Saturday, November 30, 2013

Black, White and shades of grey

Murali : Coffee ???

Manasa : mmm… not now

Murali : OK … maybe by 4.30

Manasa : OK … 

Murali @ 4.30 : Coffee

Manasa : mmm…coming

Murali : Hey...take the stairs … OK

Manasa : No way … I will take the elevator.

Murali and Manasa worked on the same team and shared the same cab everyday to work. Long hours of commute and a sedentary desk job was taking a toll on their health like scores of so many other young people. As a part of new year resolution Murali and Manasa incorporated a few fitness goals. To keep a friendly check on each other’s exercise regimes and calorie  intake was a part of their agreement.  
As young fresh graduates who migrated to the big city for a job, Murali and Manasa  lived carefree lives as singletons, working hard and then partying hard along with their co-workers.  
While Manasa shared an apartment with three other girls, Murali lived in another apartment two floors up with three other work mates.  They threw parties for birthdays and over weekends and whenever they were not at work.   For Manasa’s birthday, Murali had gifted her, her favorite perfumeWhen it was Murali’s birthday, Manasa gifted him a pack of CDs of his favourite albums.  

Their social lives involved around their workmates.  They worked hard over the week and partied hard over the weekend.  

In December of that year Murali and Mansa were expecting their appraisals and their promotions. When they exchanged notes about their discussion with the Boss on their promotions, it looked like Murali made it and Manasa did not.

Sexual harassament.  Screamed Manasa.

That is when this chat transcript and the CD covering the CCTV footage across the staircase was  called upon for investigation.  

 For someone who listened to Manasa’s point of view, when the complaint of sexual harassment was lodged, along with the Chat transcript  this was indeed a straight case.

A proposal to ask a lady co-worker to take the stairs ( 5 floors down) of a 11 floor office complex, that  was hardly frequented by anyone could amount to ‘hatching plans to making an indecent advance’… especially when the lady employee had said a categorical ‘No’.
The CCTV footage, however revealed  nothing untoward.

This is what Murali had to tell to the committee.

We were just friends.   
There is more to this and all this is circumstantial evidence.

And Yes … we liked each other.   It was mutual. Atleast that is what I thought.
We were friends, co-workers, batch mates and there was a healthy competition between us at work.
Like most co-workers we bitched about our boss, cursed the long working hours and cribbed about the peanuts that we were getting paid.  We went to movies, went shopping and on outings along with other co-workers. Yes, we were close friends and eventually I may have taken this relationship to the next level,  but now I know I won’t, or rather cannot.

That, this was said in a different context  and quoted at a time when professional jealousy was at its peak is something that the investigation did not take cognisance of.

How would the committee looking into the case know about what undercurrents ran ?

That, Murali was probably advancing ahead in career with a promotion compared to Manasa may have triggered the complaint.

That, Murali may have been generally exaggerating his discussion with the boss to Manasa may have triggered the complaint.

But to the investigators all that transpired in their resepctive Performance appraisals with their boss was irrelevant to this case.

Because somethings are more complicated and run deeper that what meets the surface.
To friends and co-workers  watching this entire episode unfold, the verdict was clear .
Murali was an idiot and he may have walked into a honey trap.  

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

Friday, November 22, 2013



 From my very early exposure to mills and boons days, I believed that  nurses always fell in love with doctors,  simple girls were swept off their feet by the stinking rich businessmen and the Air hostesses married the Pilots and lived happily ever after.

I took to Mills and boons in my early teens, but much earlier than that, when I was a little girl, we had a neighbor called Kashyap aunty. At home we called her the boff-cut aunty, but never mentioned that in public.  Boff-cut aunty had short hair that barely fell upto her shoulders and was always neatly brushed.

For a girl with two pigtails plaited and doubled up with ribbons, Kashyap aunty's hair style was the last word on fashion. Actually it was not  just her hair style, It was Kashyap aunty’s cherry red lipstick shade that made her a fashion icon in the eyes of me and my sister. Between the two of us, she was referred as the lipstick aunty and not boff-cut aunty.  

Kashyap aunty was married to Kashyap uncle. Kashyap uncle was an airline pilot. Those were the days, when you never asked ‘which airlines’?  Obviously it had to be Air-india or Indian airlines. Kashyap uncle worked for Indian airlines and Kashyap aunty met him somewhere up-in-the-air when she worked for them as an airhostess. Mills and boons story come true !!!  

 (The fact that the Kashyap's was a 'love' marriage was disclosed to Amma by Daulatbai, who was the domestic help at both our homes. Her job, it was, to cross pollinate vital information in the neighbourhood with a little bit of her own flavor added to it. In our family such type of scandalous information would normally be  classified as Triple X and would only be for the consumption of adults. I overheard this bit only because the day Daulatbai casually mentioned this to Amma when she was sweeping the floor under Amma's close supervision, I was down with flu and was supposedly sleeping in the bedroom since I was taken off from school.) 

 Kashyap aunty quit her job after marriage because that is what Indian airline’s of those days stipulated as  rules and regulations. ‘Equal opportunities employer’ had a different definition in those days. Just because, she worked for Indian airlines, do not imagine Kashyap aunty to be a fat, grumpy middle aged woman that you would normally associate with. She was tall, slim, fair, fashionable , neatly dressed even when she was at home in her cherry red lipstick, manicured finger nails painted with light shades of pink nail polish and draped in gorgeous georgette sarees that accentuated the curves around her hips.         

I was sure, I wanted to be an airhostess when I grew up. 
I was not sure if I wanted to marry a pilot though.

(Kashyap uncle was’nt exactly what you could call handsome. He was an Amol Palekar look alike. He had a flick of oily hair, a pencil thin moustache, was short by normal standards, repulsively fair skinned and had a voice like Sachin's.)      

It was expected that all decent school children would aspire to become a scientist, astronaut, engineer, doctor or chartered accountant. The problem with all these professions was that you needed to study well. That was a bar raised far too high for my standards. From what I was told, being an airhostess,  required some basic qualifications but not much of sweat and blood by way of academic  excellence.  

 You had to be pretty, fair skinned, flawless complexion and decent looking. And that was something I was hoping I would manage to pull off, when I grew up to that age.

Everything was on track. I grew up to that age, believing I had all those qualifications. It was only a matter of time and the long oily plaits would have to go, the bushy eyebrows would get trimmed and I would have my own vanity case, with lipstick and nail paints of various shades and brands.

With all that, the tall, dark and handsome pilot would automatically follow.

As I joined college, I started making enquiries about how and when of the job openings for being an airhostess. Everything seemed to be working well, but for that one vital statistics.

I saw the quarter page advertisement in the Hindu for air hostesses for the newly launched airline.  Among all other things that were required to becoming  an air hostess, there was one shattering piece of requirement that broke my heart.

Minimum Height : 5 feet 4 inches.

Everything else was workable. Flawless skin, not married, good communication skills, weight,    
But Height !!!
Blame it on my Genetics. There is only so much you can do about that.
No…high heels shoes would not help.

Discrimination,  I wanted to cry out.   

Why should’nt  a petite five feet one inch aspire to become an airhostess ?

All I needed was just two or three more inches.
What does Height have to do with being a nice and efficient air hostess ?

Ok, I do understand, a petite five feet something may not be able to close the cabin baggage shutters as effortlessly as those 5 feet 4 inches and above do. But so what, what are the men hovering around there for ? Is’nt it the charm that she exudes matter the most ?   

Anyway, those arguments would fall flat because employers could pick and choose. In those days employers did not crawl at your feet like they do today.

I let go of my dreams of becoming an airhostess and drifted by whatever came across in life by way of jobs that made up my career.

Years later, when I now fly, I really pity those air hostesses who mindlessly pull out the yellow colour oxygen mask and monotonously simulate the safety instructions that nobody ever cares to listen. Working long, arduous and unholy hours doing the same thing over and over again would not have been my idea of an ideal job. But that is all in hindsight. When I was growing up, becoming an air hostess, was the most glamorous and respectable profession that a woman could aspire for unless she wanted to become a teacher or a lady doctor. Preferably a gynaecologist or a pediatrician.

When roles models were far and few to come by, Kashyap aunty, that ex-indian airlines air-hostess was a real life icon to be worshipped.    

That perception changed over a period of time. To be precise, it changed last year.  

Last year, I was going to be flying in a private jet. My joy knew no bounds when Boss announced that I would accompany the visiting dignitaries in the private jet to the other city.  This was very exciting, as it was going to be my first time in a private jet although I have flown commercial airlines plenty of times.

We arrived at the small air-strip from where the jet would take off. There was no queue at the security counter.  This was VIP security checkup, but a full fledged one. An unassuming BMW drove us down to the hangar.  

From the steps of the small aircraft came down a petite ( 5 feet 1inch) young girl to welcome us personally aboard the private jet that would get us to our destination  in about 40 minutes. Her name was Priyanka and she showed us our seats. There was not much by way of seat choice or seat numbers. Seating in a private jet is just like a ‘Tata Sumo’ with  a total of 8 seats. Four facing forwards and four facing sideways, with the cockpit directly visible to you.     
My jaws dropped when I saw, the person seated at the pilot’s seat in the cockpit.   The petite ( 5 feet 1inch) Priyanka was actually  Captain Priyanka.

In a flash my mental image of her changed drastically.  By now, I was in complete awe of her.

I was not sure if you could disturb a pilot during take-off, but for that I would have gone and fallen at her feet or hugged her.  
I have heard of many women becoming pilots in the air-force and some also fly commercial airlines. But none, has ever escorted me into a flight, introduced herself and engaged in small talk before actually sitting in the prestigious seat at the cockpit. Definitely not a petite, (5 feet 1inches) young, good looking woman.

Times have changed. And this time, she had raised the bar.   

On our return journey, I made a note to interview the Petite Priyanka and get to know her better.
Ah...she turned out to be such a sweetheart.

 This time UNUSUAL OCCUPATIONS features Captain Priyanka - the Pilot of a private jet.

She (unlike me) had always wanted to be a pilot.  That, her father was from the armed services helped her nurture her ambition.  She graduated from college and then trained to become a commercial pilot. Considering Commercial flying takes a toll on your time and work hours, she decided to fly private jets and that is how she was here flying us on that day.

An IT professional’s worth is measured by the number of year’s of experience. ( Never mind, even if he was fiddling his thumbs for many months when he was on bench or was doing some  intellectually numbing copy paste job for a good part of his career) . 

Similarly, I was given to understand that a pilot’s professional worth is measured by his ( or her) number of  flying hours. She told me that in the last few years of her profession, she had put in some XX number of hours. From the looks of it, she seemed to be liking her job in a very matter of factly manner. There was no pride or boastfulness in her talk or mannerisms. She told me that there were plenty of women pilots these days and she was nothing out of the ordinary.  

She had no idea, how much, I was in awe of her.
In my eyes she had raised the bar for what a woman, a petite woman could aspire for. 
I asked her if she would pose for a photograph.  

My privilege, Ma’m … she replied. 
I was embarrassed.

Petite Priyanka and I .... 

Captain Priyanka at the cockpit.

P.S: I have this nagging question ringing in my mind. If young good looking girls started becoming Pilots, whom would they fall in love and get married to ?          

May be I am a little out of date with recent editions of Mills and boons. Need to catch up.

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Nostalgic Nineties ....

Those were the most exciting of days, those were the most boring of days. 

Doordarshan was synonymous with television as was Akashwani with Radio. Remote control was still a luxury and multiple channels were unheard of except from those who knew and spoke about the amazing technological advancements that happened in of U S of A.

Those were the days when news readers enjoyed celebrity status and every girl or boy blessed with a good diction, prepared and read out the abridged version of newspaper headlines in the school assembly and secretly aspired to be a Rini Simon, Neethi Ravindran or Tejinder Singh.

Never mind if Doordarshan’s news telecast was meant for the propoganda of the then ruling party, a mouthpiece for talking about government schemes that never yielded results. Most of the  inconsequential and stale news that made it to the television was primarily controlled by the state. Things have not changed much 20-25 years hence. Except that news is more sensational today and is controlled by other vested interests. The power of the government has replaced the power of capitalists controlled media houses, read politicians with enough money to run television channels of their own.

In the Nineties, News time was sacred time.  Every young boy or girl who aspired for a decent job and needed to crack tough interviews was prescribed to watch Doordarshan English news and read the newspaper, particularly 'The Hindu’ if you were from the south and ‘The Telegraph’ if you were from the western part of India. Reading the editorial column and listening to the news was essential inorder to increase General Knowledge and improve the mastery over English vocabulary.

It was in those pressing and demanding times that TWTW arrived. 

The World this Week.

It was anchored by the fully bearded and intellectual looking Prannoy Roy.

Forgive him for having unleashed upon the world of journalism a certain Ms. Dutt in his later years. He honestly did not know what he was doing.  Ah... here I digress.

TWTW : The world this week was the only window for the information starved Indian to know about the happenings outside of the country. A neatly packaged 30 minute capsule of carefully collated news peppered with interviews, video images and visuals and a section called Newsmakers was the most awaited incident for an entire generation every Friday night.

 Prannoy Roy brought a fresh breath of air and changed the face of news anchoring in India. If you have grown up in the Doordarshan era, you will know what I am talking about.

There was a proliferation of video news magazines after that, which attempted to unleash every  controversy, every contra point of view and everything that the state controlled Doordarshan would refuse to take heed of.  But none could match up the breadth and the brevity of TWTW.

NDTV classics airs old episodes of TWTW as NDTV classics at 9pm everyday. If you are one of those who need to stage a hunger strike inorder to take control of the television's remote control from the demanding primetime soap viewers or if you are one of those who cannot figure out how to operate multiple remote controls and surf mindless TV channels before you hit the right one, don't sweat it out.

For most problems in the world there is a solution available.
Mostly in the form of Google.
This one is available on Youtube.

 Logon to Youtube or click on these links below and discover the Nostalgic nineties.  

It is a pleasure to watch a young and stunning looking Shabana Azmi boldly defending herself after the controversy and fatwa issued by the fundamentalists over her 'peek in the cheek' ( not kissing … you conservative, narrow minded, old fashioned, culturally unexposed fools of the nineties) from Nelson Mandela.

 In 1993, a news item on TWTW talks about this new technology called Electronic mail ( email) that was going to change the way we communicate over the years. ( October 1993)  

And finally for the cherry on the topping from August 1990. This one is a must watch.

Fast forward to the 14th minute if you do not want to navigate through the rest.  

This one is about a 17 year old boy struggling with an impromptu interview …

'Studies is very important. Atleast I want to complete my graduation. Then i will think of something else. I study in 12th standard … arts.' , he stutters with a voice and makes you wonder if this Teenager’s voice is yet to break.  

'So you do not have any coach ?'... interrupts the interviewer

'My coach name is Mr.Ramakant Achrekar' ; says the boy... 'he is still my coach' ... he hastens to add....

Nostalgic indeed ... Click here to watch the boy...
The 'boy' has moved on since the nineties and how ?    

In awe of Actor Radhika Apte

Having watched Radhika Apte at a Girish Karnad play 'Une Purey Shahar Ek' at Rangashankara a couple of weeks ago, I am in awe of her. There was something about her acting, that makes you take note of her.

She is an actress to watch out for. It takes much more of spontaneity to perform on stage that over the reels. When I was still lingering in awe of her looks and her acting skills, here I was, stumbling upon another short film where she was starring again. This is a short film by Anurag Kashyap, that I came across a few days after I wrote this post

Radhika Apte has the power to speak with her eyes.  That Girl-next-door looks also enhances her near to perfection portrayal of a lower middle class urban woman that she has played so well in this short film. 
There is  not a dialogue she speaks in the first 5-10 minutes of this short film. 

It is her eyes that speak a thousand lines.
Brilliant direction and awesome acting.  
This short film is worth a watch. (especially the closing lines ... :) )

BTW I won a flipkart voucher from blogadda for my entry 'Where the mind is without fear'
How I wish Shireen, the protagonist of my post has an ending like the one in this short film.
How I wish ...


Thursday, November 07, 2013

What's going on ?

The maddening traffic,
Non-sense chatter over the FM... 
Non-stop deluge of emails…
Endless meetings…
Mindless presentations …
Meaningless social networking …
Die-hard liars …
Desperate but illegitimate lovers …
Suicidal co-worker …
Stressed out super mom …
Senseless client calls …
Soul stinking ass lickers …
Sweat shops and slave drivers …

There was only so much I could take during the course of a day at work.
Mentally exhausted, I decided to call it a day.
Little did I realize, all day I had left my mobile phone in the car.

38 missed calls in a span of 10 minutes … god … I wondered what was going on …

How can I be so forgetful? My bad, I should not be so careless... 
I dialled my sister’s mobile number to return the call.
My heart was beating fast … my palms were sweating. 

Nandini my seven year old niece instantly picked up the call.
‘What’s going on ? I called you so many times…’ she says with desperation in her voice.  

Sorry sweetheart … was busy in meetings… what happened ?

Mmm... when you were busy in your meetings,
tooth fairy photo: FAIRY fAIRY.jpg
I lost my first milk teeth.
I called you and you did not answer.
So I went and buried it in the park under the gulmohar tree.  
You think tooth fairy will send me a gift ?   

She certainly will, my darling …
And thus saying, I went online on flipkart and ordered the Doll house …


   This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Beware - Big data is watching you

A few years ago, I was flying Air-India and my co-passenger was a 72 year old retired Doctor from Chicago. He was visiting Ahmedabad where his ancestors came from and his relatives still lived there. He had emigrated from India in the late 60’s.  We boarded the flight at Heathrow for Mumbai.  It would be about 8 hours of journey time.
I had the aisle seat and he had the window.
We wanted it the other way round.
Both of us sought the air hostess’s intervention for a problem that we could have solved mutually. She solved it for us with a very sweet smile.
Anyway, that is how we got talking.

He waxed eloquent about America. From what he knew, it was the land of milk and honey , of opportunities and freedom.  Europe was old, crowded, steeped in orthodoxy. Worse was India. It was corrupt, dirty and full of mosquitoes. I do not know why, but he was repeatedly agonizing about the mosquitoes that would swarm us when we land at the Mumbai airport. But he was nostalgic about 90 year old aunt whom he would meet in Ahmedabad.
I patiently listened to him. He then asked about me, my family and my occupation.

I told him I was returning to India from U.K and was eagerly looking forward to working in India.     
He dissuaded me against my come back and told me how corrupt and dirty India was. It was no place for bright young people to be in. He was convinced that I was not doing the right thing.

The man was completely out of touch. In any case his paternalistic attitude and that non-stop monologue had actually got me a little irritated. 

WTH, you visit India once in ten years for 10 days and make a judgement based on what it must have been in the 60’s when you emigrated. Come off it.
But, I did not tell him in those many words . 
It was now my  turn to talk and clear some misconceptions. ( Afterall mosquitoes have never bitten me in Mumbai airport … )    

I started with what I do for a living.   
Trust me I had to dumb down.
I told him I worked in the ‘IT’ industry.  
I realized I had to still dumb down.
For starters, I told him,  IT stood for Information Technology and not Income Tax.

During our conversation, he opened his wallet for something and I saw a REDCARD - the Target loyalty card and a credit card peeping out.  

‘So you shop at Target?’ I asked him .

‘Yes, it is a  huge retail chain.  Very huge.  Nothing like those Kirana dukaan walas in India. Good quality, they will never sell all adulterated stuff , no bargaining or cheating over there …he took off.  

Mmm… based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Target and Best buy .. both of them.  
3M as well is’nt it.  
I must confess, I wanted to show off a little bit.   
His eyes widened. ‘How do you know? You said you have never been to America ?...
We work for them… I said.

The air hostess interrupted. She was serving lunch.
He declined. Instead, he pulled out a packet, unwrapped an aluminium foil and went on to eat some Thepla with mango chutney.
After all, Air –India, like most things Indian, cannot be trusted with hygenic food. 
Home made Thepla, freshly made 18 hours ago by his wife from a suburb in Chicago.
He offered me. I did not bother to refuse. I picked up a small piece. It was delicious.  

Do you get loyalty coupons from Target ?  I resumed the conversation. 
'Yes', he said.
Do they send you discount coupons and free offers to buy Lijjat papad, dessicated coconut, MDH masala, Tinned  Turiya, frozen drum sticks and the new variant of odor free Arthritis cream from Bengay.  
'Yes', there was astonishment in his eyes.

 Have you ever received any such offer for eggs, meat, beef , ‘ready to eat’ cup noodles, Huggies Diapers or Sanitary Napkins.       

How do you know ? …asked the astonished expression that emanated from his eyes. 
Actually the one thing you did not know is that you are being watched.... said the cheeky expression from my eyes.  

That is what me and my colleagues do.  We send you out these coupons so that you can buy  more of your favourite things at discounted prices.  My colleagues are based out of Bangalore, Chennai , Mumbai and even Ahmedabad… 
He was perplexed and confused.
Actually we don't know you. But we know what you buy, when you buy, how much you buy, not just from target but from different places at different times because we have your credit card data. 
No ... we do not have access to your credit card number ... Just the data on your Target Redcard ...   
No... no... no... we do'nt sneak into what you buy from Target ... there is a program that does it for you and for so many others of your age from your area.    

No ... no... no... we do not sneak into your private details ... it is just a pattern that the system throws up ...  

The next one or two hours, went on thus…Unbeknownest to me, I was explaining, what over the next few years would come to be known as the power of Big Data.
Here was a man, who inhabited a part of the world and lived in times, much before Information technology matured to bring about some significant changes and dictates the consumption patterns of his life in that suburb in Chicago.   
In the last two decades, Information technology has brought about some very profound changes in the way we think, eat and live.    

When you pick up that can of beer at the supermarket and stuff it in your basket to be scanned at the till, some IT professional half way across the globe or maybe just across the road, has already built an algorithm that has predicted that there is a 93.92% probability that you will be seduced to pick up the salted cashewnuts at the till before you pay the bill.
When you logon to your facebook page and click the ‘like’ button for Q cinemas from a laptop  near the box office counter, in park square mall, because only then they would give you a Rs.20 discount on your Rs.220 ticket at the counter, you do realize that this is ‘gamification’ at its best.   

Using the power of ‘big data’ you will soon receive emails on your yahoo id from 'Gitanjali jewels' at Park square mall if you facebook gender is female and from Amoeba for discounted offers for Bowling during ‘Happy hours’ if your facebook gender is Male.
Don’t they send you coupons to your email address just a couple of weeks before your birthday to a 50% off on your meal from Barbeque nation if you visit them on your birthday?  Along with that is a tie up with Madhu-loka that offers you discounted rates for a crate of beer cans (Only if your facebook age is between 21 and 35). Never mind if you are actually 12 years of age and gave your mummy's year of birth to open a facebook account upon advice from your friend, because you wanted to desperately stay connected to your friend from 5th standard who migrated to australia. 
You are the customer and customer is always the king. 

Thanks to the nasty feedback you gave on their feedback form at the Tex-Mex restaurant because the waiter over there did not get you, your starters and refills on time.  Over the email id that you gave on the form ( it was compulsory data field), they sweetly apologize for the shoddy service and they do not just stop at that.

Every year, on your ex's - birthday (that is what you mentioned on the feedback form because you were too smashed to remember yours) they let you have 1 beer can free if you buy another dozen. Only if you visit them just in time before your (ex's) birthday.
That is how we know that the uncle sitting next to me in that Air-India flight may have been a sucker for freebies, considering he was a repetitive consumer at the Asian groceries section, buying Lijjat papad with Punjabi masala flavor at the supermarket.
Pardon me for any perceived discriminatory statements here. This is not prejudice. 
Just the power of Big data.
I wanted to take my revenge and tell him that he was born at the wrong time and had migrated to the wrong place.
But I let it pass.
He lived in a different era and time where Pluto was still a planet, Apple was a mere fruit (that kept his patients away) and  Tablets were what he dispensed to his sick patients when they came down with a flu.
This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda. We give out creative writing topics each weekend for Indian bloggers.


Friday, November 01, 2013

Diwali and the 'Social Sweeter' !!!

This Diwali I am dreading the onslaught of sweets from the friendly neighours and not so distant friends, colleagues, vendors and aspiring vendors :( 

I am a Social sweeter ( I know this word is not yet part of oxford English dictionary like 'tweeter' and 'unfriend', but what the heck, there is a first time for everything, including the coining of this word.)  Let me explain and clarify what and who of a Social Sweeter

A Social drinker as you know is someone  who 'drinks' ( alcoholic drinks)  because he does not want to be a spoil sport and joins in a gang of drinkers for the sake of acceptance. He drinks out of peer pressure or because it is considered cool to drink. He secretly wonders why people make such a big fuss out of that horribly bitter beer or scotch, but does not quite think it necessary to voice his opinion. Somewhere deep down he is secretly ashamed of his traditional and conservative upbringing that does not allow his taste buds to appreciate the finer aspects like others do.  In most probability a social drinker is also the one who has’nt really experienced a real ‘high’ and tries his best to fake one. He is also mortally scared of the  ‘hangover’. He has seen so many of those otherwise dignified people turn into complete cartoons after a drink or two. A social drinker belongs to the breed that heads home after the party and drowns a glass of butter milk not only to avoid a nasty hangover, but to get away from the aftertaste of those obnoxiously bitter and unnecessarily expensive drinks.  

 A Social sweeter is of a similar breed.  In keeping with the times, the word itself is an abridged version for Social sweet eater. The Social Sweeter comes under peer pressure not from friends or colleagues but more often from aunties, uncles and other forms of overbearing hosts and gulps down that sugary syrupy malpua or rosagulla. If you closely observe, the Social  Sweeter would quietly head to the restroom and wash the mouth clean before that irritating onslaught of the sugary aftertaste start haunting the taste buds.  She is also mortally scared of a long lecture from the loud mouth aunty on the effects of dieting and how a couple of gulaab jamoons, so lovingly prepared by her ( huh... using MTR readymade gulaab jamoon mix) would not make much of a difference if one is already so overweight.  

Diwali is a dreaded season for a Social Sweeter, overweight or otherwise. This is the time of the year a Social Sweeter prefers to hibernate and unfriend herself from all social contacts and here I do’nt mean the harmless facebook types. But no matter how unsocial you become, you cannot do much to escape the abundance of rava laddus, besan laddus, motichoor laddus, kaju katli, mysore pak, navratna mix, somaasi ( karanji) , gulab jamoon and rasagullas that land up at our place around diwali time.  

If there was a popularity contest to rank the most repulsive Diwali sweet, Soan papdi, I am sure will win hands down.  I have known quite a few die hard sweet-tooth types who have developed  an acute condition called ‘soan papdi intolerance’ over the years.   

To be fair on Soan papdi,  it is’nt exactly that horrible a sweet. In the good old days, a sweet vendor would push his cart under a pertomax light after dinner, but just before bedtime, ringing a brass bell whose shrill sound would never escape the silence of the night. The pushcart would carry a huge air tight transparent glass jar, illuminated by the noisy petromax light. It had in it what used to be intriguingly called ‘budde kaa baal’  since it looked so much like an old man’s grey hair. After much coaxing, parents would give in to the pester power every once in a while and buy ‘Soan Papdi’.

Soan papdi, melted in your mouth before you even began to relish its taste. Partly because it was so small in quantity that it left you wanting for more.  A small paper cone filled with Soan papdi would cost 50 paise and a big paper cone would cost one Rupee. With economic progress it went on to cost two rupees for the small paper cone and five rupees for the big paper cone. 

And then, that quaint ‘budde kaa baal’ went completely out of the market. Corporatisation of Soan papdi sent the push cart vendor out of business.

It happened when Haldirams discovered the  secret of preserving Soan papdi. Over the years, their manufacturing unit created a glut of Soan papdi and commercialised them and sold them in different flavours. I don’t blame them. They were packaged well and therefore sold well.  But most importantly, unlike other indian sweets, Soan papdi does not perish for a long, long time.  When you travelled long distances or were visiting a friend or a relative who you know nourished a sweet tooth, you packed a couple of boxes of Soan papdi.  The jalebis, rasamalali, moti choor laddu, besan laddu and other freshly prepared sweets had a very short ‘sell by’ date that would not withstand a long distance travel.

Thus Soan papdi became the most gifted sweet of the decade.
It is all set to become the most repelled sweet of the next decade. 
It pays to exercise moderation and retain the exclusivity.
How I wish Haldirams learn their business fundas on product placement from De-beers or atleast the push-cart vendor.

Anyway, more on that later. Sorry for the digression. 

It is Diwali time and I have decided to exercise moderation.  But as much as I say this, I know that once the onslaught of sweets and savouries begins it is going to be a downward spiral.

 Thank god for small mercies.  There is always a traditional remedy available. 

Deepavali Legiyam’ aka ‘Dabur Chavanprash’ is a one stop solution for all the digestive troubles that begin to haunt you after Diwali.  All one needs to do is gulp down a few spoonfuls of 'Deepavali Legiyam' or 'Dabur chavanprash' before you start your day on Diwali and for a few days thereafter.  It is best used as a preventive medicine. It is supposed  to posses the power of getting even a stone digested and ejected out of a digestive system.  

Paati ( grandmother)  would prepare  the deepavali legiyam for the entire extended family a couple of weeks before Diwali. She would generously distribute it to everyone who came visiting and send across for those who could not come visiting. 
We never really learnt the recipe from her.  After she passed away, my uncle took it upon himself to buy it from a small shop off  the Kapaleeswarar temple tank in Mylapore and distribute it among the clan now spread all over the world.  He buys dozens of small bottles of readymade  'deepavali legiyam' and religiously sends it across to all those who were recipients of grandmother’s secret recipe.

If there is one thing we all miss during Diwali, it is her ‘Deepavali Legiyam’. The one from Mylapore tastes similar but not the same. While all its ingredients are much the same what it lacks is probably her love. It is afterall a commercially sold product.

This Diwali, I decided to go slow on fireworks, atom bombs, mindless sweets and savouries ( the ones from neighbours is more than enough) and decided to prepare Paati’s  Deepavali Legiyam’ . That would be a fitting tribute to her and to the traditional knowledge that she possessed and would have loved to pass on to the next generation.
If only we had bothered to acknowledge and learn.   

Click here to listen to The Legiyam recipe narrated by 92 year old Meenakshi Ramamurthy (Grandmother of Anand Krishnamoorthi  @mdeii ) . Do not miss this rib tickling take on this divine concoction that will resonate with every tambrahm household.  

Thank you Anand Krishnamoorthi  @mdeii.

 . Dabur Chavanprash, sorry about exposing a part of your recipe publicly on my blog.

That is the beauty of Traditional knowledge. It was freely available for those who sought it and learnt it. In our times, we have not had the inclination, time and wherewithal to learn it.

That is why I think, Dabur Chavanprash or any of those natural products that were traditionally made will never go out of business.  Preparing them at home is indeed cumbersome and not everyone’s calling.   

Today we lament about the loss of Traditional knowledge. We are ourselves to blame.

Disintegration of joint family systems (they had their own set of flaws and failed to adapt to changes but that is besides the point),  our distancing from natural environs, lack of time and more than anything else our degrading value systems that need for quick fix soultions to all our problems are the main reasons.
If there was a research done by pharma companies I am sure, antacids, digestive syrups and indigestion pills, are the products that sell very well soon after Diwali. 
'Deepavali Legiyam' and 'Dabur Chavanprash' harldy get their due in times when we flock to quick fix solutions so that we could get going with our fast paced lifestyle. 

It is very easy to give into the short term benefits offered by the  allopathic medicines that suit our fast paced, consumerist lifestyles .

In the process, we  have neglected the wisdom and long term benefits of Traditional systems of medicine and lifestyle.     

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