Monday, June 26, 2006

It's Lunchtime!

Every day at 11.55 AM, I get a mail in my inbox from Rohan, one of my friends at work, a one liner.

"Lunch at noon sharp. See you there."

This mail is marked to about 5-6 people within our campus working in three different buildings, kind of testament to how social an activity lunch/dinner is to us Indians. Its as much about food as it is about meaningful/meaningless conversation. Some time ago I heard Yitzy mention in his blog (he is an expatriate who till recently was working in Chennai) about how surprised he was with the frequency of the question, "Had lunch?" or "Had dinner?" that he faced in India. It’s a question that would be considered a tad too nosey in other parts of the world but it’s a conversation starter with us Indians.

And so I make my way to the food court around 12 noon sharp on some days, even though am not hungry by that time, just for the company and to beat the rush hour. Yes, a consequence of the fast growth that software companies like mine contend with, the traffic at the food court is not unlike the one at the Ameerpet Cross in Hyderabad. So if you want to breathe quality oxygen and speak normally to be heard, you will either eat when you are not hungry or eat late, when all the good dishes of the day are spent. That is of course if you are not among the lucky one’s who bring their own food. Otherwise it’s hard work.

First, there’s the long line to pay for the coupons for the lunch. As we all head off in different directions to get our choice of meal for the day, we face the long line to get the food. Then begins the onerous task of finding a suitable place for 4-5 people in the free-for-all melee out there. Miraculously, you see a clean table with 7 places up for grabs with only a pretty young thing occupying a seat. As you courageously beat off competition not unlike Joe Cole running down the left flank and think for the umpteenth time that you are in the wrong profession, you find four mobiles and two hankies awaiting their food.

"Sorry, places are taken", she smiles as her pretty friends with their plates swamp around me and rescue her from my baleful gaze.

"We still have one place here, though" she smiles again. This time I notice her eyes.

My phone rings. It’s Rohan. I personally think that talking on the phone while holding a full meal of rice, couple of chapathis, dal, subjis, salad, fryums, curd and other assorted goodies is more dangerous than driving and talking but like they say, necessity is the mother of invention.

"Where are you?" he says. "We are on the third table in the fifth row next to the Mini- Meals section."

They say there are moments in a man’s life when he has to make critical choices. Those are the times when opportunity knocks on the door and the intrepid travelers of the journey called life catch it with both their hands and don’t let go. I can proudly say that till date I have never been much of a traveler (Does this answer your question Rohan, which you asked a couple of posts ago?)

Conversation during lunch is of course as varied and rich in quality as you could expect from a bunch of engineer plus MBAs working in a software company. Okay, you want me to spell it out for you, highly varied and filled with ignorance, but that’s the way we are, okay? Having a meal in peace is of course out of the question, as you cannot ignore the cacophony that a thousand people and their plates make around you. The management does their bit by providing background music through shrill speakers that none of us have been able to figure out the location of. Its not unnatural to find one of my colleagues go,

"Hey, that’s a Hindi song yaar, I thought they were playing Telegu!"

By the time, the last of us finish the meal, there are already more engineers and consultants hovering around our table like hungry vultures. It’s still not over. There’s one more line to dump the remains of the meal and the plates away and another at the wash basins. Now this is funny. Obviously we being in the high tech industry appreciate high tech stuff but I would personally like to shit on the guy who invented those infra-red taps. You stick your hand beneath them and hope that they are in good humor. You give up and remove your hands and they pour their stuff. You stick them back in, with more patience this time, only to find the tap cough out some spittle that leaks through your fingers by the time you can bring it to your mouth. Makes you look stupid, really they do.

Okay, back to work.

P.S. Man, did you watch Holland vs. Portugal? Whew, what a game!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Staring, Looking, and Defense Mechanisms

Yeah, Yeah, we men do that to pretty women. And of course, age is no bar. If you say that at a certain age man does give up looking, I would say that that’s probably because he can’t, look that is, due to his cataract or whatever. We lean out of car windows, turn our heads precariously while driving our bikes, look up instantaneously when she enters the room or gets on the bus, that’s our sixth sense. Of course, some of us do it surreptitiously (the nice guys, or wimps, depending on your outlook) while some do it blatantly (the Romeos or creeps, again, depending on your outlook). Women do it too but that’s a completely different activity, they ‘check you out’. There’s a fine difference, they tell me. You tell me.

Of course, I’ve looked. But since I can remember, I also derive a strange satisfaction by looking at people when they are looking. It’s almost a double satisfaction of being in control and at the same time catching someone else unawares, unknown to him. It’s also a bit funny, sometimes, to see a vacant expression, a jaw drop. So when I see a random Ms. Pretty Woman enter the room, after a quick look myself, my eyes automatically scan the room and go, gotcha, gotcha, gotcha, gotcha and gotcha! Strange but true.

And so I admire the women who take it so nonchalantly in their stride. Outwardly, at least she appears to be so calm, all those men and their attentions so oblivious to her, as she walks across to wherever she wanted to go, while so many hearts skip beats. Maybe they are used to it and develop a defense mechanism over the years. I can’t really believe that somebody would actually like being stared at, or maybe I could, now that I think about it, but whatever.

Like I said, I am in complete admiration of such women and their forbearance. Because I hate attention myself. In my UKG report card of Don Bosco School in Delhi, which I happened to discover while I was rummaging through some of my old papers a few weeks ago, I noticed a comment, which my class teacher had written, “____ waits for his turn”. Yup, that’s me. Now don’t get me wrong. I have done enough presentations, speeches, elocution contests, hosting events, lecturing and motivating teams than I care to remember. I am talking about unwanted attention or the kind of attention, which I am not prepared for.

Since my guitar classes are on Mondays and Wednesdays after office hours, I take my car out on those days really early, and hide the guitar in its black cover under the shadows of my desk (Can’t keep it in the car, since it gets hot inside, which is not healthy for the guitar). Keep my bag so that it covers the fretboard, and pull my chair so that nobody can see the body of the thing. Escaping in the evening without somebody noticing the guitar is tougher. I am sure people are just curious and genuinely interested, but you know, me being me, I always assume the worst. Eventually a typical conversation occurs with his/her thoughts (as per my dazed and confused mind) and mine laid bare for you here.

“Hey, Hey, what’s this, a guitar?”
(What the @$&*)

(What did you think it was, my four year old son?!)

“Wow! So do you play the guitar and all?”
(Doesn’t he have any work to do?)

“Yes, a little bit”.
(No, I just carry it along to look cool)

“You know, I always wanted to learn the guitar myself”.
(If this dork can, it can’t be too tough)

“Really, you should you know, its not too difficult.”
(Yeah right, Eric Clapton with a pot belly)

“I know, I know, but too much work, man, no time. Am just leaving early today to catch Brazil playing.”

“Brazil? But that match was yesterday!”

Anyway, you get the drift.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

My Bum Hurts

Couple of days back there was an office party at ‘Ocean Park’, a sad aspirant to the ‘Water Kingdoms’ of the world. But since am a sucker for any sort of adventure sports (read my first post, for instance) or thrill rides, took all the plunges, rides and dips that were on offer both of the aquatic and non-aquatic kind. Actually I was surprised that my bum seemed to be the only part in my anatomy which complained the next day. Looks like all those hours at the gym and the park are paying off, finally.

A few things were different. First of all, I looked better naked than I ever have in a long time, at least the time that I can remember. Of course the sense was heightened due to many of my colleagues trying to draw in their breaths in an effort to keep their paunches out of sight. But, this time my enthusiasm was more muted. I mean, I am 28, and this wasn’t like I was going sky diving or rock climbing or something. The patchy facilities at the place didn’t help the feeling either. The finishing was non existent, the machinery looked dangerously old and rusted, washrooms were dinghy and leaky and the attendants and supervisory staff looked bored as hell. Almost as if they wished somebody would break their neck and brighten up their day.

Of course, what didn’t change were the funny moments. A colleague of mine whose name translated into English means "Fearless" refused to go on any rides and no, it wasn’t because he believed there were aliens in the water. I would always advise to-be parents to go for neutral names please. Another, when dumped into a 4 ft deep tank after a high and spiraling downward slide was convinced that he would drown in it. We watched him for a minute as he tried his best to drown, flailing his arms, legs and other parts of his body in his desperate bid not to die a virgin. Finally when I lost patience, I gave him my hand and asked him to just stand up. And then one more landed in the tank and seemed to look around desperately for something.

"I am looking for my spectacles, they’ve fallen off", he explained, still looking intently into the water.

After we finally controlled our laughter, we told him he still had them on.

Even me, at the end of a slide didn’t realise my specs were off (I keep them on since I have a high –4.0 power and I don’t like to miss the view of the thrill ride). It was only when my colleagues shouted it out that I realised something was stuck under my feet.

And then of course there was the wave pool. It was fun till it got too crowded with naked male bodies. And when people started getting under and between people’s legs and overturning them in the water, I knew I had to find a more solitary space somewhere. Of course I was eventually required to participate in the ceremonial dunking that everyone got but what the heck. There was also a rain dance, you guessed it, again, lots of naked male bodies shaking their booty, but it actually rained and it was kind of fun.

On our way back, there was Antaakshari on the bus. Wasn’t quick with the song responses myself but could sing along with most of the songs and did, it’s been some time. And there was Scotch at the dinner party, which capped an end to an above average day.

In other news, shaved about two minutes off my weekly run in the park today. Finally, today did 11 rounds (9 km) of the park in little over an hour and felt really good at the end of it. I am amazed everytime I run about how much a mental thing it is, running. DazedandConfused comes up with all the usual excuses and more:

There! Your shoelaces have come off, that’s a sign!
C’mon, isn’t it too hot today?! (It was actually, my feet were burning through my soles for most of the run, till the sun went down)
The T-shirt’s too tight!
Enough, man! You can do eleven next week, c’mon!
Look, he’s overtaken you! What’s the point of running so slowly, you might as well stop! (The guy who overtook me wearing a shirt and trousers ran short bursts. I saw him sitting on all the benches on the track during the course of my run)

At such times there’s nothing else to do but say to oneself, "I’ve done it before and I shall do it again, and what’s more, I’ll go one up!"

Apart from this, the one serious impediment was when a huge frog almost hopped onto my tracks and I almost tripped trying to avoid stomping on it. Next time you try that Mr. Frog, you will be squished. Finally, nearing the end of the eleventh, it wasn’t the feet but the head, which was giving the protest signs as it, seemed to loll a bit from side to side as if threatening to fall off my neck. But if you know the trick that I use to finish the run, never fails to bring a broad smile to my face, and clears all the furrows from my forehead.

But my bum still hurts.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Mondays and Wednesdays

Are now my favorite days of the week. Coz those are the days when I have my guitar classes. I think am in love with my guitar. Right now, I am in that beautiful stage, you know, like when you just meet that wonderful girl who kind of fancies you as well, and you go out on dates and get to know each other and also end having a whale of a time together. The more you get to know her, the more you believe that she is the woman of your dreams. I know I will eventually hit a creative roadblock on my guitar sooner or later but till then I shall attempt to make you all jealous of my beautiful relationship.

It’s a pity though that I can’t really write much about it. I mean its so much easier to blog about a good book that one has just read or a thoughtful movie one has recently seen. How do I write about the fact that suddenly some old Hindi songs are back on my favorites list since those are the ones I have learnt to play chords of? How do I write about the joy I feel when I see myself effortlessly shifting between Bm and G chords in a single beat interval which a few weeks back seemed an impossible task? How do I write about the exhilaration and pride I felt today when Naveen (that’s the instructor) jammed with me on a song today, him playing the lead and me, the rhythm which went off so much better than I expected? And about the sense of achievement and satisfaction when I worked out the chord sequence of another song by myself?
I could always put up the lyrics of those songs which I can play, along with their chords but I’ve been getting so much flak over posting songs from the few people who grace this blog with their presence, that I have given up on that one. Ah well, podcasts at some future date, maybe.

Mum is extremely unhappy about the callused state of my fingers of my left hand, an outcome of my incessant playing, but then I tell her in my most pompous voice, “These are the hands of the guitarist!” She finds it funny and laughs.

Because of all this strumming, I have not been able to give as much attention to the World Cup and the Test Match as I would have liked. I didn’t watch even a single match of the French Open, not even the Federer-Nadal final (*cringing as I write this*, how could you do this, D&C??) I have only managed to catch some news while I dunk my food down. But since the reservation issue was called off, nothing else has actually held my attention. The channels did try their best, Rajdeep Sardesai interviewing Raakhi Sawant as part of some special feature and India TV discussing how the cocaine guy spoke to his model girlfriend for 394 seconds. Sheeesh! Crap TV and bubbly channels. Somebody save me.

The book on International Financial Markets also lies neglected by the bedside. I could always finish the poetry book that’s pending but you see, being the method person that I am, I have to finish the Raghuram Rajan book before Vikram Seth’s ‘coz I started reading the former earlier.

And well, of course, can’t really blog about THAT, at least here, well anywhere in fact, and definitely not now, maybe later, a lot later.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Guitarmania and Tunnels

Warning: An extremely self-indulgent post, read at your own risk.

So now I have been going to guitar classes two days a week about 6 weeks now. For my earlier post on my guitar story, read this.

Well, obviously then, it didn’t work out for me. I mean, how could I have learnt to play the guitar when I was 12, at a time when I didn’t love music, enough. I mean, I know friends and cousins who were forced into learning classical music since the age of 5 but thankfully my parents spared me that. And the discovery of the kind of music I love has been a bit like a discovery of self, dazed and confused, all the way.

I listened to what was around me initially, then listened to stuff to fit in, then listened to stuff to stand out, and then listened to stuff, which I didn’t get. Nowadays I listen to only the stuff that I enjoy, but it’s a kind of a hash of all those stuff I listened to over the years, kind of a … dazedandconfused collection.

Coming back to the guitar, its debuted right at the top in terms of my non-work pursuits right now. I still sound terrible but better than almost everyone else in my class, kind of how India’s fastest 100m runner or our best football player would feel, I think. I have no doubt that I will be good enough to play rhythm in any amateur band 3 months from now, unless I lose a hand or two. Its not an empty boast you know, coz when I tend to focus on something, most times I get it done. They call it tunnel vision, I think. When I am in this metaphorical tunnel of my creation, after a while, I forget whether I actually enjoy what I am doing or not. It is no longer a question to be evaluated, a decision to be pondered, that time has gone by like a wayside railway station where you didn’t get off. Now I would do it because I have to, there would be no other choice. And getting into a tunnel is not easy for me either. It is generally preceded by months of struggle within the labyrinths of my own mind but surprisingly the final decision is as sudden as pressing a switch.

Right now apart from the guitarmania, am in a few other tunnels and among them are,

Hitting the Gym at least 3-4 times a week.
Running 8-8.5 kms. every Saturday.
Blogging at least two posts a week.
Reading a good book or two every month.

As you can see, none of them relate to my professional life and career. Sometimes I worry about that fact and those are bad days. But then I think, maybe am not ready for that tunnel just yet.

Meanwhile let me just try and perfect playing the F# relative family of chords.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

My Mumbai Visit

Bombay never fails to depress me. The beautiful women, swanky cars, high rises, the manic efficiency of day to day life somehow only tend to highlight the slums and squalor of the city which my eye cannot ignore as I am driven in its taxis and autorickshaws. The beggar children, who come up to you at every traffic signal with their trained sales pitch, if you can call it that. The city is ruthless. I am constantly amazed with how people somehow seem to not notice all that is around them, perhaps its easier to ignore. It’s almost as if everyone has invisible walls around them. Of course, what could they do? What would I do in their place?

I understand, it’s a situation borne out of necessity and not of choice. I guess there are just too many people in Mumbai than she can hold. Didn’t the Shiv Sena say something about ‘Mumbai for Mumbaikars’ or something like that? The wrong answer, but definitely, the right problem.

That’s about Mumbai, but as people, Mumbaikars are the bunch that I admire the most. I think it’s the most visitor friendly metro in India if you exclude the taxis, which run from the airport. Professionalism and discipline seems to run across the length and breadth of the city. One lingering image from this visit was the traffic policemen standing at every major cross-section on the weekend, intently watching the traffic for offenders. Medium height, spectacles, moustache, clean white shirts, khakhi trousers and the constable’s cap, notebook in hand, bike nearby. I remarked to a friend that they all of them even managed to look the same. Mumbai doesn’t deserve its citizens, just like Delhi-ites don’t deserve their city (BOCTAOE).

Watched ‘Inside Man’ at one of the theatres in South Mumbai. I think it should be essential viewing for all English movie buffs so that they could realise that its not just our Bollywood directors who manage to screw up really bad. Went to Crosswords on Sunday. Some nice titles available but overall, a bit of a downer for a guy used to the ‘Landmarks’ in Chennai. Plus they had only two measly titles on Chess available. Unforgivable. Did pick up my first book on poetry, ‘Mappings’, by Vikram Seth and so here’s one poem from the book.

Quaking Bridge
So here I am again by Quaking Bridge,
Standing a moment by the water’s edge,
Hearing the water’s roar as it churns past
The ancient brewery; and I am cast
Back to December when by Quaking Bridge
I stood a moment by the water’s edge
And heard the water’s turbulence, and knew
That since no more remained that I could do
And since to think of pain itself is pain,
I should forget and not walk here again
And hear the water under Quaking Bridge
And stand in thought beside the water’s edge,
And I am here again; but why delay?
Think, and walk on, and think: but walk away.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Sab Bhula Ke

Teri khamoshion mein woh baatein hain chupee
Mujh kau choo laitee hein woh har aah joh yun niklee

Namee joh aankhon mein thee
Khulee woh baatein sabhee

Sab bhula ke phir bhee chala mein
Duniya kee rasmein bhula ke
Mujh ko joh himmat milee
Meri dil mein barhtee rahee

Mein bhee in aansoon mein dooba hoon kitney din
Khud sai keh sakoon ga jiya hoon teray bin

Khushee joh baaton mein thee
Khulee woh baatein sabhee

Sab bhula ke phir bhee chala mein
Duniya kee rasmein bhula kai
Mujh ko joh himmat milee
Meri dil mein barhtee rahee

Namee joh aankhon mein thee
Namee joh aankhon mein thee

Khulee woh baatein sabhee

Sab bhula ke phir bhee chala mein
Duniya kee rasmein bhula ke
Mujh ko joh himmat milee
Meri dil mein barhtee rahee

Artist: Call
Album: Jilawatan