Monday, 29 April 2013

Commodification of Life

It is a harsh fact that today life  is subject to commodification and it is affected by market forces to an extent never before achievable. Every aspect of our lives is subject to an assault of offers, trade ins and makeovers guaranteed to change our lives for ever! It is not surprising therefore if we are all being brainwashed by the propaganda techniques adopted by manufacturers and advertisers. Amazingly, even some of the most private and intimate aspects of our lives are subject to commodification.
Looking at some of the advertisements that keep appearing in the print  as well as the electronic media are those that attempt to make “love” a commodity. Remember that advertisement that goes by that popular James Bond Movie Jingle, “Diamonds are Forever”? Well, if you really love her then why don’t you give her a Diamond engagement ring? The idea is that your love for her will not let you baulk at the prospect of spending so much on a Diamond ring.  Your love for her will provide an opportunity to the Jewellery house to sell one of its Diamonds. It is surprising how easy it is to sell things to a lovelorn couple. Some of the object in the market are objects of desire for the couple in romance and these include Chocolates, Wine, Champagnes, and perhaps clothing lingerie et al ! There are many objects that are exchanged during courtship, and these might include teddy bears, toys, lighters, decoration pieces, the list of objects is simply mind boggling! Romance definitely sells like hot cakes, and manufacturers and retailers are out for a killing!
If you were not surprised so much about the commodification of love, then how about considering the commodification of Body-Parts? Surprised? No, I guess by now you’d be beyond surprise! With black market prices of body parts going up, we have heard about cases involving illegal trade in body organs. Today, there is a price  on each body part which  might surprise you the most. So much for Kidneys, so much for a liver, and so much for a heart! Well this is a bit discreetly done, although we are aware of this illicit organ trade.
With the summer vacations approaching, timeshare groups are fast selling timeshare options on different holiday resorts. These offers come with various attractive gift options such as an LCD/LED colour T.V. or whatever. One common gimmick adopted by marketers of timeshare groups is to call you up and tell you that you have won a gift. They call you, pamper you for the whole day, extol the virtues of their services, and by the end of the day you are so beholden of the lavish treatment and that attractive hamper that you end up signing a cheque. Enter the commodification of Vacations!
Nothing sells like the so called,”Opium of the Masses”- religion, of course! It wouldn’t be very wrong to say that your relationship with your maker is no longer personal and private. Take for example the numerous religious objects for sale both on T.V. and the print media. Advertisements selling these objects target your religious sentiments and faith. A crystal pyramid guaranteed to bring peace into your house, the Feng Shui coins guaranteed to bring you wealth, the Turkish Evil-Eye symbol guaranteed to ward off the evil eye are some of the objects that are forced upon you. Include to this, the numerous books on spirituality, and the numerous compact discs containing hymns and prayers, all promising you the world! Nothing sells like religion, and yes you got it, Religion is one of the most commoditised aspects of our lives! So next time you go to Church or the temple or perhaps even watch your favourite spiritual leader, make sure you are not a target of commodification and perhaps getting bombarded by propaganda!
After religion, Education is one of the most commoditised aspects of our lives. Every parent wants his child to have a successful career in life, and every student wants to land up a job which would give him or her monetary gain, popularity and of course satisfaction. Parents and their children become targets of advertisements and propaganda early in the child’s life. On a visit to the International Book Fair at Pragati Maidan in Delhi, I was accosted by a sweet talking executive of a publishing house that prepared study material guaranteed to  improve the intelligence of a child. I was not convinced, but then had to waste a lot of time talking to this person who claimed so much about the “brain boosting” techniques of her package! Schools claim to give your child an all round development, some promise the world and blatantly misuse some of the quotations by famous personalities and great thinkers. When the child comes to Grade Eleven, he and his parents become the targets of the numerous coaching institutes that display photographs of   some of their toppers who got selected to Engineering, or Medicine courses in some of the prestigious institutions of the country. In some of the rural areas of India there is a mushrooming of  institutes which promise  to train the learner to speak English fluently in forty-five days only. To sweeten the offer further, the learner can choose between an American or a British accent. Whether the learner is really able to speak English fluently in forty five days is however highly suspect. The craze for learning spoken English is however so great that these institutes are doing brisk business duping unwary customers at will! No wonder Education is a booming market in India and even elsewhere in the world!
If the purchase of the Diamond Engagement ring was not enough, think of what happens after  engagement-well you have marriage on the cards. And then of course, nothing sells than marriage. For most, marriage is a grand occasion and it involves numerous agencies. The Wedding planner has to be paid a large amount so that he or she can decorate the venue and have a say in the type of clothes to be worn on the occasion. Then you have the caterers, the venue, the jeweller, the photographer, and the list goes on and on! It is mind boggling how commodification affects our lives to such an extent! Propaganda techniques, market forces and social trends have meant that our lives are no longer our own, sacrosanct and personal!
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Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Musings of a Facilitator-Is it Dementia or just Stress?

 
 
On the way to another class I was accosted by one of my senior most students in the school, he was rather worried when he asked me, “Sir, do I look like a junkie?” The question surprised me naturally, and taking a moment to answer I said, “ No, not at all!” Relieved, he returned to the class lighter than he had been. On yet another occasion, I was interrupted at work by another of my junior students in my faculty. He incidentally wanted to talk to me privately, and not in front of the other teacher. Noticing his insistence I reluctantly got up and accompanied him to the corridor where he asked me a question which again surprised me. He first asked me, “Sir, what is dementia?” Taken aback, I took a moment to think and then said, “Well, it is a mental ailment, why are you asking me such a question?” He replied, “Sir, I have problems in recalling things, especially things that have just occurred.” Smiling, since I knew him to be one of my brilliant students, I said to him, (with all honesty) “you are an intelligent student and you will do very well in life, don’t worry!” Trusting me he went  back to his class with a lighter mind.
It is strange how impressionable  students are and how their peers use half baked knowledge to put them down. I remember my elders telling me that half knowledge is dangerous knowledge. It is exactly this half knowledge that peers use to put down their friends. It is a kind of psychological or emotional bullying which is as harmful as physical bullying. I have observed how even the most promising of all students have deteriorated down the months because of the need to blend in with the rest of the group and laugh just for the heck of it, even if you were not on to the joke itself! The latest trend doing the rounds in the senior classes especially the science students is that it is not done to study English, because in any case you only require a minimum of 65% marks to be eligible for a competition for admission to Engineering or Medicine. This is a fallacy, and I constantly remind them that a sound knowledge of English, (not limited to use of slangs, like, “thingy” and the most unique of accents ever heard) is a must for everyone, including Engineers and Doctors. In a recently conducted Entrance exam for Engineering, I observed how some students were literally struggling with the questions because they couldn’t understand the questions. So poor was their comprehension of the questions that they had missed quite a few questions! Unfortunately, students who can do well are swayed by the half baked knowledge of their fellow students who convince them that at the class twelfth Grade level, there is no need to really spend time in studying English because what counts ultimately is the marks they get in Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Maths.
Unfortunately, the English Syllabus in India has undergone numerous changes down the year, with the C.B.S.E. introducing new lessons and removing existing ones. The shift from teaching of Formal Grammar to the teaching of Communicative or Interactive Grammar and the deviation from the teaching of  of  formal Grammar has resulted in  confused students whose concepts are not very clear. Similarly, a shift from subjective type of questions to more objective type of questions like multiple choice type of questions has lead to students becoming overconfident and  careless while studying languages! So, whether it is doubts about dementia, or whether someone looks like a junkie, it is all about a confusion that might somehow be the result of too much experimentation and changes in the syllabus. The subsequent changes in the syllabus has resulted in the need to change the Pedagogy so that there is optimal delivery of content. The reality is that Pedagogy has not matched pace with the changes in the syllabus and introduction of new lessons. The student who asked me whether  thought he had dementia, was probably only suffering from stress and confusion resulting from having to prepare for the changed pattern of evaluation in grade eleven with more stress being put on concept clarification and recall. The student was not able to remember a few things because suddenly after coming form grade ten he realised that the formative assessments had been replaced by paper and pen Summative Assessments!
By the time a student comes to grade Twelve, he is more confused than he ever was, this is because now he has to appear for his first board exams. The transition from the system of Continuous Assessments with a component of four Formative assessments and two Summative Assessments to a system of terminal exams in grade eleventh, and the Single Board exam in Grade twelve is too sudden, probably driving students into a confused state, making some of them look like “Junkies”.
If we really want to make our educational system even more progressive, we should go all the way and not stop at all! Take for example the choice of subjects which the student appears for in the grade eleven exams and the twelfth Board exams should require a re-think. English which today is a compulsory subject should be made optional at the Board level. If finally students of Science are not going to pay attention to a subject which they think has no relevance, then the Board had better do a re-think about retaining the subject as compulsory at the twelfth Board level! Students have often asked me about the relevance of reading a novel in class. If the novel had been introduced by the Board simply for self-study, then the marks allotment to the novel (15 marks) should be reduced! Similarly, if the objective of the Board is not Specialization at the twelfth board level, late though it would be, then we might as well do away with board exams at the twelfth grade level. At least then the students will be able to focus more on preparation for entrance exams like JEE, AIPMT, B.Tech. Cat, ISET, AIEEE…etc.
 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Shopping Fever- A short story

I glanced reflectively at Raksha, a petite vibrant woman I had married for her zest and energy.Encased in a costly branded tight figure hugging tee-shirt and equally tight fitting skin- tight pair of jeans which complemented her tight hips and sculpted calves she was the prize of my life. She seemed energized with the purpose today, of vanquishing my bank reserves, but then I knew better than to argue because I didn’t want to enter into an argument which would ruin the day off, a welcome break from a week of graveyard shifts. She was looking at a  a shelf of tee-shirts on which a label was stuck with the words, “ Buy one get one free”. She had picked up two tee-shirts which looked suspiciously similar to the ones that she had bought last month. Putting on my best expression and tone I said to her, “Raksha, don’t you have the same pattern on the tee-shirt you bought from the Grand Mall last month?” She replied, “ But then these come with an offer of buy one get one free!’ she replied with a smile, and I knew better than to argue. I turned towards the other customers filing past the aisles, moving in what seemed to be a trance while the announcer spoke of the “red hot offers” on clothes and electronics. “zombies,” I thought in my mind, it seemed as though the others including my flame Raksha had become hypnotized by the offers that poured from the speakers in the Mall so that they returned sure as a clock  work every week, every fortnight, every month to grab those, “Once in a lifetime offers!”
The numbers of shopaholics was on the rise, and I was scared that Raksha had become one of them. At the end of the shopping I ended up lugging two huge bags of shopping bulging with clothes, an assortment of toiletries, lingerie and designer jewellery designed to bring out, “The woman in you!” Raksha had the expression of satisfaction and contentment while I, was left wondering about the balance of Bit-Coins left in my kitty. “Raksha, what are we having for dinner"? I asked her with my sweetest tone, and she replied, “ Well we’ll get our dinner packed, you could have your favorite Thai takeover and I’ll have my favorite South Indian.” “Sure,” I replied groaning inwards at the task of stopping at the well known restaurant on the way home. After reaching home, Raksha unpacked her trophies, trying some of them, asking for my opinions about how the clothes suited her. In any case, with her figure and fitness, even the skimpiest garments suited her like a  second skin! After the full dress rehearsal was over, baring the trying of the lingerie, we went on to  eat our take overs, although I would have liked eating some chapattis and lentils, it had been quite some time since we had had some good home cooked food. After clearing the food packets and washing the dishes, I announced to Raksha that I would like to go off to sleep, since I was feeling exhausted after the day out. I crashed on to my bed with sleep sweeping me off to the land of sleep. After about an our of sound sleep, I was woken by the gleam of Raksha’s  laptop. Groaning, I turned towards the screen to see that she had logged on to one of the popular online shopping sites that offered a “Free home delivery on purchases above 2000/- bit-coins. “Come on Raksha, I groaned, its past midnight, cut it out!” She snuggled closer to me and said, “Look, Rajive, there is a twenty per cent discount on the new Rexton all wheel drive, why don’t we trade in our one year old Remura ?” I replied with an edge of rising impatience, “But why, we have only had our car for a year?” She replied, “ But then, the new Rexton has a better mileage and comfort factor!” Wide awake, at the prospect of what I would lose as depreciation, I  said, “But no, Honey, we can’t afford a new vehicle, not right now, not with the installments we have to pay for the flat, and the Remura!’ She was good enough to plant a kiss on my lips and shut down her laptop, before turning out the reading light. Raksha had the habit of appearing fresh at any time, I suspected this was because of the large amount of deodorants she had at her disposal. She was one of the high-flying top management executives of a firm which dealt in women cosmetics, and was the envy of some of the top brass in the firm. Raksha was the flame of my life, and our story had been a romantic story of man meets girl, and it was love at first sight. A night of lovemaking left me sound asleep so that the morning  came too fast, and then we went out for our one hour of cycling. I lead the pace which she followed me, her body writhing through the spandex cycling tunic. I smiled to myself thinking about how we had bargained for her sixteen speed carbon fibre cycle while I had remained contented with my steel tubed racing cycle with Shimano gears.
The one hour of strenuous cycling ended with a quick shower for both of us followed by a breakfast of, “Healthy Oats” guaranteed to “lower cholesterol”. A quick round of love-making, and then Raksha switched into a pencil skirt and a shirt while I put on my suit with a tie of roving Tigers that Raksha had bought the previous week. We both had our own vehicles, hers was a Honda Executive, while mine was the Remura. After kissing each other, we drove our own ways. At the office, I called my psychiatrist friend, Rony and told him about Raksha’s obsession with offers in shopping and he told me in a serious voice, “Look Stan, the market forces are using hypnotic messages which are meant to draw customers. The only option for you to break the hypnotic trance is to take Raksha far away from the nearest Shopping Mall!’ I answered, “Where do you suggest I should take her?” He replied, “ Take her to The Seychelles, that is one country where the psychological and hypnotic messages do not affect normal people.” Well I want to tell you that I am taking Raksha to a place where the sun and the ocean will help wean her away from shopping!. Rony has already given me a prescription of drugs which he says will help Raksha break the influence of the hypnotic messages beamed by the Malls. I have told Raksha about the treatment, but then she is happy, excited about the prospect of wearing her new clothes in The Seychelles. For the time on the beach she has bought the latest swim wear!  
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Saturday, 20 April 2013

Who is accountable for what happened to Damini and Gudiya?

The furore of the heinous incident of the December 16 gang-rape has hardly died down when we have yet another case involving a minor child! One wonders if we are perhaps not headed for  worse! Such incidents, especially those involving sexual assault on women is an indication of a malaise in the society that has begun to rear its ugly face! The protests and angry demonstrations that follow such incidents are an indication of the frustration, helplessness and disgust of the society at a complex system which is unable to tackle such crime. The impunity with which perpetrators of such crimes continue targeting innocent victims  suggests a total lack of fear of punishment because of a tardy system of bringing such victims to account. It is clear that life imprisonment  doesn’t seem to be a good enough deterrent for such crime. In fact  after the December 16th incident, there has been a seemingly sudden spurt in  crimes against women with each one getting worse. Nowadays crimes involving juveniles and targeting minors is also on the rise.  Who is accountable to Damini and Gudiya? Was Damini’s martyrdom in vain? Are we yet to learn our lessons? Can we afford to be complacent till it happens to one of ours? Is the quantum of punishment awarded to these criminals good enough? Is life imprisonment as a punishment enough? Can we just speed up trials for these cases so that there is instant justice? Are perpetrators of these serious crimes not afraid of the law, or is it just that they are simply intoxicated by “blood lust” so as to be “seized by the moment?” Or are they simply instruments in the hands of the Devil? If they are in control of  a supernatural agency like the Devil, then we need to do something immediately to counter this evil influence!
It seems as the reasons for this social malaise is much more complex. It is the result of a Nation going through the pangs of re-birth in the twenty-first century. The exposure to so much “good life” as displayed on T.V., higher standards of living, demands of a luxurious life, the increasing gap between the haves and the have nots, a cultural revolution that is dependent on the idea of money being everything, titillation, tantalising depictions of luxurious life, are some of the causes of this social malaise. A frustration on not being able to achieve the “good life” shown on T.V. and films, disillusionment resulting from unemployment, and the confusion resulting from an imposition of the Western concept of Broad-Mindedness on an ethnic culture based on respect for adults and women, Spiritualism, teachings of Sages, Gurus, and rich, diverse religious wisdom are all important reasons why there is a spurt in such crimes.
This obsession with gore, destruction, and domination over others is an integral part of our psyche and it has been there from primeval times. Sigmund Freud would label this part of the psyche as the Id, the monster within which is kept in chains by the Ego, the conscious principle and the Alter-Ego, the Supernatural Principle or that which goads our conscience. The heinous nature of the  crimes involving Damini and now Gudiya are the result of a failed Conscience, a failed “Alter-Ego” which was not able to prick the perpetrators’ sense of humanity, and the “Ego” or the conscious principle, the policeman of our psyches. Speedy technological development, information surfeit,unemployment, lack of spiritual stimulation, and corresponding degradation of moral and ethical values in the society are some of the catalysts for such types of crimes in the society.
So, then what is it that keeps that monster in us chained at all times? I guess, a strong spiritual base coupled with an equipment of sound moral and ethical values, sound self esteem, a strong sense of “worth”, a strong family structure supported by a sound social web of relations, employment, and the general ability to do well in life are important factors. In many cases, confusion resulting from a migration from a more conservative culture in the rural areas to a suddenly more broadminded and liberated urban culture can stimulate that monster. We live in a Nation where in some rural areas, the Purdah System is still followed, a Nation where the daughter in law still touches the feet of her mother in law. Having lived in a culture of so many inhibitions norms, and purdah and caste restrictions, what happens when such a youth goes to the city? City life  might appear to be more gregarious, promiscuous, and liberated to some and this is what stimulates their desire to share in the so called, “good life” promised by the fruits of advancement, technological excellence, and prosperity.
In some cases, an abusive childhood, exploitation by a bully during childhood, constant scolding by parents, lack of education, poverty, unemployment, alienation, oppressive casteism and the accompanied untouchability, a sense of being a pariah within the community are some more reasons behind people committing such crimes. Education based on sound moral and ethnic values is one of the antidotes to what is happening in our society today. Education means empowerment for everyone.This includes those who have an inclination to commit such heinous crimes. Another very important step that should be taken by those that matter is to provide good rural employment opportunities whether by setting up factories, or opening cooperative farming societies. More schools, colleges, hospitals, in rural areas will help curb rampant migration of people to the cities. Many young people migrate to the cities with the hope of fulfilling their “golden Dream” but this soon results in disillusionment and disappointment leading to frustration and poor self-esteem. Over-population, cramped living spaces in cities, presence of a floating population, all make it possible for the monster to break free from his bonds and commit his heart’s desire of crimes.
Psychologists have often stated that the people have the desire to show power over others. This is more the case with those who have been abused and bullied during childhood. Also repeat offenders become bolder each time they commit a crime and are let go on a bail, or are given a mild punishment, or are even let to go free because of lack of evidence because of shoddy investigation. It makes good sense, therefore to maintain a National Database for those who have been arrested for crimes against women and then let to go. A psychological profiling of such offenders should be done, and this should be put into a central database. If we can have  UID cards, then why shouldn’t we have a central database for all first time offenders and even repeat offenders? Psychological profiling might help alert authorities about the offender’s future propensity to commit a heinous crime in the future! Whatever may be the case, it seems very clear that such crimes are the indications of a Nation undergoing the birth pangs of trying to find an identity for itself in times which are marked by advancement in technology, dissemination of information, the internet, promiscuity, gregariousness, and a change in perspective regarding what is right and what is not, what is cool and what is not!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

What is it that makes Malls a big hit among shoppers in the face of Economic slow-down?

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The romantic ambience of this mall makes it a big hit in Gurgaon!
The number’s game is a deciding factor in favour of the success of any mall in India. Similarly, the numbers game also depends on the kind of retail outlets that are housed in the Mall. The Ambiance Mall which opened in 2007 in Gurgaon has about one kilometre of shopping space on each floor. Today, some of the more successful Malls and retail outlets are going for expansion, while others are consolidating their assets.
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Offers Galore makes this mall in Ghaziabad an attractive option for customers!
This brings us to the paradox that although the economy is slowing down, the retail sector is thriving. Does this spell prosperity for Malls? How is it then that Malls and retail outlets are able to maintain a decent footfall? I guess one of the reason why some Malls and Retail outlets are able to do good business because they offer the customer a complete experience! Once the customer reaches his favourite retail outlet in a Mall, he is pampered with a choice of products, attractive offers, and discounts, add to this the comfortable ambience of the outlet with Air-conditioning and pleasant staff. So, under one roof you can purchase almost everything, ( Well except a rocket!) food stuff, clothing, electronics, and toiletry. After you have done with shopping, you can grab a snack and drink on the go! After you have completed your shopping and snacks, you might decide to go for a movie.
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The quality of retail outlets helps this mall in Gurgaon attract a good footfall!
The future, it seems is in favour of the larger Malls and the larger retail outlets which can offer the customer a “complete experience.” This is perhaps the secret-the ability to offer a diverse experience guaranteed help him get rid of stress and the tension of a week of hard work. This package of shopping snacking and entertainment is bound to attract a good foot-fall. In the initial days when Malls came up in Gurgaon, there was great craze and curiosity among the residents. In those days the high foot fall rate was because of the curious people who were less interested in shopping. After the year 2009 however things changed with the impact of economic slowdown-the impact of the Lehman fiasco. The period after the year 2009 has seen a decline of the curious window shoppers and and increase in the number of serious shoppers who know what they are doing in a retail outlet in a Mall.
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The ambiance and decor during festivals makes this mall in Gurgaon a magnet for customers!
When Malls and retail outlets appeared on the scene in the NCR region of Delhi in the period from 2005 to 2009, a large number of retail outlets appeared on the scene the names of which have disappeared from the collective memories of  people. Subhiksha appeared on the scene and then disappeared swiftly. Arcus, another well known retail outlet was known to have been doing quite well but then shut down shop a couple of months after shifting to a new location on M.G. road. The reason given at that time was inability to pay the rent of the new premises. A number of retail outlets came up on the New Railway Road in Gurgaon but then soon shut down. The initial craze of shopping at these retail outlets had somehow worn out. I saw how these retail outlets, after a period of time partitioned off the space to almost half of what they had when they had opened.

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Gimmicks and creativity pleases customers at this retail outlet in Gurgaon!
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The offers and the number of retail outlets determines the success of this Mall in Gurgaon!
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This Mall on Chaudhary More, Ghaziabad gets a good footfall because of the retail outlets that are housed in it. Finally,it is what the Malls and the retail outlets have to offer as the "ultimate shopping experience" that matters!
Offers, gimmicks, and a plethora of retail outlets are guaranteed to make the shopping experience second to none. Customers want a complete experience when they visit a mall. Shopping, enjoying snacks, and watching movies complements the shopping experience. This Mall at the Chaudhary More in Ghaziabad also offers a unique 5-D movie experience for its customers  for a mere Rs. 100/-!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Spider's Song







With joy enter, with fear exit,
What said the spider to the poor fly?
Enter at your own peril,
Satisfaction is not guaranteed,
Where spiders feast,
What might a poor fly do?
For do wolves in Sheep's skin
Entice poor lambs with voices so sweet,
For like spiders do they feign,
Spirituality that stinks of carrion flesh!

Merkato- A Pen portrait of the market in Arbaminch





A  visit to the Merkato in Arbaminch in the early to middle seventies was a important moment for my brother and me. We more often  accompanied Keffne, the grade eleventh student who stayed in the out-house of the house in which we lived. The main items we bought from the market were, eggs, chickens, goats, and  local butter. Forget about having a lot of vegetables because Ethiopians preferred meat. The moment we reached close to the market, the distinct, rather strong rancid scent of the local butter wafted through the air. These lumps of butter were wrapped in dried banana tree bark. We often put a couple of Cloves to the butter while heating it to make butter oil so that we could get rid of the rancid smell! The Ethiopian women often applied this butter to their hair which they then proceeded to cover with a, “Shash” or scarf in Amharic.
The excited buzz of the market resonated with people calling out their prices, and the voices of those extolling the virtues of their products could be heard clearly. My dad, whenever he accompanied us bargained very hard, often bringing down the price drastically. My brother and I could only watch with horror as he always drove a tough bargain, but then we later realised that it was never low enough to harm the sellers! On such occasions I’d say to Dad, “It’s O.K. Dad, I think the price is good enough!” and he’d answer, “No, son, he is still asking so much for the Rooster.” Saying this, he would walk away only to be called by the seller who’d finally agreed to the price. Both my brother and I would look at each other and breathe a sigh of relief.
We would often thread through the stalls selling an assortment of stuff, lumps of sulphur, shiny crystals which they ground to make dark Kohl which the women applied to their eyes. Vegetable, few in variety included potato, Sweet potato, Tapioca, carrot, the local spinach leaves termed, “Kosta”. The Kosta when cooked turned into thick leaves with a distended texture, and of course the arm thick sugar cane stalks. Spices and lentils were also sold. The shacks were basically plastic sheets stretched on four sticks driven into the beaten earth platforms slightly raised from the ground as a preventive measure from flooding when it rained. My brother and I would often plead with father to buy some sugar cane stems to carry back home which we then proceeded to strip off the thick covering prior to chewing it. Corn was sold in two forms, corn which was removed from the corn cobs and the corn cobs with the corn still attached. Both forms could be boiled or roasted. Bananas came in two different varieties, the local variety had a very slick and oily looking skin, while the second variety had powdery textured light yellow skin. This was the variety we preferred at home. Papayas were sold in basketfuls. Funnily enough, the sheep with thick tails were favoured over goats because the goat meat had an overpoweringly strange smell about it. So, in Rural Ethiopia mutton preferably consists of Sheep Meat unlike the case in India! Eggs were sold by the dozen and the sellers had a bowl of water in which to submerse the eggs. We had learned that eggs that had gone bad float while those that were good would sink. Some sellers also sold “Injera” the local pancake which was made of the “Teff” grain. The local black bread known as “Ambasha” was also available. This black bread had a unique taste somewhat sour in tone and seemed to have been fermented. But then “Ambasha” was made out of dough that had been left a little too long so that fermentation set in. This helped  it stay good for long periods of time. Another variety of unleavened bread sold in the Merkato was the thick bread made of cornflower. This was cooked for a long period of time on a slow-burning wood fire. We found it hard to cook it at home so we always got this rather tasty bread from the Merkato.
Another rather strange sight was that of dried Pemmican, or dried fish being sold in the market. “Quanta” or dried pemmican was in the form of dried beef or  dried fish. Fresh fish was often dried in the blazing sun till it was stiff. The lack of moisture would help prevent the meat from going bad over a long period of time. Some of the dried pemmican was often strung from strings more as a display of the wares being sold.
In the market, I would excitedly exclaim to my brother, “Look at those sheep with the thick tails!” and he would in turn say, “Look at that Red Rood Cock!” and sure enough, he had sharp claws and a regal crown! Not everything that we saw in the market was however good, as for example the beggars suffering from leprosy, missing limbs, and then there were those suffering from Elephantiasis! Being children we were naturally frightened of such sights and avoided them at all cost!
When we returned from the Merkato, each one of us would be holding our trophies. One of us brothers would be balancing a long sugar-cane stem, while the other would be holding on to a bag of vegetables. Keffne would on the other hand be dangling the red rooster by the legs! Often we were so badly overloaded with stuff that we had to book the services of a porter, “coolie” as he was called rather disparagingly. The porter would carry part of the stuff balanced on his head. Sometimes one of us would be leading a sheep home.
The Merkato was close to our house so we would always walk down to the Market. Taking the car to the market was foolhardy enough. We always went to the market in Arbaminch in the mornings so that we could return home by twelve in the afternoon as lunch would have to be prepared from the provisions we had bought. The Chicken took a lot of time to cook, unlike the broilers which cook in an instant!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Spirit of Evangelism


Today, when I went to Church, the good Pastor, Revd. Sunil Ghazan told us that we were observing the Mission for Evangelism week. The Sermon that was delivered revolved around the topic of Evangelism. The Cambridge Paperback Encyclopaedia (third edition) refers to the Evangelist as, “One who preachers the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although evangelizing is now understood to be the task of the whole Church, the term has been more recently applied to popular preachers at missionary rallies.” Some of the more famous and well known Evangelists in recent times have been people like Billy Graham and Oral Roberts. St. John the Apostle was another well known Evangelist. Evangelicalism, a movement which started in the USA, refers to a term which has been used, “Since the Reformation ...(and has) been applied to the Protestant Church because of their principles of justification through faith alone and the supreme authority accorded to scripture.” Cambridge Paperback Encyclopaedia (third edition).  Evangelism during the late sixties to the early nineties was associated with the idea of the “born again” Christian and it dealt with an intense experience involving a personal commitment towards the Bible as the ultimate authority! In India, from the late eighteenth  to the early nineteenth Century, Missionaries,  true-blood Evangelists opened schools and hospitals throughout the country. Most of these were in rural areas. Their work was based on actual preaching on the move! Revd. Doreen  Riddell did a lot to establish the  St. Thomas School in Jagadhri, District Yamunanagar, Haryana, St. Stephen’s Hospital in Delhi was the result of the evangelical efforts of Dr. Roseware, and Miss Fines, a staunch Missionary of the Delhi Diocese travelled from place to place to preach the Gospel in spite of her old age! Bishop Frederick Willis used to go from place on his bicycle to spread the word.
The image that comes to mind of the Evangelist is of a spirited young man or woman delivering the word of the Lord in a public place- the message of Hope, deliverance and that the Kingdom of God is nigh! I remember my brother telling me about seeing a group of young men and women preaching the Gospel right outside the Noida City Centre Mall. While there were a few who listened to them quietly, others openly ridiculed and mocked them. Evangelism for me stands for the Missionary activity of stepping out doors, away from the shelter of the building and preaching the Word of the Lord to the Man on the street! Unfortunately, going to the church on Sundays has become more like going to the club, and although Pastors do put in a lot of effort in making the service inspiring and effective, the Missionary energy of the Evangelist is not there! I guess the Evangelist is more of a travelling Preacher and he or she is not home-bound!
In his sermon, Revd. Sunil Ghazan related a story about how after graduating from a Theological Academy, some would be Presbyters in the USA were loaded into trucks and left on the Highway to come back on foot. They were supposed to survive and travel like the early evangelists. The person who narrated the story to my Pastor told him how they knocked on doors and  were welcomed by the residents.  They preached the Gospel and were fed. I guess this was the best exercise that would prepare these would be Presbyters for a more effective Evangelical and Missionary life. The challenge before would be Presbyters today deals with balancing their missionary zeal with the need to earn a living. In times when the laity is faced with so much chaos, stress and confusion, visiting the Church on a Sunday becomes for a few a routine without much meaning. I guess these few return home uninspired and hungry for Spiritual food. “The Church, as it mainly concentrates on worship on Sunday will lose many from its membership....The relevance of the Church a place of worship will further be affected by Sunday becoming a working day for some and, as for others, the worship services interfering with their weekly leisure.”-Selected Speeches on Church & Society (First Edition) by Bishop Dr.A George Ninan. As such it becomes clear that the Evangelist as opposed to Sunday bound Presbyter would be better able to adopt flexible timings for delivering his message.
This brings me once again to the question of who  an evangelist should model himself after. To answer this question I would like to quote from Isaiah 61-1,6  “The spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;... But you shall be named the priests of the Lord, they shall call you the servants of our God.” Perhaps this prayer, so loved by Mother Theresa might shed some light on the topic:

Cardinal Newman’s Prayer
Dear Lord, help me to spread
Thy fragrance everywhere I go,
Flood my soul with thy spirit and life,
Shine through me so that
Those who come into contact
With me may feel thy presence in my soul,
Let me preach you without preaching,
Not by words, but by my examples.
The demands before the Evangelist are great. He or she puts in a lot of work hours, and Missionary work is not just about preaching but also about preaching through examples. The work of the missionaries who set up schools, colleges and hospitals speaks volumes about how they taught through example and not just through sermons! To conclude, I would like to share what my father’s uncle once told me about Sahu Sunder Singh whom he had once met. Sadhu Sunder Singh, according to him was an ordinary unassuming person who was always on the move. He had a cloth bag which contained his Bible and various other things. Sadhu Sunder Singh was a tall strapping person, and there were a lot of stories about him. One was that while preaching in Kabul, Sadhu Sunder Singh was sewn inside a Bull’s skin and left outside for the night. The idea was that as the time passed, the animal’s skin would shrink and thus crush him to death. This story tells you about the dangers and problems that evangelists should be prepared to face in life! What happened the next morning was that the captors found him sitting on the ground smiling as if nothing had happened to him. Another famous Evangelist from the country’s point of view was Sadhu Sircar. My father met him when he was studying in school. He came across Sadhu Sircar at the Fetehpuri Church in 1950. My father describes Sadhu Sircar  as a man clothed in a long gown, who carried a cloth bag.  He went around barefooted to preach and conduct healing services. This, then is what Evangelists and Missionaries are made of!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Gurgaon Conundrum-Where have the Farmers gone?

Today, it being my day off from work, I decided to accompany my brother on one of his site visits thinking perhaps that I would be able to see some pastoral life on the outskirts of Gurgaon. I wanted to look at some greenery and of course some farmers and their fields! What greeted me however concrete buildings in various stages of completion, and of the farmers and their fields, well, there were none! Gurgaon used to have a lot of greenery, wetlands and forests. The prime occupation of the local residents of Gurgaon used to be farming. Thinks changed, indeed after the setting up of the Maruti Car factory, and since then there has been no turning back in terms of the construction of high-rise buildings, villas and bungalows. The wet lands have been filled up, and of the farmers and there fields, well, there is no sign of them! The need for new homes has put such a lot of pressure on the resources of the town that soon it seems drinking water will have to be imported from Paris! The ground water level has gone down what with rampant extraction of ground water fro construction purposes. Conversion of green areas, forest cover, cutting down of trees, and conversion of farmland into building sites has meant that in the times to come, there will be even more rise in temperatures what with the concrete heating up. Dust storms from land denuded of trees will become common, and this will speed up the desertification of the land leading to even faster environmental degradation. Yes, with the farmers gone, fresh vegetables are becoming scarcer in the local markets of Gurgaon.
Very soon, sights of this kind will be unknown of!
With property prices ranging from Rs.1.50 Crores for built up floors of around 290 square yards for a 3 BHK apartment to  Rs. 8 Crores for a modest villa it seems as though builders are making a killing, but then that might not be so! The farmers having sold their fields  are comfortably settled earning an interest from the amount they have received, or a few have migrated to other places, while some of the more smart ones have invested appropriately, while builders have to eke a living. With prices being driven sky-wards, owning a property in Gurgaon has become a matter of great prestige! What was once a sleepy farming hamlet has today undergone a transformation that none could have believed would take place. With old Gurgaon becoming saturated, builders have started moving towards the outskirts of Gurgaon so you have building societies coming up right up to the border with the Manesar Township. You will find all kinds of building societies, and townships coming up all the way from sector 9, Sector 37-C, and D ,sector 90,92, 89, 81,86 and 85 till you almost eye-ball the town of Manesar.
While it is true that with the coming of building sites all over the town, stalls such as this one might be able to sell a few things!
Discerning buyers of properties in Gurgaon should however ensure that their is good connectivity in the form of scheduled roads, sector roads, and highways. Also they should ensure that the property is not adjacent to a village or a slum area. Also, with the existing slump in the market, it is better to go for a construction linked plan. Some of the buildings I saw last year remained in the same state of readiness as it seems, no further work had been done to complete the construction. I have heard of cases where the final possession of the flat was given after a good five or six years! Prices of some of the reasonable  under construction flats  range between Rs.5900/- per square feet to about Rs.7500/- per square feet. Looking at the massive rate of development, construction  of sector roads, and certain stretches of the Dwarka, Expressway,  it seems the prices will remain high and in fact increase in the times to come! Gurgaon retains its supremacy over Noida, Greater Noida,  Yamuna Expressway,Faridabad ,Sonipat, and Kundli.  Gurgaon being the highest revenue generating city  of Haryana, it wouldn't be a surprise if we see even more development in times to come!The Rapid Metro is one of the first of its kind privately developed transport system.The Pod Taxis when they arrive will complement the development of infrastructure taking place in the  "Mega-City!" Many new projects are in the pipeline. The few farmers who have held on to their patches land, it seems, will bail out when they are offered a good enough amount for their land.Farming would be less paying for them than the profits they would accrue  on selling their land!
I have seen some of the sample flats and ready to move in flats prepared by the builders, and some of them are so well constructed and designed that you’d feel like buying one of them. Others seem to be well designed, but then on looking closer you’d notice shoddy  workmanship. The amount of cement might be less than the desired ratio with the result that if internal pvc pipes spring a leak, you will have a perpetual problem of seepage. Some cases, I could observe that some of the newly constructed buildings had developed cracks in the plaster, nothing to panic until moisture gets into the beams! Some of the reasons for shoddy workmanship could be improper supervision, cutting of construction costs, or sometimes even haste in completing a project on time.
With the crop harvested and the hay left to be picked up, one wonders whether this farmer will be around next year!

With advice and inputs from: Esther Finmark  Real-Estate Advisory & Consultancy Services : esther.finmark@gmail.com
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Thursday, 11 April 2013

Revisiting the India that was-Memories of visits to India in the Seventies

We would visit India after every three years and these visits were eagerly awaited by the whole family. My brother two years younger to me, my sister younger by seven years, and of course, Mom and Dad. The visit to India was packed with a tight schedule for the two months that we spent in India. The two months would be spent in Gurgaon, our base where my Paternal Grandmother stayed, Moradabad where my maternal Grandmother stayed, and then there was Agra where my maternal uncle lived. Delhi was another City on the schedule because my uncle, (my father’s brother and my  aunt, my father’s sister) used to live.
Our journey invariably would start with the trip from Arbaminch to the capital of Ethiopia Addis Ababa. We would stay at a hotel in Addis Ababa till we got a confirmed ticket on the Ethiopian Airlines flight to Bombay. Our favourite restaurant in Addis Ababa was the Omar Khayam where we could feast on the tandoori chicken and the naans. The flight to Bombay was a much awaited event. We flew to Bombay, where we would meet my Mother’s sister  her husband and their three children. The stay at The Holiday Inn was a wonderful experience. We often stayed for one day so that we could get the Indian Airlines flight to Delhi the next day. The one day we spent in Bombay would be spent visiting the Juhu beach,  and drinking coconut water. The flight to Delhi would  invariably take place the next afternoon.
After the flight landed at Delhi, we would take a taxi to Gurgaon where my Grandmother would be waiting for us. I still remember the green coloured doors covered with mosquito netting. In Gurgaon we would meet the extended family. The humid and warm weather during the months of July and August would be uncomfortable enough. We often slept in courtyard with mosquito nets draped over frames that  covered the Charpoys or the traditional beds. The mosquitoes still found a way in in spite of all the Odomos cream we rubbed into our exposed limbs. Mornings started with the chirruping of Sparrows. Daadi, as we called our grandmother was a veritable  old lady who was so old that she could never grow older. She was strict and yet a kindly woman who gave us money to buy toys from the toy seller who would sell toys which included windmills, whistles, and those toys which had pictures on celluloid which had pictures on them.
In those days we were given a treat of sweets in the form of mixed sweets. The scent of Jallebis mixed with the scent of decaying stuff greeted us while walking down to the Bus stand for the Bus to Moradabad. The clacking of the horse drawing the Tonga to the bus stand and the rickety and rattling Haryana Roadways buses invariably painted blue would be our preferred  modes of transport from Gurgaon to Moradabad or Agra. When we reached Moradabad, we would go to the mission compound from the bus stand in rickshaws.The scents that greeted us on the way were a complex mix of sweets, the stink of garbage, incense sticks and other scents that have long disappeared with the coming of Malls and the fruits of advancement.
Naani, our maternal grandmother was another old and ancient woman who was old so old that she couldn’t get older! I remember that my brother and I pestered her to take us on outings. And more often than not she took us to the railway station where we saw the steam engines shunting and the scent of the burnt coal mixed with smoke were a unique scent that I have not experienced for ages! In Moradabad, we ran all along the  field , amongst the tamarind trees that grew in Mission compound. In Moradabad, we often went to the Company Bagh, which was an open space bounded by walls.
Today neither Naani or Daadi  are alive, but my memories of them can never be erased from my mind.Today I have settled in Gurgaon, India but can’t find that old India that I use to visit once in three years. Those two months that we spent in India passed away rather swiftly as they were spent visiting relatives in places like Agra, Moradabad, Delhi, and even Lucknow.  Those were days that left a mark that are difficult to erase! The scents that greeted us were a complex mix of sweet meats, decadence, incense sticks, and the bidis (local cigars) that greeted us everywhere. But then those were times when we as children could gain great satisfaction from the cheap toys we bought from the Khilonewala. Today children of the same age as my brother and I all those years ago are no longer satisfied with windmills and whistles and bioscopes. They are more interested in staying at home playing on computers and PSPs. Wonder where that India of complex scents and incense sticks and jugglers and monkey trainers has gone!  We children, my brother and cousins included were often drawn out by the typical sounding of the Dugdugi, a small hand-held drum that announced the appearance of the man with the monkeys the Madaari. The monkeys, a male and a female dressed in clothes would then be put through a routine with much calling out of the roles of the matrimonial culture. We were also entertained by a troupe of tight rope walkers, what with a little girl precariously balance on a tight rope going through the motions of crossing two ends balanced on her toes.
The mangoes were a great favourite, what with many a fight taking place between my father and my Grandmother regarding the size of the mango they picked up from the offering. The mixed sweets that we got from Laxmi Sweets in Gurgaon were greatly in demand since we would go without them for a whole three years in Ethiopia. We sure did miss the mosquitoes, the mixed sweets, and the toys that the roving toy salesman would sell.
When we returned to Ethiopia, our suitcases where packed with goods from India which would hopefully last the next three years. They goods we took back with us included the stuff, Saris which my mother bought from Chandni Chowk, the lentil based Barrias dried spicy dumplings which were my Father’s favourites, a large number of stickers, Commando Comics which we bought from the Greater Kailash market, the Sohan Halwa from Chandni Chowk in Delhi, and yes, the Bombay Halwa which my Dad bought from Bombay. All this stuff was packed in our Samsonite and VIP suitcases. Some of the stuff we took back did last a couple of years, but then, most of the stuff disappeared within a few months leaving us with a strong desire to visit India again! Nothing could beat the desire to visit our country again, and we all looked forward to the next visit. So I say, if memories can be packed in suitcases, can’t they be unpacked from them mind many years on? Now when I live in a modern India, I see that a great change has taken place. Instead of the bazaars we go to Malls, the scent of Jallebis  and the scent of decadence have been replaced by a more complex scent of latest perfumes. The rickety Haryana Roadways have been replaced by the ultramodern metros, and today in place of the humble Ambassador cars, the roads are full of more modern and sleek offerings from the automotive industry.
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