Wednesday, November 16, 2011

120 minutes - the ordinary & extraordinary

12o minutes and the Extraordinary

It was all over the place….on the covers of glossy business magazines and on glamour mags, grabbing headlines in every leading newspaper, on prime time television ,in all news channels, it was also followed , shared and tweeted and my web page had the maximum hits in two hours! A beaming 32 intact woman entrepreneur holding aloft a gleaming and glistening trophy for the “innovative business woman of the year” was  BREAKING NEWS everywhere and that proud lady was me…..

Twenty years ago , the closest I came to business sense was when I grabbed the opportunity , owing to my gift of the gab, to host a management meet called ‘synergy’. I judiciously stole a joke from Readers Digest magazine which went like this- the ‘point’ soap was a phenomenal success largely due to its marketing strategy put forth by the giant advertisement agency, Sully and Sather Associates , simple and plain and dumb , 5 still pictures in a sequence that became a super duper hit generating a lot of revenue and raked in a lot of moolah. The sequence depicted was firstly of a bucket of water with foamy laundry detergent in it, the second frame was of a woman soaking dirty linen (in full public view) in this bucket, the third shot showed the lady pulling out clean clothes from the bucket, the penultimate frame had a shining bright family basking in glory and the last one revealed the name of the detergent. This simple message created waves across the world like a Tsunami and people flocked to the shops to lay their hands except in the middle east desert places where it was a damp squib because like the Urdu language, our Arab friends read the sequence from right to left and the sales there took a nosedive….

After graduating from B school, I was placed in reputed companies and the train chugged along sometimes changing tracks and on odd occasions derailing or simply waited at the crossroads!

I was always the tough and strong woman but dreamt to become a “woman of substance”, aided and abetted by our former President Dr. Abdul Kalaam who persuaded all of us to DREAM. In the next few years that followed , I was begging, borrowing but did not have the courage to do the next inevitable thing of stealing, even though I was desperate for the most important ingredient to set up shop, the ‘M’ factor – I chased all banks, financial institutions , petty money lenders and pawn brokers for that eluding big wads of notes!

All my bank accounts overdrawn, fixed deposits broken, I was on my way to Germany , the land of many innovations, they were the pioneers in the soap and detergent industry , a good Samaritan in the name of Tomas Gutenberg became a friend , a guide , a philosopher , an introducer to the big guns and for more than a month I was in and out of factories with all modern plant, equipment and machinery. The more I saw, the less I learnt and it took me a while to grasp the nuances , only grit ,determination and perseverance allowed me to slowly and steadily improve my business acumen.

Back home in India, I soon set up a research laboratory which I am sure will put to shame ” Dexter’s lab”! I burnt the midnight oil, had I been a man, my beard would have touched the ground , studying the manufacturing process of laundry detergent, I was surprised to learn that Babylonians were using soap made out of boiling fats and ashes. In Spain, they used Olive oil for manufacturing and in 1930s , the Americans were making them in their houses! The two vital raw materials that go into the making of soap are Surfactant and builder , the former is the surface acting agent and the latter enhances its performance. The raw materials are a synthetic combination of hydrocarbons and fatty acids. The hydrocarbons is hydrophobic and is repelled by water but have a fatal attraction towards oil and grease whereas , fatty acids are hydrophilic and attracted to water. The detergent is normally derived from crude oil and sulphuric acid is added to processed hydrocarbon which produces a molecule similar to fatty acids and on adding an alkali to this becomes the surfactant. All are blended together in a mixer and then released to a conveyor belt and subsequently packaged.

By this time business sense took total control of me , I was manipulating, maneuvering the tricky labyrinths of trade , destiny allowed me to strike good deals for importing sophisticated machinery and raw materials. Every second, minute and hour “earned” was valuably spent in researching on those extra magical inputs that makes an ordinary soap to stand out, new plans, hypothesis and postulates emerged and those remarkable discoveries are shared here..In modern detergents, builders and chemicals increased efficiency on the surfactant and the sequester minerals in hard water holds them in solution and does not allow them to precipitate out, the oil and grease molecules in soiled clothes are emulsified into tiny globules and the action of chemicals like Sodium Silicate prevents the washing machines from corroding. Whitening agents are added which converts invisible ultraviolet light into visible blue light thus maintaining brightness. Sodium Perborate, another chemical, removes stains with the help of enzymes that breaks these tough stains down and we can add perfumes of our liking to remove odour!

I was literally reaching for the stars , aiming for a large scale production and hence graduated from the blender method to the agglomeration process which could accommodate 20000 kilograms per hour – it was a mammoth leap for the business frog to come out of the well, flourishing, the arrow in the sales chart zooming vertically upward, I also enjoyed a lions’ share in the market pie. My profits increased by leaps and bounds which increased my bank balance and the quality and price of the detergent, brought a smile on every woman’s face. I also cared for the environment and therefore freed phosphates from the ingredients as it was harmful for the marine life.

I “hold” the invitation , emblazoned in Gold , for the launch of my dream , my laundry detergent close to my heart , growing from strength to strength, learning, expanding, innovating and transforming and now I “hold” the trophy in pride , yes this was the Oscar night for me, accolades, handshakes,  embraces, hugs, kisses, (was I wearing a low cut velvet gown studded with emeralds and rubies and matching designer jewellery, I wonder?) showered with confetti ……the only thing amiss was The CHAMPAGNE SHOWER enjoyed by Sebastian Vettel when he won the Indian Grand Prix!


Beware Surf excel matic for providing with two extra hours , be ready to face the consequences in the form of tough competitors like me …….                       THE MYTH!!!

                          120 minutes and the

The huge ball of flaming orange gradually descended from the zenith and lowered itself like our tricolor flag coming down a pole. The bright orange hue changed into a subtle yellow, the fieriness disappeared and was now a tamed lion . The charming ocean turned angry and violent and ready to gobble the golden Sun . In a matter of seconds , the mighty king was dethroned , the ocean emerged victorious with its waves doing the victory laps. The brilliant display shifted the settings of the horizon , a dozen colours painted on the canvas of the sky , a breathtaking sight , my eyes capturing each frame and creating a gallery in my heart…..If only I had more TIME….

Scores of words were criss –crossing the super highway , my mind thesaurus acting like a navigator and in a instant many answers falling into their slots just like musical notes from  a violin – cryptic, quick, anagrams , brainteasers all were running riot and time had a DO NOT DISTURB sign stuck on its face till the magical square was completed , a swarm of bees in a beehive.
Logical reasoning or trial and error ,the numbers in a grid must have from 1 to 9 without repetition horizontally and vertically in a 9x9 square , the creator was crafty, crooked and stingy in giving clues in certain grids and I was left powerless, then twilight changed into night sky and a million stars lighted up to grant me the wish of finishing a Su do ku puzzle at one go, for a brief moment I was the ‘Eureka’ screaming Archimedes, well the only difference being the water already displaced from the tub the very instant I entered it! If only I could lay my hands on another one but the time bomb was TICKING AWAY….

I was surrounded by sound , the rhythm of life, the strains of a strumming guitar, the soulful drums, the Rudra veena reverberating, decibel levels high like thunder, in high definition each note crystal clear , transporting me into the world of Pied Piper, I followed the resonance, fantasizing the musical composition and romancing the talent. The lilting symphony coming close to nature’s bard- chirping, tweeting and warbling but the date with the creator ended sooner than I dreamt , the ANTIQUE CLOCK standing the test of time , giving grim reminders…..

The mighty Scorpio, flexing its muscles , burning rubber on the roads , the swell wind on my face , clouds on a magic carpet atop the gigantic mountains, undulating , gurgling streams charting its own course with rounded pebbles bordering its path, deep ravines and thunderous roars emanating , spraying and soaking me in delight , rising like a phoenix, a magnificent architectural marvel- God’s happy abode amidst nature , blessed ,afresh in body and soul , an energy that keeps me going like monks in a Monastery . In the heart of hearts , I hoped and prayed that this voyage would be eternal as the lush green fallows that stretched and stretched and I could ramble in the foothills of the towering mountains , folded and faulted over the years but TIME AND TIDE waits for no man….

Delving into the world of gastronomical delights – relishing hot steaming dosai and vadai with chutney and sambar , stuffed paranthas with dollops of ghee , fresh luscious fruits in an ice cream , lip smacking payasam tickling my taste buds , the sugar and spice to last a lifetime , savouring a hearty meal with ones kith and kin talking of good old days – manna dropping from heaven but the TICKER flashing…..

Curling up with a book on fiction, mystery or adventure on a rainy afternoon , uninterrupted , adrenalin pumping climax, or a twist in the tale gets me on a high , stranded on a desert with sand dunes as far as the eye can see and lo and behold an oasis emerging bringing alive all the myriad characters in the stories.
I am no movie buff but to put up my legs in the cozy comforts of my home , watching a light hearted film and forgetting it even before the end of the show is adorable , an ideal way to de stress , works wonders as laughter is indeed the best medicine , oh ! how often I have ‘carried on’ and exalted in joy and split my sides!

TICK TOCK TICK TOCK.. did I hear the clock? no I live in a digital and mechanized world racing against TIME… the panic alarm button is pressed, it is a manic Monday , one hand on the tava ,another on the iron box, wheels on the feet , always in motion ,roller skating from one medium to another , packing lunch , last minute touches , no not to my make up , but to the son’s assignment , adding a sparkle or a glitter to the activity , never ending chores in and out of the house , shopping, freelancing, banking, insuring, driving , oh yes writing …… every second, minute , hour is a bonus just to douse the fire on my wheels or  at least “ GASP” …to catch my breath and do my favourite things!

Thank you Surf Excel Matic for giving me a chance to pause, stop, dream, think, ponder and ink……                                                          THE REALITY….

Friday, November 4, 2011


For  one  fleeting second, I put myself in her shoes…..

                    Her story begins in a nondescript village  in Palakkad in Kerala. Born in a reasonably well to do Iyer family , as tradition demanded, she was married off at the tender age of 14.( even 10 years added to this number did not equip me mentally to accept the intricacies of marriage hood!)
                      Doing the mundane household chores in a large joint family, lending her helping hand in drawing water from the well, cooking, grinding and serving was the order of the day and this would have taken a massive toll on her body. Early motherhood resulting in abortions added to her untold misery .Well this may have been the first physical scar on her. Life is a seesaw with ups and downs and the birth of two lovely children brightened up her life. The middle ages saw a downturn in her health as she developed uterine problems finally resulting in hysterectomy. Soon she developed arthritis in her legs and body showed signs of slowing down .This may have been scar number two.

                      But she pulled along popping pain killers and the like as life had to go on and she was the pivot. Her daughter got married and settled abroad. Duties and responsibilities beckoned her to take care of her grandchildren. This docile lady cocooned in her own protective shell , unexposed to the harsh outside world travelled abroad alone to be with her daughter when she needed her most. The strained relationship that her husband had with her daughter – is that scar number three I wonder?

                       She came into my life in the year 1991, I vividly recollect the day when this fair , charming, rotund lady with a bewitching smile held my hand for the very first time . On my wedding day , I was put in a spot of bother as she along with her three sisters stood together in resplendent silk saris and dazzling diamonds looking strikingly similar!

                       The events that followed my marriage for 5 long years remains a blur and a blot on my image and this delicate darling was caught in the crossfire – helpless , feeble and defenseless. On the one side , her domineering husband, who drew the line , the obstinate, unyielding  me on the other, maybe  yet  another  scar!

                        The saga of her story continued like a stream gurgling and following the course of destiny, donning many roles that of daughter, wife, mother, mother- in- law, grandmother and the latest feather in her cap , great grand mother!

                       She lost her husband, a partner for more than half a century and the ship which was sailing smoothly suddenly seemed to be in high seas tossed on the waves, directionless, leaving a void in the deep. This vacuum silently created havoc in her brain and this was to be the next scar.

                      From her I understood that aging is more psychological than physical. The 70 age barrier that she set for herself had severe repercussions on her mind and body . Once she crossed this threshold , things started going topsy turvy- she became incoherent , disoriented, unfamiliar with her surroundings , amnesiac and lost her bearings. I was shattered with this development , more so as I had been a mute spectator to the sufferings of her father who suffered from Alzheimers during the fag end of his life.

                      A series of consultations with top notch neurologists followed , who put her through lot of tests and scans that did not pinpoint the root cause of her ailment . The doctors refused to conclude that she was also a victim of Alzheimers as the changes were so very sudden and dramatic. The subsequent treatment steadied the vessel but fluctuations in behavior continued. Her mind graph had several points plotted which showed a volatile curve , at times near perfect and on other occasions going awry. Mood swings, hallucination, aggressiveness, losing the sense of time, place and identity, confused and possibly the shortest retention of memory. The nerve cells refusing to send messages to do even routine things like walking, eating, obscuring her, it was as if something was eclipsing the central processing unit, making her unaware, unconcerned and unmindful!

                     Now, it is a period of uncertainty, triggering lot of welcome activities or slipping into OBLIVION  as her  dutiful son  my husband , meticulously takes care , controls and protects. YES , this fragile , gray haired , skeletal frame is my mother- in- law , definitely not a matriarch but a demure, dignified and down to earth personality who not only taught me the nuances of cooking but plenty of patience ,perseverance,  hard work  and humility.
She was once upon a time a plumpy woman with razor sharp memory , a voracious reader ,taught my children Kannada and math tables, could recite shlokas to appease all the Gods, presently in a world of her own , bereft of emotions, not knowing night or day, with figments of imagination and illusion.

It is immensely tough and a mammoth task  to be a care taker and whenever I lose my MOORINGS, I just slip into her brain…..