Wednesday, January 2, 2008

One more year over, can you believe it?

Is it just me or do you all feel the same way - the deja vu feeling at yet another new year? One more complete earth revolution is now done. In the zillions it will do through time.

One more milestone on the long road of life. With one essential difference. Milestones are in hundreds and thousands as one zips thru' on the highways and freeways, whereas here, we individual humans will ultimately only count it on our fingers ( I don't mean just ten, I count the Indian way - on the creases of the fingers). Apart from taking stock of life, and some resolutions for the future etc. what else does it imply anyway?? And isn't it rather commercial, to make a stock-keeping issue out of life! So much to ruminate over, so much to look forward to...

Even in the smelling of roses, I find, folks nowadays do it by appointment. Leisure is hard work. Worse, the next nextgen do this in abstract, in a mediated way - on TV or on PS2/ Nintendo. The real roses will disappear, as the real people have - and no one will be any the wiser. As we all continue to live with our illusions...

In that respect, it has been a curiously fulfilling year gone past. Once the decision was taken to break with old habits, there is a contentment in doing the usual. In going back to the basics. After ages, being a regular on the long distance train thingy within India, as I do the small town route. I badly needed this reality check in life. Meeting real people. Savouring each step of the journey, never mind the destination.
Feet firmly planted on the ground. Eating freshly cooked food - jawar / bajri rotis, appe (had never heard of that! Different from appams), in cosy homes, where the woman is always frightfully busy all the time (making us busybodies feel we have been on a breezy holiday so far) and so warmly welcoming. Viewing life from the inside - their chhota chhota joys, their bada-bada anxieties, their day to day rituals (Khandoba champa shashti came right next to Margashish ka pehla Guruvar - like a Domino set up) , the hopes for their nextgen (the tailor widow has just paid Rs. 26,000/- as annual fees for a private college education for her son - she earns Rs. 25/- per blouse stitched). Of wondering how to stretch the last penny earned... Solapur is proving to be an amazing experience. A microcosm of India. Looking forward to spending big chunks of the coming year in this town.

There is also a part of me that baulks at the thought of the PhD fieldwork coming up. This year up ahead seems so stretched and obscenely long. But I needed to do this 'slowing down of time' for myself - the years gone past seem to have vanished in a jiffy, Dopplerized into oblivion. It is an interesting crossroad I stand on now. Of the past and of the future... And it is not as if there is just one road forward -into the future. Methinks instead that the only road ahead is 'the past' , for that is all that really stays on forever, as history. Each step of the journey will be grist to the mill of the 'past' - all I do is I collect 'future nostalgia' in these live moments of the present...

Realizing how easy - and how ridiculous it had been - in the past, to have moved away into one's own world peopled by (boring) folks just like us, who travel in AC cars, work in high-rise AC offices, visit places by air, wear and discuss bling and the sensex, basically live in a bauble bubble. Where we talk with great pride of India's progress, basis the India one lives in - the ivory tower India - and with zero access to the (real?) India out there.

More to come of all that went past zipping thru in these past few months - recently discovering the new bestseller book 'Eat, Pray, Love' of Elizabeth Gilbert, thanks to Rashmi Bansal who's given me her personal wonderfully annotated copy (so that it is like reading a book within a book:-)), and I add myself to the list of more and more women in the world who swear by its insights (it's 3 of us here for sure - me, Rashmi, Nayanu, each seeking and finding parallels)- is it mere chick-lit, or is there great depth out there?
Rashmi and I - we need to get down with penning our gems and insights soon, in the form of a book, rather than just threatening to do so for the last 2 years !! Let me know, all those, who will buy a copy of our book (and not expect us to give it gratis to our friends :-) :-) )

Of watching a new bangla movie 'Kailashey Kelenkari' with the family at Kolkata - tightly edited, 'remixed' pretty well for the current times ( ref to e-tickets, cell phones), though written ages ago by Satyajit Ray - with a rather real dose of violence, air-crash et al (tough job explaining to the daughter that it was OK to board a flight the next day)... idly wondering how the Satyajit Ray scion, Sandip Ray has erased women from the entire movie! Apart from one gone-past-in-a-flash heroine of an ad being shot - who was, in any case, more a woman as object, than as subject, no sign and no need for a single woman in the entire 2.5 hours....
Perhaps the world of detectives, crime, violence, warfare - is only inhabited by the one (less than better?) inward-gazing half, so I should not keep pointing this out...
But I wonder - is it indeed a world where we women can be erased so easily!? The wives, the daughters, the mothers, the quiet home-makers?

Of beginning the new year with a bang - literally. First, collaring an eve-teaser with a hard slap in a marketplace in Kolkata (had its immediate advantages - the mishtiwala
at the mishtir dokan put in two extra sandesh in the purchase, after this vantage view :-) ). Later, with two suitcases misplaced by the esteemed Jet Lite airlines, yelling at the lackadaisical staff at Mumbai airport . To go figure where the suitcases were (took two hours to figure that they had landed in Bangalore on another flight that departed Kolkata at the same time). And to get the compensation money we deserved for the delay (and that most airlines conveniently fail to inform you about by themselves - we got Rs. 2500/-).

Next morning reading the front page news about the mob behavior outside Marriott... And then watching the Mumbai police commissioner Jadhav making an ass of himself as he brushed off the entire incident, on TV, as normal.

But hey, it is now time to go get the bhaji home... Organize the painting of Ma-Bappa's apartment. Find the source of the leak in the duct. Buy reeds from Furtado's for my daughter's clarinet. Pay the salaries due... That then is the normal life of a woman. So I shall continue with my ruminations tomorrow... To Usha Iyer in distant Pittsburg, thanks for pointing out that my Pandeji mail appears in an un(in?)decipherable font.
The thing is I was wondering what this wonderful sounding font called 'webding' looked like (looks like some delightful squiggles but I recommend you don't try it, you might get stuck with it like I did), I seemed to be unable to get out of it in that day's post. When many others mentioned they couldn't read it either ( for a web challenged person such as me, am still not sure how to modify the original post for everyone, and not just me to view the change), here it is once again - the 'Purchase Power Parity in India' blog, written during Diwali).

Pandeji has just delivered some piping hot samosas and glistening lavang latas. On this bright and clear Diwali morning. The samosas are just as we like it - light, crunchy, not over-spicy and not too large. And the LLs melt in your mouth - not too sweet, not too soft.

This old man appeared out of nowhere at our doorsteps around a year ago, with a large white-cloth wrapped hill of degchis containing various mithais, with a word-of-mouth recommendation from a distant neighbor. I refused to buy anything initially and quizzed him with what I like to believe was a hard-nosed attitude - 'who cooks this? how can you just expect me to buy your stuff when I don't even know you? where do you stay' etc. I never got any satisfactory reply and warned him, I won't buy it next time (and bought a lot of stuff anyway).
By now, months later, of course, it is like 'oh, it's you - give me six samosas and twelve lavang latas, will you?' Without having figured out his antecedents yet.
And the total? Rs. 60/-

Nowadays I tell myself about how tickled I am at this wonderfully sublimated globalization. That we can partake of such prices at my own door, in the so-called gated community of Hiranandani Gardens. At around a dollar and a half, in the Y2K plus 7 year of 2007, a wonderful snack for the entire family. AND a couple of friends who dropped by, over chai.
All this talk of purchase power parity - how does one compare a Pandeji across the world anyway? What exactly is the equivalent of 6 sams plus 12 lls in the West?
The istriwala just delivered 10 items of clothing. Ironed at a price of a total of Rs. 20/-: This is 50 cents in all. The fellow that washes the car charges Rs. 200/- per 'bada gadi' and Rs. 150/- per chhota gadi, per month that is - and makes an income of over Rs. 5000/- working from 5 am to 8.30 am, across a few homes. He then works full-time elsewhere 10 am to 6 pm, and is seen as one of the successful guys in his circle.
How can we measure parity for something only we have and understand, as part of our economy? How can we put a price to the slogging put in? Should we be celebrating this 'value-for-money' we get or wondering seriously if this is to be seen as 'exploitation'?

And then there is the 'bauni' factor. Pandeji claims to begin his day's sales at my place (hubby dearest believes dryly, that this is his stock line-of-trade). But all said and done, the thing is you don't want to not-bauni someone. If the first customer brings him luck, let the luck come in, we say. That's our pride in our peculiar Indian 'culture' again. How can you turn away such an old man who's earning a living anyway? (my family pegs him at a doddering 80, he says he is 64).

And what the heck. It is like harking back to the times of our childhood when we lived in the now - fast-vanishing 'middle-class' padas where hawkers announced their wares, each with a lilting and individual call of his/ her own. When the poring over the goods with the neighbors' helpful comments was an essential part of our socialization. When they all aided in the bargaining along with us. When it was essential to crib about something or the other to the hawker. The rising prices. If the prices were good, then the quality ('last time it was not at all like you used to make it').

So. One of these days, we may all be poisoned by Pandeji. That's what say the cautionary doubters of today. Or worse, he may be thrown out by the 'gatekeepers' before we even get to know he had arrived.

And that is when we shall be totally McDonaldized - No taking pity. No bauni (imagine, the guy in the McDonald's counter telling you 'aaj aapka bauni hai' and then doing one elaborate circling of the cash register with your 100 rupee note). Or imagine this: Telling McDonald's "last time your ruthlessly 'always-the-same' McChicken burger was not at all like you make it'!

Ah, Globalization - here we come.

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