Grandma\’s Tales

November 13, 2006

Think you can do this?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rajesh @ 9:14 pm

Here’s some amazing stuff. Take a sheet of paper, a pair of scissors and a chest of imagination. And this is what you get!

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November 12, 2006

A big “honk” for our driving skills!

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 7:36 pm

One more of our peculiar skills has come to world attention. YouTube now features video clippings of the way traffic movement operates on our roads. Interesting footage, there.

I negotiate chaotic traffic every day, still the way we manage to reach our destination without incident never fails to amaze me. I can understand what effect the pictures will have on people for whom a smooth-flowing, orderly, disciplined traffic system is a given. In parts of the US, if you don’t slow down before taking a left or right turn you are caught on video and made to pay a hefty fine. Your traffic violations are recorded and punishment varies from a re-orientation course in driving to a hike in insurance rates.

There is a method in our madness.  Watch the clippings. Traffic at this U-turn always stops to make way for the city bus – a healthy (life-protecting) respect for those drivers! Drivers also wait for a few vehicles to gather before they launch their attack on the road space. There is strength in numbers!

I’m sure each one of us has a method to get through. And all of them work!

The clips have had two and a half million “hits” so far. And the comments are worth a read. Here are some.

[1] What’s the point of honking?
[2] Really good traffic plan, everyone can go where they want:)
[3] We could learn a thing or two about their traffic laws. Damn they’re good drivers gotta give em credit for that.
[4] From a desi: huhuhuhu – i dont know why everyone is so shocked – this was a pretty tame intersection – i drive through 5-6 points that are far more interesting everyday 😛
[5] I guess the lines on the road are more ‘guidelines’ than ‘rules’… (Kinda like the Pirate’s Code per Curse of the Black Pearl…)
[6] This is multi-decision management at its best!
[7] Democracy at work! At the street level!

A lot of the viewers were too shocked to comment, I guess. In Bikaner, Rajasthan, I asked the driver why he didn’t stop at traffic signals. “You do that, the other drivers will lynch you,” he said.

A TV channel asked a couple of Delhi-ites how they felt about the chaos. “We learn to manage,” they said. “We got used to it.”

Just what I wrote in the previous post!

November 11, 2006

Grammar 14 – I’m doing it anyway.

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 9:57 pm

Friend Naveen Mahesh wonders why we use “anyway” so often.

Naveen, it’s not easy to understand the Indian mind. I’ll try, anyway.

“Anyway” can be used in two different ways – either as one word or as a phrase in two words. This splitting won’t give me a headache.

“Anyway” means in any case, nonetheless, regardless, anyhow, in any event.
It doesn’t matter whether you like this blog or not; I’m continuing with it anyway.

It can also be used to connect two parts of a story, to resume a thread.
Anyway, we found a mechanic to fix the car and were soon on our way. You can guess what happened before this, can’t you? Here are other examples.

  1. In any way or manner whatever: Get the job done anyway you can.
  2. In any case; at least: I don’t know if it was lost or stolen; anyway, it’s gone.
  3. Nevertheless; regardless: It was raining but they played the game anyway.

When you use the word in these contexts, please keep the two parts together. We can’t allow a marital discord here.

Now for the phrase “any way”. When you say, “in any way you can”, the meaning kind of becomes clear. Yes, it means ” in the manner you choose to do it”. Has your mom ever told you, “Do your hair any way you want to, but see that your clothes are clean?” Did your boss ever tell you “Do the job any way you choose to, but finish it fast!” Wow, that would be the day!

The question is, “How do I know what to use where? When should I use “anyway” as one word and when can I wield my axe?” Easy.

You don’t want anyone telling you what you should wear. You stamp your foot and say, “I’ll dress in the way I want!” and bang the door. Now, if you can substitute “any” for “in the”, your usage is right. “I’ll dress any way I want!” “I’ll draw it any way I want!”, “I’ll configure it any way I want!”

[Note: I’m not promoting militancy here.]

If you cannot make that substitution, your word should be “anyway”. She will do the job anyway. You can’t say, She will do the job in the way”, can you? “Any” answers “In what way”? (any way) “Any” is an adjective. “Anyway” is an adverb. Most often it answers the question “how”.

In the question, “Is there any way I can fix this?”, the substitution is not possible. Here, the word “any” stands for “a/one” and still is an adjective.

Now to Naveen’s question. Why do we use it so often?
Very early in life, we guys learn to adapt, adopt and adjust. We face hurdles all the time. We know things won’t get done easily. But we work our way around and get them done anyhow (anyway). We know the shortest line between two points (of work?) is not a straight one.

We do our work (in the?) any way we can. We triumph and enjoy life anyway.

November 9, 2006

Grammar 13 – Less of “more”, please!

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 9:54 pm

This appeared in chennaionline today.

Chennai, Nov 9: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi today said though the law and order situation in the state was satisfactory, it could be maintained in a much more better manner. “For the present, law and order situation is satisfactory. But since I think it can be maintained in [a] much more better manner, I have been frequently meeting senior officers,” he told reporters.

The CM, one can safely assume, did not speak in English. So this is the translation of what he said. And English suffers (silently!) in this translation.

The problem is this. In Tamil, we use a lot of words to emphasise a point. (“In Indian languages, we have a tendency to beat about the bush,” a friend told me.) The original statement about the law and order situation might have had words for “definitely”, “much”, “can” and “improve”. In English all you need is “It could be better”. The word “maintained” is a clever addition. If it is satisfactory, why should you “maintain it in a better manner”?

Grammatically, (as opposed to logically) the sentence is translation should have been “Law and order is satifactory, but it could be maintained in a much better manner”. [Why am I thinking of George Orwell?]

We don’t know if the writer found the law and order situation satisfactory, but he/she certainly was not happy with the emphasis in the English sentence. “Much better manner”? No, no. That won’t do at all. There were so many words in the Tamil version. How could I possibly write less? Ah ha. Let me add “more”! There, that does it! I got the the right emphasis now!

May be. But the phrase is wrong. There is no “more better” Just as there is no “more cleverer”, “more neater”, “more sweeter”, “more dumber”… Here’s why.

Often adjectives (good, clever, neat, sweet, dumb) are asked to compare two things, people, situations … “The weather in Chennai is cooler than I expected!“, “This street is narrower than the next”, “I am taller than my mom!”. Adjectives, being clever, know what a dangerous mission this is. They know comparisons can sometimes put us in a spot. Try telling your wife, “My family would never do anything like this!”

So adjectives go out in disguise. They become better, cleverer, sweeter, dumber… When they are longish, they hire a helper to make their meaning clear. “More beautiful”, “more satisfactory”, “more plausible” …

The point is: Either adjectives take on “er” and change themselves or send “more” before they appear on the scene. They don’t do both. They don’t have to. “Better” is good enough to show the comparison. “Law and order could be maintained better (than what it is now)” is clear in its meaning. When the adjective is already changed to show comparison, we do not need the additional “more”. The comparison-showing “more” is called in only when the adjective does not change. As in “more convenient“.

Of course there are those rare adjectives like pleasant that are used in both avatars. “The weather is pleasanter than I expected” and “The weather is more pleasant than I expected.” But when “more” is used, the adjective remains pleasant. 🙂

I don’t know what it will take to “maintain law and order better”. There must be many ways to do that. Adding “more” to better” and coming out with the faulty “can be maintained much more better” is not one of them.

Grammar 12 – update

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 10:47 am

After I wrote on robo calls this came in the mail.

I did get one of the robo-calls from a Californian candidate. It was a straight one though, just talking about why to vote for him. I heard there were others that purported to be from the Democratic candidate but were sent out very early in the morinng to irritate voters and make them vote for the other guy.

V.

Ah ha. Someone did think of that sneaky game!

November 8, 2006

Grammar 12 – What are robo calls?

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 5:30 pm

It just had to happen. It is too much (understandably so) for any human being to call numbers one by one to ask the same question (Have you tried our product XYZ?) or deliver the same message (We give you a better deal on your car!), specially when the answer is predictable. The politest you can expect is, “This is not a good time to call!” The banging sound that follows is a bonus.

So during the US elections held 7 November, call centres simply automated their calls for the candidates. And they have been named “robo calls”. Robo calls are automated, telemarketing phone calls. Robo, of course, is short for robot, a long-standing word for automation or mechanisation.

But the American mind which resists curbs on imagination, wasn’t going to keep the phrase in this pristine condition. “Robo calls” spawned a complete lexicon of robo infected words. A few examples:

I don’t recall any robo-caller owner complaining about Freedom of Speech. [Dean Ridgway]

“Last time I got robocalled, the discussion went something like: ‘Would you like blah blah blah insurance information blah blah blah sent to you no fee no obligation blah blah blah…?‘“ by Ben Zimmer

Add “robo-calling is an offence“, to this list, and you know what I mean.

Imagine what these calls can do to your energy (hey, the phone rings!), time and peace of mind. You pick up the phone to hear Arnold Schwatzenegger (Governor of California) telling you what he’d do if you voted him in. The first time you swoon. A lot of CA women admitted they were bowled over. But the same voice speaks the same words all day, every day, through the week, and even a die-hard fan is going to think hard on her voting options. I’m not sure what men would do.

Well, the complaints came in thick and fast. Indianapolis Star reported that the Indiana Republican Party “fired a calling company. Not because the firm’s calls were necessarily harassing (really?), but because they were automated — a violation of Indiana state law.” The calls were made in support of candidates.

How do people who get the calls feel? A dear friend Suzanne Beecher, who lives in Florida and runs this wonderful online book club wrote in her column:

“Fed up and tired of my phone ringing constantly, a few weeks ago I started making a list. Every time another recorded message (robo call) told me why I should vote for Don or Mary or Bill, that’s when Don, Mary and Bill were added to my “I’m-not-going-to-vote-for-you” list… I’m glad I voted, but I’d be even happier if I could get the unlisted phone numbers of Don, Mary and Bill.

“Hi, this is Suzanne. Did I get you out of the tub? I sure hope so!”

Now I’m thinking, may be they should have recorded the robo calls on behalf of the rival candidates.



November 7, 2006

Voting can be Video cool!

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 5:57 pm

Long lines, eligible voters turned away, voter intimidation, misallocation and malfunctioning of voting equipment

Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? Elections in 2000 and 2004 in the US had all this and more. In 2000, when all this happened, people just went away dazed. When they happened in the 2004 elections, some of it was reported but not enough to make an impact. Later, a more complete picture emerged. And shocked some right-thinking people. A group of them took it upon themselves to expose these malpractices and made a movie called “American Blackout”. The movie went on to win the Sundance Festival Award.

For the present congressional elections, a project called “Video the Vote” has been put together by a group of really concerned people. They proclaim themselves as non-partisan. They say they were inspired by the movie. They have the support of organisations like

If you have a video camera and time to spare, Video the Vote would like you to register with them as a videographer. Before you do this, you click to read the very specific guidelines they have pasted on their pages. [In fact, we all should. Pretty enlightening stuff!] Once you have signed up, this is what Video the Vote would like you to do:

“Starting this election, citizen journalists—people like you and me—will document problems as they occur. We’ll play them online, spread word through blogs and partner websites, doing our part to make sure the full story of our elections is told.”

More info on the project from the web site.

Video the Vote was created by Ian Inaba of the Guerrilla News Network, John Ennis of Shoot First, and James Rucker of ColorOfChange.org. The three originally sought to provide a platform to help independent filmmakers coordinate their efforts on election day—documenting election problems and pushing those stories into the mainstream media. The idea morphed into a populist program where ordinary people could participate. They’d simply agree to be on-call to document any Election Day problems that arise in their area; the only requirements being having a digital video recorder, a cell phone, and broadband Internet access, and agreeing to respect governing election law.

Looks like a wonderful idea. What do you think?
Want to check out the trailer of American Blackout and read more about this project? Visit the web site. And watch the trailer. I did.

November 5, 2006

Don’tvote.org

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 7:48 pm

The US Congress (parliament for us) has two houses: House of Representatives and Senate.

On 7 November, Americans will vote to elect all 435 members of the House of Representatives. Representatives are elected for two-year terms. Those elected will serve in the 110th US Congress from 3 January 2007 to 3 January 2009.

The Senate also goes to polls on the same day. Many state and local elections, as well as election of 36 state governors will also be held.

In Chennai, organisations like Catalyst keep telling people to go out and vote. They tell us that a low voter turn-out makes a mockery of the whole election process. And they are right. But a web site I stumbled on has a different take on this. This is what they say:

“DontVote.org’s mission is to combat the “Get out the Vote” movement that is pushed by organizations that would like to increase the number of uneducated voters to help their cause. DontVote.org encourages people to Vote, but only AFTER they have educated themselves on the policies and individuals for which they are voting. Voting should be considered a privilege and exercised with responsibility and discretion. Just like a final exam, responsible voting requires self-education and thought. When the time comes to cast your ballot, if you don’t know for what or whom you’re voting, then DON’T VOTE.”

They follow this up with a quiz to find out if you are eligible to vote, if you are “educated” enough. Pretty interesting quiz it is, and runs into 30 questions. Each page carries a photograph of a prominent personality.
Examples: George and Laura Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Harrison Ford, Hillary Clinton, Fidel Castro, Emperor of Japan, President of Iran, Ban ki Moon, Kofi Annan, Queen Elizabeth, Jay Leno, Christina Aguilera, Madonna …

Each photograph is accompanied by 2 questions with multiple-option answers: Who is it in the picture? What is the person known for? You click on the right slot.
Easy, I thought. I would pass and would be eligible to vote if I were a US citizen. But the final page wanted me to fill in personal information before I would get the result. I gave it a miss.

Do you think something like this will work in India?

November 4, 2006

Can you hear me? 2

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 10:57 am

Now come indoors. Your mixie is on, and so is your washing machine. The pressure cooker whooshes and the news channel screams death and destruction. Consider the cacophony. And your neighbour’s dog barks non-stop.

“Hello, why does your dog bark so much? Is it unwell?”
Answer: “Dogs do bark (Nayinna kolaikkum). Why do you complain?”

I know for a fact that constant bombarding of the eardrum and nerves causes headaches, nausea and hearing impairment. Don’t listen to metal music on the headphones for long, studies warn us. Now read this:

Researchers, led by Dr. Stefan N. Willich of Charite University Medical Center in Berlin have found that noise can affect the heart.
A number of past studies have suggested that long-term exposure to traffic noise or loud workplaces such as factory floors may contribute to high blood pressure and heart attack risk. To the body, loud noise acts as a “warning,” and the normal stress response involves hormonal changes and a spike in blood pressure and heart rate. Researchers suspect that over time, chronic noise exposure may damage the cardiovascular system.

We do not know what it is to have a normal conversation. Or what it is to have an indoor voice. I find people shouting even when they are within 6 inches of each other. After years of teaching, my voice rings out at unacceptable decibel levels.

“Why do people raise their voice even when they greet each other?” I asked my husband. “It should be obvious to you,” he yelled. “90% of the population of Chennai is already hard of hearing!” If they are “hard of hearing”will hollering help? I don’t know. But teaching ourselves to lipread might.

Basab Pradhan (CEO Gridstone Research) has an interesting explanation. “Indians lack patience to hear each other out,” he said. “When someone is talking, we want to cut in. The only way we can do it is by raising the pitch. Over time, screeching becomes second nature.”

Do we need a course in the “Art of Conversation”?

It is good manners to talk softly. I can never understand why people shout into phones. Ambient noise? May be. If you’re going to shout, why do you need a phone at all? 🙂

There is a glimmer of hope though. Household electronics appliances are now advertised as “noise-free”. Someone has brilliantly thought this could be the USP. Good for them. Last week, when I was shopping to replace my 17-year-old mixie, I specifically asked for one that would do its job quietly. I spent an hour running all the brands, and put my money on Philips Super Silent. It is not noise-free but it is certainly noise “less”. That is a good beginning.

November 2, 2006

Can you hear me?

Filed under: Society — Rajesh @ 10:24 pm

Ask people in Chennai what the major problem in this fast-expanding (in more ways than you can think) city is, and you’ll get varied answers. People in low-lying areas will shout “water-logging!”. Those in by-lanes will mutter “illegal parking”. Street corner dwellers will hold their nose and grumble, “Uncollected garbage”. Those whose misfortune it is to live on main roads will scream above the noise, “It’s the traffic!”

Most people now agree that noise is the worst enemy in the city. Noise from various sources. At all times. None of them natural. Except when it thundered with a vengeance one night.

From the street: Silencer-less autos, vehicles fitted with prohibited airhorns and unroadworthy engines that leave a racket in their wake. Cars with drivers who believe they own the roads and all others are trespassers; and once they blow the horn, those who value their life, limb and vehicle should move out.

The worst are those who return home late. They stop in front of the gate and start honking. The poor watchman is fast asleep and it takes a full five minutes of ear-splitting noise to wake the bloke up. But it never occurs to the owner-driver to get down and open the gate. Once I went down and asked him why he was waking the neighbourhood up. “Do you realise it is close to midnight? People in these apartments are sleeping!” I hissed.
“How do you know that?” he asked.

And then there are those who need patriotic songs to guide them while reversing. They take the car out at hours when you feel least patriotic. “Sare Jahen se Achcha” is not an appropriate serenade at 5 am. Nor is a barking sound. To me the guy with a reverse horn is public enemy number 1. I have not seen a single car or two-wheeler or auto or bicycle stop because the reverse horn is blaring. Vehicles rushing past are driven by maniacs with  thumb firmly on the forward horn.

“How do you manage to do anything here?” I asked an officer at the Pollution Control Board in Guindy. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “The street noise. It’s deafening! Doesn’t bother you?”

“Oh that,” she said calmly.  “I’m so used to it. I miss it when I go home. The quiet there keeps me awake all night.”

to be continued …

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