Vista-71

Vista-71

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

IIM Admissions - Question of Transparency

The story of Vaishnavi who challenged IIM, Bangalore, reported in Rediffmail is quite inspiring, though Vaishnavi did not get into IIM.

http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/sep/18spec.htm

What needs further investigation and probably further action by all aspiring for IIM admission is the question whether the applicants whose 10th or 12th marks do not meet the requirements are told that they are allowed to appear for the entrance examination with the specific understanding that they are not eligibile for IIM admissions. There may be many students who would still want to take the examination to meet the needs of other management institutions to which they are applying. If Vaishnavi had not been told either through the prospectus or in some other manner about her 10th and 12th scores not meeting IIM requirements before she applied for the test, she is probably entitled to claim damages from IIM / CAT administration for lack of transparency leading to her spending time and resources unnecesssarily.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Vista-71: The First Haiku Sampler

FRIENDS & WORK

Plenty of Work
Also Awful Lot of Work Without Break
Day after Day after Day

Amol Sandil, New Delhi, India




CAMPUS

Within the Old Crimson Red
Beautiful Green
Seeing is Believing

Amol Sandil, New Delhi, India


TIRED TIME



Beneath the Parabola
Tired, Weary Time Slumbered
That's Too Much! Really!!


Amol Sandil, New Delhi, India


SILENT PLATEAU

Silent Silicon Plateau
Manic Energy Spent
Luxuriating In Quiet

M. Chandrasekaran, Bangalore, India





APPROACHING SUMMER

Menacing Dark Cloud
Blazing Silver Lining
Spring Beckons Summer Swallows

Nikhilesh Dholakia, Rhode Island, USA


MISSED KISS



Shigatsuno Amigha
We Stand Under the Dripping Sakura Tree
Petals Shine on Your Lips


Amol Sandil, Tokyo, Japan


DEEP BREATH



One Deep Breath
Under The Fragrant Moon
Sakura Blooms


Amol Sandil, Kolkata, India


WINTER EMBERS

Snowdrifts at Sunset
Bundled, Huddled Souls
Ignite Embers of Desire

Nikhilesh Dholakia, Rhode Island, USA


LIFE

High Swaying Treetops
My Feet In Still Waters
Always Looking Up

Mahendra Rathod, Dubai, UAE



SUICIDE

The Razor Glides
Red Life Weeps Slowly
Emptying Theatre

Mahendra Rathod, Dubai, UAE



BREAST

Palms Holding Dove
Warm Trembling Shy Scared
Liberated Life

Mahendra Rathod, Dubai, UAE



MOTHER

Pound Of Flesh
Such Pleasure In Giving It Away
Always Returns

Mahendra Rathod, Dubai, UAE



CITYSCAPES

Stiff Shots of Sake
Blurred Shinkansen Cityscapes
Rendered Surprisingly Surreal

Nikhilesh Dholakia, Rhode Island, USA



Monday, April 04, 2005

Vegetarian Vampire

By Nikhilesh Dholakia

Even though the air conditioner was whirring in the window, the hotel room felt hot and stuffy.

He reached out and touched Amita’s curly locks longingly, but she simply pulled the sheet tighter and shifted a few inches closer to her edge of the bed.

After a long five hour bus ride through nondescript countryside, the group had arrived back at the Bucharest hotel. Many in the group had decided to eat at the Pizza Hut that was almost directly four floors below the hotel room that Anil and Amita now occupied. While a mushroom-and-onion pizza was no gourmet meal, it felt like one. After three days of eating essentially bad cheese, bread, and boiled vegetables – the only things they could safely trust as being vegetarian – Anil and Amita relished a piping hot, all-American certifiably vegetarian pizza. Even the accompanying Pepsi Max, though different tasting than their preferred Diet Coke, tasted superb.


So far, they had been underwhelmed by the post-conference group tour. The brochure had promised stops at idyllic Black Sea resort towns and a relaxing, romantic boat ride through the lush Danube delta. The resort towns had turned out to be tourist traps with cinder-block hotels and tacky guest houses edging thin strips of rocky, pebbled Black Sea beaches. The boat ride on the Danube delta was more pain than pleasure. The thumping loud engine spewed diesel fumes, and people sat facing each on rubber cushions laid on long benches. Apart from tall grasses and the occasional sea gull, there was none of the promised flora and fauna. The only break in scenery was the occasional passing fishing boat or iron-ore laden barge. These hot stretches of muddy fingers of Danube rushing to meet the Black Sea were a far cry from the sparkling Danube passing under the majestic bridges of Budapest, the Danube that probably inspired Johann Strauss to the glory of the “Blue Danube” composition. The only saving grace was the cheap, warm beer sold on the boat, which Anil guzzled in quantities to dull his headache. Leaning her head on his shoulder, Amita simply dozed off.


******

The air had a cool crispness the next morning as the bus rolled out of Budapest, away from the Black Sea coast, and into the verdant Transylvanian hills – the countryside of Dracula fame. The very sight of picture postcard villages dotting the mountainside pushed into far recesses the memories of the hot, insipid flatlands of the first part of the tour.

Brasov, the lovely town set amidst the mountains, was a vision ripped out of a picture postcard. This could just as well be Austria or Bavaria, but it was not. It was hard to believe that the same country that brandished concrete-block so-called “resort hotels” on the Black Sea also contained such perfect idyllic towns.


After strolling the shops and cobblestone piazzas of Brasov, the group assembled in the open air dining patio of the hotel. Cheap but good Russian vodka flowed freer than water. Anil wanted a beer, which was expensive and rather flat tasting. Amita said she would just have Pepsi Max. As they put their head together to get a better look at the menu by the light of the oil lamp on the table, Anil and Amita noticed that there were more vegetarian choices than they had seen any place before: a mozzarella and tomato salad, some pasta dishes, a consommé that the waitress assured them was made from asparagus stock.

A few drinks, munching on some tasty breadsticks, and – like the light gray moonlit sky above – the mood started to lighten. Spencer edged his chair just an inch closer to Amita’s and spiked her Pepsi Max with a dash of the cheap Russian vodka. She looked at him in mock horror, gave him a pretend look of admonishment; and then smiled and took a sip.


The food started arriving: hot, fresh and aromatic. They must all have been quite hungry; there was very little conversation for the next ten minutes.

“Hey…Anil, what’s that… pieces of guts from Dracula’s last victim?” teased Tamer, pointing to the chewy pasta twists of spaetzle noodles on Anil’s plate.

“Yeah… I guess so,” Anil said, going along with the joke, “But these are tasty guts!”


By now, Spencer had slipped a generous peg of vodka in Amita’s glass and topped it off with frothy Pepsi Max. The waitress showed them the rich, layered chocolate pastry available for dessert. “Oohs” and “Aahs” emanated around the table. Everyone except Daniela and Amita said they would have one. Amita said she would take just a bite to taste from Anil’s plate, but ended up eating more than half of the pastry.


“Another liter of vodka,” Spencer gestured to the waitress.

Some hard cheese and bread arrived to cleanse the sweet, rich chocolate taste off the palate.


“Did you know that before she became a sociologist Daniela used to be a fabulous Belly dancer?” piped in Fatima, excitedly. The only Romanian in the group, with her jet black tresses falling effortlessly on the navy blue blouse, it was easy to imagine Daniela as an exotic belly dancer in smoke-filled cafés of Bucharest.

Daniela was the reason Anil and Amita were on this trip. They both taught in the communications program at Rutgers, and Daniela was a sociologist at nearby Ryder College. Almost every weekend, Daniela was at Anil and Amita’s home, munching on Puri-Sabji, Pulao and Raita, Gulab Jamun or other vegetarian Indian goodies Amita invariably had on the kitchen counter.

Daniela had insisted that Anil and Amita send a paper to this conference, being held for the first time in her native Romania. Tonight, however, was the first time Anil and Amita had heard of a Belly dancing career in Daniela’s past.

Although with brunette curls cut short and rimless glasses, Fatima tried hard to project the serious sociologist and college principal look, Anil could imagine her as well gyrating to Belly dancing music in an Istanbul nightclub to the approving claps of men.


“C’mon… Daniela…” perked up Spencer, draining the vodka in his glass. “Let us see some of your Belly dancing moves…”

“Yeah… give us a private performance,” chimed in Tamer.


“Daniela… show us the talents you have hidden from us for years!” said Anil, grinning at Daniela and Amita. Daniela smiled faintly. Amita didn’t look amused as she sipped her by-now vodka-rich Pepsi Max.


Fatima signaled to the waitress and asked her to put on a lilting Mediterranean number on the PA system. Despite the group’s urgings, however, Daniela simply refused to oblige.

Fatima was in an upbeat mood; she got up and started doing slow, rhythmic Belly dancing moves, to the beat of the sonorous music. Tamer, the fellow Turk who also grew up in Istanbul, could not sit still. He got up and started swaying and clapping by Fatima’s side. Perhaps tinged by jealousy, Tamer’s Californian wife Tricia also got up and started to sway. She was clueless about Belly dancing moves, but managed to put on a fetching show with arms swaying and blond tresses flying.

“Time to hit the floor,” exclaimed Spencer, grabbing Amita by the arm. After a bit of protest, Amita was squarely on the floor.

Anil took another sip of the tasteless flat beer and looked at Spencer doing exaggerated disco moves. Amita had invented moves that were a cross between Belly dancing and Katthak. With the ethnic pink Chunni sliding gracefully across her smart beige Indo-Western two-piece outfit, Amita looked ravishing. Anil was sure every male eye in the restaurant courtyard was on Amita. East had collided with West in a sensuous explosion.


Anil looked at Daniela, the only other member of the group planted on a chair and not on the dance floor. She flashed back an understanding wan smile at him. He gestured to the waitress to get another beer.


When there was a break in the music, Amita came to Anil’s side and said “I am exhausted, dear. I am going back to the room.” She whispered a few good byes to Spencer and others and slipped away.


A haunted Hungarian melody started playing, and everyone settled down with refilled glasses. As happens on such evenings, the conversation flow bounced from philosophical musings to radical rhetoric to emotional disclosures. Finally, Daniela – feeling her responsibility as the national host – got up and said, “We have a long day ahead tomorrow…. We are visiting Bran, Dracula’s castle… let’s all get some sleep.”


As Anil latched the hotel room door shut behind him and adjusted his eyes to the dim light inside, he saw Amita. She had kicked off her shoes and sprawled face down, fully clothed, on her bed. This was an old fashioned room with two single beds separated by a bed stand. Anil pulled the blanket lightly over an oblivious Amita, and went into the bathroom to change.


******


Bran Castle was every bit as storybook-looking as a fabled castle should be. Except that in the bright sunlight against the backdrop of a vivid blue sky, Bran Castle looked more like a charming Cinderella’s castle rather than the macabre and cruel “Dracula’s castle” that it was reputed to be.


Magnificent high whitewashed walls, dotted with occasional square gun turret holes, rose steeply from the valley. Conical and pyramid shaped red-tiled roofs capped a number of towers and escarpments. A dozen stone chimneys of varying lengths dotted the roof line. Inside the castle were delightful stairwells and narrow passageways, many looking into a courtyard resplendent with seasonal flowers.


“I know all of you are here to see the castle where Count Dracula lived,” said the cheerful young man we had hired as a guide. In his cultivated British accent, he went on “In this region, Count Dracula is known as Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler. Vlad in fact was a ruler revered by Romanians for standing up to the Ottoman Empire. He dealt with all his enemies by imposing the death penalty and impaling them on stakes. He used to sign with his father's name, Dracul – or ‘The Devil’ in Romanian language. This castle with its narrow corridors, labyrinths, and secret chambers inspired Bram Stoker to write the frightful tale of Dracula”.

Taking the group to the castle’s terrace, overlooking an undulating valley stretching for miles, the guide continued: “Just imagine a thousand heads of Turks killed and impaled on stakes, stretching into this valley, as far as the eye can see…”


“But, in reality....” added the guide, “there is very little archeological evidence that Vlad used this castle, except perhaps as an occasional overnight guest. But the legend of Dracula is associated with Bran Castle and we keep getting thousands of visitors from all over the world…”

******


Postmodern tourism and Romania had found each other. “Le Vamp”, the nightclub-restaurant that the group chose for dinner and revelry that night, had an all-vampire theme. As they entered, the women were nabbed by a tall male vampire in Dracula costume. Baring exaggerated fangs, “Dracula” secreted two little blood-red lipstick-like dots on the women’s necks. Amita giggled as “Dracula” sank his fangs into her neck. The men were greeted by a masked, blond she-vampire, who did the same ritual on their exposed necks. Anil tried to get past the blond vampire but Fatima grabbed his arms, allowing the masked blond to imprint her fang-marks on Anil’s necks. These “fang marks” were evidence that they had paid the cover charge, in case the guests wanted to step out and reenter the nightclub.

Inside the club, in the antechamber, skulls and bones and coffins with creaking half-open lids completed the décor. Hidden light bulbs projected crimson red or purple lights that caste menacing bat shadows on ceilings and walls. A player-less piano, with automatically moving keys, was playing the distorted notes of Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso requiem – the archetypal Dracula music.

Further inside, the dining room was pretty much like a normal restaurant, with tastefully done Bat motifs on tablecloths, napkins, and the china.

Anil and Amita’s eyes lit up when the waiter pointed out that the menu had a whole vegetarian section.

“We get lots of international tourists,” said the waiter, by way of explanation.

On top of the pastas, breads, and couscous, Anil and Amita were thrilled to order garlic-grilled eggplant and a curried chick peas and vegetable stew. This was the last night of the group tour; a splurge was in order. Bottles of Romanian and Hungarian wines were ordered. While not as cheap as Russian vodka, these wines were still a bargain by Euro-American standards.


As dinner wound down, the tempo of the band picked up. The music was a nice mix of Sixties Oldies, Motown, and Contemporary Billboard Top-30. Tamer and Tricia were immediately on the floor, doing their trademark swing-cum-Paso Doble moves. Spencer was even more ebullient tonight. He grabbed both Amita and Fatima and pulled them to the floor. Looking at Spencer flaying his hands and gyrating, who would have thought that this was the world-famous semanticist from Chicago whose very mention inspired awe in social science and humanities graduate programs? Brushing off the brunette curls that kept descending on her face, Fatima’s infectious grin seemed to light up the dance floor as she swung past couples. Amita was wearing the classic short black dress, clinging her every curve. For all of her 42 years, she could have passed off as a teenager as she twisted her hips to Elvis’s “Blue Suede Shoes”.

Anil poured some more of the Hungarian cabernet into his empty glass and turned his chair slightly to get a better view. Even Daniela was up and dancing tonight. Amita and Daniela signaled to him furiously to join them on the dance floor. Anil simply smiled and waved back at them.

It was past midnight and the dance floor had thinned out. Spencer had discreetly slipped a half-a-million-lei tip to the band leader, about ten dollars. So, the band had picked up the beat vigorously, even though the hour was late. Amita flitted back to the table briefly to take a few gulps of mineral water, and tried to pull Anil to the dance floor, but he stayed glued in his chair. After a while, Daniela came and sat down to enjoy her wine. Anil leaned over and whispered to her, “Tell Amita… there’s no rush… but I am going back to the hotel.”


******


It was dark, cloudy and moonless that night.

There was a sharp sensation on his neck as Anil opened his eyes. Amita’s bare leg was already astraddle him as he found her doing a vampire bite on his neck. He smiled and kissed her.


The sun was not up yet, but there was enough light to silhouette the classic spires and rooftops of Brasov as Anil looked out the hotel window.

With hair fanned carelessly across the pillow, Amita looked beautiful. He leaned over, and did his own vampire bite. As she smiled and half opened an eye, he did his guttural Dracula impression: “Vlad the Vegetarian will turn into a pumpkin with the first ray of sunlight. Come, fair damsel…. The impaler is waiting…” As Amita threw her arms around his neck and pulled him closer, Anil imagined a cartoon-style thought bubble floating over his head.

It said, “Romania… you have redeemed yourself.”


September 2004

Friday, November 05, 2004

Midnight on Tuesday

By Nikhilesh Dholakia

Listless putrid streams of bigotry
Meandering
Through jungles of ignorance
Discovering
Placid pools of obscurantism
Masking
Furiously swirling eddies
Of Byzantine beliefs
Merging, creating
Powerful conservative currents

Channels of deceit
Conspiratorially planned
Meticulously concealed
Subtle
Subterranean
Collecting
The menacing currents
Creating
A fervent tributary

Into the raging river
Of greed
Unbridled
Unprincipled
Shimmering
Glimmering golden waves
Of covetous, barricaded, opulent monopolies
Covering sinister undertows
Of exploitative bloodlust
Avarice
Masquerading as imagination
Cowardice
Promenading as determination
Duplicity
Strutting as resolution

Rushing headlong
Plunging precipitously
Into a Niagara
Of imperious descent
Of ominous omnipotence
Of arrogant pretense

Profiting
Enthralling
Lavishing
Showering
With black gold
Conniving opportunists

Bewitching
Berating
Haranguing
Driving
Compelling
Lulling
Pulling

America
Into
An ocean of global oblivion

Kingston, Rhode Island, November 3, 2004

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Cute Mujahedeen

By Nikhilesh Dholakia

I spotted them first
In Ho Chi Minh City
Dotting the phalanx of mobikes
Covered from head to toe
In flowing soft white Ao Dai
Slit stylishly high above waist
Feet planted, waiting for Green
Elbow length white gloves
Faces wrapped in Euro-scarves
Donning caps
Goggles piercing the traffic
Saigon sirens
Waiting to outgun
Hapless male riders on either side

Their Ahmedabad cousins
Swathed in a riot of color
Sometimes jeans, rarely skirts
Most likely in salwaar kameez
Chunnis wrapped from heads to necks
Colorful masks revealing only specs
Coming from all sides
Zipping on scooters
Usually single, sometimes a pair
Weaving, dodging
People, bikes, cows and cars
What’s that, a slung bazooka?
No just a tight-rolled umbrella
Warding pollution, protecting skin
Cute scooter-riding Mujahedeen

Ahmedabad, August 24, 2004

Friday, August 20, 2004

Bombay 2004

By Nikhilesh Dholakia

Islands of Opulence
Swaths of Destitution
Sleek new Mercedes
Decrepit tottering taxis
Ambitious bank’s Zen office in a “park in the sky”
Hovels of misery leaning on fat sewage pipe
Twenty-nine varieties of twelve-dollar martinis
Litter strewn unmentionables in front of shanties
Extravagant Bollywood billboards
Aggressive eunuch beggars
Cacophony of contrasts
Chorus of coexistence

Mumbai, August 19, 2004

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Jasmine Choice

By Nikhilesh Dholakia

Semi-crushed bud
Of jasmine, still fragrant
At pillow’s edge
Slight mascara smudge
Wistful reminders
Of sensory overload

- * -

Parted vermillion lips
Filigreed henna patterns
From palm to toes
Serpentine braid
Of strung jasmine, dark locks
Tinkling bells
Adorning anklet and wrist
Carelessly tossed aside
Embroidered magenta silk
Crystalline laughter
Like a cool monsoon mist

- * -

Which one shall I choose?
Manageable memory
Tinged with mild, sweet pain
Or
Overpowering reality
That senses can’t contain?

Ahmedabad, July 28, 2004
 

Food and the South Indian NRI --- two different approaches

Approach 1: Article by Shashi Tharoor in 'The Hindu'
 
Yeast is yeast, west is waist
By Shashi Tharoor"The Hindu", Online edition of India's National NewspaperJuly 4, 2004

Unless you're a gourmet chef or a serious food faddist, you don't actually need to cook in Manhattan, says the writer.

REUTERS Don't cook ... get gourmet meals home delivered instead.
MOST of the readers of this newspaper, I venture to suggest — and certainly this must be true of an overwhelming majority of its male readers — have never actually had cook themselves a meal from scratch. The readers of The Hindu hail from a socio-economic stratum that is used to full-time domestic help in the kitchen, and even those among you whom society expects to feed the rest (by which, in an acknowledgment of politically-incorrect Indian reality, I mean the women) play a largely supervisory role in the process. It's the hired help who do the actual hot and sweaty work (for which I hope your grateful families duly give you the credit.)
I'm not being gratuitously offensive — just making the point that the average educated middle-class Indian tends to be a bit handicapped in the culinary self-help department. When someone of that ilk, like myself (who grew up an only son in India, never bothering to step into the kitchen except to ask when dinner would be ready) finds himself living in the West, the handicap can be acute indeed. There are no servants, and in most Western cities restaurants are prohibitively expensive, so unless you can cook for yourself you are really in trouble. My former wife, a first-rate intellectual whose only attempt at cooking a dish before marriage was marred by her complete unawareness of the need for salt, became an expert chef because she had to — when we moved to Geneva.
Finding myself single again and living in the West could easily have been calamitous. Fortunately for me I am living in the one place on the planet where this need not be a problem — New York City, and more specifically the island of Manhattan.
Unless you're a gourmet chef or a serious food faddist, you don't actually need to cook in Manhattan. It's not just that there are tens of thousands of restaurants and eateries on the island, the largest concentration of commercial kitchens per square mile on the face of the globe. It's that many of them are affordable, and they pretty much all deliver. In Manhattan, I cook with my dialling finger.
Within a 10-block radius of my own virgin oven lie two Indian restaurants, three Mexican, four Japanese, five Italian and not-even-the-Mayor-knows-how-many Chinese. "Fast free delivery" is their slogan, even if "fast" is a relative term (I've once waited an hour, but it was snowing) and "free" overlooks the generous tips my conscience prompts me to give the perspiring bicyclist at my door. But "delivery" is the key word. The lack of time or culinary talent never obliges a denizen of Manhattan's apartment buildings to go hungry.
Sure, there's a negative side. You can't always synchronise your meal with the start of the latest episode of your favourite television show; it might arrive just as the plot is taking a crucial turn, and you could miss the key twist just as you are fishing for your wallet at the door. (But since I hardly ever have the time to watch television, this does not affect me greatly.) Sometimes, if you are on the losing end of a long delivery list, your minestrone might be tepid or your sautéed bok choy soggy. And the delivery boys, frontier entrepreneurs to a man, might busy themselves slipping unsolicited flyers under your neighbours' doors, thereby risking a ban on their establishment by your building's management.
But the key problem is the obvious one: you can never be entirely sure what you're getting, and a lot of it could go directly to your waistline. For some Chinese takeaways, "no MSG" is an aspiration, not a promise. An Italian menu that offers "low-fat dressing" might give you a salad swimming in oil. Who knows what that delicious aloo gobhi was cooked in, or whether the raita is made from low-fat yoghurt? Diallers can't really afford to diet: telephoning for dinner is rarely wise for anyone who's counting her calories.
My friend Cath is too lazy (or, as she prefers to put it in New Yorkese, too stressed out) to cook. But she was beginning to bloat on the fat-laden fare being delivered in generous portions to her door. "If I have to choose between starvation and eating too much of the wrong food," she moaned as she wobbled miserably on the scales, "starvation will lose every time."
The Manhattan solution? A firm that delivers gourmet Zone diet meals to her door, overnight. Every morning Cath awakes to find a black zippered bag outside her apartment door containing three Zone meals and two snacks to tide her through the day. The food comes in tiny plastic containers, in quantities barely adequate to ward off malnutrition, and the entrées need microwaving, but Cath is ecstatic. For $35 a day she gets the five dollars' worth of calories she needs, and she doesn't even have to think about what to order: she has no choice but to trust the Zone chefs. Since her main objective is to lose weight, the fact that she dislikes (and discards) half the stuff they send actually works in her favour. Her dress size has been shrinking along with her bank balance.
Sounds like the perfect Manhattan marriage of convenience and consumerism. Except that there's such a thing as too much success. Cath's been losing weight on the Zone plan — and losing, and losing. Last month's new jeans are already swimming around her waist. But she doesn't know how to stop. If she gave up the plan, she'd lose control of her diet. Besides, she loves waking up to those little black Zone bags every morning.
So Cath's decided to have it both ways. The Zone keeps coming — but so, most evenings, does a scrumptious dessert from one of the restaurants in her neighbourhood. The last time I spoke to her she was musing over her delivery choices: baklava from the Turkish Ali Baba, or tiramisu from Tre Pomodori? Her diet may be in jeopardy, but her faith in Manhattan's choices is unshaken. The lard delivers what the Zone taketh away ....

Approach 2: From our man in Kanada-land
 
By Raja Ramanathan

A different approach to resolving the food problems of a South Indian NRI

I just happened to read Shashi Tharoor’s account of how he and his friend
deal with the issue of getting themselves food in Manhattan. It coincided,
almost to the minute, with my teaching my twenty-five old daughter how to
make vendakkai sambar (vendakkai, bhindi, okra; sambar, we all know what this is, thanks to Shri Mahadevan Chandrashekar).

My daughter lives in a downtown Toronto apartment
for the last few months having decided to move out of the parental home, in
her quest for an identity. Very often the rest of the family, wife, son Sid
and I spend weekends at her studio apartment watching movies and generally
‘chilling out.’ This weekend she wanted me to teach her how to make
vendakkai sambar and asked me to get all the ingredients to do so, and,
teach her, which I just finished doing when I saw Shashi Tharoor’s interesting
article of July 4, 2004.

Like Shashi, I grew up in a South Indian family, where for the first fifty
three years of my life my entry into the kitchen was limited to asking when
the food would be ready. This was abetted very much by my mother-in-law who
lived with us for the last ten years of her life, and, thought it was an
insult to her culinary skills if her son-in-law so much as added a dash of
salt to the food she cooked with such love.

Such would have been the course of my life, but for the most unfortunate
accident that my mother-in-law had. She fell down in the house one evening
and broke her hip. She was admitted to hospital, and, my wife had to spend
many hours in the hospital helping her recuperate from surgery following
the accident. As I sat through the first few of those evenings, my alternatives were
similar to those of Shashi, get a catered meal from many of the Indian or other
catering establishments in and around Mississauga, live on pizza or such food
or just watch the pounds slither off as I starved. Having been brought up for fifty
plus years on good home made South Indian cooking my conditioning was far
too deep to settle for such alternatives.

So, one morning, about a week after my mother-in-law’s accident, I gingerly
asked my wife to give me the recipe to make rice and paruppu (plain, cooked
toor dal). The beloved one looked at me with bewilderment. ‘Are you going to
actually cook ?’ she asked. It seemed to be more of a shock for her than her
mother’s accident.

She sat down and took a deep breath. ‘No, sweetheart, I
will keep the rice and paruppu in the cooker and go. You just open it and
eat in the evening…’ she said fully convinced that at fifty three no man
could learn anything new, let alone cooking. The life partner’s response came
to me as a challenge, a challenge to my ancestors who had always done things
new and brave, including my mother who is reported to have a sung, around circa
1942, a Bharathiyar (Subramani Bharati was a famous South Indian poet of the freedom movement days who wrote, among other most beautiful poems, very stirring patriotic verse. His songs were banned by the British and he had to live in Pondicherry, then a French enclave,  to escape being jailed) song from well within the confines of her home as an English
policeman passed by…History has not recorded whether the policeman heard
the song or whether he had any reaction to it if he did, but, it got my mother into
trouble with her father who said she was bringing ruination on the family by
doing such things. Being the son of such a brave and valiant mother who did
what was right and correct, the mind was set. I will cook.

‘Sweetie, just tell me how to put the rice and paruppu…’ I said. Having
brought up two children and a husband my wife knew just when to give up
reason and put her faith in God. She then walked me through putting rice
and paruppu in a pressure cooker with the detail and precision of a
kindergarten teacher teaching her wards how to tie their shoe laces. Still
not convinced that a disaster would be averted she made a last try, ‘I will
come home a little early today and you can put the rice and paruppu in the
cooker when I am around…’ No. My mind was set. I would do so on my own.

That evening I came home and put together, with a meditative awareness that
would have made a Zen teacher proud (if Zen teachers are allowed to feel proud)  the pressure cooker,  as instructed. I waited for the pressure to come through
with the hissing sound, and then waited the mandatory seven minutes the
beloved wife had asked me to. Once the seven minutes were over I took the cooker
under the cold water tap to reduce the pressure. I couldn’t wait till the cooker
cooled to watch my maiden efforts. When I opened the pressure cooker, the
rice and paruppu looked perfect. I took one grain of each and tasted them.
The feeling was similar to what Neil Armstrong would have experienced as he
stepped on the moon for the first time. ‘One small step for man, one giant
leap for mankind…’ ‘One rice and paruppu for me, one giant stride towards
freedom for the male species…’

I put a little margarine (in lieu of good homemade ghee) on the rice and paruppu and ate. My son walked in a few minutes later and was thrilled to see something other than pizza or
Kentucky Fried Chicken. Father and son ate together, and, the guru herself
came by late at night and sampled the first efforts of cooking. She was not
unimpressed. For thirty years she had never thought that her husband would
amount to much. Now there seemed to be hope. Strange are the ways of God she
said to herself that night…

The next day was tomato rasam(a watered down sambar, is how one school of thought describes a rasam; there are more charitable descriptions), then a full fledged sambar and potato curry (sambar and potato curry is a great Sunday lunch favourite in several South Indian homes), then a porichha kozhambu (describing a porichha kozhambu is difficult, suffice that any kozhambu is a gravy like preparation generally mixed with rice and eaten, porichha means fried). In three months I had graduated to paruppu usli (cooking this is generally a milestone achievement, it is a mixture of toor dal ground and mixed with vegetables to make a yummy dish) and Morkuzhambu (nearest translation, kadi) and was showing off. I was part of an internet group that exchanged recipes. My wife saw these emails from the Ashas, Shyamalas and Ranjinis with some concern, but, was so happy at the new found freedom she
had from the kitchen to really object.

These days she reminds me in the morning to soak the kidney beans before we leave for work so that I can make rajmah when I come in the evening.

She comes home in the evenings, just goes up, changes, gets into bed,
switches on the TV, and, gets served in bed, by seven thirty p.m. When my
daughter invites her friends for dosas, you know who makes them. Now, could
there be greater women’s liberation….
++++++++++++++++++


Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Machetes and Mocha Swirl

By Nikhilesh Dholakia

It seems like a city
That eats, and eats
Hundreds of restaurants
Dot the busy streets

Just as the river
Slices the city
So does food
Partition its identity

The affluent, burgeoning new town
Laying wide highways
Building fancy blocks of gated condos
Dotted with airconditioned bistros
With mouth-watering vegetarian menus
Starbucks-emulator Barista coffeeshops
Multiplex cinemas and amusement arcades
With swank-yank names
Like Fun Republic
And Wide Angle

Two new McDonald’s outlets
A Subway sandwich joint
Experimenting at the edges
With meat offerings
But popular Pizza Hut
Sticking to a pure vegetarian menu
With obligatory Indo-spicy versions

Hundreds of push carts
Vending local spicy delicacies
And pushing cutrate cosmopolitanism
For the flourishing “2-wheeler” class
Riding mobikes, scooters, mopeds
Indo-western smart young bipeds
Tempted by “Cold Exprees Coffee”
Chinese at Main Land China push cart
Punjabi, Italian, Tandoori, Omelettes
And dozens of local spice treats
Just park and eat on the pillion
Or plonk down on plastic chairs

Seven bridges span
The  divided city
Across two bridges
A different culture
In labyrinths of the old town
The victimized minority
Defiantly flashing all available symbols
Of religious identity

Muezzins’ calls
Heeded by capped menfolk
Burka-clad women
Riding side-saddle on mobike pillions
Going shopping for gold jewelry
Amidst push carts
Vending fragrant rice pilafs with mutton
Spicy lentils simmering with ground meat
Punctuated by pungent whiffs
Of charcoal-grilled kabobs

Suddenly… 
A hundred miles away
A train set ablaze
Rumors spread like wildfires
Mobs emerge out of nowhere
The city set afire

Complicit cops
Swinging night sticks and bayonets
Just look the other way
The city burns
Gruesome lynchings
“They deserve the comeuppance…
…. these Pakistan lovers”

Vigilantes of vegetarianism
Perhaps unable to burn, knife, or rape
Move to the new town
Bearing menacing pipes and machetes
Smashing the omelette carts
And the chicken stir-friers
Torching the Tandoor stands
“No meat… Be pure, or die…
“Like the thousand who already have
“Across river
“In the impure meat-eating ghettos”

Acrid calm descends
On a torn city
Leaders shrug off international media
Denying ethnic cleansing
Browbeating into silence
The local “secularists”

Months pass by
Fat foreign exchange reserves
Racy rate of growth
A hot economy
More new shopping malls
In the shining new side of the city
More restaurants
And bistros
Fast food franchises
And, of course, the push carts

At first, slowly
But then boldly
The omelette maker
The chicken stir-frier
The Tandoori baker
Reappear
Pandering to the two-wheeler class
Conceptually vegetarian
But craving the occasional kabob
“It’s okay to eat Hakka Chow Mein here…
… we don’t cook it at home”

Vegetarian vigilantism
Receding into the past
Along with
Blazing train
Torched minority ghettos
Retaliatory machine-gun temple massacre
Car bombings in Mumbai
Strife dissolving temporarily
Into frothy consumer capitalism
Of Barista mocha swirl coffee

 
Ahmedabad, July 27, 2004
 





Monday, July 26, 2004

Love

By  Mahendra Rathod  "Paintist"

 
With forefingers
Stretch wrinkles wipe
Caked
Ecstasies; fetid smell of unlived dreams
 
This smeared
Sliver of Time I offer. Disused
Sperm. We
have no language. How
 
Much longer will
We
dissolve flesh scouring for blood nerves
 
Excoriate
Pleasure mouths preserved
Carefully an ultimate bargain. I offer
This stanching hand.

Letter to my Nephew

By Mahendra Rathod "Paintist"


My dear Ganny,

I received your letter of the 12th instant only today. Three weeks! It always takes three weeks for mail to come from abroad. First the post people try to remove the foreign stamp and then they try to see if there are valuables inside. And they take their time doing it. But let’s leave it – the letter is here. When I opened the envelope I was stunned. 10 pages of letter. WOW. You finally wrote me a long letter. God bless you! It is so difficult to get anyone to write a letter these days. It is all email this or SMS that! What use is it for an old man like me who likes to read slowly and then reread my letters? I used to try and get your appa to write to me when he moved to Canada but all he would do is send me a telegram – “ALL FINE HERE. HOPE OK THERE! LOVE RAJA”. Now you tell me, how can one reread that! Just one line! Of course there was no email then. Thank God for that! You write a beautiful long letter. So unusual these days to find a kid who writes a letter, leave alone a long one! You are a good kid.

Thank you for filling me in about your life. I know now that you have become a truly universal child – comfortable with the west and loving the east. Nothing better to mould you, son, to be a good citizen. Living here in the remote hills of Coorg, I have time to ruminate on my life and if I have been a good citizen. You know something, I feel close and remote to the world at the same time. Close to God but remote from the hustle of living. I read books, go to the temple, tend to my garden, go once a week to market and look through my telescope every night. Life is full. One day your life too will be full – you will have a family and worries and happy moments and a sense of having lived a full life. I was thrilled to read about your planned trip to India next month – it’s been what, 5 years since you came last? Long long time. Too long I think. But I know Canada is a long way and you can’t come often. But still I miss all of you. I read and reread your letter several times. I am really thrilled; I am already floating in air. It will be so nice to see you again and I promise not to embarrass you this time by kissing and hugging you in front of your friends.

You ask if you can stay with me. What a question! Of course you must. All four of your friends too. Just because I am alone you should not worry– or is it because you have to do your own beds and your own breakfast, hunh? I didn’t understand your plan to stay 10 days. Only 10 days, coming all that way? Come on Ganny have a heart! And even in those ten days eight will be spent roaming. Corbett Park, Ranikhet and so on. When will you spend time with me, son? Well all I can say is that you have definitely taken after your Ajja. Restlessness and adventure are in your blood.

But I can’t really complain. Not really. A chance to go to Corbett Park is worth leaving me starved for company. Well I didn’t mean the way it sounds. No guilt trips. Go on feel the might of the jungle and the mystery of the primeval world. Corbett Park is great - the perfect place for a city dweller to touch first hand the mystery of nature. I’ve been there, you know? Haha, you are surprised that I know about the Tiger sanctuary? Well I never told this story to you did I? How you loved to listen to my stories when you were young! I remember those times when your mom and dad used to leave you with me for weeks at a time whilst they went visiting family all over India. Yes, those were wonderful days – do you remember any of the stories at all, I wonder. Well you can tell me, when I see you next month.

I went on a long trekking trip in 1976. Yes-trekking trip! I know, I know, you think I am an old man but I was young and restless once like you. Your father Raja is different; he loves his family and loves the city. But I always loved the wilderness. I was full of adventure and took all kinds of risk. But this was all a long time ago. When your appa was young and you were not even born.

…….. Well to come back to Corbett Park. One day I read about Jim Corbett and his adventures and my mind was made up to go and see the place where he hunted the majestic beast and later worked hard to make it into a sanctuary. I never got the chance for many years but one day I came across the book again and my desire was reawakened. I said that’s it now.

I love the intimacy of the unknown- it hugs you with its mixture of fear and anticipation. In 1976 my friend Ashok got married and I went to accompany the Baarat….well that’s another story. But I decided one day to finally go trekking in the Kumaon hills. Everyone thought I was crazy. It will be so far they said, it will be so cold they said (it was end September), it will be rough and tiring, it will be scary going all alone, how can you go with just a haversack and a leather jacket they said. But I ignored all that. Such is the arrogance of youth. But don’t think I wont say the same things to you! I will. But I will understand if you ignore me too.

I had no plan, just a notion. I will not talk about the whole trip – it will be boring. Maybe some day when we have nothing to write. I travelled along the usual path Nainital, Ranikhet, Kausani and Almora. On my return I came to Corbett Park. First you take a bus to Ramnagar or is it Rampur? I don’t remember now. Then you wait at the bus station and catch a small bus from the Corbett Park. I recall, at my bus stop I had 5 hippies also wanting to go there. I struck up a conversation with them. They were reluctant to talk at first but then became friendly. One of them asked me the bus fare. I was soaked in American jargon picked up from a diet of comics and westerns, so I said “10 bucks”. They jumped in their shoes and almost had a heart attack. “What, Ten Dollars?” they asked me incredulously. “No” I said, “rupees”, not realising that a buck was not the natural term for money.

The small bus came trailing a cloud of dust. We were bursting out of our skins with anticipation. As the bus approached the park you could sense, slowly at first, the majesty of Nature – vast and daunting. We reached the Park at just about dusk. The orange hues in the sky mixed with the flocks of birds going home, celebrating the day, a cacophony of medleys – a sight not to be forgotten in a hurry. “Alive Orange” I called it. You know the painting in your appa’s study? – that’s the sky I painted. At the reception window we were asked if we wanted a tent or a room. The hippies said “tents”. I thought it would be great to be with Nature, and I thought - I’m cool guy, so I too said, “Tent please”. It was night and darkness had fallen. The darkness of the big jungle is scarily strange – it is so dark so dark, as if there is a shade of black beyond black. There are no lights within 100 miles and on a moonless night you can get lost just going to the bathroom (nearest shrub).

Well Ganny I guess you are ready for a break now... I can see you fidgeting. Go on get yourself a beer from the fridge… but don’t tell your appa I told you to. I know what you kids get up to when you go to the Malls in Canada. ………

Now that you are back, settle down son. Here comes the interesting part….. Since there were so few of us, being off-season, and it was dinner time (they eat early there) we went straight to eat. We chose to have dinner by the wood fire outside. The smell of semi-green wood burning is wonderful with its mixture of herbal smells and smells of the village hearth. The rough rotis eaten sitting cross-legged with a kerosene lamp (have you ever seen one?), the chatter of teeth as the cold wind bites through the city clothes and the satiation of absorbing everything new –all adds up to a feast. The spicy mutton was too much for the Hippy gang and they cried for a coke but settled for the cold cold river water. I enjoyed every moment of it.

Now the laughable part… When I reached my tent after dinner I was in for a shock. It had no door!! Just a flap. I ran back to the park office to change to a room but it was closed and the officer had gone home. Boy was I scared then! But what to do? Just as I was returning back to my tent I heard a tiger roar. Ganny, I tell you it is a sound you cannot imagine. It is like a 2000-watt amplifier system in your living room turned full blast. Not just the loudness but the enveloping closeness. I thought the tiger was 10 feet away. The watchman saw my look of terror and laughed. He said the tiger was at least a mile away. Go on; don’t be afraid, he said. They never come here. Never.

I am not sure now if I slept or not that night. I rather think I did. I kept the lights on; I kept my haversack against the flap – as if that would have stopped anything! I kept my Swiss army knife – all of 3 inches that your appa had given me – under my pillow and tried to figure out the distances from the different roars and squeaks and grunts. Many a time I thought they were closing in on the park – but I found out later that, that was a “sound illusion”. Apparently Tigers have some quality –timbre or something – that makes the roar “throwable” to a great distance – it seems to travel long distances. I remember your ajja; he had a similar throwable roar - must have been a tiger in his last incarnation – he could call us all with one shout.

I tried to read in bed but it was impossible. I could swear the roars were getting nearer. I tried to count sheep but the tigers drove all the sheep away. Yes, now I do remember .. I was tired from all that walking and I worked out that the hippies’ tent was between me and the park border – so they would be eaten first. With this comforting thought I must have eventually fallen asleep, because I awoke at the crack of dawn with this huge tumult of early birds singing away to their heart’s content. I stepped out – the air was pure and fresh with a sharp nip. The sky was a clear crimson with dawn around the corner and the smoke from the kitchen was signalling a welcome. People were up and about – carrying wood for burning, cleaning the park and so on. O how I loved that moment. I wish I could live there forever.

Well it is late here Ganny, I am feeling tired and I must have my A-Z alphabet of tablets now- one for blood pressure, one for cholesterol, one for sugar, one for vitamins and one for sleeping. See what old age does to you! But you have hundred years before you become old!

Second day.

Well Ganny, I am up early trying to make your room ready. I have still kept your pyjama suit but I guess that wont fit you now. Kids grow like a beanstalk – here today there tomorrow. I have my fresh cup of coffee with me and on with my story. After a cold-water wash we had a breakfast of eggs and bread and I mentioned to all around me about the tigers’ roaring at night, but strangely everyone else had fallen asleep as soon they hit the bed and no one heard it! After breakfast I decided to explore the forest near the camp and wandered off. As soon as you enter the forest you are hit with the “elephant grass”. Boy that grass is aptly named – it is 7 – 8 feet tall and dense; you could easily hide an elephant. The forest was very alive with rustling, grunting, squealing, squeaking and the mad cacophony of the birds. The rustling was as if someone was stalking me- always following me - really eerie! But no roar! Maybe the Tigers were asleep!

When I returned back to the camp, the watchman was angry with me for going off alone and warned me never to go into the forest without a local guide. He was really angry I could tell and perhaps a bit frightened at what could have been had I been lost – and in that elephant grass you don’t know where you are because there are no paths. After an early lunch we arranged for a “tiger watch”. I tell you, this experience will stay with me forever. They bring in these trained elephants fitted with the howdah (a wooden saddle that seats 4) and the mahout (the “driver”) and, – something that thrilled all of us - a big rifle toting guard with each elephant, sitting up there with the mahout. I think there were three elephants. In front of each elephant is a “āgéwāllā” meaning the guy in front who walks alongside and helps to guide the group on which way to go. We wandered off into the elephant grass. Our howdah just came up to the grass tips. It was as if the attack could come from any side and we wouldn’t be able to see it. Rifle, elephant, local guide would all be useless. Scary. After a few yards there was no path. The elephants just yanked the grass with their powerful trunks and made the path. Impressive. We went deep into the jungle. With good rains the vegetation was lush and thick. The elephant is a gauche animal and walks with a big rolling gait. The howdah would tilt to one side or another at every step to such an extent that we thought we would fall off any moment. We clutched the wooden frame tightly. Our legs were hanging out of the howdah through big holes. The howdah is very shallow and you cant curl up inside. As we went deeper we saw many kinds of deer, boars and a fox or two. But no tiger. In we went with the “āgéwāllās” making noises and beating the grass with their sticks. Courageous bunch I tell you. They would be the first to face the attack! After a futile search for two hours we decided to rest the elephants. To get down you have to make the elephant kneel and the process is decidedly risky. The elephant goes down on one knee, the Howdah tilts precariously to an angle of 75 degrees and then another knee and you are down 75 degrees in another angle and then you jump off, if you haven’t fallen off by then. Boy I tell you the two hippy women in our group were screaming their heart out. But all in good innocent fun.

After some rest the guide wanted to return back but we moaned and beseeched him to show us a tiger. Reluctantly he agreed to take us to another place known to be tigers’ eating/sleeping place. We trudged off. After about 15 minutes the elephants started to slow down and finally stopped. They emitted a pitiable sound I had never heard before. The guide said the elephant was smelling a tiger. After much use of a small curved sharp instrument (I forget the name now –ankush is it?) that is used to make the elephant obey by jamming it in his ears or temple, the elephants agreed to move forward. They stopped again after 10 minutes and would not go forward and started to pee desperately. Good, said the guide, now the tiger is really near. We froze. Our desire to see had vanished completely. I slid closer to the rifle man. The elephants were now crying, but the mahout would not let them turn back which was their natural instinct. And mine too, I tell you. All my coolness and bravado disappeared in a flash. The birds in the trees sensed the presence and were fluttering up in circles and making a terrific din as if warning all the prey – run, here comes the killer. And not just one bunch but half the forest, it seemed. The rustling was loud. The “āgéwāllās” had disappeared. The guide told us they had gone to drive the tiger towards us. The rifleman took out his gun and told all of us not to make a noise. He loaded the gun and clicked off the safety catch. The elephants were still peeing and crying. The mahout had his instrument in their temple. He was nervous too. The rustling was loud, to the right. We looked in the direction of the rustling but out came some foxes. Whew, we thought. Relief.

Suddenly the guide said look left, but slowly and don’t make a sudden movement or noise. We looked left and – THERE HE WAS! Just 50-60 feet away. He had come up stealthily from the grass and had stopped on seeing this big armada with people and elephants and “āgéwāllās” who had disappeared somewhere behind him. They had guided him here, we were told. There he was - standing majestically, surveying us with eyes that were assessing whether to have dessert or to let such a juicy spread go to waste! His chest heaving quickly, as all big cats do. His eyes were the clearest I have seen and his coat was shining with waxy gloss. Well that’s what I can say lightly now sitting in a comfortable chair, thousands of miles away, but at that moment we were mesmerized. The gorgeousness of such an animal is 100 times what you see in the zoos. He is healthy, in his own territory with no equal, has just hunted and eaten all he can with this abundant game in such a lush forest and he sees these strange weirdoes sitting on elephants. It is like evening soap for him. We were all still, very still with everyone praying – even the elephants who were absolutely still with their eyes riveted on the tiger. After what seemed an eternity the tiger gave us one last disdainful look and sauntered off back into the grass without even a backward glance at us. No roar, nothing. No one moved for several minutes. We couldn’t be sure if he would return and lunge at us. We waited. Finally we heard a rustling again and the elephants’ ears pricked up but it was only the “āgéwāllās” returning. They told us he had gone. What a relief. I tell you there has never been a bigger collective sigh heaved out by any man or beast. The elephants seemed to be relieved too and we returned back to the camp.

On the return journey we all claimed that we had not been afraid one bit and had actually wanted to get down and be closer- but I don’t think anyone believed anyone. The camp lights were very inviting and the smell of food being cooked was a signal to breathe easy again. I wandered off to the adjoining lake (safe place, the watchman told me) and saw the flock of birds doing the nightly journey back to somewhere. Commuting, I thought, suddenly in a flash my thoughts going back to the daily local train journey that I used to make, that’s my daily routine like the birds. But I never sang like the birds – they were free!

That night I slept like a log. Perhaps the fact that the tiger had seen me had something to do with it – I must have felt as if the tiger would not eat an acquaintance!!

Well I must stop here. I don’t want to make this a long trip report. Just that my nostalgia surfaced like a gasping fish and I was taken back in time by your letter. It seems like yesterday that I was there.

I do realise Ganny, now things may have changed. Commercialisation will have converted everything into a business. Everything in India is under people pressure. Tourists are flocking to off beat destinations neatly marketed and packaged by smart MBA’s. The tourists go in shiny new cars with their families and want good food and all the comforts. They want a quick and easy trip. Something to tick off from a list. They want their mobiles and transistors (does anyone use them anymore?) and they want to take a million pictures. Well I am old fashioned, dear Ganny. But I will take my old views for nature’s sanctity and solitude for this new value system any day.

I don’t want to spoil your trip by an old man’s nostalgia. Go and enjoy – have fun. But it will be cold so get proper gear. And it is good that you are having company. I would have been worried otherwise. And don’t go alone into the forest anytime. Take pictures –lots of them. And tell me all about it when you return. TAKE CARE!

I am looking forward with great anticipation to your visit to India. Be careful changing terminals in Heathrow. Sometimes it can take an hour. Be early so that you get a good seat. See you soon.

Yours affectionately with lots and lots of love and blessings.

Doddappa.




Friday, July 23, 2004

A day in the life of a wannabe Mr. Chips

By Raja Ramanathan
 
 Jenny was late coming to the first class. She was doing this course on Human Resources Management because she had to. It was a compulsory course and she could not get her diploma in Business Management unless she did the course. So she had left it to the last. She had avoided doing what she considered a totally boring and useless course to the very last, but, now she had no options. She had to complete the course.

The class was starting at 6.30 pm, and, she had bought the text book, and, saw that everyone was already in the class room. Just one smoke before she went in, she told herself, and, stepped out in the cold winter air to light her cigarette. Her throat had by now become immune to the harsh nicotine smoke, but, nevertheless she muffled a cough, more brought on by the cold than the smoke. She took a few quick drags and stubbed out the cigarette, popped a piece of gum into her mouth, and, moved towards M10.

Shridhar Raghuraman was just beginning to warm up when he saw Jenny open the door. He could not resist saying, ‘…I trust you are in the right class. This is the Human Resources Management class. I once had a student sit through one and a half hours of the first class only to realize at the end of it that it was not  the Management Accounting class that she had registered for…’  Jenny nodded her head, ‘Yes. I am signed up for the Human Resources Management class. Sorry, I am late…’ and found her way to the learning pod at the end of the class. She felt somewhat embarassed at being late and being singled out for the attention of the instructor’s remark.

‘So…’ Shridhar continued from where he had interrupted himself when Jenny entered the class,’…the purpose of this course is not to make HR Vice Presidents of all of you, at the end of fourteen weeks. The purpose is to give you an idea of what HR should be doing, which more often than not it does not do. Of course, we will use the text, but, what will keep all of us awake as we sit through every Tuesday evening from 6.30 to 9.30 pm is if I get the opportunity to talk less, and, all of us get to hear a variety of voices as you participate…’

Jas who was sitting in the next to Jenny looked at Jenny and smiled. ‘…3 hours, too long…’ Jas wrote on a piece of paper and showed it to Jenny. Jenny nodded her head in agreement. In any case Jenny had switched off her mind. She was thinking of the car. Her car was giving starting problems in the morning, and, Rob, her live-in boyfriend of two yearss standing was away at his mother’s place, in Sudbury, for the week. What would she do if it did not start in the morning ? She had not renewed her CAA card, and, could not call CAA. Perhaps she would have to charm one of the young men in the parking lot to jump start it.

‘My name is Shridhar Raghuraman, and, since that is more than a mouthful for most of you, call me Shri,’ the instructor continued. ‘I have been teaching this course for six years now, and, teach it because it teaches me so much. You will be surprised at how many ideas I have picked up here which I implement at my day job with Axis Chemicals, where I head the Human Resources Department. At this stage, what I would like to know is the answer to three questions from each of you,

What is your name ?
Why are you here ? That is, what do you expect to get out of the next fourteen Tuesday evenings we will spend togethr ?
Have you had any Human Resources’ experience ? This is to help me identify, in advance, those of you will ask the difficult questions…’ Shri chuckled at his own little crack. No reciprocal response from the class. Most of them were still trying to figure out his accent.

Sam Blackwell sat in the middle of the class. He had never expected to have to learn from a Paki. What would a Paki know about Human Rights, in any case ? How could he teach Canadian law ? How could he talk about Human Rights ? Wasn’t he from a country where they practiced female circumsion ? He was fuming. Look at what is happening to Coxstown. All these Pakis swarming in, their smelly Paki food, their Paki music and those Paki churches…Sam stuck his booted shoe out in the most aggressive form of protest that he could muster, and, ran his hand through his short cropped hair.

‘Why don’t we start with you?’ Shri started, looking to Andrea who was beginning to open her text book as she sat in the first learning pod. ‘Fine,’ she said, and, started off, ‘I am Andrea Kostopoulos. I am here to complete my business diploma. I have no HR work experience…’ ‘Thanks Andrea, and, welcome to the class,’ Shri said.

Andrea Kostopoulos was followed by Gurmeet Brar, Sibhani Tharmarajah, Harry Delisle, Usman Mirza, Judy Peacock, Adriana Piccoli, Siva Sivasathamparan, Jasmeet Sodhi (call me Jassie, please), Nathan Goldmann, Kevin O’Connor, Sam Blackwell and fifteen others who made up the medley of communities that had come to be Coxstown in Ontario. The last to introduce herself was Jenny Freeman. Other than Adriana Piccoli who was doing the course to see if she wanted a career in Human Resources Management everyone else was there because they needed to complete it for the business management diploma. They had no choice but to take this course and the way they responded made it clear. No one had owned up to any Human Resources experience.

‘Let’s take a stretch break,’ Shri said, at the end of the introductions, ‘…and be back in five minutes…’

Jenny walked towards the exit, reaching for her pack of cigarettes. A few others from the class were also heading towards the exit, and, she recognized Kevin O’Connor. Kevin slowed down as he passed her, and, then they walked in tandem. ‘Hope he doesn’t keep us till the bitter end, 9.30 is quite late…’ Kevin said as they pushed the exit door. ‘Yeah, and, I hope my car starts. It’s been giving me trouble of late and my boyfriend is away,’ Jenny said, thinking of the world’s number one problem from her ringside seat. ‘Where do you live ?’ Kevin asked, ‘…I can give you a ride home, if you have a problem. More effectively, I have starter cables in my van and can jump start your car if it doesn’t start here…’ ‘…I live in the condo on Country Court Boulevard…’ Jenny said, thankful that some solution to the world’s number one problem seemed to be emerging. ‘Thanks for the offer. I may take you up on it…’ ‘Country Court Boulevard runs parallel to my street, Clarke Court Drive. My phone number is 898 567 2345. Call me at anytime if you have a problem. My girl friend may take the phone. Tell her to wake me…’ Kevin said, and, both of them stubbed out their cigarettes and walked back towards the class.

Sam Blackwell was debating within himself whether he should continue his racial degeneration by listening to the Paki instructor teach. Since he didn’t know what better to do, he just stomped back into the class making it clear what the message of his stomping boots was. For effect he looked at the Paki and ran his hands once again through his close cropped hair.

+++++++

‘…I am glad to see that most of you decided to come back…’ Shri started off. ‘…I shall presume that those who did not found out that they were in the wrong class and so they did not come back…Please note that I have to take attendance not so much to ensure your presence in the class, but, that is the only way the college knows that I have taken the class and will pay me…Unfortunately I take attendance after 8pm, so if you want to be marked present you will have to stay till then…’

Sam was getting furious with Shri’s supercilious humour. He had to say something. ‘Excuse me, but, can you tell me when the mid-term tests are ?’ Sam asked. ‘Good question. Tests are a necessary evil of the system we are in, and, I will deal with that in the next class…’ Shri said with a degree of pomposity which was his response to Sam’s Doc Marten boots and close-cropped hair. The stage was getting set for a good showdown between the two races. ‘I think it will help if we know the grading structure right up front…’ Sam was not going to let him get away. Shri was up to it, ‘…If that is your concern, please look at the course outline for now. Full details of the course evaluation process and exam dates are given there. If there is anything left to discuss we can talk about it after I have presented it in the next class…’ The class knew what was happening, and, they wondered how this would pan out. Surprisingly, Sam backed off. He knew that this was not a good enough fight to spoil for. He needed something more emotional to pick a fight on. He would wait his day. ‘Fine,’ Sam said and settled back to doodle.

Jasvinder, Jas,  watched this exchange and knew what was happening. From the looks of Sam he looked as if he had stepped out of South Africa just after they set up the truth commission under Desmond Tutu, and, was waiting to be allowed to strangle Shri, legitimately. Jas knew how difficult it had been for her father to teach in the all-white Seymour Collegiate where he had been a supply teacher for years after migrating to Canada in 1972. Jas was born in 1975, and, she would so often see her father waiting in the morning for the school to call him to stand in for a teacher who had taken the day off without notice. When the call came he would rush to answer the phone, and, on occasion when the caller at the other end heard her father’s Ludhiana accent they would disconnect, to call another teacher.  And when he did get a call, often the parents would complain that their children did not understand what the Paki teacher taught. Shri, seemed different. While his accent was not North American, it wasn’t straight off the boat from Trincomalee, either. Jas thought Shri was a Tamil running from the Tigers. In any case all these South Indian and Sri Lankan names sounded the same.

‘…Today’s class will be somewhat different…’ Shri’s voice brought Jas back to the immediacy of what was happening. ‘…Since you have not had the opportunity to read the text, I will take you to a slightly different level. In subsequent classes we will talk of the more operational aspects of Human Resources Management. Today, we will look at things from a more conceptual and historical level so that we understand how this function has come to be what it is today...'

Adriana’s cell phone went off and she sheepishly picked it up and slid out of the class. Shri was always bothered by students’ cell phones going off in the middle class, but, he never laid down a rule that they should switch them off. This was because he never switched off his. Smita would always call him on her way home from work, and, he always wanted to take her call. More than his wanting to take her call she would be grumpy when he saw her next if she missed talking to him on the way home.

‘…To understand where Human Resources is today I am going to take you back about 25,000 years in human history…’ Shri continued. Sitting in the third pod from the front, Gurmeet turned to Miriam sitting next to him and said, ‘…I thought we signed up for a course in Human Resources. This sounds like a history course…’ Miriam chuchled.

‘…Some twenty five thousand years ago a major event happened in human history that changed completely and totally the way men and women lived. Till that point of time, humans or homo erectus, lived as individual hunters, hunting for their own food, discovering ways of improving the taste of food by cooking it over a fire, and, mating to produce similar creatures…’ Kasha started searching in her English-Polish dictionary for the word homo erectus. Sounded like a bad word. Were instructors allowed to use such words in class ? Kasha continued fumbling with her dictionary.

Shri continued, ‘…around twenty five thousand years ago, humans moved from living as individual hunters to living in small groups, growing food, and, sharing what they produced. This gave rise to what came to be known as the village. A village started off as a group of huts set side by side, around perhaps a common piece of land, on which people grew vegetables, cereals and all that. After they had eaten and taken what they needed they had something left over which they used to get something else they did not have. Does anyone know what this process was called ?’

Jackie was beginning to listen to Shri. She had thought that Human Resources Management was all about rules and manuals. This guy seemed to be talking about something else…’…barter…’ Jackie said, and, Shri looked at her appreciatively for having broken the monologue. ‘…Thank You…that is correct…’ he said…

‘So, with the creation of the village and the barter system, humans found that needed something to regulate their behaviour. Who owned the barley that was grown in the patch of land behind my house ? And what was to happen if my neighbour took it away ? So, they formulated something called laws which controlled who owned what, and, what happened if you took something without the owner’s knowledge or permission. Unfortunately, women got included among the items of property and men set rules about what women should be doing. The more unfortunate thing is that trend for men to continue to decide what a woman does continues to circa nineteen ninety eight…’

‘What nonsense ?’ Sam said to himself. ‘Men set those laws because women needed protection…’ Sam quickly said to the class, chipping  in, and, sitting up straight. Shri was going to respond when he saw Jenny’s hand go up. ‘Yes…’ he said looking at Jenny. ‘Sorry. The idea that women needed protection is something that men created and went ahead with…’ Jenny said somewhat forcefully. Shri quickly cut in as he did not want this to become a debate on women’s issues. ‘…Both of you have a perspective you are coming from…the important point for the purposes of what we are talking is that laws evolved. These were the first laws to emerge, and, created a framework for social behaviour…’ Shri went on somewhat rapidly wanting to stop the potential conflict in the class from distracting the trend of what he wanted to say.

Neither Jenny nor Sam were happy with Shri’s intervention. They just sat back.

‘These events that happened twenty five thousand years ago were collectively called the Agrarian Revolution,’ Shri continued looking away from Sam and Jenny. ‘Remember the important developments of this period of time were the emergence of the village, the evolution of barter as a means of acquiring what you did not have, and, the earliest rules which they called about who owned what and what happened to someone who took something that belonged to someone else…’ Shri was tempted to say, ‘…including a person’s wife…’ but bit his tongue.

‘We shall now fast forward to the sixteenth century after Christ. A set of events happened in the period from the sixteenth to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that, once again, changed the way humans lived. These began with the discovery of the power of steam and the fabrication of Gutenberg’s printing press and so on. Does anyone know what these events were connected with ?’

Jackie was beginning to like the way things were going. She wasn’t as fatigued as she was when she came in. ‘…Industrial Revolution…’ she chipped in, her class participation still limited to two words.

‘…Thank you, once again…’ Shri said. ‘You are correct…The Industrial Revolution was what these events came to be called. And with the Industrial Revolution a new social institution, different from the farm developed. This was where the workers got together and ran the presses and made candles and cutlery and so on. Does anyone know what this place was called ?’

Jackie wanted to respond, but, did not want to get identified as the eager beaver student…Shri looked around for a few seconds, and, Jenny caught his eye. He stopped, did not say anything, but, Jenny knew he was waiting for her to answer.’…was it called a Factory ?’ Jenny asked somewhat tentatively.

Glad that this somewhat pale-looking girl had responded, Shri continued, ‘…Thank You…you are correct. Yes. It was the factory. The factory was a different social institution. No longer did the worker decide where to plant the crops. The factory owner decided where to locate the factory generally on the banks of a river so that they could bring in the raw materials and send out the goods they produced, easily. Instead of stepping a few yards to the farm land where they grew the crops, the worker now had to walk, sometimes a few miles to the factory. No longer could they take their extra barley or corn to their neighbour who had millet and tea extra, and, exchange the goods. Instead they were paid a wage for the hours they worked, and, were paid in coin, which they took to the market to buy what they needed. The world was changing, yet once again, but, it had taken a long time for it to change…And with the factory came the need to keep records, who worked, how long each person worked and how much they were to be paid. And that was the first real known need for a Human Resources Department…the need to keep records…’ and, Shri could just not resist saying, ‘…unfortunately five hundred years later that is what most Human Resource Departments still do, just keep records…’

The impact of what he said was lost on the class, but, Shri was happy with his turn of phrase.

Shri could sense the class getting restless though a few of those in the class were sitting up and listening. It was time for another stretch break. ‘…Five minute stretch break…’ he announced and walked towards the men’s room.

Jenny picked up her bag, felt it to make sure that her cigarettes were still there and moved to the exit. She looked at Kevin, asking him without saying so if he was coming. Kevin said ‘No..’ by shaking his head. He was cutting down his smoking. Gurpreet saw Jenny heading to the exit and joined her knowing that she was heading for a smoke. As they reached the exit, Gurpreet took out her phone and punched in a few numbers. ‘Be here in an hour…’ she said to the voice that picked up the phone, Sat, or Satnam Singh Gill, her paramour. She would leave the class at nine pm, feigning a headache and go for a spin with Sat, for an hour. Her parents had arranged her marriage to Joginder a few years ago. Joginder had come from the Punjab, all  ready and fired up to make life in the land of snow, and, raise a hockey team siring children through Gurpreet. After a few temporary jobs as a machine operator earning minimum wages in factories run by fellow countrymen he found himself at a loss. He had hoped to make it big.  That was not happening. Also, Gurpreet was not exactly the bashful virgin that he met at his uncle’s home in Chandigarh. She had several men friends from school days, and, this chap Sat seemed to be touching her a little too much when he dropped her off after college. Once he even saw him lean over and kiss her on the cheek. When he asked her about it Gurpreet dismissed it saying, ‘Oh! Sat…he’s cute…’ Joginder could not understand what was happening and why Gurpreet did not want to have chidlren. ‘Wait some time…’ she would say, everytime he wanted to make love to her, au naturelle…The cold was horrible, clearing the snow became his task after his father-in-law had a heart attack. Finally two years into the marriage, Joginder who always kept his hair worn long decided to go home for a holiday. It was two years since then and he had not written to Gurpreet nor had he returned. Within a few months of his leaving, Sat and Gurpreet were together every evening, and, since she did not want her parents to know, she always insisted that Sat come to college and be with her between nine and ten in the night when she had to go home. Needless to say that the back seat of Sat’s Toyota Camry saw some active use every time they met.

 
(May or may not be continued)