Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Posture

My physiotherapist and orthopaedist keep telling me to improve my posture by squaring my shoulders, sticking out my chest and holding my stomach tight. How can one wipe out years of conditioning my predisposition of being the secondary race in Indian society with medical advice? Even the miniature paintings in the National museum have Indian women over the ages that hold their stances in a demure manner, shoulders slightly hunched and chin at an acute angle to the neck.

Let us step back into what psychologist’s term as the gentle years of female puberty. In India, this is usually an event which is fraught with anxiety and shame. The mother will hug the bemused young lass and tell her with shimmering eyes that she must discard the frocks and don a sari or salwar. The father will look at her with a grim face and tell her that under no circumstances must a man be let anywhere close to her for she may get pregnant. If one has a forthright male friend or brother around one’s age, one may get to know that the best method of self defence is to kick a man’s balls which will remain most woman’s fantasy till the day she dies. In many a village, town and city the girl is ostracised and sent to the unclean outhouse for the period of her being under the weather. She is not allowed to pray or sit in front of a deity. These notions are not restricted to the uneducated or economically underprivileged but exist in apparently progressive people in the cities.

In such an environment expenses such as sanitary napkins and brassieres are deemed as unnecessary and the bewildered girl child usually embraces her puberty not with a sense of pride at being at the thresh hold of womanhood but with a sense of shame. The family wants to get her married at the earliest since her functionality of being a child bearing adult has been achieved and the looming question of dowry remains to be resolved. Her physical posture is reflective of her status in society.

It is a scientific fact that the incidence of lower back problems in women in regressive societies and particularly India is much higher than other countries due to a hunched or stooped posture. One can mitigate such an outcome in a girl child by enrolling her into a dance class before her pubescent years. She will learn to stand perfectly although the conservative relatives will term it as arrogance. God help the lass if she is paraded in front of the potential groom’s family when they visit to check out the bride for what the doctor recommended will definitely not appeal to the in-laws.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Photograph

He didn’t let anyone tell me about it when they visited me in hospital for he knew it would spoil the effect. It was waiting for me in the living room sofa as I entered my home after a four day recovery from Dengue fever. I felt like I had stepped into a machine and travelled twenty four years back in time. In front of me was a photograph so beautiful, haunting and personal that it took my breath away.

The photograph had been taken by none other than Sunil Gupta (www.sunilgupta.net ) and it had a twenty five year old man sitting on a bench in a cold winter afternoon at the central park at Connaught place. The photographer had captured the bench in perfect symmetry which gave the scene a three dimensional feel. The boy was sitting in tracksuit top, tight jeans flared at the boot and low heeled boots. A mop of curly hair and thin moustache adorned his intense intelligent face. His profile showed angst, passion, confusion and all that one usually experiences at the juncture when one steps into adulthood and makes choices that determine one’s life. In contrast there were two Caucasian girls lying on the grass at a distance without a care in the world and three older men slouching in the sun gazing into the horizon. At the forefront was a barren tree with its limbs stretching out and in the background the sky was a clear blue with a spattering of white clouds. One can almost smell the slight Delhi fog in the air when one looks at the photograph and one can imagine the smell of roasted peanuts and sweet potatoes emanating from the vendors standing in the park.

The young man in the photograph is my brother who was asked to pose twenty four years ago, in the year 1986. He had just finished his engineering and was going through the motions of working in a job he found rather boring. He had heard through mutual friends that his photograph had become famous, had featured in a book and had been exhibited in London. Being the relaxed, unassuming and non vain individual that he is, he never tried to seek the photograph. He heard that his friend in Washington, a Jewish professor, had recognized him when he saw it exhibited in London and had bought the photograph for a large amount of money.

What my brother did not know was that the person who had introduced him to Sunil had insisted on a copy to be made for him. He had since then shifted his base to Lucknow and had carefully kept the piece of art wrapped in his attic. Little did my brother know when he decided to go to Lucknow to meet his friend after ten years that such a gift awaited him. To receive a work of art that represents friendship, memories and beautiful transient inspiring youth at the thresh hold of turning half a century is truly a blessing from forces that guide destiny.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dealing with Designers

“You may want to consider muted earthy shades for the wedding apparel to offset your daughter’s dusky complexion. Did you see Anoushka Shankar’s nuptial photographs? She looks fantastic in Green. Vermillion red is so passé and middle class. You may also want to consider her joining the spa; they would plan her diet, change her skin tone, make her exercise and also do some non invasive liposuction. ” The designer gave her monologue while sipping her green tea and purred in satisfaction since she had managed to get all her concerns off her chest without the bride to be snarling at her. She found these confident young educated girls very difficult as customers. They truly seemed to believe that men were attracted to their brains and their talents. Being the most highly regarded designer in India and having dressed the powerful and wealthy she knew the laws of attraction very well.

Mrs.Mehta quickly diffused the tension in the air before her daughter could react. “We see your point my dear but the groom and his family are old school. They like the lovely curves the bride possesses and the colour red.” She matched the tinkle of her fake laugh to the designers smirk. There was no better way to silence everyone in north India than to bring in the groom’s family. They represented all the deities rolled into one during the wedding season. The designer sighed and said “I suppose you will now be ordering shiny gold jewellery and not giving it an antique finish as I has suggested? Well, Lara Dutta looks good in the D’damas advertisement so it can’t be too bad.” Sneaking a look at the bride’s purple face which looked like she was going to have a coronary, the designer beat a hasty retreat after giving Mrs.Mehta two air kisses.

“Mom, why do you pay people so much money and listen to their insults? I find this woman abominable. Let’s buy a Kanjeevaram from Nalli’s. My medical school friends will be disgusted at this horrendous display. Do you know the furniture designer has refused to incorporate a bookcase into the living room? She says the multiple colours of the books will clash in the colour scheme! She refuses to look at natural cotton fabrics and wants only beige silk with zariwala cushions! I refuse to have dry flowers in the room and please do not buy the art she recommends. She insists on either sad people with large eyes or cows outside a temple, all in shades of brown and black to match the colour scheme!!! I want a home not a hotel.”

Mrs.Mehta sighed and rubbed her temples. She had worked hard and saved money to give her daughter a designer wedding to remember but she found that spending money seemed to make life tougher rather than easier. Wedding consultants worked well if the customer was convinced about their inadequacies and handed over the mantle of their decision making which could not be considered with her tempestuous daughter. She picked up her cutlery and sat down to eat her unappetising salad lunch since she was attempting to lose her love handles for the occasion. She looked at the fork and knife which was a Diwali gift from her best friend. It was from the Africa series of a very elite design establishment but to her eyes they strong resembled tongs that should be inserted in her hair to keep her bun in place. A long bamboo stick ended with a tiny appendage from a Barbie kitchen.

Weren’t designers supposed to incorporate aesthetics with utility? Why did they most often work at cross purposes? Mrs. Mehta stared at her refrigerator as a case in point. The freezer which is opened to retrieve non vegetarian raw material twice a day is at the most convenient location at eye level. The water shelf and the vegetable/ fruit tray which is used multiple times by everyone is at the bottom of the fridge which made most people with back problems go into an absurd squat position. Why are name plates in office complexes placed at the end of the corridor, after the lifts? Her office designer would rather have her take anti allergy pills than take out the carpet in her room. Every designer hated storage place for accounts books, box beds for storing the quilts and bookshelves in the house.

As a doctor Mrs.Mehta was aware that putting the young girls through a crash diet and a slimming centre was the worst curse that a mother could give to her nuptial bliss for all physiologists know that absence of fat in the body would necessitate artificial lubricants. Yet the slimming industry thrived on the marriage market. Her daughter wanted a real Shehnai player to play at the entrance to greet the guests while the wedding planner wanted Vijay’s band along with a few nautch girls splashing Ittar on the guests. The bride wanted marigold decorations and the florist wanted white lilies Hollywood style. And here she was ignoring her patients and playing referee to trivial conflicts with a perennial migraine and a hollow stomach.

Mrs.Mehta decided that she should think positive and document her experiences so that she may consider an alternate career by writing a book on “Dealing with Designers”.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Games

The Commonwealth Games held at Delhi this year was very reflective of the way in which our government functions. Great Macroeconomic planning by erudite people educated in the best colleges internationally, large outlays of funds, a complete lacklustre execution with the objective of the plan being out of focus and yet a 9% GDP growth rate which exists alongside abject poverty, lack of health, water, sanitation and education. We ended the games with a result that is praiseworthy and the event passed without any major glitch which was evident to the international media. As a person who has witnessed the games with participation from family and friends let me narrate a few observations about the games.

The participants of the opening and closing ceremony and the volunteers need to be truly applauded. They needed to take leave of absence from jobs and their education to practise for up to 12 hours a day for over two months for the event. The support from the organising committee in providing good food, medical and transport for these people were rather lacking but the opportunity that these youngsters faced made them overlook all encumbrances.

Having met the mother of a member of the Indian shooting team I was told that the residential facilities and amenities given to the athletes was one of the best in the world. We pampered the visitors and any negative reporting to the contrary should be ignored.

The tickets for the games events and passes for all the cultural events was a nightmare. My daughter visited the CWG booth at Dilli Haat and Qutub Minar on three occasions and my driver visited them on two occasions and no one had any idea about the passes for the cultural programs. We had booked tickets for the sports events on the internet using the credit card and faced no issue. The stadium was virtually empty for the athletics day during which both the 100 meters and 200 meters finals were being held. Tennis and hockey attracted full stadiums while other events had large pockets of empty seats, especially in the reserved category. The food at the stadia was awful, limited and very difficult to access. Drinking water and toilets remained an issue. Being a spectator needs resilience and courage.

Mr.Kalmadi was booed when he spoke at the opening and closing ceremony and many people felt it was in poor taste. However it is undeniable that the CWG officials were not a polite and cooperative bunch of people to deal with as a participant, spectator or vendor. They were arrogant and patronising. The government lost enormous revenue by not managing to get stocks of memorabilia and souvenirs available at the venues or CWG stands. One enquired for T shirts and caps at many venues and was turned away.

The excitement of the games has permeated sports into the masses. My physiotherapist has a sister who was spotted in a government school in Haldwani and is now part of the national team in steeplechase running. He tells me that the government made her athletics career possible and offered her a job in the railways when she was eighteen and now the Police force at twenty one has permitted her to train and run for her country. Krishna Poonia and Saina Nehwal are both within the top five in the world in their sports. Let’s hope this impacts the status of the girl child in Indian society.

The nation salutes all our sportsmen and women who have done us proud in the past two weeks. You have changed the way our future generations will evolve in the years to come with your success stories.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tongue Lashing

Manmohan Singh hasn’t forgotten his skills as a Professor in Delhi School of Economics for his tongue lashing to the powers organizing CWG and the Chief Minister of Delhi has obviously met its mark. As I traversed the twenty five kilometers to office today morning, I found that my city had transformed in the past twenty four hours.

The mounds of mud lying on the roads like landslides in the Himalayas have amazingly disappeared. Each and every bus stop now has a rain shelter and has been decorated with splendid photographs of beautiful women dancing, shopping or posing in skimpy outfits to slogans of “Shopaholic Delhi”, “Amazing Delhi” and other similar corny captions. It’s a good time to buy scripts of companies that manufacture paint and road signs as the roads have received a new coat of paint, zebra crossings have appeared and the cement tiles at the edge of the road are painted in red, yellow and white. Road signs like “Stop”, ”Pedestrian Crossing” that I had only read about in Automobile Association of India manual in my youth to acquire my first driving license are now visible on the road. Each and every government office has large blue and white signs in English and Hindi. Leafy plants have been planted in the dividers between the road lanes. Every monument has a red signage and the multitude of informative road signs makes one feel like one is in the pedestrian tourist district of Rome.

Hundreds of traffic police seem to have appeared out of thin air as every signal now has both a man and woman cop. They have obviously been given new uniforms which all of them have inaugurated today. The sleeves are rolled down to the cuff and buttoned up. Belts hold up the perfectly pleated trousers. The slums on the way have either disappeared or been pushed back from the periphery of the road.

This transformation has taken twenty four hours. The city is once again buzzing as every hotel lobby is streaming with visitors for the games. The area around Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium looks rather spectacular with the stadiums rising into the well lit sky like space ships. Apparently the army has been called in to repair the fallen pedestrian bridge in record time.

I know, one is shaking ones head and wondering that if we have the potential to transform in such a short time why did we have to face such international disgrace. However, it’s not a good idea for “Delhiwallahs” to pack their bags and depart for holidays at this juncture. Even visitors who are planning to cancel their trips to India due to bad press coverage and mismanagement of the preparedness should rethink their move. I told the kid in the morning that she did not need to put the regular mosquito repellent for her practice at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium for as a veteran in the Rajdhani one knows when the last straw is about to be placed on the camel’s back and when the government will get its act together.

I propose that all cabinet ministers are put through teacher’s training to augment their disciplinary skills, what say thou?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

CWG

Thousands of people picked up the morning paper in disbelief and I was one of those parents who incredulously thanked destiny. The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was supposed to host the first complete rehearsal of the opening ceremony today morning and my daughter was among the thousand youngsters who would have walked over the ill-fated pedestrian bridge after disembarking from the buses provided by the CWG organising committee. I picked up the paper with trembling hands and read about how this large pedestrian bridge connecting the parking area and the stadium had collapsed yesterday, critically injuring 27 workers and one engineer.

I have really tried to embrace the upcoming CWG with graciousness and joy. I have bought tickets for many of the events. To get into the spirit of things I ask all young MBAs who apply to my firm to name three Commonwealth countries. Sadly, the five girls I have interviewed last week could only name India! I have sponsored and organised police verification for all my staff. I have watched the maid and worker populace diminish as the migrant workforce has been banished from the vicinity of the Rajdhani. The kid is perennially tired with practice and the newly scheduled opening ceremony practice will now make her miss her fresher’s party where too she had a part in a play. Cest a vie....

Remember the time we hosted the Asian Games? We were a country that had humility and graciousness and not the arrogance that we now possess. Lalit Bhanot, the OC secretary general says westerners have a different standard of hygiene than Indians and refuses to admit lapses in the preparedness of the athlete’s village even as the Embassies of various countries send squads to clean up the premises. Twenty years ago I had to postpone my engagement for over six months and compromise on the ring since my fiancée had sheepishly spent the money he had saved on a colour television to watch the Asian Games.

People are angry and ashamed at the disgrace we are facing on the international arena with our state of preparedness. Indians are gracious hosts and the organisers should have to face the repercussions of such lapses in preparedness. I recently met a lady who used to be a neighbour and has now moved to a farm house; the family has built a few of the stadia for the games. It is nice to know that not everyone is suffering due to the CWG.

Monday, September 20, 2010

MRI

My friend blames my Columbian dance instructor in the fitness DVD, Ma blames the hours hunched in front of the computer while I take turns in blaming my "naseeb" and MCD for the pain in my back. My orthopedist grimly asked me why I was ignoring his repeated requests for a MRI.

In my worst moments of claustrophobia my behavior would knock Scarlett O Hara over as I swoon in the darkened auspices of lifts which grind to a halt during power failure. Even the gods cannot protect any gloomy zealot who at such junctures prophesies the worst for I would make Mathilda’s school principal look like a timid mouse. I marvel at people who pay money to climb up stairs located between the upper and lower domes of cathedrals and wriggle on their bellies to go through a cave to reach the Vaishnav Devi mandir. Ever since a friend mentioned in conversation that he thought the pyramids in Egypt should have ventilation in its inner sanctums I have dreaded visiting the venue. When I visit the Vatican and gaze at Michelangelo’s frescoes, the dizziness I feel with the heat and the crowds is often mistaken as a profound spiritual experience.

To ask me to spend good money and crawl into the tiny aperture of a MRI machine is therefore an act of sadism. To expect to leave a claustrophobic’s survival tools such as the mobile phone and IPod in a locker during the episode is cruel. To add to my misery I have witnessed someone dear to me being stuck inside a MRI machine for an hour due to power failure. The logical part of my brain however decides that this is ridiculous behavior and I dial the radiologist. I ask about duration of the procedure, size of aperture and cavity, distance of machine to face, if one’s position could be reversed with the feet entering the machine first, if one could lie on one’s belly, why does the machine make such a lot of noise and sadly the result of my study is not a very happy one. The radiologist says he can give me anesthesia to put me to sleep and the orthopedist says he can stay inside the room to give me moral courage.

I have decided that my errant vertebra will soon get frustrated with its Attention Deficiency Syndrome (ADS) and realize it will have to settle down with its brethren in the line set down by creation for in its battle with the non logical paranoid section of my brain, there is no way it can possibly win.