Tuesday, January 31, 2006

some adbhaice on garlls

Long ago in the hallowed portals of a certain hostel of a certain IIT, dwelt an unremarkable little man called bongu. his name belies the part of india that he came from, but a post describing the remarkable qualities of his ilk does not belong here. bongu-da was a pretty average man, albeit with something in his credentials that few IITians have - an ex-garllphrend. in the process that resulted in her being an ex, she was the dumper and he was the dumpee. however, since bongu-da was one of the few who had any exposure to the female of the species, all of us turned to him in matters concerning them.

"Hum tumko ek adbhaice deta hai", bongu-da told us once, sequentially sipping on chai from a glass and puffing on a 'chhota gold-flake'. "Iph you laaike a garll, nebher be nice to har. (no, not you, Har) It never pays"

For long we followed his advice. If a girl smiled, we scowled, hoping to create an impression. If she changed hairstyles we went and told her it looked weird. If she wore a nice dress, we asked her if she had bought it at a used-clothes sale. Eventually we realized the folly of our ways and learnt to be a decent human being (do i hear sniggers?). Whether or not it has made a difference is another thing altogether, and, in order to maintain the focus of this post, I will not dwell upon it.

Recently, a mail sent to someone i know, purportedly asking her out, was brought to my notice. In the interests of propriety, i am not going to include the original mail here. I could have tried to capture the spirit of the mail but any recreation would have been a shadow of the original. It should suffice to say here that the person sending the mail seemed to be a follower of bongu.

Drawing inspiration from the mail, and wishing to push the frontiers of human knowledge a wee bit further, we conducted a little survey - a sting operation, so to speak, and sent emails to thirty female bloggers. There are different flavors of not-so-niceness here. The responses follow in the next post.

1. Mr. Hindi medium (not-that-there's-anything-wrong-with-that).

Dear Ms. XYZ,
Myself, ABC. I am reading your blog. You are living in (insert city)? I am very much wanting to meet you. I am (insert degree here) in (insert topic here) and am working in (insert company here). But I am not liking that you are talking about s3*. woman should not be open about things like this. It is not our culture. When is your earliest convenience, so that we can meet?
Your's sincerely,

2. I'm so cool (but actually desperate)

Hey XYZ:
What do the next few days look like! was wondering if we could meet.. I don't particularly care about this, but i made a new year resolution to speak my mind, and i would like to catch up with ya. i wanna know what ya think. i'm not a crazy man. heh heh heh. talk to ya laterzz.

3. The compulsive counsellor

I went through your blog. Rather concerned about you. I think you have some severe psychological issues. Email me back here if you want someone who understands.

4. wren and martin ki naajaayaz aulaad

Dear XYZ,
Although I might concede that you have an interesting web-log and that your thoughts may be considered somewhat intelligent, you will have to admit that it is ridden with grammatical mistakes of every manner. Take your spelling, for instance - (insert typo here) should have been spelt (insert correct spelling). In addition to that, the fact that your sentence construction is often flawed is of much concern to me.
Nevertheless, I would be quite interested in being acquainted with you, and, since we share the same city, I propose that we arrange a meeting. Please let me know of a suitable time.

Lastly, an email that was nice, but full of annoying sms-speak.

5. Mr. Luv4u

i like u coz i think our frequencies match. i know what u feel like. if u want to make a friend, call me at xxxxxxxxxx or sms me pleeeeeez coz i will always b there 4 u.

I will reveal some of the responses I got, but before that, do comment on how you would respond to these mails, if you ever got them. I'm sure male bloggers out there get their share of annoying emails too, so please jump in. and smart-ass brownie points are there for the taking.

Friday, January 27, 2006

God-damned Vessels

"It's a vessel", the voice at the other end of the transatlantic call said.
It was a south indian acquaintance of mine. I was on my way back to the US and he wanted me to carry something for him. He had seemed a bit embarrassed to ask and the revelation had come about after some needless hemming and hawing.
"What vessel?" I asked.
"A pressure cooker vessel."
"Dude, I'm sorry, I don't have space to carry a vessel".
"No it's very small. It'll just slip into a corner somewhere."
"Um, how big is it?"
"About one inch by one inch"
I was a bit puzzled, and fast losing patience.
"Are you sure? What do you use it for?"
"For a pressure cooker"
"I know that", I said, annoyed. "I know the damn thing is a pressure cooker vessel, so it has to be used for a pressure cooker! What the hell do you cook in it?"
"You don't cook anything in it"
It was his turn to be exasperated.
"It's a vessel! Vessel Vessel Vessel!! It goes on top. It's heavy. The steam lifts it up. After the vessel blows thrice, the rice is done... steam engines have vessels.. some people can vessel tunes!"

Anyway, in honor of my dear mallu friend's pressure cooker vessel, and having been reminded of 80's television in India by another blogger, with her post about Mr. Yogi, here are three pressure cooker advertisements from the 80's, in ascending order of my liking.

3. At third place is the Marlex pressure cooker ad. This was a fifteen second jingle that was usually repeated twice to fit the 30 second advertisement slots that were available on DD. The ad consisted of a pic of a typical 80's Indian housewife-type (think Lalitaji from the Surf advertisements). She would be holding the cooker. A couple of nondescript food items were on one side, magically suspended in mid air. No, really. It was a magical cooker.

At the top it said "Marlex Pressure Cookers". At the bottom it said, "ISI approved", with a funny looking ISI logo. The jingle went something like:

"Marlex Pressure Cooker, khana jaldi pakaaye kaisi seetee bajaaye. Marlex. Marlex Pressure cooker". Repeat.

Translation: Marlex pressure cooker, cooks curry in a hurry, blows vessel don't worry. Marlex. Marlex Pressure Cooker.

Heh heh. *Looks around sheepishly*. Anyway, it was the simplicity of the ad that made it so perfect. To this day, I can vessel the tune.

2. Hawkins' Pressure Cookers also had an ad that relied primarily on a jingle to carry it through. There was some screen based action (if anything done by Neena Gupta on screen can be called that). The jingle went something like:

Hawkins ki seetee baji, khushboo hi khushboo udee, mazedaar lazaddaar khana hai taiyaar. Murg Musallum, Mutter Pulao, Maa ki daal, this is the part that i randomly hum, Dum Alooooo!!"

Translation: On second thought, no translation. Managing expectations and all that.
Update: See Megha's comment for the entire thing.

1. But of course the most notable pressure cooker ad was for Prestige pressure cookers. Husband and wife enter store, husband looking slightly diffident. This was a theme used a lot in Condom ads in that era. I have no idea why they applied it here. Or maybe i do.

Throughout the ad, the wife stands around looking dumbly. Maybe they did not even show her in the ad. But no, we shall not go into gender biases and such-like.

Husband: Pressure Cooker Khareedna hai.
Shop-guy: (who for some reason, looked a lot like the shopkeeper from the Lalitaji advertisement.) Woh to theek hai. Par pehle yeh bataaiye, ki aap apni biwi se kitna pyaar karte hai.
H: Kya matlab hai aap ka?
S-G: Matlab hai, Matlab hai. Agar aap inhe pyaar nahin karte hai, to koi bhi pressure cooker chal jaayega. Magar aap agar inse pyaar karte hai, to aapko Prestige Pressure Cooker khareedna chahiye.

Husband pyaar-se dekhofies biwi.

H: To Prestige hi dijiye.
S-G: Jo biwi se kare pyaar, woh prestige se kaise karey in car?

Okay, so question: What is the moral of this story? It is this..

What to do? We are like that only!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

In the fair city by the sea..

The insanity is back in the motherland these days, and busy with family and friends. It's been somewhat of an experience overload, and hence the delay in corresponding with all of you, my dear listeners.
To the north of the drive along the Worli Sea Face, home to Bombay's (yes, Bombay and not Mumbai) rich and famous, lies the little known and even less visited village of Koliwada. In what can only be attributed to history and the peculiarity of Indian bureaucracy, this is not yet part of the city. It's a calm and peaceful place, inhabited by the fishermen, the original inhabitants of the seven islands (or nine, as my newfound knowledge would have it). There is a local government, a village market and narrow lanes between houses that remind you more of fishing villages along the Konkan coast, than the urban sprawl of Bombay.
By a peculiar twist of circumstance, i am here, the day after my flight lands from New York, visiting a temple. I am not a religious person, and most of all, I am against ritual of all manner. But I have never been to this place before, and I am curious. A middle aged gentleman in a nicely cut kurta and pyjama, the head of the village - a stereotype defying, extremely articulate man, accompanies us.
The temple is adjacent to the fort of Worli, from which the fishermen sought to defend themselves against the portuguese. It lies in ruins now, and its history mostly unknown - except for this gentleman here, whose ancestors have lived here for centuries.
"The idols were found in the twelfth century by our king and installed in a corner of the fort wall", he says, "But over time, they were lost and remained only in legend"
"The were found in the twelfth century?"
"Yes, out in the sea. Nobody knows where they came from. Perhaps this place has more history than even we fishermen know".
"So what happened?"
"They were neglected and got covered in grime, and became featureless stones. Then, this year, a part of the wall collapsed during the rains. The layers of grime broke open and revealed the idols inside. So we decided to build this temple"
The band waiting outside the temple suddenly comes alive - drums, trumpets and all. A rush of activity signals that something is happening. I turn around and look at him quizically.
"The heads of the other villages have come. Its their day today"
A gaggle of women in green saris bursts into the temple and lines up along the walls. Noisy and chatty, all of them with flowers in their hair. Their happiness makes me a little envious.
"It's been going on for centuries. Every year this day, the heads of the nine villages that later became Bombay come together in a procession and visit us. We keep the tradition alive."
He notices the skeptical look on my face and says:
"What would i be, without my past? Nobody. In our lifetime, we do things and those memories stay us. Why should we not extend the same logic to traditions? Rituals, traditions - just ways of keeping the memories of our forefathers alive."
He nods his head as he says this and loses himself in thought. I choose not to disturb him.

Later that night, as I drive down marine drive to recreate personal memories at Not Just Jazz by the Bay, I think about what he said. I am tempted to agree.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The question..

The crew of the USS enterprise gets stranded on an alien planet and is captured by an evil king who lives in a medieval castle. He imprisons them all, agreeing to release them if they suceed at a game he wants to play with them. The conditions of the game are as follows:
1. He will, at any random time, choose a random person from the crew and bring the person to a chamber that has two switches, one red and one blue. The person is forced to choose a switch and then change its position. Such visits may, or course, be repeated.
2. All the crew members are kept in solitary confinement, and are not allowed to communicate, except for one time when they are allowed to decide upon their strategy.
3. The starting positions of the switches are unknown.
4. Everyone is released when any one of the crew members tells the guards that everyone else has visited the chamber.
5. The crew members are unaware of the passage of time, that is, they cannot count days or anything like that.
Come up with a strategy for the prisoners' release. Hint: Look at my previous post. Its all there.

Friday, January 06, 2006


I lay curled up in the fetal position, in a windowless dungeon that lay deep in the bowels of the medieval castle. This was a place unknown to light, a place where loneliness was your only friend. Somewhere outside lay a whole world, where days changed to nights and nights changed to days. But here, time had reneged on its duty in the war against nothingness and had lost all meaning. Here, more than anywhere else, did the meaning of meaninglessness become more apparent.

The clanging of the heavy iron ring on the door of the dungeon told me that they had come for me, again. Barely supported by muscles atrophied from non-use, I stood up, trembling. They cuffed my wrists and shackled my ankles, and thus in chains, I was dragged to the chamber that had come to define my suffering. I knew what would come next.

My first few times had been unlike this - they were more.. hopeful. There would be the steady pounding in my chest as i neared the chamber, apprehension building up. Would today be the day - the day when I would commit the one act that would lead to my eventual escape from this hell? Every one of those visits to the chamber had proven futile.

Because of the *rules*. The stupid g-d-damned rules that all twenty three of us had come up with before we were sent to our own personal hell. Frustrating rules that killed a man even as he obeyed them. Yet, in them, lay redemption. Following the rules was not *an* option, it was the only option if i ever wanted to be free.

And all the same time, to hope against hope that they would follow the rules, and that *he* would not make a mistake..

Of late, i had grown numb to these visits. I no longer even dreaded them. They were the only punctuation marks in my life. As the guards threw me in to the chamber, I expected to see the small red switch on the right hand side of the room in the off -postion, like it always was. I expected to sigh and head to the other wall - the side of the blue switch. I would flip the switch. I would go knock on the door. They would come to get me, shackle me again and throw me back into my cell, where I would lay whimpering in defeat.

But something was different that fateful day. A little lamp glowed above the small red switch. The red switch was on! I could have fainted with joy as i scrambed across, weak kneed. And I did the one thing that I had been waiting to do, the only thing that meant anything for me.

I switched it off.

epilogue: Freedom came eventually, of course. How could it not? The inescapable laws of mathematics were on my side. The very laws that, during the few lucid moments I had in those days, told me that I would be free, and that was a fact.

[This post might *actually* make sense to some of you. The only thing I can say to the others by way of explanation is that it is an answer to a question. The author gratefully acknowledges the one who posed the question and gave the author the idea for the answer. To those who do not know the question, let me know.]

Monday, January 02, 2006

the other point of view

the R train runs shuttle late at night. it connects upper brooklyn with lower brooklyn. as i stood waiting at the station, it announced its arrival by a rumbling in the rails and a distant squealing of brakes. the doors opened, and i got in. there was the usual warning to "stand clear of the closing doors please". A ding-dong sound announced that the doors were closing- a sound that, if you happen to be running down the stairs to catch the train, sounds a lot like fate saying "f**k-you".

The car was empty except for an old homeless man who kept giving me knowing glances. As he got off at the next station he said, "I know you saw him. Know that you are miserable because you want to find out what this is all about". I got off the station, and crunched back through the packed two day old snow, contemplative, worried when the cellphone rang, and I picked it up.

A musical "Hi" greeted me.
"So, I hear you met someone in the subway.."
"Who are you? How do you know who I met?"
"Lets just say i represent *him* - a guardian angel, if you may"
"Never knew such things existed."
"Now you do."

"He told you about his plans, did he not? Told you that your path could only lead to him. Such a fool."
"He has a point, you know.."
She laughed. It sounded like the tinkling of little bells.
"I expected you to be smarter than that. that outline is not exactly lucid."
"In what way?"
"Curiosity is not opposed to fear. Curiosity arises from consequence, the consequence of not knowing, not finding meaning. Curiosity is the fear of this consequence. He is mistaken. That is why, around here, we are not worried"
"I think i see your point."

As I walked along the street towards the place I call home, I saw the joyously lit christmas trees in the houses of my neighbours, and the flashing "Merry Christmases" and the "Happy new years" in their windows. They served to somewhat brighten up the gloom.

But I had an objection.

"That still does not address his point. He is convinced that the curious mind in quest for meaning will be led to the conclusion that there is no meaning, and all consequence is arbitrary. And if all consequence is arbitrary, including the consequence of not finding purpose, then surely there is nothing to fear. And as per the contract you folks have with him, that leads me to him."

As i said this, I turned the key in my lock and entered my gloomy apartment. I dumped my bag in a corner, tore off my winter layers and got into my bedclothes as she continued..

"Ah, that is an argument he always makes. But first let me tell you what the two basic feelings are. Everything else is explained as a reaction to these. They are physical pain and meaninglessness. Man is in every way equipped to avoid the former, but the second one is harder to deal with. Not all hope is lost, though. In fact, that is why we are here - me and *him*. By the way, I hope you are in bed now. I will put you to sleep."

"Physical pain and pointlessness - pleasure and purpose, interesting counterpoints". I closed my tired eyes, and the angel whispered a lullaby.

"Sleep in peace tonight", she crooned, as I started drifting off to sleep.
"Who are you?", I asked, with the final dregs of consciousness that I could muster.
"You still don't know?"

"I am the meaning of your life"