Monday, October 29, 2012

Ode to good old friends....

i am a school girl again in a dark blue uniform with white and blue striped tie and belt. Back to the noisy classroom where boys sat on one side on broad benches with desks and girls sat on the other in pairs (girls being fewer in number). i remember some clear and some vague faces. i do not have any photos of the time so memories are all i have to rely upon. The brighter students sat in the front. So Prashant sat with Venu, Srinivas and others in the front rows. i sat in the first row with the girls - one other girl next to me, actually- called Shubha. Her sister Shobha was in the same class. And there were a couple of mean boys - Dharmendra and Nand Kumar. There are so many names and faces preserved deep down in the mind. All the girls and the mean boys also!

When i look back 20 yrs ago when I finished class 7, it’s an exciting journey down the memory lane. Walking to school everyday since that was the way of life (Oh God! I sound like I am about 60 yrs old!!). Carrying school bags and a basket with lunch and water bottle. Every student carried that and we put them all together either in the front of the class or at the back, if the classroom was small. The front baskets would have a thick layer of chalk piece dust by lunch time with all the writing in the first half of the session. At lunch time we would all line up in the space outside the classroom. The group of boys and girls i was close to would sit next to each other in groups. In fact, Prashant would fight for a particular corner he wanted to sit in everyday at lunch! The upma that Shobha’s mum used to make was so awesome that we would exchange our tiffin boxes on the days she brought it. Yes! Exchanging the tiffin box was a concept as opposed to one bite we used to share with everyone in the group everyday. i still remember one bite size portions lined up on the lid of our tiffins. In case someone brought something that you don’t eat, you wouldn’t take that on that day.

Truly the time before any cares in life began, it was just stupid competition for the first rank. As if it even matters today! But that’s what made life worthwhile then. Another thing was the wait for the final bell to ring by when every one would have already packed their bags. And the boys would have to be literally held back to stop them from pouring out of the class before the bell. Sometimes students used to go out to ring the bell - a task i didn’t enjoy much. The sound of the iron rod striking the metal surface was too strident on the ear when standing so close! Thankfully boys were asked to do that mostly - manly job perhaps - when the aaya wasn’t around!

And then we had a whole lot of stalls outside the school to buy tit-bits and consume on our way home. Mango slices, lolly candy, gooseberries and other stuff i do not remember. It was pricey in the light of the money we had. There were not so expensive things and the more luxury items. Like the lolly candy cost a whole rupee while a slice of mango could be had for 25 paise. And we couldn’t even afford to buy stuff everyday!

And once we went home, there was no way to contact classmates but walk up to the homes of the ones who lived nearby. Usually to exchange notes, know the homework if you missed school. Simpler times!!

i do remember so many of my classmates through all years of school and always wondered where they would be now after nearly 2 decades. But worldwide web to the rescue! Facebook and Linkedin helped find 3 such people from that golden era of life! They are like whole new individuals than when they were 11! Successful entrepreneurs, managers now - but the conversation and chemistry continues as if we met juts yesterday! Ture - the bonds we form as kids are much stronger than the ones we make through the cautious and prejudiced worldview of adulthood!

i know all the others also somewhere out there in the world! Till i find them and they become a part of my world again….

Monday, October 22, 2012

The art, science and politics of gifting

Expectant faces look on as a box wrapped in shiny colorful paper is handed to you. The jumpy seconds of wondering what might be in it. Some painstakingly peel out every inch of cello tape and others believe in ripping out the whole damn thing too eager to discover what’s inside. As soon as the gift is out, the gaze of everyone shifts from the gift to you eagerly waiting for your response….Uhuh!! Your smile freezes as you look at the gift … turns out to be an antique piece of jewelry which you are definitely not into….but there are all those faces looking up at you. So you try your best to make your fake appreciation sound genuine and hope you did a convincing job!!

Well, i am sure all of us have been through this awkward situation at least once in our lives. i know it is rude to not like a gift someone’s probably put so much thought (and money) into. But gifting is a such a gamble that i guess there are only 50-50 chances of the receiver liking it. It’s one of the great dilemmas of my life to find the right gift for someone. i have realized that gifting is as much an art as it is a science. And there’s a lot of politics in between!

It’s a tricky business, this! We play by general rules. The more thoughtful the gift is the more likely the receiver will enjoy it. Stick to plausible choices like favourite colours and things that people are likely to use. Or go by the age of the person. So no flashy stuff for anyone above 50 (unless  someone’s as young as Shobha De is just like our country!) But to get a gift right and the other person genuinely liking it is no short of an art. i remember when my sister’s sister-in-law (yeah!), who hardly kinda knows me, sent a top for me and it not just fit me but was also my kind of dress! Now that’s the art of gifting that i am talking about!

Once you get the art of figuring out what someone would like guessing from their age, lifestyle, general dressing/buying habits, it all boils down to the science of gifting. Finding something that would match up to your findings and fir the mould of someone’s tastes. Sometimes we might not be able to match it up bang on and make a discovery that your friend, spouse, son-in-law also likes something like this! It’s like a whole lab out there! 

What makes an ideal gift? Something that you like or feel the other person will like. The whole failure lies in trying to choose the exact purse that your friend might have chosen if she were to buy it or finding the precise pink that your mom-in-law will love! That is not going to happen since they are they and you are you! So we’d make better choices if we stopped trying to step onto others’ minds!

Politics is invariably a part of gifting. Gifts are generally on a pro-rata basis in terms of how are you related and how deep is the relationship. Or what did you get as your wedding/birthday from others. Sometimes it’s just about we-have-to-give-a-gift-and-it-doesn’t-matter-what!!! It also has a whole lot of class concerns. We have to give more expensive gifts because we have a class to maintain and financial status to flaunt! This comes out in a lot of North Indian (read Punjabi) weddings where expensive stuff has to be given because it’s for the whole world to see and not essentially of use to the couple!

The worst case of the gifts come out when there’s no art, only science and politics that gifts have to be given, it doesn’t matter what you gift. i recently came across an incident where a group of friends bought sarees for each other even though each agreed they would probably not be able to wear them since being 80+yrs old kept them pretty much at home! The gifts were exchanged but would only end up in cupboards with no actual joy of using it for the receiver. Others who understood the concept ended up getting a variety of things which might or might not be for future use.

That set me thinking! Arts, science and politics apart, is gifting an article really that important? Does it always have to be a pen- which will end up as just as another one in the stand, a purse - which might not even be to the taste of the person, clothes - which we would anyways buy. Hence the new concept in gifting - gift an experience. A day at a spa worth 5000 bucks is better than a designer bag which is an object at the end of the day. A holiday package where people can relax on their special day makes more sense than a present they might occasionally use. But, to me, this is also about the monetary value of the gift. It’s comes easy - go online and order the voucher!

So what would be the best present? Time, perhaps. Our precious time spent with our family, friends and loved ones. Making the day memorable with our presence so that we collectively think of good times together rather than the expensive cocktail glass set of which 2 glasses are broken in no time and the set can’t be used anymore! This becomes even more priceless especially in today’s times when time is the more scarce resource we have. So to gift our time for someone else is what truly says we care! We’ll really have to break through our whole materialistic perspective to be able to do this! Don’t just think an object when you think of gifting, just think different!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Forever young!

Is it some kind of a ‘suspension in disbelief’ that works in Bollywood? Or is it some kind of a trick played on the audience that we accept what we see on screen?
Well, the reason for this outburst started while watching the movie Cocktail starring Saif Ali Khan. His character is a flirt of the first order, sleeps around with babes and has a mon in tow who wants to find a beautiful Indian bride for eligible bachelor puttarji. i mean this man is actually 42 yrs old in real life with 2 grown up children! This is 2011. Rewind a whole decade and you’ll find Saif playing pretty much the same character in Dil Chahta Hai - the flirtatious, confused casanova nt knowing where to look for love! (Worth looking up Kal Ho Na Ho in 2003 and Hum Tum in 2004 in very similar contexts)

On the same lines, i still can’t believe that it’s possible to accept a 44 yr old actor as a first year engineering student!! Look at them in real life and they definitely look just out of school kids. But we just didn’t accept Aamir in 3 idiots, we also went to make the movie one of the highest grosser of the year. (Even in DCH, Aamir portrayed a college student while he was actually 36 then!)

Since most male actors in Bollywood easily have a career span of more than 2 decades, most of them end up playing college-going, mushy, romantic heroes for at least the entire first decade of their careers. It has never mattered that the age of the leading ladies keeps getting half their actual age! (Since a female actor is never going to be playing the same kind of roles as the men at 40! They come pretty young and die away that fast)
i know these guys work really hard at their looks. And Aamir definitely has succeeded a lot more than his other Khan counterparts. But what beats me is how magically people keep playing characters half their age and we as audience never find it out of place. It’s all so magically woven in to the masala that Bollywood is, that we just flow along! i really don't know what to make of this. i'd appreciate if you all can share what do you feel about all this?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Back to books

i have always loved reading. i might sound crazy but the world of books fascinates me so much that its my secret wish to be able to read up all the books in the world! The excitement of looking forward to reading a book is unparalleled. i have read quite a few classics as a major in literature. But even after college, i always find reading soothing. It cuts me out from the real world and takes me into the world of the book and its characters, albeit make believe. It doesn’t matter whether the genre is fact or fiction, as long as it is interesting.

But as real life got busier, there has been less and less time to read. But i never forget to notice if i am not able to spare time for reading. i was thrilled when my husband introduced me to an ipad and had reading applications uploaded on it. Now i could read books on the move - even if i didn’t own an actual copy which would occupy space in my overcrowded apartment! It was a bonus that i could read before i went to sleep - my favourite time to read - with the lights off since an ipad is backlit. (i hate to have to get up and switch off the light just as i am blissfully dozing off reading!) i finished reading books i had from the Harry Potter series for the umpteenth time just to enjoy having something to read. In fact, it felt like such an ultimate thing in reading technology that i even learnt to download a software that could convert ant format of books to ipad format (epub). i felt like being a pro to be able to actually download software!!

Getting my own Kindle reader this year was another high point furthering the goal of reading regularly. Light, small, handy and less straining on the eyes since the screen is not backlit but has a matte finish to duplicate the experience of reading a book. i once again went berserk converting books to .mobi format to do justice to Kindle’s capabilities of holding about 5000 books in its tiny self. i have more books uploaded on it than have the time to read.

Somewhere between the ipad and Kindle phases, i discovered a library in the neighbourhood (it’s been there all these years, only i found it recently!) Bingo! All those books neatly lined had me salivating to devour all of them one by one! i found and finished the whole of Shopaholic series (and Sophie Kinsella books replaced J K Rowling books as comfort reading). i got to read books by Kareena’s dietician and her fitness expert (sharing some of the secrets behind her hot-bod) and the latest book by Malcolm Gladwell. i try to pick up a mix of fact and mindless fiction depending on what I feel like reading.

But somehow after the initial euphoria of owning devices that made reading easy and on the go, i seem to keep going back to real books of the library. Even when i am traveling, i no longer look forward to reading on Kindle. i’d rather take my library book along.

What happened there?

Well, i have realised that technology, however convenient it makes reading, can never replace the experiential kick of having a real book. The actual act of touching and holding the book, turning its pages softly, saving it from any scratches and creases- especially if it’s bought spending money- during the reading process, the pleasure of hitting the i-finished-half mark and turning pages to check how many more pages to go are incomparable and no reading device in the world can ever offer that. In fact, the lure of a book shelf in a store and the fragrance of brand new books is second to none. (i am not kidding! The next time you are at a book store, open a book at random and sniff deeply to take in the best perfume in the world!)

i don’t know if this feeling has anything to do with the fact that i spent the first 20 yrs of my life in the previous century and grew up in the pen and paper era. Being gadget-friendly is only an acquired behaviour.  On the contrary, teenagers of this century seem to be absolutely at home with their smart phones and reading/gaming devices.

Reading is a habit that was always encouraged when we were kids. It is one of the virtues that would help us in the future and books are a constant companion, we were told. There’s no harm in using technology to access knowledge. But i think losing an era where one could savour reading real books saddens me. i remember when British Council Library in Mumbai went online and shut its physical locations, one of my friends lamented that our kids might never know the joys of going through piles of books in a library to select a book. True, i am sure my kids, used to having Google throw up links to the exact book that they want in just miliseconds, will pull a long face at the tediousness of having to go through racks and racks of books in a library to find what one wants to read. But you know what, kids, that is the real deal!!