Tuesday, December 18, 2012

79. Kutch mitha ho jaye

Is this the last jalebi or will there be a chance to cook more? In less than two days, on 21.12.12 to be precise, we will know if at all jalebi shall remain uncoiled thereafter or not! Although the Mayan prophecy, which some consider as a timeless fantasy, has nothing specific on jalebi, the chance for it to survive when the 'world will not' may not be a fantasy. As it could still be cooked atop Bugarach, a mountain in France said to be the only place that will survive the apocalypse. 

Howsoever unrealistic or weird prophecies might be, these linger in human psyche for long. No wonder, there are dedicated websites selling gas masks and tinned food for those who wish to escape to a 'safe' place. Chinese manufacturing cannot miss this opportunity, an innovative furniture-maker has come up with a range of hand-built glass-fibre survival pods for £30,000 apiece. Even doomsday cannot stop the Chinese from keeping up with the growth rate!

Why couldn't the Mayans wish well for us and why have we been fascinated with end of the world scenarios? Without doubt, the Mayans ran out of rock while carving their prophecy in stone. And how would they care to whom would it concern in 2012?  For the rest of us, it is a bit comforting to think that when we go the whole thing goes. One tweet read: 'I'm not as much worried about myself but would be happy to see my boss gone'. Aren't we at a special point in history," 

Indeed, it would be special day in history when everybody would be a bit 'anxious' than the other. Wal-Mart has announced that its stores will open till midnight for people to finish 'christmas' shopping. Special Mayan discounts will be on offer in leading stores. If the world slips through the apocalypse 'friday', the Mayans would have gained more than their share of popularity giving all of us a chance to say: Kutch meetha ho jaye (Let's have something sweet)!      

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

78. What is cooking?

Don't get me wrong if I say that best chefs are (invariably) men. And, yet best of these culinary masters scorn at the idea of cooking at home. Occasionally, they do tickle the taste buds of their family with some exquisite preparations. But with kitchen being the traditional bastion of women, men don't cook dinner for their wives in this part of the world. Even if enterprising men try their hand in the kitchen, their women tend to experience pangs of guilt!

Not anymore as there has been reversal of roles in the changing urban environment. A new breed of men are redefining traditional gender roles and embracing what has largely been a preserve of 'woman'. While women are rubbing their shoulders in corporate corridors, men not only foresee menu for the day but plan the dinner before women return home. Their new found motto is: 'you are what you cook'! In fact, these men are not complaining but are welcoming the change. It is trendy to be a stay-at-home husband, a win-win situation for both.

The experience, however, is mixed. A thirty-something is cool about his cooking skills. For him, cooking is the only thing he has done in his life where he attempts to do something and has results to show for it. For a office-going-near-sixty, however, it has been a daily ordeal because his wife hasn't got a keen sense at cooking. To justify his ordeal among peers, not only does he portray himself a 'real man' (much to their amusement) but doesn't miss any chance to present 'cooking' as a euphemism for a kind of therapy. Else, how could it have got going with him for decades?  

Despite winds of change blowing across the kitchen window, many middle-age men still shrug at the idea of cooking. Much to the chagrin of their younger colleagues/friends, they prefer restricting 'real men cook' discussion for drawing room conversation only. For them there are two aspects to cooking: their wives 'cook literally' whereas they settle for 'literal cooking'. After all, who would want to stand the quickest result oriented (cooking) test wherein you either fail or pass! It would be best to cook jalebi instead!

Monday, November 26, 2012

77. Is that obvious?

Stating the obvious is so obvious that it rarely occurs that what is being stated is indeed obvious. Conversely, it is often unobvious not to state the obvious. Ever noticed the first observation that gets exchanged with an acquaintance? More often than not it is about weather, 'It is quite cold today', as if the other person wouldn't know what the day has been like. With the obvious being so obvious, there has not been anything unobvious about being obvious.  

Even since the word 'obvious' came into existence in 1586, it has become such a hard reality that at times it hardly gets noticed. Its absence is glaring even though its presence at time may be difficult to see. The compulsion of stating the obvious quite often turns amusing. 'Our bar is presently not open because it is closed', read a notice outside a bar. As if this wasn't enough, another notice went a step ahead: 'This door has been closed, do not enter'. Yet, the art of stating the obvious persists!

Notice this: women constantly need the obvious to be said about them. They need to be constantly reminded how beautiful they are, continuous compliments must flow towards them. Any breach in this flow can create consequences of unknown magnitude. The obvious may be invisible, like chameleon, but its absence in the case of women can reflect the true but changing colors of a chameleon. One may run the risk of not stating the obvious at one's own cost!

Delving further into the world of obvious one is reminded of Mark Twain who had quipped, 'It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.' It truly is because there is perhaps only one way in which the obvious got to be stated. An interviewee got a shock when his obvious response to a question had earned him a flak. To the question 'river Ravi flows in which state' he had stated the most obvious answer: 'liquid'. For the interviewer, however, it was obviously an unobvious response!       

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

76. It is the idea that matters

Immigrated to two different continents for carving out a 'bright future' both returned home sooner than expected! While the mechanical engineer had been to the far west, the computer engineer had chosen far east as his destination. Both in the early thirties stunned their immediate families for condemning the places considered above the heavens by most high-end literate Indians. One thought the graveyard-like silence was erring, for the other the disciplined concrete jungle proved boring.

Neither did anti-Indian tirade play heavy on them, nor was job-outsourcing rhetoric any bit threatening. Inhospitable places, synthetic illuminations and robotic humans proved monotonous for these contagiously socialized Indians. To top it all, artificial landscapes, disciplined traffic and lifeless malls added to the growing dullness. Things were consistently on the move, but neither was anything happening nor was their any vibrancy. Even kids and pets seem programmed to behave on the streets.  

Both felt that  development and progress had taken the soul out of human dwellings. Feelings, sentiments and emotions have seemingly been put to rest. Back home, it is the daily ordeal of garbage stink, unruly traffic, power cut, civic unrest and merciless cop which add to the thrill of survival. It is not India, with its perpetual problems of crumbing civility, but the idea of India that is not only intriguing but enchanting and captivating too. One only has to feel to believe it!

Who can vouch for it better than a professor friend of mine (from USA) who was robbed of his belongings during a train journey; had once slipped into a sewage drain as one cover slab was missing; and had contacted dengue during one of his several travels to the country. Far from taking a vow not to return to this country of glorious misfortunes, he returns each year to capture the mysterious world called India. And mind you, this he has been relentlessly doing for past two decades!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

75. The y of x

Mark my words, x-factor is a 'reality' that exists all around in various manifestations. From an 'unknown quantity' to an 'inherent charisma', x-factor carries an air of ambition for a celebrity while it may remain a mystery for any mathematician. Abstract unquantifiable commodity it may be, x-factor is more relevant 'now' then when it may have been first 'invented'. Interestingly, we all have that sixth sense to spot the unknown but vital quality called x-factor in people. No wonder, for some Angelina Jolie has a x-factor whereas for others it may be Christiano Ronaldo.    
Though it is rarely included in a job description, it does work during interviews as candidates who possess it survive early cuts during the culling process. In judging competitions, x-factor becomes a definite consideration in picking the `best' from the 'better'. What qualities determine x-factor are often unknown but human resource specialists can usually separate candidates with a certain x-factor from those who do not possess it. Like enigmatic dark matter, x-factor has been known to exist without any evidence of its actual existence.  
Prescript 'x' with 'e' without missing anything on its phonetic expression and you get a more definite meaning of the word called 'ex', which unlike x-factor can easily 'mar' your life. Not sure, how? Try recalling any of the 'ex-factors' in your life - ex-wife, ex-husband, ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend,  whose existence is not only certain but quantifiable too. Even if they are out of sight, they are rarely out of one's mind. While x-factor is surely something to live for and look forward to, ex-factor can easily suck life out of you without there being anything in it to look forward to. 

The flip side of the story is that once you have an 'ex' in your life, you have to live with it for ever. This is one x-factor that no one would dream to have!        

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

74. Out of cold storage

Many acquaintances are going nostalgic about 'rim zim', the popular masala soft drink of the 80's that is now being revived. One of the strong reasons for relaunching of the four-decade old drink rests on a study which concludes that among other things the Indian consumers are becoming nostalgic about their taste. As fashion, lifestyle and attitudes of the past stage a comeback, nostalgia is something the market has prepared itself to reckon with.     

I would imagine 'nostalgia' make us feel good. Not without reason are psychologists trying to analyze the enduring appeal of the past which, till recently, was considered a 'sickness'. Derived from the Greek 'nostos' (return) and 'algos' (pain), nostalgia no longer means 'return of the pain'. On the contrary, it now improves mood, increases self-esteem, strengthens social bonds and imbues life with meaning. Else, why would a forty-plus be ecstatic about a long forgotten cold drink?

Sheer experience tells us that middle-aged might score better over younger generation in being nostalgic. May be for the modern geeks there are gadgets and girlfriends to keep themselves glued to the 'present'. But for the middle aged, being nostalgic reminds them that their lives have been worthwhile, that they are happy and that life has some sense of purpose or meaning. 

Given the monotony of the present-day life, nostalgia is seemingly becoming a great escape to the good olden days. But there are those, and a good number of them, for whom the past is a flashback of painful memories. For such souls, 'nostalgia workouts' are the next big thing that the neighborhood gyms will soon come up with. But for the blissful those who have had their first brush with love, being nostalgic is for a sure a way of life that is not only personal but private too that the 'market' has yet to tap into!

Friday, August 3, 2012

73. Check the reference

Employers carry mixed feeling on reference checks for hiring fresh faces. Often times, hiring managers fall in love with a candidate on paper and then again in an interview, only to find out through a reference check that none of their previous employers would ever hire them again. At the other end of the spectrum are those who, despite careful reference check, get their real reference from colleagues after employment has begun. 

So, what's the deal? Do references matter? More often than not, references listed at the end of curriculum vitae are tutored to provide glowing reports on the candidate. To ride over such predictable outcomes, employers have started switching to social networking sites to check on candidate's outpourings and public image. What kind of people the candidate networks with; with whom the candidate is close enough and what kind of opinion s/he holds on general issues. Though it helps eliminate the weakness inherent in the conventional  referral system, it becomes so watered down that it may indeed be useless at the end!

If behavior, attitude, aptitude and ambitions are what the employer is looking to unearth before hiring the candidate then there could be nothing better than contacting - the maid servant for candidate's gender sensitivity', the plumber for candidate's attitude towards junior colleague; the landlord for candidate's aptitude towards others' property; and the girl next door for checking on candidate's aspirations in life. Interestingly, each of these references are only a mobile call away 24x7. Good luck with fresh hiring! If these do not apply in your case, get back for a new reference checklist!

For senior level hiring, however, may I recommend ex-boss's wife and candidate's driver as perfect reference checks!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

72. Put you wrong foot forward

Haven't we come across people in our lifetime who died famous, wealthy and wrong. Just stretch your memory across time and you will have a fairly reasonable list of such people, drawn from diverse walks of life. Noticeable peculiarity about becoming famous is that it becomes less relevant if you're right. In no way should it be construed that wrong is the right thing to be! It is, however, another matter that like anti-matter which overwhelms the universe, the world is made of more 'wrongs' than 'rights'. 

Leaders make wrong utterances, politicians deliver wrong punches, judges pronounce wrong judgements, dentists uproot wrong teeth, police encounter wrong people, scientists deliver wrong research and the list goes on! There are people in the world, with some status but more power, who are just wrong. And then there are the masses of population that are right, who knows well who all are 'wrong' but lack sufficient arguments to prove how wrong the wrongs are. 

Ironically, those who do wrong continue to believe that they are right. Psychologists now concur that being strategically wrong is good strategy when the cost of being wrong are low and the strategic advantages high. After all digging up the truth is often more trouble than it is worth, being strategically wrong is, sadly, often an excellent strategy.  Further, being wrong saves one from the blushes of being proven wrong! 

Conversely, it is the 'right people' who are often unnerved at being proven wrong, particularly when they are really right and the person who is really wrong is proving them wrong and proving himself, wrongly, right. If the way of the world is anything to go by then the best bet in life seemingly would be 'to put the wrong foot forward'. Try it out if you sincerely think that you are right and being right doesn't carry any premium. Else, prove me wrong for whatever worth it might be!

Friday, June 22, 2012

71. What a bore?

What do you call a person who talks when you wish him to listen? Even before you wink, the answer is: such a person is called a 'bore'. But for the past generations, 'bore' has neither been an emotional expression nor a psychological reality. Rarely would anyone acknowledge its existence. Sad, yes. Angry, yes. Depressed, yes. Crazy, yes; but 'Bore' would get a big 'No'. It is only in the past three decades or so that 'bore' and its derivatives 'boring and 'boredom' have sneaked for a permanent place in our lives. 

Charles Dickens may have used 'boredom' as early as in 1852, in the novel Bleak House, but the word has remained alien to most cultures in the east. It is, however, another matter that for the present generation it is a form of frequently experienced emotional state from which there is little escape. Youth of today firmly believe that 'man is the only animal that can be bored.' Whether it is a reflection of 'intellectual defeat' or a result of 'failed attention', boredom is rarely discounted from our modern living. 

And it is quite unlikely to be discounted because 'boredom' is the chief product of an automated society. Haven't we become bored with what we have? Try peeping into your lives today to find out that as affluence increases boredom grows. Affluence triggers insatiability, the desire to have more, which leads to restlessness. In an automated society, restlessness fuels 'desire for desires' which gets short term relief through novelty. Since none of the novelty ever has a longer shelf life, boredom sets in sooner. Without doubt, past generations were content with what they had and hence boredom to them was in itself a bore. Unless the world tackles boredom head on, it will continue to remain a boring place!   

Friday, June 1, 2012

70. Anyway you like it!

Why would anyone disagree that 'change' as a subject is not only fascinating but perennial too, especially in the era of liberalization when things and conditions are 'changing' by the minute. It is often said that 'change', howsoever slow, is indeed 'certain' and mankind is striving to bring about 'change' in everything it does. Only when the climate starts changing does everyone worry about maintaining  status quo

No wonder, the illusion of 'change' manifests itself in all pervasive status quo. Else, why would the menu in your choicest restaurant refuse to 'change'? Why would status quo continue to persist with respect to traffic snarl on the road? Why would corruption gain currency by the day as a new way of doing business? Why would one continue to crib about all things public?  Simply put, the status quo is the only condition that is rarely vetoed as there are interests (including bureaucracy) that defend the status quo.  

If you were to ask me I'd say that while change is desirable, status quo is indeed inevitable! I therefore agree with linguist Roger Fowler who considered the concept of status quo as being the common sense of our times. What is often perceived as 'change' is indeed habitualized common sense that doesn't allow us to see far. Such habitualization creates collective social thought that lead us to become increasingly uncritical. We let things the way these are, often caught in the status quo spiral. 

How often have you heard air hostess' pronounce during take-off and landing that the 'cabin lights will be switched off, passengers might use reading lights on the panel above their seats'? That such an announcement is even made during day time flights is undoubtedly amusing, not much serious reading ever gets accomplished in those five minutes of 'switched off' status either. Intriguingly, it is the status quo that does not  piss off anybody!   

Friday, May 11, 2012

69. The 'water ball' patriotism

It may have originated in what was known as the Magadh region, present day South Bihar, but its omnipresence across the length and breadth of the country obscures its origin. In fact, it has already gone global. This round, hollow puri, fried crisp and filled with a mixture of flavoured water, tamarind chutney,  chaat masala, chilli, potato, onion, chickpeas is available across continents, and in several cities in USA, UK and Europe. Known by diverse names like phoolki, phuchka, paani puri and gol guppa, the ubiquitous water-ball is the undisputed king of the tangy-hot world of chaat. Need it be said that gol guppa is a secular snack that cuts across caste, class and religious distinctions? Barring few exceptions, it has largely been a female favourite though.      

The hollow of a well-bloomed pani puri filled with salted masala water is more than just a tangy obsession. Neither is it branded nor does it confirm to any standards, yet a gol guppa popped in from the roadside seller holds mass popularity. The sociology of its widespread popularity is worth a doctoral degree. 

Who cares how a speck of dough is ballooned; where from the water to fill it up is sourced; and the often unhygienic surroundings where the cart is stationed by the roadside? Unlike other products in the market, there has been an unwritten faith in the ‘collective responsibility’ of the gol guppa supply chain. And the roadside bhaiyya (brother) must be credited for having stood by it!  

Though upmarket vendors have started using ‘doubtful’ mineral water and ‘dubious’ plastic gloves in the name of so-called ‘hygiene’, rarely does it bother anyone that the dust-laden winds are depositing a thin layer of ‘desh-ki-mitti’ (mother earth) through the day all over the cart. It is the unflinching faith of its consumer base that has added to its unending popularity.

What is intriguing, though, is the fact that those who are otherwise finicky about drinking water from any public source show utmost respect to whatever quality of water that fills the ball. For me, it is no less than an act of ‘water-ball patriotism’ wherein we not only repose our faith in ‘your’ people but on water and dust that inevitably comes along. 
No wonder, consumer courts have yet to hear any complaint on your neighbourhood pani puri wala! Since everyone asks for ‘more water’ even after finishing with his/ her plate of gol guppa – “Bhaiyya, thoda paani aur dena! (Brother, give me some more water) – it is quite unlikely that any complaint would ever get fled. I will keep my fingers crossed though!

This was published in Deccan Herald on Aug 8, 2015.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

68. More of less

Little over a decade ago, a phone was just a phone. It could only help dial a number provided one could reach a phone. No more no less! It could neither act like an alarm nor a torch, it could neither click pictures nor convey written messages and it could neither help you surf the virtual web nor assist the perverted mind to set off time bombs. Mobile phone is one among several gadgets that modernity has literally milked to capacity, gifting the user more for less on each purchase.

Buy a trouser and get a shirt free; buy a television and get a mixer grinder free; buy a car and get a refrigerator free; buy a house and get the swimming pool free are market manifestations of a growing culture of 'less for more'. Without doubt, less for more has enticed all and sundry into it without any aspersion being cast on how and who pays for the so-called more in our lives. That more mobiles in a home may mean less sparrows in the courtyard is just about beginning to be a matter of serious concern!

Across almost all areas of human endeavor, less has indeed become a dominant feature. A growing economy is indeed jobless; deficit democracy is producing shameless leaders; unaccountable government is churning clueless policies, human relations have become meaningless as attitudes turn careless; and with education becoming valueless future has never been as directionless. It is perhaps the greatest of all paradoxes that we are seeking more of less. No wonder, our expectations too have become endless.

Can anyone help lessen the more of less from our lives?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

67. Franklin may have got it wrong!

Don't get me wrong if I may say that 'none of us is really all that healthy anyway'. Even if there are those who vouch to be so, no way can they claim to be wealthy as well as wise too. If these three attributes rarely occur in combination what can one make of Benjamin Franklin's two century old statement - early to bed, early to rise makes you healthy, wealthy and wise. Milkmen and newspapermen have all been up early for better part of their lives and owe an explanation from Franklin for them neither being wealthy nor wise!

Each one of us have been victim of early morning parental howling but I for one haven't carried forward such a family tradition. Conversely, I take little offence to the young guy who sleeps till late despite knowing well that early to bed makes the evening shorter and the mornings longer. Many researchers have now taken a counter position and argue: early to bed, early to rise will likely make you anything but wise. Celebrated cartoonist and wit James Thurber has amended it to `healthy, wealthy and dead.'

In reality, however, there is no evidence to support the Franklin or Thurber hypotheses that sleep habits dictate health, wealth or wisdom, either for the good or the bad. In fact, I have heard some say that 'early to bed, early to rise makes others suspicious' (of you). For many others `early to bed, early to rise depends on their television schedule'. The most convincing argument, however, comes from the young guy who said: 'early to bed, early to rise and your girlfriend starts dating other guys'. Please archive Franklin for good if the matter is as serious as that!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

66. The day like anyother

You would agree with me that 'love birds' are often innocent but sometimes courageous too. Else, neither would they have sustained harassment at the hands of the moral police nor would they have cuddled in public places despite mounting opposition. Even the brutal hands of police force hasn't been able to deter them from their determined display of affection in public spaces. Many wonder why police snoops on them only on Feb 14. Would it ever occur to them that a saint called Valentine had sacrificed his life for 'love' to blossom?

For them, Valentine would be like any other day but for the poking men and women in uniform. No wonder, of all the days being celebrated across the world, Valentine Day has earned a special place in the hearts of youngsters ever since it gained public recognition in the early 15th Century. Ironically, the same youngsters in our part of the world give a damn to a 'mother's' and a 'father's' day. Elsewhere in the west, youngsters do value mother's and father's day as an annual opportunity to reunite with their parents.

It is no exaggeration that far from missing their parents, young boys and girls often find the overwhelming presence of parents in their lives a bit too much to handle. Conversely, Valentine Day for them is mark the day when they express disdain on authority and control. And if they are allowed to have their way, the youth may want to have 'no mother' and 'no father' days instead!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

65. Are you serious?

It is no secret that women of all hue love to hear 'I Love You'. But try saying it to a stranger on the street and you would know how 'serious' it could turn out to be! That you were 'serious' in saying so holds little relevance, it is considered non-serious by the 'serious' recipient. And, imagine the plight of the guy who would have rehearsed for days to be 'serious' but instead ended-up being taken 'seriously'! Don't get me wrong but I love to narrate awesome but less researched things in our lives and being 'serious' is one among them.

Are you serious about climate change? Are you serious about inflation? Are you serious about your job? What if someone were to respond: 'I'm seriously non-serious about all these and much more'. Will the heavens fall apart? Seriousness has been elusive in every age, and every age has its particular perception to being 'serious'. Our growing culture of surging silliness demands 'seriousness', that can be explored from the height of intellectual endeavor to the depths of political frivolity because being `non-serious' reflects facetious.

Curiously, however, only 'serious' persons are interested in frivolity. And, being frivolous may not necessarily mean that one is not being 'serious'. While 'seriousness' helps you hide the truth, frivolity helps one get away with truth. During one such self-introduction process in a meeting the honest disposition by a participant that he's a 'burglar' was taken lightly. Many had humorously questioned his seriousness: are you serious?

Monday, January 2, 2012

64. Embarrassing statistics

Like met predictions, cricket predictions too go haywire. When cricket pundits predict century for a star player, quite often the entire team is sent packing to the pavilion within the first hundred. From analyzing moisture content in the pitch to assessing the impact of tailwind speed and from measuring the length of grass stubs on the batting arena to predicting which face of the coin will spin up, expert commentators (who are often retired cricketers) leave little to chance in foretelling the outcome of the match, if not the series.

As the expert commentator starts showering heaps of praise on a square cut, the next ball lets the empire finger point upwards. A century of such embarrassing moments could be counted in the course of a test match series. Since each expert encounters such failed predictions, getting away from any unpleasant conversation suits them. The statisticians too play to the gallery, rarely harping on 'failed predictions' by expert commentators and 'embarrassing statistics' of star players.

For the sake of fans and viewers who often feel let down by such over-hype, the selection process should be re-invented to count 'embarrassing moments' while selecting the team. How often has the batsman helped his team lose; how many times the batsman failed to reach double-figure; how often has the bowler been clobbered and how many catches have been missed by each of the players should feature in the selection criteria. It is time we stop counting 50's, 100's and 5-wicket hauls and focus on 'embarrassing statistics' instead. Television and radio channels can take a cue, let the expert commentators be shown the door for accumulating 'failed predictions'!