Friday, March 27, 2009

The economics of discipline

Perhaps it’s easy to be disciplined and orderly when you know that you will definitely get whatever it is you’re waiting for; when you know for certain that you won’t lose out by giving way to someone, or waiting till those ahead of you are done. Maybe that’s why there’s such a mad scramble for everything in poorer countries – because people know that supply (of anything) is much, much less than the constant demand, and it’s always a case of first-come-first-served, every man for himself and the others be damned.

If you want to see Third World-style discourtesy and selfishness in the hallowed West, try shopping at Next just after Christmas. Or at Ikea, when there’s a sale on. Or heck, for some really vicious “me first even if I have to trample over you” behaviour, head for Harrods during their traditional New Year sale, where the Haves exhibit the sort of aggressive grabbiness that the Have-Nots couldn't even begin to match.

Discipline only exists where supply exceeds demand. That’s a law of human nature, whether you’re White and First World, or Brown and Third World.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reading and writhing

I think it was in the first week of college that one of our lecturers gathered together all the first-year students (not just the English Literature students) for some forthcoming in-house “culturals”. She then asked for volunteers to read aloud a short poem by Robert Frost (incidentally, one of my all-time favourite poets because his poems are so deceptively simple, beautifully descriptive and easy to understand), so that she could choose the best among us for whatever programme she had in mind for the culturals.

Now I’ve always suffered from an extreme reluctance to be the centre of attention for any reason – in other words, terrible stage fright – but for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to volunteer to read aloud to a giggling gaggle of total strangers. No, actually I DO remember the reason – I really wanted a different persona, to be seen as someone who was gregarious, fun, spontaneous, maybe even a leader of – erm, women, I suppose… and I thought that I could be whoever I wanted to be, as none of the girls there knew me, or what I was like, at all.

What I discovered that day was that it’s really very difficult to get over who you are (especially if you’re like me - reserved to a fault, difficult to get on with and borderline unfriendly unless there is a “vibe”) to be the person you want to be, even if you have a blank canvas of an audience to work with. So let’s just say that it was not exactly a scintillating reading that I did – I was trembling, my hands were icy cold in contrast to my face which felt red-hot (that was one of the times that I really blessed my dark complexion, because a fair skin would have shown me up as beet-red), and my voice was nearly inaudible. And what was audible shook like Talat Mehmood’s singing on a really good day, except mine was not deliberate.

I clearly remember how impatient the lecturer was when I finished. She grabbed the book from me, saying (extra loudly, I thought as I squirmed in embarrassment): “That was absolutely terrible! This is a beautiful poem meant to be read softly, with emotion, not rattled off without pause or expression! Here, I’ll read it out and you can see the difference!” (Those were pretty much her exact words, by the way. You don't easily forget those occasions of self-induced embarrassment.)

That was the last time I volunteered to read anything in public. I’m glad to say, though, that my written work revised the lecturer’s (very probable) opinion of me as a poetry-mangling literature-loathing lump of a first-year Eng Lit student. Perhaps I couldn’t read, but I certainly could write.

Which is why
this article I came across in the Times Online website was intriguing. I don’t know how good I would be at reading aloud – but I think I could manage with an audience of one or two people. I know absolutely that I have no trouble reading aloud to kids, or telling them stories with the appropriate voice approximations (squeaky for mouse, growly for lion and so on) - and for proof I have a once-little-and-now-20-years-of-age cousin who still remembers the story of "Cheeko and Rajah", a monkey and an elephant respectively. (Hell, she couldn't not remember it, because it was her favourite story and I must have narrated it to her, on request, about a zillion times. It's definitely branded into MY brain, and I'm pretty sure that not even Alzheimer's could make me forget that story!)

What a nice job it would be, though, to read aloud to people in a posh hotel room - and get paid for it. I've read aloud to Pete before, but now I must do so again with the intention of being evaluated for clarity, ability to hold interest and such other qualities as are necessary for a professional read-alouder. (Is there a technical term for this job post, I wonder, and does one have to be trained at a drama academy to qualify?)

Oh, and for those interested to know which poem by Robert Frost we were asked to read aloud, it's this one:

The Pasture

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Not a baddie, but not all Goody either

I hope I am not the only person who’s really tired of the overblown praise being heaped upon the late Jade Goody by people who ought to have other, far more important things to do – like Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for starters. Yes, it was tragic that she died so young, leaving behind two young children. But that sort of tragedy happens all the time, and – pardon me for saying this – to people who were doing a great deal more every single day in the way of helping other people, or making the world a better place, or indeed raising the profile of deadly diseases, than Jade Goody ever did voluntarily in her entire 27 years of existence! The fact that such people die unnoticed and uneulogised and, in many cases, unable to provide for their loved ones left behind, is one of the more unfair things this world has to offer.

Jade Goody was a celebrity – and an accidental one at that. She did nothing to make the thinking person see her as someone to be admired for her achievements, because other than making money by selling her life, she achieved nothing. All she did was make her life a reality show. That there were people who avidly watched her every move says nothing about Jade - other than the fact that her ridiculous antics sold tabloids and improved cheap TV ratings – and everything about the morbid prurience of her watchers. Sure, there are plenty of young people who see her as a role model merely because she managed to rise above her not-quite-ideal upbringing and become rich. While that is admirable in a shallow sort of way, the fact remains that, for most of her public life, she was best known for her stupidity than for any particular talent or ability or intelligence.

The tabloids are full of people who say that Jade should be praised for doing so much to raise the profile of cervical cancer among women and for helping save the lives of thousands of women who would otherwise not have had the smear test. I agree that she helped make the dangers of cervical cancer better known. But was it because she made the effort of campaigning for it, or raising money for research, or even donating money to cancer charities while she was healthy and normal? No way. It was through sheer bad luck (for her) that she managed this, basically by getting that particular form of cancer. If anybody should be thanked for raising the profile of cervical cancer, it should be the tabloids and TV channels, for giving her every hospital visit and every setback such unstinting and constant publicity!

Yes, I am glad that she thought about providing for her sons after her death. That is what a good mother would do. She was very lucky to be able to profit from her life and dying days, and leave the boys at least a good monetary legacy if nothing else. That is an opportunity that very few people have.

But a good mother would also have tried to provide a good role model for her children in the form of a decent father – which Jade’s husband, that appalling lout of a Jack Tweedy, is most certainly not and most likely never will be. I don’t know what their natural father, Jeff Brazier, does for a living and what sort of person he is (isn't it odd that he isnt having HIS every living moment documented by the tabloids! How are we ever to know more about him?), but I hope he’s a better human being than weedy Tweedy.

I sincerely hope that Jade's kids will grow up to be decent, good, well-adjusted human beings... but only time will tell if they can outgrow the abnormal lifestyle they’ve been used to from birth – that is to say, living in the constant glare of publicity with a mother who didn’t exactly shy away from having their every move telecast and/or published.

I have nothing against Jade Goody, honestly - she was no "baddie" while being a "Goody" if only in name. I thought she was a very pretty woman, actually. While she lived the high-profile life of a healthy, mindless celebrity, she didn’t really bother me – all I had to do to keep her out of my life was to ignore her reality TV shows... and that is what I did. I’m sorry that she had to die so young, sorry that her kids don’t have a mother now. It’s just that the fact that she’s suddenly being touted as the perfect mother and angelic do-gooder that rankles with me. There are far more deserving people who deserve to be commended thus.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's all Polish to me

How about that, then?

I haven’t come across any exclusively Polish shops in Shrewsbury, so I don’t know if that sort of behaviour is limited to just that particular shop in East Yorkshire by just that particular owner. For that matter, I don’t know if his antagonism was directed at the English exclusively, or if people from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were also included for exclusion ("included for exclusion" – heh. Sometimes my turn of phrase is so astonishingly brilliant, even I’m left surprised). I also have no idea if people from other countries – meaning, for instance, me, from India – would be asked to get out as well. It just seems so rude... not to mention, extremely racist! Very very uncool, pretty much on par with British Muslims who taunt British soldiers with being murderers for doing their job, or people from other nations who have settled here by their own choice and yet militate (is that a word?) against the very country that has provided them asylum.

Getting back to the subject (of Polish groceries), I have noticed imported Polish foodstuffs being thoughtfully sold at the big Tesco in Shrewsbury, and also in a wholesale meat market in Telford. They may well be sold by other supermarkets in other places too, but I do not talk of things unwitnessed by my own four eyes.

So, anyway, there’s a whole shelf of Polish-labelled food (the freezer section also has its own shelf full of frozen Polish products), next to a shelf of Indian things and another of Jamaican things. It’s nice to see secularism and tolerance among food stuffs, and I would like to be secular in buying products from all these shelves. Unfortunately I end up only buying from the Indian and Jamaican ones.

It’s not because I’m intolerant of Polish food. My selection is not racially or nationality-wise discriminatory. My problem is, simply, that I don’t speak, read, write or understand, in any format whatsoever, the Polish language. And all the food from Poland is described and labeled exclusively in Polish. Some of them are obviously biscuits or cakes... and others in transparent bottles just as obviously seafood, etc. But there are plenty of other items to completely baffle the non-Polish reader and would-be consumer.

Now I understand that these products were likely meant for Polish consumption within Poland, and I think it’s reasonable enough for the manufacturers not to translate the names and/or contents into English. Why bother, if it’s meant for the Poles, right?

But when these products are imported into the UK, and sold not just in local Pole-run shops (where I would expect the shop owner to provide at least a verbal translation if required), but in mainstream supermarkets, you’d expect that everybody would be able to know what they are and what’s in them. Right?

Again, I’m not expecting the manufacturers at the point of origin to bother with translating their products. However, I DO hold it against Tesco and other British-run establishments for not providing translations. It’s not user friendly in general, not at all friendly to vegetarians who might want to try authentic tinned Polish food but can’t because they don’t know the contents, and definitely not conducive to food secularity!

Yes, I have a *beef against Tesco and I want them to know it.

*I’d have used a vegetarian-friendly term, but I couldn't think of anything that would have a similar impact. “I have a (non-specific) vegetable against Tesco” just doesn’t sound right, does it?

The true punishment isn't death

I may well have said this before, but I don’t believe in the death penalty for any criminals, no matter how heinous their crime. Now, I’m no mushy-hearted advocate of human rights for cold-blooded rapists and murderers – I firmly believe that if someone takes the life of another person without extreme provocation (like being physically or mentally tortured for years, or abused, or violently attacked, etc), they automatically forfeit all rights to a life that has any sort of comfort or entertainment or human contact. If their victim cannot ever have these rights, their murderer certainly shouldn’t either. Also, going by that same reasoning, a quick death would be too good for such criminals. They should live their entire life locked away with only the basic minimum to sustain life, and no amount of convenient repentance should bring any respite.

(The other reason that I don’t believe in the death penalty is that in case there has been a miscarriage of justice and someone has been wrongly imprisoned, at least they will be alive to be released when the mistake comes to light. A posthumous pardon and release would do no good whatsoever, would it?)

Anyway, when I started this post, I had in mind Josef Fritzl, who has declared himself guilty of incest, rape and murder and accepted that he treated his daughter with the utmost cruelty for a good quarter of a century. He is 73 years old and I personally would like him to spend the rest of his natural life shut away from humanity, preferably in a dank underground cellar with no natural light and no access in any way – through radio, TV, newspapers, etc - to the outside world. That should be fitting punishment for Fritzl’s inhuman behaviour to his own daughter. Any human rights campaigners who feel sorry for Fritzl can keep him company there if they feel strongly enough about it.

Granted that no amount of punishment for Fritzl is going to mitigate the suffering his daughter underwent; nothing will turn back time, nothing will change the horrible truth of the circumstances of their conception for his 6 grandchildren who are also, in the most awful way possible, his own children. But putting him to death will mean that while their suffering goes on, he will have escaped the consequences of his actions. No, the best thing would be to keep Fritzl alive – in prison, though, not in a psychiatric hospital. The rest of his life spent in prison will give him, hopefully, plenty of time to think over his past. No amount of repentance is enough.

That said, there are plenty of Fritzl-like human beings in this world - not just in Austria. Maybe not all of them have imprisoned their own daughter in a nightmare cellar in their own home, but there are enough ongoing victims of incest and abuse whose nightmare hasn’t ended and probably will never even come to light, and whose abusers will never be punished.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Some of my favourite Hindi love songs...

I havent seen the movie Aandhi but the song Tere bina zindagi se koi shikva to nahin, sung by Kishore Kumar, is absolutely beautiful to listen to - the melody, Kishore's voice, the moving lyrics (with no rubbish English words or banal rhymes thrown in, I might add)... how could anybody who loves, or has ever loved, not be moved by the opening stanza which translates to "I have no grievance against a life without you; but without you, life isn't even a life" (Tere bina zindagi se koi shikva to nahin; tere bina zindagi bhi lekin zindagi to nahin )? Such beautiful lyrics by Gulzar, such beautiful music by R D Burman.

Another Kishore song is Phoolon ke rang se from the movie Prem Pujari (which movie also I haven't seen) and music by S D Burman - the even more illustrious father of the illustrious son from the previous song! Lyrics by Neeraj, and again, no crap wording at all, just beautiful, beautiful sentiments... "Whether it's a short trip or a long one, whether I'm on a lonely road or at a fair, when I think of you, I become lonely even in a crowd" (Chhota safar ho, lamba safar ho, sooni dagar ho ya mela; yaad tu aaye, mann ho jaaye bheed mein bhi akela). Okay, my translations leave a lot to be desired in terms of poetry, but believe me, in the original Hindi the lyrics are so very much more evocative and beautiful!

Mukesh, although a little too nasal for some people, has some truly beautiful songs to his credit. One of them, which I tend to think is underrated as a love song, is from the movie Andaz (yet again, one I haven't seen), with music by Naushad and lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri. Tu kahe agar has beautiful lyrics - "I am a song and you are the musical notes, continue supporting me, I am the tune and you are the melody" (Main saaz hoon tu sargam hai, deti jaa sahare mujhko, main raag hoon to beena hai). It's not a sad song, for a change, given that it's Mukesh singing, but it's a beautifuly Italicmelodious one.

One really old movie from the 1950s that I have seen over and over is Baiju Bawra. The first time I saw it was when I was 8 or 9 years old... it must have made a huge impression on me despite the major difference in our ages - mine and the movie's - because for years after, I could still remember key scenes from it. I didnt get to see it again till I was well into my 20s, and it was just as engrossing as I remembered it. Yes, Bharat Bhushan's OTT acting in places made me giggle, but on the whole I loved the movie, especially for the music.

I would say that practically every song from Baiju Bawra is a gem - but how could they not be, with music by Naushad and lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni, and sung mostly by Mohd Rafi? Listening to Rafi sing "O Duniya ke rakhwale" always sends shivers down my back and brings tears to my eyes... the purity of his voice, the sheer emotion he conveys, is just amazing. And the lyrics - "(Like) the crazed sun searching for the moon, dawn searching for dusk, I too search for the love who could not be mine" (Chand ko dhoonde pagal sooraj, shaam ko dhoond savera, main bhi dhoondhoon uss preetam ko, ho na sakaa jo mera) - the combination of Rafi-Naushad in this song could melt the proverbial stone... and in the movie, it made a stone idol cry. I totally get the idol. It couldn't have stayed unaffected.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Naidu Hall shopping experience

Going shopping in India is always a pleasure in retrospect, the more so when you go to premium shops or emporiums (emporia?). (I speak only for myself here, because shopping in general is not top on my list of fun things to do.) I’m not sure if Naidu Hall counts as a “premium” shop any more in Madras, given that there are hundreds of fancy places that sell hugely expensive clothes, not all of them wearable more than once especially after the first wash (and here Fabindia comes to mind).

Fabindia fans (you know who you are), you already know that
I’m not the only one whose opinion isn’t Fabindia-flattering! Anyway, Fabindia didn’t merit a visit this time (mostly because I don’t like to pay half the earth for kitchen rags, but also just a wee bit because I simply didn’t have much spare time), but Naidu Hall did.

Of all the eccentric payment protocols that you encounter in Indian shops, the most eccentric is probably Naidu Hall's. I think I remember, in some very, very far-off times wreathed in the mists of history and poor memory, when it was a fairly simple thing to shop at Naidu Hall – there were two branches, but the one I usually patronised (to buy my unmentionables) was in Mylapore, near the Sanskrit College. It was a simple enough matter, once the gossiping shopgirls’ attention had been drawn to oneself, of asking for the right size unmentionable, paying at the counter and taking home the unmentionable in a cheap plastic bag. Only one counter for both payment and collection, I might add.

But as Naidu Hall’s range and popularity and outlets and number of staff grew and grew, so did the complexity of the whole shopping procedure. This time I went to the outlet in Adyar, because my cousin and I needed to buy underskirts/petticoats for the sarees bought for my brother’s wedding. This had been complicated unnecessarily right at the start, given the fact that our sarees were miles away at the original point of purchase at a very posh shop in Cathedral Road (for fall stitching and picot work) and our blouse pieces were in the possession of a friend (and part-time self-appointed chauffeur and tailor-recommender). Why were the blouse pieces with the friend, you ask? Ah well, therein lies a story of jet lag (mine) and general forgetfulness (my cousin’s) which doesn’t need elaboration.

So, with neither sarees nor blouse pieces at hand with which to find the right coloured underskirts, my cousin and I trudged upstairs (directed there by the Naidu Hall employee at the entrance) and sat down to wait for my friend to arrive with the blouse pieces. I whiled away the time by pointing out particularly hideous pieces of sartorial inelegance to my cousin and threatening offering to buy them for her as a gift. (For some reason, she wasn’t quite appreciative of my generosity. One wonders why.)

Soon my friend-and-chauffeur arrived and we made our way to the petticoat section, where the lady at the counter was duly proffered the two blouse pieces. Mine wasn’t a problem – she found one that matched it quite quickly. My cousin’s was a bit more of a hassle, and eventually the sales lady informed us that there was no petticoat of that particular shade of rose pink.

Earlier, while we were waiting for the arrival of the blouse pieces, I had picked up a hair clip which I now laid on the counter while I rummaged for something or other in my bag. I didn’t notice at first, but my friend nudged me and pointed out that the sales lady was now trying to match the hair clip to the various colours of underskirts on shelves behind her. This led to some idle speculation on our part – would she try and find a matching petticoat for anything that was placed on her counter? Unfortunately we had neither the time nor any assortment of odd materials, at that point, to conduct an experiment; so, giggling only a little, we informed the sales lady that we didn’t need any matching anything for the clip, but we did need to pay for it.

She directed us to take the clip and my petticoat to her colleague at the payment counter on her floor. So we did. Her colleague made out a receipt for the petticoat, took the petticoat and placed it in a bag, and handed me the receipt. I proffered the clip for payment as well, but was told that she could neither accept cash nor issue a receipt for it (presumably she was in charge of making out receipts only for petticoats), and that I would have to take it downstairs for payment. She then called her minion and handed him the petticoat parcel to take downstairs to the cashier.

We went downstairs (by a different route than the minion, I think) and thence to the main payment section, where I handed the receipt to the cashier lady and paid for the petticoat. She stamped my receipt and gave it back to me to take to the purchase collection counter. Once again I tried to pay for the clip and was asked if I wanted a counter-receipt for that. Envisaging another round of being passed from clerk to counter to minion to cashier, I declined the offer, hoping she would take the cash and just give me the blessed clip.

No such luck. I mean, yes she took the cash from me, but she also took the clip, handing both over to yet another colleague of hers for further action. To our amused disbelief, this chap called another minion who then hared off upstairs, having been instructed to take them to the accessories section of the store and get the purchase ratified (or some such arcane procedure) by whoever was in charge there.

Why? Really, I mean, why? Why take the cash and the clip upstairs when I had offered to make the payment there? Why didn’t the cashier on the first floor take the cash directly from me? Why did she tell me to take the clip downstairs and pay for it downstairs? Why did they have to make me pay downstairs, only to then send both cash and clip back to the first floor - where, obviously, they DID have provision to take/leep cash payments?

Anyway, by the time I had proffered my stamped receipt (for the petticoat – do try to keep up!) at the collections counter, had it scrutinised carefully and then stamped again by the guy there, then collected my parcel with the now twice-stamped receipt clipped to the parcel and clipped again to the Naidu Hall plastic bag as well, the minion who had gone upstairs with my clip and cash was back downstairs, receipt and clip in hand, which he gave to the collections fella. Who then – of course – stamped the receipt and gave me my clip, in its own little bag now, but without my copy of the receipt for the clip...

...because, if you remember, I had earlier declined their offer of a receipt!

Yep, definitely an experience best enjoyed in retrospect.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How to eat a Jaffa Cake

(Assuming that packet has been opened and one Jaffa Cake extracted)

(note: the argument of whether it's a cake or a biscuit has no place on this blogpost - what matters is that you have a Jaffa Cake in hand, and more at hand)

- Nibble around the edges of the biscake one precise bite at a time, taking six bites so that you end up with a hexagon which is the orange jelly filling. You can also, if you are patient enough and precise enough, make it an octagon. Anybody who ends up with more sides on their middle bit is not human.

- Finish the orange jelly hexagon in two mouthfuls, or if you cant wait for the orangey goodness, pop the hexagon into your mouth whole. (I like to make it two mouthfuls, just to make the sweetness last a bit longer.)

- Repeat with next biscake.

- Until sick.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Dumbstruck... or should that be tongue-tied?

So this woman bites her boyfriend’s tongue off – oh excuse me, the front third of his tongue off (got to be accurate, right?) – because she’s upset at not being pregnant. Thus far, kind of plausible. I mean, while it’s not something I would do, I can just about concede that the woman might have been frustrated. Okay, REALLY frustrated. (Good thing she didn’t bite off anything more vital than his tongue, or he might have been as upset at being unable to father any children as she was at not being pregnant.)

Anyhow... all that apart, what really bypassed my comprehension was the fact that the boyfriend, Mr Coghill, as reported in the news item,
fell asleep while the pain subsided but was woken by Davies biting his elbow. The man had part of his tongue bitten off, but did he react in a normal fashion (like panicking, yelling in pain, trying to escape, calling the police or an ambulance)? No, he fell asleep instead.

Think about it. He had his tongue bitten off by his girlfriend, and he fell asleep “as the pain subsided”. He only woke when he felt his girlfriend biting his elbow. (Why? I wish the report had given an explanation for that too. Also, was his girlfriend a Rottweiler instead of a human being?)

Mind-boggling though Mr Coghill's resilience was, I couldnt help wanting to ask him how long it took for the pain to "subside" - surely it's a more serious injury than, say, biting your own tongue by mistake... and even that is far more painful for far longer than you would think!

Come to think of it, I have the same question for the reporter/editor of the story - Just how long did it take for the pain to subside and enable Mr Coghill to get some zzzzzzzs? Curious minds want to know.