Sunday, December 7, 2008

My beloved hometown

When I started this blog, I had told myself that I would not write anything political or anything related to current events around the world. But the recent terrorist attacks in my beloved hometown Bombay have made me go against my own directive. It makes my blood boil to just think about it.

Bombay has been no stranger to tragedies. Hindu-Muslim riots have been happening in India since the past many centuries. I witnessed my first one and I really hope my last one in 1992-1993. A close to a thousand people died. Then came the Bomb Blasts of March 1993. That was the first time that terrorists started using bombs to kill indiscriminately in an attempt to spread terror in Bombay. The blasts were supposed to be revenge for the riots which had taken place a few months back. 13 bombs in several areas of the city killed close to 300 people and injured hundreds more, most of whom had nothing to do with the riots. Those were the days when there were no cell phones. I still remember my brother and I waiting for my mother and father to come back from work. We were lucky they did. Many others were not.

People stayed at home for a day and then picked up their life from where they had left it 2 days ago as if it was all a bad dream. That was the first time when the press and the politicians coined the phrase 'spirit of Bombay'. Nothing, not even terrorists could break the 'spirit of Bombay' they said. Everyone felt good that they were defeating the terrorists by not getting cowed down. But the terrorists struck again in Bombay in March 2003 and then again in July 2006. Once again bombs were used and both the times it was on the suburban railways to cause maximum damage. People in Bombay reacted in more or less the same way that they had done before and life went on as normal after a day or so of shock. Once again the words 'spirit of Bombay' was thrown about in conversations, articles, speeches etc. It had started becoming a tad cliched. The government did not seem to care and the people had become desensitized. It was almost as if everyone was starting to accept periodic bomb blasts as normal.

Then came the events of 26th Nov 2008. 10 terrorists hijacked a shipping trawler off the coast of Gujarat, killed the crew and came to Bombay via sea. Starting off by killing innocents at CST railway station, Leopold cafe and Cama hospital, they ended up holding people hostage in The Taj, The Oberoi and the Jewish center at Nariman House. The standoff lasted approximately 60 hours and in the end the total people killed were about 200.

Right now, the common man is pissed off in India and rightly so. This is not the norm. Usually people back home have that 'these things happen, what can you do?' attitude. But this time, it is different. People are pissed off at the inaction of the Government and the security agencies, the self-promoting politicians (quite a number of whom have had to resign) who are just concerned about their votes and of course the audacity and inhumanity of the terrorists. Far too long, in the last 2 decades, terrorists have been creating havoc in the lives of the general people. But this time, it was not a bomb blast which got over rightway, it was a prolonged terror attack which took a part of a city hostage for almost 3 days. For the previous bomb blasts, the government has only reacted by apprehending those at the end of the terrorist food-chain, ie the actual people who set off the bombs and help setting off the bombs. Never have they addressed the issue at its roots nor tried to cut off the roots. But this time the anger of the people may force them to think differently.

Going back to the terrorists, a photographer Sebastian D'Souza who works in the Mumbai Mirror newspaper opposite CST station heard the shots when the attacks were happening there and he ran across to the station and captured one of the terrorists on camera. Call it coincidence or karma, this was the lone terrorist who was caught alive. And going by the treatment he is probably getting at the hands of the cops, I am sure he wishes he was dead before capture. The terrorists said they fought for Islam and many fools on either side believe it too. When this guy went into CST station and sprayed bullets indiscriminately, his bullets did not selectively choose non-muslims. You just have to take a look of the injured and the dead from the attacks at CST, The Taj, The Oberoi and Nariman House to see that it is a mixture of people from all religions. Majority of the dead/injured maybe Hindus, but there are quite a number of Muslims. I wonder what these sick individuals think about killing someone they say they are fighting for.

I don't think this should be dealt as a religious issue. Yes, the motivation may be religion, but the remedy is definitely not. It has been confirmed and accepted by almost everyone that all these terrorists have been trained in Pakistan. Of course, not by the Pakistani government, but by terror groups who have long operated from Pakistan with impunity. The Pakistan civilian government itself is harangued by terror groups. Bomb blasts keep happening there every now and then. The resurgent Taliban recently said that they would attack Pakistan and take over it. It maybe a little too ambitious but it is a threat.

Osama Bin laden (if he is alive) and his cronies operate fearlessly in the tribal areas of North West Frontier Province (NFWP), Pakistan's extreme version of the wild wild west. In a way, it has always been lawless, more like a state within a state. But add a resurgent Taliban into the picture and you have complete chaos and zero control by the Pakistani government. Off late, this is a place where pakistani policemen are quitting because they fear being caught and beheaded by the Taliban. Reading all this, you are just bound to feel sorry for the common people of Pakistan. And rightly so, because anywhere in the world, no matter what side you are on, it is always the common people who suffer the most, for the actions or inactions of a select few.

The fact that Pakistan itself is facing a terror crisis and the threat of a fast-growing religious fundamentalist base is very much an outcome of the short-sighted policies of its own leaders of yesteryears. General Zia ul-Haq, who overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (Benazir Bhutto's father) in a military coup in 1977 and then had him executed was the one who started the Islamization of Pakistan, right from changing the law to an Islamic system to support for religious schools. This support for the madrassas and the so called different versions of jihadis (Mujahideen and the Taliban) went on during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The result was that the fundamentalist religious base kept growing over a period of years. And now with the Soviets out of Afghanistan, Pakistan being an ally (atleast on paper) with the US in Afghanistan, of course these religious fundamentalists are not going to disappear overnight. They are bound to hit back at the Pakistani government who they see as an entity betraying their own ilk in favour of a western power and that is just one of the many issues they have with the government. In some ways you could say that the Pakistani government created their own Frankenstein.

So it goes without saying that the tribal areas of the NFWP is a safe haven for terrorists and their training and operating camps. If the Pakistani government says that the Bombay (Mumbai if your wish) attacks were carried out by "non-state actors", they have a moral responsibility to reign in those non-state actors. If you are living with a murderer in your house, who stores his weapons in a part of your house, eats, sleeps and trains there, usually one would assume that if you are capable enough, you would try to get rid of the murderer yourself or you would ask for outside help to get rid of him. But if all you say is that you have no control over the murderer and so do nothing yourself nor ask for outside help, then anyone would assume that you are an accomplice of the murderer. It is as simple as that.

If the Pakistani government does nothing to get rid of these camps and eradicate this whole mess from the roots, "surgical strikes" is the only way to go. The US had done this recently a couple of times entering into Pakistani territory. India should do the same. It should not be officially called a war against Pakistan - just like the Kargil 'conflict' in 1999 was not a war. Even if it is not successful, atleast the terrorists will know that there is a chance that their acts of terror might have a direct repercussion on them, which hitherto has been sadly lacking.

It has been a long rambling post, so I will end it on a lighter note. Recently I went to this great Pakistani/Indian Restaurant in Sunnyvale with some colleagues. The food is just amazing and as authentic as you can get. There is always a huge rush during lunchtime even though the place is quite huge. All over the walls there are huge posters of Indian movie actors. So a colleague of mine asked me, "Why are all the posters here of Indian actors when the place is Pakistani-owned. Are there no actors in Pakistan?". I could not resist replying, "yes there are, but it seems they are all non-state actors".

Friday, November 14, 2008


A few days back, I was searching for one of those precision screwdrivers to fix my glasses and a marble magically appeared in the hardware box, transporting me back to my childhood. Needless to say, that was the end of the screwdriver search and the start of nostalgia.

My very first memories of playing marbles are with my friends when I must have been around 7 or 8. I must confess that there were just a couple of games I specialised in during my quite enterprising and long career as a marble-player. One was 10-20 ( दस-बीस as we called it ) which I remember playing a lot in my initial years and other one was called Triangle or Trikon (त्रिकोण) or Macchli (मछली).

10-20 was a lot of fun because a bunch of people would play and the objective was to reach a score of 100 by alternately putting your marble in a designated hole called Gul and then hitting anyone else's marble in your next turn. Each successful hit increased your score by 10. The focus of this game was not solely on winning; instead it was on not losing. You had to make sure that you were not the last one standing, because the last one standing had to bear a punishment - Piddi (पिद्दी) as we called it.

Piddi involved throwing your marble at some reasonable distance and the others would then try to hit it. If anyone was successful, you did it all over again till no one hit it. Then you had to hop on one leg from that point all the way back to the Gul. Since the population density of Bombay is quite high, the number of kids playing were atleast 10 at any point in time. So this resulted in long one-legged hops, sometimes a mile or more, for the unfortunate loser. Depending on the distance you had to hop back, you could even negotiate a few rest-stops. But there were times when all previous records of Piddi would be broken and hopping distances would become humanly impossible, etching the day in glory for the Piddi-seekers and in shame for the Piddi-taker. In such an event, a choice of an alternate punishment was given to the Piddi-taker by the very reasonable Piddi-seekers - take 3 blows on your back between your shoulder blades from each of the other players. Some kids were brave and fool-hardy enough to take up this alternative choice, but their valour mostly ended in tears. All the times that I had the misfortune of being the loser, without hesitation, my choice was the one-legged hop.

10-20 honed my marble-playing skills for the future when I would play Triangle, the game played by the older boys. Triangle was not a cruel game like 10-20. It was more business-like. In fact it was exactly like the stock market. You invested some marbles and you either got back a lot more or you lost most of it or all of it. Triangle involved a bunch of players putting their marbles in a designated triangular area (demarcated by lines in the mud). Anyone who hit a marble from that area without getting stuck in the triangle could take that marble for himself. If your aim was good, you ended up with a lot more than you invested.

Not everyone was into playing marbles. I have only seen middle class kids and kids from poorer sections of society play it. It almost felt like it had a stigma attached to it since most of the time you were squatting and getting your hands dirty in the mud. I think the general feeling amongst people in the higher income levels of society has always been that playing marbles was too low class. It did not matter that soccer or cricket could get you just as dirty , but playing marbles was just not done. It is sad to know that pretenses can keep people from enjoying the simple joys of playing a game and the things it can teach you. I distinctly remember a day when I was doing really well at Triangle and had amassed a ton of marbles. Of course, a consequence of me doing really well was that someone else did really bad. This friend of mine ran out of marbles and to qualify to play, he needed to invest some. So he asked me for a loan. That was the first time anyone had asked me for a loan on something that I had actually worked to get. It felt quite strange and different from someone asking me if I could loan them a pencil or a pen. I wondered if this was how it would feel when I grew up and started working. Does the value of something go up immensely if you have actually worked to earn it? It made me appreciate what my parents were doing for my brother and me.

Eventually I grew too old to play marbles and I stopped when I was around 15. That's actually quite a late retirement. When I retired, I had around 700 or so marbles. Initially I thought of keeping them as souveniers, but eventually in a move which must make Warren Buffett proud, I donated all of them to a kid in our neighbourhood who was just starting to play Triangle. He was beyond joy and I just felt good!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Random thought: taking care of handicapped folks

The US government takes care of its handicapped people like probably no other country does. Right from reserved handicapped seats in public transport, sidewalks with ramps at intersections for easy wheelchair maneouvering, lifts (elevators as we call them in the US) with Braille on the buttons to sophisticated wheelchair-lifts in public buses. But I wonder how and why is it that the government does not think of having different sizes for different denominations of dollar notes so that it would benefit the blind.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A debate

Since it seems to be debate-season in the US, the other day my wife and I had a little debate of our own too. Unlike the presidential and vice-presidential debates, it was an impromptu debate triggered by the pronunciation of a certain innocuous word which ultimately got blown into a bigger debate about languages. The sole audience member to the debate, our dog, was largely uninterested in the topic, yawning at the start of it and even barking in his dreams, as he was deep asleep through the most of it.

Anyway, I have tried to reproduce the exchange of ideas as best as I can. Try not to emulate our dog.

Me: Do we have any aluminium foil left?

Wife: Yes. We do have some aluminum foil.

Me: Did someone swallow the 'i' in aluminium? Its alumin-i-um, not alumin-um.

Wife: In American English, its aluminum. There is no 'i'.

Cooper (the dog); Yaaaaaawn.

Me: I think aluminium is and should be the correct pronunciation.

Wife: Why?

Me: Because English comes from England. If the creators of the language pronounce something a certain way, that is the way it should be pronounced. And while we are at it, I think words should also be spelt the way the creators of the language spell it.

Wife: Not necessarily. You can pronounce a word or spell it anyway you like, if it is more convenient.

Cooper (deep asleep) : woof ! woof!

Me: Yes you can pronounce it anyway you like, if its a proper noun. But not regular words. Just because a bunch of people change the pronounciation of a word, that does not make it the right way to speak a language that they did not create in the first place.

Me (on a roll now): Just imagine you trying to learn a foreign language like say Hindi. Just because you mis-pronounce it, spell stuff according to your convenience, that does not mean that it is the right way to speak Hindi. Its like me playing baseball and saying that I am not out even after 3 strikes, because thats how I play. Of course, I can't do that, because I did not invent the game.

Wife (smiling assuredly): If enough people start speaking a language a certain way, it becomes a dialect or a language of its own. How do you think languages evolved? Most Indian languages evolved from Sanskrit and most European languages have their roots in Latin. By your logic, all the languages that we speak today are wrong because they are not what they were derived from. What you are saying is that since a large part of English is derived from Latin, when we speak English, we are just speaking improper Latin.

Me (with no counter-point to parry the death blow): Oh look, Cooper is barking in his sleep!

And then we exchanged knowing smiles. My face bearing the defeated smile of a man who has come out second-best in a mental contest with a worthy opponent and my wife smiling away to glory because she knows she will not be troubled by me again on this topic!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Unlucky traveler

I realized that I have not blogged in a couple of months and I seem so out of touch now. I was away in India for a month and then as if to pay for my vacation, after coming back, I ended up in a project where I had to work like it was going out of fashion. But all that is hogwash. Excuses I like to give myself for my tardiness at blogging.

Anyway, one lazy afternoon, as I relaxed on the sofa with my head leaned back and pondered about life in general, I came to the conclusion that I am an unlucky traveler. Let me elaborate on that unlucky bit. Ever since I started travelling alone and ever since the fairer sex was of interest to me, not once has a young woman sat next to me in a bus, train or plane. Elderly women, elderly men, young men, children -sure. But never a young woman. Please note that I am not saying 'hot young woman' or 'pretty young woman'. I am just saying any young woman. If my wife is reading this, (a) I am talking about the time before I met you and (b) I really don't care about who sits next to me now, so I don't think of myself as lucky or unlucky anymore.

Some people have all the luck. I know of a few friends who seemed to meet women only in buses and trains. Every time they wanted to meet a new woman, all they had to do was travel a few hours by bus or train. I have heard so many stories from them that I have felt that it was just my fate to maintain a balance in the universe in that field. There was a time when I used to travel between Bombay and Pune by bus every week. I must have done that for atleast 2 years, Pune being my place of work and Bombay being my hometown. Its a 4 hour journey each way. So in approximately 400 trips in 2 years, never once did I ever have the same luck as my friends did. Fate never gave me the chance to open up a conversation with my "fellow-young-female-traveler". In the movie 'Unbreakable', Samuel Jackson's character yearns to find someone who is at the opposite end of the spectrum as himself. I don't think my friends and I ever had that problem.

When I was about 13 or 14, there used to be a TV program called 'Yatra' (यात्रा -meaning 'journey') and I suspect that it was sponsored by the Indian Railways. Anyway, every episode was a short story about people who were travelling by train. I distinctly remember an episode where a young man and woman who are travelling from Kanya-kumari to Kashmir (easily a 3 day journey) meet on the train and fall in love. For some reason, that episode lodged itself firmly in my memory and fate cruelly reminded me every time I travelled that what I saw was a TV show and my travels were real-life.

But now when I think about it, I realise that I was unlucky only while I was in the actual process of travelling. After getting to a destination, things were alright. I have tried to form many theories to explain this dearth of interesting female company in my travels. One of my theories is that pretty young women do not travel alone because they always have some acquaintance who is dying to be with them all the time. The second theory is that younger women don't travel alone as much as younger men and so the chance of sitting next to one is reduced considerably right there. But when I look at my friends, all these theories fall flat and the only conclusion and a horrible one too, that I seem to be able to draw, is that maybe it's just me. I am not sure what it is about me though. That will be one of life's unsolved mysteries.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Ravi grew up in a very middle-class family in a suburb of Bombay. His home was on the 4th floor of a 6-storied building in a typical middle-class locality. Even though Bombay was bursting at its seams with more and more people migrating into the city every day and straining the already scarce resources, their building surprisingly seemed largely unaffected since it still had running water and electricity 24 hours a day. Their family was never rich enough to own a car, but then who needed a car in Bombay! The fastest way to get around the city was the incredibly efficient public transport system - buses and trains - the lifeline of the city.

Many kilometers south from Ravi's apartment, in one of the most affluent sections of the South Bombay, a huge mansion overlooked the vast expanse of the Arabian Sea. This mansion was inhabited by textile mill tycoon Mr. J.N. Patel, his wife Mrs. Seema Patel and their daughter Ms. Natasha Patel. Natasha had had a very sheltered and comfortable life. She had just graduated from college, where her biggest problem everyday usually had been, which car from her father's fleet of imported cars would she be driven in to her college by the chauffeur. She had never set foot on a bus or a train. Not that she felt that she was too good for them but it was more due to the fact that there was never a need to - especially when there were not one but many chauffeurs who could drive her anywhere in the city in an air-conditioned, imported car.

One rainy morning in July, Ravi had just walked into his cubicle at work, when he was told by his boss that he urgently needed to travel to Doghat to clear up some paperwork for a plot of land that his company was looking to buy. Doghat was a village in the interiors of the state, many miles away from Bombay. It was literally a tiny hamlet and was in such a remote place that there was not even a hotel anywhere near it. So he would have to stay in a cottage owned by one of the locals with whom he was going to do the paperwork. Ravi was to get some money from the bank for expenses and leave early morning the next day. Not one to waste time, he set out for the bank rightaway.

Natasha had walked into the bank just minutes before Ravi. She was standing just before Ravi in the queue. Tall and beautiful, Natasha always drew appreciative glances from men and Ravi was no exception. He was drawn to her rightaway. He noticed that she was wearing stylish, expensive clothes and she had a very expensive cell-phone glued to her ear. "Definitely rich", he thought. He tried to appear nonchalant and uninterested in her, but his ears were trying to catch every word she uttered.

"....and its so rainy today", Natasha seemed to be complaining to a friend on the phone.
She went on, "Yeah, I had gone to Dadar to visit a friend. Dad took the Ferrari to work, Mom took the BMW to Pune and so I had to go in the Mercedes."

Ravi corrected his previous assessment. "Not rich, but stinking rich", he thought.

Natasha went on "But the car broke down just as we set off for home. The driver tells me that it may have been a blessing in disguise since most of the roads leading to home are blocked because of the rains. Insane traffic. So I had to take the train and Oh my God, I tell you I will never travel in a local train again. I don't know how people do it. No air-condition, so many people and then the train stops every few minutes and another horde of people hop on aboard. So now you have another new set of people to stare at and to be stared at. I am so glad those 20 minutes in the train are over. I don't care if my car breaks down again and I have to stay overnight somewhere, but I am never going to take the local train again".

Ravi quickly added 'Spoilt' to his assessment of her. He thought, "If only these rich people did not live exclusively in their perfect parallel universes, they would be less spoilt, have less to complain about and be much more happier. They really need to be more in touch with what common people live like".

Soon Ravi collected his money from the bank and went home to prepare for the trip to Doghat. He caught the morning train to Velaki, the closest train station to Doghat and the only way to reach Doghat. He arrived at Velaki ten hours after he left from Bombay. The travel department at work had arranged for a car at Velaki station to take him to Doghat. He had his dinner near Velaki and then sat on a 2 hour car-ride to Doghat. Just as the sun was about to go down, he reached his destination. He was met by one Mr. Girish Tawak, the owner of the cottage he was supposed to stay in. Girish was a silent man, probably a few years older than Ravi. He ushered Ravi into a old, dilapidated cottage and told him that he would come back the next day at 9 am, when they could start with the paperwork.

The next day, when Girish arrived at 9 am, he found that Ravi looked quite groggy and not ready at all to leave rightaway. Girish noticed that Ravi did not just look uncomfortable, in fact, he looked really unhappy. He asked Ravi, "You look ill. Is something the matter?"
Ravi replied, "It was so hot yesterday night and there is no electricity here, no ceiling or table fan, nothing. I just could not sleep. I have been used to sleeping under the whirring blades of a fan in Bombay. I tossed and turned for the better part of the night and I finally gave up. I thought I might as well take a shower and get ready for tommorrow. Thats when I realised that there is no running water in this cottage. I remembered your words that the village well was half a mile from the cottage. The idea of just walking half a mile to get water in the pre-dawn hours sounded so demoralising that I just gave up that idea and tried going back to sleep. Which obviously I could not. God, I don't understand how you people live like this. I mean it must be so hard to live without electricity and running water. I don't think I can ever live in such conditions. If I am sent here one more time, I will just quit and the company can go to hell".

Girish just sat there not saying a word and listening to everything that Ravi said and he thought, "These city people are such babies. They probably think every place should be like their cities. They are so quick to complain. All they are really is spoilt. Yes, definitely spoilt".

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Eight Signs That You Are A Little Over-Obsessed With Your Dog

It appears that there are two kinds of people in this world: people who think that dogs exude all that is good in life (hope, loyalty, patience, and of course, love) and those that just haven’t met the right dogs yet. In fact, canine appreciation may be so deeply engrained in human nature that it helps us to better define the essence of what humanity truly is. Apparently Gandhi would agree, as a t-shirt I recently saw (probably not the most reliable source of information, but you must admit that many of Gandhi’s more profound thoughts do to tend to end up on t-shirts and bumper stickers) quoted him as stating, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” This rings of trueness. Even pop culture tells us that humans tend to predictably go ga-ga over dogs and similarly furry creatures. In one Star Trek episode, for example, the crew of Deep Space Nine travels back in time to capture a dangerous Klingon who has infiltrated the Enterprise disguised as a human. Although the crew expresses concern over how they will discover him, given that they know that he appears to be human in every way, fortunately he is easily found due to his distinct reaction to an animal. Whereas humans can’t help but fawn over a “Tribble” (a rapidly-breeding but adorable equivalent of a rodent), the Klingon is unable to repress his repulsion at the fuzzy-wuzzy animal, and aha, he is outted! Clearly, space-age humans, defined in this case by their appreciation of something cute and cuddly, would be dog-people.

So surely there is no crime in loving your pet, but is it possible that some people have become a little too obsessed with dogs? I am forced to reluctantly acknowledge that this is the case in our household. Below are some tips that may aid you in discovering whether you too are a complete sucker when in comes to pups:

1) You realize that you are spending more time and money on your dog’s medical care than on your own. Example: I have gone to a doctor’s office twice in the past two years. Cooper has gone to the vet five times. Sadly, the ratios aren’t much different when it comes to teeth-cleanings. (But I am happy to say that I have had more eye doctor appointments than the dog).

2) You believe that there can never be “too many” dog toys. The more dog toys the better. The dog likes his toys- no, he LOVES his toys. You love the dog and the dog loves his toys, so naturally you must spend outrageous amounts of money on designer toys that will eventually be slobbered upon, torn, or squeaked into a premature toy-death.

3) In an average day you spend more time talking to the dog than your spouse. True, it is sort of a one way conversation when it comes to the dog, but he happily curls his ears and wags his tail in delight when you talk to him. A spouse doesn’t do either of these things.

4) You can’t help but refer to the dog in a sing-songy baby-talk sort of way. He likes it. He curls his ears when you do this. He has an official name, but you tend to call him your ____________(insert name here)-y boopy bear. You would probably be horrified to hear yourself doing this, but still, you can’t help it. He is, after all, sooo cute.

5)99.9999% of the photos from your digital camera are of the dog.

6) You always seem to be covered in dog hair. You are so used to having dog hair on your clothes, on your socks, on your furniture, that you stop minding it. You notice that your close family and friends also seem to transporting hair from your dog on their clothes too. Not so surprising, as they may have sat on your couch, sat in your car or worked in your office, all places frequented by the dog. In some ways this is nice, like a badge that identifies all of your closest people (the honor of having persistent hair from Coopie sticking to you)...but then you realize that some of your friends’ friends have hair from your dog on their clothes too. At this point your forced to realize that the abundant amount of hair shed from your dog is somewhat disturbing. It is traveling in circles far beyond your own social networking.

7) In a moment when a young child, a son or daughter of your friends or relatives, does something excessively charming and cute, you announce that he/she reminds you of your dog. This is usually not taken well. Non-dog people should understand though, that this is the *highest* compliment a dog-owner can give. It is said with the utmost love.

8) On a day when you have quite a bit of work sitting on your desk, more work than you can possibly imagine getting through, you blissfully procrastinate by hacking into your husband’s blog to write an ode to how much you love the dog. I know, I know, it’s sad really...sort of depressing given how many deadlines are piling up. There’s only one thing to do to console one’s self in a case like this. Goodbye-I’m off to play with the dog.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Chick-flicks and Optimism

This Friday, I had the misfortune of watching the movie '27 weddings' or '27 dresses' or '27 wedding dresses' or something like that. Well, you get the idea. Shakespeare once said, crap by any other name would still stink which his PR person turned into the famous quote 'the rose by another name would still smell as sweet'. So it does not matter what the exact name of the movie is, it killed me.

The netflix DVD had turned up mysteriously at our home. I think it is time I changed the password on my Netflix account, so that such movies don't appear unexplicably in my movie queue. In all fairness to my wife, good soul that she is, she did warn me not to watch it before she left for work on Friday. I think she had said 'you will hate it'. Yes, those were her exact words.

But as a moth drawn to a flame, I watched it in the early part of the evening before my wife came home. Call me an optimist, but no matter how bad a movie is, I always watch it till the end in the belief that something will happen in the next few minutes, that will redeem the movie in my eyes. And so I ended up torturing myself. When my wife came back from work, she chuckled at me - it was a 'I told you so' chuckle.

Most children will feel tempted to do something that they are told not to. Some people never grow out of that phase even as adults. I have a horrible feeling that I maybe one of them. '27 dresses' was probably the worst 'chick-flick' that I have seen in a while. Once bitten, twice shy is what they say. So I have resolved to steer clear of such movies. But I have to stop this post soon now. My wife has just put on 'Dirty Dancing' on our DVD player and I need to watch it.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Our famous relative

A couple of months ago, I found out that I have Sri Lankan relatives. No one in our family knows who they are or where they are. My brother came across this interesting family trivia when he was chatting with my mother. Apparently, one of my grand-uncles - my mother's father's brother, went to Sri Lanka (Ceylon back then) for work sometime in the first half of the 20th century and he settled down there. He married a Sri Lankan woman, had kids and he never came back to India; not even to visit. The only reason my mother knew that he had a Sri Lankan family was because he used to write regularly to his brother (my grandfather) and once he sent some photographs of his wife and kids. My mother says that the woman was very beautiful. Once my grandfather passed away, there were no more letters and so no one knows where his family is and how his kids/grandkids are doing.

My brother has therefore decided to put a spin on this story. He says he has adopted the Sri Lankan cricketer Kumar Sangakkara as our long-lost cousin (or 2nd cousin to be precise). His reasons are:
1. He is a very good cricketer.
2. He is quite intelligent and extremely articulate.
3. He comes off as a very likeable person.
4. Since the chances of finding our real relatives are next to none, we might as well pick and choose the best.
And so by slightly less logical and slightly more opportunistic deduction, Kumar Sangakkara is our relative. Elementary, my dear Watson !

Friday, June 6, 2008

A tale of 2 flights

Once upon a time, there lived a man who was a software consultant by profession. There was a time in his life, when he used to travel a lot for work. He did not like it much but he had no choice. Every Monday morning, he would wake up at an unearthly hour and go to the Sacramento airport and take the 6 am flight to Minneapolis. Once there, he would eagerly wait for Thursday evening to take the 6 pm flight back home. Thank God, there were direct flights at the times he wanted. He always shuddered to think how he would have coped with it if not for these direct flights. Most probably, he would have quit his job and found something else to do.

He saw a lot of familiar faces in both the flights. He pitied them as probably they pitied him. Some of them even gave him a hint of a smile of recognition which was usually reciprocated by him - unless it was on Monday mornings, which is when he would mostly be sleep-walking and hardly notice anything going around him.

Our man was also quite well-known at home for his procrastination, usually when it came to things which only affected him. Once he forgot to buy tickets in advance and he could not manage to get tickets on his usual flights. So he was forced to buy tickets through Frontier airlines which had a stopover in Denver. He cursed himself but tried to be optimistic about the whole thing, telling himself that this was precisely what he needed to jolt him out of his procrastination tendencies. He swore to himself that he would never wait to buy tickets at the last minute.

The flight to Minneapolis through Denver was quite uneventful. As it was a Monday morning, he graduated from sleep-walking in the airport to a full-fledged slumber on the flight to Denver and then again from Denver to Minneapolis. It was on the trip back home on Friday evening from Minneapolis that he noticed that Frontier Airlines had newer aeroplanes with better facilities inside the plane. Every Frontier flight had some kind of an animal painted on its rudder. That was a neat thing to do, he observed. Inside the plane, there were 2 rows of seats in sets of 3, on either side of the aisle.

Soon he was seated on the right hand side of the aisle in the center seat. As soon as he sat down he noticed that every seat had its own little TV screen and a set of headphones. He plugged his headphones into the socket, adjusted them on his ears and set the channel he wanted to see using the controls on his right armrest and relaxed back in his seat. He changed the channels many times, changed the volume settings many times almost greedily, as if he wanted to make the most of this TV screen. When they landed, he was surprised at how fast they had reached Denver. He disembarked and walked at a brisk pace to his gate for the flight to Sacramento. Seeing him walk then, you would never believe that this was the same person who wafted sleepily through the airport like a petulant schoolboy on Monday mornings.

Very soon, he was on the flight to Sacramento. This time he was seated on the left hand side of the aisle, again in the center seat. He was thrilled to see that this plane too had the TV screens for each seat. He concluded right then that all the Frontier aeroplanes must be like this one and that he liked Frontier. It was a pity that they they did not have direct flights to Minneapolis. The plane took off soon and he decided to watch some TV. He put on his headphones and changed the channel using the controls on his right armrest, but the controls seemed to be broken. He pressed the channel buttons hard - he pressed the up button and the down button but the screen did not change. However he felt a light tap on his right shoulder. He turned to see the passenger on his right (henceforth referred to as "Passenger On Right" or POR for short) telling him that he was changing POR's channel and not his own. Our man was embarassed and he apologised. He used the controls on his left armrest and they worked like a charm. He smiled at POR and POR smiled back as if saying it was ok and that he understood.

After a while, our man decided to change channels and he committed the same mistake again. He changed POR's channel once again, but this time he realised his error in a split second and changed it back rightaway hoping that he was fast enough for POR not to notice. Unfortunately, POR's persistence of vision was that of a normal human being and our man's actions definitely took eons more than that time. So POR noticed it and this time again there were apologies rendered by our man and explanations given as to how on the right hand side of the aisle, the center seat had controls on the right and how he had just sat there on a long flight and how his brain had got accustomed to that and so on. POR was nice enought to laugh it off. There were smiles all around. Smiles of amusement, mature smiles acknowledging the apologies and sheepish smiles tendering the apologies. It was all good.

Soon the Sun set and it was dark inside the plane. People including our man and POR started dozing off. After an hour or so, our man woke up and the first thing he realised was that he could not hear anything on his headphones. He proceeded to increase the volume and he increased it to such an extent that POR sprang up with a start from his sleep and took his headphones off. He glared at our man with eyes that could kill. Gone were the mature and amused smiles. For the first time, our man felt thankful for all the metal detector checks that passengers had to undergo at the airport. He apologised profusely once again and this time he took off his headphones, wrapped the wires and put it away in the seat-back pocket in front. He promised POR that he was never going to watch TV again. Not on this flight and probably never on any flight. POR just kept watching him, his eyes were tiny slits trying to stem the anger which was trying to burst its way out.

Our man closed his eyes trying to shut out the shame that his actions had drawn towards him. Very soon, he realised that try as he might, the incident kept playing endlessly over and over again in his mind's eye and slowly it became difficult to control his laughter. He sensed though that laughter would not go down too well with POR. So he put his head down on the seat-back table in front and hid his face. He pretended to sleep while the urge to laugh went away, just supressing the full blown laughter into a long smile. Soon the plane landed and he avoided all eye-contact with POR. Light traveller as he was, he burst through the airport and caught a cab to go home.

He could not wait to tell his wife about his adventures on the plane. In the cab, he even thought of a few theories of how frequent travel, frequent time changes and frequent disruptions to his body cycle were affecting his brain. Another theory he mulled around for a while was that most right-handed people would always go for their controls on the right. Surely he was not the first person to do this. Maybe he was the first person to do it 3 times in the space of an hour. He also thought of a few solutions that could counter this problem. Very soon he was home.

Monday, April 21, 2008


What is it that makes people exclude others from something that they are enjoying? Inherent selfishness is something that comes to mind rightaway. Every human being is born selfish and over a period of time, based on their experiences and upbringing, some are just less selfish than the others, but the selfishness never goes away completely. This 'Selfishness' theory may be too simplistic a term because ultimately this trait stems from the age-old survival-of-the-fittest behaviour that our ancestors had to develop when resources were scarce.

I am sure you have had experiences, direct or indirect, of having been excluded from something you might have wanted to be a part of. Have you not come across clubs where membership costs are so high that you can't even dream of being a member? Have you not been turned away from a discotheque/club, just because you are a certain ethnicity, age, broke or just simply not cool enough? But, at some point of time in our lives, everyone has been the "excluder" rather than the "excludee". Just think of all those times when you have driven in a faster lane on the freeway and made sure that no one else from the slower lane cut in and slowed down traffic because that would essentially defeat the advantage of being in the fast lane. Pushing the argument to the extreme, would you not clothe and feed everyone as opposed to just your near and dear ones, if you were not an 'excluder'?

Niether complete exclusion nor complete inclusion will work socially. History has shown that to us over and over again. Complete exclusion benefits only the few, depriving the many and is not a sustainable social model, as we have seen from the many revolutions and wars for independence by the masses against the ruling few, around the world. Complete non-exclusion, where every one shares everything does not work as has been seen from the failure of almost each and every communist state all over the world, chiefly since there are no special rewards for the efforts of a progressive few and hence no motivation to go on since everyone gets the same returns irrespective of their efforts. The correct answer is somewhere in the middle.

As usual, I have gone off on a tangent. So I must stop now since I have work to do and mouths to feed. And until we arrive at the right answer, I will be excluding the rest of the world from my dining table and to be fair to them, I will also be excluding them from doing my work.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Mention the differences

Back in school, every science exam would have atleast one question which was of the type :mention the differences between A and B. For some reason it seemed to be the favourite type of question for teachers in every school. Maybe it gave them the opportunity to kill 2 birds in one stone since students had to know both A nd B well enough to answer the question. Of course, the more optimistic and informationally-challenged students countered this problem with very creative differences like A is called A while B is not called A and so on. But that is besides the point.

I read an article recently about a car being made by a company called Aptera which claims that their gas-electric hybrid car will give you an eye-popping fuel mileage of atleast 300+ miles per gallon. Usually I am least interested in the make or look of a car and I don't care about such things as long as it transports me from one place to another without the brakes failing or the steering wheel coming off. But as someone who beams with satisfaction everytime I see the 50 mpg number on the display screen of my Toyota Prius, the incredible 300+ mpg figure just took my breath away. So I had to take a more detailed look at the Aptera and that is what reminded me of the 'mention the difference' question in the science exams of yore.

Ladies and gentlemen, please take a look at the 2 vehicles below and mention the differences between them.

Figure A

Figure B

I know that almost all of you will have either knowledge about one of the vehicles or none of them, but definitely not both. So I will be kinder than my science teachers and publish the answer right below the question.
The differences are as follows:
1. Figure A is the Aptera produced and seen only in California, USA while figure B is the humble Auto-rickshaw, predominantly seen in India and maybe other parts of South-Asia.
2. The Aptera has 2 wheels in the front and one in the back, while the Auto-rickshaw (popularly referred to as 'Auto') is the opposite and has one wheel in the front and 2 in the back. My first thought after looking at the Aptera was, "hey, it almost looks like an Auto, only backwards".
3. The Aptera is a 2 seater car and has not been produced commercially yet while the Auto is a 4 seater (including the driver) and is almost always used as a vehicle for hire (like a cab). Never have I seen someone buying an Auto to be exclusively used as a personal vehicle, though that would be very interesting.
4. The Aptera is available as a fully electric model or gas-electric hybrid model. So from an emissions perspective, its a clean vehicle. The Auto, on the other hand is available as a diesel, petrol (gasoline for my American friends) and CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) model. So it can range from a clean vehicle to a disgusting-billowing-sooty-exhaust-in-your-face vehicle.
5. I may be generalising but in all probablility, the driver of an Aptera is going to be a safe cautious driver. On the other hand, I have yet to meet an Auto-driver who does not think of himself as any less than a Formula-1 racing driver. Michael Schumacher (retired now) and all his F-1 buddies are really lucky that they have never had to compete against any of the auto-drivers in Bombay. Many years ago, I was late for an interview and I told the auto driver about it. He said 'no problem' and then I had to shut my eyes in terror for the next 20 minutes, but he managed to deposit me in one piece at the venue of the interview in time - the journey that we finished in 20 minutes would have normally taken atleast 40 minutes.
6. The Aptera driver will always be seated in the left-hand side of the vehicle since its an American car and will be a left-hand drive vehicle atleast in the US. There is no such limitation for the Auto. Although the handle is in the centre, I have seen some drivers sitting to the left or right for reasons unknown even though it is much more convenient and probably safer to sit in the centre.
7. Autos can fit into the smallest of places. Probably it has to do with the fact that the front part is tapered and has only one wheel which makes it easier for the driver to muscle his way into seemingly impossible spots and thus cut off other vehicles more efficiently and smoothly. I doubt, the Aptera can do that since it is like a regular car atleast from the front.
8. Speaking of cutting off other vehicles, it is an accepted thing in Bombay as long as you do it smoothly. You can only imagine what it would be like if an Aptera driver did that in some place like Los Angeles. So, another indirect difference would be that an Auto can be driven only in places where there is gun-control whereas cutting off people is not even an option if you are driving an Aptera.

I am sure there are other differences, but this little lesson should do for now. Now that you are somewhat-informed about this, maybe you could come up with the rest of the differences.

The Aptera is kind of affordable for the common man. Although it looks like a spaceship, it does not cost like one. Their website quotes a price around US $ 27,000-30,000. I am sure that too will come down just like other cars once the model becomes more common-place and they start mass-production. I really hope that the Aptera is successful and I hope this is what cars in America will be like in the future - Smaller, futuristic, fuel-efficient and more importantly cleaner.

The auto also has been kind of affordable for the auto-drivers. I mean it definitely costs much lesser than a car. And its semi-open design makes you feel one with the road - just like being on a motorcycle. Feeling one with the road may not necessarily be a good feeling especially in the traffic of Bombay when the next vehicle is a few centimetres away from you, but it definitely is great when you are in less traffic or in the country-side. You also get to talk with many interesting characters behind the handle (the auto does not have a steering wheel). The best rides are the ones which are decked up in almost discotheque-like lights, faux silver-plated roofs and have the biggest sub-woofer sound systems blaring out the latest B-grade songs.

I really hope that all Autos are forced to use CNG as they have been starting to do in Bombay, Delhi etc. I also hope that the Auto never goes away from India's traffic landscape. The Auto is one of the first things that make me feel that I am home when I get out of the Bombay airport and I would like that feeling to stay intact every time I go back.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The sport effect

I watched this youtube clip of Zinedine Zidane and I realised more than ever why football is called 'the beautiful game'. I also realised that rap/hiphop music in French sounds 'tres' cool. Zidane is such a treat to watch. His control over the ball is sheer poetry. Unfortunately most people who don't follow football probably remember him for his infamous headbutt - strange word that, which brings us to the bad pun of the day section: "Anyone who says that they can't make ends meet should be given a headbutt". Now that we have that done with, I was saying that most people who don't follow football probably remember him as the guy who headbutted the Italian player in the finals of the world cup 2006. Unfortunately France lost the match in the penalty shoot-out later on and almost every person who could voice an opinion and had the medium to do so, blamed Zidane for the loss. Not many bothered to find out why he had done it and what did Matterazzi say that provoked him so much. The details of the incident surfaced many weeks later. If what this news article says is true, it started with a shirt tug, which was met by sarcasm from
Zidane, which proceeded on to Materazzi mentioning his preference for Zidane's sister over his shirt in rather colourful terms and finally ended with the infamous headbutt. Anyway, the headbutt just shifted focus from what was an end to a glorious career which mesmerised audiences all over the world. Zizou was one of the greatest that the game ever had.

Watching sportsmen who are brilliant at what they do is like watching artistes practising their art. You wish you could do it, but lesser mortals know they can't and so you just appreciate the beauty of it all. I get the exact same feeling when I watch cricket and the batsmen are batting brilliantly or the bowlers are bowling beautifully. Watching batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar just blows you away. Just the thought of how, when a moving ball is being hurled at them at around the 85-100 mph mark, batsmen like him can decide in the split of a second whether to step forward and shift their weight to the front foot, or step back and shift their weight to the back foot, depending on where the ball pitches and then hit the ball taking into consideration the lateral movement of the ball is mind-boggling. Watching great bowlers bowl also gives me that same tingly feeling all over. There is nothing more spectacular than the ball crashing into the wickets of a batsman. Even better if the ball is a 'yorker' and the batsman is 'yorked and bowled'.

I have often wondered what it is about sport that makes people, especially men so passionate. What is it that it makes me want to wake up at 6 am on Sunday and play cricket. I am very sure there is nothing else I will wake up voluntarily for at that unearthly hour. What is it about sports that prompts us to do crazy things like running around in the streets and celebrating after a win or just sulking at home after a loss - maybe even shed a tear or two. I could never figure out how a grown man could cry on account of some game being telecast on the televsion until that crazy India-Australia match in 1992. India were in a hopeless situation and they rallied to almost win and lose and then win and finally lose the game in the last ball that was bowled. People who have seen that world cup match should know what I mean by win,lose,win and finally lose, all in the last ball. I jumped up for joy and celebrated twice in that one ball only to have my happiness cruelly crushed. I was in shock. It was just a game but I had that feeling which could probably be described as something you may feel when everything you have owned and wanted has been taken away in one instant by fate and there is no way you can get it back. I was almost in tears and slightly ashamed about it too and that's when I looked at my brother and my cousin brother. Both of them were sitting silently on the sofa, eyes moist. My brother was 20 at that time and my cousin was 27.

There are so many people who suffer heart attacks watching the games - especially during the cricket and soccer world-cups. I have a feeling that in a few decades, I may become one of them. Even now if the game is thrilling, I get that queasy hollow feeling in my stomach and I can't bear the tension. I have realised though that this only happens when I am watching the game and and not when I am playing it. Probably because I know that I am helpless in changing the course of the game if I am merely watching. On the other hand if I am playing, I know I have a chance. I think I may have control issues.

My wife tells me that she read an article sometime ago in some newspaper a while ago that the movies that men are most likely to cry during are sports movies or patriotic movies. Actually if you ask me, playing the best moments of a game in slow motion with good slow music also works very well.

So ladies, promise to look the other way when you see us men crying at games and we will promise not to look at you when someone close to you is getting married or when Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood are next to each other at the traffic lights in The Bridges of Madison County.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Wine-making chronicled

Some years back, my friends and I tried to make wine. Of course we did not use any recipe, since that went against our principles of being organised. We just went by our instincts and the results were surprisingly good. One of my friends had chronicled it on his web-page in pictures. I have just reproduced verbatim those same images and captions. Happy wine-making to anyone who wants to try it.

Step 1: Get the resident flunkey to buy the stuff.

Step 2: Clean the bucket (remember to wear a hat).

Step 3: Get outside help to wash the grapes.

Step 4: Keep some grapes aside to feed the vintners.

Step 5: Appoint a manager to supervise the elephant.

Step 6: Ensure all grapes are crushed.

Step 7: Use force if required.

Step 8: Manager Vision Camera Angle.

Step 9: Always keep the crushers happy to ensure purity of contents.

Step 10: Add the secret ingredient.

Step 11: Colouring Agent

Step 12: Admire your hard work

Step 13: Stir. Do not spill.

Step 14: Seal the mixture and let it happen

Step 15: Its happening.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Half-Growl

If you are persistent and patient, you can definitely teach a dog new tricks. Even an old one for that matter. But why go through all that effort when you can just reverse the process and learn from the dog instead?

Of the many important things that Cooper, our lazy dog, has taught me, one of the lessons that stands out is that you don't need to say a lot to express your displeasure at things. My dear friends, I present to you the half-growl. It sounds exactly like the description. Its not long enough to be full-blown growl; in fact its more like a short grunt in the tone of a growl. Cooper usually uses it if my wife and I are talking too loudly for him to be able to sleep. Don't take Cooper wrong - he is probably the friendliest dog during the day, it is just that he takes his sleep at night very seriously. Unfortunately for him, his little remonstrations are met by laughter from us, but out of respect, we try to laugh quietly.

Anyway, I realised that this was probably the most efficient way to express my displeasure to my wife, in case something bothered me. And being of a gender where expressing emotions through the right words is a perpetual challenge, this was a god-send.So these days when my wife asks me to do something I don't like doing like going grocery-shopping, getting my clean clothes out of the dryer and folding them, all I have to do is my half-growl. Since no words are used, there is no rational reply to it and the matter dies a quick, painless natural death. My wife is not a big fan of the half-growl and thinks that it is a lazy way of communicating. My response to that is another half-growl. Thank you Cooper!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Negative associations

When I was growing up, my mother would tell me that it is very easy to have people form a bad opinion about you but it is quite difficult to have them form a good one. I did not heed too much attention to this little nugget of wisdom back then, but now, when I think of it, it is so very true. I think , maybe in some twisted way, it makes people feel better about themselves to know something negative about someone else. Call it an inherent attraction towards morbidity, whatever the reasons, negative things are more likely to be remembered than positive things.

The reason I recollected this was that I recently started listening to this German metal band 'Rammstein'. I really like their sound. Its different from the standard metal ones. I even started picking up some German (they sing mostly in German) by looking up the lyrics and translation online. Which is when I found out that they have been linked to some undesirable groups of people like the Columbine high school shooters, the Chechen militants who took 1200 odd Russian school children hostage in 2004 and some Neo-Nazi groups. As soon as I read it I felt slightly ashamed of the fact that I liked Rammstein too. Irrational though it was, the negative image was quick to form in my brain.

Speaking of Rammstein and their German roots, another much-maligned symbol that comes to mind is the Swastika. Most people outside of probably India know the 5000 year old Swastika only as the 80 odd years old Nazi party symbol. For some reason, Hitler and his Aryan race theory cronies had to hijack something which was meant to be good (Swastika literally means well-being in Sanskrit), tilt it by 45 degrees and turn it into an international symbol of hate. I wish they would have atleast called it by some other name. The Swastika is ubiquitous in India, You will find the clockwise Swastika and and the anti-clockwise Swastika in use in a ton of places ranging from temples, entrances of houses, wedding cards etc.I have even met someone named Swastika on a bus journey in India. Smart-alec that I tried to be, I couldn't help suggesting to her that international travel may not be good for her well-being.

Similar is the fate that the word Aryan has met. The whole concept of the super Aryan race too has made this word Arya/Aryan, meaning noble in Sanskrit and which probably has its roots in Iran, a not-so-politically correct word anymore. There is a Persian restaurant named Arya on Steven's Creek Blvd, in Cupertino, California. I think they were quite brave to have chosen that name in the US. They were either banking on their patrons being well-informed or the culinary skills of their cooks, but it does look like they are doing well.

Personally, I don't believe in religion and I don't really care much about it (that will require a separate post), but it is a shame that Al-Qaeeda and other similar outfits are doing the same thing to Islam what the Nazis did to the Swastika. Either these extreme militant outfits should stop or we, as a people, should try to accept the good instead of focussing on the bad. At this point in time, unfortunately, I don't see either of that happening very soon.

Friday, January 11, 2008


A few days back, I somehow stumbled across a piece of useless trivia while surfing the web. In a survey conducted a few years back, they found that slightly less than 50% of the population in India believed in ghosts. I searched for the corresponding number in the US and I came across this cbs article from 2005, which states that almost the same percentage of people in the US believe in ghosts too. This similarity is indeed quite remarkable given the vast difference in culture between India and the US.

And so this survey set the rusted wheels inside my brain in motion and these creaky wheels groaned out a question to me in a rather surprisingly shrill tone - Do I believe in ghosts? I think the honest answer would be that I don't want to and nor do I think that ghosts exist, but that does not mean that I will be eager to spend a night in a dark graveyard. So I guess that makes me a part-time believer - a believer under special circumstances. Which means if my only job was to be a believer in ghosts and I got paid for the amount of time I believed in them, I would be well below the poverty line, but I still would earn something. I wonder what category the survey put people like me in. And I wonder what percentage of the population is like me ?

One of my favourite ghost stories (from real life and not from a movie or book) is the one I heard when I was about 9 years old or so. I heard it from friends a few years older than me. A building was being constructed near our apartment and rumour had it that a construction worker slipped from the scaffolding, fell 4 storeys and died instantaneously. Apparently his wife was also working in the same building and she continued working there after his death. The story goes that every night, in the pre-dawn hours, the guy or his spirit would come on a bicycle to the building, ring the bell on his bicycle a couple of times and then call out his wife's name (his wife's name was Kunti) in a kind of long drawn out way - almost like an eerie, forlorn moan. This would be followed by all the stray dogs barking their disapproval at the current situation. This is how the whole cycle of sounds went - "Trriinng, Trriinng, Trriinng, Trriinng. Kuuuuntiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii". This was a cue for the dogs to go 'bhow bhow bhow bhow bhow'. (Note that these being Indian dogs, barked in the local dialect and did not go 'wuff wuff' or 'ruff ruff' like their Western counterparts.) This whole cycle would repeat over and over again for a few minutes and then it would stop automatically. I am a very heavy sleeper and I never heard it except once. I had woken up in the middle of the night for some reason and was not able to go back to sleep rightaway. And then, I heard this exact cycle of sounds and I lay there wondering if I should look out of the window. I did not end up looking out because I was scared - scared that the ghost may divert his attention from his unresponsive wife towards me - scared that the ghost may be really hideous and I would not be able to get that picture out of my mind forever - scared for many reasons unknown to me. Anyway, I tried to make myself feel better about it by telling myself that it was probably a drunk man returning home late and I would feel foolish if I made all the effort of getting out of bed, going to the window and looking out. I think I made a wise decision.

Another story (funny now) which I half-believed in was told to me when I was about 8 years old. One evening, my elder brother told me that he read an article in the newspaper that Count Dracula was visiting Bombay and he was specifically drinking the blood of children born after 1975. I think he may have been reading the story of Dracula then, but in those days, I used to believe anything my brother said and since he said that he read it in the newspaper, it sounded even more authentic. My brother having been born in 1972 was safe from the Count but I, being born in 1976 was very much fair game. I spent the next few nights wishing that the Count would do his rounds in downtown Bombay first and then, when his supply was exhausted, turn his attention to the suburbs. Most probably, I figured that he would even be done with his visit to Bombay before he came to the suburbs. I think my calculations were right because as far as I know, he never came to the suburbs.

A decade or so later, a story which even had the tabloids by its holds was of a ghost-woman with 2 heads, who would walk into buildings and knock on the apartment doors. When you opened it, she would attack you. So the general advice was not to open your door at night. Especially not when it was a dual-headed ghost at the door waiting to rip you apart. Many people followed the advice, much to the chagrin of family members returning from night-shifts, travellers coming into the city late at night, patrons of discotheques, pub-hoppers and other nocturnal members of the society. Anyway, some people laughed at the story, some enjoyed the story and some people actually believed it. But it was definitely the topic of conversation for a couple of weeks in our part of the city.

Most of the ghost-stories obviously stem from our own imagination. The ghosts invariably take the form of whatever what you want to see. Otherwise there is absolutely no reason for ghosts in India to be wearing white most of the time, whereas there does not seem to be any such restriction for ghosts in Western countries. If its an Indian woman-ghost we are talking about, she will most definitely have long black hair and be in white clothes - white clothes because white is a colour of mourning among Hindus. But long black hair? Maybe an explanation for the dearth of older silver-haired Indian woman-ghosts is that they lack the glamour quotient that comes with younger black haired ones.

Coming back to the survey, I think surveys like these should also include another question. Along with 'Do you believe in ghosts?', they should also include 'Do you get scared by your own imagination?'. I am very sure the percentage of people answering 'yes' to the second question is going to be very high compared to the first one and it does not matter what part of the world you live in. So my friends, do me a favour and ask yourself the second question and if you answer 'no', maybe I will send a construction worker, a bicycle and a few Indian stray dogs near your bedroom window tonight.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

When in doubt, fall

I recently discovered that not only can I ski on my feet, I can also do it off my feet. I must confess though that skiing off your feet (a) does not look pretty (b) hurts a little (c) should not be called skiing since the skis are not exactly being used.

I am just going to jot down some notes about skiing here for my benefit as well as the benefit of anyone who has not skiied before. Next time I go skiing, I will use this to refresh my memory and make the experience less painful.

1. Skiing is a 1000 times easier than ice-skating. You see, I had a traumatic ice-skating adventure in a rink a few years ago. Basically, I just clung onto the support-rail for dear life (mine and all the 2 year olds who were zipping by in my falling-zone) and took an eternity to go from the entry to the exit. I fell so many times that when I stepped out of the rink, some parents watching from outside the rink started clapping for me. Sarcastically or not, I don't know but at that point, I was beyond caring about anything except getting the offending skating shoes off my feet.

2. To control your speed, dig the inner side of your skiis into the snow and point your toes (and so your skiis) towards each other. If your friend (and skiing-teacher), SB, tries to describe this as making a 'V', please ask him why he can't be more articulate.

3. To control your direction, use exactly the same technique in point 2 except that you don't point your toes towards each other. If you want to turn left, dig in your right leg and point it inwards and vice-versa for a right turn.

4. Remember that skiing is much easier than ice-skating since you don't have a problem of maintaining your balance when you are travelling in a straight line unlike ice-skating. The only problems you will face are controlling your speed and taking a turn. If you are going to crash into trees, fall down deliberately. This is the highly sensitive art of skiing off your feet.

5. Try not to hit people who help you up onto your feet, with your ski-poles. Especially when they are the ones who are teaching you. ZD, I swear I did not do it purposely.

6. Don't give up. Thank you SB and ZD for not giving up on me.

7. When you get home, drink "Ouzo" on the rocks or neat. Thank you ZD for that too.