Friday, February 24, 2006

Raj Singh

When we keep hearing the grim prognosis on the institution of marriage, why it is facing extinction and how the rate of separation of couples exceeds the rate of marriage of singles, it is gratifying to report that my marriage has stood the test of time. Thanks to some sagely advice I received on the day of our wedding.

Many decades back, , after we had exchanged our wedding vows (I agreeing to take her under my protection and she pledging total and passive subservience to me), my wife and I came down the steps and sought the blessings of a Sikh Guru.

“Take my advice, my boy”, he told me, “from now on, stop being the timid TamBram that you are and learn to be a toughie like some of us Sikhs are. You must assert yourself and insist that you take all the major decisions. Brook no interference whatsoever. And don’t waste your time on minor decisions. Leave that to your wife. If you stick to these simple rules, trust me, your marriage will be as smooth as butter on a baby’s bum”. Thus spoke the Sikh Guru, incidentally the maternal grandfather of Navjot Singh Sidhu and from whom the latter inherited his colourful language.

Photo, from author’s wedding album, shows Giani Banta Singh proceeding to the Dining Hall, for a well-earned lunch, after dispensing sagely advice to author and wife
So, all these years, my wife and I have treated these words as gospel, divided the responsibilities as major and minor and shared the burden as suggested by Guruji.

My wife takes decisions on petty and minor matters such as- which school my daughters must go to, which house we should buy or rent, where and what we eat, where we must invest our money or what we must spend it on, where we should holiday, the career paths that we should follow, and so on – all the small things in life.

But on real major issues such as – “Should US bomb Iran, should Britain abandon the pound sterling and change over to Euro, should India be elected a permanent member at the UN, what should the world do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% before 2050, should the RBI increase the prime lending rate by 0.5%, etc, should FDI be allowed in the retail sector - my views prevail clearly, emphatically and unequivocally.

(Okay, okay, this is an old Sardar joke and you have heard it before. But now you know how and where it originated)

So, in short, I have always enjoyed the position of a roaring lion whose authority to take decisions on major issues has been unchallenged, as this recent photo will illustrate.

Photo shows author (on the left and with the imposing mane) delivering his verdict to wife on a major issue, in no uncertain terms and with telling effect)

That’s why, when I got this sms from my wife last week, “Come home early. No fooling around in office today. Major decision needs to be taken at home”- I was a little puzzled.

Driving back home, I thought of various possibilities. What was the major thing that had come up? Had Kofi Annan (the elder brother of Tea Thambi) contacted my residence to take my views on whether the UN must intervene in the Danish cartoon crisis? With the Union Budget to be presented soon, did P.Chidambaram send a SOS message to get my opinion on whether he should introduce a service tax on blogging? Maybe the US Secretary of State wanted some tips from me on how to correct the anagrammatical error in the 'Indo-US unclear deal' and change it to 'Indo-US nuclear deal'. Or perhaps the BCCI Selection Committee was desperate to reach me, wanting some inscrutable yet ingenious logic to retain Ajit Agarkar in the team. My mind kept whirling….

When I reached home, it turned out to be a complete anti-climax. The “major issue” pertained to my daughter who is in her 10th standard and we had to decide which of the subjects- Bio-tech, Biology, Computer Science or Commerce- she had to pursue next year. Apparently, this decision was irreversible and could have far-reaching implications on my daughter’s future.

I was shocked. Had my wife dragged me away from office to discuss such a minor matter? I had been in the midst of some serious discussions on an HR initiative- “Should we measure the deliverables of the employees and then deliver the measurables or the other way round?” I left this midway and came rushing home on getting her sms, only to be presented with a trivial and inconsequential issue. Why was she abdicating her responsibility and rocking the foundation of our marriage, by inflicting such a minor issue on me?

Luckily, my daughter cut short the proceedings and informed us that she had already taken the decision. Following the principles of reductio ad absurdum, she had ruled out bio-tech (“the teacher is horrible”), biology (“the labs stink”) and computer science (““bah, programming and suchlike”). That left only Commerce, a subject she knew nothing about and therefore could not be eliminated. So, Commerce it would be, she informed us cheerfully.

Photo shows the author getting an affectionate hug from his daughter after helping her take the first major decision of her life.
Our marriage survived the test, but it was a close call. Phew!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dinner Tag.

Sowmya has tagged me . I am supposed to invite 6 people for dinner and then pass the baton on to 3 more bloggers to play host.

The first decision I made was that all six guests would have to be girls. I am not going to fritter away this rare opportunity to be the sole male among seven diners. I am certainly not going to call Thennavan who, apart from being a bachelor, will simply sweep the girls off their feet with his ability to wax forth on subjects ranging from Thai Poosam to Java to Penguins to Vaikunta Ekadasi. Most certainly not Kiruba Shankar whose idea of a relaxed evening is to jog 40 km with his blistered heel and plastered toes. The sight of Kiruba heroically running to the dinner venue will send girls into raptures and draw the attention away from me. Yes, better to keep these competitors away. So, girls it will be.

Having feasted on her cream of potato soup, Aloo parathas, Urulaikizhangu Podimas and a dessert of sweet potatoes, washed down with cold coffee made in her dishwasher, it would be ungentlemanly on my part not to invite Sowmya . Besides, she being a Science afficionado, will regale the IGF2R-mutated guests with trivia and minutae such as the bacterial action involved in the digestion process, the radon gas that is absorbed in the bloodstream when you are exposed to radiation from a light bulb, the calories consumed by super bowels during the Super Bowl , the resultant strain on the bathrooms and how titanium dioxide can clean up the mess. Sowmya loves her veggies and I must make sure that she gets plenty of those. Incidentally, if a vegetarian is one who eats only vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat ? Which brings me to the second guest, Mother Teresa.

No, not the beatified missionary. I know she has reached her heavenly abode. My guest is Mother Teresa 2.0. You know that for the last 40 years, every aspirant to the Miss World title when asked the question, “ If you were to be re-born, who would you like to born as?” almost always answered, “As Mother Teresa”. So, there must be a Mother Teresa 2.0 re-born somewhere and whose personality is an aggregate of several Miss Worlds. She would be some woman.!

There is one girl who gave me my first big break in the blogosphere by linking one of my blog posts in Desipundit. Yes, Neha helped increase the readership of my blogs by 400% ( from 1 to 4) overnight. Her CV shows that she is involved in hundreds of activities, that she is a contributor to about two dozen blogsites, tsunami/quake help groups, that she has traveled extensively- at least from Hyderabad to Delhi to London. I naturally assumed that she must be of my aunt’s age. Then I find she is all of 23 years old. The kids these days!. At 23, I had just about learnt to brush my own teeth and tie my own shoelaces and here’s this precocious kid multi-tasking with effortless ease. Must get her to the dinner table and make her act her age by eating one of those ‘children’s thalis” that they serve at half the price.

Shruthi. This is the girl who made me lose a multi-crore deal by getting my mind engaged in one of her problems- how to keep her favourite driver and save 40 minutes of commuting time to work. She also wants to stay rooted in one place and travel back in time, with or without her favourite driver. She argues that it makes more sense for a person in Bangalore to travel to Mysore for a facial or to watch a movie and provides exhaustive comparisons of cost to support her point. So, I guess that the dinner venue will have to be the Lalit Mahal at Mysore.

Kool Girl, my ten year old daughter will be invited to share details of her new enterprise which boasts of the best profit model tempered with social responsibility. Not since Enron folded up has there been such an ingenious business idea. Quite simply, what she has done is to collect downpayment of Rs 10/- each from twenty friends promising to deliver a 20-page booklet containing some interesting articles downloaded from the web. The proceeds will go to a charitable organization carefully identified by her. She will print out one original and photostat the 20 copies at the nearby shop. Brilliant. She gets brownie points from God for charity, her friends get an informative booklet each for Rs 10/- , the Blue Cross gets a contribution of Rs 200/- from her and the Xerox shop gets Rs 200 worth of business. All the stakeholders are happy. Except me. I had to pay Rs 200/- for the photostat copies!

Finally, I think I will ask my wife ( yes, the homicidal bibliophile) to join. After all, someone's got to pay for the dinner

Saturday, February 11, 2006

An epitache to my moustaph

The first ever indication that I was no longer in the full flush of my youth came to me in a rather subtle manner. A neighbour’s child addressed me as ‘Uncle”. Soon, the word spread insidiously, as these things tend to do, and a multitude of children began to “Uncle” me. The second and rude reminder that I had left my youth far behind came when I found, as Bob Hope did, that the “candles on my birthday cake cost me more than the cake itself”.

But, the final and defining moment of truth was when I spotted the first grey hair on my moustache. This irreversible greying process assumed epidemic proportions and now, unless the day is exceptionally sunny, I am hard pressed to spot a single black hair.

I have come to the painful conclusion that the grey moustache must go. I must put an end to its misery. Mercy killing is the only sensible option. Like Amol Palekar in Gol Maal or Rajnikanth in Thillu Mullu, I must ceremoniously bid goodbye to this accessory that has stayed with me for so long.

To those of you in the blogosphere wondering what the fuss is all about, I must explain the special bond that exists between a Tamil male and his moustache and place it in a historical perspective.

As early as the 2nd century AD, the celebrated Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar, extolled the virtue of a moustache in these immortal words:

Meesai Ulla Aanukku Mattume
Dosai Niraya Kidaikum

Translation: Blessed is the man sporting a moustache, for it is only he that will be lavished with Dosas. Implying, in case you didn’t follow the sub-text, that those males without the moustache were doomed to subsist on a diet of idlis for the rest of their lives.

Aside: The fact that Thiruvalluvar placed this couplet in the Kaamathu Paal section- the one dealing with aspects of romance and sex- shows that he viewed the moustache as a piece of erotica and integral to a healthy man-woman relationship.

In the 10th century AD, the clean-shaven Chola king, Raja Raja Chola was trying desperately to get himself a queen, but without much success. Now, many in my generation have been led to believe,thanks to an overdose of Sivaji Ganesan movies, that Raja Raja Chola was an imposing figure who towered over his subjects, in all his majesty. As a historian however, I must state the plain truth. The fact was that the average Tamilian in the 10th century was 4’6” tall and Raja Raja Chola was elected the king by virtue of being 4’7” tall. Tall enough to be king, but, alas, not tall enough to inspire awe in local women. He tried to draw attention by constructing huge temples with 300 feet high gopurams and eighty ton, monolithic stones, but these exploits were met with derisive laughter and pooh-poohed as mere gimmicks. The poetess Avvaiyar I, who lived in that era, sang:

Manna, Kovil katti enna payan?
Meesai illaa nee verum chinna payyan

Translation: Of what practical use, O foolish king, are your temples and towers? Without a moustache on your face, you are but a juvenile.

Happy ending to the story. Taking the hint from Avvai I, Raja Raja Chola grew a thick moustache and soon his harem swelled with women of assorted shapes and sizes. The king gave pots of gold to Avvai who went on to write English rhymes such as :
"Twinkle, Twinkle little star
Avvai wonder what you are"

In more recent times, cine-actors have helped keep this rich Tamil moustache tradition alive. A piece of local folklore will illustrate this point. The late actor MGR was known for his fur-cap fetish, sunglass fixation and his wristwatch obsession. He refused to be photographed without these. However, a paparazzo did manage to capture his photograph without any of these accessories on his person. But, even after relentless shadowing, he could never catch MGR without the pencil-line moustache, painstakingly drawn on his upper lip every morning by trusted lieutenants of his. Some of these pencils are displayed in the MGR Museum along with other memorabilia.

Th Salman Khans and Saif Ali Khans, who are looked upon as Greek Gods in the rest of the country hardly cause any flutter in these parts. Not surprisingly, they don’t get to act in Tamil movies. They may have rippling, bulging muscles that suggest that these guys are filled with testosterone up to their Adam’s apples, but their clean-shaven looks put paid to their macho aspirations and mercilessly consign them to the dustbins of Kollywood. ( Salman, Saif- don’t lose hope however. You can fancy your chances of making it big as heroines here. We like fair women without moustaches)

Thus, every self-respecting Tamil male, who values his honour, strongly feels that, without a moustache, he is practically walking around naked. But he is flexible. He is not finicky about the shape, style or texture. The moustache can be of the handlebar variety, the drooping Walrus form, the toothbrush bristle type or the pencil-line drawing. The broad principle is that some moustache is better than no moustache. And a cardinal rule is that it must be black, not grey.

So it is that I must resort to euthanasia and remove the terminally-ill, greyed appendage from my person. I will spare no expense, of course. Nothing less than a new Mach III razor and Gillette’s deluxe shaving foam will be put to use.

Adieu, my beloved ‘stache. Your absence will create a void hard to fill. Especially between the nose and the upper lip.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Gourmets and Gluttons

Away on a business trip and seated alone at the corner table of the swanky restaurant of the 5-star hotel, with the customary bowl of salad in front of me, I find that I am at a vantage point to observe the feeding habits of some typical representatives of the human species. There is a lavish buffet spread and there is much movement of people. hither and thither, as in Brownian motion of molecules. The place is teeming with epicures, gourmets, gourmands, gluttons and trenchermen engaged in the ritual of ensuring ‘beast-like satisfaction of their bellies”.

Over at the table near the entrance, a man has just gone off on a reconnoiter trip to check out the menu. This man is clearly a pro. Many a customer would start filling the plate with the first dish that he or she can lay the hands on, only to realize that that they had wasted valuable ‘belly space’ when more interesting items awaited them downstream. But not our entrance-table man. Having scanned the entire spectrum, he goes about the task of prioritizing and picking out those items which in his assessment would have cost the hotel more to prepare.

In the adjacent table, the waiter is asking the guest if he would prefer mineral water and the man says ‘yes’ readily. Clearly, this man must be charging this lunch to his corporate account. No sane man who is paying for the meal out of his personal income would choose to order mineral water at Rs 80/per bottle. The cost of the mineral water is disproportionate to the claimed hygiene value.

Two tables away, there is a young and boisterous lot, bent on getting its money’s worth. A woman of fairly large proportions ( “hey, round is a shape”) settles down into the chair with great difficulty, wishing that the hotel management had the foresight to provide long handle shoe horns, along with forks and knives, to tuck herself in. Or ( as Wodehouse described a character) as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say when. Her idea of a balanced diet is to carry back two equally filled, large plates, one in each hand. One of her table-mates is so engrossed in his meal that he doesn’t even pause to wish her “Bon Appetit”. Conversation at this table languishes, unless you want to count Don Martinese sounds like “chomp chomp”, “ burp burp”, etc as social banter.

In yet another table, the main course is over and the members of this pack are inspecting the debris and asking the waiter to clear the deck preparatory to the imminent launch of “Operation Dessert Storm”. As someone said, “ Inside each one of us is a thin person struggling to get out, but who can be silenced with a few pieces of chocolate cake”. Presently these dessert foxes return from their foray, plates overflowing with puddings, pastries, mousse and milk sweets. No ice creams yet. There will be an exclusive round for that.

What do I see in that table over there? The family has finally finished the meal and the members resemble beached whales in their posture and in their inability to move. Eat what you want, as Mark twain said, and let the food fight it out inside. The waiter is getting their check. What! The head of the family is paying for the meal in cash. In these enlightened times when credit cards and debit cards have liberated us from the tyranny of carrying wads of cash, who goes around with bundles of banknotes in his pockets? There can be only one explanation. This fellow is one of those corrupt Govt officials, loaded with ill-gotten cash. A meal at a 5-star hotel provides a good outlet for the booty. I wish I had my camera. Could have carried out a sting operation right here.

Kipling wrote about the jungle laws that decreed that all animals must hunt only when hungry and never to satisfy their greed. These laws obviously don’t apply to Man who is on top of the food chain, I reflect, as I leave the restaurant sipping my mineral water and asking for my bill to be debited to my company.