Friday, August 26, 2005

Everything for export only?

Some time back, while gawking at the things in the kitchen accessories section of Debenhams (a slightly upmarket departmental store), I came across a cake tin - the sort of storage tin I'd been searching for, for quite a while. It was a good sized round one, made of stainless steel, with a high domed lid that had a transparent glass top and attached to the bottom plate with clips. It cost a whopping £40 (roughly 3,200 rupees) but it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. So I bought it.

This isnt about me being disappointed with it when I got home. No, it was still exactly what I'd wanted even after I unpacked it at home to admire it. What took me aback, however, was the printed tag that said "Made in India". Made in India! And to think I'd looked for precisely that kind of cake storage tin in the "hep" supermarkets of Madras and Hyderabad when I came over (two years in succession, and then again this year) but was it available? Was it heck! And now I know why - it's because the good quality items are reserved for markets abroad!

I dont know quite how much things have changed in the last 6-7 years in Madras (and other places in India too) but I cant help wondering if all the best things made in India are exported to the west, instead of being made available within the country to its citizens as well. Maybe it's all for export, maybe not.

I personally settle for the "not" - I remember from my (all-too-brief) time in Srinagar, quite a few moons ago, how the best apples grown in Kashmir were only for export, not available in the local markets. I dont suppose things would have been any different in the rest of India then, or are any different now, a good decade later. But I wish somebody could tell me I'm wrong. For once, that would make me happy.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Customer service - like it or not!

Last week I had to go to the optician for my contact lens eye check-up. The optician who "saw" me was a very nice man called James - very friendly, very helpful, very explanatory. In fact, SO explanatory that he wouldnt stop talking about every step of what he was doing... rather like a running commentary: "Now I'm going to just gently pull your lower lid down so that I can move the lens just a little bit.." "Now I'm putting a drop of this mildly anaesthetic solution in your eye so that I can check for any dry patches..." "Now I will be moving this machine close to you..." - and so on and so on, with lots of medical tidbits thrown in as well - terms like "sclera" and "aqueous humour" and "eye pressure" that brought back vague and not-quite-pleasant memories of biology classes in school. In fact, he pretty much had the same effect as Miss Daisy, my biology teacher in school - soporific to the extent that I had to stifle yawn after yawn.

James was a good optician, and I do appreciate that he took the trouble to keep me informed at all times - in direct contrast to doctors in India (and some here as well) who just go about testing you for whatever, and either ignore your questions or give answers that dont leave you any the wiser about what's wrong with you or what's happening. A lot of information would be welcome and useful if what you have is serious or worrying, and if you have a lot of questions to ask the doctor.

But that was not my situation - all I needed checking was to see if my contact lenses had the correct fit. This is not a new procedure to me and I had no questions because I've been having the test done yearly for the last few years. So James' explanations and reassurances were merely boring and, at worst, intrusive, prompting thoughts like "Oh my god, just shut up and get on with it, I'd like to get home sometime this century!"

I didnt say that, of course, although I tried a couple of gentle hints like "yes, I've had this test done every year for 5-6 years now" and "yes, I was told about it the first time I had this check-up" - but he was far too gone in the customer service ideal to take heed of any faint protests. He was determined in his friendly, pleasant, overinformative way to let me know what was going on and never mind what I wanted.

Information is good, but a lot of information doesnt necessarily equate to a lot of good!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Musharraf's strange order

I've been wondering what the idea is behind Pakistani President Musharraf's order that all foreign students in that country's madrassas should leave. What's the point? I mean, the madrassas which are "misused for extremism" are gonna be teaching their hardline message to ALL the students, not just the foreign ones there. I'm not sure if Musharraf's order was meant to show the West that he IS supporting the American "war on terror"... in any case, it's a sham of a move.

Pakistan has enough of its own hardliners, so sending away a few hundred foreign students (possibly even genuine seekers of knowledge) isnt exactly going to help anything anywhere. Closing down all the madrassas might have been a bit more useful - but only a bit. Extremism and hatred can be taught anywhere... such people - whether the teachers or the taught - do not require schools or other official places of learning.

Monday, August 01, 2005

A working epiphany

It's Monday morning, the rain's keeping off (although it was cloudy to start with) and I cycled to work - and the humidity levels must be down as well, because my hair didnt end up in a frizzy semi-Afro... tra la la. I dont need more reasons than this to be pleased on a working Monday morning. Better yet, I've done what work needs doing for the morning and am now free to do as I please. In a short while, it will be lunch time. Thirty minutes of solitude to eat my lunch and read my book.

It's good to be working full-time again, and it's great to be working in a place that's friendly and where the work is interesting and fun because it's different from what I've been used to as a working stiff till now. It's also very nice to work with only a handful of colleagues instead of being one labouring ant among dozens of others. Best of all is working for somebody with whom you have a rapport. (I need but one finger to describe all my previous bosses, heheh.)

I'm not a journalist any more - I do an administrative job. I expected to miss being an editor, so I dutifully waited for the nostalgia to hit... and waited, and waited. Eventually I realised, surprising myself quite a lot, that I didnt miss being a journalist.

Any nostalgia I experienced was for the years spent in The Hindu Business Line - and even then it was mainly the cartload of colleagues (who were also good friends) that made the work fun. I dont deny that I enjoyed working in a newspaper - doing the night shift was fun, working during high-pressure times (budget, disasters, etc) was fun (hmm... that word does keep cropping up, doesnt it?) and - um, I gotta admit to this - the "wow you're a journalist" reaction from non-journo folks was fun too!

But the Hindu BL was a good 5 years ago, and between then and now, I've had the experience of working in other "journalistic" jobs. The first was in a newspaper (I use the term very loosely) in Singapore - and that is not something I look back on with any pleasure - the working atmosphere, the work place, the work ethics (or lack thereof) and most of my colleagues all combined to make the experience memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Here in the UK, I worked for 2-3 weeks gratis at a local newspaper. I tried very hard to enjoy the place and the work I did, because that's what I expected of myself... after all, as a journalist, I had to enjoy it because that's what I had always done! I couldnt imagine myself doing anything else... although, by that point, I HAD done other things like editing website content, writing a user manual for a software program written by my husband, entering invoices in the system, etc. It's just that I was so blinkered about employment other than as a journalist that all those things never struck me as something I could do on a permanent basis.

I must say I was disappointed with myself - and, again, surprised - when I realised just why I'd not seriously looked for employment opportunities in other arenas... it was because of my terminally "white collar" mindset (very likely very common to the Indian sub-continent). In theory I believed that all employment was honourable and no work below anybody's dignity as long as one was earning an honest living. But in effect, although all jobs were equal, some jobs were more equal than others (oh Orwell, Orwell) - apparently I had had a sub-conscious hierarchy for even the "educated" kind of jobs.

No longer, though. Hurrah for epiphanies and having your eyes opened to true reality (as opposed to the blinkered kind, what else)!