Sunday, December 27, 2009

Just a little something to break this blasted writer's block

Sunday morning. The missus has gone to the garden downstairs for a walk. I didn't go because I've got a cold. Nothing that a cetzin can't fix, but at 7 am the sneezes sound really loud. Loud enough to get me a reprieve.

Morning walks are very depressing for two reasons. One is the enthusiasm of virtually everyone there except you (in my case I secrely hope for a volcanic explosion or something) and the second is the fact that nearly everyone, despite evidently walking hard every day of their lives, is seriously fat.

So we have an exercise routine (walking in garden with great concentration so that you don't step into doggy do) which seems to have precious little in terms of desired effect (evidence - large number of seriously fat-assed people walking in garden). "Why bother?" is the question on my lips.  Unasked, of course, because when the missus is around, one does not ask such questions

We saw Avatar on Friday, the missus, the kids and I. In 3d, too. Everyone agreed it  was a superbly made film. The technology was simply awesome. The story was a brilliant metaphor about the senseless destruction of traditional habitats in the name of progress. A little heavy-handedly put across, perhaps, but then when you have important messages like this, you don't want to be too subtle.

I had a fundamental question myself. This pertains to the people inside the boxes, the guys who run the avatars with their mind control. What if they fart inside the box? But somethng told me it was not a good question to ask. Not philosophical enough. So I didn't ask it. Just listened to the missus and the boys discuss how awesome the movie was.

My older son gave the movie the ultimate compliment.

"Annie" he said, when I asked him if he had liked the movie, "It was awesome! The best movie I've ever seen!"

Then, reflecting on what he had said, added "It was better than 'Singh is King' ".

Now, when I press the "Publish" button and James Cameron reads it a few seconds later, a scream of joy will reverberate through the streets of Beverly Hills.

The younger son was equally agreed. "It was awesome!". He further expressed the hope that if they ever made it into a musical, they would have the good sense to call it "Avatar Sing"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Delhi trip, and how I survived it -

Hi everybody. This is Sheela Shenoy reporting from 37000 feet above sea level. My husband, the light of my life, the beacon of my existence, the polestar of my universe, the one and only Naren is flopped on the seat next to mine, giving his well known impression of an intermittently functioning motorboat, to my amusement and to the chagrin of the stout chap across the aisle who looks like an unusually cantankerous solicitor or accountant. Naren's snoring seems to be disturbing his perusal of some species of business newspaper. Ah well, into each life some rain  must fall.

We are on our way back from Delhi where we had been to attend the wedding of a very dear friend's niece. The groom too was known to us very well. It was an event we were rather looking forward too, and it didn't disappoint.

The bride was someone both of us have known since she was a child. She has- and has always had- one of the most dazzling smiles I've ever seen and is extremely smart without being nerdy.

Unlike my husband. He is, or can be on occasions, extremely geeky, without being in the least bit smart. This can be irritatingly impractical. He spent a half hour once at an airport explaining to a completely disinterested kid why the sum of the first n natural numbers is n into n plus one over two and all the while we were being paged for boarding, earning us dark stares from our co-passengers and the crew. And if the kid grows up into a dysfunctional adult with an irrational fear of bespectacled people, you know who's responsible.

Speaking about geekiness, I am reminded of our courtship days -we had the old fashioned arranged marriage- when I was extremely was anxious to know what kind of a dweeb I was marrying. My sister advised me to find out from conversations. Since I was in Mysore and Naren in Bombay, the only way this could happen was over the phone.

Those conversations did not go well, let me tell you. The first time we spoke over the phone, after the hellos and the how-are-your-parentses,  he explained to me why the square root of two is an irrational number. My first post-engagement phone conv and I get this!

The second time he told me what he thought about the planned economy - not much, apparently and I should care! - and the call after that was a detailed outline of Michael Porter's theory of Competition. When I tell you I went into this marriage in a state of despair, I'm sure you know exactly how I feel.

If Naren were ever captured by an Amazonian tribe and prepared for roasting on a spit, his escape plan would be to engage the headman in conversation and prove to him that the square root of two could not be expressed as a ratio of two integers. His reasoning being that the headman, upon seeing the proof, would immediately fall to his knees and the entire tribe would worship him as the god who did things to numbers. Which is why it is dangerous to marry engineers. But I'll leave that for another post.

Coming back to the topic at hand, viz. Delhi, I must confess I had a superb time. The weather was nice and chilled, if a little smoggy. A lot like Mysore in the winter, which made me nostalgic. To combat the blues that usually accompany nostalgia, I decided to squeeze in a session of retail therapy in which I managed to find some lovely footwear and shawls.

Naren is always cribbing about my alleged footwear obsession but he is easily silenced with a look. This time too, it was no different. One basilisk stare and he was following me like a lamb. And just to show him  that I'm not obsessed with footwear, I bought myself a shawl, a stole, two kurtis and two salwar suit materials. So there. But to his credit, he carried all the bags faithfully and without complaint. It might be that he loves me. Then again, it might be that I let him have beer with his lunch. The latter, I guess.

And now here's the pilot mumbling something over the speaker. Flying over Baroda, 35,000 feet and other unsupported observations. I've always thought a pilot's job stressful, flying a whacking great can through the air at 800 km per hour, wondering all the while if that little monkey of a ground engineer has tightened all the bolts.

Of course, supeerficially, pilots have a great time because there is virtually no way of verifying if any of what they say is actually true. Statements like "We are flying at 35,000 feet" are the safest because no one is carrying a measuring tape, and even if they are, definitely not that big. Some pilots get carried away and tell you that the temperature outside is -40 degrees knowing fully well that you can't open the window and check for yourself.

But all of this does not make up for the stress of being an airline pilot. Take landings, for instance. I can well imagine the scene in the cockpit when the plane lands. Especially the way the pilot applies the brakes when the plane touches down.

You know how it is. The plane touches down, bounces a couple of times and then -and here I'm relying on my skills of logical deduction- the pilot presses the brake pedal really hard, probably with both feet, his hands clutching the armrests of his seat, or the steering wheel, if a plane has one, his knuckles white with the strain, the co-pilot hunched over with his head between his knees,sobbing out a prayer, hoping against hope that the bloody thing will come to a halt. And when it finally does come to a halt, the pilot, with shivering hands, probably pulls out his tucked-in shirt, trying to cover the fact that he has peed in his pants. I'm not saying that is what happens, but I'm willing to bet this is almost exactly it, scene for scene. This is what is going to happen today as well. I hope they manage to make it stop.

Ah, they're announcing our landing. In Mumbai, this usually means an half hour of circling, but hopefully today we'll be luckier.

The Spice Jet stewardesses have the most amazing singsong way of reading out the flight announcements and the safety drill. I haven't heard anything quite like this, including the "eternal god" prayer my sons are forced to say everyday in school. I am especially impressed by the announcements in Hindi, which sound exactly like Queen Elizabth the Second would, if she were given a crash course in Hindi speaking. I wonder what prevents them from speaking like normal people.

Bye for now, folks. I think the pilot will be going into his brake routine anytime now. I could use the laughs

Cheers and bye for now

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My first massage and other things

Haha! Got your attention with the title, didn't I? No, serious, I had a massage yesterday. The first time ever in my uninteresting little life, if you don't count the ones the barber gives you after your haircut, which is to a real massage what Fardeen Khan is to Lawrence Olivier, as I will demonstrate in this post.

Well,  it happened this way.The missus was on her way to a spa for one of her beauty treatments which, I keep telling her, are completely superfluous for someone of her poise and elegance. Women are all alike, however. I'm sure Cleopatra did her eyebrows every week and Helen of Troy gave Paris hell over the state of her upper lip.

Anyway, I happened to be jobless at the given moment and she dragged me along  for chauffeuring purposes. I dutifully obeyed, of course, chauffeuring being one of my two natural talents (the other being my aptitude for meticulous and exhaustive research on distillery and brewery products). I was also smug in the knowledge that I had tucked away in the recesses of the car my laptop, and a newly acquired USB modem which allowed me internet access from virtually everywhere.

This time, however, the missus, with sharp change in policy (she usually lets me shuffle off to a book shop or a coffee place and potter around) dragged me into the spa with her. I should have suspected the worst but like a doofus, I gambolled alongside, the picture of innocence, even when we reached an imposing desk and an even more imposing woman. Not for long, though. The missus' opening words made my blood freeze.

"Hi. What treatment would you suggest for his face?", asked the missus, pointing to Exhibit A, viz. my mug.

The amazon appeared to consider this question seriously, though I'm sure she would have said something like "In my opinion, a thick veil would be best" had she been a completely honest person like Abraham Lincoln. Fortunately, she was not.

"How about a rejuvenating herbal facial?" she asked

"Will it be good for the bags under his eyes?" asked the missus

"Oh, of course!" lied the amazon, and then proceeded to deliver a fake scientific sermon on the goodness of honey and cucumber, the free radicals therein, and god knows what else - oyster sauce and tiramisu entered into the equation at one point - that went into the facepack she was going to put on my dial.

My opinion was not sought, of course, and anyway, there was no point in arguing with someone who had biceps like that. "I would also recommend a rejuvenating herbal massage", she added. She evidently considered me to be something one would find in a morgue, so keen was she on having me rejuvenated.

And so I was handed over to a mild looking middle aged man, which i confess was a relief because for a wild moment, I thought the amazon would be doing the needful.

The masseur put me face down on what looked like an operating table and proceeded to rub some nice smelling oil on my back. He spent the next five minutes on trying to see if he could twist any of my limbs off, but luckily, he wasn't successful. After that, however, he decided on a policy of non-violence and gently rubbed my back in a most soothing fashion. Somewhere along the way, I must have fallen asleep, because I could feel someone shaking me by the shoulder and mumbling something about facials.

Thus ended my first massage. It is a superb feeling, very relaxing and soporific, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who has the time, the inclination and a thousand spare rupees he is not planning to spend on Apple products.

The facial, which followed, involved a great deal of fuss of which I could understand nothing, because the chap had firmly placed two large pieces of cucumber on my eyes. Soothing, perhaps, but definitely opaque. He was making funny faces at me for all I knew. I could deduce, from circumstantial evidence, that he was putting stuff on  my face, rubbing it a bit, then wiping it off before trying it anew. After an hour of this, he proudly showed me a mirror, which very honestly told me that I still looked the same jerk I looked before he did the fancy moves.

Somehow, I felt  relieved.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Royal Mysore Walks

I've had a strange fascination for Mysore. The missus is from there and in the seventeen (!) years that we have been married my fascination (for Mysore and the missus) has only grown.

"The mystique of a regal past" is what I tell people when they ask me what it is that fascinates me about Mysore.

"Nonsense", the missus will promptly add, if she's around. "He goes around the place eating like there's no tomorrow."

"But he's so knowledgeable about Mysore" my sister gallantly defended me.

"Hmpfh!" hmpfhed the missus. "Other than the food joints, what he knows about Mysore can be easily written in block letters on the back of a bus ticket. And", she added, with another hmpfh, "with space left for what he feels about its history".

Strong words! And words that stung. Any man of sensibility would be wounded if it were insinuated that he was a boor. And even though I'm not a man of sensibility, I was wounded. This had to be remedied! I had to show the missus that I could think of things other than food.

And in the process of showing the world, and the missus that I was a man with as much depth in my character as in my alimentary canal, I found myself bleary eyed at 6.30 am of a Thursday morning outside the Town Hall of Mysore. My head throbbed a bit from the GlenKinchie on ice - must have been the ice - that my charming brother in law Mahesh had lavished on me the previous evening.

But I'm getting all muddled up as usual, in my story telling. Old failing. If I had to write someone's biography I would probably start with the funeral.

So, it happened this way.

I had been in touch with Vinay, a young engineer and former software geek, over twitter. He seemed very knowledgeable about Mysore and a quick look at his bio revealed that he ran a company called The Royal Mysore Walks.n Walking tours, I surmised, for I am very quick on the uptake, and sought to verify my deduction when I landed up in Mysore.

Chatting over coffee, I liked him instantly. "Not much of a company, sir" he laughed "just a startup" but his enthusiasm was unmistakable.

It turned out that he'd take groups of people on walking tours of Mysore, during which he would present a view of Mysore's past through little bits of trivia, accounts of history and, as I found out, many interesting tales with buildings and monuments as props for those tales.

Sounded interesting. I had only the morning to spare since the rest of the day was tied up with uncle-and-aunty visiting stuff, but Vinay said the morning is usually best, because it's not too crowded and the weather is extremely pleasant.

With my customary insightful thinking, I spotted the flaw in the plan. "Wait!" I said, "It involves waking up at 6 am"

No one seemed to be listening however, and Mahesh hoiked me out of bed at the appointed hour and frog-marched me to the Town Hall, Mysore. We met VInay there, fresh as a daisy and soon, the bracing morning air and Vinay's cheery demeanour made me feel a lot better. We started off with a little story about the Diwans of Mysore, which was round one to Vinay because I had always thought the Diwans of Mysore were things you could lie down on. (They are not. They are rulers and no, not the kind you draw straight lines with)

As the walk unfolded, I got more and more into the thing and soon, I forgot I was supposed to have a hangover.
Vinay's presentation skills exceeded all expectations. I'm not going to go list out all the trivia here - you should take the walk yourself-  but the walk was probably the most delightful two hours I have spent in a long time, including intimate tete-a-tetes with rare single malt whiskey.

Vinay's style was very interactive and he has a gentle sense of humor that makes the whole thing very enjoyable. He's a trivia buff - "Which is why I thought about this walk in the first place", he had told me - and he had quite a collection of anecdotes and amusing facts

For instance, in addition to being the hometown of one of the most beautiful, elegant, charming, witty and extremely slim women in the world such as you know who, it was the first in Asia to generate electricity.  It was also one of the largest buyer of Rolls Royce cars and has one of the largest Maharajas,  volumetrically speaking (though they say he's dieting)

Do go for this walk if you happen to be in Mysore. At Rs. 495/- head, I think it's a steal. I've been recommending it to everyone I meet. And Vinay is such a great guy to know!

Vinay's window to the world

Phone 91-9632044188