Saturday, December 27, 2008

Understanding Bongs I

My turn. So I have been reading this book recently which has given me a few insights into the Bong way of life and why Bongs, you know, turn out the way they do. In the interests of being useful, I thought I shall share the info with the rest of you.

For instance, take 1857. I still remember how I first learnt about our first war of independence and how it was explained to me. I am sure a great many of you would probably have come across 1857 in a similar manner. But let us see now how Bong kids learn about it:

"During the time of the Mutiny, Lucknow was ruled by the Nawab. The British forces were all stationed in the Residency here. Henry Lawrence was their Commander-in-Chief. When trouble started, most of the other British men and women in Lucknow went and took refuge in a hospital. Sir Henry fought bravely, but was eventually killed by the Sepoys. What happened to the British after that is obvious from the state of this building (The Residency). If Sir Colin Campbell hadn't arrived with reinforcements, heaven knows what greater horrors the British in Lucknow would have had to endure...This was their billiard room. Just look what those cannon balls did to it!"

Not kidding. And then we wonder where this colonial hangover came from?!

What? Where is this from? Doesn't mean Bong kids read this. Really? The story is called The Emperor's Ring. The book is The Complete Adventures of Feluda[1][2], Volume 1. Which Bong do you know who grew up not having read this?

[1] Yes, I know. Their most endearing detective sounds like a some sort of a combo between ice cream and oral sex. I rest my case.

Q: How do you know Feluda is a work of ficton?
A: Because Feluda wins the National Rifle Championships. As all of us know, all Bongs have eyesight power greater than 2 or less than -2, so no Bong could ever win the Rifle Championships unless it was a special championships where all the other competitors are blind.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I married an alcoholic

(And I hacked into her account to post this. Conversation from yesternight. Mum, if you are reading this - CS types can break into computers, sometimes. Proof that the last twelve years were not completely wasted.)

"Uh, hey"


"who has been googling for amoxycillin and vodka?"

"If it's not you, it must be me no?"

"You do know you can't have alcohol while you are on antibiotics, right?"

"I do know"

"Now. After googling for it. Frankly, I am surprised you can think of drinks, given how out of it you were with painkillers and steroids and what not..."

"Ever consider why I was so out of it?"


"Because I couldn't have my gin and tonic"



"That's it. We have to call Alcoholics Anonymous now"

"Go away"

People, please help.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

From across the grave

If you haven't heard already, Pinter died. Obituary in the Times here. Written by a chap who died in 2005.

PS: Falsie - post that obit, will you? Since anyway you have it written out somewhere.

Why Bongs don't make Dosais and other such stories

"You eat a lot of rice"

"So do you"

"I am a Southie"

"I am not a Northie"

"Dude, my people are from the Cauvery delta. What will we eat if not rice?"

"Mine are from the Ganges - Brahmaputra delta. What will we eat if not rice?"

"Oh that way"


"Why don't you have dosai then?"

"I have dosais all the time"

"You just don't know how to make them"

"Who grinds the flour in this house?"

"That is only part of it. You don't know how to spread it as thin as paper and make steamed dosais all without even a dash of oil"

"Because I did not grow up seeing my mum make it every single day of my life"

"Exactly. So why don't you people have dosais? You are rice-eaters no?"


"All we rice-eaters down South have some version of dosai. Why don't you have any?"

"I know why"


"When you think about it, it is not difficult to see"

"I am listening"

"Well, how do you make dosai?"

"You take rice and dal and you grind them and..."

"How do you grind them?"


"Tell me how you grind them"

"In mixie. Or wet grinder"

"Which your people in the Cauvery delta had 1000 years ago or whatever"

"An non-electric grinder otherwise known as a grind stone was used. It is still used in certain parts"

"No kidding"

"True only. Special days in my mum's house in the village, they still grind using that. We have one in our house in Kerala too - haven't you seen it?"


"Behind the kitchen - what amma calls work area. We never use it but it is there in case there is no electricity for a while, we can use it types"

"Oh ok. But you can't grind dosa batter on a Bong grind stone"

"What is a Bong grind stone?"

"The normal grind stone"

"Oh yeah, that's the ammi"

"The what?"

"Ammi kallu. Didn't they make you do something with it during the wedding?"

"What nonsense?"

"Maybe my mother was too lazy to bring it. They do something with it during weddings. Forgot what"

"You Tams are crazy. What will a grind stone do at the wedding?"

"Imagine the possibilities"

"No, thanks"

"Anyway, the deal is that is what we use to grind chutney and stuff"

"Same with us. We mostly use it for grinding mustard"

"But the dosa mavu is made with a different grind stone - the aattu kallu"

"What the heck is that?"

"It is like a huge stone mortar. The pestle is huge like the grind stone ka thing"

"Yeah, figured as much. So see now why we Bongs don't make dosais"

"No, I don't see it"

"We have floods all the time"

"We do too"

"Nonsense. We have real floods"

"Okay. So?"

"How the hell are we going to carry this huge mortar from one place to another when there are floods?"

"You are telling me no river delta civilization used a large grind stone?"

"No, just the ones who are very prone to flooding"

"Nonsense. Its another excuse for laziness"


"Do you know how much work is involved in making batter with this mortar? It is not meant for lazy people. That could be the only explanation"

"I see. If you already knew the answer, why bother with the question?"

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

You Never Know What You Find in a Book

Chap named Henry Alford on the Times a few days ago on the stuff, yeah stuff that people store / find in books. Nothing to post about except that Bill found something in a book yesterday that was quite funny.

At the Marylebone library. Bill, in Science. Moi in History.

"Hey, come here no?"


"Found something"


"See this book here?"

"The Dawkins?"

"Yeah. Guess what is in it?"

"Dawkins speak"

"No, what else could be in it?"

"How do I know?"

"Tan..tan..tang" (That's Bill's suspense music. Don't ask)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A few Czech jokes

Ben Lewis sets out to find the truth behind the theory that humour brought down Communism. An original, interesting and challenging task no doubt. The result, Hammer & Tickle: A History of Communism told through Communist Jokes takes us through an interesting journey from the Wall to Vladivostock through jokes during the 60-odd years that the political philosophy (which was supposedly laughed out of existence) held sway. He interviews all the joketellers and joke collectors that he could possibly find (such as the super cool Stefanuscu of Romania) including many establishment voices such as the erstwhile editor of the DDR's official satire rag Eulenspiegel. Lewis goes beyond the joketellers where he can - in an attempt to find out how the political top brass viewed jokes, he meets Lech Walesa, Jerzy Urban, the Gorbachev Foundation archives, a US Cold War veteran and a joketelling Putin aide. This post is not a review of the book so I shall leave you to read it for yourself and find out all about his conclusions. I found the book to be engaging though I wish Lewis was a little less serious about the jokes and his own theroies - that way he might have actually listened to the people he was speaking to. There was also some supposedly deep side story about the author and his postmodern, East German artist girlfriend which was totally boring and unnecessary but thankfully, there wasn't too much of it. Minor irritations. If you like satire and / or have a passing interest in the Soviet Bloc, definitely worth reading. Great jokes, good context, exhuastive research.

Anyway, I am just using this post to post a few jokes for future reference. I have always been partial to humour (and in some ways, one could stretch this to other forms of literature) from certain countries in Europe relative to others. Britain features pretty high on the list and the other two on my top three would be Russia and the Czech Republic. Russian humour is not very difficult to find and a good many of the jokes in this book I had already come across, so I shall refrain from those jokes and keep to the Czech jokes in this post.

First, Czech jokes on Nazism. In his comparison of Nazi jokes vs. Communist jokes, Lewis claims that only in the Czech Republic is there a broad spectrum of Nazi jokes that takes on the whole system instead of just sections of it. A few samples:

What should be the ideal Nazi look like?
For the protection of the race and in the interests of the nation's population, he must have as many children as Hitler. He must be racially pure, like Leni Riefenstahl; have a slim, resilient frame, like Goering. He must speak truthfully, like Goebbels; and be true to the cause, like Hess.

A worker is telling a colleague how he went to a governement building in search of the office that will award him a pay rise. When he enters the entrance hall, he finds two doors, one marked 'Germans', a second marked 'Others'. He enters the second. Beyond it lie two more doors, one with a sign reading 'Married', other other with a sign reading 'Single'. He enters the first. Then there are more doors, each marked 'One Child','Two Children',and so on. He enters the appropriate door; the advanture continues.
'So what happened?' a co-worker hearing the story asks.
'Nothing,' the worker responds, 'but that's what I call organisation!'

What is the difference between the Romans and the Germans?
The Romans put hopeless miscreants on the cross. The Germans put crosses on hopeless miscreants.

When Hacha (Emil Hacha, puppet President) was in Berlin, they had to give him something to eat. So he sat next to Goering, who gave him a menu. Hacha took it, gave it a quick glance and asked where he should sign.

One morning the Czech state's leading Nazi official, Karl Hermann Frank, looks out of his castle window towards the opposite wall and sees painted a slogan in Czech in huge letters. 'Hitler is an ass!' it says - and that much he can understand. Apopleptic with rage the Reichsminister goes straight to the offices of the Czech puppet President Hacha and launches into a furious speech about the disloyalty of the Czechs.
Hacha takes high cigar out of his mouth and waves apologetically toward the Nazi: 'These people, these people,' he says, 'How many times do I have to tell them, "Everything in German, everything in German!"'

(People, doesn't the last one remind you of Mendelssohn is on the Roof?)

Now, for the Communist jokes. The Golden Age of Czech Communist jokes was obviously during and after the Prague Spring of 1968. Here are a few:

How do the Russians visit their friends?
In tanks.

Is it true that the Czech patriots appealed to the Red Army for help?
Yes, it is true, but they appealed in 1939 and help arrives only in 1968.

How do the Czechs know that the Earth is round?
In 1945, the imperialists were driven out to the west and in 1968, they returned from the east.

Whis is the most neutral nation in the world?
Czechoslovakia. It does not even interfere in its own internal affairs.

What is the most secure country in the world?
Israel, because it has no friendly neighbours.

Which are the biggest enemies of Socialism?
Spring, summer, autumn, winter and imperialism.

When will Socialism be acheived in Czechoslovakia?
Where everybody has had enough of everything.

It took the Red Army nearly a year to get Czechoslovakia out of their Spring and during that time an active anti-Soviet press came up with some brilliant graffiti and posters. The most famous among the cartoons(and the only one I have seen before) is the drawing of a Soviet tank in all sorts of things - mostly the work of one Ivan Steiger who had left Prague for Munich just before the Invasion.

As per Lewis, there is an obscure institute somewhere in Prague called 'the Institute for Underground Literature' which is a treasure trove of underground printed material from the 1960s. An old dissident, Jiri Gruntorat who catalogues the materials in this institute makes this comic statement in the book which reminds me of a certain other set of people from desh that we all so know and love and so I thought this is worth producing in full:

'I am convinced that the humour, at the very least, showed our intellectual superiority. If this had been a different country, the response would have looked different. Maybe the Yugoslavians would have put up a fight, but we here - we showed them our intellectual superiority and not a shot was fired. I don't know if this is good or bad but this is how I see it'.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Of English landladies and the long, creative tradition of the Bengalis

Finally. We have found a flat to move to. As most of you know, finding a flat is sort of a hobby with us - its our way of exploring eateries and neighborhoods in London and must say that in that respect, the flat hunt has worked out quite well. However, a couple of weeks ago, moi decided that enough is enough and that I am totally sick of sleeping in what is essentially a storage room. Bill nodded in agreement and promptly started looking at places in Cambridge. Since I am gentle and compassionate, I relaxed my constraints - I was willing to go look at any reasonably priced flat within:

1. Our current location, i.e. 3-8 minutes from Regents Park (not too close to Primrose Hill though - way too many bankers even in these times)
2. 3-8 minutes from the Heath
3. 3-5 minutes from Anthony Lane's house (the Cambridge constraint)

Needless to say, Bill totally failed to find out where Lane lives so that was out. We looked at a couple of places near where we live but didn't meet our space and budget requirements. So last Saturday we did a marathon flat viewing near the Heath and came up with a shortlist. We fought a bit over our first choice - closer to Heath vs. closer to Tube - and me being gentle and compassionate (in case you forgot), gave in and said okay to the place closer to the tube. Now for the fun part.

As part of negotiations, the landlady wanted us to go meet her. The agent called up and fixed a time when we were supposed to go meet her. Bill couldn't go because he wouldn't be back from Cambridge on time. So I went all by myself, on a cold, dark winter evening to make an impression on this landlady.

"Hello. You must be Veena"

"Yes I am. You must be Mrs. R"

"Yes, so nice to see you. Is your partner coming?"

"I am afraid not. He couldn't make it back from Cambridge on time"

"Oh yes. Mark (the agent) mentioned that he works in Cambridge. Does he commute everyday then?"

"Well, it is quite flexible so 3-4 days a week. Not too bad"

"I used to work in Cambridge and it was quite bad. I don't envy his commute"

"Yeah well"

"Come sit down now. I am sorry I cannot offer you anything - we could always go over to my place"

"That's alright. Do you live around here too?"

"Yes, just across the road. But I am married to a Frechman so I spend a lot of time oversees"

"I see"

"Your partner is a researcher I hear"

"Yes, Bill is doing his post-doc"

"A Phd! What is his area of research?"

"Computer Science"

"What does he do in Computer Science"

"He specialises in theoritical CS. In this area commonly known as eurotheory" (Cat: Thank you. I have never managed to explain (without stammering) what Bill does before this)

"Interesting. And what do you do?"

"I am a management consultant"

"What does that really mean?"


"I work with different clients in the City mostly helping them with a bunch of stuff really. What do you do?" (Obviously, now I can explain what Bill does better than what I do)

"I am an artist - I paint a bit and play music"

"Oh, interesting" (Say something intelligent. Oh, why the fuck didn't I read 42 today?)

"I just edited a book on Cecil Collins which is launching this week"


"You surely know who he is?"

"I am afraid not"

"Have you been to Tate Britain?"

"Of course"

"There is a Cecil Collins exhibit right next to the Bacon section. You should go see it"

"I surely will"

"Tell me which part of India you are from"

"I am from down South. Have you been to India?"

"Yes, I spent a year there when I was young"

"A year? That's great. Were you travelling?"

"Yes, I did four years of travelling. In Turkey I came across a bit of music that I wanted to find more about. It was Indian, and so I went to India to find out about it"

"Thats interesting. Did you study music when you were in India then?"

"Yes, I remember a few jamming sessions with Ali Akbar Khan"

"Oh wow"

"Where did you say you were from?"

"I am from Kerala which is all the way South"

"And your partner?"

"He is from well, Bombay, well, Bengal actually but he grew up in Bombay"

"He is Bengali then?"

"I am afraid so"

"I have a lot of Bengali friends"


"I work with a lot of Indian artists. I used to know Jatin Das when he was very young"

"Oh ok"

"Of course you know that Bengalis have a long tradition of creativity"

What the hell?

"And laziness"

"It is such a rich tradition - so many artists and intellectuals"

"All very pretentious"

"Its all part of it, isn't it?"

"Is it?"

"Some of it cannot be avoided"

"I guess"

"So does your partner play any instrument?"

"Well, he is trying to learn the violin. Not much success though"

"Which style?"

"He was considering the Suzuki style but he is quite convinved that he doesn't have the ear for it. So its the traditional style"

"I am sure he is musically inclined. He has such a big musical tradition behind him"

Bill. Musically inclined. Am I going to pay the rent or Bill? Maybe that's the question you should be asking. I need to get out of here. Now.

"Yeah well. Can I look around once more before I make my decision?"

"Absolutely. Bring your partner along too if you want to take another look. I look forward to meeting him"

"Of course"

Friday, December 05, 2008

Scenes from a Marriage: The Leather Glass Edition

(Nope, nothing has changed since paper and cotton. We can't possibly get more boring. Makes one wonder how one is going to spend rest of life. Anyway. At least we know how it ends.)



"I have to go to work tomorrow"


"I have a real job you know"

"That pays how much again?"

"Money isn't everything"

"Right. You can't go tomorrow"

"Why not?"

"Because its your turn to go see apartments"

"I know. But I can't"

"I spent all evenings this week trudging up and down in the freezing cold looking at places. Now its your turn and you can't do it. How did I not know this?"

"I meant to go but I can't. We can go over the weekend"

"As per this timeline, we are supposed to see second viewings of the shortlisted places on Saturday"

"Oh the timeline! Set in stone obviously. What will happen if we slip may I ask?"

"We won't have a roof over our heads"

"Don't be melodramatic"

"Yeah, the truth will sound like melodrama to you"

"We can always extend the lease"

"And never move"

"It isn't that bad. Let me look at this timeline of yours. Do you have to do everything in Excel?"

"If you have a better way of figuring out which apartment to choose, feel free"

"You do realise that none of this matters? We will finally see the one apartment which we both like and that will be it"

"What are you smoking?"

"Yeah okay, that was a little too much. But I am not sure this optimisation algorithm will work either"

"Let us not change the subject. We are not talking about my optimisation algorithm. We are talking about why you cannot go see apartments like you were supposed to"

"I told you. I am expected at work. I need to sort out some stuff for the paper"

"How many papers are you writing?"

"Just a couple but they are a lot of work"

"I bet"

"You don't believe me, do you?"

"I believe you. That's not the point"

"So what if we stretch this timeline? We can decide next week, can't we?"

"What makes you think that next week you will be able to see apartments?"

"I can next week. We will find a house next week. It will be like that four floor house"

"One room on every floor, totally impractical but very charming house next to Heath?"

"Yeah, like that only"

"Don't be silly. When was the last time we made an impractical choice?"

"Oh well"

"Anyway, what do you need a house for?"

"Are you mad?"


"That's what we have been talking about for the past half hour"




"Enlighten me please"

"Why do we need a house?"

"Because our lease is running out"


"And we need more space. This place is overflowing with stuff. No place for clothes, books, stuff"


"And we need change. The type we can believe in"

"If this change is about moving to a house, I don't want to believe in this change. Don't want to move either"


"You move to a house. I am not moving"

"Yeah get it. House"


"Flat. We will get a flat"

"Yes. Houses are dangerous"

"And expensive"


"And more importantly, boring"

"More boringness won't be good"


"But we need to move"

"Yeah some excitement in life"

"That's how we create excitement. By moving"

"That's what it has come to? No!"

"Yes. And it has taken what, three years?"


"I know. Fuck"

Friday, November 28, 2008

Satie's Gnossiennes by Reinbert de Leeuw

As with most of my dicoveries in music, thanks to the good folks at NPR's All Songs Considered

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Vanity, thy name is Bill

Thursday night.



"Why are you still up?"

"You think only you have work?"

"Oh ok. Some paper deadline?"

"Yeah some comedy. I told you na. We are making Intel and AMD fight"

"Yeah. But why are you working late?"

"Because our paper is based on wrong assumptions now"

"So you are not going to ACM?"

"Who said that?"

"If you paper is all wrong, then what are going to talk about?"

"We are changing some things before it goes to print. Its all fine"

"I see"

"When do you stop working crazy hours?"

"When you start pulling in money"

"Of course"

"Hey. Are you tired?"

"Not really"

"You worked through the day?"



"What's wrong?"

"You look different"


"True only"

"You are the one who is tired and seeing things. Go to sleep"


Friday night.

"Dude, today I am not tired. In fact, I didn't do much work. We had meeting and that was it"

"Ok. So?"

"And you still look different"

"Don't be silly"

"What have you done?"

"What could I have done? This is all because of your bad couple of weeks. You are imagining things"

"I am not"


This morning. I wake up and walk into living room. See this.

Promptly head back to bedroom.

"You bastard"


"Do you want to wake up and shall I get some cold water?"

"What are you shouting early in the morning for? Some of us would like to sleep"

"First of all, I am not shouting"

"If you say so"

"And now, you will wake up from your beauty sleep and explain yourself"

"Come on now, its what? 6 AM?"

"9 actually"


"Prove it"


"It is 9 AM. If you think its 6, prove me wrong"

"What's wrong with you?"

"Nothing. Just show me it isn't 9"

"You are mad"


"I am going back to sleep"

"No, you are not"

"Okay man. Where is the stupid clock? Here, look at the time"

"No, you look at it. And tell me the time"


"Tell me what the time is"

"I have no idea what has gotten into you"

"What is the time Bill?"

"Where are my fucking gla...fuck"


"I can't believe you didn't see it for two whole days"

"Oh, its my fault now"

"Nobody's fault. You were just tired"

"And so you didn't tell me"

"Its not a big deal. Why are you all worked up?"

"I am not worked up. You know bloody well there is only one question I have"


"How much do they cover?"

"200 quid"

"How much is the fucking thing?"

"Slightly more"

"How much more of my money have you spent now?"

"Not a big deal alright"

"How much?"


"You are kidding"


"Frames cost 440 quid nowadays?"

"See, its because you have this 20-20 vision that you don't realise such things. They always cost so much"


"Just because you are this lucky person with perfect vision you don't see the issues that we not so lucky people have to go through"

"What was wrong with your old lens?"

"Nothing. It just was like five years since I got them"

"That doesn't mean anything"

"I was slightly bored of them"

"So you went and spent 440 quid of my money"

"Well, it was for you only"

"For me?"

"Yeah, these look all professorial no?"

"They do?"

"I think so"

"And why would I want you to look professorial?"

"You are the one who tells me to get a real job"

"Let me understand this. I tell you to get a real job. So you decide you will look like you have a real job. So you go and spend 400 quid on new frames"

"Perception is reality as you very well know"

"Whose perception?"

"Yours I guess"

"I am not delusional"

"Everyone else's. Don't act so outraged. Everyone noticed it. Everyone except you"

"Of course. It is my fault"

"And as usual, you will blame it on me"


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Isn't there a romance in there somewhere?

1 older man
1 younger man / kid
2 lungis (checks, red)
fish (both Bong and Mallu)
fresh toddy

I think there is. BM thinks there isn't and apparently this is the script for some random Bollywood movie called Dostana. Needless to say, I am all insulted here.

What do you think?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Scaring Stable Bill

"Are you alright?"




"You aren't listening"


"You are always preoccupied"


"You look all stressed all the time"

"I am"

"You think too much of work"

"I know"

"Not much reading going on"


"Not even random blogging"


"You don't tell me any blogosphere gossip"

"Oh thats because I haven't spoken to SB in a while. And anyway, don't read too many blogs nowadays"

"Which is good under normal circumstances. But I am all concerned"


"This is all very unlike you"


"So what's wrong?"


"Painful people at work?"

"Some. But not a big deal"

"Then what is wrong?"

"I told you. Nothing"

"Things are alright?"

"I guess"



"You need to talk more"

"I need to talk more? Right"

"Yeah. You never say anything nowadays"


"Enough. What's going on?"

"I told you na. Nothing"

"This is about your job, isn't it?"


"Are you going to lose your job?"


"You serious?"

"Yeah. Who knows in this economy?"

"So what will you do?"

"Will get redundancy"

"That's not too much na"

"This is not America. We are slightly socialist here"

"That's nice. How many months?"

"More than a few"

"Good. Then you have time to find a job"

"Yeah. If I want to"

"If you want to? We need to pay rent"

"I thought about it. Its not such a big deal"

"What does that mean?"

"We can move to Cambridge"

"But then you will have to commute"

"Only if I have a job"


"When did you say your funding was until?"

"Uh. 2012"


"Good? I thought you didn't like the fact that funding got extended"

"Who said? I like it that you have a stable job"

"I have a stable job?"

"It is very important in one income households. Stable job is a must"

"But I get paid very little"

"Oh, we will manage. If we are in Cambridge, its not a big deal. No major expenses"

"How long will we be in Cambridge?"

"Until you move out, I guess"

"Why would I move out?"

"I don't know. After 2012, maybe for another post-doc"

"What about you?"

"What about me?"

"Your life. Your career. All that jazz"

"I will figure out something"

"You will figure out when?"

"Dunno. Maybe I will go back to school"

"To study what?"

"History or something. Will have to think about it"

"What will you do studying history?"

"Why can't I study history?"

"That's not what I asked. What will you do after that?"

"You tell me. You are the one with the phd"

"Wait, you want to do a phd now?"

"No way. Too much effort. I will just take random classes I think"

"Who will pay for these random classes?"

"Don't worry. We will do all household budget and all. It will be alright"

"Enough alright?"

"You think this is a joke?"

"I am beginning to think it isn't"


"What good? This is the scariest thing that ever happened to me"

"And it hasn't even started yet"

"Go away"

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

There's only one place to be tonight...


But instead here I am in dreary London pulling another of those 17-hour days. So silly.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hot Asian men who are not Tony Leung

The Good

The Bad

The Weird (makes up for non-hotness by being weird)

The Movie

The most entertaining movie I have seen this year. Sergio Leone meets Tarantino in this totally stylish Oriental Western set in 1930s Manchuria (but shot apparently near the Gobi desert). Three things that could have made this a really good movie: a plot, a script and a little bit of acting. But not to worry. Its quite amazing that the movie never has a dull moment despite the absence of such basic things.

Two unmissable scenes: train robbery at the beginning and a 20-minute chase at the end to the score of Don't let me be misunderstood. Delightful.

PS: Yeah, London film festival. Just got to see a couple. Sad work story. Don't ask.

PPS: I like the Good guy though I know, the Bad boy looks like Johnny Depp. But just a boy he is, no?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nilave ellai. For now.

For everyone who ever asked me "why is the Bay of Bengal the richest water body in the world?", take this.

Also, excuse to post my favorite Cartier-Bresson once more.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Agni pariksha

So Bill's birthday is coming up and yeah, I believe in doing nothing and to be fair, so does Bill. However, since this is the big three-oh[1] and all and because certain people have been asking me over and over again what I am doing for this non-event, I decided to do some research. As of now, this is the best gift I can come up with. Please to let me know if you can think of something better. Thanks.

Btw, off off off to Chicago soon. Yippee!

[1] Yes, thirty years and have not worked a single day of his life. I have never met a more impressive person. Yes, I know. I am a loser.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sir Humphrey strikes again, Nobel Fun

1. Special Tax Rules

Its that time of the year when people who have a Phd have to fill in forms though they are penniless and the rest of us just have to have faith in Sir Humphrey. Which means that Bill has been pouring over tax guides (which apparently have been greatly simplified this year) and here's a gem on page 2:

Self-Employment: There are two kinds of self-employment pages - short ones and full ones. If your business is straightforward and your annual turnover was less than £64,000, you can probably use the short pages. If your business is more complex, your annual turnover was £64,000 or more, or you need to make some adjustments to your profits, you will need the full pages. (Names at Lloyd's of London have their own version of Self-employment pages)

Needless to say, I am most interested in the last line. How the fuck does one get to be a Name at Lloyds? And more importantly, how many of Sir Humphrey's minions were involved in the making of tax forms specially for these Names at Lloyd's of London?

2. Nobel Fun

Adam Kirsch over at Slate on the ignorance of Swedes:

Horace Engdahl, the academy's permanent secretary, made that clear this week when he told the Associated Press that American writers are simply not up to Nobel standards. "The U.S. is too isolated, too insular," Engdahl decreed. "They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining."

It did not take long for American writers to rise to the bait. The Washington Post's Michael Dirda pointed out that it was Engdahl who displayed "an insular attitude towards a very diverse country": It is a bit rich for a citizen of Sweden, whose population of 9 million is about the same as New York City's, to call the United States "isolated." David Remnick noted that the Swedish Academy itself has been guilty of conspicuous ignorance over a very long period: "You would think that the permanent secretary of an academy that pretends to wisdom but has historically overlooked Proust, Joyce and Nabokov, to name just a few non-Nobelists, would spare us the categorical lectures."


What does distinguish the Nobel Committee's favorites, however, is a pronounced anti-Americanism. Pinter used the occasion of his Nobel lecture in 2005 to say that "the crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless" and to call for "Bush and Blair [to] be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice." Doris Lessing, who won the prize last year, gave an interview dismissing the Sept. 11 attacks as "neither as terrible nor as extraordinary as [Americans] think," adding: "They're a very naive people, or they pretend to be."

As you all know, I love Bamse and and find Kirsch's way of paying no attention to Swedish insults totally amusing. But well, lets admit it, even Bamse can be a little silly sometimes. How else can one explain Roth?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bill's comment of the day

Which in typical Bill fashion means nothing. Or well, something.

"People tend to forget that the model is an abstraction. If reality diverges from it, its reality that has to be wrong. It is an interesting way of looking at things"

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sampoorna Veena

You didn't really think I was going to let this go without a post, did you? Chat transcript from a few minutes ago with a few changes.

"Hey. You around?"


"Ready to come back?"

"Not really. Do I have a choice?"

"You can always go back soon"

"Go back where?"

"India only"

"Why am I coming back?"

"Because you miss home"

"I do? Okay"

"So when will you go back next?"

"Next year sometime"

"What about December?"


"Yeah, you have time off then right?"

"Didn't we like talk about this like a few weeks ago and decide that its better if I go to India now?"

"Yeah but maybe your parents will be happier to see you soon"

"I am not so sure. And besides, December is double the cost"

"I know. But if you really want to go home..."

"Are you coming to India in December?"

"I haven't thought about it"

"Oh. I thought you had lots of vacation days left"

"I do but I haven't figured out my plans"


"What else is happening?"

"Nothing much"

"Did you sync up with any of your friends?"

"Yeah, spoke to a few"

"Like K"

"Yeah, I spoke to him, he is crazy busy"

"What is he doing December?"

"How do I know? And anyway, why do you want to know?"

"I don't know. Just wondering what peoples' plans were"

"How does K's plans impact you?"

"It doesn't, I guess. Hey, how is our Banker Kid doing?"

"He is alright. Now that he quit, he seems more human"

"He wasn't that bad. Just a quant monkey"

"Yeah, I guess"

"So what is he doing in December?"

"Hang on. Enough naatak"

"Okay. So I was speaking to this chap..."

"Which chap?"

"This chap I work with"


"And he was telling me something about some alumni meetup"

"What alumni meetup?"

"Of people from your institution"

"Oh that comedy. They have nothing better to do"


"But who talks about these things? All that goes to junk mail that I delete. What kind of losers do you hang out with at work?"

"Yeah, he is the loser type only. So he was telling me how there's one in December"

"Wait, people actually go to these things?"

"I guess if you have something to show-off which some of us obviously don't, it might not be a such a bad idea to go to one of these things"

"And this chap you spoke to has something to show off?"

"Okay, give up. Did you read Luddo's latest?"


"He has the details. Its called PanIIT or something"

"Luddo has links to PanIIT meets? Okay, I am not reading him anymore. Its over"

"Its over? Are you having an affair with Luddo?"

"Not the point. He has been putting up links on IIT meets?"

"No, no, wait, its not like that"


"There were these special events for spouses..."

"And Luddo is in charge of organising them? This is even worse than I thought"

"No, no, why don't you go read the post first? And here is the spouse link"

A few minutes later.

"Okay I am back"


"It makes sense"

"What makes sense?"

"Can you innovate? I will join Luddo and we will be spouses"

"Not the point. I can't innovate. I want to go to spouse meet"


"I will become sampoorna nari then"

"What use is that to me? Who will make money?"

"Don't be silly. Sampoorna is everything. Personal, professional everything"

"How many sampoorna women do you know who make more money than their spouses? Actually how many sampoorna women do you know?"

"I don't know any and that's precisely why I should go and learn to become one"

"No, I want to do this"


"Aren't you the one who keeps singing "momma's gonna take you back / teach you all the things you lack" at me?

"This is not your momma"

"So? They will teach me all the things I lack. Isn't that all you need?"

"Nonsense. Anyway they won't let you there as you are alumni. Only spouses can go to spouse meet"



"Then we are not going"


"Let me get this straight - I get to spend the three boringest days of my entire life while you get to have fun with the spouses. Not fair. Who says I don't want to learn kili josiyiam? What the hell is that btw?"

"Parrot astrology"

"You are kidding"


"Then we have to go"

"Exactly. It will be a coup. There's even a book in there"

"Learning kili josiyam in our islands of excellence!"

"Open only for spouses though. The male of the species, err...I mean the alumni are all innovating"

"Hmm...I see how this has to be done but I am not kidding, I really cannot stand them for three straight days"

"Well, why don't you be there for Day One and then we shall attempt a rescue?"


"Make up something. I know! We will say the LHC has run into problems and they are calling you to fix it and so you had to leave"

"Brilliant. Lets do it"

PS: Obviously there is some serious indignation that can be thrown into this but I think Luddo does a nice job of it already and I have nothing to add. Except to say that it doesn't really come as such a big WTF to me because seriously, who expected them to do anything different?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Just saying...

Not that it will work but you can't really expect me to stay away from a Bamse ki jai post:

Whatever you do, Bamse's done it before. Quietly, in his own way.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bongism: Doctor's chambers

So Bill is in India. His Dad's at the hospital - nothing major, one of those in-and-out surgeries.

"When is he coming home?"

"I think Thursday"

"Didn't you talk to doctor?"

"Yeah, right now its planned for Thursday"

"That might not happen?"

"Well, we have to go to the doctor's chambers on Wednesday and confirm"

"Is this doctor also a judge?"


"Then why does he have chambers?"

"You uncivilised creature"

"Maybe you can educate uncivilised creatures?"

"Its his clinic"

"Then why don't you call it in a clinic? Or his office"

"Office is where you work at your desk"

"Doctors don't have desks?"

"Judges have desks too. But they are still chambers"

"There is a reason why its lawyers's chambers"

"I know but in Bengal, doctors have a similar arragement"

"Nonsense. Is this your family? Being lawyers and all?"

"No, this is Calcutta. We call it chambers. We are civilised"


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Matrimonial Ad Writing - Part 1

Before we get to the post, one unrelated, irrelevant factoid: Does anyone else think these Bongs are so cute when they get riled up and sound angry? They are usually all calm and nice and funny and saying nonsensical things that it is so nice to see them angry (in their quiet little way) and making a forceful point. One of these is enough to make my day, but in the past 24 hours I have seen it twice. And one of it from the usually-resident Bong himself. Too cool, I say.

Okay, back to post. Mean streak over. Next, we shall talk about matrimonial ads, especially the kind that have been entertaining SB and moi (special thanks to BM) over the past week. Some people BM and I know are going through the whole matrimonial process, so between us we have a decent sample of these ads. The question we shall attempt to answer today is this: how exactly does one come up with such comic ads? The answer is that one doesn't. Many do.

Here is how we think this works:

(Friends' ads not used as we aren't that mean. I mean, seriously)

1. The family version

Consider the following 'Bridegrooms Wanted' ad: (mangled version from last week's Hindu if you are interested)

Sow. Ifdontgetmarried Iyer, D/O I.A.V.Alwaysdone WhatIshould Iyer, Iyer, Vadama, 18-09-1981, 08:46 am, Thanjavur. Simha, Bharani, Kausika, height 168 cms, fair, good looking, completing PhD Dec 2008, USA seeking fair, US settled Brahmin groom, age below 30 yrs. Email id -

(1: Before someone calls us casteist, wait, this is just first of a series. And you have to agree that especially on the Bridegrooms Wanted side, there is so much more variety with Tam Brams if you are looking Stateside. And we get gothram, nakshthram and raasi as opposed to just the latter two. So please excuse - we will come to non-Bram Tams in our Brides Wanted edition

2: For those of you who do not know gothram from raasi: in this case, gothram = Kausika, nakshthram = Bharani and raasi = Simha (I think))

There is no question as to who put up this ad. It most definitely wasn't the girl in question. In any of our households, if a similar ad were to make an appearance in the Hindu or in one of the umpteen caste magazines (whose only point as far as I know is to have matrimonial ads) and our heroine were to find out about this, it would be cause a minor earthquake. I thank all my stars if I happen to be at home at this point - the shouting match is totally entertaining. But basically what comes out of it is this - heroine's parents ask her for an ad that she is comfortable with so that they wouldn't have to endure any more shouting matches.

2. Our heroine's version

Our heroine is troubled. Ya, she didn't like the parents ka ad and all but she has to think of something now? How is she supposed to do that? She has enough trouble writing her resume as it is. She attempts a few lines but they all sound quite bad - not exactly what she wants. Then she gets idea. Her officemate! He writes well, why did she not think of this before? So she feeds him beer and pizza, takes him to a few concerts, and finally cons him to write it for her. Officemate is convinced that this arranged marriage business is never going to work out so he might as well have some fun and write some of the corniest lines he has ever written. And anyway, she likes Love Story.

The result is something like this:

What can you say about a 27-year old girl?

That she's brilliant and creative. That she likes travelling long distances or talking for hours across them. That she loves Hafiz and Rilke and Tarantino. In strictly alphabetical order. That she loves XXX because it's not cold and it's not damp.

What can you say about a girl who's that interesting, that alive? What can you say to her?

(No, I did not write this, just happened to find this in my Inbox from about 2 years ago. If anyone wants to admit writing this or if anyone else wants to admit that it was written for them, go ahead. Since I am not mean, I ain't saying anything about that. Since I am also this nice person, I will also say that the subject did not find out about this joke until it was all over)

3. The negotiation

Parents see this and like all sane parents, freak out.

"Are you suggesting we put this in the Hindu?"

"Well, this isn't exactly Hindu material, is it?"

"You can say that again. And who the hell is Tarantino?"

"He makes movies"

"What's wrong with Satyajit Ray? Or Adoor?"


"Then why do you need Tarantino?"

Amma chirps in.

"Ask her what she is going to do with the guy she is marrying? Make movies?"

"Maybe I will"

"Right. This is what happens if your send your daughter to the States"

"You keep quiet. What has alphabetical order got to do with anything?"

"Its cool"


"Its from a book"

"What book? I thought you wrote this yourself"

"Well, its about me. But its also a book"

"I don't understand. What book is this?"

"Love Story"

"Okay, we are not considering your ad. We are going with our version"

"But Appa, who do I need Brahmin boy? And who mentions gothram nowadays?"

"If we don't mention gothram and not ask for Brahmin boy, nobody would reply. They'd think something is wrong with the family and that's why we are going out of caste"

"What is Sow?"

"Sowbhagyavathi like Chiranjeevi" (I shall point out here that we non-Bram heartland Tams would never use these Sanskrit words in our ads. That and other such subtle distinctions in later editions)

"You mean you don't want me to be immortal?"

"No, but that's what we use for the girl"

"I don't like it. I want Chiranjeevi"

"Don't be silly. We can't do that"

"Then no ad"

"Okay, we will put Miss instead"

"Ms you mean"

"Whatever you say"

"I am not fair"

"You are"

"Compared to whom?"

"Okay, I will change that to wheatish"

"Wheatish? What is that?"

"You don't get wheat in the States?"

"Appa, I am not a wheat grain"

"You have the same complexion. It is alright"

"I don't want random men to apply. They should like arts"

"I figured as much when I saw the movie chap. We will include it in our ad"

"What will you include?"

"Should have an interest in arts"

"And he should be intellectual"

"So I should say in the ad my daughter wants to marry an intellectual? You are being totally unreasonable"

"And I don't want to marry any of the narrow minded chaps that you bring"

"That we know. We will say broad minded"

"Okay. Why should he be below 30?"

"You want to marry an old man?"

"What if he is 31?"

"30 is a nice round number. We like 30"

"I don't. Because knowing my luck, the man of my dreams will see this ad but he will be 30.5 and therefore he won't be able to apply"

"30.5 is alright"

"Then say that"

"We will increase to 32"

"That's better"

I could go on and on with this conversation but you get the drift.

4. The final version

i.e. the version that provides us wholesome entertainment. (Especially if you know the subject in question because then you can spend a good half hour dissecting this and figuring out which specific items the subject and parents haggled over. Try it. Its fun.)

Ms Ifdontgetmarried Iyer, D/O I.A.V.Alwaysdone WhatIshould Iyer, Iyer, Vadama, 18-09-1984, 08:46 am, Thanjavur. Kausika, height 170 cms, wheatish but good looking, completing PhD Dec 2008, USA seeking fair, broad-minded US settled Brahmin groom from a good family with deep interest in arts and literature, age below 32 yrs. Email id -

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Banker Love

Not a typical post. But what to do? A break from 15 hour days, Bill's off in India (yeah, can you believe it? He apparently needs a vacation. From what I don't know), and I am feeling mean. So regular readers, give this a skip. Not worth your time.

I have always found righteous indignation in the blogosphere to be very entertaining. It might be what someone said on Rediff or TOI. Could be someone on the street or the train. What some old aunt thinks of say, women working. Or it might be about a bombing. Or someone bleeding to death. The point is it doesn't matter what it is - we of the blogosphere sincerely believe that if we write a proper indignant post about it, we have done our bit to save the world and everything must be alright with the world from then on[1]. Needless to say, none of us are immune to this though I'd like to believe that some of us have standards. Like I don't go around looking for a cause to be indignant about. Mostly because I have a real job and a real life that takes up too much of my time but I guess that's a different discussion.

Yeah, yeah, I am coming to it. So there's a new cause now - i-bankers. What, I hear you cry? Bankers need the blogosphere to fight their cause now? Ofcourse not. They know the nature of the game better than anyone else - as of now, they don't need anything other than taxpayer money[2] but hey, that is no reason why we bloggers shouldn't make a cause out of their misery. Look at the poor bankers and look how people are so filled with joy that they are losing their jobs! Bankers are people too, you know. First of all, i-bankers are poor? And second, we are doing what?[3] Then you try to explain that while none of us are jumping up and down with joy because we are after all only human, but hey, bankers aren't exactly the saints you are making them out to be - with a few exceptions, they are, well, I don't want to list them so we shall say A, A, A, B, S which (especially) when combined doesn't exactly cry out for the world's love and sympathy. And that it is understandable that people aren't exactly sorry to see a culture that (seems to) reward arrogance, agression, apathy and other such desirable traits go - no, wait, that means you are evil. And you are gloating over janitors losing their jobs. And you don't realise that the whole economy is going down and you are next. What? What are we talking about here? Well, welcome to the blogosphere.

So anyway. The point is I have decided to give in. We will not talk about undesirable i-banker stereotypes anymore. Instead, we will give the bankers our love. We will talk about their stereotypical good traits. Except that I can't remember any. Do you? Please to help. I need to be reformed.

[1] Please note that this affliction is very different from the one commonly known as a Falstaffian rant. A Falstaffian rant involves said blogger being bored and feeling like roasting someone alive. That I actually understand.

[2] Yes, there is a "Where your taxes go" post in there somewhere but again, that's a different post.

[3] I do realise that there are a couple of posts in the blogosphere in very bad taste (thanks Lekhni for the specific links) but to generalise it and say that the world is sitting around rubbing its hands in glee as it watches an i-banker leave the building with his boxes is something only we bloggers are capable of

PS: For the one banker and the two banker spouses who are reading this (you know who you are), you should also know that this is not about you.

PPS: A request. If consulting goes down (which it will) and I am at the verge of losing my job, please blogosphere, please do not write posts on why I need the world's sympathy. I don't. I know exactly what I am doing, I signed up for it and I could do without your indignation. Thank you.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Quick Notes: A Case of Exploding Mangoes

Another 15-hour work day week starts soon, so let me get this over with. Short on time, so quick notes. I liked the book. Better than the other two I have read so far - I didn't care much for the Rushdie and I don't even want to compare the Grant.

Story (Spoiler Alert)

The question is simple: Who killed General Zia?

We all know the usual suspects:

CIA (yeah, I know. But if they didn't kill one of their own, wouldn't we suspect them?)
RAW (Yeah right)
Benazir Bhutto
One of the surviving generals

To this list, Hanif adds a few more:

1. A snake (via Under Officer Ali Shigri's sword)
2. The curse of a blind woman sentenced to death for being gangraped (via a mango-eating crow)
3. A General who died with General Zia (via a lavender air freshner)
4. All of the above

The correct answer as you have guessed by now is obviously 4. All conspiracy theories can't be true? Says who? Go read the book.


When I started reading the book, for some vague reason, I was reminded of Oscar Wao. But there is no similiarity between this book and Diaz's except for the presence of a dictator. Plus Hanif is not half as talented as Diaz in matters of prose and well, he isn't a geek either. Then for a while I thought wait, this is Heller territory, here is Yossarian but hang on, isn't this Forsyth? By the time I was halfway through the book, I gave up on such comparisons. It was all very pointless. This is just this chap Hanif. And all that mattered was that once the momentum picked up, the book was so entertaining that I just had to finish it.

What the book is not

So I picked this book up because a few reviews said it was all magic realism and absurdist humor. Marquez, Rushdie, and Kafka were all mentioned. Nonsense. There is no magic realism in this book. It has a lot of humor but nothing absurd. Nobody, and I mean nobody who has lived in the subcontinent for a few years would think anything in this book is absurd. It is all too real. (Except for a dollar-burning honest Colonel, a revenge-obsessed public school-educated young Under Officer, and a saintly blind woman all of whom are straight from a Bollywood script)

Good stuff


A Fourth of July Kabul-Texas theme party at the American Consulate where a chap named OBL is told to keep up the good work. General Zia's wife standing last in a long line of widows to fight with husband. Comrade Secretary General of the Sweepers Union who prefers mullahs to the Maoists.

Bad stuff

Humor. Hanif decides that every line in the book has to ooze humor and thus prove how clever he is. The result is that a good many lines fall flat.

Obaid is a nice enough chap. Tries to save lover's life and gets tortured and all. Quotes Rilke. Refuses to get off plane when lover asks him to because he has to finish the book he is reading - Chronicles of a Death Foretold. As I said, nice chap. But does he have to read Richard Bach? Really?


Not exactly big-award material. Could do with some character development (I have a feeling Falsie is going to call a few characters wooden!). Thoroughly entertaining. Is as real and insightful as you want it to be (especially given current events). Writer shows lot of promise. Shall definitely read his next book.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Booker shortlist, Bill's defense, Onasadya, Films to watch, New Project (No Pics)

Lots of stuff to post, so I shall follow Luddo's trailblazing footsteps. Btw, if you haven't read the post, please do. Especially the one on orphaned railway wagons. I remember once seeing one of these NEFR thingies in Shoranur circa 1989. Don pointed it out to me and I felt so sorry for it that I started crying. Since then, every time we pass by Shoranur, I look for it. It was there for years but disappeared in 2004. Some kind engine must have found it and taken it home. If I ever meet that engine, I shall thank it properly. Anyway.

1. Booker shortlist

Feanor got it right - Booker nonsense is what it is. Then again, the longlist does usually turn up a couple of gems which is the only point of the Booker though I am still yet to find them this year. Not giving up though, another month to go. Oh yeah, reviews until now here.

2. Bill's defense

Cat: Apparently it was a real defense. I have never heard Bill call anything "nerve-wracking". That must count for something, no?

The news is that its over. Doctor Bill will now shop over the weekend (is there any other reason to cross the Atlantic anymore?) and be back early next week.

3. Onasadya

Since Amma is here, I got a mini onam feast with avial and payasam. Apparently, the real thing is on the menu next weekend when the Doctor Marumagan is back.

Also called all Mallu junta back home for Onam. Apparently, no one makes feast at home anymore - all these restaurants offer 26-course Onasadya which people go to. Don says that this is causing the usual suspects to bemoan the loss of culture and healthy home-cooked food and what not. I was nodding in agreeance (the thought of not being able to go any home and have a proper home-cooked feast is more then a little disconcerting) until Don reminded me what this Onasadya process really meant in most Mallu homes:

7 bottles of Johnnie Walker, 1 Chivas (6 from Gelf, 2 from military canteen) for men of the house
3 days of non-stop cooking and cleaning activity for women of the house

Obviously things don't get as out of hand as it does for X'mas as 1) the number of Gelfies and propotionally the number of alco bottles coming back to homeland goes up and 2) meat and fish consumption goes up exponentially BUT Onam is second only to X'mas as far as alcohol consumption goes. Then he reminded me that Malluland still has the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the country. Which by itself is not a bad thing but consider what most women are doing when this alcohol fest is going on.

Anyway. Related post on cooking on UV here.

4. Padam time

October is around the corner which means two film festivals - London and Chicago. I am in Chicago for one weekend and it will eat into my annual shopping time so not sure whether I will get to watch anything there but there's always London. Full programme here.

My personal movie advisor doesn't think this is a particularly exciting year, but suggests these films:

Achilles and the Tortoise

Synechdoche New York

Rang Rasiya


Last Thakur

Still Walking

Mahadev Ki Sajjanpur

and naturally, Vicky Cristina Barcelona


The Good, The Bad and the Weird

My plan this year is really to see the archives / restored films which the advisor thinks is an excellent idea.

5. New Project

Space Bar came up with such an awesome name that it makes no sense to keep it secret. It is called The Blank Blood Bank Project. But sorry, can't tell you anything about the project mostly because its not a real project - its a name in search of a project.

For those of you who know what I am talking about, Omerta.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Can someone please explain...

what this article is doing under the Politics section? Or in any other section for that matter? Yes, this is the Times. No hope after all.

In local news, Bill's gone off to defend. More on that once fifteen hour work days go out of vogue. Tata.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Double Life of Bill




"I will be late"

"Ok. Missed train?"

"No. Have visitor"

"I thought that was last week when you had all those French kids"

"Not them. They have gone back. This week we have some other visitor"

"Who is this now?"

"Can't tell you"


"Its classified"

"Classified! Dude, is this MI5?"

"No. Can't tell you. I gotta go"


This morning. Bill is up and about tinkering with Shonku.

"When did you come back last night?"

"Past midnight. Caught last train"

"Oh ok"

"I think I woke up amma when I came in"

"Did you?"

"Well, yeah, I didn't have the key na. So she had to open the door types"

"Oh yeah"

"Don't think she is happy with me"

"She is not?"



"Maybe because I was late?"


"If you say so. Dude."


"What is wrong with your Space Bar?"

"What did she do?"

"Who reads TOI?"

"Obv she does. She even reads comments"

"I know. I didn't realise that people read such stuff"

"Well, they do. And then they get worked up about comments on TOI. Next, she will start reading rediff comments and start posting about them"

"Randomness. Hey, I have to rush"

"Isn't it a little early?"

"No, I have to go early today. Meet someone"

Amma shouts.

"Veena, ask Bill if he wants breakfast"

"He is up. You ask him"

"See, she is not talking to me"

"What are you both talking about? Amma! What is going on?"

Amma switches to Tam.

"Nothing ma"

"Why are you not talking to Bill?"

"Who said I am not talking to Bill?"

"Ok. no problemo then"

"Did you see him last night?"

"No amma, I was asleep when he got in"

"I opened the door for him. He stumbled"


"Yes. I am concerned"

"About what?"

"He was drunk"

"Yeah, he probably went to the pub last night. He said he had to take some visitor out"

"No ma, not like that"


"Do you remember N uncle?"

"Yeah. That alcoholic chap. What about him?"

"He was like this only. He would get drunk and come back home very late"

"Of course"

"No ma. I am telling you it wasn't like he had a couple of drinks. I know alcoholics when I see them"

"Yeah right. Which is why you insisted on getting him married to your daughter"

"But Bill wasn't alcoholic then!"

"And he is now? I suppose that's my fault then"

"I don't know. I am just saying. You also drink so much that no one knows what's going on here"

"What are you saying?"

"You know what happened to N uncle's wife and kids?"

"Amma, you have too much time on your hands"

"Well, just don't tell me I didn't tell you later"

Back in the bedroom.

"She thinks you are some drunkard"

"I know"

"She thinks I am alcoholic too"

"That's not new"

"Very funny. Where did you go last night?"

"To some pub. There was this visitor"

"The mysterious visitor who you had to take to pub"


"What did he want?"

"Just to talk"

"About what?"

"The work we do"

"Was he interested?"


"Will he give you a job?"

"He seemed interested"

"That's not what I asked. Will he give you a job?"

"I don't know. We are thinking funding"

"So he might fund?"


"What about job?"


"Where will that be?"

"Maryland. Oh wait"

"I see. What is No Such Agency doing in Cambridge?"

"How do I know?"

"Has someone told them its not their country?"

"I don't think they consider any part of the world as not belonging to their country"

"And you are going to work for them?"

"When did I say that?"

"I knew it. I knew this is what you would do"

"Do what?"

"Go work for the fucking NSA"

"Dude, we had a visitor. That doesn't mean anything"

"Yeah right. Wait, all these years you have been really working for them, haven't you?"

"While being an alcoholic, yes"

"You have had this double life all this while and I never knew! How stupid of me"

"Yes, Bill's double life. How Bill got drunk and started working for the NSA! I can almost see the post"

"Sure you can"

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Historian Sima Qian

People, Bill post. He is all jealous that only I get to read the Keay and has become good at stealing the book when I am not looking. To make up for it, he has promised to write posts on on book. So here, Bill on Sima Qian:

The Chinese are often characterised as having a highly developed sense of history. With good reason, as their carefully recorded year by year accounts of rulers and dynasties goes back much longer and is more well-documented than anywhere else. It's then appropriate to talk about the first, and arguably the greatest, of the historians, Sima Qian, also known as the Grand Historian. Living in the second century BC, his life's work, the Shiji, or the Records of the Great Historian, is the model on which all later imperial histories were written, and an invaluable source of early Chinese history.

The Shiji is a large book, with around 130 volumes, purporting to record history from the earliest, heavenly precursors, to Sima Qian's own emperor, Han Wudi. It is written in a novelistic style, with dialogue, scene setting, the works. All of this was based on court records, and supplemented by written and remembered memories of actual participants and their descendants. The same period is often described from many perspectives in different volumes. Thus, a ruler may get quite conventional praise in the chapter which is his biography, but his flaws would be pointed out in another chapter describing his contemporary or a subsequent ruler. The history is structured as a series of biographies, with interspersed chapters on ceremonies, religion, philosophy and so on. Many, if not most, of the chapters on a particular period are contradictory in the explanations of motives, allowing many different perspectives to emerge.

The Shiji is the source of most of our information about pre-Han China. In particular, our knowledge of the Qin, the dynasty immediately before the Han, comes almost entirely from the Shiji. The Qin was a short-lived dynasty, started by Qin Shi Huangdi, who declared himself the first emperor. This was the guy who connected up all the short stretches to create the Great Wall and the Great Road, burned books and killed scholars of Confucianism, and buried himself with the Terracotta Army to protect himself in the afterlife. History does not have many good words to say of him, calling him a brutal tyrant. Keay makes the point that this is very different from the reputation of his contemporary, Ashoka. Ashoka we know of primarily through his stone inscriptions, which go on and on about his love of peace and his spread of Buddhism. If we had only Shi Huangdi's inscriptions to go on, we would probably say the same of him, since these are about spreading peace and prosperity as well. The reason the historical assessment is so different is all due to subsequent historians, primarily inspired by Sima Qian and the Shiji. But here we have to be careful, since Sima Qian was writing in the time of the successor empire, the Han empire, and was naturally interested in portraying the Qins in a negative light. Also, Sima Qian saw his work as preserving the collective knowledge Shi Huangdi had tried so hard to destroy. In fact, the Shiji was seen as a direct response to the massive burning of the classics Qin Shi Huang had initiated.

Typically though, Sima Qian is not wholly negative about the Qin dynasty. He had good reason to dislike the Han emperor Wu. He got involved in defending Li Ling, a defeated general who was forced to surrender (on one the many expeditions to Central Asia following Zhang's exploits) His attempts were seen as going against the emperor himself. Such a serious charge meant that he was imprisoned and expected to commit suicide, to save himself from the inevitable execution. With his great work unfinished, Sima Qian was unwilling to kill himself. The alternative of buying himself a pardon was out of the question with his lack of funds. The only alternative was the humiliating one of undergoing ritual castration. This, in a Confucian society with its emphasis on family, was the ultimate catastrophe. He chose to stay on as a palace eunuch, enduring the deep humiliation and ignominy to finish his work, writing:

"When I have truly completed this work, I shall deposit it in the Famous Mountain. If it may be handed down to men who will appreciate it, and penetrate to the villages and the great cities, then though I should suffer a thousand mutilations, what regret should I have?"

Next in the series: Monk Xuanzang

Friday, August 29, 2008

We read (and review) so that you don't have to

In case you need more reasons why NOT to read The Clothes on their Backs, here, read Fëanor's review.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Old wine...

Because SB asked for some. And because, well, we are like this only. All boring.


"Hey. Its me"

"I know"

"Ya, so I will be late tonight"

"Ok, call amma and let her know"

"I did"

"Ok. No dinner then?"

"No, I am meeting B for dinner"

"He is in town?"

"Yeah, for a couple of weeks"

"Couple of weeks? Doesn't he have kids to teach?"

"Semester hasn't started na. So he is here to talk to us"

"You or the folks across the street?" (For the uninitiated: Across the road from the William H Gates building in West Cambridge is yeah, the MSR Cambridge office)

"Both. But mostly the people across the road. Time to be nice to them especially since grant money is drying up everywhere"

"Yes, yes, we love the Finn but when the time comes, we shall suck up to Bill. He has the money after all"

"Its not like we don't like Bill or anything"

"Now you are telling me you like Bill?"

"Of course I do. But sometimes, his stuff is not fit for our purpose, for the kind of work we do. He understands that"

"I am sure he does. Not fit for purpose! Is that why you con poor housewives to switch to Linux?"

"Oh, that is not our fault. We don't con people to do anything. People try different things and they choose. It is a free world"

"I see"

"Anyway, so I was talking to B"


"He was saying how I am basically unemployable now"

"I could have told him that years ago. How did he reach this conclusion now?"

"Well, not just me. People like me. With the recession and all, there is no grant money. No support, no new people needed anywhere. So no jobs. Esp in the States"

"So what can you do?"

"Nothing much really. Stick around here for a while. Do more post-docs in other places. Travel"

"For the rest of your life?"

"Why not? It is a good life"

"For whom?"

"What do you mean whom? For us of course"

"You think so?"

"Absolutely. What's wrong with it?"


"So you don't mind?"

"Why should I?"

"Because you always did"

"But you just said it is a good life"

"That it is"

"Then why should I mind?"

"Oh. Are you alright?"

"I guess"

"So you think its alright?"

"Dude, you just told me its alright. It is a good life"

"And you trust me?"

"Is there a reason I shouldn't?"

"No. Its just not, you know, normal"

"Well, I trust you. If you say it's a good life, I am sure it will be"

"Okay good. Oh btw, I need to book ticket"

"For where?"

"States. For dissertation"

"Oh. So now that's happening?"

"Yes, it is all settled. Sep 12th. I fly out on the 11th"

"On Sep 11th?"



"Can I use your miles?"


"Why not?"

"Because I need it for later"

"Oh. I thought your firm pays for your US trips"

"Yes, they do"

"So why do you need miles?"

"Because I fly to other places on personal trips. And I might not be working with the company anymore"

"Wait, you are quitting?"

"Yeah, I might not be working with them anymore"


"Because of the good life we are going to have"

"I knew it"


"But I thought you wanted me to do my dissertation"

"As a stepping stone to a real job, yes. But as you are anyway unemployable, I don't think it matters"

"Okay, if that's how you see it, I can look at other options"

"Such as what?"

"Strictly speaking, I am not unemployable"

"You are not?"

"I am just overqualified"

"For what?"

"For a number of jobs"

"Such as a checkout clerk at Tesco?"

"That too. But also other jobs which pay slightly more"

"I am listening"

"Like you know, in the city. Be a banker or something"

"You want to be a banker?"

"No. But if are absolutely sure you want me to have a real job, I can consider being one"

"How considerate of you"

"That I am"

"You do realise I could say yes and you will be in trouble"

"What, you think I am kidding?"

"I know you are"

"See, this is the problem. The jobs I can get, I can never get because you don't like them"

"Yes, that's why you are not a banker. Because I don't like it. You have always wanted to be a banker all your life. Your true calling"

"Arrghh. Please. I have standards"

"Exactly. So what are you going to do?"

"I need to think"

"Ok think"

A Fraction of the Whole

Falstaff reviews Steve Toltz's A Fraction of the Whole here

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The White Tiger

In short, I think reading this book is a better use of one's time than watching Fox News and a worse use of one's time than having sex.

For those of you who don't read comments, here, n! reviews Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger.

PS: Yes, the one and only n!! We are kicked alright

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More links

Woody Allen's Spanish diary with gory details of Scarlett, Penelope and Rebecca competing for his attention. Poor Javier.

And well, Anthony Lane's week 2 at the Olympics.

More reviews

Space Bar on Sea of Poppies here. Haven't read the book yet but my view of the book is now highly coloured by this review. Andre-Louis Moreau in paragraph 2. What more can one ask for?

Falstaff's note on Netherland from a few weeks ago, and n!'s one word review of The Enchantress of Florence.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Anthony Lane at the Olympics

People, please drop everything and go read this if you haven't already. And if you know of anyone who seems to have had more fun at the Olympics, please to let me know. Every line is a classic but I guess I have to pick a few to get you to go there. So here:

It was time for the winner’s national anthem, which began with an ominous pop, settled down for a while, gathered itself for the finale, and then stopped. We got the land of the free, but apparently the home of the brave was no longer available. Did someone foreclose? Accidents will happen, but, as a rule, if you’re going to screw up the national anthem of another country, especially a major trading partner, try not to do so when the President of that country is in the audience. George W. Bush was indeed in the Aquatics Center, standing at attention, and, even across ten lanes of water, I could tell that I was looking at a confused man. Was this insult calculated, and how should he react? The world held its breath. Somewhere nearby was a briefcase with the nuclear launch codes, possibly held by a man wearing trunks. The crisis passed. The President sat down. The semifinals of the women’s hundred-metre butterfly got under way. As for the Assistant Button-Pressing Technical Manager for National Anthem Digital Recording Systems (Aquatic Branch), I don’t know the poor fellow’s name, but his extended family has just been rehoused inside a hydroelectric dam.


The obvious precedent for Beijing was the Berlin Olympics, in 1936. Both were showcases for a muscle-flexing nation, although Hitler made an elementary error when he chose not to dress his young National Socialists in lime-green catsuits laced with twinkling fairy lights. By a careful choice of color scheme, China was able to draw the sting from any accusations of militarism, while rarely permitting the result to slide into camp.


It will be scant consolation, however, to Lord Coe. Formerly Sebastian Coe, part of the shining generation of British middle-distance runners in the nineteen-eighties, he now heads the team that will bring the Olympics to London in 2012. I tried to pick him out among the V.I.P.s on that first Friday, but without success. He may have been hiding in the men’s room, calling home to order more light bulbs. You can imagine the rising panic in his voice: “They had two thousand and eight drummers, all lit up. Yes, two thousand and eight. And what have we got so far? Elton John on a trampoline.”

Bye then. I gotta go read it once again.

The Clothes on Their Backs

To say that Vivien Kovaks, the protagonist of Linda Grant's The Clothes on Their Backs likes clothes would be an understatement. The story begins with a middle-aged Vivien convinced to buy a flattering ruby-red silk jersey dress from a closing sale at a Marble Arch boutique - a dress that signifies a new beginning and fills her with general optimism about things to come. Then we get to go back to Vivien's younger days where we discover that the outstanding image of her childhood is that of a man in an electric blue mohair suit with black hand-stitched suede shoes, a watch attached to his diamond bracelet and on his arm, a black girl in a nylon leopardskin coat and a mock croc handbag with gilt clasps. We also get to learn about young Vivien's induction into the world of clothes - a trunk bottom comes apart when a man in a stained leather jacket and studded boots carries a dead woman's belongings out of her flat leaving in its wake silks, satin, velvets, anglaise, lace and feathers. Vivien grows up with the times, in turn acquiring and discarding such icons of high fashion as the half-length skirt, the bolero jacket, wide high-waisted Katherine Hepburn pants, Dietrich shoulder pad and the flapper fringed dresses and cloche hats from vintage stores usually run by dirty old men. She arrives at the uni in a crepe de Chine cocktail dress, an instant sensation as a result of which she gets to be the costume designer for the drama society. This exciting position has some fringe benefits - all gay men in the drama society have one last fling with Vivien before they come out. If you are wondering by now whether you are in the middle of a Sex and the City episode, wait, it gets better. A stranger randomly walks into her bath (and is reminded of a Modigliani painting, what else!), marries her and promptly dies off as expected, and then a mandatory erotic relationship with a boy from the wrong side of the tracks before settling into domestic bliss completes this picture.

But this is not a book about clothes. No wait, it is - it is about the clothes we wear and how they change us from the inside out as Grant explains to us in one of her final chapters. Good that she tells us because we would never have guessed that from reading the book. I for one thought she was giving the reader a crash course on this city's fashion history over the second half of the last century. Not that it was necessarily a bad thing, just that if that's what one wanted to do, I don't see why one should insert story of immigrant Hungarian Jews and slum landlords. What, I hear you cry. What Hungarian Jews and slum landlords? Where? Here only, in same book.

In a mansion block off Marylebone Road[1], Vivien grows up, an only child of Hungarian Jewish parents who moved to London from Budapest before the War. Her father Ervin works in Hatton Square in a backroom of a jewellery store. Vivien's parents brought her up to be a mouse, she says out of gratitude to England which gave them refuge, they chose to be mice people. They lived quietly and had no friends, never talked about their lives or families back in Hungary and encouraged Vivien not to ask questions. A colourful visitor turns up at their doorstep one day claiming to be an uncle who Ervin promptly throws out. A few months later, Uncle Sandor is all over the news - the King of Crime, slum landlord who lived off poor West Indian immigrants finally caught and sentenced to prison. Nothing is heard of this man for long years until when Vivien is back home in Benson Ct after her husband's death and basically has nothing much to do than to take up family history. Uncle (now out of prison) and niece find each other in a park in Regents Park (yep, London is that small) and Vivien takes up a secretarial job with her uncle to type up his memoirs. The relationship between these two is the rest of the book - Vivien learns about family history and in a sense, comes into terms with her uncle's warped morality the gist of which is like yeah well, now I know every monster is human in some respect and btw, its not like the West Indians lived in better conditions back in their country and anyway, no one here rent them flats and someone's gotta do it. Plus you know, this is a man who spent years in a forced labour camp and whose parents were sent up a chimney, so his sense of fairness and justice is slightly different from ours. Fair enough. I just found it interesting that this deep insight into human nature merited a place on the Booker longlist. Obviously, the folks on the Booker committee did not grow up like the rest of us or worse still, they never read any childrens' books.

I know I am sounding mean but if truth be told, I didn't actually dislike the book. Two things that did not work for me (if not clear from the above paragraphs): one, this metaphor with clothes which is utter nonsense, and two, the banality of what seems to be the underlying message of the book. But a book is not just about what it says, it is very much about how it does it. On that count, I liked the book. Grant's prose is simple and (quite often) delightful at the same time especially when she talks about London and well, clothes. It is only when she tries to explain these deep things in life that she transforms into your regular Hollywood screenwriter.

In conclusion, The Clothes on Their Backs is an eminently readable book especially if you are into fashion and such. There is also a nice little story in there somewhere which manages to get lost between all the clothes and the explorations into the nature of hypocrisy. So go on, read it, it takes only a couple of hours and you probably won't remember anything of it by the following morning.

PS: Must say that the book that this one most reminded me is Art Spiegelman's Maus, and not just for the obvious mouse analogy. I know you can't compare a graphic novel here but both have similar themes - a first generation Jewish refugee narrative that describes life as it was back in the homeland, the children born after the War in the exiled land and their difficult relationships with their parents or uncle in this case - though Maus is more about the former than the latter. I liked Maus for telling the same old story in a new way, for telling things as they are and not attempting to explain everything. Perhaps if this book had stuck to that, I might have liked this better.

PPS: Now, for the real reason I am being mean: you can't see the traffic lights of Hyde Park Corner from Edgware Road and anyone who says that you can in a book set in London just doesn't make the cut.

[1] Astute readers of this blog no doubt know that this is the same neighbourhood where yours truly has lived for the past couple of years