Saturday, November 23, 2019

City Greens

So, my family and extended family members called me an arm chair environmentalist the other day. Why? Chumma just like that. Guess they didn’t have their morning Kapi, Kanji or Kanjavu. Now if you are wondering about the three K’s i.e., Kapi, Kanji or Kanjavu, don’t wonder. It is a mallu thang.

It all started the other day at a family gathering when I was watching a Twitter video clip of two white foxes chasing a white furry and very cute rabbit.

Me (loudly): Run, rabbit, run, oh I hope he outruns them foxes. Run, run, runnnnn….runnnnn....

The video clip ended abruptly and I was left in anguish wondering if the cute fluffy white rabbit made it home. It was soooo cute to look at.

Then I saw a video clip of a fluffy Snow Leopard grabbing a mountain goat and the two falling from a steep cliff in a never-ending fall.

Me (screeching): No, no, nooooooo, we have so few snow leopards. Oh God, hope he gets the goat and doesn’t fall down and die. Please god, please god, please god, pleeease save the snow leopard!!!

The video ended abruptly and my 12 year old cousin tells me curtly that the leopard had died. I break down and sob loudly.

Family: Whose side are you on!
Me: Err… the underdog.
Family: Suggest you leave environmental concerns for the really concerned.

They are right!! I need to start watching less nature videos and do something real like going to the jungles and making a difference. If only I could get past the city crowds trying to do the same with their DSLR cameras and giant lenses and being shooed back by forest officials. Damn forest officials, they are the reason we “nature lovers” from the city never get to do some real field work.  

In the meantime, I am back to watching nature videos. I cannot give up on the environment just because some grouchy members of my family did not have their morning morning Kapi, Kanji or Kanjavu. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Work life balancing act

Sometimes in the 1990’s

Employee one: Whine whine whine whine
Employee two: Gnash, Gnash, Gnash
Employee three: Sob, Sob, wail, whimper, wails of despair…
Employee four: No work life balance, stressed, tired, burnt out, heavy sighs etc etc.

Management across the world decided to change the work week from six days to five days

Employee one: Yay!
Employee two does cartwheels, end up spread-eagled and is rushed to the hospital: Yipeeee!!!
Employee four: At last! Someone has heard the groans of the over worked underpaid employee!!
Employee four: Two-day weekends! This is too good to be true.

A couple of years later

Employee one: Grumble, grumble, grumble
Employee two: What can you do with a two-day weekend!!! Wail…
Employee three: I can barely recover from a tough week in two days sob
Employee four: No work life balance, stressed, tired, burnt out, heavy sighs etc etc.

A decade later management across the world decided to change the work week from five days to four days

Employee one: Yay!
Employee two does clicks his heels midair, end up spread-eagled and is rushed to the hospital: Yipeeee!!!
Employee four: THERE IS A GOD!!!  THERE IS A GOD!!! THERE IS A GOD!!!
Employee four: Three-day weekends and four-day work week! This is utopia. An employee dream come true! I will love my work so much now!

A couple of years later

Employee one: I am EXHAUSTED! I do in four days what I did in five groooaaaannnnn aaarrghhh I am dying of exhaustion!
Employee two: I am barely alive by Thursday. I wish I had another day to finish the week's work. Then I would really enjoy my weekend.
Employee three: I am sprinting to complete my work. It was so much better paced when it was a 5-day week sigh
Employee four: No work life balance, stressed, tired, burnt out, heavy sighs etc etc.

Some time after that, managements across the world give up on trying to please employees and do what’s best for the company.

Employee one: Whine whine whine whine
Employee two: Gnash, Gnash, Gnash
Employee three: Sob, Sob, wail, whimper, wails of despair…
Employee four: No work life balance, stressed, tired, burnt out, heavy sighs etc etc.

Management: Pffffft

Friday, March 22, 2019


John was a colleague in the US. He was a good graphic designer. We worked together a lot and shared a lot of laughter over Zoom and beer when he came down to India to meet the Indian marketing team. 

Then one day John got laid off and they moved his job to India. John cursed outsourcing and voted for Trump. Things went downhill after that. John wallowed in self-pity. He was too bitter to attend interviews paranoid that the next job would be outsourced too. There were plenty of jobs but John was not interested.

John: I hate this Silverine, I just effing hate outsourcing!!
Me: I understand your angst John. It must be terrible being laid off like that!
John: There has to be a law against this!
Me: Well, companies gotta do what companies gotta do to make profits. They are still employing a lot of people in the US, in fact 50%.
John: &%^%#$@$ US companies must hire from US only, period!
Me: But John, that is like telling me to hire from Bangalore only. I would be depriving myself of good talent when there are good people in other parts of India.
John: I don’t care for this bullshit!
Me: Sigh

He decided he will work in such a way that his job won’t be outsourced. Which meant he had to be his own boss. So he started his own gig. From one gig to a few more and he was finally able to pay rent and hire more people as his clientele grew. He worked from home and his staff of freelancers also worked from their homes. Business grew and his freelancers became his employees and one day John decided to pitch his services to me and his old company. I was more than happy to consider his services since he was a brilliant designer and had assisted me in many marketing campaigns.

John sent me a meeting invite for the pitch. The meeting started at 9 pm IST since John is in the west coast.

John: Hello Silverine, how are you!!
Me: Hello John. How are you!!!
John: I am fine. Since we talked last, we are now grown to a team of 10 designers!
Me: Wowwwww! Good for you John.
John: And our capabilities have grown too.
Me: Wonderful!
John: Let me introduce you to my team. On the call are: Sivaraman Sarvapalli from Hyderabad, Karthick Krishna from Salem, George Thottumkal from Kochi, Harvinder Singh from Chandigarh, Basavaraju from Bangalore, Swapan from Bhubaneshwar, Abdul from Calicut,  Robin from Goa, Joydeep from Kolkata and Sangma from Guwahati. They work from home but are part of my team.
Me: !!!!!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The evolution of the political vermin

The political worm or more popularly known as the political vermin (PV) is an interesting parasite. Among all the parasites out there, this is the only creature that evolves, yet doesn’t evolve. Now that is a contradiction, I agree, but let me explain it to you all by this scientific study that explains this unnatural phenomenon.

The PV Stage 1

PV is a grassroots level worker of some party at this stage.

Villager: Son, I need your help to get my son a seat in college. Please speak to your minister and help me. I earn Rs 1000 per month working as a farm laborer and hope to give my son a better future than mine. *Sob*
PV: Sure, but it will cost you Rs 10,000 uncle, I need to pay the party.
Villager: Sigh… I will make arrangements (sells kidney and gives PV the money who pockets it)
The PV Stage 2

Small land holder in Village (SLH): PV, I need a loan to buy a pump set. Please help me. I barely earn Rs 2000 per month and with a joint family of 10 people, it is getting hard to make ends meet. I do not have the money to buy a bicycle even *breaks down*
PV (who is now a party office bearer): Of course uncle! But I will need at least Rs 20,000 to arrange that. I need to bribe various people no! It is not an easy task you know!
SLH: Sigh…ok! I will borrow from your brother and pay you.
PV: Naice!!

PV pockets the money, of course!

The PV Stage 3

Small Shop Owner in a town near PV’s village (SSO): Respected PV, the Terror Brothers are exhorting money from all of us small shop owners in this area. Please help us. We barely make Rs 10000 per month and most of it goes in rent and buying goods for the shops. *Sobs uncontrollably*
PV: You are in a fix my brother. If you all can arrange Rs 1 lakh, I will take care of this.
SSO: We will try to raise the money Sir, but 1 lakh is too much for people like us who barely earn Rs 5000 per month!
PV: This money is not for me you know. It is to bribe the cops, the local area MLA etc. The Terror Brothers are not people that one lone man can handle. I need institutional support you know!
SSO: We will make arrangements.  :-(
PV: *Calls his henchmen a.k.a the Terror Brothers and tells them to lay off the area for a year* And please vote for me in the upcoming elections. I will make this area goonda free every year!

The PV Stage 4

Road Contractor:  MLA Sir, what do I need to give you for that road contract in the town?
PV: 50%
Road Contractor (spluttering): But, but, but that would leave me with no money to build the road!!!
PV: Why would you want to build a road, duh!!
Contractor (grumbling):  Ok! Ok!
And he goes on to fill potholes on the road to be redone and garnishes the road with some tar and sand. While PV goes on to line his pocket with the money.

The PV Stage 5

Business man: Sir I need a license to set up my 25th factory. Need your help saar.
PV: 25 Crores, I need to pay the CM, the area MLA, MP and other people.
Businessman: Fine! *curses under his breath*
 PV: And make it cash for er...'storability' purposes.

PV's aide then goes onto 'store' the money in gunny bags in the rice godown.

And the last and final stage 6

NGO type: Saar, we are building a much needed bridge in your village. If you could sanction some money like Rs 10,000 we will add another 10,000 which we collected from philanthropists, and the general public and construct the bridge with the help of a local contractor who is offering his service for free. This is a community effort saar. The people on the other side of the river have to travel 20 kilometers to reach the nearest town due to the lack of a bridge in this area.
PV:  Naice!! What noble intentions. I remember my mother swimming this river in spate to the other side to deliver me in the government dispensary *Sniff* I will definitely help.
NGO type: That is such a touching story Saar. We appreciate your help.
PV:  Give me Rs 15000 and the permission is yours.  I need to pay the panchayath and others you know. I will ask some businessman to contribute the money.  You just deliver it for me. This is not for me as usual you know.
NGO type: *rolling their eyes* But of course saar. Thank you.
PV: And do not forget to name the bridge after me. I will inaugurate it. Make sure the press and TV channels are in attendance.
NGO type: But of course saar *sticks tongue out* 

I rest my case.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Popular woes

Manager of newly popular pop musician: Dude!! Your song is a huge hit worldwide but specially in India, the people are going gaga over the number. They are dancing to it and singing and what not!!

Newly popular pop musician:Woooww!!!!

Manager: But Indians do not buy music, they download it for free.

Pop Star: Hrmph!

Sunday, February 19, 2017


It was 5 am and I was fast asleep, snug under a light quilt that protected me from the air conditioning. There was a jerk and the bed shook as my aunt Chaakli sat bolt upright. She mumbled something about oversleeping and swung her legs by the side of the bed like an Olympic pole vaulter. She went around the bed and peered inside my mosquito net and whispered “Go back to sleep, it is too early!” Then she rushed out gently closing the bedroom door behind her. I tried to go back to sleep. But sleep had fled the room like Chaakli. I woke up and rubbed my eyes to the clanging of vessels in the big kitchen downstairs. 
“Hysterectomy drains your energy Anjali” said my aunt Chaakli (Jacqueline) walking in with a steaming cup of tea. Chaakli was one of my favorite grand aunts. She is not that old, she was the youngest of a brood of 14 kids, the eldest being my grandmother. She is in fact as old as my mom, and mom and aunt were and are best friends to this day. Kerala families of yesteryears were like that. For instance, my Dad and his uncle (his dad’s youngest brother) were firm friends and even studied together in the same class, till my Dad overtook him. But they remained best friends even as my Dad reached the 10th standard and Mathai remained languid, in the 7th.  They are best friends even now, even though Uncle is still in the 10th standard and my Dad finished college years ago. Don’t get me wrong. Mathai does not go to school now. He spent many a fruitful years bunking the 10th standard, till the kindly priest Father Yohannan, who was the long suffering principal of the school, gave him a transfer certificate (TC) and advised him to move out.

But before Mathai moved out of the St Paul’s School, Fr. Yohannan had to face the wrath of Mathai’s mother Lillykutty. Lillykutty was Fr Yohannan’s eldest sister. She was about 19 years older than him and was married before Fr. Yohannan was born. Yohannan and his nephew Patrose (Mathai’s eldest brother) were born on the same day though in different hospitals as his mother Elikutty went to her mother’s house for delivery as per the customs. So did his sister Lilykutty. His father’s elder sister Rosakutty attended to the neo natal duties of Lillykutty in the absence of Elikutty.

Lillykutty was a ‘righteous woman’ who went to church regularly and accepted her good fortunes as a reward from the good Lord and  misfortunes as the devils work which was to be dealt severely and rather personally. She was in Yohannan’s office before he could say “Shut the door and barricade it” to his faithful assistant. Her diminutive husband Paulose was in tow. He had no choice. “Sit down” barked Lillykutty to Paulose. Paulose obeyed timidly. He looked at Fr. Yohannan with pitying eyes.  He knew Yohannan was screwed.

Yohannan squirmed in his seat as Lillykutty peered at him like a snake peering at the mouse it was contemplating for dinner. Fr. Yohannan wiped the sweat off his forehead and tried reading the teacher’s register at the same time, but Lillykutty’s acute gaze had him sweating under his collar like the mouse that knows it is dinner. He tired drinking some water, spilled most of it down the front of his shirt and the rest on the table.

“Yohanna!!” hissed Lillykutty narrowing her eyes till they were tiny slits. Fr Yohannan paled and looked at her like the aforementioned rat facing the snake. “You are my youngest brother. So I will restrain myself today. But what you did was not good. Rusticating your own nephew…” she paused for dramatic effect. “…your own flesh and blood because he got a few marks short is a crime against your family, against God, against St Mathew after whom he is named and also Mathai’s father’s family who are no good but hurt by this act of yours!!!” she finished wheezing. Paulose wisely kept his mouth shut. Lillykutty had a touch of the asthma and the doctor had advised her against talking too much. But that didn’t prevent her from talking. In her family, she said, only the women talked. The men should shut the eff up if they wanted children to carry on the family name.

Yohannan looked at her rather alarmed. The last time she had a wheezing attack, he had to give Mathai a double promotion. This was soon after he spent four years in class 8. Yohannan knew he could do scant against the SSLC board even though the education minister was his relation from his mother’s side twice removed.

“Lillykutty, Mathai got an average of 28 marks in his exams. The passing marks is 35! There is nothing I could do even though most of the teachers here are our relations. You know how relations are. They talk!” wailed Fr. Yohannan. 

“You cannot give your own nephew, your own flesh and blood, seven marks!!!” screeched Lillykutty. To cut a long story short, it was decided to put Mathai into a polytechnic run by another order of priests. Lillykutty’s fourth brother was a priest in that order and that is how Mathai moved out of St. Paul’s and went onto the polytechnic where he really enjoyed himself and went onto becomes one of the largest car showroom owners of the region. Now you must be thinking that Mathai had found his calling and passed the polytechnic exam with flying colors and went onto become a car mechanic and graduated to a car showroom right? Wrong! He found  a fellow laggard at the polytechnic to bunk classes and go to the movies with, fell in love with the laggard's sister Elsamma and married her after eloping soon after which her very rich dad passed away leaving his entire property to his laggard son and runaway daughter. Mathai put the money to good use and the rest is history. Mathai and Elsamma were made for each other. Both had failed their way to the 10th where they got stuck due to the board exams which their teachers couldn’t clear for them. It was a disappointing end to a successful academic run.
Back to Chaakli or as the English would call her, “Jacqueline”. Chaakli was wrestling with a giant jackfruit. She chopped it open with one swift move of a cleaver, ripped the two sides apart and proceeded to remove the raw jackfruit dropping them into a wicker basket like a well oiled Jackfruit plucking machine. Then she removed the seeds from the jackfruit, picked up two coconuts and went onto break them with the blunt end of the cleaver. She then dragged the rather large coconut grater towards her and sat down to grate the coconut with the speed of a motorized grater. I felt tired just looking at her.

“You like pacha chakka erissery no!” she said indulgently. I did like Pacha chakka erissery (raw jackfruit curry), but the sheer effort it took to make, made me feel bad. But before I could say “what the eff” Chaakli was lugging two coconut fronds into the back yard and preparing a roaring fire. “You have to take some cashew nuts with you when you go back. These are organic.” she yelled over the roaring fire. Before long she had the erissery cooking away and Chaakli was walking purposefully towards a flock of chickens. She caught one effortlessly and I looked away while she prepared the chicken for cooking.

“This is healthy meat, not your antibiotic and chemically grown chickens you know.” I looked at her warily. What would she do next I wondered. The cattle and the goats were at the meadow far away from the house I noted thankfully. 

“The better way of eating the erissery is with beef curry” said Chaakli talking no one in particular. I looked at the cattle grazing peacefully and cringed. She picked up the cleaver and before I could say “Nooo” she put it down and said. “But we will settle for chicken curry today. You uncle has no time to go to the beef shop.  I smile in relief, my face white. 
Chaakli disappeared and shortly I heard noises in the attic. Then I saw her climbing down the wooden ladder carrying a giant Uruli, a kind of a heavy brass wok used in Kerala homes.  
Very soon she was grinding masala for the chicken curry on the heavy grinding stone while I looked on in horror. The grinding stone looked like it weighed a ton at least. While she ground the masala she chattered on. “Look at me Anjali; I cannot do half the work I used to do before my operation”. I flinched at the thought. She had done more work in two hours than an average head load worker in K R Market would do in a day.

“Why don’t you let Annakutty help you?” I asked her foolishly.                    

“She is useless!! She is only good for cutting vegetables.” scoffed Chaakli as she macerated the masala into a fine paste. Annakutty stuck her tongue out at Chaakli who was too busy grinding to notice. Annakutty lived in the nearby village. He dad was a farm worker with Chaakli’s family for generations. She helped out in the house whenever possible, getting a princely sum of Rs. 300 per day for basically doing nothing while Chaakli  did most of the work by herself complaining ““Hysterectomy drains your energy, I cannot work the way I used to.”

Annakutty once confessed to me that she lost a lot of weight just watching Chaakli work. “I got so tired of watching her that I became thin! My mother came and chided Chaakli for giving me too much work!”

“Then what happened Annakutty?” I asked.  “Then she sat down and watched Chaakli ammayi work and scolded me for not helping her out.” She pouted.

As I slept off the delicious jackfruit curry and the twenty other side dishes Chaakli had made to go with it and a delectable ada pradhaman to wash all that down, I heard a heavy banging. Walking out of the house I was shocked to see Chaakli washing what looked like a double bed sheet. “Why don’t you put that into the washing machine aunty” I asked.

“No power, besides these are the bed sheets Sarah bought me from England. You need to wash it carefully,” She said hitting the stone with the bed sheets like she was trying to scare the devil out of it. The washing stone did indeed look like it had seen better days. As in days when Uncle would put the clothes in the washing machine surreptitiously before aunty found them and gave them a hiding on the washing stone. Looking at the state of the stone, this was not too often.

“What do you want for tea!” she enquired without looking up from her grisly chore. It was a rhetorical question. I knew that she had been busy cooking while I snoozed. Unlike normal people in the neighborhood, who would lope down to the village bakery for evening tea essentials, Chaakli would have slaved over the stove preparing the banquet herself. 
I walked over to the dining table laden with coffee, tea and a dozen snacks that Chaakli had prepared because ‘Hysterectomy had drained her off energy or she would made a least a decent 20’. The lunch rumbled in my stomach and I looked despondently at the table groaning under the load. Uncle came in and chuckled at my sight. 

He swiftly removed some snacks from each plate and wrapped it in a newspaper and shoved it onto the seat of chair next to him. Aunty who was running to and fro from the kitchen did not notice. She was too busy roasting the coffee beans and grinding them in the mixie before adding them to the percolator and topping that with hot boiling water, to slowly release its precious load of aromatic coffee decoction.  The result was the most delicious coffee in the world. The small coffee patch beside the house was planted by my grandmother. The small patch which was about an acre produced some outstanding coffee of an unknown type. Every year during the coffee season, the coffee beans would be plucked, dried and then stored for the family’s use. My mom got a tin every year and it was used for special occasions. The coffee was mesmerizing. It sort of put you into a trance as you gulped one delicious draught after draught. The trance lingered for a long while after the cup was emptied of its ambrosial contents. 
In the late evening, uncle bought out his jeep. The jeep had seen better days. It was an old army junk that uncle had bought in an auction ostensibly to go hunting. Unfortunately, every now and then the jeep let out a lusty fart from its tired old engines scaring animals away. Uncle who is hard of hearing never understood why he had never shot an animal since 1965 when he had bought the jeep.  Aunty was thankful that he had never had and would never will as long as he had this jeep as he had no concept of Wildlife Protection Laws. As we drove into the jungle amidst loud farts and the rattle and shakes of the jeep, a herd of deer ran startled into the bushes.  Uncle cursed under his breath. “I am getting old Anjali or these fellows would be dinner!” He exclaimed exasperatedly. I looked at the magnificent stag with his beautiful antlers and remembered the wild rooster uncle had once bought from a poacher and claimed to be his own kill. It took aunty over four hours to cook and about one hour for the diners to chew and spit out when they realized what they were eating. But the gravy was delicious and drowned out the guilt of eating a wild fowl. I thanked my lucky stars that the stag would never end up as dinner. Aunty’s parting shot as we farted err drove away was “Don’t you dare bring back any animals for me to cook!”

Late in the night we drove back home from the “hunting expedition”, with uncle taking large swigs of some fine scotch from a hip flask while I drove the jaunty jalopy over the mud roads of the forest, I couldn’t believe that the man had not shot an animal, not even a wild boar in the last 25 years or so. I remember my dad telling me that he was a good marksman. 

“So what’s the deal Uncle?” I inquired. “How come you never shot an animal?”

He took a long thoughtful swig from the flask, wiped his face with sleeve of his Khaki shirt and said “Now what do I say Anjali. I gave up hunting years ago, when they passed the blasted Wildlife Act. And I am happy that they did too. What’s the point in stalking a wild boar and not getting a shot when all you need to do is drive one towards your aunt’s prized vegetable garden!!"

Apparently, the last time one of them wild boars ransacked my aunts vegetable patch, she took the cleaver and the family had pork roast, pork curry, pork pickle and pork dry fry for the next 6 month till they were gagging. She was that hopping mad.

“And was this after her hysterectomy or before?” I asked dryly.

“After the operation or she would have killed the rest of the herd too!! There were eight of them!” he exclaimed.

“You are kidding me right?’ I gasped. 

No, I am not kidding. There were eight!! But what to do Anjali!” He imitated aunty. “Hysterectomy drains your energy Anjali or I would have killed all of them!”

I don’t remember what was more difficult that night, trying to manage the rattling jeep while ensuring that my uncle who was rolling on the floor laughing did not fall of the jeep or trying not to giggle hysterically while we farted our way home.