Monday, August 29, 2005

Yoga - Benefits for Women

I lay flat on my back in corpse pose. My body lay still, but my mind was racing, darting back and forth between memories and plans.

A gentle voice wafted in and jostled for space in the cacophony. “…and if you find that your mind has galloped into the past or into the future, pull it back into the present….”

Oops!

That was the voice of Gayle Fleming, my yoga teacher.

As I tried to follow her instructions (guiltily), my mind went blank as it focused on my breath flowing in and out of my body.

When I first started yoga lessons two years ago, I approached the practice of yoga with the same mind-set as I would a jog or a workout at the gym. My body was exercising, but my mind was free to do whatever it wanted, to think about work, chores, or an upcoming trip.

Half-way into the first session, it became obvious that that strategy was doomed to fail in a yoga class. Starting with the detailed instructions Fleming provided as we began each pose, through her exhortations not to forget to breathe as we went through its various stages, I needed to pay attention.

My mind needed to be right there, with my body, if I had to have any hope of not tumbling out of a pose every two seconds.

~ ~ ~

The physical benefits of yoga are readily apparent to anyone that has attempted it or even observed someone doing yoga. Yoga poses take a body through a range of motions, including sitting, standing, bending forward and backward, and inversions (e.g., shoulder stands and head stands) and lying down.

A survey of PubMed, the National Library of Medicine’s online resource, reveals numerous recent studies reporting on the benefits of practicing yoga, including benefits of yoga for people with chronic low back pain, patients who have recently suffered a stroke, and people with mild to moderate Type 2 diabetes.

Following a review of research studies published over a period of 10 years, James A. Raub, a researcher at the National Center for Environmental Assessment, reports in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Vol. 8, No. 6, 2002) that yoga (including the poses, breathing and mindfulness) “can improve strength and flexibility, and may help control such physiological variables as blood pressure, respiration and heart rate, and metabolic rate to improve overall exercise capacity.”

So how can women benefit from the practice of yoga? Does yoga help alleviate conditions that are unique to women?

“Yoga teaches us mindfulness which other forms of exercise do not…. [It] cues us to pay attention to our bodies,” says Jennifer Johnston, a licensed mental health counselor and Director of the Yoga Program at Harvard University’s Mind-Body Institute.

“Yoga is a very good way to help people get in touch with their bodies,” echoes Dr. Marie Schum-Brady, an Arlington doctor and yoga practitioner who emphasizes preventative medicine and good nutrition in her medical practice, and resorts to medications only as a last resort.

Although she does not hesitate to prescribe drugs when necessary, she first tries to tackle her patients’ problems by recommending life-style changes, including taking yoga lessons, which she finds is a good way for people to get exercise and learn to breathe.

And self-awareness is the biggest benefit she sees her patients get from practicing yoga.

It is this mindfulness aspect of yoga that has transformed yoga from being merely another trendy form of exercise to a useful tool that women can use to successfully address many of the issues facing them, such as PMS, menopause, infertility, general stress, and lack of self-esteem.

Although yoga was initially practiced exclusively by men, as more women began practicing it, and as more research shed light on its benefits, women discovered that yoga postures had good things in store for them, says Fleming, who owns and teaches at the Samata Yoga Studio in Arlington. She attributes her strength and flexibility to her daily yoga practice, and credits yoga with mitigating her symptoms of menopause.

Yoga practitioner and author Linda Sparrowe discusses many of the common medical conditions women encounter in The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health (Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2002), and provides detailed instructions on yoga poses thought to mitigate the effects of such conditions. She organizes the poses into sequences for afflictions such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure and joint stiffness, and for the events that visit a woman during her lifetime, such as pregnancy, menstruation and menopause.

For instance, Sparrowe’s osteoporosis sequence includes poses that improve posture, balance and coordination (all of which help to minimize falls), those that improve mobility and flexibility, and weight-bearing poses (weight-bearing exercises are thought to stimulate bones to retain calcium). The pregnancy sequence contains poses to relieve varicose veins, swelling in the legs, and morning sickness and those that may ease the birthing process.

In addition to the physical benefits and the self-awareness aspects of yoga, one other advantage of yoga is the stress relief that yoga practitioners experience. “Yoga has played a huge role in keeping me from being a stressed out Washingtonian,” says Fleming, adding that stress relief is frequently cited as a goal among her students.

Dr. Alice Domar, Ph.D., founder and director of the Mind/Body Center for Women’s Health at Boston IVF, an infertility clinic affiliated with Harvard Medical School, says that yoga is definitely helpful to the women in her infertility program. She notes that many of the women, when they first arrive at the clinic, are angry with and feel disassociated from their bodies, and some of them are on exercise regimens, which may, in some women, hamper fertility. High stress levels also interfere with fertility, she says.

She uses yoga in her 10-week program in three ways – it is taught as one of many relaxation techniques that women can choose to reduce stress, as a tool to help women reacquaint with their bodies, and as a tool to maintain physical fitness (the women are asked to replace other forms of exercise with yoga while on her program).

In a study published in Fertility and Sterility (Vol. 73, No.4) in April 2000, Domar reported that women who received a form of group psychological intervention – such as relaxation training (including meditation, yoga, and imagery), methods for emotional expression, or participation in a support group – had significantly increased viable pregnancy rates (55%) compared to women in a control group who did not receive any (20%).

“While [the] physical benefits are all well and good, the greatest gifts yoga brings you are those of strength, awareness and self-love or self-acceptance,” writes Sparrowe.

The issue of self-esteem in women is one that Fleming frequently talks about in her classes, because, she says, women tend to have poor physical self-esteem. “Yoga really helps women accept their bodies. Not that they don’t still want to change them, but…getting women to accept their bodies has a real instrumental effect on their self-esteem.”

One of the ways in which yoga accomplishes this is by emphasizing that a person need not (and in most cases, will not, until several months of practice) be able to do the poses perfectly. If a student in unable to bend all the way down at the hips and touch the floor with her fingers, for instance, she can use a prop and still reap the benefits of that forward bend. In using props, students learn to recognize and accept the limitations of their bodies.

This idea that one can approach a problem in different ways empowers yoga students, and teaches them to be creative and flexible not only in yoga practice, but also in their approach to life, says Johnston. Yoga encourages taking baby steps toward a goal, she says, and teaches the futility of groaning and grunting one’s way through a pose (forward bends, which are thought to be calming, can hardly be so if one is exerting herself to achieve the perfect pose).

While yoga has potentially wonderful benefits for women in all stages of life, it is important to find a teacher well-versed in the practice of yoga and able to provide instruction on all the aspects of yoga – the poses, the breathing and the mental awareness – to be able to reap its benefits. Under the guidance of an experienced teacher, each person can modify the practice to complement her physical and mental condition.

Two years of yoga have not left me with buff body or a washboard stomach, but I am thrilled to report that I have learned to breathe, discovered muscles I never knew existed and, my fingers now reach the floor in a forward bend.

-------------------------------------------
This article appeared originally in Washington Woman magazine.

Desipundit - The Best of the Indian Blogosphere

Desipundit is a fantastic compilation of, as the punch line says, the best of the Indian blogosphere.

The bloggers that run it, Patrix, Ash, Vulturo, Kaps, Vikram and Anup scour the blogs written by Indians or about India and provide links to some great posts along with some insightful commentary. There are serious posts, funny posts, angry posts, goofy posts, nostalgic posts, posts that make you go "wow!" - in short, posts of every kind covering politics, culture, sports, media, etc. (the site has a convenient listing of all the topics).

It's a great place to surf the web. Visit it today. You won't regret it.

Miniskirts are for the "Pretty Legs"

Here's a report from Deccan Herald citing the AFP.
A district mayor in Budapest has proposed a dress code for City Hall employees under which only women with "pretty legs" can wear short skirts, the Hungarian press reported.

Gyorgy Mitnyan, the conservative mayor of the city's 12th district, is also seeking to ban skirts that are shorter than two to three centimeters above the knee, AFP reports.

Under his proposal, both the male and female employees would have to wear blazers or suits and leather shoes all year long.

The mayor told the Internet news website index.hu that there was already a compulsory dress code issued in his district every season and the code was needed in City Hall because he sees a lot of shabby-looking employees there.
Wonder how this rule is going to be enforced. Perhaps with a "shabbiness detector" and a policeman with a measuring tape right next to the metal detector at the entrance to City Hall? And of course, also a true connoisseur of women's legs stationed there to gawk at women and check off "pretty" or "not pretty" on his little checklist.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Beslan: One Year Later

School, for most of us, holds many memories - most of them happy, some eminently forgettable. But none that evoke the horror that the small children of Beslan and their families must feel. The Washington Post goes back to Beslan one year later.
On Tamerlan Satsayev's first day of school one year ago, he wore a new suit and a white shirt and carried a bouquet of flowers. Two days later, he escaped death, almost naked, in the arms of an unknown rescuer, his mother severely wounded in the debris behind him.

[...]

One year later, the children are preparing to go back to school, many for the first time since the siege. Tamerlan and his classmates are at the heart of Beslan's struggle to endure. The first-graders are the most vulnerable group in this small city, psychologists said, because the only school day they know is the day they and
their families became hostages.

"School means death for them," said Fatima Bagayeva, a psychologist at the local hospital who has been working with the youngest survivors. "They have no other memory of school. They are living with terrible trauma and grief, but when they turn to parents or other relatives, they see that they can't cope, either."
Read more here.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Where is Home?

Sourin had this lovely post on what our homes mean to us. Without a doubt, coming home after a long day or after a long trip is one of those experiences that each of us cherishes.

And, as I've been discovering to my surprise, this feeling (for want of a better word) is not limited to grown-ups. It catches children too, and it catches them young.

Three years ago, after a week-long cruise and a couple of days in balmy Miami, we came home. As we walked in the door, N, then two-and-a-half, walked around the house and greeted each room like he was greeting an old friend ("hi! dining room, hi! living room") with a mixture of recognition and delight.

Finally, he, who had been happily chowing down pasta, chicken nuggets and pbj sandwiches for ten days, made his way into the kitchen, looked up at me and asked, "Mama, can we eat bisi bele baath?"

Although we had been on many trips before, this was the first time he was not confused about where he was when we came home.

Over the past ten months, however, the equation has gotten a little bit more complicated. The first time we went on an extended trip out of Bangalore after we moved here, when it was time to go home, N thought we were going back to Virginia. Now he understands that we'll be coming back to Bangalore whenever we go out of town, but the fact that he is not at "home" is something that is constantly at the back of his mind.

He loves living in Bangalore for many reasons, the most important of which is that he has his grandparents, uncles and aunts here.

But he still misses his room and all his toys (even though we brought them all here - the problem is he wants to play with his toys in his room). He pores over old photographs looking for familiar things. He misses his friends and neighbors and the neighbors' pets.

The other day, out of the blue, he wanted to know where his bathroom was "at home". We were standing in his room here. I pointed in the direction of the bathroom and said, "right there". No, he wanted to know where his bathroom was in Virginia. It is amazing what issues and questions those little brains are mulling over.

Even though he has been remarkable in understanding and dealing with our new living arrangements (as we keep hearing, "children are resilient, they'll adjust to anything"), a couple of times (usually when he's exhausted) something has triggered a flood of memories accompanied by a flood of tears.

Three days after the last episode, he asked me if I wanted to know why he was missing home so much. He took me to his wall map of the US and pointed to the legend in the bottom right hand corner. It said "United States". I was floored.

When do children start getting attached to something other than a person or a thing? When we were watching The Quiet American (with a lot of fast forwarding, I had to watch it again later), he was repeatedly asking if the Americans were winning and was quite worried. How do they even develop this sense of attachment to a place or to a country, enough to miss it for almost a year after they've seen it last?

Obviously, to him, home is not just a place you live in, or come back to everyday, or where you can put your feet up and relax. He has all of that here, in Bangalore. To him, home is something more.

Now the question is, when we go back "home", will he miss Bangalore the same way that he misses Virginia now?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Now, for a Change of Pace

Here are four totally inane questions. There are no absolutely correct answers to any of these, but I would be interested in yours. I'll give you my answer to the first one, just to give you an idea of the flavor of this exercise. My answers to all the questions will be up tomorrow.

Question 1: How do you put a giraffe in a fridge?

Answer: You open the fridge, stick the giraffe in and you shut the fridge.

OK. Got that?

Question 2: How do you put an elephant in the fridge?

Question 3: The Lion King calls a meeting of all the animals. Everyone dutifully shows up, except one. Which one?

Question 4: The jungle has a river flowing through it. You need to cross the crocodile-infested river. How do you do it?

I would advise you to take your thinking cap off and put your pj cap on. Have fun!

Update:

Answer to Q2: You open the fridge, take the giraffe out, put the elephant in and shut the door.

Answer to Q3: The elephant, because he was stuck in the fridge.

Answer to Q4: You swim across because all the crocodiles are at the meeting.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Halfway Around the World With a Toddler in Tow

The knot in my stomach tightened as I walked down the ramp to the door of the airplane. I had N, who was then fifteen-months old, in my arms. I was taking him to far away India from Washington, DC for the first time.

All by myself.

I was in a state of controlled panic.

The excitement of going back to my hometown after more than four years and the frenzy of packing, getting the documents ready, getting all the proper vaccinations and last minute shopping had kept reality at bay. There was no escaping it now. I would be spending the next 26 hours on three planes, in two airports and in one transit hotel with my baby in tow.

I was sure of two things. First, diapers, a changing pad, water and milk bottles would go in the pocket right in front of my seat. I wanted to avoid having to dig through the backpack in the overhead bin at the last minute. From prior experience with domestic flights, I knew this staved off crankiness from hunger and messes from overly full diapers. Second, I requested a bassinet. If I could steal at least a few hours without having to carry N on my lap, I was going to do it.

As for the rest, I had no idea what to expect. He had just learnt to walk a couple of months earlier and was eager to try his new found freedom at every opportunity he got. Would he sit on my lap for hours at a stretch? Would he sit still when the plane took off or landed or when we were being served food? Would he jump up and down the aisles and bother the other passengers? Would he be able to sleep at all?

Well, I was going to find out soon enough.

I stood at the head of the line, ready to take full advantage of pre-boarding for passengers with small infants (thank God for small mercies!). Once in, it allowed me to change his diaper quickly and feed him as the other passengers boarded the plane. If he felt sleepy as the plane took off, we were all set for the night.

I found I had the aisle seat and we were next to a mother with two small boys, one four years old and the other about two years old. Their father sat in the row behind them.

About an hour into the flight, my crankiness alarm started blaring. The two boys next to us did not want to eat any of the ten different things their mother had packed for them (I have since learnt that providing too many choices to little children is a bad, bad, thing). They wanted to switch seats. They wanted to go to their father. They spilled all the food from one container on the floor in front of them.

I groaned silently and stole a look at N. How was he going to handle this? He was staring at them, fascinated. He thought it was funny. He looked at me and giggled. Then, he lost interest and played peek-a-boo with our neighbors across the aisle, an elderly couple delighted to have a baby to play with on a long flight.

It suddenly struck me that sitting next to two absolute brats on a long plane ride (or in any other setting) might not be bad after all – if you want to look at the bright side, that is. By comparison, N was positively angelic and promptly won the hearts of his fellow passengers and the stewards.

I soon asked for the bassinet. N had snuggled into the crook of my neck and had fallen asleep. Heaven. When the steward had finished setting up the bassinet, my heart sank.

It was too small.

Not to worry, we have another kind for the older infants, said my knight in shining armor. He brought out an infant-sized recliner that could be pushed almost all the way back. It had safety straps, but no walls around it, so it could accommodate even toddlers.

The plane was speeding across the Atlantic. N was fed, changed and was asleep in his own space while I had my dinner. Six more hours to go on this leg, but all was well so far.

After a thankfully short layover in London, as we settled down on the Mumbai flight, I looked around, hopefully this time, for potential brats in the immediate vicinity. None was in sight. Too bad. We had only one seat to our left. It was occupied by a businessman from Sierra Leone. An hour into the flight and with nary a whimper from N (he was happily chewing on a board book), I felt comfortable enough to start a conversation with the businessman.

He was on his way to Mumbai for what would have been his wedding but tragically not – the wedding had been called off two weeks earlier. But the brave man went anyway, because he did not want to waste his ticket (practical as he was) and because, he said, he loved to visit Mumbai and did not want to miss the opportunity when it came up.

Oh, how I would have loved to have continued that conversation!

But it was not to be – N decided that the kitchen just beyond the curtains warranted some investigating. He had slid off my lap and was toddling his way over. I followed him, determined to save my “no”s for things way more drastic than that. He looked around and pointed to the cups of orange juice the stewards were getting ready to bring around. I shook my head and mouthed a “no” to the inquiring stewardess. She then handed him a chocolate bar (have you noticed how everyone, from the dryclean lady to the barber, hands your children candy?) encased in plastic wrapper. As far as he was concerned, it was a toy. I happily agreed.

After two more trips around the plane, it was time to bring out the ammunition. I cajoled him back to the seat and pulled out two more books out of the back pack. After reading them each five times, I saw a yawn. Hurray! Out came the infant recliner again. Only five more hours to go, and I was hoping he would sleep through all of it. I was asking for too much. Three hours later, he was up and wanted to be picked up. We spent most of the rest of the flight with him squirming on my lap, trying to make a dash into the kitchen and with me unable to eat my dinner or carry on a conversation.

We landed in Mumbai, contrary to my memory, to a surprisingly clean airport. I must have made a pathetic sight – a mother traveling alone with a child and lugging two carry-on bags. Sympathetic airport officials guided me to the extremely quick "Diplomatic Lane" for immigration clearance. My perceived distress also prompted complete strangers to pick up my two huge suitcases from the carousel.

When we finally got out of the airport, the novelty of the situation preempted any breakdowns N would have otherwise had from pure exhaustion. I had been through this trip a few times before and I was exhausted and ready to scream. He, on the other hand, was fully occupied with the range of never-seen-before stimuli around him – the honking taxis, buses, the porters yelling to take the luggage, and hordes of people milling around the entrance. He sat in complete silence in the coach that took us to the Transit Hotel (that's the name), completely ignoring his grandfather who had come to receive us at the airport. Once he got inside the room, he ran around and showed off all his tricks at once.

Four hours, a short nap and a clean change of dress later, we were ready for another plane ride, a one and a half hour flight from Mumbai to Bangalore. N scrambled off my lap and made friends with the neighboring passenger and wouldn’t let him eat his breakfast. Soon it was time to land in Bangalore where his other grandfather, grandmothers, his uncle and granduncles were waiting. I was more than ready to hand him off.

He, however, refused to let me go.

When we got into the car to drive from the airport, he realized he wouldn’t be bound in a car seat (unlike in the US). He sat on my lap and shrieked with delight every time the car dipped into a pot hole.

Uh, oh.

It was going to be war when we got back home and I tried to get him back into his car seat.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Life in Bangalore: Lifestyle

Here is a quote from a recent article in a supplement to Outlook magazine called Right Time: The World's Finest Watches:
Throw in the fact that financing options bring the effective cost of a Rs. 1 lakh watch to within Rs. 4,000 a month, and you're looking at a market size many multiples of 70,000 strong...
Rs. 4,000 a month on a wrist watch. That ought to give an idea of the lifestyle that is possible in India. Given the right income (or the right spending style), nothing is out of reach.

In Bangalore, there are malls big enough to put many in the US to shame, with European, Australian and American stores. There are banks that will give you credit cards and loans and financing options tailored to your needs, whether you're looking to buy a Rs. 1 crore penthouse or a Rs. 1 lakh wrist watch.

There is a whole new kind of telephone directory published by Getit (the Yellow Pages people) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. called The Official Consumer & Houseld Yellow Pages advertising everything from washing machines to electronic goods to high-end jewellery and designer clothes.

There are multiplexes where on weekends, the lowest price for a movie ticket is Rs. 150, and one Gold Class movie ticket will set you back Rs. 500 (it includes dinner while you watch a movie). On weekends, it's impossible to get a ticket for the Hindi or English movies, even the Gold class ones, unless you've booked days in advance. And forget about walking in and hoping for a ticket. If you're lucky to find parking for your vehicle in the parking lot, you still may not be able to set foot in the mall itself. The stores are overflowing with people who spill out on to the walkways, escalators, stairs and some even just hang out at the entrances. The malls are so jam-packed, you can easily justify having a separate temperature gauge for mall interiors on weekends.

Almost anyone you come across on any given day has a cell phone. Some have two or three phones with different calling plans for different purposes, one for roaming, one for areas where other phones don't have coverage and one for daily use. There are restaurants where a dinner for two will cost Rs. 1000 and where reservations are still hard to come by.

Then there are restaurants positioned strategically near call centers and BPOs that advertise packed dinners ("why cook when you can take home ready-made dinner?").

And the kids are not far behind. There is a new kind of a top called a bey blade that is all the rage in Bangalore now. Cost: Rs 325. All of N's friends have this bey blade. Nothing fancy, just a plastic top that has a plastic strip that spins the top when you pull it out forcefully. I checked the price of the good old wooden tops (bugris) we used to play with. Cost: Rs. 10.

There are at least 100 television channels that our cable service provides including channels such as Star World (home of Oprah, Desperate Wives, the soaps, etc.), HBO, ESPN, BBC, CNN, CNBC and the Hallmark Channel, and indigenous TV products such as NDTV, Zee TV, etc.

If you live in America and are looking to move to Bangalore, there is nothing you will lack in terms of wordly goods. Grocery stores stock peanut butter, cereals, pancake mixes, toilet paper, Betty Crocker cake mixes, zucchini, red bell peppers, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, pasta, pasta sauce, salsa, pesto sauce, chocolate chips for baking. You name it, they have it. It'll cost you, but it's available. In fact, there is nothing that you will need to hoard in your suitcases. I am sure my Australian and European friends will echo this.

New book stores in the style of Borders stock all publishers and authors (else there is always good ol' Amazon). You want branded clothes? Bangalore has them.

If you're in the market to buy a house, there are floor plans and options to match your quirkiest requirements and even some you haven't even thought about (servant's rooms). For a price you can pretend there are no power cuts or water shortages (many new apartmens and communities come with 24 hour water supply and electricity). These houses are not filled with old retired couples who have worked all their lives (they had the misfortune of working in and retiring from the old economy and so cannot afford them), but with young, double-income couples working in the IT sector.

These services and facilities exist because there is a demand for it. These amenities cater, however, not to the entire population of Bangalore, but to less than 5% of its population, most of it comprised of returning NRIs, MNC employees and expats.

The rest of Bangalore lives on as if nothing had changed. Activist groups estimate that 40% of the population would be classified as poor, without access to basic amenities such as water and sanitation. Income figures from the 1991 census data indicate that 24% of the population shares 8% of the income whereas 4% of the population shares 19% of total income. There is no reason to think that this disparity has not widened in the intervening decade.

What is the point of all this?

The point is that, just as must be the case with many of the big cities around the world, Bangalore is a city of disparities.

There are days when you can simply forget that you are not in some European or American city.

There are days when you look around and see how much the city has changed in the last 15 years - the city has grown; the pace of construction is nothing less than crazy; traffic is near-impossible to navigate in rush hour (which is pretty much all day except for may be an hour here or there in between) there are homes, shops, and buildings the likes of which I never thought I would see in Bangalore; there are a lot more people, and people from all over the world; there are more slums; and everything is at least 10 times more expensive.

There are days when you realize that all of these changes have benefited not only the engineering and management graduates, but also the workers such as maids, laborers who work at construction sites and on infrastructure projects, and drivers (there is a whole new industry in transporting the call center employees to and from work).

Then there are days when you realize that for a large segment of the population, the malls mean nothing, the grocery stores mean nothing, the bookstores mean nothing, the huge houses mean nothing, the restaurants mean nothing. The whole IT boom means nothing. Except may be a higher cost of living.

There is no judgement associated with this. In Bangalore, this is what it is.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Streets of Philadelphia

This past 13th marked 13 years since the day I arrived in the US - with two huge suitcases, one handbag and one really thick jacket my mom and I bought from a pavement seller in the Jayanagar 4th block shopping complex in Bangalore.

The suitcases contained everything I would need and all that I could call my own during my first few months in the US - rasam powder, sambar powder, molaga pudi, and assorted snacks and pickles, all of my favorite clothes plus a few new ones purchased in bouts of frenzied shopping as the d-day arrived, money orders for school, passport, I-20, and all the collective hopes, aspirations and fears of a family sending their girl off to a foreign land thousands of miles away.

My parents and brother traveled with me from Bangalore to Bombay to see me off on the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. It was an ungodly hour but the airport was bathed in undying light, alive, busy, buzzing with people trying to manage farewells and immigration forms and carts and unwieldy suitcases and sleepy children and bubbling emotions all at once. As I turned to wave a final goodbye, I saw the pinched, drawn faces of my parents and brother through suddenly hot, stinging eyes. The fact that I was going and going alone did not sink in until I passed immigration and faced the long, nearly-empty passage to the Lufthansa gate.

The lounge at the gate was a good place to transition between what I left behind and what I was flying towards.

The flight itself was an adventure I greeted eagerly. I loved the food (yes, airplane food!), I loved the way time changed so quickly as we sped across time zones (wow, it's only 2 in Frankfurt but already 6 in Bombay!), I loved the way the moon seemed to be bouncing up and down like a ball outside my window as we were flying over Turkey, I loved the bratty kids, the snooty airhostesses (some of them, some were really, really nice), I loved the huge terminal at the Frankfurt airport, and I loved waiting there to catch my flight to DC (how cool that sounded then). On the flight to DC the German lady sitting next to me inhaled the aroma of my chicken curry and rice (Asian Non-Veg option) enviously. I loved that too.

I loved all of this so much that I wrote about it on the Lufthansa post cards and mailed them off to my family.

Of course, my real adventure was yet to begin. After a few days in DC, V and a few of his friends drove me to Philadelphia where I would stay with V's friends for a couple of days during which I would find a room-mate and an apartment to share before starting classes at Temple University.

I hated Philadelphia those first few weeks.

Everything seemed starker, darker. I was alone most of the time - on the way to school, at school, while figuring out what classes to take, at the bank. The days were getting shorter and colder and all my classes were at night.

The friends I was staying with were very nice and always made sure I ate when I was home, but they had their own lives, their own personal crises and their own inside jokes (one of the girls was a big Oprah fan and the other girls used to tease her about it. The first time I heard them teasing her, I thought, wow! she must really love the opera to want to watch it on TV everyday!).

The roommate my friends had in mind was a PhD candidate who was coming back to Temple for what she hoped would be her final semester. She definitely did not want to stay on or close to campus because she wanted to be close to her friends who lived in South Philly, plus it was less expensive. So after a couple of days of looking around, we settled on a third floor apartment in a street of row houses just off of Broad Street in South Philly. It was a long hike from there to school. The bus stop where I would catch the bus that would take me to school was at least 5 minutes away by walk, close to the grocery store where we would get all our groceries. The subway was in the opposite direction, less than two minutes by walk.

I got the smaller room (she had way more stuff than I did). It was about 7 ft. by 10 ft. with a closet and a window. I had my sleeping bag, folded over once so I would have some cushioning, spread out over the dark brown carpet along the shorter wall, pictures of my my mom, dad and brother on the wall to the left of the sleeping bag, clothes in the closet, books in the corner by the window, toiletries on my side of the bathroom shelf, and all the snacks and spices in the kitchen.

In retrospect, having a roommate who had lived in Philly before and had gone to school at Temple helped a lot. She loved the city, knew her way around the campus. We settled into a routine. She cooked three days of the week, I did three days and we took the seventh day off, ate whatever. She introduced me to her friends, to the grocery store, to the streets of Philadelphia in this crazy walking tour that took us from South Philly through Chestnut and Walnut and Locust and Market Streets all the way to the Harbor, and most importantly, to the Italian Market in South Philly.

My whole perspective of the city changed when I stood at the entrace to the market and looked in.

Shops lined both sides of a very long street. The street was busy, to put it mildly. The shopkeepers were a noisy lot, hustling and bustling, calling out to their regular customers, many of them old ladies. Wares were laid out on the pavement, everything from crockery to clothes, to plastic knick knacks to fruits and flowers. People stopped to look at everything, haggling, buying a thing or two, making their way slowly down the street.

It wasn't the Malleswaram 8th cross market, but pretty close.

I plunged in, taking in the smells, the sounds, the sights, the happy camraderie. I only had a couple of things on my list to buy, but I peeped in every window. Most of the stuff on sale was very strange to me, baguettes, sausages, scones, cookies, brinjals at least ten times bigger than any I had seen before.

As I came out of one of the stores and headed up the market again, an elderly gentleman looked me straight in the eye and said, "God! You're beautiful!"

That did it. I fell in love with the city right there.

In feeling sad for myself over the first few weeks of my stay in Philly, I had failed to notice something, but which was very clear to me at that moment. I realized that over the previous few weeks, I had not been gawked at, whistled at, winked at, or brushed against. In fact, people had made eye contact, smiled, called out a cheery 'hello' or 'good morning' and even wished me a good day. I had my space. It simply felt good.

It was time to think about embellishing my humble abode, so a friend took me, in a borrowed rickety old car, to this huge godown of a place near some railway tracks with everything from nails to HVAC systems. I can't remember the name of the place now, but it was not Wal-Mart or Home Depot or any of those franchises. I found a table fan for $10. That's all I could afford to buy there. On the way back, we passed by a moving sale in progress, and I found this bright yellow table with leaves that could be completely removed. I got it and a chair for $5.

We trashed the table a couple of years after I moved to DC, but we still use the $10 table fan and a comforter I bought at the now defunct Woolworths on Market Street.

I witnessed the glory of fall that first semester and wondered at the beauty of it all. I picked up a golden orange leaf from the sidewalk and mailed it to my parents. I wrote to them regularly about everything, including all the different colors of hair that my classmates had.

I found an on-campus job, made friends, settled down in my classes, and my roommate said my cooking reminded her of her aunt's house in Bangalore.

I'd found my groove.

A shorter version of this essay has appeared in Deccan Herald (but has been wrongly classified as a Short Story).

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Mr. Right?

Found on a coaster:

"When I eventually met Mr. Right I had no idea that his first name was Always." Rita Rudner.

Bangalore Bloggers' Meet

We came, we saw, we drank (only coffee and tea, alas!), we ate, we gabbed, we shouted over each other's voices, we exchanged our names and our blogs and the scoop on what we did in "real" life. Sometimes a spark of recognition ("yeah, I've read your stuff"), other times a few blank stares, but close to three hours later, we had to force ourselves to leave with everyone still talking and making plans at the top of their voices. I tell you, one thing the group did not lack was lung power. Remind me to take some ear plugs next time.

Mandar was the first one in, waiting patiently at a table for two with a handwritten note scribbled on a teeny-weeny napkin slung over one of those table placards at Sweet Chariot. I walked in and out a couple of times, not sure if this was the right place, so I called Mandar on his cell. He had spotted me going in and out. Of course, how could he miss me with my striking yellow kurta?

I walked back in and he pointed me to his 4"x4" banner which, unless I stared at him and his table rudely for a very long time, I would never have spotted. We got some coffee and fries, and while we waited for the others (we were expecting at least two more to turn up) Mandar enlightened me about his doctoral thesis on "web structures" and patiently answered my questions. You go Mandar!

KVK turned up next and brought with him a downpour and we resigned ourselves to the three of us making up the I-day Bloggers of Bangalore Bash. As if on cue, Vignesh called to say he was lost but on his way. Shrabonti and Arka showed up in an auto drenched from the top down. Mighty impressed with their commitment to the cause, I must say. Each time someone new came in, we would start the intros all around, convinced that no one else was going to turn up, but every 10 minutes or so, someone new would. Next came Anoop, Thenraj and Anwin, then Vignesh with Angeline and Lalit, followed by Sunayana and finally, Bhaskar.

So, there we were, thirteen (!) of us around three tables joined together on the first floor of the cake shop. It was a spacious room with a couple of comfy looking sofas in the far corner, at least 20 tables spread out across the rest of the room, and completely empty save for one pink birthday cake decorated with Barbie dressed as a princess (left outside in plain sight, but unfortunately out of our reach).

KVK was most bothered by the cake. Why was it there? Was there no one to claim it? He had even noticed the name on the cake - Katyayani. We pondered the name and the age of the birthday girl (such a classical name, for a young girl?) but our musings were cut short by the music system blasting Macarena so thoughtfully turned on for our listening pleasure by our waiter. With the decibel levels of our conversation steadily rising, we barely could hear each other speak, so we hollered over to the waiter to turn it off.

As each new person came in, the ones already around the table would scoot over and by the time everyone came, I found myself in a corner, with my back to the wall and with no means of escape!

After the introductions and a lot of cross-talk, the discussion finally came around to "What should we do, what can we do as a group? Should we use our collective blogging power for something meaningful (such as being a repository for useful information about Bangalore)?" Suggestions started flying around thick and fast. Anwin, Mandar and Arka desperately tried to monitor the decibel levels as well as the suggestions for punchlines and blog names (which included, among other things, nammooru, kothambri, menasinakaayi, oggrenne - all cooking related suggestions coming from me and greeted with incredulous looks from the rest).

Finally, we settled on http://everymanscity.blogspot.com for the name of our blog and Swalpa Adjust Maadi for our punchline. Will someone please remind me whose bright ideas these were? It would be nice to acknowledge them. I think Bhaskar, KVK and Arka came up with the good ones. Everyone was happy, except for Arka who was happy with the titles, but couldn't get over the fact that everymanscity would not have an apostrophe in the url.

Oh, and before I end this piece, all this was preceded by intense discussions about: i) what 'Shrabonti' and 'Thenraj' mean and their equivalents in other languages; ii) exactly what Sunayana's job description is (for the record, it is managing her company's intranet) and why we, the outsiders, cannot access the aforementioned intranet; iii) why Lalith named his blog sickle cell ("Whyiiii da?" was my reaction); iv) the things KVK had in common with (a) Mandar, (b) Shrabonti, and (c) Arka; v) why Vignesh had a grouse with at least three members of the group (he then had a grouse with me of course because I pointed it out to him); vi) whether Angeline's college looked like a five-star hotel; vii) why Anoop's firm had held up some important process over at Vignesh's (nodi swami, naavu irodu heegay, was Anoop's response); and viii) why Shrabonti did not show up in a tri-color mini skirt.

Thenraj, Bhaskar, Anwin, Anoop and Mandar also discussed the technicalities of banners and htmls and web hosts and bandwidth, which I am thankful to report, went clean over my head.

A motely crew if ever there was one, this Bloggers of Bangalore, but a lovely group I must say.

P.S.:

1. If I've misspelt anyone's name, sorry, and please tell me.

2. Pics going up as soon as I figure out my camera.

3. KVK writes on Caferati and Shakespeare & Company (as James Joyce or Speckled Band)

Crossposted on Everymanscity.

Update: Photos up at Everymanscity.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

What Makes a Community?

A weekly "compact" newspaper called Bangalore BIAS is all set to be launched in Bangalore at the end of this month.

This is what the founders have to say about the purpose of their compact (not really sure what that means, but I'm sure I'll find out):
The time has come to ask, "Whose city is it, anyway?"

Leaving out some of the usual cliches, we could still yearn for a city that used to be,
where there was time and space for libraries, literary debates, science fairs, Sunday beers, bicycles, Karaga, Christmas carols, kadalekaayi parise, jazz evenings, dolls' exhibitions and the grace of it all. In a city of seven million, there should still be that "Island of One Million" that knows what Bangalore was, but more crucially to the point, what it ought to be. We believe this community of one million cares for a lifestyle of grace and charm beyond the transactional logic that threatens to become the sole basis of our civic society.

This is the communiuty that is conscious of a heritage that makes Bangalore the liberal urban space that it derserves to be....It is conscious of the founders of the great legacy of science and technology. It understands there is only one way into the future Bangalore can enjoy its legacy of the city cosmopolitan - by being cosmopolitan.

[.......]

The Bangalore community could well feel that it is now under seige. The City's sensibilities have been invaded by unfamiliar, sometimes unwelcome strains of attitude and affectations. There are new people that now claim to represent Bangalore, but the Bangalore community is justified in feeling unrepresented.

[.......]

The direction and magnitude of the City's growth are not representative of the community's will or aspirations....There is chaos in the streets, panic at homes and
distress in the community.

[......]

But there will be the Bangalore community that will contunue to believe that Bangalore is a City whose future could be magnificent, a natural outcome of
its history and an exemplar of the future cities of the world.

Bangalore Bias looks to speak for and with this community.

I must say, the dichotomy between the Bangalore of 15 years ago and the Bangalore of today is something that you cannot escape. This is one of the things I was going to write about in my Life in Bangalore series in a post titled "Life in Bangalore: Lifestyle" (it's coming Sourin, just taking longer than I expected).

But Bangalore Bias' mission statement raises a question, or two.

First, who or what makes up a city? A city is a living, changing, amorphous creature that cannot be frozen in time and that image taken to be its true representation. "Whose city is it, anyway?" Well, it is the city of every single person living here, whether they landed here yesterday at the airport, bus station or train station and are setting up homes as we speak, or whose families have been living here for generations.

The manifesto continues, "The City's sensibilities have been invaded by unfamiliar, sometimes unwelcome strains of attitudes and affectations". The statement is not specific as to what these strains are or who is doing the invading, but again, the make-up of a city's sensibilities is a factor of the sensibilities of all of it's citizens at any given point in time. The sensibilities of the new comers cannot be discounted in describing a city's flavor.

Ironically, the most striking sensibility of this city has been its arms-open-wide welcome it affords to anyone coming here, whether from Tamil Nadu or Andhra or Maharashtra or America or Africa, whether a menial laborer or a billion-dollar multinational company. This is the sensibility that will take Bangalore to take its place as "an exemplar of the future cities of the world". Just as a community cannot thrive by supressing a portion of its members, so cannot a city thrive by negating the contributions of a portion of its citizenry, newcomers or not.

And these are not small contributions, mind you. The newcomers to this city are, each in his own way, contributing to the financial health of this city. The companies are bringing jobs, jobs are bringing people, people are bringing money that they are spending in the shops and theaters and restaurants, and the money is bringing construction, and more jobs. I dare say that the companies are also driving a lot of the improvements that we are seeing in the city today (Bannerghatta Road being a fine example, perhaps the only one of public-private partnership in Bangalore).

It is this financial health that will encourage people to look beyond their immediate basic necessities and move on to the dolls' exhibitions and jazz festivals and Sunday beers and the lifestyle of "grace" and "charm". And why blame the newcomers for these habits fading away? Why did this "community" of one million let go of that lifestyle in the first place? May be it's because all the old timers, who had property in the heart of Bangalore city, in Charmarajpet and Basavangudi and Gandhi Bazar have sold out to the highest bidder (in bidding wars brought on by the IT boom) and are now living out in what used to be the boonies and find it too far to make it to the dolls' exhibitions.

I do agree that as new people come in, and as a city grows to accomodate them, there is a definite strain on the infrastructure and resources. Moreover, from a newcomer's point of view, as I know from personal experience, it is very difficult to profess knowledge of a community's various concerns within the first few days of moving in. It takes months, even years, to understand the nuances that are at play in any community. There is bound to be that initial period of tension. But once you feel even half comfortable in any sorroundings, you look around, make friends and jump right in. That's human nature. (Why do I feel like I'm writing about my blogging community as well?)

There is no reason to believe that the newcomers do not have an equal interest in having a rounded, complete, fulfilling life in the city they have chosen to make their home. Newcomers also definitely look for signs of welcome. If given half a chance, many of them would do just that, jump right in. They too would like to live a life of grace and charm, I assure you. They too would like to see the infrastructure improved. They too want the crime rate down. They too want fewer accidents, better schools, better transportation, fewer power cuts and water shortages, parks for their children, safe roads, and justice and liberty for all.

When I first heard about this newspaper, I was thrilled. We have Deccan Herald and The Hindu (you said "Times of India?" What is that?), but we could use a paper that would concentrate exclusively on Bangalore and serve as a place where all the citizenry would have a voice, I thought. Then I read the manifesto.

Yes, it is prudent to have a focus, a core clientele you are addressing when you have a product to sell, in Bias' case the "Island of One Million" it seeks to be the voice for in a city of seven million. But does the other 6/7ths deserve to be disparaged in the process?

How fantastic it would have been if, true to Bangalore's sensibilities, it had opened its arms wide and said, "Come, let us build a great city together!"

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Calling All Bangalore Bloggers - Independence Day Meet

If you are a blogger and you are based in Bangalore, this is for you!

Bloggers of Bangalore is planning a meet on August 15th. The time and venue are yet to be decided. Please see here or here for more details.

Hope to see you there!

Update:

Venue: Sweet Chariot, Koramangala

Time: 5 pm

For Children

Uma has a cooperative effort going to assist an NGO in obtaining books for street children in Calcutta. There is a fantastic list developing there. Please look in and contribute your recommendations.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Come Again?

I accidentally deleted this post (along with the comments). I'm putting it back up again.
____________________________________________________________

One day, I overheard N and V arguing vociferously. From the back and forth, I could make out that V was not disciplining N.

N: "I love mama the most!"

V: "I love her too."

N: "I love mama more than you."

V: "Well, I knew her before you were born."

N did not know how to respond to this.

As I walked down the steps, I could see that Nithin was close to tears.

Me: "What's going on?"

N: "Mama, I love you more than dada."

Me to N: "I love you too, sweetie pie."

Me to V: "Why are you arguing with him about this? He doesn't understand."

V: "Well, he started it!"

Whever someone asked me how many children I had, I would always say "one" of course. Now, it was time to rethink.

__________________________________________________

P.S. This was when N was 3 and a half years old. He was extremely possessive and would hate to see any demonstration of affection between V and myself. We dutifully consulted Dr. Spock. Apparently, this was perfectly normal. The possessiveness would fade away as N got older, we were told. N is 5 years and 4 months old now and although he is still very possessive, he doesn't get upselt anymore. He just squirms into the hugs.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Melrose Place....er....Model Palace

If Rudramma, the lady who helps me around the house, is off for a few days, I am morose.

Not because I have to clean the house myself (I have plenty of experience doing that and frankly, because we have to move back to the US, I would prefer not to be spoilt by all the available help here), but because she is my source for all the juicy gossip in our apartment complex as we chat over a hot cup of tea.

Our apartment complex, whose name translates to "Model Palace", is home to many families in which both the husband and wife work. As a result, many of the apartments are empty during the day, or populated by live-in maids.

During the day, the car garages are teeming with drivers who do their drops in the morning (kids to school, adults to work) and come back to the apartment to be available for whoever is left at home during the day.

The apartment is also a workplace for numerous contractors, plumbers, carpenters, gardners, and one guy who irons the clothes of the residents here (he has a monopoly). For want of a better word (any suggestions?), I'll call the guy that irons the clothes the "iron guy". His job is to press clothes that have already been washed and dried (Rs. 2 per garment (pants, shirts, shorts) and Rs. 5 for sarees).

There are two stories currently doing the rounds of the aparments. The first one is about a live-in maid, and the second one is about the iron guy.

The live-in maid in question has co-opted her employer's kitchen and all of its contents to assist her in charming the drivers and other male workers in Model Palace. She also has, very graciously, offered one of the rooms in the apartment for the plumber to carry on a liaison with one of the other maids in the complex. This liaison has resulted in the plumber marrying the maid.

The marriage occurred when the plumber's first wife was away at her mother's house delivering her first child.

The second story relates to the aforementioned iron guy. He has two carts where all the pressing is done - one on the premises and one outside the apartment complex.

He is in a state of constant inebriation. He, therefore, is unable to do any of the actual pressing of clothes himself. So he has a wife who "mans" the cart on the premises. And a second wife who does the same outside the apartment complex. I found out last week that he has a third wife in his village. I must say he has his bases covered.

I mentioned this to V and he said, "Well, he must be doing something right!"

Monday, August 08, 2005

I'll Give You a Missed Call

On an average day, every single person I come across has a cell phone: relatives (even my dad, usually the last adopter of any technology) friends, colleagues, our driver, the plumber, the carpenter, the tile layer, (water leakage repairs at our house recently, if you're wondering) the newspaper guy, the day labourer at a construction site.... The women string it around their necks (the new mangalsutra) or carry it in their palms (the new handkerchief, as my mom pointed out) and the men either stick it in their pockets or clip it to their belts. Cell phone usage has developed into a highly evolved form here in India. All incoming calls are free. Text messaging is inexpensive and is the preferred mode of communication.

As in every other part of the world, the cell phone is at its useful best when a group of people is getting together in a new place or simply trying to figure out where someone is.

"I'm here. Where are you?"
"I'm 10 minutes away. Which entrance should I come to?"
"I'm lost. Where did you say I should make a right?"

These messages are most likely to be SMSed.

If you just want to let someone know that you've reached a particular location, however, the mostly widely used tool is the "missed call."

Your friend might say to you, "I'll give you a missed call when I get there."

That means, "I'll call you on your cell phone, but do not answer it." If you answer it, it'll cost your friend a call. From a missed call, you can tell who called you at what time, and you know your friend has reached the pre-determined location.

The first time someone said this to me, I was clueless. My brain did not acknowledge the "missed" part. So when my friend called, I promptly picked up the phone and answered it.

"I said I would give you a missed call. Why did you answer?"

"Oh." Still clueless. "A missed call? What's that?"

I then got a lesson in cell-phone etiquette.

Name Change

N, henceforth, wants to be known as Calvin. He hasn't asked for a stuffed tiger yet.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

India Today's Ranking of States: Where Does Karnataka Figure?

India Today has published a ranking of 30 Indian states and 5 union territories based on quality of life and work factors.

This is how Karnataka was rated on various parameters among the big states:
  1. Law and Order: 4th, after Kerala, Tamil Nadu (TN) and Rajasthan;
  2. Primary Health: 4th, after Kerala, Himachal Pradesh (HP) and TN;
  3. Primary Education: 9th, after HP, Kerala, Uttaranchal, TN, Maharashtra, Assam, Punjab and J&K;
  4. Infrastructure: 10th, after Punjab, HP, Maharashtra, Haryana, Uttaranchal, Kerala, Gujarat, J&K and TN;
  5. Consumer Market: 10th, after Punjab, HP, Haryana, Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat, TN, J&K and Uttaranchal;
  6. Budget and Prosperity: 11th, after all of the states in Consumer Market above plus Andhra Pradesh (AP);
  7. Investment Scenario: 6th, after Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Punjab, HP and Haryana; and
  8. Agriculture: 6th, after Punjab, Haryana, TN, AP and Gujarat.

There is a separate ranking for the smaller states.

If you currently don't live in India but are contemplating a move to India, and the choice of where you want to live is yours, this is something to think about. Of course, if you have family in a particular state and you want to be close to them, these numbers and rankings are meaningless.

Excerpt from My Chappell Interview, Experiment with Audioblogger

I'm trying out audioblogger to post an excerpt from my interview with Greg Chappell I did for my radio station. I've used the raw audio here. The answer to my last question might have gotten chopped off because of the time limit (5 minutes is all audioblogger will allow with an option to extend once you've finished posting the first 5 minutes).

Although I cannot post the entire interview (close to 45 minutes), I might post more excerpts if this has come across all right. Please let me know. The audio quality is not great when I hear it from this post (plus I hate hearing my own voice).

The beginning of the first sentence sounds garbled. It starts out like this: "The word 'great' is used in every sentence introducing Greg Chappell. And why not?"

And of course, this is copyrighted and stuff, so all the implications follow.


this is an audio post - click to play

Update: I've added a few more minutes of audio below. One of the questions (and answer) I've edited out of this post deals with his thoughts on the Indian team's prospects in Sri Lanka. In his answer, he mentions the practice matches the team went through in Bangalore before they left. So the last question in this series of posts picks up on practice matches, unstructured play and their importance.

this is an audio post - click to play


this is an audio post - click to play

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Double Standards...This One Takes the Cake

The latest edition of Outlook magazine has a story about the West Bengal state fire services department planning to recruit 50 women as firefighters for the purpose of rescuing women trapped in fires. Wonderful!

But, read on.

This was precipitated by a recent incident in which, get this, a woman trapped in a fire died because the locals "refused to allow male firefighters to enter a blazing house to rescue her". According to the story, the fire services minister said that the "physical contact necessitated" during the rescue had been a bone of contention.

And apparently this is not the first time this has happened either.

That the woman died is a tragedy. That she died, not because of a lack of infrastructure or because the firemen did not arrive in time or because the blazing house was impossible to penetrate, but because her heartless neighbors were enforcing some kind of warped moral code of conduct at the expense of her life, a life, is a shameful, depressing commentary on the status of women.

The worst aspect of the story, and the one that riles me the most, is this. While those neighbors were letting a woman burn to her death, supposedly to protect her chastity, there were millions of women around the country being ogled at, groped, and generally subjected to lewd behaviour by men, including, I bet, those in that group of locals.

Friday, August 05, 2005

My Day as a Radio Jockey

Once a week, between 11 am and 5 pm, I anchor three one-hour shows on one of the FM stations in Bangalore. The first show's format is old Hindi film songs, the second one is a western music show, and the third one is an all request hour where I play Hindi film songs that listeners have called in the previous hour to request. A Kannada radio jockey (RJ) anchors the other three hours.

My work actually begins the day before when I go into the station and pick the songs I want to play on the old Hindi music hour and the western music hour. Then I come home, troll the internet and try to find interesting information, anecdotes or trivia about those songs.

I've developed a pattern now where on the oldies show I ask my listeners two trivia questions about the artists I play (Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood, Geeta Dutt, etc.) or the actors in those old movies, and in the western music show, if I'm not doing a special on a particular artist, I have a topic for discussion throughout the hour.

Most of the shows on my radio station are interactive. The listeners interact with the RJ in one of two ways: either by sending in SMSs to designated mobile phones in the studio or by calling in on the studio line. Messages or calls relate to a number of things. They could be requests for particular songs, dedications of songs (X dedicates a song to Y for a birthday, anniversary, or just chumma), responses to questions posed by the RJs, or traffic updates.

So at 10 on the morning of my show, I walk into the studio and check my cue sheet that has a list of ads to be played and special instructions, if any. Following that, a quick peep into the computer to figure out the files where the promos and ads are located. At 11 am, following a two-minute news update, the microphone, the console (with a lot of blinking lights and about 12 faders), the CD players, the telephone line, the mobile, the computer, and the spool tape player (yes, we have those too) are all mine.

Of course, in the minutes before I go on air, I am cursing myself and wondering what the hell I've gotten myself into. Couldn't I have just shut up and stayed home?

Anyway, at 11:02, it's too late to turn back. I make my initial announcement ("It's just past 11 am on this fabulous Friday, and you are listening to Meethi Yaadein on FM ___. This is Sujatha, with you for the next hour as I....") and play the first song. My butterflies generally settle down somewhat.

SMSs have started coming in by then. So it's play a song, pull that fader down when the song ends, push up the announcer faders, read messages, push the computer fader up, play ads and promos, pull the computer fader down, push up the announcer faders, say something about the song coming up, pull down the announcer faders, and push up the fader of the system from which the song is playing. If there is a live caller or if something is going from the spool player, then pushing and pulling the appropriate faders there.

After an hour of this, it's a two minute news update again which is read by a newsreader from the news division. By now, I've completely settled down and have a lot of fun on the western music show. It's an awesome feeling to play a song you love and have your listeners listen to your songs. I'm usually belting the songs out in the studio myself. The listeners are also very interested in responding to discussions. Quite a few times, I've received messages asking what the topic was because they had tuned in late. There was a good response today to a discussion about the Discovery astronauts and their courage.

Between 1 and 1:30 pm, listeners call in to request songs from Hindi films and from 1:30 and 2 it's a mad rush to gobble some lunch and get the songs. The hour between 2 and 3 is extremely popular and the requested songs, even though they are played often, are nice tracks to listen to. After being out of touch with Hindi films and songs for so long, I'm now aware of what is released when and I at least know the names of all the new singers.

Although I am not on air between 3 and 5, there's a bunch of administrative stuff to complete and I have to be in the studio until the English RJ for the 5pm to 11 pm transmission shows up. I usually leave at 5 pm and am home by 6.

This is so completely different from anything I've done so far. Although I'd done shows for the youth program while in college and did a few children's shows after I came back, they were all pre-recorded. The feeling of being on air live and the knowledge that the moment words come out of your mouth they've gone on air (there is no time lag here unlike in the US) make for quite an experience.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Life in Bangalore: Why I Love It

There are a lot of things to gripe about in Bangalore - the lack of infrastructure, indiscriminate construction and expansion, the interminable rush hour, the schools, the dust and pollution, etc. But there are an equal number of reasons, if not more, why I love living in this city, my hometown, again. Here are some of them:
  • The old familiar places bring back a flood of memories: not from the recent past, but of childhood days; of days spent discovering the city with friends; of me and my brother going off with my dad on Sundays, hopping on the first bus we saw and going wherever it took us; of going on precious dates with V as I hoped nobody that knew my parents would recongnize me.
  • The smell of Bangalore's earth after drenching rains is like nowhere else in the world (V's words, and I agree).
  • The city makes up for a lot of its shortcomings by nurturing its fantastic treescape and gardens. The old parts of the city are particularly beautiful, with wide tree-lined roads and "lung spaces" (rectangular parks that have walking paths).
  • Bangalore may be bursting at its seams and may be growing haphazardly, but if you want your quiet neighborhoods in the middle of all the action (shopping, clubbing, restaurants) there are plenty to choose from.
  • N is finally spending time with both sets of grandparents and they are actually watching him grow rather than just hearing about it over the phone.
  • After 12 years, I am someone's daughter again, someone's niece, someone's sister, someone to be taken care of (it's just not the same over the phone or on short visits).

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Grandma Stops Traffic on Bannerghatta Road

Driving around Bangalore the last 10 months, I've gotten used to seeing pretty much everything on the roads - hawkers on foot with their pushcarts full of vegetables vying for space with Scorpios and BTS buses at traffic lights, a motorbike for two carrying four or five, and kids on the way from school hanging precariously out of autorickshaws.

Today's sight, however, fully retained it's shock value.

I was riding in a car on Bannerghatta Road. Work is finally getting done on that road to widen and pave it, so traffic was moving at a fast pace. As we passed an apartment complex on the left, I noticed an old lady with a red handbag making her way off the footpath and on to the road, probably in anticipation of a bus or to flag down an auto, I thought. But she did not stop moving. As our car passed her, she strode toward the middle of road, holding up her red handbag.

Traffic came to a screeching halt. She had stopped a huge school bus, about 10 motorbikes, at least 6 cars, and a couple of autos.

We had to make a U-turn at the next cut in the median to get to where we were going, so we made the turn and hurried back to where she was. She had a counterpart on the other side of the street, who had managed to stop traffic (including us) in the other direction as well. With traffic at a standstill in both directions of Bannerghatta Road, a big group of children crossed the road to go to their homes!

When the children had crossed the road and traffic started moving again, I craned my neck to get a good look at the red handbag. It read: STOP PLEASE. The old lady had fashioned a stop sign out of a handbag.

This episode, which lasted less than a minute, was as heartwarming as it was shocking.

Crossing a street at any time of day is a stressful exercise. Traffic lights are far apart and there is no concept of vehicular traffic giving way to pedestrian traffic. Many a time, I have found myself stuck in the middle of a street with traffic whizzing by me on both sides.

What a wonderful way of ensuring children's safety. With a little bit of involvement, a community came together to do what was necessary.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Life in Bangalore: Unforeseen downside

V and I normally converse in English. But when we go shopping, we just slide into Kannada if we want some privacy while discussing the merits or demerits of a product, the price we are willing to pay, etc.

When we moved to Bangalore, we went looking for a TV and instinctively lapsed into Kannada to have our discussion and realized, to our horror, that we'd developed a chink in our armor.

Out of Babes' Mouths II

Last Saturday I was working at the radio station pretty much the entire day trying to produce a couple of promos and ads. V and N came to pick me up around 6:30 pm. They came through the gates and were waiting for me in the car when they saw another car drive up and a guy get out of it. He walked past our car towards the studio, and this is the conversation that transpired between V and N.

N: "Dada, who's that?"

V: "I don't know."

N: "May be that's mama's boyfriend."

V: "Whaaatt???!!!"

Today, I asked N where he'd heard the word "boyfriend." He said he overheard one of his friends in his UKG group tease another boy about a girl being his girlfriend.

And I thought I had at least another 10 years before I had to deal with this.

Sigh.

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