Friday, October 30, 2009

M for Money. M for Marriage.

Just like grocery, food, cosmetics, clothes, house, car and much else we care to buy for a living, there’s another item available for sale, especially in markets in Kerala. It’s an auction of sorts, where the highest bidder gets the privilege of taking the item home after a grand handing-over ceremony.

You’ll know what I’m talking about if/when you’re between 21 & 25, finished your graduation / post-graduation, Syrian Christian (SC), eligible spinster hailing from Kerala (esp Thiruvalla, Kottayam, Pathanamthitta Districts)… ready to hit the market (at least that’s when it all begins!).

The Sunday Matrimonial columns bring them in.

Grooms Wanted: 21 yr old, white (a point to note!), good looking (could have contested for Miss Universe!), SC girl of medium height (meaning 4’ 9’’ or 5’6” or somewhere in between?), in Kottayam, seeks TDH boy (as in Tall, Dark & Handsome or Tom, Dick & Harry) with good qualification (read Engineer or Doctor) and good job (read Government job, Bank job or working in the Gulf).

Brides Wanted: 28 yr old, 185 cms tall, handsome SC boy, working as Manager in reputed Oil Company in the Gulf, seeks fair, beautiful and well educated girl, preferably a Nurse / Teacher (point to be noted), having sound family background (read cash-rich).

There is a spate of calls, in response. Half of which could be people from the newspaper desk to prove that their paper indeed brings response. Quarter of which could be dimwits who don’t get the details in the ad right. And the other quarter may or may not work (it’s like a weather forecast…it may or may not rain).

The brokers are worse. It’s like setting up a blind date. The difference is, the date here is usually between parents. And the main factor discussed (apart from exchanging courtesies) is how much money and gold can the bride’s family cough up in exchange for their son.

Then come in the views of the extended family and friends. The grandparents, aunts and uncles (who you didn’t know existed until then), friends and well-wishers (you know what I mean!). They step out of their way to offer their assistance or give their opinion on matters (even without asking).

Once upon a time, I was this eligible spinster on a vacation to my maternal grandparent's house in a small town called Ranny, in Kerala. It's a beautiful place, kinda uphill with winding roads and rubber plantations on either side. I was 24 then, and my grandfather started checking the matrimonial column and calling the eligible bachelor boys' families frantically, from the day I landed. I was witness to one of the ugliest nature of haggling in the marriage market.

Excerpts of a telecon I overheard...
Appachan (Grandpa): I'm so and so, and you? (Establishing credentials). [They find some common connection and the next couple of minutes is dedicated to telecon in that direction. Then resumes...] What does your son do? My granddaughter is here for a few days. Why don't you drop in today or tomorrow and see her?

In the backdrop:
Me (Panic button on): Mom, let's get out of here quick! I didn't come here to buy myself a buddy boy.
Mom(hushes me up): Relax. You have to get married some day or the other.

On the other end of the telephone (on speaker phone, so we get to hear the atrocious conversation, loud and clear):
Lady(Thankfully not my mother-in-law!): My son is an engineer in KSEB. You know, sound Government job, getting a fat cheque and all! So how much are you ready to give?

In the backdrop:
Me (With my jaws wide open and my eyes ready to pop out): What? Is she out of her mind? What does she mean, how much we are ready to give?
Mom (hushes me up again): Quiet. That's the way marriage aliances work.
Me: Hmmph..I think I'll rather stay a spinster!

Back to the telecon:
Appachan (Keeping his composure): They're just 2 daughters, the elder girl is married off and is abroad. So, you know...(and trails off).
Lady (She's lucky I'm not her daughter-in-law or I would have probably wrung her neck): 10 lakhs, nothing less!

In the backdrop:
Me (ready to swoon at this outrageous demand for money, and swearing under my breath!)

On the telephone:
Appachan: I suggest you first come and see the girl and if you like her and everything goes well, we'll get to money matters.
Lady (Shamelessly desperate to make money at somebody else's expense) If you're ready to give 10 lakhs, we'll come.

Appachan turns in our direction, we nod our head left to right to express our disapproval.

Back on phone:
Appachan: We'll think about it...

Beep, beep. End of call. End of alliance. I returned home after the vacation feeling heavier, full of questions. How could anyone demean themselves asking a total stranger blatantly for something they do not deserve? Do they consider their son a product for sale in the marriage market? Where the auction starts at 10 lakhs and the highest bidder becomes the bride? Is that the price value they've given their son? Isn't human life worth a lot more, above currency value? The questions remain. The practice remains. And boys are preferred over girls.

PS: Since asking for dowry is against the law, people think they outsmart the legal system, by asking for the "share" of the girl! Such people need to be lined up and asked to shoot themselves, because what they commit is a bastardly and shameless act of daylight robbery!

Ladies and Ladaas, I rest my case.

Points to note:
1. White - Fair complexion (In Kerala it is 'nice colour', white or black)
2. Nurse / Teacher - There's a big demand for nurses, as it is a free ticket abroad. Nurses from Kerala rake in big moolah in the US, Europe and the Middle East. Teachers in Government Schools in Kerala are also in demand in the marriage market. Government job, easy money, plenty vacation!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Who is He?

He seems to be really popular. He goes by many nicknames. Heard of him ever since I was born.

Everybody waits, what seems like an eternity, for an audience with him. He seems to be someone you can look up to in times of adversity. Most of them believe in the barter system for favours from him. Some of them put him on a pedestal, some believe he lives just next door and some others simply shun him and prefer to stay farthest from him.

Most countries or regions are separated because of his multiple personality. Most wars happen in his name. And yet they call him the all understanding being, when he is watching it happen right under his nose!

Why doesn’t he do anything to stop the nonsense preached and practiced in his name? Why does he prefer to stay anonymous and keep people guessing, rather arguing with each other – “I” know him better than “you”, “I” am right, and “you” are wrong, so on and so forth? Wouldn’t it have been easier if he came down and sorted it all out by himself?

The question remains, "who is he?". But fact remains, if it wasn’t for him, we would have been rudderless and without any focus. “Faith”, “hope” and “love” would perhaps have meant nothing without him.

It is our belief that keeps us going in times of trials and tribulations. It is he who keeps our feet firmly grounded when we are reaching higher and higher in pursuit of material gains. It is he who taught us to love, care and share, and reminds us subtly every time we fail to do so.

The many names, the many faces, the many places at all once, are perhaps his will. It is a small test to our faith. The stronger one remains, the more loving and caring one becomes, the closer you get to him. And our search for who he is, gives us a better insight of ourselves. We become more introspective, looking inwards rather than outwards, to check if we’re leading meaningful lives.

I realize I’m getting all preachy and philosophical here. Not sure why I broached this subject at all. Maybe it was all meant to be. Thank you for your patient hearing…err…reading!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I am 16, going on 16+17

At 16, I thought the world was all about me. I felt very important, and I was actually considered quite mature for a teenager. I didn’t worry about trivial things. I was the happy-go-lucky kind, happy with life and everything around. Maybe I was lucky after all, because there were kids with real problems. I didn’t have any cares in this world. Just home, school, family, friends…and of course, the all important ‘me’.

At 16+4, a Math & Physics graduate, aiming to be a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force, but as destiny would have it otherwise, I was lost at the crossroads, wondering which way the life-full-of-promises was awaiting me. Advertising. A marked deviation from Science obviously, but I couldn’t imagine myself as an academician or a scientist, and I thought the only other thing that I could do was write. So I set out. I had to do something after all, coz there was no such thing as a free meal!

At 16+8, I was an accomplished copywriter, on my own two feet. A few of us got together to start up an ad agency. The very first year saw a huge turnover. Then one fine day, it so happened that one of the lead guys got an assignment abroad (a call from his previous agency which he couldn’t refuse), another guy – a printing engineer got an appointment as professor in a reputed institution (he would have been a fool if he’d turned it down), one lady had to join her family who had just then moved to Dubai (again, no choice there) and then myself…well, I got married (the timing couldn’t have been better, or I would have perhaps been at the crossroads again!). Each of us went our own way. The success story came to an abrupt end. (The agency was open for a couple of years after that, but finally wound up, is what I heard). I wasn’t the typical ‘stay-at-home, cook-and-clean-for-pati (husband)patni (wife), but my hubby wasn’t the typical pati either. He gave me my space. I gave him his. And we shared a space that was truly special.

At 16+10, I was working on big brands in an Ad Agency in Bombay. Then, I had my first baby. For a year I stayed at home and enjoyed the just-turned-mother phase thoroughly. I continued working from home though (man, was I raking in the moolah!). But I was already pining to get back to full time work! With a baby in my arms, I heard school and college kids referring to me as “aunty”! Mama was fine, but “aunty” was something I was yet to get used to!

At 16+12, I moved down south with family. Worked hard, partied harder. Bought a house. We were on the fine line, balancing work and home. But found quality time, however sparse, to spend with family. I used to cook back then. And it showed. My husband lost a good 8-10 kilos and I was ‘skinny legs and all’. I got used to “aunty”, grrrr…udgingly.

At 16+15, I had my second baby. Not an easy pregnancy, I must tell you. A hiatus of 3 months from work. At home, enjoying the mother-again phase. It felt nice every time the baby smiled. I coochy-cooed, giggled and played with her. Felt like a baby myself. However, the career woman had to get back to work after the maternity leave, leaving the poor child sucking on lactogen. Youngsters fresh out of college were showing up at work. A good ‘decade’ younger than I. I realize I’m now full time “patni”, “mama”, “ma’am” and “aunty”, but enjoying every single responsibility fully well.

At 16+17, here I am, singing ‘I am 16, going on 16+17’ (Remember Sound of Music?). My kids help keep the child in me alive. I still feel as good as 16. Though now my world means – My kids, hubby, the rest of my family & friends, myself, and then anybody else who matters to me in this world, in that precise order!

I remember, when I was about 22 years old, I thought 28 was old. When I was 28, I thought 32 was old. But now I’m thinking, ‘old’ is only in the ‘thinking’. If you think you are young, you are forever young. That reminds me of my all time favourite song - Bob Dylan’s ‘May you stay forever young’.

“May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be strong,
May you stay…forever young!”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Just 3, but no less mean!

In yellow and black, these snorty looking 3-wheeled menace-on-the-roads, have always kept me at a safe distance. The public transport system (more specifically, the state buses and autorickshaws) is not something I prefer to use unless of course there's no other alternative.

I remember an incident back in my school days. I used to go to tuition classes on a two-wheeler. One day, I had a flat tire. I had no option but to take a bus. I went to the bus stop, waited for 5 minutes, no sign of the bus, decided to walk to the next bus stop, instead of idling away my time in the bus stop. Waited again for 5 minutes. No sign, walked again....My destination was a good 5 km away. And believe it or not, I walked it up! Can't wait for nothing. Not even a bus.

Coming back to the topic of the snorty-looking mean-machine on 3 wheels (what they call 'autorickshaws', or 'auto' in short), here's a brief description of how it looks to me (or others who see it in my perspective):

  • It has a rod for a starter, that you pick up from the floor to start the engine (The auto driver pulls it up in a jerk, my biggest fear is, if it'll come apart)
  • It has a handle like in a scooter, to steer the vehicle in any direction you want to (literally 'any').
  • The clutch is on the handle, just like in a scooter, to change gears (top speed of 30-35 km, but most of them try to push it to 50 km, when you can hear the engine screaming at the top of its ummm.....voice?)
  • It's got a balloon-shaped horn on its side (that rather looks like a big belly, ready to belch that loud 'paum-paum'!)
  • The engine is too loud for my liking (funny spluttering sound at that!)
  • It runs on diesel or petrol...not sure (But it leaves a trail of smoke and smells rather of kerosene!)
  • It has a blunt nose with a head lamp fixed to it (It looks like someone punched him real hard on the nose)
  • It has a glass window pane in front (so the driver & the unfortunate passengers can see where they are actually headed!)
  • It is closed behind with a small window opening (perhaps, for passengers to see if the cops are chasing them?!)
  • It has a driver's cabin with a single seat, separated by 2 or 3 horizontal bars from the passenger area (Wish it was sound proof as well, so the passengers would have been spared the needless chatter with desperate-to-make-small-or-idle-talk auto drivers!).
  • The passenger area usually accommodates 3 people (in regular autos - there are bigger ones too). But I've seen autos plying school children to & fro the school carrying at least 8-10 children at a time in regular autos!
  • When it's raining, 2 flaps drop from either sides at the pull of a rope (so the slush is not in your face...some innovation, I must say!

Apart from its funny looks, it feels funny riding on it as well. Here's why:

  • The driver navigates the auto like it's a tiny tricycle in the middle of heavy traffic (and you can't hear anything else but your heart exploding in your ears).
  • Autos can really ride bumper (read: auto's nose) to bumper (read: butt of the vehicle in front)... And if I was the 'sitting duck' inside the auto, I would close my eyes, feeling like I'm underneath that 'butt', and hoping that the driver wouldn't drive so close.
  • The ride is normally bumpy. When I was pregnant, I thought I needn't have to wait all of 9 months and bother going to the hospital - what with all those jerks, the baby would have jumped out anyway bawling "what the hell"! (Would the baby then get auto-citizenship and a free ride for the rest of her life?! Well, I would have refused it, considering the ride in an auto is a rather unpleasant one!)
  • There's more, but I realize that this post is getting longer than I'd expected, and as usual, I'm losing my patience.

And did I tell you, I once went walking all the way to my friend's house for lunch, bcoz I didn't have the patience to wait for an auto! That was quite a distance to cover on foot, especially for someone who doesn't normally walk even if it's a place just walking-distance away!

But mind you, if there's an emergency, none of the autos seem to stop for you, inspite of putting your hand out, your belly out or your whole self in the middle of the road, risking your life...all for a funny ride in a funny looking auto!

While we're still dwelling on the subject of "auto" here's something funny:
When I was in Bombay I had to depend on the local trains and autos to take me to office and back. In autos out there, there normally is a small message written in the passenger area in hindi which reads - 'Fuck-the theen pravasi' ('th' as in thirst), meaning, 'Only three passengers' in marathi, and on partial translation means something different all together! F*** the you-know-who! OMG!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Okay, Big Brother. You First.

He is big. He sports a rather gory shade of outfit and wears an ominous look that instantly spells danger. His usual garb - red complemented with cream or white. He maybe rash and reckless in his ways, but accommodates anybody who would dangle the thumb pointing upwards or put a hand out amicably.

Big brother would chase you around town, breathe down your neck, hoot behind your back, is always in a tearing hurry, goes many places on business, prefers to stick to his schedule and doesn’t care a damn of what his impatience would cost others. He wouldn’t mind scraping his butt against anything that came his way.

The cops don’t frighten him. The thugs neither. He was arrogant down to the letter t. Doesn’t let go of a challenge easily. And he seems to be forever on the run. Sometimes, we come close to having a brush, but I’m usually the one to let go. Until I see the tiny speck fade out into the distance, I pull up, take a few breaths, regain my composure, and set out to wherever it is that I was headed.

And yet, it seemed like a million people depended on him. In spite of all his erroneous ways. So big brother he stays. And he always gets to go ahead of me. I do not begrudge him, rather keep a safe distance.

He tried to give me a chase today. I was glad he was stopped by those amicable people who put out their hands for a ride. I honked twice to express my glee as I overtook him. He didn’t get a chance to get back at me, for I was home, safe from the clutches of the big bad brother of all roads in Kerala – abhi ‘bus’ kar bhai!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Bled to death…err…life!

It was well planned. The first time over, it had worked. They were confident it would work this time as well. They calculated the day they would do it, prayed and tried to keep calm, not wanting to leave anything to chance.

The day came and went. The countdown began. She had a gut-feeling it had worked. 30 days henceforth, they thought they’ll check. They were elated. On Cloud 9. They couldn’t contain the joy. But they weren’t all too sure.

They rushed to the hospital, pregnant with hope. The doc didn’t confirm it. Said “50-50...It could be ectopic. Come back 2 weeks later”. They were confused, but decided to wait patiently. It was only a matter of 2 weeks. They went again. This time it was confirmed. Their joy knew no bounds. They rejoiced. Shared the news with their child who had been feeling lonely all along and was eagerly waiting for some company. She was euphoric.

The first month went by. The doc seemed to carry some sort of resentment. Her face was always grim. And she always sounded negative. When she was shown an ultrasound report, she read “no foetal heart flicker was noticed” and went on to say that maybe because it was too early to notice, when the report actually said “foetal heart flicker was noticed”.

The lady had some bleeding (which started in the second month), so she was already worried. And to make matters worse, she had to deal with a doc who was driving her to the edge of her seat. The doc scheduled a visit a fortnight later, to do a second ultrasound.

They got there on time. The ultrasound was done. The radiologist said there was a huge subcutaneous clot and that the doc would advise what would be best. The doc (with her usual grim expression) declared that the chances of survival were slim. And asked the gentleman “Are you sure you want to proceed with it. Maybe we can wait a month more and then go for abortion.” They were furious. The doc must have been out of her mind to think they would actually want to abort when everything was planned well in advance. That was the last visit they paid to that doc.

The bleeding continued. The lady was confident though, because she had spotting during the first trimester of her first pregnancy, in spite of which she went on to have a normal pregnancy and delivery. She continued to go to work as usual. One day, the bleeding was heavy. She confided to one of her colleagues. Her colleague was disturbed. Wanted to rush her to the hospital right away. That got her thinking. She called her husband and they fixed an appointment with another gynaec later that evening.

They went to the hospital. The gynaec seemed friendly enough, in stark contrast to the other doc. She asked the usual questions and all seemed fine until…the lady revealed that she had some bleeding and that even in her previous pregnancy she had spotting in her first trimester. The doc said she wanted to check. Then she yelled at the husband, “how could you let your wife go to work when she’s bleeding like this? Get an ultrasound done immediately!” Now they were seriously worried. They rushed. There was a long wait. Eventually, the lady’s turn came and she went in. The gentleman’s heart was beating loud, so loud he was almost going deaf with the noise. The radiologist seemed friendly too. Calmly explained that there was a huge subcutaneous clot, but the foetus was doing ok. That was some relief. They rushed back to see the doc. The doc said “get admitted to the hospital right away!”

Horror struck (the lady hated hospitals!), she begged and pleaded with the doc that she would take complete bed rest if allowed to go home. The doc said a flat no. She insisted that the lady get admitted if she wanted the baby. 4 days lying on the bed, with IV plugged to her vein. It was awful. The gentleman was the bystander, so he missed work too. The day she was discharged, she felt better, as if, she was let out of prison. And that was the last time she saw this doc too.

There was a gynaec who was her neighbour. When the lady casually mentioned to her, her situation, the doc took a look at the ultrasound reports and advised that she drop in to her clinic some time for a quick check up. This doc discussed everything, why, what and how, so the lady was comfortable and decided to stick.

The months rolled by. The bleeding continued. There were self-administered injections and medicines (the so-called “blood clotters”), but no respite. All along, there was just one saving grace. The foetus was holding up fine. In the 9th month, they knew it was a girl baby, did some quick shopping and waited for the d-day. The lady continued to go to work. No hard labour. Just some light deskwork. She ambled in and ambled out.

One Sunday night (a week before her due date), she felt a funny pain in her abdomen. She couldn’t sleep the whole night. She couldn’t roll over either, because of her full blown tummy. She tried all positions, finally she sat up. In the morning, she told her hubby about the pain. They went to the doc, who lived just a couple of floors down their apartment. The doc checked. Said the lady was ready to deliver any time now. They went to the hospital.

In a few hours, the precious little baby came out. Normal delivery. Healthy baby. The lady and gentleman thanked God, their doctor and everybody else who supported them. At the end of a grueling 9 months journey, it was a happy ending after all!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Survivor's Guide

Sometimes it takes a bit more than smart copy and hard work to keep your job and move up the ladder. Here are a few tips:
1. No cliches or jargons please - Do not follow the conventions or what others have set to follow, per se.
2. Use 'polished' terms or words that add that extra 'finesse' to whatever it is that you are doing [eg: Say 'Approach Note' instead of 'Plan'; 'Concept' instead of 'Idea']
3. When you present something, package it differently, better still, add a flourish [Whether it is verbal or written] - Eg. For a logo demo, include a rationale and put it up as a powerpoint presentation; When you come up with a brand name, put on an accent (anglicized) - it makes it sound good.

More tips coming soon....