Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Kismet, Karma, And One Nursery Seat

This post was featured on the first page of Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.in/anubhuti-krishna/kismet-karma-and-one-nurs_b_6523086.html?utm_hp_ref=india

2569. 3251. 3257. 2567. A smiling, suit-clad gentleman pulled out small chits of paper bearing four digit numbers from a cardboard box. He, somehow, happened to be the only one smiling in the room of more than thirty people; the rest sat holding their breath, clutching on to their chairs, crossing their fingers – and in some cases toes as well. The tension was palpable; the silence deafening.

I have imagined myself doing several things – climbing a mountain, rowing a boat, bungee jumping, even writing books – I had, however, never imagined myself sitting in a room full of strangers waiting anxiously for my number to be called out – not even after the toughest job interview. But age – and parenthood – does strange things to you. It makes you cold – as I was now, shivering in a comparatively warmer room – just as it reduces you to a bundle of nerves for something as trivial as your toddler’s nursery admission.

I had not been so edgy the first time around; in fact I had been far too relaxed. Being a rebellious mother of a rebellious daughter I had declared it to everyone – including the soft, yet prodding voices of our neighbours in Bangalore – that my child will not go to a big school until she was big enough. And she did not. It was her luck, or destiny, therefore that she found the only vacant seat in a fairly good school when it was finally time for her to graduate to a proper school.

Five years and another child later, things were different. With experience I had realised that sometimes there is merit in flowing with the tide rather than against it. I was a little more settled with the thought of a three-year-old being sent to a proper school. I suspect there were other covert – and overt – elements too: the outgoing, talkative, hyperactive girl whose energy levels I find hard to match, the teacher at play school who constantly talks in incorrect English, and, most of all, the need to get some time to myself after seven long years of incessant mothering.

So, while most people were vacationing – or nursing a hangover – on the new year’s day, and many days afterwards, I was driving from school to school in blinding fog, jostling my way through long queues, pleading with the snooty security guards, and cursing myself for all those times when I had judged, mocked, even sniggered at parents getting worked up for their toddler’s admission (in my experience, one often ends up doing all that he laugh at others for).

If getting the forms was a back breaking, hand numbing exercise, filling them up was nothing short of a nightmare: some forms were to be filled in black ink, some in blue; some schools needed passport sized picture of the child, others wanted stamp size pictures of the entire family; some required immunisation card, others wanted a wellness certificate from the paediatrician. And yet others demanded us to list our three-year-old child’s achievements.

Submissions were another story altogether. The otherwise deserted kiosks at the schools resembled a beehive with parents of all shapes, sizes, and class stinging their way through the crowd to reach the coveted desk only to find out that they had a missed attaching a document or attesting the ones attached. Then there were schools that insisted everything be done online – only their websites would not work for hours, even days.

But writing the exam is one thing, waiting for the results is quite another. While writing the exam you usually prioritise, think of what all you can complete in the stipulated time and do your best; in the time between the exam and the result however, you introspect upon what could have been done better – and how.  

In the week between submission of the forms and the draw of seats (so much for lottery being banned in Delhi!), I had been introspecting too.

In the last three years that my elder one had been going to school, we – my husband and I – had visited her school several times. We loved the place, trusted the teachers and agreed with their style of functioning (trust me, it is very hard for us to collectively appreciate so many things) and were certain that the younger should go to the same school too. But there was a problem: we had never made out of turn polite conversations with the teachers or the principal. When most parents would stay back after the PTM to say their hellos to the Principal, we would quietly leave. We did not send them New Year’s greetings or Diwali wishes even. And now I was worried about its repercussions: what is they found us too egotistical?

I had been trying to get myself used to the idea of her going to some other school (if she got a seat, that is), when the call came. It was from the school. They wanted to check if we could attend the draw for the sibling category (siblings have a separate quota, thankfully). It was not mandatory, they added. My first instinct was to not go – it was far too cold, plus I trusted them to be fair. But the mother within me pushed me: what if our presence – or absence – becomes a deciding factor?

So here we were, sweating under the arms on a freezing morning, sitting with other expectant parents (no pun intended), with a hope in our hearts and a prayer on our lips. The seats were seven, the applicants fifteen. Five numbers had already been announced and only two were remaining. 

With five seats already gone, I was now thinking of the way ahead -- will she continue to go to the play school, to a teacher who speaks incorrect English? Should we try some other way to get a seat (I had no idea what the other way would be though)? Is her luck so hard that she will not be able to go to a good school? Does all our good karma amount to nothing --  when I saw the husband smiling at me. It must be stress, I thought. “Done!” He whispered. In my nervousness, I had not heard the sixth number being called out – it was ours.

Monday, January 5, 2015

That party isn't over yet!

My piece in The Hindu today: http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/the-tudor-england-celebration-of-the-twelfth-night/article6753827.ece

Christmas has come and gone, and the New Year has already arrived; the holidays are coming to an end, and it is time to hang up your party boots – and that little black dress – until the next season. Or not quite.

According to tradition, the season of Christmas is yet to get over with the final – and the largest – feast remaining to be celebrated on the night of 5th (or 6th) January, a celebration that has been pared to a great extent with the passage of time but is far from being extinct.

The custom of celebrating the Twelfth Night traces its roots to Tudor’s England, when it not only symbolised the end of Christmas but also the end of winter that was supposed to have set in with the All Hallows Eve (now Halloween). The night was marked by a large community feast where everyone – the king and peasant alike – would gather; gifts were exchanged, music was played, and the roles of the society were reversed. The king, and the other nobles, would assume the part of the common man and would serve and wait upon the commoners; the commoners meanwhile played nobles for the night. There were also instances of men and women cross dressing for the revelry.

The evening began with the cutting of the cake especially made for the feast. The cake fortified with dried fruit, nuts and alcohol, was baked with a bean in one half and a pea in the other. It was then decorated with a thin layer of sugar icing and a holly spring. The guests, as they arrived, were served with a piece of the cake each – the men from one half and the women from the other. The man, who got the piece with the bean in it, became the king for the night and the woman who got the pea, his queen. Together they would preside over the evening full of dance, music, food, and wine.  

But fun and revelry were not the only elements of the celebration. Like every festival there was an element of religion too – or twelve: the feast was preceded by twelve days of Christmas, each signifying something special. Christmas, the first day, for example, signified the birth of baby Jesus, while the eighth day signified the beginning of a new year. The rest of the days were dedicated to various saints, and the final, or the twelfth day, was dedicated to the three wise men (who had travelled to bless baby Jesus); these twelve days culminated with the most extravagant feast of the season on the night before Epiphany.

With the passage of time however, especially after the reformation period (when the puritans abolished most of the practices of the Church), the feast began to lose its value. Without the religious element it became a playground of mischief and was no longer the happy amalgamation of classes. In the nineteenth century after the Queen officially abolished Twelfth Night festivities, the focus shifted to Christmas as the primary day of celebration, which it remains to date.

In the modern times the festival is subtle and mostly symbolic. It is usually celebrated in small gatherings with wassail, a mulled, spiced cider drink, and tortell, a ring shaped cake stuffed with marzipan. It is also the night when the Christmas decorations are finally taken off.

Although Twelfth Night longer is what it used to be few hundred years ago, but it still seems to be a valid excuse to party one last time, until next holiday season. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Up There In The Clouds

My piece in The Hindu today: http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/how-to-use-cloud-function-with-a-smartphone-or-a-computer/article6748835.ece

A few weeks ago, on my birthday, when my husband walked into the house sullen-faced and empty-handed, I was worried. Not so much about the hands being empty, for he had already bought me presents (although I could have done with a few more), but more so with the glum expression. After all, it is not everyday that your wife turns thirty-five – and cooks the entire birthday meal by herself. My questions to him yielded no response and he remained listless through the evening. Only after the guests left was the reason revealed: husband, who loves order to the limit of obsession, while clearing his phone of an unwanted picture, had accidentally deleted the entire album. Given that he, like most people, only uses the camera in his phone, he had ended up losing almost five hundred pictures, which included the ones from his South India trip, and the recent Himalayan expedition.

Working on a closed network – and laptop – in office, and having a MacBook at home (syncing an android phone with an Apple is a task in itself) had ensured he had no backup either. Obviously he was heart broken (wife’s birthday happens every year but a journey into the depths of Tamil Nadu and heights of the Himalaya doesn’t). The rest of the night was spent trying to undo the damage. Every single person who knows anything about phones and technology was contacted but the pictures could not be recovered. What he did find out however was that the loss could have been prevented had he hosted the pictures on a cloud.

Now I do know a thing or two about cloud computing. I also know how it is used and where. But I was clueless about individuals having access to cloud space. Apparently in the years that I had stayed away from technology, clouds had become personal spaces too, and were now accessible to all and sundry.

The tradition that started with Google, when it came up with Google drive – a network storage space for Gmail users – is now being followed by Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and many others. All you need to do is to sign up with them. You can chose to access the cloud through your computer or smart phone, store all your data, pictures, music and files, and access it from any device in the world. Even if the primary device is lost or damaged your data will be safe and accessible.

What we also discovered was that husbands phone, a Samsung S4, had come pre loaded with Dropbox, one of the most popular cloud for personal usage, only he had been too busy – or ignorant – to notice it.

Setting the application up was a breeze, even for technology novices like us: log in to the app, download it on your computer through the link they mail you, and in just a few minutes you are good to go. To access – and control – your account, you just need to click open the tiny icon on the top of your screen (bottom in case of a windows OS). The pictures from the phone are synced instantaneously; the documents however have to be dragged and dropped into the box. You can share the data, organise it the way you like, save semi-finished files – and access them later – and even pause the syncing if you want. And you can access it from any machine through their website, if not the app.

The free account that comes with the phone gave him 2GB space; he had an option of buying more space for a fee, or to refer others and earn more space as a reward. Husband, presumably preferred the latter, spamming every possible mailbox (even converting a few people like my father) and earning 48GB of extra space, taking the total to 50GB.

Since the time, he has been advocating cloud usage to everyone he comes across. Even though he claims to have noble intentions (he does not want others to suffer like him), I highly suspect his intent (free space for ever referral, remember?). On his part, he has backed each file, contact and picture and has been checking it from time to time for his satisfaction.

And so, last week, when he dropped and damaged his phone beyond repair, he did not seem perturbed at all. “I can always buy a new phone,” he said, “as long as my pictures are safe”. Sitting in the clouds they indeed seem safe.