Monday, December 23, 2013

In which we watch Dhoom 3 and nearly die of cheese overload

The missus and the son both wanted to watch Dhoom 3. Missus because she has been going nuts staying at home trying to motivate son to study for his fast approaching exams. Son..... for the same reason. Accordingly I was told to go buy tickets.

"But it's only Friday. We're going on Sunday evening"


I went. And good thing too, because, to my shock, the seats were filling up faster than Robert Vadra's coffers.

"Five pm show?"

"First row only, sir"

"Don't want to end up with spondylitis" I said, with a smile, attempting some levity. The ticket guy yawned.

"What's the next show?" I asked

"Five fifteen".

Wow. How MANY shows did they have?

"Seventeen shows sir. So can I give you 6.30 pm? Third row available"

I bought them, for roughly as much money as I had taken the family for their first vacation, to Matheran.

Presently the day arose. Wearing all our finery - ok, the missus. Son and I looked exactly as we look on Sunday evenings -like flower people who have slept the night on the beach - and heard out the missus on how depressing it is to go out with people who look like
"Out of work poets?" son suggested helpfully. Missus scowled and told us to atleast comb our hair.

The cinema wore a festive look. People milled about. Popcorn was being bought. Son met some school friends and got busy talking to them. Missus gave my arm a gentle squeeze "Don't look so morose, sweet. This too shall pass. I'll sit next to you and we'll watch it together"

The movie trundled along mostly featuring Aamir Khan and a cheesy back story about a circus magician and his son. Abhishek Bachchan put in a guest appearance every now and then. Uday Chopra, who irresistibly reminds me of the laughing cow on the Laughing Cow brand of cheese

floated in and out making what appear to be comic remarks. The man has to be the worst actor in the world, though missus found him "kind of cute". All through the film, the cinematography was wonderful.

One victim, unintended, I'm sure, was the entire field of Newtonian mechanics. Bikes, cars, people and random objects pursued trajectories through space which none of the sainted Isaac's equations could have described. I got a nice idea for a comic, which I shared with son. Here it is.

Scene: Heaven. Cherubs are playing harps in the clouds. A happy faced sun is sending beams onto earth. A bearded St. Peter is smiling benevolently. Einstien is seen wandering in a pensive state.

St. Peter: What is the matter, Albert? You look thoughtful
Einstein: It is Sir Isaac. Ever since I got here, he has been avoiding me and refuses to even look in my direction. He was such a great physicist! I'd love to be his friend

St. Peter: Oh, I know the reason for that. He believes that ever since you formulated your theory, people have stopped believing in his

Einstein: Oh no! On the contrary, he still rules in the everyday world. Nothing works without recourse to his laws. Even space travel

St Peter: Is that so?

Einstein: I will wager my gluteus on it.

St. Peter: Hmmm. We could tell him this..... but it would be so much better if he could go down and see for himself

Einstein: That would be so nice! Can you do it?

St. Peter: I'll have to ask the boss, but yes, I'll do it

And so Newton is sent to earth to see for himself. He wanders around in amazement, steadily becoming happier to see that the world does indeed follow his laws. Then he sees posters for movies. He decides to see one for himself. Unfortunately he watches Dhoom 3

St. Peter: Albert, we should have never done this. Isaac has been bawling uncontrollably ever since he got back and the boss is PISSED!

Son agreed it would be a nice comic.

"It'll be a bitch to draw though".

We both reflected on the truth of that.

So in conclusion, if Newton and his laws don't mean anything to you personally, I recommend one viewing. It is cheesy as hell, but well shot. Logicians can expect to die or be seriously addled. The rest of us will come back mildly woozy but in one piece. Like all Hindi movies these days, you can almost feel the desperation when they try to flesh out the 3 hour duration that the paying public expect the film to run for with songs, chase scenes, more songs and Uday Chopra giving his Laughing Cow impression. Katrina, who seems to have done some radical plastic surgery to get rid of her saddlebags, gyrates with a hint of desperation, but is generally pleasing to the eye. The music is mostly loud.

Cheers. Enjoy

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Grilled Chicken

'Nooobody makes grilled chicken for me!" said the missus.

The correct response, for those of you who have not married, is not "what?" "where?" "who?" or even "how?". It is "I will make grilled chicken for you".

Thus it came about that I stood in front of our oven, aka OTG, trying to figure out how much 450F is in the stupid machine's settings of "warm", "hot" and "mallika sherawat". I'm kidding. The calibration was in degrees C and when you are a couple of decent single malts down, with a recipe culled from the internet and, sadly from an American website which tells everything in Fahrenheit, you're not at your best deducting thirtytwo, multiplying by five and dividing by nine. The lad came to the rescue, but not before he conducted some embarassing prelimary questioning.

"What are you doing?"

"Making grilled chicken"


"Your mom wants to eat it"

"Oh. But why haven't you skinned it?"

"She wants it Chinese style, with the skin roasted. Some roasted chicken chinese style or something"

"You got the recipe?"

"Yes. It says to sprinke salt and some oil, and grill at 450 F for thirty minutes"

"Sounds easy enough"

It was confession time.

"Yes, but how much IS 450 F, blast it?"

"Oh, easy, 232"

So I ended up doing a decent job. The kitchen, for some reason, filled up with smoke. "The devil are you doing?" came the missus' distant yell

"All fine, sweet, all fine" and then, to younger son "why the devil is there so much smoke""

"Dude! You are cremating the chicken. You want 230. You've set it to 275"

"Oh" and I corrected the setting. Damn these newfangled variable lens glasses the optician fobbed off on me.

"How long do you reckon I should keep the chicken in there?" I cravenly asked the lad.

"Half hour. Perhaps forty minutes."

"Will you tell me if it's done?"

"Dude! I have some kind of exam, you know"

"I'll buy you new guitar strings"


So at last the chicken is done. We are eating it with store-bought oyster sauce but missus has that expression which says "ummmm!"

Reward enough.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Part 2 of the Walk-in-the-woods post

After our snack break, we carried on towards Kanheri Caves. Somewhere along the way we had been joined by a dog of an unusual shade of brown. He kept pretending that he was on an independent mission but that he was with us was unmistakable.

Chuck promptly christened him Sanjay.

"Because he has appeared to us as the spirit of the park" he explained.

Sanjay strolled along with us without affecting to know any of us personally. Indeed, he would keep going off on tangents, investigating interesting smells and the occasional posterior of such fellow members of his species as would cross his path from time to time but his allegiance was unmistakable. We felt like the UPA government getting issue based outside support from a small regional party. Just as inexplicably, after a little while Sanjay vanished. Looking around, we found he had decided to tag alongside another group of people walking in the opposite direction.

"Definitely small-regional-party-with-issue-based-outside-support", concluded Mohan, and we all silently nodded our heads

The road had now become an incline. My age began to show in the shortening of my breath.

"Damn" I thought "What if it turns out I'm having a heart attack?" and tried, unsuccessfully, to look nonchalant.

"Why are you looking like a dying duck?" asked Harshal.

"I -er -I was wondering if er- I was having a heart attack"

Harshal luckily was quick on the uptake "Oh the breathlessness? Don't worry, everyone's winded".

I was reassured. But this is an old failing of mine, this paranoia. I once went, with three other friends, to a high altitude lake in Sikkim called Guru Dongmar. I had read that it was at an altitude of some 16500 feet and was quickly consumed by a conviction that I would die of altitude mountain sickness. Two of my companions were dismissive

 "Dude, we are DRIVING there. Not walking. You wont have any altitude giltitude sickness" averred one of them.

But the third chap was a man after my own heart. He did his own internet research and came to conclusions similar to mine.

"Boss, we need an oxygen cylinder. Your dad is a doctor, no? As him where we can get one"

The parent was puzzled "You cant carry an oxygen cylinder to Sikkim from Bombay. Have you any idea how much one weighs? Look for one locally"

The local Sikkimese were equally non-cooperative. The mountaineering supplies shop we went to told us that the cylinders were all in his go-down and he would be damned if he would go down to his go down and open it just because a couple of weirdos wanted to go somewhere, especially since the mountaineering season hadn't begun yet, or words to that effect.

And what luck we didn't find a cylinder! When we went to GuruDongmar lake, it was full of septuagenarian aunties and uncles happily strolling about and cracking jokes. Perfect doofuses we would have looked, a couple of mid-forties guys staggering around with a whacking great oxygen cylinder.

Anyway, coming back to the res, after a longish climb, with the old heart thumping along in allegretto tempo, we reached the caves. A small stall stood near the entrance and when it was noticed that the said stall was selling soft drinks, a beeline was immediately made for it. Presently, everyone had slaked their thirsts and we decided, spontaneously, to climb up to the top of the hill.

"You can see the Tulsi Lake from there" said Divya.

The only dissenting note was from Srikeit who had had enough of all this climbing geeimbing and decided to sit in silent satyagraha. We left him there and carried on to the said spot, observed the said lake Tulsi, I showed off my knowledge of forestry by pointing out to a random tree and declaring it to be sterculia urens, and returned to base. On the return journey, mercifully, even the diehard commandos in our group agreed to take the bus back.

I returned home and rounded my eight km walk to the nearest round number and told the missus I had walked ten kilometers. She looked at me with skepticism but I think my demeanor must have been sufficiently beat, because she did not challenge it.

All in all, a day well spent

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In which I take a walk in the woods with some fellow lunatics

You would never believe this but there is a 103 square kilometer forest right within Bombay. "You mean Asaram Bapu's beard" you will say, with a twinkle in your eye, for you love your little joke of a morning, but you would be wrong (and not just because Asaram Bapu is not in Bombay). The place is called the Borivili National Park. At least that is what it used to be called when I was a kid. Now, like all things big and small in this country which fall within the government's power to christen, it is named after a deceased member of the Gandhi Nehru family and goes by the wordy title of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Which of course suffers from the minor problem that it quite a handful to type and hence shall be hereinafter referred to, unless repugnant to the context thereof, as the lawyers like to put it, as SGNP.

My friends Chuck and Divya thought it would be a lovely idea to stroll around this place on Sunday morning and I enthusiastically jumped up with a "me! me!" when they asked around if anyone would like to come. Chuck and Divya are capable, among other things, of making jokes of unsurpassed silliness and their puns are so groanworthy that you are ill advised to carry sharp objects while hearing them lest you give in to the impulse of stabbing yourself. For instance, Chuck's recent masterpiece was this story about two Aryan priests one fine October morning in 1000 BC where priest-1 proudly declares to priest-2 that he has written this manuscript full of original hymns and spells which will surely guarantee him immortality when to his consternation he discovers that someone has changed all the words. So priest 2 tells him not to worry and recommends that he call it the Rigged Veda. You will have got the idea.

Like me, a few other fans of Chuck and Divya also decided to tag along and when we assembled at SGNP gate on Sunday morning, there were Tony, Srikeit, Mohan, Harshal and another Divya who is called Dibba to distinguish her from the previous Divya. 

The entrance to SGNP was surprisingly crowded. Citizens of Bombay, for all their faults, love to sleep in on Sundays as far as I know, but on that morning many had decided to take in the park scenery. I had prudently lugged my eight seater minivan along because Mohan had mentioned wanting to go to Kanheri caves, a minor matter of eight kilometers into the park, several of them uphill, and I thought we would all fit into it. I had, alas, figured without the maniacal levels of biophilia sloshing about within the members of the group. "No, no! We will walk" said Harshal. "Of course" said Mohan who, being Australian, is given to practicing self flagellation in various ways such as running marathons and climbing Himalayan peaks "I used to come here to practice when I went for my last mountaineering trip". And to my dismay, I found no voices of support for my lets-go-in-the-van-its-such-fun doctrine. Feeling like a Marxist-Leninist at a convention of Tea Party activists, I shuffled along in a subdued manner.

But the company was too ebullient to let me be morose for long. There were several groups of people with naturalist guides who were evidently pointing things out about the forests of the "this plant is an epiphyte, that insect there is a member of the order phasmatodea" variety.  For a while, all that erudition cowed us into silence but soon, someone - possibly Chuck - broke out into a faux eco-tourist-guide mode and some wholesome fun was had by all.

Presently, we came across a woman selling cucumbers and guavas and in true Bombay style, everyone took a snack break. A word about this snack break thing. I don't know if this is unique to Bombay -it certainly isn't evident in other places I have lived- but there is an overpowering urge here to be eating something all the time. The citizen of say Mysore, will hungrily consume his set dosai and strong coffee for breakfast and might even add a baadam halwa or two if he's particulary ravenous, but once that is done, he will steadfastly refuse to look at purveyors of foodstuff till it is time for lunch. But the Bombay guy? Scarcely will the chana chor have settled in his stomach when his eyes begin to yearningly seek out the batata wada so famous in that area. And even that will not sate him for long because there is this legendary sandwich walla to check out and so on. ... (to be continued)

Friday, November 8, 2013

On the greatness of Sachin and other timepass things

I've been inundated with TV commentary on the greatness of Sachin these last couple of hours that I've been watching TV. It's not something I normally do, watching TV, I mean -congenital defect - but today, I've been stood excellent beer by an old friend, who is also a bit of a Sachin-is-god pill, and one is obliged to indulge one's hosts.

"Sachin", he told me, over an ill-suppressed beer burp, "is God Himself". I had surmised as much, given the gushing quality of the commentary pouring over the tube.

"Really? I don't see HOW he is significantly better than, say, Hayden or Ponting" I rashly responded.

"Ponting? PONTING?" my friend foamed at his mouth "You are lucky I am not Henry the Eighth, or I would have you beheaded"

"A fate reserved for his wives, as far as I can tell". The beer had made me needlessly reckless

"No, no. A vast majority of the people he sent to the executioner's block were chaps like you, with unsound views on cricket. Ponting, it seems!" And with the aid of a julienne of carrot and a peanut, both thoughtfully supplied by the restaurant to its beer consuming customers, illustrated how Sachin had dispatched an Andre Nel delivery to the cover boundary, a feat, apparently, beyond the cricketing capabilities of messrs Ponting and Hayden.

Just not my day, in short. Earlier, the missus dragged me out shopping for bed linen.

"We want duvet covers", she told me, "and they have to be bought NOW".

"It's like the Nike slogan, Annie" said the younger one.

"Nike slogan?"

" Just duvet".

He nimbly evaded my attempt to slosh him one and disappeared into his room singing "Duvet, just duvet" to Michael Jackson's "Beat It"

We went to the most insanely crowded square mile in Bombay, the square mile around Crawford Market, and bought, along with the duvet covers, bed sheets, turkish towels, door mats, dupattas, salwar suits and one box of mulberries

On my way back I was stopped for breaking a red light (Bombay is REALLY changing) by what must be the nicest policeman I have ever been hauled up by.  "Sir" he addressed me, and you could have knocked me over with a feather, "can I see your licence please?"

I kept the poker face


"Sir, you jumped a signal"

I smiled my most ingratiating smile and, proffering him my licence, muttered conciliatory things in Marathi. To no effect. He firmly and politely told me to cough up the princely sum of Rs. 100, wrote me a very legible memo recording the transaction, and wished me happy divali.

The missus was not unduly upset. The successful procurement of duvet covers seemed to have mollified her. With a distracted "I wish you wouldn't drive like a doofus" she continued gazing at the package containing the duvet covers.

The day, all said, seems to have turned out all right

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

In which son compares Pink Floyd to Mallikarjun Mansur

I've been a big fan of Indian classical music for as long as I can remember.  The wondrous, fascinating, sophisticated world of western popular music never made sense to me, for which reason I was often the butt of ridicule in my college days, and the object of puzzled looks thereafter. My main grouse, as I have mentioned in another post, was that I could never understand what the devil the chaps were saying (Metallica, GnR and Michael Jackson were my main nemeses). The other problem was that I found it, rock-pop-rap music I mean, musically shallow. The same melodic sequences, it appeared to my untutored ear, were repeated song after song, and the rhythms too, for that matter.

The  younger son has been working hard to change that perception. He's a big fan of rock music these days. He used to be a big fan of rap, when he was younger, but nervously changes the subject when reminded of this. He now listens to Pink Floyd, and has taught himself to play some of their songs. I'm the captive audience (his mother resolutely refuses to listen to it, though that has more to do with the fact that he has to study for his IIT entrance exams than any lack of musical interest on her part - she rather likes it, I suspect) and he usually begins with an "Annie, listen to this". The current favorite is a song called Shine On, You Crazy Diamond.

I proposed, in a moment of ill conceived jocularity, that, since we are all scientifically inclined here, we rename it with the more precise "scintillate, you mentally disturbed metastable carbon allotrope" but he just glared at me, and I soon discovered why. The back story of the song is that it is a tribute to the founder of the band, Syd Barrett, who went insane. The lyrics are indeed moving and the music is intense.

I grudgingly admitted this to the son. "Very different from the usual nonsense you listen to, isn't it?" I remarked

"Annie, this is the real thing. I want to become a musician" he said.

"Well, you can start doing that the moment you get into the IITs"

The lad made a harrumphing sound and continued. Presently, his music skills appeared to fall frustratingly short of his expectations and he decided to make me listen to the original.

The song is intense. There are long, moving passages of guitaring and virtually none of the frantic demonstration of twanging skills that is so common in rock music.

"It's Mallikarjun Mansur level" he told me, nearly knocking me off my feet. The late Mansur is one of my favorite singers and I was amazed the lad knew enough of him to make comparisons. He's never shown much interest in Indian classical music.

"In what way?" I asked him

"Floyd songs are different from the others. They never play fast licks just to show off. Just as Mallikarjun Mansur never sings ultra fast taans just to show he can. And yet, their music touches you in a way that just can't be described"

I gazed at him in speechless wonder as he paused the song and tried to play a passage again. I would never have suspected him of knowing that Mallikarjun Mansur's singing had that unique soul touching quality. An irritated "Naren!" emanated from somewhere in the background. The missus, expressing her ire at the absence of  parental exhortation to academic exertion. I absently told the lad to stop playing his guitar and start solving those calculus problems.

But my heart was not in it.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Of Garbas and Baroda

Experimenting with a new app I downloaded on the phone which lets me post to the blog directly. Please forgive the following garbage, which appears by way of testing.

The missus and I made a quick dash to the charming little city of Baroda for the weekend to check out the garba scene at the invitation of some kind friends, the said garba being a religious dance which involves going around in circles.

"Sounds a bit like the bureaucracy", you are doubtless saying to yourself, and on a metaphorical level, you wouldn't be far from the truth. For instance, it consists, as far as I could see, of taking a few staggering steps in one direction, spinning about on an axis as if contemplating what to do next, turning around as though admitting that the initial direction was probably the wrong one and taking the next few staggering steps in the exact opposite direction, turning around and repeating the cycle. Which is a lot like how policy is made in this country. However, when all the backs and forths are netted off, the general motion is in one direction, again like the bureaucracy which somehow manages to miraculously achieve progress, albeit very little. (The direction, by the way, is counterclockwise, which is very rum, I thought, because there is a devi in the center and these gyrations thereby constitute a parikrama. So how did it come about that it is the wrong way around? Any way, deeper thoughts than my feeble thinking apparatus can accommodate. Back to the res)

Baroda, it is said, has the finest garbas in the country, and while I'm not a connoisseur (having witnessed a grand total of one garba in my life) it IS a gorgeous spectacle. There were several thousand people dressed splendidly in over colorful ethnic wear. "The dress is called a chaniya choli" the missus explained "and don't stare like that"

At the moment of going to press, we are shopping. This burg seems to consist entirely of shops selling garments. Sigh. I fear for my solvency.

Will post a little later.

Monday, September 30, 2013

My (mildly random) review of lunchbox

The missus and I are just back from watching the critically acclaimed movie, The Lunchbox. It was supposed to be India's entry for the Oscar (but to everybody's consternation, was pipped at the post by a Gujarati movie called The Good Road). Artists and people of sensitivity gushed about The Lunchbox and the missus was convinced.

'It's a love story" declared the missus, and in that declaration was the implied message "Take me to see it or else" because the missus is one for love stories, especially the kind that make you dab your eyes with your handkerchief and sniffle a bit. 

I don't mind them myself, I must confess. I've sort of mellowed down and replaced all the cutting edge kung-fu movies in my to-watch list with movies acclaimed for being sensitive and sentimental. But this one was different.

It's a lovely movie, of course. Irrfan Khan is absolutely the finest actor in the world, as is the other guy, Nawazuddin Siddiqui. The female lead has also acted splendidly. The shots are completely un-bollywood-like. Crummy buildings, very ordinary clothes and, most importantly, no hai-rabba songs.

To my untrained eye, however, there wasn't much of a point in the story. Brought up on a harsh diet of potboiler hindi movies, we expect one hero, one heroine, one villain, one comedian, one crisis and one happy ending. This movie had none. There is a housewife who sends her husband lunch through Bombay's famous dabbawala network and it reaches the wrong chap. The housewife is having a tough time getting the husband's attention and an unlikely kinda-romance blossoms between the wrong chap who is an elderly widower and the youngish housewife. They exchange notes through the dabba but never meet each other. And finally - spoiler alert - they part without having really met. It's really beautifully made, please watch it if you haven't, but a very long story about something 
which you or I would have narrated in about seven minutes.

Missus loved it of course. The delicate nuanced expression of love or whatever it is that gets her these days. But I thought the whole thing was rather like something we studied back in college, namely, nucleophilic substitution reactions.A completely waste thing we had to study, in my opinion, but we studied it nevertheless because 'guarantee ten mark question' was the reward. 

Since you're dying to know what a nucleophilic substitution reaction is, I'll tell you. If you add an alkyl halide to an alkali like say sodium hydroxide, you will get the alcohol of that alkyl group, the halogen having very decently detached itself from the said alkyl group -sodium, in our example- and considerately formed a salt with the halogen. But the way it was told us, and we had impressionable minds back then, it was a long drama of how the halogen atom tears itself away from the alkyl halide in the presence of a hydroxide, by being slightly more negative and thus making the alkyl group slightly more positive as a result of which the halogen went on for a couple of more thousand words. 

This lunchbox story was a lot like that. A very elaborate, and as far as I could see, completely random exposition of a perfectly ordinary turn of events.

And if you have deduced from the above that I am slightly pie eyed as I write this, consider yourself the victor of a cigar or a coconut.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Depressing stuff

One of the things that saddens me is how little our political leaders feel for the country. We all know they are power hungry megalomaniacs but sometimes, the pointlessness of the damage they do is quite amazing. I think it comes from complete insensitivity to other people's problems.

There is an old joke about a British explorer who wishing to cross the Sahara on a camel, gets a Bedouin to put him through the paces.

"We must make the camel drink enough water for the journey, effendi" says the Bedouin and proceeds to make the camel drink at the trough.

"This water will stay inside the camel for a whole fortnight, effendi" says the Bedouin, as they wait at the trough, "But" the Bedouin adds,  "if you want to wander longer than that, I can make the camel drink more. Would you like me to do so?"

"Of course" says the explorer "one can never be too careful" whereupon the Bedouin picks up two bricks and holding one in each hand, slaps them hard on the camel's testicles.

"WHOOOOSSSSHHHH" goes the camel and drinks an extra five gallons of water

"By Jove!" exclaims the shocked explorer "isn't that awfully painful?"

"Only if your thumb gets caught between the bricks, effendi" says the Bedouin

That, in a nutshell, is the Indian politcian's attitude toward his country.

Why this rant, do you ask? Well. I just read the other day that the Union Minister for Labor and Employment, Sis Ram Ola, raised the ceiling for employees to be covered in the ESIS act from Rs. 15,000 per month to Rs. 25,000 per month. The move will "directly benefit an additional 4.5 million industrial workers" it seems. What a crock. But first, a little outline of this ESI business

The ESI act makes employees and employers contribute to State run insurance hospitals, the idea being that lowly paid workers would have access to medical facilities at these wonderful state run hospitals. In practice, they don't. The whole scheme stinks. The hospitals are hell-holes and even the lowliest worker prefers to spend through his nose to go see a private doctor than to avail of the free medical facilities of the state. And the hon minister, instead of taking steps to wind down the rotten mess is actually increasing its coverage. No one in their right mind would go to the state hospitals, least of all the higher paid workers. All that the minister has ensured by his decision is to increase the amount of money that this rotten institution gets. And does the minister himself benefit? Not at all. There are no votes to be gained, other than the thousand or five employees of the ESIS and they're almost certainly going to vote, like the rest of their brethren, along caste lines regardless of what the government does. And does it harm the nation? Sadly, it does. It simply increases the cost of doing business for companies that honestly pay their dues and generally dissuade them from increasing their work force.

Why did Sis Ram do this? Because as long as his thumb don't get caught between the bricks, he don't care.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Friday night revelries

A few friends met up at my place last evening to celebrate the marriage of Chuck and Punvati who, displaying a go-getter attitude so rare among youth these days, went off and got hitched earlier this year. They had most decently invited me to the wedding bash but I couldn't go, and decided to make this up by inviting them over for dinner.

When I told the missus this, she had a sort of a seizure.  The domestic staff, apparently, was on leave and she had to go out for some dinner herself. "Oh, no problem" I told her, cheerfully, "I'll cook". The missus is a kindly soul. She realized that you can't just subject people to wanton torture. Hitler tried it and see where it got him. "Never mind, I'll cook a bisi bele bhat before I go. But remember to heat it up before you serve"

And thus, the little band of diners survived. Tony Sebastian, Abhishek Upadhyay and Harshal Modi apart from Chuck and Punvati, and me. Abhishek, who evidently has been researching these things, rustled up an Old Monk Rum based cocktail that he called Rum NasTea, because iced tea went into it in significant quantities. There were also cans of Dr. Mallya's finest and as the evening wore on, the discussion became more nuanced and sophisticated. I don't recall much, for some reason, but there was an interesting debate on the uselessness of the case study method for teaching management.

For those of you who have been fortunate enough to have given the field of management education a miss, an explanatory note might be in order. The case study method is the enacting of an ersatz real-life situation specially designed to highlight some management principle or the other. When it was first developed, it was hailed as a novel approach to the task of teaching complex and shades-of-grey kinds of problems but soon, everything was being taught through contrived  dramatic passages which were overwhelmingly inane. My earliest recollection of a case study was one which started with "Mr. Gupta was worried" and went on to describe how, after several interactions with his CFO Mr. Mehta, the said Mr. Gupta realized that he had not factored in the costs of providing a warranty for his products. All that the chump had to do, in my opinion, was to price his products a little higher, or make sure they wouldn't fail all that often or simply give a bum warranty. When I voiced these thoughts, MBAs Chuck, Harshal, Tony and Abhishek came out of the closet and declared, hesitantly at first and then more self-assuredly, that the case study method was a complete lemon. Abhishek also recalled that most case studies began with some form of "Mr. Gupta was worried". "Mr. Gupta was worried", it transpired, was the "it was a dark and stormy night" of the case-study world.

Much else was discussed. There were insights into the fascinating world of quizzing, with anecdotes featuring legendary quizmasters like G S Pradeep and Pornob. My younger son showed off his alleged guitar skills and was promptly treated to a virtuoso demonstration by Chuck who, unbeknownst to me, is an extremely kick-ass guitarist. I found some fish in the freezer and cooked up some fish in lemon-butter sauce. No one died.

We finally disbanded at 2 am but not before reflecting what an awesome bunch of bozos we were.

Wonderful time!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

My Raghuram Rajan piece

It seems to be open season on Raghuram Rajan. Everybody is writing about the poor chap. Some find his intellectual stature awe inspiring. Others find him dishy. Madame De wrote what to me looks like the prose version of "Love to love you baby". From what little I know of him, I am certain that he is more than a little embarrassed by all the attention.

"YOU know him?" you're asking yourself. "YOU? Narendra Shenoy? Insignificantest blip on the economic landscape? YOU?"

Yes, me. And I was invited to speak, too. But like all stories, this one needs to be told from the beginning.

Sometime last year, I got a call from a friend of a friend that an economist with the world bank wanted to speak with people in manufacturing about what they'd like changed in the government's policies pertaining to it and would I be able to spare some time. I readily acquiesced because my favorite sport is talking about myself and this chap appeared perfect. Unsuspecting, I mean, because most of my friends discreetly remember urgent appointments and slink off whenever I clear my throat and begin to talk about myself. Anyway, the World Bank trains its lads well. Probably starting with chewing broken glass and wearing barbed wire next to their skin, they graduate by sleeping on beds of nails and using sandpaper in lieu of tissue. Stoic, if you know what I mean. He listened unflinchingly and showed no signs of wanting to run away.

I told him my wish list - basically, rationalization of labor laws, changing zoning laws to make it easier to open factories, and opening more skill development institutes for young people who drop out of school after their class X - and shared some links and sources over mail.

That, I assumed, would be that, because few people, if any, return for more after having listened to Narendra Shenoy in his element but this breed is extraordinarily tough. I received an email a few months later asking me if I could participate in a workshop on discussing what policy changes would be desirable if manufacturing in India, especially export-focused manufacturing, was to be encouraged. The email added, in an off-hand way, that the workshop was being conducted by the chief economic advisor to the PM, Dr. Raghuram Rajan.

I ran around the room a few times Oh-My-God-ing and then composed myself and wrote back saying that I guess I'd be able to find the time.

They also asked me if I could speak "precisely 8 minutes. 3 minutes about yourself and your company, 5 minutes about what you would like to see changed in policy concerning manufacturing". I prepared a little talk and found myself severely short of material.  I mean, what the devil does one talk about for 3 whole minutes re oneself? I decided I would throw in some jokes and see what happened.

When I landed up at the place, I found that the group was seriously - I mean SERIOUSLY - august. The Secretary, Economy was there. The principal secretary for industry of virtually every state. Very distinguished World Bank economists, some half my age but graduated from Harvard or Wharton. I found the old voice apparatus, trusty in crises, drying up this time. My heart began to boom like a bass drum as my time to speak neared. When the moderator finally announced that leading entrepreneur Narendra Shenoy would now give us all the benefit of his wisdom, I approached the podium with the look of a French aristocrat trying to argue before Robespierre. Secretary nudged to Joint Secretary whispering "don't stare now but that is exactly what a dying duck would look like".  The jokes evaporated and I mumbled out my piece about labor laws and zoning whatnots in a voice that scarcely carried over the booming of my heart.

And Raghuram Rajan? He was the picture of quiet assurance. He summed up all our speeches (there were three other speakers) and referred to me, as he did the others, by name. In the tea break after our jolly little speeches, he came over to me and said (quite untruthfully, I must say) what a jolly decent speech mine was. I mumbled out a "thanks so much, sir" whereupon he told me, with a disarming smile, to jettison all this 'sir' nonsense. "Call me Raghu" he told me.

So there I was, chatting away with the man, oddly at ease. THAT is his real gift. The ability to put anyone at ease. He's so obviously a genius that it's hard not to be awed into silence when meeting him but five minutes and you will be speaking your heart out to him. Just the chap, in my opinion, to lead us out of the complete pig's breakfast that our well-meaning leaders have got us into over the years though, in the words of a friend, his job is not unlike trying to steer the Titanic using a paddle. But if anyone can do it, Raghu can.

High five, old man! 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

General rambling, plus some Kolkata anecdotes

Life, as Bertie Wooster has from time to time observed, is rum. On occasion, it will deliver unto you bounteous ego boosters causing you to walk with your chest puffed up, looking upon the odd Ambani or Tata who crosses your path with condescension and, on other occasions, make you feel like a little nematode exhibited at a convention of parasitologists. The latter has been happening to me of late. My self esteem has been competing with the rupee in its determined depreciation and for no particular reason. I haven't goofed up extraordinarily, nor, with the exception of one accidental stroll down Malad West's high street wearing shoes from different pairs, received any sharp rebuke from the missus. The upshot of this has been my disappearance from that jolliest of internet Hyde Parks, Twitter. My problem, you see, is that the chaps I follow are, to a person, extraordinarily bright. I follow conversations for a while and then, unsuccessfully trying to compose a suitable witticism in 140 characters, shuffle off to read a book, the old self esteem having suffered another bad day at the exchange.

Thus I found myself following a conversation where a friend who goes by the twitter handle @acorn declared that the city he lived in, Bangalore, was probably the worst run in the country. Another friend, @sachinkalbag hotly contested this statement on the grounds that Mumbai trumped Bangalore in every metric of bad running. And for no particular reason, I found myself thinking of Kolkata.

I've never lived in Kolkata. Indeed, I have only visited it three or four times. But the anecdotes I've heard have always made me wish I had spent my formative years in that splendidly dotty metropolis.

Once, a friend told me, he came upon a small group of people crowded around a tearful cyclist. It transpired that the cyclist had been knocked down by a tram. Though not injured in the flesh, he was clearly emotionally hurt. The crowd, after hearing him out, decided spontaneously that justice had to be done. It stopped the next tram that came along, beat up its driver, set the tram on fire and then, and my raconteur swore upon the grave of his grandmother that this was true, sang Robindro Songeet.

Another anecdote was told me by the wife of a college friend. She used to work in a bank and was posted in Kolkata for a few years. "The most delightful time of our lives" she told me, and my friend agreed. To illustrate this, she told me of a busy morning when all of a sudden, a bus came to a screeching halt just outside the bank. As she looked upon the scene in puzzlement from a window, she saw the driver-side door opening and the driver, showing great agility, jumping out and running full speed, followed closely by the conductor. A few yards behind were the passengers who had to concede a head start owing to having disembarked from the other side of the bus. Several of the passengers removed and flung their footwear at the quickly disappearing driver-conductor duo, making it unlikely that this was a friendly race. Anyway, the driver and the conductor proved to be fleet of foot and the disappointed passengers gave up the chase. My friend's wife sent minions to institute enquiries as to the cause of the brouhaha and learned that the conductor had had the temerity to overcharge one of the passengers by a rupee. One thing led to another and though they now had to suffer the hardship of going to their respective places of work on foot instead of by bus, their spirits were light because they had fought for their right.
"That was when I realized there was no other place quite like Kolkata" she told me, and she was right. There is no other place quite like it.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Growing old and its part in my downfall

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and we were discussing how our children are all changing so rapidly.

"I suppose we're all growing up", I remarked, for I have the gift for making wise sounding remarks. There is an art to this, let me tell you. You say the most apparent and obvious thing but you say it in a grave, reflective sort of way. Do it right and in no time, your friends are nudging their acquaintances and whispering "don't look now but there's a wise person". But I digress.

Coming back to what I was saying, on the day in question, I think my voice was not the required octave lower, for the friend, instead of gazing upon me in awe, like the followers of a minor prophet when he reveals a cosmic secret, snapped back in an irritated manner "THEY are growing up - WE are growing older" and I realized, as I have been suspecting whenever these days I attempt to spring up a flight of stairs or figure out the answer to a crossword clue, the chap was right.

I'm not afraid of growing old, of course. It is what happens at the end of that process that scares me. But when I mention this to the missus, I get a sharp rebuke about the state of my health and an exasperated "Why aren't you going to the gym? Why are you eating like you were a member of the species Sus Scrofa Domesticus? And, speaking of which, why are you eating so many members of the species Sus Scrofa Domesticus?"

"The gym trainers laugh at me"

"Only when you do sit ups. But I'll speak to them. They're not supposed to do that" said the missus and mumbled something that sounded like "regardless of how funny it looks" but she refused to repeat it

"And", she continued, "please stop eating and drinking so much"

"I don't drink too much"

"You don't? How do you explain, then, that Vijay Mallya is still solvent?"

So with great regret, I hereby declare that I shall be ceasing consumption of alcohol except, of course,on ceremonial or celebratory occasions, but not exceeding 4 times in a calendar month, until further notice, and that members of the species Sus Scrofa Domesticus may roam the earth free of fear from this day on.

And if you have read a sadder bit of news that this here post of mine, I defy you to show me.

Monday, July 1, 2013

In which I meet Ramesh Srivats, ask him a religious question and get an answer

As religious questions go, it must be said that mine was a genuinely tricky one. It's not one of the usual "Is there a God?" or "Is there life after death" types which can be answered, not withstanding the fact that entire followings have been established on their strength, by a simple 'yes' or 'no' without having to ascribe any reasons to it.

The question was asked of me by one of the lads - I forget which one- many years ago.

"Annie", said the lad "if you eat non veg on a proper, non veg eating day like say Sunday, in which case there is no sin, and a piece of say chicken gets stuck in your teeth. If you pick your teeth on a veg eating day like Monday, dislodge that piece, and eat it, is that a sin?". I remember the missus sending off the lad with a flea in his ear for trolling his hapless parent but the question lurked around in the recesses of my mind, for I remain a deeply spiritual man and existential questions such as these do not disappear from it by mere banishment.

And yesterday, purely by accident, I managed to bump into Ramesh Srivats who is a fount of wisdom on all matters temporal and spiritual, and one I have consulted over various vexatious questions ("If you black out while drinking, does your soul temporarily exit your body and reside with the stars?" and "If you black out while drinking, and you make a wish just before passing out, does it come true?" are two that come to mind) and asked it of him.

He pondered for a while and asked me a counter question.

"If you eat nonveg on a Sunday, get chicken stuck in your teeth, pick it on Monday and eat it, but cross the international dateline in the meantime so that it is still Sunday where you are, but Monday in the place where you had originally eaten the chicken, is it a sin? Answer that, my lad, and you will know all"

I experienced a feeling of bliss enveloping me. I was no closer to the Truth, but now I had a question to keep my mind focused and away from the distractions of the material world

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Kuzhali Manikavel stories and their part in my downfall

The breeze rustled gently through the leaves of the tamarind tree. I wondered if any tamarinds would fall. They usually did.

The old woman stared at  the tree with as much intensity as I did. Her furtive eyes swept to observe mine and I saw burning coals within them. They seemed to ask silently if I had read a Kuzhali Manickavel story, and if I had, whether I had understood it. I shamefully averted my gaze because I hadn't. Understood it, that is. I had read several.

Many years ago, Mr. Venkatachalam had told me "one day, my son, there will be an author who will write stories you will not understand. You will then wish you had studied literature more seriously than you have, and eschewed Dave Barry for James Joyce" but I had not heeded him. I wished I had heeded poor Mr Venkatachalam.

Of course, it was too late. I turned to wave to Mr. Venkatachalam, but he did not wave back.

Friday, May 24, 2013

We get an Exercise Bicycle

The post dinner conversation in our drawing room turned to the subject of portion control. The missus, who is a bit of a fitness nazi, made a couple of pointed remarks about my waist which I broadmindedly overlooked.

"Missuses will be missuses" I tell myself on such occasions, "they mean no offense".

This time, however, she seemed more determined than usual.

"Naren, you have grown fat"

"Amma, that's not true" piped up the son

That's new, I thought. The lad actually defending me. But I had been too sanguine

"Annie has grown FATTER"



These things rankle.

"Don't think I can't reduce, ok"

"Indeed! Why don't YOU practice some portion control and show us?"

"Why only portion control? I'll exercise"

And I kicked myself almost as soon as I spoke, for the lad and the missus had an exercise bicycle up their sleeve. I should have known. It was a trap.

"It has a calorie counter" said the missus, singing paeans to this wonder machine "And you can increase and decrease the resistance at the touch of a button"

"It's very cool, Annie. It even measures your pulse"


"And it has a cereal number" he added, randomly

They dragged me to an establishment that trafficked in these things and forced me to buy one of these blasted contraptions.

"It's too large" I protested "It will only eat up space in the room"

Upon hearing this the busybody salesman demonstrated how it could be stood upon its head and tucked into a corner, sealing the deal.

So, at the moment of going to press, yours truly is sitting on an exercise bicycle whose seat is most unkind on mine and pedaling away. Life.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Reflections...- Part III - "In The Room"

We walked slowly into the room - Designated Area For Boy Girl Talking, we would call it in our ISO 9000 compliant factory these days, with a large label - and sat as far apart as possible. Actually, I sat as far apart as possible because she chose a chair first. Then I realized we couldn't have a meaningful conversation without speaking really loudly, so I moved up two seats, feeling mildly like a chess pawn.

"Pawn to Queen Four" the voice inside my head said and another voice immediately said "Queen Takes Pawn", making me blush.

All this while, she was gazing at me intently with her limpid-pools-of-deep-green eyes. I realized this and also realized that my antics must be extremely suggestive of advanced nut-case-ness, which made me gulp and look at her like a terminally ill duck. (She later told me that this was when she decided she would marry me. No clown so supreme should be let out of one's life, she thought)

There was a couple of minutes of complete silence, like those meetings where people mourn the passing of important leaders. I gazed at a nearby chair but I could sense that she was looking keenly at me. My old bass drum heart went into another little fast paced solo.

Finally, I screwed up courage and looked directly at her and smiled weakly.

She smiled back.

Say something Say something, inner voice screamed. And here, I'm going to "plead the Fifth", as I believe the term is, because the missus has read earlier instalment and warned of dire consequences if I loose off the tater trap. Read this if you want to know the dark details (wrote it in 2008)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Reflections.. Part II

The uncle's house was in a four storied building off a sleepy road in Juhu. The watchman - I remember him still, a stocky guy with a large red tilak and a huge mustache that started from his nostrils and ended up at his ears, mingling freely with hair originating at both locations - seemed to stare at me sneeringly. "This? This is the best they could find for our gudiya? This?" his gaze seemed to say.

"Stop being paranoid, Naren" I told myself, and recited the "Out out brief candle" thing from Macbeth under my breath. But the old heart kept beating like a bass drum

We took the elevator up and entered uncle's flat. Uncle opened it and our procession marched in - my parents, followed by my sister and our maid who insisted on tagging along everywhere (and whom my mother dared not defy because she was Efficient. She reminded me of Wodehouse's Baxter and my mother Lord Emsworth, but that's another story), followed finally by me.

In the living room were about a dozen pairs of the bushy eyebrows that run in missus' family below which a dozen pairs of eyes gave me the scan in a sawtooth waveform pattern.

"Please, sit, sit" - Uncle

We sat down in a line on a sofa. I turned out to be in the soft spot, sinking in till my head was level with my sister's shoulder.  There was a silent what-to-do moment where everyone just stared at everyone else trying not to laugh, except me of course. My bass drum heart was keeping me busy.

"Sit here" Uncle pulled up one dining chair and placed it at the head of the two sofas which where parallel to each other. I sat there and found myself now the center of all attraction. Slight Raja in Darbar feel, except that, you guessed it, bass drum heart was beating louder than ever.

Uncle made some imperceptible gesture towards a half open door that seemed to lead into the kitchen, and then she emerged. With a tray full of teacups.

She started with my parents, then the maid, then my sister and finally me. I focused my gaze on the teacup, praying silently that I wouldn't spill it on my trousers. Luckily, nothing of the sort happened. My tea drinking, however, did attract the attention of everybody because, as missus has told me on many occasions subsequently, without mincing words, I was making loud slurping sounds.

"It was a lovely acoustic effect" the missus reminisces these days, whenever she manages to find an audience for this kind of thing, which is often, "with fine treble notes of the tea being slurped in syncopation with the bass notes of the gulping, enveloping the room in which Naren used to drink tea. Sadly, people of insufficient musical ability found it odd and raised eyebrows"

The teacup routine over, she went over to the other sofa and sat between her aunt and her mother. I slyly raised my eyes and looked at her. She was pretty.  I heaved a silent sigh of relief. I had been told that one did not reject girls because they did not look pretty, because if one did, word went around that the boy was picky. which meant no one would bring proposals to one and that would be that.

I looked at her again and found her looking at me. My heart gave an extra loud thump and I averted my gaze immediately. But not before I had noticed she has deep greenish brown eyes. The bass drum, which had stopped for a while after I saw her eyes, began thumping again at a rapid rate.

There was some traffic related banter  - which road did you take? Oh, that one, haan? This other one would have been better - and then the company descended into a contemplative silence.

Then Uncle cleared his throat. "The boy and girl can talk inside that room"

We both got up and walked in.

Reflections on twenty one years of matrimony

It’s twenty one years today. Twenty one!

Twenty one years since we were married, the missus and I.

I’m staring at this blank page thinking desperately of something clever or funny to write but the only thought that thrusts itself to the fore, rather in the manner of a seasoned commuter jumping into the 6.55 Bhayander at Churchgate station, is what a lucky chump I am to have married someone like the missus

I used to think rather highly of myself back then. Well versed in several passages from Julius Caesar and Hamlet, I was known and feared in the hallowed halls of my alma mater for my ability to collar random passing gents and recite the To be or not to be soliloquy, or Mark Antony’s Friends Romans Countrymen speech. Not unreasonably, I believed myself to be radiating an aura or magnetic field and nothing in my interactions with my fellow humans had done the slightest bit to alter that conviction.

Till I met her, that is.

We had the usual arranged match. I don't know if you know the procedure. In my little community, the protocol is for the girl’s father to approach the parents of a prospective 'boy' and ask for the boy’s horoscope, which would be freely given. (We had cyclostyled copies of this document, cyclostyling being the technique by which people who were sensible about money made mass copies of whatever they wanted to make mass copies of. Photocopying was expensive and reserved for Marks Cards, Degree Certificates and property papers)

This horoscope would be shown, along with the girl’s, to an astrologer who, using sophisticated mathematical calculations (which, curiously, despite their enormous complexity, the astrologer would carry out on on his fingers) would tell you how many points they, the horoscopes, matched on, on a scale of 0 to 36 (if memory serves right), 0 being a Rakhi Sawant marriage and 36 being Queen Elizabeth the second

Their other use was that horoscopes offered a dignified and face-saving way for the girl’s father to tell the boy’s family that he didn't want his daughter marrying that low-life, a frequent enough conclusion after the girl’s father made discreet inquiries about the boy’s qualifications, last salary drawn and whether he “took drinks”.

In my case, my dear father in law somehow slipped in his due diligence and ‘passed’ me. This information was ceremoniously communicated by him, in person, to my parents, along with a copy of her horoscope and a photograph.

Normally, that should have been that because I had resolutely informed my mother about my unshakable resolve not to marry ever, to which she listened sympathetically and asked “so when shall I ask them to bring the girl to show you”

After several reiterations of my refusal to even countenance marriage, the horoscopes were shown to our astrologer (a charmingly toothless old guy of whose speech no one I knew seemed to understand a word), confirmation of the 'matching' received (some 18 points, in case you were wondering) and a ‘program’ (euphemism for boy-see-girl) was fixed at her uncle’s house in Bombay.

At that time I had a motorcycle and I used to extensively traverse the streets of Bombay in its hot sun, resulting in my complexion, a darkish shade of brown to begin with, to turn into a hue that friends affectionately called Cherry Blossom. When my sisters were told about the 'program', copious quantities of Fair and Lovely were hastily applied every evening on to my mug, to my great mortification. After a week of the treatment, my sisters expressed their satisfaction and on the appointed day, we momentously proceeded to the uncle's house.

And me? My usual sang froid had deserted me and my heart beat like a bass drum. I entertained several thoughts of deftly opening the door of the car we were traveling in when it had stopped at a traffic light and decamping on foot but I found myself unequal to the task.

And presently, here we were.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The heartwarming aspects of the VVIP helicopter episode

One thing you have to concede - our government, when it pledges friendship, pledges friendship.

Witness, for instance, the recent hoohaa about the VVIP helicopters, in which we witnessed the heart warming spectacle of the true friendship between the government and the VVIPs.

The story begins, in case you are too preoccupied to open the link, with the government sportingly deciding to spend 3,760 crores of its hard-earned money - money collected painstakingly from millions and millions of ordinary small citizens  - on helicopters for VVIP use.

The VVIPs protested. "This is too much, government. You really didn't have to do this"

The government, good naturedly jabbing the VVIPs in the ribs, joked about it

"What would we, the government, would do without you, the VVIPs?"

"But you worked SO hard for that money" said the VVIPs. "All that service tax on phone calls, excise duty on transport, income tax on salaries, all those income tax scrutiny notices, the service tax show-causes, the Vodaphone litigation"

"Oh, it was nothing" said the government, blushing ever so slightly "Anyway, we have an army of tax collectors who are paid to do this thing on a regular basis. We keep them on their toes with stiffer and stiffer targets. They get stressed out and whine, but in the end they deliver. Sound chaps"

"Thanks, government. You are an absolute doll. But seriously, 3760 crores could provide low-cost housing for nearly 7,50,000 people, according to a study" the VVIPs said "Are you sure that wouldn't be a better spend?"

"Ah, people. People, people, people. We are heartily sick of them. Ever multiplying. Smelly little ingrates. But don't you worry about them, VVIPs, they will manage. They may be smelly but they are resilient. We have great faith in their native ingenuity and toughness. They have survived in places like this They are happier there. Put them in clean places and they will be miserable. Trust us, we KNOW people."

"Well, ok, we guess. You ARE the expert after all" said the VVIPs, sounding a little uncertain "but seriously, wouldn't the money have been spent better in say roads or irrigation or something"

"Roads! Hahaha! Roads! If we spent it on roads, we certainly wouldn't need the helicopters because you VVIPs could drive around everywhere. The only problem is that people would use them too and then where would we be? Stinky smelly people all around, milling, noisy crowds. We HATE people, we tell you"

The VVIPs looked a little placated. "We guess you are right"

"Of course we are right" said the government "We are THE best in this line of work"

"But what about.."

"That's enough, VVIPs, we know you have consciences but don't waste it on people"

And there the matter rested till this terribly uncalled for action by the Italian government investigated the   deal and found that bribes had been paid by the helicopter company to the Air Chief Marshal for this purchase.

 'That's NOT true", the ACM complained, we are told "they paid some totally random chaps completely unrelated to me"

"They were your first cousins, air chief marshal"

"Indeed. First COUSINS. Not my sons or my brother or anything"

The government  found this a most reasonable explanation and has now cancelled the deal altogether.

"Well, WE are relieved!" said the VVIPs, as they poured a drink with the government "We were never that keen on this in the first place"

The government made a wry face. "Well, sorry about that whole mess, VVIPs. Had it not been for that silly officious Italian government, we would have bought those lovely little helicopters and you could have gone to your farm houses and vacations on them, instead of roughing it out on those terrible roads which are bumpy even for a Rolls"

"Ah, it's alright, government" said the VVIPs, "we know you meant well"

Such is a true friendship

Thursday, January 31, 2013


We've been busy at the Shenoy household.

First, elder son, who was away in Mysore studying engineering, came home for his first semester break. That is, he finished his first semester. He came back with a list of places that he wanted to eat in.

And the missus? When I, her true love and eternal companion, say I want to eat in a place, she tells me to stay off the starchy food.

"Stick to salads" she will say and add "especially the ones without cheese". But with son, she will be all indulgent. "Pasta? How about some spaghetti?" she will say, and the words will flow easily.

We went to a place called Pop Tate's (Not kidding. Straight from the Archie comics). Son had his spaghetti.

"Any good?" I asked him.

He lifted up a spoonful and plonked it on his plate, with the air of Mark Antony, just having discovered Caesar's corpse.

"They should call this place Plop Tate's".

"Spaghetti is SUPPOSED to be like that!" said the missus, who was treating Pop Tate's something personal

"This spaghetti is like worms" said the lad

"ALL spaghetti is like worms" said the missus, and as with most obiter dicta of hers, ne'er a truer word hath been said

"But this spaghetti is like DEAD worms. Good spaghetti is like live worms"

Missus paused while she composed a suitable reply. Meanwhile, I got my Chicken Enchiladas.

My delight was visible. apparently, for missus immediately said

"I'm sharing that Chicken Enchilada"


"There is CHEESE in these here enchiladas!" she exclaimed

"There usually is" I told her. As the well traveled man of the world, one has duties.

"There is more cheese in these enchiladas than the entire dairy produce of Mexico"

She said it like it was a disqualification.

In the end, I got to polish off the offending enchiladas while missus re-ordered "Caesar's Salad, please, no parmesan cheese"

All in all, not an entirely unhappy ending!

Friday, January 25, 2013

In which some tigers see me

I had a most interesting trip to the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, with a few friends. I shall call them Dr A, Ms. A, Dr. J and Dr M, and which tempts me to ask you logic puzzles featuring them, which impulse I shall nobly resist.

Right. How it came about was that I waxed lyrical about my last trip, which was in November, and these guys decided it was worth a visit, and in a moment of recklessness, decided to take me along. The missus  couldn't come so I dragged my business partner Mr. D and we tromped off into the wilderness.

So to summarize, the cast is as follows:

Dr. A - smart guy, but never visited Tadoba before
Ms. A - smart lady, Dr. A's significant other, but never visited Tadoba before

Dr. J - smart guy, but never visited Tadoba before
Dr. M - smart lady, Dr. J's significant other, but never visited Tadoba before
Mr. D - smart guy, but never visited Tadoba before
Myself Narendra Shenoy - VISITED TADOBA BEFORE !!!

Alright, let's move on:

Tadoba is about 140 km south of Nagpur. The roads are really excellent, especially by Maharashtra standards. Our driver, who drove like he had taken up taxi driving because formula one wasn't exciting enough, got us there in about 2 hours.

We stayed at the Tiger Trails Jungle Lodge, a very well appointed and homely place at the very edge of the reserve. In fact, it is regularly visited by fauna of all hues, sizes and dietary preferences. Our hosts told us not to step out of our rooms after dark, NO MATTER WHAT.

The food is simply outstanding. We had a simple but delicious meal of a local recipe chicken curry, rotis, a couple of vegetarian dishes (which I admired visually), rice and dal, and some killer kheer for dessert.

After we returned, the first question missus asked was "The food must have been amazing, no?"

"Indeed! How did you know?"

"You're back from Tadoba and you're looking a tad obese. Elementary, my dear Watson"

But I digress

We retired for the night. I had been sneezing and coughing away the entire journey and a couple of thoughtful and immensely therapeutic brandies sent me into a deep dreamless sleep. We were awakened by a cheery "Good morning!" and "Get ready for the safari drive" at what seemed to be midnight. I cursed and tucked in deeper into the sheets but the chap, who seemed to be experienced in rousing city slickers from their slumber, even those who had had brandy shots the night before, persisted and presently, I found myself standing by an open Gypsy in 10 degree C, which felt like -40 to a Bombay guy but once we were inside the forest, I sort of forgot about all that.

Here's the first vista that greeted us ....

 And soon enough, a large Sambar male presents himself. A word here about the "male" "female" thing. These naturalist types have an uncanny ability to tell a critter's sex without seeing its private parts. Some of them have give-away features - the Sambar above, for instance, had antlers which even the most liberated feminist sambar wouldn't wear, so it had to be a male - but other creatures are far less differentiated. Of course, it could be that they said naturalists were randomly giving' gyaan' as they say, secure in the knowledge that the pusillanimous Bombay guy would never get down and check for himself.  Anyway, I digress

A large, beautiful lake from which Tadoba gets its name. Legend has it that there was a wise Gond king named Tadu who became a sprite and lives in this forest

 Spotted deer grazing by the lake

The most feared predators of Tadoba - the wild dogs. The locals call them 'dhole' 

We went on to another, smaller lake called Teliya and came across this!

It was a family of five cats, the mother and four almost fully grown cubs - ("female", our naturalist guide told us almost immediately)

We spent another two days in tranquil bliss, visiting the forest twice a day (and getting a tad obese too, I suppose).

All in all, highly recommended.

Best way to get in: Fly to Nagpur, drive from there

Best place to stay: Tiger Trails Jungle Lodge

Best creature to see: Tigers

Best thing to drink when it's 10 degrees C - Brandy

Cheers and hope you visit soon!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Standup comedy shows and their part in my downfall

Man has always been a sucker for proving himself courageous. Show a Zulu lad a lion, for instance, and he will lose no time in grabbing a spear and challenging the beast to a duel, overlooking completely that he, the lad, weighs about 90 pounds to the lion's  600.

I have a similar impulse whenever I see open mics in comedy places. One does not actually grab a spear and challenge the audience but in nearly every other aspect, the contest is no less unequal.

Thus, last night I found myself confronting a grim looking lot for four eternal minutes. It was on the urging of a close friend, the chap known on twitter as @chuck_gopal, that I did this, and I silently cursed him for having talked me into it. And then I realized it was me. I had wanted to do this. I gulped and started my talk

I had taken the precaution of imbibing sufficient quantities of the stuff earlier in the evening but it did not succeed in suppressing the fluttering in the stomach. I had also, I realised, omitted among all this hustle and bustle, to actually write down something before hand. So about 8 seconds before I was due to be handed the mic, I found my mind completely blank. This is a desirable state of being if you're a practitioner of yogic meditation but not if you're a stand-up comedian staring into a sea of furrowed brows and stony eyes of a group of yuppies miffed at having their electronica music turned off. "You had better be good" those eyes seemed to say "and you'd better have some ethnicity based mimicry handy"

I'm terrible at mimicry. I couldn't imitate a cow eating grass even. So I told them something I had heard back in the old MBA days, which I remember thinking rather clever at the time, which went "I can speak faster than anyone who can speak better than me and I can speak better than anyone who can speak faster than me".

The eyes grew stonier. I made a joke about my sons trolling me. Stonier. One about them convincing me that Edinburgh was pronounced Edinbra which of course was actually short for Edinbrassiere. Not a twitch. The crowd as @chuck_gopal told me later, was tough. He also very diplomatically told me that my stuff was too cerebral for the general public. "Eh?" I remarked to him. "That means" he said in a kindly voice, "not containing any mimicry items". Apparently @chuck_gopal's stuff also was too cerebral for our distinguished audience. We sighed and downed our drinks, he a beer, I my old monk rum, both secretly wishing it were hemlock.

To get on with the story, I prattled on for another three minutes, expecting something squishy to be thrown at me.  Luckily, nothing of the sort happened.

Anyway, the experience has left me a better person, more in tune with the trials and tribulations of my fellow humans, and I have solemnly resolved never to open-mic again, at least not till I have bested a lion with a spear