Sunday, December 28, 2008

side - middul

Blatantly staring at my face is the fact that I am getting closer and closer to being yesterday's generation. I share my parents' shock when I see high school kids walking around with cell phones. Parents give it to them to know where they are, I'm told. And I wonder- if not at home, school, if not at school, home, or maybe at a friend's home. Where else could they be ? Coffee day ? When I was at high school, coffee day outlets were a thing of the future. Iyengar's bakeries were a plenty. And there were only a few things one could do at those bakeries before getting irritated with the stray dogs and the copiously copulating flies. I must admit that I like the mochas and the coffee days and the pizza huts of the world. But the iyengar's apple cakes and the honey cakes are to-die-for even if their greatness is completely lost in their cheap prices. As for the argument about hygiene and immunity, I have that in plenty too. If I'm going to live till a 100 if I stay away from fly-kissed apple cakes as opposed to living till 70 if I do not, I'll take the latter thank you very much.

Be that as it may ( translates to : Oh I actually wanted to elaborate on point a. But point b and c were clamouring for a hear ye hear ye. So I did not want to do points b and c any injustice. Nonetheless points b and c are in no way related to point a. And it just turns out to be that way. And so... on to point a)

I am not sure if kids these days are taught to make a big deal about the Indian independence. When I grew up it was always a rather big deal. At least, I appreciated it enough to know that that it was in poor taste to treat it as just another holiday. That's what it is these days. When true tales of bravery are replaced with smartly marketed cinemas whose copyright sales to broadcasting channels are timed perfectly for this holiday. While it is questionable if we have progressed enough, it is clear to me that we haven't altogether regressed. If one pauses to consider how large and heterogeneous the Indian population is, it is remarkable that we have managed to stay together for so long instead of crumbling into our constituent states. If one pauses to understand how different each state is from the neighbouring state with respect to food, to customs, to which god to follow and which "other-god-follower" to ridicule, to which language needs to be spoken so as to get the best bargain on the potatoes, it is impossible not to ask what makes us stick together. For my part, I feel truly, bluely bangalorean, and I get a culture shock when I travel to some other city. They think, act, and eat differently. They even love a different subset of SRK films than I do, and I cannot see reason in it. Yet we're moving along or stagnating as a whole country. We expect governance, while constantly electing the wrong people to govern us. We expect clean roads while never flinching to pay off the policeman when he catches us without a current emission test. We think of the seat belt as some kind of crippling device and refuse to prevent ourselves against accidents while zooming and fuming across the potholes. As a nation we love our double standards and we are tolerant of everyone else's double standards. And we discuss it loudly and lovingly. And these are ties that bind and make us one.

My grandparents had lived in the era of winning independence, and my parents have lived at a time when there were days when such independence was even regretted. Whether the indian parliament was doing any kind of good job at all was still highly suspect. My parents seemed to think that manmohan's singh's liberal politics of the 1990s (in my mind, that is marked as the time when we got cable TV at home. We had this 8 channel remote orson TV till then. The buttons for 5 and 7 wouldnt work. But it had never mattered until then because there was only 4 channels you could see anyway. When we got cable TV, it became supremely important to get a remote that would work. So we got another TV, with a remote that would work. Such was the cascade effect of liberalization. Cable TV connection necessitated a TV necessitated good TV watching furniture necessitated good TV watching food necessitated a 4 burner stove ad infinatum. It was affordable opulence at last.)

It is generally agreed that we did a good thing by sending back the British. It is also agreed that during their extended stay they did a few good things for us. Notable among them are the railway system and cricket. Both happen to be our lifeblood. We can never have too much cricket. And with india's growing economy, and increasing foreign reserves and increased air travel, we still love our trains. They take you everywhere. They take you all the time. And they run like clockwork. This once-upon-a-time loss making organization is today profitable enough for snooty IIM's to invite Lalloo to give a talk. With reservation booths and e-reservation and i-tickets, you can plan your trip, choose your class of choice, and your favourite berth. Confirmation, RAC, waiting list - they're all words of the indian vocabularly universally understood.

During exam time, with entrance exams in a thousand states, and having to ferry students and their respective families insisting on giving moral support ( or alternatively, simply pressurizing the poor kid to no good), they'd introduce special routes. And then during summer for children to go visit and be pampered by grandparents and relatives.

Those black, steam spewing trains surface everywhere. In movies, as the lover pleads for mercy, while being surrounded by those lush green fields. In movies, as the hero jumps from coach to coach in giant leaps as he chases the villain, this time being surrounded by deserts all around. And here again, they appear, as he tries to commit suicide as the train crosses a giant bridge over a huge river. They're picturesque. Of course, we probably copied those ideas from David Lean and the westerns, they're exceedingly well employed directorial touches that move indian audiences.

The ubiquitous train comes in all our maths problems. The train's moving at this speed.The train is this length. The platform is this length. When will the train cross the platform. Kids all over india go mad while chewing natraj pencils flummoxed at figuring out if they're meant to add or subtact or divide.

And the train stations- the simple village train station, what with its one platform, and one supervisor, and those huge city stations with 8 platforms, and a thousand coffee stalls (today, manned by Coffee Day, who've gotten their marketing strategy bang on and are finally being sensible about selling coffee at rs 7 instead of rs 53.38 ), and many a black coat wearing, paunch bearing TTE.

All distances are measured by how long it takes the train to reach. Chennai is an overnight journey from Bangalore. Mumbai is a 2 day journey. Delhi is a 4 day journey.

And then of course everyone has their perfect choice of berth. Upper, lower, middle, side upper and side lower. 8 to every coupe. All sweet wives and young children and senior citizens invariably get the lower berth. Kids and teenagers and people such as I (who hate the upper berth because the cobwebbed fan is staring you at the face all night and won't ever let you sleep) prefer the middle berth. The upper berth always goes to the head of the family- the alpha male, or the young boys who want to show off to their peers, or people who prefer their privacy. We each have our own special place in the train. And we these berths as though our birthright. As soon as the coupe is full, there's a consensual process of berth swapping. Right from the thoroughly understandable " I have an old mother, would you mind taking the middle berth and giving your lower berth", to the amusing " it's my son's first time on the train, and he wants the middle berth". When air travel hit the middle class, we tried much of this seat swapping in the aeroplanes. Of course everyone wanted the window to see the clouds and to glimpse the heavens. Before long, everyone also realized that despite all their prettiness and their nice manners, stewards and stewardesses couldn't handle such chaotic re-organization. Watch the TTE as he approaches the coupe, and notice how calm he is as he registers all the berth swapping and the strange people handing him tickets from berths that were not originally theirs and in this mess still manages to find the ticketless rogue who gives him a sheepish grin. Sometimes, one has to wonder if the paunch has any magic in it.

And with the trains being as much in vogue now as before, and people wanting to go to places for all sorts of trivial reasons, they've introduced the side-middul.

The side-middul berth has sneaked up on the Indian public. There is now a 9th berth that we need to come to terms with. No one is sure what to make of it. We aren't sure if this berth should be our new favourite. What's worse, we don't even expect it in the trains when we get into them. In the last 2 times I've traveled with this uninvited berth, I've seen what seems to be bordering on panic. As families walk in authoritatively trying to claim their seats, they suddenly realize that they don't know where to look. My mom, who's a teacher, finds herself being drawn into this confusion and finds it impossible not to offer help. Of course, spending 6 hours each day full of unrelenting and impossible tenth standard students makes her what she is - persuasive. "Look here. Here's the ninth berth", she insists, as families upon families try and ignore her. "Look here, this is not the middle berth anymore. That is". Invariably, a shrewd kid soon realizes that this strange lady is in fact right and implores her father to listen and not look dumbstruck. There is such a thing as a melting heart. It's amazing how quickly a frustrated face turns into a visage of calm as he turns to my mother and says "what madam. I don't understand what the ticket says". My mom, in her ecstasy of having won this cold war, proceeds to help and explain with ample gusto. "They've introduced this new berth because there are far too many people that want to travel in the train right ?" She explains as though describing a weird english prose passage. "And the e-reservation system hasn't been updated properly, so it shows all the wrong berths" she says. And then she'll point her hand at the new numbers and will say "see. now that is the lower berth. and that is the side middul". And then she'll point at one of the side midduls, and say " see, that is the side middul". Tell me, when you need to lower it. I'll help she offers.

Of course, no self-respecting indian man will allow a woman to help him too much. Now that he's got his answer, he will quickly dismiss my mom with a blunt thank you. The child of course jumps up and down saying "see, I told you, you never listen". And then of course, mr alpha male must proceed to confirm what is there for everyone to see- this new "ninth berth". Is there really a new ninth berth, he will ask the TTE, as though the ones he currently sees are going to disappear once the train starts. Yes yes sir. Can't you see ? Says the TTE in exasperation. The TTE who, through years of experience can tell you with in less than a second where a seat is located the moment you told him the number, has to recalibrate his mental berthing chart, and is now responsible for 9 more baboons per coach. Eventually of course, everyone must settle down and get some sleep and get to where they want to go. And side middul can only mean more chances of doing that. Even though, what we'd really appreciate is for lalloo to be able to conjure a gazillion new trains out of thin air.

Meanwhile, the indian railways had found yet another way of getting all of us closer, and in a few months a new word will be absorbed in the indian vocabulary. Side middul. 5 years from now, when I have my nieces and nephews, I'll be telling them the story of how there once used to be only 8 berths a coupe, when there is now 9. And perhaps they will find me old and boring that I travel by train. Meanwhile hopefully, the TTE will have graduated from knowing the multiples of 8 to knowing the multiples of 9.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I've never been much of a gamer. Is that a regret ? Read on

Back in the days when I was vulnerable and "impressionable", the games pretty much sucked; at least the ones that I came to know of. They were the days when parents would ambitiously send their children to summer workshops and computer classes. MS Dos and LOGO were cool to know. Advanced classes would teach you microsoft office- editing and copy pasting. Such was my exposure. The summer workshops were more fun. They'd teach you calligraphy ( not just the arabic style). My personal favourite used to be the cloud font. I can only describe it as a font whose letters looked like they were etched from the clouds. It made me dreamy. It made me fantasize. I don't remember what about ? In all likelihood I was simply fantasizing about more clouds.

The gaming fairy simply bypassed me. Perhaps if I had an older, freaky, moody brother, I'd have at least come to know of its existence. But of course, my parents decided to shower all the love they could ever muster on me and me alone, and that came with a large helping of gaming ignorence. It is fair to ask the question : what happened to aunts and uncles who could've bought you computer games for your birthday? Fair question. The gaming fairy simply didn't notice my entire clan. Never got close enough for us to even get a whiff of the adrenalin induced mindboggling stupor. I am one of those kids who didn't grow up with mario. I grew up with marie biscuits ( it was unfortified and way better those days) and milk bikis. But never mario. It's a rare affliction. So rare that it hits one in all the population in the second largest country in the world. That one is me. Me!

Do i regret it ? Probably.

But as H.W Longfellow says...

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

(footnote : personally, i think rain is a great thing. Rain makes me happier than the sun ever will. But I'm speaking of the indian rain that comes bringing with it the life supporting nectar. Indians can do quite well with less of the sun and more of the rain. But that will require so much moving around of the tectonic plates, that only sci-fi ambition could ever make it possible. So here, we stick to longfellow's interpretation of the very dreary english rain)

So then came the wii.
If anybody has seen sound of music..... ( I watched sound of music while others were playing mario, and that bit I do not ever regret. I love rodgers and hammerstein. If I ever have kids and they do not like these musicals, I am ashamed to say that the thoughts of giving them up for adoption will cross my mind. They don't make 'em like that these days.)

Those that have seen sound of music will remember Liesl yelling wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii when the handsome blonde boy ( while I never did find that boy in the least bit handsome, but the casting authorities sure did) grabs her and kisses her. In that one moment, she abandons all her feminity, all her poise, all her austrian aristocratic elan and especially the grace with which she jumps from bench to bench while dancing with the boy. She abandons all that for a glorifying "wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii" that makes every single one of us want that blonde boy (unhandsome as he may be).

What made the masters at nintendo think of calling their gaming console "wii", i know not. But they got it bang on. I have sold my soul to the devil and wish for more souls, simply so I can sell them again to the devil. While hard core gaming purists ( its funny how easy it is to throw about the word "purist". What, for instance, is a reality tv show purist ?) may find the present installation of wii a mere curiosity, and will not find it tempting to change allegiance from the neuropathy inducing first person point and shoot games, I know too that wii will eventually get them. Such is what my soul is worth thank you very much.

So when I went to California for thanksgiving my uncle and aunt introduced me to their wii. (It seems like the gaming fairies that had been ignoring us thus far were finally taking note of my clan). It was only mildly amusing when I was creating the mii with the magic wand. But then play started and the devil swooped and swallowed my soul in one exhilarating gulp and I was done in. Here I was, with a wand! Here I was playing tennis. Moving my hands. Backhand. Forehand. Simply amateur- there's-no-term-for-what-you-just-did-with-your-bat-hand. And then here I was playing bowling. Strike. Strike. Oh ouch... gutterball. And then boxing. Was boxing fun. My uncle and I were working up such a sweat it was hilarious. And then out came the towels and the wet soaks. Before long, we were regular boxers, sweating and panting and loving every bit of it.

And then back to tennis. By now, I was gone. While I didn't really have to move around the court (ahem, the carpeted area in the living room), I couldn't help myself. I hit my index finger on the armchair, with a swing that was so hard that there was such a disgusting clot. The pain. The pain was madness. I was laughing hysterically. The pain was real. Not imaginary real. But real, bang yourself on a teak armchair real. And then at some point I yelled wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii. Like liesl of sound of music. It had come full circle. I had finally become this person who could reconcile her love for sound of music and her new found minor attaction for gaming (?).

Long live nintendo!

Monday, December 01, 2008


When I walked into my office on monday, it was after thanksgiving. My body was sore from playing too much wii and waiting far long in airport lounges. I was glad I had urged myself to come to work, although I was feeling no guilt for plotting to leave as early as possible.

How are you asked my office mate.

It was after a long weekend. I assumed that this "how are you" was not just mere gesture. It was an actual question asking for an honest answer. I smiled and said "not bad". It was a long "not bad". It obviously meant " ya, I don't want to bore with you with the details, but in all honesty, I am not in the peachiest of moods". Taking the hint, he said "ah. that means not good".

I smiled and launched into a big explanation about how the weekend was actually fun but in retrospect maybe I should've tempered it a tad, if only to save myself agonizing fatigue.

And that was when the story changed tracks...

He looked at me a few seconds.

Then he said " I assume no one you know was injured in mumbai then".



How manyth time was something happening in that place ?
I've lost count.


It refers to the feeling that consists of "no feeling".

Some people cannot care less.
Some people do not understand how caring will help.
Some people cannot bring themselves to care.

And then there are those like me..
who take it as a fact of life.
coz as every day dawns, terrorism is getting to be an urban reality.

I guess no one I know got injured, I said.

He was shocked. Apalled.

"You guess ?". Shouldn't you be certain ?

" My family is too large. If I search and ask long enough, I most certainly will be related to someone that got injured". I said.


Indians with large families.
Indians of the second largest country in the world.
Indians with so many people to call family, that losing one doesn't matter ?
Really? REALLY ?


People like me don't believe in luck.
We believe in grand words and themes called stochasticity.

There is a 50% chance that a madman's gonna do something to mumbai.
Again and again.
Yet again.
Never ending.
A random chance.

When things start to happen randomly, you stop expecting anything.
You toss a coin.
It may turn out as heads. There may be a bomb here.
It may turn out as tails. It's not here, but there.
But it bloody hell is somewhere.
Waiting to explode.
You accept whatever you're dealt with.

Worse, you can't seem to care how it turns out.
It stops exciting you.
It stops moving you.
It stops affecting you.
You simply become indifferent.

An indifference born from shock.
Because you can't seem to do anything.
Because you feel helpless.
They keep coming and coming and coming at you.
Everyday you thank your stars that no one you knew died.

Someday there'll come a day when someone I know will get injured.
It's random you see.
Nothing's gonna change by then.
Anti terrorist policies may come ?
There is no such thing.
We pass blame. We allot blame. We then pass it again.
Who gets blamed is random too.
Who gets to take responsibility is random too.
There is no one who can stand up and say " I failed, and that's why this happened"

Aisa hota hai.
Swalpa adjust maadi.
Life goes on.

And then someone says "I planned it. I wanted this to happen"
And still we don't believe them.
S/he's not being honest.
Someone's asked them to say that, we think.

The TV blares.
xyz from abc claims responsibility.
I see.
So what ?
Do they get punished ?
Its just more paperwork for intelligence agencies.
Oh there were reports that his was going to happen ?
And still you didn't do anything ?
Why ?
Coz there was a 50% chance those reports were mere rumours.
Oh good job!
You know your probability, you freaking my cup is half full!!!
Half full is enough huh ?
Go hungry on a half full stomach why don't you ?
Take a half salary paycheque who don't you ?
Walk with one leg and one arm and a single ba!! why don't you ?
Isn't your cup wonderfully half full ?

A day will come when someone I know will go.
And the apathy will hit.
Coz it happens.
It happens only in india.
Collateral damage.
We have plenty to spare.
Enough buffer.
We didn't breed like rabbits for nothing did we ?
We have plenty to spare.

We have a volley of bodies.
An "akshaya pathram" of bodies.

This is how a peace-loving nation turns mad.
When there's nothing else to do, and no one to blame, and too many people you care about get hurt, a peaceful nation gets mad and violent.
And there's nothing that can stop a nation with right on its side.
Right ?
Right ?

I don't know.
In fact I don't know if I'll live to see the tale and tell the tale.

This is me.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

if they don't have bread, let them eat cake

These past few days have been revealing in terms of what part of the sum total of my life experiences are because I am Indian. And while that has been interesting, it hasn't been strange in that I already expected that US is a different culture from a land half way across the globe. What's been strange is that, amidst these revelations, I occasionally realize that experiences that I thought were true of all Indians, is true only of me. And suddenly the joke's on me.

Let me explain.

So I have my new pair of adidas shoes that I bought with much love and excitement. I use them pretty much all the time. And you walk everywhere in them, through dirt, through mud, through dried up hay and through sudden rain, and they get dirty. What do you do when stuff gets dirty ? When stuff you could swear is white is actually on the blacker side of gray ? Don't you clean them ? No don't answer that! Not yet at least.

I clean them.

I dump it in a bucket of water, with detergent and some liquid bleach, let it soak for a day or two and then clean it and brush it with an old toothbrush and let it dry in the sun. And lo and behold! Clean shoes!

And then I came here.

Here, I am faced with the problem of no washing stone, no backyard to dry stuff in, no proper place to pour away buckets of muddy, soapy water and I have a pair of shoes that I can't bear to look at. I was pretty sure that this country that loves its sports goods must have found a way to clean 'em. And I figured I'd do the brave thing. I'd ask one of them, as stupid as the question might sound.

Enter labmate1

Labmate one doesn't clean his shoes. He buys new ones when its time to throw the old ones away. In fact the last time he realized he had to get new ones was because he was walking on the snow and first his felt cold, then his feet felt wet and both of those feelings were horrible. And it was then that he realized that the sole had a hole and he threw them. Wipe them, he says. I can't wipe 'em. What about the dirt inside those beautifully tailored "meshy" stuff. That won't help.
Throw them in the washer and dryer he says. Won't they shrink, I ask ? There's no answer.

So labmate1 asks labmate2 and labmate3.
It turns out labmate2 buys new ones, never throws away the old ones, and has at least ten pairs of old shoes. Labmate3 has very spiffy shoes that are now black that he vaguely remembers as being white once. Welcome to the capital of capitalism says labmate 1. I nod in despair, not willing to let go of my shoe cleaning, hitherto cumbersome, suddenly very sensible values. Labmate1 is now reassured that he isn't the only with bad shoe cleaning habits but also feels bad about my dilemma. He is sure that there must be someone who cleans shoes he says. I tell him they're probably indians who've tried to adapt to america. The way we heat tortillas and call them rotis. The way we eat yoghurt and call it curd. The way we eat salsa and sometimes think of pickle. And the way pickle can never ever be brined cucumbers!

My only source of comfort at this point is labmate4's report that she too used to clean her shoes back in Korea. We recounted how our parents would make us wash our shoes as a way of inculcating discipline, how school captains would inspect ur shoes and make you run around the field if you presented yourself with dirty shoes. This we did while getting very scared looks from the other labmates. Labmate2 concluded that shoes were a big deal in that part of the world. Labmate1 wonders if we would expect our kids to clean shoes. We insisted we would, except if they were going to be raised in this country, it was likely that those expectation would never be met. In any case, labmate1 decides to raise the question at tea time. During tea, of course everyone insists that they throw their shoes away. A couple of people say they sometimes hose it down or use the same detergent that they use to wash the car. They wonder how I washed them back in India and get very excited about the washing stone.

Is this a special stone? Asks labmate3. No. Its just huge, I say. We have huge stones here, he says, apparently offended. Someone brings up the existence of mount rushmore. I describe to them with much enthusiasm, the sloped stone, the soaking, the scrubbing, the bashing and the wringing of the clothes and the sun's role in drying them. It seems like much effort to wash those clothes they say. Why don't we just get a washing machine. It is then that I realize how pitifully little they know about a world where not every house has a washing machine. Where even the houses that do have a washing machine, use them sparingly because of power failure and water shortage. Back home, there was a huge bridge to cross:- from having clothes to being able to afford a washing machine to clean 'em in, from buying shoes to not having to worry about throwing them away. LAte Mary Antoinette must've felt the same way. If they don't have bread, let them eat cake. Mary Antoinette probably went to the pantry in the middle of the night with a hungry stomach. On opening the larder, when she failed to find the bread, she munched on cake. One cannot blame her. In a country where the alternate to dirty shoes were new shoes, I found myself rather dumbfolded.

Labmate n ( I have lost count by now, how many people were telling me that they all bought new ones) suggested I buy a shoe dryer. I'd rather throw my shoes away, I say and in that one sentence we all became kindred *soles*.

They also say in unison that my shoes weren't even that dirty. I wondered if they were walking around with such dirty shoes, why bother about clean socks. Its coz our shoes are dirty that we need clean socks they say. I admit I hadn't thought about it that way.

There was a member of the staff that cleaned her shoes though. She did it pretty much the same way I did. At least, where and when shoe cleaning happened, the method seemed to be the same :)

I came back to my computer thinking that this would be a good story to tell all my indian friends.
Here came the real surprise. Several of them were saying that never cleaned their shoes either. I exclaimed that there was shoe shampoo and bleach and everything. We had affordable tools for clean shoes. They didn't clean them, they said. I was baffled. I did not want to be this person that does strange things anymore. I found myself grappling with a sense of loss, a sense of indian identity. There must be someone who found it funny that ppl didn;t clean their shoes. I briefly wondered if I should move to Korea even. And I went on an "asking marathon". I asked anyone who came online if they cleaned their shoes. And when enough of them had said yes ( count = 5 and counting), I felt that perhaps I wasn't the only one.

Mary Antoinette's legacy on the other hand, clearly survives.
The queen is dead.
Long live the queen!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

its that simple!

I have very simple advice to all the ministers and prime ministers and presidents battling it out, trying to do good for their nation (and for the world) and having to battle with those situations where doing good for a nation necessitates something bad for some other nation.

When in doubt, go ask a sweet minded child. Admittedly, there are kids who have genetic predisposition to be devious. Ministers of the world, please do not go to one of these kids. Go to a park. Look out for a bunch of kids playing "ring-a-ring-a-roses". Identify a kid that helps another kid stand up when "they all fall down". Or look for a child who shares cotton candy. That is the sweet minded child I am referring to. Go ask him/her what you should do. And then blindly follow it. Blindly. Don't ask questions. Submit to the pure innocence of the child and do what you're told to do. For heaven's sake, let's not argue.

I had a very interesting conversation with an undergrad the other day.
x : You're not voting ?
I (coz it rhymes with y): no
x : why not ?
I : I ain't a US a citizen.
x : so, get a greencard
I: a) getting a greencard is different from citizenship, and I haven't been here long enough to become a citizen anyway.
x: but ur here for the next 6 years right ?
I: I guess
x: So the president's decision will affect ur life during the next 6 years right ?
I: I suppose so
x: Then you should vote. Go vote.

Its interesting that he looked at it that way. If ur staying here, and we've let u stay here, then u should have a say in what is happening.

Of course, they're not going to let me vote. Presumably because I may decide to go back home in less than 4 years. Presumably because the president makes decisions more long term than 4 years. Presumably, because I havent been in this country long enough to know what is good for the country and what is not. And if I haven't said it yet, I do not want to vote. This isn't a blog pleading for voting privileges or any such thing.

Its just to show that sometimes there are simple minded solutions that we refuse to think about precisely coz they seem too simple a solution to the problem. But who wants complex statistics when innocent thoughts can get the job done.

Who wants to spend a billlion dollars on a huge nuclear weapon which is our only hope to making sure that another country wont detonate its nuclear baby.

Why all this, when we can live happily by passing around cotton candy and helping others stand up. Ministers, while you're on ur way to making sure cotton candy gets passed, can you initiate a motion to put all chocolate making factories on that list that makes it illegal for countries to bomb it. Like those world heritage sites that one cannot drop a bomb on. I've always found that list very funny. Who even thinks of making a list that says "oh should you go to war with my country, u can drop bombs there but not here". What is that ? A piece meal approach to making sure no place gets bombed ?

All of you, who are reading this and are thinking in your mind "not everything in the world is thar simple", shut up already!

Its that simple.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

these are a few of my ominous things....

  • When someone begins a sentence with "there is a choice you can make here".
It means "someone" knows you've already made a decision.
They don't approve of it.
They also know that their approval is somewhat important to you, at least as a vote of confidence, and by offering you a choice, they're trying to change your decision.
However disheartening it is going to be to change your decision, its going to be much worse when you cannot hold "someone" responsible.
Because... it was a choice that YOU made. They didn't make it for you. And oh yeah, they would've been happy for you either way.

  • You get up deciding to have a snack at favourite restaurant x on your way back from classes on the way to work.
This is the one day they'll let class off earlier than usual. You were so sure of having that snack that you didn't carry the boring granola bars with you. You have a "choice to make here". You can either hang around in the streets till restaurant x opens, eat somewhere else, go to the library, hang around there geekily and then head back to restaurant x (even more geekily), or head to lab. Funny thing... by the time you walk to the lab, it'll be time for restaurant x to open. But why would you head back to restaurant x when you're in the lab and you can start work earlier and hence get out of work earlier ? You can time it so you walk exactly half the distance b/w lab and restaurant x, so when you get to mid point, you can walk back to restaurant x and reach there exactly in time for it to open. But when you reach mid point, you;ll think (oh ****, i can come go to lab and finish work sooner than usual). The argument continues.
In effect you neither get ur snack or savour the pleasures of being let off class earlier than usual.
At this point, I usually go to a store and get myself a granola bar, nibble at the granola bar and ruminate on the humour of it all.

  • You slept early so you can get up in time.
This is a crazy thing. Sleeping early has nothing to do with getting up in time. Getting up in time is the most independent variable I've ever seen. It has nothing to do with anything but itself. It probably talks to itself all night and chooses to do exactly what it pleases. And getting up in time according to it, is getting up at exactly the time it wants to wake you up, not what you wanted it to do.

And you think maybe if

  • You slept late, you can get up in time.
Sort of catch "mr get up in time" at his own game. But ya, like that'll ever happen. Coz you're so tired, you can't get up in time anyway. And in any case its back to mr get up in time doing what he does best. Make sure you don't get up in time.

  • You spot a guy who looks ok, can talk well but not so much that your head is filled with white noise, who listens, who seems to know why he is the way he is, lets others around him be whoever they want to be, and generally seems to have a higher level of maturity and you think maybe...
Ha Ha Ha... He's either married or is in a steady relationship (guess who has been a big influence on his maturity and his sense of direction and his "letting others be". Oh and his listening!

Well, if the above are the only sucky things happening now, I must say that life can get so much worse (and this list can get much, much longer).

And so...

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling bad

I simply remember these ominous things
And then I do feel pretty glad!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

world news

ya apparently all these things are happening in the world and i am very oblivious to it.
its one thing to be aware and not be affected.
which breeds too much tolerance, in turn giving all the "bad ppl" permission to do anything, coz ur going to get used to everything.
i suppose death is something we still arent used to even though its been happening for as long as anything's been alive.
i've always found that bit very strange.
we were never asked if we wanted to be born, kinda had no choice there. and somehow we're all ok with it.
yet we want to know how to prevent death and would actually very much liked to be asked (by chance and fate and acts of god as well) if we wanted to die. somehow we just dont think abt the singularity at the other end. or do we ?
i never have.
back to the point;
so its one thing to be aware but not affected.
its another thing to be unaware.

that's where i am.
i am clueless.
i dunno what's happening to the world around me.
that knowledge is a click away.
websites are waiting to tell me.
but i've been unaware for so long that i dunno where to start.
i must make reading the news a habit.
its a very sad thing to not know stuff (regardless of whether it'll affect u or not).

when i finish studying stuff abt helicases and primases
(apparently i don't need to learn nucleotide structures for the exam. all thru undergrad i complained that there was no point learning them; but i'd learn them anyway, and now i'm being asked not to learn them for the exam and i don;t know how to prepare for an exam without learning these structures)
its a funny turn of events.

anyway... when i am done with all this (in the next hour or so i believe), i'm gonna do some newsreading.
along with my evening cup of masala chai


Sunday, June 15, 2008

meter mele hatthu roopayi

Before I embark on my anecdotes about my encounters with the autowallahs, I must say Bangalore's autodrivers are the best mannered in the country. I refuse to listen to any statement to the contrary. However, I must also say that most of my anecdotes are going to sound like I don't like them at all. When in doubt refer to the opening lines above. They are the best mannered of them all.

Right anyway...

Here we go..

BAW (Bangalore autowallah)s will take you from place A to place B if and only if they are assured of a client at place B. They will then of course insist that mr client at place B take them to a place C if and only if they are assured of a client at place C... and so they go on ad infinatum. They however are very understanding of the layman's lack of astrological skills and are willing to take said layman to any place as long as there's a reasonable chance that BAW will get a "sawaari". But there's a catch.

Let me explain
Every morning dozens of Bangaloreans go towards the city with a view to working, earning a living etc etc. The traffic flow is towards the city in the morning; not away from it. This is an extremely important concept to the BAWs.
Therefore let's say BAW takes you to the city and is expecting a client in the middle of the city- he's not going to get one. Why ? Because everyone who is in the city is where they want to be. No one wants to come out of it. Poor BAW is left hanging around in the middle of the city waiting for the rare lunatic who wants to come out; maybe rare lunatic got fired, perhaps he quit, maybe he left his pain medication at home and needs them really badly. If BAW waits long enough he will find someone. But poor BAW thinks "damn, if only I were outside the city, there would be so many sawaaris coming towards the city". And to avoid all this confusion he'll tell you in the morning, when you ask him to take you to the city, that he won't get anyone back from there. He'll tell you to that he'll be willing to take you to another residential locality (where presumably another bunch of people will be waiting to get to the city, and he'll find some goon there who'll take him to yet another residential locality).

Exactly the reverse happens in the evening. Everyone is coming back from the city. No one wants to go back into the concrete jungle. BAW is back in action insisting that you only take him to places where ppl want to come back from the city; which you will gladly do if only he will take you outside the city in the first place. No can do says our BAW.

He's a master of putting u in catch 22.

That being said, the best times to catch autos are mid morning and mid evening- where there's a nice equilibrium between traffic towards the city and away from the city... traffic traffic everywhere, autos going everywhere, but you forever in jam, so essentially you going nowhere.

But... the way to get around this refusal is to agree to pay him 10 bucks above the meter "meter mele hatthu roopayi kodi". In sheer desperation most people agree. And that's how people get to the city every morning. And that's how people get back from the city in the evening. In case you are saying to yourself " umm, this can't be true, coz i've seen autos in the city in the morning, and i've seen autos outside the city in the evening".

My question to you is have you seen how battered and tattered 10 rs notes are ? More than any other kind of note ? It is all due to the meter mele hatthu roopayi conspiracy. Fortunately, this particular request never suffers from inflation. Despite increasing fuel prices and lpg and increasing income and fancier flyovers, and people standing in front of fab india with 3 bags full of ridiculously expensive cotton clothes telling the BAW that she will not give 1 paisa above meter, it will always be hatthu roopayi. Coz BAW is forever considerate.

One fellow once asked me when I was haggling with him at the top of my voice.. "madam, its 10 rs, do you need it more or do i need it more". I wanted to tell him "it's the principle of the thing". But sometimes, its also a question of who needs it more. I needed the ride more than he did. He needed 10 rs more than I do. It's a good deal at the end of the day.

There was another time when I agreed to pay the extra 10 rs, but kept on a tirade of how ridiculous the whole thing is, including asking him to give me a time table of *where and all* he'll be willing to take me at different times of the day, so that I can plan my day accordingly, and how could he expect to always want people to be willing to jump in his auto and go where he wants to go, whereas actually he is expected to take his clients where they want to go, and how they have this one excuse called "sawaari sigalla" to ruin all your travel plans and how you cannot be expected to know every single sawaari's whim or bend to their whim even if you did know it ya-dah ya-dah ya-dah

So yes... I went on and on in a pretty bad broken kannada with high funda words like "nyaaya" and "neethi" and "jawaabdaari". And when finally we arrived at my destination he waived off the 10 rs saying "beda madam. Thumba majaa banthu nimhathra maathaadi".

Into every life a little rain must pour :)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Do not stand by my grave and weep;

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.
-- Mary Elizaeth Frye

There are some poems about which, saying something would tarnish it.
This is one of them.
But it's beautiful!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Autowallah series

Over the last year I've been traveling around in bangalore autos a lot. On a bright, sunny day, they're fun people to ride with. I suppose it comes from sharing the same frustrations- bangalore's pathetic roads. I just realized that I have enough stories about them to write more than 1 post. (It's a nice inflated world I live in. Its not just that I am the centre of the universe that I live in. It's also that I occupy a pretty big portion of it:)
Anyway, before I actually start posting them, I want to make a small list of the incidents that have been etched in my heart/mind and all that jazz, just so I don't forget to put them up.

You know how at the beginning of animated movies, they also have a short animated feature. They're oftentimes better than the movies itself.
i) How I lost my mobile phone (actually, that can be a whole series by itself. But I wanna save face)
Is the rough equivalent (in terms of theme and not quality mind you).

1) How I got out of paying 10 bucks
2) How I got cheated into paying a lot of bucks.
3) How I lost my shoe and found it.

Right. so there goes. the above mentioned posts will come up in due time.

Monday, March 31, 2008


Juno!!! If I hadn't known better I would've thought it was some super action movie- like X- Men, or these new period based action flicks that come these days- I just don't find men in skirts all that sexy.In fact, not at all. But thanks to all the good things I've done in my past life I realized that Juno wasn't about an ancient hero/heroine but was a proper movie. Don't argue with me about what a proper movie is. Go see Juno.

Anyway, Juno handles the topic of teen pregnancy in a way no one could've ever thought of. It doesn't get melodramatic about it. She does try committing suicide but that feels like the lamest thing anyone could do. And she feels the same way. It doesn't get crass about it. In fact it treats it as rather matter-of-fact. So you're in shit. What do you do ? You deal with it. And that doesn't necessarily mean you've to suddenly grow up overnight. As Juno puts it " I'm dealing with issues way beyond my maturity level". Neither are there scenes where she has crazy epiphanies. She wants the kid to grow up in a wholesome family and looks for prospective parents in the ad pages of the newspaper. Its where you go for everything. She doesnt want compensation or money. Nor does she want regular updates about the kid after she's given it to the adoptive parents. She wants the perfect parents for her kid though. And as a teenager she has simple ideas about what perfection is. And then later she realizes that not all is peachy and she has to make a decision. And it is then that she makes it. Without losing any of her dreams but growing rather in realizing that there are more ways than 1 to achieve it. She isn't unconventional. Unconventional would be to do something drastic like trying to bring up the baby herself. She gives it in for adoption. Juno questions whether its ever possible that two people can really truly stay in love. And then she decides that she is in love with the boy she's known for ages, the one who got her pregnant in the first place. Her father tells her that its best to be with someone who accepts you for you her. For her, its the boy next door. She's not mad at him for ruining her life and all that. She feels a teenager's love for him, and he feels the same about her. And nothing's changed. Except- yes she's pregnant. But then again "in the next 34 odd weeks, we can pretend that none of this happened". Yes, she's made a mistake. She doesn't want to abort it. Someone said "babies have fingernails" and that led to something snap inside her and she can't do it. It happens to all of us; something rather trivial makes us own the truth to ourselves. And it isn't as if she doesn't love the baby. It isn't as if its a blemish upon her entire existence; yes! she has to apply cocoa butter so her skin won't explode and all and she only half amusedly asks why everyone keep staring at her. Coz she's doing so much to act as if nothing is new/odd about her. And wouldn't it be great if the world would just "do her a solid" and play along. But much as she tries, she's still a lil girl, who gets angry when the guy she has a crush on decides to go on a date with someone else. Of course, she can't go. She's pregnant. When she confronts her teenage "almost boyfriend" and says "at least you don't have to carry the evidence under your sweater" we realize how truly overwhelming this must be and how truly well she's handling it. It is the beauty of the movie that until that point, none of us realize how hard it must be for this girl. We too have started acting like it is a pretty normal thing. She strikes a friendship with the adoptive father; coz she connects to him- they shares taste in music and horror movies. She probably feels at home. Here at last is someone who doesn't stare, and she doesnt have to suppress the guilt of what she's done. He even gives her a Japanese comic of a pregnant superhero character. And all this comfort is probably only because he too feels at home with her. Later of course, it seems obvious that it is so; since the adoptive father is an immature person who doesnt have the courage to grow up. The adoptive mother is distant, altogether too apprehensive, altogether too nervous. But she's a woman; aching to be a mom. And Juno, as we do, comes to realize this. The adoptive father wants to move out of home which gets Juno questioning about whether perfect parents ever happen- whether Juno's kid will ever have a good home which the kid obviously deserves and Juno obviously can't give. She's 16 she says. She can't be ready to be a parent. And finally she realizes that its ok to give it to a single parent; coz the adoptive mom will truly love the child. That woman truly wants to be a mom. And Juno's kid will truly be happy. And she gives birth to a healthy baby. Juno doesn't want to see the kid. She's happy with her boyfriend; who she has made amends with, who comes to the hospital to be with her. And that's all that really matters. That everyone's happy; even if it isn't perfect families resonating everywhere, its happy people in healthy relationships.

I don't think the movie professes that all teenagers should get pregnant. It makes that very clear. Her dad and step-mom are miffed, but ultimately they decide to support her in deciding the give the baby up for adoption. But if these things happen, the world's not over! And even there the movie isn't sitting on some moralistic highground. And doesn't seem like a self-help book. You can sit in the theatre, enjoy every dialogue, the wonderfully fresh music, every subtle hint, at what's really happening and walk out of the movie-hall wondering how they could be stupid enough not to use protection. And that would be ok. You can wonder if the whole thing wasn't treated altogether too lightly. But even if it were, the outcomes were what psychotherapists charge you by the nose for. All's well that ends well. I haven't done justice to how good the movie is. True justice to the movie would be to go see it :) Again! Which I'm about to. Again :)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

a new day

wouldn't it be nice, if every new day, we were really reborn ?
if the innocence lost the previous day were restored ?
if we could continue believing in our dreams, keeping the faith, without any of it marred by the disillusionments of the previous day ?
if we could write off all the faults committed before, even if it meant that we would probably repeat them ?
wouldn't your conscience then be the pink of a newborn baby's feet ? so tender, so untouched, so unscarred by the abrasive world. pink as only purity can be ? as only freshness can be?