Tuesday, July 22, 2014

No Nonsense Chayaisms from the 80s-At your service

At your service

THERE comes a time in the life  of every citizen when he has to meet a Minister or a Government  official. In a spirit of public service, I intend opening a consultancy bu­reau which, for a nominal fee, will give you the lowdown on how to cope with the many obstacles that lie between you and the powers that be.
If you ever want to meet a Minister all you have to do is contact me. My office will give you a step-by-step guide to the sacred presence in a neatly typed out bro­chure. It will tell you how to ferret out information from the Minister’s chowkidar about personal friends whom you can then approach for a letter of recommendation and pre­sent the same to the P.S. (not post script but personal secretary).
You will also get a fool-proof recipe to curry the favour of the PS enough to take cognisance of your letter of recommendation and admit you into the inner office. Naturally, further information as to how you can make yourself be seen by the Minister who is surrounded by ninety-nine people like you, will be an added attraction.
For an extra payment, my con­sultancy service will include a de­tailed leaflet on how to meet a Government official when you want to. This is a very specialised service covering all the officials from the Chief Secretary to the undermost Secretary (an organisational chart will give you the hierarchy so you can work your way up).
If you think you can, do without this highly priced service, you are mistaken. How else, (except by wasting your time experiencing it) will you know that the board saying “interviews from 3-30 to 5-30 p.m.” hanging in every Government office, is a code language which when deciphered means “We are in a meeting” The leaflet will give you tips on how to chase your file from room 146 to room 147 without it getting lost or stolen on the way.
An addenda will enlighten you on the little slips that stick out from the file. For instance the TODAY slip on the file indicates that you need to only take 3 days casual leave to chase it. If it says IMMEDIATE, you might have to apply for a week’s sick leave while PRIORITY gives you ample excuse to ask for annual leave.
Another booklet will give you the inside story of the movement of files. You will learn from this that files are as slippery as reptiles (rhyme unintended). As they wend their devious way through the tables of section officers and umpteen secretaries, the eye exercises given in one of the chapters, will train yours to spot your representation in the plethora of paper bundles strewn around!
“How to trace letters” is another publication from my bureau. This is a sure-fire investment for any citiz­en who believes in addressing his petitions to the Government. In a racy style, you will be told to address your letters not by de­signation but by name. For this to be useful you will have to buy my daily bulletin of transfers so that you can be sure you are writing to the right person with the right designation.
Believe me, I’m not trying to promote my public service bureau for my profit! I’ve just become a member of the SBIC (Society for the Benefit of Ignorant Citizens), a voluntary organisation started and funded by me. The cheque for this piece will be my only fund raising activity!

No Nonsense Chayaisms from the 80s-Author’s agony

Author’s agony
A rather worn-out saying in Kannada suggests building a house and performing a wedding to realise the essence of agony. I would add one more — write a book and try to sell it! I am, of course, not referring to word wizards like Sydney Shel­don or Arthur Hailey whose blurbs claim that millions of copies have been sold: nor do I allude to writers like Norman Vincent Peale whose books are supposed to change your whole life. I am talking of struggling authors like me who learn that writing a book is easier than trying to sell it!
One of the first things that I learnt after writing a book was, I had a lot of friends. “Oh; I read the review of your book,” gushed Sushma whom I had met three years ago for the first time. “It sounds great fun. I’m sure you will give a friend' like me an autographed copy.”
“Imagine having an author for a neighbour,” enthused the lady on the 10th floor of our flat in Bombay. Except for travelling in the elevator occasionally, there was no neigh­bourly bonhomie till she chose to remind me that I should love my neighbour enough to gift her a book.
Our phone kept ringing and each time, it was either a long lost friend or a newly acquired one, making me feel absolutely a worm for not being generous enough to distribute auto­graphed free copies. The bit about autograph is usually thrown in to make me feel great. I’d rather feel rich than great though!
Letters poured in, reminding me of my obligation as a friend, to mail complimentary copies to them. They did not even have the courtesy to enclose stamps for postage. I am supposed to be so grateful that they want my book and hurry to the nearest post office. The most amusing letter came from an elderly gentleman (or so it seemed) who poured out his woes about his wife treating him so badly that he had no money to buy my book. So would I please mail him a free copy?
If friends want free copies, can relatives be far behind? Uncles, aunts and cousins, both close and remotely connected, laid claim to special treatment and demanded a copy as their birth right. Mary dropped in to read the book in installments and I had to supply coffee and tea as part of hospitality.
Some blatantly borrowed the book and circulated it but no one breathed a word about buying it. If I had been selling home-made pickles or chutneys instead, there would have been a greater demand and they would not have minded paying for them too!
To rub salt into the wound, there were those family jesters who said, “You must be real rich with all those royalties pouring in for your book.”  “I saw your book in the bookshop,” said another brightly and added “You know, I’m a pe­rennial browser, so I sat and read your book in the shop in three sittings.”  Is there a law which pro­hibits browsers from killing the sale of a book?
Instead of my stock going high as a writer, my reputation as a miser seemed to be doing the rounds.  “As if she can’t gift a copy to close friends and relatives,” they grumbled behind my back.  “Don’t worry.  I’ll buy a copy,” consoled a cousin who bought it for her circu­lating library.  She appeared to be making more money than me, lending it to her large clientele!
Wanting to be the female Dale Carnegie of India, I wrote two “How to” books. After my experi­ences as an author, I aim to com­plete the trilogy and write How to Write a Book and Sell it.  Any useful tips please?

Monday, July 21, 2014

No Nonsense Chayaisms from the 80s....A maid’s smile

A maid’s smile

Gowtami is a young maid.One of four children, this 13-year-old has a hectic day.
She gets up early in the morning and goes to three houses (one of them being mine) to do the floors and clothes and then helps her mother cook and pack lunch and is off to school at 11. Back at 6 in the evening, she takes the kids of the memsahib in whose staff quarters they stay, to the park. Then, it’s time to help her mother cook and by 10 in the night, she’s so tired that she drops off to sleep in a crowded corner of their one-room chawl.
Despite this, I’ve never seen her frown; a cheerful shy smile lights up her face and she hums to herself as she goes about her chores.
One day, her usual smile was missing. I put it down to the bad weather but when I noticed the same look of dejection persisting, I decided to ask her the reason for it. “My mother has banned me from going to school” she cried, “I want to study. I want to become a typist and work in a big office. But now, my mother has put me on to full- time work in a house”. I felt sorry for the girl and promised to speak to her mother.
“Memsahib,” reasoned the mother when I asked her why she stopped Gowtami from studying “we are maids, and maids we will remain. If I send her to school, where will I get the money to fund her books, etc? She must also help her brothers to come up in life. It is more important to make them study than her. She is only a girl and has to be married soon. So why waste time in a school?” There was no way l could change her mind.
A month later, Gowtami, looking tired and defeated, announced that she would not be coming to work any more as she was getting married! At 13! I was shocked! The girl would become another breeding machine like her mother and the cycle would continue.
Again I came up against the mother’s down-to-earth reasoning. “If I don’t get her married now, no one will marry her. Our relatives will think there is some defect in her and later, even my other daughter will have a black mark on her name. Leave us to our fate memsahib. This is the life we know. It is better for us to continue like this”. Gowtami came with her husband, mechanic in a garage and touched my feet in farewell. One more sheep to the slaughter house, I thought, as I blessed her.
How is it we have no feasible solutions for the Gowtami’s of this society? You want to help, but they don’t want to be helped .A girl’s best well-wisher is her mother and if she decides what is good for her child, how can you interfere, however good your intentions?
Are we ‘memsahibs’ to blame for this situation, employing such young girls to do physically taxing jobs? If we don’t. Perhaps they will resort to beggary to fill the abnormally bulging bellies of their brood of siblings. We are at least providing them an honest means of survival. But where will this lead us?
Our only hope is in the very Gowtami’s who have been repressed. Perhaps, they will let their children step out of the boundaries which hemmed them. Perhaps they will visualise a better future for their progeney. Perhaps...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

No Nonsense Chayaisms from the 80s...A love letter—from one woman to another

Dear daughter-in-law,
Welcome to the fold. All this time I had to shoulder the responsibility of looking after my son. I’m glad you have come to take over.For years now he had turned to me at every step. As a child, he brought all his 'battle’ wounds from the playground, to me to dress. More than the medicine, he regarded my con­cern, my kiss, as the healing touch.

He ran to me when his pride was hurt or his desires spurned. I had to console him and also convince him that life is not smooth sailing all along — that one has to take the rough with the smooth. Mind you, all this without letting him feel that I’m no friend of his.

He would be up to all kinds of tricks — get­ting into trouble with his teachers, our neigh­bours, his father. I had to shield him without letting him get away with it. It required all my tact and diplomacy to bring him to the right path. His studies, his extracurricular activities, his social outings—what a job it was to get him to view each in its proper perspective.

Feeding was a challenge to my culi­nary prowess. When he was a child, I had to marshal all my imagination to cook up tales to divert his mind, I had to become mama bear, jack in the beanstalk, the wolf, Snow White... As he grew up, I .had to cook a variety of de­licacies to cope with his appetite.When he fell sick, I sat by his beside and prayed... every sneeze, every sniff of his would make me anxious. Many sleepless nights I soothed his fevered brow and whispered en­dearment as he clutched my fingers.

Yes... it has been both agony and ecstasy. I have found fulfillment in seeing him grow… from child to boy to man. Now I’m tired. I want to sit back and pray, to thank God for his many mercies. But my son still needs a woman, some­one who can give him unsullied love; someone whom he can turn to for comfort and solace; someone whom he can trust; someone who will egg him on to achieve the best in life. I’m glad he has found that someone in you.

I know you will take care of your husband the way he will take care of you. I have traversed the ‘miles’ I had to and kept ‘my promises’. Now it’s your turn. You will have my blessings all the time and my counsel when you went.

If my son has a tendency to talk highly of me or often refer to my cooking, don’t feel threatened or offended. You can’t expect a man to shake off the shackles of a relationship which was bound with an umbilical cord. Don’t call him ‘mama’s boy in disdain, if he wants to consult me at any time. The love he has for you is unshakable. The love he has for me is so too. One has nothing to do with the other. Keep it that way.

You and I have one thing in common-our love for him. Like all the rivers that flow into the ocean let us pool our love and pour it into the one we both love!!  

With good wishes

Your mother-in-law