Man alleges elderly relative reneged on promise to “cut a long story short”

CHENNAI. JULY 17, 2013.  Describing it as a “nightmarish experience,” Avinash Iyer, 24, claimed that an elderly relative who engaged him in conversation at a cousin’s wedding went back on a promise to “cut a long story short,” and alleged that he was coerced into listening to the full version which lasted well over an hour.

“It was kind of a rough ordeal and I’m still hazy about the details of how the whole thing got started. I was seated next to my uncle at my cousin’s wedding. The exchange started off innocently enough but before long, I realized that I had been slowly drawn into a hellish web of deceit and fraud. When he first began recounting his frustration with the newspaper arriving late in the mornings, I nodded politely, naively believing it to be the easiest way out of a tricky situation. In retrospect, that may have been the fatal move which sealed my fate. As he began to relentlessly delve into completely unnecessary details of his altercations with the newspaper delivery boy (who, I was told, also delivered milk and equally erratically), I developed a vague foreboding of doom and began fidgeting nervously in my seat. Sensing my impatience, (I swear) he made a clear and unequivocal promise to cut a long story short, an undertaking that was not honored at any point in the conversation. In any case, how an innocent conversation around newspaper delivery turned into a mind numbing discourse on the deteriorating state of journalism in the country boggles my mind, which continues to recover from the unanticipated ruthless assault on it. I was told later that I was observed to be in a state of uncomprehending daze for well over an hour by various passers-by and onlookers, before being rescued by my elder brother at lunch time,” said an emotional Avinash who seemed clearly shaken by the incident.

What Ho! has subsequently received confirmation from reliable insiders that the offender, identified as Sri. Sitaraman Iyer, 58, has been sequestered and isolated from contact with younger family members to avoid further untoward incidents during the wedding.

UPA govt announces the Right to Housing

This week’s What Ho! Report is brought to you by Mr. Wabbster (@wabbster on Twitter) aka Pradeep Ananth.  Mr. Wabbster is like half my age with twice the wit. Since that makes for an unfavorable comparison with the self, I will restrict myself to mutely waving you ahead to the treat he’s laid in front of us. Enjoy!

UPA govt announces the Right to Housing

 Buoyed by the success of eradicating hunger from our country through the Food Security Ordinance, the UPA government announced that it will now take on the scourge of homelessness that afflicts our citizens. The government announced a draft version of a bill which guarantees that all Indian citizens will get a roof over their heads. The Right to Housing Bill, as it is being called, calls for every middle class family to accommodate a minimum of 14 homeless people in their homes without compensation.

Announcing the measure at a press conference earlier today, Union Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Ms. Girija Vyas said, “The Empowered Group of Ministers tasked with solving the problem of homelessness looked at it from all angles including factors such as total available residential area, demographics such as religion, caste, sub caste, secular status and ownership of cats. And they have come up with a holistic and innovative zero loss method of providing homes to the homeless,” leading to political pundits unanimously hailing it as the first known use of the expressions “holistic” and “zero loss” in the same sentence in the history of mankind.

Clarifying the reasoning behind the move, Ms. Vyas added, “There are a couple of fundamental concepts that form the basis of this measure. The first is the notion that mere announcement of the right to ‘X’ has a magical way of making ‘X’ appear out of thin air. The second is that if an option to inflict severe pain on the middle class is available, the government must always exercise the option. We have taken these two epic concepts and mixed them up with caste and religion based quotas to achieve God level here.”

When prodded to elaborate, Ms. Vyas snapped, “Look, a lot of space is wasted by selfish middle class people who use homes as storage areas for their stuff. Tell me why middle class people need homes when they hardly spend any time there? They spend 13 hours in the office, another 3 hours on commuting on god awful roads through messy traffic and the rest of the time filling out income tax returns. They don’t even spend weekends at home. Instead, they go on road trips or to malls, take selfies and post them on social media. In the meanwhile, their homes have stuff and stay locked and unused. This is a scam of gigantic proportions which puts both 2G and Coalgate scams in the shade. Now, it is our responsibility as a government to question citizens on such dubious home ownership patterns which have led to much presumptive loss being incurred in buying assets and not using them in a profitable manner.”

Mr. Kapil Sibal, present at the press conference and observed going into paroxysms of ecstasy on hearing “presumptive loss,” vigorously defended his colleague saying, “The way this works, each middle class family will be forced to accommodate a minimum of 14 homeless people in their homes without compensation. If they don’t already own homes, they will be required to buy homes immediately and allow 14 homeless people to stay in them. The cool thing about this bill is that minorities, SC/STs and OBCs are exempted from compliance. The measure also provides another easy way to dodge compliance by obtaining a secularism certificate personally signed by either Ms. Barkha Dutt or Ms. Sagarika Ghose.”

Mr. Manish Tewari also present at the conference merely had this to say, “I’m incredibly jazzed that my re-definition of the word holistic to mean I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about is being popularized by Ms. Vyas.”

When quizzed about the impact of the measure on real estate prices, an exasperated Mr. Sibal quickly intervened and said “Obviously zero yaar. Zero. Zero. Zero. Everything is a bloody zero. How many times do I have to repeat this nonsense?”

Unconfirmed reports suggest that the government is working on an equally innovative “Right to Clothes” bill. According to sources, the bill will provide for any shirtless or dress-less person to legally and physically remove clothing of middle class people (with the exception of secularism certificate holders, minorities, OBCs and SC/STs) at any point in time and begin wearing it themselves with immediate effect.

Brought to you by @wabbster with critically acclaimed contributions from moi. You can follow him on Twitter at @wabbster

The What Ho! Report is a collection of satire and fake news. Do not, I repeat, do not try this at home. We read the Times of India so you shouldn’t have to.

Friends of man who attended Vipassana detect no change in him at all

Despite Mr. Srijith Nair’s claims that his life had been ‘totally transformed’ by attending a two week meditation retreat conducted by the Vipaassana Buddhist foundation, his friends claimed that he’s still the “same shallow and self centred chap we’ve always known.”

“Yeah, we were all pretty surprised at first when we heard from our buddy Sri about the Foundation. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve always heard him talk about how his life was filled with emptiness and how he craved the simple pleasures in life. We always dismissed it as musings of a middle aged man who had one drink too many. Never in our wildest dreams did we believe that he had it in him to follow through on his thoughts. Naturally, we were all pretty excited for him when he told us about the retreat. Our expectations rocketed when we found that the Vipaassana camp is widely regarded for its unbending rigor and discipline. Ever since Sri’s return from the retreat, we’ve been observing him closely and I can categorically confirm that we have not been able to detect any change whatsoever in him at all. He continues to be the same shallow, immature and self serving Sri we’ve always known,” said Mr. Anand Hariharan, who studied with Mr. Nair in college and has remained a close friend ever since.

In the meanwhile, Mr Nair, according to friends and colleagues, continues to unapologetically project himself as “a changed man,” vehemently asserting his newly acquired spiritual credentials at every little opportunity. “Sri’s been acting rather funny. He’s now walking around with a detached air of superiority and sprinkling a liberal amount of Zen aphorisms into daily conversations. It’s like he’s suddenly become better than us,” complained a colleague who preferred to stay unnamed for this article.

A spokeswoman for the Foundation had this to say, “It’s not our policy to comment on changes which specific patrons may or not have experienced from attending our retreats. However, it is fair to say that such lack of fundamental transformation is normal and no cause for alarm. Everyone knows that human beings are basically survival machines with the selfish gene coded in. Notwithstanding Buddha’s unbridled optimism about human ability to adhere to the Noble Path, you must understand that people are basically incorrigible by nature. This too shall pass.”

From the What Ho! report

The Universe denies screwing a man’s life up

In what’s shaping up as the debate of the year, the Universe issued a strong statement, earlier this week, denying that it was either ‘messing around’ or ‘screwing up a man’s entire life up’ and in attempt at damage control sought to downplay the fracas as “shit happens.”

The saga of alleged sabotage, according to insiders, started with the birth of Mr. Sandeep Reddy, 34, in Hyderabad, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh. According to Mr. Reddy and his mother, the Universe had “consistently and unfailingly check mated him at every turn” in the thirty four years of Mr. Reddy’s planetary existence.

Sources close to Mr. Reddy believe that the Universe could have easily bestowed upon him a full head of hair, but instead chose to withdraw the privilege by the age of thirty. “We could go on and on about the damage that’s been done to Sandeep. There was, for example, this instance when he was miraculously close to booking a tatkal ticket on IRCTC. He had entered his CVV number and was just about to click ‘Confirm Purchase’ when the internet connection chose to mysteriously die. Come on, are you telling me that the Universe isn’t somehow involved in this somewhere?”

A spokesman for the Universe appeared to deflect Sandeep Reddy’s troubles back to Mr. Reddy himself,  suggesting that it had no role to play in human life events. “Mr. Reddy’s anger and frustration are understandable. When we examined his life records, it does seem like things haven’t quite panned out the way he’d have preferred them to. But it’s one thing to have a screwed up life and yet another thing to assign blame to a blameless party. We fear that Mr. Reddy’s observations are frankly without merit and based on a rather fantastic notion that we’re out here somehow plotting human downfall.”

In the meanwhile, a small group of men who claim to be friends of Mr. Reddy have launched a Facebook page in his support. “We’ve known Sandeep from his early days in kindergarten. Although he can be somewhat of a drama queen, his repeated failures in love and life, upon closer examination, appear suspiciously contrived and by design. What we once believed to be results of his inveterate alcoholism and inability to be thrifty or work hard now appear more to be consequences of a higher power’s autocratic manner of dispensing luck. We will not rest until a thousand people have liked our page,” said Mr. YVRK Manohar Prasad, who spoke on behalf of the “Sandeep versus The Universe” Facebook movement.

The escalating row appears to have put the Universe on the back foot. At a hastily convened press conference, its spokesman went into damage control mode and sought to down play the fracas as an inconsequential cosmic event. “Look, we deal daily with monumental events like giant black holes, stars blowing themselves up and the disconcerting lack of visibility of dark matter. The last thing we need is to be drawn into a dispute with an insignificant lump of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen on an insignificant planet. We stoutly deny culpability in the mishaps which seem to have pervaded Mr. Reddy’s life. Shit happens. We request Mr. Reddy to desist from further pointless finger pointing and blame games. No more looking up at the skies and “why me?” questions, please. As a conciliatory gesture, we offer the services of our Department of Time to assist in the healing process with no guarantees that any such healing may indeed occur.”

The Story of Bhishma

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

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

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

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

If I Became the Prime Minister of India

If I became the Prime Minister of India, here’s what I would do.

  1. Day 1 morning: I will conduct my swearing-in ceremony at 9am on a Monday over video conference from my desk in the office, while finalizing a proposal to completely eliminate paper money in five years. The bill will be taken to Lok Sabha by 11am. It will be passed within 15 minutes because every MP who votes for it will be “creatively rewarded” for doing so. Rajya Sabha MPs will be arrested if they don’t vote for the proposal.  Eliminating paper money will effectively eliminate bribes, kickbacks and theft of public money. Now that I’ve solved the problem of corruption in the first 2 hours of assuming office, I will now don my bullet proof vest and move onto other matters.
  2. Day 1 post lunch: Unknown to everyone, I will have sneaked in fine print in the aforementioned proposal which will impose a mandatory 1-term limit on every elected official in the country. This term limit will stay in effect for 50 years. In other words, no one will be allowed to return to any elected position irrespective of whether they have done a good or a bad job. I will thus have stripped the incentive for crooks, thugs, criminals, perverts, cheats and liars to become career politicians and increase their influence. Instead, this will lead to ordinary citizens stepping forward to represent the people by donating 5 years from their careers. They will hopefully make decisions in the best interests of the country. I will announce this in a nationally televised press conference, during which I will release my  own post-dated resignation letter with a legally binding commitment to not contest elections at the end of my tenure.
  3. Day 2: I presume that today will be Bharat Bandh, supported by all political parties including my own, who will all be deeply unhappy with me. I will smile wistfully as I prepare for a direct televised address to the people of India. In the address, I will inform citizens that rules of voting have been changed as follows:
    1. If a citizen is qualified to vote and is found to be not registered to vote, a fine of Rs. 10,000 per unregistered voter will be collected from the winning candidate in that constituency.
    2. If a citizen is qualified to vote and is registered to vote but has not voted, that citizen will be arrested if they use Facebook to bitch about me.
    3. Citizens will be asked to pick their top three voting issues. They will be given an exam for 100 marks on these issues. Votes will be assigned weighting based on marks in the test. For example, if a voter obtains 75 on 100, his vote will be assigned a 75% (=75/100) weight when counting. Voters will be assigned ranks based on their marks and they will vote in the order of the rank received. Voters obtaining 100% will be unconditionally granted the Bharat Ratna and allowed to treat the State Raj Bhavan as their personal guest house.
    4. I expect Kota and Hyderabad coaching centers to be set up by enterprising entrepreneurs to help citizens crack the voters exam and improve their ranks. Once these centers become successful, I will nationalize them.
  4. Day 3: It’s likely that the country has descended into shock and chaos by this point, and Arnab Goswami has been taken to the hospital after suffering a heart attack. I will take the day off to golf. This will give everyone time to ponder options about how they can get rid of me.
  5. Day 4, morning: I expect to have the login credentials with passwords for all Swiss accounts held by Indian citizens, from the team of four B. Tech. computer science students from IIT Madras whom I have hired for this purpose. The five of us will spend the morning sipping hot cups of coffee and silently transferring money from all the accounts into the government treasury. I expect to net $1.2 trillion dollars or higher. I will publish the final audited figures here on What Ho!. Each citizen will be mailed a check for $1000 equivalent in Indian rupees along with a box of Swiss chocolates within 14 days, through registered post, acknowledgement due.
  6. Day 4, Post lunch: I will announce a bill that will provide the constitutional rights to every citizen to 1. Drive on the wrong side of the road 2. Never have to stand in queues 3. Receive refund with interest to every Ram Gopal  Verma movie he may have seen in his life. I will also announce the appointment of superstar Rajnikant as the only minister in my Cabinet. He will hold approximately 64 portfolios at any point in time, and will be assisted by fresh IIM grads. I expect these measures to create an unstoppable wave of popularity that will overwhelm and remove all ill-will I may have created on Day 2.
  7. Day 5: I will conduct a triumphant Rath Yatra in four major cities during which I expect to be mobbed like Justin Bieber by school children. Songs from Dabangg 1 & 2 will be played at full blast wherever I go.
  8. Day 6: On this day, I will move with the purposefulness of a lion and the speed of a cheetah.
  9. Day 6, 11am: A call center with approximately 100,000 employees will be in place, made possible with the help of Airtel. These call center employees will call every elected official in the country to get status updates on projects. For example, “Have you fixed those three potholes on 2nd main 4th cross Koramangala?” will be repeated every 2 hours with the local councilor until the job is completed. A fine of Rs. 1 lakh will be levied on any official who does not answer the call.
  10. Day 6, 1pm:  I will now grandly announce that we have nabbed Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim through “Operation LeT Them Come To Us.” This operation will involve luring the duo to Mumbai on the promise of a Hindustan Times Leadership Summit keynote speech and a personal, warm interview with Barkha Dutt on NDTV.
  11. Day 6, 4pm: I will attend a special screening of Viswaroopam 2 only because both Kamal Hassan and Rajnikant invited me to join them, and that’s the way I roll.
  12. Day 6, 9pm: I will pour myself a stiff one, lean back on the sofa and watch the 1983 Prudential World Cup finals through the night in loop.

Day 7  onwards: Now that I have accomplished every goal I had set out to, I will spend the rest of my term solving the following more complex and intriguing problems, which pose a clear and present danger to the country’s well being:

  1. Can we get a minimum of 3 fast bowlers who can bowl at 140kmph+ into the Indian cricket team?
  2. Can we somehow ensure that neither Laloo Prasad nor ND Tiwari produce any more progeny?
  3. Nitin Gadkari & Khaki shorts: Can this be made to NEVER EVER happen again?
  4. Can we constitutionally levy super-taxes on any person who spouts uninformed opinions on Twitter?
  5. Can we work with the scientists at CERN to investigate Rahul Gandhi to identify specific skills, if any, that he may possess. These CERN guys found the God particle. This should give them an even bigger puzzle to solve.

Jai Ho. God bless India.

How accurate are fortune cookies?

Dear Dr. What Ho!,

I recently went out to dinner at this Chinese place, where I opened a fortune cookie which said the following-

“This year, you will be promoted because of your hard work and accomplishments.”

My annual review comes up in two weeks. Should I submit the fortune cookie message during the review in support of my demand for a raise and a promotion? How accurate are fortune cookies?

PS: I haven’t done any work over the last year. And neither do I have any accomplishments to speak of.

Yours truly,

Sushil Shinde.

*****

Dear Sushil,

The Chinese have been right about a number of things over thousands of years. Unfortunately, their fortune cookies which contain pearls of prognosis are not always accurate or trustworthy. Consider the following message I once got, much like you, at a reputable Chinese establishment.

“Your purse may be emptied, but your heart will be filled.”

Now tell me, what do the following have in common: Three sets of pillow covers+fitted sheets, half a dozen potted plants, a box of scented candles and a statuette of ambiguous gender which also doubles as a scented candle holder.

They will all appear as charges on your credit card after your missus has been out shopping, and will add up to thousands of rupees in (in my mind) needless emptying of the purse. This fortune cookie message clearly didn’t specify what my heart was going to be filled with.

As I said, deciphering fortune cookie messages can be fraught with peril and uncertainty. If you have accomplished as little as you have candidly confessed, I’m afraid that no amount of ancient wisdom can come between you and your imminent sacking which I foresee. You should perhaps cherish the days that remain on your job. Your days are numbered, my friend.

Best Regards,

Dr. What Ho!

10 Things You Need to Know About Twitter

To be honest, I’ve not (yet) met Subhorup “Subho” Dasgupta. But I look forward to that conspiracy of circumstances. I’m a regular reader of his blog.  How I stumbled on the blog is not interesting. What’s interesting is what happened after that. As I idly browsed Subho’s quirkily named Jejeune Diet, I did what any self respecting stalker would do, which was to click on his ‘About Me.’  There I found a person, who was about ‘intelligent writing and conversation’ and wished to be remembered for ‘doing something about it.’ Fascinated, I read more on his blog. A fan of Subho was thus born.

So, when he recently asked if I’d write for Jejeune Diet, saying yes was the easy part. Then came the pressure of having to live up to his readers’ expectations. When you write for a blog of which you are a fan, you become the writer and the reader simultaneously, and worry if you can bridge the twain.

 Here are a couple of things I’d like to request, before you click through and get over to Subho’s Jejeune Diet.

  1. Read his ‘About Me
  2. Read some of his wonderful posts. For starters, I recommend this moving piece about Janis Joplin

Not everything appeals to everyone. Indeed, I don’t always relate to everything Subho writes about.  But, here’s the thing. Sometimes, what is being written about doesn’t really matter when the quality of writing is high. That is the reason I read Subho regularly. I hope you will too.

Ok. I’m done. Without further ado, I present “10 Things You Must Know About Twitter” – my contribution to that awesome something that Subho is in the process of doing so well.

Click to continue reading.

Life Lessons From Bollywood Movies

I’ve watched my share of Bollywood films. And here are some powerful life lessons from Bollywood movies that I have learned on this rocky journey.

Disclaimer: Truth be told, I enjoyed watching some of the films referred to here. And of course, I mean all of this in a somewhat flippant, irreverent and humorous manner. 🙂

Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna

I came away from this movie convinced about the urgent need for a Jan Lokpal who will be dedicated to making sure that Karan Johar will never make a film again. KANK makes a telling point that if there are two couples, both unhappily married, the last thing they should do is to ask KJo to make a film about their marriages.

Veer Zaara

The biggest lesson from that incorrigible romantic Yash Chopra, bless his soul, was not in the movie. It’s in what happens after Veer and Zaara get married, a story yet untold. They lived as man and wife happily for many years until discovering that Zaara had, in fact, been born in India and adopted and raised by Pakistani parents. Since there’s nothing like the disappointment of marrying a fellow Indian when it comes to killing romance, Veer and Zaara naturally filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. Which just goes to prove that age old truism when it comes to selecting a mate, “Only opposites attract.”

Devdas

I can’t say I learnt anything from the fifteen minutes of watching this film, by which time I had swooned and fallen senseless by the coffee table. As I lay pondering in the ambulance on its way to the emergency ward, it dawned on me that if you spray enough perfume on it, even rubbish will exude an exhilarating aroma before it knocks you senseless with poison gases.

Munnabhai MBBS

If a lout coming in from the street can fake his way through medical college and rehabilitate a brain-dead person, the day is not far before computers begin replacing doctors. I was astonished to find that chronically ill people preferred “magic hugs” from a fake doctor from the neighborhood slum over systematic medical care. I was, however, not astonished to see some of them die before the movie ended.

Kal Ho Naa Ho

Until I witnessed this magnificent opus, I was just another ignorant puppy cruising merrily through the park of life. The movie’s brilliance stunned me in ways I would have never thought possible. For example, if you see a guy strolling around with a wistful smile, and breaking frequently into song and dance routines, it can mean only one thing. That he will reveal at some suitably inconvenient time later that he has cancer. And what I discovered about this guy was that – amazingly enough – for the sole reason that he has cancer, he can give Dalai Lama a run for his money when it comes to making profound observations on life. And, he does all of this with aplomb, wearing orange cargo pants and partying it up with neighbors who look like models from an ethnically diverse Benetton ad. MIND = BLOWN.

Lagaan

Cricket is a game of such glorious uncertainties that a bunch of untrained, clueless country bumpkins can beat the guys who invented the game on any given day. It was equally revelatory to  discover that English belles find short, tanned, rustic Indians irresistible.

Zindagi Na Milegi Do Bara

If you put three guys in the Spanish countryside, I guess it’s only a matter of time before they start dancing in the village square. I found this film to an excellent example of the oft-used Bollywood formula which involves shooting film footage in exotic locations first, then adding a soundtrack and finally inserting dialogues and actors into it, before releasing in theaters.

Chak De India

There are many lessons we can learn from sports. Put Bollywood and sports together and the possibilities begin to boggle the mind. The best coaches are mediocre players who’ve suffered some grievous humiliation in their own playing days. I confidently predict that Ravindra Jadeja will become one of the all-time greatest Indian cricket coaches around 2025.

Never ever miss a penalty stroke against Pakistan. Especially when you’re down 0-1, in the final few minutes of the game. The movie nicely drove home the point that, but for India-Pak sporting contests, we would all have turned into unpatriotic wretches by now.

Dabangg

You can be an aggressive fellow with anger management issues. You can be an eve teaser. You can even be a corrupt cop. No problem. All will be forgiven and forgotten if you are the local Robin Hood Pandey with a cool pair of Rayban glasses. Heck, if you’re the charismatic, roguish Chulbul, you can even suffocate the neighborhood ruffian to death right before you scamper off to tie the knot and walk around the fire with the girl of your choice in tow. And while this might seem obvious, it’s worth calling out that it’s never advisable to let a gloomy looking chap, whose factory just burnt down, bring a crate of mangoes into the premises.

Hum Tum

This movie provides rare insights for men on the fine art of wooing women. The best way to win a woman over, I observed, is to be sensitive, patient and thoughtful. You must give her enough space and time. This is how it works. Fall madly in love with her. Wait for her to marry some one else. Then bide your time patiently until her husband dies in a car crash. And, that’s when you make your move. To set her up with your best friend. By this time, the woman cannot have failed to notice the bizarre patterns in your behavior. She will naturally interpret it as ‘your feelings’ towards her. Deny the allegations immediately because you’re a sensitive guy and wouldn’t want to rush her. Then, accept these feelings exactly one year later. By this time, since you’ve exhausted all other options, go ahead and marry her. And have a baby girl right away. This movie taught me the important lesson that you should take an excruciating amount of time before you get married, but you must not bat an eyelid before having a baby.

A Wednesday

As Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar warned, “beware of lean, hungry men.” Nasiruddin Shah’s character has so many layers and much to teach us. He’s lean. He’s hungry. He’s disgruntled. He’s learnt how to rig computers, phones and SIM cards to be untraceable. He’s second to none when it comes to assembling remote detonators and dirty bombs. This movie makes a pretty solid case that higher education in engineering and science is a complete waste of time when Wikipedia is handily available.

Tare Zameen Par

If you’ve not been a good student while in school, don’t worry about it. Someday, like Aamir Khan, you too can make a movie to explain it away. This movie opened my eyes to the possibility that an art teacher hired on a temporary basis will go to extraordinary lengths to make his job permanent. It taught me that most fathers are evil men who want their children to do crazy things like study well, get great jobs and lead comfortable lives, while, at the end of the day, it is art teachers who continue to remain solitary beacons of hope to children everywhere.

Ra One

Sometimes one person’s bad karma manifests itself as a desire to make this really horrible movie which many others will watch due to their own bad karma. Let’s please observe a moment of silence in memory of the suffering, and unite in our firm resolve to never let a tragic calamity of such horrific proportion ever repeat in our lifetimes.

3 Idiots

Watching a movie can sometimes be the only way to wipe out the bad memories of the book it’s based on. Amen.

Talaash

When your subordinates see you making empty gestures in the air, and having conversations with an imaginary girlfriend, and yet they don’t feel comfortable giving you feedback about it, then something is clearly amiss with your management style. These are exactly the sorts of things they don’t teach at the IIMs. Talaash puts forth a powerful new management concept which involves building vibrant, friendly teams, and encourages open dialogue with things other than ghosts. It was fascinating to learn that women continue to wear high heels, lipstick and short skirts long after they are dead, but dispense with high heels, lipstick and short skirts if they’ve been married a while.

I want to enter politics. Kindly advise.

Dear Dr. What Ho!

I’m tired of working hard to make a living. So, I’m thinking of entering politics. But, I don’t know how to lie. I’m generally a truthful person. Will I ever be able to change my ways and become a successful politician? I want to enter politics. Kindly advise.

Sincerely,

Middle Class Muggle.

Dear Middle Class Muggle,

Thanks for writing.

Lying is easy. Just think of the truth and then say exactly the opposite. I’m sure you’ll become good at it over time, if you practice hard. But, I’m afraid that you might have misunderstood politics to be all about lying, which is not the case. I hope you’re aware that the word politics derives its meaning from the greek word ‘poly’ which means ‘many’ and ‘tics’ which are blood sucking insects. Research shows that successful politicians spend their time as illustrated in the chart below.

 politicians

As you can see, being an idiot is by far the single most important part of being a politician. Unless your IQ is lower than your age, I’d strongly recommend against pursuing this career option.

Sincerely.

Dr. What Ho!

A Letter From The King

Dear Visitor,

First, I’d like to thank Disney for teaching lions to speak English in a baritone that sounds a lot like James Earl Jones.

Let me come directly to the point. Who came up with the bright idea of driving jeeps through my jungle? If you think I like being stalked and photographed, you’ve got a sick mind, my friend. And, what  makes you believe that I cannot see you? Let me fill you in on something. If you want to stalk, driving around in a noisy contraption would not be the way to go. Don’t insult me by trying to stalk me. I’m a cat, for heaven’s sake. I stalk things. Things don’t stalk me.

Seriously, if I showed up in your backyard and got busy shooting pictures of you while hiding behind a flimsy bush, would you not notice? Dudes, mark my words and note them carefully. I can see you. If I can’t see you, I can smell you. And if I catch you, I will eat you.

I’m aware that your IQ is higher than mine. I may be dumber than you. But, you won’t catch me taking planes and traveling thousands of miles to take a few lousy photos of a human.

I don’t like you people. I don’t want you coming anywhere close to me. If you do, I will eat you. Thanks and have a nice life.

Best regards.

Lion King.

To Love and To Cherish

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

A Long Time Ago, Life Arose.

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

And a Lot of Things Happened After That.

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

DNA Matters.

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

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

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

2. All your genes care about is themselves.

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

“Men Hunt. Women Nest.”

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

Jerry Seinfeld on “Men Hunt and Women Nest.”

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

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

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

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

And Then, There Were Children.

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

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

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

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

Is There Hope For Women?

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

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

Why trains are way cooler than planes

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

There are emergency exits everywhere.

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

You can show up any time.

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

You can carry anything on board.

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

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

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

“Thank you, Ticket Inspector.”

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

The journey is the destination.

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

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

2012 – A Year in Review

It was the sort of a year in Indian politics which raised an important question, “Which of these guys do I dislike the least?”

It was the kind of year that made me add ‘having a functional government’ to my bucket list. It was a year in which our phones got way smarter than our ministers. There was nothing to fear but fear itself.. and Mamata Banerjee. Offensive religious films were made. Riots broke out in the Middle East. India was a shining example to all those countries. We watched Ra One and didn’t lose our cool.

In 2012, the history of India was written in Comic Sans font. Usually, it’s countries which have parliaments. The only parliament which had a country was the Lok Sabha. Each Parliament session cost as much and lasted as long as a Kardashian marriage.

It was a year we watched TV and read newspapers to find out what we already knew to be not true. Most people spent more time on their Facebook status updates than our government spent on planning our future. Activists did the job of the media. The media did party work. Parties worked for corporations. In short, it was business as usual. No one did what they were supposed to.

“Politicizing armed forces. Investigating CAG. Not debating bills in Parliament. Undermining of institutions. Ignoring citizen protests and anger. Well played, UPA.”

It was also nice to know that no matter how bad things got in our country, Mayawati and Mamata were always on hand to make them worse. It was heartening to see Didi building bridges in 2012, to the 14th century. The Chinese must have looked at us and wondered what kind of a country they plan to get into a skirmish with, in the future.

Our democracy is an amazing thing. Where else do you to get to choose people who watch while you get tear gassed and lathi charged? If the government wants to gain the people’s confidence, then deploying 10,000 policemen at India Gate is not the way to go about it.

“Dec 29, 2012. Black Saturday. God bless your soul, Brave Heart. I hope we never forget you.”

2012 – A year in review

The year got off to a bright start for Suresh Kalmadi, who walked out of Tihar with a smile on his face. The next morning, citizens of Greece rioted when they discovered that their country was, in fact, owned by Kalmadi.

The nation’s largest state elected its chief minister in 2012. If Uttar Pradesh were to be an independent country, it would be the sixth largest in the world. Even bigger than Pakistan. In an electoral game of truth or dare, the Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi, sadly continued to pick ‘dare.’ Mulayam’s winning formula was pretty simple and straightforward: 1. Announce the list of candidates. 2. Release them all from jail.

Speaking of elections, we had one in Gujarat too. Where Congress left no stone unturned in its bid to lose by sending in Rahul Gandhi to campaign. Narendra Modi completed a historic hat trick in 2012. It was obvious that, for right or wrong reasons, NaMo did well with one important demographic: voters.

Rahul Gandhi, the artist formerly known as Crown Prince.

There are many unemployed 40+ year old men in the country. One of them was tipped to become the Prime Minister in 2012. This prediction fell through, to the dismay of Rahul Gandhi’s supporters, most of whom are stand-up comedians. Polls showed that Indians had mixed feelings about Rahul Gandhi becoming PM. 40% were uncomfortable with the idea. 60% hated it. To be fair, Rahul did pick up some momentum during the year, which tends to happen when you’re rolling downhill.

Manmohan Singh, a man who thought twice before saying nothing.

Speaking of downhill, the economy went south, dragged down by global woes. As things went from bad to worse, Manmohan Singh’s silence reached a deafening crescendo.

It turned out that Manmohan Singh’s fiercest ideological opponent in 2012 was himself from 1991. They say that silence is golden. In which case, we discovered that we had a 24 carat Prime Minister. TIME magazine described the beleaguered Prime Minister as an “underachiever,” leading to his cabinet being described as a bunch of “under-the-table achievers.” The lone bright spot for Manmohan came from Pak’s Zardari, who backed Manmohan saying “Just because someone hasn’t won an election, that doesn’t mean he can’t run the country.”

In August 2012, Manmohan Singh stunned the nation by speaking on TV and asking for reforms support. He also promised to find out who was running the government that he was in charge of.

Word of the Year: “To Manmohan” which means “To silently ignore what’s going on” Example: “I think I’ll manmohan this month’s credit card bill”

Does BJP exist? Or is it a figment of our imagination?

BJP displayed a disconcerting tendency to surface as the main Opposition party at inopportune times. The problem with Congress is that they think that we the people are fools. The problem with BJP is that they haven’t yet realized it’s true. BJP went all out in Karnataka to prove that electoral losses in 2004 and 2009 were no flukes.

And then there was Nitin Gadkari, who conclusively proved that he was not the right leader for BJP. By leader we mean, of course, a fellow who didn’t know how to cover his tracks. Congress tried to portray Nitin Gadkari as corrupt. BJP hit back by portraying Rahul Gandhi as Rahul Gandhi. Poor chap,  Gadkari was embroiled in scandals involving shell companies, drivers, cooks and other household help, and never really recovered from the blow of getting Sharad Pawar’s backing. Walking around in khaki shorts didn’t help his cause either. There was, however, some good news for BJP. Their leadership situation was so messed up through the year, that the media had no idea who to smear.

Bal Thackeray and Shiv Sena

There are some who arouse emotions when they live. Some when they die. It’s a select few who can do both. Bal Thackeray called a spade a spade while he lived. Sadly, he didn’t give the rest of us that privilege. Rumor has it that the battle for Shiv Sena’s top job has narrowed down to two candidates – Mike Tyson and Hulk Hogan.

The most important bill of 2012

The FDI in retail debate was complex. Thankfully there was one easy way to find the right thing to do: First, ask Communists, SP & BSP what to do. Then, do the exact opposite. Mercifully, the most important bill of 2012 was passed in the Parliament, freeing up the Government to focus on more important things like arresting teenagers over Facebook posts.

The man who really ran the country

2012 showed that it’s always a good idea to have Mukesh Ambani on your side. Unless, of course, if you’re in a boat. Rumor had it that the older Ambani brother had Congress in his front pocket, BJP in the back pocket and CNN-IBN in the shirt pocket. Which begged the question: Where the heck does he keep the cellphone?

Operation Re-election

Ajmal Kasab, the terrorist, was hanged in a secretive operation. When it played out in the US, President Obama authorized the operation to take out Bin Laden. The way it played out in our country, our PM was given the go ahead to watch TV and find out about the hanging. To make up for not letting him know about Kasab’s hanging, Sushil Kumar Shinde apparently gave ball-by-ball updates of the India-England cricket series to Manmohan.

“To those who’ve given their lives and risk them daily so the country can be safer: Our gratitude and respect.”

2012 sucked according to Dhoni

We got progressively worse at cricket with each passing day through the year. Right now, it feels like it’s the middle of next year.

Australia – on the road: Lost 4-0.

England – on the road: Lost 4-0.

England – at home: Lost 2-1.

We can’t win on the road. We can’t win at home. Hard pressed to think of another place to play. Evidently, rumors of a massive rift in the team are true. Between the bat and the pad. Say what you will about our cricket team, but let’s not deny that they displayed a remarkable drive for results and a keen sense of urgency. A review of 2012 cannot pass by without a salute to young Rohit Sharma, a modern day Gandhian, who does not believe in hitting even a run. All in all, 2012 resembled a bad day in Bosnia for MS Dhoni.

The Little Master

Age finally seemed to catch up with Sachin. He wasn’t half the boy he used to be. You win some. You lose some. And then, there was this little known third category when Sachin got his 100th ton and we lost the match. To Bangladesh. And then, Sachin bowed out from ODIs.

Olympics

2012 was the year of London Olympics. It was quite amazing to see that when they were not building iPads, Chinese kids were winning gold medals in Olympics. He was described as “too tall” to win sprints. Yet Usain Bolt 2-peated 100m & 200m golds. Well done, Mary Kom! Well done Saina! It was great to see that we were winning medals in shooting and boxing. I’m sure we all somehow felt safer knowing that. Then the Olympics ended. Tourists went home. And the Chinese women gymnasts returned to kindergarten.

Bollywood in 2012

Agent Vinod went on a mission across seven countries in search of the movie’s plot. If you haven’t yet experienced failure, it just means you haven’t tried hard enough, to understand why a movie named Khiladi 786 had to be made. Ra One took home the ‘Special Effects’ award. It also handily beat swine flu to top the list of the “things I’d like to avoid.” Inside every one of us is an incurable romantic self, which is assaulted by a Karan Johar movie every year. 2012 was no exception.

Men are from Mars and women from Venus. And Karan Johar is from, err.. Bandra?

Saif Ali Khan entered the holy state of matrimony, which he described as ‘that sacred bond’ between a man and his two wives. Man proposed. God disposed. And Katrina Kaif, err, exposed. And bless your soul, Yash Chopra, the man who romanced romance itself.

Other news makers of 2012

God was kind to comedians and satirists in 2012. He may have taken SM Krishna and Ambika Soni away from the Cabinet. By golly, he gave us Manish Tewari, the guy who put the ‘mini’ in minister by becoming Information & Broadcasting minister. To be fair, Tewari did well at Broadcasting. It’s the Information part he struggled with. To a world filled with noise and chaos, Ram Jethmalani added more noise and chaos. Ponty Chadha and bro successfully completed a mission to prove Charles Darwin wrong. And Shashi Tharoor re-affirmed the priceless bond that exists between a man, his wife and her Rs. 50 crores.

DLF borrowed at 12% and lent at 0% to Robert Vadra. How generous. These guys were the Piyush Chawla of the real estate business.  Robert Vadra and Arvind Kejriwal made a great team in 2012. The former couldn’t answer basic questions. And the latter had two answers to every question. Coal Gate put a new spin on ‘Coal’ition dharma. Amidst the distraction around scams that unfolded through the year, A. Raja quietly slipped out and sold a bunch of 4G licenses on eBay.

Justice Katju was probably right when he said 90 percent of Indians are idiots. It’s just that the other 10 percent haven’t yet subscribed to the Times of India. Everyone has the right to make a fool of himself. Beni Prasad, SM Krishna and Digivijay Singh got full points for exercising their rights to the fullest in 2012. Through the year, SM Krishna resembled a guy at the mall confused by automatic doors. Beni Prasad Verma proclaimed that he was “happy with inflation.” You see, anyone can come up with a coherent sentence. But only Beni Prasad can take us to an entirely new dimension. Some day when aliens try to figure out why our society disappeared, hopefully remnants from Digvijay Singh’s skull will provide some clues.

In other news

Gold prices skyrocketed. And Bappi Lahiri was rumored to have been sold on eBay to clear the national deficit. Dinesh Trivedi, erstwhile Railway Minister, proposed bullet trains. Well, he got the first half of his wish.

Hamid Ansari held onto his title as the invisible man. Pratibha Patil’s tenure as President came to an end. Her 2-step exit strategy from office: 1. Transfer all frequent flyer miles to personal acct 2. Start new cooperative bank.

Vijay Mallya owns a building in Bangalore which has 21 stories. It turned that not one of them was the truth. Kingfisher Airlines, one of India’s best, was grounded in 2012. An unfortunate upshot of this is that the Kingfisher calendar will now feature Air India staff.

There were 2 Indian contributions to business lexicon in 2012.

A “Vadra” – when 50L becomes 500Cr in a short period of time.  And the exact opposite called a “Kingfisher.” Which led to Newton’s third law of business, “For each and every Vadra, there must be an equal and opposite Kingfisher.”

Newton’s 4th law of IRCTC: A car starting from City A will reach City B in less time than it takes to book a ticket between cities A & B on IRCTC.

Around the world

4 more years of Obama. Love ’em or hate ’em. You’ve got to admit that the Americans showed spunk in re-electing an African American to the White House.

Mo Yan, a Chinese writer, took home the Nobel Prize for Literature. Out of sheer force of habit, the Chinese government arrested him on hearing the news. Truth be told, it was refreshing to hear that a Chinese guy wrote a book instead of xeroxing it.

So much blood was spilled in Gaza. It was bloody madness. When we spend our whole existences honing skills for war, why would we seek peace? The cycle goes go on. Ireland persisted with the delusion that they knew exactly what an invisible God would have wanted.

Xi Jinping did a great job with Beijing Olympics, and became Chinese President. Kalmadi did an awesome job with Commonwealth Games and went to Tihar jail.

A gunman killed 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut.

As we head into 2013..

Public confidence in the government has hit rock bottom. In fact, the only thing government seems to be above is the law. The nation is in bad shape as we head into 2013. All these parties may talk about forming fronts, but they really want to show us their backs. Yet, in tough times, we must unite behind one leader. Until we find that leader, I guess we should support Arnab Goswami.

“Friends, Romans and countrymen, please stop looting the country. Especially you Romans.”

Happy New Year. Have an awesome 2013!

The What Ho! 2012 Year in Review was assembled using my tweets during the year. Keep track of the events of 2013 by following me on Twitter at

The What Ho! Quiz

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

Which of the following is NOT true?

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

All of the above are true.

 

Rejection of a Famous Indian Writer

Dear Mr. Krishna Dwaipaayana,

Thanks for sending in your manuscript of the “Great War” between cousins to our chief editor. Unfortunately, she’s vacationing in Shimla, and checking her emails only to see if her salary got credited. Our deputy editor recently left our company to head the literary department at DailyDeal.com. So, I, along with three other summer interns, am in charge of the slush pile. Which brings me to you. To cut to the chase, we were not impressed with your saga.  It’s not like we found it entirely uninteresting. Well, I take that back. We found it kind of really boring and clichéd. The plot and the narrative have too many flaws, in our opinion.

Here are a few that come to mind right away.

Let me start with the title. “Mahabharat” does not capture the imagination. It just does not have that zing, you know what I mean? I suggest that you call it something along the lines of “How I braved Bhishma uncle and started a war” or “I too have a war story.” If you don’t like those, how does “Beat, Slay, Love” sound? Or anything with the word “Dork” in it? Who exactly is Bharat? Why did you name the book after him? I was looking for this guy throughout the story, and felt let down that he never showed  up. You see the confusion?

The good news is that mythological narratives are all the rage today. The bad news is that you need to cut down the length of your story by approximately 23 hours.  Most of us simply cannot read anything longer than an SMS.  I began snoozing long before the war even started in your tale.

By the way, who is the protagonist of this story? I don’t normally use words like protagonist. But I saw this word yesterday in a movie review of ‘Barfi’ and have taken a fancy to it. Your story has too many characters, and frankly does not sound believable at all. We were looking at the movie angle, and your book has more characters than we have actors in Bollywood. Even Sanjay Leela Bhansali might be hard pressed to come up with his usual extravagant and insipid adaptation of your work, unless maybe if Amit-ji and Shah Rukh Sir agree to play 14 roles each.

Oh, here’s an important thing. Most women are unlikely to warm up to your yarn. You really ought to think through this, man. Would it kill you to make Draupadi practical, tough talking and a go-getter, yet with a soft and romantic side to her? Dude, if you don’t listen to me, you’re gonna have these aggressive modern women crapping all over your head on Twitter, Facebook and blogs. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

On a positive note, I got to say that I found your character of Vaasudev pretty interesting. Any chance you can change him into a boy wizard or an IIT alumnus from Jalandhar who falls in love with a girl from Salem? I’m afraid that there aren’t many people these days who buy this whole “avatar” concept. Rather, we like to fantasize that Jesus lived in Kashmir and that Shiva was a Tibetan chieftain.  Did I mention that we like IIT alumni and love stories? We can’t get enough of this stuff, I tell you. Hey, how about this? Maybe Arjun studied at IIT Delhi, and Duryodhan went to REC, Kurukshetra and Draupadi was this chick who had the habit of chatting with five boys at the same time on Facebook?

Dear Veda Vyaasa sir-ji, I don’t know if you’re aware of what I’m about to tell you. We’re all immensely bored with our insignificant lives. For the love of God, give us a nice fantasy about vampires, or a silly cubicle humor tome about making power point slides, and I’ll try and push it through because I think you’re a nice guy. Anything except this subtle, multi-layered spiritual saga of conflict and human foibles. It just won’t fly, my friend.

Regards.

Ms. Rupa Penguin Bhagat.

PS: Who typed this manuscript? Are you sure that he understood everything you told him?

PPS:  Please tell your buddy Valmiki to stop calling and SMS-ing me. If we ever published his story, I’m pretty sure that feminists outraged by “Sita” will burn our offices down.

*inspired by a New Yorker article.

A Letter From God

Dear People of Earth,

I believe that I possess an abundance of patience. Try carving out the Grand Canyon for millions of years to know what I mean. Yet, I’m worried that you folks are on the verge of exhausting this inexhaustible patience of mine. Allow me to share a few observations with you, in the hope you’ll test my patience a little less going forward.

1. The universe has been around for a long time. The Earth has been around for a while. But you guys have really not been around for too long. Someone pointed out to me the other day, that if we were to compress the entire history of Earth into a 24 hour span, you guys have been around for the last 3 or 4 minutes. And the way things are going, you might last another 3 or 4 minutes on this clock. Stop and think about this every time you’re tempted to believe that you’ve figured it all out. A little humility is not such a bad idea.

2. Just so you know, my name is not Sachin Tendulkar. I don’t really care what name or names you call me. There’s really no need to use the caps lock when referring to me. Being called ‘He’ is embarrassing. I’m cool with ‘The Supreme One’ though.

3. Honestly, I don’t recall creating you chaps. But, I do appreciate your thinking of me every so often. Read ‘The Selfish Gene’ by Richard Dawkins to understand where you came from and why you are the way you are. He’s explained things pretty well in that book, although he could have shaved 50 pages off it and made it shorter. Don’t read his other books.

4. I’ve got to say that I’m a tad disappointed that you guys have Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, etc parties, but have no such thing as a “God” party.

5. Being God is not all that it’s cracked up to be. If you don’t believe me, just check with Arnab Goswami or Rupert Murdoch. These gentlemen who wield enormous powers will attest to this.

6. Just be yourself. On second thought, not all of you. Some of you need to stop being yourselves. Seriously, chill out. You guys are in such a hurry to go nowhere. Remember this > Let go. Be happy.

That’s not all. I’ve got a few assorted tidbits of advice, which might lighten the mood and dispel the dark gloom that seems to have seized the Earth over the last few years.

1. I just got an iPhone. I found out that you got to be really extra careful with the ‘auto correct’ feature. The first time, I accidentally sent a few thousand people to Hell.

2. Neither Satan nor I have any idea what to do about Goldman Sachs. Suggestions will be gratefully accepted.

3. Nietzsche is dead. I’m still around. Who else wants to take me on? Bring it on.

4. I ran into an atheist the other day. Frankly, it took us both by surprise.

5. It used to be fun to read Deepak Chopra. To be honest, I don’t get him anymore.

6. I swear I never spoke to or encouraged Rick Santorum to run for President.

7. I thought I’d confuse you guys by creating Baba Ramdev. Mission accomplished.

8. I’ve done a lot of projects in my time. India is one of the most fun projects I’ve worked on. She’s still work in progress. Bear with me a little longer.

And oh, I’ve set up brand new accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Check me out on Facebook ( here ) or on Twitter (  here ) for the occasional dose of wisdom from me. Follow me or I’ll smite thee with small pox.

I plan to keep writing here on What Ho! Do stay in touch, keep reading and yes, please do write back.

cheers,

The Supreme One.

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.

Loot and Scoot

Loot-and-Scoot is a new service from What Ho! carefully crafted to help arrange an urgent and secretive getaway for an Indian politician looking to disappear without trace, should the need arise at any stage in his career. Please share this application form with anyone who might be interested.

APPLICATION FORM

NOTE:  Loot-and-Scoot is a cash-only business. Cheques and credit cards are not accepted. Neither do we engage in barter of any kind.

1. Select the best description of your current situation.

(a) CBI has filed a chargesheet against you      

(b) Subramanian Swamy has named you defendant in a PIL     

(c) You’re at present in Tihar and have applied twice unsuccessfully for bail     

(d) Parliament sessions have been suspended for fourteen days in a row on your account          

(e) You’re a former telecom minister, and belong to the DMK party          

2. I am interested in the following Escape Packages.

Feel free to opt for as many packages as you would like.

(a) The Google + package – You will be placed in a location which everyone knows exists, but no one ever visits          

(b) The Ra One special – Those who accidentally see you will be traumatized for the rest of their lives             

(c) The Higgs Boson package – Some will come tantalizingly close to spotting you, but no one will be able to nail you down           

(d) The Presidential Pardon deal – A full, unconditional pardon so you can go back to living it up            

Note: You have to be both Pakistani and a member of a terrorist organization to qualify for the Presidential Pardon deal

3. Loot-and-Scoot offers the following extraordinary benefits above and beyond the above escape packages. Select all that interest you:

(a) Facial reconstruction           

(b) Untraceable phone number with spousal ID blocking           

(c) Obliteration of all audio and video content from sting operations             

(d) Personal handling of sub poenas, writs and other legal matters by Ram Jethmalani          

(e) Quick and clean distress sale of any airlines or cable TV networks that you may own now             

(f) “No jokes. No wisecracks. No teasing” bundle           

Note: The “No jokes, No wisecracks, No teasing” bundle” may be cancelled at any time without notice if we’re unable to control ourselves.

4. Check your preferred mode of fake “death and disappearance.”

Select only one. Choose carefully.

(a) Helicopter crash on a rainy afternoon          

(b) Mysterious fire in government building          

(c) Fake kidnapping by Maoists             

(d) Shot at point blank range by a deranged relative            

(e) Heart attack on live TV while arguing with Arnab Goswamy              

SPECIAL CLAUSES & WAIVER

I agree that Loot-and-Scoot will not provide any refunds whatsoever. I also agree that all breaches of contract will be settled only through mediation. I also agree that such mediation will be arbitrated by a panel comprising solely of members from Team Anna and Supreme Court justices.

Signed                     

Use only an alias.

The Few, The Proud and The Privileged

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m sorry, but..

The other day, I was offered an apology. It wasn’t a bad one. But, I wasn’t ready to settle yet. Somehow, the apology didn’t quite, at any point during its course, exceed the threshold of my expectation. And regretfully, I had to turn it down. I have my principles. And they don’t include accepting an apology that is rendered in haste. Haste is a trait I view with suspicion. The apology that rolls off the tongue easily does not satisfy. It reflects evasiveness and flippancy, not remorse. What does it say about me when I accept apologies rather easily? I would rather not stoop and sink to the level of those who promiscuously accept the easy apologies. Once you sink down to that level, it’s just a hop, skip and jump away from the dangers of forgiveness.

A day later, the apology was re-submitted. This time, in a noticeably lengthier form. Yet, it did not satisfy. So, I held my silence. But, I felt an escalating pressure to accept it and, to use a rather crude phrase, “put the matter behind us.” Upon examination of the apology, I was satisfied this time to note that it was complete and not half-baked. It contained a high level of repeated assurance that it was meant sincerely and “in good faith.” Many of the apologist’s friends called in to confirm true regret on his part. There was language in his words that suggested that he (the apologist) had reflected on his act, and that it (his act) reflected “insensitivity” and that he was “distressed” by the “whole thing.” It was an excellent attempt. Yet, it did not rise to the level needed to overwhelm and wash away memories of original cruelty and inflicted pain. I lingered. I wondered what it would mean to accept the apology. Would it mean that I had somehow ratified his callous behavior? Would it mean that I accepted him back? No. I was not ready for that, not yet anyway. And so, I turned it down.

Disappointed, I turned instead to the comfort of musing on the nature of apology itself. Does the simple apology merit existence? Is “sorry” worth the trouble of expression? I pondered on the hurts, pains, aches, anger, disappointment and disillusionment we cause each other. When considered against the backdrop of our monumental blunders, our abject apologies seemed inadequate. So, I wondered. This reverie was interrupted by a third apology. This time, it was in the form of a note, accompanied by a fine bottle of French wine, a box of Swiss chocolates and tickets to an IPL game. Nice try, I thought. But, wait. We were not done yet. There was the note.

The note said, “I hope that you will find a way to accept this apology, which I solemnly affirm that I’m making with full possession of my mind and faculties and without reservations or conditions, and move on.” I read the note. And, I read it again. As I read it again and again, I sensed fury possessing me at what I believed was the cavalier use of the phrase “move on.” Was I being equated with a guest lingering at an overcrowded buffet table? I sensed impatience on part of the apologist to somehow evict me from this moral high ground that I had rightfully occupied after his transgression. Anger enveloped me at his audacity. And, I blacked out thereafter.

After I had recovered sufficiently, I did what I felt was best under the circumstances. I wrote back to the offender. “I’m sorry. But, I cannot accept your apology.”

Haasya Vayu Purana (as told by a fan)

Recently, Laughing Gas completed its first year anniversary of its existence. Here’s a fan speculating that its origin might date back to much longer than that! Thank you, anonymous! All I can say that it continues to worry and amaze me simultaneously that folks are actually reading this blog.

From a Laughing Gas fan

I am a silent admirer of Laughing Gas blog. I just read, laugh lots and thank quietly. So, I felt it wouldn’t be too much to show a modicum of gratitude & appreciation. This is a simple heartfelt note to congratulate and felicitate Laughing Gas.

Here are three top reasons why I love Laughing Gas.
1. It’s funny.
2. It’s very funny.
3. Did I mention that it’s terribly funny?

The simplest truths are the greatest. Laughing Gas does its invisible work by sneaking into you mysteriously without warning and inducing convulsive laughter attacks. It spreads humor like bees spread pollen. It is another vital air just like oxygen, I’d say! As a token of further appreciation, I present the following wildly imaginative epic as a compliment. I hope other fans enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

Great philosophers & scientists have been for long baffled by the mystery behind origins of the universe. What happened before the big bang? How did the big bang itself come about? What ho! I present the the ‘Laughing Gas Saga’ aka ‘Haasya Vayu Purana’ which provides answers.

The Vayu Purana may not be new to many. If it is, here’s a synopsis. According to Hindu scriptures, it’s one of the 18 principal chronicles of the origins of the universe, as told by the anthropomorphistic Wind God Vayu. Further to be noted, Haasya, traditionally understood as ‘humor’, is one of the nine principal essences of theatrical-emotional expressions enumerated by the ancient thinker-cum-bard Bharata in the Natya Shastra.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s a twist to that tale, one which I call the ‘Haasya Vayu Purana’ aka the Laughing Gas Saga.  My fable is built on the premise that humor is a fundamental creative principle – even perhaps, the élan vital of the universe – and the events of this Purana took place a long long time ago, much before the Big Bang.

Once upon a time, for eons together, a state of a still and deep silence prevailed. The ‘original cause’ whom I shall call The One (for dramatic effect) wrapped itself comfortably in this perfect silence and nothingness. All was in a state of rest. One fine day, The One woke up flexing every muscle after a nice deep long refreshing sleep. It was time to wake the world into existence. It was a particularly silent and lone morning walk that day for The One. There was no one around to offer even a cup of coffee. Naturally, this sent The One into a dark and pensive mood, and had it wondering how to bring forth Its creation. The One knew that the stillness had to be excited into action for creation to unfold.

The One went into deep meditation for another ten thousand yugas. Finally, It opened Its legendary third eye, and brought forth a Creative Will in the form of a dazzling golden shining light form. The One beheld this resplendent light form thoughtfully with admiration. And before you could say what ho!, this dazzling light – the Creative Will – had transformed itself into Laughing Gas.

Laughing Gas then sprung into action swiftly and permeated the very core being of The One. Within a few divine moments, The One started shaking with unrestrained laughter. This caused powerful reverberations in the vast stillness, which began to multiply at an exceedingly high rate. One thing led to another  (just as a juicy gossip catches on like forest fire!), and all dormant energy fields began to stir into some serious action. And thus the big bang came about.  Gazillions of tiny giggling particles burst forth from this cosmic (read ‘comic’) explosion carrying the life force of The One far and wide, busily giving a new spin to creation!

And, so it happened. Since then, the Creative Will aka Laughing Gas has continued to make a worldly appearance during every eon in a form suitable to that era, out of consideration for its fans. In today’s age, we know it, follow it and love it, of course, as the Laughing Gas Blog. It still causes explosive convulsive laughter attacks upon whomever it comes across and continues to spread the light.

Those who read, hear, sing, like or tweet this incredible story on Laughing Gas are indeed blessed by the everlasting laughing waters of paradise. Thus ends the only & final chapter in Haasya Vayu Purana aka The Laughing Gas Saga as told by anonymous to the world at large.

The Eleventh Commandment

I’m asked often by impressionable lads and gals, “What does it take to make it in the big, bad world of business?” In response, I always ask, “Can you handle the truth?” And when they nod hesitantly, I tell them, “A booming voice”. In fact, I call it the eleventh commandment. Here’s some chicken soup for ye impressionable souls out there.

Anything important has happened only because the people concerned had authoritative voices. When a voice booms, everything it says has a ring of authenticity.  I can only imagine what Moses must have felt, when handed the most important assignment of his career.

“Here they are, Moses. The Ten Commandments! Aren’t they beauties? ”. The voice of God booms above crashing thunder and quaking ground.

The Ten Commandments. Is that what we are calling the product? I take it that you want me to go down and pitch it to the hordes?”

“Yep, you have to go down there and, as you call it, “pitch” it to the people. Things are getting frisky out there with rampant sodomy and bestiality. It’s time we got the organization under control and put some policies in place. Do this well, and there’s a little upward mobility that I have planned for you. I’m talking prophet-hood. Heck, I’ll throw in a couple of wives if you exceed expectations”

“That’s an enticing offer, God. But with due respect, I have to point out that our product is flawed. Frankly, I don’t think it can be sold. Don’t get me wrong, chief. The collateral looks good. I mean, your carving on 8” by 5” rock slabs is pure genius. The font type and size are just perfect. But..”

“But..? I sense a lack of confidence, Moses. What’s bothering you, boy? Let’s talk. Mano et Dioso. Right here, right now”

“Look, Chief, let’s be honest. We’re competing for attention with golden calves, binge drinking and wantonly dancing women. How about we go with, say five commandments at first, see the uptake and then upgrade them to the next slab?”

“No deal, Moses. We’ve got to go for the whole enchilada. I’ve got the rule about not coveting the neighbor’s wife coming in at at number 10.  Seeing what’s going on down there, there’s no way I’m delaying that. Let’s bite the bullet and roll this baby out tonight”

“Hmm, I guess this leaves me with no choice but to put forth my demand. Could you please mute the thunder? I’m having a hard time making myself heard”

Thunder stops instantly. Gale winds cease. Silence prevails.

“Yes, my boy, and you were saying?”

“It’s a tough crowd out there, God. And, I want to put on a good show. I need a favor from you. It’s my voice. I want you to change it. I need it to boom. Like yours. Everything always sounds good when you say it. With a voice like mine, the best I can push is commandment number 8, you know, the one about not stealing. There’s no way I can pull the other ones off. Give me some deep bass tones, God”

Poof! Moses changes into an old man with white flowing locks, bushy eyebrows, gaunt visage and a baritone that reverberates across the expanse.

Why God gave Moses the senior citizen package (white hair and gaunt visage) along with “the” Voice is a story for a different day. Anyway, there you go, ladies and gentlemen. The inside scoop on one of the greatest achievements in history. It all comes down to the voice.

pip pip, and cheerio!

Hallmark Cards For India

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

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

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

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

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

 “Sorry I leaked your doctored CD”

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

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

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

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

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

“Wish you were here”

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

“Hope you get bail soon!”

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

A Living Will

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

Who Am I?

Who am I? That’s a simple question. Yet one without a simple answer.

I am so many things. And yet, I could be just one thing. I’m not an inanimate thing that’s silent and motionless like a rock or a mountain or an Indian prime minister. That’s for sure. I was once told that I was filled with life. That I’m a living, breathing thing which can throw rocks, climb mountains and joke about Indian prime ministers. And yet, I’m much more.

I’m a man. I’m a former baby,  a future corpse and an even distant pile of dust and nothingness. I’m an Aquarian born right on the cusp. I’m husband, father, son and brother and more.  In school, I was a “topper”. In college, I was “Room 257” to the hostel security guard.

At times, I simply am. At other times, I’m about ideas, concepts, theories, logic, thoughts, feelings and emotions. Sometimes I’m all of these at once, unless I’m watching a Bollywood movie when I turn my back on logic and thoughts.

I’m told that I am what I eat. I try and remember that when I bite my nails.

Some call me boss. Some call me buddy. I’ve been called “Hey You”, “Get Out of the Way” and “Watch Out”. A few others have called me “Excuse Me” in an annoyed tone of voice, because sometimes I get in the way. I’m sorry for getting in the way. I can’t read minds. And I’m getting out of your way as fast I can.

I’m the silent majority. I’m the loud minority. I’m a friend. I’m a foe. I’m sorry about being a foe. I really don’t like being a foe.

I’m not my own worst critic. There are others who’ve done a fine job of it. I’m not my best friend. There are others who’ve done a fine job of it.

I’m everything and I’m nothing. I’m neither here nor there. Yet, I’m the one who’s on the top row. First one from the left. In my first grade class photo. Yeah. That’s me.

I’m not the elements. I’m neither earth nor water nor fire. Nor the wind or the ether. I’m not the body or the mind or the senses. Nor any of them put together. I’m above time, cause, effect and reason.

I am what I am. I am pure consciousness. I am the blissful spirit that alone exists in eternity, when all else is consumed by time. That indeed I am. I am the soul.

I’m aware that you don’t know me well. I shouldn’t have said any of this. I think I’ll just get out of your way.

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

It’s a mad, mad world

Prices have sky rocketed. And it doesn’t seem to faze the affluent residents of Garden City in the least. Profligacy is rampant and purses seem to have lost their strings.

The other day, I was at the barber shop. I walked in and the first thing I noticed was a large sign that proclaimed ‘Haircut charges Rs. 70’. ‘Weren’t you charging Rs 50 last month?” I remarked mildly. “Yes, Sir. But our costs have gone up. We have been forced to raise the charges”, came the reply in a friendly tone. “What costs?”, I was curious. “Generally all costs, Sir. I cannot give you more details”. “But this is still very cheap, you know”, said the man seated next to me, “Back in California, I used to pay $10 for a haircut. I say that $1.4 is cheap”, he opined. “So you are ok with paying more?”, I enquired incredulously. “I don’t have time to think about these things. I just pay up”, he smiled benevolently at me. “Um, I’ve got some marsh land in Jersey that I’d like to sell you”, I thought as I retreated into the comfort of my own thoughts.

That weekend, we were out for dinner at a trendy restaurant in the city. I glanced through the menu to get a feel for the place (and their prices). I noticed that a cup of coffee was priced at Rs. 70. I then looked around. The place was overflowing. There were people waiting in the aisles, chomping at the bit to pay sixty rupees for a cup of coffee. “Has every one just gone crazy, or is it just me” I swore under my breath. “What were you charging for a cup of coffee last month”, I casually enquired of our young waiter as he took our order. “Rs 50, Sir. Our costs have gone up, and we’ve been forced to raise our charges”, he replied politely. I looked closely to see if I could spot any resemblance between him and my barber. “Costs. What costs? ” I protested feebly. “People don’t have time to think about all this, Sir. They just pay up. The gentleman at the next table told me that he used to spend $60 on a meal in California. Here, he’s happy to spend $30”, he elaborated with the clarity of a worker in a global economy.

“That will be Rs. 1400, please”, I heard the guy at the box office proclaim impatiently. “What? How”, I gasped incredulously. We were out at the neighborhood multiplex to take in the latest SRK starrer on the weekend. “I don’t have time to explain all this. Give me 1400 for 4 tickets. Hurry up”, he snarled. I reached for my wallet in a daze. As I walked through the mostly 20 and 30 something crowd, each anxious to fork out 280 per head for 2.5 hrs of so-called entertainment, “This is insane”, I thought. “I heard that there is a new multiplex in Whitefield. They are charging 400 bucks for a ticket. We should try it out next weekend. After all, this is way cheaper than California’, I overheard a couple talking. “Can we all shut up about California”, I fumed to myself.

These are heady times in Bangalore. When is this going to end? I have no idea. Until then, it looks like the popcorn at the movies is going to cost a little more.

For Richer or For Poorer: Valentine’s Day Circus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On being secular

Everyone wants to be secular these days. The newspapers are full of important people who are anxious to let everyone know how important it is to be secular. “The minorities are such a maligned lot. They cannot take care of themselves. It is up to us – the enlightened majority, to take care of them. How else will they survive?” Why, the other day, an important secular man married a minority woman to drive home his point. Now, I hear that he is writing a book to let us know that it is working well.

This has all been very heart warming for me. A tear rolled down my cheek when I heard our Law Minister bravely breaking the law and demanding special quotas for minorities. “We will give the minorities exactly the importance they deserve!” he thundered. “What selfless bravery and nobility”, I thought as I reached for my handkerchief sobbing like a child. “Why can’t the others be enlightened too”, I cried, alarming my ten year old who was busy with her homework essay on Why it is important for all Indians to celebrate Christmas. The bad guys just don’t seem to get it. Rather than understand how special our minorities are, they seem to suffer from the delusion that all of us are equal.

On a flight back from Delhi, I was seated next to a prominent secularist. I shook his hand vigorously, thanking him for showing all of us the way. “Why don’t the bad guys get it? It is so obvious”, I protested. He looked down at me over his spectacles, with a knowing smile. “My chap”, he said patting me in an avuncular fashion, “the others don’t want to get it. All they seem to want is for every one to be treated equal. We are not all equal, you know”, he lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Whatever do you mean?”, I asked in amazement with the anticipation of a worshipper about to be inducted into a cult. “The minorities need help. For years, they’ve needed us to take care of them. It is our duty to do so. That is the truth”, he concluded with a flourish. “You mean, we should be such noble people and help them to not take care of themselves?”, I shouted in amazement at the brilliance of the idea. He nodded and smiled like a Buddha.

“Why, it’s so simple. We can do even better. We should give them special laws so they don’t even have to worry about the constitution. After all, the constitution was probably written by a bigoted majority chap” I shouted, besides myself with the joy of having discovered the ultimate truth. “I know’, he said, “and we already did”, he clapped his hands, “They have their own laws”.

“Wait, I have a brilliant idea. The problem is that they are a minority. I say we let them convert all of us by paying us money. Then, they can become the majority”, I screamed, dazzled by own genius. “Done. Next?”, he cut me short. Crestfallen by my inability to come up with an original contribution to the secular cause, I tried again, “I say we make one of them the President”.

“Where have you been, boy? That started in the fifties. You’ve got to do better”, he chuckled. Gasping for a lungful of air, and desperation mounting, I cried “ Let’s pass a law that says that anyone who proclaims that all Indians are equal will be jailed. That ought to really shut up the bad guys”.

“Hey! wait a minute, we never thought of that”, said the important man. As he got into his chauffeur driven limousine, he handed me his card. “Give me a call. I think you have the makings of a great secularist, my chap”

This satirical piece was written by me in 2006. It is being published in What Ho! with minor changes from the original piece with permission granted to me by myself. Have you read What Ho! ? If you didn’t know, you’re already here at What Ho!

The Great Wall of India on Facebook

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

Happy Republic Day!

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

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.

For Better Or For Worse

Marriage is a wonderful thing. Everyone ought to get married unless they have a really good reason not to, like becoming the Pope or if they are in a coma. I am married and you won’t hear me complaining. Einstein was twice as smart as any of us will ever be. And, he married twice.

Even so, what exactly prompts people to get married has remained a deep, dark mystery much along the lines of why women feel the need to own one hundred seventy pairs of foot wear. Research on this topic can fill a room the size of the telephone exchange in Dayanadhi Maran’s house. Of the reasons hypothesized about the willingness of men to tie the knot, the most realistic one seems to be that they have exhausted all conversation topics, and are forced to resort to marriage proposals to avoid awkward silences which led to the ancient jungle saying “Lulls in conversation with women are dangerous”. Women seem to get the urge to merge for all sorts of silly reasons like being in love, but the most plausible one could be that they have managed to locate that one specimen in the male population who is not a complete jerk.

It boggles the mind when you think of how marriage even began to be accepted as a concept, and how men were convinced to play along. It is widely suspected that a man’s tendency to avoid reading anything resembling a manual or asking for directions may have direct bearing on this situation. Imagine a man opening the marriage manual to find “Warning: Do not use this under the influence of alcohol to obtain free food” or “Step 3: Next, you will now engage in the process of getting married in a ceremony that will last longer than the second world war”, or “Step 27: Now open the diaper and, without inhaling any surrounding air, carefully wipe the rear end of the baby”” or “Step 28: Repeat Step 27 fourteen more times a day for the next two years”. There is no record in history of any man ever having read the manual. If there were to be such a man in the future, it’s likely that he would disapparate from the altar faster than an Indian batsman from the crease on an overcast day at Lords.

Funnily enough, for all their cooperation and willingness to get hitched, men have been held, through the ages, solely accountable for marital woes and much maligned as the primary reason for a general state of dissatisfaction among the female population at large. Research tells us that women spend one hundred and forty four hours a week, on average, either in contemplation or in discussion of the faults of men. Truth be told, men are not really at fault for anything. In fact, we have a rock solid alibi, summarized in two simple sentences.

  1. Everything is controlled by our genes
  2. Our genes do not care about us. They are selfish and care only about themselves

Millions of years back, a few molecules decided to join together to form amino acids, and later evolved into DNA. Not coincidentally, around the same time women began complaining about men’s attitudes. Until DNA came along, men spent most of their time snoozing blissfully to the soothing sounds of test cricket commentary. It’s not entirely clear as to how men and women decided to get together to start this thing called the human race – whether it was through divine creation or Darwinian evolution. But one thing is clear – that LSD and liberal amounts of other mind altering substances were definitely involved.

In spite of the DNA, millions and millions of men overcome their genetic predisposition, marry, stay married, raise kids, attend piano recitals, visit furniture stores, loiter aimlessly around department store changing rooms and public urinals, and live happily with their wives without nary a sideways glance at, to pick a completely random example, Angelina Jolie.

To get to the bottom of why women have problems with men, we conducted a survey of men’s faults. In that survey, the most common conversation went as follows:

Q: What do you think about men?

A: When will men understand that women think that they are incredibly idiotic and insensitive, and what will they do about it?

Readers will note that the tone of the response is distinctly unfavorable. They didn’t respond with “Men are highly rational and predictable” or “What can women learn from men about getting through life without potted plants?”. Instead, the surveyed women chose to take a negative stance.

It is our sincere intent at Laughing Gas to correct such erroneous perceptions about men, and we fully expect to be unsuccessful in this regard. So, we’ve prepared a short Q&A that we hope will (however inadequately) address the common complaints against men.

Q: Why are men so insensitive? Why is working on your laptop or fiddling with your cell phone is always more important than what I have to say? Why do dads have to be the cool heroes to kids and moms the stone hearted villains? Why is that I always have to do all the cleaning up around here? Why can’t we have a conversation about my feelings? Blah blah blah… Why is it that you never pay attention while I’m talking? Are you even listening?

A: What?

Q: Why do men have a problem listening when we talk?

We do not have a problem listening. In fact, we are trained to listen carefully for any signs of imminent danger. After a short intense scan of auditory signals in the vicinity, we stop listening if there is no problem detected. According to research, the average woman has a minimum of 42 feelings per minute while a man experiences feelings more at the rate of 3 per annum in the best case. So, when a woman tries to communicate feelings to her man, it always leads to confusion in the man’s brain, which usually has just one feeling at that time “Man, the game is about to start”. Strategies have been developed by men for such situations which involve engaging in hugs and mute conciliatory gestures while maintaining direct line of sight to the TV. Long story short, men have no idea what to do about feelings. They are doers. They are problem solvers. When confronted with an ambiguous situation without a clearly identified problem, their immediate instinct is to suspend all signs of life, hunker down and wait for the storm to blow over, and carefully monitor the conversation for key words such as ‘lawyer’, ‘gun’ or ‘kitchen knife’.

Q: Doesn’t it matter to you that someone important to you has something important to say about how they feel? Don’t you care about our feelings?

A: What?

Q: Why do men have a problem reading manuals?

A: That’s because manuals are written for idiots by idiots and contain stupid warnings like “Don’t use your high definition LCD TV as a floatation device”.

Q: Why do men refuse to ask directions?

A:  Men are explorers by nature, and operate under the assumption that there is always one undiscovered route to the neighborhood mall. If it weren’t for men’s thirst for adventure, the Spaniards wouldn’t have discovered South America and the Incas wouldn’t have been wiped out by small pox. There wouldn’t be globalization and five rupee bottles of chota Pepsi. Also, in ancient times when men had to protect their tribes, if man A asked man B for directions, it was naturally assumed by man B that man A was a weaker type who read manuals. This led to man B assembling armies and pillaging man A’s villages and taking away his women.

Q: Are you suggesting that men’s flaws are in fact virtues? Are you implying that men are the sole reason why the human race has not yet become extinct?

A: Don’t forget the five rupee chota Pepsi bottles.

Q: How could we have been so blind? We are really sorry that we’ve been inconsiderate and have hurt your feelings over millions of years. How can we even begin to comprehend the enormity of our mistakes, and correct the errors of our ways? Your hearts must be wounded, and your souls scarred by the pain….blah blah blah..

A:  What?

Also read Till Death Do Us Part from the Jaundiced Eye collection

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.

Too Big To Fail

In 2008, we saw collapse of financial institutions, led by US banks, unprecedented for its severity. Now, history appears to be about to repeat itself in Europe. Since we seem to be headed into the open season for bailouts, I decided to send in my bailout application right away to beat the rush and get ahead in line.

Dear Reserve Bank Governor,

I’m in a bit of a pickle, and need five crore rupees urgently. Before you consign this letter to the rubbish bin, I suggest that you ponder the consequences of it surfacing in wikileaks files.

I know what you must be thinking. Who is this guy and why does he deserve the ten crore rupees that he’s asking?  (As I write, the rupee is rapidly declining against the dollar forcing me to ask for more). First, you have understand that I am TOO BIG TO FAIL. If I were to be allowed to collapse, the economy as we know it would cease to exist and pandemonium and mayhem will ensue. Nothing short of global calamity awaits if that mind boggling scenario were to fruition as a consequence of your not sending me a check for twenty crores. If I were to fail, who would then pay salaries to my driver or dole out generous tips to taxi and auto drivers? If they don’t get paid, they will not have money to spend at liquor stores, which means liquor store barons will not have money to bribe MLAs. Starved of cash, MLAs will become susceptible to buyout offers from opposition parties and this would lead to fall of governments all around the country. Next thing you know, the Chief Election Commissioner is asking for a budget of ten thousand crores to conduct fresh elections, and the Central Government is forced to raise the prices of petrol and LPG to cover the shortfall in funds. This will lead to all kinds of nasty consequences like fallout between once-loyal alliance partners, cabinet ministers and chief ministerial offspring being sent to Tihar jail, disgruntlement with the Prime Minister and rise of civil societies demanding Jan Lokpal. Who knows, this might trigger the fall of the central government as a consequence of fratricidal wars between Home and Finance ministries, each trying to orchestrate the other’s downfall. All because you didn’t expeditiously release a check for a measly fifty crores.

You might wonder how I ended up in this hole. I made the mistake of watching every reality show there is on TV and sending in hundreds of SMSes daily to vote on random inconsequential matters. These things cost a fortune. Not to mention the fact that there’s been someone calling me practically every three minutes offering me a platinum credit card. I got them all and maxed out on Salman Khan movies, Farmville gifts and Samsung cellphones. Funnily, there seems to be a new festival every month, accompanied by mouth watering discounts on white goods – and I’m afraid that these temptations have proved hard to resist.

You must be convinced by now, I hope. If not, it is fair to warn that you leave me with no choice but to join a political party, become a Cabinet minister, manipulate tenders and reap ill-gotten gains. Come on, what do you say? What’s a hundred crores between friends?

Yours sincerely.

TBTF

* Inspired by a ‘shouts and murmurs‘ column in the New Yorker

Fact or Fiction

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

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

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

Fact or Fiction? Mobile phones cause brain tumors

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

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

Fact or Fiction: Hypnotists can control your every move

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

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

pip-pip. toodles. have a great weekend.

Fact or Fiction

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

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

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

Fact or Fiction? Mobile phones cause brain tumors

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

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

Fact or Fiction: Hypnotists can control your every move

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

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

pip-pip. toodles. have a great weekend.

7 iPhone apps that Indians need

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

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

Apple and iPhone apps:  Unparalleled phenomenon

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

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

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

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

7 iPhone apps Indians need

7.  2-mt Passport Photoshop

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

6. Angry Indian Bird app

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

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

5. Shaadi Bazaar app

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

21 matches found

11 do not meet target dowry amount

9 would like to terminate you

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

4. The Tele-Terminator app

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

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

3. The Ultimate Route Planner

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

Your starting point: Somewhere in Bangalore city

Your destination: Bangalore International Airport

13 routes identified.

Top 3 routes displayed below

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

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

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

2. Missed Call Analytico App

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

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

Number of missed calls made last week: 447

Number of missed calls received: 1623

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

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

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

1. Time and Space Machine app

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

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

FFTSR: Hello?

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

You: Are you coming to repair the washing machine?

FFTSR:  Yes, madam

You:  You were supposed to be here 1 hour back

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

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

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

Lie Detection Level:   Stratospheric

Probability of Drum Being Repaired:   Unlikely in Kali Yuga

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

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

Weighted Average

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

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

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

Weighted Average

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few weeks later

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

“Excuse me”

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

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

I spoke confidently.

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

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

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

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

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

“Step forward”

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

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

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

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

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

The lighter boy stepped nimbly onto the scale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions swirled in the air that day.

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

“A-ha!”, the man smiled.

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

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

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

The 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.

10 English phrases that make perfect sense to Indians

As humans, we have an ability that is so utterly unique in the natural world – a behavioral pattern that was so transformative, that it effectively changed the trajectory of our evolution. We can take an innovative thought and share it with another person by simply recombining sounds we learned to make as children.

Sure, almost all species communicate. But, only humans have devised this trick called language. Where did this unique trait come from? Why did it evolve? Why are we the only species that has it? While there are not satisfactory answers yet, suffice it to say that there is something peculiar and extraordinary about language that makes simple explanations suspect.

Evolutionary edge from language

According to evolutionary biology, only those traits and behaviors which provide evolutionary benefits survive. An evolutionary benefit is simply anything that helps survival. Example: Tall giraffes survived because they were able to eat from the tops of trees and also developed powerful long legs that can kick even a lion’s head off.

Why language survived is easier to explain than why it arose. Somewhere along the line, humans who had hitherto been “hunters” settled down to become “gatherers”, and formed “civilizations”. In this new construct, language became a “marker”, much like an “identification badge” that was useful in forming tribes. Tribe formation ensured mutual protection of people in the tribe, and so language came to provide an evolutionary edge. Ironically, language which played a useful role in aiding survival, eventually turned into the No. 1 leading killer in the history of humans. More wars have been fought and more lives lost over language than even religion, a sobering reflection on the passions that language can evoke, and perhaps a topic for another day.

English, the World’s Second Language

Once an insignificant language spoken by a handful of people on a tiny island in the North Sea, English has grown to be the global language of science, technology and trade. So much so that China is now the largest English speaking country in the world. And, it’s not just the Chinese. English is in so much demand around the world as the language of advancement that an Indian has built a temple to the goddess English, adding her to the 330 million deities of the Hindu pantheon. Now that English is a global language, with non-native speakers outnumbering native speakers, it has taken on a life of its own in non-English-speaking countries, and the question of correctness, of who owns English, is taking on a new spin.

10 English phrases that make perfect sense to Indians

Let no one misconstrue my attitude as mocking or critical. Far from the truth, as a matter of fact. In the peculiarities of Indian English, I see the boundless creativity of our nation, and its charismatic ability to take anything and put its own indelible stamp on it.

10. Convent educated

An excellent vestige from colonial British Raj. Today used to mean “studied in a Christian school“. Convent comes from the fact that back in those days when there were still nuns, nuns used to teach, and nuns lived in convents back in those days. Clear as crystal, right?

9. Issueless divorcee

Telling a thousand lies is a mere trifle if one has to perform a marriage, as we Indians like to believe. Matrimonial ads abound with prevarications of various kinds, and take full advantage of the foibles of Indian English.

“Rohit, so sorry to hear about your divorce. How are you holding up?”

“Oh that? No problem. It’s going swimmingly well. Other than having to give up my house and half my fortune to the ex, it’s been practically issueless”

Issueless divorcee means divorcee without children. Because, err, children have been known to cause issues.

8. Passing out

Translation: Completed or graduated from school or college or university. The term persists, thanks to the national obsession with tests and exams. Graduating college is the equivalent of passing the associated tests and exams.

“You studied at IIT Madras? When did you pass out?”

“Right after I saw the exam questions”

Or, it could be something as simple and straightforward as “All drinking water in this establishment has been personally passed by the manager”

7. Revert

Translation: Will get back or respond. Dictionary meaning is “regress” or “return to a previous state“. In physics, springs revert. In India, humans do.

“When do you expect to reverse the annual fees on my lifetime free credit card?”

“We will look into it, and revert back to you as soon as possible”

Evokes images of the call center individual rushing off to a therapist and undergoing past life regression to understand how he accumulated the karma and gunas in his past life that caused him to be answering my question on that day.

6. Only

There are several types of shenanigans possible with this simple four letter word.  “I am leaving now only”, “I am leaving only now” all the way to “I only am leaving now”. You probably caught the drift of what’s being attempted here already.

5. But

Used to express doubt, when even there is no reason for doubt. And like “only”, it can make unexpected appearances in any part of any sentence.

Lawyer: “You are lying. How are you sure that my client is the murderer?”

Witness: “I saw him stabbing the victim forty three times but”

A combination of “but” and “only” has been known to spook entire fleets of visiting American executives into thunderstruck silence during business meetings. Add “only” to the witness response above for maximum effect.

4. OK

No one really knows how this term entered the English language. Indians use it to mean anything. Just about anything. Period. There is no known translation for its Indian usage. Folks are advised to make their own interpretations which can vary according to exigencies of situations.

3. Doing the needful

This is a delightful phrase, like avara kedavra, with magical powers. It means to ask someone to do something that neither party has any idea how to get done. Use it often and use it early. See below for example of perfect usage.

Boss’s email to employee: “I need one dragon tooth, two strands of unicorn hair and Harry Potter’s Elder Wand right away. Please do the needful”

2. Intimate

In India, there is a rather unusual usage of this word in the context of informing or notifying someone, which connotes common ancestry with “revert”. “Once I revert, I will intimate you” can be intimidating to handle, we imagine.

1. Felicitate

This word is delightful for the simple reason that no other English speaking country uses it. A bit of a tongue twister, it continues to survive in the written form, in Indian newspapers and government memos. No one else in the world felicitates. But, when you set foot in our lovely country, you will be awash and neck deep in felicitations.

The final word

I can understand the angst that some readers may have about the decline of “propah” English. As consumers, we all want dependable and high quality products. But, when we get too much of the same, we seek, nay, crave the unique, the outlier, the imperfection that makes life interesting. This is true for language as well. The way language works, we all get to go off-script from time to time.  Because we are like that only.

Write back and share your favorite Indianisms proudly. And, oh yeah, let the felicitations begin!

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!

A Brief History of India

Those who forget history, they say, are doomed to repeat it. What Ho! is proud to bring you the memorable moments in the post independence history of India, as seen on a Facebook wall.

Inspired by Teddy Wayne, Mike Sachs and Thomas Ng ‘s Op-Art at New York Times.

Bollywood, Oscars and a thousand monkeys

Recently watched a movie called Tere Bin Laden, which brings us to the topic of Bollywood. There are many jobs that people do in this world. Each requires a skill of some sort. Indefatigable fortitude goes with postman territory. Rain or shine, the mail never stops. A civil engineer has to display more than average propensity for complex problem solving. Good taxi drivers are blessed with stellar reflexes. And the list goes on. The only known exception to this rule is the Bollywood script writer.

The Indian movie industry is the largest in the world, based on number of movies released. Bollywood, which accounts for a lion’s share, has the distinction of making the most number of horror movies which don’t have ghosts in them. In a country with an abundance of culture, creative talent and money, it is hard to understand this depressing scarcity of quality cinema. The story of Bollywood has followed a script that seems eerily written by one of their own – devoid of plot elements and empty of memorable moments. Some one once said that if you gave typewriters to a thousand monkeys, it was only a matter of time before one of them came up with Hamlet. Well, more than a thousand have been at work in Mumbai for over fifty years, and so far, it’s just been much ado about nothing.

Seems like Bollywood goes “Didn’t ask for a good script. Asked for a script by Tuesday”. Scripts are not just tailored for actors. They  are also written by tailors.

Take a typical Bollywood script these days –

Boy goes to airport to pick up fiancee, who he last met when he was a toddler. Coincidentally, around the same time, girl escapes from mafia uncle by resorting to the proven technique of running on open roads in high heels to elude shiny 200 horsepower BMWs. Girl inexplicably lands up within earshot of boy, overhears conversation about long awaited fiancee, and decides that best course of action is to pretend to be the aforementioned fiancee. What better way to kill a few weeks on the run than to shack up with a complete stranger.

Boy is ecstatic that fiancee resembles Preity Zinta and not Om Puri, rushes home with girl in tow and a song on the lips. Girl learns about boy’s troubled childhood, his existential angst, PAN number and blood group – all via song, and falls madly in love. The next several weeks are spent dancing the flamenco on mountain tops and grassy knolls. Boy-girl swiss vacations, as a rule, are always interrupted by one untimely demise or another. This time, it is daadi-ma’s turn. Reluctantly, boy and girl foot it back. After brief hiatus, dancing makes a come back – this time, it’s salsa on the streets of maximum city in pouring rain.

Meanwhile, mafia uncle uses google maps on his Samsung phone to figure out girl’s coordinates, loads up AK47 and heads over pronto. Coincidentally, boy and girl get into tiff around the same time. The boy happily hands mother of his unborn child back to mafia chacha. At this juncture, mother of boy, hitherto presumed blind and dumb, suddenly starts spouting gospel truths on true love to her beloved son, exhorting him to rescue girl. Boy has change of heart in the time it takes to say “Ready”, but not before indulging in random drinking binge. Original fiancee  surfaces in item number during drinking binge before disapparating back into the void. Boy heads over to mafia uncle’s massive, walled estate, where local hoodlums, Caucasians, municipal corporators, Lalit Modi, shady UN officials, Shiv Sena and Al Qaeda have all gathered in the living room. A few scuffles and an obligatory bleeding lip later, boy rescues girl and they are back to dancing the cha-cha near waterfalls, lakes and other water bodies on remote islands. The End.

And, we wring our hands as to why we haven’t won an Oscar yet. Folks, we are going to need a lot more than a thousand monkeys to pull that off.

ps: Two thumbs up for Tere Bin Laden.

 

Fight or Flight

This week, we take a closer look at an interesting phenomenon in which a bunch of people voluntarily squeeze themselves into a giant pressurized metal tube which is then sealed and propelled into air. Yep, we are indeed talking about the joys of flying coach class. A gentleman named Tony Januss kicked it all off when he launched a commercial aviation company cleverly named the St Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line on Jan 1, 1914. This was closely followed by the first baggage loss – an unrecorded fact of history, uncovered only by What Ho! sleuths. We’ve come a long way since. In 2009, airlines served peanuts to an estimated 770 million passengers in the US alone.

Sadly, airline travel is not what it used to be. No one enjoys it any more. The passengers don’t. The crew doesn’t. Suffice it to say that we were not surprised when we were commissioned by McKinsey and Co to analyze and reverse this trend. And, true to our style, we decided to call a spade a shovel and started off with a few tweaks to flight announcements.

First, the boarding announcement – “Welcome aboard and please pretend to pay attention to this announcement. You know where the seat belts are. In trials, four years olds have figured out how to buckle themselves up in five seconds or less. If you are unable to do so, please contact us and we’ll be happy to enroll you in the George W Bush Mensa Club. Sudden loss of pressure is not a good thing. First, secure your own oxygen mask and then your child’s. If you are traveling with more than one child, you might want to toss a coin. If you look out the window and see us hurtling towards the Bay of Bengal, feel free to grab one of our complimentary seat cushions, useful as a flotation device while swimming in shark infested waters. Please note that there is a $25 fee for detonating bombs while on board the aircraft.”

Then, at mid flight -“People, we are encountering turbulence. Or, then again, it could be that we are trying to dodge missiles fired by North Koreans. In any case, there is no need to panic until a sudden drop in cabin pressure. If you *still* haven’t figured out how to fasten your seat belts, please raise your hand. Sarah Palin is looking for campaign volunteers. As for your meal, you know how it goes – if you pay monkeys, you only get peanuts”

And finally, on landing-

“Folks, contrary to what you think, we were not shot down. Please keep your butts glued to the seats until what’s left of this plane reaches the terminal. On behalf of Captain Kangaroo and his fake pilot license, we thank you for the opportunity to take y’all for a ride. Remember that no one loves your money more than KingLearJet Airlines. And, please don’t leave anything behind, especially spouses.

The Happiest Country in the World

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

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

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

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

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

The Slumdog and the Millionaire

Having lived on both sides of the pond for a good many years, I can understand both reluctance and enthusiasm on part of of Indian diaspora when it comes to returning “back” to India “for good”. I’ve known better than to be in the middle of these debates, but have gleaned enough to know the usual litany of pros and cons contained in them. What’s always striking about these discussions is that each party secretly believes itself to be the millionaire and pities the other as the slumdog.

The naysayers arsenal includes surface-to-air missiles such as “Too polluted”, “work environments suck”, “school systems not great”, “can’t find enough East European piano teachers” etc. etc. The optimists fire back with biochemical weapons a-la “Feel more connected”, “have a sense of belonging”, “india is where it’s all happening”, “don’t need to do my laundry and ironing” etc. Seriously, when did the prospect of someone else doing your laundry become a reason to rush and pack your bags for a 10,000 mile journey? Ever wonder if Magellan set out to circumnavigate the world in the hope he could outsource dirty underwear processing?

All these debates miss the point by the margin Columbus missed India. To wallow in such trivia is to miss the Sunderbans for its mangroves. Once you confront the deeper questions, the rest are mere details.

If you are one of those – pondering a move but forever vacillating on its merits – luck is at hand. I present the Laughing Gas pop quiz specially designed for “perennially unsure wannabe returnees”. It is anticipated that taking the quiz three times a day after meals will purge the system of any lingering malaise around effecting changes in longitude.

What is your notion of “time”?

Is time a logical construct with practical utility or an abstract notion with philosophical connotations? The correct answer, boys and girls, is “Time is an illusion”. If you harbor thoughts to the contrary, am afraid that you might want to give that one-way ticket a miss.

Consider the sentence: “I’ll call you back in 10 minutes”. All it implies is notional and not to be interpreted as anything more than polite conversation between one human and another. If you can comprehend that varying degrees of truth and complex assumptions are embedded in that spontaneous statement and are willing to annihilate any expectations that may arise reflexively within you – you might not be entirely without hope.

Do you go into involuntary spasms when a flight is delayed? Do you pack your bags 4 weeks prior to departure? Mate, you need help.

Have you ever missed a flight? After buying the ticket in the airport? Skip the rest of this exercise and proceed directly to “Go”. You are 24 carat India material, my friend!

What is your “data sensitivity quotient”?

How sensitive are you to the accuracy of information provided? What skills do you possess in handling ambiguity?

Say I presented the problem: 123 x 456 = ? And, you came up with 56088. Congratulations, you awesome math cat, you! But, sorry pal, consider yourself on the “no fly” list. Successful transplants will content themselves with vague terms such as the answer might end in ‘8’, may have more than four digits, etc. Virtuosos will provide convincing impressions of not having heard the question at all.

If you are possessed of romantic and harmful notions about the need for precision and clarity – consider taking out that second home equity loan, making the most of Saturday night potluck dinner parties and beefing up junior’s spelling bee skills.

Are you a genius?

Ok, this one’s a little wacky. Let me explain this. Genius is the ability to hold polar, conflicting beliefs in one’s mind at the same time. So, let me ask again. Are you a genius?

When informed – “Go straight ahead and turn right” – if you can consider the equally likely possibility of having to “make a U-turn followed by a left”, then you reside in what I can only describe as the peaceful nothingness that exists between the right and left parts of your brain. On the other hand, if you prefer to hold doggedly onto prized skills in logic and inductive methods of reasoning, I see hair loss, ulcers and antacids in your future.

The one good reason to move to India.

Humor aside – there is always one good reason to move. You just have to find out what yours might be. And, there is only one way to find out. Or not. Sab chalta hai. Wherever you are, and whatever you do – may you always have fair winds. Keep smiling. Jai 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!

Pint Sized Mug Shots

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conspiracy Theories

Some one once told me that everything in this world is controlled by just fifty people. These fifty people, he said, determine everything. And he meant everything. As in everything  from stock market movements to oil prices to US presidential elections to opium trafficking and mujahideen movements in Afghanistan to installing the next puppet government in banana republics .Whew! I am running out of breath just from listing the responsibilities of those who shall not be named. Fantastic theory, and apparently it has its takers.

Every one loves a good conspiracy theory. But, they relieve us from the banal and real world through imaginative concoctions that contain tiny morsels of truth and liberal doses of paranoid delusion. Life’s too short to be lived in the real world, I guess.

Who killed JFK? The Russians? The Mafia? Lyndon Johnson? Wait a minute, Lyndon Johnson? Come on!

Indian  conspiracy theories are inevitably about cricket, bollywood or politics and at times, all three. A colleague informed me that “3000 crores of money was bet on Sachin getting a hundred in the game against Pak” during the world cup. That, he explained, is why the Pakistanis dropped four catches of Sachin. I scratched my chin.

“err, didnt Afridi take the catch finally? And, Sachin finally never did get his hundred”

“That’s because Afridi is the *ONLY* clean guy on the Pak team. He doesn’t take money”

“The *ONLY* clean guy? Afridi?”

I had to pause to digest this nugget. This was like Lyndon Johnson all over again. If I had to pick the only clean guy on the Pakistani cricket team, I’d go with Kamran Akmal. His ability in dropping catches is genius. And that sort of genius cannot be faked. But then again, I wouldnt know. I am not in the nifty fifty.

The most interesting aspect of conspiracy theories are that they are so far divorced from our day to day lives that they are not actionable. We lose nothing by believing. But, one does struggle to process the data. The first bite is usually juicy. But then, the morsels get lumpier and harder to swallow with each progressive bite.

“Jesus really lived in Kashmir?”  Sometimes even the first morsel is hard to swallow.

A reporter asked if Andrew and Kate had been tipped off about the planned assault on OBL. The question arose because the royal couple had postponed their honeymoon by a day, and the reporter wanted to know if there was a connection. I can only imagine the look of bemusement on the palace spokesperson’s face.

Sorry folks, Hillary Clinton is in all likelihood a female. Osama is most definitely deader than a dodo. Yes, there is a fairly good chance that we landed on the moon. And oh yeah, Obama was born in Hawaii.

Nevertheless, one feels obliged to tip the hat to these unflappable heros who find the unlikeliest of connections between the faintest of dots, and in the process prove that human imagination is indeed alive, unbounded and purposeless. May their tribes flourish!

A note to the nifty fifty if you happen to be reading – I’d suggest punting on global warming, Pakistan, Libya, Egypt, etc for now,  and instead, please please do something first about Donald Trump.

Winds of Change

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

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

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

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

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