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 :)