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 :)