Namasté Mars

27 Sep

On an early Wednesday morning, while most Indians were yet to shake off their slumber, the world woke up to a band of scientists who had quietly achieved what Prime Minister Modi would later describe as a “near impossible” task: India had become the only country to reach Mars in its first attempt at an incredibly low cost of just Rs 450 crore (not even a sixth of Hindustan Unilever’s reportedly astronomical spends on advertising).

It was a Wednesday but Mangal was within sight. And Twitter went crazy. For many of us, tweets spiralling down the timeline told us what mass media could only replicate a little later. But, among the many trending topics and tweets, one stood out: Curiosity, NASA’s counterpart in the race to the Red Planet, was the first to tweet with a greeting, “Namaste, @MarsOrbiter! Congratulations to @ISRO and India’s first interplanetary mission upon achieving Mars orbit.” Forget the fact that it was immediately retweeted along with @ISRO’s cheeky “Howdy @MarsCuriosity ? Keep in touch. I’ll be around”… India’s scientists were finally getting their place in the sun and reveling in it.

BBC News   Mangalyaan  Nasa s Curiosity tweets greeting to India s Mars probe

Tweets from space

But, pause. Look deeper at the paradox of these tweets: an intrinsically Indian entity uses the typical Texan “Howdy” whereas the all-American NASA salutes ISRO with a “Namaste”.

In a society where English is rapidly becoming cool and Hindi uncool, it isn’t just metro students and professionals who have abandoned native languages and adopted English with alacrity, but even blue-collared working classes. Keep your ears open and you’ll hear drivers in your building greet each other with a handshake and “good morning”. Maids will bid the house mistress adieu with a “goodbye” and not the customary Hindi or Bangla term; the latter being the other lingua franca in Gurgaon where the ABCD class is dominated by Bangladeshis with Aadhar cards. (ABCD being Ayahs, Bearers, Cooks, Drivers…add rickshaw-pullers to it too.) When did Namasté become alien? And why?

Again paradoxically, at the very upmarket, and reportedly elitist, Shri Ram School in Gurgaon, however, the default greeting is not “Good Morning” but “Namasté” among students and teachers, parents and teachers et al. No handshakes but the traditional folded hand and a slight bow that expresses the meaning of the word at its very best in a school that enshrines Indian culture and has been consistently ranked as the best in the country.

Etymologically, “Namasté” is a sandhi of the Sanskrit ‘namah’ and ‘te’. ‘Namah’ means ‘bow’ or ‘obeisance’ or ‘a reverential salutation’ or ‘adoration’ and ‘te’ means ‘to you’. Therefore, ‘Namas te’ literally means ‘bowing to you’. The word is naturally spoken with a slight bow and with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing up, thumbs close to the chest in a gesture is called AñjaliMudrā or Pranamasana. In Hindu scriptures, it means “I bow to the divine in you.”

Namasté (or Namaskar) is used as a greeting usually acknowledging and welcoming a relative, guest or stranger with very high respect.

So, when NASA tweeted “Namaste” (sic…without the accent in é) was it unknowingly paying tribute to the higher order that is now India? Think about it while you bask in the reflected glory of Mangalyaan.

Namasté ISRO. Namasté Mars.


Law of MPs

5 Jun

Mohitoz’ Law #268

Newly-elected MPs who take the oath in Parliament will soon start swearing.


Condensed Greed

8 Mar

A random rummage in the refrigerator can be very rewarding.

Stumbling upon an unfinished can of Nestlé Milkmaid, for instance, means you can beat your children to it and be reminded of your childhood at the same time. And that’s what happened, the other day…

My brother and I grew up in Calcutta, often on Milkmaid, the can that was always there always there in case the milk supply failed or the milk itself turned sour (not an uncommon thing in those days). For our mother, it was the quick-fix substitute to making tea. Expensive, but efficient, provided you could get through the sealed can.

I have vivid memories of holding the can with my frail fingers while either parent would pull out a rusty can-opener and try to pierce the first tiny hole so that the hook of the opener could get a grip and start cutting the lid open. Sometimes, a hammer or the mortar (of the pestle jodi) would be called in as reinforcement and the tiresome process of opening the equally rusty can would begin. The opener would slip, a finger would be cut, Dettol would be applied quickly and we would resume the operation: what lay within was way too delicious to be abandoned because the worst part of the product was its packaging.

Nestlé MilkmaidOnce opened, the brother and I would stand aside and salivate. A teaspoon would go into the tea being boiled after which it was our turn to dig into the sticky, sweet condensed manna-like milk. Those were days when we didn’t have a refrigerator and the can was too expensive to be finished in one go; so, it would be stored away in the hope that red ants wouldn’t discover it and that it wouldn’t spoil. On many occasions, both have happened but usually a plate with water on which the can would be perched, sufficed.

Puritans will swear that the best way to enjoy Milkmaid is to let a tablespoon glide down your gullet with nothing else accompanying it. However, I had some other concoctions that made it even more irresistible:

  • A slice of fresh bread with Milkmaid smeared on every millimetre. Or, on Thin Arrowroot biscuits.
  • And then with Bournvita sprinkled on it to give it a chocolaty-crunchy topping.
  • Pieces of Cadbury Dairy Milk (the only chocolate available then) dipped into the can and slurped while a trickle of condensed milk threatened to slip away down your shirt.
  • Grapes or almonds dipped into it.

And once these were done, licking the can empty with the fingers being applied to good use made for the most satisfying spells on an otherwise boring day watching the pelting rain from our verandah.

All of this is still very doable. And thanks to Nestlé making the can easier to open with a tab, accessing the condensed milk is so much easier. Storing it still requires an improvised cover but if you’re as greedy as the kids and I can be, you won’t have much left to store.

Now, to try it with a dash of coffee and bitter chocolate…slurrp!

Spread the Warmth

3 Jan

January 2nd, 2013, was the coldest day in Delhi in 44 years. Maximum temperatures have dropped to sub 10°C and the minimum is below 4°C. Image

And while many of us complain about getting ready and coming to work in the mornings, there are thousands who are homeless and surviving the bitter cold in makeshift shelters including public toilets. Already, some news channels and NGOs have launched a drive to collect blankets for these Delhiites who have neither a roof nor a heater.

But, if you really want to help someone, and don’t have the time to donate blankets, here’s something we practise at home and you can do today:

  1. Go home and empty the wardrobe of clothes that are lying unused.
  2. Pull out everything you can spare: shirts, t-shirts, trousers, socks, shoes, saris, petticoats, salwar-kameezes, shorts, jeans, skirts and, of course, woolens of any kind (including caps, gloves and mufflers). Do this with every cupboard and every family member’s clothes. (Chances are you have plenty and can spare some without really missing them. Chances also are that you will discard them anyway to replace them with new, more fashionable stuff at the next sale. So, why not give them away today?)
  3. Once you’ve pulled everything out, sort them into bundles with at least one top (a shirt for example) and a bottom (trousers) in each. Then add the smaller items – caps/socks/mufflers etc. – to these bundles. Your goal is to create a bundle for an individual so sort out the clothes separately for adult males and females and for children.
  4. Now, scout around for pillow covers, towels, bedsheets, shawls…the larger items. If you find some, add these too. Also footwear, if that’s available.
  5. Chances are, you will have at least half a dozen such piles by now. Or more. Take these and stuff them into individual bags (not plastic but the disposable cloth ones) or simply knot the clothes around each other and keep the bundles segregated.
  6. Then, carry them in your car when you leave home. Keep them handy next to you, not in the boot.
  7. Look out for people on the road, at construction sites, bus stops etc. Pull over and call them over: grab a bundle and hand it over to the person. He/she may be surprised at first, but will smile and be grateful to you.
  8. Drive off and look for the next recipient of your generosity.

Go ahead, spread the warmth: it’s easier than you think.






A Collision of Contradictions

1 Jan

There is a strange collision of contradictions happening around us.

For, perhaps the first time since 1947, urban India is resurrecting hope from the ashes of fear. The candle is in transition from being synonymous with power cuts to romantic dinners to silent, tearful protests. Young India is coming of age, they say. From vacuousness to vigilance.

We’re seeing the death of an unnamed young woman give life to a second freedom movement that has engulfed even the most sceptic Indian. Suddenly, ‘rape’ is not just a shameful, four-letter word that tears apart lives; it is the very vocal rallying cry for all of society.

In this paradoxical point in time, parents who had hoped a child named Ram Singh would live up to the name of the god he had been given, cannot fathom how he chose, instead, to do just the opposite. He became a Ravana. There are two significant moments in the naming of a newborn: first, when his name is thought of and, then, when he is actually named – all in the illusionary hope that he will be what is called.

And there are two defining moments when a life is lost: first, when Death punctuates existence with the finality of a full-stop; and then when the physical remains are consigned to flames. Another set of parents, who had named and reared so lovingly their child, watch in disbelief how she goes out of this world and makes it to every conceivable form of media that exists: she is both famous and unknown. Unprecedented but true.

There are policemen, often corrupted and corpulent, but now driven to action and accountability. Once feared and interrogative, they are now faced with questions that will change their future – for they are seeing power slip out of their hands. When you take away their batons, tear gas, barricades and water cannons, you will see dread on their bewildered faces: the uniform is just a mask and the façade is now exposed. Strange, it is, that a political party once at the forefront of the non-violence freedom movement had its back to the Lutyens’ walls of Delhi, armed against its own electorate. Such is the dilemma of democracy. And such is the demonstrably galvanising power of truly social media.

And, finally, the men who plundered her await their own – almost certain – death. Men who, like beasts, ripped apart a loving couple with the brutality of drunken lust. And whose fall into instant insanity will now lead to prolonged legal logic as an inevitable drama plays itself out.

So many contradictions created in just a couple of weeks. So many years of frustration manifested into fury.

But, amidst all the questions that remain unanswered, of this one is certain: the second sex will now be the first.

Be not proud, Death. For, you gave birth to Nirbhaya. 




True Lie?

5 Nov

The truth, they say, has many versions. Many shades. Oft questioned.

A lie, on the other hand, has no shades of grey. There’s just one, original, unwavering, undoubted lie.

Isn’t a lie, then, the only truth?


1 Nov

I grew up on 007. On Sean Connery first and then Roger Moore. And the result of every film was a child’s belief that he could grow up to be a superspy.

But annual bouts of malaria, typhoid and jaundice can put to rest the best-imagined plans of spies in the making. Add to that a quack who overdosed me on quinine and caused my heart to stop beating when I was 10. Death was temporary but true.

And, having been born again, I know what resurrection can be like. Ditto for James in the magnum opus released today.

So, when Sam Mendes decides to conjure up something Ian Fleming would never have dared, he’s playing a high stake game. One that drove me to catch the first day’s first show at DT Mega Mall here in Gurgaon (not a patch on Shanghai though where some of the film is set). With not even an hundred people in the hall, the film started to scattered applause and plenty of anti-smoking warnings. If we were on the edge of our seats, however, it was because of the damp seats in the hall (evidence of a clean-up act the morning after last night’s show, I suppose).

Adele notwithstanding, Skyfall is a let-down. That’s the blunt truth. It isn’t crisp. There’s no real femme fatale. The villain is a wimp. Q is a geek who claims gadgets are passé and M is sentimental. Mr Craig is ageing and not seductive enough; doesn’t once ask for his trademark “shaken, not stirred Martini” though he does get it at a casino.

But there is the original Aston Martin. There is Scotland. Memories of Bond’s parents. And there is Tennyson in full flow. Saving graces for a traditional Bond loyalist.

Should you see it? Of course.

Except that you’ll now pay the premium weekend rate instead of the morning price of Rs 150. Go ahead…you only live once anyway!