Saturday, April 26, 2008

The South-East Oil Crisis

Kunz woke up at 12 noon - he likes to sleep late on Sundays. Still in his Jockey boxers, he started a semi-somnambular walk towards the kitchen, with a smile on his face. He'd been dreaming very nice dreams. Kunz in boxers (only) is not a sight you'd want to see first thing in the morning..or noon..or whatever time of you waking life. So when he bumped into me on the way, I was less than impressed.

"Geez man!, please don't touch me when you're practically nude. And put on some clothes, it's embarrassing having to watch you go around like this," I told him, shrinking away from his touch.

Kunz was not too happy either. The smile on his face had evaporated.

"What are you doing, sitting there in my way? Can't you move your chair a couple of centimetres to your right so that people can walk around this house without bumping into morons?" he asked and with that continued on his way to the kitchen.

I let the comment go because I was immersed in more important things - scrapping random girls on orkut, for example. I was just putting the finishing touches to one particularly good scrap when Kunz disturbed me with his skin show.

"There's nothing here to eat. I'm feeling hungry. WTF did you do with all the bananas I'd bought," Kunz shouted from the kitchen.

"There's a bag of green chilies next to the stove. Eat that for now," I replied, evading the question of what happened to the bananas.

"Hi thr, if u r intrstd in my fraanship pl add me as ur frnd. Ur foto is very butiful [:)]," Kunz was reading out my special scrap over my shoulder. I hadn't realized that he'd returned from the kitchen.

"Hey, that's personal stuff!" I told him, trying to cover the screen with my hand.

"Oh yeah! I would like to know what is so personal about an Orkut scrapbook. You are so pathetic! Hitting on girls like that on orkut - have some self-respect."

He was right, of course. But I knew just the answer to make him shut up for good.

"I know, da [*]. But what to do? Orkut is my only chance to get a girlfriend. I don't have the skills required to pataofy girls like you do. If only you'd teach me how to do it; I wouldn't have to denigrate myself doing this stuff."

That worked like a charm. He went back to bed to continue dreaming about Sona, Mona, Teena and the many other girls in his life [**] who, I'm sure, he was dreaming about before being woken up by the bump.

What woke up Kunz again was a hissing sound from the kitchen. As the smell of mustard oil wafted into Kunz's nostrils, he sat bolt upright and said, "Food."

Kunz considered the smell of mustard oil to be the official fragrance of Bengal (he maintains that the Communist Party distributes perfumes with mustard fragrance to its cadre, although a search for it on google didn't show up any results). And according to him, since Bengal is what heaven would smell like, mustard oil was the most heavenly smell on earth. Sniffing like a Labrador on the trail of a bone, Kunz made his way to the kitchen. DK had already made his world famous pulao and rajma.

"Hmm...smells divine," Kunz said. "Not like the horse-shit you get when you cook with coconut oil."

The last part of the sentence was delivered at a decibel level calculated to make sure that I heard it. No Mallu worth his drop of coconut oil could let a comment like that pass. But there were other thoughts in my mind - you see, I'd got this rather raunchy sounding girl on Messenger and she was promising me things which I'd only dreamed about till then. Mallu Pride or Raunchy Latino - that was the question.

After much deliberation, I realized that in the war between mustard oil and coconut oil, I was the last line of defence. The weight of the entire Mallu population was resting on my shoulder. Raunchy Latino could wait a few minut.... seconds.

So I made my way to the kitchen to restore hurt Mallu pride. Kunz's eyes turned towards me the moment I entered the kitchen. He was expecting a good fight and I was in a mood to give it to him.

"The next time you say anything about coconut oil, I'll fry your brains in it and feed it to the street dogs," I said.

"The dogs will cover their noses and run away."

"That's because they won't like the smell of your rotten brain, not because they don't like coconut oil."

DK was not enjoying this exchange. The only thing he cared about was lunch.

"Cut it out, guys. Are you going to eat this or not? I'm really hungry," DK said.

Kunz looked at me and said, "I'll give a reply to that after lunch."

I was more than happy to oblige. Food was more important than anything else.

Next day evening, as I was beating Kunz as usual in tennis, I couldn't help rubbing some salt into his wounds.

“You know, if you would use coconut oil instead of mustard oil, you would be a little bit better at tennis. Not better than me, of course. But a little better than the two left feet you are now."

No reply. The defeat had really got to him.

"How do you think Kerala produces such fine athletes? P T Usha didn’t win all those medals by drinking mustard oil. It’s coconut oil and fish, dear friend.”, I continued with no apparent hint of friendliness.

I was surprised that Kunz looked confused instead of angry, as if he was trying to figure out answers to some profound questions about the cosmos.

“Bengalis eat fish too, you moron”, he replied after some time.

It was then that I realized my mistake.

Thinking hard to correct my mistake I said, “Of course, you eat fish. But you cook it in mustard oil. So that screws up the fish. Besides, Bengalis eat fresh-water fish. It doesn’t have as much Omega-3 fatty acids as sea-fish”.

“That’s the biggest load of bullshit I’ve heard in my entire life. Apparently eating a lot of Omega-3 fatty acid-rich sea-fish cooked in coconut oil hasn’t made you any smarter. But look at us Bengalis - Rabindranath Tagore and Amartya Sen, both Nobel Prize winners; J C Bose and S N Bose were world-renowned scientists; India’s only Academy Award winner, Satyajit Ray, is also a Bong. How many coconut oil-using world-renowned scientists, Nobel Prize winners and Oscar awardees do you know?”

I wanted to say that it couldn’t be mustard oil that’s behind Bengalis being smart. Sardars also use mustard oil - but look at how many Santa-Banta jokes are going around. But I wasn’t sure whether Sardars used mustard oil. I didn’t want another argument to backfire and lose my face again. I made a point to check with my colleague Sardar Singh before proceeding along those lines.

That conclusively settled the debate on the court. My efforts to restore coconut oil to its exalted position had backfired.

The next day I checked with Sardar Singh about the correlation of mustard oil and intelligence of sardars. I had to be rescued from drowning in the water closet by sympathetic friends.

A week after that, my supply of coconut oil got over. Surprisingly, I didn't have the urge to buy another packet of coconut oil. Not only had I got used to mustard oil, I had (most shamefully) started liking its taste too. I now feel like a traitor, a defector who was ensnared by the enemies using pleasures that lesser mortals like myself simply couldn't resist.

So if you see me tucking into fish smothered in mustard paste and wrapped in banana leaf at "Hotel Annapoorna - Reputed Bengali Hotel" in Egmore, please show a little sympathy before you proceed to eliminate me from the face of the earth for betraying my Mallu brethren.

The Raunchy Latino turned out to be a guy.


* [For a long time after coming to Chennai, Kunz thought that the south Indian 'da' was a variation of the Bengali 'da' - a way of respectfully addressing one's elder brother. So he went around calling everyone 'da' till one day he came and asked us why he was getting nasty stares when addressing people. From then on, we started respectfully calling him 'da'.]

** [A little bit on Kunz's background here would be of immense help to you. Kunz is an alumnus of a great school in Kolkata called La Martiniere. A typical La Mars guy would have done enough to father a couple of kids before finishing school. By Kunz's age now, he would be almost living a retired life. The place where these guys took their baby steps in this direction was the playground separating La Mars Boys and La Mars Girls which, in Kunz's own words, "has seen many great rugby scrums". He now says that he was actually talking about rugby matches. I refuse to believe it because it spoils my story.]

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Vidharbha, So Not Shining

The tragedy of Vidharbha is not just that hundreds have been forced to commit suicide because of the crisis in the agricultural sector - it is also that a lot of the people who matter continue to bury their heads in the ground and maintain that there is nothing wrong. But worse of all is the fact that many people continue to spout fantastic theories about how this situation has been manufactured by the farmers of Vidharbha and how they are cheating the administration.

Consider Mohammed Wajihuddin's article in the Times of India on Apr 6th titled 'A Crop Called Suicide' for instance. Here's a quote from the article:

Yavatmal's Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) reads the figures aloud. In 2005, 92 farmers committed suicide. In 2006, the figure jumped to 196. He couldn't supply the number for 2007, but sources peg it at over 200. The sharp increase in the number of suicides after 2005 gives a clue. During the December 2005 winter session of the state assembly in Nagpur, chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had announced the Rs one lakh relief for the families of farmers who committed suicide due to severe debt.
His point is clear - families are passing off otherwise 'normal' deaths and suicides as debt-related ones to claim relief money (and hence the sharp increase in numbers). Firstly, the official numbers reported in government documents is hardly indicative of the scale of problems in Vidharbha. Till Deshmukh made the announcement of the Rs. 1 lakh relief, the Maharashtra government was in denial about the problems in Vidharbha (later the Chief Minister of the state, in fact, went so far as to call the cotton farmers of Vidharbha lazy and blamed them for the crisis). Prior to 2005, many suicides which were agricultural debt-related were recorded otherwise. In fact, in 2005, the Maharashtra Govt. admitted that the number of farmer's suicides since 2001 had crossed 1000 (an average of 250 deaths per year), a number arrived at mostly from reports in local newspapers. So much for the ACP's books showing 92 suicides in 2005. In choosing to quote statistics that they want to believe, people like Wajihudeen are ensuring that more farmers would be forced to take the extreme step in the absence of any meaningful efforts to solve the crisis.

Even if the statistics were true, his argument suffers from at least a couple of logical fallacies - confusing correlation with causation is one. An increase in officially recorded farmer suicides after the government announces relief does not imply that more suicides were reported because of the relief package. Increase in the number has a far simpler reason than the one Wajihuddin believes - deepening agrarian crisis. The more a farmer is in debt, the harder he finds it to raise a crop the next year. With prices of the crop falling and rising inflation, his problems are compounded. Logically speaking, even if the situation were to remain exactly the same year after year, the farmer's life would become increasing difficult in the absence of financing, drop in incomes and mounting interest of previous loans.

No scheme is foolproof and there definitely would have been cases of people claiming money for non-debt related deaths. However, attributing increases in the number of farmer's suicides to this alone shows unbelievable insensitivity in dealing with issues of such nature.

Here's another anecdote that he claims supports his theory:

On January 2, 2006, 58-year-old Ramji Rathod of Irthal village in the Yavatmal district went to Bhadegaon, three kilometres away, to meet his relatives. While returning, he strayed from the paved road and took a short-cut through the jungles. He was later found dead in an abandoned well. The case was reported as suicide by his family. "Why would he choose to jump into a well which was three kilometers away from his house when he could have easily killed himself by swallowing pesticide," says a television journalist who covers the region. [Emphasis added]
I have only one answer to that question – he did it for the same reasons that makes a man climb to the top floor of a building to jump down and commit suicide when "he could have easily killed himself by swallowing pesticide" on the ground floor.

PS: Having spent 4 years of my life in Nagpur ('capital' of Vidharbha), I couldn't help posting about this after reading yesterday's editorial in The Hindu about how even the recent waivers by the Central government is not going to improve life in the rural areas of Vidharbha. It just seems to go on and on and nobody seems to understand the problem, except for the highly respected Magsasay Award winner P. Sainath. His articles have been the source of most of my information. For a complete collection of articles by him, visit India Together.

Friday, April 18, 2008

8 Random Facts

The Most Famous Dutchman from Kerala, Njan van Kalip (aka Mathew) tagged me last July. It was van Kalip times for me then, so couldn't take it up. Now, after what seems like eternity, I'm taking up the tag.

1. Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.
2. People who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.
3. At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment and tell them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
4. If you fail to do this within eight hours, you will not reach Third Series or attain your most precious goals for at least two more lifetimes.

So here goes:
1. I don't sleep in the afternoons. Even in office, maa kasam. In college, I used to be the only one awake for the 2 pm Thermodynamics classes. However, this is valid only under one condition - I need at least 5 hours of sleep the night before.
2. I have an extremely high threshold of pain. Once, after a minor surgery on my calf, the doctor was supposed to do something which involved a very painful procedure (what he did escapes my memory and I was not under anesthesia). After 'the thing' got over, the doctor told my father in an astonished voice that I was the first person he had seen in his entire medical career who hadn't hollered during 'the thing'.
3. The character in FRIENDS that I identify with most is Monica.
4. I absolutely love movies, music and books. All three of them across a wide range of genres. And yes, I like rock and heavy metal. However among the three, I'm most choosy about books, probably because there is a lot of time invested in reading a book. So I don't read Alistair McLeans and John Grishams now, but enjoy watching a crappy movie like Jodhaa Akbar once in a while.
5. When I was in 4th standard, my parents discovered that I had a tolerable ability to sing without going off-key too many times. So they engaged a music tutor to torture me 3 evenings a week with classical music when all the neighbourhood kids were running amok. I protested this imprisonment - what could be more important than playing? After a year or so, parents agreed to free me. But they said something which I will remember for the rest of my life - that I'd regret not continuing with the classes later on in life. I sure do regret it now. Advice to kids : Parents are not right all the time, but they are right 99% of the time.
6. There is not a game or sport in the world I've not tried my hand at (except fencing and equistrian). Ok, I exaggerate. But you get the point, right? Football, basketball, volleyball, cricket, tennis, table tennis, swimming, badminton, hide and seek, cops and robbers, etc, etc, etc.
7. My favourite subjects in school were History, Physics and Geography.
8. I can't make up my mind whether I like tea or coffee more. When I was a kid and and wouldn't be given coffee, I would pine for it. I looked forward to train journeys because I loved the coffee they served on trains then and it was the only time I'd be allowed a sip. [Now they serve crap in boiled water, or it could be that I've outgrown the coffee on trains] Later on, I shifted allegiance to tea, mostly on account of fantastic tea that appa made. In college, I found coffee depressing. Now, after a year of constant intake of the Madras filter kaapi, I can't get through a day without my caffeine fix.

So there you have it, 8 random facts about myself. Now it comes to tagging a few people and here is where the apprehension sets in. Considering the fact that most of the people I know on blogosphere are still recovering from a tag that went around, I don't think it'll be appropriate to tag them again so soon. So let me end this one right here and incur the wrath of the blog daivangal for 7 generations to come.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I Am Not Sidin Vadukut

As the man himself would say, this is not one of those existential angsty statements. It's merely a cheap attempt at getting more hits on my blog by misleading people when they google for Sidin.

However, that doesn't explain everything. I could have done an 'I am not Sidin Vadukut' post when I started out blogging itself, when I was desperate for eyeballs (that doesn't mean I'm not desperate now, it just means I was more desperate then). The timing of this post also means something. Yes, it does. The New Indian Express ran an article on April 10th about funny Mallu blogs. Guess who made it to the top 5? No, wrong question; guess who didn't make it to the top 5? That's right, 10 points to you for guessing Sidin. Now we come to the easier question – guess who made it to the list? What, no one has the answer? I mean, you guys seem to know every time Sidin so much as picks his nose. You know that Sidin hasn't made it to the list, but don't know who has made it? Ok, I guess I'm reduced to doing my own trumpet blowing (no puns intended, you naughty people!). Yours truly - yes, that's me – made it. You, dear reader, can stop snickering now – I'm blowing my trumpet only and no reporter's trumpets were touched (if that's how you think I made it to the list).

The obvious thing left for Sidin to do now is to go into introspection and seriously analyze what went wrong. I mean, his vociferous fans will keep saying that any list of bloggers that doesn't include Sidin is a farce, but that is akin to supporters of Saurav Ganguly protesting his exclusion from the Indian team. The root cause lies somewhere else and the earlier he realizes that, the earlier he will be able to get into the elite list and see his name alongside mine. For starters, he could analyze his commitment to blogging which, in my humble opinion, has really slackened after his marriage. It's time he decided whether naughty-naughty stuff with missus or blogging is more important. A hastily, but exquisitely written Life is a Beach in 3 parts [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] is not quite enough, especially when he made readers wait on tenterhooks for the next part. It almost made me feel like our maid Marykutty waiting for the next episode of the payinkili novel. The only difference was that Marykutty's next episode came in a week while we had to wait for 3 months.

The sycophants around Sidin will keep telling him that it's an inconsequential piece in a newspaper that most people don't know even exists written by a reporter who was too bored to write about anything else. They'll also try telling him that it is not even a list of the funniest Mallu blogs – it's just a list of funny blogs that the reporter could find. What a lousy excuse for not doing a thorough check...damn these lazy reporters! This is not to say that the results would have been any different had he done a thorough survey.

Considering the amount of similarity between Sidin and me, I think he shouldn't lose hope. In fact, the similarities are so many that I'm seriously considering changing the title to 'I am Sidin Vadukut'. Consider, for example, the fact that both of us are alumni of NITs/RECs outside Kerala and also the fact that both of us worked in auto companies after finishing our engineering education. In fact, my surname rhymes with his and we both have the same number of I's in our first name. If you think such things are not important, then you should talk to the Jumaaaaniiis who will set right any misconceptions you have about the effect of the number of I's on planetary orbits. Also, we are both fans of William Dalrymple. Ok...ok, I may be reading my first Dalrymple now and may not have finished it, but you've got to admit that The Last Mughal is a really fat book and a half finished Darlymple is the equivalent of my entire Mills and Boons Robert Ludlum collection in terms of scholarliness.

Have I given the link to the article I've been talking about? Yes? Even then, here it is again. Sidin and Sidin fans, read it (again) and weep.

Now, you may please proceed to the comments section. But before you Sidin fans write anything there, please bear in mind that this is not the Rediff message board and this is an article meant to be humorous. To make it more explicit, I'm not even considering taking Sidin's name in the same breath as mine. If you still don't get it, please go ahead and comment. At least it'll be more humorous than the article itself.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Phlipside’s Guide to Chennai Autos

Everybody knows that autos in Chennai don't run by the meter. What this means is that the average auto trip involves a lot of haggling. However, people who are used to bargaining and sometime even enjoy it (especially people from North India) will definitely not enjoy the experience of Chennai autos. The reason being that up in the North bargaining is a two-way thing and if you bargain well, you have a chance of ending up on the winning side whereas in Chennai, there is only the losing side for commuters like you and me.

Chennai auto drivers will refuse a ride that doesn't give them at least 1.5 times the amount they should be legitimately getting. Such stubborn bargaining is baffling at first, because it means that the auto driver wouldn't be getting many rides in a day. Auto drivers elsewhere would be looking to spend as much of their working day on rides so as to maximise their returns for the time they spend on work. It's only after you've watched them in action for some time that you begin to realize their strategy - "why work hard when I can make more money being lazy?"

Their strategy works this way. Let's say it takes Rs. 30 to get from point A to point B. The auto driver demands 60. The commuter tries to bargain, but none of the auto drivers are willing to go for anything less than 60. About half the people decide not to take an auto and look for alternate transportation (mostly a combination of walking and buses). The other half, tired and desperate, agrees to go for Rs. 60. So, although the auto driver has lost half his business, he still ends up being better-off. He has got the equivalent of 2 rides by spending the time, fuel and effort required for just one. He has also gained in terms of opportunities for getting more rides by spending more time lying idle (from which he can pick and choose the customers willing to pay more), not to mention lesser wear and tear and maintenance costs for the vehicle.

Another aspect is the distance - Chennai auto drivers prefer shorter rides to longer ones. The drivers can get away with charging Rs. 40 for a Rs. 20 ride, but they cannot charge Rs. 200 for a 100 rupee ride. Their profit percentage is higher for shorter rides than for longer ones. This was candidly admitted by an auto driver who said that he could get 3 short rides to the place I wanted to go and make double of what I was willing to give him for the full distance.

Faced with such ground realities, here are some suggestions to make the process less excruciating:

1. Know exactly where you are going. Auto drivers (AD) will test you to know whether you know the place and decide how much they can overcharge. If you sound unsure about the place, prepare to get robbed.

AD: Where do you want to go, saar?

Me: Residency Hotel.

AD: Residency or Residency Towers? (although both of them are practically next to each other on the same road and won't make a difference to the auto driver).

Me: (Trying to figure out which one) Hmm... I think it is the Residency.

AD: They are very far away from each other, saar. It's also on a one-way, so if that is not the hotel you want to go, then I'll have to go all the way around T. Nagar, saar.

[At this point, while I'm hesitating and figuring out what to do, the AD has already figured me out as a total stranger to the city, someone who can easily be taken for a ride.]

2. Find out the closest landmarks to the place you want to go to. In Chennai, that means some building or police station or hotel or obscure movie theatre that the auto drivers are familiar with. Don't worry, everybody in Chennai knows about this penchant of auto drivers for the 'landmark' thing. So feel free to ask people for landmarks near the place you are going to. Preferably, keep a list of 2-3 landmarks because the auto driver may act dumb on the first landmark (trying to figure out your rip-off factor). If that happens, go to the next one on your list, effectively sending out a clear message to the driver that you know where you are going.

[Pardon the digression, but did you know that the Landmark stores started in Chennai? I'm sure the name has something to do with this 'need' for landmarks in Chennai. Once, when my friend was trying to direct me to a Café Coffee Day in Nungambakkam, I asked him for a landmark. To this, he replied very matter-of-factedly that it is right opposite the Landmark which, incidentally, was their first store in the country (the one in Nungambakkam)]

3. Find out the distance to the place you are going. The distance multiplied by 6 (Rs. 6 per km)will give you the amount you should paying the AD. A trusted guide in this matter is The database for Chennai is pretty comprehensive and it will give you the distance and direction between most of the bus stands, railway stations, schools, parks, road junctions and the like, though I don't know how good it is for other cities. I tried checking out Trivandrum, and found that it's not as comprehensive as Chennai.

Knowing the actual distance is your trump card in bargaining with the auto driver. They work on the assumption that people generally don't know the distances. Even if you have a rough idea, it's not going to help.

AD: Saar, 100 rupees, saar.

Me: 100 rupees from here to Adyar? It's only 6 km from here!

AD: What are you saying, saar? If it is only 6 km, I'll take you there for free. Come, sit inside. I'll put the meter and we'll see. But if it comes above 6 km you have to give me 100 rupees.

When confronted with this, normal people become slightly apprehensive and start doubting - "after all, the AD has offered to take me to my destination free of cost if my info is correct. He wouldn't do it if he wasn't confident that the distance was more than 6 km, would he? Besides, the AD would have a better idea of distances than me."

The only way to call the bluff of the ADs is to know the actual distances. I've done it twice - I waited for the guy to say the line and as soon as he said it, I jumped inside the auto and said, "Ok, set the meter. Let's go. But no cheating - go via Panagal Park." In both cases, the AD realized that I'd called his bluff and revised his demand to a more reasonable one.

4. Flag down the running autos and not the ones lying idle in the auto stands. The running autos are normally the ones looking for a ride (probably returning after making a killing) and hence are more amenable to reasonably priced rides. The auto drivers lying around idle in their autos will refuse a ride if it's not going to fetch him at least double the meter rate for reasons explained in the beginning.

5. If you are in a position to take a bus or train, please do yourself a favour and take the bus/train. Buses in Chennai are very reliable and cover every nook and corner of the city. If not for the peak-hour rush and the slightly rickety nature, buses in Chennai are a joy, not to mention incredibly cheap. Trains are even better, although the coverage is lesser than that of buses. However, be warned – bus services effectively stop by 10 pm.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Residence Evil

Are you unmarried?

Are you non-Hindu?

Are you non-vegetarian?

Are you non-Tamilian?

Do you smoke or drink?

If your answer to any of those questions is yes, then you'd better not come to Chennai in search of a job, because you are not going to get a house to live in. And if your answer to all the above questions was yes then, according to the prevailing moral standards among landlords in Chennai, you should be locked up in a deep dark dungeon without ever having the opportunity to corrupt the society by coming into contact with it.

A little over a year ago when we were house-hunting in Chennai we thought we'd never get a house. Even though we were willing to pay outrageous sums of money as monthly rent and advance, many of the landlords would simply not let us set foot inside their 'To Let' houses. The major problem, I realized, was my bachelorhood. That reminds me of a joke.

Q: What is worse than a bachelor staying in your house?

A: 4 bachelors staying in your house. (Haha..)

Now try this one:

Q: What is worse than 4 bachelors staying....(Oh.. cut it out, you say. It's not funny? Well you have no sense of humour, sir!)

For most of the people, it wasn't just the bachelor thing that was bothersome - it was also the fact that the 4 of us came from 4 different states and spoke 4 different languages, none of which was Tamil. Even more worrying for them were the low percentage of Hindus in our group (50% non-Hindus) and an even lower percentage of vegetarians (100% non-vegetarian). In fact, most of the rental ads you would see in Chennai come with the standard 'vegetarians only' clause.

However, I must admit that there were some people who were willing to overlook such unpardonable crimes - for 20% extra, of course. Most of these landlords were the ones who had cut their teeth during the initial days of the IT boom and knew that 4 earning tenants in the rented house translated to higher rent-paying potential. Sadly, even these landlords had certain conditions.

"No smoking, no drinking and no girls in the house," they kept telling us like parrots. "Good families staying all around. They wouldn't like it."

Most of these landlords would have gargantuan beer bellies which wouldn't have seen a dry day since attaining puberty and I swear I have seen some of them taking a puff from their half finished Navy Cut after those words come out.

There was no way we could agree to such restrictions because my roommates had all the three sins covered between them (I'm a nice boy, in case you are wondering. Besides, I think my father reads my blog.)

Working against such seemingly insurmountable odds, we finally did manage to find a house. And ironically, the only reason we got that house was because I was a Christian. The landlord of my house had kept the house locked for a year rather than rent it out to any non-Christians. Of course, he would have preferred to give it to a Christian family; but since none was forthcoming, we (only 50% Christian!) got it. Speaks volumes about the religious orthodoxy of Chennai, doesn't it?

And while we are at it, take the time to go through Krish Ashok's piece on the same subject. I had this post in the pipeline for too long now and could finish it only after reading Krish's post.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy

Back in my first year of engineering college, we had to undergo that all-important rite of passage called ragging. During those days, college authorities around the country had started cracking down on ragging inside college campuses. However, our campus was more or less immune from such distracting external influences. Raggers could carry on in peace as long as they ensured that the frachas (fresher + bacha) didn't end up in a hospital or mental institution.

There were certain rituals associated with being a first year student. Till we were made 'free', we had to be in a seniors-enforced dress code outside our hostels. Whenever we came across a senior on campus, we had to follow the ritual of wishing him/her. We were never to look directly into the face of a senior – we had to follow the 3rd button rule (the only place we could look was the 3rd button of our shirt). Whenever we were asked something, we had to first apologize for having to subject him to our foolish answers, then give an introduction (an 'intro' typically runs to about 3-4 minutes and includes such details as your name, branch, tech baap's name, room baap's name, 'score', 'history' etc.) and only then proceed to give him/her an answer. [Score is the number of slaps that you have received on that day; history is the number of slaps you were lucky to get since you set foot on campus]. During all this, one had to be extra careful to always mention full names, always address seniors as 'sir'/'madam', never speak without being spoken to and never give your opinion on anything, even if asked for it (we were supposed to say, "As you wish, sir"). The consequence of not showing such basic courtesy towards a senior was an increase in one's score.

Apart from these rituals, we had the real ragging. One of the unwritten rules of ragging was that only seniors from your state would rag you. So I was spared the ragging from psychopath Gulti and Rajasthani seniors. As long as I kept them happy with the 3rd button look and 'Excuse me, sir. Good morning, sir', they didn't bother me. Luckily for us Mallus, the seniors from Kerala were a more enlightened lot and had a sense of humour. While our Gulti batch mates were doing the Jugnu dance* in the next room, we were subjected to much lesser tortures - like controlling our laughter, for instance. People who failed to do so were punished with a 50-page assignment. You could even say that looking back I find the whole experience very funny. Some ragging events stand out and whenever I and my batch mates get together these are the incidents that we invariably end up remembering and laughing about.

Cricket in Warangal station and the soapbox mobile phone

On our first vacation after joining college, we were coming back home in Kerala Express. Unfortunately for us, our seniors also happened to be going home in the same train. Needless to say, we were subjected to a lot of ragging on our journey home. Imagine playing cricket in a crowded railway station platform. Now imagine playing cricket in a crowded railway station platform without a bat or ball! I looked like a total fool as I ran in to bowl full throttle (after polishing the shiny side of the imaginary cricket ball in my hand, of course) and was apparently hit for a six with a non-existent bat by Puli as Dino kept up a running ball-by-ball commentary.

As if that wasn't humiliating enough, I had to constantly keep getting status update on how late the train was running by calling up the station master of the next station. And all I had to make the phone call was a soap box. Making phone calls with soap boxes is not easy. Our seniors were not happy with me sitting in my seat and making the phone calls as they felt that the phone wouldn't remain in range if I remained stationary (The train is moving, remember? So as to nullify the effect of the motion of the train, I had to walk in the opposite direction! Our seniors had the concept of relative velocities right). So I had to walk up and down the compartment talking loudly to imaginary people through my soap box throughout the length of the journey spanning the better part of 2 days.

50 ways to 'Do it yourself'

Remeber those dreaded 50 page assignments I wrote about? Well, those sometimes came as other variants. One of the most interesting of those was making a list of 50 ways to masturbate. If you think making that list is easy, try making one yourself! We raced to number 10 or 12, but from there on it was an uphill struggle. The difficulty in coming up with a new one went up exponentially as the number increased. We practically did a survey of all the guys in our hostel to come up with the list.

Further happiness came about a couple of weeks before when I read this and this**. It made me happy to note that some of the things that we put down weren't so outrageous that it couldn't be tried.

Thandavam, starring Mohanlal and Shakeela

It all started when one of our seniors asked Dino what movies he saw while he was home during the vacation. Dino replied that he saw Thandavam, but didn't like it because it didn't have a half decent story. The senior wasn't someone to let such opportunities pass. So he gave us the task of rewriting the script of Thandavam. Our only brief was that it had to include Shakeela, everything else could be tinkered around with. 2 sleepless nights later, we had in our hands a script as voluminous as the siren herself, which included scenes of thunderstorms and wet saris. I'm pretty sure it would have made for a better movie than Thandavam.

In writing that script, I wrote and rewrote more pages in Malayalam than I had done in my entire life till then. That soft-porn script gave me the confidence to read the works of the masters of Malayalam literature which I'd never attempted till then (even though my Malayalam reading-writing ability was decent).

Moods, please

Have you seen the Moods condoms ad that used to be shown in the late '80s and early '90s on good old Doordarshan? It features a man who wants to buy condoms, but is too embarrassed to ask for it at the chemist's. So he stammers and stutters his way through his shopping list without being able to convey what he wants to buy. Then an ultra cool hypersexual male walks in, slams his hand on the counter and says, "Moods please". The shopkeeper looks at the man with respect in his eyes and gives him his packet of Moods condoms.

Our most memorable ragging happened along these lines. We were supposed to buy condoms, but not in any way that we wanted to do it - we had to act out the whole commercial at the shop. One of the seniors would be at the counter buying some inconsequential thing to ensure that the whole thing was enacted in exactly the same way as directed.

At the counter, after the "Moods please" got over, the shopkeeper looked at us disinterestedly and asked, "Which type?"

Dino and I looked at each other in a moment of panic. How the hell were we supposed to know which 'type'? We thought condoms just came in one-size-fits all standard packs of the same thing.

"Normal type," squeaked Dino, all the confidence of the 'Moods please' now a distant memory.

The shopkeeper understood our plight and with a smile explained, "Dotted, ribbed, flavoured...?"

We again looked at each other, barely managing to hide our surprise. We knew what each other was thinking – "Flavoured? WTF"

5 minutes later, we had a bag full of condoms – one pack of each type.

*Jugnu dance: All of the frachas were put in a room and asked to strip. All their clothes were put in a box and shuffled. The lights of the room were switched off and the naked frachas were given a minute to find their clothes from the box and dress. They were told of horrible things that would happen to them if they failed to find their clothes and dress in time when the lights were switched on. However, the lights would be switched on well before the stipulated minute was over. The resultant sight was a very entertaining one for the seniors. The frachas, in their desperate attempt to dress up whichever way they could in the dark, would end up looking like clowns. Fights are known to have broken out between frachas in their struggle for any piece of clothing that they could lay their hands on – invariably laying their hand on somebody else's piece of clothing.

**After reading this article about Henry Hoover being violated, imagine my surprise when I came across a song called 'Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy' by Glen Hansard from the soundtrack of Once! Now you know the reason behind the title of this post.