Sunday, October 25, 2009

Last Sunday of October

Yes, it is the second last Sunday of this month, I know, but read on. Once the 31st has passed, October will end, and then, officially, winter will begin in the Northern hemisphere. This year, climatic changes all over the world have wrought havoc on people. In India, the errant monsoon that returned late in September and early October after playing a hide and seek for more than one and a half months destroyed the standing kharif crop, brought floods, devastation and deaths to adjoining areas of three states in and around my own (Maharashtra) and so on.

On the personal front, my practice has been good so far in October, but the healthy season is approaching, and I think my resting and recreational days are likely to return. I am going for a medical camp to a place called Jhalra Patan in Rajasthan next weekend, and hence won't be around in Mumbai to write in my blog. :-)

Finally, Nishrin took a decision to visit her relations in Chandigarh in December, and hence, I went to Mumbai Central computerised reservation center and booked return tickets for her and Inas via Paschim Express for the 18th of December, a date that coincides with the 1st of Muharram for our Misri calendar. We aren't sure if Inas' college will give her the needed permission to stay away for ten odd days. But let's see ...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Inas completes her training in a week's time

For those out of the loop, Inas is my older daughter; she is 18 and a half years old, and is doing a course in Hotel Management. At present, she is in her 2nd year of the three-year degree course, and as part of her education, she is posted as an Industrial Trainee (I.T.) at a famous 5-star hotel in Mumbai, since 1st May 2009. The I.T. training takes 6 months, and these six months will be over for her at the end of this month, i.e. after 9 days.

From all the conversations I have had with her, I have learnt that:

  1. Trainees are paid a pittance as "stipend" (Inas gets Rs. 1200 per month, which is the best from among all the hotels that train students in Mumbai; by the way, that translates to under $ 40/= per month).
  2. Compared to the measly stipend that they get paid, they are made to work like dogs ... at least 10-12 hours a day.
  3. Standards of food and general hygiene are as poor as at lesser prestigious hotels once you peek behind the glamorous and ostentatious exteriors; Inas tells me about this and has pledged never to eat at the hotel. She says she has actually seen the cooks cutting coriander without washing them, dicing vegetables and adding them to the pot without washing them, etc. She also saw a cockroach gaily sauntering among the various pots and pans!
  4. Food served to the employees is not even 10% of that which is served to the guests, is often repetitive, and rarely something to look forward to. Internees can expect little more than what is given to the permanent employees.
  5. Inas' life was limited to dressing up and going out at about 6 a.m., and returning at 7 p.m. or so, daily. She would take a quick bath, have the one meal at home and go to sleep by 9 p.m.
  6. Many of our own day and night time activities and household chores had to be tailored around Inas' schedule and Hannah, my younger daughter, and I, had to do the work that normally would be shared among the three of us. We could not attend night programs, watch night-time movies, or go for last shows to theatres.
There are some more things, but I will leave that to some other post.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An interesting gizmo

I saw this video on the net. Looks interesting, but I don't know if this will become available soon ... do check it out:

BTW, the video shows a flat screen laptop that can be carried on a sling and rolled into a small, dainty "rolltop".

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wife lost her cellular ... and more

Actually, Nishrin, my better half, keeps her cell phone in the outer room while working on her clients in the room within, as the cellular signal in the inner room is too weak for her to receive calls properly. In the past, too, she had lost one cell phone. What made today's loss all the more distressful is that this was the first cell phone from her favourite brand Nokia, that it was a present from me on her birthday, and that it was purchased by me less than a month ago.

During the time the phone went missing, I was in the outer room of our clinic too, and saw a few Sunday patients, and it is really surprising that someone picked up the phone and disappeared, almost from under our eyes.

In other news, Sunday has been a quiet day, and this is quite usual actually, but I am mentioning a few things that will make it a little hectic by evening. My parents and the entire family are about to descend on my home mat to spend the evening and have dinner. The occasion is sponsored financially by my mom, and will be attended by both my brothers and their families. A cake will be brought by Kaizar, the elder of the two younger brothers, and it will be cut by his daughter Nuriyah, who celebrates her birthday on the 22nd of October, and by my mom, whose birthday according to the Misri calendar falls today.

Food (Biryani, soup and dahi-kachumber) is being brought by me from the caterer, and will be supplemented by mom, who is bringing sheerkhurma and cutlets.

My family will be giving Nuriyah a gift pack containing a hand-chosen T-shirt (Inas and I chose it at a local store) and a decent gel pen. This will be not just for her birthday, but also because she cleared her S.S.C. exams last May, and because she underwent the "misaq" ceremony some months ago.

More news tomorrow ...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Diwali: a festival of lights or pollution?

I have seen 49 years of Diwali celebrations. And, down the years, the shape of the festival has certainly changed! As a child, I still remember going to my father's shop (also run by his three other brothers, a partnership, if you may call it so) on the eve of Diwali. The night heralded, for businessmen, the start of a new accounting year (according to the Samvat calender); business-people would go to book shops during the day, and bring back "chopdas" or books of accounts, neatly and reverently wrapped in clean and crisp red cloths. They would also arrange to buy saffron, which they would mix in water, along with some red ink in inkwells, and they would clean up the wooden twills and keep them ready for the traditional "pooja" at the appointed auspicious hour, usually in the evening at 7:52 p.m., and sometimes, in the afternoons, at either 2:52 p.m. or 3:52 p.m. All the family members would come to the shop, and while the adults got themselves busy arranging things for the pooja, the children would eagerly await their rations of the fireworks, which, once given out to them, they would take to the center of the footpaths, and start lighting up. Joy and merriment was evident in the eyes and hearts of not just the children, but also their parents and care-givers. The mothers and daughters would dote on their children, and also keep an eye on the ceremonies taking place near the main "seat" or "baithak" of the shop. As the time for the actual pooja neared, the men would open up the books, and dip their twills in the saffron and red ink mix, and at the stroke of the appointed time, they would begin spraying the first page with the saffron-ink mixture. Each book would be sprayed, one after the other, and then passed on to the eldest brother, who would write religious lines and numbers on the tops of the page - usually a "Bismillah Irrahman Nirrahim" or the numbers "786/110" - both considered auspicious for the beginning of the new year.

The dichotomy between the Islamic phrases and prayers and the Hindu rituals and poojas were never considered contradictory, as nearly each and every shop played the same rituals at the same time. Thus, within minutes, the adults would go into their shops, while the children ran out with matches, sparklers and fire-crackers, and the street would get transformed from a moving-humanity, moving-traffic scene, to a brightly lit and noisy one with thousands of crackers bursting all at once in moments that seemed magical to us children. As the crackers stocks got over, children would move back into the shop and begin to pull at their mothers' dresses, either because they wanted more crackers, or they wanted to have a bottle of Coke or Gold Spot - drinks that would be served to each of the family members.

Down the years, while the ostentation and the noise have increased, the faith and the rituals have remained almost the same. While in the past, we used to burst simple crackers, such as the sparklers, the snake tablets, the ground chakkar, the kothis and a few stings of "lar" (pronounced as ler), today, people spend much more on fireworks, and expenditures of more than a few thousand rupees is no surprise. In fact, many households spend in five figures on fireworks. Also, people often burst more and more noisy stuff and smoky stuff that pollutes the environment no end. Children and adults with asthma or chronic respiratory ailments often stay within their homes, or, if they can, go away to hill stations, vacation spots or resorts, or ancestral homes in their native places, to escape the scourge of Diwali.

Doctors have to deal with many more cases of breathing difficulties during the ten days preceding and following the main dates of Diwali. At the same time, lest one forgets, there are incidents of accidental burning, eye injury, and, as it happened yesterday at a small place in Tamil Nadu, cases of wholesale fire-cracker shops blowing up due to some electrical short circuit. In the present case, more than 30 people, mostly customers, but also shop workers, lost their lives. See this for more details.

As a parent, I often used to buy a limited cache of fireworks for my two daughters until about six or seven years ago, when my daughters themselves lost interest in burning crackers and now mouth the pollution line and dissuade our neighbours and their friends from lighting them as well. This awareness among today's teens and youth is certainly commendable, but I also think sometimes of the thousands of men, women, and unfortunately, children, employed at the fireworks factories, whose employment may come to be terminated - and at the very least, they may have to take reduced salaries, as the people lose interest in lighting fireworks.

The government, on its part, is also trying to do a lot to reduce the impact of fireworks on noise pollution, and many extremely noisy crackers have been banned this year, e.g. the sutli bomb. NGO's like the one run by Sumaira Abdul Ali, are also into the act of monitoring the menace of noise pollution caused by fire crackers. Here is a report written by her on the evils of noise pollution: click here.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Belief in the basic tenet of "Work is Worship".

I have often heard many people say this, and to my mind, at least, it makes sense in an odd sort of way. How often have people missed their visit to a temple/mosque/dargah/church because they were busy at work? I think that while some people have unshakable faith in God/Allah/Ishwar, and will stop their work and first go and pray, the vast majority will willy-nilly skip the prayer, and either perform it later, or simply send up a prayer to be forgiven.

In Islam, prayer in the form of Salaat or Namaaz is mandatory, and as a Bohra, I am expected to pray three times a day. The timings of namaaz are strict, and follow the motions of the heavenly bodies, viz. the sun and the moon. During the afternoon prayers, and in the summer, during the evening prayers too, I am at my clinic and seeing patients. Even if I am not seeing patients, I find it very inconvenient to go for ablution and then the namaaz, as the clinic premises are too small for all this. Hence, most of the days, I skip the prayers.

Now, the crux is this: if I believe in the captioned tenet, then I am not doing anything wrong if I am busy @ work. Because, work is worship, right? And yet, unforgiving Islam will not accept this excuse and urge me to pray - either at the right time, or at least later on, when I am back home.

I am in a quandary. Should I accept the tenet, or embrace Islam unequivocally?

The Monsoon Game

Every single year, India, an agro-predominant country, looks to the skies to assess if the rain-Gods would smile at it or frown. Almost half of the action that takes place in meteorological satellites pointed to the Indian sub-continent is towards the calculations of the arrival, stay and departure of the south-westerly monsoon. Crores of rupees wasted on an imperfect science that keeps turning up riddles more than solutions.

In the midst of this, the news that we have been having more than the average rainfall for the last over 15 years; and then, the news that this year, at least, rains have been truant and the entire country is facing a deficit of from 20-50% rainfall.

Mumbai's case is a lot more peculiar than the one faced by other parts of India; in Mumbai, 150 million Mumbaikars depend on the various lakes around their city for their water needs. These lakes, including the Vaitarna, Bhatsa, Tulsi, Tansa, Vihar and the Upper Vaitarna - need to fill up completely for the Brihanmumbai Mahanagarpalika (quite a mouthful, isn't it?) - or the BMC - to supply unrestricted water to all the parts of the metropolis.

This year, Mumbaikars had to face the axe as the BMC first imposed a 15% cut, and then increased it further to 30 % as the dry spell continued to have its dark shadow upon us. Then, the rains came liberally, and we saw almost 20-25 days of good monsoon from late August to mid-September. The water cut was reduced to 15% as a result of this. Presently, September was ending and October was nigh upon us when the clouds gathered again over Mumbai, and within a few days, it was raining heavily!

I had already stowed away my raincoat, and had to bring it out once again last Monday! This unexpected rain was actually a reflection of the very heavy rains that lashed areas of East Maharashtra, North Karnataka and West Andhra Pradesh; here, there were flash floods and millions of people lost their homes and hundreds lost their lives.

However, the rains provided succour, and helped re-fill the lakes around Mumbai. This was, in a way, good news to the Mumbaikar, as the lakes now have enough water to last till the middle of May 2010. However, the BMC has maintained the 15% cut and is likely to do so to prevent any unforeseen problems.

For me, personally, the rainy season is a time for more professional work, while for my better half, who runs a salon, it is a bit of a business dampener. For my daughters, it is something in between a blessing and a curse, since it leads them to the pleasures of getting wet and dancing, so to say, while at the same time, reducing their outside activities and even school attendance.