Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Story of a 5th Place in 5 Questions

  1. Why are you so happy today?

    Because I finished 5th in the Chennai edition of the Brand Equity Quiz '08.

  2. It's only a 5th place. What's there to be so happy about?
    1. The winners get prizes worth Rs. 1.2 lakhs - each. The 6th place team members get prizes worth Rs. 14000 each.
    2. It's one of the most prominent quizzes in India.
    3. All corporate quizzing teams worth their salt were there (=very stiff competition)
    4. It's the Chennai round of the quiz. Chennai is the quizzing capital of India. The proportion of quizzers to non-quizzers is obscenely high in Chennai (=even stiffer competition). Like the quizmaster Derek O'Brien remarked, 'I can ask that question in Delhi. Probably even in Bangalore. But definitely not in Chennai."
    5. We (= me + my teammate) beat the last year's winners to the sixth place.
    6. We accomplished a goal that we had set for ourselves: to clear the preliminary round and get on stage for a major quiz in Chennai.
    7. We were the only non-IT and non-Bank team in the finals. That is a very rare occurrence in Brand Equity quiz.

  3. How the hell did this major aberration and travesty of justice take place?

    I know. Even I'm wondering at the number of better teams that didn't make it to the finals. Normally, quizzing in Chennai is a very closed affair in spite of the officially open nature – there are a group of about 10-15 guys who almost certainly win any quiz in Chennai – the Untouchables. Prize money of all the quizzes held in Chennai stay within this group. The others are just inconsequential people who turn up to clap for the guys on stage and make up the numbers.

    When they announced our names among the list of qualifiers after the written round, the Untouchables started looking around with an expression that said, "Who?" That alone made my day. Serves them right, those bastards! Only my teammate and I know how many quizzes we have been to where only the Untouchables made it. We used to wonder why these guys didn't retire or at least leave the slightly lesser quizzes to us minnows. When wondering didn't help, we fervently hoped that they would go mad with all that knowledge or get married to nagging wives who wouldn't let them quiz or get an offshore assignment and leave the country (this being the most likely). And now, when we beat some of the Untouchables in their own backyard without any of the above happening, all the pain seems worth it.

  4. So what prizes did you get?
    1. A carton full of perfumes and deodorants (did we stink that much?).
    2. A bunch of useless gift vouchers entitling me to, for example, 'free hair spa' worth Rs. 500 (I wonder what a hair spa is), Rs. 500 off on purchase of sunglasses. In short, to redeem those gift vouchers, I'll need to spend at least three times the amount I got as prize.
    3. A holiday for two in any of the Club Mahindra (or some affiliated company's) holiday destinations. This is the only prize remotely worth the effort, but I don't know who to take with me.

    For a quiz that boasts about such a high profile, BEQ sucks when it comes to prizes - such kanjoosi as I've never seen in any high-profile quiz. However, such behaviour is only to be expected from a Times Group company, half of which is built on advertisement and branding (read hot air and zero substance). Now that I have a decade's supply of perfumes and deos, I'm planning to give them away as birthday gifts. So if any of you get a deodorant from me as a gift, please don't think I'm being rude. Also, if any of you are interested in such things as hair spas and massages, please let me know.

  5. But don't I see a faint sign of disappointment and incompleteness in your face?

    That's very perceptive of you, thank you. Yes, you're right. To tell you the truth, the quiz sucked big time. No, not just the prizes, but the quiz as a whole. Derek O'Brien is more interested in showmanship than in quizzing. So while he was up to his normal stuff - strutting around in bell-bottoms and praising himself for being the greatest quizmaster known to man – we were bored stiff on stage, so much so that one poor guy from TCS (an Untouchable) spent the entire final round staring into nothingness and had to be woken up from his daydream by the quizmaster. There weren't any interesting questions, the kind that makes me want to (try to) put up another blog post with interesting questions.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, let me go off on my search to find a person to go on holiday with. It's not as if I don't have any choices - so many guys are already lining up to go (now, don't get any wrong ideas – they don't give a shit about me, it's the free holiday they're interested in). The problem is that I'm being made to choose from the wrong line.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Tales

I just got back from a trip home for Easter (yeah, that’s my excuse this time for not posting).

Home, in my case, happens to be in Thiruvananthapuram. However, in an extended sense of the word, a trip home also means visits to all relatives spread across the lower half of Kerala. All through my trip, I was on the lookout for blogworthy material. Nothing in particular caught my attention. There were strikes and protest marches, bad movies and bad roads, rains ruining crops and cops ruining rain dances. But none of these things were either important or out of the ordinary to warrant a full-scale rant. So I decided to compile a list of things that caught my attention during this last one week.

  1. Roads in Thiruvananthapuram are empty during school vacation time. To restate an old maxim, Thiruvananthapuram is basically a city of government officials and their school-going kids. Government cars are run to ferry school children from tuition classes to school to tuition classes. School buses take up most of the space on the roads during the morning and evening peak hours. Accordingly, the peak hour of Thiruvananthapuram traffic coincides with the time at which people drop their kids at school before going to office or pick them up after work.
  2. If you have been to Thiruvananthapuram once, you will never have to fear losing your way again. Nothing ever changes in this city. Acquisition of land is still going on for roads which were approved 40 years back. The fortunate projects that do start work are delayed by an inevitable deluge of court stay orders. Flyovers which were supposed to have been built 3 years back have only moss-infested columns to show for it. Meanwhile, the population of the city somehow manage with roads that the visionary rulers of erstwhile Travancore built before Independence.
  3. Every person in Kerala is an amateur meteorologist. Neighbours in my original hometown (Eranakulam) were seen earnestly discussing with my father about the reasons for the unseasonal rainfall in Kerala this month (nyoonamardam – depression) and how it’s all because of global warming and George Bush. My father, who takes special interest in earthly matters (he’s an earth scientist) was at pains to explain how this one is a low pressure trough and not a cyclonic depression or some such thing. Phew.
  4. Finely made fish curry is one of the greatest pleasures in life. Non-vegetarians who claim to like KFC and don’t eat fish are the least sophisticated kind – like the consumers of country liquor and Twenty20 cricket addicts. Then there are the non-vegetarians who like fish, but only the fried variety. They are slightly higher up on the sophistication ladder – on the same rung as the IMFL drinkers and One-day cricket lovers. The people who can claim the highest levels of sophistication are the fish curry lovers. They are on the same level as connoisseurs of Scotch whiskey and Test cricket. Only when I discovered the finer tastes of fish curry made with kudam puli did I begin to understand the true meaning of existence.
  5. It’s not a pleasant experience driving on the highways in Kerala (most of the roads are practically 3 to 4 layers of patch work). If the normal experience is unpleasant, try driving at night in the rain on MC road. Roads in Kerala will never improve, whatever happens.
  6. Drivers in Kerala do not know how to use indicators while turning. Even if they do, they don’t bother to use it – that’s taking energy conservation a bit too far, me thinks.
  7. If you want to protest outside the Secretariat (on MG Road), you have to book the footpath first with the police to ensure that your protests don’t clash with others’ (I don’t mean fights when I say ‘clash’ although that has been known to happen too often than one would like). OK, I’m kidding. But, when you see the coordination with which the different groups of protesters manage to optimally utilize the limited space on the footpath outside the Secretariat, you begin to wonder how they manage to do it. One day you will see an anishchitha kaala samaram (indefinite strike) by one group and the next day you will see the same posters but different protesters. That kind of makes you wonder what happened to the indefinite strike by the first group, doesn’t it? But what puzzles me most about this whole business is that although the Legislative Assembly has shifted office 2 km down the road, the protesters are still stuck at the old place. That somehow makes me feel sorry for the ministers - how can you expect the poor things to listen to the protesters when they are 2 km away?
  8. There are now 5 FM stations in Thiruvananthapuram (up from 1 two months back). Surprisingly, there is a lot of original content in the programmes. Even the big names like Mirchi and Big have customized their content for Mallu listeners. At least for now, the ads are few and far between and there are more songs that yak-yak. That’s bound to change as the listeners grow in number, but I’m hoping it won’t change drastically.
  9. There is not a single vegetable that I don’t like. Cheera, chena, pavakka, kumbalanga, whatever. Vegetables are yum.
  10. In terms of per capita availability of movie theatres and density of cinemas per square kilometre, Thiruvananthapuram has to be somewhere in the top 5 cities in the world. In the 1 sq km area around Thampanoor-East Fort, there are at least 15 theatres which I am aware of. There were multiplexes in Thiruvananthapuram before many cities in India even knew what they were. No wonder that Thiruvananthapuram has been a favourite destination for film festivals for decades. One interesting aspect of this statistic is that all these theatres have been in existence for more than 10 years.
  11. Mallu men dance only when they are drunk – except if you are Sreesanth (on second thoughts, who knows what he keeps sipping from the bottle which he keeps on the boundary line) or a participant in one of those reality TV shows. Dancing is not considered a manly activity and so men have to resort to drunkenness as an excuse to indulge in some dancing, with disastrous results.

PS: If there is any campaign underway to change the name of Thiruvananthapuram from Thiruvananthapuram to something shorter than Thiruvananthapuram, count me in.

PPS:The comparison of non-vegetarians with liquor drinkers and cricket is borrowed with some modifications from a conversation that Rahul Dravid reportedly had with Vijay Mallya when the latter asked the former to explain Twenty20 cricket to him in words that he understood. I cannot confirm the authenticity of the statements, though.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Who Do I Envy?

During the many hours of introspection that I manage to put in during a normal day, I have constantly asked myself many questions ranging from the downright stupid to the very profound.

Here's one of those questions which fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum - Who do I envy? I finally seem to have come up with some sort of an answer.

I envy two kinds of people -

1. People who know what they want to do in life:

I feel miserable when I see people going about doing things as if they were born to do it, as if there is nothing else in the world they'd want to do. They are people who are passionate about something and know what they want (and more importantly, what they don't want).

I, on the other hand, am not passionate about anything. I don't know what I want to achieve in life or where I'll be 3 years from now. I could end up being a politician or a traveller in the end and I wouldn't be surprised at all. There are some things which I like doing more that others and there are some things I consider myself to be good at. But none of these are things for which I'd leave everything tomorrow and pursue with single-minded determination. I'd be ruing the opportunities and experiences I'd be missing out on by sacrificing something.

2. People who have found love:

By love, I don't mean the love-thy-neighbour kind of broad idea of love; neither do I mean the narrow definition of making-love kind of love. You get the idea, right? Basically, people who have a boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife who they love (not including high-school crushes and unrequited loves). Even at the risk of sounding corny, I think that having somebody beside you whom you love and trust gives life a whole new meaning. Besides, sharing your life with a partner is the way to live life.

You may accuse me of being naive in assuming that such 'love' exists, and rightly so. But a person who has never known what it feels like to be in love always likes to believe that true love is just around the corner. When I see people who are supposedly in love, I feel as if I'm missing out on something which normal human beings should be experiencing.

So there you have it - I don't envy people with famous surnames or enormous bank balances. Neither do I envy film stars, rock stars or sports stars. What about you?

Friday, March 07, 2008

For the sake of posting...

Apologies dear readers. I have not been posting anything for some time now. It's not all my fault, you see. I have been very busy in office for the past two weeks - the kind of busy that makes you feel guilty for taking a break to have lunch. But that has not prevented me from blog-hopping and reading most of the stuff around. If you have not already seen it, you should definitely check out Greatbong's latest offering - fantastic stuff. [My boss was so pissed-off when he saw me laughing my heart out while reading this blog that he gave me an additional truckload of work to do over the weekend. Note to self: Never look happy when you are neck-deep in shit]

And guys, in case you didn't know, tomorrow is International Women's Day. For something that started out as a thoroughly communist/trade unionist thing, it has certainly changed its face over the decades. It has become another milch cow for the greetings industry. They quickly realized that Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Sister's Day, Mistress' Day, Girl-next-door Day, etc had their limitations - they targeted certain segments of the population only. With something as generic as IWD, you could target 50% of the human population straight away. And the marketing ploy seems to be working - every day for the past week I am being assaulted with announcement of events associated with IWD and exhortations to gift something to my loved ones.

One particular announcement that caught my fancy was that of a quiz for women being conducted in Chennai called The Quest. There is a cash prize of Rs. 1 lakh for the winner! With a prize like that (huge, even by corporate quiz standards) I wish there was some way I could participate, even if it meant cross-dressing for a day. Women make such lousy quizzers that I would have had a very realistic chance of getting my hands on the booty (pun unintended).

It wouldn't have been too hard a job (the cross-dressing), I think, because for the first 2-3 years of my life, I practically went about dressed as a girl - nail polish, bindi and all. You see, all my cousins around me at that time were girls and I had to do so to fit in with the gang. The surviving photographs from those days still serves to embarrass me and also enliven family get-togethers. In fact, my mother constantly keeps telling me that she and my father wanted the first child to be a girl. It went to such lengths that I got gifts meant for a girl from a lot of people even up to my 2nd and 3rd birthdays. To add insult to injury, my sadistic aunts would dress me up in girl's clothes with dolls in hand and photograph me for posterity. It was only when I turned 4 years old and got an AK-47 toy gun for a gift that I was acknowledged to be a male in my family. As Mao Zedong once famously told his comrades, 'Power flows from the barrel of a plastic AK-47'. I guess as a kid he was also subjected to the same cruelties I was subjected to.

Now that I have accomplished the task of posting something, let me sign off my wishing all women and girls a Happy Women's Day. More social, economic and political power to you!