Sunday, November 23, 2008

Certified Samosas

I was shocked to see Lokesh wolfing down samosas and patties catered by the Indian Railways. His gastronomic preferences were well known - hygienic and vegetarian. He skipped food when he felt the quality was not upto the mark.He was known to consume soft drinks straight from the bottle since he was suspicious of the cleanliness of the straw. He washed the surface of soft drink cans before opening them. He would quote from www.breakthechain.org/ exclusives/ratcans.html that these cans were stored unhygienically and could lead to contracting to the deadly hanta virus transmitted by rat urine.

HACCP certified food being served on the Shatabdi Express


At home, all fruits and vegetables went through a Potassium Permanganate wash prior to use. He said that Cauliflower was often infected with tissue invading larval forms of the pork tapeworm "Taenia Solium". Cauliflower, therefore was taboo. I have even caught him washing bananas and oranges which are packaged by nature.He was upset with the order of the Railway Ministry to move from Styrofoam cups to earthenware cups.On railway journeys, which were frequent, Lokesh would eschew all food except the tetra packed juice and eclairs. When in doubt, he said, eat the humble banana - after washing.


On market visits, he insisted on eating only at McDonald's, though he hated burgers. He said that this was the only place where you got micro-biologically tested food. According to him, toilet water specification at MacDonald's are better that the Government specification for drinking water. He always said hygiene was important, taste and choice were not.

It, therefore, took me by surprise when I saw him gobbling down the stuff served on the train.When I questioned him about this, in-between samosa bites, he just pointed out to the words HACCP printed on the samosa wrapper.I just didn't get it. It only looked suspiciously similar to CCCP (the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics).

As Lokesh gobbled and the train wobbled at high speeds, he explained. "HACCP - you pronounce it as "hasup" - is for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points. HACCP certification ensures that the vendor has identified Critical Control Points where hazards might occur. It ensures that monitoring procedures are instituted to ensure that safety lapses do not occur, and if they do they do not go uncorrected.So, from the time flour is received to the time finished samosas are delivered on the train, steps to check quality and prevent contamination are in place."

He continued with great enthusiasm. "This even includes ensuring that those who cook and serve wash their hands. Human hands - so important in many stages of food processing - are fertile breeding ground for bacteria, viruses and a host of other organisms, making them a prominent, yet often neglected, critical control point. A careless swipe across the face, an incautious trip to the restroom and billions of contaminants could be released into the processing system." The zest with which he went gaga over the Indian Railways HACCP certification got me wondering. Whenever his family went out for a meal he would now perhaps recommend they dine at the Railway Food Plaza on platform 4, with sterilized Styrofoam cups carried from home!

For more on this,click this link.

Scare in Scotland


Carlisle-Settle Railway Route


Train travel in UK should be a cinch, at least getting out of a first class compartment - specially if you have traveled all over India by all sorts of trains including the free-for all Mumbai local. Right? Wrong.

My wife and I were on a four-day trip to the UK, with first class rail travel courtesy the British Tourism Authority upon winning the Elizabeth India Today contest. We boarded the Virgin train at Glasgow Central station for a trip to Micklefield through the scenic Lake District of Scotland on the Carlisle-Settle route. "Get down at Lancaster and change for a train to Leeds to reach Micklefield", the friendly lady at the ticket counter had told me, after referring to a tome of a railway timetable. That sounded simple enough.


The four-hour journey to Lancaster had an absorbing view of the countryside and we reached Lancaster sooner that we wished to. On hearing the announcement "Approaching Lancaster" over the intercom of the compartment, we got up and stood near the exit hoping to get an early connecting train to Leeds.


The train stopped and I nonchalantly tried opening the door. But, what's this? There was no handle to open the door! How does one open this *&@#%/\ door? I panicked. There must be a button somewhere, my wife suggested. No button, no handle. No way to get out. Is there an instruction plate somewhere? None. There was no other passenger in the compartment from whom I could have sought advice. Oh hell!The train started moving. God!


Complete confusion.Would we now be charged for ticket less travel? Would we be shamed as Indian cheats? Visions of spending time in British prisons fleeted through my mind. We thought the best way would be to inform the conductor that is, if there ever was one in the system appearing designed for no human intervention.


When we finally managed to find the person in the last coach, I addressed him agitatedly but politely, "Excuse me Sir, we have a ticket till Lancaster but we were unable to get down there". The conductor stared at us quizzically. "May I know why you were not able to get down at Lancaster?" Embarrassedly I said, "Er.., we did not know how to open the coach door". The conductor burst out laughing, "You did not know what? Ha ha ha..... Where are you from, not Mars I hope? Ho ho ho...." "From India," my wife said in an almost inaudible whisper.

The laugh had produced enough dopamine in the conductor's brain to put him in a good enough mood to write out a chit:" Passenger over-carried, please allow to return to Lancaster", Giving it to us, he told us to get down at the next stop, Preston, and take a connecting train to Lancaster. But I persisted with my original problem. "When I was not able to open the door at Lancaster, how do I open it at Preston then?" I enquired.


You can't even imagine his instructions how to do the simple job/if you are used to traveling in the Mumbai suburban network, in trains without doors! "Simple," he said, "When the train stops, the glass window of the coach door will unlock automatically in this model of train. All that you have to do then is pull down that window, put your hand out. You can reach the door handle there on the outside; you just turn that handle and prestothe door opens!"


Well, I guess we all live to learn!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Macbeth - Act II - Scene IV

Macbeth


(Question taken from the Indispensable Work-Book on Shakespeare's Macbeth by Usha Nagpal published by National Publishing House. Suitable for class XI. Only Essay type questions answered here. If you have a doubt post a comment below. Leave your mail id if you need a personal response - else i will post my reply to this blog.)


Q1. Duncan's murder precipitates certain abnormal happening. Discuss with a close reference to the scene.

King Duncan's murder precipitates certain abnormal happenings. The old man says " threescore and ten, but this sore night hath trifled former knowings". The old man had not see such abnormal happenings in his seventy years. The day had turned dark and seemed as dark as night as if the earth was hiding its face. A falcon which was flying very high was attacked and killed by a mouse hunting owl - a very unnatural happening. King Duncan's horses which were docile and well trained had turned wild, they broke away from their stall and ran out and even bit each other. Lennox informed them that the chimney of his house was blown out from the house where he stayed. They could hear lamenting in the air, strange screams could be heard all around.


Thus there were a lot of unnatural happenings before and after king Duncan's murder.


Q2.How were the following persons affected, either in their fortunes or their feeling by the murder of Duncan: Malcolm, Macduff, Banquo, Macbeth, Ross.


The fortunes or feelings of the following persons was affected due to the death of king Duncan. The effect of the murder on their lives is as under:


a)Malcolm: Malcolm was the eldest son of king Duncan. He was anointed as the heir to the throne of Scotland and was proclaimed as the next king of Scotland. However, the murder of king Duncan forces him to flee to England in order to escape death. Thus Malcolm's life was thrown into disarray and difficulty on the death of king Duncan. Later however, Malcolm took help from the king of England to overthrow Macbeth to reclaim Scotland.

b)Macduff: Macduff was a loyalist of king Duncan in the kingdom of Scotland. Upon the death of king Duncan he decides to return to his hometown in Fife - where he was the Thene.

c) Banquo: Banquo was murdered by people who were hired by Macbeth. Banquo death follows the death of king Duncan.

d)Macbeth : Upon the death of king Duncan, Macbeth takes over as the king of Scotland.

e) Ross: When Macbeth becomes king, Ross goes over to England to tell Malcolm about the atrocities of Macbeth. He then joins the joint forces of England and Scotland to attack Macbeth.

Macbeth - Act II - Scene III

The Porter

(Question taken from the Indispensable Work-Book on Shakespeare's Macbeth by Usha Nagpal published by National Publishing House. Suitable for class XI. Only Essay type questions answered here. If you have a doubt post a comment below. Leave your mail id if you need a personal response - else i will post my reply to this blog.)

Q1. Give a vivid account of the porter scene.

The scene starts with the porter. The porter is very drunk after he has been "carousing" at the feast. Although the Porter is rather drunk, the jokes that he makes about keeping Hell's Gate become reality when Macduff discovers the terrible scene in the King's bedroom. He describes himself as the "devil-porter" letting people into "hell". He is really Macbeth's porter letting people into Macbeth's castle and he is calling the castle a type of hell on Earth. The porter describes the types of people who come to hell. He tells us of the farmer who committed because he did not get the profit that he was expecting. He talks of the equivocator who could argue convincingly on both sides but could not convince God to let him into heaven. Then he talks of the tailor who came into hell as he had stolen some cloth. The porter describes various types of people to show that all types of people who commit sin come to hell. He says that hell is very hot - i.e. they would suffer in hell for their mis-deeds. The porter says that so many people come to hell the a gate-keeper would grow old just opening and closing the gates of hell.

This is a good example of dramatic irony as the reader knows what has been going on in the previous scene. Shakespeare uses a lot of dramatic irony in this particular scene. Shakespeare uses sentences such as, "Here's a knocking indeed", "If a man were porter of hell-gate" and "turning the key. Shakespeare uses words related to hell to give the scene a lot more effect. He uses words such as "equivocator", nouns such as "Beelzebub" and phrases such as "have napkins enow about you, here you'll sweat".



Q2. List the dramatic functions of the porter scene.
The porter scene follows Duncan's heinous murder evokes some laughter and brings an element of relief in the play. Although the gatekeeper character brings in some comedy, it also has a deeper significance. This "thoughtful laughter" primarily provides comic relief, but it also contributes to the meaning of the work by comparing the castle of Duncan to the gate of hell.

Macbeth's porter scene functions above all as slapstick comic relief following the slaughter of King Duncan. The gatekeeper reduces the tension built in the previous scenes with his drunken talk. For example, he paints a darkly comic caricature of the suspense that now pervades the Macbeth household by making light of the sudden knocking at the gates that so startled Lady Macbeth. Yet this also serves as a paradox - the parody also furthers the tension by prolonging the time between Duncan's murder and the continuation of the plot. This scene immediately prompts laughter with both the porter's light soliloquy and the heightening of the suspense.
However, the character's drunken talk also gives rise to one of the second act's central theme - the house of Macbeth as the gates of hell. His speech refers to satanic images, and he views himself as Beelzebub's gatekeeper. In this act, Shakespeare sees Macbeth's as the central character of death and corruption, evidenced by the evil plans of its Lady and the bloodthirsty acts of its Master. The porter scene emphasizes the fact that all who enter the castle and stand in the way of Macbeth's ambition might as well have entered hell, as they will certainly find a fiery death within. While this scene elicits laughter, it also contributes to Shakespeare's condemnation of Macbeth's escapades.
Macbeth's porter scene also furthers the drama's structure. The previous deeds in Act II have all transpired in an evil supernatural settings - these shocking murders could not have occurred with Shakespeare's settings. The porter scene, by evoking laughter, serves as a movement from the supernatural world of murder to the more real world.
Shakespeare's porter scene causes "thoughtful laughter" and reduces the high tension.

Q3. Bring out the humour and irony of the Porter scene.
There is humour as well as irony in the porter scene. The irony is that the porter compares his letting in people into the castle as letting people into hell. He compares himself to the gate-keeper of hell. Little does the porter know that the events which had taken place (which he does not know of yet - the murder of king Duncan) makes his comparison very real. The murder of Duncan and his guards had indeed made Macbeth's castle a hell.
The humor comes from soliloquy of the porter. He says "who's there in the name of Beelzebub"?. He compares himself to be the gate-keeper of the devil. He then brings humour by describing the reasons why people come to hell. The farmer came to hell because he killed himself for not making the expected profit from his harvest. The equivocator, who could argue on either sides, came to hell because he betrayed his country. The tailor came to hell because he had stolen some cloth. This shows that all kinds of people go to hell - for offences big and small. He also bring humour by saying " having napkins enow about you, here you will sweat". Thus the dialogues and the descriptions both bring in humor.

Macbeth - Act II, Scene II

Macbeth enters king Duncan's room for the murder


(Question taken from the Indispensable Work-Book on Shakespeare's Macbeth by Usha Nagpal published by National Publishing House. Suitable for class XI. Only Essay type questions answered here. If you have a doubt post a comment below. Leave your mail id if you need a personal response - else i will post my reply to this blog.)

Q.Compare Macbeth and Lady Macbeth after Duncan's murder. Do they change later on? Justify your answers from the play.


Even before the murder, Macbeth was unsure if he was doing the right thing by murdering king Duncan. However, it was lady Macbeth who forced the issue and ensured that Macbeth carried out the murder.


After the murder, Macbeth is distraught. He is afraid the consequences of having committed the murder. However, lady Macbeth is composed and is in command of the situation. She tells Macbeth " Why worthy Thane do you unbend your noble strength". While Macbeth is nervous after committing the murder, lady Macbeth tell Macbeth to put the instrument back at the scene of the crime. When Macbeth is hesitant she herself does this job and smears blood on the guards of Duncan. Macbeth was completely shaken up by his act. He said " every noise terrifies me". He wondered whether he could ever wash the blood stains from his hands. He is repentant after the murder. When Macduff and Lennox knock at the castle gates, he secretly hopes that this loud noise wakes up the dead king Duncan. Macbeth had difficulty in pretending to be unaware of Duncan's murder. However, Lady Macbeth is in complete charge of herself. She even asks Macduff " What's the business, that such a hideous trumpet calls to parley" (why is there so much commotion). She expresses false shock on being told by Macduff of the death of king Duncan. Later, she pretends to faint on hearing about the death of king Duncan.


Macbeth is repentant about the crime,after having committed it. We know this when he says " Wake Duncan with thy knocking". He wishes that Duncan would wake-up to the knocking at the castle gate. However, Lady Macbeth is un-repentant. She says " I am ashamed to wear a heart so white" (I am ashamed that you are so fearful).


So we can say that while Macbeth wishes he had not committed the crime, lady Macbeth was unrepentant.



Macbeth - Act II Scene I

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth



(Questions taken from the Indispensable Work-Book on Shakespeare's Macbeth by Usha Nagpal published by National Publishing House. Suitable for class XI. Only Essay type questions answered here. If you have a doubt post a comment below. Leave your mail id if you need a personal response - else i will post my reply to this blog.)
Q1. Compare the state of mind of Macbeth to that of Banquo on the night of Duncan's murder.
On the night of king Duncan's murder, Banquo was happy,content and peaceful because he was unaware of the plot to kill king Duncan. However, Macbeth was in an agitated state of mind. This was because he was about to carry out the plan of murder. Banquo was in his normal frame of mind but Macbeth was very guarded in his speech. When Banquo said " I dreamt last night of the three weird sisters; to you they have show'd some truth" - Macbeth replied that " I think not of them". Macbeth uttered a lie. He was all the time thinking of the three sisters and their predictions and had planned to kill king Duncan taking guidance from their predictions that he would be the king of Scotland.
On that night Banquo was at peace with himself after having been played a vital role in the victory of king Duncan's army over the enemies. Even though Macbeth had played a more important role in the victory of king Duncan's army -his mind was turbulent because of the murder that he had planned. He was so stressed that he started hallucinating. He saw a dagger where there was none. He saw blood stains on this dagger. He was overwhelmed by the nature of the job which lay ahead - i.e. the killing of king Duncan.
While Banquo had a good night's rest - the night tormented Macbeth. When he was about to murder king Duncan even words failed him. He was not even able to say "Amen" when Duncan in his sleep said "God Bless Us". He was so scared that every noise terrified him. Even a knocking on the door terrified him. While all this was happening to Duncan, Banquo was fast asleep. Macbeth did not sleep all night - he did not even go to bed. Yet, he had to pretend to have gone to sleep - by wearing his night-gown - when somebody started knocking on the castle door. When Macduff came the next morning, Macbeth had to pretend that he slept well the previous night and had to take Macduff to king Duncan's room as if nothing had happened. When Macduff broke the news of king Duncan's death, Macbeth had to react with false shock and false grief. However, Banquo reacted in genuine grief when he heard of the murder.
Thus, Banquo and Macbeth had completely different states of mind on the night of the murder of king Duncan.

Q2.Critically analyse Macbeth's soliloquy in this scene. What light does it throw on his character? Just before the murder, Macbeth was very stressed. He was hallucinating about a blood stained dagger. He imagined a dagger with its handle turned towards him - as if inviting him to pick it up and kill king Duncan. His senses were playing a trick on him.This illustrates that he was not in control of himself. He kept talking to himself to relieve himself of his stress. He compared the deed he was about to commit with with that Hecate' (mistress of witchcraft - who used the dead for their sacrifices) offerings. He also compared the deed that he was about to commit with that of Tarquin's crimes against innocent women.
From this soliloquy, we come to know of the following elements of his character:
a) That he was not very keen or comfortable with carrying out the act of the murder of king Duncan.
b)That he was well educated. His conversation and the use of terms like "Hecate" and "Tarquin" indicates that he was well read.
c) That he was considerate even to his servants. This can be judged from the way he tells his servant to go to sleep after tell lady Macbeth to arrange for his drink.
d) A seasoned murder would not have so many self-doubts before commiting the crime.From this soliloquy it is clear that the act Macbeth was about to commit was a temporary aberraton in his behaviour.
e) This solioquy also tells us that he behaved well with his wife. He asked the servant to tell lady Macbeth to "ring the bell when my drink is ready". Had he been inconsiderate, he would have either asked lady Macbeth to get the drink or would have asked the servant to get it for him.