Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mangoes everywhere

I have not been in India, for as long as I can remember, in the midst of such mango bounty.  The day starts and ends with mangoes being consumed in every shape, form and concoction.  Take yesterday for example.  Fresh ripe mango for breakfast.  Then rice with yoghurt and the tiny mangoes pickled in brine (mavadu) along with cut mango spiced and seasoned with mustard seeds, as part of lunch. Then mango custard to refresh the palate after afternoon siesta.  Dinner at a friend's included mangoes in sugar syrup spiced with green chillies and seasoned (pachadi), sweet and sour mango chutney, gol kheri or mangoes picked with jaggery and spices with steamed savory rice dumpling ( pudi kozhakattai), and spicy Andhra pickles made with raw mangoes (avakkai) paired with refreshing curd rice. The fitting finale to this meal, chilled mango puree with fresh cream for dessert.  Of course, our friends have mango trees which lend themselves to several different methods of pickling representing the culinary styles of all the Indian states.  We took mangoes to them from our yard and they offered us theirs.  In an edifying moment, our horticulturist extraordinaire friend, also a guest, entertained us by biting into the mango from my inlaws yard and identifying it, for the first time in 50 years, as belonging to the "Palgova".  He further  offered that the Theosophical Society gardens which he tended for several years boasts the maximum variety of mangoes at 40.  Following this overindulgence in mangoes, we found ourselves embroiled in a fierce argument over which variety should be crowned queen of mangoes.  The Banganapalli (Chennai) and Malgova ( Bengaluru)  rivalry is as serious as the one  between the respective cricket teams of those two cities.   Mangoes are in the news too.  On a sobering note, mangoes which are artificially ripened with carbide stones are being raided and dumped by the tonnes due to the health hazards they pose. As I set out to enjoy another mango filled day I am preparing for the withdrawal I will experience upon my return by jotting down recipes so I can do interesting things with the mangoes I find in Canada.  Heck, mangoes warrant a cook book.  Hush - don't steal my idea!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A moving experience of religious communion

When the daughter says so, I must.  Well this time she beseeched me to pray for her, typically outsourcing all prayer to me, while she does all other things that make her happy. When i enquired into her strategy, she explained in typical Bschool parlance "it would be highly inefficient for you Amma to edit my calculus just as it would be for Appa to edit my essays.  And so with prayer- it is much more efficient done by you Amma, than by me.  There is much technique to prayer and you optimize better than I do". Ridiculous as this sounds, I buy her argument only because I thrive on the feelings prayer dredges up. For starters  I love the paganistic appeal of our religious rituals, the smell and look of our temples with their ash, vermillion, incense, flowers and oil lamps.  But most of all I love the religious communion with people at different stages in their lives as they purposefully saunter in and out of temples at all hours of the day, seeking divine grace.   This morning when the daughter bid me to pray, I took my mission seriously and walked to the Shirdi Sai Baba Mandir in crowded Mylapore on it's most auspicious day, Thursay ( of importance to our spiritual teachers).  At 6 am there were already 500 people crowding the main hall waiting in an expectant hush for the door to open and the deity to be revealed.  There was a chant and loud music on the nagaswaram rising to a crescendo in anticipation of a climactic moment.  After a 20 minute wait the door opened with much ceremonial clanging of the bells, the large oil lamp was held up to the deity's face and there was much religious fervor expressed.  I was moved by the sheer power of this mass appeal to something incomprehensible and humbling.  As I walked the precinct and observed the symbols of Jesus lit with candles, that of Allah similarly venerated and all the indicia of Hindu worship as well, I sobbed uncontrollably experiencing a deep sense of religious communion with all my fellow human beings and immense gratitude for whatever had brought me to this place at this time, besides, of course, my little girl!  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mobiles and computers in India

Every time I land in India I am amazed at how little has changed on the surface and how much has changed in people's daily lives. India still looks the same- shabby and disorganized, congested and confused.  But our maid, a primary school dropout has a child who is college bound, as is every child in his class and age group.   Even though he will not have access to the best schools and therefore the best jobs, perpetuating this society's stratification, he will have a cell phone and computer to keep him sufficiently distracted.  According to his mom he is constantly exploring the limits and bounds of browsing on his cell and is already on facebook.  He is fascinated by mobile technology and knows to take his cell phone apart and put it back.  Now he wants a computer which his mother can ill afford.   In my limited world view we have not explored the potential of telecom and Internet technology with policies that afford opportunities for our poor and less enfranchised to engage in self learning and to explore the world on their fingertips from where they are.  This world is still a hodge podge of devices, services and courses flooding the market with the promise of a good life.  People stumble upon them, are distracted by them and use them in limited ways - to text inane nothings, flirt, listen to popular songs and pay for the odd purchase.  Often relationships build on mobile platforms are aborted since the flirtation is with the device not with the person.  Mobiles and computers are not used to educate. The reverse.  They kindle desires that remain frustrated at best.  How can we sytematically mobilise the power of the web to educate in efficient and effective ways.  Why does Google, which ostensibly wants to change the world, not come up with a system for global education on a mass scale that fascinates, inspires and educates?  Can people through a global portal not reach out and learn "one on one" and in groups through interactive sessions.  Online learning platforms abound now. Let them be made available free, become available in multiple languages and be leveraged by the Indian education system to augment existing school curricula.  They will introduce students to guided study and eventually self learning and  research, thereby setting them on a path of lifelong learning - something the Canadian and American education systems do so well.  Thoughts ? Ideas?