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……………….