Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Bristle of Unspoken Antagonism

Microsoft free clipart
She was well dressed and sat up prim and ramrod straight in one of the few high-backed chairs in the waiting room. The others in that room looked slightly frazzled but tried not to show how sick they felt. A mother read quietly to her son. A young man toyed with his phone. An elderly couple sat and talked softly amongst themselves.

Her middle-aged face stole disparaging glances at everyone only to dismiss each one with a sneer. None of us seemed to pass muster in her eyes.

I knew I’d soon get that dismissive look. It so happened that I looked at her over the top of my magazine at the same moment she looked at me. I calmly went back to reading. After that, she kept glancing at me. I ignored her but knew she was rattled. Something seems to be burning her up, I thought with an inward shrug. 

The magazine article on six steps to happiness was making me sleepy. I wondered again when it would be my turn to see the doc. I gave up on the article, scanned other pages cursorily and flipped the magazine shut. Step number seven, I thought - if there’s nothing interesting to read, rest your eyes and mind. I gave a pleased stretch at my decision and yawned. My arms, stiffly outstretched, took an extra second to come down and cover my mouth.

I sensed her head whip around to look at me sharply. Then I knew what she wanted. She wanted an excuse to find fault with me. She didn’t like being dismissed and felt disadvantaged. Her disapproving face made it obvious that yawning without covering one's mouth was inappropriate behavior in a medical waiting room. For her, any excuse to show disapproval would’ve sufficed. I've witnessed it often in the melting pot that is our city. I also know, for every one of her there are hundreds unfazed by physical differences in appearance.

She looked sideways at the lady sitting next to her, a quick look of scornful amusement before pretending to cover it up with bland insouciance. She couldn’t help looking at me for a fraction of a second before her eyes slid away. She wanted to see if she’d made me uncomfortable. The lady sitting by her looked at her and then at me, slightly puzzled. She seemed decent, and I didn’t want her involved or put in an awkward situation. 

“That’s me,” I said with relief, turning to acknowledge Dr. Lim with a smile. He’d just walked out of his consulting rooms and called out my name.

Good timing, doc, I thought as I hurried after him.

Monday, September 29, 2014

What's lacking in Indian Self-Publishing?


They're or there? (Free clipart)
Is A Good Idea conveyed in Bad English Less Worthy?

Some time ago I'd written a post on the growth of the Indian publishing industry. Until the 90s, it was almost non-existent. I know because I searched the net for Indian publishers and could hardly, and with great difficulty, find a few. The Indian Author's only option was to try to break into the western market. Many authors tried writing stories they felt would appeal to westerners - stories of poverty, degradation and people on the edge of society. Stories about the Indian middle class, the 'burgeoning' Indian middle class, did exist but were completely overshadowed.

Now the industry is blossoming - among the most successful today - and every genre is being explored. The target audience is the Indian reader. Other readers are a bonus.

Our publishers are doing well but what about Indian authors? A mere handful can eke out a comfortable living from their writing, but most have to hold on to that daytime job. Self-published authors are the worst off. When they market their books without a budget, through reviewers and on social media, they manage to sell, at best, a few hundred copies.  How do they get more people to believe their books are worth reading? Marketing and distribution are issues of concern. Self -published books aren't on the shelves of bookshops for readers to pick up, browse through and buy on impulse. It is easy to understand why established publishers are still the preferred option. Unfortunately, they are spoilt for choice. One out of thousands of manuscripts makes it to their list. [When I read some of the books they publish I realise they don't always base their choices on the quality of the writing.]

Even if, without the marketing and distribution a self-published book catches the eye, nine times out of ten it is full of grammatical errors and typos. These are distracting. They detract from the pleasure of sinking right into the story. For whatever reason, Indian self-published authors do not believe in having their work edited. It is one thing to write grammatically incorrect posts on facebook. [More about that at the end of this post] Novels, though, are another matter. It is literature readers pay for. Who doesn't want to increase their readership? I've come across stories by well-known Indians in such atrocious English I'd hesitate to recommend them. A missed opportunity as word of mouth is the best endorsement.

As for self-published novels, the standard of English is downright poor. Substandard language, grammatical errors or typos diminish the reader's pleasure in the story. After having lived with their manuscript for so long, the writer should invite feedback from someone trustworthy, who looks at it with fresh eyes. To my mind sending the manuscript off to a professionally trained editor who charges a reasonable fee is worth every penny. On the other hand, here's another point of view - "Should You Pay Someone to Edit Your Work?" To my mind a line in the copyright section of the book letting readers know the name of the editor gives the self-published novel a lot more credibility. Whatever decision a self-published author makes - to pay or not to pay, getting trusted friends or professional editors to read the manuscript before it goes to print is worthy of consideration.

A blog post I read recently gives me hope that self-published authors are beginning to realise the importance of having their work shown to a trustworthy third party for feedback. The blogger, Sakshi Nanda, calls herself a Beta reader. She jests that she should be called an Alpha reader. You'll know why when you read her post titled, "On Meeting A Manuscript".

A personal observation about posts on facebook:

I am aware some of our 'Grammar Nazis' will disagree, but I don't find a comment or observation less worthy if communicated in faulty English on social media. Take Indians. We are all from diverse backgrounds and communicate at home in a multitude of languages - at least seventeen? And about five hundred or more dialects? Weighing the two, better communication (and therefore understanding) between such a variety of Indians wins out over the correct use of a language.

If I don't know words in any other language and care to ask, the response is mostly helpful. There isn't a wince or cringe in sight.The other day I was watching an interview in chaste Hindi. The topic and the refined flow of words caught my attention. I remember asking my husband to translate parts of the interview. The cringe component didn't enter the picture, either from me or him. I asked, and he obliged.

Fact is, he believes he is good at languages and often tries out his language prowess on poor unsuspecting people. But when he tries out his language-in-law, Parsi Gujarati, on me, I know he often gets it right but not always. It makes me smile. My point is, when he or I get words wrong in other languages, we don't feel the need to cringe. It is simply an excuse for shared laughter.

Then why, I reason, should I worry if someone contributes to the conversation in grammatically incorrect English? Why wince when someone makes errors in English? Why the impatience and the intolerance? Logic tells me that any language if spoken poorly, should evoke the same response. I feel a twinge of sadness it isn't so and make a conscious effort to ignore the grammar in social media posts. It makes me wonder if we equate the knowledge of English (and no other language) to being educated? I teach adults to read and write English. Some of my learners speak the language beautifully - they were born speaking it - but have problems with the written word. Besides, a major contributor to knowledge is experience and that is quite independent of the knowledge of a single language.

It is all food for thought but, as I said earlier, novels are another matter.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

If Switching to Renewable Energy Isn't Easy, Why Should We?

In New Zealand they sell Electric cars for approximately NZD 70,000 where 1 NZD is approx Rs 52 (20Jun14). The Japanese imports on the NZ Ebay-equivalent, TradeMe, sell for NZD 25,000 while second hand petrol driven cars – the kind that cash-strapped folk buy, sell on the same site for under 5,000 dollars. Which one would you buy?

Cars with clean fuel don’t come cheap. Not yet. Hopefully, just like any new technology, like PCs in the nineties for example or cell phones more recently, they will soon start getting cheaper and flood the market.

Most governments see the problems of having to invest in new technology. Setting up the infrastructure would cost money. They also see the problems if they don't. Air not fit enough to breathe, soil not fit to grow our veges in and waters not fit to drink or fish in. Some governments weigh the air we breathe against the money they'd have to spend in favour of the latter. Others believe the most practical thing to do is to use both types of energy - renewable and fossil, while they gradually phase out fossil fuels.

India has a huge renewable energy sector. The only problem with India is that demand far outstrips supply. The government imports coal from outside to make up the deficit. But before that, the government is keen to extract as much energy - clean or otherwise as possible. If that means stripping our forests to get to the minerals, especially the coal buried underneath, so be it. If it means the slow desertification of our fertile land, we'll get to that problem when it happens. If it means displacing more people and turning them into desperate rebels, we'll handle them. If it means more people suffering from asthma, nausea, dizziness, headaches, blurred vision, stiffness in their joints, they can't link that to the use of fossil fuels and what it spews into out air, soil and water.

Governments would rather not inform or educate the public about the dangers of using fossil fuels. Many NGOs do. Most NGOs are born out of the very human need to improve the lot of others less fortunate. There might be NGOs who have other objectives in mind. If that is proved beyond reasonable doubt, punish such NGOs by stopping their foreign funding. But don’t tarnish them ALL as happened recently. It is vitally important that our attention isn't deflected from the main issue - that of trying to understand what burning fossil fuels do and weighing our options.

Burning coal and petroleum releases gases like CO, CO2, SO2, NO2 etc into our environment (air, water, soil). What do these deadly gases do to our health, environment and quality of life. (Click on any one to find out)

In conclusion, to make informed choices
  1. we'd need to know the dangers to our health and environment of using fossil fuels
  2. the dangers of digging up our forests even more than we already have to get to the coal and minerals underneath. And
  3. we'd need to ensure our attention isn't deflected from the real issues.
If convinced that we do need to use less coal based energy there is ONE FINAL HURDLE to overcome. We’d need to be informed about the problems we’d face whilst switching. Making informed choices isn't easy. In India we've been used not to interfere with the decisions and policies of the government. It is too hard. There are too many hurdles. But, we like being informed.

David MacKay who doesn’t give us a lot of hot air about any of these 'clean' technologies like wind farming, solar panels, wave farming etc. discusses the practicalities of investing in such technologies. For example, to extract energy from wind farms we’d need a lot of land to put up huge infrastructure like a large number of giant windmills. In India we don’t have enough land to spare nor do we have large open spaces. Yet, windfarms do produce some electricity for us. We do have a lot of sunshine - solar panels are big business in India.

What David MacKay does make easy to understand are the numbers and figures – for example, how much energy does an average person use daily for their car and how much clean energy should be made available to carry on living without a change in lifestyle. Here's a synopsis of his book, aptly name, “Without The Hot Air” The end of this synopsis links us to his book of the same name. As you can see, the endorsements are from scientists, engineers, economists, industry leaders, politicians, environmentalists, historians, Americans and others. And he’s made it available free.

For that and for reminding us that we need a radical change in our consumption habits, i.e. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle - to greatly reduce pollution, thanks David MacKay. We, Indians are good at Reuse and Recycle but might need to work on "Reduce".

Possible further reading: Making Informed Choices

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Treading Murky Waters


Who hasn't heard of Alka's prize winning blog, Freebird? Most of her articles critique the media, are about the political scenario and are published in magazines and newspapers - both online and print.  Alka doesn't hesitate to call a spade a spade but what has always attracted me to her writing is the underlying sense of integrity one associates with her posts.

Image: Courtesy Ezibuy, NZ
Today, she has been kind enough to host my post, Treading Murky Waters - a story about two working women, Seema and Nadine, flatmates and friends since school, and their experience in an Indian shop in New Zealand. The genre is fiction.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Are Indians Behaving Like the US Republicans?



Images courtesy wiki
There was a time, as recently as the early twenty-first century when ordinary Indians were scared to talk about the all-powerful politicians. We whispered our discontent to a few trusted friends behind the safety of our own walls. Those days, hopefully, are gone for good. We've really understood what Elie Weisel said. "Neutrality helps the oppressor and silence, the tormentor."

Today, we don't hesitate to use online media like facebook, twitter, email, blogs, etc to promote our favourite candidate for Prime Minister of India. To that extent our democracy is alive and well.

At the same time we know the issues that have beleaguered our nation since independence - politicians, the police and babus in government who won't move unless bribed, individual politicians who depend on criminals and buying off media to survive in politics, too many poor Indians who fall through the safety net for health services and education, a lack of safety for women on our roads, business that has to bribe politicians to survive, schools that take 'donations', communal minded politicians who exclude too many Indians from their plans for prosperity and of course, pot-holed roads and polluted air, soil and water, to name a "few".

People who are rooting for Modi think he has a proven track record of being pro-business. It is clear to them that his policies have made Gujarat prosper and will, therefore, make India prosper. What isn't clear and they have no desire to clarify, is what happened during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots. One thing stands out. The good, decent, pro-business and pro-India Muslims were also persecuted - caught between hardline Hindus and hardliners from their own community. No Indian Muslim was safe in Gujarat during that period - alienated in their own country. It probably made a lot of them disillusioned and hardline. Would such communal politics be good for India?

People rooting for Kejriwal believe he will stamp out corruption to a great extent. For example, the police will start doing their job better instead of looking for a way to extract money from every sorry situation or individual. In fact, Kejriwal says, the police are already running scared. Kejriwal's supporters don't wish to know how draconian the Janlokpal could be. [Arundhati Roy had this to say in 2011.] There is much to do - genuine issues - police corruption, women's safety, water for everyone - and Arvind and his party are addressing these issues where previously no other party did - in fact, in the old days people felt the established parties were in collusion with the perpetrators. What Arvind's supporters don't want to know is how exactly the AAP's Janlokpal looks like now. I feel it is very much a priority but Kejriwal and co. have decided to wisely keep it out of the forefront. Ever since the Dr. Soonawalla rape case many people, barring his supporters, have another worry. Is Kejriwal capable of censuring his own party members for their excesses or wrong doings? If he can't even censure them for trying to take the law into their own hands instead of letting it follow due process, how is he going to apply the Janlokpal to his own party members?

As for Rahul Gandhi, his supporters believe he will have the backing of experienced and seasoned politicians - he'll have their expertise at his disposal. The status quo is known and safe - a Gandhi at the helm. It doesn't matter if the said Gandhi himself isn't astute, brilliant or able to think on his feet.

We know, eventually, one of these three, or perhaps an unknown, will have the job of tackling India's problems. Once that happens, thanks to social media and our connectivity, we won't be fooled by their rhetoric - varying from good, laughable to outright, blatant lies. We will continue watching them like hawks and discuss every move they make.

I read comments dripping with sarcasm on social media regularly. Some are astute, others, a good laugh and yet others are in poor taste. If we manage to give our favourite an advantage we believe it is a feather in our cap.  If we manage to discredit the others, even better. We use hook, crook or sarcasm - anything at our disposal - to highlight the opposition's negatives. If we have no favourites we prefer to talk about their errors of judgements, faux pas or worse, their private lives. It is all gloom, doom and cynicism. Rarely do we say anything positive. Which is all very well as long as we let them get on with their job. We shouldn't become like the Republican party of the US whose main agenda is to discredit their president and tie both his hands behind his back at the expense of the US and a majority of the US citizens. Not that I believe for a moment that Obama is right every single time. Just that he is unable to move even when he is.

Nor should we glorify politicians. Like the rest of us, they do a job for which, unlike most of us, they give themselves a huge salary.

Whoever is at the helm, a democracy is effective only when ordinary citizens participate fearlessly and have a balanced point of view. Most of our news media present a one-sided picture depending on who they support (and who supports them). As ordinary Indians we are aware, whether it is Modi, Kejriwal or Rahul, they have their strengths and weaknesses. If we are for them it doesn't follow that everything they do is right.

If we are against them, not everything they do is wrong. It might be so for members of the opposition. They (sadly) believe it is their job to disrupt everything the person at the helm tries to do, including things that might be beneficial for India and Indians.

Unlike the opposition, ordinary Indians need a  balanced and astute view of the actions of our politicians. As they say, it isn't about putting our favourite candidate on a higher pedestal. It is about issues.



Monday, November 25, 2013

Challenges Teenagers Face

We all know that freedom has a price. It is rarely free. 

Take the recent “Roast Busters” case in NZ. Young men of eighteen slept with under-aged girls - as young as thirteen and fourteen - in 2011 and then boasted about it on facebook, naming and shaming the girls. What came as a shock was the role the NZ police played in the whole sordid affair. Apparently, the girls were so inebriated they didn’t know what was happening. The difference between the rapes that hit the headlines in India recently and the Roast Buster rapes is that the youngsters were known to one another. 

This post lets you know the facts of the case but isn’t about being judgemental. It is about the challenges teenagers and their parents face today. 

Teenagers, whether in NZ or India, are getting a taste of freedom as never before and it is important for them to know the responsibilities and consequences that go with it. I am aware that in India the majority are content to go for healthy, light hearted fun, are busy trying to excel at studies or are under strict parental authority. Yet, the videos about boys from ordinary homes misbehaving with girls on Delhi roads were pretty alarming. 

What can parents do about their young with raging hormones who indulge their own desires uncaring of the feelings of their victims? Mike Cagney, who has worked with scores of abusers, says abusers go ahead because

– it felt good at the moment 
– was gratifying 
– they couldn’t stop 
– they felt they could get away with it.

He says almost 80% regret it afterwards. [I wonder - Do they realise how disgusting and unpleasant the experience was for the victims and that isn’t a nice feeling?] Before they become repeat offenders (who regret it afterwards) he talks to them. Here’s the entire radio interview. Perhaps we, as parents could pick up some pointers on how to prevent our own teens from becoming abusers instead of feeling helpless in the face of their unchecked raging hormones. 

What about our normal teens out to have a good time with friends? The ones who are definitely growing up and need to be out amongst their peers more often than with parents, and yet, need to have set boundaries? 

Teenagers are at an age when their bodies are changing and evolving. Parents watch their little babies growing up. But while they mature physically, mentally they still have a lot of growing up to do. Some parents marry them off! But most parents, brave souls, take on the terrible teens. 

We understand it isn’t easy growing up and that in spite of their temper tantrums, their harsh criticism and manipulative behaviour they need to feel safe and loved. We know they face hormonal changes and grappling with new emotions is confusing and exhausting.

Like everyone, they want desperately to love and be loved. But hateful parents and the boundaries they set enter the picture. We know, as they grapple with their own changing emotions, what (or who) they think they desire could easily change. We know that they could get saddled at that young age with the added responsibility of pregnancy and babies themselves. There’s a strong possibility that the object of their attraction is also growing and evolving. They might change their minds too. 

We hope they’ll listen when we give them advice about enjoying ordinary friendships with both sexes, with a stress on ‘ordinary’. We know that learning to live in the moment will help as will tons of shared laughter, strong family ties and an absorbing activity - a hobby, an aim, goal or purpose. 

To add to our woes we not only have to tell them it is best to keep a lid on their own emotions and those of their beloved but that they have to watch out for the nefarious intentions of a handful of others. Today, since parents don’t chaperone teens as heavily as they used to, there are a few things we need to let them know for their own safety. We have the lovely task of letting them know it is smart to recognise monsters, some of whom might be their own friends – wolves in sheep’s clothing. We need to let them know how to give them a wide berth. [They may use flattery, force or emotional blackmail (I’ll kill myself if you don’t) to make the victim give in. They might take the teen away from the crowd. What did the Roast Busters use? Alcohol to let the young thirteen year olds believe they were cool and sophisticated with the sole intention of lowering their physical ability to defend themselves.] 

How do we let our teens know it isn’t the beautiful world they thought it was without increasing their confusion and anger? Is it any wonder they throw temper tantrums at us? Let us face it - whilst we know arming our kids with knowledge and wisdom about the times we live in is necessary we don’t really know how to deliver. 

How do we tell them without upsetting them that their admired “friend” could use flattery, spike their orange juice with a drug or ply them with alcohol to lower their resistance? Not everyone is like the Roast Busters. How do we explain our fears and our need to keep them safe from danger without putting them off? Or worse, without sounding like the high hand of authority out to thwart their fun? How do we talk to our kids without sounding like we know best? 

Today, thanks to technology kids have too many role models they can look up to and too many ways to corroborate the information parents dish out. The job was certainly easier for parents until kids became tech savvy. They (the parents) were the ultimate authority. If I were honest I’d have to admit that whenever I’ve tried telling my kids one of those “horror” stories with a strong message I’ve often felt them roll their eyes heavenwards. Their expression has said it all. 
  • Oh no, a lecture! 
  • We know, mum. Heard it a hundred times before.
  • Google it, parent, and you’ll get 270,000 different opinions on the subject in .23 seconds.
On another plane I’ve been aware that they’ve taken the message on board. One of my pet grouses is that there is much wisdom out there but no training for parents. To be effective at any job we accept that training is involved. The exception is parenting. Our challenge as parents is to convey our messages better. Our challenge is to find the right balance between giving them freedom and laying down the law. Our challenge is to resist trying to seek their approval if they don’t abide by the rules that make them safe. Our challenge is to understand and resist their manipulative tactics (a topic in itself). Our challenge is to remain stoic in the face of their disappointment and therefore their wounding insults. And, in spite of all the above, our challenge is to stay connected and to keep the channels of communication open. Easy-peasy.


Image Courtesy - http://liberation.typepad.com/liberation/2013/11/images-from-the-police-and-roast-busters-scandal.html

To find out more about the Roast Busters' case - the case that shook New Zealand, the police role in the saga and the actions taken by the deeply concerned NZ public, media and top politicians click here.

This post is also a Guest Post at A-Musing and declared top post on Indiblogger.
 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

An Unusual Arrangement - Guest Post At Mashed Musings


I’ve never had too much patience with convention. If something works for me and the other parties concerned, if I’m not deliberately hurting or harming anyone,  that’s all that matters.  

It won’t come as a surprise to you then, to know I have an unusual arrangement with Steve. It might come as a bit of a surprise to the kids though as this past week, I’ve lost my voice to a sore throat and have been unable to communicate. 

Everything’s revealed on Amit’s wonderful blog, “Mashed Musings.”
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