OF LOVE & BONDS


On the eve of the 54th  Wedding Anniversary  of  the eldest sibling  in our clan ,  with the deadly virus prompted shut down in multiple  cities from Delhi through to Gurgaon , Kolkata London and Bangalore , one can at best reminisce fondly about the Golden anniversary celebrated in Goa  seemingly only  some time back.

A couple of days at a Retreat in Goa for a family reunion to celebrate the Golden Wedding Anniversary of the eldest sibling : one would normally feel elated with a rainbow wrapped around one’s drooping shoulders . Any outcome other than this woukd go against the grain of conventional wisdom.

The august gathering stretching across three generations , in a four score age range , had virtually taken over the Retreat . England , Abu-Dhabi , Kolkata , Bangalore , & the National Capital Region were all represented , with barely a few absentees , some notable & some not so . Booze was consumed in multiple liters , notwithstanding the teetotaler predominance . Night Caps carried on until the wee hours , notwithstanding ubiquity of early-to-bed syndrome . Absolutely delightful inanities occupied center-stage of the poetic “chatter & bawl” notwithstanding “serious-intelligent-higher-plane” pleas by a few . What then could have triggered the feeling of emptiness & an inexplicable low after two nights & three days of a delightful celebration and reunion .

Arrangements were impeccably planned & executed by a team of two wondrrful persons who ensured reception & hospitality of the highest order . Activities were planned with Military Precision & no one was allowed to be at a loose end. Emotional warmth , glee , & boisterous bonding was in the air throughout , with nary a dull moment . Gastronomy was in an orbit not easily reachable , with catering teams specially flown in from Delhi & Pune to serve menus carefully crafted for a highly diverse spectrum of food fads , by the team of two . Stationary , Gift boxes , Reception notes & hampers were neatly crafted & perfectly aligned in their White & Gold livery . Anniversary Dinner was thematically executed with a White & Gold dress code . Chinese lanterns soared to unimagined heights . All-in-all , a high budget & high energy event , remarkably devoid of any ostentation . With nothing amiss , how , oh how , could the rainbow elude my drooping shoulders !!

The Golden Wedding couple were , as they always are , cynosures of all eyes in their matching outfits for each of the carefully thought out events & charmingly warm to old & young alike . A lovingly assembled collage of vintage photos ran on a loop at the entrance lobby to take us all on a delightful trip down memory lane. A brief invocation of Divine blessings in a well executed Havan with chants & devotional singing was unique , quaint , & a welcome addition to the event-packed agenda. Elevation of thoughts should be the rightful outcome. And yet , why would my mind feel well short of such elevation.

There were some hilarious moments , & some moments of quiet dignity , but not one moment of awkward isolation/solitude for any of the attendees. Those in attendance were warmly thanked . Some absentees were notably acknowledged & some not so.

With a professional photographer in attendance , the event was well recorded for multiple family albums , supplementing the barrage of photos & videos already posted on WhatsApp by a trigger happy sibling.

Some of us reminisced of another Golden Wedding anniversary in the family , when the Sun & the Moon rose & set in exactly the same orientation , in Delhi , as they did now in Goa. There was a similar feeling of “low” that one had felt then , some three decades ago , as one felt now . Then , as now , one was flabbergasted at the inexplicable dichotomy of emotional outcomes . Why , oh why would one feel low following an event ever so well orchestrated , with such high dosage of free flowing love , care & undiluted happiness .

I would never be able to figure out this phenomenon I had thought at that time  . Perhaps the answer was somewhere  deep within : at depths not easily reachable on a transactional plane : one would need to get transcendental to understand the phenomenon : & I felt well short of such heights !!

The breaking news announcements on TV earlier this evening , near the end of a day long nation-wide curfew as a prequel to what will probably be a long battle globally against an unfamiliar  enemy  , leads one to believe that Love and Bonds shall eventually prevail, and Deo Volente , we shall have a 55th anniversary bash at some exotic location. Cheers and a Happy Anniversary.

 

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Of Love and Bonds | Lakshman’s Corner


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OF FAIR AND FOUL IN MID DAY MEALS


Source: OF FAIR AND FOUL IN MID DAY MEALS

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OF FAIR AND FOUL IN MID DAY MEALS


 

It was John Maynard Keynes who once famously alluded to the thin dividing line between Fair & Foul in a Nation’s Economics.  Like most of his quotable quotes, this too is applicable to most of our problems which have eluded solutions despite well-meaning policy formulation & budgetary allocations by successive Governments.

The ineffective & oftentimes intellectually dishonest implementation of the much touted Midday Meal Scheme for Primary School children has occupied centre-stage in my modest thoughts : the brow isn’t actually furrowed but is headed in that general direction.

As I come out of a longish stretch of inertia (more famous Bloggers refer to this inaction as Writer’s Block) I cannot think of any subject more appropriate than this to unleash my creativity on  .

Directive Principles enshrined in our Constitution are  guidelines  for the Central & State Governments to enact & implement laws to effectively address various issues such as economic inequalities ,  child nutrition  , & indeed Cow & Calf protection ,  to name a few ; the last mentioned pursued with zeal greater than that visible for Child Nutrition in contemporary India !!

State sponsored Mid-Day meals in schools were first introduced  by MGR , the sensitive cine star turned politician in what was once Madras , over a decade after the Indian Republic had adopted the Constitution . A few other States followed perfunctorily & it was not long thereafter that a Central Government notified Mid -Day Meal Scheme was launched  as a collaborative project between the Centre & the States. Four decades later , in November 2001 , the Honourable Supreme Court of India passed an Order  clearly defining a Child’s ENTITLEMENT per day  as below  , in addition to micro-nutrients & medicines as recommended by the National Health Mission :

ITEM

PRIMARY : CLASS I to V

UPPER PRIMARY : CLASS VI to VIII

CALORIES

450 700

PROTEINS ( Gms )

12

20

RICE / WHEAT       ( Gms )

100

150

PULSES ( Gms )

20

30

VEGETABLES          ( Gms )

50

75

OIL & FATS (Gms)

05

8

Free Rice & Wheat from the Central Govt Pulses / Vegs / Oils & Fats from State Govts.

Kitchen infrastructure/ Running Expenses & cost of logistics concurrently from Centre & States

Meagre entitlement , so easy to fulfill , wouldn’t you agree . And yet both of us would be ever so wrong !!  Successive Governments have made huge budgetary allocations :  after all  over 120 million children in  nearly a  million schools to be fed for about 200 School Days a year translates to HUGE MONEY TO BE STOLEN , as reflected in some media headlines that scream at us with monotonous regularity  :

  • No Midday meals served for over 18 months : funds siphoned off
  •  Midday Meals Cereals sold to private traders
  • Only 7  out of 80 midday meal samples passed Food Safety tests
  • Traces of Coliform in School Meals / Adulteration / Food Poisoning
  • CHIKKI ( Energy Bar ) micro nutrient contaminated with dirt

Of course, not everyone can be painted with the same brush, but small pockets of excellence notwithstanding , implementation has largely remained well  below par . Few committed State Governments, &  Public – Private partnerships , such as  Akshaypatra in Karnataka ; & ISKCON in Mumbai are notable exceptions that prove that through honest & effective management of resources it is indeed possible to deliver affordable , safe & healthy  meals to Primary School Children.

Part of the problem has been dilution of focus by loading many sub-plots to piggy-back onto the main story . Different Pressure Groups have, over the years , added seemingly noble objectives to what ought to have remained essentially a Mid Day Meal scheme .  Literacy ;  Removal of Caste & Gender bias  ( you gel well if you eat together !! ) ; Empowering Women ( Village level Self Help Groups engaged in cooking School Meals & thereby employing women ) ; & Poverty  alleviation ( how !! )   are but a few such sub plots

Our Mythology speaks of  the Pandava prince Arjuna’s singular  focus on the eye of the GOLD FISH on a spinning wheel , to present his credentials in Archery to King Draupad & thereby win the hand of princess Draupadi as his reward ( later shared with his four brothers  at the behest of his mother who enjoyed prolonged bathing )  . Had his focus been diffused  & attention diverted he would , in all probability , not have hit the bull’s eye ( fish- eye in this narrative ) , nor won the princess’s hand ; the legend of Panchali would have been nipped in the bud ; the battle of Kurukshetra would probably have given mythology a miss ; Prince Arjuna’s charioteer in the battlefield would have been spared the arduous narrative to coax & cajole the prince on the horns of a dilemma out of his to-be-or-not-to-be stupor (plagiarized ages  later by a  bard on the banks of river Avon ) ; & my good friend  ParthaSarathi  would probably have been named somewhat differently . To cut a long story short & to steer clear of my nasty penchant for digression , suffice it to say that detached concentration & single minded focus without sub-plots is  a CAPITAL IDEA.

 Allow me to amplify the direction I am taking by sharing the following Maharashtra  State Government Declaration that I came across earlier this year when attending a workshop on School Meals  :

DSC02338

Can you find a mention here of Child Nutrition Healthy School Meals or anything even remotely congruent to the Central Plot. 

I would happily condone its linguistic inadequacy had the Central Theme not been so completely                                                                                                                                  side-lined.

The   Bureaucrat  CONCERNED  seemed completely UNCONCERNED  as to why I found this to be a matter of  DEEP  CONCERN . For his enlightenment : 

  • OBJECTIVES ARE SO BRAZENLY UNDEFINED
  • AGENDA IS SO VISIBLY DILUTED
  • FOCUS IS SO  CLEARLY DIFFUSED
  • HOW DIS-ORGANISED CAN SUCH  ORGANISED ASSERTIONS GET !!!

Nutripack Logo_jpeg

It was against this perspective that we launched a Research Project “NUTRIPACK “ in January 2015 , without much ado , from the historic & now University town of Wageningen in Netherlands as a collaboration between a Dutch Corporate with a CEO passionate about CSR , a Dutch Consultancy with very strong K2K & G2G platforms , a Dutch University of Applied Sciences with a Food & Agriculture bias , &  Baramati based  School of Biotechnology & Agricultural Development Board ; under the aegis of the                                                                                    Dutch Government . Attempts to meet the Union HRD Minister who presides over the Indian Government’s Mid-Day Meal Scheme in  Delhi were tactfully thwarted by her extremely polite   staff ( Madam has a very busy schedule but has read your E Mail with utmost interest !!  She will respond very shortly!! Madam gets very upset if we remind her— because she is so very busy, etc  ) 

Apart from identifying present shortcoming in terms of Safety , Hygiene , & Nutritional inadequacy , Project objectives entailed  evolving  new recipes & a viable model for delivery of safe & healthy meals each day  from Centralized Kitchens conforming to ISO & other Food Safety Standards.

Students were deployed from the Dutch University to collaborate with students from Baramati , mentored by  local  as well as  visiting Dutch faculty. Five months of penetrative field visits , laboratory tests , & detailed interface with  various stake holders at Pilot Schools in and around Baramati followed . Schools selected for the study were representative of a wide spectrum  consisting of Government-aided , Privately-aided , & Public-Private partnership aided Day-Schools & an affluent “funding-no-problem” Private School to provide the contrasting scenario. A privately funded Residential School for orphans & for children abandoned by parents under economic compulsions was also studied. Daily School Meal budgets ranged from a meagre Rs 3 per Child per School day to a princely Rs 5 to Rs 7 per child per School day , contrasting starkly with the Rs 50 + per Child per School day budget at the Private affluent “Aid-not-required” School which serves a menu customized by a full-time Nutritionist to provide variety as well as Nutritional balance.  Interestingly, & perhaps predictably, Pupil- absenteeism due to illness was observed to be the highest & a “Happiness” survey among pupils lowest at the high-budget School. While pupils at aided Schools were happy with their Rice & Dal / Sambhar with a miniscule serving of a vegetable each day with a “Laddoo”  or a Banana being the high point once every so often , those at the Private unaided school seemed unhappy with their Soup / Salad / Rice / Chapati / Dal / Vegetables / Fruits / Yoghurt or Buttermilk / Milk , & craved for food-adventurism in Pizzas , Burgers , Oriental & Continental cuisine . Body Mass Index studies showed dismal results & the unnerving prospect of stunted physical & mental growth in a very large percentage  of a new generation in resurgent India. Apart from School Meal samples , Cooking & Serving Utensils  were also tested & shockingly high percentage of microbial contamination observed specially in the Serving Bowls / Spoons & Plates. The less said about the quality of Drinking Water, the better .  The impact of personal hygiene in terms of washing of hands before cooking / serving / eating of meals was also included in the holistic study of  probable causes of contamination with the rather distressing observation that washing of hands with tap water in fact dramatically increased the level of contaminants , as did the use of some branded soaps . Branded & somewhat expensive hand washes were found to be the most effective , followed closely by unwashed hands.

In terms of Kitchen infrastructure , the sharp contrast between a Government aided school & that at the affluent Private School as below speaks for itself.Private School Kitchen

 

Government Aided School Kitchen The Research outcomes were presented at a Round Table in Mumbai in early June 2015 , coinciding with the visit of the Dutch Prime Ministerial delegation , in the august presence of the visiting Minister for  Agriculture , Agricultural Counseller from the Dutch embassy, Senior personnel from UNICEF , Women-on-Wings, & several leading Corporates .

As though in support of our cause , Mumbai editions of both Times of India & Indian Express carried Editorials highlighting inadequacies in the Mid-Day Meal Scheme , to coincide with our Round Table event .  Child Nutrition was the subject of much animated debate as multiple viewpoints & suggestions surged forth during the sumptuous Trade Dinner that followed with Mumbai’s who’s who in attendance. Multi-disciplinary MOUs were signed , hands warmly clasped in We Shall Overcome  symbolism & life moved on .

Until five months later a follow through was undertaken earlier this week on skype between  stakeholders to address the inevitability of change that had been recognised & had thankfully not been overtaken by the passage of time.

Rules of the Game are getting finalized : Mustn’t lose sight of Women’s Self Help Groups , we are told ; avoid Eggs is the egg-on from some quarters , belying the once popular Dara Singh commercial urging kids to eat eggs each day ( Sunday Ho Ya Monday : Roz Khao Andey !! ) : Some States have already banned Eggs from the Mid Day Meals menu : ” Elephants & Horses do not eat eggs & see how healthy & strong they are ” : thus spake a Senior State Government official , as he helped himself to yet another Egg-containing Cookie at the Taj Palace Round Table. That Eggs are cheaper than Lentils at today’s prices would not convince such guardians of Indian Culture otherwise.  Thankfully , there is no dearth of sanity , passion & immense patience in single minded pursuit of the goal  by all key stake-holders & “we shall overcome” is indeed the order of the day.

A Pilot project is on the cards to finally deliver Healthy Safe School Meals to a few hundred children at a few Schools to establish viability of the endeavour before expanding its horizons to post another blog another day .

Until then , cheers & all the best

 

 

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This One’s for you Nandu


Here’s dedicating this post to Nandu on his 70th , with warm Greetings & all good wishes intertwined with unmitigated trivia that has the habit of coming to the fore from one’s innermost nooks & crannies down memory lane on special occasions such as this (phew!) 

Nandu wasn’t the bright one at School in Maths , & was thereby the cause of bald bewilderment in “Khurchandu” , the Private Tutor , who often exclaimed in horror “Dikkat Kahaan Paida Hoti Hai” & provoked an immediate though sotto voce response from Nandu which need not be repeated here !! He always scored high marks though in History through his “Meri Raani, Meri Raani , Meri Raani “ chant multiple times , each morning & night , to memorise the reign & times of Mary , Queen of Scots. He was duly rewarded for this effort with a degree in History from Hansraj , DU , & moved on to do his CA from the land of vales , dales , bonny lasses & Nano Ales , where his “Meri Raani” once ruled.

Nandu was always the “Angrez” , which was kind of unusual in a house full of Hindi High School types . Whilst other elder siblings sang Vividh Bharati & Binaca Geet Mala kind of bathroom numbers (in the bathroom , of course !!) , Nandu’s favourite croon was “Oh my Darling Clementine” . As a matter of interest & just by  way of a digression I so adore , my only war cry at that age from the bathroom was of two magical words , which always brought an elder sibling nearest to the loo to address the issue as per a well -orchestrated protocol at Number 43 , Digboi .

Nandu’s pleasant thoughts as a school lad were always expressed in Hindi or Sindhi , whereas his anger found articulation in English , “ None of your business” being his favorite , followed by a hasty & tactically prudent retreat to safety behind bolted doors of the nearest room , with his immediate junior in the clan hierarchy , bread knife in hand , in hot pursuit ( handling sharp devices from an early age must no doubt have inspired him to become a surgeon in later years , in unflinching service to Her Majesty’s Britain : but that , as I am so very fond of saying , is a story for another day ) .

Always good at networking , Nandu has a penchant for striking up a conversation with complete strangers even on a turbulent flight , for example  & of landing up at their home & hearth even before the unsuspecting lot have had time to unpack their laundry after an extended business tour. His most notable Networking pal was a once powerful Politician of a now- obsolete dispensation . For reasons best known to phoneticians , late Dada , otherwise impeccably accurate in pronouncing names , often mispronounced the name of the aforesaid contact , to sound terribly like the first part of the proverb meaning pay-back-in-one’s-own-coin ( what else , you single trackers !! )

Nandu’s  hyper sensitivity to hygiene is what folk- lore are made of ! It once resulted in a hilarious situation where Nandu insisted on rinsing Coffee cups in a hotel room with complimentary Mineral Water , only to realize thereafter that there was no water left to put into the kettle for a refreshing cuppa .

Nandu
Always the life & soul of a party , with his Lit Match on the tongue , Whisky glass balancing dance Spot the Queen Card Trick , & Santa Banta inanities, he can charm the most difficult –to-please customers . A gracious host , & a delightful guest , that’s our very own Nadu in short , who preferred to party when the Nation sat glued in front of TV sets to watch Kapil’s Devils lift the World Cup at Lords in 1983 . 

An active Round Tabler till 40 , & an enthusiastic Square Pegger & a Rotarian thereafter , he has always found time for a heady cocktail of Fellowship & Service .

Behind every good man , there is often ( not Always !! ) a good woman . But for Veena’s judiciously overwhelming influence , he would probably still be the shoot & scoot guy beating hasty retreats to safety behind bolted doors , with a Bread- Knife wielding Brit in hot pursuit.

Happy 70th Nandu , & all good wishes for a long healthy & happy life of togetherness for Veena & you . Cheers & ATB

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Happy 80th Birthday Hiroo & May there be Many Happy Returns



This one is for a Very Special Person : to Greet him on his 80th Birthday & to wish him Many Happy Returns of the Day.

Long ago , in the Malgudis of Upper Assam called Digboi & Duliajan , the aforesaid gent was often referred to as KHUSH , an abbreviation of his surname : a remarkable transformation of a Proper Noun into an Adjective , to denote his Happy disposition , rather like the proverbial Miller of the Dee ” no lark more blithe than he”.

In my good times & bad , Hiroo has always been a source  of comfort : his laughter is infectious & his general sense of well being inspirational without intrusion . Here’s all good wishes for a very Happy Birthday & Many Happy Returns to you , & many many years of Good Health & Mirth with Mira always beside you. IMG_1382

Snig Mehndi Hiroo Guddi AvinashHiroo

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While I was away !!


 

 

About this time last year I chose to take a break from Blogging:

For Blog

 a break that has lasted a little over a year. I was beginning to stray from a self-imposed protocol in the selection of content. Also, some well- meaning feedback needed to be taken on-board.……

……. It is an exhilarating feeling to access Blog-Stats for the year of my absence reflecting a viewership of over 700 from 38 countries from across the world with China as the only notable exception. That there were over 25 “Likes” registered during my “exile” is the cherry on top.

Like any other period in history, my 12-month absence too has been a collage of events & non-events.

Most significant have been the ascent  transcending predictions of  “Iron Man” & the passing away of the “Man of Steel”,  the latter acknowledged through a brief albeit respectful obit  by the men “Who also make Steel” . It seems like yesterday when these very men had issued full pagers in the Financial Press decrying the Man’s accomplishments & when Jamshedpur stood polarized about the Man who intuitively  made friends,enemies , & also Steel.

There were three “dispatches” which I deeply mourned ; no “matches” of any consequence barring one which I should have liked to but did not attend  (that , as I often say , is a story for another day ) , & no “ hatches” warranting a mention .

I retired from Packaging Industry after a multi – faceted innings of over 35 years & was delighted at the upload on You-Tube, a first for me , of my final Presentation at a Packaging Conclave . While the number of hits was impressive , it was soon overwhelmed by an upload of a 3 year old’s argument with his mom about Cup Cakes : have you watched me on You Tube became futile thereafter .

There were a couple of hospital vigils, thankfully both with a happy ending.

I took up a full-time job post retirement , in a field completely new to me : an enjoyably huge challenge to understand a rather complex range of products as far removed from Packaging as Chalk is from Cheese. The Packaging fraternity do not appear to have written me off yet & the occasional phone call or e mail from them never fails to bring me some joy.

Substantial gains at the Stock Exchange on low hanging fruits : made hay in the sun- shine partly in the wake of  Lotus-ubiquity , & partly as an offshoot of the Who- Blinks- First played out in Global sweepstakes in Ukrine. That & the non-dilution of Bank F D Interest Rates were the bright spots in my otherwise inert Financial Planning.

Guru Nanak , of the “IDP Guru Nanak & I” fame has finally claimed a rightful  place on a straight wall in my Sitting Room & keeps a benevolent eye on events & non events in my life : whoever said Blogging was an exercise in futility !!

My move from Pune to Gurgaon with most of my personal effects wasn’t worthy of a mention anywhere , even in passing  .  A certain move to New Delhi caught media attention with amazingly sharp focus on inventory of  personal staff  & effects.  There were those who moved without causing a ripple & some who caused ripples without moving.  All in all , it was a season for moving experiences of various hues.

There were high profile Jail _Bail_ ke _Khel . Yerwada , unable to keep up with Ins & Outs of a certain recalcitrant , may end up with one more depending upon outcome of a case long buried & recently exhumed. A self –recusing ( a word I was hitherto not familiar with ) heel -cooler , in for a seemingly innocuous misdemeanour ,  ( in less than a minute in a moving elevator how can it be otherwise !!  ) is doing precisely that .  Meanwhile , the man of enormous means & a title more becoming than his stature  continues to languish at Tihar given his inability to furnish the Bail amount . A period  one might say with ample display of “Prisoner’s dilemma” in all its facets.

And finally , &  by no means the least in importance ( indeed topmost in my order of importance ) was a close encounter with ASL 7459 , Dada’s old Desoto : The very same which served well , whether during long after-eight drives or in long-distance sojourns with eight crammed into the old faithful ; the one which enabled driving lessons for growing up lads & lasses in the clan  ; the one which had an accident-free record barring the small & inconsequential run-in with a Milkman on his bicycle .

DSC_0279

The Registration number has changed ; the body redressed in a quaint black & white ; the engine replaced with a powerful new engine specially brought in from the US : re-built in every aspect but with  a thoughtful retention of the Baby-Wipers on the front windscreen , & the Instruments panel , still operating with its erstwhile efficiency. The entire extended family owes a round of applause for Vivek , who has restored the old faithful with immense passion , to much more than her erstwhile glory.

Cheers for now & all the very best to all

 

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