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"