Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Can the brain drain with an overdose of mega serials?

It has been over a week since I touched down in singara Chennai. Several things have changed in this city since my last visit here. One can get pretty much everything here for the right price. But the most outstanding change of all is the effect of the television ‘mega serials’ on our society.

Mega serials have revolutionized the social behavior of our society. It is truly an amazing phenomenon. Staying glued to those intensely melodramatic serials with a total disinterest and disregard to the world around it defines the society of today. Take any household in Chennai. Between 6 and 10 pm, you can’t pry anyone from the TV screen with a 2 feet crowbar if your life depended on it. If the Great God Ganapathy ever chooses to make an appearance before a devotee to grant a boon, I hope he can squeeze in sometime between the ‘Kolangal’ and ‘Enge brahmanan’ to do it or else he would be in for a rude shock.

Take, for example, the other day when I called up my aunt around 7.00 pm to chitchat. It wasn’t a conversation but a monologue. I talked while she watched TV barely hearing a word that I said. I could have announced that a volcano just erupted around the block leading to the entire neighborhood evacuating and she would have mindlessly said “yes yes good Meena”. After a long monologue, I got tired of hearing my own voice and hung up. I also heard a true story where someone left a restaurant and his family in it without quite finishing his dinner in a hurry to catch up with ‘Abhi’ in Kolangal who was returning on that day’s episode from abroad.

Watching the world fall madly in love with those serials, I decided to look for myself what the allure was. It was mind-boggling. If there was a clearly defined plot in any of them, I couldn’t find it. Most are family dramas highlighting predominantly dysfunctional families. Abortions, murder conspiracies, jealous lovers/husbands, adopted kids seeking their birth parents, damsels in distress waiting for their knights in shining armor are the distant mirages of plot in these Indian soap operas. That is not all. The same actors are cast across all the serials making it impossible to remember their many different character names and their roles in the various dramas. The actors are often overly made up with very little talent for acting and would do better with a modeling contract to showcase the recent fashions in clothing and jewelry than an acting one. Yet millions of people stay tuned day after day to follow the lives of these characters in hope of experiencing a few vicarious thrills through their lives. What is this magnetism? What draws our society to this brain-damaging mediocrity of an entertainment is the curious answer-defying question of this era.

Despite all this, there is one unshakable truth. No single thing in this world holds as much power over its inhabitants or brings them together as a unified identifiable group as this ‘mega serial’ phenomenon. Go figure!

-Meena Sankaran

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Knock Knock. Who is there?

Usually people have different reasons to buy houses in a certain neighborhood. While choosing a new home, some look for a safe neighborhood, some look to see if the home has easy access to schools, shops etc., some insist on a cul-de-sac so the kids can bike without the worries of traffic.

Me? I had a unique list of priorities while choosing mine. Topping my list was a critical one. I was looking for neighbors who wouldn’t call the cops when they find me knocking on their door at 6.00 in the morning to borrow some sugar for coffee. Or when I go to borrow some cilantro for a pot of lentil soup, 2 AA batteries for a new toy, a needle and a thread to sew a button on my kid’s band shirt, a glue stick for a school project or 1 egg for a cake recipe that calls for it. With gas prices soaring, you don’t really expect me to get in the car and head to the store every time I need a little thing, do you?

When it finally dawned on me that my utility closet, kitchen pantry and refrigerator will never sag under the weight of being fully stocked I figured my next best bet was to have neighbors to whom overstocking was a religion. Somewhere in the Bhagavat Gita, there must be a line that reads ‘Treat thy neighbor’s supplies, food or otherwise, as your own’ or else I am toast. You can hardly blame me for this attitude because I grew up watching the best borrow/buy/sell/ trade transactions ever conducted over a wire fence in our backyard. My mom and our backdoor neighbor served as each other’s ‘7 Eleven’ store when I was growing up. Ran out of flour to make rotis? No problem. Shout over the fence and thou shall get it and vice versa. I learnt it early in my life that if you can’t count on your neighbor for a pinch of salt and a cup of yogurt every now and then, you can’t count on anything in life. Embarking on a journey to buy a home, it made solid sense to first look for good ‘stocked up’ neighbors.

With this plan etched in my mind, I set out to look for properties with my realtor. The neighbors were scrutinized more thoroughly than any house shown by the realtor and points were mentally awarded for friendliness, accessibility, a second fridge in the garage (anyone with a second fridge would definitely be big on stocking from Costco or Sam’s Club) etc. Many potentially good houses were turned down for lack of qualified neighbors. When I was ready to throw in the towel and accept that I was not going to get lucky like my mom, fate smiled on me and showed me a neighbor who raked in a perfect score of 100% on all my tests. Don’t quote me on this but I have a feeling that my neighbor was born with a smile on her face and her guarding angel put a spell to freeze it there. She is ever so friendly and best of all, she believes in buying 2 of everything when she shops. Lucky for me, huh?

I go to bed every night thanking my lucky stars for this neighbor who makes it easy for me to carry on a family tradition. My mom would be proud of me.

-Meena Sankaran

Sunday, June 7, 2009

What is India?

If you are looking for the regular dose of humor to lighten your day, I am very sorry to disappoint you. There isn’t an ounce of wit in this post. This article is a result of some deep thinking, folks. Come now, you don’t have to look so stunned. I can think deep thoughts, if only occasionally. Read on to travel through the deep recesses of my mind that would afford you a glance at all those deep thoughts. :-) (Ha ha ha…) That is as much humor as I can muster up today. Now on to the post.

Learning of our upcoming trip to India this summer, my husband’s colleague, an American, requested if we could bring back some ‘curry’ for her. I was completely intrigued by this request. What is ‘curry’? What it represents for her may not be the same for me. In fact I am sure of it. Made me wonder about what ‘India’ represents to the world on the other side of the picket fence. After all that deep thinking, this is what I figured.

To many, like my husband’s friend, India is synonymous to a rich and aromatic blend of spices that tease the senses to explore beyond the realm of imagination.

To some, India is beautiful tanned women clad in yards of silk and dresses fashioned on mind-blowing color palettes and materials.

To some, India is hand-woven Kashmir rugs that can be bought at high-end retail stores for an arm and a leg.

To some, India is over-achieving children and their ever-worried parents crowding their neighborhood schools, Kumon centers and spelling bees.

To some, India is sandal incense sticks and small wooden elephants found at the World Market.

To some, India is the unruly person that buys a fan in May at Wal-Mart, uses it through the summer and returns it to the store in August without batting an eyelid for a full refund.

To some, India is heavily accented and overly polite customer-service people answering tech-support calls in call centers from the remote towns and villages of India.

To some, India is elderly couples walking the streets of their town in traditional Indian clothing throughout the year pushing strollers or holding the tiny fingers of their grandchildren.

To some, India is the population that stole their jobs, the country that lit the firecracker leading to the unpardonable ‘outsourcing’ explosion that chopped off their paychecks.

To some more, India remains a distant dot on their planet that has no relevance in their everyday lives.

To me, India is home. With its power outages, ever-increasing traffic, no-end-in-sight corruption and bureaucracy to its fabulous colorful billboards, sensational shopping alleys, mouth-watering food and most important of all, the extended large family that I left behind, it is the home that is beckoning to me now.

I will be home next week. Yay, yay, yay......

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The countdown has begun

With less than 2 weeks to go, we have started the countdown to our India trip.

'X' marks the spot on the calendar every morning while we make a big production of counting the days left for our trip and ‘marking the calendar’ ritual is accompanied by joyous shouts and a quick nostalgic trip down memory lane to revisit some of the boisterous family reunions of our past trips.

Plans to hit the movie theaters and the best restaurants in Chennai are made to the loud approval of the children. My request to stop at ‘Saravana Bhavan’ on the way home from the airport is met with utter disbelief and is turned down to my disappointment. Oh well, so what if we are landing at 3.00 am?

Suggestions from us to make a pilgrimage to a few holy temples are unanimously voted down and discarded by the children.

Bath and Body Works’ semi-annual sale in June is duly noted and the store is agreed to as the best place to buy gifts for the trillion family members back home. Costco’s inventory, we all acknowledged, is about to take a big dent when our family finishes carting the oats, Splenda, chocolates, cereal, Ziploc bags, almonds and whatnot from the Store to our suitcases. Wal-Mart won the vote as the suitable store to buy Pam spray, Bounty paper towels and Scotch-Brite.

Promises are made, yet again, to not fill up suitcases till they rip on the way to the airport. The 3 page shopping list (not my idea, folks) makes it clear that some promises are made just to be broken.

Reminders are made to all family members to dig up all the wrinkled formal clothes in the closet and pack them to avail the services of the ‘Dhobi wala’ in India. Thank you God!

Daydreaming of eating sumptuous wedding type meals on a plantain leaf is accepted as a normal precursor to the upcoming trip. Having already secured two invitations to attend a wedding and an upanayanam during our stay in Chennai, we acknowledge with satisfied smiles, that these dreams are about to come true soon.

Kids’ concerns about the heat, cockroaches, mosquitoes and lizards are patiently addressed and soothing ‘all will be well’ statements repeatedly handed out.

In response to feedback (I prefer the term to ‘complaint’) about my incessant ‘all-consuming’ urge to blog, I acknowledge, with a sinking heart, the need to ease back a little. At least enough to finish packing in time to board the flight.

Sweet Chennai, here we come!