Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Case of 27 Oranges

In relation to my previous post, I have come to a strong conclusion that we Indians know and care little about other cultures. We can ramble about our cities, the diversity of North-South India, weather etc. But rarely is a similar curiousity expressed for others. In a food court or street peppered with a dozen outlets, we plonk ourselves in a place with closest resemblance to Indian food. In the world of cuisines, we are the ultimate risk-averse chicken.

As an antidote to this I decided to improve my behaviour starting this year. My resolution for 2009 - "Understand other Cultures of Asia".

The first event to exercise this was the Chinese New Year/Lunar New Year on 26th-27th January 2009. What earlier seemed to be just a bunch of holidays now posed a serious opportunity to learn stuff. The good part of the story is that I along with my flatmates visited Chinatown on New Years' eve - enjoyed fresh Sichuan cuisine, bought some touristy junk, and watched some live dance performances. I of course will focus on the derailed part of the project - the case of 27 oranges.

Along with the other items purchased at Chinatown, we bought a large box of oranges. Oranges, in Chinese tradition, signify wealth and it's common practice to gift it to others during this period. Now even though it had been 5 months since we shifted into the apartment, we hadn't met our neighbours formally. So I proposed to use this New Year event to bond with our Chinese friends.

Since this was a new strategic social move for me, there were a couple of scenarios which I ran in my head to prepare myself better:

Best Case Scenario
Get invited to their home. Hand over the oranges to a gushing mother and a fatherly uncle. Given a chance, talk briefly about current job and background. Ask about their celebration plans. Display the suspicious glutinous rice cake bought at Chinatown. Act cute and smile. Get a motherly giggle from the aunty followed by some practical tips on how to cook that formidable lump. Get back home delighted with an air of success.

Most Likely Scenario
Get invited to their home. Politely hand over the oranges with wishes. Ask about their celebration plans. Exchange names and some information. Exit as the conversation dribbles down. Get back home happy.

Worst Scenario
Do not get invited into their home. Hand over the oranges from the door itself. Exchange names. Get back home satisfied.

Along with Rohan, I practiced the Mandarin version of the greeting to perfect it "Gong Xi Fa Cai", "Gong Xi Fa Cai". On 26th morning, armed with a heavy case of 27 oranges, we were almost ready to head out. Then Rohan popped his catastrophic doubt - "Isn't a case of 27 oranges too much for a polite gift? How would we feel if our stranger neighbours gave a big box of Kaju Barfi on Diwali?"

He had a good point. So we sat back on the couch and revised our plans. What would be the correct number of oranges to hand over as a casual neighbourly gift? In our head we drew the marketing benefits ladder, pyramid and matrix to arrive at an optimum number. It may seem simple to you. But considering the chasm of cultural nuances it was probable that we'd end up gifting a number considered impolite, or worse a bad omen. The internet wouldn't have helped - It is much harder to google for superstitions than facts. So we ruled out standard bad numbers - 3, 7, 11, 13. Final consensus: Not too much, not too little: 12.

Dropping randomly selected dozen oranges in a red bag, wearing a red t-shirt, oozing enthusiasm, we walked out to the opposite home's door and rang the bell. Through the grilled door, we meekly peeked in and found some cartoon programme on the television and no sign of people. We waited and rang the bell again.A little girl came to the door possessing an unmistakable disposition of someone whose television routine had been rudely interrupted. Respecting her impatience, I went directly to the punchline.

"Hello!", I joyfully greeted.
She smiled.
I extended the bag over the door and greeted loudly "Gong Xi Fa Cai !"
She smiled. She gracefully jerked the bag of oranges through the grill. And in a split second, she disappeared from the door back to her psychedelic world of Pokemon.

We stood outside the door and waited.
"Now what?"
"I don't know. Maybe the aunty will turn up at the door now."
We waited.
My brain had prepared for a spectrum of scenarios with the parents. I hadn't expected a chirpy kid to outsmart such planning.
Rohan sighed. "Let's go back."

It's now three days post New Years. The remaining 15 oranges are still lying in our home. Now we can't act sanguine and dump them on another neighbour. If oranges signify wealth, what do old oranges imply? Old wealth? Depreciated goods? Inflation?

My first attempt at understanding Asian cultures hasn't been quite a success. Ironically, it was some Asian cartoon on TV which ruined my plans. Maybe 12 wasn't a lucky number for us after all.

"Gong Xi Fa Cai" to all readers!. Read more about:
The Chinese New Year
Why oranges are gifted on CNY

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Protestors want Protestors to be removed

The National Happy Dog Association of India has protested against protests made against the film title of Slumdog Millionaire. The latter protestors have an issue with the 'offensive content' in the title.

Miss Loveleen from Dadar (Mumbai) said, "You know my dog fluffy was quite happy before these protests started happening on the streets of Mumbai. He would eat his food and do potty properly. Look at him now!"

If these protests lead to action, the film might be renamed to Slum dash Millionaire or Slum dash Crorepati. This will seriously undermine the credibility of dogs - not only the slum kuttas, but on a wider global scale.

A certain conspiracy theory also suggests this has been triggered and financed by the rival group National Cat Association of India. "By undermining dogs, they are trying to capture the 'Man's Best Friend' equity. We shall not allow this long-term strategy to succeed." Current plans include revitalizing the Dog's image - renaming Dev D to Dev Da Dogs and Dilli 6 to Dilli 6 Amazing Dogs.

No dogs were available for comments.
If you want a more serious take on this behaviour of intolerance and frivolous banning, do read this article called Competitive Intolerance on The Acorn.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Where the Hell is KGP?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

But you never mailed...

Dear Andrew Gale

I can't believe I got fake-email-IDed by you.
It hurts.

Till my group reached the resting point Laban Rata, we feared that we'd not have any 'cool pics' to share on facebook to boast about our accomplishments at Kinabalu. And then we met you - a blessing from New Zealand. As we were led together up the Kinabalu summit by the guide, I earnestly indulged in small talk with you. My favourite monologues were those on 'Tandoori Roti and Other Indian Breads' and Kolkata. Didn't you like my detailed description of my university?

All I had asked from you when we reached the top was to patiently click my pictures using your obese SONY Digital SLR camera. Apart from solo shots, Vikrant and I had made only six-seven poses in front of the 4095M summit board. I am told that the pictures, had I received them by email, would have been quite spectacular.

But you never mailed.

You may question why two Indian men of decent physique did not carry cameras of their own for such a momentous event. Well that is because we wanted to optimize. We thought it was wiser to carry our backpack all the way to the summit, because you never know when you might need a change of underwear and a shave. All the other enthusiasts were pretty silly to climb light and not carry anything except their cameras. That includes you.

You may have also got a bit peeved by the way I sipped disproportionate amounts from your water supply. I should have sensed your mild discomfort from our company by your accelerated descent on the climb down to Laban Rata. Had it not been for your extended breakfast at the lodge, I am sure we'd have missed each other. As we affably exchanged mail addresses, I was sure this was a friendship meant to last decades. But like a cruel joke, you fake-email-IDed me!

In desperation I tried all combinations - andrew_gale, andrew-gale, andrewgaleyoumoron. Each bounced mail etched a painful scar on my Kinabalu experience. All I have for memories from the Kinabalu summit is this generic wikipedia picture.

I waited and wept. But you never mailed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Murder of Salsa

Poor flowchart skills from IIM and the IIT obsession to break content into variables/processes leads to this....

Monday, January 12, 2009

Your Marriage Un-vites

I post this article with utmost sincerity and genuine concern for my friends. Many people of our generation are still unaware of rightful use of online communication. They spam everyone with "Hey dude Happy Budday" wishes and bulk mail New Year messages. There have already been quite a few weddings in my circle in the last few months. And even though this event holds tremendous importance compared to yearly holiday wishes, many have succumbed to the same mistakes.

I hope to pass on some ideas for future wedding invites. Even if you aren't busy with marriage preparations currently, you can enjoy this and probably pick up some lessons for other forms of communication.

Dear Prospective Bride/Groom,

Before you salivate at the easy prospect of thrusting your wedding invitation on your whole universe of friends, ask yourself the first major question:

Is your motive information / persuasion?

In case you just want to announce to all these 'friends' that you are getting married, social networks are the best place to post your wedding invite. You can possible accompany that with updated status messages. We all love to get surprise scrapped/walled for casual conversations. And obviously, a facebook update will lead to a lot more interaction than your bulk mail.

So spend some time to sort your friends into those that deserve an invite and those who don't. If you think your whole 600 bunch of facebook/mail contacts equally deserve your wedding invite, believe me you haven't put in enough thought into it.

If you have managed to split your world into these two groups, here is the first bitter truth - It is always better to personally inform these people than mail them as a bunch. That requires a lot more effort. If this list is large and you necessarily have to send out group email invites (called e-vites henceforth), consider these suggestions:

Break this friends list based on how close they are to you. It is obvious that they all would not be addressed in the same way. Nor will the e-vite content be the same for them. Do not mix friend circles. Your office colleagues do not want to be mentioned alongside your college friends.

Good Idea (from Surya's Mail): Mailing people who are important to you, but are also connected to each other

Dear Czars (and Czarinas),
I would like to invite you to my wedding which is scheduled for the 7th of December in Gwalior....
I request you to .....Please let me know in advance to make arrangements for your stay.

Bad Idea: Mailing people who are important to you, and probably unconnected to each other

Dear Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,
And many more.... bringing a smile to my face...
And here I am now, doing the same to you all beautiful people....

Some details which are generally ignored:

1. Timing
Do not bother to send the e-vite a week before the wedding. If you hadn't intended to call us till now, sending an e-vite doesn't mean squat. It's an afterthought. Just don't do it. I've seen a couple of wedding e-vites with an apologetic start "Sorry guyz, the wedding invites were just made and sent out. Hope u can mke it to da wedding. Find attached the invite."

The orange coloured Lord Ganesh blessed cards are meant to be snail-mailed. You are neither restrained by these nor required to wait for them to get scanned. Be timely and be authentic.

2. Content
Put some effort in wording your mail. Take care of your spellings! Don't use wrds like dis 2 convey information that is so important to you and relevant to us.

Some relations are made in heaven and unite on earth
even hundreds of miles apart !!!!

We invite you to
share the joy and wonder of
growing love as two souls becomes one.

Don't copy paste a corny English poem with a 'invitation attached' message. Or else your hasty bulk mail won't be any different from a 'personal' mail by Citibank which reads "Dear customer, you are really important to us"

3. Details
In case the wedding is not being held in a metropolitan, provide some details about connectivity to the town.

A good example (From Nilesh's mail)
How to reach:
(1) Traveling from Delhi
- Mewar express leaves Delhi at 7 pm and reaches Udaipur at 7 am next day. Very convenient.
- Or reach udaipur by flight.
- Salumbar is a 2-hour bus drive from Udaipur.

Bonus Ideas
These require a bit more of effort. But these will leave a great impression.

1. Apart from your wedding invitation, attach a fresh, natural picture of the two of you. It'll charm your recipient more than your fancy bordered and poorly-scanned wedding invitation.

1. Pick up your phone/digicam and shoot a one-minute video as an attachment. For the closest friends, you could even address them personally (as a group).

2. If you are familiar with blogs, then you could even consider starting a blog. There are a couple of websites which help in this regard.

"Anticipated, personal and relevant permission mail will always dramatically outperform greedy short-term spam." (Seth Godin)

So when your marriage is up ahead and you are keen to share this joyful event with your little world of friends, please don't send an un-vite - a hastily bulk-mailed, fat-attachment ridden, impersonal goof-up communication that nobody bothers to acknowledge or enjoy.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Ek Cup Chai

Bajpai, Saurabh [3:01 PM]:
Iyer, Arvind [3:02 PM]:
Sorry. I am working on some important work for YikHun. You go ahead.
Bajpai, Saurabh [3:02 PM]:

Pant, Deepak [3:11 PM]:
Chai chalna hai?
Iyer, Arvind [3:11 PM]:
Sorry. I am working on a business review for YikHun. Can't spare time now. Why don't you ask Saurabh?
Pant, Deepak [3:12 PM]:

Patnaik, Mukesh [3:19 PM]:
? See you at the lobby in 2minutes.

Iyer, Arvind [3:21 PM]:
Sorry. I am working on something for YikHun.
Iyer, Arvind [3:22 PM]:

Lee, YikHun [3:31 PM]:
Iyer, Arvind [3:31 PM]:

Monday, January 05, 2009

Stranger than fiction - Slumdog Millionaire Review

Guest Post by Saurabh Bajpai

Is Slumdog -

a) Beautiful

b) Brings the true colors of India alive

c) One of the best works of Danny Boyle

d) None of the above

No you don't get 20 million rupees for answering this correctly (yeah I know million and rupees together sound like a duet with Kumar Sanu and Ila Arun). If you are mathematically challenged as I am, then it means 2 crore rupees – Kaun Banega Crorepati Dwittiya – rings a bell? Only difference in the movie is that the show is probably both hosted and sponsored by Mr. India aka Prem Kumar aka Anil Kapoor. This explains why he doesn't want a "chaiwala" – a slumdog to win 20 million bucks. Didn't Anil play a slumdog himself in like 1000 movies?

By the time I started to watch Slumdog, the "Awsomeness" of the movie had already been fed to me through movie reviews, blogs, imdb ratings and even gtalk status messages of people. The reputation was already built to a point from where it could have only gone down. But what surprised me was that it didn't just go down – it plummeted.

When Danny Boyle was reading Vikas Swarup's Q&A he had probably thought that it would be okay to show an illiterate Indian speak in heavy American accented English – Obviously he did not consider making the movie in Hindi or worse in Marathi - "After all I am not Mel Gibson who can dare make a movie in the ancient Maya language that no one understands but the screenwriter" – right Mr. Boyle?. But then he came to India, did his research and got carried away with the tone and tenor of Indian way of greeting other's mothers and sisters. So now when the Mumbai police constable (Our very own kallu mama) hits our slumdog in the head asking him to talk, he doesn't say "Asshole talk"… he says "Bhosadike talk". The characters when talking in English still address "Maa" "Behens" in quintessential Indian way. Oh yes Mr Boyle I forgot you wanted to show real India to the west and to the Academy award jury – the India as seen by the great visionary "no one" named Vikas Swarup.

But then I will have to give it to Boyle for sparing the viewers the horror of a protagonist named Ram Mohammed Thomas as Vikas calls his slumdog (or wait was it Ram Mohammed Jain Batliwala Singh Thomas – Vikas should have been more secular). Of course this is not a review of Q & A and not a comment on the ilk of Vikas Swarup (though I will get to it very soon), so let me get back to the movie.

What is wrong with this critically acclaimed "thrill packed social documentary on India" ?

The problem is that the movie treads a very thin line between a "social commentary" and "thrill packed fiction" and ends up being neither. On one hand the movie revolves around Indian slums which makes every non Indian (and sometimes Indian too) stare at the screen with mouth open and gasp at the utter meaninglessness of life here and then on the other hand it showcases a filmy love story where a tea maker suddenly appears on a big ass TV show and claims that he is there just because his lady love would be watching this show. Yawwwn. The movie rocks you back and forth from the scenes where the director tries to educate his audience about India to the fairy tale of damsel in distress and knight in shining armor, of heroes and villains and sidekicks.

For example from a scene where slum children are running a makeshift public toilet for profit in a vast open field near the airport to the next where suddenly the helicopter of Amitabh Bachhan lands near the toilet and guess what our little slumdog – all covered in filth squeezes past the crowd and manages to get an autograph. (Now if you are the type who noticed the words "makeshift" "public" and "toilet" never go together when it comes to India then my answer to you is that probably Boyle didn't want to get into a controversy like V S Naipaul once got himself into by saying that "Indians defecate everywhere" – so palaces or slums – toilets everywhere J )

The movie is a pocket book compendium of what is wrong with India – the filth of the slums, the homeless children, child exploitation in various forms, crime, gangsters, prostitution, riots – you name it. This was just few too many of the evils of unforgiving Indian society to put together in one movie. At the end I get a wheezy feeling of having watched a Mehul Kumar flick (of Krantiveer and Kohram fame) which has like 100 villains – one from every walk of society from a normal babu to a doctor, from a policeman to a politician, with the only virtuous being being the common Indian Man – the aam aadmi.

Another problem I have with the Slumdog is that it lacks the cinematic depth that a movie of its "critical" stature should have achieved. The biggest flaw in this regard is the language. Why Boyle's Jamal talks in Hindi when a kid, in fluent English when in early teens and in English laced with heavy American accent when in early 20s, beats me. Is this the same Boyle who was capable of creating a vivid image of a scottish drug addict in Trainspotting who speaks in such a thick Scottish accent that to an untrained viewer it sounded as if he is chewing his own words. I can imagine Dev patel taking special training lessons for just saying "Latika" and everytime ending up sounding like "Layttika" and his lady love saying you call me Layttika once more and I am going back to Mahesh Manjrekar.

Just because the movie is meant for the west the characters speak in English – with various accents, they talk in terms of millions and billions instead of in lakhs and Rupees. The movie isn't free from silly goofs either. Example: A show like "Who wants to be a millionaire" is never aired live. Imagine a contestant taking the phone a friend lifeline and getting "Aap katar mein hain, kirpya intezaar kijiye" (you are in queue, please wait) in return. There are many plot holes that could have been avoided.

Having said that, the good about the movie is its excellent cinematography, which sometimes when coupled with spell binding music from Rahman, moves you completely. Like the long scene at the beginning of the movie where the policemen chase the kids inside the vast slums of Mumbai while Rahman chants "O Saya" in the background. The camera zooms out in steps to show nothing but roofs of rows and rows of 10 by 10 huts stacked closed to each other. The running breathless kids banging the windowpane of a car honking and slowly moving through the packed alley and saying "sorry uncle sorry" to the well dressed man in the back seat. And the subtle humour of the kids ending up in their mother's hands who says "bhaiyyaji inko maaf kar do". I believe this is the most vivid picturisation of Mumbai slums since Salam Bombay.

Net, a great effort but still short of masterpiece, still unworthy of super positive feedback and attention the movie is getting.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Let go

I always thought my Dad and I, referred together as 'the males', were the cold rational beings of the family. We have shown some odd signs of attachment over the years. Like the way I clung to my archaic CHIP/DiGiT magazine issues for half a decade before they were dumped. Or the way my dad was seriously considering getting our old Fiat car over to Delhi in 1998 (You can read about the horrendous Fiat tales here). Ignoring these aberrations, I did believe we could let go when it mattered.

On the first day of my trip back home, my sister and I were given a comprehensive task of clearing clutter from the house. The treasure was displayed on the table after a day of work. My father spotted something checkered amidst the clutter. He fished it out bewildered.
'Hey. This is our beautiful magnetic chess set! Why are we throwing this out?'

We thought it would have been evident to him that he was holding just one half of the board.
'It's broken.'
'But it is so beautiful.'
'It's half a board! What are you going to play with it?'

He dug into the plastic bag of household junk. Eventually, his hand emerged victorious with the other half of the miniature chess board. He aligned them together seemingly like a singular piece of the game board.

Mom yelled from the kitchen, 'But we already have two other chess sets.'

Let us pause for a second. Why does my family have three chess sets? When my Dad was posted in the east, we made lots of trips to-and-from Delhi. And on the train would appear 'chinese' goods salesmen with weird contraptions. And we ended up owning a lot of that stuff, including:
1. Reeking chinese balms for headaches
2. Torchlights and Emergency Lamps
3. Really tasteless rock-hard Chewing Gums
5. Sound making guns - makes excellent gifts for whining cousins.

Ok, back to the incident.

'But why do we need this tiny board? Even the pieces are so small!'
'Look Arvind! It's magnetic. We can have games on the train.'

He proudly displayed effects of the north-south polarized magnets. The pieces clung to the black-white surface, desperate not to get relegated to the dump.

'But it's not even a complete set Daddy! Let's just throw it out.'

He meticulously picked out a few more rooks and knights from the junk bag. 'Look! All of them are in this bag....Or at least they should be.'

'No Dad. Let go. It's time to throw it away.'

The discussion was interrupted soon and the chessboard just lay there inert for the next three days. If the past is any indicator, my Dad won't think about it again without the aid of a random prompt.

We males aren't the cold decision makers in the house, it's the women. This morning I spotted a checkered board in the dustbin. Dad may have pieced together the board, but it's my Mom who made the last move.


p.s - Dad, if you end up reading this, we do have another two chess sets.