Thursday, April 27, 2006

Raj's Register of Righteous Rhetoric- 1

“None other than an Indian Test cricketer has the right to wear the India Test cap and the dignity of the India Test cap should be maintained at any cost “ :

- Sunil Gavaskar, hurt by the `abuse' of the India Test cap by a foreign member of the support staff during the last tour of Pakistan (Source : The Hindu)

"I can't see the problem, these players are turning out for their countries, it's an honour to represent your country. I would be willing to sweat 365 days in a year for India. Those who can't stand the heat should stay out."

- Sunil Gavaskar , shocked that players are complaining about the packed schedule while adding that the hard grind came with the honour of representing one's country (Source : Cricinfo)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Soap-Seller of Pulianthope

The last of the Bata Thatha trilogy. The first two were posted here and here.

One of the Walkie-Talkies at the Marina Beach had drawn the attention of the group to an article in The Hindu about a new political party, Lok Paritran, started by a group of ex-IITians and which was planning to field six of its candidates in the T.N.Assembly elections. These political greenhorns, the article said, were so full of idealistic zeal that they had given up lucrative assignments to do their bit for the motherland.

Adidas Track-Pants looked quite skeptical and felt that such idealism was misplaced and unsustainable and it was hard to believe that educated young men and women would willingly abandon the comfortable space of the corporate world for the murky den of politics.

Polo T-Shirt agreed with the view and said that with MBAs being wooed with multi-million dollar pay offers, such a scenario appeared extremely unlikely.

Bata Thatha dismissed this cynicism sharply. “You underestimate the passion of young people. When they believe in a cause, they don’t let mere money come in the way. Take the case of my sister’s grandson, Chander….

‘Did he enter politics? “asked Nike Shorts

“Not exactly, but he quit his job with an MNC to take up a social cause, a move which also brought him into contact with a girl, who was to become his wife. Hear the story.

“My grand-nephew, Chander”, started Bata Thatha, while the other Walkie-Talkies looked nervously at their watches, “possessed, what President Kalam would have called, an ignited mind. A topper in school, he got into IIT, Madras quite effortlessly and followed it up with an MBA from IIM, Ahmedabad. As was the fashion among the IITM/IIMA graduates of the ‘80s, he joined an FMCG company and started selling soaps and toothpaste. I understand that he distinguished himself in his job and was credited with many breakthrough, marketing ideas such as the packing of soap in capsule form and mixing of toothpaste with tobacco. Those innovations increased the mass appeal of the products and helped his company tap – what the management guru, Mr. C.K.Prahlad would describe as- the bottom-of-the-pyramid business opportunity.

Despite his 8-digit salary and stock options which would fetch him several crores if encashed, Chander felt a growing sense of disenchantment with his job. Such crass materialism that he saw all around him militated against his idealistic temperament. This slow simmer boiled over one day when he was watching the Tamil movie “Unnal Mudiyum Thambi (“You can do it, brother") - the Kamal Hassan starrer, if you remember- where the son, cast in an idealistic mould, rebels against his rich father, abandons his ancestral house for good, settles down in a remote village and works passionately for the upliftment of the people there.

Brimming with patriotic fervour and humming the tune ‘Sare Jahan Se Achcha’ with the same gusto as Iqbal did when he composed it, Chander came out of the theatre with the clear decision that he too must discard his corporate trappings and take up some meaningful social work that would lift his beloved country out of the morass it had sunk into. By the time he reached his office – yes, he had taken off for a matinee show on a working day- he had formulated a clear plan. The root cause of most of India’s problems, he reasoned, was the absence of any civic sense and basic cleanliness. With his background of marketing soaps and toothpaste, he would take up the noble cause of promoting personal hygiene in the countryside. He would settle down in a village and educate the rural folks on the need to brush their teeth every alternate day and to scrub their bodies with soap at least once a week.

Quitting his cushy job and exchanging his stock options for equivalent quantity of soaps and toothpaste, Chander set off for a village called Puliyanthope on the banks of the River Vaigai in South India. Depending on how you roll your tongue and pronounce the word, “Puli” in Tamil can mean “tiger” or “tamarind. Opinion is, therefore, divided among Tamil pundits if the name of the village celebrates the bravery of the original inhabitants hunting down ferocious tigers with their bare hands or it ridicules them for their cowardice in seeking sanctuary on top of the tamarind trees at the slightest sign of trouble. But this is not germane to this story or, for that matter, italiane or austriane.

So, Chander reached the village and soon found a house large enough to accommodate himself and his consignment of soap and toothpaste. The villagers were curious but being simple souls accepted his presence without any reservations.

The IITM-IIMA types are extremely systematic and the first thing that Chander did was to carry out a survey on the usage of soaps by the rural community. He would sit quietly on a haystack on the bank of the River Vaigai and just watch the bathers from a distance. He did this for a few weeks hoping to collect adequate data to arrive at the bathing pattern and the practices prevalent there.

On one of his morning outings at his observatory, as he was scratching himself vigorously ( hay can make you itchy!), his eyes suddenly espied, among the multitude of bathers, a girl of such blemishless complexion, flawless figure and such raw beauty that Chander knew instinctively that she was the one he was destined to marry. If you know your epics, you will recall that King Santanu had reacted in exactly the same intoxicated way when he saw Goddess Ganga.

This may sound quite incredulous and you may well comment that such impulsive behaviour may be par for the course for mythical characters of yester-eons, but did not fit in with the image of the contemporary IIT-IIMian being a logical, reasoning creature. But such are the inscrutable methods of Cupid, such can be the surreptitious manner in which Love gatecrashes into one’s heart and such is the strange chemistry that can bring together two people from completely dissimilar backgrounds that we have no option but to bow to Providence and accept its diktat on such matters unquestioningly.

In Indian villages, one doesn’t approach the girl directly, whatever maybe the intensity of one’s feelings. One makes enquiries through intermediaries and this is what Chander did. He learnt that the girl’s name was Thenmozhi, that she had lived in that village all her life and – to Chander’s immense relief - was not married. But, alas, there was a serious catch. From the day she was born, she had been betrothed- as was the local custom- to her own uncle, by name Murattu Subbandi Duraipandian ( Musudu, for short) and the marriage was to take place that summer.

The name Musudu, evidently,struck terror in the heart of the villagers, for he was the quintessential ruffian . In the manner of all Tamil villains, he wore his lungi folded up to his thighs, with a trunk-type, striped underwear protruding out. Inside this jutting jatti, he kept a blunt knife which he would pull out at the slightest provocation . He wore a full-sleeve shirt that was rolled up to his shoulders to expose his bulging biceps and terrifying triceps. He sported a moustache that was shaped like a handlebar and which was so thick and so menacing to behold, that able-bodied men and strong-willed women closed their doors and hid inside their houses, as he walked past. When he laughed, it sounded like the roar of hundred Bullet motorcycles being simultaneously kick-started by hundred fat, constipated police constables. He had informers everywhere and not even a mouse could move a cursor without his knowledge.

Musudu was known to be fiercely possessive of Thenmozhi and would not hesitate to tear down with his knife any person who was foolish enough to even talk to her. An unwary youngster had once come within 50 feet of her house and when Musudu came to know about this transgression, he had him tied to a donkey and paraded all over the town, head tonsured, face butchered and pride punctured. The heartbroken youngster ended up marrying the donkey.

So, you can well imagine the maelstrom of emotions in Chander’s mind as his MBA brain was evaluating the probabilistic weight of each of several possible outcomes. Love was pulling him in one direction with all its might, while Fear was cautioning him to get the hell out of the place before Musudu came to hear that he had been making enquiries about Thenmozhi. In this absorbing tussle, I am sorry to report, Fear soon got the better of Love and Chander decided to pack his things and leave the next day. As the historian Toynbee would have put it, Musudu was a challenge for which Chander did not have an appropriate response. ‘The Good Lord gaveth Thenmozhi and the Good Lord taketh Thenmozhi away ‘, was about all he could say, by way of philosophy.

As he was caught in this reverie, the door of his house opened and horror of horrors, it was none other than Musudu himself at the entrance. His informers had not wasted any time and there he was in his trademark lungi flying half-mast, striped underwear projecting outside, his moustache quivering menacingly and the knife held suggestively in his hand.

Chander closed his eyes and started praying- that being the most expedient and the only course of action that occurred to him under the circumstances. He waited for that sensation of blunt knife tearing through his insides, but what he heard was a loud noise that seemed to originate outside his body. He dared to open his eyes after a few minutes and found Musudu unconscious on the floor.

The villagers soon heard about this incident and naturally concluded that Chander had single-handedly managed to overcome and tame Musudu, their tormentor of many years. In the wake of Chanders heroic exploits, Thenmozhi’s parents were delighted to get their daughter married to him. In the two decades since then, Chander and Thenmozhi have assiduously sought to make Pulianthope the hygiene capital of India and to ensure that it had the highest per capita consumption of soap. ”

Quite pleased with the happy ending Bata Thatha sat down on the bench near Gandhi statue and ordered a glass of carrot and beetroot juice from the vendor nearby.

Nike Shorts who was not known to mince words, ticked off Bata Thatha sharply. “This is not one of your better stories, Bata Thatha. Quite a tame ending, if I may say so. For instance, how did Musudu suddenly and conveniently become unconscious? Are you telling us that it was an Act of God in response to Chander’s prayers?”

Bata Thatha gulped down his juice and replied, “Of course not. There is a perfectly good explanation which I thought was self-evident, but which I realize now I should have provided. I must be losing my touch.’

“Chander himself was caught by surprise when he saw Musudu on the floor. But, as you are aware, these IIT-IIM types can quickly size up situations, which might baffle lesser mortals for weeks. I had told you that Chander kept a sizable stock of his soaps in his house, When Musudu flung open the door of the house and walked in, he was assaulted by the overpowering fragrance and aroma that emanated from the soap stockpile. An aroma that was completely alien to Musudu who had never had a bath in his life and whose sensory receptors in the nose were more conditioned to the earthy and rustic smells which lay at the other end of the olfactory spectrum. Musudu was felled by Soap Smell. Thats what had happened."

The Walkie-Talkies silently mulled over this explanation.

"Good day, gentleman” greeted Bata Thatha as he walked away from the beach, forgetting to pay the vendor for the carrot and beetroot juice..

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Sudoku couple

This is the second story in the Bata Thatha series. The first one appeared here.

At 6 am, the Marina Beach was already teeming with practitioners of jogging, weight-lifting, cricket, beach volleyball, yoga and other sundry activities. Oblivious to all this, the Walkie-Talkies were engaged in a lively discussion on the marriage market and how it was becoming exceedingly difficult for eligible bachelors of Chennai to find a girl to marry. Polo T-Shirt lamented that parents of girls, these days, mercilessly discarded horoscopes of Chennai-resident males into the dust bin, and were on a single-point agenda of finding bridegrooms settled in the USA. “My sister", added Nike Shorts “has invested heavily in broadband, webcam and high-end computers to enable my niece to interact online and woo the US-based youngsters. She has a placard outside her house that says “Local suitors, kindly excuse, And, beware of dogs”

Bata Thatha coughed at this point, signaling his intention to speak. “Your point is valid and well taken. But, all is not lost, gentleman. I can vouch for the fact that a little bit of tact, a certain degree of recklessness and a stroke of good luck are all it takes for a local lad to get a girl to marry. Let me present the case of my wife’s cousin, Bharat.

My wife’s cousin Bharat (said Bata Thatha) did not distinguish himself academically, but was an exceptionally bright lad in many respects. He was known to complete the notoriously cryptic crossword of ‘The Hindu’ in 25 minutes on average and in 18 minutes flat on days he had had ladies-finger sambar with his curd rice. He was also a whiz kid at Quiz and could reel out the names of all the Central Asian countries (even spelling Kyrgyzstan correctly) and the capital cities of the north-eastern states of India, without googling even once.

At the time this story begins, he was not yet married as he – like all nerdy characters- was far too absorbed in his intellectual pursuits of deciphering cryptograms and unscrambling anagrams. Such of those girls he met, he found too stupid and dimwitted. He dismissed all of them with a contempt that the Mensa-types reserve for those with mere double-digit IQs.

But Cupid has the uncanny knack of directing its arrows on unsuspecting victims at unlikely places and in improbable situations. Bharat was hit by one such arrow as he was returning from Bangalore to Chennai by the Brindavan Express. As was his habit, he had picked up a book containing 100 Sudoku puzzles (hard ones) and had completed them by the time the train reached Bangarpet. Tossing the book aside, he noticed a girl, in the seat opposite, taking up an issue of the Deccan Herald and completing the Sudoku (medium) in less than 10 minutes. Impressed by this speed, Bharat introduced himself and struck a conversation with her on the nuances and the variants of the Sudoku. One thing led to another and by the time the train rolled past Jolarpet, the seed of love that had hitherto remained dormant in Bharat’s hardened heart, suddenly germinated and sprouted. Bharat realized that he was madly in love and suspected that Deepti- for that was her name- reciprocated the sentiment.

When they had got off the train at Chennai Central and had shaken off the persistent porters, Bharat, without wasting any further time, proposed to Deepti. Deepti blushed and said that she would certainly love to marry him, but, alas, her father would never agree. Like all fathers in Chennai, he was hell bent on getting his daughter married to a groom in the USA. A local lad was absolutely infra-dig and would flunk the ‘quality control’ test quite upstream in the process. Bharat had no chance whatsoever, she told him. He might as well forget her.

Seated alone at the Coffee Day at Alwarpet the next evening and sipping his cappuccino, Bharat cursed his luck. After all these years he had finally met his soul-mate but could not make further progress because her unpatriotic father viewed India-settled boys with utter contempt and had placed filters that would only let green-card holders through. If only this unreasonable father could be dragged to the Rashtrapati Bhavan and subjected to a 326-slide PowerPoint presentation by the President on the many wonders of India, it would serve him right, he muttered. Bharat looked around the cafĂ© and noted sadly that, except his own, all the other tables were occupied by couples, some holding hands, some staring adoringly into each other’s eyes and some sharing coffee from the same glass. Hell, even the fifty-something man at the corner table seemed to be having fun with a woman half his age. Damn, thought Bharat.

But getting over the gloom and kicking off this negative train of thought, Bharat sent an SMS to Deepti that he had decided to meet her father the next day and take the bull by the horn, an expression he felt was quite appropriate for the occasion. Deepti sent a return SMS that if Bharat had pronounced suicidal tendencies and wanted to indulge in such daredevilry, she would not stop him, but he would be well-advised to heed some of the tips that she would list out in an email shortly.

The email only confirmed Bharat’s suspicion that ‘the father’ was a weirdo who ought to have been kept in a padded cell in the interest of the public at large. Apparently, he could not be met in the morning, as he would throw up temper tantrums if disturbed early in the day; he was not available in the evenings as his piety demanded that he be at the Kapaleeswarar temple without fail at that hour; he was unapproachable when he was hungry as his sugar level tended to drop sharply; he was uncontactable after a heavy meal as it would send him into a stupor. He hated dark colours or very light shades.He would not tolerate a loud voice as it smacked of arrogance nor too soft a tone, as it was an indicator of pusillanimity. Deepti concluded the mail, with warm, well-meant, “best-of-luck” greetings.

Reading the mail several times, the thought occurred to Bharat that the description of ‘the father’ tallied with that of Hiranyakashibu’s, and perhaps, he- Bharat- was destined to assume Narasimha avatar to subdue this demon. Applying the same principles as Lord Vishnu did, he went across to the office of ‘the father’ at exactly 11.30 am, reasoning that it was not early in the morning and certainly not evening. It was not too soon after breakfast or too far away from lunch. He chose his attire carefully – he was in beige pants and a sky-blue shirt. Despite these elaborate preparations he had butterflies in his stomach and his knees felt like jelly. Saint George would have felt the same way when he set out in search of the menacing Dragon.

Anyway, love spurred him on and he steeled himself for the task. He barged into the office and was led into the sanctum sanctorum of ‘the father”. In the sunlight that streamed in through the Venetian blinds, he saw the silhouette of the old man in the act of dictating a letter to his secretary. And, lo and behold, Bharat realized that this was the same duo- the fifty-something old man and his companion half-his-age- that he had caught in a compromising position at the corner table of the Coffee Day, the previous evening.

This revelation introduced a new dimension to the proceedings and a new spin on things, so to say. The problem acquired an entirely different complexion, Bharat thought. So, this is what the pious old man had been up to every evening - making out with his secretary - when his family had believed that he was meditating at the Kapaleeswarar Temple! The snake!

For a fleeting moment, Bharat’s conscience told him that he should not stoop to blackmail, but this inner voice was quickly laid to rest. He was convinced that the circumstances definitely warranted these strong arm tactics and he was damned if he was going to let the old man get away with it. He had no doubt that if Arjuna had expressed such reservations and faltered at the start of battle, Lord Krishna would have admonished him thus, “Fruit should be thy only concern; do not worry about the methods, Go for the jugular now”.

Beguiled and becalmed, the old man gave his consent and the wedding took place at the Kapaleeswarar Temple. For the first time in the history of Tamil weddings, a Sudoku puzzle was printed on each of the coconut-betel nut bags that the guests took home. Bharat and Deepti now run a coaching class for the Sudoku-challenged and I hear reports that business is brisk. They have been blessed with a pair of twins and have named them Sudo and Doku..

So, you will agree ( concluded Bata Thatha) that a little bit of tact, a certain degree of recklessness and a stroke of good luck are all it takes for a local lad to get a girl to marry him. Not all the girls want to migrate to America.

The Walkie-Talkies continued walking, mulling over the key points that had emerged from Bata Thatha’s story.

“I must join Bharat’s school to understand this Sudoku “said Adidas Track-Pants breaking the silence, “Haven’t been able to crack the thing at all till now”

Saturday, April 01, 2006

O, where is the rainy moon?

I am spending the week-end at a sea-side resort. Stretched out on the hammock that the resort guys have thoughtfully provided. Watching the waves as they gently strike the shore, the cool breeze as it tenderly picks up the sand, the birds flying majestically, flapping their wings so gracefully.

Ha, the sea always brings out the poet in me. So, here goes………….. .

Oh, where is the rainy moon?
Where is the rainy wave?

Why does the cloud die?
Fall quietly like a small shark.
Wave calmly like a dead wave.
All seashells pull warm, big sailors.
Endurance, desolation and desolation

Small, rainy girls quietly love a rainy, rainy, ship.
Rough old pirates roughly love a misty, cold gull.
Die roughly like a misty captain.
Love is a small shore.
All sailors fight warm, clear ships.

Life, courage and faith.
Death, faith and endurance.
All breezes fight warm, big ships..
Rise roughly like a rough reef

Endurance, adventure and death.
Why does the breeze sail?
Shores sail like sunny captains.
All seas view warm, warm seashells.

Why does the seashell die ?
All reefs view rainy, clear clouds.

Seas grow like rainy clouds.
The misty shark calmly commands the tuna.
The cold mainland quietly commands the sea.
Where is the rainy moon?
Where is the rainy wave?

Where is the cold wind?
The sailor travels like a warm ship.
Why does the shore grow?
The lad endures like a small mainland.

Oh, where is the rainy moon?
Where is the rainy wave?

For those of you who are not as talented as I am and are not blessed with the gift of poetry, I recommend this poem generator