Watch what you are getting

Rajan Kapoor

THE rescheduling of timings of a male contraceptive advertisement recently kicked off a controversy. A school of opinion pooh-poohed the decision while another supported it. The row reminded me of an incident from my college days. Our class was about to commence. A mischievous student brought an empty condom carton in the class, and for fun, kept it on the dais before the teacher’s arrival. When the teacher arrived, he simply picked up the carton and uttered thoughtfully, ‘Nirodh ka virodh nahin kiya ja sakta, yeh desh hit main nahin’ (opposition to Nirodh is not in the interest of the nation). He then delivered a powerful lecture on the significance of population control. That day, I, along with my classmates, understood the real worth of the ad that used to run twice on the national channel with the tagline — ‘Bachon mein antar rakne ka saral upae’ (an easy way to space out kids).

The ads of yesteryear were both entertaining and informative. But, the present ads lack both the punch and sensitiveness of commercials of the bygone era. The face of modern ads is smeared with the slush of profit and, often, cross all levels of decency to achieve their target. They do not care a fig about the impact on the audience, assigning moral obligation to the bin. Poor logic is another hallmark. The innerwear of men are marketed by women. And, men feature in ads of kitchen aids and edible oils. The promotion of certain ‘magic’ medicines to increase height, build up a muscular body and rejuvenate hair on a bald head takes medical science for a ride. Some ads display absurdity of the highest level when they offer a cure for a bulging tummy sans exercise and diet management!

Modern ads also promote bias against women. Washing powder and toilet cleaner is specifically reserved for the fair sex. In one ad, a girl with a pimple on her face is so traumatised that she prefers to stay at home, fearing that her ‘ugly’ face may break her relationship with her boyfriend. The ad offers a remedy. The girl is ‘told’ to apply a particular cream to keep her friendship intact.

Cultural sensitivities associated with Karvachauth are derided in another ad. A husband who gets late on the auspicious day, takes his starving wife on a long drive in his newly purchased car and makes her see the moon by opening the roof of the car. Both ads demean and lower the status of women.

Social values are often blown to smithereens in many advertisements. In one, a father, who otherwise gets disturbed by the entry of his daughter’s boyfriend to her room when she is alone at home, forgives the boy for ‘moral trespassing’ when he lures the former with his high-end smartphone! In another, the sacred teacher-taught relation takes a hit when the principal of a school eggs on his students to bunk classes to taste a candy of a particular brand!

These ads come wrapped in a golden cover, but are hollow from inside. It is important to see through their motives before embracing them.

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Caught in the middle

Rajender Singh

THE Gujarat elections proved Alexander Pope wrong for saying, ‘He knows to live who keeps the middle state, and neither leans on this side nor on that.’ The elections showed how everyone — centrists, leftists, moderates and middlings — seemed eager to take the right-wing stance, and rightly so. Stationed between the right and the left, the ‘middle state’ is derided by both. At a personal level, the results shattered my complacence, making me realise how my own middle state has been a source of unending problems.

I was reminded of my disadvantageous middle position among siblings. If the wisdom and authority of my elder brother overawed me; the way everyone pampered the younger one turned me green with envy.

When I watched BR Chopra’s Mahabharata on Doordarshan in the late ’80s, I viewed everything from Bhima’s perspective, who was the middle one among Kunti’s sons. The empathy I felt was spontaneous and natural. I seemed to know the actual reason every time he was sent to face danger or fight some terrible monster, all alone. The story of the hapless middle son of a Brahmin, who, on his parents’ insistence, agrees to be Ghatotkach’s lunch to save his elder and younger brothers, brought large tears to my distraught eyes.

Now, while braving the middle stage of life, I have reached this cold conclusion that there is something inherently wrong with the middle position. Terms like ‘middleman’ and ‘middle class’ evoke the feeling of backwardness, mediocrity, disgust and rejection. Once a very ‘innovative’ union minister cut the middle class to size with his epithet of ‘cattle class’.

The Middle-East is considered to be virtual hell on earth. Mythology shows its contempt of the middle sphere through the tale of the stuck-in-the-middle king Trishanku. Those who talk of the middle path and buck the trend by refusing to join the extremes are generally written off as cowards or aliens. Man’s middle position — half god, half beast — adds considerably to his overall absurdity.

During the middle years, vital organs like heart, kidney and liver do not remain ‘user-friendly’, turning into costly liabilities, eager to uproot the middle stump of life. The middle part of the body — the belly — turns defiant and ambitious, developing a shape and character of its own by over projecting itself. My obsession with ‘middle’ extended to The Tribune. This fetish is now decades old. Even as a teenager, I would rush through the pages to reach the centre of the newspaper for the middle. Their light-hearted nature made me laugh, then, over other people’s predicaments. I read them now to make light of my own troubles.

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Bring out the mops

Ratna Raman

THE noun ‘moppet’ (17th century English) from the now obsolete ‘moppe’ (indicative of a baby or a rag doll) refers to an endearingly sweet child. The silver screen has also introduced us to child stars, little boys and girls who were described as moppets with adorable heads of curly, luxuriant hair.

The noun ‘mop’, an implement made of a bundle of thick, loose strings or rags tied together to a handle or a long stick, in existence since the 15th century, has apparently evolved from the Latin ‘mappa’ (napkin).

Currently, working as both noun and verb, mop provides an exchange of meaning and contexts.
Fictional narratives have introduced us to adorable little children, sometimes charming and sometimes naughty, described as having curly hair or tousled heads.

The word mop also characterises essential cleaning equipment for homes, offices and schools. It is invariably made up of rags or thick strings twisted together. Mopping floors with water and mops is an efficient way to retain clean surfaces in dusty climes.

The verb ‘to mop’ means to wipe and has been part of cleaning activities undertaken since the time of the ‘mop fairs’, autumnal fairs held as long back as the 17th century wherein farmhands and servants were hired and invariably featured maids carrying mops. In restaurants soups or main dishes are served along with a thick slice of bread with which customers ‘mop up’ (consume) the last of the soup or the gravy.

A ‘mop up’ or ‘mopping up’ refers to the final act of touching up or cleaning up. Young adults must learn to mop up after themselves in order to ensure swachch living habits. A ‘mopping up operation’ is amilitary strategy of killing or flushing out of enemy combatants during battle or war.

The acronym ‘MoP’ is an expansion of the phrase ‘Memorandum of Procedure’. An MoP has been the bone of contention between the Central government and the judicial collegium. The MoP outlines protocol followed in the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court. The Prime Minister, the President, the CJI and a Bench of senior judges participate in the selection and appointment process. The press conference held by four SC judges has made public the fact that MoPs ensuring transparency and equity need to be urgently stationed in the apex court. A famous lawyer’s utterance that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” remains timely.

‘The bar can never be set too high’ (exacting standards) for the highest judicial office in the land. In times long gone by, Sita’s banishment by Rama and Pompeia’s repudiation by Caesar was meant to show public engagement with propriety. The expression ‘Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion’ highlightsthe self-righteousnessof rulers who subject wives to punitive measures, thereby freeing themselves from all obligation.

Procedures curtailing the functioning of senior judges are tantamount to the continued punishment of Caesar’s wives and remain repugnant. In a modern democracy, Caesar alone must be accountable for what Caesar does. Mops and MoPs are designed to streamline and sort out mess.

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Bad perhaps, but so good

Rahul Walia

THE small hill town of McLeodganj is the confluence of various religions and cultures. Its natural bounty, deep forests of deodars, fresh cool air and the majestic Dhauladhars lift the spirits. One evening, while waiting for a cab for Dharamsala, a foreigner, aged but robust with backpacks and an umbrella, approached me. ‘Hi, I am David Cook,’ he introduced himself.

I introduced myself too. ‘Well, Mr Raeehool, what do you do?’

‘I am a teacher.’ ‘Great! What do you teach?’

‘General science, Sir.’ ‘Well, Mr Teacher!’ he changed my name as well as his tone. ‘If you are a teacher, you need to teach many things to Indians.’

‘Pardon me?’

‘You need to teach your countrymen not to spit on streets. You need to teach them to use garbage bins. Teach them to speak in low tone in public places. I hope I am not embarrassing you, Mr Teacher?’

I nodded. I wanted to argue, but couldn’t find any words.

‘Mr Teacher, teach them not to stare at foreigners with bizarre looks. You know, it’s quite irritating!’

He stopped, but left my mind in turbulence. The calmness I had gathered from my walk was lost.
He was walking away like a winner without even saying bye. ‘I need to respond to him,’ I thought to myself. I ran to him.

‘Mr Cook!’ I shouted, but politely.

‘Yes, please?’ he looked back at me.

‘My India spits on streets, I agree. My India doesn’t use bins, I agree. I agree to all your opinions. But I have a question.’

‘Of course,’ he was a bit shaken, I could sense. ‘What brings you to India?’‘Well, spirituality, natural beauty, yoga and… the inner peace I feel here. It’s amazing,’ he answered honestly.

‘If you are here for all these things,’ I said, ‘how do you get time to see the spit, garbage and other things?’

I continued: ‘While milking a cow, one must concentrate on just that, not on the dung. And, if you do, you will end up messing it.’

That was spontaneous, somewhere from the inner core… maybe something about the deodars, or the Dhauladhars. I was hyperventilated. As I tried to catch my breath, Mr Cook responded. ‘So Mr Raeehool! Should I leave now? Back to the US?’

‘No, Mr Cook! Spend some more time in India. I wish you learn to master your mind to achieve your goals, the real one.’

We shook hands, bade goodbye and exchanged our contact details.

Last week, we met over coffee. He was quite happy to share with me that he had been a part of team ‘Waste Warriors’ in McLeodganj over the past two months, besides practising meditation and yoga.

And, he was leaving for the US, with a promise to see my India again.

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A wedding to remember

Rameshinder Singh Sandhu

RECENTLY I attended a cousin’s weeklong wedding celebrations. Each day was so special that whenever someone will talk about weddings, I will present this experience with zeal. Held at a village near Amritsar, it was marked with enthusiasm, rich traditions, simplicity, and unity — a rarity in these times.

Not only the wedding home, but also the entire village was gearing up for the function. Residents threw open their homes to the guests, and many of my relatives and I were among those who enjoyed their warm hospitality that simply melted our hearts.

To my amusement, whenever the guests were to be gathered for any celebration hour, the announcements were made over the village gurdwara loudspeaker, so no one missed it. The celebrations didn’t have loud DJ music, rather women sang wedding folk songs in a group for hours every day. I had seen this sort of celebration for the first time; it had its own charm. The songs were followed with traditional giddha and comical bolis.

A popular elderly chef of the village prepared ‘gourmet’ food, desserts and assorted rich traditional sweets that exceeded everyone’s expectations. He is often invited to cook at functions in even far-off villages because of his culinary skills. After every meal, the air would be filled with the praises of his food, which was way better that what is served in most high-end marriage palaces and hotels. Gulab jamuns and laddoos, his signature specialties, would give the most famous sweetshops a run for their money.

With the daily hustle-bustle packed with so many surprises, when the day of the wedding arrived, we thought it had come too early. We did not rush to any luxury hotel for the function. Everything was arranged at home itself, except anand karaj, which was solemnised at the gurdwara. The groom and his party from Faridkot came along with performers of Malwai giddha (performed by men) in tow, instead of the usual brass band. Young men danced to the tune of old bolis, bringing to life the old wedding traditions of Malwa.

I left the same evening, but the memories of the simple wedding travelled back with me. It was a perfect break from the world’s regular, ostentatious weddings that have redefined materialism. Going by the current tastes, most families use weddings as a platform to show off their wealth. Everyone seems to be in this blind race; even when materialism can never offer you true satisfaction.

But congratulations to this family that has set an example! It, too, had enough money to organise a big, fat luxurious wedding, but it chose simplicity and tradition. As American poet Gary Snyder states, ‘Simplicity is light, carefree, neat and loving and not a self-punishing ascetic trip.’

Let us be inspired by it and give space to the much-needed simplicity in our lives.

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His own courage his ‘backing’

Surinderjit Singh Sandhu

BE it top anchors or debaters, most of them are curious to know who is ‘behind’ Kanhaiya Kumar. Whenever an individual, that too from a humble background, dares to take on the mightiest of the land, he is suspected to be working for some powerful people/lobby with vested interests. Napoleon used to call himself the ‘man of destiny’ despite his super-human attributes. Circumstances produce icons and heroes, who make people follow them. Men of destiny have been seen in all ages and all times. The statement of the great martyr of India, Madan Lal Dhingra, is significant in this context. Asked about the complicity of any other revolutionary in the murder of Curzon Wyllie, he said: ‘I have conspired with none, but my own conscience, and consulted none, but my duty.’ I am proud to belong to the city where this great man was born.

In every general election, it was common for people to speculate if the CIA or KGB was behind the victory of a party.

There was a young IAS officer, who was posted as SDM in a big city of Punjab — his first appointment. This young man worked hard and made his presence felt in every nook and corner of the subdivision within a short period of his posting. Roads were widened by removing encroachments; powerful and corrupt revenue officials were suspended; government land under the possession of mighty politicians was vacated; conduits of revenue officials for registration works were raided and caught with bribe money, to the tune of about Rs 1 lakh a day. Document writers, whose writ ran large in the tehsil and sub-tehsil, were made to face criminal cases.

One day, my distant relatives came to me one day, urging me to speak to the SDM regarding the release of their impounded registration deed. ‘He does not listen to MLAs and MPs. Even ministers feel diffident to speak to him for any favour. He does not fear anybody; goes to raid liquor vends alone with his driver late at night.’ I knew that I was not going to do anything to help them. They continued: ‘Bhaji, people say he is a 6’4” tall Jat from Haryana and always keeps a pistol with him. He is a close relative of the Chautalas, and so even Badal saheb is at his beck and call.’ ‘Achha?’ I enquired. ‘We tried our best to find some sifarish, but in vain. So we thought, he is your junior….’

I politely told them: ‘The SDM belongs to Haryana, but is not related to the Chautalas. He is a Yadav, not a Jat, and belongs to a poor rural family. He is honest, fears no one, and acts only as per rules, come what may. He can spend many sleepless nights to help genuine sufferers. He is 5’5” tall and very frail. But is mentally very strong. He has the backing of no one but his own attributes — a pure soul and a genius. I cannot tell him to do something wrong and cut a sorry figure in front of this ideal man. And he does not carry any pistol.’

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In her, found a soul-mother

Sumit Paul

THERE’S a mother embedded in every girl and woman. In fact, a woman is a perennial mother. Even as a beloved or a wife, it’s the mother in her that guides her other instincts and roles,’ wrote Khalil Gibran. I experienced this when I met my (late) professor and soul-mother Dr Zaifa Ashraf in Cairo where I went from Oxford at the age of 20 to pursue my PhD in Arabic linguistics under her tutelage.

I lost my biological mother when I was born. I longed for someone who could give me motherly love and guide me through hardships and happiness that life offers so routinely.

She was a very elegant and stately woman, who taught Arabic literature and linguistics at Al-Azhar, Oxford and Cambridge. Hailing from a royal family of Pakistan, where her dad was a high-ranking air force officer, she left Pakistan and Islam for good and turned an atheist at the age of 17.

Though I was fluent in Persian and Arabic, my Urdu was not good. Apart from guiding me in my thesis in Arabic, she taught me the nuances of Urdu.

She learnt about my mother and became all the more protective and affectionate towards me. When she realised that I was a vegetarian and getting veg meals was rather difficult in the hostel, she would bring home food for me. I loved the aloo-matar and mushroom she cooked for me with love. She found a departmental store in Cairo, run by a Pakistani-Punjabi expatriate, where tinned sarson da saag was available. She would cook it, which I would have with naan and dollops of butter as makki di roti was not available there. I soon got to know that Dr Zaifa was also a vegetarian.

On Mother’s Day, I gifted her a shawl and wrote in Urdu: Ammijaan ke liye Sumit ki jaanib se (from Sumit to his mom). She cried and hugged me. We both cried. From that day, I started calling her Ammi.

Two and a half years just glided by. I finished my PhD and got A-1 grade. She was immensely happy and proud like a mother. Meanwhile, I got an opportunity to visit India and pursue research in lost dialects of the sub-continent. I asked her, ‘Ammi, Hindustan chalengi?’ She tenderly replied: ‘Mera beta mujhe jahaan le jayega, main chaloongi.’

I came to India in 2003. She lived with me in Pune. In December 2009, she was diagnosed with cervix cancer and after a year, she breathed her last at a hospital in London.

Her last wish was that her body be draped in the shawl I had gifted her. She passed away holding my hand. Since she didn’t belong to any man-made faith, her mortal remains were neither cremated nor entombed. She donated her body to a cancer hospital for medical research.

I still remember her every day and cry. There was no blood relation with my Zaifa Ammi, but she was much more than a biological mother to me. She was my soul-mom. Mama, I love and miss you every moment.

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