Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The noise conundrum

The noise pollution on Delhi roads comes in all shapes and sizes, is relentless, gives not a moment of respite and is one of my versions of Hell. People honk the horns on cars, two wheelers, autos, buses etc etc for the wrong reasons, for the right reasons, and for no reason at all. They honk the horn once, then throw in the second or third or fourth honking as if it were a 1+ 1 (2/3/4) free scheme. There appears to be no compliance with the regulations regarding the horn that a particular type of vehicle may use so there are two wheelers which sound like trucks and cars which have wailing sirens. Once in 6 months or so, I step into the madness that are Delhi roads and return exhausted beyond measure simply because of the incessant, high decibel noise I have to put up with. 

Roads aren't the only offender, however. Step into a hospital and you are greeted with a cacophony of squeaking doors, repairs/renovation staff hammering/drilling away, oxygen cylinders being dragged across the floor with an awful screeching sound, patient trolleys hurtling down ramps when they have no occupants, housekeeping/nursing staff calling out to each other across corridors, visitors/attendants of patients engaged in loud conversations and a myriad cell phones ringing in a medley of ring tones that grates on one's nerves. 

Shopping malls play odious music at unbearably high levels for reasons that I have never been able to figure out. Even without the music, the hordes that descend upon shopping malls, specially on Friday evenings and weekends, make quite an unbearable buzz. It appears impossible for most people to shop or eat or even watch a movie without talking in high pitched voices -----everyone does it, the old, the young, the not so young and the very young. Why is loud music added to the deadly medley? 

Step into a restaurant, or a Barista/Cafe Coffee Day, or even an exorbitantly priced five star coffee shop. The music is loud, and so are the patrons. 

Railway stations and bus terminals are, of course, a special version of Hell where noise levels are concerned. 

Sometimes I wonder whether I suffer an illness that makes me especially vulnerable to the distress caused by noise ------ then I recall the years that we spent in my native village and the peace and calm that surrounded us. Surely, that is the natural order of things, not the cacophonous world we inhabit in cities? 

Friday, July 25, 2014

organic and all that jazz

I was at a cooking class the other day and we were a motley group of women, young and old, mothers with teenage children, young mothers, even a grandmother. We learnt how to bake focaccia and put together salads with pasta, bell pepper, lettuce, rocket leaves, broccoli etc. In other words, there was nothing desi about the cooking and I wondered afresh whether one should have an insular approach  and stick to the vegetables locally available and the local cuisines, or adopt a less conservative approach and include in one's roz ka khana foods from all over the world, even if some of the ingredients are not locally grown. Its a question I have had to deal with only when my children entered their teens and rebelled against the daal, sabzi, roti that a typically North Indian family eats. Mostly, the question's been settled not by me but my children's insistence on having meals with as much variety as possible, with a distinct tilt towards Continental and Far Eastern cuisines. My own opinion in the matter is still in a state of flux! On the one hand, the idea of experimenting with new cuisines is exciting, but the fact that we are rapidly losing large chunks of our cultural heritage, including cuisines, dampens the excitement. Maybe one ought to spend time and effort learning the difficult-to-cook and slowly-becoming-unknown dishes of the local cuisine rather than recipes that come from foreign lands, require ingredients that also travel large distances ( and therefore have a larger carbon footprint), and may not possess the same virtues as the local cuisine which has evolved over centuries and is best suited to the local climatic conditions, soil type, physique etc etc.  

Much more than the local vs international aspect of cooking what bothered me were the discussions on organic vegetables and fruits. I had switched to organic vegetables and fruits many years ago but the same arguments that years ago had convinced me to make the expensive switch sounded more than a little hollow and hypocritical. We are concerned about the effect that chemical laden vegetables and fruits may have on our health, we are concerned about the long term health of the soil and water, we are concerned about our legacy to our children and grand children in terms of food resources, and all our concerns are justified but missing from this list of concerns is the fate of the millions who earn their livelihood through non organic agriculture, of the lakhs who have killed themselves in the past decade because such agriculture is unable to afford them even subsistence incomes, of the lakhs who stand on the verge of a similar fate. We do not question the government's farm policy or lack of it, we do not question the macro picture in which massive subsidies continue to be garnered by the chemical industry under the garb of farm subsidies, we do not question the absence of land reforms, we do not question the government's failure to promote agro based small industries ------- we simply patronise the suppliers of organic food that we know of , and turn a blind eye to the larger issues. 

So while farmers continue to suffer, we sit in air conditioned living rooms and learn Continental cuisine using organic and imported ingredients! I know I will overcome this twinge of conscience and attend the next class ------  its hypocritical, nevertheless. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

to be or not to be

Its been four years, nearly, since I proceeded on leave . Its been four eventful years in which I have re discovered a passion for poetry , become acquainted with dozens of music genres that I was ignorant of, developed an abiding interest in the so called occult sciences, experienced the joys of gardening and composting, participated in citizens' initiatives, grown interested in politics, specially local governance, made acquaintance with dozens of 'activists" whose lives appear far more meaningful and useful than mine, read books that I never would have had the time to, stumbled upon minimalism, spent countless hours in the kitchen cooking newly learnt recipes for my sons, and last but not the least, established a strong, enduring bond of honest communication with my teenage sons.

Now, the time draws near when the leave period will expire and I will be back at the desk, chasing revenue targets or adjudication targets, compiling reports, attending endless meetings, or, if I am fortunate, framing policy/procedure that is enforced more in default than in compliance, spending the weekends in office, sitting till late in the evening simply because the boss chooses to work late etc etc ------- the prospect is not cheering. 

The solution is simple and straightforward ---seek voluntary retirement ------but it is also a little scary. Will I be able to mentally adjust to being stripped of my professional identity? Will I not regret giving up a job I had worked hard to secure? What if I am unable to find something meaningful to do which fills my days once my sons leave for college in a few months? What if I begin to resent my husband's busy days? What if, what if, what if -------the questions are endless , yet my gut feeling is that I will manage just fine. 

At another level, I am also looking forward to the freedom that such a decision will bring, which will rather fortuitously coincide with fewer responsibilities vis a vis my children. As I edge closer to entering the third quarter of my life, the freedom to live a little more for myself seems exciting .

I still haven't quite made up my mind ----- I await a divine signal!

Monday, July 14, 2014

the joy of minimalism

My conscious journey towards minimalism began quite accidentally. While searching for one of my favourite poetry blogs, I discovered instead the blog written by Leo Babauta ( http://zenhabits.net/ ). It so strongly resonated with my unspelled thoughts that I began to read more and more on minimalism, and stumbled upon another inspiring blog ( http://www.becomingminimalist.com/becoming-minimalist-start-here/ ), written by Joshua Becker. What joy, what satisfaction, to discover that there are so many like minded people in the world !

In a manner of speaking, my husband and I had unconsciously followed a minimalist lifestyle for many, many years. In the early years of my marriage, I was often chided for having only 4 sets of clothes each for my sons -----one to wear, one in the wash, one with the dhobi for ironing , and one for emergencies. I bought good quality clothes, but scarcely ever more than 4, and adopted the same philosophy for myself. Our home was a stark example of minimalism ----- no carpets, no display pieces, nothing that could be broken, no furniture beyond the bare minimum, lots of space for the children to prance about without having to worry about knocking into something or breaking a vase or a figurine or whatever. We even did away with upholstered dining chairs -----spills don't matter on wooden slatted chairs because they can be so easily cleaned! 

Then I began buying books, and I'd buy the whole collection if I liked an author. My husband decided I should spend more on clothes so we went on sari shopping binges. My mother added to my growing possessions by buying me clothes by the dozen. I developed a fascination for linen and soon had cupboards full of bedcovers, bedsheets, comforters et al. My elder son began collecting books too, as well as music CDs and musical instruments, while the younger one has more clothes and shoes than the rest of the family put together. We still retained a minimalist approach to decor -----minimal furniture and display pieces, just a couple of floor coverings in a large house, a few paintings on the walls ------ but the kitchen too began to creak under the load of crockery and cutlery and kitchen devices. 

About a couple of years ago, I discovered the blogs I have mentioned above ------and what a ride its been! My library's been decimated, my clothes have shrunk in number to one tenth of what I had, all unused items in the kitchen have vanished , and the twin practices of "keep all flat surfaces clear as far as possible " and "buy one give away two" have been added to the principles that guide my life. In the process, I have learnt to emotionally detach myself from material possessions, buy only what is absolutely necessary, and receive and give with humility and joy. 

Its an ongoing journey ----- forgiveness, I recently discovered through personal experience, is also an aspect of the minimalist life. The more one forgives, the less emotional baggage one carries. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

pilgrim ahoy!

A new train has been inaugurated by the Prime Minister ------ so now pilgrims to the shrine of Vaishno Devi will be able to travel right upto Katra via a train, and not have to face the inconvenience of boarding a bus or taxi at Jammu.

There are hundreds of train links that possess a far greater degree of urgency and should be placed on priority ----- train links that connect people to educational centres, employment centres, medical care centres etc etc. Why are we so obsessed with making pilgrimages as convenient and hassle free as possible?

In the first place, pilgrimages that fall in ecologically sensitive zones should be protected from pilgrim hordes if we are to let the future generations not visit their ruins. Last year's floods in Uttarakhand should have been a lesson quickly learnt and never forgotten about the need to not commercialise pilgrimages to the extent of causing irreparable ecological damage. We seem to have either not learnt our lessons or forgotten them already. 

Secondly, pilgrimages by definition involved some degree of hardship, a willing sacrifice of comfort, a readiness to face danger to life and limb ----- in search of spiritual or moral guidance, to express gratitude for bounties received or perform penance for conscious or inadvertent sins. Now, we are slowly bringing pilgrimages at par with a trip to an air conditioned shopping mall. Either we should erase the distinction between "religious" and "secular", and admit that pilgrimages have been converted into sight seeing tours, or, if we do wish to maintain the distinction, then the element of hardship should remain. 

What's also rather galling about these pilgrimages-made-easy is that they substitute acts of kindness and compassion and honesty in our daily lives which are far more likely to bring one closer to the Creator than a quick hop and jump pilgrimage. We ignore poverty, we mock at those born in circumstances less fortunate than ours, we sermonise about the need for the "poor" to raise themselves by their own effort ( as if they had the same means and opportunities that we do), we lie, we cheat, and then we perform an act of expiation by a quick and convenient pilgrimage. 

Our trains are filthy, as our are railway stations. The drinking water's quality is suspect, as is that of the food available at railway stations. Safety is a neglected aspect, so is timeliness of arrival and departure of trains. There are routes which are so over crowded that not a square inch of unoccupied space is visible in train compartments. There are routes where the dire need for rail links has been ignored for decades. We need to focus attention and resources on these aspects, not pilgrim routes. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Punctuality? What may that be??

The Union Information & Broadcasting Minister conducted a surprise check and found what he must have expected to find ------officials reaching their work place at their own leisurely pace. 

That no less than the Minister has to step in ensure punctuality in attendance ----- and that because the Prime Minister attaches significance to it ----- tells us something we all know and care nothing about: punctuality is not a trait that Indians are proud to possess. 

Government officials do not begin work at the designated hour. Meetings do not ever begin as scheduled, particularly if non government stakeholders are also participants. Even ceremonies such as those to honour officials with awards or occasions when pledges and oaths are administered begin only when the VIP steps in, no matter how late. Indian delegations to international fora are invariably the last ones to enter the conference venue. Those of us who protest are looked at rather sneeringly ------punctuality is not considered either a legal or a moral imperative. 

The government/public sector alone cannot be blamed, however. Trains and buses do not run as per schedule, not even private and chartered buses or even school buses. Shopping establishments do not open at the declared hour. Appointments with administrators/teachers in schools and colleges inevitably begin late. Bank officials keep one waiting even if a mutually convenient time had been agreed upon with one's "personal banker". Service engineers/technicians who visit to repair/maintain equipment never adhere to the stipulated hour for visit. Those who punctually arrive at a social get together are frowned upon. 

As a nation, we do not value our time or the other person's. Possibly, we have too little to do and therefore imagine that we have all the time in the world to do it. 

We have too little to do because we do not take pride in our work, and therefore do not feel impelled to do the best we can. We have too little to do because a large portion of our work we'd rather delegate, and consider ourselves "superior" for that reason. We have too little to do because we are content with a little knowledge about everything under the sun and do not care to take the trouble of developing expertise in any domain. We have too little to do because we do not aspire for perfection, and are satisfied so long as the bare minimum to hold our lives together is achieved. 

We as a nation are lazy and mediocre, and unless we remedy that, no amount of "surprise checks" will change the way we live and function.