Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hundred percent India!

Here's an interesting notice seen at numerous places in Pune. Translated into English, it would mean - Courses for Spoken English with 100% guarantee. In the event of failure, full money back guarantee ! So what exactly does 100% mean? Typical of India, where we live happily with ambiguity in every aspect of life. Often 100% doesn't really mean "truly 100%" in India. But we understand the sentiment behind the statement and let it pass.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sowhat-itis. A national scourge

It can happen in any city in India these days. On the weekend, a simple middle-class family goes out for some plain fun in the shopping mall. A young executive decides to have a quick bite at the corner before heading home. A student hurries to buy some essential stuff for her college assignment before the shops close. Just as all these people are busy with their own lives, a flash of lightning and a deafening bang. The bomb kept in a nearby dustbin by a mindless, faceless and heartless terrorist explodes. Many unsuspecting innocent lives are shut off forever.... For those who survive, life is never the same again.
It was the same story this week in Delhi. But I experienced something different within myself. The spread of a national disease called sowhat-itis.
Being born and schooled in Delhi, the city is closer to my heart than any other. I have many friends from school days and those whom I have met later in life who currently stay in Delhi. And yet, for a full 24 hours and more, I didn't' bother to find out if they were all ok. Sowhat-itis is dangerous - it plays tricks on your mind. I found the perfect explanation for my behaviour. So? What can I do about this sitting in Pune? If one of them has really suffered in some way in these blasts, can I help in any way? How would calling up and finding out help me? I will be contributing to jamming the cellphone networks even further, isn't it? If any of them is really in trouble and remembers me, s/he will call me.
I slept that night, or rather, I like to believe that I slept. In the deep recesses of my psyche, I kept seeing my friends - tadi, buli, karir, padoo, sushant, ajit, alka, ashwini, rachna, karan, and so many more. Anyone of them or someone from their families could have been at Karol Bagh, CP or GK-I that evening.
Yet, I never bothered to pick up the phone and call anyone.
Finally, the next afternoon, I called up Sanjay Agarwal (better known as Padoo to many) and spoke to him. His nonchalance only aggravated my sowhat-itis. He calmly remarked, "what can people like you and I do, when we have a government that only talks but never acts? Theek hai, ab aisa hi chalega......"
I am sure that ministers are given a standard manual on the day they take oath. It consists of 'things to say on different occasions.' So our minister picks up the manual and thumbs through the by-now-well-rehearsed dialogues. There has been a train accident? I see... hmmmm, yes, its page no. 32. Are the cameras ready? OK, here goes. "I am deeply anguished by this horrible tragedy. The wounded are being treated in the nearby hospital. A sum of 1 lakh rupees will be paid to all the families of those who are dead and 50000 to the injured. An enquiry commission has been instituted which will submit its report soon. The guilty will be punished." Next day a distinguished personality dies of old age. OK, turn to page no. 56. "Mr. XYZ has left behind a void which can never be filled. The best tribute to him would be carry on his great work for the betterment of society." Then the next day, a bomb blast. Page 2. "We condemn this dastardly/cowardly act on our country. We will not buckle under any pressure and deal with the terrorist elements severely. The guilty will soon be brought to the court of law. I appeal to the citizens to keep calm and maintain communal harmony."
Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Jaipur, Varanasi, Hyderabad, the list just goes on. After some time, the names stop mattering. Till the day it happens to YOU. By then, it is too late...... Sowhat-itis has claimed its next victim.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It WAS scary....

Don't ask me why I was awake at this time. The point is, I was - fully wide awake. And there was this earthquake a few minutes ago. It went on and on - the cupboard shaking, the glass pane going thud thud thud. It continued in this fashion for so long - I almost decided to get up and run down the stairs to stand out on the road. Just then - it stopped. I dont have a TV so can't watch any 'breaking news' (sorry - pun not intended, really) so am now going to sleep in a tense state. I hope this wasn't a big one somewhere else, and I felt only its remote tremors out here in Pune.....
I checked CNN and some other news channels on the net - there is nothing on them so far.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Is it a bird...Is it a plane....No, Its a Cat !!!

A few days back, Vallarie rescued an orphaned kitten on the way back from college. Not surprising, because history has to repeat itself. Swati did the same thing 25 years ago, when she had brought home an injured black kitten, small enough to fit into your palm. He went on to be known as Shakun (marathi for Omen) and his adventurous pursuits (gastronomic ones in the kitchen and amorous ones in the nearby alley) have become part of the family folklore. And now more than two decades later, there arrives this frisky little kitten. The usual protests from grandmother followed, but the kitten miraculously found the bathroom to go and mark its territory! The grandma had no option but to get convinced of its well-behaved manners, and very soon it occupied a little basket and the cozy warmth of Vallarie's jacket. It has now been named Whisky, for its fine whiskers. The name suits me just fine, because now I can say without worrying, 'there's always whisky at home'! Plus, not always will you get to see a cocktail of whisky and milk!
Vallarie is convinced that Whisky suffers from dissociated identity disorder (rather, Whisky is endowed with it). Very often, it climbs on top of anything nearby (that 'anything' could be you) and surveys her kingdom around, much like an eagle would sit atop a high perch.
Then the other day, we saw her hang upside down from a curtain and crawl along in that state, much like a monkey or a three-toed sloth. Whisky also believes that she turns into an owl in the night and becomes a lion-cum-eagle by the day. I am ok with that too, as long as she doesn't start believing she is Pushkaraj Apte....

Poetry in Motion

A few days back, I had the good fortune of seeing a Kathak peformance by Shilpa Datar and her disciples. Honestly, till a few years ago, I never went to see any dance. Amongst the fine arts, I liked music, I could appreciate painting and sculpture, but dance? Not really. Thankfully, Vallarie started learning Kathak under the watchful eyes of Guru Maneesha Sathe (who is also Shilpa's Guru) and I have slowly started appreciating this form of expression too. My real teacher in this area is in fact Vallarie herself.
Shilpa Datar (Shilpa-tai, as all her students call her) first gave a solo performance that must remain an inspiration to all her students. I am amazed how she could alternate between so many forms in a matter of seconds. (Milliseconds, actually). At times, she would be blurred motion personified. Before you could bat an eyelid, she would be motionless like a statue, then revert to pirouetting around again. What enabled her to anchor firmly when she would swirl around herself is best known to her only. I know that much physics to understand that a gyroscope stays steady on its end only when it moves and would fall off if it stops - but then Shilpatai is not a gyroscope. If I turn around myself with that speed even ten times, the semicircular canals inside my ears would order my body to collapse to the ground. She didn't, even after countless turns.
If the opening performance was breathtaking, what followed blew my mind apart. Shilpatai also teaches Kathak to hearing-impaired children. And what a performance they gave! Soul-stirring, to say the least. She sat in front of the stage (in the 'pit') and kept giving them directions, much like an opera conductor. But I don't think the children needed it really. They were rehearsed perfectly. There was a spontaneous standing ovation at the end. We all just kept applauding. The joy of being appreciated by a large crowd when standing under the stage lights was writ large on their beaming faces. What must be going on in their silent worlds at that moment? I wish I knew.
But this was not all. At the end of the performance, Shilpatai was back on stage with seven others, and put up a brilliant 'tarana'. I have heard that composition at least a hundred times, but seeing it in Kathak form was something else. I waited with baited breath to see how the climax was going to be done. And it was exactly what it should have been. A crescendo, a fitting finale, the grand climax.
Thank you - Shilpatai and all your students - for giving this unforgettable experience to all of us there in the hall.