And the geek shall Inherit

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Sidharth High School Graduation - 6th Jun 2021


Sat Jun 6th, 2021 was a pretty momentous day for our family. Our firstborn Sidharth graduated from high school and will make his way into the world of college, independent living (hopefully) and relinquish the last vestiges of childhood, and crawl toward the mirage of adulthood (again, hopefully). Apart from the momentous moments of our children coming into this world, first words/steps, etc., this day was as big as they come, one that I hope to remember in slo-mo when I relive all my key life epoch moments, in my head.

Troy High School organized an awesome event for the High School graduation, at the DTE Music Theater in Clarkston. The event was supposed to start at 9AM, but the kids were supposed to report at 8AM for logistics, etc. So all of us arose early at 6AM, prettied ourselves with our Sunday best, left the poor pup in the crate, and headed to the venue. It was a beautiful day, though it did get a tad hotter later in the day, the day started out impeccably weather-wise. Handing out and managing diplomas for 525 graduates is a massive undertaking, which the school organized without a glitch. The venue was packed with about 1000-1500 parents, grandparents, and guests in attendance. Most of them, sans masks and of course no social distancing protocols, were followed. Score one for herd immunity!!!

We had pretty good seats, a few rows behind where the fresh new graduates were seated. The event began with testimonials about their graduation from the school alumni. Amongst other testimonials what stood out most was some ex-student advising the graduated to go thru life with kindness. Be kind he said, to your friends, teachers, siblings, parents, and mostly to yourself. Of course, there were many other good ones, but this one spoke to me the most. And then the procession began for handing out the diplomas and the kids walked away with that piece of paper in their hands that they’d worked twelve years and one that would propel them into the next phase of their lives, viz. college.

It was an emotional time as I sat there looking at these young graduates thinking that many of them will go and change the world for the better. Maybe some of them will find ways to manage the environmental destruction better or end wars, end poverty or even end sickness. The world is their oyster and within their grasp for the young. I feel that Sidharth could sense this profound life lesson lecture coming to him on the ride back home, so before he got dragged back home with the parents, he jumped into his friends' car, and off they went to Cranbrook gardens to click pictures with their group. The festivities ended with a family lunch at Maggianos, after which we were in a food coma for pretty much the rest of the weekend.

I’m not sure where the past 18 years of our lives have flown by and while I wish the very best for Sidharth over the next four years and beyond, but if he takes just one piece of advice from the ceremony, he’ll be well served and forever happy in life: BE KIND.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

 Barbershop – The way we were

With all the grim news of death and devastation coming out of India these days, I need to go dig back to simpler times. To remember my city when things were sparse,  seemingly innocent, and unencumbered by the trappings of technology. During those glorious times, at least in my aging nostalgic memories of  “How Green was my Valley”. Hoping for some levity with this narrative, during these dour times.

Growing up in Vile Parle, Mumbai circa the mid-70 and ’80s, there were a bunch of “bhaaiya” barbers congregated around a tree outside the railway station. They’d wait for customers and had a small foot-stool placed in front of them and their clientele would sit on these stools to have their coif styled or trimmed or tonsured, or whatever was needed. It was fast, efficient and effective and above all, quite cheap. You were in and out of there in 10 minutes max. Well, we didn’t get our hair cut at this fine establishment, but where we went seemed a close second in those days.

“Scissors” was the place we frequented to manage our unruly tresses growing up. It was a rickety shop, back then with 2-3 wooden chairs lined up in front of mirrors and tube light. The owner was a glib-tongued immigrant to Mumbai, from Andhra, Nayan and he had his ways with his customers. He was everything to everybody, of course not with us kids but the adults. He could discuss the cloth business with the gujarathi cloth traders or the stock market vagaries with the stockbrokers and the bosom size and filmi gossip with the college studs. And us, those below 10 years of age, he would just brutally slap around. No, not really, but pretty close, since he’d hold us down and cut our hair the way he wanted and not what we were begging for. All India Radio blared its scheduled fare on a radio, somewhere in one corner.

As kids, the most enticing part about going to the barbershop was gawking at the film magazines, which he had a healthy stackful, in one corner. Sometimes we’d also eavesdrop on the lewd conversations that Nayan had with his adult clients and that could pass off as our unofficial ‘sex-ed' class. One time he was explaining the workings of a condom to one of his customers, who sat in complete bewilderment not believing the possibility of a contraption that prevented pregnancies. And that’s precisely also when it dawned on me that the rubber balloons that we kids would accidentally find outside people's windows in our society, were not meant to be blown up with our mouths and thrown around!!! I thew up a little in my mouth now, just thinking of those days.

When we were a bit older, maybe 8 or 9, my father would drop us at the barbershop, pay Nayan and go back home, expecting us to walk back after we were done. We’d try and prolong our stay at the barbershop as much as possible primarily for two reasons. First was to avoid the harsh razor that he used on the nape of the neck after our haircut and second to imbibe all the unsolicited ‘gyan’ (knowledge), that came our way from the conversations around us. The college-going studs would show up to get their hair “set”. "Setting" was nothing more but getting your hair blow-dried, which Nayan or his assistants executed with great flourish and theatrics.  

The middle-aged men would get their hair cut washed colored, beards trimmed whatever, and then many of them would lift up their shirts so that their armpit hair could be shaved. Some of the more adventurous ones had the hair on their backs shaved off as well. As kids, that was the most hilarious sight for us. A grown-assed man with his shirt pulled up over his head getting his armpit shaved. We’d wonder how Nayan could stand the stench of the sweat since we could smell the unvarnished armpit sitting 6 feet away!!!  Some of the adventurous college boys and younger uncles, I suspect, must be dropping their trousers under the cover of darkness in the evenings to get a version of Nayan's own Brazilian wax, I’m sure.

Over the years Nayans establishment continued to be upwardly mobile. His staff increased over the years to employ specialists for the specific “hairy” tasks. The shop was airconditioned, fitted with fancy chairs, expensive foreign colognes, and after-shaves lined the displays, central music piping through hidden speakers. I stopped going there during my college years and of course not after I moved to the US. Once during my trip to India, I decided to go check out  “Scissors”, just for old time's sake. An older, wiser Nayan was still at the helm, though he'd just sit and barked out orders as his “boys” took good care of his customers. He recognized me after all the years and insisted on giving me a haircut himself. We talked about the old days, laughed at the stories when we were growing up and he caught me up on all the neighborhood gossip. Heck, I even let him “set” my hair that day. It was a good cut.   

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Spring Break 2021 – Port St. Lucie, Florida

So, it’s been nearly 2 years since we’d gone anywhere out of Michigan and it sure as hell felt like a lot longer than that, being cooped up in our homes due to the present extenuating circumstances. Seema had applied for a week off for the Easter weekend and that thankfully coincided with the kids’ spring break as well (Mar 29 – Apr 2). The common consensus was to make a trip to Florida, but where in Florida was the question, since we didn’t want to be around the hot spots that the partying spring breakers converged at like Daytona beach, Miami or Tallahassee. So, I just put my finger on the east coast of Florida, and it landed on Port Saint Lucie, and that’s where we were going.

Port Saint Lucie (PSL) is a sleepy retirement community, about 70 miles south of Orlando, with not many attractions from a touristy standpoint, which was just fine by us. We just wanted to go somewhere, anywhere. But what about the dog, dad? asked the kids. Well, we’d never left Charlie alone in a kennel or doggie daycare till now, and we weren’t prepared to leave him alone now. So, we planned to take him along with us as well, for a 20-hour car ride.

We booked a 7-seater SVU so that the pooch would have his own seat to sprawl out and the kids would have enough legroom for a long journey. We loaded the car and started driving early on Sat, Mar 27th, excited to be making a road trip after what seemed like an eternity. Two hours into the drive we could see white smoke emanating from the hood of the car accompanied by loud whirring noises. I was forced to pull over at the first exit, which happened to be in the middle of nowhere, a town in Ohio, called New Baltimore. Looking at the smoke emanating from the car, several passers’ byes stopped to ask if they could help, but I assured them that I’d called Hertz emergency roadside assistance and help was on the way. All of them who stopped were extremely affable and gracious, but it looked like they could have been coming back from a proud boys’ rally. J/K.

Help from Hertz arrived 3 hours later, the AAA tow truck that was supposed to tow the broken-down car and we were supposed to get a replacement vehicle from Columbus, Ohio. The cabbie that was supposed to come from Columbus, was nowhere close to arriving. So, I put on my mask and get down from the car to greet the tow truck driver. As he is walking towards me, I notice that he has a gun tucked in his belt, a long mullet, and has no mask. So, I quickly remove my mask as well. While in Rome…. I explain the situation to him, and he said he’d wait for the cabbie to arrive. He walks over to the rental car to inspect it and diagnoses that the car had no oil, and the engine could have quit on us any minute. We were lucky that the radiator gave way before the engine died.  He walked across to say hi to the family and starts petting the dog. I can’t really object to it since the dog doesn’t like being petted. But he’s the one with the gun, so he gets to pet the dog. Luckily the dog doesn’t seem to mind and seems to love this dude.

So, the AAA dude goes back and waits in his truck, for the cabbie to arrive. Actually, he was a really great chap. Gave me a lot of info about the surrounding areas and patiently chatted with me about his crazy workdays. The cabbie arrives after 2 hrs. and we unload everything to load it in the cab to dive off to Columbus airport to pick up a replacement car. When we reach Columbus, Ohio airport, the Hertz counter had closed. They close the rental counters at 2PM on Saturdays. #$%@. So, the family is sitting outside the rental counter at the airport, with an irate dog, bored kids, and wife who is bawling, with our bags, pressure cooker (we need our sambar rice), masala packets, bhujiya, and murukku packets are strewn around in full public view. Most folks walking past must’ve been thinking that we are Syrian or Mexican refugees. So far, it’d been a great start to the spring break!!! Eight hours into the trip and we were still in Ohio. Drat.

I call Hertz emergency roadside assistance again for a car and they say that they can’t do much for me at this stage and I had no choice but to rent another car from the Hertz franchisee location, that was still open at the airport. Apparently, I’d rented the original vehicle from Hertz corporate, and the franchisee rentals are completely separate from corporate Hertz. The franchisee rental has just one 5-seater left, which I’m forced to rent at an obscene amount, and we then head out to Florida. The kids had to share the second row with the slobbering pooch, which made the travel extremely uncomfortable for them and the pup. Anyhow, we reach Port Saint Lucie at around 1 AM on Monday after a stopover in Knoxville, where flash flood warnings the next morning prevented us from starting early. All that was needed now were locust attacks to make our travel an adventure of Biblical proportions.

Fortunately, the stay at PSL was rather uneventful as compared to the start of our journey. PLS is a sleepy retirement community that is growing rapidly, and we had a great Airbnb rental on a PGA golf course that accorded us great vistas every place we walked. We spent a day on the beach nearby, a day trip to Kennedy Space Center, trips to local parks and gardens and it was almost the end of the week and time to come home. What was surprising was that no one believes in masks in Florida or Georgia. We felt like aliens at grocery stores and rest stops, with the only ones or rather in the minority donning masks. We left Charlie at the local daycare when we went out for our day trips and by all accord, it seemed like he had a good time as well.

The ride back was relatively smooth except when Charlie fell sick due to motion sickness and threw up twice in the car. I just kept driving, since I was in the driver’s seat, and left the kids to deal with the vomit. We were forced to stop overnight at Spartanville, South Carolina, instead of stopping in Kentucky, where we’d originally planned to spend the night.

All in all, it was a great trip, entire rejuvenating and it was time well spent with Seema, was Spring break 2021 had to Florida.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

 Movie Review: Joji (2021) Malayalam

We watched Dileesh Pothan/Farhadh Fasil’s ‘Joji’, a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth last weekend, and while it's nowhere close to Pothans other masterpieces like ‘Maheshinthe Pathikaaram’, it’s a decent watch. It’s nowhere close to the best Hindi movie adaptation of Macbeth IMO, Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘Maqbool’, but it’s a compelling watch, mostly due to Farhadh.

Joji (Farhadh) weaves the story of a slothful son of a rich, abusive coffee plantation owner Kuttapan, who has his three adult sons, all well under his control who runs his affairs with an iron fist. Joji is the lazy, scheming, unmarried son, who has dropped out of engineering and is dreaming up quick get rich schemes, but at the same time is steals from his father for his basic necessities and his business ideas.

He’s literally sleeping all day in his room after getting fed by his sister-in-law Bincy and only getting up to harass his teenage nephew and his obligatory smokes. He’s terrified of his father, who compared to the puny Joji, is built like an ox and has no compunctions with physically abusing his adult children. Joji hates living under his father’s shadow, but he has no recourse, except to vent his frustrations by punching and kicking into thin air.

Kuttapan suffers a stroke when helping his workers dig a well and is relegated to a paralyzed state, after almost losing his life post his stroke. Joji plans the murder of his father, to claim his share of the inheritance, and this sets of a series of unfortunate events that he can’t really control but is forced to react to cover his actions. Bincy, his sister-in-law is a silent witness to his machinations.

I watched this movie primarily because I’m a Farhadh Fasil fan and loved his work in movies like Kumbalangi Nights, Mahesinthe Paristhanam, 21 Female Kottayam, C you Soon, and a few others. He’s like a chameleon, who adapts to the character that he’s playing perfectly, someone who is in the same league as Nawaz Siddiqui, Manoj Bajpai, Aamir Khan, Rajkumar Rao, all actors who are on top of their games at most times. As Joji, he seems like a loaded gun that’s about to go off any second, constantly on the edge, his eyes plotting and scheming constantly. The underlying dark humor comes is provided by the local priest, who is fanatical about sticking to antiquated customs, and the eldest son Jomon, whose over-exuberant devotion to his father is demonstrated by him in questionable ways.

As I said earlier, not a compelling, but decent watch.

4 out of five stars.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Charlie and me - Feb 2021

Owning a pet does not come easy. Whoever says that (no one that I know has ever said that), is lying. It’s the constant attention that they demand in their first few months, iterative vacuuming, moping, cleaning floors, rugs, carpets in the house, getting used to pee and poop appearing in all corners of the house, throwing up indiscriminately for no obvious reasons, barking sessions in the middle of the nights, trip to the vets, more trips to trainers, dog parks and pet stores. It's never-ending. This is not even considering the behavioral issues of the pooches like jumping, nipping, lugging and tugging during walks, biting virtually everything, incessant barking, etc. So yes, the first few months had been a struggle as a down owner. Within the first month or so, while chasing Charlie Seema slipped and fell pretty hard on her back and that was when Seema threw in the towel and was insistent that we give him up for adoption to another family. It was only after vociferous threats of “I go, if the dog goes” from me, did she finally relent to keeping him. But I could sense behind those smoldering eyes that for a hot minute she was considering throwing both of us out of the house!!!

Charlie seems to have matured though, over the past 2 months. The issues still remain about the jumping, nipping, and tugging, but his bathroom habits have settled into a routine, where he whines loudly every time he needs to go. He’s also realized that every time he whines, we jump and take him out, which he many times uses to roll around in the snow or just stand and watch people pass by outside. I’ve had to miss many meetings to rush him out in a rush only for him to frolic in the snow or chase the birds on the trees. Most times I don’t even have my damned jacket, hat, or gloves on. Brrrr. 

He’s grown a lot since the time we got him home as a cute, adorable 8-week puppy over 3 months ago, who weighed about 20 lbs. in Nov to about 60 lbs. now. We kept up with his steady diet of kibble that he was being fed, when we got him from the breeder, but over time he’s acclimatized to an Indian palate and staple diet of idlis, dosas, yogurt rice, buttermilk, rajma, chicken/turkey rice, fish, etc. Seema feels guilty if he doesn’t get his idlis or dosas over the weekend and feed him ‘Neer (instant) dosas’ out of sheer guilt. Seema’s warmed up to him since he knows where his food comes from and showers her with that extra bit of affection.

Dogs are good and simple souls. What you see is what you get from them. Complete loyalty, complete adulation, complete love. They don’t care if your rich, poor, black, white, male-female, young or old, an idiot or a savant. Once they take to their families and win their trust, they maintain that sustained level of affection for the rest of their lives. Every morning when Charlie wakes up and walks out of his crate, he greets us with the same affection as if he’s seeing us for the first time after a long separation. His joy no bounds as he enclasps us with his paws with unfettered glee and tries to lick our face. While his behavioral issues still remain, he’s calmed down a lot from a couple of months ago when he’d tear up the house. The rest of the training will be a work in progress over the next year or two, and hopefully, he’s turn out fine after that. 

The time that Charlie is not napping, which is almost 23 hours in a day, he is a bundle of energy and is zipping around the house, keeping everyone on their toes. He has a rubber ball that we play fetch with or he likes to play catch with me inside the house. He brings the ball to my feet and thrust it in front of me as if to tell me ‘Come get it if you can’. I then pretend to chase him around the dining table and the family room threatening to take his ball away from him and he seems to enjoy evading my outreached arms and outfoxing me with the ball. After 10 minutes or so he falls down panting on the floor, and the balls roll out of his mouth. Ha!!! Stupid mutt.

We, humans, have domesticated all other creatures on earth successfully, but the bond between dogs and humans may be the most harmonious of these relationships. It’s a pact that so special, that it’s difficult to explain it to those who haven’t quite experienced it. There are many reasons why you wouldn’t want to go thru the pains of breaking in a puppy, but once that phase is over, you’ll build something so deep, loving, and intimate that it will sustain you for a lifetime.

Some nights Charlie gets up at the crack of dawn, maybe because he’s thirsty or he needs to pee or whatever. So, I drag myself out of bed, attend to his needs and make tea for myself. He likes to sit and watch the sun come up outside the patio door and I sit at the kitchen table, sipping my tea and stare out the door, enjoying the sights and sounds of the day that’s about to unfold. Man and dog, in perfect harmony with the universe. It’s going to be a beautiful day.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Movie Characters I love - Maya from Ijaazat (1987)

Movie characters I love

Maya from Ijaazat (Hindi -1987)

In the movie Ijaazat, Maya is a figment of the writer's (Gulzar) imagination that most people want as a girlfriend, but never as a life partner to spend the rest of your life with. Quirky, eccentric, moody, spontaneous, fun, no-committal, rich, spoilt brat but also self-destructive, and schizophrenic are the traits that define mercurial Maya. Beautifully played by Anuradha Patel (most of us 80’s kids must have had a crush on her I’m sure, and even more so after Shashi Kapoor’s Utsav), plays the love interest of Naseer, a photographer in the movie, who lives a bohemian life, refusing to settle down in life or get tied down in conventionalism. Maya flits in and out of Naseers life, driving him to despair as he is trying to keep up with her mood swings and eccentricities. I don’t remember the details of the plot well, but on a whim, she breaks off her relationship with Naseer, and he is forced to marry a family friend, Rekha, with whom he shares a good life but not his passion.

Even after their marriage, Maya weaves in and out of Nasser and Rekha’s life which as the wife, she good-naturedly and patiently takes it in her stride and quietly adapts to Maya's quirkiness and demands from Naseers life. After some time of this drama between their lives and the inability of Naseer to keep Maya out of their lives, Rekha walks out of their lives and Maya later dies in an unfortunate accident. When Naseer bumps into Rekha at a waiting area of a railway platform, she’s already married to what seems to be a happily settled life and the movie ends there. So, he ends up losing both the loves of his life, is the story

While this entire movie is well made, with beautiful acting by the principals, melodious songs and deep meaning lyrics, superb cinematography by Santosh Sivan in exotic locales like Kudremukh and Chikmangalore, but what stays with the audience (with me at least) is the ethereal, quirky and impulsive charm of Maya. She doesn’t respect societal norms (yes, she’s schizo) but yet at the same time she has a sensitive side where she confesses that her intrusion in Naseers life may cause marital strife, but she still does it anyway hoping the wife wouldn’t mind her outsized presence in their lives. It doesn’t work as such in real life, but it’s a movie. The genius of Gulzar is such that he breathes this quixotic life into Maya's character. Even the single melancholic song that the character hums (listed below) seem so whimsical where she’s asking for her things to be returned back from her estranged lover after their breakup. Not any material possessions mind you, but the esoteric intangibles

‘Ek sau solah chand ki raaten, (One hundred sixteen moon-light nights)

Aur ex tumahare kandhe ka til (And the mole on your shoulder)

Gheeli mehendi ki khusboo (the fragrance of wet henna)

Jhoot mooth kay shikway kuch’ (Pretend quibbling between us)

Jhooth mooth kay vaade bhi

Kuch yaad kara do (Let me remind you, of all your false promises)

Give me back all these, since they are rightfully mine. Genius of Gulzar

In my opinion, Gulzar is one of the deepest and original creative talents in Bollywood. Mausam, Raincoat, Hu tu tu, Namkeen, Aandhi are some of my favorite Hindi movies).  Maybe he intended Maya as this crazy girl that fits well within the narrative of the script. Or maybe Maya (illusion) is that phase of all our lives that’s fleeting, transient, crazy, and carefree and one that’s over before you know that you ever had it. Maybe Maya is that part of all of us that we really crave to have, but can’t really have? Maybe Maya is that phase of life when everything seems achievable, possible, fun before the pressure of reality grinds you into facing the mundane? Or she just plain nuts. Whatever it is, it’s one of his characters that I love.

Know what I’m saying? Lemme know what you think.

Saturday, February 20, 2021



We watched Ramin Bahrani’s ‘White Tiger’ two weeks ago and thought it was a great watch, especially the protagonist, played by young actor Adarsh Gourav who was impressionable and Priyanka Chopra and Rajkumar Rao, as expected from them, gave a solid all-round performance. The story based upon Arvind Adiga’s novel tells the story of a boy from a backward caste in Bihar and his experiences in the class-conscious Indian societal structure. The bottom line of the story is that the lowest rung of Indian society is destined for a lifetime of servitude since they have been bought up believing that their very existence is dependent on the largesse of the people they serve. Servants are so deferential to their masters, that sometimes all aspects of their lives, their children’s lives, and their grand children’s lives are dictated by the whims of their masters.

Being born poor is a curse, rather than anywhere in the world, but more so in India, where centuries of caste, race, and religious politics adds additional layers of dominance to those above or higher in the food chain. Having grown up in a city, I was not exposed to the full extent of the subjugation of the poor in the society, but there was ample evidence of peoples entitled behavior towards those economically lower than them like the domestic help, drivers, watchmen, hawkers or just about any perceived to be poor and needy. The watchman in society was treated like the personal errand boy of most society members, more so of those in the managing committee of the society or the general secretary or chairman. It’s like servitude is so inbred in this strata of society, that they meekly obey whatever is ordered of them. Very rarely do you find employers treating their employees as equals or even accord them a minimum of respect. Children learn at a very young age that it’s OK to abuse or be rude to those less fortunate than them economically, be it the domestic help at home, drivers, hawkers, and others in their ecosystem. Even when someone’s car breaks down on the road, the owner of the car thinks nothing to order those pedestrians around, who may appear far less affluent to push their car, and then drive away nonchalantly after the car starts.

Our apartment building, growing up, bordering the two-storied bungalow of some lawyer. The lawyer and his family lived on the second floor and the first floor was rented out to other tenants. Next to the bungalow were several tin shacks, where the servants who worked at the lawyer’s house, their driver, the maali (gardener), and others lived. These tin shacks bordered our society wall and every time we played clicked and someone hit the ball over the wall it would land across the wall in the middle of these shacks. As children, we’d brazenly walk into the homes of these folks to retrieve the cricket ball, without even paying much attention to the inhabitants or their protests. It was as if these people simply didn’t even exist. The residents of these houses most times wouldn’t complain about us walking into their houses while they could be in the middle of sleeping, cooking, changing or whatever else people normally do. Nor did we bother to ask if it was OK for us to go fetch the cricket ball. It was as if it was our right to trample any shred of privacy these people had, to get what we wanted. Now that I think about this, it certainly seems bizarre behavior by a bunch of callous, unrefined teens.

The poor certainly exist in India, in large numbers, they are just not very visible to classes above them. My experiences are from limited exposure that growing up in a metro like Bombay. Imagine how much worse it is in the villages where there are layers of caste, religion and feudal hierarchies that permeate all aspects of daily life. That’s really the national shame.