Monday, December 31, 2007

Crisis in the Australian Cricket Team

Tempers are frayed in the board-room of the Australian Cricket Selection Board. An unnamed source told us that the entire team was summoned today and given a dressing down by the Chairman of the Selectors. Captain Ricky Ponting took the brunt of the assault and later tearfully admitted to the unnamed source that he was powerless to do anything about it. The Chairman of the Selectors later played down the incident and promised that his team would be turning around soon and that they would learn from the mistakes of the past.

At the heart of the trouble is the crushing defeat that the Aussies inflicted on the Indian cricket team, visiting and currently playing a test series. As is well known, the immense popularity of the game in the Indian subcontinent is what is paying everybody's salary. Worried that frequent defeats of the Indian team might lower viewer interest and thereby hurt the board's advertising revenues, the Australian Cricket Board had specifically instructed their team to lose to the Indians or, if for some reason they can't, as often happens to teams playing chronic losers like India, at least win by extremely slender margins.

This, the board felt, was completely ignored by Ponting and his men. First, they pounded the Indian bowling attack all around the field on the flimsy grounds that it was ineffectual. Ponting's sarcastic remark, that if the board wanted batsmen who could lose their wickets to the Indian attack, they had better recruit blind players, did not go well with the selectors. Ponting later apologized for it, though he privately told our source that he was not sure that even blind batsmen could manage this.

The meeting broke for lunch, in an attempt to cool tempers, but when it re-convened, the bowlers came in for a bit of stick, as they say in cricketing terms. It has been decided to enrol them for the crash course on bowling half volleys, a regular course being conducted by the advanced training program of the Indian Cricket Board. The Indian cricket board have been informally sounded out about this and have graciously agreed to impart the necessary skills to the Australian bowlers. A sports psychologist's services have been sought, to "de-competitise" the Australians. India has some of the best in this field.

When this reporter contacted the Chairman of the Selectors for his comment, the official reply was that there was no problem and the situation was under control. Privately, an unnamed source assured this reporter that the team has been instructed to lose by an innings. The idea is that even if they goof up, they could still lose by a narrower margin.

What will happen is something that only time will tell, but there is no doubt that the Australians are serious this time. The national coach of Australia is reported to have told the Indian batsmen Dravid and Jaffer that the rules of the game permitted a player to actually hit the ball with the bat, something which they reportedly found shocking and heretical, but being the fine players that they are, are actually considering it.

The situation, in short, is hopeful.

Narendra Shenoy
Special Reporter on Global Cricketing Matters

Friday, December 28, 2007

Cellphones - their part in my hair loss

Every once in a while I get the feeling that I am really not part of this world. You know, like you've just come out of the Kalahari desert, lost and disoriented. Except that bushmen can find their way around by the stars. I can't find may way around in the mall, because I find the signage confusing. Nothing is written in words, just internationally accepted symbols. I frequently land up at the baggage counter for a pee. Anyway, thats a different story. What I was getting around to saying is that every once in a while I get the feeling that I'm lost and cellphones are guaranteed to make me feel that way.

My basic attitude towards buying cellphones is to get away with buying the cheapest one possible. I would much rather spend my money on fine alcoholic beverages, you see, than buy expensive cellphones so that the people who make them can buy fine alcoholic beverages. So when my finely honed instincts drag me towards the crap-phone counter, Sheela and the boys feel I'm being a cheapskate. "Dad", one of the boys said, "even the guy who washes the car has a better phone". There was much truth in that statement. The guy who washes our car is quite a happening dude.

I really can't understand, for the life of me, why a "better" cell phone is better. Consider the one that they persuaded me to buy. Its from the Sony Walkman series whose selling point is that you can listen to music on your phone. When it was thrust into my hands and its features explained, I did something I don't usually do - I thought. "Guys," I said, "this is a silly idea. On the rare occasions that I listen to music, I like to do it in the peaceful surrounds of my living room, preferably in the company of a chilled bottle, not when I'm having a heated conversation about missed deadlines." The lads corrected me on this point. "Dad, this is really cool. Trust me", said Gautham, who's been watching too many American movies.

He did not speak a lie. It seems that the entire teenage population of the world thinks that this concept is cool. Sony is raking it in till its arms hurt and one or two of the dour faced Japanese elders at Sony corp are rumored to have actually smiled. If I was a Japanese elder at Sony corp, I would have been exchanging high fives in my underwear with other Japanese elders. Now of course all phones are a music special and allow you, should you fancy it, to listen to Eminem holding forth on Puke when you should be paying attention to the stern looking lady from HR.

But the real problem with cellphones is the service providers. I have my usual tiff with them once a month because they call up about a week before the payment is due and ask me if I have made the payment and if I have, to provide them with the cheque number, the name of my bank, my sixteen digit bank account number, my mother's maiden name, three distinguishing marks on my body and the name and gender of my childhood sweetheart. Really. And they usually get the timing down to within a minute of my having received a seriously pissed off call from one of my customers for having missed a deadline. I am really not in a mood to exchange light hearted banter with the lady about my commercial obligations with her cell phone company.The payment isn't even due, damn your soul, I yell at her. Even as I do it, I realize that its not her fault. She is just doing her job, trying to earn an honest living. Respect that, you ass, my conscience is saying to me. But even my conscience finds itself at a loss for words when we have one of those rate plan conversations. The phone rings. You pick it up. Nice lady coos to you and before you know it, she is explaining a tariff plan that apparently requires a PhD in abstract mathematics to understand. The main principles of a cellphone tariff plan are as follows

1. Like life, the universe and everything, it cannot be understood by mortals
2. It is better than your current tariff plan
3. You will end up paying more in the total but less per call.

The episode usually leaves me with a throbbing sensation in the temples. I retire to my den, curl up with a book and conduct some research into the therapeutic properties of chilled beer. Then the boys turn up with the latest news.

"Dad, the guy who washes the car has an i-phone."

Friday, December 7, 2007

A Pooh-Poohing primer

"The Pakistan manager pooh-poohed the suggestion that his players were involved in match-fixing", said a major newspaper recently. This being one of my brighter days, I found myself thinking about this. Not the part about the Pakistan manager. Saying that they fix their matches is a bit like accusing Toyota of manufacturing cars. Core business, as they say in MBA speak. No, what interested me was the "pooh-poohed" part.

How do you pooh-pooh a journalist at a press conference? I can imagine the journalist standing up and asking the Pakistan manager
Journalist: "Is it true, sir, that you and your team are actively involved in match fixing?"
Pakistan Manager: "Pooh-Pooh"

Everyone that matters, everyone who is news worthy, is doing it. Manmohan Singh recently pooh-poohed journalists' claims that his government was anti poor. Dubya pooh-poohed allegations that the US was losing ground in Iraq. Even someone as lowly as the Mumbai Police Commissioner pooh-poohed the hell out of someone for saying that the crime rate was going up.

I have therefore taken it upon myself to educate the public in the basics of pooh-poohing.

Q. Can you pooh-pooh a proposal?
A. Not unless it alleges something

Q. What is the correct procedure for pooh-poohing?
A. You wait for a journalist to ask you something. Then you stand up, face him squarely and say "pooh-pooh"

Q. Will this kill the journalist?
A. Alas, no, but if you say it right, he will wish he was dead because all his brother journalists will nudge each other when he walks into a party and say "Don't look now, but that's the guy who was pooh-poohed the other night"

I have of course only scratched the surface of this fascinating and complex subject. Needless to say, it will take months of patient practice before you achieve any kind of expertise at pooh-poohing. Longer, for a doofus like you. But keep at it. Pooh-pooh everybody at every opportunity. before soon, the world will tremble when you walk.

One caveat, though. Dont say "pooh-pooh" to someone under 10 years of age. They will merely reply "Tigger Tigger"

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The stock market and I

“How do you make a small fortune on the stock market?" goes the old saying, "You have to start with a large fortune”

Stocks and stock markets are a sealed book to me. Some stocks go up. Some go down. Some, like the one’s I buy, go down so fast that you heave a sigh of relief when they reach zero. You see, they can’t go lower.

Still, there was a time when I was a big wheeler dealer on the stock market, way back in the late eighties and the early nineties. This was the Harshad Mehta Bull Market. The said Mehta was known as "the big bull" and was responsible for a heady time circa 1990. Every one regardless of age, sex and financial standing had become a gambler. Could one of my pronounced goofiness be far behind?

Back then, the stock market used to operate on the “outcry” system, where trades were verbal, noted down in little trade books and then settled at the end of the day. Not a computer in sight.

There would be a jobber who would give two way quotes for the stocks he was dealing in, adjusting prices according to demand and supply. For example, if there were too many buyers and too few sellers, he would keep upping the price till there was a match. Sometimes, if he upped the price too much, the buyers would go away, in which case he would have to lower the price.

This used to keep happening continuously and the whole thing had a buzz to it. Very audible. Only card-holding members of the stock exchange could go in and trade. We used to trade through a sub-broker who had a card. This guy was a good friend of ours and while he was a trifle prone to flinging food around when under the influence of alcohol, during trading hours he was the picture of composure.

And composure was sorely needed because when the markets were in turmoil, there could be a lot of shirt grabbing and vest pulling that would go on in the ring. He would regularly emerge from the trading floor with only a small percentage of his clothing intact, often to our great amusement. We once discovered, for example, that he had worn his wife’s underwear to work because he couldn’t find his own (he said), a fact that was revealed when he tragically lost his pant buttons in the process of purchasing shares of ACC.

The market those days operated on “tips”. The moves were made by the great Harshad Mehta and the rest of the herd tried to follow as nimbly and rapidly as possible. Everyone had a tip. Mine was “Radhakrishna Cement”. Someone, very possible the elevator boy in office, had told me about it and my information was to buy it as surreptitiously as possible so as not to tip off the jobber in the stock, because he would immediately up the prices and try to corner the stock himself.

The ruling price was 7 rupees a share. I formed a syndicate with three other friends and raised a corpus of the then incredibly large sum of 50,000 rupees. Five minutes before trading, we were at the exchange, striding purposefully to the entrance of the ring which was humming with activity. It took a minute to locate our broker friend and the need for discretion was explained to him. We told him to buy shares not more than 500 at a time. Play it cool, we told him, because this was BIG. He went in.

Hearts pounding, the four of us stood outside the ring. This was the pre-cell-phone-o-zoic era and there was nothing we would do but bite our nails. After about an hour, he came out for a smoke break. We rushed towards him. He told us that he was a little doubtful about the quality of the scrip. Apparently he went to the jobber for Radhakrishna Cement and asked for a quote. Selling seven rupees. Give me 500, he said. After about 15 minutes he went to him again and asked for a quote. Selling seven rupees. Give me 500, he said.
When he went for the third time, the jobber told him to take the whole damned company for seven rupees and stop hassling him. This should have told us something, but as the poet said, we were one and twenty and proud as peacocks. Do your job, we told him, and leave the thinking to us.

Well, we got our 50,000 worth of Radhakrishna shares and while I would not write it off as a dud investment, miracles happen, our little syndicate has often wished they had been printed on softer and more absorbent paper.

But we never fell out, the members of our syndicate, in spite of one dud investment after another. The fun of the whole thing kept our camaraderie up. Only after I was respectably married did my wife point out that I could do the whole thing faster by just burning up currency notes. And the little old helpmeet was right. What with one thing and another, the whole stockmarket experience began to lose its magnetism. Other than the occasional IPO or mutual fund, I ceased my endeavours to rock the economy.

Which is why the Ambani brothers are where they are.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I'm going the Dostoevsky way

In my quest to become a serious and mature writer, I have decided to stop the frivolous stuff and write metaphorically and purposefully. Rather like the great Russian masters who could hold you spellbound with 400 pages of exciting descriptive prose of a moujik killing himself and some of his family, though not necessarily in that order. My writing probably won’t be that dramatic – indeed, swatting mosquitoes is about the only violence that you will see – but prepare yourself for poignancy and get a bunch of Kleenex.

I have started going to the gym again, after a hiatus of 2 months. It was as inevitable as the night follows the day, given my medical condition whereby 97 percent of the calories consumed by me are added to my waistline.

Doctors and other practical jokers have racked their brains and come up with a most suspicious quack remedy called exercise.

I’m quite certain that it does not work. For many years, the medical fraternity told everyone that ulcers were caused by stress till an intrepid scientist battled skepticism and ridicule to prove that ulcers are caused by H. Pylori which is probably responsible for my waistline as well. I mean, think about it. If you have a practical joker like H. Pylori who can think of no better way of passing time than giving people ulcers, is it going to pause for thought when the opportunity of increasing people’s waistlines presents itself? I think not.

But this is not what I wanted to write about. Pylori, H or otherwise, have our attention and respect but at the moment, our gluteus maximus is hurting bad. This is the direct result of performing a maneuver called Lunges which involves carrying a heavy load on our shoulder and stepping forward, then bending the knee, rising again and returning to starting position. This is supposed to tone up the gluteus maximus, a blameless muscle which spends its life being sat on and occasionally kicked by foes and superiors at work. For all these years, my g.m. suffered in silence, never acting up and taking its trials and tribulations in good spirit. But these lunges have broken its reserve and it has been complaining in the strongest possible terms.

My gym instructor was not satisfied with the pogrom against glutes, as he calls the gluteus maximus. He further required me to carry out a maneuver called squats, which resulted in the quadriceps joining the glutes in protest. Soon, my hamstrings and calves joined in and at the moment of going to press, I am walking in what is known as the “Marathon Horse Rider” style (impolitely also known, for mysterious reasons, as the coconut balls style).

Currently I am surviving. With difficulty, granted, but surviving nevertheless. But I do not vouch for tomorrow. The wife is dragging me to Spinning Class. Well, it was nice knowing you folks. As Dave Barry would say, The Aching Glutes would make a great name for a rock band.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Mom, can I be a nail polish designer?

As I struggle through life cursing the economy for making me work, I often day dream about being an oil sheikh or one of those technology geeks who get paid 400 million for starting webmail companies.

Idle dreams, of course. I could never be an oil sheikh. I haven't the foggiest idea how to wear a bed sheet with a rubber band around my head to keep it in place, and continue to be taken seriously by society.

And webmail company founder is totally out because there are more webmail companies out there than grocery stores. Missed the bus, I think.

But now I have decided on what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a nail polish designer.

I'm not kidding, this breed exists. Indeed it is thriving. I used to think designer perfumes were bad enough but nail polish? I can almost imagine the designer, rushing off to work in the morning after a quick breakfast and the customary peck on the cheek for wife and kids, negotiating the rush hour, finding a parking slot and getting into office and doing......what? What does one have to do to design nail polish? Have meetings, using Excel spread sheets and powerpoint presentations? Sit with pots of color and keep mixing batches?

My wife is not amused by this cynicism. You are a boor and a brute, she tells me, for casting aspersions on Manish Malhotra's enormous contribution to the vast and challenging science of nail polish design. She is right about the "boor and brute" bit. I have the artistic inclination of a raccoon. And actually, I am lucky she buys his nail polish and not his clothes, which generally cost as much as a a space rocket launch, even though they look like a bunch of fabric rolled in haste.

But nail polish designer is what I shall be when I grow up, though I shall have to study deeply the exalted subject of air kissing which is when you kiss somebody touching cheeks and making loud duck smack noises to mimic an actual kiss. This is to convey the delicate social message that I am a very nice person and I don't mind actually inhabiting the same geographical location as a low life like you but I wouldn't dream of actually kissing you because you're probably diseased but hey what will people think so here's an air kiss. That is a level of sophistication that will take years of practice for me to reach so until then, Monisha Jaisingh, Manish Malhotra, you guys are safe. Carry on. Design your little nail polishes. And get ready for competition.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Learning Management Skills from Dogs

I read this today in the Times of India. It's about how one can learn better management from dogs. The management gurus who are championing this pioneering initiative have a lot to say. "You never see dogs frowning, or stressed out, or most important, sitting in mindlessly long meetings." You don't, now, do you? But when I got to this one "Finding happiness is a natural talent for dogs, but it’s not so easy for the rest of us" I thought it was time for a deeper think.

I am of the opinion that dogs get most of their happiness from sniffing the private regions of other dogs. I haven't studied the subject deeply, of course, its just an informed guess. While it would liven up the corporate world immensely to have various levels of management in the same office sniffing each other's behinds, I don't think it is the right way to improve the quality of management thought. Vijay Mallya, to take a random example, could hardly take the sort of audacious decisions that have built the UB group if he constantly had a bunch of subordinates sniffing his backside. So that is one aspect of canine behaviour that is probably not going to contribute to excellence in the organization.

The second big dog thing is to pee on various items. This is probably very de-stressing - dogs really look blissful - but again, in the boardroom, my gut-feeling says it is not going to work. Most financial reports are printed on HP desk jets and the ink runs when wet. If people are going to pee all over them, the CEO might miss a key ratio and sniff the wrong person's backside. No, this won't work either.

The more I think about this, in fact, the more I am convinced that the noble Times of India is pulling our leg by suggesting that better management skills can be acquired by imitating the dumb chums. I'm no management expert but I'm quite sure biting one's colleagues, barking at visitors and pooping in public have no place in the book on sound business practices.

There is one dog behavior, though, that is thought to be the key behind rapid growth in the organization. That is cringing and wagging one's tail in the presence of superiors. It's more complicated than it looks, of course, and one constantly runs the risk of getting bitten, but once your superior lets you sniff his behind, you are on the fast track.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Back to normal

They came back a few days ago, my lads did, and the homestead is back to its usual decibel levels. In our little home, we do not take something as said unless it is spoken loud enough to melt earwax. The honorable exception is Sheela who finds it impossible to speak louder than a butterfly's sneeze. But her rank (commander-in-chief) ensures that she gets complete attention and she gets by.

The lads were feeling a bit blue when they got back, primarily because it was back to the grind, but they soon shrugged it off and went outside to play. When they came back inside, Gautham asked me if I knew how to catch a squirrel. I replied in the negative. "Climb up a tree and pretend to be a nut". Vyaas considered this carefully and added "in your case, you don't need to pretend" and ran away before I could clout him one. Kids!

We went the other day to see the great "Om Shanti Om", a movie starring SRK. It is supposed to be a smash hit and a great movie, but in my considered opinion, it has even less of a credible story than "Justice Chaudhary" my all time greatest movie ever, where the Chief Justice of India stands on his mahogany desk (the Supreme Court is in session of course) and sings a song. (It would be great to have judgments in verse
The accused is guilty/Of crimes most foul/We're filled with outrage/Please wait while we howl/We can't give him life/We're afraid, that's law/But if someone in prison/Should break his jaw/We won't be trying him/We won't be crying, yeah yeah yeah/)

As I was saying, they forgot to put in a story. They had one all along, of course, a very good story, but Farah Khan, the director, forgot to bring it to the shooting and it was too late to go back and get it. So they made one up, from bits of 70s movies and put in a few gags and hoped no one would notice. And no one has. There are the few oddballs (like your present correspondent) who expect, most unreasonably, that Hindi movies should have a plot. Some of us were heckling in the movie theater, but we got only angry stares from the vast majority. The plot, roughly is like this. A small time extra falls in love in a star. She falls in love with him. They're both killed by the baddie. The small timer is reborn. He becomes a big star. And fixes the baddie. And I'm the King of Denmark. I've read more sophisticated stories in Twinkle. The grand number in the movie is a song which goes on for about 17 hours, in which almost all the current actors and actresses in Bollywood perform. This is about as exciting as road construction. In short, don't see it unless you have a detachable brain and have a good place to check it in at the movie hall.

Mumbai is cooling down (climate wise) though the stock market is still as frothy as "chaaya" or tea in Kerala. I still get a lot of stock advice, including from, but not limited to, the chap who sells eggs and bread on the corner who urges me to buy "Larsen". I think he has a one-on-one with their CEO.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Still missing 'em - II

This happened last early last year.

This is our own episode of ER.

Six pm:- I'm in office, in a meeting

Six five:- Sheela calls. "Please go to the school IMMEDIATELY" and hangs up

Six eight:- It takes me all of three minutes to figure out that disobeying that order carries a decapitation sentence.

Six ten:- I'm at the school. En route, I have rung up Sheela and determined that the cause of the panic is that Gautham has dislocated his knee.

Six Eleven: - I call up my cousin Sandeep who is a surgeon and ask him what to do. He expresses great astonishment at the diagnosis - apparently its virtually impossible to dislocate a knee. He asks me to get a couple of x-rays and meet the orthopedic surgeon.

Six fifteen:- I'm finally with my son. Seven teachers are clustered around him, convinced that an ambulance would be in order. The injured party is lying on a couch and reveling in the attention. Some of the teachers are holding his hand. One of them is fanning him with a textbook. Gautham has the martyr look. My suspicion is that there's nothing wrong with him.

Six sixteen:- Sheela arrives and confirms my diagnosis.

Six eighteen:- We're in the car. I'm driving and Sheela's checking Gautham out, who is doing his level best to look in pain.

Six nineteen:- He confesses.

We haul him off and get the required x-rays, nevertheless. He has already gathered from our tone and demeanor that his injury is not being perceived as life threatening, but he has a last try with the orthopedic surgeon, who also has a good laugh. A grim profession like his welcomes comedians, he tells me. We get back home. Resigned to the fact that his fifteen seconds of fame is over, Gautham is busy playing with Vyaas.

Nine thirty:- My dad, who is a doctor, gets back from his clinic. Gautham suddenly develops a limp and is walking around with a walking stick. Sheela and I are rolling on the floor with laughter. That's because he's limping on the other foot.

And the day wears on.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Still missing 'em

My kids are not due from their vacation for another 4 days. I'm missing them terribly, especially the noise that keeps reverberating all around the house, them playing football, Sheela yelling at them to study, my mom asking them if they've prayed. Our house usually resembles a suburban railway station at rush hour. These days its a bit like Parliament debating a motion to increase MP's pay. Not a peep. Rummaging around in my computer, I found this piece I had written a year or so ago. I love my blog. It never raises its eyebrows and says what is this muck you've written. It unquestioningly hosts it.

Kids can be so difficult to answer. Especially when they are eleven and nine respectively. We saw this movie "Salaam Namaste" The plot broadly is a man and a woman have a great live-in relationship and then she gets pregnant. The man doesn't want the child, the woman cant bear to lose it. Lot of soul searching and then the happy ending. It was laid back, cool and funny, we had heard, and took the kids along. They laughed at all the jokes and thoroughly enjoyed the movie. We had dinner at a restaurant and came home. Great evening out. And then the questions started.
Gautham is the major inquisitor. Vyaas is a little close to puberty and is fast acquiring the teenage penchant for maintaining long periods of silence when parents are around. Gautham, however, has an analytical mind and answers to his questions usually beget more questions. The first one was what they call a fast in-swinging yorker.

"How did they get a baby if they're not married?"

"If grown ups sleep together, they get babies". Sheela.

"Dad and you sleep together. How come you dont get babies?"

Sheela is stumped. I'm trying hard to keep a straight face. Then she finds a reply.( I didn't marry her for nothing.)

"People get babies only if they sleep without clothes on." I'm suffering from a great fit of coughing.

"How does that happen? Do they have to remove ALL their clothes?"

This is getting too close for comfort so Sheela decides to go on the offensive. She is a bit of a disciplinarian so the kids are afraid of her. Much more than me, whom they consider a sort of fifth rate world power fit enough to speak only in the UN assembly.

"If you boys would see more of National Geographic and less of Cartoon Network, you wouldn't have to ask these questions. Whenever I see the TV, its always switched on to Cartoon Network. I'm going to call the cable guy and disconnect it once and for all. "

A tense silence indicated that the threat had found its mark and everyone was quiet for a couple of days on this topic at least.

A couple of days later, Sheela stepped into the living room. As it happened, the TV was switched on and the channel was Cartoon Network. Gautham quickly changed it to National geographic.

Sheela sat down to read the paper. Gautham found his voice " See that bunch of monkeys, Amma?" There was a program about chimpanzees on National Geographic. Sheela said "Yes?"

" I've been watching them for days. They still haven't had any kids."

Distinct sounds of a father asphyxiating himself.

And so it goes on. Mercifully the questions are never directed at me because I'm known to be a person of insubstantial intellect. Whatever my childrens' faults may be, no one can say they are not great judges of people.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

We have a haircut

Today I accompanied Sheela to a hairdresser's in our local mall. The kids are away on vacation, you see, and we're trying to figure out what to do with all this "space" we've got all of a sudden.

Well, the hairdresser's is a trendy place called "Something Illegible Unisex Salon". I am unable to understand the Something Illegible of course - the font looks like WingDings- but I've figured out why they call it a Unisex Salon. All the hairdressers male and female look like they belong to the same sex, which is an entirely different sex from the rest of us.

We entered in and were greeted by The Nice Lady With The Smile. She told us to take a seat while she looked up the appointment diary. She gave us a Smile and told us that we could have an appointment right away. Considering that there were a grand total of zero customers in the shop, this came as no surprise, but these things are part of etiquette.

Presently a bright young person of uncertain gender appeared and delivered a Smile. "Hi! I'm John", said the Smile. "How are we this morning?" I felt a little hot under the collar because all this Smiling was being directed at me and John was pouting a good deal, to boot. I hadn't the courage to turn and look at Sheela but I was sure she was laughing at me silently, collecting ammunition for her idle amusement, the next time she was bored.

I somehow managed to stutter that the patient was this here lady. The Pout turned the requisite degrees and directed itself at Sheela. Unlike me, Sheela has no problems facing Pouts. They chattered away about step cuts and shampoos and which hair color is better and soon I realized that I was a bit like the bride's mother at the honeymoon. Unwanted, if you know what I mean.

I was grateful, of course. I have participated in these sessions since childhood, when I had to escort my sisters to the local hairdresser's. My general attitude in these situations is to agree and keep agreeing with everything and with everybody.

"I think we'll cut it short, like this". Hair dresser.

"What do you think, Naren?" My sister.

"Perfect, perfect". Me, with my reassuring smile.

And after we got home, my sisters would weep bitterly, my mother would join in and all of them would then turn and start frying me. You said it looks nice. Couldn't you see. You should have told me. You were just ogling at that girl in the pink t-shirt. Which pink t-shirt, I would say, feigning ignorance. The tight pink t-shirt. O, you're completely useless. O how will I go to college looking like this and so on.

But somehow, I would get away with it. My relations with my sisters were like Musharraf's with the US. The US keeps telling Musharraf don't do this, don't do that and so on. Musharraf says yes and then goes ahead and does precisely that. The US gets very upset with him and tells him not to do it again. (He's just declared emergency in Pakistan and the White House told him they would consider cutting off aid. And these are the guys who invaded Saddam because President Bush thought it would be a good Christmas present for daddy. Aaarghhh!)

My sisters were like that. I would get away with not turning off the taps, burning the milk because I was watching TV, backing the car into the gate, and they would always support me in front of my parents. Privately I would be told sternly that I must not do this again.

Musharraf will always have the support of the US, because, I think, the US is his sister. He could blow up the White House and the US Government would tell him not to do it again or we will stop the aid. But they won't actually stop the aid because they are Musharraf's sister, so there!

Coming back to the story, I took the opportunity to make myself scarce for the next hour or so, lest I be subpoenaed. I went walk about in the mall, which houses a rather nice food court on the second floor. Here I pottered around and did my bit to kick start the economy by increasing the national spending on food and food products.

About an hour later, I returned to the Salon and found that ma'am was ready and waiting for me. It took her 15 seconds to figure out what I had been up to and I had to listen to a small but acerbic monologue on how foolish it is to stuff oneself when one is not going to the gym and one hasn't had one's cholesterol checked in the last year. Then I told her that the haircut was terrific and that she looked like Rani Mukherjee and she blushed a bit and dropped a few degrees in temperature.

Flattery, dear children, flattery. It will get you everywhere.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Market's on a roll!

There are not many things in this world I understand, though I suspect this revelation is not exactly earth shattering to you. I daresay you, with your customary perceptiveness, had divined as much early into our acquaintance. One doffs one's hat.

But of the things I understand the least, the pride of place goes to the stock market. It's not that I understand the theory of relativity any better, or the theory of which color goes with what. Its just that everybody seems to understand the stock market and I haven't a clue.

Hasmukhbhai is a recent acquaintance. A robust personality (his belts are custom made - the hide comes from extra large buffaloes) he is a walking encyclopaedia on the stock market. He has never said it in so many words but one suspects that even the Ambani brothers consult him from time to time. He knows Everything. Nominally he trades in industrial hardware (which is how I know him - we buy things from him from time to time) but it is easy to see that he runs this business purely for sentimental reasons. His real calling lies elsewhere.

The good thing about Hasmukhbhai is that he willingly gives advice and he is never embarrassed to show you what a doofus you are. "Frank" and "forthright" are adjectives that spring to mind.

The other day, I told him I had sold a few shares of Larsen & Toubro that we owned, because we wanted to buy some real estate.

"Sold it? SOLD IT!! What have you done?" was his first reaction.

After that he expounded on how it would triple in value in the next three months because the Institutions were buying it like crazy. I said, with unbecoming levity that I thought that wasn't much of a recommendation. Institutions are where people are committed, aren't they, after they are, you know, ga ga. What if some of the inmates had taken over the institution and started playing havoc?

This piece of buffoonery brought harsh rebuke.

"Financial Institutions, you fool! Don't you know anything?" Hasmukhbhai reprimanded me.

"What business is Larsen and Toubro in, that their stock is on such a roll?" I asked. This resulted in a longish monologue of which all I could gather was that they made every thing, the earth, the trees, the oceans, the deserts, the sky above and so on, all of which had a lot of export demand. And I had sold these shares! And something called Reliance Natural Resources Ltd. which saw its share price jump 15 times in the last two months without seeming to indulge in any kind of activity.

"Fool!", observed Hasmukhbhai.

"And what do THEY make?" I asked.

" They make natural resources, what else?" he replied, wearily shrugging his shoulders at the imbecility that abounds in this world.

So there things stand. Every morning I open the newspaper to check if the market has crashed and find that it has gone up a few hundred points. There are a lot of Hasmukhbhais in the papers, explaining how Institutions (presumably the ones that specialize in Finance rather than mental afflictions) are pumping money into Emerging Markets. I wonder if the markets aren't emerging merely because people are pumping money into it. But these are deeper waters than someone of my meagre mental abilities is permitted to swim in.

"Get out of the deep end!" shout the Hasmukhbhais of the world, "and let the experts do their thing".

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Windows Vista R in a circle

Computers and I used to get along very well in the 80s and part of the 90s. We understood each other very well. I, for example, could clearly visualize how the stuff that I typed tunneled its way through the little wire that connects the keyboard to the big box, on to the main processor which would chew on it carefully, digest its meaning and then spew out its reactions.

On some days - and don't we all have those - it would be in a foul mood and just say "BAD COMMAND OR FILE NAME" but most of the time it would just burst into a spreadsheet or word processor and all would be well. I would then type those "Dear Sir, Pursuant to our telephonic conversation of the 18th instant, I beg to draw your attention to..." kind of letters so popular those days.

If you wanted to spell check it, you'd have to select whatever text you wanted to spellcheck and then press "Ctrl" plus a few alphabets. Only then would any misspelled words be highlighted . It would not show any daft suggestions like now. "Narendra" would not automatically become "Clarendon" or "Kendra's" and "Shenoy" would most certainly not become "Phenotype", as it does now. Phenotype! I ask you! I have no idea what a phenotype is. Sounds like some kind of a psycho to me. "Psst! don't look now, but that guy with the shaggy hair is a raving phenotype!" We haven't had a phenotype in the Shenoy family for 57 generations!

As I was saying, I could understand the computer pretty well and the computer on its part understood me perfectly. It understood, for instance, that I was the proud kind of guy who would never beg anything of any body, leave alone the attention of some low-life whose telephonic conversations I had to pursue. The computer knew that it was just a matter of form. And if the computer guessed that I was an idiot, it maintained a dignified silence. It did not produce an "assistant" who rolled its eyes and behaved like a patronizing know-it-all.

Ironically, and this is where I put my most original observation that there is no justice in this world, the less people understood the computer, the richer Bill Gates and the software clan got. After a succession of bug-fests called Windows this and that, we now have a magic wand called Windows Vista R in a circle which, according to Bill Gates and his henchmen will make your business succeed like billy-o. The customers will walk in, according to these guys, and as soon as they realise you have purchased Windows Vista R in a circle, they will emit howls of joy and give you lots of business. Really! They must think we customers have water on our brains! (In my case, they're probably right but discerning people like yourself? No way!) Get more out of your Windows Vista R in a circle, urges Bill. Yeah sure! You know how Bill gets more out of Windows Vista R in a circle? HE SELLS IT TO IDIOTS LIKE YOU.

P.S. It has just been brought to my notice that Windows Vista R in a circle is actually not Windows Vista R in a circle but Windows Vista TM. Perhaps Bill thinks this makes it look less stupid.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Deep thoughts

My kids are off to Mysore tomorrow on their own. All of 13 years and 10 years of age respectively. They're growing up, I know, but they're still such babies! Who will take care of them on the flight? Not that anyone needs to, nowadays. My kids are smarter than I was at that age (indeed, they are of the opinion that they are smarter than I am NOW) but they are disarmingly innocent in certain matters. They were lobbying me to buy a plasma TV, which I felt was too expensive (it costs about 100,000 rupees) and anyway, television is so stupid. And we already have a big fat TV. Why do we need a big thin TV? But they wanted it. When I used the economic argument, Vyaas brushed it aside telling me that money was no problem because his granny had given him Rs. 500 and I could use it to buy the TV.

And they are still little boys, for all their man talk. The other night we saw a Hindi movie named Bhool Bhullaiya. The plot is a bit sinister but there is a lot of comic relief in the movie and consequently rated "U/A", a bit like PG in the US, I guess. A good movie, by the way, especially considering that it comes from Priyadarshan who has made some of the more disgusting movies of recent times, for example an abomination called "Garam Masala". As I was saying, the plot is a little scary though not really creepy. But at night, both of them climbed into our bed, on the grounds that there were mosquitoes in their room. Both steadfastly refused to accept that they were even the slightest bit scared. Typical guy behaviour.

Some of the things they like do distress me, of course. The chief among them is gangsta rap. We do almost all our listening to music in the car because at home they're either studying, playing football or watching TV. Or reading the newspaper (I'm not kidding. Both these guys read the dailies with great interest, especially the sports pages and the comics, more typical guy behaviour). So if we go for a long drive (in Mumbai, thanks to our traffic situation, any drive is a long drive), the lads begin the Great Battle for the Car Stereo Remote. The U.N. (in the form of their mom) intervenes from time to time, threatening to impose sanctions which involve chucking the remote out of the window and assuming totalitarian control over the stereo. Peace is then signed and the only music they both like is rap.

I don't know if you've heard much of what Dr. Dre or Snoop Dog have to say but it is almost entirely comprised of the f and allied words. Sheela, god bless her soul, is completely unfamiliar with this kind of stuff, especially when intoned by African Americans, otherwise the lads would certainly be missing a few teeth. As it is, the three men in the family understand the lyrics perfectly, two of them delighting in the discomfiture of the third. Consider my predicament. No father can accept such language in front of kids who, contrary to their own view, are mere toddlers. But if I put the topic under discussion, the crown princes will surely get their butts whipped and their father the king will receive a substantial earful. So I have to deliver a lot of circular threats and artful bribes and get them to switch to something less offensive. Gautham calls Dr. Dre "the American Shakespeare". He'll say things like "Dad, can we listen to the American Shakespeare?" to which Sheela raises an eyebrow and inquires as to who this might be. Luckily, she has not pursued this line of inquiry too far till now. There are some things a woman can never understand.

And these half men-half children will be traveling in a plane unrestrained by the wisdom of their parents. I fear for the stewardesses. On the other hand, serves them right for raising their eyebrows and telling me to fasten my seatbelt.

The Greatest Movie Line Ever

Here, without doubt, is the greatest movie line ever. If you fall out of your chair laughing and fracture your hip, you can sue the estate of Bob Hope.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A cultural weekend in Mumbai

I often explain to Sheela that if I'm spending hours in front of the computer that is because I am carefully compiling the story of my life in the form of e-mails and blog posts. I think she has figured out by now that while it is not exactly a lie, it is substantially the opposite of the truth.

Most of my time seems to be spent reading extremely important e-mails from African gentlemen on miraculous bequeaths of millions of dollars which can be all mine if I could only fund the expenses required for their release. And of course, mail from concerned people offering pharmaceutical products of a very personal nature.

Let me therefore assuage my conscience by writing about the weekend just gone by. The Times of India sponsored a Sufi music program at the Bandra Fort in Mumbai. Yes, 'where the hell is that?' is what I thought too, when Shrinath told me to lug my musical ass to the venue. It's at Band Stand, next to the Taj Lands End Hotel. Opposite Sea Rock, for old timers. My mom wanted to come along too. She has recently taken a liking to Sufi Qawwalis after hearing Abida Parveen on World Space Radio.(The said Parveen is built on the lines of a battleship but sings most mellifluously and hypnotically. She was not performing, though). Sheela and the kids decided they would have more fun at Akhil's house.

As usual, I landed up late, thanks to the beautiful evening traffic which was moving at a speed that made glaciers look fast paced. True to form, everyone was honking, some to express their dissatisfaction and some just because they had a horn. I thought of writing a ballad to the brave honkaneros of Mumbai. ("Oh! Young Popatlal is come out of the west, Through all of Andheri his horn was the loudest" that sort of thing). Thanks to my mom's pacifist views and strong objections to anything in the nature of interpersonal conflict, I was more honked against than honking.

I thus reached the venue in a ruffled state of mind. If I was President of the United States and the generals had asked me for permission to obliterate Moscow, I believe I would have given in right away. Angry, or as they say in scientific terminology, seriously pissed.

Luckily for me, Shrinath had his chauffeur on standby and I was spared the ordeal of hunting for a parking spot. Shrinath of course looked fresh as a daisy owing to living almost next door. The three of us, Shrinath, mom and I entered the concert to find, alas, that all the best seats were taken and there was standing room only in the nose-bleed section, high up on the hill.

By the time we settled down on a rough concrete wall, the singer who was performing had finished and the stage was taken over by two Wadali brothers. These guys are Hindus from Punjab, but are considered doyens of the Sufi tradition. They sang of Allah and Eid being the season of love and things like that, with such feeling and sincerity that all of us were spellbound.
I thought it spoke tremendously for the spirit of Indianness that binds our often silly but entirely lovable people across religious divides. The ordinary people on the street, that is. There are of course the psychos and the bigots and the downright corrupt but by and large, we are a nation of one billion docile (except in bed - look at those population numbers) people.

After the concert, we repaired to Akhil's house for a sumptuous dinner of pasta in some really yummy cream sauce and I ate away as if I was a pig who had just been released from a starvation diet. Which I pretty much am, actually. In a desperate bid to get rid of my pot belly I have given up rice entirely and cut back on food in general. The pot belly is showing signs of going away but so is my mind. Every now and then I lose it completely and indulge in binge eating which gets the pot belly right back in to championship contention.n Alas!

On the morrow was part II of the concert. This time I went alone as mom had some social visiting to do. Sheela and the kids were busy with mid-term exams. I slunk off as soon as possible, lest I be drafted for teacher duty. This happens from time to time when Sheela suffers a nervous breakdown and the baton is handed over to yours truly. As is well known, I command as much authority as a Buddhist monk in Myanmar, resulting in the kids thumbing their noses at me and playing cricket. Sheela returns after her unwinding or whatever and holds her head in despair. Then she throws me out of the room and gets to work. And I'm back on the computer, catching up on the latest from the African gentlemen.

Oops, digressed. As I was saying, part II of the concert was patriotic songs by Shubha Mudgal. This is one fine singer, let me tell you, the finest I've heard in a long time. Her voice is sort of contralto and her singing is extremely vivacious. She had dug out poems from India's independence struggle and set them to music. Very moving.

Shrinath and I were a bit speechless. After all that patriotism, getting sloshed didn't quite seem right. We decided to stroll down to a nearby eatery (being the lazy devils that we are, we did the strolling in Shrinath's car) and decided to tank up on some carbohydrates. This time, I am happy to report, instead of eating like a greedy pig, I ate like a polite and well brought up pig. We parted after a few satisfied burps and decided to get on with the business of life, Shrinath with his banking, I with my African gentlemen.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Heyy Baby

Last night it was my honor and privilege to witness the enactment of the worst script in movie history in any language, any country, ever. The movie is called "Heyy Baby" I knew instinctively that this was seriously injurious stuff because I could hear my brain cells popping one by one. My wife and kids of course laughed their respective asses off.

Dying to hear the plot? Okay, fasten your seat belts and hang on to your barf bags, here goes.

Akshay Khanna, aka Aroosh is a restaurant manager.
Ritesh Deshmukh aka Tanmay is a teddy bear (!)
Fardeen Khan aka Al is (I think) a cricket gambler.

All three of them are, how shall I put it delicately, keenly interested in exchanging genetic material with members of the opposite sex without participating in the creation of long term social institutions like marriage. Our kind director gives us a song to illustrate this, comprising of a dozen or so current Bollywood heroines cavorting with the aforementioned worthies in nightclubs of a swankiness that would put Ibiza to shame.

The three of them live in a place that looks like it belongs to the Sultan of Brunei. "Inconsistent with declared income" as the tax people like to put it. One morning, when these three are in bed with their respective flavors of the previous evening, the bell rings. One of them opens the door to find an infant girl in a basket, with a note saying "kutte, kameene, apni beti ko samhalo". Apparently one of them is the girl's father and no one knows which one. They feel compelled to look after her, even though none of them wants to. Significantly, none of them thinks of reporting this to the cops, though subsequently in the movie, cops willingly butt in on things that shouldn't concern them at all.

Toilet humor time, decides the director, and we are treated to the reactions of these guys to baby poop. The piece de resistance of this sequence of incomparable hilarity, judging from the reactions of my sons, is when the poop filled nappy lands poop side first on Akshay Kumar's face. The director's immortal contributions to the world of comedy continue in a similar vein for the next ten or fifteen minutes.

Then someone gets the bright idea of leaving the child at the door of a church. After they've left her there, it rains and the baby contracts pneumonia. They take her to a hospital where the doctor tells them she's going to die. Suddenly, everyone is weeping buckets like in a Rajendra Kumar movie. (Rajendra Kumar was a famous actor of my parents' generation. Rajendra Kumar could weep for three hours at a stretch. Some sort of a record, I believe.)

Well, the infant survives. She's luckier than me. I'm falling asleep here at the keyboard just recounting it. To cut a long story short, the plot meanders through completely improbable situations which I wouldn't be able to recollect unless I ingest prodigious quantities of beer, and probably not even then.

The questions here for serious students of cinema are as follows:
Has there ever been a stupider plot in movie history, including "Pati Parmeshwar" and "Justice Chaudhary"?(In Justice Chaudhary, the protagonist, who is the Chief Justice of India, played by The Great Jeetendra, stands up on the desk in the Supreme Court and sings a song. This is part of the court proceedings, by the way)
If it were proved that the plot was written by a human, and not randomly computer generated, as has been suggested, is that sufficient grounds to commit the script writer to a mental institution?
The producer spent Rs. 40 Cr. on this movie. What has he been smoking?
The movie is a hit in India. What have Indians been smoking?

For those of you who are not serious students of cinema, I suggest less painful avenues of entertainment such as dancing on a bed of nails, going over the Niagara falls in a barrel or, god bless my soul, even watching "Kyun ki Saas Bhi kabhi Bahu Thi"

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hi everyone. I would like all you discriminating and erudite folk to check out this website

What does a doofus like me have to do with a Silicon Valley start-up? Plenty! The man behind it is my old college mate and room mate, Hrishi Kamat who has frequently, though not recently, performed the yeoman task of scooping up yours truly whenever I inadvertently ingested those few drops of alcohol that disengage the control of the brain from the operation of the lower limbs. Hrishi himself was the most sober and upright of us all. His only weakness was - and is- food, of which he is a connoisseur.

Hrishi has now launched this website, which is an interesting concept. It is a message board - he calls it 'the wall' - where you can post text messages, photo albums and video messages (via a web cam). Only your friends, that is people approved by you, can view this wall.

It is an ideal place to put family and personal stuff. Vacation photos, perhaps. Or plans for a get-to-gether. And the webcam video messaging lends a very personal touch to your message.

So join in now and get into the scene. Its definitely the next big thing! And do include me as your friend.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sheela dances the Salsa

Isn't this dance form graceful? Sheela's a natural at it. I wish I could say the same about myself. I resemble a cat on a hot tin roof when I attempt to execute the same steps, but I'm learning....

Thursday, October 4, 2007

An account of my Shirdi trip

I guess I'm not much of a philosopher, deficient as I am in the requisite thinking equipment. The only important philosophical question that has occurred to me is

When you use the flush in a plane and the stuff disappears with a "whooosh" where does it really go?

According to Shakespeare, who seems to have studied the subject deeply, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. Who am I to argue with the Bard? I have been intensely suspicious of light drizzles ever since I read The Merchant of Venice.

But of late, I have been vexed with questions of an existential nature. "Who am I?" is a thought that often bothers me, though Sheela feels that it is not entirely a coincidence that these thoughts occur after consuming a few beers. So when the opportunity of taking a pilgrimage to Shirdi presented itself, I tarried not.

We took the first pit stop at Pune where we stayed with Sheela's sister-in-law's sister's family who have 2 kids aged 4 and 2 respectively. Joining us there were Sheela's brother Sundeep and his family comprising of one harried wife and three kids aged 5, 3 and 1 respectively. My kids, 13 and 10, looked like senior citizens. All these children were extremely adorable, except for the charming tendency children have of yelling, crying and throwing up without warning, sometimes simultaneously. The guys followed the time honored male response to juvenile crises - Go yell some place else - and thoughtfully sipped on Kingfisher draught. This brought forth thoughtful observations from the respective spouses as to what might happen to people who don't get off their fat butts and tend to their progeny. I had a large grin on my face throughout the proceedings since I had had the foresight to have my kids twelve years ago.

We drove to Shirdi very early in the morning - 4 a.m. in fact - the idea being that the kids would spend the entire journey fast asleep. This turned out to be perfect. The tots indeed slept the sleep of the innocent. Somehow I never got these bright ideas when my kids were growing up. Sheela and I would travel around in our Maruti van those days with all our limbs involved in driving, steering, restraining children from jumping out the window and in my case, occasionally heaping abuse on errant autorickshaw drivers. Compared to our travails this was serenity it self.

Sundeep was driving and I had the luxury of admiring the creeping crimson of day break. Presently, we came across a truck overturned, doubtless due to the driver having been observing the creeping crimson of daybreak. The truck was carrying a consignment of beer and there was a throng of happy looking villagers looking forward to a serious party at six in the morning, foraging amongst the cartons. The driver and his assistant were sitting on a culvert looking shaken but unhurt. All this had naturally caused a traffic jam - passing truck drivers had parked their vehicles and jumped into the fray. We were lucky to wriggle out of this one. The accident had just happened and word had gotten out. I could see villagers streaming in from every direction. It would have been fun to see all these people sloshed out of their minds at daybreak but we had a mission to accomplish.

Presently, we reached Sai Baba Temple at Shirdi and joined the queue. It was quite long and took us almost 2 hours to get to the main sanctum. But the crowds were extremely decorous and well behaved. Most of them were singing Bhajans. There were the usual devotees in a hurry, trying to get in through side entrances. One old man and his wife were simply jumping the line at every opportunity. No one seemed to mind, though.

Sai Baba is a mystic saint of whose origins little is known. He lived at the turn of the century and preached religious harmony. And lived in abject poverty in life, something which always wins my respect when I see it in people who have the adulation of the public. Mahatma Gandhi was another example. Have you heard of any of his sons, grandchildren, cousins, uncles, brothers-in-law, any one at all cashing in on his name? Contrast that with the present day bunch of money grubbing parasites masquerading as leaders.

Any way, I found Shirdi charming because of its simple, if garish, devotion. It is a bit tatty but thats because most of Sai Baba's devotees are poor people, but no less sincere for that. The other thing is the number of hotels here and their names. Almost all the hotels are named using the formula "HOTEL" + "SAI" + "$STRING$" where "$STRING$" is any alphanumeric string from "PALACE" to "AMRIT" to "KRIPA"

We headed on to a nearby town named Shingnapur which is famous for a Shani Temple. Shani is a demigod whose major trip in life, if astrologers are to be believed, is to attach himself to you and torment you till you pay your astrologer some money and get him to tell you what mantras to chant and when. We performed a prophylactic puja which involve pouring oil on the large stone that represents him. All throughout the wily residents of the place were trying their level best to rip us off. We put up a futile resistance till we realized that liberty was to be had by flinging small amounts of cash at all and sundry.

The drive all through was beautiful. This is good farming country, mostly sugarcane and grapes. The countryside was verdant. I guess the farmers are quite rich. The roads were quite alright by the exacting standards of Maharashtra where a density of 3.7 potholes per square meter qualifies as a superdeluxe express highway. We reached Pune in the evening, a bit weary but raring to get back home where some exciting homework awaited the boys. They tried everything in their powers to get their stay extended by a day. I was lending support from the outside, as they say in politics, but the motion could not be carried through because of determined opposition from the ruling junta, namely General Sheela Shenoy. So we trundled off to Mumbai, weary but chilled. And that constitutes my incoherence for today. Those of you who made sense of it, god bless.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

India wins some cricket

On September 24th, 2007, the Indian cricket team achieved immortality by winning the 20-20 cricket world cup, or so the sportscasters would have you believe. Personally, I think, yeah, sure, these guys are immortal. Others may have to make path breaking scientific discoveries, develop life saving medicines or devote a lifetime to the service of the downtrodden in order to make it to the immortal list. These chaps just have to slam a ball around. I happened to witness these celebrations at a local watering hole.......

I was a reveler at last evening's madness when India beat Pakistan at the final of the 20-20 cricket world cup. We watched it at a pub named On Toes where some 100 people had congregated. The decibel level was huge. I personally lost a significant quantity of earwax on account of a portly gentleman seated directly behind me shrieking like a banshee. If his saliva has therapeutic value for hair growth, I'm going to be the next Rapunzel because every time he shrieked, he delivered a thimbleful on my thinning tresses. By the end of the match I must have collected a good bottle full. My hair feels soapy even at the moment of going to press.

The lubricant for the evening was Kingfisher beer. To put things precisely, as a mathematician would, If "n" be the number of beers an adult male can consume without losing control of his legs, then I had n+1 beers. Luckily for me, the place was so tightly packed that it was impossible to fall down. Otherwise I should surely have been trampled to death. In the event, I found myself miraculously conveyed out of the place after the revelry had ceased. May be God does exist and maybe he does graciously save the likes of me from impromptu physical restructuring. Glory be.

The revelry was consistently high on wattage. Every vocal chord in the room was being subjected to the most intense testing through the game. Since India won, everyone was strutting around like they were Sylvester Stallone. A cost effective way to commit suicide would have been to shout "Pakistan Zindabad". The lingering feeling was "We are the best! We are the best!"

I personally thought it a little far fetched to take this victory as proof of India's overall superiority over the rest of the world in all things, as the crowd seemed to feel. We might have the capacity to hit balls further than people from neighboring countries but as far as government is concerned, India sucks big time. Any way, since this is not about that, we shall discuss matters more germane to the issue.

The game itself was a slug fest where the batsmen heaved at everything that came their way. Occasionally, one of these heaves would connect satisfactorily which would bring our erudite little gathering to hysterics.

One guy had brought a bus horn with which he would make bus-honk noises every time India score runs or got wickets. One or two of the company, on realizing that their Men Friday had omitted to pack such an instrument amongst their personal effects, managed to produce similar sounds with their armpits.

There were many whistlers, of whom I was a distinguished member. I may not be in line for Nobel Prize or even the chairmanship of our PTA group, but even my harshest critics will admit that I can whistle."He was an insignificant person", my obituary might read "and consistently charmless, but he could whistle louder than 97 percent of the population".Say that much and my soul will rest in peace.

I woke up this morning to the usual Broken Compass hangover where one loses one's sense of orientation and decided to quickly put my feelings down on paper - e-paper, if you will - before the moment vanished. Congratulations, all my fellow Indians out there. Way to go!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Traffic Jam Rant

(Note: I wrote this piece last New Year, that is Jan 1st 2007. It was said by knowledgeable sources (namely me) that there were more trenches in Mumbai in 2007 that in all of Europe during World War II. Since that time, most of the trenches have been filled up and levelled. But the traffic is still snarling. Behind my house runs an arterial road where they play what I call "The Horn Concerto" in various keys. This is in several movements and features about 5 hours of virtuoso honking every evening. It is often supported by improptu poets who disembark from their vehicles and narrate instantly composed odes to the parentage of other people).

They are at it again, the jokers at the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. They have opened up the road at the main junction to our house, this being the third time in as many years. And its not one of those small, lets-plant-a-bonsai-tree-in-it kind of hole. Its a holy-smoke-did-an-asteroid-land-here kind and at the moment of going to press, is the scene of a world record traffic jam that a woefully inadequate police force of one is trying to disentangle. We will wish him all the best and with the reflective smugness of one who went walking instead of taking his car, we shall analyze and introspect.

I am forever fascinated by the trouble and expense to which our honorable civic body is willing to go for no discernible reason other than seeing what color it is in there. I've seen it in all these excavations. The place is dug up real fast, all the mud piled up in large mounds along the road. Then everyone disappears for a while as if to allow their masterpiece to mature.

Meanwhile, the doofuses* that populate Mumbai go nuts trying to race everyone else around the crater and end up jamming the traffic something bad. That's a specialty of Mumbai's citizens. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, the Mumbai driver abhors a vacant space in the traffic, regardless of how small it is in relation to the vehicle he is driving. He has to occupy that gap. Now everyone else wedges in and the resultant impasse can be quite depressing. If you've GOT to go to the loo, for example, you're in trouble.

My grouse is, regardless of this scene being repeated everyday - and my description is no exaggeration, any Mumbaikar will bear me out - the Municipal Corporation just shrugs its shoulders, twiddles its thumbs and sits on its fat gluteus maximus**. And the public just grins and bears it. Everytime. Everyone can see the callous lack of planning and coordination. They will invariably dig up all parallel streets at the same time, for example, allowing no scope for charting out an alternative route. They will dig up the place and then wait for months before the pipes or cables that they wish to place in arrive. Sometimes, they get existential doubts and fill up the pit without doing anything till they get their supply of Prozac and dig it up again. I don't think anyone has every lost his job for dereliction of duty in the Municipality.*** In fact, George Mallory's famous quote (Why do you want to climb Everest? Because it is there) is actually inspired by Assistant Engineer Kamble's famous quote (Why do you want to dig that road? Because it is there)

Thus, life goes on as usual. Today is the 31st of December, and later at night, St. Vitus' patients will usher in the new year as defined by Pope Gregory XIII. A meaningless ritual given that it is not our New Year. To complicate things, there are three or four alternative calendars seriously followed in India, positing the existence of three or four New Years. What sets this one apart is the fact that this particular meaningless ritual is accompanied by the consumption of large quantities of the true, the blushful Hippocrene. Hmmm. Sounds like fun, actually. I think I'd like to take part in a meaningless ritual or two myself.

* - A doofus is the scientific name for a person with inadequate intellectual equipment. Currently, with the exception of you and me, includes everyone in the world.
** - A large muscle situate at the lower posterior of the human body. Sometimes erroneously referred to as the "ass", which is wrong. Every one knows that "ass"means "Member of Parliament"
***-Or, for that matter, any public enterprise or Government body in India

Friday, September 14, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Not about Reverse Transcriptase

I am accused of writing only about my family and the old better half has threatened to rearrange my facial features if I don't find something else to write about, or find something nice to write about her.

Well, I guess I do tend to dwell on that topic but that's only because I'm such a peanut-brain. I hardly know anything about anything else. I mean, can you imagine me writing about, say, the role of reverse transcriptase in virus reproduction?

I just looked up Wikipedia on this, which is lucky because otherwise what you would have got on virus reproduction would be a blow-by-blow account of how the boy virus takes the girl virus out to a movie, how they fall in love, how papa virus sends a lot of goon viruses to fix the boy virus, how the boy virus bashes up all of them, how the girl virus and the boy virus get married, how they get a lot of baby viruses and which is why Pamela's got herpes simplex.

So I decided to see how many words I could type without referring to the activities of the loved ones. I know, this begs the question, why write at all, but its either that or watch television.

Now television is something I deeply dread. There is always lurking in every channel a character played with hysterical intensity by a fat young lady who portrays a 60 year old. Her name is Smriti Irani. She has two facial expressions - gritting her teeth and crying. Usually, she does both. Free dental insurance is written into her contract so that she doesn't withhold herself from really launching into the role.

Which is why I think writing is better. For me at least, if not you, my dear hapless reader. I know why you're reading this. Not because you like it. It is because of a morbid curiosity that is genetically programmed into humans. It is why we peep into open septic tanks or order the bright green colored gravy in Shetty restaurants. Can't resist it.

I still haven't said anything specific, have I? Well, I am an MBA by training and I can continue for ever in this vein. You should attend some corporate meetings, just for laughs. They can go on stating and re-stating the obvious in ever increasing circularity and specialize in what is known as creative inaction.

So here's my topic for today, corporate etiquette. Fill out this questionnaire and evaluate your Corporate Etiquette Quotient (CEQ)

1. You are sitting next to your CEO in an important meeting. He farts audibly. You
  • a. Laugh loudly, pointing at him
  • b. Pretend nothing happened
  • c. Behave as if it was you who farted and apologize aloud.
2. In the same meeting, the CEO proposes an idea which is the complete opposite of what you were just about to suggest, and which in your opinion is the shittiest thing you've ever heard. You
  • a. Pretend to sniff the CEO's mouth and ask loudly if he's drunk.
  • b. Sit tight and say nothing
  • c. Tear up your papers quietly and applaud the CEO's idea vociferously
3. Still in the same meeting, the CEO promotes a complete ass over your head and makes him your boss. You
  • a. Attempt to stab the CEO with the staple opener
  • b. Sit tight and say nothing, while surreptitiously wiping away a tear
  • c. Shake the CEO's hand and compliment him on being such an excellent judge of people.

If you've answered all a's, proceed straight to the employment exchange. You couldn't hold a job at a morgue - the corpses would reject you.

If you've answered all b's you're a sure candidate for hypertension, supressing all those emotions. But you'll get you're gold retirement watch, you will, provided you don't die of an infarct.

If you've answered all c's, Welcome to the Corporate World! In CEQ terms, you're Einstein, baby! Would you like your million dollar bonus in Indian currency or should we quietly deposit it in a Swiss Bank account?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Dad, 2007

A good friend of mine, an advertising guru, wrote in his blog about how parenting stereotypes are changing and how kids are increasingly perceiving themselves to be the equals of their parents. At least, that is how I understood it. This, of course, is totally untrue in my case - my children would be mortified to be described as my intellectual equals. I currently occupy the position of earthworm in the evolutionary scale. It is true that I have a certain rude ability to solve algebraic equations but hey, just because a tadpole can swim better than you, it does not mean he is Ian Thorpe.

His point was that relationships at home have changed. Dads are no longer the authoritarian figures they were. That is so true. I remember my childhood. Important decisions were not 'discussed' as they are today. "Discussed " here means "the parents were formally informed by the kids of what they were going to do". Important decisions, such as what career to pursue or what clothes to wear, would be taken by dad or, on occasion, Mom, without any suffrage to the affected parties. Didn't like it? Free country, you could always leave the house.

Thus, most of my generation have a tremendously formal relationship with the male parent. True, the economic strings have long been disconnected but nobody told Dad that. We still behave as if half expecting to be thrown out of the house for our indiscretions. The whisky is hidden away. The language goes up a few notches in formality. The 'bahu' chooses the sari or the salwar suit instead of the capri and short top, when dad drops in for a short stay.

In sharp contradistinction (I love using big words - that one has 17 letters - because of the impression of erudition it carries, as opposed to actually being erudite) the relationship that dads of my generation have with their children border on the patronizing. The children patronizing the adult, that is. The male parent is usually a spent force when it comes to disciplinary matters.I know I'm making sweeping generalizations here. Some of you reading this will say, sotto voce, "Speak for yourself, wimp. My wife and kids tremble when I roar!" If that is so, please autograph my T shirt and send me your correspondence course on Parenting by Terror.

As I was saying, it is the kids who adopt the didactic tone instead of the other way around, instructing with painful patience the minutiae of CS (which is "Counter Strike", the game, and not "Company Secretary", the career option) to the doofus who, had he not been the fortuitous contributor of the necessary chromosomes, would have been unworthy of attention.
"Dad, how did you get to be in your position in life - you are such a clot" might be a typical sentence in most Mumbai households today. May be some advertising could be based on this insight.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Independence day!

I have some good news and some bad news.
My wife left this morning for Bangalore. The bad news is that she’s coming back on Sunday.
No, I'm just joking. We're missing her terribly, especially when it comes to locating our stuff. My sons are a little better than me. They usually find it. I am doomed to wearing yesterday's clothes till she gets back.
She of course knows exactly where everything is. When all is lost, I call her up and she can tell me which drawer, what pile, which color, everything. Why don't I simply call her then? You're not married, I guess. Each time I call her for instructions, my stock drops a few points. I am currently in the same position as a McChicken Burger would be in a gourmet food festival. Any lower down and I'd be dog food. (I am of course making the tacit assumption here that a McChicken Burger is better than dog food, an assumption that is highly questionable. Besides the point, of course. I'll get back to the main story).

As I was saying, I have decided that I prefer to retain my dignity. Yesterday's clothes for me, I think, even though my closest friends open a window every time I get into a car with them.

Her absence had its plus points too. My sons chilled out in the manner of the peasants when the Tsar was overthrown. The peasants feasted in the palaces, it is said. My sons played computer games. I celebrated by wearing a bright blue shirt and formal brown trousers. Shoes? Reebok, of course. What do you think I am? I saw grown men wincing when I passed by and mothers gathering their children in a protective embrace when they spotted me. Yippee!

We saw a movie, Rush Hour 3, a Jackie Chan slugfest that is in no danger of winning the Oscar in any category. The boys enjoyed every minute of it and, if I may be permitted a guilty confession, so did I. Then I took them to Andheri by train, which in itself was a treat because of its rarity and bought them a few PC games on DVD. These are banned in our household, for the sheer mindlessness and crass gore that they contain. I agree with Sheela entirely on this point, but the pitiful whining of the young scions melted my stern heart. The end result of all this is that whatever little missing-you-mom emotion lingered in the lads vanished completely.

The eventide brought an invitation from Akhil. His wife and he subscribe to the view, baseless, in my opinion, that minus Sheela, I am a complete doofus and cannot be trusted to walk ten steps without falling into some trouble or the other. I grant that I have given, off and on, some reason for such generalizations but on the whole, I’m a very level headed bloke. Indeed, I specialize in balanced decision making. Present me with a real life problem and you will find me sifting the evidence, evaluating impartially the merits and demerits of the case and taking a balanced and judicious decision, which the spouse diagnoses as completely wrong and overturns.

Anyway, we went out to dinner to a place called Yoko Sizzlers which, sadly, does not have any scantily clad Japanese go-go dancers as the name might suggest. They do a sizzling steak on a platter with veggies and fries, laced liberally with moderately spicy sauces. The peppery and garlicky kind, not the chilli kind. Nice food and sumptuous in quantity. It also teaches one the meaning of patience, because if you chomp a large bite, the temperature of the food will burn up your tongue pretty bad. I pigged out, as did the descendants, and a great time was had by all.

The after dinner conversation veered around the Hindi language, or my mystification regarding it. I am especially at sea when it comes to the Urdu version, as used in the movies and on telly. Kashmakash, for example. It sounds to me like a particularly passionate embrace. Turns out that it means struggle. Same thing perhaps, if you're a wrestler. Or "suroor" as in Himesh Reshammiya's latest, "Aap Ka Suroor". Isn't that a vegetable of some kind? Or am I confusing it with "Suran"? If the movie is about Himesh Reshammiya's brain, may be it DOES mean vegetable.

On this very intellectual note, we dispersed, celebrating sixty years of non-accountability, which succeeded 200 years of British non-accountability and about 5000 years of Indian Maharajah non-accountability before that. The fact that India is not only surviving but growing stronger is testimony to the resilience of its people.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Planter's Club - Part II

The abiding tragedy of my life is and will always be the reluctance of Shilpa Shetty to marry me. She can find no better husband - charming, witty, not averse to polygamy - but somehow she hasn't cottoned on to the idea. I therefore decided to go with the Hoysala temples (You may recall my assertion that I would prefer seeing the Hoysala temples of Belur and Halebeedu to marrying Ms. Shetty. What prompted that statement was that she wasn't really planning to marry me any way. Alright, alright, I'll get to the story)

We set out on the assurance that the roads were "okay" and took a short cut through a place called Bikkodu. It was a beautiful, rustic drive. I wondered, as I often do, why the hell I live in Bombay when there are places like this in India. On either side of the road were forests alternating with coffee estates, resplendent in various shades of green. Every now and then we would come across a house with a garden that would be bursting with flowers of almost every conceivable color. The people on the roads were simple peasants with a serene look on their faces (except one whom I splattered by driving full speed over a nice, fresh cow pat. He lost his serene look for a while, I guess. Not my fault, I had no idea these things were so sprayable.)

Anyway, we landed up in Belur for our first look at the Hoysala temples. These temples date back to the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Since I wasn't around at the time (I really regret that. Life was such a party, going by the erotic sculpture panels.) I thought it might be a smart idea to engage a guide. The guide turned out to be a motivated and serious historian who spoke excellent, if slightly accented, English. I really don't recall all the details (except the erotic sculpture panels, about which I could give a lecture series) but the intricacy of the sculpture was mind boggling.

"The stone is known as soap-stone. It is soft when quarried and hardens as it is exposed to the atmosphere. This made it possible for the sculptors to achieve this level of intricacy" said our guide, as if that made it a piece of cake. The temple was made in segments and joined with dove-tail joints and the like, as if it were wood. This makes it an achievement in engineering because the builders would have to estimate loads and design it well, lest it collapse like a pack of cards. Since that hasn't happened in the last 900 years, it would appear that they passed their engineering degree with honors. It did rather make one suck one's breath in.

We headed on to Halebeedu which is about a half hours drive from Belur through some fine and picturesque farmland. En route we were stopped by a posse of policemen standing next to a trademark rattletrap police jeep that couldn't overtake a toddler's tricycle, if the toddler's tricycle didn't want to be overtaken. I got out of the car (I was driving) and interpreted the head cop's guttural comments as a desire to see some papers. I gave him a wide choice. There were registration papers, insurance papers, papers pertaining to the first service of the vehicle, somebody's horoscope, and a blood test report. He took a hard look at them all and asked for my license. As he subjected it to his regular scrutiny, I realized he was holding it upside down. He returned all this stuff to me and decided not to press charges. Duh!

Relieved, I resumed the journey and presently we rolled into the erstwhile capital of the Hoysala kingdom. This temple was bigger - two temples adjacent, in fact - but was vandalized by the general Malik Kafur, who had sauntered into town with his army, looking for a bit of cash. This is a recurrent theme in the history of India, the Muslim conquerors' penchant for defacing fine sculpture and painting. They would come, plunder, slaughter some of the citizenry and as a parting shot, defile any decent statues they could find. The caves at Ellora will bring tears to your eyes when you see what Aurangzeb and his friends did, in the course of a weekend, to centuries of labor of the highest artistic merit and historical importance. More recently his descendants, the Taliban in Afghanistan, bombed a couple of enormous and completely harmless Buddha statues out of existence in a place called Bamiyan. And so it goes on. But let me not dwell on topics that are none of my concern, especially topics that can bring a fatwa upon my head. A fine head, if I may say so, and one that I am keenly interested in continuing the ownership of.

Coming back to my fine little travelogue, by the time we were done with Halebeedu, everyone was hungry. We decided to look around for lunch. Halebeedu, for a tourist destination, seemed strangely bereft of establishments that would sell food for money. We went to a government hotel set in a large ground. The major domo gave us the once-over and announced that all he could spare, at the moment, was rice and curd. We were really hungry and I was willing to eat even that, but the kids kicked at the prospect. Soon, their mom joined the agitation and I was overpowered and forced to look for another place. There was a bar and restaurant down the road, stocking, presumably, Dr. Mallya's finest. This was turned down on the flimsy grounds that it is not good to have so much beer. The rightful leftover, so to speak, turned out to be an establishment called Shri Krishna Veg Restaurant which did a set meal for Rs. 12 per head, consisting of cardboard cleverly disguised as food. I washed down as much of it as possible with America's contribution to the world of fine beverages, namely Coke.

"Time to head back", I told the lads and got a glazed look in reply. These guys had pigged out on the Shri Krishna Veg Restaurant gourmet cardboard-a-la-king! They had actually enjoyed this, these same ingrates who turn up their nose when I cook them an omelet. Not tasty enough for them, my omelets aren't! Well, I have a lot to say along these lines but somehow, I don't think you're dying to hear about it. So I'll conclude my concise and informative - well written, in fact - travelogue by telling you all that if you haven't seen the Hoysala Temples, you haven't lived. And for those of you who want the letters PhD after your name, there is a wonderful thesis waiting to be written on "The nutritional value of commercial cardboard" in the Shri Krishna Veg Restaurant. Maybe the way to end world hunger is to increase cardboard production.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Planter's Club, Sakaleshpur

I know what you're thinking. Ho hum. Another one of them stupid vacation diaries. The Planter's Club, Sakaleshpur is where I spent a few days last week, soaking in, along with the atmosphere, a few stray drops of beer and some tremendously spicy cuisine. But hang on. The paying public demands a few footnotes and background material....

Once upon a time, long, long ago, a few Sundays back in fact, Sheela's tribe organized an impromptu outing to a coffee estate that Sheela's brother Sundeep had bought recently. Everyone was there except Prince Charming, who was basically toiling away in Bombay. Sheela rang up Prince Charming and asked him to come on his mettlesome charger and grace the gathering with his customary good humor and vivacity.

Now, Prince Charming was very busy with work, you know, slaying dragons, saving damsels in distress and sitting at the round table. He wondered aloud if it would be worthwhile going all that way just to chill out for a few days and do nothing but drink beer and eat yummy food. As he spoke, he realized that it was his beholden duty to his family to cheer them up and spend quality time with them. After all, what good is a valiant knight if he cannot spend a few days drinking really chilled beer and eating mutton pepper fry for the sake of his family? So with a heavy heart, he bid adieu to the dragons and the damsels in distress and heaved his posterior in the general direction of Mysore, wherefrom the tribe would repair to the Planter's Club, Sakaleshpur.

Well, I must confess that I (I'm taking the liberty of referring to myself in the first person. When one is Prince Charming, one does rather merit the third person treatment but jealousy abounds, dear reader. I know it astounds you, but people would actually think me arrogant if I kept referring to myself in the third person) rather imagined a planter to be a grizzled old man with his back bent from years of planting, looking yearningly skywards every now and then as if praying to the rain gods for deliverance. The Sakaleshpur Planter is anything but.

From the array of cars parked in the place, my guess was that the average Sakaleshpur Planter lived like a sheikh whose family has just installed a few new oil wells. I hobnobbed with a few and found them speaking with impeccable diction and great erudition on a wide range of subjects. One of them set me right about the Modern Art scene in India, on which topic I had recklessly shot off my mouth. I admit that I know as much about the Modern Art Scene in India as I know about the Lesser Scandinavian Poets, namely nothing, but I had never thought I would be so speedily, if gently, exposed as a goof. I quickly learnt the merits of not opening my mouth, except for the purpose of ingesting the beer and the mutton pepper fry.

Interesting place, in short, and it wasn't really opulent or anything, it had a beautiful location and great comfort. The staff was an absolute throwback to colonial times. An extremely geriatric gentleman turned out to be the cook. Eighty two years old, would you believe it. After a particularly delicious meal one evening, young Sundeep sent for him, to thank him for the wonderful meal and cross his palms with silver. It turned out that he wasn't interested in the money at all. That seemed unusual. We looked at him quizzically. After a bit of hemming and hawing, he inquired if he might speak freely. We urged him to ask unto half our kingdom, but all that he wanted, it turned out, was a large drink. The bar had closed and the bar clerk had left for the night, taking with him the keys to the liquor cabinet, so we couldn't buy him a drink. He looked yearningly at a half finished bottle of Scotch that we were sampling rather extensively. Without a second's hesitation, young Sundeep handed it over to him, the rest of the company agreeing that it was a mere bagatelle in the appreciation of culinary genius.

Next morning, we were amply recompensed for the generous liquid gift of the previous night. He cooked up a beautiful meal of "akki rotti" (rice chapaties) and some deep red concoction of spice and tomatoes that was tangy and delicious. I found I had nothing to do. Sundeep had to go back to the estate for some work, so I thought I would hijack one of the cars and explore the countryside a bit. The wife and kids agreed to join and we ended up going to the Belur and Halebeedu temples about an hours drive away. Was that good? Let me put it this way. If I have a one-or-the-other choice between seeing the temples and marrying Shilpa Shetty, I would unhesitatingly choose the temples. Only if it was a one-or-the-other choice, of course. I would much rather do both..........

Sunday, June 3, 2007

A tryst with Mr. Destiny

Mr. Destiny is what I call my friend's astrologer. He can fix it for you.

Want to start a new business? Throw out those business plans and cashflow projections. Mr. Destiny will look at your horoscope and tell you how you will fare.

Usually, he finds that you will fare badly and that you will be cheated by partners and business associates. Your face falls. You've worked a great deal putting together that plan and mobilizing support for it. Now what do you do? Abandon it? Or go ahead and risk Mr. Destiny telling you "I told you so" as you try to piece together your shattered life?

Mr. Destiny reads your thoughts. A tranquil smile flits across his face and he tells you to have faith in him.

Do three things, he says.

First, there are an odd number of letters in your name. This is very bad for Venus, which is the dominant planet for you. So add a letter. Now, this can be fun. If you name is, say, Ashok, an ordinary, everyday kind of name, no one is going to notice it unless you do something seriously big like winning a Nobel prize or making it to the Oval Office. But add an 's' in the right place and you become "Asshok" leading people to believe you are someone of prominence in the pornography industry and consequently, inviting you for dinner. See? Its working already.

Second, wear a moonstone ring on the little finger of your left hand. Amazing coincidence, Mr. Destiny has one in stock, which he will let you have for less than market price. Lucky you. He probably knew that you were coming to meet him, he can see the future, you know. I for one find it most impressive that Mr. Destiny has lunar rocks with him. I tell my wife so. "I thought NASA would have them under lock and key", I mention, in a conspiratorial whisper because Mr. Destiny seems to be in some kind of trance. "You're such a doofus", she whispers back. That statement is true, of course, but why is she mentioning it now? "Because the 'moonstone' is not a lunar rock, it is a gemstone", she says. This does not seem like sufficient grounds to declare me mentally unsound. How am I supposed to know stuff like that? What am I, a contestant on Kaun Banega Crorepati? Bournvita Quiz Contest? Huh? I prepare to present these strong arguments in my defense but my wife fixes me with a stare. I find that the temperature of my lower limbs has gone down considerably. "Want to make it in the evolution race?", the stare seems to be saying, "keep that trap shut". I decide to follow a policy of compliance.

Third, Mr. Destiny gives you a mantra which you have to repeat one million and eight times. Each repetition is to be accompanied with pouring a spoonful of water on a tulsi leaf and put on an idol of Krishna. You are desperately doing some large-number math. Lets see, two seconds for each mantra, thirty in a minute, one thousand eight hundred an hour, let me see.. one million would take..... a really long time. Fortunately, this activity can be outsourced. There is a team of pundits who will do this in such a way as to ensure that the benefit accrues to you, for the extremely reasonable price of ten thousand rupees, payable in advance please.
Now your destiny is fixed. It dare not have the temerity to traverse paths not charted for it by Mr. Destiny.

Till you meet Mr. Good Fortune, who gives you a commiserating look and tells you that Mr. Destiny did not know someone called Jack Shit, implying that his advice is therefore misleading and actually, harmful. You need to have seven syllables in your name, plus it should begin with the letter K, plus you should wear a sapphire ring on the middle finger of your right hand because otherwise Mars in the seventh house will team up with Mercury in the third floor flat and both will kick your sorry ass big time. You might have to get married to a Banyan tree and think of what kind of sex life you will have then, ha, ha, ha.

Some times I really wonder if life is worth living. Now where did I put that bottle of sleeping pills?