Thursday, December 23, 2010

Soft-spoken versus Outspoken

I am a soft-spoken person. I don’t subscribe to the theory that a loud rasping voice and stern words can help you accomplish what you want. That might work many a time. Also a gentle voice might be mistaken by some as a sign of weakness but I do strongly believe that polished words will definitely fetch you respect.
I am also a person of few words – but only during tangential discussions or judgmental conversations. What I won’t be a part of is heartless gossips – as you know these are back-stabbing exercises where the targeted person doesn’t get a chance to defend himself / herself. Then would I take a person head-on? No way – I make a conscious effort not indulge in point-blank salvos. Even rare outbursts threatening to explode are redirected within as ‘inbursts’! How? By suppressing the urge to be tongue-in-cheek, by keeping my tongue in check, keeping guard while mouthing words and downing the shutters of my lips to prevent them from rashly jumping out. We are all aware that words once spilled can never be recalled – just like the paste once squeezed out cannot be put back in the tube.
I refrain from expressing my opinion unless specifically asked or genuinely sought. I have to admit that even in these days when advice and opinion are not welcome, there are some of my good friends who rely on me for support or approval. Of course I lend them a piece of my mind willingly and share my views. But not otherwise. There are chances that even suggestions made with the best of intentions on my part could be misinterpreted and given the wrong connotation. Rather than getting hurt at being misjudged, it’s wise to maintain one’s reserve or resort to diplomacy.
It doesn’t imply that I’m an introvert – no, far from that! I do fool around, indulge in light-hearted leg-pulling and share a good laugh at my expense – with company who share my wavelength – age no bar - and when the mood is chirpy.
I have this friend of mine – young enough to be my daughter – very outspoken, ready to call a spade a spade – not rudely but cloaked in humor, irony or sarcasm. In spite of our intimacy I still held on to my proverbial reserve to a certain degree even with her and never uttered what was best left unsaid. When she’d try to extract words from me I’d ask her to make her own inferences from my very expressive face or tone. But I did approve of her boldness, her genuine spirit and sincerity and forthrightness. May be I could and should try to be more transparent, more outspoken in my conversations. By nature I wouldn’t divulge my plans / intentions unless I have the complete blueprint ready in my mind at least – for fear that it might not take off or crash land – after all there is many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip! What I now feel is that if it is shared with like-minded well-wishers, it can be implemented better with helpful inputs from them.
A simple incident has given birth to this change. This same young friend of mine had gone to Kolkata and returned with gifts for friends. She called me up first and informed me that she has set aside a nice sari for me. As an afterthought, she added, “Do you want a sari or dress material?” Actually I had too many saris and not as many dresses. Should I or should I not reveal my option? The prude in me tried to answer "Anything..."but my friend’s frankness rubbed on to me and suppressed it. I expressed my preference for dress material. She gave me a choice of colors to which I again went formal with, “Anything, dear, anything you like.” When she persisted, I relented and gave my choice. She felt good, I too felt good.
Then it was my turn. I went shopping to get her a sari for her birthday. Choosing a color she didn’t already have and which she would like – choosing by stepping into her shoes - was like squaring the circle. After pondering for long, I bought one and left the shop. Then I decided to call her, “Do you have a navy blue sari?” She didn’t expect this abrupt question. She asked me in turn, “Why, ma’m, do you want me to wear it for some occasion?” I spilled the entire truth. Then she said, “Ma’m, if you are really getting me a sari, get me a black one – been planning to buy one to wear for a get-together this weekend. If there is no problem…” “Of course not”, I replied and I walked back to the shop, and exchanged the sari for a black one – the job was a fuss-free matter. Of course if I hadn’t gifted her the black sari, she would have got one for herself – no big deal. But now both of us had satisfaction. So I once again realized that shedding my reserve and opening up with intimate / like-minded persons does indeed work well!
Now I also realize there is much more fun and mirth and intimacy if I disarm myself of ‘prim-and-proper’ prudery and reply to informal queries with gay abandon. Next time you ask me, “Kya piyoge?” I may not as usual reply, “Oh no, nothing.” I might surprise you with, “Coffee ho jaye, kyon?”
 © Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.


Sweet Memories

Today is the Annual Function of our School & Junior College – the first one which I am not a part of. Yes, the first one since my retirement.
Hubby teases me, “Oh, you used to be there at 3 for the program scheduled for 5!” Yes of course, it was so to say a function at a very personal level for me. Being one of the persons-in-charge of the function, it was my self-inflicted sense of responsibility to eye the minute details about the A-Z of the program to ensure smooth success – right from the stage d├ęcor, mike arrangements, backdrops to be set in readiness for the different items to be staged, and of course look for loopholes with a critical eye and make timely amends.... And then getting the student-comperes ready, giving them last minute hints/modifications, getting participants ready as per the sequence of the program… Of course I had a team of assistants but I’d not rest content unless I personally satisfied myself. So I’d be here, there, everywhere backstage.
20 years ago I was just in charge of the English play and the comperes for the Annual Function. But then we – Kavita and I - were also in charge of the less formal ‘variety entertainment’ program of the junior college section – a two-hour vibrant non-stop program of some 20 dances/ skits/ songs. Both of us complemented each other very well – she looked into the organization part and I functioned at the artistic level. We’d feel the pressure on us when we’d be at our wits end during selection – I’d find it heart-wrenching to say ‘no’ to the ardent hopefuls for valid reasons and would tell Kavita to tackle them. I’d let her do the dirty job and she didn’t mind it – she’d accomplish it willingly and coolly. Of course we had devised a method by which we’d try to incorporate maximum participants in the program by fusing items or participants thus ensuring satisfaction for all. We were known for our rejection of all ‘popular’ dances of the day (read Munni / Sheila kind). Even songs with suggestive visuals were a ‘no no’. Why, some songs would be put on hold with the verdict that they were too romantic – the students would then pounce back on us and say, ”Ok then, it will be “Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram” and we’d join in their laughter. We’d finally give the nod to a ‘harmless’ romantic number or better still, a nature song or a patriotic song! I tell you Kavita and I shared beautiful moments with the students and with each other – we were a ‘couple’ and our students looked up to us to provide them with a platform to display their talents and evolve as versatile persons. Our invaluable experience staging this program stood us in good stead in organizing the more challenging Annual Function and we enjoyed doing them together till her retirement seven years ago.
A lot of thought and planning would go into the preparation of the blueprint of the program. After selection based on the criteria of merit/talent/ and variety by a competent committee, the items would be sequenced to ensure variety. Another important fact would be the presence of ‘common factor’ participants in the items – those items had to be spaced apart for costume change. Song – vocal/instrumental or mimicry items would be selected and allotted slots as gap fillers – mainly before a play to provide time for stage setting. Another duty I loved was scripting and training the comperes for the show – evolving new themes and working with a new set of youngsters every year were a challenge. But at the end of the day, it was a rewarding exercise.
The fever and frenzy of the Annual Function would permeate the campus some three weeks before the D day. Dance, skits, songs. Practice sessions. Selection. Rehearsals. Suggestions. Modifications. Flared tempers. Tantrums. Confrontations. Outbursts. EPs. Mediators ironing ruffled feathers and humoring them all into team work and spirit. I’ve seen it all and played a major role through some fifteen years. Every attempt would be made not to disappoint any deserving ardent artiste coming forth to showcase his/her talent in spite of the tight time-crunch and accommodate them tactfully on stage. . In spite of all the meticulous planning and sequencing of all items including interludes before items requiring stage-setting, items would be shuffled in the last minute for inevitable reasons threatening to send the program for a toss! On-the- spot decisions had to be made to maintain minimum disruption to the program and frayed tempers of the affected! Only at the end of the program would I realize that I hadn’t sat for some five hours! The excitement and thrill of everyone on stage and many off stage would infect me and make me delirious.
The show will go on and must go on – no one is indispensable or irreplaceable. Yes, I have passed on the baton to my very capable juniors who called me up to give updates about their efforts at novel presentations and seek my opinion. This has sent me into a nostalgic flashback and I've got to enjoy chewing the cud of those cherished memories!
© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

CATCH 'EM YOUNG

(Penned in 2010!)

Disney offers millions of parents Baby Einstein video refunds

Disney is offering millions of parents refunds on its best-selling Baby Einstein learning videos in an apparent admission that they do not boost infants' intelligence.

My son had forwarded the link to this news with his comment, “Now Dad will feel vindicated”. As we savored every word of the news item, my husband and I burst out laughing. And not without reason.
We had become proud grandparents for the second time two years ago with the baby boy born to our younger son. We were very excited to see him – he was four months by then and indulged in activities babies of his age did. How did we remember what babies did when? Well, we had seen it all just two years before that when our grand daughter was born! Strictly speaking, the little guy ought to be rolling over by then– he’d oblige only if we gave him a gentle nudge! He could turn over if he wanted to but he simply didn't care – he was having a good shot at the world around him lying on his back – he could pull the various animals dangling at different levels from his play mat, he could enjoy watching the fan, the light, the curtains, people’s faces and their tomfoolery… and also pocket more cuddles and hugs and kisses for sending them in raptures with his cute toothless smiles, gurgling laughter and baby-blabber. Why would he want to be a spoilsport and turn over? Of course he’d be able to hear the elders go gaga over his feat but he wouldn't get to see them – he’d just manage to study his fingers – sometimes clutched together in an irretrievable (for him, of course) clasp! Anyway we labeled him ‘Lazy’.
As for his mental faculties, he was very alert and surged way ahead of his age – he loved to be read to, he’d turn the page at the right point during story-telling sessions! He’d know how to shake his legs if he wanted his favorite song to be replayed when it just ended. He knew to look in the right direction when we asked him “Where is so-and-so?” As grandparents we simply adored his cute antics.
Usually when we’d be watching TV in the family room, baby would be left in such a position that he’d be away from the TV. His mommy didn't approve of TV for him yet. But then when he was five months, the parents felt they should expose him once again to Baby Einstein video set – they had tried once when he was two months old without any result – he simply wasn't interested. This time they hoped he was grown up enough to watch the first video and learn to roll over, sit, stand, dance….. watching the babies at it on the TV screen! After all, a lot of research had gone into the making of these videos which claimed to be highly educational! He ‘saw’ it – we don’t think he thought much about it! Nor did we grandparents as we believed that babies pick up a lot through interaction. But then with the advancement of science and technology, may be learning methods are revolutionized – even in the case of babies! But soon the Einstein videos were shelved or shoved away from memory – they were hardly played – either for lack of time or mood or because they were forgotten in the whirlwind of day-to-day activities but the little one was progressing jolly well in his physical, mental and emotional activities.  Good for the baby and for us we thought. And never did we mutter a word about it lest  my son should be reminded about those videos.

And now, when the little fellow is two, comes the above news about Baby Einstein videos! Ha, ha, ha….. both of us had the last laugh!!
 © Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.


HIP, HIP, HOORAY!

(Published in Filmfare Feb17, 2010, "PASAND APNI APNI"- page138, 140.) Review of Hindi movie "3 IDIOTS"
HIP, HIP, HOORAY
As the movie opens, I settle myself to observe the book unfold on screen – as Rancho ( Aamir), Farhan Qureshi (Madhavan) and Raju Rastogi (Sharman Joshi) form the adorable threesome after the ragging scene. But pretty soon I sit up exclaiming, “Ainh! This is different! . Thank god for that! All deviations from the original are interesting and hilarious and help to lift the movie much above the book. Yes, the film is just ‘loosely based’ on Chetan Bhagat’s book as mentioned at the end credits. That’s why he wasn’t acknowledged at the titles perhaps.
The movie is a laugh riot from the start. Ranchandas Shyamaldas Chanchad to Fungshuk Wangudu to ViruS….buddhe…to witty repartees to shenanigans! Each character has been well-etched. ‘Muchhad’ Virus (Boman) with his sleazy lisp, sloppy gait, high-on-the-waist-pants, and ghosla hair is a cute caricature. His penchant for multitasking is brought forth in a couple of hilarious shots – the funniest being the 7 ½ minute music-power-nap-shave session. His unbending sternness leads to 2 ½ suicides! And he plays the Tom-and-Jerry game with our winsome trio
The campus scenes and Rancho’s scientific and cunning pranks regale us. But what sends the audience rolling down the aisle is Chatur’s speech - sabotaged by you-know-who – by replacing just two words. Kudos to the dialogue writers Hirani and Joshi for the crisp dialogues which invoke spontaneous ripples of laughter. Omi (Chatur) lives his character. So too Sharman. Funny boys Aamir and Madhavan have a bubbly effervescence throughout. Did someone say Aamir looks old? His mannerisms more than compensate for his age. And oh yes, the leading lady Kareena is as spirited as the boys. Stern Dean Boman has added another feather to his already multi-feathered cap.
Sizzling cinematography – specially the Kulu-Manali & Ladakh scenes. Hummable music. The first half is taut and racy, can’t say the same about the second. Last time Hirani advocated Gandhigiri; this time the mantra is “All is well”. And it is.
© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

SHOPPING – HERE AND OUT THERE!

When we go shopping, it’s not a question of “I went, I saw, I bought,” – we think not once or twice but a thousand times before we buy something. Why? Because we don’t want to be saddled with something that won’t work for us. In India consumer is not King – returns and refunds are strictly ‘no no’; exchanges are welcome. But guess what? Exchange comes with a package deal of hassles galore. Here’s how.
I drag my reluctant hubby to a ready-made store to get him a shirt for his birthday. We don’t belong to Gen Y or even Gen X but to the preceding generation, so we are not big patrons of Malls. The saccharine-dripping, sugary sweet salesman is more than obliging and worms his way into our hearts with his mesmerizing, glib talk. He doesn’t tire himself as he shows us shirt after shirt in plains, checks and stripes. After several rounds of ‘veto’ by one of us, both of us agree on one shirt. There is a little apprehension about the size. The salesman instantly asks hubby to turn around and keeps the shirt across his shoulders and tries to quell our doubt. There’s no trial room in the shop you see, so we can’t double-check. To play it safe, I tell him, “I’ll return it if there’s a problem.” He quickly corrects me, “No returns, Ma’m, only exchange. And please bring the bill.”
I fervently hope I won’t have to return to the shop but that is not to be – the shoulders are drooping and so the fit is bad. I curse the salesman and us for this unsavory situation. I present myself with the ‘to-be-exchanged shirt’ at the shop only to be curtly informed by the shopkeeper that ‘exchange time’ is between 2pm and 4 pm. Who will be crazy to commute to the shop from home / office at this odd hour? We will have to if we want to. So the next Sunday, I drag my husband to the shop, foregoing our siesta. The same counter, the same salesman but his demeanor is totally different! Very reluctantly he shows a couple of shirts. When we ask for a different shade / design, he retorts, “This is a single piece”. Suddenly there seems to be a dearth of items in the shop! Gone is the earlier attractive exuberance of the salesman – his sour face, distracted look and irritated ‘tut tuts’ are repelling – within a count of 45, we pick up another shirt – half-heartedly as we have no choice. As this one costs a couple of tenners less, I end up buying a set of handkerchiefs and pay thirty bucks more. I resolve never to patronize such ready-made garments shops not equipped with fitting rooms!
I have found a solution – I go to the US for shopping. Ha, ha, I must be sounding like Ash or Kareena! Ok, you’ll believe me if I put it this way – I go on shopping sprees when I visit my children in the US. There every big shop has fitting rooms and follows the mall culture and we are not at the mercy of salesmen. Clothes are neatly stacked / displayed according to sizes and we can browse and buy after trying them out. You may label me a snob and say we can avail these in our own Malls. BUT – yes there is a big difference there - in spite of all our apprehensions, affirmations, and reaffirmations if we still feel we are not fully satisfied with our purchase, we are welcome to return it without any explanations. The customer is put on a pedestal and treated with respect and trust. Every shop has a separate counter for ‘returns’ – all we have to do is show the bill, return the item and get the refund immediately - no cumbersome exchange involved! As simple as that! And this is true of any item we purchase. Some shops have conditions that the return should be within a very generous stipulated period which is reasonable too. All this makes shopping a rather pleasurable experience!

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.