Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Bai Chronicles - II : Itna paisa mein itnaich milenga!

Bai chronicles is back! And this time, I'll talk about a very touchy subject - Pagaar, as in pay. Now, all of employed India, indeed all of the employed world operates on an overworked yet underpaid model. (Is someone somewhere listening?) Even members of the mafia might perhaps believe that they need to be paid more for all that 'conscience killing', 'mental trauma', 'haunting nightmares', 'additional risk of hanging out with super mean boss' etc etc. Well in reality, if that last point did indeed have a yardstick for measuring proposed compensation, 'Is anyone listening again??? Please?'

But while all of us may have serious pay scale issues, most of us are not in that super enviable position that goes with bargaining capabilities. In my humble experience, negotiating one's pay and achieving the life, work and pay one wants is stuff dreams are made of, and only the high and mighty, who perhaps have a core competence anyone would kill for can hope to achieve that enviable state! But as it turns out, our Bais almost always have bargaining power. Especially the awesome ones! And while us pitching a 10% upgrade in pay would perhaps meet with a 'It was nice talking to you, but we'll get back if we have a spot vacant for you', vis-a-vis the maids in Mumbai, they manage to easily wrest out at least a 30% increment per job!

Now, there was this lady who came to work for us once. She came with an awesome recommendation from this lady in a neighboring building. Why did this lady send me this maid, well, once I wept out my 'dukh-bhari-bin-baai-kahaani' to this lady at a shop, and she commiserated with me over a tetra pak of milk. So this maid came over, and I explained all her tasks to her. She listened carefully. And then I asked her the all-important, pain inducing question. 'Kitna legi'? 'Hazaar rupya'. I was over the moon! A thousand bucks! Wow! a true bargain indeed. Given that this lady was trying to find her bearings in the 'baai market' and get herself some 'kaayam ka kaam... (permanent employment), I felt that I had found my very own 'Ramu Kaki'. I imagined myself several years down the line, in horn-rimmed glasses, a streak of gray hair on my well maintained tresses, sitting on my porch with a news paper, saying 'Mandaaaa, ek chaai lana zara' (Manda, can you get me a tea please). And I saw this lady, a few wrinkles on her face walking over with my tea in clean polished China, setting it down, and informing me that the grandkids have left for school and.... 'Total chaar kaam ke liye chaar hazaar maheene ka'. (For 4 tasks, 4000 bucks a month).

'What?' I screamed, almost. 'But we're two people in the house! And both of us leave for work early in the morning. Given Mumbai's sterling real estate scene, I honestly don't live in a palace! We both eat out. So why exactly did she want a thousand bucks to wash four and a half utensils and another 1000 bucks to wash 5 pieces of clothes? Most of my clothes go to the dry-cleaners anyway (thanks to the new fashion trend of jewel encrusted necklines! Bah). And since when did sweeping and swabbing, the legendary, hyphenated jhaadu-patta become two tasks? I gulped in horror, as she stood steadfast, unrelenting. I explained all this to her and all she said was, 'Itna paisa lagega itne kaam ke liye'. When I asked her to be reasonable, all she said was, 'Bhabhi, yeh address mein aake kaam karne ka paisa toh lagega na? Parvadega nahin toh aisa area mein rehne ka nahin. Mere ko bhi bhaada dena padta hai na mere ghar ka? (If you want to live in such an address, you must be willing to pay. If you can't afford the maids of this area, perhaps you must live elsewhere. I need to pay my house rent too, right?) "Chalega toh bolo. Baaki bahut log waiting mein hai." (Lemme know if it works, or else I have a long list of prospective customers!)

I accepted my relative poverty and thanked the lady for her time, as I trudged back to the kitchen and sadly looked at my 4.5 utensils waiting for redemption. I, for sure was not willing to give up a part of my salary so that Manda Baai could pay her house rent. I was not willing to over pay for what I believe is a highway robbery and a plain play on my weaknesses! After doing the dishes, as I sat with a cup of tea and the newspaper, I saw this piece that said that Prince William and Kate Middleton are having trouble keeping a maid, as no one is willing to do all that work for a mere 20,000 pounds a year! Suddenly I felt like a princess!!!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Saudi Arabia - A drivethrough!

This week, most people have been talking about how the 17 of June marked a turning point in the lives of repressed Saudi women! Given how almost all of the Middle East of late has been showing impressive implementations of the legendary domino/ snowballing effect, it cones as no surprise that one bold woman taking to the streets in a car sparked off a whole revolution which finally culminated in a law allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia. People in places like India may ask, what's the big deal? I was speaking to this gentleman who lives in my apartment complex when he was discussing an episode where his SUV gave way just before his rather large family was to go on a Rojas trip, and he was describing to me his frantic attempts at finding another driver as he had to split the family into two cars and he had already declared 'vacation time' to his regular chauffeur ( known as driver in India) "doesn't your wife drive?" I asked innocently. "Of course not. Why should she?" came the reply. "But don't you ever wish to drive?" I asked looking at the wife. " I choose not to! Driver hai na? And when we go as a family, Jignesh drives", she said referring to her husband.

Therein lies the difference.

A greater part of female urban India around middle age, doesn't drive. One, because when they were younger at licensable age, they were lower down the economic spectrum and a car never crossed their minds. Now, they're on the opposite end, and not having a chauffeur is demeaning on the 'log-kya-kahenge' arena! Secondly, the women had a choice. Never were they prevented by law, from anything, driving included. But for Saudi women, they were prevented by a weird law, which for some inexplicable reason prevented them from driving. The minute there is a denial, a rebellious urge to have that which is denied, springs up. Much like a child's tantrum or a diabetic craving for sweets. The issue, though, has been more symbolic, than anything else. Unreasonable repression of all kinds needs to go. Restricting women from driving has no logical basis other than blatantly declaring that some men want to prove ascendancy in a lame, almost desperate manner. Otherwise, how can it explain closeted driving skills? How exactly did the women learn to drive in the first place? Clearly they and their fathers, brothers and husbands care a jot about the law and it is perhaps the regressive cleric alone who holds on to his view! If anything, the women take the allowance to drive as a symbol that they may one day, finally find their own voice in all aspects of daily human life.

As an aside, though, my sympathies to Saudi society. There lay a society with lesser idiocy on roads. Even yesterday, I hurled a bunch of silent expletives at a 'late-evening sunglasses touting', 'make-up clad yet not-so-PYT' who clearly bribed her way to get a license! No, I am not being judgmental. I am a female driver myself with scant regard for my clan, although my sterling skills behind the wheel have been certified by my 0 crash record, and also by scores of my darker sex friends who strongly believe that I am an exception to the lady-driver category! But what the offending female driver did and why I was half in a mind to screech past her car, stop abruptly in complete filmy style, step out in stilettos, grab the woman's hair and slap her face real hard, I will leave to 'driving me crazy -ii' But till then, Saudis can now enjoy the phenomenon of abrupt lane cutting, left indicators before a right turn, indicators with no turns, terrible parking skills, middle of the road stopping and many other such wonderful antics of the fairer sex behind the wheel!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Risky business!

Old man Newton once upon a time said that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Given the number of engineers who end up becoming fin geeks, it is no doubt that such a dictum forms the basis of the whole finance industry. For every risk averse guy out there, there is an equal risk-loving guy out there too! You make your profits by expending effort in looking that dude up. Which is why, the episode of a Chinese entrepreneur hurling abuses at Morgan for purposefully underpricing their IPO looks bizarre!

Now the story caught my eye not just because it involved Chinese, IPOs and Morgan. But because it was an out and out war on.... TWITTER! Speak about suits in wall street putting their BBs to good use. The issue was more like the Chinese entrepreneur of an e-commerce company called Dangdang (I know!!! wonder how bankers managed to go past the name in the first place) was disappointed when his IPO was priced at $16, but opened and settled at $29. Close to $240 million apparently was 'left on the table', or rather was money that could have been got with niftier pricing! A war of expletives broke out on Twitter between Mr. Dangdang and someone claiming to belong to Morgan. I say claiming, since Morgan was quick to wash it's hands off this dirty business.

But the issue is not so much the use of Twitter or the entrepreneur's endless tirade but rather how exactly is one to quantify risk. Morgan underwrote the issue, which, in other words means that if the IPO went undersold, they would pick up the pieces at the issue price. So obviously, being the risk absorber in the face of the ebullient risk-loving entrepreneur, by Newton's law, Morgan is bound to be risk averse and hence cautious. Besides, underwritten IPOs have an inherent conflict of interest, is perhaps a given, as they need to set the best price for the client, while minimizing their losses. So, in all honesty, Newton perhaps dictated the price!

One place where Newton's law does not apply though, is in the wonderful world of insurance, which perhaps has been the theme of countless books and movies to date, with the term 'pre-existing condition' being used akin to a cuss word in places! The most elegant part of insurance is the inherent irony in the whole concept. One, usually the more risk averse people are the ones who prefer to get insured, in order to protect themselves in the event of a rainy day. However, while Newton might have said that a risk lover is to be coupled with a risk-averse entity, as it turns out, given the wriggly, defensive stance taken by most insurers, you wonder why two risk-averse individuals have been thrown together into the bond of not-such-a-holy matrimony!

All in all, the fact remains that Newton not just missed out on a lovely red apple, but also set the very foundations of the frameworks that underlie this risky business!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Bai Chronicles - I

Maids have been in the news recently, for all the wrong reasons! What started a couple of years ago with Shiney Ahuja in India, seemed to afflict even the ex-IMF chief, and our very own Terminator took the idiocy a step further, by literally 'keeping a house' with his housekeeper! So much for maids dictating people's lives! And I thought that I was the only one with the dubious honor of having allowed my maid to wrap my whole life around her little finger! I seem to have a horoscope that shuns hired help! If a maid so much as dares to agree to come work at my place, Rahu, Ketu, the maid's 'marad', the aunty who lives upstairs who incidentally was her ex-employer all wreak havoc with my peace and cruelly whisk her away. If I fight against my stars and manage to find someone (fight sounds nice, but plead with every maid who walks past my building gates is more like it) she ends up being someone with the work ethic of a vagabond!

So once this lady made bold and came home, with the intention of being employed by us. How my anti-maid track record went off unnoticed is beyond me. Praise be to the fact that she was just recently married and she'd only just come from her gaon! I explained everything to her and she said she'd work here! Yaaaaayyyyy, I almost screamed out loud. She then asked me to keep her number just in case. "Madam, aapka number do, mein meees call maarti hoon", she said, pulling out a swanky looking touch screen phone from a decrepit plastic bag. I thought back about my own strictly functional, terribly scratched, un-stealable brick phone and told her that my phone was in the other room, and that she should give me a call and I'd store the number when I next saw the phone! The next day, a Saturday, I got myself a hair appointment, having found a new found freedom from 'bhaandi ghaas' and 'jhaadu'! I walked over to the salon, and savored every moment of freedom. I had to spend a good 4 hours there, getting my hair straightened. I made the cautious, half-hopeful call back home and was very happy to know that the lady with shining cell phone had indeed turned up. I relaxed and went through the intense hair-straightening experience, at peace with the world!

The next day, while I was on a strict 'no water on your hair' and an even stricter 'no clips on your tresses' and the strictest 'no hair behind ears' routine, the morning was slipping by, and there was no sign of the woman of the moment! Fearing the worst, I made The Call! The call didn't go through. Thinking my dilapidated phone was perhaps to blame, I tried with another phone. Yet no luck. Frantic attempts later, amidst a massive cacophony that sounded more like a movie theater in the background, a voice answered. 'Haan, mein baahar hai. Kal aake baat karega'. And click. No explanations, whatsoever. Not even a courteous moment of conversation to a lady whose hair was saturated with chemicals! Anxious to know why she hadn't turned up, I tried calling her again. She cut my call. Not to be put off so easily, while feeling a little embarrassed myself, I decided to try one last time. And I was met with the dreaded 'Jya numbershi tumhi samparka saadhu icchitat, toh sadhya banda aahey'. I gave up. Wrapping a scarf around my chemically endowed tresses, I set to work. Hoping the few thousands I'd belted out on my hair wouldn't literally be washed down the sink.

The next day, the dame arrived and declared that her marad felt that she was working too much and hence she shouldn't come work here any more! Aaaaagh! "Tell your marad to talk to me!' I almost begged. I would have gladly bribed that marad fellow to just let my cellular maid stay! 'Nahin. Kal poora din mere peeth mein darad tha. Uthne ko hi nahin hua! Mera marad na bolta hai', she said. (Apparently her back was in agony all day yesterday and her husband told her no more working!) I was tempted to ask her whether her house was a movie theater and the seats there comprised of her bed, but I wanted to salvage the bai as much as I could! As it turned out, the love shove between them was too much to fall for bribes, increased pay, lesser work et al and I was left again with straight hair and no maid!

I have a billion such stories and I could write a whole book on my maidscapades! But so much for now!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Media's Favorite Husain

The papers screamed out 'India's Picasso dies in exile'. And if the headlines weren't enough, the life and times of M F Husain were covered in vivid detail in the inner pages. All along, in my opinion, underscoring the very hypocrisy that defines us! Harsh? Yes. But true.

To be honest, I didn't really know about the whole controversy. I did know that MFH was involved in a 'nude painting' row that involved Hindu goddesses, but I didn't know about the quasi fatwa issued against him by Hindu factions, and I definitely did not know that these Hindu factions were epitomized by the 'holier than thou' entity who runs Mumbai as his fiefdom, who has taken the responsibility of safeguarding 'Indian culture and moral values' even if means of safeguarding involved vandalism and mindless rioting and disruption of law and order!

My thought and hence the purpose of this post was manifold! One, nudity in art is something we've known since caveman times. That painters, sculptors and photographers have a thing for the nude human form is a known fact. To the extent that I read somewhere that artistes make a distinction between 'nude' which is natural and free-flowing artistic, and 'naked' which is supposedly suggestive art, although both are to be considered aesthetic! Why they gloss over nudity, is something I can never understand. They say they are catering to a greater human consciousness, although I feel they're just pandering to a larger human population! But then again, I accept that I am not an authority on art, not even a novice! But we've all seen 'David' and studied about renaissance art in history books. So MFH really did not manage to do something pathbreaking like his predecessor Van Gogh who pioneered the use of the color yellow! So why did we create such a ruckus in the first place?

Second, why did MFH need to rile Hindu sentiments? Everyone knows that people in India take their Gods and Goddesses very very seriously. Our Goddesses are not akin to Greek Goddesses, who have forever been depicted in a certain way. So why not respect that part of what is intrinsically Indian and not 'firangify' everything! So if not for free publicity, what else could have been the motivation for such depiction? Why not call her Svetlana and the Veena? Making the picture just any picture, not necessarily tied to any religious sentiment! Ah! But that wouldn't have gathered so much publicity, including tomes being printed and published post his demise!

Third, why did we fly off the handle in 1996 about a picture that was actually painted in 1970! If not for blatant hankering for eyeball space by the media, who published the picture in the first place, and then again by political powers who suddenly found themselves turned into toothless tigers with no meat to chew on, what else could explain such unnecessary, irrelevant controversy creation? And then the whole 'death threat' circus. In what way are we any different from the clerics who issued a fatwa against Rushdie for Satanic Verses? How on earth can we adopt a 'holier than thou' attitude and preach about how intolerant those clerics were, that they could tolerate not even a word
against their religion! and if this is indeed our stance, why call ourselves sham secular with freedom of expression? No one forces us to be a free-for-all society like the Americans, who take their freedom very seriously! Let us agree that we have a thing against blasphemy! Nothing wrong at all!

And lastly, what a supreme level of hypocrisy we show, by feting the individual after he passes away! Extolling his virtues, forgiving his faults, reminiscing over the Maqbool Fida he was to various people and so on! News channels speak of nothing else all day. Newspapers publish tomes and tomes of MF times! The sheer blatancy of it all is appalling to say the least! Publicity, eyeball space, TRPs at all costs. Doesn't seem all too blatant, given the controversy-courting individual, who is the subject of the media's present fancy!