Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A man must have a code

A man must have a code
There have been a series of court cases going on for the last 70 years in my family. The court cases are mostly about a tiny bit of land (less than 2 acres) and share in use of a well. The dispute for land was between my grandmother and her husband’s kin (my grandfather died when my dad was a toddler) i.e. my grandfather’s cousins.
My grandmother is now deceased, my dad is in his late 70s and one of the two cousins she was feuding with has been dead for the past few years. However the dispute is still going on in courts! My grandmother’s defence is that she should have got her husband’s share of the landed property for herself and her son as she does not get any from her father as she is a daughter. She wants this land for herself and her son i.e. my father. The cousins do not want to give to her, her husband’s share of land as they want to hog it all or as she is a female and the land should go to males ; Of course my dad is a male but he was a toddler and they did not want to give land to a toddler.
This case has dragged on for several decades and lead to a lot of animosity, fights and even physical assaults on my grandmother and father. And this is not unique. If one travels over Indian villages, one can see millions of such court cases and land grabbing all over the country. The courts of India are filled with variations of basically the same case. And sometimes the fight is for lands as small as quarter of an acre.
Some interesting behaviours I observed as I watched these goings since childhood, include the weird code of conduct followed by my family.
My dad would go to the village to oversee agricultural work on our land. He would take me with him at times and as a child, I was made to stay in the house of the cousins against whom my father & grandmother had filed a case in court...the property dispute I mentioned earlier!
I was treated very well by this family and the women cooked special food  for me as I was ‘from the city’! My dad had  me stay in  their house as they would have been ‘insulted’ if I had stayed in other relatives houses…Insulted as they were the closest relatives, while the others in the village were distantly related or not of our caste.
My dad would not talk to his cousins but drop me at their house and go off to finish the various things he had to do in the various government offices. He would pick me up in the evening, while returning to the city. Again, there was no talk between him and the adults of that family.
When I  got married, my dad invited these cousins of his to my wedding. I am sure it was a gruff invitation (my dad did not mail the invite but went personally so as to not offend them). One of the two cousins attended my wedding and he left without talking much to my parents. Similarly, my parents were invited to their children’s weddings and they attended, dutifully. There was little or no talk between my parents and the hosts!
I can go on and on about the code of conduct they followed while dealing with  'enemies'  but I guess you got the sense of it.
Another major behaviour was the fact that these cousins looked after my grandmother when she was in the village after she had fought with her son, my father. My dad was livid that 'his enemies' were caring for his mother and there was nothing he could do about it! She refused to come back to stay with my dad!
When I tell these stories to my Canadian friends, they find these behaviours too weird to comprehend but it seems to make sense to me! The enmity is feudal and so long drawn out that there is no anger left now on both sides. Also, my dad bought more land in another village which has likely made him happy;  Yet he is unwilling to let go of this piece as it is ‘ancestral’ and he wants it for his children. None of his children i.e. us, want this agricultural land as we are all daughters, with no interest in agriculture or living in the village. Two of us are in the city and two of us are abroad and have no time at all to spend in this village and on the land.
 My dad himself was earning more in a month in his city job, than what he would get in one year’s yield from that scrap of land.Yet he does not want to let go of it. This is something you will see in India…. the almost biological love, some men have for their ancestral land or house . This land which is practically worthless and a headache for the pragmatic,  seems to have an iron  grip on those who are sentimental and romantic.
Currently, I am begging my dad to sell of his lands but he refuses. I know very well that when we need to sell, we will be selling at less than what they are worth as the buyers will know, we do not want to sit on the land for a better price...we simply do not have the time. But that is a different story.
You may be wondering why I titled this article as ‘A man has a code’. I was reading recently about the murders over property in Bangalore and Hyderabad. I am referring to murders of young children by their own uncles and relatives. I was so distressed to read this and wondered what sort of greed & brutality has seized people today. Imagine an uncle killing his brother’s son so that the property will revert to him. Imagine a little 9 year old girl being killed by her dad’s first wife so that the property stays with the sons of the first wife!
Growing up, I was pretty traumatized by the constant fights about the land between my grandmother and father. He wanted to give up on the land as he was so busy with his job while she pushed him to go to court and fight for it. I was so sick of this land dispute but today when I see what is happening in Bangalore …people murdering their own kith and kin for property, I think, my relatives were not so bad at all! They at least had a code!
Why did I write this piece?
The words, ‘A man must have a code’ in the television series, The Wire inspired me.

Mother and daughter:skit

The two women have bid good bye to their guests and shut the door.

They are in a living room with the remains of a high tea & snacks on the table and a photo of the Kaba and one of Banff’s scenes on the wall.

Mother(with excitement)….so what do you think? You like him?

Daughter(in a flat voice) He’s okay.

Mother(annoyed) Okay. (voice rising)Just okay? Tell me, what’s wrong with him? Why don’t  you like him?

Daughter(cold and haughty): Did I say there is something wrong with him?

Mother(exasperated)Whenever you say ‘he’s okay’, you mean he’s not.

 Be frank: why  don’t  you  like him?

Daughter(neutral tone) I don’t dislike him mother.

Mother: Agreed …You don’t dislike him.

BUT  Please explain… why you don’t like him?

Daughter(neutral voice) I neither like nor dislike him mother. He’s okay.

Mother(eagerly) Then….. will you marry him? Shall I tell his parents you are ready to marry?

Daughter(in a flat voice): If you like mother.

Mother(raising her voice): If I like? Farheen, I am not forcing you to marry him. I am not a bossy old-fashioned mother like others. I gave you 100% freedom. You can refuse to marry if you don’t like. I will never force you …like other parents.

But tell me …what is wrong with this boy?

( mother, checking off with her fingers)

 He does not drink.

 He does not smoke.

He has a double degree.

He earns well. He is clean shaven and does not even have a beard.

He even has hobbies. He is modern like you. He is very smart. His mother told me he is always doing something or the other on the computer.

(mother with shoulder shrugging movements) He’s not deaf. He’s not mute.

 He’s not crippled. He’s a gentleman! What fault he has that you don’t want him?  He’s soo decent Farheen…. He does not even date !

Daughter: (softly): That ….exactly is the problem.

Mother(she has not heard her daughter’s comment): I am not like other mothers. I am broadminded. I let you go to university. I let you get a job. I even let you go out without your hijab. I let you dress how you like. I let you listen to any music you like. I even let you put lipstick. I have given you so much freedom and now you treat me like this? Why?

 Daughter(deceptively neutral voice) If he is so perfect mother, why don’t  you marry him to Asma?

Mother(breaking down, crying): Why you torture me like this? Why?

 I found you a doctor. You said, he’s old.

I got you an engineer, you said, he’s boring.

What do you modern girls want? Love? Love is only in movies. Love lasts for 2 days. Afterwards what? You will cry? Or come running home? Divorce?

What you need  is a solid man with a solid job Farheen. Not love.

Daughter(smiling)The doctor was certainly…….. solid.  300 pounds. 

 (daughter in plaintive tone)Why can't you understand mother, I want someone I can jell with? Someone who shares my interests and tastes.

AND  I simply cannot  marry someone I met only for a tea. I have to know the guy before I marry him.

Mother: Know? Know? What else do you want to know?

You know he’s educated;

you know his family;

 you know what job he does.

You’ve seen him. You have even spoken to him. What else  is there to know!

Except  their salaries, Farheen, all men are the same. All men are exactly the same.

Daughter shudders and looks up hopelessly.

Daughter: I want to date a guy before I marry him mother.

Mother(Shocked, in a loud voice) : DATE? You want to DATE? What’s wrong with you? (moaning and looking up at the Kaba photo on the wall) Oh God! Why did we ever come here? You will ruin me. Oh God. Save me!
Daughter: I want a husband who understands me mother. Someone with whom I can laugh, play, discuss. Someone with whom I can chat.
Mother: You can do all that with your husband Farheen. If he doesn’t understand you, you  explain. If he’s different, you can try & change him or you can change to suit him.
In our culture, Love comes after marriage Farheen. Not before. If he does not share your interests, you can share his. You have to be flexible and accept your husband Farheen. That is your choice.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Forbidden Zone by Michael Hetzer

A rivetting  book.
Set in the USSR, 1983. It is set mostly in Siberia and is about the search for his twin brother by a Russian scientist, who is loved and aided by an American woman and pursued by the ruthless Russian KGB. The story ranges from time of the World War to the times of the cold war between the USSR & USA.
Reminds me of the Arkady Renko series by Martin Cruz Smith's & the Leo Demidov triology by Tom Rob Smith which are also unputdownable and set in Russia.
Hope this author writes more books set in Russia. His readers will love them.

I hope there are more such books, set in Siberia. Vicarious chills are better than actual chills dont you think !

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thoughts of an Indian school teacher

Thoughts of a school teacher
I am schizophrenic. There ! I have said it and now I can relax and get on with our little chat !
You know I am sick and tired of talking to people, pretending to be normal but wondering all the time, whether I sound normal. I know I am pretty normal…when I am taking my meds; Not to boast, but I am probably more normal than you. But it bothers me…talking to you, knowing that you don’t know that I am schizophrenic. My mom is always telling me not to go around telling people I am schizophrenic, but I simply cant pretend that I am a normal person talking to another normal person…knowing that I am not.
I was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was about 18 and in school. I believed that people were out to harm me, I became suspicious  and went through a phase of intense superstition. I laugh now when I recall what I did back then, when no one knew yet that  I was off my head. I had tied chillies and lemons above my study table to ward off evil spirits. I had stopped attending classes and wandered round the streets of my city. I once attacked my sister in a sudden rage and now I can barely remember why I was so mad with her.
To cut a long story short, I was diagnosed and medicated; I got better but gained weight with the medicines and looked like a roly poly barrel. My dad used his contacts  and got me a  job; I was paid so little, it was exploitation. They knew I was 'mental', knew I would not get another job and they made full use of this unfortunate fact. My dad's sole aim at that point in time was  to get me out of bed , out of the house and in some job and this was the only job he could get for me; This exploitation of the 'mental'  by the 'normal' is another 'fact-of-life', 'mentals' have to put up with I guess.
 After a few months I stopped taking my meds and got into fights with my fellow-workers and lost this job. I was back at home, sleeping the entire day. My dad tried to wake me but the meds kept me drugged.  All I wanted to do  was lie in bed . The only times I woke were when my dad was relentless. My mother tried to deal with me during his brief trips to the village, but I easily ignored her calling and continued to lie in bed. Gradually, my dad stopped going to his village and I became his full time 'city job'.
I got a job again. This time it was through my uncle’s contacts. I was forced out of bed every morning by my father. I had breakfast and left to work. I slogged. It was another back-breaking, ill-paid job. I neither liked it nor hated it. I had to do it as my dad made me do it. I don’t remember thinking about this job. My mind was a blank, always craving for sleep. I worked, I ate, I sleapt. I had no interest in books or television or people or sports or anything. All I wanted to do when I was not working was sleep.

My sister  married and my mother started fretting about me; she  asked my neighbour who was a therapist if it was okay for me to get married. The therapist told her not to get me married. She gave my mother the pros & cons of  me being single and me being married; She asked my mother, "Will you get your daughter married to a fellow knowing he is mentally ill, knowing he is not earning well, knowing that he sleeps all the time, and knowing he does not have a degree?" My mother cried and returned home.
She  determined to get me married, so that ‘I will have someone to look after me, when she is dead’. Neither she nor my dad asked me if I wanted to get married. I heard and watched their daily fights and discussions. I said and did nothing.
I was taken by my parents to ‘see a girl’ from a good family, same caste as ours of course. She has done B.A they said. Will you marry her they asked. I was furious. I was silent. I did not want to marry. I wanted to marry. I just want to be left alone. I was curious about married life. I did not know what I wanted. But I for sure wanted to sleep for hours and hours. I wanted to lie in bed doing nothing for ever. But I sometimes also had day dreams. I fantasized about being normal. I fantasized having a job and a beautiful wife. I fantasized about cricket and photography. I fantasized about being in the administrative services like my dad. But I could never stay out of bed, long enough to work on any of these fantasies.
I neither said yes or no when my mother badgered me about marriage and she finally took my silence as a yes. I am now married with a 9 year old son.
Before  marriage, my wife was told that I was having ‘an illness’ for which I had to take medicine. Neither she nor her parents expressed curiosity or concern about it. I found it pretty strange that this did not bother them but I also knew that many villagers do not freak out when they hear such news. Is it their ignorence? Is it their faith in God? Or is it their acceptance ? I do not know.
 Her father  told mine that no one is born perfect and that he is okay with a son-in-law who needs to take medicine. I wonder if he told his daughter anything about me taking meds at all. Her parents and brother and probably she too thought I was a ‘good match’ as I was from a ‘good family’, from the ‘city’..My wife and her family are from a village, ergo, more na├»ve than street-smart; more trusting than cautious.
She must have found out in a short while that I am not like other husbands. I slept the entire day. I did not work. And I hit her when I stopped taking my meds. She put up with it. She cried. She was angry with my parents. But she was stuck with me. No one in her village or her family had ever divorced. And what could she do if she divorced me? Go back and live in her parents house in the village to be taunted by her sister-in-law? I was sorry for her. Angry with my mother. Hated God. Hated myself. Hated her too and blamed her for marrying me. I felt like a person who is angry but sleepy with drugs at the same time.  I felt guilty. But  guilt was something I knew but did not feel. I barely felt anything. I could think in a slow and sluggish way but I could not feel. I knew I should feel guilty and ashamed for not being a good husband. I knew I should work and earn. I knew I should do this and that. But all I felt was a heavy unbeatable apathy. All I wanted to do was sleep. Was it the meds that made me so lazy? Was it the illness? I don’t know. I felt nothing. I wanted to do nothing.I was intensly angry yet apathetic. I spent a few years in this state of zero-energy but intense anger.
Life now: I am teaching in a school since the last 3 years. This is the first job I have held on to for this long.  I teach maths and science to kids in grades three, four and five. I am on my feet the entire day teaching. I am exhausted when I come home. I eat, watch tv, watch my son playing and then I sleep. I even talk to people on the phone and read a bit of the newspapers. I have not skipped the meds since the last three years. I did consider it. I tried skipping the meds on holidays but I could not bear the rush of paranoid thoughts in my head. I thought that people were out to kill me again and knew that I needed to take the meds; the meds are as important as air and water to me.
My school is new and has little funding. The fees are low and most students are from poor families. I am bossed over by a man, more interested in completing ‘the portions’ than in making sure the kids understand and love what they are doing. He constantly tells me to ‘be strict’ with the kids. He tells me “Don’t worry if they understand or not. Just see that you complete the portions in time.” He is furious that I am not caning the kids. I have told him time and again, that caning will only make the children afraid. “They will hate me and they will hate maths”. But this Great Guru, believes that fear is the key.
I cannot take this anymore. I am sick of this guy nagging me. I am sick of trying to teach algebra to kids who can barely add and subtract. I may be schizophrenic. But I am not crazy.
God save these children. They are helpless prisoners of this miserable school. I do not know how many will end up like me….If I had to learn algebra before I knew addition and subtraction, I would have become psychotic at 8 instead of 18.
 Will these hapless children drop out of school and into a life of delinquency? Who knows?
I am schizophrenic. I agree.  But I do know how to teach children; And believe me, teaching them, the say my boss insists, is not the way to teach!
 I know, how to keep them, i.e. the children from becoming schizophrenic.
Who is normal ? Who is schizophrenic?
Am I schizophrenic when I insist that the students have some free time to let off steam; when I refuse to cane the students? when I insist that students know basics before I teach them higher level maths?
Or is my boss  schizophrenic when he tells me: “You should complete teaching the syllabus by the end of  March. Do not worry if the children do not understand. Your job is to finish teaching by end of March. Whether they understand or not is not your problem.”
I do have a conscience. And I do care about these students. But I cannot fight alone. I am but an underpaid teacher, hired out of pity by someone who knew my father. I am teaching though I am not qualified. I can be kicked out any day the management wants to. I am a diagnosed schizophrenic, without a degree or a B.Ed. That they will not kick me, as they are saving a bundle by having me instead of one with proper qualifications, is another story.
 I know what the future holds for these kids. They will graduate from school, not knowing how to read or write or add or subtract. They cannot think or reason. They fear teachers and hate learning. Being children and being poor, they have limited choices. Their futures are screwed and being screwed irretrievably on a daily basis by the very systems which are supposed to nurture them: their schools and families. How does one fight this tide of irrationality? How do you deal with  Parents who believe that beating makes a child, obedient and good;  How do you negotiate with teachers who want to unthinkingly follow the rules set down by the government, without checking about feasibility; How to deal with a government which follows either archaic rules or blindly copies the west, without considering the huge disparity in context between the west and east. 
 It’s a losing battle.
The outer world is more schizophrenic than my inner world. It is easier for me to handle my schizophrenia than the world’s. My schizophrenia goes away with meds. But what about the world's?
I am tired. All I want is my meds and blissful sleep.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I want to experience again...

I wish…………..
I wish that I could satisfy my cravings for what I had  long ago; I can no longer access  these things but the urge to have them is so strong that  I  ache! I am writing this list of things I want as a sort of venting therapy. Also, maybe someone will read this list and give me what I desire and save me from this intense hunger!

Swing: I want a swing, tied to a tree in the garden. I want 365 days of summer( I am in Canada now so that is impossible. 90 days of summer it is). I want to swing…… swing…… not just back and forth , high in the air . It would be fantastic  if I could swing 360 degrees …without any mishap!

I would once again like to be in quiet fields of paddy and ragi where I can read a book in peace and daydream without interruptions. Take long walks in others’ fields, looking for weaver bird nests, hanging in thorny trees and  wells. This time, I will not pluck the nests but simply photograph them. Currently I do   experience something close to this. During the 5-6 months of warm weather, every morning and evening, I take my tea and a book to the backyard and walk my cat (on a leash). Here I get to  listen to the cardinals, finches and starlings along with the steady sound of traffic on the DVP. It is a pleasant experience and I get to spend some time with myself and some nice bonus I get at times are butterflies fluttering & squirrels running and chasing each other up and down trees. If I am in the backyard, late at night, I see a family of racoons, slowly getting down the trees and walking around. 
 I would like to climb down the steps of the only well I have ever seen with steps leading  right up to the water. I had never met anyone at this well and loved it’s isolation. It would be great if I could once again sit in this well and day-dream, think, relax, read, whatever.. And you know, what would be nicer? If I could again see a cobra, swimming gracefully in the well, like I did once. I can still picture that peaceful calm….I was sitting on the steps, which lead into this deep well. There were no farmers or women of the village nearby but I could hear voices in the distance. The birds were silent in the hot noon. I could hear the muted sounds of the motor pumpsets in the distance. It was  humid  but shady inside  the well. A tree which grew nearby cast it’s shade on the well. The water was black and shiny; brown leaves from the tree floated on the water. The cobra was swimming by the edges of the well, unaware of me. The water rippled gently and sent shiny sparkles into my eyes. The shiny sparkles were from the sun, reflected in the water. The spot, where the sun was reflected, was so shiny, I could not look at it.(people did not have sun glasses in those days) It was so peaceful, sitting there, watching the snake swimming, a light breeze rustling the leaves in the nearby tree. I was thrilled to watch the snake as I watched it for so long! Snakes are shy and usually speed away when they see us;  one can hardly see a snake for more than a few seconds in the wild. It was a pleasure to see this one, swimming so gracefully and slowly, round and round, the well. The curved and slow movements of the snake in the black shiny waters of the well was a relaxing sight and I could have sat there for ages.
Other great experiences I would like a repeat of would be, finding the first ripe guava of the season in the guava tree growing at home. That thrill is great! This particular guava was hidden under leaves and though we had spotted other guavas, this one had escaped out eagle eyes, until it was a mild lemon yellow. It was half raw and half ripe, exactly right for eating with salt and chilli powder , when I found it.
The smells I had enjoyed in India are rare in Canada, where I live now. I would love to once again breathe in the smell of rain on dry mud, when the rain drops first hit the earth. For some reason, the mud never smells in Toronto, when it rains. I cant tell you how much I miss that smell! I also love the smell of ripe mangoes  I get his in grocery stores selling mangoes imported from India. But I want to smell, it
in a mango grove or
a shop selling only mangoes or
 at home…the raw mangoes were brought from the village and spread under our cot on paddy straw for ripening in our bedroom  in Bangalore. When we woke up, we would hop off the bed and peer under the cot, to find, the mango which had ripened and could be eaten, that day. That was another great thrill, every morning, until the mangoes were over.
I miss the fragrance of flowers too but flowers and their fragrance was something I did not get excited about when in India;  I took the fragrances for granted until I no longer had them in Canada. There are lovely flowers in Canada, but no Malliges, Kenda Sampiges and Kanakambras! Here we see tulips, orchids, lilies, roses but not many Indian flowers.
Talking of fragrances, there are several fragrances of India that I miss in Toronto. The aroma of samrani is one I really really miss! The various incense sticks in temples, especially the expensive ones, the smell of incense sticks in temples &  shops in Avenue road and city market, the smell of camphor in temples are really a pleasant experience. I love the 'over-all mix' of smell one gets in temples...it is a mix of the flowers, the tenderwater of coconut, the burning incense sticks, the vibhuti,, the variety of  flowers and other things such as vermilion and turmeric. I cant describe the smell, but one can recognize it when stepping into any south Indian temple.
Hmm. What are the other great smells of India that I miss? The smell of foods from sweet shops. However, I don't like the smells coming from hotels though I do love the foods. I love the smell of petrol in petrol bunks but apparently that is an addiction and not good!
Discovering treasures unexpectedly is another experience, I would like to have . A treasure, dear reader is not gold or gems. Treasure can be anything, you like and love. I had so many joys of discovering, in childhood. I can still recall the thrill and excitement I had when I found things unexpectedly. I would give anything to have the same joyful experiences again. I remember, finding a small chocolate box in my dad’s Godrej almirah. I opened it to find foreign stamps! I was about 8 years old then, I had hardly ever seen foreign stamps and I was so excited to see this treasure, I pissed in my pants!
I know of several villagers who have found treasure such as silver coins or gold jewels in walls, under the floor or  while ploughing their fields; unfortunately, I have never ever had that  particular joy. But I have had pleasure of getting  old coins and foreign coins as change in shops. To receive these  coins gave me such a fantastic thrill, especially when I was got a silver coin! I got quite a number of such coins and I loved collecting them. ( the gold colour 20 paise coins, the heavy ten and five paise coins, the copper one paise coins, the rare one pice with a hole in it like a donut and so on).
There is one pleasure, which is no longer as thrilling for me now, as it was in childhood. Seeing movies was one of the biggest excitements of my childhood. One had to study well, get ‘good marks’ and then plead with a parent to be taken to a movie. The parent, would, after a lot of begging, take one to a movie in a nearby theatre(Navrang). The excitement about the movie would start from the moment the parent agreed to take me to the movie. I would finish my homework quickly, try to concentrate on what I was studying but simply could not due to the excitement of the movie! We would walk to the theater, wait in line, praying that the tickets do not get sold out, get in line again, after buying the tickets, wait for the ads to end, especially the boring black and white government documentary to end. One can only experience this excitement! It is not possible to make you understand the thrill by describing it, however exhaustively.
Today’s children, do not have this same sense of excitement about a movie, I had as a child. They have a surfeit of movies…on television, on the computer, in dvds, in the theatre. While access to movies and excess of movies have their own advantages, they rob the child of the wonderful sense of anticipation and excitement. Greater the deprivation, greater the joy and excitement. Deprivation has it’s merits too!
Comparing deprivation and access, I realize that I had a lot more excitement in India while it is a bit boring in Canada. In India, each time I found something I wanted,  I would be full of joy, excitement and gratitude. For example, I would be so full of joy when I finally found a dress material I really liked…. after hunting in shops  in Jayanagar, Residency road and Commercial street for 3 days. Thrill at finding a set of curtains for the living room, which match the walls after looking for months.
 In Canada, it is so easy to find exactly what you want, that one does not go through the search, hunt, bargaining, etc like in India. It is more convenient, but also less thrilling. Sometimes I wonder if the people in the west appear to be bored because, their life is so easy. In India, nearly everything is a struggle, that one has no time to experience boredom or existential angst! When you are always running (for the bus for example), waiting in lines(in India, some people have to line up to go to the toilet every morning!), trying to buy a cinema ticket before it is sold out, trying to get at least one foot on the last step of the crowded bus, trying to make money last till the end of the month, trying to make your lazy son take his studies seriously, where is the time or energy left in you to feel  angst? Life is difficult in India ; hence, when one gets even  a simple thing, the thrill is great!
In Canada, at least for me, I get what I want so easily, that there is not much excitement when I get it. If what I want is not in shops, I can always find it online. If I want to do something, sewing for example,  there are several classes to learn it, several groups who do it and ‘the hunt’, which one has to do in India to get anything, is not needed here.
I remember how thrilled I was when a flower fell from the Shani mahatma idol, as I was watching and praying in the temple. I cannot imagine, affluent people, experiencing such happiness, at the random occurrence of a flower falling! Maybe, it took, but little to thrill me in those days.
I have spoken at length in another article, about the thrill of discovering, a book I badly wanted, in some second hand book shop.
Back from the digression, another teen experience I would love to have now is re-reading a few favorite books, mags and comics. I can and do get the books I want by searching for them in stores and online. But I am simply not able to get the magazines I read as a child and teen.  I would love to get my hands on  all and old copies of The reader’s digest, The illustrated weekly of India, Debonair, Femina and Women’s weekly. I crave for the illustrated weekly as I want to read the short stories, comic sections and some of the articles. I would love to see the old ads, even if only to laugh at them! I do know that Khushwant Singh has selected a few short stories from The illustrated weekly of India and published them in a book, but I would like to read all of those lovely lovely stories. I also know of a new publisher (Blaft publications) who is publishing exactly the type of books I want! Blaft is translating stories written in Indian languages into English and putting them together in books. (example, Blaft anthology of Tamil fiction). I hope they or someone else does the same for the Kannada short stories which appeared in Prajamata, Tushara, Kasturi, Sudha, etc. All these magazines should be saved and stored in some electronic format, for the future generations to know how we lived in the 60s and 70s and so on. These magazines reflect our lives, in that period of time. And it would be great for nostalgia buffs like me to browse on rainy days!
The entire series of the children’s magazine Chandamama is online, starting from the very first issue. I know that the National Geographic has converted their entire set of magazines into electronic format. I wish that my favorite magazines i.e.  The illustrated weekly and the reader’s digest did the same. I loved the illustrations on the covers of the old reader’s digest in India, especially the 60s and 70s. I loved the style of writing of those days in the digest and also their cartoons. I did not enjoy the digest, so much from the 80s. Their book section stories were so moving, that I would sit and cry, when I read them.
Playing kho kho, tag, hide & seek was another set of wonderful experiences I had as a child and would love to have again. I feel sorry for the kids these days, who do not play, due to lack of space or parents restraining them, especially girls in cities.
Experiences which I loved in childhood but I do not want to have now would of course include, reading books for children (Enid Blyton, Nancy drew, hardy Boys, etc), watching the movies I saw as a child and teen( I saw Kannada movies those days and I definitely do not want to see Kannada movies now!) and going to the fairs (it is too crowded now to be of any pleasure).

I do have my fair share of exciting experiences today such as travel, books, television, people, my job, hobbies and so on.  But I would love to have the exact same experiences I had as a child/teen, and feel the same thrill, I did then.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tom Rob Smith's trilogy

I finished reading "Agent 6", the  last book  of the triology authored by Tom Rob Smith today. It was fast paced and I read it till one am i.e. until I finished it. This is  the most exciting book I read recently and I had waited for this book (on a waitlist  at Toronto Public Library) for almost 6 months!

I recommend this trilogy to anyone interested in  fast paced, well written set of three books, set in Stalin Russia, communist Russia in later times and in Soviet occupied  Afghanistan.

Reading this book, I started thinking about China, the last of the communist countries left in the world today. I wonder, when China's communist party will be toppled...if it is ever going to be toppled at all.

Monday, January 9, 2012

anecdote of a schizophrenic patient

While working as a behaviour therapist at a rehabilitation centre for chronically mentally ill patients in Bangalore, I met a plesant  schizophrenic guy in his mid forties. He had developed schizophrenia while doing his PhD in mathematics and was living with his older brother and his family(His parents were dead;  In India, typically, a sibling/some close family member take care of an ill sibling as there is no government support for the disabled or mentally ill).
He was a cheerful guy who would speak coherently for the first couple of minutes before rambling off about numbers and formullas! He came in with a severe cold one day and when I asked him how he caught the cold, he said that he had to wait outside his house in the rain. I knew that he did have  keys to the house  and asked him about his keys. He said that he had recently  sold some of  the house's furniture to buy sweets(laddoos!); his sister-in-law had become livid and  seized  his keys; Since that day,   he was to wait outside until the others returned home! He was giving his cheerful toothless grin while telling  this story . I laughed but I could also see how unfunny it was  from his sister-in-law's of view! He had a great liking for sweets but had no money to buy them and his sister-in-law did not prepare sweets often enough at home......... And I could very well imagine his sister-in-law's wrath to discover furniture worth thousands of rupees sold in exchange for a few laddoos!

Earlier to this incident, my schizophrenic client had been  entrusted with the task of baby-sitting his neice who was about  3 years old. This poor guy had no idea of how to care for a 3 year old nor was he trained by the child's parents about it. He was told to care for this baby neice while his brother and his sister-in-law were at work.  His sister-in-law became livid again when she  discovered  this chap  teaching the three year old, mathematics formule (a+b; a-b; etc) instead of A,B, C as she had instructed ! 
Needless to say, she did not let him near her child after that.

I keep thinking of this guy  on and off, though I stopped  working at this centre years and years ago.
I feel really bad about the mentally ill and the lack of vital things for them in India. They need a job to keep them engaged during the day; Having a job in a sheltered place will help in so many ways: They feel useful and productive; they have pride and dignity; they are engaged and in some place safe during the day and will not get into trouble or get into unhealthy activities  like smoking, etc.
 By Sheltered Work Place, I mean a place where they are   allowed to work at their own  pace, the demands made on them are minimal, they do not lose the job for not being productive enough, the employers are 'disabled-friendly' etc.
 Secondly they need social opportunities such as a place where they can meet and mingle with people socially. Apart from their families, many mentally ill, mentally retarded, some disabled people such as the blind, hardly get opportunities to mingle socially with people. They are more often than not,  teased, insulted, yelled at or treated as if they were dangerous. People do not realize they have social needs like need for friendship, affection, companionship and love like the so called normal people. Their social needs are not met and this can lead to a whole lot of other problems. It would be ideal if they could date and find someone to be their partner but that is next to impossible in India, at this point in time! But in Toronto, where I work with the disabled population, I have seen several happy couples..........the way the system works, this happens so naturally! Briefly, it works like this. The developmentally disabled (i.e. those with mental retardation or intellectual deficits) are in special schools or in special classes. These are often co-ed and the kids get opportunities to mingle with classmates of the opposite sex who are of their level of intellectual functioning. They start dating in high school and many end up in the same day programs or classes in colleges or in the work places. The literate intellectually disabled manage to maintain friendships and even make new friends on facebook, chatsites, etc.  A lucky few manage to have a girl friend or boy friend for life or at least many years. And as they are of the same level of functioning, the relationshsip is not likely to breakdown due to intellectual incompatibility at least.

Assuming that the families in India will at least provide food, clothing and shelter to their mentally ill or mentally retarded members, I do not see this as a problem in the middle and upper class families of India. But I do wish, they were a bit more sensitive about  their psychological needs such as need for autonomy, need for independence, need for privacy, etc.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


My long-suffering and exasperated friend asked me this question. I had no answer. Chatting over lunch at work, we often compare life in India and Canada and the changing values in the families---changes due to the march of time and also the differences between India and Canada. I feel really bad for the families struggling to get along . There seems to be the usual age gap, generation gap but this gap seems to be more exgaggerated here in Canada than it was in India.

In some families, parents just cannot seem to understand why their kids are so difficult to understand.
In 3 south-east Asian families I know where the struggle between the 2 generations is really great. But this may be because of mental health issues compounding the picture. One son in one family has schizophrenia, another has depression and another is on drugs.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How to bring around reluctant parents to your side:True story

A young lady from a conservative south Indian family is currently going out with a young Indian man from another south Indian conservative family....but unfortunately he is  not of the same sub-caste, caste, language or region. Neither of the two young people have told their parents(yet) about their interest in getting married and are waiting(it's too long a story to write here about what they are waiting for) to break the news to their parents.

I suggested to the young lady that her beau should, at  first, take a Lisbeth Salander look-alike home and introduce her to his parents as his friend.

Then, he should take her home. His parents would  be so relieved  that their son is not marrying the Lisbeth Salander look-alike, that they would welcome her with open arms.

The young lady laughed at this suggestion and then told me that this suggestion had already been tried....by a Vietnamese friend of hers.

 Her Vietnamese pal  was born in Vietnam but grew up in the US. She had a Caucasian boy-friend whom she wanted to marry but knew that her parents wanted her to marry  a Vietnamese boy.  

 She came up with a plan and started hanging out with a burly American youth  whom she invited home often. Her parents were anxious and worried to see her hanging out with this burly guy but din't say much.
After a month of hanging out with the burly guy, she brought her true boy-friend home and introduced him to her parents. They were so pleased (relieved?) to meet this guy that they  did not raise a single  objection when she married him.

Last walk at Sunnybrook park by the stables

Last walk because I can't take the mosquitoes.  I found this tree unusual... I dont know what these red berries are but th...