Thursday, November 24, 2011

Of Thanksgiving and Black Friday

Every year, I wonder what Thanksgiving is all about.  I take a look at Wikipedia, understand what it's all about and then the following year, take a look at the same article again.  This year, I did the same.  But, at the start of every year, when the list of holidays is released by the HR department, you will find it hard to miss that you're getting four days off in the last week of November.  The Friday that follows the Thanksgiving Thursday is referred to as the Black Friday, which is a massive day for shopping.  This is the day when the retailers give you a big discount by bumping up the prices beforehand.  OK, some of the items are actually dirt cheap, but most of them are such that they can be purchased at any time of the year.  

The US is filled with deals and promotions almost all year round.  Thanksgiving weekend is just another excuse to shell out money for products that you actually did not know you required.  Before the Thanksgiving weekend, you have promos saying why you should buy something.  During the Thanksgiving weekend, you have more promos saying why you should buy something that you already have purchased before and the reason offered being that the products are available at so called throwaway prices.  After Thanksgiving, you will have more promos asking you to buy more stuff that can be obtained at Thanksgiving prices.  So, basically, the whole US market is running in some kind of a chain reaction.  If the sales are down at any given point, Wall street guys shout out that consumer confidence is shrinking and the US economy is headed for a recession.  Phew!

Anyway, my wife, who was relatively new to the Thanksgiving experience, wanted to experience first hand the pleasure of shopping on a Black Friday.  So, last year, we made extensive plans to target specific stores and wait in front of the big stores well before midnight.  That was the year we made our foray into gaming thanks to the Xbox and Kinect Experience.  We were looking at some of the Kinect games.  There was a Black Friday offer from Old Navy that the first few customers will be given a free copy of the Dance Central DVD (normal price is around 40$) with the purchase of anything from the store.  So, we went and stood at about 10:30 or 11:00 PM in front of the Old Navy store at virtually sub zero temperatures.  It was freezing.  It was like hell.  But, you know, all this is a part of the experience.  We counted the number of guys who were ahead of us.  Almost everybody was there to get the free DVD.  There were about 20 guys in front of us.  So, we waited patiently, and as the store opened at midnight, everyone who entered the store were given the free copy of Dance Central.  We were really excited.  But, somehow, as our turn came by, we were told that the guy ahead of us had got the last copy.  We were absolutely gutted.  What Sachin Tendulkar felt today after missing out his 100th century is nothing compared to what we felt when we couldn't get that free DVD.  Anyway, we walked in and my wife picked up a jacket, rather, half-heartedly.  We headed back home and explained our misfortune to our friends.  Also, we didn't feel too good about the jacket.

There was an offer from Target with a special price for Xbox.  Also, Target was offering a lot of discounts on toasters, mixers, blenders and what not.  We thought that the Xbox was a pretty good deal.  But, since we had already ordered ours online, we didn't deem it a good idea to stay in overnight lines at freezing temperatures(thankfully!).  So, the next morning, after checking out a mall, as we were heading home, we entered one of the Target stores.  We went to the aisle where the Xbox boxes were kept.  I was surprised to find plenty of them.  Then, we walked to the aisle where the toasters that were sold for 5$ were kept.  There was not even a single toaster.  We asked the store attendant who was passing by as to whether the store had any toasters left.  He had a huge grin, "Oh, sorry sir.  You know these toasters were sold out in like five minutes at 5 AM in the morning." He was filled with pride.  We thought they must have been some extraordinary toasters to have sold out so quickly.  We didn't find anything useful.  We went back home and had a sound sleep.

After the Thanksgiving mania had died down, we went to Target for our weekly shopping.  This time, we were able to find the toaster.  There were plenty of them.  We saw the price.  We couldn't suppress our laughter.  The toasters were marked at a price point of 6.99$.  We wondered how people could stay overnight braving freezing temperatures to save 1.99$ on a toaster.  Life can be totally mysterious.

Here comes the clincher.  Then, we went to the Old Navy store.  My wife was somehow not too happy with her jacket.  She felt that it would have been a great purchase had we got the game DVD.  I seemed to agree with her.  What else choice did a married man have, but to agree to his wife.  We walked into the store to see if we could find other jackets to her liking.  We saw the exact jacket that we were holding in our hand.  The price had dropped by a further 15$.  There was no way in the world that we would be keeping that jacket with us now.  We spoke to the lady at the counter and told her how we didn't like the jacket.  We also told her about how the price was lesser than the Black Friday price.  Thanks to the US store policies, we got a refund on our purchase.  But, standing in front of the Old Navy store on a cold wintry night to get a jacket at a price that would go down by 15$ in the subsequent week was totally, totally not cool.

And, that's our awesome Thanksgiving experience.

It is ten minutes to midnight.  The Black Friday fever is gripping the town.  I am going to bed.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

An engineer's conundrum

Engineering degree is at a premium in India.  At the same time, every other guy is an engineer.  I don't know whether it's the job market or the social status, everybody wants to be an engineer.  Put everything aside.  First become an engineer and then you can worry about the other stuff later.

There is nothing like brimming with pride when you go home and tell your folks, "I hit a century in the local cricket match."

"Okay, okay, all that's fine.  What about your exams in the coming week? Are you prepared for that?"

It may be wrong to say that this is applicable only for engineers; I think it is true that this holds for medicine as well.

It is a matter of pride to say, "illa ree nammaga doctor alla engineeringay odhbekuantha iddhane (My son wants to study doctor or engineering only)." I used to secretly wonder What is meant by studying for doctor? Isn't it medicine?

So, as I pursued my passion for engineering, and completed four years of slogging and cramming right before the exams, I ended up being an Engineer.  I think the next step was predefined as I took up one of the many available jobs in one of the many companies.  Life went on, as usual.  I had not broken the norms of the society.

During my Engineering days, one day, on a weekend, one of the taps in the bathroom of my house had a leak, and the washer had to be replaced.  As usual, my mother was ready to call the plumber to get this fixed, and the plumber gave the necessary appointment to come over and get the washer replaced.  Just then, that evening, an elderly gentleman in the neighborhood dropped by.  He would have a brief conversation if my father was around and exchange the usual pleasantries.  He had worked a major part of his life in the army and was very meticulous in his daily needs and activities.  He was a man who was very disciplined, and always expected the exact things he wanted from life, and so, you can say that he was a stickler for perfection.  Obviously, all of us had a huge respect towards him, and I have played a lot with his grandchildren during my growing up days.  He was eighty years old and seeing him, you could never say so.  During the conversation, my father mentioned that we were waiting for the plumber before heading out for the evening.  The elderly gentleman was very very surprised.

Mr. Krishnan, Isn't your son an engineer? He asked.

Yes, sir.  He is.  Why do you ask so? asked my father rather inquiringly.

Then, why do you want to call a plumber.  Just ask him to repair the tap.

I did not have a good vibe about this conversation.  Immediately, I went on the defensive.  "Sir, but I am an Electronics & Communications engineer." The kind of situation I was in, I was no doubt not too proud of my degree at this point.

In a typical South Indian Andhra accent, the elderly gentleman replied with an authority that shook me out of my reverie.

So what, I say.  An Engineer is a person who should know everything.  What do you mean by saying you don't know how to repair a tap?

I looked at him sheepishly.  There was an eerie silence for a few seconds.  This is the sort of silence that feels as though it has extended for light years.

My father quickly butted in, and as he spoke, I realized, what he said would in no way save my butt.  Sir, today's engineers are useless.  All of them have only bookish knowledge.

The elderly gentleman again asked me.  So, what will you do, if, let's say, the wiring of your house has got messed up and the electrical lines are not working the way it is supposed to?

Sir, I am an Electronics Engineer and not an Electrical Engineer, I said.  If, at that point, I had sought an IPO for my self esteem, it would have ranked at an abysmal low value.

Oh my God.  What is the point in getting a good rank and joining an Engineering college if you cannot do the basic things at home.  Do you know something? I have never called a plumber or electrician to my house till date.  I have fixed all the plumbing and electrical issues by myself.  I have imparted the same knowledge to my son as well.  And as usual, he had to say this.  I am not too happy with the standard of engineers in our society today.

To save me from further embarrassment, there was a knock on the door.  The plumber walked in with his tools.  The elderly gentleman started inquiring him about the nature of the parts he was using for repair.

I was happy, for it was the plumber's turn to face the music. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Two of an era - Jobs and Ritchie

The last couple of weeks have been particularly bad for technology related stalwarts.  If the death of Steve Jobs hadn't even sunk in, it was even more painful to read up that Dennis Ritchie, the father of C programming and co-developer of Unix was no more.  Dennis Ritchie may not be as famous as Steve Jobs is to the layman, but there is no denying that without C, one cannot fathom the existence of these super powered smart phones and almost every other embedded device today.

It was in my Engineering that I was first exposed to C.  Already, the message was spreading quick and fast. If you miss even a single semi-colon, you are in trouble.  It is so difficult to debug.  And, maybe for the fun of  it, somebody added a comma as well.  Given a choice, my fellow batch mates would have added every punctuation mark to exaggerate the whole thing.  There were also suggestions that it was mandatory to add two slashes after a semi-colon as a part of the programming paradigm.

Thankfully, the punctuation marks, apart from the semi-colon turned out to be false.  And, for that last point, it would have been awesome if the two slashes were mandatory at least once every ten or twenty lines.  Maybe, gaping at tons of lines of code would have been much easier.  As one of my friends rightly said, for most of us, C, literally, is our bread and butter.

After the death of Jobs, I was really baffled to see some of the tributes pouring in.  One of them in my Facebook timeline appeared "An apple a day does keep the doctor away.  RIP Steve Jobs." I am still not sure what to make of it.  If anybody understands the meaning of the quote, please let me know.  The post also had a couple of likes and comments.  I didn't know whether to feel angry at the person who posted it or the person who liked it.  I would rather have stuffed an apple down her throat.  The other cranky tributes can be obtained, obviously, through Google.

My wife and I were visiting the Golden Gate bridge, and somehow, I had forgotten to carry my DSLR camera with me.  I operate the camera pretty well in the auto mode (what to do) and I am not one of those who experiments a lot (if any) with the camera features on the iPhone.  For a change, San Francisco was not filled with a fog cover.  It was one of those "You got to take a pic" moment in our lives.  Naturally, your had the massive chunk of tourists getting the Golden Gate background with the foreground representing all sorts of weirdness.  We were wondering how we could replicate the weirdness and our eyes were probing for someone who could take a snap of both of us together.  To our good luck, there was this elderly gentleman sixty something standing next to us and getting some wonderful and captivating shots.  Before we could approach him, he realized what we were looking for and was kind enough to take a snap of the two of us together.

"So, you want a snap of the two of you together?", he asked kindly.

"Yes, sir.  If you don't mind please."  We said, handing over one of our iPhones to him.

He, obviously, was a very experienced man in life.  But, I, sensing that he must be new to technology, told him "Sir, you got to press the shutter button on the screen.  There is no external button to capture the shot.  Also, you have to make do with the default zoom.  There is no zoom feature on the iPhone."  All this, I said very confidently.

My wife was quietly nudging me from behind as if to say that I was talking crap.

"Oh come on, I know how to use the iPhone", he said and pulled out an iPhone from his pocket.  "And you know what, you just have to pinch and drag in, and you will have the zoom options.  This is just like Safari or any other app.  You can also use the slider to adjust the zoom."

I just kept quiet.  I had no words.  I felt stupid.  I dared not to look at my wife.  He took a wonderful snap of the two of us with a perfect zoom, and a perfect backdrop, on a perfect morning.

We thanked him and we reciprocated by taking his photo with the Golden Gate background.  I also adjusted the zoom.

A little later, after talking to him, we realized that he had taken a four mile bike ride to the vista point.  At this age, he was so active.

He was not Steve Jobs.  But, thanks to Steve Jobs, even a sixty year old gentleman could find it easy to use the features of a camera on a smartphone.

Again, to the greatest technologist ever.  Steve Jobs, You will be missed.    

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Turning 30

I was getting up, and slowly my email inbox was getting filled with the usual suspects.  These people never fail to email me on my birthday.  I had a few calls as well.  Again, these people never fail to call me on my birthday.  

So, how's the feeling?

Pretty much the usual, I replied back.

So, turning 30, haan? Everyone had to ask this, unfailingly and unflinchingly.

Yeah, I let out a couple of the usual, monotonous jokes.  It means, they don't deserve to be called jokes in the first place.

In the midst of all the jokes, I also tried to act all grown up (am sure I failed miserably at this).

I have to say that Afridi and I have a lot of things in common apart from a few obvious differences.  Firstly, he is supposed to be a totally hot cricketer, according to the girls.  OK, even the guys know it.  I leave it to my friends to judge whether this is a similarity or a difference.  They know it.  I know it, too.

Secondly, Afridi has this amazing quality. At the age of 16, in the year 1996, he made his debut in international cricket.  Now, after fifteen years, if somebody questions his age, nobody gets surprised when he says he is 17. All the economists, I am sure, are cracking their heads at this weird case of the laws of diminishing returns.  For a change, I have never seen this concept in a better light.

If Afridi is 17, I am like ten.  But, maybe, mentally, he is still 17.  That's where we have our similarity.  I still seem to have not grown beyond the general adolescence associated with youth, cracking those pjs that don't seem to invoke a laugh out of anyone or passing those baseless and insane comments.  It may not be as outrageous as like Afridi saying that beyond the cricketing gear of front pads and thigh pads, he could see Tendulkar tremble when he faced his bowlers.  I mean obviously, at the age of 17, he has the vision of a hawk.

Sometimes, when I play tennis and as I get that seething back pain near the spine, my colleagues are quick to point out to me that this is a sign of the age.  I laugh it off and remind them that for a sportsman like me, who plays virtually every single game on the planet, that this is very very common.  <Modesty, modesty.  Control, control!>

Haha, I used to think like that.  You will soon know.  They retort and add the word experience to support their claims.

I watched Zindagi na milegi dobaara last week.  It was a coincidental watch (a Hindi movie after a long long time), and the songs are on a repeat mode in my Spotify playlist.  Nothing else can be more apt than the lyrics of Der Lagi (http://open.spotify.com/track/1cx0WexY9mFmD9bi6sw0AH).

So, what is it like being 30? I ask myself.

I don't know.  Maybe, I should start eating less number of bhel puri plates and masala dosais outside.  You know, the point where I need to take care of my health.  Cholesterol, fat control and what not!

Spirituality? Yeah, maybe I should start following Nityananda.

Mature talk? Yeah, I can do a world of good for people around me with a little bit of extra maturity.

Responsible partner? Yeah, that seems easy.  My wife can take care of the responsibility part.

I think there is still some time for all these things.  Let me just get a plate of Bisibele bath, and let me continue the weekly tussle in tennis with the folks here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The days of absence

I remember the date very well.  It was the night of 18th September, 2011.  It feels just like last night.  My day and subsequently, the night, was jeopardized thanks to the common cold.  Even though it is supposed to be common, I have no idea why it creates so much havoc.  It is very easy to draw parallels between a nose that has caught cold and an Indian road during traffic jam.  You almost feel for the nose, as it tries all possible tricks to allow itself some fresh air and keep the breathing smooth and easy.  On the contrary, it is anything but smooth.  On top of it, the blocked nose brings with it a running mucus that can suffocate your happiness.  In my experience, there is no way to escape the effects of the common cold without some medication.  But, when you compare it to the traffic jams on Bangalore roads, you have no reason to doubt why it is so common.

So, one of those nights it was, and I just took an effervescent cold relief tablet and slept like there never was to be a tomorrow.  As the alarm went off early in the morning, and as I snoozed many a time, as my head spun in many different directions, there was only one thing clear in my head.  I just cannot go to work today.  Rather, I was in no good shape to tackle and respond to different mails and issues.  They had to wait another day.  As I typed my customary email, and got back to sleep, I wondered how things had changed from the time I had to submit a leave letter in school for such reasons.

Convincing the teacher is one thing, but convincing your mom that you actually have a cold when you don't have one is one of the toughest things in the world.  My primary school was early in the morning.  I had to be in the class at 7:30 AM.  That's like getting up at 6:30 on cold wintry mornings to get ready to go to school.  So, if you had to start the drama, it better be with some amount of planning.  The sniff of the nose was just not enough to induce event the slightest of sympathy.  She had seen several days like this, and by this time, even she was bored of the reasons.

Sniff, sniff!

Enough of this nonsense, just get up and get ready.

Another sniff, sniff.

Even before I completed the customary sniff, I was there in the bathroom brushing my teeth.

After a point, it was easy to go to school than to go through the hassle of getting a leave letter handwritten at home.  That was a painful experience.

Anyway, common cold is frightening.  But, there have been instances when I have skipped school for absolutely genuine reasons.

I have a younger brother who was a maniac of a kid, and both of us used to get into regular wrestling bouts, albeit, without any fixed rules.  So, anybody can kick anybody's butt at will.  Just replace the butt with the face, and both our faces used to be scarred with whatever few nails we had on our finger tips.  So, one fine day, I actually had to skip school, since my face was covered with a lot of scars.

The next day, when I went to school (I think I was in my fourth grade), I was treated like a cool dude.  I actually looked like a guy who had fought a war in the Siachen belt.  There were bloodied lines, some short and some long, intersecting at will, running across my face.

The teacher, in her usual stern voice, asked me, What happened to your face?

I, in my English, as bad then as it is now, answered meekly,

Miss, my brother killed my face. (In Tamil, Killradhu means to pinch)

My obviously Tamil illiterate teacher gave me a puzzled and shocking look.

That's when you have the class leader, or whoever it is, the guy who knows all the languages and is actually the cool dude of the class, to find out what exactly happened.  Also, by now, you must have realized by my response, that there was no way in the world that I could have been the class leader.  As he explained the situation to the teacher, she let out a laugh that I still cannot forget, and to compound my misery further, she brought two of her colleagues and explained what had just happened.  I was the butt of ridicule for the rest of the day.

The Tamilification of the English language that began then has still not left. 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Maamis discuss job prospects

The topic of Maamis never ceases to amaze me, and as they don several hats, and develop their knowledge base in almost everything with commanding ease, no wonder they have so much to talk about.  Maamis have become the know all and end all of all things, which we thought could be accomplished only by someone like Lord Vishnu.  Their expertise ranges from the confines of the kitchen to the interiors of US, inside pages of Kumudam to the web pages on the internet, a close coterie of friends and neighbors to sending (and responding to) friend requests on Facebook, keeping a tab of soap operas on TV to finding Youtube videos with ease, listening to Vishnu Sahasranaman as easily on the cd player to Googling the meaning of the verses and even creating tutorials on cooking and uploading them on to Youtube.  In fact, as recently as last month, when my wife had to wear a madisaar (nine yard) saree for the Varalakshmi Puja, she was directed to a tutorial Youtube video on how to wear one with ease, thanks to one of the maamis.  Times have certainly changed from the days when they found it laborious to turn on the computer and connect to the internet.  In short, Maamis are turning tech savvy.  

The conversation, when I call home, has certainly changed.  

Praveen, you should have been here.  Yesterday, the final of the Super Singer program (or whatever that show is called) was held.  The female singer was fantastic.  It was a great experience.

I nod and give a silent "Hmmm".

You should be able to easily find it on Youtube.  Why don't you give the following search query...?

I secretly pray that she didn't ask me if I knew what Youtube was.

Anyway, it is fascinating to watch two maamis in conversation.  A gist of which would proceed on the following lines.

Maami curious (MC): Enna maami, unga payanukku USla velai kadachudtha?
[A literal translation would be "What Maami, did your son get a job in the US?
A cool translation, considering the way Maamis speak nowadays, would be "What's up Maami? Your son looking for a cool job, haan?"]

Maami Defensive(MD): Enna avvalavu seekarama kadachuruma.  Economy serilay theriyuma.  Obamavukku avvalavu pressureaan.  Yaarukkumay avvalavu easyaa velai kidaikka matteengardhan.  Unemployment rate koodinde pordhan.  Recession recessionnu solra.  
[Oh, come on Maami, it's not that easy to get a job.  Obama has a lot of pressure.  Everyone is finding it hard to get a job.  Even the unemployment rate is at an all time high.  Everybody is talking about a recession.]

MC: Unga Payyan dhan computer science aache.  Ippodhan technology companiesku korachalay illaiye.  En, Google, Facebooknu try pannalaamolio?
[ Indirectly, Maami curious is saying "You have a duffer of a son who is studying computer science.  Why can't he try at Google or Facebook?"]

MD: Ella edathulayum hiring freezeaan.  Enna pandradhu pongo.  Neenga, Sandhyavukku, moonu maasama Perumalukku vendinda maadri, naanum vendikka aaramikkanum.  Ava Edho oru chinna companyla dhane irukka?
[MD has become so offensive that she has almost slapped the other maami like the way Rajinikanth slaps Vijayashanthi in Mannan.  Just like the way you were praying for your daughter's success for three months, I have to start my prayers now.  Is she working for a small company? Note, she is not talking about a startup.]

MC: Enna maami appadi kettel.  She is working for one of the top companies in Pennsylvania. ava 401k matching 5% kudakkaralaaam.  That's not a joke, you know.  Unga Payyana, paarthu eduthukka sollungo.  Edho offer vandhadhu, Krishna Ramanu accepta pannika solladheengo.  Ask him to research well.
[Maami has thrown the English usage in the middle.  It means things are badly hotting up. "Ask your son to not just accept an offer.  Let him carefully study the offer and then join the company."  She also slips in about her daughter's company's 401k matching policy.]

MD: Oh Aaamam.  Naanum adhudhaan sollirken.  You know, he wants a job only in the west coast or the east coast.  Avanukku Boston illena Bay Arealadhan velai venuma.  Kids today are so choosy. 
[Maami indirectly taking a jab that Pennsylvania is not his son's preferred destination.  He is a cool dude, who wants to be in Bay Area or Boston.]

MC: Pullaiya online apply panna sollungo.  Naraiya websites irukkaam.  
[MC delivers killer punches.  Ask him to apply online.  There are a lot of websites.  Seriously, who is going to snail mail resumes?]

Further, she continues,

MC: En machchini oda anna pullaiku Californiala velai kadachurkkan.  So, definiteaa kidaikkama pogadhu maami.
[My husband's brother's wife's brother's son has also got a job recently in California.  So, definitely there won't be a situation that he will go jobless. This is like seriously influencing the other maami to think about the worst possibility.  What an analogy.  What a data point!]

MD: Ennamo, Bhagavan vitta vazhi.  
[Let God lead the way]

MC: Avan enna OPT la irukkana. [Is he on OPT?]

MD: Aamam.  Luckily, ippodhan OPT 29 monthsku extend pannitaale.  Adhunaala konjam relief.
[Maami has updated info about everything.  She knows that the OPT is valid for 29 months.]

MC: So, avan university vittacha illena angaiyedhan irukkana?  Avana California poga sollungo.  He will easily get a job there.
[Means: Is that fool still vegetating in the university after graduation? If so, then ask him to go to California immediately.  Because, yeah, it seems as though jobs are like chocolates in California.  Everyone gets a job there.]

MD: illai, avan aduththa vaaram kalambaran.  Avan Graduation mudunje oru vaaramdhan aardhu.
[Oh, he is leaving next week.  Before, the other maami can pounce on her, she goes on the defensive by saying that her son graduated only last week.]

MC does not make an effort to hide her scorn.  What a worthless son you have is written all over her face. 

MC: Naa vena Sandhyava vittu refer panna sollatuma.  She was saying that there are a lot of openings in her company.

MA: Oh sure, Maami.  Avan Resume anuppa solren.  In any case, avan sollindrundhan, Pennsylvania is a nice place, appadinu!
[Oh sure, I will ask him to send his resume to your daughter.  In any case, he was saying that Pennsylvania is a nice place.]

Monday, August 08, 2011

The quest for the better half

People say it is tedious, but the maamis have always lived with a single minded focus of bringing people together.  They have derived a deep sense of pleasure by doing this favor to the society.  As soon as they know that there is a boy in the household, they just have to look into their massive database to get a girl into the threshold.  Google pales in comparison to the way the maamis organize and process data.  But, how do the maamis know what kind of girls are compatible to the guys and vice versa?

Today, I was having an interesting conversation with a friend of mine.  By the way, I am not one of those guys compelling people to get into a wedlock.  Rather, I am the last guy to do something like that, save of course, for the leg pulling.  My friends are so thick skinned that the leg pulling will hardly purchase even the remotest kind of blush.

What's up man! What's happening to your love life?

Oh, nothing much! Just not interested now.  (It means that there is no girl in my life, no girl within the next 100 miles, rather no girl at all.)

Why don't you ask your parents to hook you up with one? (Pretty legitimate question, as once the parents realize that their son is 27 or 28, finding a girl becomes a full time job for them.  For a girl, it is even more harsh; it is 24 or 25 years)

Hook is a strong word here.  It actually means, why don't you start talking to somebody?

I am not mentally prepared man! It's too hard to commit at this age (He is like 28).  I am not ready.  My parents know it.  They are waiting for my approval.  

But, why don't you ask them to introduce a few girls to you and see how you can take it on from there?

Oh come on! They don't even know the kind of girl I want.  I spoke to them for some time and realized that there are absolutely no similarities in our likes.  It is too hard to find cool girls from our community (No way I am giving away by naming the community.  Not sure if he wants girls running around with cucumber slices.  I mean, what is cool?).  

Anyway, this guy being a Marathi, I find it hard to believe that he finds it hard to find a "cool" girl from Mumbai (whew! I find it actually hard to...(No, not again)!).  At least, according to me, and several others, and actually a lot more, traditional Marathi girls are as cool (or hot) as South Canara girls.  Before it explodes into a major controversy at home, TAM girls are way cooler!

Continuing with the conversation,

So, why not the matrimonial websites?

Nothing interesting dude! (which means I don't like the profile pic of 99.99 percent of the girls out there).

In addition, most of them have nothing interesting in their profile information. Most of them have written that they hang out with friends.  What's so interesting about that? I can as well ask them to introduce me to their friends.

Note that The girl is not interesting is way different from The girl's profile is not interesting.  The reasoning goes like this.  If the girl is beautiful in her profile pic, it means the girl is interesting, which results in the girl's profile being amazing.  The reverse is not necessarily true.  If the girl's profile is interesting, then the girl is interesting if and only if her profile pic is beautiful.  Men! Darn!

I nod in silence.  I can understand the confusion.  Spaghetti situation.

Dude, by the way, you can ask your wife to introduce me to her single friends.

This was the clincher.  The chance of finding a Tamil single girl at an age greater than or equal to 26 is as slim as the Dow Jones going up by 1000 points after the S&P downgrade, or Harbhajan Singh getting a wicket in a test match with his current form.

Coming to interesting facts about matrimonial profiles, I had a situation where the profile of a girl was stacked with Ayn Rand books (Atlas Shrugged &amp; The Fountainhead), along with RK Narayan's Swami and Friends.  Obviously, I was very excited.

The Fountainhead is one of my favorite books.  I just love the discussion between altruism and selfishness, where for a change, we find an argument that favors the latter over the former.  I thought that this would be a good starting point for a discussion.

Wow, so you like The Fountainhead.  That's an awesome book.  That book has inspired me a lot in life (though I have no idea what I did after I attained inspiration.  So typical of me!).

Hey, you know what.  I stopped reading the book once I got the gist of the plot.  Her reply stumped me.

Thank God, we were not having a face to face conversation.  My jaws dropped and I knew where this was heading.

What about RK Narayan? I asked.  I secretly prayed that she had good words for the great man.

Oh, he is an Indian writer, isn't he?  Twice in two minutes, I had a bad feeling on what was coming.  I am sure even RKN wouldn't have wanted to be remembered that way.

I some how don't like to read Indian authors.  I find them too laborious.

I didn't get into an argument.  RKN has the most simplistic style, but I could keep the argument for some other day, if ever there was going to be one.

The rest of the conversation harangued pointlessly.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Limitless wonder

Certainly not the way I eat!
I remember that, in school, fellow students made it a point to ask this question to put a timid and meek lad in trouble.  Do you live to eat or eat to live? It was after considerable deliberation that the right answer was arrived at.  Right answer in this case was the one that did not invite the giggles and that condescending look of You can't even come up with the right answer.  Anyway, now, nobody would ask that question, and the answer would be way different.  The passage of time has corrected several of my answers now, which I had presumed to be right back then.

Food has always been a priority.  One does not have to go through any kind of difficulty to get awesome vegetarian food in Bangalore.  By default, all the good restaurants are pure vegetarian only. In fact, till I was in Engineering, I had never entered a restaurant that had non-vegetarian food. Anyway, all this is for another day.  As I got exposed to the concept of lunch buffets here in the US, initially, I thought it was a magical experience (no, not from Steve Jobs).  As students, we would be deprived of good food for indefinite amounts of time, and as soon as we had a chance at the limitless opportunity, we would stuff ourselves to the brim.  It was as though we had been starved for years.  It took us a while to realize that there was no point in eating like maniacs and it took us some time to understand how to eat at a buffet.  To top it, the food wasn't exactly out of the world.  I mean, not even close. The people from the North opined that only South Indian food was good, while the South Indians reasoned the other way.  So, they had a steady trickle of one set of customers who came to the restaurant recommended by the other set.

Plate Meals
Anyway, south Indian meals are fascinating when they come with the unlimited tag.  In a conventional "limited" restaurant, the meals would be served on a plate with several small cups of side items and a slightly larger cup for the rice.  A guy like me would always be preoccupied as to whether I should be ordering some extra rice throughout the meal or end it without the extra helping.  Finally, I would go one way or the other, and curse myself for not doing the other.  I have always felt that this puts undue pressure on the customer.  Allow the poor guy to eat in peace.  In order to help such people, there came the good Samaritans, who thought it fit to introduce the endless supply of food in a South Indian setting.  A local restaurant here serves food exactly the way I like.  They have a limitless supply of rice.  A South Indian, if he sees this unlimited supply of rice, will even write his property in your name.  Anyway, to be fair, this restaurant has good home quality type food, the kind you would find in Iyer mess homes back in India.  So, as I entered this restaurant for my weekly bout of fill, I sat next to a guy, who I assumed must be on his way out.  He was midway though his meal.  That's because, he was having Rasam rice.  Rasam is had after Sambar and before curd.  That's the order being followed for centuries and I am sure if I ask my mother, she will give me the "right" reason.  I wouldn't want to find out the explanation.  I have no doubt that I am a good eater - a man with a voracious appetite.  I spent about twenty minutes having good amount of servings of kootu, curry, sambar, rasam, appalam, curd and payasam.  Curry, Kootu and Appalam are the side dishes, while rice along with sambar, rasam and curd form the main course.  So, it goes like this.  Have curry, kootu and appalam in the side.  Have your fill of rice and sambar.  If required call out for another helping of curry and kootu.  Have your fill of rice and rasam.  Call out for another helping of curry and kootu (optional).  Have your fill of rice and buttermilk along with pickles.  The meal ends here.    I was literally packed.  I didn't feel guilty.  After all, I was sure there was no baking soda to upset your stomach.  It just felt like home food.  Rather, it felt right.  After such a meal, it is too difficult to do anything.

As I got up to go wash my hands (there is absolutely no way that you can wipe your hand with paper napkins after a South Indian meal), I was surprised to find the guy who I had observed at the start of the meal, call out for another round of rice and sambar.  Thankfully, he didn't opt for the plate meals.  It would have been like a starter.
For me, it's unfathomable how people survive on sandwiches or salad for lunch every single day.  At the end of the day, I act as though it is grave injustice when I see a layer of fat developing around my waist.  But, to compromise on food requires a big effort.

(Pics taken for information purpose only. Will be taken out if violating any copyright)

Monday, June 13, 2011

What's in a name?


Last week, I got introduced to a Tamil couple, who are soon to be blessed with their second child.  As the conversation carried itself to its obvious destination, it had to settle on the various names thought about for the child.  Choosing a name is very important.  Tell me about it.  About that, I will reveal later in the post.

So, what's the criteria? I asked as though I was a subject expert of all and sundry.

They revealed the various conditions, and I admired the way they had structured their thoughts to get the right name.

The name should bear some kind of a significance to one of the five elements of nature.  It should not be more than five or six characters long.  It should not have more than two syllables.  The name should not be too modern. 

It was uncharacteristic that they didn't want a modern name.  In an effort to be unique and what not, nowadays parents come up with unpronounceable(and "unspellable") names and maybe that's the reason why Indian kids tend to win those spelling bee contests so easily!

Considering the plethora of Indian names that we have floating around, I was sure that it would not be too hard to find a name that suits their requirements.  As we were bestowed with the fun part of suggesting the names, we came up with numerous names.  Some of them were cool and some of them had the "No way the child should get this name" written all over them.

As the Raghavs, Krishnas, Gopals, Keshavs and a ton of others were picked by different family members, we had to find the good ones that were not picked yet.

What about Dhruv? I said.  The name was immediately shot down.  Come on, the boy cannot pronounce his name at least until he is 10.

What about Anil?

Oh, you know how the Americans would pronounce that.  The semblance of the name to the human anatomy was startling and could not be ignored.  No way!

So, when you consider the fact that we have so many languages in our country, it is almost mandatory that we do not choose a name that borders on the offensive or shame in any of these languages.

Names like Karthik could not be a consideration, as it is almost mandatory for every Tamil family to have at least five Karthiks by default.

As we were goofing up with the names, I was taken to my early school days when it was decided even before I knew anything about names, what my official name should be.  My father decided that though I should be called as "Praveen" at home, I should take the official name of Subbarathinam (yeah read it againin school.  That is my grandfather's name.  This name is not even like Mani Rathnam.  In case of the latter, at least there is a space in between.  But, here, the name is such that, it has a sequence of fifteen characters and it felt like a running goods train.  So, as every new teacher grabbed the attendance register, I would silently mutter a prayer or two and hoped that she didn't mess my name too much.  Since my name was sure to be mispronounced, I was hoping that it did not get butchered beyond recognition.  Even as the teacher tried to strain her eyes a bit more than normal, I would get up sheepishly to make my presence, rather name, felt.  So, I was Subra, Subba, Subbu, Subbi, Subramanian, Subrati (like Subroto) and what not at different points in my school life.  There was a point in my early school days, when I used to turn my head in the caller's direction if any name was called out, let alone mine.

I could understand my physical education (or PT) master's difficulty, when he would say, What is this, I say? What kind of a name is this? If you get an award from our CM, how will you go and collect it with this name? (That was the closest in life that I have come to collecting any award, let alone an award from the CM).

Luckily, I persuaded my father to get back my actual name as the official name, and sooner or later, as my name changed back to Praveen, I had the same feeling as my grandfather would have had at the time of India getting her independence in 1947.

So, the right name is important.  Always.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

In cool waters

Hailing from the Southern part of the Indian peninsula, with the land being surrounded by water in the west, south and the east, it should come as a no-brainer that India should have had swimming as the national sport.  We should have been accumulating gold medals in loads of quantities, but then, cricket is the national sport and that's the only sport where we win accolades in multitudes.  Two world cup wins in 35 years of world cup history is no mean achievement!

Hailing from a high school with English as a primary language (just like any school these days in India), my teachers made sure that my interests in sports were limited to not more than a hobby.  That would explain the reason why my friends are upset that I did not improve my cricket beyond my school days.  Maybe, that's the reason why I have never been able to understand that pale expression on their faces when I hold the bat.  So, I have limited myself to outstanding commitment in fielding and nothing more! Allow me to write a post, and the digression extends to the unknown.  As the people born in the sixties would say, coming to the point, this post had to be about the cool waters, activities associated with the blue surface and nothing more.  As my English teachers went through the rigorous routine of teaching us the finer nuances of the grammar, we were put through enormous ordeal to understand the difference between gerund and participle.  So, "swimming" would be the standard noun-verb form to explain us the concept in school.

Swimming is a great exercise. (Here, swimming is a gerund).
I have been swimming a lot. (Here, swimming is a present participle).

So, all that I learned in school about swimming was how "beautifully" it could be used in one of the two forms.  I still don't understand how it has influenced my life or for that matter even my grammar.  But, the bottom line is, I don't know swimming.  I am not sure whether using it as a noun or a verb is going to bestow upon me the much required skill.  

I can't blame my school alone for not influencing my extra curricular activities.  The whole colony of kids would run around with a "rubber" ball and a cricket bat.  That's all we knew.  Anything that was a deviation from cricket was considered to be work.  Even as my mother tried to put me in a swimming class, I used all forms of deviance to avoid it.  I also used to get into those classic middle-high school arguments with my fellow friends, most of them being amateur swimmers.

Praveen, why don't you want to learn swimming?
Why should l learn?

My friends used to present an "exceptional" argument.
Imagine if you are flying over the Indian ocean, and suddenly due to mechanical failures, you had to jump out of the plane.  Then, what will you do?

As usual, I used to come up with the clich├ęd reply.
If that's the case, do you really think you have the power to swim across the Indian ocean.  In any case, you'll die.  Why do you need to put that extra effort before you meet your end?

Such was the level of understanding, that I doubt whether things have changed even after these many years.  I meant the level of understanding.

Anyway, things took a turn for the good, when my friend (in KS, since then has moved to FL and now in CA) told me one day "GK, I have enrolled for swimming classes.  Do you want to join?" I didn't need a second invitation. "Oh cool man, I am in.  Let's go for it." The class was kinda funny in the sense that we were taught swimming for half an hour per week.  You also have to consider the fact that both of us had the stiffest of bodies, and as hard as we tried, we could not get ourselves to float on the water.  We would start swimming as soon as the instructor (who was an old lady who eventually lost hope that we could learn swimming) gave us the go ahead.  We would rotate our arms and push back and forth our legs in such a weird way that it felt as though we were trying our level best to drown ourselves in water.  Till the last class, she did not allow us to go beyond the 3ft mark and there were kids who were swimming in a 12 ft deep area.  Sigh!

As my better half, who is equipped with decent swimming skills, tried to help me get over the fear of depth in water, I felt some hope.  We headed to the KU swimming lanes to get a taste of the water (which is what I got more often than not). I got into a conversation with the life guard there. 

What is the depth of water here?

4 ft

Here? 6 ft

Here? 7 ft

Oh, seven feet! I was like a little kid running to different areas of the pool to get the depth from the all knowing life guard.  

This is scary.  I told my wife.  She just grimaced at me and said "Just jump into the water and you'll be fine." I will lap a few times and get back.  In the meantime, I will teach you a few basic things and you can practise here.

As usual, I tried to wade in the water like a fish, but ended up more like a dinosaur looking all out of sorts.  The water splashed in all directions, and in one breath, tried to traverse the fifty meters; after a few minutes (it was actually a few seconds), I lifted my head out of the water only to realize that I haven't swum more than 5 meters.  I was gasping for breath.  Water had engulfed my nose.  I had made a complete fool out of myself.  I looked around in all directions.  The life guard was looking in a different direction.  I think he did not have the heart to look at me.  The swimmers in the other lanes were busy.  There were a couple of them cracking jokes.  I was sure they were directed at me.  I would never know.  I was languishing in my world for the next one hour.

My wife headed back after many 100m backstroke, free style and other variations.  Then, I listened to the best few words uttered by her.  "I think we should head back home".

Sunday, April 03, 2011

2nd April, 2011 - The day that mattered

India - World Champions 2011

When Dhoni smashed that full length ball from Kulasekara for a massive six over the long on boundary, it heralded the emergence of a new, confident and fearless India.  Winning the multi-nation ICC tournaments is one thing, but winning the World Cup is a different feeling altogether.  A nation deprived of global stardom for nearly thirty years couldn't hold its emotions together.  This Indian team finally went the full distance, and could wipe out the scars of the 2003 World Cup final against Australia.  I can also say that the nightmare of 2007 was truly forgotten, but that would mean grave injustice, since the 2007 tournament never felt like a World Cup.
Sachin Tendulkar - The final hurrah
In the context of all that's happened to us in the past, and all that was happening in the present, the World Champion tag is something to be proud of.  The closest we came to a World Cup victory was in the 2003 World Cup, and Australia made sure that we never remembered that final for all the right reasons.  Hayden and Gilchrist had launched a brutal attack against our in-form fast bowlers, which served as a perfect platform for Ricky Ponting to flay the Indian attack.  It was truly unforgettable, and it felt unrecoverable.  We had loads of work to do.  The baton was handed over from Ganguly to Dravid to the mercurial Dhoni.  Dhoni inherited the most high pressure job in India, and everybody felt he was lucky enough to be made captain, considering that Sehwag was woefully out of form during that time.  Looking back today, it was a decision that has paid handsome dividends.  It was only fitting that the man himself lent the finishing touches to the final.

Dhoni - What a time to get back to form
Consider the backdrop of this win.  The Indian team were the favorites to lift the title, which meant they had to fight intense scrutiny from a fanatical population, from within and outside India.  Every little move was dissected and analyzed at great lengths.  Dhoni also made some wrong selection moves, which also includes the final, but at the end of the day, he always had that element of good fortune to fall back on, backed by some good captaincy, and a very good team.  The World Cup win feels special because
  1. We were able to avenge our 2003 final defeat against Australia thanks to a frenetic run chase.  The quarter-final match against Australia had to be the match of the tournament for the Indians.  At one point, we had to chase 70 odd runs in 12 overs with the last recognized batting combination of the man of the tournament Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina (which again was a brilliant selection move by the Indian think tank).  The way Yuvraj dismantled Brett Lee and Shaun Tait was brilliantly done.  First strike, and it was great to see that disgruntled look on Ricky Ponting. 
  2. We were able to maintain our clean record against Pakistan.  The high pressure, high octane and high voltage semi-final clash against our traditional rivals Pakistan had lent an unbelievable touch to the atmosphere.  Nobody could take their minds off the game.  Sachin Tendulkar lived dangerously to score a very uncharacteristic 85, but the modest team total of 260 never felt safe.  But, thankfully, we were able to pull off a fantastic victory.  In spite of the win, I felt we made a selection blunder by leaving out Ashwin.  But, again, Nehra was brilliant that day.  
  3. India-Sri Lanka finals at the Wankhede.  Everyone was looking forward to the World Cup win, and it actually never mattered whether Tendulkar would score his 100th ton here or not.  But, another selection harakiri meant India was pushed to the back foot right from the word go. India had just handed a free player to Sri Lanka.  India was playing with just 10 players, instead of the customary 11, while Sri Lanka could breathe easy with 12 players.  The selection of the temperamental Sreesanth was always scary.  At the end of the Sri Lankan innings, the odds were stacked against us.  275 to win was huge in a World Cup match.  Only 2 out of 10 world cup final games had resulted in successful run chases, and that too, the target in both the instances were way lesser than what we would be chasing.  At the end of the first six overs, India was reduced to 31/2.  The best opening pair had gone back to the hut.  If you are an Indian fan, you would have felt queasy in your stomach.  The way Gambhir, Kohli and Dhoni orchestrated the run chase was truly spectacular.  Dhoni played a special innings, and it was fitting that he sent the fans to delirium with a fantastic six over long on.  
Celebrations galore
The celebrations are still going on, and am sure that nobody has yet recovered from that spectacular win. It is a magical moment.  Personally, I was too young to understand the impact of the 1983 win, and to watch a win live is a great experience.  The courage of this Indian team is truly commendable.  I still can't believe that some nuts left the stadium after the dismissal of Tendulkar, and that too when only less than 10 overs had been bowled.  As a cricket fan, I can't imagine how you would switch off your mind away from the action.  Even when Tendulkar was our only hope in the nineties, I would still wait for the completion.  The faith in our tailenders had reached quite a fervor after Kumble and Srinath had pulled off a pulsating victory against the Aussies in Bangalore during the Titan cup. The true Indian fan always had the hope.  I am sure, even if India required 10 runs off 1 ball, we would still be hoping for a no ball six.  It is too hard for that mentality to change.  I wish some true fans had got the tickets to the final instead of those who left the stadium when we were 2 wickets down.  Anyway, they will be repenting for the rest of their lives.

Yes, this win means everybody gets all kinds of rewards from every state.  That means even Sreesanth gets a hold on all these bounties.  Talking about Sreesanth brings to my mind, one of my all time favorite quotes from Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin's Dad: The world isn't fair, Calvin.
Calvin: I know, but why isn't it ever unfair in my favor?

I have laughed uncontrollably at Calvin's response.  But, Sreesanth has truly proved the impact of that statement.  There are so many talented cricketers, but only a few get a chance to play international cricket, out of which, only a handful get to play the World Cup Final.  Out of the handful, only two or three seamers make it to the final eleven.  Sreesanth should never complain about his life.

Even in a blog post, I don't want Sreesanth to have the last laugh.  So, let me end this with something positive.  The Indian team has given us a win to remember for the rest of our lives.  Like one of my friends had posted a message on Facebook, I am sure we should be up for this question "What were you doing on 2nd April, 2011?".  Yes, I have seen India win the World Cup final, and as Dhoni's final hit soared towards the boundary, I am sure all the Indians around the world had forged an instant connection with each other, and that timeless moment has now given us a lifetime to cherish.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

India vs Pakistan - An unexplainable feel

I have always prided myself on having the Indianness instilled in me and it's kind of embedded in every layer.  There are no two ways about it.  There are moments when the pride is taken to a different zeal and level, and the confirmation is absolutely unquestionable.  There is one binding factor in India that transcends across religion, caste, economic classes, status, power and the different fracas of life, and that has to be cricket.  I say fracas, because with the advent of time, little things get magnified and we have found several reasons to cross swords with each other, and the result is there for all to see - government vs opposition, bureaucrats vs general public, corporates vs lobbyists, politicians vs reporters, and last but not the least, tonnes of internal family squabbles.

But, come Wednesday, everything in life is going to take a backseat.  India is going to witness the least economically productive day, and not for a reason. North, South, West and East, and millions around the world will be locked in a time warp, where everything outside the 22 yards and the surrounding boundary of the PCA stadium, Mohali is going to be put out of concern.  Offices may be open, but I doubt whether anyone would even consider going to work, shops and establishments may be open, but would witness lackluster business and if you are talking about deadlines at work, forget it! Schools can rather declare a holiday, and for a change, people in Bangalore and the rest of India would not talk about traffic jams on the roads.  Traffic would not even be a concern as I doubt whether even a fly would make its way away from a TV set.  It doesn't require any kind of mystery to figure out that Wednesday, March 30th is going to be a blockbuster day for Indian cricket.  Undoubtedly, the biggest match of the World Cup, INDIA vs PAKISTAN, a battle royale, worthy of surpassing the best of the best of competitions, will reach a crescendo, bringing down the roof, rather, the skies and will ebb and flow with each team (read India!!!) trying to outdo the other (obviously Pakistan!!!) giving us a humdinger of a finale.  Even when I write this piece, I don't want to think of the possibility of Pakistan trying to get the better of India.  It's too hard to even imagine that.  Take the Mumbai 2008 attacks into account, and take the context of what happened, this is literally a war without ammunition.  Even for a second, I don't mean to say that this match is going to mask what happened in Mumbai.  What happened in Mumbai is absolutely condemnable, and no Indian would have forgotten the horrific terror attacks in November of 2008.  But, it is just that the context is too hard to ignore.  India suspended all ties with Pakistan after the Mumbai terror attack, and an India-Pakistan game in India is taking place after four years.  The magnitude of the match need not be explained.

Here in the US, as my fellow Indians and I are paralyzed with awe and excitement(we are also filled with trepidation, let's not lie about that) talking about the World Cup Semi Final encounter, my American friends ask me "Is it like the Super Bowl?".  All of us are quick to quip that it's not even close, rather, no sporting event in history comes close to this.  Not even the much talked about Ashes comes close to this.  It is totally a different atmosphere, and there is almost an unexplainable feel to the whole thing.  This is just the semi-final of the tournament, and even the finals will not be so closely scrutinized.  Talk to any Indian/Pakistani, every activity from now until Wednesday takes a backseat.  There is only one thing constantly whizzing in our heads.    As I have said earlier in one of my other blog posts, like me, more than a billion plus population will be playing out several scenarios in their heads as to how the game is going to shape up.  It is fantasy cricket of unimaginable proportions.  The last time we played against each other in the 2003 World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar took the game away from the Pakistanis in stirring, blistering, brilliant, magnificent and thrilling (the adjectives can make another blog post) fashion.  We still haven't got over that game.  I hope the 2011 encounter will live up to its billing.  Even if it is an one sided encounter, we will take it as long as India wins the game.

After all this, if somebody makes a statement that this is just another game, he deserves to be whipped.  Win or lose, it doesn't matter, as long as we play to our potential, does not hold good.  We are expecting a win.  There is no doubt about that.  The players do understand that this is pressure of a different kind.  If it is a loss, we are going to be disappointed.  That is the great aspect of sport because as players you are directly able to control the emotions of a billion plus cricket fanatic population.

Yes, there is gargantuan pressure on the players.  That is the kind of pressure that lesser mortals are not capable of handling.  After the match, you will hear reports of a number of heart attacks and for a change, Ricky Ponting will not be the only one to have smashed a TV set.  Not only Sachin Tendulkar, every Indian and Pakistani player needs to have a Godly demeanor to handle this kind of pressure.  It does not get bigger than this.  You are playing in the World Cup.  You are playing for your country.  You are playing against Pakistan (Sorry, I can talk only like an Indian supporter.  I make no denials to say that I am proud to be biased.)    

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The legend of Uncle Pai

I have been meaning to write this post for quite some time now, but due to my laziness, it was just sitting in my drafts folder in an unfinished format.

If there is one character in modern history that deserves the ultimate recognition for igniting young minds, it has to be Uncle Pai, the man who was bestowed with tremendous vision to have nurtured the greatest comic books in India - Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha (ACK).  Mythology and folk tales were impinged in our minds with highly simplistic narration and fabulous pictures. The books were absolutely Indian in style and substance.  We all loved it.

I was in my third or fourth grade, and it was the time of my life, when "I doesn't know" and "I don't know" were used interchangeably and without a trace of guilt.  All that I knew was that it just couldn't be "I know don't".   It was not an outstanding realization but nevertheless, a very important one.  We had moved our house to a new locality in Malleswaram 17th cross, and there was this uncle(that's what we called him; no idea of his name till date), who had a small yet fulfilling space of books just about a hundred meters from my house.  It was called as the "Cynosure Circulating Library", that's what my friends said, though there was no name tag hanging in front of the library, highlighting the proof of the name.  Anyway, as they say, what's in a name! A bunch of young guys, we always made it a point to go to the library in the evenings.  People from my generation would always remember Tinkle or ACK in a bundled format, where five or six editions of the books would be stitched together.  The bound book per day would cost no more than 50 paise or 1 Rupee.  The whole process of going to the library was a fun exercise, a sort of holy pilgrimage, with each of us having a clear idea of what exactly we wanted to read.  For some reason, I was never a fan of Phantom, Mandrake, Disney and so on, but Tinkle and ACK were delightful reads.  It was easy to identify these mythological characters, and the fact that my grandmother played an important role in narrating everything about Ramayana and Mahabharata and the tons of stories associated with these two epics, helped me stitch the narration with relevant and beautiful pictures.  Not that dates matter, but the very first ACK that I owned was Draupadi.  I was always hooked to the first story in the Tinkle, as it would invariably be about a folk tale picked from some part of the world, and it always carried a deep message.

Looking back, the best part about these books were that they always had something useful to impart, apart from the fun factor.  I always wanted to see Tantri the Mantri be successful with his plot some day, and even though, I knew that Shikari Shambu was a coward, I never wanted to see him hurt.  For some strange reason, I wanted to see Chamataka, the sly fox, in partnership with Doob Doob, be successful against Kalia, the crow.  In the same vein, I also hoped Suppandi would use his brains some day.  But, the best part about these things were that they never changed.  The illustrations that went along with the text was always brilliantly done.  The stupefied faces of Chamataka, and Supandi's owner had to be seen to be believed.  The dumbstruck expressions put forth by these characters left a lasting impression on me.  Apart from these fun characters, there were also the knowledge oriented Tinkle Tells you Why, which invariably I would end up reading after I finish all the stories.  It happened to me, Little Raghu and many more were fascinating.  The best part about these short stories was that they were generated by children.

Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha have created a legacy; a legacy that was built upon years of hard work and trust.  I cannot think of any other book that has influenced the kids so much that could result in an admonition from mothers, "You cannot read these books unless you finish your home work." Uncle Pai is undoubtedly a national treasure and it pains me to note that a man worthy of all the praise failed to get the Padma Shri from the Indian Government.  It is no loss to the great man, but certainly brings ignominy to the Government.  

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The 1996 World Cup game

It was a Saturday morning and many many years ago.  I remember the day vividly, though I got the date from Wikipedia.  In the larger context of things, the date is insignificant.  Obviously, with the passage of time, it just goes to show how timeless it is.  Fifteen years ago is a long time, but to me and the billions of Indians around the world, the events that unfolded the rest of the day has left an indelible mark in memory.  People who follow sports are obsessed with statistics.  Cricket is all about statistics and there is so much to assimilate - bowling and batting figures, partnerships, maidens, wickets and a whole gamut of fascinating figures.  People have made a career out of cricket statistics; ask the cricinfo guys about it.

I was supposed to have my ninth grade exams in a couple of weeks.  There was an India Pakistan game on Saturday, 9th March 1996.  As I told you earlier, the date was insignificant, and as I tell you now, the exams were even more.  My brother and I, and our friends, couldn't sleep the whole of past week leading up to the greatest ever day of our lives; at least that's how it was then.  We had waited for the game for a long time.  Pakistan and India hadn't played in years and to have them play at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore was a great feeling.  The whole of India was waiting with bated breath.  We had never lost a World Cup game to the Pakistanis.  Like today, then, I was restless, and to the core.  That morning, I was creating a lot of fictitious aspect to the game.  I played out the game in my head at least a zillion times.  The permutations and combination were many.  Obviously, all the games were won by India, and I could not even remotely think of the prospect of an Indian defeat.  I could see Tendulkar hitting a last ball six to win us the match; Kumble taking a hat trick and many such scenarios, all leading to a great and unforgettable Indian win.  The news channels as usual were getting excited.  There was so much tension and excitement in the air.

A group of friends had gathered at my place for the first ever day-night encounter at the Chinnaswamy.  India won the toss, and Azhar, at that time was not delusional enough to field first.  India moved on with a very sedate start.  No hiccups.  The last ten overs of the game, and we were looking at a score of about 245 or 250, by no means a sure shot winning score.  We would have had to bowl exceptionally well to bowl out the Pakistanis to win the game.  But the last five overs saw some exceptional batting by Ajay Jadeja to take us to a total of 287.  Those days, 287 was a huge huge score, and in a World Cup game, that was really huge.  That passage of play between 45 and 50 overs had to be seen to be believed.  The crowd was in a state of frenzy, and Waqar Younis was dispatched over the cover boundary for outstanding lusty blows.  I still remember the yorker that Kumble dug it out to hit it straight down the ground.  It will always remain a regret not to have seen that match live at the stadium.  Pakistan responded in brilliant fashion moving to 80 runs in the first ten overs.  The crowd of around 45000 were silenced.  There was pin drop silence, and the atmosphere had a quite deathly feel.  One of the greatest moments of the game was yet to unfold.  Aamir Sohail pierced the point boundary with a stunning hit off Venkatesh Prasad.  Sohail gestured animatedly at Prasad, and all Prasad could do was go back to his bowling mark to deliver the next ball.  Those were the days when anybody could dish anything to the Indians.  Prasad bowled the next ball pitching in line on the off stump, and Sohail tried to play the exact same shot as he did off the previous ball; the ball uprooted the off stump and the 45000 crowd, and a billion more erupted in joy.  Prasad hurled the choicest of expletives, the crowd backing him up in exhilarating fashion and that wicket swung the momentum totally in India's favor.  The rest as they say is history.  For some strange reason, I remember Kumble's caught and bowled to dismiss Mushtaq Ahmed.  The ball popped back to Kumble, who fell flat, face forward to tuck the ball underneath his belly.  It was a comical sight.  Kumble was bowling from our nemesis Bucknor's end.  The firecrackers that went off after the match still resounds in my ears after so many years.  An interesting anecdote about this game.  Years later, I was talking about this game with a friend in Rolla.  The conversation went as follows, "Man, I had the tickets for the game.  I went to the stadium.  There was a guy who agreed to buy the tickets for 2000 bucks." I responded "Who would sell those tickets for 2000 bucks!" He said "I did." I couldn't believe it.  I didn't prod him further to put him further in a state of misery.  I am sure he is still repenting the money he made out of those tickets.

There were many India-Pakistan encounters.  The 1992 game was great as well.  One of the best moments I remember of that game was Miandad's wicket off Javagal Srinath.  It was a beautifully pitched yorker that swung in a little to fell the leg bail.  India went on to win a memorable game at Sydney.  Later in 2003, a blitzkrieg from Tendulkar won us a fantastic game.  It was absolutely unbelievable.   

I was too young to watch the 1983 World Cup, and 1987 too, I have no idea of.  By 1992, I was hooked to cricket.  I remember getting up early in the morning to catch the games played in Australia and New Zealand.  I remember our opening encounter against England.  Those days, the Indian tail used to wag tantalizingly close to the opposition total and it was a classic case of "We tried too hard, but we couldn't go the full distance." I still remember the six hit by Bannerji off Pringle, before we were bundled out just ten runs short of the English total.  There was the classic India Australia encounter which we lost by a run, thanks to Raju, who failed to get the third run off the last ball to fetch us the tie.  That was painful! 1999 World Cup win against Pakistan was great as well, with Venkatesh Prasad bagging four wickets to fetch us a memorable win.  The less we talk about 2007, the better.  The World Cup was absolutely forgettable.

In general, for all of us who have grown up on cricket, any game is timeless, and for some of those exciting World Cup encounters, they are absolutely unforgettable.  Be it a Donald run out or a wild swing by Courtney Walsh, every World Cup has those thriller moments that would engage us in long conversations and help us reminisce about those wonderful moments.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Wishing the truth

The Proposal - Part I


It was a cold night, and she had lowered the glass on the passenger side of the brand new Honda City.  The chill wind was blowing across her face, bringing a new bout of freshness and in the process, bringing the stray strands of hair to the forefront.  She did not make an effort to pull back her hair, but instead sought to adjust the power windows by closing it completely, except for a very narrow beam of space, narrow enough to allow a sheet of paper to be sliced through it.  That was sufficient enough to chill the interiors of the car.

The atmosphere was very quiet.  There was no ensuing conversation between us.  "Sahana, that's almost the nth time that you are adjusting the windows.  You preoccupied with something?"

"Obviously, dad, and you know it, too! I also know that you are preoccupied with the exact same thing.  Otherwise, it is very uncharacteristic of you to keep quiet on a long journey."

"OK, let me ask you frankly.  Do you like him?"

"I am not sure.  He seems to be a good guy.  I was pretty comfortable with him.  He has a good sense of humor.  By the way, how long did you know mom before you were married?"

"Ha ha, those were different times.  Arranged marriages were the norm those days.  Again, it was better than our parents' days.  I fell in love with your mom at the first instant.  That reminds me, can you call up and tell her that we will be home in the next couple of hours?"

She spoke in monosyllables for the next few minutes, and finally, she hung up the phone.

"What did she say?" I asked.

She asked if we would be stopping anywhere for dinner, or whether she should cook something.  I told her that we just had dinner.

"Anything else?"

"Nope, nothing particularly important."

I couldn't suppress a smile.  Knowing my wife, I was not surprised at the way Sahana was brought up.  I have always admired their relationship.  Both of them, unlike me, knew how well they could control their emotions. My wife knew exactly what to ask and what not to! Both were comfortable with the setup.

"Anyway, what do you think of Arun, dad?"

"I am sure he is a nice person.  He is well educated and I like the way he speaks.  He does not seem to have any airs.  I think that is very important."

"Mmmm!"

That was a sign that she was not sure.

"Anyway, forget about all this for some time.  I have booked tickets for the cricket match this weekend.  I was hoping you still wanted to catch some live action."

"Ha ha! I'll join you.  As such I was planning to take a week off from work.  I seriously need to relax after doing late nights on the previous project.  I am famished.  How come you have been working in this field for the last twenty five years?"

"You'll get used to it.  After a point, you are just following the routine.  It is not something praiseworthy."

"Dad, by the way, do you realize we are just two minutes away from the start of a new year grinding the same old stuff?"

"Yes, my seventy year old girl!"

"One minute to go....45.....25.......5..4..3..2..!"

"Happy New Year!"

The phone flashed for an instant, and as she took it close to her eyes to read the message, sensing the glint in her eye, it was easy to guess that it could be from only one person.


The lonely planet - Part II

It was not the best of times to be in the best of spirits.  The economy was at an all time low and the jobs were decreasing rapidly.   Arundhati was cursing her luck after losing quite heavily in the stock market.  In the larger context, losing money in the stock market was just a subset of her worries.  It was nine years since Aneesh had lost contact with her.  The heavenly abode welcomed him with open arms.  It was by a sheer quirk of fate that she had escaped the clutches of the God of death.  A chill shriver ran through her body as she thought about those circumstances.  She had no one to reach out to, when little Arjun had shot out a wave of hope to her.  He was a one year old at that time, and as if to show his solidarity, his two hands clutched her little finger tightly.  He was the only beacon of hope.

"Time to do your Math, Arjun." Arundhati called out to her son following her daily ritual.

"Five minutes, Ma.  I am just finishing the last level of the game.  I should be out any minute now."  He was maneuvering his Xbox joystick like an expert.

"If the cost of one mango is 1$, what is the cost of three mangoes?", a question that has troubled kids from years galore.  Arundhati knew that she was going to have a tough time explaining the Math concepts.  She, being an English teacher, did not know the Math tricks.  Not that his teacher was not explaining to him the right way, but the extra effort was always required at home.  She had to guide him through the process as he reeled out completely unrelated answers before finally getting the point that he had to use the concept of multiplication to find the right amount.  She found it challenging to teach him, as this was the age to ask questions, most of which used to leave her dumbfounded.

"Ma, why is it dark during the night and not during the day? Why can't it be the other way around?"

"Why are those stars glittering in the sky?"

"Why does it hurt if I touch something hot?"

Arundhati had to keep herself on her toes to answer everything patiently.  She never once flinched to all his questions.  She always made it a point to look for the right answers.  She never second guessed.

Arjun was waiting for the Christmas holidays.  The festive atmosphere delighted him.  His mother usually prepared several lip smacking delicacies.  He was fond of ginger bread and sugar candies.  Even though his intake was regulated, he made it a point to enjoy them thoroughly.

Arundhati, if not for Arjun, did not have too many things to look forward to in her life.  Every step of Arjun's progress was a big step for her.  She found great delight in all the little things that her little one did.

"Ma, I want to see the crystal drop in Times Square today on TV."

"No, Arjun.  It's late in the night.  I will have the show recorded.  You can watch it tomorrow."

Arjun knew that it was pointless to have any argument and followed her instruction to get to bed.  He sulked and wished her a happy new year and went to his room.

Arundhati was reading a book in the living room.  Her mind was wavering.  She was not able to keep pace with the story.  She closed the book, and her eyes.  She took a deep breath and lay still on her chair.  She had a great memory, which was a gift and a curse.  She had masked all her sorrows, and was putting up a brave front.  It was as though the events had occurred only a day before.  At least she had moved on, that's what she liked to think.  She closed her eyes, and after what felt like eternity, she got up.  The clock had ticked twelve.  It was the beginning of a new year.  She didn't know what to wish.

As was the norm every year, she moved quietly into Arjun's room.  Arjun had the same expression as his dad when asleep.  She tucked a small gift wrapped package by his bedside, planted a kiss on his forehead and went back to her room.  As she got ready to switch off her bedside lamp, she noticed a small envelope.  Inside the envelope was a card cut in uneven fashion, and inside the card, there was a hand made sketch of a ship weathering a storm.  On the right hand side, a colorful message was spread across the page - Happy new year Ma! Loads of Love, L'll Arjun!

Arundhati couldn't check her tears.