Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Odds and ends

Diwali spring-clean, pest control, and car servicing, which cost roughly Rs.6,800 ($110), all got in the way of watching an old movie and writing about it for overlooked films yesterday. The annual and periodic tasks carried out by hired hands, including a local gardener, also got in the way of my planned review of the two books I finished reading last week. I intend to review one of these, a Western that reads like Young Adult, for forgotten books on Friday.

A word about the hired hands. They are mostly poor migrants from the interiors of North, East, and South India who come to cities like Mumbai in search of opportunity and livelihood, and possibly a career in Bollywood as inconspicuous extras. They usually leave their families behind and send their meagre earnings home every month. In spite of the government's claim that its grand social schemes have increased employment in small towns and villages, jobs are scarce in the rural areas. This is mainly because of the decline of India's traditional agrarian economy vis-à-vis the rise of the services sector which now accounts for almost 60 per cent of the economy.

The rural-to-urban exodus is both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because the young men are willing to do all kinds of menial jobs for a small price, saving you a lot of trouble and hard work, and a curse because they're adding to the city's millions and its poor infrastructure.


A shoeshine boy at a local railway station in Mumbai.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The migrants do more than drive cars, autos, buses, and trucks; sell fruits and vegetables; hawk all kinds of cheap foods; deliver milk and newspapers; polish shoes, cut hair, and clean ears, do housekeeping in malls and multiplexes, in schools and offices; and wait on people in restaurants and supermarkets. The two men, who spruced up my home for Diwali next week, wash cars and maintain gardens in the neighbourhood. They did a good job. I paid them a total of Rs.800 ($13). It's handy money for the handymen. “Tell me if you have any other work. I’m free on weekends,” one of them said before leaving. For one who works 45 hours and commutes 12 hours a week, that is music to the ears.

It’s the language, you know!
Last week, I attended a daylong conference on the real estate industry and was a touch annoyed when many of the qualified speakers uttered “you know” after every few words. If “you know” is meant to replace the studied pause during a speech, then it's a poor substitute. Its misuse has more to do with the speaker being nervous or unsure of what to say next than with anything else. I have noticed this trend among Western celebrities who carry it off well that you don’t really notice it; maybe, it's the in-thing to do, you know.

Here’s another peeve: the Indian print media is keeping up with the times, mainly technology, but some things haven't changed, like using the word “indeed” for emphasis both in speech and text. Rounding up a quote, a story or an article with “Be that as it may” and “Having said that” is equally annoying. Worst of all are newspaper headlines that read “Now, pay medical cover premium in food grains!” and “Soon, retain cell number even if you move cities.” These appeared in a leading English daily, a habitual offender. I fail to see how prefixing headlines with the words “now” and “soon” can add value. They read just as well without them.

Festival of Lights
Next week is Diwali, the festival of lights, and most people in India have at least a three-day break starting November 3, when Hindus will worship Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu, the supreme god, by lighting small oil lamps within and outside their homes and praying for the health and wealth of both family and business. This is immediately followed by the Hindu New Year. The last day of Diwali is Bhau-Beej (known variously) when sisters pray for the well-being of their brothers (in August we have Raksha Bandhan [bond of protection] when sisters tie rakhi threads on the wrists of their brothers who in turn pledge to protect their sisters for life). In both cases, the brothers have to present their sisters with gifts, never the other way round.

The traditional oil lamp lit during Diwali.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The five-day festival of lights, colour, and gaiety is celebrated by wearing new clothes, lighting up the house, worshipping the deities, eating sweets, eating out, firing crackers, and visiting family and friends. The bursting of crackers and bombs with little control on the stipulated decibel levels and until late into the night makes it the noisiest festival in India and an absolute nightmare for dogs, both pets and strays, whose sense of helplessness is evident in their terrified behaviour. I know what my pet will go through. It takes the fun out of Diwali every year.

17 comments:

  1. I'm starting to hear "you know" creep into the language of even well educated people here. It's really distracting.

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    1. Charles, it has become fashionable to say "you know" in Mumbai, especially among the youngsters. I wonder if they think it's actually correct to say so. I also prefer "anyway" as opposed to "anyways" at the start of a spoken line. The latter rules. English is a malleable language.

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  2. Very interesting post, as always, Prashant. Now I am going to be worrying about whether I use "you know" too much, and listening for it in conversation. It is interesting that speakers at a conference we using it.

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    1. Tracy, thank you. I'm sure I've used "you know" more often than I think I have. It's not something you'll catch easily during a conversation. There were one too many "you knows" at the conference and at one point I wanted to stand up and point it out to the speakers. I don't think any of them realised it.

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  3. Prices for services vay by nation. In our part of Canada to hire someone for cleaning will cost $15 - $20 per hour.

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    1. Bill, here in Mumbai at least, while the price is fixed upfront, the time limit is not. They have to finish the job unless they do it over two or three days. The two men who were paid $13 worked for five hours in all. Sometimes the workers leave it to us to decide how much to pay them, which is a problem for the one hiring their services; you don't know what could be a decent amount.

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  4. Not fair, Prashant. Sisters do present mithai, dry-fruits, juices, chocolates and other assorted confectioneries to their brothers on Rakhdi and Tikka. :)

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    1. Neer, I'd a feeling you'd say that! Well, going strictly by the custom, it's always the brother who gives a present to his sister though gifts are exchanged by both. Siblings buy presents for one another irrespective of the occasion. I'd never heard of "Rakhdi" and "Tikka" which, I assume, is the North Indian version of "Raksha Bandhan" and "Bhau-Beej" down south.

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  5. Prashant - an interesting post again, thanks.

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    1. Col, thank you, and I'm glad you enjoyed it. Rants are good for the soul, sometimes.

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  6. Very interesting post and educational for me. Thank you. I enjoyed reading it. As for language using "like" a lot and "you know" is very distracting as well as some popular phrases of today starting with "You guys." I had an art history professor who kept saying "um" a lot and that got on my last nerves. Needless to say I skipped her classes a lot. I could probably write a post on the most popular sayings today that get on my nerves and don't even get me started on the spelling.

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    1. Keishon, you're welcome. I hear "like" and "you guys" a lot in my part of the world that doesn't take long to be influenced by just about everything that is trendy in the western world. What irks is that people don't bother how they speak or the words they use (or misuse) while speaking to others. When I was young I never heard anyone say "cool" or "way to go, man." Now I do all the time. Nothing wrong with either, except I can't get used to them. I'm waiting to hear "gonna" and "gotcha" that'd sound strange coming from an Indian.

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  7. I used the pharse "you know" during a very bad interview once (no, I didn't get the job) and it's been my enemy ever since though I usually associate it with nerves more than anythign else. Hope you do get to enjoy Diwali a little bit at least chum - खुश दीवाली

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    1. Sergio, I've never enjoyed Diwali because of the noise and pollution. It's the one festival that I don't look forward to in spite of the welcome three-day break. When I was a kid I used to run away to South India where the festival is not celebrated the way it is in West and North India. Your good wishes for Diwali are most welcome although even non-English speaking people in India wish each other "Happy Diwali," or even "Appy Diwali" — Khush (happy in Hindi) Diwali is a neat innovation! Thanks, Sergio.

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  8. You know, I picked up this useful phrase from my daughter (used like this as a lead-in to a sentence). The connotations are rich and complex: it signals a shift in tone to the more personal. It means something like "To be honest with you..." followed by a pause that can imply both disbelief and humor.

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    1. Ron, you make a good point about the effectual use of "you know" in a personal conversation, if used sparingly. As you noted, the "shift in tone" can also imply mild irritation with someone who might fail to see your point or plainly listen to you. It got repetitive at the conference: never before have I heard so many you know(s) in one place and at one time. You listen and you learn.

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    2. Ah, the sarcastic "you know." That's another story.

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