New Home

I have moved to my new home in the online world at my own domain. I hope I continue to have your support at my new blog, Apu’s World. All guests welcome!

The Comeback Post, And Human Fodder for Advertising

For the last month or so, I have been in a true blue blogging funk. I can’t put my finger on the exact reason, but strangely I just didn’t feel upto posting. Partly I think its because I started blogging initially as a fun activity and now, especially with wordpress, I feel I am getting too much into this circus – blog stats, views, ratings, technorati etc etc. Ofcourse I know I can choose not to, and a lot of the time, I feel I’m much less bothered about it than others I know. Still. Somewhere the original reason for blogging seemed to be moving away. Then, the weather here and the cold and cough it brings along, makes me feel disinclined to do anything more than the bare minimum.

Until. One of my favourite bloggers, Megha, piped in and rapped me smartly. (Well, blogically). “Ok, we are way past the ‘few days’. Come back now”. Thats what she says. Its about time I guess. I hope everyone else missed me too 🙂

Now, lets get started. Has anyone seen the latest Airtel corporate ad? Whats with ad folks? I don’t know how anything about the human condition can become fodder for advertising. Sure, ads are meant to relate to our lives and touch a chord. But is it really justifiable to use what looks like a refugee camp to wring out tears from your audience? For those who haven’t seen the ad, its about two boys on opposite sides of barbed wire, getting together to kick a ball. More tears are wrung out by one litte boy actually getting snagged under the wire for moments. The moment I saw this ad, I thought, what the hell, next will they be showing us two Abu Ghraib prisoners talking to each other? (Communicating, you know, which is what Airtel is all about).

I know the ad is somewhere meant to show the triumph of the human spirit over adversity and blah blah. But it somehow just doesn’t come out that way. The feel good phrase at the end doesn’t help – everything will be fine as long as we talk to each other. (Something on those lines). It just feels like some fairly big problems in the world are being belittled with this trite solution. What do you think?

Worshipping the Goddess

Last Sunday was Vijaya Dashami, the tenth day of celebration after the Navaratris. And what exactly do we celeberate? Well, in the South, its the victory of the Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura who was terrorising the world. North Indians may hail Dussehra as the victory of Rama over Ravana, but in the South and the East, its the Devi who holds sway.

As a child, Navaratri (or Dussehra) was always one of my favourite festivals. I loved it for the Golu that came up every year – the festival of dolls, lovingly arranged on makeshift steps, and rolled up carefully in old soft cloth and put away, until the next year’s Golu. I loved it for the school holidays which were arranged to coincide with the celebrations. I loved it for the payasams my mother made, one for each of the nine days of prayer that Navaratri is. I loved the careful allocation of worship – Navaratri has nine days of festivity, my mother used to tell me, because we give three days to Lakshmi, three days to Saraswati and three to Durga. But most of all, I loved Navaratri because, it is a women’s festival.

For many of us who grew up in the seventies or eighties, even if you came from a reasonably liberal family, there would always be something that you couldn’t do, because you are not a boy. Some idiot who would commiserate with your parents because they didn’t have any boys. Someone who suggested that my dad (who had a perfectly valid reason), would have made it to my first birthday, if I had been a boy. Enough people who proposed that you study to be a teacher, not because it is interesting or worthwhile, but because it is a career a woman can have and get back at 3 0 clock.

So while my family is fairly liberal and never really prevented me from doing anything significant on account of gender, these little barbs still hurt. Navaratri then, was a huge dose of specialness being handed out on a platter. During Navaratri, whether or not anyone else had new clothes, the girls in each family did. Because Navaratri is a celebration of the Goddess, for these nine days, its mainly women who participated in the festivities, who arranged the golu, who visited the neighbours and got to eat delicious sundal and payasam. Girls got to dress up in their finest clothes each day. We were told repeatedly that the festival was for Us.

Also, worshipping these Goddesses made me feel good too. While Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga (Shakti) are the spouses of the trinity, Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva respectively, they are worshipped not as adjunct goddesses, but as powers in their own right. Lakshmi, the goddess of Wealth, Saraswati, the goddess of Learning and Durga, the goddess of Strength – these three cover pretty much everything one needs to live! A festival that glorifies them feels so close to my heart.

Today I see many boys taking a keen interest in the festivities, and in a few generations Navaratri may no longer be a girls-only function, it may just be a girls-first thing. I don’t regret it though. By then perhaps both genders will be much more open to sharing things traditionally meant only for one.

Fantastic Women Bloggers

I don’t usually take up tags or memes that are running through the blog world – mostly because many of these are personal, and I don’t really see this space as a “personal” blog. And well, there are very few business or feminist memes, which are the themes I usually write about. But I thought I’d make an exception this one time for this awarding meme which is running all around, called the rocking girl bloggers. I did some digging around on the origins of this thing and looks like it started out at this blog on blogging.

The idea is to give out these cutesy badges to five women bloggers whom you really like. I came to know about it when (clap, clap!), I got two of these from Desigirl and Amrita.

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For a start, I detest the use of the word girl for women, in a logical manner, though I am guilty of using it myself sometimes. Ever wondered why it sounds so condescending to call a man a boy, but perfectly ok to call a grown-up woman a girl? Be that as it may, I do like the idea, and therefore, here is my list of women bloggers I like, and why I like them. (Don’t take this as a ranking please!)

There is Mridula, whose travel blog is really one of the first Indian travel blogs that I read, and which motivated me to start my own. Not only does she present superb photographs of the places that she visits, but her love of the environment and the outdoors sparkles through her words. Besides writing, she is generous with help and I’ve seen her offer suggestions to commentors on her site many a time.

The Evil HR Lady, who hosts a witty HR blog, I’d like to nominate for her insightful commentary on workplace issues. She is empathetic to readers, at the same time practical and doesn’t hesitate to speak out her mind. Plus, she possesses something I’d kill for – an amazing sense of humour.

How can I miss one of my favourite business bloggers, Pamela Slim, a fantastic writer on business and entrepreneurship. Not just content with giving relevant, practical suggestions for small businesses, Pam is also a great motivator and has wonderful suggestions for getting around the many troubles that plague small businesses and self employed people.

But its not all business. There is some good food too! And that brings us to Indira, the super-food-blogger, whose blog Mahanandi has come to my rescue so many times when I am on the lookout for something interesting to eat. Indira shares generously her knowledge of traditional Andhra cuisine, but also ventures into other foods from time to time. Her writing is supplemented by droolworthy photographs, always.

Now that I am coming to the end of my list, it is so, so, so difficult to choose just one person. I like reading Amrita’s eclectic blog, Indiequill, and the Desigirl’s personal one, Chez Moi. But since these ladies have already awarded me, I am not going to do a sort of quid pro quo.

Instead, I’d like to mention here, Baraka, whose Rickshaw Diaries used to be up here, but after a hiatus, have now moved here. I sometimes wonder what makes me feel so close to this blog. Baraka writes from her perspective as a Muslim, American-Pakistani woman. Much of this is alien to me, as a culture. Still, Baraka’s writing shines through with her kindness, generosity, tolerance and a wisdom that seems phenomenal for someone still young.

So I’ve finally done my first meme! If you don’t already read these blogs, I sure hope you will enjoy visiting them.

The Great Indian Family

A few days ago, Itchy had this post on the old Indian social structure, and how it is breaking apart now. I agree with her on a number of things. Families were definitely closer on the whole – by family I mean not just a unit of four, but the entire extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, even second cousins. Holidays were great fun for children, with the entire family spending special occasions together. There was no question of ‘only I look after my kids’ – Kids were a communal responsibility. Infact, for families who actually lived together, everything was a joint responsibility. Further, everyone, or almost everyone was taken care of. My mother’s ailing uncle, who passed away recently at 90, spent his last 8-10 years, with a nephew and his family, since he didn’t have any children of his own. Except for rare cases, no one had to fear abandonment simply because you did not have enough put away, or any direct descendants. The family made space for everyone, atleast till my parents’ generation.

So what I am trying to say is, the old system had much going for it. Then, why am I ambivalent about it?

Because, I believe that such a system can only sustain when it looks at what is reasonably good for everybody, not what each individual wants as the best for himself. And the practicalities of this system, could only be sustained in an age, when women kept oiling the wheels of this machinery.

Now, in this system, it is not just women who made the sacrifices. I know men as well who abandoned their education to look after siblings. Or postponed getting married until well over 40, not because they wanted to, but because younger sisters needed to get married first. So in a situation where everyone’s needs had to be balanced, most people necessarily gave up something.

But on a daily basis, the whole family as a caregiving unit, could function only because the women of the family acted as caregivers. Their role was to stay home as wives, mothers, daughters-in-law, nieces-in-law, granddaughters-in-law. In my grandmothers generation, this was never questioned. Women were not educated, there was no question of their going out to work or doing anything for themselves. Neither did they give it too much thought – this was what they were brought up to be.

But by the time my mothers generation grew up, things had changed. By the early 70s, girls’ schooling had become widespread, even college was no longer rare. This then, was really the sacrificial generation, in a sense. They knew that they could go on to do many things, but in most cases, familial pressures dictated that they confine themselves to running, often large households that required a lot of attention. These were the women who ensured, that our vacations were lovely, because they could spare the time needed to make us those goodies, those murukkus, those sweets, that we buy at the store today. These were the women, who welcomed visitors at the drop of a hat, because they were family, and family is always welcome. Even if it meant getting up at unearthly hours and working themselves to the bone. These were the women who, even if they worked, often gave up jobs because a child was ill, or the husband got another transfer. Who looked back ten years later, just for a minute maybe, and thought about the senior post in government they would be holding now.

Ofcourse you can say that they made their choices. But certainly the demands of the old way of life didn’t make it any easier. Today, its not just that more and more women opt to work. Perhaps our notion of what is due to us, has also changed. I demand time to read, whenever I feel like it. My mother, for a large part of her life, woke up at 5 a.m to get us ready to school, pack our lunch, cook lunch for the rest of the family, and then set out for her teaching job. In between, she also managed to pursue her Masters, when she was 40. When she was 20, it had been an impossible dream – a graduation was as far as her family could afford, before setting aside money for the education of her siblings. Though she loves reading, for much of her life, it was a luxury for her to find the time, not something that she could take for granted, like I do.

So while I certainly miss the warmth and fun of my childhood, now you know why I am ambivalent about the whole thing. It was great in many ways, but looking into it closely, the dreams that were never fulfilled seem too many.

Working Solo

In the last 2 months, I’ve moved jobs and into a very different role with a start-up firm. Since I am the only employee in my city right now, it doesn’t make sense to invest in office space as yet, so I have a Home Office. While working from home is comfortable in a number of ways, its also thrown up some challenges for me.

One thing I miss is the hum of office chatter and being able to pop over to a friendly colleague’s desk for a word now and then. While, at work, I used to sometimes crib about the non-stop talking that some folks could do, when you are working all on your own, you realise how much you get used to having people around. Ofcourse, technology has made remote working possible, and using chat, I do stay in touch with my colleagues 350 kms away. Plus. I pop down to Chennai where they work, once in a while, and ensure that I meet atleast a few clients a week. That way, I don’t end up completely isolated. Still, it takes a bit of getting used to, from just turning around and bumping into colleagues whenever one fancies.

Then, its not just that I am working from home, but also that I’ve moved to a start-up, where things are much more unstructured. The good thing is that there is so much more to do, there is tremendous flexibility, no bureaucracy, and an opportunity to shape the business, not just be another employee. The bad news is that it takes tremendous self-discipline to work in an organized manner and get things done, when there is no one looking over your shoulder. Again, it takes some getting used to. I consider myself a pretty efficient worker who can get things done. But now, I don’t just have to do things efficiently, I also need to do a good amount of deciding what things should be done. This ofcourse involves changing one’s mindset to think more in terms of the overall business, than just one’s portfolio or allotted tasks. But it also helps to convert broad plans into smaller steps, and put them down somewhere in specific terms.

Working from home also means a lot of interruptions. When relatives land up, some (wrongly) assume that I am working from home, in order to “take care” of home. So while I try to set fairly defined timings for myself, there will be someone knocking on the door and asking where the garam masala is, while I am on a client call. Or the lady on the road selling keerai (greens) wants to know if I would like to buy some. Or I myself am tempted to snooze for half an hour or watch TV. After all, the bedroom is just 10 steps away! This is probably the toughest bit – facing interruptions from self and others! Others, I try to ward off by keeping my office door closed or not answering the door unless its someone expected. Thankfully, I have a separate study that has been coverted into an office. The self interruption bit is harder to combat!

Its early days yet, but on the whole, I think working independently suits me. I am the type who handles authority very poorly, especially when its orders don’t make sense to me. I can’t do something just because I am told to. So working with a start-up firm and really being able to contribute meaningfully, is something I am enjoying. I am also hoping that the second-hand-entrepreneurial experience will come in handy when I eventually start something of my own. In that sense, working on my own will probably prepare me for such challenges. It would be great to hear from anyone else who’s been through a similar experience.

Indiaplaza’s Deathly Service

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Don’t worry – this is not another review with a spoiler, since I haven’t read it yet. This is a post on Indiaplaza which offered the book at a throwaway price, and now proudly proclaims that it has already delivered 15000 copies since the release 3 days ago.

Well, I don’t know how well they are managing to supply all the Harry Potter orders that they’ve received, since my order for some other books, placed on July 5th is still pending, with no response from their customer service either. Let me begin the story from where it actually starts.

On July 5th, I placed an order for 3 books, Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, Ambai’s Purple Sea, and Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Teheran. Ofcourse the standard delivery time was listed as 3 to 4 working days. Till July 11th, the status on the website, kept showing up as ‘Ready to Ship’, upon which I fired off a mail.

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I got a response immediately that there was some delay and the order would be shipped out by the 14th. Fair enough, I thought, a few days delay on account of some unforeseen problem was not such a big deal.

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Just a few minutes later though, I got another mail that one of the books I had ordered, Reading Lolita in Teheran was not available, and my money for that would be refunded.

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I was a little annoyed and wrote back to them, that this should have reflected on their site. But still. It wasn’t such a big deal.

Then. The 14th went past. And the 15th and 16th. And the shipping status on the site remained unchanged. So I wrote in again, asking for my books. I received a reply from the customer service team, that both titles had been shipped out on the 16th and I was receiving them on the 17th.

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Sure enough, I received a parcel on the 17th. With only the Magic Mountain, no sign of Ambai’s Purple Sea. And. Including a statement inside that both books had been delivered. By now, I was getting quite irritated. The fact that my neighbour had picked up the parcel in my absence, meant that I couldn’t even open it in front of the courier and check. So I wrote back a slightly snarky mail, asking why I was being cheated.

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Not just the goof-ups, it is practically impossible to speak to a customer service person. There is one line, which is perenially engaged. So instead, I asked for a senior manager’s number whom I could speak to. Ofcourse I got a standard response, although it acknowledged that the second book was missing, and promising to revert in 2 working days.

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No such luck ofcourse. So. I wrote again. If this sounds tedious to read, imagine my plight!

Again, a request for more time.

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By now, I had come to the end of my patience, so I replied that I could not waste more time, and asked for a refund on the missing book. That was on saturday, the 21st.

Till date, though I have followed up on this twice, including mentioning that I am considering going to the consumer court to get back my money, Indiaplaza hasn’t bothered to answer. Honestly speaking, I don’t have the time or the energy to actually do anything about it. Infact, I think my money is sort of written off.

Harry Potter fans who have placed their orders on Indiaplaza – if you haven’t already got your copy, you know what to expect, don’t you?