Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Good old Reader’s Digest from my granddad's '50s-60s collection used to have a section on humour – amongst others – titled ‘Pardon, your slip is showing’. I don't think they have that section any more. And anyhow, it would no longer be relevant under the same title. The correct remark to make in today’s 21st century of strange dressing would be ‘Pardon, your slip is showing, but perhaps that’s intentional given your remarkably fancy straps!’

Too many clothes seen on the street today are designed to show a bit of what’s inside. Like a watermelon-wala strategically displays a slice of his fine juicy red wares tantalizing the passerby with a promise of what lies ‘inside’. Similarly just too many articles of clothing today are designed such that they cannot stay balanced on the shoulder (or the hip), and just have to display some of the equally well designed underneath. I’m never sure of what is the acceptable correct reaction to such observations. Is one supposed to guiltily swing one’s glance away or is one supposed to drink in the entire panorama? Why the guilt, given that this is certainly not voyeuristic. Voyeurism has limited gratification if one has to expend no efforts to achieve titillation. Then again, if one is expected to keep stoic and casual, then how does one concentrate on the social exchange with such distractions literally staring in the face? Tough choice!

Another of those questions I’ve always been wanting to ask is – when women wear T-shirts with stuff written on them, is one supposed to read or not? Being a man of detail and being reasonably lettered, I have a natural tendency to linger on the text and drink in the wisdom. Some of the more profound statements warrant a second and third reading. But before you rush to judge me, I do that even when I’m reading the morning newspaper! Some cartoon strips are stirring enough to necessitate a second scan over. How then do I assure the arbitrary conclusion-jumper that my interest lies solely in the import of the transcript, and not on the canvas it’s painted on? And how do I convince the wearer of such wisdom, that my reading may not be necessarily speedy and/or sometimes the text font is cryptic and requires intense effort? My intent is noble while my eyesight may not be what it used to be. Me staring at you in the socially non-stareable region(s), with brows furrowed, teeth biting the lower lip, and the general tone of stiff concentration, is just me giving in to my most primitive need… grasping of education.

Given that there have been substantial episodes of misunderstandings in my life on account of the above, I’m now practicing reading from the corner of my eyes. I play the memory game where I attempt to recollect and reconstruct items on a tray after just a quick scan. Not much luck at it, I'm afraid! I’m also learning to concentrate on a particular point, and read 6-8 inches lower. And I’m trying to live with the constant headache of attempting this!!

Does anyone have any suggestions? Any that don’t end with getting a tight slap?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Do Bigha Zameen

So I had hazarded the prospect of purchasing property given the typical Indian belief that failure to do so would imply that the next incarnation is going to be as a cockroach destined to spend life (i.e. that new life) in government built poorly maintained city sewer pipes. But I had no idea that property purchase tests financial wherewithal, infinite patience, good deal of physical stamina, and significant broker management skills. To the uninitiated, in India we have a broker for everything – license or passport application, electricity connection, bill payments, traffic ticket payments, marriage (bride hunting, wedding organization, marriage certificate application etc), child delivery, school admissions, movie tickets, train tickets, cancellation of train tickets… you get the idea, eh? If you’re traveling by the countryside and want to pee by a tree, the moment you stop the car, you’d be mobbed by ten representatives pointing out the best tree promising you the most pleasurable open-air draft-free splash-incident-resistant experience!

My broker by destiny was a perpetually smiling sardarji. “Bestest price is seventy two forty eight rupees per square foot,” he announced with the air of achievement as though he’d just given birth to twins! My brain multiplied that with 2000 square feet and calculated something that probably represented the number of stars in the universe. He wasn’t done though… ‘… plus we just add the EDC, IDC and PLC to the BSP, and then the IBMS and CMC. And if you have two cars then two CPCs will be added or one CPC compulsory and one OPC. Registration at 7% is at possession ji’. It is tough to abbreviate a single word, so I guess ‘Registration’ stood out in that entire spiel. The rest was like sitting in kindergarten and learning the alphabet. I wasn’t sure if I should ask for clarifications chronologically or alphabetically. I think the abbreviations have been created to confuse the ‘thinking’ prospective buyer and to mitigate the impact of the actual product of the rate x units

Because Gurgaon, in particular, has the most exorbitantly priced property one can see anywhere. Tiny match box sized flats in towering multi-storey condos are priced in line with prices of some entire nations in Africa. My assessment is that Gurgaon must be home to the most optimistic target segment in the world. The quoted rate was, I’m convinced, sufficient to buy an entire oil field in Kuwait, factory fitted with Italian designed oil pumps. I think the general idea is that one can recover the cost of the flat by drilling for gas in the general neighbourhood of the living area though it might just require you – being on the 20th floor – to drill through 19 ceiling fans and perhaps a cheap chandelier or two.

The sardarji eventually managed to sell me a different property which, in the comparison of things, could at best promise a hot-water spring underneath as opposed to good ol’ petroleum. Given the space I could afford in pure square footage terms, it also promised my wife and me a lifetime of closeness and intimacy, to be shared in equal measures with any social invitee. I haven’t even got started about the bank and the loan and the interest yet!! Will save that for another blog.

Is it just me or does the cockroach and the government sewer suddenly seem like a damn attractive deal?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Needed: Electronic Fig Leaves

I think the final state of airport security across the globe is going to be that technology would allow for people to have zippers in the soles of their feet. Check-in would involve unzipping these, gently rolling off your skin all the way over the top of your head, and placing these – warts, moles, tattoos, lipstick, rouge, liner and all – in plastic bags for the cargo hold. The flight itself would be fairly scary walking down the aisle, but would be 100% safe. 

And my cynical conviction is borne from the body-scanning experience I had at the Denver airport a couple of months back. Randomly selected (yes, nothing to do with my name, nationality, complexion, gender, height, weight, clothing, bodily hair density, colour of eyes, bushiness of eyebrows, shoe size, right-handedness, teeth orientation, length of fingernails, etc). I was explained by an officially attired Huge Grouchy Man on exactly to what extent the machine would invade my privacy. ‘But we respect your dignity, sir’, said the HGM, ‘and these images are viewed at a remote site.’ So that was comforting… the guy who was seeing under my clothes was not at the airport itself, but at a ‘remote’ site… and if this followed the general pre-Obama BPO best practices, then this was possibly happening in India – probably from the same general complex where I had my office in the middle of BPO land!

The giant also explained how parts of the images were blurred to again protect ‘my modesty’. From the look on the illustration, the images were more graphic than porn from the early days of monochrome computers. Perhaps definition of modesty had changed. HGM then passed me through the magic chamber and then got into whispery conversations with his ‘remote operator’. They (seemed to) talk a bit about how my thick cargo pants had obscured a voyeuristically gratifying clear enough look and discussed grounds to pass me through again without my pants. Then (seemed to) snigger that I looked far fatter in the images than I did otherwise, and perhaps a second iteration wouldn’t be as satisfying as hoped. I got a ‘good to go’ nod and began a new life where embarrassing pictures of me could now appear on the internet. 

Here’s what I think needs to be done to make this a win-win for the scanners and the scanees. Clearly the scanner goes down to depths where no-man-has-gone-before. I’m willing to suffer the indignity of this intrusion if these guys are willing to share a report with my Physician. I would love to see a periodic update on how my slipped disk (lower back, segment L4-L5) is doing since I’ve now been doing a good amount of Yoga. While in the chamber I’m more than happy to give a bit of blood/urine/stool sample so that these folks can verify that I don’t have explosives pumped in my blood stream, or stuffed in my bladder, and can also do a quick check on my haemoglobin, WBC, and platelet count. And if someone with low haemoglobin has a weapon strapped to his back and is disbarred from travelling, he can still rummage through the liquid bottles’ disposal bin to see if anyone has tossed in a tonic for the Hg treatment! Like I said… win-win!!

Back in BPO land: This twenty-something youngster in my common lift lobby kept staring at me top-to-bottom. Finally he leant across and whispered… ‘I normally keep very professional about my job mate, but that mole on your left inner thigh didn’t look good. Get it checked’.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Man Enough

Dad spent the first thirty years of my life driving home the point – again and again – that I, as a significant representative of my entire generation, am too soft and entirely hopeless and can, at best, be compared to the sometimes gooey inclusions in a seafood dish that need to be carefully parked on the corner of the plate and disposed off later. Kept out of contact with the real tasty morsels lest the contact be contagious.

And with good reasons. As an ideal specimen of his subspecies of army officers who faced the challenges and dangers of the unknown, serving during the several wars our country fought, with heroic valor, he emerged a tough and disciplined product. Yes, I was quite a far cry from that stuff. He never missed an opportunity to tell me that I was the jelly in the larder filled with cookies, cakes and croissants. Mom was to blame, of course, and she never seemed too bothered with my lack of country-defending or world-changing characteristics, so in short we were a happy family at peace with internal dynamics.

My profession of choice in the grey world of IT and ITeS basically meant that there were no tangible takeaways from a typical day in office. No bruises to mend, no wounds to sew, no blood transfusion once in a while for good measure. As I shared the news of my promotion at home, Dad inquired hopefully, ‘So what would be your job now?’ ‘Umm… pretty much the same Dad,’ I began unsure of structure or content, but fully confident of the outcome. ‘It’s a more senior position, so more responsibilities and more respect and….,’ I stopped as Mom’s overpowering hug fortunately squeezed out the rest of what I didn’t know to say. ‘My babie, I’m soooo proud of you,’ Mom cooed. ‘Well, then, good for you, I guess,’ Dad smirked and got back to his newspaper. I just felt I’d been crowned Ms. Beautiful Smile in the Mr. Universe contest!

Cut to the present. Life teaches one a lot and I realized all the bravery need not be in the forests of the East or the snow-capped peaks of the North-West. I was now a professional working in the National Capital Region of Delhi – the tricities of Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida and having spent nearly three years at these coordinates, I finally had an answer to my Dad’s quips.

‘Dad, I drive,’ I volunteered, with a tough look on my face. The equivalent of an Arnold Schwarzenegger intense gaze though, of course, at half the height and one fourth the weight. ‘I drive in Delhi, Dad… I drive a car in Delhi!’ For the uninitiated – as was Dad too – driving in NCR was Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle personified… only the velocity or the exact position of any car around you could be determined with any accuracy. And sometimes that too was just a lucky guess.

The army-man needed proof and got some when I picked him up from the railway station to spend his first weekend with me. Weaving through the traffic with a few oh-gosh-that-was-close type brushes, I heard him gasping a bit loud over the FM channel. His eyes glazed over as in a jiffy a dozen cars crossed me from both sides simultaneously and two, I swear to God, hopped right over on top of mine. Clutching hard to his seat cushion, he breathed heavily, probably reliving some of the thorny memories from his adrenalin rushing days. I could almost smell a newfound respect for me as I nonchalantly did the typical Delhi road routine with grace. Just to drive home the point, I simultaneously began SMSing my wife while selecting a new music CD assessing the song listing critically, all at a comfortable speed of around eighty. ‘Careful Son, keep left!’ he suggested helpfully. ‘The enemy can spring from anywhere Colonel! We need to be flexible,’ I rattled back and swung a sharp right cutting across three rows of angry honking cars that evidently wanted to go straight. ‘Use the indicator… USE THE INDICATOR,’ he screamed. ‘No! That confuses the traffic. Plus it’s too much of a commitment – what if I decide I don’t want to turn after all..?’ He looked at me with pleading eyes. ‘The sign over there says that we should drive in our lanes, buddy,’ he tried the buddy approach with me. ‘Yeps Dad, that’s right. In Delhi you have two lanes, one for the traffic going, and one for oncoming. It’s good to keep on your side of the road, but then that’s only guidance.’ He gave up. From the corner of my eyes I saw him close his and (just maybe) mumble the first few lines of Hanuman Chalisa. They teach you well in the army how to recognize a war being fought at a level that’s a whole world different from your own skills, and the complete God-belief-karma routine swings into action mechanically I guess.

We made it home and I helped him hobble up to the elevator. Two shots of a Single Malt got him back his bearings. Another got him talking. ‘So Business Development must be very challenging son….'

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Russian Dense Delight

I baked a chocolate cake today… ahem… actually it was a Russian Dense Delight cake with almonds and walnuts. Much before an MBA made me smarter at BS, one of the first things I learnt in my job as a Software engineer was that very often ‘a bug could be sold as a feature’. Yet earlier Mommy had taught a young and impressionable me the art of how a fried egg gone all wrong could actually be a scrambled egg gone all right. Coupled with the right expressions it just worked perfectly. ‘Hey I thought I heard you say scrambled; fried, sunny-side up, was it? Sorry!’ was the only additional garnishing required.

But the real reason that my creation became the Russian-dense-delight-with-nuts is lesser to do with a personal process goof-up and more to do with the place I stay in. The Millennium city, as it is known for some unfathomable reasons, loses power for about 8 hours a day, has an irregular water supply, has little or no public infrastructure to talk about, and crumbling roads that wash away every few months. Legend has it that the Administration is actually extremely dedicated to development and almost dying to provide better roads, 24x7 electricity and all the fancy works, but is terrified that doing so would contrast horribly with the name of the town. They’re worried that they may be inviting unnecessary judicial action and found guilty of willful deception by providing sheher like amenities in what is decidedly a semantic gaon. They’ve pleaded with the residents to consider changing the name to Gursheher to allow for consistency with their plans of development, but then the residents of the town took enough and more time in getting to learn how to spell the name of the town (or visually recognizing it on a board without actually spelling it), and are in no mood for an iteration in unlearning and learning. Meanwhile, the Legend continues, the Administration is churning out wonderful butter smooth roads but rolling them up and storing them in a warehouse alongwith drums and drums of 24x7 power supply waiting for the impasse to end and being allowed to comply with their karmic duties.

So much for the Legend… back to my cake.

As anyone who’s ever baked a cake in life would understand, it’s a fairly skilled trade. In particular, the actual baking has to be considered akin to being pregnant. As many people who bake cakes are likely to become pregnant (though not on account of baking cakes, of course!), I’m sure this point is well understood. You really cannot spread the 0-9 months of a pregnancy over a 2 year period in short and comfortable intervals of 2 months at a time. Similarly the cake begs to be oven-ed for 45 mins in one single stretch and the observant bystander or the anxious creator can almost sense the mix of emotions within the cake as it strives to achieve baked adulthood from a tumultuous batterhood – experience its troubled teen equivalents with acne like liquid bubbles gently settling in and creating their permanent place in life; participate in the cake’s equivalent of young adulthood – the tiny fissures in the surface becoming wrinkles of experience; and finally delight in its acquiring maturity – developing of the crust of wisdom over the soft heart of pure potential within. Ah! And the smell of perfection – of a parenthood gone right and your little baby all grown, now standing in front of you in all the finery of sensibility and handsomeness rolled up into one.

But my chocolate-nuts cake wasn’t to be so. Baked in sporadic bursts of 10 minutes with ominous blackout intervals stretching into hours, it was the chocolate prodigy which was never to be. To be fair, it yearned – every single interval of temperature opportunity – it sought to rise to the expectations of my hopeful eyes outside the glass partition. But eventually youth ran out and maturity set it. And my silent pleas didn’t work. I didn’t have the doctor/engineer offspring I had planned on. My child was ‘differently abled’.

The proof of the pudding – said the wise men – lies in the taste. My Chocolate-Nut cake christened Russian Dense Delight was sliced amongst a fairly diverse group of connoisseurs of fine food later in the evening. Amongst exclaims of ooohs and aaaha and ‘you have to tell us!!’ and ‘how rich and fullish!’ and ‘my my, what texture!” I was mobbed for the recipe of the scrambled egg that started life as a fried sunny-side-up. I didn’t flinch a facial muscle as I gravely prescribed the mandated heating pattern. ‘Exactly 10 minutes at 180 Fahrenheit and then a cool off for about an hour and a half. Repeat exactly 4 times. You get it wrong, and you’ll lose the texture. Yes, yes, it’s not really an easy bake, I know.’

Hell, just bake it in Gurgaon. You can’t get it wrong!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

That Syncing feeling

Ever had the sinking feeling? Or the less talked about but equally depressing syncing feeling? I’ve conceded that it’s pretty much impossible for our generation to escape it.

The first few days my wife got a Blackberry were incredibly painful. One night I’d just seen Paranormal Activity and quietly slunk into bed drawing the covers over my head. Understandably had a spot of trouble sleeping. Somewhere in the middle of the night the strong feeling that something wasn’t quite right jolted me from sleep. I got up gingerly to see the wife sitting erect in bed, ramrod straight. Wisps of hair covering half her face, and hands clasped together as though in prayer… an eerie glow on her face, a subtle blue light dancing in her eyes. ‘Darling,’ I squeaked, ‘is everything alright?’ ‘Now it is,’ said she, with what was probably a sheepish smile, but in the mood lighting appeared sinister. ‘Wasn’t syncing, now it seems to be okay,’ and she let a little more backlight escape the Blackberry she had clasped in her hands showing the progress bar indicating 90% sync fulfillment. It was like someone on a ventilator had discovered that the oxygen pipe was under his butt and had just rolled it out from under him to get a new lease of breath and life. Zombie like behaviour from the Mrs. have become commonplace now. It is perfectly normal to see her standing facing a wall seemingly motionless and oblivious to human presence waiting for some more syncing to happen.

I risked admonishing her for this obsession just once. ‘Should we just let the email sync on only weekdays and just leave it off otherwise,’ I suggested hopefully. ‘Oh yes? And mail syncing is all that constitutes an obsession?’ she responded and carried on texting with just one finger. Was it possible that she was talking about the movies’ collection on my desktop that needed syncing with my external hard disk daily; my external hard disk which needed syncing daily with my Wi-Fi media streamer database; my music collection that needed to be synced across two music players and one music hard disk; the phone contacts that needed to be synced with my desktop morning and evening at least and a couple of times in between just in case.

The pace of life today is such that the moment to sit and introspect and smell-the-flowers – so to say – is not part of the daily schedule. Some days I’m tempted to put it in my calendar that I need to do the smelling flower routine, but related logistics are really tough to negotiate. Perched on the 6th floor of a multistory with a balcony big enough only for the clothesline and the washing machine, the closest flowers are in that yonder far green patch in a school garden visible only remotely, and really  challenge the olfactory senses.

There was a time when one could switch off from those activities one was expected to do in life and spend a little time with those things one wanted to do in life. School could be left behind, homework could be slammed shut, tuitions could be returned from, even (later in life) office once used to be that grey dreary building that used to be the prison of choice only between 9:00 hour and 18:00 hours. That was the era where phones had leashes restraining them to that slot in the wall, work stations referred to the springy chair and static desk and work hours were defined and time slotted.

Not so now! The domesticated pet demanded that the leash be ridden. The big black Labrador with a rotary dial became the Chihuahua with backlit musical keypads, and crept into our pockets to stay there as long as it didn’t need to be fed from a wall socket. The work station curled up into sleek 13 inch LCD panels longingly beseeching us to swing them over our shoulders and make them a part of ourselves. And the incredible intrusion in our lives doesn’t stop with this! The phone rings or vibrates and calls just have to be received; the tinkle announces a text message, and SMSes just have to be read and replied to; the mails just cannot do without being answered immediately. Savita from the bank just has to sell us that credit card and demands an explanation if we can’t oblige; Millionaire builders have launched a new tower and you just have to invest in them; Skimpy Designers have a 50% off on the price, and nearly 80% off on the bodily coverage area, and this special offer is only for today. 15 years back these guys would have typed two lines on a 15 paisa post card and dispatched it to my home address. I may or may not have seen it for weeks. Even when delivered to my table, it would be instantly recognized as spam and dropped in the bin. Today it’s an SMS. The postcard has effectively rolled into a missile and is shoved up my nose and I just have to plug it out, unroll it and react instantly. Failure to do so would mean that the missile remains up my nose and that little unread icon stays on my mobile screen begging to be released from its prison of unreadhood to the nirvana of readhood.

Yes, the real impact of global warming is not that the continents are sinking, but that every single person on those continents is syncing. Life is limited to little moments between ‘database updated’ messages, which is valid only until someone somewhere chooses to destroy the equilibrium by yet another mail, music video, or a new movie necessitating a requirement to update yet again.

Distressing! I could go on and on but my scheduler announces that it’s time to break to go spend with the flowers. I need to be nimble and alert… they appear only for two seconds every eight minute on my screen saver!