Friday, December 21, 2007
A friend from Germany, CL, who I met last weekend at Vermont narrated an interesting story. She and a few of her non-German friends had gone to a restaurant in Germany. The waitress came by to do the usual checking on them mid-way during the meal and asked them if they needed anything. In an attempt to say 'I am good', one of CL's friends translated it literally into German and said 'Ich bin gut'. Which in itself is an innocuous looking statement to the non-German speaking layman . But, CL tells us that although literally it does mean 'I am good', the underlying meaning is 'I am good at sex'. Now, that is not necessarily a bad thing, but it depends a lot on the context and who you are saying it to and also their reaction to your claim. In the rare possibility that I end up in a German prison, I know what 3 words I am never going to say. Also, on a side-note, I must say that I don't vouch for the authenticity of this information because CL seemed slightly inebriated when she narrated this anecdote.
Another interesting word that comes to mind is 'fag'. Although it is a derogatory word for a gay person in the US, the word, in India,UK and some other countries is also (and mostly) used to describe a cigarette. "Where is Mike?", you may ask and you may get a reply, "He is in the balcony having a fag". You probably would not be blamed if you started to wonder about the homosexual, exhibitionist antics of poor Mike, who you thought was straight and prudish.
I don't know if this is true but I have heard this story of a guy from a company I used to work for in India, who came to the US on a business visa for 3 months. On his first or second day, he visited a McDonald's and ordered some kind of a meal. On being asked 'For here or to go', he had absolutely no idea what it meant. And of course, the question was repeated again. So he just replied that he was just here for 3 months and he would go back home to India after that. Unfortunately, the story ends there without us knowing whether he was able to get his meal or not. Niether do we know what the reaction of the employee behind the counter was. The words 'for here or to go' although it may sound quite intuitive to the average person in the US, but believe me, the meaning does not come across that clearly to someone not famililar with that phrase. And no, I was not 'the' person in that story.
And so, ladies and gents, when you are in a foreign country, think twice before you do a direct translation of a sentence or you may end up in situations you don't want to be in. And please give your friends the benefit of doubt, when you hear something outlandish about them.
Monday, November 5, 2007
The BBC documentary Planet Earth is just breathtakingly beautiful. The imagery is nothing like one has seen before. It is beyond description. The visuals just blow you away. Yet, like a bad tenant who just won't vacate your house, one scene has occupied (temporarily I hope) a corner of my brain since the last few days - 2 male mountain goats fighting each other for mating rights on a very steep slope somewhere in the mountain ranges of the Himalayas. What was absolutely amazing was that their battlefield was almost vertical. Why a goat in his right mind would choose such a dangerous place to fight was beyond my comprehension for a little while, until my brain spitefully unhid a long forgotten memory from its dark crevices and exposed my hypocrisy to myself. About 15 or 16 years ago, I was in a similar situation. Not exactly fighting a goat on the Himalayan slopes for mating rights, but doing something even more stupid. As a person who is not all that comfortable with heights, I was doing something foolishly dangerous.
In Bombay, every year during the monsoon season, the 'Krishna Janmashtami' festival (Krishna's birth) is celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm. One of the traditions is to form a human pyramid and break a clay pot called 'Dahi Handi' which is tied to a rope and suspended above the ground. The pot is usually filled with with yogurt , one coconut (both mandatory items), fruits and cash. The heights at which the clay pot is suspended varies and so do the amounts of cash. There are a few professional teams who practise making pyramids throughout the year and they travel around and try to break the tallest handis which are usually the ones with the most cash and prestige. Then there are the impromptu set of people who just gather below the local handi which they have themselves put up and try breaking it. Most of the handis in the city are of the latter type.
One such year, I was asked to be one of the members of this pyramid. I was a very wildly enthusiastic participant, until I realised that I would not be in the second tier which is ideal because not only does it give you adequate exposure and brings you to the notice of that divine girl in the blue dress you have a huge crush on, the dangers of breaking your bones are almost zero since you are just a few feet away from the ground. Even the third tier is somewhat ok if not ideal, because you still are not that far from the ground and you have someone to hold onto in your tier. Anything above that is just dangerous. The top is the worst. People should only be asked to go up there as a punishment. And unfortunately, that was where I realised I was headed to as I climbed the mass of human bodies stopping at each tier until the goading from the people below to go up one more tier became too much to avoid. I must say that these goaders cheerfully made the most of this opportunity to play architect/civil engineer and I can't really blame them because they had just a few hours in an entire year to do this. Of course, I could not refuse to go up. What would heavenly-girl-in-blue-dress think? That I am a coward? That was definitely unthinkable! Though I was uneasy and my brain was trying to weigh my options, it was no match against millions of years of evolution. My male instinct to impress my potential mate kicked in and I made my way to the top.
All this time I was focussed on getting my hands and feet in the correct places to reach the top but once at the top, I had to break the pot which meant standing up to my full height with only my legs for support and then looking up to see if I could reach the pot. As soon as I looked up, I realised how high I was because I could see the balconies of the 3rd floor (4th floor in the US ) of the buildings on either side, right next to me. I instinctively looked down and that was a huge, huge mistake. I was debating on whether to try standing up and reaching the pot, leaving the relative comfort of holding the shoulder of the guy below me. For what seemed like an eternity to me, I just froze there, half-sitting, half-rising, trying to give an impression to the people gathered that I was going to go for it. I could hear the voices of the people gathered below shouting in anticipation, the thick rain drops falling on my face as I looked up. I knew that I could never pursue blue-dress girl if I chickened out. Finally I just stood up and I tried to reach for the pot but to my utter relief, it was about 3 or 4 feet away from my reach. That meant we would need one more tier with someone shorter than me at the top or the same number of tiers with someone taller than me at the top. Either way, I would never be at the top. Just as the happiness of the situation hit me, something else, most probably the pain of bearing the weight of the people above, hit one of the members of the second tier and they caved in and down, we all came crashing. No bones were broken because the trick is to fall into the centre like an implosion, so that your fall is always broken by the others who are falling below you. And also you can count on the 'architects' and other unsung heroes on the ground to catch you most of the time. But that is not to say that people don't get injured. A friend, who works as an X-ray technician in a major hospital of the city, invariably works overtime the evening of the festival and the day after.
Anyway, my little flirtation with height did not help me in my flirtation with my crush at all. I was completely unsuccessful in making her my girlfriend. So I was worse-off than the goats since atleast one of them got a mate. I wish I had known then before I did my little stunt what I know now . Navjot Singh Sidhu (a decent cricketer-turned-annoying-commentator) once said, 'experience is a comb which life gives you when you have gone bald'. Well, I have not gone bald yet. I am not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
I did a search on google and I came across this site http://panchatantra.org/ which has all the stories (I think). Most of the characters in the stories are animals, which I am assuming is to make it more appealing to children and some adults including a member of my household, who I shall desist from naming. All I will say is that my dog does not read and I stopped reading children's literature when I grew out of childhood. But that is not to discourage anyone from reading these stories. They make for an enjoyable read especially since the stories are really short and also, now you get to look at the fables from a grown-up's perspective. So do check out that link during your lunch or whenever you feel like taking a break.
According to wikipedia - our sometimes reliable and sometime unreliable source of wisdom in the age of the internet, "the original Sanskrit text , now long lost, and which some scholars believe was composed in the 3rd century BCE is attributed to Vishnu Sarma. However, based as it is on older oral traditions, its antecedents among storytellers probably hark back to the origins of language and the subcontinent's earliest social groupings of hunting and fishing folk gathered around campfires".
Reading these stories after so many years, one of the interesting things that I recollected now is that many a time, there is a story narrated within a story narrated within a story..sometimes going into multiple levels of nested stories. I found that very unique amongst all the books or stories that I have read.
Anyway, now that you know the source of my profound thoughts (if I ever express them before you), I should stop my useless blabbering and let you check out the link and possibly have a chance to appear wise in front of your friends and family.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
When I think about everything that I have desired and achieved, right from the smallest things to the more important ones, I will say that being on the track to success gives me more happiness than success itself. Of course, in a way, I am quantifying happiness here . But then the question begs for it.
My reasoning - when you accomplish a task - no matter how small or large, you can only bask in its success for a limited amount of time. It will soon become old for you and much faster for others. But when you are on your path to accomplish it and are absolutely sure you will reach your goal, you have this whole feeling of happiness drawn-out over the entire period of time that you are trying. So you are happier, albeit on a lower scale for a longer period of time as compared to happiness on a higher scale for a short period of time. I am definitely one of those people who would go for happiness over a longer period of time than for a few moments of euphoria. I think most people are that way. If you don't think you are, ask yourself these 3 questions:
1. When you watch a game -any game, do you enjoy the moment when your team is doing a victory lap with the cup or do you enjoy the moments they were actually playing to go on and win the game?
2. If you climb Mount Everest, will you enjoy having your picture taken at the summit more or will you enjoy the actual climb more?
3. When you have sex, do you enjoy the precise moment of orgasm more or do you enjoy the build-up to it more?
Of course, there are bound to be the usual counter-arguments like - When you go to a dentist to extract your tooth without any local anaesthesia, do you cherish the process of the tooth being wrenched out of your jaws with a pair of steel pliers more or the actual moment when the tooth is extracted and there is no more pain (relatively). All I can say to this is - just think about what the dentist enjoys more.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
The first time, I and my friends tried to experiment with alcohol is still so fresh in my memory. Let me clear something up before I proceed. Personally, I and most of my drinking friends don't consider beer as alcohol. It just is not in the same league as Rum, Vodka, Whiskey and the likes. So yes, I did have beer once or twice before my initiation to hard liquor but it was very disappointing. You ingest all that bitter liquid and for what? Nothing except a bloated belly, beer breath and a need to pee like its going out of fashion. No thank you, I will settle for a rum anyday - a little bit goes a long way. I like efficiency. Very little input and a lots of output.
Anyway, we had planned on drinking at a friend's place since he lived alone. This friend, whom we shall call DK, was sporting enough to let us use his place. Frankly speaking, I think his curiousity might have been bigger than his sporting nature. Buying the liquor was a big exercise in planning and execution that would have put the best in the business to shame. We obviously could not buy it from anywhere close by for fear of getting recognized by the countless 'uncles' and 'aunties' (read friends of parents) of our neighbourhood. So the plan was to buy it from another neighbourhood which was a 20-25 minute walk away. Even though the plan was to drink the night away, we had planned on buying the alcohol in the afternoon, the reasoning behind it being that streets are least populated when the unflinching high afternoon sun is roasting you, slowly sapping your life-forces. Also we had decided that all 5 of us would go in to buy it and buy it confidently like seasoned-pros as if we bathed in liquor 3 times a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The actual act of buying the liquor at the shop was not a problem at all, since unlike the US, during those days shopkeepers in Bombay had absolutely no problem selling it to you even if you were 10. In fact you would most likely get an encouraging smile, twinkling eyes silently congratulating you on your first step hopefully towards a long and enjoyable journey with Somdev ( सोमदेव - the Hindu god of wine) since Bacchus, Somdev's Greek counterpart was a continent away. Thankfully, everything went according to plan and we were able to buy some whiskey without problems. The only embarassing points in the almost clinical execution of our plan were that (1) none of us knew what a good mixer for whiskey was and we ended up staring blankly at the shopkeeper who had raised the question. Finally someone said coke and the shopkeeper gave us a disapproving look which said "what kind of people are you to mix whiskey with coke?". But as the old Indian saying goes, 'an arrow shot from a bow and a word uttered cannot be taken back', sure enough we stuck with coke. (2) the plastic bag given to us did not offer the best padding and the bottles kept clinking as we walked. Anyone with half a brain could have guessed what was inside the plastic bag, which was black in colour as liquor bags usually were.
We felt a huge sense of accomplishment when we finally climbed the four flights of stairs and stashed away the alcohol in a safe place inside DK's apartment. That night of drunken revelry revealed quite a few interesting things about my friends. DK delves into poetry when drunk , which unfortunately then was wasted on 4 drunk boys. YG loves chinese food and the girl who lives in flat # 002 of the adjacent building, in that order. VM, the shy and polite friend's favourite position from the Kamasutra is not the missionary one. AP can move his neck over the side of the bed to throw up without moving the rest of his body.
After that first time, there was no looking back and over the next many years I had the opportunity to drink with friends, friends of friends and complete strangers. I had a room-mate RC (even his initials stand for Royal Challenge whiskey) who belonged to the school of thought that puking your guts out was not to be construed as a sign of your body suggesting that you stop filling it up with alcohol. He merely treated it like a quality problem in the whole alcohol-ingestion operations process in which the previous batch of liquor which went into his body had some minor problems. So he would just continue drinking right where he left. Then there was the other roommate DS who would dance in his underwear, scarring us for life. Oh wait, he did that even when he was sober!
More or less, drinkers fit into a few basic moulds. There is always the talkative-when-sober guy who goes silent as soon as the alcohol kicks in. Then there is someone on the other extreme. The free advice-disburser who can give you advice on anything from matters of the heart to how to brush your teeth. The complete stranger, who will walk into your table, sit with you and buy you a drink or have you buy him a drink. The giggling fellow who finds mirth in the most mundane of things, the hot-blooded chap who is raring for a brawl etc etc. I fall under the talkative, laughing, giggling and definitely non-violent mould. I remember once I had offered some food to a drunk angry man who had got into a fight with some of my equally drunk friends at a bar. I was extremely hungry and completely plastered and wanted to eat the last of the 'daal' (दाल) but was not sure if anyone else wanted it. I may have been drunk but I had not lost any of my manners. So I went around asking my friends (they were many, definitely more than 10 ) if they wanted any of it and since this guy was also standing there, fists twitching, ready for action, I ended up asking him too. I did not want to have him feel left-out. It sounds far-fetched but he actually replied to me very politely that his stomach was full and he could not eat anything else. Anyway, the situation was soon diffused thanks to all the waiters (20 or so, I was amazed that place had so many waiters) and the rumour of a police van around the corner.
Drinking alone by myself has never been appealing to me. If the company is right, drinking can be a lot of fun. And I have been lucky enough to have had very good company most of the time. Looking back at all these fun-filled memories, I have realised that alcohol has had a minute role to play in it. It was the whole experience of sharing it with friends which makes it so memorable -the conversations and the stupid things you do, giving you an opportunity to laugh at yourself later, that makes it so appealing. Without friends to share it, the same alcohol would have amounted to nothing. In a way, a drink without friends is like watching a foreign movie without subtitles. You can definitely do it but you are not going to have a lot of fun.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
The snob: He thinks that no one else besides him has got the meaning of the movie. This kind is usually found in urban Indian theatres and can be visually recognised by their noses which are turned up all the time at the rest of the world.
The reviewer: He analyses the story, script, camera angles etc to death. He will announce his reviews loudly after (thankfully) the movie for the enlightenment of the masses, who according to him, are just plain lucky to be hearing his profound thoughts.
The virtual sidekick: He thinks he is part of the movie and tries to help the hero in action scenes by throwing stones (or other objects) at the villain on the screen. Usually found in remote rural Indian theatres. And that is why, boys and girls, you should never sit in the front rows in rural theatres.
The smart-aleck: He feels it is his sacred duty to "entertain" the public by making "funny" comments evey now and then. He usually starts off by mouthing remarks at lower decibel levels just for the benefit of his 2-3 friends. A few encouraging laughs from his buddies and he feels the need to share his jokes with the entire theatre. This kind is ubiquitous and has been known to plague every kind of theatre, be it rural, urban, swanky or cheap.
The dancers: Their single-minded goal in life is to extract full value for their money spent at the theatre. They will break into impromptu dances during songs (yes, most Hindi movies have songs) blissfully oblivious and unmindful of the fact that they are not transparent and are blocking other people's vision. These kind are usually teenaged or in their early twenties and are always found in groups. They seem to enjoy themselves no matter how crappy the movie is.
The opportunist: He comes to a movie with a partner only because its dark and there is no other place for him which offers as much privacy as the 2 corner seats in the last row. Usually he has his own movie going on in which he is the lead actor. Has been known to evoke interest from other patrons if the movie (the one on the screen) is crappy.
The team-person: He thinks that everyone should enjoy it as much as he does and he wants to make sure you are, by asking you "Did you see that?" every now and then. Or repeating the last line of the last dialogue just to make sure you got it.The bully: He is bound by the code for bullies to keep his foot on the headrest of the person in front and to pick a fight with that person if he objects. Can liven up a bad movie if the person he picks the fight with is an even match.
The gang: Usually boys in their late teens full of testosterone. Members of this category could also fall in the 'dancer' group mentioned above. Patrons get full value for their money if someone from the 'bully' category messes with someone from this group.
The family with the crying-baby: They have to bring a 1 year old baby to the theatre so that he can appreciate the finer nuances of cinema early in life. Usually, the would-be-child-prodigy expresses his opinions about the movie by wailing loudly. This category is usually the inspiration for some of the 'smart-aleck' comments.
The cell-phone talker: Relatively new category since cell phones were invented not so long ago. Their calls are important and they have to make sure that others in the theatre get the same message.
Before I stop this post (because I have bored myself), I must confess that I have been a part of the 'smart-aleck', 'dancer' and 'gang' category at different times in my teens. Let me say in my defense that I danced only because I was not very sober and none of my friends were sober and the movie was really really bad. Unfortunately, the movie went on to become the biggest blockbuster of that year. That should tell you the taste of the average Hindi movie watcher. Do I sound like a snob?
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
My parents came to Bombay from Kerala and so their first language was Malayalam and thats what we communicated in at home. I learnt Hindi (India's national language) by way of my interactions with others outside our home. Marathi was the local language of Bombay and it was mandatorily taught in school. English was the medium of instruction in school, so you learnt it automatically. So the result of all this in some ways was that I became a jack-of-all-languages, master of none. I have an accent in every language I speak. The moment I speak English, you know English is not my first language and people can guess that I am somewhere from the Indian sub-continent. The moment I speak Hindi, purists cringe listening to my completely grammatically-erroneous but extremely cool Bombay Hindi (बम्बैय्या हिंदी). Marathi speakers know I don't speak Marathi at home and when I speak Malayalam, the souls of ancient Malayalam scholars writhe in agony at my butchery of their beloved language. But not everything is bad.
I remember an incident which took place many years ago near Victoria Terminus. My friend ,whom I shall mysteriously call AP (I have a better name for him but he won't like it) and I were shopping for a haversack for him. There were all these street vendors, many of them from Kerala, selling their wares just outside Siddharth Law college. AP liked a particular Nike bag and was quoted a price of Rs. 350. Us being college students and all, there was no way AP could afford it. So we tried to bring it down a bit - all conversation being in Hindi all along. So the seller consulted with his partner in Malayalam about what he should do. His partner replied in Malayalam that even if he got 100, he would still be making a good profit. So the seller told us , "I could bring it down to 200, but thats the lowest I can go to. After all even I have to eke out a living". We (AP knows Malayalam too) started laughing and asked him in Malayalam , "Didn't your partner just say that 100 would still be a good price?" He was crest-fallen, embarassed, surprised, happy all at once to see some fellow-Malayalam-speakers in Bombay. Anyway, we paid him about 120 or so for the bag and left. A few other such incidents have taken place every now and then to show me the brighter side of being multi-lingual.
Another advantage I have noticed is that I can pick up sounds and pronunciations of languages much faster than an average uni-lingual person. So I am assuming this is true for most multi-lingual people. I pity all the people who make fun of accents and pronunciations because they are displaying the level of their intellect by making fun of someone who probably speaks one language more than them. Its like a mentally-challenged person making fun of a sane person. You can only feel pity.
I want to learn Spanish. I have a feeling it will come easy to me. It may be a false sense of confidence that I have, but I like the feeling nevertheless. Till then, Adios amigos.
Monday, September 3, 2007
As a child, I have always liked to cuddle with my near and dear ones. Although there have been some transmission losses in my cuddling tendencies on my path to adulthood, I have still retained a lot of it, which I am sure, my wife is very happy about. And if my wife is reading this, I would like to take this opportunity to remind her how lucky she is and what a wonderful, wise, kind, funny, noble, generous, good-looking husband she has. Anyway, I realised very early that cuddling, as a gesture could be used for the good of mankind as well as an effective weapon to irritate my older brother.
I specifically remember one instance when he was lying on a bed reading some book. I had nothing to read, nothing to do. So of course, I had to pass my time irritating him. I lay down next to him and put my arm around him, knowing very well that he hated it. He asked me very tersely to stay away. I moved my arm a little bit but still touched him.
“Don’t touch me”, he said.
“Why not?” I questioned, the ever curious child.
“Because I don’t like it”
“I like it”, I reiterated my stance on touching irritated older brothers.
“I won’t say it again. Do not touch me”, he growled.
Some doubts started creeping in my mind now about the feasibility of my current venture. So I moved my hand away except that I left a little finger touch his arm, just to see if I could get away with that. That would leave my pride intact as well as make him feel better. But I was just too optimistic. My brother put down his book and gave my offending finger a piece of his mind, except that he preferred action and not words to convey his message to my finger. I lay there for a few minutes, wincing in pain, nursing my finger and my wounded pride and also plotting my next plan of action to salvage something out of this situation.
That’s when I hit upon a brilliant idea. At least, at that time I thought it was brilliant. Since he had told me not to touch him, I circled my arm around him except that I hung it above him in the air without touching him. He cast a dirty look at me. I was so pleased with myself because not only was I exploiting a loophole in his directives and accomplishing my mission, but my arm was also blocking his vision and so he could not read. Anyway, before he could say anything, I offered my explanation that I was not touching him, so he should have no reason to complain. He said that I was violating his airspace. Naïve that I was, I replied in my innocence, “What do you mean? You can’t claim air.”
He did not say anything. My brother was a man of few words. Why waste time on words when you can do something much faster by action. This time, it hurt a lot more and I got the message very quickly. The meaning of airspace became clear to me. I had attained a kind of mini-nirvana.
I must say though that a few doubts still remained in my mind. I did voice my doubts later on when things had cooled off a bit. But I did not get any answers. I asked him “What happens if I do some shadow-boxing in my airspace and you happen to be in my airspace and my fists hit you. Can I be held at fault for that?” No answer, just a menacing look to discourage any such ideas.
“How much air can I claim as my airspace. Is there a standard?” No answer.
Coming to think of it on a larger scale, I wonder, vertically up to what height in the atmosphere can a country claim as its airspace? Do satellites violate airspace regulations? Or is airspace only limited to a height where air exists? Wikipedia says “There is no international agreement on the vertical extent of sovereign airspace (the boundary between outer space— which is not subject to national jurisdiction— and national airspace), with suggestions ranging from about 30 km (the extent of the highest aircraft and balloons) to about 160 km (the lowest extent of short-term stable orbits).” And so my questions shall remain unanswered.