Friday, December 26, 2008

The Tale of the Orphaned Carrot

Once upon a time, in a land not too far away, there was a farm where were grown several vegetables. In one section of the farm were grown a multitude of root crops - beetroot, radishes, onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots, leek and the like. These crops - neighbours, as it were - lived in peace, harmony and a spirit of friendship.

One night, however, tragedy struck. A blight struck the entire carrot crop, destroying all the carrots. All? Well, not quite. One tiny little baby carrot survived, the sole member of the carrot crop not to be obliterated.

All the neighbours came together to discuss the situation. It was clear the baby carrot could not survive on its own without parents, and would have to be adopted by one of the other crops.

Sadly, however, those who had been the carrots' friends till date turned their backs on the poor orphan. "I barely have enough eyes to keep on my own children," complained Mama Potato. "I haven't really been in the pink of health lately," said Aunty Beetroot. "We'll just make the poor kid cry," shrugged Daddy Onion.

Just when things were beginning to look ugly, in stepped the Garlic family. Castigating the others for not doing the right thing by the Carrots, they agreed to take in the poor child and rear him as one of their own.

Over time, he grew into a fine young carrot. He had been brought up with the finest of virtues and values, and dreamt of making his mark in the world. He hoped to find his way to a nice carrot juice at a gym, or a healthy salad at a fine restaurant. It was, therefore, with a great deal of excitement that he set off in the produce truck as it trundled its way to market, and onwards to its final destination.

As it came to a stop and the container in which he was being carried was pulled out, he peeked over the edge in anticipation. To his intense dismay, he found that his new home was Pizza Hut. He was depressed for a while but turning it over in his mind, he realised that, whatever his dreams and hopes, it was only appropriate that he ended up here.

After all, he was garlic bred.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The worm

I've bought a lot of books since I shifted to Gurgaon. At book fairs. At roadside pushcarts. At second hand shops. During sales periods at bookstores. During non-sales periods at bookstores.

And, until this weekend, I had no idea just how many I had. They were strewn all over the house. Within bags, under newspapers, behind sofas, inside drawers (not the clothing type). Several in their original packaging, unopened and (sacrilege, I know) unread.

But, with a little prodding from my flatmate, I spent several hours cleaning up my room... and the end result - bookwise - was supremely satisfying. My library, in all its diverse glory, was set. The books are a random selection of random genres. Some expensive, many ridiculously cheap. Some forbiddingly thick (big ones, small ones, some as big as your head (and bigger!)), most easily readable bites. And to be able to see my entire collection - meagre though it is in comparison to the one back home - in one place feels good :)

Life is, sometimes, about the little victories and the small joys.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Another day, another wedding

More people around me are getting married. Colleagues, fellow IIMA alumni (seniors, batchmates, juniors), friends from Chennai.

And we make the usual jokes, poking fun at those sacrificing their independence and single status at the altar of marital bliss.

Pointing out that they will no longer be available for movies, a drink or a game, much less 3-day road trips.

Making snide comments about their transformation from marauding masters to simpering slaves.

Laughingly churning out the usual cliches - "one more wicket down", "crossing over to the dark side", "another one bites the dust"

But then I leave work for home.

It's a long, lonely drive.

I come home to a forbiddingly dark, cold house.

I wonder what to do with my Friday evening, unable to muster the enthusiasm or energy to hit one of the many parties I could be at.

I make myself some Maggi, the instant noodles a choice born out of tiredness and laziness rather than of taste.

I sit on my bed, watching random movies and reading random books until I'm bored asleep.

I half-write blog posts, a million thoughts, emotions, anecdotes in my head but no one to share them with.

And I think: Maybe this whole marriage thing isn't so bad after all.

Saturday, September 06, 2008


Round trip tickets to New York: Rs 48,000

Figurine of badass medieval warrior wielding a battleax: $ 6.00

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Figurine of his breathing-pure-evil horse: $ 6.00

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Figurine of white knight sporting an awesome lance: $6.00

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Figurine of his noble steed: $ 6.00

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Adding a supercool duel between good and evil to my desk at work: Priceless

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There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's the Metropolitan Museum of Art store at the Duty Free at JFK.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Random working layover haikus

High humidity
Quiet airport night
My spreadsheets flow thick and fast

Blissful loneliness
The world swims by in
Verdana, Font Size Fourteen

Don't know what to do
Bored, but I plod on
Shaping clients' strategy

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Nothing like dancing and partying with a bunch of 20 year olds... make one realise how old and uncool one is.

I'm still, of course, very young. And I normally laugh at those who constantly worry about their age and crib about losing their youth. I've also always been a firm believer in the tenet that age is a factor of the mind, and not the body.

Yet, in a space of a few hours, I was forced to revisit my views. I was jolted out of my comfort zone of calm self-assurance and forced into a situation where I didn't how how to react. I can't believe I'm saying this, but - relatively speaking - I felt my age.

3 a.m. is not the best time for these ruminations... I know I'll pooh-pooh all this in the morning, but it feels rather strange and unsettling nonetheless.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


A few days ago, a minor milestone in my life passed by almost unnoticed. I have just completed one whole year here at Gurgaon, and my first complete year at a permanent job. Time seems to have flown - it seems like only yesterday that I was embarking on my career, wide eyed and eager to show the world who's boss.

It's been one hell of a learning experience... and several small things - managing expectations at work, shopping for groceries, hanging out with friends, managing household and personal financials - have taught me so much, have helped me grow as a person; have helped me become - I'll say it - a Man.

Here's a little ode to the last year.

(With due apologies to Rudyard Kipling)

If you can drive your car when all about you
Are crashing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself not to hit the bulls and cows,
But make allowance for their movement too;
If you can wait in traffic and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being faced with cops, bribe them selectively,
Or, being honked at without reason, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't act too aggressive, nor drive too rashly;

If you can dream for your clients - and not make them your master;
If you can think complex strategy - and convey it with simplicity;
If you can meet with both triumph and disaster
And treat great client feedback and lousy reviews with equanimity;
If you can bear to work long slavish hours on occasion
Up to fifteen or twenty hours a day,
Yet find time for the occasional brief vacation
And satisfaction in adding value and earning your pay;

If you can make head or tail of all your earnings
And understand HRA and 80C calculations,
And deal with the landlord’s infrequent rantings
And pardon the help’s frequent excuses and explanations;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To subscribe to responsible expenditure and thrift
And so sniff out “Buy X get Y free” deals anew
Yet splurge when the occasion demands it;

If you can talk with crowds and use less than two swear words a sentence,
Or walk with kings – and avoid a pickpocket’s touch;
If you can tolerate local FM, irritatingly vacuous and dense;
If paneer, vodka and Subway count with you, but none too much;
If, in this unforgiving life, you submit
Yourself to incessant 24x7 Punjabification
You’ll have conquered Gurgaon and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

(Original poem: If, by Rudyard Kipling. One of the most incredible poems ever.)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Name is Rajinikanth - Errr...

I just finished reading the book The Name is Rajinikanth by Dr. Gayathri Sreekanth. I picked it up at Landmark in Mumbai a few weeks ago, lured by its surprisingly prominent positioning and its surprisingly low price.

This book charts the life of Superstar Rajinikanth, right from his birth as Shivaji Rao Gaekwad in a poverty-stricken family in Bangalore to his current life - the Thalaivar and undisputed king of Tamil cinema.

There's some good, some bad. And I can also look at this from two points of view - one being that of the Tamil movie and/or Rajini enthusiast (though not as much of an enthusiast to call myself an avid fan), and the other that of a reader of books, in general.

And there you go; we have a simple two-by-two for us to analyze this book.

It being a weekend and therefore a period where I have time on my hands, I decided to waste some time laying it out on a slide. Here you go. (Yup, I hear orgasmic shrieks of pleasure from my fellow consultants.)

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Let's tackle them one at a time.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Good; Movie/Rajini enthusiast

This book is an absolute treasure trove of fun facts and interesting trivia (In particular, it's a super book for any quizzer!) The reader is taken on an exhilarating ride through his childhood, his wayward and aimless youth, the beginning of his interest in acting while a bus conductor in Bangalore, his days as a student of acting, and then his steady rise in movies. Along the way, one gets fairly liberal doses of insight into his love life (and that of his relatives) and his political and spiritual leanings. Plus a complete filmography and brief plotlines of his major films. This is absolutely as comprehensive and lovingly detailed a tome as you are likely to find on the Superstar. The author has clearly spent a lot of time and effort on research and interviews, painstakingly bringing to life the multiple facets of Rajini's personality. And for this phenomenal effort, she deserves a great deal of praise.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Bad; Movie/Rajini enthusiast

The tone of the book can not even remotely be considered objective. It constantly deifies Rajini, and continually emphasises that he is a blessed being, one whose fame and fortune was predestined. It deals with all the negatives of his early life as mere trifles - amusing little asides to his character - and the good parts of his later life as superhuman (suprahuman is the term used, I think) achievements that prove that he is a great human being. Rajini is constantly shown as screwing up his friends and relatives lives, but he is immediately repentant and with tearful eyes contemplates the wonder of human relations. Bleah. I would much rather have had a more frank story of his life, one that does not suck up to him quite as much. Credit, though, must be given for the fact that the author has made it a point to mention those episodes of Rajini's life, although occasionally watered down.

Also, there's just a little too much about his spiritual inclinations... those parts of the book are (to me, at least) insufferably boring. As also his frequent ramblings on the subject and the detailed map of his astrological past, present and future. But hey, that's just me.

In addition, I felt that the book kind of lost the plot towards the end... the last fifteen years or so, in particular seem to have been dealt with rather summarily. It's almost like the author decided to write only about the transformation from Shivaji to established Rajini, and ran out of steam. The end is outrageously abrupt. I turned the page and found myself suddenly confronted by the appendix. I wasn't missing pages, I checked. The book just... ended. Leaving me very very dissatisfied.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Good; Book lover

The structure of the book is very interesting. Instead of a good old start-at-the-beginning-and-finish-at-the-end flow, it is episodic, interleaving chapters from the present with those from the past. It makes for very interesting reading, and keeps the book very lively and dynamic even though there is no real link from one chapter to the next. If only it didn't end so suddenly :(

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Bad; Book lover

Oh my god, this is such a TERRIBLY written book. Terrible in terms of the grammar, the sentence construction and the formatting. Three impressions strike immediately
  • The book was first written in Tamil, then translated almost directly and literally into English, using translations of Tamil phrases and very Tamil English. I wish I could give you an example of this, but I can't bring myself to go through the book all over again so soon. In any case, as someone who studied in Chennai for several years, the Tamil-toned English hits one straight between the eyes. Also, in some places, the choice of words is inexplicably bizarre.

  • The author has given little or no thought to consistency of format. Quotation marks (single, double) appear on and off at will when there is direct speech; the prose suddenly gives way to business-like bullet points (oh yeah... you like it, don't you, consultants!); the tense and direct/indirect prose keeps switching and changing. And that's just the beginning. For someone who likes reading, and likes reading good English - Salman Rushdie's stories are crap but, by GOD, he writes divinely! - this is extremely extremely grating.

  • The proofreader/checker was clearly sleeping/drinking on the job. Or one was not employed at all. How else does one explain the numerous spelling mistakes and punctuation errors? Even idiotically simple things like when the author, describing his important movies, writes, "Pudhu Kavidhai: Two novelties" and proceeds to list three. Grrrrr... quite maddening.

I just flipped to a page at random (293, hardback edition), and pulled out - word for word - a passage I felt best illustrates my point (and there are many many many many of them all throughout the book). This passage finds Rajini preparing for his first film shoot, for the movie Apoorva Ragangal.

< - Extract - >

Sunday just didn't seem to pass. Why has time slowed down so much? thought Shivaji, looking at the wall clock, and why is it that I am sitting idly.

He again practised in front of the wall mirror. What could possibly be the role? 'I think I look nice if I play a powerful villain,' he agreed with himself. 'May be KB felt I'll look great bashing up the goons.'

The night reached its stagnation. Time and tide came to a stand still. 'It will never be dawn,' Shivaji kept looking at the sky repeatedly. 'Damn the sun,' he swore.

Slowly the morning crept over, and Shivaji readied himself two hours before the scheduled reporting, combing his hair with his hand and a comb a million times.

He reached the location well before time, and began to take stock of the situation. Suddently (sic) he looked deathly; he clutched his chest and gasped for breath. He looked struck, "Kamal Haasan? I have a role with Kamal Haasan? The director thinks I can act alongside K.A.M.A.L? I hope someone tells me this is no bizarre dream."

< - End - >

I had great expectations from this book, especially given the few glowing reviews I'd read. Now, I love the fact that I know a lot of new trivia about Rajini, but I'm not sure I'll ever read through the book cover to cover again. It's great fun, but rather painful fun.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dasavatharam - Errr...


I am a huge fan of Universal Star Padma Shri Dr. Kamal Haasan. I think he's an exceptionally gifted actor and something approaching a cinematic visionary. I love the fact that he is not afraid to experiment, to push the boundaries of contemporary cinema.

So it was with fairly high expectations that I went to watch Dasavatharam (Wiki) - his much-hyped magnum opus - last weekend.

If I had to pick two words to describe it, they'd be these: a. Impressive, b. Disappointing

Impressive because it takes guts and talent to contemplate and execute a movie of this scale. Disappointing because I expected so so so much more.

A few thoughts:

I didn't come out of this movie feeling anything at all. Of his recent movies, Panchathanthiram and Vasool Raja left one feeling on a ROFL induced high, while Anbe Sivam and Virumaandi simply blew one away by the sheer brilliance of structure and performance. Dasavatharam? Nothing. No connect, just a mild feeling of having been let down.

As Kamal has gone to town declaring, this does set new standards of filmmaking for Tamil cinema. Maybe even Indian cinema. Some of the visual effects are amazing, especially the often ignored visual effects of having multiple Kamals sharing a single scene fairly seamlessly. Some though, are cringe-inducingly tacky, particularly during the climax.

Contrary to what the rest of the world seems to think, I didn't find it a complete disaster. Mukunda is very easy on the ears, and Oh Ho Sanam is good fun as well (until Kamal starts yelling instead of singing in the last 30 seconds). But Kallai Mattum Kandaal is sheer brilliance. Wonderful music by Himeshbhai (although the base tune is copied from a random Malayalam song) and sung powerfully and emotively by Hariharan.

Mallika Sherawat
Ugh. My god, woman. If you're doing a pole dance, at least try to be graceful. Especially if that is practically the only thing you bring to the movie.

Another Panchathanthiram would have worked just fine. Keep Rangarajan Nambi, Balaram Naidu, Govind, Vincent Boovarajan and (reluctantly) Avtaar Singh. The others didn't need you to play them anyway, layers of muscle-stiffening make up and all.

Make up
Oh Kamal, Kamal. Did you have to go for random Plaster of Paris masks for your characters? Not only do they look ridiculously fake, they also restrict your facial expressions and smother your eyes and voice, all of which are key to your normally brilliant performances.

This, to me, is the single biggest flaw to the movie. Kamal is a phenomenal actor, but has a phenomenal ego to boot. (This, incidentally, is often pointed out as the key personality difference between him and Rajni.) How else does one explain the force-fitting of Kamal-played characters to bring the total to 10, the dialogue anointing one of the characters as Ulaga Nayagan and the my-god-I-can't-believe-they're-doing-this-tacky-self-congratulatory-song Ulaga Nayagane at the end. The whole movie was eventually reduced to being less about the story and more about Kamal giving himself a stage to grandstand.

Which made it very disappointing to someone going in expecting a powerful performance from him.

Oh well. Hopefully his next will make amends.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Statue of Lunacy

The Statue of Liberty is an iconic representation of the USA, greeting visitors as they touch its shores.

If Mumbai's politicians have their way, India will have it's own such statue - one of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the great warrior king. Shivaji is probably one of India's greatest homegrown historical heroes, and also the historical figure most misused for political gains today.

The statue will stand 2 kilometers into the sea, off the coast of Mumbai. It will rise over 300 meters (about 30 storeys) and will be accessible only by ferry, a la the Statue of Liberty.

All that's fine and well, but here's the rub - the project is estimated to cost a whopping Rs 100 crore. That's 1000000000 Indian Rupees. This, from a state government that is already reeling under debt worth an estimated 2 lakh crores (2000000000000 Indian Rupees). But not to worry, the Government has done its homework. When questioned, the Chief Minister apparently sought to reassure the public about the sound financial planning behind the decision with the statement, "That (100 crores) is not a problem in our budget. It's for Shivaji Maharaj after all!" Wonderful.

Enough has been said at various forums about the urgent need for development works in Mumbai. The 100 year old drainage system that needs an overhaul and not annual patchwork. The suitable clearing and resettlement of slum lands to provide relief to the space-starved city. Large scale transport infrastructure projects to reduce the crippling pressure on the local train systems (there are grand plans for several arching bridges - a la the Bandra Worli Sealink - a metro and possibly new bus systems). And the urgent upgradation required of the water systems to curtail losses from leaks and pilferage (which some estimate at as high as 40%). Outside of Mumbai, farmers are committing suicide due to lack of support for agriculturists in hard times, and Maharashtra has one of the worst records among India's states for child health and malnutrition. And there are a host of other issues, I'm sure.

And what does the government do? Pour taxpayers' money into an unnecessary statue. Now Shivaji was a great leader, and deserves to be celebrated... as he already is, with thousands of statues and memorials across Maharashtra. But even he would be appalled at the sheer lunacy of this scheme. In spite of all the ways this money could be put to better use, the State Government has considered it prudent to greenlight this ambitious proposal.

Good governance and good sense is tossed out the window in the face of political posturing. Idiots.

Well, if Mumbai can put up a larger than life statue of Shivaji, we in Chennai can do it too. Won't it be awesome to see this statue rising out of the sea just off the Marina?


Monday, June 02, 2008

Not the best way to spend a Sunday night in Mumbai

Context: I'm in Mumbai. It's a little after 10pm on a Sunday night, and I have at 5:45 am flight back to Delhi, and work. I just called up a cab company a friend recommended to arrange for a cab the next morning.

Here, in gory detail, is what transpired.

Flashback: A little over an hour ago.

I dial the number and, in less than one ring, I'm connected.

Thank you for calling XYZ Cabs. You are caller number (pause) forty (pause) six. One of our customer care executives will service you shortly. Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line.

Random music.

WTF, forty six?! Well, I don't have too many affordable options, so let's see this through.

Thank you for calling XYZ Cabs. You are caller number (pause) forty (pause) two. One of our customer care executives will service you shortly. Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line.

Random music.

This is going to take some time, and my ear is beginning to burn. Time to switch to loudspeaker mode.

Thank you for calling XYZ Cabs. You are caller number (pause) forty (pause). One of our customer care executives will service you shortly. Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line.

Random music.

For some reason, the connectivity in the hotel room is rather poor. I take two steps to the right. No difference. I take four steps to the left. Ah, slightly better, though still a little fuzzy.

Thank you for calling XYZ Cabs. You are caller number (pause) thirty (pause) five. One of our customer care executives will service you shortly. Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line.

Random music.

It's bad enough that I have to listen to this crap distorted on the speaker. The fuzziness is just plain irritating. A little investigative activity reveals that the clearest reception is in the bathroom. Well, if that's what it takes to get this all-important cab...

Thank you for calling XYZ Cabs. You are caller number (pause) thirty (pause) one. One of our customer care executives will service you shortly. Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line.

Random music.

Hmmm... Their executives will 'service' me. Sounds rather naughty. Dirty, even.

Thank you for calling XYZ Cabs. You are caller number (pause) twenty (pause) seven. One of our customer care executives will service you shortly. Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line.

Random music.

It's been almost fifteen minutes, and I'm getting a little pissed about wasting my time sitting in the bathroom (lovely though it is). The only consolation is the fact that my call is still important to them, as the lady with the sexy recorded voice assures me.

You also also book an XYZ cab on the net at or through SMS by sending XYZ to (pause) 5 (pause) 7 (pause) 5 (pause) 7 (pause) 5 (pause). Thank you for calling XYZ Cabs. You are caller number (pause) twenty (pause) three...

Random music.

Uh huh. Well, breathy-voice-lady, you're website doesn't seem to be working. And if you think I'm going to spend five rupees per SMS on a series of back and forth messages, think again. I'm quite comfortable on this here commode, and I'm sticking it out.

Thank you for calling XYZ Cabs. You are caller number (pause) twenty (pause). One of our customer care executives will service you shortly. Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line.

Random music.

This music isn't too bad, really. A little tuneless, but with a definite element of classicality to it. Far more bearable than the Air Deccan and Amex IVRS tunes. This tune will spook in me in my sleep, but it's not as bad as it could be.

Thank you for calling XYZ Cabs. You are caller number (pause) fifteen (pause). One of our customer care executives will service you shortly. Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line.

Random music.

All this walking about in nervous irritation can be rather hard on one's bladder. Thankfully, I'm conveniently placed.

Thank you for calling XYZ Cabs. You are caller number (pause) twelve (pause). One of our customer care executives will service you shortly. Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line.

Random music.

This bathroom has two bottles of body cleanser and one each of body moisturizer, hair cleanser and conditioner. It also has two bars of soap, two shower caps, one pack of cotton buds and two loofahs. Ooh, loofahs. Gotta have those. Into my pocket they go.

Thank you for calling XYZ Cabs. You are caller number (pause) seven (pause). One of our customer care executives will service you shortly. Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line.

Random music.

Yippee! I'm into single digits! A celebratory dance - boom shika shika boom shika shika. (Bet you're thanking your lucky stars this isn't a video blog.)

Thank you for calling XYZ Cabs. You are caller number (pause) three (pause). One of our customer care executives will service you shortly. Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line.

Random music.

I'm nearly there. Just two people ahead of me in the queue. I can almost taste it. I sing along with the music that I have now, almost subconsciously and involuntarily, adopted as my personal anthem. Which, now that I think of it, is very weird given that it had no words.

Good evening, welcome to XYZ Cabs. This is Amrita. How can I help you?
Me: Good evening. You know, they say the fruit of patience is sweet.
Me: Never mind; I'd like to book a cab for 4am in the morning.
Me: I'd like to book a cab please.
Me: Hello?
Me (mild panic in my voice): Hello? Can you hear me?
Me: Hello!

Dial tone.

Me (an anguished wail): Noooooooooooooo!

I try again.

Thank you for calling XYZ Cabs. You are caller number (pause) fifty (pause) eight. One of our customer care executives will service you shortly. Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line.

Random music.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pitter patter

8:45 a.m.

I'm starting a new case today, a new industry. A Private Equity case, and a highly analytical one from what I know of it. A typically challenging and steep-learning-curve day stretches ahead, one that I know will give me the opportunity to step up to new challenges and new levels of responsibility as I grow into my job.

Yet, as I sit in my car waiting for the lights to change, my thoughts are less on the office and more on the way the overnight rain has given way to a wonderfully light drizzle... how the surprisingly stiff breeze does not carry the now-wet sand as it normally does, instead bringing me a whiff of spice, perfume and wet earth. The trees on the once-dusty roadside, newly planted, sway as though celebrating their clean, washed greenery.

The lights change, I put my car into gear and pull ahead.

A radio station is playing old Hindi songs. A fine spray of rain kisses my face, moistening and teasing my right earlobe. Little droplets crowd my windshield, clinging onto the glass in a brief declaration of independence before gravity pulls them downwards, joining their bulbous brothers and coalescing as they fall below my line of sight.

To the left, the road leading to my office. Straight ahead, merely one hundred metres away, the highway.

Somedays, I wish one could just bunk work like one bunked classes in college.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Random thoughts on inter-cultural love/marriage

Over the last year or so, several people I have known (worked with, studied with, laughed with, cried with, lamented life with, celebrated life with) have gotten married.

I've received numerous invitations, and much as I'd like to have been able to attend all of them (especially those of classmates from SVCE or IIMA), being a working professional and having to earn one's salary has got in the way just a little. Plus the not-insignificant flight costs, although that's much less of a consideration.

What's struck me as an interesting feature of these marriages is the fact in a majority of the cases, the couple met, fell in love, and decided to get married even though they were from different cultural backgrounds. In other words, these were 'love marriages', as several relatively (in many ways) orthodox people I know of say with a disdainful look in their eyes and a pursing of their lips.

In a country where the concept of arranged marriages has long held sway as the right and proper and honourable way of setting up an alliance, I see this as an interesting shift in mindset. It's not surprising that it's happened among people of my generation - it was bound to, given the kind of influences and stimuli we are fed thanks to our global outlook, and the renewed desire to be seen as independent and deciding one's life. What's surprising (and, perhaps, heartening) is the fact that several parents (i.e. one generation up) are now willing to consider this.

Among the weddings I've been invited to (or have been told of) of late have been the following combination of cultures/religions
-> Tamil Brahmin - Maharashtrian
-> Tamil Brahmin (Iyer) - Tamil Brahmin (Iyengar) Yes, that's a fairly big deal too
-> Tamil Brahmin - Punjabi
-> Punjabi - Bengali
-> Bihari - Kannadiga
-> Punjabi - Gujarati

There have been several love marriages of people I know within the Tam Brahm community (I don't know what castes the couple belonged to; knowing that society, that would have been a huge cause for debate as well), as well as one Christian-Hindu marriage.

One of the couples above eloped to get married. As expected, there was a great deal of hand wringing and disowning and threatening police action on charges of kidnapping. The issue was settled with the girl's family disowning the couple, but the thaw is under way. If one were to go by a similar story of elopement in my extended family, fences will mend quicker once a child is on the way.

Some of my friends have had to fight for years to get their parents to agree to their choice of life partner. Some of the parents have gone as far as to threaten legal action if the inter-caste or inter-culture marriage was carried through. In some cases, the parents finally agreed (perhaps more out of resignation and a feeling that it was high time their son/daughter got married). In others, the relationship broke off under the strain of dogged parental disapproval and years of insult and rebuke with a great deal of heartache, disappointment and loneliness for both parties. The parents, of course, were joyful at the split, seeing it as an opportunity to set their errant child upon their pre-approved, socially acceptable and appropriate path.

Almost all the married couples I have known who have had had love marriages over the last two to three years are very happy in their current lives.

All the examples I've quoted (or have experienced from any reasonable distance) have been of well educated, urban families. Both the good examples where the parents trusted their kids to make responsible decisions, and the bad ones where parents were heavy handed in their denial of freedom of choice. I'm not saying its bad/wrong of parents to disapprove - if your child is marrying a gold digger or drug addict, you have every right to object and steer them away from that path. As a parent you are probably mortally scared that your child might be making a big mistake that you find yourself powerless to stop. You're probably torn between the clashing instincts of protecting your baby and letting him/her stand on their own feet as individuals with self-thought. And that fear stems from love, affection and a desire to see your child have what's best for them and settled in a long happy marriage. But to denounce a relationship purely on the basis of caste or regional/culture considerations, especially in the current world of nuclear families where a couple does not have to live with the extended family, seems regressive, unfair and just plain unacceptable.

Often, a parent's views are defined by what society would think. "Oh, what will people say if I marry my good Tam Brahm daughter to a big loud Punjabi boy? I won't be able to hold my head up in society again!" Stereotypical associations kick in and there is a marked unwillingness to even meet or talk to the potential son/daughter in law, much less accept them into the family. There is probably a need to understand that the 'kid' is grown up too. I can understand concern about an 18 year old wanting to get married, but if your child is 24/25 and is atleast a little worldly-wise, a little trust and understanding is required. Love is no longer blind at that age, the attendant reponsibilities make one think long and hard before a commitment. No one wants to mess up their own life, and by that age, a certain sense of responsibility and accountability kicks in, which allows the 'kid' to make more rational, well thought out decisions. If one can legally make the choice to drink, drive, have sex or vote (although that doesn't always turn out too well), why not the choice to marry?

When weighing (potentially lower) social acceptance and what the neighbourhood maami gossip circuit thinks against a well thought out (and trust me, by a certain age it is well thought out) decision from one's child that he/she is convinced will bring happiness and stability, sometimes one just needs to say "Screw you, society. Screw you and your hypocritical, insular ways that steal a person's right to make his or her own decisions and give it to a bunch of stars and an archaic caste system."

Again, all this is in an urban context. And I firmly believe urban India is more progressive in this sense, more willing to accept these new fangled concepts of love that would have meant instant shame and ostracization a generation or two ago. Yes, even in urban India, one often reads about cases that come frighteningly close to honour killings... but one hopes that over perhaps one more generation, a greater level of tolerance and understanding will develop.

(Here's the story that triggered the train of thought leading to this post, although it's not directly related: The original story and the follow up. I also stumbled across a couple of interesting articles on inter caste marriages and a Christian-Muslim wedding.)

I've just read through what I've written, and I realise it's far from well written. As I am wont to do, I just spill thoughts out onto the screen, tilting against my windmills with little thought for wording, structure, readability and sometimes grammar. I see I've mixed tenses and first/second person views and written unbelievably long and sub-claused sentences. I've also been fairly harsh at some places. I apologize for the style (or lack thereof) of writing, but not the content. I do have a point to make, though, and I hope that's come out clearly enough.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Keeping Mum

Warning: This post contains a picture that might be slightly nauseating to some. I mean it, so read on at your own risk. For you witty wags who insist nothing can be more nauseating than my picture in the sidebar... well, you've been warned!

My mother dropped in on me last weekend. She had the option to come to Delhi on some work, and grabbed the opportunity to check in on her errant son, who does not eat meals regularly and doesn't call home often enough :)

I was, naturally, very happy to have her here. It's nice to catch up with family stories and have awesome home cooked food (that said, my culinary skills have vastly improved as compared to the last time I mentioned them on this blog. Maybe I'll write about that later.) And its good fun to show her my office, take her through my routine and lifestyle, and drive her around Delhi/Gurgaon to show her that drivers here really are as crazy as I make them out to be. And scare her by driving at three times the speed I drive at in Chennai. And of, course, to come home from work to find the house sparkling clean and a week's worth of cooked food in the fridge :)

Having a parent over, however, does put a lot of pressure on one. Especially if one is a bachelor. And especially if one is a bachelor living with two other bachelors, making for one hell of a bachelor-style home.

As information regarding a visit (from a relative or the landlord) filters through to the group, a mild sense of panic sets in owing to the need to clean the house and make it somewhat respectable. And so the manic cleaning starts.

1. Out go the four week old newspapers lying around on the floor, atop the chairs and under the sofa.
2. Ditto for the empty juice cartons and cigarette packs (I don't smoke, but my flatmate does. I would, of course, smoke if I was set on fire but as that is not a regular occurrence, I feel comfortable stating that I do not smoke.)
3. In a bachelor household, "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" is not just a song. It's a real life logistical difficulty, an issue of storage space. For variety, there's whisky lying around as well. All need to be deposited in a safe place.
4. Most of the furniture (and the floor, and the walls, and the electrical appliances...) has a layer of dust thicker than normally considered healthy. None of us has dust allergies, but if one of us was... well, let's just say there'd be a room to spare at home. Out come the dust cloths (yes, we actually have them!)
5. The sour milk/curd in the fridge and the rotting vegetables we passed on in favour of Maggi need to be disposed off.
6. The packets of Maggi and MTR Ready-to-eat meals are discreetly puched to the background, and the spices, pastes, purees, pulses and veggies are emphasized to indicate self-reliance in terms of cooking.
7. It's time to clean the vessels in the kitchen as well. It is at moments like his that one discovers weird string-like microbial growth in a container that once contained something edible but hasn't been touched for weeks on end. I'm serious, I'm not just saying this for effect. See for yourself.

Yes, it is disgusting. I know.

This was not a dish of noodles. Detailed investigations later revealed that this was, at some point in time, a serving of daal, as evidenced by the glimpses of yellow below the stringy stuff in the picture above.

And all this is just the common areas (living room, kitchen, etc) in the house. My room is normally quite an ungodly mess by itself. I tackled the issue quite well, I think. I'm feeling rather proud of myself, actually.

1. Three weeks worth of sweeping done in three minutes
2. Two weeks of dirty (and, in some cases, smelly) clothes dumped into the washing machine and later hung to dry. This also helps spread a nice, clean, detergent-ish smell about the room
3. All potentially objectionable content (I shall not go into details here) disposed off in a retrievable fashion at a secure location
4. Books falling off shelves and strewn on the bed/floor collected and arranged in a neat pile on a table imported into the room for this purpose
5. The extra bed in my room (usually covered with aforementioned clothes and books apart from old newspapers, biscuit wrappers and credit card statements) emptied, wiped clean and covered with a new bedsheet that smells only mildly nauseatingly starchy
6. All dusty items stacked in one corner of the room to give the impression that it is only that corner of the room that I barely touch while the rest of the room is cleaned twice a day with disinfectant
7. The cupboard containing my clothes straightened out to give a sense of being organized
8. Air freshener liberally used and the door to the balcony opened to let in fresh air. (The latter, unfortunately, resulted in a lot of sand being blown in necessitating step 1 above being repeated.)

The end result was surprisingly good. I had no idea my flat and my room could look so nice and welcoming. It just goes to show what one can do if one forces oneself to puts one's mind to it.

And, here's the most important step, the best piece of advice I can give you, one that could come in very handy if you find yourself in a similar situation. Hope you've got a notebook to take this down.

Leave the door to your flatmate's room strategically ajar, so that you can smugly tell your parent(s), "Look, this is how bad my room could be. Now, aren't you proud of how clean I am?"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

This guy cracks me up

In a world full of inane music videos that are so outrageously silly they're funny, this guy takes the cake.

Presenting Ishq Bector, an Indo-Canadian hip hop artist.

After the kinky craziness of the surprisingly successful Aye Hip Hopper came the mindblowing ROFL Dakku Daddy. Interesting videos and corny-fun lyrics... a very catchy mix.


Aye Hip Hopper

Dakku Daddy

Monday, April 07, 2008

It's a good thing I have a brother to continue the family line...

...because my reproductive capabilities might just have been compromised a little.

OK, drastic statement, that. Don't want to scare off any potential brides. Let me put this in context... I'll start by beginning this post from scratch, including a new title.

4 guys. 3 days. One car. 2000 km.

The weekend of Good Friday and Holi was a three day weekend. Having had quite enough of Gurgaon and its environs, four of us decided to pack our bags and set off on a good old fashioned road trip. Our destination: Jaisalmer, in the midst of the Rajasthani desert in the extreme west of the country. We plotted a Delhi -> Jaipur -> Ajmer -> Jodhpur -> Jaisalmer itinerary, a total one-way distance of about 900 kilometres.

Apart from eating some very simple yet amazingly tasty food at a whole lot of random dhabas along the way, we hit some very interesting spots, and had some pretty cool experiences. Here's a brief description of the highlights of the trip; maybe this will be helpful if you plan a trip to these parts someday!

1. Vroom!

I love driving. It's one of the things that gives me the most pleasure in my life as it stands now. And the roads of Rajasthan are be-yoo-tiful. Smooth roads all the way, even in the middle of nowhere en route to tiny hamlets and villages. There's something very uplifting about being able to zoom down a fantastic road at a consistent speed of 140 kmph... It makes the blood rush and makes one feel glad to be alive. The roads were waiting for us, daring us to rip them up... and we were more than happy to take up the challenge. Looooong drives + lovely roads + awesome music + good company = a fantastic experience.

The road ahead...

2. Khwajaji...

Ajmer is synonymous with the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. We visited the holy site, prayed and made the customary offerings of flowers and a shroud for the grave. The early morning, birds twittering all around, cool marble flooring and the soft strains of beautiful Sufi music... heavenly. One could have sat there for hours just watching the throng of fervent devotees and enjoying the soulful renditions of the singers.

A band prepares for a procession outside the dargah

FYI, this is not the Khwajaji in the kickass song from Jodhaa Akbar. If I've got my facts right, that song was for Salim Chisti who Akbar (and AR Rahman) are devotees of.

3. The Royal heritage

The Rajasthani royals of yore ruled their empires from their fortresses, large sprawling complexes built atop hilltops to afford a clear view of invaders. We visited the forts at Jaipur and Jaisalmer.

The Jaipur Fort is maintained by a private trust and not the Government, which explains why it is so much more tourist friendly and well-maintained than most other historical locations. It features a very very extensive museum and gallery showcasing the history of the ruling family and their exploits. It also features an extensive armoury featuring beautiful swords, daggers, guns, shields and spears (of the Rajasthani and not the Britney variety). A very beautiful structure, indeed.

Also worth checking out at Jaipur is the palace of the current Raja, Umaid Bhavan. It's now part tourist attraction, part heritage resort and part marriage/event venue, I think. It's a really magnificent building, but we couldn't give it much time because we had to hit the road.

The Jaisalmer Fort is not so much a fort as a complete living township. It's still very well populated today with shops, restaurants and whatnot all over the place to cater to the considerable number of tourists. I would recommend setting aside atleast 4 hours to explore it... there are several tiny roads and points of interest within the complex that will take time, patience and lots of sunblock to cover completely.

The forts also offer, as expected, fantastic views of their respective cities.

Jodhpur, the Blue City

4. Hello Pakistan!

On a whim, we drove to a small temple town and army outpost called Tanot, 120 km from Jaisalmer and 16 km from India's border with Pakistan. This area was a key battle zone during the war of 1971, and came under heavy shelling. The troops believe the local deity - Maa Tanot Devi, a form of Durga - protected the soldiers then and continues to do so to this day.

We chatted with the jawans and officers posted there and were told that to get army permission to visit the actual border, one had to go all the way back to Jaisalmer or an intermediate mini-town called Ramgarh. Much to our surprise, however, the General in charge of the base allowed us to visit the army post on the border.

So there we were, 16 km later, chatting with the soldiers posted at the border and taking turns looking through their binoculars at the Pakistani outpost on the other side of the no mans' land between the countries. They shared their army experiences (one of them had served at every major border area of the last decade), and told us how life was on a daily basis, looking out for smugglers and soldiers from across the border. They were ecstatic to see us (especially since two of us were from their hometowns), their only grouse being that we hadn't brought any Holi colours for them.

I visited Tawang near the border with China last year, and both these experiences gave me a renewed appreciation of how much these brave men and women have sacrificed in order to ensure our safety and sovereignity. Battling through harsh weather conditions, staying away from home for months on end... it's a difficult life and takes guts, passion and courage to do it... Somehow, a lot of what the rest of us do and crib about in life seems to pale in comparison.

The long, often dangerous international border with Pakistan

5. After the main course, the desert!

One thing every single visitor to Jaisalmer does - and must do - is take a nightime camel safari into the desert. There are innumerable tour operators who can arrange one for you. A typical package would include a couple of hours of camel riding, dinner at a campsite (with Swiss tents that have all amenities you could want) with performances by local gypsy troupes, a bonfire, possibly some drunkenness and a good night's sleep.

For a super experience, however, convince your tour guy to take you into the desert so you can sleep under the open sky in the middle of nowhere. Trust me, it's well worth it. The camel guy takes you out into the desert, cooks you a simple meal for dinner and leaves you to sleep with the stars. In the morning, he makes you tea and breakfast, and leads you back to the real world.

We were there on the night of a full moon, and the scene was breathtakingly beautiful. Rolling sand dunes, billions and billions of stars in a wonderfully clear sky and the gentle desert breeze. Extremely inspiring. (Also extremely romantic, which made things a little depressing because I had no one with me to be romantic with.) The sheer beauty of the landscape, stretching out across the silent desert, made the trip worth it. We were an hour's camel ride way from any road or form of civilization... sheer bliss. To give you a brief (but very inadequate) idea, here's a picture. And the light you see, folks, is the moon.

The beautiful moonlit desert night

Camping in the middle of nowhere...

Most overnight desert packages start about 3pm in the afternoon and will bring you back to your hotel about 11am the next morning. Charges can range from Rs 1500 to Rs 10000 per head depending on how much of a mug you are, how many foreigners are in the group, and how many camels you intend to use. So don't be afraid to bargain hard. If you have the time, shop around among a number of tourist agencies to ensure you get as good a deal as possible. But under no circumstance whatsoever should you miss out on this - this was easily the single most brilliant memory of our road trip.

So that's that... 3 days VERY well spent. When we initially told people about our plans, they were dismissed as being crazy, impractical and pointlessly tiring. Well, we proved the naysayers wrong :)

Next up: a Punjab road trip, up to the Indo-Pak border at Wagah.

I read through the post and realised I had completely forgotten to put my original statement in context. I'll try to put it as plainly as possible. The camel is a nice animal and fun to ride, but ensure you're mounted on it correctly or its lurching motion will hurt you in places you'd rather not be hurt in.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


The controversial anti-Islamist movie by far-right wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders. I downloaded (the torrent is widely available) and watched it today.

Wilder's views are somewhat extremist in nature. He pieces together specific (potentially inflammatory) Sura'as from the Quran and speeches by Imams from around the world to raise the alarm about the growing Islamisation (and radical Islamisation, at that) of the world in general and the Netherlands in particular.

I don't agree with his extremist views at all. In fact, I very strongly disagree with them. They're quite one- sided and xenophobic in nature. The tag of being a 'radical' can just as easily be applied to people from other religions (like the VHP in Hinduism). The holy books of all religions are potential sources of controversy (creationism in the Bible versus Darwin). So this movie clearly presents only one side of the story, and very strongly. Michael Moore would be proud.

I have several Muslim friends and am strongly against the branding of Islam as a violent and terrorist religion. A few misguided radicals are giving the religion a bad name around the world... every religion and ideology has its nutcases (relatively speaking). I guess the world probably needs a little more reassurance (such as this) that the actions of these people are clearly viewed as unacceptable by the larger Muslim community...

Do watch the movie, though. It's worth a watch, if only to provide one context on the issue in Northern and Western Europe.

Details: Wikipedia: Fitna (the film)
The movie: Youtube: Geert Wilders - Fitna the movie (Official English)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Morituri Te Salutamus

(Flow of random thoughts, again.)

Recently, I discussed death with a few of my friends. More specifically, the question "How would you like to die?"

It might seem like a very morbid topic for discussion, and it is. I can be a morbid sort of guy at times.

Anyways, almost all said that they'd like to die peacefully in their sleep. Just float away in the night, dying several years from now of old age. Me, I wouldn't like that. I would rather die suddenly and instantaneously. Like, say, a massive instantly fatal car crash. Or a earthquake that crushes me in my sleep. Or a well-aimed bullet to my head. Something like that.

I don't mean to be dramatic. My reasons are exactly the same as those of people who'd like to die in their sleep; like everyone else, I'd like to die cleanly and quickly with little or no pain. Not for me the extended, "Main jaa raha hoon maa" type of deaths so loved by Bollywood.

The next question is, of course, when exactly. Some of my friends said they'd like to be grandparents or great grandparents before they die, so that they have achieved everything personally and professionally that they could have hoped to achieve.

Me, I'm ready to go now. Quickly, cleanly, immediately. Today's as good a day to die as any, and I'm ready. Not ready in that I've tied up all my paperwork and have my will in place, but ready in that if I was to die right now, I wouldn't regret it. Not that I'd have the capacity to regret it once I'm dead, of course. (I do not believe in the afterlife or in reincarnation.)

Again, I'm not trying to be dramatic, or a hero. It's just that I'd much rather die early than hang around for years and years until people can't wait for me to die. And I'd much rather die at a time and in a manner that people think, "Oh, why did he have to die so soon?" rather than "Oh well, he was expected to die anytime now anyways..."

I have certain ambitions, certain plans for the future, certain things I'm looking forward to. But if I was to die right now (the ceiling, unfortunately, looks fairly solid and unlikely to fall anytime soon) I would be perfectly alright with it. One needs an extremely strong reason to want to live to be (rationally) against death. Death is a great liberator. The end of all worries, insecurities and unhappiness. And it's tax-free, as well. (For me, I mean, not for those who inherit whatever meagre savings I leave behind.)

Another angle of the thought of death is: does my death matter? I don't have any dependents as of now, and my brother is a superstar and fairly capable of meeting all familial obligations. (On second thoughts, maybe I'd like to hang around for a few more years until he's settled.) Apart from the financial aspect of it, there's also the emotional one. Would anyone mourn my death? The answer to that is, reassuringly, yes. I am confident there will be some non-family members (Family, especially in India, will always love you even if you are a cannibalistic murderer) who will genuinely miss me when I'm gone. And that is a source of great strength in a cruel and very matlabi and selfish world. There aren't very many (actually, very very few in my estimation), but a non-zero number is infinitely better than none. Very welcome, indeed.

There are people I know whose death will affect me very very deeply, people whose passing I will very genuinely mourn and feel emptier for. Many of these people don't even know how much a part of my life they have been in the past or are now, and how much I value their presence in my life and their contributions to making me who I am today. I don't suppose I'll ever tell them, but it's nice to know one is capable of caring about and respecting others to such a depth.

Death is inevitable. Birth is, in a way, just the beginning of death. And it comes with a lot of baggage.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Damn you, Mr Murphy.

I wrote this piece sometime in January, but forgot all about it. Until now. And so, I shall inflict it on you.

Last week, I flew from Ahmedabad to Delhi. A very pleasant flight (Kingfisher Airlines - thought I'd try it out just to see if it was worth the hype. Verdict: It is!)

I got to Delhi airport in a reasonably good mood. My baggage didn't take inordinately long to arrive, and only one person banged his trolley painfully into my shins, as opposed to the usual three or four.

Yes, it seemed like a nice day.

Three seconds later, I realised it wasn't going to be all that nice a day - the queue for the prepaid taxi services stretched for atleast 45 people. Two queues of 45 people each. I sighed, got out a book (A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson) and settled down for a long wait.

As I inched closer to the ticket window, I was able to observe the activities on the other side of the glass window. It seemed immediately obvious to me that the person meant to manage the prepaid taxi booths had no clue about
a. Service time,
b. Resource optimization, or
c. Efficient man management.

There were six windows. These were manned by four men, and a surprisingly agile bit of mathematical calculation told me that meant atleast two windows were closed for service. Of the four men, two were actually taking money and disbursing the prepaid tickets. One was counting huge stacks of cash (and yet refused to offer change to the customers) and the fourth was, almost unbelievably, sipping on tea and working the Sudoku in that morning's newspaper! And it wasn't as if he was taking a quick break. He was doing that (tea + Sudoku) for the full period of 45 minutes that I waiting in the queue. And this, when there was a flight landing every 5 minutes and an increasingly irate line of tired grumpy customers waiting for some service.

I parked myself at the end of Queue 1, and steeled myself for a long wait. As expected, it was moving at an annoyingly sluggish pace. Soon, the sluggish movement slowed to a crawl. And then a complete halt. No one seemed to know what was happening, and the head of the queue was too far away to allow a detailed investigation. All of us just stood about, resignation writ large on our faces. And then, like a bull that has had a hot iron placed against its rump, Queue 2 began moving at breakneck speed. Before the disbelieving eyes of us poor chaps in Queue 1, the folk in Queue 2 were served twice as fast as we were (before we came to a standstill, of course. I know two times zero is zero.) It was at this point that a helpful official cut into our line about 15 people ahead of me and recommended we move to Queue 2 for faster service. Letting a collective whoop of joy and victory, we swarmed towards the second line.

Four minutes later, it came to a screeching halt. A complete standstill. All due to two people at the head of the queue arguing over the fares and the change. We stood in position for about 5 minutes, muttering and cursing under our breaths. The man behind me said something that sounded like 'Monkey', but was decidedly in Punjabi. And then, suddenly, the line began to move at a phenomenal speed. Except that this wasn't Queue 2 moving, it was Queue 1.

Cue (heh, heh) for everyone in Queue 2 to run helter skelter to Queue 1. And there we were back where we started. The queue moved fairly quickly, and I finally got myself a ticket. I strode out of the airport triumphantly, only to deflate when I saw the long line for the taxis themselves. It was at that that I decided to stop being a nice guy and become a Delhiite. I resolved to kick, punch, scratch, bite and claw as necessary to ensure I did not lose out. Life became a big red blur...

Anyways, I somehow wrestled my way into a taxi and gave the driver my address. And that's when Act 2 - the thriller - started. My driver weaved in and out of the morning rush hour traffic, tyres squealing and chassis creaking (and I am NOT exaggerating!) as he swung wildly across the lanes in the general direction of Gurgaon. He very nearly hit about 12 cars in a 5 kilometre stretch. I counted. At one point, he drove over a divider on the expressway - I kid you not - just to get to a relatively free lane. I thought it prudent, after that harrowing incident, to ask how long he'd been driving. It turned out he was a 19 year old kid who'd got this driving license only 4 months ago. And through means that were not strictly legal. Just my luck. The death ride somehow came to a satisfactory end, with neither the car nor its occupants much the worse for it. I paid the driver and trudged upstairs to my flat.

Life wasn't done throwing me sucker punches yet. I had locked the keys to my house in my pants (my other pants, I was wearing a pair at the time), which were in my suitcase. There followed a five minute session (liberally punctuated with the choicest expletives) as I unpacked the tight-to-the-seam box at my doorstep to get at the keys.

I stepped into my house, and collapsed on the nearest sofa, worn out by the morning's experiences. The simplest of tasks can be so phenomenally tiring at times. Sigh.

But wait, dear reader. Act 3 unfolds.

I had not had a bath for quite a few days, and decided it was only fair to my coworkers (I was planning to go to office later in the day) that I cleanse myself with liberal use of soap and hot water. I am all for not having a bath, so long as one does not stink. But there's only so far that deodorants can work. So a quick bath was chalked into the agenda of the day's activities.

I went into the bathroom, peeled off my clothes (I see you swooning, ladies, and not because of the smell!) and turned on the shower. I stood there for 5 minutes, oblivious to all in the world except the lovely feeling of water running down my face and body. I reached out to the soap, and proceeded to lather myself well and truly. I even sang a cheerful little ditty as I did so. Midway through this operation, the power died. As the comforting hum of the geyser died down, an eerie silence descended upon my house. Not that I minded - at 10 a.m., this kind of stuff isn't really scary. I continued singing the aforementioned ditty. Just as I finished lathering myself all over and placed the soap back in its tray, the water stopped. Without warning. The shower, pleasantly gushing mere moments ago, gurgled and made a sound like it was clearing its throat. It slowed to a trickle and then stopped.

A rather shitty situation to be in, this. Buck naked, wearing nothing but a 3-day stubble. Covered in soap lather and with no idea of what to do next.

The tap at the wash basin wasn't working, and I didn't fancy washing in the commode. After 5 indecisive minutes, inspiration struck. I trudged to the kitchen (dropping little soap suds all along the way) and washed myself with mineral water and beer. (Seriously, I'm not making this up.)

And there, dear readers who have survived to the end of this post, ended my ordeal. The rest of the day went pretty smoothly, thankfully. Even though my beer-sticky legs did cause me occasional discomfort.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Advertising change...

There's an ad campaign on air nowadays that I like a lot.

Actually, it's been on air for almost two months now, and I've been meaning to blog about them but I've been quite a lazy bum busy and overworked over the last few weeks.

It's an ad campaign for Canara Bank, a 100 year old national bank. It's part of its attempt to change its look and feel, and reposition itself as a reliable provider of hi-technology banking products and services, one that is relevant to the young customers of today.

The transformation encompasses several areas - technology, products and services, internal HR initiatives and a new corpoate identity (Link 1 and Link 2. The purpose of the ad campaign is to convey that this change has a human heart. Hence the tagline - "We all change for the ones we love."

Some are cynical, and say that this is just a cosmetic change - to expect a public sector bank to improve its service levels is laughable. Others, however, believe that with time, the naysayers will be proved wrong. I think it's a little bit of both. Perhaps there will be some change, necessitated by the increasing competition in the industry and the looming entry of foreign players once deregulation kicks in in 2009.

Before you read ahead, watch the two ads and form your own opinions.

AD 1 & AD 2

I like the first one a lot. It's very cute, and funny. And I love the bit where she asks for pink! But, emotional sap that I am, I like the second ad even more. There's something very... indescribably awwww about the mother's efforts in the ad, something that makes me soften and smile whatever mood I might be when the ad is on.

I wonder how my mother will react when I introduce her to my Punjabi girlfriend :)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Happy Walletines' Day

So another Valentines' Day has come and gone. And the attendant hysteria is finally beginning to die down just a little.

I'm sorry, but I just don't get it. I don't understand Valentines' Day.

Saint Valentine, after whom the Day is named, is apparently the patron saint of affianced couples. He is also, my sources inform me, the patron saint of bee keepers, epileptics and travellers. (So if you're an apiarist in love, are bitten by wanderlust and are prone to the occasional fit, you've hit the jackpot.)

Saint Valentine may as well also be the patron saint of overpriced flowers, candy, cloyingly mushy love songs, the colours red and pink and marketing/advertisement agencies.

Love has never been so commoditized, dragged down from its deservedly ethereal heights and crammed into the greedy mould of mass commercialization. An emotion that is something relatively simple and (potentially, should you choose to make it so) uncomplicated is repackaged to morph into a confusing mix of expectation, guilt, tension, disappointment and anxiety culminating in a big fat credit card bill.

I don't see why there has to be ONE day to make the person you love feel special. I don't see why there has to be ONE day to tell them how much they mean to you. I don't see why there has to be ONE day to convey your emotions. From my experience, an unexpected rose on any random day is a greater sign that someone loves you than a rose (or several) right on cue on Valentines' Day. Predictability and a sense of expectation will be the death of spontaneous expression of love.

Anybody and everybody jumps onto the Valentines' Day bandwagon nowadays. Here are a few examples.

- Florists have a field day as the price of roses shoots up 500%. And giving one's Valentine day-old flowers is simply considered too tacky and cheap for words. (Try explaining the 50% cost arbitrage advantage to a miffed girlfriend.)

- One has apparently not celebrated Valentines' Day in its true spirit if one has not been to the most eye-poppingly expensive restaurant in town. For a steep price (special Valentine offer, of course), one gets to experience fantastic ambience, soft romantic music and often tasteless food.

- Or, one of the many plush multiplexes in town where if one buys couple tickets, one will get popcorn free! Romantic as it may be, I'd much rather watch the movie I paid up to 300 frickin' bucks per head for, and not be distracted by my girlfriend nibbling on my ear.

- We consumers are reassured that this is the ideal occasion on which to buy your loved one lingerie. (Yeah right. Given the traffic snarls to and from that expensive restaurant so diligently recommended by all known media, I doubt one would have the time or energy for much action.)

- Jewellery, of course, is the perfect gift for the occasion, ads plead. (What occasion? Me loving my girlfriend/wife is an occasion?!) Other perfect occasions in the future will include Diwali, New Year, Akshaya Tritiya, Holi, Pongal, Eid, Christmas, Krishna Jayanti, the various regional New Years, Independence Day...

- "Love is a matter of taste," urges a consumer electronics company in an ad (that they doubtless consider clever) in today's paper as it positions a microwave oven as the best present for one's beloved. (Oh screw the swanky restaurant, honey. Let's just stay home and try out our new microwave!)

- "If you cant say those three words today, say two," is the sage recommendation from another. The two words? "iPod Nano." An informative little callout on the ad tells us to buy the iPod in pink, as that is the colour of love. (If anyone were to get me a pink iPod, I'd kill them. And use their blood to colour my iPod a sporty red.)

- Do you know how to show your loved one how much you really love them? "Gift your Valentine something special... Buy them a car! Now available at a special 10% discount, repayable through low EMIs over the next 7 years." (But which time one would have got a new car, and probably a new girlfriend/wife as well.)

- Everybody with the equipment and time to churn out a music CD comes out with a 'Love Collection' or something of the sort, featuring exactly the same songs in every single CD, with perhaps a change in the sequence or the addition of remixed tracks being the only difference.

- "Love at first ride!" screams a wildly original ad from a bike manufacturer.

- How about this, from a popular beauty parlour chain: "This Valentines' Day, gift your loved one a special slimming package." Right, nothing quite like telling her how much you love her and sending across a subtle message at the same time.

- "This Valentine, charm a million hearts with your new look... avail of special discounts on our non surgical treatment for baldness!" Quite a turn-on, I'm sure.

And there are many many more. Everyone's out to make a quick buck on this most profitable of days. And you can't blame them, they're just doing what makes good business sense. It's all of us, the society at large, that has been brainwashed into feeling the need to 'celebrate' it. In my view, it's nothing more than an excuse to get off work early. (No manager can deny you time with your beloved on Valentines' Day. She/he probably has to rush home herself to deal with a spouse brimming with fancy notions and high expectations of an evening's expensive affirmation of love.)

Bal Thackeray, the head of the political party the Shiv Sena has long crusaded against Valentines' Day being celebrated in India, deeming it a western influence that spreads immorality amongst the youth. He considers it an attack upon Indian values and culture. (The land with the second largest population in the world does not understand love and/or lust, apparently.) In a front page editorial in the party newsletter, he wrote, "What is this Valentine Day? In what way it is related to Indian culture? It is a rotten imported culture thriving on the neo-rich with easy money to squander."

Now I have a deep, long-standing loathing for him and his party, given their highly divisive politics and hate mongering. But you have to admit, in the context of the statement above, he kind of has a point.

Valentines' Day is no longer about love. It's all about the money, honey.

Friday, February 01, 2008

"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?"

Location: Strand Book Fair, Mumbai

Time In: 1230 hrs

Time Out: 1330 hrs

The spoils, all in mint condition:
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce
Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
Of Human Bondage, by William Somerset Maugham

Intellectual stimulation:
The Koran (translated to English)
The Dialogues of Plato

Pulp fiction for long flights:
A Puzzle For Fools, by Patrick Quentin
The Last of Philip Banter, by John Franklin Bardin

Magic, by Isaac Asimov
The History of White People in America, by Martin Mull and Allen Rucker
The Litle Pun Book, from Peter Pauper Press

Expense: Rs. 834. What a steal.

Note: The quote in the title is attributed to Henry Ward Beecher.