did you know that your promotion and growth in an organization is directly linked to the amount you can gas fluently? Therefore, meetings provide a wonderful vehicle for growth and prosperity. ALWAYS state at least thing with a great deal of passion and vehemence and conviction at every meeting you attend. It does not have to be relevant to the topic on hand – it can be anything. On the state of the economy or the weather or what nail polish the CMD’s wife is wearing. This has often been referred to as the rule of CLASS participation.

Rule #7: CALCULATIONS for Success.
And the unfailing formula for success? Here is one which works every single time. Take your monthly gross salary amount – a nice round figure with lots of zeroes (hopefully). Divide it by 30. And every time you can feel your hair whitening and ulcers mushrooming, - chant the following mantra 1001 times.
“For every F****** day I spend here, I get these many (the daily figure) nice, green notes in my bank account .Some weekends I get this for NOT working!”
The day, and week will magically seem brighter!

To be continued: Cynic’s Tools for the Corporate Trade

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mangoes and nostalgia

Ate the first aam of the season .

One whiff itself of it was enough for me to go all maudlin and sentimental and take me down a lane full of half forgotten memories

... of blissful, long, lazy, summer holidays at my grandmothers house in Goa..

..of idyllic, untainted childhood….

…of cousins and companionship ….

.... of eager anticipation of the mango season …

…of expectant, almost uncontainable excitement at seeing the truck full of mangoes coming home from the orchards in the ancestral village..

.... of a roomful of raw mangoes stacked up in hay (so that they could ripen slowly)….

.... the room pervaded with that sour-sweet heady smell of heaven...

... of furtively sneaking to the mango room in the afternoons (when all grown-ups were having their siesta), and pinching them, and tip-toeing out to the shaded verandah while my eldest (very soft-hearted) unmarried aunt, pretended not to see us..

...of hushed conferences and whispered conspiracies– who will dig out the rawest, khatta kairi ( green mangoes) ? Who would get the chili powder and salt from the kitchen ....

…of feigning outraged indignation at mango-stealing accusations, while surreptitiously wiping our hands on the back of our clothes …

...of climbing the wall and sneaking to neighbor’s house to pinch the mangoes and guavas from their trees (which were always so much sweeter, no matter, how many mangoes we had at a home)...

...of cricket played in the hot sun and glass panes broken, to come back to semi-exasperated-semi- amused scolding and cool mango shakes ...

…of beaming, satiated, sticky small cousins with golden mango pulp all over their faces ….

...of debating the relative merits of mankurad versus alphonso versus musrad...

..of seeing who could eat the maximum and eating so many ( mangoes as well as imli and cocum) that we couldn’t stand the sight of them anymore...

Those were the days before...
...we realized that mangoes were fattening and thus to be rationed ...

...before summer holidays ceased to be with college and work taking over ...

They don’t make childhood like that anymore!

Posted in April 2004, still feel like that. Second nostalgic post in a month - but its summer and i am overworked and underpaid and pining for summer holidays!

Update: Recycling

Rediff blogs seems to be gobbling up random posts I had written. There is no way I can import it to blogspot apparently so I shall resort to recyling posts.

Don’t think anyone from that era is reading my blog anymore so I suppose it should be ok.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Waiting for Godot

Shifting to Pune, had brought a number of new experiences along with it – some pleasant, some not so. The not-so-pleasant list seems to include stuff like dealing and managing recalcitrant bais or keeping a JIT inventory of the groceries or stalking plumbers to fix one leaky tap (only for the other one to conk off on the next day – NEVER the same day mind you). By far the most harrowing rite of passage to domesticity is the Great Wait for the Gas Cylinder.

Now why so, all these living-happily-with-their-parents-or-eating-dabbawalas-food-supremely-unconcious-of-importance-of-gas-cylinders will wonder. All one needs to do, they think, is call those fellers and viola the gas will come gushing happily home.

Not so, says the living-stressfully-away-from-a-gas-cylinder-booking-parent-who-hankers-for-the-earlier-era will hasten to assure and disillusion the other type.

The gas booking exercise is a test of determination, iron will and unbreakable and unshakable resilience.

It starts innocuously enough – step one – BOOK IT.

In an ideal world, the protagonists would book the cylinder ON the day it runs out. But we are living in a less than ideal world isn’t it –( Mr. Murphy, might be smugly sitting in some warm climes down there, chortling away to glory about how smart he was. ).
So one can safely assume that the cylinder WILL get over on a Sunday or public holiday – a day which one unfortunately cannot book a refill.
So one, files away a small note in the job-lists area of the brain – stating “BOOK GAS CYLINDER NEXT WEEK”.
Subsequently there are a number of other post-its which get stuck on top of this particular one. So that poor little note goes and lurks in some poky corner of the mind. Until the day – a few weeks later, when one accidentally bangs into the cylinder and instead of hearing the warm, comfortingly deep sound of a satisfactorily full cylinder, one hears an ominously hollow clang.

Then starts the panic.

One tries the phone. Then tries it again. Then redials it in a staccato tattoo for the next fifteen minutes. Then tries to imitate the exact nasal cadence of the woman who says “Theees number is buzeee pleeeez try later”. Then one tries it from one’s cell phone and every other phone in the household (and some at the neighbours) – making mental bets with self on which particular phone which will strike gold. After a point, one starts reciting the phone number in the sleep – heck, one probably IS dialling the buttons in one’s sleep.

There are a couple of false alarms – where it rings rather than beeps busy. One’s heart leaps to the mouth in anticipation – usually, only to plummet down after the a) phone not being picked up at all or b) after a brusque “abhi lunch (or tea or snack or early morning or evening or any time of the day) time hai – baad mein phone karo”

On day 4 or so – one actually gets someone who doesn’t say its lunch time. The celebratory jig is hampered a bit by the less than friendly tone of a person, busily engaged in the serious pursuit of avoiding work, disturbed by annoying interlopers. Somehow, one manages to sneak in the consumer number and get a “Haan ajayega”

At this point, ye ladies and gentleman, don’t, EVER do the mistake of asking her/him “ki KAB mil jayega”. That is suicide. That carries the risk of them conveniently forgetting to note down one’s consumer number in the books that are all important.

The immediately following week is relatively stress-free. The lull before stormy days ahead so as to say. No self respecting cylinder delivering agency will tarnish their reputation by prompt performance of service. The only risk the current cylinder running out - so there is a tendency to extreme frugality with the scarce LPG resources (in fact maybe having a bunch of matchsticks under the vessel could have been more efficient)

Come Saturday the hyper activity begins.
Thus starts stage 2 – the wait
One calls up the people (repeat step 1 until you get through) and after nerving self, one tentatively whispers “my cylinder (rattle of consumer number) when will it come?”

She/he snaps back “ Aaaj aasakta hai , kal ho sakta hai – agle hafte ho sakta hai”

One, even more hesitantly (any overt aggressiveness can tilt the fragile balance of power) say “ Aaaj bhej do please? Hum dono office jaate hai – doosra khatam hone ko aya hai”
“Cylinder chahiye ya nahin? To phir? “

And one slinks back with ears and tails flattened and quietly hangs up.

The next week is agony. Does one take leave or not? If the cylinder chap comes and goes away full handed, one will be PRETTY much cooking on matchsticks of making fire out of twigs.
But the all important question is WHEN does one take leave? Besides mutters of “I have to stay home because the gaswala chap is coming” somehow have not gone down very well with the boss.

Is it on Monday or Wednesday? And to this complicated algorithm - add a job which involves extensive travel and a spouse’s job which involves late nights and if you are mathematically inclined do those probability thingummy and chances are the twain ( cylinder chaps + cylinder desiring folks) will never meet.

The week passes somehow in an agony of suspense. Next Saturday – again do step 1 and get a curt “aaj ayega”

And one waits. And prays. And runs to the window and peers down. And tries not call the place again. Even husbands and boyfriends have never evoked that much eager anticipation in the heart. Going out of the house of course is out of the question. What if he arrives?

After about six hours of frazzled waiting the doorbell will ring, just as one is dropping off from a heavy hearted, dejected siesta (“he wont come today either”) and one flies to the door.

The prodigal Gas Cylinder has come safely home!