Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Operation Bushfire

Osama Bin Laden stroked his flowing beard in a contented manner and smiled that famous half-smile of his. He had good reasons to be satisfied. “Operation Bush-fire" had been carried out flawlessly. Both George W Bush, the President of the USA and his father, George Bush Sr, had been kidnapped early that week and brought to his cave on the Afghan- Pak border. They were now in his custody.

Taking George W Bush had been easy. Osama’s fourth wife and trusted lieutenant, Masao had nonchalantly and daringly walked into the White House disguised as Condoleeza Rice and asked the President if he would like to take a look at the newly-discovered tenth planet, Xena, that was clearly visible to the naked eye in bright sunlight. Believing that she wanted to show him something naked, the President had put on his sunglasses and walked into the lawn, when ‘Rice’ suggested that he should get into the plane parked there, so that they could have a closer view of the planet. The unsuspecting Bush obliged and, as was his habit when he got onto a plane, fell into a deep slumber. When he awoke, he realised he had been taken by Bin Laden..

The senior George Bush was a more formidable entity. He had just returned from his power-jogging and bungi-jumping and was getting ready for para-sailing in his Texan ranch, when four men in cow's clothing attracted his attention by displaying their udders. When he came over for a closer look at the bovine beauties, they managed to chloroform him and push him into a waiting plane which soon sped towards Kabul.

Now that his worst enemies had been overpowered, Osama was contented all right. He decided to unwind that evening and watch the cricket match that was being relayed live on his TV. Not many outside the Taliban know that Osama is a great lover of cricket and doesn’t miss a single match, especially the Indo-Pak encounters. Naturally, he was a die-hard supporter of Pakistan,

So, today he switched on the TV and remained engrossed thus for a few hours. Suddenly, his cronies noticed that something was wrong. Osama was clearly upset about something. His facial expression had turned into a frown and his eyes shone with fury. Here was the crucial fifth one-day match going on in Lahore. The series was tied 2-2 and the winner of this match would go home with the Cup. India had batted first and scored just 198 runs. Pakistan was cruising along at 128-2 with Inzamam in full flow, when a ball from Irfan Pathan took the inner-edge of the bat and hit Inzamam on the pads. There was a loud appeal and, horror of horrors, umpire Dickie Bird declared Inzi out lbw. Pakistan's batting collapsed from then on and they lost the match..

Osama was not one to take this injustice lightly. A bad umpiring decision had cost his team their rightful victory. He must teach the culprit a lesson.

Enraged and swearing revenge, Osama ordered his men to proceed pronto to Lahore and get back Dickie Bird, dead or alive,complete with sharp beak, white coat and panama hat.

"But, we need to keep an eye here on George W Bush and the old man, George Bush Sr.. What do we do with them?” asked Osama’s cronies.

"Just forget about them ‘ said Osama with contempt, “ Don’t you guys know by now that a Bird in hand is worth two Bushes?”

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Piety personified

Sachin Tendulkar turned the ball down to square-leg for a single to complete his 35th Test hundred and surpass Sunil Gavaskar's record for the most number of Test centuries. Even before he completed the run he leapt up, punched the air in delight, kissed his bat and pointed it towards heaven to thank his father and shed some emotional tears….

Later, addressing the press, he said, “ What is important is that the team must win. I have never been after personal records”.

The hell he wasn’t. Then, why the wild punching in the air and the tears and the bat pointing upward?

Not to take anything away from the great man, but surely a guy who has scored 35 centuries will not be accused of blowing his own trumpet if he were to simply say, “ I did it. I am proud of myself”? The problem is that heroes like Tendulkar are expected to make pious proclamations. They feel compelled to state only what they think they ought to say, rather than what they really want to say. Result: Politically correct, motherhood statements smelling of apple pie and dripping with honey and false modesty.

Of course, politicians have made 'false modesty' such a fine art. If you ask L.K.Advani if he has aspirations of becoming the next Prime Minister of India, he will not say truthfully, “Do I want to be the PM? You bet. I have waited long enough”. He will instead tell you “that in his long political career he has never sought any higher posting, but he has never shirked any responsibility either and that he would view the assignment as yet another opportunity to serve the people”. Yawn. And it will get faithfully reported. Verbatim. And consumed.

The CEO of a company who says, “ We want to delight our customers. After all they are the ones who pay our salaries” is actually muttering internally that “ these slimy bloodsuckers who masquerade as our customers not only squeeze us on price, they also delay our payment and, on top of that, expect 24 x 7 service from us. The nerve! What they need is a sound kick on the backside”. Obviously, he can’t state this; he can’t even admit to his wife or his psychiatrist that he entertains such thoughts, but it’s there at the back of his mind. Constantly.

I just read a statement attributed to a Tamil actor by name Vijay. Reacting to a news item that some fans had erected an idol of the actor and had worshipped it by pouring 100 litres of milk over it, he pontificated, “ When so many Tamil mothers languish and struggle to find the money to buy a single glass of milk for their infants, it is not proper to waste so much money and milk on my idol .If you are really my fans, please don’t do it”. Touching. Makes one’s hair stand on its end. What he must have been actually thinking was “ I care a damn if you build an idol or pour tanker-loads of milk over it, so long as you morons muster up just enough sense to queue up at the theatres and patronize my shows”.

Some years back, Mad magazine used to carry a feature, “ When they say this, they actually mean this “ and give the subtext and behind-the-scenes- facts on some of the statements made by politicians, businessmen, etc. I don’t know if the magazine is still around and if it still carries this feature. But, it would be a good idea to start a desi edition. There won’t be any dearth of ‘statements’ to dissect and bring to view the real intent. The nation could do with a generous dose of humour.
Update : More pious statements coming into the studio.
Sachin, in an interview to India Today : "It is not correct to say that I spend more time shooting for my commercials than on the cricket ground. Life of a cricketer is short. Money is not that important. Runs are.
Amitabh Bachchan, to Prannoy Roy on being elected Indian of the Year by NDTV viewers : I am quite self-conscious . I feel very humble. I don't know what to say.....
Kapil dev, in Outlook magazine, on who his heroes are : Nelson Mandela; he spent 27 years in prison...
More piety , 24-01-06: Rahul Gandhi at the Congress plenary session at Hyderabad when party workers went down on their knees, prostrated before him and pleaded with him to join the CWC :, " No, I am not ready yet. I want to work hard and earn the position."
Also, by Rahul Gandhi at same session, " The national flag is my religion". Hear, hear.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Indian cricket cycle

Headlines that appear in newspapers, as Indian cricket passes through four distinct phases of a never-ending cycle.

Phase 1 : ( after India has lost a couple of matches)

Indian Cricket at the crossroads. An introspection

Phase 2 : ( after India has lost two more matches)

What ails Indian cricket? An analysis

Phase 3 : ( after India has won a match at last)

Indian Cricket : Back on rail . A report

Phase 4 : ( after India miraculously wins second match in a row)

Indians never had it so good . A tribute.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Who am I ? Where am I ?

There I was at the lounge of the Mumbai airport, happily gorging on the beetroot cutlets and lazily sipping the fresh lime soda, when that short, bespectacled, bearded guy walked in and greeted me cheerfully. Sensing that I couldn’t place him at all and had no idea who he was, he gently reminded me that we had met at the CII seminar the previous week.

After he was gone, I reflected on this incident. How could I forget a person who I had met just a few days back. ? The only explanation was that I was in a fairly advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease and rapidly losing my memory.

Neuroscientists say that there are four distinct stages of senility. In the first stage, you forget a person’s name, though you may remember his face; in the second stage, you forget the person’s face as well as his name; in the third stage you forget to zip up your pants and in the fourth stage- you forget to zip down your pants when you need to.

I looked down. I had zipped up my pants. That meant I was somewhere between the second and third stages of senility and unless I acted fast would slip to the terminal stages pretty soon.

Important thing was not to panic. But to get hold of myself. I remembered the story of the ace race driver (alas, I had forgotten his name) who met with an accident and was completely paralysed from his jaw downward. Lying down on his bed, he was agonizing over the fact that he could never drive a car again, never play the guitar, never jog in the park, etc. Never ever again Then he told himself that he should look at the positive side and not sink into such abysmal depths of depression. He ought to look at the things that he could do, rather than things that he couldn’t. He started counting. He could lift his eyebrow, he could move one of his ears, he could wink with his right eye, he could curl his upper lip. Thus, he counted 47 small things that he could actually do, which made him feel a lot better.

So, I thought, let me see how many things that I could remember, rather than worry about things that I could not.

Could I remember the locations of the toilets in each of the schools that I had attended ? Yes, I could. Some of those places were quite creepy too.

Did I remember the names of my teachers who taught me from classes 1 to 5 ? Yes, I could reel out all the names. I wondered what had happened to Sheila Miss in the years since.

Could I recall how many runs G.R.Vishwanath scored in the fifth test match at Chepauk, against the West Indies in 1975? Yes. 97 not out. One of the best knocks ever.

Did I remember my wife’s birthday ? Of course I did. As the piece of wisdom goes, the best way to remember your wife’s birthday is by forgetting it once. I had failed to wish my wife on her birthday in 1993. I haven’t been allowed to forget the date after that. It is etched in my memory. Alzeimer's or no Alzeimer's.

What was the name of the customer I had met this morning ? God. My mind was a complete blank . Yes, now the pattern was painfully clear and the evidence irrefutable. I could remember everything that had transpired 15 years back, but my brain would not retain anything that had happened in the more recent past. Fat lot of good it did to me. I couldn’t subsist on childhood memory for the rest of my life.

A friend of mine had told me about his brother-in-law who had fallen on his head and lost consciousness when his scooter skidded. When he came round finally, he couldn’t remember a thing. But slowly his memory returned. He could recognize his mother after a month, his father after two months and his brother after a year. When he was shown the photographs of his grandparents who had been dead for more than 20 years, he had no difficulty in identifying them. But he simply could not recognize his wife who he had been living with for five years before the accident. The doctors had consoled the wife that memory could play such strange tricks and this behaviour did not mean that he did not care for her. The wife is patiently waiting and constantly meditating –as only a devoted Indian wife can- for the day when her husband would regain his full memory and show some sign of recognition so that she can then smash his skull and send him back to his amnesiac state. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, as they say.

But I digress. The explanation was that my brain , though able to recollect all that had happened in the distant past, forgot whatever had happened in the immediate past- like that morning, for instance. What to do ? I must think, think. The stupid sound system and the constant announcements at the airport lounge were disturbing my flow of thought. A last and final call was being issued to an irresponsible passenger asking him to present himself, pronto, at the boarding gate. Such guys must be hounded out and shot at sunrise, I cursed,. for being so inconsiderate to fellow passengers and for making such announcements necessary and causing such noise pollution. And the passenger’s name was vaguely familiar. Hell, it was my name. No wonder it was familiar. I had to drop the beetroot cutlets and rush to catch the plane……….

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Superweb

It had finally happened in the year 2034. Orwell had been off by 50 years.

All the PCs in this world- with the exception of P.Chidambaram – had been interconnected.. The geeks and the freaks had worked tirelessly to get this going wirelessly.

Whatever the human sense organs or the man-made instruments and sensors could observe, smell, hear or feel had been decoded, digitalized and disaggregated into little bits of data that could be transmitted at speeds of several million terabits per second.

All available data bases ( or data basii) known to mankind had been strung together in a seamless fashion, to create multidimensional access to knowledge in real time, irrespective of location, distance, language or sex.

In a final feat of convergence, cybertechnologists had collaborated with nanotechnologists and neuroscientists to achieve the ultimate breakthrough : the permeable interface between electrons and neurons, between man and machine. Human brains could now be hardwired and made to directly communicate with the web..

There was now just one, unified, Omnipresent, Omnipotent Superweb with access to all that has been known or will ever be known.

This was the moment that Humankind had been waiting for . The opportunity to find the answer to that one question that had been haunting humans since time immemorial, namely, “ Is there life after death ?”

Collectively - for all brains and storage devices had a common thought process now- the question was typed out on the virtual keyboard .

The answer came in a few seconds

“ Fatal error has occurred. Windows 2034 will now shutdown. All data will be lost”

(Adapted from a short story I remember reading many years ago)

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Agony Aunt Column

Following the success of the "Ask our doctor" column, Plus Ultra is pleased to re-publish an "Agony Aunt" column, which provides instant solutions to readers' problems of any nature.

Q : I am an 18-year old, bubbly, attractive young girl. I overheard my parents, yesterday, plotting to get me married to a bald, pot-bellied man who is twice my age. This man has inherited a vast fortune and my parents feel that I would be financially secure. I hate the very idea. I am desperate. Please advise. Yours, etc Harried half-his-age, Hyderabad

Dr. Plus Ultra : Dear Harassed Half-His-Age, pre-marriage counselling was what I specialized in, when I did my masters in Psychology and therefore can claim correct credentials to counsel. Though it is not clear, from your question, if your apprehensions about marrying this man pertain to his baldness, his pot-bellied-ness or the fact of his being twice your age, let me tackle all three. Baldness should actually lift your spirits as it is well-established that a receding hair line is due to increased hormonal activity and is reflective of the man’s virility. A whole body of research material is available to provide conclusive evidence that pot-bellied men make better fathers, more competent cooks and have a keener sense of humour. About his age, let me disabuse you of the notion that you will continue to be half his age for ever. When he is 100 years old, you will not be 50, as you seem to presume in your childish innocence ; you will be a doddering, toothless, octogenarian yourself. So, all your concerns are baseless. Don’t give it a second thought. Plunge right ahead and splurge his riches .

Q : My grandfather died last year, leaving behind a will which bequeathed 1/3 of his property to the first son born to his first wife, another 1/3 of his property to the second daughter born to his second wife and balance 1/3 to his third wife, who is issueless. I am the second son born to the third daughter of his second wife. Can I stake a claim at all to a share of the property ?
Yours,etc, Will-wrecker, Warangal

Dr. Plus Ultra : Dear Will –Wrecker of Warangal, fortunately for you, my wife’s uncle was the Chief Justice of the A.P High Court and I happen to be well-versed with the legal nuances of such cases. My advice to you would be to file an appeal before the Hon’ High Court, contesting the will and pleading for DNA tests to be carried out on each of the wives, sons and daughters. This may not get you any share of the property but, at least, it will ensure that the intended beneficiaries do not enjoy theirs for some time. As the saying goes, "It is not enough if we succeed. Others must fail."

Q : I am a 15-year old girl with a terrible malady. I have a huge pimple right on my nose and it is spoiling my otherwise blemishless looks. I have applied all kinds of skin lotions on the pimple, but nothing seems to work. Please help. Yours, Pimpled-princess, Pune

Dr. Plus Ultra : Dear Pimpled- Princesss : Peculiar Problem, but I have the Right Remedy. My grand-uncle was a practitioner of Ayurvedic therapy from the Kottakkal school and I have observed his methods closely. The thing about pimples is that , in a blemishless skin, they stand out and get noticed. What one needs to do is not attack the pimple directly, but concentrate on making the rest of the face blemishful, thereby making the pimple less conspicuous. Try this method. Mix two spoons of raw mango juice with lime pickle, add some green chillies and mustard and fry over a high flame for a few minutes. Apply the paste on all parts of the face except the pimple. Magically, you will find that nobody will notice or comment on the pimple any more. Simple.

Q : I am a 27-year old bachelor. I am a born loser. The girl I loved has married my cousin. My parents have disowned me . I have been fired from my job. To top it all, as I was trying to hang myself from the ceiling yesterday , the rope broke . What do I do ? Suicidal Subbu ,Sulurpet

Dr. Plus Ultra : Dear Suicidal Subbu, I am related on my father’s side to Yogi Deveshwar, on my mother’s side to Yogi Berra and therefore have inherited some yogic techniques. What you need to do is meditate and deceive your troubled mind into believing that everything is hunky dory. Lie flat on your back, close your eyes and try this gentle, thought-experiment guaranteed to give you much-needed peace of mind. .

Imagine you are in a scenic park, surrounded by trees.
You are standing near a pond
The sky above is blue.
The birds are chirping.
Lotus flowers spring majestically out of the pond.
All is calm. All is quiet.
The whole ambience is serene.
The water in the pond is crystal clear.
So clear that you can see the wrinkles on the face of the person,whose head you are holding under water……

There, aren’t you feeling rejuvenated already ?