Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A fan of Indian Railways

Are we on the right track?

It definitely seems so. If we have trains that are safe and clean, provide good food, are affordable, run on time, have internet and TV on board and can keep up with the increasing population....what more could we want?

It's time to lure back the middle class from the woeful Deccans to the versatile Indian Railways. Not to mention that it is greener.

If I am given a choice between an AC ticket in a train and a comparable fare to fly, I'd go for the former. Nothing beats the charm of long train journeys in India. And good riddance to all the stressful checking-in mockery of an exercise of the low cost airlines that reduces the airport nothing lesser than a market where women and children are trampled upon for the luxury of a window seat.

A good book, coffee and snacks every 2 hours, freshly laundered bedding to laze on, a view that never lets you down and the occasional stranger who makes the journey even more interesting.....yessir, I am a fan of the great Indian Railways!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A lonesome geek

Conversations. Some unintentionally overheard and some intentionally meddled.

Joe at work: Hey Lucy, I’ve brought my camera today to take some snaps at work for our new website.

: That’s great Joe. That looks like a nice camera.

: Yeah, it’s an SLR. I love this thing. Just wait till you see the shots.

: Looking forward to it. What’s the resolution?

: Resolution is excellent. I get high quality images in this.

: Good! How many megapixels?

: Well I am not sure. It’s a lot – I am sure about that. Cost me a bundle. Maybe 3…no it’s definitely 5.

: I see.

: I’ve had this baby for so many years now, I don’t remember.

: Of course!

thinks: I'll have to get someone to take some snaps. Can't trust this idiot.


Mo is at the tube station with her friend Jo. Jo is visiting London and is awed by the underground system. She stares at the underground map for sometime and takes out a notebook and starts to draw the map in it.

Mo: Why don’t you just take a photo of that map with your new camera-phone?

: Oh yeah, that’s a good idea! Now, why didn’t I think of that? Thanks Mo.

: My pleasure.
He: I think we are lost.

: That’s just great! What do we do now?

: Let’s hope that we reach a gas station so that we can ask them where we are and how to get out of here.

She gives him the silent treatment for long five minutes liberally punctuated with pregnant sighs.

She: I have an idea. Your PDA has an inbuilt GPS right? Let’s use that.

: I had forgotten it had GPS. What would I do without you?

thinks: I could do very well without you.


He: Hey Susie, check out my new car. Got this baby delivered to me last week. Care for a spin?

: Sure, let’s take her to the highway.

: Here we go. Listen to her purr under my hands!

: Hey what are all these flashy controls on the dashboard.

: …er….I don’t know.

: Hey, can you please drop me here? I saw an old friend. I’ll see you later.


Boss and Sheila are on their way to a business trip abroad. They finish check-in formalities at Mumbai airport.

Boss: Sheesh….I have to sent an important mail. Our hotel reservations aren’t done yet.

thinks I knew I couldn't trust this guy: Oh no, what do we do now? Can we call the person?

: It’s a Saturday and I don’t have person’s mobile number. I have to find a Wifi spot quick.

: It’s over there, but I think there are some technical issues. It's closed.

: Well then, we’ll just have to risk it.

: Wait a minute. Don’t you have an official Nokia communicator? Why don’t you use that to send the mail?

sheepishly: I don’t know how to send email on that.

: Here, let me help you. I have the settings on my phone. Thinks - it's going to a really long two weeks!


He: I am so busy these days, I don’t get to read your blog. Or even newspapers for that matter.

: That’s a lousy excuse. You just don’t care!

: Promise, I do. If only I had some more time.

: Why don’t you subscribe to the RSS feeds on your high-end mobile and read them during your commute?

: I can do that. Can you set it up for me please? Your blog, Daily mail, Financial Times, Rediff. Thanks :)

thinks: Why I do keep hanging out with him? He's such a tech virgin. Not really my type.


She: Hey Ram, what you upto?

: Chatting with my mom. I haven’t met her in a year now. She has bought a webcam at my request. I meant to buy one too so that she can see me, but have been too busy at work to remember. Let me go out and buy one right away.

: Isn’t that tiny thing on your laptop lid an inbuilt webcam?

: Let me check. Oh yeah, it is a webcam! How I wish you had told this to me a year back! Thanks a ton.

thinking: Why do you people buy these things? you should be made to take a test before you are allowed to buy these gorgeous gadgets.


Manager: Third party training costs are so high; our project is going to overshoot the budget.

: How did that happen? I thought we were on the right track so far; No slippages so far, right?

: Well, now I have a request to train 40 more people before this product is rolled out to the customer. But initially it was only 12 people and the room cannot accommodate more.

: Well, maybe you don’t have to worry. Let’s book 4 more rooms. These rooms have video-conferencing equipment right? Let’s run the training live in one room and broadcast to the others. We can have the trainer go to each room in rotation so that all of them get to meet him face to face for some part of the day.

: Fantastic. Let me take you out to a drink after work!

: Thanks! ( thinks: but how about a hike? )

I rest my case.

Tech companies love them. Tech enthusiasts look down upon them. I try to enlighten them whenever I can. Aren’t we all surrounded by tech-illiterates?

I really feel sorry for these people. Social pressure makes them shell out hard-earned money to buy the latest gadgets packed with powerful features. But they end up as nothing more than show-pieces and terribly underutilised.

Do your good deed for the day, spread some tech-literacy. :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Seraphic Melody

My name is Sheeban Nair. I am thirty two years old and have lived all my life in Kerala – except the one time I made a trip to Goa with my friends. If you are wondering about my strange name, I have to agree with you – I find it strange as well. I have hated my name from the time I learned to write it. In Kerala, there's an unwritten rule that a baby's name is 'created' by joining together parts of his/her parents' names. My mom and dad go by the names Sheeja and Balan and hence I am stuck with Sheeban.

I do have another name. Phalgun Nair. I chose it myself when I applied for my first job. I have loved tales of Arjuna ever since I was five years old and Arjuna was my superhero. If you still didn’t get the connection, Phalgun is another name for Arjuna.

I applied for the job of a salesperson at Melody Corner Music Store a week after I finished my studies.

"So you are a graduate looking for a job? I do have an opening. You have to be on your feet from 9AM – 7PM, be helpful to customers and be punctual. I hate it when my sales people turn up late. If you agree to all that, you can join work from Monday. I'll pay you a handsome four thousand rupees a month and bus fare. What's your name?"

"My name is …..Phalgun. Phalgun Nair."

It felt good to christen myself with my superhero's name. It has been twelve years since then and the new name has been lucky for me. I've been promoted twice and am now entrusted with managing the English section. I attend to customers, advise them of the latest releases, make recommendations to my owner about the fast moving items, chat with the teenagers who come in daily to listen to the latest songs but don’t any – that’s my typical day at work.

By now you would have guessed that I talk a lot. It's not really true. I do think a lot, but don't usually talk unless talked to. That is an important lesson I have learnt in my line of work – the lesser said the better. Some customers do not like talking beyond the customary with people like me behind the counter. During my initial days at work, innocent enthusiasm had provoked me to be friendly and talkative to customers. Some unpleasant experiences later I am a changed man now.

We were closing up the shop on that Friday when an old man and his wife entered the shop. They were dressed modestly. They could easily pass for the average middle class couple who could merge with ease with the folks of my town. They had an umbrella and two cloth bags full of vegetables with them. They looked very uncomfortable amidst all the cassettes and the posters. They were sent to the English section by the owner. They quickly walked over to me and the lady pressed a small piece of paper into my hands. The paper was torn off from an old notebook and had the following written on it.

1. Bryan Adams – Waking up the neighbours
2. Jon Bon Jovi – Destination Anywhere
3. Take that – Back for good
4. Meat Loaf – Bat out of hell
I was surprised to see the list. This old couple did not fit the usual demographics of my customers. Most of my customers were typically 14-25 years old. Most of them either chewed bubble gum or wore high heels or had a rip in their jeans or had funky haircuts or at least knew the name of the artists and albums by heart. I did get an occasional 30-40 year old once in a while with music taste fit for a teenager. But this was downright weird. An old couple with a list of albums that a teenager would die for was not something I see everyday. I decided to wait and watch before I talked to them. I handed over the three albums to them and wished them goodnight.

Things returned to normal the next day. I was busy with my regular customers and the occasional love-birds who use the store as a meeting place. I also had two new customers today who were amazed at the huge collection of albums we stocked. I do not like to boast, but there was no dispute over the fact that Melody Corner was the biggest music store in Trichur. We had all the popular and not-so-popular music collection that could cater to all the music demand in the town. I am proud of working here. I could be happier if I were paid a little bit more. But that's another story.

Five days later, the old couple came in at the usual time. They came straight to me and handed me the list. The list had more items in it.

1. Alanis Morissette – Jagged little pill
2. Celine Dion – Falling into you
3. Nirvana - Nevermind
4. Ace of Base – Happy Nation
5. Gary Barlow – Open Road

While I was packing the audio cassettes for them, the lady wandered over to the Bhajan section and started browsing. The old man was in a hurry to leave and kept on nudging his wife and pointing to his watch. The old lady smiled which made her diamond nose ring glisten. It was the sort of understanding smile you get to see only on couples who have been married for a really long time. A smile that could a thousand words that your tongue wouldn’t know how to. After five minutes of fiddling, the old lady half-heartedly settled on two Bhajan cassettes. They paid for the purchase and were out of the shop in five minutes.

That night I had a strange dream. I was walking around in a new locality and it was dark. Suddenly, I found myself outside the old couple's house. I was looking in to their living room through a window. Their music system was blaring out the Metallica song

I tuck you in

Warm within

Keep you free from sin

'til the sandman he comes

Sleep with one eye open

Gripping your pillow tight

Exit light

Enter night

Take my hand

off to never never-land

The old man and the lady were in a trance. They were banging their heads in the air and their eyes closed. I stood there watching them play the same song for over two hours.

I woke up with a bad headache. I couldn't sleep again that night. My mind was working out all the possibilities to solve the mystery behind the old couple with an unusual taste in pop and rock music. Maybe they genuinely liked the songs – they could have easily heard them in MTV of Channel [V}, result of the influence of the hugely popular Cable TV nowadays. Maybe they listened to rock when they were teenagers and are now trying to catch up with the recent releases. Maybe they lived abroad for awhile and moved to Trichur recently and that’s why they are different. Maybe one of them is doing a PhD on music and wants to research on different types of music and their effects on human beings. Maybe. But maybe was not good enough. I wanted to know. My professional boundaries stopped me from questioning them about their seemingly misplaced taste in music.

The old couple became regulars at our shop. They would come in every 3-4 days and always with a list of the famous pop and rock albums. They always came at around 7PM. Never at any other time. They came in, bought the cassettes and left as soon as possible. Except for that day in September. We were out of the Sussana Hoffs album. It was not a very popular item and I hadn’t bothered to restock. But it was in their list that day and the couple were visibly upset that we didn’t have it. They enquired whether they could get it from any other shop. They came in everyday to check the album’s availability until I ordered it for them. They were easily my most persistent and demanding customers. Or maybe they were just huge fans of Susanna Hoffs. Were they really?

I dreamt that night as well.

After a few months, I mustered enough courage to talk to them. I tired to find out a little bit more about them everyday. At the end of six months I knew that the old man was a businessman and dealt in timber and furniture – that explained how he was good with numbers. He could always add the cost of all the cassettes in his head before my owner could punch them in his calculator. The lady was indeed his wife and she was a housewife. They lived near the Devi temple which was a fifteen minutes' walk from the store. I made notes about my discoveries after their each visit. And at night, I tried my best to solve the jigsaw.

Their shopping visits lasted for two years. My guess is that they would have bought at least 350 cassettes from our shop in that period. No wonder the shop owner was always quite happy to see them too. Then all of a sudden their visits stopped as abruptly as they had started. Weeks passed by without any sign of them.

I missed them. I missed the lists they used to bring along. I missed the way they used to talk to each other without words. I consoled myself with a different reason everyday – maybe they have moved town, maybe they don't like music anymore, maybe their research is over, maybe their music system is broken, maybe the business is not doing well anymore and they are bankrupt. Maybe. Another maybe.

Maybe the old man passed away. Maybe he had a heart attack. Maybe the lady was diagnosed with cancer and they were in a hospital this very minute. Maybe they had an accident on the way to the shop. There was news last week about an old couple who were hit by a train while they were trying to cross the rail lines near the Devi temple. Was it them?

I couldn't sleep. I was always thinking about them. I was obsessed about finding out more about them. I went to the library everyday before work to look up old newspapers. I checked the obituary section in all the newspapers, read about any accidents or any unusual occurrences in the town. I didn't find anything.

I didn't even know their names. Even if there was a news-item on them, how would I recognise them? I didn’t bother. I felt that if I kept looking for answers, I would eventually find them. I spent my evenings after work walking near the Devi temple with the hope that I would see them pass by. I kept up this routine for three months. I always kept an eye out for anyone who entered the store in the evening. I made myself believe that if I willed strong enough, they would come back one day and all will be back to normal.

Six months passed by. I was helping out a regular customer when I saw the familiar list being handed over to my colleague. Trying to pacify my commoved heart, I looked up expecting to see the familiar kind faces of the old couple. What I saw was a young girl chatting away merrily with my colleague. I looked around before my mind could start spinning some more stories – and I saw the old lady browsing around at the Bhajan section! She was alive and well! All the silly ‘maybes' I had cooked up flashed in my front of eyes.

Everything fell into place. Why did it not occur to me that the old couple were buying the cassettes for their teenage daughter? I thought of everything else but the obvious.

The old lady looked me at and smiled. I went over to her and talked to her. I told her how glad I was to see her. I asked about the old man. Old lady was all smiles and chatted with me till her daughter pulled her away to pay for the cassettes. I waved goodbye to the lady. At that moment, I felt an unbelievable happiness and a peaceful feeling overpowering me.

That night I slept hugging my five year old daughter. How did I not see the loving parents who lived behind the masks of the old husband and wife?

GWBE: I call the old couple mom and dad.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Smoking license

If you want to smoke in the UK, you might have to purchase a yearly license and display it when you buy cigarettes. This is being planned as a part of the government's fight against smoking.

This is not very surprising in a country where you need to pay the government for almost everything you do. I suspect they give it different names just to ensure that you don't wise up to their tricks.

There's the driving permit, the TV license (for every TV you own and you have to pay more if it's a colour TV), council tax (to be allowed to live in the council area and to have your trash picked up every week), parking permit (if you are one of the majority who do not have a garage and have to park your car in the road), congestion charge (to drive your vehicle into London. You pay 3 times equivalent if you happen to own a bigger car or a gas guzzler), marriage license, pet license (you have to pay a fine if your dog poops on the road and you don't clean it up) – those are some I can think of. I am sure there are more in that list.

So who obeys all these rules? Everyone. Every Smith, Oliver and Molly. The secret lies in the nature of the English. They obey all rules. You just have to tell them about the rule. And then watch the money flowing into the bank.

July 07 saw the entire UK pledging to be smoke free. From 1st July 07 you were not allowed to smoke in any closed public places - including restaurants and pubs. You might imagine that such a rule would take months to enforce and there would be public uproars and protests against it. No such thing. They were told to stop smoking from July 1st and they just stopped. All you have to do is to tell them.

It's definitely something in their genes.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A peck in the cheek

It's not everyday that a movie moves me enough to write about it. Even rarer, if it makes me write something good about it. :)

I watched the movie Kannathil Muthamittal (2002) yesterday night. Alone. It struck a chord somewhere deep inside me. There have been times when I've got into introspective moods and wondered what drives sane people to have kids. What would motivate one to sacrifice a lazy romantic life willingly to years of sleepless nights, nappy changings, tantrums and the horrors of teenage hormones! Why do we sign up for 20 years of madness willingly? And every time I think about it or talk to people about it, the answer is always the same - can't be explained. It's a mystery. This movie doesn't explain it either, but it makes a good attempt to explore human emotions when it comes to relationships which has a child on one side.

The movie is the story of a girl whose perfect world topples before her eyes when her parents reveal on her birthday that she was adopted from a Red Cross camp. That she was abandoned at birth by a woman who is a mystery to all of them. The child’s obsessive drive to connect with her birth mother is what drives the movie. Unconditional love of the adoptive parents, her birth mother forced to become a terrorist, the peaceful life we enjoy in India, war-savaged Sri Lanka are all very much in your face. The film scores for flawless performances from Madhavan, Simran, Nadita Das and Keerthana - who plays the little girl. Another gem from Mani Ratnam.

The movie is so full positive emotions but it leaves you with a very heavy heart and makes you long to hug your mom and dad once more. You cannot ignore the power of love that runs throughout the movie. It is indeed love that makes us want to live one more day everyday. Nothing else even comes close.

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, try to get hold of a DVD with subtitles. Even if you understand Tamil, the Sri Lankan Tamil can be a little overwhelming. Strongly recommended.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

New addition to my family

That's a Canon EOS 40D Digital SLR.

All mine! :)

One tip for getting your dream gift from your spouse: start saving for it!