Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Just enough for a postcard

I am just back from a holiday. After a nourishing two days with parents, I returned to Pune. It was late and dark, and yet, somehow, I felt happy and free. There was no agitation about whether I would get an auto or whether I would meet a freak on my way home. There were simple merry plans of having dinner alone and walking back, if nothing was available.

This sense of secure belonging was a memento from my trip, I think.

Suddenly, I have this need to pay homage to all those who travel the world – who feel at home on so many, many parts of the earth.

It’s great to look back to see how many steps you have taken, and understand that none of them have been on a ‘strange’ land.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

And with that, the greetings

Rickety seats, loud co-passengers, Manoj Kumar getting wet in the rain on T.V.

Z and I look at each other and sigh. The bus trip to Mumbai will be very, very long.

Then Z lightens up the mood.

'One day, Santa (of Santa/Banta notoriety) joins NASA. After six months, the agency changes its name to SATYANASA.'

And with that - Happy Diwali, everyone!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Little writer of T-shirt messages

C got a diya from her school and showed it to me. Pretty little clay lamp attached to a plate with red, sparkly, paint. For some reason, she didn’t trust me enough to hand it over for appreciative inspection.

This is the not for you’, she informed. ‘ Yours is in the Mumbai.’ (C is quite fond of the definite article.)

Similar wariness of me handling diyas can be witnessed in my household, but I wasn’t about to let THAT get in the way.

Why can’t I hold it?’, I ask.

‘This is the not yours’, she replied and hit me on the hand.

Whose is it then?’

‘The Big ban’

‘What?’

‘The BIG BAN!’,
she yelled.

‘The Big Ban?’, I’m a little confused now. She’s making diyas for a clock in London? (Yes, I know it’s the Big B-E-N, thank you so much.)

I pull her closer, to follow her mouth (constantly rounded in surprise, anticipation, partial scream, full-bodied yell, etc., etc.).

‘This diya is for…’, I ask slowly, my eyes never leaving her lips.

THE’, she replies slowly. Okay, she thinks I’m a dud, but so what.

BIG’

Yes…

BAN’

‘THE BIG BAN!’, she finally concludes loudly.

Of course, I had made the arrogant presumption that if I didn’t know what the freaky Big Ban was, she wouldn’t either. But humility crept into me like gastro, and I asked her:

‘What’s the Big Ban?’

‘The Big Ban is the big ban’,
C replied and touched the diya to her forehead. How we do after a puja.

BHAGWAAN!’, I correct her, with relief. So it’s not as if she knew something I didn’t.


She’s irritated now.

‘This is for the Big Ban!’, she says with finality, wondering how this dense woman didn’t get it the first few times it was hollered. She scoots to find her Mommy.

I’m left staring at the diya and wondering…

‘Bhagwaan – the big ban’

C should make message T-shirts for agnostics. So what if she’s four? She gets them.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What they don't know and can't tell

Usually, I talk to A really late into the night. That is the only time we get to talk to each other. (There are snatches during lunch time, but they don’t count because then, we don’t fight and we don’t make up.) After an hour of the routine arguments where he’ll keep saying, ‘What ARE you talking about?’ and not give me a chance to tell him what indeed I am talking about, we settle down and be very sweet to each other. We’re at this phase when both of us are blessed with bad memories, and I am quite grateful for that. I do know this is just a phase though. Otherwise, he never forgets and I never stop reminding – it’ll be fun to see where all this sharp memory will take us in the future.

Coming back to the sugary conversations; I love the way he asks, ‘How was your day?’ I think the reason my heart tugs at this question is because it is innocuous enough, but it seems weighted with care. It’s only a day and it’s over when A asks me about it. But suddenly I find myself looking back at it keenly. Rummaging through rubble of ordinary temporal odds and ends, and picking up one or two interesting pieces. How, maybe, a shapely, manicured hand would go through a heap of grunge and pick out a stunning terra cotta elephant miniature. So, I enthusiastically tell him of the exciting times in my day. Most involve rickshaw drivers, rickshaw fares, rickshaw meters, battle involving all, and brief references to the RTO. Or maybe how the staff at INOX counters expects you to tell them your ATM pin number so that they can punch it in. Because it’s so inconvenient for them to push the little machine through the glass opening. And when you refuse, they make a face. And when you ask them to show you the seating plan, they make a face. And if you don’t give them exact change for 180 rupees they make a face. Sometimes, I think I see more histrionics before entering the movie hall.

That aside, there is my batty behavior. To a passer-by, I may seem like a giggling doofus in love. (I do giggle, albeit intelligently.) One may speculate that naughty nothings get muttered at the other end (as one of my pals thought) and while I would like to agree because it’s a nice thing to agree to, it wouldn’t be true. I giggle because of the funny put-downs that come fast and furious now that the proposal has been made and accepted. So, while I appreciated his humor before, I don’t quite like it as much now when I’m at the receiving end of it. But it is funny, so what to do?

Like the time I was alone in the house. It was dark and silent and of course, I could hear strange noises. Then my phone blinked and I happily picked it up, expecting it to be A’s call. It was.

I told him that I was alone in the house and I was a little scared. So, what I expected him to tell me was that I shouldn’t be scared because he’s there with me, or I should just imagine that he’s by my side, or I should dial ‘100’. (I’ve noticed that’s his blanket response for everything – lawyer’s proclivities, I suppose.) But there was none of that. Instead there was this:

Me: ‘I’m alone in the house and I’m scared.’

Him: ‘So don't stand in front of the mirror.’


I start giggling like a fool. And they think he’s getting romantic.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Recommendations from Bombay

I visited the V.T. area after a very, very long time. And with the spirit of the first-time discoverer of exquisite food, here’s what I liked.

A) Sher-e-Punjab, near V.T. : Pudhina tandoori prawns.

Twelve bites of culinary jewels. Sweet, tender, fresh prawns, marinated in pudhina and roasted on tandoor PER-FECT-LY. What is fabulous is the hint of tangy crust of slightly charred mint and the way the tongue-tickling sweetness of the prawns unfurls – slowly, steadily, completely…and twelve whole times. At 300 bucks a plate, it’s steep but very worth it.


B) Liberty Chaat place: The Dahi-Batata-Puri.

Given my humble preferences, this is my very favorite food and ultimate barometer of whether I love a place until death or barely acknowledge it until pyre-time arrives. And while Dahi Batata Puri in Mumbai outshines, in all curdy glory, whatever you get in Pune (where Dahi Batata Puri is not taken off the menu even if hawkers are out of dahi and out of batata), the Liberty Chat offering takes this dish to fast-food heaven. The dahi is creamy and sweet and positively swathes all the puris on the plate, the puris are big and uniformly punctured such that the curd isn’t oozing out of the sides, the potatoes are spicy and flavored, and the sev that tops the dish is fine, crunchy, yet melts in the mouth. A few grains of pomegranates are thrown in for that pretty garnet-studded look that makes you go mmm. (I remove that fruity affectation before I dig in, though.) And the result can be perfectly summed up as Yum-Yum.


If anyone tries either of these after reading the post…you’re welcome.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Good ones are hard to find....

I wonder what a tired mind can write about.

Okay, let’s see. Off the top of my head… I like programmers. I really do, even though I secretly shudder at the thought of spending money on my child’s education and finding out that he or she wants to be one of them. But my problem is that there are very, very few good programmers. The problem is further compounded by the fact that there are way too many competent ones. When I work with excellent programmers one time, they raise the bar so high that it impedes my interaction with other merely competent coding colleague. (And funnily, all of them have been men, so I shall use the masculine gender to refer to them in the rest of this post. It accurately reflects my experience, and not the workforce at large, so there won’t be an addendum of apology later.)


So, what do I mean by a good programmer? There must be a perorational set of guidelines somewhere in the wireless universe, but here’s my list:

1.

He is genuinely interested in solving problems. You go up to him and tell him that something is not working, he will turn his eyes away from the screen and ask, ‘What is it?’ The fact that you are a writer and only use MS WORD all the time is not held against you. Usually, they deem writers to be slightly more intelligent than a worn-out mouse (rodent OR the gadget). So, writers having a technical problem is generally seen to be an act of God and must not be interfered with.

(I must admit here that writers cannot articulate instances of random HTML codes showing up like dirty petticoats on the screen. I’m aware it can get trying.)

But ever so often, one of them will hear you speak. He will come up to your workstation and look at what’s wrong (instead of asking you to go back and send screen shots to him, and CCing them to everyone born ever since the computer was invented.)

Then he will SOLVE the problem.

2.

That brings me to the second point (as all first points do.) He understands what solving a problem means. He knows that he has solved a problem if he has eliminated it; NOT if he has provided a bigger one to distract you from the original hassle.

3.

He reads emails. Emails that writers write. Emails with whole verbs, full sentences, polite references to attachments (‘Please find attached…’, instead of just a paper clip icon with no subject, no text, no nothing), and so many words that a scroll bar actually appears in the message panel.

The good programmer scrolls.

The other ones (and I speak from harrowed experience) don’t.

Few days back, I stood fuming. It was already too late, there were enough bugs to spread entomophobia, and meeting a deadline was a distant dream.

‘I asked you to do that’, I say.

‘You should’ve mailed’, smug reply.

‘I did. Check your email.’, I snap.

Email is unearthed. MS Outlook is set to the view where you see a portion of the message at the lower end.

‘See…you didn’t say anything about that’, smugger bugger.

‘Scroll down..’, I snap again.

‘Scrollllllll?’, he looks like one stepping over dog faeces. ‘I didn’t scroll.’

Somehow, I don’t feel vindicated. Interesting how this guy showed me the truth of a hollow victory.

4

The good programmer is thorough. Very meticulous and very detailed. I’ve had programmers point out errors in content structure, besides doing a fantastic review of their own jobs. They have helped in visualization, understand schedule variance, give the odd pep-talks to their team mates. Some of them view a project holistically and are clued into what the other departments do. (The only other team that shares such an overview approach are the project managers – and they think no-one anywhere is working.) The other types of techies (and I realize its unfair to say this of them because most of us are afflicted with tunnel vision) wouldn’t even know who else is on the project besides their own gang. So every time, you approach them for information, you first have to connect the dots from waaay back before you get to the point.


5

I’m sure they find writers such as me, weary as well. The kinds who point out to anything strange on the screen and call them ‘thingies’, (and if they blink – ‘blingies’, and if they are aligned too closely with another element – ‘clingies’…hee hee hee hee!) But some of them have patience. They explain succinctly, instead of putting strings of words together, of which 5 will be ‘metadata’.

They know where I am coming from. They know that place. They know where I need to go. They know that place too. And step by step, they take me there.

[I just thought of something that happened in my very first job (or the very first job that lasted more than 8 days.) I worked for a web site and we were designing something or the other. A programmer friend was explaining the concept of animations and he kept using ‘Flash’. Now, I thought ‘Flash’ was a verbal interjection akin to snapping your fingers..or saying ‘Poof!’ Like..’It disappeared like this!’ *snap finger* or ‘She was gone! Poof!’ So, I was mighty intrigued when he’d say things like ‘Flash! The menu will appear here.’ Or ‘You know how we can move the text that side? Flash!’ He had a vile temper, and it being a first job and all, I didn’t reveal the incomprehension. But later, many quiet moments were spent giggling away to glory when I was introduced to ‘FLASH’.]

6

At client calls, the good programmers come prepared and communicate with the clients themselves. In fact, of all the traits that I have written about, if there is one thing that impresses me no end, it’s the way programmers conduct themselves at client calls; the way they think things through. They ask their own questions, they find out their own answers, they discuss their own doubts. And there are very few who can actually do this. Most don’t speak up, and rely on the other representatives to interpret client requirements. This never works because either they don’t trust the source (if they are writers) or they don’t trust the source at all (PMs).


This is basically it. It isn’t a big list, but these are the only things I can think of at midnight while I wait for the programmer to send me my stuff to review.

He’s a good guy deep down…missing subject lines and all.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Giant Wheeeeee!(l)


Last evening, after ages, I sat in a giant wheel. It was a dilapidated contraption handled by a man, geriatric enough to be the wheezing machine’s impresario. At fifteen bucks a ticket, there was nothing old-worldly about the price. But well, what’s a little rip-off for nostalgia?

My friend and I sat in a green bun-shaped dangling cart (there were orange, blue, and yellow ones as well). In the cart next to us sat a couple of guys, one of who seemed to be drunk on the joy of life, and the other one dehydrated from it. The happy one suggested that they sing boisterously (‘Jhalak Dikhla Ja’, no less) when the ride started in full swing. His nervous friend frantically asked the operator how long the ride would last. In true Pune fashion (the fashion in which a straight answer to a straight question is a faux pas), the operator said he would get his fifteen rupees worth. Ah. Joy.

A few minutes later, the ride started. Slowly it climbed up and then, suddenly, with a swoosh almost, it picked up speed. By that time, I had shut my eyes tight, but I could feel the wind near my ears and my heart in my mouth. And then, the wheel hovered ever so slightly at the peak before it made a clean dive downwards. It was brilliant! That feeling of breathlessness where you feel like you’re sweeping down like a feather with some aim! I love it when the clouds and trees and little people bustling about in the marketplace sort of swim around you while you are hurtling (or at any rate going really fast) up and above and then down and below and then right at the level and then all through that all over again.

A few rounds later, my heart still leapt into my mouth a few times but I more or less got settled in the rhythm. Then I relaxed and took in the wonderful, glittering sight around me. There were serpentine rows of stalls that sold heaps and heaps of glass bangles. From that distance, I could see mounds of gold-flecked ornaments in such brittle, shiny colors - rani pink, imli-brown, parrot green, violet, magenta, some iridescent ones, and also samples with verve to have all of these colors mixed together. The stone steps to a quaint little temple run over by moss was lit with tiny diyas. Children were tugging parents towards pinwheel hawkers. Mounds of pedas and laddoos were packaged and sold with the kind of practiced thoughtlessness that’s wonderful to watch in sweetmeat owners. I could see huge cauldrons bubbling with hot oil and rings of jalebis fried and dipped in sugar syrup. And then, moments later, the ride would take me up and I’d see patches of treetops looking silent and peaceful. I wonder if the topmost leaf of the tree ever tells the other leaves what the first sighting of an evening star is like. Maybe it happens. Who knows? Inevitably, I think of ‘The Faraway Tree.’

The ride is over. I feel that strange, childish resistance before I have to get down. One by one, everyone steps out. We need to mind our heads while exiting under an atrocious beam that, I guess, holds the wheel together.

It’s nice to see so many goofy grins at the same time. Just for that, I hope the rickety giant wheels stay around for ever.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Witty, by chance

I was out with a friend last night, who does not believe in having unexpressed opinions. So, de rigeur, I disagree with him because he talks lesser that way. He’s one of those gentlemen who regales in preaching to the converted.

In any case, sometimes in throes of exuberant verbosity, he tends to muddle up words. Last night, he did the same with the result that what he said was funny, but true. Made me twitter.

He was telling me about how corrupt Customs officials are in India. (Because, you see, I have been living under a shiny rock in the Ganges all this while and do not know this.) And not only are they corrupt, they go to the extent of taking bribes. (I didn’t have the heart to break it to my friend that corrupt officials not taking bribes would be quite a let-down.) Corrupt officials are also unfair and pick on innocent-looking dopes.

So, two of his friends were coming from somewhere with bottles of liquor. One looked crafty, the other looked stupid. The customs officials caught the slow-looking bloke.

My friend’s final summation: ‘That’s what I mean. Two people carry liquor, but the custom guys catch only one..the other goes ‘SCOTCH’ free!’

*A moment now to make a smiley.* :-D

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Save the Indian (male) child

This isn't exactly a feminist tirade, but this is written by a woman, and it is written in annoyance.

You raise your girls to be sweet, strong, and independent. (Wise parents teach their children to listen to opinions and discard or heed accordingly. The other ones just teach their kids to bullshit everything that everyone says. Still others bring up girls to be on guard and forget that spine so that everyone thinks well of them. I am not sure which is worse, but I detest people shoving their opinions down other people's throats in a show of liberation, so I'll lean towards the former. But only slightly.)

As the gender construct of being a 'female' is pushed even further, you teach your daughter complicated activities – driving, perhaps, sending them off away from home, wearing a sari (those freaking pleats!), cooking and de-veining prawns for added advantage.

At the end of that, you have a person who genuinely dislikes blending into anything, doesn't like being taken for granted, upholds the notion of having a personality, finds other people’s egos onerous, has her opinions and is sometimes, irritatingly dogmatic about them, and is not pleasant. People who know their minds and speak them aren’t always that.


Now, where are the men to handle these women? Where do the parents teach their sons that their wives are people in their own right, that they may have very sharp differences about important things, and they won’t always be nice and soft-spoken? Why are the sons not taught to see and understand the extra mile a woman has to go through while getting married? After all, leaving behind one’s family, friends, almost an entire lifetime spent in a particular mould – can’t be easy. It is human to resent it once in a while. It is human to wonder if it is being worth it. Why aren’t men taught to be mature enough to confront that?

I’m not even talking about the working-woman syndrome. From what I’ve seen around me, men are definitely much more willing to help around the house than before. And they genuinely seem to be happy if their wives earn more than them. So that’s nice.

But…

Why do they not understand the million little things a woman gives up during the marriage? (No, I don’t know the sacrifices a man makes – and please, fewer evening-outs with friends is not a SACRIFICE.) Not having a support system in a new place is a sacrifice. The pressure of finding a job in a new place after a break is a sacrifice. Relinquishing all comfort of familiarity in the trust of someone else is a sacrifice.

I think it is quite the norm now that when the girl goes to her husband’s house, her parents tell her that if anything goes wrong, she can chuck it all up and come back to them. But I don’t think the sons understand that yet. Somewhere down the line, it has not quite sunk in that the exit option for girls is strong as well.

Why don’t the men understand that for a woman who has been earning her bread, it is difficult to ask her husband for money until she gets a job? (And getting a good job is difficult and takes time.) If a woman hasn’t asked her parents for extra cash to get along, then going to her husband won’t be a blithe transition. It’s not the ego.

Why is it difficult to appreciate that not all women take to the fact that her husband’s friends will be her friends?’ (Personally, I detest that mindset. Hell. I will make friends with the pigeons if I have to, and not just simply tag along like a stupid accessory to all dos. Rubbish nonsense, I tell you.)

Why is it difficult to get it in the head that when you develop a sense of self, you will have these questions? You will have these doubts. And what is expected of the man is some intelligent sensitivity. A little silence when he actually walks a mile in his partner’s shoes and sees things from her point of view.

While we have been focusing on our girl-children, we have neglected our boys. They just aren’t ready to handle who they’ll be with.

One day, Anumita and I were discussing how much fun it is to have baby girls. Cute frocks and little bows and pink drapes in the nursery, her cute passport photograph on her graduation day, smart pants for her first job, etc. etc.

And Chandrika, ever our voice of reason told us, that today it is just as important to have a son and bring him up well – the kind of man we would want our daughters to marry.

She said it.