Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Whole nine yards and beyond....!

This a tale of a traditional Indian Sari. The garment, which belongs to my mother, is far more that just a personal clothing item. Its warp and weft weaves together historical value of great significance.
More than a 100 years old, this sari belonged to my mother’s great-grandmother Gyanadanandini Devi who was the wife of Satyendranath Tagore (1842-1923) - the paternal grandfather of my grandmother Jayashree Sen, and elder brother of Rabindranath Tagore.

He was the first Indian to join the Indian Civil Service. He was also an author, song composer, linguist and made significant contribution towards the emancipation of women in Indian society during the British Raj.
After Satyendra Nath Tagore returned to Kolkata from abroad he had to leave for Mumbai for his posting in the civil services. He wished to take his wife (my grandmother’s grandmother) Gyanadanandini Devi with him. But a serious problem cropped up as to the dress the lady would wear while stepping out of her inner quarters. The solution to this problem came from a French tailor. He prepared an oriental dress for the lady.
Later in Bombay, Gyanadanandini ransacked the market for a perfect dress that would be fashionable as well as fit to be worn in the society. She appreciated the style the Parsi women adapted while wearing the saree. She emulated them and also mastered the use of petticoat, the chemise and the blouse. Thus she became the founder of the contemporary Bengali fashion for ladies. This historic sari belonged to her and was a gift from her to my grandmother's mother Sanga Devi, who later gifted it to my grandmother. It was a present to my mother from her mother during her wedding in 1963. The sari is a traditional Bengal Baluchari sari, which depicts scenes from the contemporary political and social life in Bengal through its designs. Baluchari saris, which have been now revived as a traditional handicraft from Bengal, also sometimes depicted scenes from mythology and Hindu gods and goddesses.
When my grandmother Jayashri Sen (nee Tagore) gifted the sari to my mother, she had also shared with her anecdotes about Gyanadanandini and her huge collection of beautiful saris. My grandmother was a favourite grand-daughter and had spent a lot of time with her grandparents and was deeply attached to them before she married my grandfather - Mr Kulaprasad Sen, who was the Post-master General of Eastern India when he retired.
I’m sure there are many other women such as my mother across India, who possess such beautiful saris which have such wonderful bits of history attached to them.
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Friday, June 13, 2008

Better to stay home!

Many Americans decided to stay home during Memorial weekend and not go on their usual long-weekend trips. I was delighted to find a new word that they had coined – STAYCATION. And it’s not just staying at home during long weekends – wheel-happy folks in the US are buying less SUVs and even choosing to travel by train. Obviously, the zooming oil prices are having an impact on everybody’s lives.

What is interesting is that, recession and high oil prices are forcing people in America to turn to thrift. In India, we’d always been taught not to waste food. When we were young, crass consumerism was by and large frowned upon. It was things like “don’t waste food” or “you don’t need any more clothes” etc. My grandmother had painstakingly taught me frugal values – she told me to try and keep my needs at a minimalist level.
But, economic liberalization brought with it the concept of ‘consumer is king’. And thus, it became very un-hip to not buy lots of clothes, not turn into foodies and not take foreign vacations. So the middle class in India went in for the kill armed with plastic money and bank loans to buy big houses and bigger cars. People who still wanted to keep their consumption at a minimum level were either looked down upon as not fashionable Gandhians or even condemned as Communist conspirators.
Seems like now the wheel has come full circle – with America teaching us to take Staycations and buy smaller cars. Besides helping us to save money for ourselves and reduce the overall oil bill, Staycations will undoubtedly help save scare resources for our geNext as well. Really hope that the Delhi-ites - with their passion for bigger cars, better houses and larger plasma TVs - are listening.
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Friday, June 06, 2008

Good news ! It's soon going to be too expensive for people to shoot people !

Apparently the cost of bullets has risen to such a level that shooting is getting to be an expensive proposition, to the extent that Police Departments in the USA have cut back on target practice. I'm not joking !

The main contributory factors are the rising cost of copper and lead globally, fuelled by increased demand in countries such as India and China, and the enormous demand from the U.S. Army which has used 1.8 billion rounds of ammunition in Iraq, according to one report. Incidentally the same report goes on to say that “..About 75 percent of the ammo expended in Iraq (both sides) is supplied by China..” ! There's got to be another story there somewhere.

In the case of at least one police department in Ohio the cost of practice ammunition has risen from $128 to $211 per case, while a case of bullets for on-duty use has skyrocketed from $73 to $180. Hunters and other gun users are also complaining.

The situation has created enough impact in the USA to inspire the standup comic Chris Rock to create a routine in which he declaims

“I would blow your head off…if I could afford it. I’m gonna get me a second job, save up some money, and then you’re dead !”

Since rising costs are now a global phenomenon, we suppose this ammunition inflation must have reached India. Can we hope it will inhibit death by shooting in India , too ? Read more!