Saturday, 26 December 2009

Tell me what you think

It's that time of the fast-fading year when you look back and reminisce. And when people start doing that they suddenly find that their audience has faded much, much faster than the year in reminiscence! So I will thrust upon you one thing that binds us together: This blog.

I started the writeclick gig in March and it's one of the more important things I did last year. The initial laziness apart, soon I was into some kind of rhythm. I was writing, not prolifically or by appointment, but regularly enough to get at least a few of you interested. (Shamelessly using Facebook status updates to advertise my posts helped a lot!)

Like every writer, I was always keen to know whether people were reading what I write. But I didn't know how. Until I stumbled upon sitemeter.com I promptly put a sitemeter; you can see the sign on the right hand side of the page. It tells me wonderful stuff like how many visits, page views, from which part of the world, which site the visitor reached writeclick from and etc. Of course, it doesn't tell me any personal details about the visitor but this is great. Especially because it is free!

Apart from my friends from Facebook, I discovered that a lot of people are reaching writeclick through google image search. Now that's a surprise. I don't consider myself a photographer and the photos here are just a way of recording things I find funny or important.

That discovery brought another thought to the front, something I had been considering since the time I found that I could 'monetize' my blog. That is, google would put ads on writeclick depending on the type of users visiting the site. I would get paid depending on how many visitors clicked on those ads...

I always thought that as a 'non-option' because I believed that majority of the people visiting writeclick were people who knew me personally. Now, with the sitemeter statistics in hand, I am tempted.

But I would like to ask you, the people who visit writeclick by choice and not by accident, about what you feel about this whole 'monetizing' business. A simple comment, 'Yes' or 'No' will suffice. And help me make up my mind.

Thanks and have a great year-end and a greater new year.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas is here

The nights have turned magical. Vines of light - blue, green, yellow and red - punctuated by fruits in the guise of stars hang from trees dotting the by-lanes of Bandra. Traffic is piled up in an alley where the celebrations have spilled out of a house; uncles and aunties weave between stuck cars balancing glasses of whisky. Car windows stay rolled up and no one honks. The heart of Bandra is a village and in one of its courtyards a tree has burst into a blossom of impossibly blue stars. Christmas is here.

Elsewhere there is traffic.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

A couple of nights ago

The drunk took a step forward, and fell backwards, flat on his back.
There weren't too many cars on the road. But there were still quite a few people around. The shops hadn't shut as yet. Ten steps further, in an L-shaped section of a narrow lane, women stood with hands on their hips, waiting to part their legs if they won the bargain. They usually did. Beyond the lane, five hundred metres away, bright lights shone in a mall that had come up on a piece of land that used to be a textile mill. If this were a movie you could cut to the mall and the camera would take in the knot of people giving sound bytes to the TV cameras. “So what do you think about the awards?” “About the recession?” Outside the immediate glare of the lights, there were more questions. “So why don’t we catch up for a coffee?” “Better still, let’s do dinner right after this?” “Can I get you another drink?” “Can I have your card, your phone number, your relationship status?” Flickering matches held in wavering hands. Giggles mixing with smoke and rising, curling their way up the cold chimney of the defunct textile mill.

The drunk got up without help. He looked around, found his bearings and stumbled towards the L-shaped lane.
“So what’s the rate tonight?” he asked. 

Monday, 14 December 2009

Links for the earlier post

For some reason blogger has gone weird on me. I can't edit the earlier post and the links aren't working. So here goes:


Ashish's blog is here. Majida's song is here. And Udhas, here.  

A friend and a song

“For some reason, the song reminds me of the early 80s when the war images were a constant on the news. That war really opened our eyes,” said the Facebook update of Ashish, my college friend who had posted a link to a song. The song is a lament for Beirut, written by Nizar Qabbani, a famous poet, and sung by Majida al Roumi , a famous singer, and is a plea for forgiveness to the city they lived in, took for granted and hurt callously…
I loved the contradictions and combinations in that one song and statement. Ashish was born and has spent most of his life in Bahrain. He is a Protestant Christian, though his name and surname give away the fact that his Hindu ancestors were converted by Christian missionaries in some part of Maharashtra, India. Majida is a Christian singer lamenting Beirut, a city that has a mixed population and history of Christians and Muslim,  with a song written by a Muslim poet.The lyrics of the song reminded me of a popular song sung by Pankaj Udhas in the eighties that went, चिट्ठी आयी हैं, आयी हैंचिट्ठी आयी हैं, बड़े दिनों के बाद, ले हम वतनो को साथ, वतन की मिटटी आयी हैं... (Chitthi aayee hain, aayee hain, chitthi aayee hain, badein dino ke baad, le hum vatano ko saath, vatan ki mitti aayee hain…) Whenever Udhas sang it to expats especially in the Gulf, there wasn’t a single dry eye in the audience…
I love and treasure the plurality that makes a man get nostalgic about a song sung by a singer of a different faith, about a foreign city and about someone else’s war. And I so hate the forces that want to take this variety and plurality away from us under the guise of this or that.
I read this post and heard this song last Friday. It was morning and I was sitting in the bedroom with the curtains drawn. When the song ended, I got up, opened the bedroom door and was confronted by unexpected sunlight that had burst into the living room.

After writing this post, I mailed it to Ashish, asking for his permission to write about him in the post. He replied with a, ‘Yes’ and a lot more. And I was tempted to post his reply as well. Here it is, with his permission:

 Oh no problem at all. I'm glad the song touched you the way it never fails to stir me. Growing up in Bahrain, the Beirut civil war was a regular feature on the evening news. As a child it meant nothing but as I grew older and became a teenager, the war images became a seed for my eventual social and political consciousness.
The Israeli invasion of Beirut in the early '80's was the one that made me really angry and aware of a world 'outside' where people do not lead normal lives. It just didn't seem fair and the Shabra Shatila massacre masterminded by Ariel Sharon was bewildering.
One of my memories from that time was meeting a Reuters journalist in my church who was stopping in Bahrain en route to Beirut. I asked him, “Why on earth do you want to go to Beirut?” He replied, “That's the most exciting city to be in for journalists”. He then gave me a small talk on what inspires journalists, what journos are looking for and what qualities I need to have to be a good journalist. Inspiring talk given to a schoolboy.
He was transferred to Bahrain years later and when I reminded him of his talk, he shook his head when he heard I joined advertising and public relations.
Going back to that song, it does bring a whole load of memories but most importantly it reminds me of something I should never lose: That fresh revulsion towards senseless violence and the desire to want to do something about it.
I suppose, in the 70s and 80s, when Beirut was burning, the terrorist spectre in India wasn't widespread as it is now. The Khalistan problem was a few years away and the 'news from India' wasn't scary. 
By the way, Majida Al Roumi is a Christian* and interestingly, there are many Christians in the Arab world who trace their Christian heritage to the time of Christ. Hence, Arabs view (and I agree with them) Christianity as part of their culture and don't see it as having 'western' origin.
Nizar Qabbani was a very famous and highly popular poet whose death in the late 90s was deeply mourned in the Arab world. Fundamentalists didn't like him because his poems were deeply sensual and he used such imagery to express lots of progressive ideas.
The thing is, the Arab world is culturally, ideologically and philosophically diverse. Much of the world has a stereotypical notion of long bearded, intolerant Wahhabi terrorists. The reality, however, is that the Arabs are much more diverse, and yet such a picture is rarely revealed.
Perhaps it is convenient for some quarters to stereotype this region for their own ends. Any other image will not justify any 'violent' actions they may want to take.
Well, I didn't imagine I'd be talking all this but I guess that's what a great song can do... take us places. 
 - Ashish

*I had thought and written Muslim first.
For Ashish's blog, click here. Majida’s song here. Pankaj Udhas’s song here.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Of men, women and muffins.

Woman: Would you like to eat something? A muffin?
Guy: Yes. Muffin.
They walk up to the counter.
Woman: I think you should have a brownie. Chocolate brownie.
Guy: Muffin. (Points to a muffin.) This.
Woman: That’s a banana muffin. See this, this is a chocolate muffin.
Guy: This.
Woman: That’s not a muffin; that’s an apple pie.
Guy: This.
Woman: Apple pie?
Guy: Yes.
They place the order.
Woman: Where do you want to sit? Inside or outside?

Real conversation between woman and five-year old son transcribed at a  local café. 

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Times is changing. The times aren't.

After decades and decades of being on the front page of The Times of India, R K Laxman's Common Man is losing his solus position. It's a recent phenomenon and an irregular one. There are days when you can find him in his usual spot and on others, he is tucked away somewhere inside. The first time I noticed this pattern, I remember thinking to myself, 'Hmm. But Laxman is getting repetitive. His subjects are the same, the ones I remember from my childhood: Bad roads, corrupt politicians, inefficient bureaucrats, unfulfilled election promises, rural poverty, uncleared garbage, escalating prices... The same, the same'. Vaguely, I thought to myself that Laxman must begin to tackle some current affairs...

Then it hit me. Like a slap that wakes you up from sleep.

In the thirty-five odd years that I have been reading Laxman's cartoons, India might have gone from whining to shining but some very basic things that affect the common man still haven't changed, improved or aren't on their way to improving.

So here's my plea to The Times of India. Please keep Laxman and his Common Man on the front page. In this din of celebration we need a voice of conscience, however small.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

0.03% forests. 99.07% cynicism.

'Continuing the commendable trend of the past decade, India's forest cover increased by 728 sq km during 2005-2007 - a marginal rise of 0.03%. Overall, 21.02% of the country's geographical area is now under green cover. In the 10 years, forest cover in the country has increased by 3.31 million hectares, showing an average 0.46% increase every year,' says a State of Forest Report quoted in today's Times of India.


For some reason, probably cynicism, I am reminded of this joke:
New York Police, Scotland Yard and Mumbai Police gather on the outskirts of a forest to determine who is the best. The test is to find a deer that will be let loose in the forest.
NY Police takes a day. Scotland Yard, half a day. However, even after three days the Mumbai Police team doesn't return. Worried, the judges decide to investigate. Half an hour into the jungle they stumble up on this scene:
A monkey is tied upside down to a tree and a Mumbai Police constable is whipping it with his belt. With every lash, the Police inspector yells, "Say it: I am a deer".

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Whisky & Shell

"Carbon capture and storage (CCS) -- gathering CO2 emissions at their source and pumping them underground -- faces steep cost hurdles, but may someday be worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year", a Shell executive said. (Read the full story here.)


But I wonder how it can 'be worth hundreds of billions of dollars' or, as the Shell CEO says, "(CCS) is one of the few technologies that has the potential to become very big'.


Maybe they will lay pipes from the used gas reservoirs where it is stored to our homes. So like piped cooking gas, we can have piped CO2 and make our own soda! Imagine pulling out a hose from under your bar and squirting some into water and turning it into soda. The kids are going to be thrilled.


Maybe the day when Shell takes over Coke isn't very far. That would explain 'hundreds of billions of dollars'. 


But remember:
1. You read it here first.
2. Dear Shell, the idea has been patented.

Monday, 23 November 2009

A deep environmental comment


Is this a take on global warming? Or a dig at Mumbai's non-existent winter? Do penguins really come in those colours? Maybe I should just buy those shoes and run out of here.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Tweet nothings

In my continuing tirade against twitter.com, here's the next problem: When one of your followers (if that makes you feel like your name begins with Sri Sri or Yogini, it's not your fault), comments on your tweet, the comment appears like a new tweet by you. Except it begins with @follower's name. (This @ business has got carried over to facebook comments but that's an older story on this blog.) 
The problem of course is that if the same follower comments on two or three different tweets there is no clue as to what comment goes with what. Imagine returning to your twitter account after a week's break to find a lot of comments.
Like I pointed out to a friend in a recent e-mail: 
Twitter! I am not going to be a big follower of that, unless I have
5-10 thousand followers of my own! I guess that's the funda of twitter; it's great for celebrities etc. who have fans who'd love to read stuff like: I am in Paris, city, not Hilton.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Cyclone. Warning.




We went home and waited for the storm
But the storm knew its history better than us
Like its ancestors
It gave our coast the skip, again, knowing
That when a city is being ruined by its own
It needn't waste its supernatural breath...

A bitter-tweet experience




I gave in to the temptation and created a twitter account. That was yesterday. Since then I have one tweet and three followers and I follow 41 people. This is what I don't like about twitter:


The whole so-sweet look; the bird, the colour schemes, the background design options. Sorry, not so-sweet, no, not cho-chweet either, but tho-tweet. That's the other thing I don't like: The desperation to create a twitter vocabulary. Here are couple of examples from the right-hand top corner of my twitter page:



In keeping with the tho-tweet nature of the site, I can say that someone's tweet is a 'favourite'. Yeah, I can write a nasty comment but if I can choose to 'favourite a tweet' (not the grammar of my choice), then why can't I choose to hate a tweet?


Lastly, I really don't like the monologue-nature of the site. It's like listening to someone think aloud. Or like reading a telegram. And like a telegram, I think I will only tweet when there is something of utter urgency to communicate.


Maybe that space on the top right corner can add this:


Monday, 9 November 2009

Opportunity knocks seven times

Close on the heels of the press ad for the BMW Z4 Roadster that used the word, 'Joy' eight times, comes this a gem: A full page ad on the last page of last Saturday's Mumbai Mirror:
Opportunity .. So Rare ...
If you still haven't picked one
when will you?
(Only 45 Plots Balance)

This headline is accompanied by a hand about to pick up a diamond the size of a coconut.
The body copy takes the 'Opportunity' further:
Many times opportunity knocks at your door...
In order to cash in the opportunity, you should be clever enough to respond quickly...
Wise people identify opportunity immediately and grab it before others...
Now when a rare opportunity like Bhimashankar Hills is available, you would not like to miss it...
Bhimashankar Hills offers unbelievable features at lowest cost...
Isn't this a rare opportunity?...

The closing line that follows after the project details completes the circle (of opportunity):
Bhimashankar Hills, Karjat
Your perfect decision.. Rare Opportunity Like A Diamond...

Despite having a lot more words [like, 'Available at LRP (Logical & Reasonable Price)'], than the BMW ad, this one manages to use 'opportunity' only seven times.

The ad has been released by:
Soft Corner
The Art of Buying ......

Friday, 6 November 2009

Fiddler in the burrow

A report in yesterday's Times of India says, 'A study has found that female fiddler crabs have sex with their male neighbours in exchange for protection against wandering male intruders. Both male and female fiddler crabs shelter in burrows which they both must defend from intruders'.

I love the irony of get screwed to avoid getting screwed. It's kind of like the equation between people and governments, no?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009




We spent the last weekend in Kolad, Maharashtra, 125 km from Mumbai. It is a wonderful place with a river called Kundalika flowing between miniature hills. We had a room with a great view of the river. The room itself was iffy and the so-called resort in urgent need of a broom to sweep away its scrapyard look.
As always, the moment you move out of the city, all kinds of wonderful things pop up. Like a pack of fake Uno cards my son found in the room. Or, a label of Manchurian sticks (!) that our neighbours snacked on...



Friday, 30 October 2009

Driven (badly) by our genes

Remember last month's post titled, 'Fonts & Football'?, where I went off on a tangent to quote a study about the relation between men with longer ring fingers and aggressive driving?
(This is the second post I am starting with 'Remember...' It is an indication of something, I just can't remember what.)
Well, today's Times of India carries a Reuters story on the same lines: 'No need to curse that bad driver weaving in and out of the lane in front of you - he cannot help it, US researchers reported on Wednesday. The research suggests individuals born with a certain variant of a gene don't stay on the road as well as their counterparts'.
I wonder what drives (no pun intended) these researchers to research whatever they research. Okay, studying genes is serious business but what the Huh?! makes them want to research the connection between a funny gene and driving? Maybe they have a dart board with things people do written on it...

Whatever their reasons, I have carefully cut out the article and have put it in my wallet, right next to my driving licence.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Names 2

Remember the post about names? Here's another unimaginatively funny name:

Safe Emergency Hospital, Bhanugudi, Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Death & Bad Habits - 2

If a smoker dies early, the death is a strong argument for giving up smoking.

If a non-smoker and health freak dies early, does it become an argument for not giving up smoking?

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Death & Bad Habits

Ranjan Das, CEO and MD of SAP for the Indian subcontinent region, died after a massive cardiac arrest in Mumbai on Wednesday, says a front-page news report in The Times of India. Das, 42, joins a list of illustrious IT professionals like Dewang Mehta, former chairman of NASSCOM who died at 40 and Sunil Mehta, another senior NASSCOM leader, who passed away at 41.


The Times report continues, "Ranjan was a health freak. He ate right, jogged and worked out daily. He had no bad habits like drinking or smoking. He was very ambitious, and always believed that four hours of sleep were enough for him to be fit and fresh. He was a bundle of energy. He even ran the Chennai marathon a couple of months ago. His demise is such a shock to all who knew him," said a source who knew him closely.


All death, untimely or otherwise, is tragic and what I am about to say is not to make fun of it, but of the reactions that sometimes follow it. "He had no bad habits like drinking or smoking," is one such. Smoking I can understand; it is an in-vogue whipping dog like whale hunting, bull fighting, deforestation, pollution, non-vegetarianism, bursting firecrackers etc. But why is drinking a bad habit? Maybe the source meant 'excessive drinking'. Maybe it's just a cultural thing: All drinking is bad, as portrayed by the seventies wall painting, 'बाटलीने बाटला तो संसारातून उठला!' 


But Das's death and the healthy life that preceded it has me worried: After 26 years of smoking, I have quit. Out of choice and not because of an illness or emotional blackmail. And it's been just over a month. 
Maybe Neil French, famous copy writer and ex-Creative Head WPP Worldwide,  was right when he said to me, "Smoking doesn't kill, drinking doesn't kill, stress kills".

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

En Joy

In the advertisement for the 'All-new' BMW Z4 Roadster in today's Times of India, Mumbai, the word 'Joy' spelled with a capital 'J' appears eight times. And though there was a time when BMW ads had a lot of words in them, this ad is not one of them.

I can picture two things:
Clients who are pleased as punch with their own product. (Understandable.)
The Joy on the clients' faces as the writer read out the copy to them.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Boo hoo

yahoo.com, that big portal, is all over newspapers with full page ads and on TV with a we-spent-a-lot-of-money commercial. I haven't seen any yet, but I am sure there are big and mighty hoardings lurking around, looking down at passing pedestrians and jammed motorists.
Fiona Ramsay, (no relation to the horror-film producing Ramsay Brothers), reports from London that after Vodafone and Yahoo, a brand called Asda is using the fashionable strategy of 2009: Empowering the consumer. For proof she quotes the new tag lines of Vodafone (Power to you) and Yahoo (It's you). Read her full story here.
It is a Huh?! moment this: 'Empowering the consumer' is a strategy on its own? Isn't that what every brand is supposed to do? But maybe I am out of touch with what's fashionable, especially in 2009.
On the other hand, old-fashioned me is always a little wary of all advertising that claims a brand is 'about you', 'for you' etc. in so many words. Shouldn't the consumer say, after being exposed to the advertising and/or the brand, "Hey, this is about me, for me"? But I guess, 'Say it loud enough, say it often enough, say it everywhere' is a strategy that always works...

But looking at all these big bucks being spent in print and on TV (released on live 20-20 cricket, that big), I don't envy the job of the guy who works in Yahoo's ad sales. Imagine the poor chap trying to convince a media buyer that: "Digital is the future man!" "The internet, dude, that's where all the youngsters are!" "Traditional media is so dead!" while, in the background, the yahoo commercial plays on prime time TV.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Egad!

'Now, Archie comics in Hindi, Malayalam' reads the headline of a story in today's Economic Times, Mumbai. The story goes on to say that 'The American teenager has become a local cultural icon, influencing film-makers like Karan Johar in films like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.' The correspondent filing the story is obviously a young man and probably has never heard of the interview where Raj Kapoor claimed that the inspiration for his cult teenage romance 'Bobby' came from Archie comics. Or specifically, from seeing teenage girls dressed in skimpy bikinis. 
According to the article, 'Archie's Indian popularity influenced the company to launch an Indian character, Raj, in the series'. A small, 'Huh?!' moment that. Was it Archie's Indian popularity or was it the increasing Indian population in the USA?
The Economist, which interviewed Fernando Ruiz, the creator of Raj Patel, has a different story to tell: 'Together with an increased focus on the African-American Chuck Clayton character and Veronica’s friend Ginger Lopez, it seems that Archie Comics is making a concerted effort to make their books more diverse'.
Obviously the correspondent is out of his depth more than once. 
Later in the story, he gives some insightful figures about the sales of Archie Comics: According to the Indian distributor, Mr. Arora, '“We normally import 10,000 copies of each digest, which sells over two years". In the USA, each edition does about 2,500 copies!
To me, it seems a misguided effort to tap India's vast potential as the 'new' and 'emerging' market to rescue what is clearly a hero who has outlived his popularity...


But what really worries me is this: The all-American (ethnic minorities included) context is going to be so alien to the small towner the comics plan to target. Especially with their strategy of:  "We‘ll just be translating the text in the speech bubbles," as Mr Arora admits.  


Reminds me of the poor guy in the late seventies in charge of translating Popeye for a Hindi newspaper. The sub-editor was intrigued on reading, "रफू को भेज दो!" being said by Popeye. He asked for the original and found this: "Darn it!"


I wonder what they will translate Weatherbee's "Egad!" as...

Monday, 5 October 2009

A luxury called Mahatma Gandhi

FREEDOM. "The way to truth lies through Ahimsa (non-violence)".
His strength came from his faith, but his true religion was tolerance. Armed only with obstinate determination and offering an ascetic life as an example to follow, he gave his country freedom and the world a new weapon: non-violence. Montblanc pays tribute to the man whose words had the power to move the masses and the soul.
- Mahatma Gandhi Limited Edition. White lacquered surface reflecting cotton texture, 925 sterling silver mountings on cap and cone, shaped to resemble a roughly-wound yarn on a spindle, a saffron-coloured mandarin garnet on the clip, hand-crafted 18 K solid gold rhodium-plated nib finely engraved with Gandhi's image. MONTBLANC. A STORY TO TELL.

Actual text from Montblanc ad released in The Economic Times, Mumbai on October 2, 2009, Gandhi's Birth Anniversary. The pen costs fourteen lakh rupees only.

Huh?!

Friday, 2 October 2009

अंग्रेज़ गए लेकिन






In last Sunday's Hindustan Times Vir Sanghvi comments on Shashi Tharoor's 'Cattle class tweet'. (You can read the full article here.) I quote from Counterpoint, Sanghvi's column:


"But while I'm mostly on Tharoor's side on this one, the contretemps seems to me to be one more reminder of how difficult it is for successful professionals to fit into the Indian political mainstream. They usually don't understand the system, they rarely master its idiom, and most times, the system unites to repel them.
You may not think this. If you look at Indian politics today, it seems full of bright, articulate professionals, most of whom speak good English and all of whom love to appear on television. Many people argue that politics is now full of smart young guys who have replaced the dhoti-wallahs of old."


The italics in the quote are mine and so is the anger: If you speak good English and wear Western clothes you are smart, modern, intelligent, cool and whatever. 


Huh?!


Vir Sanghvi is a very senior journalist whose other column 'Rude Food' influences hundreds of people in their choice of restaurants and hotels. Hundreds and not thousands or millions because the places he reviews are out of reach of the dhoti-clad masses (except the ones in politics of course). Maybe he should just stick to being rude about food. But I am being nasty. And I am loving it.


A day later, I happen to see a TV commercial for a brand of paints. It shows a wall getting messed up while a man tries to clean it. His son says, “क्यों हो गया ना, California Orange का Nagpur Orange?”


Closer home, in my daughter’s diary I stumble upon a list of cool and uncool things. One of the ‘cool’ things is ‘having an accent’.


There is a disclaimer at the end of Sanghvi’s column: The views expressed by the author are personal.
I wish they had remained so.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Where the streets have no name


On one hand, we have this obsession with names of roads, roundabouts, monuments etc. to the point that no public amenity is ever built without controversies about what it should be named. It is a show of political power - no national or local personality is spared, if you are dead and your heirs/followers have connections, you will be soon be on the streets.
On the other, here are some that seemed to have slipped the political eye. The picture here is a biggish road in Bandra East, Mumbai.
Bhopal has a road that is simply called VIP Road and its 800-year old lake goes by the name  बड़ा तालाब, that is, Big Lake.
The road running along Srinagar's Dal Lake has a tautology for a name: Boulevard Road.
The by-lanes of Bandra and Khar West still sport humble numbers like 14th Road, 16th Road etc. but given the frequency with which the resident film stars are jumping into politics, the numbers are bound to dwindle sooner or later...

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Chinese whisper



I stood there, waiting for the salesman to show me a dumper truck. No, not the real thing. Yes, infrastructure is booming (especially when you are trying to sleep), but I am, as always, a non-participant in the boom. It's a toy truck I am looking for so the son can cart wet sand around when we go to the beach.

An elderly couple walks in with a talking parrot. Again, not the real thing. They have a complaint: The price tag stuck on the box says, Rs. 55/- whereas they have been charged Rs. 250/-

The salesman tries to explain what is an as-large-as-China racket: "They deliberately put a small price tag on the stuff being imported from China. That way, the importers have to pay less tax. I am sorry, I forgot to scratch it out."

My dumper truck arrives. It is made in India and the maximum retail price on it matches the one quoted by the salesman. I look around for a bit, hoping to see how the Indo-Chinese argument ends. The couple suggests: "We'll go to the shop next door... If the prices match..."

I pay for the truck. The salesman takes out a calculator and gives me a 10% discount.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Poetry - A sobering experience

The poem didn't live up to its title and refrain of, 'Nobody messes with me'. Predictably, the daughter was not even shortlisted for the recitation in the school assembly.

Predictably, because, the poem was not predictable. Schools, like Sir Ken Robinson pointed out in this TED talks clip, are geared to kill creativity. I particularly liked Sir Ken's suggestion that schools should not only reward literacy but also reward creativity. 

No wonder the kids in the class stared.

Yes. The poem was not politically correct. It was too close to real life for comfort. Without consciously trying to, I had made a political comment: Doesn't matter if you hate studies, if your grades are awful, if you are a grubby example of indiscipline: If you are related to those in power, 'Nobody messes with you'.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Give an inch, take a metre

"What do you use in India," The guide wanted to know, "The metric system or FPS?" The question made me think. (All questions do since I rarely know any answers.) But my answer surprised me too.

We use the metric system to measure lengths, distances, weights and quantities of liquids. And the FPS (foot, pound, second) system to measure heights and areas. So I weigh 78 kg, am 6 feet tall, drink a litre and half of water everyday and live in a house that is 5000 square feet. The last number being a fantasy and the unit of measurement a reality. The most bizarre being: We measure body temperature in Fahrenheit and atmospheric and liquid temperatures in Celsius.

But contradictions and the ease with which we balance them, is us I guess. It seems we are walking a tightrope, holding onto two ropes; the old with one hand and the new with the other, afraid that if we let go of either, we will fall off...

Monday, 14 September 2009

Fonts & Football

I am supposedly a patient guy. (Unless I am driving, but that's a man thing. No, not just a man thing. According to a recent research, men with longer ring fingers are more aggressive and hence more likely to drive rashly and jump traffic lights etc. They are also supposed to be more fertile! Does that mean that men should now start showing the ring and not the middle finger? That could make for a nice facebook group, Men with long ring fingers. Or, an application on facebook, not run by facebook of course, that tells men their aggression [and fertility] quotient by asking them to submit the length of their ring fingers. In inches please, facebook is American.)

But enough meandering in parentheses and back to, where was I, ah, patience. One of the things that always makes my patience run thin, no it is not telemarketing, is the practice of writing Hindi in the Roman script. Of course, I am only an armchair warrior in this cause. Which is why I get mighty excited when I come across someone who is actually on the battlefield.

The first one I came across was Erin McLaughlin, a design student who is now studying at Reading, UK. She is phenomenal in her enthusiasm and is crazy about all scripts Indian and Asian. You can visit her here and here.

The second one is Adria Chilcote, introduced to me by Erin. She is in Bangalore and working along with a bunch of like-minded people to create a sensible Devnagri keyboard (a few exist already, hence the adjective 'sensible') and a computing system. Later, they also plan to extend their energies to other Indian languages. Read about them here. Read about Adria here.

The third one, who I bumped into thanks to the first two, is the Indian Type Foundry. They have just created a 'Devnagri companion to Fedra Sans typeface'. More power to them.

Elsewhere, in South Korea, a 75-year old woman, Lee Ki-nam, is working to revive Hangul, the Korean alphabet, that was banned during Japanese colonial rule in the last century. You can read the full article on the Indian Express website (or in yesterday's copy of the Express). This is what Lee has to say about her mission: "By giving unwritten languages their own alphabets, we can help save them from extinction and thus ensure mankind's linguistic and cultural diversity." Amen.

Three years ago, an Argentinian called Juan Marcos Troia moved to Kashmir with his wife and three daughters. A professional football coach, he has been  training the local teenagers since then. Two of the kids are off to Spain soon. It is a happy story that makes me sad. 

Sad, because, I can't find too many Indians to name here. (If there are please come ahead and correct me.)


The first time I heard this many years ago, it was told as a joke:

'For anything to work in India, it has to come from abroad. And the biggest example is Mahatma Gandhi. He came back from South Africa.'

I can't laugh at it anymore.

Poetry - The morning after

"They (the kids in the class), were just staring at me!" The daughter is narrating the story of her poetry recitation in class, "And when I recited the last stanza, the teacher just burst out laughing!" A non-committal, 'Great!' is all I muster. I have found out since that it was not just an elocution thing, but was an audition to represent their house to recite a poem in their weekly assembly. I don't want to read too much into her teacher's laughter. (When will we learn to trust our smiles?)

She is up against stiff competition though. Not one, but two girls in the class chose 'Daffodils'; the teacher chanted along with them.

'When often on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood
They flash upon the inner eye
Which is the bliss of solitude'

I believe poets do a lot of that - lie around on the couch in vacant or pensive moods. More so in Wordsworth's era. I don't lie around the couch much, you never know when one or both little ones are going to descend on you ignoring the effect of their weight on your ageing bones...

Heck! If I were the teacher, I'd put her on stage. But then, she is related to me.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Poetry in the morning

"Are you going to switch on the laptop?" The wife wants to know. The home computer is shot again; it's not very old, but things break, don't they? "The daughter is supposed to recite a poem for her elocution thing," she continues. "Oh just take one from the Shel Silverstein book," I counter. Fourteen years of marriage has taught me to deflect these ones. But I forget; she's been married for the same numbers of years too. "Oh, everyone has that book now." Caught at silly point, as the cricketing pun goes.

I imagine similar conversations going on in thirty-nine more households. I am about to point out to the wife that everyone will being going online and typing in 'Children+poetry' so we should stick to Silverstein. But the number fourteen pops up in my head again, and I don't.

Silverstein is a phenomenal writer of kids' poetry and we've spent quite few evenings rolling on the floor while reading his poems. But now, as the wife pointed out, he has lost his exclusivity somewhat. And the last thing I want in my lap on this lazy morning is the top. On an impulse I pick up a scrap of paper (you have a lot of these lying around if you have two kids), and a micro-tip pen with orange ink (kids again) and start scribbling. Soon I have a three-stanza poem.

"You wrote this? Now?" Awe. Wonder. Respect. Okay, not the last one. "She is in the fourth grade now. She'll need a longer poem." The laptop looms large again. Back to the scrap, this time with purple ink. Here's the result in black and white.

NOBODY MESSES WITH ME

I don't top the grades
My uniform isn't clean
Oh, I don't even look like a queen
But nobody, you see, messes with me.


School I think is a bore
I never make it on time
Waking up early is the worst-ever crime
But nobody, hey nobody, messes with me.


Reading makes me yawn
Writing gives me pain
And every other thing that involves my brain.
But nobody, my dear, messes with me.


I don't run for sports
This music makes me sick
Yet the teachers, they don't give me the stick
But nobody, but nobody, messes with me.


I come to school for recess
And I really like a muffin
So what if it's in someone else's tiffin
But nobody, got it, messes with me.


I will tell you a secret
If you promise not to share
(As if you'd ever dare)
Why nobody, get this straight, messes with me:


The teacher, you see, is actually related to me
So nobody, not even you, messes with me!

I hope the principal doesn't call us for a little chat.

Things break.

"If you know someone in Europe get a yoga mat from there," the chief instructor of our yoga class said, "From Germany. It's a heavy mat and expensive but it will last you for ten years, or more. The ones you get here won't last for six months. You know why this global warming and all that stuff is happening? You buy a Mercedes and it lasts twenty years. A Japanese car? Five years. You have to keep buying, they have to keep manufacturing...'

The first fridge we had was bought the year I was born: 1968. Every year I used to check my height against it. We repaired it for the first time the year I turned fourteen. We got a new one when mom tired of it, and when we could afford a new one of course.

In 1999 I visited in a small town called Phaltan in Maharashtra's Pune district. Phaltan is the only place in the world that grows cotton in summer and people from all over the world come to study the phenomenon. One of the reasons why it does so is because of a canal built in 1897. Talking about the canal, one local said, "Last year the local gram panchayat received a letter from England. It was from the engineering company that had built the canal. It said, 'We had guaranteed the canal for 100 years. The guarantee will expire next year. If you have any problems you have a year to tell us'."

It's been a long time since 'warranty' has replaced 'guarantee'. We don't 'use' things, we 'consume' them. Everything's disposable, nothing's supposed to last. The planet, after all, is just another thing to consume.

I would like to see the day when my son outgrows the fridge. I only wish my fridge would stop growing taller every other year.

Apologies: The last bit of this post didn't get saved the first time. But I guess it is not covered by the blogger warranty.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Coke & Banks


This is a 'simple story' as the August 2009 issue of Creative Review (CR) points out. The re-design for Coca-Cola strips Coke back to its iconic essentials. It does away with the bubbles, everybody knows it has fizz (it's a 100-year old drink) and other such clutter and the result is, well, multiple award-winning. But read the full CR story by following this link; it is as rewarding as the design itself.

Compare the simplicity of the Coke re-design with a species of phone calls that we all get:
Girl: "Hello am I speaking to Mr. X?"
You: "Yes"
Girl: "I am calling from ABC Bank and given our relationship..." You instinctively look around to check if the wife's around. It's not a nice sounding girl, but it's a girl nevertheless.
You (controlling your breathing): "Yes?"
Girl: "We would like to offer you a personal loan."
"Gawd girl! I don't have a relationship with the bank, I have a savings account with a history of bounced cheques!" You don't say that, but.

I wish all banks, insurance companies, telecom operators and the whole community of data base buyers read the Coke re-design story, start calling a spade a spade, an account an account and don't raise the expectations of an old man like me with those girls on the phone.

Thanks Salil of A&O for pointing out the article to me.

Disclaimer: Coca-Cola is the registered trade mark of the Coca-Cola Company. I have said good things about them. So hope to god they don't sue me for using their new can here.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Thank you

I am a bit overwhelmed. Actually, quite overwhelmed by the sudden surge in the numbers under that column there on the right titled, 'Followers'.
But I will stop at a simple, 'Thanks', because if I write about how nice that is making me feel I might start sounding like a Suraj Barjatya movie.

RJ - The Radio Joker

This morning on All India Radio's Rainbow FM, yeah I listen to that, the RJ goes (not the exact words), "Anand Jon has been sentenced to 59 years in prison by a US court. If he were in India he would be saying, 'Jai Ho!' and chilling right now".

Huh?!

In that one statement the R-Joker claimed:
The US judicial system is full of morons.
You can get away with rape in India.
Rape is okay.

To quote The Times of India quoting the US judge, Jon was given this sentence because:
'Jon's lack of remorse, his use of violence and cruelty in his assaults and his manipulation of young, vulnerable women also added to the seriousness of his crime, Wesley observed, while handing down the massive sentence for rape, sexual battery, and lewd acts on a child.'

What is more scary is that probably the joker is only the beginning. If the same Times report is to go anything by, be prepared for a Jon sympathy wave in the Indian media with Jon's family sobbing innocence of their little victimised boy.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Slum dogs - Sequel

After yesterday's post, The Times of India, Mumbai carried the results of another study with more depressing statistics.
I guess everyone in Mumbai is a refugee of sorts, telling himself that he will return to where he came from or move on to some place better. But Mumbai is like a day & night bar; you keep telling yourself, 'This is the last one'.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Slum dogs millionaire

According to a report released by Praja, a Non-Government Organisation, Mumbai fares the worst among five Asian cities in key human development areas like life expectancy, GDP per capita and literacy.
It's behind Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai, and that's no big surprise. The fact that it ranks lower than Colombo, that capital of that tiny island nation of Sri Lanka, must rankle.
Or should it?
More than half the population of India's financial capital lives in slums. Every day, a few thousand get added to that population, not because this is the financial capital, but because showing your arse off while taking the morning dump is preferable to dying hungry back home.
There are at least two Indias, and Mumbai is probably the only city in the country where you can see both by just shifting your gaze.
Elsewhere, Nandan Nilekani, ex-CEO of Infosys, has been hired by the government so that every Indian can have an identity card. According to a wikipedia entry, one estimate to roll out the National ID to all Indians above 18 years of age is Rs. 150,000 crore (US$ 30.9 billion). For the first phase alone Rs. 100 crore (US$ 20.6 million) has been approved.
Huh?!
So now the farmhand in Other India is going to say, "Hey, now I don't have die of hunger. Or, hang myself. Or, go to Mumbai. I have a National Identity Card".
I wonder:
Is hindsight something that arseholes possess?

Friday, 28 August 2009

Smiley's Dilemma :(

The good ol' principle that the best jokes are told with a dead pan expression doesn't seem to hold anymore. Not at least on the internet and cell phones.
So we have smileys. :) :-0 :-O :P to help us understand that what we just read was funny. Of course smileys have travelled since they first appeared with simple brackets and colons (not the body part), turning magically into illustrations that add colour to the (requested for) laughter.
Of course, we do use gestures and facial expressions to add weight and colour to our spoken word and not every net and cell phone user is a professional joker.
But what still beats me is why is :( called a smiley?

Thursday, 27 August 2009

@ facebook

On facebook, that wonderful thing that makes me feel I am not lonely as my Saturday nights would lead me to believe, there's a cool bit of smiley-like jargon happening.
You put up a status update. You are so popular that there's an avalanche of comments, let's say from Tom, Harry and Sally. Then, in one comment, you have to reply to them all. So you go:
@Tom - Thanks!
@ Harry - You just don't get it, do you?
@ Sally - :)
@ Tom & Harry - Where's your friend these days?
If I am writing the names of the people I am replying to, then why the @?
Maybe I am just thick and not 'with it'. Or, Harry-like, I just don't 'get' it.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

It's official now. It's a drought year in India.

It rained all night in the city. I wonder what drove the sky to tears in this time of festivity.

It wasn’t as if a dam had burst; it was a steady pouring that deflected off the sidewalk,

half-heartedly,

and turned into muddy puddles of pedestrian woes.

As the night turned into dawn and then to morning, the downpour was accompanied by distant rumblings of discontent, too weak to deserve even a solitary bolt of lightning. In the murky light of the morning, the rain retreated quietly leaving the sun huddled behind a cotton blanket of unmoving clouds.

Far away from the city, in the village,

dampness hangs in the air, sticking to an unnatural heat, turning men into sponges that are unable to cry.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Smoking. Another unpalatable truth.

A news report in today’s Times of India, Mumbai filed from Washington about a study conducted in Greece says, ‘Smokers have fewer and flatter taste buds’.

“Honey, how has the chicken turned out?”

“Oh, chomp, great! Can I have more chomp, chomp please?”

Now we have a scientific reason for why smokers make better husbands.

The study is based on an analysis of tongues of 62 Greek soldiers.

The army, as we were taught in school, marches on its stomach. The place where the army eats its meals is called a 'Mess'. Now we know why it doesn’t march on its tongue.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

News from the Swine & Cheese Set

Schools re-open tomorrow after a week-long break to celebrate Swine Flu Festival. H1N1, as it is called in learned circles, has monopolised the lead headlines in newspapers since last week, except for last Sunday when the lead story on front page was: Whole nation aghast that Shah Rukh Khan was detained for two hours and his bags checked at Newark Airport, NJ, USA! Oh my God, don't they know who he is? We are so pissed off! Even our government is pissed off. More pissed off than it was when they frisked our ex-president at some airport. Some even went to the extent of suggesting that we should screen all visiting American dignitaries to give them a taste of their own medicine!
But hey, welcome to racial-communal-religious profiling Mr. Superstar. It happens all the time. It happens right here in your country mate. Thousands of guys with Muslim names are targetted for special treatment. (As if a serious terrorist would travel on his real passport and a Muslim name, but.) I don't think anyone in the country you visited has any sympathy for you Mr. Superstar. Because they know that since 9/11, there has been no terrorist attack in the USA. Whereas, back home, where no one screens you, we've had them with sickening regularity...
In the same day's newspaper, buried in the inside pages, was a small news report. Elsewhere in the USA, Bob Dylan, legendary singer, was picked up by the police for moving suspiciously and checking out the houses in a waterfront neighbourhood. The cops, both in their twenties, didn't recognise him even when he told his name. Because he had no identification on him, they refused to believe his story of visiting the town for a concert. They escorted him to his hotel where he was identified by the manager and let him go off after apologising and thanking him for his co-operation.
But I stray from the Swine Flu Fest. Amidst the grim stories of infection spreading, panic spreading faster, death toll mounting, testing facilities falling short and medicines not being available, there was a gem in last week's Bombay Times on the front page:
"Among the first casualties (of H1N1) is the Luxurion World 09..."
"The grim situation in Mumbai has also taken the bounce and stride out of an End-of-batch dance presentation that Shiamak Davar's students were going to hold..."
But the Swine News of the Week Award goes to this one that comes later in the same article:
"Meanwhile the biggest blow to Mumbai would be if the Swine Flu continues to rage rampantly next month, this would necessitate the postponement of the Mumbai Fashion Week"
I am wearing a mask these days. When I read the newspapers.

Ready for God?

Last week the world celebrated Janmashtmi, the birth of Sri Krishna. According to a news report in The Times of India, maternity hospitals in Kolkata overflowed with mothers opting for a C-section because they believed that if their son was born on this holy day, he would be a reincarnation of Krishna himself.

I wonder what would happen if indeed a reincarnation was born to one of these mothers:

Would she be okay with the idea of entrusting her son to a cowherd’s family so that his uncle wouldn’t kill him?

How would the neighbours react if the reincarnated baby crawled into their houses and stole Amul butter packs from their fridges?

Or, if He stole the clothes of teenage girls having a bath in the river?

Or, would the PETA or SPCA hold demonstrations after He killed a particularly dangerous snake residing in the local Hooghly River?

Or, if he spent entire days playing the flute and dancing with the girls in the neighbourhood?

And so on. But that’s not the saddest part of the article. It further reports that the parents who had a daughter after the C-section ‘were very disappointed’.

God!

Friday, 7 August 2009

Absence & Books - 2

Most of the time I go out and seek books, having read a review here, seen an interview there. Then there are some books that seek you out. Sadia Shepard's 'The Girl from Foreign' is one such book. It had been bought by my wife and had been lying at home for god knows how long. I stumbled on it when she lent it to her friend.
'The Girl from Foreign' is a memoir, a travelogue, a love story, an investigation into the history of a people and into the complexities of relationships created by shared cultures and unshared geographies . The prose is beautiful, with unexpected phrases that turn ordinary events into vivid images.
Nana, Sadia Shepard's grandmother was a Bene Israel from Maharashtra's west coast who became the third wife of a muslim businessman, moved to Pakistan after the partition, brought up her children as muslims. Her mother married an American, a christian, and settled in the USA. Widowed and spending her time between her sons and daugther's houses, Nana begins to explore her lost religion. That, and the special bond that Nana and Sadia shared, becomes the driving force behind Sadia's trip to India - to search for Nana's roots and her own as well. Without that, neither Nana's nor Sadia's soul can find peace...
Sadia Shepard has taken some interesting photographs of the Bene Israel community in India. You will find them interspersed in the book. She has also made a documentary on the community; the DVD should be in my hand by next week.
Literary reasons apart, 'The Girl from Foreign' is a moving book. Read it!
Or read more about it on www.sadiashepard.com

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Absence & Books

The camera has been lying idle, the fingers busy writing for a living and the blog un-updated. But in the forced absence, I have been reading. 'My Friend Sancho,' the debut novel of Amit Verma, a journalist turned blogger, funny, but as described by one critic, a good airport read. Then two books by American journalists. The first one, 'The Geography of Bliss' by Eric Weiner has an interesting premise, trying to find if there is a relation between the place you inhabit and your happiness number. Yes, your happiness can be computed like your income and a number can be put to it. There is an institute of Happiness Studies in Holland that is dedicated to studying happiness (and its lack) but according to 'The Geography of Bliss' the people working in the institute take their work very seriously; no one laughs. The part I liked most in the book is not written by Weiner, but is a poem about the Icelandic language by Bill Holm:

In an air-conditioned room you cannot understand the

Grammar of this language,

The whirring machine drowns out the soft vowels,

But you can hear these vowels in the mountain wind

And in heavy seas breaking over the hull of a small boat.

Old ladies can wind their long hair in this language

And can hum, and knit, and make pancakes.

But you cannot have a cocktail party in this language

And say witty things standing up with a drink in your

hand.

You must sit down to speak this language,

It is so heavy you can't be polite or chatter in it.

For once you have begun a sentence, the whole course of

your life is laid out before you.

What put me off when I was a few chapters into 'The Geography of Bliss' were the attempts at humour. I remembered thinking to myself, 'Hey, here's a wannabe Dave Barry'.

The poem apart, I did get something from the book. It does have a point there about the relation between a place and the happiness of its people if you extrapolate it to the culture you inhabit and the kind of person you are.

The second book, ‘I am a Stranger Here Myself’, is a collection of weekly articles about life in the USA written by Bill Bryson for readers in the UK. A couple of pages into the book it hit me: Weiner was not trying to be Dave Barry. He was just writing in what can be loosely called the American style of humour. I guess it’s an American thing. On my only visit to the USA (in 1998), one thing that struck me was that everyone there, whether you knew the guy for four minutes or four years, tried to say something funny. It is disconcerting, but that’s the way they are. The articles by Bryson swing between downright mushy to ‘Hmm, insightful’ and, ‘Oh, is that so?’

Between these two books I read a memoir, again a debut, ‘The Girl from Foreign’ by Sadia Shepard. But that deserves a separate post.