Donating Power Banks To Chennai

Source: Donating Power Banks To Chennai

Taking Stock 1

I’m kicking off a new sub-series within my blog, inspired by something my friend and fellow blogger Meenaxi does. Meenaxi is a food blogger 6 days of the week. On Fridays, she fasts (figuratively) and touches on other subjects. And so her Friday blog entries are named Foodless Fridays. On that day, she lists out what she’s been reading, cooking, watching, doing and so on. I liked the idea and decided to emulate her. Beginning today.

This serves more as a chronicle in personal interest, to help me take stock, if you will, of what I have been up to. Hence the name of the sub-series: Taking Stock. The numeral at the end will reflect the number of times I have taken stock.

I am open to suggestions on what to read, cook, watch, do and so on. So feel free to comment/suggest.

Reading

Let me state that this section will not include reading that I do for work or reading/editing my husband Dr. A’s articles for academic journals and so on. The books mentioned here are those read for pleasure. Not that reading his work is not pleasurable. But you know what I mean. (I’m tempted to resort to some hashtagging, as is the rage nowadays, but not of the annoying, stating-the-obvious variety.) #SkirtsALandmine. There! I did it.🙂

I am reading two books these days.

(courtesy: vidyasury.com)

(courtesy: vidyasury.com)

One is a collection of timeless poems by writer, poetess and activist Maya Angelou. Her words are so soothing – music to the ears. This one is titled “Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer”. Here is a sample. (I reckon you will want to pick up a copy, or read it online).

Each of you a bordered country
Delicate and strangely made, proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, current debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

(An excerpt from ‘On The Pulse of The Morning’)

(courtesy: bookvista.com)

(courtesy: bookvista.com)

Dr. A and I have embarked on a new project, which I hope becomes “our” tradition. We have begun reading a book together: Raag Darbaari by Srilal Shukl, a Hindi writer and former civil servant who also received the Jnanpith, Sahitya Akademi and Padma Bhushan awards for his work. I must confess that I had never heard of or read him until a few days ago. The only Hindi writer I have read is Premchand, and that too because it used to be on CBSE’s reading list in school. But I’m hooked on to his work now. His style of writing is satirical and political, in a subtle way. When I say we read it together, I mean, Dr. A reads out loud for both of us. Today is my turn. We turn the page to Chapter 2.

Feel free to recommend more books. Books written in other languages and translated into English or Hindi are welcome.

Watching/Seeing

Courtesy: loadtv.biz

Courtesy: loadtv.biz

I’m just coming out of a marathon-viewing of Broadchurch, a British crime drama television series, produced by ITV. It’s a classic whodunit set in a small coastal town. The Latimer family loses their 11-year-old son in a brutal, cold-blooded murder. Detectives Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller pair up grudgingly to solve the murder. The case spans 8 episodes. The investigation to find the killer ends up causing many skeletons to tumble out of the town’s residents’ closets: sex, lies, theft, infidelity and paedophilia to name a few. It’s almost as if every one has a past to hide, to run away from.  To complicate matters, and this is the part that I love, Hardy is a brooding cop with a heart disorder, tonnes of emotional baggage and a manner that won’t win him any prizes in a Mr Congeniality contest. I love such protagonists. Eccentric individuals who fail miserably at the everyday, in their personal lives but perform exceptionally and show extraordinary genius on the job. Other favourite eccentric, broody protagonists whom I love include Sarah Lundt from Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and Saga Noren from Bron Broen (The Bridge). Both crime drama thrillers are based and produced in Denmark. Man, I love the Danes. Hollywood doesn’t hold a candle to their writers and producers. Seriously.

Cooking

When a sweet craving collides with acute laziness, it’s time to cheat in the kitchen. I wanted to make a classic North Indian delicacy Gajar ka Halwa. Now there are multiple ways of making it. Some folks like to tenderise the grated carrot in a generous dollop of ghee first before adding the milk in. Others like to reduce the milk down before adding the carrots in. Both with tasty outcomes but way too time-consuming, especially when time is not a luxury and laziness is calling the shots. So I went online to find some cheat codes. The result: A 400g can of Nestle condensed milk. Using this cuts down the cooking time by half. The normal way (the two options mentioned earlier on) takes about 1.05 hrs. The condensed milk way takes 25 minutes.

I finely grated a kilo of carrots. Added them to a hot kadai (deep, thick-bottomed wok), greased with 3 tablespoons of ghee (clarified butter). On a slow heat/low flame, I cooked the carrots till they became more tender and looked tungsten-coloured. Stirring occasionally. This took about 15 minutes. I then added about 350 g of condensed milk. The mixture became wet, gooey. I kept stirring, until the carrots absorbed most of the condensed milk. A sprinkling of green cardamom powder and a cupful of nuts (crushed, assorted). I used almonds, cashews and dark raisins. You don’t need to add sugar, as the condensed milk is sweet enough. Too sweet for some.

The halwa turned out fine. Not great. This is not to say I am never using condensed milk again. I will modify the recipe the next time around. Maybe adding 3/4th cup of milk and reducing the condensed milk to just about 200g. I promise to take a picture of the new and improved gajar ka halwa the next time the stars are aligned for a sweet experience.

The Ice Bucket Challenge: A Spectacle By Any Other Name…

Courtesy: cagle.com

Courtesy: cagle.com

Much ado has been made about the ongoing Ice Bucket challenge (IBC): an event in which a person voluntarily dunks a bucket of ice cold water on him/herself, tapes it, uploads it to the internet, dares 2-3 others to take the challenge, each of whom either take the challenge and/or donate $100 to the cause. The event has gone viral – which is to say tens of thousands have reportedly risen to the occasion, bombarded the internet with their videos that are being watched by scores of others. (I’m sure that even as I type this, someone, mostly likely a celebrity of some kind, somewhere is drenching him/herself in ice cold water.) The whole feat is apparently meant to spread awareness about a degenerative neurological disease that affects the brain and spinal cord and often results in death (It’s known in medical terminology as ALS – – read more about it here – and by lay people as Lou Gehrig’s disease after it affected a popular baseballer in 1939) but I doubt any of that is really happening.

Yes, I’m not a fan of the IBC at all  you guessed correctly. I feel that somewhere in this project, thought up by some clever folks and swallowed up by the herd, the medium is making a louder splash than the message.

Experience – empathise – act?

I’m not sure what the “founders” of the IBC were thinking, if at all they were thinking in the first place. Is the momentary hypothermia that sets in – that sharp drawing in of a short breath when icy water hits your body, which is at a warmer temperature – when you dump an icy bucket on yourself one of the many symptoms or effects of ALS? Is that why the founders wanted the challenge accepters to briefly experience what ALS feels like, feel empathy and take action? If that were the case, I would gladly bow in submission. But sadly there is no scientific link between the two. Coincidentally one of the founders died a week ago. Ironically, he drowned to death. Not in a bucket, but a harbour.

Bucket Half Empty or Half Full?

According to an organisation called the ALS Association 7 lakh new donors have been born out of this craze, some of whom have taken the challenge and donated money too. Over 40 million dollars at last count. Some would argue that means don’t matter if the ends are noble. But surely there are better ways to raise such money, ways that don’t indulge wastage of precious resources.

Food..rather..Iced Water for Thought

Source: WorldTruth.TV

Source: WorldTruth.TV

An new image just popped up on my news feed on Facebook. It juxtaposes a montage of Americans in the process of upturning an bucket of water on themselves, with one of an emaciated, parched African child slowly sipping a capful of water. If that doesn’t put things in perspective, what will!

Herd Mentality

Many celebrities have joined the bandwagon. The list is so long…it would be easier to just say who refused the challenge. US President Barack Obama for starters. He was dared by many, including teen pop star Justin Bieber, but politely refused to go through with the icy baptism. He instead chose to contribute monetarily. Baywatch star and animal rights activist Pamela Anderson also said no. But her refusal was more a mark of protest as ALS Association supports animal testing. I’m sure there are many more who probably refused but mainstream/corporate media coverage being what it is, I guess we’ll never know. Here’s a toast to those wise souls whoever they are.

Spoofing the Ice Bucket with the Ash Bucket

While the herd races to fill a bucket full of icy water, the spoofs can’t be far behind. Another image doing the rounds, although not so much, talks about something called the Ash bucket – deploying the same strategy but for a different cause. Politicians, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, business bigwigs dunking ash buckets on themselves and returning every cent of public money that they siphoned off to the state exchequer and daring 2 others to do the same. This the spoofers say will take care of all problems, including funding research to finding cures to terrible illnesses, like ALS! 

(Source unknown)

(Source unknown)

Now that’s a worthy cause, no?!

AAP ki “Anarchy”

(Pic Courtesy: Hindu Business Line)

(Pic Courtesy: Hindu Business Line)

On the 28th of December 2013, one favourite ousted another to become Delhi’s Chief Minister. Riding high on the anti-incumbency wave, favourite number one (Arvind Kejriwal) vowed to set Delhi right with clean governance. The new common man government began with a series of crowd-pleasing moves like 24/7 austerity, for example. Kejriwal and his cabinet rejected the lal batti culture (red beacon vehicles for VIPs) associated with politicians and ministers. They also said no to elaborate security details, choosing to ride public transport like the men and women who gave them a near mandate. In the first 24 hours of being in office, this government had already proved it was different from that of favourite number two (Sheila Dikshit): one practiced symbolism and the other tokenism.  In my opinion, Sheila Dikshit was/is a remarkable leader but a prisoner of her paradigm. She is despite and because of the Congress and Delhi. Delhi is a city state, the capital of a 1.23 billion plus-strong nation as well as a Union Territory that is home to more than 1.68 crore people. What complicates the schizophrenia is the fact there are far too many agencies, too many turf wars about jurisdiction, too many masters. Development authority DDA and civic body MCD are always at loggerheads. Police is a state subject but, in Delhi’s case, the police come under the Centre. I’ve always believed that Sheila Dikshit and, for that matter, any other person in the CM’s shoes is limited by this unenviable order. Arvind Kejriwal too would suffer this limitation, only he has refused to. This is what the agitation in Delhi is about. What makes it unprecedented is the fact that it is the first time a serving chief minister is protesting on the streets against the police. Not just a day-long hunger strike. No, the full haul.

(Pic Courtesy: Reuters)

(Pic Courtesy: Reuters)

Last night Kejriwal with his trademark muffler wrapped up around his head camped out on the pavements of Delhi. I don’t know how he slept in the blinding glare of so many television OB vans and cameras trained on him. (I’m glad no inebriated Bollywood actor or scion of a business family was behind the wheels of a speeding luxury car in the area at the time.) Kejriwal has said he will not budge until the control of Delhi Police is handed from the Union Home Ministry to the Delhi government. (This comes after an incident in which two policemen were accused of dereliction of duty and the Kejriwal govt cannot suspend the officers in question without controlling the police.)

This spirit of protest has been lingering in Delhi for over two years. Outrage over the Dec 16 gang-rape incident added more fuel. And now it seems Delhi is like a room in which someone has left a gas stove on. Even the smallest lit match can trigger a massive blaze. There is nothing wrong with a blaze as long as it remains non-violent. This growing blaze is making the Congress-led union government uneasy. In a bid to quash the agitation, 4 metro stations (closest to the Prime Minister’s residence) have been shut and police has been deployed in full strength by the boss of the home ministry, a veteran Congress leader Sushil Kumar Shinde. To those who criticise the AAP-led agitation, one must point out that it is this (shutting down of metro stations) that is inconveniencing the public, not the agitation per se.

(Pic Courtesy: Economic Times)

(Pic Courtesy: Economic Times)

I like how Arvind Kejriwal has reclaimed the word “anarchy”, redefining it like everything else. In AAP’s lexicon, anarchy is street-style protesting that gives vent to legitimate public outrage which makes the powers-that-be uncomfortable. So, as per Kejriwal’s scheme of things, there are three kinds of anarchy: Congress anarchy, BJP anarchy and AAP anarchy. Suddenly anarchy has become cool. Young scribes are running to grab their dictionaries only to find unsatisfactory answers. Reporting on AAP and the Delhi govt will require re-examining the words used to describe the churning going on in Delhi and parts of India in a crucial election year.

As I reach this final paragraph of my blog entry, the ticker of a TV channel which is on in my room but running on mute is flashing “Breaking News: Centre gives in to AAP”. The Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi called Kejriwal and the latter called off the agitation at Rail Bhavan. The Metro Stations have re-opened and order has been restored.

While AAP claims victory and the BJP cries foul (making yet another allegation of a Cong-AAP conspiracy), it is too early for back-patting.

–       AAP’s latest agitation has brought the debate on the need for police reform back in focus. The need of the hour is to make police independent and accountable and not under this government or that.

–       Many in the political establishment, police and television studios were worried about what this now-called-off agitation in the heart of Delhi would do to Republic Day parade security and arrangements. The event is already a logistical nightmare, without a protesting chief minister staging a dharna. I was shocked to hear so many lamenting the disruption of a parade which, if nothing else, harks back to an imperial era. I wish more people would question the need for such a parade in the first place. India is one among just 36 countries that have a parade tradition. An unpopular, dated idea, wouldn’t you say?

Free Speech..But With Conditions?

A Sick, Sick Mindset

Ranjit Saha  (pic courtesy: ibnlive.com)

Ranjit Saha
(pic courtesy: ibnlive.com)

The head of India’s central investigative agency the CBI is at the centre of a new storm for making a despicable comment. Ranjit Saha is quoted as saying “If you can’t prevent rape, then enjoy it.” Such a comment is wrong on so many levels and for suggesting that a brutal act like rape can be enjoyed and that women can prevent it. (I googled the latter and found this startling page on Wikihow) Incidentally, one of the many people gunning for Saha’s head is Mamta Sharma, the chief of India’s National Commission for Women, who, in the aftermath of the July 2012 Guwahati Molestation case, suggested that women should be careful how they dress, alluding to clothes being a cause of rape!!)

The apex agency has been quick to douse the flames, hazarding to suggest that the rape comment was taken out of context. Fine. Then here is the context. The CBI head was speaking at a conference on corruption and making a case for legalisation of betting. He said betting in India should be legalised if it can’t be properly reined in. And then he inserted the rape analogy.

This was more than just a “poor choice of words”. It reflects a rather twisted mindset, one that trivialises a most brutal act. Suggesting that a woman must resign herself to enjoying an act that she gave no consent to is appalling and disgraceful. Making a comment like this at a time when the national capital is still simmering from the events of Dec 16 (the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman) is sheer stupidity and insensitivity. If this isn’t career harakiri then what is?

Many are calling for Saha to issue a public apology. Many more are calling for his ouster/resignation. But this is not the first time that an individual holding a state/public office has been caught on the wrong foot by making a sexist comment. It is high time that that the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service, Indian Foreign Service among others make gender sensitivity a criteria for selection for all posts. This could be done by making all candidates take a Gender Sensitivity written test and appear for an interview at the time of recruitment.

Right to Free Speech* (*conditions apply)

It would be fair to say that a majority are asking for Saha’s apology or resignation or both. But a shrill minority on microblogging site Twitter are also asking the CBI chief to shut up. Simply because they do not like what he has to say. Does anyone else spot the irony of such comments being made in a free speech forum? I love to quote French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire’s response to Jean Jacques Rousseau at times like this: I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it. While some ask others to shut up (like in the CBI chief rape slur case), a few want individuals stripped of honours conferred earlier because they don’t like the tunes they now sing.

Lata Mangeshkar being conferred the Bharat Ratna in 2001 (pic courtesy: gaurav-kumar.tripod.com)

Lata Mangeshkar being conferred the Bharat Ratna in 2001 (pic courtesy: gaurav-kumar.tripod.com)

The Mumbai unit of the Congress party wants legendary songstress Lata Mangeshkar stripped of the Bharat Ratna- India’s highest civilian award – that was conferred upon her in 2001. Why? Because the 84 year old has endorsed Narendra Modi’s candidature for prime ministership. It is no secret that Modi’s rise as signalled by the crowds at various venues of his pan-India tour and constant media coverage is making the grand old party uncomfortable. But the Bharat Ratna is not for the Congress to politicise. Just like it wasn’t for the BJP to politicise (In July this year, newspaper editor and BJP MP Chandan Mitra demanded that noted economist Amartya Sen be stripped of his 1999 Bharat Ratna for saying he would not like to see Mr Modi as the next PM)

The right to the freedom of speech and expression is among 6 Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution to citizens. But these are subject to reasonable restrictions: public order, decency, morality and security of state. Lata Mangeshkar’s comments do not endanger any of these, except for offending the morality of a few touchy people in the Mumbai Congress. Her comments merely tell us which party she may be voting for, in order to see Modi become PM. These are no grounds to strip her of the Ratna, which was awarded for her exemplary contributions in the world of music…a fact that is not music to the Congress’ ears.

Modi’s Verbal Diarrhoea

M for Modi and M for mistakes (pic courtesy: ndtv.com)

M for Modi and M for mistakes
(pic courtesy: ndtv.com)

Now, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate is grabbing a great deal of air time on TV news and column space in national and regional dailies these days. And not without reason: One, for the things he says (bragging about Gujarat’s so-called development model, trading barbs with the shehezaada of the Congress’ first family) Two, for the things he doesn’t say (the Gujarat riots of 2002 and apologising for his alleged complicity in them) and three, the things he doesn’t mean to say but inevitably does: his bloopers with facts to do with history. (Lata Mangeshkar’s endorsement is most probably because of point one.) For me, it is only the third point that draws some vague interest.

Because in this day and age of excessive news and coverage, there is such a thing as over-exposure. The risk of the NaMo cracker burning out before the 2014 elections is real. In such a context, his series of history-related gaffes during rallies serve as humourous ad breaks in this age of 24/7 live television. But this could also be a sign of things to come, a spectre that haunts some like columnist Aakar Patel. He writes “It will be embarrassing, if he becomes prime minister, to have him in the same meeting as US President Barack Obama.” (Read Patel’s full column here )

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Drat..Rats! Natural ways to repel rodents

courtesy: cartoonstock.comuThere’s no place like home. And there’s no place for rats in mine. My husband and I were in for a shock last night when we pulled open a wide, deep drawer in which we store our household linens. There were little black pellets scattered between sheets, towels and dish cloths. I recognised these pellets as rat poop because of a forgettable past encounter with a rat whom I had somehow managed to trap some years ago. Although I had been trembling like a leaf at the time,  the poor thing was clearly more petrified as we had stared at each other, as clearly I wasn’t the one suddenly filled with an urge to excrete profusely. Fast forward to the present. The fact that the pellets we spotted yesterday were dry suggested that the creature who produced them was not around. The discovery of course filled me with dread and melancholy. Our beautiful, clean, hygienic and nice-smelling home was unknowingly playing host to an invited guest whose name rhymes with cat (now that’s a furry creature I long to have and hold).

TAKING CHARGE

The initial shock eventually wore off and replacing it was a protective instinct: i felt like a lioness raring to protect her pride. I was not sure what I wanted to do but one thing was/is clear: I am not going to kill any rat. So began the search for a herbal, organic solutions, natural remedies and repellents- humane ways of addressing the problem. We will of course be getting one of those metal cage contraptions to attempt to trap the rascal and set him free somewhere far, far away. But in case the nasty bugger outsmarts us (I have seen many a rat cleverly dislodge the bait and flee before the trapdoor snaps), I am considering other methods

BEING HUMANE

At least five people have suggested rat poison and/or glue pads. I am not judging these people but the technique when I say it  is not for me. I’m happy to report that an equal number of people suggestied some peaceful, humane solutions.

I thought I’d share some of these suggestions and household remedies for people like me who don’t want to kill rats no matter how eek-ed out and protective they are of their homes.

1. Peppermint oil:  Apparently rats loathe herbal aromas. So plant peppermint, spearmint and citronella plants around your home. If these are not available where you stay, peppermint oil works too. This can be found in most markets. Soak some cotton balls in the peppermint. Make sure that they are saturated. Place the cotton balls in areas where rats are likely to crawl. Replace the old cotton balls with cotton balls with fresh peppermint oil at least twice a week.

2. Napthalene balls: Rats don’t like the smell of these either. It’s not enough to put these in your cupboards, woollen-storage closets….these need to be replenished and replaced as napthalene balls shrink with time. Their potency diminishes when they shrink. So be alert and put fresh napthalene balls out. This is where I failed and Mr. Rat taught me a lesson the hard way.

courtesy: madasafish.com

3. Ammonia: Some websites are also suggesting ammonia. Mix one part ammonia with one part water. Soak old socks or a cloth in the ammonia and squeeze out the excess liquid. Place the cloth where the rats are likely to enter the home. Check the cloth at least once a week and replace if necessary. Personally, I don’t plan to try this one out as the slightest whiff of ammonia makes me feel nauseated.

4. Spices: Chilli peppers, cayene pepper, even tabasco sauce can drive these lil beasts away. Sprinking garlic powder and diced garlic cloves can also do the trick according to ehow.com. The pungency of garlic can make rats feel nauseated and send them running in the opposite direction (opposite from you, that is). But if the strong smell of garlic makes you feel sick, then clearly this option is not for you. Incidentally, garlic oil is also a cockroach-repellent.

5. Gizmos: My uncle recommended an ultrasonic device that emits high-frequency wave speeds that permanently ensure that rats stop recee-ing your home. This is mostly designed to protect cars, offices, server rooms and godowns. Here’s the link: http://www.varnacrafts.com

courtesy: stuartmcmillen.com

I’m going to try out the peppermint oil technique tomorrow. Fingers crossed. Keep an eye on this space.

(Sources: etips.sulekha.com, ehow.com)

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