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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Of Bengalis and Dr. Know's Foe 

For people who've complained abt the lack of posts - here goes two at one go. If you are Bengali, then read on coz to appreciate (or rather abhor) my next few observations you have to be a Bengali. So the twelve Bengalis who read this blog, can continue reading, while the remaining sixteen please listen to this boring podcast on the man with steel balls that can do tricks.

So I went to a true blue Bengali gathering after a looooong time. I didn't know too many people there and hence I spent a lot of time observing the people around me. It soon occurred to me that there are some things that happen in almost every Bengali gathering that are very very amusing.

1. Every fifteen minutes the men disappear in one corner together and light up a smoke. Seriously. I joke with my dad that the one thing which is characteristic of Bengalis around the World is their love for chemistry. I've never seen a university anywhere in the World whose Chemistry Department doesn't have a Bengali professor. It's like the universities have a Bengali professor quota or something. From Bombay to Budapest - there is a Bengali professor in every Chemistry department in every university. But then I digress. My point being, if there's any other stereotype that I'll put Bengali men in, after their love for Chemistry, it has to be their love for the cigarette (which is ironic given I don't smoke). Bengalis are voracious smokers and by voracious I don't mean "light one cig after another" smokers. By voracious I mean "come I'll show you freakin magic tricks with my cigarette freakin talented" smokers. So in all these Bengali gatherings the men excuse themselves periodically and light up a cig. Has anybody else noticed this?

2. The next thing is very very annoying, Will Bengali men please stop referring to wives as "Missus". It sound very strange when one man asks another one "Is that your missus?" What's wrong with "Is that your wife?" "Ota ki apnar stri?" etc. Someday when I'm married (which seems eleven years away right now) I want someone to ask me - "Is that your missus?" just so that I can answer back saying, "No, I'm a man of cheap morals. That lady is actually my miss and my neighbor's missus."

While on the topic of people asking "Is that your misses", there's another thing I want to request. If you see a child with a couple, I think it is safe to assume that is is THEIR child. So why (and it's not just Bengalis who do this) ask them "Is that your son?". No. That is not my son. I bring other people's sons with me for occasions and then make them sit on my lap. Obviously if a lady, who has put on three and a half tons of make up, is allowing a child anywhere close to her saree - be rest assured that it IS her child.

3. Note: This is the part that is most Bengali and any non-Bengali who has read on till here will feel completely out of place now. So be warned.

What's this with Bengali wives standing next to the door, seeing ppl enter, and then saying "Oma Topoti di - tumi ekhon eley?" "Oma Rijuda tomra ei matro eley" (roughly translated to - oh!!! you guys just came in?" What are they thinking? You see them walk in so OBVIOUSLY they just came in. Duh! What answer are you expecting from the twelve and a quarter killo ornament wearing lady? That she'll say "No. We fooled you. We were actually hiding behind the door for an hour and chose to enter just now. Gotccha!"???

All Bengalis, especially dad, who are offended after reading this post - forgive me plish!

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Say cheese ... please! 

I'm not one of those people who loves posing for photographs. For starters I look terrible in most photographs. Secondly, I look drunk in all my photographs (for a teetotaller that's not a compliment). And thirdly, my eyes are open in one out of ten photographs. Hence, I normally play the guy in the group who says "Go go. You guys stand. I'll take the photograph."

However, I have friends who love to be clicked. They carry a camera to every freakin place they visit. They want to capture every restaurant, house and lawn they've been to. Even public restrooms are not spared from their passion. They take the photographing bug to a different level altogether. Every event has to be captured twice. First they'll take a photograph of the golden moment themselves. Then they'll ask someone else to take the exact same picture but this time with them in it. Then they'll come and take a look at the just taken snap and sulk for twelve seconds before saying "hmmmm! the angle is not right, errrr, hmmmm ... do you mind taking another photograph?" and pose again. Quite the ordeal I'd say.

But seriously, with the advent of digital cameras, there's this whole new specie of photographers now. What used to be an art form is now a standard. My dad has a Pentax camera which he took (and takes) great pride in showing off. I was raised with the notion that you have to be a genius to even come near that device. Every snap he took was preceded by careful planning and a looooooong lecture ("No no. Mampan .You are facing the light source the wrong way. One, two, three, smile, four, five, Mamapan move to the right, six, seven ...") During family weddings, Bubin would get only the very special level of treatment. All the family members would try to remain in his good books so that they got clicked a few extra times. Then there was always be the hoard of annoying children who'll follow him and somehow appear in every photograph that was taken. My dad had the liberty of bullying some of them. "Go get me a another Thums Up," he'd tell one of them. The kid would try to strike a deal. "If I get you that will you take one photograph of just me?" he'd plead. Sometimes my dad would agree. Other times he'd just press the flash (yeah, we were innocent enough to assume that a flash meant a photograph) to hush up the crying kid. All in all, my dad occupied a different pedigree, courtesy the shutter box he carried. Aaaah! The good times.

Then in mid eighties a company called Hot Shots came and spoiled it all for him. They advertised themselves as the common man's camera, one that everyone and anyone could use. And suddenly my dad was no longer getting the extra ice cream he demanded during wedding ceremonies of distant aunts. People half my dad's age would take out a small camera and go clickety click. "Go get a Thums Up for me," Bubin would tell the glug wiping kid and he would snub back saying, "Even my dad has a camera. You go get your own Thums Up."

Still there was an element of mystique surrounding cameras. Once the photographs were taken, they would get sent to the studio for development. The whole process took two-three weeks. In that time people would wait in apprehension. Aunts who had taken their daughters all dressed up as future brides would queue up the moment the photographs appeared to see how well their damsels looked. The success of a group photograph could be gauged by how many "copies" of it was ordered. And then ... then the digital camera arrived.

Things changed again. Now people could take a snap, see what it looked like and take another snap pronto. Couples who were shy of even hugging for photographs, lest the creepy film developer keeps a copy of their intimate moment, now readily shot pics that would put playful bunnies to shame. If mp3s were what filled up the hard drives in the late 90s, then digital photographs became the major space occupier of the modern computer. People would have hundreds of carefully labelled folders of photographs, with names ranging from "Trip to Japan 2003" to "My new bathroom I, II and III". People like my father were almost ashamed to take out their cameras lest people start referring to them as grandpa.

You would think that would be it, right? You would think that as a generation we would be happy with a camera that allowed us to save thousands of images in it - right? But naaay! We greedy bastards wanted more. A lot more. And thus, some bright guy came up with the idea of adding a camera to a cell phone. And that did it. At least people were posing for a digital camera. But with the cell phone camera people started taking photographs of anything and everything they could see. "Darling I saw a dog pee on the road. It reminded me of you. So I took a snap and mailed it to you." "I'm watching Munnabhai again. Here is a snap of Sanjay Dutt standing ... here is a snap of him sitting down ... look, the guy next to me is wearing a red pant!!! Sorry it was a brown pant. Here, take another look at it ..." Yessss, that's the level of subjects we choose for our photographs now. It's no longer the wallpaper worthy flowers, or the Shhhhh! saying baby or even your smiling girlfriend. The subject of modern photographs range from dog poop to fornicating love birds ... and that's not what is scary ... what's scary is the question "What next???"

Coming Next: What people do when they get their photographs taken!!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Whose side are you on? 

This is a post close to my heart. I've seen various variants and sides of this topic and consider myself an authority on this issue. Even now ,when other people face similar issues, they contact me for my invaluable advice on this front. Yeah baby, I'm that good :) So what am I talking abt? The answer to the all important question of - whose side do you take when a couple that you know breaks up!!!

A seemingly simple question. Raj and Simran were your friends. You knew them for a while. You shared dinner with them, went for the stray movie and indulged in the dream of every Californian a.k.a A Yosemite trip, with both of them. And then one day you hear the news. "Hey, whats up with Raj?" you ask a friend. "Welllll," he begins. You know that any well as deep as a watery well means only one thing ... Raj and Simran have broken up. Raj calls her a slut and Simran feels that Raj doesn't know how to treat a woman. So they do not hang out together anymore. So whose side do you take now???? Sounds like a very simple question on the surface but experience tells me that there is more to it than meets the eye. Hence we shall analyze.

For men who are single, the answer is simple ... very simple. Do not waste your time any further. For all you know, you are already late. Call up Simran instantly. "Hey, I heard abt you guys. I'm sorry ... loooooong pause. Wanna go out for dinner sometime?" No seriously. If you are a guy and you have always wondered which of the numbers in your address book actually deserve the space they occupy - just break up with your girl friend (though that'll be a terrible reason for a break up and I'd much rather have you say - it's not me, it's you"). Before you know half the people you thought were your friends will disappear. "What Raj did was not right" ... "Raj was never serious abt you" ... "He has gotten over you. I think I saw him with this other girl" Raj would hear. Single men are like the lion who performs the trick with the goat in the circus in the ringmaster's presence. They seem friendly ... BUT let the ringmaster disappear and then it's a different story altogether baby!!

For women it is simple too. They divide themselves into two groups. Group one, who instantly reach the girl's house with sympathy in their bags and offer it in generous doses in return for gossip. "You can do much better Simran," she would say. "So just out of curiosity ... you did not sleep with him, right?" You have no idea how vulnerable women are in moments of a break up. A simple hug and approval of their decision would get payback in secrets so harmful for the guy that he would spend the next three years fighting crazy rumors abt himself.

The second group of women are those who might actually be interested in Raj. But women are very different from men in this department. They would never leave a friend to hopelessly flirt with a guy. First they would gather all the information on the guy. Find out if he is even worth the attempt. Once they have their dirt in place, they'll approach the guy with more information than he can handle. "You don't want to know Raj what Simran has been saying abt you. I mean, come on, I don't know you guys but ... but ... well forget it." "No tell me," Raj would insist. "No I can't. I was not even supposed to know this ..." "No tell me". This request will go on for a while and will pave way for a first dinner date. Ah! Such a wonderful scheme.

The trickiest situation arrises for the couples though. All couples have these "couple friends" with whom they indulge in "coupley" things like double dates where the number of credit cards used to pay the bill are half the number of attendees. These couples don't fall into any of the above categories. Some of them will just let go of both Raj and Simran. They never meant anything to them. It was never abt the individuals but the two together. They don't want a single whining man or a sobbing woman with them. They'd rather be making out in a movie theatre by themselves. So they'll offer the customary "I'm sorry" phone call and slowly distance themselves (only to reappear when Raj starts dating Nisha). Then there's the other couple where the guy might just have a little interest towards Simran. He always liked her but stayed away coz of Raj. But now with Raj gone he might want to re-evaluate the situation again. Trust me, his girl friend will protect him from Simran more than Bappi Lahiri ever protected his foreign CD collection. She'll make sure that Simran never crosses their path till she has one of Raj's loser friends with her again.

It is however toughest for couples where the guy was a genuine good friend of Raj and the girl sincerely cared for Simran. They would be in a soup literally. They would try to talk both of them into reconsidering their decisions. They would try to throw a party and invite both of them to it. They would wait for fifteen days and try again. And after every attempt they would exchange notes - "Has Simran said anything?" "IS Raj ready to apologise?" etc.

- Written by Couple Dev Nikhanj on 18th September, 2006.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Profound thoughts from a hungry mind 

The following three excerpts are from actual lunch time conversations I've had. The other parties involved in these conversations have threatened me with dire consequences. I think they are over reacting. You judge for yourself.

Conversation number one.

Me (to T, who is from Taiwan): It would be so cool if your name was Sirius and last name was Lee.
T: why?
Me: Cos then we could have this entire conversation where I'd say "Hey, what's your name? And you would be like "Sirius Lee" and I'll be like "Yeah, seriously" and you would be like "No seriously it's Sirius Lee."
T: And given that I'm Chinese, my wife's name could be Annie How.
Me: Nice!

Conversation number two.

X: Wow! You are just having beans for lunch?
Y: Yeah! Look at these beans - they look so depressing.
Me: Do you know why they look depressing?
Y: Why?
Me: Coz they've bean there done that.
Everyone else: Aaaaaaarrrrghhhhh!

Conversation five (don't even ask me why I skipped three and four).

X: Me and my girl friend are planning to visit Japan. Hence we want to learn Japanese.
Me: Why would you learn a whole new language to visit a country. Actually wait. I take that back. A lot of the Indians I know learned two new languages to come to US.
X: Two? Which two?
Me: C++ and Java.
Everyone: Let's beat him up!

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

When traditions are broken ... 

Quite a few people were shocked by the content of my previous post. A lot of them thought I had mellowed down :( So I thought I'll shock them further with the title of this post. But wait! Looks and titles can be deceptive. So read on.

Times change and make traditions obsolete. Habits of the past appear ludicrous and make way for would be ludicrous trends. This post is to thank and celebrate the slow disappearance of one such trend.

India has changed a lot over the past 5 years. Be it the language, tech-savyness or fashion sense - the country has taken massive steps towards changing times. One of my favorite fashion changes (or maybe its a cultural change) is something that many of you might not have even seen - that of women using their lingerie as purses.

I grew up at a time when most aunties wore sarees. The few who wore salwar suits were termed progressive. And almost all these people would keep something or the other in their bras. Mostly this was money. Some other ladies used their cleavage as a locker for house keys. Other women would have their grocery shopping ToDo lists hidden in their bra straps. Am I not glad that I don't see this happening any more!! Boy! It was sooo freakin embarrassing. Middle-aged ladies and people you referred to as aunties would suddenly put their hands inside their blouses and like a magician pulling out a rabbit from a hat - tan tan tanaa - something would come out. For me, it was mostly aunts giving me money to have soft drinks (yeah! I grew up at a time when a Thums Up bottle was still considered to be an incentive). "Wait beta. Don't go," They'd say. And then they would put their hands in their blouses, wait for a while to allow me to build up an expression of excitement, and then reward me with a five rupee note. I remember feeling extremely awkward in those moments.

No seriosuly. I've seen ladies in crowded buses taking out money from inside their "you know what" to give it to the conductor. That's not very good conducting, I'd say. And the worst was when they could not find what they were searching for. Coz some women would take this to an art form. They would have item A on one side and item B on the other side ... and somewhere, during the hustle and bustle of the day, the two items would mix up. People reading this post who haven't seen a sixty year old woman searching for that extra amount of change she was sure she had kept "there", feel happy, will ya?

Interestingly, men, in-spite of the several allegations of crudeness against them, have never done something like this. My twisted mind has always imagined going on a perfect date where I take the woman to a wonderful restaurant. We eat, we smile, we giggle. I even reuse a lot of the old material from this blog to make her squirm and fake smile. And then just when it is time to pay the bill (the point where she does the whole fake "how much" act) I put my hand inside my underwear and pull out my credit card. "Please, I insist that dinner is on me," I smile and tell her. Very classy. And wait, it's not over. Then I put my other hand inside the underwear, search around for a while on the other side, and wohoooo! what do we have? A nice red rose!! "That's for you bebeh!," I tell her with my trademark wink. How cool is that, eh?

Wooof!!

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ten Minutes ... 

Based on my lunch time conversation. Must mention that the food was good too :)

Just ten minutes. And that can change it all.

My parents had a love marriage. My father was trying to catch my mother's attention for a looooong time. Finally they bumped into each other at a common friend's house. What if mom didn't go to that house that day? What if it was one of those days when my dad woke up in the morning and just dint feel like doing anything? You know, the days when you wake up and think of excuses to avoid your entire day's commitments. But they both felt like visiting that friend's place. They both landed up at the same time and somehow, at that instant moment, my otherwise reticent dad gathered enough courage to ask my mom out.

Two unknown people bump into each other in an empty classroom. Somehow they arrived early on that day alone. They got ten minutes to spend with each other before hundreds of pairs of eyes started pouring in with slanted looks. And they fell in love. Ten minutes is all it took for him to lose his heart.

She woke up and her parents showed her photographs of seven new "prospectives". She was getting tired with this daily drama. She randomly chose the clean shaven guy from the top. They met. They spoke. They had abundant amounts of coffee. They laughed. They cried. They got married. She now thinks no man could keep her this happy. Ten minutes of frustration is all it took to set the ball rolling.

I've heard of chance encounters in coffee shops. My sister's love life began with an accident she got injured in. Movie-like romances have originated in dark movie theatres where one single guy, after deciding for ten minutes, decided to take the seat on the left as opposed to the one on the right. Fifteen minutes later the rest of the theatre filled up except for the one seat next to him. Five minutes later she walked in and was forced to sit beside him. Three hours later they were the only ones who walked out smiling after the movie with the sinking ship finally got over.

But what if ... what if my dad got cold feet in those ten minutes and my mom had left? What if that guy didn't feel like attending a Physics class that morning? What if the girl shouted at her parents for bugging her every morning with proposals and stormed out of the room instead? What if the girl in the movie theatre came in early and sat in some other place?

Somewhere there is a man/woman for all of us that we might eventually end up with. Someone we never knew till one instance of time. Someone who we'll never forget thereafter. And even ten minutes before we first meet (met) this person, we have no idea of what this was going to be the beginning of. And that thought is so overwhelmingly powerful and fascinating to me.

"What if my soul mate just crossed my cubicle while I spent ten minutes boring you people with my thoughts?" I asked my lunch mates. MJ, my group mate, smiled. "Maybe if you wait here for another ten minutes you'll see your dream person." I looked around for the next thirty minutes. Unless my dream woman was a forty year old visiting lady who was searching for the receptionist's desk, I don't think I found her.

"Which is why you should go home ten minutes early tonight. Maybe you will meet your soul mate then," J, said.

"If I go home ten minutes early tonight and find my soul mate sitting at home, indeed I'll be overjoyed," I said. "But then I'll instantly call the cops and freak out because how did my soul mate manage to sneak into my house when I was not there????"

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