Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year Eavesdropping....

I keep my ears on ‘high alert” when I go for a walk in the morning .so that I don’t miss out on the juicy gossip, profound philosophies and profane criticisms tossed around by groups of other walkers chatting with each other. I walk alone and with my brisk stride usually manage to outpace the talkie-walkers. As I go past these groups, I invariably snatch some interesting nuggets from their animated conversations. You could accuse me of eavesdropping, but I plead “not guilty” on the technical grounds that the property of sound waves and the Doppler effect make it impossible for me not to hear what’s being discussed. So, here then is a verbatim reproduction of what I heard today. Translated from Tamil, of course.

Man, in his mid-forties, with a scarf around his neck to protect himself from the harsh Chennai winter, discussing Zubin Mehta’s recent concert in Chennai before an invited audience (and peeved that he was not invited): “ I can’t understand why, of all people, Amartya Sen should be invited to this program. Can’t he attend the program in London, America or wherever he lives? Don’t tell me that he can’t afford it. He has got lakhs from the Nobel Prize. Must he come all the way to Chennai just because it is a free program and he got an invitation? I tell you, there must be a rule that invitations must be given only to local people. How else will we get to attend?

Scarfed man’s friend: In any case, what’s the big fuss? All Zubin Mehta does is wave his arms and flash a big stick, throughout the evening, when the orchestra is playing. I can swing my arms for you free of charge, at my house, if you bring a stick with you.

Slightly ahead, another man has latched on to a couple, but is now talking on the mobile phone to his wife: “ Yes, yes, the brinjals. Don’t cut them into smaller pieces. Take the full brinjals and put some masala stuffing in. Pack them in a separate box; don’t mix it with the rice. Use the Tupperware set “. Disconnects mobile phone.

Female half of couple: “What, sir, giving instructions for your packed lunch?”

Brinjal man: “Yes. Yes. I like these stuffed brinjals. What time do you people have lunch? I will have some stuffed brinjals sent over. My wife makes it really well. You will really like them”.

Male half of couple:
“ No, no, don’t trouble your wife. She won’t let you come out on your walk again”

Brinjal man: “ Nonsense. Why should she object? I was the one who went to the market last evening and selected the brinjals”

Further ahead, a group of four middle-aged men are walking at a leisurely pace, almost blocking the road. The topic of their discussion is Amitabh’s recent visit to Tirupathi.

Middle-aged man 1: “Reliance has arranged a special plane, saar, to bring Amitabh to Tirupati. Amar Singh accompanied him and ensured he got an exclusive darshan. All the papers have carried some photographs of the visit, as if there is no other news worth reporting..”

Middle-aged man 2: “ These newspapers will even carry a report of Amitabh sneezing. Did you see, one of the papers had a big photo of him on the day of his surgery and showed a cutout view of his stomach and the intestines? I ask you, what cutout would they have published if he had been operated on for prostate or piles, instead of the intestines? Can’t they respect his privacy?. Disgusting.

Middle-aged man 3: Now, he has been elected ‘Indian of the year’ by urban India. At least he is an Indian. What I can’t accept is Sonia Gandhi being elected the Indian of the year, by rural India. 1 billion Indians around and they had to find an Italian to be the Indian of the year. Our people have gone completely mad, I tell you.

Middle-aged man 4: Forget Sonia and Amitabh, sir. Tell me what are you planning to do on New Year eve? Going to some hotel to celebrate?

Middle-aged man 2: “ No way, sir. Last year, my son-in-law took us all out to a 5-star hotel. I tell you, these hotels simply loot us. As soon as we sat down at the table, a waiter in a black suit and tie came over and asked us if we wanted mineral water and I nodded my head. They charged us Rs 60 for one bottle, sir. Can you believe it? Plus taxes. If they tried this trick with the chicken tikka or some such dish, we won’t know the real cost. But, mineral water? I could have picked up the bottle from the paan shop across the road for Rs 10.

Middle-aged man 1: Why, at Saravana Stores, you can get it for Rs 9/- a bottle.

Middle-aged man 2: When I go to a star hotel, the least I expect is to be served clean water free of cost. These blighters charge us ten times the normal rate for a basic item and push it down our throats. Never will I step into that place again. This New Year, I stay at home.

Finally, a couple in their sixties, their children obviously settled in the USA (evident from the man’s T-shirt and sneakers) are taking a stroll with their dog.

Wife: Sowmya says that they are not going anywhere this week. They have lots of things to do at home. She is going to varnish the house…………

Husband: I hope she knows that she can’t varnish the walls. Only the wooden doors and almirahs...

Wife: As if she won’t know that. You always have to say something critical.

Husband: Tell me, when has she done any work here? She wouldn’t even put the cap back on her pen….

Wife: In America, one automatically learns to do everything. You can’t depend on anybody else. She is managing quite well on her own. Ashwin is traveling most of the time…

Husband: I hope he doesn’t come back from tour and sees all the walls varnished…….

And so, yet another day unfolds…….

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Dear Doctor.....

So many magazines publish a “Ask our doctor” page where they claim to provide answers to medical questions sent in by their readers. I am convinced that this is a complete rip-off and that all questions are fabricated by the writers & editors. I plan to introduce this feature on this blogsite too. Here are some samples

Q: Dear Doctor,

Ever since I reached adulthood, I have experienced daily bouts of throbbing and excruciating headache. I have had my eyes tested, my ears dewaxed, my dental cavities filled, skull x-rayed for sinusitis, spinal cords checked for spondylitis, nasal septum operated to correct deflection, blood pressure brought to optimal levels and brain scanned for tumours, but to no avail. The headache continues to haunt me. Help me doc. Yours, etc. Migrained & Miserable.

A : Dear M&M,

One of Sherlock Holmes’ favourite maxims of detection was that when you have eliminated all that is impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, is the truth. In your case you have eliminated all possible causes for the headache – such as defective eyes, brain tumour, blood pressure, deflected septum, etc. The only explanation left is that, ever since you attained adulthood, you have continued to go around in undersized underwear that you used to wear as a child. This has been exerting pressure on the hipbone and, in sequence, on the vertebra and the cranium resulting in the headache. Try on an XL size jocks and the headache will vanish.

Q: Dear Doctor,

My concern is not so much about my illness as about the unscrupulous methods adopted by my doctor. I went to him complaining of mild indigestion and that my rumblings abdominal, as the limerick goes, are quite phenomenal. He made me undergo an endoscopy, ultrasound scan of the abdomen, a CT scan of the liver and colonoscopy, in that order. After this gamut of tests, my indigestion still continues and my doctor prescribed Gelusil tablets, charging me a stiff Rs 500/- as consultation fees. Do you think I should report this malpractice to the Medical Council? Yours, etc Constipated and Confused.

A: Dear C&C:

The Chinese had an excellent system before they too fell prey to Western methods. They would pay their doctor a fixed amount at the end of every month, provided they had experienced no illness even on a single day. If they had fallen sick even once that month, no money was paid to the doctor. So, the doctor was paid to keep the patient well and out of illness and not for correcting an illness. Believe me, it worked out cheaper for the patients and incentivised the doctors to ensure the good health of the patient, rather than taking advantage of the illness. So, re-negotiate the terms with your doctor and change the default setting. to “monthly payment when not ill” and see how this dramatically improves your health.

Q: Dear Doctor :

In the last 6 hours, I have felt severe muscular stiffness and rigidity; it started with my facial muscles and then spread slowly to the rest of the body. What do you think is wrong? Yours, etc Stiff and Still

A: Dear S&S

I don’t have sufficient data to arrive at a definite conclusion but, prima facie, your body seems to exhibit symptoms of something that we doctors refer to, in hushed tones, as rigor mortis. The policy of this website is to entertain questions only from live, bonafide readers and not from dead cadavers; so please refrain from corresponding with us any further.

Q: Dear Doctor:

I have been shuttling from one doctor to another, for the last 6 months, to find a cure for my asthma. As my lungs expand and contract, the sounds that emanate resemble the winds that blow determinedly through mountains and valleys. Each doctor puts me on a different line of treatment and ensures that I don’t get out of the medical circuit. I am turning out to be a doctor’s delight. Please help. Yours, etc, Wheezing and Whining

A: Dear W&W

George Bernard Shaw wrote a short story about the king of a country called Half-Mad. The king took ill and all the doctors of the kingdom attended on him and tried out different remedies to cure him. Nothing worked. Till a wise old man suggested that the king should go to a sea resort, “ Is it because you feel that the salt-laden air of the sea will have a therapeutic effect on him?’ the people ask him. “No”, the wise man replies, “ It will get him away from the doctors and cure him”.

I can offer no better advice than Shaw’s. Get away from the doctors.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Aeolian Aliens

Scientists theorise on the phenomenon involving “Aeolian dust “ that is picked up in local storms in deserts and arid regions and carried by trade winds across continents. Aeolian dust has been blamed for a plethora of ill effects including human disease, says the National Geographic magazine.

A fact that has not been revealed to the general public ( to avoid causing a panic) but which I am sharing with the enlightened readers of the blogosphere is that the monsoons, both south-west and the north-east, have lifted huge quantity of fine dust containing the seeds of a mushroom variety called psilocybe cubensis from the African continent and Indonesia and deposited this Aeolian dust over the Indian sub-continent. Psilocybe mushrooms are known to produce hallucinations and can attack selectively and randomly. Theer is enough evidence now to conclude that the Aeolian dust is targeting married couples in India and causing the husband/wife to believe that he/she is actually married to someone else, even sometimes to a person of the same gender.

Ramakrishna Goud of AP filed a petition in the Madras High Court recently claiming that he was married to the actress Sridevi. He requested the Hon’ Court to drive some sense into her and ask her to return to his house. The Hon’ Court, if I understood correctly, politely asked Goud to decide who his wife was, as he had stated in earlier petitions filed in the same Court that he was married to Priyanka Gandhi and actress Jayaprada.

In another incident, Krishna, a mother of four children in Uttar Pradesh's Burhanpur district declared herself a wife of former Pakistani cricketer Wasim Akram. She claims to have accepted Akram as her husband since she saw his performance on television during an Indo-Pak cricket match in 1999. "I am yet to meet Wasim. Whether he accepts me or not, I will spend rest of my life as his wife," Krishna told newsmen on Saturday. Krishna claims that a 'godly figure' clad in white clothes had shown her Akram's face in her dreams telling her that it was that of her husband's. Meanwhile, her real husband, a retired Govt servant, is examining various options.

Also in UP, Inspector General of Police Debendra Kishore Panda, who hit the headlines after proclaiming himself as ''Doosri Radha'', today said he was not Radha but Rukmini. While Panda may appear undecided on whether he is Radha or Rukmini, there is complete clarity in his mind that he is the wife of Krishna ( not the Krishna of UP who claims to be Wasim Akram's wife, but Lord Krishna). Panda, attired in his now familiar yellow robe and scarf around his head, visited the Sri Jagannath temple and said ''I was very happy after having darshan of my swami (husband)''

I am worried. Has the whole country been mushroomed? Are all the married inhabitants showing signs of being brain-damaged? This threatens the very institution of marriage, not to mention the very fabric of society. I suspect that my own wife is affected. Every night, she insists on watching Amitabh Bachchan on “Kaun Banega Crorepathi?” and refuses to take her eyes off the TV screen. This is terrible beyond words. Has the dust-laden wind blown past our house already sweeping my wife off her feet ? Have the mushroom seeds got into her bloodstream and into her brain? Is she hallucinating that she is actually Amitabh’s wife? Doesn’t she understand that this cannot happen, as it will amount to bigamy? For, I married Amitabh in a quiet ceremony last year and am his legally wedded wife….............

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The traumatised traveller

I am just boarding the aircraft. I will soon be comfortably ensconced in the aisle seat in the first row. Plenty of elbowroom. Enough space to stretch my long legs. Guaranteed sleep.

I reach my seat. What! Somebody is occupying it already. A mother with a one-year old baby in her hands. Would I mind letting her have my seat please and take hers that is located two rows behind? For the sake of the baby? I succumb to this emotional blackmail and move over to the third row. It’s the middle seat. I should have known better. I curse my ancestors for not doing enough penance in their time to ensure that their descendant does not encounter such bad luck.

I must put my bag in the loft above. I struggle with the handle for a few minutes before managing to get it open. I needn’t have taken all the trouble. There is no space for my bag. As usual, others have beaten me to it.

I push my way to seat 3E and park my bag under the seat in front of me. There goes my leg space. I hand over my jacket to the airhostess. There’s a pretty girl in seat 3D. Small mercy. Soon, seat 3F is also taken. By a big-made guy. He walks in with a swagger and a nonchalant bearing and that air of easy familiarity, which strongly suggest that he is a frequent traveller. Smartass.

Plane is about to take off. We are asked to fasten seat belts. I look around for mine. I locate them after considerable jostling and shuffling. But I can’t get the belt fastened. Doesn’t seem to work. I lift the lever and pull the strap hard. Nothing happens. Like Mr. Bean, I watch the smartass next to me. He manages to fasten the belt in a second. After much fumbling and several iterations, I get it right. I tell myself, a la Thomas Edison, that I had not failed a thousand times to fasten the belts. I had just discovered thousand ways how not to fasten a belt.

Safety instructions are on. ‘In case of fall in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down as the gentle rain upon the earth beneath. Pull the mask over your face and breathe normally’. Fat chance. I know what will happen if cabin pressure falls. Before the oxygen masks drop down, I would have passed out.

We are airborne and have reached cruising altitude. The smartass is already in a reclining position. How the hell he did that, I wonder. I search for the button to push my seat behind. Missing. From the corner of my eye, James Bond style, I notice that the pretty girl is staring at me. Obviously, my charm has proved too irresistible and she is completely taken in by my good looks, I conclude. “Uncle, the knobs are to your left” I suddenly hear her say. Sure enough, the knobs are there. I push and turn all the knobs and one of them seems to make the seat recline. But, wait a minute. Did the pretty girl call me Uncle? I am furious. Does she think I am one of those octogenarians traveling on a Senior Citizen Plan? But I look at the brighter side. At least, she didn’t call me “grandpa”.

Ha, dinner is being served now. Seat belts and knobs and overhead lofts may leave me perplexed, but when it comes to eating, the smartass and the pretty girl can take my correspondence course. I can teach them a trick or two. What would I like to drink? Just water, I reply, remembering the travel tips that I had heard (Drink plenty of water!). Now, the tray is in front of me. What’s this? Strawberry jam. Yippee!! My favourite. I love it with the croissant. But how the hell do I take it out of the thimble-sized container? Why do they need to seal everything and make my life miserable? Where is the opening or the slit? Can’t figure out. I tear it down with my knife. Get strawberry jam all over my shirt pocket. I clean up the mess. Clumsy, sloppy idiot, my wife would have called me if she were around.

At last, dinner is consumed and the trays removed. Cabin lights are off. Smartass is wrapped in a blanket and has already reached the REM state of sleep. Let me catch up on the in-flight entertainment, I reckon. How do I get the TV screen up? I lift all the flaps and search. I pull up some contraption which looks suspiciously like a TV screen. But how do I switch it on? There must be some buttons somewhere. The scheming sadistic scoundrels must have hidden them carefully. After some desperate moments of searching, I find the buttons. I have no clue which one to press. So I press them all. “Did you call, sir?’ asks the airhostess materializing out of thin air. I realize that one of the many buttons must have summoned her. I mutter an awkward sorry and ask her if she could help me get started with the TV. She presses one of the buttons and it comes alive in a jiffy. So simple, yet it had me flummoxed all this while. Why am I so gadget-challenged?

I need to go to the toilet. Must be all that water I kept drinking, taking the travel tips as gospel. I have to decide whom I should wake up now. The smartass on my right or the pretty one on the left. I decide, chivalrously, to let the girl have her forty winks. The smartass mutters under his breath and lets me through. I walk up and down the aisle searching for the toilet. Where are the damn toilets? They can’t hide them like they did the TV buttons? Ah, here is one. How do I open the door? Do I pull it towards me or push it in? Neither, as I learn from another passenger with a full bladder in the queue behind me, the doors are collapsible and need to be slid and then pushed. I get inside. Where are the lights? Not to be found. I can’t wait anymore. I decide to do it in the dark. I bolt the door. The lights come on magically, thank you. I am a relieved man now. How do I operate the flush? Search, search, search. Here it is, at last. Need to wash my hands and face. Do I turn the tap to the left or the right? Neither, again. It needs to be pulled up. Where’s the soap? Must be this gooey substance over here. Why is the water not draining from the basin? The drain is closed, that’s why. How do I remove the plug? I have no idea. I hear the bladder-full passenger gently tap the door outside. In my nervous state, I try to do several things at the same time. Something works. Water is getting drained now. I walk out triumphant but exhausted.

I wake up the sleeping smartass again and he looks at me with hatred. If he had been Medusa, I would have been turned into stone by now. I settle down again in my seat.

I try to doze off. No luck. Flight attendant is handing over some forms to be filled. For immigration clearance on landing. Passport details have to be filled in. I reach for my passport. Not there. I fret and fume, sweat and swoon. I search my airbag. Complete absence of passports. I tell myself not to panic. Think. In Jules Verne’s “Around the world in 80 days “, what did Phileas Fogg do when Passport went missing in Tokyo? Or was it Hong Kong? No, that wasn’t Passport at all; that was his manservant Passepartout. Not much help there. I look underneath the seat, bending down acrobatically. No passport to be seen. Only life jacket there. Ha, I remember now. I kept it in my jacket. I press all the available buttons on the seat to summon the attendant again. Can I have my jacket back please? My passport is inside?

The captain announces that we will be landing soon. I haven’t slept at all. I curse the pilot and other airline staff. Why can’t they demystify the whole process of flying? I curse all the engineers of the world. Why do they need to make things so complicated? So many buttons, levers, plugs, seals. Some needed to be pulled. Some needed to be pressed. Some needed to be lifted . Some unscrewed. Some are under the seat. Some overhead. Each gadget presents a new challenge and constantly tests you. Provided, of course, you find them in the first place.

It is all very well for the captain. He doesn’t need to do anything. In fact, I have read that if you step into the cockpit of modern aircrafts, you will find a pilot, a computer and a dog. Nothing else. The job of the computer is to take care of the entire flying from engine-on to engine-off stage. The job of the dog is to keep watch over the pilot and ensure that he does not touch any of the buttons or the levers or the knobs or anything as foolish. The job of the pilot is to feed the dog. That’s it.

As I get out of the plane, I notice that the mother in the first row has had a restful sleep and is now fresh as a flower. It is quite evident now. She must have had the baby a year back, just to deny me the aisle seat in the first row tonight.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

SMS a, b or c

Driving back from office one evening, I tuned in to the FM channel. The DJ was doing his best to spice up the proceedings with his constant chatter and breezy banter and moderating an animated debate on a life-threatening issue that had far-reaching implications on the future of humanity, to wit, “Which of these causes most annoyance when you are eating; a) the camouflaged cardamom in the biriyani or b) the pungent pepper in the Pongal or c) the concealed clove in the laddu?

Listeners were asked to ‘SMS” their responses by keying in a, b or c as they felt appropriate and as their conscience would permit. The topic was too intellectual for me and, moreover, my own pet peeve is the cruel chilly in the uppuma; so I tuned out. But, well-informed sources told me later that the jury had adjudged the cardamom in the biriyani as the chief culprit, it having registered the maximum percentage of votes (48%)

There is something about the ‘SMS” that makes normally reticent people reach out for their mobile phone buttons and type away before you can say, “fastest fingers first”. People, who shy away from talking on the phone or even using the email, find in the “SMS” the right mix of convenience and anonymity and take to it instantly. Long-lost friends of mine who have never bothered to drop a card for decades, have mysteriously emerged from the shadows to send me ‘SMS” greetings on the most insignificant of festivals. Such is the appeal of the SMS that TV viewers respond with alacrity to the most inane of questions. For instance, when Dravid was batting with 38 runs to his credit, a question popped up on screen.” Will he reach his half-century? Please SMS a) he will b) he will not and c) can’t say”. About 1% of the viewers actually responded with the answer “c”. Dilip D’souza in this post wonders why anyone would want to take the trouble of sending a SMS just to convey that he had no opinion on the subject.

Perhaps no other medium enables you to get such instant feedback. If you are a movie director and want to know which scene the audience liked best, all you need to do is to ask them to SMS a, b, c or d depending on whether they liked a) the part where the heroine (dressed in Tight Trousers to accentuate her Thunder Thighs) swings her hips hypnotically and sings seductively b) the climax where the vengeful villain spits saliva on the hapless hero and vomits vitriolic venom, harassingly c) the melodrama of the matriarch meeting her maker movingly or d) the suggestive symbolism of the woodpecker pecking wood just when the hero stares at the heroine longingly.

(Editor’s note: As an aside,our apologies for the author’s adamant attitude and his insistence on being an alliterative alligator. It has its roots in True Tamil Tradition. Look at names like Murasoli Maran, Kalaignar Karunanidhi, Kavignar Kannadasan, Mellisai Mannar MSV, Isaignani Ilayaraja, etc. A Tamil politician or an actor without an alliterative adjunct to his name is practically walking around naked)

Back to the subject. The best thing about these dipstick surveys done through SMS is that the responders need to confine themselves to the choices available and which are explicitly spelt out. The conductor of the survey can take advantage of this feature of finite choices. Say, you are the boss and want to announce a measly 5% increment in pay for the employees. All you need to do is ask them to send you a SMS each, keying in a, b or c if they felt the pay hike should be 2%, 3% or 5% respectively. Like zombies, the unwary juniors will SMS “c” and you can grandly and without any qualms announce that, in response to the unanimous employee opinion, the management is pleased to grant a 5% pay hike.

I intend to put this medium to good use at home – such as in arriving at a family consensus on important questions like “Where do we eat tonight?”. When my wife and two daughters are glued to their book, phone and PC respectively and refuse to pay attention to me, I will send them an SMS and ask for a SMS-in-return, expressing their choice of a) Sangeetha or b) Little Italy or c) Cascade. We will go that restaurant that manages to garner the maximum votes. If each of the options gets one vote and there is a tie, I will let the wife and daughters play rock-paper-scissors to decide the winner.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Patna Olympics

(Dedicated to Lalu who has just fallen, shattering my dreams of India bagging some Olympic medals .Raj)

The Times of Bihar
Patna edition, May 15, 2016

The entire nation is, understandably, euphoric over the rich bounty of four gold medals that India has reaped at the recent Olympics. Thanks to some classified documents made available to The Times of Bihar, the gripping tale of how this unexpected success came about can now be narrated and the complete sequence of events that led to this success can be unfolded to the general public.

It all started in the year 2006, when the then President, Dr Abdul Kalam won the prestigious Samson Club award for sporting the “Longest Hair” amongst all Heads of Sovereign States. As was his habit, he immediately summoned the then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to make a Power Point presentation on his Vision 2020 and his pet dream that Indians should win more awards, particularly at the Olympics. When he was transiting to slide 24/328 and just warming to the theme, Manmohan threw up his hands in despair and agreed to constitute a task force under the able leadership of Lalu Prasad Yadav, to make the vision a reality.

Lalu who was tired of the bad press that he had been getting, quickly realized that this was his long-awaited opportunity to prove his detractors wrong and to provide clear evidence that he was not as stupid as he looked.

With his long years of political experience and finely-honed native instinct, Lalu quickly zeroed in on the critical dimensions that needed to be tackled, if India were to have any chance at the Olympic medals. First, home advantage had to be ensured and it was imperative that the Games should be held in India. Second, they needed to play to their own strengths, not that of their competitors. It was necessary to introduce such events that would give Indians a fair chance of success.

The first objective was achieved in a clinical manner. In April 2009, the International Olympic Committee met in their new headquarters in Shanghai, to finalise the venue for the 2016 Olympics. The shortlisted cities, Melbourne, Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur had just presented their respective merits in great detail, when a group of dhoti-clad, turban-headed, paan-chewing, bare-footed youngsters who betrayed traces of their Indian origin, stormed into the conference room. Brushing aside the Aussie, Dutch and Malaysian representatives, they gheraoed the IOC team and threatened to simultaneously expose their armpits and empty the contents of their mouths all over the place, if the IOC did not agree right there to award the Olympic Games to Patna in India. The fastidious Chairman of the IOC, a stickler for cleanliness, succumbed meekly to this combined threat of armpititis and paan-wash, capitulated without a fight and signed on the dotted line. Thus it was that the Olympic Games came to Patna.

The second objective - that of identifying India-favouring events - proved a bigger challenge even for the wily Lalu. It required the requisitioning of the services of people who possessed a broader knowledge of what constituted “quintessential Indian skills.”

It was well recognized that the Olympic motto of “Citius, Altius, Fortius” was too lop-sided in favour of Western or African athletes with their right mix of broad shoulders, strong biceps, well-developed femur muscles, huge hold-up capacity of the lungs, large diameter of the arteries which enabled rich blood supply, and conferred an unfair advantage on them. The Indians were anatomically-challenged in these respects and were not built for speed or height or length.

A highly literate eighth-standard-passed officer and trusted lieutenant of Lalu had in his possession a copy of the Guinness Book of Records purloined from a library. It occurred to him that he could spot the Indian references in the book and select those events where Indians had already made a mark. After getting the Guinness Book translated into Bihari, through the good offices of a tenth-standard-passed friend, he skipped the sections pertaining to space heroes, epic adventurers, circumnavigators, mountaineers, heroes of the deep, speed stars, stunt heroes, strongmen etc and proceeded to the section on “The Body”. Here he hit pay dirt and located the following entries:

1) Amar Bharti has kept his hand raised for 26 years as a gesture of devotion to the Hindu God Shiva.
2) Lotan Baba, an Indian sadhu rolled his body 4000 km, from Rattam to Jammu over eight months in 1994. He rolled an average of 10-12 km per day.
3) “Chutti” is the thickest three-dimensional make-up, unique to the South Indian Kathakali dance-theatre tradition. The make-up takes three hours to apply.
4) The longest fingernails are those of Shridhar Chillal of Pune, India. Measured to have a total length of 1.42 m.
5) Kalyan Ramji Sain of India began growing a moustache in 1976. In July 1998, it had a total span of 3.39 m.

This information was passed on to Lalu, who spat out his paan with a low guttural noise, conveying that he was pleased with the data. He ordered that these events be included in the Patna Olympics:

1) 5000m Floor-rolling
2) Nail-fencing, which required a duel using just the nails
3) Moustache-wrestling, the winner being the one who encircled the opponent with his moustache
4) Face make-up, requiring the demonstration of the thickest make-up in 3 hours.

The services of Amir Bharti of hand-raising fame would be utilized to hold the Olympic torch in his right hand, for the entire duration of the Olympics.

At long last, the day dawned. The Games was all set to commence. The mascot of the Games was Pandu, the paan-da. The official Olympic snack and drink were Ghutka paan and Matka tea respectively.

In his inaugural address, the President of India (who hailed from Kerala), comblimented the organizers and said he was simbly too habby to be part of the Olymbics. The Olympic torch was lit, handed over to Amar Bharti and the Games began.

The events went on expected lines and the Indians languished at the bottom of the pack, even behind the Paks, Bangs and Lanks. But, on the penultimate day, Lalu delivered.

In the floor-rolling event, Srinivas Venkata Parthasarathy of Andhra Pradesh won the race by a wide margin, putting his Tirupati experience to good use. The nail-fencing duel was won by Swami Gajamugananda of Haridwar in a nail-biting finish; the moustache-wrestling gold medal went to Buta Singh of Patiala, who literally had his opponent entwined and finally, in the face make-up contest, Sudhakar Nair of Trivandrum, painted his way to victory.

All the hard work, strategy and preparation had paid off and a Bharat Ratna award was conferred on Laloo. Encomiums were showered on him. One writer even waxed lyrical:

To Lalu, I dedicate this limerick
Saluting him for his Patna Olympic
Despite his disgusting paan
And his nauseating yawn
He silenced many a critic

If, for the first time, truth be told
It was quite a sight to behold
The nail-fencers and the floor-rollers
And the chuttis and the moustache-twirlers
Come home with the gold!
( This appeared as an article in on Aug 5, 2005)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The birthday party

I just dropped my daughter off at a birthday party. Along the way, obeying my wife’s clear instructions, I picked up a ‘birthday present ‘ from the gift shop, had it wrapped in silver paper, and entrusted it to my daughter to hand over to the birthday girl. It was one of those cute little jewel boxes with musical chimes and cost me Rs, 250/ plus another Rs. 10/- for the special silver wrapper. The entire transaction was completed in 5 minutes.

Now, I am aware that a jewel box, however musical it is and however silvery the paper it is wrapped in, is an entirely useless thing for a ten-year-old to possess, but I suffered no pangs of guilt at having palmed off such a stupid gift on the unsuspecting kid. I have taken my kids to enough birthday parties to know that the recipient of the gift is not unduly concerned about what gift he or she receives. What matters is the ritual of getting a gift and the thrill of unwrapping it. To prove my theory, I intend to plant an empty box wrapped in silver paper as a birthday present, one of these days .I am certain that nobody will notice the difference. .

The parents of the birthday girl had invited 25 other kids to the party and would end up spending Rs. 5000/- on the pizzas, the birthday cake, the festoons and balloons and the return-gifts. If each of the invited kids brought a gift worth Rs. 200 (not everyone is as generous as I am), the total value of the gifts received would be Rs. 5000/-. So, as far as the parents are concerned, it would all square up, right? Wrong. The parents will be stuck with 25 different gifts of questionable or zero value – unless they can monetise the momentary thrill experienced by their kid while unwrapping the parcels – and would be down by Rs. 5000/-, being the expenditure on the cheesy pizzas, the balloons that were pumped with air only to be exploded the next second, and the colas that were consumed and burped away adding to the greenhouse effect.

Remember that each of these 26 kids gets invited to 25 birthday parties in a year and the parents of each of the kids need to spend Rs. 200/- on buying gifts for each of the parties. Simple back-of-the-envelope calculations will show that, to purchase birthday gifts in a year, the parents of all the 25 kids will spend a total of Rs. 1,25,000/-. Another Rs. 1,25,000/- will be spent on the pizzas, the colas and the balloons. A total of Rs. 2,50,000/- will thus be blown-up on “useless’ stuff.

Extrapolating this on a national scale, even if there are just one lakh and one kids in India involved in this birthday circuit, we are talking about an annual national turnover of Rs. 100 crores on jewel boxes with musical chimes (and similar items), junk food and gas-filled colas. This accounts for just one expenditure head- the birthday party. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other influences and marketing campaigns that exercise an irresistible pull on the kids and draw the parents into their fold. These must surely involve a few thousand crore rupees.

As adults, we are caught in myriad rituals that are scaled-up versions of the birthday binge. We produce goods and services which serve no real purpose except that of ego gratification and use the money so earned to buy an assortment of ‘useless” goods and services, in a self-perpetuating cycle involving tens of thousands of crores of rupees.

Mine may be an extremely cynical, even childish viewpoint and most sociologists and economists will passionately defend the above business model.

The sociologist will argue that rituals such as birthday parties, weddings, exchange of gifts during festivals serve the purpose of reinforcing the bond between people. The gesture is what matters; the ritual is secondary, but provides the platform for extending the gesture.

Economists will put forward the argument that consumerism is the quintessence of capitalism, that it will kick in a virtuous spiral of more production and more buying, that this churn in the economy alone can create the critical mass required to progress from the Gandhian framework of frugal living to a higher Maslovian plane, that the threshold or yardstick for defining basic needs will constantly change (today’s luxury = tomorrow’s basic need), that increased consumption leads to capacity build-up and more employment potential, that the ripple effect will result in more scientific and medical breakthroughs, increased life spans and superior quality of life, that a growth in GDP even if through production and consumption of useless goods and services is most desirable. So, the earlier we initiate the kids into the path of consumerism, the better it is for the national economy. Have more birthday parties and splurge on.

As a layman not conversant with such high-fundas and as one belonging to a generation that did not celebrate birthday parties- certainly not on the grand scale that we witness today- and was no worse for it, I am not too sure. What if we cut back on the consumption of useless goods? What if we scale down now? What if we told our kids that there would be no more birthday parties?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Game, sex and drama

When I switch on the TV and accidentally channel-surf my way into one of those soap operas or the mil-dil episodes that cast such a spell over the Indian viewers, I can’t help wondering why people go for such inane and insipid fare when an entire repertoire of action-packed, real-life based films with absorbing plots are available on the National Geographic Channel.

Take this typical story on NGC. For days, the cheetah and her cubs haven’t had anything to eat. After several failed attempts, she had successfully hunted down an antelope yesterday, chasing it at a speed of 100 km/hour – only to be robbed of the catch, within a few minutes, by a pack of hyenas. This morning, she sets out on her hunt, aware that her cubs would die if she returned without food today. It is a desperate kill-or-die situation. After a few hours, she manages to pin down a baby gazelle, separating it from its mother. The last shot shows the mother gazelle walking away dejectedly while the exhausted cheetah watches its hungry cubs devour the baby gazelle to the last bone. The voice-over fades off with the words “ One mother’s loss is another mother’s gain”. Can any scriptwriter come up with anything more packed with tender love, parental care, action and pathos?

Or take this poignant story centered on a small lake, which is the only source of water for miles. The deer, zebras, wildebeest, – all make a beeline for this lake to quench their thirst, with the hot African sun beating down on them relentlessly. The lake is home to several crocodiles that wait patiently to pounce on these mammals at the edge of the lake and pull them into the watery grave. The rains have failed this year, the streams are not re-charged and the lake is gradually drying up. Quite a few of the deer and the zebras that venture deeper into the lake, desperate for water, fall into the waiting jaws of the crocodiles. But, ironically, with the water level shrinking steadily, the crocodiles also perish, one by one. As the film draws to a close, we see a solitary crocodile crawling away from the barren lake towards the shade of a distant tree. It is a tribute to the powerful story-telling technique that, by this time, the viewer gets emotionally drawn to the crocodile and is eager to know if it managed to survive the crisis.

A film on the “King Cobra” shot in the Nilgiris can keep you engrossed for many hours. As the story builds up, the King Cobra is shown constructing its own nest (uncharacteristic of snakes) in a rather elaborate fashion, preparatory to laying its eggs. Then it stays guard over the eggs for days together, not relaxing its vigil even for a second. Just as you start to admire the motherly sacrifices of this reptile, it leaves the nest before the first egg hatches and the baby comes out – because it intuitively knows that if it stays around, its pre-disposition to eat other snakes will take precedence over its maternal instinct. What ethological drama!

But, if you are under the impression that snakes don’t have to fear other predators, watch the “The Eagle and the Snake”. These eagles live on an island in the South China Sea. Their only source of food is the striped snake that inhabits the waters. The striped snakes are excellent swimmers but, once in a few hours, need to come up to the surface of the sea for their oxygen intake. Now, the eagles which hover several hundred feet above the water need to know exactly when and which of the snakes will come up to draw some air, so as to swoop down at the precise moment, grab the six-foot long snake and fly back several miles to the island to feed its young. You would think that, in a vast sea, the statistical probability of a particular snake (which comes up to the surface only once in three hours), being snatched by an eagle is quite low. Yet, this drama unfolds everyday and the eagle has to get its catch of snakes to stay alive and the snake has to keep coming up to the surface to stay alive..

Are you looking for the sex motif? Take this story about the male warthog which has to demonstrate its loyalty and intentions by courting the female of the species determinedly for three full days, following it wherever it goes, before the latter relents and allows the ‘mating” to take place. Happy ending? Not yet. The male warthog has to continue to keep watch over the female for the next few days to ensure that she doesn’t fool around with other males and deprive him of the opportunity of multiplying his own genes. For sheer perseverance and amorous wooing, this cannot be matched or bettered in any man-made love-story.

Spare a thought for the photographer from National Geographic following the particular warthog for days together in the wild and capturing the whole sequence and drama. Or keeping tab on the King Cobra as it builds its nest, hatches its eggs and moves away just when its young ones come into the world? Or setting up his camera next to the lake for several weeks till the solitary crocodile moves away. Or waiting for that split second when the eagle will swoop down and grab the snake. Not in controlled conditions that prevail in a movie studio, but in hostile terrains such as a marshy swamp or a remote island.

That is why when I feel the need for moving melodrama, pulsating action and gripping story line, I turn to these animal films. They never disappoint me.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Don't dwell on the past, don't worry about the future

The sight of my ten-year old daughter comfortably settled on the sofa, a bowl of potato chips in one hand and the TV- remote-control device in the other and surfing her way through 30 channels in 15 minutes - was more than I could bear. It was time, I thought, that I should deliver a fatherly sermon on how lucky she was in having so many good things which, we of the earlier generation did not even dream of. Every parent in every generation has preached thus and I did not want to miss this opportunity.

So I stared her squarely in the eye and asked, "Do you realize, you techno-savvy brat, that you are thoroughly spoilt? Do you know that even when I was twice your age, I had just one channel to watch, that too black and white ?”

“ Just one channel to watch , the whole day?" she asked in amazement.

I had to correct her. “ Not the whole day. Doordarshan used to begin transmission only at 6.30 p.m and would wind up at 10.30 p.m. And they used to screen movies only on Saturdays”

“ What ! Just one channel and just for 4 hours. And just one movie a week. How did you manage to survive ? Surf the net?", she enquired, not unlike Marie Antionette wondering why the proletariat could not eat cake, if there was no bread.

“ There were no computers then, let alone the Internet.” I had to tick her off sharply.

“ Then just what did you do to spend your time ? Play games on your mobile phone ?”

“ There were no mobile phones then" I responded "and for good measure, no cordless phones. Not even phones with buttons. Phones those days came with a round dial. If you had to dial a number like 72345 you had to put your finger in the hole with the number 7 and turn the dial, wait for it to come back, then put your finger in the hole with the number 2 and so on. If the number was engaged you started all over again. “

“ And”, I continued, pre-empting the next question, “ there was only one type of car. The Ambassador. No Marutis, Hyundais or the Hondas. And no air-conditioning in the car. Not even music systems”

“ Appa, stop “ my daughter screamed out loud “ Don’t talk to me about the past. It makes me very sad. You people had nothing then. You had such a miserable life”.

At this point, I felt it prudent to inject a more cheerful note into the proceedings.

“ You know,” I told her, “25 years from now, you are going to have a similar conversation with your daughter. You are going to show her some of the photographs that we took last week and she is going to stare at them disbelievingly. She is going to find your dress bizarre and your hairstyle incredibly funny. She will ask you why you needed to wear this thingy called spectacles, as nobody in her generation would be using them. As a matter of fact, she would want to know why one needed to have photos printed on paper, as kids of that era will be living in a paperless world.”

I went on, “ She will stare in wonder if you described to her the TV set, the computer and the mobile phone that you have today. She will be shocked that people living in the past had to struggle with such primitive and bulky stuff. In her time, all these functions would be integrated in a single compact device attached to the wrist .

“ She will ask you why you had to go to school. She will want you to explain why you did not have the automated self-learning studios then. Were you so poor when you were a child that you could not afford these basic necessities ?”

“But, not everything that you have today will look bad to her. She will long for the fast cars that we have today. By the time she is old enough to drive, the world would have run out of oil and she would be going around in a slow, solar-powered vehicle….”

I would have continued in this vein for some more time, but at this point, my daughter interrupted me, “ Appa, stop. Don’t talk to me about the future. It is too scary”.

That was the end of the conversation.

“The past is dead. No point in dwelling on it. The future is unborn. No point in worrying about it. The present is a gift. Make the most of it”, I muttered to myself philosophically, mulling over the lesson that my daughter had just taught me.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Rx.. Care of the heart

Those of you who want to prevent a heart-attack or some of you who have already suffered a heart attack but want to prevent the next one, take heart. Your doctor can now prescribe the latest class of statins which, by lowering cholesterol levels, can cut down the risk of heart attack by 30%. The dosage will vary from person to person and will be determined by a simple formula. The doctor will examine your salary slip closely and fix the dosage in such a way that you spend 50% of your salary on the statins. That's the simple formula.

But statins are known to interfere with the functioning of the liver and can also cause muscular atrophy in 0.0005% of the patients. So your doctor, ever alert to business opportunities, will prescribe additional drugs to tone-up the liver, apart from inorganic supplements to make up for the weakening of the muscles. Some of these supplements can increase the toxicity of the blood and can affect the kidneys. So you would be forwarded to a nephrologist who will quickly assess how promising a candidate you are for a kidney transplant . He will also make a mental note to refer a patient with mild urinary infection to your cardiologist for a routine ECG, as a return favour. The entire medical fraternity subscribes to this quid pro quo arrangement.

Back to the heart. Statins also need to be supported by ACE inhibitors which help dilate the blood vessels and reduce blood pressure. Controlled experiments on rats have shown that those rats that were administered ACE inhibitors, lived a week longer than those that went without the drug. Considering that a rat lives for hardly 16 weeks on an average, a week’s extension is significant. What works on a rat must surely work on you ? You are just a scaled-up, biped version.

It is also good to take some anti-coagulants and blood-thinners like aspirin to keep the flow through the vesels as smooth as possible. Alas, aspirin is also known to cause intestinal bleeding and coupled with the fibrous diet prescribed by the thoughtful cardiologist, will induce acidity and flatulence. To tackle these symptoms, your doctor will ask you to take some antacids every day. Antacids can interfere with the absorption of some key nutrients into the system and your doctor will tell you when exactly to have them, before or after a meal. Usually, he will advise you to have them instead of the meal.

The statins, the aspirin and the ACE inhibitors together make a formidable combination and some research indicates that you have a good chance of reducing a 60%- blocked-artery to a 20% blocked one. Too bad that new evidence shows that in a 20%- blocked artery, the chances of the plaque breaking loose, clogging the vessel and causing a heart attack are much higher than in a 60%-blocked artery. Well, you can’t have everything.

About the diet. Don’t gorge yourself on fried food which contain polyunsaturated fat, bad for your heart. Eat plenty of green salads. A word of caution here. It has been observed that salads are quite often washed with contaminated water and can cause severe infection of the stomach. Not to worry. Your clueless gastroenterologist will prescribe some broad-spectrum antibiotics ostensibly to kill the bacteria. These antibiotics will be still protected by patent, and therefore your salary for that month will be used up for the noble cause of amortising a substantial chunk of the R&D expenses of the drug company. The good doctor will also recommend an ultrasound scan of the abdomen partly to rule out cysts and tumours, partly to look for other danger signals , but mainly to earn his 30% commission from the owner of the scan machine.

And get plenty of exercise. Your doctor will advise you that walking is the best way to keep fit.. The considerate doctor will not want you to blow up good money on fancy gym equipment. In fact he will want you to reserve your income, fixed deposit and other savings purely for medical expenses and not to sqaunder it on non-essential needs like food, clothes, petrol, etc.

A final piece of advice. Don’t fret and fume about the doctor’s fees and the expenses on the medicine and the visits to the diagnostic centres. Anxiety over such trivial things can induce high levels of stress and high blood-pressure and can lead to heart attacks.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Dark thoughts of a closet MCP

You should have seen the fuss that my wife made and the tantrums that she threw up when I woke her from a afternoon siesta yesterday and asked for a cup of coffee!

Why she should go ballistic over such a simple request, I could never fathom. It would have taken her hardly a couple of minutes to warm the milk in the gas stove, mix the instant coffee and sugar and serve it to me, along with some chocolate biscuits, as I was on my recliner chair reading a book. Nothing complicated about it. Minimum physical labour involved.

It is not as if she had to slog it out like my multi-tasking grandmother who had to wake up at 3 am everyday, have a cold dip in the Cauvery (cleverly dodging the lurking crocodiles), finish her pooja, run after the cows, pin them down, milk them herself, then grind the coffee seeds, roast them, prepare the decoction, and get the steaming coffee ready for my grandfather at 5 am sharp, before he commenced his morning ablutions. All this, while she continued to prolifically deliver several babies a year.

What make my eyes red, my ears steam and my blood boil are the double standards of women these days.. Last night, when I was engrossed in my favourite episode of “Friends”, wife actually asked me to go down to the shop nearby and get some bread for the kids. To pack lunch for them the next day, she explained. This complete insensitivity for a fellow human-being engaged in an intellectual exercise got my goat. Did she think that this was such a simple errand? The shop is a good 200 metres away – which meant I had to not only walk down to my basement, but had to open the car door with my bare hands, insert the ignition key in the right place, start the car, put it on first gear while applying the clutch, press the accelerator slowly while simultaneously releasing the clutch, play my favourite CD, navigate my way through the maddening traffic, find a parking slot……in other words 15 minutes of agonising, back-breaking, manual labour. Can’t the kids manage without bread for a day? Why can’t they eat cake ?.

Let me narrate one more incident to gain your sympathy. Once, I brought four of my colleagues home for dinner. I grant you that I should have called my wife and given her advance notice, which I omitted to do. Ok, I forgot. So, what? I am only human. To err is human, but to her it was a crime. The screaming and ranting that I had to put up with for a week! All for the merest trifle of mixing a few ingredients and cooking a meal for four, aided by the galaxy of fancy gadgets that is found in the kitchen. Hell, there’s even a device to peel the onions, without bringing a drop of tear to the eye. In contrast, my great-grandma - bless her soul- had to harvest the paddy from the fields, de-husk it, de-stone the rice, collect wooden twigs from the forest, crush the snakes and the scorpions with her bare feet, draw water from the well using counter-weights, pluck the vegetables from the fields, light the stove, cook the rice, remove the starch, feed the first helping to the crows and serve the meal piping-hot to my great-grandpa And she did this every day without a whimper of protest . All my great-grandpa had to do was let out a loud burp and other similar bodily noises after the hearty meal. I tell you, dear readers, that those were halcyon days when men were he-men and women had perfect role clarity.

Now, when I am busy blogging, wife asks me to change a fused bulb in the bathroom instead of wasting my time with my chat-mates. . What lop-sided priorities and what contempt for blogging! First, in these enlightened days, when liberated women commandeer space shuttles, fly solo aircrafts and head large MNCs, one would have thought wife would have by now acquired the elementary intelligence to change a light bulb. No such luck. I must do it, because she is not tall enough to reach the bulb holder. Must I do all the hard work in the house, merely because I am 6”1” tall? Second, does she think blogging is child’s play? Is she aware at all of the depth of knowledge, intensity of research and thoroughness of detail that characterise my blogs

Sigh ! What degeneration of values. We live in decadent times ! Let me go and change that blasted bulb now.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The last male domain....

I confess that I am dismayed by the proliferation of new institutions such as the unisex beauty parlours and family saloons. One, they threaten to drive to extinction that most Malgudian of characters- the local barber. Two, they strike at the very foundation of the last male bastion left. Till recently, the barber shop remained the only place – apart from the Gents Toilet- where ministers, politicians, sportsmen, farmers and businessmen alike were allowed entry,solely on the strength of their being men and to bask in the exclusivity of the surroundings, unspoilt by female presence.

Now I am no misogynist and am all for gender parity, equal space and all that. But there are times when men like to be left alone with the boys and women with the girls. The barber shop provided such a sanctuary to men, while women had their own parlours and spas ,where they were left contentedly alone . This arrangement worked very well for both sexes for centuries and there was absolutely no reason to disturb the status quo ante.

So, I view these new-fangled parlours with utter contempt and remain steadfast in my loyalty to Nataraj, the barber-round-the-corner. Once a month, with unfailing regularity, an inner voice tells me that I must proceed in the direction of the barber shop and I follow its diktat unquestioningly, in a hypnotic trance. There are many mysteries that science has not provided answers for. My monthly sleep-walk to the barber’s is one such puzzle.

Nataraj’s methods are simple but effective. Different strokes for different folks, is his motto. Not only in his cutting technique which has to suit the individual, but also in gauging the customer’s mood and temperament and adopting the appropriate conversational style. I have seen him play various roles – keen listener to a gregarious soul, eager story-teller to the more reclusive, shrewd commentator to the uninformed, astute advisor to ranting teenagers, sharp critic of wayward adolescents ,– moving from one role to the next , as in a rapid slide show, with effortless ease.

Isn’t he worried that these deluxe parlours and saloons started by the MNCS and other corporates would eat into his business ? Nataraj dismisses this suggestion with complete disdain.. “ These places employ smart-looking, over-paid youngsters with fancy titles like hair-stylists, hair-engineers and hair-doctors and think they can steam-roll us into extinction. It is not as simple as that. Customers look for much more than just a hair-cut, when they come here.”.

He continued, “You can send your driver to pick up groceries, to pay your water tax and to get your watch repaired. But do you realize that hair-cut is one of the few activities that you can’t delegate to your driver and you need to physically present yourself at the barber’s shop ? This creates a special and sacred bond between the barber and the barbee. Big industrialists who cannot be accessed at all in their lush offices become my captive listeners when they are seated in this chair. Many of them pour out intimate family secrets to me. Teenagers who can’t confide to their parents find in me a father-figure to let out minute details of their love life. Why, even the DIG of Police is my customer and has shared some vignettes of the interesting crimes that he has been investigating. Such is the clout we wield. Such is the status we enjoy”.

“ Take you, as an example, sir” he went on, “ I have seen you on your morning walk on Boat Club Road, in a pensive mood, probably worried what the day has in store for you, and giving the clear signal that you do not want to be disturbed from your reverie. Yet, here. in my shop, you are completely relaxed and are in a mood to open out and engage in pleasant conversation with me. This is what makes us special and irreplaceable. We are certainly not an endangered species yet. “

I hope these don’t turn out to be famous last words, I thought to myself as I watched Nataraj usher in his next customer making the latter feel that he was ascending a throne for his coronation.

May his tribe survive and flourish.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Ambassador car

A generation back, there was a simple method to separate the men from the boys. The real men were those who could claim total mastery over the Ambassador car.

The kids of today who gallivant all over town in their toys such as Ford Ikons, Santros and the Zens will never be able to understand what it took to drive one of those Ambys.

You could never be taught to drive the Amby. Either you were born with the skill or you weren’t. The chemistry between the car and the driver had to be perfect, not unlike that between a horse and the rider.

One started the day with silent prayers. If the battery and the electrical systems were in good condition, the car could be cranked in half a dozen attempts and still the engine had to be “raised” for a few minutes to get it to behave. The steering wheel was stubbornly pivoted in one position and would refuse to move. It was far easier to get down from the car and rotate the tyres with your bare hands, than attempt to steer it . The clutch and the accelerator pedals would put up such resistance that the driver had to practically jump on them to avail their services. Releasing the clutch pedal and simultaneously pressing the accelerator called for multi-tasking skills and not many would pass the test. Some ended up with fractured feet and injured pride.. Hand brakes existed in theory, but there is no recorded instance of these actually being put to use anytime. One was advised not to rely on these handbrakes, but to always carry a large stone, to insert as a wedge under the rear tyres, in case the car came to a halt in the ghat section of the road.

Driving was just one part. One had to be a mechanic too and have a fair idea of how the system worked. Checking the radiator water level and the crankcase oil level was a daily ritual carried out diligently. Rainy days called for a fair bit of daredevilry. Windshield wipers were either missing or not functional and so the driver had to use one hand to clean the windshield and the other to steer the car. The Ambassador car would stall if the water on the road was more than 6 inches high. “Water got into the delco” was the immediate pronouncement of the knowledgeable driver. What this meant was that the driver had to pull out the petrol pipe from the carburettor, suck out some petrol, spit it into the distributor cap, light it on fire and drive away the moisture in the cap, in complete disregard for one’s own safety or that of the other passengers’. It was the done thing and theirs was not to question why.

These days, life’s too easy for the kids and driving has become too unexciting. I know of quite a few people who have never opened the bonnets of their cars or learnt to pull a car out of a slope without using a handbrake, let alone setting the distributor cap on fire. What a pity.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Out of chaos.....

In an article published three years back, TIME magazine had analysed the reasons behind India’s success with IT and software. “How did India gain superiority in this field alone” it wondered “ while China remained a non-entity, struggling to get its bearings right?”

After looking at possible answers like “ India has the advantage of having a large English-speaking population “, “ the accident of time zones of India and the USA being such that a seamless 24-hour working could be ensured, “ and so on, TIME concluded that while the Chinese were extremely good with tasks that called for discipline, strict adherence to rules and instructions and conformity to standards- as required in manufacturing, mining, construction, etc, Indians had that uncanny ability to thrive in chaotic conditions – which equipped them to take on the type of challenges that IT and programming posed.

I agree. Indians love disorderliness and revel in chaos. Take a genius like Tendulkar. He picked up all the rudiments of the game in Shivaji Park, where on a typical day twelve different matches go on simultaneously with about 250 fielders running all over, and the same spot on the ground can be gully position for one team, mid-on for another, deep square leg for yet another. If your skills have been honed in these conditions, scoring a century at Lord’s with all its tranquility is child’s play.

I don’t know why the same logic doesn’t work with Narain Karthikeyan. Perhaps, he has frittered away his time at the racetrack during his learning days. He should have practised on the Indian roads instead, where millions of people effortlessly navigate their vehicles through narrow roads, alongside pedestrians, thousands of cycles, rickshaws, bullock-carts, fish-carts, trucks, cars, hundreds of two-wheelers, all honking and hooting and moving in different directions and velocities. Traffic lights and other signals exist just to provide some comic relief. The whole atmosphere is lively and jolly, if you see my point. Brownian movement, if you get my drift. Once you manage to survive on these roads, you can take on the Grand prix events blind-folded, with or without a Formula 1 car.

Raman Roy, the founder of Spectramind, is quoted in an interview as saying that when Wipro first won a contract from Amex in 1991 for some back-office work, they couldn’t locate a dish anywhere in Delhi. They had to run from pillar to post to get the necessary licence. So, they went in for cables. One day, the system collapsed mysteriously. It took them a few days to realize that somebody had dug into the cables to steal the copper. Against such odds, they managed to deliver and get Amex to move the entire operations here. On the other hand, the Chinese programmer would have got the Govt to provide the connectivity, power connection, running water, etc but would not have had the wherewithal to write a line of code, under such perfect conditions.

If the Universe tends towards chaos following the laws of thermodynamics and entropy, Indians are bound to rule this world. Let's hope for such conducive conditions.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Movers and Shakers of India

There is a pronounced cultural bias, when it comes to appreciation of the parts of the human anatomy. The Japanese people go ga-ga over long necks; Audrey Hepburn, if you recall, was a hot favourite there. The Chinese had a fetish for tiny feet and girls had to wear tight shoes for years to prevent them from growing further. Tiny feet had such sex appeal.

And Indians? Ha, we get turned on by swaying bottoms.

This truth dawned on me, as I was channel surfing on my TV, the other day. Whichever channel I hit, I saw nothing but swinging bottoms.

On Channel A (name changed to protect its identity), Shah Rukh Khan had climbed on to the top of a moving train, in complete violation of Sec 19.1 of the Indian Railway Rules, and swinging his hips wildly to the chant of ‘chaiya, chaiya’, and instigating other passengers to follow suit.

On Channel B, to the beat of a Telugu song, a dozen men were shaking their bottoms vigorously, dressed in pink trousers and green jackets. Cut to the next frame where a dozen women were gyrating their torsos, dressed in green skirts and pink blouses.

On Channel V (original name retained), some exuberant teenagers were sending their bottoms into a spiral whirl, as if there was no tomorrow.

You get my point.

To learn more about this “bum fixation “, and to get to the ‘bottom’ of the mystery, I met up with Dr. Shake Abdullah, an acknowledged expert on this subject and who had obtained his PhD on the strength of his seminal thesis “ the simple harmonic motion of swinging bottoms”.

Dr. Abdullah’s office was simple and the decor harmonious. On his table were photo alBUMs (bought, no doubt, from Higginbottoms) with pictures of starlets – no, not their faces, but their shapely bottoms. Adorning the walls were cutouts of animal bottoms and one could clearly make out what would have once formed the rear of a bison, an antelope and a warthog. He had hunted them down in Africa, but such was his commitment to his subject that, where the run-of-the-mill hunter would have taken out the animal heads as souvenirs, he had brought back the bottoms and hung them up in his office.

“As a nation’, he said, “ we are so divided, be it on religion, language, diet, etc. The only common thread that you can discern from north to south, west to east, is the Indian fascination for shaking bottoms. It cuts across all barriers and binds the nation together. Naturally, this obsession is reflected in the movies that we produce “

“Do you know “ he continued “ that no longer does Bollywood or Kollywood call aspiring actors for an audition? A good voice is not important, as other artists dub most of the dialogues anyway. Good looks also don’t matter, as any make-up artist with a little bit of help from a plastic surgeon can convert an Ugly Jane into an Aishwarya Rai, in a matter of minutes. But, what is a pre-requisite and what will get you the job is the ability to swing your bum. An eminent panel evaluates both the amplitude and the frequency of the 'shake' of the candidates. The Indian audience can be demanding and high standards have to be maintained”

“ Lest you conclude that there is no practical use for all this shaking, let me point out that every dancer is fitted with a dynamo at the hip so that the energetic movement can be converted into electricity. All Bollywood studios are self-sufficient in energy use thanks to the captive-power from the inter-connection of all the hip dynamos.”

As I left Dr Abdullah’s office, he offered to take me over to witness the shooting of a film scene. About thirty young actors and actresses were in tight-fitting clothes and ready for the shot.

“Silence” cried the director.



“Bottoms up”.

And the swinging began.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The white shirt

Saraanch’s blog on how the same piece of a specific rajma gets lodged everytime in his second, upper-molar, reminded me of an identical experience I had with white shirts.No,they were not getting stuck in my molar. Read on.

I love plain white shirts. They go well with dark trousers and also provide the right contrast for a bright, multi-coloured tie, the one with the Mickey Mouse on it.. I also find that the white shirt alone among shirts, when worn inside a jacket or coat, has that magical ability to confer quiet dignity on even the most obnoxious-looking of individuals.

But, sinister forces have been at work and sabotaging my plans of wearing these white shirts. What happens invariably is this. Two weeks after I commission any of my new white shirts and, more particularly, after the third wash, it comes back with a prominent, brown stain on the bottom right corner of the pocket. This has happened to four of my shirts and so I am unable to dismiss these events as mere coincidence. As Ian Fleming says in his James Bond books, “once is happenstance; twice is coincidence ; thrice or more, it is enemy action “

I did some analysis with my usual scientific rigour and observed that

-Only my white shirts are attacked ( nothing happens to navy blue or bottle green shirts, which can hide such stains easily)
-The stain always appears after the shirt returns from its third wash ( as if to increase my hopes after the first two washes and dash it after the third)
-It always manifests itself at the bottom right corner of the shirt pocket
-It is always dark brown in colour ( not that I find dark brown particularly abhorrent, Any dark colour can inflict the same damage)
- It cannot be removed by any methods known to machine or housewife

Result : White shirt condemned for ever, Go back to navy blue shirt.

Reminds you of those eerie tales of weird crop patterns observed in many parts of the world. Or stories of UFOs being spotted at some specific time, only on the second Tuesday of every month.

I know that there are many hypotheses to explain these strange happenings. For example, wife is convinced that the brown stain must be due to my disgusting habit of chewing betelnuts; one or two of the more adventurous nuts would always jump over from the packet into the pocket, leaving a destructive trail when coming into contact with soap and water. Possible, dear wife, but not plausible. As is my habit, I keep count of all the betelnuts in the packet and consume them all. Hell, each of these nuts cost quite a bit. You can’t afford to have them jumping out of packets. A friend, who heard out this tale of the stained shirts, suggested that it must be the handiwork of the dhobi woman ( we call her Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady), intent on deriving vicarious pleasure at someone’s suffering and to bring comic relief to her own dreary existence. Again, this theory doesn’t hold water. Why should she pick on white shirts alone, when she has a bewildering array of colours to choose from ? No. No. The mystery does not lend itself to such simple explanations.

So, here I am, agonizing over my plight and asking these deep philosophical questions to myself “Why me ? Why my shirts ? Why only my white shirts ?

If you have any answers, you know where to find me. Even better, if you can send me a spotless white shirt……………….

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

And yet another stolen bicycle....

If Harry Potter series can be stretched over seven episodes and Star Wars over six ( if I haven’t got the figure wrong), won’t you permit me to publish my bicycle trilogy ? Here’s the third part.

This incident happened in the early seventies. We lived in one of those narrow lanes in Mylapore,Madras. Our neighbour was a policeman who had seven children of assorted shapes, sizes and age.

Kids of today are so used to seeing the full-panted cops of today on their gleaming mobikes and sporting their smart caps. The policemen of the seventies were positively comical to look at. They were dressed in sharply creased, bell-bottomed shorts, had pointed funny-looking topis on their heads and carried wooden lathis in their hands. They rode bicycles..

Back to our neighbour. I don’t know how good he was as a policeman, but he was a terror at home. His seven kids used to shake and shiver in his presence and hardly utter a word. Discipline was enforced strictly in the house and the slightest sign of rebellion crushed mercilessly. There was a set routine, which had to be followed unquestioningly. Deviations would simply not be tolerated, not that they were ever attempted.

We never got to see the policeman leave his house as he probably got out very early in the morning. But my sister and I would be waiting on the balcony at 6 pm everyday, to watch the “ritual” next door, as the policeman returned home.

The grand ceremony that took place everyday, with clockwork precision, similar to the Change of Guards at the Buckingham Palace, went like this.. The policeman would ride his bicycle home. A few metres ahead, he would ring the cycle bell, to sound a general alert to his family. On this Pavlovian cue, all the seven kids, would come running out of the house. The eldest would collect the bicycle from the father and park it in the small verandah. The second would pick up his topi and hang it on the nail near the entrance. The third would take the lathi and keep it on the bench, next to the parked bicycle. The fourth would help him remove his shirt and gently hang it on the coat-stand. The fifth would collect the shorts carefully (as the sharp crease could cut the fingers), the sixth would hold out a lungi to him and help him wrap it around too and the seventh would stand at attention with a glass of water and give it to him, as soon as he had put on his lungi.

So, a quick recap of the story so far. Mylapore. Narrow lane. Sis and I. Neighbour, a cop. Cop’s seven kids. Cop strict. Home 6 pm sharp. On bicycle. Seven kids in same sequence collect bike, topi, lathi, shirt, pointed shorts and hand over lungi, water. Same routine every day. All right, all right.You got the plot.

So, this ritual went on, every single day, for many, many years. Boys became adults and girls metamorphosed, as only girls can, into lovely women. Yet this routine never changed at the policeman’s house…

One day, disaster struck the family.

The policeman’s bicycle was stolen. He had to come home walking !

The family had never seen this sight before. As it always happens to people who are used to rigid schedules, they found themselves completely disoriented and lost at these changed circumstances.

The eldest, robbed off his first-born rights of taking over the bicycle, insisted on collecting the topi instead. This was strongly resisted by the second-born, who in a desperate maneuver tried to reach for the father’s lathi. In the pandemonium that ensued, the third and the fourth-born found themselves fighting over the shorts and shirt with the fifth and sixth-born. The policeman realized that he had handed over his shorts but the lungi was nowhere in sight. Nor his customary glass of water. He was simply caught underwears and water-less.

At this stage, I regret that, in the interest of veracity, I must break the news that this was the beginning of the split-up of the cop’s family. Having tasted the joy of indiscipline for the first time in their lives, the seven kids wouldn’t have enough of the newfound freedom. The family broke up and the seven kids went off in different directions and settled down, each clinging to his or her core-competence. The first to start a cycle-hire shop, the second to sell hats, the third to make walking-sticks of the ornate variety, the fourth and fifth to set up a tailoring unit specializing in shorts and shirts, the sixth to join the firm that did the wholesale marketing of Sangu-mark lungis and the seventh to peddle Bisleri water bottles at the Central Station. The policeman has retired from active service, has joined a Security agency and is a watchman in one of the ancient buildings that abound in Mylapore.

So, boys and girls, the summary . Cop has bicycle. Family remains united. Cop loses bicycle. Family disintegrates.

The stolen bicycle made all the difference.

Another stolen bicycle

I heard this story on a BBC radio program.

In the tiny village of Glaslough, Ireland, populated by a few hundred people, there lived a man called Patrick. One day, Patrick lost his favourite bicycle and was completely heartbroken. The village policeman tried his best to trace the missing bicycle, but to no avail.

Like most Irishmen, Patrick was quite a religious person and never missed the Sunday sermon at the local Church. On one such visit, he narrated his tale of woe and misery to Father Murphy who was the chief pastor.

Father Murphy was quite sympathetic and told Patrick not to lose hope. He would nab the culprit . His game plan was this. The following Sunday, he would deliver to his entire congregation a moving sermon on the Ten Commandments, which would be loaded with enough punch to inspire and motivate even the most stone-hearted . He would enumerate the commandments in the same order that God handed over to Moses on Mount Sinai. By the time he came down to the seventh commandment, namely, “Thou shalt not steal “, the bicycle thief would be so guilt-ridden and have his vitals so gnawed by remorse, that he would stick out in the crowd. Patrick had to just watch out for the guy who had the furtive look when Father Murphy read out the seventh commandment.

Sure enough, there was a big gathering on Sunday and Father Murphy, true to his word, gave it the works. Some say that he delivered the best sermon ever heard in Glaslough, for a long, long time. He placed particular emphasis on the seventh commandment, pausing there an extra second, for added effect.

At the end of the sermon, Father Murphy came down the pulpit and asked Patrick eagerly, “ Did you spot the thief ?”

Patrick smiled sheepishly and replied, “ No Father, I didn’t have to wait till the seventh commandment. When you had reached the sixth commandment, namely, - 'Thou shalt not commit adultery' - I remembered where I had parked my bicycle”.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Our heroes !

As a nation, we face an acute shortage of genuine heroes - at least the ones cast in the western mould. You know the type, strongest, tallest, swiftest, wealthiest, etc. As demand exceeds supply,we are willing to clutch at any straw, so to speak, and eulogise the most mediocre of achievements. Or, at the slightest provocation, go back to our ‘glorious’ history, selective in our choice of period and events, to delude ourselves that past performance is a guarantee for future success.

And who or what are our role models ? In sports, we still talk of our 1983 World cup victory in cricket, of P.T.Usha missing the bronze medal by a whisker in 1984 at Los Angeles ( in a truncated field, in an event boycotted by the Russian and Communist Bloc countries) or of “The Flying Sikh”- an epithet that only we would confer on an athlete who finished fourth in his race.Sania Mirza making it into the top 50 or reaching the third round of the Australian Open get such hype and mileage in the media as to embarrass even the less-objective and more-charitable reader or viewer.

Six decades after he departed from the scene, we still, at the drop of a hat,need to invoke Gandhi’s name. We romanticize and mythologise Netaji’s heroism and valour, based on folklore and unsubstantiated stories. With not too many sportsmen around to distribute our acclaim, we go into gleeful raptures at the very mention of the name Sachin Tendulkar.We sing paens of praise, idolise him and elevate him to the level of a demi-God . When we need some diversion, we turn to our celluloid heroes for help. The distinction between real-life and reel-life gets blurred and we wallow in an illusionary world, desperately clinging on to our few and far-flung heroes.

But,is there such a vacuum ? Don’t we have anything to showcase ? To be fair, we do. Flip through the Guinness book of Records and you will come across names of Indians who hold the records for sporting the longest beard, biggest moustache, longest nails and for the thickest face make-up ( Kathakali dancers) . We even have one for the maximum distance covered by 'rolling' on the floor. Yes, these are the indigenously-grown heroes, with those unique skills that are homespun and quintessentially Indian.These are the events where Indians reign supreme, having truly and indubitably conquered the rest of the world.

Alas, dark clouds are looming even over this field. In our misplaced complacency, we believed that we dominated this turf. I just read a newsitem last week that an American has entered the Guiness Book of records with the longest eyebrow hair (9.5 cm). I threw up my hands in righteous indignation, when I read this. This was a record that was rightfully ours, but was not to be. The last, nay only Indian bastion has indeed fallen.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The stolen bicycle

My daughter’s bicycle was stolen, one day, from our house. Dreading the red-tape, I chose not to file a complaint with the police and accepted the state of bikeless existence, philosophically.

But, Life –as we all know- has a knack of throwing up unexpected surprises. Two months after the incident, there was a knock on the door. It was the police ! With the thief in tow ! The serial de-biker had been caught red-handed recently and he was pointing out the several houses whose owners he had stripped off their bicycles.

“Would I be good enough to come down to the Teynampet police station to identify the bicycle ?” asked the policeman, belching out the words in the manner unique to cops.

”Sure” I said, thrilled at the prospect of delighting my daughter as soon as she was back from her Maths, Science and Sanskrit tuitions and imagining her clapping her hands in girlish glee.

I reached the station in less than 15 minutes, identified the gleaming bike and got on to it to drive it home.

“Not so fast , “ said the cop, spitting out his betel-nut and blowing his nose at the same time. . “You need to file an FIR first for our records, and add an explanation why you had failed to register a complaint for two months”
I started to fill up the form , Anything, I thought, to please my darling daughter. Having done it, I asked if I could have the keys please ?

“No way “ said the constipated cop, his flatulence acting up. “ You need to come to the Saidapet Court tomorrow. There are procedures we need to follow..

So, the next day I found my way to the seedy Saidapet court, informing my office that I would be late by an hour or so.

An hour passed. Two. But no sign of my bicycle. Business worth crores of rupees was slipping away at my office, while I was aimlessly whiling away my time on the verandahs of law courts, for a bicycle whose book-value was less than Rs 1000, I thought. I confronted the constipated cop finally and enquired what was happening. He let out a gas-loaded burp and then explained that I needed to file a petition before the Hon’ Court pleading for the release of my cycle and added that I would be well-advised to appoint a lawyer to write this out on stamp paper. The lawyer would charge Rs 250/- for these efforts and the stamp paper would cost Rs 100/-

“Here’s the money” I said in disgust, “now can you get on with it?”

After a few hours, the petition was ready and duly stamped.

“Now what ?” I asked

“ Be patient. You have to appear before the judge, only when your turn comes”

After disposing off half a dozen cases involving pickpockets, bootleggers, pimps and other scums of this earth, the judge summoned me to the witness box and asked me to solemnly swear that the bicycle was genuinely mine and that whatever I had stated in my petition was true to the best of my knowledge and belief. This I confirmed with all sincerity and honesty and asked, “Can I leave now and take the bicycle too?”

The judge admonished me sternly for the impertinence and, for a minute, I got this sinking feeling that he was going to have me beheaded.

What I was required to do, he told me, if I wanted to take the bike home, was to execute a personal bond for Rs 1000/-, promising to return the bicycle back to the Court if a trial later found the accused not guilty. How the low-criminal who had already admitted to the offence would ever be found not-guilty was more than I could imagine, but I agreed to do as per the instructions of the Hon’ Court and now, for God’s sake, would they let me take my bicycle home ?

I, of course, had presumed that the bicycle was parked next to the judge’s chambers, they would give it to me in a grand ceremony and it would be a simple matter of pushing it into the car’s boot and driving home, where my daughter was, no doubt, waiting with her nose to the window pane.

No such luck. The bicycle was not in Saidapet. I had to go back to Teynampet police station to pick it up. The constipated cop kept scratching his head in the time-honoured tradition of cops, hinting that some currency notes had to exchange hands, if he had to part with the keys and send me home. I had run out of change and the constipated cop wouldn’t accept credit cards. So, I had to give him a crisp 100-Rupee note to coax the keys out of him.

Finally, at 8 PM that evening, my daughter got her bicycle back. Lucky girl.

The homicidal bibliophile

My wife ( hereinafter referred to as “She” to protect my identity) is a voracious reader of horror books and an avid watcher of horror movies. “She” hand-picks only those books that contain, not later than on the second page, a vivid description of a disemboweled corpse lying in a pool of blood. Horror movies must pack enough gory scenes, scary shrieks and other spine-chilling special effects.

A fortnight ago, I came across a newsitem which said that a 32-year old woman in Patna had poisoned her husband, inspired by a scene in an Hindi movie. This made me panic. If watching one movie could inspire this illiterate Bihari woman and turn her into a murderess, imagine the effect of all those hundreds of horror books that “She” had been devouring for so many years. It was evident that I was a potential and a definite target. I had to be on my guard all the time. Ceaseless vigilance was called for.

Last Monday, she pulled out two drumsticks, from the fridge. I froze. “She” had once told me a story, written by Roald Dahl, about a housewife who had knocked out her husband, using a frozen piece of lamb leg and then called the cops. Asking them to wait in the drawing room, she deep-fried the leg of the lamb and served it to the cops, thus destroying the only evidence they could have had. Was “She” going to knock me out likewise with the drumsticks and destroy the evidence in Murungaikkai Sambar ? I calmed down only after seeing the drumstick being cut into smaller pieces, which greatly reduced their potential as a murder weapon.

A week back, I had locked myself in the bathroom when I heard the pressure cooker blowing off steam in the kitchen. “Wait a minute” I thought, “ was it really the pressure cooker or was it a hissing snake ?” Did not the character in Conan Doyle’s “ Case of the Speckled Band” introduce a live snake from a tiny opening in the locked room, to poison the victim and leave no clues whatsoever ? Was “She” trying to do the same to me ? Where would “She” get hold of a snake ? I got out of the bathroom after “She” shouted that “She” would break open the door, if I didn’t come out fast enough to drop the daughter in school.

Two nights back “She” snuggled up to me and seductively cooed, “ We need to have a holiday, just you and me, far away , in a quiet place. Let’s take one of those long train journeys. Leave the kids with the grandmother”. “Ha”, my senses alerted me, “She” is trying to lull me into a sense of false security and lead me to a lonely spot. Does “She” think that I had not heard of Ray Bradbury’s story about a man on a train between Moscow and Vladivostok, getting down at a station in the middle of nowhere, so that he could meet some stranger and kill him and leave no trace at all . Nobody would suspect him as they couldn’t attribute any motive . Was “She” trying to take me to some such lonely spot to bump me off?

This morning, as I was leaving for office, “She” patted me fondly and lovingly adjusted my tie-knot. As if I would be deceived. This was straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie, “Frenzy” where the serial murderer strangulated all his victims with his neck tie……

I hear the phone ring now. I am not going to pick it up. Was it not the movie ‘Dial M for murder “, in which the villain had hired a killer to enter his house, hide behind the phone and choke the villain’s wife when she came to answer the call ?

I told you. Ceaseless vigilance is called for.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Panchatantra Tale

Ganesh was a creative genius, a brilliant innovator, a compulsive tinkerer or a gizmo-geek, depending on how one viewed his obsession with gadgets . He was constantly closeted in his workshop trying to make a meaningful whole of the various parts and components that littered the place. He passionately believed that everything in life must have more than one use and endeavoured to inject varying degrees of multi-functionality into all his inventions.

Alas, good inventors seldom are good entrepreneurs and Ganesh struggled to make a commercial success of his creations. Once, he toiled for days together and came out with an indigenous version of the Swiss Army knife that consisted of a corkscrew, bottle-opener, knife, scissors, screw driver, inch tape and a monkey spanner. The merciless market rejected this contraption outright . Inscrutable indeed can be the behaviour of the Customer and one can do nothing but solemnly bow to His diktat

Undeterred by this setback, Ganesh went back to his laboratory and swung into action again. This time he designed a wrist watch, which was awesome in its complexity. It had a built-in mobile phone, digital camera, torch light, thermometer, sphygmanometer, FM radio, alarm clock and a miniature micro-wave oven to make one corn pop at a time. Unfortunately, it too bombed at the box-office as the finicky, irrational customers insisted that the wrist watch must also be able to tell the time.- which need Ganesh had not provided for

Now, Ganesh’s wife was getting impatient and would not put up with this any more. She lashed out at Ganesh for sitting on his butt all day, tinkering with his toys and not doing anything worthwhile to fetch some income for the family. She gave him a week’s notice to deploy his time and resources profitably, warning him of dire consequences if he failed to do so. She told him in no uncertain terms that she would use his Army knife to skin him alive or his microwave oven to cook one finger or a toe of his at a time, if he persisted with his madness.

Ganesh was stung by the accusation that he was sitting on his butt all day . He was determined to prove her wrong and made a mental note to begin work on an integrated model consisting of a pedometer (to be attached to his legs to measure the number of steps he walked every day) and a piezo-electric sensor glued to his trouser-seat ( which would be connected to a timer to record the number of hours he spent sitting on his butt ) and a calibrated differentiator to display the net energy he burnt every day. He was lost thus in his reverie when Serendipity smiled on him.

A farmer visiting the city had chanced to pick up Ganesh’s multi-purpose knife from a roadside dustbin and immediately appreciated its potential as an ear-poker, a nose-digger, a back-scratcher, a lice-picker , a tongue-scraper, nail-cleaner and a tooth de-stainer, all packaged in one. Soon, the word spread as it always does in our villages . There was a huge demand for the product and Rural India’s need was insatiable. The knife was re-christened as Kisan Ka Katthi and positioned by the FMCGs as the farmer’s inseparable companion. Gadget Ganesh had finally arrived. He also thus managed to keep his skin and his fingers and his toes intact.

Ganesh is now engaged in designing , for his wife, a new multi-purpose dress which can be worn as a sari , or as a salwar kameez by the simple expedient of folding it inward and twisting it to form a Mobius strip or as a kimono merely by tugging a couple of strategically-concealed strings. His wife is a very happy woman.

The lesson to you, boys and girls who want to pursue a career in marketing, is to anticipate the unarticulated needs of your customers. Learn to do this and success is yours.