Wednesday, February 29, 2012 16 comments

HARD TO SAY GOODBYE


Today one of my close friends at work left the organization after twenty two years of service. I guess, it still hasn’t sunk in because I am at the moment preoccupied with something else.  But I know it will hit me slowly over the course of the next month, when like the creature of habit that I am, I might  run into his cabin angry, annoyed or bugged about something (as I usually do) expecting to “ventilate”! I am going to miss those witty comments and the way he used humor to ease a situation. I am wondering with whom am I going to fiercely argue next about my faith in Dr. (clean) Manmohan Singh? And then who is going to tease me about my long list of “friends” in the organization.. or scoff  at my news from the “grape vine”!

 As a person who has been with an organization for twenty two years, I am not sure how he must be coping with this sudden change in his life! Our work becomes such an integral part of our lives that sometimes it is difficult to imagine life without it. But work can never compensate for a family – so when work takes us away from our loved ones then it becomes a difficult choice. This was the case with him. Poor man, he had a “weekend” family life! Finally he made the logical choice of “semi retirement” and decided to go home. But working with him for the last four years was such a pleasure!

I remember seeing him for the first time in the “server room”- an IT whiz he unfortunately did not look like your typical IT professional- more like a middle aged naxalite ( complete with a beard and a red shirt!).  Somebody had just sent me a list of “sardar jokes” as a forward and I was dying to share it with someone. I decided to try my luck with the “naxalite”. ( I guess I must have been taking a real risk because he could have been a sardar minus a turban. But what is life without some risks?) I called out to him and told him to come and read the jokes on my screen. An absolute gentleman- he came when summoned and joined me in laughing at those jokes.  I  then realized that  I did not know what  his name was! So I asked. When I heard who he was, I was sort of intimidated a bit because  as one of the newcomers I had heard about him through the office “grapevine” and he was supposed to be THE IT WHIZ!!! And that was the beginning of a wonderful friendship!

Both of us shared many things  in common- the most important one being the fact that we were fans of an absolutely superb boss ( though I guess the boss was more fond of him than he was of me ). The team those days in 2007 was one to die for! We used to work together, fight with each other and then really enjoy our breaks from work! Despite being  one of the few women on that largely male team, I never felt out of place  and managed to enjoy it all the while  ignoring   that annoying “male bonding”!

Organizations often think that only women can be sensitive to women’s needs and therefore HR functions are best performed by women. But my friend completely disproved that! I have found him more sensitive than any woman to issues of women- whatever it may be! He had a natural flair for HR – all staff members felt most comfortable with him and his conflict resolution skills were phenomenal! I guess he also faced some of the most peculiar issues when it came to solving conflicts- there were some hilarious situations that perplexed us but which he handled with aplomb!

On  a more personal level, we shared a rapport around Secunderbad – the lesser known twin of Hyderabad-  a place where both of us had grown up. His sisters and mine had studied in the same school and my former school principal’s husband had been his boss once upon a time in another organization! A terribly detested class teacher of mine in class 12  I found out  recently is an aunt of his! We used to talk about the days when life was bearable and nice around the twin cities –before the days of Cyberabad that is…!!!

An pillar to lean on when anyone was in trouble- I was so touched when he came to see my mother in the hospital after her by pass surgery!


We both share a love for music but of different types – he is more of a western music person while I am your typical Bollywood music fan. We did find common ground around R.D. Burman . I learnt to appreciate jazz after listening to some of the music that he had. It is actually amazing the collection that he has – it is enough to run a radio station! I introduced him to Carl Muller and I think he loved that style of writing.

It is not often that we find friends at our work place. But when we do work becomes enjoyable and one does not have to say OGIM or TGIF! Though I have been lucky with regard to finding friends, I have been unlucky in having them around only for a short time around me.  He is the third friend at my work place who is moving out of my orbit.

But I am glad that he is finally going home. I admire the way he was able to manage life like this for more than four years..  

Here’s wishing you luck my friend in whatever you want to do –even if it is emus that you want to raise! Even if you forget Tamil don’t forget those interesting swear words you had learnt in your conflict resolution exercises ( if you write a book on management you know which episode to quote!) !!

Take care and God bless you!






Thursday, February 23, 2012 17 comments

MA, MERI MA, MERI MA MAMA!


Twenty years ago whenever you heard the hero of a Hindi film say “Ma” you knew immediately what to expect.- a lady in a white sari, coughing away and working her sewing machine. The mother in question was almost always played by Nirupa Roy who had perfected the long suffering mother’s  expression  over the years that she was mother to all those middle heroes like Amitabh, Shashi, Shatrughan etc. She was this woman who had foregone a lot in her life to bring up her son so that he could either announce in his introductory scene that he had passed  his BA with a “first class first” or become a angry young man seeking vengeance!  There were others before her  but no one could  really  beat Nirupa Roy at this !

Over the years there were some new faces that portrayed this mother – Nutan and Waheeda Rahman being some of them. But Nutan as a mother often did more than work on a sewing machine, she was usually a widow  with two sons- one who was actually not hers but that of her husband’s mistress and another who was her own. As a good “bharatiya nari” she had forgiven her husband bringing into her life the son of the “other woman” ( after the death of both her husband and the other woman) , giving him as much love as her own son. Her son ofcourse was the “bad boy” among the two and she lived with the turmoil of having to deal with that – remember “Main Tulsi Tere Angan ki” and “Naam”?  But yes, she kept that image alive – white sari and a grey wig.

But somewhere along the way towards the end of the 1980s the image of the mother changed. The first actor to portray this changed role of a mother was Reema Lagoo in “Ashiqui” where she was single mother who worked  in an office( asking her son Rahul Roy to remember to pay the electricity bill)  and then  of course  was “Maine Pyar kiya”. The interesting change in both these cases was not just in the physical appearance of the mother ( she was well dressed, looked good etc) but the portrayal of her relationship with her son. She was not this dependent creature who was overcome with emotion when  her son got his “naukri” and asked her to stop working because he would look after her. Neither was she badgering him post “naukri” to bring her a “bahu” so she could retire from her responsibilities. She was more of a friend to her son, his confidante  teasing him often about the girl who he was interested in, encouraging him in wooing her, sometimes conspiring with the girl in question to help the relationship reach its natural conclusion. I absolutely adore the “Antakshari  scene in “Maine Pyaar Kiya”  where you actually see this fun mom- something we have not seen earlier on the Indian screen.

However my favourite on screen mom is Ratna Pathak in “Jane Tu. “where she plays mother to Imran Khan. She is your absolutely ordinary 21st century mom wearing track pants at home and asking her son to make breakfast on a weekend. She is friends with his friends and he discusses his girl friends with her. She has opinions about his relationships but prefers not to discuss them with him. She converses in English and is obviously well educated.

I find it very interesting how this portrayal of the mother on screen has over the years followed the changes in society.  In India, a mother is almost treated like a “goddess” ( though it is another matter what she undergoes in real life). People speak of motherhood, and mother in very respectful tones. There is this thing about a mother being able to do anything for her children – which is true but in the process I think somewhere our film makers had  turned her into a sad creature!  She was desexed and made to mouth very clichéd dialogues and almost made into some sort of an object whose sole mantra in life was “sacrifice”.

Though the  journey from Nirupa to Ratna via Reema shows that we as a society are today more open to looking at the mother as a real person engaged in more realistic pursuits there are some subtle changes particularly around her appearance that are interesting to note. She has not just discarded her white sari and grey wig, she actually looks glamorous!. The perfect example of this is of course Hema Malini in “Baghban”

If films have changed over the years advertisements are not going to be far behind! There is  this ad that I saw recently on TV about an overbearing woman who is shopping for a surprise gift for her son and finds herself without cash or credit card when she reaches the billing counter as a result of which she has to call her son for assistance. The son looks to be in his thirties which presumes that his mom may be in her fifties. But the model playing the mom  in question is very attractive and smartly dressed looking far younger than the fifty plus years that the  ad would have us believe.

I think, I like this trend- the fact that our society is beginning to accept this image of a mother as an attractive person – a woman with her own identity.

 But some may argue that today a pleasing appearance seems to be becoming more and more important and this is what is getting reflected in the image of the mom being portrayed by the media. It has nothing to do with a change in the social perception of the mother and what she stands for in our culture!

While reflecting on the above, I would like to state that it is not appearance that is important today but the spirit and image of youthfulness! People like to look and behave younger than they are and the younger generation seems to want it of their parents – particularly their mothers!

But coming back to the world of films, I think it is time that the changed image of the mother should be used positively to portray a change in values. There is no point if an attractive on screen mother still continues to celebrate “Karva Chauth” albeit dressed glamoursly.( remember Jaya in “Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam”)  I remember this wonderful film “Astitva” where Tabu plays mother to a grown up young man. In the climax not only does she ask her husband some hard questions but also her son. The movie shows her closeness to her son’s fiancée and the mutual respect that both women have for each other as individuals.

And one of the first steps in that direction of changing value systems through the portrayal of the mom  would be to have a new on screen mom-  that of the heroine! We have very few examples of that.  Either the heroine’s mother is a non entity or portrayed as a negative character ( Rohini Hattangadi in “Akele hum akele tum”)

Now that is REALLY sad because even if you have a daughter you are still a mother or is that greatness of motherhood and her sacrifices take on meaning only if they are made for her son?



Friday, February 10, 2012 16 comments

A MOCKERY OF DEMOCRACY

Imagine this scene-  a woman member of a parliament  with her baby tied to a sling around her neck sits through a crucial session  listening to the deliberations and voting on the issues that she believes in, all the while cradling the seven week old baby. Nothing new for most women-it is called multitasking! This was Licia Ranzolli a MEP from Italy who took her baby for a session at Strasbourg. The 35-year-old  was taking advantage of relatively relaxed rules that allow women to take their baby to work with them. Now think of another kind of  “multitasking” that was happening in the Karnataka Assembly this week- three ministers watching porn while the house was discussing issues around drought in northern Karnataka.!

Before I proceed further, I would like to  make this clear- I am not about to make any value judgments about people who watch porn or porn itself !  It is their choice and if they want to watch  it let them do it BUT on their time.  Unfortunately, these fellows not only did it at the time of the Indian people but also right within the building where the business of democracy gets transacted! If it is not outrageous then what is I keep asking myself. Probably the fact that they feel that they have not done anything wrong!

Today I had the opportunity to watch the speaker of the Jharkhand Assembly say on a television channel that had this happened in his house, he would have reprimanded them and let them off with a warning! Wanting  them to resign or be expelled according to him was asking for too much ! My mind goes back to the civics lesson in my daughter’s text book where the duties of the speaker are listed – the most important one among them is about his responsibility of  taking  action against members indulging in “wrongful conduct” Watching porn in the assembly obviously is not a serious matter in Jharkhand or for that matter even in Karnatka!

I was discussing this with a friend  and his take on this was – “This is  just one example of bad behaviour. Our elected representatives have beaten each other up and climbed up on benches wielding microphones and flower pots as weapons in Tamilnadu and Bihar so why are you so surprised”! While I am inclined to agree with him, I still think watching porn inside the assembly while it is in session is probably the heights of disrespect to the institution of democracy! Beating each other up , though equally disgusting serves to disrupt the proceedings and one has to physically put an end to the deliberations. What was happening here was something  more passive but dangerous! It speaks of a decay in the entire institution of democracy!

And imagine the cheek of these fellows- they had the temerity to say that they were watching a woman being raped by some men at a rave party and they wanted to know more about it so they could put an end to it in their state!!! I would,  in turn like to ask them if they were so keen to know about the impact of rape on women they should have asked for a special talk by some feminist group or psychologists!

And all the while, I was wondering where Mr. Pramod Muthalik was?  Probably getting ready to bash up the owners of shops that sell Valentine day cards ( after all it is only next week)! It tells you clearly about a very sick society where women are treated with scant respect while men can get away with anything! Morality as they describe it is only for the women- it is like a rule that I hear now is being imposed in Saudi Arabia that women with “tempting eyes” would be prosecuted if they do not cover them up!!

Anyway, coming back to our friends in Karnataka, is it  surprising that they are not being expelled?  The BJP with its “high moral position” on all matters relating to conduct and culture obviously does not think watching porn  inside the assembly is a serious issue. The way their statements are changing by the hour regarding this incident is shocking!   Nirmala Sitaraman, the BJP spokesperson, an otherwise articulate woman was  initially finding  it difficult to defend these guys on a TV news channel! So today they had the Jharkhand speaker give out different views! I haven’t  been watching much TV( as my daughter is having her mid term tests ) this week, but I am extremely curious to know what Sushma Swaraj’s views on this were? She probably feels that since the porn clips involved foreign women and not the “bharatiya nari”there nothing for her to shout around about !

 Of course, it is not to say that the Congress and the rest are pristine pure. They have indulged in other kinds of crime but probably not inside the assembly or probably have been clever enough not to get caught!

I shudder to think what the founders of Indian democracy would have felt about this! They probably had no rules for this kind of misdemeanor because technology had not progressed enough those days where such activities could be indulged in right inside the assembly/ parliament!

I wonder what kind of example this sets for the youngsters? Next time a school boy is caught with porn inside the classroom he can definitely get away with it. But then, as my father says” These elected representatives can never be a role model for any youngster in this country. When your qualification for standing for election involves the extent of your clout in the neighborhood which simply means your ability to intimidate the people there then how can you hope to be a role model?”

As a citizen of this country, I can only hang my head in shame! The candidates that I have to choose from are likely to range from hooligans, criminals, petty thieves, gangsters, rapists or murders depending on what is the office that they would be contesting for..!!

If this is what democracy is about then I am all for a dictatorship!



(PS: What do you think of this new template? After one year I felt that there was some need for a change)



Tuesday, February 7, 2012 11 comments

A DRINK FOR EVERY MOUTHFUL OF FOOD


When I say the word “drunkard” what is the image that comes to your mind? A man    ( yes, folks, I am sorry to say this but it is gender stereotyped!)  who is unshaven, thin  with blood shot eyes holding a glass in his hand!

Now open  up your mind further and imagine more.. what do you see? A man who spends all his income on drink, a family that is poor in debt and  an abused wife! The images may differ across class but essentially isn’t this the picture that comes to our minds?

Do you think we have wild imaginations?  I don’t think so. I think we are almost spot on! The fact that alcoholism is something that is destructive is very well stated in the Tamil saying “Kudi, kudia kedukum”  ( drink ruins domesticity).  If this saying is true, then why is it that a state government should actively promote sale of liquor? 

The Tamil nadu state marketing corporation limited (TASMAC)  is the single largest unit selling alcohol in the state of Tamil Nadu in India.  TASMAC also includes retail vending units through which liquor is sold. The reasons cited by the government for this large scale sale of liquor is that it can regulate price of liquor and ensure that no body falls sick consuming low quality or spurious liquor!! According to the TASMAC web site (http://tasmac.tn.gov.in)  “Before take over of Retail Vending by TASMAC, the Government Revenue through TASMAC was Rs.2828.09 Crores . It has increased to Rs.6086.95 Crores during the year 2005-06. The additional Government Revenue during 2005-06 was Rs.3258.86 Crores and the growth rate was 115.23%.”TASMAC  is reported  to have clocked revenues of Rs 14965 crores in 2010-11 is expected to close this year at around Rs 17,500-18,000 crores. For each bottle of foreign liquor the government is believed to charge around 58% VAT ( http:// alcoholindia.wordpress.com) !

I have been told informally by a senior economist who used to work for the state planning commission that alcohol sales is the 2nd – 3rd largest source of state revenue- the first being commercial taxes of which a large proportion is again from alcohol sales.

Now look at the other side of things- the Public Distribution System in the state – reported to be one of the best! An article published by THE HINDU  in August states that The Public Distribution System in Tamil Nadu is a success story, in its coverage as well as its pricing. Each family, whether below the poverty line or not, is entitled to 20 kg of rice at Re. 1 a kg.   So, the state is obviously incurring a huge amount of expenditure through food subsidy. The above mentioned article states that the food subsidy through the PDS in Tamilnadu increased from Rs. 734.85 crore during 2003-04, to Rs. 1,017.78 crore in 2004-05, Rs. 1,559.64 crore in 2005-06, Rs. 1,833.02 crore in 2006-07, Rs. 1,961.06 crore in 2007-08, and Rs. 2,795.85 crore in 2008-09. During 2009-10, Tamil Nadu had to enhance the subsidy to Rs. 4,000 crore!

Put the figures around the revenue from alcohol sales along with the food subsidy and there is no difficulty in guessing where the revenue is being spent! The PDS let me tell you is just one example of  subsidized food . There is the noon meal program of schools and the integrated nutrition projects which are all subsidy driven!

Many may say that the government is actually doing good work because they are spending the money earned on welfare schemes. But I have a different take on this!!

Isn’t there some other way to raise revenue? It is like feeding people something poisonous and then treating them with good medicines and medical care and then talking about how much we care!!!

A friend of mine used to joke “What the father pays for a drink in the evening is spent on feeding his kids at the noon meal center the next day!”

One may wonder why this kind of a crazy balance between poison and nourishment? The reasons are quite deep. The state actually started out in the 1970s and 80s with good intentions to address the food security issues. In fact entire election campaigns were around that and the political mandate around access to subsidized food still continues to be a driver around electoral choices ( forget those TVs and mixers folks.. they are just gimmicks!). The state has therefore successfully combated malnutrition!

But what it has not been able to get over, probably  has been this culture of dependence and subsidy that it has created the funding for which requires it to  become tavern owners! And  what is the point of putting the warning  “Alcohol consumption is harmful for health” ? Nothing but sheer hypocrisy!

I have been told by exasperated women in the villages during discussions about how they wished that alcohol would not be so freely available. “ If the government is bent upon ruining our lives then what can we do” ? asked a woman during a meeting in a fishing village in Nagapattinam. I had no answer for it.

There are states like Gujarat which follow the other extreme measure of “Prohibition”! Now that is equally silly because people who want to drink still do –they can buy and sell liquor very easily!

Please note that I am not being judgmental about alcohol consumption. It is quite alright in moderation and if one can finance it! The issue is an ethical one- about bringing all alcohol sales under the control of the state in the name of fair prices so as to earn revenue! It is almost laughable actually- we have fair price shops for groceries and now the government is trying to get “fair price” shops for liquor!

So, next time  someone in Tamil Nadu  tells you in anger that the “tax payers money” is being wasted then please correct them and tell them that it is the “drunkard’s money” that is being wasted! We are not interested in creating a state of entrepreneurs or hard working people. We would like to lazy lumps depending on state subsidy –both for our food and our tipple!

 ( for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Indian denomination of "crore" - 1 crore = 10 million)

 
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