Sunday, October 12, 2008

Don’t cry over spilt milk

Four babies are being born every second. Scientists at ISRO are toiling hard for nation’s first mission to moon this month. Rules are being rewritten in the finance world which is in a turmoil never witnessed since ‘The Great Depression’. Minissha Lamba is dropping her ‘Kidnap’ itsy-bitsy for ‘Maxim’.

Meanwhile, far-far away from all this excitement, on a lovely Sunday morning, yours truly is busy preparing morning cereal in a kitchen where little has changed since last two years. I take the milk-filled-till-the-brim bowl in living room and try to settle myself in the bean bag. Please don’t try this at your home. Milk spills on my T-shirt the moment my body has comfortable settled. I would have perhaps given a squeak if there had been an audience. But now I silently suffer. I decide to finish whatever is left in the bowl first before getting up to change the wet apparel.

Seconds later, the milk makes it presence felt on the skin on my stomach. ‘Milk is good for skin’ is what I cheer myself up with. Cleopatra bhi gadhe ke doodh se nahaati thi. I read this trivia long back in a ‘Ripley’s Believe it or not’ book gifted to me on the ninth birthday. I was disappointed to see it when I tore open the gift-wrap; was expecting a board-game. But that book did a lot of good to the kid who lived in an age where Doordarshan was his only eye to see the world.

I cringe at the memories of watching ‘Sangeet ka akheel Bhartiya Karyakarm’ and ‘Krishi Darshan’. ‘He-man’ was the epitome of entertainment. Sometimes I here people reminisce those days with fondness; nostalgia is all fine and dandy but I have a sound objection to the claims that Doordarshan-days were much better. Seriously!!! Just how dumb-sighted someone has to be to ignore the choices and improvement in quality of present times in favor of mind-numbingly boring and unimaginative pieces of crap served back then. Kids these days are way too cool . TV has a very important role in this evolution. And to all those who yap about degradation in morals and values, all I’ll say is that we were ignorant, not innocent.

Anyway, back in present tense, while the skin on my stomach is getting the care that Cleopatra was used to, the door bell rings. I ignore it. It works quite a few times. But the possessor of the hand on the bell is adamant. I know this must be one of the aunties who employ the same maid. The "chann-chann" sound of bangles confirms the fact.

“Who’s there?” I shout from within the bean bag with clear hint of irritation.
“Mrs. X. Did the bai come today?” yells Mrs X.
“No. I’ll send her to your place if she comes.” I say in a leave-me-alone tone.
“Ok. Pakka send her. I’ve to take my mother to ……” describes Mrs. X in a single breath.
A resigned “Yes” is what I manage. Mrs X. leaves after cribbing about the maid the maid to her heart's content.

I am not an antisocial lunatic who stays buried away from the big bad world outside. But this ‘Aaj bai nahi aai’ talk pisses me off to no end. Simply stated, I don’t share the same fascination for the topic. Again, not claiming to be a man of sophisticated taste, I admit to watching reruns of Big-Boss on You-tube and discuss the game-plan with like-minded people. But bai-talk is just not my cup of tea. Have told the aunties so many times that I don’t care if the maid doesn’t come, please don’t bother me. Even scolded one of the persistent aunties to not to knock on my door every other day. Strategies also include opening the door wearing just a towel. But, as the great king Singh sings in Singh is King “ Taan Lo Dus Banduke, Koyale Fir Bhi Kooke”, to no avail . Once she called me in the office while I was giving a presentation and even though I just said ‘Yes/No/OK’ during the conversation, the audience gave me a sympathetic look assuming me to be under some serious personal distress.

Well, such is life. Need to change my T-shirt now and move on. You know what they say:

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Shadows of the mind

Since last quarter of an hour I’ve been wondering about the value of right hand. When no amount of money succeeded in luring me into parting with it, I turned to other body parts. So if on a cold dark night, I am captured by a seasoned sadist and he offers the choice to either part with right hand or with both the legs (third option being to die) , I’ll let go of my right hand. But if the choice is between left leg and right eye on one hand while right hand on the other, I’ll let him toss a coin.

Thinking about other currencies apart from body parts, I think a three year jail term in my youth with the guarantee of no sodomy comes close too in exchange for the right hand. Here you can play with the balance by varying the duration in prison.

The way mind makes choices is still not understood, probably can’t be “understood” and explained at all in near future. Homo-sapiens are intelligent, but not naturally “logical”. Take for instance the trades I mentioned above. You people might choose different values of the same currencies (body parts/ years in prison) for the right hand, but I assume most of us, who are reasonably happy with life and have certain hopes about the future, wouldn’t want to part ways with their right hand for money. However, now a new exchange offer is introduced: Take 100 billion dollars (let's call it A) for three years in prison (say B). I am tempted. But then I also put the value of suffering of loosing the right hand (say C) to be the same as that of three years in jail. No matter how illogical it sounds, we human beings are perfectly capable of bartering A for B, B for C , but not A for C . They call it Intransitivity .

Similarly, whom would I rather kiss: the puppy next door or Abhishek Bachchan. Hygiene advises against touching that puppy but I know my choice here.

There are certain decisions which though look illogical at first glance, need not be so when observed with some of acknowledgement of psychology. We must be prepared to accept psychological principles as axioms though. Examples abound in the seemingly logical field of economics. You would agree that if a rich emperor offers you a bet of Rs.10 with a fair coin (Heads: you win/ Tails: you loose), you might choose to play the game depending on your mood. The expected value of the bet is 0 (-10*0.5 + 10*0.5). However if you know that the coin is biased in favor of Heads (60% probability of tails), your mood shall take the back seat (unless you’ve just kissed Abhishek) and you’ll be glad to oblige the emperor’s highness. Expected value of the bet is 2 (-10*0.4 + 10*0.6).

Let’s make this interesting now. The coin in consideration is the same biased one, but you have to bet all your life’s past, present & future earnings. Here’s a chance to double your income with a 60% chance. But there’s a huge 40% chance of ruining your life’s earnings. Besides, I won’t benefit with two cars as much as I‘ll suffer after loosing my dear car Vinnie, no matter how cross she is with me. We put more value on what we already have and then diminishing marginal return (you’ll always enjoy the first bite of chocolate more than the third bite of your fourth.) along with risk aversion combine together to lead most of us to decide against taking the bet , even though the expected value out of that bet is positive .

Digressing, only slightly, let me talk about these hoardings put by DNA newspaper on Bangalore roads. They put good looking chicks on each hoarding and then post a question to all Bangloreans with two choices. I saw this one first:
What’s in Bangalore’s DNA?
A. Live-in
B. Marriage.

I’ve got little to talk about the question but a lot to say about “Why the question” but let’s not digress further. The other day I was breezing along in my Vinnie, when she hit a traffic signal. A tempo ahead was partially blocking another DNA hoarding. Only the following parts of the two options were visible to me apart from the thin babe in tight clothes:
What’s in Bangalore’s DNA?
____ uck the Issue.
____ake a stand.

The scrabbling neurons in my brain, cheered by the perverted ones, quickly came up with the letter F; single alphabet got me points for two words. The tempo moved and the real text was revealed:
What’s in Bangalore’s DNA?
A. Duck the Issue.
B. Take a stand.

Both the options pale before the combination “Fuck the issue and fake a stand”. Tell me if that’s not in your DNA.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Infinity and beyond

Another rain-filled lazy afternoon on the bean-bag in good old Bangalore. A little while later I am gonna have some coffee at the nearby Darshini-shop. Not too far away are situated Café- coffee-day & Barista, side by side, brothers in arms, partners in crime.

One wonders, how often the ways of capitalism take whimsical turns. Please don’t get me wrong, I am dead against socialism and its cousins. But then, for instance, take the wicked grandmother of the previously mentioned siblings: Infinitea, the Tea-shop on Cunningham road. They serve you tea for hundred rupees and you need to specifically request them to bring some milk. Grandma is kind enough to give some cookies too, just for 50 bucks.

Tea has always been an extremely basic beverage in Indian context, it's right next to water if you ask me. How many times we all must have heard “Bhaiya, kuch chaai-paani loge.” or something like “Arre unke yahan jaaon to koi chaai ke liye bhi nahi pooochta hain.” It’s the birth- right of every visitor to expect Tea and moral responsibility of every host to offer it.

I recall an incident when we went to my paternal village. How I detest that depiction of villages in Bollywood movies where there is hariyaali chaaro taraf and everyone is so jolly content, always smiling and without worries in clean clothes. Equally irksome is the Hollywood depiction, where every other man is a snake charmer and all women roam around half naked.

Anyway, so while we stayed there, we visited a house in the neighborhood. We were sitting outside when I heard the lady of the house whispering to her 5 year old son to go and bring some milk from his uncle’s house. He was ushered out from the back door. Sometimes later, the boy came hurrying through the front door and screamed this not in English “Mom, there wasn’t any milk at uncle’s place so I got it from Sham’s house”.
The lady was red with embarrassment now. My mom wondered aloud how fast the kid has grown and enquired whether he goes to school. He would go from the next year. We got a very sweet tea, the fifth of the day since we were on a visiting spree.

When a friend of yours shows this shirt he bought at Rs. 800, you end up saying “Wow, this colour looks good on you” or “Mast, sasta maal mil gayaa yaar”, depending on your sex. Generally though, one always checks whether the input (say X) is justified by the output (say Y) or not. For Indian sensibilities, Tea is a very basic thing, a very small number in terms of price or value. At Infinitea, the input X >100 (a large enough number) while the output Y is Tea. For further reading, would you be so kind as to recall elementary calculus without too many qualms. If you are still with me, let me reassert that the ratio X/Y tends to infinity when numerator in getting disproportionately large while denominator diminishes to a small value. Hence, there couldn’t have been a more apt name than Infinitea for this place. These morons are yelling out at top of their voice ,unwittingly of-course, that we loot you more than anyone else can. Beat us and you’ve gone beyond infinity. The search for that elusive concept ends there.

It's getting darker now and for me to enjoy the coffee ,the sky should be at least grey if not blue. I'll post this once I've had my coffee. Spell-check wagerah karna baaki hain .

It's been two days since I typed the sentence above. To justify the delay, lemme add a video . I like the typcial Indian tea shop shown in it among other things.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Pride and Prejudice

I just booked the air-tickets to my place for Diwali. A dozen kilo has been deducted from my credit card. I’ve traveled the same distance in less than thousand not very long ago. Those were the days. I remember my first flight.

Preparations: I was initiated into the flying club with a free flight from Delhi to Bangalore for an interview. Just a week before my flight, my flat-mate Mitra had flew down for his first time for the same company’s interview. Mitra started telling me the questions asked for the interview when I had to intervene: “ Wo sab to theek hain yaar, plane me ijjat bachane ki tips de”. Now, Mitra is a smart punter and we finish each other’s sentences quite often. Turned out that he too had taken “Ijjat-bachao” lessons and then added his personal experience and understanding of my personality to give a detailed step wise guide.

Check-In: I reached airport with time to spare. Unnecessarily put my hand baggage under scanner before taking the boarding pass. Check-in hadn’t started yet. Turned right, entered a room and took a seat which had a good view of TV showing schedules and check-in times. I was chewing gum to look cool. Fifty minutes on the same seat later, beginning of my flight’s check-in was announced. I cursed myself for having stared at that TV for so long.

Boarding: Mitra is a natural when it comes to getting late, so he missed out telling me that I shouldn’t be among the first ones to enter the bus which takes you to the plane. In those days, the boarding pass didn’t mention seat numbers and so everyone used to run in frenzy towards the plane as soon as the bus halted. Intelligent ones purposefully used to enter the bus late so that they could stand near the door; trading 10 minutes of discomfort in bus for a window seat in plane was a wise strategy.
Resigned to my fate of getting a middle seat, I nervously started climbing up the stairs. Air hostesses were greeting each passenger at the entrance. I braced myself. When my turn to be greeted came, the hostesses were still busy coochy-cooing to a chubby kid just before me. I got ignored. Nothing personal here, but it hurt. If you don’t get acknowledged while you are passing through that one square meter area, you are not going to get that smiling “Welcome Sir”. I quickly buried my face in the boarding pass to pretend as if I wouldn’t have noticed the “Welcome Sir” anyway.

Seating: Wading my way through the chaos, I saw a middle seat vacant between a woman and a rich looking young girl. Nowadays, whenever I occupy a seat I always hope, rather pray, that a good looking female come and seat beside me. Only once a female sat beside me, with a two year old kid who is a strong contender for putting his name in Guinness book for yelling at the highest decibels.
At that time I didn’t have the guts to seat near the babe, especially when it was the first flight and I was very much prone to do something stupid. I sat between a suited snob and a simpleton in late twenties who couldn’t speak English. Let’s call him Gopal. He had occupied the window-seat and was fiddling with the seat-belt when I settled myself between the two:

Gopal : Namaste Sir !Ye belt kaise lagaate hain ?
Me : Arre lagaon, lagaon ! Koshish karo.

I quickly picked up a magazine and wore a don’t-mess-with-me look. I should have asked this question to Mitra. Gopal didn’t have any airs about himself and clearly looked at the whole thing as a means to get to Bangalore somehow.

Gopal : Sir, aap nahi lagaoge ?
Me : Haan , Jaldi kya hain. Lagaa lenge.

Thankfully they announced to pay attention. I followed the instructions and somehow managed to tie the belt. Gopal succeeded too. Then they showed how to use oxygen-mask.

Gopal : Sir , kya saans lene me taklif hoti hain upar jaakar ?
I replied calmly that nothing of this sorts happen, it’s a useless routine. The Snob on my right looked at me and smiled at Gopal’s ignorance. I smirked back too.

Taking off: The plane started speeding up on the runway and the moment it took off I congratulated myself for being in air. Gopal turned to me with a delightful face “ Aa gaye hawaa me”. I hmmmed and realized that he was all set to take the charm away. When I was kid, I aspired to become a pilot; that was the only time I had a concrete professional ambition in my life. Here I was, flying for the first time hiding my ignorance from the world, and right beside me was this person putting my feelings and fears into words with raw expressions.

Food: The food trolley came; Deccan used to sell food on board. Mitra had told me “Noodles lenaa; paise ke hisaab se pet bharne ke liye ekdum optimum hain”. It was the same air-hostess who had ignored me. I was nervous once again when she approached our row. First she asked the people seating on other side of the passage; then the Snob who refused to have anything. I asked about the available options and after patiently listening, ordered for noodles. When she asked Gopal, he turned to me and gave me a hundred rupee note.

Gopal: Sir, aapne jo order kiya hain wo mere liye bhi kar do.
Me : Arre tum noodles khaate ho ?
Gopal : Haan sir, jo aap khaoge , mein bhi wahin kha lunga .
Me: Ye wo hain, Chinese type , kaante se khaane waale .
Gopal : Arre nahi Sahab. Kechuli (earthworm) nahi kha sakta.
Me: Tum Sandwich kha lo.
Gopal: Thik hain saab.

Tea: Sometime later, they came with Tea/coffee/cold-drinks on offer. Mitra had advised against taking any of them. But Gopal was in the mood to live life to the fullest. Again came a fifty rupees note to me.

Gopal : Sir, mere liye chai-namkeen order kar do.
Me : Bhai, utar ke pee lenaa. Ye log 30 rupaye ki chaai denge, airport par 5 ki mil jayegi is se achchi. ( I was slighlty irritated by now.)
Gopal : Thik hain .

Sanitary Needs: A little while later.
Gopal : Sir, ye toilet kahaan hain; peeshaab aa rahin hain.
I too was in the same state but was dreading reopening and closing the seat belt. If Gopal had to go then I would have had to do that anyway. I resisted.
Me : Abhi 15 minute me land kar jayegi flight. Badhiya araam se airport par kar lenaa.
Gopal was infuriated.
Gopal : Nahi saab, aapne yahin bol kar chaai bhi nahi peene dee. Ab to mein jaunga hee.
He looked resolute. I let him go and then followed his footsteps a couple of minutes later.

Landing was announced and Gopal requested me to guide him out of the plane to the exit of the airport. I generously agreed. When it landed I felt like I was sitting on a tractor; Gopal put that into words too. Halfway through the walk towards exit I saw that the same air-hostess was bidding farewell to each passenger; I immediately asked Gopal to walk right in front of me so that I don’t loose sight of him. Gopal was definitely not the candidate who could keep her engaged long enough to give me a miss.
My heart beat rose as we approached towards the plane’s exit. I was determined. Made eye contact with the hostess. Gopal had his head down when his turn came and looked grateful to be ignored. She looked at me and said “Good night :) . Thank you Sir.” I gave her a regular smiling nod. A much needed conquest and a huge relief, else it would have turned into a phobia every time I passed through that corridor.

I exited with head held high and showed Gopal the way to auto-stand. We shook hands. He said thanks and I asked him not to mention it. My friend Milton came to pick me up. We rode through the streets which were soon going to become all too familiar to me. Next day was going to be very important for reasons that are more than one.