The enlightened call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results.

— Krishna in The Gita

The mind is everything. What you think you become.
— Buddha

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Are we too PC?

Yesterday I was waiting for a friend at a public parking in Dubai’s Karama area, when I spotted a man of exceedingly short stature. He couldn’t have been more than 3-and-a-half feet. He was obviously an Indian and in his 50s. From inside my car I watched him walk across the large parking area, accompanied by another man. His companion was talking and laughing. But the face of the short man was expressionless, as he scuttled along, trying to keep pace.
I was intrigued. It isn’t everyday that you see someone like him in Dubai, that too an expat. Later in the evening, when I was dropping off my friend, I spotted him again, this time in front of a hotel. There he was, in uniform, with a turban to boot, ushering diners into the hotel. He was employed as a doorman.
I had this strong urge to go and talk to him, and do a write-up on him. Where was he from? Since how long had he been working in Dubai? Did he have a family back home? How did he get along in a world where everybody towered over him? What were his fears and insecurities?

But I didn’t, of course. Who knows what he’d think about a nosy journalist trying to get a story out of his deformity. Even if I was able to convince him, I could still be seen by my esteemed readers as patronising. It could be just my imagination, but in these politically correct times we all walk on eggshells, don’t we?
The sardarji jokes are still doing fine (bless the stoic and heroic race!) but aren’t we becoming less open, far too cautious and even less fun because we won’t be caught dead doing or saying something deemed unacceptable?
Ask Obama. Poor guy called a female (oops! ‘woman’ ) a TV reporter "sweetie" by accident and had to apologise. After all the US has been on the forefront of political correctness, where people of his ethnicity are no longer ‘negroes’ or ‘blacks’ but ‘African-Americans’ or ‘people of colour’ (but not ‘coloured people’, mind you).
It was in America that ‘crippled’ was found degrading and changed to ‘handicapped’, which became ‘disabled’ overtime and was replaced by ‘differently abled’ or ‘physically challenged’.
The PC overdrive has spilled over to all areas of life. Check out the demise of male-centric usages and terminologies. ‘Chairman’ has been replaced by ‘chairperson’, ‘stewardess’ by ‘flight attendant’, ‘fireman’ by ‘firefighter’. Check out too, overwritten stuff like ‘when a man or a woman finds in a situation like this, he or she may…’ instead of ‘when somebody finds…he may’.
I’m told that in some overly politically correct circles it’s a no-no to ask someone, “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?", as it implies they are exclusively heterosexual. So you should ask, "Are you dating anyone?"
I remember reading somewhere that had the moon landing happened three decades later, Neil Armstrong would have to rephrase his famous statement: “That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong would have to say, the writer quipped, ‘a man or a woman’ and ‘humankind’. How lame!
Political correctness was introduced in the ‘70s to make way for more tolerance and inclusiveness. But I guess the opposite is now true; we are becoming less tolerant and more touchy. Or may be I’m a bit old-fashioned. You know, Reality Impaired...
PS: In case I’ve hurt anyone’s feelings by using the word “short” above, I’d like to replace it with “Anatomically Compact”.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Big is beautiful

The new Volkswagen Beetle ad has me grinning from ear to ear. The cleverness of it, and the message it gives..
For the benefit of those who haven’t seen the ad, it shows an ultra-thin glamorous woman (the type who subsists on lettuce leaves and water) gorging on a sumptuous feast. Next you see is a shot of the curvaceous New Beetle, followed by the Volkswagen logo and the message CURVES ARE BACK.
Of course you may take umbrage for blatant sexualisation, but boy, it works!
The ad has been launched in India by DDB Mudra and this is what Bobby Pawar, its chief creative officer has to say on the new positioning: “The Beetle was launched at a time when everyone was running towards size zero and anorexia. With this new commercial we are trying to show that people actually desire curves.”
As if we didn’t know…
What’s Marylin Monroe without her curvaceous body and a pout that says she is proud of it? But that was THEN, you said? That means you haven’t been noticing. Hollywood these days is full of full-figured women like Drew Barrymore, Queen Latifa, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Scarlett Johanson and Kate Winslet, who wear their curves unapologetically. May their tribe increase…
And what about curvy divas like Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and Beyoncé? The latest buzz in the fashion industry is that designers are hiring plus size models. One name I can think off-hand is Crystal Renn, one of the most sought-after plus size models.
And here’s the icing on the cake: according to a study conducted by scientists at the Universities of Pittsburgh and California, curvy women are cleverer.
And perhaps happier. Have you even seen any of those waif-like models smiling? To me they always look sulky, sulky and distant and morose. How can a life of self-denial put a smile on your face? But I feel a big woman (or man) is almost always jovial.
Need another excuse to gorge on butter chicken?
Here’s wishing happier days to all the women in the world who hide their curves under tent-like dresses, who have spent a lifetime battling negative body image, who have gone through punishing diet regimens to try and whittle themselves down, and millions of young girls suffering from bulimia. Please remember, the curve is more powerful than the sword.
Well, it’s not me who said that but the bodacious Mae West, but just the same.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Confused over coffee

I had always been an enthusiastic tea drinker. So when I was forced to give up tea for medical reasons, it was only natural that coffee became my hot brew. “Coffee?” asked my tea-drinking friend, P, who needed some convincing that I wasn’t doing it for the snob value of coffee over tea. “Thought you knew coffee causes bladder cancer,” he pronounced sagely.

Well, I know P to be a conscientious eater and a bit of a know-all when it comes to these sorts of things. To give you an example, once when I was mulling over Atkins diet, this is what he told me, “Eating six eggs a week is fine, but if you go for the seventh one, your heart attack risks go up by 23 per cent.” Oh no, he wasn’t making it up. He was quoting from a Harvard study! Check the Net if you don’t believe.

Naturally, I decided to do some research on coffee and came to the conclusion that caffeine was indeed thought to induce colon bladder cancer. But the latest studies were more heartening: a coffee drinker enjoyed some protection against liver damage, Parkinson’s, diabetes, Alzheimer's, gallstones, depression and maybe even some forms of cancer.

In fact a Time magazine article titled Measuring IQ Points by the Cupful said coffee heightened one’s mental performance.
I sent the link to P, who commented, “hogwash!
But just when I was thinking I was getting brainier and smarter thanks to two cups of coffee per day, came the new research finding last week that it was indeed all myth—coffee doesn’t even make you alert.
"Although caffeine consumers feel alerted by caffeine, the effect is actually only bringing you back from caffeine withdrawal-induced, low-level alertness,” said a widely reported study originally published in the reputed Neuropsychopharmacology journal.
More galling was the fact that P laid his hands on the report before me and promptly sent an sms…

I’ve decided to stop trying to keep abreast of these so-called research and studies about food, nutrition and health are making us more confused. Hardly a day goes by without us reading about some breakthrough study which is contradictory to the previous ones. Consider these samples:
* Vitamin supplements are extremely beneficial/
It’s a waste to consume vitamin supplements.
* Eggs are bad coz they have cholesterol/Eggs are ok coz they have good or neutral cholesterol.
* Milk is excellent for health and helps fight osteoporosis / The combination of calcium and protein might set off osteoporosis.
* Moderate drinking, esp wine, is good for heart/Even low to moderate drinking is bad for heart.

All these studies have been conducted by reputed institutions and published in prominent health journals. Is it just me, or you guys are confused too? Is some lobbyism at work here? Or are the researchers looking at things through a narrow prism?
The best guide in these matters, I think, is good ol’ common sense, wot say?

Thursday, 3 June 2010

A question of career

Yesterday I called up a friend of my daughter’s who is studying in Dubai to enquire about her Class X board results and was happy to learn that she had scored 86%.

She has joined the science stream and wants to study Environmental Science. That was indeed a pleasant surprise. Because I know her parents to be quite stereotypical in their thoughts and outlook, and had presumed that she’d be under pressure to pursue a more conventional career. ‘Your parents ok with that?’ I asked. ‘Yes auntie, absolutely,’ she replied.

My own daughter, who has done well in the boards wants to have a career in Physics, Quantum Physics to be precise. So no question of “trying for” IIT, MBA or any such thing.

My cousin’s brilliant younger son is in 10th standard and is going to appear in the boards next year, but he already knows he wants to join the Arts stream. He fancies a career in Fine Arts. This is quite startling coz he’s a boy after all (his elder bro is gunning for IIT). When I spoke to the parents they said, ‘No question of forcing. I know it’s a gamble but he is a born artist.’

Are these cases exceptions or is that the norm these days? Have we—hardworking, middle class people become more relaxed about the career our kids are going to have?

What a change from our times!

‘Beta, badi hokar kya banogi?’ What do you want to be when you grow up—I bet we all faced this question as kids. But to me it always amounted to an existential dilemma, as if I was expected to summarise my entire adult life planning in one pithy reply. Unlike my younger brother, who knew he wanted to be an engineer ever since he stopped wearing diapers, I was totally clueless as to what I was going to do with my life for the first two decades of my life! Since both my parents were teachers, it was even more troublesome for me because they had a lot of expectations from their “intelligent” daughter.

“Doctor,” I’d say sometimes; “Engineer” at other times. But by the time I finished tenth I realised science wasn’t my cup of tea, no matter how well I had scored in the board. So it was Arts for me, to the disappointment of my parents, relatives and teachers.

“You are shutting out all the profitable career options,” one teacher said. But no way was I going to mug up Chemistry formulae and dissect cockroaches and frogs. “Ok, take Maths at least,” my father urged, and I did. But still I had no idea what I’d DO. “Lawyer,” I started saying now. But soon realised “Lecturer” got more approving nods. But which subject? I was bored to tears by Economics, Maths was getting tougher, and Philosophy and Political Science were ok but too bookish.

One day I remember, a distant cousin of mine had come down from Delhi. She was a ground staff with Indian Airlines but quite poised and self-assured, and to me she smelt of, well, aeroplanes, although, to be honest, at 16 I hadn’t seen the inside of an aircraft. So to the inevitable question that cropped up during our dinner I found myself saying, “Air Hostess.” Trust me I have no idea why I said so. Stewardressing was a glamorous profession those days; it still is, but the spark of inspiration was probably provided by my sophisticated cousin’s presence. No one spoke except for her who mentioned something about entrance test and training.

Later, after the guests left, all hell broke loose, about me wanting to be an air hostess “to clean people’s vomit and trashing jootha (leftovers).”

Mercifully, by the time I finished 12th I knew that I’d major in English literature. So for the next few years it was assumed that I’d be a lecturer. Little did I know that after PG I’d stumble into a profession that I had never dreamt of…after all, three odd decades ago a journalist was just a penpusher.