Archive for September 2009

Diwali Shopping With The Seniors

My parents have come to spend Diwali with us this year. My mother, in her usual over the top style, wanted to buy clothes for all of us. This was immediately followed by an almighty row, instigated by yours truly, on this 'conspicuous consumption' and ostentatious expenditure. All for nothing. My mother dug in her heels and refused to budge. So we left at 2pm for T.Nagar, the epicenter of Chennai's frenzied Diwali shopping.

T.Nagar is a bustling market area in Chennai city - and I use the term 'bustling' conservatively. The area has major sari showrooms, gold shops, home accessories, kitchen wares, vegetable vendors apart from permanent traffic snarls and a sea of humanity weaving through the traffic. I usually get serious panic attacks when I am in the vicinity. Today being Vijaydashmi - one of the most auspicious days of the Hindu calendar, the crowd had increased tenfold.

Enter me, my sister, and my parents, heading for the RmKV showroom, one of the famous sari retailers in the city. Pan to my father, looking astonished at the swelling crowd. 'Are they giving away silk saris free?' he wanted to know, unable to believe the magnitude of the crowd. My mother looked apprehensive since she is not too steady on her feet due to her brittle bones. A crowd is not a good place for her to be in.

So we abandoned RmKV and headed for Sundari Silks, another showroom located a short distance from RmKV. Mercifully it was less crowded. But not so less that we could get attract the attention of a salesman. It was like playing hide and seek. "Excuse me...! Can you please show us saris....excuse me!". When one guy appeared to look interested, we told him our budget. " You have to go over there." He pointed to the other side of the room. My sister snapped " We went there. There is no place to sit. You bring the saris here". And my dad " see...nobody is attending to us here! We should have gone to Rasi or Rangachary's" And me " Appa! Give it a rest no. We have come here, let us see what is there. Stop grumbling." And his usual refrain " I am worried about your mother..." And my mother "Konjam summa irukela!" (will you calm down please)

At last a salesman gave us his full attention. I suppose he got fed up with our squabbling. My sister and I made our choice. And just to confound our mother, we bought her a kajeevaram sari that cost a bomb. "But I don't want such an expensive sari" " We want you to have it. It is our sentiment" Ooooh! It gave me such pleasure to give her dialogue back to her! Since she liked the sari, she gave up protesting after a while.

We crossed the road and went to Murugan Idlli Shop for a snack. Managed to get a table for five persons. And waited interminably for our order of dosas to arrive. My dad, impatient at all times, ate up his chutney while waiting for the dosas to arrive. Then when it became intolerable, he got up and gave an earful to a nearby waiter. "We have been waiting for half and hour. Two people have come and gone at the nearby table. And I have eaten all my chutney!" (the last said in an aggrieved tone).

When the order arrived at last, my dad, wanting to avoid another delay said " Ok. Now get us some bondas" "No bondas on the menu saaar!!" "What?! You told me there were bondas. And now you say there aren't any bondas! What sort of establishment do you run?!" "Aiyyo thatha! He said pongal. Not bonda!" "Did he now? Well I dont want any pongal" said my dad, put out at the loss of bondas.

And then we took an auto home. Surprisingly without a squabble with the auto guy about the fare.

Is mein fight hai, romance hai (saris are romantic), emotion hai...standard outing for the Familie Sundara Rajan.

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Political Parties Election Symbols: My take on it

As I was watching some political news the other day, I got to wondering about party election symbols. What is the etymology of election symbols used by various political parties? A closer look shows that the symbols of some of the major parties reflect party ideology, or turning points in the country's or the party's history that have shaped the way the symbol looked. I've picked a few party symbols for this post...

1. DMK symbol - The Rising Sun: The DMK, with its roots in the anti brahmin / self respect movement in Tamil Nadu, broke the Congress strong hold over the state and heralded the 'dawn of a new day' - hence the Rising Sun symbol.

2. Indian National Congress symbol - Hand (right): The party of which Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and other leaders were members had the symbol of a charkha inside the tri colour. So when and how did it change into its present day 'Hand' symbol. According to some accounts, Indira Gandhi, visited a temple in Palakkad in Kerala, and was inspired by the deity. To me, it is the 'Abhaya hastham' which roughly translates into 'the hand that protects'. Now, I'm a Congress supporter, but this is a bit too paternalistic for my taste.

3. Bahujan Samaj Party - The Elephant: The Buddhist symbol of strength of mind. The BSP claims to represent the interests of the Dalits of the country. The Dalit cause is intricately linked with Dr. Ambedkar, the Father of our Constitution. Under his guidance, thousands of Dalits had embraced Buddhism as a way of throwing off the shackles of exploitation they bore due to the caste system. The Elephant thus has a the dual symbolism of linking with Dalit identity and mental strength through Buddhism.

4. Bharatiya Janata Party - The Lotus: OK - so I tried to do some research on this one. But did not have much success. So here is my personal take on it. As we all know, the lotus blooms in muddy waters. It is also an important symbol of the Hindu religion. Several gods and goddesses hold the lotus flower in their hands. The BJP is a Hindu right wing party and its logo unequivocally establishes it as such. Though the party keeps harping about a Hindu nationalism as a complete Indian nationalism, these symbols have a vedic / sanskritised etymology, thereby indicating an alignment with upper caste, upper class politics and an alienation from the Bahujan or Dalits - my take purely based on symbolism and not political strategy.

5. Shiv Sena - The bow & arrow: I'm going to go beyond just the party symbol and look at other symbols of this party. It is very interesting, since the symbols are violent in nature and mirror the ethos of this party. The bow and arrow - symbol of war. The Marathi manoos going to war with the migrants entering Mumbai. The party symbol - a snarling tiger. The violence and destruction they have been inflicting on the poor Mumbaikars over the issue of 'outsiders' in recent times are explanation enough of this mascot. Lastly, the name of the party itself. Sena or Army. Again the reflection of violence and menace.

These were a few which interested me. So I did some research on the net, added my own interpretation as garnish for your enjoyment. There were a few others which I found bizarre and funny:

- Rashtriya Lok Dal - A hand pump
- Muslim League Kerala State Committee - A ladder (which doesn't seem to be going anywhere)
- Indian National Lok Da - Spectacles (!!)
- Mizoram People's Conference - A light bulb.

I realise these symbols might have been chosen because the better ones were taken. But a party election symbol should be more carefully considered and reflect the manifesto of the party - be it paternalistic like the Congress, right wing like the BJP or far right wing like the Shiv Sena. What do you think?

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Teachers Who Flunked

This post should actually have gone out on Teachers Day. It is not one of the feel-good posts that one usually sees on such occasions. I read many tributes to wonderful teachers and really, I do agree that teachers can inspire you. But what about those that didn't? The bad apples, the eccentric ones, the one's who should never have been allowed near impressionable minds. Don't they also deserve some mention in blogosphere? So here's to the mean ones, the ones that made my life difficult and who I remember purely for how nasty they were to me!

I'll begin with kindergarten and tell you about Mrs. R. Back then, I had all this restless energy and didn't like sitting in class for nearly four hours every day. All that nervous energy led to a rather peculiar habit of shaking my legs. I mean I shook them like I would if I were operating the pedal of a sewing machine. Mrs. R noticed me doing this. When her admonishing me to stop had no effect, she hauled me up to the front of the class along with my little pink chair. Sat me down in front of the whole class and asked me to shake my legs in front of them. Naturally I was petrified and couldn't move a muscle. The habit was instantly cured. But the humiliation of it has stayed with me to this day.

Then we had this interesting geography teacher in middle school. I forget her name. Now she HATED us. I mean with a vengeance! I have no idea why. She just hated all her students. She'd yell and scream at us during class 'You muff!' or to a friend of mine who had the misfortune of having an older sister in the same school (and who did better than her at studies)- 'You dolt! Look at your sister and look at you!'. With hindsight I realise that she was a pretty good teacher - when she was able to set aside her hatred of us!

Cut to college and up looms the terrifying figure of our department head. A real dragon lady. Not a shred of compassion in her. When she walked down the corridor, we instantly hid behind our textbooks. You were in her good books if you got good marks and fared well in exams. If you didn't, needless to say that she made her displeasure felt.

I remember one year, she raised a huge ruckus because the students didn't wish her on Teachers Day!!! She made a big fuss that we were all ungrateful wretches who didn't think of doing anything for the teachers blah...blah..blah. She managed to gather support from other department heads as well. And so there was a hastily organised general body meeting called by the students union. They begged us to put together some sort of a cultural show and give them some gifts. I kid you not! This really happened.

And so we did just that. Collected money from the students, bought snacks, gifts and rehearsed a song and a dance. Cordially invited her and the other teachers (who looked a bit shamefaced actually) and put up a gala show, all the while cursing her in our hearts. Come Children's Day two months later - what did one get? Zilch!

I didn't write this post to pillory the teaching fraternity. Far from it. I've had some wonderful teachers who have influenced my thoughts and I owe a debt of gratitude to them. But when I saw so many blogs about 'gurur bramha...' and 'to sir with love' I thought - lets flip the coin over and look at the other side. Drona may have been the world's best teacher - but don't forget, he made Eklavya forfeit his thumb.

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Coconut shells and Horse Hooves

In college,I was part of the Indian Music Club. As part of the cultural life in college, we had the Mount Holyoke competitions. These were basically inter year competitions. It was the time when juniors tried to assert their suzerainty over the seniors. And seniors of course, fought back aggressively. As you can imagine, the competition was stiff. Each year was determined to win Mount Holyoke. The club membership divided itself into first, second and third years. Club leaders went into overdrive choosing the best songs, choreographing the best dances, organising the best events and slave driving club members. Life for a week was all about club meetings and rehearsals.

IMC in the second year stands out in my memory. All the second years in the IMC congregated and the assistant leader (elected from among the second years) took charge. We were going to do one Hindi and one Tamil group song. Then there would be a duet and a solo.

My gang and I were the 'Hindi gang' consisting of two tamilians, one mallu and one bengali. We were asked to come up with a fantastic number that would have the audience up and dancing to our tunes.

So what was this great number to be? It had to be catchy. It had to have melody. Should sound good when sung in a group. And it should also have that special something which was all 'US'.

After much debate and disagreement, we decided upon the song 'Yelo Yelo. Yeloji sanam hum aa gaye' from the film Andaz Apna Apna. It was the song of the moment. The movie had been released recently, it had AAMIR KHAN (drool! drool!), had that lovely O.P.Nayyar feel without being old and was totally US! What a wonderful idea.

There was a small fly in the ointment. Our pianist was in the first year. This meant that she could not play for us. No one else among the second years could play an instrument.

We were crushed. That song begged instruments. The original had the beautiful strains of a violin, guitar and castanets. In the movie the song was sung by the hero on a horse drawn carriage and the castanets gave an impression of the clomping hooves of a horse.

But never let it be said that we were defeated by this. We were a creative bunch and we hit upon a creative idea. That is to say, I hit upon a creative idea and the rest of the group thought it was a fabulous one.

"We can use coconut shells na?" I said. " We will beat it rhythmically to the required beat and it will sound just like horses"

"Wonderful! Wonderful!" A day ski in our group immediately volunteered to get the coconut shells. Everything fell into place and we started practice in right earnest.

The day of the competition arrived and we eagerly awaited our turn on stage. While we waited, I noticed that the second year group was the largest. I mean we had to be around 15 girls at least. Thats one thing about the second years, I thought. We know how to show solidarity. Look at us. Everybody is singing!! 'Everybody' is correct. When we filed onto the stage to sing, we were so many that the entire stage, some 10 feet wide was covered!

The song began. Out came the coconut shells and the audience collapsed with laughter. Yet another day ski had thoughtfully brought a tambourine (which she had omitted to mention) and she was cheerfully banging away at it. Oh yes. One more thing. We had not practiced previously with the coconut shells. So it was being banged away, in a valiant effort to imitate horse hooves, the tambourine girl was still going strong and the audience was in splits. Added to the mayhem was the fact that the group was way too large. The right end of the line was singing faster than the left. The icing on the cake was when some of the girls in the group, seeing the mirth among the audience, started giggling themselves. I even have a photograph of this.

The song ended and we walked off the stage. The audience wiped its eyes and moved on to the next song. We left the auditorium for the post mortem. Once outside, there was a general silence in the group. We looked at one another not knowing what to say. Then everybody started laughing. It was too much. Coconut shells?!! 'Whose idea was it?' they wanted to know and I tried to make myself invisible.

We went back in to hear who had won. We knew there was no chance it could be us. And it wasn't. But surprise surpise! We got second place?!!! WHAT? HOW? WHY?

Maybe we got points for creativity. Maybe we got points for 'echo effect'. The right hand not knowing what left hand is doing seems to have worked well for us. My theory is that we got points for full wholesome entertainment!! What say?

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Jungle mein A - Mangal

On a weekend trip to a college campus in south western Tamilnadu, I was shocked to learn about some gender discrimination being practiced in the name of 'Protection'. Being located at the foothills of the Eastern Ghats, far away from civilisation, all students are hostelers. Having been a hosteler myself during my college days, I was curious to learn what hostel experiences were like in recent times. So I asked a group of girls about it.

To begin with they were shy and hesitant. Said the facilities were superb and they loved being in hostel. 'So when is curfew?' - That opened the pandora's box.

Let me explain the meaning of the term 'curfew' in the context of this post. Back when I was in undergrad, there was a 'curfew time' for hostelers. This meant that you could roam around the college campus till 11pm. At the stroke of eleven, a bell would be rung signaling that you had to return to your room from whatever corner of the campus you were in. If you didn't return, you ran the risk of being locked out of your hostel. Being locked out was not really such a bad proposition, if you didn't count the mosquitoes and Lord Clive's ghost. But that's another story.

Cut to present day...these poor girls had to return to their hostels at 6PM! And there they had to remain till the next day.

'But what about dinner? Don't you have to go to the dining hall?'

'Our dining hall is inside the hostel'

'But what about the boys? Do they have curfew?'

'No' said the girls sadly. 'The boys have no curfew. They can roam about as they feel like'

This was too bad! Prohibiting the movement of girls around campus after 6PM! What if they wanted to go to the library? What if they wanted to surf the net? What if they simply wanted to hang out with their friends? Yes, their guy friends! Separate dining halls? It was outrageous.

When I was doing my masters, we looked forward to mealtimes when we could eat, laugh and hang out with ALL our friends. Privacy and protection was limited to the hostels. Which basically meant that you could not go beyond the reception areas of the men's or ladies hostels. A rule we respected and everybody was happy.

Poor kids. I felt bad for them. I thought GenNext was so cool and in charge of their lives. Perhaps we had a better deal after all.

And you know the unkindest cut of all? The guys got wi-fi access whereas the girls didnt!!

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