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

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.

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.

The What Ho! Guide to Indian Politics

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

1.  Coalition Dharma

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

2.  Letting the law take its course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.  Hand in hand with the foreign hand

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

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

“Can we blame the opposition for this crisis?”

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

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

“Not a good idea”

“Do we know what’s going on?”

“No”

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

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

Jolts and setbacks are favorites of the newspapers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.  Civil Society

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

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

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

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

Write back with your favorite Indianisms from politics and media!

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

The 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.

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.

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!

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.

 

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.