Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bamse in God's own country

See, its not just me.

The State Institute of Children’s Literature has put in place some plans to try and partly tackle this famine. The Institute recently brought out a set of books in Malayalam and is also eyeing the Swedish book market for children’s stories. Very soon, children in the State can feast their eyes on these stories.

From here.

PS: Yes, I am home. On my way back really - off to Nilgiris for a couple of days and then a day in Bombay before getting to London. While at home, managed to get Don engaged to amma all over again - major fun. Details when I get back.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Best Food Forward - Part 4

You never thought we would get to Part 4, did you? Ha! And this one is special too. This one is paying respects to certian ahem...senior fellows of the blogosphere edition. If we were to do this right, this would have been fish but since we aren't that respectful, you have to be happy with Bangla food in Brick Lane. (Btw, did I tell you that when Bill found out that the chef is Pakistani, he almost got up and left? He changed his mind as soon he saw our beaming faces.)

So anyway, getting to the food, this one is Prof-da special. We are sure that in all the silk road pictures, man spent ten minutes arranging food on the table so that he could get a decent pciture. (Yes, poor TPB, we know.)



And this one is well, who else could it be, JAP-da special. Always to destroy food before you take picture .



Special mention: The best bagels in the world. No, you New Yorkers lose.


The NY Times agrees. Sort of.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Postcard from Spey

I know. It was ages ago. But its whisky no? We can wait a little, no?

Oh, those of you who actually saw this over your morning coffee, please note: the picture you saw is of Strathisla, not Glenfiddich. This one below is Glenfiddich alright. The distillation process.




“And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s way to man”
- A.E.Housman

And what better place to understand God’s mysterious ways than by the River Spey in northeastern Scotland, heart of Scottish whisky country and home to the single malt? Connoisseurs visit all eight distilleries and the one cooperage featured in the Malt Whisky Trail around Speyside while true devotees spend a few days here, and then venture far out in the old distilleries of Islay and the Orkney Islands. Having pledged allegiance to that colourless Russian concoction long back, I was happy visiting just two: the distillery of Glenfiddich, the world’s best selling single malt, and the distillery of Strathisla because I knew that Appa would never forgive me if I came all the way here and didn’t visit the home of his beloved Chivas Regal.

Speyside in North Eastern Scotland, once considered part of the Scottish Highlands, is now a region of its own. The Highlands are known for their rugged coastlines, imposing castles and impenetrable Lochs, and people usually flock here to catch a glimpse of the elusive Loch Ness monster. For those of us who are mildly adventurous, there is always the sport of Munro-bagging – a Munro is any mountain taller than 3000 ft and the Highlands are full of them. But just thirty miles east of Inverness, in Spey county, it is a different country altogether. The desolate mountains of the Highlands give way to rolling hills with meadows and pastures. Tractors shared the road with us; every village we drove through had a bridge over a clear water stream. The distinctive pagoda signs signifying the distilleries started cropping up and we followed them to the Malt Whisky Trail. Soon we found ourselves turning into the parking lot of Glenfiddich (Glen: Valley, Fiddich: Deer)

A tour was just about to begin as we entered the distillery, and we managed to get ourselves on it. There was also a large German tourist contingent visiting the distillery at the same time. This I found out just when the tour started – the first part of the tour was a short movie on the history of Glenfiddich and two minutes into the movie, I realised that it was in German! I turned to my friend but he was focussed on the screen. Too late I realised that he had taken a couple of semesters of German at the university. I frantically put on headphones and changed the audio to English by which time we were past the time of William Grant who built the first building by hand, bought second-hand equipment, and opened on Christmas Day, 1887. But I did find out the water that is used throughout the whisky making process is the spring water from the mountain stream of Robbie Dhu, the 1200 acres around which the Grant family bought as they wanted to ensure that the water of Robbie Dhu was always available to them to make the whisky.

After the movie, we met with our guide Susan who explained the process of whisky making. Barley, yeast and huge quantities of water are all that goes into the process. First, the barley is “malted” by soaking the grain in water for a few days and letting it germinate. In the past, Glenfiddich had its own malting floor with the pagoda roof used for ventilation but nowadays malt is brought commercially from specially chosen malsters. We walked to the milling section where the malt is milled into grist, and added to hot water to extract the sugars. A large kettle called the mashtun is used in extraction – the grist is mashed a few times to extract all fermentable sugars. The resulting sugary liquid is now fermented by adding yeast in giant vessels called washbacks. After this is the distillation process which is done in copper pot stills. We could walk between the stills but photography wasn’t allowed because of the high alcohol content around us. Distillation is done two or three times until the alcohol content is around 60 – 80%. The distilled alcohol is now ready for maturing.

Next, we walked to the storage area where again no cameras were allowed. We learnt about the art of cooperage where a cooper puts together an oak cask meant for storing the whisky. The cask they use for making Glenfiddich is mostly second hand – American bourbon or Portuguese sherry has been stored in them before. New oak casks are also used for some reserves. The cooper takes apart the cask, checks them to make sure they are alright, and puts them back together. The distilled whisky is poured into these casks and stored for years. The whisky takes in the flavour of the wooden cask it is in. The Glenfiddich Special Reserve takes 12 years, and then it is opened and mixed with whisky from other casks before bottling. Susan showed us three casks with small openings through which we could smell the whisky. The first was 12 years old, the second 18 and the third 22. I bent down to smell the 18 year old cask; a second later I could feel the rich wooden flavour going straight through to my sinus. Susan broke into my heavenly reprieve.

“I know. Last week, there was a guy down there and I thought he would never get up!”

Our last stop was obviously the tasting area where we could finally taste the Special Reserve. I gulped down my portion and looked at my friend who is usually not a whisky drinker. He had finished his glass and was getting it refilled.

I picked up a couple of bottles on our way out. A bottle for an uncle in the States who always bemoans the non-availability of good single malts where he lives and another for my Dad. But now as I write this, the Special Reserve on the cabinet in front of me, it looks a little too tempting. Appa, I think, will have to be happy with just his Chivas. The Glenfiddich is all mine.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Scenes from a Marriage: The Cotton China Edition

(In case you were wondering, nothing's changed since the Paper Edition. We lead the same life in a different country. We still have the same reaction. Bill doesn't have a PhD or anything resembling a real job.)

And oh, Bill typed this up. I added some spice here and there of course but its mostly just Bill.


"Okay, so let's see, you were in India, then I was in Germany, then you were in US, then..."

"Then I will go to India, you will go to India, but to a different city, then I will go to Colombo, then..."

"...you will go to the US, then a month after, I will go the US, then you will go to Dubai"

"Isn't there something wrong here? Aren't married people, like, supposed to see each other more than once a month?"

"Well, you were the one complaining about how it feels strange to be together all the time, and pining for Pittsburgh-Chicago days"

"I know, that is not what I had in mind. People are asking appa if everything is all right between the two of us. If we are really together and all that"

"Didn't they used to ask him when I was finishing my phd?"

"Not anymore. Because he couldn't take it anymore, he lied and told them that you are already done"

"He what?"

"Hello, why is that a problem? Everyone including Her Majesty's Revenue Service and the U of Cambridge think you have a phd. Hell, until yesterday even Banker (Bill's friend from school who made his appearance here long ago) thought so"

"Yeah, and then you had to break it to him. Poor chap, he was telling everyone that I am Dr Bill"

"He will be alright. Now that he's come up with this idea of making you pretty and doing an expose..."

"He is doing what?"

"Oh, didn't we tell you? Banker and I discussed this yesterday. So the deal is you have been a post-doc fellow for a year now but you do not have a Phd. This is an expose that we are planning to sell to Oxford tabloids and make lots of money. Problem is this would only work if you were a little more pretty. So we are going to make you pretty"

"With friends like these!"

"Anyway, back to Appa and friends. We have to figure out something that he can tell them"

"Why don't you tell them things are grand between us? I get thoughtful gifts of hmm..wine bottles from every part of the world I travel to"

"And that is supposed to help? Appa will tell his friends that his son-in-law is making his daughter an alcoholic?"

"I am making you one? Right! I am sure you would hardly ever touch alcohol otherwise"

"Of course I don't. Shiva Shiva, I was such a nice Tam girl, until I met this vague north-indian"

"East! East! I know you lost marks in geography, but this is too much! You should ask your geography teacher to reimburse fees"

"Yes, I am Wasserkopf! My geography is bad, so I have to get you to navigate. Which is why we go round and round and round. It's my geography, of course"

"Besides the point. Don't evade the topic. You have a drinking problem"

"I have a drinking problem? Who drinks the other half of the bottle?"

"At least I accept the fact. Awareness is the first step to recovery"

"Where have you been, alcoholics anonymous?"

"Well, if you have to know, I got that from BM"

"BM? How is she involved in this?"

"She was afraid to tell you, but she told me. She thinks we have a drinking problem"

"I see. What else does she think that she's afraid to tell me about?"

"Again, not the point. Didn't MR also say that we drink too much?"

"Not only do you take BM seriously, you also take MR seriously. What's wrong with you?"

"I am a people person, remember? Of course I take them seriously"

"Value in relationships, that's what you are about!"

"That's what Bamse has taught me"

"Yes! Now we also listen to imaginary bears from Sweden"

"This is not just some bear. Bamse is the strongest and the kindest..."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever! Why don't you give up alcohol, if you are so concerned?"

"Sure, and go to Mahalakshmi temple every Sunday"

"We all know how you will claim you are going, and go across the street to Saravana Bhavan"

"And get dosai and appam! Mmmm..."

"And practice your Tam with the waiter"

"Hey, its not my fault if he thinks I am Tam and you are some vague N Indian"

"Yeah, proper Tam boy you are.."

"I will change name to Karthik Soundarajan!"

"Yes, and go pray at Mahalakshmi temple, eat at Saravana Bhavan, go home, and watch Rajni movies on Sun TV. Such a nice traditional Tam boy you are...."

"Yes, I am, aren't I?"

"In fact you are so traditional that even my parents will disown you"

"Ah! That might not be too bad. You know what the date is tomorrow, don't you?"

"No, No. STOP. I do not want to hear the M word, alright? Not from you of all people"

"Of course I am not going to say it. What do you take me for?"

"Yeah, its bad enough that my parents and your parents and all and sundry keep calling us and telling us how happy they are for us etc etc."

"I know, its like someone's won the Nobel or something. You know what I mean?"

"Exactly. Why can't they just forget it?"

"Yeah man, you would think two years is a long time for people to forget it"

"Two years? Did you say two years? Fuck"

"I know. Fuck"

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Saturday at Borough

Part 2 of Best Food Forward
And Part 3 of BM and Buddhi in London


Saturday + Visitors = Borough market.

The market is great, its a great photo-op, the tourists you see there try to blend in which is always very amusing to watch. The only non-cool thing about it is that the bankers of Shad Thames and City all land up there because its such a quintessentially London thing to do, isn't it now? Yeah, these are the same people who sit around and make fun of poor software engineer types who spend their day in East Ham visiting Mahalaxmi Temple and Saravana Bhavan.

And now that the obligatory deragatory banker reference is out of the way, back to Borough market. The original plan was to walk there. Didn't work too well as Bill and I realised soon enough that we are dealing with two Californians here. (If I were the Falstaffian type, here I would talk about how in Umberto Eco's Travels in Hyperreality, he talks about how in California, the left leg is a vestigial appendage as they have even gotten rid of the clutch etc.) So anyway, we go to London Bridge and BM pulls out camera and starts taking random pictures of corner stores (who also sell vegetables) thinking its the market. We finally manage to convince her that it isn't and she follows reluctantly. Once inside the market, she was like a pattikattan (village idiot) who sees elephant for the first time. Evidence follows.













An hour later we find ourselves at this stall tasting some amazing dry cured ham when my phone rings.

"Hey Anoop"

Bill, Buddhi and BM scream "Hi Anoop". Everyone around us turn around.

"I have news. I should have been in London, I know but now I am making a whirlwind trip to India"

"What?"

"Last minute plan. I am packing right now. My flight leaves in a couple of hours"

"How long are you in India?"

"For a few weeks"

"Are you getting married?"

"Not that I know of"

"Should I call your Dad to check?"

"No, thats unnecessary"

"Hmm..not even sneak preview?"

"No. All will be revealed when I get back"

"We shall wait patiently for Revealations then"

BM, Buddhi and Bill all together: "Bye Anoop". This time, people around us just move away.

Wild boar sausages is where the queue was. So obviously we decide that's where we should be. Problem is its a long, long queue. And we are all ravenous.

"Idea! We got tampanade and cheese right?"

"Why don't you guys go stand in line and I will go get some bread. We will have it while we are standing in line"

"That works!"

Soon we are all standing in long line hogging. Everyone who passes us stares at us. People in front of and behind us in the queue peep in to see what's going on.





Finally the girl just in front of us couldn't take it anymore. She calls her friend. "Where are you?"..."Yes, I am in line"..."Why don't you pick up some olives and chesse along with the bread?"...."Why? Just pick up some"..."I am hungry"..."The line is long".

She hangs up and Buddhi decides to be the friendly neighborhood types.

"You can have some of this bread if you want"

The girl looks scared this time. She mumbles No, Thank You and runs away.

Yeah, yeah, we finally got our wild boar sausage. Here.

PS: BM, didn't you have some amazing cheese pictures somewhere? Or am I thinking of one of Szerelem's old posts?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Three Men on a Wooden Floor

(Part 2 of BM and Buddhi in London.)

Saturday morning. Bill and I pack off the sistahs to the Abbey and set out on another of our flat hunting expeditions. These things usually start with viewing perhaps one flat. And then we walk around the neighborhood, chill at the Park for an hour, go find some nice cafe and bookstores, maybe catch a movie at the local theater, eat some street food etc etc. Yes, I know. The most inefficient of things but who said the point of this is to find an apartment? First of all, we haven't really decided whether we are moving or not.

So anyway, a couple of hours later we find ourselves not very far from the Camden Lock and so we decide to go say hello to our prints guy. Man runs this narrow, little prints store on Camden High, sells everything from movie posters to Michelangelo. Pretentious me wanted to pick up a couple of Degas prints as gifts for some people. Also wanted to see whether he had any new Banksy stuff (if Banksy is your man, please go see this guy in Camden next time you are in London) so it all made sense.

"Didn't BM say she was looking for something?"

"Yeah. Now that we are here, maybe we should call her and check"

So Bill steps out and calls while I picked up The Tub and Before the Mirror.

"Yeah, she wants something but its a little strange"

"Are you looking for anything specific?"

"Yes. This may sound weird but a friend was in Paris recently..."

"Yeah?"

"At d'Orsay I think and she wants this print. The problem is she doesn't know the artist or the name of the painting"

"This is a test!"

"I guess. So this is am impressionist painting. The artist's name starts with C-A-I-L, she thinks"

"Caillebotte?"

"Possibly"

"And the painting?"

"Its three men working on a wooden floor. These are workers. So..well, so they are all able bodied and stuff"

"I think I know exactly what you are talking about"

"Really?"

Man disappears for a second. Comes back with painting.



"Is this it?"

"Yes, this is surely how she described it"

"What's my next test? You want me to do this blindfolded?"

"Not for now!"

"You said this is for you?"

"No no no, this is for a friend. She saw this in Paris"

"If you say so. Here!"

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

BM and Buddhi come to London (Part 1)

BM and Buddhi (BM's sibling) have gone off to Paris for a couple of days, so good time to malign BM on blog!

Trafalgar Square. BM happily climbs on top on one of the lions. Pictures duly shot.

Me: "Enough. If you want to spend some decent time at the National Gallery, you have to get down now"

BM: "Ok ok. Hmm, it seems a little scary"

Buddhi: "What's scary?"

BM: "Getting down this thing"

Me: "Who asked you to climb up?"

BM: "Thats not the point"

Bill: "Its alright. We will stand below. I will catch you if you fall"

Me: "That's supposed to make her feel better?"

Bill: "Nobody asked you. BM, I am here. So is Buddhi. You come down"

I start laughing. Buddhi takes out the camera she just packed up.

BM: "What are you people doing?"

Me: "What does it look like? Bill will save you. And we will capture this rescue on camera"

BM: "People are staring at me"

Me: "They just want the space. Its prime photo point. Get down"

BM: "Its all stone"

Me: "Don't think we can change that now. For God's sake, its hardly your height. Turn around and scramble down"

BM: "I know. I don't know why I am behaving like this"

Bill: "Its the sun"

BM: "What?"

Bill: "This is the first straight 48 hour period you haven't seen the sun, right? This happens all the time. Just get down"

Yeah yeah, she did. Finally. There were quite a few spectators. They clapped promptly.

***

So we are all at Tesco picking up milk and stuff on our way back home. Bill talks to his friends at the till as usual.

"That's what I was telling you about. They think he's from Lahore"

BM: "Yeah man. He doesn't seem to want to correct that impression. And where did he learn to speak such good Hindi?"

Me: "Kanpur. He tries to hide his UP past but we know alright"

Bill: "UP? Did you say UP darling? But isn't Kanpur in Maharashtra? And Nagpur in UP?"

Me: "Only during my X boards did I think that. Lost 0.5 marks in Geography because of stupid N Indian towns that I shouldn't have to care about anyway"

BM: "See, this is what I call convent school behaviour. Every other minute they will be cribbing about the 0.25 marks they lost somewhere"

Me: "Hello, Bill went to convent too"

BM: "Not boys convent. Just girls convent. Where all the nuns are abusive"

Buddhi: "Look. Someone is teaching Math"

"Where?"

Bulletin board post-it says: Maths tuition available from Cambridge graduate. Get you back on track. Call XXXXX

Me: "Nice. Good way to make money. You think we should let Bill do this?"

Buddhi: "Yes, we can let Bill teach bankers Math"

Me: "Wait, bankers already know that"

BM: "Says who? This is real Math we are talking about here. Not banker Math. I can so see this. We will put up posters saying "discover the Ramaujan in you". This will work. Bill, did you see this?"

Bill: "Yeah, its not a bad idea, is it? Lets go. We are late"

Me: "Wait, I know that number"

We all turn to look at Bill.

Bill: "What? I am not a Cambridge graduate"

Me: "We know but why does it have your number?"

Bill: "How do I know?"

***

BM: "You do know that your blog readership is all psycho?"

Me: "Including you?"

BM: "No, not me, everyone else is psycho"

Me: "So you just hang out with psychos?"

BM: "Not really. I am just this childhood friend type person. I don't have a choice"

Me: "I see. My blog you do not have a choice. But why do you read all the other psychos' blogs? Surely there's a choice there"

BM: "Yeah, well. Its like a learning experience"

Me: "Learning about how psychos write?"

BM: "Yeah. So that I know how to spot them easily"

Me: "Why would you want to spot them?"

BM: "So that I don't have to hang out with them"

Me: "So you hang out with psychos now because sometime in the future, once you have learnt all about them, you do not want to hang out with them? That sounds very psycho behaviour to me"

BM: "You are just turning this around for no reason. What I mean is normal people do not read your blog. So you have to appeal to normal people"

Me: "How do I appeal to normal people?"

BM: "Number of things you can do. For instance, you can start writing about how Bill and you met"

Me: "Yeah, thats an interesting story actually. Anoop carries poor broken-leg-me inside his apartment and Bill is parked on couch being all pretentious. And A had made vattha kozhambu. I remember that. Awesome food we had that day"

BM: "No dumbo. Not like that. Like how all feelings happened when you saw Bill"

Me: "Feelings happened? Oh, I get it now. This is the sort of post that people will go Awwww..over. I hate that. That's my second most hated type of posts"

BM: "What's the first?"

Me: "Posts that people come and empathize with blogger and say things like Hugs. Those posts should be banned. As for the commenters, well, lets not go there"

(Now please go back to previous post and see BM's comment.
BM: Two more H-word comments and you are out. All comments will be deleted
)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

You know BM is in town....

When you come back home and find your living room turned into a sea of pink...


And the sky (atleast the one above Abbey Road) turns pink too!


Yeah okay, the flowers were Bill's idea. But as he said as he walked in the door yesterday with these pink flowers "Don't look at me like that. When BM turns up it will all be matching - matching".

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Frank, you ain't (W)right


MIT sues Gehry. Here.

"The school asserts that the center, completed in spring 2004, has persistent leaks, drainage problems and mold growing on its brick exterior. It says accumulations of snow and ice have fallen dangerously from window boxes and other areas of its roofs, blocking emergency exits and causing damage"

Obviously, MIT doesn't believe getting a bucket is a good option.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Scenes from a Marriage: Bill's weekend junket

Friday night. I am dividing up weekend chores.

"So you have to go pick up clothes from the cleaners tomorrow..."

"I can't"

"You can't?"

"Yeah"

"I am assuming there's a reason why you can't"

"Oh, didn't I tell you? I am going to be out over the weekend"

"You are?"

"Yeah"

"You have to go to work?"

"Sort of"

"So you are going to Cambridge tomorrow?"

"No"

"Where are you going then?"

"To Malmo"

"I see"

"Yeah, I leave tomorrow morning and I should be back Sunday night"

"So you are flying?"

"I don't see how else I would get past the North Sea"

"This is work?"

"Yes"

"In Malmo? On a weekend?"

"Its bloody November. Why else will I go to Sweden in November if its not for work?"

"How do I know? Isn't Malmo the tropical part of Sweden?"

"Hello, its still Sweden. Way North of where you are"

"Whatever. Who is paying for this trip?"

"Not you"

"You can say that once we have settled accounts"

"It isn't going out of my bank account either"

"No?"

"No. The firm is paying"

"What firm?"

"Emil's firm"

"I see. Where did Emil's firm get the money from?"

"From Bamse"

"What?"

"He got some sort of seed funding. From one of the govt agencies"

"The Swedish government has nothing better to do than fund random startups?"

"Bamse knows best. He knows who to fund and who not to"

"Of course. But why is Bamse flying you?"

"Its a company meeting"

"A company meeting? How many people are in the company?"

"There's Emil and J. And then there's S~ and yours truly"

"S~ is in Europe?"

"Some conference in Brussels. He will fly back to India next week after this meeting"

"Hmm"

"He's going to run the India operations"

"India operations? Like how many people are there?"

"As of now, none. But once S~ gets back, that will change"

"I see. What are you going to do?"

"What?"

"I asked what were you going to do"

"I don't understand"

"Emil and J are running this thing in Sweden. Working like crazy. Hacking. Evangelizing. Building a brand. S~ is going to start dev ops in India. What are you going to do?"

"Oh, that way"

"Yeah, that way. Why are they flying you then? What is your contribution to this company? To this meeting you are going to go tomorrow?"

"I haven't thought about it"

"I should have known"

"Its not that bad. I am sure I can find something to do"

"Like what?"

"Do I have to tell you?"

"Yes"

"If you have to know, I am the academic advisor"

Two minute silence. Followed by howls of laughter.

"You are what?"

"I knew you would laugh. I am academic advisor"

"What does that mean?"

"That doesn't have to mean anything"

"Well, lets try it this way. What do you have to do?"

"Nothing much really. Once in a while, I email some kid who's doing research on this product about what to do next"

"Have you found a kid?"

"No"

"I see"

"What?"

"I feel a little better now"

"Because I am doing something useful?"

"No, and you are not doing anything useful"

"Then?"

"Because I am not alone in the world. There's people like S~ and Emil. Who make exactly the same mistake I make. Idiots"

"Well, what can I say?"

"Nothing at all darling. Just go have a good trip. I will go pick up clothes from the cleaners"

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Thillu Mullu / Persepolis

(Note to non-Tams: Think Golmaal. Though must say (in my completely biased worldview) that Thillu Mullu is way ahead of Golmaal. Something to do with how the language lends itself to a certain kind of humor. That and KB and well, Rajinikanth[1])

Remember when Ayyampettai Aruvudainambi Kaliyaperumal Indran goes to the football match? And his boss Sri Ramachandramurthy sees him there? Me, I went to the game too. Well, not the game but sort of similar. Persepolis, as part of the London film festival. At Leicester Square on Wednesday afternoon at 3 PM. So I tell people at work that I have thousands of chores to do (like going to the bank, post office etc.) which I haven't been able to do because I was in Chicago for a long, long time and this country, oh in this country, everything is closed on weekends, how inconvenient. At about 2.45m I promptly sneak out and walk to the Odeon.

Thillu mullu Thillu mullu

There is a long line of people standing outside the theater. Me, I have reserved my tickets. Silly people. Not booking in advance. I walk up to the door.

"I have tickets already. I am just here to pick them up"

"That's the line for pick-up ma'am"

"Oh"

Ullamelam kallu mullu

The line stretches all the way to the middle of the square. Anyone in the office who's out for their afternoon coffee is going to see me. Fuck. I go stand in line. Maybe its not that bad. There are a lot of people here. Why would someone see me unless they are looking for me? And no one is looking for me.

Thillu mullu Thillu mullu Ullamelam kallu mullu

You idiot! Look around you. Now look at yourself. And tell me why you stand out. You are the only person in the whole square who is wearing a suit. The rest are either random tourists or film festival types who are here to see the movie. Shoot. The line is moving reasonably fast though. I am just being paranoid.

La la la La la la La la la Laa la la

"Veena!"

I turn around. Its the bloody MD. The bloody MD out for his afternoon tea.

"S.....Hi"

"Enjoying a nice afternoon movie, are we?"

"Uhh..I wish. I am actually here to get tickets. For the movie tomorrow evening"

"I see. What movie is it?"

"Its called Four Women. Its an Indian movie that's showing as part of the film festival"

"I didn't know you were into films. Did I tell you that I am an amateur actor?"

"You are?"

"Yes, I am acting in a Stoppard play at my neighborhood theater"

"That sounds lovely. You should send me the date and the venue. I will get the whole office to come, this could be our team event for the month"

"No, no, I am not sure people will be interested. Anyway, I've got to run now. I will see you at the office"

"Bye"

I debated for about two minutes. Until I got to the box office. I picked up my ticket and went in.

Thillu mullu thillu mullu ullamellam kallu mullu

Vincent Parannoud and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis based on the latter's popular graphic novel of the same name, is the story of young Marjane growing up in Iran in the turbulent years after the Islamic Revolution. She spends her teenage years in exile in the streets of Vienna, a disoriented Persian teenager in a world of make-believe anarchists. Marjane comes back to Iran, finishes college, gets married, gets divorced and finally leaves for Paris. Persepolis is also the story of Iran under the Revolution - a relatively free country going under the veil and fighting a mindless war with Iraq. Its the story of Uncle Anoush, the Marxist revolutionary and Nilafour, the young communist, and Uncle Tahr and his parties. The bigger political statements that the movie makes aren't exactly new, and it seems a little too geared towards the Western audience. The life and times of the Westernised upper classes pre and post Revolution makes for interesting viewing but well, its just that. The movie doesn't go much beyond that.

So I didn't like it like it? No, no, I loved it. Forget the big picture here. This movie is about the details. This movie is about little Marjane. Drawn in straight, mostly black and white lines which (at least for me) brought out the character without any funky distractions. Marjane takes off her veil while driving through the streets of Tehran and asks the men at college to stop sporting punky hairstyles as that could have a detrimental effect on the girls. She spends her pocket money on pirated Iron Maiden tapes, and doesn't hesitate to kill off her Mom to escape the moral police. Her Dad cries when she leaves for Austria while her mother remains as composed as ever. She shifts her loyalties from the Shah to whoever Uncle Anoush believes in in a matter of seconds and carries the placard from then on. She is the leader of the street gang, and convinces the other kids that they should take revenge of the kid with the bicycle because his Dad is a mass murderer. Little Marjane wants to be a Prophet and she looks forward to the day she can shave her legs and get this, when she was five, Bruce Lee is her hero. Yes, Bruce Lee. How can you not love this girl? Especially when you realize that she is exactly the sort of person who would grow up one day, get a job in London and sneak away from work to see a matinee.

[1] No one who's seen the man in Mullum Malarum, Aval Appadithan, Aaril Irundhu Aruvathu Varai, Bhuvana Oru Kelvikuri or Johnny will question his acting skills. Thillu Mullu was all about timing and delivery. And he had it spot on. I'd actually go out on a limb here and say that what Mr He-is-just-a-superstar-I-am-the-real-Actor-and-I-am-the-Best tried to perfect in the next twenty years in movie after movie of Crazy Mohan dialogues, Rajini had it back in 1981. The fair question, of course, is what has he done with the last 25 years of his life. There, I must say, I am utterly lost.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Banker for Bill

Those of you who commute to Canary Wharf everyday will no doubt see this at the tube station soon. For everyone else, here's how we are going to find an ibanker for Bill.


Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at a ceiling
and see the proof for Fermat's last theorem?

Or sit in silence at King's Cross

and memorize railway timetables?

Or gaze at a red planet

and think of the unwritten Foundation?


While some see them as crazy ones,

we see geeks.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think
they can get away with it, are the ones who do.

Special thanks (Homage, BM wants me to say) to the good folks at Apple, phd comics and xkcd

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Scenes from a Marriage: Mistress Bill

Late night phone call from BM.

"So what's this about Bill remarrying?"

"Yeah, we figured that he has to do something useful in life"

"Who's we?"

"Yeah okay, I did. But he is in agreeance"

"Obviously. So what's that going to achieve?"

"Other than the fact that his mom can now have daughter-in-law named Sharmishta...."

"You have picked out the girl too?"

"Not really. You know how in some communities they change the daughter-in-law's name to whatever they want? We can change this girl's name to Sharmishta"

"I see"

"So anyway, we can bring her here and she can do all the housework"

"That way"

"Yeah, that way"

"You think it will work? Especially with all of you under the same roof"

"I don't mind having her around. So what if its deluxe quality polygamous married sex? Its all the same, isn't it? I think it will work"

"You don't mind! It didn't cross your mind that this Sharmista person might mind?"

"That's also there. No man, we will find some poor girl who wouldn't mind. She will be happy to have a roof over her head types"

"So this is also your saving the world plan? If you can't save the world, atleast save a poor soul from the streets of Calcutta"

"I didn't think of it that way buy now that you say it, yeah, I guess"

"It won't work. Not with your bleeding heart liberal mindset"

"Yeah, I can see myself feeling all sorry for this girl and I will get her to strike and stuff"

"Yes Your Redness, you will only end up making her some union leader"

"Hmm..Thanks for shooting down the only idea I had about making Bill useful"

"C'mon, there are so many other options"

"Like what?"

"Think. Why get someone to do the housework? Get some ibanker woman to marry Bill and you have a house with housework taken care of. In London!"

"Yeah right. How will I live in this house?"

"Hmm...let me think about that"

"No, you are right. I got it. Just forget the marriage part. We will get Bill to be some sort of mistress character. Then he will have a flat on his own, right?"

"Right. And since this ibanker woman will come visit only once in a while, you can also live there"

"Yes. I will just run away when she is around. Or I can be Bill's cousin or something"

"Excellent"

"But how do we get this woman to fall for Bill? I see a slight problem there"

"He could be like that character in that Woody Allen story"

"Whore of Mensa?"

"Yeah"

"But this is an ibanker. What does she care about all that?"

"If I know anything about ibankers, they are pretentious. It will work"

"Yeah, I can see that. Dude, I do think we have a really good plan. Now to find this woman"

"I think you should run this by your husband first"

"He won't mind. Hey Bill.."

Bill looks up. For the past couple of hours, he has been tinkering with Shonku. Something to do with Gutsy. That story some other time.

"So we are thinking we will get some ibanker woman for you. You can be a kept man. That okay with you?"

"Yes, as long as you find this woman. I like being a kept man"

"You do?"

"Of course"

"Really?"

"Hello? Are you alright? Of course I do. If I didn't like it, what am I doing with you? For nearly six years now, that too"

"Good point. BM, he is set. Lets discuss how to go about finding this person"


(To be continued)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Chicagoland story

Still sort of stuck in Chicago. The city remains the same. It was a little sad to see that Mr Big Shoulders didn't miss me as much as I missed him. But other than that, a thoroughly enjoyable trip. Except for the shopping expeditions which were a total pain but atleast I got my annual shopping done. So anyway, since I am still stuck somewhere there, more Chicago stories:

Friday night. A&J, A~ and I went to Emilios for dinner. Last minute, I call SY, the cute kid from Hong Kong / Malaysia who works with me in London. SY spent most of her young life in Hong Kong, and KL and last four years in London where she went to the Uni. She's been to Chicago for meetings a couple of times but has never ventured outside of say, Michigan Ave. Dinner over, we walk A&J to their apartment and get on a cab to get us back to the hotel. A~ is staying over. Her car's parked in Old Town as we were too cheap to pay the $40 overnight parking fee next to the hotel. So we are in this cab and A~ and I start talking about the next day.

"What time should we leave tomorrow?"

"I am thinking we should have brunch at Orange at about 11 and then leave. We have to get on 290 so it makes sense"

(SY) "Where are you going tomorrow?"

"Shopping"

"You have to drive to go shopping?"

"Yes, we are going to this outlet mall[1] outside the city"

"Can't you take a bus or train to get there?"

"No. And its way outside the city. A good 45 minute drive"

"Oh, you mean its in the suburbs?"

"Yes, it is"

SY ponders over this for a minute. She then turns to A~. Earnestly.

"So you live in the suburbs?"

"Yes"

"How far is your suburb from here?"

"About 30 miles North West"

"Are the suburbs really amazing?"

A~ is slightly taken aback. I am trying hard to stifle laughter.

"What do you mean?"

"Do you have huge mansions that all look alike?"

"Not mansions. They come in different sizes but by city standards they are big"

"Do you live in one of them?"

"I live in a townhome. Which really isn't that big"

"Okay. So are the suburbs really beautiful? With wide open spaces everywhere?"

A~ sounds lost.

"There's a lot of space. Its a lot quieter down there. Some people think its beautiful. But you have to drive everywhere"

At this point, I give up. A~ joins me and we both are laughing so hard that SY thinks something's terribly wrong.

"Is it something I said? What is funny?"

"Well SY, these suburbs aren't exactly some planet on the far end of the galaxy inhabited by aliens, you know"

"How do I know? I have never been to one"

"You can come with us if you want"

"Maybe I will come. I didn't mean to be rude. I just wanted to know about suburbs"

"You are not rude. Its just funny"

"It wasn't meant to be funny. My knowledge of suburbs comes from Desperate Housewives. I just wanted to know if that's how they are in reality. Looks like the show isn't too much of an exaggeration"

[1] Remember the time when Falsie went shopping? Same mall.

Booker reviews

Yes, am back in London. First things first. Long overdue, I know. But better late.....

Reviews from this year's Booker Mela:
(Cat: I am still waiting for yours)

Darkmans by Nicola Barker
Self Help by Edward Docx
The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
The Gathering by Anne Enright - Falstaff
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid - Veena
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies - Falstaff
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones - Falstaff, Veena
Gifted by Nikita Lalwani
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan - Falstaff, Bill
What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn - Falstaff, Veena
Consolation by Michael Redhill - Falstaff
Animal's People by Indra Sinha - Falstaff
Winnie & Wolf by A.N. Wilson

Monday, October 15, 2007

More pinkness

If a consenting adult is not readily available, most women would just go with the vibrator. Serves the purpose and all. But we bloggers take this to a different level. I am cool. I am a thinker. I want to be mean to someone. I rock. Hmm. Yes, Tags! Awards! Thinking blogger! Rocker blogger! Whatever.


*****

Driver of 6216 TX: You rock. You really do. If I had a Rocking Girl Cab Driver award, I would give it to you. No other cab driver would have come back to Michigan and Lake on Friday afternoon looking for the passenger who left her wallet in the cab. I mean, if I was a cab driver and this random Indian woman had left her pink, as-heavy-as-a-briefcase wallet in my cab, I would have just thrown it on the lake while cruising on Lake Shore Drive.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Quick notes from Chicago

My mother used to experiment with various things in our balcony back home. After trying all sorts of things, she finally settled on mint a few years ago. It is the freshest and tastiest mint in the world - those of you who have tasted my pudina pulao or Bill's mojitos know what I am talking about. Anyway, what I was going to say was whenever I go home the day I get there just goes away in a blur. The next morning I wake up usually jetlagged, get out of bed and open the door out to the balcony to look at how the mint is doing. That's when the feeling of home comes in. Not quite but close enough experience this Monday as I walked out of the hotel and (after nearly a year) ran along the lake. Needless to say, its lovely to be back.

*****

As always, its the people. The Nigerian cab driver (I always get them and they all love me. I am sure I have a Nigerian cab driver fan club somewhere in the city) who really really wanted to know why Indian men never date black women. Or the doorman at A & J's apartment who let me in at 6.45 AM when I told him that I just came from London and wanted to surprise my friends who had no idea I was here. Such nice people. I mean, who else believes stories like this? Unfortunately, the same can't be said about the people I call my friends who weren't exactly happy when I nearly knocked their door down trying to wake them up.

*****

Movie time. I served the King of England and Jellyfish, both as part of the Chicago Film Festival. Loved the first. Jiri Menzel turned up for the Q&A session which was really cool. But people, just one request: maybe its not a great idea to practice your Czech especially when there's an interpreter around. And when its like midnight already and some of us have a 7 AM training session the next morning. We are here to hear the man, not to hear you messing up the language.

Jellyfish was okay, details were awesome but didn't feel like they had it all together. Can't complain though as the only reason I went to see it was for the Keret association. BM, I hope you are appropriately jealous

Today, I want to go see Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead but Space Bar wants me to go listen to István Szabó. What should I do?

*****

Apparently, the Chicago film festival is not an acceptable reason for why you don't want to go to the team bowling event. So I had to go with the bridal shower. Everyone was ooh ahh needless to say. Some people. Well.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

In which (some) nice things are finally said about London

"A sprawling North London parkland, composed of oaks, willows and chestnuts, yews and sycamores, the beech and the birch; that encompasses the city's highest point and spreads far beyond it; that is so well planted it feels unplanned; that is not the country but it is no more garden than Yellowstone; that has a shade of green for every possible felicitation of light; that paints itself in russets and ambers in the autumn, canary-yellow in the splashy spring; with tickling bush grass to hide teenage lovers and joint smokers, broad oaks for brave men to kiss against, mown meadows for summer ball games, hills for kites, ponds for hippies, an icy lido for old men with strong constitutions, mean llamas for mean children and for the tourists, a country house, its facade painted white enough for any Hollywood close-up, complete with a tea room, although anything you buy from there should be eaten outside with the grass beneath your toes, sitting under the magnolia tree, letting the white upturned bells of blossoms, blush-pink at their tips, fall all around you. Hampstead Heath! Glory of London! Where Keats walked and Jarman fucked, where Orwell exercised his weakened lungs and Constable never failed to find something holy"

- Zadie Smith, "On Beauty"

(Because I don't have to explain why the only place in London I would consider moving to (from three minutes away from Regents Park) is three minutes away from the Heath)

To tell you the truth, it didn't start out that way. At first, we tried to convince ourselves that we were open to other neighborhoods. We would look at it if it satisfied two conditions - a reasonably large park close by, and 15 minutes to get to Kings Cross[1] (door to National Rail). Islington lost out because of the first condition, as did most of the close-to-City neighborhoods. Bayswater lost because of the second, and the other areas around Hyde Park weren't exactly our favorite neighborhoods. Not just because we couldn't afford it. But because what will we do around diplomats and American expats and Harrods shoppers and the Notting Hill crowd? That pretty much left our little neighborhood, north of Marylebone maybe a little way up to St Johns Wood[2]. But since one of the reasons for this moving idea is that we should try some other neighborhood (the other reason being getting a little more space, if possible), we had pretty much decided not to move. Then we gave in a little and said maybe the river will do instead of the park. That gave us the London Bridge area, east of the Tower Bridge but wait, the bankers! Oh no. If we moved there, our entire year will be spent bitching about the "high IQ morons" who live around us in these convereted warehouses. I mean, imagine Bill and moi living next to these bankers in Shad Thames. See, see now. I would so do that if I was writing one of those "undercover" books, yes.

So then we gave up on everything else and said yes, Hampstead is expensive and it has just the Northern Line and its not Zone 1 BUT it has the Heath. Which we so love. If there's one place in London that you won't hear me complaining about (or comparing to the city by the lake), its the Heath. And the Northern line from Hampstead will get to Kings Cross in less than 15 minutes. We should at least check the neighborhood out. We owe it to the Heath.

So it was on a glorious Saturday morning we got on a bus to check out the neighborhood. Out of habit, we just went straight to the Heath instead of getting down at the High St. Up Parliament Hill road, into the Heath and up the Hill. As usual, random mix of locals and tourists sitting on benches enjoying the view. Photos being shot. We do our usual comedy.

"You know someone's going to shoot us one of these days. Especially if we move here"

"Hey, freedom of speech remember?"

"Nonsense. You keep making fun of these people, they aren't going to tolerate it"

"Oh c'mon. These Brits are crazy. This is so like the whole Changing of the Guard thing. All they do is dress up and walk up and down for an hour and its some big deal. Tradition, my foot"

"Who said I don't agree? But you can't come to Parliament Hill every day and make fun of people who are here to see the skyline view"

"Skyline. Ha Ha Ha! Skyline, indeed. Rooftop view, I would call it. All these cute Victorian houses. Chal, lets count how many rooftops we see"

"People are staring at us"

"So? If the city doesn't have a skyline, it doesn't have a skyline. Just because you climb up a Hill, wait, a mound called Parliament and claim its a skyline doesn't make it anything of the sort."

"Enough, lets go"

"I love America"

"Too loud. Not the right sentiment in this liberal haven. Chal lets go"

The next couple of hours was spent in the Heath taking in everything you have read about already in the beginning of this post. We got lost a couple of times but that's what you are meant to do in the Heath so it turned out to be fine. Finally we got out and decided to walk up and down streets to see if they made sense. They did.

"Squirrel Hill[3] man"

"Too hep to be Squirrel Hill. I'd say Shadyside"

"I guess"

"Its the Shady Ave part of the Shadyside. Also that Amberson Ave types near where you and BM used to live"

"Yeah, but its all up and down like Negley. Hmm"

"What?"

"So you like it?"

"I think so, yes. What's that?"

"Some street festival. Probably a block party."

"Looks nice. Good music"

"Way too many kids"

"Fuck, yes. Forget what I said. We won't live here"

"I know. Kids could be a problem. Plus even if we want to, they wouldn't let us live here. We wouldn't qualify"

"Hmm"

A few minutes later we are at the Heath St.

"Dude, this is nice"

"I know. Such lovely cafes and these stores are nice too"

"Wait, whats that queue there?"

"What?"

"Its some food stall. Wait, its a creperie. With 15 people waiting in line. I am going there"

"I don't know man. It looks like some general stall"

"You go do something else. I want crepes"

Bill comes back twenty minutes later.

"You have hardly moved!"

"That's because they make those crepes in front of you. Mouth watering, they are. Look, they are some big deal around here. They have all those press things written about them"

"Whatever. I am a little skeptical. But we will see"

We finally get out crepes. A slab of butter. Buckwheat batter. Chocolate and banana. All together. Bill gets the classic ratatouille. I take a bite. Bill's paying (for once). I take another bite. I cross the street and run away. There's no way in hell I am sharing this with him.

"Hey, where did you run away?"

"Here only. I was just looking at this bus timetable to see whether you can get to Kings Cross if the Northern line is not functioning. There's a bus that takes you to KC in 12 minutes. All's cool"

"So you have decided to move here?"

"Have you tried the crepe?"

"Not yet"

"Try it and tell me you don't want to move here"

"Fuck"

"Orgasmic, isn't it?"

"Close. Close. Let me try yours."

"No...wait, here's a Waterstone's. A bookstore so close. See, good choice to move here. Come lets go in"

Inside Waterstone's. I am somewhere in popular fiction. Local author, it says, Julian Barnes. Zadie Smith. Hmm.

"Hey, you should come check this out"

"What?"

"Come, check this section"

I follow Bill. A huge section. Jewish interest.

"Oh, I didn't tell you. I was thinking about it when I said Squirrel Hill. The area north of here, like north of the station and then going up to Golders Green"

"Yeah?"

"Its all supposed to be all majorly intellectual and all. Also, euphemism for Jewish"

"Okay then. We are moving here"

"Righto Mr Eli Feynman[4]. We are indeed moving here"

See, moving decisions are that easy. All you have to do is to get your priorities right.

PS: This doesn't mean we are moving. We haven't even started looking at flats. Excuse to check out neighborhoods really.

[1] For those of you who think I am mean to Bill, please read the sentence again. You will see how considerate I really am.

[2] I know, it gets a little too yuppie around here sometimes with all the LBS crowd moving in and all but you can't have everything, you know.

[3] Bill's very Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh

[4] I am not making this up. There was a time when Bill used to call restaurants for reservations under the name of Eli Feynman[5]. It was very interesting to watch people go crazy when we actually turned up.

[5] Coined by BM. Please to ask her for details

Sunday, September 23, 2007

On Chesil Beach

Falstaff's review of McEwan's On Chesil Beach here.

All Mela reviews up until now available here.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bill at the Barbican

At this afternoon's performance of A Disappearing Number, a play about Mathematics, creativity, infinity, mysticism, mortality and everything you can think about on those lines. I liked it, the stagecraft was excellent, the cast was good, the plot was contrived at times but overall worked for me. The main characters are Ramanujan, Hardy, a current day Math professor, a string theorist and a hedge fund guy, so let me see if I can get Bill to write something about the play.

So anyway, we are at this play, the theatre is almost full. Numbers thrown around everywhere. The opening scene, probably the best, starts with the professor writing numbers on the whiteboard and explaining that its integral to the evening's performance. Yes, yes, Riemann zeta, -1/12, 1+1/2+1/4+1/8... have all made their appearance already. Three minutes into it and Bill whispers:

"Yes, this is so cool"

"The numbers?"

"No. The Zeta"

"What?"

"She gets the Zeta right. No one draws a perfect Zeta. Its not exactly an easy letter to write"

"If you say so. Shut up now"

Halfway into the play. By now, numbers are everywhere. Black board, screen, conversations, voice overs that junta's stopped paying attention to the numbers and are trying to concentrate on the play. Voice over of Ramanujan. He is on the ship from Madras to London and is talking about his journey. It goes something like this:

"We leave Madras which is at 13 degree latitude, 13 is a prime number and then we turn to XXX whose latitude is 7 which is also a prime number....(this goes on for sometime and finally)...into the English Channel and we reach London, latitude is 51 which is also a prime number"

This time, Bill's voice is loud and clear.

"No, its not"

Some 56 pairs of eyes turn towards us. Obviously everyone wants to see the man who dares to contradict Ramanujan (well, the one in the play). An uncomfortable 5 seconds and I am about to burst into laughter when Bill goes:

"Well, its still not prime. 3. Try 3"

This and that

Generally busy at work and stuff. So couple of random updates.

1. So I had to go to the US Consulate yesterday to get visa done[1]. (Aside - TR: Exactly how many times have you been to the States in the last ten years? I had eight entries and the form had enough space for at least four more. Or is this some special form you Profs have to fill?) Having not been to the US consulate in a while, I had forgotten how painful the experience is. So anyway, I was sitting in the waiting room cursing myself for not carrying a book when I saw this Visit USA Travel Planner lying around. Page 47 - a half pager about the great lake state of Michigan with a couple of pictures. The star picture looked familiar, so I looked again. Lake Michigan, yes, but the skyline was that of Chicago! Stealing the Chicago skyline to con poor Londoners to go to Michigan! WTF?

2. This whole magic realism thing. I love it, some of my favorite writers fall into this category but I always felt that I never completely got it. I wouldn't be lying if I say that for the most part, I am partial to the non-magic world. There, I have said it. Shoot me. Now for the part which is going me get me tortured. These writers who weave all this magic stories. Its not that they are not capable of doing the real world (yeah right, Marquez can't do real world), after all, the best of these writers are the ones who tie in the real so gloriously with the unreal (or the "internal" if you want to call it that), but its that they are just not serious enough about reality. I think at the end of the day they just don't care that much about it. But if you bloody well have so much passion for it and you can write about it so well, why do you need to resort to these magical experiments (especially when they are simply not your forte)? Why the fuck do you need Saleem Sinai when you have Animal? I don't get it. But apart from that, I loved it. If you read just one on the shortlist, read this book. It's a ride you won't forget that easily. Indra Sinha's Animal' s People. My pick for the Booker.

[1] Yes, yes, I am going to the see the city by the lake. The second reason why I took current job (first being the rent) was that I get to go to Chicago thrice a year. So cool, no?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A weekend with Sir Humphrey

Bill wanted to have a go at this bitching and conversations thing since he thinks I am spreading all wrong rumors about him, and moi, being all magnanimous offered him space. The real reason though, I think, is that he wants Professors to be all impressed with him too. So without further ado, I hand this over to Bill.

No, we haven't been watching Yes, Minister DVDs again. I have been trying to file our UK tax returns. A weekend of tax returns and these are the three things I have gained:

1. An intimate understanding of Sir Humphrey's mind
2. A light bulb moment when you finally realize how is it that this island ended up ruling the world and
3. An appreciation of American disdain for any form that has more than 5.5 boxes to fill

It all started innocently enough.

"We have to file these tax return things"

"We have to or you have to?"

"Separate forms but both of us have to"

"Inland Revenue doesn't send me love letters every other day. I don't have to fill anything"

"What nonsense?"

"That's what they do na. Every day there's a letter for Dr Bill. I haven't received anything from them"

"You haven't received that self assessment form that everyone has to fill?"

"No. So I think I don't have to file a return"

"And yet you make more than double I make"

"This country is vague that way"

"That doesn't sound right. Randomly they sent me so many letters asking me not to feel daunted. The tax returns are fun etc. etc. I think we both have to file"

"I told you - they just love you. And anyway, if you are so sure we both have to file, why don't you be useful for once and do the returns? I will give you my P60 and stuff"

"Okay, okay, how difficult can it be? 1040EZ in the US was an hour's work. Let us see, the key dates are 30 Sep 2007, 30 Dec 2007, 31 Jan 2008,..."

"Oh so it's not like we have to fill it now"

"They tell us exactly in paragraph 2.1, subsection a. ...

If you fill in a paper tax return, you must get it to us by 30 Sep 2007 if you want us to calculate your tax, collect tax through PAYE tax code, if possible, where you owe less than 2000 Pounds (If we receive your paper tax return before 30 Sep and process it before 30 December, we will still try to collect tax through your tax code. If your kitten dies before 30 November, you are allowed 17.2 extra days).

Uh, can you hand me the laptop so I can draw a flowchart?"

"Here it is. Just file it now and forget the other dates"

"Ok, here goes. Answer the questions 1.1 to 1.21, except 1.19..."

"That seems easy, 20 questions, look up a tax table, and you are done"

"... to find out if you are a resident.

Q 1, what date did you come in (only if before Apr 5 but not before 30 Sep)
Q2. Calculate the number of hours from entry in active employment (please do not count minutes spent travelling (round to the nearest half second)) .
Q3. Subtract the number of minutes in question 2.1 above from the sine of theta, where theta is two times your monthly salary expressed in radians."

"See, I told you this is made for you. I think I am going to cook now. If you are done by the time I am done, I will give you some Malabar fish curry. Ta ta"

"Wait, I can't work on this new-fangled Excel of yours. Give me my laptop with Linux and Perl"

"Okay, here it is. You can file the tax return in Perl"

"Notes for non-residents. Broadly you are a resident of the UK if you spend at least half of a tax year here, or regularly spend at least a quarter of each tax year here. Your precise position will depend on your particular circumstances, and the notes should be read accordingly. The notes will help you decide whether or not you should complete your tax return on the basis that you are:
  • Not resident in the UK
  • Not ordinarily resident in the UK
  • Not extraordinarily non-resident in the UK
  • Entitled to split year treatment
  • Not domiciled in the UK
  • Not domiciled in the EU
  • Not domiciled in the Commonwealth (Note: The USA does not belong to the Commonwealth, nor is it part of the European Union)
  • Not an ordinary resident of the Milky Way
Thirty three pages of questionnaires follow."

(Two hours later)
"Are you done? The food is ready."

"Yes I finished the resident form. We are apparently resident in the UK, and ordinarily resident for 2007, and domiciled in the Commonwealth, but not domiciled in the UK."

"Are we getting money back or not?"

"Don't be so American. There's only 12 more forms to fill, and then we can calculate our tax"

"Okay, why don't you fill up the forms. I have to meet some people after lunch, but I will come back and calculate our tax"

"Very clever, you get to look up a figure in the tax tables and I get to fill 13 forms, all designed by Sir Humphrey"

"Be thankful you don't have to complete those forms in triplicate. I'm off"

(six hours later)
"Hey, I am back. How did it go? Did you fill all the forms?"

"Oh, it got predictable after a while. Not so much challenge after all, at least after I solved that multivariate regression problem on page 22."

"If only that would guarantee a PhD! Anyway, I can look up the tables to calculate my tax"

"Oh yes, that is going to be real easy. Here, this forty-page booklet has all the information you will need to calculate your tax. I need some coffee, so see you in a bit"

"Yeah, but there are no tables in this booklet"

"Who said anything about there being a table? It has all the information. All 236 questions and 21 worksheets."

"All I am looking for is two numbers. You tell me a figure, I look it up to get the second figure. I write that, sign, and we are done"

"Not really. You take this thirteen forms, fill in the answers to the 236 questions, and you will get that figure. I have even underlined the relevant figures in the thirteen forms for you."

"Very funny. But didn't they say they will calculate your tax for you?"

"Yes, they will. But do you trust them to hand back your money? This is Sir Humphrey we are talking about here"

"Oh. How about we do this tomorrow? We can both do it together. That way we will finish real fast"

"I thought you said you are going to do this by yourself"

"Yeah but what if we do it wrong? You will have to double-check anyway. Why don't we do this together tomorrow?"

"Yeah yeah! I knew this."

Long time readers of this blog would have no doubt guessed what really happened in the morning. Madam had an urgent appointment and had to go away somewhere. I was stuck filling 236 questions.

"Hey, you done? Let's go out for lunch"

"Yeah. My tax was uncannily accurate, down to the hundredth of a pence. I don't owe them, they don't owe me."

"And what about mine?"

"Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (hereinafter referred to as HMRC) owe you a thousand and three pounds"

"What? Let's send this in today. Where do I need to sign?"

"There's just one problem. You need a Universal Tax Reference Number, but since they never sent you a form, you don't have one. You can't file this."

"Say that again?"

"Actually, by subsection 3a of Clause 31 of the Income Tax Act, 1988, as amended in 1995, 1996 and by Statutory Orders as appropriate, you aren't required to file a tax return if they don't send you one."

"Let me understand this. They don't owe you a penny, so they send you love letters every day asking you to file. I on the other hand am not required to file this, despite the fact, or perhaps because of the fact, that they owe me a thousand pounds?"

"I think that's accurate"

"I don't believe this! These fucking bastards should be sent to be a firing squad. Stealing my money!"

"Actually, firing squad as a method of permissible execution was outlawed in 1949. Anyway, the question is moot, since we no longer have the death penalty (it was abolished in 1998 and even before was never a punishment for theft), and furthermore, you will note that the Bastardy laws were repealed in 1931!"

"Enough, Sir Bernard!"

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mister Pip

Falstaff reviews Lloyd Jones's Mister Pip here.

My review of the same book:

The blurb was all about the transformative power of books, and how a lone white man in a remote South Pacific island changes peoples' lives by reading Great Expectations to them during a blockade. Doesn't exactly sound promising, does it? That's what I figured too, and I gave up for a while after reading the first chapter. The book begins with the narrator talking about a white man nicknamed Pop Eye who used to drag his huge native wife through the village on a trolley in the afternoons. This Pop Eye guy even has a red clown nose. The writing was simple and engaging but really, I wasn't going to read another of these things. When it appeared on the shortlist a few days later, I felt vindicated - yes, look, they even put it on that shortlist, it can't be that good. Yesterday, I decided to give it one more try - after all, its about Great Expectations[1], how bad can it be?

Well, not bad at all. Its the best of the ones on the shortlist that I have read but that doesn't mean much as the other two are the McEwan and the Hamid. But that's really all that I can say about it! The story is set in the early 1990s, and it is narrated by Matilda, originally of Bougainville, now an immigrant Australian. Matilda is thirteen when the blockade begins. The world has forgotten their fertile little island, the boys have all gone to join the rebels ("rambos"), the "redskins" fly above in their choppers, the teachers have taken the last boat out. Mr Watts aka Pop Eye, the only white man in the village agrees to teach the children. He introduces them to Mr Dickens through Great Expectations. Matilda, like most other children immediately takes to the rimy mornings and the marshes of Victorian England, and falls in love with Pip and Joe Gaggery. To her mother's chagrin, Pip becomes more dear to her than the relatives in the family tree, or the God that her mother worships with a dangerous intensity. The situation worsens as is expected, and its only a matter of time before the redskins get to the village. Any world would be nice to escape to in such a situation, and (I guess) Dickensian England qualifies.

Jones's writing is simple but clever, folksy in a way, and his descriptions of the island and the people are charming. The problem though is that it doesn't go much beyond "charming". The characters are stereotypes, (though they speak in a really endearing manner) and its left to the reader to figure out why Pip should prove to be important to Matilda or anyone else for that matter. Its almost as if any other book or character would have done quite as well - why Pip? why Dickens? (As Falstaff points out somewhere in his review, one gets the feeling that Enid Blyton and the Famous Five would have done quite as well)

But wait, we aren't done with the story yet. Jones is not content with letting Pip live in his fictitious world, and this (sort of) saves the book. The redskins arrive, and seeing the beach-side shrine that Matilda built for Pip, they are convinced that Pip is a rebel and demand that he be handed over. With that, Pip is solidly in the island, he is one of them. Atrocities happen as expected and I don't want to give away the rest of the plot but will just say that it involves a story within a story narrative where Mr Watts spins his life, the stories of the islanders, and the story of Pip, basically everything that we have read so far into a neat yarn spread over seven nights. Interested? Go read.

Again, Jones is a clever writer, and I especially liked the way he describes the atrocities of war. So simple, understated, matter-of-fact and yet it conveys so much. The problem is that you don't really feel for the characters - I am reading about these brutalities thinking how clever the writing is, and not really about what the thirteen year old protagonist is going through and that doesn't seem quite right. Also, Jones unfortunately doesn't end the story in the island - he goes on for another fifty or so pages about Matilda's Dad, and Australia, and England and Dickens which is all very inane and serves no purpose whatsoever.

So did I like it? Yeah, it was nice. Pleasant reading. The writing is cool, some parts of the narrative are engrossing, and its good to see the author going beyond just the escapism theme. Worth a read, I would say. But it doesn't stay in the mind - because the characters are two-dimensional, the plot is contrived (which would have been okay if the characters were sketeched out well), and Jones tries a little too hard - he so much wants not to be the outsider, and he so wants us to like the characters that the effort is what shows up throughout. Not much in terms of results.

[1] Is there anyone in the world whose favorite Dickens is not Great Expectations? Really?

Why there is no point in Bill graduating...

(Via the Kid who seems to have nothing better to do than finding excuses for his brother)

From here. (Where else?)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Animal's Spirit

Falstaff's review of Indra Sinha's Animal's People here. I think he likes it - I didn't read the review in its entirety as I read a couple of chapters at the bookstore and would like to read it without any spoilers. So.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Pollachi pookaran* needed!


As seen in front of the Council House this afternoon while walking to brunch at Marylebone. You thought they sent these buses off to the scrap metal yard, didn't you?

Oh, and here's a couple more. You never know what you run into when you walk by the Thames. I am beginning to appreciate camera phones, I think.





*Flower guy from Pollachi. Who should be the only guy decorating things during weddings.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Booker shortlist

Booker shortlist is out. Here.

On the shortlist, we have:

Darkmans by Nicola Barker
The Gathering by Anne Enright
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Animal's People by Indra Sinha

Mela reviews so far:

Darkmans by Nicola Barker
Self Help by Edward Docx
The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
The Gathering by Anne Enright - Falstaff
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid - Veena
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies - Falstaff
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
Gifted by Nikita Lalwani
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan - Bill
What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn - Falstaff, Veena
Consolation by Michael Redhill - Falstaff
Animal's People by Indra Sinha
Winnie & Wolf by A.N. Wilson

The shortlist includes a couple of books that I think shouldn't be there, but hey, there's a reason why they don't let me sit on these things! Its been a very unproductive work for me in terms of reading but hopefully can make up for that later in the month. Anyway, we still have a month to go, so if you have any reviews up, let me know.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

You know those people....

who cannot read maps and are for some reason, very proud of the fact that they say it to all and sundry. I used to wonder all the time who hangs out with these people, and today I have my answer. In fact, I even know who gets married to them. People who buy furniture from Ikea and then pay "assembly professionals" to assemble said furniture. Really. They deserve each other, don't you think?

In other unrelated news, the only thing (concerning work) that I know everything about, or rather, no one's accused me not knowing has become unrecognizable now. Microsoft's gone and done it again. Does anyone recognize this? (Please click on it to see larger picture in all its goriness..err..Macness)


No, its not iTunes people. Its Excel 2007. Bill (No, not you dammit, and no, you do not tell me to switch to Linux[1]), WHY? I take a break for a month and this is what you do?

[1] Anoop, that's for you too.

PS: On the bright side, all old keyboard shortcuts work. So all's not lost methinks.

Monday, September 03, 2007

More proof that I am not meant to work

So I decide that I better start working again if we are to pay next month's rent. Figure out job and get to work this morning. What's the first thing I hear once I get there? Tube on strike for 72 hours! Looks like God and the People have gotten together and decided that moi going to work is not a good thing.

Bill, are you listening?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

On Chesil Beach

Another Booker review as part of the Mela. Bill (yes, Bill. See what all some "well intentioned laziness" on my part can do!) on Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach:

The billboards in London are announcing the film version of Atonement. As a person who really liked that book, I am very skeptical of a film version starring Keira Knightley, and by the director of last year's Pride and Prejudice, no less. What I would have no problems with, however, is with them adapting On Chesil Beach to the screen. It might even improve on the book, since it's hard to see how they could make it worse (famous last words).

Two days ago, I wouldn't have thought I would say this of a McEwan book. Even the books that are admittedly not his best, like The Innocent, for instance, are books I admire for his precise descriptions of mood, of characters. He can create an atmosphere that you know is fictional but are engrossed in nonetheless. With those expectations, this book comes across as even more of a disappointment than it would have been otherwise.

The story is about the honeymoon night of a young English couple, in the year 1962. Florence and Edward are trapped hopelessly in an old-fashioned conventionality, unaware of the approaching sexual revolution (nineteen-sixty-three, as Larkin tells us. I don't know much more, but this guy surely does). This is the first time either of them are going to have sex, and both carry a heavy baggage of anxieties and preoccupations. A lot of repressed emotions, things left unsaid, and endless fumbling later, the night will end in tragedy.

The plot of course is nothing to write home about, but McEwan can transform even the thinnest of plots and make it engrossing. This time he doesn't actually succeed, partly because the characters are extremely unconvincing caricatures. Florence comes from an upper class family, with an Oxford philosophy professor for her mother and a successful businessman for her father. She herself plays violin in a classical music quintet. (what else!) And Edward is from solid middle-class background, with all his friends gone to trade schools. He is busy trying to hide his country background at University by pretending not to know the names of trees. Not satisfied with this rich girl poor boy dynamic, we then get chaste girl horny boy also. Florence has once before run away screaming when Edward placed her hand on his groin. Edward cannot stop longing for sex, in the "long lazy afternoons, before going to sleep, after waking up" before his wedding.

McEwan seems to set out to explore the consequences of repression and decorum, in a polite English world. The mood is set by the very first sentence: They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. That sentence pretty much sums up the book. My problem with the book is that he never delivers on the promise of the sentence that follows: But it is never easy. Embarrassment is not unknown during a first-time encounter with sex even in our enlightened times, and surprising though it may seem, people actually did have sex before the sexual revolution (in industrial quantities too!). Exploring that era needs something more than a "Oh, they couldn't talk about it".