Friday, December 03, 2010

Brunei for Dummies.

In 2007 I had written a highly acclaimed post for people who may want to travel to Germany and avoid rookie mistakes. It’s time for the much delayed next installment which will guide the ignorant traveler intending to visit the tiny Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam.

Quite a few on finding out that I spent a little over a month in Brunei, sheepishly asked where is Brunei? (Some used ‘what’ instead of ‘where’) I envy them. I believe that most of us are better off being unaware of the existence of a country where tax is just a word used on Scrabble boards and driving any car from the last century is considered taboo. But in keeping with the Lonely Planetish spirit of the post, I shall be kind with the trivia dispensing. Brunei is a monarchy, sultanate to be more precise, on the island of Borneo in South East Asia. The two hallmarks of the nation are its particularly loaded Sultan and its astounding luck with hydrocarbons. As far as what you can do as a tourist there kindly refer here. For the more adventurous who want a true ‘feel’ of the place read on.

1. The first thing which one observes in Brunei Darussalam is that people are happy. So obviously I was pissed off the moment I landed. I can make a leeway for lot of things but definitely not contentment.

2. There is just one major road in Brunei running from the east to west. The locals obsequiously refer to it as ‘The Highway’. The time to traverse the whole length of this 120km lifeline is what one would take to travel from Indira Nagar to Marathahalli in Bangalore at peak traffic hour. So unsurprisingly quite a few Bruneians commute daily from the capital Bandar in the eastern corner of the country to Seria in the western corner, where The Corporation which shall not be named has its premises.

3. Anyone living in the small towns in India is aware of the horrible practice of everyone knowing everything about everybody. I had a tough time growing up in a town where every move was noted and quietly reported back to the puppet masters. Brunei citizens experience the same misery but on a national scale. The rare upside to such a close knit country is that when one gets hauled up for speeding on ‘The Highway’ by the police, it is highly probable that the erring driver and the policeman may be distantly related. So the old Indian excuse of,’Sirjee, chota bhai samajhke isbaar ke liye chhor do’ will hold a lot of water in this part of the planet.

4. One of the most striking features of the country is the overwhelming presence of The Corporation at every corner. Never before have I seen just one company have such a remarkable role in a nation’s history and weave itself so firmly into the social fabric. It felt a bit surreal at times.

5. Brunei is a teetotaler’s wet dream. The restaurants bizarrely stay open late and yet after a long day, when one instinctively utters ‘A pint of Guinness please …’, the waitress clears her throat with a disapproving look. You may naively ask ‘But Sayan, you must be having some bootleggers around? Perfect dryness is just a Gandhian theory right?’ I will have to sadly shake my head and say no. Brunei is truly dry, just like the Mahatma intended. My fellow Malaysian brethren and I invested significant time and effort in searching for a ‘source’ including staking out the Army's canteen but all clues merely gave way to wild booze chases. However the problem was finally solved by hopping over the border every weekend. (One can bring in limited amount of alcohol to Brunei but they will need to register it at customs.)

6. This absence of spirits hasn’t dampened the night life of Brunei in any way. All bets are off in Gadong (pronounced emphatically as Gadooooonnnngggggggg) which happens to be where the young gather for phenomenally wild nights. Watching someone throw up in the late hours of Friday nights after having one water-melon juice too many or jostling with people crowding around a flaming carrot juice shots competition, one will be left gasping for breath trying to catch up with the madness all around. When one finally drives through the saucy green light districts in the wee hours, the only thought which resonates is how too much fruit juice can get someone as high as a few pegs of JD. (Disclaimer: I am not advocating fruit juice fuelled intoxication. I disapprove of the use of fruits for any form of self-gratification.)

Statutory Warning: The following statements may induce you to raise an army and invade Brunei. Conventional wisdom suggests it is advisable not to go beyond sabre-rattling as the Bruneian national security has been cunningly outsourced to the Gurkha Regiment of the British Army.


7. There are no taxes in Brunei. No income tax, no service tax, no sales tax, no deduction at any source whatsoever, no surcharges, no education cess, no infrastructure duty. Excise is just exercise spelt hurriedly and Tariff is the nickname of Haji Muhammed T Ariff. Everyone’s education is paid for and it will usually involve a fully supported scholarship to one of the top universities in UK. There are no JEE or AIEEE equivalents. Hospitals are cheap and the police efficient. I find all this unacceptable and a gross violation of my right to see other people crib about their country. In short, we need to raise an army and invade them and bring about some chaos. (Refer statutory warning)

8. If Brunei is about anything at the end of the day, it is about cars. The message was pretty clear on the first day when my recently graduated colleagues drove in on their VW Beetles, Honda Civics, BMWs, Mercs, Mini Coopers, Mazda and the range of SUVs which make you feel like turning into a Naxal and fight for justice. When asked what I used, to go to my office in Bangalore, I had to meekly say Volvo without daring to elaborate further on the make of the vehicle. But thank god for Bruneians and their love for sleek cars for I now know how it feels to be in a two-seater open hatch Honda S2000 flying at 225 km/hr. Divine.





My Volvo doesn't look too bad against their array of BMWs and VWs.

With their close knit society and fascination for cars , Brunei is easily one of the most marvelous places I have had a chance to visit. The people are very friendly and as already mentioned more happy than any community I have encountered. It was their sense of contentment which I found utterly fascinating and at the same time difficult to relate to.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Inquilab Zindabad!

Last week there was an all India strike at some parts of the country. Having grown up in a town which unfailingly saw a shutdown every fortnight, I have always missed the joy of unexpected holidays due to bandhs in the big cities. When these rare strikes do happen, I always get reminded of the only instance when I had participated in a full fledged industrial action.

This incident took place back when I was in DPS Rkpuram. The hostel food was terribly unexciting and monotonous. But it was the maddeningly drab breakfast which got everyone in a really rebellious mood. There was hardly anything to look forward to at the usual 9am breakfast apart from the fact that the girls dined on a mezzanine above where the guys had their meals. And if one looked up long enough, he would be rewarded with a glimpse of one of the prettier faces or more. Very Dachau-ish but without the killings and the labour. The dissatisfaction with the dull bread, butter and boiled egg menu usually got a voice through sudden pointless thumping of tables. But as protests involving sudden pointless thumping of tables go, it didn’t coerce the administration into corrective action.

One fine evening it was decided that each of us would boycott the next morning’s breakfast and hence by force the administration into making changes. The news of the fatwa spread among the rooms and a consensus was quickly achieved ratifying this decision. One individual however eked out a compromise from the Politburo, where he was permitted to go and have a glass of tea. The reason given was of a medical nature.

So the next morning we all went to the mess gate but refused to go any further. So while there was a crowd of students hovering resolutely around the mess entrance, the wardens and the kitchen staff stood inside with large mounds of boiled eggs and pakodas feeling very stupid with every passing minute. When the lone guy went in and just had a glass of tea, it seemed we inadvertently rubbed the message in pretty harshly. And so the strike was a complete success. Comrades from Bengal would have termed it spontaneous. We were ecstatic. Some of the more naive guys started drawing up prospective menus which we expected our united stand would force the administration to accept. Once the break was over we went back to our classes with a sense of pride and achievement. Some of us started contemplating a career in politics.

The wardens taken aback by this unexpected turn of events conferred among themselves and thought it best to report the matter to the vice-principal. This was our Stalingrad moment and the tide of the battle began moving irreversibly in the opposite direction from hence on. Our vice-principal was a straight talking Jat who had little patience for student uprisings due to culinary issues. What he lacked in way of communication skills, he failed to make up for it by having a sympathetic heart. He felt this act was completely unwarranted and as a penalty, issued clear orders to the wardens that no lunch and dinner should be served to us. This decision was summarily communicated to us by the wardens.

The Politburo discussed the limited options at hand and began to sense the sprouting of dissent among the masses. Whispers referring to the nutritional goodness of boiled eggs started doing the rounds. We also discovered that we were getting very hungry and the prospect of missing out on the otherwise dour rajma-chawal at lunch seemed heart wrenching. In view of the changed circumstances a tactical surrender was wisely recommended. Two hours later we submitted a written apology to the vice principal regretting our rashness and requesting a retraction of his order outlawing the other meals. The vice principal, magnanimous in his comprehensive and crushing victory, promised sweeping changes in the breakfast menu. He kept his promise in a way only he could. From the next day we started getting tomato ketchup with the boiled eggs and pakodas.

I haven’t been a part of a strike since.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Revenge is a dish best served in Vegas.

I will always regret fast-forwarding the parts in the Mahabharata where they discuss Karma. I do realize now that all the jazz about paying for one’s sins is quite true. Let me quote a recent incident where I learnt that smugness usually results in a diet of the proverbial humble pie.

The story goes back to March 2010. Muski had recently transferred to Chennai and most conversations on online threads revolved around on how he would cope with a lack of a life there. These conversations gave rise to a curious tradition where we used to call up Muski from Bangalore and tell him what we are up to and follow it up with an innocuous question, “What are you doing?” Usually that was the point when he hung up.

I always have had a terrible fault of going too far. So when I was off for a jaunt to KL and I was having an interesting weekend after another, I decided it would be a wonderfully friendly and chummy thing to keep Muski updated about my whereabouts. So throughout the month a number of phone calls were made to Chennai which usually involved me spouting lines like these

• Muski, I am at a Placebo concert. What are you doing?
• Muski, I am going camping to an equatorial forest this weekend? Where are you going? Bessie beach?
• Muski, are you watching F1 on TV now? See if you can spot me in the crowd. Hey wait, Schumacher just got down….bye…
• Muski, I am about to go to a Chuco Valdez concert. Hello, hello, can you hear me? * dial tone*

Of course anyone who knows Jatin Gupta, knows he is not the one to take things lying down. The man knows the value of patience and planning. So when I heard that both he and our good friend Debashish were going off to the US for a couple of months I was anxious. Not only was it an astounding coincidence that both their companies decided to send them at the send time, they also happened to be going to the same city, SFO. Everything seemed to be guided by some divine hand. I knew that time for retribution was near. I was soon proved right when I received a mail whose content conveyed in very clear terms that both of them were planning to spend a weekend at Las Vegas and they felt it would be kind to copy all their online discussions about the trip to me.

I knew it wouldn’t end there. I received a stream of assurances from them that they would keep me abreast of how their weekend went. They stuck to their promise and my inbox confirmed my worst fears today. To paraphrase Muski’s mail to me,

As you already know we were in Vegas this weekend. Nothing much. Stayed at the BELLAGIO(yes, the AAA five diamond award winning hotel and casino on the Strip shown in Oceans 11). Rented a CADILLAC, opened its sunroof and cruised down the famous Vegas strip shouting while drunk. Semi nude chicks roaming on the road waved back at us. Gambled a lot! And had the world’s largest buffet at the base of the Vegas Eiffel tower. How was your weekend?

Check mate. Karma I say.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Where's the DISCO?

Post Update:Corrigendum

Apparently I have been an ass. As Amrutash has very politely pointed out, my outrage got the better of me and I didn’t bother to dig deeper into the issue before ranting about it. For the benefit of others, I have pasted his comment which brings the matter into a more relevant perspective.

HT has worded it very nicely to make it sound sensational. I'll fill in what they left out / got wrong -- stuff you should've found out before writing a blogpost about it. 1) The quota is called Board of Governers (BOG) quota. 2) Its definitely not a "secret", pretty much everyone knows it in KGP (its definitely not hushed up -- I don't know why HT needed RTI to find out about it, they could've just asked around). 3) To be eligible for BOG quota, you need a faculty parent AND 4) need to QUALIFY in IIT-JEE with a rank (any rank) (unlike what HT has mentioned) (You need 60% to qualify for IIT -- that rule is for everyone). 5) You can apply only for MSc courses in Kharagpur (like geology, maths, etc) NOT for Btech or Dual or Mtech (In 2003, MSc math in KGP would've been ranks 4500+ -- these are seats which sometimes would anyway go empty because no one took it). 6) As far as I remember it was banned for many years, except for the years of 2003 and 2004 (where, 50 odd kids would have gotten through).
I know this as I was eligible.
I think the practice is on par with most schools having a quota for teacher's children (including schools which have a waiting queue for 2-3 years). Not that I am defending it, I am just saying that I don't think its on par with AICTE corruption. By comparing the two, you are doing a Qureshi. It was introduced, as far as I understand as an incentive for faculty with children in middle school to stay on with IIT KGP -- since school education faclities in Kharagpur used to be limited. We are talking about 80s here (Pre-factory era).
The simple reason why the news has received a swift burial is that its really old news. The practice was stopped in 2004. There is no BoG quota to protest now! Besides, there are way many more things worth protesting about in IIT Kharagpur.
A follow-up lies here.


Obviously my complaint about no one from the IIT community speaking up about this no longer stands. However the validity of the ‘rural argument’ can be debated. The discussion would be more nuanced but I agree its no longer a topic meriting much thought. Sigh. I will be more careful.


Original Post



When I read this article on the Hindustan Times about a secret quota for children of the faculty at IIT KGP, I was not unmoved. It existed till 2005 and was removed when the RTI Act was passed. The infallibility of the JEE process had always been one of those totems of a few things which still remained accountable in this country. Of course the process has been faulty at times as earlier events have shown. Stupid mistakes have been made many times before but they were invariably honest mistakes. This recent development is however a departure.

At the risk of sounding clichéd and derisive I don't expect systems to function in India and do understand that its ingrained in our Indian psyche to work around obstacles rather than remove the obstacles themselves. So news about corrupt administrators in AICTE or the MCI or even outrageous lapses in defence purchase or a zillion other scandals are so easily digested by our perversely permissive society, something I have failed to see in any other developed/developing nation. So it is kind of immature of me to share my indignation about this IITKGP affair which seem so insignificant compared to the daily barrage of thievery we hear about. But this ‘small’ matter is wonderfully indicative of the fact that the lack of integrity in public offices have nothing to do with the level of education the person may have received.

My five years at IITM did give me opportunities to look at behind-the-scenes activities of the administration. My initial assumptions that IITs are an oasis of committed and sincere professors, administrators and staff were admittedly naive. The administration did have elements which characterize any Indian bureaucracy anywhere. Ego-driven supervisors and dishonest individuals never failed to make their presence felt. But for every shifty character I could see two earnest ones. My eventual opinion was that the system while flawed usually worked to give positive progress. The guys actually running the institute had taken a pragmatic approach where they tolerated a few of the malevolent elements as long as that didn’t affect the running of the institution and its core objectives significantly. While it might not seem the best strategy to purists, I feel it's perhaps the only one which could perhaps work.

So this makes me extremely keen to see how the IITs respond to this admission of a criminal subversion of its admission process which in no way can be trivialized. This offence is impossible without tacit sanction from the rest of the IITs as JEE chairmanship rotates between the IITs every year. Left to the individual professors, I am sure a majority of them would denounce them in the strongest of terms. They have never hesitated to denounce the ‘quality’ of students which the newer JEE formats have supposedly resulted in. Dishonesty among students has always been efficiently investigated and resoundingly punished in the famous DISCOs (disciplinary committees) across all IITs. I hope I can safely assume that they will show a similar enthusiasm in demanding a more thorough investigation of all their colleagues who would have directly misused their position or indirectly facilitated it by remaining quiet.

Not surprisingly the news has already received a rapid and quiet burial. Apart from the downright stupid defence that ‘It wasn’t just me’ from one of the culprits which sounds more like Shaggy's next song title, no past or current IIT administrator has spoken a word. Some of the criminals remain at top administrative positions. Like anywhere else the heads have nodded and moved on. When I hear people sigh that if educated people were running the country and their institutions, we would see better days, I involuntarily start looking for baseball bats. No amount of education or degrees can change a human’s desire for status quo or self serving systems when in a position of influence.

Or to sum up in a typical IITM style with its love for succintness, " Kya fart hai!"

Saturday, July 10, 2010

1-0

In the mid nineties, I was in middle school. Those were heady days with me trying to understand the relevance of logarithmic tables and whether I would ever get to date Ms Christina, the third standard class teacher. That was also the period in my roller-coaster athletic career when I used to play football. I know it’s difficult to visualize me on a football field but for around three years I was a member of my class soccer team.

My talent was first noticed in the sixth standard by my class captain while I played defence in the annual Students Vs Teachers match. Our school had a devilish custom where every year a faculty versus students football match took place. But the catch was that the student team would comprise not of the best footer players from each class but of people who had ranked first academically! The dastardly scheme was based on the presumption that top rankers were usually athletically challenged. As a result the mostly pot-bellied faculty members would end up looking good and a few of the teachers could then perhaps manage to impress the oh so gorgeous Ms Christina. I apologize for the repeated references. But she is the still the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.

Of course this plot came unstuck in 1996 when the top rankers curiously also happened to be a bunch of reasonably fit individuals with an acceptable flair for sporting events. Yes, I just described myself as reasonable fit with an acceptable flair for sports. I played defence and our team won. My class football captain and his advisors appreciated the fact that I didn’t wince in tripping the vice principal multiple times and pushed the principal into the mud. They agreed that what I lacked in experience in football, I made up in stupid courage of standing in the way of rampaging over-weight forwards and possessed a deft foot which could make a career out of tactical fouling. In short I would make a decent centre back.

My three year soccer career was not spectacular but it wasn’t a disaster either. I committed an average of three fouls per match and usually got substituted after a half. The highpoint of my career was my last match in standard eight where we were playing the other section in the finals. The match was sponsored by Milo and the members of the winning team would be getting free 500gms packets of Milo. The match was a humdinger with the score tied at 1-1 before our defender Srikanth Gupta let in an own goal. With that we lost the finals and the Milo packets. I decided it was time to move on to cricket. The move would have suited Srikanth better who unfortunately continued in football the next year where he scored yet another own goal in the very first match of the season. Till date he remains the only player in Don Bosco’s history to score two own goals in consecutive matches.

Since that fateful Milo sponsored afternoon, I never played competitive football again. Till a couple of weeks ago. With the world cup on, I was losing tremendous amount of money in the syndicate and beginning to feel that perhaps I have completely lost my feel for the game. The fact that the intra-office Futsal tournament was happening at the same time was a happy coincidence and I signed up immediately for the green team. A big indoor Futsal court in the basement of the twin towers was an impressive setting for my return to the game after eleven years. But the huge turnout from the various departments was unnerving as it meant that I stood a good chance of making a fool of myself in front of half of the organization’s staff in the East.

My team gathered around for a mild warm-up session before our match against the yellow team. We stood around in a circle and kicked the ball around without allowing it to hit the ground. Till it came to me, of course. Without getting into graphic details of my comic attempts at keeping the ball in the air, I will just mention that my team quickly developed a fair idea about my proficiency in soccer. My captain showed his tactical genius by not playing me in the starting five. The match begun and I have to mention that indoor footer with its relaxation of a few of the rules of regular soccer did have its thrill. Though the total game time of just fifteen minutes instead of ninety did seem a bit brief to me.

Our team started well. The defence was solid and the way the team was playing, one could see glimpses of Johan Cruyff’s Totaalvoetbal. But frankly with only four players on the field, every tactic would begin to look like total football at some point. A blistering counter-attack in the fifth minute took the opponents completely by surprise as our team put one pass the goalie. Two minutes later as the referee blew the whistle signalling half time, I began to sense that I may play an important role soon enough. We were two minutes into the second half when the inevitable happened. I was asked to go in.

In view of the really limited time, my tactic was to get into the thick of the things immediately. I was mentally prepared to play defence who often made attacking forays along the flanks. There was no strategic thinking behind that plan. I just thought the whole thing sounded cool. It didn’t take too long for the ball to come to me. After a futile attempt on the goal by our opponents, our goalie passed the ball to me. As the yellow team player charged towards me, I tripped over the ball and almost fell. But this inadvertent move managed to flummox the charging player giving me enough time to pass the ball. The spectators gasped at what they considered an intentionally brilliant fake move. Having had a narrow escape where a dreadful error was misconstrued as a skilful shuffle, I decided to take care as I wouldn’t be so lucky the next time. The best way to avoid messing up with the ball I assumed would be to avoid getting it in the first place. With only four minutes of the match to go I decided to keep marking all the yellow team players but stay out of the ball’s way at the same time. The ploy worked beautifully and I was seen doing a lot of running up and down the court without embarrassing myself. Unfortunately my team management noticed that I was actually not adding any value to the proceedings and I was summarily substituted with a minute to go till the final whistle. I spent a staggering four minutes on court and was proud as hell that I didn’t do anything to squander my team’s slender one goal lead. To cut a short story shorter, we won.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Beautiful Game

Every four years there comes one month when I wake up smiling every single day.

It makes me ecstatic. I don’t know why but it does. I feel like holding everyone and shake them and shout, ‘ Its the world cup!!’

This is undoubtedly the best football commercial I have ever seen. Thank God for the world cup!

Friday, May 28, 2010

When I crashed a party.

This happened in March. I decided to take a short detour on my way back from office and thought it would be a good idea to return through the KL convention centre. My destination was the Starbucks inside. I loved the elaborate interview Starbucks goes through before getting my coffee. By the time they finish enquiring about the different boundary conditions for my drink, I usually don’t remember what I ordered in the first place. But then they do make great coffee.

The convention centre is an impressive building close to the twin towers. I was too distracted to notice the unnaturally empty surroundings around the centre, devoid of the usual loitering tourist. At a distance, next to the main entrance, I noticed a fleet of swanky cars. A couple of old men had just alighted and they were surrounded by a group of animated photographers clicking away wildly. There were four colourful dragon puppet like things frolicking around the old men in an apparent bid to welcome them. All this was accompanied by loud and incoherent drumming. Apparently finesse and sobriety were dispensed with in a traditional welcome in this part of the world. Obviously the whole thing was too much of a visual treat not to attract a more detailed attention from yours truly. So I decided to take a closer look and followed the troupe as they entered the convention centre. The old men were the centre of the attention and obviously were some sort of local bigwigs. A few guys in suits and dark glasses hovered around whispering what sounded like Roger, I can't hear you, this is fun, albeit in a Chinese accent, into state-of-the-art walkies.

The ensemble entered the main hall. So did I. The sight inside was stunning. The whole hall was spectacularly decked up with flowers and confetti with a huge crowd in their best evening attire. They were in groups sitting around brilliantly made-up dining tables. The moment the gang I was shadowing entered the whole hall stood up and everybody was completely silent.A deep voice announced over the microphone ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Dato Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak the prime minister of Malaysia’.

I just had the biggest WTF moment of the decade. To say I was surprised would have been an understatement. Being an Indian, who has grown up watching the smallest cog of the government machinery guarded by a posse of grim faced sentinels and having bragged about the sixty car convoy of our own prime minister which I happened to witness a couple of times, standing at an arm’s length of a head of the government, by mistake, was a situation I was finding very difficult to come to terms with. As Wodehouse would describe it, I was in a pickle.

A huge board at the side proudly indicated that I had crashed into the Chinese New Year Gala Dinner. That explained why most of the guests were in the traditional Chinese attire. There was only one person in the world who would have convinced me to have been bold enough to continue with my bravado and sit out the whole event and pretend to be a guest from the Indian embassy. But he was trying to sell things on EBay a thousand miles way. So I felt it was time to call off the adventure and decided to quietly make my exit. I hoped that no one would notice an individual hopelessly under-dressed for the occasion, listening to an IPod had wandered in and none did.

A big sign outside listed the guests for the evenings. The ambassador from the People’s Republic of China, the American ambassador, the British high commissioner, a host of industry and organization heads, the city administration, the party had them all. I do recall not reading any name from the Indian embassy though. I tried to exit the building with that same confidence with which I went in but that plan ran into difficulties when I discovered I had lost my way. But before I was hauled up for walking briskly with no apparent reason around the corridors outside the hall, a sweet lady comprehended my problem and cheerily showed me the way out.

So what was the LFI* ? As long as you walk assertively without furtive glances, you can crash the most exclusive of parties.

*Learning from Incident. I read quality management manuals with my meals.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

April's Fools.

April sucked. I was ill. I stopped moving about. Metals stopped corroding mysteriously which had an unfortunate effect on my workload. The Greeks stuffed me. Apparently giving birth to the Western civilization also gives you the right to destroy it. But in the midst of all the wretchedness I found solace in two things. Cognitive therapy and the newspaper. While I need not elaborate on the former for the time being, I am all too keen to share why I have chosen Schadenfreude as the word of the month. Never before has the newspapers carried such uplifting news which provided the much needed comfort that there are people out there who are having a more terrible year.

Blank-fined!

The only reason I hate Goldman Sachs is because I don’t work for them yet. One of my ambitions includes working for five evil corporations in my lifetime. I don’t think I have worked for any yet though I don’t know whether the students’ executive committee at IITM counts. GS has had a series of bad press this year. With billions of dollars of bonuses, audacious hiding of Greece’s debts and of course the recent civil suit from the Securities & Exchange Commission, GS is being blamed for everything and anything. Being the most successful bank to come out of the recession unscathed has its pitfalls. Anyone who has browsed through the details of the SEC case would be wonder struck. Let me try and put it in a simple format.

• Hedge fund designs financial instrument designed to fail
• GS sells the instrument to their clients
• Hedge fund bets against the very financial instrument it has created.
• GS doesn’t inform clients that the hedge fund is betting against the system.
• Hedge fund makes 1billion dollars.

The dazzling brilliance of the whole law suit is that according to the shockingly lax regulations, the hedge fund hasn’t done anything illegal. GS’s only fault was not to inform their clients about the position of the hedge fund. This suit has set off a chain reaction of events which has slowly made it clear that investment banks have moved away from their primary duty of transferring capital to where it is required to creating sophisticated gambling systems. I will refrain from turning this into a diatribe against the financial sector and its inability to grasp long term vision. That job has been accomplished exceedingly well by Matt Taibbi here. I don’t recall any description of any organization more brutal than how Mat has described GS.

The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.

I always assumed these GS folks to be super-smart but I was disappointed to see that they have left an email trail of their shenanigans which led the senators and media scrambling to crucify them. Fabrice Tourre, whose exploits brought about the SEC suit, was so full of himself after creating the financial instrument that he couldn’t hide his glee in a mail to his girlfriend where he called the deal ‘shitty’ and called his work ‘intellectual masturbation’. If only he had acted upon his feeble conscious attack. On a completely different note, I would love to know if there is a study on how many gifted crooks did themselves in while bragging to women.

Of course the naive among us will assume that this series of law suits is just the beginning of holding the bankers responsible for the recession. These suits are a decently clever approach taken by the Obama administration to force the US senate to push through the financial regulations bill. If anybody is expecting GS to go into a decline, they need to be pinched back to reality. But for now, it’s just great reading the papers about GS executives scurrying to save their skin and seeing Lloyd Blankfien fumble on TV.

Statutory Warning: 140 characters can ruin you.

Lalit Modi. The man who got tweeted out of a multi-billion dollar enterprise built by himself. One has to admit that the whole incident is hilarious if not downright stupid. No matter how clever, suave, well-connected, rich and indispensible one may be, there are two things which can destroy any man in a matter of days. A woman and the ego. I am still struggling to understand where Tharoor erred. Did he break any law by charging a hefty fee for helping out a consortium to bag the deal? I do agree he was incredibly stupid to have left such an obvious paper trail. Just for that he should have been fired. If a minister sucks even at hiding his wealth, then he has no business running the affairs of the nation. Indians have no patience for such incompetence. So what if he has done more for India’s relations with African and Latin American nations than any administration before.

Tehelka has a brilliantly done article about what situation led to the huge fracas. While the article makes insinuations against people as untouchable as Sachin and Sunil Gavaskar without citing concrete sources, it’s a tremendous read. And frankly in such frivolous issues I don’t mind admitting I prefer ‘news’ reports which are more suggestive and scandalous rather than drab and colourless one may encounter in the national newspaper of India.

There are a few interesting lessons we can draw from the event. They are nothing new but this whole row has brought it out more beautifully than other scams have. Power and influence is illusory when you do not have seats in the parliament to back it up. Case in point, Mr Pawar continues to play around with food prices while Mr Modi is looking up the yellow pages for names of lawyers who will exploit him further. Politicians still call the shots in this country, economic liberalization notwithstanding. Modi thought the combined backing of Ambani, Mallya and Wadia would save his skin being oblivious to the fact that unlike the Indian public the industry captains can identify with effortless ease whether an issue is inconsequential and when to choose their fights. Modi had started believing the papers which hailed him as an unconquerable foe who had trounced the home ministry, Subhas Chandra, BCCI, ICC, ECB, Sony. He never realized that at the end of the day the only thing which matters is how much of that famed power could make a difference on the floor of the Parliament.

The Androgynous Swami.

This case was kind of unexpected. When I heard that this Swami who has a thing for cross-dressing, was running what can only be described as a training facility for sexually liberated individuals, near Bangalore, I was very disappointed with myself. I considered this a huge intelligence failure on my behalf and berated all my contacts for having failed to have informed me about the existence of such a guild so near to where I stay. But enough about my discontent.

Let’s be frank. While outwardly all single and a few not-so-single men may have been hypocritically denouncing this sect, they would all have signed on to that infamous ‘contract’ in a heartbeat. The absurdity of the incident stems from the fact that the video was released by a woman who was jealous of Cool Dude Nitya’s proximity to this Tamil actress. Now why would some women vie for the affections of an androgynous Swami is mysterious. I have dealt with this topic at length in my upcoming book ‘Why women never seldom fall for smart and witty men. A true Story’.

I however loved how the newspapers dealt with his eventual arrest in Himachal Pradesh. The headline screamed that the three cameras were found with him!! Oh the horror! Three cameras mind you. How despicable and vile would a man have to be to be found with three cameras? He should be impaled in front of Majestic Bus Stand.
While everyone was trying their best to recover from this sordid act, Nitya came up with the gem of an ironclad defence that he/she is a woman and hence by all sexual impropriety suits filed against him are null and void. If this approach is legal, I shudder to think what my female stalkers may be up to. (Yes, therapy woman, I am talking about you. Leave me alone!)I wonder how the conversation may have gone between Nitya and his lawyer before he sprung this defence on the police.

Lawyer: Hey Nitz, you are screwed man.
Nitya: Hmm.....I agree this is a pickle but I have a cunning plan.
Lawyer: Not again.
Nitya: What if I play the victimized woman card.
Lawyer: But you are not a woman....
Nitya: That’s a mere technicality. I will just announce I am. Call me Nitu from now on. It will help me get into character.


The Eyjafjallajökull Conundrum.

Iceland needs to come closer to the Equator. No one pays much attention to them as they are so far away and then they end up doing silly stuff just to get our attention. First it was bankrupting their national bank and initiating the financial crises in Europe and now there’s this volcano with an identity crisis. After all those Hollywood movies dealing with worldwide apocalypse if there’s anything we have learnt it’s that stuff have to go wrong simultaneously at every corner of the world for things to shut down indefinitely. Also the thing needs to be predicted by a renegade scientist/ ancient civilization. None of these cardinal rules were followed before Eyjafjallajökull went kaput.

Iceland needs to get over the fact that world doesn’t think too much of them. I agree nothing much has happened on that island after Bobby Fischer kicked Spassky’s ass and Ronald Reagan slipped a Mickey in Gorbachev’s drink and made him sign a nuclear disarmament treaty. But is shutting down air traffic all over Europe the best idea you people could come up with? Ands what’s with this consonant fetish? Eyjafjallajökull? Really? Kindly get rid of this consonant diarrhoea if you want the world to take you more seriously. But it was amusing to see how much damage just one volcano, somewhere on the fringes of civilization could do. Very humbling.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Good Bye, Dog.

Mahesh Mahadevan was found dead a couple of days back on the UC,Irvine campus. The police have labelled it a case of suicide by asphyxiation. The circumstances surrounding the case and Nai’s stirring and devastatingly poignant last post on Stumble Upon suggests that the authorities may be correct. And with that act of his, I lost my ex wing-mate, quiz team mate of four years, co-coordinator in so many events and a close friend & confidante.

When Nai first came to IITM, his history of an amazing academic record was stunning even to the haughty IITians. He brought an image of a person so sharp and brilliant and of a level of competence so unattainable that acute jealousy would have made it easy to dislike him. But to his credit, it turned to be the opposite. Perhaps the most affable of all the new guys who joined Mandakini Hostel, he made people comfortable around him at a spectacular pace. Even a notoriously reticent person like me fell prey to his genial company. Thankfully that ensured our coming together to form a team which was one of the major hallmarks of my stay at IITM.

Throughout his four years, Nai could be seen doing everything, everywhere. Everybody knew him and he knew everybody. Whether it’s succumbing to NQA’s assaults for the umpteenth time in yet another quiz with me, or miraculously metamorphosing into a rap star in his final year, his constant propensity to pick up completely unrelated skills and excelling in them at an astonishing speed never failed to overwhelm people around him. He seemed to be in a tearing hurry to master as many things as possible as fast as he could. A lifetime seemed too less for all the things he wanted to learn. Wordplay and quick humour defined his conversations with everyone. The fact that many never got around to grasping the quick-witted repartees never stopped him from jumping at the smallest opportunity to turn a moment funny. Watching Nai with his alert posture guarding the goal posts with his less than imposing frame was a fixed sight at the Mandak quadrangle every evening. So was his presence at every major/minor/completely irrelevant hostel event. His shocking get-up as a promiscuous woman in his first hostel night and his classy get-up as a rap star in his final hostel night has found place in innumerable folders title ‘Mandak Memories’. Bound to be found in long winded ‘fart sessions’, wolf games and practice session of some sort, he was the image everyone associated with life in Mandak and in IITM in general. There are very few compatriots from IITM who have not shed a tear today.


















The infamous 12 Angry Men spoof team,2007

His charisma seemed only to increase in Irvine if the condolences messages on his FB page are anything to go by. Not surprisingly he seemed to have taken up the only thing he didn’t get time for in IITM- dancing. His taste for adventure sports which never found a vent in Chennai finally found a medium as he feverishly conquered skate boarding. In the middle of everything, he managed to squeez in mastery of acapella too. His brand of humour didn’t fail in building a clan of loyal fans even there and not so startlingly, he was a darling among the ladies.

Personally, Nai’s was one of those rare friendships I used to proudly advertise as an accomplishment. In his company, I always felt I was doing something clever, saying something intelligent, thinking something different. His charisma forced me to behave so. Effortlessly. Our interests converged on so many topics. We competed with each other to show who loved British comedy more. We threw in Blackadder references just to see if the other got it and appreciated it if he did. We went crazy trying to outdo each other in mastering referencing to Seinfeld at the appropriate moments. He always called me Shayon-da subtly hinting at his displeasure at my abandoning my roots and making people pronounce my name Sayan. For some reason he also at times referred to me as Herr Fuehrer. I never asked him why. I wish I had. Everything he said to me, everything he wrote to me were always so full of references, puns, play and hidden significances that communicating with him was a delight and a challenge.

As a fellow team-mate, Nai was a joy. With him, Chanani and me, we formed a team which I always referred to as the greatest ever Dum Charades team never to have won anything. We had devised codes for the smallest aspects only to repeatedly fail at every opportunity to use them and we laughed ourselves hoarse at the hilarity which usually ensued on stage. We had devised a code for the movie Troy and fervently prayed for four years that by a stroke of luck we should get it once so that we can set a new time record in DC. I will never forget the look on Chanani’s face when he opened the chit at Saarang 2008, our last shot at qualification after struggling for four years. It was Troy and we cracked it in one second. Though it seems so silly, I was so happy that day. And so was Nai.

Quizzing with him was a different experience altogether. Answering the vaguest, quirkiest and most impossible of questions was his exclusive domain. The sudden burst of passion which flooded his complexion as an answer occurred to him, his jumping up to answer it and then inflicting a forceful and albeit painful high five on me to celebrate is an image imprinted permanently in my head. But what I remember the most is the all too often walk of shame back to the hostel late in the night after failing to win yet another quiz. He always gave a quiet ear to my rants about how Pota & Co were ruining enthusiasm by winning everything. I had the time of my life organizing quizzes with him and working on esoteric and arcane connects. With Jayant we formed a great quizzing team. With KV we went a notch higher and formed perhaps a trio which participated just to trip rather than win anything. Watching Nai and KV in conversation was like watching a joust between Messi and Rooney. Today I can only guess how distraught KV may be feeling. I also feel terrible for dear Psueba who loved talking to Nai. Yet another great pair undone.


















Me,KV&Nai: Shaastra 2007 Main Quiz

There are just so many images which are flooding my mind right now. The unforgettable spoof of 12 Angry Men where the geniuses of Nai, Psueba and Bhadwa decided it would be an interesting experiment if all the jurors let down their trousers in the middle of the play. The coincidental but unrelated cycle accidents which left both of us bruised and bandaged at the same time and Nai felt it would be a good idea to take a picture. His comments and constructive criticisms/praises on each and every blog post of mine, no matter how inane or irrelevant the post may be. He was the first person from IITM to write me a testimonial on Orkut. He also taught me the basics of basketball, with tremendous patience. I remember the frustration he felt whenever he had me in his team. Perhaps the only time we almost fought. I spoke to him just three weeks back, two weeks before he died. He was excited about me going to the Malaysian GP. He warned me of the noise during the race and promised to meet me when he visited India later in December. We tripped on the brilliance of the Seinfeld reunion. On hearing I was planning to go camping that weekend he signed off with a characteristic quip asking me not get ‘camplacent’- overconfident about my camping skills. Everything seemed so normal. All of the above are small bits from the past, some sound even a bit silly perhaps, but seem so overwhelming to me right now in their entirety.






















Bicycle Accident Buddies, 2004

I spent the entire day going through our old mails and gtalk conversations and I was struck by a fact that I had never realized till now. Before every major decision/event in my life, I had consulted him. And he had always replied in clear, objective terms on what he feels would be the right way ahead. I am feeling extremely stupid that this realization just hit me now. The depth and intensity of our friendship seems to have got buried under memories of frivolity and inanities. Its so tragic that its only after his death that I am able to realize how he made life so rich for me not just with his jokes, talents or competency but by being an invisible sounding board on which I had unconsciously been depending on for so many years. I can feel that the realization of what I have lost hasn’t sunk in completely and it will take quite some time for me to completely understand the enormity of the change and how poor it leaves me.

I would like to believe I see life how Nai did. That living is all about learning continuously. Reinventing oneself while staying true to one’s passions. The fact that he did it so much better than I ever could made me value our relationship so much. What frightens me the most right now is that there is a thought out there so terrifying and destructive that when it hit Nai, it convinced him to stop doing what he loved so much, learning and living. If that thought hits me someday, will I fare any better? I am scared.

Please help in bringing Nai back home. Funds are being raised on www.findmahesh.com. Please contribute generously.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Indiblogger: Youngistan Contest

I am nominating four of my posts for the Indiblogger Blog of the month contest and as it is being sponsored by Pepsi, I need to put in my two pence regarding this ‘Youngistaan Contest’. With a Rapidshare account as one of the prizes on offer, I have shed all qualms and unhesitatingly associate myself with this corporate initiative.

So I need to create a challenge for Ranbir as he tries to lay his hand on a bottle of Pepsi. Here goes,

A bottle of Pepsi lies before Ayesha Siddique. She will give it to Ranbir only when he manages to convince Shoiab Malik to serenade her at the top of his voice with Sania Mirza dancing in the background in a tennis outfit. The catch lies in the fact that Ranbir will have to marry Ayesha if he fails. He also needs to shout Baba Nityanand ki Jai after every ten seconds during the whole mission.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Of flights, tall buildings and convocations

BIA to KLIA

As I woke up last Saturday to find myself flying over the Malacca Straits, cosily nestled in the non-cattle class of MH193, I asked myself a pertinent question which seemed very relevant to me at that point of time. What the fuck am I doing here? Last I remembered, my team mate offered me a vada pao and told me that it wasn’t spiked after failing to convince me that an issue with metallurgical undertones, required my immediate attention. A glance at my forearms gave me a clue. There was a tattoo which read ‘metallurgical emergency’ and another on the wrist saying ‘KL Office’. I rushed to the toilet to check for more and found ‘solve energy crisis’, ‘one month job’, ’Global Credit Card’ scrawled at various areas over the torso. One week later most of those tattoos have made sense except one on the back which said ‘One Chicken McGrill please’.

The first impressions of KL were clouded by the experience of a horrible flight at an ungodly hour with a brutal thunderstorm thrown in for special effects. Why have a 4hr 5 min flight in the middle of the night beats me completely. By the way remind me to tell you the story why the flight length is exactly 4hr 5 min. Interesting are the ways world economies work. The daft timing was supplemented by a cruel coincidence of my VP taking the same flight. His presence at the executive lounge and then in the seat in front of me killed all prospects of a drinking binge I had planned for the evening. Modifying the recruitment process would have been high on his to-do list if he saw me racing against time to finish a bottle of JD which recent events have confirmed is a difficult thing to do.

But I can say that KL is a striking city at the first glance, just like the way Chennai is not. I always assumed South-East Asian countries to be hot, crowded and chaotic like my motherland and I was very disappointed to find KL was not so. I will devote a separate post to the joys and sights of this city and how the ubiquitous presence of vadas, idlis and posters of Trisha in a pink saree made me feel at home.

Level 19, Tower 2, PT.

My excitement about working at the hottest address in downtown KL and perhaps one of the most striking structures made by man was very short-lived. Once I realized my desk was at the measly nineteenth floor and there are chumps working on a further sixty nine floors above me, my ego didn’t allow me to enjoy the otherwise electric atmosphere around the place. Additionaly the fact that my status message on Facebook indicating my new address proved to be too cryptic to get the number of comments to my liking, disheartened me further. Naturally I dismissed the other possibility that people just didn't care.Inspite of RMZ Centennial being relatively downmarket compared to the Twin Towers, I was at least at the top floor there (sixth) and loved talking condescendingly to the poor bastards in the fifth.

A few of my colleagues have asked me whether the office here is better. The feelings are mixed. The space is less and it’s so quiet that I could actually hear myself procrastinating. They have an inhuman practice of shutting the coffee machines at five which is a bummer of a situation with me trying to get used to a 12 hr work routine for the first time. Of course there are none of those weekly mock drills/false alarms we have in Bangalore where everyone has to vacate the office because someone wanted a well-done toast and got a bit carried away. Evacuation from the floors 18/19/20 has their associated complexities. Of course the ladies seem perhaps a bit friendlier here. Either that or I am taking too much caffeine.

The Zen Convocation

I was pleasantly surprised to see this morning that I have been included in the annual convocation for Zen Masters. The invitation to the event can be seen below.(Source: Uss)



As you can see I am nothing less than the presiding faculty himself. I look forward to this event every year and it’s such an honour to be sharing the dais with such distinguished names.

I will take this occasion to impart some ancient wisdom to the students present. For those who failed remember that failure is but a stepping stone to yet another opportunity- to fail again. So watch your step.

To the students passing, if you misunderstood the trips of your faculty members as imparting of wisdom and dropping of knowledge then my best wishes for a future you are completely unprepared for.

For the PhD candidate, I must admit, that was fast!

For a very deserving candidate of the Egregia cum laude, let me humbly admit that it often felt while teaching you that we were on the wrong sides in the classroom. As the ancient saying goes, the greatest teachers are those who feel like a student. So congratulations on a job well done on of making me the greatest.

To the rest of the faculty members, “Arey yeh qualification resume me daal sakte hain kya?”

A New Blog.

I realized that sucking at one is not good enough. Ineptitude should be displayed in an overwhelming and multi-faceted manner. I always felt the need of a forum where I can post these short, crisp reference-laden one-liners/ notions which keep striking me. When I go back and read them, it feels good to remember how I have been thinking at various points in time. Twitter didn’t do it for me though as I wanted it to look the way it looks now. Of course every statement is so vague, pretentious and inconsequential that either it would make me look mysterious and intriguing or a complete pompous jackass. As my credentials in the latter have been firmly established I decided to take this low risk initiative.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger - 1

I know this concept is a lift from The Colbert Report. Stephen and me have an understanding.

Sagai Surprise

Last Sunday as I lay contemplating whether this was the worst Holi in recent memory, my dear friend Chanani gave me a ring. I expected it to be his usual monthly call where he inquires about my bank balance and then laughs hysterically on hearing it. The Schlumberger guys never miss an opportunity to stick it to us. I usually respond by asking how’s pubbing in Rajahmundry and then we call it even. But this time he didn’t venture into any such conversation. After asking whether I was sober, he announced very sombrely ‘I am engaged’. My response was a “Shit!” followed by a “why?” and ended with a “what’s the hurry?” The silence at the other end of the lines indicated he was expecting a slightly more enthusiastic reply. It took me a moment to realize my folly and I subsequently burst forth into congratulatory wishes and told him how happy I was for him.

But my involuntary response had a reason behind it. Chanani and I have shared a scarily similar life path. We both hail from the same area, schooled close to each other, studied at DPS together, both dropped a year, joined the same IIT, stayed in the same hostel, were neighbours for four years, both fought and won elections, joined the same industry and were hoping to end up on the same rig sometime in the future. And yes, both of us were rabidly hated by Rasgulla. So when he sprang the engagement news on me, it got me jittery. Ever since I was unceremoniously fired from a relationship firm I was working at, I realized close human contact is not my thing. So the time has come when I and my dear friend part ways in the road of Resemblance. It was good while it lasted but it is obvious we want different things in life. (Wait! Where did I hear that recently?).

So a tip of my hat to a very dear friend and I wish him a wonderful married life.

TopCATs

A huge tip of my hat to fellow IITian IDR, known more popularly as Varun Mangamoori to newspapers around the country, for topping CAT. The 2005 ED batch has more than its share of stirring characters. To paraphrase for ED2005 context, what Gabbar Singh said in admiration of the women of Ramgarh, ‘Is batch ke logo kis mess mein register karte hai re?

An equally big tip of the hat to my dear brother for cracking 99.96 and reminding me of his entrance exam days where every rank of his was my equivalent rank divided by 10.

*All congratulatory messages for Chanani can be posted in the comments section. He is a frequent visitor. I am not so sure about IDR though. But I will bring his attention to it, if there are many.

Jimmy Gaddar

The MetaMafia members have unequivocally decided to hate Jimmy. Why you ask? Let me explain. He was the only member of the group who decided to pursue higher studies while the rest of us, wise souls that we were, decided that it would be a good idea to open a bank account and do stuff to ensure there is a monthly increment in it.

Why spend ages trying to prepare HRTEM samples when we can cavort with shapely lasses at pubs in the weekend and buy a Skoda by year end. Of course we had to pay a heavy price for not having taken the elective Introduction to Basic Economics and being disconnected to reality in general. Life became all about paying credit card bills and bundling personal debts into derivatives and selling them to unsuspecting friends.

The current state of all the MM members is sad. The two highest earners are minting money but have been flung to parts of India where their social life is slightly more interesting than those of camels in Gabon. On the other hand in Mumbai, Mr Peace is going crazy trying to decide whether to sell or buy turmeric in the commodities exchange. Fattu Uday Kiran is slogging his ass off only to return to have dinner with his arch nemesis, me, and listen to my latest hair brained scheme to make my blog popular. I, who learnt all my materials engineering from Ironman, am meanwhile advising naive clients to invest their billions of dollars and make their state-of-the-art plant out of plastic. Jatin G remains untraced since his transfer to Chennai and Chaitanya He-is-in-love-pragada is running for life because he played for more teams than the rules allowed in the inter-department sports fest in SAIL.

In the mean time, bastard Jimmy has been spending his vacations in Europe, sipping wine, smelling cheese and posing for pictures with a condescending grin. His Facebook album is full of pictures of him gyrating with ‘graduate students’ and his work description reads ‘helping students in the lab’. His allowance is so generous that rumours are circulating in his hometown that he is planning to launch a new IPL franchise called Warangal Warriors. Not fair. Didn’t following your dreams usually mean years of rejection and frustration followed by an accidental overdose of sleeping pills?

So until Jedi Master KVM writes a stirring article in favour of the salaried class, a big wag of the finger to Jimmy for following his dreams and enjoying life at the same time.

Gulal (of Death)

A huge wag of the finger to fellow gang member and criminal mastermind Anjan Gayen and his right hand Amarnath I-fall-in-love-with-every-girl-I-meet Chakladar. When Anjan said he is going to spend Holi in Shantiniketan I knew nothing good was going to come of it. My worst fears were proved true when I read this. The very fact that they are not mentioned anywhere in the report proves conclusively they are responsible for it.


Note to the reader: The readership of the blog has exponentially increased from single digits to double digits. It is heartening. If you are in anyway responsible for it, I would first ask why and then really appreciate if you play your role to greater effect by sharing the posts you like on FB, Twitter, status messages, Google reader and the likes. Also rate the posts so that I know when I am flirting with human rights violations by exposing the public to such poppycock.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Facebook Layoffs

A recent comment from good friend Uss got me thinking. He remarked that we have 222 friends in common on Facebook. I shifted from Orkut to Facebook over two years back because the number of people on my friends list was getting too big to handle. It had begun to hover around the four hundred mark and I was pretty sure I didn’t have so many friends. Not with my demeanour.

Facebook looked more exclusive and I decided start my virtual life anew. No more of the wild wanton Orkut days where every friend request had to be accepted unless it was a Brazilian whom I was pretty sure I hadn’t met. Now this was before the dastardly days of Mafia requests and Farmville invites. Facebook used to be a place where simple, sober people used to interact and the wildest anyone got was by throwing sheep or super poking someone. A complacency slowly crept in thanks to an increasingly misplaced sense of exclusiveness. That combined with a host of circumstances like electoral compulsions, graduation sensitivities, romantic liaisons, nostalgic affections and professional commitments made things worse resulting in the screening process for friend request reaching very deplorable limits. The only thing easier than getting into my friend list was sleeping with Tiger Woods.

Now things have come to a head. I can’t be comfortable with over five hundred people claiming to be my friend. What if they all decide to borrow money at the same time? And now that I am no longer fighting elections, have graduated, not getting hitched and beginning to lose memory, it is time to follow the world’s premier corporations in what they do best . Lay-offs. Right. I have decided to lay-off a huge part of my friends and slim down my friend-list. I need to be ready to face the challenges of the upcoming upturn with an elegant, tidy friend-list devoid of redundancy and surplus . In this age it helps to be ruthlessly professional about everything. Even your Facebook profile.

Thankfully I am not at a loss on how to execute this challenging task. My last few months have been spent closely observing how my own company does it and I have decided to replicate the process. I will call it F.O.R (Friendship Outsourcing Resource). This is how it will work.

• A list of the ‘indispensables’ will be created. They include EIC, MM, WOF, Shaastra core members, old comrades whose advice is valued, individuals whose references are valued, HNIs, brother and mom. They are exempted from the F.O.R process and need not bother. Their indispensability will however be reviewed every five years.

• One individual will be selected from each of the top Univs in the US depending on their ability to build networks in their campuses and their propensity to assist me in times of need. They are exempted from the F.O.R but their relevance will be reviewed on a quarterly basis. Friendship will be renewed from the first of April of every year depending on the annual appraisal report.

• The same will be done for all Fortune 500 contacts.

• All females are exempted. They form only 15% of the total numbers. Defunct relationships will be slowly phased out by the last quarter of 2010 and replaced with new initiatives. The idea is to keep the percentage at 15% and increased only in select cases when they seem to add intellect or glamour to the list.

• All foreigners (not NRIs) are exempted till I have travelled enough to believe having foreigners, who are just aquantainces on the list is not so cool anymore.

• Everybody else who do not fall under the above criterions will have to re-apply with a new friendship request with a note detailing why continuing our association online is a good idea and how it may further the individual social development of both.

• The requests will be scrutinized by me and the selected individuals will be offered a two year friendship deal. The deal will include mutually agreed upon commitments on the number of status message comments, likes, photo comments, wall posts and personality votes which we will deliver unto each others profiles. Once we are clear on the deliverables and agree to contract termination in event of Mafia/Farmville invites or reneging on the deliverables, we re-induct each other in our lists.

• There will be quite a few who don’t make the cut and they will be summarily receive a letter of regret. Every mail will be personalized because I believe lay-offs should always have a humane touch. A sample is given below.

It breaks my heart to say this but I think we should we on other people’s live feed from now on. Your contributions to my profile have been immense but as you can understand, to face society more confidently I need people with skills other than yours. Please feel free to call or meet me as long as it just once a year and it is in a public place.

Following the methodologies stated above, I hope to cut up to 60% of the names currently present. I understand everyone who will need to go through F.O.R are speculating exactly on what standards will the applications be evaluated. I want my friend list to get rid of its engineer & IIT focus and have a more diversified portfolio of individuals. I admit there will be an informal 2% quota for genuine sportsmen. People with a background in the arts with an understanding of Bernoulli’s theorem or vice versa have an edge over anyone with just one of the qualities.

We cannot predict whether this pink slip method will improve my social standing and give me more control over my virtual life. A committee of my alter-egos will go though the quarterly results and bring out a review in the annual Facebook profile report ‘Why do I have so much free time and what I do with it’. Pdfs will be mailed to anyone interested in going through it.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Chennai vs Bangalore

This post is dedicated to good friend Muski’s memory. Recently he had to undergo an inhuman job transfer from Bangalore back to Chennai. He has been incommunicado since and none of his well-wishers are aware of how or whether he has coped up with the drastic change.

I am getting tired of shooting people in the face whenever they ask me which city is better for people like us with lives- Chennai or Bangalore. Getting rid of bodies is no longer as easy as it used to be. So I have listed a few irrefutable reasons below. The whole thing may look more like a diatribe against Chennai than anything for Bangalore. But let’s dispense with the standard forms of debate and comparison in this one instance.

The weather: Bangalore has one. Chennai doesn’t.

The autowallahs: Anybody who has lived in Chennai long enough often fantasize about raiding the auto wallah’s village on horseback in the middle of the night and razing it to the ground. Let me declare unequivocally that the auto-drivers of Bangalore are no saints but at least they won’t start whining ‘twenty rupees more saar’ as soon as we are two miles within our destination.

Language issues: I am all for a parochial approach to the enforcement of the local language as long as it postponed to a future date on a regular basis (like in Bangalore). If you want to call yourself a metro, you need to speak English & Hindi as properly as Tamil. It’s not a question of pride but of pragmatism.

Buses: Either have buses which move fast like in Delhi or have more Volvos like in Bangalore so that while you are stuck in a jam, its seems a wee bit more comfortable. Being in rickety tin boxes packed like sardines while in a traffic jam. Not good.

Alcohol Policy & Pubs: While I have been told that the draconian and Tughlakish alcohol policy of Chennai which stifled most brands out of the market, has been repealed after dire legal threats from WTO and people no longer have to be exposed to the radioactive MGM (orange flavoured, mind you), it isn’t enough. Pubbing in Chennai is like sea-food restaurants in Darjeeling. Non-existent. Either I have to go to one of those Residency series of hotels where I need to take out a personal loan from SBI so as to afford a mojito or I have go to places like Black Pearl where one is advised to carry a bucket so that you have something to puke in because of the stench and filth around.

Multiplexes: The puritans will scoff at me for including this point but my elitist days are long gone. Now I am a man of the masses and will not hesitate to assert that no self-respecting city with over ten million people should have fewer multiplexes less than my home town, which incidentally can be seen only with maximum magnification in Google Earth. It’s unheard off and people should just migrate in protest.

Cinema hall commercials: Don’t we love the trailers before the movie? Usually they are better than the movie that follows. Just like the course description in Meta electives usually read better than what the course ultimately delivered. So when I realize that the lavishly mounted video was not the teaser for the next blockbuster but a surreptitiously directed effort at making me buy hyper-expensive saris or worse, diamond jewellery, I have very good reasons to get pissed.

Culture: Whatever your taste in culture may be, you can indulge in it as long as it is Carnatic music.

Shopping: Why does the dosa shop, towel shop, jewellery shop and everything else in the world shop have to be a variant of the hydra headed Sarvanna store?

Newspaper: What’s with the gravitas in the daily editorials of the Hindu? We are Indians. We don’t care much for balanced editorials, foreign news reports, incisive columns which are not about Kim Kardashian or Rakhi Sawant. ToI rocks baby. And it’s cheaper.

Weather: At the risk of sounding repetitive, I must strongly re-emphasize that Bangalore has one. Chennai doesn’t.

But there is one aspect where Chennai scores in a big way over Bangalore. Did you know that the greatest most awsomest brilliantest place on earth, IIT Madras is actually in Chennai? Surprising but true. (Don’t you love blatant pandering to your biggest readership constituency?)

If IIT had been in Bangalore, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I would still be trying to graduate.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Friday Terror!

Last Thursday Google Buzz had just got released and in my childish enthusiasm, I foolishly chided a good friend in the public domain for having reneging on a promise to meet up.In true spirit of Achmed the dead terrorist, I went so far as to call him an infidel. The good man, lets call him Keynesian Versus Moniterist or KVM, ruffled by the frontal attack replied with a gem of a mail explaining his frustrations with frequent business travel and the associated red tape.

Taking a page out of Google who violated my privacy by making me automatically follow people on Buzz whom I usually avoid by preferring to get diarrhoea, I am blatantly violating email confidentiality and pasting his mail below.

"O Master, the most merciful and the most beneficent! I was recently greatly alarmed to see, of all places on Google Buzz, that have you summarily declared me an Infidel! My numerous, exuberant, overflowing apologies! I am painfully aware of the unfulfilledness of my promises, my liege, and I only beg to humbly state, nay, whisper, that the current owners of my soul, Messrs. S******, are quite adept at making good use of their purchases.

Since the sale occurred, I have travelled the length and breadth of the country, and unlike Mr. Macaulay, I have not a single observation that will be pillaged and plagiarized by posterity on rediff forums. All I have are arcane procedures to file Domestic Travel Requisitions and Post Travel Regularizations gambolling in my head when I sleep on bus journeys, and in a slight variation to the Kekule theme, I see myself eaten up by the bureaucracy I spawn.

Under such terrifying circumstances, O paragon of virtue, would you blame me for wasting away on Google Buzz? Arise into a thunderous tempest, O ocean of kindness, and send forth a gale of forgiveness my way, lest I continue with the atrocious vocatives and metaphors"


Reading this the first thing on Friday morning put me under tremendous pressure to send a reply at least half as good. But how could I match up to such brilliance? It had references to obscure Indian History, organic chemistry trivia, cult forums and read like the Koran at the same time! I asked my imaginary secretary to cancel all my appointments for the day and walked about the apartment sweating profusely and biting my nails to bits, thinking. Lunch was missed, gym skipped, facebooking shelved. But to no avail. Expectedly I gave in by late evening. Trembling in apprehension and drowning in self-loathing I sent this reply.

"Not even the recently Predatored Hakimullah Mehsud, while having a bad bout of indigestion would have been so ill-tempered so as not to be swayed by such a benevolent and munificent plea for exoneration. The beauty and the wonder of the entreaty lies in the fact that it delicately and yet convincingly makes the wronged feel guilty of his unduly harsh and substantially hasty step of having Buzzed his sentiments publicly.

Fear not the needless requisition forms! For in me you will find an equally maltreated victim of a system which revels in draping themselves in red tape. Disguised innocently in terms as Journey Management Plans and Travel Requisition Forms, the effort involved in traversing the world is half wasted while in the office premises itself. The heart yearns and the mind craves and the body aches for a world where red tape is just a technique to keep the masses away from murder scenes.

So go forth on your tedious missions, cross the borders which separate the barbarians from the rest of us, dazzle them with your mental faculties and the return with the aura of victory and triumph as city belles fawn over you and vie for your attention. It will be then when we sit and spin our yarn over tumblers of ale."


The overriding fear was this shoddy job of trying to catch up will prevent the good man from investing his talents in my inbox in the future. Till the time of writing of this post, my fears have proved to be well-founded.

PS: I miss IITM and her exceptional inmates.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

If only it were so easy...




PS: Oh Google!Why so brilliant? Is there nothing you suck at?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Beware of the Editor: Revisiting Chandrayaan

This video was uploaded on the blog over two and a half years ago. But the sheer excitement of being on television prevented me from commenting on the delightful way the media absorbs information and spits out complete drivel ruining people’s days in the process. Now that the global oil prices have finally stabilized, I can take out some time to elaborate.

In the year 2007 I was the part of the team which was supposed to be blamed for anything which went wrong during Shaastra 2007. One of the highlights of the event was a feature on Chandrayaan with some of the project leaders telling us about how the whole thing would make the moon (and ISRO) look cool again. Thanks to the media interest, we (me, Muski, Parinda & Jimmy) landed ourselves in this short segment on NDTV. We ditched a class and gave a 20 min long discourse to the reporter on various aspects of the whole project and how it was received by the students. I have given below a succinct version of what we actually told and then how irreverent and imbecilic editing made the whole thing resemble a train wreck.

Input

Me: I expressed my wonder that something so complex could actually be so small and compact.

Jimmy: He discussed at considerable length the details of the two talks we had, describing in intricate detail the technological aspects and future implications. He ended it by quoting one of the jokes of the main speaker about how you could even plan a honeymoon on the moon thanks to Chandrayaan.

Muski, Parida: Discussed their learning at length and their pride at being associated with the event.

video

Output

The video begins with the anchor saying that one of the aims of Chandrayaan would be to explore the possibility of honeymooning on the moon. Any doubts about whether she is joking is removed by the capital lettered tab below, screaming similar sentiments. Well news anchors are known to have an IQ lesser than Pacific plankton. So she can be excused. But the rest of segment was even more depressing.

Sounding like a wife after the wedding night, expressing her deep anguish about the short-comings of her partner, I am heard saying “Its very small. Its not as big as you are expecting it to be”. The sense of appreciation comes across as complete disillusionment with the India space program just because of sizing issues.

Muski barely manages to mention how proud he was before being brutally cut off to focus on an apparently melancholic and suspiciously constipated Parinda who mentions something about polar ice caps with his body language clearly indicating he doesn’t think highly of NDTV. The fact that he had been speaking for quite a while and may have begun drift a bit comes across as total indifference in the few seconds he gets.

But the worst was reserved for dear Jimmy. None of his astute observations on the event made it to the final cut other than his off the cuff remark on honeymoons with his mistimed snigger making it look as if he needs help in reigning in his mental faculties. The fact that they spelt his name Ukala, leaving out the all important N and making him look like a retarded descendent of a Hawaiian musical instrument didn’t help in anyway.

After this sorry excuse of a news report and ruining our carefully crafted reputations by calling us ‘techies’ on screen, we have refused all future NDTV requests for interviews till date.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chance Pe Dance

Willie S: All the world’s a stage.
Me: Shit.


It’s been some time since I have discussed awkward episodes of my life. A lot of it has got to do with my current vocation. All embarrassing incidents at the workplace cannot be discussed thanks to the confidentiality agreement signed at the beginning. I can’t even name the company I work for but its name incidentally rhymes with hell and often confused with the Indian steel maker SAIL. But then chances of anything of interest happening while I ponder over the material selection for a sulphur recovery unit somewhere in the wilderness of Western Australia is remote. Very remote. While my fervent opponents in the Meta-Mafia feel working as a materials engineer specializing in corrosion solutions automatically qualifies me for public humiliation, I have passionately defended my profession. But I digress.

People have often asked me whether I like being on stage (very few actually did). And I always tell them what I told the person who first asked this question. No. My affair with the stage begins long back. June of 1991 to be precise. I had just joined Don Bosco as a brash, cheeky brat fresh out of kindergarten. I held a lot of promise and the world was there to be conquered. I was appointed the class monitor in my first week and as expected at such an age, I drunk on raw power began feeling I was capable of anything. Incidentally I was not and was soon going to find that out.

The annual dance competition used to be among the first events in the scholastic calendar. Within a few weeks of me joining there was an announcement in class asking for people who would be interested in participating. Without going into hours long deliberations before taking a decision like I do now, I immediately signed on for it, much to my eternal regret. Being God’s greatest gift to the human race, I felt that shaking a leg would be like a walk in a very boring park. Like any busy six year old with a corporate mindset, I immediately forgot about the fact that I had signed up for a dance competition once I had signed up. So the days which should have been spent in preparing for my hair-brained initiative was frittered away disputing umpire decisions and running fellow batsmen out on the school playground. So the dreaded day arrived and I was blissfully unaware of the impending humiliation. I was so ignorant that I actually entered the great school hall and joined my boisterous group of friends in the audience and was looking forward to heckling the participants. It was when a voice back-stage announced in a booming tone that the next performer is Sayan Ganguly when it struck me. I was on the wrong side of the stage. The heckler was about to become the hecklee. I was transfixed not knowing what to do as my friends pushed me out of the hall and urged me to run to the back stage. I reach the green room afraid, very afraid about what was about to happen.

All participants were expected to bring their respective costumes and their music tracks to which they were supposed to jive to. I of course had none. It seemed that this was a common occurrence and the organizers had default dance tracks to be played when irresponsible asses like me screwed up. Unfortunately the default costumes consisted of only losing the school tie and suddenly there I was on the stage with the curtains about to go up and a sad dance track beginning to play. I don’t remember which track it was but it certainly had never been on any kind of top 1000 songs of the year lists in any country (even Germany). I closed my eyes and said a short prayer and opened my eyes to discover that my prayer was not answered. I was still on stage and the crisis further accentuated by the second as the curtain went up. That was the moment I realized that my school housed quite a large number of students, all of whom happened to be in the hall. My prevalent reputation of being a trail blazing iconoclast induced an unusually keen interest in their eyes. Most of them felt that they were about to view something different. The delayed start had heightened their expectations. Didn’t all famous shows start a bit late, they told themselves.

Meanwhile the dance track had begun, unnoticed by me. It was a non-descript tune with an irreverent mish-mash of beats generally leading to nowhere, somewhat like my imminent dance steps. The crowd was quick to notice that things didn’t look the way supposed to be. I think me being in the school uniform sans the tie with a sorry excuse for a dance track in the background raised suspicions that Superman was about to be out-witted by a devilish Luthorian plot. Transfixed by the million stares, I could only stare back. It was a classic ‘deer in the head-lights’ moment, with the headlights being of half of the Siliguri traffic. Somewhere in the middle of all this, my left foot had started doing a tap while my other left foot was trying to match step for step. The human nervous system has its own mysterious response mechanisms to nervous situations as I was discovering.

Trying to pass off the involuntary tapping as a start to a new form of revolutionary dance, I decided to attempt an arms swing. It was ill-advised to say the least. It looked like I was trying to give a visual explanation of what a sine wave superimposed on a cosine wave may look like but had got confused about the origin and frame of reference. My stock in front of the crowd was plummeting faster than Satyam’s did in January 2009. I realized that something radical had to be tried to turn the tide. So I started turning in circles. Maybe in some parts of the world, turning in needless circles with arms flaying accompanied with involuntary foot taps qualify as sophisticated dance forms, but my fellow school mates didn’t come from those parts. It was a common tradition in this competition to down the curtains in case an act was going haywire. My performance was reaching that qualification with blinding speed. The pointless circling proved to be too much for my cerebellum and it finally gave up on trying maintaining any semblance of balance and I tottered like Pyotr Arsenievich Smirnov did after celebrating the establishing of his first distillery. The crowd remained hypnotized by the continuously unfolding terror in front of them. Had this happened a decade later, Al Qaida may have claimed responsibility in view of the sheer terror quotient involved. Curiosity turned to dismay which rapidly evolved into revulsion followed soon after by uncontrolled laughter.

As a final attempt to salvage some pride, I decided to explore whether moving about the stage may help the situation. I naively thought that the damage caused by writhing hysterically rooted to one spot could perhaps be undone by wriggling about all over the stage. Unfortunately my sudden movement was interpreted by the audience as the much-awaited conclusion and the hall burst out pre-maturely in tremendous applause. My six-year old brain was perceptive enough to make me understand that the applause was less about appreciation and had more to do with relief. The back-stage manager took the applause as the final cue that the curtains just had to be downed before a mass exodus of the audience, did his job to perfection and in a matter of seconds I was back to staring at the back of the red curtain.

A little voice inside told me that perhaps if I had a couple of minutes more, I could have turned the situation on its head and left the stage after an astounding performance. All the initial steps and supposed missteps would finally been seen as small cogs in the bigger wheel of a divine performance. But a second later that notion sounded so stupid that I bludgeoned the small voice to pulp and it hasn’t spoken up since. As I drudged back after the longest three minutes of my life, the teachers backstage glared at me as if I had made a pass at their mothers. I quietly took my tie and slipped out.

I refrained from entering the hall gain in fear of being mobbed or worse made to do a repeat of the performance for the seniors. Feeling like Bangaru Laxman after being outfoxed by Tehelka, lying low seemed a wonderfully refreshing idea and I proceeded to do exactly that in the second floor corridor. After the whole event was over, I quietly slipped out of school. But my friends, knowing my slimy ways, were waiting to accost me. What they said and the humiliation I underwent the following weeks in school is best left unsaid. Some memories are best left to private blog entries where only I and my alter-egos can read them.

This incident laid the foundation of all my future ill-fated flirtations with the stage. I will talk about them in the follow-up articles soon. But as my record with previously promised follow-up articles goes, it may be pretty surprising if I do end up recounting how I mortified audiences over the ages with my dextrous acting/singing skills (yes, I have dared to sing too). I never danced again though. Who knows, perhaps if I had performed well that day, I might have been the one facing the brickbats instead of Shahid for the horrendous Chance Pe Dance today. And all you ladies, who have asked me out so many times in the past only to get a resounding no, don’t doubt my orientation. It’s only because I am afraid that at some point in the evening, you may ask me to dance.