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.


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".


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'.