Friday, November 27, 2009

Vote for me. Wait, don't!

Things are heating up. Voting for the indibloggies award - this blog has been nominated for the Most Humorous Indiblog award - has opened and I thought I must go out there and beg for votes. Offer free drinking water, perhaps, and raise the minimuim support price for sugarcane. And then, thinking it over, I realized that everyone will be saying the same thing. After all, how much water can you drink?

So I decided to adopt a novel strategy - the non-direct approach. I thought I would tell everybody not to vote for my blog, the logic being that the voter would think "my god, what a frank and honest candidate! Disarming. Let's vote for him!", resulting in a thumping victory and the right to be paraded around town on an elephant with a garland and a large vermilion mark on my forehead.

And then I remembered that this approach hadn't worked in my early years when, as a young lad full of hormones and hope, I joined the girlfriend stakes. All my competitors, dressed in bell-bottom trousers and Amitabh hair, wooed with all their might while I gently pretended not to be interested in anyone of them. My general strategy was to sit around on campus pretendintg to read Sartre and Bertrand Russell and this strategy basically got me approximately 0.0 enquiries per annum. And finally when I realized it had bombed, I couldn't very well go the bell-bottom trouser way because everyone would know what a fraud I was. Thus I was stuck mateless till the missus sashayed along and did her life's quota of kind deeds by the single act of marrying me.

Now my dilemma is this. Do I be direct and beg you to vote for me, promising free 500ml arrack and half fried chicken or do I get subtle and ask you to vote for someone else, hoping that you will follow all the logic above and vote for me?

So please, vote for me!.

No, wait! Don't

No, no, I mean vote for me

No, don't  .......

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

China - Part II

This is going to be a not-very-China-especially-considering-its-title post because like an ass I've let too much time elapse between the trip and my writing it and my famous Shenoy memory has more or less wriggled out of the "burden of remembrance", as I remember reading somewhere.

Why am I writing this post, then, one might ask in a fit of petulance. Well, that's because I said I would in 'China-Part I' making it a fait accompli, which is a phrase I've been using practically since childhood.

I remember reading it somewhere and for a substantial part of my life I believed that 'fait accompli'  was French for 'if luck is on your side'. In my MBA student days, I would waste no opportunity to include it in one of my assignments, and my teachers were often browbeaten into submission by sentences like "the ROI of the project is likely to be 17.3%, fait accompli".

The concerned teacher, knowing that, like 'paradigm', 'vis-a-vis' and the General Theory of Relativity, only three humans know the meaning of 'fait accompli', would dish out an 'A', apprehensive that I might be at his throat otherwise.

It was many years later that I was suitably pulled up, by the missus of all people. "Naren!" she exclaimed "What on earth do you mean "India will win, fait accompli". I told her I used 'fait accompli' in the sense of "Inshah Allah", whereupon she laughed for five minutes, then despaired for another five because she had evidently married a complete moron, and then told me the bitter truth. Fait accompli does not mean "God-willing". Fait accompli means fait accompli.

I hope this clarifies the situation for you, fait accompli.

Moving on to China, we spent most of our time in a furniture mall, describing the humongousness of which  is beyond the abilities of a Bombay-wallah brought up on 2BHK.  I am reasonably certain that they conducted hang-gliding lessons in that mall on Sundays and national holidays. I don't speak much Chinese (their thank you is "she she yeah" to which, and here I think they pulled my leg, the reply is "Beyonce". So you go "she she yeah" and the Chinese person says "Beyonce". Honest). As I was saying, I wasn't able to enrol for the hang-gliding lessons, but I am reasonably sure they are conducted there.

The place sells every concievable kind of furniture. I didn't even know there were that many kinds. There is classical, neo-classical, colonial, modern, contemporary, futuristic and Zaphod Beeblebrox (for want of a better name. I think they call it 'designer').

The missus had a field day and began shopping on a point-and-shoot basis. Like all good human drama, I will leave my agony to the readers imagination and tell her only that after three days of lunchless shopathons,  I felt like a lost traveler in the Gobi Desert seeing mirages of beds and mattresses only to find they were furniture shops.

Eventually, we got back to Guangzhou city (the aforementioned furniture place was another burg called Shunde, a couple of hours drive out of Guangzhou, where we had shifted base camp when the shopping was happening).

In Guangzhou we, surprise, surprise, shopped again. This time for the famous fake stuff.

To tell you the truth, I couldn't bring myself to believe that the stuff was really fake, so well is it crafted. I thought of the guys selling them as fine, altruistic gentlemen, upholding the true spirit of socialism, insistent on everyone, including obvious losers like me, wearing a priceless Rolex on his or her wrist.

The missus refused to let me even look at them. "I've been told they are hopeless" she told me, and added ominously "and I do not wear fakes", which I knew well because I had, in the early days of our marriage bought her a fake Omega watch which got me a big wet kiss and continued to yield much love and affection till some spoilsport friend of hers told her it was fake. I got it nice and proper at that time.

Coming back to the res we found that almost everything is Guangzhou is fake. Every manufactured thing, that is. But there is a lot of lovely food and tea available and we spent the rest of the day pottering about the place, eating quaint meals at quaint places, perhaps sometimes comprising of quaint animal species but we never got to find out because we mercifully spoke no Chinese beyond Beyonce.

I loved the people. The ordinary people. They are genuinely polite and have the innate humility that only a couple of generations of brutal totalitarian rule can bring. There is prosperity in China, true, but that is only for the few million early birds who lucked out in Deng's time and started something. The rest of the country is comprised of confirmed slaves for all time. A revolution waiting to happen, if you ask me. And I hope it does, in our life time at least. Those people deserve better.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Indiebloggies

You could've knocked me down with a feather when I saw this

I have been nominated for Best Humourous IndiBlog. I don't know how much of an honour that is in absolute terms but I am rubbing shoulders with
which are four blogs I follow with a microscope, and being on the same list as them is honour enough for me. Each one  of them is a gem.

I don't know how the voting works but I'm going to vote for all of them, creating multiple ids if required (following in the illustrious footsteps of great leaders all over our country, especially UP and Bihar).

Doing Jalsa and Showing Jilpa (by Krish Ashok) is about the most intelligent blog around, in addition to being truly funny. His posts are like Rahman's music - they get better every time you read them.

Son of Bosey (Anand Ramachandran) is my personal favorite - the best satire I've read anywhere, not just online. It satirizes without ridiculing, which is such a difficult thing to do. And it is guaranteed to make you laugh till your sides ache.

Bengaluru Banter is particularly funny for me because its author, Biker dude, is a superb observer and mimic and imitates the Bangalore argot very well. I travel often to Bangalore and I hear all that Bangalore speak often enough to laugh really hard. He is also a sensitive writer. Some of his posts are literary gems. Sadly, he doesn't post very frequently.

Coconut Chutney is one of the wittiest young ladies on the net. She has just the right balance of wit and irreverence to make you laugh. She is really gifted with words.

It's a tough choice, but it has to be one of these four. Krish Ashok or Anand Ramachandran for my money, but it could easily be Bengalooru Banter or Coconut Chutney. There are other blogs on the list at Indibloggies but I haven't been really following them. Didn't look anywhere close to these four at first glance.

I realize I'm not exactly plugging my own blog but the fact is that merely sharing the stage with these guys has made my day.  My posts are cute but I tend to (consciously, I confess) imitate Wodehouse which doesn't do much for originality. And my themes are pretty jaded too - the missus oppressing me, aided and abetted by the kids - and here, the reason is that my thinking machinery is very rudimentary and I am terrified it will pack up entirely if I make outrageous demands of it, such as originality.

So I hope you go ahead and vote wisely. Remember, if none of the candidates are handing out free booze, vote for the best one.


Friday, November 6, 2009

China - Part I

This is a true and factual account of my China trip. Longish and rambling, as true and factual accounts usually are, but written with sensitivity and feeling. Right.

I don't know how the thing started. It might have been my patriotic impulse to sort out the Arunachal Pradesh imbroglio, which is the first time I've used this word in real life, so pardon me while do a little war dance. Or it might have been that I wanted to buy some furniture for our new house.

Anyway, I found myself face to face with Hu Jintao, the Supreme leader of the Council of Supreme Leaders of the Peoples and workers party or something, aka, The Man Who Kicks All Ass in China.

Hu wasn't much of a lad for conversation. A taciturn and grim bloke. And to me, he looked like someone with gas trouble. And he kept saying that everything was an integral part of China.

“Arunachal Pradesh?”

“Integral Part of China.”

“What about Tibet?”

“You gotta be kidding me” Hu's been spending too much time with American policy makers “Tibet is definitely an integral part of China”.

I tried to change my tack. Perhaps the soft power of Bollywood would soften him up. I once escaped a traffic ticket by asking the cop if he was related to Rajesh Khanna. He wasn't, but he was flattered that discerning cutters of lanes and jumpers of signals thought so.

“Are you related to Preity Jintao” I asked, just to break ice. He eh-eh-ed and consulted with advisors, all of whom presented the standard inscrutable Chinese appearance of mild puzzlement.

“She's a Bollywood actress,” I added, by way of clarification. “She might be from a collateral branch of your family”

“Ah, Bollywood! Integral part of China”

Now it was my turn to be puzzled. “Since when?”

“You made a movie called 'Chandni Chowk to China', did you not”. “No! No! No!” I screamed. “I did not make that movie!”

“Wake up, Naren”, I heard the missus saying, with a well aimed finger jabbing me in the ribs. “We'll be landing in Hong Kong now. And you look a complete mess.”

As far as the missus is concerned I am always looking a mess but this time even by my extremely considerate standards, I thought I resembled something dragged out of a trash can by a cat with very catholic tastes.

“Must have been all that work pressure from yesterday”, I told her, “I was really exhausted.”

“Nonsense. You had far too much wine. Come on now, fill up these immigration forms,” she said. And as usual, the filling out of all kinds of forms being in my job description since the day I was married, I plodded through the things and wondered for the zillionth time who in his right mind would read anything written in it. In fact, this is exactly what I think when I write something on my blog.

And in addition they had one of those disarmingly innocent health declaration forms which in effect says, when you take away the heretofores and whereases, “No boss, I am not having any bird or swine flu”

Bureaucrats all over the world are the same. We used to have a Premier Padmini back in the days when I was a dashing young lad, carefree and debonair, to which I had an air-conditioner fitted. My father used to call it the perfect metaphor for bureaucracy. It would generate lots of air. It would create plenty of activity like louvres swinging and lights glowing on. It would use up a lot of resources. The only thing it wouldn't do was cool the car. But I digress.

We shuffled into line before the immigration officer who gave me a long and unblinking stare which made be feel I was an international spy, and then, thinking it over, decided I didn't look smart enough to cause any real damage. He gave me my passport and glared a “beat it, creep” look at me. The missus of course never has these problems. They smile at her, she smiles back, plenty of thank yous and you're welcomes. There is no justice in this world, I tell you. If between the two of us there was one who could stage a coup d'etat and takeover a country, that would be the missus. I couldn't take over an unmanned lighthouse. Yet they treat her like she was Queen Victoria while I get the reception reserved for people suffering from halitosis.

That little ceremony over, we shuffled into a bus which would take us into China, to Guangzhou, and I witnessed for the first time an immigration check where the immigration officer doesn't bother to even look at you. All done in five minutes. I was extremely impressed with Chinese efficiency and their faith in Old Confucius' maxim that the country which executes illegal aliens doesn't have many.

The Missus and I, celebrating my acceptance by the Immigration chaps

Our hotel turned out to a very lavish place, considering what we were paying for it, with a bevy of extremely well coiffured Chinese ladies welcoming us. One of them, rather sportingly I thought, asked me how my knee was. I've been troubled by a touch of arthritis over the last few months and had blogged about it. Perhaps this charming lady had read it.

“ Oh, it's much better now, thank you very much, though it still hurts a bit if I climb stairs too fast”, I told her.

She looked helplessly from me to the missus, who promptly hissed “Silly! 'Ni Hao' is 'Welcome' in Chinese” and gave my bewildered interlocutor a conciliatory smile.

I soon learned that in China, English has the same staus that Hindi has in Chennai. Everyone agrees that it is an important language but no one gives a rat's ass about learning or speaking it. And who is to say they're not right. Chinese is a particularly dicey language, though. It has a lot to do with intonation, which means that you can say the same sentence in two different sing-songs and mean two completely different things. Like you might want to compliment the hostess on her nice house and end up telling her that there are astronauts urinating in her back yard. I had heard a story, probably apocryphal, about a bloke who wanted to know where the restrooms were and accidentally ended up marrying a Chinese girl.
I decided to stick to English.

A funny thing among most English speakers is that we believe people who don't understand English can magically understand it if we speak it in broken syllables with gesticulation. It doesn't work. I had a situation, right on day 1, where, typical of me, I had forgotten to charge my phone and it was on it's last legs, a bit like the flickering lamp next to the dying grandfather in Hindi movies. About to go out at any moment. So I asked my hosts with active sign language, brandishing my phone, for a charger.

“Charrrr gerrr” “Chaaaaar Gerrrr” I asked. At first they looked at me with a completely stoned silence, like they had just smoked this awesome weed and I was somebody's father who had just barged into the room.


“Charrrr gerrr” “Chaaaaar Gerrrr” I asked again, this time with hand and leg gestures.

Something seemed to be stirring. Suddenly one of them exclaimed “Oh oh oh oh okay okay okay okay” in joyous comprehension and rushed out, beckoning me to follow. We went down two flights and landed up opposite a washing machine. I'm not making this up.

Stay tuned for part II folks.