Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A slice of history

This is an interesting post a friend put up on Facebook. It says a lot about our origins and the origins of a few phrases that have now become commonplace. Do read it and enjoy it.

They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot and then once a day it was taken and sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were "Piss Poor". But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn't even afford to buy a pot. They "didn't have a pot to piss in" and were the lowest of the low. So the next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be. Here are some facts about the 1500s:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June.. However, since they were starting to smell... Brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting Married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the
children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it...  Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the Bath water!"

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof... Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, "Dirt poor." The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold.

(Getting quite an education, aren't you?)

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire.. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old. Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, "bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little  to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would Sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, saved by the bell or was considered a dead ringer.

And that's the truth. Now, whoever said History was boring.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The battle for your mind!

Book: Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind
Authors: Al Ries and Jack Trout
Publisher: Tata McGraw Hill
Pages: 246
Price: Rs 336 (on Flipkart)

If you haven't already read the 'bible' of advertising and marketing, the 20th edition published by Tata McGraw Hill could be your next read. It features new commentary by authors Al Ries and Jack Trout as they stack up case studies to support positioning — the strategy they first introduced in the 1980s — and how it is even more important in today's 'overcommunicated' society than it was then. They drive home the point that winning isn't really about having the best product or service, but planting the right message in customers' heads and keeping it there. And in spite of the fact that they haven't authored successful self-help books, Ries and Trout do come up with gems like, "It may be difficult for the ego to accept, but success in life is based more on what others can do for you than on what you can do for yourself." While the book has a strong following among marketers, advertisers and business readers, it caters to everyone who is looking to communicate effectively. So if you have a message in your head that you have been unable to put across to a bunch of people for some time, this might be the book for you.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Lion-spotting at Devaliya, Junagadh

For those who want to see-it-all in just one trip to the Gir forest, the Devaliya Interpretation Zone is a good bet. Located around 60-odd kilometres from Junagadh city (an eight-hour drive from Vadodara) on the fringes of the Sasan Gir, Devaliya encloses roughly 4 sq km of the forest. There are altogether seven lions and lionesses in Devaliya while the total in the Gir forest is 411. You can book your seats on the safari buses (which run on eco-friendly jaltropha biodiesel) which run from 9 am to 11 am and 3 pm to 5 pm. Each tour takes about half an hour. Charges vary for airconditioned and non AC buses and also for weekends, public holidays and weekdays. It cost us Rs 115 per head when we visited there on Republic Day (January 26). We spotted two lions, two lionesses, a family of four man-eater leopards (in a huge jail-like enclosure), many spotted deer, neelgai and an Egyptian vulture. Here are some pics:

Oh deer!

All that grass...
A leopard that has turned man-eater

All kinds of deer

A neelgai and an egret

Male lions keep a watch

The king meets his queen

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Draupadi's Mahabharata!

Book: The Palace of Illusions
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher: Picador
Price: Rs 525 
Pages: 360

A helpless woman pleads to a court of people to save her honour. But even the demi-gods, her husbands, the heroes of her time and the times that will follow, remain silent. Dejected she thinks of her beloved friend so she will be distracted from the pain that fills her. He comes to her rescue but only just. For, the endurance brings with it hatred. She curses her wrong-doers, a curse that will bring upon the greatest war mankind has ever known.

From this point, Draupadi is lost in the Mahabharata. She surfaces a few times here and there, but the story revolves around the valour of men and the vengeance they seek. Little is known of her in the traditional adaptations of the epic, though most give copious descriptions of how Arjun won her at her Swayamvar. The Palace of Illusions, narrated by Draupadi aka Panchaali, finally gives a woman's take on the Mahabharata. It describes her fiery birth and lonely childhood, where her beloved brother Dhristadyumna (Dhri) is her only true companion, her complicated relationship with the enigmatic Krishna, her marriage to the five Pandava brothers and inspite of that, her secret attraction to their greatest enemy, Karna.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has managed to turn the age-old epic around into a story of a woman born into a man's world. It's a remarkable feat, for it opens up new channels for the interpretation of the Mahabharata. Since the women in those days lived in the purdah, Draupadi's narration gives us a slice of the life of the wives, the maids, the mothers and the widows. Divakaruni's female characters — Kunti, Gandhari, Draupadi, Hidimba and Subhadra — are very strong and give us a better understanding of Duryodhan's insecurity, why the Pandavas shared Draupadi as their wife and why the events unfolded the way they did in the great epic.  Contemporary and engaging, The Palace of Illusions is a must-read.