Sunday, June 21, 2015 2 comments

A Trend Setter

The word “wardrobe stylist”   brings to mind images of the famous and the glamorous!! But there are also people who have self styled “wardrobe consultants” with the sole aim of giving the person an image makeover.  My father, at various points in his life has had to suffer such consultants- first in the form of his daughters and now his granddaughter. 

His first image makeover was attempted by a five year old kid –ME! Between me and my friend we used to experiment with his once thick shock of hair tying it with ribbons and rubber bands.  He was a trainee hairdresser’s delight, sitting quietly on a chair while we stood behind him on stools tying up his hair. I think he allowed us at least one hour of this experiment before pulling it all off. 
As I grew older I tried desperately to get him to wear bell bottom trousers which were the rage of the 70s. But he continued to wear what he always did –trousers that were timeless in their style. They were generally black, grey, dark brown or navy blue. The shirts were invariably white, off white or light blue  with muted stripes or checks. Depending on the weather they were either half or full sleeved. His sweaters were grey or navy blue.   He has never been known to buy shirts that are “readymade”. They were all stitched by a certain “Saha Tailors” in Kolkata. He has these shirts with him even today and anytime that he needs to have a new one stitched he gives out the “Saha Tailors” one as the “Namoona”( Specimen) !  

A generally accommodating man in all respects, he is most obstinate when it comes to his dressing.  I remember my mother once suggesting to him to try a “Safari Suit” to which he retorted that he did not want to look like a “Marwari Business man”.  But he did make some concession later on when he started tucking in his full sleeved shirts!

Despite his fixed sense of style, we, his image consultants never really gave up!   I once managed to convince him to let me dye his graying hair. But I guess I botched up the assignment rather badly ( I think I also dyed a bit of his scalp along with his thinning hair) because he never let anyone touch his hair again. Nature took its own course as the root of this controversy ( the hair) came off its roots over the years. 

Image result for rk laxman common manPost retirement Appa had his own image makeover.  He now sports a look that is a cross between R.K.Lakshman’s Common man and an aging Gandhian! He has switched completely to khadi kurtas. During the day when he is outdoors on some errand he sports a cap. He has actually developed a bit of a cap fetish (akin to our CM’s shoe fetish).  And he has also started sporting what he calls “Goggles” !!!  Add the jhola that he has taken to carrying and the picture of an eccentric genius is complete! 

For me, this is the end of my career as his stylist. I know, I can do nothing to this image!! It is beyond me!  But his younger daughter and his granddaughter continue to try. 

My sister had some unexpected success when she managed to get him to wear a pair of Reeboks with this pant- kurta outfit – a startling combination of  products from the swadeshi  and market economy! The daughter tried to take this “Brand Equity” a step further. She decided he needed branded underwear.   
After being bullied into accepting the fact that he actually did need some new underwear he agreed to  try something “different” in  this department. Accompanied by his granddaughter he went to a jockey showroom to buy them.  He was aghast when the salesman told him that he needed to buy an entire set of three “jetties” (underwear) and not just one from that set!!  

Image result for cartoons of old men wearing sunglasses“I don’t need three at one go” he had grumbled. But he had underestimated the power of the bully who had gone shopping with him. So he came back with a set of three undies together. 

However the man has his own way of dealing with this “extravagance”.  During our last visit to his place my daughter pointed out that “Tata” was wearing only one of the underwear from that box. He intended to take out the next one only when this was worn out! Meanwhile it was his old and faded VIPs that reigned.  The way he held forth on the quality of their elastic, one would wish that the manufacturers of VIP underwear could have heard. It was certainly the sort of stuff that they would want any brand ambassador to speak !

Despite the so called eccentricity in the way he dresses, I must say I admire the way he has evolved his own sense of style.  A  friend who ran into him  on the road a few months ago called me back and told me how “smart” my father looked as he walked briskly down the road. Though I was very tickled at the use of the word  “smart”  to describe the way he looked, I guess it is his confidence and complete lack of concern about “being with the trend” that stands out!

My daughter often tells me in her moments of exasperation that I am getting to be as eccentric as my father. May be.. but I do not think that is bad.  He has handed down to us a sense of individuality that I cherish.  He has taught us to be who we want to be and not what the world expects us to be..! 

For a man of his generation, that is a big lesson to pass down to daughters which makes him in every way a very "Uncommon man" - a  “Trend setter”actually !
Monday, June 15, 2015 5 comments


I remember my neighbor telling me about “booking a seat” for her son in an Engineering college. While it does sound a bit curious to describe it so, I think it captures the reality in the best possible way! 
For the past one month we have had the feeling of waiting at a railway/bus station for this train/ bus called “college education” to stop by into which our daughter could be accommodated. 

Just as one experiences the impact of our huge population while trying to get into a train similarly does one also feel the numbers while trying to apply to a college for admission. 

But unlike the train or bus situation where ability to get in depends on whether you can buy the ticket or push yourselves into an unreserved coach, in this case it is a bit more complicated.  

For starters there is the question of academic merit.  With school education in India being governed by various state , central and other boards it becomes very subjective.  The engineering, medical and law schools conduct their own set of common entrance tests based on which decision regarding admissions are made. 

However when it comes to “non professional” courses like a general Bachelor’s degree in Arts ,Commerce or Science the question of establishing “academic merit” becomes highly subjective. Given the quality of education across the various states and the curriculum across various educational boards, it is difficult to compare based on the scores a students might have got in their XIIth standard exam. However it is this system of comparing apples and oranges that one has to deal with if one wants to get into a college in India. Though some of the private universities have established their own entrance test systems  for even these “non technical” or “non professional” courses, in general the apple and orange system is the one that prevails!  And god forbid if you are a mango or an apple in orange land !! You will not even be acknowledged as a fruit!

But college education today is not an aspiration. It is a basic requirement. So we decided to apply in colleges within and outside the city of Chennai (where we live) in order to improve our strike rate in terms of securing admission . Each city college I must say brings its own unique set of challenges.

Chennai colleges on the face of it appear to be “High tech” - except that the technology sucks at the back end! As a person who has spent two decades working on social research I must say that I shudder when I see the type of questions and the length of the application form. One of the things that we learn in designing questionnaires is that one has to be keep it simple and short. But obviously the persons who have designed the Chennai college forms have not heard about that! There are questions about blood group, parent’s income ( which incidentally is an open ended question and not a multiple choice close ended one), caste, religion etc. You wonder how they are going to sort through these long questions and arrive at a “short list”!!! But you tell yourself that it is not your concern and apply anyway ( clicking options that you only hope are what you think they are). As you get ready to pay for the application  on the online application portal– you are flummoxed when you find that some of the payment gateways do not seem to open for many types of credit cards. Our experience in application tells us that IOB payment gateways pose the maximum problem on that score. 

Anyway, once you have somehow managed to make the payment, some colleges expect you to take a print out of the application form and post it to them!!! “Why is it then called online application?” asks the prospective student! There is one college in Chennai that expects you to take a Demand Draft from a bank, enter the details, submit online and post the acknowledgement slip along with the DD to them! 

I only wish I had been as resourceful as some of the dads with open laptops I saw when we went to submit the forms. I presume they filled the forms online, submitted them, copied the submitted form on a flash drive, got it printed, signed and submitted – all at one go!  Wow!!!  One learns all the time !

Coming to Bombay University colleges- the first thing that my daughter and I realized is that we both needed to have a middle name. While she does fulfill this criterion, there is a hitch- her middle name is not her father’s first name! I on the other hand do not have a middle name and my surname is different from that of my husband’s!! But despite these challenges around nomenclature, we managed to have it  submitted online. A very good friend helped us get an application form from an affiliated college of our choice using the acknowledgement slip of the submitted online application.

Moving on now to the Sultanate of “Cutoffs” – The Delhi University! The form was simpler and easy to submit. But we still do not know how we will go about applying to the individual colleges affiliated to it. So we went ahead and applied to two minority institutions  affiliated to the Delhi University that had their own system of application and screening. The forms were very easy to fill and for the first time I felt that one of those two college was actually trying to get relevant information and attempting to get to know the applicant better. I can now understand why it is considered to be one of the best colleges in this country! But when it came to payment we faced a similar hitch as in a Chennai college. The payment form was eerily similar to the other minority run institution in Chennai that we were struggling with online payment.  I was by now sure the systems design had been outsourced to the same vendor. We made two attempts and it did not go through. However at the third attempt we managed to pay and obtain an acknowledgement. 

Thankfully we did not have to experience Calcutta University. A friend tells me that obtaining an application form there is actually like boarding that crowded bus ( or a railway unreserved compartment) ! Having spent the first seventeen years of my life in the City of Joy I can completely believe that. 

I am relieved now that we are past that application stage. She has made it to a good institution where she has been accepted after being tested using methodologies that were thorough and relevant to the course. The apple-orange-mango issues of the XIIth standard marks did not figure. The testing standards were objective and uniform. The communication from the institution was consistent and the technology options efficient.  I am happy that besides the course work, efficiency is also a value system that this institution will inculcate in her.

There are times when I regret  that we do not have another child. But this one time I am with my husband when he says “ Are you out of your mind? Imagine putting them through school and college”.  I don’t think school was too much of a problem but I certainly do not think I can go about applying for college admission again!