Usha

Finding these slippers at several locations in my house, in the past few months several perceptive observers have told me that two slippers are missing. Now what do you see? one right and one left? Does that make a pair - so why are all these people telling me that two slippers are missing and looking for another left and a right which never existed in the first place?
Ok this is the story. one of the blue straps broke and the shop didn't have another pair of blue straps so I got the beige. The seller said he would not fix the strap and I had to find a cobbler to do the same. Just a few months ago, in an effort to rid the footpaths of encroachment,the police had evacuated a number of unorganised business people in my neighbourhood which included the cobbler. So I decided to exercise my skills in removing the old one and fixing the new - only to realise that my scissors and screwdrivers were all wrong. (Ok, ok, we all know who blames his/her tools) Finally after about half an hour of hard work, I managed to fix the new strap on the one that had a broken strap. Since the other strap was as good as new, I just let it be deciding to use the spare one when the need arose. Did you know that there is no difference between left and right foot in the straps - you could use them for either! so it is all good, it is a win win. Except...
except that every now and then someone reports to me that 2 of the slippers are missing. Once , with a small child demanding "where is the other one?" and me showing the blue one and saying "this is the other one", the whole scene resembled a bizarre comedy scene in a Tamil film with a banana, and actors senthil and gaundarmani!
And I make people smile when they see this pair on my feet. They either think I am a little crazy ( which is true) or I am cheap ( which is not true) But until today, no one has looked at my feet when I am wearing them and said that either my left or my right foot is missing - at least not yet!

Such is our slavery to norms and conventions and traditions that even slight deviations are difficult to accept. For example, when I posted my 400th post 7 posts ago and told my son that it was a landmark post he vetoed it saying 400 is not a landmark, 500 is! Can you believe this ? How do you think 400 feels about it, being nice and round and divisible by 100 and yet not considered a landmark? Such discrimination and just because it can't protest being a number and all! So I decided to espouse the cause of these other suppressed numbers and I hereby declare this post, the 407th, a landmark post.

( I can hear the resounding applause. Thank you, thank you, thank you!). The next landmark will be 408!
Usha
In my youth, having been endowed with thick long tresses , it was always my secret passion to have short bobbed hair which was just becoming a fashion in madras - yes I am so old I actually grew up in good old "Madras" not the fashionable yuppy chennai. Now there were two problems with cutting my hair - my family would have disowned me and thrown me out of the house, even worse I might have offended the sentiments of the orthodox family members - a girl putting scissors to her hair was surely an inauspicious sign. Anyway having entered college in 1974 I had to do something to prove that I was a rebel too and in tune with the times of the golden seventies. But not having the means to afford a parlour, I asked my sister to cut my hair and she happily obliged one saturday afternoon under the stairs. And for many days therafter I never heard the end of it - some relatives, particularly my elder brother, thought I looked like a monkey, my friends bemoaned the loss of such "beautiful" hair which they would have given an arm and a leg to have and of course my grandmother thought that it was a sure sign of Kaliyuga and all the bad things that were to mark the end of the world.
Have you noticed that people tell you how beautiful your hair was only after it is lost - as if they never noticed it all the time it was on your head?
Once I was married to a man who didnt notice if I was totally bald or had my hair matted like a sadhu in Kailash, my adventures with the hairdressers began. The thing about most of these girls in the parlours is that they never suggest what will look good on you but will ask you what you want. After several attempts at imitating the hair styles of Madhuri Dixit and Dimple Kapadia and Shridevi with totally disastrous results, one day I acquired the Gyan (under a hairdresser's shears) that to look like them the hair style wasnt enough, you needed a beautiful face to go along!
So now I needed someone who would tell me what would go with my face - so someone suggested this fancy coiffeur ( when said in in french it looks very fashionable right? ya , that means a hairdresser) in a fancy 5 star parlour who was supposed to have magic hands. So I put my hair in his hands literally and came out looking like a famous personality - Michael Jackson! I had to live with that look until my hair grew back and for a year I stayed away from all parlours although I had to suffer comments from my so-called friends if there was a lot of rat problem in my house ( very funny!).
Finally just as I had found the right cut that looked dignified , I stopped working and hence decided to avoid the problems of maintaining short hair ( ya the shorter the hair , the higher the maintenance, in order to maintain the style), I let it grow anywhichway it liked and loved the freedom. Just like many other realisations that occur to you in your 40s, I realised that I should have let my hair as it was in my teens and that life would have been more peaceful. Oh, but what is life without youthful follies!
But then life is never peaceful - not for the wicked cursed by their grandmothers in their youth for their rebellion.. So slowly the problems started with hair receding on the forehead, and my "rich" experience was beginning to show in a sudden acquisition of a silver crown. People started saying "you looked younger with short hair". In stead of telling them and myself, " I was actually younger then remember?!"I started believing them. So like an addict reverting to her old habit, I went back to the parlour today hoping things would have changed.
Guess what? Somethings never change.
The lady with the scissors asked me what I wanted!
The old fool that I am, I showed the picture of Maharani Gayatri Devi in a magazine advertisement for diamonds.
Was that a suppressed smile on the coiffeuse's face or did I imagine it?
Usha

It was in March 2000 that this fellow crawled from under the gate into our house and our hearts. He was about 4 weeks old then and we loved his attitude to life, universe and everything which was expressed with a happy wag of his tail! We used to be in splits watching him handle our other dog, Munni, who was a big bully. Whenever she tried to pick on him, he would simply crawl out under the gate which would make her totally neurotic. She could not catch him as she was too big to follow him under the gate and out!! And whenever Munni had been upto some mischief, which was always, she would run and all we had to tell saba was to "catch Munni" which he would promptly do and hold her down- only he would let her off just as we were about to get her- the idiot!
He was a hit with every teenager ( whom he adored) and every adult who came to our house. Vaish never fails to enquire after saba in every mail from Boston even though she has met him just twice. In his opinion the major threats to society were people shorter than 3 ft ( yes, the children) and anyone who was dressed in rags or carried weapons of mass destruction ( such as crowbars and other digging implements).

He loved eating (a curd rice eating dog which led to anita calling him "Sabapathy Iyer". It was Anita who shot the picture above and to him she was the" pastry aunty" who brought expensive pastries from Sweet Chariot for him mainly and incidentally for us too. No wonder he jumped up to her full height every time he saw her.)
His other passion was drives in cars. He never believed in anti-dog policies about dogs staying back and guarding the house when the humans went out - he was the first to jump into the car. He believed it was his right. Here he is with "his car", wanting to go out barely a few hours before he fell terribly sick and never travelled in the new car which replaced this old one.

This afternoon Saba breathed his last after 36 hours of suffering - his body was continously shaking as a result of a nervous problem which he developed as a side- effect of his medication for epilepsy which we had started for him since March 2004. His epileptic attacks were one of the reasons I had stopped accepting assignments for work so that I could be around and ensure that he doesn't go unattended when he gets these sudden attacks. It has been a tough 33 months with severe attacks but we always hoped he would get better sooner or later which was not to be.
He is gone.
It is going to be scary being alone in this house, without his sensitive ears that monitor every little sound and warn me with a bark. This was a dog who was deluded that he was a detective - it was amusing to watch him scrutinise the plants and leaves every morning and the car tyres everytime they came from outside. Everyone entering the house was throughly sniffed for tell-tale smells of where you had been and what you had done. I dont think he was scared of anything - except diwali crackers which,in his opinion, were a sign of the world coming to an end. He had sound proof spot which he had identified in the house which we called his "bomb Shelter".


It is going to be tough not having his gaze follow me wherever I go - or perhaps he will, unseen, from his new resting place in our garden.
Thanks for giving us so much of your love Saba, I hope we gave you back at least a small proportion of it in return. Not that you would have minded if we fell short for it was you who taught us what "unconditional" love is.
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Usha


The dog and the little boy - both blissfully covered in mud as proof of enormous , unchecked fun that preceded the photo. Both totally accepting of themselves and each other, dirt and all. They just belong together so well in utterly comfortable bonding.
And what a joy it must have been to roll in mud not caring about one's clothes and hair and then posing for the photo with a totally Blasée "vee arr like this onlee" expression!
When I see the how happy kids are with animals, I believe that a boy or girl witout a dog is as lonely as a dog without a boy or a girl.

I chose the picture for the banner not only because of the "bonding" but also because it describes best the kind of person I am at heart!Yes, Vee arr also like this onlee.
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Usha
I love towels - soft, fluffy,nice smelling towels. If they have a nice colour and prints even better.
I think the room rent in expensive hotels is completely justified just for the nice towels they stock. After all they must care a lot for the guest if they took such care with their towels and stocked them in different sizes, all clean and nicely folded. On checking in, some people check the view, some see if the aircon and TV work fine but I check the towels.If they are there, the more the better, and clean I fell comfortable and happy. Having a towel monogrammed with your initials - an ultimate sign that you have arrived. Burying your face in a thick fluffy towel smelling of detergent and warm from Sun drying - oh, Nirvana of sorts!

The pleasure of a nice warm bath can be completely ruined if the towel that comes at the end is not perfect - if it is damp or rough or too small. Or if it is the plain cotton functional towel that gets completely soaked with one rub leaving you totally cold. They are alright for wrapping around wet hair but not for the body. I keep a towel or two handy in my box just in case. I dont know much about the history of Turkey but I want to visit the place because I think the people who invented the turkish towels must have a great civilisation.

Whenever I am in big supermarkets in India or anywhere, the towels section is the one where you can find me. I can claim to have checked out the towels in about 12 countries around the world. In case this seems bizarre to any of you and if you are probably one of those who consider Them "just Towels", which are nothing but a piece of cloth to dry, I feel nothing but pity for you. I direct you to the following passage on the uses of a towel by my favorite writer Douglas Adams. Perhaps that might help dispel your ignorance and make you appreciate their value better!

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels. A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an Interstellar Hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value—you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you—daft as a brush, but very, very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough. More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag [non-hitch hiker] discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have 'lost'. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with."
(Douglas Adams.The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)

On the day when the spaceship comes I will be ready to wave it down and hitch a ride as well as handle the perils during an intergalactic trip with my specially chosen towel. Will you be?

P.s: did you know that there is a day devoted for Towels - the Towel day? yes, and it is the 25th of May!
Usha
A friend sent me the link to a site containing videos of some easy-to-make recipes and when I opened the site I was struck by a particular link on”how to chop an onion.” The charming cook complete with white coat and all ( much in the manner of scientists performing complicated experments in a lab) explained the right manner to cut the onion: You had to cut the ends off and make a single slight cut and then take the peel off taking care of the soft skin in between which is very slippery ; Then you had to make vertical cuts all the way like the numbers on the clock ”like so” leaving it connected in one end and finally make the horizontal cuts to get those hundred nice pieces which can then be used in any sauce or marinate or anything. Very useful vegetable, he said. You can view it here.

I wonder what the intended audience of this video must have been doing all these days when they didn't have access to this video – coveting those luscious red onions in the supermarket and not knowing how to cut them and dropping them back in despair. Poor souls, now finally they can use them, now that the secret has finally been revealed to them in its tiniest detail. And they can even cook a dish when they have a map to the kitchen and access to videos on how to boil water and peel and steam potatoes etc.

This reminded me of another program on the BBC where the cook was explaining how to get shredded coconut. For all those uninitiated, here’s how: You put the coconut inside a plastic or cloth bag and hit it a few times with a hammer ( taking care not to hurt your fingers!!). Then take out the pieces and scoop out the white portion which can then be shredded in a food processor. Difficult but not impossible huh?

That is when I realised the number of complicated processes I was performing day in and day out without giving it a second thought since the time I was 7 when my mother just told me to cut the onions or shred coconuts without even giving me a specific demo or a “How to” manual.They were ruthless, moms of yore!

And then I decided to break down my daily cooking into all the tasks involved and came up with some hundred tasks on a normal day and many more on festive days.
My sister called me this afternoon and asked me what I did all morning and I took out my task list and started reading and I had not even got to number 10 when she stopped me and said “Ok, you cooked and then?”
Can you imagine? My mother's daughter that she is, she labels my 74 tasks (enough work for 20 videos) as just “cooking” and then expects me to do more too...I hope you understand how upset I am. Overworked and exhausted as I am, I needed to talk to someone who would sympathise and here I am!
Usha
Once on my return trip from colombo,I had a chatty neighbour.He was a businessman who regularly travelled overseas and had a lot of interesting stories to share.He decried how we had along way to go in changing our attitude to cleaniliness,politeness in conversation, punctuality, etc. He compared us to other countries which were much cleaner and friendlier even though they were behind us on several parameters such a higher education facilities and medical facilities. How Indians in Singapore respect rules of cleanliness but would spit at the airport the minute they landed in India. Blah, blah, blah.Things that one always hears from people who go abroad and return. I was smiling and nodding and mercifully it was a short flight. And of course I could see the truth in some of his criticism too.

Soon we landed in Bangalore and a minute after the seat belt sign was off my neighbour was already standing near the exit. In a flash he had got up,said a hurried goodbye,picked up his box from the overhead locker and made his way there so he could get out first and rush to the immigration counter and get out fast.It did not matter to him that in the seat before us there was a pregnant lady and in another there were couple with small children. How sensitive is that?

And this was the man who was critical of rudeness in people far less educated.I understand that our procedures take long and every minute's delay in deplaning adds 5 minutes to the wait in the immigration queue but isn't that precisely why persons with children, pregnant women and older people should be allowed to go first?
I was irritated with his behaviour as I always am after every air travel in India because people "always" behave like this. I can say "They" because I don't participate in this madness ever. Someone starts it and then everyone feels it is ok to follow. They're not guilty if they didn't start it.And it is the people who need to go first - the older people, the pregnant women, who stay in their seats as they cannot handle this mad scramble.

And the irony of it all is that our systems have a great way of levelling all this - I was secretly pleased when his checked-in luggage arrived late and hence we both left the terminal around the same time!I wish they would also have separate counters at the immigration for older people, people travelling with infants and pregnant women. I haven't been out of the country for a while now. Do they have them now?

Was reminded of this after reading Orchid's post here.I completely understand how she felt. And when I read this post by a foreigner visiting India,I felt ashamed but there doesn't seem to be much that one can do except not being part of such behaviour.
Usha
Everyone loves that Hutch advertisement with the Pig-like Pug and pug-like boy and that song"you and I...in this beautiful world." The message being conveyed with that dog purposefully following the kid is "wherever you go, our network follows you".It seems that most working people and young people want to be "in touch" even while having lunch at the restaurant at the end of the universe.

But to me all this network stalking and information gathering is getting a bit too much. Just read this claim by TESCO: "can you buy potatoes in a store and see potato recipes in your inbox when you get home? we are working on it." Now that is scary.
Already there are at least a few hundred computers which know my birthday, my marital status, my telephone numbers, banks where I hold account, my credit card details, the vehicles I own, whether I live in my own house. The service departments of a few companies know all their gadgets I own. The credit card department knows my shopping patterns.Gmail knows the contents of my mails so it can helpfully pop up sites with related subjects.

Oh btw, did you know the site meter on this blog tells me exactly what time you came in, what kind of search brought you here, how much time you spent here and the link you exited to from here? The fact is that you are no longer alone and whatever you do is being tracked by some equipment ready to share the information with any other computer partnering with it!And there are not even laws protecting our privacy in this country and even if we had laws, we know how "easy" it is to get them implemented in this country.

Just see the paradox. On the one hand we complain when our neighbours ask us personal details but we are comfortable allowing some strangers to have access to all our private information. We drive long distances to find a quiet romantic getaway but we leave our mobile phones switched on.I guess we are also fast heading towards the situation when husbands and wives don't tell each other what is wrong with their marriage out of politeness but go on network televison and say how his nose picking bothers her or how her body odour offends him.

I dont know about you, but it certainly irritates me when some strange guy on phone tells me it is time for me to change my car because it is 7 years old and already had so many service requirements this year and what parts had to be replaced or when my chemist lists out the medicines I bought in the past few months. I dont want some guy at some credit card department making my purchases into a pattern and drawing a curve of my buying behaviour. This is my life I say. Just why dont these guys let me lead my own the way I want and go get one of their own!
Usha
Dear,
Today I must end fifteen long years of association - an association linked with some of the happiest moments.You were initially intended for my sister but as fate would have it she was not interested and so we ended up together. We have shared many special moments. You have never refused money for any indulgence or fancy however wasteful it is and when money was short you have held out a card or two. Ever since you came into my life, I have never faced situations where I had to check my expenses or say 'no' to anything.

But in recent times your age is beginning to show, the wrinkles are tough to hide and much as we have tried it is impossible to revive you. The other day my sister gave me an ultimatum that if I was so sentimental about you she would do the needful to get rid of you.It seems that I really look quite pathetic when I go with you to the malls and other upmarket places. I have tried giving you a makeover but nothing seems to work, you do look worn out. People do look and in a negative way.

I always knew this was not forever and sooner or later I will have to find a replacement. I have been looking around for a while to find another just like you so i wont miss you so much but apparently they don't make them like you anymore. You are special, one of a kind. But the time has come , finally I must let go of you. I have finally accepted another to go with my altered circumstances and needs.

So my dear old wallet, it is goodbye time.










But you are only out of my handbag but will always remain with me forever in my memory chest along with my precious memories of happy times, like these flowers preserved in potpourri.

Usha
Ever so often every one of us goes through the "life sucks" moments.We cannot find a purpose to keep us going, a reason to smile or something that makes any sense for us to get up from bed and face yet another day. We forget the great blessing called "life" and how special we are to be the chosen ones to be endowed with the ability to appreciate it and value it.Have you ever thought about how rare life is? In the millions of planets in the universe, there are perhaps very few with life on it and as far as we know so far we are perhaps on the only planet that supports life and what more we are surrounded by so many forms of life to make it so beautiful, tasty and sweet smelling, a star studded roof and a moon to inspire poetry. Being here, just being alive is reason enough to feel "special". if you find other reasons it is a bonus.
Next time you need a reason to feel special just remember what evolutionary biologist and author of brillaint works like The Selfish Gene and The blind watchmaker Richard Dawkins says in this article:

"The origin of life on this planet — which means the origin of the first self-replicating molecule — is hard to study, because it (probably) only happened once, 4 billion years ago and under very different conditions from those with which we are familiar. We may never know how it happened. Unlike the ordinary evolutionary events that followed, it must have been a genuinely very improbable — in the sense of unpredictable — event: too improbable, perhaps, for chemists to reproduce it in the laboratory or even devise a plausible theory for what happened. This weirdly paradoxical conclusion — that a chemical account of the origin of life, in order to be plausible, has to be implausible — would follow if it were the case that life is extremely rare in the universe. And indeed we have never encountered any hint of extraterrestrial life, not even by radio — the circumstance that prompted Enrico Fermi's cry: "Where is everybody?"

"Suppose life's origin on a planet took place through a hugely improbable stroke of luck, so improbable that it happens on only one in a billion planets. The National Science Foundation would laugh at any chemist whose proposed research had only a one in a hundred chance of succeeding, let alone one in a billion. Yet, given that there are at least a billion billion planets in the universe, even such absurdly low odds as these will yield life on a billion planets. And — this is where the famous anthropic principle comes in — Earth has to be one of them, because here we are."

"If you set out in a spaceship to find the one planet in the galaxy that has life, the odds against your finding it would be so great that the task would be indistinguishable, in practice, from impossible. But if you are alive (as you manifestly are if you are about to step into a spaceship) you needn't bother to go looking for that one planet because, by definition, you are already standing on it."

So you see , how special we are, each one of us? Enjoy life while you have the chance!Celebrate this rare thing called LIFE.
Usha
Ali takes Zahera's shoes for mending but while attending to another chore the shoes get taken away by the Janitor who comes to collect the garbage from the shop. Money is tight in the family witha new baby's arrival and mother' sickness. So Ali who is 9 and Zahera who is about 6 decide to share Ali's shoes to school as their timings are different.But Zahera must run back after school to meet her waiting brother so he can wear the shoes and run to school. In spite of their best efforts, there are many days when Ali is delayed by a few minutes and has to face the wrath of the headmaster. Zahera's eyes constantly linger on the beautiful footwear of other children in school but she does not complain about the loss of shoes to her father as she knows and Ali tells that her father does not have the money for it. He tries to cheer his sister with gifts of his own pencil which his teacher presents him with for doing well in studies. Attracted by the third prize in a state running competition, which includes a pair of sneakers, Ali registers for the competition to run for the third prize. Wearing his worn out shoes he runs to keep up his promise to his sister of the new pair of sneakers but ina last minute confusion he ends up coming first. He is in tears while his eyes rest on he third prize even as he is being offered the first.
He comes home forlorn and upset and rests his tired and hurting feet in the pond where goldfish rush to soothe his feet.
He still doesn't know that his father is on his way with a new pair of shoes for him as well as his sister!

Bacheha-e-aasman (children of heaven) was the Iranian film nominated for the oscars in 1998 in the foreign film category but lost to another all time great "Life is beautiful" But it won several other awards.
A touching performance by the two adorable kids and a story told very beautifully.A family where money may be short but certainly rich in the warmth of emotions and care and love.
Although the film does not show the childrens' joy when they receive the new shoes, we know how much I would mean to them. Unfortunately this is a joy that children from affluent families no longer know - that is the problem of plenty. One does not know the value of something as simple as a new pair of shoes!

or to delight in a simple soap bubble while washing the shoes!







Or the joy of doing something for someone else: