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The Art of Giving

Valentine Day's just around the corner and I remember how it used to be when I was in college. There was this huge outlet of Archie' s Gallery opposite my college in Chennai (Chinna ponnunga padippadhu Ethiraja...) and soon after the Christmas-New Year dhamaka finished, the store will get out its Val's Day stuff. There'll be red hearts hanging from the ceiling, syrupy love songs blaring out from the speakers and everywhere there used to be this profusion of stuffed toys, cards, cards and more cards.

It was very tough being single and unattached.

The past six years though, the season of 'giving' is the biggest date in the Christian calendar - Christmas. It took me a long time to figure out why the folks around me got into a tizz at the mention of th C-word; turkey, presents, trees, decoration, anything related to it used to drive them into a frenzy. My driving instructor told me proudly that he was so well prepared for the holiday season, he finished his presents-buying lark by Halloween. I was amazed at that. The whole concept of making a list of presents, the must-have toys for kids and the expensive thingummyjigs for spouses in favour all seemed a bit too excessive to me. There should be some actual joy in giving, surely?

The actual day, when it dawned, must seem really anti-climatic after all the hullabaloo but swapping presents must surely make up for it, I thought naively. But this year, one of my colleagues got a 'present' that made everything else pale in comparison. Her brother had got her a goat for Christmas - well, she didn't really get it, it was given to some poor and deserving folk in a far-off land in her name. I was about to say 'oh jolly good thought' but catching sight of her expression, I swallowed the words. I realised then that there is more to this present giving than I had paid any attention to.

From what I can see, the guidelines generally are as follows:
1.If you are buying for a girl, the price tag is the last thing you must check out. The more flattering, the more eye-catching, the better. This especially holds true if you are the boyfriend or a newly married spouse. If, on the other hand, you've made your bones in your marriage, then you might get away with a lesser 'wowie' gift.
2.Paying attention is a good thing - and women generally drop an inordinate number of hints when a present giving occasion (Val's day, anniversary of the first time you clapped your eyes on each other, birthdays, Saturday nights) comes near. 'Ooh isn't that bauble nice?' and 'does this suit me?' are the statements that should stick out like beacons as they are generally good indicators.
3.If you have failed at step 2, then window shopping is a good option. Keep that plastic handy.
4. Every women loves a surprise - as long as it is of the good variety.
5.For guys, if you generally get stalled after getting stuff such as leather wallets, after shave, cologne (esp if BO is a big factor!), grooming kits (for the scruffier types), then activity gifts are a brilliant idea. Most men love that adrenaline rush and provided he isn't scared of heights, a bunjee jumping voucher would be a fab idea. I got hubby a 30 min flying lesson voucher couple of years back - he still hasn't managed to top that!
6. Most of all, always, always make sure the wife's present is at least twice as expensive as the mother's and three times as that of the sister's. If you want to live, that is.
7. Lastly, though charity is a good thing, showing your philanthropist nature a la colleague's big brother is not the way to win the game. Get a decent gift and give this rather nice gesture as an extra addition, if you want to save your skin and still be a persona grata.

Happy shopping!

Posted by DesiGirl 11:35 am 2 comments Links to this post  

The Changing Face of Indian Marketplace

I was reading this article about Reliance Fresh shops and the quality they offer. When I read about their rates, the first thing that came to my mind was what would happen to the regular kaikarikaran / sabziwala? They won’t be able to compete with such a venture, surely?

But on second thoughts, I realised that the door-to-door vendor’s market is safe as no one offers what he does. He turns up like clockwork, builds up a good rapport with his customers, chats them up and cajoles them to buy more than they intended and if you have a special do in your house, he could be relied on to bring you some extra special veg, at a special rate, of course! As no Reliance Fresh or any of their ilk could offer this, the vendor’s market is safe.

The one that is getting affected by this new chain to hit the market in Chennai is Pazhamudircholai. For the non-Chennaivasis, Pazhamudircholai is the name of an exceptional fruit and veg store that held sway near Kasi Arcade in T Nagar for many years before spreading across the city. This store had the freshest of fruits and vegetables available all year and though they were on a slightly expensive side, they were a very welcome addition to the market place.

Once you set your eyes on their fat, juicy, glistening wares, you cannot walk away without getting your hands on at least a few tempting fruit or that rare veg. They do not employ any ‘buy one get one free’ gimmicks and rely purely on the quality of the items they sell. At the front of each store there is also a man selling fresh juices and he is normally surrounded by hundreds of maamis and aunties, vying with one another to get their hands on the day’s special. The fact that they do takeaways made this hugely popular and highly successful.

This chain of stores quickly built a name for themselves and if one outlet opened in your area, it generally meant that you can now shop for good quality fruit and veg in relative ease. No Food World or Nilgiris could do much to stand in the way of this store’s success – after all, no one went to Food World or Nilgiris to buy their fruit and veg now, did they?

But this new kid on the block, this Reliance Fresh, with its real cheap rates and marketing gimmicks, seems to be changing the status quo. The Reliance Fresh outlet in Ashok Nagar, for example, is right opposite the Pazhamudircholai one and has already stolen most of the latter’s client base. I, for one, am much saddened by this, as I really liked that store and am against the big name brand stores changing the face of the arena anyway. Though this turf war could mean that the public may be well be getting some really good deals (Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda vie with one another here in the UK to inundate us with coupons and other enticing offers) the sort of aggressiveness they display is a big turn off.

Other big disadvantage of having these big name stores coming everywhere is that pretty soon, the local colour will get wiped out. Every market place or mall will have the same group of stores - Reliance, Music World, Landmark, LifeStyle, etc and slowly, the variety and the abundance that exists now will slowly get replaced with this sort of corporate uniformity. In Britain, for example, every High Street boasts of a Body Shop, Marks & Spencer's, Monsoon, Regis, Pizza Hut, Clarks and at least one Tesco or Sainsbury's or Asda store. The smaller shops are slowly going out of business and high streets across the country are all beginning to look eerily the same. It is surreal how familiar a Brentwood High Street looks to a small town high street in Yorkshire.

With every facet of Indian life undergoing radical changes, it won't be too long before we end up with a similar set of circumstances. Though with our population, the Nadar kadais will still have its patrons, I hope that the average Joe has a fighting chance against the big bad corporations. I sure hope so.

Posted by DesiGirl 10:26 am 2 comments Links to this post  

My battle with the bulge

I just did something mad - I started a new blog to help me succeed with my weight loss attempts. Not only that, I decided to put pressure on me, thereby making sure I'd stick to the plan, by signing up for Just Giving. So for every pound I lose, my chosen charity should get a few pounds in donations. Provided I can interest the kind hearted denizens across the blogosphere to support me.

I have never done any sort of fund raising before so I probably suck at this big time. Nonetheless, I hope you can dig deep and help me with my efforts. Here's the plug - please click on this link to donate money to my chosen charity, Take Heart, India. You can keep track of my weight loss efforts via my new blog My Battle With Bulge.

Please encourage/support me.

Posted by DesiGirl 9:12 pm 3 comments Links to this post  

India’s Economic Progress: Much Background Work Needs To Be Done

For a long while, India was famous for its brain drain - we used to read about the myriad 'India Born's' who went on to become leading lights in their chosen field in their adopted countries. With the new IT boom, India is becoming the chosen destination of the First World countries to house their call centres and, in increasing number of cases, their development teams.

Now that the Western world is slowly getting convinced of the fact that we don't travel to our workplaces on our elephants, have pet snakes, do the rope trick every night before dinner and sleep on nailed beds, a lot of them want to sample the country's natural beauty. This is good news for us in terms of the revenue tourism would bring.

But the increase in our international profile also means that things that had so long remained in the dark now will be put under the global microscope. Lack of basic facilities in public areas, sloppy customer service, non-existence of emergency services and civic sense are things that every Indian knows and shrugs off - but these are the same things that are causing the well shaped Western brow to lift in alarm and/or derison.

Real estate in India is booming - land value has sky rocketed and there are malls and IT parks coming up everywhere. The picture that is being painted of the country is that of a prosperous nation on the brink of global leadership.News reports claim that the Indian economy would be much better than that of UK's by 2015 and by 2030, China and India would be among the world's greatest economic super powers, just behind USA. While this sounds fantastic, the reality might be a completely different thing. Political sociologist Amandeep Sandhu argues that "although it is often asserted that India's democracy allows it to manage diversity, a greater threat to India's growth can come from within. In the recent past, India has experienced or is experiencing conflict in Kashmir, Punjab, North East India, and it experiences regular urban communal riots between Hindus and Muslims."

One of our biggest problems is that India's accelerated growth is neither multi-dimentional nor is it well thought out. IT and manufacturing sectors are reaping the rewards of this boom whilst others such as farmers, artisans and the other regular folks are languishing in the wayside. Whilst throwing open our doors to international trades, we haven't safeguarded our own homegrown industries that are now bearing the brunt of the government's short-sightedness.

Our own police force has come under fire following the murders of Welsh charity worker Mike Blakey and Englishman Stephen Bennet within the span of two weeks. Their sloppy detective work, lack of professionalism and conduct has created waves here in the UK and are putting the country in a very bad light.

If our country is to really prosper, then a multi-dimentional overhaul is necessary. Our basic infrastructure needs to be vastly improved. Frequent power cuts, roads riddled with potholes, lack of emergency service facilities are not features of a successful economy, much less an emerging world superpower. Other industries such as the small scale industries, agriculture, tourism and other non-IT fields also need to be encouraged and their grown furthered. Ultimately, we need to slather a layer of professionalism over our good selves if we were to compete in the global market and emerge victorious.

All of this and more, needs to be done and needs to be done now. Otherwise, this boom will be more the bang with which our glorious future came crashing down.

Posted by DesiGirl 12:32 pm 2 comments Links to this post  

Judgement Day?

I am tired of Jade. Tired of seeing her carefully school face showing remorse peering at me from every street corner. Tired of hearing her well rehearsed apologies 'I am not a racist but I can understand why you would think so'. Her well oiled PR machine is working overtime to clean up her tarnished image and I, for one, am tired of being played like a banjo.

Jade is using the 'tu queque' argument someone accused me of, to excuse away her actions. She keeps saying what she did was wrong but is repeatedly pinning the blame for it on her upbringing, her social class, her parents and anything else she could think of.

Couple of other 'interesting' repercussions of the BB row are Danielle losing a £100,000 modelling contract and worse, being dumped by West Ham footballer Teddy Sheringham, the same man she slept with to win the Miss Great Britain crown last year. Of course, Danielle doesn't know that she ins't a WAG anymore. Jo, on the other hand, didn't have much of a career to speak of since her S Club 7 days so doesn't have much to lose and is carrying on as before.

Whilst I have had my fill of the Jade Baddy Saga, I feel Danielle and Jo, who have said more racist comments and have egged Jade on, deserve to take on the blame as well. It was Danielle who said 'I thought you were going to punch her' after Jade's pronouncement 'you are stuck up so far up your a**e that you can smell your own s**t' and even said 'your mother would be so proud of you' and even called Shilpa a dog. Jo has generally been nasty and while I cannot remember what pearls of wisdom she dropped, she has been coming across as the type of person I would cross the road to avoid, purely for my own personal safety.

I was watching The Wright Stuff earlier on Channel 5 (young P's down with chicken pox - hence am cooped up at home!) and today's panellist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said something that seemed real sensible to me. Jade was the 'expert' on the show today and after 30 minutes of 'yes I can see how it will be construed as wrong, but I wasn't the only one' and many rueful shakes of her head, Yasmin adviced Jade to use the next three years to get a proper degree and.... well, we never heard what as Jade butted in, prattling about the same old stuff and made Yasmin gave up what she was trying to say. But I can see where she's coming from: one of Jade's biggest reasons for being such a bully is that she learnt those at her mother's knee. Well, she's in her mid-twenties now and cannot blame Mum for teaching her every wrong thing under the sun. It is time she learnt few good things on her own, especially with two young children to raise. Yasmin's advice strikes me as an exceptionally sound one, as well as her view of it will take a long time for someone to change their views (the racist or the bullying sort) and will not take place in the span of three short days, as we are seeing in Jade's case.

Education is the only way to open people's minds to the world out there. Respecting others' differences and not feeling threatened by them will only come with time. Britain today is as multi cultural as it gets, a fact that threatens many, many people. One of them decided to show their distaste by spitting in front of me as I was out for a walking with my little one and shouting 'Go back home!' Another one did his level best to push my husband on to the rail tracks by catching hold of his shirt fronts and yelling 'You bl***y Paki!' As more and more Asians come to the UK as skilled workers and as more and more jobs are being sent to the subcontinent, the ire of the locals who perceive us to have cheated them out of their jobs is on the rise.

Being different always makes us fair game and this is true none more so than in our own country, which is as widely diverse as it can get. State, language, religion, social / economic strata - we have innumerable things seperating us from another. Try to imagine the case of a Madrasi amongst a group of Hindi speaking Bombay or Delhi folk. Attire and accent are just two of the things that are causes for mirth. My telugu neighbour still speaks to me like I were from a planet many light years away rather than from a nearby state when she speaks of the 'customs and traditions of Nellore' (my husband is Telugu while I am Tamil). Couple of my tam-bram friends changed their minds about me in a hurry once they heard of my own mixed parentage.

While I do not rue the loss of their so-called friendship, I rue our own penchant to divide ourself so neatly. Even after paying with our own freedom for celebrating our differences hasn't stopped us from going back to doing the same. What is needed for us to look at one another as just people, instead of 'Jain, rich, gujju' or 'Hindu, Tamil, padayachi'? When will we stop judging one another? Isn't it high time we changed our outlook for the better?

Posted by DesiGirl 10:51 am 2 comments Links to this post  

What price humanity?

What price humanity?

On Bhogi, an aunt of mine lost her life in a road accident. The car in which she was travelling lost control and she was thrown out. As she lay wounded and bleeding, my uncle begging passing vehicles to stop and help them. For forty-five long minutes, he did so, with folded palms but none did. Finally, one kind-hearted gentlemen did but by then it was too late.

A life that could have been saved, has gone. All of those people who travelled on that stretch of road in Thirupathur on the Bhogi morning have blood on their hands. Maybe that comes across as really harsh, I don't know. But how else could I term it? How could one justify not stopping to help a desperately wounded family? What sort of reasons does one give to assuage their conscience so that things like this don't stick?

Isn't this what being human is all about - lending a hand to someone in need? The mere fact that so many people have just shrugged it off and carried on with their lives galls me. I have seen scenes like this in movies, when car after car drives past a broken, bleeding man and have just shrugged it off as over-sentimentalism by the director. I always firmly believed that, when push came to shove, one cannot ignore such an event and turn a blind eye.

Was I mistaken in that surmise or what?

I know what most people think: why would I want to get involved in such a thing, as it will only mean unnecessary hassle from the police? True enough. Who needs it anyway? On the other hand, if you had the power to save a life, would you throw that power away? Had it been your loved one lying there, would you not do anything in your power to make sure they were saved? Or would you shrug it away as needless hassle?

As I think of what is going to happen to that fractured family, of my young cousins devoid of their mother at such an age, I am filled with so much rage. Impotent rage as sitting many miles away, safe in my home, I had carried on with my day as normal whilst my aunt was breathing her last. Chatting away on the phone whilst strangers were driving past her with no concern whatsoever. If it had been me in the car driving past a family needing desperate help, would I have stopped and done so?

If I had said 'yes' to that glibly before, I can now say with absolute conviction that never will I ever be able to see things like that in a detached sort of way like those uncaring strangers did. Because I now know, the price you pay for not heeding someone's plea for help.

And I know that never will I be able to look at Bhogi in the same light again. For it will always be etched in my mind as the day humanity died a violent death.

Posted by DesiGirl 7:10 am 5 comments Links to this post  

Celebrity Big Brother: Kya Scene Hai!

A bunch of has-beens trying to give their sorry careers a kick up its backside so they can give it a much needed boost if they were to be rescued from oblivion - this is the state of the inmates (so they seem to me!) that take part in reality shows like 'I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Here!' and its evil twin 'Celebrity Big Brother'. Most times, you never recognise any of the so-called celebs, save for the presenters and ratings generally plummet after the opening night. [Aside: Channel 4 must have paid the people bucketloads of money to stand outside the BB house and scream their guts out - I really cannot imagine any other way by which so many honest folks could be persuaded to stand in the cold in Herefordshire day and night and exhibit their lung capacity.]

This year is no exception - two former so-called singers from two bands best forgotten, an ageing filmmaker no one knows, a cheat beauty who slept with one of the judges to win the Miss Great Britain crown and couple of Americans were all part of the lineup - joining them soon enough was 'Big Brother's First Family' (as host Davina McCall pronounced them!) - former regular show inmate, loudmouth Jade Goody, her mouthy boyfriend and lesbian mum. In order to spice things up, they threw in our Shilpa Shetty in. In the beginning, it was said that she would be urged to flirt with the male inmates and be involved in a romantic situation. When fewer and fewer people turned in, they decided to ditch the softy-softy approach and pull in the ratings by pitting the catty Danielle, intelligently-challenged Jade and looking-for-an-excuse-to-release-a-single Jo O'Mara against la Shetty. Shetty was coming across as this beautiful, composed character and what more could incense a trio of thickos than that?

So they have been goading her, calling her names, Danielle showing her knowledge of geography by commenting something about China and India and ‘I am so dumb I can’t even spell my own name’ Jade carrying on in her trademark style. Their biggest advantage is that to a non-English person, they are virtually ununderstandable - they could be prattling in Yiddish, for all Shilpa knows, so strong is their accent. Maybe that's why la Shetty has taken to simply bawling her eyes out, waving the white flag at every opportunity and sobbing on Cleo's shoulders. But she showed everyone that underneath it all, she has some sharp claws when she shut Jade up with a well-aimed 'Your only claim to fame is this show. What does that say?'

This issue is seriously getting out of hand, with House of Commons entering the picture for some strange reason. Even Gordon Brown, gallivanting about in India, has commented on this ,Third world debt, greenhouse effect, inter-country relations, Iraq etc, aside. The only sane voice in the middle of all the brouhaha seems to be Shilpa’s mum, who's reported to have said, "I hope that she will be able to handle the situation. It is a game and there is a life beyond that. I understand her emotions but I really hope that she is not going to get too affected by this treatment that is being meted out to her." Well said, mum!

The only ones to come out of this laughing is Channel 4. From the brink of disaster, by means of some canny tactics, they've made their show the talk of the town - sponsors threatening to pull out, Ofcom's investigation, hue & cry about racism all translates into ratings; ratings that are slowly going through the roof. Welcome to the new era of 'anything goes' - where ratings is the only thing that matters and target ratings would be achieved by hook or by crook.

Posted by DesiGirl 7:49 pm 0 comments Links to this post  

Shilpa Shetty? What the hell is she doing in the BB House?

It is an institution in Britain (well, the housemates are more like inmates, anyway!) – every summer, it is customary to eavesdrop on twelve of the most moronic people you can find in the country, cooped up inside a swanky house, who have nothing more interesting to say other than “fuck” and “shite” and other assorted easy enough words. Then, a few years back, Channel 4 decided to make more money out of such a wonderful concept and came up with the Celebrity Big Brother.

Now, Celebrity Big Brother is like the last chance saloon for the so-called celebs before they hit Obscureville. Winners usually end up with a recording contract, millions of pounds and a couple of apes, ivories and peacocks thrown in for good measure.

Why am I prattling utter nonsense about Big Brother, here, in DC world? Well, ‘cos ladies and gentlemen, one of the celebs in this years show is none other than our very own Shilpa Shetty! When she sashayed down the red carpet, clad in a pink and green saree, looking every inch a glam Bollywood star, I almost fell off the sofa! What the hell was she doing here?

In her intro bit, she wondered how she was going to carry on minus her entourage; my question is: girl, have you got any idea what you have let yourself in for? The only thing worse than a BB house is the I’m a Celeb jungle, where ‘having grub’ takes on a new meaning. Every day, for the remaining three weeks, la Shetty would be watched, her actions judged and any gaffs splashed all over the media. Living with a geriatric movie maker, a wannabe punk rock star with Attitude, a disgraced model, a catty newspaper journalist, couple of former pop stars and a startled looking Jackson – no, not Michael, his brother Jermaine.

Now this bloke, Jermaine, he sure looks like he’s going to provide us with hour after hour of fun. Being the first one to enter the house, he had the unique opportunity to size up every one as they came in and you could see, as more and more nervous folks joined him, more and more bewildered he got. Being American, he didn’t have a clue who any of them was but looked so sure that they all knew him and was so surprised when one celeb went ‘And who are you?’ The looks on his and Ken Russell’s faces as Shilpa Shetty sashayed into the room were absolutely priceless!
And the glazed look on her face, as she was sat on a couch, watching all these people was like she was asking herself what the hell she has let herself in for. Well, the only thing she hopes for, apparently, is to keep her self-respect and dignity.

Good luck, girl – you’re gonna need it!

Posted by DesiGirl 11:13 pm 2 comments Links to this post