Monday, April 27, 2009

Desperately Seeking Sushi

I dragged my husband to a Sushi restaurant recently in a desperate bid to wean him off the junk food they serve at those ubiquitous American fast - food chains. We stepped into the charming little place and tried not to look too startled when all the waiters and waitresses screamed Irashaimasee in unison. Pretty sure it means "Welcome" in Japanese. In fact I'll bet on it.

However, in today's world there is no escaping fast food it appears, as the two of us were confronted by a shiny, metallic conveyor belt hawking an endless procession of the different kinds of sushi. Here was Japan's answer to American fast food. I did not have too much time to ponder over it, as a waitress expertly manoeuvred us away from the conveyor belt and to a table tucked away in a cosy corner and handed us menu cards with colourful pictorial depictions of the fare. Perhaps we had 'sushi virgins' written all over our faces!

My husband ordered the chicken nuggets and ignored the condescending look the waitress shot him. She turned that severe gaze towards me, and I swallowed before dutifully ordering the Unagi (eel)and Prawn tempura. The harridan wanted me to try the octopus (malicious creature) but I declined as I kept getting reccurrent visions of long tentacles grappling with my tonsils in the inner recesses of my throat.

The food arrived and I grabbed the chopsticks ignoring the pungent odour of raw fish that assailed my nostrils. The prawn tempura looked appetising and I found it quite palatable after drowning it in soy sauce. Wish I could say the same for the eel! It was ghastly and no amount of Soy sauce or wasabi (green horseradish) could make a difference. The egg custard and watery noodles offered little comfort. But atleast, I had mastered the use of my chopsticks to an extent unlike my hubby, who did not even bother to try and demanded a fork instead. We washed our meal down with 'cultured milk'. My better half loved it till he discovered that it contained over a thousand different strains of carefully cutivated bacteria. Both of us left looking slightly green. And I could not even open my mouth to scream a retaliatory Arigato, lest something far less pleasant came out.
I may not have had the best first encounter with sushi, but I was looking forward to more. Besides, everyone says it gets better after the first time.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Indians Abused Abroad

The great Indian dream is a beautiful one – ditch the country and take off abroad as quickly as possible. It is the hope of most Indians that they will find a suitable situation in Singapore, Malaysia, The United States of America, London, Paris, Milan… anywhere but India. This way they can rake in the dollars, pounds, or yen, enjoy exotic cuisine, travel, and truly partake of the good things in life. Like I said it is a beautiful dream and there are millions fortunate enough to be able to live it. And yet there is every indication that the picture is not as rosy as it appears. Scratch the surface and there are traces of a nightmarish existence filled with abuse, discrimination, and extreme hardship.
The Hindu reported a sordid tale about the plight of carpet weavers and their terrible suffering in Malaysis before they were rescued by social workers. The weavers had been suckered in with promises of a lucrative job offer and then overworked, deprived of pay, and subjected to verbal abuse and physical torture. But at least their story had a reasonably happy ending. One shudders to think of those who are trapped in similar situations without any means of escape. The complaints about the abuse of Indians in Malaysia keep trickling in. Children are abused in schools because of their Indian origin; adults are persecuted and even imprisoned. The happenings in Malaysia are not isolated incidents. Covert bullying resulted in the murder of a South Indian teenager Reena Virk in Canada. She was tricked into meeting her peers near a grocery store where she was beaten and drowned. She was accused of stealing a friend’s diary and calling all the boys listed on it. Last year a survey conducted by Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) found that a majority of Indian doctors are among the victims of verbal and physical abuse encountered in the course of their professional duties. There are also horror stories being told about skilled and semi – skilled labourers being mercilessly exploited. Sometimes trained professionals are forced to do menial labour. There are numerous problems being faced by Indian workers abroad and for some strange reason they are usually brushed under the carpet.
Spurred by the hope of making a fortune, many Indians are anxious to get their papers in order and begin their new life of prosperity. Individuals sell their ancestral lands, their jewels, and other assets in order to procure their visas and other necessary documents. The proceedings are laborious and painstakingly slow with the result that many illegal employment agencies offer their services to speed up the process in return for a fat fee. Consequently wannabe migrants are cheated and tricked into accepting menial jobs, positions that pay a lot less than was originally promised, inhumane living and working conditions as well as other forms of abuse. They are ruined both financially and mentally. The laws in the host countries offer little hope as they were framed for the welfare of their own citizens not immigrants. Thus, these poor victims are consigned to a life of abject misery and robbed of their hopes and dreams.
It is high time the government got into the act to protect the rights of its citizens employed abroad. Laws addressing the question of Indians working abroad must be framed and strictly enforced. The issue also needs to be addressed in the UN. Finally, it must be remembered by the dreamers that the grass may always be greener on the other side but one needs to be very careful when going off in search of greener pastures.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Personal Milestone

Veda ate her peas with a spoon today! How amazing is that? I did not even train her or anything. She just grabbed a spoon from one of the umpteen kitchen sets that were given to her (they are her favorites, she is awfully girly when she is not beating up Sanju or killing ants) and helped herself to the peas. Such manual dexterity and she did not cheat once! Except for the one time when she used her hand to coax a recalcitrant pea onto her spoon (Ok she did that a couple of times ). But nevertheless, her mom is pleased that her little baby has finally decided to eschew the caveman - style, ultimate gross - out form of eating. Actually that last statement was kinda unfair, (hubby insists) she is awfully clean for a baby.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spare the Rod and Save the Child!

Recently, a teacher was arrested in Trichy for killing a UKG student. Apparently, Srirohini (a 5 – year - old) had been mischievous and as punishment was hit on the forehead with a stick. The little one became unconscious and later, died. Her body had to be retrieved from a water tank. Isn’t it appalling to think of how abruptly and senselessly a life was terminated? There is every indication that this is not simply a random mishap and corporal punishment in schools is a burgeoning problem in this country.
In 1998, a 12 – year – old in New Delhi lost 20% percent vision in his right eye when a teacher flung a duster at another student. The errant duster shattered his spectacles and resulted in the tragedy. In 2003, a 10 – year – old girl died at her school in Karnataka. She had been ordered to run three times around the school, and twice up and down the stairs for reporting late for a class. Autopsy reports indicated that she had been put through this grueling ordeal immediately after lunch and death may have resulted from the pupil choking on food particles that were regurgitated following the extreme physical strain. A study conducted by the UNICEF in association with Delhi – based PRAYAS in 2007 reported that nearly 90% of students in Mizoram state are victims of corporal punishment, second only to Assam’s 99.56%.
The worst part is that corporal punishment is seldom used only when all other measures have been ineffective. Most teachers use it liberally, and for the smallest infarctions. Students at the receiving end of the stick experience humiliation, severe trauma, and may even suffer from persistent nightmares. Their self – esteem takes a beating and may affect their scholarly pursuits and future careers adversely. For these reasons, corporal punishment has been banned in states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Chandigarh, and Karnataka but it appears that the legal provisions in place have been insufficient to tackle this problem as some teachers feel free to get violent whenever the mood hits them.
A lot of people approve of this anachronistic disciplinary measure despite the fact that there is precious little scientific evidence to support its efficacy in the academic setting. Strangely enough, many parents also approve of corporal punishment. This erroneous mindset needs to be tackled on the grounds that a stick is a ridiculous teaching – aid. And moreover, surely children are entitled to the same protection that animals enjoy in this country!
This writer feels very strongly about this evil as she experienced it firsthand during her school days. I had a pencil shoved down my throat by my instructor, during singing class, because I did not open my mouth wide enough. It was the instructor’s firm belief that the mark of a good singer could be ascertained if one could ram four fingers into the mouth while the person was singing. How any deficits in such a department merits being force – fed pencils is beyond me. Can’t say the incident left me scarred for life, but it certainly put an end to a potentially successful career as a singer (or bathroom singer) as singing leaves a bad taste in my mouth ever since that incident. I am sure everybody has a similar story to relate about corporal punishment at varying levels of severity. Surely, we all want our children to be spared the rod and other insane methods of punishment! Serious action must be initiated against psychotic, cane – wielding teachers to get them to toe the line.