Tuesday, 29 April 2008

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON A HOT DAY

It has been more than ten days since I posted something. My e-friend wanted to know why. No, it is not the internet service; that has for a change remained connected, thank goodness. But various other reasons.

There was a function in the family -the upanayanam ceremony of a young grand-nephew was performed. An eleven year old lad who is studying in Boston, Tarun came here from cool climes, and surrendered himself to the two day ceremony without a whisper of complaint. The heat was enough to send even hard core Madras-vasis into irritation mode. So hot, that mamis attending the function had foregone the mandatory Kanjeevaram silks, and settled for lighter substitutes. But the child, transplanted like some snowdrop from the cold weather into a hot tropical clime, did not give in and wither, shrivel or wilt, but braved the heat and the smoke from the ceremonial fire, repeated the mantras, and behaved brilliantly. Everyone was impressed with his compliance and good behaviour.

A couple of days later, we asked him how he was doing. He floored us with his answer, “I think I made the biggest mistake of my life.” That set us thinking.....

......The heat has been enervating, and dehydrating, drying up everything including what little imagination I have. And, to cap it all, the domestic nightmare every Indian housewife dreads – the maid doesn’t turn up.

In my case, I have very good support from mine and have grown used to her – she has been with us (though not live-in) for the last 20 years. She anticipates my every need and works accordingly. Poor woman, she is quite ill and hasn’t appeared for the last five days. She works in three or four other places as well, and therefore tries not to miss more than two days of work at a time.

That led me to think about our dependence on them. How much simpler our lives are because of their presence. And this was one of the things I missed most when I visited my children abroad. Granted there are machines to do the washing and washing up, and there is hardly any dust or dirt pollution. But a hundred other things that the maids do – like folding the washed clothes, dusting, cutting the vegetables, cleaning up after us, sweeping the yard, dashing to the shops in an emergency – that are not tough, but take up time.

In earlier days washing machines, mixies and grinders, and other helpful gadgets were unheard of. Whenever the maid was absent, with the arrogance of youth and good health I would take it as a challenge to do the chores, all the while promising to give it to her when she appeared next! But in my mellow years, I find it is not so simple. And the poor women who work for us, they also grow old and fall ill. If they are lucky their children take care of them. Otherwise their plight is pathetic. An organisation here in Madras called INODA has launched an insurance programme for housemaids – the employers have to pay a nominal sum every year, and the maid is covered in case of certain accidents and illnesses. I think it would be a good idea if more publicity was given to this scheme and more employers provided this basic cover to their maids.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

REVENGE OF THE SERVICE PROVIDERS

Last week, following the orders of the High Court, all the unlicensed hoardings that blocked out the Chennai skyline were torn down by workmen using special gas cutters.

Victims of this were, apart from the advertisers and men associated with the creation of the hoarding and fixing them (no more jobs for them), people like me. Yes, me, as in Tata VSNL user. On Sunday morning I wanted to go online to check mail and found that I wasn’t connecting. A quick call to the regular number (this is one of the few numbers that I know by heart), and the person assured me that the problem would be resolved at the earliest in 48 hours. I was confused – 48 hours is earliest? He explained to me patiently that the technical side did not work on Sundays, and hence 48 hours, otherwise it would be solved in 24 hours.

I was amazed that a 24x7 service of a major brand company does not have a back up emergency team, to deal with just such an eventuality.

I waited out Sunday, not bothering to complain again. The next day late in the afternoon, till when connection had not been restored, I called again, and they assured me that it was being attended to. Not satisfied with this vague soother, I had a brainwave and called the person who renews my account with prepaid packs. She told me that the problem was a major one, caused by the gas cutter-happy workers who had indiscriminately brought down everything above eye level, and that included their optic fibre cables, and it would take some time for the connection to be restored – two days at least. Though I was impressed with her honesty, I was disgusted too. Why could not this major company lay its cables underground, instead of leaving them dangling from poles or whatever they use to suspend them from?

By Tuesday, I had developed withdrawal symptoms, which included checking the connection every now and then, calling the complaint numbers and finding out the status of progress, if any. I have now got used to looking for everything on the net - news, trivia, meanings and spellings of unknown words, even checking out the credits of a movie, not to mention mail and chatting. So I did feel pretty lost not being connected.

Wednesday morning, and I still could not connect. After the usual grumbling and fuming and ranting, I called the renewal person again, and she assured me that it would definitely be restored “today”. By the time my net was connected, she and I had become fairly good friends, what with my calls to her.

And Wednesday night, it finally was – after four days. And I had protested so vehemently only last week when cut off for a few hours!

I caught up with the mails and was amazed to find one from Tata VSNL Broadband – it said they had noticed I wasn’t using their connection for sometime, and would I be interested in a scheme that would keep my account active for six months, even if I wasn’t using it.
Aargh!

P. S.
And just as I was about to post this, the connection went off - this time Tata VSNL 'preemptively avenged', as my brother phrased it.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

GANGAMRITHAM

Gangamritham. This is the name of our music group. We are made up of a motley group of housewives, ages ranging 40 to 60 plus, and Ganga is our guru, hence the name.
Yesterday we gave our second public performance, and we are elated, because it went off so well. And we had accompanists, too - young boys, (really young, they could have been my grandsons!)

Shyam, all of 12,( I could barely resist pinching his cheeks) played the violin and Jayadev, 15, played the mridangam. Both of them performed well – compared to us they are old hands at this. Shyam has been learning for five years from Lalitha Raghavan, and Jayadev from Srirangarajapuram Jayaraman for 10 years! We have been learning only for a year and a half. And some of us only for the last few months. Some of us go away to visit our children and rejoin. So our learning sessions are a little irregular. But for the concert, we rehearsed diligently, and put in that special effort.

This concert too was, like our first one , at a temple. Sri Venkatesa Perumal Temple is an old temple, in Mandaveli, where the Brahmotsavam has been conducted regularly for the last 60 years. Strangely, I had never heard of it earlier, and neither had any of my friends. But my husband decided to check out the place and came back with the information that it was a smallish temple where the Brahmotsavam was just over, and Rama Navami season just started.

Ganga had chosen a collection of songs on Sri Rama and Venkatachalapathi, by Sri Thyagaraja, Annamacharya, Thulsidas, Narayana Theertha and some others. The songs were well received by the listeners, mostly a floating audience, because they would come to the temple, stay a few minutes to pray, listen to us and move on. One senior lady was visibly moved by ‘Ezhumalai vaasa, Venkatesa’ in raagam Revathi, and sang along with an expression of such devotion and joy that I was touched. Though she got up to leave, she stayed on to the end, and was one of the few who later came up to us and greeted us.



It was hot and sultry inside the tiny temple, and we were sort of cramped in the available space, and sweating profusely; the lone pedestal fan could not provide much of a breeze -poor Jayadev was drenched in his kurta; and very often the singers outnumbered the listeners. My throat had got injured, paradoxically while swallowing a painkiller, and I could not sing the high notes. But who cared? We enjoyed singing with devotion, and pleasing the devotees. At the end we were given special darisanam and prasadam, including some excellent puliyinsaatham.

A most satisfying experience.

Friday, 11 April 2008

MADHUMATI REVISITED


Vyjayantimala with escort Viji at the special screening of 'Madhumati' in Mumbai, to mark its 50th year. The event was organised by the Bimal Roy Memorial Committee.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

TRAFFIC WOES RETURN ON C. V. RAMAN ROAD

We should have known. It was too good to last. The silence, the tranquillity, the clean atmosphere is gone. Our road is back to what it was one month ago – non-stop traffic from 6 am to 11 pm.

Powerful lobbying by traders whose businesses were adversely affected has brought about the change. The traffic authorities have bowed down under pressure, (posters pasted all over the place with demands for reversion were only part of it) and retracted the changes made.

For nearly 15 years, since the flyover was built adjacent to our road, and the first public bus came rattling down like a road-roller, we have been living in an atmosphere of pollution and dust. Why, I only have to stand still for 5 minutes, and I would be covered in dust.

To keep the house really clean, we have to dust everything every hour. Since this is not physically possible, we restrict it to twice a day. Our voices have been honed to a reverberating pitch due to constantly out-shouting the traffic with the effort of making ourselves heard.

Apart from the growls and roars of macho motorcycles and silencer-less autos, there is the dreadful honking when traffic comes to a standstill, on account of the lights at the corner. Don’t people realise that nobody wants to be caught in a traffic snarl? The person ahead of you is just as eager to get moving – so WHY HONK?

Surely C. V. Raman Road seniors also need some peace and quiet in their own homes, our children need to study in a peaceful atmosphere, and our babies sleep ?

I am thinking of asking the Traffic Commissioner to tea one day and serve it on our balcony, so he can see for himself. And too bad if the dust in his tea is not all tea.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

A HAUNTING MOVIE

I recently saw the much touted ‘Om Shanti Om’, and it left me cold. Shah Rukh Khan was good as usual, but to me it now seems that he uses the same style of inanity – ‘Chak De India’ was an exception I think – to project the hero as a ‘good’ fella. The new heroine Deepika Padukone was passable. But the theme of rebirth was handled so badly, even if it was a spoof of older movies – a clip from ‘Karz’ of the 80s acknowledged that. Not to mention that the title of the film is the song from the movie. The idea of the appearance of the real ghost, in place of the person who was supposed to ‘act’ as the ghost of the murdered actress to frighten the villain, was lifted straight from that golden oldie ‘Madhumati’.

Made in the late 1950s, ‘Madhumati’ was released in 1958 or 59, I am not sure which. We were then living in Pondicherry, and Hindi films reached theatres there well after a year or two after they were released elsewhere. As for English movies, we could see them only on Sunday morning shows, many years after they were released. But the thrill of going to see a picture/cinema/movie was so great, that all these delays seemed trifles.

I used to find out about the newly released Hindi movies because of the songs which were broadcast from Radio Ceylon in those days. And ‘Aap hi ke geet’ and the weekly Binaca Geet Mala were sure-fire indicators of the latest in film music. And so, long before ‘Madhumati’ came to Pondicherry, I was very familiar with the songs composed by Salil Chowdhary. A song book sent from New Delhi, costing only four annas, gave me the right words. And I would listen to those mesmerising tunes on the radio. When the picture was released in Pondicherry, I just had to see it.

Going to a movie then was an experience to be savoured in its anticipation. First we had to get my father’s permission - his golden rule was one picture a month. Next he would direct us to ask our grandparents, who lived with us. They of course never said no, and Grandmother would also happily come along with us. The planning, the getting ready, and wondering if the driver would come to drop us in time, would we reach there before the documentaries and the ads started – all these thoughts would keep me greatly excited. Today, when we can have all this at the mere flick of a finger in our own homes, this thrill cannot really be understood, I feel. And not only that, today I just can’t sit through any movie for three hours – I am so used to the commercial breaks!

‘Madhumati’ was a joy with Vyjayantimala looking her best(see picture), and Dilip Kumar who was just perfect as a besotted, and later, tragic lover. Good story, lovely locales and divine music. I think the picture won many awards then – best movie, best director for Bimal Roy, who had also produced it, best actress for Vyjayantimala and best music, too. And Lata Mangeshkar, too, for the literally haunting piece, “Aaja re Pardesi”.

In Mumbai Bimal Roy’s daughter Rinki Bhattacharya heads the Bimal Roy Memorial Committee which is recreating that magic tomorrow with a special show at theatre Globus. Stars Vyjayantimala and Dilip Kumar will be present.

The video below is from the picture 'Vanchikottai Valiban' with Vyjayantimala and Padmini mesmerising viewers with their dance.

Monday, 7 April 2008

GARDENIA'S GARDEN - A THING OF BEAUTY



I really need no words to go with these pictures. My sister who lives on a tea garden in West Bengal grew these beauties in her own garden, and sent the pictures. Just to gaze on them is such joy!

Thursday, 3 April 2008

OLYMPIC TORCH AND MEMORIES OF SCHOOLDAYS

Actor Aamir Khan has announced that he will take part in the Olympic torch relay in India "with a prayer" in his heart for the people of Tibet, turning down calls for a boycott. That is his decision. See his website.
I do empathise with the Tibetans, but what caught my attention was the Olympic torch, and what happened in my school half a century ago.

The State Games in Pondicherry were to be held, and our school, St. Joseph de Cluny High School, Pondicherry, had been asked to organise an appropriate event to launch the games, along the lines of the Olympic Games.

Our Headmistress, Rev. Mother Peter Claver was a most resourceful person, and arranged it efficiently to take place at the Aayi Mandapam (see picture) set in the lovely green Government Park. Despite the very Thamizh name, the monument looks rather like a Greek edifice. She selected students to play a high priestess and satellite priestesses, all dressed in white robes. The high priestess had to light the lamp and hand it over to one of the athletes, after singing a song which went,
“O Lord Zeus, O Lord Zeus,
Give us the spark of fire
With which to light
The athletic flame”.
To this day I am not sure if it is a song translated from Greek, or one that she wrote herself.

Recently my brother Bala sent me this picture from the Chicago Sun Times dated March 25. 
It shows Greek actress Maria Nafpiotou, portraying a high priestess lighting the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia.
Bala asked “Where is Raji?”

Obviously his thoughts had also gone back half a century. I was amazed at how closelyMother Peter had followed the finer details from costumes to the sequence of the ceremony, in a day long before television and internet. See for yourself.

P. S. That is me handing the torch over to the athlete.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

SERVICE PROVIDERS WHO DON'T

The day started badly. One of the first things I do when I get up is to turn the computer on and go online, hoping to see messages from the children. Today the net would not connect, and no amount of rebooting, and pulling the power plug out as advised by the service providers worked. And today was one of those days when I needed to be in touch with the family, owing to an emergency.

I called the service provider - they have a toll free number – and the conversation went like this.
He: Good morning ma’am. How may I help you?
Me: Hullo, my user id is so-and-so
He : Kindly be on hold ma’am, while we check your data.
Me: Oh, ok
He, after about a minute or two: Is it Professor So-and-So calling from Chennai? and he rattled off our phone number, asking me to confirm it.
Me: Yes, that is right.
He: Thank you for holding on ma’am . How may I assist you?
So I tell him about the problem, and he assures me that the problem will be taken care of in 24 hours.

This is their usual spiel, and I am quite used to it by now, because that is how they do it. And to be fair, sometimes the connection comes on much earlier. But today, 24 hours! I am irritated, but I hope for the best, and take down my complaint number. The person at the other end says in reply to my thanks, “Thank you ma’am. May I know who is speaking?” I give him my name, and he signs off with a “Have a nice day, madam.”

Nice day, indeed. I am wondering where to go and browse, and check and send mail, because unlike a few years ago, there no longer are browsing centres in and around our neighbourhood. But that is another story.

I decide to catch up with my chores, periodically checking to see if the connection has been restored. No luck. And after what I consider a great patient wait of three hours, I call the toll free number again. This time it is another fresh voiced person, and we go through the same rigmarole till we come to the how-may-he-help-me part. I give him my complaint number, and ask for details about the progress and status of my complaint, and he says, “Madam, it is only three hours since you complained.”

That really puts me off. I explain to him that three hours is eternity in the internet world, and tell him I need to communicate urgently. He adopts the tone used to soothe an unreasonable child and says, “Sure, madam, we understand your problem and we are sorry for the inconvenience.” The insincere words make me grind my teeth. “Yes, it is very inconvenient,” I tell him irritatedly, and he is stuck for an answer. He has not been programmed to answer such comments. And I tell him how often this problem has occurred, and how no permanent measures are taken to remedy it. He says, “I am very sorry madam, we shall give your complaint high priority and attend to it.”

I have to admit it, they have been trained to be unfailingly polite and keep their calm. And I say thanks, and as I put the phone down, his voice rings in my ear, “Thank you for calling **** (the company’s name). Have a good day.”

When the connection isn’t back after two hours I make another call, and this time it is a lady, and we have the same conversation, like a waltz, doing our moves, and we reach the how-she-may-help-me bit. I give her my complaint number to make the conversation brief, and she asks me to kindly hold on, and comes back with a startling statement: “The problem has been resolved, ma’am.”

By this time I am sure there is smoke coming out of my ears.
Me: It has? How come I don’t know anything about it? And how come I am not able to connect?
She, patiently: Ma’am, I shall make a note of it.
Me: Kindly give me a complaint number.
She: Ma’am we can’t give another number till after 24 hours.
Me: So how about my complaint? Can you call your superior officers please and tell them that the problem is NOT resolved
She : Ma’am I am sorry but we can’t do that. I shall present your complaint again and send it to our back-end people.(whoever they are)
Me: Well, tell your supervisors that this is one unhappy customer you have, who may not even renew the account.
She (ever patient and cool): Yes, ma’am, we are sorry for the inconvenience.
And before I can say anything, she says “Thank you for using our service. Have a nice day,” and rings off.

Seven hours from the first call – no luck. I have already stepped out to my sister-in-law’s office to quickly check my mail. I call again. And we go through the same routine, till he says, “How may I assist you?” to which I say, “How about getting me connected?” He says, “Can you repeat that, madam?”
I give up. What can he do? By now the fight has gone out of me.

But I have to hand it to them – programmed to be the perfect answering machines – the same replies to all the different questions, and keeping their cool under fire.

Oh, and yes, the connection was finally restored late in the afternoon.

Sociable