Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fried day

Today has been a rough day.

My 4 year old was to go on a field trip and the usual morning rush was accelerated to 32x. We raced through showers, breakfast and the drive to the school, until the moment when everything came to a standstill. Not exactly a standstill, because the front right wheel of the car was still spinning, as I drove the left one into a huge manhole. I use the term manhole euphemistically, because actually, it was a huge crater where a couple of tiles covering a river of sewage had just fallen in. So there we were, teetering at an angle of at least 20 degrees above the underground world of sewage. Has the car fallen down, my child giggled. Sort of, I said, before I jumped out of the italicized car.

By the time I dropped my daughter off and came back to the car, a small crowd had collected to watch our desi version of the tower of Pisa. Which was the luckiest thing that could happen, because these very same people picked up the front of the car and hoisted it out of the hole in the ground. I drove off to my favourite coffee shop for some r & r, and a long awaited brunch with my sisters.

Minutes after I had bragged about my buddha-like calmness while handling the car episode, the school called. My daughter had refused to get into the bus, and had decided to stay back at school instead. They said she was calm now, which didn't leave much about the past hour to the imagination. My calm mask slipped considerably as I rushed back to school, slowing down only near the crater.

And then things degenerated further. A soggy lunch at mcd (clearly the trauma of the morning had left my child's passion for happy meal toys untouched), a sister getting stressed out about getting delayed for work, and a crazy rush to drop my other sister off to her bus to mumbai (which included two evil arguments during the drive) followed.

And then, as we were returning, I spotted a small bicycle shop. I stopped the car, this was the closest I had got to my new year resolution to exercise regularly. We walked in, and behind a curtain of crotch guards and strange gloves was a man.  A lean, toned man, the kind who instantly makes other people suck in their paunches and stop breathing. I asked him without pointing (my arm jiggle has graduated to an oscillation to rival church bells) about a couple of the things on sale. We chatted for a while about cross country cycling spots in the city, and the biking group he belonged to. I told him that I owned a bike that hadn't been ridden for a while, and he asked for my number so that he could update me on biking events.
He also asked me when I had bought my bike and where. When I told him, the man got very animated. "Bring it here" he suggested excitedly. "We'll service your bike for you. It's not often that we get a chance to look at vintage models".
This was the worst blow of the day. What did they call owners of vintage bikes? Victorian? Neanderthal? I swear I felt distinctly arthritic as I walked out of the shop, clutching my child's hand for support. The only bright spot is that I'll forget all about this very soon... isn't short term memory the first thing to go when you age?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

sacred rice

Three days ago, I was surreptitiously comparing features of new phones, while my old waterlogged faithful was gasping in a container of rice.

Well, it worked!!! The rice trick I mean, not the surreptitious comparisons.

The ring sounds a bit nasal, but that's not shocking, after hours in cold water. The screen shows a marbled pattern that doesn't belong to any wallpaper of htc or for that matter any brand, but I could get used to it.

Everything else actually works. The phone, the net, my mail, and yes, I also know that the temperature in Fareham is 1 degree!

I am so impressed by the accuracy of the advice on the net, that I am now seriously considering taking my credit card for a surf. Maybe we could drop by on all those sites that promise flat stomachs, instant wealth and eternal youth...

Monday, February 6, 2012

my wildfire just got extinguished

I’ll confess right at the start that I have never been one to fearlessly embrace the cutting edge of technology; I am more often than not gingerly clutching the wooden, riveted handle.

By the time I bought my first smart phone, the android revolution had long stopped being a revolution. But inside my cosy cocoon of elderly gadgets and appliances, my little HTC Wildfire (bought, unknowingly, weeks before the model was declared obsolete by the manufacturer) was all set to start its own revolution.

I learnt the hard way that bragging about my new acquisition was out. I mean it can be a bit tiring to intercept amused smiles and sniggers when you enthusiastically ooh over mailing pictures to people without once touching your laptop (I use the term laptop fondly for a machine that’s only slightly older and heavier than my 4 year old daughter).

But it's amazing how my own smartness quotient has been boosted by my phone.

I know now that what’sapp isn’t a greeting with two spelling mistakes. That android market isn’t a shop that sells toy robots. And that the best things in life are still free, especially if you like to be quoted. I have this tom cat who reminds me of a colleague in meetings with his boss. And this personal echo came to me at no cost from the above mentioned android market.

Then there have been fringe benefits like learning to make detailed schedules of how I should spend my days. Even the fact that I don’t follow any of the events can’t dampen the thrill of seeing my plans transfer themselves to Outlook via Bluetooth on my …um… computer. And Outlook, that was another first for me, to figure out that the word is not just a part of a dismissive statement to be used when you’re losing an argument, as in ‘Oh (said coldly). Is that your outlook…”

But all these things are the stuff you sometimes find stuck to eggs, compared to what I discovered this evening.
Apparently, while immersion and deep dives are good things for human brains, they are not, for android intelligence. So if you sink your impossibly muddied gardening pants in a bucket of water, as I did a few hours ago, you have to make sure your phone isn’t in one of the pockets.

As I write this, my dismantled phone is resting in an airtight plastic container full of rice. I am informed that rice is a desiccant, by lots of people on the net who have written about how it worked to restore their phones. They have also written about their phones being in water for anything from a couple of seconds to a few minutes. (Mine had been soaking for an hour and a half, and I had blamed the long silence on my unpopularity).

I’ll know by tomorrow, if the tip works. But either way, I’ve got a lot to look forward to.
If the phone stays dead, I’ll have to get another one. It will be my second phone in 6 months, just like those early adopter types. Fancy that.
And if the phone pings back to life, I’ll be able to figure out the exact temperature in Taipei, and cloud status in Tokyo. And if I scroll up, I’ll even know what the weather is like in my own city. If that’s not smart, what is?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

scrabble rouser

Yesterday, I got hit on and dumped, all in the course of an online game of scrabble. It could have been the shortest chick flick plot ever, but a few things came in the way.

For one, the person in question knew words like myxo and tithe, but probably hadn’t run across heterosexuality.

But then again, hindsight says she might have a weakness for the word options. Because she asked: “Are you male or female?”

I’ve been called a tomboy in my childhood, but this was taking things a bit far. In my shock, I forgot all about the 6 letter word I had lined up, and scooted to my profile to look for signs of waxing neglect.

“Female” I replied as huffily as I could in a chat box without font options. In my eagerness to set the gender issue right, I also ended up sacrificing a precious s on an unworthy word.

The event box pinged again with the word titups. Evidently, the woman chose her words with care.

“Do you enjoy being anonymous?” she asked.

A role player, I thought, before relief hit me like a triple word bingo. I had recently altered some fb settings on the advice of a chain mail (did I mention that my middle name is lemming?), which had turned my name to Anonymous, and my picture to an androgynous silhouette. I was so pleased to know that I wouldn’t have to spend my life savings on hormone therapy that I blabbered foolishly about the settings issue.

Yes, I know it was foolish. Haven’t I just said so myself?

“You’re cute.” said the hitter. “I’d like to see what you look like.”

How does a person who doesn’t know my name, profile or face decide I’m cute? It has to be my brilliant game, of course! I scrolled up to find evidence of my cuteness, past shameful three letter words and single digit scores till I reached… well… the beginning of the game.

What followed were requests to add the above mentioned person as a friend (“at least for a few hours”), questions about sexuality and pleas to reveal personal info.

I didn’t answer any of these queries. I couldn’t. I just wasn't cute enough. Yet. I hovered around a ‘j’ like it was a phone the morning after a date. I twisted letters like hair curling bendies till they made 7 letter words. I opened dictionary tabs to validate long words that could make false eyelashes look stumpy.

Just as my cuteness score started looking respectable, it petered again to zero.

The woman I was playing had hit forfeit. Abruptly and cleanly, like a model break.

I should have been heartbroken, or at least miffed, but all I could think of was that forfeit made a great 7 letter word.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

the lost symbolism

On Friday, I carefully engineered a casual stroll into a bookstore. Most of us have done the carefully casual ensemble and the carefully casual interest thing, but this was a first for me.

I walked purposefully past the cash counter to the fiction section, then stopped by at the humour aisle, and spent a purposeful 90 seconds skimming over travel. After a respectable amount of time on non-fiction and discounted books, I walked back past the cash counter to study the new releases.

That’s untrue. I studied one new release. Still untrue. I already knew what the cover looked like and what the back and fly leaf said, so it was more a grab with a shifty look around.

And then I felt like a fraud.

Like the near obscure author who when questioned about his literary favourites, sneered that he didn’t read the likes of Chetan Bhagat. Or like the people in the audience who tittered in agreement. (Months after the episode, Bhagat continues to occupy the best seller shelves, and the obscure author continues to be just that. Obscure. I like to think I helped the situation in a tiny way by not buying a copy of his book).

Or like all those people who when seen with pulp fiction, launch into an explanation about taking a break between two profound literary masterpieces. Or about needing mindless entertainment on long flights.

All the film makers who turn up their noses at academy award winners. It’s just politics, they say.

The stick figures on the big screen who claim to eat like the rest of us.

University toppers who claim not to have spent enough time studying.

Chee. There are enough of those in the world.

I carried the book to the cashier and slapped it on the counter.

“Oh, you’ve bought the new Dan Brown have you?” A woman who was next in line purred at me. She was wearing an expensive dental job and a priceless smirk.

“Yes” I answered with more enthusiasm than was strictly necessary. “I enjoyed his earlier books, and can’t wait to start this one.”

“Yeah, he’s … well… interesting”, she said. “But I think I’ll wait for the paperback”.

“You’ll wait six months” I answered, feeling the smirk transfer itself to my face.

A couple of browsers turned to eavesdrop openly.

I smiled and nodded at them all and left the bookstore with my new book.

Friday, September 25, 2009

dark secrets

Nurture felt slightly nauseous as Nature dunked a gulab jamun in a pool of syrup.

She looked away from the pulpy mass and focussed on the task at hand. She had to teach Nature to say lurrrve, and judging by the subject’s inordinate fondness for sweets, the best way seemed to be with a dessert.

“I think it’s time you graduated to a more sophisticated dessert, like dark chocolate.” she spoke firmly.

“I can’t. It’s not sweet”, Nature replied cheerfully, as she swallowed the gulab jamun mash. “And my family genes forbid me to ingest any dessert that doesn’t come with a diabetes guarantee card”.

“It’s a cultivated taste you know” Nurture spoke with a confidence born of centuries of success with white mice, rhesus monkeys and drooling dogs. “Come on, try some”.

“I’ve tried it” nature said, as she looked longingly at nurture’s untouched bowl. “But my ancestors got together and made me gag. Especially my great uncle – have I told you how he once ate 20 laddoos at a…”.

“Yes, many times.” Nurture interrupted, insensitive to family ties of mere protein. “It’s usually followed by the story about some glutton who used to have no space in his thali for pooris when he served himself shrikhand”.

Nature looked a bit miffed at having her family tree squeezed into two stories.

“I remember them because they’re fascinating stories” Nurture rushed in to make amends. “But the past is… well, predictable. Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“That was bred out generations ago.” Nature replied sadly. “My dad’s idea of adventure comprises using both hands to move pieces on a chess board. My mum feels the thrill of a bungee jumper when she bargains her way to two free bunches of coriander”.

“Ok so forget adventure then” said Nurture. “What about being cool? Don’t you want to be one of those elitists who discuss the finer nuances of complex flavour profiles?”

“I do”. Nature admitted, influenced by a few stray but powerful genes from an aunt who in the 70s, had served caramel custard at her son’s wedding. Twenty years later, the aunt still recounted how some of her uncool relatives (from her husband’s side of course) had whispered the name of the dessert in case people thought they were swearing.

Nurture saw victory inching closer and pressed on. “For a moment, forget all those chromosomes. Let’s pick up that bar of dark chocolate and take the first step to getting cool. I’ve got an eleven step process of tasting dark chocolate that might help you.”

“I know it.” Nature said. “I tried it with milk chocolate. By step 2, the bar was finished. By step six, my intestinal enzymes had got to it.”

“Yech it’s your sweet tooth”. Nurture said disdainfully.

“We haven’t had a sweet tooth in our family for generations”. Nature countered. "Ceramic teeth, yes, many times over. Metal teeth, check. Empty gummy spaces, bingo. But no sweet tooth after the age of 10.”

Nurture felt herself sinking deep into despair. She wished she were working with tomatoes or some other subject that didn’t have vocal cords.

“So forget it then. I guess I’ll just have to live with the fact that I couldn’t teach you to say lurrrve.”

“Lurrrve?”. Nature asked. “I don’t even know what it means.”

“It’s well, a verbal version of a machine gun.” Nurture explained without much interest. “Because of its ability to reduce people’s self confidence to pulp.”

“Ok, I want it already”. Nature said. Actually, she was mouthing the desire of a distant relative who achieved the same result by referring to designers by first names or nicknames. The relative usually topped it with a pitying look when listeners thought choo was a sneeze or that Nina was a neighbour’s name.

“Only certain things can get you the power of lurrrve, For example, you can lurrrve Norwegian salmon, not bangda fry, unless you’re doing the inverse snobbery thing. You’re allowed to lurrrve unpasteurized stilton, not cheese slices. It doesn’t matter if you prefer cheese slices. You just can’t lurrrve them. Of course the easiest way to join the lurrrve club is through dark chocolate, but I guess…”

“Wait” Nature interrupted. “Did you say Norwegian salmon? I do genuinely love it, I mean lurrrve it”.

“Good for you” Nurture said, her mind already preoccupied with strategies to reduce a normal person to a size zero.

"So why don’t I just think of Norwegian salmon when I’m talking about dark chocolate? I lurrrve dark chocolate. How’s that?"

There was no answer.

“I could then talk about cocoa percentages… I can do that quite easily.Nurture are you even listening?”

Nurture wasn't listening. She wasn't even in the roomt. She had left already knowing that her mission had been successful but that she couldn’t quite take the credit for it. Unless of course, she used her sense of adventure to fabricate a story…

Sunday, September 13, 2009

it's a steal...

The first time I visit a shop, I’m a regular customer. But the second time I go, I’m royalty. Salespeople come rushing up from every corner of the store, the manager addresses me by name, and I’m assigned an exclusive shop assistant for the duration of my visit. For the longest time, I attributed this special treatment to my charm, but after introspection and several hits to my bank balance, I’ve realised that my lack of bargaining skills are the real reason.

I’ve had the opportunity to watch some prize bargain queens and kings at work. I’ve observed how they plough masterfully towards their targets, and how they let nothing get in the way. And from these observations, I’ve understood that getting an extra tissue on demand at a café does not constitute a good bargain. I also know now that bargaining may be an art, but copying the masters achieves nothing except an unflattering likeness to a simian in a panchatantra story.

If you’re like me, ie the hieroglyphic symbol for loser shopper, here’s the greatest bargain you’re ever likely to get. You can share my failure for free, instead of getting your own at the cost of angst and embarrassment.

One person’s masterstroke could be another person’s stroke: My sister and I were shopping for ethnic totes at a street bazaar in Delhi when my sis pointed at one she liked. The burly XL stall owner quoted a price. My sister named a figure that was low enough to make me squirm. Monster man dropped his price a shade. At this point, my skinny teenaged sis looked straight at him and said “I’m beginning to get angry now”. She said this softly, with a smile on her face, and the stall owner was shocked into nervously looking around for skulking armed men, before he wordlessly handed her the tote.

This is easy, I thought. So I tried it at another street stall in another city. “I’m beginning to get angry now” I said at the right moment, my voice velvety soft and Brandoesque. Almost on cue, things started to happen. The stall owner quickly pushed a chair towards me and gestured for water. “BP patient hai”, he whispered knowingly to his assistant, and handed me a glass crusted with fingerprints. While I pretended to sip the slightly murky water, the man regaled me with stories about his own blood pressure travails. I left after a while, with a recipe for bitter gourd juice (BP ke liye ekdum first class) but sadly, no bargain.

Starting from scratch: When a salesperson tried to convince me to buy the last refrigerator in the store, ie the display one, I decided to capitalise on the bargaining opportunity. I knew what to do, having watched my bargain black belt friends closely. I disdainfully pointed out a near invisible scratch near the door (I think I might have created it while pointing it out) and demanded a discount. The salesman quickly dropped the price and before you could say freeze, I paid for the piece. When the refrigerator was unpacked at home, I realised the scratch was truly invisible, as it was eclipsed by at least 3 dents on the door. The crisper tray looked distinctly French, as the r had been rubbed by enthusiastic shoppers. The egg trays croak ominously every time I open the door, and soon, I should be able to save myself the first step of making omelettes.

Great timing comes at a cost: Yippee, it was sale time! The time of the year when bargain royalty moves in and gets stuff it might need later. Well, I got that bit right; when I swooped down on a brilliantly discounted dishwasher I didn’t need. It arrived in perfect condition, though I can’t say the same about many other things anymore.

My jars have melted into size 0 shapes, which are great for the catwalk but not for storing things. I've had to replace them with dishwasher safe ones (read imported, read expensive). My electricity bills have doubled as have my tea and biscuit expenses. The last two are courtesy my erstwhile human dishwasher, who has no work left and uses my home as a café for her mid morning breaks.

Make a fresh start: Whatever the evidence against it, I’ve started believing in reincarnation. It's my best chance to be brilliant at bargaining. Yes I realise I might be reborn a mosquito, but if I can get a great deal on a repellent-free home, I’ll take my chances.