Now being published as a novel. Click the picture to find out more:

Monday, December 29, 2008

Top Ten Fictional Characters II

Here is the complete list. It is better if you read this in conjunction with Top Ten Fictional Characters I.

5. Alex: The anti-hero of 'A Clockwork Orange' has much going for him at the beginning of the book. He is the leader of his pack of 'droogs' and is happily engaged in various unplanned forms of rapes, vandalism and the general ultra-violence. Referring to himself as 'the humble narrator', he takes the centerstage of the book which itself is divided into three parts of seven chapters each. Incidentally, the number of chapters were intentionally kept at 21 to signal the coming of age. In the first part, you absolutely despise him for the way he treats his parents, his droogs and any human in general. The second part is where the story takes an ever darker turn if that is possible. He volunteers for the Ludivico technique which uses a combination of drugs to induce extreme nausea whenever he as much as even thinks of any kind of crime. Once released after the rehabilitation, in the third part, he runs into every one of the people he had wronged before who exact revenge upon him and he finds himself incapable of defence. Believe it or not, you are conflicted in how you feel about Alex. On one hand, you think that he probably deserves whats coming to him and on the other hand, the inhuman treatment, his defenceless stand and all-powerful morality question makes you feel very sorry for him too. Soon, he finds himself in the middle of a political agenda and somehow maneuvers his way out. His therapy is reversed and he goes back to his old ways. The most important chapter is the last chapter which was omitted in the original US edition because editors wanted the book to be as bleak as possible. In the final chapter, Alex abandons his ultra-violent life and considers finding a job and a family. This was a rather dramatic hint by Anthony Burgess that coming of age and maturity is a natural process and should not be interefered with. The most impressing part about Alex's character is that in the span of just about a hundred pages or so, he moves from a despicable rapist to a victim of inhuman rehabilitation. That and his interests in classical music and Nadsat manner of speaking. Alex comes alive when you watch the movie by the same name. Malcolm Mcdowell Plays Alex brilliantly, just the way you would imagine Alex after reading the book. Anthony Burgess said that the movie was brilliant, so brilliant that it could be dangerous. He wasnt wrong. The movie went on to become a cult hit but it also inspired violent behavior and had to be withdrawn in UK.

4. Voldemort: The Dark Lord and Harry Potter's nemesis is He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The most evil wizard ever to walk on earth, appeals to me because of his single-minded passion to be immortal and take over the world. He stops at nothing in his quest for immortality. He kills and kills again and in the process, splits his own soul into so many pieces that he can scarcely be called human any more. He can fly, is the most accomplished legilimens and occlumens. When the concept of Boggart and the Mirror of Erised was introduced to me, I reckoned that to really know any character, you just needed to know that person's greatest fear and the greatest dream. As JK Rowling stated that if Voldemort were to stare in the mirror, he would see himself as immortal and powerful and if he were to run into a Boggart, he would likely see his own corpse. Such combination of simplicity in ambition and yet the flaming drive to achieve them is rare. This character makes so few appearances in the earlier books, that you are starved to know more about him and when you do, you just cant bring yourself to blame him for what he does. Born out of a coerced loveless marriage and raised in an orphanage, he doesnt understand love and sacrifice which made him the greatest wizard ever but ironically which also ultimately leads to his downfall.

3. Captain Jack Sparrow: Just like Voldemort, Captain Jack Sparrow's appeal lies in his unapologetic quest for freedom. Back in 1800s, freedom meant a ship and the ability to go anywhere; an ideal occupation for a pirate. Captain Jack Sparrow is, however, arguably an ethical pirate; the argument lying in the audience' perspective. He compensates for his lesser seaman/ swordsman skills by putting on a facade of being a drunk comedian, inventing/exaggerating his swagger, slurred and albeit accented speech and almost gay demeanor. But any fan would say that he is the only one ahead of the game in the whole trilogy except that one instance when he dies in an unexpected honest streak. A tribute was paid when the lieutenant comments to Beckett - 'Do you think he plans it all out, or just makes it up as he goes along?' Not trusting his swordsplay, he relies on confounding wordplay, bargaining and misdirecting his opponents. As he explains - 'Why fight when you can negotiate? All one needs is the proper leverage.' He views his state of affairs as being on a chess-board and like a superhuman player, he can see many moves ahead, mobilizes troops and infiltrates his enemies in a climax which is so desirable but yet is so unexpected. He is the master of queen's gambit and all other forms of gambles possible. The entire credit for bringing this character alive and even redefining it goes to Johnny Depp. This character was supposed to be just a supporting cast in the first movie and when Johnny Depp played it as a rock star, it drove the studio bonkers. Michael Eisner actually complained that 'He is ruining the movie.' Of course, what happened is history as this supposedly supporting character took the centerstage and even received an academy award nomination, the first such in a fantasy movie.

2. English, August: The real name is of course Agastya but then again, the real name is really English, August. An urban lad thrust into rural India civil service. Fully occupied with marijuana, masturbation, Geetha and Marcus Aurelius, he somehow finds enough time to make a mockery out of his training. He consummately and contradictorily lies, passionately trivializes and hangs the consequences. He forever chooses to be an outsider as is evident in his observations such as - 'Eventually, he knew, he would marry, perhaps not out of passion, but out of convention, which was probably a safer thing. And then, in either case, in a few months or years they would tire of disagreeing with each other, or what was more or less the same thing, would be inured to each other's odd and perhaps disgusting ways, the way she squeezed the tube of toothpaste and the way he drank from a glass and didn't rinse it, and they would slide into a placid and comfortable unhappiness, and maybe unseeingly watch TV every day, each still a cocoon'. Most important of all, however, is his vague sense of dissatisfaction and in which he represents a generation of Indians influenced by western lifestyle and unsure of their ambitions. His journey, the self discovery, doesnt really culminates into apocalyptic climax but it does ring a familiar bell in everybody's mind, at least anybody who has stopped to think about it.

1. Joker: Although fairly intrigued by Joker throughout the comic series and the TV series, the Joker I am referring to here is Heath Ledger's Joker. I guess, I do suffer from recency effect here but the distinction is important because Joker has had a fairly varied and mutually contradictory history, not to mention various artists' portrayal. Anyhow, Heath Ledger's Joker is a highly intelligent lunatic who is not driven by money or revenge or any other conventional reasons. He commits crimes simply to have fun. He is not just Batman's nemesis, but he represents that fork wherein one became a superhero and one became an eccentric supervillain. Bruce Wayne's compassion turns him into a hero while faced with almost similar circumstances, albeit without the fortune, Joker turns into an insane mass-murderer. What is even more intriguing is that Batman cant kill Joker because that would be an admission of Joker's ultimate triumph while Joker would not kill Batman because he would, well, miss him and all the fun. Heath Ledger is inspired by Malcolm Mcdowell (A Clockwork Orange) in portraying Joker but boy, does he do a job! Ghastly, if I were to describe it in one word. He locked himself alone up in a motel for a month to understand how a loner like Joker would think. Michael Cain said that the performances sometimes turned so frightening that he forgot his own lines. Knowing that he died shortly after, as somebody said, in playing Joker as well as he did, what was he doing to himself? Despite the fact that Joker doesnt really have any superpowers, such is the iconic nature of his character that Trickster remarks in Underworld Unleashed - 'When Super-villains want to scare each other, they tell Joker stories.' Why so serious? Lets put a smile on that face!!!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Ah...Whatever

It felt that it would be overly desolate indulgence to give oneself to irrelevant rants when 183 too many people were massacred in Mumbai over an unarticulated issue. Like many others, I felt vacant too but gifted with a superior bounce-backability, I am back in business (It helped that none of my friends had as much as lost a limb). Yeah, baby!

So, like most others, I commute to work except that I commute from KL to Singapore every Monday and I go back to KL every Friday. In between, I crawl the terminals, stay at a hotel, sport a stubble and wear crumpled clothes. Even though, there are many positives, like having a full-blown regular breakfast for the first time in years or finishing four books in three weeks; you continue to look for those small irritants because you are not settled in. As Upamanyu Chatterjee would say, you are engulfed with a vague sense of dislocation, only literally so in your case. This article is my take on those tiny irritants, the missing little comforts that you otherwise take for granted at home.

Let’s start with necessities first - slippers. I belong to that elite group which feels naked if barefooted. I have to wear slippers whether it is a dirty floor or a carpeted hotel room. For my life, however, I don’t understand why the hotel-provided slippers are so difficult to figure out. The first time, you put on those little white fluffy feathery things, you almost invariably get the feeling that you are wearing them the wrong way. You immediately exchange your feet and feel a little better but the vague unease doesn’t leave you because you are still not sure if you are wearing them properly. You twist them this way and that way to make them match the exquisite shape of your foot but to no avail. Eventually, I was so agitated that I started carrying my own slippers.

Slippers are still not too bad an irritant; besides you can eliminate this bit of uncertainty by packing your own pair. But ‘The Room’, itself, can be so unpredictable. No, it’s not an error. I think these Rooms have lives of their own. Over the past six weeks, I have been put up in different Rooms at the same hotel. You would expect them to be fairly similar but they are not. In the first one, the air was ice-cold even though the thermostat was set for 21 degrees. I had to raise it to 25 degrees before I felt comfortable without a jacket. In the third one, however, I had to reduce the temperature to 18 degrees (minimum allowed) and still sweated buckets. Same was true for the shower. When I set the water to a supposedly warm 25 degrees, I smelt my burnt skin first before I felt the pain, so hot was the water. At another floor, even 33 degrees was not good enough. The differences are so stark that now on each trip, I find myself looking forward to unraveling the mysteries offered by The Room and was disappointed this week when they gave me a Room I had stayed before in.

Well, you try to make the most of what you have eg. since I am a frequent visitor, the hoteliers have been putting me at the top floor which lends itself to a pleasant view of the Singapore skyline. Now, I like coming back to a brightly lit Room with day-light flooding in. First day, I came back, opened the curtains, basked in the dying sun, read a book and slept dreamily. Next morning, I automatically woke up to a very good morning as my Room was filled with reflected natural light. The good mood carried me through the day but when I arrived back at the hotel in the evening, the curtains were…, yes, drawn. Now, they have strategically placed two heavy chairs and an even heavier coffee table right in front of the windows, so it can be quite an exercise for your back to reach out and pull the curtains. Anybody looking in from outside (A pervert with binoculars) would probably think that you are going through some kind of a fit. Anyhow, I pulled them aside and next morning, I left a note by the bed-side:

Please don’t draw the curtains. Thanks!

In the evening, I found that the curtains were, unexpectedly, drawn again. I reckoned that the cleaner probably missed the note and so left the same note next morning at the window sill, only to find the curtains drawn yet again. I second-guessed that either the person could not read English or was having a perverse kind of fun at my expense, probably testing when I exactly give up. I felt sorry for the person because this was likely the only source of fun for him/her. Not wanting to be left behind, I wrote:

If you can read English, you will leave the curtains open.

A familiar darkened Room unwillingly welcomed me in the evening. It was almost like every time I left, it reset itself (Refer the mini-series “The Room”). I reckoned that it was time to give up but not before a last jab and so I wrote:

Ah….whatever.

Sometimes, insomnia leads you to look at The Room with a fresh perspective. One such night, I noticed the green leaf-shaped card lying by the bed-side. It announced:

Save the environment and leave me on top of the bed if you don’t want your bed-sheets to be changed.

Now, I have done nothing in my entire life to combat global warming. Oh yes, my upbringing forces me not to waste electricity etc. but that’s about it. And here was a chance to redeem myself. That night, I dreamt of being awarded the most environmentally conscious guest at the hotel. Next morning, I forgot about it completely. In the evening, the bed was remade with fresh sheets because I didn’t put the little green leaf on top of it. I considered suggesting to the authorities that the default option should be not to change the bed-sheets unless requested for. But I remembered my little experience with the curtains and decided against it. I told myself that I should remember to put the leaf-card on the bed in the morning. I might as well have been smoking dope. Heck, in the mornings, it takes me a few hours before I find myself. How the hell am I supposed to find a tiny whining leaf!!! Anyhow, now I have taken to sleeping with Ms. Leaf. Thankfully, I don’t have a girl friend or she might have accused me of cheating. I wonder what the cleaner person thinks in the morning when he finds the crumpled leaf in my bed. Well, at least, I am still in the running for the most environmentally conscious guest award.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Can I get the cheque.....today please?

Its easy to miss some people. You might be looking straight at them and yet look through them. Douglas Adams would define them as the biological forms of Somebody Else's Problem. They are just born that way. Some of them, like yours truly, would like to rechristen their middle name as 'Background' but they give up when even the Registrar for change in names doesnt take cognizance of their existence.

You can understand when you are constantly being ignored in a populous country like India. In fact, it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It just means that you are not at the cutting edge of genetic mutation that leapfrogs some people to the top of the queue without having to wait a single minute. You would have to wait like most others and longer than most others. It is just your way of life, your reason to be.

Being ignored isnt bad all the time. Definitely not when there is a brawl or when there is a roadblock or when your relatives are visiting or if you bunk a few corporate sessions or days. Most other times, it means waiting. It means waiting while accomodating others' unstated brusque requests to let them pass through. If you question them, they would likely look at you in horror as if you have suddenly materialized out of thin air. They would look you up and down, conclude that they are hallucinating and then continue to ignore you.

Waiting has its benefits. It teaches you patience and lets you observe. Although, being ignored could be a severe blow to one's misplaced ego but to survive you end up developing a rather peculiar sense of humor. You arrived at the airport three hours earlier and are still dangerously close to missing the flight; thats funny. You are waiting on the waiter; damning.

Being ignored could be a continuous, non-terminating, non-repeating event in restaurants. In math, they are called irrational numbers; in restaurants, they become irrational experiences. It is almost as if you have become invisible. You enter a restaurant, the sign asks you to wait to be seated and you do exactly that. After a few minutes of watching others seating themselves as you transfer your weight from one leg to another and then back again, you eventually take the matter in your hand and place it at the empty table closest to yourself. Then you realize that the table is not set and you perform a magic trick of swiftly moving to another one without being noticed. You need not have worried; everybody is busy ignoring you anyway. You take a deep breath, compose yourself and meekly raise your hand. At first, you do it with panache but you quickly make amends by waving your hands held high up your head. You could have been in a burning house. The rest of the world, however, is not so impressed and looks the other way.

Now, the genius that you are, you target a particular stewardess who, in your opinion, would succumb to your charm. She looks at you at that fleeting moment when your invisibility cloak has slipped, recognizes you for what you are and then makes a stupendous effort to ignore you for the rest of the lunch hour. In between, a gay steward comes to your rescue. You are so moved that you want to turn to the other side and marry him as a repayment for the generousity. Presently, an order is taken. A seasoned campaigner; you have chosen to keep things as simple as possible. Any bread will do. Chilli sauce will be good but not essential. No special requests from you except that bring it as soon as you can.

You watch with a drooling mouth and a grumbling tummy as the food is delivered to tables all around you, cheques are collected and happily fed folks walk out burping. You have had enough. The Aryan in you is enraged and you shower a passing steward with your complaints. He nods wisely which comforts you and goes on his way. You have been done in by the age-old diplomatic tactic of being listened to without any relief being offered. You contemplate walking away and lo, behold, the food arrives except its not what you ordered for. What the heck, you eat it anyway. It is and tastes horrible and even the worms in your stomach cringe. You cant wait to get out of here, get up and shout at the top of your lungs, "Can I have the cheque?". When nobody responds, you add, "Today please??". You notice somebody laughing in the background. You tell yourself that he is laughing at your joke and not at you. Afterall, the only person who can laugh at you would need to have a peculiar sense of humour and could only be you.

Friday, November 14, 2008

We are not narcissists; we connect

I have been lucky to have witnessed two cultural revolutions. One was the advent of personal mobile phones and the other was the march of internet. You can actually say that they are one and the same i.e. increasing connectivity. But they have led an entire generation towards a cultural change and the jury is yet to be out whether it is good or bad (The cultural change not the connectivity).

There were the simple old times when you mocked anybody who had a pen-pal or anybody who developed a face-book (Yes, it was actually called a face-book with fluffy designer paper spirally bound, on which your friends scribbled what they thought of you). In today's world, if you dont have a Facebook (F for the online forum) page, it may not be far-fetched for others to brand you as a pervert loner. And if you have a blog, active or inactive, then even better for your social status. And yet, what is a blog if not an interface allowing multiple pen-friendships!

There are so many ways that this revolution impacts an ordinary man like me but most important of all, it allows me to hold multiple conversations and it allows me to talk to that aspect of a personality that I like. Let's talk a bit about this.

Every one of us has multiple aspects to our personalities. In acute cases, its scizophrenia while in moderate cases, it is called having a multi-faceted personality. In fact, in most of us, those aspects, sometimes, are so different from each other, that you could call them multiple mini-personalities attached to the same person. Now how would you talk to a person in the old world? You would likely talk to him/her in person and you would be talking to all those multiple personalities together and still you can have only one conversation at a time. Some people would call that a waste. Worse still, what if you had an argument with, say, your brother over cricket? You would simply not talk to him for weeks, not just on cricket, but on everything else. So many laughters that would go unheard, so many memories that would not be collected, so many triumphs that would not be witnessed.

In comes the connected world which offers you the ability to hold multiple concurrent conversations with the same person. You are talking to her about a book on your blog, about Arabic numerals on his blog or a picture on her Facebook profile or simply amused at his comical status message. The best part is that you get to choose which aspect of his/her personality do you want to engage in a conversation. You dont like photography, simply avoid her albums. You like his writing, pay him a compliment or better still expound upon his theories. It is almost an unwritten law that the other person will respond only on the subject you engaged them on. It is almost like that particular mini-personality has been turned on while others are put to sleep. This could be so much better as opposed to dinner-time conversations where things could go a little out of hand, at times.

To top it, all these conversations can happen at the same time. It is almost as if when you are engaged in one conversation, you forget that you have just been delivered an insult at another forum by the same person. You had a fight with your brother over cricinfo, no worries; you can still continue to play scrabulous with him on Facebook.

Despite such positives, I still prefer the simple old world where you deal with a multi-dimensional person and not with his two-dimensional cross-sections. But I would have to give in that the connectivity has definitely enhanced my experience.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Just putting it out there

The only thing scarier than a life without laughter is an attempted joke gone wrong. If you are like me who is a last word freak,who thinks he is witty and who wants the world to know that he is witty, you are bound to run into numerous instances when your joke of the day falls flat on its face. It is not entirely because you are dumb but also because of the law of averages. In such cases, you wish you were invisible or a ventriloquist or mute or all of them. Some special days, you have to wish you were still-born. Despite such frequent embarassments, you still want to volunteer your comments and jokes and by doing so, you give the world immense power over you as it decides whether to laugh or to frown or worse still, stare at you in condescension. In short, you are putting it out there; something that could steal the limelight or could be trampled upon or could so radically look like a toilet paper.

Now, where does this insane, almost masochistic, addiction to put it out there comes from? "Road less travelled" states that you have to go through multiple sessions of expensive psychotherapy to understand such drivers. Taking a short and cheap cut, I am going to conclude that it comes from a combination of being a last work freak and the drive to differentiate oneself from all the 'morons' out there. It makes you fearless, sometimes fearsome but largely you hop around with your foot in your mouth. Perhaps the right conclusion is that you have a toe-fetish. Who cares. The purpose of this post is, as the title suggests, to put it out there.

Lets look at some of these instances, actually the more cruel ones only since otherwise, I could keep writing. Sometimes, you are looking to make an impression. In your haste, you commit the criminal mistake of not evaluating the other person first, specifically in terms of attitude, receptivity and comprehension. The remark could fall flat because either the person is congenitally depressed, or is not really expecting a joke from you, or fails to understand the comment. Of course, largely it is because the joke is simply not funny, but you would come to understand that only at a later point in the day. Drawing on my experience, I have developed extremely simple bail-out strategies which consist of proven self-deprecatory remarks and I use one or the other, depending upon the situation viz.

"Could you please shoot me?"
"There I have done it. Get 10 bucks for a stupid statement. Not so bad after all."
"My foot is still in my mouth. isnt it?"
"If you are wondering why my foot is in my mouth, it is because I am only 6 months old."
"I would have found a hole to hide in but the rest of the world beat me to it."
"If I could get a penny for every such instance, I would be a millionaire."

Sometimes, your desire to be original overcomes your rational self and you try something different on the spur. In one such instance, I had cracked a comment on concentration camps to a Polish friend. The comment was of a good quality and when he gave me the look, I realized my mistake and tried to make amends for my insensitivity by saying, "I am really sorry, mate. I didnt realize. I rather wish I was in a concentration camp now." He almost punched me then. Thankfully, we parted on good terms. But it may not happen in your case. So, it is advisable to stick with proven techniques otherwise you may just be replacing whichever foot was previously in your mouth.

All bets are off when you are a public speaker. You try to break the ice with a funny comment and in the process, you could end up freezing the air solid. If it doesnt work, it is total humiliation and you would rather relinquish your life than be at the podium. Of course, the above mentioned strategies can work in such a setting as well but at such a moment, you are under so much strain that you are well-advised to just move on without making amends. Dont save your face and die another day.

The best thing about such situations is also the worst thing i.e. nobody laughs at your witty remark which means that you will think about that moment for eternity and laugh at yourself in solitude. Not really eternity because as soon as you land yourself in similar situation again, your soliloquy immediately acquires a different tune. In some chronic cases, you laugh at yourself for different reasons every night. Not bad, eh?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Flying To The Future

This article is inspired by a chance conversation, full of wit, with a few friends and a few strangers (now acquaintances) over delicious crepe as the ubiquitous fountain gurgled next to us inside a shopping mall. I have missed such conversations and so to that extent, I have missed Singapore.

One of the participants recently travelled to Brazil and to her dismay, she found out that she was expected to carry her own headphones if she wanted to take full advantage of the in-flight entertainment system. Alternately, she could watch the screen without dialogues. She is now training to be able to read the lips. Another recounted the horror story of having to pay for blankets and pillows on a long distance flight. His fall-back plan is now to dress as an Eskimo every time he boards a plane. I don’t blame him, given the arctic temperature they normally maintain inside the cabin.

Almost all the airlines in India are doing everything within their powers, short of shutting down the operations, to turn into black, including downsizing, salary cuts and price-hikes. One international airline fired thirteen employees as they engaged into a discussion on facebook criticizing their employers and the presence of cockroaches on-board. Presumably, that airline ran out of excuses to fire employees. Thankfully, the cockroaches’ jobs were still intact at the time of writing this article.

Looking at the above disjoint pieces of information, it didn’t take too much imagination to look at the future of flying. Let’s start from the beginning. You may or may not have a seat number. You may not even have a seat. In fact, there might not be any seats at all. You will be allowed one cabin luggage and one checked-in luggage. If you don’t find the checked-in luggage at arrival, there is no need to panic for it will be lying exactly where you left it and you can claim it upon your return or alternately file a police report for the same. The airlines liability will be limited to what it feels like.

If you want to avail of the in-flight entertainment system, you will have to bring your own DVDs that you can play on your own laptop. You don’t really have to ensure that your laptop is fully charged before boarding as long as you are willing to pay for the limited number of electrical outlets. You will have to bid for them like everyone else and you cannot share your laptop screen with anyone else. Same goes for blankets. Pillows are to be replaced by your own elbows or your fellow passengers’ shoulders as you deem comfortable.

It will be highly advisable to stuff yourself with food before the boarding because once in air, the airlines are susceptible to wide-spread famine. The limited ration will go first towards the pilot, then to the flight attendants, if there are any. The rest of the food supplies will be stored for the next flight. Owing to frequent instances of food poisoning, it is in your own interest to buy food for your pilot as well, although not mandatory. You should reduce your liquid intake as much as possible because the toilets service will come at a premium.

In case of turbulence, the oxygen masks will not spring out automatically. You will have to calmly insert coins, to the exact change, in the overhead slot. If you don’t have sufficient coins, you will need to continue to remain calm as you will still have the option to swipe your credit card at the adjacent magnetic chip reader. In case, your card is declined or the particular airline in question doesn’t accept, say American Express cards, that will be as good a time as any to start praying.

In case of emergency landing or a mid-air explosion or any other such eventuality, the economy class passengers’ right to live shall cease. The business class passengers, on the other hand, can avail of the life-jacket by bequeathing half of their net-worth in the name of the airline. This contract will be valid irrespective of their survival.

Happy flying.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Top Ten Fictional Characters: Part One

I developed this list and realized that my top ten fictional characters are all extremes; in innocence or madness, in their ambitions or the lack thereof, in their augustness or insignificance. These characters occupy my mind-space in whatever I do or wherever I go. I meet people and I end up branding a gesture here and an attribute there as Yossarian-esque or Voldemort-ish. So, here you go:

10. Vernon God Little: Vernon is the hero of the book by the same title. Often described as the modern day Holden Caulfield, in my opinion, he is much more than that. He is a brilliant creation combining tragedy and cynicism. But he really pips Caulfield because of his existential, almost dumb, manner in which he takes to the events (and bodies) unfolding. You often feel guilty of stealing a laughter at his state of affairs which has an enormity of its own and you cant but admire the way he wiggles himself out of it in a dazzling finale.

9. Prince Myshkin and Rogozhin: These are actually two different characters from "The Idiot" by Dostoevsky but really they are the two sides of the same coin. Prince is the epitome of innocence, idiocy and genrosity while Rogozhin is a dark, murderous and passionate character. The story starts with both of them on a train to St. Petersburg with almost similar circumstances. Both get an inheritence and fall in love with Nastasya Filippovna. They swear brotherhood to each other and then the same night Rogozhin tries to kill Prince. They meet again where Prince forgives him and even lets him have Nastasya only to be offered Nastasya back again later in the story with an unstated show of murderous intent. Ironically, Nastasya elopes with Rogozhin this time around. The end of this saga sees both of them locked in embrace in a room with Nastasya's murdered beauty, one gone insane and one gone idiot. Us, common people, are just different shades of Prince and Rogozhin, some lighter and some darker. And therein lies the appeal of these characters.

8. Randle Patrick Mcmurphy: A happy-go-lucky hero of "One flew over the cuckoo's nest", he walks into the asylum as a potentially easy way to serve out his sentence. There is nothing small about Mcmurphy. He is grand in the way he walks, talks and carries himself around. In the asylum, he comes to see himself as a beacon of hope for the lifeless souls, finds capacity for self-sacrifice and fights the 'Combine' in a hopeless cause which eventually leaves him as a vegetable. An infinitely moving character full of life who meets a superbly ironic end and is rescued only when his fellow mate, 'Chief' decides to snuff him with a pillow and thus allowing him the dignity to go out on his own terms.

7. Meursault: "My mother died yesterday or the day before. I dont really know." That is how the story opens with the hero and the narrator's thoughts. Meursault is the quintessential existential masterpiece. Nothing in this world could ever matter to him except for sensory experiences. He simply exists. He remorselessly smokes in front of his mother's dead body and later in the story, murders an Arab because he was "tired of the argument and the heat of the sun". Although, the Arab is dead, he shoots him four more times for good measure and objectively explains his motive to the judge that the Arab was dead and four more shots did not make him any more dead. He is convicted and sent to the guillotine largely because he is incapable of remorse. In prison, he refuses the opportunity to turn to God and looks at the universe as a "brother" because of its indifference to humankind, an emotion shared by himself. He feels that he was happy again. His last wish was "that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate".

6. Yossarian: He is the anti-hero of the satirical comedy Catch-22. Faced by the dilemma of self-preservation and fighting in the WW-II, he firmly chooses the former. He is described as a comical and anti-hero version of Achilles and you can also see simile with Scott Adams's Wally. Consequently, the parallels in corporate life are boundless. He claims that the world was out there to get him either by bombing his plane or by forcing him to fly missions. A famous quote - "He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt, and his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive." He employs ingenious ways to avoid having to fly including inventing fake diseases and getting admitted in hospital, poisoning the squadron, ordering harsh evasion when faced with flak etc. In the end, when he deserts, he mentions, "I am not running away from my responsibilities. I am running to them. There's nothing negative about running away to save your life." If there was ever a survivor, he was one. Yossarian lives on.

To be continued...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Book Review: A fortune Teller Once Told Me.

This is Tiziano Terzani's first book that I have read and I am thankful to a friend for lending me a copy, for I would have never picked it up by myself. The reading of this book has been a long drawn affair and like all other similar long drawn affairs, I am proud that I came through it. Although, my friend had warned me that it will take some work to get past the first forty pages and that it becomes better after that, I gave up on it much before that and moved my attention to the rest of my life, only to come back to it intermittently. For a long time, this book lied next to my commode and I would glance through it during occassional bouts of constipation. Eventually, after a year and a few months, I did finish it.

I will start by what I liked about this book. This book is a travel book, although judging by the way Terzani has written it, I am sure he would be turning in his grave at my choice of words. More on that later. Back to the travel bit, Terzani has captured the essence of Asia very well. Although, the book and his own feet take him to Mongolia, Russia and Europe as well but having never been there, I wouldnt know. I will have to concede that his descriptions make me want to go there. Coming to the South Asian part of the travel to which I could relate to fairly well, this is the first travel book I have come across that has described these countries, their societies and their way of life so well that by the end of it, you feel like you know them just like you know your own country. I could especially relate to the description of Malaysia, Singapore, and Cambodia fairly well. In all these countries, Terzani's itinerary touches the same destinations that I have been to, more or less. It feels surreal that someone felt exactly the same way about these places in the nineties that I did a decade later.

Second thing that I liked about the book was how it is punctuated with philosophical and spiritual monologues. The way Terzani has inked them on paper is just short of beautiful. The language is so good so as to be almost poetry. Add to that the profoundness of the utterings and you find yourself reading the same paragraphs again and again. However, at times, it feels like you are reading two separate books which have somehow gotten mixed owing to an irresponsible editor. Terzani could have done better to keep it a free flow of thoughts as opposed to a forced theory here and a labored analogy there.

Unfortunately, the above sums up what I liked about this book. There are couple of things that I didnt like about it. For starters, Terzani's constant whining about modernization as a curse and a step back is surely to get on your nerve. This comes from a man who grew up to poor working class parents and unshackled himself via the same opportunities afforded by modernization. In fact, he proudly compares himself favorably to his relatives and peers back in Italy. This is utter hypocrisy and as much as I tried, I couldnt escape the stereotyping mentality to brand him as another white skinned romanticist who wants the third world to stagnate so that he could visit them as a temporary respite and to add to his dinner time conversation or in this case, to write a bestseller. Every chapter of the book contains at least a para or two on the perils of modernization and I found it to be extremely one-sided view of things and in this particular case, almost to the point of unashamed blasphemy. Consider this:

"What an ugly invention is tourism! One of the most baleful of all industries! It has reduced the world to a vast playground, a Disneyland without borders. Soon thousands of these new invaders, soldiers of the empire of consumerism, will land, and with their insatiable cameras and camcorders they will scrape away the last of that natural magic which is still everywhere in this country."

This is coming from a person who confesses that he likes to travel and whose book is likely to be bought by travellers. But no, Terzani would have much preferred the old world where conquerers, instead of travellers, would invade these lands and instead of simply snapping their pictures, cover them with blood. There are numerous similar theological inconsistencies in the book. Once, he laments that modernization has caused Singaporeans to dress well but stay mum and then the very next page, he complains how garrulous his taxi driver was and how he longed for peace.

The list is endless and I wouldnt bore you with it any more except for one last racial derogation that absolutely killed me. He toys with the role of chinese emigrants in South-east Asia, how they have shaped the societies and economies. This is a very interesting and big enough topic to warrant a book of its own. But Terzani hovers at the surface and never really takes as much as just a dip and brands them as "Like all emigrants, these chinese had only one dream - money." He blames that these emigrants left behind their gods and their spiritualism for the unworthy cause of earning money and to have a better life. And who is Terzani, if not an emigrant? The book is filled with similar prejudiced comments about Mongolians, Russians and English (He has been universally prejudiced - you have to grant him that). If one day, I travel to these places, I would know if he was right.

If it were a work of fiction, I could have made exceptions but it is not and I feel compelled to be judgemental.

Second thing that I didnt like about the book is actually quite contextual and it may not apply to everyone. Terzani, in this book, has acted on a fortune teller's advice and has decided not to travel by air for an year. His reasoning is more to experience a different life. However, at times, he seems to glamorize his travel as if he is unique in doing this. Whether it is travelling by an overnight train or sailing in a cargo ship, he almost claims that he is a higher being and others do not know what they are missing. Such condescending attitude! An average Indonesian or a Vietnamese or a Cambodian probably would be far from impressed by his self-imposed 'discomfort'. About five years ago, even I was used to taking fifty five hours in train and on road to get home, without ever crossing borders. As such, this book limits its admirers to elite and 'successful' class of people (likely westerners) looking for adventure on print that they themselves would be too comfortable (on their sofas in front of TV) to ever undertake.

All-in-all, if you are planning to travel to South-east Asia, I would still recommend you to carry this as a bed-side reading. However, without the context, you would spoil a bad read.

Utopia - Is This it?

'If you want to know what Utopia is like, just look around - this is it,' said Professor Steve Jones, of University College London, who is to present his argument at a Royal Society Edinburgh debate, 'Is Evolution Over?', next week. 'Things have simply stopped getting better, or worse, for our species.'

For the full article, click HERE

Firstly apologies because in this post, I won't be adding anything unique to the debate. I dont think I can make it any better by adding/subtracting to it and so I have refrained from doing it. However, I thought that it was quite an eye opener for me and so on it comes on my blog.

In a gist, Prof. Steve Jones has based his argument on the principle of natural selection. He argues that the principle tool of natural selection is 'Death' and human beings have almost taken this tool out of the hands of nature. A piece of statistics: The chance of a child in the west reaching the age of 25 has become 98%. The life spans have increased. And so virtually every tom, dick and harry can pass on his genes whether or not he is the best specimen out there. As a result, the process of natural selection is hindered. And hence stagnation.

Controversial? Of course yes. With the olympics just gone by where so many new levels of human accomplishments were recorded, when we believe that our intelligence level is higher than ever before, it comes off as a bit of a shock. But consider this: Both our brain size and the physique have reduced over the past ten thousand years. Counterintutive?

There are a few arguments against the above doomsday scenario:
i) Constant mixing of human races vis inter-racial marriages. Although, the article states that this will further thwart the evolution in the long run. But, in the mid-term, it will lead to uniformly brown race which should classify as evolving.
ii) Biologist Christopher Wills argues that there is a premium on sharpness of mind and ability to earn money and thus this becomes the modern evolutionary path.
iii) Peter Ward states that there is a way out if we can influence our own evolution by Gene therapy and cloning.
iv) The Evolution goes on unchecked in the developing world. For example, after some time, Africa might only be populated by people who carry HIV but are unaffected by it.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

O My Brothers

This post was meant to be a detailed account of my witnessing the historical F1 night race at Singapore but I happened to read an article about how facebook is full of narcissistic folks and so I decided not to write about myself. Instead, this post is about unusual relationships that brothers share. Yes. Real life brothers.

In the interest of keeping it simple, I am going to focus on brothers only a few years apart, maximum of two. If you have brothers with age-difference of more than two years, you are welcome to write about them yourself. You are probably thinking that after a big(?) speech about not being vain, here I go again talking about my brothers. But, my pre-condition has already disqualified them. This post is a direct outcome of my close encounter with a friend and his brother with F1 race in the background.

It is actually quite a surprise that I have never really spent too much time with others' brothers and I intend to make amends. So, my friend asked me to chauffeur his older brother from KL to Singapore. Let's name them A(**h***) and B(rother) respectively. B's demeanor is exactly the same as A. He even walks and talks like A. Both are excellent navigators. But thats where the similarity ends. While A is still coming to terms with his committment phobia, B who is just an year older, is already married with two kids. A is the new urban male (His bathroom is packed with lotions/facemasks that would embarass some females), B is down to earth and survives on basic necessities including bollywood music. A is a corporate servant while B is a businessman. A's energy levels are always low till 11 PM, B is wired throughout the day and dutifully retires at 10PM.

Now that you have a visual representation of the two men in contention, let me get into the unsual manner in which they communicate. B did'nt have a ticket for the race event (Public knowledge) while A had a spare one (Privately held information).

A: You sure you dont want to go for the race?
B: Yeah man. F1 is not the most spectator friendly event. Besides I dont have a ticket.
A: We can figure out the tickets separately but do you want to go or not?
B: How will you figure out the tickets? I will watch it on TV. Its ok.
A: Leave tickets to me. This is my city. I will work it out. Do you want to go or not?
B: No man. I will watch at home itself.

My interpretation: A wanted to show to B who is the boss while B didnt want to concede that pleasure to A. The ticket went waste. Score: 0-0

Another similar instance. Its night time and A is offering everybody regular drinks while diplomatically avoiding suggestions to open his wine cellar, except that it was quite apparent.
B: I want to have wine. Who wants to have wine with me?
A: Everybody wants to have single malt.
B: So let them say for themselves, no?
A: Fine. (Nobody dared asking for wine)
A: Told you so.
B: I dont want to drink anything else. I will just sit here.
A: You want to have wine?
B: Yes. Wasnt that obvious?
A: Ok. Which wine do you want?
B: Any wine.
A: Cabernet-sauvignon or white wine?
B: You have merlot?
A: You said any wine.
B: Ok. give me white wine. Is it cold?
A: No. its not.
B: Then never mind.
A: So what do you want?
B: Which is better? Cabernet or Merlot?
A: I dont know. Tell me what you want.
B: Never mind.
A: Ok. Merlot is better.
B: Give me merlot then.

My interpretation: A didnt want to accede to B's demands as he has done the entire period of growing up. B understood it and played it back and showed who is in-charge. B has had a lifelong headstart at this game and A was bound to lose. Merlot was that one bottle that A didnt want to open but was left with no choice. Score: 0-1

Despite home advantage, A lost to B and in my opinion, he is forever doomed to lose. Here is what they have to say about each other. Its a pity that they probably would never say that in person, that is why I step in as the brotherly cupid:

A: I would be happy if I have half as energy as him when I have two kids.
B: He is very independent. I dont think I can survive like he has, out on his own.
A: He is quite a character to have around. Although, you need to discourage him a bit here and there or else, you might end up biking on the east coast beach on a hot tropical afternoon.
B: He has got great taste. He is the english types. Little Hi-Fi. Actually quite a lot.
A: The problem with growing up is that I was regularly beaten up by my brother but when I became big enough, we were too old to fight. But the growing up was good fun, regardless.

Edited to add:
1. The instances above are highly simplified versions of even more complex human behavior eg. A didnt have a spare ticket on him, it was with his friend. This simplification is done to solely explain the theme of unusual brotherhood which is fairly universal and doesnt just apply to A & B. Sorry, mates, you are not that special, afterall.
2. The reason why I chose brothers with less than two years age-difference is because if they were not brothers, they could have been the best of friends. Unfortunately, the same brotherhood brings along inhibitions. How ironic.
3. On behalf of all elder brothers, they give you a hard time because they would rather do to you first what the world is going to do to you eventually anyway. They dont want you to get the shock like they themselves had received when they stepped out. This way, you get toughened up in a test-tube. Not the best of the logic but then this is human behavior.

Monday, September 15, 2008

There will be order.

When a friend asked me to drop him home, I was disturbed. Not because, I didn't want to drop him. In fact, his place was on the way to my place except I would have had to take a different expressway. Yes. You got it right. I was disturbed because I would be taking a different route. Actually, this route is not all that bad. It is faster and has less traffic, although a bit long and at a higher toll. For a guy who loves driving and for whom money doesn't matter (Not as long as I can afford an iPhone and a fast car), this route would have been an ideal choice. Further, it is not that I didn't know about this route. I have taken it in the past and know all these facts beforehand. Yet, I have always discarded this in favor of the freeway which is shorter but is slow and has a traffic jam for a certain stretch at precisely the same point. A little soul-searching confirmed that the underlying reason for my turmoiled state was the deviation from normal. I like the predictability of the freeway, how I can count on driving at sub-three digit speeds, the clockwork precision of the traffic jam at exactly the same point and the jubiliation of acceleration once I am through the jam.

Oh, the human need for an order amid entropy! We force structure on an otherwise beautifully heterogenous universe. We construct increasingly complex theories and models to explain its workings. It is not necessery if we can explain everything. As long as we can make assumptions (wild or not) and can have a working construct, we can sleep in peace. We explain why apple always falls down by way of a mysterious force called gravity. We explain the sub-atomic universe by quantum mechanics and the cosmic universe by a combination of string and whacko multi-dimensional theories. Heck, when we still can't find order in the everyday events, we explain it by way of, yeah behold, Chaos theory.

Of course, like everything under the sun, you can trace the origins of human need for order to the Evolution Theories. We have survived partly because of our ability to find pattern and we continue to strive for the same. It explains why I always park all the way down to the third level even when on rare occassions I come early in office. Actually, it is more because my mind refuses to work at that early an hour. Once when I had parked on the first level, I still searched for my car on the third level for a good fifteen minutes in the evening. One has to survive and so I diligently park on the third level as a rule.

Two clear observations about the above pointless rant. One, it is a pointless rant and two, I need order in life. The obvious conclusion is that I am growing old.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hello Sir

The shopping mall by the side of my office has hired a new trainer. And a really good one at that. Although, I don't know for sure but it seems like a fair deduction. For the past couple of months, the entire staff in that mall has been greeting all the visitors, including your humble narrator, with wide smiles and howdys. Actually, its more like Good mornings and Good afternoons than Howdys. Irrespective of the distance or whether you are looking at them, they will greet you as long as they can see you. They will greet you when you enter and they will greet you when you exit. Yesterday, I counted the number of times I was saluted. Seven times. At the entrance, at the escalator, at the ramp, at the rest-room and then back again. Like a clockwork orange.

To be frank, it did feel good in the beginning but now the effect is wearing off and is getting replaced by irritation. It is evident from their genuine smiles and eye-contact that they are expecting a response. You really don't want to be rude to them and try your best to accomodate but really, you are not getting paid to respond. They are. After the 3rd 'Hi', you are wishing to be invisible. You walk by the next attendant with your head down and looking furiously busy, probably plotting to overthrow the government, but promptly a 'Hello Sir' is uttered which forces you to, at a minimum, smile. And it is not a genuine smile, it is more like a little twitch of one corner of your pursed lips which may or may not be accompanied by a nod. Really, this is the best you can do and thus you feel guilty. Not a good feeling.

It doesnt matter if you happen to pass by the same attendant more than once, you can rest assured that he/she will greet you with the same enthusiasm as if you have met after a long time. It irritates the heck out of you. If I could behave like that with my friends, I could be famous. I am thinking of conducting an experiment of roaming around aimlessly, up and down, as if I am lost, just to see how many times one single attendant can tirelessly greet me. It may take an entire half a day so I will probably do it when my boss is back in office.

It reminds me of eager stewardesses in the business class section that you, sometimes, run into and who keep going 'Hello Mr. Beta - Would you like some dessert, Mr. Beta' etc. The first time she says your name, you feel good but not when it looks like an avalanche of your names with you standing at the bottom. Oh yes, you know she knows your name but how many times does she have to mention it. Perhaps, she needs a certificate of appreciation from you. It almost makes you feel embarassed of your own name. You really want to say 'No. Thats not me. But I would have the chocolate mousse anyway.'

Perhaps, there is something like overdoing when it comes to service, afterall.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Old Age and Superheroes


A friend forwarded these pictures to me and it prompted a line of uncomfortable thinking - what happens when Superheroes grow old? Do they continue to fight crime with the same zeal and more importantly the same agility as before? Or do they go 'Tick-Tick-Boom-Boom' and give in to the fact that whatever they could accomplish, they already have? Do they identify their successors and how? Read on...

For my life, I could not find a Superhero who is actually depicted old. The only examples that came to my mind are Phantom - the ghost who walks and Zorro. To be fair, they dont have any superpowers, so technically they are disqualified. But, we can potentially look at them to figure out what the superheroes would do if they are allowed to grow old. Phantom has been passing on his mantle to his offsprings for over four hundred years. Given that there have been over twenty generations of phantom, it can be safely said that the average life-span of a Phantom is probably in the mid-thirties. Hardly old enough. Same is the case with Zorro who teaches his legendary sword skills to specifically identified successor. Let's see if the three most popular superheroes are likely to follow this lead and pass on the mantle to next generations.

Can you imagine Batman teaching somebody else how to be invisible, how to be a legend and how to make batarangs? Yes. You are right. It is unimaginable. Make no mistakes, Batman is going to be one hell of a difficult senile bastard. He is going to sulk and possibly turn suicidal. I doubt if anybody would want to be his caretaker. Even Alfred is likely to put in his papers.

Spiderman can't possibly teach anybody how to spin webs unless the student is willing to be bitten by a radioactive spider and spend the rest of his life in the eternal struggle between love and responsibility. Yuck! The ostentatiousness of it! The pathetic movie rendition of Spiderman has made this hero truly a non-sought-after personality. An untouchable. Spiderman is unlikely to find a willing student, not after what Sam Raimi has done to him. They need to take a cue from Batman reinvention and relaunch him. Since that is unlikely to happen (given the huge success of the three movies so far), it is highly likely that Spiderman will get sufficiently embarassed and develop a low self-esteem by the time the fourth or the fifth movie comes out. My prediction is that he would find a widow spider, make passionate love to her and offer his head as a post-coital present.

That leaves Superman who doesn't age (Not sure) and cannot die, not under a yellow sun (except with kryptonite, of course). He will likely die when Earth's sun turns a red giant in about five billion years. He won't have any human beings to protect then. Chances, however, are good that he will die of extreme boredom much before that since it is almost unbelievable that anybody can pose a real challenge to him at all. Will he produce offsprings with superpowers? Well, he already has (if you see the latest movie in the series). I hope his son turns against him, so we could have a bit of a plausible story going.

All things considered, I think I would much prefer to live a short and exciting life at the top than a restless immortal life tapering off at the bottom. But then, we have to consider the royalties for the authors and the movie studios too!!! So, here is a list of adjustments that the Superheroes would have to make if they continue to fight crime in their old age:-
i) They would have to put on diapers each time they step out so as not to lose bladder control while beating up bad guys. The diaper will also help them boost up their otherwise sagging bottom and make sure that their costumes continue to hug them.
ii) If somebody with an attitude (like Batman) shuns diapers, he may be forced to take a viagra pill before he steps out to ensure that his costume continues to hug him at the right places and also to create a large size impression.
iii) In old age, they would have to comensate for their slow reflexes by anticipating the opposition moves. This would likely make them jumpy and nervous. A bad guy would be better advised not to shoot bullets at them but just go 'Ho' in an unexpected manner and as the Superhero climbs the nearby tree, he can then go, 'Ho Ho Ho'.
iv) Superheroes would have to amend their costumes to make room for the hairs growing out of their ears. Especially true for Batman and Spiderman.
v) They would have to wear glasses to compensate for weak eyesight. This would effectively ruin Superman's disguise.

PS - If you like this post, check out Occupational Hazards of being a Superhero I and II too.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A New Order

There is an advertisement running on TV these days in Malaysia. I am sure that I have seen similar AD in India as well. The AD is from a telecom service provider which states that you can now buy credits for your phone in as convenient and smaller denominations as you like. Essentially, you need not recharge your prepaid account by $100 if you dont really need it. You can buy as low as $10 (10 cents, if you are in India).

This article is not about the appalling telecom advertisements (On the side, they do suck big in Malaysia). But I happened to watch that AD recently when I was debating whether I should pay my taxes any more and if yes, what the heck am I getting in return. Before you think otherwise, I am a very conscientious citizen and used to think that paying taxes is one's duty and in return, I am assured a safe hassle-free living alongwith the benefits that come with economic development off the reinvestment of taxes by the government. I am going to talk about only the first part as I dont think I am qualified to talk about the latter.

A safe hassle-free living. Yes, for the most part. But, really, when I think about it, I have hardly ever used any of the services that should be taken for granted. For example, traffic regulation and police protection should be extremely basic services to be expected if one is paying one's taxes. But, that is not the case. I have had numerous encounters with traffic police who have managed to find a fault or another and have given me hell. I have had two encounters with the police (in India and in Malaysia) trying to file a report and I had to walk away feeling that it is easier to steal than to report a theft. In India, we travelled from Delhi to Jaipur on road and actually speculated whether we were paying the toll for the road or its absence.

It made me wonder why should I pay my taxes when I am not sure what I am getting in return. Wouldnt it be easier if the government took some cue from the mobile operators and actually broke down the whole package into easy to understand choices. Example of such a crude break-down (I am sure it can be improved upon by experts):-

i) Minimalist - 5% taxes - Your existence is recognized by the goverment, You can use basic facilities like roads, avail of organized traffic. You are not allowed to go to police when your house is burgled and if you do you have to pay them for their service separately (at a higher rate).

ii) Basic package - 10% tax - You can avail of roads, police protection, citizen services, traffic regulation, etc.

iii) Basic + package - 15% tax - (ii) + government subsidized basic supplies like gas, rice etc.

iv) Advanced package - 20% tax - (iii) + other infrastructure facilities like subsidized water from a dam or cheap electricity from a nuclear reactor

v) Total package - 30% taxes - (iv) + social security

Now that would make life so much easier for people like me. I can look at it and choose what suits me best. I can go for the minimalist package if I believe in anarchy or I can go for the total package if I am a bloody socialist. The bottomline is that it would be my choice. I am sure it would bring a lot more people under the tax net as well and boost overall tax revenue. Such a plan would also force the respective departments to be more efficient, for if they are not upto the mark, people would stop availing of their services.

What say?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Go Bang, Go Lah !

No matter the context or the setting, in Malaysia, you will find 'Lah' abused in the same manner that some angry young men abuse the F-word. You are sitting in a business meeting and really going hard at somebody for making a mistake and he is almost certain to invoke 'Lah' to his defense. You are interviewing a potential candidate and asking deep, probing questions and promptly 'Lah' is uttered as an all-explaining mono-syllable. It made me wonder what is the genesis of it but no amount of extensive research could produce the meaning of this word. In fact, even a select sample of educated and not-so-educated Malaysians could not give me a satisfactory answer. So, I turned to wikipedia as the last resort only to be left even more confused. Here is the excerpt:-

"The ubiquitous word 'Lah' is used at the end of a sentence to simultaneously soften the force of the utterance and entice solidarity. Though, it can also have the opposite meaning when it is used to signal power. In addition, there are suggestions that there might be more than one Lah particle, so there may be a stressed and unstressed variant and as many as nine tonal variants, all having a special pragmatic function."

Being sufficiently bewildered, I gave up trying to find the meaning of 'Lah' and instead listed down its various forms of usage. Here you go.

'Lah' is often used to get away with having doled out an insult which, in any other part of the world, would have called for an honour killing. If you are like me who loves insulting people verbally but lacks the muscle to back it up, then Malaysia is a paradise for you. Examples of this and the real meaning:-

"You no fun, lah" - I could have a better conversation with a cow.
"Come Lah, that also you can't do" - Is there anything in this whole wide world that you could accomplish?
"Do your way, lah" - I have explained so many times in simple english but still cant get through that thick skull of yours.

'Lah' is also used to create a level playing ground despite differences in gender, social status, religious beliefs, positional power etc. This is how you will achieve this with your boss when you are out after a hard-day's work:-

"Drink, lah" - I am not in a mood to listen to your self-important speeches. Just drink.
"Cannot, lah" - If I wanted to, I could have dropped you home, but really, I have better things to do.

It works both ways. This is how your boss would sometime speak with you so that it is both a request as well as a command :-

"No good, lah" - Really, a toddler could write this report better than you. Re-write it.
"No donut for you, lah" - An increment? For a dinosaur like you? NO. Read my lips.

A very sophisticated use of 'Lah' is to put an end to an argument/debate. When used effectively, It is like the Perspective gun (AKA the point-of-view gun) from HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy which when fired at others, makes them understand the situation from your perspective. Except that instead of going 'Bang', you go, 'Lah'. Some examples:-

"Dun know orredy lah" - Arrgh, I dont know any more than what I have explained. I give up.
"Too much, lah" - I give up trying to understand your theory of life, universe and everything.

'Lah' can also be used to trivialize an otherwise important subject. For example, you have recently driven your car into the toll-booth and are staring at a hefty damage but your Malaysian friend might just respond "Ok, Lah"

A positive use of 'Lah' is to reassure. "Can, Lah" is mostly used in this manner.

Even though, I probably understand the word 'Lah' more than most Malaysians but that is simply not enough. Generations of Malaysians have (ab)used this word and it has become part of their gene-pool so much so that while they cannot consciously recall the meaning of it but are nonetheless adept at using it. And if I so much as utter it, they can sniff it from a mile's distance and cry fowl.

Do you know any other usage of 'Lah'? Don't tell me your response is "Dun know orredy, lah."

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

From Stud to Dud

Alright, the title may be a bit too presumptuous. Allow me to indulge, though.

I am without wheels for over a month now. What looked like a scratch turned out to be far more than that. Further, courtesy the long importation time, my fancy car is gethering dust at a service center as it awaits its limbs. It exposed me to the KL public transportation system yet again. This post is a crib.

So, I call cabs whenever I have to go anywhere. I use two call-a-cab services. The first one is relatively professional but extremely uncouth. I have a feeling that they believe their real customers are the cab drivers. Given a choice, I would rather start my day by banging my head open than talk to the operator. Unfortunately, there is no choice, and so I call them. Here is how the very first call went (Paranthesis denote what the person really wanted to say):-

Me: I need a cab.
Operator: Wherefrom? (We can also deliver pizzas if you want)
Me: Pickup location
Operator: Going to
Me: Drop location
Operator: Ok. Bye.
Me: Huh?

Not sure of my groundings, I call them again. This time, there is a different operator on the line.

Operator: Yes.
Me: I just called for a cab but the person hung up on me.
Operator: Wherefrom?
Me: Pickup location (An apology would have been nice)
Operator: Going to
Me: Drop location (Do I have to go through it all over again?)
Operator: Ok. Bye.
Me: Oi, wait up. (Not again)
The line goes dead.

I wonder whats going on and in between I get a call from the first operator who confirms that a cab is on its way. We are halfway to office when the second operator calls me to confirm that another cab is already arrived and I better get my ass down there. I try to explain the confusion and I realize that she is not in the mood for any such explanation. I panic and switch off my phone.

Next day, thinking that I am probably black-listed at the first call-a-cab service, I find a new number and call them.

Me: Hi, I need a cab.
Operator: Now?
Me: Yes. (No, I want to book for 2017 AD)
Operator: Wherefrom?
Me: Pick up location
Operator: Where to
Me: Drop location.
Operator: Hold on
And there is music....for fifteen minutes, before she confirms a cab. Another ten minutes of waiting confirms that there is no cab in the vicinity. So, I call them back again.

Me: I was given a taxi number XXXX. I have been waiting for over 15 minutes but the cab isnt here.
Operator: You called a cab?
Me: Yeah. The number is XXXX but its not here. (How many times do I have to repeat myself?)
Operator: What was the number?
This is when I realize that I have to speak in small sentences and really slowly to get to her. Somehow, I explain the situation to her.
Me: So can you check where is the cab?
Operator: Nearby, nearby. (What an idiot. Just wait, la. Cab will be there)
Me: Can you call him up and check?
Operator: I know. Nearby, nearby.
Me: How do you know? (Like you know where each and every cab is)
Operator: Ok. I check for you. (You want to listen to music, be my guest)
Music on for 5 minutes.
Me: (I am a donkey)
Operator: Taxi nearby. Go down now.
Me: I am already down here for over half an hour now.
Operator: Ok.
The line goes dead.

The cab did arrive on the same day.

Anyhow, after being exposed to this stupidity for over a month, I have become an expert customer. I know, for example, that they dont maintain detailed database of their customers linked to their phone numbers (since I have to give my pickup and drop location every time). This also means that they cant blacklist me in the system even if they want to. So, I do get my revenge every now and then. Lets say that the cab has not arrived even after confirmation, I immediately call the same service for another cab and then take off in whichever cab arrives first. At such times, I make sure that my phone is switched off. Sometimes, on a lazy saturday afternoon, I call up an operator just to have a good old chat with her and in the process driving her nuts. Here is such a conversation:

Me: Hi, do you sell cabs?
Operator: Yes. Wherefrom?
Me: How much?
Operator: First you tell wherefrom?
Me: Does it come with four wheels?
Operator: Whats wrong with you? You want a cab or not?
Me: Yes.
Operator: Wherefrom?
Me: First how much?
Operator: Where is that?
Me: Its not a place. I asked How much?
Operator: Depends where you want to go.
Me: My office.
Operator: Where is that?

And on and on and on.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Procrastination

I turned 29 around a decade back or at least thats what it feels like. I had a gala celebration which included cutting a cake (This was only the second time in my life that I have done it), singing a song while standing on a chair (This was my first), three flaming lamborghinis (Definitely my first and the last), a broken car (My first and hopefully the last).

As I was sitting by the roadside with the broke car at 3.30AM in the morning, I was trying to convince my rational self on why I should just leave the car there itself and come back for it tomorrow. I was coming up with irrefutable logic in my support eg. what could I possibly do at that ungodly hour or if I lock the car, how could anybody steal it etc. etc. And I had an epiphany. I realized that one constant in my life has been the ability to come up with undeniable logic to postpone as many things as possible to the point of not doing them at all. I would wake up on saturday and postpone the shower to after a lazy breakfast, to after an afternoon nap, to after a starbucks latte and then eventually convince myself that there is no point in taking a shower at 10PM and might as well do it the next morning. Next morning, the cycle is of course repeated.

There have been numerous activities that I have taken up or want to take up which have somehow either been abandoned midway or have never materialized. I have always been able to come up with a strong argument in favor of taking up an activity and then an even stronger one in favor of abandoning it. I would play cricket and then convince myself that I dont have the talent (This might be a partial truth; actually the whole truth). I would start writing a novel, think about the time it takes to market (It is an unbelievable 5-6 years from the time you pen your first word) and come up with something else which can give me instant gratification. So, I would start blogging and then tell myself who the heck gives a damn (I am not lying when I say there are 11 draft articles which would probably never get published). Similarly, I would want to take up photography, golf etc. and then sleep over it. The list is endless.

For a long time, I described it all as a side-effect of travelling light. I said to myself that I dont like excess baggage because that will slow me down and I should rather focus on fewer but more important things. Just another of my gimmicks to turn this into a glamorous argument. It was just that the things I was focusing on were so few as to be none.

So sitting by the roadside, I finally decided to come face-to-face with my rational self. We both agreed that it was purely procrastination and that I should call up the unmistakable 24-hour toll-free number printed in bold italics on the windshield. A tow-truck arrived in less than 20 minutes which also dropped me home on its way to the repair centre. But not before the aforementioned epiphany.

Honestly and truthfully, procrastination makes life so much easier and arguably happier. I really do want to procrastinate. But I am going to snooze the thought for the time being.

Friday, April 11, 2008

If I could...

If I had enough (financially, emotionally, physically, and all other allys), then I would have nothing to do except sit back and reflect. I recently had a moment like that and I, well, reflected. I reflected about all the things that I would like to do in such an abundant stage and here goes the list, in no particular order :-

i) I would like to park myself in Googolplex and endlessly watch the world-wide internet search key words ticker for a selfish laugh. I would look at keywords like "What does red smell of?" or "how can males have multiples?". Based upon that, I will take a graceful leap of imagination and construct characters, draw caricatures, and chart the entire life of the person typing them away, including his pets. I will only allow it to be published posthumously.

ii) I would invest resources into understanding the enormous complexities that the universe offers. For example, I would like to understand why do the boys display an unhealthy obsession for male bonding? or what is the connection between hair-loss and blogging.

iii) I would make hypothetical scenarios and play them out. For example, I would like to understand what happens if everybody in the world decides to make it a 4-day working week. Will the human species extinguish of boredom or will it embrace the free time and indulge in reflecting like yours truly :-)

iv) I would like to dig out all the conspiracy theories and (dis)prove them. There wouldnt be any Area-51 or a fluttering flag on the Moon while I breathe.

v) I would list down all the classical jokes that have stood the test of time and trace them back down to the first person who ever came up with it. I may follow it up with a petition to have a Nobel prize for the person who makes the largest number of people laugh in a year. If turned down, I will institute a rival award with my own financial muscle.

Have you reflected on something similar? Please share; the only condition is that it has to be trivializing.

Friday, March 14, 2008

An Idiot's guide to Corporate Survival

Looking back at my long and successful corporate career (?..I just like to sound as a presumptuous veteran) and looking at the recent trends, I have come to the conclusion that survival in a corporate setting needs a set of whole new breed of competencies. One of those is surviving the drudgeries of long and brutally stuffy meetings. That is also the subject of this post - How do we keep our energy levels high and blood-pressures low by seeing the light side of it.


Imagine you are sitting in a prolonged meeting with no end in sight. Most of the participants are faceless and you can only hear their voices from the other side of the ocean. Some are debating what sounds like a matter of life and death and after-life while others are clueless. You belong to the latter group. While you strive to be part of the discussion and thus to make an impact, nonetheless, the things being talked about are either above your pay-grade, not directly relevant to you or is utter rubbish (in your opinion, of course). Yet, you are obliged to sit through in case somebody indulges in far-fetched fantasies which necessitate your unassuming participation.


The above is not fictional and is becoming more and more a reality and a corporate athelete has never faced a bigger challenge than to survive these inhuman atrocities. After a lot of post-meeting post-mortems with colleagues, amid dissonance we were able to agree on some common tips which will ensure that you will continue to stay in touch with your inner and forever trivializing human side. We think that our tips are much more original and have ignored some of the prevailing and thus rusted tactics like net-surfing, multi-tasking etc. Some of this is untested (and consequently unproven) and I will love to hear from you the first hand results.


The first tip is the concept of Nested Meetings. This is a brilliant concept contributed by a master artist at this game (The identity concealed to avoid prosecution). The concept is simple. Have small meetings with a small subset of meeting participants on like-minded but ethereal topic which will occupy a small subset of the overall length of the meeting timing. Ouch...I think I have taken a simple concept and complicated the heck out of it. Let me try again with some examples. Nested meetings can be indulgence in trifles like trivializing others' comments via private sms's or online chatting with compatible campaigners. You can also indulge in some humanitarian efforts, for example, you can offer tutions on technical aspects of blogging to fellow participants like how to write a comment on your blog and thereby improving your comment-rate. You can also go around the room and change everybody's homepage to your blog to increase your hit-count. All this should happen when the original meeting is underway. This can be taken one step further by pre-concocting such nested meetings with fellow promoters and assigning specific time to such excesses in advance.


Sometimes, it may happen that all the participants might be genuinely righteous and will not succumb to your charms. In such dire circumstances, you can play games with those unsuspecting participants at your own terms. An example of such a game - "How many times can you use Superman in a sentence while participating in the meeting?" If you are new to this game, you can start with something simple and easy to get away with like 'Boys'. If you dont like the business graduates, then you can choose a word out of some management jargon like 'competitive advantage'. You get better at this game by practice. As a rule of thumb, if you exceed a count of 43 for any particular word, you should move on to something more difficult and funnier. Another example of such a game can be how can you influence to get more breaks than previously scheduled for. The brilliance of it is that you are restricted by your own creativity and you dont need anybody else to play your game with you (Goes well with Voldemort fans).


Now, we are getting into darker and hitherto untested territories. If you dont like any particular participant and think that his/her questions are almost always not only frivolous but dont even deserve an answer, then you can respond by side-stepping and dancing all around and on top but never really answering the question. You should pull out all the jargons from your reserves that you have ever known, mix in a few "words of the day from the mariam-webster email subscription" whose meaning and usage you are unfamiliar with and if possible, throw his/her rhetoric back at him/her by finishing your 'answer' with a question posed directly back. You should count all such instances across many meetings and when you have reached a cumulative count of 23, you should let that person off the hook. Any further exposure may lead to permanent brain damage to the other person. If you start dreaming about such exchanges even before you have reached the count of 23, you should cease. My advice, however, will be never to try this with anybody higher than your level. If you do, let me know how it went. I will pay you for this favor.

More on this later. You are welcome to contribute too.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Last word freak

Do you feel that you have an obsessive-compulsive need to have the last word?

Do you, at times, say something, hoping to close the conversation, but ended up never hearing from the other person?

Do you, at times, say something which turned out to be not quite as witty as you expected and the only reason you did that was as a retort?

Do you hate coming across people like above?

This post is dedicated to all of you (I dont believe in niche positioning and I dont like to limit my audience:-). Alright, honestly speaking, this post is dedicated to people who have an obsessive-compulsive need to have the last word, referred to as Last-Word-Freaks. They are as common as the number of times calls drop in Malaysia (Trust me thats quite a lot). There are more similarities between the two. Sometimes, they are quite irritating (imagine talking to your girlfriend with repetitive call failures) and very welcome at other times (especially if your boss has taken a habit of thinking of you as his keep). On the same token, sometimes you find LWFs extremely irritating and at other times, they are quite fun to have around. All depends upon the context and the mood.

I have devised a very simple way of diagnosing who are the LWFs. It starts with playing a game which is called "Associations" (Disclaimer: I havent invented the game; but the idea to use it to diagnose LWF is entirely mine). You would need to start this game with an unsuspecting potential-LWF. The game is very simple. You utter a word. the other person utters another word, somehow linked to the original word. You do the same. Repeat ad infinitum. See an example below:

Mountain - River - Water - Yacht - Sex

You can challenge a link if you dont understand one. In the above case, I was thinking of sex in a yacht.

Sex - male - Beta - Idiot - Beta - Idiot - Beta - Idiot

The moment you hit a repeating circular mode, you are dealing with an average LWF. He thinks that he is smart, except he is not. He is your nightmare; a lethal and potent potion of arrogance and absurdity. He cant spell wit, is easily amused (only at his own "jokes"), doesnt understand half of others' jokes or refuses to smile and is too arrogant to be bothered with. Walk away while you can. Or if you are the cynical sadist, unleash him on other unsuspecting victims, lean back and enjoy.

Beta - Associations - Last-word-freak - Beta - Blog - Nudepics - Censor - Globalwarming - WorldPeace - Ms. Universe - Antarctica - Captain Cook - Santa -

If you encounter a trail like the above, behold, you are watching a master at work. He is still not diagnosed as the LWF but he is witty and playing along. If he is diagnosed as the LWF, then you may have discovered the rarest breed of LWF who, sometimes can be quite fun to have around. Now, comes the test (Remember, Santa is your word):-

Santa - Paedophile - NowIamGettingTired - Vitamins - NoSeriously - Quitter - AlrightIamOffNow - Loser - StopIT - WristWatch - What! - Why - Sorry? - Hard

The above will be a sureshot diagnosis that you have a Super-LWF at hand. He probably roams the streets at night in black clothes and stiff upper-lip and talks the criminals into jail. You dont want to be at wit-loggerheads with him any more than drill a jackhammer through his head. However, you dont want to miss out on your entertainment tonic of the day when he is at work on somebody else.

So, have you encountered any Last Word Freaks recently?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

For sheer driving pleasure

Past weekend, I drove about a thousand kms for a memorable trip. But this post is not as much about the trip as about the road (non)sense going on around me. To be fair, I might have also contributed to it but I will choose to ignore that at my discretion.

Let us start with the ubiquitous trailers. In the context of driving, Trailers are species that like to smell others' asses and contrary to my prior-belief, the number of trailers on the road is exponentially proportional to the overall traffic. Consider this, you are driving in the top-speed lane which is going at 100+ with a lot of cars in front and behind. Herein arrives a Trailer who can see that there are miles and miles of cars bumper to bumper but he still wants to overtake you (probably to smell the next ass upfront). The middle lane is obviously going slow and you would rather drive at 100+ than move aside. There is nothing you can do but be agitated by this trailer. His nose is right under your smokey behind and you are afraid that in the event of braking, he is going to go "up yours". For a moment, you consider braking just a bit to bring him to his senses but it doesnt help that he is driving a beat-up lorry while you are driving a GTI.

The opposite of a trailer is an idiot. An idiot is the guy who is driving in top speed lane but is driving too slow. He is merrily oblivious of the traffic behind him and doesnt even get the hint when a lot of cars, in direct violation to their basic survival instincts, are forced to overtake from the left. They can all go to hell and back, for all he cares; he is going to drive at the speed he is comfortable with (nothing wrong with it) and he will drive in the top-speed lane (bloody idiot). In my opinion, such people should be reclassified as sub-human species with their licenses revoked till such time as they naturally evolve into humans over millions of years or go extinct (more likely).

Somewhere in between, are the Smartasses. These are people who THINK they are smarter than the rest. Dont we have enough of them in daily life? Well, they are just as common on road too. They think they can beat the market. They stare at the traffic ahead and take it as a challenge to barge their way through. They will cut lanes without indicators; all the way left, then all the way right and sometimes into the emergency lane as well. Oftentimes, I wonder if they drive more sideways than forwards. Infact, I personally know a smartass very well who is, thankfully, leaving the city for good. I couldnt feel safer while driving.

I was thinking about some punchlines that these guys could put on their car. See below:

If you dont like the way I am driving:
- get off the road
- stop trailing me
- get a life
- that makes two of us
- take a number
- Huh?

Any further suggestions?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Occupational Hazards of being a Superhero - II

While waiting at the check-in counter, I happened to glance through the barred items list. At first, I found it funny that somebody had actually taken trouble to explicitly bar explosives, flammable gases, cutting tools, gun-powder, toxic substances etc. But then, I pondered over the difficulties faced by the world saviors when they choose to travel and I was moved to tears.


Yes, Superheroes do need to travel by traditional means. Can you imagine Spiderman swinging his way outside of Newyork? What if he has to chase Sandman across territories devoid of high-rises? Batman is no exception either. Superman, theoretically, doesnt need tranditional transport but he can be immigration authorities' headache and aerospace securities' nightmare. A few weeks back, a small private unidentified aircraft carrying two drunk Australians in Singapore contributed to a 45 minutes shut-down of Airport operations. A couple of missile carrying fighter jets were hastily summoned, just in case. Now, give your imagination some exercise and substitute the private aircraft with Superman. Lets also add in the fact that the world will be saved mostly in big cities where the aerospace is monitored even more closely. Phew; Superman will be straddled with fighter jets spewing heat-seeking missiles and before you know it, he might miss out on saving the world.


But then, may be Superman will succumb and try using conventional flights. He will have to break laws for illegally carrying laser eyes. He will, of course, disguise them behind his spectacles . Although, it is not in line with Superman's character to break laws but he may justify this in favor of the greater good. Batman, on the other hand, will have no qualms about breaking such rules. He will simply presume that they dont apply to him. He does have his own set of problems, though. He cant possibly carry batarangs, batmobile etc. while travelling out of Gotham city. Theoretically, he can use his private Bat-plane to travel but even that is subjected to the same jurisdiction. The only way out is to use his financial muscle to bribe his way through. Afterall, he is useless without his gadgets.

Spiderman will also be barred for carrying toxic web-slingers on him. Infact, his spider-sense might also interfere with the airoplane's communication system. He may take down a few flights in an effort to save a distant part of the world. A small price, some would say but again, completely not in line with Peter Parker's character.

If I were a Superhero, I would have taken over the world and not be worried about such hassles ever. But as Batman mentions "It is a remarkable dichotomy. In many ways, Clark is the most human of us all. Then, he shoots fire from the sky and it is difficult not to think of him as God. And how fortunate we all are that it does not occur to him."

PS - If you like this post, check out Occupational Hazards of being a Super Hero - I too.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Goodness exists; more so in simple gestures

I am rushing to the airport in a cab after a long day filled with tiresome meetings. My companion is talking to me in between taking calls from his boss. My mind is wandering somewhere I dont remember. I am not sure if I have my travel documents on me but I am too fatigued to make sure. We arrive at the airport and are almost instantaneously in the flight cabin. I try to sleep but the crying baby one row ahead on the right is not helping much. My companion is coiled because of the super-chilled interior but is still fast asleep. I am shivering. I notice a couple of fellow travellers asking for a blanket; but I cant be bothered. I am in a zone and I dont like it here.

The flight has landed. In an effort to get out of the spaced-out mode, I spring into action and collect my bag before anybody could get up. Others follow me but all of us are put back into our seats because of a stern stewardess. Finally, we are allowed to get out. I am feeling a little light and surely I am missing something. I check my pockets and sure as hell, my car-keys are absconding. I stay back and check my seat, its bottom and underside; no luck. I come out wondering where I might have dropped them; no clue. My companion calls up the cab-driver; no response.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the port of embarkation, the cab is trudging along. The new passanger finds the car-key and hands it over to Amardeep. He is perplexed and starts making calls to the previous passangers. Some answer; some dont. None owned the key. He sleeps restlessly.

I wake up the next morning and go through another hectic day. In between, I find time to call up my car-agent. It will take two weeks and around 500USD to get a duplicate since it is a coded key. I dont understand what it means but accept it.

Meanwhile, Amardeep figures the car company name as well as the license number plate from the keys. He drives around 50kms to get to volkswagen showroom, tries to enquire but is shoo-ed away, albeit like an untouchable. He doesnt give up. He looks up the various show-rooms in yellow pages and drives another 25 kms to another showroom. The folks here know me because I had given them a tough time when my car air-conditioner wasnt working. They identify me but want Amardeep to hand-over the keys. Amardeep persists with the keys and finally manages to get my mobile-number from them.

I get a call from Amardeep. He is coming to pick me up when I get back and he is going to bring the car-key. I arrive back. I dont remember what he looks like. He is the anonymous and faceless guy one meets everyday on the street, in cabs, at restaurants, in the elevators and in bars. I am too afraid to ask him for his cab license-plate because I dont want to offend him lest he should think I dont remember him. I am roaming around outside the airport when a guy calls me over. I finally get to meet him. He is of medium height, slightly over-weight with a beard and a turban. He is ecstatic at meeting me; his little excitement for the past couple of days finally reaching its logical conclusion. He strikes a conversation as he drives me to my car and cant help unfolding his quest. I cant believe my luck.

The downside isnt much for me. Two weeks of struggling with public transport and 500USD. It is manageable.

The upside isnt much for Amardeep. Wasting time driving around on a wild-goose chase finding the owner of car-keys. I would not have done that.

But he did and without any expectation of any reward.

When you are faced with a dying man on the roadside, you have a choice to take him to hospital or feel guilty for the rest of your life. Hardly a choice.

When you find a car-key, you do have the choice to throw it away without the slightest guilt.

Goodness exists; more so in simple gestures.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Demise of Pen

An extraordinary event happened way back in my life...

When I reached sixth grade, I was allowed to use pen. Before that, we were forced to use pencils, in an effort to improve our hand-writing and in cognizance of the fact that as toddlers, we were prone to making typos. My earlier prized-possessions of pencils, rubbers and sharpeners were replaced by pens, ink and ball-point, chinese and local, long and small, paid for and bartered. Along also came the arsenal of nibs of varying points, inkpots of differing shades, refills of varying length and use-by dates etc. I was blissful.

An extra-ordinary event happened recently in my life...

I actually finished a pen; in other words, I actually ran out the refill in a pen. Seemingly innocuous, but I cant remember the last time, I actually used up an entire pen. Well, to be fair, I didnt really use this particular pen by myself (Heck, I dont even know how I landed up with this pen in my pocket); nonetheless, I actually witnessed the historical event. I am not sure off late, how many of us witness a pen being used up entirely!!

So an extraordinary realization happened recently in my life...

I cant remember the last time I bought a pen. I think I might have forgotten how to do that. But, I still have a few dozens of pen lying at various corners of my house, in my car, in my bag and in my office drawers. In fact, I suspect that the recent clogging up of my water-pipes might have been contributed by some pen or the other finding its way there. A little flash-back revealed a number of times when I came to office with one pen and left with something entirely different, when I borrowed a pen from a fellow traveller to fill in the immigration card and absent-mindedly put it in my pocket, and so on and so forth and vice versa.

Thus ends an extraordinary era, well, almost...

There will be no more pens; only PDAs; there will be no more letters, only emails.