Recently a Lt.General in the Indian army came under a lot of negative publicity for his remarks about women in the army. It is possible that he had good reasons for his statement besides being purely male chauvinistic but in today’s time and age, you do not make such statements publicly without explaining or qualifying. A combat role in the army is very hard because of the demands it makes on one’s physique, rough and unfriendly terrains and finally the emotional demands– not something easy for men either but I suppose if there are women willing to enter such roles without claiming any special treatment, they should have the opportunity to do so.

When one sees the quickness with which women today challenge such statements and want to assert their equality everywhere, one wonders why this was not the case even 50 years ago – how did they accept a decidedly inferior role for themselves in life and be content with staying in the shadows. I remember discussing this with a friend’s grandmother – she was a graduate, well read, well-travelled and very insightful. She told us that in those days there was a different kind of equality – the clear demarcation of roles depending on a perception of who was better suited to do had no values attached to the different roles. There was no inferiority associated with home making and child rearing which were left to women while men worked to put the bread on the table. They made all important decisions together as equal partners. Neither felt any threat from the other – so there was no need for enforceable laws and rights as it was the unwritten norm in society.

I remembered this conversation while reading “Almost French” by Sarah Turnbull which is a very interesting and amusing narrative by an Australian living in Paris on the cultural differences. She writes:
"France may be famous for feminists such as jean d’Arc and Simone de Beauvoir but the notion of “feminism” is scorned in this country by both sexes. Despite the French penchant for revolution, reforms for women have occurred through slow evolution, and generally later than other developed countries. Incredibly, French women didn’t get their vote until 19444, more than forty years after laws were passed in Australia and New Zealand and almost three decades after Canada and Britain. Until the mid sixties they had to have their husband’s permission to obtain a passport or even open bank account, and their property and family right s were severely restricted.
It is not that other countries do not have issues to resolve concerning women – take a look at Australia where paid maternity leave is almost non- existent and the number of women in senior management remains negligible. But the situation in France is intriguing.
Attempting to explain the absence of women in French Politics, an Ex Justice minister says:
“The very specific history of France, which excludes women from Political role while granting them a well recognized place in society….has created a unique situation between the sexes,” she writes. “if women have not felt totally inferior, it is because their right to speak out has been consistently recognized., bringing them a certain role and power.”
In other words, if French women have not fought for their rights, it is because they have traditionally been treated with respect. If women haven’t shown anger toward men, it is because in this country there is no simmering male anger toward women either.”

I know this may seem repetitive as we had quite a lively exchange of ideas on similar issues after my recent post on women's issues and it made me think of this further.I think in India the unfavourable tilt in the balance of power happened when they stopped educating women on the assumption that they did not need it for fulfilling their traditional roles. With this, informed decision making automatically became a male domain. And when the job of bread winning meant going out to work and not merely on your farm or by practising the family profession, earning money became superior to the traditionally ‘feminine” roles. Deprived of Education women could not enter this arena and this resulted in opportunities for subjugation of women and women were not equipped enough to counter the overt and covert forms of submission. It took a whole movement to be born and they had to organise themselves and fight for "rights" and "equality" in a concerted fashion. Happily all this has changed in the past 50 years. At least in theory there are laws to ensure equality. But in spite of all the rights and laws in existence, nobody can “make” anyone feel “equal” to another. This has to come from within. Every girl should feel that she is no less than any other person whatever she is told.
Another reason for this post is this excellent post by The Rational Fool here where he talks about the challenges before every girl of today in becoming her own person- the historical and social blocks to be overcome and the determination to march on with a focus to live her life as a person in her own right and not be stereo typed into a traditional female role. I believe every girl must do it not only for herself but to be an example and inspiration for her less informed sisters and for the future generations.
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Children in the U.K. will be asked to work out the speed and distance sums by using examples from football and the speed and the distance of the ball that Beckam kicked to the goal. This is part of the GBP 4 million campaign to make mathematics more interesting for children.
Very interesting!! I am all for any effort that makes these speed sums interesting for children.
I have traumatic memories of speed related sums from my school days that have left me permanently scarred. There were this particular genre of sums where the tap was filling a tank at a certain rate of x litres per second and there was this horrible person who was draining the water at the rate of y litres per second and we had to calculate how much time it would take for the tank of a certain capacity to be filled. Every time I am faced with a situation of water scarcity, I have a desire to seek out these water drainers and decapitate them - for spoilng my arithmetic classes as well as being the single large cause of all the global water problem.

My math teacher had a particular penchant for making our lives miserable with such problems. Another of her favourites was:
The population of town A is 4800 more than town B. If 3100 people move from town B to town A, the population in town A will be 11 times that of town B. Find the original total population of the two towns.
Faced with this problem, some of my wizard colleagues would plunge into the problem and be ready in a minute with the answer and as a bonus huge smiles. While my mind would want more data such as "why were they migrating?" "was there an epidemic?' "in which case, what about the reduction in population because of the people dying?" "What about births during the period of migration?" etc...But since i could not muster enough courage to ask the teacher to furnish all the required information, I scribbled the answer 976 3/4 and was sent out of class for being inattentive and trying to act smart! Our educational system kills all creativity, don't you see?

I think it is important to make a child relate these numbers and calculations to reality to evoke interest and make it seem more than mere numbers and additions and subtractions.
Imagine giving the following problem to a child of today:
You are traveling 40 Km/h over a bridge that is 4260 ft. long. How long does it take to cross the bridge?
Wouldn't a smart child in bangalore immediately wonder about other dependencies such as traffic jams? Isn't unfair to let the child out into the big bad world thinking that distance and speed are the only factors involved in assessing the time required to travel between point A to point B.After all , is it not the primary goal of education to prepare a child for the world?
We need to make sums sound more real and true to life to see the real life application.
Sometimes you wonder if mathematicians are people who are so absorbed in numbers that they forget the human element to life. take this problem for example:
Two trains 200 miles apart are moving toward each other; each one is going at a speed of 50 miles per hour. A fly starting on the front of one of them flies back and forth between them at a rate of 75 miles per hour. It does this until the trains collide and crush the fly to death. What is the total distance the fly has flown?

Excuse me, we are talking of a major collision here causing a few hundred deaths perhaps. Who cares about the distance the fly has flown? Sympathetic though I am to the preservation of the earth's fauna, I think that hyperactive, maniacal freak of a fly deserved to die for running between the trains.Wonder if he caused the collision by distracting the drivers with his constant flight!

P.S.: Hehehe. there , that felt really good! My sweet revenge for all the knuckle raps that I suffered at school for being so numerically challenged.
I actually have great respect for mathematics and mathematicians - no offence intended. But I really used to find some of these sums highly amusing.
As a nation I think we are not a very demonstrative people particularly of emotions of love and affection.While we may jump and scream during a cricket match and express our joy and anger, when it comes to showing love and affection we tend to underplay and even suppress.Most Europeans and even in America, it is common to greet each other with a peck on the cheek, a hug or a half hug. But in india, most of us shy from being touchy-feely and demonstrative. It is not difficult to understand it as in our culture physical contact was restricted to family - in south India,a brother is not allowed to touch a grown up sister, leave alone hug and plant a kiss. With a lot of people travelling and with the western influence on our life style, things are changing.
One sees a lot of it in the Hindi film fraternity and among the college students. Actually it feels quite good when many of the younger girls in the french class spontaneously greet you with a hug. It does seem therapeutic and may be there is some truth in the famous treatment technique of Munnabhai m.b.b.s. - the jadoo ka jhappi treatment. According to a family therapist Virginia Satir "We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth!"
Next time you find someone close in a sad or low mood, try giving them a hug and see the difference. If you love someone or care about someone, it is ok to express it - it does not make you weak or vulnerable.
Apparently hug can be an effective neutraliser of anger. Walter Anderson says
"If you're angry at a loved one, hug that person. And mean it. You may not want to hug - which is all the more reason to do so. It's hard to stay angry when someone shows they love you, and that's precisely what happens when we hug each other."
Kids know this instinctively. The moment they sense that you are angry, upset or sad they give you a hug and make you feel better.
This article has some interesting information on the importance of hugs as a therapy.
And next time you meet a friend but did not have the time to buy a gift remember this:
“A hug is the perfect gift; one size fits all, and nobody minds if you exchange it.”
Anita nair had written a nice article in the New Indian Express on father's day. I always get very interested when people talk about their relationship with their father, the jokes and pranks they shared, their discussions,arguments etc. In our family, we knew our father only through my mother. He hardly spoke to us and if we needed anything mother conveyed it to him and it was either approved or rejected. No further appeal. He was not someone who was ever worried about our academic performance - perhaps because we were all inevitably at the top of the class but i have a nagging feeling that he would have signed our report card without a murmur even if we had got the last rank in class. I do not remember him ever giving us advice or opinion on anything - he might have if we had asked him but we were too scared to talk to him directly. And it was always a joke to me when my mother claimed that I was my father's favorite - i wish he had shown it to me in some ways! It was only after my marriage that I experienced tangibly a father's love through my father in law who treated me more like his own daughter.

With this kind of emotional baggage, I always feel a tug somewhere inside when I come across special father /children bonds in books and films.Needless to say that I have my own set of favourite fictional fathers:

At the very top of the list of course is daddy "Mrs.Doubtfire"- doting and full of fun, a buddy above all- someone who makes you feel "no matter what, I will always be there for you." He could get you in trouble, lots of it but you know he will also get you out of it. A great dad for pre-adoloscents.

Almost rubbing shoulders with daddy doubtfire is the daddy played by Gregory Peck in "To Kill a Mockingbird" - a daddy whom every child would be proud of. A little too perfect? May be, but who's complaining?

Mr.Bennett of Pride and Prejudice is another favourite. He was perhaps a failure in a conventional way in terms of securing a sound financial future for his daughters and that is precisely what makes him more human than the other fictional fathers. He is not a super hero. He is an ordinary father whom you could actually hope to have - well-read,one with whom one can discuss anything under the sun, share a good joke with and one who would support you in any rational decision you make. A great father in your teens and adulthood.

The role of "daddy" played by Anupam Kher in the Hindi film of the same name is another favourite - an immensely talented poet. oozing sentmentality from every pore, weak in many ways but I just love the way he looks at his daughter - as if his world started and ended there.

I love another father's role he played in "Dil Hai ki maanta nahin" - super rich and super crazy. Now that is a fun father who would indulge your every whim and if you are equally crazy, the world can't get better. I particularly loved the last scene when he incites Pooja to elope with Aamir in stead of the rich boy who is about to marry her and the way he gleefully announces after she runs away: "She has a habit of running away and she has done it again!"

The only Father/ daughter duo I could remember from Tamil films is the one in Rajaraja chozhan played by Shivaji Ganeshan and Lakshmi - very interesting interaction between a smart father and daughter. The daughter worships the father and the father adores the daughter but neither could be bothered to make a show of it and have to constantly engage in verbal battle and one-up-manship in witty exchanges. Very interesting portrayal.

Of the ad dads, my favorite would have to be the father in the Nokia cell phone ad which goes "Na Badla woh suraj woh rah, Na badle mere papa." In the one minute you see the special bond between father and son and their expressions are lovely - a father who takes special care to instil the right values in his children and show them the right path ahead and would stay down to earth to insist that the function of a phone is to simply talk to someone!

And finally of course I know for most of you who read this your favourite daddy is your own - So don't wait for a special day to let him know that - Now is always a good time!
Saw two films in the past few days - both left me thinking about women and their life and psyche just about 100 years ago.

The first was a french film "Camille Claudel" - based on the life of Camille, who was the pupil of Auguste Rodin, the French sculptor who attained immortality through his carving of "le Penseur"(the thinker). She was so talented and inspired in her work that she became his muse, his model and collaborator for some his best works. They had a passionate relationship which ended when she realised he would never leave Rose Beuret,his partner of 20 years. In the subsequent years she created a lot of work which showed her genius and originality but she never got over Rodin and slowly became alcoholic, depressed and paranoid. In her destructive phase she destroyed much of her work and finally had to be confined to an asylum where she lived for 30 years till her death in 1943.
A woman with immense talent, a rebel but destroyed by the her love for a man and his refusal to marry her.So much genius, so gifted but all to no end - what an immense loss to the world of art. What was the reason - love too strong or inability to accept rejection? Did she value herself only in relation to Rodin that she went on a path of destruction wheh he refused to marry her?

The second was "Memoirs of a geisha" - the story of a young girl who is sold by her parents to a okiya or a geisha house , her initial resistance and struggles and gradual transformation into acceptance of her life and its culmination in her becoming the finest geisha in town. It could have easily slipped into a documentary but for the emotional interplays involving jealousy, love and sacrifice. Nice and touching film.

What struck me was the concept of "geisha" - women who were trained in everything beautiful, artistic, gentle and doing and saying things in the right manner- whether it was pouring sake or discussing politics.At a time when wives were excluded from public life, geisha women were employed to be hostesses at social gatherings as they were trained in the skills that symbolised society's illusion of feminine perfection. Obviously such perfection can never been attained in a "real" relationship as with a man and his wife. The reality of day to day living tends to complicate life and brings out the rougher and ruder side of men and the nagging, sulking and meaner side from the woman. Real life is after all not perfect. That is where the Geisha's came in - as a periodic escape into a make-believe world where everything was beautiful, gentle and perfect. An escape into a fantasy world which cost a packet to the man in terms of maintaining the Geisha and for the woman , the cost was that she could never have the status of a wife. A classic case of commodification of women and yet a lot of women chose the profession and took pride in being the best Geisha.

Two types of women - exact opposites in terms of personality! Of course it is true that neither type of women represented the "typical" or average woman of their age. But until very recently women were expected to possess certain attributes as defined by a man's conception of what was "desirable" in a woman and this played a large role in their upbringing. "Rejection" affected them.
What is comforting is that most of the young women of today can relate to neither type of women - shows the distance we have covered in terms of advancement of women. Men and marriage have ceased to be the point of reference for what they choose to do with their life. Their life is much larger than these.
Or is it?
The Income Tax forms to be submitted in the coming years will collect information on the spending details of the assessees. When I read this I wondered if the Finance Minister was trying to understand the soul of the assesees as I had read somewhere:
"How you make your money is unimportant;how you spend it reveals your soul."
I suppose the FM today is such a harried man that he has no such desires but yes, the spending habits of a person or family speak a lot about them. The FM himself is a personally wealthy man with simple and refined tastes and then we have men like Narayanamoorthy on whom their enormous fortune sits lightly. Makes you realise that beyond what you can spend in a lifetime, your bank balance is just a number.
As one looks around and sees the salaries offered for fresh engineers and MBAs you realise that the problem for many today is not "how to Make money" but "how to spend it well."I guess that is where the lifestyle magazines come to one's aid - showcasing exclusive products designed to announce your "arrival" to the world. Watches costing lakhs, designer jewellery, cars oozing machohood and diamonds enhancing one's self esteem.
I suppose the first impulse we all have when we get our financial independence is to splurge on things we have always wanted but not allowed to have. Most of the time these attractions lose their charm once we have the ability to acquire them anytime. So it would seem that the trick would be to set one's desires so high that you would always be a little short of the ability to have it, and this will keep you stay motivated to make more money. I know a few friends who support a lot of causes and this give them the motivation to earn - the desire to help the needy. But on the average, I suppose most people make money to have comfort, security in old age, a certain level of luxury and indulgence and their spending patterns reveal these motivations which revolve more around themselves and their family than any cause or person beyond. Not a bad motivation to have - at least they are not a burden to anyone. What I cannot understand is people who spend so much time and energy making money and having no time or interests to spend it. And then there are these others who make money in corrupt ways that spending it or even keeping it becomes a problem - they have to create secret storages in their house floors or their children use currency notes to smoke cocaine.
I suppose money well spent is an indicator of a life well-spent.
But I think the problem with running after making money is the question :"how much is enough?" Tough question. But I think for me , "enough" would be when I can give my children nutritious food and good education,buy the books and music I want,not have to think twice about inviting someone to share my meals,indulging in something silly once in a while, and being able to lead my simple life independently without becoming a burden to anyone till the end.
Isn't that enough?
Traffic in Bangalore tops the list of my pet peeves. I can claim to have some experience on the subject having had the experience of driving 28km each way from IIM to peenya every single working day for 3 years and that practically covers a diagonal sweep from southeast to northwest ends of bangalore (in the early 90s - now bangalore has stretched beyond in both directions)
And I have spent another 20 years driving around town to different workplaces and so I can speak about it with some authority. But one can sum up Bangalore traffic today in one word:CRAZY! and add a statutory warning: KEEP AWAY!
So it was highly cathartic to read a hilarious article forwarded by Ramkumar on the condition of Indian traffic and pretty spot on. Thanks Ram. I agree ,there is no calamity so great that you cannot laugh about it!
This hilarious article was written by a Dutchman who spent two years in Bangalore, India, as a visiting expert
Driving in Bangalore / India
"For the benefit of every Tom, Dick and Harry visiting India and daring to drive on Indian roads, I am offering a few hints for survival. They are applicable to every place in India except Bihar, where life outside a vehicle is only marginally safer.
Indian road rules broadly operate within the domain of karma where you do your best, and leave the results to your insurance company.
The hints are as follows: Do we drive on the left or right of the road? The answer is "both". Basically you start on the left of the road, unless it is occupied. In that case, go to the right, unless that is also occupied. Then proceed by occupying the next available gap, as in chess. Just trust your instincts, ascertain the direction, and proceed. Adherence to road rules leads to much misery and occasional fatality. Most drivers don't drive, but just aim their vehicles in the generally intended direction.
Don't you get discouraged or underestimate yourself except for a belief in reincarnation; the other drivers are not in any better position.
Don't stop at pedestrian crossings just because some fool wants to cross the road. You may do so only if you enjoy being bumped in the back.
Pedestrians have been strictly instructed to cross only when traffic is moving slowly or has come to a dead stop because some minister is in town.
Still some idiot may try to wade across, but then, let us not talk ill of the dead.
Blowing your horn is not a sign of protest as in some countries. We horn to express joy, resentment, frustration, romance and bare lust (two brisk blasts), or just mobilize a dozing cow in the middle of the bazaar.
Keep informative books in the glove compartment. You may read them during traffic jams, while awaiting the chief minister's motorcade, or waiting for the rainwater to recede when over ground traffic meets underground drainage.
Occasionally you might see what looks like a UFO with blinking colored lights and weird sounds emanating from within. This is an illuminated bus, full of happy pilgrims singing bhajans. These pilgrims go at breakneck speed, seeking contact with the Almighty, often meeting with success.
Auto Rickshaw (Baby Taxi): The result of a collision between a rickshaw and an automobile, this three-wheeled vehicle works on an external combustion engine that runs on a mixture of kerosene oil and creosote.This triangular vehicle carries iron rods, gas cylinders or passengers three times its weight and dimension, at an unspecified fare. After careful geometric calculations, children are folded and packed into these auto rickshaws until some children in the periphery are not in contact with the vehicle at all. Then their school bags are pushed into the microscopic gaps all round so those minor collisions with other vehicles on the road cause no permanent damage. Of course, the peripheral children are charged half the fare and also learn Newton's laws of motion enroute to school.
Auto-rickshaw drivers follow the road rules depicted in the film BenHur, and are licensed to irritate.
Mopeds: The moped looks like an oil tin on wheels and makes noise like an electric shaver. It runs 30 miles on a teaspoon of petrol and travels at break-bottom speed. As the sides of the road are too rough for a ride, the moped drivers tend to drive in the middle of the road; they would rather drive under heavier vehicles instead of around them and are often "mopped" off the tarmac.
Leaning Tower of Passes: Most bus passengers are given free passes and during rush hours, there is absolute mayhem. There are passengers hanging off other passengers, who in turn hang off the railings and the overloaded bus leans dangerously, defying laws of gravity but obeying laws of surface tension. As drivers get paid for overload (so many Rupees per kg of passenger), no questions are ever asked. Steer clear of these buses by a width of three passengers.
One-way Street: These boards are put up by traffic people to add jest in their otherwise drab lives. Don't stick to the literal meaning and proceed in one direction. In metaphysical terms, it means that you cannot proceed in two directions at once. So drive as you like, in reverse throughout, if you are the fussy type.
Least I sound hypercritical, I must add a positive point also. Rash and fast driving in residential areas has been prevented by providing a "speed breaker"; two for each house. This mound, incidentally, covers the water and drainage pipes for that residence and is left untarred for easy identification by the corporation authorities, should they want to recover the pipe for year-end accounting.

Night driving on Indian roads can be an exhilarating experience for those with the mental make up of Genghis Khan. In a way, it is like playing Russian roulette, because you do not know who amongst the drivers is loaded. What looks like premature dawn on the horizon turns out to be a truck attempting a speed record. On encountering it, just pull partly into the field adjoining the road until the phenomenon passes.

Our roads do not have shoulders, but occasional boulders. Do not blink your lights expecting reciprocation. The only dim thing in the truck is the driver, and with the peg of illicit arrack (alcohol) he has had at the last stop, his total cerebral functions add up to little more than a naught. Truck drivers are the James Bonds of India, and are licensed
to kill. Often you may encounter a single powerful beam of light about six feet above the ground. This is not a super motorbike, but a truck approaching you with a single light on, usually the left one. It could be the right one, but never get too close to investigate. You may prove your point posthumously."
If you were born after the 70s and lived in one of the cities all your life, it is very likely that you do not know what Pallankuzhi is. But those older, especially from the smaller towns of South India may have spent many summer afternoons in endless rounds of this game. Remember this?

The kit for the game was no more than this wooden plank with 14 holes and 144 to 170 cowrie shells ( sozhi).
The game did involve some calculations while each player tried his best to capture all the sozhis and defeat the other players.It was a little like life itself - At the start of the game eveyone gets the same number of sozhis and what you made of it later was purely left to yourself and chance.Sometimes you were nearly bankrupt and then ended with a windfall ( in the form of getting access to the central hole called the Kasi) However careful you were in your calculations,chance did play a part and you ended up losing. For example the first player had some advantages in some settings and when a player did not have enough for all the holes on his side, the holes he chose to leave empty had a role to play. There were variations of the game depending on the age groups differing in degrees of difficulty.

The above is a 60 year old pallankuzhi plank with me and when my fingers need some exercise I do play solitaire version of it. My grandmother used to play against herself and every hand she played she played to win.And I am sure it was a good exercise for her hands and mind and perhaps a defense against Alzheimer's and the like.She lived to be 90, alert and active.

So you can imagine my delight when I saw THIS
"warmed the cockles of my heart!" as Bertram Wooster would have said. And indeed it did exactly that. I am reproducing it here for your convenience:

"A Game of Warri"

"Harbhajan Singh wracks his brains over a game of Warri, a pastime that the locals introduce him to. Warri is played in India as well – it's known as Pallanguzhi in Tamil – but, going by the mystified looks, none of the Indians seemed to have heard of it."

"If you have mastered Warri, you earn the title of "professor". One such professor decided to give Harbhajan a lesson, teaching him the intricacies of the game. A Warri board comprises twelve large pockets, into which 48 beads are filled equally. The player who begins empties one of the pits that belongs to him and distributes the seeds - one for each pit in a clockwise direction. He continues the process by emptying the pit next to where he ends the first set of seeds. He carries on the process until the end, when if he finds more than one empty pit, he gives up the turn to the other player. If he finds one empty pit next to the pit where he ended, then he captures all the seeds gathered on the right side of the empty pit. The player who captures the most seeds ends up the winner."

"Quick counting of the beads and judgement of the number of pockets to be filled requires one to be very attentive. It also requires some rapid mental calculations. Harbhajan does well, plays a few smart moves and thrills "professor" with his learning curve. Inevitably he loses, but the margin (25 to 23) tells you how close it got. "Professor" challenges him for one more round. Harbhajan, though, has a valid excuse: "I need to go out to bat, wickets are falling quickly."
Posted by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

Pallankuzhi-warri championship trophy - any sponsors???