Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My gift wrapped days!

I had a very romantic idea about childhood. Those tender years when you were carefree, always laughing, not a worry in the world. The days were soft like cotton and nights silky and gossamer. How wrong!

I am once again reliving those wondrous days with Tanmay, my friend’s delightful seven year old son. I now understand their stresses, the tensions , their fears and apprehensions.

My day starts delightfully as he jumps on my bed and wraps his soft arms around me and whispers that the tea is ready. Today is maths test. He cant remember the table of 4. I tickle him and tell him he knows it. We revise the tables playfully running around bumping furniture and sipping tea at the same time. His mother feigns anger as she readies his bath. He is late for school. She airlifts him ,arms flying,to the bathroom. I get that much time to read the newspaper and catch up with what is happening around the world. The outside world stops as he comes out of the bath and its pandemonium. He has tried my black shoe polish on his white sneakers and his mother is grumbling. He looks sheepishly at me. I wink and get a cleaner lotion from inside my bag. We both shake the bottle and apply the lotion allowing it to dry and wipe the shoe clean. We both whoop delightfully as the shoes look sparkling white and give each other high fives.

As its time to leave for school, he looks at me and his dad impishly and we wink. That’s the signal to pick his bike. Mom complains that he must walk.Besides, once I leave she would find it hard to carry back the bike. But we ignore her and take the cycle down the lift. He squeals with delight as I run behind him with his bag and water bottles and tiffin carrier.

He scares his friends by ringing the bell and then deftly maneuvers his cycle through the bunch of kids. As the school bus nears, suddenly he remembers the he has forgotten his writing board at home. A frown creases his face. He doesn’t smile as I wave him. Clearly he is worried.

Daddy and I take a detour and reach his school as they are in recess for snacks. The broadest of smile comes on his face as he clutches the board gratefully. He gives his list of things to be purchased from the school supplies. The supplies could furnish an army. He needs tie and school badge every month, shoes every two months and shirt every three months. He patiently explains that he is very gentle. But the other boys are naughty. A few class mates complain about him to my friend. Tanmay simply glares.

Evening we get a call from him. What time are we coming home. Seven. His father replies. The negotiations begin. No make it six. Ok 6.30. finally we settle to 6.45. Pick me from the teacher’s home. He orders. Next. what are we going to bring for him. We agree for biscuits from the bakery. Don’t bring the hard ones. He warns. I broke a tooth because of it. Ok cream biscuits. One last try. Come at 6.15. daddy shouts and he hurriedly keeps the phone.

When we reach home we find that one tooth has fallen. It’s the incisor. He wants to see it in the mirror. The mother shouts if you see, the new one wont grow. i tell him wrap it in some cotton and keep it below your pillow. Childhood is about fantasy not reality. let him dream of fairy god mother bringing his new tooth.

We study English. I try to correct his pronunciation. I patiently ask him to repeat Lion. But he ends up saying Loin. Again I correct Bear and explain that beer is something we drink. He is unhappy. The teacher will be angry. I pick up the phone and call his teacher. I gently advise her to look into how the kids pronounce. She is young and brash. I am curtly told that that’s how it is pronounced in Hyderabad. My joke about the king of the jungle not being happy if you don’t call him correctly falls flat. When I mention Beer she warns me not to spoil the child by mentioning alcohol. I try another angle. I ask her your name is Lata. How would you feel if someone calls you Latha. Well she is indeed Latha. She has dealt a knock out punch.As I keep the phone down, he looks at me with concern, “ was she angry?” “ No. But at home we shall pronounce it as Lion”. He gladly agrees.

Time for some fun. We bring out the colors and paints. I watch mesmerized as his imagination takes wings. I take pictures with my camera as he is immersed in his creativity. I title it “ The artist at work.” I have captured him for posterity.

A few years back he was in his shower. Suddenly he squeezed himself inside the bucket and smiled naughtily. I rushed for my camera and took a picture. I titled it “ It’s my world”. The picture won an award in USA and it was printed in their annual book. That book is safe in his father’s locker. A pearl from his precious oyster. A remembrance of his colorful childhood when he grows.

He draws an aeroplane and tells me proudly that he will fly it when he grows. When? I ask. Soon very soon. To grow fast, he eats spinach. So that he gets muscles like popeye.

Everyday he checks his muscles in front of the mirror.

The dear innocent angel. Little does he realize that its one of life’s paradoxes. As soon as he grows old , he would yearn to be a child again.

I shall not be alive then. He may relive it some day through another Tanmay.

Just like me.

For now I feel like a kid sitting besides a lake watching the days fly like the brightest kites one can paint.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Big brother and the birth of a Mega star!

I am now a big fan of the great KRK. For readers like you who have a less desperate life than me, it may be KRK who? Well to be fair I would have had the same question if I was busy like you guys or had more eclectic tastes. KRK is Kamal Khan, the star who became the first person in the history of Big brother to be evicted for throwing a water bottle at a fellow inmate in the realty show ‘Big Brother’. One could ask how does he become a star by throwing bottle? Well because the great man thinks so.!

I am not a great fan of the ‘Big Brother’. What could be more torturous than watching a bunch of self indulgent has beens or out of jobs actors making a fool of themselves in front of the whole nation. But sometimes life throws moments with a hobson choice at you. And the perspective changes. My luck had finally run out and I was down with flu. Yes the swine did have flu. But it wasn’t swine flu! I was bored.

I had warned my friend that I would rather go miles to the woods and watch monkeys scratching their asses rather than sitting at home and scratching mine waiting for him to return from work.
He pointed to the idiot box. He threw in some cds for me to watch. It couldn’t hold my attention for long. I switched to the news. Barkha dutt was all over NDTV. Someone sue Prannoy Roy. I am not sure on what put me off! Her loud mouth or her louder makeup. I kept surfing.

Suddenly I came across this nugget. he was being interviewed by the great Amitabh Bachchan. It was like a duel between AB and KRK. AB served a quick serve. Don’t you think you behaved like a bad boy. No way! he was a good Samaritan. The poor model sherlyn needs money. She was being nominated by her fellow inmates. So he gallantly offered to leave instead. Also he had promised himself when he entered the big house of the big bro that he would go in a blaze of glory. And he was proud that he didn’t let himself down. Another serve. Well the inmates complained that you never did any work. My fans don’t vote me for the jhadoo pocha. They vote me for what I am. AB looked at him speechless. Andre aggassi would have felt proud.
Didn’t he feel bad. Nah. My name will be inscribed in the history of Big brother for ever as the first contestant who was evicted ; who cares for violence. Point , Set and match to KRK. And yes , AB just stared dumbly as he majestically declared that he was not such a small star that he would be evicted the first week!

Generously he offered a role to AB in his next movie. I wished I could advise him on adding a couplet of ghalib in that movie. “ badnam hue to kya hua naam na hua?”

There’s a fine line between fame and notoriety. Who cares? At least not KRK!!!!!

Let the power be worry about the quality and the dignity in television shows. At least not KRK!!!!! He’s too big a star!

Thanks KRK. I can’t promise you that I will watch your movie but I felt priveleged to be there at the momentous occasion and see the birth of a mega star and yes I shall be grateful for saving me that one visit to the woods.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fashion street is a dead end street!

The Indians have great sartorial style and are dapper dressers. It hit me hard twice in the last week. The Americans believe in dressing only for formal occasions or when in office.
In the USA , its common to wear shorts and t-shirt for a party. In fact, they wear shorts all the time when they are not in office.

As they say in Rome do as romans do. They also say its easy to catch dirty habits. Well I caught this dirty habit easily and behaved as the romans, I mean Americans for a large part of the last ten years. My mind , it seems , went for a vacation as soon as I arrived home. I should have remembered that I am in India now. One need not be a Gautam Buddha and sit under a tree. Epiphany can strike you even when you are exhibiting your hirsute legs to a group of elegantly dressed gentry sipping cocktails and mocktails.

Also, you need not be badly dressed to make an idiot of yourself. I remember when I joined my first company in London. The Englishmen are some of the finest dressed people. My bad luck I was joining on a Friday. The HR lady who was in charge of my orientation did a perfect job ,only forgetting to tell me about the funky Friday. All came dressed in torn jeans and tshirts.I reached there to find me looking like a bull in a china shop.

Times have changed since we were kids. I was tacky then ,I am tacky now. But it requires more money to keep us tacky now. The fashions have undergone a huge change. Lots of things changed. Branded clothes weren’t available then as easily.But one thing remained constant. No matter what I wear I manage to look cheap!

Style is something which doesn’t depend on the money you spend. It depends on how you can carry it.

The earlier Film stars were originals. I remember the time when Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh were the rage. They made those ugly bell bottoms look hip. Rajesh Khanna brought in the Guru Kurtas. Jeetendra brought white shoes in fashion. Among women, Zeenat Aman was an iconoclast. Before her , the heroines were meant to be all coy and dressed up only in saris. She broke all the barriers. Boy cuts, halters, the minis and the midis. She made everything look great. Sadly these days the stars simply follow the international couture. Its hard to see any special signature style.

Among the politicians, I remember Benazir Bhutto’s visit to India with her father PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. She was a big hit with the media because of her style.

The Late PM Mrs. Gandhi too was always immaculately dressed. She had a charisma about her. I remember seeing her after she lost the elections. I was a school boy then. She came to address a rally in Agra. There wasn’t much security as she was no longer a PM. I could see her from pretty close. As the other boys and girls waved, I just gawked. She had that effect.

The late Maharani Gayatri devi of Jaipur had that effect too.

The young generation of politicians are all pretty fashionable and each has his own signature style. My favorites would be Omar Abduallah, Sachin Pilot, Scindia and Rahul Gandhi.

How can we forget the king of fashion , the stylish Sidhu with his matching turbans and ties!

Each one of us may not possess fashion sense but we must at least try to fashion our common sense into not doing something stupid.

I remember my date with pretty Gisela. As we made ourselves comfortable and looked at the menu to order our drinks, I whispered in her ears that I was a hit with girls cos they considered me harmless. I pass out after the first drink. She laughed loudly and complimented me on my sense of humor. That should have been my cue to shut up.

She was wearing a very chic Pierre Cardin dress. As I complimented her she beamed happily. To my horror I heard myself saying, “ Isn’t it ironic that we spend huge amounts of money to buy clothes but our happiest moments are when we are out of them.”

Clearly any kind of sense can’t be taught in the books – fashion sense or even plain horse sense!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Indian Diary II

This by far, is the weakest diwali I have ever seen. There seems to be no enthusiasm. It seems specially strange for a city like Hyderabad. The city emits a positive energy. But this year I can’t see any decorations or much hype. I first came to this city on dusehra some twenty years back. Today it is like a second home to me.

I love the hyderabadi hindi. ‘Bole to. Uno hich dekh leta. Tu light le. Pareshan nako ho.’ Or ‘Arre woh samne wali building kanne ruk main tyran main hawa dalke ataich abhi.

Professionally, I am still not going anywhere. I never thought that getting four real good software candidates would be so difficult.

We collected almost 50 resumes. One look and you get a feeling that Bill Gates would send his chartered plane to pick these guys. But within the first few minutes of the interview you realize that you have been duped. I imagine Bill Gates sending the plane to drop these guys back. Why do we lie so much? The client is totally fazed. He wants to shift base and try in Pune. But the swine flu and the high cost of living makes me try harder.

I remember last year meeting an American in the bar in the Taj hotel. He complained that even after four years in India he still finds it hard to work with Indians. His grouse was that they were too quick to accept any dead lines but never bothered to finish them in time. We tried explaining that India is a big country. There are good people and bad people. And it was just his bad luck. Today I need to remind myself about that conversation to pep me up. Come on good guys! Where are you hiding?

Yugesh, my nephew , decided to give his uncle a surprise but was surprised himself. Poor boy, came all the way from Dehradun to Gwalior to meet me. Wish he had checked it out with me. I too feel strange that this is my first diwali in India when I am not home. But young Tanmay is happy. He fails to understand why everyone doesn’t live in his house. He is too young to understand that as we grow we create our own islands.

We Indians have remarkable buoyancy. We take calamities in our stride. The floods have wreaked havoc. But the indomitable triumph of these brave people triumphed. Life is again coming back to normalcy.

It was one cold and blustery night in Haridwar a few years back. I saw one young boy carrying huge loads on his slender shoulder. Suddenly he slipped and the load fell down. I , along with a few passerby rushed to help him. He slowly staggered back on his legs and smiled impishly. “ its just a bruise nothing serious.” I asked him how did he manage to smile. He grinned back , “ My leg is bruised but my lips are alright.”

It is this indomitable spirit that refuses to bow down.

Its October the fifteenth. I have already been here for a fortnight. Looks like the time has wings. Its flying like a breeze. Next week hopefully Gwalior and Dehradun. Or maybe not!

Ah the glorious uncertainities !!!!!!

Monday, October 12, 2009

My India Diary

It’s great to be back. I have a strange biology. While everywhere everyone’s falling sick I am fit as a fiddle. No jet lag, no sore throat, no fevers. In short, I am enjoying it. life never felt so good.

Suddenly yesterday Sandeep buzzed me and asked me to write about Barack Obama in my blog and I was like huh? Imroz tells me to keep blogging.these guys bring me back to reality. My blog, Barack Obama and everything else is buried under heaps of biryanis and jugs of beers! I must admit that the hyderabadi biryani continues to be tastier year after year. The huge bottle of beer is a cultural shock at first when you are used to the pint sized ones in USA. But not for long.
Now I too effortlessly guzzle them in pairs!

I feel that George Bush can claim some credit for the Noble prize. I guess the committee thought that Bush was more dangerous for world peace than any one else. So Obama was given it just to see his ass off! I am a great admirer of Obama. But so far he has only talked the talk. If I were him, I would go and collect it only after I had walked the walk.

Incidentally if intentions were the only criterion I should be in the reckoning for the Nobel prize for literature.

I visited Kurnool just as floods were arriving. Its heart breaking to see such ravage. Once in a while nature unleashes its fury just to remind us that we cant be arrogant.

Every year when I visit India I see some great changes. The new airports are a sight for sore eyes. Both Delhi and Hyderabad can now claim to be world class. I was pleased with the foot massager at the delhi airport. I had just one suggestion for GMR, the company responsible for the operations there. While I did compliment them in their suggestions book, maybe they could next try for a complete body massager!!!!! Kidding.
But twenty hours of travel makes me a wreck. And I am not growing any younger.

Tanmay, my friend’s precocious 7 year old is growing. I find my knowledge inadequate to teach him. When he asked me what was LOGO , I tried explaining that it was the symbol by which we recognize a company like Mcdonald, only to be curtly told by him that it was the Language of graphics Oriented! I simply stared.

Later when he brought out his books of cats, I could barely recognize a few tigers, leopards and pumas. Those made for just the first few pages. The rest was simply greek and latin to me. Do children really have to grow and lose their innocence in a pile of books? But he is still the bubbly kid when we are on the ground. We have to make a few adjustments though.The cycling has included some daredevil stunts and the park doesn’t interest him much anymore. He has announced that he will visit USA with uncle. When his mom scares him that uncle cant cook, he sagely informs her, “ I can manage with bread!”

The Television was just where I left before. The news channels look menacing as each news is a breaking news and every news caster the prophet of doom! Can’t someone tell them that news is serious business. Among the shrieking and wailing I look for some sanity.
The only professional channel is the CNBC. The presenters are all elegantly dressed, know their subject and present the show in a very pleasing under stated way.

Among the various reality shows, the li’l champs is my favorite. The depth and the range of the young kids is amazing. I cried with the venerable Asha Bhonsle as a young boy from Mathura sang his own creation. What abundance of talent!

The other day , I watched mesmerized as I accidently hit a telugu channel. A physically challenged kid ,Ganesh , dazzles the judges and the audiences with his amazing dancing talent and innocent smile. I don’t think he needs the crutches of sympathy to win the show. The Jaipur foot was more in my mind! The kid is a winner all the way.

I am yet to visit Gwalior, my home. Cancelled my ticket twice. But as I told my sister, I must first find my financial footing. Festivals are a state of mind. If the pockets are full, its diwali, nahi to diwala!

Often people ask me if my cheese has moved to India and am I relocating for good. Well, we live in a global village. It took me twenty hours to reach India from the states, almost the same time it takes me to reach Gwalior from Hyderabad. USA is as much my home as India. So it takes time.

But this is a time for festivities. time for revelry.Not for deep philosophical humbug. The Obamas and other issues can wait.

As you light your homes with the traditional earthern lamps and eagerly await the arrival of Godess Lakshmi, here’s my fervent wish that your homes are filled with happiness and prosperity. May the goddess’s benign hand bless your home always. May the smiles on your faces be brighter than the brightest of the lamps and may the sound of laughter be louder than any of the crackers that you burst.

Happy Diwali.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Singh a Song of six pence!

I was wrapped in my thoughts, happy at returning home finally after a few faux pas'. I was planning to write a vivid and colorful post, embellished with some very lachrymose moments.

But all I could think of was one word – Incredible.

I always thought that one had to be incredibly stupid or incredibly patriotic to travel by Air India. I am both. I immediately realized my stupidity as I was collecting my boarding pass in Chicago. The call centre expectedly had bungled. He not only gave me a wrong advise regarding my rescheduling resulting in me paying more than necessary, but also I was informed at the Chicago airport that they couldn’t issue my connecting boarding pass from there but had to collect it from delhi airport. What that meant was that I would collect my baggage go through the customs, cross the road again stand in a queue ,get the boarding pass, clear the security and come and sit on the same seat!!

I was fuming as I waited in the seating area before boarding. However my fury lessened considerably as I saw the procession of pretty air hostesses glide gracefully past me like svelte models on a ramp. I saw the appreciating looks of the American passengers. I am no sexist and respect age, but come on ,give beauty its due. I must admit that the only airlines which could give our girls a run for their money is the Thai Airways.

As I entered the plane, I simply gasped. Yes trust me. It had that effect on me.
The interiors are breath taking, the ambience is perfect. I have traveled in almost all the major airlines and I can certify that the service is top class.

I had one drunk passenger stumping me with a rather brainy question. The tipsy guy pointed at the toilet and said that its written that it is a non smoking zone. Then where is the smoking zone? It was a question from either a genius or someone itching for a smoke. A mere mortal like me was certainly not qualified to answer such a profound observation.

I simply said, “ sir I am speechless.”

Again the ground staff at the Delhi airport was incredible. They were polite , efficient and eager. I did cross the road, I did go through the customs. But they ensured to make it as comfortable as possible. They also saved me another customs at the destination.

I must say I am really impressed. What saddened me was the nonchalant attitude of an inept government hell bent on destroying a wonderful carrier.

I sat right in front of the airhostess as the plane descended. I compliment her on their service and we ended up chatting. As the air hostess explained their predicament , I saw the human face behind the glamour. Its not a pleasant feeling when you work hard and are not paid your salary. The pilots and the airhostess do a real hard work. They surely deserve to be paid.

I felt rage. JRD Tata , the father of Indian aviation and the owner of Tata airlines which was then transformed into Air India must be turning in his grave. I think its time the government returns this wonderful carrier to the Tata fold again.

The IITs are one of our venerable institutions. I was proud ,when once the immigration officer in Miami mentioned about that ‘wonderful school’. They bring out the finest brains in the country. And the people who are responsible are the professors.They must be treated with dignity and respect. If they have to come on the road, something is really wrong. Our education minister doesn’t want to increase their salary; The corporate minister wants to reduce the salary of the CEOs. I am waiting for the health minister ,not to be left behind, to majestically declare reducing the doctors' salary.

Ah the queen's men!

Austerity like charity never begins from their home!

There is just one word – Incredible!

Tail piece : During the elections , I had written an article for sify.com. An irate reader, perhaps a congress supporter, acidly wrote that these NRIs should be kicked on their butt when they visited India.
I am glad he is unaware of my itinerary!