Category Archives: Assorted

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.

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A Living Will

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

For Richer or For Poorer: Valentine’s Day Circus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why do I have to learn this?”

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

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

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

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

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.