Friday, November 28, 2008

There they go again, the angry citizens

If I hear the phrase 'intelligence failure' again, I'm going to scream. Not that anyone cares, but still.

You morons, obviously it is an intelligence failure. If it were not, it would be collusion, wouldn't it, knowing that terrorists are coming and doing nothing about it?

It's called Bayesian probability.

Given that a terror attack has happened, what is the probability that the security forces did not know about it in sufficient detail? One.

In other news, this jerk, a film maker named Rahul Dholakia is angry because when he drives from Lokhandwala to film city, he can't see a single armed policeman. Heard that, guys? Out of the Taj, please. Man the road to Film city. Rahul is VERY upset.

And more jerks like that abound, making my blood pressure go high. None of these idiots have any pertinent suggestions.

Like administrative reforms, giving more independence to the police, liberating them from the clutches of elected representatives.

A wage structure that gives policemen and army personnel some compensation for hardships faced, as opposed to IAS officers, say, in the animal husbandry department.

Allowing control of purchase of hardware to go from the Deputy Director of Stores, or Additional Comptroller General in charge of staple pins, X-ray machines, 90 mm Howitzers and Other Security Items, who would probably buy cast iron bullet proof vests, to the police themselves who might have a vested interest in buying something which allows a little mobility as well.

Oh no. We have the anger brigade still. And today, Alyque Padamsee wants to know why we can't use sleeping gas, instead of tear gas. Gee! Didn't know he had a MD in Anaesthesia.

UPDATE: Just read this superb post, an insider view on a police officer's life. This is the way things are, in our country. Needs to be changed.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Dear Mumbai Police and NSG

I know you guys are busy right now with the terrorists but I HAVE to draw this to your attention. I have just been watching a program on the Times Now channel where four people namely Alyque Padamsee, Farooq Sheikh, Shefali Shah and one guy named Sohail, I think were discussing the situation with the anchor, a bespectacled gawd-help-us whose name I could not catch.

These four people are ANGRY. Not with the terrorists, who they feel are only misguided souls doing what they've been told, and doing it rather well, thank you very much, but with YOU.

Yes, they feel that you don't know what you are doing.

How can you take SO MUCH TIME? snarls Shefali.

What EXACTLY have you been upto during the last 20 hours? snarls Sohail, who also wants to know why the Mumbai Police had to wait 8 hours before deciding to call for Army assistance. He feels, and who is to fault his crystal clear logic, that the Army should be called for any situation including a bad traffic day.

Farooq Shaikh wishes you people were atleast half as well prepared as the terrorists, calling your performance amateurish.

And Alyque Padamsee just ranted something in an impeccable accent. Probably doesn't like the way you people dress.

All four also blamed you for allowing this kind of thing to happen. Don't you people KNOW, they ask, that you are not supposed to let terrorists fire at people?

Shefali also expressed disgust at the cursory way her car is checked when she frequently goes to five star hotels. Just a mirror under the car and open the boot. What if she's carrying AK47's on the back seat? It's YOUR fault, she insinuates. You don't teach the five star hotel security ANYTHING!

So people, brave and fearless though you might be, and though all of you have fearlessly jumped into battle with opponents you know next to nothing about, other than that they are armed to the teeth with high explosives, we feel you need some expert coaching.

Why don't you take these four wonderful people and shove them into the corridor in the Taj or the Oberoi? I'm sure you would learn a lot!

I'm safe, though that's more than I can say for 100 others

Ram, Lakshmi, Nandini, thanks for asking. Yes all of us are safe. We had no clue. Sheela and I went for a movie last night (Dasvidania), which was lovely by the way and had me weeping all through the second half, while some of my friends went nuts trying to call me. Came back at midnight to find total madness had erupted in the city.

It is terrible, going by what we're seeing on the channels. There is no firm information. People are scared of going out of the house. Schools have been closed. I'm sure there will be no offices working today. Nothing, NOTHING, has ever happened on this scale here.

However, I would imagine that things are pretty much under control. The army, navy and police is out there in numbers, and the terrorists don't seem to have much of a plan other than spraying AK47 gunfire around. They are thus closely confined, and though some of them have hostages, I don't think any of them is going go get out alive. Hopefully, there will not be much collateral damage, especially to the hostages. Movement around the city is severely restricted, and is likely to be so for a few days. Flights are taking off (I can see that from my house), and the airport seems to be normal (though there was a large blast last night in its vicinity)

If you have relatives in Mumbai, they are probably safe, because the army and police have spread out around the city. Let's hope this ends with the minimum possible damage to life and limb. Already 11 policemen and 100 others are reported to have been killed.

This is the handiwork of a group called the Deccan Mujahiddeen, who are probably doing this to promote peace on the planet, or to avenge the Danish Cartoons, or the occupation of the Gaza Strip.

Really, this is the limit!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Now SHE'S got a sore throat!

Yes, you read them headlines right! Mrs. Shenoy, lecturer par excellence on the evils of drinking beer and the connection thereof to dangerous infections of the larynx, pharynx and other members of the rynx family, is down with a sore throat!

Medical professionals are scratching their heads and trying their best to come up with a plausible theory as to how this might have happened.

A certain blogger with journalistic tendencies and closely related to her by marriage, is facing the brunt of the blame for this turn of events. "She must have gotten it from you" said her physician, Dr. Shenoy, who generally says things just to make his patients feel better.

This blogger is hotly contesting the issue, however. In the past week, he has been only spoken to. Always a man of very few words, he has been even quieter these past few troubled days, what with tonsils the size and appearance of tomatoes, compounded with the economic situation in the country that even the redoubtable Mr. Chidambaram seems nervous about.

In short, his trap has been shut so tight, no germs could have possibly escaped from it.

Thus he can only conclude that Mrs. S has been hitting the bar on the sly, as per her own theories. Empirical evidence is not considerable, true, but there are three fewer cans in the fridge than there were, before this happened.

One wonders!

Friday, November 21, 2008

On sore throats and other big crises in my life

After the big Saturday dinner, where all of us, especially those of us connected with the banking or the automotive sectors, manfully refrained from jumping off the balcony, I awoke on Sunday with a slight hangover.

As is usual when I complain about hangovers, I am treated to a little discourse on the evils of drinking and how abstinence is the best policy for middle aged people with high triglycerides and an aversion to exercise.

Actually, I think I'm discourse resistant, just like those jolly old germs who turn penicillin resistant, and the old helpmeet had better think of a multi-pronged course of treatment, but this time, one really did feel under the weather. In addition to a hangover, I have had a sore throat.

Not since my childhood have my tonsils really mutinied in this fashion. It is agony, I tell you. It is five days now and I'm still eating semiliquid gruel.

My dad, who is also my doctor, has put me on antibiotics strong enough to wipe out the entire microbe population this hemisphere but the little mites are hanging on, determined to fight every inch. He is optimistic, though, and tells me that it's much better now. It still feels like it has been treated with rather rough hands and lots of sandpaper.

Perhaps I had better give up drinking after all. .... Sob..!

An unfortunate consequence of all this is that I am unable to talk much. It hurts like the blazes. And being a garrulous kind of bloke, whose existential principle is "I yak therefore I am", I feel a bit like the naval ships hanging around mutely around the Gulf of Aden while the Somalian pirates hijack all those ships, because they're not allowed to chase them and shoot them down.

Anyway, all this "moun" is forcing me to use the substantially rusty equipment in my cranial cavity to think. And it is not thinking pleasant thoughts. The economy scares me. Especially the prophets of extrapolation. You know the guys. When oil was $70 a barrel, a prophet said it would cross $100. It did, and got the said prophet a lot of headlines. Then all prophets jumped on to the band wagon and decided to outcry one another, resulting in predictions of $200. And now that it has taken a U turn and is heading resolutely south, the same guys now feel that it will go down to $45, $40, $35, $30 and so on, till very soon, Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members will be paying people to lift oil from their countries. Same with real estate prices, the stock index and all commodities.

In all this gloom there has been one bright ray, courtesy a very witty friend. We were discussing Omar Khayyam the other day and since both of us are rather fond of the chap, were quoting rubaiyat at each other, he more than me because of my @#$%^ tonsils. My favorite one is

A book of verse, beneath the bough
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness
O Wilderness were Paradise enow

Or words to that effect. Well my friend, call him X, asked me to name one thing that connects "A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou". I racked my brains, and gave up. His answer? "Yeast"! Cracked me up, I tell you!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Saturday Night Dinner, and the proceedings thereof

As a responsible diaryist, I know I should be recording events for posterity that will throw light on cultural thought, intellectual discourse and the mindset of the people who make up this great country. I went to a dinner party instead.

It was hosted by two very dear friends, both bankers and most of the other invitees were bankers too. There were a few exceptions such as me (formerly, automotive industry. Now, decorative piece) and some from the apparel industry.

Firstly, everyone not connected with the banking industry was keeping a keen eye on those connected with it, because there was an open balcony and the temptation to jump off it must have been strong. But since it was only about 15 feet to the ground, the wily bankers refrained from jumping, knowing that they would only injure themselves. "Nothing less than a hundred feet will do" was the refrain heard. I took my cue from this because, since I am connected with the automotive industry (I supply parts to it) jumping off the balcony is very much part of my general strategy.

But truth be told, I'm too much of a coward. I hate jumping off things or drowning myself (our hosts' flat overlooked the sea). My idea of killing myself, if ever the need should arise, would be to eat Shankar's cheese sandwich morning noon and night. The idea of course is that in about thirty days of this, one would die of a heart attack.

But let me not depress you with these morbid thoughts. And anyway, no one jumped or drowned (the beach was too far away and moreover it was low tide) and in the end, we had a nice time.

My host had asked me to make a risotto, a skill I acquired recently when experimenting with carbohydrates and other banned substances (such as cheese and butter). With my usual nose for science, I immediately discovered

The Laws of Risotto Making

First Law: The taste of the Risotto is directly proportional to the cheese you put in it

Second Law: The taste of the Risotto is directly proportional to the butter you put in it

Third Law: The taste of the Risotto is directly proportional to the fanciness of the name you give it.

Thus I created, with the active assistance of my host's cook, Risotto Con Funghi, which is Italian for "Rice dish which cheats fungus".

The modus operandi was simple. I would tell the cook to chop onions and report, in which meantime I'd go have some beer. When he reported that the said task was done, I'd tell him to chop the garlic and report, in which meantime I'd go have some more beer and so on.

One of my apparel business friend's wife told me to make the bankers eat first, the idea being that if they keel over(an idea she seemed to have formed watching me have the beer while cooking), the rest of us would stay away from it. Her logic, of course, was that bankers would be grateful for being sent to the Great Mortgage House in the sky while the rest of us still had things to look forward to.

Nothing like that happened, of course. The Risotto turned out great, though the rest of the food was better, but since I had followed the Laws of Risotto Making, everyone loved it.

By this time, I spied some Laphrohaig, a nice single malt whisky from the Islay area of Scotland, sitting forlorn and unloved on my host's shelf. Never one to tolerate insult to Scotland, I sprang towards it and ended up getting a mite polluted. The rest is a bit hazy. Sheela drove back, taking care to drive around such vehicles as crossed her path than through them, and consequently I am alive to tell this tale.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Kolkata - The Land of the Polite

For a chap born and sharpened on the streets of Mumbai, there is nothing so asphyxiating as a richly deserved cussword un-uttered. It sort of chokes the epiglottis, which is a big word I have used to display my erudition. (Note: Naren is erudite)

No, I haven't been having a couple, as will become clear when you let me amplify my meaning. In Mumbai, if one is driving in one's lane and another car decides to unexpectedly cross one, leading one to brake sharply and increase one's blood pressure a few notches, one immediately does one or all of the following
a)show the finger
b)tell the driver of the other car that his father was an ass, or pig, or both
c)further inform the said driver of your intention of tearing out his intestines.

This is a legal requirement for citizenship here. The recipient of the abuse, if he is indeed guilty, accepts it gracefully as one would accept a good morning from an old friend, with a smile and a nod if you know what I mean, and pushes off to pursue his livelihood. Not so in Kolkata.

We sat in an Ambassador taxi dating back to Otto or Daimler, as was its driver. The brakes were operated more by faith and God's will than hydraulics. Every time the brakees were pressed, the car would sing a sort of aria and screech to a halt with a demure little skid.

This wasn't alarming when we were moving in slow traffic but presently Old Father Abraham, our driver, hit an open stretch and started clipping nicely. And no sooner had the needle crossed the 60 mark, the devil in the form of another Ambassador taxi zipped across our path.

For one microsecond, I really thought I had bought it and made the squealing pig sound I normally make when I'm dying. Miraculously, the impact did not happen and when I slowly opened an eye, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself still among the living.

And I looked towards the Ancient Mariner, hoping to hear something wonderfully vitriolic, something I could pass on to my progeny and use against offending auto drivers when they crossed me. And what did old Greybeard come up with? You're not going to believe this. His complete response was

"Kaisa chalate hain yeh log".

How these people drive! That was all this superman could come up with. What a guy! He'd make Nelson Mandela look like a football hooligan. But then, that's how most old Kolkatans are, I am told. Gracious, well mannered and mildly spoken. Even when they're burning a tram, as they frequently do, they will remember their p's and q's. Love this place!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Kolkata and its part in my downfall

From Bhubaneswar it is an eight hour overnight train ride to Kolkata. It is also the smelliest train journey in India. According to the ticket collector, to whom I put the question, the train is plastered with poop for luck and to keep the Trinamool Congress away. Among my personal effects was a bottle of a Calvin Klein perfume called 'Be' which by the way must be one of the daftest product names of the century. Unless of course they meant "Bee" and misspelt it (perfume specialists tend to misspell words like "bee" - abilities problem). Anyway, my kids remembered I was carrying this, made me dig it out of my suitcase and sprayed it liberally over themselves, including on their hair. Apart from this, it was a great journey. One more like this and Sheela will divorce me for sure.

Howrah railway station was a lot better than expected. There were the usual smooth-operator cabbies, but a life time in Mumbai hones one's instinct. Like the sensex, the main contenders' asking price went down from 500 rupees to 100 in 20 seconds.

We were booked into a wonderful, musty, roomy, laid back club named the Calcutta Swimming Club on Babughat, just next door to the Eden Gardens Cricket stadium. After a well deserved steaming hot bath, leading to the demise of several billion assorted bacteria and other little creatures, we decided to step out and have a dekko at the old metrop.

And as we sauntered around, I saw what splendid, operatic names Kolkatans have.We had, and I'm going by the road names and shop signs, Obonindra, Biplab, Charuchandra, Brojen, Bibhudendra..... the list runneth longer. My usual sharp journalistic sense was aroused and I tried my best to find out why they have such lovely names here, where Mumbai sticks to Suresh-Ramesh-Ganesh-Dinesh-Paresh and, in extreme cases, Haresh. I didn't have much luck, alas. The intellectuals of Kolkata keep these things very confidential. But I have a theory now, based on dark whisperings.... Here it is.


If you name your son Suresh or Ramesh here, they take him away from you plus give you fifty lashes on the old spot. And if you have twins and happen to name them Suresh AND Ramesh, you get a choice between the hangman's noose and the firing squad. This is why people named Rituparno exist.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Puri, Konark and Sex

Ah! Got your attention, didn't I? Knew it. The words "Puri" and "Konark" manage to catch the attention of 98% of adults (the word "sex" accounts for the balance 2%, lowlives and crass hedonists, not people like yourself of course). But I digress. I am writing a serious travelogue, intended to inform and illuminate, not a paper on the ha ha behavioral sciences. Now where was I? Yes, Puri. And Konark. And of course, sex.

Well, Puri has a long and illustrious history, available in many books and over the internet, which the discerning reader will google for himself or herself rather than be misinformed by me.

Basically it has a big temple, the Jagannath temple, and a big beach. It was to the former that we repaired, with a view to getting religious merit.

They told me that the place was so holy that if you ate prasadam regurgitated by a dog you would achieve instant nirvana. However, none of us had the stomach for this and moreover, I couldn't seem to see any dogs around, so we contented ourselves with a darshan.

This proved to be a complicated matter, with many pundits offering their services. They are called "pandas" here, but they aren't really an endangered species at all, lemme tell you. The WWF is pulling a fast one on us. And far from being shy and retiring as alleged by the WWF, these critters were pushier than life insurance salesmen with a target. Worst of all, they seem singularly disinterested in arranging a meeting with the lord. All that they seem to want is for us to buy some prasadam, which they call bhog.

Being a hard-nosed, go-getter Mumbaiite, I asked my personal panda, who had been clinging to me like a little koala bear, if the 2000 rupees that he wanted me to spend on the bhog would get me into the inner sanctum of Lord Jagannath. He tried to change the topic, but on repeated questioning, it transpired that the answer was a 'no'. I flung him from me and repaired to a ticket office where, for the princely sum of Rs. 25, you could have a face to face with the big guy.

Well, the family was very pleased indeed. I am not much of a lad for the religious stuff and only my cowardly character prevents me from denouncing religion altogether. I mean, imagine if you went around spewing fire and brimstone about how there is no god and it turns out, after you've passed the veil, that there not only is one, he is as vindictive as promised. Silly chump you would look, trying to explain that it was all said in a light vein, that you didn't mean a word of it, and that one shouldn't take it personal. So, just to cover myself, I go along with all the ritualistic stuff. Anyway, we had a great darshan in the end and the idols were most impressive.

The major business for the day concluded, we pushed off in search of a place where beer would be available. We found just what the doctor ordered in the form of a well appointed hotel, the Mayfair, right on the beach, where possibly owing to a cylonic depression in the atmosphere, beer from two bottles disappeared mysteriously right under my eyes. I'm philosophical, if anything. Time to move, I yoicked to the brood, got into the cab, and told him to take us to Konark.

Konark! One of the most impressive things I've seen in a long while! Sometime in the 13th century, one of the kings there decided to get some action going and had this really enormous chariot shaped temple built. Sadly, it was never inaugurated. The engineering and architecture is most awe inspiring, though. You have to see it in person. Pictures do no justice to it at all.

And now, the thing that two percent of my audience have been waiting for! SEX!!!!

We had hired a guide for our Konark tour, a young and enthusiatic man who multitasked his mouth - chewing paan, spitting and speaking - who got it into his head that I was some kind of sex maniac. Konark temple is full of friezes and panels depicting people engaging in all kinds of sex. Our guide would catch me by the elbow and take me to the side, explaining in great detail what the folk in the sculpture were upto, resulting in me blushing considerably and the wife and kids giggling away at my discomfiture. No amount of protestation could convince my multi-tasking friend that I considered the sacred topic of sex private and out of bounds for public discussion.

Tomorrow we will discuss the great megapolis of Kolkata and why people have names like Phaneendra and Rithwik instead of the Ajaj-Vijay-Suresh-Ramesh standard in Mumbai. Class dismissed.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


My sincere apologies for being AWOL for such a long time. Not that anyone really missed me, I daresay. Obama, for instance, seems to have done pretty well without my presence. A word of explanation, nevertheless. I was hauled away to the eastern parts of the country (Bhubaneswar, Puri, Kolkata and Sikkim) more or less at gun point. The missus can be very stubborn in certain respects. She made me a deal, namely, that in return for not touching a computer or accessing the internet in any way for two weeks, she would leave my kneecaps unbroken. Ha ha. I am only joking. She did not say that. She only said that people who disobey her often find their facial features rearranged.

Going on vacation is always a chaotic thing with me. Last minute meetings, mail to send, forms to fill, cheques to deposit. The necessary evils of city life. Sheela finds all this very irritating. "You never plan anything. All your stuff is crisis management." Accurrate, but not the nicest thing to hear when you're trying to stave off a global crisis. Anyway, I managed to shove everything away just in time, saving my sanity and probably my marriage.

Beside the point, of course, but have to mention this. We were flying Kingfisher Airlines and they really do pamper you. The stewardesses are extremely buxom in relation to their uniforms, giving the impression that they are tucked into their costumes with some kind of modified shoe horn. At one point in the proceedings, Dr. Vijay Mallya himself comes up on screen and tells you he has selected the staff personally. You betcher. But I’m rambling.

Orissa is a lovely place. Bhubaneshwar, the capital, is very laid back. It had, at least when I was there, lovely weather.
Sheela of course wanted to go shopping. Orissa is very famous for its saris. We saw and bought something called Sambalpuri and Vichitrapuri and a couple of other kinds I can't remember the names of. Emboldened by the briskness of business, the sales guy showed us something in an electric blue, with lots of embroidery.
“What is this?”, asked Sheela.
”Pure Crap, madam”, said the honest chap, though I couldn’t see how such candor could be good for business. I said so to Sheela.
“He means 'crepe', idiot!” she hissed, and continued examining the sari.

Aware that there were no more brownie points to be won by hanging around, I shuffled off to another section of the shop where an earnest looking chap thrust all kinds of fabric into my face. He evidently considered me a promising sales prospect. Had enough, I thought. Turning 180 degrees smartly on my heel, I legged it out of the place. Rude, of course, but under the circumstances, unavoidable.

Young Gautham was outside the shop pigging out on some street food. I grabbed as much of it as I could, disregarding the lad’s protests, and shuffled off towards Vyaas who had a nice cold can of Coke, and hadn’t seen me coming.


Back into the car. Our driver had an interesting technique of driving. He would creep silently towards some unsuspecting cyclist or scooter rider and when he was like ten millimeters away, honk loudly. The victim would jump with a little yelp and race away for life, inducing great mirth in our charioteer.
Apart from that, Bhubaneswar had little to amuse or instruct. The food was excellent, especially sea food and the beer wasn’t too bad either.

The next morning we visited the pilgrimage town of Puri. Gautham piped up.

"Annie, annie."


"Know what a good name would be for a barber shop here?"

"What?" Me, the sucker.

"Shave Puri."

That boy skates on thin ice, I tell you.

More in due course.