27 June, 2013

The Uttarakhand Tragedy - A political lesson in disaster "mis"management !

(Pic courtesy : manjul.com via Google) 

(Pic courtesy : mysay.in via Google)

The death toll (the official figure) stands at 800 plus and is expected to cross 1000.  People are still stranded in Uttarakhand, awaiting evacuation.  Words fail and one can only try and imagine what people are going through right now.   Not to mention loss of property, livelihood – all of which the government officials will, if they act like they normally do, write off as collateral damage.  The IAF has been exemplary in its non-stop rescue efforts and their actions have been nothing short of commendable.
Everybody agrees on one thing.  Uttarakhand was a disaster waiting to happen.  While the initial reaction would be to blame natural elements, if one were to delve a bit deeper, one would realise that it is the huge scale of deforestation that Uttarakhand that has probably shifted the ecological balance.  The major cause of this unprecedented disaster is said to be the collapse of a huge glacial dome, the Kedar Dome.  This, combined with a cloudburst and massive deforestation that has denuded the slopes of Uttarakhand (to pave way for constructing buildings, hotels and such) set off the disaster, pretty much like dominoes falling with unerring precision. (Even though nature does sound warning bells through natural disasters, protecting nature, protecting the environment seems to be on no one's political agenda.  It is a sad fact, but indeed a true one.)
When disaster strikes, what the whole country and especially people in the disaster struck regions  count on, is disaster relief.  People who are at the helm of power are expected to take charge, take control of the reins and get around to making decisions that set in motion a series of disaster relief measures. 
Take our two Prime Ministerial candidates, for instance.  On the one hand we had Rambo Modi who claimed to have rescued 15000 people on Tata Innovas and on the other hand we had Playboy Rahul Gandhi who was celebrating his birthday in exotic Spain. 
Modi’s feat is nothing short of amazing, actually.  He, or rather his fleet of people, manage to rescue 15000 people over a day (in Innovas, mind you) while a major portion of the armed forces in India have managed to rescue about 40000 in a space of 10 days with resources like helicopters at their disposal.  No wonder our Rambo Modi is thumping on that 56 inch chest of his.  Oh, before the Modi supporters come after me with stakes and pitchforks for having vilified “the best possible leader India could have”, let me state here that I do know that Modi has been very modest about having pulled off such a massive rescue effort.  But then again, he has his public relations agency to do all the chest beating on his behalf.  Vibrant Gujarat, which shows Rambo Modi In all his megalomaniac glory, too is said to be this PR agency’s handiwork. APCO NaMo Namaha !!
Let’s look at the other candidate for the Prime Minister’s seat.  The Crown Prince a.k.a Rahul Gandhi.  He was away in Spain celebrating his birthday when all hell broke loose in Uttarakhand.  Heard of Nero playing the flute while Rome burnt ?  Well, we have a modern era Nero here.  No complications or confusing signals here though.  At a time of crisis too, he did what he does best – disappeared.  Even the convoy which is said to be carrying relief items for people stranded in Uttarakhand was held back because Sonia Gandhi waited for her son to get back from Spain.  She even went to the extent of “flagging off” the convoy.  They made sure the media was out there, in full force, capturing these moments on video and pictures.  Someone correct me if I’m mistaken, was this supposed to be  a Grand Prix or a popularity contest.  Am I missing something here ?
These are the two candidates who are slated to contest for the Prime Minister’s post next year ? 
As if these parodies were not enough to turn people’s stomachs in utter revulsion and disgust, yesterday a bunch of politicians almost came to blows – all because they were all trying to claim credit for the relief work being undertaken and carried out in Uttarakhand. 
Elections are, in principle, supposed to bring into power, governments that are responsible and accountable.  In India (as well as many other countries in the world), this has turned into a joke.  What democratic elections have done in India is produced an extremely cossetted class of politicians who flaunt rules with impunity and the only thing they zealously guard are the privileges and the perks that their position affords them.
The privileged class routinely abuse laws which are seemingly beyond them.  On a larger scale, what this points towards is their utter contempt towards the democracy and the associated legalities that our constitution has officially put in place, on paper.  Yet, they get elected over and over again in the elections, presumably by the aam junta a.k.a common man.  A perfect example is Narendra Modi who was re-elected as Chief Minister of Gujarat despite his complicity with regard to the massacre of Muslims in the state. 
Like I said in one of my earlier posts, what the population in India is faced with today is an increasingly tattered moral panorama and a lack of choice or rather, a shrinking spectrum of choice.
I wonder what patriots like Bhagat Singh and Mangal Pandey would be thinking right now, if they could.  Would they be wondering what exactly it was that they gave up their lives for, without a second thought ?  This, for sure, was not the India they envisioned when they willingly walked to the gallows and courageously embraced death with a smile. 
I wouldn’t be surprised if Rabindranath Tagore is sitting up there, in some corner on an armchair, silently contemplating, his wise eyes steeped in sadness, shoulders stooped and bent with all the weight, burden he’s sure to be carrying on his shoulders, writing the lyrics to a song that sounds more and more like “Bharat Bachaao (God Save India)”.

26 June, 2013

Want to know more about the USA ? Try this new edutainment game ....

(pic courtesy : carmensandiego.com via Google)

I remember a very popular CD-ROM from a decade or so back, maybe more.  It was called “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego ?”.    
I’ve been informed by able sources that a game making company has already secured the copyright to producing a more recent, more modern era microchip which is said to be way better than the erstwhile Carmen Sandiego CD-ROM.  This new chip is said to be a very effective tool in teaching children Geography but it does not stop there.  It is also said to be equally effective in teaching people facts about many countries around the world.  “Facts hitherto unknown to people” is what their advertisements claim.  Borrowing a line from Star Trek, the makers of this chip have said that “this game chip will take you where no one has gone before”. 
The manufacturers of this chip have apparently run into big problems because the game on this chip is said to explain to people, in a very humorous, witty, funny yet insightful way about how all their electronic communication is being monitored.  You’ve got Twitter, Facebook, emails – oh yeah !  we’ve seen it all, we’ve read them all” proclaims the advertisement, which feature a few models, some of whom bear a rather suspicious resemblance to the top guns in the US administration.   
The advert for this chip (which the US has challenged as being inciting) claims to show the world (of course in a funny, comical way) how US politicians look when they are caught with their pants down.  The advert has been catchy enough for millions of copies of this chip to be pre-ordered well before its official release date.  I mean, US politicians being “exposed” and the current US government being unmasked and being laid open as “a bunch of hypocrites” is enough to make 80 percent (maybe more) of the world salivate, to be honest. 
If countries like, for example, India or say some of the South American countries were involved and if there was an expose labelling the politicians in those countries hypocrites, trust me when I say no one would even give the news or the chip a second look.  Everybody knows what exactly to expect from these countries.  But the fun is always manifold when countries with a distinct “holier than thou” attitude are caught in situations that embarrass them to no end.  That is exactly what this chip promises to do.  Small wonder then that sales are absolutely shooting through the roof.
The advert that has got the company into trouble has to do with the United States of America.  If the advert had probably mentioned Turkey or Spain or some such country, well, the response would have been much more muted.  A couple of lawsuits threatened and that would have been it, I guess.  Because you see, countries like Spain or Turkey have their own problems to deal with and they make no bones about it.  The whole world knows of the deficits facing these countries and that there is unrest in Turkey.
If the advert had made fun of Middle Eastern Countries, they could have been resting on their laurels by now because they would have had the whole-hearted support of the USA.  If the game cover had said “watch Syria burn and watch Syrians suffer under the current regime” they would have had the blessings of the rather enlightened zen-like US administration.  If the game cover had said “watch people in North Korea suffer because of the current regime”, they would have had an equally enthusiastic, unequivocal backing of the USA because these are things the US Administration keeps announcing almost on a daily basis, thumping and beating their chests like one of Jane Goodall’s chimpanzees and crying foul at the impunity with which these countries are flouting human rights regulations. 
But the makers of this game chip have indeed made what can be considered an extremely colossal mistake – a cardinal mistake even.  They put the USA squarely on their covers and threatened to expose “certain truths” about the US Administration that the US government did not deem necessary to tout or flaunt.  Oh !  It is not that the US government does not have problems of its own.  It does, big time !!  But then again, the image portrayed is one of infallibility and in the midst of all this, a seemingly god given right to point fingers at other countries.  The US Administration is so busy berating other countries over “the green house effect” that they’ve completely forgotten that they live in a glass house.
This game chip is said to use some new cutting edge technology called PRISM.  Actually, the ad makes it sound like something Walter Bishop would come up with, in Fringe but the USA is being quite the sullen bully over all this and is behaving like Joe Caroll in The Following.  I mean, like they have the right to dictate terms and do whatever they like with people and such.  The US Administration, I guess expected to have “A Following” of its own (like Joe Caroll did in the TV series) with places like HK and China following the USA’s orders with a meekness and docility that would have put deer and does with those big eyes and long eyelashes, to shame.  I don’t blame the USA.  They are just being Goliaths.  HK, by the way, happens to be the circumstantial David.
Now, one does not do that, one is not supposed to do that, is one ??  When the US cries foul, when they pass a decree pretty much like high priests of some cult, people are simply expected to follow their instructions, no matter how outlandish they seem.  Had HK behaved well, the US would definitely have handed out candies instead of brandishing the stick.  Sweet, isn’t it ??!!   
While production of the game chips continue to be on in full force in the factories, the rest of the world waits with bated breath for its release.  Well, just to appease the Goliaths in this instance, the factory should probably think seriously about sending over some of the game chips (post production, of course) to the US Administration for quality control testing. 
Oh !  I think I forgot to mention the name of this game chip, didn’t I ??. 
It is being called “Where in the world is Edward Snowden ?”.  Oh, by the way, you might just want to pre order your game chip as well.  The manufacturers, I believe, are throwing in a whistle as a free gift !!!

25 June, 2013

The TamBrahm Series Part 6 - The Wedding Finale a.k.a Shanti Muhurtham

(Pic courtesy : penciljammers.com via Google)

OK ….. the final edition is finally here.  Or rather, I think I should say, the muhurtham for the final edition is finally here. 

Now… on to what is considered by one and all (pssst….. especially the elderly and middle aged members of each and every TamBrahm family) as the most important “event” in a TamBrahm wedding.  My apologies if I made that sound like a “disco event”  or a “pool party event”  or some such.  The truth, my dear readers, is far from that.  The grand finale of any TamBrahm wedding is nothing other than the ubiquitous “First Night”.  Sounds corny, doesn’t it ?  Well, it is !! 

That “First Night”  does not mean the bride and the groom haven’t ever seen nights before.  Oh ! They have !  Just that all the mamis and mamas and paatis and paatas hope, within the secret recesses of their minds, that the bride and the groom have never seen nights together, in each others’ company before.  Sounds even cheesier, doesn’t it ?  Well, it is !!!  It does not get any cheesier than that !!

I’ve always maintained that the elderly population at a TamBrahm wedding have had just one thing on their minds throughout the 2 day wedding “ceremony”.  A major part of their conscious minds are focused on just one thing – the culmination of the wedding in that misnomer called Shanti Muhurtham.  I mean, who in the name of God named it that ??  What Shanti and why (oh god ! why ?) muhurtham ?? 

I can just about picture the hairy chested, pot bellied astrologer (or better still, the priest) speaking in voice loud enough for everybody in that noisy hall to hear “Shanti Muhurtham nalaikku kaarthale 2.47 akkum”.  Ahem ….. I think its time we have a Privacy Ordinance put in, as far as such things go.  The groom’s amma appa and the bride’s amma appa do need to give this serious thought.  Do they really want some third person telling their son and daughter when to consummate their marriage (assuming a lot of things here, aren’t they?).  Really ???!!!  Also, when it comes to things like these, why do the vadhyar’s deem it fit to raise their voices by a few octaves and sound as pompous as a high priest decreeing something and Luciano Pavarotti put together.  Thank the Lord they don’t ask for Getti Melam when they announce the said Shanti Muhurtham.  On second thoughts, that Getti Melam might actually be useful in drowning out the creepy Vadhyar’s voice.  For those of you who are wondering, there was no such announcement at our wedding because the priest said “mujhe meri jaan pyaari” !!  Much to my horror, I have heard these “announcements”  at a few other weddings. 

Now, focusing our attention on the hapless bride and the luckless groom who would be getting all heckled and pestered by a multiple of mama / mami posses.  Actually it is more of the mamis, truth be told.  Some mamis will rather helpfully (or so they think !) ask the bride if she knows “what is going to happen ?”  They will make it sound as secretive, mysterious and cagey as the ending of an episode of 24.  Difference being 24 leaves you waiting with bated breath for the next episode while the mamis run a huge risk of having something heavy whacked on those rather momentarily dense heads of theirs.

I do remember one such helpful soul asking me this and well, as politely as I could, I do remember saying “since you are very experienced, why don’t we get a glass of filter kaapi each, talk this over and you can tell me all about it…in all the infinite detail that you can muster ?  You game, maami ?”.  Don’t know why but right then and later, every single time I’ve run into this altruistic soul, she’s made a beeline to someplace a safe distance away from me.  I sincerely wonder why ??

The bride’s parents actually buy a special sari for this said Shanti Muhurtham and the groom is rather helpfully (I shall explain why I used that term, later) given a spotless white silk veshti to wear.  Let’s name the room “The Shanti Muhurtham Alcove”.  Play along here, will you ?  Things are just warming up !
In the meanwhile, the bride’s parents would have spent a small fortune getting one room in the house turned into the valleys of Kashmir sans the snow.  Flowers, flowers everywhere …. literally everywhere so that the next morning, the groom’s spotless white silk veshti would look like an acrylic painting gone horribly wrong … with blotches of different colours splashed all over.  Flowers do leave their mark, you know ? 

There would be loads (and I mean loads – am SO not exaggerating here) of exotic fruit and laddoos and jalebis and what have you, set out in the SM Alcove.  There will also be a container of milk there.  

Now this reminds me of a funny incident.  One of my friends took offence to the fact that there was just one glass of milk in that container.  Apparently this milk is said to be boiled with saffron and cardamom and all good things in this world so quite obviously, she wanted a glass of milk too.  The groom’s amma had to dish up another glass of this said amrit and another container was duly placed in their alcove.  Now it so turned out that the groom was not fond of milk and so my friend had to gulp down two large glasses of the saffroned and cardamomed mik.  Assuming that they were supposed to finish all that fruit and sweets set out there, the bride and the groom got to work, stuffing themselves like squirrels before winter.  She was later of the opinion that the milk is not an aphrodisiac but it works well as an emetic.  She also helpfully opined that fruit and sweets in the Alcove were not a good idea either.  Their Shanti Muhurtham worked out super well for them, I presume !!   

The mamis in the house must have been rather taken aback with all those sounds of the bride throwing up and what have you.  I’m sure they were shocked beyond belief into thinking “Ayyo !!  Ethira Vegama”  a.k.a “Ayyo !  Evalovu Seekarama ?” a.k.a Oh God !!  So quickly ?? How the hell did things move so fast and more importantly, produce results so fast ??  The whole throwing up incident would probably get labeled as something to do with “Kalyug or Kali Kaalam”. 

Another feature of the Alcove would be agarbattis in all different corners of the room.  What purpose this serves is something no one has been able to figure out but the amount of smoke and haze it creates in that Alcove would put the Singapore and Malaysia of today, to shame.  Singaporeans who complain of haze in their city should step into one of the Shanti Muhurtham Alcoves, I say.  The olfactory senses would be under an immediate assault with aromas of jasmine, sandalwood and all other fragrances that the human mind can conjure up, floating up and playing drums with the olfactory nerves of the bride and the groom.  

They should provide the couple with two of those masks that are used when there is a viral contagion on.  That would help, probably.  If the smoke situation is really expected to be bad with agarbattis and the aromatherapy stuff being lit too, then oxygen masks could fall from the ceiling.  Cool !!  Sci-fi themed Shanti Muhurtham !! 

In my opinion, this sure is some form of medieval torture, to be honest.  The immediate reaction would be to sneeze but then again, there would be hawkeyes or rather hawk ears waiting for sounds of sneezes.  Sneezes, you see, in the TamBrahm book of Superstitions, rank supreme as being bad.  So someone sneezing in the Shanti Muhurtham Alcove is not going to be looked upon well, to be honest.  

While the bride and the groom are standing on their heads in an yogic pose meant to prevent sneezing, a whole bunch of mamis would be standing outside the door of the alcove and singing Mangalam.  Hain ???  But then again, who said any of this is even remotely meant to be sensible, huh ??!!  Thank God they don’t get the Getti Melam orchestra home or wherever the said Alcove is !!  Now that would really be something.

By now, the already overworked and tired brains of the bride and the groom would have been sufficiently numbed and anaesthetized with sweets, spiced milk and a dozen different kinds of smoke floating around in the said room.  They would not be able to turn the fan on because remember the bride’s parents having turned that room into a Mini Kashmir ?  In this Kashmir, the long ropes of flowers would be attached to the ceiling fan.  Where else ??  A whole sheaf of flowers would probably be, rather helpfully, blocking the ac vent as well.  Even better !! 

Speaking of agarbattis reminds me of yet another hilarious incident.  Another one of my friends scared, literally scared the living daylights out of her newly minted husband.  They were all by themselves, in their said Alcove and suddenly, out of the blue, she starts howling, real loudly.  One can just about imagine the groom, frozen into inaction, looking completely bewildered, not to mention frightened.  Must have looked like one of those lambs being led to the slaughter.  This friend of mine simply wouldn’t stop crying and she said the groom backed away to the other end of the room, one arm outstretched, fingers extended as if to say “No No… please don’t cry”.  His imagination sure must have galloped faster than any of the thoroughbreds racing at the Jockey Club here.  Turns out the agarbatti was the culprit.  It had burned a small hole in her brand new kancheevaram silk saree and that tipped the scales and set her howling.  That groom sure must have been scarred for life by her antics that day.

Well, folks … not to draw this any longer and quarter it out ….. those six blogposts (including this one) were a sneak, satirical, humorous preview into a TamBrahm wedding from the protagonists’ (a.k.a the bride and the groom) point of view.

Hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed penning them down.  Until inspiration strikes again and points at yet another target to aim at ….. so long, folks !!

Happy Mangalam or whatever the hell that is !! :-)

18 June, 2013

Pecan's poetic skills put to the test by ....... LOVE !

(Pic courtesy : hibp.ecse.rpi.edu/~john/loreena.html via Google)

Now comes the interesting bit.  For his homework assignment, Pecan had to rewrite the last few paragraphs of the poem and change the ending to a happy one.

This ended up being an extremely funny project, though.  He was managing and doing fine until he came to the very end of the poem.  Now when the poem clearly indicates that it is about two people in love with each other, and when the homework assignment is to make sure that the ending is happy, one doesn't really have too many options now, right ? 

In Pecan's version of the poem, the hero, the Highwayman, having quelled King George's men in red, has burst into the room in which they had held the landlord's daughter captive.  Now, the question the hapless Pecan was faced with was, "errr.... what does he do next ?" The answer to this was simple enough.  He cuts the ropes or whatever and frees her.  OK, so far so good.  "errrp .... what next ?" Pecan was found asking himself.  He was a sight that day.  Sitting there with that sheepish expression on his face, he finally asked for my help.  "Please help ! Just with the last two lines" he said.  "You've done fine so far.  Why do you need my help for the last two lines ?" I asked, amusement threatening to blaze itself across my poker face (which took quite some effort to maintain, btw). 

"It's about LOVE, Mummy" wailed Pecan.  "Yikes .... I mean, I don't know !! What or how are people in love supposed to behave with each other.  Eeewwww… why did it have to be this, of all the things ?  moaned Pecan.  He whined, he complained but alas !  He even tried changing the earlier paragraphs all over again.  But to no avail !!  The concept of love pursued Pecan with a vengeance.  All pretence of a poker face having flown out of the window, I still refused to actually put the last two lines into words for him.   Through a whole rip roaring ten minutes of charades, he got the word "gaze".  Think and build on that word, I said as Pecan stared, in utter dismay, alarm spreading across his face.  “Take it as a challenge” I said, totally unmoved by his antics.  He did and by the time he had finished his homework assignment, we were pretty much rolling on floor, laughing uncontrollably.

Needless to say, this is something Pecan would peg down as "one of the toughest homework assignments yet".  Not the whole ballad, mind you.  That was a piece of cake.  Just that the element of "love" in all its complexities had my ten year old totally foxed !!   

This was his version of The Highwayman - his version with the happy ending.  Changes reflected from Part 2 Para 7 :

Tlot Tlot Tlot in the frosty silence
Tlot Tlot Tlot  in the echoing night
Nearer he came and nearer
His face was like a light.
Her eyes grew wide for a moment
She drew one last deep breath
"Run Run" she yelled
The red coats looked up, shocked and felled.

The highwayman heard her scream
He galloped towards the gate
The red coats ran towards the robber
Oh ! What would be his fate ?

He galloped like a soldier
He took out his sword
He pounced on King George's men
The sword slashed and there was gore.

He came up to the inn
And into her room
Onto her tied wrists
His gaze zoomed.

He came up to the bed
and untied the ropes
Their love for each other burst forth
As they gazed at each other, their eyes full of hopes.

Now who is it that says homework can't be fun, huh ???!!!

17 June, 2013

Teaching, a cushy profession ??

(Pic courtesy : smartycartoons.com via Google)

Of late, conversations with one particular acquaintance have tended to hinge around holidays.  Impending holidays, that is.  I’ve been at the receiving end of this particular statement every so often “Oh God !  You are in a nice profession, I say.  Teachers get a month and a half of holidays in the summer plus breaks around Christmas, Easter and what have you.  I am going to switch jobs and be a teacher too.  It is fun, easy to do and not demanding.  I mean, look at my current job.  I am going nuts.  You are having a nice time there – teaching itty bitty little primary kids.  Must be an easy job .“
Ahem …. I told that particular acquaintance of mine to go ahead and get teaching qualifications and try to get a job as a teacher.  More importantly, what I did not tell her was that she would need all her patience, charm, wits, brains and then some to stay sane.  I kind of decided to drop that bit because it will sink in sooner or later because once she starts teaching full time, she is sure to have loads of free time on her hands, right ?
Nothing to it actually, like she says.  Just imagine yourself amongst 32-33 (if you are really lucky, you’ll have about 40 of them together, at one go) little ones who would, on any given day, give Energizer Bunnies a run for their money.  Now, as a teacher, you are responsible not just for teaching them the subject matter on hand but at that point of time in the classroom, you are a sort of mom plus first aid worker plus nurse plus counsellor plus disciplinarian plus social worker plus psychologist – all rolled into one.  Of course, you are a teacher as well.
Now when you have about 30 plus kids around you, whose primary (and at times, only) objective is to turn you into a deaf-mute, what you will need right then is a course in basic survival (for yourself, I mean).  Oh yes !  Teaching is a cushy profession.
Among those thirty odd kids that you have in your classroom, there are bound to be self-driven and self-motivated entrepreneurs.  Some dream of becoming a hair stylist upon growing up and having their own salon but like I said earlier, the little 6 and 7 year olds are an enterprising lot.  They simply can’t wait to start their own hair salon.  I mean, growing up takes way too long, doesn’t it ?   They will, sometime during the course of your lesson, preferably when you are writing something of importance on the board, decide that they can make do with the hair of the kid sitting on the desk in front of them and “style” their hair.  You will, of course, at some point of time during your lesson, discover that one or more of the kids in your class have had their hair shorn and now sport streaks or spots of near baldness.  Between getting the little “would be hairdressers” to understand that they cannot experiment on just about anything or anyone that has hair and trying not to stare at the  ”recently hair dressed” little ones who would either be bawling or admiring themselves, one would become a master in the art of conquering hyperventilation.  Oh yes ! Teaching is a cushy profession.
Also among those thirty odd kids, one is bound to have a good measure of kids whose idea of fun is to stand on chairs and try and take the “reach for the stars” thing a bit too seriously and try and touch the ceiling or take a sudden nose dive over their desks onto the floor just to see far away the floor is or how hard they can hit their heads on the floor or kids that will poke the kids sitting next to them just to see how long they have to poke them to evoke an anger reaction and many more such random, highly interesting activities.  If ever there was a lesson in patience or anger management, this would be one of the extremely effective ones !  Oh yes ! Teaching is a cushy profession.
Among those thirty plus kids, there are would be many a budding artist.  What better to practice your art on than the uniform shirt of your friend who sits right in front of you, huh ?  Who needs sketch paper ?  Uniforms are way better to practice art on, especially when they are not your own !!  Let’s not go into the tears and the rage that will invariably follow.  It is one of those unique opportunities that would present itself ever so often and in a few months these experiences will mould and exemplify you as the “still on earth” version of Mother Teresa.  Oh yes ! Teaching is a cushy profession.
When teaching older kids, the joy just increases manifold.  It would be a good idea, if you are a teacher in HK, to learn all the swear words and bad language that exist in Cantonese.  That way, you would be one Enlightened Buddha when one of the older kids swears at you.  I don’t know about “being as zen as a Buddha” if that happens.  That’s a different story altogether.  Oh yes ! Teaching is a cushy profession.
Every single class you walk into, is bound to have students who are really strong in the language and really weak in the language, in terms of proficiency and use.  There is also a good measure of the “in betweens” a.k.a average students.  You have to turn into a David Copperfield of sorts to dish out lesson plans that can cater to this whole diversity in student population, at the same time.  Added bonus if it is one of the classes with older kids.  You will also be at the receiving end of a huge variety of reactions that those pre-teens can muster, all directed by hormones that  play Pokemon with their senses at that age.  Hmm.. you will probably have to do that about five times a day, five days a week.  Have you watched one of those jugglers on America’s Got Talent who juggle with chainsaws ??  One stint in one such classroom will probably feel the same way.  Oh yes ! Teaching is a cushy profession.
Picnics are super fun.  You would probably end up at the same picnic spot with five other schools, on the same day, at the same time.  To make things easier for you, kids from atleast two of the other schools would have the same uniform colours as the kids from your school.  To make things even easier, the kids would all be running around and playing in one big, happy, noisy confusion and the teachers would need to do a headcount before leaving the picnic spot.  Sheer joy, that one !! Oh yes ! Teaching is a cushy profession. 
But of course, kind soul that I am, I did not mention any of this to my “acquaintance” who is, just about now, probably making that life turning decision to take up teaching as a career, just because she thinks it is cushy and has something called “vacations” attached to it.
Yeah, I’m quite mean that way !!!

14 June, 2013

Narendra Modi and the PM elections ? Heil yeah !!!

(Pic courtesy : kafila.org via Google)

OK – so it seems fairly certain that Narendra Modi is going to be the BJP’s candidate (not sure if he's going to be NDA's candidate) for the Prime Minister’s office in 2014.  That is assuming, of course, that the NDA does not split into two (or more) entities by then.  In Indian politics, anything seems possible.  Since the age old days of Congress Party and Janata Party, there are so many different factions making up the NDA and the UPA that it is quite mind boggling.  Looking at it from a politician’s point of view, the situation is near perfect.  There are so many small factions to point fingers at, should the crap hit the fan (in any given situation). 
Coming back to Narendra Modi – many people claim, I’ve read a great many articles that proclaim that Modi is the best thing that can happen to India, as it is today.  Many articles have suggested that Narendra Modi can run the country effective, as effectively as a CEO.  Many industrialists are reported to be in awe of Mr.Modi. 
Another “good thing” that has been cited about Mr. Modi is that he can attract investments, help infuse much needed capital into the Indian economy because he has, time and again, projected himself as a leader who is prone to be “investment friendly”.   
People have often spoken volumes about what a great orator Narendra Modi is.  He is said to have an “undeniable air of charm and charisma” that radiates every time he speaks and inspires awe among the people who listen to him speak.  But then, so was Adolf Hitler !!
Mr.Modi does claim of a GDP growth of 11+ % in his home state of Gujarat.  But then again, figures in India are always provisional.  Muslims in Gujarat too are reported to have claimed that they are happy under Modi’s rule in the state.  How much of this is due to fear, how many of these statements are coerced ones ?  I guess the debate can keep going on because as far as Narendra Modi goes, there are a lot of points to argue for and against him being touted as and stepping up to the Prime Minister’s chair in 2014.
Sad fact remains that India now faces a problem that many other countries have and do – a lack of choice.  The UPA has done nothing to prevent the country’s slide into the depths of despair.  Manmohan Singh has exemplified himself time and again, by remaining silent on issues that have demanded some action to be taken on.  The rest of the troupe in the UPA has proved equally (if not more) ineffective in dealing with the problems facing the country today.  In the light of this, Narendra Modi is being touted by the BJP as a go-getter, something that the country is in dire need of, as of now.
That said, one cannot refute the fact that Narendra Modi is a law unto himself.  He has the tendency to wipe out and obliterate anything that stands in his way.  He is aggressive – yes but what makes that aggression dangerous is the fact that Modi is undisputedly power hungry.  In fact, Modi seems to have started viewing himself as a medium of power itself.  He does not rely on power to get him out of situations or in to them, as the case may be.  As far as Modi goes today, he IS power personified.
Does this not reek of fascism ?  In the process of touting Modi and projecting him as India’s saviour and having the tendency to sweep all his wrongdoings under the carpet, has the NDA effectively created a Frankenstein ?  A Fascist Frankenstein ? 
Does that idea scare you ?  Well, in my honest opinion, it should !
Like I said before, the situation now boils down to a simple lack of choice rather than even a choice between two evils.
I, for one, simply can’t get the Modi Action Inaction Theory out of my mind.  In my opinion, this was a rather ethically abnormal theory for the leader of a state to be putting forth at the peak of communal riots that were rocking the state.  Perversely enough, he was not referring to the burning of the Sabarmati Express as the spark which set off the massacre that the state witnessed.  He was referring to the lynching of then MP Ehsan Jafri and Mr. Modi opined on TV that this had all to do with “kriya pratikriya”(action and reaction).  He was of the opinion that the mob lynched Mr.Jafri because Mr.Jafri had shot at the mob to try and disperse them and this act of his infuriated the mob and that the massacre that followed was just a “reaction”.  The SIT report too, with regard to the Godhra incident, left a lot to be desired, with Modi just being given a “clean chit”. 
Hell, after he was appointed Chief Minister in 2007, he even went ahead and appointed Maya Kodnani as a Minister in his cabinet.  The same Mayaben Kodnani, who, is now serving a 28 year prison term for her role in the Godhra, Naroda Patia riots.  She was convicted of having orchestrated the massacre of 95 people during the riots.  Did this, in Narendra Modi’s eyes, actually qualify her to be a minister in his cabinet ?  But then again, like I said earlier, he is nothing but a law unto himself.  No one dares question his actions and those who do, do not make life easy for themselves.
Remember how and why Adolf Hitler rose to prominence ?  Here’s what Wikipedia says, in a gist,

“Adolf Hitler rose to a place of prominence in the early years of the party. Being one of the best speakers of the party, he told the other members of the party to either make him leader of the party, or, he would never return. He was aided in part by his willingness to use violence in advancing his political objectives and to recruit party members who were willing to do the same.  The Beer Hall putsch in November 1923 and the later release of his book Mein Kampf (usually translated as My Struggle) introduced Hitler to a wider audience. In the mid-1920s, the party engaged in electoral battles in which Hitler participated as a speaker and organizer,[2] as well as in street battles and violence between the Rotfrontkämpferbund and the Nazi's Sturmabteilung (SA). Through the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Nazis gathered enough electoral support to become the largest political party in the Reichstag, and Hitler's blend of political acuity, deceptiveness and cunning converted the party's non-majority but plurality status into effective governing power in the ailing Weimar Republic of 1933.” 

Germany gave birth to its own Frankenstein through the notion that there was no choice other than Hitler to lead them out of the Great Depression.  Hitler rose to prominence, his rise to power was based broadly on – resentment among the German populace, the weakness of then then existent Weimar system, the terror that his troopers invoked in people and most importantly, his power of oratory and the brilliance of his speeches.

Remarkable parallels here, aren’t there ?  

My question is "Is India about to do a Germany ?"  

13 June, 2013

An ethnic Indian evening ...

(Pic courtesy : shopping.kitchensofindia.com via Google)

Planning a dinner meet is something that comes naturally now.  There is nothing that can beat that feel of good friends, meeting up over good food and having a good time – enjoying the camaraderie and highballing that feeling of fun with some good games thrown in. 
Usually, we tend to invite friends over based on their food preferences – because this makes it easier to plan the menu and cook.  Vegetarian families invited over together or families that preferred non vegetarian food invited over together makes it easier to plan the menu.
This particular dinner party, however, is going to be a bit of a challenge.  This dinner party is the one we’ve planned to introduce our non-Indian friends to the culture and the culinary delights that India is home to.  Why did I say this was going to be a challenge ?  That is because some of the couples invited over are vegetarians who are looking forward to some taste bud tickling Indian vegetarian fare while many of the other couples are non-vegetarian, the likes, for whom, an Indian meal would be incomplete without say Chicken Tikka Masala or Rogan Josh or some such meat dish that is simply bursting with the flavour of Indian spices.
Ambience : I am planning to use a traditional Indian theme which would help set the mood for the fantastic Indian food to follow.  Starting with the dining table – am planning a base of creamy silk tablecloth with a bright red kanchivaram table cloth runner running through the centre of the table.  This band would also help demarcate the dishes – so that the vegetarians do not inadvertently end up eating meat dishes.  Dimmed lights, sublime sitar music would be playing as the guests arrive.  Later the music would be a mix of santoor, jugalbandis or if the pace needs to be pushed a bit, the one and only bhangra.  The only lights in the living room would come from the diyas or the candles at strategic places in the living room. 
Since most of the guests are musically inclined, one game that we are planning to incorporate is "guess the musical instrument".  We have a huge collection of Indian instrumental music and this can be put to good use for this game. 
I’ve always been the kind that plans a lot of starters or appetizers.  Two reasons – one, it goes very well with drinks being served.  If you have your guests sipping their whiskies or a glass of good wine or guzzling a pint of beer or sipping Nimbu Paani, the one thing that people enjoy with their drinks is spicy, tangy tidbits to munch on.  With snacks, what is most time consuming is getting the various chutneys and condiments ready.  This is where Kitchens of India is going to be a life saver. Kitchens of India, whose recipes have been crafted by Masterchefs of ITC hotels, from recipes that have been closely guarded over the ages. 
 The menu planned is :
Spicy mango chicken drumsticks – a variation to the more common chicken tikka or tandoori chicken, I’m planning to take things to the next level by basting the chicken with a spicy mango baste as it cooks in the oven.  One of the main ingredients for basting the chicken is going to be Mango Jeera Chutney from Kitchens of India.
Paneer Tikkas – for the vegetarians, am doing a tandoori paneer tikka on skewers with green peppers, onion  and marinated paneer chunks.  This starter is going to have a hint and the heat of mango as well, with the skewers being drizzled with the Hot Mango Chutney also from Kitchens of India.
Corn Bhel – a starter that never ever fails to tantalise the taste buds with a myriad of flavours bursting through in every mouthful.  Making bhel has never been easier, especially since I’ve laid my hands on the ready Tamarind Date Chutney from Kitchens of India.
Shammi Kebabs – another one of those starters that usually leaves our guests asking for more.  This time around, I’m planning to serve these with the Tomato Chilli Chutney from Kitchens of India.
Mixed Pakoras – again something that is enjoyed by children and adults alike.  Served with two chutneys – the traditional mint chutney and for the more adventurous, the Tomato Chilli Chutney from Kitchens of India.
Did I not say that the most time consuming part in dishing up appetizers is the chutneys and sauces that complement the dishes.  With such a wide variety of chutneys and preserves on offer from Kitchens of India, life has indeed become a lot simpler and easier.  Here's to more dinner parties, I say :-)
Main Course
An assortment of Naans cut into manageable sized pieces – plain naans and garlic naans
Saffron Peas Pulao – delicately flavoured with saffron and a hint of sweetness from the peas, would provide a lovely base to showcase all the flavours of the gravy dishes that would accompany the rice.  This pulao is also a feast for the eyes, with the colours complementing each other very well.
Dal Bukhara – to complement the saffron peas pulao and face it, no Indian meal is complete without a smooth, rich dal complementing the dishes.
Murg Methi – Tender succulent pieces of chicken and fresh fenugreek leaves (methi leaves) are a marriage made in heaven.  The Kitchens of India’s Murg Methi would be a wonderful addition to the menu since we don’t get good fresh fenugreek leaves out here, in HK.
Mirch ka salan – this is one of my signature dishes.  Made from scratch with long green chillies, I tend to retain the seeds in the chilli instead of discarding them.  This lends a wonderful heat to this tangy dish which incorporates tamarind, jaggery, a healthy dose of cumin and a home made peanut/sesame powder to complement the other flavours in the dish.  This one is capable of creating an orchestra in one’s palate. 
Cucumber Raita – yet again, no Indian meal is complete without yoghurt being incorporated at some point of time in the meal.  Chilled cucumber raita with a sprinkle of red chilli powder and amchoor is a feast for the eyes and a good palate cleanser as well – not to mention a sure fire douser if anyone happens to find the dishes spicy.
Usually, at dinner parties, I make it a point to have atleast two desserts – one warm and one cold.
The cold dessert planned for this dinner party is yet again one of my signature dishes – rasmalai. 
The warm dessert cannot be anything else but the Jodhpuri Moong Dal Halwa from Kitchens of India. 
No Indian meal is complete without the traditional mouth fresheners like saunf at the end of the meal.  Aside of cleansing the palate, these mouth fresheners also aid in digestion.  As a fitting finale to this ethnic Indian evening, we are planning to serve chilled, authentic paan at the very end.  We have already placed an order for paan leaves with one of the stores here and they've promised to deliver the paan leaves a day ahead of our dinner party.  We are, however, planning a small twist in this paan.  We are planning to substitute the more traditionally used Gulkand with the Strawberry Mint Conserve from Kitchens of India.  The tanginess of the strawberry with the coolness of the mint should give the paan a modern twist, a supreme blend of tastes that result in a crescendo of flavours.  It would be a good way to end an evening of gastronomic delights.

With such immense help from Kitchens of India, this dinner party should prove to be one smooth hit with the guests.  I do hope it is the kind that leaves them with beautiful memories of India and the multitude of flavours that Indian cooking encompasses.