30-Mar-2011

Origami learnings


A friend’s friend organized an Origmai workshop a couple of weekends ago. I promptly signed up. It seemed like a good way to meet new people while indulging my creative side.

For those who don’t know, Origami is the art of making stuff using paper. You work with a piece of paper and keep folding it (never cutting it) till you arrive at the end result – a box or a flower or a bird or anyone of the many patterns enthusiasts have invented.

After three hours of making boxes, birds and flowers, I realized

- the only new people I had met were two ten year olds. Interesting kids but not quite suitable for sustained conversation

- An afternoon of Origami is fine but was clearly not going to become a long term hobby. Seriously, how many cranes can you make before you wonder where you are going to store all of them?

- My life has changed so much since I was a child

The last one of course hit me the hardest.

While working with great concentration on folding papers just right I thought about the last time I had worked on any kind of arts and crafts. And the last memories seem to date back to school.

Back then, arts and crafts was part of school work and as a matter of routine, I had to embroider hankies, weave crochet bags (with a lot of help from my mom) and make TV covers with cross stitch work. Over and above the school work, I also made a lot of stuff, mostly birthday cards and anything which our parents would not throw money at us for (which was basically everything other than food, necessary clothes and education). So a Christmas tree made from shoe boxes, papers and a hanger appeared once. Clothes for my doll with old/leftover cloth kept me busy for hours. At my most ambitious, I even cut an old denim skirt to make a shapeless waistcoat for myself.

The first time I had enough pocket money to buy a birthday card, I promptly abandoned handmade cards and proudly began to give people store-bought stuff. My face shined with the pleasure of what wealth could buy.

Shortly later, I also learnt that time was not as infinite as I thought it was. School had plenty of holidays when time used to stretch on for hours and I could fill it up with every single thing I wanted to do and still have some hours left. (Back then, TV was very unexciting and parents were not too fussed about having their children jump from one hobby class to the next). By the time I reached college and had charted out a rather ambitious study programme for myself, it became clear that I had to choose my activities wisely.

The choosing has gone on for a long time now, with the time vs money equation gradually altering in favour of less time and more money. Currently, all my activities usually revolve around household chores, planned social interactions or chosen hobbies.

Yet there I was, in an Origami class, looking at two ten year olds proudly display the very things I could make at their age – a windmill, a flower, a balloon – and sorely missing something.

I am not quite sure if I can ever go back to the spontaneity of my childhood but have been thinking that maybe the time has come to change a few things. So, springs the plan to try and not preplan my weekends to the last minute and instead try to leave a few hours open. Also, I think it is time to rediscover the creative streak from childhood and the next time I want something, think about whether I can make it instead of just adding it to my shopping list.

Waiting to see how this goes.

25-Mar-2011

Winter wonders


Considering I have spent most of my adult life working in only two cities – Chennai and Mumbai, the wardrobe choices are fairly simple. In summer, you wear clothes that show your arms and legs to any possible breeze that may escape your way. In ‘winter’ you cover the arms and legs. Its always cotton though. Because ‘winter’ as everyone from these two cities knows is a dip in the temperature to the late 20s. The kind that would be called ‘summer’ by people from less-informed countries closer to the Arctic Circle.

These temperatures also mean that my winter wardrobe consists entirely of things I have bought over the years for my winter holidays a.k.a. two sweaters and a muffler/scarf and an old jacket borrowed several years ago from my dad which he had acquired for his U.S. trip.

Then one fine day in January, I was sent to our Hong Kong office for a three week stint. January in HK is apparently one of the country’s coldest months where temperatures can go down to 10 degrees and a chill wind can hit you in the shade. Again, for people from the Arctic Circle, this may not mean anything at all, except perhaps the beginning of summer. For me, it was like being on a winter holiday, except I had to work and wear formal clothes.

The first day, I methodically wore my shirt, pants and other stuff bought from a last minute visit to M&S and then my sweater, the suit jacket, my muffler and the outer jacket.

The next day was pretty much the same.

By the third day the temperature had dropped to 6 degrees and there was a light rain. I was still wearing the same sweater and jacket. The bleakness of the day outside was no match for my own bleakness. I had realized that for the next three weeks, I would wear the same sweater to work and people would have no idea that I actually changed clothes everyday.

This would have been sad enough in most places but in HK it was worse.

Women in HK don’t dress for reasons of modesty or weather protection. Every morning, they wake up and ask themselves ‘What personal style statement would I like to make today?’ Then probably spend the next hour grooming themselves. How they managed to screw their eyes open early enough to indulge in this activity was beyond me. I had to wake up fifteen minutes earlier than usual every morning to wear my multiple layers. Even that made me grumpy. I did not want to compete with the locals but I did not want to stand out either in a negative way. Heck, even my male colleagues were wearing different coloured scarfs to add a personal touch to boring suits.

With so many good justifications on hand, I landed up in the mecca of discount-rate shopping – the Novotel outlet close to the airport. HK was conveniently going through its winter sales. I spent most of the day wandering through Mango, Espirit, Benetton and their brethrens in a state of bliss. At the end of the day, I had acquired a lovely and hardy Timberland jacket to replace Dad’s old jacket. And very judiciously (even if I say so myself), stopped my shopping at a couple of sweaters and a couple of tops. HK, I was ready.

The next morning, the weather had improved to a sunny 11 degrees. I began to wear my new clothes and my mood also improved. This is when I discovered one of the nicest things about winter clothes – layering. You can wear the same clothes in various combinations and come up with a new look every morning. Wearing the sweater inside a short sleeved top, knotting the scarf a different way, putting on a formal jacket instead of the sweater on the same top – the combinations were endless. It was so addictive and so much fun that by my third week I was managing to wake up atleast half an hour earlier than usual to throw together some things.

My visit was however, drawing to an end. I landed back in the middle of Bombay’s ‘winter’ with temperatures of 26 – 27 degrees. I began to sweat profusely right at the arrival terminal, with the single sweater I was wearing. It was clear my flirtation with layering had come to an end.

I was back to wearing trousers-shirts and cotton salwar kameezes. Yet, not all was lost. Inspired, I have been making more regular use of accessories – pendants, earrings, even a couple of brooches I was gifted a while ago. Even better, throwing on accessories requires a mere five minutes of my morning.

My 'judicious' winter shopping seems not so judicious now as they lie in cupboards filled with moth balls. Though I cannot deny for a minute that the experience was definitely worth it.


22-Mar-2011

How to cook Chicken Biriyani


1. Gather around the ingredients – 1 onion, 1 tomato, 6 pearls of garlic, 1 inch ginger, 1 tbsp corriander leaves+ mint leaves and grind everything. Separately wash and slice 250 gms chicken. Wash and soak 250 gms of basmati rice (or what you think looks closest to basmati rice in your kitchen)

2. Heat 5 tbps oil + ghee combo in cooker. Decide to fry long-sliced onions in them to use for garnishing later on.

3. Get impatient and remove half fried onions. Put it in a separate pan for frying

4. To the oil in the cooker, add 1 inch cinnamon stick and 2 cloves. Watch it splatter onto your hand.

5. Jump around and wash hands. Notice long-sliced onions are burning. Dispose off into bin and begin to focus on the main biriyani itself.

6. Add the vegetable paste to the oil in the cooker. Add 1 tsp chilli powder, ¼ tsp coriander powder, pinch of turmeric and necessary salt.

7. Fry till oil separates

8. Add chicken. Fry for a couple of minutes

9. Add rice. Fry for a minute

10. Add water = 2.5x rice quantity

11. Close cooker. Put whistle.

12. Chill out and watch tv

13. After 1 whistle, put stove on sim for 4 minutes

14. Turn off stove.

15. Chill out and watch tv for ten minutes

16. Open cooker. Notice rice is soggy and has expanded to enormous size and looking like Kerala rice. Realise maybe it was not basmati rice after all.

17. Put lid back again. Struggle to get handles on top and bottom of cooker to meet. Give up. Light stove again

18. Chill out and watch tv till you hear a blast

19. Run to kitchen to notice cooker lid is near the fridge and half the biriyani is on the ceiling

20. Eat the remaining biriyani. Yummmm….

21. Burn off calories by cleaning the kitchen ceiling for the next hour

21-Mar-2011

Home art

I imagine being in the business of making brochures for residential properties must be quite a satisfactory one. The builder provides you with the basics of what the house is going to be and probably adds a Shah Rukh Khan movie type dialogue ‘Beta, now let your mind soar to the skies’

Which is probably why all the brochures I have seen so far are along these lines

1. The property invariably seems to be located in so much greenery that you can’t be blamed for mistaking it is going to built in the middle of Hyde Park or Central Park.

2. The road in front of the house is usually a three lane highway, with a modest two cars going in either direction.

3. The building is gleaming from far like a spaceship freshly landed on earth

4. All the residents, not one or two but all, are white. As if mysteriously a whole village in Scandinavia decided to move to the spaceship located in the middle of Hyde Park.

The building insides don’t disappoint either. Breathtaking lobby, lifts that you would want to be trapped in forever, glossy stairwells, classy interiors.

It is the kind of brochure that makes the reader want to whip out the chequebook and sign the dotted line and wait for the weekend to roll in, so that one can make the journey to buy a part of Valhalla.

The weekend jaunt unfortunately is always a reality (or should I say realty..har har) check. One takes in the unpaved approach road, the noisy slum nearby and immediately thinks 'God-knows-what-else-was-imagined-in-the-brochure'

At this point one would expect that the eager brochure-reader cum Valhalla-buyer must be crying tears of agony at being so cheated by an illusion more powerful than the ones that appear in Indian myths.

But no.

Usually, the real estate agent has also mentioned the expected price per square foot, a number which is even more in the realm of imagination than the brochure itself.

Personally, I usually reach out for the brochure and toss it into a bin with more satisfaction than the artist must have got designing it.

Then I go back and hit the net for my next brochure.






17-Mar-2011

The Girl's Speech

Last weekend I watched The King’s Speech, a movie which would have been truly enjoyable had I actually watched it. A sizeable portion was unfortunately lost in the added chatter that was religiously provided by the mother-daughter duo sitting next to me.

The daughter must have been about seven or eight years old. As soon as the movie title appeared on screen, she began her questions.

Mama, what movie is this?
Mama, who is this?
Mama, why is the king stammering?
Mama, why is the lady upset?

In the first five minutes, I fully expected Mama to tell the daughter that they would discuss the movie once they left the movie hall since it was not polite to talk during a movie.

Expectation turned to hope and then desperation. Mama was actually providing detailed answers to each of these questions.

By the time Colin Firth’s speech therapy began, I was seriously in need of some therapy too, with a headache from trying to tune out the conversation that was happening by my side.

The daughter was clearly quite precocious given how well she followed the movie. She was also not shy to ask questions on points she did not understand. In any other context, I would have probably praised the mom for taking the effort to explain everything patiently and which had clearly helped her daughter be more involved, observant and curious about everything.

But Gaahhh!!

Isn’t being considerate to the general public no longer part of a good upbringing?



13-Mar-2011

JICYDK

Here is an extract of a conversation exchange I saw on my 14 year old cousin’s Facebook page

“its cool n i accept it..!! but fr ur info wats der in dis to put as a DP sir ?!? its an osm pic.. but nt fr a DP.. n i guess i said dat to my bro.. so..”

I read the statement.

Then read it again.

I read a lot and can proudly say I can get through different styles of writing quite well. However, the spellings compressed into half their original lengths and their strange acronyms were clearly beyond me.

Eventually I guessed that ‘osm’ perhaps stood for ‘awesome’

Then I did a Google and landed on a link for internet slangs and figured out that DP meant ‘Display Picture’

Mystery solved but the link has opened up a whole new world of internet lingo. Looks like there is a completely new language out there.

English is so passé.

IJAF people.

p.s. Obviously I have been learning some acronyms.

09-Mar-2011

Getting to the top

Yesterday, there was news about a proposed revision in the new Companies Bill which states that in case of any board having 5 or more independent directors, atleast one director should be a woman.

This was dolled out on Women’s Day as spectacular progress in the march towards male-female equality.

Frankly I am all for quotas. I appreciate the fact that certain sections of the society just don’t have the same kind of access and privileges that other parts of the society has on account of legacy issues that have existed for centuries. I am quite ok with college seats reserved for backward communities. I am ok with panchayat seats reserved for women. I am also ok with women progressively getting higher representation in the parliament (The way politics works in our country, it is not like there are too many well qualified, honest, deserving male politicians who will be replaced by female novices).

However, in this case it is a whole new ball game. Will this reservation actually achieve much?

Which brings me to the question, what do independent directors actually do? I remember reading the annual report of an Indian airline company a few years ago. It listed movie luminaries among its independent directors. I nearly fell off my chair wondering exactly how they contributed to the running of an airline. Sure, they were brilliant in their own fields, but seriously!

If they really don’t do much, then perhaps this would amount to mere tokenism. And that won’t do us much good.

If, hypothetically, the quota were extended to actual executive board members, then would it still make much sense?

An entry level job is a fairly equal opportunity role. At that level, it does not matter if a slightly less qualified person gets the job.

On the other hand, an executive role in the board is a job that requires someone who has experience and exposure. Unfortunately, even with the best of intentions it will be difficult for a company to work with an executive board, some of whose members may not really yet be ready for the job. We simply don’t have enough women to go around today.

More women at the top level is not a problem that can be solved overnight by legislation. It is a long term issue that requires recognition of the fact that women are intelligent and capable; however they need support to get to the top. The support is needed on account of the simple fact that we live in a world that is biased and tuned towards men.

The good news is women in my generation and the following ones are already making strides. More women are passing out of colleges. More women are entering the workforce. So perhaps it is not that women are losing out by not entering the race at all. It is more what happens during the course of a working career.

In the last ten years of working, I have noticed that women are the ones who are considered as the primary stakeholders in bringing up kids and running a home. Legislation cannot change society’s attitudes in one day, but legislation can certainly help.

Especially during the crucial child bearing years when a lot of women drop out from too little support at home and too much pressure at work. Not to mention the usual overwhelming male work culture that treats women who attend PTAs or stay home to look after a sick child as corporate world's greatest evil.

Effective child support systems, especially by offices themselves would help. Flexible hours, part time work and work-from-home would help. Sure a couple of years will be lost from handling too little responsibility but atleast women are still in the race.

A bit more radically - maybe legislation to start changing men’s roles in society could help. If men were given three months childcare leave, same as women, then perhaps they would be more engaged at home as well? (Am assuming at some point enough men will take up the offer to ensure that is not odd that men take time off to look after their own kids)

Will these change the ratio at the top? I can’t see so far into the future where there will be more women than men at the top but I can atleast see a reasonable dent being made in the balance.