Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Coconuts Away!

Coconut felling is a community activity.

There are a couple of coconut trees right outside my bedroom balcony. They are tall trees, rising well past my second floor balcony and bearing fruit at the fourth and fifth floors. One tree is ramrod straight, shooting out of the earth like a geyser, while the other appears more wind-swept as it curves backwards to look like a reflected C from my point of view. Both trees have their own private space to grow in, littered with broken bricks. However, they hang over the adjoining road like umbrellas, noticeable only when it rains. And it was about to rain coconuts.

A man walked up to the bent tree. He was bare-chested and wore workman-like blue trousers that were rolled up to above the knees. He stepped out of his weather-beaten leather chappals and left them at the base of the tree, like he was about to enter a temple. Then, as effortlessly as one presses an elevator button, he embraced the tree, put the soles of both of his feet on the trunk, and in a caterpillar-like motion, shimmied up. He used no apparatus, no rope tied around his feet to prevent slippage, no rope that tethered his waist to the tree to rest if he so wished, no safety nets in case he fell. It was almost as if he had been walking down a street, spied a coconut tree and decided it would be a good idea to go up and gather coconuts.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Come On Over

I'm the sort of guy who'll meet you outside. My favourite is to catch up over a cup of coffee. I like having private conversations in public spaces. It makes me feel a part of  a larger world, while allowing me to carve my own little niche in it.

Today, I realised how separate my home is from my social life. My best friends - guys I've grown up with in school - have been to my place just a couple of times. Most people have never even entered my house. I never had sleepovers or pyjama parties or all night movie sessions. I've never hosted a party at my place. However, I've done all this in other people's houses.

For me, home constitutes a very personal space. I've long carried two distinct personalities - one at home and one outside. My belief is that entering one's home is like entering another realm. Amongst friends, I think this carries special significance. To enter a friend's house indicates a certain level of trust and belief in the relationship and in the other person.

I've always been in awe the first time I enter somebody's house. I'm amazed at how much faith that person has in me to allow me into his/her house and to see and partake in his/her most cherished, intimate possessions. Art on the wall, cushions propped on the couch, a messy bedroom, clothes on the backs of chairs, the colour of the walls, some curio on the table-top, the knick-knacks on the bathroom basin - everything adds colour and depth to the person. He/She is allowing me to get close, to know them more intimately, and that is a thrilling development in the dynamic between us.

At the same time, I've been a very nervous host. I've also been a rather poor host, unsure of how to behave at home with friends. I'm always making sure they're ok, they've got stuff, they know where the bathroom and its light switch are, they aren't found wanting for anything. It's like my friends are entering a world that is entirely mine and one that I am proud of, and in my desire to introduce it to them in the short time they spend there, I go overboard. I am an intense person, an all or nothing kind of guy, and the intensity really comes through when I welcome friends home.

So, if I haven't thrown you off out yet, then come on over and pardon this curmudgeonly host.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Somebody To Sleep With

Her hair tickles your nose; so, you bend your head slightly and bury your face in the back of her neck. She lifts her hair and places it on the pillow above her head. You feel the fuzziness of the hair at her nape cushion your cheek. You take in her smell and rub your lips against her neck. Her skin is soft and smooth.

You fit your legs into the '>' she has created and line up your torso against her back. You marvel at this perfect fit, like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle interlocking. You feel a little worried about your cold feet as you place it under her warmer feet, and she squeals and shivers a little, but she accepts them. Your hand is around her waist, but you move it and clasp her lower shoulder, and you pull yourself closer to her. You feel the connection at places you have never before, like your thighs, or her calves against your shins. Through her back, you feel her heart beating against your chest, and soon both your hearts are beating as one. Your breathing is tempered and both your chests rise and fall together.

In that brief moment between wakefulness and sleep, you truly believe that there is a higher power, a God. What else, but divine intervention, could account for this woman--this fairy, this nymph--whose body heat you are now sharing? This woman who is able to melt your worries and relax you simply by lying down beside you. This woman with whom you are able to have an entire conversation through pure physical contact, without the need for uttering a word ever arising. How else could two have become one?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Ballad Of Half-Ass

As a small child, Half-Ass didn't like colouring books. There were too many rules and too many lines for him to stay within. He hated that numbers told him which colours to use. So, he took out his crayons and went wild, with utter disdain for boundaries and recommended colour spaces. In fact, many times, he even left his picture incomplete, with nothing more than a few scratches of orange or green to suggest that he had given his artistic attention to the picture. Half-Ass went through a lot of colouring books, and his parents encouraged him, dreaming that they were nurturing the next Half-Asso.

Through his growing years, Half-Ass brought with him truckloads of energy and a fleeting attention span. Sports was an ideal playground for him to expend that energy. He started with cricket because, well, everyone did. But the long periods of inactivity between his short batting sessions bored him and his cricket kit was pushed to a corner, gathering dust. He picked up badminton but lost interest while waiting to grow taller than the net. He entered the tennis court but it turned out to be too small for his sixer-like shots. He played table tennis for a little longer but after a day when every shot failed to touch the table, he flung his racquet into a corner where it lay waiting to be discovered in a future archaeological dig.

Half-Ass was lucky with women, but not in love. He managed the courtship well enough, with flowers and gifts and poetry, but the hard work required to sustain and develop a relationship eluded his understanding. Bright, eloquent sparks might grab her attention and a little more, but finally it is the candle that provides illumination for the longest period of time. Half-Ass was more the sparkly cracker that makes people turn and say, "Wow!" and then, spent, is pushed into a pile to be dumped.

However, Half-Ass really hit pay-dirt at work. In his very first project, even though he was a lowly intern, there was a magical quality about him that endeared people to him. He quickly rose the ranks from bringing tea to sitting in on meetings to heading them. It was an indescribable quality, but it made his colleagues feel warm and confident and stress-free. With Half-Ass on the team, there was nothing that they could not find the answer to; with him leading the team, it was rock 'n roll all night and party everyday. He was like a sedative and an invigorant, an actioner and a planner, attack and defense, alcohol and Red Bull. And his charm worked. Clients loved him; he made them feel like everything was under control and his team had answers to everything.

Half-Ass's success didn't go unnoticed. Entire books were dedicated to dissecting his management approach; some criticised it saying it would lead to the downfall and corruption of industry, while others welcomed it as a breath of fresh air in the otherwise staid manner of functioning. His style even got its own name: 'The Half-Assed Approach'. The name and practice spread like wildfire across popular culture.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Obama Dream

The house sits in the location where I know my uncle's house is in Chennai. It's a large corner plot, situated at a T-junction of a smaller street and a slightly larger one. However, the house itself is slightly different from what I remember. It is set to the back, allowing for large open spaces between the gate and the front door. The absence of a thriving garden gives it a feel of a minimalistic, contemporary house, something that might be in vogue in Sweden or a magazine.

Inside, the feeling of airiness continues and I feel constantly connected to the outside. Even though this is Chennai, the outside doesn't feel quite as bad. There isn't any traffic or pollution or noise, and the weather is cool and pleasant, like Bangalore. While the clear-cut feel of the house extends into its living and dining spaces, with its stark whiteness and ramrod straight lines, this kitchen is peculiarly old-school and homely. It reminds me of kitchens I have seen in houses that were probably built pre-Independence, but that still function perfectly. The spotted floor is yellowed from decades of feet, the black granite counter-tops are round-edged and sporadically splotched with little holes, and there isn't a cupboard in sight. Instead, there is ample storage space under the counter-tops, where all the large vessels are kept, and three or four short lines of shelves on a wall for cups and small plates. The air seems to hang still in the kitchen, but entering it doesn't feel like entering a dingy, musty room, but rather like accessing a childhood memory that is wrapped up in layers of village visits to your grandmother in the summer holidays.

Obama is staying with us. That's right, US President, Mr. Barack Obama, Mr. President, is a house-guest.

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Victory Of Light

There once was a man who hated the night.
He bumped into things and stubbed his toe
against things he could not see.
So, he decided to travel with the sun
and forever banish the dark.

At first dawn, he jumped onto his horse
and rode towards the brightening horizon.
He rode towards the sun,
that giver of life and light,
yelling, “I am coming, my friend.”

He rode all morning,
and as the sun grew higher,
he believed he was getting closer,
till it hung over his head
like a guillotine at noon.

Suddenly he was riding away from it;
it was going down behind his back.
So, he spun his horse around
and rode furiously to the descending sun
shouting, “I am coming, my friend; hold on.”

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Dilemma Of The 26-Year Old

You’re 26.

A lot of things have not gone satisfactorily recently. You’re finding yourself in the middle of some unpleasant feelings that you are not able to fully comprehend or even give a name to. Angry? A little bit. Sad? Well, more like unsettled. Confused? Yes, I think so. Depressed? That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?

You decide going out and meeting friends will help you get over this momentary setback, for that’s what you believe it is. You contemplate calling the usual suspects, but trawl through your phone book first, just in case. And you begin to reject name after name.

A whole bunch of them are ‘work friends’, but they’re called that only because you meet them outside office hours for a beer or a get-together; you dismiss them as you’re not close enough to have the heartfelt discussion that you suddenly have a longing for. When was the last time you did something like that—just you and a friend, sitting across a table with coffee or a drink, and alleviating the weight on each other’s shoulders? Back in college it was, when the world seemed entirely unfair to you and all these possibilities kept opening while others kept shutting.

And now, you’ve worked for some four years in three—or is it four?—different jobs. Your resume reads like a travelogue and is already starting to raise some eyebrows at interviews, especially the two-month gaps in between jobs when you went travelling to far-flung places in a fit of frustration, blowing up pretty much all of your savings in the process.

Friday, October 29, 2010

First Steps

When the Indian batsman was bowled, the whole of India groaned. One particular house in Bangalore also groaned, but then immediately brightened. This was a historic moment for the twenty-three family members sitting in the small living room of Sundaram Thatha. The first member from their family to play for the Indian cricket side - young Ramesh, making his d├ębut in this match - was about to walk out to the centre for the first time ever.
Everybody waited with bated breath, young and old, as the endless replays of the previous wicket started. Even the infants realised something momentous was occurring and they quietened themselves to a occasional whimper. Just as the fourth replay started, the TV went blank.
Chaos reigned in the tiny house. Fathers ran about trying to get the generator to work, while brothers flung open the front door and reported that the entire area had cruelly lost electricity.
"Thatha, did you forget to charge this generator?" yelled one of the fathers.
At 95 years of age, Sundaram was Thatha (grandfather) to everyone, even his neighbours. Confused by the sudden recent activity, he looked around. His grand-daughter - Ramesh's mother - was still holding his hand. The air felt heavy with unvoiced accusations and bitter sentiments. A clamour began to build around him.
"Let's go quickly to the neighbour's house and watch it there."
"But how will we take Thatha?"
"I'll carry him."
"What? Don't be silly."
"You come up with a better idea, then."
Sundaram Thatha closed his eyes and a tear squeezed out. His desire had been to see Ramesh's first steps on the cricket field as an Indian cricketer, sitting in his house and surrounded by his family. And now, through his own negligence, he would miss those first steps of history, and so would his family.
A sudden hush in the room made him look up. A laptop on the centre table glowed ominously, playing commercials. Beside the laptop stood Karthik, his precocious 15-year old great-grandson.
"What is this?" somebody asked.
"The match, live," replied Karthik.
"But how?"
"3G from Tata Docomo," said Karthik. Seeing the confused faces around him, he simplified, "Super-fast internet."
Suddenly, the laptop screen filled with Ramesh's face, looking extremely serious behind the grill of a blue Indian helmet. A cheer went up in the living room.
"Ramesh Vaidyanathan," announced the commentator, "walks out onto the field for the first time as an Indian cricketer. A huge moment for this very talented youngster, and a very proud moment, I can imagine, for his family watching back home."
Sundaram Thatha squeezed his grand-daughter's hand and wiped away a different kind of tear.

Friday, October 08, 2010

An Ode To DD Commentary

Ah, DD commentary
How I have missed thee
I thought you were disabled
With the advent of cable
But with the Commonwealth
I have once more been dealt
The severity of your words
That belong to another world

You overstate the obvious
In a monotone that makes me furious
Your insights are a deathly bore
And you start every sentence with 'Aur'
You insist on transcription
Of words verbatim from actions
I fear I must say to you
This is TV, not radio

In this age of democracy
And politically-correct diplomacy
I'm glad you don't have the phobia
Of being overwhelmingly pro-India
None of our sports-persons
Have appeared any more fearsome
Nor has the player's providence
Ever been attributed to competence

And though you will fade
Into your obscurity self-made
Take pride in the fact
That for twelve days exact
You were the premier sports station
In this gold-winning nation
And everybody saw your dodgy direction
And listened to your sepia diction

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where Have All The Bloggers Gone?

I started my first blog - this one - in June 2006. I started introvertedly, transcribing poems and verbalising emotions. Slowly, as my blog grew fatter, I began to expand into the blogging universe. I made contact with other bloggers and thrilled in the blog roll.

And yet, time seems to have done them in. The world has moved on.

Every personal blog in my blog roll is, without exception, comatose. Some have been undisturbed for 6 months, others for 9 and still others for over a year. Even the compulsive bloggers have grown silent.

Why?

Have they just grown up? Is blogging an age thing? Have they gotten married? Do they have other, more pressing responsibilities and commitments? Has their blog circle dwindled and dried up, leaving them to fend for themselves? Is it just my blog circle? Do I need to find new blogger-friends to party with?

I suddenly feel like Will Smith from I, Legend.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What I'm Watching

TV for me is something I switch on when I'm eating, or if I have nothing else better to do, or I'm overcome by an intense desire to vegetate. I usually watch whatever is on - maybe a film or some program that catches my fancy - or I bemoan the lack of quality programming while flipping channels for the next half-hour.

However, I have become a staunch follower and fan of two TV programmes, both of which run on Star World.

Richard Castle and Det. Kate Beckett
The first one is Castle. This is easily one of the best-written murder mysteries on TV. The scripts every episode are phenomenal; they're high-paced, witty and never guessable. The latter is what draws me so much to the show - they don't try to present you with facts and give you a chance to guess. It's crime fiction written in the true, original sense: here's the mystery we're solving, why don't you sit back and enjoy? Of course, it also helps that Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) is insanely hot.

The cast of 'Castle'
Apart from the murders, the supporting story (and cast) are phenomenally written; it's obvious a lot of thought has gone into them as well. Ryan and Esposito as the support cops do a terrific job; their chemistry with the lead pair is spot-on and they have some very funny lines. Castle's mother and daughter Alexis turn in very strong performances; what I especially like is how they provide the common-sense and epiphany angle to Castle.

Finally, Richard Castle is a novelist. He's a writer, and that's what I am becoming. He's a world-famous, best-selling author, and that's what I want to be. He is working with his muse, who is super-hot with personality and intelligence to match, and who wouldn't want to have that? The chemistry between the lead pair is crackling.

Every day, when the show ends, I want to run to the internet and download every episode and watch them immediately, but I hold myself back and wait for the next episode to air on TV.

Master Chef Australia
The second show that I'm really into is Master Chef Australia. I'm surprised that I'm into a reality show, especially a cooking show considering I'm a strict vegetarian. But Master Chef Australia has that certain something that draws me to it and actually has me biting my nails, metaphorically. It might have something to do with the Australian accent, but it most certainly has to do with the format of the show. Every week, without fail, I have been stunned by the innovations they come up with on the show.

The Master Chef Judges
In the first week, the two chefs who were battling each other in the elimination round actually had a knowledge round where they had to write the name of the bird to which the egg they were being shown belonged. True to its name, they had Master Classes with true Master Chefs - increasing the knowledge of the participants, because that's what it's about, right? It's not a gladiatorial contest between chefs; you're preparing a chef who is good enough to be called a Master Chef. Next week, the two who are trying to survive elimination have to save a terrible dish and make it taste wonderful - a very real, practical skill that is so useful and necessary in the world outside television.

Sure, Master Chef Australia doesn't have a super-hot judge like Padma Lakshmi, but that might actually be working in their favour, because now all the attention is focused where it should be - on the contestants, rather than on Padma Lakshmi's chest or well-fitting jeans or her lips when she talks. I find the bald judge over-the-top and theatrical, but the other two are all right, and they all have very precise points of what they liked and what they thought could be improved. Their feedback is easily one of the most helpful I've seen.

The only thing that worries me is that Star World is trying to muck up the goodwill from these two shows. They've messed around with Castle a lot already, by not sticking to one time slot and playing far too many reruns. They haven't done anything with Master Chef Australia yet, but there are still a lot of episodes left; anything can happen.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who Told Autos They're Vehicles?

Disclaimer: The following post is politically incorrect.

Which nincompoop led auto-rickshaws to believe that they are vehicles? Why are autos allowed to traverse the same path as actual vehicles like cars, buses and bikes? Which dunderhead lacked the foresight and went ahead and committed a grave error in even allowing autos to be manufactured? Why are licences and permits still being issued to these guys? They should be issuing hunting permits instead and instituting 'shoot-at-sight' orders, allowing regular people and road users to take pot-shots at autos and their drivers.

Auto-rickshaws represent everything that is wrong with mankind's life today. It is a face for the urban decay that chokes the progress that man is capable of. The collapse of civilization that futuristic films continuously portray is captured in no truer form than the three-wheeled bucket of crap that terrorizes our roads.

Seeing an auto weave its way languidly through traffic is cringe-worthy. Drivers cut across lanes at will, treating the entire road as his father's property. Hearing an auto crackle and rattle is enough to drive one crazy. I often fantasize about tying the head of the auto manufacturing company to a chair and playing recorded clips of autos roaring by (as vehicles pass them since they're never fast enough to overtake anything except stationary cattle) for him/her all day long. Maybe that will force him/her to pull the plug on these ghastly machines, obviously thought up and built by a moron who lived in a time period preceding the Flintstones' intellectual and industrial boom.

I fully advocate the creation of National Game Reserves dedicated entirely to the hunting of auto-rickshaws and their drivers. Its main feature is its expanse; it exists everywhere. I envision entire hunting clubs blossoming across the country where regular folk like you and me will gain membership, buy hunting caps and then meet once or twice a month to compare notes and blow their trumpets. These local clubs will spread at such an alarming rate that soon a National Auto-Rickshaw And Driver Hunting Clubs' Association (N.A.R.A.D.H.C.A) will be set up to regulate the activities of these clubs and their members. This will lead to the biggest technological innovation in weapons' manufacture since elephant rifles. An entire genre of guns will be spawned under the name 'Auto Guns' (not to be confused with 'Automatic Guns'), ranging from rifles, shotguns, pistols, revolvers, pink snub-nosed ones that ladies can effectively tuck into their handbags and the special-edition Dirty Harry handgun: "the most powerful handgun in the world".

Videos will flood the internet showing kills and skills - combo kills, drift kills, acrobatic kills, parkour kills, you name it. In time, the sport of hunting auto-rickshaws and their drivers will get its own National Championship, where hunters will meet once a year in a designated city and pit their skills against each other. There will be special category prizes as well, apart from the usual awards, in categories as varied as 'Oldest Hunter', 'Kill From The Highest Point', 'Most Kills Without A Gun', etc.

To appease the humanitarian and autotarian (what a word!) groups that will undoubtedly spring up to clamour for their preservation, small pockets can be declared as 'Protected Areas'. In these 'Protected Areas', autos and their drivers will be ensured safe passage and visitors, gaining entry with a fee and positioned behind protective fences, can marvel at them in their natural habitat, lumbering painfully slowly and loudly across tarred and potholed roads that will be kept free of any other traffic or interference. All roads and flyovers in all the cities that are currently on-hold due to legal problems will be utilised in this heavy money-making scheme. Examples in Bangalore in the past would have included the Airport Road flyover and the portion of 100 Ft Rd under the Metro construction. However, a shining example, that in all probability will become a permanent enclosure, is the NICE Road.

Moreover, to introduce an element of excitement, a stationary cow will be planted occasionally in the middle of the road just around a bend. Visitors will grind their nails to dust, unable to take the suspense, as the driver sluggishly guides his auto-rickshaw along the road, unmindful of the bovine obstacle ahead; visitors will then gasp as he expertly swerves out of the way at the last possible moment without any dip in speed or without so much as a mindful glance behind, and the organisers will pat themselves on the back at having achieved yet another masterful display of the auto-driver's natural behaviour in man-made surroundings.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Is Aamir Khan Bad Luck For Exotic Indian Locations?

Exotic Indian Location 1 - Bhuj, Gujarat
In 2000, between January and June, Aamir Khan Productions filmed its first venture 'Lagaan'. The primary location was Bhuj in Gujarat, Western India. The film released on June 15, 2001.

On Jan 26, 2001, nearly 6 months before the film released, a massive earthquake, measuring between 7.6 and 8.1 on the Richter Scale, shook Bhuj to its foundations. The quake killed around 20,000 people, injured another 167,000 and destroyed nearly 400,000 homes.

Exotic Indian Location 2 - Leh, Jammu & Kashmir
In 2008, between July and December, Aamir Khan's film '3 Idiots' was filmed. Among various locations around the country, one of them, where the climax was filmed, was a school - Druk Padma Karpo School - near Leh in Jammu & Kashmir, Northern India. The film released on Dec 25, 2009.

On Aug 6, 2010, barely over 7 months after the release of the film, flash floods - a result of a cloudburst - swept the region. At least 165 people died, another 200 were still missing, many buildings were destroyed - including large parts of the school - and thousands were rendered homeless.

Exotic Indian Location 3 - Bhadwai, Madhya Pradesh?
In 2009, Aamir Khan Productions filmed what would become its fourth commercial venture to release - Peepli [Live]. The primary filming location was a village called Bhadwai, about 70 km from the capital Bhopal, in Madhya Pradesh, Central India. The film released on Aug 13, 2010.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Poor Service: Not Just Jazz By The Bay, Mumbai

My cousin and I are Karaoke fans. We've tested out Karaoke options in 3 different cities in India and have come away impressed with only a couple of them. We had been to Not Just Jazz By The Bay on Marine Drive before and hadn't come away particularly impressed, but on a Tuesday night, we decided this was our best option. Nothing prepared us for the Karaoke experience of that night.

Upon paying Rs 100 as entry charges, we found ourselves in a dimly-lit, entirely-closed pub. Our eyes soon adjusted to the dim lighting. On stage was the MC/host for the night. He introduced himself as Sheish, a native of Iran, in heavily accented and sometimes grammatically incorrect English. However, to prove his love for India, a little later, he would shout to one of his friends at the bar, "Jai Maharastra".

Karaoke night was starting off a little slowly. Shiesh tried to move things along by saying encouraging things to the members of the audience; he also sang the initial songs, including 'Hotel California'.

My cousin and I pored over the book they had given us with the song listings, but we came up with nothing. Most of our favourite songs weren't there. A large, raucous group occupying 3 tables, and another large, but not quite as vocal, group occupying 2 tables began to take over proceedings. Entire droves of people went up to sing together while the ones who stayed behind provided very loud backing vocals. It was to be a feature of the night, with volumes only heading up.

Just as a groovy Karaoke tempo was being set, Shiesh emerged from outside, where he had disappeared for a few minutes, took over the microphone and said, "I'm going to sing a song that I sing the best because I sing it my way." He went on to sing Frank Sinatra's 'My Way' in a terrible Southern and Western accent, making it sound like a horrible country song - a complete mood dampener.

The night refused to lie low and picked up again. Much later into the night, Shiesh decided he was going to assault our sensibilities again. But this time, he picked 'Because I Got High', a song whose lyrics were so offensive in a public setting that my cousin actually turned to me and said, "I find this song very offensive." However, a regular patron obviously loved the song for he jumped on stage to join Shiesh. After the song, the patron, a young muscular Indian male headed back to his place by the bar, but once he got there, he pumped up a fist and shouted, "USA, USA."

Shiesh very calmly took the mic - there was no music on - and announced clearly and deliberately, "Iran is anti-American; I am anti-American." The reaction was so unexpected that it took us a couple of minutes to actually register the full import of what he had said. My cousin, who is American, found his comments to be extremely offensive, as she rightly should.

"I did not pay Rs 100 to come in here and be insulted or hear my country be insulted," she said. "He's been playing American music all evening and now he says he's anti-American?"

Just then, members from the large, raucous group assembled to sing James Blunt's 'You're Beautiful'. I shouted over the opening strains to Shiesh, "If you're anti-American, why are you playing American music?"

"They're singing it," replied Shiesh, "I'm not."

Here was a man who had sung Hotel California and a Frank Sinatra song saying that he was anti-American and was not singing American songs. My cousin and I decided this was going too far. We called the manager and told him what had just happened. To his credit, he immediately whisked Shiesh outside for a chat. Meanwhile, we asked for our bill and paid. We then went to find the manager outside and asked him what the situation was. He assured us that he had told Shiesh there was no reason to bring religion and country into this and he should apologise; he said Shiesh would apologise publicly. So, despite it being past midnight, we sat at the bar waiting for the apology.

The DJ, meanwhile, had started mixing his tracks and the now-sozzled patrons were crowding the centre showing off their moves. Shiesh went and sat by the DJ; he went outside and came back; he went up to the mic, but then sat by the DJ. We figured he was just working up the courage to apologise publicly; so, we waited patiently. However, the crowd was slowly starting to disperse. More and more people picked up their bags, said their goodbyes and walked out the door.

Close to 1am, the house tracks stopped and Shiesh stepped up to the mic. My cousin and I sat up; the moment seemed to be here.

"The next song we have is 'Love Me Do' by The Beatles."

Both of us were stunned. When another song followed with no apology, we sought out the manager again. This time, he went to the stage and brought Shiesh to us. Shiesh came to me with his hands folded and he launched into an apology. I stopped him and pointed to my cousin. He began to apologise profusely to her.

"I saw you leave; that's why I didn't apologise. I am so sorry. My friends know that I am just joking. I have family living in the US. I was just kidding around."

"I am not your friend," my cousin replied curtly. "And you sing Frank Sinatra and have the balls to say you're anti-American. You made a public statement; you apologise publicly."

Shiesh went up at the end of the song, stopped the music, drew attention to himself, and delivered the worst mash-up of an apology I have ever heard.

"I have to apologise to a lady over there," he said, pointing to my cousin. "Everybody here knows that I am just joking when I make comments about somebody's country. I hope you accept my apology."

While he said this, his muscle-bound singing friend from earlier in the night remarked in a most sarcastic voice, "Oh Shiesh! You are hurting my feelings."

My cousin and I left, not accepting his 'apology' and vowing to never return here.

Imagine if you had gone abroad, and the MC/host there had played and sung Indian songs all night, and then declared, "I am anti-Indian." What would you have done?

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Poor Service: SpiceJet

When things start going wrong, everything seems to go wrong at once. On a recent SpiceJet flight from Kolkata to Goa, it appeared almost as if every single staff member was colluding to give us a nightmarish flight, one that we will never forget.

The dominoes started tumbling even before the actual flight. While I was to fly to Mumbai after my week in Goa, my 3 other friends were to fly to Delhi. A couple of weeks before the flights, an insipid representative from SpiceJet called and informed them that their direct flight to Delhi on the night of July 25 had been cancelled due to 'technical reasons'. He offered them so many apologies that, after a while, it became an automatic response to everything my friends said, whether he heard them or not.

"Would it be possible to put us on another SpiceJet flight the same day?"
"Sorry."
"Can you put us on another carrier?"
"Sorry."

In between all the apologies, he offered them a SpiceJet flight that left the next day, without offering an accompanying overnight stay amount or package. Sorry.

Our SpiceJet flight from Kolkata to Goa (via Mumbai) was at 8 in the morning on July 20; so, we wanted to get there somewhere between 6:30 and 7. The Kolkata airport is quite some distance from the city, taking about an hour even without early morning traffic. In order to leave at 5:30, we had to wake up at 4:30 am, even before the sun had risen - quite an achievement in that Eastern city.

Blurry-eyed and dishevelled, we stumbled into a moderately crowded airport. While 3 of us busied ourselves with the scanning of our many bags, the fourth - a lady - headed to the check-in counter. The SpiceJet executive behind the counter immediately waved her aside for the gentleman behind her, even though she indicated to us a few metres away approaching. She wasn't happy that the executive chose to bypass her even though the rest of us would have been there with our luggage in a few seconds.

"I was here first; I was in the queue."

The executive reacted as if he had been stung by a personal slight. His face hardened, his eyes narrowed and his lips tightened. He replied with unmistakable menace in his voice.

"Where is your ticket then? Show me your ticket."

After our lady friend had swallowed her irritation, we cleared security and went to sit in the waiting area. We were just preparing to sit, with our behinds sticking out seeking the chair, when a SpiceJet staff member hurtled towards us and commanded in a booming voice that would have been more apt to bring errant soldiers in line during a morning hike.

"SpiceJet Mumbai Goa? Go and board!"
"But it's only 7. Our flight's not till 8."
"It's a base flight. So, boarding is early. Go!"

We settled down in our seats in the plane with a sigh, hoping that the worst was behind us. I was seated in Row 15, the emergency exit row - necessary due to the extra leg space it afforded my lankiness - while my friends were in Row 24; we hadn't managed to secure 4 seats in the emergency exit rows. Soon after the flight took off, the air hostesses came around offering food and beverages for sale. I had been up since 4:30 am and hadn't eaten anything since dinner the previous night; I was really looking forward to breakfast, whatever the airline chose to offer me.

SpiceJet has a pre-registration option, where fliers who register and book their meals before the flight will get serving preference during the flight. I only knew of it because my friends had been talking about how they had had to wait on a previous flight for their food. The air hostess came to our row and asked my neighbours if they would like anything to eat or drink. They placed their orders and were served. I looked up a couple of times from my book but when she ignored me and moved on, I went back to the book thinking that my neighbours had availed of the pre-registration option and that I had to wait my turn. I waited while my neighbours finished their meals. I waited while the air hostesses came by with a trash bag to collect remnants. I waited while the aisle cleared out and everybody settled back in their seats with a full stomach.

Then, I got up to visit the restroom. I passed my friends in Row 24 and noticed that they had breakfast boxes in front of them. They confirmed my suspicions that they had indeed been served breakfast and were amongst the many passengers who were now nodding off satiated. Incensed, I headed back to my seat and pressed the button above my head calling for service. A full minute passed before an air hostess came by to see what I wanted. I spoke in a quiet but firm voice, one that I reserved only for extreme anger.

"Why is it that no one has offered me any food or beverages yet?"
"Oh, we did ask you," the air hostess replied confidently, "but you said you didn't want anything."
"You did not ask me," I replied in the same level voice. "You asked this gentleman [my neighbour, who now looked slightly alarmed at the prospect of being dragged into an argument] if he wanted a chicken sandwich, but you did not ask me anything."
The air hostess sighed audibly and asked, "What do you want now?"

I ate my breakfast and drank my coffee, but I did not enjoy them.

At Mumbai, a large part of the flight cleared out. We had a wait of about an hour before we took off for Goa. Some of us slept, others read and some just stared blankly out of the window. An announcement was made to all the passengers travelling onward to Goa to keep their boarding passes handy. A nondescript executive walked down the aisle, stopping at each row and checking boarding passes. He brusquely demanded mine and I complied, unhappy at his grim countenance. When he reached Row 24, he checked the passes of the 2 friends who were awake. The fourth - the lady - was asleep. Her husband, seated beside her, informed the executive that she was sleeping and that she was travelling with him. In response, the executive leaned over and yelled at the sleeping lady.

"Excuse me, madam!"

The lady expectedly awoke with a start; the husband stared at the executive incredulously.

"Are you mad? I just told you that she is with me and that she is sleeping."
"But I had to check her ticket," the executive replied defensively.
"So, why couldn't you just have asked me?" the husband insisted. "I told you she was with me."

Every single SpiceJet employee that we had encountered that day had given us terrible service, almost as if it were part of their training manual and this is how they had to treat every customer every day. The only one remaining was the pilot and I was secretly thankful when he landed the plane safely.

While circumstances might make me take another SpiceJet flight in the future, it will never again be an airline of consideration or recommendation. Change is already taking place; I just chose to book an IndiGo flight - where I have had many lovely on-time flights - over a SpiceJet one, despite it being 1 hr 15 min later and a little bit more expensive.

How can this sort of service experience be prevented/remedied? What must SpiceJet do to ensure, from a long-term perspective, that their customers are pleased rather than aggrieved?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Decades

How must it feel to turn 50; to complete another decade in one’s life? Does it carry the same sense of completion as when the world completes a decade?

I think not.

We look at our lives in terms of years and events, even when we take a backseat big-picture view of it. So, I was 8 when we moved to Coimbatore, 16 when I finished school, 21 when I was married, 26 when I had my first child, 35 when I bought my first house and so on and so forth. We have specific years that are important to us because of some event that happened in that year, and we look at it that way. When we complete a decade and turn, let’s say, 50, then we tend to start subtracting to find out how many years ago that important event happened in our lives, and with mock (and sometimes real) astonishment, exclaim that it happened 12 or 17 or 31 years ago.

However, when the world looks at its life, it does so in decades and events, and the world almost always takes a backseat big-picture view of it. So, Elvis gyrated in the fifties, the hippie movement made free love in the sixties, the eighties had really bad taste in fashion and so on. Surprisingly enough, we don’t perform mathematical calculations to find out how many years ago it was as much as we do in our lives. We never wake up in the morning (or go to sleep at night) and say, “My goodness, Beatlemania happened 47 years ago.”

However, I have, in the last 5 months or so, had a niggling addition to make in my subtractions. I can no longer simply subtract from 100 and arrive that the sixties happened 40 years ago. I now have to subtract from 110 and that adds an annoying extra decade to my arrivals. The eighties (the decade I was born in) now happened 30 years ago; that means that I will turn 30 this decade. The seventies existed 40 years ago and the sixties 50 years ago. The nineties themselves, which seemed to have only just passed – wasn’t it just some time ago that we were following Nirvana on a daily basis and Bill Clinton was in office with the Monica Lewinsky scandal breaking out and Ayrton Senna died – are now 20 years ago. 20 years! There was a time when it used to be just a few years ago.

Time is flying like The Silver Surfer with little wings on his feet and his helmet and his wrist-cuffs and with rocket boosters under his surfboard; time is galloping like Seabiscuit on the home stretch straining every muscle; the clock on Big Ben (and everywhere else around the world) ticks ahead at the frenetic pace of one second every second. What are you doing to keep up?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Generation Gap - II

I am flying back to Bangalore from Mumbai. I find my specially requested seat in the emergency exit row 12. In 12A and 12B sit an elderly lady and her husband. 12C is currently empty, though it will be occupied soon by a Sardar almost as tall as me and bigger than I who, I think, is on his way to a job interview. Then comes the dividing no-man's land, also known as the aisle. I sit in 12D and next to me are the 2 daughters of the afore-mentioned elderly couple, both somewhere in their twenties, I presume.

The older daughter, her hands intricately embellished with mehendi, leans over and tells her father, "Switch off your mobile phone."
The parents fumble around for a bit before a helpful piece of advice - "Press the button on the top" - is volleyed across from the younger generation. In tandem, both parents immediately reach up and press the button calling for the air hostess on the shelf above their heads.

The older daughter once again leans over a little later and asks her mother, "Amma, pass Appa's iPod."
Her mother industriously goes through her handbag before triumphantly producing a piece of plastic.
Her daughter gently tells her, "Amma, I asked for the iPod, not the ID," while her younger sibling tries hard to suppress her giggles.

The flight is well and smoothly on its way. The older daughter is reading a travel book about an Indian author's journey to Mount Kailash, while across the aisle, her father is poised asleep over an open newspaper, his face wearing an intensely serious expression of reading and the laughing eyes behind his black reading glasses closed.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Generation Gap

I'm playing basketball with a boy probably in his early teens.

Me (leading 14-6): Ok, I won't go in for any more lay-overs.
Kid looks at me quizzically.
Me (realising my mistake): I mean, I won't go in for any more lay-ups.

Me: When you go in for the lay-up, drive aggressively so you can draw the foul.
Kid: That's called 'earning a foul', right?

Me: What's the matter? Don't you drink Glucon-D? You're flopping all over the court.
Kid: No, I drink Gatorade.

Kid: How old are you?
Me: 26.
Kid: Whoa!
Me: Yeah, I know, I look a lot younger than I am.
Kid: No, if you were under 18, then you could have grown some more.

I'm 6'6".

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Heat

This is a narrative of what happened to me on Thursday. It has been written to read like a story.


He awoke suddenly. The heat that had lulled him as he had lain – his head and torso on the mattress on the floor in the living room and his legs on the floor itself, trying to extract every last degree of coolness – now awoke him rudely. With a start, he realised that the late afternoon sunlight had extended its reach through his west-facing balcony doors and now oozed greedily across the floor, like quicksand, devouring painfully slowly with its heat anything that lay in its path. His legs, indeed his entire body, seemed to be caught in the midst of a raging forest fire. He looked up desultorily at the stationary fans on his ceiling. The power had made its absence felt all day.

He quickly got up and shut the balcony door. Almost immediately, he felt the toll the burning heat had had on his body while he had slept in its very cradle. His stomach threw itself around and his head pounded like the jackhammer he imagined he was hearing. He needed to get out of that oven he called his house and into an air-conditioned coffee shop.

To steady himself first, he made a cup of tea. Then, he changed quickly, packed his bag with some work and a book, and left perspiring. The sweat on his body began to cool palpably as soon as he stepped out of the sauna. The auto ride was comfortable and the coffee shop felt cool, in stark contrast to the freezing cold it usually is – a testament to the blazing heat outside.

He still felt wobbly as he drank his coffee. His head continued to swim and he felt trapped in that strange land that just preceded throwing up, unable to return to the land of feeling fine.

Unable to work and desperate to divert his attention, he pulled out his book and began to read. And suddenly, out of nowhere, he was reminded of the conversation he had witnessed in the neighbourhood shop that early afternoon. He had popped in to buy some eggs and bread, but instead had to wait while the young twenty-something guy with styled hair behind the counter was engaged in a very serious conversation about the heat with a frail man hunched over with age.

“You show me a paper and we’ll see what the temperature is,” exclaimed the old man from under his cap.

“In my village in Rajasthan, where I come from, the temperature goes up to 70,” proudly stated the clean-shaven youngster.

“How can you say that? Show me a paper,” argued the old man, not realising that a newspaper in Pune would, in all probability, not carry the temperature of that particular village in Rajasthan that was well over 500 km to the north.

“In your experience, how much do you think it is here?” asked the boy, deftly side-stepping the challenge.

“Oh, 50, not more” said the other, his estimate coated with the mixed, muffled accent that comes with a small-town English education, living in the cantonment area of a bigger city and vocal cords that have done more than their fair share of work; it reminded him of his uncle who drank too much.

As he sat in air-conditioned comfort, sipping his coffee, poised to read a book, lightly remembering this conversation he had heard that was like no other, and his body still in turmoil, it slowly dawned on him that he was probably experiencing the symptoms of heat stroke.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Classified

The following is an ad appearing in the classified section of The Times of India on Jan 16, 2010. I noticed it because the sheet in question currently covers the centre table in our living room, presumably from dust and stains.

Party Entertainers
NEWLUCK friendship, Spot Services, Earn & Enjoy, Hi / Fi Girls & H/W, Visit off. (flat avail)-9022xxxxxx, 9320xxxxxx

What makes this ad for an 'entertaining party' even more of a rib-tickler is that the ad immediately preceding this is for a Wedding Planner and the one immediately succeeding it is for a Packer & Mover. So, I decipher it as the paper broadcasting that no matter what stage of life you are in - engaged to be married, considering having an extra-marital affair or being kicked out of your house for doing so - we provide the appropriate suppliers to effectively take care of your needs.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Importance of Solitude

Alone time. By myself. Me and my thoughts. Social isolation.

Solitude is critical for anybody to do anything of quality. It is an essential state of being where the mind is primed to talk, discuss, intake, output, argue and do just about everything else with itself, allowing it to develop its best thoughts.

These best thoughts can then be recorded and presented to other minds, who have gone through a similar process of social isolation, resulting in a glorious engaging of minds attuned to think and perform at their best.

Or the fruits of your solitude can just result in making your life a whole lot better as you plan out your immediate future, evaluate its pros and cons, seek alternatives, and do the whole gamut.

But, for this to be even remotely possible, solitude is of the absolute essence. Its importance cannot be over-emphasised.

Think of a problem that requires mulling over right now. Pen it down if you must. Now imagine that you're at your desk with your table lamp on and a pencil in hand, ready to bust this problem. Go there and set it up, if you must.

There's a knock on the door. Your mother brings in a cup of steaming coffee. She wants your mind to be alert and awake. It's really sweet of her... and the coffee. Now, you want some water. And you don't like seeing or smelling the empty coffee cup on your desk. You might as well get up to return the cup and get some water.

Now, back to your desk. Damn! The phone. I'll have to put that on silent, right after I finish this conversation. It's worse if it's a text; you're never quite sure if you'll receive a reply - is the conversation over or not? Can I get back to my work? No, there's another text.

Ok, with the phone buried under the pillow, let's begin. Silence. Boy, I've never noticed before how noisy my room is. There's a lot of street noise filtering in - cars honking, vendors shouting, people talking, TV from the next house. I'll have to shut the window; but I like the fresh air. What do I do? I know! I'll plug in earphones and listen to music while I work.

2 songs in and I realise I've been paying lip-syncing and playing air guitar/drums for both the songs. The pencil is alternating between being a fret-board and a drum stick. Music's off, earphones are replaced with cotton. Truly inspired!

Boy, this cotton in my ears makes everything sound funny. If I move my jaw in a really slow and pronounced way, I can hear booming clicks inside my head. I tap the unsharpened end of the pencil on the desk. I make slow, deep sounds as I swoosh my light saber pencil through the air. Focus! I can almost hear the thoughts in my head, but with the cotton in my ears, it feels like my thoughts are trapped in there with no way out.

Aaaarrrggghhh!!! This is not procrastination; this is simply the absence of true solitude.

Can you think of a single place you can go to where you are truly alone? The mountains? The beach? I don't think the sounds of nature, in moderation, are impinging on your solitude.

I think I'd like the mountains and the sea.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gandhi

Yesterday was Republic Day. I have never done anything symbolic on any of our national holidays since going for a flag hoisting session at school.

Yesterday, I watched 'Gandhi'. I remember having watched it as a young lad and I was surprised how little I remembered of it. Now, I am older, wiser and more mature. The film, therefore, had a profound impact on me, igniting much latent internal turmoil resulting in reflection and debates.

What can I do to help and serve my nation? How can I imbibe Gandhi's values in my life? What is the one unifying cause today as independence was then? Is it poverty? Is it illiteracy?

There is much to be done, to be discovered.