Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Brickhead's Confession from 2003

It would be dishonest to state that I have not done stupid things in the last decade. It is definitely a long list. And Jan 1st 2010 is an opportune moment to confess what I believe tops that list of stupidity. My friends/well-wishers may disagree and quote competing incidents which are in the same league. But let's tackle those in separate posts.

The idea occured to me yesterday while watching 3 Idiots. In typical Rajkumar Hirani style, the movie was quite preachy in its core message - of not learning by rote, that mastery of the subject does not happen by replicating the old, with an overaching theme of following your own dreams. While nodding at the presented philosophy, I knew that at least once I had been on the wrong side of the divide between thinkers and brickheads.

In our fifth semester at IIT Kharagpur (July-Dec 2003), we had a week-long workshop which involved a design problem for a team spanning 2nd year, 3rd year and 4th year batches. As 3rd year team members, we were the workhorses, neither having seniority like 4th years or established inexperience like 2nd years to do kaam-chori. The design problem was to create a new building block for the Dalhousie Building in Kolkata - a classic conundrum of creating something new while retaining the old. The existing building was a overpowering four-storeyed British creation, with graceful arches and tall ceilings. In comparison, structures built in the current age were a lot more compact from floor to ceiling. So a critical piece in the design problem was creating a service link between the two structures (i.e, stairs and lifts), since the floor levels for the old and new structures would be different.

So Swapnil, Sabyasachi and I sat in the initial days of the assignment, trying to find a solution. Just installing normal lifts wouldn't work because....forget the explanation. It's to do with the misaligned floor levels. Swapnil soon came up with a then curious solution of having lifts which have doors on both sides - one for the old and one for the new. It was new to our system of thinking. It could have been a good solution.

So what did we do?

We fought. We resisted. We applied all the classic barriers.
'I don't think that'll work.'
'I haven't ever seen anything like this before.'
'Who makes two-door lifts!'

'I don't think the professors will agree.'

Swapnil of course fought back. If you know Swapnil, he can be quite persuasive (Like the time he convinced the store salesman to let him try out new trousers even though he wasn't wearing undergarments). But this time his persuasion skills were no match for our mammoth brick-headed brains. Or his overwhelming apathy for the architecture subject diluted his energy. In any case, the idea was duly killed and buried. We ended up using normal lifts and added stairs for connections. It was an unelegant, ugly and safe solution.

Of course there are two-sided lifts in the world. And everytime I enter one of them, I am reminded of this incident. I have aplogized to Swapnil about this over the years. The scary thought is that back then our resistance to the idea seemed logical and reasonable. And I wouldn't know if I am being the same brickhead in the coming years.

To the readers I pose this question - How would you know if you are being a brickhead? Can you be cognizant of your own irrationality? Because if we don't practice caution, we might end up rejecting things merely for being different. To quote Seth Godin - Big ideas are little ideas that no one killed too soon.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sense and Indian Sensibility

(warning: a mature philosophical rant)

Many a times, walking down the plastic lanes of Singapore, I have questioned my identity in this melting pot of business and culture. Having acquired new habits, tastes and routines - have I really moved away from my true roots? What really defined me as an Indian? An year in this city had seeded some acorns of fear that I was moving away from our values and traditions. But today, a succinct grave discussion with my flatmates reassured me that deep inside, we had not changed.

So Rohan came out of the kitchen this night, visibly perturbed. In his left hand was a fat bunch of tissues from Khan-sama restaurant - leftovers from our Kaminey Nights party. In his other hand was a standard white roll of kitchen wipes. The conundrum was simple, yet quite formidable. Which of the two would we three wise men recommend to use as a substitute for toilet paper? It was quite unfortunate that our supply had unexpectedly exhausted at 11 in the night.

A cold hearted decision indeed would have been to judge the options on the basis of their functionality - the size, texture and softness of the material. The Khan-sama tissues were significantly softer and in their natural state bearing a close resemblance to twin-ply. The kitchen roll on the other hand was white, coarse and modular. A clinical decision had an obvious outcome.

But our hearts did not not let our minds rule at this juncture. How would we ever be comfortable performing the task, when bold blue letters screamed Khansama from every tissue? The concept of food would be unacceptable in that situation. Could we bluntly focus on the needs of one sense while ignoring the sensitivities of another? Wouldn't that imply poor upbringing? (A point aside - if you were ever to visit Singapore, do try Khan-sama's food. It's delicious). So the tougher, harder, coarser option was chosen.

Over the next day, we may suffer a little pain. But we are ready to sacrifice that happiness in exchange for some pride - that we are still True Indians.

Similar posts:
The song remains the same
The ring of batman

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Safety First- A Guide to handling chakkas on trains

Last week, for no particular reason, my flatmates and I had an intense discussion on our key tactics for dealing with chakkas in Indian Railways. Any Indian male who dares to claim that he is 'truly' Indian, should have had at least a couple of such experiences when traveling sleeper class. Before I get lectured on Human Equality, or the members of facebook groups 'I love the guys in the middle' and 'Those freaky Chakkas are awesome' bombard me with their wrath, let me state I don't have any particular angst against the chakkas personally. They are a pain to comfortable travel and this guide will help the newbies. It's all with the aim of making the world a better place! (Inspired by the current favourite flowchart meme)

Chikna - Means a clean shaven guy with a skin tone relatively fairer than the average Indian male. The stereotype states that chakkas like chikna people more. This is never been proven and I am sure Human Equality commission hasn't conducted any study on it.

It: Your genitals.

Easily accessible
: When a troupe of chakkas approach the coupe', some guys prefer to pretend sleeping in a foetal position, which raises the risk of getting groped in the other direction. Another option is to scamper up to upper berths, if available. The less fortunate can only hope to act like a zombie and get ignored over other chikna fellows.

Photo source

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lesson of the Day - 4

An innocuous dance compliment, conveying that one has a firm lead, when exposed to the office atmosphere and its employees, can morph into quite a mutated and sexed up creature, oozing embarrassment, no longer possessing the charm of the lady who gave the compliment in the first place.

Previous Lessons of the Day

Friday, September 04, 2009

Tuk-Tuk Uncle: The Con man who couldn't

Dangers and Annoyances
Bangkok's most heavily touristed areas - Wat Phra Kaew, Jim Thompson's House are favourite hunting grounds for professional con artists. Smartly dressed and slick talking, their usual spiel is that the attraction you want to visit is closed for the day and they can arrange a bargain for you elsewhere. This is the bait for the infamous gem scam.... - Lonely Planet: South-East Asia.

The bible of travel Lonely Planet opens its chapter on Bangkok with this early caveat. The authors were kind to so accurately describe the modus operandi of con artists across the city. And we (Saurabh and I) were equally stupid to not look up Lonely Plant before our Bangkok trip. Consequently we fell for an identical scam. Of course, what happened to us was not exactly the same. But since you asked....

A few weekends ago, Saurabh and I found ourselves blessed with a whole weekend to explore Bangkok. On a bright Saturday morning, we were enjoying a pleasant ride on the Chao Phraya River cruise in a day long hop-on hop-off tour. Bangkok was being kind to us weather wise. The river banks host an extraordinary collection of temples and tourist attractions, the highlight being 'Wat Phra Kaew'. At 1.30pm, we hopped off at Maharaja Pier and were just around 100m away from the Grand Place/Wat Phra Kaew. 15 minutes later we found ourselves seated in a tuk-tuk being driven away from Wat Phra Kaew to a special temple. In between, we had bumped into (just like Lonely Planet described) a well dressed Thai citizen who happened to know a couple of things about Singapore. We struck up a polite conversation meant to enquire about the exact location of Grand Palace. He, seizing the opportunity, told us earnestly that 'the temple was closed' then and that it would open at 3.30pm. The tourist brochure said it closed at 3.30pm. But we chose to believe his version. Don't ask why! For the wasted 2 hours, he then proposed an itinerary that included 2 temple visits and a few prospective shopping trips. We willingly and delightfully accepted the deal at a killer price of 30 THB (For perspective, a coke-can costs 20 THB in Bangkok). He whistled for his tuk-tuk Uncle and we took off.

In retrospect, we must initially have appeared like rookie tourists to tuk-tuk uncle. We were merrily clicking pictures of the streets, the vehicles and every crossing that possessed gigantic statues. The clustered houses, the overbearing cables and fumes tugged our heart strings as they reminded us of India. ....

A chirpy street picture
Soon we were at Anonymous Buddha temple 1. After we got down, Uncle attempted to brief us about the itinerary. We nodded and ignored his small blurbs about the upcoming Jewelry Shop visit. Having no standards whatsoever for Bangkok tourism, we were thoroughly pleased with the first Buddhist monument. I must mention here that across Bangkok we were uniformly thrilled by all forms of Buddha - lying down, sitting, contemplative, smiling etc. For a man who spawned a new religion and gave birth to concepts of nirvana and well being, his statues themselves did not possess a wide spectrum of expressions.

Uncle patiently waited downstairs while we spent our time inside the first temple, clicking pictures, playing the giant dong, making full use of the facilities present for making fraud buddhist noises. Had we known we were a part of a grandiose con scheme, we would have wasted more time composing a couple of symphonies with the bells.
As promised, he took us to a jewelry shop after the temple. 'Lila Stones', if I remember correctly. We obliged and entered the showroom. Immaculately dressed ladies eyed us from behind the counter. We took some causal glances at the ear studs and pendants. Faking interest in the blue and green gem stones, we sauntered in the store possessing uber taste for jewelry. I guess the store owner didn't buy that. And we didn't buy anything either. With the most restrained Thai anger, the Aunty said "Khop Khun Khaaa... Now you can go."

We hopped back into the tuk-tuk and Uncle then took us to yet another Buddhist place. This time, Saurabh really took off with his photography - plants, statues, bells and women. We took our time, relishing elements of the temple. It was fun playing with the awesome long range lens...
Click. Zoom in. Really Zoom in.
After we came back from the temple, Uncle was patiently waiting for us at the gate. It seems he had been practicing his pitch for the next tourist attraction. In marketing one of the key lessons I've learnt is 'If they don't get your message, say it louder and be more monotonous'. And so we had a wonderful public discussion with tuk-tuk Uncle.

"Now we go to The Shop. You get 'The suits and The jackets and The silks'"
"No uncle we don't want to go there. Take us to Chinatown. We eat. We eat Indian food. Can?"
"No we go. You get 'The suits and the jackets and the silks. Very Good.'
"Uncle we don't want to buy clothes. We want to eat. Can we go to Chinatown?"
"You get 'The suits and the jackets and the silks.' Very Good. Very Good."

This conversation lasted for a while. Time stood still as each party attempted to say the same sentence slower with varying emphasis on verbs. Finally we relented and agreed to check out 'The suits and the jackets and the silks' before heading to Chinatown.

Uncle dropped us in front of 'James Tailors' and dragged his tuk-tuk into a line of parked tuk-tuks. Saurabh and I entered the shop and quickly realized we weren't going to buy anything from the outlet. The shop had a stench of packaged pretence with a stream of overdressed attendants peddling 'The suits and The jackets and The silks.' We had just crossed two feet when we were politely ushered to a table strewn with suit brochures. Peculiar men with cocksure countenances in identical looking suits stared at us from their matt finish world. It was also quite peculiar that James Tailors in Bangkok possessed all Indian attendants. But that also made our job slightly simpler.

Saurabh, being the courageous one, told the attendants upfornt - "Bhai, na hum aapka time waste karna chahte hain. aur na aap hamaara time waste kijiye. Kuch khareedne nahin waale hain hum," (We don't want to waste your time. And we wouldn't want you to waste our time either. We are not going to buy anything."). The manpower dedicated to us was instantly withdrawn. We strolled around the store as atonement for being so blunt. One man was placed in charge of trailing behind us, in case we professed any positive inclination during our stroll. We didn't.

Yet again we walked out empty handed and tuk-tuk Uncle noticed that too. He seemed visibly peeved now. He flicked ashes grudgingly from the cigarette and flicked his head directing us get in. It was a bright beautiful afternoon at 4pm. But Uncle would have none of that. He didn't reply when we asked if we were headed towards Chinatown. He kept mumbling something as we drove on the main street. Suddenly, with no explanation, he slowed to a stop and parked in the left lane.

What proceeded next can only be paraphrased. I didn't have a clue what he was saying.
"What! You don't buy. You waste my gasoline. You go in. You quickly come out. You go in. You quickly come out....."
"OK Uncle. Please take us to Chinatown."
"No. You get off. Don't pay. You get off."

With no regret and shame, we elegantly got off the tuk-tuk without paying a single THB. We took a taxi ride to the nearest river pier and resumed our tour of the riverside attractions. Unfortunately we discovered Wat Phra Kaew had indeed closed at 3.30pm, just like the brochure had described. This we managed to cover on the next day.

We'll never know whether tuk-tuk uncle thought we had thoroughly outsmarted him or were we just plain miserly. He did everything the Lonely Planet book had expected of him. He tried really hard to con us. But he just couldn't.
Tuk-Tuk Uncle

Edit: In case it isn't clear, the scam would have involved us purchasing counterfeit stuff at the jewelry store and the clothing shop. Read about the actual scams in detail here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

IIMA Scoop: Watch Your Step

The whole batch of IIMA 2006-08, or at least the ones who know Harshal Mehra are repeatedly delighted by his marathon tragedy. Harshal is constantly goaded to repeat this story to fresh audiences. The irony of it kills us every single time. It would be a shame if you didn't hear the tale in your lifetime.

It took some effort to persuade Harshal to allow me to write this article. Harshal is a straightforward person who speaks his mind. He laughs heartily when he feels like it and abuses ideas he hates with equal ferocity. Fearing a backlash like had happened with my previous blog subjects, I had prepared a pitch for why this story had to be told to the world.

'Harshal, I am planning to write about your marathon tragedy on my blog.'
'Nooo! Iyer! I don't want to a celebrity!'
That settled it. Any person, who has dreamt of celebrity status from such a measly blog would surely be delighted even by a nugget of online attention. Any consequent embarrassment or character malignment would be just mild collateral damage. So his subsequent faux complaints were conveniently ignored.

The story takes place between the months of June'06 and Feb'07 while Harshal was in Year1 at IIMA. Something motivated him in June to prepare for the Mumbai Marathon in February. And he conveniently aimed for the full 42km length. Finding even a continuous hour for academic projects is a tough task at IIM. And marathon practice required over three. So Harshal found a curious solution for it.

Have you ever pondered while sleeping about the plight of those pitious people who are plying on the roads at night, while you are plushly plonked on your bed asleep pondering? Yes. Harshal was one of those guys. Alone, wandering on the silent roads of Ahmedabad from 2am to 5am. That's right. 2am to 5am. While other IIMA mortals would drink, be merry, prepare for their internship summers, waste time idolizing Barney Stinson, or worse - study, Harshal utilized his nocturnal hours jogging. How he survived the ensuing day is anybody's guess.

He picked Fun Republic Cinemas as a landmark for his jogging track, around 4km from the campus. He'd make three rounds back and forth to clock 24km. At first the other nocturnal beings, the owls and the autowaalas, ignored him. But soon they began to take some interest in his pursuits. In the latter months of practice, the autowaalas cheered and encouraged him, complimenting his continuous improvement in stamina and timing.

As would be obvious by now, Harshal is a fitness enthusiast. Please don't draw stereotypes of a man eating half a dozen bananas a day, or gulping a litre of milk in the morning like a mushtanda swinging a mudgar. Though I admit as his flatmate now that quite a bit of that is true. Harshal also managed to take care of his health over the period of his jogging routine - eating the right kind of protein, vitamin and that other thing. He sought guidance from his seniors who were also planning to run the same marathon. What should I eat? How should I measure my heart rate? Why is it so dark at night?

You see, Harshal by nature also has a burning curiority for everything around him. If we were to draw a symbol capturing the sheer essence of Harshal Mehra, it would be a question mark. And since you have read so much about him, I urge you to think like him too. Question the basics. What really motivated Harshal to consider running the Mumbai Marathon?

There is conspiracy theory of a jogging angel from his senior batch who was a constant source of inspiration for him. But because this is unverified and vehemently denied by Harshal, I will not delve more into that aspect. Every man has an independent right to have a fetish for jogging women and this should not be arbitrarily mentioned in an article. Such slanderous remarks are completely uncalled for. Hence I shall not talk about the jogging lady. You are free of course to contact Harshal on this.

So after 8 months of jogging, befriending the auto-waalas, investing in his health, Harshal caught a train to Mumbai a day before the marathon. Yes, the train arrived on time. Please don't belittle the article by assuming such a lame twist to it. Let me say that again. There is a bigger twist to the story.

On the big day, Harshal woke up and prepared himself for the run. He wore his brand new wristband, new headband, new socks and old underwear. I am assuming all this because it just adds a cruel twist to the story. Harshal caught the local train to VT. As he got off the train, he stepped incorrectly and sprained his right ankle.

Harshal never ran the marathon.
Writer sheds two tears before resuming.

His seniors impatiently waited for him at the marathon venue. His batchmates impatiently waited back in the campus wanting to hear about his marathon feat. Of course when Harshal returned to IIMA with a crepe' bandage on his right foot, they figured he had a different tale to tell. I wouldn't blame you if you cringe and find nothing amusing about this tragedy. But if you imagine the copious effort Harshal put into his dream, the stuff he sacrificed on campus for it, the pain he suffered after every 24km run and the poorly twisted ankle on the day of the marathon; and the sheer irony of it brings a wry smile to your face, do spread the story. It would be a shame if your friends didn't hear the tale in their lifetime.

Edit: When Harshal first read this article, he showed no signs of being offended. In fact he provided more masala mentioning that he was called 'Langda Tyagi' for a while (Omkara fame), thanks to the sprained leg.

If you liked this, you might also like to read:
A Case of 27 Oranges
I Knew Something Was Wrong

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Letter to Kaminey Aunty

Dear Kaminey Aunty

Greetings to you.

My friends and I could not help noticing your presence in the theater. You were seated just a row ahead. You weren't conspicuous because of your black top. You weren't blocking the screen too. In fact, I must compliment you outright that your skull was reasonably sized. It's the brain it ensconced that bothered me through the movie.

I get it. You found the S to F jokes to be quite humourous. In the initial few minutes of the movie, when Charlie cracked the Fortcut and chota Fortcut joke the first time, you guffawed and really took off with your reactions. We could have ignored you. But we failed to do so the first and the ensuing 20 times.

I admire your impartial sense of humour. It did not matter to you whether Charlie called Shortcut as Fortcut, or Cellphone as Fellphone. You laughed loudly and proceeded to paraphrase the joke to your neighbouring friend with similar gusto every single time. On some later day, I might reopen this chapter to ponder over your friend's personality. Why was he enduring you all this time? Maybe you are his 'best' friend from college and he has gotten used to your foibles. Or you are his friend's girlfriend and he is obliged to be nice to you. Frankly, in that case I should begin suspecting your boyfriend's curious choice in women. But let us not deviate from the subject for now.

"Arre...he said Fortcut. A ha ha.."

By the time the twin brother Guddu releaved his stammering disability, the rest of us, and by rest I mean all 600 people in the theater, had accepted the speech impediments as a part of the storyline. You however took forever to digest that. I suspect permanent indigestion. There is a movie scene at a petrol pump where Guddu courageously overcomes his shyness and opens up his little nugget of childhood insecurity. It was understated and poignant. You however found a fresh repository of humour and giggled then too.

"Oh my god this is so funny."

When the movie ended and we all got up to exit the hall, I felt momentarily that we shouldn't have judged you based on such small peculiarities. After all, God has gifted all of us a unique sense of humour. If all flowers in a garden were just roses, would they have been as pretty? The diversity in our behaviour and our attitude towards others is what makes the world so special. I felt warmed by the revelation. I had almost forgiven you for your sins. That's when you and your chubby friend stuck your hands into the projector light and began making horse and duck shadows on the movie screen, giggling loudly at the short burst of attention the audience began paying to you. Had I been six years old, or had you been six years old or retarded, I'd have clapped my hands in delight or support respectively. But this time I didn't. It all came back to me - the experience from the first frame of the movie to the last grotesque display of social inadequacy.

You really distracted me through the movie. I had looked sorward to a relishing Vishal Bharadwaj experience. But you ruined it sor me. Aunty, sinally at the end os this whole experience I have developed a lisp too. I hope you can sigure it out.

Suck you.
Other Letters:
But you never mailed
Verbal B.O

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I Disagree

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Zouk - A Guide to Romantic Dancing

My friends, at every given opportunity, tease me about my salsa dance classes. And more or less if falls into statements like 'Oh now you can hit it off with salsa chicks', 'chance pe dance' or 'wow, paas paas dance karta hai, sahi hai' etc.

I don't blame them. After all, from basic laws of phyics we have learnt in school, you have a greater probability of pataoing a girl if by physical distance you are closer to her than farther. Or at least that's the theory we Indian males have internalized. You may mock us. But believe me you'll shatter the founding theory of every guy, who blessed by the god of randomness gets paired with a girl for Lab work, or the one who has a random brush of conversation at a college festival (though it may have only been a polite query asking for toilet directions, eh Shailesh ??). Every clubbing journey carries with it an eternal hope of a 'bump into'. Every one of us guys, in his light-walleted days of college, has intensely peered into the Train Reservation list, to check if an F 18-30 lady is traveling in the same coupe'. Yes it's gross, but that's the way we are.

So yes. I hope now you are convinced that in order to proceed to Step2 proximity is the key ingredient.

Well, the trouble is we have no clue what is Step2.

Men across ages have fantasized about the random bump intos, and the ensuing serendipity. But the majority of us absolutely and staunchly refuse to do anything about it once it happens. Sometimes it may only require the utterance of a single word (read my mini-valentine disaster), or just the courage of doing small talk. So despite what my friends say, despite what they goad me to do week on week, I believe, like with the world of salsa, I have very little hope in serendipity at Zouk classes.

Oh yes, we had deviated a bit from the main topic - Zouk.
Zouk is a romantic partner dance that allows you barely eight inches of space between you and the girl. I have successfully provided a glimpse of my incompetence at Salsa earlier. The preliminary flowchart with burgeoning arrows and coding did not really help when my brain froze on the dance floor. Sure, I could have referred to the printouts in my backpocket, but being geeky and cool just don't go together. So if being suave while holding hands in salsa was tough, Zouk just cramped up that space further by a foot.

So here's how it works. Eventually after doing some swishing moves around the dance floor, you have to crack your back and stretch out like in the picture above. When you just start off, there is the girl's right foot to the left of your left foot. And then there is the girl's left foot in between your two feet. Steer left by an inch and you'll risk stepping on her left foot. And the same nightmare with the right foot. Don't gaze at her to intently or you'll scare her. Don't glance down for obvious reasons. An yes, be graceful all the time!. As the music flows, the instructors even turn the lights dim to further help you in antagonizing the lady.

As I searched the net for appropriate Zouk pictures, all of them were more or less in the same pose. Maybe this 'bend-the-girl-back- till-she-howls-in-pain' pose is the pinnacle of Zouk dancing. I don't know where I'll head from there. But I am sure I'll get there soon. Some of you may have already begun dreaming of the romantic aspects of the dance - the fact that two strangers have found a connection so snug, with nothing separating them but a thin slice of air and the aroma of latin music. Good luck to you on that!

I hope I've inspired a few of you for learning Zouk. Never forget the dream - Some day in the near future, as your back screams of pain, your heart will scream with joy for having found the right girl.

Till then, don't get too close. It never helps.

If you liked this, you might also like to read:
Grace - A Guide to Making a Good First Impression
Rubik's Cube - A Guide to Not Appearing Stupid
A Guide to Girlie Shopping (by a guy)

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Sunday Yatra

Honestly, I do want to tell you this tale. What I fear is a distinct lack of empathy from your heart. As I describe the Sunday Yatra, you'll label it as petty cribbing: After all, it was just a matter of 4 hours - Taxi rides across the lush green freeways of Singapore; Picking up small artifacts from mall outlets; Is that worth whining about, you may wonder...So if you have a heart of stone, please avoid reading further.

The broad objective as I set out alone this warm Sunday afternoon was to collect Japanese goodies for a company event. Daiso, selling all Japan stuff at $2, had stores in four locations across Singapore. I had a ready laundry list of items from each outlet. It should have been a simple task without the influence of grave errors on my part. I can confidently attribute these to a combination of education, IQ and personality issues.

Underestimation of the bulk of items

Sure, these Japanese artifacts are adorable. But they lose their cute quotient when you have to carry over a hundred of them. It is then just a cold mission. In full cognizance of this, I thought it through and decided to carry a suitcase to cart them back. Was it enough? Rohan gave me a classic methodology of volume estimation. Hence I incorrectly guessed the size of each artifact packet, multiplied that by a factor of 100 and compared that with a bad assessment of the suitcase size. 'This should do' I thought, and left for the mission armed with one suitcase.

Overconfidence on communication skills

When as a team we finalized on this idea of giving Japanese gifts, I had made some trips to a few local stores to select the right items. Explaining this unusual order of over a hundred items from stores unprepared for such deals wasn't easy. In some initial attempts, by the time I reached the tenth word in the sentence, "We are having a company event on 6-7 August. Can you provide 120 pieces of this item?", I would lose the lady's attention. Being experts in cordiality, they do not let their face convey any loud expressions. They continue to smile, assuming they'd catch up quite soon. Over time (honestly it took over 10 encounters), I could make out the difference between a genuine nod and a smile of cluelessness. (Note to self: Learning when people have stopped understanding your line of speech is important for the career too).

Finally, I had struck a deal with Daiso. From the lady at Plaza Singapura, I had a list of items which had to be picked from all the stores. I thought it was just a matter of a few minutes at each outlet - announce my name, pick up items, domo arigato and move on. Well, it wasn't.

Overconfidence on physical strength

After multiple attempts, I conveyed to the first store manager that I wanted bags that fit inside the suitcase. After about an hour, I walked out of the first of four Daiso stores. I had picked up less than a quarter of the items and the suitcase was already full. Going back home for help would have been the right thing to do. But two strong misleading instincts of Chalta Hai! and Masculinity led me to the second store with a full suitcase.

Sembawang was relatively a pleasant experience. Having just a suitcase in my hand, I had the freedom to move gracefully in the mall. Hey, the shop was on Level 1! I again took a long time explaining the term 'reserved item' and used some objectionable sign language to convey the shape and size of the items. Eventually, I walked out with 3 bags and a suitcase. Off to Jurong East!

Jurong East

I have previously in life never cursed a store for being on Level3. In fact, I quite enjoy the view of pretty groups of chirpy Singaporeans from the higher floors. But somehow, dragging a suitcase and 3 bulky bags, I didn't stop too long to breathe in the cold, shopping aroma of the mall. I spotted the Daiso store at a distance and shuffled to the entrance. By this time, I had cracked the Daiso code of communication. I Reserve Item. Call your manager. Yes Yes. Smile. Bring the items. Check my name. Yada yada yada. Had they been more open to consumer interaction, I'd have also punched in the numbers on the cash counter to speed things up.

With the additional baggage, I trudged out and found my way to the taxi stand. As I caught the taxi for Vivocity, the bulk had grown to 5 bags and a heavier suitcase.

There are two adjacent malls in HarbourFront. Of course I reached the 3rd floor of the wrong mall and completed a full lap before realizing my mistake. I then muttered curses and landed up at the final Daiso Store. I somehow grew extra fingers and picked the additional 3 bags and headed down.

Oh, I hadn't mentioned this earlier. The suitcase was stylish, but for its loud-mouthed wheels. They would grumble at low paces and really let the expletives fly as I began to walk faster. So through the 'Fashion / Accessories' corridor, in the glorious lane of HUGO BOSS and BOSSINI, I orchestrated quite a spectacle - A disgruntled shopper, sweating inside the aircon space, with 8 white unweildy bags and a noisy suitcase, almost screaming for the taxi stand to move closer.

The taxi line at Vivocity was a 40 people long queue. I wasn't surprised. Had I believed in God, I would have certainly attributed all this to some bad karma and the consequential punishment. Instead I blamed it on Murphy.

Over the next twenty minutes, the taxi found its way to my apartment. I struggled for the last hundred steps. I thought that the harder part of the journey lay in the week ahead; In explaining the theme of the gifts, the concept of the cat and enduring comments on how the glass could have a little thinner or the blue a little darker. Just before I put the bags down, having single-handedly brought over 350 delicate artifacts home intact, I felt that 'This part of my life... this part right here? This was called happyness.'
p.s - Gift items are a secret right now. More on that later.
p.p.s - A maneki neko gift to the readers who cried by the end of the article :)

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Super-Retort

Tu dimaag kyon lagaata hai? / Why do you apply your brains? - the most despicable, terse, one size fits all, insensitive Super-Retort that I frequently receive when I express my elaborate opinion about a movie. I loathe this reply. Movie make wonderful topics of conversations - two people independently experiencing the same two hour life experience and sharing their version of it. It is criminal to trivialize reactions to it. I dislike the super-retort so much that I start getting annoyed with the person itself. And I feel this happens to a lot of people out there. So here's my attempt to dissect the retort, so that there is less animosity and global warming in the world!

"In the movie, most of the energy and brains(if any) has been applied to shooting songs independently, which were brashly splattered in the movie, interrupting the storyline. Otherwise time was spent in making the actors look good on screen - not the character, but the actor himself; With pronounced actions (removing sunglasses, adjusting the hair, swiveling) and jittery fast-paced and intermittent slow motion sequences. A strut towards the loo looked like it had grandeur and some ulterior purpose."
"Arre...It was an entertaining movie....Race mein tu dimaag kyon lagaata hai?"

The Super-Retort shows up when there is conflict of opinions. Two people, having similar positive / negative reactions to a movie, will never say it. And curiously, the Super-Retort always flows from the positive to the negative.
"I just loved Forrest Gump. How one man's simplicity lets him get involved in experiences of such magnitude, without getting bogged down by conflicts, hope, distrust, anger that come bundled with so-called normal intelligence." For this, I am sure you'll never hear "Abe tu inta dimaag kyon lagaata hai?". Because you'll never be lampooned for praising a movie in detail.

My first strong contention is that it is not the opinion itself that bothers them, but the elaborate articulation. The next time you observe, shoot or receive the Super-Retort, do notice that it does not bubble up at the start of a negative opinion. But if you evoke sub-lines of thought on character, continuity, storyline or depth, wham! You'll surely be hit by it.

We need to have strong reasons to dislike a movie others liked, but just a grinning one-liner or a shrug to justify liking a movie that disappointed others. What is it about an elaborate opinion that bothers people? Maybe the person with flavoured words appears at best to have a more formidable vocabulary and at worst, pretentious.....What is he/she trying to be by disliking this film?

So next time you are in wild disagreement with a person's (negative) opinion about a movie, I suggest two alternatives for starting the conversation.

1. "Did you have high expectations from the movie?"
(comparing real experience vs. expectations)

I guess it bothers people that movies that had less to offer are thrashed mercilessly; That he/she was 'looking for the wrong thing' in the movie and consequently faced inevitable disappointment. Just like the book 5 Point Someone, which for reasons I don't understand, is criticized for lack of literary depth. So rather than criticizing brain activity, delve more into expectations. You would have definitely experienced this when you suggested a movie to friends with saccharine praises, and they returned saying "Ehh..Johhny Gaddar was ok. But not that great."

2. "Do you usually enjoy this genre of movies?"
(comparing current experience vs. previous experiences)

'Yes I liked Ice Age1 and Ice Age2. Ice Age3 was a disappointment because it seemed like a stretch - like they milked existing characters of Manny, Diego and Sid and came up with something quite arbitrary.'
'Ice Age 3 was just like the others. I don't like animation at all.'
Understanding how that person has reacted to similar movies is a good place to start. It reveals more answers than conveniently mocking the opinion.

In the future suppose you find yourself disagreeing with my movie opinion and are not in the mood for a discussion. Then please move on. Don't attribute it by yourself to my neurons. It is heartening to know that you possess a godly gift of voluntary brain usage circuitry and exploit it. I don't.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Some things just can't be explained

"So there are these good robots and bad robots living on a planet."

And here I started smirking.

"Stop laughing! It's not that bad a movie."

"Oh sorry. No I am still listening. Go on...So the good and bad robots are living on the same planet?", I said.


"Ok. So what happens?."

"Apart from the robots, there is this cube of energy."

"A cube of energy?" I interrupted.

"Yes! A cube of energy."

"Ok. Just confirming..." To keep the conversation flowing, I smiled within.

"So the cube of energy lands on Earth. And the good robots follow it and land on earth to protect it. They are disguised as cars."

"As cars? Why cars?"

"Because they can transform into such stuff. That's why they are called Transformers.."

"Oh! The good robots are called Transformers?"

"No they are all Transformers. The good robots are called Opus Prime. And the bad ones are called ...I forgot...Magnet something.."

"Like...Magnetron?" I suggested.

"Yes, something like that. Let's call them Magnetron. So the bad robots Magnetrons also land up on Earth to steal the cube of energy."

"Are the bad robots disguised too?"


"No disguise? Not even like buildings?"


"But if they wanted, they could transform into buildings?"

"Yes, probably."

"Ok. Go ahead."

"So then there is a battle between the Opus Prime and the Magnetrons. The US army is also involved in a way."

I assumed the army was fighting from the good robot's side and hence didn't pose the question.

"Then the leader of the good robots slams the cube of energy into the heart of the magnetron leader. The cube breaks and the bad robot leader falls to the bottom of the ocean."

"That's the story?"

"No, this was just Transformers1. I haven't even started the sequel story yet..."

I take a few seconds to absorb the Magnum Opus plot.

"Before the story, there is some more funda about the Cube of Energy."

"Ok. Go ahead", I said, mentally preparing myself.

"The cube is powered by a Sun Harvester, where all the energy comes from for the cube."

"A Sun Harvester ?"

"Yes. Then there is also a key to the Sun Harvester, called The Matrix...."

And then, at that specific moment, I gave up.

Related movie trashing: D-War: The Rebirth of Legend

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

After you m'lady

Our office lobby has six working lifts and the general courteous behaviour here is not to stuff your elbows into other people's guts in the quest to be the last guy in. Usually, even when it is half-full, people stay put politely and wait for the next lift. As an Indian, I think this is very unusual, but I've eventually got used to it.

Today Mallika and I reached Novena on the same bus and were walking up the escalator and through the mall corridors to reach the office lobby. As we got off the escalator, I saw my ex-boss trailing by around ten feet and greeted him with a formal eyebrow raise.

As we approached the lift lobby, from the distance I saw the nearer lift door open and just a few people slowly trudging in. Oh sweet lord there is a special joy in winning races like these! And hence I had an unbearable itch (not that kind) to make it in time. Of course, it would have to be orchestrated in tandem with Mallika (or so I thought...).

We were 5 feet away from the lift. That's when I felt Mallika was taking steps a little faster. Could it be? Did she share my disposition? Would we be able to make it to the blessed lift? I added that bit of extra pace too. The Up Arrow blinked brightly. And like an early morning moth I propelled myself towards it, just a step behind Mallika. Even through a painfully acute angle, I sensed there was space in the lift. Finally, two feet away, trashing six months of discipline, courtesy and people skills, I leaped into the lift, swiveled, waiting for Mallika to step in. Evidently she had no plans of doing so. And so we held our places.

As the lift doors closed, I assume she was giving an understanding look (knowing my inept nature); I wouldn't know because I was not looking at her, but my ex-boss. He was standing flabbergasted, right opposite the lift, with a smirk conveying a dozen emotions (I think you can guess a few). Just before the doors shut, he grinned and said, 'Wow very courteous..'

Related post by Suhaib: After you m'lady

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Grace: A Guide to making a good first impression

Any management veteran will tell you that as you walk into a room with new people, it is important to crack that first impression. It is also a much proven and repeated fact that 93% of communication happens through body language - a solid amalgamation of eye contact, handshakes and grace.

This Tuesday's agency meeting was my first one on this brand. As I walked in early, I saw three agency reps in the room, new faces for me. From my brief exposure to the corporate lifestyle here at P&G, I knew self-introduction was useful and expected as well.

My colleague Lipi was already seated, nibbling gracefully at a pastry (remember the body language tip?) and sipping her drink. The agency folks, curious about the new face in the room, looked at me and smiled. Hence I smiled back at them, sliding the laptop on the table next to Lipi. As I did that, Lipi's styrofoam cup, so solidly resting on the table by the weight of the water in it, got tipped over.

I watched the water, glistening under the bright fluorescent lights, meander gently towards a cavity full of plug points. As it evoked images of sparks and short-circuits, another doubt popped in my head. Should I forgo my original plans of strong handshakes and cheerful eye contact? The answer was clearly no.

So I proceeded with the self-introduction, devoting one-tenth of my attention to the water spillage. After all, a fire hazard would have been quite unpleasant for the whole meeting. The agency folks, polite sparkling people as they are, appeared quite concerned about the water and one fumbled inside her purse for tissues. "Oh don't worry, Lipi will take care of it" I said; and with the same bounding confidence shook hands and absorbed each person's name.

During this time Lipi rushed out, appearing soon with a crumpled bunch of tissues in her hand. Deftly, she planted them over the major blobs of water. Defeated by Lipi's fortitude, the water hid inside a million tissue pores. The tissue, serving its ephemeral purpose of existence, extinguished and turned limp. It was all quite fascinating to watch.

Exhausted with Lipi's efforts and straining to remember three new names, I sighed and sat down, pushing the laptop away to rest my elbows.

It was at this moment that I happened to tip over the water cup, again. Given, it did not possess copious amounts of liquid like before, thus lacking its former potential for causing sparking damage. But nonetheless, it served its symbolic purpose of sparking chaos.

Lipi glowered at me. Thankfully, in her panicked state a minute ago, she had managed to bring in some extra tissues. I admit, that this time I could have taken over the cleaning act. But as she had done such a splendid job of cleaning up the first mess, I thought it was worth observing all over again.

So I sat besides Lipi as she gracefully wiped the table. I chose to give determined nods of appreciation. After all, such social mis-etiquettes, messing up everyone's time and table, can be quite embarrassing. A bit of encouragement is always helpful in these situations. And I must admit she handled it with utmost poise.

The meeting went off fine. We discussed, we debated and then went back to our normal work. In the end I found it heartening that apart from our business acumen, the agency also saw a fine display of teamwork, a can do attitude with a sprinkling of 'no crying over spilt water' values.

Like I said, it's all about the eye contact, strong handshakes, and of course, grace.

Found this to be useful? Here are some previous guides:
Rubik's Cube: A Guide to not appearing Stupid
A Guide to Girlie Shopping (by a guy)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Living the moment

At 12am today, as we sat satisfied after smearing delicious vanilla cake on birthday girl Chetna's hair, we began a new standard ritual of birthday questions. A spirited discussion about 'The Best Birthday Ever' did not materialize, as Chetna got increasingly disheartened by the quality of our interrogation. Regardless, we continued to annoy her. I too began my own independent thread of thought on what was my best birthday.

It just took a second to pick one. 9th grade. A good selection of gifts from friends which were promptly torn open and inserted in the music system. A barrage of new 90s music of Backstreet Boys and Ricky Martin for the party! Lots of dancing. Snacks. Some more dancing, followed up a standard Army party cuisine of samosas and chips. A 'return gift' for each guest and a huge exit procedure of Thank you Uncles, Thank you Aunties.

A note to my early 80's born Indian friends - admit it! You did listen to and enjoyed Backstreet Boys/Boyzone. You may jeer at their saccharine and boy-bandish videos now. But when you were first exposed to their songs in 90s, you were no doubt awestruck!

It first seemed odd to me that birthday celebrations in ensuing years did not translate into a coherent narrative in my head even after a lot of effort - though I had a lot more pictures of the same.

While we are growing increasingly hasty in clicking a torrent of pictures for every experience, the number of pictures you have for an event is probably no indicator of its worth in your life. Nevertheless, having sufficient batches of pictures has become the basic criterion for validating an activity. " nahi kheechi kya??"

This phenomenon is happening because of two technological transformations 1. Digital cameras and mobile phones, with seemingly infinite capacity for content 2. Platforms like Orkut and Facebook for you to share and respond to other people's content. And this is further fueled by a growing number of people contributing to online 'shared narratives'.

Experiences now are measured brutally from their facebook-worthiness. You make a trip with friends, you want every activity captured on camera. You see a beach and a mesmerizing sunset, you feel a stronger urge to show your back to the mellow sun and get a picture clicked rather than sit and enjoy its enchanting plunge into the sea. As Renny Gleeson eloquently says in this TED video, through technology our social world is changing 'where the experience we're having right now is less interesting than what we'll tweet about it later.'

This moves away from the main topic, and I may be incurring some curses here. But girls seem to have this tendency a lot more than the guys. I first ascribed it to a teenage overdrive of self indulgence. But the strain persists through later phases too. A typical girly-girl album would have definitely have pictures like this - a picture template for 'me doing fun cuddly stuff' which thankfully hasn't percolated into manly-man albums!
We are constantly a distraction to our own present. We experience, we click with an aim to post it later. After the initial joy of discovering an online footprint abates, our highs come from a splattering of responses from our online friends - and pictures form the easiest medium to create this narrative. We live life hoping to paint a better version of it online.

I am skeptical if we will go back to living a moment for the moment itself.

You might also like to read:
A piece on the 1980s generation: 1980--85
A comparison of childhood vs. present life: The Song Remains the Same

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lesson of the Day - 3

Say your boss is addressing a meeting, and you, succumbing to a curiously strong urge, send a corny webpage link to every other person in the room. As all stare at you inquisitively, it is advisable not to wink back in delight at one of them because if the former act doesn't incriminate you, the latter surely will.

Previous Posts
Lesson of the day - 2
Lesson of the day - 1

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I should have never answered that phone

Three weeks ago, as I was spending my Sunday sans activities, I received a phone call from a caller ID titled UNKNOWN.

I should have never answered that phone [to be read in a thrilling, Hollywood baritone].

It was a tele-marketing from Packtrue - an international calling service with affordable rates. As the agent Pooja spelt out the fantastic offer of 4cents/90sec, I had no clue whether that was a good or a bad rate. Having finished Predictably Irrational recently, I thought I shouldn't turn down the offer without assessing its value. A normal person would have grunted and ended the phone call. Instead I chose to continue the conversation.

'So how is this rate compared to the competitors?'
When they didn't have a decent answer, I, being in the business of marketing, thought that it was my added responsibility, apart from those of a rational consumer, to educate them about having effective claims for value and differentiated services.

Hence Pooja politely heard everything I had to say about their business and how their managers should review their strategy. In turn, I voluntarily gave my email address and promised to follow up on registration from the website.

From the website banner
Well to their credit I did check out their website. It had too many rate lists and too little direction - a montage of forgettable people posing with cellphones and flashing banners giving the layout the flavour of a 30 year old web designer who didn't learn any new skills since 2001. I cannot give you more details about their service because I never gathered the will to learn more. I know if I search hard enough on the website, I'll find what I need. A rational consumer is supposed to evaluate cost and utility to be derived from goods and then prioritize his options. This model never took into account consumer lethargy, and a predisposition to review stuff instead of actually doing stuff.

As the retail adage is 'Location, Location, Location', a similar one for call centers would be 'Persistence, Persistence, Persistence'. We received repeated calls (unanswered) on our landline through the week. Being at home on the weekend, I picked up the phone, forgetting to check the Caller ID.

I should have never answered that phone, again.[to be read in a thrilling, Hollywood baritone].

Her voice sounded disgruntled, like a friend who got stood up at the movies.
"Hi Sir, this is Pooja from Packtrue."
"Sir you never pick up my calls. I tried so many times."
"Sorry Pooja. I wasn't at home."
"So when will you register on the site?"
"I'll try during this weekend."
"So when do I call you again?"

It is quite a challenge to balance objectives of being rational, truthful and pragmatic. Another week passed by. Another set of missed phone calls and a poorly perused website.
This banner almost convinced me
"Hi Sir this is Pooja from Packtrue."
"Yes Pooja. I still haven't seen the website in detail. I might go for a $25 or $50 package."
"Sir, go for $50....just for me...." [Note: Flirtation FAIL]
"Sir, so when will you register on the site?"
"I'll try during this weekend. You don't need to call back. If I don't register, then please assume that I didn't like the offer."
"Ok Sir. So you'll register now?
"No, give me time. Like I said, I don't need help on registration right now."
"Ok Sir. So when do I call you again?"

Out of fears of confronting Pooja, I have begun avoiding all UNKNOWN phone calls. I do not have the courage to explain to her why I've been missing her calls. Or justifying why I haven't registered yet for their service. If I do sign up, what does that make me - A sucker for frequent, flirtatious, annoying agent pitches? And if I don't sign up, can I bear being an irrational consumer who doesn't switch brands at all? And how do I objectively dissuade a ram-headed call center agent?

Life's tough for rational fools.
If you liked this, you might also like to read:
The Right Price
[Agent's name changed for anonymity. I am still being the nice guy!]

Friday, May 22, 2009

Wait Until Dark

On May 17th 2009, a long gap of over 5 years since the incident, Ambuj Kumar confessed to having slapped Nimesh Priyodit in the dark RajMahal theatre of Jaipur. This information was shared with his remaining eleven batchmates and it was a euphoric day for all of us.

Aside from immediate curiosity about the slap protagonists, you may also be wondering why such a nonsensical confession is precious to us. Here's the full story. Trust me, it is absolutely superficial and quite bizarre.

The slap took place during our IIT Kharagpur Architecture Dept's annual tour in December of 2003. The tour involved close to 40 students, two randomly selected overzealous professors with a broad objective of introducing us to the best of architecture across India. Overall it was a wonderful 12 day experience except for the architecture elements. As evidence for their interest and observations, the students had to carry sketchbooks.

The quality and quantity of entries in the sketchbooks would rapidly plummet as we went from 2nd Year to 4th Year of the course. A few devious ones would take the farce one step further. Having carried an empty sketchbook through the tour, Swapnil would authenticate his virgin sketchbook with some ill-copied sketches, some imposed creases and tears, a few original entries and some creative streaks of dirt and scum for finishing touches. The final output was a masterpiece.

As you can imagine, the notebook was at best an outlet for misguided creativity and at worst a deplorable symbol of conformity and loyalty to an ill-designed architectural course. It signified everything boring and imposed about the tour. So at Jaipur when Nimesh took charge of managing all 36 notebooks, we were in no doubt that it was a stupid thing to do. A slap was inevitable.

Day2 at Jaipur ended with a movie at the RajMahal theatre - meant to be a rejunvenating experience from an exhausting tour of the city's wonders. The theatre had some ostentatious, gliterring interiors meant to seduce Indians into a mock elite experience. But apart from that, it was a normal theatre designed to impose darkness during the movie - the least ideal environment to distribute 36 repulsive, identical sketchbooks amongst 36 students who didn't want them. But Nimesh thought otherwise.

Hence during the movie sketchbooks began to flow from one end of the seating rows, with intermittent excessive instructions from Nimesh. His blocking the view of the movie screen didn't help either. Some tried to stall the flow of the sketch with some muted expressions of noncooperation. But that only increased the quantity of orders from the top. All the notebook passing, frowning, twittering, squinting drove people mad in the theatre. And suddenly Nimesh received a slap in the dark.

The beauty of the act was that any one of the 35 students could have done it. We all had enough pain within us slap him that night. Hey, make that 37 - even the professors could have planted that mighty whack! The mystery haunted us all these years - who could have done it? The villain (hero) never owned up to his act till last week. But now we know it was Ambuj.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Finding the right one

Firstly, I must congratulate Bharat Matrimony for placing so much faith in Orkut and its patrons by consistently grabbing banner ad spaces for the last 6 months. While every self-respecting Indian social networker has fled to Facebook to poke and chatter (or at least has stuck a leg into that ecosystem), this wedding website still expects some healthy ROI from Orkut. When the fraandship dudes make the final jump, obviously the key clientele for marriage, I am sure Bharat Matrimony will follow them too.

As seen on Orkut, May 12th 2009

What I found particularly interesting about this advertisement is the generic Indian girl personality it tries to capture. Do go through the ad once. My strong contention is that the copywriter is a male; and he decided to pen the first few thoughts in his head and froze the final output - which in order were Cricket and Food.

As a general rule, Indian girls don't enjoy sports. Stuck between playing stappu games and cheering their elder/younger brother's sports efforts, girls rarley stir up passion for sports. They may occasionally comment on how Rahul Dravid looks like a squirrel (true story) or how Kumble should grow his moustache back (true story, same girl). Rarely are they interested in the actual match. Apart from this, cricket telecasts strongly compete with the girl for the guy's attention. Hence, cricket will always be the enemy. My dear flatmate times his phone calls and coo-chee-coo girlfriend conversations around the IPL matches. Cricket can never be the favourite sport of any girl. So in case you set off on a treacherous journey into Bharat Matrimony and do bump in to a girl you like, do not trust her if she says "Mine too!"

Of course it is no easy task to find partners through a sterile online medium.

From Seinfeld
What's brutal about the date is the scrutiny that you put each other through. Because whenever you think about this person in terms of the future, you have to magnify everything about them. You know, like the guy'll be like 'I don't think her eyebrows are even. Could I look at uneven eyebrows for the rest of my life?' And of course the woman's looking at the guy, thinking 'What is he looking at? Do I want somebody looking at me like this for the rest of my life?'

The matrimony conversation will have to be a nice gist of our likes, dislikes, beliefs, values, and all with a dash of LOL humour. Hence it is important that one spaces out all the little quirks of our fine Indian male personality. If I were the fake Bharat Matrimony guy, I would not mention my predilection for Bhel Puri right after talking about cricket. Yes, maybe I am the stereotypical cricket-loving, BhelPuri eating guy that the copywriter unfortunately turned out to be. But that's something the girl should discover an year into the marriage, when IPL 20xx is on. Don't ruin it for yourself during courtship.

So simply put:
1. Don't accept her lies.
2. Lie well about yourself.
3. Don't miss IPL matches for anything.

I guess real marriage partner searches are a little more complicated. I shall share more robust theories with you as I form them, like - "Ideal Movies to Check Compatibility" :)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Rubik's Cube: A Guide to not appearing Stupid

We, the chummy male company enriched, happy go lucky, sniggering, T-shirt wearing, loud desis found ourselves to be complete misfits in the ToysRUs store. After failing to find the game we had hoped to purchase, my friend Kunal and I found Rubik Cubes stacked up in the adjacent shelf. Succumbing to unexplained temptations, we each ended up purchasing one.

As we left the store, we faced typical post-purchase dissonance pangs. We gazed at the multicoloured cube, unsure about whether it would serve any purpose in our lives. Eventually I spoke in favour. "Hey we can use it to kill time while waiting at the bus stop.". His eyes lit up.

The movie Pursuit of Happyness may have revived popularity of this mathematical contraption. But real life serves it up differently. Even on bus stops, a person makes his first impression with these accessories. While the venue does have a congregation of people who have no role to play in your life, it is still important to make a good impression. Appearing cool is highly underrated. So here's a brief list:

Playing on a video Game Console - nerd
Gazing and doing nothing - general guy
Tik-tik on mobile phone - general guy with a mobile phone
Tik-tik on Blackberry - show off / workaholic
Clicking pictures with friend at bad angles - self absorbed nut
Reading a book - intellectual (assuming it's not a comic)

Now with a Rubik's cube, you have to walk a thin line between appearing intellectually superior and downright retarded. There are 2 simple guidelines.

No 1 - Don't frown with crunched eyebrows. That's the first sign of mental degradation. What is a genuine mathematical perplexity in your head, will seem to others like an intense motor struggle to turn the cube. In this society, not appearing retarded is a higher priority than solving a mathematical puzzle.
No 2 - Always look like you are on track. Unless you follow the cheat sheet they provide with the cube, or look up the procedure online, it is unlikely you will solve it. Still, it is important you fake it.

Also, a Rubik Cube does not share the same space as books. Do not share it with your friends. The desire to solve a Rubik Cube is a mirage, a delusion which dissapears the moment you possess it. Your friends, if they do insist and borrow the cube, will ditch it 30 seconds after they play around and fail to make any progress. I first portrayed this behaviour in Kharagpur, when I borrowed it from a mellow research student in the department who could not find enough reasons to refuse. The cube stayed inert in my room for a couple of months. Then one day a boisterous wingmate barged into my room and got overcome by the typical desire to conquer the cube. When his brains failed him, his muscles took control and in one swift motion it crumbled into cube fractals and died. I spent the next few years avoiding conversation with the bearded researcher.

This time I hope to solve it all the way without destroying the cube. I am sceptical whether I'll receive cheers or ovations from indifferent bus stop junta. But to all my friends in Singapore, stay away from the cube. It's an addiction!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

No Jai Ho!

The last time I got newspaper coverage was in July 2006, in the first few weeks at IIM Lucknow. As you can imagine, I was thrilled by it. Front page stuff!

HT Lucknow Live - Think Different

That wasn't the case when recently a photograph of mine was sneaked into a Singapore newspaper article. Curiously, the context wasn't very different. It too was unexpected; The article talked about dance and creativity; I was dressed for the occasion, surrounded by females, looking not too unattractive and most importantly - in the centre of it all. In college, any publicity is good publicity. But at work, I realize there are zones of pride and huge cavities of discomfort.

The Article - Slumdog Dance Fever

First, a brief background on the dance picture. This is a 12pm to 1pm Bollywood Dance class at the gym close to the office, free for P&G employees. Instructor: Female. Female Participants: around 8 to 20. Male Participants: One. Me. Through some occasional sophism, I have convinced one odd male colleague to join in. But dropout rate of this circle has been 100%. It is typically just Aunties and me.

An interviewer and a cute photographer blessed the dance class last tuesday. They clicked pictures and interviewed a couple of dancers during the class. At the end of it, when we were asked to pose for a group picture, I tried to use all my diplomatic might to stay hidden amongst a sea of aunties. But that didn't happen. Instead, being the only male in the class, I was made to stand in the centre just behind the instructor Nidhi. And hence it appeared on 20th April on MyPaper.

Disparaging comments about the act of dancing I can handle. Newspaper articles I can handle. But disparaging giggles and SMSes about a newspaper article about the act of dancing is new territory for me. Slumdog Millionaire has already caused pain in my life. The kid in the movie who gets blinded and smells the $100 note is christined Arvind. A certain colleague (yes it's you Yik Hun) chose to run that line of humour for six continuous weeks.

And now this article was flashed in a meeting for everyone to giggle and lovingly call me 'Celeb'. The worst aspect of it all - I appear out of sync in the picture!

Previous Dance Embarrassment: The Black Baniyan
Previous Media Embarrassment: Think Different

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour Fail

"Oh my god...It was much fun! We sat by the river/beach. All the big buildings had dimmed their lights. Even Esplanade seemed a bit". My friend and her family made a trip to the Singapore beach area (ECP), while another made a similar family event out of it, as a few CBD areas darkened for Earth Hour 2009...sigh..

I would have hated to have this pseudo environmental gimmick succeed this year at Singapore. Thankfully, it didn't. News articles may quote otherwise, but I am reporting what I saw. In the designated Earth Hour, I happened to be traveling through major central areas of city - Dhoby Gaut, Orchard, Novena - and nobody had flinched or bowed down to this pretentious celebration of darkness. To show solidarity, we played futsal in a brightly lit court after witnessing the Earth Hour fail at Singapore. Jai ho!

I place this symbolism in the same league as the bimbo solutions from Miss Universe pageants.

(From Seinfeld)
KRAMER: If you were Miss America, what would you do to make the world a better place?
KAREN: As Miss America, I would try and bring an end to world hunger. If every person sacrificed one meal a week, there would be enough to feed the whole world!
JERRY: That's a hell of a plan.

Sure, the pro-environment supporters would have already assumed the non-believers in Earth Hour are spitting, polluting, wasteful, insensitive bastards. So I would like to tackle arguments here that I expect to receive against my stance.

Argument1: It makes people aware of the issues.
Reality: What exactly is the issue? What is the message that you are trying to drive? That energy consumption is bad? Or that we can do without all the frills of life like light and communication? The headline in Telegrah (UK) for March 30th 2009 reads 'Landmarks plunged into darkness in support of climate change action'. Is darkness our symbol of victory now? This article from Ayn Rand institute captures the fallacy beautifully - This blindness to the vital importance of energy is precisely what Earth Hour exploits. It sends the comforting-but-false message: Cutting off fossil fuels would be easy and even fun! People spend the hour stargazing and holding torch-lit beach parties; restaurants offer special candle-lit dinners. Earth Hour makes the renunciation of energy seem like a big party.'

Argument2: It is only a symbol. The real intention is to drive the message of environmental awareness.
If I again consider the wikipedia page and news reports as a 'symbol' of people's perception, then collectively we are swooned more by energy reduction statistics. The issue that Earth Hour supposedly tried to highlight is smothered by percentages and watts.

As seen on the Earth Hour Wikipedia page today in the top entries (might change on later dates)
'The Capital city of India, Delhi's power demand fell by 1000MW. The “phenomenal” dip is attributed to the Earth Hour observed by Delhi'

'Malaysia's 8TV halted transmission for one hour starting from 8:30 p.m'

'The Canadian province of Ontario, outside of Toronto, saw a decrease of 6% of electricity while Toronto saw a decrease of 15.1% (nearly doubled from 8.7% the previous year) as many businesses darkened, including the landmark CN Tower'

Santosh Desai says 'We live in a world where it is easy to confuse the token act with the symbol and the symbol with the action. In a world, where media amplifies the smallest action by filling its frame with it, it is easy to mistake the symbol for the real thing.

Just by sheer numbers, any figure beyond 2-3% and suffixed with Million Watts seems big. We are being bombarded with more facts about reduction and successful shutdowns than anything else. Which brings up the fundamental question - What was the objective of the event? Measures should help you understand how you are doing against your objectives. Otherwise the numbers are just garbage.

Argument3: Real change can happen only if we all act together.

Ever noticed the twinkle in the obese Delhi aunty's eyes as she flicks a coin into a beggar's hands? The emotional fuzz created by Earth Hour participation is not very different. Instead of an isolated act of generosity, you become a part of a global self-applauding, back slapping groupie to energy conversation. God, I hope you have given me plus points for this magnanimous act!

1. Prudence in expenditure or energy consumption is not caused by an hour of dark extravaganza.
If the Earth Hour guys really wanted to affect behaviour, then they should have been measuring difference in energy consumption between periods post/pre Earth Hour to track any significant changes - And reporting that instead of one hour astonishing-dip-in-consumption bullshit. Clearly, this is just a PR gimmick.

2. Conservative consumption is not the solution to the energy crisis.
Innovation is the way. And that is neither helped or triggered by our candles and such fuzzy acts of environmental support. Placing onus on little significant activities is a typical method of transferring guilt and responsibility. In India we have often received exhortations which are like - 'If you save electricity and don't switch on your AirCon in the evening, then there will be enough electricity for everyone....Even the poor'. The reason why there is irregular electricity supply in Delhi is not because you are using that extra bulb or power source. Prudence is a way of life and optional - not the reason.

Similarly, independence from fossil fuel based energy will not be caused by these minuscule reductions. It needs to be backed by sound government support and private players who have a stake in innovation. Atanu Dey says 'All sources of energy — fire, coal, oil, nuclear — for human use have been the result of discovery and invention. Some entity somewhere invests what it takes for research and development, usually some corporation in search of profit, and invents the technology to exploit some new source of energy.'

If abstinence from modern comforts is some sort of achievement, then maybe some we require some marketing repositioning wizardry for a few things. The countless vehicle strikes in Kolkata should be called 'Earth Day - Transport' - to help us appreciate our leg muscles and how beneficial it is to get extorted during such strikes. The Writer's Guild Strike should have been called 'Earth Month - Family' - to help family members spend quality time since they'd choose to bear each other than watch Sitcom reruns.

Instead of developing a weird dislike for energy consumption, for gadgets, for transportation, for comfort, we should be happy to have these niceties in life and continue to pursue the lifestyle of our choice.

The lights of our cities and monuments are a symbol of human achievement, of what mankind has accomplished in rising from the cave to the skyscraper. Earth Hour presents the disturbing spectacle of people celebrating those lights being extinguished. Its call for people to renounce energy and to rejoice at darkened skyscrapers makes its real meaning unmistakably clear: Earth Hour symbolizes the renunciation of industrial civilization. [Source]

If you liked this, you might want to browse:
Best of 2008, 2006

Pranav has written a strong response to this article. You can read it here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lesson of the Day - II

Previous: Lesson of the Day 1

When making polite conversation with a lady for the first time, do not succumb to your gut feel. Choose to ask 'So are you married?' over the presumptuous question 'So how many kids do you have?'. Chances are that she may not be married at that point of time. It is then unlikely that you receive favourable responses to your question. Innocence and stupidity are seldom confused with each other.

Related post by Poornima: Haute Couture

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Off with your head

Dear Vague Acquaintance,

Why did you choose to add me on Facebook?
Maybe you thought I would take pleasure
In reading 25 Random Things About You, and
Which Friends character you resemble the most

Maybe your status messages are quite delicious
And ooze copious wit
And your hallowed scores in Online Ludo
Delight your wondrous friends

Maybe you want to express niceties
By wishing me on my birthday
Throwing a sheep at me
Or hollering Nice Pic when your creativity fluids dry out

Well, no thanks

Sure, we went to the same college
Or have a friend in common
Well that's not my doing, is it?

In your spree of increasing your size
It might have missed your attention
That I spent a long happy time
Without your presence in my life
And did fine too

I would have preferred to dislike you
But I'd have to know you to do that
And for having briefly imposed yourself
And cluttering my online space
I'd have liked you to read this rant
But hey!
You'd have to be on the list for that

I don't know you
I don't want your presence
700+ was a mistake on Orkut
which I sure am not committing again

As you click on my name
Overcome by Facebook deja vu
Let me rid you of doubts
Yes, I did reject you
And I'd be happy to do it again
In the words of the Queen
Off with your face head!

Do you want to read more rants? Check out Muffinisation and They're Watching You

Monday, March 09, 2009

Persuasion Fail

We try so hard to sell our ideas. The warm fuzzy achievement from convincing others about our point of view is unique and treasured. Sometimes we do succeed in having good discussions. But it's the failed ones that seem to settle in my memory.

Sometimes the argument itself is at fault. Sans facts, sans direction, all we are left with is our brute capacity for emphasis and a few friendly abuses for garnishing.

"I think our batch had much more PhD people."
"No. Our senior's batch had a lot more students who went abroad."
"No no... Paagal hai kya? Our batch had even more..."

Sometimes we lose touch with the very purpose of starting the conversation. My dad once tried to convince my (then) eight year old cousin to come along to his office.

"Hey Bharat, how about a trip to the RKPuram office?"
"All right.", said Bharat.
"There are lots of computers there. You can play games and..."
Bharat then cheekily cut short his pitch and said, "I've already said yes. You don't need to convince me."
My dad won his company but lost the argument.

Sometimes our earnest desire to put forward a point is not matched by it's momentum. The thread snaps and one is left with a miscarriage.
On the subject of youthfulness of Asian women, Mallika said, "That lady looks so young, you can't believe that her daughter is..."
As the statment hung unfinished, choking for breath, Mallika momentarily appeared perplexed.
"Hey June, how old is her daughter?"
"Oh!", Mallika said, "I thought the girl was a lot older...."

An article on such skills of persuasion fail would be incomplete without a mention of my favourite Mahajan Motors. After starting off with a 'Mahajan Properties' establishment, our man had flourished, diversified into a hardware store and a Motors&Mechanics outlet. All of it could be surely attributed to his excellent networking skills. Having purchased our scooter from Mahajan Motors a few years before this incident, my dad hadn't visited the shop and I did all the trips for servicing the vehicle.

So that day I wheeled in my moped and was invited to sit in Mr. Mahajan's dark-tinted, dingy, 'Mahajan Properties' office while his mundus worked at resuscitating my vehicle. He gave a warm smile and continued his conversation with a sluggish obese Delhite, equally entrenched with work on a lazy afternoon, having little to do than listen to Mr. Mahajan's monologues.

"Bhai yahaan sab relationship par chalta hai. Ye dekhiye, inke pitaji (pointing at me), aur hamaare itne acche sambandh ho gaye hain, ki hamse salaah liye bina ye kuch bhi decision nahi lete (Here everything runs on relationships. His father and I now have such a deep relationship that he does not take a single decision without consulting me)."

"Kaun, wo MT waale?", the man said, unfortunately confusing my dad with some other individual.

"Nahi...wo...amm....aa.." Mr. Mahajan thought for a while...."Beta aapke papa ka naam kya hai? (Hey kid, what's your dad's name?)

"Swaminathan", I said, trying not to laugh.

"Haan. wohi! Swaminathan sahab..." he exclaimed and continued his speech unfazed. The jobless counterpart in the discussion did not notice the chasm, or probably didn't mind it.

Have you got any failed stories that you want to confess?
If you liked this, you might also like to read Logic Fail