Monday, December 31, 2007

Road Rage

Warning: This is a long post. A very long post. I started typing it out and didn't seem to be able to stop. If you are reading this at work, as I strongly suspect you are, this could seriously impact your productivity. As it has mine.

Driving in Gurgaon can be an incredibly frustrating experience. The sheer lawlessness, chaos and the perpetual sense of death and destruction makes for a very emotionally draining experience. There are two ways one could look at it.
1. Positive view: It gives you a renewed appreciation of how good it is to be alive. It makes you feel like a man again (engaging in all those testosterone-driven duels). And when you begin to celebrate reaching home safely each night, you know you've learnt to value life's small victories.
2. Negative view: It's a pain in the ass. It's life threatening and rage-inducing. The world appears to be full of maniacs and idiots with no concern for either their own lives or that of others.
As can be expected from a naturally cynical and angry guy like me, this post deals exclusively with the latter. So here's a guide to some of the phenomena you are likely to encounter on the roads of Gurgaon.

All over the bloody place. And they aren't just the normal kind of cows one finds all over the country. These are very large cows and bulls. Huge bulls with massive humps and dangerously long and sharp horns. Much like the ones depicted on Harappan seals

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It's clear they have been terrorizing travellers in these parts for years but nothing whatsoever has been done about them. They lie around on the roads, protected by the irrational Indian belief in their touch-them-on-pain-of-your-life holiness. They stand in front of your car in the middle of the roads, gazing at you unflinchingly, daring you to use force against them. And, occasionally, their luck runs out and they die on the roads, their deep dark blood seeping across the asphalt as we shake our heads sagely and continue driving.

If there's one thing the Haryana police have learnt, it's that there is no point putting up speed limits on any roads. Simply because the limit is merely a number. Most drivers see it not as a restriction but as a challenge. Not just a 'Can you reach this speed?' challenge but a 'Can you reach twice this speed?' challenge. And, almost invariably, the drivers win. With the result that you have huge masses of people roaring down the roads of Gurgaon with scant control over their movements and scant respect for those of others.

The motorcyclists are worse; young blood pumping ill-advisedly in their hyperactive veins, they zoom in and out of traffic, executing death defying stunts, sharp swerves and risky cross-signal tactics. Thankfully, there aren't very many of them - Gurgaon seems to be extremely unsafe for anyone not protected by something with an airbag or, at the very least, a seat belt.

All these rash drivers (two, three and four wheelers) will cut across lanes, insist on overtaking you on the wrong side, believe it is their god given right to not have to stop at traffic signals, cut wildly into traffic travelling at 100 kmph, drive on the wrong side of the road, ram into the occasional cow and, in general, make life a living hell for everyone else on the roads.

They count among their brethren truck drivers, tanker drivers, motorcyclists, tractor drivers, half the car-owning population of the city and even the occasional daring bullock cart driver. But the king, the absolute baap of them all is...

Not to be confused with Spiderman, Superman, Batman and the like, even though he does perform death defying stunts. He would be a crime fighter, except that he's almost always on the wrong side of the law. And no, he's not an anti-hero, he's pure evil villain.

I refer to those who drive cabs, particularly those employed by BPO companies to ferry their hapless employees. These are all private operators (Gurgaon has little or no reliable and safe public transport) and are, I think, paid on the basis of how quickly they get from point A to point B. Which results in them zooming in and out of traffic, muscling in on the flow of traffic in any and every direction and generally making one hell of a nuisance of themselves. Apart from, of course, being a serious safety hazard on the roads. Not a week goes by without news of someone being mowed down by one of these cabs (or mooed down, if attacked by one of the aforementioned bulls).

They are not averse to giving you a little nudge from the back if they feel you're travelling too slowly. Or, what's worse, socialise from the side by bringing their cabs within a couple of nanometres of one's doors. This is, as you can expect, an extremely frightening and heartwrenching thing for someone with a relatively new car that he would like to see survive for as long as possible without scratches. But where there are mad cab drivers, there are scratches galore. The Viking raiders of old left smoking ruins after every plunder. The villainous robbers in Home Alone left the water running after every robbery. Gurgaon's cabmen leave a wide range of scratches after every interaction.

And nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop them.

Have you, dear reader, driven on city roads? If you have, you might have noticed little white lines on the roads, usually dividing them into roughly equal fractions. These fractions of the road, referred to as lanes, are meant to facilitate orderly flow of traffic in neat lines. Queues, if you will.

Gurgaon, apparently, finds lane driving an alien concept. No one EVER EVER follows them. Which is extremely frustrating for someone who was brought up (in driving terms) in an environment which taught him to respect lane flow.

The Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA, which sounds surprisingly like Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman - and some believe is just as blind)... where was I? Oh yes. HUDA, in all earnestness, paints lines all over the roads, only to have them completely and utterly ignored by practically every single member of the driving populace.

Two lanes of traffic are often converted into three, with the ones in the middle not seeming the least bit remorseful about breaking driving etiquette (is it a law?). They merely nudge, cajole and threaten (ever had a tall bearded Jat brandish a heavy stick at you?) their way into any open space to create a lane of their own. The road I take to office morphs from 3 lanes to 5 (sometimes 6!) during rush hour. The National Highway to Delhi miraculously transforms from 8 to 14 lanes, all choc-a-bloc with irate drivers and peaceful cows.

What's more, they often do not stay in their lanes (imaginary or official). Everyone glides, slides and pirouettes across lanes, in and out of traffic with absolutely ZERO regard for the situation of traffic in the lanes they are cutting into. As one who has often been cut off by such insane lane-switchers, I have learnt to control my anger ("I'll kill you, b#$%&@*d!") and become more philosophical about it. ("The way you're driving, you're going to die sooner or later. B#$%&@*d.")

Lanes are a thing of the past, a needless imposition of order and discipline in an environment where order and discipline can get one abused, scratched, beaten up or killed.

I do not know which city/state reports the largest number of suicides (for non-agricultural reasons) and/or accidental deaths each year, but I would be very surprised if Gurgaon is not near the top of the list. The local people seem to be blessed with an innate propensity to take risks, some of which take the form of walking in the middle of a busy road or sprinting across a eight-lane highway, even as rash drivers (especially cabmen) bear down upon them with unflinching bloodlust.

Trust me, driving here is not an exercise for the faint-hearted, given the nature of these pedestrians. They jump onto the roads when you least expect them (you are, of course barrelling down a 80kmph highway at 120 kmph). They play peekaboo with you from behind telephone poles and/or cows, a now-you-see-them-now-you-don't cat-and-mouse game that usually goes "accelerate, turn up the volume, accelerate, press the pedal all the way down, glance up at the man doing a jig in the middle of the road, slam down hard on the brakes, skid on the road, screech to a halt". It wouldn't be out of place in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.

What irks me is not so much the fact that they cross the road at all - they can't help it, even chickens have been known to do it - but that they
a. Seem to have no idea that walking at 0.2 kmph across a busy highway puts them at significant risk of dying a gory death; there is NO move on their path to hurry across, even with crazy drivers zooming down on them.
b. Seem to wait for a car to come on the horizon before stepping onto the road, almost flaunting the fact that they, being human, have greater right to be on the road than the machine thundering on it day and night; said machine must necessarily stop before the frail 90 year old, grinning in the middle of the road. It's a power game, I tell you.

The safest thing to do is to never drive on the innermost or outermost lanes. Stick to the middle. Or if there isn't a middle, create one (as described earlier). At least you'll have a little more time to react to your opponent/victim.

It's hard to crib about these guys. Unfair, almost. After all, they do have to make a living. But if there's one thing I pride myself on, it's my ability to rant about anything and everything without conscience.

Rickshaw drivers (RDs, in the interests of time, energy and my not getting Carpel Tunnel Syndrome) are a law unto themselves. They know they're onto a good thing. In the absence of credible public transport, they are the average person's best mode of transport. When the average person's car is at the mechanic's, of course - the average rickshaw-using person, as defined by Gurgaon standards, owns a car. Two, sometimes.

RDs think nothing of driving in exactly the opposite direction to the rest of traffic flow. Perhaps they feel the same sense of power pedestrians do. Perhaps they feel they're giving their customers their money's worth by taking them from Point A to Point B with death-defying thrills thrown in. The same applies to when they randomly cut across four lanes of traffic (officially two) just to get to a nearby U-turn or chat with a fellow RD on the other side of the road. Also, in what infuriates me more than anything else, they ALWAYS occupy the fastest lane. Which is fine in Gurgaon where no one gives a damn which side you overtake on, but it still affects what's left of my road sense.

The best way to avoid hitting a rickshaw is to stick to the National Highways. Or else ride in a rickshaw oneself.

It's ironic that for a city that moves so insanely fast, there are speedbreakers all over the place, seemingly laid out at random. There are several stretches where one would encounter four or five of them within a kilometre. Which is all for the best, I guess - I'm sure they help save lives - but what gets my goat is that many of these are a. horribly formed, making a single hump a bloody roller coaster ride, and b. not marked or coloured in any way. Which means that I often get jolted horribly and have my insides shaken up irrecoverably, with absolutely no warning whatsoever. And this results in me being reduced to a nervous wreck whenever I'm driving in any remotely residential area...

What the HELL is wrong with everyone? WHYOWHYOWHY do people have to travel with headlights at full beam all the time? I have enough things to give me a headache without the random guy ehind me shining full force into my car and my rear view mirror. Does he not realise it is blindingly painful? How would he like it if I was to flash a bright light straight into his pupils, huh?

I can fully understand the use of high beam on the dark highways, but NOT within the city where you have enough glitz and neon to light one's way. Do you really need 500m worth of visibility when there's a car 2m in front of you? Huh? Huh? I spend a significant portion of my night-time driving making flashing symbols at the guys behind me, a desperate plea for him to dip his bloody lights.

Unfortunately, it hardly works. And what I hate most about idiots who drive on full beam all the time are those who drive on full beam all the time with...

This paragraph is addressed directly to the user of halogen lamps, not you, most dear and respected reader.

What the fish is wrong with you? Is the normal headlight that insufficient that you must get yourself this insanely bright, piercing, obscenely white light? If you were in a coastal city, you'd be mistaken for a bloody lighthouse. What madness possessed you to feel that the standard lights are not enough, especially when the car in front of you is never more than 10m ahead (and that's on a good night!)? Do you see the pure white light as some symbol of your purity, or a literal reflection of your mental brightness? Do you think people will be impressed and mentally say, "Damn, I wish I was him!". No, idiot, no. People will be pissed and say "Damn, I wish I could kill him!"

So there you go, ladies and gentlemen. Everything on the roads that irritates me. I've left out a few of the minor irritants - undercar lighting, slow tractors and somewhat incompetent policemen come to mind - but these are the biggies. Do keep a watch out for them. Steer clear of them, and you'll live longer.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Kho na jaaye yeh Taare Zameen Par

If you were to watch only one movie this holiday season, I suggest you make it Taare Zameen Par that released today.



It's a movie about a dyslexic boy who can't seem to do anything right academically and prefers fish and paints to books and sports. It's about how he is misunderstood by all around him (including his parents), and how one special teacher helps him and others around him realise, appreciate and celebrate his inner worth. The beauty of the movie lies in the fact that the movie is less about the dyslexia itself and more about the boy, the relationships he shares with people around him and his feelings... the final 'moral', as it were, being that everyone is different in their own special and unique way; in trying to conform to the world's perception of success, structured thinking, reward/punishment and appropriate behaviour, one loses sight of this uniqueness. And thus, we stand to unknowingly lose these taare zameen par, literally these stars on Earth.

This is easily one of the best movies to have come out of much maligned (and rightly so!) Bollywood this year.

I am not going to review this movie. I do not have the skills to present a compelling review of the movie from a filmmaking standpoint. Nor am I a cinebuff in any sense of the word, to be able to draw academic comparisons between TZP and other great works of the past. I write as a normal member of the audience. And, sitting with a hundred other people in that darkened hall, I lived the life of the troubled protagonist Ishaan through the magnificent narrative of Amole Gupta and the creative lens of the constantly surprising Aamir Khan.

The movie has several things going for it. First things first - the star of the show. No, not Aamir Khan but Darsheel Safary, the young boy who carries the entire movie completely on his frail shoulders. His expressions, his body language, his voice... all draw the viewer into his little make believe world where the letters of the alphabet dance and Captain Bindaas solves math problems in unique ways. Throw in a brilliant supporting cast - particularly Tisca Chopra as the mother and Aamir Khan as, of course, the teacher - and you have an ensemble cast that hits the perfect notes in practically each and every scene.

All this backed by a beautiful story and a strong script, that treads the fine line between sensitivity and mawkish sentimentality to perfection. It involves you in the life and problems of the protagonist, while not drowning one in an overdose of preachiness and melodrama (please tone it down just a little, Mr Sanjay Leela 'Black' Bhansali). The school scenes were imaginatively written and wonderfully shot, evoking deep empathy with Ishaan but also providing a solid sense of nostalgia for one's own school days.

The direction was good - I know nothing of the finer technical aspects to be able to make any sensible comment on them - but full credit is due to Aamir, for ensuring that his star presence does not in any way come remotely close to overshadowing the primary character. And do NOT miss out on the montage of videos played during the closing credits; they're an extremely beautiful collection - moving, cute, touching, disturbing, hopeful...

And last but definitely not the least, the music. Mindblowing. Just the right touches and soft flourishes in the right places to make each song meld beautifully into the story, enabling the filmmakers to stick to Bollywood convention of songs every ten minutes yet use unconventional melodies (Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy) and simple lyrics (Good show, Prasoon Joshi!) to perfectly capture the characters' state of mind. I would strongly recommend the infectious 'Bum Bum Bole' (much better on the screen than on audio), the beautiful, lilting title song and the starkly simple yet meltingly moving 'Maa', which evocatively expresses the boy's loneliness and longing when separated from his mother.

This is one movie you must not miss.

This is one movie that I did not come out of cribbing that I hadn't got value for the insanely expensive movie ticket.

This is one movie that I would love to see succeed commercially, if only to prove the point that modern India stills values and appreciates fine filmmaking, and is willing to pay for it and not consign it to the deathly spiral of film festivals and special screenings. It would really anger me if this movie were to crash and burn (as several trade analysts predicted before its release, given its storyline) even as a leave-your-brain-at-home-to-watch-a-marketing-genius-with-six-packs Om Shanti Om rakes in over a hundred crores.

This is now the best Bollywood movie I've seen all year, beating out the astonishingly well made sports movie Chak De! India and the poetically shot, controversial commercial dud (and India's entry to the Oscars!) Eklavya.

So do yourself a favour this holiday season, folks. Watch Taare Zameen Par. If it makes you think about children differently for even a few minutes, it will have achieved its purpose. It will have had the impact and response it aimed for and deserves.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Advice of the Year

It's that time of the year when anybody and everybody with access to any medium creates 'Best of 2007' lists. Newspapers, Websites and TV Channels knock themselves silly trying to come up with innovative 'Best Of's.

Best Movie/Song of the Year.
Best Advertisement of the Year.
Best News Story of the Year.
Best Photograph of the Year.
Best Blog Post of the Year.
Best Fashion Faux-Pas of the Year.
Best Cricketer Unceremoniously Dumped by the BCCI of the Year.
Best Cosmetic Surgery of the Year.
Best Rich Fame-obsessed Degenerate Hollywood Star of the Year.
Best Traffic Control Mechanism of the Year (this should go to Gurgaon's cows)
Best Mobile Phone That's Actually a Phone and Not a Bloody Life-Controlling Supercomputer of the Year.
Best 'Best of' category of the year.

I normally do not give a flying fish about these things... but wait up, bandwagon. I'm clambering on.

So why 'Advice of the Year'? I don't really know. I've never given advice on this blog before. For one very good reason - giving advice typically requires some level of wisdom about the topic one is advising the world about. And wisdom is something, as several people have pointed out to me throughout my life, that I am in very short supply of. I'm still in short supply of wisdom, but the difference now is that I've ceased to give a damn about it.

So here's my pearl:

When send an SMS using your mobile phone's predictive text/dictionary, check the message before you press send.

As always, there's a story behind this.


Actually, wait a minute.


Before I get into the story, let me make my stand on predictive text/dictionary (which I shall henceforth refer to as PTD to avoid wearing out my fingers) very clear.

I'm a HUGE fan of Nokia's T9 PTD. I find it extremely convenient when typing an SMS, and believe it helps save me a LOT of energy that would otherwise go into hammering out messages on the tiny keys on the phone. This energy can then be directed towards critical tasks like flipping a channel on TV, opening a bag of chips, or scratching the itchy parts of one's body. The PTD rocks... but recent events have caused me to learn a very important lesson the hard way.

Aha! Piqued your interest, haven't I? "Recent events"... Hmmm... the suspense builds... The promise of a twist in the tale! This is like one of those passages at the end of a chapter in a novel that goes

She looked at him longingly as he opened the door and stepped out.
"Do you really have to go?"
He smiled.
"You know I have to, darling. But I'll be back in two hours. I promise."
"Love you."
"Love you too."
She shut the door softly, already going over the lovely evening she had planned for him.
Little did she know she would never see him again.
(Cue to brooding percussion score)

I'm sorry, I tend to digress. More on the recent events and the story in a bit.

Like I said, I'm a huge fan of this feature. I have, however, often come across people who are avowed haters of this function, and much prefer to spell out the words themselves.

Being a man of science, I decided to conduct a comprehensive and conclusive study to evaluate the benefits of predictive text. Here's the highly scientific and rigorous procedure I followed:
1. Approach five people at random and ask them to give me their five to ten most commonly SMSed words
2. Count and compare the number of key presses required with and without T9
3. That's about it

And here, ladies and gentlemen are the results. The format followed below is word (key presses with T9, key presses without T9)

Respondent 1:
post (4, 9)
stupidity (9, 19)
urinal (6, 14)
inhospitable (12, 27)
chocolate (9, 21)
movies (7, 16)

Respondent 2:
Kaka (8, 6)
Mia (5, 5)
television (10, 26)
man (3, 4)
she's (5, 18)
smoking (7, 16)
hot (4, 6)

Respondent 3:
adaptor (7, 11)
strategy (8, 16)
market (6, 10)
paper (5, 8)
place (5, 10)
sunlight (8, 18)
there (5, 10)

Respondent 4:
meet (4, 6)
call (4, 10)
please (6, 13)
me (3, 3)
ok (2, 5)
girl (4, 10)

Respondent 5:
no (3, 5)
are (3, 6)
you (3, 8)
f***ing (11, 16)
nuts? (8, 13)
get (3, 4)
lost (4, 11)
freak (5, 11)

Net result: On average, with-PTD words are 50.13% as long as without-PTD words.

There you go. QED. I rest my case, and all that jazz.

We have now established that PTD rocks, Nokia's T9 in particular. As a result of my fervent belief in the usefulness and infallibility of this feature, I have of late become just a leeetle lax in terms of assuming it will always throw up the word that I intend to use in my SMS.

Back to the story now.


A few days ago. After a long hard day at work, I came home tired and looking forward to a few hours of destressing. I kicked off my smelly socks and settled down in front of the TV. I flipped channels... Survivor China - bleah. Discussions about the Gujarat elections - yawn. Reruns of the World Female Naked Mud Wrestling Championships - not again. And then I happened upon Pink Panther, the movie.

The movie itself is no great shakes, but I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Steve Martin (even post Pink Panther). And so I settled down to two hours of simple entertainment that wouldn't be too taxing for my severely constrained mental faculties.

In the midst of the movie, a friend SMSed me: "Hey, what's up? What are you doing?"

I sent her a reply saying I was watching Pink Panther. I got a reply before I could say "Inspector Clouseau" (Not that I was trying to, of course.) "You're what? Freak!"

Naturally, I was taken aback. People insult me all the time, and to be fair I usually give them ample reason to do so. But this sort of completely unprovoked attack took even a man of steel like myself by surprise.

To make my stand clear, I decided to send my earlier message again. "I'm watching Pink -"

And that's when I realised that T9's default for P-A-N-T-H-E-R is P-A-N-T-I-E-S.

One lives and learns.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

If you've always thought my blog's just bull...'re right!

The pic above was, of course, taken in New York. This is the famous Charging Bull near Wall Street. The sheer size, weight and massiveness of the sculpture was stunning. The level of anatomical detail was pretty impressive as well, including the surprisingly large... erm... you know. I'd put up a picture, but that wouldn't be appropriate given the fact that there are several impressionable young kids who read my blog.

On another track, a lot of you have been telling me through mails, dbabs and this blog that it's high time I get back to blogging... I'm really really sorry it's been such a while since my last post. I've been pretty busy of late, but life is so varied and one's daily experiences so unique (and, often, frustrating!) that there is always a potential blogpost round the corner... so do bear with me for a bit, I'll try to be as regular as possible in the months to come. That said, thank you SO much... it really feels nice to know there are people who enjoy my random flights of thought and look forward to reading more of it :)

(Btw, I owe the photograph to Divya, who waited VERY patiently till all the other tourists cleared off so we could take this shot!)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ever wish you were a giraffe? I do.

If there's one great life-lesson I would pass on to future generations, it would be this:

When travelling, always pack an extra pair of socks in your hand baggage.

Let me put this pearl of wisdom in context.

Three days ago, I was in New York. I had a flight to catch in the afternoon, and had decided to spend the morning and early afternoon walking around the city, doing some shopping and meeting friends. What made the plan all the more acceptable was the weather. Mild rain and light winds came together to make it very pleasant and extremely romantic weather for a walk about New York. Sure, there were puddles every now and then, but splashing about in puddles is precisely what the child in every one of us loves.

I was having such a good afternoon that I lost track of time, and only just made it to the airport in time to check in. I sent my bag through, picked up my boarding pass and ambled off towards the boarding gate. I pulled out my laptop (yes, I was working!) and sat down, when a sudden loud squelch and a strong pungent smell assailed my senses.

I looked left. Nothing.
I looked right. Nothing.
I looked up. Nothing.
I looked down. Ah.

A morning romp through the puddled streets of New York in the rain might bring glorious joy to the mind and spirit, but wreaks havoc on one's footwear. My shoes and socks were wet through, and increasingly smelly. I eased my feet out of my shoes to allow them a little air, and nearly gagged. An old man three seats away went into a paroxysm of coughing, and a woman two rows behind me said in a voice that could be heard across the Atlantic, "What in God's name is that smell?!"

Said woman did not, however, have the time to launch a detailed investigation into the phenomenon as boarding was announced. I sighed, shoved my wet-sock-covered wet foot into my wet shoes and squelched my way through the queue onto the aerobridge into the plane and squeezed into my seat. Relieved at having a relative stretch of peace, quiet and sock-drying ahead of me, I proceeded to take off my shoes. I let out a satisfied sigh. I even went so far as to wiggle my toes in comfort.

One thing I really miss about London is the British sense of subtlety and politeness. Tell them an earthquake has wiped out Dover and they'll respond with a "By Jove, you don't say! How frightful!" Inform them that they have just won a million pound lottery and they'll react with a "Oh, jolly good show!" Block them on an escalator in the Underground, and they'd cough under their breath and say, "If you don't mind awfully, young man, could you please shift to your left just a bit so I could pass? Thank you so much, awfully kind of you. Good day." Order an English breakfast in a pub and the waitress'll serve you your plate with a warm smile and an "Enjoy your meal, love!"

My impression of Americans is, however, just the opposite. Not that it's wrong to be like that. It's just very in-your-face. Look at Donald Trump. Look at Las Vegas. Look at the Big Mac.

Anyway, so there I was wiggling my toes in comfort. Approximately 1.4 seconds later, I felt someone poking me in the shoulder. I turned around to face a very big, very red American woman. "Yes?" I asked. "Put on your shoes, boy, you're stinking up the whole damn plane!" she roared.

Perfectly true, but I'm sure there are better ways of putting it. Hard to argue with her logic though. I sighed (yup, I have quite a lot of practice in that line) squished my wet shoes back on, and settled in for what I was sure was going to be a very podiatrically uncomfortable 8 hour long flight. To add to my misery, one of the inflight movies was 300, which featured Spartans happy and content in their open-toed sandals.

I arrived at Amsterdam, and headed straight for the most remote seating area I could find. I ripped off my shoes and my socks, and threw up into the conveniently placed bin near my seat.

Someone walked up and noticed the empty seats stretched on either side of me. He sat down three seats away from me. He sniffed. He cast an evil looked in my direction. He sniffed again. He got up and left.

This happened to me seven more times over the next hour, even though I had chosen a seat as far away from the rest as humanity as possible (insofar as one can be far away from humanity at a major international airport).

As the area started filling up, and the sniffs became more pronounced and laden with menacing intent, I let decency take over from comfort, and put my shoes back on. They were reasonably dry, and considerably less smelly, so that made the 8 hour flight back to Delhi relatively more tolerable.

The End.

Moral of the story (Just to drive home the point): Keep a supply of fresh socks handy at all times. Or be a giraffe so your nose is far far away from your feet.

Smelly socks, smelly socks your smell is preceding you
Smelly socks, smelly socks it's not your fault...
It's because of me that you're drenched wet
You're causing discomfort to others, I'll bet
You stink like a dead animal that decomposes
Yeah you're no friend to those with noses.
Smelly socks, smelly socks your smell is preceding you
Smelly socks, smelly socks it's not your fault!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Empirical observations from New York...

...on the basis of about 15 hours of walking around midtown and downtown Manhattan.

At a reasonably brisk pace of walking, one sees
a. A Dunkin Donuts every 14 minutes
b. A McDonalds every 10 minutes
c. A Starbucks every 5 minutes
d. A Japanese tourist clicking photos of everything that moves (and most things that don't) every 2 minutes.

Other observations/musings:
a. Nothing seems to have changed since I was here 10 years ago. Except for the fact that every second person has an Apple product in his pocket, on his palm, or in his ear.
b. Manhattan is a very very easy place to be a tourist and/or explorer on foot. The fact that lower midtown and northwards is laid out in simple rectangular grids makes it idiot-proof, and hence ideal for me.
c. Italian food in New York is probably second only to Italian food in Italy. And it's one hell of a close contest.
d. Times Square is simply waaaaay too loud and bright. The screens light up the damn place like it's daytime. Nice if you like that kind of burning-the-eyeballs intensity but it's not my cup of tea. I'm sure with this kind of energy consumption, Times Square alone must be a major contributor to global warming. Any thoughts, Mr Gore? On the other hand, I must admit the sheer vitality of the place is simply mindblowing. And very very seductive.
e. London is waaaaay more expensive than New York. In practically every single sphere of activity.
f. The London Underground, however, is super seductively sexy compared to the NY Subway. It may be smaller and connect fewer places, but it's cleaner and more idiot-proof (again, critical to me). This is a clear distinction between the two, and the New York authorities should Mind the Gap (snigger, snigger).
g. Americans are waaaaay (I realise I'm using 'waaaay' waaaay too many times, but it's now waaaay beyond my control.) too fond of starchy, sweet and fatty food. In my two weeks here, I've put on what feels like atleast 5 kgs. And that's just on my arms.
h. Blueberry Cake Donuts rock. Big time. And I will brook no argument whatsoever on this point. (This might seem to tie in with point g above but anyone who dares suggest such a thing will have to deal with a fist that has grown 150% in 14 days.)

More later. Ciao.

I apologize for the infrequent posts and replies to comments of late. I've been busy (working, unbelievable though it may seem!)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Update to my previous post: Schiphol!

In my previous post, I had mentioned the flies painted on the urinals at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.

Well, I was at Schiphol earlier today and decided to check it out first hand. (Two for best aim, actually, but let's not go into that.) So here's a first-person photo:

Cue 'fly' jokes

So there I was, peacefully minding my own business taking this photo... when I heard a cough behind me.

I turned around, and there stood a Dutch policeman, looking at me rather quizzically.

"Sir, what are you doing?" he asked.

My brain whirred into action and I replied with the entirely truthful, "I was taking a picture of the urinal."

He looked at me. I looked at him. He looked at me. I looked at him.

It struck me that "I was taking a picture of the urinal" is not the most convincing or elaborate of answers to give Amsterdam's finest.

I decided to elucidate. "You see, I've heard a lot about how Schiphol's urinals are unique because they have flies painted on them. Quite interesting, actually, so I thought I'd take a photo just as a memory."

He looked at me. I looked at him.

And then he broke into a smile. "Ah, that's nice!" he said. "There is a lot more to Amsterdam though!"

I smiled sheepishly, zipped up (the camera case, I mean) and headed out into the bright, inviting sounds and sights of Schiphol Airport.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

You're within the boundaries of Alabama!

Ladies, gentlemen, and that guy who lives across the corridor from me and stares at me as I leave for work every morning. This post has two parts to it. The first is... well, a post. Yet another piece of my random ramblings about something that popped into my head. The second part features The first ever Lord of the Things Contest. Here we go!

WARNING: This post deals with the same topic that this one dealt with - micturition. If you're mentally going, "Ewwwwww, yucky!" or are in general not comfortable with the topic, I would suggest not reading any further. Reading this post further, I mean; don't drop reading altogether. Feel free to read a novel or a newspaper, if you want. (Make believe worlds and
death/destruction/illogical politics are just so much better, aren't they?) And please do come back to my blog sometime in the not-too-distant future. If you were to boycott my blog altogether, I'd lose 20% of my readership. 25% if I don't count myself.

I'm sorry, I tend to get carried away.

REVISED WARNING: This post deals with urination. In some detail. If this pisses you off, tata bye bye have a nice day.

Men all over the world are faced with a perplexing problem - how exactly does one use a urinal? I've managed it fairly well for several years now, but what precisely is the technique? Where, in a urinal, does one aim? Into the back wall or into the base? And how, by GOD, does one avoid splashing? (Especially onto 65-35 polywool mix formal pants where the droplets just stay on top and don't soak through yet refuse to be wiped away, leaving a faint yet unsettling smell... a friend's experience, of course, not mine. Definitely not mine.)

These are critical issues, ones that we men worry about day after day. Social ettiquette restricts us from sharing our anguish, so we cover our crippling anxiety and insecurity by loudly cracking crude jokes about farting and the human anatomy.

<- SIDELINE: Bilingual Adult Joke ->
Courtesy Dbabble. If I find out who posted it, I'll let you know.
NB: If you don't know German, ask someone to translate. Or try this.
A lady is walking down a dark street in Berlin. Suddenly, a man jumps out of an alleyway, wearing nothing but a long trench coat. He whips it open in a single fluid moment.

"Eww! That's gross!" says the lady. And the man smiles broadly and replies, "Thanks!"

<- End of Sideline ->

Back to my rant about urinals.

Anybody who has spent a fair amount of time in front of one or more urinals will appreciate some fundamental facts about their design. The designers seem to have had the right idea - the walls of the urinal are curved in a manner that any liquid hitting it should experience streamlined/laminar flow, thereby gracefully flowing down the wall and into the drain. Logical? Yes. Except that it doesn't work! Time and again, at over 50 cities in more than 15 countries all over the world, my friend has been experienced the splashback effect.

What makes the situation worse is the cumulative effect of several users being splashed. User 1 does his job, gets splashed, and thereby leaves a little memory of his visit on the ground in front of the urinal. Unhygienic and selfish chap that he his, he doesn't wipe it up or assumes others will either
a. Appreciate and enjoy this spontaneous, brotherly sharing of body fluids
b. Mistake it for a part of the floor pattern

User 2, naturally, can't be expected to clean up after User 1 (unless it's his job to do so - but let's leave such complications out of the story). User 2, now has to take aim from further back. As one can imagine, this does not help the situation. User 3 and User 4 follow suit. While some like yours truly are comfortable with and can handle the distance, not all are as gifted, leading to one heck of a mess. All of which could have been avoided if only the urinal didn't splash so to begin with.

If you're looking for alternatives, check out this patented Anti-Splashback design. I'm sure it's very scientific and all that, but the thought of peeing into something that looks remarkably like a human ear gives me the shivers. And if it were to give me the shivers during the act itself, well... so much for the objective of an anti-splash session.

One design that I would like to see more of is a Saxophone-like one. Just look at the structure... isn't it perfect?

Apologies to Mahesh - he loves his sax

Peeing down rather than straight (or up), and having it conveyed further away from you is sure to minimize the splash. Plus it's less icky to consider peeing into a musical instrument than into someone's ear. (Unless you're the kind of person who likes indulging in that sort of thing. Again, let's leave such complications out of consideration.)

The chaps who designed the urinals at Schipol airport in Amsterdam came up with a cool way of attacking the problem - make the pee-er pee properly! Each urinal has a fly drawn on it. Yes, a fly. And no, I'm not going to crack a joke about the appropriateness of this in the current context. I'm guessing any guy coming up there would see the fly and think, "Harrrumph! Let's see if I can get the b@#$@%!" and proceed to aim straight at that spot. I know I probably would. It's a guy thing. Why restrict oneself to just urinating when one can urinate and make a sport of it? Anyways, I'm guessing that achieves two things
a. You're shooting at the best point, from an engineering/fluid mechanics point of view, in the curvature (locus, focus... there's some technical term that's relevant here) to get minimum splash.
b. You're concentrating on ensuring a steady stream, minimizing the human tendency to be wayward and somewhat directionless when not having much to think about.

It's high time the world woke up to the problems half it's population faces thanks to either lousy design of urinals or inadequate training/awareness of how to use them. And it's high time we stopped focusing on making peeing more pleasureable and concentrated on making it more efficient.

My limited research on the topic (Google gives 2,040,000 search results for 'How to use a urinal', including this very useful beginners' guide) doesn't seem to provide any definitive answers in the context of splashing... I'd welcome your inputs on this critical issue. (I would have called it a burning issue, but then we all know that can be treated with medication.)

The first Lord of the Things Contest

It gives me great pleasure to announce The first ever Lord of the Things Contest. If you've actually suffered through the entire post above, you truly deserve to participate in this contest.

Question: What's the funda behind the title of the post?

Post your answers as comments. The first person with the correct answer wins!

I haven't decided what the prize will be, but depending on your age, gender and sexual orientation, you could be the proud recipient of a Genuine AC/Kaka branded passionate kiss or enthusiastic high five. At the very least, I'll feature your blog's link prominently on my blog (yeah right, like that's going to increase your traffic!)

(Disclaimer: Prizes could vary considerably from how cool and/or desirable you imagine them to be.)


Saturday, September 29, 2007

My baby just turned one!

I took her out to celebrate, bought her some stuff (she looks so beautiful decked up), went on a long drive... just a little private time together to convey to her how much she means to me and how important a part of my life she is.

Yup, my car is now one month old. And boy, do I love her.

There's something incredibly special about the first major investment one makes with one's own, hard-earned money. The sheer exhiliration, the thrill, the oh-my-god-I'm-so-grown-up feeling. And the insane attachment to the object. Buying her in my second month of employment resulted in my bank balance becoming very dangerously low, but I didn't care. I'm probably going to sell her a year or so from now when I move out of Gurgaon, but she'll always be special. There'll always be a little corner of my heart where will nestle an image of my Alto.

She isn't particularly remarkable in terms of looks; there are a million others just like her across India. But she'll always be the most beautiful of them all to me.

Some of my friends refer to their cars/bikes as their mistresses or girlfriends (which allows for corny dialogues like "I was riding her last night"), but for some inexplicable reason I view my car as a daughter. A little kid who has brought new meaning, a new emotional focus to my life, someone who I will nurture as she grows older and her wide eyed innocence (silky smooth gearshift, lovely suspension) meets the big bad world (potholes, pollution, maniacal drivers). Someone who, in just a matter of minutes, can make me forget my worries and strifes. Some who, without a single word, can cheer me up when I'm down. Someone to come home to (or with) after a hard day's work.

As she grows older, she will begin to rebel. She'll acquire a mind of her own, one that simply will not listen to what I have to say. She'll grumble and whine and be difficult. And someday, she'll leave me and go to someone else, someone who will become the new center of her life. But I'll always love her.

Happy Birthday, baby.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Ask not what your country can do for you...

Ask who you can do for your country.

This piece of news is just brilliant.

If you're thinking what I'm thinking, these links - One and Two - should help.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

What part of "It's a Sunday" do you not understand?

I look forward to the weekends as a time for me to wake up late, laze around and in general not be bound by the need to be at work.

Last night, I had a nice dinner and then watched a couple of movies back to back. I went to bed at 4 a.m., content in the knowledge that the foundations of my world would not be shaken if I didn't wake before 2 p.m. Or, at the very earliest, noon.

Fate had other plans for me.

8:00 a.m.:
The doorbell peals loud and long, breaking through the suffused fog of my dreamless sleep. I search for and put on my glasses (why the $%@# are they never where I left them last night?) and stagger to the front door. The unwelcome visitor is a refrigerator delivery guy. Yes, a refrigerator. At freaking 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning. What makes things infinitely worse is that the delivery isn't even meant for me; the guy had the address wrong. I make it clear to him that I most definitely do not want the refrigerator and if he didn't clear off my doorstep in 2 seconds, I'd be glad to show him where he could go put that blasted refrigerator of his. I swear loudly at the world in general, and at lost refrigerator delivery guys in particular, and go back to bed.

8:15 a.m.:
The doorbell again. This time it's the guy who washes the cars. And he's brought a friend! He goes into this long story of how he is going home for the week and his friend will be standing in for him. I hand him the keys and stumble back to bed in a sleepy stupor, stubbing my toe on the doorframe along the way. Another volley of curses before I drift back into sleep.

8:30 a.m.:
Yup, you guessed it. The doorbell. Now it's the newspaper guy come to collect his monthly payment. He doesn't have change for a hundred, so I lean groggily against the doorframe while he wakes up the neighbours to get the change from them. The neighbour offers an obscenely cheerful "Hi!"; I reply with "Grumble mumble freakin’ hell mumble grumble" and find my way back to bed.

8:45 a.m.:
You know the routine. (Suspense isn't one of the strong points of this narrative.) The car-wash guy's friend is back. He hands over the key and goes into this long spiel about how the original car-wash guy isn't really all that great, how he does a poor job, and how he (the speaker) would be way better. He ends with an earnest request that we transfer car-wash duties to him on a permanent basis and not trust his friend, the current car-wash guy. Complicated story? Try listening to it when you're half-awake, blurry-eyed and desperately trying to make sense of broken Hindi with a heavy Bengali accent. For all I know, he could have been talking about the body organ sales market in the area. Heck, for all I know I probably promised him my kidney. I have no idea what I said to him, but he eventually left. Having learnt my lesson, I plop down on the sofa near the door and try to get some sleep.

9:00 a.m.:
The @#%$%@%@$@ doorbell again. This time it's the garbage collection guy, politely enquiring if I have any garbage to be disposed of. I have loads of it, but I neither have the stamina nor the interest to go through the process. I promise to give him cartloads of garbage tomorrow if only he would please please go away. (Looking back, I shouldn't have done that; the poor chap looked a little hurt.)

The morning was ruined. There was no way whatsoever I could go back to sleep after that. I was condemned to live the day in a zombie-like stupor/trance. And that's that.

So much for Sundays.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

True story. I kid you not.

The story that follows is an absolutely true one. Though it may read like a one-man disaster movie script, it actually did happen to me over a 75 minute period of my life that's never coming back.

Here's the dope, in seven scenes...

Scene One: The day is done

Finally, for the first time this week, I was in a position to leave work for home relatively early. It being a Friday evening and me not having much of a social life to speak of, I made plans to go to a movie with a few friends.

For various reasons that I won't go into here, I didn't have a car available. A friend of mine kindly consented to drop me home, and pick me up an hour later so we could go to the movie. One hour - ample time to have a quick bath (yes, I realise this is surprising, but I do bathe more often that I used to a few months ago), rustle up some dinner and change into something hip and cool (yeah, I'm laughing too) for the night out. Also, I very badly needed to use the toilet.

Scene Two: What to do?

So I walked towards my flat, eagerly looking forward to getting home because a. I was tried and hungry, and b. the need to use the loo was rising at a rather uncomfortable rate. And that is when the first Cruel Joke occurred. I didn't have my keys.

None of my flatmates or other friends staying in the same complex were at home, so there I was locked out of home, alone and in need of a loo. I decided to take a rickshaw to the movie complex (in a mall, where else?), figuring that there just had to be a toilet there.

There are usually three or four rickshaws standing outside my building, as there is a steady flow of customers. On this occasion, I was dealt cruel Joke No. 2. Not a single rickshaw in sight, and none turned up for the next five minutes.

I needed a toilet really really bad. And had no easy way of getting to the multiplex. That was when it struck me that there was another mall nearby that I had never visited. And where there is a mall, there is bound to be a toilet. The mall was about five minutes' walk away. And so I set off.

Scene Three: This experience didn't lift me

The very entrance of the mall did not augur well for the success of my mission. It was cast in shadows thanks to low lighting, and the parking lot was deserted. The security guards outside looked up from their chai in surprise, shocked that someone was actually entering the mall.

Inside, it was like a ghost town. Te lights were on, and the air conditioning was on in full blast. But there were NO people whatsoever and ALL the shops were closed. It was a freakin' desert mall.

I saw some signs mentioning a food court, and went by previous experience in assuming it would be on the top floor (the 4th). The top floor turned out to be the corporate office that ran this 180000 square feet of retail space in complete disuse. Plush sofas and awesome air conditioning, but no visible sign of the loo. I took the lift to the 3rd floor. Halfway there, Cruel Joke No. 3 decided to chip in. The lights went out.

Power cuts are not a rare occurrence in Gurgaon. Nevertheless, complete darkness in an enclosed place is kinda freaky. To the credit of the mall authorities, the lights came back on in a few seconds. But the lift didn't budge.

Let me summarize the situation at this point in time. I'm hungry. I'm in danger of soiling my pants. And I'm stuck between the third and fourth floors of a desert mall. This was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments.

It took an agonizing and worst-case-scenario-thought-inducing thirty seconds for the lift to spring back to life and take me to the third floor. I staggered out to be greeted by a sign welcoming me to the Food Court.

The population of the food court was more than the rest of the mall put together. There were three men, of which one was a security guard. All three were lounging around and watching the India-England cricket match (which India won!) On enquiring (with clenched teeth and crossed legs) where one might find the nearest toilet, I was guided down a long and tortuously winding path to a little door with the word 'Men' on it. Woohoo!

Scene Four: I can't take this shit any more!

The toilet was reasonably clean. Good beginning. Given how life had been treating me until then, I checked that the water pipe near the commode was working; critical given that there wasn't any toilet paper. It was working. Thankful that things were taking a turn for the better, I got down to the long awaited business.

Several minutes of grunting and relieved sighs later, I had a smile of satisfaction across my face, and reached for the water. It was at this point that Cruel Joke No. 4 realised that it had been slacking in its duty to make my life a living hell and kicked in with maximum force. The water pipe did not work.

Now this crossed the line from irritating to just plain frustrating. The bloody thing had worked just five minutes earlier, but now was dry as... oh, I don't know, the very memory stresses me out so far as to ruin my capacity to come up with analogies.

Luckily, I had my trusty notebook (which I carry to work) at hand, and it had some trusty pages. So that was what I used. Not a pleasant experience.

The main taps in the loo were working, which was good. The soap dispenser was not empty, which was better. So I squeezed some onto my hands, which was when Cruel Joke No.5 joined the party. My hands started stinging.

I scrubbed them until the feeling subsided, and confronted the guard about it. His explanation? "Oh, Sir, no one comes here. We use the dispenser to store cleaning acid." #@$$%^@&!

So not only had I used high quality writing sheets as toilet paper, I had washed my hands with an undefined cleaning acid.

Life kinda sucked.

Scene Five: I need food to stay alive

One of my two initial problems - egestion/excretion and ingestion - had been addressed. But I was hungry going on starving. The food court had only one of six restaurants functioning, and the guy manning it (one of the aforementioned loungers) said that as they didn't expect any customers, they hadn't fired up their grills or whatever it is they do to set up a kitchen. The result? A waiting time of half an hour. At this point, my friend called up to tell me he'd pick me up in 10 minutes. I passed on the Food Court dinner idea, and decided to seek nourishment elsewhere.

Just outside the mall was a small home-run store. I bought myself a couple of fruit buns and a packet of juice. Very tasty indeed. I then crossed the street to an ice-cream vendor. I chose a cone ice-cream and realised 6 minutes and halfway back home later that that was not a very bright decision, because I now had a raging thirst thanks to the dry biscuit cone. Enter Cruel Joke No. 6 (admittedly not as astoundingly cruel as its peers) - the store was closed.

There was no one in sight, and there was nowhere within easy reach that I could get a mouthful of water. Swallowing as much saliva as I could, I trudged home consoling myself with the knowledge that my friend would be waiting to whisk me off to what ought to be an enjoyable movie and a capital way of putting the torture of the last hour or so out of mind.

Scene Six: The evening's final tricks

My friend wasn't there. Which didn't strike me something to be worried about. Given Gurgaon's traffic conditions, incorrect estimates of driving time are acceptable. What did get my goat (figuratively, of course; I don't rear livestock) was when he called up five minutes later to deliver Cruel Joke No. 7 - he was completely, utterly lost.

Not good news because the movie was starting in under half an hour and I hate missing any part of a movie and particularly the beginning.

It took 12 minutes and three frustrating calls ("Left, left, left! How the hell can it be on your right? Can't you see the signboards? Just come straight. No curves, no turns, straight! And yes, take the left turn. No the next one. Whaddya mean there's no left turn?" You get the drift.)... but he got here eventually.

"Hey, Kaka, I'm sorry man. Really sorry. You look angry, and you sounded pretty frustrated on the phone."
"Uh huh, you think so?"

Scene Seven: This Puppeteer ain't going to heaven

I don't know who pulls the strings of my life, which sadistic cosmic puppeteer controls the things that happen to me. But I hate him/her, and damn him/her straight to hell.

The only good achieved out of the harrowing experience is that I got a lot of material to write about. But I still hate the puppeteer. *(&^@*.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

This has been a productive week...

For two reasons. And no, I won't tell you both upfront. (Yes, it's a rather cheap tactic to keep you hooked with pseudo-suspense... but hey, what the heck.)

Number One

I watched Sivaji. Sivaji - The Boss. Finally. After all the hype and hysteria. After weeks of conversations with every new person I was introduced to that went more or less like this:
"So, Arvind, where're you from?"
"I'm from Chennai."
"Oh, you're a Tam, eh?"
"Have you watched Sivaji?"

My watching (or not watching) Sivaji became a proxy proof (or lack thereof) of my Tamizhness, and it seemed everyone and their uncle had watched the movie (including a European in my office!). Everyone except me.

Anyways, I watched it. And my God, Rajnikanth looks fantastically impossibly young. And in no avatar is he more astoundingly stylish than in his bald one. Right from the swishing of his coat to the tapping of his pate. Check these out (I apologize for putting up two heavy videos, but these are just too good to be missed!):

The movie itself was pretty standard. The usual man-takes-on-the-system stuff everyone's come to expect of the director, Shankar. A whole lot of jazz and unnecessary special effects, colours and dance sequences. I found the movie kind of slow in parts. And Rajni's comedy bits really weren't funny at all. All that pointless drivel about trying to make himself fair... (Yes, I get that he was cooking a snook at his own darkness. And yes, I know some people argue it is a brilliantly sharp insight into the psyche of the modern Indian male. Pointless drivel, all the same.) That said, Vivek totally rocks, even stealing the scene from Rajni on multiple occasions! And thankfully, it was slightly less about Rajni the superstar and a little more about Rajni the actor than is usual.

All in all, a fun one time watch. Or maybe two or three. Five if one is just watching the mottai Rajni parts.

Number Two

On the eve of India's 60th Independence Day, I learnt two new drinking games. Two really fun games.

I could describe them in detail (and possibly add some humour to this post!) but why reinvent the wheel when Wikipedia holds the patent? Sorry, that didn't come out as well as it sounded in my head. Anyways, check out the links below

Flip Cup
and Beer pong

And just in case you were hoping for some photos of me stone drunk... nah, not happening. :)


Friday, August 10, 2007


Memories slay me. Completely, totally. And try as I might, I can't block them or reconcile myself to the fact that they are just that, memories. I find myself succumbing ever so often to those memories. Of times when I was more secure, when life was less complicated and one had people who cared and who one cared about nearby, when I was in a better place literally and figuratively. We all move on, adapt, live life as we have to, but we always carry along memories of what was, what could have been, what one wishes could have been... and try to come to terms with the fact that the past, beautiful as it was, will never be back. For a while we let our minds drift back to those times, those faces. We allow ourselves to clutch at straws, consider improbable what-if scenarios, hope against hope. And then, once we calm down and learn to accept reality, we build mental barriers to carefully file away what was strictly in the past, and concentrate on the present and the future...

I thought I had accepted reality. I thought my defences were in place. But they are no match for the flood of memory. Closure, in so far as I had achieved it, has been shattered in an unsettlingly easy manner.

People, places, emotions, experiences. Some of them, I took for granted and never accorded the special status in my mind and heart they deserved. Others, I assumed naively would either be with me throughout my life, or could be dealt with easily when they ceased to be a part of my life. News flash, rude shock, slap in the face. All this while, I thought I was a guy of reasonable emotional stability, only to be reduced to a quivering mass of nothingness by a few mere words, a few images, a few short flashes of buried memories. A phone call out of the blue, a short meeting, an 'Online' status on GTalk, a jpg file dug up from the distant past, a sudden and unexpected Instant Message...

Some things, one thinks will be easy to let go of. Maybe. Over time, one expects they become a little manageable. But one brief glimpse is all it takes for the carefully built walls around a memory to collapse, leaving one weak and vulnerable and open an attack of nostalgia, love, remorse, hatred and all the surprisingly strong emotions one had thought were dead or buried for good.

All those cliches about the past are crap.

"Forgive and forget"? Crap.
"The past is gone, ne'er to return"? Crap.
"Out of sight, out of mind"? Crap.
"Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all"? Crap.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Noodle Bar Bar

That's right. Not just Noodle Bar. Noodle Bar Bar. Which, for those of my readers who don't understand Hindi, translates to 'Noodle repeatedly.'

Momofuku Ando's grave ought to be a revered pligrimage spot. The Japanese voted instant noodles their greatest contribution to the world. Not Nintendo. Not Godzilla. Not cheap fuel efficient cars. Not robots that compose symphonies and/or play football and/or wash your underwear and/or transform into cheap fuel efficient cars. The humble instant noodle. They sure have their priorities right.

I've been having a lot of noodles of the last few weeks. Noodles of all manner and sort of brands and varieties. Maida noodles, wheat noodles, rice noodles. Top Ramen, Nestle Maggi, Unidentified Local Brand With Cheap Red Plastic Cover, Unidentified Local Brand With Cheap Blue Plastic Cover.

Before we proceed (this is, of course, under the monstrous assumption that you want to proceed), here's a tip: Noodles go best with lightly toasted brown bread and chilled apple juice. Having a pretty young thing to give you company is pretty cool as well.

Back to the core of the post.

It's fun. Once one admits to oneself that 20% of one's weekly dietary needs are expected to be met by noodles, one begins to experiment. There's only so much one can have of plain noodles. So, on the basis of extensive research and deep personal experience, here are the top 6 noodle based dishes I have concocted in the recent past, with detailed instructions on how to prepare them.

Chicken Mixed Veg Noodle Soup, aka One For The Soul:
Boil water. Add Mixed Veg soup (I find Knorr's slightly better than Maggi's). As soup becomes reasonably soupy, add a little more water. Add Noodles. Add chicken tastemaker (It's always part of the noodles pack. Except in the case of Unidentified Local Brand With Cheap Red Plastic Cover. @#$#$.). Stir until the consistency of the dish looks OK, or you can't bear the hunger any longer. Pour out into a bowl, and garnish with anything you like (I prefer Kissan mixed fruit jam. Really.) Voila!

Masala Tomato Noodle Stew, aka Pretentiousness Personified:
Almost the same. Except that you add Tomato soup and the standard veg masala tastemaker. Stir till it looks edible. Suggested garnishing: Oregano, carefully preserved from the previous night's Dominoes order. And, of course, jam. Lipsmacking.

Multicereal Noodle Extravaganza, aka Cereal Killer:
Ideal when cooking for a large number of people. Boil water. Add a piece/slab of standard maida-based Maggi noodles. Add a slab of Maggi Rice Noodles. Add a slab of Maggi Wheat Noodles. Add all the respective tastemakers. Stir well to ensure optimm mixing of the ingredients. Pour into a bowl, and garnish with that tangy sauce that's been lying in the fridge for months but doesn't belong to anyone in the house.

High Protein Egg Noodles, aka The Yolk's On You:
Boil water yada yada. End product, noodles. Run downstairs and buy egg bhurji (scrambled eggs) from the potti kadai outside the gate. Bring back said bhurji. Mix with noodles. Eat. Don't bother waiting to garnish it, else the bhurji will become cold and tasteless.

Rice Noodle Meal, aka Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai
A brilliant collaboration with our friends from across the border, China. (Yes, we DO have a border with countries other than Pakistan.) Shove MTR's Veg Pulao or Masala Rice into a microwave for 2 minutes. While that's on, boil water and add Maggi Chinese Flavour Thingy. Pour the rice into a large bowl. Pour the noodles into the same bowl. Mix the two with a vengeance and commitment that is almost, but not exactly, completely unlike the passion with which the Shiv Sena promotes Valentines' Day. Garnish with soy sauce and eat with chopsticks.

McNoodles, aka The Noodle That Almost Lived But Didn't Quite And Hence Won't Have a Multibillion Dollar Seven Book Series Based On It:
Boil water. Add the slab of noodles. Leave it to boil. Turn on the TV and spend 25 minutes laughing your rear end off at Everybody Loves Raymond. Return to the kitchen to find the dish burned. Throw it away and order a burger from McDonalds. Garnish with fries and coke.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Gyaan from Gurgaon

I've been in Gurgaon (Gudganva to the locals) for the last three weeks. It's been a VERY interesting experience so far... On the basis of my limited travels in and around this fine city (damn, I don't think the sarcasm came through as strongly as I intended it to), here are the top five things I learned/realized in all this time here...

MTR's ready meals ROCK! All one has to do is pop them in the microwave for a couple of minutes and out comes fresh tomato rice, pulao, alu mutter and a whole assortment of other Indian dishes. Manna from heaven from a bunch of bachelors with a combined culinary experience that does not extend beyond Maggi. (Coming soon: The Noodle Bar blogpost.) Speaking of which, here's a friendly tip from one who knows: having Maggi more than four nights a week can cause unpleasant sensations in one's stomach. I know people say consultants are always full of gas, but you really wouldn't want to prove them right in a literal sense.

This place is chock-full of lousy drivers. To the brim. I do not exaggerate. It is not uncommon to see a large truck zooming down a busy road in the wrong direction, a car choosing to travel half a kilometre in reverse just to avoid taking a U-turn, cycle rickshaws that Apparate out of nowhere (yes, I read Harry Potter 7 earlier this week), suicidal motorcyclists playing tag with Death, tempos carrying 400% their expected capacity careening past red traffic lights, traffic policemen waving their arms about ineffectually as a four road junction rapidly becomes a 15-directional traffic jam... on one day, it took us 40 minutes to travel home from work, a distance of about 1200 metres. The sad part is that it's not enough to be a good driver oneself. The maddeningly lousy road and traffic sense of everyone else forces one to conform, or get a severe knock or two. And yeah, just to add to the fun, I'm going to be buying a car in a month. Good thing I didn't tell the folks providing my life insurance about this.

Career options
It appears that most of the employment in Gurgaon is generated by just two roles - security guards and house brokers. Let me explain. Fuelled by skyrocketing growth in the services sector over the last few years, Gurgaon is a city that looks really stunning by night. Twinkling lights, enormously tall buildings and shiny glass in every direction, it's like Canary Wharf spread over about 50000 acres (I don't really know the area, I'm just throwing a figure so it'll sound impressive. Did it?). I've been told it contributes 35% of Haryana's income tax collection. The ever growing influx of multinational firms and their increasingly well-off employees has created quite a housing boom, and complexes of anywhere between three to ten 20-storey buildings comprising residential complexes is the norm, as are commercial complexes that satisfy two primary criteria - a. Glass everywhere and b. Never a normal cuboidal shape (there have to be weird angles, curves, shapes and towers jutting out, for some apparent reason).
More people implies more houses and offices. More houses and offices implies a greater need for protection/security given that the law and order situation here isn't anything to write home about (or rather, is something to write home about if your near and dear ones like reading macabre tales of robberies, road rage, murders and other assorted crimes). Hence, the need for security guards. Every major building has a posse of at least 4-5 of them, so if you're ever out of a job or fancy an alternate lifestyle for a while, you know what to do.
As I said earlier, more people implies more houses being built. And also more people searching for these houses. And also, given how much tax we're paying and how expensive living in this place is, more people searching for houses whose rent won't, ironically, drive them to the streets. Enter the broker. Usually an enterprising local chap armed with his trusty old bike and a vast network of fellow brokers, he is your guide through the frightening, wearying, frustrating jungle of house-hunting. For a commission, he'll take you to a bewildering array of flats that match your spatial and budgetary requirements, introduce you to (usually very well-heeled) landlords and help in negotiations. An extremely invaluable resource in the mad mad world of Gurgaon real estate.

Big Bazaar ROCKS. If only because it sells stock that's close to expiry at dirt cheap rates. And has fundoo offers along the lines of "Buy 4, Get 2 Free" on a range of products from hangers to juices to diapers (no, that does not mean I buy diapers. I was merely illustrating a point). Again, this is a godsend for someone who isn't making as much money as he thought he would be (@$#%& taxation, etc) and is looking to save as much as he can in a place where the local populace seems to be oozing wealth from every pore and the cost of living mirrors this fact. And, almost all shopping is done at malls. Huge, glossy, popping-out-at-you-everywhere-you-go, neon-and-hip-young-things-filled malls. There are very few local kirana store type areas around here, and none within easy reach of where I'm staying now... as a colleague put it, "Even to buy a toothbrush, one has to go to a mall!"

In this day and age of mass consumerism and general optimism about the state of the economy, it is apparently acceptable - in fact, quite the norm - to pay Rs. 175 or more for a movie ticket. I believe the average price is around Rs. 225. I haven't actually checked them out myself for fear that my wallet will scream in shock, jumped out of my pocket and down my throat and attempt to throttle me for having exposed it to so fearsome a situation, thereby causing me to die a painful death. Reliable sources tell me the accompanying popcorn costs upwards of Rs 100. My conscience does not allow me to wallow in such luxury, and I look forward to going back to campus and downloading all the movies I want to watch. With a Rs. 20 Maggi + Lime Juice combo to keep me company.

Well, that's it for now. More insights and experiences coming soon!

Monday, July 23, 2007


The Taj Mahal, timeless monument of eternal love.

The famed marble lovers' bench.

Me, all alone.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

AC, the Tagged!

I've been tagged by DD! Actually, she tagged me a long time ago... sorry for the delay ma'am :)

The rules:
1. Players start with 5 random facts about themselves.
2. Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 5 random facts.
3. Players should tag 5 other people and notify them they have been tagged.

So here we go...

1. In school, I wrote a poem describing a battle between two much loved teachers fighting over who would take an extra class for us. This poem found its way to the Principal, who read through it, smiled and complimented me on my literary talent!

2. To date, Suraangani remains one of my favourite songs.

3. At one extremely drunken weekend in Oxford during my internship last year, I lost my passport while dancing in an Irish bar.

4. I like Himesh Reshammiya's music, and I'm not afraid to admit it.

5. I have an unhealthy fascination for British Reality TV (with the exception of mind-numbingly-boring, blatantly-exhibitionist, puke-inducingly-contrived Big Brother shows)

Rise, Nandan, Goach, Shrikant, Pps and Vishnu... I dub thee Tagged!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Alvida... for now

I'm off to work. At last. After cooling my heels at home for what seems like an interminable summer. Gurgaon awaits, and I strongly suspect it has no idea of the pestilence (i.e. me!) that is about to hit it.

I'm leaving tonight, and it'll be atleast a week before I can get my laptop and an Internet connection. Never fear, though, I'll be back! The last couple of months of relative peace and quiet have reawakened in me the desire to write and the realisation that I am back to blogging and enjoying it, almost as much as I did two years ago.

For those who were hoping (some quite fervently, I've been told) this would be the end of this blog, all I have to say is a mocking "Ha Ha!" (Listen to it here.) (APA Ref: Nelson from The Simpsons, for the benefit of the bugging stickler who posted the first comment to my previous post.)

Ciao, all!

Friday, June 29, 2007

That funny little thing called Love...

I've been thinking... and no, that was not meant to be a joke. I admit my cognitive faculties have wasted away over the last couple of months that I've been at home, but these faculties have dimmed only in the context of financial calculations, economics, operations management and all the other stuff I've spent the last two years studying. In matters of human interest and general ruminations on emotion, worldly ties and life, the brain remains as active as ever.

Hence, this post. What's caused me to think rather more deeply than usual about love is, firstly, this post by Nirmal and, secondly, the astonishingly large number of marriages and/or alliances being formed in my immediate social circle. A very large number of my friends are engaged or are going to be engaged. A number of weddings of dear ones have taken place since April, and a very close friend's marriage is up next in a couple of weeks. In the last three days, three of my cousins have taken a decision on who to marry and when. The maamis seem to be in cracking form.

What makes two people decide they want to spend the rest of their lives together? In this context, I'm not going to consider arranged marriages. The criteria for the decision in these cases is usually based on
- Caste
- Social status
- The education and employment status of the two
- The looks
- A few brief, hurried meetings between the two

At least, this is what my impression is from what I've seen of friends' and family weddings. The families decide the acceptability and appropriateness of the union, and if the horoscopes align and the brief discussion between the potential couple doesn't throw up any nasty surprises, compatibility is assumed. Love, as a concept, is never a consideration. It will come, it will grow, it will happen with time, is the sage prediction. And yeah, that's how it usually happens.

But what about the good old, somewhat filmy, boy-meets-girl (or the equally acceptable girl-meets-boy; no one better accuse me of gender bias!), fall-in-love, get-married story? I find this to be the predominant form of marriage among those that have occurred over the past few months. IIMA seems to be a great place to find your soulmate; several batches would testify to that. These couples found what they believed was love, an emotion that gave them the security and faith in their togetherness, and that helped them take that big decision to spend the rest of their lives together.

What is love? I don't know. Each person probably has his own definition. I could count the number of people I can say I love on the fingers of one hand. Even if that hand were to be missing a finger or two.

Love is, to me, something almost unattainably elusive. It is, at its base, rather simple but finding it (or, perhaps, allowing it to find you?) is what is complex. Love is, to me, not a trivial emotion, not something to be bandied about freely. It is a rare emotion, straddling the stratospheric heights of our strongest feelings, our most personal emotions, in touch with our wants, our needs, our inadequacies and insecurities, our self-image, our very humanism. Love has the power to change us, to make us feel whole again. I think Jack Nicholson's character in As Good As It Gets captures the essence beautifully when he proclaims his love with the line "You make me want to be a better man." A pithy statement, phenomenally expressive. Yes, love can have that kind of effect. Yet, at the same time, it can crush us, making us emotional wrecks, mere shells of our former selves. At times, the sheer force of love and how it affects us makes the emotion almost insupportable, making us wonder why we loved at all if it was going to cause so much pain.

George Eliot said, "What greater thing is there for two human souls that to feel that they are joined... to strengthen each other... to be at one with each other in silent unspeakable memories." I could never hope to be as eloquent, but I understand and agree with the sentiment of those words. There is a certain selflessness and surrender involved in love. And not in the silly, mushy and idiotically sappy way portrayed in most movies and books. These love stories are travesties. I find them portraying a parody of love, some infantile romanticized version of love. Love is not necessarily about roses and kisses and promises and saying 'I Love You'. Love, if recognized and appreciated by both parties, doesn't needs words or objects. These are mere symbols, a means of relatively explicit expression which should not in any way be taken as a substitute for the emotion itself. Nevertheless, these symbols must be used sincerely and carefully. 'I Love You' is probably the phrase that must be used with more caution that any other (with the possible exception of 'Kick me in the groin'), since for a person who is sincere it carries an immense weight of emotion and expectation. These are not words I would use lightly, and not words I would want anyone to use lightly in my context. I have seen friends hopping from one girl/boyfriend to another like insatiable butterflies, all the while claiming that they were in love during the relationship but not afterwards. It sickens me, it pains me. In our quest to find a kindred soul, be it due to loneliness or simply social/peer pressure, we tend to assume attraction, lust, perhaps even a mere flirtation might be love. That isn't being in love. That is being in love with the idea of love.

I'll be frank, I don't know where this post is going, or where it was meant to go. I just had a lot of these thoughts jostling for space in my small, over-emotional, slightly romantic brain... and needed to get them out. Lots of thoughts and memories... People I knew who I thought were perfect for each other, but whose relationship crumbled. Friends whose dreams of love followed by Happily Ever After were brutally crushed due to parental insistence on orthodoxy. Laziness and vodka fuelled discussions on life and love... rushing through the 'Eww girls are icky' stage of early schooling to the wonderfully exploratory (emotionally/physically) stage of adolescence to the mature and relatively level headed and balanced emotions of manhood...

Will I end up spending my life with a person I truly love? Probably not. In fact, I don't expect I will. Perhaps most of you reading this will not. But will I experience love? I live in hope. There will come a day when it will crush me, I am sure. And that day, I will rue the moment I allowed myself to love. But, as the popular verse goes, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Raindrops keep falling on my head...

... because I don't wear a raincoat or carry an umbrella. Much against my parents' wishes, I might add. I guess they have a point - I could catch a cold and, possibly, die. Not the best thing to happen two weeks before one is shifting to a new city and a new job. But I think it's simply criminal to go out into such awesomely beautifully wonderfully lovely weather - a light breeze, light rainfall that occasionally fizzles into a gentle drizzle before perking up and upgrading to light rainfall again - buried in protective clothing and sequestered from the weather. (Aside: That was one hell of a long sentence. 46 words!)

So I stepped out into the soft afternoon rain, walking along the city roads as I took in the sheer beauty of the weather. The tall roadside trees wept in delight at the rains, shedding theirs tears on my hair as I ambled by. Little drops splattered on my skin and rolled off, leaving a trail of gooseflesh. The tantalising smell of fresh wet earth filled the air. Nearby, a little bird trilled in the sheer ecstasy of the moment, and a watery rainbow shone across the sky. Perfect.

There are those who choose this season to make a splash. Quite literally. Yes, I'm talking of those who drive heavy vehicles - trucks, buses and the like. It becomes a competition among them to see who can splash more pedestrians. If they see a puddle with pedestrians beside it, they charge at it like an aroused bull at a cow in heat, or a RSS worker at a nude painting of a Hindu goddess. "Ha, so the 47G rascal splashed seven people, did he?" thinks the driver on route 10A, and vrooms in and out of the widest puddle he can find, drenching nine people. "Take that, nameless faceless long-suffering pedestrians! Guahahaha..." As a result of the sporting instincts of these drivers, I was drenched down my entire right side within 15 minutes of stepping on the road. Outraged at the unfairness and inequity of the situation, I crossed to the other side of the road so as to give the left half of my body a chance at being drenched.

The Chennai Corporation, of course, had its own unique way of contributing to the ambience of the monsoon. Open potholes, filled with water and spewing mud, played 'Guess How Deep I Am!' - a popular game in this season - with motorists. Open-air sewers (one of which is, I believe, officially a river!) overflowed their banks, spreading bacterial cheer and sending an ungodly stink rising free through the air. The occasional electric pole or tree crashed to the ground, inducing pedestrians to practice impromptu high jumps as they went about their business. And, as usual, blocked or non-existant storm drains made paying for a swimming pool membership redundant.

However distressing the infrastructure might be, however, the true character of a city in the rains is represented by its people. Motorists, leaning forward to peer through the windshield wipers, drove with their windows open and their ACs off for the first time in months. Street urchins, some more naked than others, screamed in joy and jumped in and out of the puddles. Professionals in formal clothes held their pant legs up gingerly as they tiptoed along, the water invariably sloshing into their shoes. Riders on two wheelers drove at full speed, experiencing the brilliant feeling of rain on their faces (helmet law be damned!) A lone athlete rowed manfully along the Adyar river. Couples, both young and old, came out under shared umbrellas to savour the most romantic weather imaginable. Some were probably aroused to greater passions - I saw a girl on the pillion of a bike nibbling her partner's ear. Schoolchildren, their bags on their heads, sloshed along happily. A roadside tea vendor grinned in sheer pleasure as he made roaring business. A group of nuns sang as they walked down the street hand-in-hand. Policemen garbed in impressively large head-to-toe mackintoshes and galoshes and floppy oilskin hats stood at their posts smiling at the passing populace. And I watched the city go by, and soaked it all in.

As Dr APJ Abdul Kalam has a habit of saying, FANTASTIC.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Back from a break!

"Hey, let's go to Wayanad!"
"Sure, why-a-not?"

That was a sad attempt at a sadder joke. Now that that's been got out of the way, I'll get down to the post itself.

A few of my friends - Archana, Murali and Sharmila(Mul), to be precise - and I decided recently that we decided a break. Murali had been slogging away at work and clearly needed a few days off. Archana was enjoying her last few days of rest before leaving for IIM Calcutta, and felt she owed herself a treat. Mul had just graduated and richly deserved to enjoy her very short holiday before joining work. And I was, quite simply, bored. A week long bout of discussion and argument later, we decided on Goa Kanyakumari Andaman RoadTrip Wayanad.

For the uninformed, Wayand is a district in the North East of God's Own Country. No, not my room; I mean Kerala. (Connoisseurs of my blog, if any, would remember my having cracked this sad joke earlier.) It boasts beautiful forests and tea estates, multiple water bodies and a several days of stress-free relaxation. (More useful info available on Wiki and the official website.) So that's where we headed for three whole days - Wayanad.

As we drove into Kerala from Karnataka on NH212, the landscape changed from ho-hum plains/towns to stunning greenery with only a few smatterings of civilization along the way. It felt good to be far away from the heat and grime of Chennai, with the cool mountain breeze welcoming me as I hung out of the car window, not unlike a dog. Those who know me well would insist the similarities don't end there, but let's not discuss that now.

We checked into a very nice hotel in Kalpetta, the capital of the district. It wasn't exactly a budget hotel but hey, we wanted to pamper ourselves a bit. So we went the whole hog and booked a duplex for ourselves - two rooms and a living room, to allow us our madness and celebration of life in complete privacy from the rest of the patrons.

We hit all the recommended tourist spots... Pookote Lake, phenomenally beautiful as the mists descended over it in the early morning (pic below). A major tea plantation, which afforded plenty of scope for photography. The breathtaking walk - and I mean this literally, we just about managed to huff and puff our way through it - to the Soochipara falls. Also on our must-view hitlist were a couple of dams (truth be told, they were rather boring) and the best viewing points.

The four of us also took a leisurely drive through Muthanga wildlife sanctuary, and got a glimpse of several deer, wild boars, exotic birds, two herds of elephants (the baby elephants are sooo cute!) and even a tiger! Another interesting place was the Kuruva Dweep (Kuruva Island), a protected ecosystem on the Kabini River. We went on a two hour trek through the evergreen forest, much of it to the accompaniment of eerie noises and twittering birds, not to mention the steady yet upliftingly light rainfall.

Some distance from Kalpetta, we came across the curiously named tourist hotspot, the Chain Tree. It is, quite literally, a tree with a chain on it. The tale behind this is quite interesting... As the legend goes, a prominent British Engineer was building roads through the mountainous terrain of Wayanad, and decided to hire a local lad for help. An young Adivasi man named Karinthandan volunteered, and was instrumental in guiding the engineer through the region. His mission accomplished, the engineer brutally killed the guide so he could take full credit for the work done. Karinthandan's soul, it is said, lived on the tree where he was killed and subsequently haunted travellers for years. A local priest controlled the troublesome spirit by chaining it to the tree... hence the Chain Tree. Quite a good yarn.

A special mention must be made of the Edakkal caves, which feature petroglyphs several thousands of years old. It was awesome, mind-bogglingly brilliant. The experience was rendered all the richer because we hiked up a painfully steep slope to get to the caves, and then battled the pouring rain and slippery mud, clinging onto rocks and rickety ladders for dear life as we pulled our way to the caves. Sweet triumph, sweet victory. And it was a special feeling, all of us wet from the rain and the sweat, gathered together under a overhanging rock, drinking in the sweet smell of wet mud in the tropical monsoon rain. The leaves glistening, the flowers blooming bright, laughing an enjoying the moment with my friends, and the promise of a hot chai to follow. Beautiful.

At night, we relaxed to a hot meal and card games, the Simpsons and the news, swapping stories and memories of our school days. We also treated our feet to a hot water massage and cleansing session, which gave me almost orgasmic pleasure, as the picture clearly shows.

All in all, a VERY welcome break for all of us. Sadly, as we go our different ways in a few weeks from now, we don't know when we'll meet next. When we will once again have a chance to relive the good old days and discuss our futures. When we'll get the time to, quite simply, chill out and bask in the comfortable warmth of each others' friendship and company.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Look Mommy, I'm in the newspaper!

Believe it or not, I actually have appeared in a national newspaper. My photo, to be precise. And no, its not for robbery or eve-teasing or something of the sort as my friends (and, secretly, my parents) would have expected.

Here's the link to an article in yesterday's New Indian Express: Questions and their answers

My quiz team comprising Nandan, Hari and me reached the finals of the QFI Open Quiz 2007. We topped the prelims but got very phenomenally royally completely indescribably screwed in the final. Which is why our team isn't mentioned by name in the article. But, since we were sitting right behind the winning team (QED), I'm guessing the photographer got confused and thought we had won. Ah well, I'm not complaining.

I've got to go wipe the tears of pride from my parents' eyes. Their son may yet, someday, amount to something after all :)

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Bald and the Beautiful - General musings

As I was aimlessly browsing through a number of arbit websites and blogs, I came across a mention of this lady.

Miss Tanzania 2007

She is Miss Tanzania 2007, and was in the top 15 at Miss Universe 2007. And, as you can clearly see, she's bald. It takes one hell of a lot of guts to turn up at Miss Universe with a part of the body that is usually unshaven shaved. It flies in the face of stereotypes about beauty, where the hair is an integral and essential part of any of the I-want-world-peace/ I-love-Mother-Teresa brand of beauty pageants. And Miss Universe is most definitely one such pageant.

I'll readily admit to sharing the stereotype... I consider a woman's hair a very vital part of her overall physical beauty, one that I would never compromise on. There's something phenomenally sensuous about a woman's hair, and the manner in which it can, if treated well, frame the face in such a manner as to make even a relatively plain woman look really special. That said, however, Miss Tanzania sure is stunning.

But this led me to think of another common stereotype, one that definitely holds in India - that of fairness. The market for fairness creams in India is worth Rs 9.5 billion today. [Source] And it's not just the ladies; fairness creams for men have done roaring business over the last couple of years.

The whole fairness cream marketing scenario is painfully self-reinforcing. Indians have always been partial towards lighter skin. A quick perusal of the Matrimonial section in the local newspaper provides ample proof, where boys are uncompromisingly looking for fair girls and girls are advertising themselves as quite clearly fair or, if not exactly fair but unwilling to admit it as such, euphemistically describe themselves to be of wheatish complexion. I've often come across situations when guests at a marriage praise the couple as being lovely or sooo beautiful/handsome to the hosts but then commenting behind their backs "colour poradhu", which loosely translates to "the colour isn't good enough", which is a commentary on the fact that the subject of the discussion isn't fair enough. Heroines in movies are always fair. If they're dark, they're made up to look fair. (The villains are often dark.) Models are uniformly fair or fashionably 'dusky' - dark models just don't appeal to the common eye. The stereotype is thus built, and is ripe for exploitation by the unstoppable juggernaut of commerce. Now, the companies making the cosmetics would claim they aren't seeking to reinforce a stereotype, but merely catering to a very real need perceived in the market for such products. True, very true. In the process, they are further standardizing the stereotype, etching it deeper and more indelibly into public social conscience. Fair vs Dark. White vs Black. Good vs Evil.

I HATE this sort of divide. Being dark is looked on as bad, undesirable. I've actually found a number of my relatively fair, North Indian friends involuntarily going "ugh" when they come across a typical dark South Indian ("How can you think he's cute - he's so dark!") I've actually been told I am pleasantly non-South Indian in my looks, because I'm not as dark
as they expected a typical Madrasi - another term I hate for it's racial stereotypical connotations - to be.

What I hate more - and it took me a while to admit this to myself - is that I have been touched by this stereotype to some extent. At some level, mentally, I have also begun to assign some importance to the fairness of a person in the context of beauty. And I hate that this has happened to me. Life (and the media!) makes hypocrites out of us all.