Yesterday

24 hours went by. The universe expanded a little more. The sun shone. The moon was coy. A little more ice melted from the polar ice caps.

353,000 babies were born. They will grow up to be moms, dads, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandparents, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, friends and strangers. Families smiled. 150,000 people died. They were moms, dads, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandparents, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, friends and strangers. Families cried.

Stars were born. Stars died. Flowers bloomed. Bees buzzed. 150 species of plants, insects, birds and animals went extinct.

More than a billion pizzas were delivered.

Hundreds of millions of children went to school and complained about home work. Millions didn’t get that chance.

Stock markets rose. Stock markets fell. People made money. People lost money. Some became rich beyond their wildest dreams. Some lost their savings to their great shock. Most didn’t even know.

Men broke women’s hearts. Some cried. Some shrugged their shoulders. Women broke men’s hearts. Some shrugged their shoulders. Some cried. There were millions of smiles. There were millions of tears.

294 billion emails were sent. 2 million blog posts were written. People spent 472 billion minutes updating 532 million statuses and uploading 250 million photos on Facebook. They spent 22 million hours on Netflix, 18 million on Pandora, and bought 378,000 new iPhones.

Men killed men. Men raped women. Some were just angry. Some did so because they felt they needed to. Some will escape. Some will be forgiven. Some will not seek forgiveness. A lot of people became angry hearing about what others had done. Many retreated to lives of quiet desperation, flitting from one debacle to another.

Moms hugged children. Children refused to eat their vegetables. Women wondered what their husbands thought. Husbands remained oblivious. Families re-united. Others said goodbyes.

Some rose at the crack of dawn. Some were unwilling to rise. Many went to work. Many looked for work.

People argued. They debated. They mocked. They praised.

Some were dissatisfied. They wanted more. Others were despondent. They could have used more.

Some promised to start new lives. Some ended theirs. Some were cared for. Some went to bed in tears. Some died unsung.

There was joy. There was sorrow. There was life. There was death. There was fear of tomorrow. There was promise of a new day.

It was the best of days. it was the worst of days. It was a day of wisdom. It was a day of foolishness. It was a day of belief. It was a day of incredulity. It was a day of light. It was a day of darkness. It was day of hope. It was a day of despair. We had everything before us. We had nothing before us. We were all headed to Heaven. We were all going directly the other way.*

Yesterday, life happened. Just as it did, the day before.

*paraphased from The Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens.

In Defense of Sagarika Ghose

I’ll come right out and say it. I cannot be more supportive of Sagarika Ghose and her valiant attempt to reform those incorrigible internet Hindus and restore freedom of speech to this great nation called India.

I believe that the people of India must immediately bury their differences and come together to find common ground. This is a crucial moment in the country’s history. I cannot think of how better we can elevate ourselves into the strata of developed nations than to engage in an inane and superficial examination of the issue of free speech.

If there was ever a time for inanity, it is now.

Recent elections have polarized and their results are slowly destroying the nation. Fascists roam freely in our midst, dressed in myriad hues of saffron. If we are to ever to progress into a golden era of freedom and prosperity, we must, with all our hearts, encourage on a national scale, second-standard-level conversations about the troublesome issues that plague this country.

Like it or not, India urgently needs a dumbed down conversation on the importance of freedom of expression. Critically, it needs this dialogue to be led by smug, self-righteous Oxford educated liberals, like Sagarika, who have no appreciation for how little their self serving, one-dimensional approach brings to the table.

We all bear the solemn duty to set aside our own ill-begotten opinions, and instead focus on the first idea that comes to the refined mind of Ms. Sagarika Ghose. Is that asking for too much?

We may have voted in our wisdom, and brought to the helm a mere chai-wallah who governs with confidence and promises a better future. But, our work is not done yet. The time has come to start saying and doing foolish things once again.

It has been far too long since we shared long-discredited arguments about Gujarat in 2002. Terms like “encounters” and “moral compass” should be put back in the spotlight. And, while we’re being open and honest, why not trot out that elephant in the room and talk about the insensitivity of those who clamor for a uniform civil code? We have strayed from the path of righteousness, and now must allow ourselves to be skillfully guided back to it.

I beseech intellectuals to step forward and hold forth on the importance of maintaining a “secular fabric,” without ever pausing to examine its innards. It is my fond hope that Sagarika will, some day, part the Red Sea of bigotry that divides us, and lead us into a promised land where free speech blossoms and flowers, undeterred by internet Hindu Nazis.

To rightists and leftists alike, I say this: Remember that there is a reason as to why the Internet exists. It exists for Sagarika. And equally importantly, it doesn’t exist for Hindus. If only we allowed ourselves take appropriate advantage of this incredible technology, we could, in theory, empower brave men and women like Sagarika to lead the way and initiate embarrassingly simple-minded dialogues on the “right to dissent.” Their discourses will be greeted with warmth by other like-minded liberal intellectuals, who have never experienced the temptation of thinking about an issue beyond their presumptions. Sagarika will thus be encouraged, nay even reinvigorated, to write hundreds of blogs, all saying one or another of two to three unsubstantial viewpoints on a wide variety of nuanced cultural issues.

Let’s face it. Since independence, a flawed penal system muzzling citizens’ rights to free speech has long been our nation’s dirty little secret, an ugly reality carefully swept under the rug of polite discourse, emerging only in occasional, angry rants about rapes, police brutality and Happy New Year. We must bring this issue out into the open. And, as they lead this national conversation, I pray that our liberal intelligentsia take great care to not lose their self-assured witlessness as they pontificate to those who struggle to appreciate those truths that they so effortlessly see.

Only by keeping alive a shallow, one- dimensional dialogue can we ensure that we, as a nation, never get down to deeper issues that may some day tear us apart.

Dare to imagine it. Dare to stand with Sagarika. The nation will be the better for it.

ps: If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read Sagarika’s eloquently well done “Letter to India’s Right: All critics aren’t leftists or deshdrohis” If you have no idea what she’s talking about, I’m afraid that I can’t help you there, mate.

India – Cut and Dried

India – Cut and Dried takes artistic liberty in chronicling real experiences during my life in India between 2002 and 2014.

The Indians invented zero, built the Taj Mahal, threw the towel in and called it a day. Historians were told to take the next several hundred years off. Deep within the Indian psyche once lay an adventurous spirit which sought to understand the best of things. Now it asks, “‘What’s the worst that can happen?

A couple of years back, I went to see a doctor in Bangalore. As luck would have it, he was one of those wizened, cynical men who have seen it all. The man waved me to a chair as he fiddled with a phone. He made no attempt to establish eye contact. As he fiddled, his sub-conscious voice rang out, “I’ve been in this profession for 40 years. I’ve seen it all. The Hippocratic Oath be damned. It’s not worth saving you people. You can wait until this app finishes downloading on my pathetic 2G connection. Feel free to leave anytime. What’s the worst that can happen?

I took in the windowless room. The man had shut himself out from the rest of the world. And here I was, an unwelcome intrusion.

I’ve been to doctors in America. The startling thing about them is that they communicate. Rather fluently as a matter of fact. They use sentences with more than two words. They wear clean shirts. And shoes.

“You think I’ll make it, doc? The faint rash on the lower thigh looks fatal, doesn’t it?”

The doctor always resisted the temptation to slap me across the face. Instead he’d put his notepad down, look me in the eyeballs and explain why I wasn’t about to tragically die young.

As my thoughts wandered, the doctor in Bangalore continued to fiddle. After five minutes, he looked up and made fleeting eye contact through a mirror on the wall as though I was Medusa and he was Perseus.

Then I heard him speak. Hallelujah!

“So what’s your problem?”

“Umm.. we met last week.. ”

This caused him to lose any interest he might have had in me at this point. His eyes lowered and he reverted to Neroesque fiddling as I sat likely dying of an incurable ailment.

I waited in uncertainty. Sensing a rapidly losing cause, I spoke again.

“I have a ringing noise in my ears. You told me to get hearing tests done. I have brought the results.”

He looked up.

“Yes, I remember you. Why is it not ringing?”

I stared, wondering which of us had a hearing problem.

 “I said that MY ears are ringing.”

“I know. I meant my phone.”

Foxed by his cryptic words, I stayed tuned in for further updates.

 “I just bought a new phone. It’s not ringing. What could be wrong?”

He handed me a brand new Samsung Galaxy 2.

“Maybe if my phone rang and your ears didn’t, we could call it a win-win, no?”

He laughed. It was a good one. But it failed to move me. Resentful, I turned the volume of the phone up.

“Here you go.”

I handed the phone to him. His facial expression continued to indicate that interest in my welfare had not made an appearance yet.

“How about I give you my phone number and you call me?”

I like to think of myself as a Zen kind of guy, with an inner Buddha chanting Tat Tvam Asi and the works. I believe that anger resides only in the bosom of fools. I have let go. And I’ve been happy ever since. I even wrote a book on all of this. Yet I felt a rising tide of anger.

“You want me to leave now and call you later?”

He looked at me, his eyes crinkling as though they were staring at the sun.

“No, not like that. Can you call me so I can hear the phone ring?”

My inner Buddha struggled to process this request. Glumly I acceded. It made him distinctly happier.

“Let’s see your results.”

He opened the envelope and began reading. His next question was a wicked doosra.

“Have you ever stood in front of a large speaker?”

“No. Why?”

“Because you have lost 50% of your hearing at higher frequencies.”

I waited for more. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him continue.

“Your hearing is normal enough to hear humans speak. Isn’t that good enough?”

My inner Buddha fought valiantly to contain my inner Hercules from slaying the man with a machete in one fluid motion. Outwardly calm, I responded.

“You said that I’ve lost half my hearing at a higher frequency. Is this normal? How did this happen?”

“I told you already. You must have stood in front of a large speaker.”

“But I have not stood in front of a large speaker. I once watched Nitin Gadkari speak on TV. That doesn’t count, does it?,” I protested.

“You must have. Unless you are 60 years old. Anyway, how does it matter?”

His inner Buddha had stumped mine. I resorted to another line of attack.

“Can you make the ringing noise go away?”

“Depends.”

“Depends on what?”

“Are you willing to wear a hearing aid? Some people think they look weird.”

“If you put it that way, no.”

“Then I can’t make the ringing noise go away.”

“But I got your phone to ring. That was our deal.”

My plea fell on deaf ears. Pun intended.

“Sorry. There is nothing I can do.”

“Wait. Is this a symptom of something else which could be serious?”

“Like what?”

“You are the doctor. You tell me. Please.”

“Probably not. I don’t think so. Unlikely.”

“Probably? You don’t think so? You are not sure? Don’t you want to look inside my ears or something?”

“No.”

“Come on, doc. I say we check for something.”

“Like what?”

I was licked. I let go.

“Fine. Let me understand what happened just now. I fixed your phone. And then you told me that you can’t fix my hearing. That I have to live with a ringing noise in my ears. That we should not bother because I am PROBABLY not dying of something serious right now. Is that correct?”

“Correct. Look at it another way. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll just lose all your hearing in another 10 or 20 years. Speaking of bad things, do you think I should get a screen protector for my phone?”

At this juncture, I did as any normal Indian would. I threw in the towel and called it a day.

Age is just a number.

I’m coming up on a birthday soon. It’s hard to not connect birthdays to aging once you reach the mid-forties. 46. Is that really how old I am?

Let’s take a closer look.

The youngest atom in the body is more than a billion years old. Hydrogen, the most abundantly found element, is nearly 14 billion years old and was produced during the Big Bang. Carbon and oxygen atoms are between 7 and 10 billion years old. In other words, we are really really ancient. What’s another 20 or 46 or 72 years in this cosmic scheme of things?

So how old did you say I was?

Cells in our body die every second and new ones replace them. In a sense, we are re-created with each passing moment. A liver refreshes itself in 3 months. Taste buds in 2 weeks. The lung’s surface in 3 weeks. The heart refreshes 2-3 times over a lifetime. Cells in the intestine in 2 days. In fact, only our eyes are as old are we are, not undergoing transformation over time.

So we are made of ancient cosmic dust but renew ourselves in some cases as often as every 2 days and sometimes never?

So, tell me again. How old did you say I was?

Each of us, like a chicken, started off as an egg. From the egg that came from our mothers, that is. The thing about a human egg is that it is formed when the mother herself is an embryo. And we could argue that the formation of the egg, half of which contributed to each of us, is technically our first moment of existence. So, if your mother had you at 25 years of age, and you are 30 years old, technically you are ( 30 + 25 = ) 55 years old.

46 years. 2 days. 14 billion years. your pick.  I told you that age is just a number.

And happy birthday to you too (for whenever the day comes). Remember that you are this newborn baby that has existed since the beginning of time and will last till the end of it. Many happy returns of infinity to you.

Falling In Love With India

I recall reading Plato’s Republic in 1996. At that time, I was living and working in the US. In the book, Socrates asks what Justice is and Polemarchus responds by defining it as “helping your friends and harming your enemies.” Indeed, it was the accepted opinion among the ancient Greeks (and many societies which followed them) that the morally right thing to do was to favor the “insiders.” And Socrates responds to Polemarchus by questioning the exclusivism of his moral position. Thus was launched a debate over the morality of patriotism and nationalism that reverberated through Europe over centuries. Nearly two thousand years later, Kant and others concluded that morality could not be confined to narrow dimensions of ‘me, mine, my family, my city or my nation’ and extended it to include humankind as a whole.

IS PATRIOTISM MORALLY JUST?

I recall pondering, as an immigrant in a foreign land, the notion of patriotism. What logic lay in blind loyalty to a nation, whose citizenship you hold only because of a random act of nature? Or did it make sense to be patriotic to a nation which welcomes you as a citizen after having examined what you had to offer? Have nations done enough to deserve our loyalty? Wasn’t cosmopolitanism, a notion first espoused by Diogenes who declared himself a citizen of the world, more morally acceptable than patriotism? Wasn’t patriotism at odds with a just, moral view of the world?

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF MORALITY

Should one country succeed at the expense of another? What makes anyone believe that they are “the chosen ones”? There are no easy answers. Suppose, for example, the Prime Minister of India when faced with the choice of securing Indian access to oil in Iran versus the choice of withdrawing to allow Chinese access to those reserves, decides (rather disinterestedly and morally) on the latter because it would lead to greater overall good of mankind. While morally laudable, it may, by no stretch of imagination, be construed as rightful discharge of his duties as a leader of a nation. Morality can be a slippery slope.

FALLING IN LOVE WITH INDIA

To this day, I haven’t yet resolved the conflict which Plato created in my mind. I am rather enamored by a universal humanism in which I choose not to belong to just one nation or people. I believe in John Lennon’s secular humanism that believes that all humans are equal and share the same aspirations, fears and hopes regardless of our histories and geographies. At the same time, I have a hard time holding back tears when the words “Hey Ram” stream into my consciousness and evoke my pride in having come from a society which brought about a man who Einstein described as “generations to come will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.

I have interrogated myself often and at length on why I fell in love with India. And I have come to believe that I love India not because I was born on her soil but because there’s something touching and deeply inspiring about the way she’s tolerant and merciful of the human condition with all its frailties and foibles. It is a country that that will lift you from a low to a high that will amaze you. Never mind that it pushed you into the low in the first place. After all, you need to truly understand pain before you can enjoy pleasure. There is no question that she will provide you with an adequate supply of both. If there’s one place on earth which has willingly embraced everything, it is India. If there is a place on earth that will teach you humility and awaken your soul, it is India. May she prosper and shine and provide comfort to all other nations and peoples.

Take your time to examine your beliefs. Find yourself before you fall in love with India. And when you do so, I will guarantee you that it will be a love of a lifetime.

Happy Independence Day (in advance)! God bless India. God bless us all.

The Story of Bhishma

I’d like to share something that I’d written a while back as my little ‘ommage to the master of humor, PG Wodehouse himself.

This is a re-telling of a story from Mahabharat, about Pitamaha Bhishma and my conjecture of how he came to take a terrible oath of celibacy. The tale is written in an irreverent Wodehousian style and might seem a tad too irreverent to some. My apologies if this offends you, though I do sincerely believe that it will not offend. I count myself among the many admirers of Devavrata who was renowned for his sagacity and resolve.

Two days back, I had posted Part 1 of the tale with the intent to post the remaining 4 parts over the next few days. Clearly, I hadn’t thought this through. A few wrote to me saying that a week was too long to wait for the rest of the story to unfold, and breaking it up into pieces was disruptive to the reading experience. So, I have published the entire version here on What Ho! in one place, so you can do what you deem fit – either read it all in one go or bookmark and read it when time permits.

Here it is – the full version of “A Man of His Word” Hope you enjoy this! cheers.

To Love and To Cherish

The time has come to confront the question that’s been on the lips of women since the dawn of time. “Why do men suck?” I will attempt to answer this question as only a man would, which is by lying through my teeth. Fasten your seat belts. And here we go.

A Long Time Ago, Life Arose.

First, you’ll have to imagine an age long before dinosaurs roamed the earth. An era that dates back millions of years. Imagine a time when Lal Kishan Advani was in his diapers. When Shahid Afridi had just entered Test cricket. We’re talking about a time so long ago when life itself first originated on this planet. A few carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen molecules got together to form something called amino acids. One thing led to another and pretty soon, we had something called DNA. And out of these building blocks arose life.

And a Lot of Things Happened After That.

A lot of things happened after life forms evolved. The long and short of this history is that enormous numbers of incredible combinations of life attributes (shape and gender) expressed themselves forth in a wonderfully disorderly process of creation. And in an equally wonderful process of destruction, many of the life forms were weeded out in what Charles Darwin has called the process of natural selection. Short giraffes went out. Striped zebras stayed in. And so on and so forth. In short, you should be very happy that you are here reading this. Congratulations, my friend. You are a survivor of an astonishing cycle that started millions of years back.

DNA Matters.

What I have been trying to tell you in a somewhat elaborate and grandiose fashion is that “DNA matters.” And as remorseless as Darwin’s theory sounds, it is my painful duty to point out there may be just two rules that govern life on earth.

1. You’re not in charge. Your genes are.

In fact, the relationship between humans and their bodies is rather like the one between the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and its members. She may sit around in a stern pose, striking the gavel all day along and doling out instructions. But if a few members decide that they’re going to jump into the well and slap a minister or two, they’re going to do it. You’re not in charge. Your genes are.

2. All your genes care about is themselves.

They don’t care if you’re the Pope himself. All your genes want is to ensure that they make it to the next round of the evolutionary game. And the ones who make it thus are described to be “evolutionarily stable.”

“Men Hunt. Women Nest.”

Now, the interesting thing is that this is true for BOTH men and women. However, the evolutionarily stable strategies of men and women have taken very different directions. This has been famously summarized as, “Men hunt and women nest.”

Jerry Seinfeld on “Men Hunt and Women Nest.”

(video clip may not display on some devices)

For example, women took the process of selecting a mate and the act of procreation very seriously. As opposed to men who tended to be looking for avenues to reproduce with one partner while the other one was out shopping for shoes. The way things turned out, the cost of a woman’s mistake became disproportionately larger than that of a man’s mistake when it came to selecting a partner. Naturally, this led to women viewing male behavior with deep suspicion and developing healthy disdain for it over time. Since women carry this enormous burden of not being in a position to afford mistakes, it has resulted in all kinds of irrational and unreasonable expectations, such as the following-

  1. Men must call 14 times a day. (16 if they are traveling on work and 24 if partying with buddies.)
  2. Men must purchase gifts for the marriage anniversary, which involve precious stones and rare earth elements.
  3. Men must pay attention to what their wives say.
  4. Men must respond with thoughtful answers.

It has also led to certain disturbing behavioral patterns among women as the following, to mention just a few-

  1. Making conversation.
  2. Caring.
  3. Not caring about Virender Sehwag’s string of low scores.
  4. Asking what you think of Sushmita Sen and expecting an honest answer.
  5. Buying gifts for others.
  6. Buying potted plants.
  7. Buying paintings and then demanding that they be hung on walls for all to see.
  8. Buying furniture for every room.
  9. Buying scented candles the size of Buddhist stupas.

And Then, There Were Children.

In particular, women seem to have developed a disconcerting habit of taking their children seriously. Don’t ever (I mean, EVER EVER) debate a heavily pregnant woman over what might be an appropriate size for a baby’s crib or if it is really worth the trouble to hunt in 42 different stores for the right color of pink for the baby’s room curtains. You’re likely to be hit over the head with a blunt instrument if you hint even the slightest of dissent. This pattern of obsessive behavior then carries through into birthday parties, which have now been widely acknowledged and recognized to be the leading cause of divorce among otherwise happily married couples.

The only impression of a kiddie birthday party that a man has, assuming he were ever to voluntarily consider hosting such a ghastly affair, is one involving purchase of exactly 4 cheese pizzas with no toppings, and no more than 10 children shrieking and running unsupervised around a table, while he watches cricket on television. You might note the word planning missing from the male concept of a party.

Unfortunately, the female of the species believes that it has developed a more evolutionarily stable strategy towards birthday parties. Parties are planned well in advance. Cards are created with ‘RSVP’ neatly emblazoned on them. Magicians are booked, and a cake ordered, which is inexplicably returned even if a single word is misspelled. It is reported that, in certain advanced cultures, some women have been known to go as far as having themes for parties.

Women are always looking to nurture something or the other. On the rare occasion they’re not pondering “Why do men suck?” they’re looking for someone or thing in their vast network of family, friends and potted plants who/which requires nurturing. And more often than not, their children end up being captive recipients of this evolutionary largesse.

Is There Hope For Women?

So, back to our question. Why do men suck? And, more importantly, is there any hope for women? Of course there is. There are seven billion people on this planet. Half of this population is a group of rational beings, by which I mean men. If you’re a single woman and looking for that ideal partner, fret not. The statistical probability of finding that one handsome, loving and sensitive male out of the pack is pretty high. It’s a different matter however that you might never run into him because he’s likely under scientific observation in a laboratory in MIT.

You might also want to check out:
For Better Or For Worse
For Richer Or For Poorer
Till Death Do Us Part

Why trains are way cooler than planes

I’ve re-discovered the joys of train travel over the last few months. And the more I think about it, there are a few good reasons why trains are way cooler than planes. And, here they are.

There are emergency exits everywhere.

You know the drill, right? That speech that you get from the stewardess if you’re seated in the emergency row of an aircraft? None of that if you travel on the train. Every orifice is an emergency exit. Windows, doors, etc.. All of these make for a quick and clean exit, especially if you don’t have a ticket and you see the examiner approaching. Anything is an emergency. Everything can be an exit.

You can show up any time.

None of the rules of air travel apply here. No ID to show to be simply let into the travel area. There is no need to show up an hour before departure at the check in counter. Instead, you can show up as the train is leaving and hop onto it as it leaves the platform. In fact, many are known to do exactly that. There is some part of the Indian psyche that believes that if something moves on land, it must be boarded only while in motion.

You can carry anything on board.

There is a long list of things you cannot carry aboard a plane. There is also a long list of things that cannot be carried aboard a train. The difference is that you can pretty much ignore the latter list. You will, in fact, be able to find a porter who’ll help you carry bulky, dangerous things into the compartment, and a friendly ticket examiner who’ll help you store aforesaid dangerous substances. All for a nominal fee, of course.

“Excuse me, Ticket Inspector. I have this rather large and unwieldy nuclear tipped missile that doesn’t seem to fit overhead. Is there a place I can keep this?”

“Of course, Sir. Why don’t you just place right behind the last row in the compartment? That space is designed to handle up to Agni IV.”

“Thank you, Ticket Inspector.”

“You’re welcome. Err..that will be Rs. 200, please.”

The journey is the destination.

Seriously, trains in India are not just a means of transport. They are a way of life. An astounding 20 million+ people travel by train every day in India. There are over 9,000 scheduled trains that start somewhere every day. Hundreds of millions of Indians go on pilgrimages, on vacations to visit family and friends and on business trips every year. The Indian Railways is, not coincidentally, the world’s largest employer, with over 1.6 million people on its payroll.

No matter how often you’ve traveled by train, there’s always that tingling excitement that builds as you walk on the platform, locate the compartment and place yourself on the seat. As you feel the jolt that signals that the train is on its way, that’s when you realize that the journey has become the destination.Now, that’s definitely something you cannot say about traveling on a plane.

The What Ho! Quiz

It’s a crazy world we we live in. And, it’s getting increasingly hard to tell the fake news from the real news. Here’s a little test to see where you stand.

Which of the following is NOT true?

  1. Two young women (aged 21 years) were arrested for posting and liking a message on Facebook objecting to a bandh in Mumbai.
  2. A man killed a teenager in Delhi after being asked by her to not pee in front of her house.
  3. Aakash 2, the low cost tablet computer, which has received Mr. Kapil Sibal’s approval, has parts manufactured in China and is assembled in India.
  4. A man from Pondicherry was arrested for tweeting that Karthi Chidambaram (son of Home Minister P. Chidambaram) had more assets than Robert Vadra.
  5. The Prime Minister of India, Mr. Manmohan Singh, was not informed in advance that Ajmal Kasab, the terrorist who killed innocent people in the 26/11 Mumbai attack, was being hanged. According to the Home Minister, the Prime Minister learned of the developments through a television news channel.
  6. Nitin Gadkari, President of BJP, has appointed his car driver to the board of his company.
  7. Chetan Bhagat, author of What Young India Wants, a book which set forth his patriotic vision for India, endorses products of a company started and managed by former members of the Chinese army.
  8. The Australian cricket team scored 480 runs in just one day’s of play, at a strike rate of nearly 90%, in the ongoing test match against South Africa at Adelaide.
  9. An Indian citizen died in an Irish hospital after doctors refused her a pregnancy termination procedure that went against Ireland’s anti-abortion laws.
  10. A former four-star General and Director of CIA, considered a US Presidential candidate in 2016, resigned after details of an affair with his biographer emerged from an investigation of his Gmail account.
  11. Parents in urban India spend more on “tuition and tutoring fees” as compared to school fees, on an average.
  12. An African American was re-elected as President of the United States, in spite of a weak economic environment and losing 74 percent of the white male vote.
  13. No cartoonist has been arrested in West Bengal in the last 2 weeks.

All of the above are true.

 

The Few, The Proud and The Privileged

Good evening, peeps, listen up. This is your pre-boarding announcement for Flight 568 to Dubai.

We invite all first-class and business-class passengers, passengers needing special assistance, families travelling with small children, and children travelling with small families to now board the aircraft.

We now invite the Kardashian sisters, Diamond Encrusted Imperial Tiara Club members, Olympic Gold medal Winners, Facebook Founders, current and former Miss Universes and United Nations Secretary Generals to board at this time.

Thank you for waiting. We now welcome members of Rapidly Ascending Skywards Triple Advantage, Supremely Important Priority Partners, Surly Men in Suits Who Overpay for Tickets, Highly Preferred and Obnoxiously Rude Members, Members of Illuminati, Knights of the Templar, Top Dogs, Type A Cool Cats, Wealthy Tyrants of Small Islands and Top Class Numero Unos to now board the aircraft.

We appreciate your patience. We are pleased to welcome members of Silver Budget, Silver Platter, Silver Spoons, Just a Cut Above the Rest, Barely Above and Beyond, Members of Noticeable Distinction, e-Go Maniacs, Circle of Hubris, AlwaysMeFirst Super Deluxe and AlwaysMeFirst Classic Rewards Program, and You’re Standing in My Way Club. Please board the aircraft before we change our minds.

If there’s any one left, you don’t deserve to board the aircraft. Beat it.

A Bliss Mantra

From my notes from 2009. Here below is a “bliss mantra” from the Taitriya Upanishad in the Vedas, along with my interpretation.

<In Sanskrit>

Om saha naa vavatu saha nau bhunaktu
saha viryam kara vaavahai
tejaswinaa vadhItamastu maa vid vishavahai
Om shanti shanti shanti-hi

There are two interpretations. The first is as addressed to a friend or a partner

Let us enjoy life together, Let us experience life together
Let us engage ourselves together and share our energies to meet adversities
Pray we do not do or say anything that can divide us
Let there be bliss in our lives

The second is as addressed to the Universal Spirit (Parabrahman) which resides within all of us –

Let us be united, let our energies be united in overcoming adversities
Let our wisdom shine, Let us not be led astray by intellectual conquests
Let us be together in eternity, Let there be no division between us
Let there be bliss

Let there be bliss in your weekend.

Hallmark Cards For India

I don’t know about you. It’s been ages since I’ve been in the greeting cards section of a store, let alone buy one. So I don’t really have first hand feel any more for what Hallmark sells nowadays. But I’ve read at some time that their business has been losing steam over the years. In these days of internet, mobile phones and digital content, I guess it’s not surprising that e- cards have taken over and their counterparts in the physical world have been relegated to endangered species status. I wonder if this state of affairs has caused a loss of morale over at Hallmark? What ho! Maybe we should help. How about a few Hallmark card ideas for occasions which are uniquely Indian? Perhaps this will boost their sagging enthusiasm?

“Congratulations ‘cause I have this really good feeling that you’re gonna win the Film Fare Best Actor award at some point in your life”

Know anyone with the surname Khan? Are you buddies with the son/daughter/nephew of anyone named Kapoor? Look no further. We’ve got what the doctor ordered for you. Send this congratulatory card in advance right away and shamelessly curry favors with your favorite mediocre Bollywood progeny all year long.

“Here’s wishing you a pesticide-free New Year!”

Put a twist on the traditionally staid New Year greeting. Here’s a card which you can send to anyone in your social circles who’s prone to imbibing copious volumes of milk, cola, water, mangoes or anything edible for that matter. Since pesticides are ubiquitous, what better way to show that you care than selecting from an extensive pesticide series which includes cards for all occasions? Wish your friends and family pesticide-free Ramzan, Christmas and Diwali and spread goodwill and cheer all year long.

 “Sorry I leaked your doctored CD”

Are you a member of the household staff of a politician or an industrialist? Have you ever shot secret video using a ill concealed mobile phone and captured your employer’s shenanigans? Did you then doctor and embellish it? Now admit that you leaked the said doctored CD to news channels. Has your employer paid you handsomely to retract your allegations? There you go. We’ve got just the card you’re looking for.

“Happy birthday to your struggling airlines! Hope your pilots don’t go on strike. Tell Sid I said Hi”

Perfect for friends, acquaintances and well-wishers to make it large and send to Vijay Mallya.

 “We may have nothing in common. Heck, will you be my coalition partner?”

There are no permanent friends or enemies in politics. This is truer for Indian politics. Perfect for that day we celebrate the dharma of coalitions. Tailor made for the Valentine’s day of political parties, if there were ever to be one.

“Wish you were here”

This simple yet powerful card is perfect for many occasions. Future members of the Indian cricket team will send it to Tendulkar and Dravid. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha could send one daily to Members of Parliament. Students in government schools to absent teachers. Citizens to delinquent police officers. Harangued women to their truant house maids. The list goes on.

“Hope you get bail soon!”

Your local MLA get charge sheeted by CBI lately? Wake up one morning to find your MP on TV in handcuffs and being led to the Big House? Despair not. Our “Hope you get bail soon” card lets you demonstrate that perfect balance of concern and optimism.

A Living Will

  •  If I should remain in a comatose state for 15 consecutive years, feel free to switch off the TV
  • If I haven’t uttered a single syllable for four straight years, I’d like to be referred to as Mr. Manmohan Singh
  • Assume that in the worst of conditions, I can still hear but would highly prefer not to hear Rakhi Sawant
  • Even if I’m unable to recognize or interact with friends, I’ll still expect birthday messages on my Facebook wall
  • If the doctor declares me brain dead, I’d like to watch House Full 2
  • If my end is particularly dramatic, I’d like to be played by Ravi Shastri in the movie version
  • If I don’t respond to loved ones’ attempts to communicate, remind them of our last road trip
  • I’d like to die at home, surrounded by my laptop, iPad and cell phone
  • In lieu of flowers, I’d prefer tweets
  • If there should be a eulogy, I’d like it to begin with “I suppose, in a way, we all contributed to his end”

For Richer or For Poorer: Valentine’s Day Circus

Valentine’s day in India is an interesting phenomenon these days. The well manicured hands of western capitalism have extended their reach here into the wallets and purses of the Indian populi. Whether it’s either a teeny bopper announcing his/her advent into adulthood or 20-somethings finding their way around post-adolescence or older fogeys proving youngness at heart through western rituals, V-day offers the perfect opportunity for all to flaunt some moves on the dance floors of society. Ok, first off, I must admit that I’m not a fan of V-day. I’ve been playing along, reluctantly all these years. It’s now time to speak up.

The evolution of V-day from its 12th century pagan origins (as the Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia) through its Christianization by the semi-heroic figure of St. Valentine (who secretly and illegally married off lovers and paid with his head) into its modern avatar of a blockbuster Hallmark holiday is mind boggling. What and who did the trick?

I’d point the finger squarely at the printing press, a lady named Esther Howard and the US postal service. It is amazing how far a few printed words carried by a postman can go – literally and figuratively. Esther Howard printed the first V-day card in 1840. Today, over a billion V-day cards are sold annually, and the fairer sex will be culpable for over 85% of them. With ubiquitous email and mobile phones, the menace has extended into the electronic domain where telephone networks and the internet will groan and grunt under the weight of over tens of millions of emails and SMSes that are expected to be launched globally on February 14. India alone will account for over a million of these missives. The commercialization of V-day has gone to extremes. Raise your hand if you have experienced nausea at the sight of “Be Mine” overstuffed teddies wearing the most ridiculous sweaters on a store shelf. What’s wrong with all this, you ask? Nothing really wrong except that this indicates an inexplicable dependency on a single day to express flowering emotions or rejuvenate a withering romance – as the case may be. Does romance really need a day or time? If you’ve been waiting to make a romantic move on V-day, trust me buddy, you’re not moving fast enough. If you’re looking to turn a failing romance around with chocolates and roses, it may be a case of too little, too late. For the rest who are doing just fine, why all this fuss? That too, why in February?

I’ll admit that I have a grouse with V-day in February. February has many highlights. V-day does not need to be one of them. As a February-born, I’ve resented having to share the spotlight with V-day and its dilution of February as truly the month of romance. February is the perfect of months. It is the second month. And, it is the shortest month. We enter February adjusted to the new year, brimming with a real sense of the possibilities for the future. February drives away the winter blues and delivers us into spring in a graceful and expeditious manner. It is the perfect month for romance. I am talking about good old fashioned romance where simple things matter. What’s to complain about February? Nothing really, except V-day. Just as we grow comfortable and confident comes along the cacophony of non-stop commercialism, with its squeaky pitch of red and pink rising to a crescendo, aided by profit seeking marketeers and abetted by the population at large. I’ve long felt this to be disturbing. V-day, if at all needed (and, the jury’s still out on this), should be banished to the third quarter of the year (say between end of summer and diwali). This will have its practical benefits. By Q3, most folks will know where they stand romantically. And, the money can be spent wisely on real opportunities rather than on speculative hit-or-miss deals. Think about it.

And, oh yeah – one more thing. Those of you guys who who are into crazy expressions of love on valentine’s day like sky diving or walking across the niagara, just remember (write this down) that you’re making the rest of us guys look bad. And it’s not like you’re coming out looking like a genius either. It’s a bad deal all the way around for us guys. And ladies, please remember that sitting on the couch and watching ‘Seinfeld’ reruns is one way of expressing love.

Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. 

Translation: The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing. Trust a French guy – Blaise Pascal – to put matters related to the heart in perspective.

Whatever you do, please don’t give romance the pink slip.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

I wrote the original version of this article in 2004, and reproducing it unchanged in 2012 here on what ho!.

If you liked this, you’ll also enjoy reading For Better or For Worse  and Till Death Do Us Part

The Great Wall of India on Facebook

Ever wonder how the history of post-independence India would look like on a Facebook wall? Wonder no more. What Ho! is at hand. Without further ado, here it is – India’s Wall on Facebook. Originally published on What Ho! here.

Happy Republic Day!

Inspired by Teddy Wayne, Mike Sachs and Thomas Ng ‘s Op-Art “America’s Wall” at New York Times

Till Death Do Us Part: The wisdom in love and marriage

Groucho Marx said, “I refuse to become a member of any club that’s willing to admit me”. This clever absurdism reveals the innate human tendency to desire something and yet feel unworthy of it at the same time.

It’s been such a long held, gloomy Western tradition to view marriage through a Marxist lens, that one wonders how marriage happens at all in those societies. Imagine the odds of two strangers coming into contact with each other and upon examination, incredulously find themselves so mutually compatible as to finally overcome the Marxist objection and then proceeding to subject themselves to an oscillation between the Marxist extremes of yearning to be with their loved one and longing to be rid of them. Eroding western self esteem, especially among women when it comes to marriage, has spawned chick flicks, flit lit and whole genres of beauty products and talk shows around “why you’re worth it”.

The Indian male lies at the polar opposite end of the spectrum across from the western female, and is often barges into clubs uninvited and without membership. Look no further than the typical matrimonial advertisement to find proof of complete absence of any Marxist tendency on his part. The matrimonial preferences of the Great Indian Male have evolved steadily from “caste and age” in the ‘60s and ‘70s to physical attributes “extremely fair and beautiful” in the ‘80s to ‘the physically perfect working woman’ in the ‘90s and this decade. The males themselves have been subject to lesser standards, with the “teetotaller, non smoker and broad minded” staples ruling the roost uninterrupted over the decades. Yes, serial killer you can be, but thou shalt not smoke.

Times, they are a changin’, for the Indian male. The male/female ratio in Indiahas steadily dropped over the decades. More women work now in 21st century India already compared to the entire 20th century. Still, the pool of ‘eligible women’ is so much smaller than ‘demand’ that women now call the shots in matters of matrimony. The Indian male is in dire straits and it’s not clear if he understands that.

 But, I digress. This is not about the Indian male. It’s about the wisdom of love and marriage.

Wisdom is that which arrives when we realize that we were not born with the skills to live, and embark on the journey to acquire them. The dawning of wisdom brings with it a desire to aim for tranquillity and peace and live a life devoid of anxiety and fear. It tells us to avoid the excessive enthusiasms and the pains of bitter disappointments, and that frogs don’t always turn into princes. Above all, wisdom helps us control our fears and arrests our flights from imagined shadows on the walls. It tells us that we should not fear death but we should fear fear itself.

So, what does wisdom say about matters of what the poets have called the ‘heart’? Is love like smoking which gives you pleasure but to be given up entirely? Is it like exercise to be practised with predictable regularity because it is healthy? Or is it chocolate and wine to be indulged in, when occasion calls for it? Is the contemplative worship of the divine extolled by the Vedas or the brotherly love taught by Jesus superior to the rash love of a Romeo and the crazed acts of an Othello?

The romantics will insist that love is uplifting much like music, and with enough therapy and counselling, pain and disappointment can be averted. Romeo could have met someone more suitable through cupid.com. Othello just needed to work out his aggression on a therapist’s couch. And, all Devdas needed was a stage IV intervention.

The stoics, on the other hand, will quietly aver that love is a losing game in which the players chase chimeras, and will advocate abdication of the emotion. In a rare moment of anger, they will rise up and tell us that we are destined to love only that which we don’t possess and that the acquisition of the object of desire sounds the death knell for love. They will tell us to ignore the unavoidable reality that humans were born to love. They will point out that for a man and a woman to live together day in and day out for a lifetime is one miracle that Vatican may have overlooked.

Perhaps it is wiser to view love through different lenses, and not the Marxist, romantic or stoic ones. Maybe it is simpler to view love as ‘mature’ and ‘immature’. Immature love subjects itself to the wild swings of idealization and disappointment, and finally meets its end with death or distance or both. Mature love resists idealization, and proactively appreciates the good and the bad within us and pushes for temperance. Death does not do mature love part. As veterans of marriage will put it, marriage is the process of continuously getting used to things you didn’t expect. In fact, creative arguing may just be the secret of a happy marriage. Many a young couple embarks on the journey not knowing how to argue and find their way through trial and error. But, immature love brooks no argument or compromise. And, when we refuse to argue or compromise, we put ourselves on the road to some kind of a cataclysm.

We just might begin to appreciate love when we resort neither to dogmatic optimism or a philosophy built on fear. For it is love that teaches the analytic mind an inescapable life lesson that it is analysis, and not love, that is flawed.

Wasn’t it Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who said, “Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go into the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius”

Also, check out the infinitely funnier “For Better or For Worse”  from the Laughing Gas collection.

“Why do I have to learn this?”

If I had a dime for everytime I got this question from my younger one (in fifth grade), I’d have assets so disproportionate to my income that would put the local MLA to shame.

“Why do I have to learn this?” Caught off guard the first few times, I drew a blank. Quickly, I learnt to come up with more rehearsed spiels on how “learning is good” or diversionary tactics like “hang on, my pants are on fire”. Over time, I’ve learnt one thing, and also came face to face with a numbing realization.

I’ve learnt that she’s not sold on the “learning is good” bit. Not even close. Learning’s a tough sell when you’re competing with iPads, Taylor Swift and X-boxes. And yeah, I’ve come face to face with that gigantic woolly mammoth in the room. That there’s really no earthly reason to learn 99pct of the stuff taught in schools. It’s a ghastly truth that I’ve truly internalized only as a parent. So, we’ve struck an uneasy truce. Hindi and Social Sciences have been bartered away for the cause of A’s in Math and Sciences. 10 year olds drive hard bargains these days.

The ramifications of this knowledge are so serious and dangerous that our children can never find out about it. If the kids of the world were to somehow become wise to the fact that they didn’t have to learn anything at all, then they’d spend all their time in fun and frolic, making friends and building bonds, and growing up to be socially well adjusted adults without self esteem issues. We can’t have that, now, can we?

Fact or Fiction

Height matters. Is this fact or fiction?  Bad news for short people never seems to end. Their cup of woes continues to overflow. First it was those studies which showed that short people get fewer dates, less promotions and earned less than taller colleagues (because their bosses were taller?) Again, those infamous studies told us that one in two CEOs is six feet or taller.  Then came bad news from Johns Hopkins University – that short people (err, height disadvantaged? vertically challenged?) people are more likely to suffer dementia.

If you are on the wrong side of the height scale and in the mood for more punishment, try this nugget: In the last 46 presidential elections in the United States, the taller contender won 27 times, the latest instance of which came when the 6”1 Barack Obama beat the 5”7 John McCain.So if you’re short, what do you do? Umm… look for a boss who’s shorter? Regardless of what studies have to say, height has never been a prerequisite for greatness. Beethoven didn’t quite make to the 5ft 7 mark. Gandhiji, that giant among men, was even shorter. Where there is darkness, there is also light. Studies (finally!) tell us that shorter people tend to possess a rare genetic mutation called the Methuselah gene – which extends life spans and provides longer lives.

So, does height matter? Answer: One word. Rajnikanth.

Fact or Fiction? Mobile phones cause brain tumors

It depends on who you ask. There is conflicting evidence, likely a result of inadequate data  till date.  These studies take decades to complete, and require large groups of active users. Given that mobile phone usage has spiked only in the last decade or so, more definitive results may be in the offing in the decade to come. Mobile phones use non-ionizing radiation, which differs from the ionizing radiation of x-rays and radioactive material, and more like microwave radiation. Except they don’t release enough energy to cause damage of DNA, which causes cancer. Sustained, long term mobile phone usage may be a different story, if early evidence is any indication.

Answer: The jury is still out. Better safe than sorry may be apt here. If you’re a heavy mobile phone user, hands-free may be wise. Unless, you have the Methuselah gene

Fact or Fiction: Hypnotists can control your every move

You’ve seen it in the movies or heard from a friend. Hypnotist on stage. Calls for volunteers. Next thing you know, a man is under the spell and clucking like a chicken or imitating a dead actors (nice accent, by the way!). Say, you get excited, look into yellow pages, fix appointment with local hypnotist and off you go to cure that kleptomania problem that only you, a smattering of security guards and police in thirteen states are aware of. He gets you hypnotized and convinces you to sing Queen’s “Another one bites the dust” every time your fingers itch to snitch. Problem is you work in a funeral home. Could this nightmare really come true?

Answer:  No. While hypnosis can be used to treat mental disorders through the “power of suggestion”, hypnotists cannot make you do things you don’t want to do. You cannot be hypnotized against your will.  And, those people clucking like chickens and mouthing MGR and Gabbar Singh dialogues ? – Deep down, they really want to entertain us.

pip-pip. toodles. have a great weekend.

7 iPhone apps that Indians need

According to Livemint, India is the world’s second-largest market, after China, for telecom services with 812 million subscribers at the end of March 2011. 2010, they say, was the year of the smartphone in India. We will remember these last few years as the time when the phone was transformed into anything but a phone.

Hardware vendors like Apple, which launched iPhone 4 recently and Samsung, which has over 15 smartphones in its portfolio, are eyeing the potential of the Indian market. With availability of 3G now rolled out by leading telecom operators like Vodafone and others, and with continuing drop in hardware and data usage costs, the smartphone has a bright future in this land of a billion people.

Apple and iPhone apps:  Unparalleled phenomenon

In case you missed it, the Apple phenomenon is unparalleled in brand history. A technology company named after a fruit has succeeded in penetrating pysche of consumers and inspiring almost fanatical devotion, much more than any other company. When Apple whispers about a new product, that whisper becomes the loudest roar since the moon landing. Campers start lining up. All for the pleasure of having and holding.

Design, development, sales and marketing of iPhone apps is no longer a cottage industry. It now increasingly looks more like big and serious business. There are many reasons for that. At the root of them all lies a human desire to stay connected and a proclivity for mobility. The size of the smartphone app market was an estimated $6.8B in 2010, of which Apple accounted for a lion’s share. The top grossing iPhone apps of 2010 include the ubiquitously famous Angry Birds as well as, interestingly, three “zombie” apps (Plants vs Zombies, Zombie Farm and Call of Duty:Zombies) providing that man’s fascination with zombies is endless and insatiable.

With what looks like three fourths of the world’s GDP now being spent on dorky games and junk apps, it’s about time some one invented something that was actually useful. Something useful to the world’s second largest market?

Laughing Gas issues a clarion call to all those Apple iOS SDK ninjas out there to pay heed and urgently begin development on what we believe to be the 7 most needed iPhone apps for Indians.

7 iPhone apps Indians need

7.  2-mt Passport Photoshop

If you haven’t already read Laughing Gas’s exposition on the passport photo situation in this country, you must. To get just about anything done here, a steady and handy supply of passport photos is a must. The 2-mt Passport Photoshop app is a mini-ERP for passport sized photo management, and will keep track of incoming orders, check current inventory levels using RFID and trigger production of optimal numbers. All you need is to take a photo of yourself, in any condition, at any age. The app will shave and clothe you, remove bags under the eyes and lop 10 years off your age. Send to nearest printer via bluetooth. Upgrade option available to send directly to collection agent’s pockets. All in 2 minutes.

6. Angry Indian Bird app

Fed up with scams? Enraged at netas looting the till on their watch? Frustrated at having no avenue for action? Need to get anger out of the system?

Say no more. Download the Angry Indian Bird app, get that anger out of your system and achieve the state of supreme Satchitananda that only Zen masters and Maharishis have seen. The app will allow you to live in a parallel Utopian universe of your own design where you can walk the streets as a virtual vigilante and supreme dispenser of justice. Create your own government, supreme court and law and order systems.  Invoke Section 144 at your own sweet will. Lathi charge those disorderly queue breakers. Disconnect those telemarketers. Hang those chors. Fast until death against yourself.

5. Shaadi Bazaar app

An app tailor made for money grubbing, greedy in-laws. Upon entry of the usual  information such as age, height, weight, religion, caste, sub-caste and horoscope, it will prompt a prospective in-law to enter the following: Target dowry amount, bank account number, inclination to spend time in jail and names of friends already in jail. Press submit and hey presto, following report is produced.

21 matches found

11 do not meet target dowry amount

9 would like to terminate you

1 found suitable, with 68% chance of being incarcerated post dowry collection.

4. The Tele-Terminator app

The Tele-Terminator is a protective pepper spray for use against invasive telemarketing companies. Please read the following instructions for usage carefully.

  1. Answer incoming call from random number
  2. Wait for call to connect
  3. Press second red button at the bottom (see image to your left)
  4. Rub hands in glee
  5. Wait for next incoming call from random number
  6. Repeat above

3. The Ultimate Route Planner

Plain vanilla GPS is uncool. Of what use is a talking machine that merely tells you “200 meters ahead, turn right” and stays oblivious to on-the-ground action. The Ultimate Route Planner will go where no app has gone before. Into the realms where data meets its makers and will offer actually useful choices such as

Your starting point: Somewhere in Bangalore city

Your destination: Bangalore International Airport

13 routes identified.

Top 3 routes displayed below

1.  Distance: 45 km, via city, 1147 potholes, 47 potential lurking dashers across the road, 4 traffic cop leeches  on route, Normal expected time: 45 minutes. Recommendation: Avoid as it is end of month

2. Distance: 57 km, via ring road, 24 potholes, 1million office goers in four-wheelers, 14 flyovers under construction. Normal expected time: 1 hour 15 minutes. Recommendation: Avoid, as inconsequential junior Minister on way to airport with entourage

3. Distance: 347kms, via Chennai. Normal expected time: 6hrs and 10 minutes. Recommendation:  Recommended, as fastest route to destination

2. Missed Call Analytico App

Nearly one in four calls in India is a “missed call”. People use it for everything from summoning drivers, sending pre-arranged messages, telling customers that their order is ready, to signaling endearment to loved ones. The last one is a bit puzzling though.  “I am willing to find your number from my address book. I am willing to go even as far as dialing it. My ears stand ready and my muscles stay flexed to hear the first ring. But, that’s where I draw the line. Once the ring is heard, I will disconnect call with the agility of a chinese acrobat on steroids”.  Well, I guess nothing says ‘I love you’ more than a missed call.

The Missed Call Analytico app will provide features and reports, a sample of which is provided below:

Number of missed calls made last week: 447

Number of missed calls received: 1623

The last time you spoke to anybody and paid for a call: 21 years, 3 months, 12 days, 1hour, 5 minutes and 17 seconds back

Your most frequent missed caller:  Unknown Random Number of Unknown Random Company

Would you like to terminate “Unknown Random Company”? Press big red button.

1. Time and Space Machine app

Play the following in your mind and then imagine the endless possibilities of the Time and Space machine app.

The drum in your washing machine has given up its ghost and needs to be replaced. You call washing machine service shop. They designate friendly field technical service rep (FFTSR) to replace drum. They give you FFTS’s mobile phone number.  You fix an appointment. The day of appointment dawns. The designated hour arrives. No sign of FFTSR. An hour later, you call FFTSR.

FFTSR: Hello?

Note: There will always be sound of massive traffic, construction and static in the background. It will always be difficult for FFTSR to hear you. And he will always say Yes no matter what is being asked.

You: Are you coming to repair the washing machine?

FFTSR:  Yes, madam

You:  You were supposed to be here 1 hour back

FFTSR:  Sorry, madam. I am now in Koramangala. Just 5 minutes, madam. I’ll be there.

This is precisely where the Time and Space Machine app kicks in. It will capture the coordinates of FFTSR, monitor voice modulations and breathing patterns, and produce a report as follows:

FFTSR Location Detected:   Mysore, 100 miles from your present location

Lie Detection Level:   Stratospheric

Probability of Drum Being Repaired:   Unlikely in Kali Yuga

Options:   1. Wait for new Brahma to be born 2. Buy new washing machine

Have any more desi iPhone apps that you can think of? Do write back. Apple ninjas are standing by.

Weighted Average

Ever wonder what the statute of limitations on a college degree should be? I mean, how long should a college degree be allowed to be valid? Is a college degree really worth anything, say a decade from when you are out of college? Laughing Gas recommendation is to render all college degrees that are ten years or older, null and void. But, we digress.

Memories of lessons learnt in a classroom bleach and fade from acid tests in the real world in due course of time. And, all that’s left are memories, selectively picked and retained from the fondest trove.

Presented this week is a nugget from the author’s pensieve of campus memories, the first of hopefully more to come in the Campus Tales series. As with any campus tale, this has been embellished and artfully embroidered for maximum effect.

Weighted Average

Everyone experiences these moments. You know, the moments of shock. They are sometimes preceded by profound bliss, with singing birds, brilliant sunshine or fluorescent rainbows in the background. And then, without so much of a warning, the music stops.

“Aren’t the IIT results out this week?”, the steady penetrating voice of a relative puncturing my bliss into abrupt nothingness.

I was at a family gathering that evening, which had turned out to be not so unpleasant after all. Until, voices started firing bullets at my blissful insouciance.

“Holy cow”, I sat up straight. The relative was right. I was a mere seventy two hours away from judgment day.

“Wait. Why am I panicking?”, I thought to myself. “It is possible that I might just get through”, hope springing to the fore.

“I read that over one lakh students wrote the JEE this year. I am sure you have done well. Haven’t you?”, the penetrating voice continued remorselessly.

I nodded and smiled weakly, my optimism rapidly receding as I re-calculated the odds. All conversations stopped. Heads turned. The wheels of time creaked to a clanging halt. The birds had stopped singing. There was no more the brilliant sunshine. The entire universe paused for a moment to enjoy my discomfiture.

The power of fortune is understood only by the unfortunate, for the lucky have no reason to analyze it.  So I realized as I awaited the verdict. Seventy two hours later, I discovered that I had a ticket to travel to the end of the rainbow with the rumored pot of gold. And, so began an incredible ride.

A few weeks later

After having completed admission formalities, we were in line for the medical examination at IIT Madras. The two boys who stood in front in line chatted while we awaited our turns. The little details overheard here and there indicated that they had met on the train from Bangalore to Chennai. They seemed pretty chummy. And, the conversation inevitably veered towards the choice of a branch of study made that morning. It appeared that they had managed to convince themselves that delving into the finer details of Civil Engineering was the best use of their time over the next four years.

“Excuse me”

I inserted myself politely into the conversation. The boys paused and turned to look at me. I had resolved to bring to their attention what, in my mind, was nothing short of a major faux pas.

“How come you guys didn’t consider Metallurgy? Civil engineering is not what it used to be”

I spoke confidently.

The heavier of the two goggled at me first. Then, he goggled at his friend in incomprehension. His friend returned what I can only describe as an understanding glance of acknowledgement.

“Metallurgy? No way. I have no plans to become a welder in a mechanic shop”, he finally blurted.

“Welding? Is that all metallurgists do? Are you kidding me?”

“What else do you think they do?”, his friend piped in.

I had to admit that they had me on this one. I had no idea what metallurgists did. But, it had seemed mysterious and exotic until a few minutes back. The mystery was unraveling already, and the picture did not look pretty.

“Step forward”

A bespectacled man, who sat at the table in front of us, gestured to the heavier of the two boys.

“Come forward. We’ll need to check your height and weight”

“Vinod. Height 175cm, weight 78 kgs”, called out the peon who was doing special duty that day in measuring heights and weights of pimply faced seventeen year olds.

“Seventy eight? Are you sure?”, the bespectacled man got up from his chair. He walked over to look at the needle which seemed to have no such doubts and sat steadily at the 78 mark.

“Next”, he called as he went back to seat himself in his chair and sip his fourth coffee of the day.

The lighter boy stepped nimbly onto the scale.

“Sanjeev. Height 175 cms. Weight 48kg” the peon measuring called out again.

“48? .. are you sure?”, the bespectacled man, again, was not happy with this piece of information. Reluctantly, he got up from his seat to examine for himself. He craned to look closely at the needle which now hovered indecisively around the 48 mark as though it was trying to decide how far it would go in its transgression of truth.

“48kg? That’s 2 kg below the required 50kg weight minimum”, the bespectacled man paused.  He had been weighing adolescent teenagers at IIT Madras for two decades. His mastery of the rules was second to none.

The lighter boy stood there on the scale, digesting this piece of information cautiously. He turned to look at the needle, mentally willing it to move a couple of notches further.

This was riveting drama. All eyes darted to and fro between Sanjeev and the weight recorder and the bespectacled man.

What would they do? Would they deny him admission? After all, he was only 2 kgs under the requirement.

Questions swirled in the air that day.

The bespectacled man stood there, pondering and scratching his chin. As he absently surveyed the crowd assembled there awaiting his judgment, his eyes alighted on the 78kg boy, who, still in the vicinity, was waiting for his lighter friend.

“A-ha!”, the man smiled.

“You are 48kg. And, your friend over there is 78kg. Between you, the average is 63kg. I declare both of you eligible. Welcome to IIT, boys!”, he roared.

The crowd approved smilingly. The sun appeared from behind the clouds. The birds started chirping again. The bespectacled man wiped the sweat off his brow, and smiled in relief and gesticulated to the peon.

“Get me another coffee”. He sat down heavily in his chair and mopped his forehead. Only two out of the two hundred in line were done.  But, he had already accomplished  a great deal that day.

The Funniest Indian Blog wins an Award

Why would anyone want to give us an award? A few days back, we received a congratulatory message from the young folks (let’s pretend that they are young) at indiantopblogs.blogspot.com. Suspicious that the contents of the message might contain inflammatory materials or worse, substances of the exploding kind, we called in the SWAT team – which crouched around the aforementioned message and gently prised it open – all the while on the lookout for blue wires, powdery substances, digital clocks and other tell tale signs of imminent detonation. To our relief, our fears were well founded. The message contained a bombshell of an announcement. It said that Laughing Gas had been ranked in their Directory of Best Indian Blogs in 2011.

Such proclamations when they come out of thin air, without adequate warning can cause the gravest of alarms. Alarm? Why alarm? Isn’t this cause for celebration, you may ask. Time to open the bubbly perhaps and spread the cheer around? Instead, why did it cause us to leap six inches in the air like a startled gazelle stalked by an invisible predator?

What ho. We shall explain. The first and spontaneous cause for alarm was that someone was actually reading Laughing Gas. Till date, we have perspired blissfully under the notion that other than blood relatives and friends who owed us money, none else was aware of our presence or was under compulsion to examine its innards. The illusion of being a better kept secret than the Knights Templar before Da Vinci Code was shattered. And understandably, we pressed the big red button on the table. The emergency response system kicked into high gear.

Disaster recovery and mitigation was sought. We had been discovered. It was time to let our agents in the field know that their cover had been blown.

No sooner than the first round of dust settlement came the next round of dust. We wondered what on earth would make anyone rank Laughing Gas anywhere in anything? We are a mere stripling blog, recently born, all of sixty days old and just began to take baby steps. Our brows furrowed and our eyes narrowed to slits as we pondered the unponderable that had just occurred. We imagined the condition of Indian blogscape if *we* made it to the Directory of Best Indian Blogs. What ho, we whispered in a low conspiratorial tone. The picture we imagined did not look pretty.

The passage of seventy two hours have injected some calm into the proceedings at Laughing Gas HQ. We have come to our senses. For, we have finally seen the light. For, we have understood that there is no way this could have happened but for Laughing Gas fans. Those of you who stood in long lines at ration shops to get your weekly quota of the funniest Indian blog, we salute you. And, those of you who walked ten miles in pouring rain to the nearest keyboard to type in those magical letters http://whatho.in, we tip our hats. For it is you that made this happen. Thank you, Laughing Gas fans!

And, yes, thank you indiantopblogs.blogspot.com! Keep up the good work.

What ho, indeed!

Google+ versus Facebook

Google+ is out. In limited trials. So is it a facebook killer?  If you are not familiar with limited trials in the tech world, think of it as letting a select few people watch a movie premiere, so you can change the ending (if that’s possible) and also drum up publicity in advance of releasing to hoi polloi.

Since we move  around in the mysterious cognoscenti circles of the tech world (ahem), we received an invite  to check out the new social network from Google. Here are some first impressions.

The worlds don’t collide on Google+

Your family, friends, neighbors, the guy you met yesterday, the gal you have never met ever and your pet are all treated as equals on Facebook.  Let’s face it. Each of us has different worlds that we’ve created. From the world of family to relatives through acquaintances to people we simply transact with. Having them all in one network has never made sense. (But, that never stopped Facebook from acquiring 750million users, of which 200M+ login every day!) The worlds don’t collide in Google+. It lets you create umpteen number of “Circles” and create different worlds in which you can drop family, friends, acquaintances and relative strangers of various hues. This means that you can share certain things with only family and none others, and so on. This is how the real world networks work. This is definitely a plus.

Score: +1 point

Google+ is a one stop shop

It combines Facebook, Twitter, Email, Groups and a sophisticated private Chat room with video called “Hangout” in one place. None of this is radically new. With Google+, you can do it all in one place, and enjoy the convenience of having all your contacts in one place. In the tech world, they call this a ‘one stop shop’. Now, let’s think about it. Do we really want a one stop shop for fun things like social networking? Do you really like to eat at the same restaurant every time you go out? And, would you want to order Alu Paratha and Paneer Butter Masala from a guy named Madurai Murugan?

Score: -1 point

Google+ vs Facebook: Post office versus Disneyland

Google’s user interface has always been simple and minimal. Which makes it perfect for transactions like email and search. Not for fun activities like checking out your nephew’s first birthday pictures and idle gossip twittering among friends. The difference between Google+ and Facebook/Twitter experiences is the one between going to a post office and an outing in Disneyland.

Score: -1 point

Verdict

Final Score: -1 out of 3.  Time will tell if the world really needs another social network, that too from Google. In the battle between convenience and coolness, the latter often wins. Especially when teenagers and 20-somethings are involved.  This is a winner takes all game. There is no room for a number 2 in social networks. Zuckerberg can rest easy because he may have already won the game. If anyone has cause for mild worry, it’s probably Twitter at the moment.

If you are on Google+ or have been reading about it, do write and let us know what you think in the comments section.

We have a new home!

Laughing Gas is now What Ho! at http://whatho.in. We are in the middle of unpacking the boxes, applying for gas and phone connections, figuring out where to put the TV and hanging pictures on the wall. Welcome to our new home!  Do stay and look around, and let us know what you think. Thanks for visiting!

 

June 25, 1983 – A day in history

For us fogeys at Laughing Gas, there is unlikely to be a moment rivaling the euphoria on this day in 1983, when Kapil’s Devils won the Prudential World Cup, in one of the greatest team efforts in Indian sports history. Scorecard: India won by 43 runs. India: 183 (54.4 overs). West Indies: 140 (52 overs). Man of the Match: Mohinder Amarnath. Chak de India!

The Happiest Country in the World

And, the survey says … the happiest nation in the world is China with a perfect score of 100/100.

According to a Happiness Survey commissioned by Kim Yong Il himself, North Korea comes in at a modest number two with 98 points. The top five list of happiest nations in the world is rounded out by Cuba, Iran and Venezuela. Generally happy countries like Denmark and Sweden were plunged instantly into deep gloom after being told that they were in “the hundreds” ranking wise. All of Scotland was electrified at their rank of 45, but the excitement quickly died after being told “only because Kim Yong loves haggis”.

Turns out that rabid dictatorship and being on George Bush’s axis of evil are key ingredients of happiness. Who’d have thunk that?No news on where India finished. We can however confirm that Israel was not even on the list. “The American Empire” not surprisingly finished dead last. Our sources in Pyongyang tell us that the US scored an impressive 3 on 100, prompting a surprised Kim Yong Il to go, “I apologize and swear that it will never happen again”. Our sources also tell us that little known innovative metrics such as “how many days can you go without food” and “how long can you hold your breath in a gas chamber” were used in the analysis and final rankings, along with a brand new numerical system that has now been invented by the North Koreans. It also helped that African countries were not included in the survey, giving China and North Korea clear shots at the top dog positions.

Unconfirmed reports have Pakistan coming in at number 6, prompting the interior minister Mr. Rehman Malik to attribute the non-inclusion of the commonly accepted “how many times has a bomb gone off under your feet” metric to their poor finish. In Teheran, a belligerent and apparently disoriented Ahmedinejad denounced the Americans for trying to “manipulate the rankings to further their satanic agenda in support of the Zionist regime” prompting the White House spokesperson to respond “someday they will suffer for this when they get democracy.”

One cannot but admire the sheer chutzpah of the pint sized dictator. We did a little Googling to dig up some dirt on this guy. Apparently he has a fetish about titles, having given himself hundreds of these. An example is “Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradely Love”. It also turns out that his official bio mentions that he has been “falsely accused many times of corruption, misbehaving with women and murdering his opponents”.  If this guy lived in India, I am guessing that his title is likely to be “Member of Parliament.”

Pint Sized Mug Shots

Oh.. the little joys of living in India! How do I describe thee? 🙂 The topic de jour is passport sized photos. Is it me or is there an insane demand for passport sized photos in this country? In all my time of living in the US (a lengthy tenure), I must have taken perhaps a couple of sets. And they were only required when I applied for, well, my passport. In India, passport sized photos have very little to do with passports.

The clamor started the day I landed in Chennai almost a decade back. Checking account. Cell phone connection. Gas connection. Phone connection. Electricity. Home loans. Demat account. Auto drivers. Well, on the last part, I exaggerate. But, you get the point. Everybody and his brother in law wanted a piece of the action. At first, I naively did runs of  6 or 8 prints. Pretty soon, wisdom dawned and I upped the ante to packs of 20 to feed the insatiable appetite.

An aggravating aspect of this matter is that it is impossible to optimize production levels to exactly match demand. Complex algorithms and spreadsheet macros have failed miserably. Which means that you usually end up carrying inventory. Say you do a run of 20 prints. The way things play out, you end up giving 15 of these babies away. A small and odd number get left behind as unused stock. A few months later, you are applying for a permit to park where you work. The conversation with the security chap inevitably turns towards passport sized photos. You go home, rummage through your possessions and come up with nada. Another run of 20 prints is quickly ordered, and soon yet another small and odd quantity is misplaced. And the cycle goes on. It is quite likely that I have hundreds of these pint sized mug shots lying around, mysteriously hidden somewhere in the house.

An amusing aspect has to do with taking of the photos themselves. The rookies (of which I used to be one) tend to shower, shave and wear collared shirts from this misguided belief that these photos are actually looked at. As time goes by, wisdom dawns. Once, a guy who came to pick up a credit card application casually pocketed my photos with nary a glance. And, to add insult to injury, his pocket bulged with photos of other clients. Seeing my 2x2s being subject to step motherly treatment, I enquired as to how he planned to match the photos with the forms later. “Don’t worry, Sir” was the response. Veterans of this game have been known to enter photo studios and  exit in 30 seconds flat with photos in hand. Shave and shower are most definitely dispensed with. The maestros of this game, I suspect, are dispensing even with clothing of any kind.

Last but not the least, one has to touch on the quantities, not an insignificant line item which can dent the household budget. Statistical analysis suggests that the number demanded roughly correlates to the importance of the mission. Bank account app usually calls for two. Demat accounts could be more. Interestingly enough, a lot depends on the agent. Some are meek. You can push them to the edge and get away with it. “I have only two, they dont match and were taken when I turned six”. Others are defiant cowboys. “Sir, I need five or six”. “What the..? Why six?”. After intense nego, you can get some of these Quick Gun Murugans down to 3 or 4. Suspect they are compulsive-obsessive collectors. I can imagine the bragging in the back office “I got 12 out of a poor sod today”. I would also not rule out spot fixing and match fixing possibilities. Perhaps vast sums of money are being wagered on who can collect the most on a given day.

I’ve often dreamt of landing the Bharat Ratna. The highest honor in the land. To do the nation proud. I walk upto the President. And she says “Congratulations on being the first Indian Nobel prize winner in Physics. You have done the nation proud. That new fangled theory of yours that makes Einstein look like a  four year old totally rocks!” I nod and bow graciously, and stretch out the hand, eager to grasp the award. And that’s when she says “Not so fast, buster. I’ll need to see 25 passport sized photos first”. I usually wake up in a cold sweat.

I’m lovin’ it!

Live from McDonalds, in HSR Layout in Bangalore. Folks, the super-sizing of India is well under way. It’s about 1 pm, as we enter the newly opened (well, 3 months back)McDonalds, walking past a mute and vaguely disturbing figurine of Ronald McDonald at the door.

Once inside, we are greeted instantly by a bedlam of loud conversations, juvenile shrieks and employees taking orders. Adding to the decibel levels is a raucous Sunidhi Chauhan bhangra beat over the speakers. Amazingly, the place is chock full. McDonalds – a lunch destination choice? You could have knocked me down with a McAloo tikki. What’s next? Wedding receptions at McDonalds?

It’s my daughter’s birthday treat for a few of her classmates. As they find themselves a separate table, avoiding parental proximity, I wander over to the other side. The place is a veritable zoo. As people fall over each other to order Maharajah McChickens and paneer salsa wraps, it occurs to me that the super-sizing of the Indian version of homo sapiens is well under way. Families, bachelors, school girls and grand parents – they are all here, helping themselves to happy meals and large cokes.

India is chugging at 10% GDP growth and also getting fries with that. Are you lovin’ it yet?

Winds of Change

Live from BDA complex, Koramangala, Bangalore: Winds of change are blowing in Egypt, Yemen, Libya and across the Middle East. The latest scene of action seems to be Imperial Hair Dressers in Koramangala in Bangalore.

I was shocked this morning to find that a coup of sorts was attempted 3 weeks back. Disgruntled elements in the barber mid management (read the ones assigned to chairs 3 and 5) had staged a protest in BDA square over the always prickly issue of salary raises.

There are unconfirmed reports of a facebook page in the early days. Before discontent could reach wikipedia and massive twittering proportions, the ownership much like Gaddafi, moved preemptively to crack down. They had learnt from Hosni’s experience that inaction was fatal. In the dark of night, the entire mid-mgmt team (read barbers assigned to chairs 3 and 5) were shown the door. And, ripples cascaded through the bottom rungs as well.

What I saw this morning was a new set of faces, new uniforms and even a new television set. An uneasy calm seems to prevail. The new crop is abstaining from idle chit chat with customers, and spoke in furtive low voices on conditions of anonymity when quizzed about recent events. The future of Imperial Stylists remains unclear, as an autocratic aging ownership struggles to maintain control.

As they say, when kings fight, the soldiers get injured. My injury is especially severe. My 6 years of investment in training Mahesh (mid mgmt barber assigned to chair 3) have come to nought. Once you get used to the comfort of a barber knowing exactly what you need done as you walk in through the door “not too short, not too long, keep the side burns as-is, and a head massage at end of cut” – it is traumatic to have to start at the beginning all over again. The new guy who has been assigned to me – Manjunatha – seems like a bright bulb and appears to have a cowboy streak when it comes to wielding the razor. Certainly appears that he and I have a long road ahead of us.