Friday, December 16, 2016

Cut that tree

My father’s neighbour called.

It was a call ostensibly to invite me to his son’s wedding that was to take place next month.

That done he said, “Please tell your father to cut the tree. It may fall on us anytime.”

I was mystified. I asked, “Oh, has the tree been affected? Is it in danger of falling?”

“No,” he said, “But you know, it stands between his house and mine. Now it is December and the leaves are falling. It is always better to cut the tree.”

The tree in question is a Nagalinga, a beautiful old tree, whose flowers have a tiny ‘lingam’ each, ‘protected’ by a many-headed ‘naga’.

“Why should we cut the tree then?” I asked.

His reply foxed me. “Your poor father has to clear the fallen leaves every day.” Unsaid was the fact that the leaves also fell on the roof of his completely built-up to the compound-wall tree-less and cemented enclosure, which constitutes his home.

Why this tree paranoia?

This is not new to me.

My neighbours, where I live, have often forced me to prune the branches of my frangipani, the branches that extend over their drive-way. While I would never cut the tree, we have, from time to time, ‘pruned’ those offending extending branches so that their driveway is not ‘infested’ with leaf-rubbish.

And contrary to the neighbour’s anxious concern, my ‘poor’ father has never once complained of having to sweep up the fallen leaves, despite his advancing age.

I told the neighbour, “We will not cut that tree. It’s because of such tree-cutting that there was a Vardha at all.” And I hung up.
Yes, tree-fall has been the outcome of Vardha’s passing. But is the solution, a mass and indiscriminate tree-cutting, because this may happen again and the trees may fall?

I thought of the oncoming wedding that would surely leave a giant footprint of of plastic and non-biodegradable waste. And I have nothing more to say to him.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Why Puppy refuses to play Pappu

Puppy is my adoptive son. He has a tail, so you guessed it, he is of the canine variety. Puppy is a mature four-years-old and knows his mind. I am his mamma, and I am Indian but that really has no relevance to Puppy’s bent of mind. He is questioning and he is curious, and he will not agree to doing anything against his nature or his will.

Which is why I respect Puppy. Puppy could have been the master of this house. He could have been the Greatest Watchdog ever. He could be growly, gruffy and A Person in Authority. But Puppy knows his mind. He has no illusions about himself. He will not do anything just because mamma wants him to. He will think if I suggest something, his head cocked to one side, his eyes bright and lively with questions. If something does not suit him, he will not think twice about walking back to his mat and curling up on it for his forty winks. Yes, forty, for he is four-years-old.

For example, Puppy does not think he is ‘Youth’. Sometimes, for old times’ sake, I hold a hoop with a biscuit on the other side, and exhort, “Jump Puppy, jump!” Then he looks at me, censure in his deep brown eyes, saying, “Mamma, I am not six months anymore. Give me a break. I will not jump through a hoop, even for a biscuit!”

Then there is the time, when mamma in her infinite wisdom, thinks that Puppy ought to do the social rounds. Take a walk with mamma and a bag of bread, so that lesser dogs can have their day. Suggest it to him, and he growls. “Puppu can do it, not me,” he tells me, “Quit it mamma! I hate that common street dog down the road! He fights with me every time I go on a walk. I am not giving him any bread! You do it if you want to!” That’s honesty for you.

But mamma never learns her lesson, as Puppy knows. Again, her infinite wisdom comes to play as a TV channel walks in, attempting to do a pet story. Mamma, it appears, has arranged for it. There is a dumb interviewer making silly noises intended to attract Puppy but has the opposite effect. He bounds upstairs into the balcony and stands with his paws on the rails, watching the crows noisily circle the nearby tree. Now that’s interesting.

Mamma intervenes, hoping Puppy will see reason. Puppy only looks at me ruefully saying, “Come on Mamma, that’s really too much work.” He pads up the stairs to his jute mat and curls up on it, as the TV anchor, cameraman and producer look on. He then opens one eye. “Mamma,” he says, “I think you should consider interviewing that common street dog instead. He may have plenty to say.”

He then shuts the eye and settles down to snooze.

Puppy has the plot. Pappu still has not.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

THE POLL KITCHEN - Onion Skingh goes on a holiday

Onion Skingh was tired. Today, sitting on the upturned basket that marked his gaddi, he truly felt his age. He decided he needed a break. He turned to the turnip that was running around in circles around his basket in the name of security and said, “Turnturn Skingh, come here!”

Turnturn stopped running and hopped atop the basket.

“Go tell Madame Baingan… er…. Madame Brinjal that I am taking the day off. I need a holiday.”

Turnturn’s jaw dropped. Onion hardly took holidays. Granted, no one really saw him every day really, but everyone knew that he was sitting on top of the basket and running things in the kitchen – at least tried to appeared to. The real power, everyone knew, lay in the vegetable crisper inside the fridge.

Turnturn returned quickly with permission granted. Onion was relieved. He hopped down from the basket and rolled to the bowl where all the other members of his family lay. He called out to his wife, “Gunion, O Gunion! Let’s go out somewhere today.”

But Gunion was having a good time with her family members, playing cards. “Oh, ji! I am bijee ji… You go.”

Onion was disappointed. It was lonely on top of the basket. He had been hoping that Gunion would come. But now… he was alone, alone… It was alone at the top. Reflecting sadly on the situation that Time had placed him in, he hopped out of the window and rolled to the tar road outside the compound of the house he lived in. No one saw him leave. Not even the cook.

Poor Onion… alone and isolated on top of the upturned basket in the kitchen for years, no one told him that the world outside was not so safe. He missed being grabbed by a passing woman, narrowly dodged the wheel of a passing car, was nosed about by a dog that thought he was a ball till he found the opportunity to escape…! His heart thundering(not a good sign at this age), he rolled on till he found a shady spot beneath a stone near a tree. Gasping for breath, he lay there… until a drunken man lying on the shade of the very same tree spotted him and grabbed him. The man must have been hungry for he lifted Onion to bite into him skin and all, when his wife, who had been looking for him came by and grabbed Onion.

“Oho! Onions are selling at Rs.80 a kg and you want to enjoy it alone!!! You drunken lout! I am going put this in to a subzi I am making for the kids. Now come home immediately.”

A helpless Onion, firm in her grasp, was taken to the hovel which passed for her home. Three scruffy children sat there fighting with each other and playing some game on the mud floor. “If only Bir Raj were here,” thought Onion, “He would have made best use of this opportunity.”

He missed the media at this moment. He could imagine the headlines if they caught him, Onion Skingh, in the hovel of this wretchedly poor woman: ‘Onion breaks bread with Poorvathy Devi! Spends night feeding her kids!”
Sighing, for Poorvathy still held him tightly in her grasp, Onion watched the kids play. Suddenly the kids spotted Onion in their mother’s fist.

“An onion! Maa… you are cooking onion today. I get to taste it first!” said one.

“No, I get the first taste!” said the other.

In the scuffle, one of the children caught hold of Onion and threw him far… He could hear the family scream their loss as he sailed through the air and landed… outside the gate of the home where his kitchen was situated.

Greatly relieved, he rolled in, hopped back through the kitchen window, to the kitchen counter where the upturned basket lay. He was happy to be back where he belonged.

He was never going to take a holiday ever again.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

THE POLL KITCHEN – No Baingan Tonite

Onion Skingh sat on his gaddi in the kitchen, struggling not to roll off. He had upturned a basket to make for a high seat, so that the other vegetables could not hop up to sit next to him. He was on an all time high, but keeping position, as we all know, is a very difficult task. Besides, he was round as well.

Onion was also a bit worried about his appearance today. Some dry skin was peeling off, and he was rather particular about looking tidy. He was not looking so fresh, he felt. After all, his job was to keep a stiff upper lip and vegetate. He sniffed a bit – he hoped he was not giving off an odour due to the peeling of the skin. For today, Madame Brinjal was coming in for a meeting.

Onion was a bit uneasy. His price was at an all time high, which meant that it distanced him from everyone. He smelt a conspiracy. On one hand Madame Brinjal assured him that the pricey ‘ness’ was to keep his flag flying high. On the other, there was Bir Raj Brinjal, the heir apparent, who was behaving like he wanted to make onion chutney.

Bir Raj was a bit of an irritant. Onion hoped he wasn’t coming into the meeting. His chest felt a bit fluttery already. The fridge suddenly opened and there was Madame Brinjal, closely followed by a few beans, two-three carrots, one cucumber, a gaggle of ladies fingers, a turnip and a bitter gourd. One or two smaller brinjals tried to follow Madame but she deftly kicked them back into the vegetable crisper and shut the fridge door.

“Aah, there you are Onion,” she smiled, her purple skin crinkling. “Hope you are keeping power properly.”

“Madame! Yes, of course... Do hop up. I am keeping this basket warm for you and Bir Raj. Has he come?”

“Bir? No, no. He is sleeping in. There was some Currynival last night Onion. And Bir organised it... He is tired.”

“Yes Madame, Bir is indeed a shining star.”

“Stop that Onion! Now tell me, what’s today’s menu?”

“Ahem... er... it’s kichidi for breakfast and parathas for lunch with ladies finger. Then, for dinner I thought, rotis with brinjal chutney...”

Madame looked up sharply. “What do you mean Onion?”

“Er... I meant Tomato Chutney Madame!”

“Where are the Tomatoes?” asked Madame sharply. “Have we finished them off or what?”

Before Onion could reply, there was a shrill yell, “Nonsense, nonsense!”

It was Bir Raj, and he was holding aloft a rather shrivelled and dry looking onion.
Onion Skingh shivered. He had a premonition of things to come.

“Mamma! Make way!” He leapt on the upturned basket and with the force of the velocity of his movement, kicked at Onion Skingh.

The sharp and fierce blow sent the elderly Onion rolling off the basket straight into the dustbin. Bir then placed the shrivelled onion atop the basket, next to Madame. Flashbulbs popped as the media captured this unexpected elevation.

“What did I tell you Mamma, about velocity? See, I brought this onion from the dumps, and now your Onion is in the dustbin.”

“Bir! What are you doing?”

“This is a poor onion Mamma, and I used velocity to kick the old Onion out and elevate this poor onion...”

“By Jupiter, are you mad?” Madame’s lips purpled and quivered. “Put him back in the dumps, we need him there you fool. Without him in the dumps, what will you have to talk about? And have Onion Skingh picked up from the dustbin and brought back up.”

“But Mamma, you told me...”

“I have told you a lot of things, now do as you are told.”

Well, to cut things short, Onion Skingh is back on top of the basket alongside Madame and they are cooking up a new menu.

Bir, meanwhile, has taken the onion back to the dumps and lovingly put him back in a special hole dug in the mud. He has promised to visit him again.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Of cartoons and clowns

Aseem Trivedi is young, brash and angry.

His artwork is direct and confrontationist and no less obnoxious than a poster with the Ashoka lions, each morphed with heads of national politicos - that is currently going viral on Facebook.

He is young, he has a point of view, and like angry young people his age, he is vocal and strident about it and may not just listen to another point of view.

So here is the young man with ideas and a pen, who has given expression to his thoughts. Not many people actually saw his drawings, let alone knew he existed even a few days ago.

Today, thanks to the sedition charge, he has been catapulted to the national political arena, and is telling every television channel who want his bytes, his thoughts on ‘freedom of expression’.

Life could not get more comical or more surreal.

Before talent can hone or talent can mature, here is this young man who is convinced his ‘cartoons’ are bang on target.

Perhaps they are, for no middle-class Indian who views them would turn away – they reflect the anger perfectly. Very typically, every angry Indian is hoping to find someone who would stick as the poster boy of an ‘anti corruption’ movement, someone who would put themselves forward to reflect their collective ire. So far though, no poster boy has sustained the course.

Marie Antoinette may never have historically said, “...let them eat cake.” But this government is saying it, again and again, bumbling into ludicrous ‘cartoon’ situations.

How else will a young man with views that many young people in this country may have, find platforms to vent one after another? – it’s only thanks to a sedition charge; and thanks to the hunger for drama rather than news that drives television today.

I have spent today, my 9pm daily dose of the ‘news’, channel hopping, hoping to find an Aseem-free channel. He makes for great television, even out-shouting Arnab at the mike. Forcing a galled Morparia to mutter, “If he continues to draw this way, two years down the line no one will look at his cartoons.”

It is a sign of the times that in a time when a bill advocates promotion on the basis of reservation and not merit, that it does not take talent to take centre stage.

The political class has first to clear its court of jesters and find its misplaced statesman or two. They have entertained the country long enough.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Stuck in the middle

By all guesstimates, the middle class probably constitutes 30-40% of our population in India. The middle class is the one that consumes all media – yet, peruse the papers, watch television... other than sporadic outbursts on inflation and price rice, this voter community is largely a silent mass. This is simply because they are so busy working to earn their living, battle through the everyday business of budgeting so that they can live ‘decent’, honourable lives.

This middle class battles through great hurdles in every sphere of life, be it education, healthcare or housing or just living. This class also aspires and is the target for a majority of advertising that happens. Having said that, who really represents their concerns?

Anna Hazare was bang on when he touched upon the core hurdle that this class faces. But now, he is an icon with feet of clay. He showed the middle class hope and a light, then went on to dash the very same hope and put out the light faster than fast.

The middle class educates itself, saves something of its earnings, travels abroad to study, travels abroad on vacation, consumes, connects and... wishes to stay away from anything that could disturb its placid life.
Unable to handle the roughness of corruption and conversation on ground level, this is the class that is active on blogs and twitter, that thinks, converses and has gone virtual.

For a media that is largely disconnected from ground zero, the horror stories that poverty generates is TRP ratings, forgetting that for the majority in poverty – these are not one off stories – this is the story of each of their lives, one mirroring the other with no way out.

It is easy from the confines of an air conditioned studio, to exclaim on the drunken husband biting wife and child; or of the farmers taking their own lives tired of the circle of debt that cannot be ridden.

With no efforts to reclaim the promised claims of education for the poor, no efforts to create the beginnings of the easing of corruption, the political class is now creating totalitarian spaces forgetting that come elections – the unpredictable could happen.

The current generation in their forties now has consumed like never before, aspired and has allowed in some sense, a personal ‘greed’ to fuel their success stories. Perhaps this is why, in this quest for better lives, better homes, better lifestyles, better cars, better brands... the list is endless... the generation in question allowed itself to be swept along without scruples, into the new era, even while several demons raised their heads in this journey.

These demons now threaten their next generation, many of who eschew this vicarious quest for ‘success’ and are treading new paths.

But the biggest demon that has been created in the last two decades has been the political class, who have in some sense walked this path alongside the success stories and who have exploited the means to the end.

The change may be beginning – many cannot see the big picture as yet, but there are little pockets of thought that are growing bigger as communities catch on. Media has just to catch the change correctly to create the big wave.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Taking the easy way out

The RTE this year had the Supreme Court ruling that ‘all schools, except unaided minority institutions, will have to admit at least 25% students from economically weaker sections in the neighbourhood’. This on paper is a fine thought – the government in its complete inability to administer its existing ‘government’ school system is taking the easy way out – ‘reserving’ 25% for underprivileged kids in neighbourhood schools.

So what are they going to do to the government schools? Are they going to be run in the same inefficient way for decades to come? (Check out Will simple basic education the way it should be, be denied to children who, despite the 25% reservation, will not have access to these ‘neighbourhood’ schools?00 Schools today are crunch spaces, with little seats and more applications than admission space. While the RTE as envisaged is going to squeeze these already ‘gold’ seats, it’s certainly not long term vision on the part of the government or the Supreme Court, if their goal is to see every child born in India to have access to education. You can also read a point of view at this link

Let’s face it, there is a paucity of vision, will and of course, discipline. The vision to actually understand and utilise the urban and rural wealth in its people – the mass of the population lost in politics and political manoeuvring. Why is not there a concerted effort to restructure and rebuild the government school system? If the government schools were well-structured, much of the middle class would find relief as well, without the pressure of acquiring a school seat by hook or crook. The RTE in its true spirit, would find its feet as it should.

In every field, the government (not this particular one especially, but successive ones), have shown themselves incapable of running institutions. Be it an airline, a healthcare system, an education system... there is nothing we can show that we have built for the common people as a nation post independence, that has grown in stature and spirit. Most of what we rely on are legacies of the British that we have piled bricks on – even the law is a legacy and many of its edicts have no bearing on the ethos of modern India.

As one wise chap who should be doing things to make things work said on TV(news as entertainment of course), ‘private school premises should be thrown open to children in the neighbourhood as play areas’. What was and is this gentleman and his ilk doing when real estate is gobbling up space like there is no tomorrow, government or no government? Why is it that every one of our cities, growing at terrific paces, sees no effort by any governing system to plan for play areas for children? Without that planning or that effort, or the mere execution of that job, the easiest thing to do is to pick on someone else to transfer the pain to.

A good idea lost in carbonated bubbles

A new ad to make the rounds on television shows a group of young boys on dry arid terrain, enjoying an uninhibited game of cricket.

The voice over tells you that they may not have a coin to toss(they toss a Coke bottle top instead) sport footwear, etc. etc., but that this is enjoyment of the game of cricket for the sheer pleasure of playing cricket.

The visuals are captivating, the children featured even more so. Smiling faces of your average boy on the street, obviously the poor and the ‘underprivileged’. The visuals are in sepia.

Cut. The shot moves to Sachin wearing bright colours of the brand, new hairstyle and all, guzzling down a bottle of Coke, which the aforementioned boys of course, cannot even afford, thanks to their lack of even a coin to toss.

Insensitive? Yes. Lack of empathy. Yes, yes.

My pleasure in the visuals of the boys playing cricket has been completely wiped out. What a waste of a good idea.