Different Strokes

My younger one bounced up to me today to ask – what is bucks? Is it dollars or rupees?

Now everyone who knows me knows I love story telling (plus the sound of my own voice) and also trivia, so I immediately launched off into a long and complicated narrative on how human beings started as hunter gatherers like monkeys or lions. But at some point we realized that if we didn’t like chikoo, we didn’t have to eat chikoo just because it was there. We could plant a mango seed and choose to have a mango instead. So humans became farmers. And then, if I a farmer wanted to eat a chicken, I could trade some of my grain for a chicken killed by dad who was a hunter. So there began the barter system. Eventually humans created complex civilizations where tailors could trade clothes for food and pottery and so on. But then it got a bit difficult. One dress was how many bags of grain or how many claypots? Everyone got super confused. So they decided to make dead deer, with their skin and meat, a standard for exchanging things. And deer are also called buck. So a dress would be 2 bucks but a shirt only 1 buck. Like that, I concluded triumphantly.

Now my older one loves stories and has always hung onto my every word (including this time). The younger one is a critic. I had lost him somewhere along the way and he was unconvinced on the whole. My older one touched his arm and said, so basically, a buck is currency. Any currency. Yes, that. I agreed somewhat lamely as the younger one loped off.

Kids! Actually, little kid and surprising young pre-teen!


PS. On a side note, I am still at home and loving it! I have used this time very constructively to study and work on my garden, not to mention attend a natural farming workshop and begin my balcony kitchen garden project. Do check out my other blog at The Healing Mud to know what I am up to.

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Ms Brittany’s Leopard

Have you seen this picture?

sci-member-pride-brittany-l-leopard

I saw it on a friend’s Facebook timeline. It spoke about how this woman, Brittany Longoria, had hunted a leopard that was the ninth largest leopard ever hunted, inviting everyone to name and shame. Being trigger happy about this sort of thing, I quickly clicked ‘Share’. Having thought about it a bit, I wonder if it is fair to target just her and not the infrastructure that supports this sort of thing.

So I clicked on the original link and did some quick internet research of my own to try and see both sides of the thing.

Here’e the pro hunting argument as I understand it:

  • It was a legal hunt
  • Hunting money aids conservation. Countries that permit hunting have managed to preserve wildlife better than the ones that don’t. By putting a monetary value to wildlife, you encourage people to preserve it. Even if it is only for the eventual purpose of hunting.
  • The animals that are killed are sick and old that are taking up space better left to the young.

Despite the blatant lies of the radical animal rights crowd, HUNTING IS CONSERVATION.

In fact, right now the AR extremists are lying about a legal leopard hunt to try and crucify a hunter that has contributed millions over the years to wildlife conservation, the African economy, philanthropy, and to habitat preservation. Another FACT that is being intentionally left out is that the leopard was elderly with a mouthful of cracked and missing teeth.

The hunter, Brittany L., did everything right and everything with her hunt was conducted legally and responsibly. Don’t let the extremists win by slandering a good person. #StandWithBrittany #LetAfricaLive

The anti hunting argument is:

  • Other animals kill for food. There is something inherently repugnant in killing for a trophy.
  • If all hunters want to do is help conservation, why don’t they just give the money?
  • There is a natural selection at work in the wild. The young will drive out or kill the old without our assistance.
  • At the end of the day, the philanthropy, conservation support, everything is only about the fun you have when you kill. Think about what that says about you.

Have I revealed a bias here? I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Meanwhile, I will do what I like doing best and talk about stories.

I have always been a huge admirer of Jim Corbett and he was a trophy hunter (till he realized the impact his actions had on the environment and took to photography instead). He continued to kill man eating leopards and tigers though. In his account of the killing of the Mohan Man-eater, he describes how while wandering through the jungle, he realizes that the man eating tiger is crouched on a rock preparing to spring down to where he  is. He decides to make a round detour and approach the tiger from behind. As he approaches the tiger, he realizes that the tiger is in fact asleep! Even as he proceeds to shoot the animal, because he has no way of defending his action if he doesn’t – the very story begins with a description of the tiger’s killing of a brave child, in his heart of hearts he does not excuse himself. By his own standards, his behaviour has been despicable and cowardly. Killing a sleeping animal with all the advantage on one side? Not sporting.

On the other hand is a different hunting story – Saki’s wickedly funny Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger. You should really just click on the link and read it, but if you must, it’s a story about the wealthy Mrs. Packletide and her lifelong quest to socially upstage her rival – one Loona Bimberton. This she proceeds to do by arranging to shoot an elderly tiger in an Indian jungle. There is of course absolutely no question of any risk to her from the tiger itself – all that has been sorted out. But as she discovers, the incidental expenses are rather high!

The life goals plan

interview
Is this drawing too Women’s Era ish? Life goals+=draw better!

I mentioned before that I quit my job (of 14 years) after my knee surgery(defective since birth) in order to figure out my life goals without any safety net (note to self: take a deep breath. Now!) Some might describe the whole (mis?) adventure as a mid life crisis. I won’t. At least definitely not yet.

So here’s the thing. Life goals are not as simple as they seem with the salary in place. At the time all you can see is static job, long commute and little time to do what really interests you. When you chuck it, all you see is no salary. And this is really weird to me because I got a gratuity that will last me a while. But I need the monthly top up like an addict needs his fix.

I also have another problem here. As long as I went out to work, I employed four people in various capacities. They are part of my household and it would be terribly unfair to kaato their pet just because I quit. So I have no work to do at home.

And this is driving me just a little crazy. There are voices in my head arguing like a courtroom or fish market or something.

Postive Me: Go write something. That’s what you wanted to do. Take piano lessons with the boys.

Negative Me: But everyone else is sweeping and swabbing and dusting!

Positive Me: Well you were overseeing renovations till like yesterday. And sweeping, swabbing dusting too! Besides, do you know Vikram Seth spent ten years writing A Suitable Boy? And all the time his driver and gardener were gossiping to the neighbours about him.

Negative Me: (Spotting the flaw at once) You are not Vikram Seth. And though he spent ten years at it, if you were to think in terms of his readers’ man hours of pleasure…

Self: Negative Me, shut up! Go get a PMP certification.

Negative Me: No, you go get a job!

A quick search on LinkedIn revealed that Amazon was hiring. Any IT people gulping in fear? Not me! With Negative Me breathing down my neck, I just dived off into the deep end. A few days before the interview they told I would be talking to a woman, let’s call her Wunderkind, who was their youngest Principle Engineer.

So Wunderkind has been working at Microsoft/Google type companies and doing research projects re-architecting the internet (you read that right), while filing patents for wrapping up expert-certified-impossible tasks on the side. Her hobbies include Quantum Field Theory and advanced mathematics. A quick search on quora and wunderkind was revealed as super-active respondent on Math and Physics questions of all kinds. There was one complicated algebra/calculus type thingie that she responded to thus (paraphrasing) I am ashamed to admit how much time I spent on this when I was fifteen…

Fifteen? What was I doing when I was fifteen? Practising swear words for shock value I think, and getting to hear such gems from my mother – Do you know when you call your brother that, who you are really insulting?

So anyway, that was when I gulped. What had I let myself in for? Clearly, I needed to work on my strategy. I spent the next two days trying to figure that out and finally came up with this. Walk in. Take Aashirwad. Ring imaginary bell. Walk out. I can think outside the box too, ok?

Anyhow, I went for the interview and before I knew what was happening, found myself babbling seamlessly about, for some reason, the architecture of WhatsApp. Which I know nothing about! And she didn’t even talk me into it. I just sort of started the conversation on my own. Negative me, who’d finally got her act together, was hissing, ‘Stop! Stop now!’ while Positive, no, Crazy Weirded-out Me suggested, ‘Next stop Facebook?’ Which at least, I do know something about.

thinking2

Moving on quickly..

Here is my next takeaway. Go for job interviews. Like, as a hobby. On the side. Don’t worry about actually taking the job. You know, a friend of mine used to do that. She moved every five years or so. Mostly because her company had shut down – not because of her of course. She swore! The weirdest one was when she was with AOL and she quit and then found out they were shutting down anyway and she had lost all the layoff benefits! She was so upset she went and fought with her manager. Kinda like this I think ↓

And she got a used laptop out of it.

Meanwhile, life goals. The only way forward is with organization so here goes. Imaginary interview with therapist.

  • Why life goals? I know two families that had early brushes with mortality. Life’s short and I need to do my thing now.
  • And what you were doing before was not your thing? No! I want to do so much more. I want to spend more time with my kids. I want to turn my green ideas into a business. I want to spend time writing and do it better. I want to paint, I want to sing. What? Ok. No singing.
  • Why can’t you do all this along with your job? No time.
  • So you left the job. What’s the pluses? So many!
    • The kids are happy to have me home! I am more relaxed and patient with them. I can supervise their homework and music practice and projects. On the flip side, they are less independent than they used to be.
    • The home improvement could never have happened without me and while it was a paint pain,  the house looks nice now.
    • The house runs more smoothly. There is less wastage. The kitchen garden is in good shape. We eat only freshly cooked food, nothing goes in or comes out of the refrigerator. Things are good.
    • I get time to read the newspaper.
    • I have been able to study. I know more about current tech than I used to. Even if I were to go back to my old job, I’d do it better.
  • What’s going wrong with the plan now that you’ve quit? Go to Start and don’t collect any money ->
  • What’s your plan B? Find a job, any job, close to home and cut out the commute. Salary is less important than time.
  • Any risks with this plan? Any job won’t look good on my CV. And a compromised salary is a risk. Besides, will I be learning new things? I have Rip Van Winkled my way through one job for fourteen years and I don’t want to repeat that mistake. At the same time, an exciting job with lots of learning will take up all my time and I would be back to square one.
  • What’s the solution then? I thought you would tell me!

Uh oh!

Sairat and a forwarded message

I was cleaning up old drafts and found this. I wonder why I never posted it. Maybe I wanted to clear my thoughts a bit and then post and never got around to doing it. I think I do that quite a bit! Anyway, this is years old and I have forgotten what the whatsapp post I mention below was exactly but I get the drift. Posting it finally then!


**SPOILERS PRESENT

My boys go to a christian missionary school and I love the emphasis on values and prayer. But the side effect I don’t like is that the mommies’ whatsapp group is occasionally hijacked for sermonising owing to the skewed demographics. A few days back there was a post about harlots and the contrast between good women and bed women (not a typo) and how good women should take care to distance themselves very visibly from prostitutes in how they choose to dress. I hit delete almost instantly and can therefore not quote verbatim but these key words were used.

I chose to ignore it then but I thought of it on my way home from watching the movie Sairat yesterday. I was thinking about a lot of things and not all my thoughts have been distilled yet, but here are a few.

A woman’s body is not the receptacle of a family’s honour. It does not stand for the respect or dignity of her community or caste or anything. Not even herself. Her body is just a person’s body. The gender is immaterial. And this is so important to underline in a country where we understand such a phrase as honour killing. These are words that do not belong together and have no business being in a phrase. Much less one with such instant identification.

Sairat is about such a killing. It’s a lovely movie by the way. It starts off all dreamy with a swashbuckling schoolboy-sports-icon hero, our heroine on a Bullet putting everyone in their place and the sort of love story most commercial movie makers need to sit down and take notes to. When the family finds out, all hell breaks loose of course, but we are still in movie zone. Post interval, reality bites. Our lovers must learn a bit about themselves. The school hero is not so much in real life. Generations of oppression show in his unquestioning servility. He will never fight back. He simply cannot. So she must. He knows how to live in a slum, share a dirty bathroom and cook food. This is his life. But she must evaluate her love and face the repercussions of chasing this new life she is so unprepared for. The actors especially the young girl playing Archie do this beautifully. And then when they have matured and grown and settled down and found peace and made peace with the past we find that their past has not made peace with them.

But how could it? The rules that have been broken are not trivial ones. Our urban minds could hardly comprehend the gravity of what has happened. Parshya’s sister may never be able to marry. His family will certainly never see him again. Who knows what his supportive friends had to go through? They all would have paid for his crime in daring to marry a girl from a higher caste. And Archie’s family? You can see their financial setbacks in their newly bare house. Her father loses face and then power in the political party he belongs to. A man who cannot control a mere daughter is no longer a force to reckon with. He can hardly raise his eyes and look people in the face – such is his shame. And of course, these are violent people who find their redemption only through violence. It is not enough for them that their daughter is gone. They must destroy her completely to get back their honour. Save some face. Because this girl stands for the family’s, the community’s respect, honour and dignity, she must comply or die.

What a terrible burden to carry! And how easily we increase the load every time we forward those harlot type messages.

Another step towards minimalism

I was talking about the perils of home improvement and getting a contractor in which might have led one to assume we were improving our house by adding stuff. Actually, we were trying for just the opposite.

I live in a twenty year old apartment in the heart of the city – mostly because it is so convenient. But being in an old apartment with space constraints has its disadvantages. Things were totally falling apart and something had to be done. But once we started, we realized that this was just the chance we had been looking for to cut the clutter and update our home to reflect how we live.

When we’d bought this house from its previous owners, they had filled it with storage of every kind – built in cupboards, stand alone wardrobes, console tables, crockery units, a bar, even a steel almirah! Moving from rented accommodation with limited storage we were very grateful for all this. However, as time went by we realized we were accumulating things just because we had space. Especially kids’ stuff. Gifts, party favours – every kind of junk. Even though we have been giving things away on a regular basis, there was scope for more and this was it.

My husband and I both come from homes with a lot of stuff in them. And again, that was how it was back then. Our parents on both sides are what we call self-made. They were not born into money. My dad has always stated proudly that everything in our house was bought with his hard earned money (And that we need to be grateful to mom for choosing to stay home and take care of us, but different story). The point being that every possession means a lot. My parents cannot let go of stuff and in growing up, I have come to respect that.

Things are different for us. My husband and I started work in the newly opened up Indian market. We benefited from the IT boom. We benefited from both of us working. We were never voracious consumers to be sure, but we suffered from a certain urban lifestyle. Our kids went for birthday parties. They had to give gifts, and got them in turn. Although I eventually started recycling any duplicate/avoidable gift we got out to the next party my kids attended (except for very particular friends and felt no shame in doing this), we have ended up with a lot. Party favors especially have been extremely frustrating. Most parents after planning complicated parties with themes and events and the best food find this one place to apply the budget cuts and most party favors in my experience fall into the category of cheap plastic junk. Something that can be used for maybe a month before it needs to be tossed onto a landfill. Dreadful! For my part, I have started giving out bags of cookies instead but back to the minimal mission.

Here’s what we have done so far:

  • Remodeled leaky kitchen and given away standalone cupboards and crockery units
  • Had slow close hinges put in the kids cupboards – doors have had to be changed for this. I need ideas on recycling/upcycling those doors!
  • I painted the laminate study tables with inspiration from this wonderful blog. I am not finished yet – will post the pictures once done.
  • Had the couches re-upholstered. I feel noble about this. We could so easily have bought new ones since it is sale season here. Besides, the images the repair guy has sent me are far from edifying. I don’t know if he polished the faux leather I got to upholster with but the couches look shiny! Aargh – will need help on how to dress down shiny brown leatherette couches.
  • Had the house repainted – this is still ongoing.
  • Reused the leftover quartz from the kitchen to make bathroom counters.
  • Put up steel almirah and wardrobe for sale – any leads on buyers of old furniture in Bangalore would be much appreciated!
  • Gave away all usable clothes and shoes we don’t wear often to Goonj. Shoe closet feels super roomy now! Plus mom’s old sarees and clothes left behind by visiting family (with their permission).
  • Have collected all outgrown toys, boardgames that came as gifts and I did not let kids open since we already had them (hence new) plus more kids clothes to give to Goonj next.
  • Gave away last years’ school books and extra stationery(so much of it, but these are mostly the more responsible party favours here) to the ten thousand books drive.
  • Gave away music system plus DVD player and music/movie collection to my house help – a NetFlix subscription plus an iPhone with a bluetooth speaker works for us.
  • Gave away old hob to cook
  • Gave away old lights/curtains to house help/cook. As an aside, it is not an act of dumping that I am doing here. These lights/curtains were left behind in the house when we bought it. We chose consciously to not redo at the time but use them some more. They still have a lot of life left in them but we may never do all this again! This is a treat to ourselves. And let’s be honest – in India, raw silk, blackout, pleat curtains are definitely a treat to my cook and house help!
  • Have already given away most of my cosmetics/make up to kids of friends/house help. I don’t really wear much make up and now my dresser is quite sparse. I still need to give away this old bangle collection that I never wear but love so dearly.
    bangles
  • Need to sell one mattress to convert the guest room to a living room. This last has been tricky. I’d thought we had consensus on this but turns out we didn’t. My husband is iffy about not having a spare room for guests and visiting family but my thoughts on this are – why keep a whole room aside to be used only for a few weeks a year. Our current (tentative) plan is to replace our bed with a storage bed at some point in time (when we have family visiting) and buy foldable mattresses that we can keep in them. So, we can set beds up on the living room floor and put them away when done. And so, we have separate sitting and living rooms. The living room will be where the bookshelves and TV are – where the kids can read their comics  instead of lounging about in bed. Or watch sports with their dad. The sitting room is where people like my mom, mother in law and I can hang since we like harder chairs and restful, organized spaces! But this last is tentative.
  • Then there are some things I plan to buy! I have a collection of curios and artifacts from all my travels and had displayed them on my few shelves to an ever increasing state of chaos. Maybe a small chest to store them so I can display a few every week and rotate them. So there should be less dusting to do and maybe no permanent marks on the wall from hanging paintings!
  • Plus I want to buy/upcycle some planters. I moved completely from ornamental plants to kitchen gardening at some point of time and this would be a good time to bring in some colour and fresh air in the form of indoor plants. They’re sure to be a great change from old furniture!

With all these, hopefully we will have a leaner, cleaner, more spacious home. At least that’s the objective. I’m sure there’s still scope to do more. And my greatest takeaway has been that before you start remodeling to a minimal lifestyle, you absolutely MUST identify what matters most to you and how/where you spend most of your day/year. Once you can identify how your house and you function, keep just the basic stuff and find homes for the rest.

I would love more advice on this though. Have other people done this and are there suggestions/things that I am missing?

Caste and other invisible problems

I have had one tab open on my phone for the longest time now  because I wanted to think more and perhaps write about it. When I picked up my phone after sending the kids off to school today morning, Youtube suggested I watch this (brilliant) interview of Trevor Noah’s with Oprah and then I finally picked up my laptop to do this.

Around the 14:20 mark, Trevor speaks about how sometimes his white friends don’t get why black people feel so oppressed. That they understand that his parents or grandparents might have been oppressed but he is an equal now. How he, and later Oprah explain this is, if your mother or your grandmother were never allowed to be anything but a maid, would that not impact you? Would there not be a dearth of ideas, thoughts, family culture that would then flow down generations.

This conversation is mirrored in a sense, in the outrage around the caste blindness in the reviews of Pa. Ranjith’s latest movie Kaala.

Caste blindness, or race blindness comes from a place of privilege and you don’t even know it. I never knew it! I have been caste blind all my life and if I thought about it at all, I’d have thought it was a good thing. But here’s the thing, you cannot be blind to something that still exists and manifests, even if in less obvious ways.

And it does not help that we don’t know that much about the caste history of India. The only thing they taught us in school about caste was the four basic caste groups and that the caste system has now been abolished. B.R. Ambedkar. What do we know about him? That he drafted the constitution. And later worked towards the upliftment of Dalits. Were we ever told how he did this? Not that I can remember.

We learned about Raja Ram Mohan Roy and other social and religious reformers but nothing at all about the Dalit movement. So it is not at all surprising that no one gets that Kaala’s car registration plate bears the number 1956 in reference to the year that Ambedkar led a mass conversion of Dalits to Buddhism. While I was reading things on the internet about all this, I read about a movie(and I cannot find the article again so I don’t know the name) where a Dalit girl is questioned by someone in authority. She is asked which place she comes from and she defiantly answers – Kilvenmani.

Watching the movie, you could probably tell at this point that she had said something significant. But would you know what?

Here’s the story our history books left out. A group of Dalit farm labourers struck work demanding higher wages and protesting working conditions. For this crime, they were attacked by their landlord and his men. The women and children hid in a thatch roof hut to escape the violence and the hut was set on fire. When one desperate mother threw her baby out of the burning hut in the hope that someone would have the humanity to save the child, the baby was chopped into pieces and thrown back into the burning hut. 44 women and children died in all. The site of this horrific massacre was the village of Kilvenmani and it was a major flash point in the history of caste conflict in Tamil Nadu.

The thing is, we don’t know these stories. Forget the big ones that we can look up on the net. Do we know the smaller stories? A million tiny bits of humiliation and injustice that end not in violence and news stories but just a little sandpapering of the soul, an edge taken off someone’s dignity.

I met a girl once. An NRI from America, affluent, educated, well read. She told me how a friend’s mother would not let her into their kitchen because she was a Dalit. Unclean by fact of birth.

An upper-caste commentor on Baradwaj Rangan’s amazingly civilized blog wrote about how having moved out of Tamil Nadu to go to college, she had sought out other Tamil students to hang with. But then she realized that caste identity and caste hatred were so fundamental a part of them that she could never fit in.

I was added by an acquaintance to a Facebook group for Tamil Iyers and Iyengars that had memes and stories highlighting Tamil upper caste customs and habits. I left because I didn’t get the page’s reason for existing. But it was probably the same as the group I spoke of just now.

One of my cousins chose to not marry while her younger sisters did so in quick succession. Once they were done, she went on to marry a Dalit boy because to have done so before would have left her sisters un-marryable.

A boy at college with me who got in on caste based reservation, but who had studied in a posher school than my parents could have afforded, came to my lab to admire the new state-of-the-art hardware and concluded by deciding to get his father to buy him the same machines.

I needed to put that story in because that is a reality of our times too. Rich folks who misuse the affirmative action taken by our government.

And we need to hear all these stories and more, because what we have just now is a recipe for disaster. We insist that there is no such thing as caste even though, obviously, there is! Then in an attempt to compensate, we put in place massive reservations. How do you explain to a seventeen year old that he cannot go to the college he wants, not because he didn’t score enough marks, but because we need to compensate a group that we just said did not exist? That his father thinks should no longer count themselves oppressed.

It’s a dreadful muddle but on the whole, I am just glad that we have people like Pa. Ranjith and Nagraj Manjule making these movies that call out this situation. That don’t try to hide what’s right there. And I’m glad that those movies are so good.

 

The truth about mommy

mom.png

While in Thekkady, we had a bit of an ant situation in the bathroom. Not surprising, considering we were practically at the edge of the Periyar wildlife reserve. I was forced to flush them away – for reasons of self preservation, but I was sitting and obsessing constantly when I noticed my niece listening and grinning.

‘What?’ I asked.
‘You are so nice!’ she giggled. ‘My mom crushes ants for fun!’
‘I do not!’ – she, indignantly.

I don’t know if this exchange had anything to do with it but she wrote this decidedly un-filial poem about her mother and singsonged it to the family soon after. Enjoy!


She says she is veg
And she only eats egg
But I have a suspicion
That she eats people too!

Today at noon
I went in her room
And found the remains of
I don’t know whom!

She was riding a broom,
Inside of her room
I think she’s a witch
But I don’t want to be a snitch!


PS. I messed up the drawing by going over it with a thick, black marker because I couldn’t find a regular pen but I really wanted to draw this one. Anyway!