Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I'm going the Dostoevsky way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Mom, can I be a nail polish designer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Learning Management Skills from Dogs

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

Back to normal

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 9, 2007

Still missing 'em - II

This happened last early last year.

This is our own episode of ER.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six sixteen:- Sheela arrives and confirms my diagnosis.

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

Six nineteen:- He confesses.

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

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

And the day wears on.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Still missing 'em

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Distinct sounds of a father asphyxiating himself.

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

We have a haircut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Market's on a roll!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece of buffoonery brought harsh rebuke.

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

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

"Fool!", observed Hasmukhbhai.

"And what do THEY make?" I asked.

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

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

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