Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Slumdog madness

The Slumdog's had its day. Eight Oscars - two for A R Rahman! Most Indian news channels hailed it as the West's recognition of Indian cinema. There may be a slight misrepresentation there because Slumdog Millionaire is a British production with an Indo-British crew and an Indian star cast. While most showed clips of Rahman's "Mere paas ma hai" speech, I switched over to the 9 0' clock bulletin on NDTV, where anchor Sonia Singh connected with guest celebrities Gulzar (who shared the Oscar with Rahman for the song Jai Ho), Kamal Haasan (who has worked with Rahman on several movies) and of course, Shobhaa De. Why De was an obvious choice for the discussion, I'm not too sure. Singh referred to her as "writer and one of the first people to have watched the movie on a pirated DVD." Sure, watching a movie on a pirated DVD can be reason enough for you to be quoted on national TV. Are anti-piracy campaigners listening?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Jamshedpur: the first planned industrial city in India

Eisha Sarkar

The image of J R D Tata on a steel tube, a 225-acre park at the heart of an industrial township, lavas of molten steel, Raj-styled mansions with manicured gardens, golf events for 10-year-olds and the night sky that never turns black thanks to the glow from the blast furnace -- Jamshedpur seems to be caught in a time-wrap. India's steel capital is also its first planned city and allows for a lifestyle that many in Mumbai would want to afford. It may be a 30-hour train-ride away from Mumbai, right in the hinterland (Jharkhand), but it still has the highest per capita income in the country and a literacy rate of 82 per cent.

How to get there

Kingfisher Red operates two flights daily from Kolkata. The airport is rather modest and doesn't have facilities that you would find at bigger airports - namely a conveyor belt - so don't be surprised if porters pick up your luggage.

Trains are the better option. Tatanagar is an important railway junction on the South Eastern Railway and is connected to Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore.

You can also hire a car at Ranchi drive down through some of the densest and oldest forests in the world that lie on either side of the National Highway. It’s a three-hour drive but it’s advisable to avoid the darkness.

Tata all the way

The city was founded by Jamshedji Nusserwanji Tata remains the way he had envisioned it (well, almost). The city does not have a municipal corporation and all utilities are provided by the Tata group.

Besides Tata Steel and Tata Motors, other Tata concerns also have a presence here. The blast furnace and the smouldering mountain of slag (the remnant of the ore after iron is removed), located in the city's centre have turned into tourist attractions.

At the Tata Motors plant, you find how a truck is assembled in less than 40 minutes (the recession has decreased production by 80 per cent). And if that isn't exciting enough, a ride in one of them at 90 kph in a maut-ka-kuaan-like circular test-track will do the trick.

If you want a slice of history, the Centre for Excellence (designed by Hafeez Contractor) is the place. While it contains several artefacts pertaining to the city and its founders, it also boasts of the only collection of M F Husain's acrylic-on-glass works in the world. And of course, there's the surprise package: 'JRD on a steel tube.' (You need to be there to figure this masterpiece).

As for a place to stay, the Tata guesthouse is your best bet as it offers you a chance to live the imperial life.

Tribal zone

The Tribal Culturally Society (TCS) at Sonari is the gateway to a culture that few urban-dwellers know of. The 16-year-old TCS aims to better the weaker sections of the community by providing basic education (in some cases achieving even functional literacy is a very commendable task), clinics and preservation of tribal heritage that is almost on the brink of extinction.

The bust of Bhagwan Birsa Munda, the famed tribal leader who took part in the Revolt of 1857 against the British greets visitors to the entrance of the TCS museum. In the midst of marigolds stand two mammoth statues of Sidhu-Kanhu, who were freedom fighters.

TCS showcases the lifestyles of various tribal communities. There are 30 different tribes in Jharkhand, out of which only five are 'visible'. The four main tribes of the region are Santhals, Ho, Birhor and Munda.

The TCS museum houses a range of tribal artefacts - totkos that are used to harness oxen, wind instruments, a Birhor hut made of leaves (Birhor is a primitive tribe that inhabits the jungles of southern Jharkhand bordering with Orissa), terracotta figurines and even a jacket made of bamboo shoots. Also present are ornate masks worn by Chhau dancers.

Other attractions

Jubilee Park: A 225-acre park right in the centre of the city offers a wide range of attractions - zoo, a laser-cum-fountain show, flower shows, etc.

Dalma hills: It's home to a large elephant reserve. The best time to go there is October-March.

Dimna Lake: Nestling at the foot of the Dalma hills, it is an artificial reservoir and one of the main sources for the city's drinking water. The lake has facilities for water sports like jetskiing, rowing and water scooting.

Domuhani: The scenic confluence of Kharkai and Subarnarekha rivers. Domuhani, situated at the extreme north-west point of the city, is a popular picnic spot.

Food: While most hotels serve the regular Indian-and-Chinese fare, try local delicacies such as litti (made of sattu) with baingan ka bharta and mutton gravy. Also try out the local Bihari sweets such as Khaja and Thekowa. As for snacks, Fakira Chanachur at Bishtupur is the place.

The story has been published in Mumbai Mirror http://www.mumbaimirror.com/article/79/2009021720090217141348643e4ac0911/Jamshedpur-the-first-planned-industrial-city-in-India

The pen-killer

My graphotherapy story Write away your problems has been published on the Times Wellness website. Do check it out and let me know your comments.
Here is the link

Write away your problems

A few deft strokes of the hand can save you from a stroke. If graphologists are to be believed then the pen may be the key to solve all problems

Eisha Sarkar
Posted On Saturday, February 21, 2009

Your penmanship might be able to help you solve all that ails you – mounting credit card bills, that obnoxious colleague, the snoopy neighbour, the irritable partner, the irreverent child, the uncompromising mother-in-law and of course, the boss – that make your stomach churn and cause a heartburn.

Write to de-stress
Just a slight change in your handwriting can change you and your life. With stress becoming an inevitable part of urban lifestyle, an increasing number of people are taking to alternative forms of therapy to seek relief and reprieve from day-to-day pressures.

Dr Parag Khatri, a dentist started dabbling in this science since his school days. But it was only during his college years, did he start looking at it as more than just a mere hobby. The Andheri-based doctor, who presently is the director of World School of Grapho Education and Therapy says, “People are now more aware of the science and how it can help them in removing obstacles in their lives and overcome stress. By studying a person's handwriting, we can understand his personality traits. We identify the problem areas and then recommend certain writing exercises for a period of 30 days. If you sincerely do them, you will definitely see the change in you."

It's all in the mind
"Graphotherapy is a means of making conscious alterations in your handwriting in order to effect desired subconscious changes within yourself. This is a reversal of the normal writing process. It involves giving a reverse suggestion to your brain that will induce a permanent change in the individual. If there are multiple problems, we suggest multiple exercises that are concerned with changing the formation of just one letter at a time," explains Dr Khatri.

"People think if you change your handwriting, you can change yourself. That's not the way graphology works. You have to change and that change is reflected in your handwriting. It takes 21-30 days for new cells to grow in the body. You need to plant the seed for change and wait for it to grow during that period," says Oshiwara-based handwriting analyst Suman Kalra. Kalra, who started seven years ago 'when people still associated graphology with occult', now sees many people coming to her to find a way to control their anger and boost their confidence.

The pen goes 'cyber'
When Vashi-based journalist Vishwas Heathcliff decided to go beyond his weekly newspaper column Write Choice and started his own graphology blog last year, he was surprised at the response he got in cyberspace. In a few months' time Vishwas's blog was flooded with comments from people from all walks of life asking for tips to improve their handwriting (and, in turn, their lives) to inquisitive college students who wanted to take up graphology courses.

A small stroke goes a long way
For many, the simple art of writing has made a whole lot of difference. Some care exercised in the i's are dotted can ensure a good concentration. A slight alteration in the size of handwriting before studying, can help those whose mind fly away very between the lines. One Vikram Shah comments on Vishwas's blog: “Can you guess that improving handwriting can be so powerful that one can get a national award for his improved performance? I like and love my own handwriting. I have become patient and less aggressive, say my wife and children. They ask me how I changed so much over a small period of time. I got the Bhariya Udyog Ratna award recently for outstanding performances and innovative thinking.”

Figure 8 for stress-management
While Shah has managed to achieve much more than he had expected when he started his exercises, Vishwas himself is glad he had first taken up the course two years ago. "I used to be over-sensitive and would get angry very easily. I did the exercises and found that I had changed for the better. There is a special handwriting exercise in graphotherapy which helps one deal with stress and relax. It's called Figure 8 exercise. There is a theory behind the effectiveness of the exercise. It says:
The psyche is made of three parts: the id, ego and superego.
The id is reflected by the lower zone of small letters. The lower zone represents your unconscious needs (physical, material and sexual).
The ego is reflected by the middle zone letters such as a, c, e, i, m, n etc. Middle zone indicates our daily life.
The superego is seen in upper zone strokes such as b, d, and h.
While doing the exercise it has be ensured that proportions of the loops in figure 8 are equal. This ensures a balance between physical (lower zone), mental (upper zone) and emotional (middle) world. When there is a balance, we are at peace with ourselves.

As for those skeptics who don't believe in making those t's tall and crossing them high, Vishwas says, "Neither does it involve elaborate exercises nor does it cost a great deal of money. And at the end of 21 days, you lose nothing but some bad habits. So you may as well give it a shot."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

50 tips for a healthy heart...it's finally here

This piece for http://www.timeswellness.com/ was a challenge. It started off as a conversation with Elton. He told me that Times Wellness (it's a health publication from The Times of India group) editor had bounced off the idea of finding 50 tips for a healthy heart for the new microsite on heart. While they all liked the idea, Elton confessed to me that 50 was 'pushing it a little'. "I think 30 is the max you'll get." I asked him if I could give it a shot...I like challenges...the kinds where you have to really dig deep to unearth information. Elton obliged and I got started. The first couple of hours were easy - I found 26 at a stretch. I started again next morning. 34, 35, 36...things were getting more and more difficult now. After all, who compiles 50 tips for a healthy heart? You google 'tips for the heart', you will get 10 at a go that cover smoking, exercise, diet, weight loss and stress. I looked beyond general health sites to more specific kinds of medicine - allopathy, homeopathy, naturopathy, ayurveda and even yoga for some help. Once at 45, after almost six hours of endeavour, I felt like giving up. Man, where could I get five more from? I had exhausted all my resources....Then, brainwave happened - I started looking at age groups and health. Many sites list tips for women, kids, senior citizens, menopausal women, office executives...I browsed and browsed and soon I managed 49. The 50th took some time...but it finally came. And there I was after nine hours and 15 minutes sitting with a mammoth 6,000-word piece. I finally managed to trim it down to around 2300. It's finally up on the new site http://ms.timesofindia.com/ads/loveyourheart/50tips.html
or www.timeswellness.com/loveyourheart/stories.html
I showed it to a friend yesterday. He was surprised, "How the hell did you find 50?"
I replied, "A bit of a knowledge of science coupled with all the editing tricks I had in my bag and here you are."

Here it is:

50 tips for a healthy heart
Eisha Sarkar

You don't have to wait till forty before you start thinking of your heart and health. As Mark Twain said, "The heart is the real fountain of the youth." So we can look beyond the wrinkles on our face and try to reduce our stress. Have a heart... and take care of it. Here are 50 tips for a healthy heart:
1. Stop smoking: Quitting smoking is the single most important thing a person can do to live longer. If you are a smoker, you are twice as likely to have a heart attack than a non-smoker. But from the moment you stop smoking, the risk of heart attack starts to reduce. With public smoking bans recently introduced, there has never been a better time to give up.
2. Cut down on salt: Too much salt can cause high blood pressure, which increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease.
3. Avoid: Chips, salted nuts, canned and packet soups and sauces, baked beans and canned vegetables, pork pies, pizzas and ready meals.
4 Have a balanced diet: A healthy diet can help to reduce the risk of developing heart disease, and can also help increase the chances of survival after a heart attack. You should try to have a balanced diet, containing plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, oily fish, starchy foods such as wholegrain bread, pasta and rice.
5. Avoid: Biscuits, cakes, pastries and dairy products that are high in saturated fats and sugar.
6. Monitor your alcohol: Too much alcohol can damage the heart muscle, increase blood pressure and also lead to weight gain. Binge drinking will increase your risk of having a heart attack, so you should aim to limit your intake to one to two units a day.
7. Exercise: The heart is a muscle and it needs exercise to keep fit so that it can pump blood efficiently round your body with each heartbeat. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise daily. If this seems too daunting, start off gently and build up gradually. A brisk walk can get your heart rate up and give you a solid workout. The best exercise is the one you feel good about and can do over and over again.
8. Manage your weight: Carrying a lot of extra weight as fat can greatly affect your health and increases the risk of life-threatening conditions such as coronary heart disease and diabetes. If you are overweight or obese, start by making small, but healthy changes to what you eat, and try to become more active.
9. Keep a tab on your blood pressure: The higher your blood pressure, the shorter your life expectancy. People with high blood pressure run a higher risk of having a stroke or a heart attack. A blood pressure level of 140 over 90 mm of mercury or higher is considered high.
10. Get your cholesterol levels checked by your doctor: High levels of cholesterol in the blood – produced by the liver from saturated fats – can lead to fatty deposits in your coronary arteries that increase your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and diseases that affect the circulation. 11. Eat high-fibre foods: Porridge, beans, pulses, lentils, nuts, fruits and vegetables can help lower your cholesterol level.
12. Manage your stress levels: If you find things are getting on top of you, you may fail to eat properly, smoke and drink too much and this may increase your risk of a heart attack.
13. Check your family history: If a close relative is at risk of developing coronary heart disease from smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of physical activity, obesity and diabetes, then you could be at risk too.
14. Know your signs: Early detection of coronary heart disease can help in prevention of a serious heart attack. Tightness or discomfort in the chest, neck, arm or stomach which comes on when you exert yourself but goes away with rest may be the first sign of angina, which can lead to a heart attack if left untreated.
15. Cook: Use unsaturated vegetable oils such as corn, olive, canola, safflower, sesame, soybean, sunflower, or peanut oils for cooking.
16. Gluttony doesn't help: Eat smaller portions.
17. Avoid: A second helping of food.
18. Eat: More fruits and vegetables.
19. Hold off on angioplasty: If an angiogram reveals severe narrowing in more than two major coronary arteries, you will need bypass surgery. If blockages are less severe, immediate angioplasty is not a good idea. It triggers a heart attack in 1-2 % of patients.
20. Drink Tea: Green or black, tea's good for your heart. Adding ginger and cayenne to your diet can improve your circulation. A simple tea of ginger, a pinch of cayenne, lemon, and honey is a delicious remedy for improving your blood flow.
21. Reduce physical stress: While exercise is good, if there is underlying heart disease, too much physical stress can be dangerous. In a person who has coronary artery disease, for instance, exercise can place demands on the heart muscle that the diseased coronary arteries cannot meet, and the heart becomes ischemic i.e., starved for oxygen.) The ischemic heart muscle can cause either angina (chest pain), or a heart attack (actual death of cardiac muscle).
22. Drink: Add garlic to buttermilk and drink it twice a day. Garlic is very crucial and useful in controlling blood pressure.
23. Fenugreek helps: Wet fenugreek in water and store it overnight. Chew them the next morning on an empty stomach. This practice helps in lowering cholesterol and fat levels, which further reduce the chances of having a heart attack.
24. Follow breathing exercises: This exercise has beneficial effect on the functioning of the cardio-pulmonary system.
25. Pranayama: Breathing exercises enhance the functioning of the cardio-pulmonary system. Pranayama helps improve the oxygen carrying capacity of blood vessels.
26. Meditate: It is best way to get rid of your anxiety. Practising Transcendental Meditation technique twice daily for 20 minutes each is said to help lower blood pressure, reversing arterial blockage and enhance resistance to all types of stress.
27. Ginger's good: Consuming a small amount of ginger every day can prevent you from heart disease.
28. Listen to soothing music: Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore have shown for the first time that the emotions aroused by joyful music have a healthy effect on blood vessel function. Music, selected by study participants because it made them feel good and brought them a sense of joy, caused tissue in the inner lining of blood vessels to dilate (or expand) in order to increase blood flow.
29. Get your zzzs: Research studies have linked sleep deprivation to blood pressure problems, depression and other factors that increase the risk of heart disease. Ayurveda considers sleep just as important as diet in maintaining health. Practice good bedtime habits – favour restful, calming activities as bedtime draws near to help disconnect the mind from the senses. Keep your bedroom clear of distractions – television, computers, and work-related material. Stay away from stimulants in the evening.
30. Say no to drugs: Both cocaine and its derivative, crack, are powerful stimulants of the nervous system. Regardless of whether cocaine is snorted, injected, smoked, dissolved on the tongue or taken in various other ways, it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream to give the user a sudden surge of energy. It can cause over-stimulation of the heart, which could result in abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia). These abnormal heart rhythms can be fatal, leading in some cases to sudden cardiac death.
31. Control diabetes: People with diabetes are about 4-5 times more vulnerable to heart related diseases. This is because diabetes damages your heart blood vessels. Damage to heart blood vessels can cause strokes and heart attacks.
32. Sex is good: Regular sex can even keep your heart healthy and lower your risk of heart attack. Orgasms boost blood circulation, helping the body rid itself of harmful toxins. Sex uses every muscle group, gets the heart and lungs working hard, and burns about 300 calories an hour.
33. Snack on pista: Eating pistachio nuts every day can keep your health hale and hearty.
34. And chocolate has its benefits too: A study has found that eating a few squares of dark chocolate a day could help prevent problems with blood flow. Chocolate contains high quantities of antioxidants called flavonoids, which prevent the hardening of arteries. These benefits are not shared by milk chocolate though.
35. It's not all that fishy: If you are angling for ways to reduce the risk of heart disease, start eating a diet of seafood typically served up in Japan. Researchers have found that eating seafood like tuna, sardines, salmon and other fish, which contain Omega-3 fatty acids, on a regular basis can protect people from clogged arteries.
36. Guzzle coffee: Coffee lovers can drink up without fear of increasing their risk of heart disease, according to a major new study that found people could consume as many as six cups a day without upping their risk.
37. Reduce palpitations: Try breathing exercises or deep relaxation (a step-by-step process of tensing and then relaxing every muscle group in your body) when palpitations occur.
38. Laugh out loud: Laughter therapy or laughter yoga is one such natural way of beating stress. It is a meditative practice blended with simple exercises. It includes gentle yoga breath-in and breath-out exercises, stretching and rhythmic clapping, and chanting of 'ho-ho ha-ha' sound. This 'ho-ho ha-ha' sound later induces laughter.
39. Use a heart stress relief pillow: Clutch them to your chest and they vibrate with a special rhythmic heartbeat to calm your nerves.
40. Take adequate dosage of vitamin C: Long-term deficiency of the vitamin makes the body incapable of repairing blood vessels properly, resulting in large cholesterol deposits in the vascular system. This can cause heart disease. Doses of 5,000 to 10,000 mg of vitamin C per day can help prevent heart disease. Around 60% of the vitamin goes into making collagen for the repair of arteries and other cells.
41. Vitamin E is essential: A Cambridge study has found that Vitamin E reduces the risk of both fatal and non-fatal heart attacks by 47% and non-fatal heart attacks by 77%. Vitamin E is a generic term for a group of antioxidant compounds called tocotrienols and tocopherols. Studies have shown that antioxidant compounds protect the body from the formation of oxygen free-radicals – unstable oxygen molecules that can line the interior of blood vessels – thus restricting blood flow. The richest food sources of Vitamin E are vegetable oils, margarine, wheat germ, most nuts, and most vegetables, especially green, leafy ones.
42. Keep a tab on your calcium intake: Calcium deposits in the coronary arteries can cause blockages. Those over 70 years of age or with a known case of heart disease must avoid taking calcium supplements.
43. Aspirin helps prevent heart attack: If you're already at risk for heart disease, taking daily aspirin may reduce your chances of having a stroke or a heart attack as lowers your risk of getting blood clots. Blood clots can lead to a heart attack in people with heart disease. Clots can also cause heart attacks in people who have other problems that can lead to heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. However, do consult your doctor before starting aspirin treatment.
44. Cranberry cocktail: Add a glass of cranberry juice to your diet and reap the benefits. A study in pigs has found cranberry juice powder helps relax blood vessels clogged with high cholesterol and narrowed by atherosclerosis (or the hardening of the arteries).
45. Come out of the smog: It's bad enough that smog damages the environment, but did you know breathing in air pollution could also harden your arteries? New data is linking smog with cardiovascular disease. This is unfortunate for residents of cities. All the more reason to find other ways to keep your cholesterol level low and your arteries clear.
46. Pomegranate punch: Scientists report that pomegranate juice helped prevent fatty deposits from collecting on artery walls in mice. The juice also keeps human heart cells healthier by increasing nitric oxide production, which helps increase blood flow.
47. Grapefruit's a threat:Taking statins or other drugs for therapy? Watch out for that glass of grapefruit juice then as it could result in raising your blood pressure.
48. Drink red wine: Red wine contains resveratrol that is said to be good for your heart. Besides it contains other antioxidants that do a lot of good to your body. And if you don't like the alcohol, binging on grapes or grape juice can help too cut heart disease risk.
49. Avoid MSG in Chinese cooking: Cut monosodium glutamate aka ajinomoto in your diet as it can induce irregular heartbeat, atrial fibrillation and rapid heart beat (called tachycardia).
50. For menopausal women: Take oestrogens at the start of the menopause. It's believed that oestrogen increases the good HDL cholesterol and has a beneficial effect on blood vessels. Long-term treatment with oestrogen also protects against osteoporosis (brittle bones), senile vaginitis and fights depression.

To check out my other articles on http://www.timeswellness.com/, go to http://www.timeswellness.com/index.aspx?page=search&keyword=%20Eisha%20Sarkar&from=0

They're all listed there...happy reading!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Can someone find me a map of Baroda?

I have problems getting around Vadodara (I prefer Baroda somehow, so I shall stick to that). The streets of Baroda have no names. And if they do, not many use them. For someone like me who has stayed in Mumbai, where the authorities put in a lot of effort to name and re-name streets every year, this comes as a rude shock. I know the areas - Alkapuri, Sayajiganj, Racecourse Circle, Old Padra Road, etc but there's no way I can find a particular building without asking the locals for directions. Only the way to the station is obvious - just follow the direction Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar's statue points to.
I thought a map would help, but I haven't been able to find one I can use. When I told Elton about it, he suggested I go to my nearest desktop instead of a bookstore. "Check out wikimapia or google earth...it's all there, man. And it's better than what you get in the stores," he said. I reasoned, "For technologically-challenged people like me who want to explore the bylanes of a city like Baroda, I think I need a detailed printed map that I can show people if I am lost." Elton wasn't impressed. He prefers GPS on his phone.
I asked an uncle whether he could organise a map for me. After checking up with a few of his acquaintances he didn't sound too hopeful. He then tried his contact at the Vadodara Municipal Corporation. Yes, we could find a map of Baroda in the Corporation's diary. Only, it would be in Gujarati. What use is a map in Gujarati for someone who's new to Gujarat, I thought.
I then decided to try my luck at the Gujarat Tourism Corporation office at Narmada Bhavan. I called them up and a polite male voice told me that they would be really glad to provide me the maps and all other assistance I needed. I headed straight there. I was greeted by a woman receptionist who was more interested in the Gujarat Samachar than me. I asked her for a map of Baroda and she flinched. "We don't have maps of Baroda here. You can find them at any bookstore. We have a map but it is very small and not detailed. If you are ok with it, you can pay us Rs 10 and have it," she said. I didn't have much of a choice. Thankfully, she had a relatively detailed map of Gujarat in store. I purchased that too.
I then thought of checking out whether Umakant bookstore at Alkapuri would have them. On my way there, I stopped by a small bookstore near the railway station. "You will get maps on Baroda only in Raopura. Nowhere else," he said. Strange.On my way to Alkapuri, the driver stopped by another bookshop. He decided to check for himself this time - I had harassed him enough. He came back with a small booklet with Vadodara written in Gujarati. It opened up to a very well-detailed map of the city. The only glitch - it was in Gujarati. Still, I thought it was better to have a map in the local language than not one at all. It was a really good one and it cost just Rs 40, after all.
An architect-friend suggested I try out Landmark store near Inox (yes, malls are the landmarks here). Sure they had lots of maps - Ahmedabad, Gujarat, Mumbai, Rajasthan, Kerala, Goa, Bihar, UP, India, and even New York. But Baroda - again in Gujarati. I asked them for English maps. A salesman told me, "This year, for the first time a detailed map of Baroda had been published in English. But the publishers hadn't expected such a demand and we've had lots of orders pending. You don't see many tourists here so you don't expect people to buy maps. Most people who come visiting know someone here who takes them around." Seeing the disappointment on my face, he suggested, "You can buy a map of Baroda in Gujarati, if you want." No, I'll wait.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It's only me

I have had to fill up my voter ID form twice. There was a small aberration the first time - instead of my name the name that had been put in there was a combination of my first name and my husband's last. I still hold onto the name I had been born with on this planet aka my maiden name. No, I am not one of those pseudo-modernists who believe in latching onto notions of false freedom and individual identity. I hold no such fancies. My reason for holding on to my own name is rooted in reason. I have four different names on four different certificates. My school leaving certificate mentions me as Eisha Sarkar. I had to had my dad's name to get my Std XII certificate. I was officially Eisha Kumaresh Sarkar. Three years later, the university rules demanded I add my mom's name to my own. I came to be known as Eisha Kumaresh Sujata Sarkar. Now, the voters ID form says I should add my husband's name to it. My name would then read. Eisha Rachit Kumaresh Sujata Sarkar Mankad. Gasp!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Courting in Vadodara

Now, before you guys start rolling your eyes, let me make it very clear these are the tennis courts I am talking about. Much to the surprise of most Mumbaikars, Barodians get up at 5 am to drive down to their favourite club - The Maharana Pratapsinh Gymkhana aka Polo Club - for a round of tennis. Men wearing branded tennis gear and proper tennis shoes flaunt their Head and Wilson racquets as they take centre-court. The games start on all the three courts by 6.30 am. A series of matches - one after the other - till the opponents fall apart. There's not much room for practice. "And if your play is not upto a certain standard, you better not be here at this time, " I overheard a serious (read senior) player tell a rookie. It's a game that's worth the watch. Men turn into boys and indulge in shirt-pulling, punching and just pulling each others's legs. If you can't take it, you're lost. One Mr Kotak, a paediatrician (only doctors can think of getting up so early to play) is the butt of all the jokes. This guy's a newbie at Polo, but he knows his sport. He's the first one to arrive and warm-up in spite of the mosquitoes. He was even made to croak a song at a recent 'tennis club' party where he was ragged by his so-called seniors.

As for me, I've taken to the racquet too - to play badminton. Groupism also exists . Only, it's too early in the morning to take the form of politics. We play - just two or three of us (again novices to professional sport), before the 'seniors' come in and demolish the shuttle-cocks. We're on our way...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Let's not be donkeys

Most of us would like to believe that our future will be brighter than our past. We set our benchmarks in the past for our future but we completely forget about the present. It's easier to think than act. Thoughts don't count, actions do. It's easier to complain about what had happened instead of doing something that can make things happen. Vishwas talks about this emotional baggage from the past. Emotion is a big word - its weighs down on a person's mind. We all like our bags and want to keep them close - keep a watchful eye on them, lest someone may find out what we want to hide. What me may not know is that the bags are simply not worth the trouble. That we should let go off them, even as we want to latch on to them with the tips of our fingers.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Mom’s the word

This piece on my mother has been selected to be published in a book titled My Mother. The book invites entries from authors around the world and is an effort to pitch for the Guinness World Records for the largest collaboratively authored book written on mothers. The story is available online http://www.my-mother.net/

By: Eisha Sarkar

Her mother was not ordinary, nothing about her is either. With doses of humour she keeps spirits high. Her mom was an extraordinary achiever, who definitely was her daughter’s best friend.

I don't have a sad story to tell. I got married last month and for the first time in my life, I've had to live away from my mother, Sujata. I didn't shed a tear the day I saw her board the train, leaving me behind in a new city with a new family - my in-laws. I told myself I shouldn't cry. And I didn't because she didn't. She just smiled as she bid me farewell from the door. The effort behind that smile wasn't ordinary. Nothing about her is really. Certainly not her strength.

If raising two kids in a middle class family in India wasn't tough enough, mom decided to move out of her role of a homemaker to teach schoolchildren. At the age of 34, she would take a public transport bus along a potholed road (that was quite a ride!) to a remote school to teach differently-abled children. She brought a smile to their faces when she alighted from the bus each morning and walked to her class. The smiles weren't any different from what my brother and I had on our faces when we would come home from school everyday to find her waiting to hear what we'd been doing all day.

What I have inherited from my mother, apart from her genes, is her sense of humour. It is what gives her strength and makes her the person she is. She wears it like the sacred gold necklace that most Indian wives wear. She uses it well to haggle with a vendor over the prices of vegetables. She laces it with sarcasm as she fends off a persuasive salesman or telemarketer ("Yes, I need a credit card. Can you please put in some cash as well in my account? That would be really nice of you," she says.). She spices it up with just the right dose of gossip to make a boring conversation interesting. And she caresses me with it to brighten up a really dull day.My mom is an extraordinary achiever, though she's led a rather ordinary life. She aced in studies but didn't take up a career because she wanted to devote her time to her two kids. Once she knew we were well-grounded, she took to teaching. She would have done well if she had taken up a government or a high-profile corporate job too. I could never understand why she didn't. Maybe because of the satisfaction she got out of teaching. I met some of her students recently who remember her long after she'd stopped teaching them. She had taught them the alphabet. How could they ever forget her?
Once I had asked her, "You've been such a good student. But you haven't put it to much use. What have you achieved?" She just smiled and said, "You and your brother."

I wouldn't have been a writer if it wouldn't have been for her. If she hadn't accidentally discovered it, she would have never known my secret love for journalism. I didn't have the confidence to write publicly. She gave me the confidence and the reason to write ("Write what you would want to read and then think of others," she had said.)
My school principal had once advised, "Treat your best friend as your mother and treat your mother as your best friend." Fortunately, I haven't known any better.