Jul 31, 2011

What does money mean to you?

What does money mean to you?

I have often struggled with this question. As a child, despite my parents' best efforts, I was acutely aware of how this mystical thing wasn't present in as much abundance at our home as at some of the others. I had all that I needed, but not everything that I wanted. And believe me, I wanted a lot. I wanted a new bicycle because the neighbour's kid had one. I wanted a video game, again because the neighbours had one. I wanted a colour TV with cable connection, not the old B&W one in which you could see DD1 (and some grainy images of some other channel provided the wind wasn't blowing too strongly and shaking the antenna). I wanted to go on all the school excursions. And I got most of these too. I still don't know how they managed to do it.

Growing up, one of my dreams was to be a millionaire by 25. Stupid, I know. In spite of having a father who didn't measure himself by how much he made. Or probably because of it. I kept hankering after money. Still do.

And then, I grew up. At least chronologically. Got myself a bunch of useless degrees. And one pretty useful diploma. Which landed me into a decent job. Reached my first million at 27. Two years late, and in rupees, not dollars. And realized that a million is pretty much useless in a world where people talk in crores. Should've accounted for inflation, damn it! I make almost 10 times of what my dad made while he retired. Yet, I never saw him complain about money, while I crib about being underpaid. He traveled two-and-half-hours each way for over 8 years to get to work at his age. I crib about a half an hour commute, and wish I could stay closer to work. Which would require more money. Some people never learn. In spite of having the best teachers at home.

Most parents attempt to teach you through long, boring lectures. And never manage to get the message through. Thankfully, my dad wasn't one of them. He didn't preach, he showed by example. Like resigning from a job when asked to cook the books by the management. Without another job in sight, with a wife and 2 kids to provide for and loans to pay. Like never padding up expense accounts merely because the company is paying. Sometimes, I wish he hadn't been so frustratingly straight-forward in his life. It would have made it much easier for me to come up with fake rental and medical receipts. And save up on taxes. But he taught me that sleep doesn't come easy on a mattress filled with cash.

My dad officially retired today. After many months of me and my mom nagging him to do so. There were no farewell speeches, no exit interviews, not even the symbolic wrist-watch that most companies give as an inadequate thank-you for all the time you devoted to them. But he walked away with the love and respect of his colleagues, people who'd genuinely miss his presence and his advice. If I could walk away with half that respect when my time comes, I'd consider myself very successful.

So, what does money mean to me? It means, at last, I can confidently ask my dad to sit back and relax and enjoy life. And tell him not to worry about money anymore. It means the world to me.

Jul 25, 2011

The fine art of dealing with TBMs

Rock. Me. Hard place. Can wriggle out it. Cut a hand off if need be.

Devil. Me. Deep Sea. Will sell my soul to the former. Can’t swim, you see.

Talkative Mami 1. Me. Inquisitive Mami 2. Oh brother, now that’s something that I have struggled to learn how to survive. If you haven’t figured it out already, this is an essay on that scary species called the TamBrahm Mami (TBMs). Or more precisely, how to deal with them. With interesting tips, from my wealth of experience.

Yes, dear friends, one can survive local trains in Bombay, the occasional bomb blast, the more frequent office canteen 'Chinese cuisine' and the slightly more frequent India’s batting collapse. But to be caught between two TBMs, is to experience the very worst form of torture.

A little background is in order. As a boring, extremely shy guy, I live happily in my bubble of self-inflicted solitude like a monk, imbibing some spirits in the pursuit of 'happiness'. Experience has taught me that when asked to choose between spending time with me and having their perfectly manicured nails pulled out with pliers, most sensible girls (oxymoron?) opt for the latter. And I am quite happy with this arrangement, as I have never liked perfect nails anyways. I mean, for all this hoo-ha, they are just a bunch of dead cells being pushed out by your body. And after all, how boring an existence you must be leading, sans any excitement or suspense, that you don’t even bite your nails off! But we digress. We were to talk about TBMs.

Anyways, the TBMs in question have this miraculous ability to picture every unmarried guy as an ‘eligible bachelor’ who is in dire need of their matchmaking skills. No matter how utterly useless the guy in question is. Some people say, unkindly, that TBMs are jobless ladies with too much time on their hands and hence keep meddling in other people’s lives. Those people have no idea what they are talking about. TBMs are very busy people. But they also care about the losers of the world. And that is why, in the midst of their busy schedules involving keeping track of family problems in TV serials, watching out to check that the neighbour’s daughter is not playing mummy-daddy in the terrace with her boyfriend, shouting at the maid for not mopping the area below the sofa, rustling up a snack for the kids and incidentally, maintaining a set of perfectly manicured nails, they take time out to network with other TBMs with equally busy schedules. After all, the smart kids can get hitched by themselves, but someone has to uplift the downtrodden.

TBMs are very astute people at coaxing out information. Which is why I believe the Mumbai Police should replace their entire intelligence network with TBMs. They don’t use crude methods like torture to ferret out what they want to know. They will sweetly offer you a nice cup of sakkara pongal, and while you are concentrating on the ghee-laden texture of it, they will casually ask you what sound like innocent questions. Even an experienced campaigner like yours truly, with years of experience in handling these tricky situations, has fallen prey to this tactic.

And hence, as one fellow loser to another, let me warn you: THERE ARE NO INNOCENT QUESTIONS! Be suspicious. Be wary wary suspicious!

And since I am in a generous mood, let me throw you another trip. Remember the time when you casually boosted your CV value by making up stories about your leadership skills and fibbed about your CGPA because you wanted that campus job. Or the time you wanted to impress that nice chick and kept harping about how you are a University gold medallist. You don’t want to do that here. TBMs will anyways take your meagre non-achievements and spin them into heroic conquests to pitch you to whoever they want to hitch you with. With such innovative people, some creative liberties are par for the course.

In fact, if ever there was a time to underplay your already bare cupboard of useless talents, this is it. So, if some TBM asks you what you have studied, don’t show off your top-10 b-school degree (or is it a diploma?). Simply say “B.Com.” I can assure you, in a TamBrahm community of over-achieving IIT-ians, there is no better way of ensuring that you remain a Bachelor. Even if it be of stupid Commerce. Don’t say “B.A.” though. We might be losers, but even we can’t stoop to that level!

Similarly, if they ask you your age, don’t preen like a Bollywood actress, and state a number which is about half your real age. You are not a college student. Or Aamir Khan. If anything, add a few years to your chronological age. That’s how old you look anyways. I have it first hand that any number north of thirty is actually quite safe. Of course, having a bald(ing) pate and / or a protruding tummy helps.

Some TBMs may venture further and even ask you your nakshatram (birth-star for the non-Tams, don’t even ask what that means!). Or even your gothram (gotra for the non-Tams. We like our words to end in –ums). These are the sly Shakuntala Devis, the ones who can draw up your horoscope, run it across their database, and shortlist the ones which match, before you can say “Ashvini, Kashyapa Gothram”! And all that, in their mind! Because these Chachi Chaudharys have a brain faster than a super-computer. But usually, this question’s a no-brainer, because, you are not even supposed to remember all that stuff! (What? You do? What are doing here then, go recite your evening sandhyavandhanam!) While they happily exhaust their quota of “1000 lies to arrange a marriage”, you at least have the satisfaction of answering at least one question honestly.

Some of the more adventurous of you may even opt to be a bit more truthful, and drop a few hints about how you relished that mutton biryani at your friend Fatima’s place. Eating chicken can be forgiven, but having friends belonging to that-which-shall-not-be-named religion! Your marriage prospects would be slaughtered faster than that halal goat. Of course, this is only advised for those who have either decided not to get married at all, or have a girlfriend lined up. Those looking to merely delay the inevitable may skip this lesson, since once word gets around on the TBM network about your 'untouchable' status, not even another TBM can get you hitched. And that’s saying a lot!

Jul 15, 2011

Are you safe?

What is it about bomb blasts that make people call up family and friends to check if they are "safe"?

It cannot just be the thought that "something" may have "happenned" to them. I mean, you are walking down the road one fine day, enjoying the drizzle (or if you are like me, cursing the rains), some idiot whose father has too much cash and not enough parenting skills comes zipping in his trendy car and before you (or he) realize, pop! Or you could be sitting at your dining table, smacking your lips in anticipation of that wonderful smelling dinner, and pop! All I am saying is, there are multiple ways of kicking the bucket, and most of the bucket-kicking happens without warning. Or as the news channels report, "dhamake ka purv soochna nahi thi". Yes, next time, they will give 21 day notice. As per Sec 171 of the Companies Act, 1956. Or maybe, we can consult the numerologist who helpfully utters AFTER the blast "the last attack was on 26th, this one is on 13th. They favour multiples of 13. Unlucky number. Next attack will be 39th of the month". Sorry, but no more rants against the media. They are all idiots anyways.

It doesn't even make sense. On an average, 3500 people die on Mumbai's local train tracks every year. In case you are bad at Math, which most of you engineering nerds won't be, is about 10 a day. Give or take a few. Most die from crossing tracks, choosing convenience over safety. Some idiots from travelling on the roof, seeking thrills or maybe escaping crowds. But a few unfortunate ones fall off, or get knocked down by poles too close to the tracks. No one bats an eyelid. Except maybe for the "on duty station hamal and safai karamchari" who are "kripaya" called to the "station master's karyalay" by the loud and mostly incoherent announcer. And maybe the railway policeman, who has one more form to fill and one more case to file. Statistically, I am much more likely to go 'pop' while boarding a train in Mumbai than from some blast placed by brainwashed idiots. But you don't call people every time they board a local train to ask "all safe?", nor do you report to your loved ones "all well", every time you successfully make it alive from Borivali to Churchgate.   (Er, you do? In which case, I am not talking to you, you obsessive fool. I am talking to the normal people. Like me. Who call up home once a week. And then wonder what is there to say?)

I guess it has something to do with the 'drama' of a blast. I mean, you don't see it everyday. Not yet at least. Thankfully. No PM or CM comes to visit you if you fall off a train. Thankfully. No Barkha Dutt goes to your crying mom and asks "Aap ko kaise lag raha hai?". Thankfully. Wait. I shall not rant about the media. Repeat. I shall not rant against the media. Repeat. I SHALL NOT RANT AGAINST THE MEDIA. Unending loop with blaring music. As some writer who wrote a memory book whose name I have forgotten wrote, "a slap in the face" is more memorable than, well, something more mundane which I forgot. A bomb blast is a slap in the face. It stings.

I guess, although I hope not, it is also about people's need to reaffirm themselves. "I am safe. My family is safe. My friends too. Thank God. We are lucky. Blessed, even". I can just about tolerate such people. What I cannot stand, are those idiots who come the next day with an anecdote about themselves / their friend / sister / neighbour, who had a close shave with the incident, and 'miraculously' escaped. Inevitably this happens. After every bomb blast in this city, and believe me, I have miraculously survived quite a few, there is at least one smug asshole believing that 'God' saved him. The fact that 10 other people died and hundreds are in the hospital don't seem to bother him. If anything, it serves to accentuate his feeling of being blessed. "Imagine, 10 people died! And I was 5 minutes away from this place. I am going to Siddhivinayak this week to thank the Lord". Much as I try to push the thought away, silly as the atheist in me feels tapping my cheeks religiously with my hands while I think it, I sincerely hope that the next time they bomb, and much as our government may assure us they won't but they will, I sincerely hope they take you out. You are blessed enough to belong to Heaven. Planet Earth is too low a place for someone like you.

The other species I cannot stand are the ones who suddenly wake up from their slumber, get infected with Anna-itis and shout, "The Government should do something. This cannot go on." Er, do what? Come up with something specific. At least think how you will contribute. For now, you sound as silly as our ministers who "strongly condemn" these attacks. Yeah, the terrorists were looking for your approval and are now weeping copiously from being "strongly condemned". And more, they are very afraid after you have said that "this will not be tolerated." Strange, my Hindi teacher in III standard said the same thing, and still the naughty students never kept quiet. At least, she had a cane in her hand. A cane to hit with, not one to lean on while walking.

Ok. End of Rant.

Disclosure: I was one of the idiots who did check up on a few people and ask if they are "safe". Call it stupidity, call it peer pressure, call it being emotional rather than being rational. After all, I am no robot. Only a fan of the movie.

PS: There was one saving grace. People volunteered to help. Did something. Salute to those who did.

Jul 3, 2011

Yet another stupid poem...

Sometimes I really wonder why
Instead of simply flying by...
Why do you rush towards me
Are you so blind, can't you see
That if you touch me, you'll die...

Yet you come, on a prayer and a wing
With that lovely tilting tune you sing
But you've surely seen the others
Some of them even your brothers
never exit from my deathly ring...

So, in all this heat, I still shiver
back and forth, for you I quiver
not only 'coz of the winds that blow
that away from you, I move my glow
I don't take life, I am a born giver...

But, my dear, you are my life's only cause
with all my buzz, you still made me pause
And that's why, oh beautiful glowing fire
I choose to make you my funeral pyre
coz in love, there is neither gain, nor loss...

PS: So many fire and moth poems in the world. Surely, there's room for one more crappy one?

Jul 2, 2011

Notes from weeks of house hunting...

If the building has a french-sounding name, the price will be quoted in euros. In fact, if the building has foreign anything... french windows, italian marble, german bath fittings, american designer... don't even venture near it.

Buildings with other fancy second names are also a strict no-no. Anything with Heights and Towers will have very tall prices. Anything with a planet name will be astronomical. Anything remotely English sounding, like Meadows and Hills will be affordable only for royalty. In fact, here's where the gods are your best friends. A Ganesh or a Shankar or an Omkar is where you should pray to get something.

If you hear the words 'modular kitchen', don't bother asking for the price quote. Actually, same goes for 'wooden flooring'. And 'Club facilities', 'swimming pool', 'garden'.

Your car parking space would be costlier than your car. And sometimes, costlier than a house in your native place. And you have to pay even if you don't have a car. Future planning, you see.

An open terrace is absolutely mesmerising and utterly useless. For someone used to living in cramped spaces, the idea of an open-anything sounds pretty cool, the view would look majestic and you might think the wind would caress your face and make your thinning hair fly. But, in a city which has 4 months of sticky, humid summer, 4 months of pouring rains and 4 months of what can at best be described as less-hot-than-summer, I'd rather have a room which has a ceiling fan at least, if not an AC.

A window sill can be called a balcony. And the broker will claim that since you can sit on it and sip chai when the rains come down, it is indeed a balcony.

If you can stretch your hands fully to the side in the bathroom without touching the walls, or upwards without touching the ceiling, you cannot afford the place. If you can put a double bed and a cupboard in your bedroom and walk straight and not sideways, you cannot afford the place. If the house has a separate dining area, you cannot afford the place.

House agents are people who have the power to teleport themselves. So, a '5 minute walk from the station' for them may be a 20 minute drive for you. You have to have sold 20 houses in remote areas before you acquire this special power.

End of Rant.

I promise myself, and you, that this is my last house-hunt related post. We'll go back to being funny. Or at least, trying to be.