The What Ho! Guide to a Happy Life

As people will keep reminding you, life is short.

So, live every day as if it were your last because one of these days, you’re going to be right.

Here is the What Ho! guide to a happy life, inspired by motivational quotes.


1

Two roads diverged in a wood. I took the one less traveled by. That has made all the difference

Robert Frost

Why choose between roads? Why not play it safe and take autos wherever you go. They will take you through every possible road and alley.


2

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now

Chinese proverb

The second best time to plant a tree was actually 30 years ago. Or was it 40? If you haven’t planted a tree, I don’t know what to tell you, man.


3

An unexamined life is not worth living

Socrates

A constantly examined life on Facebook is not worth living either.


4

Eighty percent of success is showing up

Woody Allen

The rest – twenty percent – goes into being at the right place at the right time. Best strategy is to keep showing up randomly in as many places as possible and hope it’s the right place and the right time.


5

Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up

Pablo Picasso

This is simply not true. I’ve seen many paintings done by many children. Not every child is an artist. It’s best if we let some of them grow up to be doctors with bad handwriting.


6

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why

Mark Twain

The third most important day in your life is the day you book a tatkal ticket on IRCTC on the first attempt.


7

There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing and be nothing

Aristotle

I don’t know about this. It didn’t work for Manmohan Singh.


8

Ask and it will be given to you.

Jesus

Note: Jesus meant to say, “Ask Arvind Kejriwal and it will be given to you.”


9

Teach thy tongue to say, “I do not know,” and thou shalt progress

Maimonides

Very useful if you’re called in for a CBI interrogation or a Congressional hearing.


10

The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it

Chinese Proverb

Also I feel strongly about this: The person who says it can be done should not wake up the person who doesn’t want to do it.


11

You can have anything you want if you are willing to give up your attachment to it

Ancient Hindu belief

This is actually a fantastic business model. I’ve started an online store (buyanythinggetnothing.com) based on this concept. You can buy anything you want if you’re willing to give up the belief you’re going to get it. We are the first in the world to offer 100% guarantee that we will ship nothing to you. We will refund your money in full if we accidentally send you anything.

I’ve caused a stampede in the venture capitalist community. They are beating down my door.


12

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be

Lao Tzu

Man, the Chinese dudes really know what they are talking about, don’t they?


13

What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do

Bob Dylan

I tried this at the supermarket. They wouldn’t let me leave without paying for stuff. They even called the police. Maybe it works only if you’re Bob Dylan.


14

If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money.

Abigail Van Buren

It turns out if you spend twice as much time with your children, you will be left with half as much money.


15

Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck

Dalai Lama

This works! I once went to see Ra One, but the show was sold out. A wonderful stroke of luck, indeed.


Happy Journeys!

More What Ho! guides here

The What Ho! Guide to Meetings

It’s now a commonly accepted fact that there are only two things people do at work – watch YouTube on company bandwidth and attend meetings. Watching YouTube is less complex of the two. It doesn’t require special training and is a skill acquired easily even by marketing managers. Meetings on the other hand are tad more complicated affairs. Your career graph can rise quickly if you learn to navigate through the labyrinth deftly, except in the case of the banking sector, where, of course, you tend to join as a Vice President and steadily work your way down over time. It is thus important that you attain the status of Meeting Ninja as quickly as possible by invoking the boundless Kundalini of Meeting Wisdom that is ever present in your eternal and immortal being.

What Ho!, you say, as you quiver? Worry not. Help is at hand.

History of Meetings

In 323BC, a mighty king named Ashoka invaded the kingdom of Kalinga. In the battle that Ashoka won, hundreds of thousands died. Upon witnessing the calamity, Ashoka is said to have wondered, “Is there a middle path that allows humans to peacefully air grievances and accomplish nothing, while strictly prohibiting participants from inflicting deadly, physical injuries on each other?

Thus was born the concept of a meeting.

So, what are good reasons to hold a meeting?

There are many good reasons to hold a meeting. Most of them disappeared when a tidal wave engulfed the famed city of Atlantis. However, two have survived till modern day through word of mouth.

Reason 1: To serve as wormholes in the space-time continuum.

It becomes important to observe that 99.999% (five nines) of all meetings ever have been and are weekly review meetings. The purpose of a weekly review meetings is to provide a solitary, tenuous link connecting legions of attendees from various points on the space-time continuum. It is not unusual to find that a review meeting may have originated several decades prior to your first attendance, and that both the original convenor and the purpose of that meeting may long be deceased. The meetings serve as the only connections between generations, dead, alive and those yet to come. Think of them as the Tasseract, the four dimensional world you saw in the Interstellar.

Ideally, review meetings must be convened by a Powerful Person. There’s a good reason for this. It is to encourage attendance. However, the meetings will, in reality, by conducted by the Minion of the Powerful Person (also known as the Convenor). The Minion is appointed as a Stand-In Meeting Coordinator by the Convenor, and harbors aspirations of someday becoming a Convenor himself. It is unlikely that the Convenor will attend the meetings convened by him. The Convenor usually has much longer Youtube playlists than mere mortals and thus needs more time with them. Instead, he will make sudden and erratic appearances in these meetings from time to time, and then proceed to try to digest centuries worth of information in thirty minutes or less. The reason that attendance at review meetings is normally high is that people have no way of predicting if the All Powerful Convenor will be present or not in any given meeting. Most people are not interested in finding out what happens when the Convenor shows up and they don’t. Consequently, thousands of ordinary employees attend hundreds of review meetings without ever encountering the Convenor even once.

By now, it must have become self evident that your immediate objective must be to somehow become part of the Minion Talent Pool and hone your skills towards becoming an accomplished Stand-In. An often overlooked perk of being a Minion Stand-In is that it immediately absolves you of any responsibilities to provide any information or answer any questions during meetings. Rather, you are now pleasantly transformed into the exalted and detached state of a Seeker Of Information. Minion-ship is highly prized, and the benefits boundless. You must prepare yourself to win bloody battles so you can become one.

A typical Monday morning weekly review meeting might proceed in the following fashion.

You: All righty folks. Let’s hear from Moses on the Promised Land Project.

Moses: Umm.. let’s see. I don’t have much to add this week. As I have been saying every week over the last twelve years, I have parted the Red Sea. I’ve completed taking delivery of the Ten Commandments on the mountain. The Project, I hope you are aware, has run into unexpected delays. The Chosen People, thanks to their drunken revelry around a golden calf, have been cursed by God to wander around in the desert. I’ve flagged this as a problem, and color coded it red in my weekly emails. I have no idea as to when they will reach the Promised Land. Is any one listening? God, do you want to jump in here and add some color to this?

God: Yawn. Sorry.. I wasn’t listening. Could you repeat that?

Moses: What’s the ETA on the Promised Land?

God: Umm.. I need to look into a couple of things. Can we take this offline?

You: Sorry guys. I wasn’t paying attention, but it sounds like we’re making progress. Moses, could you put that in an email and send it to me? I’ll need that for my update to the Convenor.

Reason 2: It’s the only way to know if a person exists.

The second reason for which meetings are held is that, often it becomes the only way to know who is on the payroll at a company. As you are aware, every so often companies go through troubled times and are forced to “right size” themselves. It’s a little known secret that decisions around who stays and who gets let go is largely based on physical recognition of individuals alone, and nothing else. Rene Descartes once speculated, “I think therefore I am.” That’s the kind of attitude that doesn’t carry a bloke too far in today’s corporate world. Descartes would have been given the pink slip, two weeks of severance and a firm handshake before he could utter “existential.” People don’t exist unless they are in front of you, tweeting from their laptops.

Important Executive With Powers to Fire People (IEWPTFP): “Who is this Karan chap? Is he that tall, impeccably well dressed marketing bloke who shows up right on time every time for our Monday weeklies?”

Minion: “Yep, that’s him.”

IEWPTFP: “We can’t let him go. Karan is a keeper. He’s a jewel. When he speaks, he doesn’t ruffle feathers. What would we do without him? By the way, who is this Arjun fellow? I’ve never seen him ever.”

Minion: “He doesn’t attend our weeklies.”

IEWPFTP: “Let him go.”

Minion: “Hang on. I’ve heard rumors that he’s the engineer who does all the work.”

IEWPFTP: “Hmm.. I don’t know. That doesn’t sound like a convincing reason to keep him around.”

The moral of the story is that even as you try and free yourself up from worldly acts such as meetings to immerse in the more ethereal Youtube, you must be careful to not let your meeting attendance drop to dangerously low levels. A corporate career, much like life, is about striking that happy balance between the yin and the yang of existence and non-existence.

The What Ho! Guide to Meetings

Keep calm, children. Sit in a squatting, meditative pose, close your eyes and listen carefully to the pearls that I’m now about to cast loosely in your direction.

There are insights as ancient as the universe itself, which have led to the development of black arts, which you must apply in a vaguely detached, zen manner in meetings.

The purpose of meetings, repeat after me, is not to find answers or to solve problems. It is to facilitate as peaceful a gathering of as large a number of people as possible. If you fail to grasp this mystical truth that underlies meetings, I see neither Minionship nor Convenorship in your future. When called upon to share things which may alternatively referred to as ‘statuses,’ or ‘updates,’ or ‘debriefs,’ it is critical to restrict yourself to the state of things, and never get into why they are the way they are. Observations must be limited to pithy phrases like ‘We’re making good progress.,’ or ‘Things are on track,’ or the rare and adventurous, ‘We’re getting there.’ As the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna once said, “The nature of things is to have no nature; it is their non-nature that is their nature. For they have only one nature: no-nature.” You can use this quote in meetings for variety.

Delving into the true nature of reality is unwise in large groups of humans. It’s the quickest route to the death of a martyr. Studies show that attending meetings is one of the most stressful activities a human engages in. You have to remember that you are dealing with humans, who in spite of having gone through millions of years of stress of being chased around by sabre toothed tigers, withstanding the harshest of conditions in the tundra and enduring challenges of reading Chetan Bhagat novels, are more stressed about meetings than most other things. You must assuage them. You must comfort them. You must not upset them. They don’t need the truth. They are not looking for the truth. They don’t need the warm and the fuzzies. They just want to be done and over with it, and to be left alone with Buzzfeed and Youtube. Is that too much to ask for? This is not Facebook. No one wants to know what’s on your mind. Avoid sharing anything that can be interpreted as anything. Empathy for the human condition may just be the single most powerful weapon in your quest for corporate dominance.

What if a meeting breaks out into a conversation?

As it transpires, a meeting that has stayed true to the path of prophylactic statuses and updates, will occasionally veer dangerously towards conversation. These are unchartered waters for meetings. It’s sort of like being on a raft on a peaceful river, only to look a little further ahead to find that you’re about to go over the edge of the Niagara.

Stay calm and do as follows.

You must identify the source(s) of such strife first. Often, they tend to be engineers who have a congenital predisposition towards facts, numbers and precision. They will make unseeemly efforts to bring such things to everyone’s attention. If possible, you must avoid the presence of engineers at meetings. The best tactic is to never tell them about existence of meetings, ask them for email updates and read carefully censored portions of their updates at meetings. But, if for some unfathomable reason, the presence of an engineer becomes unavoidable, then you must do what is humanly possible within your means to make sure that he does not pay close attention to the proceedings. This may be achieved by bringing a large box of doughnuts and placing it tantalizingly within reach of said engineer, who will then spend most of his time pondering if he should reach out for the fourth doughnut or not. Or, you can locate him right next to an attractive colleague. The sight of bare feminine legs has been known to place engineers into trances for lengthy periods.

Like Kim Jong Un, you must mercilessly squash sources of facts, data and informed opinions, wherever you may find them. They must not be allowed to rise to the fore. As Nagarjuna’s (there he is, again) Catuskoti principle insists, “There are four possibilities regarding any statement: It might be true (and true only), false (and false only), both true and false, or neither true nor false.” You must never speak in a manner as to make it evident to the audience which one of the possibilities they are dealing with.

Dear Dr. What Ho!, I’ve heard of something called Strategy Meetings. What are they? How are they different?

Life is funny. Every so often, it will throw you a curve ball. You will discover, at some unfortunate point in your career as you rise, that some meetings are held for the sole purpose of sharing facts, data and informed opinions. These often go by the names of ‘strategy meetings,’ ‘planning sessions,’ or ‘off sites,’ and tend to be rather tense affairs. In such meetings, a bloke who has spent the last 72 hours in some sort of a paradoxically frenzied yet comatose state completing a massive powerpoint presentation, also known as “The Deck,” is placed in front of you and several others in the audience who you will not recognize. Many in the audience do not care about The Deck. They are anxious to get, as expeditiously as possible, back to their Youtube playlists. The primary purpose of such meetings is to evaluate the levels of mental deterioration that an organization has achieved so those who have completely fallen apart can be humanely filtered out. It is vitally important to display mental acuity and presence at such gatherings. The good news is that this is not hard to do.

There are many ways to do this. Nearly all of them draw their inspiration from the Thomson’s gazelle, found in the African savannah. “Tommies,” as our hooved friends are called, are known for their bounding leaps, which, although draw attention to themselves, are meant as a show of strength to predators. There is much to learn from Tommies when it comes to meetings.

One of the things you must do, at some point during strategy meetings, is to suddenly get up from your chair and wander about aimlessly in the room, as though pondering a fundamentally deep thought. This, even as it invites scrutiny of your presence in the room, is an unmistakable show of strength. The Very Important People in the room, gnashing their teeth and looking for a prey to tear apart, will respect and fear the awe inspiring purposelessness of your act, leave you alone and turn their attention towards the weaker of the species.

Natural selection is one of the most fascinating mechanisms of nature. You must use it to your advantage.

Another method involves asking the hapless presenter to go back two slides at some arbitrary point in his presentation, and then staring deeply and just long enough at it to make people wonder if you’re on the verge of a massive break through, and following it up with a casual, “This is interesting. We need to talk. Let’s catch up offline.” That last part, a promise on which you have no intention of following up, will make those higher up on the totem pole speculate as to the nature of your seemingly impressive cognitive powers while subtly signaling that you’re a team player and chose to not humiliate a colleague in public.

That’s not all. Resourceful Darwinian creatures attending meetings have been known to draw random venn diagrams and 4×4 boxes, conduct arbitrary SWOT analyses, connect unconnected dots looking backwards and forwards, and even have gone to the extent of taking imaginary important phone calls during meetings, all with the express purpose of signaling the vitality of their beings to would-be predators. Be careful however. Not everything in the manual works. Objects in the rear view mirror can sometimes be much, much closer than you think. Venn diagrams must be drawn using circles. Drawing them using quadrilaterals can have serious, negative consequences. Remember that the public can take only so much. Take care to not exceed certain thresholds. I once heard a guy proclaim loudly, “This is never going to scale in China,” before being escorted out by armed security.

The Seventh Mandala of Meeting Wisdom

A lesser known and harder to execute technique is the art of usurping another man’s evolutionary advantage. If mastered, it will essentially guarantee that you will rise to become the youngest CEO in the annals of the company. This requires knowledge of the meanings of 1,000 most common English words, basic counting skills and impeccable timing.

Listen carefully. We’re about to enter the Seventh Mandala of Meeting Wisdom.

This is how it works. There will be always be one person in the room who knows the answers. 99 out of 100 times, the Person Who Knows Everything will be an Engineer. This is very good news for you because the Engineer, while in possession of the truth, is completely devoid of any skills when it comes to imparting such truth to large groups of people, who in turn couldn’t tell the Truth if it walked up and slapped them in their faces. This is where you come in. Look around the room. See if you can spot a slightly overweight, wearing-a-shirt-one-size-too-small, unkempt, unshaven individual wearing a wild eyed, skeptical look on his face. He’s the Engineer. Keep a close eye on him because it is just a matter of time before he begins to uncontrollably and spontaneously emit factual, relevant and actionable information. This is neither the time nor the place to ponder as to why engineers do what they do. No one knows. They are the selfish genes of the corporate pool, whose sole intent is to ensure that facts and other important things make it into the next generation of humans. Out of the Engineer’s mouth will, all of a sudden, emanate words of unspeakable wisdom. Ideally, you should seat yourself right next to him. When the Engineer’s brilliance bursts forth, it will leave people dazed and blinded. In fact, many will not be able to recall memories of hearing the Engineer speak. Your job is to listen very carefully to the Engineer, decode the facts and translate to a dumbfounded audience in plain English, using as small numbers as possible. If you do this well, the Engineer’s wisdom thus effortlessly becomes associated with you, and seventy two virgins will garland and receive you in Heaven upon your arrival.

Go forth and conquer splendidly, you Natural Born Minions and Convenors. Those Youtube playlists await.

The What Ho! Guide to Winning Arguments

Let’s face it. We humans are an argumentative lot. We argue on social media. We argue on television. We argue in the YouTube comments section.  In fact, studies show that in every passing second, 412,335 people are “wrong” about something, and that for each person who is considered wrong, there are 14 others who will feel inexorably compelled to point it out.

For all the arguing we do, we just don’t seem to be good at it. Arguing has been misunderstood over the centuries as something anyone with lots of time and a Twitter account can do. What’s not appreciated is that it’s an art form, the sort which requires great passion and lots of practice to excel.

Here are a few tips to help you excel.

The What Ho! Guide to Winning Arguments.

Draw upon your deep well of emotions.

A common fallacy is to assume that logic works. Another is to assume that an argument is about issues. Winners are those who understand the power of uncontrolled emotions and that the sole purpose of an argument is to stray as far as humanly possible from issues and to stay laser focused on belittling your rival with the choicest of pejoratives.

This leads me to the merits of alcohol.

Drink.

To win an argument, it is important to create the perception of knowing things. But how do you create such a perception when, in fact, you know nothing? Rest easy, I have a solution for you.

Imagine you’re at the company party, watching a whiz kid intellectual with a fancy MBA spouting forth with nauseating fluency on the complex linkages between temperature fluctuations on the mountains of Kenya and coffee prices in India.

Ask yourself this: What is more likely to help in this situation? Tomato juice or vodka on the rocks?

I’m sure that it will come as no surprise to hear that tomato juice drinkers tend to go weak-kneed and fade silently away into the dark of the night when confronted with a troll. On the other hand, downing several shots of Old Monk or Director’s Special will not only magically endow you with unparalleled knowledge of the Kenyan economy but also cause you to eloquently hold forth your hitherto latent opinions of Kenyan culture and dazzle everyone with your keen observations on the Kenyan way of life.

Winners drink often. And they drink early.

Lie.

Truth is overrated by losers, which is why losers tend to lose. Let’s say that the argument has strayed towards the vexing issue of malnutrition among Kenyan children. And let us pretend that you have been mindlessly and passionately arguing in favour of the position that Kenyan children are surprisingly well-fed and well nourished. Instead of stating, “Kenyan children are well fed and well nourished” which is likely to be met with scorn and laughter, you must say “According to the 2004-05 UNESCO report published on Aug 12, 2012, Kenyan children were found to have consumed on average of 432.5 calories per day in summer and 453.2 calories per day in winter, both of which are considered well above national averages of all but 13 countries in the world which do not follow the British constitutional model of government.

For lying to work, precision and accuracy are paramount. Numbers with decimal points are excellent. Statistically complex sounding terms such as ’30 day moving average’ or ’24 year longitudinal median’ are genius. Always quote your false sources proactively. If you’re smart, you will quote your own widely unread blog post.

Use Latin.

Following are examples of terms you must find and commit to memory before venturing into an argument.

Ad hominem

QED

In so far as to say

Holistic

Hoi Polloi

A priori

Ceteris paribus

Latin and Greek phrases are pure gold. They indicate that you’re not to be trifled with. Random use of these languages will bludgeon all but the fiercest into submission. Use them as you would a stun gun with as little advance warning as possible for maximum effect.

Instead of “Kenyans have always had problems with democracy” you must say “Ceteris paribus, it has been shown in various studies that any a priori assumptions about holistic governance systems involving free will of hoi polloi have proven, in so far as to say, to be unjustified ad hominem attacks on the aforesaid systems themselves. QED.

No sane person can possibly withstand such an assault on the senses.

Evade.

It is possible, due to some unfortunate quirk of Fate, that you may find yourself to be the spokesperson for the Congress party. You will likely encounter questions for which you are absolutely certain that no truthful answers can be given. As winners are aware, it has been well established as a historical fact that honesty is the best policy for losers. Evasion, on the other hand, is the way of winners.

Rule no. 1 of evasion is to create the convincing illusion that you are not evading.  Start your responses with “I am glad you asked me that question..” and proceed to confidently make any unconnected statement that pops into your cranium at that point in time. A large majority of the public does not listen beyond the first 8 words. Use “I’m glad that we’re talking about this..” with no obligation to shed any further light on the topic at hand.

renuka c

Keep mum.

The highest form of evasion is to manmohan your way through slippery slopes by maintaining what must appear externally to be a thoughtful and intellectual silence. Silence accompanied by an air of carefully cultivated superiority evokes images of a zen master who has graciously descended into the petty world of humans and who shall not be subject to such petty questions as “Dude, what do you mean you misplaced the Coalgate files?

Deflect.

During the course of an argument, it’s possible that you may find your position weakening. You may find your back in close proximity to the proverbial wall. It is important to train in the dark arts of deflection so you can wriggle out unscathed from the trickiest of situations.

The following phrases were modelled after deflection techniques used by Shaolin monks and designed to blunt the most cogent of arguments. It is important that you master them in your quest for world domination.

That’s like comparing apples and oranges.

Everything is relative.

Why are you being defensive?

That’s such a typical fascist view of the world.

What are the core assumptions in your model?

For example, you might insist “Gandhiji died on Feb 10, 2010 at 430am” and your opponent might respond “No, you fool, he died on Jan 30, 1948.” You must immediately counter with “That is such a typical fascist view of the world.” If you say, “the economy grew by 8.5% according to the NCERT-AICTE study” and your opponent counters “No you fool, it grew by just 2.3% according to the RBI governor,” you must counter with “Duh, that’s like comparing apples and oranges.

Abuse.

As unlikely as it sounds, there will come a time when all has failed and you find yourself on the mat, hopelessly pinned and in dire need of copious amounts of oxygen. This is when you must pull out the big guns, and resort to sick, vile and tasteless name calling.

Comparisons with odious historical characters, innuendos about your opponent’s paternity, crassness about your rival’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, height and weight are perfectly acceptable. A time tested phrase is “You remind me of Hitler. You make me sick, you fascist dwarf!” Since no one likes Hitler or fascists and very few actually have seen or care about dwarves, you will pull victory out from the jaws of defeat.

Well, that’s all there is to it. What are you waiting for? Go confidently forth and win that do-or-die battle, upon which may hinge the fate of this universe itself.

Comment away and share your winning practices too!

**inspired by the one and only Dave Barry.

A What Ho! Guide for Parents

A What Ho! thesaurus of terms related to homework and school.

Parent-Teacher meetings and Annual Day functions

Contrary to popular belief, these are not occasions to explain to the class teacher as to why you missed an entire season of Dexter or why you have declined all social invitations, including an invitation to a dinner reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, on account of your child’s insane level of homework. These are also not occasions to perform aggravated acts of violence on fellow parents who insist that their child is “not sufficiently challenged by homework workload” and believe that the system needs to “push him harder.”

Note: In recent times, judges have demonstrated reluctance, more often than not, to convict parents of aggravated acts of violence. Also note that teachers, vice principals and  principals will not appear to care about the fact you’ve stayed up till 11:30 every night to help your child calculate the Gross Domestic Product of Burkina Faso to the third decimal point. Remonstrations about homework workload will either elicit an expression of obviously insincere sympathy or an increase in workload till 12:30 AM.

Maths

The first thing parents will note with regards to maths is that it bears no resemblance to one of their own day. Indeed, Ptolemy and Euclid may be at a loss to graduate from grade 8 in the modern era. You might occasionally observe your child interlacing the digits of her left hand with the toes of the right foot in order to arrive at answers. This is normal and not cause for concern. In some households, mothers will find the following phrase useful: “Go check with your father. He knows this stuff.” In other homes, the case may be exactly the opposite.

Note: You will be expected to be conversant with the metric system. One litre roughly equals two bottles of chota Pepsi. And you will expected to guide your child figure out how many apples Rahul will be left with, after eating half,  then giving two to Shreya and depositing the remainder in an offshore account in Cayman Islands. Otherwise capable parents will find themselves rendered motionless and speechless during these sessions.

The Phone Call

Each night, as dinner is laid on the table, the phone will ring. The call will originate from a class mate of your child, who will enquire as to the nature of the assignment for tomorrow. Equally likely, your child will announce that she must telephone Neha urgently to find out more about tomorrow’s submission. More often than not, the telephone number of the other party will be engaged or calls go unanswered for a minimum of ninety minutes, prompting a continuous parental lecture on “the need for discipline” during this period. The telephone conversations, when they start, will feature, on the side, running, parallel and rancorous parental commentary on the absolute need and necessity to write down assignments “in class.” The sentence “How many times do I have to tell you this?” will be repeated ad nauseum until the child’s ears grow numb with seething discontent, followed by the child tearfully storming off and seeking refuge in the bathroom.

Note: Never, I repeat, never ever indulge in late night calls to the class teacher enquiring about the nature of tomorrow’s assignment. By 1:30AM, the parent is likely to be in a state of acute  mental derangement and distress, and hence highly apt to “download” on the teacher as to what he thinks of schooling and homework, which in turn, is likely to lead to a parent-teacher meeting and increase of daily homework load till 1AM.

The School Bag

Today’s child carries a schoolbag which weighs roughly 3.8 times her weight (in gross tonnage). The schoolbag will include items, deemed necessary by your child, such as two editions of Harry Potter novels, 42 hair clips, two dozen badges, between 2 and 5 boxes containing an assortment of pencils, erasers, short swords and sabres, surgical instruments and food items from the previous semester. The net tonnage, which is the weight of material directly related to education of your child such as books, will form a significant proportion of the gross tonnage.

Note: Every morning, be sure to warm your muscles up by performing a dozen sit-ups before you attempt to hoist the bag onto your child’s shoulders, in order to avoid rotator cuff injuries and slipped discs. The schoolbag is also an important part of the daily ceremonial homework commencement, one in which the process of getting to “Okay, okay” will take ten minutes. This will be followed by the child starting to rummage through the aforesaid schoolbag, all the while in the living room, for a pen. Any parental offers of alternative pens and pencils will be turned down. The duration of the child’s rummaging will roughly equal the duration of time left in the episode of American Idol running at that moment on the television.

Science Project

These are the most dreaded words in the parental universe. No phrase strikes more terror in the hearts of a parent than ‘Science Project’. The science project, which is announced a few weeks into the term, will be dramatically unveiled by your spouse, who will proclaim that your child has “chosen” to work with you on the project. Your spouse will conduct all conversations about your role in the Science Project in full view and complete earshot of your child to pre-empt any protests and withdrawals from responsibilities. Any and all murderous impulses towards the spouse should be tightly controlled and kept out of sight of the child. Over the next several weeks, you will spend a significant part of your time recreating a miniature version of the Large Hadron Collider or a contraption involving roughly 1 million stytrofoam balls (available at Aishwarya Departmental Store), springs, elastic rubber bands, gun powder, lemons and batteries to explain the string theory.

Note: Remember that the days are long gone when anything could be explained using two ping pong balls and a toothpick. Also note that, in the eventuality, the parent is hospitalized for exhaustion, project responsibilities are not considered to be abdicated.

The What Ho! Guide to Indian Politics

In order to understand Indian politics, you have to read and memorize the following phrases.

1.  Coalition Dharma

Once upon a time, there were elections held for 540 seats. 321 parties contested in the elections. One party won 220 seats. And, 320 parties won one seat each. Thus was born coalition dharma, a term used in Indian politics to describe the dynamics of putting and keeping a government in place. Think of it as a pact among thieves. I won’t ask. You don’t tell. Let’s all just happily get along. Until, of course, the Supreme Court sends us all to jail.

2.  Letting the law take its course

Let’s pretend that your worst political rival has just been arrested on false charges. And, it looks like he might go away for a long time, if the charges stick. A journalist calls you at two in the morning to get your reaction. What do you say?

You let the law take its own course – much like a Bollywood movie does, after the interval break. No one knows the law. No one knows where it’s going. It’s but natural that everyone wants it to take its own course.

3.  O High Command, Hallowed be thy name. Your kingdom come

High Command.  This one’s exclusive to and a favorite of the Congress party. Which sick, spineless, obsequious sycophant came up with this one? It begs basic questions such as – Who’s in command? And why is she high?

This blot on Indian political lingo evokes images of an acid-dropping long-haired hippy singing Dum Maaro Dum, while seated in front of a Star Trek style spaceship console and remote controlling one-eyed aliens from outer space.

4.  If you’re not secular, you must be communal

The Age of Enlightenment (or the Age of Reason) was a cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe, that sought to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted science and intellectual discourse, opposed superstition, intolerance and sought the separation of church from state. Out of this movement came the word ‘secular’ – to denote a state of being separate from religion.

The word secular has taken on a life of its own in Indian media and politics, and has now turned into a farcical comedy. A “secular” political alliance in India could include a motley crew of Communists, Muslim League, Congress and characters such as Mulayam Singh and Laloo Prasad Yadav. What on earth makes them secular, you may wonder. Is it shared admiration for intellect, reason and logic? No Sir. They are secular because they are not communal.

5.  Hand in hand with the foreign hand

In the movie, Sixth Sense, a boy claims to be able “to see dead people”. Our politicians have a similar uncanny ability to see “foreign hands”. The power of the foreign hand is not to be underestimated.

Imagine a crisis-struck government seated around the table and brainstorming options.

“Can we blame the opposition for this crisis?”

“Nope. Those guys have been comatose since they lost the elections”

“Can we put this down to compulsions of coalition dharma?”

“Not a good idea”

“Do we know what’s going on?”

“No”

“Ok. Let’s blame the foreign hand then. Anyone against this proposal, raise your foreign hand”

6.  One man’s jolt is another man’s setback

Jolts and setbacks are favorites of the newspapers.

A setback is simply any random event, used to disparage your bête-noire.

“Narendra Modi suffered a sharp setback when his car failed to pass the smog test yesterday”

Geez, what a monster. He deserved what he got. Hope he rots in hell.

A jolt is used to describe a cataclysmic event, while expressing nonchalance, astonishment and controlled outrage – all in one go.

“The UPA government suffered a jolt when the Supreme Court convicted 3 cabinet ministers and sentenced them to life imprisonment without bail”

It’s no biggie. It’s just a jolt. Gosh, what a surprise. I’d have never guessed this turn of events. Is the Supreme Court really trustworthy, I wonder?

7.  Civil Society

In the midst of a movie, I once had to admonish my neighbor for talking loudly on his mobile phone. His choices, I told him, were either to stop talking or leave the theatre. His impressively defiant response, “You have no right to tell me what to do. We live in a civil society”, momentarily stunned me into silence.

This phrase has appeared out of nowhere and rapidly penetrated public consciousness, thanks to Anna Hazare’s crusade. And, its tentacles have spread into domains where it has no place.

My advice: When on the defensive, take the moral high ground by playing the civil society card.

“What? You want a thousand rupees bribe to give me an LPG connection? That’s outrageous. We live in a civil society. I’ll give you no more than five hundred”

Write back with your favorite Indianisms from politics and media!

ps: Don’t miss 10 English Phrases which make perfect sense only to Indians and On Being Secular

The What Ho! Guide to the 2G Scam

There’s a storm brewing in this country, in the form of the alleged 2G scam, which has the potential to unseat the government. Given the complexity of this case, and our own lack of time to comprehend what’s being reported, not to mention who to believe about what, I figured I’d put together a simple dossary of facts and observations on this. Here’s everything you’ve always wanted to know about the 2G scam but were too afraid to ask.

The What Ho! Guide to the 2G Scam

Pertinent Facts 

1. 2G is a technology used to provide voice and data services by operators such as Vodafone, Airtel, BSNL, etc

2. Offering voice and data services requires something called spectrum – a band of frequency specifically allocated for this purpose – which is allocated to qualified operators.

3. Spectrum is scarce because it is limited to a specific band of frequencies.

4. To the seller, spectrum is free. There is no cost to creating spectrum since it’s simply the right to use air waves. This complicates things when you try to price it. If something cost Rs. 100, you could add a profit and arrive at a price for it. When a good does not have any intrinsic cost, pricing is subjective and purely driven by demand.

5. In countries all over the world including India, spectrum is treated as a national asset very much like land owned by the government, and sold by governments to buyers in the form of licenses.

6. To the buyer, spectrum is not free since there are limits to availability, and further because governments would like to derive income from the sale, just as they would if they sold a public sector company to private sector

7. The price paid for spectrum by operators affects the tariffs offered by them. As the price goes higher, so will the tariffs since operators have to recover their costs and make profits on the services offered

8. If the prices offered by operators are too high, the common man may not able to afford the services. So, it is not surprising that a government could deliberately set a low price for licenses so as to enable telecom services to reach the masses.

9. If the government deliberately under-prices spectrum, it need not necessarily be misconstrued as “losses to the exchequer”. In any case, any and all “losses” are notional since the government is not losing money out of its pocket. They are “lost” revenue (what could have been).

10. Hence it is the responsibility of governments to devise a proper mechanism so A. operators have a free and fair shot at winning spectrum bids. This creates a conducive business environment and promotes competition in the country which in turn benefits the customer. B. ultimately the needs of common people (consumers) are met, in the form of reasonable tariffs at adequate quality

11. There are several methods to selling a national asset. A couple are 1. Auctions – there are many types of auctions. Highest bid auction is the most well known. 2. First Come First Served (FCFS) – typically used to sell a distressed asset for which there are few takers

12. For something like 2G licenses which are in great demand and have high value and counterbalanced by the need to promote telecom services to the masses, selecting the procurement method is not simple and straightforward.

What happened

1. The NDA govt mooted the idea of First Come First Served. It was never made into policy or ratified by the PMO/Cabinet at that time.

2. The UPA govt which followed continued the FCFS line of thinking and converted it into policy. This was led by Dayanidhi Maran first and executed by A. Raja who followed him. Apparently, the PMO had objections, although I’m not sure exactly what and how forcefully they made them. Net of the story is that FCFS came to be the policy

3. The Telecom Minister A. Raja led the process of procurement – in which it is alleged that favoritism was exhibited in the FCFS process. In other words, some companies were prevented from coming in first, others were favored and another lot of them decided to stay out of the fray not fancying their chances.

4. A number of winners came out of this process – a good number of which turned out to be companies unconnected to Telecom. Some of them were clearly real estate companies and entered the fray for the sole purpose of not creating a telecom business but to re-sell their licenses to an operator for a profit. Think of them as touts and blackmarketeers who buy movie tickets in bulk in advance and sell to movie watchers for a profit. However, there is nothing illegal about a real estate company buying a telecom license, especially if the govt considered them “qualified buyers” when they bought them.

5.  Some of the companies who ended up as “winners” of 2G licenses, promptly turned around and sold their licenses to foreign operators for a hefty profit. The questions that this raises are: A. Did the govt have the right policy in place? B. Did they implement the policy fairly? C. Was the process of bidding subverted in favor of a few, friendly buyers? D. Couldn’t the profit made by these fly-by-night operators (adds upto to Rs. 20K crores+) have been made by the govt instead? E. Were there any individuals or companies who benefited illegally from this? In short, this looked and smelled like a scam when these details came out four years back.

A landmark Supreme Court judgement earlier this week

Earlier in the week, SC quashed 122 licenses granted by the government and asked for these licenses to be re-bid. The court did not place culpability or guilt on any specific person. Instead, it commented on the inherent unfairness of the FCFS buying policy as it pertained to sale of 2G licenses and also on the shoddy way it was implemented by the govt.

It also asked a Trial Court to decide if there should be a probe into the role of Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, who was Finance Minister during the period the licenses were awarded.

Observations

To even the most naive and under-informed observer, it is clear that there’s something rotten in Denmark. This smells like a scam. The reluctance of the govt to act/correct for four long years adds fuel to the speculative fire. This has gone on long enough. Our Prime Minister needs to speak up.

The UPA govt and the Congress party are trying to put lipstick on a pig when they blame the NDA govt. Blaming the NDA govt for FCFS is like Dhoni blaming Sourav Ganguly for losing in Australia. They are barking up the wrong tree. The Govt should stop patronizing the people of India and come right out and admit if there were mistakes, and penalize those who committed them. Their reluctance makes one wonder how deep this rot goes.

The BJP has done a poor job of holding people’s attention to pertinent details of this scam. The usual cry of the BJP to call for the resignation of the PM or Chidambaram is likely to fall on deaf ears as the party has 1. done nothing to expose the corruption 2. done nothing to merit their status as an opposition party. In fact, every statement made by BJP may actually weaken the case against the govt. Nothing works worse than a bad argument for a good cause.

Does the SC judgement mean that our cell phone tariffs are going to go up? Well, the telecom companies whose licenses are cancelled cover only 5% of the subscribers. It’s unlikely that prices will go up because of this judgement. The prices may go up for other reasons like  prices have gone far too low for operators to make profits in this market.

Update: The trial court has dismissed the petition from Subramanian Swamy to initiate a probe against P. Chidambaram. Subramanian Swamy has the option to appeal this judgement in the High Court and then the Supreme Court. Interestingly, Swamy’s petition to quash licenses was first rejected by the High Court before the Supreme Court upheld it. This legal battle is far from over.

There are some details which I’ve skipped to keep this readable. Do write back with your observations.

The What Ho! Guide to Driving in India

The Uninformed Reader might scoff at, and even under-estimate the significance of the dark art of driving in India. To her, I must point out that data collected from observation of Indian drivers has been the only reason that scientists have been nail down the exact moment in time we homo sapiens branched off from our ancestors.

Say what? What ho, let me explain. Scientists estimate that humans branched off from chimpanzees exactly 7 million years, 240 days ago, at 11am in the morning. They were able to nail this date and time down precisely by comparing remnants of chimpanzee DNA found in Expert Indian Drivers and DNA found in normal Homo Sapiens (aka lesser mortals). By analyzing the differences, they were able to compute the time it must have taken for 100% pure chimpanzees to mutate into half-ape, half-human entities – otherwise known as – yep, you got it – Expert Indian Drivers.

So, scoff not and read on.

The What Ho! Guide to Driving in India

1. Never assume anything. Assumption is the mother of all screw ups

Let’s start with an example. When driving on the Outer Ring Road in Bangalore, you might consider yourself blameless for assuming it to be a major roadway of sorts, on which traffic flows unencumbered. In an unguarded moment, you might carelessly flirt with the notion of putting metal to the pedal and speeding things up. Wrong assumption.

India is a country of 1.2 billion people, living on 3.3 million square kilometres of land. Unfortunately, the Reddy brothers own 75% of land in India, and so the area available to the rest of us boils down to a fraction of what it could be. There’s not much room to move around in this country of ours. What this means is that the average Indian has to conduct his business in public. Consequently, terms like Outer Ring Road, National Highway 4 (NH4), etc. are loosely meant to describe anything along the lines of children’s parks, playgrounds, parking lots, race courses, cattle sheds, places of worship, venues for cricket matches, etc. However, I will concede that on rare occasions, traffic might be allowed to pass through. But, that’s besides the point. The point is – don’t let names lull you into making wrong assumptions.

A sure sign that you don’t have active remnants of chimpanzee DNA in your system is that reading this will have the effect of either frightening or depressing you or both. Despair not.  There is good news. There still exist those places you can drive freely with abandon. It’s just that, thanks to our lack of attention to detail, we’ve named these places wrongly. For example, pavements, airport runways, residential streets, gated communities and parking lots are places where you can roll the windows down and experience the joys of driving on an open road. When you find yourself in one of these locations, feel free to let your hair down and have a wild time.

While we’re on the subject of assumptions, I feel compelled to go on a tangent to belabor a related point. I’ve often noticed a mistake committed by neophytes in the process of mastering the road shastra. Which is to assume that there will be sign boards at the sides of the roads, and these aforesaid sign boards will convey meaningful information. Out here in this lovely land of ours, sign boards are akin to newspapers. They are the best places to get information on movies that have been just released or the scoop on the local elections. Experts are beginning to come around to the point of view that traffic sign boards may be the sole and ultimate reason why we have a citizenry that has unusually high levels of general knowledge.

2. There is something called “Too much information”

The fact that you are driving on the road does not imply that you should pay attention to or know everything that is going on around you. Listen carefully when I say that there is something called “too much information”. There is no better place in the world that this phrase applies than on Indian roads. What this means is simply, you must not, I repeat, must not absorb any information about the goings on around you. Road nirvana, which is the zero information state, has thus far been achieved only by auto rickshaw drivers and cyclists who, scientists claim, closely resemble random particles in Brownian motion. The Nirvana state has been described as a blissful state of simply being, in which illusions of material activities around the self are obliterated into complete nothingness. Trust me when I say that your iPod may be your best friend on the roads. Put on your favorite music, crank up the volume and get set to experience moments of bliss. In fact, this article was conceived, typed up and posted while driving from work to home.

In other words, do what you feel compelled to, unmindful of anything else that may be going on around you. Stay focused on gaps in spaces ahead of you (or behind you, as the case maybe). Make it the sole purpose of your existence to penetrate those gaps faster than a photon shot through the Large Hadron Collider.

3.  Be aware of the power of stationary objects

Technically, this falls both into both categories of “wrong assumption” and “too much information”. But, this insight carries such enormous significance that I felt compelled to call it out separately so what ho! readers do not miss its import.

Surprising as it may sound, some of us are human. And, it is a natural human tendency to associate driving with motion. For the humans amongst us, driving raises strong visual images of steering an object that is moving. Under certain circumstances, it turns out that nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, there will be those situations when the best form of driving is to suspend all motion.

First, let’s understand the critical benefits of static energy on Indian roads. The case for stillness and complete lack of motion starts with the important point that a stationary object will never be blamed. This is especially true of static objects found in middle of roads. Examples of stationary objects are bull dozers, city buses, large groups of people buying and selling stuff, Manmohan Singh, traffic policemen, abandoned vehicles, small and large sized animals, and occasionally birds in addition to the usual fare of impediments such as stupas, edifices and national monuments which are there on roads for the sole reason that it hasn’t yet occurred to anyone to move them. In fact, a team of archaelogists have carbon-dated a 5-foot tall granite stump smack in the middle of NH4 as belonging to Chandragupta Maurya’s period. So, for thousands of years, we Indians have learned to navigate around animate and inanimate objects that we encounter in our paths.

Now for how to convert this blinding insight into an actionable plan. When in trouble or doubt, immediately convert yourself into a stationary object. If you’ve been slipping and making the mistake of absorbing information from your surroundings while driving, you will find yourself nervous and paralyzed with shock from time to time. When this happens – Come to a complete halt, switch the engine off and have a cigarette. Use the break wisely by catching up with the latest bhangra beat or calling your near and dear ones. Because you’ve converted yourself into a stationary object, no harm can and will befall you. The traffic will begin to magically adjust, weave and make its way around you, while you enjoy beatific solitude and the stiff drink that you so richly deserve.

So, there you go. The 3 commandments from our “Beginner’s Bible for Driving in India”.

Astute readers will point out that there are those other rookie mistakes like assuming that – to drive, you’ll need a driver’s license, should be possessed of eyesight, should be older than five years of age, etc. etc. – all of which, I’m sure you’ll agree with me by now, fall into the categories of wrong assumptions and too much information.

In parting, I must point out that you must realize that not every one amongst us is destined to master the road shastra and get behind the wheel. For those who have suffered Fate’s cruel sleight of hand in not having adequate chimp DNA in the system, all I can say is – Treat your driver like a Greek god and make burnt offerings every day at the altar.

If you liked this, you’ll enjoy reading Horn OK Please – on the delightful practice of honking on Indian roads.

The What Ho! Guide to Starting Your Own Religion

In mid 19th century, Nietzsche, a German philosopher, angrily and famously proclaimed that “God is dead”.  Nietzsche spoke favourably of nihilism, a school of thought which essentially negates godliness with its attributes of ‘idealism’ and ‘perfection’, and went on to describe a Ubermensch (“beyond Man”) – a superhuman who posits his own values and creates a life which is his own personal work of art.

As astonishing as Nietzsche’s audacity was at that time, he was neither the first nor the last to take up the cudgels against the Supreme One. Voltaire, and if we rewind by 2,000 years, Anaxogoras, who brought philosophy to the great city of Athens, had expressed pessimism about the existence of Deus Populi. Darwin, Marx and Engel and luminaries of the post World War 2 era like Bertrand Russell, took up the secularization baton and confidently predicted the decline of religion with advancement in science and technology.

There is no evidence to suggest that such rumours reached the East, or even if they did, were taken seriously. Hinduism had already gone through a wave of cleansing more than a thousand years before Nietzsche, forced in part by the emergence of godless, naturalist philosophies such as Buddhism and Jainism, and the Purva Mimamsa tradition of Vedanta, which declared the non-existence of God ‘with a form’ and that there really was no need to postulate the existence of a Creator for this universe, a thought interestingly in consonance with the Parabrahman of the Rig Veda. After a brief burst of dominance, the Purva Mimamsa school faded into oblivion, unable to hold the appeal of masses more attuned to visual allegories, practical metaphors and pantheons of deities. In fact,India led a Reuters survey on the “many gods question” with 24 percent of Indians declaring their “openness to believing in many gods and in gods of not just their religion”. The Hindu tradition has been to co-opt, not compete. It has been to embrace rather than reject, perhaps one of the reasons it survived the onslaught of competition over time.

Is God alive in the 21st century?

As far as questions go, this is an odd one. Is God is still alive in the twenty-first century? Was belief in God only a solace in times of famine? Was He perhaps a last resort for Greeks to make sense of thunder and lightning? Do we need God? Is He still our “ultimate concern” Or have we, the human species, lost God somewhere in the woods of our self-centred rituals?

Despite the plethora of predictions for centuries by prominent scientists and intellectuals regarding the disappearance of belief in God, today it is evident that the secularization thesis has failed.  Nietzche is gone. God is not. So much for Ubermensch and nihilism, although one could argue that some sort of passive nihilism was always an undercurrent of and continues to stay alive in Vedanta, Buddhism and Jainism, the great movements that arose in the East long before Nietzche learned his alphabets.

According to a Reuters poll, belief in a god, or a supreme being, and some sort of afterlife is strong around the globe. Well over fifty percent of people across 23 countries who took part in the survey said they were convinced there is an afterlife and a divine entity, while 18 percent said they don’t believe in a god and 17 percent weren’t sure.

According to a Pew report on religion in the United States, a staggering ninety two percent of people stated that they believed in God or a higher power. Even in Europe, that bastion of secularism and cradle of “western enlightenment”, over fifty percent of the population continues to express belief in the existence of God.

It is evident that rumours of God’s demise have been grossly exaggerated. The “big 5” religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism) continue to thrive, and the faithful continue to be strong in numbers.

What happened?

Proponents of secularization incorrectly imagined that scientific advancement would render superstition unnecessary and would wean us away from god(s). The fallacy in this hypothesis is that humans are not, and have never really been interested in more information on quantum physics, selfish genes and angry birds. Instead, human angst is existential and wells from questions such as “who created me?”, “why am I here?” and “what happens to me when I die?” – enquiries that science and technology have not really come anywhere close to addressing convincingly or palatably.

“Nothing in Particular”

The numbers from the Pew report of the survey done in the US, the world’s melting pot and the most influential country in the world, tell a fascinating tale. For example, there are as many Buddhists as Muslims in the United States. Bet you wouldn’t have guessed that. What’s really mind blowing is that the largest single group in the US, next to Christians, is “unaffiliated”, at 16% of those surveyed in the Pew report.  This group includes atheists (1.6%), agnostics (2.4%) and a category interestingly denominated “nothing in particular” which clocked an astounding 12 percent of those surveyed.

Now, think about that for a minute. Slightly more than 1 out of every 10 persons in the world’s most affluent country describes themselves as belonging to “nothing in particular”. They are not atheist. Not agnostic. Instead, they are “nothing in particular”. This category is the fastest growing religious demographic in the United States.

Secular movements and scientific progress have not wiped out religion. But, it appears that the organized religions of the world are simultaneously losing their grip, thanks in measure to their own brand of inadequacy in dealing with human existential angst. In short, this tale is far from being over, and might have a few twists left in it.

My take

Questions in people’s lives, addressed by neither science nor mainstream religion, are being increasingly answered by articulate and sophisticated gurus like Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle, new age preachers like Oprah Winfrey and Tony Robbins, dynamic swamijis like Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravishankar and militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. We predict that this millennium will witness the implosion of the big five religions into a buffet of disaggregated modules, which in turn, will be packaged, re-branded and sold by enterprising entrepreneurs to niche markets. A blossoming of a thousand Arab springs in the world of organized religion, if you will.

To aspiring entrepreneurs looking to capitalize on this burgeoning market, we are excited to provide a guide to ideating, commercializing and scaling of your endeavour. Here are excerpts from our “A Dummy’s Guide to Starting a New Religion”, a Laughing Gas magnum opus, which is yet unwritten but slated to be available on Amazon before the end of next year.

The What Ho! Guide to Starting Your Own Religion

Clear mission is key

As obvious as it seems, a clear mission is key. Remember that some day, you will have millions or even billions of followers. You should aim to convert as many of them as possible to willing and purposeful missionaries, who actually understand your mission. A mission statement should be easily translatable into 105 languages.

 Bad example:

“Our mission is to assertively network economically sound methods of spiritual empowerment so that we may continually negotiate performance based outcomes in the hereafter”

 Good example:

“A stupa in every zip code”

Segment the market, find a profitable niche, and position yourself to differentiate

 There was a time when only the fool and his money were parted. It now happens to everybody. Study the market and identify those most willing to part with their checks and craft a well designed story for them.

A little bit of Zen, a dash of karma, heavy doses of instant gratification and no talk of Hell, for example, is likely to do well in the lucrative sub-segments of aging Hollywood stars, high achieving entrepreneurs and corporate honchos.

The product definition checklist

 Now that you have identified your customer, define your product to meet his deepest and darkest longings. Here’s a little checklist to help you get going.

 First, decide if you will have a God, many Gods or no God.  There are large sized markets for each.

Second, state your position on the Hereafter – is there one? Or does it go dark when the lights go out? Is there a velvety cool blackness or are you reborn as a North African dictator?

Hints: Happiness and heaven are in. Hell is out.  Those looking into Western European markets should keep in mind that the survey says that 20 percent of Britons, who believe in life after death, can’t wait to speak to Lady Diana in the post bucket kicking phase.

Third, be intriguingly vague on creation. Statements like “In the beginning, there was this huge, monstrously big bang” have been known to resonate very well among the scientific types.

Fourth, decide if you want to keep things open or closed?

Should you “open source” your religion or should you keep it “closed and proprietary”. In other words, are the devout allowed to tinker with the ‘source code of conduct’, make stuff up and add as they go along? Or perhaps, you’d prefer to keep things “inside the house” and lock everything down?

Open sourcing is about freedom and flexibility, things which aids growth and survival over the long haul. Hinduism is a great example of an open source religion. There are two major problems with this, though. First – random folks will add random features that no one needs. Was there ever really a crying need for goat sacrifices? Second – open source systems tend to become so complex and confusing over time that a robust support infrastructure is required. Which means the glory (and the money) goes to the myriad swamijis, gurus and babas, who support the system by interpreting it, rather than the original founders. Keeping things locked down, on the other hand, has its benefits as you, and you alone, control the user experience.

This decision will have a bearing on your personal fortune and fame. Two men recently died within a week of each other. One championed proprietary, locked down systems and ruled that universe with an iron hand. This man, Steve Jobs, was eulogized by half the world and their pets within hours of his passing. The other invented the C programming language and helped write Unix, the precursor of open source systems. Bet you didn’t even know that his name was Dennis Ritchie. So, open source or proprietary? A lot depends on how big a dent you want to make on the universe.

Urgent and compelling call to action

Selling is a transaction that involves the completion of an exchange of (typically) money for something of value (a product or a service). The operative word in that sentence being “completion”. Sales is about ‘closing the deal’.

Nothing closes the deal better than an urgent and compelling “call to action”. Older religions have floundered not because of lack of salesmen, as is believed, but in reality because of lack of a compelling case for timely subscription.

For example, the pitch –  “Get on the train NOW, or rot in Hell forever when the world ends 60 days from now” yielded amazing results for a certain Paul of Damascus around 33AD. In contrast, the pitch “Here’s a list of eight things you can do to be happy” didn’t exactly set things on fire for a certain Sakhyamuni in 600BC.

No such thing as bad publicity

As the adage goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Jigging things up to be jihadi and crusade friendly, making wild and inaccurate Doomsday predictions, carefully timed bouts of acid dropping and ashram hopping might attract controversial attention. But they will raise awareness levels, draw traffic to your website and garner you thousands of twitter followers.

A less understood strategy to stay in public consciousness has to do with the number of national holidays that your religion will require. Our take is that a real religion should require not less than 6 fixed national holidays and 3 floating ones. Whatever you do, do not err on the side of “too few”. The greater your number, the more popular you are likely to be in India, Spain and Brazil– all very populous countries.

On the importance of nomenclature

Most budding entrepreneurs don’t grasp the significance of naming things properly, and how the name really is, at the end of the day, the only thing that makes the difference between astonishing success and abysmal failure. Instead, they rely on advice of dead English dramatists. “What’s in a name?”, you may ask. That never stopped Sergie and Larry from naming their company after a fictitiously humongous number, which as it turned out, could be easily “verbized”. Don’t believe us? Google it and ye shall see. Naming after fruits is risky unless you’re an acid dropping, ashram hopping, unbreakable, air-bending, off-kilter genius with a sixth sense who can ‘see dead products’. Names starting with Z sound cool.

Last but not the least, figure out what you want to call those who don’t sign on to your school of thought. Calling them infidels, traitors or heretics and condemning them to eternal damnation might not be the best way of making friends and winning them over.

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently. Here’s to you, our brave new cult leaders of a brave new millenium. Carpe diem. Seize the check. God bless.

Disclaimer: Lots of research went into this article. But, no priests, rabbis, gurus, lamas or militant atheists were harmed during its making.

The What Ho! Guide to Economics

Long long ago, there lived a farmer named Jack. He had a beautiful wife and two lovely young children. Jack was very proud of his family and worked very hard every day in his field to raise crops and vegetables so they could live comfortably. In a few years, he built a nice little house for them. All was well and they lived happily and went to church every Sunday in the finest of attire. One day, unhappiness came to visit Jack’s house. He came back home to find his wife brooding and sulking. He enquired gently at first and then sternly but his wife sat silent and sullen. Finally, she said, “Why is that you work so hard and we are still so poor? The rich have bigger houses and finer clothes and lead an easier life”

Jack thought over his wife’s words. And he continued to ponder it the next day as he ate lunch under the shade of a benevolent tree in the middle of his land. As he pondered, he fell into a deep reverie. As he lay asleep, a fairy came in his dream and asked, “Why are you unhappy, Jack?” Jack recounted his conversation with his wife to the fairy, upon which she asked, “Ask me a wish and it shall be granted”. Jack was overjoyed and wished that all the riches in the world would disappear so his wife would have no reason to envy opulent neighbors. The fairy said, “Your wish is granted”. Jack profusely thanked the fairy to which she said, “Why don’t you wait for one day and come back here to thank me?”

In the evening, when Jack went back home, he found his wife and children in tears. Their finest China plates had been reduced to ordinary earthenware and their fine Sunday attire lay in tatters and ruins. His wife sobbed, “What have we done to deserve this misfortune?”. Jack stayed silent, not wishing to reveal his part in the way things turned out. The next afternoon, when the fairy came to visit him, he said, “I have erred grievously. It is not by removing riches that I can make my wife happy. It is by having more that I can make her joyous. Can you change my wish so that workers like me get the highest of prices for our goods? Our coffers will then fill to the brim from the money we get from the rich”

The fairy nodded and granted his wish. When he attempted to thank her, she said, “Why don’t you come back in a month and thank me?”

That evening when Jack went home, he found his wife overjoyed. “This afternoon, I got twice as much money for our produce than yesterday. Look at all this money. If this continues, we will be able to build a house twice as big and have clothes twice as grand”. Jack smiled, but chose not to reveal his role as something troubled him about their new riches. A few days later, he observed that everyone in the village was overjoyed at getting enormously higher prices for what they sold. He felt happy but stayed silent. After a few weeks, the prices were so high that no one was able to buy anything anymore no matter how much money they had. His heart sank when he heard his friends mutter, “Who has cast this misfortune on us that our goods are so expensive that we cannot sell them anymore”

When the fairy came to visit him at the end of the month, Jack begged her to change his wish. “It is not by making the rich poor, or making more money that we can be happy. It is only through organization that we can ensure that every one is treated fairly. I wish for a great giant to appear and ensure that all goods are produced on time and sold at fair prices, so we do not have to worry about such things”  The fairy replied, “So be it. Come back and thank me in one year”

When Jack went home that evening, he heard the astounding news. “There has been a revolution. A giant has appeared in our midst, and he has opened something called a factory. He wants all of us to go to this factory every day and do what he says. And, in exchange, he will give us money and take care of us”. The next morning everyone on the street went to the factory and the giant gave them their instructions. “Do precisely what I tell you and nothing more. If you do as I say, you will have nothing to worry”

This situation carried on satisfactorily for a few months. Everyone in the village went back to their happy and contented states of well being. They did not worry about tomorrow. The giant took care of everything. All they did was to show up and follow instructions. After a few months, discontent began to seep in. The giant had grown bigger, and his head grew even larger than the rest of his body. As his head grew larger, it made the giant hungrier. So, the giant kept more and more of the money and food for himself and distributed the meager rest to the people. One day, the head of the town was heard to remark, “We do all the work. But, the giant is keeping everything for himself. This is not fair”. Soon, many in the village formed a group that they called the union, and the union went to the talk to the giant about his unfair ways. The giant laughed at and ridiculed them for being foolish. “I take care of everything so you don’t have to worry about tomorrow. Do not forget that”, he retorted. But, the people were not satisfied and continued to argue with and yell at the giant. Soon, the factory stopped producing what it used to and fell into a state of disrepair. The giant lay listless and hungry and the angry people now got even less than what they used to. Things came to a pass one day when Jack’s son, who had just turned eighteen, told him, “I curse the man who created this giant. He has caused us nothing but misery”. Jack was saddened to hear his son’s words.

When the fairy came to visit him at the end of the year, he told her, “It is not organization. It is authority that makes things works. I wish for a creature which can control this evil giant and make him distribute profits equally to all the people”. The fairy smiled and said, “I will grant your wish and let us meet again in ten years before you thank me”

That evening, a magical creature arose in the land. It had a thousand eyes and a hundred arms which looked like tentacles. It had no legs to stand on or a face to look at. It seized the giant, cast chains around its neck and legs and brought it under its control. The people rejoiced, for the tyranny of the giant had been ended. The magical creature called itself the “government”. The creature told the giant to keep working as it always did and, in exchange, it promised to keep feeding it so it wouldn’t have to worry about tomorrow. The giant had no choice but to play along. Years passed by, and the giant became lazy and grew so big that it couldn’t work as hard as it used to. Indeed, it lost all its desire to do anything. It didn’t matter because the magical creature kept feeding the giant no matter what it did.

Jack grew older and feebler. As he sat on his rocking chair in the porch, he wondered about what he had done. There was no more of happiness. There were giants and magical creatures and they didn’t care much for the people. The people had lost their trust in the way things worked. They complained loudly and bitterly about the magical creature, which had promised so much and had let them down. So Jack wondered where the solution lay.

Ten years passed, and the fairy came to visit Jack as he sat on his chair. And he said, “I think I have the solution. I wish for an army of pixies, goblins, gnomes, dwarves and elves which can slay the giant. I wish for the magical creature to lose its magical powers. It is not organization. It is not authority. We need to free the little creatures so they can fight the government and the giants”. “The fairy granted his wish and asked. “Do you wish to thank me now or would you like to wait a hundred years?”, she asked. Jack replied, “I will not be alive in a hundred years. I wish for you to meet my grandson and ask him what he thinks”. The fairy smiled and agreed.

A wondrous event happened in the town that night. An army of pixies, dwarves, elves, goblins and gnomes descended on the town. They carried little wands, swords, daggers and spears and other weapons. They rushed at the giant, and each took turns to maim and dismember him until just the body and the head was left and the giant lay barely alive. Finally, a handsome young warrior on a horse rushed in with a great big sword and slew the giant by cutting his head off. The villagers cheered at the downfall of the giant and his lazy and uncaring ways. The army of these little creatures did not stop with the giant. They ran around slaying whatever they could get their hands on, and eating whatever they could find. Indeed, these little creatures did not want to stay little. They wanted to grow up and become giants themselves. They fell upon each other and bloody warfare and mayhem was the order of the day. The villagers watched in fear and trepidation as they did not know what the days portended. The creatures were selfish, and all they cared about was feeding their bellies and fattening their calves. Such was the nature of these creatures. It became the responsibility of the people to nurse the wounded back to health or give them proper burials. Soon, the people grew tired of being undertakers and digging graves to bury the dead. One day, it was known that the handsome warrior on the horse and magical creature had joined hands secretly to slay all the other creatures. Carcasses piled up on the streets and their stink filled the entire town.

A hundred years passed by, and Jack and his son passed on. The house came to Jack’s grandson, who was a thinking man. Jack’s grandson was also named Jack. One day, Jack sat in his car wondering where things had gone wrong and how people’s lives had come to be filled with such misgiving and dread. And as he sat wondering, the fairy came to visit him. She told him about his grandfather Jack and the wishes she had granted.

“Would you like to make a wish, Jack?”, she asked.

Jack – the grandson – was surprised. But, he was a quick thinker. He replied, “My dear fairy, I’ve been thinking all these years about the things that have happened since good ol’ grandpa Jack’s days. I think that the old man had it all wrong”

The fairy was surprised. She stayed silent as Jack continued.

“It’s not about hard work. It’s not about being organized. It’s not about being fair. It’s not about any of these things. It’s not about wishing good things for others. It’s a dog eat dog world, and it’s every man for himself. It’s about being selfish to the core, and wishing good things only for yourself. I’d like you to turn me into a creature completely lacking in any skills or talent. A creature that is so devious and manipulating that he becomes fabulously wealthy as a result of his utter lack of concern for society at large”

The fairy was taken aback on hearing this. She wondered how she could make Jack’s wish come true. She racked her brain a thousand different ways. Finally, she waved her wand and transformed Jack into the creature that he’d asked to become.

That, boys and girls, is the story of how Suresh Kalmadi came to inhabit this planet.

The What Ho! Guide to Handling Queues in India

The word “queue” traces its origins to the Latin “coda” or “cauda” for “tail”. It came to English via French (and Italian) and was first used to describe the “tail of a beast” and then extended to “a line of dancers”. The verb in its modern context of “to stand in a line” is recorded only from 1927, and was popularized by Winston Churchill, when he coined the term Queuetopia to describe Britain under Labor governments

In the relatively short time it’s been around, the word has gone from strength to strength and now even has a branch of mathematics named after it. Queueing theory (the study of queues) has applications in every aspect of life from retail stores through urban transportation planning to air traffic control, not to mention software, telephony, networking and manufacturing. At the heart of it, queuing theory is about modeling queuing behaviors and devising the speediest mechanisms to dispense services to different types of queues. While there are many and varied benefits that have accrued from this science, one of its great failings has been to sufficiently understand and predict queuing behaviors of Indians, a problem which is now considered by many to be the Holy Grail of research.

Lateral Thinking (and Movement)

The real reason why queuing theories have been unable to predict behaviors of Indian queues has to do with what is called non-linear or lateral thinking. Linear thinking is what most of us engage in, most of the time, and is defined as rational, logical and analytical thinking. In contrast, non-linear or lateral thinking is based on intuition and creativity. Another perspective is to look at linear thinking as related to cognitive intelligence, and lateral thinking as related to emotional intelligence.

Fun lateral thinking puzzle: A man fell out of a twenty storey building on to the ground, and survived. How?

When queuing theories built on logic collide with the abundance of emotive intelligence and lateral movements found in our Indian brethren, it leads to fascinating and exotic results. Interestingly, cultural and philosophical differences around concepts of time and space influence behavior in queues. An example: People in India, China and other Asian cultures tend to care about the number of people behind them in queue, while folks in the west care more about the number ahead of them. No wonder the queues in the West tend to be orderly and straight, while those in the east are more like chaotic bell curves in a jail breakout.

The What Ho! Guide to Handling Queues in India

There are 5 types of queue crashers in India. All you have to do is to keep an eye out for them and ensure they don’t succeed in their nefarious intentions.

5. The Wonder Woman

Two hundred or more years back, the British instituted a protocol of serving women first in queues, no matter when they arrived. Although the Indian society has become less chivalrous over the years, the wonder woman act still works in platform ticket counters and select movie theaters to this day. The beauty of this method is in its simplicity. It involves sending in a member of the gentler sex, who can use her elbows freely and not so gently to make her way to the top of queues.

4. The Gate Crasher

Gate Crashers tend to be stocky, moustached males, and amble in wearing spotless white dhotis and shirts, accompanied by entourages of similarly attired and countenanced individuals. Standard operating procedure is to talk loudly and rudely on a mobile phone, (thus creating an intimidating aura of ‘don’t even think about messing with me’), and casually sauntering up to the ticket booth and taking it over for extended periods of time while other queuer-uppers cower meekly in silence.

If your profile attributes don’t include stockiness, male gender, moustaches and color coordinated large entourages, bodily harm can ensue as a consequence of any attempt to execute this technique.

3. The Crash Cult Member

We suspect that a Queuing Freemason Cult (QFC) has quietly built up membership of gargantuan proportions in this country. Upon flashing of the QFC signal, a member already in the queue warmly greets a stranger (but a fellow cult brother) outside the queue, and skillfully inducts the aforementioned cult brother into the queue exactly at the time of being served. Not infrequently, clerks at counters are also QFC members, who weave in dispensation of services to fellow cult crashers in the guise of casual chit-chat, while an unsuspecting public dutifully awaits its turn.

Part of the Crash Cult Member genus is the ‘Socializer’, who, though not a cult member, has the uncanny knack of spotting fourth cousins, distant relatives or long lost friends in a queue within a few seconds, and immediately proceeds to deploy “the Artful Mingler” technique (see no. 2 below) to maximum effect.

2. The Artful Mingler

The Artful Mingler represents the pinnacle of not just lateral thinking, but also of agile, lateral movements. He sidles and sidles alongside in an imaginary queue, immune to perplexed glances and baleful stares. The modus operandi involves spraying of malodorants (yes, we just made this word up) on self beforehand, gradually escalating levels of physical contact, and resolute squeezing into the line as the queue heads to its climactic finale.

A less successful variant of the Artful Mingler is the “Seemingly Absent Minded Mingler”, who puts on a convincing act of absentmindedness to insert himself into the queue, and will neither cease nor desist until the severest of admonishments come his way. Often expresses genuine indignation and insincere remorse immediately prior to being ejected from queues.

1. The Human Nano Particle Dart

The Human Nano Particle Dart’s distinguishing traits are the ability to spot gaps of sub-atomic magnitudes in queues, and the equally astonishing capacity to insert self into such gaps at the speed of light. Insertion methods involve use of fingers, toes or nails to stake claim to a place in the queue. Human Nano Particle Darts have been observed to obtain best results during early stages of queue formation, when confusion and chaos reign supreme. They are considered by some to be fuzzy, quantum versions of the “Artful Minglers”, though they neither mingle nor are artful.

Have any fun queuing experiences? Pray, please share.

Answer to puzzle: He fell out of the ground floor.

The What Ho! Guide to Growing the Indian Economy

Growing the Indian economy at 10-12% year-on-year is not as hard as it is made out to be. All it requires is an understanding of the following factors that influence an economy in any part of the world, especially in India.

1. Belief in Hell. 

You have always believed that the ship of the country’s economy is one where the wheel is firmly in the hands of the Reserve Bank governor. RBI sets interest rates, controls liquidity, tracks the velocity of money, monitors inflation, yadda yadda.. so we have heard. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is now widely believed that the health of the economy is, in fact, controlled by a handful of corporate and political types who plunder the treasury in plain sight, dole out sickeningly nepotistic favors to kith and kin and have turned this country into their personal Disneyland. What will stop this inexhaustibly long list of inveterate criminals from their next round of plunder and pillage when they decide that more is better?

According to this study done at Harvard, a country’s belief in hell correlates with its economic development. Researchers analyzed forty years of data and came to the conclusion that the more the population believes in a flaming purgatory, the better are its chances of being less corrupt and becoming more economically advanced. It turns out that belief in eternal damnation is the only thing that stops us all from turning into monstrous jerks. It is interesting to note that belief in God does not cut the mustard. It’s belief in Lucifer that is critical to a nation’s prosperity. The threat of being run over by a herd of mad buffaloes or being boiled alive in a vat of horse urine postmortem is what keeps us on the straight and narrow.

2. The Sun

It is well known that sunny days lead to sunny dispositions. No one, ever in the history of mankind, leapt out on the streets on a cold, rainy day with a song on their lips. You don’t do that. Not unless you live in Transylvania and your name is Dracula.

Research again proves time and again that sunny days breed hope and optimism in human hearts. Exactly the kind of optimism and hope required to splurge ten grand on a dress. You know the one that will make you wonder for the rest of your life about that temporary moment of insanity in which the deed was done. Hope and optimism make people spend more. When they spend more, the economy hums contentedly like a bee in springtime.

3. The Moon

For the longest time, waxing and waning of the moon has been connected to many things from psychological disorders to homicidal violence to suicides. We can add one more feather to the lunar cycle cap. Turns out there is more to folklore than what meets the eye. According to a study published in Harvard Business Review, “…in the 15 days surrounding full moon dates, stock market returns are about half what they are in the 15 days around a new moon”. In other words, stocks and werewolves are not made for each other.

4. The Day of the Week

Let’s face it. None of us look forward to the weekly restart of bedlam on Monday mornings. Mondays officially became the worst days of the week in the post Industrial Revolution era of organized work. And, you guessed right, it’s true for the stock market as well. Mondays are the worst days for Dalal Street, and Wednesdays are best. Fridays, as Navjyot Singh Sidhu would say, are like wives. Hard to tell which way they will go.

You heard it here, folks: Devil worship, 40 degrees Celsius, Amavasya and Wednesdays. The secrets to a 12 pct GDP growth.

And, you thought you knew it all. In a world filled with noise and confusion, there is only one source for clarity and precision in thought: What Ho!

The What Ho! Guide to Honking on Indian Roads

 Recently, someone suggested I write about the delightful practice of honking on Indian roads. After mulling this suggestion over for all of two seconds, I decided that I would go even further. Like Starship Enterprise. I would go where no man has ventured before and scientifically explain this riveting “Only in India” phenomenon, which has inexplicably been left unstudied by scientists of repute till date.

The Horn and The Human Body

In most countries, the horn is analogous to the appendix in the human body. A vestige of times past, the horn is largely unused except, of course, by New York cabbies, who must certainly have Indian DNA floating around somewhere in their systems. Honking is typically an unusual event in the West – much like the sounding of the siren during war. If you heard one, it usually meant that something really bad was going on, like the driver was about to hit something or had been cut off on the freeway.

In India, the horn occupies a status at par with the central nervous system. It confers important and critical evolutionary advantages. In the Indian traffic jungle occupied by bicycles, motor cycles, autos, cars, trucks and buses, the blessed horn is the primary means of signaling important messages such as “Dude, I’m here. I’d like to stay alive till my next bonus” to fellow ecosystem occupants.

How did the horn come to occupy such an important position in our society?

There is only one possible explanation. And, as always, we must start at the beginning with how something we are all familiar with – eyesight – works.  The human body is no more than a loosely held federation of bones and flesh, governed by the brain with inputs from a sensory system through a mass of nerves that run up and down from the brain. A notable aspect of the human sensory system is “visual perception”, the ability to interpret information on the surroundings from the effects of visible light reaching the eye. This perception is also known as eyesight, sight or vision. The lack of such perception is referred to as blindness. We’ve all heard the phrase “blind as a bat”. That’s because bats have poor visual perception. They rely on sonar to navigate their way around. To put it in a nutshell, bats have bad eyesight but great hearing.

Close observation of Indian drivers reveals an astounding ability among these species of Homo Sapiens to instantly switch to a “bat-like horn-sonar” based mechanism to detect objects in the vicinity when they get on the roads behind the wheels. Equally astonishing is the ability to filter out and ignore any inputs from the visual perception system.  The maha vakhyas of India road vedanta spell out the inviolable dharmas of driving that govern the lives of pedestrian and driver beings in this universe.

Honking on Indian Roads: The Mahavakhyas

The pedestrian mahavakhya goes “I don’t see you and will assume that the coast is clear until you honk”, rebutted by the honker dharma of “If I honk and receive no response, I have a right to assume that there is nothing unreasonable about continuing to zip along a 20ft wide street in a residential neighborhood

The Indian road dharma, in fact, is to honk everyone to safety, a practice reported in the Rig Veda and implemented around 300BC during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya when fast moving chariots were outfitted with men sounding trumpets as the jalopies trundled through city streets and state highways.

So, it should come as no surprise to anyone, to us Indians of all, that fast moving vehicles, animals and pedestrians will blindly go about their merry ways unless honked at and warned of impending peril.

Proof in the Pudding

Here’s an example. A few weeks back, I was cruising along at 45 kmph on the Outer Ring Road in Bangalore, a luxurious speed by any standards. Further ahead, I espied a couple of gentlemen, who at first glance, appeared to be in two minds (or was it four?) as to – whether to cross the road or not. While they held their 1-on-1 in the middle of the road, debating the relative merits of “to cross or not to cross”, they casually watched my car hurtling itself in a straight line towards them. My right hand lay ready, poised to sound the horn, a-la Clint Eastwood ready to pull the trigger on a bunch of uglies at high noon. And my left hand wrapped itself around the hand brake lever. On that high noon, I was confident that they had spotted me, would take timely evasive action and the trigger would not need to be pulled. My nerves finally cracked and I succumbed to sounding the bugle. The result was an immediate disbandment of 1-on-1 and  a scattering of the individuals – each in a different direction.

These otherwise fine gentlemen had completely suspended their powers of visual perception, naturally assumed that all was kosher in the absence of honking, but acted expeditiously and randomly upon receipt of auditory signals. Quod Erat Demonstratum, which is Punjabi for “I told you so”. I have not rested my case. There’s more.

More Encounters of the Weird Kind

How else do you explain the Indian law that fines you Rs 250, if you drive with headlights *ON* during daylight? The same law does not treat driving *without* headlights on during night as an offence! Headlights at night apparently are optional, preferably turned on just prior to head on impact with oncoming vehicles, livestock or road barriers.

How else can you explain the invariable and random honking that spontaneously erupts when traffic slows to a crawl on congested roads, an occurrence that Bangalore denizens are more likely to have experienced firsthand than others? The only explanation can be impairment of visual perception, causing drivers to resort to horn SOS-es in the irrational hope that the simultaneous sounding of a thousand horns will cause traffic to evaporate instantaneously.

Epilogue

The factory installed horn on my Honda, after a swashbuckling innings at the crease, appears to be giving up its ghost and readying itself for horn heaven, where good horns go when they die. These days, it  bleats at painfully low decibel levels, causing severe consternation to my driver, who is having withdrawal symptoms not unlike a Wall Street broker deprived of his Blackberry. I mean, not even puppies on the street are giving us the time of the day.  Not to mention the fact that my driver comes from the school of thought that believes that the engine will switch itself off unless the horn is used every two minutes or so.

It’s probably about time we moved up the pecking order to one of these electric, polyphonic bad boys which can blast rhinos and elephants out of the way!