Friday, August 26, 2011

Red alert in Tara's 'Asharya'

An Update: 30 June 2012.
It hasn't rained much  so far and it is already the last day of June! I remember Gaythri telling us that rodents get active during Ganapathi festival. Logical as Lord Ganesha is everywhere and so would be his vehicle. A more scientific explantion would be that the low lying areas and drains would flood and turn inhospitable!

It rained a little a couple of days ago. So I took a review of our preparedness to block the expected visitors! The front balcony is now secure with a steel mesh. And the side balcony also has mesh door! We wanted mesh for the bedroom balcony and decided no, it cost too much! All we needed to do was to keep the door closed.

It rained again  in the evening and sure enough I saw a movement in our bedroom as I watched wimbledon that evening. Peeped below the sideboard and the TV table and  did not see anything and went back to watching tennis. When I told Tara, she said she had seen a black butterfly or a moth flying around low and thought that must be it! We were sure of our secure fortress! 

Just in case I borrowed a rat trap from downstairs. Appa had told me that the bread should be warmed a little, the rats would smell it and follow the smell! I toasted a piece of bread, and it was too crisp and broke when I tried to fix it in the trap. So I just stuck a piece of fresh bread and hoped for the best. Checked in the morning, no rat in the trap! 

Then last night I saw a little mouse trying to come into the bedroom, it scurried back as soon as it caught my eye. I thought of Rhea, she would have loved to see the little fellow. Then after a while the mouse came in again and I caught its movement from the corner of my eye. It went behind a cardboard box. No idea what the box was doing there! I went across and instinctively kicked the box against the wall and hoped I had given the rat a scare.  It was still wimbledon time and I decided to deal with the rat menace the next day. In any case Tara was in Kumbakonam for the Sunaad program. So there was no need for immediate action!

Next morning on the way out, I left a message for the maid that there could be a rat behind the box. As soon as I returned the maid reported that she found a small dead mouse behind the box.  Surprisingly I did not feel elated that the menacing mouse was dead, actually I felt sad! Then again, as I think about it, there must be a mother mouse somewhere in the apatment, it is not possible for the little mouse to come all by itself! Now that is worrying and soon we will be busy with 'Operation mouse!' 

I could not imagine that the sighting of a rodent or rodents taking shelter with us (Ashraya is the name of our house!)  would be such a traumatic event. Friend Chandramouli solicitously advised 'Get a cat and you are free'. He also thought it fit to remind me how rodents have been around for a long time and are adept in dealing with humans. 'Remember Tom and Jerry' he said and added 'Jerry always got better of Tom!'  (Just read in TOI that we could have evolved from  rodents which existed 160 million years ago!)

Seeking alternatives I remembered that Rhea on sighting rats in the kids playground(!), was very thrilled and actually wanted to hold them. She loves animals!  I knew that people keep hamsters as pets in the US and saw on the net that one could buy special rodents as pets in India. Disappointing, as I was actually looking  for an agency who caught rodents and trained them as pets.

While we were thinking of the ways to deal with it, Tara set some rules which would have made a special security task force proud.

   Plug the gaps and place a rat-trap!                                                                                     
No open doors!
                                                                        Of any kind!
The next day we were in for a shock. 
    The rat was sighted again snuggled nicely in the shoe rack!    
                                     So we decided to put a mesh in the front balcony!                          
There was more to come the next day! We saw this in our guest bath room! If it was our bathroom, we would have probably moved to a hotel! The only way the rat could have come in was through the machine drain pipe, connected to the main drain which goes all the way down. A mystery!
The same afternoon the maid saw a rat come down the opening for the exhaust fan high up on the wall.
We got it fixed the next day by putting a mesh across the exhaust fan! That was easy! Out of curiosity I went out to see the other side of the exhaust and gasped!
I just could not believe it, but the maid was very sure that it was the route!
In which case we need to cover all the windows with a steel mesh.
 Breaching netlon screen is child's play for a rat! So we have steel mesh in the kitchen. Ramesh, here on a visit, was kind enough to tell us that the rats could gnaw through a steel mesh if cornered!
We now had an answer to the mystery of holes in our 'chinese' chair. We thought it was due to the dry weather.
The following day was intriguing. We decided to go aggressive (I was not totally happy!) and placed chocolate mixed rat poison in the kitchen and also placed a trap in front of the washing machine and the poison below. Next morning the poison in the kitchen was not touched but the one below the WM was missing! But no rat in the trap! No idea what happened to the rat which ate the poisoned choc.

Tara in any case closed the kitchen  the next day. Made sense!  I just read today, 26/8, that a girl was killed as she unknowingly ate a jalebi meant for rats. Her mother had mixed it with rat poison. Terrible news!

27/8- We watched the success of Team Anna on TV in the night and later Tara walked out to make a final check before retiring for the day. I suppose it was pure instinct! She heard a metallic noise and walked into the kitchen and saw our Visitor scurrying down and hide under the Fridge. I chased it out and it scampered towards the main door and suddenly I lost sight of it. Luckily Tara located it behind the howda and finally I chased it out of the main door and saw it get behind the screen in the front veranda. I hoped that it would go down the window from there. In any case I placed the rat trap hoping to see our friend in it the next day.

I guess it was always hiding in some part of the living room or was sneaking in whenever it had an opportunity. Actually I had this strange feeling the last few days and smelt rat in the living room! I guess it emanated a kind of vibration, which I received, as from one mammal to another!

 My last thought for the night was if one Rat could give us so much trouble: 'How can one Lokpal take care of the millions of corrupt rats? Thankfully Anna says it is just the beginning and he plans to continue his crusade! I guess it is time to be optimistic!' 

But surprisingly the event has already affected our psyche. I look around as soon as I enter any room. Open the shoe rack door very gingerly and peep in and jump if I accidentally brush against a soft surface! Probably it is due to the million years of interaction between us two mammals.

 28/8- Next morning I was thrilled to see the rat trap door shut but sadly no rat in it. Reason was that the trap door was not big enough for the rat!
29/8 Anyway as soon as the screen door is in place, the carpenter reported sick, we hope to have covered practically all the (loop)holes! 

Also discovered this website and wonder whether it will work. It is an Ultrasonic rat and rodent repellent. Will talk to them! Hope these guys  will also work on a model which will drive away all the 'corrupt' human rats?
And as we add up the cost for all the effort needed to keep the rats out,  I feel it would have been cheaper to go Rhea's way and keep them as pets, except we have not found a rat trainer as yet!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Collaterral benefits?

While this blog is not about Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement,  I did wonder about the lists that are cropping up to expand the scope of the movement to solve the innumerable problems facing Indians! I wish these also get addressed but I feel a little out of depth dealing with larger issues as I am basically a 'Grumbler about small things!'.
My list would be more about courteous driving, no honking unnecessarily, pedestrian friendly footpaths, police personnel manning one way streets and  no hiding behind trees to nab drivers who jump red lights at intersections. I was once a victim of this devious tactics by the police. I was a yard beyond the line when the lights changed but  they would not accept that. Frankly they had no way of judging this photo finish situation! They won because they were in the majority. There were three of them, why three I have no idea.

 May be it is the lucky number for police or it is the system. Only one may be tempted to take a bribe, if two they would probably fight. Hence a senior with two juniors may be the time tested solution. I also read that some enraged drivers even attacked the uniformed men, so it could for their protection.  Or it could be just  a  ploy to increase employment. Employment levels in India is always a matter of concern.

 I overheard one of the wise and an active panelist's opinion on cable TV that the possible reason for the educated kids and middle class coming out in numbers for the first time in decades was just to save their jobs. He said corruption caused a drop in employment and thus affected them directly. It Could, but I am not sure if he was being sarcastic. His political hue was not pro middle class.

Recently I chanced  on this site called neoncarrot India travelog.  and found it pretty colorful with some interesting stats.
Total population: 1.06 billion people (mar 2004)
- India's working age population (15-60 years): 610 million (estimate 2003)
- population dependent on agriculture for livelihood: 65 %
- population living in approx 600,000 villages countrywide: 722.8 million people [2001]
- population living in cities: 277.8 million people [2001]
- population living a significant distance from a road: nearly 40 percent  [Sahara Time, Mar 2004]

Another statistic which is shocking, hope someone targets this along with anti-corruption.
India's percentage of global car population: 1% [Daily Telegraph Sep 06]
- * India's share of global car accidents: 10% [Daily Telegraph Sep 06]

My first reaction was: 'How many villages are inspired by Anna Hazare?'. I wonder if anyone has this information. And the next: 'How will it be if more and more villages get access to roads?'

I then dutifully located the official site of ministry of labour and while not that colorful seemed to be bustling with activity. Many sections were flashing with 'New' signs and many more flashed the 'Updated' message. Impressive!
One was about Prime Minister's 'SHRAM' awards for 2009. (Very tempted to suggest another award with an additional A in the right place for 2011).

The other, a report to people published in July 2010, which appears to be the result of a lot of hard work. The foreword is full of well intentioned targets. Also a RTI manual as a part of this website. Serious stuff!

I quote from the foreword: (There is lot to read and digest. An attempt to look at things honestly and with the unavoidable propaganda, part of it sounding unctuous.)Major Short term strategies and targets include: Employment growth to be targeted at least at 2.5 per cent per annum compatible with the 9 percent growth in the economy; Promote labour intensive and high employment elasticity sectors to achieve the quantitative employment growth target; Focus on inclusion of youth, women and vulnerable groups with their specific needs of training and skill development; ........Re-skilling the retrenched workers for redeployment; .....
.Key Medium term strategies and targets are: Focus on self-employed and casual workers for improving livelihood; Enhance the scope of employment in the organised sector; Enhance regular employment for less advantaged groups and in poorer states; ..... Rationalisation and simplification of labour regulations and broadening the ambit of labour reforms; Promote diversification of rural workforce to off-farm and non-farm activities; Target regions with concentration of vulnerable social groups such as ST, SC, minorities, women, illiterate and less skilled for active labour market policies; Detailed skill mapping mechanism to be evolved; .....It is hoped that this Report would provide an opportunity for stimulating constructive national debate relating to various dimensions of employment and also for eliciting practical suggestions for further improving the quantitative as well as qualitative aspects of employment generation in India. ( Note to all responsible citizens: Pl read thru the full report and respond)

.Some gems of information:
In 2004-05, the estimates of total labour force in the country varied from nearly 420 millions (as per Current Daily Status-CDS) to nearly 470 million (as per Usual Principal and Subsidiary Status-UPSS)
(If you consider the other statistic: India's working age population (15-60 years): 610 million (estimate 2003) it seems about 1/3 of them do not join the labour force!)
Unemployment in India is not a straightforward issue ..... Even if a person is not reported to be unemployed on a particular point of time, he/she may be actually unemployed/under employed. ...The estimates for 2004-05 varied from 10.8 million (as per usual status - widely referred to as "open unemployment‟) to 35 million (as per daily status which includes both open unemployment and underemployment). ....
.Based on the 2004-05 survey, the estimates of total employment in the country varies from 385 million (as per CDS measure) to 459 million (as per UPSS measure).
This high growth in employment achieved during the first half of the present decade is one of the positive outcomes of the fairly high growth of 6 to 8% per annum of the Indian economy during the same period.
( Do I read from this that 91.66% to 97.66% of the 'estimated' labour force have jobs?)
.......most casual workers and a large part of self-employed workers have led to significantly high poverty ratio among the workers. These workers are often termed as "working poor‟. Approximately 22% workers were estimated to be below the poverty line in 2004-05. This essentially implies that out of a total of 459.1 million workers (UPSS) in 2004-05 approximately about 102 million were poor. (Who are the other 200 million who are reported to be BPL?)
Among males, the highest unemployment rate is reported in the 15-19 years age group both in rural as well as urban areas. (Ideally this age group should be in school!) .....This highlights the need for the policy to focus on youth in the labour force, particularly to reap the benefits of "demographic dividend‟. (I love this word!)
The size of the organised sector, characterised by higher earnings and job security is small, it accounted for less than 6% of the total employment in 2004-05.
The good news!
2009/10: Population 1177 million - Labour force 520 Million  Employment 506 Million.
(This stat sort of lulls me. Almost half of our population is employed! Not bad if one citizen is taking care of just another person!)

Probably a good idea to constitute a committee to study and report to the people what would be accomplished if, all the black money stashed away is recovered and is given to the labor ministry. How would they increase employment and work for the betterment of the working poor?

 So I got curiouser and tried to compare this report with the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  There is a lot of talk and news about the downward trend in the US.
It is a different world out there. The data is available, but again it is for the politicians to act on them.

 A few examples:
This page contains information about labor force statistics with demographic characteristics available from the Current Population Survey (CPS). Data on the labor force characteristics of employed and unemployed persons, plus hours of work and earnings, also are available.
The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly survey of households conducted by the Bureau of Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It provides a comprehensive body of data on the labor force, employment, unemployment, persons not in the labor force, hours of work, earnings, and other demographic and labor force characteristics.
The Mass Layoff Statistics (MLS) program collects reports on mass layoff actions that result in workers being separated from their jobs.

 Chart:Unemployment rate by race and Asian ethnicity

EDIT: The above chart is the U-6 chart which reflects the numbers of people seeking work as, not just unemployment filers. Bureau of Labor statitics

Monday, August 15, 2011

Conflicting messages ?

We have had visitations from the Vahana of Ganapathi periodically, but it is the first time I had an eye to eye contact with the mammal! A couple of days ago I opened the shoe rack to pick up my sneakers and saw it hiding behind my shoes. While I am not scared, rats do give an ugly kind of feeling and you react!
It hid behind the shoes and I shouted for a broom and our maid boldly chased it away even though she claimed she was scared. As it scurried out of the open main door, she said  it must have come in from the door, as according to her, the rats go back the way they come in. They must also have heard the proverb 'Bandha darige sunkavilla!' (No tax if  the same road is used to get  back!)  I was amazed that a big rat could squeeze thru such a narrow opening between the door and the floor !                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Today, it was there again and I could see it in its full glory and it was as big as my fist. As I was all alone at home, I rushed to get the broom and made sounds and rattled the furniture. Before I could say 'devare' it had vanished. This time it was thru the small gap in the screen. I wish I had the presence of mind to take a picture before I responded to my adrenaline rush! More importantly it worried me that this fellow took a different route to exit, even though the main door was open. If our maid is right there are two of them. A family!   
Normally, the solution to these unwelcome visits is to get rid of them. In my younger days I would thrash them, but desisted after I grew up. I remember we used to catch them in a trap and let them free in the open grounds. Probably it could still be done, but we have to drive a longer way to find open fields. I understand that you can feed it with a type of chocolate to get rid of them.  I don't  think it is right to kill a rat with the Ganesh festival round the corner. Better still, we could just rat-proof the apartment. Easier said than done! 
They can come from the door or if adventurous climb the window!
 The rats have been active here for a while and it has been a loosing battle. They come in from anywhere.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
They chewed thru the kitchen pipe and we have just replaced it, hopefully with a stronger pipe!

I was wondering what to do when the solution dawned on me today. I had seen these pug marks of a cat on the car just yesterday. It could perhaps be a message from a God we do not even know. I am not aware of any Hindu god with a cat as his vehicle. Could be even a Chinese god. Anyway I guess a cat could solve the problem unless of course it is from the family of Garfield. 

 But I suppose it is better to wait till after Ganesh festival.  It could be that lord Ganesh is much more powerful than the god who rides a cat. And we need his blessings! No point in upsetting him.
If indeed the message is from a Chinese god it may become even a bigger problem. I suppose we could just move to our small bubble apartment which is easier to seal!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hope satire does help!

I enjoy the satire and humor which Jug Suraiya, associate editor of TOI,  brings in to his writings. Sometimes it is uncanny how our experience run parallel and he blogs about it before I do. I am not upset as he writes well and I feel happy that we look at the same things and often with different perspectives.

Some months back I was in Mumbai and passed through some areas which were a little better than slums. I noticed clothes were jutting out of windows and so-called balconies. Some were there for drying and others obviously because of lack of space inside. The rooms looked so small, I had a feeling that the doors were kept open in the nights and probably inmates' limbs would jut out of the door as they slept.

A few days later I saw JS's article, I forget the heading, which also noticed clothes in balconies of apartments and in his opinion they were there in the balcony, not only for drying but more so because the residents wanted to show off their designer clothes and underwears. I guess he hoped that the residents would see the implied satire and desist from this practice and that the posh apartments would look less ugly! I suppose one lives on hope.

Recently on my morning walk, I jumped as a driver honked unexpectedly. Nothing uncommon in India. But the location was a bit uncommon. It was at the entrance of a posh locality. I was on the footpath and had just crossed the pillar of the gate and would have taken another second or two to cross the gates. But typically the driver wanted  priority to enter the gate, he HONKED and I jumped!

I know by now that I am an underdog as a pedestrian and would have let the car pass. But as the car engine with all its power was silent, I did not hear him! I was not surprised that the driver did not deem to look at me or appear contrite, I could have been a stray dog or a buffalo!

It is then I saw this article from JS."
Interesting theory that the engine power comes from the honking and not from the fuel. Could be true, but the real power comes from either the finger of the buffalo of a driver or more so from that of the owner who sits behind. I agree with those who state that 'India is a great old civilisation but is not civilised'.

Monday, August 1, 2011

OVER WATER: A place of many possibilities

We drove to this place last Saturday. The last stretch was winding and as we approached the place our first view was of a nice small cottage on the waterfront.
As we walked closer ..
..The view was breathtaking! 
Over Water is a private ‘get–away’ conceived by Arathi Parigi, 
an architect and a story teller.  
 Rohini created the Logo and designed the website, her first project as a graphic designer in India. 

As I walked around the structure I was impressed with its simplicity. It is just one room with a balcony!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

The chairs encourage you to take a walk after a cup of tea!
Some  expected views and ....some unexpected ones.

A place to contemplate
or you could go boating

....below the deck is a pure delight!    
A glimpse of the architect..Shabbir Unwala who was visiting.

We did not stay as we were a group of 5 adults, a teenager and 4 kids. But we had a great time, the excellent lunch made by the caretakers and reluctantly headed back home with a promise to return again.                    

Under the room when it rained..  
Kids having fun on the mezzanine