Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Panja, Kamal aur Indira

It's voting day in Gujarat tomorrow and I am still not sure who I shall vote for. One thing is certain, though, I'll definitely cast my vote. Having voted twice in Mumbai - once for the national elections and once for the Assembly elections, I do enjoy the process of choice. It's not so much as the right to vote as it is the right to choose. I chose to wake up early in the morning, chose to queue up in the line, to choose the candidate I thought would make for a better leader. If I were given a choice, and heaven forbid if there were more elections in the year, I would have still exercised my choice. But this time, I don't know whom to choose. If the candidates in Mumbai were vaguely familiar, the ones in Vadodara are simply categorised as 'For Modi' or 'Against Modi'. And Modi's not even contesting from here! But I hope to make a choice before my turn comes up to punch a button on the electronic voting machine.

I asked my cook Rangaben who she would vote for tomorrow. She said she wouldn't vote - it was too much of a hassle. We manage to get her to promise that she would at least give it a shot. She agreed. When I asked her again who she'd vote for, she showed me her hand. "Hamesha se panja ko hi kiya hai. Indira ko." Indira??? I cried, "Indira toh hai hi nahin!" She said that she liked Indira and she knew that Indira had died a few years ago and that Indira's family still had something to do with the government.

I asked her why she wouldn't vote for the kamal (aka BJP). She said that she preferred the strength of the panja though most of her neighbours were keen that they vote the BJP in. She told me that if the BJP would come to power the price of one kilo of rice would be just Rs 5. "Aapko kaise pata chala?" "Arre, paper mein nikla hai," my unlettered cook told me. I asked her which paper. She said someone had told her it had come out in the paper. That's it! "And how much will rice cost f the Congress comes to power?" She had no clue. But if she votes, she'll vote for the hand for sure.


Elton has started his own photography website I've always loved his photographs (hence, I got him to shoot my wedding and engagement pictures) and I'm sure you'll enjoy them too. Take a look...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How far will you go for the love of your life?

A friend of mine recommended that I take this quiz on Facebook. Like all other quizzes, this too was weird. I had to rate a few things I would do for the person I love - jump off a bridge, take a bullet, run naked on a street, get a tattoo, fight Superman, etc. I took the quiz to humour myself (like most journalists do in-between editing stories). But then it set me thinking...

Years ago, while sipping coffee at the St Xavier's College canteen, I had asked a friend, "How far will you go for the one you love?" My friend shook his head. "This question is irrelevant. I have never fallen in love or been with somebody." I prodded, "Well, if you were to fall in love, how far would you go?" "I think if you love someone, you should do everything it takes to make the person happy, safe, secure and loved. There's no point getting into a relationship without giving it all you have," he said. I was surprised by his response. My friend was known to be funny and jovial. That was the first time I had a glimpse of his intensity and seriousness.

After taking this quiz, I asked another pal the same question. His answer was very different. "Depends on what kind of support I have - the way one tyre supports the other in a two-wheeler. If it does not, instead of a drive or a ride, it becomes a drag." My friend did have a point. If you've got to run, you may as well be running together (or riding together, shall we say?)

I googled the answer to this question. On the Yahoo Answers page I got:
  • "As far as life will allow me to go..."
  • "Not very far. Six feet underground"
  • "sacrifice my happiness for his"
  • "I won't compromise my morals or ethics, but since she loves me back, she wouldn't ask me to. Other than that, anything for her."

But this one's my favourite on
"Depends what book you are reading - if you are reading the Bible then it is until death do us apart. If you are reading a bestseller then probably until you are bored. Trouble is that most people today would rather bail than stick with it through the rough patch's - for those of us that are left behind it proves one thing - we took our vows seriously. Look at my case not only was I left behind, but so was a child - all in the name of love."

Speaking of me - I don't know. I'm extremely short sighted and the closest I have come to 'going far for my love" is giving him my life. I'll definitely fight Superman for him and I may take a bullet too (painfully!) and I may overcome my fear of heights and jump off the bridge too, but running naked on the street... aah, I'll see when it comes to that!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wake up, sleepwalker

Eisha Sarkar

Posted On Times Wellness on Sunday, April 26, 2009

Book Review: Awareness - The Key to Living in Balance

Author: Osho

Publisher: St Martin's Griffin

Like all other Osho books (which are usually a compilation of all his speeches at lectures and seminars), Awareness also is not a systematic guide to attain enlightenment. In fact, it just strays from one topic to another, interspersed with anecdotes by Osho and references to the ancient Persian folk character Mulla Nasruddin's spiritual experiences to enable the reader to understand the need for awareness – the quality of being awake and present to the moment.

Osho quotes philosophies of Lao Tzu, Zen and Buddha, who believed that most humans simply sleepwalk through their lives and are never present in what they are doing. Osho notes that George Gurdjieff said that man, as he exists, is a machine and it is only by creating awareness from within us, will we become human. “Awareness is the difference between life and death... Physiologically you can be kept alive in a hospital, without any consciousness. Your heart can go on beating and you will be able to breathe... If this is life, you can be kept alive... but just to vegetate is not life at all.”

He delves into the mind – the conscious, the unconscious, the superconscious and the super superconscious – and how it can never be silent and how there is a state called the ‘No-mind’ that can be attained through meditation. He talks of how you should be ‘awake’ even while you sleep and do away with you dreams. He tells you to be conscious of your activities – “when you eat you should just eat, not talk”. He spells out how shirshasan or standing on your head as a form of exercise can harm your brain due to the increased blood flow. He says that religion works like drugs and can be addictive as well as destructive. “If people are taking marijuana, LSD, and more refined drugs, naturally they're not going to be religious as religion is a very primitive drug. Hence all religions are against drugs.”

He talks a lot on many subjects, almost randomly, making you feel like you are heading in no particular direction. However, it is only after reading the book and assessing it in total, do you find that he is actually directing you to go inward. Through all the randomness, that he presents in the form of words, he stresses on only one thing – awareness – of who you are (without the baggage, the past you carry and the future you believe in), and what you are doing at this moment and how conscious are you of that. “The first step in awareness is to be watchful of your body. And, as you become aware, a miracle starts happening: many things that you used to do before simply disappear. Your body becomes more relaxed, your body becomes more attuned.”

Friday, April 24, 2009

A billion dreams

By Eisha Sarkar
Posted On Monday, April 27, 2009 on Mumbai Mirror at 06:19:03 PM

Book Title:
Slumdog Millionaire (previously published as Q&A)
Author: Vikas Swarup
Publisher: rbooks (The Random House Group)
Price: Rs 268
Pages: 382

If Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire hadn't gone on to win the Oscars, former Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup's book, Q&A would not have received the kind of worldwide recognition it has now. But blame the marketing for that because the book's a must-read, even if you've watched the movie. And thankfully, Boyle's script is an adaptation, not a mere copy of the book.

The game show's there (Who Will Win A Billion?), but the questions are different. Unlike the movie, the book's not about, "What does it take to find a lost love?" It's about Ram Mohammed Thomas' life that comes into focus only after he gets 12 questions correct on the quiz show to win the moolah. The producers suspect foul play and Thomas is brutally slung in a prison cell. There's no way slumdweller Thomas could have known who Shakespeare was or the name of Mughal empress Mumtaz Mahal's father, the show's producers say.

A woman presents herself as Thomas' lawyer and takes him home with her. He then starts recounting the events in his life that were key to the answers of all the questions on the show.

Through the book, Swarup drives home an important point - that knowledge can be gathered from sources other than literary, that education isn't just about academics or books and that just a basic curiosity about things around you can make you more knowledgeable than most college graduates.

Much like the film, the book exposes the underbelly of India. But unlike the movie where long camera shots and still images were superimposed to show the dark side of Mumbai, Swarup doesn't delve much on imagery. He simply moves from one description to another - robbery and murder on a train, children crippled to make them beggars, arrogant foreigners oppressing their servants, brothers who pimp their sisters in brothels and rich women who disown their own kids in modern Indian society - in a matter-of-fact manner. Bad things happen here, but does anyone care?

Strangely, the book is as much about ignorance as it is about knowledge. It's about the fine line that divides the rich and poor and how each side is ignorant or even apathetic to the needs and wants of the other.

What really makes the book interesting is the end, when you find out why Thomas actually came on the show. It's different from the film, well, almost. Reading the book is an adventure in itself. It's racy, colourful and with just the right dose of spice that makes it brilliantly entertaining. It's a winner.

Whether Swarup will be able to live up to it in his latest novel, Six Suspects, you'll have to wait to see.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why couch potatoes live longer

Eisha Sarkar
Posted On Times Wellness on Thursday, April 23, 2009

Book Review: The Joy of Laziness
By: Peter Axt and Michaela Axt-Gadermann
Publisher: Orient Paperbacks

In many ways, The Joy of Laziness is a revolutionary book. While the title does its bit to grab your attention from the corner of a bookrack in a store, the first few lines of the authors' introduction prod you to read further. Before you know it, you are well into the first chapter and you are very sure that there is no way you will be putting this book down until you finish the last page.

In their bid to make people understand 'why life is better slower and how to get there', authors and health researchers Peter Axt and Michaela Axt-Gadermann literally shake the cartful of health guides propunded by nutritionists, physiologists and health and fitness experts worldwide.

Fatal fitness

You think keeping an intense fitness regime will help you live longer? "Not," scream the authors as they pull out cases of excellent athletes who died of heart attacks at the relatively young age of 60. They cite the example of Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong who had to fight cancer at the young age of 25 years, in spite of having a tough fitness regime. "The dose makes the poison," the authors say as they advise readers to exercise moderately (and try peripatetic meditation) instead of over-exerting themselves and causing the body to release chemicals that may be harmful in the long run. That explains why most centenarians have been generally lazy and couch potatoes are likely to live longer than most of their active counterparts.

Dangerous diets

Do you think eating five small meals a day is healthy? Once again, the authors refer to scientific data that shows that burning your energy reserves to digest food is certainly not a wise thing to do. Instead, they suggest, eat fewer calories everyday and even fast a whole day each week. The body's geared up for the low-calorie intake and fasting can kill even cancer, they suggest, citing that all major religions - Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism - advocate such rituals. When God's on your side, can anything really go wrong?

It's all in the head

And you don't have to worry about putting too much effort to relax those tense muscles that can literally be a 'pain in the neck'. All you need to do is just 'imagine' that the knots are getting unwound to feel better. Nothing can beat human imagination after all.

Quoting various research works, the authors put forth suggestions that would help people live longer, healthier lives. The basis of these suggestions is the theory of metabolism (life energy), first introduced by Max Rubner, a German physiologist in 1908, who determined that every organism is provided with a limited amount of life energy and when it's used up, life simply ends.

The suggestions the authors make in this book are meant for healthy individuals and not for pregnant women, kids or people who suffer from certain disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. The rest too, should make their choices accordingly and with some opinion from their doctors, if necessary.

In conclusion

While the authors have tried their best to quote from a variety of research sources (as described in the Endnotes) and statistical data (in the Appendices), to prove their point, the question will remain on how many sources have been withheld or left unquoted simply because they did not favour the writers' point of view. There are a lot of scientific data that back many of today's popular health and fitness formulae, therefore they can't be simply discarded just on the basis of what this book suggests. The authors here have derived their views from just a single theory and that you must in mind while referring to this book for solutions to health problems.

However, the book makes for a very good read. It is racy, almost unpredictable, entertaining and yet factual and it demolishes some of the most popular beliefs with respect to health and fitness. The authors have thoughtfully put BMI, calorie and weight tables and listed recommendations for vitamin dosage at the end of the book, giving readers adequate reasons for regularly referring to the book.

So curl up on the couch with this book, slow down your biochemical processes and do your bit to live longer.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I will tie you up and put you into this garbage bag

For years, the image of being gagged and forced into a large black garbage bag has haunted me. I am not too sure if I see myself in the picture. It's just a blur. But the garbage bag comes to me from memory.

I must have been about five (in second standard), when my Maths teacher in Delhi had shown me the bag. She had barged into the classroom during my class teacher's period and had shouted out my name. Someone had complained to her that I had used an abusive word. I explained that I had repeated only what I had heard from some of the 'big boys' at school. She wasn't impressed. That I had an explanation for my 'sin' got her even more angry. She went out and brought back a huge garbage bag. I could have fit into that one then. She waved it at me and said, "If I ever hear any complaint about you using a bad word, I will tie you up and put you in this garbage bag." I looked at the bag as tears rolled down my cheeks. I shook with fear as I thought how my parents would find me if I were put into that bag.

The episode soon became history. I was a good student and was never scolded by any of my teachers again. But the garbage bag remains in my memory. The urgency with which I do things, tackle problems, very few can understand. It's not just about the problem that lies in front of me. It's the bag that I don't want to get close to, lest it suck me in. Most of the battles I have fought in my mind, could have been avoided had my teacher taken the pains to sit me down and explain to me the meaning of the cuss-word I had used (it was 'ullu ka pattha').

I am glad that Vishwas has picked the subject of corporal punishment in schools in his new article. My mom was the junior headmistress in a school and she would complain about how teachers nowadays are so impatient that if they can't control students, they simply refer some 'troublemakers' to counselling or suggest they move to a different school. It's time schools start screening teachers.

Monday, April 20, 2009

What do you do when you lose your country?

The question has been playing on my mind since a conversation I had with Kati a few months ago. Kati's German. Kati was born in East Germany - that was when East Germany was a nation overrun by Soviet troops. Kati's dad was in the East German air force. The town they lived in (I don't recall the name) was close to one of the country's major air bases. Obviously, its inhabitants were connected to the force, in some way or the other.

Then on November 9, 1989, the Wall in Berlin came down, signalling the unification of Germany as a single country. While people rejoiced in the streets of Berlin, residents of Kati's town were not too sure of what happened. There was an air of disbelief, as they saw the clouds of uncertainty.

Kati, who was barely six at that time, remembers they no longer had to wake up really early in the morning to queue up for hours outside a ration shop for a couple of bananas and an orange. That was good. Now, the new German forces would deliver them their daily bread.

But not everything was good. The East Germans had lost their country. They did not have an identity anymore. They no longer existed on paper. Their degrees, university qualifications, passports, identity proofs were all derecognised. They lost all their jobs. Millions of them.

Those like Kati's father who worked with the forces were left out in the cold. Thankfully, Kati's mom was allowed to work as a doctor after she finished a short medical course. Kati's dad could have joined the united Germany's armed forces, but he would have had to start from scratch. He didn't want to do that. He started doing some odd jobs for survival and later opened his own business.

Kati says her dad's never been the same again. He just does it because he has to have a job. All he wanted to do was wave out to fighter aircraft that it was ok to take-off. That was his big responsibility and he loved every day of his job as an air force officer.

For Kati, the change didn't affect her much as she had just started school. Yes, she'd missed out on Walt Disney in her younger years (only Russian cartoons were telecast in East Germany), but she managed to catch up on Backstreet Boys and American music later in life.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

When you havta move, you gotta move

A friend of mine had to move from America's east coast to the west after her husband lost his job thanks to the recession (and found a new one). Here's her account on how the last thing you need are 'too many options' when all you want to do is just move lock, stock and barrel

Like a few others in America affected by recession, we too lost a job in January, but thankfully a new opportunity aligned relatively sooner for us. The new destinations was San Diego, city of the beaches, very pretty weather and hence very pretty and fun everything else. It had just snowed 4 inches here in DC the night before, when we got this news about the new job. The snow still thickly settled on our car hoods and on the grass with a persistent dull and cold weather. The news was honestly a relief. We’d soon be seeing the sun almost every day! I was totally looking forward to it. But we had to move!! Although we were excited, the ‘move’ almost was a nightmare, an experience in itself. We had about nine days to wind up things here before we started work there. The time seemed good enough initially to be able to sort everything but just until we got started.

One good and bad thing both at the same time about this country is the variety of options one has for practically every single thing. If you go to the general store all by yourself for the first time here, you are most likely to call a local to ask what’s what and if you don’t know anyone, better hit the internet first. You have a minimum of ten options for every single item, including potatoes. Let’s take a basic example - milk. You can choose from 1% fat, 2% fat, reduced fat, half milk, whole milk, skimmed milk, vitamin A milk, chocolate milk, and ah of course there’s always fat free milk, mother of god! How ever am I supposed to guess what to get when I first step in there? And all these are available under two to three brand names. Ever heard of these back in India? Life’s so simple I feel out there, Cow’s milk, Buffalo’s milk or pasteurized dairy milk. You prolly even know what each one means of your own without dependency on technology or anything else. Things like these make India so different from other countries I guess. It’s less complicated or less ‘systematic’ if you chose to say and sometimes they both mean the same! I have mixed feelings about our country racing in that direction too now. We are probably losing what makes us, us! But that is a long debatable issue I am sure.

Anyway coming back to the move. Now that we had in all about nine days to sort it out, we began reverse planning. We had to begin work by Monday and we’d need about three to four days to search and freeze on an apartment before that, so we’d need to reach there by about Thursday. That left us with five days back here! Of these five days three days we’d be spending on the internet and on the phone. Although out of context, one interesting observation: If you want to really nail down America someday, devoid them of internet. There’s nowhere they’ll go. They wouldn’t know what to do and where to go without it. And living in America it applies to all of us living there, so we began looking for apartments online and we looked for movers, for rental cars for our local commute there, for hotel deals to stay put for a few days during the apartment search etc.

Now here’s the thing, as we looked for movers, our options kept increasing, like I said before, OPTIONS. The more we looked the more options we found. We could higher professional movers and packers who’d do it all while we sit and watch but that was turning out unaffordable. We had other options of either getting movers while we packed all the stuff ourselves or sell everything on ‘craigslist’ (the all in one website of America) and drive across the country ourselves and save on all the shipping costs or just sell the big furniture items and ship the smaller boxes using ups or usps, the US postal services and of course permutations of these options. We could haul the furniture and the car on a rental trailer, a popular service here called u-haul. But who knew how to drive such a long truck? It was too risky especially with the long distance we had to cover. All soaked in calculating and comparing to opt for the most economic option, we were tired and wired, totally confused with three full days, morning to night of all this research and with our deadlines racing closer we had to finally decide on something and just stop looking for more. Just then we came across this one more option called ‘u-pak’ where they’d leave a pod or trailer depending on the quantity and size of your goods outside your house for three days and you can load and unload it yourself while they’d do the transportation. We called them to get a quotation for the move and fortunately and finally it turned out to be one of the affordable and convincing alternatives.

So on the fourth day, a Tuesday, by noon we made our decision and asked them to leave a pod outside our house and we’d ship the car separately. Well all the actual work was yet after this when we had to begin packing and thereafter load the pod all by ourselves. In our in between breaks we’d look at apartments online and call up their leasing offices to enquire about vacancies, rates and if they had any specials running. ‘Specials’ are some sort of discounts they offer to lure tenants. They’d quote a certain monthly rate with a minimum one year lease and say first entire month free or say 20% off on the first two months etc. We had a short list of apartments before reaching there that’d save us some time. By now we were running one day behind schedule and also running in and out of the house packing our furniture and boxes in the pod. In about 18 to 20 hours we managed to have it all set to go by Thursday. I’d say we did great in that much time! Assembling things inside required a little skill as we had to take care nothing flew around crashing and dashing the other things while on its way across 3000 miles.

Finally we flew down on Friday; all exhausted we were literally snoring throughout the flight. We stayed in a hotel for about three to four days while looking for apartments and exploring San Diego in our ink blue rental Mazda. Four days later our pod arrived and thankfully everything was intact. We chose an apartment that was not on the shortlist and we happened to come across this one on our way to some place else. With a little broken back one week after unloading the pod, I sit here on the deck of our condo that has a nice view of the pool and the canyon beyond, the sun is shining nice and bright and I sort of relish the sweet n sour memories of the move we had to make in that cold. It was fun though!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Jamnagar: Royal Rendezvous

Eisha Sarkar
Published in Mumbai Mirror newspaper dated April 29, 2009
Posted on on April 15, 2009

Blessed by Lord Krishna, developed by cricketer Maharaja Ranjitsinhji and ‘oiled’ by the late Dhirubhai Ambani -- there’s much on the platter that Jamnagar in Gujarat has to offer to weary travellers

It’s not just the Reliance oil refinery and Ranji cricket Jamnagar’s known for. Yes, Ekta Kapoor's K-serials have done much to make the place popular, but nothing can prepare a traveller for what this port city on the coast of the Gulf of Kutch has on the offer. There are palaces, temples, maidans, walled bazaars, brassware units, museums, lakes and forts. Then you discover the solarium (the only one in the world), marine national park at Pirotan (the only one in India) and cremation park – places you wouldn’t find elsewhere...

How to get there
By rail: The Saurashtra Mail and the Saurashtra Express run between Jamnagar and Mumbai. There's the Inter City between Jamnagar and Ahmedabad too, besides several trains to Dwarka.
By air: You get daily flights to Mumbai.

Imperial town
Historically known as Nawanagar (the new city), Jamnagar was one of the most important princely states of Saurashtra. According to the ancient Puranas, Lord Krishna had established his kingdom at Dwarka, now in Jamnagar district, after his migration from Mathura and it is to this great Yadava race that the Jams of Nawanagar trace their descent.
The founder of the princely state of Jamnagar was the Jam Rawal, who came to the northern coast of Kathiawar from Kutch in 1535 AD. The city was built up substantially by Maharaja Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji in the 1920s.

Palaces... everywhere!

Dabargadh, the old royal residence of Jam Sahebs reflects the fusion of Rajput and European style of architecture. The semi- circular palace complex consists of a number of buildings with very fine architectural features such as stone carvings, paintings, jali-screens, ornamental mirrors, jharokha balconies, carved pillars and sculpture. The earthquake in 2001, had caused significant damage to the structure.

The Pratap Vilas Palace in the heart of the city is steeped in history and rooted in cricket. The Victoria Memorial-like structure was the Jam Saheb's (that's what Maharaja Ranjitsinhji was to his people) official guest house. It was at these palace grounds he hosted one-wicket cricket tournaments followed by elaborate 20-course lunches with cricketers such as Vinoo Mankad, Salim Durrani .

The Lakhota Fort is an 'island palace' right in the middle of the Lakhota lake at the centre of the city. The palace once belonged to the Maharaja of Nawanagar. This palace has semi-circular bastions, turrets, a pavilion with guard-rooms housing swords, gunpowder flasks and musket loops. An arched stone- bridge with balustrade connects the Lakhota Palace with the town.

It is believed that there was an underwater tunnel that enabled the kings to escape from Jamnagar into the Kutch. Today, the palace houses a small museum that has a collection of sculptures from the 9th to 18th century. The museum is reached by a short causeway from the northern side of Ranmal Lake and is open daily except on Wednesdays.

The lake's also a haunt for avid birdwatchers as it plays home to hundreds of migratory ducks and geese that come here from Central Asia.

Willingdon Crescent
The impressive Willingdon crescent was constructed by Jam Ranjits, inspired by his European journey. It comprises arcades of cusped arches. The statue of Jam Saheb is situated in the centre of the crescent.

Sun-bathing for therapy

The solarium on the M P Shah Medical College campus was built on the initiative Ranjitsinhji who happened to have got the idea after a visit to the solarium in Paris. It was designed by a French radiologist, Dr Jean Saidman, and was operational from 1934.

Known as the Ranjit Institute of Poly-Radio Therapy, the solarium is 40 feet tall and the 10 treatment rooms are located in the rotating top section, which is 114 feet long and takes an hour to rotate fully. Maximal light exposure can be ensured by rotation.

"Some of the treatment rooms were equipped with filters which allowed through only rays of wavelengths considered suitable for the various diseases treated here. The lenses concentrated the light to two and a half times its natural intensity. The patients had to stay in the room for a stipulated period of time to get the full benefit of the treatment," says radiologist Dr Neela Baxi, whose father Dr K Baxi was the first Indian radiologist employed at the solarium.

A detailed photographic library provides before and after views of people treated for various conditions including, tonsils, sty, lymphoid hyperplasias, tuberculosis, leprosy and several skin conditions.

The solarium no longer works because most of the lenses and concentrators were broken during the Gujarat earthquake in 2001.

Tid-bits for travellers
1. There's a lot to see in Jamnagar and places nearby such as Dwarka, so plan your trip accordingly. Pirotan, Rosi and Bedi ports and Khijadia Bird Sanctuary nearby make for good picnic spots.

2. Jamnagar is known for its Bandhini sarees, kachoris, masalas and brassware items.
3. Cricket is not just a sport but a culture here. People actually debate over the choice of shots used in Saurashtra versus Mumbai Ranji matches in the wee hours of the morning.
4. You won't see the sea at Jamnagar. Yes, it is a port town but the port is three kilometres away.
5. The summer's too hot, so the best season for travel is between October and March.

Friday, April 10, 2009

When All You Have Left Is Your Pride

Look around you. On the train platform, at the bus stop, in the car pool lane: these days someone there is probably faking it, maintaining a job routine without having a job to go to.

The Wall Street type in suspenders, with his bulging briefcase; the woman in pearls, thumbing her BlackBerry; the builder in his work boots and tool belt — they could all be headed for the same coffee shop, or bar, for the day.

“I have a new client, a laid-off lawyer, who’s commuting in every day — to his Starbucks,” said Robert C. Chope, a professor of counseling at San Francisco State University and president of the employment division of the American Counseling Association. “He gets dressed up, meets with colleagues, networks; he calls it his Western White House. I have encouraged him to keep his routine.”

The fine art of keeping up appearances may seem shallow and deceitful, the very embodiment of denial. But many psychologists beg to differ.

To the extent that it sustains good habits and reflects personal pride, they say, this kind of play-acting can be an extremely effective social strategy, especially in uncertain times.

“If showing pride in these kinds of situations was always maladaptive, then why would people do it so often?” said David DeSteno, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston. “But people do, of course, and we are finding that pride is centrally important not just for surviving physical danger but for thriving in difficult social circumstances, in ways that are not at all obvious.”

For most of its existence, the field of psychology ignored pride as a fundamental social emotion. It was thought to be too marginal, too individually variable, compared with basic visceral expressions of fear, disgust, sadness or joy. Moreover, it can mean different things in different cultures.

But recent research by Jessica L. Tracy of the University of British Columbia and Richard W. Robins of the University of California, Davis, has shown that the expressions associated with pride in Western society — most commonly a slight smile and head tilt, with hands on the hips or raised high — are nearly identical across cultures. Children first experience pride about age 2 ½, studies suggest, and recognize it by age 4.

It’s not a simple matter of imitation, either. In a 2008 study, Dr. Tracy and David Matsumoto, a psychologist at San Francisco State, analyzed spontaneous responses to winning or losing a judo match during the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic games. They found that expressions of pride after a victory were similar for athletes from 37 nations, including for 53 blind competitors, many of them blind from birth.

“It’s a self-conscious emotion, reflecting how you feel about yourself, and it has this important social component,” Dr. Tracy said. “It’s the strongest status signal we know of among the emotions; stronger than a happy expression, contentment, anything.”

In one continuing experiment, Dr. Tracy, along with Azim Shariff, a doctoral student at British Columbia, have found that people tend to associate an expression of pride with high status — even when they know that the person wearing it is low on the ladder. In their study, participants impulsively assigned higher status to a prideful water boy than to a team captain who looked ashamed.

The implications of this are hard to exaggerate. Researchers tend to split pride into at least two broad categories. So-called authentic pride flows from real accomplishments, like raising a difficult child, starting a company or rebuilding an engine. Hubristic pride, as Dr. Tracy calls it, is closer to arrogance or narcissism, pride without substantial foundation. The act of putting on a good face may draw on elements of both.

But no one can tell the difference from the outside. Expressions of pride, whatever their source, look the same. “So as long as you’re a decent actor, and people don’t know too much about your situation, all systems are go,” said Lisa A. Williams, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Northeastern University.

The various flavors of pride may even feel similar on the inside, when the stakes are high enough. “She was always scrupulous about keeping up appearances to herself,” wrote Edith Wharton of her tragic heroine Lily Bart in “The House of Mirth.” “Her personal fastidiousness had a moral equivalent, and when she made a tour of inspection in her own mind there were certain closed doors she did not open.” If you believe it, so will they.

A feeling of pride, when it’s convincing, acts something like an emotional magnet. In a recent study, Ms. Williams and Dr. DeSteno of Northeastern had a group of 62 undergraduates take tests supposedly measuring their spatial I.Q. The patterns flashed by too fast for anyone to truly know how well they did.

The researchers manipulated the amount of pride each participant felt in his or her score. They either said nothing about the score; remarked, in a matter-of-fact tone, that it was one of the best scores they had seen; or gushed that the person’s performance was wonderful, about as good as they had ever seen.

The participants then sat down in a group to solve similar puzzles. Sure enough, the students who had been warmly encouraged reported feeling more pride than the others. But they also struck their partners in the group exercise as being both more dominant and more likable than those who did not have the inner glow of self-approval. The participants, whether they had been buttered up or not, were completely unaware of this effect on the group dynamics.

“We wondered at the beginning whether these people were going to come across as arrogant jerks,” Dr. DeSteno said. “Well, no, just the opposite; they were seen as dominant but also likable. That’s not a combination we expected.”

Therapists say that in time, people usually do better when they come clean. “In some ways it’s easier to do this now, with so many people out of work,” said Michael C. Lazarchick, an employment counselor in southern New Jersey. “You may very well find out that others are going through the same thing, or something like it — ‘Oh yeah, I just took a big cut in pay.’ ”

But in the short term, projecting pride may do more than help manage others’ impressions. Psychologists have found that wearing a sad or happy face can have a top-down effect on how a person feels: Smile and you may feel fleetingly happier. The same most likely is true for an expression of pride. In a 2008 study, the Northeastern researchers found that inducing a feeling of pride in people solving spatial puzzles motivated them to try harder when they tackled the next round.

Pride, in short, begets perseverance. All of which may explain why, when the repo man is at the door, people so often remind themselves that they still have theirs, and that it’s worth something. Because they do, and because it is.

However much pride may go before a fall, it may be far more useful after one.

The piece was published in The New York Times

Thursday, April 9, 2009


I took this picture at a community gathering in Vadodara yesterday. The Nagar Mandal of Alkapuri had organised a gathering to celebrate the birthday of the patron Lord Hatkeshwar (an avatar of Shiva). The Nagars are a small community of Gujarati brahmins who were typically aristocrats in the king's court. Till date, few Nagars venture into business. Most prefer to be professionals and have made their mark in the fields of education, civil services, medicine and law. The festival, called Patotsav is organised by the Nagars for the Nagars. This is an annual event where community elders also keep a note of prospective matches for marriages. The puja ceremony is followed by a dinner (paid for by the members of the mandal because the community doesn't have much money like other Gujarati business communities). The menu was again very typically Nagar cuisine - lehesuniya bateta (potatoes in garlic gravy), puris, Mango delite (an aamras-like sweet dish made of mango pulp), shaak (bhindi), dal and pickles and chhaas. The gathering is also the place where people discuss the five features that define Nagars:
1. Good looking women
2. Patla or a stool
3. Paan or betel leaf
4. A half-dhoti
5. Gossip

The gathering reminded me of the ones organised by Durgabari Samitis during Durga Puja. I wouldn't be surprised if I was the only non-Gujarati around (there were some non-Nagars there) and I am most certain that I was the only Bengali around. I looked around for familiar faces, when I spotted this woman doing the dishes. She was perched atop a pile scrubbing a steel vessel as rivers of sludge gathered around her feet. She hitched her saree and petticoat up and went on with her chores, oblivious to the conversations all around. She saw me taking this picture and tried to straighten up (that explains the blur). She too stood out in the crowd.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


The Naxal-affected dense forests of the Dalma hills near Jamshedpur, Jharkhand is not the place for the weak-hearted. The threats are serious but if you're careful enough and leave the rest to the powers-that-be to take care of, this is a spot for adventure enthusiasts. The jungles of the Chhota Nagpur plateau (that's where the Dalma Wildlife Reserve is located) are believed to be dating back to the time when the world comprised just one continent. The forests are so dense that visibility reduces to just about 15 feet. Some of the tribals in this area are said to be so primitive that they still live a Stone Age-like existence.

I've wanted to go to Dalma since my first trip to Jamshedpur in 2006. I had heard of how wild elephants from there had once come down to the 500-acre Jubilee Park in the heart of Jamshedpur. They had tried to shake the statue of Jamshedji Nusserwanji Tata at one end of the park. I had heard people mention Dalma during their conversations - of how jittery forest officials prevented unsuspecting tourists from travelling to Dalma before any adivasi festivals fearing that it would escalate poaching and kidnapping activities. I had even learnt from a forest officer of how they were caught between the tribals who wanted to preserve their primitive culture and ways of hunting and the interests of endangered wild animals. The department would allow the poaching of deer to safeguard the interests of larger species such as elephants and panthers.

When Jayajit Mullick, owner of the Hill View Resort (about 16 km from Jamshedpur) at the base of the Dalma hills, offered me a ride through the forest, I was more than game for it. But my parents had their apprehensions. Dad's a government official and a prime Naxal target. Mullick suggested we take his private vehicle. "If you go in a battiwala car, you may have problems," he said.

As we winded up steep hills in a Mahindra Scorpio (thankfully, there was no vehicle coming from the other side), I removed my camera to take some pictures of the view below. A few monkeys, lots of birds. I couldn't see too far because of the smoke. Smoke? On a mountain? Well, one of the tricks used by inhabitants to keep bears and elephants from straying onto the road. The forests were dense but quiet. In the cities, a little bit of greenery is marked by the chirping of birds. In the forests of Dalma, even the birds 'keep it down'. The drive from the bottom of the hill to the peak is around 20 kilometres and passes through several tribal villages. It takes about an hour and a half to navigate up to the top, if you're lucky to have no elephants in your way (there have been cases where people have been stranded for up to six hours thanks to frisky tuskers blocking the road).

I didn't see any elephants. Yes, I was disappointed. I happened to see some black-faced baboons aka hanuman (I later found other members of the same species on my neighbours roof in Vadodara) and huge snake-pits along the side of the road. I guess that was the closest I got to the wildlife.

Atop the hill is the forest department's shabby guesthouse that offers almost no comfort other than offering you a glass of water and some chai and biscuits.

Those looking for a little more adventure head to the Shiva Temple nearby. The 80-year-old temple resembles what's often described as a 'khandar' in Bollywood films. It has an eerie feel to it with cobras slithering around (with snake-charmers in tow) the stone edifice and doped sadhus singing bhajans. The Shivlinga is housed in a cave and sees throngs of devotees during Mahashivratri.

While the temple's hardly attractive, the view from the top is sure breathtaking - I saw the whole of Jamshedpur, Chandil Dam and Dimna Lake.

And while I soaked in the aroma of hot bhajiyas , I curiously watched this sign offering dhoklas and batata-puris. Talking of globalisation, are we?

The article was re-edited and published in Mumbai Mirror. This is what it reads like


Dangerous beasts, primitive tribes and visibility of just 15 feet – the Dalma Wildlife Reserve in Jharkhand is certainly for adrenalin junkies

Eisha Sarkar

The Naxal-affected dense forests of the Dalma hills near Jamshedpur, Jharkhand are not for the weak-hearted. The threats are serious but if you are careful enough and leave the rest to the powers-that-be, this is the place for adventure enthusiasts.

Back to the Stone Age: The jungles of the Chhota Nagpur plateau (that's where the 192 square kilometre-Dalma Wildlife Reserve is located) are believed to be dating back to the time when the world comprised just one continent. The forests are so dense that visibility reduces to just about 15 feet. Some of the tribes in this area still follow Stone Age rituals.

Jungle tales: Note that elephants here are wild. They're definitely not 'cute', so please keep a safe distance if you happen to see one. The adivasis talk a lot about how a tusker hurled a log at a jeep and sent it crashing down the slope. Yes, there are tales but not all are untrue. Jayjit Mullick, owner of Hill View Resort at the base of the hills says, "There have been cases where an elephant had blocked the road and people had to wait for over five hours to actually be able to move. The road is very narrow, so if something comes in your way, you will not be able to do a turnaround. That’s really some experience!"

People of Jamshedpur remember well how, a few years ago, wild elephants from the Dalma hills had come down to Jubilee Park in Jamshedpur. They had unsuccessfully tried to move the statue of J N Tata at the park.

Jittery forest officials: Forest officials prevent unsuspecting tourists from travelling to Dalma before any adivasi festivals fearing that it may escalate poaching and kidnapping activities. There are several tribal villages such as Konkadasa, Chimti, Bota and Randoh in the reserve. A forest officer said that officials are often caught between the interests of the tribals (who wanted to preserve their primitive culture and ways of hunting) and those of endangered wild animals. Somewhere, there is a trade-off. Officials say they allow poaching of deer to prevent the killing of elephants and panthers.

What you find: With some luck, you can see elephants, black-faced baboons, panthers, bears, deer, sloth bears, snakes, a very large variety of tropical birds and uncommon deciduous plants.

Fire on the mountain… Come sundown and the villagers light small fires along the road that leads to the top of the hills to 'smoke out' beasts, especially bears that are particularly dangerous.

Of snake charmers and sadhus: While the forest department's shabby guesthouse near the stop of the hill offers for a good view, you can go right upto the Shiv Temple at the peak for a complete view of Jamshedpur and Chandil Dam.

The 80-year-old temple resembles what's often described as a 'khandar' in Bollywood films. It has an eerie feel to it with cobras slithering around (with snake charmers in tow) the stone edifice and sadhus swaying to bhajans.

And if that's not weird enough, the thought of having batata puris and dhoklas at this remote temple in Jharkhand sure is!

Getting there
The Dalma hills, north of the River Subarnarekha, are 13 kilometres from Jamshedpur. The distance from the base to the Shiva Temple on top is 18 kilometres. It's a difficult drive along an unmetalled road so you need a really sturdy car.

Sanskrit – helping rural women progress

Eisha Sarkar finds out how Sanskrit is helping village women to study further and make progress

Students jostle for space outside a classroom in the long corridor of the M M Gandhi Arts and Commerce College at Kalol. Clutching on to their books they talk of the next wedding in their village. It's not out of the ordinary, except that it's Kalol (about 50 km from Vadodara) - a very small town with a population of about 25,000 and has almost nothing to offer except for the few manufacturing industries. Yet, female students from villages in and around the town make it a point to come to the college everyday to study, well, Sanskrit. Strange, isn't it?

Sanskrit for women

That the dying language of our forefathers and many generations yonder, is very much sought-after comes as a shock to outsiders. "But it has been like this since the college started in 1990. We have three subjects for the Bachelors of Arts course - Gujarati, Sanskrit and Sociology majors. Sociology is a comparatively new subject here, compared to the languages, so students are still trying to get familiar with the course. Sanskrit has always been the most sought-after course, especially by women," says I P Macwan, a lecturer of English at the college and ex-principal, which is one of the higher education institutions in the town.

Too good to be true

While the college provides short-term courses and diplomas in computer application and functional English, besides a regular Bachelor of Commerce course, it is Sanskrit that has brought the college lots of accolades and recognition. Macwan is quick to point out, "In the last year TYBA examinations, this college ranked second in Gujarat University in Sanskrit. We are that good. The girls put in a lot of hard work in this subject. Of the 175 students in TYBA nearly 100 are girls."

Money-spinner for village women

So what do women do after they graduate in this less-popular subject? While urban students dismiss the language as 'dead', students in this college are willing to take up BEd courses after completing their Bachelors. "Studying Sanskrit has helped us in a big way. Now, we can look forward to teaching jobs in colleges and schools here and in Halol (which is a 20 minute drive from Kalol). Most schools have Sanskrit as a subject. We can always teach there or take tuitions for the children. Gujarati is spoken everywhere so teachers have to clear tougher exams to get into teaching courses. Sanskrit is also easier to clear at the university level and if we do well, it also provides us an opportunity to go to Vadodara and Ahmedabad to study further," says Sheela P, a second year student at the college who resides in a village near neighbouring Derol.

Signs of progress

"There used to be a time when the women from these villages would think twice about going to college. Now, we see some of them coming here even in jeans and attending grammar classes and learning shlokas byheart. The progress is gradual, but it is there and that's what we are looking to achieve," says Macwan.

Sanskrit, because of its association with ancient and sacred Hindu texts such as the Vedas, makes for an attractive option for tribal and rural women. Kalol is located in Panchmahal, which used to be one of the so-called backward districts of Gujarat, but is now seeing a lot of developmental changes thanks to the booming automobile manufacturing industry here. "The only way a place can develop is through education. Though people in the rural areas of Gujarat are aware of the benefits of education, they're often conservative and do not allow their women to go to colleges for higher education. Sanskrit helps us break ground there as it is a 'respectable subject' of study," says J S Patel, secretary of the college trust.

"My parents would not have allowed me to study commerce in a college. But Sanskrit they readily agreed for. They said they would have no problems marrying me off now," says a student who doesn't wish to be named.

It's a small step towards progress for rural women, but an important one in preserving a language that is so unique to our culture and heritage.

The story has appeared in Education Times.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Why should I carry an identity card in my own country?

For some reason, I have never really asked myself a question like this one. When you need an ID card, you just carry it. When you don't need one, you still carry it to be safe. I have always carried an ID on my person, for the only thing I haven't been assured of is personal security. I don't know whether I am safe when I walk the streets of Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Baroda, Ahmedabad, Jamshedpur... wherever. It didn't take a 26/11 to make me insecure. Just a couple of rash drivers did and I thought it wise to henceforth carry my card with me. It keeps me secure. "If something happens to me, people will know who I am and where I come from."

But not everybody thinks that way. We've never needed any kind of identification proof to go anywhere in this country, except Kashmir and the North East. So thought an elderly couple who boarded the Rajdhani from Mumbai yesterday. They didn't know that they needed to carry a senior citizen's card, PAN card, passport, voter's ID or driving licence as proof of identification along with the e-ticket they were carrying. They didn't expect they would be fined for defaulting. And worse, they had never expected that their own kids put them into such trouble because of their sheer carelessness.

When the TC asked them to cough up Rs 6,000 for fine, they seemed really helpless. Poor mobile networks didn't help much either. The gentleman has glaucoma, the woman didn't know English and fumbled with her cellphone. She told me (I had the opposite berth to myself) that they had gone visiting their son in London and had travelled to Switzerland and Dubai. She said that she'd had left her torn purse in the cupboard and taken her daughter, Reema's (the one who had actually done the bookings on IRCTC for them)bag. The purse had all the documents - her senior citizen card too. She shook her head in disbelief as she narrated how irresposible her children were - her son had left them alone at London airport without any contact address. She fired all her children - in Delhi and Mumbai and narrated the story again and again.

The TC didn't budge. A rule was a rule and this was Rajdhani Express. They would have to pay the fine but they would be allowed to go to Delhi. The woman wasn't pleased. The man had more or less reconciled. The woman asked me to dial the number of a nephew in Gorakhpur. I obliged. She smiled after the conversation was over. "My nephew knows Railway Minister Lalu Prasad's personal assistant." The man chipped in, "Lalu ko bolenge dhoti-kurta pehenne waalon ko tang karte hain yeh (TC) log. Agar pant-shirt pehna hota toh yeh naubat nahin aati. Why should we carry our passports while travelling in our own country? They come up with these new tickets and rules to harass people."

I don't know if they actually paid the fine for I had to get off at Vadodara so your guess is as good as mine. What would you have done if you were caught in a similar situation?