Consumer of the future 1: Life couple of generations ago

Recently a colleague had invited my wife and I for a brunch. He has two kids. One is eight and the other is two. I asked him on what I could buy for his kid. He refused, but I insisted. Then he said that there is a brand called “Top Model” which his eight year old kid and her friends in the class are crazy about. He said, any item will work as long as it’s “Top Model”. My wife went to Galeria Kaufhof in Heidelberg in the kid’s section. She was shocked at the assortment of goodies this brand had for the kids. All were glitzy and overpriced! She bought a slam book which had picture of three girls in early teens on it. Until I was 15 years old, I had no clue what a slam book was and now the current generation seems to be knowing “urban dictionary” terminologies already from birth. On one side you have the parent’s wallet getting a dent and the other side I had a shock on what these three girls, the picture was conveying: body fit clothes, puffed up lips, rosy cheeks, elaborately made up hair, slim figure, big bust etc… I was discussing this with a friend. He had a totally valid third shock over the brand “Top Model” itself. He exclaimed “How the hell does a eight year old has a grasp of branding?” The 90’s kids group I was, I can’t point to a single point of time, when I understood or started demanding a product based on a brand, but certainly not this young! Brand insistence came much later in the market. This discussion was the baseline which got me into this topic: an analysis on the consumer of future.

I would like to capture the life times of my Grandmother and my mother in the first part, for the readers, especially if there is a new-gen accidentally reading my blog. This is to give them a reference point on how the market they are living in today in 2018 evolved.


The setup is an Indian neighbourhood from 1950’s to about 1990’s, after which the digital life slowly but exponentially changed the dynamics to what we have today in 2018. I belong to this generation, which I would like to call as the “Transition” generation. My wife, my friends and I have lived in an Analog time, where getting what we want, even a simple thing like watching a TV, was a process. The antenna might not work or the wind might have turned the Antenna to a different direction. One person, usually I, had to climb the roof and shout to mom below saying “Okva?” (“Is it ok?” as in “do you receive the signal?”). This “Okva” question and she replying back “Illa! (No!) can go on for 15 minutes, until finally the right position of the Antenna makes the channel work. Mom will then shout back “Sari, keela va” (Good, come down now!). Once down, the process is not over yet as few more adjustments have to made to make the picture clearer. I have to plug out the cable from the TV socket. Unscrew and unwind the copper wire. I might even have to cut the cable further and take in fresh copper wire for the connection. Screw it to the pin and plug it in. The same life in today’s digital time is where I can talk to an empty room and the TV switches on automatically: I meant “Alexa! Can you switch on the TV?”

Applying this enjoyable struggle to the generation of my mom or grandma, their life would be as described in the following paragraphs. This is not an exact depiction, but it will give you a basic idea. Until 1990’s the living was usually in a joint family setup. The concept of a person was always addressed in a collective sense i.e. in the context of a family. There was a strict division of roles between men and women. The ladies of the house have to wake up first. Each lady will have their own duty. The first one goes to the house entrance and cleans the part of the road in front of the house. It’s swept with a broom and wet washed with water and cow dung. She makes an art called “Kolam” with colourful powders. The point of this activity is to indicate a guest coming to the home that the inmates are ready to receive them. The second lady goes to the cowshed and milks a litre in an aluminium can. She then has to pat the cows and feed them with hay. She addresses the cows with their names, as they are also considered as part of the family too. In houses where Egg-vegetarian food is eaten, eggs would be collected from the chicken too. My household had 5 ladies and my grandma’s household had more than ten. The rest of the ladies would begin setting the kitchen. Two people would collect the fuel for the stove from the backyard where the men of the house would have stacked up the dried coconut tree rests. Once collected, they pile them up to a foot high, pour a bit of fuel on it and light it up. By this time, the rest of the team would have gotten their ingredients ready. At 6AM the vegetable seller would visit every home with a push cart and bring fresh stuff from the farmers. The ladies wait in front of the homes for him to arrive. They argue with the seller to make the best picks and buy the stuff for the day’s cooking. Over time, the seller understanding the needs would have already pre-sorted them on a bamboo basket. It will just be simple exchange of money and basket. Sometimes, if the ladies wouldn’t make it on time, he would even take the effort to knock on the door, deliver and offers to take money later too. Same applies to the milkman who delivers milk to houses who don’t have their own cows.

All the ingredients, the freshest they could get, would be piled up on a mat for the morning meal. Each of them would be cut or ground or sliced or chopped as per the need. The head cook is usually the eldest or one of the ladies who has gained reputation in the family for her taste. In my grandma’s case, it was her youngest sister. The stove made from burning the coconut rest in a clay frame gets very hot and very fast. There is just one big flame and once the bowl is placed on the clay frame, it gets cooked in seconds or few minutes. Therefore, everything is pre-mixed in the bowl already, such that the heat simply finishes the cooking. There was hardly any step by step processing. By 7.30 AM, the meal is ready and served on banana leaves. The men of the house and the children would line up and sit on a bamboo mat unrolled on the floor in the common room. The men would have gotten up my 06:00 AM, done a bit of exercise by lifting heavy wooden logs, read the newspaper which also gets thrown into the house by a paper boy, then have finished taking bath by the side of the well by pulleying up the water, dress up the clothes ironed by the ladies the previous day and finally they are ready to eat and leave out for the day.

The kitchen ladies are dedicated to their job. They would have to repeat their job in cycles for the other two meals and one snack time too. They would take bath after the men are gone to work. Ladies from other houses visit each other after 10AM and they exchange gossips over board games. The working class, majority being men, usually work in government, school or agriculture. There were hardly private establishments. There were landowners, workers, clerks, teachers, journalists and shop owners employing a handful. Educated jobs like doctors, engineers, lawyers and professors were few and were highly respected. Their work will span till 19:00 PM, but with ample breaks for them to visit home for meal time and even may be take a short afternoon nap. In the evening, the men would visit each other in bakeries and discuss daily politics of the state on tea benches. Depending on the profession, some men meet at bakeries in the morning to read the newspapers together with other men too.

Children had to wear uniform for the school. Like then, it’s still a rule in most Indian schools to have identical looks for the children to avoid discrimination by looks. They pack their books and notebooks in the school bag the previous day before they go to sleep. When they wake the next morning, they would be herded up by the women, given bath and prepared for the school and be given with their school bag and a lunch bag. Depending on the school’s facilities, they might have benches to sit or the students would simply sit on the floor. The teacher reads out aloud and writes notes on a blackboard for children to copy to their notebooks. In 8 hours of school, they would be let to play on the ground for an hour with the other children. Cricket, hide and seek, football, badminton, throw ball and other games needing bodily effort for outdoor sports or chess and carom for indoors. For outdoor sports, for a longer period of time, the children would play barefoot on sand.

What did this life mean to them financially?

As many people lived under one big roof, either the house would usually be an asset which was passed down the generations or the many men of the family would split their costs in renting a big house. All the men handed over their monthly earnings to the eldest person in the family, which was usually a woman. She would then use the money for all common expenses which includes food and clothing too. For clothes, the women went to the textile market and bought one long piece of fabric in few colours. One or two of the women would also be skilled in tailoring. They would stitch clothes for all the persons in the family once a year. For furnitures, the flooring of the house was prepared in a way for easy use i.e. the floor would remain cold during hot weather. With just simple bamboo weaved mats put in use, the necessity of furniture was bare-minimal. They would be built mostly for elderly people as they wouldn’t be able to sit on the floor. Many a time it’s also built for the head of the family, in a way of symbolizing respect to their authority. Rich families usually bought wood in bulk and brought carpenters to home. The workers would stay in the home for many days and built as per requirement. The furnitures would turn out to be of such a good quality that they would last for a lifetime. Televisions came into homes only by 1970s. Till then one person in a street would have a TV and programs would be telecasted once a week – Doordarshan. The whole street would assemble at this house. By 1980’s and 1990’s there would be a TV for one joint family. Before that entertainment was usually group games, board games, newspapers or outdoor playing. With many men earning for one household, the only biggest part of the budget was just ingredients for the meals. Schools and transportation were government subsidized and were cheap. The concept of food as preventive medicine ensured healthy diets and thereby less need for medicines. Services like ironing, tailoring, cooking, preparing ingredients and even simple medicines were all made inhouse. Also such activities needed just a onetime investment in the gadgets and hardly any replacement. They were all of the mechanical type. Electrical gadgets came in much later. The knowledge of one household, especially the woman was humongous. The man was street smart and the woman was house smart! Any service which needed an external person would soon enough be learnt internally to cut down those additional costs. My grandma learnt to read Astrology to save costs for an astrologer! With major expenses going for food, this setup made it possible to allocate the second significant part of the budget to savings! Rest of the expenses were cut down to minimum by learning and having the costs inhouse. Only costs for the material remained. Machines were mechanical and labour was all inhouse. All those savings either moved as inheritance or ironically would be used as dowry for the woman in the house when getting her married off. This also meant that the son in the household had higher value as he brought dowry into the home. Considering what the women in household are capable of, the expectation on the skills of new daughter-in-law entering the household was significantly high!

To be Continued … 2. The Classic Markets A to E: my generation

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Matrimonal ad: Want a girl like Johnny’s Sridevi!

Opening the app:

It was a usual Sunday morning on the 25th of February 2018. I got up and checked my smart phone for any important pop-ups or messages. One news app had a picture pop-up feature which shows news updates as pictures. It had a picture of actress Sridevi. I swiped it out without reading the headlines thinking it was just another empty sensationalizing crap. Later I got ready for the day and sat to go over the daily news. Sridevi’s picture popped up again except this time in all the other news apps too. Headlines: “Sridevi passes away at 54 after a cardiac arrest in Dubai”.  I was staring at the screen blank for some moments. Without reading anything further, I closed the smart phone and walked aloof to go out. My wife was at the corridor. I mentioned to her that Sridevi had died. She made a joking remark whether I needed some medical attention or if I should take the day off to mourn. She knows that Sridevi was my favourite actress.

Uneasiness:

There is some news which you don’t want to believe that it’s real. When I met my friends group in the morning, I brought the topic of Sridevi and discussed with them if they had similar personalities in their countries over whom a whole generation fantasized upon. The Italians mentioned Sophia Loren and the rest of the English and the Germans in the group also adhered to her as a comparator. They got excited on talking about Sophie Loren. I let them talk and went in my limbo. That afternoon after meeting the group, I took out for a lone walk in Heidelberg. I called my wife and told her it was bit serious and that I was having an unexplainable uneasiness the whole day. I had nothing to do with Sridevi personally; I haven’t met her at all, but the news felt as if my base was shaken. Coming from Bosnia and Herzegovina, my wife couldn’t think of any public persona analogous to whom an average citizen would look up to in her country. Communism might have spoiled them: all the hole-digger could look up to was the person who was closing the hole. She said that she wouldn’t have grievance over no-one, except family and friends. May be it’s an Indian’s connection to the public life that there are many public personalities that the society in India normally look up to.

Valuing People:

A similar feeling with a way more pronounced impact happened with the demise of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in July 2015. Suddenly when something, which has been in the background all the while or which has been a part of you for the whole life, goes missing, it emphasizes the hard truth that nothing is permanent. The presence of this element had been taken for granted. Like losing your favourite shirt or your pet dying or when a favourite cafe that you had frequented had been demolished or the tree which you had always played with had been uprooted. It was such a happening. If you had known that cafe will be demolished soon, may be you would have chosen to spend more time in the cafe to linger in its mood. But the sudden unavailability, gives you this empty and guilty feel that you could have done something about it. Likewise, I couldn’t do anything about Dr. Kalam or Sridevi now, but it re-instated one important thing that nothing is permanent. Dr. Kalam’s death made me dumbfound and Sridevi’s death made me think clear on why I was shaken. It made me conscious and gave a change in mentality to approach the people I have in my life now with a sense of gratitude, to take time for them and develop experience with them by giving them full attention. It’s better than longing for them once they are gone.

Johnny:

To know who Sridevi is, one should ask the 70’s and 80’s Indian audience who had the wholesome impact in many of her works. It all began for me in my early teens when I was watching “Johnny” on TV. Johnny (1980) was a Tamil romantic drama movie directed by Mr. Mahendran; Lead cast: Sridevi, Rajnikanth and Deepa; Music by Maestro Ilayaraja; Lyrics: Kannadasan and Gangai Amaran; Singers: S.P. Balasubramaniam, S. Janaki, S.P.Sailaja, Jenny and Sujatha. I might have watched this around late nineties. I had read in the newspaper on some morning that they are playing “Johnny” in the afternoon. There was no internet at that time and any information about the past had to be read somewhere or mentioned by someone. I remembered my dad saying once that this movie was much loved in his times. Rajnikanth being my favourite, I decided to check out this almost two decades old movie. Writing now with the same excitement in 2018, it’s almost 4 decades old!

Movie began at 2pm. Mom and dad had gone to their bedroom for an afternoon nap. I was watching this alone in the living room. Scene by scene, every aspect of this movie was beginning to give me weird goose bumps. It was one of a kind experience: given the intense romance and I in my teens, possibly it was the first signs of my puberty or some mysterious attraction to this idea called “woman”. There was no one around. In one of the occasional 5 min advertisement breaks, I stood up and closed all the doors and windows and made everything dark. Instinctively I wanted to have this movie as my only focus. I wanted to amplify this unknown weird and positive feel that the movie was giving. Set dark, I let the TV continue cast its hypnotizing spell over me. Music was haunting. I couldn’t take my eyes of the screen. The romance was making me melt on my chair.

The plot:

******Spoilers ahead********

The plot is about that of an outcast conman (Johnny played by Rajnikanth) accidently getting to meet his idol, a singer (Archana played by Sridevi). One meet leads to another. At every step each lets the other have the choice. They fall in love. There is immense mutual respect in their love that when the proceedings goes very devotional between them, enters a doppelganger Barber (Vidyasagar also played by Rajnikanth). Vidyasagar was much disturbed by a set of events which makes him think low of all women. In a mix of circumstances, Johnny goes on the run and Vidyasagar switches places as Johnny and enters Archana’s home. The story is about how Vidyasagar’s demeaning attitude towards women impacts the relationship between Archana and Johnny.

Movie analysis:

I believe that every person has a unique feature. It could be physical or behavioural. It’s this feature which draws us to that person. I call it a “Lucky Charm”. For Sridevi it was her voice! Although its S.Janaki, Jency, S.P. Sailaja and Sujatha, the professional singers who rendered their voice to Archana in the songs, Mahendran’s move to have Sridevi as the singer Archana is a genius casting move. We tend to adore her voice even when she speaks.

Aside casting, the screenplay took a central role in showing the development between two characters. There is much charm in the interplay. The lead cast is adorable in every frame and music is ever-pleasing. The essence of the movie lies in the admiration and devotion Johnny and Archana show towards each other. There is love. Not love at first sight, rather an admiration slowly growing into a lasting devotion. I, witnessing this, was travelling along with their emotions and my state reached a devotional level too. The emotions were raw and contagious. For such a perceived intensity in romance, there is no skin show and the lead characters don’t touch each other at all! Probably this is also a first of the sort movie to convey romance in a much mature and dignified way. For a society which was indulging in objectifying women as normal, as in stalking, eve-teasing, dumb portrayals, a variant like this was a welcome exclamation mark. Moreover Archana is shown as someone accomplished and independent. This broke a huge template in a patriarchal society, where women were seen just as burden. Dowry, an issue which is still contemporary in 2018, has a root-cause in this mindset.

Template problem:

Archana is a soft-spoken accomplished person, who is down to earth, compassionate, a personality of integrity, honest, delicate and all of which in turn elevated her beauty to a mystical standard. This had a set a new template in my naive mind on how a woman should be. Johnny on the other hand, unlike other male characters depicted in movies, for the first time, behaves with full respect to a female character. He had set a template on how women should be treated. For an empty and susceptible mind I had and probably the timing of the first ball hair, it had two outcomes. First the experience of this movie had left an everlasting magic in me. Second the templates set by the leads, raised my expectancy on a partner to such a level that In my mid-twenties, whether it was I considering a girl as a partner or whenever my mom would bring up the topic of finding a bride, my only condition was the that the woman should be like Johnny’s Sridevi. Girls were suddenly desolate!

But, is such a woman real? Archana is accomplished, conservative, soft spoken, devotional to her partner and goes miles to sacrifice for her partner, accommodates the dearest ones of her partner, has elegance in talking, non-abusive, positive talking and beautiful. Puberty asked me to look for all these qualities in a woman. There was no woman with all this as one package. One or the other was missing. After trying to fit so many women to this template, I came to the conclusion that such a woman was non-existent. But it can’t be true. If some condition helps you narrow down to a satisfying selection from a big bunch, it’s a good condition. But if it is going to remove everything from the list, there is something wrong with the condition itself.

This realization took me years. Maturity made me realize that such a woman can never be real as Archana herself is a fantasy of a “man” – Director Mahendran. It’s true that these qualities can make a person admirable, but equally those can be expected from a man too. Is such a man real? – Also can never be. Do I have all those qualities that I dare to demand them from my partner/ candidate? – No. An accomplished man is not necessarily conservative, a conservative man is not necessarily handsome and a handsome man is not necessarily respectful etc.

Breaking the template:

Mahendran, to elevate the positivity in the characterization might have made Archana and Johnny just as a collage of best qualities i.e. qualities found in different people put together as two people. In reality everyone has a positive and a negative side. Mahendran does not explore this negative side of his leads. He defines just the positive traits in two characters and lets them interact. By this he manages to depict a best practice for a relationship.  Setting aside this positive/ negative discussion, I feel that a healthy partnership lies in cherishing the person for what they are and for what qualities they already have. Expecting all positive in one person can be nice fantasy, but such a fantasy will also be boring. Tuning to reality, accepting the person for what they are and admiring them for it would take much more courage and maturity than expecting to just court with the best. As much as how the fantasy is endearing, such an expectation towards a partner or candidate also sounds snobbish. Hoping to meet that one in a million person might tend us to disapprove and be disrespectful to the hundred near us for what they are.

Conclusion:

Sridevi’s demise taught me two things.

One is to approach the people I have with much more focus and value. It is important to take time for those dear people who cherished your presence as well. It’s simply a law of nature that you might miss them forever in a blink of a moment.

Second is that Archana was merely a fantasy. When you find such a person to whom you have a “calling” for, don’t let an Archana/ Johnny like template stop you from giving them a chance. You will never know: that “calling” might even make you look past their short-comings and make you focus on just their presence. Such a presence might not only be overwhelming, but also as devotional as the Archana-Johnny that Mahendran made many fantasize upon.

sridevi_with_rajini_Youtube_Mishri_Tamil_Movies

R.I.P. Sridevi 13 August 1963 – 24 February 2018

Whatever impact Archana left on me is there to stay. It’s a mesmerizing memoir what Sridevi left for her spectators: that shrilly voice has thankfully been captured for me watch in repeated loops.

————-Fin—————

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Tributes for Johnny, Sridevi and crew

Johnny (1980) Tamil: WIki

Wiki: “… The scene where Archana proposes Johnny was shot in Ooty in a bungalow at midnight. When the scene was shot, the whole unit was silent; they saw only the characters of the film, not Rajini and Sridevi. After the scene was shot, Rajini appreciated Sridevi acting and mentioned to Mahendran that though he tried, she overshadowed in the scene”

Wiki: “…Cinemalead wrote: “Johnny is a landmark film which illustrated the life of two lookalike characters and how their activities affect each other. [..] Portrayal of a double role in a movie never been handled so artistically till then as done in this commercially successful film, which is remembered even today for its beautiful making. This was one of the finest films in Tamil cinema for its making and songs. Rajini and Sridevi excelled in their acting and this film became memorable in their careers. Both got under the skin of their characters and made the film a landmark.””

Wiki: “…The Hindu wrote: “In a film where Rajinikanth played two contrasting roles, Sridevi effortlessly stole the show with her extraordinary performance as a singer hopelessly in love with a conman””

Wiki: “…The soundtrack and background score, composed by Maestro Ilaiyaraaja were highly regarded as one of the greatest compositions of all-time”

Newsminute wrote “Sridevi is no more, but Archana will live forever: Why I fell in love with ‘Johnny’: Sridevi’s performance in Johnny was extraordinarily intense and subtly layered…”

Fully Filmy prasing Johnny

Link: Johnny movie on youtube

Atatürk International Airport, İstanbul

I was leaning with one foot to the wall of Burger King and facing the bustling Taksim square in Istanbul. Ivana² had gone inside to use the rest room and meanwhile the rest of the troop had left to wander on the long Istiklal Caddesi Street which opens as a ray from the big Taksim square. We had come to Istanbul for casual tourism. One guy and I were from India and the two girls were from Herzegovina and Israel. It was day one and we had Taksim square as meeting point with our host from Couchsurfing. Clear skies and typically a lots of trade happening on and around the streets of Taksim, it was a normal evening on the 28th of May 2014. Something banged on the wall right over my head with a loud thud. Turning around in shock and anxiety, I saw a huge placard was thrown from the first floor of Burger King. The thick wood had missed my head by a hairline. There were two young people holding on to the placard from the terrace. It had the picture of Erdogan with a “ban” symbol over his face and something written in Turkish, which I had assumed, knowing his reputation, was something against him.

In no time, I couldn’t judge where from, some hundreds of young people assembled in front of Burger King and started shouting slogans in Turkish. I was concerned for Ivana. The situation looked really chaotic and dangerous. I went in the building to get her back and found the toilet upstairs. I hesitated to go in women’s toilet, especially for it being in an Islamic country. This was our first time to Turkey and I did not know the sensibilities of the people. But the situation was not normal and with every moment I could hear the noise outside growing high and reverberating. I shouted inside the toilet and got a response from her saying that she would need few more minutes and that she would meet me downstairs. I went restlessly down and saw that the crowd had increased many folds. I could not leave Ivana and go out. Meanwhile I had no Idea of the other two and had no clue how to identify the couchsurfing host in this chaos. I had totally ruled out the option of meeting him.

Deafening Sirens could be heard. A van screech parked in front of Burger King and many policemen with guns hustled into the restaurant. There were around 5 customers and few attendants. They spared a Chinese girl and me for being obvious foreigners and with no second thought a policeman punched a Turkish guy in the restaurant right in the guts. From the dynamics, I could say he wasn’t belonging to the protestors group. This put me on alert mode and all I could do was just stay put and not move an inch. The rest of the police troop ran upstairs and dragged the two protestors down. The girl was screaming and the guy was slapped tight on the face. I was simply astounded in what event we got locked in right on day one. I was trying hard to maintain my composure. The least I could do was attract attention until the air clears.

It was the first year anniversary of the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul. On the same day, an year before, around 3.5 Million people participated all over Turkey, 22 people died, 4900 people other were arrested and some 134 detained for protesting against Erdogan’s government for various issues concerning rights of citizens (Source: wiki). The plan to have shopping mall and having people evicted out of their favourite Gezi Park near Taksim had sparked that final trigger and brought millions to streets. This was one of the first world events which came to action more through the social media as any other formal way were suppressed. Thousands of people took to the square and it was one of the landmark protests in the history of Turkey. The famous picture of tear gas being sprayed at a girl with red attire might remind you of this event and the tension of the time. At this juncture, Turkey was slowly becoming the hotspot for the media, with many agitated people slowly showing up participation in protests and riots: of which the majority were the young. Erdogan’s government playing their religion cards had their major middle aged and old religious population on their side. We were aware of this tumultuous situation in the country, but our timing as tourists were miscalculated, as we least expected another protest to an anniversary of a protest!

red

The police threw both the youngsters in the van and drove out of the crowd. By this time, Ivana was already out. She was waiting at the stairs and not knowing any of the happenings outside. I called the other two and all of us came together soon enough. Surprisingly our Couchsurfing host Emre² had already turned up and had located the other two. He recommended us that the crowd could go big and soon enough more police would come. He mentioned that situation was going out of control at many places in the city and that he got punched by a policeman on the face in Kadiköy. Apparently he had just gone to a restaurant, washed his face and came to meet us as if nothing happened. Emre was working for the Turkish Airforce. He was saying the story with the calmness pertaining to the people of such fields. He could have simply sit at home and waited. After all he was living in Kadiköy and he was supposed to meet us in Taksim. Both were hotspots for any kind of agitation in the city.  We are grateful to him that he was concerned and wanted to ensure our safety. We chose Burger King as a meeting point as it was internationally known and apparently the protesters chose the same location for the terrace had the perfect sight to reach out to a crowd in the square. Our luck! Emre mentioned that we could take refuge for a few hours in some place far from such demonstrations and he took us to an unassuming restaurant hidden in the small streets around Istiklal Caddesi.

Sitting in the restaurant we were asking him the background of the protests and I was especially curious on how or what had driven the youngsters to take charge. Emre mentioned a name as the drive: “Atatürk”. That was the first time I got conscious to this name. Earlier I had seen this name at the International Airport in Istanbul. It was the name of the airport itself: Atatürk International! I never cared to inform myselves on names of international airports1. The story what I heard from him then was something I witnessed resonating with multitudes of young people. Getting to witness all these happenings this travel extended to be more than just sightseeing and was starting to inspire! Three things resulted out of this travel. First I got a great friend in Emre. Second I got two best souvenirs ever and the third is simply that I made a mental note to inform myselves on the people, whose name are given to Airports1. These names seem to reverberate more to the concerned societies. These are also the names that the respective countries want to showcase to an international audience as their chief identity. Being in Turkey and discussing with Emre, this was my chance to get to know their identity Mr. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Leaders create „hope“ for a society and only a very few among them end up “doing” something about it and make a revolution. The society wants to partake in the vision of such leaders and together they achieve something extraordinary – simplified story of how Atatürk got to be the foundation of the modern Turkish society. He freed the country from the powerful occupants, the Allied forces and the frail ottoman empire, purely by game of wits and muscles. Once the county came in his hands, he founded the Republic of Turkey. Although he released the country from the empire physcially, he saw that the social issues were still gripping it. He decided to revitalize the society and went about being a visionary to clean it from inside out. He brought a religious revolution to free people from the suppression of the stringent doctrines and earned them the rights of free speech, equality, participation, opportunities etc. To give an identity to this liberation, he even dressed up in suit and motivated people to do the same to welcome modernity. It’s a common sight to see civilians in Turkey dressed up in suits. They are directly or indirectly adhering to his vision. It’s a pure genius move to see how he converted his vision to something of a daily habit in each person. Each time they wear a suit, it’s a reminder what they are striving for: Pure Genius!

Given the passion with which Emre was narrating the story, I assumed that Atatürk’s lifetime was something recent. Atatürk died in 1938! Living in 2018, 80 years from his death, I could feel that it takes some genius to be that of a visionary to foresee a problem of the future and begin the tweaking already in his lifetime in the early 20th century. He is still alive for the relevance of issues in the contemporary Turkey and not to miss, his sustenance measures. A coat might be a cloth, but it’s one of those symbols sustaining his thought to further generations until the issues are put off.

The next day on going around in the neighbourhood of Karikoy, we walked by a street filled with his pictures on a wall to its whole length. The more we saw him in the society, the more the image of him grew in my mind. At a local market, I was lucky to have a found a English copy of his biography. The kind of tension I could feel around and the thoughts what were fed into my mind over the last evening, made this biography feel heavy on the hand. It was the first time I approached a biography with complete respect. I’m halfway through the book, while I’m writing this. For the readers, here’s a wiki link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mustafa_Kemal_Atat%C3%BCrk

That night we were roaming around the Kadiköy district. By this time, protests have been suppressed. Istanbul’s extreme busy life can bring back normalcy in minutes, without having a trace that a big event happened just a day before. On a random street in the district, there was huge banner of Erdogan tied to two houses on either sides of the street. It had him dressed up as Atatürk and symbolizing him as the future of Turkey: an alleged religious tyrant wearing the mask of a celebrated rational leader. At the time when they couldn’t oppose the enemy, they seemed to try the strategy of befriending the enemy to appeal to their followers. The fun fact in the whole story was that his true opposition was someone who was dead long before. I was wondering whether he had seen his opponent at all. Atatürk was dead, but it was miraculous to see that the “concept” Atatürk was still very much alive and giving a strong fight to the residing unwanted elements of the society. I could see him in every modernity and every politically charged youngster in Istanbul.

On our final day in Istanbul, we were headed to take the metro to the Airport in the morning. At the entrance of the Metro station, there was a young boy distributing some card to the people in a dutiful demeanour. I went to him and got a card for myself. That card from that boy about 10 years old was without comments or without any writing on it. It had just a face: Atatürk! and handed over by a 10 year old!

“Peace at home, Peace in the world” – Atatürk

——-fin——–

A

P.S. It’s just any biography and a picture. Experience added value to them and till today, of any travels I made, these two souvenirs have a special place in my collection.

Eponyms of Airports in the world: Examples

  1. Anna International Airport, Chennai, India
  2. Mother Teresa International Airport, Tirana, Albania
  3. John F. Kennedy International, New York, USA
  4. Franz Joseph Strauss International Airport, Munich, Germany
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_eponyms_of_airports

² These are not the real names of my friends

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Part 2: Christmas adventures in Europe

I had spread a word around at work that I was looking to buy a Christmas tree. This aspect of Germany was completely new to me. Eight years had gone by in Germany. With every passing day I am still learning something new and inching towards my integration or being normal in this society. In this context there came another challenge to tackle. I did not know how or where to buy Christmas trees. I checked at a kitsch store in Heidelberg – BUTLERS. They had only a plastic version, 180 cm tall and had cost 120€. It was costly and plastic did not appeal pleasant. Moreover my wife, Ines, also preferred a proper tree. At such occasions on not knowing how to proceed, spreading a word around usually helps.

It turned out that my colleague sitting in the same room as me had his own farm. We have been located that way since 2014 when I began with this work, but Germany being Germany, private affairs at work place remain really private. The word had to come from the receptionist lady saying “Ramesh, your colleague Marty himself has a farm, ask him”. I asked Marty and he was glad to show his farm. We made an appointment right away for me to visit his farm and pick a tree. It was a Sunday in the last week of November 2017.

Ines and I lived in a village along the Neckar river 15km away from Marty’s farm. Marty lived up the hills in the Oden Forest. Sunday 10AM and minus two degrees: it was the first real cold day in the winter of 2017. I had totally underestimated the weather and went with just a pullover to cover the top and luckily had chosen jeans and hiking shoes for no reason. My wife was prepared well. We drove to his village. Marty had informed that his land is just before the round-about to his village. He was waiting for us on time and was waving his green umbrella at us. His land was up above on the slope. Only then I noticed that we had to go up a mud road. The sudden right I made to turn upwards to the mud road freaked out the car behind and he honked loud. I waved him peace through the mirror and as always was never sure if a person can see such gestures.  I approached Marty. I assume, he got an impression that an Indian has entered the town given that hardly anyone honks in Germany. Either the Indian honks or makes the others honk.

Marty and his wife were waiting at the farm. There were other customers on the move to select their trees as well. The farm was located on a slant and was about two grounds big. There were just his farm and a neighbour’s considerably big farm on the vast green field. His field could hold around 100 trees and was fenced from his neighbours’field. There were trees from a metre height to about 5 metres and the majority were in the range of 2 metres. Given the size of our apartment, we saw right away that a two metres tree would be the apt choice.

Marty had earlier mentioned that when it comes to a decorative Christmas tree there were four varieties of trees commercially available in Germany,: Spruce, Silver fir, Nordmann fir and Blue fir. Spruce is the cheapest of all and it’s more a bush than a tree. Silver fir is a decent pick, but the needles on the branch apparently fall out soon. Nordmann’s fir is the most sold tree as the branches are very dense, green and the needles hold for long. Our villages are located in the Oden forest. As Nordmann’s fir has a high growth in this area, it is believed that this tree brings the flavour of the forest in the home too. Blue fir in the costly version as the tree has a blue tint, giving it a rich look. My wife was learning German then and Marty’s Oden forest dialect was totally incomprehensible to her. He realized her struggles and offered to simplify his statements saying that there are four types of Trees in order of price and quality: Blue fir, Nordmann fir, Silver fir and Spruce equivalent in the same order to Rolls Royce, Mercedes, Dacia and Renault. He being German said that he prefers and sells only Mercedes. It can’t be clearer to her and all of us agreed on Mercedes!

Bang on explanation! It was clear to both of us that it was a Nordmann’s that we wanted. Ines hasted to hunt for the right sized tree before the other customers would choose it. Paradox of choices or like a kid left with too many toys, for her, every other tree looked better than the one before. With my bad attire, I was freezing with every passing second. At one point, I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore and she was still jumping from one tree to the other. As much as I loved her, I realized that love does not protect one from nature’s hardships and I just grunted this cheesy line at her in a simplified format saying “Just Hurry upppppppppp!!!!!” She was considerate and in an unexpected move she came back to the first ever tree that she saw in the farm and selected that one. She analyzed about 20 other trees before coming to the first tree again. Marty, his wife and I gave a blank shivering stare at each other in unison. He marked the tree with a red tape with my name scribbled on it. We thanked him and rushed out to the car.

Later at work, I was inquisitive to Marty on his hobby on how he decided to have a farm, whether it was profitable etc. Apparently he does it just as a hobby and without any seriousness attached to it. He priced the two metre tall Mercedes at 23€. With around 100 trees of different sizes in is farm, the small scale business seems to bring him a very marginal profit, but hobby is a hobby. He works like me, a desk job for 40 hours in a week and doing something physical after work as long as it is relieving and not having much burden on the finances is very rewarding.

Our pick up day was December 16th, a Saturday. Ines and I made a plan to invite small group of friends in the evening and celebrate the arrival of the tree as an appetizer to Christmas. Meanwhile in the morning I would pick up the tree. On Marty’s recommendation, we had already bought an iron tree holder for 14€ from a local supermarket. At 10AM I told Ines to cleanup a space in the apartment to place the tree and I drove to Marty’s village to pick it up. It was a rainy day. As Christmas was just a week away, this was the usual time people would buy a tree. The trees normally would last for three weeks, if the stem is soaked in water. The tree holder does this part.

On the way to his farm, I saw many cars lined up in front of all the farms. Everyone was waiting or loading their tree in their car or onto their trucks and trolleys. A huge metal cone shaped device, set horizontally on a stand, was to be found. It was like a base of rocket and was used to pack the Christmas trees. It had a net inside. One person pushed the stem of the tree from the big circle and other pulls the tip from the side of the small circle. The cone squeezes the tree and magically weaves a net around it. It was a weird pleasure watching two people pushing and pulling from either side with meanwhile a magic happening in the middle. It reminded me of the Finnish comics “Fingerpori” where one veterinarian for a regular checkup, puts his hand through the ass of a cow and a thief steals his golden ring by inserting his hand through the mouth of the cow. A glorious settlement always lies in the middle!

I was eager to get my own tree and approached Marty’s farm. There were many customers at his place too. The rainy day had made the mud road into sludge. I drove upwards slowly and parked the car in front of his farm. A Grandma was making a mess in reversing her car to leave back to the main road. She went down the road without noticing another car coming up towards her and with a trolley. Goats on the wooden bridge, neither of them were willing to back out and started shouting at each other. Eventually it had to be the Grandma who had to move the car, as for the guy with the trolley it would be difficult. My car was parked along the sides on the same mud road. Even though there was space for the Grandma to reverse, suddenly I grew suspicious over the Grandma’s skills and drove my car a bit to the front to avoid any sort of collision with her. A metre further, my car tires got stuck in the sludge. Perfect!

I showed this tragedy to Marty. Being the nice guy he is, putting up with chaotic Indian drivers, he suggested that we shall first have the tree cut, load it and pull the car back with his tractor. The 2 metre tree perfectly fit in my Opel Corsa, as if my car was custom made for it. Marty went to bring the tractor and asked me to find a metal hook from the car to put the chains on to it and pull. The Indian me had never used these kinds of things. There was a mechanic or a pulling service for these situations and who will simply be available on a call. In the middle of nowhere village like this, there was no such people. Now, here I was in a gruesome situation to find a hook to my car. I was like “Really? Do cars have hooks inside? I have never seen them”. Marty gave a huge sigh and turns out that my car has a secret compartment in the trunk which has all the emergency tools including an aluminum hook! He took the hook and tried to screw it to the hole near the exhaust. By this time, some few people had gathered to watch the theatrics! He couldn’t screw it. He gave it to me and it didn’t work for me too. Push and screw, tilt and screw, wedge and screw, stare and screw: none of the combinations were working. It simply wouldn’t go in. Marty and I, two engineers couldn’t screw a hook to a hole. Our IQ; experience, titles, status and everything was at stake in front of this village audience. Suddenly Marty found the trick. Unlike a normal screw which has to be screwed in clockwise, this hook had to be screwed in anti-clockwise for whatever genius idea the designer had. That dumb moment and the look we had at each other! He pulled the car out soon with his tractor like a superman and made a friendly nudge at me saying now I know how to drive in a village!

The tree arrived in place. Ines was happy to see the tree. As much as how Ines was excited to celebrate Christmas, I was excited to hang my Batman Toy upside down on the tree. Boy fun! A longtime friend of mine from university times in Berlin rescued this toy while she was disposing garbage in her student’s hostel. She brought it to me, as she knew that I loved Batman and that I would be a safe house for him. This was 7 years ago. Since then I treasured this toy like some legacy passed on to me. Of all the objects I had, this one toy had moved with me wherever I had re-located since then.

We named the party as “Decorating the tree with a bad taste” party and asked our friends to bring something utterly kitschy or distastefully funny to hang on to the tree. The first two guests brought something kitschy, although it was not for the tree. Richard brought a pretty Christmas kitsch plate.  Stefanie and John were the best. They brought an useless metal cabbage and carrot to hang on the tree. It was pointlessly funny that we hanged them to the tree in a constellation as if Batman is diving down to save the cabbage from falling. Perfect ploy! The party went great. We took pictures and shared to friends. On Christmas day, friends came over and Ines had fun in packing presents for them and putting them under the tree. We hosted friends, visited church, Ines cooked mulled wine, we visited Christmas markets, tried hot winter snacks and lit up advent candles every Sunday. Christmas time was joy.

—–Fin—-

Random Pictures

 

 

 

 

*Names mentioned in the Texts are not their actual names. Exceptions are my wife and I.

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Part 1: Festive Hangover

Festive hangover:

Since the time I moved to Germany in 2009, I hardly celebrated any Indian cultual festivals. I was 21 then. In Coimbatore, Tamilnadu, India, we have two big festivals – Pongal celebrating Agriculture and Deepavali celebrating the act of Rama killing Ravaana in an epic poem “Ramayana”, a part of Indian mythology. For this blog post I will focus just on Deepavali. There are multiple stories and multiple versions citing the origin of Deepavali, but one thing common in most versions – good guy kills bad guy and people celebrate with fireworks. For us kids, we don’t care about it as long as a box of fireworks stays in front of our door. Dad usually goes to the fireworks factory in Sivakasi and buys a humongous quantity for all the kids in the family – my 4 cousins and I. Mom usually starts to prepare sweets two weeks in advance. She instructs me and lets me pack all the savouries and sweets in small packs: a session that I enjoy doing, as I get to eat some sweets well before Deepavali. She makes two sweets: Ladoo and Mysorepak and two savouries: Mixture and Nei-Murukku. I have to pack the sweets and savouries separately in two plastic packs. It’s a half day job and I get around 20 packs of each ready.

Left to right: Ladoo, Mixture, Murukku & Mysore Pak

 

From then onwards, mom and I begin distributing the Deepavali packs to neighbours, families and friends. Altogether around 20 families would be visited in three days. Likewise everyone visits everyone. We distribute 20 and we receive 20 of other sorts. Every family shows their signature with their selection of savouries and sweets. You can see the discussions of status symbol arising from these packs! The ones who want to project themselves high in class, would buy Mysore pak and other savories from an elite sweets store like “Sree Krishna sweets”. The others would buy from local shops or make themselves. When my mom used to have time, she would make Murukku by herself and the rest we would buy from a father’s friend’s shop. Later we started buying everything from them. Still, self-cooking always had the best taste and of course “Sree Krishna Sweets”.

Mom would buy new dress material already a month before. Our regular tailor store “Mr. Carnaby” had dad’s and my sizes already, as every year dad and I would have to get our uniforms stitched: school uniform for me and court uniform for dad. The society till then was still majorly opting for tailored clothes. Given the frequency of festivals and necessities like uniforms, dad and I would visit the tailor at least 4 times in a year. Mom had her own tailor. I never had the interest to understand the intricacies in women’s clothing and therefore I hardly know the details of her clothes. Her saree and blouse will have a glitz element denoting that it’s festival clothing. Men’s clothing never has that detailing. For all occasions, outside an uniform, it’s the same type: “colour dress”: simply a dress which has colours. As I grew up, mom let me have my say to the tailor. I was 16 then and I wanted to have something trendy. I asked the tailor to make double pockets in all my shirts. It was a fascination when I got it. Although by next Deepavali this trend got outdated, every year from then onwards I would ask my tailor to stitch something new – wide collars, narrow collars, secret pocket inside pants, secret pocket inside shirts, pants without flaps and more. Some I held for long and some got outdated sooner or later.

All the firecrackers, the stuff bought by dad would be opened one day before the festival, as longer before meant we kids would already light them up or get into a fight. My cousins and I would have our intense negotiations and divide the fire crackers equally. By equal it meant that “all pigs are equal and some are more equal than others”. Hierarchies, age, bravery and fights ensure no equal division. Somehow everyone would come to peace with what they got and would from then on guard their share like their life’s treasure till the next day.

Day of Deepavali: At 12:00 AM, all of us would line up in our Balcony to see the fireworks. The night fireworks were called as “Fantasy Pattasu (Fantasy Crackers)”. The day begins! But we are allowed to burst the crackers only in the morning after taking bath, wearing new clothes and after sitting through morning pooja in the god room. Consequentially, this was the only day in the year all kids would wake up before the adults and get ready in light speed. Usually the pooja begins at 7 AM and only at this point Dad and mom would get into an argument on who wants to take bath first. The whole house had one bathroom. Dad wants to take bath after the TV Programme where some old guy reads holy text from “Thirukkural” and mom has something left to finish in the kitchen. More they argue, the more we have to wait for fire crackers.  We would hasten them up to do whatever, but come to the pooja. Mom gives me the bell to ring; Grandma or someone chants the holy texts and dad does the ritual. The pooja is the final most annoying, nail biting wait which stays between us and the firecrackers. The moment it’s done and the white powder streak comes to our forehead as a blessing, the run begins. We grab the fire crackers, go to the streets and compete with the neighbours on who has the best firecracker.

On the day of Deepavali, television programmes galore. At 10AM there is a debate programme. Interesting also for the kids, I would come back to have breakfast while watching this programme. Mom would have cooked special food for all the three meals. It was Masala Dosa and Biriyani. Our daily life then had other simple food such that these foods were considered special. After the programme we would call many people and in turn would receive calls from many other people wishing “Happy Deepavali” to each other. We inquire on what the other home had cooked for food and what television programme they are watching. TV Channels would invite celebrities for special interviews and play the latest movies. The catchy part was when the televisions started running the commercials for the movies they play on the Day. This trend began around 2000s. The advertisements are run from already a month before with a tagline saying

“For the first time ever in Indian television channels… the movie that came in 1997….the super hit movie…..XXX”

These taglines and especially the tone of it were so catchy that people accepted them big time. They grew over time and indirectly it created a huge marketing buzz in the movie industry making them to compete for the best tag lines to their products. Eventually, in just a few years, so many versions of self-praising buzzwords got added to the societal dictionaries. We would be rooted to the TV waiting for this line to be announced and to check which movie would be played. In the initial times, we took these statements as seriously as the tone who utters it, but over time the competition and the same serious tone got received as welcome comedy.

Special programme, special food, tailor stitched trendy clothing, latest firecrackers, new movies, sweets, the same celebration also with kins and neighbours; the whole festival was really considered a celebration. It was after all one of the two times in a year to celebrate. The excitement and the anxiety for it begin usually months before. It was always something to look forward to. We kids were involved in all aspects of the festival. I was recently watching a programme “Neeya Naana” where they spoke about festivities. They make a point saying that the focus of any festivity is kids themselves. It is way to make them participate in societal happenings and teach the culture. It’s a showcase and reminder of what makes their identity: traditional clothes and ethnic rituals reminded us who we are and which society we belong to. It gave the kids a sense of belonging. We belong to Tamilnadu and follow Dravidian tradition. Simultaneously two other things were taught too.

It had many things to keep us kids excited and diverted: Firecrackers, clothes, television programmes and special food. With all these things for diversion, they teach us indirectly hospitality and respecting people. It begins from preparing and sharing sweets and goes till calling each other to wish for the festival. Parents would make us participate in wishing too. It motivated “sharing” which is something difficult to be taught to kids. Moreover it made us kids to accept simplicity in daily life. Because 363 days were simple, the 364th and 365th day became special. Simplicity and thereby being conservative, sharing and thereby being respectful and hospitable: Festivals have a reason: Kids.

From 21 and till now, which is almost a decade, I did not celebrate any festival. There were multiple reasons: I was in a rebellious mood or I considered them as outdated or old people stuff or I was being nature friendly by not letting CO2 into the atmosphere. Now out of necessity, I have a chance to celebrate a festival again. My wife is a Catholic Christian and she celebrates Christmas with the same passion as I had for Deepavali as above. With the perspective of kids and values, maybe I grew up now that I activated the kid in me to celebrate Christmas for the first time ever.

to be continued:

Part 2 … Christmas Adventures in Europe

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Times without Internet

On 29th April 2017 there was an internet shutdown in the whole of my village. Neither the landline nor phone network was working. On calling Vodafone, they said that the stuff will be fixed in a week. After couple of days without internet I noticed that my evenings felt longer i.e. I had more time to do other things. The 1.5 hours which I usually dedicate for internet was not there anymore. All the other activities which had internet running in the background got done quicker, as they got all the focus. This increased the availability to a solid 3 hours every evening. At the end of the week, when I mentioned this to a friend, she jokingly asked if more free time led to more fights between my wife and I. Another friend came to rescue and said “Let’s just say that they got to understand each other better”.

That was true. She had a Smartphone and her activities would normally go into whatsapp, viber, instagram, pinterest etc… Now she also had more time. We unconsciously started probing into the minor details and starting eating each other’s head. We were newly married. She would be bothered by the way I handle clothes and I would be annoyed as how much oil she uses in the cooking. She is an artist in her pastime. She has an eye for perfection over subjective things (notice the irony), which is against my binary nature. She was shot up on nerves when I ignore her issues with colours not matching or carpet having wrinkles etc…We had eventually more of such tiffs and silent times just during the first week without internet. And Vodafone did not get it fixed. They said it might take one more week or longer.

In a way, lack of internet led us to more conversations. We meddled with more objects at home and dug up their history. We were observant to the tiny details over each other. Eventually we had more arguments. At some point, it felt as if the whole 6 hours back home was reserved for being sad and hopeless about each other. It was hard. Not having internet gave no option to be diverted from this and our efforts went into other required things like cleaning the home.

Setting aside our mental state in those weeks, the home was always clean. We also went for frequent running or outings in restaurants or somewhere. It made us feel physically able and thereby mentally reinforcing. Like any other addiction, there were withdrawal symptoms from the internet too. There was one spot in my home near the living room window where her phone would have a minor signal. During the first two weeks, I would stand by those windows often.

Third week: unusually things started going well. We had happy time. We were suddenly tuned to and started to address our mutual needs well. Her menstrual period co-incidentally got over in the same week too, but that was not the reason to the fights that happened. We as two persons starting to live close quarters had differences just like any couple: differences in mindset, behaviour, habits or objects of personal importance etc… All I could hypothesize was that these arguments over such differences were bound to come anyways: slow and dispersed over time when internet should be available. Now without internet and the sudden availability of time, the arguments occurred all at once in just two weeks. It certainly made us understand and accept each other’s nature in a quicker way.

My internet is off since three weeks now. I don’t have cable TV at home, I have not subscribed to any newspapers or magazines and I don’t have a Smartphone. I have no “This might be your need” suggestions and I have no news threatening my peace here. I come back from work. I read a book, I write, I spend time with my wife, we run and of course we understand each other better on turbo mode. I call my friends and talk to them. I’m available and I’m living my life with less distractions. I’m happy in my village and I have no idea what’s happening on the other side of the mountain. Three weeks crossed. My withdrawal symptoms have vanished. Although I miss reading news, I’m really accustomed to this new reality and feel healthy about it.

There is a refugee shelter near my office: I had this passing thought: Had I no information and news fed stereotypes in my head,  maybe I’d have been more willing to help a refugee as a lost traveller or a guest in need than protesting to the government to erect walls fearing that my life is in danger. Is it my fear or does the news want me to fear?

Vodafone guys just sent a message today. They are sending over a technician in a couple of days to fix my internet.

———Fin———-

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