Friday, December 12, 2008

mind gym

Anyone who's reached a turning point in life will almost always tell you how it was triggered by a drastic incident.

One such incident occurred to me three months ago, and I decided to turn my life by sinking the cost of a small island into the services of a personal trainer.

To put things in perspective, drastic isn’t a word I use easily, especially in the context of fitness. When once, someone once congratulated me on my pregnancy (I wasn’t even close), I laughed with genuine mirth. For weeks afterwords, I used the statement as a legitimate excuse to pig out, because I believe even a perceived phantom pregnancy deserves a good round of cravings. Another time, when I was mistaken for a friend who hadn’t exercised since she swam around as an embryo, I explained (and believed) that the mix up was caused by the style of our exclusive shared hairdresser.

So when I say drastic, believe me, I do mean drastic. Since it’s too painful to get into details, I’ll just say that it had to do with a trial room lined with mirrors that reflect you from angles that should be outlawed in civilized society, and a scream that emanated from me because I thought I was being attacked by a mob of aliens from bulge-planet.

Realizing the futility of pawning my ad portfolio, I saved money for a fortnight by hooch mooching, and then hired a sadist who was to be my gym trainer.

Two and a half months later, I am a changed woman.

I have become a masochist. I feel that if something hurts, it's a good sign. There's furious fat burning going on there. When I meet people who have sprained their ankles or are recovering from a surgery, I struggle to keep the envy out of my eyes.

I have also become one of those squares I’ve always laughed at. When friends invite me out for a drink, I mumble silly cliches like early to bed, early to rise, and mean them. When I do go out, I embarrass my companions by conducting a mini Spanish inquisition with waiters about protein levels and carrot sticks.

Speaking of protein, I now possess spare tyres of useless knowledge, like how much protein a large egg has (6 grams). I cut chicken till it looks like a starfish with 6 amputations, because sites tell you that a palm sized piece is just right. I also twitch with excitement at the ingredient labels of cans, till salespeople rush in with onions, dirty socks and other well intentioned first aid for epileptic fits.

I no longer measure things in kilograms, but in inches. It’s logical, because muscle weighs more than fat, but try explaining that to a butcher or a veggie vendor…

Then, there’s my reaction to mirrors. From someone who would forget to notice her face during the toothbrush routine, I have become a monster who seeks out reflective surfaces. I scratch my chin while passing tinted car windows to see if my triceps are still there. When with people who wear sunglasses, I laugh with my head thrown back slightly to see if my double chin has reduced. I seriously regret having bought an LCD instead of a plasma, because I can’t see myself doing crunches.

The person I have turned into is drastic enough for me to consider an about-turning point. Sack the trainer, says the right brain impulsively. The left brain agrees with the logic of the suggestion.

Once I do that, I should be able to get back to who I was. I have a feeling it won't be too hard, because some things about me haven’t changed in spite of the 10 week detour.

My old clothes fit just as snugly, and while I love the inches vs kilograms theory, I haven’t lost either.

I still huff and puff up the stairs after step 7.

And I still hold my breath to hide my muffin top, when talking to a colleague who thinks the term belongs to bakeries.

I'll just have to work on my mind now...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

face value - part 5

Where there's a part 5, there are usually parts 1-4 squealing for attention. If you'd like to save yourself some serious scrolling and math, click here to read face value - part 1.

If you’re one of those people who believe that life is never unfair, explain this.

When people put their careers on the line, they become the heroes of corporate legends. But when people put their careers in a line, they get nothing but sniggers and exasperated sighs.

Those who put their jobs on the line are rewarded with fables that, with time, grow as complex as a ‘let’s defrost the fridge today sambaar’. Every narrator of the tale insidiously incorporates himself or herself into the story as an influencer, a supporter or at least a drinking buddy.

On the other hand, those who put their potential in a line become the butt of funny stories, where their best friends describe them, at best, as third cousins of unpopular colleagues they’ve spoken to once.

This post is an attempt to pay a tribute to these unsung heroes. There are people who have tried to dissuade me, with the argument that these people are considered unsung because no one can hear singing above the blowing of trumpets. I believe that's just another example of the unfairness these hidden heroes have to endure. I will try to neutralise some of the injustice today.

The-CV-in-a-nutshell type

People of this personality type have never read books on how to write the perfect CV. They wrote the books you see, that too on grains of rice and Facebook updates.

To get a fair perspective on the people of this group, let’s look at some of the qualities a good resume is supposed to have, along with proof that this personality type is the master of each parameter.

Highlight your strengths: Easier said than done. It’s hard to do justice to multiple strengths, unless you have a spare hard disk handy. Or unless of course, you’re a CV-in-a-nutshell type person. Here’s an example of how this personality type packs all his/her strengths into a few snack sized bytes.

‘B.Rags hopes The Newsweak’s million readers like his cover story tomorrow’. There, you’ve got journalistic skills, people skills, a talent for numbers, democratic disposition, time management skills and modesty, all comprehensively covered in a mere 11 words. And of course, you can’t but help notice that wonderfully elusive quality – brevity.

Be honest: For those of us who are wary of admitting weaknesses on our resumes, there’s a valuable lesson to be learnt from CV-in-a-nutshell people. Just say it like it is, their updates demonstrate to us, time and again. Undaunted by fears of creating a negative bias, these personalities bravely call a spate a spate.

‘HooHa can’t seem to upload her best employee award pictures.’ Notice how courageously HooHa shows a lack of IT skills?

A lack of career planning skills is not swept under the carpet in this update - ‘Peter S. Principle is pondering… after CEO, what?’

Attach a list of references: This bit is usually relegated to page 2 in the crispest of resumes, but in a flash of brilliance, this personality type brings it to line 1.

Notice the sheer genius with which this one tells you ‘Chickenfeed is cooped up with the fortune 500 gang. Again. If you’re thinking of hiring Chickenfeed, you know immediately who to contact for reference checks. A whole list of referees, in a matter of words.

Keep it short: By now, you already know that the CV-in-a-nutshell type of personality excels in fat-free statements. But like all groups, this lot too has some individuals who outshine others with their breathtaking brevity. How much shorter can a list of achievements get than ‘'? One simple URL, and a click - and you have access to the potential of Seema.

Note: In recognition of the innate shyness that characterizes people of the CV-in-a-nutshell personality type, all names and contexts have been changed.

Next: Plato-on-a-plate type

Friday, December 5, 2008

face value part 4

Research shows that scrolling causes the index finger to build unnecessary muscle. If you'd like to start reading this post from 'face value part 1' and still not look silly while pointing, just click here.

Do you sometimes feel that you have many more friends than your Facebook friend list shows? Do you attribute this feeling to an inflated sense of your own popularity?

Before you pat yourself on the back like a trainee contortionist, listen carefully to a little voice saying ‘It’s not you, it’s us’. You are hearing the voice of the Sharelock-Holmes-type person on your friend list.

The-Sharelock-Holmes-type personality
This personality type contains the split personalities of Facebook. No, not like Jekyll and Hyde, because at least they surfaced in turns. The dual personalities of the Sharelock-Holmes type speak at the same time in the same sentence on each Facebook status update. One half of the split wants to be discrete and secretive, while the other wants to tell all. And they both get their way.

Classification: The story goes that for years after the birth of Facebook, eminent psychologists struggled to analyze these complex characters, and finally threw up their Freud texts in defeat. No one else wanted this daunting task, until a team that sold advertising space in newspapers volunteered to complete the classification process (there’s a school of thought that feels that the team heard split purse instead of split personality, but there’s no concrete evidence to support this view).

Applying their skills of splitting newspaper pages into any shape and size under the guise of innovation, the advertising space sellers created this classification of the Sharelock-Holmes-type personality.

Horizontal split: To understand this subtype, imagine a person whose head is covered with a secretive deerstalker detective type hat, while the body wears a flamboyantly unbuttoned trench coat. This subtype wants to be discrete and flashy at the same time.
This Sharelock-Holmes sub-type creates status updates like: Miss Cama has finally done it sutra style, but can't talk about it.

Vertical split: In this sub-type, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. But the right hand not only knows what the left hand is doing, it makes it a point to broadcast it to the world (ok, only left-handed people will truly understand the unfairness of this situation).
A typical status update might read like this: Godot is waiting for a waiter. And only God knows why. (notice how poor Godot or the left hand is clearly at a disadvantage).

Front page solus split: Both these personalities clamour equally for action, since both want to be at the centre of attention.
They typically have status updates like: Gemini wonders if she should or she shouldn’t.
Or Namedropper can’t choose between Obama and Paris Hilton.

Statutory warning
Whichever sub-type of the Sharelock-Holmes-personality type you have as a friend, you need to be careful about one thing.

They're all hugely infectious.

As you read the status updates of this personality type,
one half of you feels disgusted and wants to ignore these desperate attention seekers. The other half feels sorry for their dull lives and forces you to sound interested. Sometimes, one half of you gets irritable, while the other half is curious. OR, one half of you wants to put on a poker face, while the other half wants to poke out these cheap gimmicks.

See, you’re already on your way to becoming a Sharelock-Holmes type person yourself.

Watch out for: The-CV-in-a-nutshell type

Thursday, December 4, 2008

let's not turn into the people we despise

It's not splayed in the media, but the terror attacks in Mumbai have claimed casualties way beyond the wildest expectations of the people who planned them.

Callousness, apathy and a mere baap ka kya jaata hai attitude are definite victims. You can see it in the mails and text messages people are forwarding. You can measure it in the rage you can sense all around you.

I have no evidence to support this on a larger scale, but computer games, page 3 anecdotes and shallow witticisms seem to be seriously injured too. The intellectually endowed among us are turning away from these activities and aiming their considerable resources at topics like the political system, national security and ummm the country. You can see that shift in the changed focus of newspapers and blogs.

Getting the attention of thousands of consciences is a great start. Now that running the country is no longer beneath our dignity or status, we are now free to go beyond indifferent shrugs towards positive steps.

With the collective might of all those grey cells, we could even hope for real robust solutions.

Through the haze of shock and anger, solutions do seem to be sprouting up. Perhaps because it is early days, or because I have no expertise in the areas of governance, security and politics, here’s what I am taking out of the solutions I’ve seen in the last week (yes, I did say apathy was a victim, I’ve read more blogs and articles on the nation in the last week than I have in my life before that).

To fight outlaws, let’s turn into outlaws too. Let’s teach those terrorists and corrupt politicians who break laws a lesson by breaking a few laws ourselves.

Let’s put our pleasures above the legal system: Let’s drink beyond closing hours, let’s smoke in no smoking zones, let’s spend our tax money on presents for ourselves. Now all those people who bump up their personal incomes by taking bribes will have competition.

Let’s show ‘em by lighting candles and going for long walks: Let’s indulge in actions that make us feel as though we're doing something. It doesn't matter if our actions don't really achieve anything or if they underline how small and helpless we are against a system. Politicians and bureaucrats have done that for years with their lip service and tree planting drives, why not us?

But I’m not discouraged by this, as this feels like the beginning of a giant brainstorm. To complicate things, most of the participants have no prior experience in the topics they’re addressing.

In spite of some of the false starts, well intentioned non-ideas and idealistic bubbles, it’s just a matter of time before practical and unique ideas start glimmering through.

I ran across one that sparkled for me this morning. Civil Obedience has practical steps that I can take, without feeling like a pygmy fly against a giant swatter. Or without becoming one of the people I want to fight.

Thanks Rahul, for a great post.

Monday, December 1, 2008

face value - part 3

Here's an easy way out for those of you who weren't born or paying attention when Maria in The Sound of Music said 'let's start at the very beginning'. Just click here to get to face value - part 1.

Before we talk about this type, let’s talk about you.

You’re probably thinking – easy weasy, I know the type, it’s all those people who abuse double meanings and make people go aargh!

Then, like people who automatically adopt a pseudo BBC accent while talking about the channel, you will get into pun mode. Hehehe, you’ll go, people who belong to this group believe the pun is mightier than the sword. Hahaha, if Facebook were a Hindu community, these people would all be pun-dits. If they were to be given a state of their own, they would choose Punjab. Hohoho.

And so on and so forth till I rapped you on the knuckles and said ‘Sorry. You couldn’t be more off the mark if you were blindfolded’.

Ok here's the most effective way to spot this personality type from your friend list.

The life-at-punpoint type

Whatever your instincts may say, don't think of words.

Think instead of pictures on a colourful wall calendar at a tea shop. Imagine a mythical hero with a rhyming dictionary in one hand and a thesaurus in the other. Those of you who have cut your teeth on Amar Chitra Katha comics can go ahead and imagine two extra hands – one holding the url of an anagram finder, and the other, an oxygen mask for victims.

Now, here’s the real clue.

Vanquished under the feet of this mythological character is not a demon, but another identical hero armed with the same weapons!

Get it now? This personality type constitutes the warriors of Facebook, and its greatest motivation is to establish supremacy over others of the same personality type. Everyone else is, well, just a part of the audience. This insight may help explain how life-at-punpoint people manage to remain undaunted by all the yucks they get regularly from the rest of us.

While the rest of us are fooled into thinking that the punsters in our friend list are just being funny or plain silly, what we miss is the determined war in progress. It’s a war to verbal death as far as the people fighting are concerned.The fact that the war is public and watched by all makes it even more critical for all parties to try harder.

I’ll give you an example of how it goes.

If, reacting to the recent Mumbai ordeal, one of the warriors says:

Mart is shaken and stirred. Without an olive in sight.

Mart’s competitor will be forced to come up with a rejoinder: James’ bond with Mumbai grows stronger with every bomb.

Mart will then be stung into changing his status update to: Mart gets a quantum of solace from knowing his friends are safe.

To which, James will have no option but to say: James is da-nieling at church and praying for the victims and their families.

Mart will shoot back with how he is craiging at the insensitive reactions of politicians in Mumbai.

The updates will retract in time and wit, till they start to look like typos and signs of drunkenness to the rest of us.

Status messages will deteriorate to ‘Our politicians seemed to be moored in fiction’ and ‘It’s a fleming shame’

Then the day will come when one of them, let’s say James (because he started with a punny advantage) says something like James’ chitty chatty media friends say the bang bang is over’, and Mart is forced to change the topic.

The score card will read 1-0 in favour of James, and Mart will be the one underfoot in the calendar.

This will continue till the next topic comes along and Mart gets a chance to be the one on top.

Waiting in the wings: The-Sharelock-Holmes-type

Friday, November 21, 2008

face value - part 2

In some cultures, it's considered normal to read backwards. For the rest of us who need to start with face value - part 1, here's technology to the rescue. Click.

Here I go again – breaking up personality types on Facebook and gouging chunks out of my friend list. I promised you last week that I would get to the bottom of a category that does the same with facts. Here you have it.

The piles-to-show-before-I-sleep type

Any apprehension that you might feel about the term piles is ummm… justified. But then again, if you have friends who belong to this personality type, you are used to seeing much worse on news feeds.

People of the piles-to-show-before-I-sleep type believe their lives are courtroom dramas and that every moment is an opportunity to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that everyone of this personality type has been weaned on the same truth drug. Here’s a sub-classification based on which part of the oath these truth seekers prefer.

The truth sub-type: Truthful to the core (and I do mean core), these people fervently and regularly spill the beans on your home page. There’s a theory floating around that they don’t really spill beans but consume them in large amounts.

You learn a lot by just reading these people's updates. For instance, you find out exactly how long upset stomachs last and the multi-sensory effects they’re capable of. You know which of your friends’ friends had one too many last night and which one is planning to put in her resignation letter next week.

The whole truth sub-type: These people’s ancestors are rumoured to have inspired the birth of holistic health sciences. You find this easy to believe when you see the passion with which they include every scrap of body (every appendage, however vestigial), mind and soul in the term ‘self. Naturally, a question like ‘what are you doing right now?’ cannot be answered in less than a wholesome paragraph.

At 1 am in the morning, they won’t just tell you they’re still counting sheep. They will tell you how many sheep, which ones were sheared and how nauseous the mottled ones made them feel. They will also keep updating their status every few minutes as the sheep count increases.

If you want further proof that you’ve got one of these people on your friend lists, ask them what a précis is. Most of them think it’s a term for an ironed outfit.

Nothing but the truth sub-type: These people display incredible courage in their pursuit of the truth. Ask them to choose from interesting, witty, fun and truthful, and their unflinching choice remains truthful, however boring it may make them.

Sadly, this uncompromising honesty limits the answers these people have to the status question. They're cornered into telling you that they’re at the computer, looking at the screen or updating their status. Another sign of courage of these heroes among personalities is that each one would rather watch friends die painfully of boredom than give up the truth.

Next: Life at punpoint

Monday, November 17, 2008

face value

“What are you doing right now?”

Simple unambiguous question, wouldn’t you say? It used to be, till the folks at Facebook (consciously or accidentally) upgraded it to a complex personality test.

They’ve done this in two simple but lethal steps. One, they’ve called the answer a status update. And two, they’ve put your update out there for all to see. This means your actions can now speak louder than a heavily monogrammed Louis Vuitton bag.

This promise (or threat) seems to have brought cracking order to the fuzzy group of people we loosely and fondly call friends.

With just one question, the haves have been spliced cleanly from the have beens. The have beens in turn are separated from the been-there-done-thats. The list goes on, too long for this post to hold, without butting into the next blog.

So installments it is. Here’s the first of the ‘types’ I’ve discovered, as a part of my fully fatru research, triggered by new preference options. These let me see the status updates of not just friends, but friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. So all those of my friends with fingers on the block friend button, it may not be about you...

The so-much-to-show-so-little-space type

I think this personality type started reading the term status updates, but gave up halfway through the two-word plot. “The ending is obvious no ya?” they thought. “Actual mein, I already know that the only word that goes well with status is symbol.”

Signs of luxury, wealth and success ooze out richly from these people’s updates like ghee from a mysore pak. Any new acquisition makes it here faster than pirated copies of a new movie at the grey market.

To spot this type, you should know that some of them use a deceptively humble tone. Do not be fooled by it - it’s not a sign of modesty anymore than a 5-bedroom villa is a garib khaana. To get behind the fuzz of humility, look out for the clever use of interactive features like comments.

For example, consider this.

Gori C. is homesick for Indian food. Watch how this one grows in status with comments like, 'which part of the world are you in NOW?' And ‘you jet setter you!’ Do not make the mistake of saying 'awwww why don’t you come home for some dal chawal', unless you want to see the gory side of Gori.

Another example is the innocent info seeker who keys in SomeRat wants to know how long transpacific jet lags last. If you really want to know the answer to that SomeRat, you're in the wrong place. Try search engines pet.

Another specialty of this type of personality is that time has no meaning for them. If our barons are talking about new acquisitions which they don't have yet or anymore, this is how they will get the tenses to slave for them.

Present tense: La di da is awed by the beauty of her private island.

Past tense: D. Leer’s finger hurts from the weight of the diamond ring she wore yesterday.

Future tense: Evanna B. can’t wait to meet her new BMW.

If you still haven't spotted the ‘so-much-to-show-so-little-space type’ from among your friends, try this final surefire method. Think of any clichéd line about love and replace love with status. Status conquers all. True status is forever. Status makes the world go round. If it works for any of your friends, bingo, you’ve got your man or woman. Till death do you part.

Next: The Piles-to-show-before-I-sleep type

Sunday, November 9, 2008

can't talk the walk...

Oodles have been said and written about the benefits of hiring telecommuters or people who WAH (Work At Home).

What gets swept under the carpet is the WAAAAH in WAH.

As someone who works at home, I will commit professional suicide (make that two WAAAAHs) and reveal the biggest downside of hiring people like me.

We are incapable of saying the right things.

It's not as though we don't want to say what's right. We just don't know the right words. Spending as long as we have away from meetings and workshops has made our corporate jargon skills as obsolete as hardbound dictionaries.

At a meeting for example, if a client spits out a question about B2B, we won't waffle impressively about comparisons with B2C. We can't. We're more likely to jump into making inadvertently embarrassing statements about Hamlet quotes or pencil types.

When we agree with something, we'll say yup. Or at a stretch, yes. Never the infinitely more effective "I resonate with that" or "I am aligned with your thinking".

If you suggest in a crowded room that we take something offline, we are likely to respond by diving under the table to yank off the internet cable. And when asked to park a thought, we'll helpfully offer to send our drivers over.

Be warned that keeping us out of meetings is not a solution. Our corridor conversations are just as bad (challenging as they have been referred to by one of you). When people ask us to give them a shout, our vocal cords swell obligingly to the proportions of bull frogs in heat. When asked to give a tinkle, er... let's not even go there. Let it suffice to say that when you promise to touch base, our response is preceded by a nervous gulp and surreptitious look at your bottoms.

So if you want to hire us, do so for what we're good at.

We're good at our work and we know all about books, movies and eating/drinking places. What do you think we do with the time and money we save on fuel?

We're tops at email communication, because where there's email, there's google. We can then search for what you mean when you use terms like conversation threads and win-win.

But if you want someone who sounds as exotic as a foreign film without subtitles to lesser mortals, we're not it.

You see, we ARE the lesser mortals in question now.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Economists tell you that the cost of something is not just what’s on the price tag, it’s the total money, time and resources used up to acquire it.

Yikes! This means my new music system has cost me much more than I imagined, and for much longer. Here’s what I’ve squandered, in different denominations.

Currency of time: I spent months looking for the right system, since prices and my bank balance told me I would have to spend a lifetime with the same one, Ok, more accurately, the price tags demanded a saat janam ka rishta, but warranties don’t extend that long.

Currency of enthusiasm: In the first couple of trips to hi fi shops, I coughed up my quota of gusto for colour and shape. A series of abbreviation spitting technophiles indicated with scornful expressions that only the uncouth get seduced by sleek silver or sporty red. The enlightened are supposed to look beyond elephant poo shaped stacks for refined attributes like fidelity.

Currency of vocabulary: The search for a music system has wiped out at least a hundred words I had previously used with confidence. The first time someone told me a set of speakers I liked had a bright sound, I smiled and nodded naively. Only later did I realise that bright is a backhanded slur, like wise guy and clever, for a sound that’s trying too hard. Likewise, whatever the Vedas might say, ohm is not a divine sound, it is resistance to divine sound. Hertz is not a music system made for women. And as for a certain radical freedom fighter, you must never say his name out loud, unless you want people to think you’re vulgar, populist and illiterate.

Currency of self-confidence: I paid with this in installments, maybe a hundred thousand during every visit to a store. I paid my largest chunk the time I said a CD didn’t sound right on a certain set of speakers, and was disdainfully informed about my inferior benchmarking (it means my ears were used to an inferior sound because of my current music system). I now carefully comb my hair over my defective ears, before I get near a mirror.

Currency of comfort and aesthetics: The techno-guys who came home to set up my system with tape measures, laptops and sound signals, tramped around to find the perfect spot for the music system. Two and half hours later, they were done. The speakers were set for perfect balance, sound and fidelity.

The sofa is now jammed up against the wall, and so am I every time the system is switched on. No slouching, cautioned the experts, and no you can’t move the coffee table closer than 6 feet. That lovely pile of cushions that I used to use as back rests or makeshift bed, they’ve had to go. They caused too much distortion. And as for the period hat stand that’s my pride and joy, the back is now covered with cardboard to reflect the right amount of sound. There are 8 large blue crosses on the white floor to mark where the speaker spikes should be. The technophiles made them in permanent ink in case I was tempted to stray a millimetre from perfect sound.

So now, I’m left with two things. Great music, and an overwhelming sense of relief that the task is done. ok, there's also a long pending apology to a cousin.

I had laughed at this cousin when her first reaction to getting married had been an expletive followed by sheer relief. I had refused to understand when she had explained that the act of finding arranged bliss was paved with stress.

Sorry sis, I do understand now. Better late than never na? Come home and let's make peace over a drink. No you can’t pick up the glass, it will destroy the amplification of the music…

Saturday, September 27, 2008

show and tell

I believe a home is one of our few chances to break away from the spirals of genes that tie us firmly to our love handles, clumsiness, baldness, twitches or whatever else we may have inherited when we were too young to put our foot down. It's also our chance to liberate ourselves from the conventions of the past and a society we spent our teenage years pitying.

So. Call it ego, or compensation for not being a rebel when I legitimately could have carried it off, but I don’t want anything in my apartment to be conventional and off the shelf. As a result, most of the furniture in my apartment is in my head.

Last week, I decided to change status quo. I met a highly recommended carpenter and sketched him a cubist conch shell that was to be my music rack. He looked at my drawing with pity in his eyes and helpfully offered me his fevicol catalogue.

Rather than explaining the thing about mass market personalities, I suggested we start with a bookcase instead. Easy enough. Take out a window that gives me an uninterrupted view of the neighbour’s underwired collection, and put in glass shelves. I described the effect – it should look as though a square in the wall has been built with books instead of bricks.

He took measurements, offered to put in sliding doors for a nominal extra charge and promised to return in three days with the showcase.

Not showcase, bookcase, I laughed nervously, gulping to push back images of crystal curiosities and fabric flowers that rose up instantly. The carpenter didn’t notice, he was busy tucking my advance into a fevicol catalogue.

Three days later, I became the proud owner of what can only be described as the S word. The sliding doors I had eagerly agreed to complete the effect. Even with books in it, but it’s still a… I’m not strong enough to say the word yet.

When a friend suggested that I should just cover the borders to make it look less showcasish (she smirked as she pronounced the word), my mind raced to beaded macramé and DIY stencils.

And I knew I’d lost the battle.

Never again will I tell funny stories about a generation that spent most of their time abroad in bargain basements, to feed the big S at home. Or about dolls that spent their lives behind sliding doors, safely out of the reach of children they belonged to.

Never again will I look superior when people ask me if I have a ration card. Or turn the other way when I pass a Swarovski store or a velvet wall hanging featuring a pride of lions.

How can I? I’m one of THEM now.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

lost and found

Spring cleaning day today. I start the operation by plunging into a dusty tangle of junk jewellery that had moved cities and apartments without once being taken out of a giant wooden chest. The plan is to give away at least half of it, to make space for more important things.

The first to come out of the tangle is not junk jewellery. It’s a pair of gold hoops my mother believes she has lost. I think of old photographs of my mum, wrapped in silk saris that her parents had bought for her as appropriate post-marriage wear. She smiles into camera, presumably at my father, who she had met thrice before her wedding. She fits her form demurely against backgrounds she had only seen previously in Hindi films and on wallpapers in photo studios. She could have been a stereotype of an Indian wife or mother of the 60s, if it hadn’t been for the rings. They wink in spite of the British gloom around her, wild, gypsy-like, a tiny spark of individuality rebelling against a life vowed to conformity.

I rediscover a silver pair my friends had given me as a farewell gift when I had left Mumbai. They were loopy, large and flamboyant and l had loved them instantly in the poor light of the restaurant. I remember wearing them for months afterwards, loving the way they swung against my neck when I shook my head. Come to think of it, I shook my head a lot those days. I hold them now against my ears and feel overpowered. When did my clothes fade so much I wonder. And when did I fade?

Buried under the tangle is a pair that I’ve always disliked. My sister had given it to me when she had started working, and they’re well… hideous. Of course I hadn’t told her so, or anyone else. On the contrary, when a friend had remarked tactfully that the earrings weren’t my type, I had lied shamelessly about how beautiful they were, and defended my sister’s gawky demonstration of affection.

I find a pair I had once hurriedly bought to wear at a traditional wedding. I hadn’t had the time to get the 22 carat stuff out of the locker, so I had paraded all evening in a pair of burnished brass imposters. I had beamed all evening at compliments without a twinge of conscience.

There’s a set of earrings given to me by someone who I had loved once. And another given by someone who had loved me. The earrings are the only symbols left of both relationships. For the first time since I got them, I look at both pairs objectively, unclouded by feelings of hope, mush or guilt.

The tangle reveals dozens more and before I know it the morning is gone. So is the afternoon.
I put aside the gold hoops to return to my mother. They are hers, even if she doesn’t need them anymore to express her individuality.

The rest are mine, even though they may stand for things and values I've lost. I want to believe they're still there, hidden deep in me, waiting to be untangled and dusted. I make a start by putting all the earrings back into the box, promising them and myself, that one day I will be worthy again of each pair.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bangalored Times

Everyone thinks the term bangalored refers to Americans losing jobs to India.
All I can say is hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Get real, jobs are just a front to conceal the real assault. Slowly but surely, we’re taking over every language of the world. We’ve already made serious inroads into English, and French and Chinese are also on their way to getting Bangalored!

Here are some of the words that the rest of the world has lost already to our city.

Pronounced jarley, it is a compliment maids pay you when you give them a bonus. I thought my maid was accusing me of giving her counterfeit notes, till I realised she was speaking in English.
This is not an adjective or adverb when used in the service stations of Bangalore, but an independent noun. Small objects have systems, large mechanisms have systematics. For example, car ka systematic kharaab ho gaya. Here's an acknowledgement from a male dominated industry that size does matter.
If you use the term to mean the plural of meal, you're sooo 90s. You go to thali restaurants and order one meals.
China has lost a part of their culture to Andhra restaurants in Bangalore. Akin to a collection of unmentionable parts of dogs, a plate gobi manchuri is a perfect accompaniment to Andhra meals.
Déjà vu
Rechristened Deja View in concrete and steel! A residential complex off Old Madras road now wears the term in shining letters. I guess it must mean that residents look out of their balconies at the end of a long day and enjoy a refreshing view of Deja.
Not what the oppressed fight for, it’s what parking attendants chant to you with the accompaniment of whistles when you’re backing into a parking spot. Rights, rights, pheee, rights. And when they do that, don’t, whatever else you do, wrestle with your steering wheel to turn. Rights means straight in Bangalore.

Friday, August 15, 2008

pleeeease, make the journey more rewarding

‘On my way’ has to be the most commonly used text message ever, remarked a colleague a couple of weeks ago, as he checked his mobile for news of a tardy team member.

We smirked and settled down for a long wait.

‘On my way’ should constitute a punishable offence, not for the sender’s lack of punctuality, but for his or her lack of imagination. Come on, if you’re going to be late, the least you can do is to be entertaining. Not only will you keep our blood pressure in control (laughter being the best medicine as Reader’s Digest told us even before the dot com revolution was a dot on the horizon), it will actually help you become more truthful as well. All of us in Bangalore know that nothing is as entertaining as the truth.

For example, try ‘On my way to running down miniature acrobat sliding through giant earring’. The city’s best gymnasts aren’t at Beijing, they’re at every traffic signal in the city, gyrating and bobbing to give your text fingers fodder.

Or after a drizzle, you could text – ‘on my way out of Ulsoor lake which has cloned itself at Sadashiv Nagar. Instead of cursing you, those of us cooling our heels would spend the next hour comparing impromptu lakes we have braved in the past.

If you’re new to Bangalore and mms enabled, messaging solutions await you at every road sign. Besides dozens of signs that say ‘Hump ahead’ (it takes a newbie a while to figure out if this is an announcement or a request), road signs will always tell you exactly how far you are from various destinations. Of course you won’t know what those destinations are, as names of places are usually written in Kannada. Try ‘On my way to a series of marathon humps’ or ‘On my way to getting lost in translation’.

If you were about to say that you can’t punch in long messages while driving, save yourself the effort. All of us know sms lingo well enough to decipher that when you say ‘on your way’ you’re probably on your way to the rest room at the office.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

public service inventions we could all do with

Today, I stumbled on an amazing fact. A Mercedes (C, E or S-Class) can be fitted with a reverse parking sensor kit that warns you of obstacles behind your car when you back into a tight parking spot. And if you’re really fastidious, you can get the sensors spray painted to match your car perfectly.

If ever I meet the inventors who’ve gone through all this trouble to protect a rear bumper and a no claims bonus, I want to hand them my wish list of inventions.

Mouth sensors for feet: These sensors are embedded at the corners of your mouth and tinted with kiss proof paint to match your lipstick (nude shades would be a hit this season). These set off an extended fit of coughing to expel all thoughts of speech when your foot threatens to get into your mouth. These sensors are programmed to automatically get activated when you’re 3 bloody marys down.

Ex-file: This one forces you to take a u-turn when there’s an ex within a kilometre. This innovation has multi-functional sensors that work on all categories of exes, including ex-boyfriends, ex-husbands and ex-friends (the ones you made before you installed the mouth sensors for feet).

Itchy finger kit: This sophisticated device fits neatly into the magnetic strip of your credit card (the black strip at the back of a credit card – if yours looks balder than your car tyres, you definitely need this gadget). Every time you get close to maxing your card, this sensor sets off a strong optical illusion that makes the card invisible. The kit comes with an instruction booklet that has face saving lines such as: “Oh oh, I think I must have left my card at the Mercedes showroom when I bought my maid a car”.

Bum sensors: This one works on the principle of the sensors that save no claim bonuses. The portable device fits into your back pocket and detects habitual freeloaders who usually leave abruptly between the arrival of last drinks and the bill. It then uses consumed alcohol as fuel to propel you off your seat faster than the moochers and to steer you into the loo. With this one, you have nothing to lose, but your cheapo companions.