Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Wishing Well

May your best day in the Old Year
Be your worst day in the New Year.

- Old Scottish prayer

Wishing all of you wonderful people a happy new beginning!

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Where have all the cards gone?

‘Twas the night before Christmas. When all through the house, not a creature was stirring…

…Except my cell phone!

It beeped, it rang and very nearly leapt off the table in excitement. It jiggled its way through Christmas day and by the end of it, had rung in some 43 text messages and over a dozen calls from friends scattered across the world. A parallel stream of emails and e-cards was also pouring in. One was happily inundated with wishes of every kind… Except the ones that are delivered by the friendly neighbourhood postman!

I was struck by the complete absence of Christmas cards this year. Sure, there was the small stack sent by relatives, but oddly, none from friends. There were virtual greetings aplenty, but how in the name of Dancer, Prancer and Rudolph are you going to string them over the fireplace? (No fireplace here, but isn’t wishful thinking permitted at Christmastime?)

It set me thinking: Have people given up on the simple thrill of a greeting card? The rush of excitement at seeing one’s name on the envelope? The faint suspense until the cover is torn open? And then the unbridled delight? Compare this with an email which says, ‘xyz has sent you an e-card. To view it, copy and paste this hotchpotch of letters, numbers and signs, that in some way, which you won’t care to understand, will lead you to a grotty card, which will try your patience as it downloads…..’

For me, greeting cards have always been the harbinger of things special. They made the agonising wait for the birthday a little sweeter. They brought in the festive cheer. They even gave you a heady sense of your own popularity. I remember being over the moon in College one year, when I received 23 birthday cards! With messages ranging from corny (‘Roses are red, cookies are chewy… another year of your life, just went ka-blooey’!) to schmaltzy (‘It’s a good thing you can’t put a price tag on friendship… coz I could never afford a friend like you!’) to downright wicked (Heard you like sex on you birthday?... That’s strange, most people like it more often!!!)

I still have a sizeable collection of most of the cards I’ve received, the earliest dating back to my 5th birthday. A few years ago, I discovered a hitherto latent calligraphy skill, and combined with a whit of wit, set about making my own cards for family and friends. I still indulge in it whenever I can. Still it was very heartening to receive a hand-made birthday card this year from my ‘bess frend’ Alison. What looked like different coloured pens being tried out was actually her message, ‘Dear Leela, I love you lots. The end. Alison’.

It’s going to take Alison and me a while to revive the heading-for-extinction greeting card industry, but hey, we’ll get there.

Thursday, December 25, 2003


It feels like Christmas crept up on me this year.

Guess that’s a rather fatuous claim when the signs of its advent were unmistakable. Store windows decorated with stockings, reindeers, snowflakes and whatnot… Mailers from credit card companies advertising their ‘Christmas Offers’… Cell phones ringing with ‘Jingle Bells’ instead of ‘Mission Impossible’… Department store clerks wearing fluffy Santa hats (over brown smocks!)… Even the neighbourhood carollers who came a-singing the sole carol in their repertoire, ‘Saantha Close is coming to town…’

Still, I missed all the cues and with two days to go, discovered I had no presents to show. The tree, usually resplendent by this time, was still on the loft, awaiting its annual resurrection. And Mother was turning out all the goodies by herself. If Santa was making his list of naughty and nice, I knew whose name would head the former list.

Come Christmas Eve and all’s well. Alleluia! The presents are wrapped and tagged with cutesy messages for the cousins and niece. No plastic tree this year. Tinsel and crepe streamers bedeck a surprised shrub in the garden in front of the house. Soft carols waft out from the neighbour’s apartment. Droplets of wax gleam and fall from the candles around the house. The aroma of freshly-baked cake fills the room. And the star outside the window glows with contentment.

Peace on earth…

Goodwill to all…

Wish all of you wonderful people the warmth of Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2003

Tech travails

Early this year, my point-and-shoot camera entered its digital dotage. And in casting around for a suitable replacement, I was forced to confront a long-standing adversary – technology.

At the risk of sounding anachronistic, I’ll admit I’m extremely distrustful of gadgets, gizmos and anything that comes with an explicatory manual. Distrustful because these ‘thingies’ amble into your life pretending to be your best friends, and then when you’re slavishly dependant on them, they find the most (in)opportune moment to betray you. Distrustful also because they brag about adding value to your life, when in effect they only add clutter by offering you a bewildering bouquet of unnecessary options. Worse still, by the time you’ve finally figured out all their arcane functions, they’re obsolete, which means you’ve got to start all over again!

Sure, technology has its merits. But it’s the insidious invasion into every aspect of life that I’m holding out against.

But coming back to the camera, another point-and-shoot wasn’t an option. Scanning pictures to post on the Net was becoming too much of hassle. Then, there also was the proliferation of albums at home. My friend recommended a digital camera and suggested I consult her brother. Our conversation…

Me: I want to buy a digital camera.

Friend’s brother: What resolution are we talking of here?

Me: Erm… to buy a good digicam!

(Long silence. Chuckles. Then very slowly…)

Friend’s brother: I meant picture resolution!!!

What followed was a flurry of words… megapixels… flash card… optical zoom… all of which drifted in the hollow space above my head.

I tried another tack – the Internet. In the weeks that followed, I worked my way down a few of the 6,807,551 sites for digital cameras. The fog began to clear as I studied and compared features, decoded jargon and read reviews. I received weekly updates about new models, downloaded data and made notes. At the end of 6 weeks, I’d not only shortlisted 3 models, but had even turned consultant for another tech-challenged friend.

“Try X model’, I told her jauntily, ‘it’s got 3.2 megapixels, with 3X optical zoom and with 32 MB installed memory you should get about 110 pictures of 1600 x 1200 Resolution.’

Once she got over her amazement, she paid me a rather dubious compliment – ‘Wow,’ she said, ‘you talk like a guy!’

Next was the actual purchase. I purposefully strode into the camera store and rattled off the model I wanted. The dealer, as he is wont to, pulled out another model saying, ‘This has a longer warranty and has built in speakers… better than… .’ I slipped back into indecision country.

‘I’ll go for a walk and come back,’ I muttered. A few gulps of fresh air and I decided to stick to my original choice.

The last weekend has been spent poring over the manual and sizing up the many options. Where once there was point-and-shoot, now there was point-select mode-select scene-decide image size-check ISO equivalency-check sharpness-and shoot (if the ‘Kodak moment’ still lingered, that is!)

How the mighty ranters have fallen! Guess I've just validated the 'insidious invasion' argument...

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Sunset at Harishchandragad

A few months ago I chanced upon the perfect antidote to chaotic life in the city: the mountains. The trek in the Himalayas, many many miles from home, in effect felt like a homecoming. And since then, it’s been hard to resist the call of the nearby Sahyadris.

Last weekend when the summons became particularly strident, 5 of us bundled into an Indica and headed off. Our destination: an ancient fort called Harishchandragad, which is also a well-known trekking route.

The moment we cleared the city limits, the horizon magnificently expanded. No concrete heaps, no raucous horns, no scurrying hordes… Even the wind began to whistle as the first of the peaks hove into view… Siddhagad, Dhakoba, Naneghat, Jivdhan… Their resolute visages limned against the sky brought on a warm, familiar feeling.

By noon, we were at the base village of Khireshwar. A cool breeze wafted out towards us. We hitched our backpacks and sleeping bags, smeared sun block and set off.

The blistering sun didn’t affect our pace as the trail was lined with shady copses. Conversation fell to a minimum as the grunting and gasping increased. The ‘real’ world faded away and all my concentration was narrowed down to balancing my 12-kg backpack and myself over the sharp stones.

The meditative silence was shattered by loud, grating yowls. Another group of trekkers had come thrashing through the woods. Their glazed eyes suggested that they were ‘spiritually fortified’. We hurried on, keen to put enough distance between them and us.

An hour later, we stopped to catch our breath at a place called Tolar Khind. I was examining an impossibly contorted tree trunk when I spotted the board, which listed the forest regulations and penalties for breaking them. For some reason, the officials had decided to tack it in a place where it could do no harm. And no good either. What else could explain it being high up in the tree, semi-obscured by foliage?

Even as I mulled over this, a tinny sound reached our ears. The next moment a thin youth appeared carrying a transistor, which spewed filmi tunes. Behind him, was another who was awkwardly lugging a VIP-type suitcase. And bringing up the rear was a third, who was carrying a chicken. A live one! While their enthusiasm for roast chicken at 3500 feet could be commended, their folly could not. Perhaps no one had told them that the woods were home to leopards and wild boar!

Two hours later, we passed the crumbling ruin of the old fort and reached the Harishchandreswar temple. For an 1100-year-old temple, it had aged well. But its more recent history had been fairly blighted. Dried tallow, garbage filled bags, even an empty Old Monk bottle all shared space with the hallowed deity. On one of the walls, a certain ARUN J. RAUT made a vain attempt to go down in history by scrawling his name in hideous yellow paint.

Outside the temple was a board, which proclaimed this ruined edifice to be a national monument. The board itself was covered with a metal grill, which would’ve protected it from the likes of Arun J. Raut. Can you think of a more telling irony?

Somehow, the serenity I’d experienced at the start of the trek had evaporated. All the minor irritations through the day were now hanging like a black cloud over my head.

We followed the snaking trail behind the temple and reached the edge of the cliff, Konkan Kada, just in time to view the sunset. Shrugging off our backpacks, we settled down on the rocks and waited…

Kestrels flew around in lazy arcs. The golden orb turned crimson. And the lofty peaks, bathed in the dying sun’s glow, kept their mute, impassive watch. It occurred to me then that these silent sentinels had watched millions of sunsets. They’d seen everything that was there to see. Seen generations of humans come and leave a trail of destruction. And yet, there was no air of judgment or resentment. And here was I, getting hot around the collar all day…

As the sun slipped below the horizon, a pink glow spread across the sky. The cool breeze now had a nip in it. And I noticed with relief, that the black cloud over my head had vanished.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Gym Jam

Picture this:

X, a high-flying executive in Behemoth Multinational Ltd. (BML), looks at himself in the mirror one morning. Ouch, it hurts! Too many loose folds of meat. The executive lunches have left their mark on the once modest waistline. And some curves have emerged that would shame even a well-endowed woman. Seems like while X was busy totting up impressive figures for the company, his own has gone to seed.

When the different mirror angles fail to reveal any redeeming features, X decides it’s time to shed the excess baggage. He casts around for solutions, and the first he hits upon is BML’s state-of-the-art gym. A-ha, he tells himself, today is the day.

With firm resolve, X strides into BML’s gleaming, air-conditioned gym. Lithe, well-toned figures glance at him as he passes. X self-consciously sucks his gut in and walks up to the trainer. Rippling muscles seem to strain the fabric of the trainer’s black tee. X feigns confidence that has worked so well in so many boardrooms. He pumps the air, swings his arms and says, ‘Ok, where do I begin?’

The trainer looks at the semi-hidden tummy and the other notorious bulges and with a supercilious air, remarks, “Sorry you can’t work out here. You’re not in shape’.

No, this isn’t a Dilbert joke. It’s really the way things are in a company where a friend works.

Want to know why? There’s an incredible reason.

Apparently, the Big Cheese at BML has an MBO that states ‘No employee should die on the job.’ Now Big Cheese has a lurking suspicion that some overworked, overweight sucker like X will one day attempt to correct the weighing scales. In his enthusiasm, he might overdo it, and end up giving up his ghost on the treadmill. And if that happens, Big Cheese will have to kiss the big fat bonus goodbye. Can’t have that, can we? So Plan B, ban all unfit people from working out in the gym.

Moral of the story: Stay fit or just die at home, fatty.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

If tomorrow comes... at Fun Republic

Two FREE tickets to watch the thumpingly-successful, heavily pre-booked blockbuster KHNH. On a Saturday afternoon. At a multiplex not too far from home. With a free meal and soft drink thrown in…

This was like having your cake and eating it and marrying the rich, handsome baker as well!

Ok, rather fanciful analogy. But then we’re talking movies, remember. Where life inevitably sashays towards a happy ending. But first, there are twists in the plot… And I got more than a fair share of them when I landed up at ‘Fun Republic’.

On first glimpse, it resembled a State of Chaos. A higgledy-piggledy mix of steel, glass and concrete which stuck out sorely in a conservative landscape. Food courts, play stations, coffee bars, candy dispensers – all the trappings of ‘fun’ were in evidence. But for some reason, I simply disliked the place.

We took the glass elevator to the loftily-titled ‘Xenon 3’. And waited to be ushered inside.

25 minutes later, we were still waiting. The foyer got crowded and soon every available inch was covered. I was hemmed against the wall, when the lights went out. Groans of dismay arose and soon turned into mutinous rumblings. If the snag wasn’t rectified soon, Fun Republic would have a bloody uprising on hand.

Thankfully, it was a momentary lapse and minutes later, the recalcitrant masses were herded into the auditorium. Our FREE seats turned out to be smack in front of the big screen. But before we had time to rue this, the lights dimmed and the opening credits appeared.

The first stirrings of romance were being kindled, when the lights went out again. A howl of protest erupted. Being stuck in the dark with fragmented images of a promising love story was downright frustrating. If this was a rock concert, a rude chant would have gone up…

10 minutes later, the lights came back. All was forgiven and we were ushered back into dreamland.

We were hooked as the hero liberated his lass with a single-line profundity. But then the screen went blank even while the audio continued. We were torn between hollering loudly and hanging onto the dialogue, allowing our fervid imagination to supply the images. Was this a state-of-the-art multiplex or a banana republic? I certainly wanted to secede.

A few more of these unscheduled intermissions and the fragile link was broken. We were no longer swept up in the intense emotional drama. Still a lone tear escaped my sardonic gaze as the hero lay on his deathbed. But even that turned to mirth a moment later.

A star-struck tot had climbed onto the stage. His mother made a frantic dash for him. Unbelievably, a classic chase scene was being enacted live. The onscreen drama forgotten, everyone applauded when the long arm of the law caught up with the errant youngster.

Thus, an utterly forgettable movie experience was salvaged by an impromptu addition to the screenplay.

I walked away marvelling at how the kid had intuitively grasped the movie’s philosophy of ‘living like there was no tomorrow’.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The Revolving Doors

A couple of days ago I was bobbing along with the surge of humanity at Churchgate station, when something caught my eye. The drab railway office opposite the ticket window looked uncommonly bright and colourful. Streamers and fairy lights bedecked the entrance. A bright blue curtain served as the backdrop for a glitter-etched placard which read, ‘Mr. M.G. ROY RETIRES TODAY AFTER 37 YEARS SERVICE.’

I climbed out of the subway with the number 37 still on my mind. 37 years! I tried to imagine what it would be like coming to the same desk each day and seeing the same faces, perhaps with new wrinkles as the years went by. And finally signing out with fairy lights, cheery placards and teary speeches. Perhaps, even a gold watch.

Well, one thing’s certain. No one’s handing me a gold watch. My peripatetic career graph has covered 5 jobs in 8 years. No moss on me, for sure. And while I’ve no regrets about each move, I’ve begun to feel a wee bit guilty lately. ‘Work Experience’ has far too many bullet points on my bio-data. Friends and acquaintances ask me, ‘Now where are you working?,’ heavily emphasising the ‘now’. And if my answer hasn’t varied, they feign shock with, “Still there???”

On the other hand, ‘Still there?’ has a different ring in Advertising circles. It’s like asking Liz Taylor, ‘Still Married?’ The shock accompanying the question is real. That’s because at any given time, most people are either switching jobs or planning to switch. My ex-boss evenly admits that she’s worked in 7 out of the top 10 agencies in a span of 12 years. My ex-art partner sheepishly confesses she’s been in the same agency for 6 years and promptly suffixes that with, ‘But I’m planning to move now.’

My new workplace is an eye-opener. My boss recently spoke of someone who worked in the company ‘for a short while’. The short while, I discovered, was 8 years! My boss completes 19 years next month. Most people around tell me they’ve ‘been here for donkey’s years’. (Wonder if there’s something in that phrase now!)

Recently, an old colleague from Advertising joined the team. In the course of our conversation she said, ‘You’ve been here for a while, haven’t you?’

I replied, ‘I’m nearing the one-year mark.’

Without missing a beat, she queried, ‘Ok, so what are your plans now?”