Thanjavur district in Tamilnadu is known for many reasons – agricultural prosperity thanks to its position in the Cauvery delta, knowledge and patronage of dance and music , fondness for good food and people with a sharp wit. Their sharp wit manifested through their quick repartees and scintillating conversational skills which they raised to the level of art. There would never be a dull moment in our family functions as the aunts and uncles matched their wits and sparred one another with their sharp words. To an outsider, their conversations might seem cryptic with inside references and allusions through proverbs and figures of speech. If you asked my grandmother about something she had no clue about she would not simply say : “How would I know?” Instead she would say: “Pichaikku vanda brahmana Perungaya choppai kandiyo nnu idu enna kelvi?” ( this is like asking the man who came to beg at your house whether he had seen your asafetida container) To the uninitiated it might seem like a totally irrelevant answer while an insider would understand how effectively this drives home the point by comparing your question to the absurdity of asking a passerby about a small item from the corner of your kitchen. After attending a wedding an uncle would comment: “appappa, paiyan enna Neramgarey – neruppai kulupaatina madiri !” (Wow, the colour of the groom’s skin- superb! Like a burning ember that has been bathed!) While the rapturous tone would suggest admiration for the groom’s colour, insiders would smirk as they know that the potshot is at the boy’s jet black complexion. Another aunt would praise the lunch at some place as “saapaadu pramadhama irundadu Uppiliyappan Kovil prasadam madiri” It would appear that she is equating the quality to the food offered to the deity at this temple but insiders would get the point that the dishes did not have enough salt! I could go on and on but the essence would be lost in translation.

Growing up around this kind of conversation, I did not realize this manner of speech was peculiar to one region in Tamilnadu until a friend’s mother said that she did not understand half the things that Thanjavur people said. This lady was from North Arcot district. “I get intimidated by the way Thanjavur people speak” she said. From the way she said ‘Thanjavurkaara’ it I could discern that she did not like “Thanjavur people”. In later years, I have sensed approval, admiration,suspicion, contempt and even mild fear in the way people react to Thanjavurkaara. They don’t express it openly but you can feel it from the way they say the word ‘Thanjavurkaara’ – a slight roll of the eye, or extra stress on the syllables or a mild variation in the tone.

When I say things like this, my son does not understand and he asks me how I can perceive all this in a simple statement. He is a Bangalore boy all the way and he can only understand the literal meaning of every sentence in Tamil and nothing beyond. He and others of his generation in the family would miss half the nuances in a typical conversation among those of my grandmother’s generation. For example my grandmother could say something is divine but imply the exact opposite by the way she said it. (Divyam!)

This is not peculiar only to our region and people all over the world have evolved ways through inflexion, intonation, gestures and facial expressions to express sarcasm, suppressed anger and irony. Diplomatic usage of language has been consciously evolved to convey meanings at various levels – strong sentiments couched in polite language, shaking hands or hugging at a photo-op while seriously considering the good date fora military offensive. Politicians and businessmen look for the real conversation not in the statements but in the body language of the people they deal and wheel with. Non verbal communication has become as important as what is spoken; oftentimes more important.

It was easy for earlier generations to grasp the grammar of non verbal communication through constant personal interactions. Till a few years ago , majority of personal and business interactions were conducted face to face or on telephone where it was easy to pick up the non verbal cues through change in tone , expression or posture. But today’s generation communicates mostly through email, tweets, blogs or text messages. I have met many youngsters who are shy and respond in monosyllables while their fingers are constantly busy typing text messages. It seems that they have a lot to say when they are not face to face. How is it possible to have layered and nuanced conversations via text messages or even emails? Emoticons are pathetic substitutes for the real expressions accompanying conversations – a dignified dismissal, a contemptuous waving off, a look that can kill or even a wink or a smile.

Here is an article

that explains how all this 'emphasis on social networking puts younger people at a face-to-face disadvantage':

We live in a culture where young people—outfitted with iPhone and laptop and devoting hours every evening from age 10 onward to messaging of one kind and another—are ever less likely to develop the "silent fluency" that comes from face-to-face interaction. It is a skill that we all must learn, in actual social settings, from people (often older) who are adept in the idiom. As text-centered messaging increases, such occasions diminish. The digital natives improve their adroitness at the keyboard, but when it comes to their capacity to "read" the behavior of others, they are all thumbs.

I wonder if a day might come when a generation would only be able to express its feelings through emoticons and not through facial expressions or intonation. I already know that the fine art of conversation that I experienced as a youngster in my family functions is almost extinct. There are few people who can speak like that and fewer who can understand it. At a cousin’s wedding recently, I noticed that we were mostly communicating in English. Most of the youngsters of my son’s generation will not really understand a typical Thanjavur conversation except the meaning on the surface. At this rate in a time not in the distant future there would be nothing to distinguish Thanjavurkaara or Maduraikaara as everyone would be digitalkaara.

Watte pt dat wud b!:(

I am surprised at the attitude of salespeople at all these new supermarkets. Some just stand there that you think they are mannequins. Some are so reluctant to look for the specific stuff you are looking for. 'No D size in that brand ma'm.' 'arrey, I have bought it before, can you look again?' 'oh then we don't have it in stock ma'm'. And then there are those salesgirls who seem so offended when you pick up stuff and take a look? They hover around and the minute you put it back they pounce on it and try to arrange it back on the rack/shelf? I say sales 'girls' because the sections I frequent usually have girls. Yesterday I was looking at some handbags and this girl came and stood next to me and every time I took a bag she gave me a look that seemed to imply "that's too expensive for you lady. Look at that jute bag you carry. Stick to that." And she had to adjust the bag after I had hung it bag on the rack. I thought I was imagining it. She did the same to the next bag I checked. It seemed that she was more worried about having to rearrange the display than selling anything. Slowly I have learned to ignore them and look for what I want on my own.
This pathetic situation is because of the high turnover and these shops have to employ anyone who is willing to work long hours at low levels of salary. Most of the time despite being sorely tempted I do not complain to customer service only because I feel sorry for them. They obviously need the money and I don't want to be the reason they get fired. I guess they get away with so much indifference because most people don't complain for the same reason perhaps.
And I don't think the establishments take any efforts to train them to do their job well either.
Yesterday I was at one of the Big bazaar outlets and had over 20 items to check out . The cashier  asked me if I wanted plastic bags and I said I didn't as I had my own bags in the car. he said "you could have brought the bags inside. Now the security will not allow you to take the stuff without the bags. So I will put them in 3 bags. It is three rupees per bag." I refused the bags and said I would explain it to the security guy and if he insisted I could always leave the trolley with him and get my bags from the car. On the way down in the elevator a few salesmen were with me and they looked at the trolley and said "on the security is definitely not going to let her walk with that" and another added "they pay so much for all this but worry about paying three rupees for a bag." All this in Tamil little expecting me to understand. I calmly turned and said it isn't about the three rupees but about avoiding plastic bags and added if the security stopped me I would call customer support. The boys were obviously shocked and started apologising.  Starting from the cashier down to the salespersons to security they had no clue why plastic bags were being charged. I am sure the cashier is 'selling' quite a few bags to the customers who come without their own bags and may be feeling even happy about it. May be I will talk to their Customer care when I go there next.
Talking of Customer Care, I was quite impressed at the token system at the Jayanagar Head Post office.

You go straight to this machine and punch your business and it gives you a token with a number and you can be seated till your number is called. So you  assume that there would be no crowding at the counters? Wrong. People take the token and go and crowd around the respective counter or any random counter. And there is just as much confusion as before.

you don't expect one machine or a government ruling to change who we are, do you?  I can understand the attitude to plastic because the harm isn't so visible, but why do we find it difficult to queue up, to sit comfortably and wait our turn? Are we only capable of change when it is forced upon us with a stick attached? Either that or that we are all too selfish and care nothing about others, not even our own future generations.

Bangalore Metro was inaugurated on Oct 20, 2011. The first VIP ride with Union Minister Kamalnath, the state's chief Minister and several other important people was reported in all the local newspapers. An equally historic trip was made today by probably the last resident of Bangalore to ride the metro which went unnoticed by the media. You being the lucky people who read this blog are the only ones to hear all about it.
Unlike all those people who have taken the ride before for mundane reasons like commuting to work, I had a very exciting reason for the ride: to travel to Indiranagar Adyar Ananda Bhavan to eat Ghee Masala Dosa! Both the dosa and the ride did not disappoint. Here are some pictures:

Very clean stations, polite and helpful staff, very alert security who wont let you within two feet of the rails ( after that stupid boy who fell on the tracks a month ago), clear announcements. Makes me wonder why we can't have the same in our railway stations.
Best of all, bangalore still look beautiful from that level, and NO TRAFFIC SNARLS!
Any Bangaloreans still left without the metro experience, do try it. You don't need a reason. The pleasure of the experience is reason enough.
Ramble alert:
I have lost touch with blogging so you must forgive me if I hop from one topic to the other. I am on severe antibiotics and they are entirely responsible if this post doesn't make any sense to you.
Read on, but don't say I did not warn you:

Just finished reading a murder mystery “The Indian Bride” by a Norwegian author Karin Fossum When I picked up the book I was impelled by curiosity “what was an Indian bride doing in Norway ?” and my second thought was “ what the hell is an Indian bride doing in a murder mystery anyway since we Indians normally follow all the rules and keep our noses clean whenever we go abroad?” Who wants to get into trouble with immigration. It is ten years now and I am still figuring out why I got shouted at by the immigration guy at Moscow airport. It isn’t my fault that his English was bad. Anyway that’s a different story.

So back to “The Indian Bride”. So this Norwegian salesman , a bachelor at 51, decides to travel for the first time in his life and find himself a bride. He sees the picture of an Indian woman in a book on the people of the world and on an impulse decides to come to India and find a bride. And this woman gets killed on the day she arrives on Norwegian soil. So why did the girl have to be Indian and not German or East European or anything else? Anyway her only role in the story was to marry him and get this for the romantic ring of the title? Slowly it occurred to me that the author needed a woman from a very poor country. Somewhere this character could find a woman to marry him within a week. A country where you can find a poor woman to marry a “rich” white man without engaging in prolonged courtship/ dating And the guy talks about how poor the country is whenever he speaks about the country.

so he booked a flight to India. He knew it was a poor country. Perhaps he might find a woman there who could not afford to turn down his offer of following him all the way to Norway.

They make a lot of films in India. Love stories with tough heroes and beautiful women. Not the gritty real-life films we make about ordinary people. They dream a lot, Indian people. They have to. They are so poor.

and so on..

So who is the audience for all the brouhaha about India being the next big thing, an emerging economic superpower and that would be ruling the world in the next 10, 20, 50 years? Certainly not the aam admi of this country who is stifled by rising prices everywhere. Not the 400 million officially poor who are struggling just to stay alive. And definitely not the foreigners. You come out of any international airport in India and the air smells of poverty.

And yet there is talk of India as the emerging super power. And probably there are figures to prove it too. It is all about the plot you choose for your narrative – a continuous economic growth at 7 or 8 % or the UNDP Human development Index. which assesses long-term progress in health, education and income indicators where India ranks 134 among 187 countries Either way one can’t deny the fact that about a fifth of the population is chronically hungry and about half of the world’s hungry live in India. Who are we to make jokes about Africa’s starving children? Again of course if you would like an optimistic view of the country you could always talk about how the country has managed to raise millions out of poverty in the last two decades and talk about the number of televisions and cellphones in the country ( taking care to avoid any mention of availability of toilets or clean drinking water.) And the number of super rich this country has and their numbers on the world’s richest list. Patrick French hits the nail on the head when he says that “it is necessary perhaps to think in a different way, and to see that a country like India, like schrodinger’s cat, exists in at least two forms simultaneously: rich and poor.”

Budget after budget, plan after plan , so many schemes are drawn up for poverty alleviation and most of us who have benefited from the economic growth happily or unhappily pay our taxes and yet we can’t do much to see a change in these poverty and deprivation levels. Corruption even in midday meal schemes for school kids. How can we compete with these politicians and try to make a difference? One man thinks he can make a difference – Muruganandham from a village near Coimbatore in Tamilnadu Unable to continue his education after school, he joined a welding shop. Noticing that the women of his family could not afford sanitary napkins because they were so expensive and hence had to resort to unhygienic use of old cloth during their menstruation, he decided to develop a low cost sanitary napkin. After years of research during which his mother left him in protest and his wife stopped speaking to him, he succeeded in developing a machine that cut the cost of napkins drastically and provides livelihood to a lot of women in remote areas in Orissa, Jharkhand and 23 other states and he has exported the machine and transferred the technology to 6 countries. While introducing women in rural areas to switch to the use of sanitary napkins by making them affordable, he also tries to provide employment opportunities fo women by installing these machines in rural areas and training them to manufacture the napkins. You can hear his story from his mouth here:

(Please do me a favor and don’t laugh about his English. the story is not about his language skills.)

If you are Tamil-speaking you can view the videos here:

I am told that he is invited by many engineering colleges and even management institutes to talk to their students. I am sure that they will learn something that their management books haven’t taught them so far. And his zeal and commitment shows that if you want to make a difference you will find a way to do it despite all odds. What our poor need are more Muruganandhams rather than cunning political parties numbing them with freebies. His experience and achievement could be an inspiration for many young people who are far more privileged than he. As he himself says in his concluding sentence “ that Muruganandham, tenth standard, why not I? …that fellow from Coimbatore, he did, a fellow who never speak a word correctly in English, why not I? “

Why not I indeed?