Thursday, 22 December 2011

Even when no one is watching

by Vidya Jonnalagadda

We bemoan the rising lawlessness on our roads; if a traffic policeman is not in sight, every vehicle from a bicycle to a bus will run the red light. Is it that our society lives more by fear of penalty than by self-discipline and doing the right thing?

The incident I want to relate relates to awareness of ‘jootha’ (in Hindi), or ‘ushTa’ (in Marathi) and ‘engilee (in Telugu) – sadly there is no term in English to describe this ‘status’ of food and vessels. The closest term I could think of to explain this to my Jewish American son-in-law is ‘contaminated by spit’! Though in my grandfather’s orthodox household, it was not necessary for your saliva to come in direct contact with an item to make it ushTa; touching a container of rice, say, with your (clean and dry) left hand while eating from a plate with your right hand was enough to render the whole pot of rice ‘contaminated’!

But I am digressing – this post is not about how circuits are created to make objects ushTa. It is about the simple decency of common folk. We often buy provisions from a crowded little store in a very crowded big market (the well-known Monda market of Secunderabad), where one has to weave watchfully through cows and carts, people and parcels, and vendors and vehicles to cross a street. So, outside this modest grocery store is a rickety stool carrying a small water dispenser – a plastic jar with a tap. A small steel glass rests on the jar (not tied to it). As I was waiting in the shop for the girl at the counter to bring me the items on my list, I saw a young mother and child stop at the water dispenser. The child could not have been more than five. The mother carefully rinsed only the inside of the glass with a tablespoon or so of water, and filled it up for her child to drink. She poured small 'gulpfuls' of the water into the mouth of her child, taking care not to let the lips of the child touch the rim of the glass. She then refilled the glass and drank some water herself – pouring it down her throat – and put back the glass to continue along the street. She was unaware that I was watching her from the store.

I was moved by what I had seen. There was neither a person to monitor the ‘proper’ use of the glass, nor were there any written instructions posted nearby urging one to ‘maintain’ hygiene. She could have sipped water directly from the glass, and even walked away with it, or left the tap dripping. Treating the water dispenser with respect came from the strong cultural upbringing of that young mother, which she was imparting to her little child. I kept smiling to myself throughout the day, happy to see that there are still many simple decent honest people around.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Curbing crackers

by Vidya Jonnalagadda

We adults are it again – bulling the children, that is. During my recent visit to Mumbai, my young sisters-in-law, Smita and Gauri, both educationists, told me how effective the noise-pollution-free Diwali campaign was. They happily noted that there were much fewer firework booms and bangs in Mumbai this Diwali. Though, of course, global recession may have helped too.

I feel it is a shame that we bully our children to give up the 5-6 days they spend a year anticipating the dhadaams and wheees of crackers and rockets. I mean, how many Lakshmi bombs and ladees does each of us actually set off during our lifetime anyway? Why take away those few hours of joy from our children and teenagers? And say nothing when tons of fireworks are set off at gala events like T20 matches, Formula One Races, Inauguration Ceremonies for National and International Sporting Competitions, and swanky New Year Eve parties?

We adults are showing our double standards again: “Thou shall not create smoke and noise … unless you are the BCCI or their ilk!” It is fine for wealthy conglomerates to mark their mega events with mega bangs, but our little kids are made to feel the guilt for polluting the atmosphere if they set off a few dozen tiny crackers for a few days each year! So, are you interested to see how many people petition to exclude fireworks from London 2012 Olympics?

Friday, 2 December 2011

When is a vegetable not a “real” vegetable?

By Vidya Jonnalagadda

Fear not, gentle reader, this is not a test of botanical definitions, or even an argument about why plant organs that are actually roots (like carrots) and stems (like potatoes) and fruits (like tomatoes) are all clubbed under the generic term ‘vegetables’. What this blog is about is my friend Neetu’s young daughter, Nishtha’s homework for school.

When Nishtha was in first grade, her Hindi teacher assigned the homework of writing names of five vegetables (sabziyaan). After consulting with her mother, Nishtha wrote simple words like aalu, matar, shalajam, and tamaatar. The next day, however, Nishtha returned from school angry and tearful, “aap ko kuch bhi nahin aataa Mummy, teacher ne teen sabziyon ko wrong diya!” A little investigation by Neetu revealed that three vegetables on Nishtha’s homework had been marked wrong because had not been taught by the teacher in class!

This was a couple of years ago. When I called Neetu today to ask if I could write about this incident on this blog, she had all but forgotten about it. Like her, you too might say that it was a small matter after all, no lasting harm done. But I  have thought often about this incident; perhaps it affected me so much because I am upset to see that we are teaching our children that what they see and eat are not “real” vegetables unless they are on the teacher’s list (or in the textbook)!