Saturday, May 23, 2009

The wisdom of the married man

It’s very difficult for a woman to stay mad when someone’s scratching her back just right, there, no just a little to the right no not so much yes THERE aaaaahhhhh …

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


So Democracy has Spoken.

I’m sorry, I missed some of her early lines because I was busy chivvying a supply chain. Of EVMs. May Cthulhu bless the Election Commission and their tech progress, 13 rounds of counting were completed between 8 a.m. and a quarter to 12. Unimaginable back in the day, I remember the counting in the Simultaneous Elections in May 1996 took THREE DAYS and most of us went into rehab afterwards. By the afternoon of the second day my voice was gone and I was giving orders in sign language; one of my major achievements was fitting an air circulator to the ass of just about every counting supervisor and assistant – not a luxury when the temperature was above 45 Celsius with over 90% humidity. Three of our counting staff ended up in hospital, in a neighbouring district one died.

And this time, although the first two rounds took nearly an hour in one Assembly segment, 10 more rounds and a bit were over in less than 3 hours after that. Yay for chivvying.

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Sometimes this gorment job is particklerly irritating because it would be against my service rules to discuss the election results on a public forum. Which leads to major restraint.

But I can discuss 'em with friends. Which I did in Delhi, from 3 in the morning on Sunday till it was time for my flight home. Other issues came up (along with coffee, cigarillos and a rather good toasted ham sandwich), and I place them here for comment.

1 – Tom Friedman is an ass. Not only because distances are actually greater in a flat world, but because every book of his goes beyond incoherent to inchoate.

2 – Women in the Punjab, or at least a specific part thereof, were observed to carry themselves very well. “Trod the ling like a buck in spring” and all that (or should that be “doe in spring”? Too many options). The men tend to slouch. (Subsidiary point – is there a real difference in ... ummm …tandrusti, or have ALL the women discovered the Wonderbra?)

3 – Every single country in the continent of Africa is FUBAR, governance as we know it is non-existent and only Alexander McCall Smith’s locale has a modicum of peace.

4 – Anthony McAuliffe totally rocked, and Panther Soup works well both as war memoir and travelogue. I’m reading it now and I agree. Sample quote – “To live a la Bourguignonne is to enjoy a life of red wine and cream, and to die at the age of 42 under somebody else’s wife.”

5 – When you have a possessive cat who hates it when you go away, and also pees on your luggage to show her disapproval, getting past sniffer dogs at airports is hellish. I mean, try out that explanation on any random copper

6 – Being arrested can be a surprisingly civilised interaction. This was a student demonstration in the aftermath of the Bhopal tragedy, the police had orders from on high to round up the demonstrators and hated it far more than the arrested people because they (the police) had to pull out records from the previous 30 years to charge these boys and girls (few of them over 25) with unsolved crimes. They kept apologizing to the detainees. The traumatic part was taking a dump while handcuffed to another person.

6a – “Well, if you count East and West Germany as different countries – which they were at that time – I’ve been arrested in 13 of them. Not counting India.”

7 - "I stand by what I said, that woman WAS naked when I walked in and he DID leave me to calm her down. Incidentally, she was Puerto Rican, not Cuban, and her name was Pagol. Just goes to show."

I do have interesting friends.

Monday, May 18, 2009

I love my India

A man has been in prison in Raipur since May 2007. He was charged under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2006 (CSPSA), and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967), which was amended in 2004 to include key aspects of the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (POTA), 2002. (POTA was repealed in 2004.) While in prison, this gentleman has won the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights in 2008. Reportedly, 22 Nobel Laureates have written to the Prime Minister of India on his behalf. Meanwhile, his bail petition has been twice rejected by the Supreme Court of India. Soli Sorabjee pleaded his case.

I didn’t know that Dr. Sen now requires an angioplasty. His friends and well-wishers are apparently concerned about the quality of treatment he may receive in a government hospital in Raipur and have petitioned both the government and the Supreme Court that he be taken to Vellore for treatment. I was told that this request has been turned down by the government and by the Supreme Court. I was also told that it has been moved again in the Supreme Court and the hearing has been deferred.

I called a friend who’s written a book on the Naxalite / Maoist movements across India. He’s also on a government committee set up by the Home Ministry to examine the issue of Salwa Judum. I reproduce here what he told me.

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Mining and logging in Chhattisgarh have caused not only ecological damage but also displacement of local populations. This is one of the major issues cited by the insurgents in the region. The primary focus of Salwa Judum is to retain control of the logging and mining activities.

Dr. Sen has voiced concerns about these issues and has also opposed the Salwa Judum initiative. He is viewed by the government as a trouble-maker. He is being held as an example to all those in the state who oppose Salwa Judum.

This case is not a political issue even during elections because the Salwa Judum was the brainchild of the present leader of the opposition in the state.

Over the last two years, several government officials have admitted, off the record, that there is no evidence against Dr. Sen on the charges brought against him.

Public opinion has not moved the government. Media coverage has not moved the government. Legal recourse has been sought and has so far failed.

Meantime, Dr. Binayak Sen’s health is failing. Apart from the heart problems, he is also reportedly wasting away.

**** ****

This is what I have been told by one man, albeit a man who has spent several years investigating the Naxalite / Maoist movement and also the strange case of Dr. Sen. There must be others out there who know more. There must be people who can adduce good reasons why Dr. Binayak Sen is a threat to Chhattisgarh and to India. There must be people who have a different point of view.

I’d like to hear it.

**** **** **** ****


I got a call-back in the evening. From a man whom I hold in the highest regard. Who blew me off when I called him in office earlier today. The conversation was a little strange.

“So why are you getting upset about this?”

“I’m not upset, just curious.”

“What do you think, the Supreme Court refused his bail twice without looking at the evidence?”

“Like I said, I’m curious. What IS the evidence?”

“Look, boss, I’ve seen enough to know that (they) have some very damning stuff on him.”

“Then why isn’t it made public? Why doesn’t the government put it out there?”

“Are you hallucinating, guru? Since when have the media seen fit to print anything positive about the government?”

“So you’re saying the internment is totally justified?”

“What’s the worst, boss? That he’s innocent? Fine, then there’s been a massive miscarriage of justice. Shit happens. Is that new to you? Why are you getting involved? You bloody Bongs all romanticize the Naxals. Okay, not you personally, you’re a bloody snob, your’s will be one of the first heads on pikes when the streets run with blood.”

“Hang on a minute, sir. Romanticise? I? This guy has said time and again that he is not for the Naxals, that he’s not involved.”

“Not involved? Right! I’m just this innocent man who’s carrying love letters from one man to another, letters I never open and read because they’re deeply personal. Only every time I carry one of these letters, 2 or 5 or 6 people get blown up or have their heads hacked off. Dear me, it must be a coincidence, I never saw any connection that way. Bloody *****!”

I didn’t push it any further. The conversation went on to other things. But this, somehow, is not the voice I know. Even a person who doesn’t know this man – and how far he will go (and has gone) to cover MY ass – can make out some inconsistencies in his side of the conversation. Or maybe I’m lacking in objectivity. You call it.

**** ****

Update: On 25th May '09, a vacation bench of the Supreme Court of India granted bail to Dr. Binayak Sen. His family plan to take him to Vellore for treatment.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Leaves a bad taste

Restaurants do not provide goods. They provide services. I don’t go to a restaurant because I can’t cook at home. I go there for the convenience, the ambience and yes, the quality of the food. Eating out is a combination of these three factors. When we’re really bushed, we order in. When we feel like hanging out, we go to some nice place where the food may not be all that great. When we have friends from out of town, we take them to some place where the food is awesome. And we accept that we are paying not so much for the actual food served as for the service, the surroundings, the pleasure of the senses and not just the palate.

So last night we went to Fire and Ice. I’ve been there once a couple of years ago and thought that it was not bad, but nowhere near good enough to justify the hype. Last night N* felt like a Med spread, so there we were. After some bread and antipasti (of which more later), we were served pasta Alfredo con prosciutto. And it was DRY. The pasta was beyond al dente, it was undercooked. (How can you get BOTH dry and hard unless you’re just terrible at cooking pasta?)

But we were tired. Hungry. So (after some effort) we managed to flag down a waiter. Asked him (very nicely, especially considering my level of fatigue, starvation and consequent irritation) to take the pasta back to the chef and have it tossed with some more Alfredo sauce. He looked bewildered. Then said he’d get back to us. Vanished. All this, mind you, while the pasta congealed and our tempers simmered. Shortly, one numbers Shorty arrived. We explained again (still nicely, but I counted to 20 first). He said (with Big Fake Smile) “Of course, sir!” We smiled back (happy non-fake smiles). THEN he said “But we will charge you extra for it.”


Are you for real?!

Yes, we will charge extra.

Go away and do what you like. Just do it fast.

So, this Fire & Ice, which sundry friends have praised to the skies, serves BAD pasta. Even if it was a one-off, it would mean they do not have consistent quality.

Then, they have the immortal rind to tell you that if you want your food edible, that costs extra. I mean, what are they smoking?! (They actually charged FORTY per cent extra for tossing it up with sauce)

I am Not Happy. So here are all the wonderful things I noted about Fire & Ice.

1 – They’ve jammed in too many tables. It’s a fairly large space, so they must be really greedy to make it look crowded. I couldn’t lean back with my hands behind my head for fear of bumping into the pony-tailed ex-pat at the next table and giving him the Wrong Idea. (Fear because my gaydar beeped. Very loud.)

2 – The waiters need a LOT of training. They also need baths and laundry. And breath mints. And those chequered bandannas, the ones they wear to look like cool Latinos? They make them look like engine stokers. Grimy engine stokers.

3 – The menu is limited. Only two kinds of soup and one risotto? They do, however, have some variety in the pizzas and pastas. But no farfalle or fusilli, no gnocchi. Unless the waiters are clueless, in which case refer to Pt. 2 above.

4 – The so-called focaccia was more like pan pizza crust. Just about OK when slathered with melted mozzarella (what, you didn’t know I’m on a healthy eating trip?), but the insides were NOT soft and there was no discernible flavour. It’s supposed to be the same dough as pizza, but surely it shouldn’t have the texture and character of a pizza base? The jury’s out on the olive oil.

5 – The antipasti platter was mostly good. Decent salami (though sliced too thin for my liking), really good bocconcini and fresh tomatoes. No feta cheese, no lettuce or indeed any fresh greens, now that was a disappointment

6 – The pasta supposedly “con prosciutto” didn’t have prosciutto. Standard ham does NOT qualify as prosciutto. Especially if it's barely discernible to either the eye or the palate.

7 – I wanted to speak to the manager. He was not in the restaurant. Where is he, stuck between a pair of headphones down in Bangalore?

8 – They did not have a complaint book. I was given a sheet of paper, where I explained my dissatisfaction at some length. But I don’t know if it will reach management (or whether they will respond).*

Value for money? Well, this place is not cheap by Calcutta standards, but it’s not hideously expensive either. Except that bad food is bad value no matter what the price-line. Maybe I’m more critical because people have praised it to the skies. But really, this is no better than a neighbourhood joint that happens to be in an up-market location. The food is indifferent and the ambience is indeterminate.

And we could have overlooked all of this if their attitude hadn’t sucked big time.

I’m never going back there. Druther check out CafĂ© Toscana. And there’s always La Cucina.

* - I mailed them. It bounced.

Monday, May 11, 2009

like angels on a Saturday night

Half past six on a Monday evening, back in office, trying to clear three weeks’ backlog in two days. Piles and piles of files, check-lists, reminders, the usual.

Then I realise that if I’m charging my iPod, I might as well play something off iTunes. A new friend on Facebook posts a link to Masiakasaurus playing an extended version of my all-time favourite guitar song.

And as if on cue, the heavens open up with a roll of thunder. A window flies open and the earth-slaking skin-waking breeze reaches in to chill my fingers.

Wake up, chillun. It’s raining into the city, it’s raining into the night.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Shorts, tee and towel. Sweat from every pore (do NOT ask). My stomach roils, my head hurts. And I've realised Terry Pratchett's contribution to natural science and taxonomy.

I am a Troll.

Look it up. Terry says trolls' brains don't work too well at high or even normal temperatures. But send them to Alaska in mid-winter (or the Rimtops, as the case may be) and they start to sparkle and fizz. Is it a coincidence that I've been reading Colin Thubron's In Siberia?

And a pox on the friendly souls who make wisecracks about not being able to tell the difference.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Ms. Draupadi Mokrashi and the price one pays

Polls over, report mailed, tickets confirmed. Some time tomorrow evening there should be a teeny pair of arms round my neck, accompanied by the truest possible outpouring of love - “Papa, did you get me some sweeties?”. At which point arms-round-neck stage will cease and investigation-of-pockets will start. Ah well. She might as well be a teenager already for all the conversation she has for me. Except when she’s been punished in school. THEN she importunes me on the phone (in between loud offended howls), “Papa, you come home right NOW!”

So tomorrow morning I have to get in a car at 6 to go catch a train at 7:30. Then find somebody in Delhi to have lunch with before I take a 3:30 flight back home. The whole bleeding day. If anybody needs venture capital for a teleportation project, I’m on. With an idea, even. If some molecules get lost in the process, it could double as a slimming cure. What if those molecules were from the brain, you ask? Considering my 98% theory (what, you don’t know that 98% of the world’s population just don’t USE their brains?), it wouldn’t make any difference to most of the users. Bound to be a winner. Any takers?

The point being, now that the polls are over and I’ve Done My Bit, this place, this room, the entire set-up seems to bite me in the ass. I want Out. I want Back. Home. In MY armchair with my feet up on the table, putting aside my laptop to accommodate a small projectile that makes loud demands to be cuddled. WITHOUT the bloody 3-stage travel schedule. Gah.

Meantime, a few photographs of the home-coming of Smt. Draupadi Mokrashi (from Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel ... D-mocracy, capische? One wonders how Mr. Tharoor himself will fare)

This man carried his grandmother to the polling booth. Touching. Inspiring. Intimidating.

Colours of democracy. I loved the sight of children playing on the lawns while their parents waited in line to vote.

Polling parties depositing EVMs and materials at night. About 2000 people in a gymnasium / stadium. Situation normal, utterly chaotic.


Meantime, Amit Varma and GreatBong, who obviously read the news with unwavering attention, link to a story about our Mallu with the Mostest. I’ve always said that the fakeiplplayer’s biggest strength is the nicknames, and this story vindicates the one he’s made up for Sreesanth. Though I wish he hadn’t used “Boy George” for my friend JB. The height matches, but JB’s mane of white hair is bad enough without the mental picture of mascara, lipstick and that net veil thingy. Major mental kazoomba.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Persistence pays

Science advances. It has been determined that a physicist’s beard takes about 58.8 days to grow an inch. Assuming the physicist shaved at 7 a.m. on 1st May, it would be 12 minutes past 2 in the morning on 20th June before each hair in his beard was an inch long. Okay, maybe 11 minutes past 2. Such a long wait. Physicists have it tough (Tough? Enter stage left, the Gillette Mach III ..).

If this is true, we can also posit that a civil servant’s beard grows faster than a physicist’s. Now to collect the data.

I can foresee some fun with the tests, oh dear yes.

The writing on the ...

If you can read this site without laughing out loud, give me a shout and I'll send you a year's supply of laxatives, you obviously need them.

Heads-up - I got the links off blogs I check, but what with clicking off Bloglines and getting some lunch and taking 294 phone calls and checking on the despatch centre, I have NO idea which blogs they're off.

So if you posted them first or think you did, yo da man. Or, as the case may be, woman.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The pied crested cuckoo

I saw the fan-shaped cloud around half past 2 yesterday. A shadow of hope, up there in the vault of a blazing sky. So I asked the ‘gunman’ (because he was nearest, see?), ‘Looks like there’s a chance of rain, eh?”

To which his considered answer (after first clutching his gun tighter, in case the cloud was a security threat) was ‘That’s a cloud’.

Quite. Very helpful, with the temperature up in the mid-40s (that’s Celsius, Mr. Y Doodle) and the furnace breeze lifting lazy clouds of dust from the roadside. I was out from 7 in the morning to beat the heat. Fat chance. The sun was a hammer well before 9 o’clock, regardless of shades and hat and wet towel and regular sipping of water,. By the time I got back at 4 in the afternoon the back of my neck was throbbing and my skin felt like it had been toasted.

But that was yesterday. When I woke at a quarter to 6 this morning, the room was unusually dark. I ran (well, almost. Cut me some slack here) outside. Oh blessed day! Clouds from one side of the horizon to the other, shades of grey, birds quieter in the trees, that little hush that comes before it pelts down, and faint upon the air the smell of wet earth.

And the added pleasure of being proven right on my prediction yesterday, of knowing Things About Weather even though I'm a city slicker.

But only a faint drizzle so far, the kind that barely darkens the earth and leaves an inverted shadow of the trees upon the ground below where the diffident raindrops cannot reach. Bring it on, Rain Dude! Don’t give us a teaser and a no-show! Come ON!

Update: 24 hours later, it STILL hasn't rained. Haven't these guys heard of Truth in Advertising?

* The pied crested cuckoo is known in North India as the 'chaatak', which, according to Indian myth, sits with its mouth open waiting for rain to alke its thirst. Silly twit, but then, it IS a cuckoo. Me, I've discovered Red Bull with watermelon juice. And a spot of Old Monk.