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!