Archive for August, 2007

My kind of hero

I want to write about the time I visited the MSSRF in Madras, in 1999/2000. MS Swaminathan, more easily identified as the Father of the Green Revolution in our country, had established this institute.  

So, I want to write about my visit for two reasons- to record it for self (owing to the dwindling population of memory cells- this is an incident I want to remember) and to give you an account of what I witnessed there. 

The occasion that called for the visit was a conference. The topics to be discussed were relevant to what we (the whole class went) were studying. Besides I wanted to see MSS in person. See he is related to us. (Hey, if he’s distantly related to my grandpa, he’s distantly related to me too!)  

The talks started on time. And I was enthralled! Here was a speaker talking about routinely carrying out cloning in her lab, while all I had heard of the term was in carefully cut-out newspaper articles and in our curriculum text-books. I still remember this as one of the most memorable series of talks I have ever attended.

Fast-forward to MSS’s address, which followed the speakers’ talks. He spoke for ten minutes after which the floor was thrown open to questions. There were a few pertaining to the visiting speakers’ presentations, and a few about the work being done at the MSSRF. And that’s when things took an ugly turn.

There was a man in the audience, who got up to ask a question about the Green Revolution. To which the chair of the session (not MSS; let’s call him K) gave him an answer. Not satisfied with the answer, the man probed him further. He was not too polite, and this appeared to get on K’s nerves. They argued back and forth and after a while the man said, “I’m a farmer. I have seen very difficult times. I can converse in English now because I realized that I needed to learn the language to communicate with people like you. So you think the Green Revolution was a big gift to the Indian farmer? Do you know what a negative impact it has had on us? Do you know that your technology has run many of us job-less? How is that supposed to be a good thing? How is mechanization a good thing..” 

And the allegations continued. He had worked up quite a temper and was shouting at MSS and K. I was keenly following MSS’s face all this while. It must not be easy, I thought, to have your efforts belittled and openly critisized in a forum of this scale; to have academia from universities abroad as a witness to this criticism; to have someone throw all that you nurtured over the years on your face. Certainly not an enviable situation.

Through all this K was fuming. Screaming back at the farmer. Asking him how he did not find it in him to be grateful. And MSS, with a smile on his face, tried to calm them both down. With not so much as a frown or a worried look on his face.

This is where my memory completely fails me- I cannot, for the life of me remember what happened next. All that I do remember is thinking to myself how tactfully MSS had handled the whole unpleasant situation. I was even more in awe of the man. When a thought struck me- he must have seen this, and worse, considering the Green revolution itself was more than twenty years old.

It must not be easy being a hero.   


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Nary a dull moment

“Dear Colleagues, 

We would like to bring in a doctor next week to administer flu jabs for our staff. It will cost about S$30 and the cost will be bored by staff.

We would like to extend this exercise to you and your staff. If you are interested, please reply to me with a name list. 


Dear XYZ,

Please find attached the list of people who will take the flu shot and be bored.

Thanks and regards


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Say that again?

Have you noticed how some international channels air programmes filmed in India with English subtitles? No, not for Indian languages. For Indian English. I was watching a show on Travel and Living showcasing Indian festivals and feasts that is hosted by a non-desi chef. I normally wouldn’t have a problem with that, except that the English being spoken in this case was not too heavily Indian-accented for anyone not to follow what was being said. Besides they were talking quite slowly, emphasizing each word.

As I was thinking out aloud about the reason for the translation, the husband remarked rather absent-mindedly that I could understand what was being spoken since I am Indian. I see.

To give you an idea of how fair-minded I am in real-life I shall have you know that I never once second-guessed the team that decided to run subtitles for GK Moopanar’s TV-speeches in English, God bless his soul. (Or everyday talk- like the show on NDTV, during election time when Srinivasan Jain followed him around all day. And nodded to everything GKM said, and then asked questions. I was mighty impressed! And very very curious. Did S. Jain actually understand what was being said? Or did he just nod to the English version of GKM’s talk that was being fed privately into his ear-phones?) Simply ’cause the man mouthed such an indecipherable form of the English language that it would have been unreasonable not to translate. (Help! What do you call translation of one language to well, itself?)

But these Gujaratis, Tamilians and Bombayites on the show spoke near-perfect English. If you feel the need to subtitle their speech then run subtitles for every English movie post-1990 I say! (Except maybe Matrix Reloaded. I had enough time to recoup my senses between dialogues since there were like, you know, so few of them. Besides it helped to watch Keanu Reeves’ expressive face.)

As it was too late to call any of my non-Indian friends to seek their opinion on the topic (but determined nevertheless to reach an un-biased, singularly fair conclusion) I delved further into my own rich bank of experience. Did I ever have people asking me to repeat myself? Only everyday and at every phone call during the first year here. [Alas, I am scarred for life. I still hesitate to pick up the phone to talk to strangers about my credit-card or enquire show-timings for The Bourne Ultimatum. {The latter comes with Chinese subtitles. Did I tell you I am taking Chinese lessons?)] Now? Only everytime I refuse to lah-ify or can-ify my sentences. Which is, most of the time.

OK, we’re getting nowhere. For the purpose of simplicity and clarity, let’s ignore the above example, shall we.

At work I constantly communicate with a whole bunch of non-Indians. So far, no problems. None that have been brought to my attention at least. Check.

Socially? No problems. Check.

At home? Ah! The husband constantly asks me to slow down when I talk. And asks for every single sentence to be repeated at least twice (more if the TV is on, which is all the time). So yes, I am guilty of needing my own translator, to communicate with my own same-language-speaking husband.

Which brings me to the rather sorry conclusion- that yes, it is justifiable to run subtitles for Indian English. But the rationally and logically-challenged part of my brain (the bigger part of said brain) has rejected the conclusion.

So I still maintain that it’s rather silly to translate Indian English. Or is it just me?

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The chronicles of naana-neeya

Today is Varalakshmi vratham (I didn’t know until I checked the Wikipedia article that women actually pray for wealth and prosperity on this day, not for the long lives of their husbands as I’ve been thinking all along).

I just got off the phone with my mom. She was elated about her daughter, who wore a saree on this momentous occasion (with due apologies to Usha– limiting one’s wardobe to all of two sarees demands that one uses them on ‘occasion’). Sported the still-very-new mangalsutra that was being safe-kept [safekeep {v.} past t. – safe-kept. Capish?] in a box. Took naer-vagudu with the sindoor occupying vantage position at the beginning of the parting. Wore a half-foot long string of jasmine flowers specially purchased from Little India for the purpose, on the 2-inch long pony-tail. Lit the kamakshi velakku early in the morning and dutifully put the flame out with an arali poo. Visited the temple garbed thus. Visited aunt garbed thus. Did namaskaram in front of the kalasham. Ate aviyal, lemon rasam and paal payasam. And returned home.

You didn’t buy any of this, right?

Good. ’cause none of it happened. So amma was fuming. And in the mood for soul-searching questions.

Why are you not like the other normal girls?

What do you mean you don’t believe in idol-worship?

You converted the swami-cupboard to a pantry???

What do you mean you don’t think the thaali is a symbol of being married?

I respect that you don’t want to wear silk any more, but could you not wear that nice silk-cotton churidhar at least?

Nonsense! Silk-cotton has no silk.

Why won’t you call chithi and ask her why she didn’t invite you home? (That’s right- my aunt hadn’t called me. Told amma that it was probably the time of the month. But she insisted that I call anyway to confirm if that was indeed the reason for the non-invite. Should I, should I not, I dallied. Then decided to call her tomorrow to enquire.)

Why won’t you wear the diamond pendant I got you. It’ll go so well with the silk-cotton dress. What do you mean you don’t know its pedigree?

At which point I pointed out to her that it would save me a lot of trouble if she would kindly coordinate my under-clothes with the outfit and accessories. At which point she tried to control the giggle-that-threatened-to-explode, couldn’t and passed the phone to appa, muttering Your daughter is incorrigible. I have no idea how our daughter became this.

Sigh. Did I mention how difficult life is in grown-up land?

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Naan guacamole apdiye sapiduven

Said the husband. And I’m pleased as punch. Who knew mushed up avocado and minced onion with a generous squirt of lemon juice would elicit such a response.

Sorry to dedicate a post to chips and guac. Oh yes, the chips. I’m mighty pleased indeed, since that was dinner.

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You know you’re old when..part I

..the little cousin you watched grow up is now big enough to start her first job

..you constantly refer to your childhood as ‘in those days’, or ‘back when I was a kid’ (which wasn’t that long ago)

..you frown upon the ‘revolting music’ the current generation listens to

..your next thought is of your grandmother shouting then pleading with you to switch to anything but the pazhaa pona MTV and Channel V (It doesn’t help either when self reminds self of the very same thought that pops into mind looking at the music videoslook at how little and how much of clothes and make-up respectively, they wear these days.)

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To my country, with all my love

I don’t hold an Indian passport anymore. This time last year, when our flight took off from Madras I wept, uncontrollably. Not because I was going to miss my family or friends, but because I knew that was the last time I was visiting my country as one of her citizens.

The decision was mine to make, ofcourse. I had trouble explaining my emotions to the Unnamed One and his family. How does one put into words what that little blue bound book means? All that I knew was that I was very strongly attached to those sheets of paper that declared my identity. Was, ‘cause I gave it up. In return for another.

I know I will always be grateful for all the things that this new identity would entitle me to. This is the country where I started my first job, where the husband and I started life together as a couple, where I do not have to worry about using public transport at midnight and getting home safely, where we lead a secure and rather comfortable life. I am grateful for all of this. Grateful. The heart still belongs elsewhere.

But I had to do it all- pledge my loyalty to my new land of citizenship, sing the national anthem, the works. All bereft of emotion. How could I suddenly love a stretch of land that I have known for only three years?

I love my country. Period. Taking the little blue book away from me does not make me any less Indian. But, I would love to have it back. I’m emotionally attached to it, you know. How can I ever explain this?

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