Monday, December 05, 2011

Daughter, Delhi and Dark Suits

I had to recently go to Delhi for a day. A day is all I could manage, as we have a new baby at home, and one has to ration time pretty tightly when a newly arrived person is at home, particularly if that person is your daughter.

I had to fly in, attend to some "official" work, and fly back. I sat in the insides of a Ministry for almost an entire day. And got to observe the proceedings.

So I sat there. In the corridor. Mostly helplessly. Waiting for the clarion call of the official I came to meet, the committee meeting I came to attend. Observed people scurry by. Trays and trays of tea-cups go into offices, and empty trays returned. Dozens of people with files (with odd papers and documents sticking out) amble into and out of buildings. In any work place, there will be people who will do the "actual" work, and there will be support staff who are supposed to support them. These offices (and Delhi in general) are places which consist entirely of support staff and no people to do the "actual" work.

(I know for a fact that there are awesome people working for the government. I have interacted with many of them. I have read documents written by some of these guys and was stunned by the amount of thought and reason that went into it - rivaling a top-notch philosopher or social-thinker. Some of these guys are the best at what they do. I know there are spot-less white sheep in the herd. But the herd is not a few sheep.)

And it is sweater-time in Delhi. That means that no matter what the inside or outside temperature is, every Delhi-citizen will wear a sweater. At all times of the day. If the Sun God himself came down to Delhi, you can find him walking around in a sweater, this time of the year. I have no problem with that. Only issue is that when these guys who invariably are very "prosperous" looking and sport a very generous Thoppai (varying in size between that of a 6-9 month pregnant woman) wear a sweater - it is very revealing.

Most sweaters are body-hugging type. There is no where you can hide those extra pounds when in a sweater. (Think of loose t-shirts or shirts, without tucking in, if you are looking to smuggle around some of that "happy muscles" unnoticed.) And when an entire population is hell-bent on sweater-ing itself, then all hell breaks loose. Sweaters are particularly unforgiving on men. So, the day went by…and I saw an army of sweater wearing "prosperous" citizens march by and by.

While we are talking about men’s fashion, let me say a few words about the now epidemic-proportion problem of grown men wearing 3/4th pants. What’s the deal with that, really? Recently, I have been spotting this outrage over and over- countless sightings, where I would see a dad (in his 30s) and a son (5-9 yrs old) going for a walk or out on the streets. The small kid will be decent and will be wearing shorts (1/2 pant) or full-length pants and the dad will be prancing around in a 3/4ths. And that too it will be some cargo style 3/4ths with all sorts of buckles and stray loops and buttons and straps hanging out from all over the monstrosity.

Men should understand that once they have crossed 30, they should stop thinking in fractions and wear “whole number” clothes. If there is an option to choose between half-shirt and full-sleeved shirt, dive headlong towards the full-sleeve. If they involve pants, kindly spare us all, and choose something that preferably extends beyond your feet by a foot or two. If you desperately want to feel young or hip or want to announce to the world that you are ubercool, please don’t resort to 3/4ths or shorts or micromini-running shorts etc. You had 30 solid years to indulge yourself in these fashion outrages. Now that time has passed, please graduate to whole numbers – preferably wear some robe or some overalls or - best, wear a dark suit. There is no invention by man that manages to camouflage years and years of hard living in one genius stroke than a dark suit. Put a monkey in a dark suit, and it can attend a business conference without being called a monkey for an entire day. That is the power of the dark suit – use it. And if you can actually sleep in dark suits and never take them off, the world will be a better place.

After a long time of watching hordes of men in sweaters and being visually and aesthetically assaulted, finally I broke loose, after finishing work. Jumped in an auto, rushed to meet my friends in one of Delhi's ubiquitous malls - spent time ideally - doing nothing, walking around and chatting. Got on the flight (one of those low cost airlines with super-narrow seats with 2-inch leg room). And to add to it, there was a crying baby in the back seat. I like babies - but crying babies are annoying. Unless they are yours, when you can wax eloquent about how spirited the baby is etc. etc. So, I am free to complain about third-party babies. Only saving grace on the flight was that my laptop had enough battery to last for 3-4 episodes of Seinfeld. What bliss! There is nothing that can give you perspective and diversion in life than a couple of Seinfeld episodes.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Jolly Gymkhana

I recently joined a local gym. I like going for walks - and it rains in Pune for three months. And it is a bore to take a rain coat or hold an umbrella while walking. As much as I hate plunking cash for running in the same place, I had no choice - and I decided to join the gym.

It is a whole new world inside this gym. It has a character of its own, an ecosystem of its own, to say the least.

There are few types of people who visit this gym. First, there are the "gym-bodies" (who happen to be mostly men) who wear sleeveless baniyans to show off how much muscle they have built-up, and keep admiring their own muscles almost non-stop, by flexing it, swinging their arms, or generally looking very menacing and glancing at themselves in the mirror every half a second.

These gymbodies are some of the vainest creators you could find on the planet. From the moment they walk into the gym they will put out this vibe of "hey man, look at my muscles, and yes, you may faint in admiration or kiss the floor I walk on, and I won't mind". Their faces filled with pride and anticipating compliments from everyone who lays eyes on them. They are mankind's answer to the shenanigans of a peacock. And they move in flocks - they help out each other with the weights, and motivate each other, and generally stick to themselves, unless some mere mortal non-gymbody talks to them.

The other group is the mid-level or higher mid-level corporate or IT guys (and gals). All of them have "soft forms". Let me explain what I mean by that. This is the form you achieve after several thousand hours of cubicle/office work - staring at the computer, and doing little else. The body sort of flows top-down in such cases - the upper body and the arms seem drained, and all the prosperity has found its way into the mid-part of the body and hid itself conveniently - so much so that some short burst of exercise is not going to help. These guys have nice little paunches peeking through their nike-or-reebok t-shirts, wear glasses, and very expensive gym-gear, and give out a general feeling of being terribly lost or completely out of place. They would probably feel much better if someone reunites them with their laptop (with internet connection). They walk around with their workout cards (which prescribes the workout routine you have to follow to improve your "health score") - which doesn't help their image anyway. They might as well wear a "I have no idea what I am doing here - my wife/colleague/friend talked me into it - please help me" card around their necks.

And then there is this "super-rich-above-65" crowd. These are "thathas" and "paatis" who are ultra rich and want to live forever, by working the crap out in the gym, and by being super fit. They try to be hip, and always have a "personal trainer" who dotes on them every second, and follows them around like the vodafone puppy. Once they finish their sessions, they have this silent triumphant expression on their faces (mentally sending a memo to Lord Yama: Kindly park yourself and your buffalo somewhere and have some tea and wait, delayed arrival expected).

The personal trainers are a story in themselves. First of all, they are indicators of class segregation in the gym. People who hire personal trainers are loaded, others not so much. So, if you book a one-hour session with the personal trainer, he or she continuously attends to you, guides you and motivates you by giving cat-calls like "yesss", "you can do it", "come-on", "very good" and so on. And these personal trainers are by definition fit/young and jovial - and there is some inevitable borderline flirting going on with some of the subjects. (All the gymbodies are in very good terms withe the personal trainers - for obvious reasons - birds of the same kind…)

The gym itself is a odd mixture of exercise spot, night club and a tribal village center. The noise level inside the gym is unbelievable - the DJ blasts some supposedly upbeat songs/soundtracks continuously - I guess to mask and drownout the sounds of the cat-calling personal trainers, the treadmills and other background noises. And there is this "spin" room - where they flash some psychedelic laser lights (in an otherwise dark room), play some "fast" videos, and where I have seen people cycle and work out like maniacs. Happy gymming.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chennai Diaries: Holiday in Hometown

I am from Chennai. Yes, my city is hot, humid, and beyond the comprehension of anyone who originated outside it. Yes, we have the worst auto drivers in the world, who will fleece you dry (and we are nor proud of it). Almost everyone who is not from Chennai, when they visit it for the first time, seem to hate it. I understand. A friend of mine landed in Chennai to interview for a faculty position in IIT-Madras and instantly decided that he couldn't be in a city that is so hot and humid, and immediately bid good bye to Chennai. But, none of that will influence what I feel about the city. I love Chennai, unequivocally.

I live in Pune now. So, recently when we got a chance to take a break and decided to go to Chennai for a week - I was pretty excited - as you can see by now. And that too, it was a relatively agenda free trip. No pre-trip plans to visit relatives, weddings, first-birthday parties, LKG-graduations etc. etc. Which meant, that one could actually take a break. And not keep wondering if you have committed a major family-political faux pas by visiting relative X and not visit relative Y and started a Devar Magan level family feud.

Or, so I thought.

The day after we landed in Chennai, a group of relatives landed in my place - invitations in hand, inviting my folks and us for an engagement function scheduled smack in the middle of our stay in Chennai. And, things of this sort kept happening at a rapid pace, completely unplanned and by chance, and before the end of day one of the trip, we had our schedules filled with events, lunches, dinners, bidding goodbye to a hoped-for agenda-free week in chennai.

Man proposes - god disposes. In India, man proposes, his relatives dispose of his proposals, his ideas and rearrange everything so comprehensively around him, the man wouldn't know what hit him.

This no-agenda bliss-filled vacations are a mirage anyway. One can keep thinking about them, and hoping to be completely rejuvenated and super-charged and refreshed after such a dream vacation, so that you jump back into your work and be super-productive - sorry, that is not how it goes. And you have find your vacation and everything else you expected out of it in the midst of all this mayhem and turbulence.

So, instead of worrying over the over-booked vacation week, one has got to do, what one has got to do.

I like to take my cycle and roam around the city. If I start early in the morning, it gives me enough time to do my rounds and return before it becomes too hot, and the roads become too busy. So, I did that. I came across a bunch of coffee shops - I noticed that coffee shops in general are pretty ambitious in life. None of them is content of just being a coffee shop - they all want to be more. In some way they hope they can add a tiny-bit of something else to your lives.

For example, these are some of the name boards I came across: "Mocha Joe's: Coffee and Conversation", "Java Green: Coffees and More", Cafe Coffee Day: A lot can happen over coffee" and so on - you see what I mean. None of them is satisfied with being just a coffee shop. None of them just want to provide you a good cup of coffee and stop there. They always want and hope "more" would happened to you while you are there. Some are clear and specific as to what that "more" is - like Mocha Joe's - they just wish that you would converse your head off while you are having coffee. But some are very generic: Cafe Coffee Day for example, hopes "a lot" would happen to you while you are there. Hopefully next time you are there, you will decide to change your career to be a circus manager, and as a part time activity be a spy and conduct high profile espionage missions, and learn to walk on your head while composing poems in chaste Urdu with your left hand - that would make the coffee shop people happy, hopefully.

Contrast these coffee shops with, say, ice cream shops. For example, baskin robins' name board reads: Baskin Robins: Ice Cream". Very clear and very non-ambitious in their outlook towards life. They don't want "a lot" to happen to you while you are having your ice cream, and neither do they want you to converse or do anything of that sort. They just hope that you would walk in, have your ice cream, and get the hell out of there.

If you would excuse me, I need to leave for a dinner now.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Vadivel's Uthappam

I was watching TV the other day, in one of those vacant states: after dinner, without any purpose, half looking at my laptop screen, half looking at the TV.

On came a Vadivelu comedy scene. In this, Vadivel walks into an empty eating-joint, and sits and orders a Uthappam.

Uthappam, as you might know, is a thick dosa with tonnes of veggies thrown onto it. Normally, at home, when the dosa batter has been lying around for a long time, and cannot be salvaged, my mom will make uthappam - as by throwing in a bunch of onions, coriander and chilli, you can mask the old/sour taste of the batter and by making it thick, you can sidestep the problem of making a thin/brown/crisp dosa. Uthappam is a great escape, a great excuse, and a clearance sale all at once. And with not so bad results, I would say.

That was my understanding of the concept of uthappam. At least until I watched Vadivel's comedy bit. As I said, he orders a uthappam in the bit. He doesn't just order - he recites the exact recipe of how he wants it step by step to the waiter. He almost makes the uthappam take form in front of you.

He starts off with the recipe, by not listing the ingredients, but by giving suggestions as to how to wash/prepare the dosa-pan. He advices to put some water on it and use an un-used part of the broom to nicely clean the surface.

(In restaurants they use a thick slab of stone or iron/cast-iron for superior heat management. By splashing water, you not only clean the surface of any tidbits stuck to it, but also bring down the temperature of the pan and reduce the chances of being stuck with an ugly looking torn-up dosa.)

Then he suggests to take some dosa-batter and make a not-so-big, not-so-small size dosa. Followed by evenly sprinkling finely chopped onions, and green chillies over it. Then comes the master-stroke: he suggests to take some idli-podi and sprinkle it (like a gentle drizzle of rain). And take about 16 ladles of ghee, and put 6 of them on the uthappam and 10 of them around the uthappam for maximum effect.

(Of course the ghee part is very important for browning the uthappam and also caramelizing the onions - if you are diet conscious and skimp on the ghee and add some micro-droplets of super-healthy refined vegetable oil instead, you can kiss a nicely browned uthappam goodbye.)

The way he narrates the recipe is pure genius. How he builds up the interest, and communicates the excitement of an impending super-tasty uthappam is so infectious. Obviously, I was moved to action by the call. And dutifully reproduced the recipe the next morning to some stunning results (particularly sprinkling the idli-podi takes it to the next level).

People who come on TV cooking shows and recite mugged-up recipes and appear half-dead should watch this bit and take inspiration.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

IIM-A Masala Dosa

I was in Amdavad- that is how Gujjus spell Ahmedabad - last week for a conference. Yeah, what is life without conferences? - it would be one long dry spell in which you just work, work and work. Conferences give you perspective - a perspective that in any profession, about 2% of the people do some good work, and the rest just goof off. They teach you that the world is not a fair place, but at least, you are fed and get to travel for free while learning such harsh truths about life.

Late Sunday afternoon, I landed in my hotel (which according to the Indian hotel naming guide had "regency" in its name. The other terms that are invariably used while naming hotels: "royal", "residency", "park", "paradise"). Immediately, I had a couple of hours on my hands to kill (what did I tell you about conferences?). I took an auto to IIM-A. Unlike in Chennai, this auto driver was pleasant and charged me 1/10th of what a Chennai guy would have bargained for. This immediately put me in a good mood. As I landed in the main gate of IIM-A, I approached the guard with some apprehension on whether he would let me in or not, and was preparing arguments in my head like "I am here to attend the World Conference on the Most Important Forum in the World" , and "The Director, IIM-A, personally came to my house to invite me and the guard better let me in" and so on. But, as I approached, the guard and I exchanged some understanding glances (with equal measures of reasonableness and accommodativeness), and he let me through.

I have been wanting to visit the IIM-A campus for a long time now. First reason, I adore Vikram Sarabhai - I have read all I could read up on him, and think that he is a true visionary. He was a phenomenal institutional builder and a humanist who could see the best in people and bring it out. IIM-A being an institution he founded, built and ran, was there on the top of my list.

Another reason is the architect who designed and built the IIM-A main campus, Louis Kahn. I saw a documentary on him made by his son, The Architect, sometime ago. He was one of the best architects of the 20th century and has designed some phenomenal, unique buildings which use exposed brick and concrete as design tools to maximum effect. He was also a deeply flawed man - he maintained three families with three different women at the same time, and died in a railway station, drowned in debt. Personal flaws aside, his buildings spoke very powerfully to people. He built Bangladesh's parliament building in Dhaka, and you should listen to the people of Dhaka talk about the building and Kahn's contribution in the documentary. The affection, gratitude and reverence they feel towards him leaves the viewer moved.

I wanted to see for myself what was so special about his buildings. I roamed the campus.

I landed in the middle of Kahn designed buildings. They ARE spectacular. I am not an architectural expert (and I need not be one to appreciate them). I can tell you how being in the middle of those buildings, walking through their corridors make one feel. It's great. The exposed brick walls give the buildings a timeless feel - the design or the buildings don't look aged at all. The semicircular and circular gaps expose some details, frame the building, break the monotony and give the necessary punctuation marks. Walking through the brick-walled corridors is a sheer pleasure - by doing less, they have elevated the building far from being ordinary.

In the new campus (which is connected to the main campus by a concrete fortified tunnel under the main road), they have used mainly exposed concrete and lots of bamboo plants to frame the buildings - this looks very elegant and sparse. In the tunnel, they have put up an exhibition on the story of how the campus was built, complete with photographs of Louis Kahn working with colleagues in front of a drafting table. And they have also put up a huge photograph of a beaming Vikram Sarabhai (I haven't seen an image of him in which he is less than beaming). I stood for a couple of minutes in front of the photograph. It was like you visited heaven and saw a huge photograph of God staring at you.

No visit to an institute is complete without a visit to the canteen. I found my way to one of the canteens and ordered a very authentic Gujarati dish which you get only in IIM-A: masala dosa. And did some student watching. Thoughts about pay packages and other cliches associated with such institutes flooded the mind. All of them had a sort of we know are in "IIM-A" kind of vibe. I hope these bozos (I know they are not bozos, they better not be- given how influential some of them are going to be; but it is still fun to call them bozos) realize they are walking the corridors and paths laid by Sarabhai, and better do something to hold up the tradition that they have, willingly or unknowingly, inherited.

The conference itself was held in the NID campus (National Institute of Design). The place was bursting with creativity and energy. Odd and no-so-odd artifacts, paintings, wood works etc. displayed all over the campus. Students working in groups on their projects at all times of the day. And just a general feeling of being in the middle of people who love what they do, and don't mind working hard, and having fun when doing it. If heaven existed, it could possibly look and feel like a combination of IIM-A and NID, filled with the same kind of energy and atmosphere. At least, my version of heaven would be like that. And, my version will also have a dozen theaters that screen movies from around the world all day and of course, 24-hour fresh coffee and ice-cream making/vending machines.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Indian Film Classics: Godavari (2006) Telugu

"Godavari" is one of the best romantic comedies made in the last decade or so. It is joyous, it is entertaining, it is enduring and it is that kind of movie which lends itself to repeat watching. It has a very idealistic hero, Sriram (played by Sumanth), who having recently returned from the US after finishing his higher studies, tries to pursue things close to his heart. He likes serving people, so he approaches two leading political parties in his hometown and asks them to hire him for serving the people - the party guys struggle to comprehend his straight arrow idealism, and gently inform him about the ways of the world, and try to nudge him away. Sriram keeps at them.

Sriram has a soft corner for his cousin and wants to marry her, while her father (his uncle) arranges for her to marry a very socially/status-wise eligible guy (who is an IPS officer). When Sriram confronts his Uncle, his Uncle retorts saying: "What do you have? Do you even have the basic minimum stuff to get married, do you have a bank balance, if someone gives you some money, the first thing you will do is to run around to find a person to give it away - I cannot marry off my girl to a guy like you". For this, Sriram replies that he can earn money whenever needed. His cousin doesn't really reciprocate his feelings either. She is the kind of girl who likes guys to open doors for her, offer to help her with her bags when she shops, and take her to high-end restaurants to have tea.

And there is our heroine, Seeta (played by Kamalinee Mukerjee), who struggles to keep her boutique alive and runs around showing her samples to potential customers. She (along with millions of other Indian girls) is pestered by her parents to get married, as she is in her mid twenties, and there is nothing better to do in your mid-twenties than to get married. Seeta doesn't like guys who do a 9-5 job, think only about a retirement plan, fantasize about buying a plot of land in the suburbs and start procreating immediately. Against her protests, her parents convince her to meet a guy - who she ends up thinking as not so bad.

Then comes the river Godavari. Sriram and Seeta end up meeting each other on a boat trip on Godavari (the boat is an improvised contraption, which is sort of a Indian cruise ship, with many small boats tied together). Sriram is traveling to attend his cousin's wedding to the IPS guy and Seeta on a personal journey, traveling alone, to think and reflect, after the guy whom she okays to marry rejects her, opining that she is a bit "too fast" for him.

Of course, they meet, they fight, they reconcile, they get closer to each other, and the cousin character intervenes. The cousin dilly-dallies about her decision to marry the IPS guy and ruminates on marrying Sriram. This complicates things and leads to misunderstandings. And of course, Sriram and Seeta finally reunite. This story arc has been followed in a thousand movies. But not many of them work the way "Godavari" does.

More than 3/4ths of the movie takes place on the boat on Godavari. There is an assortment of characters on the boat - the feisty dosa-lady, the trip manager, a balloon-seller-kid who has his own problems, and a talking dog. Yes, a talking dog (actually several talking dogs and a talking parrot as well), which provides an additional comedy track by giving a commentary on the proceedings from its perspective. Some might say putting a talking dog in a modern movie is going over the top - but, hey, it works and the dog is funny, and that's what matters.

The characters of the hero, heroine, the cousin, the uncle, the IPS guy are all so well etched out, they almost risk becoming caricatures. It is a good-hearted movie, and has its priorities in the right place. The hero and the heroine have a mind of their own and are progressive. Even when the system pulls them this side and that, they are determined to stay the way they are. They are not gods. They are just decent people who believe that the world could be a better place and work towards it. These characters are reinforcements of goodness in a world where the majority of the people are either lost, corrupt, have given up or just plain don't give a damn.

The movie was directed by Shekar Kamulla (whose "Anand" is another little gem). He thinks and works and directs like he is channeling the great American idealist/director Frank Capra (whose movies are a must watch for people interested in movies, entertainment or idealism). Shekar deals with idealism, but his movies are not drab. They are funny. The dialogues sparkle with humor and intelligence, and the humor is observed and well earned. The music is another major strength of the movie - all the songs have a classical strain to them and along with the background score provide a warm and soothing blanket to the movie.

I had a roommate in grad school, who used to watch this film all the time. When I'd come back for lunch - he'd be holding his plate and eating in a trance, watching this film. When I'd come back in the evening, he'd have started watching the film (from where he left off in the afternoon). And I remember at least a 3-4 month stretch in which this would be a daily occurrence in our apartment. The sun rose and set, the cats mewed and fell quiet and he watched Godavari. In parts, as a whole, day in and day out.

I have a VCD of the film (which I obtained after much searching through Landmark, Hyderabad) - which I watch every 2 months. I would watch it more often, but it takes about that time for my memory to fade and for me to forget the details and revisit the film. There are some occasions when you wish your memory is poorer and you forget things sooner.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cricket? I don't think so!

I don't think cricket is the best of games to play. I am not talking from the perspective of the IPL players or the Indian team who get paid a gazillion rupees for each game, irrespective of whether they are in the playing eleven or not, or even if they are part of the eleven, whether they get to play or not. If someone gives me that much money, I'll keep my trap shut and not complain about the nature of the "game", and this post wouldn't exist.

I am talking from the perspective of the average kid, who haunts the city gullies and the suburban grounds, for whom cricket is a daily reality, and has to deal with the joys and pains of playing the game. That kid happens to be almost every kid in Indian cities and towns. That kid happens to be me.

I played cricket for a long long time. I remember first playing when I was 10 or so, when I went with a friend to a school cricket ground nearby. The elder kids were playing a match and I tried to appear as cool and as knowledgeable as possible (and from looking back would have appeared utterly silly and inconsequential to the 15 year olds playing that day). Starting that day, my playing days continued for a solid decade, before it trailed off.

I was an average batsman, and a below-average bowler. Though I could muster up some wicked half-spin on the ball (when bowling underarm or playing throw), I was never a great bowler. I was the kid who will get to bat somewhere in the nether lands of the batting order - when all the "top" batsmen (read utter cool kids) are out, and before the super-clumsy kids get to play. I was good sometimes. But average to above-average most of the times. I have had my moments of glory - like when in a colony match, I played for 4/5ths of the innings to get my team very close to victory, only to lose by 2 runs. Don't worry - I got my "man-of-the-match" award and my plastic tiffin-box with a cartoon sticker on it during the colony's annual day.

And, my memory of the game consists of mostly waiting around for an interminable amount of time, either fielding or watching the others in your team play (to the chants of "come-on da, good batting, good batting"), and then 5-10 minutes of pressure filled batting stints, and a couple of overs of bowling in an evening of play. Thinking back, or even then, one couldn't pick a more boring and non-participatory game to play.

Basically, playing cricket involves sitting and standing and mulling around for the majority of the game (unless you are the wicket keeper or the captain or the star batsman or bowler). What a bore (for others). On the other hand think of badminton or kabadi or some game like that. You play a game, and win or lose, it is your effort - and you are there and engaged and playing every single moment the game is underway. Of course, in such games, there is also waiting around till you get your turn - but when you get to play - you play for the duration of the game. You don't get out in the first over and wait around for a thousand years to get your chance again.

Of course, there are joys in playing cricket, but most of it is in the periphery. Like the camaraderie you enjoy in being part of a team. Like the joys of rising early morning to hit the cricket ground. And the joy of staying back somewhere close to your ground in the evening, after it is dark, and yapping away with your friends, and arriving late home for dinner. The joy of holding a cricket bat. Its feel. And practicing your batting stance and strokes by yourself, hitting the imaginary ball endlessly, and admiring the correctness of your strokes and follow-ons. The pleasure of holding a tennis ball or cricket ball in your hand. And, the pleasure of practicing your "Richard-Hadlee-level" bowling action when you are walking alone on a road, for the thousandth time. It does have its pleasure points. And it is pretty nice when you are in a rhythm and bat and everything works out.

But as a game, how interesting or engaging is it for the majority of its players - not much is my answer. Play cricket. But also, pick another game, where you could actually spend more than 6% of the time you spend on the ground/court actually playing, and not just sitting around and watching things unfold.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Imperfect Man

Human beings are imperfect. So what? That is why they are called humans. I am not talking about character imperfections here - just the physical aspects. Why the rush to appear uniformly good looking? In a few years time, everyone is going to look like they were made in an assembly line - all alike and without any distinguishing characteristics. Talk about the end of evolution!

Everyone wants to be thin - not that it is wrong in the first place. Just that being thin is not a virtue in itself- definitely it shouldn't be an all-consuming thought that should take up all your waking hours and dreams. Moderation is good - I am all for it. There should be an organic way where one is able to balance work, life, food and other things. And I don't desire a "WALL-E- like" world where everyone is super obese and is levitating around in mechanical devices. But neither do I want to live in a world where everyone is super-correct-sized and has a BMI ranging between 22 and 22.5.

I have been in places where the majority of the population is super-slim and super-tan and super good looking - and something was gravely wrong with that situation. It was just that everyone who looked so was also extremely self-conscious of the fact that they looked great. That takes the fun out of everything. People should go about their lives, and do what they want to do, and more importantly enjoy it, and also make sure that they don't overdo things and have a reasonable girth. One's entire lifetime should' t be dedicated to achieving the perfect look - all your waking hours are spent on either achieving that look, and once you achieve it, spent in prancing around in the shortest/tightest clothes that would best highlight your achieved proportions.

That also brings me to aging gracefully - I can count with one hand the number of people I know who I think have aged gracefully. The majority dye their hair in such shades of black that will make a crow blush. And worse - they become lazy and don't re-dye at regular intervals - which results in interesting shades of color cropping up, and the base-camp turning white, while the peaks remain black. If you are going to perpetuate a lie, at least be diligent about it. Lie with some discipline and conviction, I say.

And about pot-bellies. I am not against pot-bellies per se. It all depends on the context, you see. If a pot-belly is accompanied by a vacant, lifeless face, and a distant look - there is nothing worse than that. Instead, that person can hold a banner saying "I have officially given up on life - so, if you have anything to say to me, save it, I am not interested". But a pot belly + a lively face + a spring in the step + fire in the approach towards life is not bad at all. In fact it is a perfect recipe for aging.

Aging can be done well. I have seen it happen. Age brings charm with it- only that you should not be a knuckle head to not notice it and camouflage it with bright colored neckless t-shirts and bad hair dyes.

I am told (by more informed sources in this matter) that all girls want to have straight hair. Why- I ask. And everyone these days want to straighten their teeth as well - okay, there are some dental advantages for some people to fix their teeth - but I won't buy the argument that everyone needs to do it. There are a lot of people whose smiles are way more charming - just because they have slightly crooked teeth.

I don't even want to get into the botox story. (Actually other people have handled this issue better.) All I want to say is that I think the world will be poorer if Robert Deniro or George Clooney go ahead and botox their frown wrinkles out. Particularly Deniro's wrinkles - it's an asset for him, not otherwise.

All this straightening, dyeing, tanning, and tucking and taping is only leading to the death of aesthetics. As a population, there will be a day when your next door neighbor will be an exact replica of you and everyone else you know. Homogenizing may be good to store milk for a longer duration - it is not so great for people.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

There will be Food!

I don't know what it is about graduate students and free food. Wherever there are grad students, there will be free food. And, wherever there is free food, rest assured, grad students will be there.

Student-event organizers around the world, when they are sitting in their small committee rooms, planning for events, and asking themselves- how do we make sure people attend the event, come up with the same answer over and over again: advertise free-food!

Even if you plan a free food event in utter secrecy, and only one person is involved in the planning, and print only one flyer advertising it and put it in a box, and bury the box in a secret location in the woods, grad students will come to know about it. And they will be there for the event!

I was a grad student not too long ago. And, I should know. Various student organizations around the university, flush with cash (this was pre-recession US, you see), and not having any great ideas about how to spend the money, will announce a couple of "free-food" events per semester, in the pretense of the "meet your fellow graduate students and network" cloak.

Actually, no grad student is interested in meeting other grad students. That is why they are grad students in the first place. So that they can get cooped up in a small lab or office somewhere and put up with their advisor's tantrums and unreasonable demands, and browse the inner most recesses of the internet, and get solace from those inner-sanctums. If they were the social beings that the "networking" poster would want you to believe, they would have known better and avoided grad school altogether.

At this point you might wonder, this can't be true and there must be guy-grad students who must be interested in meeting gal-grad-students and vice-versa and such events should be considered as a personal, hand-delivered blessing from God. You are right, but grad school is the wrong place for that. Particularly if you are in the science/engg stream - you will learn this pretty quickly. Students who walk into these departments hoping to meet their Madam Curies and Pierre Curies to become the ideal couple and clank test tubes instead of champagne glasses are in for a rude shock. (The quality of romantic material will most probably be like the quality of paperbacks you find in a waste paper shop- that is a separate story, to be ruminated later!)

The grad networking events, promote only one kind of networking- students networking with food! And most of these events will be held at an ungodly hour. Have you ever heard of a 5.00 pm dinner buffet! You have if you are a grad student. And the best part is when you turn up for this 5.00 pm dinner at 4.45pm (thinking you have outsmarted the smart crowd), and find an already-formed queue that's at least as long as Hanuman's tail. And you join the queue, and slowly move towards the food tent.

And the closer you move to the tent, the more nervous you feel. You see these grad student turned goblins stacking their plastic plates with so much food, and fleeing the crime scene before someone can catch up with them and claim the food back. Have you ever seen a hamburger patty sandwiched between two other hamburger patties? - grad students are smart cookies you see- why waste precious real estate on your plate by putting something as ordinary as a bun on it. Instead stock it with brownies and cookies that you can actually use as snacks for the next two centuries. And forget about seconds. If you are lucky enough to get into the tent once, you should consider yourself lucky. And even luckier if by the time you enter, there is actually some reasonable speck of food in the trays, and not just some ketchup and mayo packets and some cookie crumbs.

While the haves sit around and gorge (what looks like) their last supper, the have-nots try to save face by holding a plate with something resembling food on it, and holding a paper cup with water in it, and pretending to drink fruit-punch or iced-tea, and stylishly tossing the cup in the already exploding waste-bins and walking into what is clearly not a sunset for at least the next 2 hours.

P.S.: UN food managers who will be delivering supplies to calamity-hit regions, should consider training as volunteers in such grad events. They might not be able to take the pressure - but, hey, that is what training is all about!