Thursday, December 22, 2011

My views on the Lokpal bill and the UID project

Something tells me I really shouldn't be writing posts like this one - what is about to follow is my 'critique' of the Lokpal movement - because I am a moron, untutored in the niceties of governance and administration, but I'm quite jobless at the moment and it's either write this post or die of boredom. Plus, rightly or wrongly, I feel strongly about this.

I'll make my point in a slightly roundabout way, with an anecdote.

Many years ago, I had a customer, for whom I made press tools, who was a supplier of sheet metal components to an appliances manufacturer.

This manufacturer had product lines which included televisions, refrigerators, washing machines and air-conditioners.

My customer, a small one-man-show, used to supply components to both the washing machine plant and the air conditioner plant.

One day, he was raided by the Preventive Department of the  Central Excise Collectorate who accused him of mis-labeling air-conditioner parts as washing-machine parts.

He protested. He showed them purchase orders from the customer, showing part numbers, produced drawings corresponding to those part numbers which clearly mentioned the model of the washing machine the parts were going into, and even correspondence about them.

The Preventive Department - scary looking gents they were - menacingly told him to save his breath.

"This does not mean anything, these drawings and purchase orders" their superintendent told him. "It's probably fabricated in order to evade duty"

After an hour or two - I was there, for moral support - the officials, who were sitting at my customer's table while all of us were standing around, terrified, summoned him into the cabin.

I went along, because this chap was white as a sheet and I was worried he might collapse.

The superintendent grimly told us that the duty rate differential was 70 percent and going by the production figures, and assuming this had been going on since the factory started, he would raise a duty demand of ten lakh rupees, with a like amount as penalty, and interest thereon.

"Thirty, thirty five lakhs it could be. You'll have to pay half the demand and then fight the case" he said.

My customer went limp and even more white. I propped him up, wondering whether to ask the chaps for a seat. They showed no inclination.

Then the inspector, the superintendent's subordinate, put a friendly arm around my customer and took us both outside the room.

"Look, the sahib is not a bad person. I'll talk to him. We'll discuss and come to a reasonable understanding"

The cookie crumbled, for me at least, though my customer still looked like a dying duck.

We finally settled at a very reasonable payment of one lakh rupees, with a monthly honorarium of five thousand rupees, to prevent the preventive department from replaying this scene.

I remember my customer weeping bitterly after this episode. Huge racking sobs. "What wrong have I done?" and "Why me?" were the major themes of his anguish.

And the very next year, a chap named Manmohan Singh - I think it's the same guy who's PM now, though I wouldn't swear on it - as finance minister, rationalized duty rates for excise. Many things, including washing machine parts and airconditioner parts, ended up having same or nearly the same rates of duty.

He also made rules preventing random raids by preventive departments unless there was probable cause, backed up by some preliminary investigation and a sanction from a senior officer.

And my customer stopped paying his honorarium to the excise department.

This, in my humble opinion, is what needs to be done to curb corruption. Simplification of administrative procedure, transparency and accountability. The Lokpal bill is just going to put another layer of vultures on top of the existing ones. The existing ones feed on the corpse of the nation. The Lokpal will feed on what it can snatch from the existing vultures.

One of the things that could possibly have gone a long way towards curbing corruption, the UID Bill, has been quietly killed, unnoticed by the fierce watchdog  that is Team Anna.

The UID bill was clever. It merely sought to record biometric data of individuals. That was it. Just record the biometric data, tag the individual, and make the data available nationwide.

The great P Chidambaram, among others, realized that this data could someday attach itself to bank accounts, propery records, financial transactions and overseas travel.

Suddenly, there would be no place to hide when an investigation happened. At the press of a key, everything would come gushing out. Your accounts, your lockers, your lands, your flats, your shareholdings in companies, everything.

They were horrified. And they dug out a whole bunch of very technical reasons why the project had to be abandoned. (here's an article about those reasons )

The arguments are essentially that UID will violate privacy, that the project is not technically feasible, that it is not financially feasible and that it wasn't approved by the Parliament.

Violate privacy? Well, all they've recorded is my name and address along with my photograph, fingerprint and retina scan.

Technically unfeasible? It seems that in a large population like ours, there are likely to be people who have the same biometrics. Pshaw!

Financially unfeasible? Costs some 1500 cr, it seems. Chicken feed compared to the 6,00,000 crores or whatever we're cheerfully planning to  bust up over the food security bill, no? Or the 1,00,000 cr oil deficit.

No, the harder I think about it the more it seems likely that the powers that be have figured out that the UID is going to make their lives tough and have very neatly pushed it out of their way for several years atleast.

My apologies once again for inflicting all this half-baked reasoning on you, especially if you happen to disagree with it. One of those days when I'm feeling very morose.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The making of the Kolaveri song (The Kolaveri Gumbal version)

You must have heard the Kolaveri song. Here it is, if you haven't. It's in Tamil. I don't speak it, but it isn't hard to understand what the song is about. The song has gone viral. I liked it almost instantly.

If I were a music critic, I would have launched into a long explanation about how the freshness of the concept and honesty of the lyrics were juxtaposed with the simplicity of the sound track and so on but I'm not. Anyway, I think it is the butler-english-ness of the lyrics that got me. Totally loved it!

And, I found out on twitter, so did most of my friends.

"Great minds think alike", I told the missus.

"Hmm" said the missus, unconvinced.

She has a generally low opinion of whatever I like, initially atleast. While I concede that my choice in clothes is perhaps not the finest in the land (there was some funny business recently about a 'wine colored' jacket I had been sold by a slick salesman which, in the opinion of the missus, is a shade of crimson that even the great Govinda must have refused to wear, which is why, she says, it was on the market in the first place, but I digress) or that my culinary preferences tend to be skewed towards the un-classsy but I rather pride myself on musical ability.

I ignored her lack of enthusiasm in my usual dignified way and repaired towards the home of Mohan and Girija, where we, along with Ramaa, Mahesh and Rahul, were planning to have a dignified discussion about the nuances of melody in Indian music.

Except that we didn't.

As we reclined on the sofa with our wine (most of us) or fresh water (Ramaa), as the case might be, the topic of discussion was the kolaveri song linked to above. Rahul and Mohan had put together a Carnaticised version (this) of the thing, but the lack of time ("we had about 5 minutes to spare, da" Rahul explained) had prevented them from according to the project the dignity it merited. They were sad.

"The euro is melting. We can take that. Evil forces are threatening to steal Pakistan's nukes and use them against civilians. We can suffer that. But to leave the Carnaticisation of this great song unfinished! Posterity will not forgive us" Mohan articulated.

We agreed solemnly. Our little company of thinkers was enriched by the induction of a new member M, formerly of Madras but now of Mumbai.

"Something has to be done!" said Mahesh, and we all sank in thought. All of us, that is, except Rahul and M who realized that they used to live on the same street in Madras and knew virtually everyone else who lived there, except each other, and spent a few minutes marveling at what a small world it was.

But soon, they too were deep in contemplation.

Something had to be done.


That something turned out to be the Raga Shubha Pantuvarali which is pretty much like the Hindustani raga Todi. Mohan sang a small piece in it and, emboldened by the fact that I was the only one there who knew any hindustani music, I weighed in with some Miyan Ki Todi.

Rahul and Ramaa pitched in and soon, the skeleton of the melody was established. M, who too is a trained Carnatic musician, pointed out improvements. Rahul played the thing out on the violin. Mohan and Ramaa were busy arranging the talam. Mahesh was planning out the rap part of the song.

And I? I was busy agreeing with everybody. I'm a world class agreer, with decades of practice at agreeing with everyone and everything.

My old uncle had advised me, when I got married, that just as a good cricketer gets in line with the delivery and keeps a straight backlift the moment the ball leaves the bowler's hand, so should a married man agree the moment the argument leaves the wife's lips. It's a matter of technique. With his, the cricketer is able to keep his wicket intact. And with his, the husband his peace. And what am I rambling about here? Sorry. I'll get on with the story.

As I was saying, I agreed with everyone, providing them with the critical reassurance that artists need to create something special and soon, this masterpiece, was born. (My voice can be heard in the fourth 'kolaveri' of the first verse. The one which sounds like Bhimsen Joshi's)

When we replayed the thing, we knew we had created something special.

"Hmm" I said, contemplatively, and the rest of the company echoed "Hmm" in agreement.

"What is the procedure to apply for a Grammy?" asked Mahesh, echoing the thought in everyone's mind

I realised, with a twinge of nostalgia that in the old days, if Grammies were under Indian Government management, we would easily have won one by the simple expedient of locating a friend who knew the Director General of the Department of Grammies, getting him to create a separate category for "Kolaveri songs" and prevailing on him to award the grammy to us but in this day and age, things are not as simple.

But I'm preparing my speech, just in case.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A very p j

The setting rays of the sun caressed the Gulmohars outside our living room on their way into it, bouncing off the carnations in the vase, off the chinese candle stand, off the Laughing Buddha which, the missus never tired of reminding me, had once been mistaken for a likeness of me by my elderly aunt, and off the tall glass full of chilled beer that had manifested itself taking advantage of the missus' absence, she having gone to the spa for a beauty treatment.

The boys were supposed to study for their upcoming exams.

"Make sure they don't watch TV and all" the missus had instructed me before she left.

The lads, of course, switched on the thing the moment they heard her drive off.

"Boys, you are going to get me into serious trouble"

"Chill, Annie! She's got an appointment for a manicure, a pedicure and a hair wash. Two hours, pukka"

"No. no, last time she came back in 45 minutes"

"Chill, Annie. Anyway, she wasn't serious"

"What do you mean, not serious? Not serious about what?"

"Not serious about this "Don't let them watch TV" business. She has a different tone when she's serious. A bit like a 600 cc motorcycle"

"I don't think so. 600 cc motorcycle forsooth! Please switch it off and go into your room"

"Chill, Annie"

"For the last time" I told them, in an icy manner I reserve for sarcasm, "I will have you know that I am not equipped with a compressor and cooling coils. Chill, it seems!"

Wasted, of course. The boys were riveted onto the screen. Some species of cricket was going on. An old classic match. There was some Hindi commentary rolling along.

Very wordy, Hindi commentary, for some reason, atleast back then. They liked to describe every single thing that happened on the screen. "Now he's picked the ball. Now he's transferred it to his other hand. Now he is rubbing it on the back of his trouser." Dude!

Anyway, coming back to the res, the younger guy piped up

"Annie, what's Salaami Ballebaaz?"

"Er, opening batsmen I think. boys, would you consider switching the TV off ?"

"Annie, look at it this way. If Amma walks in now, she will see us watching the TV and yell at us. You know what that means, no?"


"She won't notice you've poured yourself a beer"


"Annie, why is that guy not hooking the bouncers?"

The boys were watching Sourav Ganguly and his legendary shyness towards fast, short pitched balls directed at the coconut.

"He's a bit afraid of short pitched balls, old Sourav is! But a splendid player of the fuller deliveries. His cover drives are the stuff of legend!"

"Haha! He'd be the right brand ambassador for Venky's!"


"He's an opening batsman, right?"

"Er, yes.."

"And a fraidy cat"

"I guess so, yes.."

"There you are. Chicken Salaami"

I groaned but before I could clout the lad a richly deserved one, the door opened and the missus entered. She got a call from the spa while she was on her way there, apparently, to the effect that the appointment was cancelled because of the non availability of the manicure guy.

There was what they call a pregnant pause.

"What's all this?"

We rightly recognized this to be a rhetorical question.

A little monologue was delivered on the subject of irresponsible children who have no sense of responsibility and on even more irresponsible fathers who have absolutely no idea what parenting is all about.

But the boys were right about one thing.

She never noticed the beer.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A musical evening

(The people in this post: 
Mohan Krishnamoorthy who blogs here and tweets here
Girija, his wife, who tweets here 
Ramaa Ramesh who blogs here, tweets here and soundclouds here
Mahesh Sethuraman who blogs here and tweets here
S. Rahul who tweets here )

"I'll be there!", Mohan texted me. "Can I get a friend along?"

"Oh of course!" I was delighted.

Ah. I see that look of puzzlement on your face. "Naren is a great chap but a complete disaster at narrating anything at all" you're saying to yourself.  "Give him a horse and he wastes no time appending the cart before it".

I can visualize you biting your lower lip and edging that cursor to the little 'x' button on the corner of your browser tab. But tarry a while, dear reader. I have a not incoherent tale to tell.

I had passes to a classical music concert and as usually happens, when I have 'n' passes for a classical music concert, 'n-1' of those passes were spare.

"Why do you bother getting so many of them?" the missus snapped, irate, when I whined about this to her

"I was hoping you'd come. And that we'd drag someone along"

"You know I can't. Gau has his exams day after and the moment I step out, he's going to watch TV"

She was right, as usual. The lad has to be trussed up and sat upon if he is to study at all. And this is a crucial year for him.

I also suspect the missus is not too keen on what she refers to as the "aa-aaa-aaa stuff" when talking to her friends, though she gamely tries to keep it from me. At several concerts to which I have taken her, the singing ones at least, she usually falls asleep in the first twenty minutes with her head gently placed on my shoulder. This makes a touchingly endearing picture but it's probably not the best encouragement for the performers. The kind of stuff that leads most of them to drink.

"What shall I do then?" I continued in the time honoured tradition of asking her for solutions to all my vexatious problems.

"Go alone, what's the trouble?"

"People will think I'm weird".

I'm not a sensitive social butterfly but I do know that people who wander alone to cinemas and concerts are looked down upon by the brightest because of the inevitable conclusion that they are so undesirable that they can't find anyone to come along with them even for third party entertainment.

"Between you and me, sweetness, I don't think that's a state secret"


"Oh, don't worry, dear, you'll find someone"

I was pottering around on twitter around then and saw some excellent discussions featuring Mohan K and some others about classical music. I made bold to ask him if he'd like to come along.

And when he replied in the affirmative, only the fact that I was no longer sixteen and supple held me back from executing triple somersaults.

The concert was very nice. The singers sang beautifully. Acoustics was wonderful. And company was excellent. Mohan, his wife Girija and Mahesh Sethuraman, whom I knew for a goodish while, were all appreciative.

Mohan, in particular, turned out to be encyclopedic in his knowledge of Indian music. A trained Carnatic vocalist, he genuinely liked Hindustani as well and we ended up having a great deal of enjoyable chitchat on the whole subject. I shared what I knew of the hindustani tradition while he regaled me with trivia about Carnatic. And then, in response to something I was telling him about jod-ragas, those joint melodies so popular in hindustani,  he told me something amazing.

"You know about Sruti bheda and graha bheda, don't you?"

They  keep these things from me.

"No. What's that?"

He said something on the lines of "Graha-Bheda is the singing where the inter-note intervals are fixed and a different note is chosen as the tonic. The scale shifts but the melody uses the same notes as the earlier scale and thus generates a new raga in that new scale"

Regular readers of these chronicles will know that Naren, though sterling of character and a shoulder to rely upon in emotional upheavals, is not the strongest mind around. The old bean began to spin.

Mohan explained further but the sound of my brain cells popping one by one under the strain of processing that must have been audible.

'Alright, drop in to my house next week. I'll demonstrate what I mean by that" he said, kind as he was.

And I duly rolled up at the appointed hour. The traffic was extra dense and the auto drivers more skittish than usual but instead of the usual unflattering maternal adjective that I normally reserve for those of that tribe who cross my path, I was cheerful and positively Gandhian.

Mohan had invited Ramaa Ramesh, a fellow Wodehouse fan and, I didn't know this till then, a trained Carnatic vocalist, and S. Rahul, another young Carnatic vocalist with the most infectious smile and a terrific sense of humor. I was meeting Rahul for the first time. Mahesh Sethuraman was there too.

Girija rustled up some lovely samosas. This is a forbidden food in our house owing to certain problems with my trigylceride numbers, so I quickly seized the opportunity to gobble up a couple of them.

Mohan, who had heard me hum a few tunes in the car the day we went to the concert, asked me to sing something.

'Sing Durga" he said, referring to a raga we were discussing on twitter a few days ago.

I've never had much reticence in me since my childhood. Where other children had to be given toffees to sing a song, I was frequently given toffees to stop singing. So before the assemblage could change their mind, I let off one numbers Durga.

It was recieved politely, speaking highly of the audience's ability to take aural assault without flinching visibly.

And then Rahul, who had brought his sruti box along, on the request of Mohan (I was touched. This was so that I could relate to the Graha Bheda demonstration), sang to demonstrate this extremely demanding musical feat. It's difficult for me to put it into words, and it would be far too boring for you, but I was astounded. The base raga is sung first, and then, another note, say the nishad, is fixed as the shadja, with the shruti playing the original shadja. The notes of the base raga are now sung with the nishad as the shadja, generating a new raga in the new, nishad based scale. The singer then returns seamlessly to the base raga.

Right. Take that aspirin. You have earned it. But seek out Mohan, or someone equally competent and kind enough to take time out to explain it to you, and you will be similarly impressed.

Ramaa sang after much begging and requesting from all of us. I've known her for a long time and heard her on her soundcloud but her singing is several orders of magnitude more awesome in person.

Rahul continued with several illustrations of things in Carnatic music that I had never heard before. Little things about the rhythmic patterns and how the accompaniment works. Ramaa and he jammed beautifully, joined now and then by Mohan, who I realized sang superbly even though he wasn't a professional singer. And he knows some truly amazing people in the music industry. He told us many anecdotes that I will cherish for a lifetime.

Girija had rustled up some delicious food and unsupervised that I was, I vacuumed as much of it as I could contain. And our resilient little company was back again to discussion. Among other things, Mahesh and Rahul had delightful little jugalbandis of Goundamani's dialogues where one would start and the other would finish.

At around 2 am, the missus began to get worried. I had promised her that I would return  by 11.00 pm. She knows that 11pm is code for 1 am but by 2, she was convinced that I was either lying in a ditch somewhere or cooling my heels in the slammer.

I reassured her that I was leaving any moment now. At 3, I received a sternly worded text message promising dire consequences if I did not haul ass instantly. Recognizing this as serious, I reluctantly dragged myself home.

Her demeanour was ominously cold, but this morning, a large flying cockroach entered our room and sent her helpless and screaming, into my arms. Bravely employing a bathroom slipper, I slew the beast.

I am basking in glory at the moment of writing.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

On Public Debates and Questions Asked Therein

I attended a jolly little debate recently on Environment V/s Development and while I generally give these things the miss, on the sensible grounds that I have little or nothing to contribute, I couldn't jog out of this one on account of the big cheese being an old college pal of mine.

I tooled up at the appointed hour and occupied, on the prompting of the big cheese, one of those seats with RESERVED written on them in large letters. It is immensely satisfying, the occupation of seats with RESERVED written on them, but of course YOU wouldn't know that  because YOU've never been asked to occupy seats with RESERVED written on them, now, have you? If you will pardon the expression, Ha Ha!

Anyway, the debate was well conducted. The speakers were really eminent people and spoke much that made sense. I'm of course one of those feeble minded blokes who tends to agree with virtually anything is said to him, as you probably know already, but even I could tell that strong arguments were being made strongly.

The debate paused after each side made their arguments and the general public was invited to ask questions. Now I don't really attend too many of these things as I said earlier but I felt more that ever that we must have the worst question askers in the world.

The first doofus from the general public stood up and was handed a wireless mike. There was a bit of "Hello Mike testing one two three" (which, whenever I get the opportunity, I change to "Mike's testes, one two three". This, in my opinion, is the second most satisfying thing about these do's, the first being of course, occupying seats with RESERVED written on them) after which the doofus hemmed and hawed and told us his name. Yeah. We were dying to know. Now go ahead and say your thing, you nematode. And then he told us a long piece about how distinguished he was and how he agreed with many things that were said today, and how he was unlike most other people who wouldn't know a thing about what was being said and.... he would have gone on had the moderator not butted in and asked him to get to the point. Where upon he asked his question which was something to the effect that India was a better place now that 50 years ago.

Yeah, said the moderator, so what's your question?

That only



Then it flashed upon the moderator that the chap had possibly been having a drop or two on the sly and mumbled "I think we can take that question as answered by the questioner himself. Who's next?"

That, for me, was the highlight of the evening.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

On Raans

Last night we went to a little eatery called Persian Durbar, in Bandra West. There were four of us and the mission was to eat a preparation called Three in one Raan, which essentially is roasted leg of lamb.

We ate and ate. And ate. And couldn't finish it, there was that much. I loved the delicate smoked flavor and the no-nonsense presentation. After a post prandial phirni, I reclined on the settee and reminsced.

I've wanted to eat Raan for a long time but never managed to get the three other like minded people needed to finish one portion of it. Till yesterday that is.

I've eaten a similar thing before. In Spain, of all places. And curiously, as part of an airline meal.

We flew from Madrid to Barcelona and they served us a little Paella rice with a small piece of roasted leg of lamb.

It was delicately flavoured and quite unlike anything European. I wondered if it was the Moorish influence. Arabic, perhaps. Or Numidian.

The stewardess, upon being asked what it was called, delivered five thousand Spanish words on the subject, the gist of which, since I don't speak that lovely language beyond saying Gracias (which is pronounced Grathias for some reason), escaped me.

I went around Barcelona looking for something similar but never found it. Not surprising, I guess, since my enquiries comprised of the English words "Leg", "Lamb", "Roasted" and a lot of nimble mime movements. Several of the waiters to whom I presented this performance looked at me anxiously. The missus, who was accompanying me, kept imploring me in Konkani not to make an ass of myself. With sadness, I abandoned my quest.

And it would have stayed abandoned had it not been for the fact that on the flight back, we were served the same thing again! This time, I went around the city of Madrid in search but alas in vain. If that city roasted its lamb legs, they kept it from outsiders.

The missus observed that conventional wisdom had it that the Raan in Spain stayed mainly on the plane, but I felt I would have found it had I only known Spanish better.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My teachers day anecdote

Teachers day just came and went and like everything else these days, was celebrated on twitter. Some reminisced about the good teachers, others about the bad. I couldn't help remembering our old Drawing Master.

We had many good teachers who did a fairly decent job of educating the bunch of us. There were a few who were spectacularly bad of course, but they were largely ignored. Some were fairly funny. But Popat is one chap I will always remember.

Popat wasn't his name, of course. His name was  Sule or Patil or something - escaped my memory for the nonce - but we used to call him Popat for reasons long forgotten. Popat means 'parrot' in Marathi, but it also slang for the, er, pee director or baby maker as the lads are wont to describe it.

Popat used to teach us drawing and was actually a very good artist. He was also very committed, come to think of it.

Drawing class in the pre-Popat era involved drawing very formalized representations of 'scenery'. This used to consist of three mountains, one sun peeping out from between mountains 1 and 2, a river emanating from between mountains 2 and 3, a house consisiting of 1 door, 2 windows and a sloping roof. The real freedom came in the foreground where people could draw as many boys as girls as they liked, though most of us stuck to one each, carefully drawn to resemble alien beings.

Popat was an artist, however. He hated these three-mountain sceneries with a passion. He would ask us to draw anything we liked.

"Draw something you have seen. Draw your desk", he would tell us. "Or draw your pencil box."

But the bunch of us, brought up on years of three-mountains-one-sun-one-river, couldn't understand any of what Popat told us. We continued to draw three-mountains, to Popat's despair

"What is your favorite animal", he asked a boy, randomly. Prahalad his name was, I remember. Aka Palli.

"Donkey" said Palli, to the great amusement of the class. Back then, certain words were the pinnacle of humor. You only had to say "donkey" or "monkey" or even "mad" to send an entire audience into paroxysms of laughter. Palli had cracked one such immortal joke.

"Alright, then, draw a donkey" said Popat, unfazed.

Palli dug around in his bag looking for his English textbook because we had a story in it about a man and his son taking a donkey to the market, and it had several illustrations. Palli's plan, sound chap that he was, was to copy the animal from one of those illustrations.

"What are you doing?" asked Popat

"Sir, looking for a picture of a donkey, sir" said Palli who, while perhaps a tad low on deductive skills, had the sterling character and honesty of Abe Lincoln.

"No, no, no looking at picture bicture. Look at my face and draw a donkey" said Popat.

I laughed out loudly. Even back then, I had a particularly irritating laugh. On that day, it had the opprobrious quality of poking fun at a teacher. To make matters worse for me, I was the only boy in class who laughed. This was unusual because I was usually slow on the uptake (TFC - short for "tube with fucked up choke" - was an occasional nickname) but that afternoon I had chosen to be the Mister Quick

Popat froze.

Realising what he had just said, he pulled me out of the desk in an instant and whipped my butt with a cane that was standard issue to teachers back then.

This didn't bother me all that much because one, we were used to this kind of stuff and two, that being a day I hadn't done reams of homework, I had, in anticipation of an attack to the gluteal region, strategically inserted one of our wash-basin turkish towel napkins into my undies, which took the sting away. I was more worried about the note he wrote my parents, a note saying that I was a very bad boy, though he left out the real reason for this assessment.

I hesitantly gave the note to my father, a busy doctor who, though never given to flashes of temper, could get a little irritated if shown too much foolishness. Dad was having his breakfast.

"What's this?" he asked, with a frown?

"Our drawing sir is angry with me because I laughed at him"

'Why did you laugh at him?"

"He said 'Look at my face and draw a donkey'"

To my relief, his face broke into a smile.

"Hmm. Don't do this again"

He signed the note and that was that. Popat, luckily for me, got promoted as supervisor of the primary section or something, and went out of my academic life for ever. And we happily continued to draw the three-mountain scenes, steadily improving over the years.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Problems with being an alleged humorist

I wrote this post, hit the publish button, read thru it, got existential doubts, deleted the thing, which by then had made it to the reader of @sandeip who told me, on twitter, that it wasn't all that bad, and that I had written worse. This persuaded me to republish it except that like the ass that I am, I didn't have a copy. This was provided by @sandeip, culled from his reader, and HE is the guy you have to blame for having the following inflicted upon you.

The missus calls me an alleged humorist, for a variety of reasons.

Her primary  one is that, in her opinion, I am never funny. Not intentionally, anyway. She rarely if ever finds any hilarity in my kind of humor. Especially the word-play kind.

"Hmm. So Dr. Spooner was suspicious of his wife's hair-dresser because he parted her hair."

"Er, yes"

"Meaning Dr. Spooner thought he had hearted her pair."

"Er, yes."

"Dr. Spooner being the one who said things like 'he went up the hill pantless and breathing' when he meant to say 'he went up the hill breathless and panting'?

I nodded.


'Droll' is missus speak for 'haakthoo', as you might have gathered.

Not that she's Bob Hope or anything herself. I caught her gossiping with one of her friends about another friend who had recently purchased a vineyard which she (the other friend) endlessly crowed about. As it happened, the vineyard seemed to  be having a run of bad luck with the crop.

"She had a unsatisfactory  yeild, I hear" said the friend.

"You must have heard it on the grape whine" said the missus and the two tittered along for a good ten minutes. I pointed out the sadness of that joke with a long, dejected stare at the two but they didn't seem to notice it.

The kids are equally bad. In addition to trying me out as a sounding board for all their silly jokes, they also tell me some of the grossest, most embarassing jokes ever told by 14 and 17 year olds to their greying father. It doesn't help that I am usually slow on the uptake.  

The silly ones are bad enough. Splattered across these blog posts are several prime examples but new ones keep coming all the time.

"Annie, why did the chicken jump from the back of one buffalo to the other?" 

This when I'm going through a lengthy mail from a customer reprimanding me for tardy delivery in fairly juicy language. But my kids are not easily shooed away.

"Ok, why?"

"To get on the other's hide."

Not to be outdone, the younger one piped up.

"Annie, why did the chicken go from one nagging woman to another?"

This seemed a bit unusual. I was intrigued.


"To get to the other chide."

"Guys, please. I'm trying to get some work done here."

"Annie, what is a panty raid?"


"There it is. In your inbox. The subject of the mail from Victoria's Secret. Join us in a Panty Raid."

So it was. It's a long story, but has an entirely honourable explanation. But when you are caught flatfooted like that it can be awkward.

"Annie, why does Victoria's Secret send you mail?"

"Will you boys leave me alone?" I shouted in exasperation

"Annie", said the lad in a sad voice, "you know your problem? No sense of humour".

Monday, August 22, 2011

Short notes - The Missus on Coffee

Coffee is something the missus is extremely particular about. She's from Mysore, and in Mysore, coffee is drunk strong.

When I, wuss from Bombay, first had Mysore coffee, I had to close my eyes and hold my hands over them to prevent my eyeballs from popping out. Third parties advised that nothing of the sort would occur but it was a long time before I removed my hands off them.

The third parties were right. Nothing happened. But the main party, the party of the second part, hereinbefore and hereinafter referred to as 'the missus' was, with singular lack of tact, laughing her booty off.

What fascinates me and will eternally continue to do so is the way every Mysorean, when ordering coffee at a restaurant, tells the waiter "Solpa Strong Madiri" ("Make sure it's strong, dude") regardless of how strong the restaurant normally makes it.

Bombay restaurants, on the other hand, have no concept of strong. Indeed, they have little concept of 'coffee' for that matter.

I don't know if I've told you my favorite Udipi restaurant coffee anecdote. Forgive me if I have.

I went through a black coffee phase when I was convinced that if you wanted to show how classy you were, you had to have black coffee without sugar. This wasn't a problem at the Cafe Coffee Days and the Baristas but it mildly  boomeranged at Udipi Vihar Restaurant, Goregaon West where I once asked if I could have a black coffee.

"Can you give me black coffee?" I asked the chap.

"Yes yes".

Bombay is the bastion of capitalism and this is a fine example. The first response of a Bombay business is "Yes" to whatever the customer asks for. I have known shops to tell me they have whatever I asked for, its in the go-down and someone's getting it and actually the shop assistant would have run across the road to another shop and purchased the damn thing. Saying 'no' to a customer is unthinkable.

He came back a couple of minutes later, evidently sent with a flea in his ear, by the chef.

"How do you want it made?" he asked me.

"Just like you make your regular coffee, just don't add milk or sugar" I replied.

"Theek hai" and buzzed off inside only to return again and ask in a sheepish sort of way

"The cook wants to know if you want coffee powder in it"

The missus, who was with me, had a hearty laugh and later observed that no Mysore waiter would, even on the pain of injury, ask a thing like that.

"It's blasphemy, dear. "Do you want coffee in it", it seems. In the old days, people would be flayed for such things. Only in Bombay can this happen"

The missus actually had good reason to feel animosity towards Bombay coffee.

Here she is, on Bombay coffee and why it infuriates her:

"When we were married and the mandatory uncle-aunty visiting was happening, word had gotten around that I drank only kaapi. Naren and his entire clan are resolute tea-drinkers. And the worst kind of tea drinkers, I might add. You guessed right. Masala chai drinkers. Anyway, as I was saying, the clan would faithfully attempt to make coffee, but their technique was severely flawed. You know how we make coffee down south, don't you? A good half a cup of strong decoction, a spoon or two of sugar and a little milk, just enough to get the decoction to a buffalo-after-bath brown colour. 

Well, in Bombay, the procedure is to boil a quart of milk liberally sweetened with sugar and, I shudder to say this, cardamom. If Mysoreans were Japanese Samurai, which they arent, mercifully, they would have committed seppuku in droves upon being told about the practice of adding cardamom to coffee.

And the worst of it is, they don't add physically add coffee to the milk when they make coffee. I'm serious. The Bombay guys' idea of adding coffee to milk is to put some coffee powder on a saucer and use a mirror to direct its reflection into the milk. After a couple of minutes of this, the milk acquires sufficient coffee flavour for the Bombay guys. Five minutes, if they want to make it really strong."

Thank you Sheela. Your views are greatly appreciated.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Anna Hazare situation

Ordinarily, political imbroglios (sorry, but I've always wanted to use that word since I was so high and read it in a Readers Digest Word Power column. I don't really know what it means but it sounds kind of right and you probably dont know it either so we should be alright there) don't upset the harmony of our little home. I refer of course to the Great Lokpal Bill Drama, currently being aired on all channels except, bless their hearts, FTV.

We rarely have political discussions at home. The missus is more a bollywood person. And the boys are into cars and an obnoxious series on TV called MTV Roadies, which, as far as i can see, comprises solely of people abusing other people. But this Anna Hazare business is in our face so much of the time, it is impossible to ignore it.

The missus and I have views on the opposite ends of the spectrum. The missus is strongly for the Lokpal Bill Anna Hazare Version which, as far as I can see, involves spotting the corrupt, asking a select committee if they agree that the spotted person is indeed corrupt and, if they say he (or she) is, horsewhip him (or her).

Here's a sample scenario:

Investigating Officer: "Chairman, sir, respected members of the Lokpal and my dear friends, I have here a senior officer of the government who is corrupt"

Lokpal Chairman: "You don't say! Are you sure?"

Investigating Officer: "I am. You can bet your non corrupt ass on it"

Lokpal Chairman:  "And has he made lots of money?"

Investigating Officer:  "Crores, I tell you, crores!"

Lokpal Chairman:  "Say, Investigating Officer, has he salted it away in Swiss Bank accounts, do you think?"

Investigating Officer:  "Once again, you can bet your non corrupt ass on it, because you won the last bet!"

The Bloke under Investigation:  "I say, here, please, listen to me, it's nothing like that. Just a bunch of fabricated lies.."

Lokpal Chairman:  "Silence! You are corrupt! You do NOT have the permission to speak or say anything in your defence.  So, Investigating Officer, what do you say we do with this low-life?"

And so on.

I've oversimplified it of course, but the entire thing will firmly be in the Haroon Al Rashid territory. You know the chap. The caliph who was wise and summarily executed the wicked. I may be thinking of a couple of other chaps of course, in which case, please forgive me, but what I meant was that there doesn't seem to be much by way of legal process. What if the said select committe, god forbid, isn't as wise as Haroon al Rashid at all times?

As it turned out, the missus was incensed this afternoon, possibly for a different reason.  Actually, I think the reason she was incensed might be the fact that I had, unbeknownst to her,  a couple of beers at lunch (we had a visitor at work, what to do) and then drove home. I am strictly not allowed to drive if I've had a drink.

"Answer the following question in one word only" she said to me

It did not augur well.


"Did you have beer at lunch?"

How do women find these things out?

"Answer me. Yes or no?"

"Er, yes"

"Are you out of your mind?"

This one was easier.

"Er, no"

"You drove. You know what a big no-no that is"

"It was just one pint" I protested meekly.

"They've arrested Anna Hazare"

This was unusual.

"He was drunk driving?"

"No, you idiot. Don't you watch news or get any information on your silly twitter feed? The government has arrested him because he wants to fast unto death. That's attempt to commit suicide. Punishable offense"

"Wow. The stuff must have hit the fan. What are they going to do now? The protesters, I mean?"

"They're planning to have a protest march."


"All over the place. There's one planned here, near Inorbit Mall"

"Protest march! What next?"

"I know Annie" piped up the youngster "they will have a protest April"

"Go to your room, Gautham. You have geometry tomorrow!" bellowed the missus and turning to me, added "it's all your fault. You encourage them to crack these pjs and that's all they do all the time. It's driving me nuts"

Anyway, the country's still seems to be holding itself together, despite the best efforts of the chaps in the government whom the missus refers to as "what the Reverend Spooner would call shining wits".

I really wonder what is going to happen. Perhaps a whiskey would help me clarify my thoughts.....

Sunday, August 7, 2011

In which we go to a fashion show

It's been a dull week in Bombay. We did go for a fashion show, a jewellery based thing, but it wasn't much fun. I felt about as at-home there as a nudist at an HJS convention.

I had tried my level best to wriggle out of it. "Jewellery shows are only for silly vain women" I told her, and then quickly added a "mostly, that is. Not you of course", when I realized what I had just said.

The missus was in an uncommonly good mood. Normally I would have got a real dagger-look for something like that but she just smiled indulgently.

"Silly vain women, it seems. That is so Coltrane! Typical of you. Anyway, wear your finest, my prince. Many pretty ladies will be watching you"



"Oh". Sometimes, carrying on conversations with her require nimbler minds than mine.

I put on the gentleman disguise and turned out rather dapper and spotless, by my standards, but the missus is a nit picker.

"You might consider zipping your fly. Remember Konrad Lorenz?"

{The said Lorenz, if you don't know the story (and a graphic one it is. If you're sqeamish, skippez s'il vous plait, as they say in French) was a biologist who studied birds. He used to feed a wild raven, for research purposes, with strips of meat which he would carry in his pocket. One day, after a biology department lunch with lots of beer, he decided to relieve himself against a wall in the garden. The raven saw this with eagle eyes (as Bobilli might have put it) and decided it was a strip of meat it wanted. The upshot of this was that Herr Konrad practiced celibacy for a long time}

"I forgot, re. You're looking stunning, by the way". A little oil never hurt anyone.

We trundled in at around 6 pm and I was pleasantly surprised to find a functioning bar dishing out the essentials.

"Don't even think about it" said the missus. "I haven't brought my drivers licence. You're going to have to drive back"

I sadly picked a fresh lime soda. "Haha" said the missus "you look like Socrates drinking the hemlock".

I ignored the barb and occupied my seat. The lights dimmed and the usual speeches were heard. A flowery one about the sponsors. An equally flowery one about the designer.

The spot lights came on and some extremely tall and thin women walked down the ramp to the accompaniment of music which sounded like two radio stations playing simultaneously, one being temple music and the other a trance track.

Their slendernesses marched up and down, pausing every now and then to pout at random people in the audience. Very nice of course, but with the sustained dramatic interest of a kabuki performance.

The missus of course enjoyed herself immensely.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The week that was

(Disclaimer - highly random post follows)

"Sigh", I sighed.

I find myself sighing a lot these days. Life, for some unfathomable reason, seems to have become so complicated. I am forever forgetting something or the other. Our watchman, who revels in being the harbinger of bad news, (had I been a medieval Mughal emperor he would long have been beheaded) had just called through to tell me I had a flat tyre. And I just realised I had given my spare tyre for fixing and forgotten to collect it.

"Sigh" I sighed again.

The missus, who was sitting on the sofa and reading her paper, chuckled.

"I am glad that you are able to derive mirth from my despondent demeanour" I said to her in my sourest voice, meaning it to sting.

"No, my sweet, I just remembered something the boys said"

"Why, what did they come up  with now?" I asked her. I realized too late that I didnt want to know

"The younger one calls you Sigh Baba."

"Sai Baba?"

"No, Sigh Baba. Because you keep sighing all the time. Haha! Isn't that droll?"

It was the saddest joke I had heard from a source specializing in sad jokes but I kept mum. I had just remembered I had a certain confession to make and I needed lots, LOTS of good humour at this moment. I would have sighed again but I resisted the urge.

 The problem was that I had answered our home phone on that fateful day. I normally don't, because the callers are usually random aunts who can speak for hours and ask uncomfortable personal questions when you least expect them to, and who want to speak to the missus anyway, but she was busy doing something in the kitchen and the phone kept ringing despite my best efforts to stare at it and make it stop.

"Pick up the phone, for gods sake!" she yelled from inside and I found myself talking to an uncle by marriage who told me a very complicated story about why he was in Bombay and embedded a "we're coming to your place on Friday" somewhere in it.

The missus normally debriefs me when I do something critical like answering the phone  but that day there was a temperature related chemical composition change in the carbohydrate structure of the rice she was cooking and it took me many stressful minutes to pacify her. Finally, we decided to tell the boys we were having Smoked Rice Burmese Style for dinner, which, and this is why I adore children and their unquestioning innocence, they accepted without a murmur.

The upshot of all this was, as you guessed, I forgot to tell her that her uncle and his entire family were coming for dinner on Friday, which in a jolly little coincidence happened to be tonight.

"We have a few guests coming over for dinner....I forgot to tell you"

"WHAT! When?" asked the missus


"TONIGHT! And you're sighing instead of telling me! Are you out of your mind? What are we going to serve them? Oats?"

"I don't see why not, if that is what I have to eat" I didn't say that of course. I just sort of stared at my toes.


"I beg your pardon?"

"Who is coming?"

I told her. She appeared visibly relieved, said uncle being one of her jollier ones and the moment passed.

I further improved my standing by helping out in the kitchen. The missus makes a nice pudding which involves emptying one tin of Milkmaid condensed milk into two glasses of milk. I did this crucial step without so much as pilfering a spoonful of the condensed milk,excepting a little bit, to ensure the Milkmaid hadn't gone bad - and stirred it so competently that the pudding turned out delicious.

"I've heard you write a humour blog" said the uncle. Tell us a joke"

"Yes, yes, tell a joke" said the aunt.

Well, the uncle is an avid golfer so I told them the one about the lady golfer who complained to the greens committee that there were too many bees on the course and she had just been stung by  one.

"Where were you stung, madam" asked the secretary of the greens committee

"Between the first and the second hole" answered the lady whereupn the secretary said "Ah! A difficult place to treat".

It fell flat. The uncle just sort of harrumphed and the aunt looked intently at the chair.

Well, that's that. My week that was. Hope y'all had a better.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I wrote this meaning to post it on google plus, it being private and all, and ironically, it kept disappearing from google plus. After what-the-effing exasperatedly for a while, I decided to have my revenge by posting it on the blog after all. Here goes

I'm quite enamored with this Google Plus thing. I had more or less stopped blogging because, well, I write autobiographical stuff and you cant really write autobiographical stuff without, well, being autobiographical.

What I mean is, I'm terrified of accidentally revealing stuff to the missus, or to her spies, stuff that we, the boys and I, take great pains to keep under wraps for all kinds of deep strategic reasons.

For instance, this evening, the lads told me a joke.

"Annie, Annie, you want to hear a joke?" one of them asked

"No thanks", I replied. I have learned it is better not to listen to these guys' jokes.

"Ok Annie, here it is", he continued, as if I hadn't said a word.

"I said I didn't want to hear it. I'm busy."

"Annie, why is a wonder-bra called a wonder-bra?"


"Why is a wonder bra called a wonder bra?"

"Ok I heard it the first time. My 'What!' was an expression of incredulity that two Indian teenagers could actually contemplate telling jokes about wonder bras to their father. Its against Indian Culture."

"Annie, should it be 'Wonder bras' or 'Wonders bra' ?"

I stared at him incredulously some more.

"You know, you were explaining the other day how it should be Brothers in Law and not Brother in laws."

'Er, Wonder bras is correct", I replied, hoping that that would be that.

"Annie, so answer the question"

"I just did"

"No, the earlier one."

'What earlier one?"

"Annie, it is 'Which earlier one', not 'What earlier one'. Why are wonder bras called wonder bras?"

I gave up.

"Ok, you tell me"

"Because when she takes them off, you wonder where the tits went"

I stared at the lad.

"Where did you learn words like that?"

"Wonder bra? Heard it on TV I think. Don't remember"

"No, the other word"

'Which other word"

"Tits" I whispered.

And the missus of course chose that exact moment to enter the room. A bit like those farcical plays. Except that this is real life and I am likely to get my ears seared with some sharp rebukes.

" What this about tits?" she asked, using the sharp voice that is the harbinger of sharper things.

I gulped. A sort of darkness was beginning to envelop me. But the younger son came to rescue.

"Annie was telling us about the white-naped tit and why its population is declining rapidly. It used to be endemic to India"

"Er, exactly. Ok boys, time to learn some mathematics. Where is the calculus text?"

And the moment passed. A moment best treasured in silence, as you would doubtless agree.

And yet, I have this crazy urge to tell someone. Which is why I like Google+ because hopefully no one will tell the missus.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My prescription for better security for the people - Worse security for the leaders

This is mostly a rant provoked by yesterday's dastardly bomb explosions in Mumbai and the general reactions that followed them.

In general, I thought the response by the citizenry was touching. People from all walks of life extended helping hands without a second thought. Typical Mumbai.

But the news networks made a pig's breakfast out the thing. They tried their level best to make it look like an enormous terror attack, and could hardly conceal their disappointment when it turned out it wasn't. Which, as Greatbong pointed out in his excellent post, is exactly what terrorists want. They would love to see their handiwork as something which has put life completely out of whack for Mumbaiites.

But a point like that is too subtle to cross the bone-brain barrier of the TV anchors and they went hammer at tongs at it. Somewhere along the way, someone seems to have figured out that no one was watching anymore.

So for the last 24 hours or so, the TV networks have been trying to mobilize anger. All day I've been watching TV off and on, only to find some citizen bubbling over with rage.

One guy I just saw, which prompted me to write this post, went on about how horrible the politicians were and how weak the system was, and how late ambulances arrived and about fifty other grievances which it occurred to me is exactly what the politicians want to hear. All true, of course, but completely non specific grievances. The more the merrier, you can almost hear them saying to each other. So everyone lets off their spleen against some nameless politicians, the anchors yell a bit more and within a day or two, things are back to normal.

But it just occurred to me, and I may be wrong here because I'm a doofus who is usually wrong about things, that the way to hit them, the politicians that is, would be to kick them in the nuts.

Not literally of course. To the best of my knowledge, elected representatives do not come equipped with testicles. I mean figuratively, in the sense that we should do something that would hurt them badly.

So what does Narendra Shenoy suggest? What? Eh? What? What?

Well, here's my idea. Not much of an idea but based on my fervent wish when stuck behind some idiot in the traffic who stops his car on a narrow road to buy a paan or cigarette unmindful about all the cars bunched up behind him and honking. And why is he unmindful of the honking? Glad you asked. That's because the honking is random. You know what I wish we could do? Go everyone honks at the same time. You can bet your panty knickers he will jump out of his Govinda suit, giving you some well deserved mirth and possibly reforming his character.

But we don't do anything like that. We honk a few times, wait till the moron has finished, and shuffle along cursing silently.

This is exactly what the citizenry is doing at the moment of going to press. Making random honking sounds but waiting patiently to shuffle along behind the powers that be.

So, what is Narendra Shenoy's solution, you ask again. Well, it is this. I say take away THEIR security. Why should they get super efficient protection when you and I can be bumped off by any moron with access to some explosive and a cellphone?

With the exception of a few guys - the PM perhaps, the Home Minister, CMs of the states, but certainly not the animal husbandry minister or the minister for civil aviation, EVERYONE's security should be completely withdrawn.

I'm not heartless of course. We should give them a good-luck talisman. Perhaps a nazar suraksha kavach. And I'd definitely support the payment by the state of premium for a 1 crore pure risk LIC policy in favour of the elected representative's dependents.

And the thing is, and this is my grand theory, THEN we will see a dramatic improvement in the general security. Suddenly, police will start finding terrorists BEFORE terror attacks happen. Because if they don't their bosses are probably frontline targets.

Well, that's it. My big brain wave. Not much, I know, but I do believe that if all the angry citizens on TV ask for only one thing, the immediate removal of security for all but three elected representatives, things might just change. But like the honking story, it has to be done at the same time by everyone if it has to work. No nonsense about "we should have more checkpoints" or "we should have better intelligence networks". All those will come automatically. Just ask for complete withdrawal of all security for all but 3 elected representatives in each state, and 3 at the center. What's it going to cost you anyway?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Down Memory Lane

Today, dear reader, I invite you to take a walk with me Down Memory Lane.

It must have occured to you, since you are the brighter sort of person, that 'Down Memory Lane' might be code for 'long boring yarn about the past from chap unable to find anything interesting in his current life'.

You would be right. Nothing of any interest has been happening to me these past weeks. The boys, now in their 10th and 12th, are glued to their books most of the time. They go to coaching classes too, which suck out whatever little free time they have left and the missus and I are usually to be found in the living room, holding hands or arguing about what to have for breakfast, or both.

And we take walks Down Memory Lane.

Life was fun when the kids were little. Their innocence. Their pranks. Their fights.

"Remember the time you guys went on a tiger safari?" asked the missus.

How could I forget it! We had gone to the Mudumalai forests near Mysore, where some species of forest lodge had been hired. It had a truly gifted cook, one Mani, who made the best 'kozhambu' (as I believe it is called) I have ever had and I would have been content to spend the weekend sampling his ouevre. But the powers that be, namely the missus, decided that we must go into the forest.

I was a bit reluctant because just the night before, I had gone with a few of her cousins into the forest. This was at 4 am and the idea was to see a tiger. The chaps who took us reasoned that tigers, subscribing to the old maxim that early risers get worms, good health and wisdom, would be about in droves and we would naturally get to see them doing whatever they do at 4 am.

All that happened was that I got bitten in many places by many different insects and for about 10 minutes, when I couldn't see anyone around in the pitch darkness, experienced sheer terror. Thankfully, the tigers were conspicuous by their absence.

But the missus wouldnt hear of not going. "You have to take the boys and get them to experience the thrill of wilderness"

'YOU have to take the boys? Why, aren't you coming?"

'Turned out that she liked the kozhambu too. "No, I'm worried about my spondylitis" The missus has a convenient spondylitis for occasions such as these.

Anyway, we hired a jeep and took a bumpy drive into the forest. All that we got to see for many a mile were deer, which are like the autorickshaws of the forest. They are found everywhere and run away the moment you approach them. The boys got bored and about 15 minutes into our safari, were fast asleep on my shoulder. Suddenly, the driver braked hard and excitedly pointed to a clump of shrubs. For a fleeting moment, I saw a leopard which, like most intelligent people do upon percieving that they are about to be inflicted with the company of Shri Narendra Shenoy, lit out of the place instanter. I woke up the boys "Look boys, leopard!" I hissed.

There was a bit of what-where-whoing on the part of the lads and by the time they could get their bearings, the critter had vanished into the woods. The boys went right back to sleep.

We saw a couple of peacocks, one of which was doing it's dance, and a HUGE bison, but the lads were not interested.

An hour or so later, we returned to our lodge. Mani had organized some river fish and was grilling them on an open fire. I forgot about my aches and rushed into the middle of the action. Missus had convinced Mani to roast some sweet potatoes and masalafied tomatoes, which were excellent.

We sat around a fire and got the kids to sing and dance. I was regaling the grown-ups with tales of my safari.

"We saw a leopard"

'Get out! What luck! Leopards are really hard to find. Are you sure it was a leopard and not some deer?"

"Of course we saw a leopard. Here, ask Gautham. Gautham, did we or did we not spot a leopard this evening?"

"No, Annie"

'What! Oh of course, he was sleeping. He wouldn't know"

'What about Vyaas?"

'Oh, he was sleeping too"

I could see the growing scepticism in their faces.

"Hmm", said the missus, "nice story."

"No really, we did see a leopard. Gau, you did see it's tail, didn't you?"

"Yes,amma, we did"

"Then why did you say you didn't?"

"I didn't say I didn't"

"You did"


I felt the temples throbbing.

The older one piped up. "Annie, you asked us if we spotted the leopard"


"We didnt spot it. It was spotted from before"


"Hahaha" said the missus."Run along, boys, time to sleep"

The missus smiled at this point in the reminiscing. And I decided I would pick up the old laptop and bang out a post. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Holmes and the Medical Case

It was an unusually fine day in London. The sun, after playing truant for weeks, beamed upon the Thames, on the boroughs and on 221 Baker Street, where Dr. Watson stood at the window with pursed lips.

"My dear Watson, what preoccupies you this fine morning?" asked Holmes

"A medical problem, Holmes, and one particularly vexing. If only you were a doctor! I could use all the help I can get"

"You can try me, Watson. Sometimes, even the most professional conundrums can be solved by the relentless application of reason. Tell me the facts, if you will"

"Oh, alright. I might as well try it on you. You are familiar with His Grace, the Duke of Kent?"

"Don't tell me those rude limericks are true!"
"Eh? What's that?"

"You know the one. His thing was exceedingly bent and when he went for a ride he had to double up inside, and instead of coming, he went"

"Oh my goodness! That IS rude indeed! Oh no, it is this terrible wasting sickness that His Grace seems to have contracted. The nibs have been treating him for consumption but that doesn't seem to be it"

"Hmm" said Holmes, his chin resting in his palm "hmm...."

"I say, Watson, doesn't His grace have a very oleaginous complexion?"

"Why yes, Holmes, but what does that have to do with...."

"The nibs are wrong, Watson. Completely wrong. It is not consumption that afflicts His Grace, but a digestive parasitic infestation"

Watson gathered his hat and coat and rushed to the hospital. Years of being with Holmes had taught him that Holmes was never wrong.

It was tea time and Holmes was having a biscuit with a cup of Darjeeling.

"I say, Holmes, that was a splendid piece of diagnosis! The Duke turned out to have tape worm and is responding excellently to treatment. How in the world did you hit upon that? Even the best Harley street specialists were flummoxed"

"Observation, Watson, and some deduction. I had heard that His Grace had an extremely oleaginous complexion"

"You did say something about that earlier. how in the world is that connected?"

"haven't you  heard, my good fellow? The Oily Bird always gets the worm"

"That was truly brilliant, Holmes" said Watson, "I doff my hat to you"

"Oh, it's alimentary, my dear Watson" said that admirable genius

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Annie Buys Vegetables - Story writing attempt #1

Annie was trying his level best to hide from the missus but suburban homes tend not to have priest’s holes. The lift was broken and the missus had made up her mind to have vegetables bought right away. Annie hated walking up the stairs.

"Why don't you tell Amma you hate walking up the stairs?" older son had counselled him on an earlier occassion but there were wheels within wheels. Annie was currently avoiding going to the gym on the grounds that he prefered to walk up the stairs instead, and was sneakily using the lift. And now that the lift was kaput, he couldn't very well do that. The missus of course, was delightedly seizing every opportunity to put some wholesome exercise Annie's way, and a form of exercise Annie loved anyway.

Sigh, thought Annie, not for the first time, Life is So Complicated!

He was finally cornered in the living room, behind the TV cabinet.

“What are you doing behind the TV cabinet?” asked the missus

“Er, checking the cable connection”

“Hmph. I want you to go down and get some veggies”

“Haha!” younger son laughed

“What are you finding so funny?” the missus scowled at younger son, and catching Annie smirking, turned on him

“And what are YOU laughing at? Pair of hyenas you are”

“No, no, nothing” Annie replied, and blushed.

“Why are you blushing? What is making you laugh? Something I said, no? Tell me now”

“N..No, no, it’s nothing, really, this chimp was making faces at you” Annie stuttered

“No, Amma, Annie was laughing because you said veggies”

“Why? What’s wrong with veggies”

“Nothing, nothing at all. These kids! They’ll laugh at anything.”

“No, Amma, you said veggies but Annie heard ‘wedgies’, which means ... Annie will tell you”.

Younger son scampered off.

There was a pause.

“Yes?” asked the missus. “Talk, Wedgie man”

“Er.. what vegetables did you want to buy?”

“Are you going to tell me or not?”

“Later, later. I have to go out to the pharmacy too, before it shuts. I’m out of my cholesterol medicine”

“Very well. You don’t want to tell me. I’ll find out on the internet. Meanwhile, get 1 kg onions, 1 kg potatoes, half a kg bhindi and half a kg chowli, if they’re fresh. And tomatoes. And cucumber”

There was no way Annie was going to remember all this but it was imperative to run, lest the wedgie episode start again.

On his way down, he met younger son. “What are you doing here? I thought amma told you to study”

“Can I come along to help you get wedgies?” asked the scamp, and ran away before Annie could clout him one.

“Onions, tomatoes, potatoes, bhindi, chowli, onions tomatoes potatoes, bhindi, chowli, onions...” Annie muttered on under his breath, a bit like a kabaddi player. Old Mr Hussain from the neighbouring building, who was behind him, mentally made a note that Annie seemed to be mental. Mr. Hussain thought everyone was mental, excepting himself, ofcourse. He also left his fly perennially unzipped.

Older son had once told Annie that Mr. Hussain's name was Yahya Khan. Annie believed it, naturally, and addressed him one day as Yahya Khan.

"Good morning Mr. Yahya Khan, how are you?" Annie had asked him, to which Mr. Hussein had glowered ferociously. Only later did Annie find out that it was Mr. Hussain's habit of peppering his conversations with Ya, Ya, that earned him that sobriquet.

'You could have told me atleast" Annie had complained, to which older son had merely told him to chill.

Both of Annie's sons kept telling him to chill.

"What do they think I am? A refrigerator?" Annie had complained to the missus

"Haha, you can be so witty sometimes" laughed the missus, in her silvery way.

But we're getting behind the story. Where were we? Ah yes, Annie went muttering the shopping list under his breath, lest he forget it, and ended up buying brinjals instead of chowli and forgot the tomatoes altogether.

"Well?" enquired the missus

Suddenly, the shopping list re-appeared before Annie's mind's eye.

"Er, oops. " Annie apologised.

"We have one and a half KILOS of brinjal in the fridge because you bought it thrice already and the boys are refusing to eat it. Why do you keep buying brinjals, Annie?" the missus asked.

And paused a while in uffish thought, as Lewis Carol would have said.

"Is there a Freudian explanation for your compulsive buying of brinjals, Annie?"

"I forgot my cholesterol medicine!" said Annie, cleverly changing the topic

"There should be a strip in your travel kit" said the missus. "And, by the way. I found out what a wedgie is"

Oops, thought Annie again.

"Though why you couldn't tell me earlier is beyond me. We're married, you know. To each other. You can be so silly and squeamish"

I will never understand women, thought Annie.

"By the way," said the missus, "you've been a good boy and you're going to get something tonight. A surprise!"

Annie loved the sitaphal icecream.

Friday, June 17, 2011

On how many people can be stuffed into an Ambassador car and other scientific findings

The academic year has just begun. In our home, this is silly season. The missus is the most chilled out this time of the year and shows it by giving me exclusive charge of the boys. I am supposed to look into their studies, whether they are doing their homework and slyly monitor what websites they visit  on the computer.

I am a complete disaster at all the above. If our house were China, the missus would be Hu Jintao and I would be, I don't know, perhaps Jackie Chan's sidekick, the one who keeps falling and making funny faces. And my sons rightly accord me the treatment.

We officially study in the evening, between 8 and 9 pm. I try and bring up topics in maths or physics (the missus feels these are the ones I'm least ignorant in) while the boys take the opportunity to try their experimental comedy on me.

Sometimes it's kind of funny, as on the other day, the younger one observed that time was ripe to have a dedicated channel for the fasts unto death that keep happening on a daily basis these days, and suggested that it be called Starve World.

I facepalmed at first and then laughed. Both the lads looked keenly at me. 'Are you feeling alright, Annie?' asked the older one, who is ever apprehensive that I will go around the bend one of these days.

"Oh, yes, yes" I said, composing myself "now, coming to integration by parts.."

"Annie" the younger one interjected


"My biology teacher pronounces 'egg' as 'agg'"

"So? English is not our grandfather's language. It is ok to have accents". I feel strongly about this, having faced a little ridicule in my time over pronouncing 'automatic' as 'attomatic'.

"Annie, what does agnostic mean?" asked the younger one

"Er.. someone who doesn't believe in the existence of God.. I think"

"No, that's 'atheist'. Agnostic means someone doesn't believe God's existence is knowable"

"That's impressive" i said, and I was impressed. The lads show little or no inclination towards reading anything and it's a mystery to me how they accumulate a vocabulary at all.

"It was there in a program on TV"

That explained it.

"Annie, Agnostic would be a good brand name for a teflon coated omelet pan, no?"

"What? Why?" I frequently find my head spinning in these exchanges

"Agg no stick. Get it?" and with a raucous "ha ha ha" easily avoided the book I chucked at him and said something about people who couldn't take the yolk, but I didn't quite catch it.

"Have you finished your Marathi homework?" I asked the younger one.

"Doing it, dude, chill" he said.

I have long given up pointing out that this is an entirely inappropriate tone to use with one's father.

"Right. Now, coming to integration by parts.."

"Annie, you know, it is possible to fit an infinite number of passengers into an Ambassador car", the elder one said

"Are YOU feeling alright?" I asked him.

"What I mean is, you know the proof for there being no largest natural number?"

"Yes.. let 'n' be an arbitarily large natural number. Adding 1 to it makes the resulting number larger, and hence there are infinitely many natural numbers, something like that?"

"Yes, yes!" he said, beaming at me like a benevolent professor smiling upon his favorite student

"So what about it?"

"In the same way, no matter how many people you stuff into an Ambassador car, there is always someone who can stuff one more, no? So it follows that an infinite number of people can be stuffed into and Ambassador car"

I gave up trying to bring up the topic of integration by parts. And abandoned any thoughts of teaching physics either. It seemed to be one of those days. I'd probably get something like "Navier-Stokes equations. Others don't" tossed at me.

So this is how things are at the moment. They will change soon, when the missus takes charge, but till then, I will be guiding their academic progress with my customary competence

Sunday, May 1, 2011

On the speedy flight of time and other non-specific things

Good heavens! How time flies! It's been more than a month since I inflicted one of my posts on the unsuspecting public. Between you and me, that's a bit of luck for the aforementioned unsuspecting public, but into each life some rain must fall so here goes.

I think I'm going to be rambling. In fact, I think I'm rambling already, an old trick (one which the missus finds intensely irritating) I resort to when I don't have anything to say.

"Which is most of the time"

Thank you Sheela.

As I was saying, by dint of hard work and concentration, I've managed to curb the tendency to drift in thought, and drift aloud at that, but every now and then the old ghosts catch up.

For instance, the other day we drove down to Carter Road, Bandra. It's a fashionable part of Bombay now with the miniest skirts and most heavily mascaraed eyes in town but time was when it used to be desolate and slightly eerie at night. The missus and I were discussing this. And I remembered a curious thing from my youth. Cars parked on Carter Road, would mysteriously start swaying latish into the p.m. Mentioned this to the missus who gave me the look.

"They weren't swaying, silly. There must have been a couple inside"

"What?" I couldn't quite make out what she was saying

"" she repeated, in a voice many decibels below my threshold.

My look of befuddlement seemed to rile her

"Oh, I give up" she said and stomped off angrily. I had to buy her a little string thing with a couple of pearls at the end to hang on her cellphone before she'd talk to me.

"Really, Naren," she said, even after this, "you purposely play the fool to irritate me."

I ask you.

So. Things Have Been Happening. We've been building a house, the missus and I, and I've been squarely getting it with both barrels over my alleged lack of aesthetic sense in all matters related to the beauty of the aforementioned house.

I could write reams about it but it would be so whiny you'd probably think it was literary and avoid my blog like the plague (not that it would be all that bad a decision on your part, objectively speaking, but one does not willfully chase one's audience away from one's blogs) so I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that the process took twice as long and cost twice as much primarily because it had to look nice. Things like what color granite to choose and whether the curtains should have American pleats.

"I'm quite non-aligned in these matters" I told the missus when asked the question "though I doubt they do Soviet pleats anymore", merely as levity, to lighten the mood but it seemed to anger her. She continued the discussion with the curtain maker, leaving me out of it entirely. I got her assesment later, and it was not good.

"Naren, keep these silly jokes to yourself if you don't want to be stamped on your instep".

"And I happen to be wearing heels" she added, ominously.

So I've mostly been in charge of the operational aspects of the enterprise. You know, giving address to tempo driver, getting labour to unload goods, that kind of thing.

And even there, I haven't been very effective. For instance, I appointed an extremely Hegelian or Kantian bloke as a fabricator for my window grills. A decent chap who would develop all kinds of existential doubts and give up his zest for life every two or three days. I sympathised with him of course but the missus demanded that I yell at him and make him deliver the grills in time for the puja.

"These people don't understand ANYTHING unless it is yelled at them" she told me. "Go and shout till his ceiling falls down"

But every time I cleared my throat and prepared to deliver a stentorian outburst calculated to make him tremble in his shoes, he'd come up with an account of an incurable illness being suffered by some member of his family. This would derail my act completely and I would shuffle off from what should have been a decisive and painful meeting with a little pat of sympathy on his shoulder and a little more money by way of advance.

I made the mistake of telling this the first time to the missus and she promptly ticked me off for being a doofus and a gullible buffoon.

"You're being taken for a ride" she said. I doubted it, though I had the good sense to keep quiet, but when the chap tooled around to the site later in the week, the missus reprimanded him sharply. Sure enough, the grills landed up the next morning. The missus has been smirking in a superior way ever since whenever the topic of effectiveness is brought up.

All in all, it has taken its toll of me. I'm a mere shadow of my former self, which itself was a shadow of its former self to begin with so you can imagine what a wreck I've become. I'm trying to rebuild myself with alcoholic beverages when the missus is not looking. It's taking time.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Just a chronicle of things happening to me at this time. Same old.

It feels strange to be writing a post after all this while. The Shenoy household has been going through several crises these last few months.

First it was the "You're always on the computer" crisis. The missus arrived at the conclusion that you, dear reader, were stealing her dear husband away with enticements of badinage. I pointed out the obvious flaw in her argument.

"Sweet, be reasonable" I told her. "Nothing would induce the dear reader" (still you) "to touch me with a barge pole, considering that he or she is a discerning person, leave alone steal me away".

"Shut up Naren". The missus belongs to the rare breed of people who can tell their spouses to shut up as part of the same argument in which they (the rare breed of people) are complaining that they (the spouses) are not talking enough to them (the rare breed of people).

The upshot of the whole thing was that I was not allowed to use the computer, except as a paperweight, in the time that I was at home.

I can take the rough with the smooth. We are philosophers, we Shenoys are. Putting on the brave front, soldiering on in the face of adversity.

I started using the computer in the loo.

This lasted about two days and we had another one of those painful interviews.

"Do you want a divorce?" asked the missus.

Considering that, with the possible exception of my mother and my maternal aunts, everyone agrees that I am a plugugly best not seen first thing in the morning, my chances of ensnaring another, even a tenth as charming as the missus are pretty close to zero, I replied in the negative.

"Very well then, my little teddy bear. Stay away from the internet"

And so it has been. I do snatch a few moments of internet in the time that she is not watching (as is the case now) but they are always moments of trepidation.

The second crisis is "The Boys Growing Up" crisis. My little boys, the apples of my eye, are now 16 and 14 respectively and have acquired much sass and attitude. They give BackChat. And even worse, they make Jokes.

The backchat itself is quite entertaining as long as I'm allowed to watch from the sidelines. It's the Jokes that puts me on the spot every now and then.

Apparently she caught one of the lads chuckling to himself and put him under the lights. He told her that the joke was something his brother had told him. Here is the joke in its entirety.

He: Let's have magical sex

She: It sounds wonderful. How do you mean

He: We have sex and you disappear in the morning

I have to admit that I laughed. What else was I supposed to do?

"You boys are all the same. Tasteless jokes. That is not a good thing for teenage boys to talk about. I want you to give them a dressing down"

And so I look forward listlessly to the prospect of ticking off the boys for the aforementioned transgression, knowing deep in my heart that they're laughing at me. And to make matters worse, they're not even afraid of me. They've never been.

You know why I like Airtel Customer Service? I'll tell you why. I can't yell at my customers. They'll stop giving me business. I can't yell at my suppliers. They'll stop giving me material. I can't yell at my employees. They'll just find someplace else to work. I can't yell at the missus. I don't know what will happen but I can't. And the boys? They just laugh when I try to yell at them. So I call up Airtel Customer Service whenever I have a problem with service and they listen to everything. They apologize for everything too.

"I'm getting very poor signal quality"

"We're extremely sorry sir. Let me look into it"

"I have IMPORTANT calls to make and your signal quality is VERY poor"

"We're extremely sorry sir. We'll look into it"

And so on, for the next five minutes or so. I keep letting off about signal quality and they keep apologizing. Extremely therapeutic.

There it is then. My deepest confession on da internetz yet. And between you and me, there are days when I complain about the signal quality when there is nothing wrong with it.

Isn't that depressing?