22 September 2008

So much fight!

Fight to end hunger!

Fight to end poverty!

Fight to end illiteracy!

Fight to end the use of GMO crops!

Fight to end child labour!

Fight to end dowry deaths!

Fight to end abortion of female foetuses!

Fight to end discrimination by caste!

So many fights I want to be involved in and in none, can I make a noticeable difference, right now. This isn't a defeatist speaking. In fact, I am quite charged. I only don't know which fight is the most important and which would unleash the domino effect that would create the social change we must have.  

21 September 2008

May I help? No, thanks!

I was sitting under a shady tree on stone benches with a group of friends discussing the progress of our projects when a boy with a virulent looking skin infection on his underarms, arms and chest showed up. He wanted money to buy medicines for his infection. This was unusual because most people who beg at parks only want money and hardly qualify the request. Of course, this child had a gross infection to aid his plea and he had probably figured that people were more generous when he asked for money to heal his wounds. Accompanying the request were two tubes of cortisols (topical steroidal applications) apparently prescribed by a doctor for these infections. The child also wanted one of us to accompany him to a pharmacy to purchase the drugs. 
I volunteer for an organization whose broad aim is to help the underprivileged children get an education (Asha for Education) and ironically, this was an Asha meeting. So, there were 7 motivated individuals listening to this boy's story, who wanted to do more than just help him buy medicines. Being the only one in the group to fluently speak (ha!) Kannada I became the ad hoc chief interrogator. 
The child's story - he lives in the park, his parents are close by but don't like him coming home because the neighbors complain about him coming in with an infection and they beat him. Most child beggers come up with stories that they think would give them the money so we weren't too sure about any of these details except that from looking at his skin they were possibly burns and that due to the elements they had turned pustulous. We were able to corroborate from other vendors that he has indeed lived in the park for a few months and no body knew if he had family.
I called my mother who works in an organization for abandoned children and she gave me the number of a shelter that we could bring the boy to. The shelter would take care of his infection and try to track down his family. It was a home for street children. The catch was that we had to bring this child to the shelter since they can't simply come by and pick him up. The other authority that could pick him up was the police but the child was too afraid of them and our instinct is not to trust the cops (which by itself is rather pathetic). Anyway, I tried talking to the boy and promised that we would take him to a home with a nice bed, hot food and medicines for his hurt. The plea fell on deaf ears - he claimed to have a nice bed, get food from a hotel and didn't need a home. With each declaration he walked away even more and the more we pled the further he got. While talking we also discovered that he knew english so at some point he went to school! Finally he was far enough that walking away was easy and we didn't have any more words to convince him to come with us. 
The irony of the situation still stings me. Here we were, offering the child every resource at our disposal but we couldn't get him to trust us. We thought we were being helpful but instead we were rebuffed. There are two aspects to this incident that struck home for me. One, trust is a valuable commodity. Why should anyone trust that you want to help them? Second, not everyone wants your help. You might want to reach out to every child and adult in your life with the words "May I help?" and get a "No, thanks." This was a hard lesson to swallow. My heart still bleeds for this poor baby who is wandering with a bad infection that I couldn't help. I know we did our best and this is something I need to digest philosophically. Not everyone wants your help so allow yourself to offer it without expectation and when your help is accepted, be grateful for the opportunity. 

20 September 2008

Doing as Astro does III

To the Astro faithfuls here's another note from the master.

Lesson # 3 Don't be afraid to ask for love

Too often we like to congratulate ourselves on being independent, for some it's financial, for others it is emotional or like for me, it's both. I spent the better part of this decade proving how I can make decisions and forge ahead by myself. The pride in doing-it-alone forced me once to dig out my car buried under 5 ft of snow (should have simply looked hapless err... helpless and waited for muscled youth of the student's housing complex to show up) and move to a city where I knew no one (the family and social network not having stretched out to Seattle as yet). Was this wrong? No, says the master, but you can work on it. There are certain activities that only you can do such as, sleeping, thinking, breathing and eating. For everything else, Astro believes you need a pal. That's why he never goes for a walk alone, even if we leave the gate open and when at home, he generally sleeps in the room where maximum density of household members are collected. Astro also maintains a vast social circle so he can use a rotating batch of pals for his activities but, there is one activity he does with all of them - he never shrinks from asking them for some love.

For those of you who have seen his picture, you may think, "Sure, he's cute as a button, why wouldn't anyone want to love him?". Well, there are amongst us non-people, commonly referred to as people who don't like dogs, whom Astro approaches with the same cuteness only to be rebuffed. What does he do when his winsome personality, big brown eyes and rapidly shaking tail fail to get him a pat? He moves on. Actually he briefly tries to bribe them with a newspaper in his mouth but after he senses that only loud Aaas and Ooos are emerging from the person he skips to the next person. That's right, he asks for love, gets rejected and moves on to the next person who is willing to give him a pat and perhaps, a slice of bread. 

I think this lesson is one of the hardest for me to practice. We of the microwave generation don't like asking for anything let alone something intangible as love. Yet, that's what Astro does without fear. I sort of used this technique in the last few days before leaving from Seattle, when I felt I was living a life from a tragic book, which ultimately led to the love and blessings post. Anyway, if I am committed to living as Astro then I have to practice this lesson more frequently, without adverse conditions preempting it. One issue is that I don't particularly like being patted or scratched behind my ear. My friend E likes to be hugged which is much more acceptable to me. So, next time I meet you reader, I'm going ask for some love in "huggable" currency.  

Don't miss

Lesson # 1 Have a routine

13 September 2008

Traffic and Bangalore Citizens

Traffic in Bangalore has turned into great ice-breaker at parties and a valid excuse for us Indians, who believe only losers show up on time. In every conversation I have had after the usual,

"Oota aita?" (Have you eaten?)
"Is it going to rain today?"

comes the third in series,

"How was traffic?"

    Wake up Bangalorians!

Everyone talks about it, nah, we complain about it. In the past few years when I visited the Garden city, I always treated the increase in vehicular traffic as a sign of economic prosperity. But now that I am driving around more I have decided to accept the sign but also to do something about all the traffic we seem to be stuck in. There are three ways I think this situation can improve: better roads, diverse and well connected public transport and, good driving practices. Besides writing editorials I can't do much in the infrastructure and public transport areas but I can certainly practice civic sense while on the road. It's easy for us to blame the government but how many of us have taken the time to do something about it by changing our habits? Here are things that WE, as citizens of Bangalore, can do to make our traffic lives a bit more pleasant. 
  1. Green, not amber means go - I've noticed that citizens make their own calls about what to do at a traffic light. Apparently the green signal is only so that our traffic lights conform to international standards because on amber the traffic already shoots off, no matter if pedestrians are still walking. So, respect the light (when it's working that is).
  2. Respect one-ways - yeah, it's very frustrating. One-ways are created overnight and a 10 min route becomes 20 mins.  But we are endangering lives by flouting this rule no matter how small we think our vehicle is or how slow we are going. Driving in the opposite direction of a one-way is illegal. I also make it a point to tell people when they flout this rule as I am a big believer in social pressure! :)
  3. Avoid spilling into oncoming traffic lanes - All it takes is one auto or a medium sized car to spill over and suddenly, its acceptable to spill over. Not only does this obstruct traffic coming in the opposite direction but you are sure to receive choice curses from people who did stay in the right lane. Why incur silent curses? No amount of prayer is going to cleanse it away so might as well be good and stay in your lane.
  4. Use horn sparingly - At the back of most trucks you will find the gentle reminder "Horn please OK". This is for the highways because the poor sod can't see you in his rearview mirror. This is not an invitation to honk your way through traffic. I have noticed that people vent their frustration in grid lock traffic by stepping it up on the honking. Now, if the technology for automotives to turn into pushpak vimanas (James Bond isthyle) had been discovered I'm sure these people would not be stuck in grid lock. The point is: the horn is to be used as a warning, not to create noise pollution. Surely, we can all pledge to honk a little less? 
  5. Turn off engines at stop light - Recently, I had the privilege of standing at a traffic light when my surrounding two wheelers and I had switched off our engines. Ah, peace and it also meant I wasn't inhaling exhaust while at the light. Maybe you want to experience this bliss as well? Turn off your engines and encourage your ephemeral traffic buddies to do so as well.
  6. Use public transport - Maybe you don't have run six different errands in different locations or need to get travel a long distance. Have you considered busing it? Granted the BMTC website isn't sparkling with information but my experience is that people at the bus stand are very helpful. Instead of taking an auto to go from BEML to Forum mall I broke up my journey between my scooty (to Indiranagar), bus ( to Kormangala), a bit of walk and auto (to Forum). If I had driven my b.p. would be high and I would have sat in the same traffic as the bus. But, the argument can be made that this method took me more time - granted. But it only took me 10-15mins more and by budgeting for this I was in time. The other option was to take an auto all the way and that would just have taken as long plus be more expensive. 
  7. Respect the traffic cop - They stand in the rain, heat and dust. Don't they deserve our respect? Imagine if the cop was your brother or sister; would you like the public to treat your family this way? If we follow their directions we could prevent grid lock.
Alright Bangalore, this is my seven step program. Maybe readers have more points to add. This is my observation riding a scooty around town, so there might be stuff that car drivers can and cannot do in the pledge. 

Are we ready to take responsibility for the traffic we are in and resolving it? I believe we are. 

Wake up, Bangalorians!

11 September 2008

Doing as Astro does II

As I posted before - I am trying to emulate my dog because he seems to have reached the zen plateau of contentment and happiness. I have been practicing "lesson # 1: have a routine". So far it's worked on saturday, monday and wednesday. I fell sick in the meantime so I excused myself for the other days. yeah, yeah, excuses you say to yourself. Here's the next gyan. 

Lesson # 2 Practice togetherness

I had a tough time summarizing what I observed with Astro with regard to his policy on togetherness. Let me try to explain this with incidents. 
Every morning my father takes him for a walk. If I can get my lazy butt off the bed on time I accompany them. Now, if for some reason I am up but unable to go Astro doesn't budge from the gate. His take is: you are up and I see no reason why you can't come. A lot of cajoling and yanking follows at which point he departs for his walk rather morosely. My father's explanation is that he likes me to come along since I am younger and Astro likes to be associated with youth. But today, the tables were turned and instead of my dad, I took Astro for a walk. Dad was up and about so he saw us off on our morning tryst. Astro walked for about 50m and then he realized my dad was not following us. After a bit of a sit down (literally - Astro sits down in the middle of the street if he has decided not to go on. And he's about 130lbs so tugging at his chain is a futile process), some sweet talk and a yank, we carry on. Every 50m Astro looked back to see if my father was following. He purposefully took very long pee breaks along the walk and any person who walked towards us wearing shorts was a potential "dad" for which he got his tail in action. About halfway through the walk he accepted that my father was not coming and resigned himself to walking with me. After the first stretch we usually go to a lake and he communicated his displeasure with another sit down. We go home, he checks to make sure my dad is still around and then gets into the business of following his routine.  
Another time, in the evening, my whole family got into an argument. We are all very opinionated and rather verbose, so sometimes the small fire of quality family time turns into an raging inferno of exchanges. On one such evening after a lot of high decible drama Astro demanded to be taken for a walk. When my dad picked up the leash and opened the gate, Astro didn't budge. He refused to move till the entire family was out with him and on the walk. Of course, the walk cooled everyone off and we all went to bed saner. 
There you have it. Two sterling examples on what Astro values: togetherness. He's committed to making sure that we are all united and a family unit no matter what. He's willing to stage a sit down anytime this is compromised and will be headstrong in his commitment to make sure that we are together. Astro is the binder in our loosely fitting lives. How do I intend to practice this lesson? Well, to be quite honest I am bit gung ho about giving other people and myself some space but nevertheless I think going for walks with my family is definitely restorative, especially when we walk in silence. In the broader scheme I plan to practice this by prioritizing time with my family - a luxury I have not enjoyed for several years while I was away. Till next week on Astro, bow bow. 

8 September 2008

Rock on

Attempting my first movie review. 

      "Rock on" is a preppy, well scripted hindi movie that has significant overtones borrowed from Dil Chata Hai not surprising since the Dil Chata Hai team of Ritesh Sidhwani and Farhan Akhtar have made this movie. The major difference to me being that no actor in this movie playing a yuppie was actually in his mid-forties - a distinct departure from the usual style of using a popular star to fulfill a role more his/her name rather than his/her game.  
The show starts of with a song that I predict is going to be playing on the airways in a 30 minute loop the moment it becomes available to radio stations. For those of you in my age group it will transport you to the hey days when the college cultural fest promised this sort of frenzied mob behaviour and unlimited sampling of various body odours. The story weaves back and forth between the lives of 4 wanna-be rock stars in their band Magik, taking us from past to present in smooth transitions. Once, they too were believers in their own magic and life happens which fast forwards to their present roles of investment banker (whose house looks like it's designed by the folks at the Musuem of Mordern Art), jeweler, looser guitar teacher and ad jingle maker. Then, life happens again (!) giving them a second chance to recreate their purely-for-joy/ego music. Most of the good times is portrayed with our heros sitting at the back of open jeep with the wind in their hair on roads that I would love to know the location off, because in no part of the movie were they stuck in traffic. The movie ends happily: no loose ends, some climatic sentimental drama and a little titbit letting you know how our heros moved on in life. A jolly good time pass movie that doesn't set any sort of bar except for being professionally executed. 

6 September 2008

Getting in the Zone

Saturday mornings at one time were sacred because those were the days I had to jump start my day with a mandatory long run training for the marathon. Well, the glory days are back. Today, I met a set of divine nymphs from RGI who provide a forum for women to run around Cubbon park. My last recollection of this open space was a decade ago when I visited it with a bunch of school girlfriends on a picnic only to have our happy time converted into an inspiration for a jerk off. The image is still quite clear in my head. 
I was happy for a chance to run in the park with some company and also don my shorts for the occasion. Although India is embracing every conceivable western influence we have sorely lagged behind in accepting scantily clad women as a norm in our society. Even my helmeted NGO-type look while I ride Chameli elicits catcalls and choice kannada songs. Which taken in another way is really flattering; I never imagined riding a cycle with a helmet could be a turn on. Anyway, in the precious 50kgs that the airlines had allowed me to haul my various belongings across the Atlantic I had with great ambition put in some of my running gear which would sufficiently put me in the scantily clad section of society. I had debated for a good 2 days which when you are packing your entire household in 7 days is precious time, about how many shorts to pack. Finally, like on "Who wants to be a millionaire?" I passed on the gut wrenching decision, by calling in my phone-a-friend lifeline, to my darling friend and cousin S who resolved the issue in 2 ticks by simply stuffing it all in my suitcase. Which is why I arrived here with 2 pairs of running shorts which I had the great pleasure in choosing from today. Now, I feel justified in having not got any fancy clothes (this irks my mother no end who thinks I am greatly emphasizing my age by dressing like the PR person at a khadi factory).
Oh, major digression. Coming back to the main story about running. It was a beautiful morning, I had consumed at least 5 kgs of sand riding my scooty across town to Cubbon park but was still raring to go. I got lucky by finding a gang that runs at my smell-the-roses pace and we did two loops of the park. It was acutely liberating to run around in pink shorts. Next week I am breaking out the black ones which are tinier but pack more pockets for choice candy. I am planning to run a part of the Bangalore Ultramarathon, which I have been promised is a dream trail. The nice thing about running here is that distance is calculated in kms so you reach the double digit milestones quickly and water stations should hopefully be closer as well. It was a fantastic run where I was able to get in the zone: the transcendental space where your muscles work in unison with your heart and your system is in so much euphoria that the SMS your sore knees are sending to your brain gets scrambled and lost in transport. I heartily recommend the RGI forum to anyone visiting this fair city and wanting to explore Cubbon park in style. Umm... there are also plenty of guys running around as well if running with babes isn't your style.  

Side note for my Chameli fans: my yoga class happens at a local school where some kids thought that while I was in shavasana I needed a small lesson in karma so they let out the air from my rear tire. What I didn't understand is why they didn't let out the air in the front one as well? To tackle this new situation I have decided to carry an air pump with me to yoga class. 

1 September 2008

Doing as Astro does

          As I previously mentioned I am doing a case study on my dog, Astro and learning from him the art of deep contentment and happiness. Since Astro and I suffer from a language barrier I have been unable to ascertain if he agrees with this status quo so we'll have to start this thesis with a big assumption - Astro is a happy dog. 

Lesson # 1  Have a routine

      Astro believes that time is important and how you spend it needs careful attention which is why having optimized his day he seldom deviates from routine. He wakes up at 6 and then wags his tail in anticipation of his walk. About 10 minutes into the sojourn he becomes listless and almost immobile; you see, Astro is charmed by the idea of walking but not really the act, much like most men I seem to date who are charmed by idea of being equal partners in domestic work but not really acting on it. After my dad pulling and him bemoaning, he returns home for his first meal. Then his mornings are spent being groomed by my mom and alternatively napping or begging for more food. After lunch, he retires with my father for his afternoon siesta and wakes up at dot 3:45 for a little breather. This walk is more leisurely and involves climbing into various foliage to sniff out the scent of his gf, the local vamp and other riff raffs of our neighbourhood. This is followed by another meal (I shall address his food philosophy in another post) and a couple of hours staring at the traffic that builds up during the evening right outside our home. Another walk follows with more foliage investigation and the occasional tit bit from the garbage that litters the street. This culminates in the evening nap and meal followed by another small walk to empty the bladder for the night. Astro follows this to the tee. If due to some circumstances even one event is delayed or commences early then all other events that follow are bumped back or forward as is the case. Absolutely no meals are missed and definitely no walks are allowed not to happen; although to call his saunter a walk is an insult to that activity, it's more of a slow amble, quite majestic if one imagines him to be an elephant. The only exception to this speed is if Astro spots either a cat, cow, buffalo, goat, elephant, camel or calves of all of the above, in which case he tails it home faster than leopard on a gnu chase.

       I am working on Lesson number 1. Join me next week as I discover Lesson number 2. Om. Peace, peace, peace.