30-Jun-2007

Finger lickin' good

With one thing and the other, I found myself reading an article on ‘the art of flirting’ (or was it ‘the art of seduction). My beauty parlour plies me with expensive firang magazines and I eagerly lap them all up with the fervour of someone trying to get the most bang for a 500-buck haircut. The article talked about ten tips for flirting or seduction and at tip #4 my eyes popped out. ‘When you go out for dinner, don’t use your fork and spoon. Eat your food with your fingers and then lick the food off your fingers’. Apparently this is one of the world’s biggest turn-ons.

Holy Cow! Suddenly the whole population problem in India stood explained. Supply everyone with forks and spoons and we should be down to decimal point growth in the population.

Eating with your hands is something done by most of the population, though with varying degrees of intensity. Of course at the farthest end of the spectrum you have sophisticated Delhites who prefer to slice up rotis and dosas with fork and knife (What did you guys do before the Brits came? Starve?). The rest usually get by with maneuvering fingertips in a manner designed to consume food without spilling it on the table. Really cool practioners of the art (like my late great grandma) manage to toss food casually into their mouth from around the region of their belly and not have food particles fly around. It is almost as mesmerizing as watching Rajinikanth toss the unlit end of a cigarette into his mouth.

Chennai (not Tamil Nadu) is the only place where you get an exposure to the superlative form of eating with one’s fingers. You do not merely eat with your fingers. You also perform the entire range of steps prior to digestion. You mash up the rice and curd into a semi solid form, scoop it off your plate in one efficient movement, dig your hand into your mouth, past your, teeth, pharynx and oesophagus till you can feel the lining of your stomach. Then you release the food and bring out your hand for the next round. In case any of the semi solid stuff has slipped past your finger down to wrist, you lick it up thoroughly like a really spoilt puppy.

Turn-on, did anyone say?

28-Jun-2007

HKD 2 - Preparation

I had had a conversation with one of the trek organizers, NK. He had sent me a list of stuff to carry along. However, being cautious (as well as anal retentive as several point out), I called up to clarify the exact temperature and wind factor I could be expected to face. I have a morbid fear of being caught without enough woolen clothes and like to be really sure. NK told me that a thick jacket to protect me from the wind would do.

‘Not one of those funny thin jackets that Bombay people wear’, he laughed.

I did not. I had no clue exactly how thick Bombay jackets were meant to be. I had not owned one in Bombay.

‘So where are you from?’ he chortled, still amused by the Bombay jackets.

‘Chennai’, I replied.

Long pause

‘So..er..do you own a sweater?’, he finally managed.

‘Yes’. I replied and we began to talk of other things.

I had not explained to him why Chennaites own sweaters and when they wear them. Chennai residents have very limited winter gear. In summer, when one skips off to Ooty or Kodai for the mandatory three days of vacation, one buys a colourful sweater from the Tibetan shops. In December, everyone brings out the sweaters from the mothballed covers and waits. Lo behold! One fine day the temperature dips to 25 degrees and out come the sweaters. Everyone dons it proudly. Little kids are even made to wear monkey caps allowing just a tiny perspiring face to peep out. Granddads wrap a neat muffler around their necks to fight the nip in the morning air. So after pinching winter wear from various generations, you can accumulate a sweater, a muffler and a monkey cap.

Luckily I had more than that. For one there was the bulky polyfill jacket I had bought before I went to Bangalore for B-School. An old aunty had told me that Bangalore is a very cold place and I would certainly die of hypothermia in its harsh winters. Promptly my mom and I went to one of Chennai’s best winter wear stores and ignoring the fact we had lived in 8 degrees at Calcutta with just one sweater per person, bought the bulkiest jacket they had. A year later, I was yet to open the bag in which the jacket was and on second thoughts realised that aunty had obviously not seen winters harsher than Chennai’s and had clearly assumed other places to be Tundra-like. Repeated attempts to palm it off to my sister in the U.S. had not worked since she felt it made her look like Sherlock Holmes. Anyway, the thing finally came in useful when I went to Rishikesh one November and it was going to come in useful now.

I had adequate sweaters (courtesy sis) and a nice rain jacket (again courtesy sis). All I had to do was to get thermal wear, woolen socks, gloves and woolen caps. This is where I followed the first fundamental rule of preparing for a trek – borrow shamelessly. I promptly called up Z and SM who had been to Arunachal and took inventory of everything they owned. Z also sent me a comprehensive list of everything I had to carry. It was much better than the one I had and became the basis for much of my planning.

Everyone knows that the most important thing in a trek is to buy good shoes with great grip. This would prevent unfortunate situations like rolling off into gorges. The next most important thing is to buy a good backpack. Wildcraft makes the best in India. The backpacks have cushioning at the back and also allow air circulation. Throughout the trek, my backpack kept absorbing the sweat on my back and shoulders.

The other things on my list which I thought I would never use but came in useful

Medical tape – I began to develop callouses on my thumb, middle finer and little finger after gripping my walking stick for two days. From day three I put tape on all three fingers, felt like some cool sportsperson and walked. My normally I-am-too-cool-to-be-bothered-about-behaviour-of-people-from-the-plains Pahadi guide actually had to ask me what it was. Hearing the reply he commented I had very soft hands with an I-am-too-cool-to-be-bothered-about-behaviour-of-people-from-the-plains smirk.
Maglite – this is not a mere torch. It is a powerful beam captured in a three inch long, 1 inch diametered metal capsule. It includes a spare bulb, a facility to double up as an electric candle and above all (hurrah) was mentioned as a constant companion of the F.B.I in some detective novel
Talcum powder – to dust feet and prevent any fungal infections. A sensitive skinned friend had taken along an anti fungal dusting powder on her trek

The one thing I wish I had carried along was a small, thin towel. Bathing was out of a question for several days and giving yourself a sponge bath becomes easier with a smaller towel.

SM also provided PB and me with big backpacks. He also gave away all the extra ziplocks he had bought at the time of his trek. Apparently he had packed away all his stuff in separate ziplocks. This not only made it easier to locate stuff in your backpack but also kept your clothes from getting wet and also did not trap air like normal plastic bags. I hate carrying stuff in backpacks since more often than not one just dumps everything on the ground to locate a sock. This seemed a brilliant way of organizing the stuff.

Everything else had to be bought. A week before D-Day, most shopping had been done. However, when last minute panic sets in about how equipped you are to handle ten days without electricity, telephone or medical care, you just about buy anything, which you may think is useful. Which is how I ended up buying the cigarette lighter and the tobacco. No, I don’t smoke.

One late evening, SUNS called me up to wish me

‘So what are you going to do about the leeches?’ he asked with all the world-weariness of someone who went trekking fifteen years ago in his school.

‘I am carrying salt’ I replied. Leeches are usually my worst fears in any trek.

‘And if it rains and the salt dissolves’,

I rushed out to buy tobacco and shoved it into a corner of my bag where it remained for the entire duration of my trip. Uttaranchal rarely has leeches and if it all, they appear during the monsoon

SUNS continued

‘are you carrying a matchbox’

‘Yes’, I replied smug. I have already thought through scenario of being lost in the snow when I would collect firewood, build a fire and keep myself warm like an enterprising Red Indian

‘And if it rains and the matches get wet?’

I rushed out to buy a cigarette lighter. I also decided to stop taking any more advice. I had no more space left in my bag to accommodate so much collected wisdom.

HKD 1 - In the beginning

Statutory warning: The story of my trek in the Himalayas is going to be long and dealt with in loving detail.
‘Director Mani Ratnam’s brother dies as he falls into a gorge in Manali when trekking’ the headlines on Sun TV blared. My mom did not look too perturbed but I could make out from my dad’s restless pacing that he had already included this in the long list of things that could lead to a sticky end for me. Since he chose to not express his worries, I ate up the last of my porridge quietly, harbouring thoughts very similar to my dad’s. Will I actually come to a sticky end?

It all began last year when a couple of friends decided to do a high altitude trek through Arunachal Pradesh. I was too chicken to go then but for nearly a year I kept mulling over whether I was a trekker at heart or not. With my thirtieth birthday approaching, I finally decided it had to be this year. Before I became too decrepit, old and confined to a wheelchair. My sister did point out that the likelihood of this happening at the stroke of midnight was a little low. I still decided to would like to start serious trekking in my 20s.

Thus came the question of how does one decide where to go, when to go, who to go with and how long to go. The when to go was the simplest to settle. My boss decided it for me when he told me I could take time off in June. This narrowed down the scope of where to go. It would begin raining in Sikkim and Northeast in June. So Uttaranchal and Himachal would have the best weather. A little surfing later, couple of places in Uttaranchal sounded nice and I shot off mails to various trekking outfits.

People had already warned me that this is not the kind of holiday where I would be able to find company in my own friend’s circle. High altitude treks as a matter of fact draw more admiring glances and envious stares than actual consents to be a part of the team. Luckily PB agreed to come along and with more courage I began to finalise a group to go with.

When we were young

The other day I was hanging out with N and S, both friends from B-School. N and S are friends but not the kind who know intimate details about each other’s lives and have seen each other throw up in B-School. We were talking about this and that and suddenly N and S leapt out of their chairs. They had discovered a common link.

T had a unique reputation in our batch. Unlike most of the batch, which missed its breakfast for two years straight, T consumed his. The fact that it could be nearly lunchtime did not stop him. Nor did little points like having to miss class in the cause. He had his dozen slices of toast, dosas (or whatever Indian breakfast was on offer that morning) and mugs of chai. But before beginning to demolish this huge list of edibles, he did an impressive thing. He used to methodically break open 6 raw eggs and then pop them into his mouth one by one. Any straggler who managed to catch him in action usually stayed well away from him.

N and S were however not stragglers. Infact N was the opposite of a straggler. He went to class bright eyed and bushy tailed, took down notes, did CP and so on and so forth. Where he stepped over the line was in losing his temper one day and informing the prof that his question papers needed changing since they were merely photocopies of the previous years. Suddenly fifty students had to face the prospect of preparing for a course, which they had hoped to pass effortlessly. Most of them took it in the right spirit; convincing themselves that one is in B-School in the pursuit of knowledge and not investment banking jobs. Or so we can assume since none of the came up to N and menacingly told him ‘Tujhe mein dekh loonga’. Which is precisely what T did. Many days later, when a birthday celebration was in full swing, T arrived swinging a hockey stick. N promptly stepped to the farthest point in the area from him. T followed him till they were moving around like a bunch of endangered animals in a strange mating ritual. T got tired of this constant movement after a while and disappeared. He did manage to get his revenge on N’s birthday. Joining in the bunch of guys throwing N in the air and giving him friendly birthday bumps, T gave some well-placed kicks with his spiked boots. It was nearly a week before N could walk without his back hurting.

S had clearly been unaware of any of these happenings. So when T walked up to S just before S’s group was supposed to go on stage for a play and offered to play the flute, S gave him the brush off. After all the play was a part of a 2-credit course and had been lovingly conceived by S and company with no background music. It was no surprise when T turned up a few days later at S’s door armed with a hockey stick (yes, this is beginning to sound like a bad Telugu movie). Luckily one of the guys in the block who looks 7 ft and 100 kgs walked by and told T to buzz off.

N and S reminisced with great emotion about each being beaten up or otherwise. Then they reminisced about the hockey stick and realized no one had actually seen T play (so perhaps it was an accessory inspired by a Telugu movie). Then before they could get misty eyed, they realised they were cool dudes and could not discuss being beaten up. But I am sure they both threw each other significant looks for most part of that evening knowing they belonged to a select group that had seen T’s hockey stick up close and personal.

Brothers-in-arms

23-Jun-2007

Better safe than sorry

Imagine you walk into an office. You see a big iron door that can be swung open only if you really took the effort. It has a handle that looks like the mother of all Godrej cupboard handles. Also assume you have had a normal upbringing, with exposure to all kinds of movies where robberies were shown. What would you think it was?

a. The door to the pantry

b. The door to the washroom

c. The door to the safe

I suspect most people would vote for three.

However, some discerning personnel in facilities management had clearly decided that one must not leave anything to chance (lest the deluded public make coffee in it or worse still, go for option 2). Hence there has appeared on the door, in big bold letters, a sticker announcing ‘SAFE’.

Being conscientious. That is the name of the game.

Saturday musings

Recently I met a friend who complained about how bad work was. However, she smiled and added that she had a secret weapon to keep her morale up. Every Monday morning she just tells herself ‘It is only till Friday. It cannot be bad’. No, she is not one of those corny people who read Chicken Soup books and see the positive side of things. It is just that in her earlier job she had to work 6 days a week, sometimes spilling into 7. It was not a glamorous, highly paid job. But the nature of the job demanded that she give it that kind of time.

I immediately thought of those long hard years of my life (admittedly only six) when I had to work 5.5 days a week. In my first job, Saturday was a holiday and you could come in if you had work. Unfortunately it turned out that everybody had work on Saturdays and hence came it. Infact everybody had work till 11 p.m. everyday and had work on all days of the year except Sundays. This meant they did not even taken any vacations. All this of course looks suspiciously like people were really inefficient or the work culture mandated that people ‘should be seen to be working hard’. Most times, the truth was there was some work or the other. And the rest of the times you turned up so you did not look like the only one without enough work to do. When I moved to my second job, atleast there were no pretences about Saturday being a holiday. You had to come in on Saturdays and bear the yoke.

All this changed last year when my office decided to give Saturdays off. So these days, I wake up at 11 a.m. on Saturdays, potter about the house nibbling at food, reading the newspapers and checking mail. By lunchtime, I have mustered the strength to have a full, wholesome meal. After this effort I need to rest with a quick nap. Evenings I go out for a walk or watch a movie. Then I go to bed thinking ‘I can do the same thing again tomorrow!’ Though more often than not, on Sundays I have the energy to go out and meet people, do shopping, read more serious stuff, pursue some hobby and think about what I want to do in life. Earlier on my Sundays used to be like my Saturdays and by the time I rested and recuperated, Mondays would be upon me. Life would be one constant blur with just one long sleep day in between.

Anyone who works Saturdays ought to seriously think about it – is it really worth it?

20-Jun-2007

Movie review - Jhoom Barabar Jhoom

There is one scene in the movie where Bobby Deol and Abhishek Bachchan are seated in a scooter with a sidecar. As they careen through the streets of London, Sholay’s famous friendship song ‘yeh dosti hum nahin thodenge’ plays in the background. Given that we are almost 75% of the way through the movie, I secretly suspect that the director Shaad Ali cast both these stars in the movie just so he could have them re-do the scene made famous by their illustrious fathers.

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom is out an out a parody of Hindi movies, gleefully taking a dig at stereotype Bollywood. The storyline is very simple and is really an excuse for the director to fit in melodramatic courtroom scenes, snatches of the heroine prancing around with her towel after a bath and even a gentleman clad in black with light bulbs accessorizing his clothes. And I am not sure if it was meant to be, but Amitabh's random presence in the movie also seemed to be laughing at his completely irrelevant omnipresence these days.

Does the movie work? Almost. The movie plunges into the storyline straight on while the audience has not yet warmed up. The plot could have excluded anything that was non-standard Bollywood. That would have made the digs more apparent and kept up focus. The second half is basically one large song (foot tapping definitely). The movie is not brilliant but any steps to be irreverent should be applauded. However, going by the reviews and audience reactions, I would think it will probably be a very niche audience that will catch on. The question – how did the patriarch of all things fantastic in Bollywood, Mr Yash Chopra, actually produce this movie.

P.s. If the sarcasm does not appeal, you can always entertain yourself by trying to guess whether Preity Zinta has merely forgotten the collagen treatment for her eyes or if it went bad. The lip job is more obvious though.

Movie review - Groundhog Day

Released in 1993, the movie did pretty well both with the critics and the hoi polloi. Last night I managed to watch it on Sony Pix (God bless them for being a free-to-air channel). The movie is very nicely done. Phil Conners (Bill Murray) a cynical TV station weatherman goes to cover Groundhog Day. He is accompanied by his producer Rita (Andy McDowell) and cameraman Larry. Phil unfortunately gets stuck in Groundhog Day and is unable to move to the next day. Every morning it is February 2nd and he wakes to his radio alarm clock at 6 a.m., meets the same strangers and lands up at the Groundhog Day celebration. He is alarmed at first. Then he decides to exploit the situation. After this he becomes despondent and tries to kill himself. Eventually he learns to appreciate life in general and, as they say, stops to smell the roses. He learns new skills, meets all the townspeople and gets to know them and saves people about to die in accidents on February 2nd

At this point, I fell asleep in front of the TV and had horrible dreams about being stuck in the same day. Luckily this morning, I woke up in a new day and also figured out from the Internet that Phil does manage to escape the time loop when unconquerable, irresistible and kindhearted Rita falls in love with him.

Bill Murray is brilliant and Andy McDowell is charming. The movie is clearly meant to make one think about how your life is being lead and if there are some corrections to it long overdue. The kind of thoughts that occur to you if you are not trying to fight off sleep while watching the movie. However, as I said I am glad I woke up into a new day...Or did I? Lets see
1. The alarm clock went off at 7 a.m. - check
2. Left for office at 9 a.m. through the beach road - check
3. Radio city played Scorpions - check
4. Computer took 5 minutes to boot up - check
Ye God!

01-Jun-2007

Poster boys and girls

One area that seldom gets attention in Dravidian politics is the fine art of making posters. For some reasons, the minions of the party have long felt that the one way of displaying loyalty is to ensure that your constituency is choc-o-bloc with posters of all relevant leaders. Presumably when the party chief’s car whizzes by at 100 kmph on roads cleared by the traffic police, some special vision capability will make them note that T Nagar had only 149 posters as opposed to Adyar which had 152 posters. The Adyar MLA gets a pat on the back and looks forward to becoming a central minister some day.

The casual observer however immediately notices a flaw in this strategy that emphasizes volumes. The T Nagar guy takes a mere day to up his count to 160 and the Adyar guy obliterates all business signs, trees, people on the road with his increases. Sooner or later, both chaps run out of walls, the general public is complaining about the lack of space to spit without disfiguring your favourite leader and there is chaos all around. It was at this fine moment of despondence that some worthy invented the ‘Cutout’.


A Cutout is a huge, larger than life cardboard picture of your beloved leader that one can erect on wooden poles. If mere walls were a constraint earlier, then the Cutout solved the problem in one stroke. You did not need walls anymore. Footpaths did nicely. So what if the voter had to swerve his way around every Cutout and jump onto the road and back on to the footpath constantly. That is the kind of aerobic exercise that makes the average citizen fit and brings down health expenditure in the government budget.

Sadly the Cutouts began to disappear one day. My guess is a passing flight bumped into one of them and as they say 'what tangled webs we weave'.

So innovation became the name of the game. MBA style cunning was used to subtly differentiate poster A from poster B. What was hitherto a piece of cheap paper listing down details of the leader being praised, the ambitious sponsor of the poster and some general terms of sucking up (‘Our great leader’, ‘the greatest son of the soil’, ‘may we be humbly permitted to give a bath to your dog’ etc) became a work of art.

People decided to take their inspiration from the movies. Remember the good old days when the hero and heroine methodically changed clothes every twenty seconds in movie songs? Watching a series of posters on the Beach road gives you the feeling of watching such a song. First there is the poster with the leader’s head morphed onto western clothes, then onto Indian clothes and finally some colourful casuals. That the morphing has transformed the perpetually dhoti-clad man into a somewhat thinner, shapelier and nifty dresser is considered artistic license.

Not to mention, it is not just sartorial elegance that wins votes. Apparently during the last elections one of the reasons the incumbent was rumoured to have lost was because of the serious, unsmiling face in the posters. This election the posters were modified to show a benign smile that the electorate could apparently identify with. Sadly in the more remote villages where wall paintings are still cheaper than posters, the benign smile turned slightly constipated in the artist’s reinterpretation of the original work. It seemed to understand the common man’s urgent need to perform ablutions by the wall

My latest fancy has been to gawk at a poster that depicts a smiling yesteryear leader now deceased. Emerging from the open heart of the deceased leader, like some grotesque mid way picture of a heart transplant is the smiling mug of a current leader. Still it is a whole lot better than the Congress posters. Devoid of any imagination and burdened by history, the congressmen feel obliged to make family snaps with pictures of various generations of the Gandhi-Nehru family appropriately sized to depict current levels of importance. Thus Nehru would be fluttering like a fly by Sonia Gandhi’s head. Entertaining but not in the same league as the open-heart surgery one.

Some day, I am sure Chennai citizens will be too advanced to vote going by the posters. But I do hope as an art form it finds its place in history.