July 26, 2015

#LikeaGirl

Over the years, I have worked extensively with kids both as a professional requirement when I was developing products that would be right for the kids and as a volunteer when we went about teaching basic tenets of hygiene to kids.

Every single time I had walked into a consumer group, or in a classroom, one thing always amazed me. The girls outshone the boys. Every single time. When I visit the crèche at our office during the evenings; often to get away from the incessant emails and relive my childhood; I find the girls totally taking control. And it looks amazing.

However, as they grow up something happens. Often in countries like India, it is economical. The ‘future bread winner’, the ‘son’ continues his education while the daughter is asked to stay at home. And the bright sparks slowly die out. That is easily corrected and I am sure will be corrected.

But as I worked in other markets outside India, I saw this trend too. At times, I thought that bullies were to blame. And because of genetics, bullies usually would be boys. (Remember Calvin? For all intents and purposes, in my mind, Calvin was a bully). But that idea did not bear fruit. Young girls figure out the bully in the gang and often ensure they are taught a lesson. So it could not be that genetically stronger boys bully girls in school which make girls change their behaviour.

There had to be something else.

So I started reading up on psychology. Some patterns emerged. Societal stereotypes often make kids choose their calling. The colours pink and blue are a classic example. There are no pink shorts for boys and only the rare blue frock for girls when you go shopping. The balloons in the birthday party are always gender coloured. As a result, we start conditioning kids at an early age. Some of it also is genetic. One of them is the natural caregiver, the other is ‘supposed to be’ the gatherer. Therefore there are careers where one would be suited perfectly based on gender. But then, that’s a generalization. And more importantly, generations of conditioning allows the caregiver to be the provider but rarely vice-versa.

Yesterday I found perhaps one of the most plausible explanations for this change. Puberty. And it fits my own observations for the past 8 years. Stereotypes come into play even more than they ever did and slowly kids who never thought that they were any different than boys, begin to act differently.

Watch the video, it’s really interesting.

And remember to tell your daughters, nieces, any kid you might know that’s it’s awesome to be #LikeaGirl



June 13, 2015

The Supremacy Debate

Over the years, the debate has been on. Which is the best mango around the world. India loves her mangoes. We produce the world’s highest number of mangoes and export as little as we can since we just eat up most of our produce. I love such passion.

No one can be more passionate about mangoes than Bengalis. And Bengal knows her mangoes. Any true Bengali will tell you that only 2 districts in this world produce the world’s best mangoes. Malda and Murshidabad. Everyone else is just a hopeful imposter.

Ever since I was a child, I have been well trained to identify mangoes and their unique tastes. Even though we fall in the category of the “Mango People” or the commoners, in terms of mango we developed rich and cultivated tastes. Every year we would start in early May, getting irritated with every bite of the first batch of mangoes that would come to Calcutta. Suddenly, people would remember long lost relatives in Murshidabad and Malda. In fact legend has it that I was given away in marriage after strong evidence of Ze Wife’s Grandma’s outstanding culinary skills in making mango pickle. Though this theory is strongly refuted by all.

And that’s not surprising. I remember the day when I was sent off to far away Muzaffarpur, both my grandmas called me up to say that I was going to the land of litchis!!! No farewell, No “take care of yourself”, not even, “Don’t get married without letting us know!”. Plain and simple I was told of litchis. Only later while I had worked on Foods for a long period of time, I realized the importance of provenance.

So I grew up in the summer months of Calcutta eating everything possible that can be made of mangoes in various stages of ripeness. Apart from the whole mangoes, there were pickles, chutneys, sherbets, sweets, puddings, custards and even lentils!!! It was perhaps the only time a self-respecting Bong Household would serve something other than Rosogolla and Fish Fry when people came unannounced.

And as a child, every single year I waited for the Himsagar to arrive!

Last year was the first year of my life when I did not have Himsagar. Maybe it was work, maybe it was an effort to like Alphonsos and treat Badami with some respect that made me wait for Himsagar till I found the entire West of India has not even heard of them. In fact, Langras are also a rarity. Then one day, I found this one vendor from Bihar who said, “Sir, aap jaisa aam ke samajhdaar kahan milte hain aajkal? Yahan log sirf yahan ke aam hi khate hain” He did sell me litchis at a fleecing price of 10 USD per KG but then if you are called a connoisseur, you end up paying!!!

Ze Wife has the bloodline to understand mangoes. So with her for the last few years we have gone ahead and tasted mangoes from outside India. And we feel today like the protagonist of The Alchemist! The Thai mangoes are good only with the sticky Jasmine rice. The ones from Cebu (in the Philippines) are passable at best, and the lesser said about the Chinese varieties, the better. Today my sister started crying on FB saying my niece has to satisfy her love for mangoes with Mexican mangoes which are pretty sour. Can you beat that? Mexican? I am still in shock. So after travelling around the world, and eating almost everything of note except the Spanish mangoes, I have decided it is Himasagar that my heart desires.

Even after this realization, this year, we took it upon ourselves to try every variety of mangoes available in Mumbai but nothing seems to satisfy. Lalbag, Totapuri, Alphonsos, Badami, Kesar, Dasheri, nothing!


Today we finally found some decent langras. And as we were biting into the softness and the sweetness, the evil plan was hatched. Do you know which is the only district that can come close to Malda when it comes to Himasagar? The answer my friend is Rajshahi. And I shall say no more.

May 25, 2015

The Beginning

It is said that every beginning starts with an inspiration – sometimes human, sometimes divine. And probably this beginning required a divine one. Somewhere in the hills of Himachal, I suddenly realized that it was perhaps time to write more about travel. Himachal, the abode of the Gods, made me realize how travelling makes one a better human being, how travelling together makes you love one another even more. Sometimes, travelling is all the succour a parched soul needs.

Himachal is breathtakingly beautiful. The walks through the villages, the silence of the apple orchards, the cakes from the bakeries that call themselves ‘German’ all add to the quaint beauty of Himachal. From the touristy mall road of Shimla to the quiet of Mashobra, from the snowy caps of Solang Valley, to the roaring waters of the Beas. Himachal beckons you with all the glory of nature.

However, nature can also be devastatingly beautiful. For us, Manali would be always be remembered for the fury of nature at her full glory. As we rafted down the rapids of the Beas, the clouds broke and Beas reciprocated in full. She was angry and her anger grew as she tossed and turned the puny humans trying to keep their raft afloat on her current. When we finally got to the shore, nature had taught us a lesson we would never forget.

Himachal is at the cusp of a change. Civilization is slowly catching up and the green of the valleys slowly are giving way to more and more real estates. The appetite of Delhi for a second home is slowly beginning to spread to both Himachal and Uttarakhand and as the number of tourists increase, so does the trampling of nature by those who for generations had kept it safe. The Palace of the Kullu kings showcase how you can be one with nature and yet build something substantial. But no longer. The palace is now a hotel, while the administrative capital has shifted to Shimla.

New roads, new dams, electricity, schools all spring up as they should. So does new hotels, guest houses and summer residences. And often without a second thought about nature herself.

It does feel at times that more than anything else, Himachal is about Gods. Hindu mythology comes alive in every pebble and every stream that flows through the mountains. The sages of Hindu scriptures have all left their marks across the springs and often you wonder if the seven immortals of Hinduism will suddenly come forth from behind the ageless trees.

The hills and villages have their own travelling Gods and they move from village to village ensuring that no harm comes to the villages. The Mega Gods of Hinduism are revered as well but what sets Himachal apart are these unique Gods. The Village Gods sit in council as well and take a decision based on what’s best for the villages. And then they travel back. At times, there are no roads to these villages and the Gods sit on their own unique ropeways and travel upwards to their destination while their bearers trudge the tricky mountainous terrains.

Shimla herself has the Bengali Kali Bari and the Shimla Church. Ages ago, two communities had made Himachal their home. The Bengalis worshipped the Mother Goddess and the British worshipped Mother Mary in their summer residences. And when you walk in to their hallowed halls you can hear history whispering into your ears. And then far away from Bengal if you miss your food of home, just walk down the steps of the Kali Bari where even today a Bengali can find his heart’s desire of home cooked food.

Close to the Himalayas, you are never away from the divine.

April 27, 2015

The Beginning of Sin

I have been always fascinated by the story of the apple and man’s first sin. At the outset, it is a straightforward demonstration of human nature. We love the forbidden. We love to reach beyond our limits, to touch what’s beyond us. Exploration of the unknown is our inherent nature. Deep within, the explorer calls out to every single one of us. And therefore over the ages, men have sinned – gone beyond the acceptable limits.

However, on deeper analysis, sin is a lot more complicated. And nothing demonstrates its veracious stages better than gluttony, the only sin I succumb to again and again. It starts with temptation – the subtle hints that come to you from the aroma, from the sounds in the kitchen, the clink of glasses, the sizzle of a molten lava cake, the sudden appearance of a red velvet dream. The next is resistance. We turn around, we refuse and yet the hunger rises within and it’s a hunger like no other. It’s not for physical satiety, rather it’s for the soul, the tainted soul. For the pure soul can resist any temptation. We try to retain the purity. But unlike the Son of God, we finally succumb.

What follows next is the actual act of sinning. We vacillate between snobbery at it best and Gluttony at its worst. In the former, we assume the shroud of pretence, assume who we are not and then slowly we slide in to our sin. In the other, the distinction between man, created in the image of God, and an animal slowly vanishes and in some strange semblance to the apocalyptic world of Animal Farm, men forget their nature.

What results however, is only temporary satiety. The soul is tainted a bit more but the now darkened soul is not satisfied. It wants more and more.

Post this, comes repent. A shameful look at self and the promise of making every bad deed good comes. And if the repent is strong maybe temptation is kept at bay. For temptation, it is certain to come and the cycle repeats itself.

The question is – can it be broken?


March 13, 2015

For Clothes Maketh a Man!

In a land far far away, there lived a boy. He was born in a library (Don’t ask me how!) and since birth all he had seen were books. Very often when his mother came to sing a lullaby, she would find him already away in a land of dragons and heroes with a book under his pillow. He loved books and often dreamt of working in a bookstore. When I asked him if he would rather work in a library, he often seemed lost as if faced with Hobson’s choice. For how could he leave one for another? Then when I would force him, he would slowly pick his bookstore. To the young kid, if he owned a bookstore, it would mean never ever having to share his books and having them all to himself, just for himself.

He was lucky as he grew up. His teachers patronized him. His friends loved to share their books with him for he would complete an entire Hardy Boys Mystery overnight, starting at 14:00 hours as soon as the school broke. The librarian was his friend and while others would descend on the Games Room at recess, he would slowly pack his bag and walk towards the library.

As he grew older, his friends started to have interest in other aspects of life. The first razor and the excitement of the first shave; the induction into manhood, the first Axe Deo and believe it or not the first Cherry Blossom Wax Shoe Polish! These had become part of their boyhood and yet he persisted with his books. Being able to quote from Paradise Lost seemed to be a far higher calling than having the ‘Axe Effect.’

And so the years went by and like most other dreamers, the young boy was awakened into a world where he was told, it’s not enough to own a bookstore, but perhaps it’s more important to earn enough to have all the books he would ever want. From the Far East he had travelled West. He had learnt of money and what money could buy. Every month he would go and buy books by the dozens and when money would run out he would search for books in the alleyways of the city, always believing that he had made a bargain.

The day he left the country, he had a suitcase of clothes and two book cases full of books. The day he came back, he still had the same suitcase full of the same clothes and a whole new set of books.


And that’s when he realized the world had changed. Books no longer were in vogue. What mattered was what you wore. It was like school all over again with shiny new toys being the talk of the day and not the dusty old books from the library. He passed every Strand Sale reminding himself to “wear the old coat but buy the new book!” But it became harder. For now, in the changed world, clothes had begun to make the man!

February 13, 2015

Rage


Sometimes I feel we have forgotten to be angry. We have forgotten what it is to seethe in uncontrollable rage. We accept and move on. We let it be, for we fear retribution. The only time we allow our anger to come out is when we are in a crowd. The anonymity gives us courage. Our true animal instinct from our hunter gatherer days comes to the fore and we often engage in mindless violence as the anger bubbling beneath our calm visage comes forth.

I for one have never shied away from smiling even when I wanted to shout the heavens down. Anger never solved problems, I kept telling myself. Yet there are days when I want to be angry. I want to feel the burst of adrenalin that rushes forth as anger is released. But all I feel is cold fury; somewhere deep deep down.

That’s when I wonder if others have felt this rage. And I find my answer in art. I find it in Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, in Marln Brando when he walks ‘On the Waterfront’, in the Bengali literature of the tumultuous seventies. I find it in my peace loving elder colleague’s quiet admiration of Amitabh Bachhan of the early Eighties. I find it in Caravaggio’s angry strokes. Every time a society is angry, art creates an outlet for its rage.

I turned to Bollywood late into the night, angry with nothing in particular and I found my old DVD of Ghatak. Rage has never been so well depicted in Hindi Cinema. The movie is the depiction of a society bursting at its seams, frothing in its mouth and waiting for the change it desperately wants.

Since then, India prospered, moved forward and our movies changed, some say evolved. And raw anger was no longer what you wanted to see in your movies.


And slowly, as I said, I realized that we have forgotten to be angry anymore.

February 01, 2015

The Acts of Kindness

Every day as we go about in our daily lives, often wondering about the choices that we make, nothing cheers us up more than the sudden acts of kindness that strangers show our way. Over the last few weeks I have suddenly become aware of them and remain eternally thankful.

A lady slowing down her car so that I may cross the road, the unknown colleague holding the door open for me as I balance my laptop, my coffee mug, my phone and my notepad, someone offering to take my box of trash while I wonder where have all the dustbins gone, the auto driver sympathizing with me over my long hours at work.

Somehow we miss acknowledging these gestures, often taking them as nonchalantly as we would accept a rightful heirloom. In our rush to meet deadlines, the faces that held the door opened for us flashes past in a blur. People who do not matter seem and feel invisible and slowly our lives start becoming a lot more inhuman.

The other night I was in an auto somewhere in Andheri. Suddenly at a signal, a guy came running, “Can you drop me ahead?” There was no sense of request, the word please did not seem to be known to him and there was no waiting for an acknowledgment from my side. To be honest it was a bit scary, but then I still trust Bombay.

As the kid spoke, his story seemed interesting; he had planned to get off from a BEST bus without paying for the ride, was caught and was fined. He got off again, without a word of thanks but I guess that’s fine. In a world where an abuse and expletive laden show takes the internet by storm and defended under the garb of free speech, courtesy is often the easy prey.


But it showed me one thing. Not just we are forgetting to be kind, we often are afraid to be so. And that does not bode well for a world torn with strife.