And the meek shall Inherit

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bhai Log aur Ek Behenji

Five of my favourite bloggers, Anand, Dilip, Shivam, Uma and Vikrum have started a new blog called ‘How the Other Half Lives’ which as the About section of the blogs details will illuminate the trials about the lives of the have-nots of our society. This is a small paragraph from the introduction of the blog

The vast number of homeless immigrants who pour into India’s metropolises every day and live in slums are the other half of a shining India. We know that India still remains deeply divided between its elites and its have-nots; a divide so great that much of the elite does not even see it, happily believing that the nation as a whole is on its way to superpower status. There is no doubt at all that economic liberalisation has helped a section of the economy, yet there is equally no doubt that there are faultlines in economic growth and equitability. Social rifts - such as those pertaining to caste and communal tensions - intersect in complex ways with the changing economic landscape.

This blog will attempt to explore that uncertain terrain. It will focus on the “other half” that is often ignored by a market-driven mainstream media. It will attempt to present a fuller picture of India and a fuller examination of issues of concern than what we normally see around us.

Personally I do not know any of these fine bloggers, but having read them for quite some time now, and having followed their writings and beliefs one comes away with the opinion that these are “good people”. You may disagree with some of their view point, feel melancholy at some of their writings, incensed at a few and agree with most of them. No matter what state of mind the writings leave you in, they will never disappoint you. Guaranteed. At least I haven’t been.

Go on and lap it up, fuzzball.

Friday, January 27, 2006

FPGEE

We had a great piece of news delivered to us yesterday. No, the stork ain’t coming visiting again. And no, we didn’t win the Mega Million lottery ticket, although it certainly feels like it. My better half Seema passed the first out of many exams towards becoming a licensed Pharmacist in the US of A. This exam is the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Exam (FPGEE) which is conducted by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, bi-annually, across 3-4 centers in the country.

She had written the exam in Chicago on Dec 3rd, 2005, and by all indications it seemed that she might not make it. So delirious was she after her exams that it was difficult for me and Sidharth to get her to shake off her blues. My suspicions were confirmed when I received her call last evening at work and she was sobbing uncontrollably over the phone. Putting my best benevolent spouse voice, I was getting ready to console her when she cries out “I’ve passed, I’ve passed”. For a second I misunderstood think she was going to pass out or something, not to mean that I have no confidence in my wife’s academic abilities, its just that she had led me to believe all along that she had fared terribly in her exams. So in a cautious tone I ask her again “What did you just say, you passed???”. She exults “Yes, yes, yes, I’ve really really passed the FPGEE with 83% marks”. Mind you, this is the only time I’ve got her to exult “Yes, yes, yes”. Ever!!!I nearly fell off my chair.

Thus ends an ordeal that we have jointly undergone for the past year or so, with a surprise happy ending that all of us didn’t quite anticipate. In fact, we were getting ready to send Sidharth back to day-care so that she could reinitiate her studies for the exams that take place in June. In Chicago. Well, I wouldn’t mind Chicago in the spring/summer. Lake Shore drive, Rush Street, Navy Pier, Soldier Field, much to do, much to see. It’s the winter that makes the windy City unbearable. But that’s not meant to be. La Dee Dum.....

She starts her internship now with a hospital or a local pharmacy like Walgreen or Rite Aid. The downside is that I have to be careful about picking my arguments with her, else I could find my dinners laced with laxatives, or worse!!! The upside is, free condoms. Oh yeah baby. Shagadellic!!!

So as Seema is giddy with happiness, happiness that has been accentuated by the fact that she was dreading repeating this dastardly exam all over again, happiness over the fact that she will get to spend more time with us without the constant worry of an exam looming on her mind, happiness that her 12-14 hours of studying every day, all the parties that she missed and the time that she couldn’t spend with her sonny boy have finally borne fruit (well, at least partially), happiness that in pursuit of the American dream this exam provides us additional financial security for our future and the future of our child. I’m just happy at the prospect of early retirement J)).

I’m so terribly proud of my wife.

Congratulations on your terrific achievement Mrs. Rao.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Freakonomics

Just finished reading this amazing book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, and have to admit that it was quite enlightening. Never had I thought about diverse associations like they have made in the book like abortion and crime rates, a person’s name and their social standing, the actual recidivism of the Ku Kluk Klan when compared to the environment of fear and hatred that they perpetrated, the statistics on perfect parenting, workings of a crack cocaine gang and much much more.

Half expecting charts and tables since this was a book about economic co-relations, I was pleasantly surprised that this book was a fast and interesting read. There are witty anecdotes in this book, hardly something that you expect from something as dry a subject like Economics. Serious economists like Michael Higgins or my buddy Atul may be dismissive of this book as ‘Economics Light’ or as ‘Economics for Dummies’ since it really just skims the surface of economic modeling, co-relations and the heavy duty stuff. But what it does is whet your appetite and forces you to think along lines of these quirky associations. Works for a layperson like myself.

There is a section in the book called ‘Why do drug dealers still live with their mom’s? which delves into the inner workings of a crack drug gang in Chicago, IL. Thanks largely due to the courage of one desi brother, Sudhir Venkatesh who collaborated with Steven Levitt on this paper, the financial dealings of the crack gang and its organizational hierarchy came under study. The resulting paper that evolved showed that a drug gang is no different from the corporate world, the spoils are divided in a pyramid structure with folks at the top of the pyramid raking most of the profits. Fascinating stuff. Thrown with the narrative is the story of JT, the drug boss and his rise in the organization.

Another section deals with names and a detailed breakdown of top 20 white male/female names and top 20 black male/female names and how society perceives the social background of a person, depending upon the name. Talking about names, growing up, with an uncommon moniker, has given yours truly many a sleepless nights because of incessant cruel bantering by classmates and kids at school, as hyper energetic kids are wont to torture. Spelt ‘Sourin’ but pronounced ‘Showerin’, there had been many a connotations of my name on the school playground with ‘So urine’ being one of the more popular ones. My only retort to this cruel taunt would be ‘Yes feces’ since narrating the “s” word meant spending time outside the principal’s office or raps with a cane on your bony buttocks. Bloody shit.

All in all reading this book was time well spent and I look forward to more simulating stuff from Levitt/Dubner. Next onto to Thomas Friedmans ‘The World is Flat’, which for some weird unknown reason is in heavy demand at the Rochester Hills library, since I’ve had it placed it on hold for about 5 weeks now. Well, all in good time. The sheer size of Shantaram has been a deterrent, despite raves by the wise ones and sundry.

I’m curious to know if any of you gentle readers have read ‘Freakonomics’ and your views about this intriguing book. Do let me know.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Polly Squeals and Slim Shady Kneels

Check out this story of how a pet parrot squealed on a guys girlfriend, thereby getting them separated. Apparently the girlfriend, Suzy, was cheating on this guy (Chris) and the parrot (Ziggy) picks up the boyfriends (Gary) name and kept repeating it over and over again. Not only did the girlfriend get shown the door, but Ziggy the parrot had to go too, since he couldn’t stop repeating the lover’s name in the girlfriend’s voice.

Imagine poor Chris, here he is, trying to get on with his life, get his girlfriend out of his mind and all, trying to get some self-love, by himself, for himself when the bird goes nuts squaking away ‘Oh yeah Gary, give it to me Gary,O yes Gary, yeah Gary….’. What’s a heartbroken, lonely guy supposed to do? Sorry Ziggy, you’re outta here!!!

How bad is it when you can’t even stop your bird getting a raise from parroting your rival’s name? Sheesh…maybe this guys needs a new pet. A pit bull maybe!!!

Last Saturday, Eminem remarried his ex-wife Kim, in a private ceremony, not too away from our house. The Meadow Brook Hall, the eighty-year-old mansion built for auto mogul John Dodge's widow, where Eminem got married, is supposed to one hellva mansion. We’ve never done the touristy walkthrough of this mansion, but I’ll take the word of the tourists who have.

Well, we would have attended the marriage, if only they would have had the function on any night other than our weekly grocery shopping day!!! They had great deals on garbage bags and milk at the local grocery. I also can’t stand 50 cents. He’s sooooo not raw. Whatever that means. And he wears his pants way too high. Now that’s not hip. I possible can’t get jiggy with it…Er, I mean, pants being way too high, not 50 cents.

Detroit is all geared up for Superbowl XL. Crime rate is drastically down in downtown Deroit. Only 3-4 out of 10 tourists will now supposedly get shot at. Rolling Stones will be performing at halftime. Greatttt…Fancy watching Mick Jagger’s testicle pop out on live TV! Ughhhh...Can you imagine anything worse? Hmmmm, maybe Aretha Franklin’s boob pop out on live TV. That should be one for the ages….

On another note, when Sidharth is asked ‘Sidharth, where are all your toys kept?’, depending on his mood, he promptly responds “Toy”let (Toilet). By myself, I would never have figured this association out. Never. And no, we don’t keep his toys in the toilet.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Moving On

On Jan 18th, 2006, at 5:49 PM, I tendered my resignation with my current employer, and have accepted an offer with a consulting behemoth, in hopes of a better future and enhancing my career opportunities. Despite looking ahead, towards a hopefully better future, I cannot but feel melancholic about my departure with the current employer.

For the past 10 years, for better or worse, I have been an employee of this firm, except for a 1 year hiatus in Melbourne, Australia. 10 years out of the 16 years in my professional life. That’s a long time, and the company has been good to me. It has provided me with decent opportunities and I have been well like and respected by my peers and superiors (well, at least that what I think !!!). So then what was the reason to leave, one might ask?

After 10 years, a sense of jaded monotony had set in, and there wasn’t anything dramatically new that I was learning in my current responsibility. The challenges didn’t seem insurmountable and the motivation, or rather lack of it, simply didn’t warrant continuity in the current work life. There were other external extenuating circumstances, which were beyond my control, which forced me to take a long term view of my professional life and move on. Hopefully, for the best. Only time will tell.

But how does one just walk away from 10 years of associations and camaraderie that you build up without feeling a tinge of sadness? All the battle scars to prove the wars that you fought with your team mates, office lunches and parties, sharing baby pictures and swapping spouse tyrannies, sports talks, the office grapevine stories, whining about the common foe viz. the top management, discuss goal/objectives in life, vacation stories and all those little things that make your work place just not work alone.

Someone must sure have calculated this, and I don’t have them handy, but most of your adult life and most of your conscious hours are spent with your colleagues and team mates. Your workmates may change over a period of time, but if they demand that much slice of your time, then they must be the most important associations that you are going to build in your lifetime.

For the most past, over the past 10 years, I’ve had fantastic rapport with my immediate bosses, including the current one. That’s what make it that much more difficult when you leave. It would be so much easier if the boss was an asshole, you could at least rub his face in the incredulity of your departure (assuming that your departure would mean greater impact to the organization). Not true when you have bosses that you respect and revere, in which case parting ways becomes that much conflicted.

Nevertheless, like all milestone decisions in life, only time will tell what the future holds for me. Until then I brood. Brood…brood.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Goodbye, Vinod Podar

Vinod always, is the life of the party. Vinod always, has been the facilitator of good times. With his quick wit, corny PJ’s and ready smile, he ensured that people around him had a good time, no matter however drab the party, outing or social gathering might be. Vinod is a catalyst, for laughter, mirth and a general feeling of bonhomie that leaves you with the feeling that all’s well with the world and that life is good.

Above all Vinod is an exceptional father, a good husband and a loyal friend (despite having jilted me on his volleyball team). Someone you want to be around with, in good times and in bad times. Ever dependable, helpful and full of positive energy.

So tomorrow Vinod is traveling back, to start a life in our motherland, India, to be at the service of his ageing parents, in India’s Silicon Valley, Bangalore. Oops Bengaluru, it is now. And we, our little social circle in Michigan, will be that much more poorer for laughter, silly jokes and corny one-liners. But life still goes on, albeit a little poorer.

We have know Vinod and Nita for over 5 years now. Not a terribly long period of time as far as life spans go, but its not the span of time, but rather the quality of time that one spends with people, that define relationships. We have been to countless picnics, parties, outings, boys night outs, volleyball games, temple functions and other gatherings that Vinod either has initiated or been an integral part of. He was key in organizing a blood drive, at the local temple, for a friend’s son who was dying of leukemia. He would compare birthday bashes and have the audience in splits, organize singing mehfils and have us drunk.

On weekends, much to the consternation of the better halves, we’d get roused to phone calls by Vinod, early in the mornings, for outdoor volleyball. He’s sign us up for leagues and competitions, where to our surprise, we’d fare not too shabbily. At least, for me, Vinod will always be associated with the summer time volleyball games he organized. And much fun we had, despite having to face the music when we’d return home late in the afternoon.

Over the past few weeks, as there have been multitudes of farewell dinners and parties for Vinod, the question that keeps popping in my head is: Are your friends the new family? This becomes more pertinent for NRI’s like me, living thousands of miles from my blood relatives.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents and siblings to death, but they are not close to my daily life. Thinking back, growing up in our society complex in Bombay, our neighbors knew us better than our relatives. They knew our lives, just as we knew theirs, inside out. Our illnesses, our school results, career plans, marriage plans, clothing/music/books preferences, were known intimately by our neighbors, almost as much as the family that you were living with. The neighbors were like an extended family, just like our friends circle here.

With the concept of a ‘global village’ becoming a reality now and professionals criss-crossing the globe with alarming regularity, the relationships that you grow and nurture with friends around us becomes of paramount importance. Just like all other relationships, one needs to take time and effort to cultivate these relationships, and let it grow. Have the best fun with the people around you, since you don’t know when they may be gone. All relationships end, just the time that they last for varies.

So this piece is dedicated to Vinod, for his warmth and his friendship, wishing him the best while he reasserts his identity in India, grappling with personal and professional panaceas, and thanking him for the memories that he leaves behind with us. Such is the capricious whims of life, that you can never really tell what you encounter next. Over the past years, I’ve fallen out of touch with close friends and rekindled acquaintances with old friends to restart the threads of our associations. But it never remains the same. Life happens, and you tend to move on. All you have are your memories.

So Vinod Podar, as you make your journey to a warmer land, land of bisibelebhat and aloo parathas, here’s goodbye, good luck and farewell. You shall be missed.

Dialogues from my one of my favorite movie ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ where Red (Morgan Freeman) describes Andy Dufrane (Tim Robbins), on his escapes from prison. Applies to Vinod as well, IMHO

               Those of us who knew him best talk 
               about him often. I swear, the stuff 
               he pulled. It always makes us laugh. 
 
        A wild burst of laughter. PUSH IN on Red. Feeling melancholy.
 
                               RED (V.O.) 
               Sometimes it makes me sad, though, 
               Andy being gone. I have to remind 
               myself that some birds aren't meant 
               to be caged, that's all. Their 
               feathers are just too bright... 
               ...and when they fly away, the part 
               of you that knows it was a sin to 
               lock them up does rejoice...but still, 
               the place you live is that much more 
               drab and empty that they're gone. 
 
        A DISTANT RUMBLE OF THUNDER. Red pauses, gazes off. Storm 
        clouds coming in, backlit by the sun. A light drizzle begins. 
 
                               RED (V.O.) 
               I guess I just miss my friend. 

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Blast from the past

Reminiscing about days gone by, I often think about my childhood days in Bombay, playing cricket and generally raising innocuous hell in the by lanes of the suburbia.

Thinking about those days, my thoughts unfailingly revert to the steady stream of hawkers and vendors who would frequent our society buildings to ply their wares. Now having lived outside India for a long period of time, I no longer am sure that these vendors are part of the current urban scenery. But , in my mind, they still live, and when viewed with sepia tinted recollections, they seem to jump out of a storybook like one of those RK Narayanan “Malgudi Days” or Tagore’s characters from one of their novels.

The Bi-Cycle Walla: Summer vacation was bicycle time. Hordes of kids, the amateurs and the experts would rent bicycles from the cycle rental shop and pedal away, on the streets, in maidans, in society compounds, on footpaths and generally whatever free space was available. The cycle shop owner became a VIP during these months, to be accorded due respect and never to be questioned about his choice of bicycle that he rents out to you.

Befriending the cycle shop owner meant he reserved the racers bike (the ones with the curved handles) for you. And that was, oh so cool. “Cutting” other kids on their bicycles, when the hind wheel of your bicycle grates against the front wheel of another, was considered playing foul. Inevitably the cycle getting “cut” would crash to the ground, thereby splatting the rider on the ground, leaving him/her, tasting dirt. "Cutting" a girl rider was that much better, since there would be crying, tears and much melodrama involved. Not to say that you could not elicit the same response for some of the "girly" boys as well.

The Curd and Buttermilk Walla: A “muchhad” bhaiya, carrying two aluminum pots, with curd in one pot and salty buttermilk in another. Much like Shravan, carrying his parents on pilgrimage. He would make his rounds in the mornings, everyday. Buttermilk on hot Indian summer afternoons. Manna from wherever....

Kalai Walla: This guy used to polish old brass and steel vessels. He had a miniature kiln on a hand cart, and all the housewives/servant girls would line up while he rotated the hand-motor of the kiln and place the disfigured vessels over burning coals and then smear kalai (polish) on it to render it sparkling. After the kalai, he would dip the smoking vessel in cold water, which would cause a loud “woosh” and a small cloud of steam would emanate from the bucket. I can still smell the aroma of freshly polished vessels.

Bhandi Walli: These women came around with wicker baskets full of aluminum vessels, which could be exchanged for old clothes. Many people feared that they were, in fact, scoping houses out for burglary or petty thievery. It was also rumored that they carried small children away, in the clothes bag, so it was best to stay away from the “Bhandi” walli.

Kulfi Walla: On sweltering summer nights, he would come with a large pot on his head, bellowing just "peee...." and small conical kulfis, kept chilled in aluminum tubes, served on a stick, to be devoured with lusty little licks. Ummmm…..simply divine. And it came only in one flavor. Milk.

Channa Chorgaram Walla: These were flattened channa (chickpeas), spiced with hot pepper and warmed by a small coal warm box. The ‘bhaiyya’ would sprinkle lime juice on the Channa Chorgaram before serving. The only downside was that the quantity served was way too less. Always kept us yearning for more. But with a purchase worth 10 paisa, what more could one expect.

Gola Sherbat Walla: Multi colored balls of ice shavings, with sugary sweet “chachni” on top for scorching summer afternoons, kaala khatta or gola-sherbats for cricket match breaks on school grounds or just plain ice shavings to beat the heat. He used to be the “coolest” one, with the ice blocks covered with sawdust and wrapped in cloth, the multi-hued syrup bottles lined along the cart and the ubiquitous bells that summons kids and adults flocking to his cart. “Chal yaar, gola sherbet peete hain” was a common phrase heard in response to the bell clanging across school compounds, maidans and street corners.

Fillum Show Walla: There were these guys who used to come around with boxes on their heads, atop which usually sat a toy monkey with clanging cymbals, while kids preened into the box through a round opening to gawk at pictures of movie actors, Taj Mahal, the moon and anything else that would capture a child’s fancy. Anyone remember those guys? They used to sing funny songs and make funny noises while playing this “alleged” phillum. I think the song “Dilli ka Kutub Minar dekho” has been picturised around one such contraption. The film was nothing but pictures that were pasted against a paper or cloth background and a twine would keep the screen rolling and the pictures would change. Ah, simple pleasures.

Maybe I’m old, or rather getting old, but sans video games, 24-hours TV broadcast, Pokemons and DVD/videos, these merchants were an integral part of our lives growing up. In ways, you would not believe.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Sick Bastard

This just nauseated me, when I read it this morning.

Check out the entire article from Mid-day here. Monster, indeed.

Link