Monday, July 30, 2007

Dear Diary-6

Dear Diary,

Week started disastrously. Landed in Bangalore and, sticking to standard protocol, drove straight to MTR, hoping to feast on some super-soft idlis and incredibly crisp dosas. Found, to my utter dismay, that the place was closed on Mondays. Have you heard such nonsense in your life? A restaurant closing on Mondays? I mean, don’t they know that people need to eat all seven days a week?

On the other hand, I am happy that somebody’s adopted the calendar that I had painstakingly and single-handedly designed some time back.

While leaving for the airport to catch my return flight, made a quick dash to Blossoms, that great place in Church Street for second-hand books and picked up a couple of classics. Realised later that books, being neither soft nor crisp, are a poor substitute for MTR idlis and dosas.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The ant and the grasshopper

Quite some time back, I had attempted to borrow the format of the golf stories of P.G.Wodehouse, that involved ‘the oldest member” and posted three stories here, here and here. At the risk of testing your limits of tolerance, I nervously add more to the same series.

The Walkie-Talkies were strolling down the pavement, along the Marina, blissfully unaware of the fact that they were blocking the passage for faster walkers and joggers behind them.

Nike Shorts was animatedly recounting how he had enjoyed the movie, ‘Sivaji’, the previous day and how Rajnikanth had surpassed himself. “That man is amazing”, he concluded. “What breathtaking style!”

Adidas track-pants agreed, but wondered, “Amazing all right. All he does is shake his legs a bit, fling a cigarette into his mouth, stroke his hair back nonchalantly and his movies go on to become big hits. Whereas, Kamalahasan, poor chap. Will don ten roles, will change his voice, weight, and mannerisms for each character, valiantly do all the stunts himself without a dupe, energetically sing quite a few songs and generally slog it out, only to see his movies flop in the end..

Polo T-shirt philosophized, “Yes, that’s life. Hard work is not always the mother of good luck. All this talk about success being 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration is pure nonsense”.

Bata Thatha interjected at this point and said, “Ha, let’s not fall into the popular error of supposing that hard work begets success. You have all been influenced by the Aesopian fable of “Ant and the Grasshopper” where the hard-working ant is shown to be better-off in the end than the lazy, fun-loving grasshopper. Whereas, the reality is that incidents in life tend to be more like what happened to Tom and George in Somerset Maugham’s version of the fable, if you have read it. Take the case of my neighbour’s sons.

My neighbour (continued Bata Thatha) had two sons. The elder one was hard-working, did his homework diligently, passed all his exams with flying colours, completed his engineering from IIT, went on to do his MBA in the USA and was grabbed by a top consulting company at a mind-boggling salary, for carrying out complicated financial analysis for clients .

The younger son fooled around in school, got into bad company and bad habits, never cleared his exams and was finally thrown out of school. He ended up selling tea in a roadside stall.

Lotto Shoes enquired with a quizzical expression, “But, doesn’t this validate the Aesopian fable? The hardworking guy has been rewarded with success, whereas the lazy one has been punished.”

Bata Thatha couldn’t contain his irritation at this rude and unwarranted interruption, when he was midway in his story.

“Wait, you haven’t heard it all. Two years back, the elder son lost his job, as his company had outsourced the entire operations to an IT company in Sholinganallur, near Chennai. Complicated financial analysis for the Wall Street Journal, these days, is done by kids in back-offices here. Poor chap tried to find employment elsewhere, but the reply was same wherever he sent his CV. All jobs in the USA had been passed on to India. He is still unemployed and is roaming around penniless, having lost all his savings.

“What about the younger son?” asked Polo T-shirt?

“The younger son, as good fortune would have it, had set up his tea stall just outside the IT Company in Sholinganallur. He is doing roaring business. He is looking for franchisees to replicate the business model outside all the companies in the IT corridor. He has quite graciously agreed to pay for an air-ticket for his brother to return home.

Dear Diary- 5

Dear diary,

Had to accompany a friend to the Blue Cross today. His pet dog was not keeping well. The lone veterinary doctor on duty said he couldn’t attend to the dog. He explained the protocol there. When animals such as lions, tigers or elephants are brought in, he is not competent to attend and so delegates the responsibility upward to his boss. When animals such as goats, cats and dogs are brought in, it is below his dignity to treat them and so he delegates the responsibility downward to his junior. As both of them were not there, he asked us to come back on Monday. Made a mental note to follow vet’s philosophy of delegation, in my workplace from next week.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dear Diary- 4

Dear Diary,

I needed to go to the Bank today to deposit a cheque. I realized, to my dismay, that banking is an insignificant part of a bank’s work.

The place was swarming with all kinds of creatures such as touts and agents, out to nab me. One guy wanted to sell me mutual funds, another some RBI bonds and yet another- some gold bars. The gall. Did they think that a seasoned salesman like me will fall for such obvious gimmicks?

When I finally managed to extricate myself from the bandits, a seedy looking guy buttonholed me and asked if I was interested in medical insurance cover. I said sure and asked if the policy covered terminal illnesses. Without giving me a proper reply that I deserved as a prospective customer, he dematerialized from the scene. Rude fellow.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Dhirubhai's descendant's dull daily diet

I just got the complete details on what Anil Ambani gets to eat everyday.

Apparently, he gets up at 5.00 am, jogs till 6.30 am, and begins his day with a banana and some cereals washed down with protein milk at 8,00 am, At lunchtime, he gets to be a little hungry and so indulges in some sprouts, a cup of dhal and two chappatis . He repeats the same menu for dinner. He goes to bed at 10.30 pm sharp.

What’s the point in accumulating all that wealth amounting to Rs 50000 crores, if all you get to eat are some meagre sprouts and an uninviting banana? Can someone explain?

Dear Diary-3

Dear Diary,

My over-exuberant auditor called this morning to remind me that I had to file my Income Tax returns before July 31st.

I commented wryly that I didn’t see any reason why they should call it ‘returns”, because tax amount, once it leaves your hands, never returns.

Auditor promised me that he will go to Delhi tomorrow, to personally point out the misnomer to the FM.

FM ? Wonder if auditor meant 98.3 or 91.1.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Conversation with daughter- 16

Daughter came back from the bookshop yesterday at 6.45 am, triumphantly clutching her copy of the 7th book in the Harry Potter series. I have rarely seen her up before sunrise, but recognized that this was a special occasion.

The whole of Saturday, she was lost in the book and refused to stir from her sofa. Wife and I wondered whether we should administer some nutrients intravenously and maintain her electrolyte balance.

At 6 pm, I sat down next to her and asked, “Tell me, why is it so critical that the book must be read by today? Tomorrow is Sunday and you will have some time on your hands. Surely, one more day won’t matter?

Daughter gave me the stare which she reserves for her parents and which, if she had been Medussa, would have reduced me to stone and replied, ‘Duh, because, by morning tomorrow, everybody else would have finished the book”.

That figures. Millions of people, in the privacy of their homes, racing to finish the book the same day it was released, because everyone else is doing it.


So, 72-year old Pratibha Patil (or Pratibha Patti, as my daughter calls her) is the new President.

I can imagine the standard routine that dignitaries visiting India will be subjected to and their resulting plight. First, they will hold wide ranging discussions with Dr Manmohan Singh, who will keep that deadpan expression of his, right through. The humorist, P.G.Wodehouse used to describe how the strict rules of the Butler’s Guild prevented Jeeves from breaking out into a full smile; the maximum, upward movement of the lip allowed was only 1/8 of an inch. It is improbable and even inconceivable that Dr.Singh is a member of the Butler’s Guild, but I simply can’t fathom what stops him from smiling. Hell, the man is quite lifeless; I am sure that if an ECG were taken while he is talking, it would register a flat line. Whatever may be his other merits, this factor alone should get him banished into oblivion. We simply can’t have as PM a man , in whose ECG, the characteristic P-Q-R-S pattern is conspicuous by its absence. We ought to demand from our leaders, clinical evidence of life.

Anyway, let’s get back to our visiting dignitary. After this encounter with the lifeless Dr Singh, he or she will have to follow the protocol of meeting Sonia Gandhi. From the TV footages, it is clear that she is utterly clueless and humourless. Besides, I haven’t heard anything remotely intelligent escaping her mouth, though I admit I like the way she waves her hand as the dignitaries depart from her house. Good riddance, that’s the message that wave conveys.

Next, of course, the dignitary will be whisked away to the Rashtrapati Bhavan for a tea party (a British custom that has outlived the British), where the company of Pratibha Patil will have to be put up with for an hour or so. No doubt she take it upon herself to entertain and regale the guest with stories of Ouija boards and how she communicates with spirits of dead people.

I don’t know if a visit to the Raj Ghat is part of the regular itinerary these days. But, it is reasonable to assume that this ritual is also inflicted on the hapless soul- I mean the visiting dignitary’s, not Gandhi’s. But I will be fair and charitable to Gandhi and consider the extenuating circumstances that he is dead.

At the end of the day, the dignitary is in the severe grip of ennui and swears that he or she will never come back to this wretched country again. When there are far more exciting ways to die, why would they choose to be tortured to slow death through sheer boredom?

It would appear that the whole rigmarole is carried out for the sole purpose of making a documentary for Films Division, or for the news round up on Doordarshan, to be read out by a bearded, Tolstoyish character with a grim, solemn, melancholic voice.

In most other countries, leaders need to demonstrate youthfulness and energy, to stay at the top. Including China and Russia that used to venerate old politicians. Whereas here, we still mistake old age for wisdom and put up with ancient dodderers, who should have long been pensioned off.

Today, with the march of technology, one peaks at the age of 30 or 32, in whatever field one is in. Those of us in the corporate world have certainly realized this. In the sports arena, of course, it is much earlier. If you need to keep learning beyond this age, you don’t look up to people older than you, for distilled wisdom to flow down. You look down and get splashed by the fountain of youth.

It is amazing that a country whose demographics show a very high percentage of voters below 25 years of age would choose to nominate representatives, three times their age, in Parliament.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Dear Diary-2

Dear Diary,

I am just back from the RTO, after renewing my driving licence. After I submitted my forms, along with my birth certificate that clearly and unambiguously certifies that I was indeed born, I was summoned to a seedy little place where they quickly took a photograph of my face.

When the licence was given to me, I noticed that the photograph was terrible. I protested and demanded that they take me to their leader, so that I could get justice.

A second-hand car dealer, who had come there to register a few cars for his clients, took me aside and told me to stop making a fool of myself as , out there, all transactions were on “as-is-where-is” basis.

That was quite a humbling experience.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dear Diary

Dear Diary,

I flew down to Mumbai today, as I had some urgent work there. Flight was extremely uncomfortable. Lot of turbulence. Thick clouds right through. Poor visibility too.

I decided that I will never again fly when the monsoon spell is on. The next time, I will go in a plane.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Irresponsible reporting.

In one of their editions last week, Deccan Chronicle carried a news story of an illiterate woman in Bihar, beating up her husband when he came home in a drunken state. The accompanying photograph was quite graphic and showed the man badly mauled, poor chap.

I really feel that the media must exercise restraint and desist from publicizing such gory incidents. It has been scientifically demonstrated that stories such as these manage to stir some basic instincts and incite hatred and violence.

Just for the sake of argument, imagine that my wife has just finished reading that story in Deccan Chronicle and is now in the kitchen, where her olfactory senses tend to be in a heightened state of alert. I am a strict teetotaler, but let’s imagine for the sake of this argument, that I am coming out of the bathroom, after applying Gillette after-shave lotion on my face.

Somehow, wife gets the impression that the smell of Gillette after-shave is actually that of Scotch whisky. With her impressionable frame of mind, she quickly makes an association between the story of the Bihari woman in Deccan Chronicle and the strong smell of perfume which she assumes is whisky. In a flash, she lifts the pressure cooker from the stove and whacks my head with it. Slow motion replays later show that the pressure cooker cracks into two at the point of impact. The cooked rice spills all over the floor. What will we get to eat then? What will we mix the sambar in?

That’s why newspapers must practice self-censorship and cut out such stories. If cigarette ads can be banned and if names of castes/religion can be withheld to prevent communal flare-ups, why can’t they leave out stories of husbands getting bashed up by emotional wives?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Balancing the Budget

In the circles that I move in, I am known for my awesome skills in balancing my finances and in my amazing ability to get the best bang for every buck that I earn. It’s only fair that I share some of my secrets with you.

Here’s how I apportion my income between essentials and non-essentials.

House maintenance, food, petrol, medicines, milk, newspapers, electricity and telephone bills, salaries for maid, cook, driver, etc consume a full 10% of my salary.

Coming to essentials, I make sure that my daughters limit the expenses on hair clips, bracelets, ear rings, necklaces, anklets, bandanas, shoes, sandals, handbags, lipsticks, eye liner, hair brush, etc to not more than 50% of my salary.

Also, I exercise strict control over the expenses on semi-essentials such as jeans, T-shirts, shorts, tops, salwars, kurtis, dupattas, three-fourths, Bermudas, long skirts, short skirts, visits to beauty parlour, Harry Potter movies on first day of release, purchase of CDs, Airtel re-charge cards, etc. Daughters are forbidden to spend even a rupee more than 50% of my monthly salary.

Shrewd ones among you would have quickly calculated and found that the total comes to 110% of salary. You are right. I borrow 10% every month. Deficit financing as the economists would put it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


If and when I manage to put an end to the mosquito menace, I need to turn my attention to those pigeons that have dropped anchor just outside my bedroom window. They make a funny, guttural noise with their throats, release tons and tons of droppings on unsuspecting passers-by below and generally make nuisance of themselves.

Via Freakonomics blog, I came across this article in The New York Times on how Wimbledon manages to keep out pigeons. Did they resort to some high-tech stuff or some fancy gadgetry to ward off these creatures? No, they merely hired Davis to drive them out.

Davis walks in with his small flock of hawks, falcons and owls, to shoo other birds using little more than fright tactics. Lesser birds see his birds soaring around, and they find somewhere else to go.

At Wimbledon, he employs falcons, sighting which the pigeons stay away. How simple!

Soon, there will be a flock of falcons hovering over my house. The pigeons don’t know what’s in store for them. But I hope that the falcons will turn out to be less prolific with their droppings than the pigeons. And, I hope that their droppings will contain some insecticide that will drive the mosquitoes away too

The boy in the well.

In July last year, Prince, a 5-year old boy from Kurukshetra who was trapped in a well and was rescued after 48 hours of high drama, had the entire country glued to the television sets. The media went overboard as usual and thousands of people kept sending messages to the TV channels wishing the rescuers luck.

Two weeks ago, there was the story of Suraj, a 6-year old boy from Jaipur , who fell into a borewell and was pulled out by Army personnel. Sadly, he died later. Again, TV channels gave disproportionate publicity to this incident.

What is it about falling in wells that makes it so newsworthy and telecastable? It is tragic, of course, but surely there are other such stories unfolding all over the country? TV channels, these days, have lost their sense of balance and judgement, in their selection of stories.

That’s what I thought till I read this in a book called Black Swan, written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, an author who had grown up in Lebanon :

In the 1970s, a toddler fell into a well in Italy. The rescue team could not pull him out of the hole and the child stayed at the bottom of the well, helplessly crying. Understandably, the whole of Italy was concerned with his fate; the entire country hung on to the frequent news updates. You could hardly walk in the center of Milan without being reminded of his plight.

Meanwhile, the civil war was raging in Lebanon. In the midst of their mess, the Lebanese were also absorbed in the fate of the child. The Italian child. Five miles away, people were dying from the war, citizens were threatened with car bombs, but the fate of the Italian child ranked high among the interests of the population in Beirut. “Look how cute the little thing is” I was told. And the entire town expressed relief upon his eventual rescue.

As Stalin who knew something about the business of mortality, supposedly said, “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic”. Statistics stay silent in us.

So, that’s the gripping power of the stories of boys falling into wells. It’s been tried out several times in the last few decades. One is almost tempted to believe that whenever there is a dip in viewership, the TV channels themselves hire Little Tommy Thin to push a little boy into the well and then Little Tommy Stout to pull him out, with their camera crew standing by.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Operation Sleep

I summon the whole family for the daily emergency drill. “Operation Sleep” is about to be launched.

With that tone of authority that I am respected for, I issue clear orders. “Switch on both the Good-knight and the All-out devices. If one fails, the other will work. And apply a generous amount of Odomos on your entire body, head to toe. The strong aroma will intoxicate the fellows. Keep the air-conditioners on. Mosquitoes are known to lose their powers, when the room temperature drops below 22 deg C. Windows will remain closed through the night. Night bulb to be kept on as the creatures are known to attack only under cover of total darkness. Hold the battery-operated swatter in your hands, ready to strike at short notice. Everybody ready? Good, let’s go to bed now.”

Meanwhile, at a hideout not too far away, the head mosquito summons the whole gang,

“Enemy will try to freeze us with air-conditioning. Remember to wear your sweaters. We can withstand the cold temperature. And, wait for an hour or so, before you attack. The effect of Odomos will wear off by then. Don’t get frightened by the Good Knight and All-Out. They are just placebos peddled as potent stuff to gullible customers by greedy marketers. Put on your sun glasses. That will protect your eyes from the glare of the night bulb. Ignore the swatter. The chances of it striking you are just one in million. Keep cool and take your fill of blood. Be positive, as well as O positive.

Operation Sleep ends in failure yet again. I can hear the mosquitoes celebrating their victory. My blood is boiling, but inside their bodies.

On being Indian...

Soon after it became known that an Indian could have been involved in the Glasgow incident, Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, advised his British counterpart not to brand the person as an Indian terrorist. Terrorist is a terrorist, he said, and his nationality has no relevance.

A month back when Sunita Williams made a triumphant return from Space, Dr Singh was one of the first to congratulate her. I am sure that he would have told her that the whole nation was proud of her.

Now, the sword of nationalism cuts both ways. You can’t celebrate the Indianness of an astronaut on the one hand, while claiming on the other that the Indianness of the terrorist was not relevant. If a terrorist is a terrorist, an astronaut is an astronaut.

That’s why this whole idea of nationalism is anachronistic and needs to be substituted with a different model. As Bernard Shaw said, “Patriotism is the conviction that your country is the greatest, merely because you were born in it”.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Conversation with daughter's mother -15.

Me: At fifty, every man gets the face he deserves.

Daughter's mother : So I have heard

Me: I can’t believe I am 50 today. I don’t look 50, do I?

Daughter’s mother: No, you don't. You used to, but not any more

Friday, July 06, 2007

Turning 40.

Tonight, at the stroke of midnight, when the world sleeps, I will stay wide awake. Yes, I will turn forty and will need to do some serious introspection.

I remember when I was 7 or 8 years old and when each additional month was special and quite important. So, at different stages, I would be 7-1/4, 7-1/2 or 7-3/4 years old. Tired of being referred to as a half-ticket, one’s sole ambition in life was to somehow crawl and make it to the status of a ‘full-ticket”. One made progress, slowly but surely. One kept count of the months..

At 12, I used to lie that I was actually 13 years old, aware that only then I would be admitted into the ranks of teenagers. When I was really 13, I had bigger things to worry about. For example, was that patch under my nose really the first signs of a moustache ?

After, what seemed eternity, I became 21, although the world didn’t seem to notice it.

Then somebody stepped on the pedal; the clock and the calendar went berserk and before I realized what was happening, I raced to 30, sped further to 35, and now am turning 40. Forty! The warranty certificate issued by my Maker is no longer valid.

Actually, coming to think of it, 40 is not such a bad age to be in. I mean, look at the brighter side. At least, I am not 50, as some of my friends are, with their pot bellies and bald heads and wrinkled faces typical of that age group. Yes, 40 is ok. It’s the big five-o that I need to watch out for.

Author’s note : I had meant to post this on 06-07-1997, but what with the Y2K problem looming large, it slipped my mind. Rather now than never, what?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Calling all patriotic Indians..

As if the fact of Pakistan having a better record against us in hockey and cricket wasn’t humiliating enough, there comes this shocking news that they have beaten us in yet another field.

Yesterday, Google disclosed that search trends show Pakistan, Egypt and India as the top three countries in the world (in that order) where surfers look out for 'sex' on the Internet, and those in New Delhi and Chennai ( in that order) hold the top two rankings among global cities.

If we had even an iota of patriotism flowing through our veins, we should all be putting our heads together to correct this alarming situation.

Come on, fellow Indians, I am not asking you to climb the highest mountain, or swim solo across the Pacific, or pull a 747 with your whiskers. Such stuff that requires panting and sweating are best left to our western brethren, who take the Olympian motto of ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’, a little too seriously and are destined to self-destruct.

Let us stick to our core competence. When it comes to doing something which requires no more work than sitting on one’s butt, we Indians have demonstrated that we can’t be beaten. Scan the Guinness Book of Records and you will find Indians holding the coveted top position for the longest nails, longest moustache, longest eyebrows, etc- all of which involves minimal physical effort.

So, all I am asking is that as soon as you get up in the morning, log on to Google and search for ‘sex’. Assuming that there are ten million computer users in the country, and if each one of them carries out these instructions diligently, every morning, it will be quite easy to reach the prestigious position at the top.

And, about all you Chennaiites, there’s no point in claiming that one out of five software engineers in the country, comes out of Tamilnadu, if you don’t deliver when it matters most. Act now. Get on to Google fast and type the ‘word’. (I don’t want to mention it again, My blog already has a ‘R’ rating). The next time Google publishes the results, I want Chennai to beat the pants off Delhi.