Sunday, December 27, 2015

We care for you....

Joint families had their advantages and disadvantages. Many persons belonging to three or four generations living under one roof was possible and necessary in the days of limited opportunities to move away and make a living. There were strong men working in the fields or outdoor jobs and women looking after maintaining food supply at home. There were relatively idle older people to look after the babies and toddlers. The system itself took care of the old and sick. Nobody was left alone to fend for himself or herself and old age was not a burden to be carried on one's own shoulders. True, physical pain and suffering was not transferable, but emotional and psychological support was always available to the older ones at home. The comfort level for the old and sick might not have been the same for all; it depended on the atmosphere and values at their respective homes. Nevertheless, there were no huge problems of the old living a life in solitary sojourns and waiting for the final call. There were indeed some cases here and there; it had not reached epidemic proportions. Medical facilities were limited and life expectancy was low as well. 

Improved quality of life and developments in medical and surgical facilities have now enhanced the life expectancy. Education levels of women have noticeably gone up opening up abundant avenues for them to work and earn on the same footing as men. Advancement in transportation has enabled movement to far off lands for education and employment. Joint families have disintegrated and problems have crept up in taking care of infants and toddlers on one side and old and sick on the other. Better financial status of families can provide some funds for taking care of these sections. More and more "Daycare" facilities have come up for taking care of babies and toddlers and kids after they return from schools. The problem of managing old age and related issues has not yet found similar solutions around us at least for the present times. 

There are some organizations that are doing yeoman service in taking care of the aged and sick. Some institutions provide good "Day care" facilities for the aged as well. Old age homes are growing in numbers and some of them are indeed providing good care and security to the inmates. Cost for quality care is naturally higher and all cannot afford these charges. Old age homes with lower charges are unable to provide quality care. Some of them present a pathetic look and a visit to them makes one sorrowful and sorry. The faces of the inmates has only one expression; the one of awaiting the final call. There is an urgent need to develop institutions that adopt a commercial yet compassionate approach to running old age homes. 

Many old men and women would prefer to continue to live in their own homes and familiar surroundings than move into a old age home. This gives a better sense of living and purpose in life in those tender years. The care required is basically non-medical in nature. What are the requirements of the aged people who are constrained to stay either alone or with spouse, but want to remain in their own homes? Many of them need the following facilities:
  • Companionship and social interaction. Movement physically may be restricted, but otherwise mentally agile and hence living singly during the day becomes a burden.
  • Light house keeping help due to restricted movement on account of either advanced age or sickness.
  • Assistance in preparation of meals of their liking and choice or as prescribed to them by a physician.
  • Support for bathing and personal hygiene and assistance in laundry and grocery shopping and arrangement.
  • Transportation service or companionship during outings for social or cultural functions and get-togethers.
  • Fixing and managing appointments with family physicians and specialists.
  • Reminding for medication, making beds and arranging their belongings so that they are within reach overnight.
  • Additional support would be required for patients under rehabilitation after surgery, Alzheimer and Dementia cases.
  • Wheel chair and bed-bound patients would require a lot more understanding and physical support.

Many countries have regulations for providing such support by registered institutions. The candidates sponsored by them are given adequate training in handling these requirements. They are also trained in giving first aid and emergency support. They have their own conveyance arrangement and motivated to develop service mentality along with working for a living as well through such work. The candidates can work either full time or part time. They can also offer to stay as live-in mates. The decision to choose the candidate rests with the hirers. The sponsoring organizations check on the service on an on-going basis. 

With each passing day, more and more members of the older generation are moving into the pool requiring such services. The need is to meet these requirements and yet provide the required assistance with reasonable charges. Governments of the day should devote some time and resources to address this problem. Some budgetary support and contributions from CSR sources would come in handy to reduce the financial costs as well. A regulated and answerable system to help the old and sick is now a responsibility of the society.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Do you want a share?

Some six to seven decades ago, production of adequate food for the large populations was a big issue for many countries. World War II had taken its huge toll on civilized society. During the war years (1939-1945) almost all able bodied men were recruited to the fighting armies and the labour force to work in agriculture fields was had simply vanished. Large areas of agriculture lands were turned into battlefields. Bombing and destruction of bridges and canals to retard the speed of advancement of enemy armies had further cast a shadow on the agriculture infrastructure. Diverting all food supplies to armies resulted in famines in many parts of the world. An estimated 3 to 4 million people died in the 1943 famine of Bengal itself. Many parts of Asia and Africa reeled under severe shortage of food. The number of deaths due to depriving of two square meals a day killed more humans than the war itself.

The urgent need to develop and adopt progressive agriculture methods to increase food production brought in extensive research and scientific applications. Newer varieties of grains, especially in Rice, Wheat and Corn were introduced. Chemical fertilizers were developed and used in large quantities all over the world. Food production increased considerably and many countries achieved self sufficiency in food production. Unfortunately, these developments had their side effects as well. A part of the chemicals used as fertilizers found its way into flowing and ground water. Use of pesticides further compounded the ill effects. These chemicals merged with the produce and reached the stomach of the consumers. While pests themselves developed immunity against these pesticides, consumers suffered due to their effects on their bodies. Phosphatic fertilizers contributed to eutrophication due to their quality of promoting growth of algae resulting in lower oxygen levels in water bodies. Nitrates enhanced ground water pollution. An increased awareness of threat to human beings and ecology by these fertilizers brought the farming methods to a full circle. Organic farming has again taken center stage.

Organic farming emphasizes on use of green manure, biological pest control and rotating pattern of raising crops. Petrochemical fertilizers are discouraged in growing crops and use of hormones for livestock is restricted. More and more people are looking for organic fruits and vegetables. Large chain stores display organic fruits and vegetables in separate enclosures. Other items like grain and flour display the word "Organic" in bold letters. Consumers in advanced countries have started checking the "organic produce" labels before putting the items in their shopping carts. They often cost more, but the psychological relief they bring is valued high. In short, consumers are lapping up any opportunity for getting their share of organic food items. 

During my recent visit to rural Pennsylvania, USA, one special feature was noticed. Consumers around farming villages are taking more interest in organic farming. There are farms using only organic fertilizers and pesticides. Consumers of fruits and vegetables can take part in the activities at the farm indirectly. The farms encourage the consumers to pay a lump sum at the beginning of the cropping season and take a share in the produce grown in the farm. The payment is made at the begging of the summer months and they are given a share in the produce, in accordance with the advance payment made by them. Amounts are paid in April and supply of fruits and vegetables starts from May and continues till the end of October. Every week on a fixed day, say Friday, the farm places the items grown in the lands for distribution to the financing households. The items are kept in an order with a notice board displaying the list of vegetables and quantity to be taken for each share.  Consumers visit the farm and take their share of fruits and vegetables in an orderly manner. The arrangement concludes in October as winter would be setting in. Thus for a period of six months, consumers get farm fresh organic vegetables and fruits.

A visitor to the farm can see the advanced farm mechanization and irrigation methods in use in them. Green houses are used for growing some vegetables. The consumers are allowed to enter some areas of the crop growing land and pluck the produce themselves as in the case of beans, mint and lettuce. Children derive great enjoyment while picking flowers from the plants they are allowed to. The whole activity goes on in a disciplined manner and it is a good outing for families on a friday evening. There are no instances of any attempts to gain by violating the norms. It is also an opportunity to see the various plants and flowers as well as get fresh fruits and vegetables within a few hours of their being harvested. 

The picture shown here is of a cone shaped cabbage grown there. The cabbage we usually see is either spherical or elliptical in shape. There is also this conical variety and the shape is like a rose bud but much bigger in size! 

This system of crop sharing has advantages both for the farming community as well as the consumers. It protects the farmers from the vagaries of crop yields. As the payment is received in advance, a part of the cost of raising the crops is already financed. If there is a bumper yield, the consumers get bigger shares of fruits and vegetables. If there is a modest crop, their share is also modest. If for some reason, crops fail, consumers also share the loss and develop better understanding of the farmer's miseries. Individual losses are small, but farmer gets relief in case of crop failure. As part of the the crop is sold before it is raised, farms save on transportation costs. The consumers are benefited by getting organic items without the necessity to check labels. They are closer to the nature here than when they visit the supermarket. 

This type of co-operative farming, if it can be called as such, deserves to be encouraged. Thee would be a closer farmer-consumer relationship and prevent middlemen who benefit at the cost of both farmers and consumers. However, basic discipline is to be ensured during the entire period of the contract by all the participants in the venture.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Fair Lady - the Play

George Bernard Shaw, the well known Irish playwright has the distinction of being the only Nobel-prize and Oscar winning person. "My Fair Lady" is a musical play based on his play "Pygmalion". It is said that Shaw wrote the play in 1912 and it was first staged in 1913, more than hundred years ago. It was a big hit and attracted wide approval. It became one of the all-time popular musical play in due course. Pygmalion is based in Greek mythology, about a sculptor who fell in love with his own carved statue. It refers to the phenomenon where higher expectations lead to higher performance. This higher expectation leading to higher performance is also known as Rosenthal effect, named after Professor of Psychology Robert Rosenthal who did extensive work on expectation-performance and non-verbal communication. It is believed that higher expectation of teachers leads to better performance of students.

When "My Fair Lady" was first staged by Broadway in 1956, Julie Andrews played the lead role of Eliza Doolittle with Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins. This performance gave her much acclaim and led to further success in stage plays as well as films like Mary Poppins (1964) and Sound of Music (1965). When the stage play was produced as a film in 1964, Audrey Hepburn played the role of Eliza Doolittle while Rex Harrison was retained to play the role of Professor Higgins. The film was an outstanding success and is enjoyed by musical film lovers even today. It pocketed eight oscars (academy awards) including best picture, best actor and best director. It still attracts huge audience when presented on stage in different parts of the world. Songs like "I could have danced all night", "On the street where you live" and "Wouldn't it be loverly" became hugely popular with the audience. NewYork Times review called it as the "perfect musical".

The story of "My Fair Lady" revolves around a Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle and Professor of English Phonetics Henry Higgins. "Cockney English" refers to the accent or dialect of English traditionally spoken by working class Londoners. Higgins laments as to why many people do not talk proper English. He is of firm conviction that only the language separates classes and not money or customs. He wagers with another Phonetics scholar Colonel Pickering that he can turn Elizabeth Doolittle into a lady in six months by teaching her to speak properly. Colonel Pickering challenges Higgins to do so and agrees to bear the expenses of her training. An intensive training in speaking, dresses and mannerisms follows and Eliza comes out successful at the Embassy Ball. Eliza tells Higgins that she became lady not because of the teachings but due to the way Colonel Pickering treated her as a lady. Eliza finds that she cannot return to her old life now and Higgins cannot live without her as he has developed attachment to her. The play ends with the indication of a possible reconciliation between them.

Village Theatre is an organization dedicated to performing arts and functions from Issaquah, Washington state, USA. It's Francis J Gaudette Theatre in Issaquah, about 20 miles from the city of Seattle, presents stage plays regularly. The 35 year old 500 seater auditorium provides facilities such as sound proof family rooms for watching play (so that parents with small children can see plays with them, but not disturbing other theatre lovers), dressing rooms, rehearsal rooms, shops and other amenities. The theatre has staged over 85 musicals and also provides kid stage that offers theatre classes to children and youth in the age group of 3 years to 20 years through its art enrichment pre-school. Village Theatre is a popular destination for theatre lovers in its surroundings.

We were privileged to visit the auditorium last fortnight and see a performance of "My Fair lady", staged by a group of about 30 local artistes. The performance of the artistes on the stage was of a high standard and well supported by the music, light and sound. The three hour play was performed without wasting a minute. The stage provided for moveable fixed sets with real staircases, balconies, furniture and other physical displays. Change between scenes was effortless and quick. The entire performing team worked as a well-oiled machine and brought the true pleasure of watching a musical like "My Fair Lady". It was also great to watch many youngsters and senior citizens alike visiting the theatre and encouraging stage plays.       

Friday, December 4, 2015

Resilience and Triumph

Sales and Marketing experts use a term "FMA" or "First Mover Advantage", that refers to the benefits gained by the early movers into a market segment who can capitalize on the prevailing situation and establish themselves as a market leader. Early movers have no competition and stay as monarchs till the later players come in. In many other walks of life, early movers have a distinct disadvantage as they have to wade through unchartered waters. They have no idea as to what to expect and what may happen next. Each situation is a new challenge and calls for an immediate and spontaneous response. There are no precedents or advisors; each issue has to be dealt and learnt through one's own experiences. Such learning through own experiences are invaluable, but often extract a heavy price from the persons put through them. But these experiences are the ones that steel and temper human beings and make the quest for a better life that much more enjoyable despite the pain that they bring. They suffer from "Early Mover Disadvantage" and yet emerge as people who lay the road for the successors to travel much more comfortably.

History is the study of the past events and told to us by someone, who record and document the events. The history we have on any aspect of human life is based on visual and written evidence of the past and their present interpretation. Such recorded history suffers from two infirmities: the limitations of the historians themselves and impact of their own likes, dislikes and prejudices. Historians living at the time of recording events in the past were naturally beholden to their benefactors and tended to glorify them while putting down their opponents. Historians of today who record past events are many times guilty of viewing the age-old events with the eyeglasses of the present times. The official history we have, therefore, is history with many distortions.  The true history gets buried somewhere in the volumes of the official versions. The story of the lives of the common man is relegated to the background and glossed over.

This is even truer in the context of the history of immigrations and movement of people to newer destinations. Such movement was generally for higher education, job opportunities and search for better life elsewhere. Some fifty years ago, avenues for higher education and advanced professional jobs were not available in abundance in many parts of the world. North America, USA, and Canada, in particular, offered openings for all these reasons, and many young people moved there from various parts of the world. They were early movers in the sense of such migration. The atmosphere into which they walked in was much different than what it is today. Technology was not this advanced and communication facilities were not the same. Many places did not have electricity available freely. Air-conditioning or heating were not available at many centers to cushion the vagaries of severe summer or winter. Computers had not yet made their appearance, and they had to rely on public transportation as owning a car was not that easy. Many students migrated on the backing of small scholarships as bank loans were not available. Households did not have the financial strengths to sponsor higher education. Issues of obtaining visas and making travel arrangements were also not easy tasks. There were no direct flights from smaller centers in their home countries like today. Opportunities for earning while pursuing courses in the Universities were not many. Managing oneself on the limited financial resources added to the physical problems of stay, food and entertainment. Understanding the culture and living pattern of the regions was a major challenge. Achieving the acceptance of the immigrants by the local populations was a major task for those arrived at these destinations. The immigrants had to develop close bonds with other members of their groups. Sharing and caring were required in much larger measures then than today.

The situation was even more difficult for women. Their problems were complex due to their multiple roles as housewives or housekeepers, workers, and young mothers. In addition to their responsibilities as students or workers, they had to manage their chores like cooking, serving and raising kids. Adapting to the new living atmosphere was even more difficult for them given the cultural and physical environment in their countries of birth and growth. The only means of contact with those back home was through mail and writing letters or waiting for letters from loved ones in their country was a routine requirement. Visiting their countries required a lot of planning and was very expensive too. The perception of those back home about the immigrants and the reality was vastly different. Some of them were more fortunate to find understanding friends and colleagues. Others were not that fortunate and had to face hostile situations. They marched on with commitment and dedication towards the goals for which they migrated to new stations. Strong friendship and mutual co-operation from other immigrants formed the cornerstone of their journey. There were always a few understanding locals available in times of need and crisis.

The present generation of students and workers moving for education and job opportunities today has a much-improved atmosphere. Present times too have their complexities and challenges. It is not that everything is easy and simple today. But there is a marked difference in the two scenarios. Today’s students can obtain bank loans, and their households have better financial muscle to sponsor higher education abroad. Multinational companies with presence in their countries of birth and migration provide similar working conditions and set-ups. Communication facilities are excellent, and one can talk to their people back home many times a day. E-mail and Face Time enable continuous contact with friends and relatives. Contact and networking with other students or groups are possible for seeking and extending support. Students can find out someone who would receive them at the airport, put them up for a few days in temporary accommodation and provide initial support. Improved banking channels can ensure inward remittance within hours in an emergency. Practices and customs in the new country can be better-understood thanks to the advent of Television and Internet.

Is there a need for the present generation to understand the history of the immigrants of the previous generations? Are there any lessons for them available in the tales of the migrants of earlier generation? Many would dispute their need and relevance today. Nevertheless, such a record is necessary to complete the history as well as developing better perspective for present generation to understand where they stand now in comparison to the previous generation.

A group of enthusiasts of the previous generation of immigrants thought on these lines. To broad base the variety and authenticity of the effort, they reached out and requested their friends to contribute their experiences in the form of small articles and publish the collection as a book. More than 50 women immigrants from various parts of the world (who migrated to Canada in the 1960s and thereafter) responded to the request. They have contributed their experiences in the form of articles. A dedicated team has edited these articles and brought out a book titled "Resilience and Triumph". The Second Story Press, Ottawa, Canada on 3rd December 2015, has released the book. 

The book (ISBN 978-1-927583-85-2) makes for interesting reading and brings out the resolve of the determined women who overcame the challenges and emerged successfully. A reading of this book provides a wider perspective of time and life in those crucial years. There are many lessons to be learnt from these experiences. This bunch of contributors in bringing out this book deserves our congratulations and gratitude. They have indeed brought to surface, the buried history of the earliest immigrants!