Dec 31, 2012

Of weekends, journeys, and other such stuff...

There is an episode in the TV series 'How I met your Mother' where something called the 'Murtaugh List' is mentioned (yes, now you know that I watch lame sitcoms and you can judge me for it). They talk about this cop character from the 'Lethal Weapon' movie series, who keeps saying "I'm too old for this shit". Or "stuff". Whatever.

The reason I am starting this post on this note would become clear shortly. Or maybe not. Lately, I find myself unable to write coherently. Possibly the result of, you know, too much alcohol killing, like, the last remaining brain cells in me. Just sayin.

Anyways, it all started last Saturday. December 22, to be precise. When I went back to ye old alma mater, for my 5-year batch reunion. And as I sat there, reminiscing about the wonderful times spent there, I realized that while it might seem like yesterday that I was fretting about a Quant quiz or a Fin submission, it has been FIVE WHOLE YEARS since those innocent times. That was the first inkling of things to come.

The alumni committee members had had this bright idea of combining an 'outdoor activities' with a reunion. And had set up a high platform, and this 'wall' where one could do 'rock climbing' from one side and rappel down the other. I buckled on the safety belt and started climbing. The first few steps were easy. And then, I started panting. And wheezing. By the time I reached the top, my heart was pounding like crazy and I was slightly dizzy. The descent was a breeze, but once I landed, I told myself, "I'm too old for this shit."

The rest of the evening went fine though. Possibly because I wasn't climbing vertical surfaces, also because the bunch of people who were there were polite enough to suffer my PJs with smiles. Dinner was as bad as it used to be during our time. Thankfully, some things don't change with time. We stood around, chatting about nothing in particular, like always. Wait, not like always. Maybe it's just me, but the conversations 5 years back were more free-flowing. The present ones, while still very pleasant and enjoyable, lacked the zing. Maybe because we were a bit more formal than what we used to be. Maybe because we have all grown past the age where the mode to start a conversation was to suggest that the person was having inappropriate relations with his maternal parent and/or female sibling. Given the tragic events of the past week, anyway most of us had decided to give up such language. Life is such a bitch, I tell you. Oops.

Some of us decided that conversation flows more freely when certain fermented liquids help loosen our tongues. And maybe it was the liquid, maybe it was that I was dumbed down by the intake of the same and hence even normal small talk seemed more intellectual, but that conversation did flow more freely. I finally reached home at 1.30 am, thanked my lucky stars that the watchman was awake and staggered into bed...

... only to be woken up by my alarm at 3.30 am. Since I had to reach the airport at 5.00 am to catch an early morning flight to Bangalore. Only to realize that the cab booked for the morning hadn't bothered to turn up. Murphy strikes. Again, thankful that some things don't change with time. As I somehow convinced an auto guy to cart me to the airport in time, finished my check-in, dropped into the airport seat and felt slightly nauseated during take-off, I told myself "I'm too old for this shit."

I land at my cousin's place, do the general chit chat, only to be badgered about my, you guessed it, 'single status.' While I may be too old for a lot of shit, I still strongly believe I am too young and immature to be foisted on some unsuspecting lady who will realize just a moment too late that she's doomed for life. So, post a good lunch, during which I bravely fended off well-meaning advice, I took off to my friend's place.

Now, let me interrupt this meandering narrative to tell you something useful. These Smirnoff guys have introduced a new flavour called 'Espresso' and let me tell you, nothing pleases a TamBrahm more than the smell of coffee. And when you have something which smells like coffee, tastes like nothing and gives you a high, you can count on at least one fan for life (yes, I drink flavoured vodka and not single malts. You can judge me for that too).

We sat around chatting about nothing in particular, although this person complains that we actually ended up not chatting about anything. I half remember a very meaningful conversation with this guy, but then I also half remember patting a pet dog, so I might actually have been dreaming a bit. As I woke up again on Monday early morning to go back to my cousin's place, I remember telling myself, "I'm too old for this shit."

After a day in Bangalore meeting more relatives and one more friend, I got into a train to Shimoga. Which was the purpose of the trip to Bangalore after all. When you share a flat with a guy for almost 3 years, and he calls you up one fine day to say he's getting married, it doesn't matter that it's too short a notice to get train tickets, or that's there might be quarter-end work pressure, or that you don't actually have a clue where his village is. You just pack up and go. Like I did.

So, the train left me at a place called Sagar Jambagaru. What a brilliant name for a station. A close second to Mettupalayam. Beats even Chinchpokli. I walk out of the station, manage to convey to the auto guy "Kannada gothilla", which he promptly interprets as a message to take me in for a ride of barely 300 metres to my hotel and charge me 20 bucks for it. Such brilliant assholes. If they had studied any further, they would have been bankers.

After a nice breakfast, and some much needed rest, I head out to my friend's place for a brilliant lunch. There is a simple rule in any Indian household. Ply your guests with more food than they can take. They put enough ghee on my plate, oops banana leaf, that whatever little baby steps I had taken in preparation for my planned half marathon run, oops walk, in January flew out the window. My friend even prepared for me a traditional paan, with some unprocessed tobacco in it, which he said might give me a 'high'. I chewed on that thing for quite some time, and while it had a, how to I put it, acidic tinge to it, no high came out of it. Chunna lagaya :(

I had a cab at my disposal, and I took the opportunity to visit Jog Falls. Because, this is not the monsoon season, the water flow was very limited, but the height from which it falls is awesome. Totally convinced to visit again during the rainy season. But the lack of water made it possible to descend to the bottom, since they have helpfully laid out steps to go down the cliff. It was a long climb down (some 1500 steps apparently, if wiki is to be believed, although I thought it was much, much more) and my knees were wobbly by the time I reached down. After spending some time dipping my feet into the cold water and refreshing myself, I climbed back, which took me the better part of an hour, while I kept muttering to myself  "I'm too old for this shit".

I'll again interrupt this narrative to tell you that while I don't believe in Hell (or heaven for that matter), sometimes I like to imagine there is one. And a special place is reserved in it for those who litter places of natural beauty (or any place, for that matter). And the mode of punishment is that every plastic bottle they threw there is shoved up their backside, one by one, until they are rotting full of it. And when that is done, we turn to the broken glass beer bottles, which we use to carve "Asshole Heart Lady name" on his backside. End of rant.

On the way back, I also visited an ancient temple, of sixteenth century vintage, at Ikkeri. While I am not a big fan of the deities inside, I like to walk around temples. I wonder whether the king who commissioned the project was a benevolent one who had too much money to spare and came up with this Keynesian idea of 'creating work' to ensure people got wages and food, or was a megalomaniac who wanted his legacy to stand the test of time and whipped his workers into carving stones while his subjects starved. The effort involved in carting huge rocks to one place, engaging hundreds of men to carve those rocks and stones into so many shapes, with such fine detail, to finally bring into being a monument which lasts hundreds of years, all to please a non-existent being (or at least one whom you have no hope of meeting), the sheer pointlessness of it all, never ceases to amaze me. And then I realized that, a 100 years from now, the temple will still be standing while the excel models and power-point presentations and appraisal notes and risk analyses that I come up with would have turned to so much dust, and I didn't know which was more pointless. And while I was about to stumble on some brilliant philosophical insight from all this profound introspection, I was interrupted by a loud bunch of idiots.

Ramadhir Singh (that iconic character in GoW played by Tigmanshu Dhulia) utters this gem "Hindustan mein jab tak sanima hai, log chutiya bante rahenge". I would like to add 'religion' to that list. There was this huge Nandi statue in the temple, in its usual seated position. One of its forelegs was bent a bit upwards, such that there was this small gap between its bent foreleg and the platform on which it sat. Barely enough for a small child to crawl through, when I first noticed it. And I saw this group, of people who looked like adults but probably not there yet mentally, push and prod themselves, twisting this way and that, bruising their heads and arms to pass through that gap. Apparently because once you succeed in going through that, your passage to heaven (or Kailas?) is assured. I wish I had a camera to capture that idiocy for posterity.

And with such thoughts, I retired to my hotel, had a curd rice dinner to pacify my increasingly unreliable digestive system and crashed in to my bed.

The next day was the day of the friend's wedding. I have a theory (actually not mine, I have heard it from enough people that it's difficult to attribute credit to any one of them), that the wise men made wedding proceedings exceedingly painful for the participants that they don't even entertain the thought of getting married again. It seems to have worked for ages. But it is immense fun to watch your friend squirm in his unusual attire (dhoti, shirt, coat on top, and a silk cloth over that, with a turban too!). Much fun was had, although eye-candy was lacking. And a sumptuous lunch was demolished on the banana leaf, like a boss!

And then it was time to return. Remember I had said, that when your friends invites you for a wedding, "it doesn't matter that it's too short a notice to get train tickets, or that's there might be quarter-end work pressure, or that you don't actually have a clue where his village is. You just pack up and go." Maybe I should qualify it with "as long as you don't have to endure a 15 hour bus journey to return home."

Yes, the lack of train ticket availability, combined with the innate miserliness of yours truly to take a flight again, with a hint of "what's the big deal about an overnight bus journey, I can sleep through it" bravado, resulted in me finding myself at Shimoga bus stand, waiting for a bus to take me back to Bombay.

You know when you don't want to think about something, and that something happens to be bladder control, you end up thinking about it even more and that makes you want to go again and again. That. I visited the pay-and-use toilet thrice in the space of 1.5 hours. Till even the guy at the counter waived off the two rupee charge for the last time I went.

Anyways, the bus came. And I got in. And settled comfortably in my seat, determined to sleep it out. After all, I can sleep in any moving vehicle. Even when riding pillion on a motorcycle. Or so I thought.

Remember the imaginary hell I mentioned. There is another special place reserved there for people who play Rowdy Rathore on full volume on the bus. I hope they spend an eternity listening to Chinta ta chitta chitta, while Sonakshi Sinha butts them with her forehead and Akshay Kumar grins at them. I did not have ear plugs. I could not shut out the noise. And I couldn't sleep. And so I wondered, how the brilliant Nasser, the same guy who played the villian so convincingly in Thevar Magan, and stood nose to nose with Kamal Hassan could reduce himself to this.

Miracles do happen in life, God probably does exist, because the movie finally ended. And they didn't play another. And I didn't wet my pants or crap into them, but timed my loo breaks with the officially mandated stops perfectly. Yay!

I was back in Bombay, with a sore back and a tired ass. But nation building doesn't happen if good people sleep off on working days and I was back in office, preparing excel models and making presentations. People in Andhra Pradesh, when you finally get out of load shedding and 12-day power holidays, feel free to thank me. People in Tamil Nadu, you have no hope.

But I wasn't done yet. I attended another friend's wedding on Fri night, had one more session of 'spirit'uality, and went to Pune to meet another friend on Saturday for yet another round of Smirnoff espresso (did I tell you how much I like it?) and poker night-out.

And when I woke up today morning, bleary-eyed, with a full work week ahead of me, I told myself for the umpteenth time, "I'm too old for this shit".

PS: So, here's my New Year Resolution: "I will work towards being fitter this year. Physically and mentally. So that I can continue doing stupid stuff like rock climbing at a college reunion, continuous booze-filled weekend night-outs, climb 1500 steps up and down, sit through 15 hour bus journeys, and fend off marriage proposals from pestering aunts, all like a boss. I will try to do even more stupid stuff and not fall for this nonsense about being too old for any of this shit. I will turn 30 with a smile, not with dread. On that note, Cheers 2013."

Dec 2, 2012

Where have all the jokes gone?

You know, once upon a time, I used to tell (write?) a lot of jokes. Most of them were not funny, but that's besides the point. The point was, I could come up with stuff that sounded funny, at least in my head.

I have run out of puns, and even my 'lamericks' section is limping along badly. I mean, there's only so many times that one can use the 'bad to verse' line. And it's not even mine. And so I tend to restrict it to whining once a year on Valentine. When the only thing you can come up with is bad rhyme, you realize something's not fine. I did try my hand at satire. Found out that I am not cut out for it and had to hastily retire.

And it's not even like I have matured, or think that this juvenile crap is not in keeping with my new found sensibilities. Even today, I tend to giggle like a teenage girl at some of the most inappropriate toilet humour. Or fart jokes. Even the ones that stink.

And I never shied away from sounding stupid. People who went to college with me have been known to wish that they had a way to 'block' me on the internal chat messenger we had, merely to escape from my onslaught of multicasts. I suspect some of them were driven to do voodoo to ensure I lost my PJ mojo. If so, please un-pin the doll, because you know what's a guy like me to do without an occasional PJ or two?

Probably it is part of growing older, because lately I find myself unable to come up with those stupid, silly thoughts as frequently as I used to. It's some sort of puerile dysfunction, which doesn't seem to have a cure. And I can't even blame performance anxiety, since I was never aiming to please anyone with my one-liners.

Anyone know of little blue pills which help to bring your funny stuff up? 

Nov 13, 2012

What makes Diwali special?

What makes Diwali special?

Is it the early morning oil-bath ritual where one is dragged bleary-eyed, made to sit cross-legged while warm oil is slapped on the last remnants of hair on one's scalp, while mom sings "Gauri kalyaana..." subtly substituting the first word with one's name, thereby ensuring one sits up wide awake saying "What?" (Btw, come to think of it, who are this Gauri and Sita who get married every year and at every auspicious TamBrahm occasion?)

Is it the indulgence in sweets, of every kind, but particularly the ones dripping ghee, which one ingests with abandon, ignoring the warnings of many a petite dietitian which are still ringing in one's ears, while complaining to mom that she's responsible for the latest layer of 'tyre' around the waist?

Is it the crackers which pollute the air and make one wheeze, cough and splutter hopelessly, all the while reminiscing about the nostalgic past when one was rather possessive of crackers, while at the same time cursing the kids bursting them today, and then realizing that mom has contributed to some of that by actually donating some crackers to the maid's kids and trying to take back some of the more imaginative curses (like may a rocket shoot up your... erm, how do we say this, outlet of the digestive system)?

Is it the excitement of the new dresses, which in spite of the fact that one purchases all through the year whenever one feels like it, rather than on the twice designated occasions (the other being the birthday) as one used to in the past, makes one feel that the Diwali dress is always more special since it is, well, formally handed to one by the parents!

Is it the sumptuous lunch, post which no sane person would try to remain awake, the one which makes one get up groaning with delight from the table, tap at one's tyre (which seems to have expanded) and point remorsefully at mom, who promptly asks "would you like another serving?"

Is it the messages and calls from relatives and friends, especially from some of those one had given up on, and more so from some of those one always thought had given up on oneself, even if they be the cookie cutter mass messages?

What makes Diwali special? I don't know.

What doesn't make it special is that it makes a usually pragmatic, clear-headed, rational person turn into an emotional fool once a year. Damn!    

Oct 13, 2012

And that's why we need a strong Lokpal!

Hear ye all, my name is Cage Re Wall
And I have decided to play hard ball
This nation is going to the bloody dogs
Politicians are stuffing themselves like hogs
And that's why we need a strong Lokpal!

Pick up your phone, give me missed call
I want your support, from one and all
The very phone you use, it needs spectrum
on which a certain neta made quite a tidy sum
And that's why we need a strong Lokpal!

When you see those buildings standing tall
filled with shops, theatres and called a mall
There's something that makes me drop my jaw
That so much money went to a son-in-law
And that's why we need a strong Lokpal!

I tell you, there is something 'black' in this dal
Some call it coal, while some call it mota maal
The CAG says it was a scam Rs.1.86 lakh worth
The FM says "No loss, coal's still inside Mother Earth"
And that's why we need a strong Lokpal!

Don't ask how these probblems he'll solve
He'll be a person of great moral resolve
Just b'coz he'll be judge, jury and executioner, all in one
I refuse to believe your grounds to fear, my son
That such a Lokpal would soon a monster evolve.

Sep 6, 2012


"Do you realize that the only time in our lives when we like to get old is when we're kids? If you're less than 10 years old, you're so excited about aging that you think in fractions. "How old are you?" "I'm four and a half!" You're never thirty-six and a half. You're four and a half, going on five! That's the key. You get into your teens, now they can't hold you back. You  jump to the next number, or even a few ahead. "How old are you?" "I'm gonna be 16!" You could be 13, but hey, you're gonna be 16!"
 - popular quote attributed to George Carlin, though some people dispute it

Long, long ago, there lived a boy of twelve who, like all boys his age, couldn't wait to get into his teens. Except this boy wanted to grow older faster than others, because he naively thought that growing older automatically meant growing bigger, taller, stronger. It's another matter than two decades (give or take 2-3 years) down the line, he would realize that growing older simply meant growing fatter, balder and lazier, and try to stop the process. Unsuccessfully. But we are getting too ahead of the story. I mean, we are not some Ekta Kapoor soap that we start taking two-decade leaps! So, getting back, the reason our boy couldn't wait to get older (and taller!) was because he was unusually short. Not a dwarf, mind you, just shorter than almost everybody in his class.

And he was constantly reminded about his stature, or rather the lack of it.

By friends who made fun of him in the playgrounds by throwing the ball just out of his reach. Or refusing to pick him in their team whenever they had an 'odd' number of players, thereby making him the 'common' which meant that he got to bat last, but had to field twice and could get to bowl only the 'baby over'. Which, if you haven't realized, is the worst situation to be in, especially since one of the only two bats on the ground was owned by the boy.

By grumpy old relatives who would make him stand near the door, draw a small line above his head, and remark disapprovingly that there has been no change since the time he visited them 3 months back. Quite like those grumpy old equity analysts who expect growth every quarter.

By his teachers, who made him sit on the first bench and stand at the head of the queue in the morning assembly. While all the vertically endowed bastards would be having fun at the back of the line, our boy had to stand at attention, raise his hand very straight and couldn't afford to goof up on a single line of the "All Indians are my brothers and sisters..." without incurring the wrath of the PT Master and his cane. Thankfully, he had a reasonably good memory which helped him escape the cane.

By the disgusting taste of Protinex, and Chyawanprash, and the ache in his legs as he stretched to reach the pedal of his bicycle after some misguided advice that raising the seat on the cycle would increase height.

Two decades (give or take 2-3 years) down the line, he would realize the being short had a lot of advantages. Like being able to fit comfortably in the side berth of a train, the front of a small car, the economy seat of an aircraft and most importantly, the ability to lie down and sleep on the back side seat of a Qualis. But again, we are going too far ahead of the story. So, we get back.

So, to put it shortly (ouch!), he hated, detested, abhorred (and other synonyms that I can't think of now) being short and wanted to grow older, as quickly as possible.

One day, the boy and his mother set out on a long train journey to Bombay. It was still called Bombay then. And they settled in comfortably, and the boy got into his favourite upper berth and plunged headlong into the 1 Tinkle and 2 Champaks he had. His mom had strictly told him that they would not be buying any more books for the trip and he should read them slowly, taking breaks in between to admire the scenery outside. The boy simply nodded and got back to the exciting adventures of Shikari Shambu. When one is passing through the arid landscape of Andhra Pradesh in the summer with just dusty, brown mud fields to see, only his mom could have conjured up the imagination to call it 'scenery'.

Anyways, the ticket checker comes along, and the boy's mom hands him the ticket. The ticket checker looks at the ticket, then looks up, and asks mom "Half ticket? How old is he?"

The mom replies, without batting an eyelid, "Ten"

The boy blinks. His mother never tells lies. And has taught him repeatedly never to tell lies. In fact, she had this wonderful way of narrating the story of Harischandra, making even the unfortunate king who lost his wife and kid and had to slog it out in the cemetery sound like a hero worth emulating. To repeat, emphatically, his mother never tells lies. Except to myopic ticket checkers, as he now realizes.

The ticket checker looks up, squints a bit and says "he looks older." Well, maybe the old man isn't all that myopic after all.

The mom replies "I am telling you, he's ten."

"I AM TWELVE, AND IN 2 MONTHS I'LL BE THIRTEEN!", the boy wants to scream. In fact, the boy is screaming inside. For the first time in his life, someone has looked at him and said "he looks older." The boy wants to jump down from his berth and hug the old man in the black coat. But he's afraid that they'll take him away for not having a 'full' ticket and lock him up. And so, he keeps quiet as the old man walks away, looking unconvinced but deciding against making a scene of it. Something dies in him that day.

He never understood, why his naturally honest parents, deemed it okay to hoodwink the system for a paltry train ticket (or rather, half of it!). Maybe because it was really a stretch on his father's salary to buy two long distance tickets. Maybe because, at the end of the day, his parents were only all too human, and not mythical kings from those stupid stories.

The boy is now grown up, although he never really grew tall. And as his father turns 60, and he logs in to IRCTC and clicks on "Senior Citizen" and books his father on a 'half-ticket', he smiles with a perverse sense of pleasure. After all, he has waited years for this moment.

Aug 26, 2012

Training, Reflections and other mundane stuff...

We are just back from a 3 day training workshop in Lonavala. And before you, like some of our friends, begin to think "Wow, Kiruku's company sends him on nice training sessions to picturesque locations, they are so employee friendly", please note that the company would want to recoup its investment in this 'resource' as they deem to call us, and is training us not out of the goodness of its heart, right?

Our attitude to training has always been a little less than positive in the sense we see it as yet another KRA for the HR department to tick off more than for it to have any life-altering impact on us. Hence, we are usually skeptical about such programs. That is why we were pleasantly surprised on this one. The difference here was that the trainer had no pretensions of being a life-change guru. And that in itself, is a refreshing change from the many charlatans that one has been subjected to over various stages of one's corporate life. We particularly detest the ones who have no clue about the kind of work we do, and bring their cookie-cutter solutions from any number of how-to books, and promise to change us from the loser we usually are into some sort of superhero. Our trainer started off by saying "I can only plant a seed. It's up to you to nurture it. After all, it's your life." So, an 'A' for setting expectations right.

Whenever we are attending such workshops, we are reminded of a quote from George Bernard Shaw which one of our professors (in fact, one of the few we have met who had this other-worldly ability to indulge in self-deprecating irony while sarcastically putting us down with wry humour) used in a class: "Those who can, do. Those who can't teach." And that is why we were happy that the person who had come to preach actually practiced it elsewhere, and hence knows what he is talking about. So, another 'A' for not being pretentious.

While the workshop touched on a lot of things (a 'B' for lack of focus?) like understanding one's strengths and weakness (bleah!), presentation skills (useful), having difficult conversations (interesting!), emotional intelligence ('inspired' by many books of that genre, nothing original there for folks who have read those), giving and receiving feedback (cookie-cutter terms here), the session that had us thinking (and still has us thinking) was the one on 'values', getting us to focus on the things that we considered 'most important'. While not filled with any blindingly original insights, we feel it was timely given how we increasingly seem to be lost in this routine of work, forgetting why we are doing it in the first place. And given that one of the key points repeated ad nauseam was "Pause and Reflect", we feel we need a lot of pausing, reflecting and other introspecting to determine what exactly is important to us. And what we plan to do to tick off the right boxes.

Of course, it is entirely possible that, at the end of all this intellectual m-word we won't use here, we come up with zilch. Or something like, we are happy doing nothing. Entirely possible. But at least, we would have reached that conclusion after giving it some thought. Thinking is something that we have neglected to do lately (except when discussing the purpose of life with drunk friends and concluding that it is to procreate and further one's genes). Time we got around to it (the thinking, not the procreating!).

Aug 13, 2012

O-limp-ics II

Say, I am your friend. I know, it is a bit hypothetical since I am not very friendly, but for a moment assume I am.
I come up to you and say, "dost, can you give me 50 bucks?"

Say you know me well enough to understand that I am a black hole when it comes to money, and if you do give me this sum, you have a very slim chance of seeing it again. Although I promise to return it with interest!

So, you naturally ask "Why do you need this, bro?"

Suppose I say, "my pocket got picked. I haven't had food since morning. Starving all day"

How many of you will give me the 50?

Or, suppose I say, "I am very short of money. My mom is very ill and I need to pay the doctor."

Will you be kind enough to give me say, 500 bucks?

Assume in both cases that while you know that I never return money, I am honest when it comes to stating the reason why I need it. I know, it is a stretch, but play along.

Now, suppose I say, "my pocket got picked. I want to pay the entry fee to play in the badminton tournament. If I win, I'll dedicate the prize to you."


Hold that thought. Let's take this thought experiment a little further.

Imagine the same situation with one small difference. I am not asking you for the money. I know where you keep your money, and I take it without your consent.

You find out and come to me, and ask "Why the hell did you take my money?"

Will you feel less angry if I said I was starving, or my mom was ill, compared to "I wanted to go swimming. I am training for a tournament."

Let's take it one step further.

You don't know me. I am a complete stranger to you, other than the fact that I and you share the same nationality. And I take your money. For one of the three reasons mentioned above. Think what your reaction would be.

And since we are having fun, let's stretch it even more. I know, I am boring you guys, but please bear with me. Not only am I a stranger to you, but you can't even question me as to why I took your money because I have a strong, muscular bully standing behind me. You know the bully can tear you apart if he so wishes.

But I tell you, "Hey, don't feel bad. You had 10000 bucks, I just took 3000, because you see, my entire family is starving and my mom is ill too."

Versus I tell you, "Hey, don't feel bad. You had 10000 bucks, I just took 3500, because you see, my entire family is starving, my mom is ill, and my friend really wanted to take tennis lessons."

Are you slightly more outraged by the second statement, compared to the first? Be honest with yourself.

Now, tell me, when you say "Government should build more sports infrastructure so that we can get more Olympic medals", why should I feel any different from what I feel when a big, strong bully (i.e. the Government) takes money from me forcibly (through taxes) to support a stranger (although each of them share my nationality, I don't know any of them personally) to train for some games?

I don't know about you, but I feel bad enough that I work 4 months out of 12 (as Amit Varma says) free for the Government. I somehow console myself that at least some of that money, after all the bloody politicians have had their share, goes towards feeding people, healing them, building roads, giving them power and water and other basic needs. Now, you want to spend more money on a facility that no one will use once it is built since, hey, it's free for those who were building it. And when cost of something is zero, expectation of return on that is pretty low.

And when I chose to oppose such waste of my effort (because the money you take away from me represents my effort), you question my patriotism! Sigh!

PS: Theme of this post plagiarized from (inspired by?) the excellent Bryan Caplan

Jul 30, 2012


It's that time of the year again. When our archers bow out, boxers hang up their gloves, the only shuttle our badminton players latch on to is the one ferrying them to the airport, tennis players create a racket, shooters fail to fire, wrestlers grapple with the bitter truth, swimmers sink into oblivion, runners go off-track and even the guy on the boat has a har-rowing experience. (Do they give out medals for maximum bad puns in a sentence? No? Dammit!).

That time of the year when Indians suddenly wake up to the fact that we don't have world-class athletes and newspapers start pulling out old cliches like "a nation of one billion plus can't produce even a single Olympic champion." Hello, is it our fault that they don't award gold medals for making babies. At least, we are close to beating China in that indiscipline.

If having sheer numbers were sufficient to throw up some super-achievers, then a trillion houseflies would have produced an Olympian housefly. As one of my friends keeps pointing out, a million monkeys banging on keyboards may produce a Shakespearean drama, but the interesting thing is what they come up with the rest of the time. And in India's case, a million slightly-evolved monkeys banging each other only seem to produce a billion unfit monkeys.

And when all the hoopla is done and dusted, we'll go back to our favourite scapegoats. Too much attention to cricket. Too little money for athletes elsewhere. Corruption. Politics. Government doesn't support sport (Or as the Punjabis would say "Gorment-waale sport ko spport nahi karte hain ji!"). The 'white' judges cheated us since we are brown. Suresh Kalmadi. Aamir Khan didn't make a tragic-senti episode on sports in India. It was rahu-kalam when we left for London. Yada Yada. (Do they give out medals for whining? No? At least for making excuses? Not even that? No wonder we don't win too many medals. They have no events which cater to any of our traditional strengths!)

Meanwhile, we seem to be doing good in some other places. Our kids keep winning the Spelling Bee. And we seem to ace a lot of competitive exams. Is it co-incidence? Or are we innately more brainy than people from other countries? Or is it simply because, every time a kid in India shows some interest in sports and wants to pursue it seriously, his or her parents subtly at first, vehemently later, snatch away the bat / racquet /  hockey stick and shove entrance exam prep papers and say "beta, all this play will not feed you. Concentrate  on your studies, get a good job and settle down."

So the next time we start listing down the reasons why India doesn't do well at the Olympics, may I humbly suggest adding "middle class apathy to sports" to the list of popular scapegoats? Or do I hear a "But it is so much easier to blame politics. And Suresh Kalmadi."? 

Jun 28, 2012


The little girl had run out of the palace gardens again. The maid sighed as she stepped out of the cool shade, muttering to herself about having to run after her ward in the blazing sun. Her back wasn’t getting any better, and she felt her bones creak with every step, but thankfully her mind stayed quick and nimble. She knew where she would find her little princess.

Sita smiled as the sweat trickled down her brow while she out-ran her mates. Some of the boys were taller than her, but she had picked up this trick of changing track suddenly and hence could dart out of their reach while they struggled to catch her. She could sense that the boys chasing her were tiring, and she turned around and started running backwards, to tease them. “Faster, you idiot. Are you lame like your father?” she mocked, feeling a strange thrill at mouthing such uncouth language which she had learnt from her best friend, a daughter of one of the palace’s maids.

“Lame he might be, but at least I have a real father. They say the king just picked you up from some place, and that you are not his daughter” the boy sneered.

Sita charged at him, her fists bunched up tight, and punched him hard on his face. As he fell back in shock, she turned and darted back towards the garden, passing the old maid in a blur.

The maid sighed again, this time partly in relief since she was headed back to the shade of the garden, and slowly started back. She was surprised that her princess was done with her play session so early, since Sita usually spent all waking hours outside in the filth in spite of her repeated threats that the sun and the dust would burn her fair skin.

“Come here, little princess, you should stop running like that. Soon, you will be married and become a queen, it’s time you learnt to walk gracefully.”

“I don’t want to be queen. I want to be like these boys, to wrestle in the mud, to shoot arrows, to dive in the river...”

“Those violent games are for those street urchins. A high-born princess like you should be learning to sing, to converse with poise and to walk with dignity. ”

“Who said only boys can have fun with violent games? Besides, they say I am an orphan, not some high born princess.”

The maid took but an instant to recover from her shocked silence before asking who had dared call the princess of Mithila an orphan, and how she would get the king to cut their tongues for such blasphemy.  Sita noticed that initial hesitant silence, and knew that her words had struck a nerve. She hadn’t believed her playmates, had thought they were just teasing her since she was better than them at their stupid games. But her maid’s confused silence, followed by the loud denial had just confirmed the bitter truth. At the court, I am the princess of Mithila, daughter of mighty King Janaka, but in reality, I am but an orphan.

She clenched her fists and bit her lower lip, the way she always did when she was angry. Her nails dug into her palm, the physical pain somehow diverting her mind from the emotional wound. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she turned and ran, as if in a trance. Her maid started after Sita, took two steps before her aged knees buckled and gave up all thoughts of following her. Again, the maid knew where she could find Sita.

And as usual, she found Sita sitting in the trench with her back against one of its mud-walls, knees bent up to her chin, her face hidden against her hands trying to muffle her sobs. The maid backed away, knowing the child would calm down, as she always did when she sat in her favourite place. “A princess who has golden thrones embedded with rubies and emeralds, and she still chooses this hole in the ground” mused the maid, “Maybe because this was where she was found.” 

Jun 22, 2012



So it has all come to this?

Is this how it will end?

Will the world sing “She was put through a test of fire for chastity and she was burned to ashes”?

She looked at her husband, the king of Ayodhya. He stood with his face impassive, his eyes straight ahead, refusing to look at her, refusing to acknowledge his feelings for her.

Is this the man she had loved? The one whom she had followed into the forest? The one whose memories had kept her brave while the rakshasha women of Lanka had tried to frighten her?

In the court, he was not her husband, he was the righteous king who shall not tolerate accusations hurled at his ideals. And so, to prove the crazed utterances of a foolish washerman false, she had to step into the fire.

She looked around her, wishing someone would step forward and stop this atrocity. Her eyes searched for her brother-in-law, who had worshipped her, and nearly died for her. He too did not meet her eyes, merely stared at her feet.

She searched for the devoted soldier who had come all the way to Lanka alone, when no one else could have dared to. He was busy arranging the wood for the pyre, ever the obedient servant to carry out his master’s wishes.  He was done sooner than she liked, and he stepped forward with a lighted torch and announced “the pyre is ready, my king.”

Her husband, brave conqueror of the demon king, mighty ruler of Ayodhya, was too cowardly to personally carry out his sentence. And so, his most trusted soldier held the torch.

Then he looked at her. At least he is brave enough to look at me. She caught his eyes, and unblinking though they were, they seemed to convey a message.

For an instant, she was puzzled. And then she understood.

She stepped forward, folded her hands in prayer and sat on the pyre.
PS1: Culled out from an old draft, when I still had dreams of actually writing a book-sized story, chapter by chapter. And chose to reinterpret the Ramayana for no reason. 

PS2: Like so many other stupid dreams, this one too shall pass.

Jun 13, 2012

Cynicism - the secret to being happy!

"Why are you so cynical?"

"To be happy"

"What do you mean? How can you be happy if you have such a negative outlook?"

"Ah, I see yet another victim of the positive thinking myth. it's ok, there are millions like you."

"What do you mean myth? Everyone knows that optimists are happier people!"

"That's like saying ignorance is bliss. Doesn't mean that people who are ignorant of reality lead blissful lives"

"What are you saying exactly?"

"All I am saying is, positive thinking may be one way to happiness. Certainly not the only way. And sometimes, might even be the wrong way. Especially if you lose touch with reality..."

"But we have great examples of people who achieved so many great things against all odds, people who dared to dream big, and refused to succumb to the so-called 'reality' of their circumstances."

"Survivor bias. Please also look at the vast number of deluded folks still waiting for the whole universe to conspire to help them achieve it because they really want something. I have a simple message for them: The Universe doesn't give a rat's ass about what you want. In fact, from the point of view of the Universe, you would be tinier than the said rat's ass!"

"So, what do you suggest? People stop thinking positive? Stop dreaming about things they can achieve?"

"I never said stop dreaming. Dreams are precious. Life is meaningless in general, and dreams at least help you pretend that there is some purpose to it all. But yours dreams are yours. Nurture them. Help them grow. Watch over them carefully. Don't let the quacks of positive thinking lull you into believing that things will work out well in the end. Sometimes, they do. Most times, they don't.

Life isn't fair. Even if we accept that 'fairness' is an impartial concept, which it is not. At the end of it, everybody thinks they didn't get a fair deal, which just proves that only things that benefit us seem fair to us. It also proves that Life, or the Universe, isn't concerned about fairness and justice.

Hard work doesn't always pay off. The guys who work the hardest need not always get the highest rewards. And don't fall for the 'Work Smart, not Hard' myth either. The core message of the Gita might just have been misinterpreted. Efforts don't matter, results do. No use whining that I put in my best effort, but things didn't work out. The fact that they didn't just means you don't control all the variables. Accept your limitations. More importantly, when things do go the way you want, don't get puffed up on how you 'visualized' your way to success. Accept your limitations. The world could certainly do with less hubris.

What you believe is merit might in fact be, in the words of a famous investor, a winning ovarian lottery ticket. Besides, believing that merit should be rewarded is a proxy for believing that the world should be fair. Which it isn't. Some people luck out. Others run out of luck. So, deal with it.

Be cynical. Expect the worst. That way, if things don't go your way, you can fool yourself saying that you knew life was out to screw you anyway. And then when things work out less disastrously than you imagined, I promise you that you'll be really happy."

"Wow, now you are beginning to sound like the very preachers you hate."

"Guilty as charged..."
PS1: This is a note to self, but written here since I don't keep a separate diary. Not to be taken as "Preachings  of Kirukuananda".

PS2: Reflections caused as a result of reading myriad stuff such as the smug, self-congratulatory pieces of some bankers in the Voices of Finance series, the rabid comments to the same pieces, the debate on whether the markets reward merit or not, and seeing people crib after getting bonuses that some people would be happy to earn over half a decade, and wondering whether it all makes sense and what the heck am I doing in the middle of this race that I don't want to run!

PS3: As one keeps getting older, one tends to delude oneself with such pseudo-philosophical gyaan. Hoping for inspiration to strike for a bout of good old PJs to feel a bit younger again!

Jun 6, 2012

You know you are getting into the 'Uncle' stage of your life when:

All your sporting icons are retiring and you are disdainful of the new 'kids' on the block. All the dream girls from your teenage are now playing mommy roles, and your new dream girls are all  younger to you!

You meet a younger cousin after almost a decade and tell him "My! How tall have you grown! The last time I saw you, you were this small!" You tell the same cousin to concentrate on his career and to focus on what he wants to do with his life, when all he wants is to have a friendly chat about the above mentioned dream women.

You cannot see your own toes, and cannot tie your shoe-laces standing up, and you attribute it to 'prosperity'.You can see more and more of your forehead when you look into a mirror, and you attribute it to 'wisdom'. Speaking of which, you are reminded of 'early to bed and early to rise..." and conclude two out of three isn't bad.

You no longer dream about making billions, becoming great or changing the world. You console yourself that it takes great maturity to come to terms with one's own mediocrity. You smile patronizingly at teenagers who still dream about making billions, becoming great and changing the world. You hope they'll nurture their dreams better than you did.

You find toilet humour juvenile, and practical jokes silly. You are fed up of puerile puns, random rhymes and even  average alliterations. You come to appreciate subtlety in everything, and irony is now your favourite form of humour. Tragically, you can't come up with any ironical statements, and so revert to silliness.

You try your hand at fancy video-games and embarrass yourself. You start thinking how much simpler life was when playing Pac-man and Super Mario. You wonder when video-games became so violent. You tell yourself that you are too old to play video-games anyway.

Your friends no longer come to kick your ass to mark your birthday. And you are thankful for that because you are worried about back pain.

Your friends start getting married, and having kids. You congratulate them in a very polite manner, instead of expressing your condolences at their loss of freedom in your most colourful "you are so fucked, da!" tone.

You write boring blog posts like this to celebrate your birthday. Instead of other boring posts. Thankfully, some things don't change!

Jun 4, 2012

Of teary farewells... and new beginnings...

I still remember the day you came into my life. You brightened up my day, made it colourful, and made a 13 year old the happiest kid on the block.

The memories come flooding back. You shared my craze for cricket (which in itself is unusual for a girl), and I still remember watching with you the 1996 World Cup when Sachin simply destroyed the opposition.  The sound we made was loud enough for the neighbours to complain. You rolled your eyes at my infatuation with pretty girls, and I still remember us sneaking around late at night, silent as a lover's whisper. You were a loyal friend, and I trusted you to never give away our secrets. A trust that you vindicated faithfully.

And the best time of all was when we played the video games together. Jumping hurdles with Mario the plumber, searching in vain for the princess, shouting in joy at escaping the monsters, and mourning with me as we lost another life. Those lazy summer vacation hours spent in your company were some of the best times of my life.

And then I left town while you stayed behind. I found new friends, but none that could replace you. None with whom I could sit back and watch a sleazy C-grade movie without any inhibitions. They were too snooty for that. Only here did I notice that unlike these city girls, you had curves, and you were never uncomfortable about that.

Every home visit in all those years, I used to look forward to visiting you. Never knowing whether you'd be still around. And luckily for me, you followed us all the way from Mettupalayam to Coimbatore to Bhavani, and even to Mumbai. I was surprised you made it this far, but in my heart, I knew you were dying.

But all good things have to come to an end. And so it is, with us. Has it really been 16 years? It feels like yesterday! Even as I move on to a slimmer, sexier model, I'll always remember you, my first love.

Farewell, dear Videocon Bazooka, they don't make 'em like you anymore!  

Jun 1, 2012

Aaru mudhal arubathu varai...

The Kiruku turned 6 yesterday. Like last year, I was again too busy to commemorate the momentous occasion.  But blogs, like people, grow up and become more mature, and hence don't throw tantrums when their birthdays are forgotten. Even if the blogs are written by people who refuse to have anything to do with growing up and becoming mature.

Six years is a long time. Especially for a blog. Even more commendable, in this age of competition from other social media like facebook and twitter. My PJs now find their way into twitter (while we are at it, do check out the ones following V. Anand's win tagged as #ChessPun), and my other short rants find their way on to facebook. Like Test cricket and classical chess being taken over by T20s and Rapid tie-breakers, the leisurely blogpost is being taken over by 140 character tweets and fb status updates.

Unlike years ago when I had too much time on my hands and this crazy urge to spew forth on every topic, I rarely find the time to devote to what has been the longest-lasting hobby of my life. Other than cracking really bad PJs which I used to do even when I didn't know what a blog was. But this is not about me. This is about Kiruku.

A birthday may not be the best time to talk about endings, but I have been tempted to kill off the blog (Don't tell Kiruku though!). Especially since I seem to have developed a writer's block more serious than that of George R R Martin (When is the next book coming out, btw?). What has prevented me from taking the step is the occasional burst of inspiration which takes the shape of one more senti post, one more lame rhyme, one more pun-filled look at the world.

Friends whom I started blogging with seem to have abandoned their blogs. As they get busy with their families, and start making plans for putting their kids in school. People who wrote far better, people who unlike me had something fresh to say each time, people who actually took time to polish their posts to make them look good... suddenly found themselves worrying about mortgage payments, car loan EMIs and vaccinating their kids on time. On top of worrying about coming ahead on the rat race.

In a way, Kiruku's solitary march mirrors my life, as I run out of single friends whose houses I can crash into unannounced, down a peg or three, and pass out on their couch. Friends with whom an impulse weekend trip can be planned. Friends with whom I can have profound conversations about the purpose of life, the importance of money in it, and whether Asin is proof that a Creator exists...

These days, I find myself worrying more about the Europe crisis (damn the Greeks!), the Indian GDP growth slowdown (damn the Indians! oops...) and whether I'll have enough cash when the EMI cheque hits the bank. Everybody has to grow up, whether they like it or not. Stupid blogs and crazy bloggers included.

But when we are too busy growing up, we miss the chance to crack a joke, think up a crazy rhyme or simply rant to our heart's content. The reason I have not killed this blog is in the faint hope that I will manage to find the time to do all this. If not today, then tomorrow... or the day after...

It's bad to finish on a sombre note. As my namesake hammed, everything requires "Happys Endings".

So, sing a raucous "happy birthday" to the Kiruku, wish that he lives for an eternity, and please go out of earshot before you crib "what a cheapo! not even a return gift!"

PS: May-June are months filled with milestones. So, the mood is likely to be a bit introspective for some time. But like a hangover, it'll soon wear off and we'd be back to inane PJs soon enough. 

May 26, 2012

Making dreams come true...

His friends never understood his obsession. Most people who knew him still found it strange that he would continue to penny-pinch so much even after getting a nice job. They'll never understand.

It was almost 20 years ago. When the boy was sounded out by the Chettiar Paati for climbing the wall and dirtying the newly white-washed surface. He went crying back to his mom, who had no words to console him. His young mind developed a secret desire, though he had no means to get it.

It was reaffirmed for 10 years when there was no one to question him hitting a wet tennis ball again and again, leaving tell-tale signs of dirty splotches against the wall (freshly white-washed or otherwise). And the feeling was so good that it only strengthened the desire that this should go on. But things were not meant to be. Things are never meant to be. A lesson he learnt pretty early in life.

The desire grew deeper when he spent a year in a 8' x 12' room that was a class-room by day. When sleeping late on a weekend was not an option because he needed to wash and clean up and leave the place before the class started at 9 am. And when the bedbugs in that flea-infested mattress started bothering him, he would just join up 2 desks and plonk himself on it. Only to be wake up early the next day because the class would start.

Things improved when he moved to a larger place, but space was still a luxury with two other friends for company. Noisy neighbours were his only grouse, as he set about juggling two exams and 3 teaching assignments.

Fate (or Murphy?) put him in a b-school where even the hostels were cramped spaces. Where the number of people to the number of bathrooms ratio was almost 12 to 1. And since the one thing that irritated him was people knocking on the door while he was on the pot, he decided to sacrifice 15 minutes of sleep for a peaceful sit-down.

He spent another 5 years, moving from place to place, surviving landlords, haggling brokers, hostile neighbours who didn't want bachelor boys staying nearby, all the while nurturing this dream.

And finally, after a year of searching, and almost giving because the scourge of black money plagues this country's real estate, and constant cribbing on this very blog about it, he finally realized the dream. A house of his own. A small one, a costly one, but still something to call his own. Unfortunately, he is too old to climb walls or hit tennis balls against them.

And as he sat worrying that his tenants might dirty the freshly painted walls, he realized that the ghost of the Chettiar Paati was coming back to haunt him.

Life sure has a funny way of making you grow up into the very person you hate.

Apr 16, 2012

Mcleodganj - III

Continued from Part-I and Part-II:
As hinted by SK in her comment to the earlier post, Day 3 was the day of enthu people. The bug hit us first, when we defied our own expectations and woke up at 6.00 am to watch the sun rise. Well, all except RK, who had ended Day 2 in ‘Signature’ style. Yours truly had too, but then the prospect of welcoming the Dawn sufficiently enthused one to shrug off the alcohol-induced sleepiness and actually get out of bed that early.

Our ancestors were a wise lot. Unlike the modern day religious nut-jobs folks who keep preaching without having the ability to ever come up with anything original, one can sense genuine wonder for the miracles of the Universe in the writings (or rather, the sayings, since they weren’t written down until later) of the earliest Aryans. It reflects both of the majesty of the sight of dawn breaking, and on the imagination of the person observing the same to come up with something like this:
We see that thou art good: far shines thy lustre; thy beams, thy splendours have flown up to heaven.
Decking thyself, thou makest bare thy bosom, shining in majesty, thou Goddess Morning.”

Dawn was called Ushas, and was frequently depicted as a "beautifully adorned young woman riding in a golden chariot on her path across the sky". Another of the hymns refers to her thus:
“Gone are the men who in the days before us looked on the rising of the earlier Morning.
We, we the living, now behold her brightness and they come nigh who shall hereafter see her.”

Men may come and men may go, and the relentless march of time shall continue, made joyful by the breaking of the Dawn every day. I couldn’t come up with anything poetic (I restrict myself to silly limericks), but I immersed myself in the calm of the morning, as the sun’s rays slowly changed the snow-white of the mountains to a shimmering gold, as the birds woke up with a chirp, as the dew in the grass slowly licked my feet clean, and I felt immensely thankful for just being alive. It was one of those moments which cannot be described in words.

One of my quirks is that I can quickly degenerate from such a contemplative mood to my usual goofy self. So, I reverted to striking silly camera poses, which MT and SK happily clicked to make up for the non-entertainment no-show of the banana-milkshake bhang.

After an hour of going trigger happy with their cameras, they left me and lovely Ushas in peace once again, and I sat down on a bench cross-legged and closed my eyes, and pretended to meditate. I have never found out what it is about holidays that makes one re-evaluate whether what one is doing is what one wants to do. Is it the time one has to stop and reflect, is it the place which induces deeper thinking, or is it just crazy wishful foolishness? Sometimes, I wonder if the quest for meaning is quite meaningless.

As I was sitting there thinking such profound thoughts, I heard a noise and found that one of the pre-Rig Vedic ancestors was staring intently at me. My mind went: “Does the monkey know that it is my ancestor?”, then “Is the monkey sitting there wondering “does this guy know that I am his ancestor?””. I soon snapped out of my meta-stupid phase once I saw the monkey eyeing my sneakers that I had taken off for my barefoot walk across the lawns. I quickly snatched them up and went back to my room.


We  went to Palampur market area, had a hearty aloo-parantha-with butter breakfast and then brain-stormed on how to while away the last few hours of our all-too-short vacation. After negotiations with multiple cabbies, we settled on one who promised to show us all the local sights and then drop us off to Chakki Bank where we were to board our train.

I don’t know if it was in his nature to be talkative and cheerful, or whether in spite of our negotiations we had committed to a princely amount of cab fare, but our man displayed all the enthusiasm of a Duracell bunny as he first took us to Sherbaling Palpung Monastery. There was some group prayer meeting going on and it was very colourful and had some wonderful music (bells chiming, drums beating and chanting) and I quite liked the fact that they allowed people to drop in and take pictures of that. A refreshing change from no-camera-not-even-your-shirt-go-in-a-dhoti rule of Kerala temples.

We found some Tibetan kids, one of whom was very cool about being photographed while his brother displayed all signs of a paparazzi-weary celebrity. We also came across one super-cute kid whose style is best seen than described:

From the monastery we decided to head to this place called Neugal Café which was highly recommended by the locals there. En route, our cabbie decided to take a detour to show us a suspension(?) bridge built in honour of a soldier I think, but I was too hungry to listen to his guided tour while he went “hamara farz banta hai ki aapko yahan ka sab kuch dikhaaye.” Anyways, we landed at Neugal Café and had our first disappointing meal of the trip. Less said about it, the better. 


All good things come to an end. So it is with wonderful meals. Even more so with happy vacations, and all one comes back with are good memories, some colourful snaps, and in some cases, an infuriatingly long three-part blog post.

How I wish this vacation continues...

Apr 13, 2012

Mcleodganj - II

Continued from Part-I

From Naddi, we took a bus to Bhagsunag, a unique temple with a swimming pool in front of it! In its defence, the water appeared cleaner than Dull Lake, so I guess, if the hypothetical God forced me to take a holy dip at the pain of gouging my eyes out, I’d rather jump in to the pool than the lake. The temple also has a sign which says “pracheen Shiv Mandir” prompting us to wonder whether the sign was placed when the temple was constructed itself in the foresight that it will survive many eras.

For all my skepticism about the gods, Shiva is my favourite. A deity who is usually stoned and high, can put up a mean dance and is destructive to boot gets my unflinching vote. But we skipped the temple and went in search of the essence behind the deity, to the infamous Shiva café. My co-passengers (for this para, they are not my friends!) were not too enthusiastic about getting bhang for our bucks from this trip. It took a lot of persuading, a temporary detour to cool off by dipping our feet in the ice cold water, and a promise to act funny and spill out all my secrets after getting high to convince them to tag along. It was a long climb, and even I was getting tired of it. Let’s just say that we reached the place, found a bunch of kids staring into space, and picked up a glass of bhang lassi, which tasted like banana milkshake and failed to give any sort of levitating feeling. If I had a third eye or even a Veerabhadra to order around, I’d have burnt the bloody café to ashes. Total disappointment! Although on second thoughts, I don’t know if it was the café owner who fooled me, or the friend who gave an order for milkshake when my back was turned and told me it is “bhang lassi”. I guess we’ll never know since neither of them is likely to confess.

On the way back, we stopped at German Bakery (another must-visit place according to many online accounts), and ordered pakodas. We must have been the only idiots who would have ordered pakodas in that place, since they took an hour to get it by which time we had lost all enthu for the snack. This was followed by dinner was at a place called Mc’llo, and I quite liked the place. The place wins the award for having the most enthusiastic waiter I have seen, making me suspect that he was the one who had had the bhang.

Day 2

Since we had covered most of what Mcleodganj had to offer on Day 1 itself, we decided to act a bit lazy and thankfully got out of our ‘checklist’ mode. So, a nice aloo-parantha breakfast with a huge blob of heart-attack inducing butter was followed by general walk-around, and a repeat visit to the Bhagsunath temple and another session of freezing our toes in the water. Now, I am one of the most tone-deaf persons around, but I am a big fan of the sound of water gurgling through the rocks, and I could have spent another week sitting there. Another thing I am a big fan of is splashing cold water on my friends, but we are mature old people now and so I decided to behave responsibly (it had nothing to do with the fact that the bugger was holding my sweater as a protective screen and I didn’t want to lug around a wet sweater!).

Attempting to splash water when I still had my sweater...
Reluctantly, we left the water spot and headed towards Namgyal Monastery. It is a beautiful place, and has some stunning paintings of Kalachakra (or something similar sounding), but what I really liked was the all-round views of gorgeous mountains with snow-white tops and green valleys. We also met a really charming old man who gave a most disarming mischievous smile and asked where we had come from, and was really surprised to know that four of us came from four different cities in each corner of India. As is the norm, we (or rather, the camera experts) clicked snaps of everything interesting and that included the old man.

After yet another sumptuous lunch at a place called Tibetan Kitchen (the meals formed a very important memory of this vacation, and hence the repeated references), we took a brief walk in time to reach the spot for a breath-taking, stop-in-your-tracks-and-forget-everything-else view of the sunset. The sight of that ball of fire, slowly turning from a bright yellow to a warm orange as it slowly sinks behind the mountains is a memory that I will cherish for a long time to come.

And with that, we took a cab and proceeded towards Palampur.

(to be continued…)

PS: This is turning out to be lengthier than I anticipated, and I hope to finish it before I grow tired of putting this down.

Apr 9, 2012

Mcleodganj - I

We are in a cheerful mood today since we are back from a nice weekend break in Mcleodganj / Dharamsala. As we have done in the past, we will duly document the trip in a few (ok, more than a few) words, partly for our own nostalgia trips sometime in the future, and partly to remind ourselves that we do need to take more such breaks. As some of you may recall, we use the ‘royal’ we (or the Bihari ‘hum’) whenever we are happy.

The genesis of the trip started in yet another mail written to our friends screaming “I NEED A BREAK!” in the middle of some really frustrating week. Considering that most of our weekends have been wasted in house hunting, and strenuously avoiding bride hunting, we were most assuredly in need of a break. Not just any 2 day back before you even started break, but a slightly longer one. And so, we mailed, proposed places, rejected them, held conference calls, negotiated over how many days can we take off and at one point, it looked as if this project will also stall like the many others which preceded it. But by some miraculous coincidence, 3 perfectly sane, well-educated, smart, professional people agreed to trade an eminently enjoyable long weekend for spending time to go on a trip with… ME! Makes us doubt the part about their sanity and their smarts. But what the hell, off we were, to the place of the Dalai Lama.

We landed in Delhi on Thursday and took a train to Chakki Bank. The train journey was made interesting by the fact that there were some 120 people sitting in the 3A coach that was clearly meant to seat half that number. And we (this time, I mean myself and the friend RK i.e. 2 people) had 1 reserved berth between us. Let’s just say that the TTE didn’t budge, and people in Jallandhar and Udhampur are still laughing at the memory of seeing two rotund guys trying unsuccessfully to fit into one 'side upper' berth. But we managed to reach Chakki Bank without incident, slightly groggy and promptly took a cab to Mcleodganj. And reached the Bhagsu at 6.30 am, only to be told that since the check-in time is 12.00 noon, we couldn’t be given the room. Whatthe! So, we placed our luggage in the room taken by the 2 other friends (let’s call them MT and SK, and let them choose whether they want to identify themselves with their blogger / twitter profiles) who had reached earlier, and set off for a walk.

Only to be greeted by pleasant visuals of snow-capped peaks in the distance glimmering in the early morning rays. And air which didn’t smell of sweat and smoke. And greenery all around, as far as the eye can see. Truly Magical!

Our agenda for the vacation was very simple: Do Nothing. Except of course, eat a lot, laze around, chat and read a bit. And crack a few bad PJs. (The last item was only on one person’s agenda). So, we had a nice breakfast at the roof-top of a place called Jimmy’s Kitchen. Chocolate pancake (I like to indulge my sweet tooth at vacations… and at all other times) and French toast, with a majestic view of the mountains to go.

Most Indians vacationing in India have a minor flaw: they are what I call ‘checklist’ tourists. So, instead of soaking up the place and drowning in the majestic beauty of it all, they hop from one ‘must-see’ place to another, ticking items off a list which they would have copied from the some travel blog / journal / magazine. The routine usually consists of going to the place, creating a loud ruckus, littering a bit and posing for pictures focused on themselves while the really beautiful mountain / sunset / beach is hidden behind a group photo of all 27 people in the joint family posing together. I take this detour in my narrative not to criticize my countrymen, but to admit that we succumbed to the check-list mentality briefly (thankfully, without the loud noises or the littering).

And hence we set off to St. John’s church (chapel?). A nice, lovely stone building with stained glass windows and wooden ceiling, with tragic blots of ugly electric wires and weird white lights hanging about. It was Good Friday, and there was a sermon going on. The priest said “He sacrificed himself so that you may be absolved of all your sins” and I happily decided to commit some more sins by eating some more (gluttony) and lazing around (sloth).

From there, we caught a bus to Dal Lake (note, it is not pronounced like the food, more like Dull Lake). I still think they got the pronunciation right and the spelling wrong. If that rectangular hole with stinking, stagnant, green water was a lake, then my house in Mumbai is Buckingham Palace. There was a board that helpfully said people take a ‘holy dip’ in the lake, so I guess their collective sins made the place so dirty. If only the people had realized Jesus had already taken their sins. Poor, misguided souls.
And from there, we went to Talon De Naddi (or something like that). For a wonderful lunch again in the open with views of the mountains, mildly distracted by the cootchie-cooing firang couple in the next table. I am not judging, but the lady had her hair dyed pink, something that made my heart sink (Rhyme!).

(to be continued…)

Apr 3, 2012

Dear G

Congrats and welcome to the family. We may seem a bit weird at first, but as you will soon find, we can be fun in our own way. Especially the one you are getting hitched to, my little cousin M (ok, not so little since she's only six months younger, and we'll drop the cousin since I treat her as my own sister). She has a talent of making friends of any random person before you can say 'Dale Carnegie'. I remember her visiting our place when she was 7-8 years old and suddenly, I started to know people whom I hadn't even realized lived in the same neighbourhood. And, even though she left after a stay of hardly 2 weeks, they kept asking about her for years.

As her brother, and your future friend, I have some stuff to tell you. If you ever gift her chocolates and see her gobbling it all up in one go, don't blame me. It so happenned that her dad had bought us 3 Cadbury Dairy-Milk chocolates, and while me and S (her brother) ate ours at once, M decided to eat one small square piece and kept the rest in the fridge to enjoy it at leisure. Well, all I can say is when she came back after an hour outside, the chocolates were nowhere to be found. I am not saying we ate them, I am not saying we didn't, they may have 'evaporated' in the fridge, but all I know is that we got a firing and she decided to adopt a policy that valued immediate consumption over saving up for the future, which probably helped her understand the Americans when she went there.

Btw, while we are on the matter of gifts, don't get her any dolls either. She had an enviable collection of pretty Barbies (am ashamed as a guy to even say this) and one slightly mean looking large doll. Well, when we were kids, we had rented a video cassette of the movie 'Child's Play', watched it late into the night, and then went to sleep with our minds full of terrifying images. Again, I am not saying I picked up her doll and placed it next to her, I am not saying I didn't, but all I know is the she woke up next morning, turned and saw a doll next to her first thing, screamed loud enough to wake up the entire apartment complex, and the next thing I know, all the dolls she had were being donated to charity. The poor kids were very happy since they had obviously not seen Child's Play.

She tells me you sing very well, and you know what, she could have been a good singer too. She had a good voice, she had the enthusiasm to learn and for once, I decide to accept some blame. Every time she returned from 'paatu class' to practice, she found one more unearthly accompanying voice grating along "Saaa Reee Gaaaa Maaaa" till she decided that she'd rather sacrifice the possibility of becoming a good singer in the interests of the sanity of the everyone concerned. But then, I did ensure that you will be the undisputed singing champion in your family, and you can thank my wonderful foresight for that.

There are so many memories to recount, and I don't want to bore you with all of them. Besides, if I tell you all the stories now itself, we won't have much to talk about over the beer that you have promised me.

Take good care of her. To borrow a line from that stupid sitcom, "You guys are getting married and I couldn’t be more thrilled for both of you, but as M’s older brother I have to tell you this. If you ever hurt my little sister, if you ever cause her any unhappiness of any kind, I will hunt you down, and kick your ass!"

PS1: G, I had partially drafted this post before I came down for the engagement, now that I have met you and found that you are a nice guy (and not because I realized I couldn't kick your ass), you can ignore the last para. But I was serious when I wrote it.

PS2: To the rest of you who are scratching their heads wondering what on earth I am blabbering about, well, my little sister got engaged to G and I am sort of excited. Or at least was, till she made me sit through a whole day of saree selection, debating the merits of 'copper sulphate blue' versus 'mazhil kazhuthu (peacock neck) blue' versus 'maroon with gold border'. The very tragedy of it all cannot be described in words even by the best of the writers, forget about yours truly.  

Mar 25, 2012

Game of Tags. You neither win nor die.

It seems I got tagged. By a lady at that!

Now, I usually stayed away when this 'tag someone' thing was being played out on the blogosphere since I saw it as one more way of forming cliques and promoting each others' blogs. Or that's what I liked to think, because no one ever tagged me.

When I started blogging, it was pure self-indulgence. Plus. I usually write stuff here only when I feel like it. Or get some crazy idea. This whole concept of writing based on someone else's ideas or questions is a bit alien to me. Kind of like forced thinking.

But what the heck, one can always make an exception. Especially for that rare species who read and comment here. I mean, don't you have better things to do?

But, I am not re-posting the rules. You can visit her blog-post to read them.

So, here are my not-so-bright answers to the 11 questions:

1. What does blogging mean to you?
A means of inflicting my inanities on people without getting hit. And it’s free!

2. Name the person who influenced you most.
Dad. Ok, Mom too, because she’s the one who’ll read the blog. :) 

3. Which is the last book you read?
The Girl who played with Fire (Stieg Larsson). It’s one of three books that I was reading, and I have finished this one. The other two are Dance with Dragons (George RR Martin) and Ka (Roberto Calasso). I usually have multiple books, one for the commute, one for home, one for weekend etc.,

4. Which are the subjects you hated most in school and college?
School: Biology. Especially the part where I had to draw the human eye. Clearly, I had no sense of aqueous humour.
College: Marketing Management. And HR (it was called People and Performance, and we shortened it to Pi and Pee).

5. If you were to become a sports celebrity overnight, who would you choose and why?
Vishy Anand. To experience how mind-boggling chess moves are made at such speed.

6. Name your dream travel destinations- India and Abroad.
India: Andaman. Ladakh. The North-East.
Abroad: South Africa. Madagascar. Antarctica.

7. Describe your job briefly.
Project Finance. I appraise infrastructure projects, for viability, identify risks and ways to mitigate them, so that they can be financed.  

8. What is your alternative career option?
Teaching. I did it for four years and keep fooling myself that I will go back to it once I have made my money.

9. Do you really think the world will come to an end after December 2012?
Yes and No. It has to come to an end someday. Whether it happens next week or in the next billion years, I don’t know.

10. What are the things you would like to do before you die?
My bucket list? I prefer not making one so that I can go without regrets.

11. Your views on television soaps?
Don’t have one. Frankly.

Now, it seems I have to tag 11 people. Most people I personally know now have dormant blogs. And the others I follow are unlikely to come here and have a look. So, skipping that part too. Sorry. Like chain mails in my inbox, this ends here.

Mar 21, 2012


Post which has been brewing in my mind for quite some, no thanks to well-wishers who, um, wish too well...

This one's dedicated to the uncles and aunts
and their regular, unfailing, unbearable taunts
"you are getting old, it's time to get married"
This one repeated remark makes me harried,
my single status has become a ghost who haunts...

I have been telling them all time and again
"Bachelorhood's a pleasure, marriage a pain"
I am too used to doing just as I please,
and am not giving up my freedom with ease
my getting married will be nobody's gain...

I am short, fat, half-blind and am losing hair
And you say you can find my 'matching pair'?
It's like what Groucho Marx said about a club
"Any gal idiot enough to not give me the snub
is not a gal about whom I'd particularly care"

And even if I change my fickle mind
I have so many other axes to grind
Don't believe in this matching of stars
"Is she from Venus, am I from Mars?"
Been saying that like a tape on rewind!

The days when you avoid rice and have wheat
Is when I actually gorge on some tasty meat
I also help myself to a really 'neat' drink
The only thing I don't do is a leery wink
at chicks who dress down in this Bombay heat.

Plus I don't really care about how she looks
Am more interested in whether she reads books
So instead of bringing my mom a pic, remember
to just check whether she's a Crossword member
you know, different fish nibble on different hooks...

And I hope this is not too much to ask
Although I feel it'll not be an easy task
But if she can reward my PJs with laughter
even fake it, and we'll live happily ever after
after all, most married folks do wear a mask

Of course, the best would be you find a match
for my younger cousins, sorta like skip a batch
Some, actually all, of them are really very nice
Full of 'matrimonial virtues', with hardly any vice
Or what you old folks call "a really good catch"

PS: Now, when I think about it, I should have saved this post for next year's V-day rant. After all, even I can't keep coming up with stupid lamericks on demand!

Mar 15, 2012

How not to quit...

TODAY is my last day at Team India. After almost 16 years in the team — first as a debutant at Lord’s, then as captain for 2 years, and now as senior player — I believe I have been here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the spectator continue to be sidelined in the way the team operates and thinks about playing cricket. Team India is one of the world’s richest and most important cricket teams and it is too integral to international cricket to continue to act this way. The team has veered so far from the place I joined right out of domestic cricket that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Team India’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our public’s fandom for so many years. It wasn’t just about winning at all costs; this alone will not sustain a team for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the national team. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love playing for this team for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.
But this was not always the case. For more than a decade I mentored newcomers through our grueling selection process. I was selected as one of 11 people (out of a population of more than 1 billion) to play in our national team.

I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look newcomers in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.

When the history books are written about Team India, they may reflect that the current BCCI chairman, and the captain, lost hold of the team’s culture on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the team’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.

Over the course of my career I have had the privilege of receiving the first ICC cricketer of the year award, captaining India to overseas victories in Pakistan, England and West Indies, and participating in the most number of century partnerships. I have always taken a lot of pride in playing the way I believe is in right, even if it means losing lucrative sponsorship. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Team India. Another sign that it was time to leave.

How did we get here? The team changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for BCCI (and are not currently an ex-ICL rebel) you will be promoted into a position of influence.

What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Hit a few big “sixes,” which is cricket-speak for what commentators call the DLF Maximum. b) “Hunt Bowlers.” In English: get your opposition bowlers — some of whom are world-class, and some of whom aren’t — to rue their bad luck in bowling on flat tracks. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like executing a slog sweep over mid-wicket. c) Find yourself fielding at the boundary where you job is to raise a finger and spout four letter words.

Today, many of these ‘leaders’ display a Spirit of Cricket quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend team meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can save a Test. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off T20. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a Test match batting mindset was not part of the thought process at all.

It makes me ill how callously people talk about throwing their wickets. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different middle order batsmen refer to their own wickets only as “ambitious shots,” sometimes to the media. Even after the England whitewash and the Aussie floor-mopping! No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the boundary rope in and doctor flat pitches to ensure lucrative contracts to players even if they are not the capable of facing the short ball? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.

It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If your feet don’t move, they will eventually stop making runs. It doesn’t matter how well ‘hand-eye coordinated’ you are.

These days, the most common question I get from juniors about cricket is, “How much money did we make off endorsements?” It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from their leaders about the way they should behave. Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the junior cricketer sitting quietly in the corner of the room hearing about “cross batted slogs,” “DLF Maximums” and “getting laid” doesn’t exactly turn into a model cricketer.

When I was a debutant analyst I didn’t know who an endorsement manager was, or how to play the reverse sweep. I was taught to be concerned with learning the ropes, finding out what a forward defense shot was, understanding patience, getting to know our strengths and what motivates us, learning how to define success and what we could do to help ourselves get there.

My proudest moments in life — the impossible turnaround in Kolkata, the dogged fight in Adelaide, the delightful double century in Rawalpindi — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. Team India today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.

I hope this can be a wake-up call to the board of cricket control in India. Make Test cricket the focal point of your business again. Without Test cricket you will not have a game. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt T20s, no matter how much money they make for the board. And get the Spirit of Cricket culture right again, so people want to play for the right reasons. People who care only about making money will not sustain this game — or the fandom of its spectators — for very much longer.

PS: Some people quit like that, making a lot of drama. Thankfully, our man was a class act. And he walked away with his head held high.