Saturday, February 26, 2005

When the day off is off

"Sniff," she sniffed into her handkerchief. "Why are you standing over me? Sit down." This was a friend, and I wasn't standing over her. I was leaning on the door frame of her tiny office.

The room was airless, and bloody silent. The stale smell meant the airconditioner hadn't been switched on for a while. Muffled music pumped away from speakers outside.

"My glasses broke, "she said, squinting at a laptop. "Just like that. One glass just popped out and landed on the table." She half-smiled and sniffled.

"You not well?"

"Just sick. But I have so much work to do." Her eyes were half open now, slowly giving in to the misery of her situation. "Calling up people, handling complaints about the trainers, the helpers in the restrooms, taking care of promotions. I wish I had your job."

"Be careful what you wish for. Pakistan's coming next week and there's a lot of work happening. By the way, do you get overtime?"

It was 7:30 pm on a Saturday evening; her smile said: a) what do you think, b) I wish, c) the thought hadn't crossed my mind. "The guy at the front desk is reception and marketing. He works 14 hours a day. But he gets paid for it as well."

"So when is your next day off?"

"Today was supposed to be off, but I had to come in. I have to remind him [the boss] that I'm entitled to a day off every week." She was dressed in a neat salwar-khameez, ready to go somewhere, but not just yet. "I wouldn't mind moving to Dubai. I love it there. The standard of living is so much better. Have you been there?"

Spent 22 years there and entertain thoughts of returning there someday. Also entertain thoughts of packing up for Paris tomorrow, but that's another story.

She got me thinking, though. What kind of devious employers give their workforce no incentive to stay late, and then take away their leave without a compensatory goodie or two? At my last workplace, I had a disastrous 'heart-to-heart' with the sinister-looking management about leave (cancelled), overtime (nonexistent) and the implications of this on cynical workers. We arrive at 8 am everyday, I told them, and leave after nine at night, besides working weekends. And now you want to cancel leave en masse? Sinister management man nodded yes, smiled a crooked smile (It's always crooked if the man is short and in marketing), and said something like: "Well, what's your point?"

Back to the cubicle. Cancelled leave was preferable to no job at all. So weekends were worked on, late nights were had, a 'monitor' walked around mornings during the third week of every month, telling us how much our salaries had been cut because we were 10, 15, 20 minutes late. Eventually everyone, barring one, was either fired or resigned.

Four still work in advertising (one wants to quit and write a book), one is in London, one smokes pot at home, and I write about cricket. We still gripe about the pay, but everyone's happier. We get time off now, and there's no nasty mustachioed man waiting to grab our cash once it's past 9 am. Those days now exist only when bad memories say hello. We worked there for so long, it was like a relationship you knew wouldn't work out but still hung on to (Okay, crap analogy).

Moral of the story and all that: Don't have heart-to-hearts with sinister-looking management. If your time off isn't valued, bugger it, quit.

What's New York doing right now?

It'll have to be bitingly cold right now, and people in black overcoats will stride purposefully on Manhattan streets with their hands dug into deep fleece-lined pockets. The sun has made the city a lighter shade of grey and green but gives it no warmth. Hot-dog vendors on street corners and people milling around book-stalls. Display windows of the stalls will reveal covers that shout: 10 sex myths busted; Get it right on the first date!; Veronika Zemanova!

As you walk on concrete blocks, mindful not to bump into others, you cannot make out men and women from a distance. Overcoats leave you asexual. The scent of freshly-salted fries drifts through an open door and touches the edge of your nostrils, tempting you to succumb to a King Size meal at eleven am. You peer inside; there are people in there, at eleven am, having a double-whopper. You walk past the Mid-Manhattan library remembering the books you forgot to return and fleetingly panic about the fine. To your left is the New York public library, the one with the two giant stone lions outside. There are people on the steps, having a sandwich, reading papers, seemingly oblivious to the biting cold. What kind of people sit on stone when it's near-zero? Anyway, a little further down is a cigar shop. With a green sign and gold lettering.

Grand Central - down the street, past Madison Avenue and the fun-looking restaurant I've never been to - is filled with people. The gloves come off, for it is hot in here. The coat comes off as well. There is a buzz here and you take it in. People walk by you, bump into you, stand beside you, pull out maps. On the left is a series of tunnels that take you away from New York. You turn away; you haven't had enough of New York. You don't know when you'll have had enough of New York.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Nice advice

The nicest advice came from a friend today: a pat on the back and the words, "Many, many fish."

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Article finally finished. Will go home now. Will eat. Play Playstation. Read. Sleep. Not think for two days. Bliss.
ps. Normal blogging service to resume after a day.

Monday, February 21, 2005

One fine boring Sunday afternoon...

And then this happens. Heh.

Sitting: Anand Vasu. Standing (r to l): Leslie, Mangesh, Sambit, Amit (only head), Mohammad Kaif, Rahul Dravid, Chandrahas, me.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Opening doors

Little more than a year ago, as I sat at home without a job, one of the things that occoured to me was that I didn't want to work in advertising anymore, but wanted to do something meaningful; change the world in some way. The processes of advertising were more different than I had imagined - no, I had never imagined advertising could be anything other than the wonderfully creative profession I thought it would be as I churned out headline after headline in college. Then suddenly, a few years after working, things changed. Somewhere, a mental key turned and opened a door to a larger world.

Lately, another door has opened. It happened sometime during the week, as I spoke with one person after another within the cricket board and reached nowhere with my questions about scandals within the organisation. (I'm writing a story that is due in two days.) Each member remained quiet, offering a philosophical 'it is one big family and we'll solve our problems in the end' answer to hard questions. Questions about favouritism, warring factions, huge sums of personal money involved in transactions, all went unanswered. The exercise was relentless in its despair. People refused to pick up phones, asked me to fly to far-off places to meet them, said it was best to let bygones be bygones. What to do but wonder where your next break will come from? Who has the key to the door you need opened?

Then, in the course of a conversation with a member of the board, his response to a question suggested that harder questions needed to be asked. The question I can't repeat, but the answer was, "Are you recording this?" It was hesitant. That's all you need on some days for hope. A stutter here, a pause there. They can be all the information you need to carry on.

Heh. I only hope the next two days bring information in ways other than stutters and pauses. These things are good for hope, but they don't help you write a 1500-word story.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Congratulations! You have won a...

My junk mail inbox is tormenting me with objects of desire. This is possibly the lowest form of advertising - which is saying something; free things that aren't free: ipods, cash prizes, holidays, etc etc. They offer dating tips. They offer a stunning way to improve my room. They offer to help me meet up with the woman of my dreams. There's also a very curious-looking, but thoroughly apt 'stop looking for a sign, it's right here'.

The junk mail isn't going to stop because that anti-spam regulation clearly isn't a global one. Meanwhile, does anyone want to consolidate their debt into mortgage?

The curse of the spaghetti top

An online friend popped a question today morning: "It's a Sunday, and you're at work?" Well, yes, I have been at work on every Sunday since early December (Hint to rota-maker). But today, rather than feel all glum about it, I was determined to make it a happy Sunday, with as much excitement as company policy allowed. So, Mtv was turned on. A remix played. I switched over to Channel [v], where a remix featured a woman wearing a spaghetti top and very little else, thrusting her pelvis in a manner that had Govinda answering awkward questions a decade ago.

Right. Back to Mtv. The 'Jaadoo Teri Nazar' remix was on. At least this was hummable. Then came a Bally Saggoo [Big sic. 'Sagoo' actually] video and I had to watch. Partly because I hadn't seen or heard of the man for a long time, and if I had to hear a remix, I'd rather it be from him than the other Times Music productions.

But just then, a colleague, S Rajesh, walked in and asked what was special about remixes. In truth, it was a question I had used more as a comment to pass judgement in the past, but here I tried explaining why this remix was good.

1) "Umm, it's good because he breaks down every element of the song and rebuilds it in a way that is familiar, yet different."

2) "Well, it's not targeted to you or me. We won't understand"

You get the idea. But really, I just wanted a fresh sound; something that did not ring familiar. If only my cablewallah would put on VH1, a channel asofnow untouched by the evil paws of repetitive Indian advertising, hindi remixes and Sikh homeys. If I hadn't studied in NY, I wouldn't have known of Dave Matthews, of Jars of Clay, of other guys many others won't know because they've been fed remixes.

Sure, this way the old songs won't go out of style, but a generation could be stuck in a cultural remix. We tend to follow dominant images around us and today's images, unfortunately, are of the nubile remix girl and the muscular - but vulnerable, of course - guy. I don't know about you, mate, but I've been feeling awfully culturally destitute. It's a hole I try and fill by seeing plays, reading books, visiting festivals and music concerts. Now that I think about it, it's a gaping hole many people might have.

Extra! Extra!

Finally. After 15 months of working in one place, I'm a regular. This is exciting. I get to write and make retired cricketers mad. Of course, the powers-that-be could still knock me off it, but I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts.

(In case the link dies, check out 'Sundries' on

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Barista? What Barista?

"Coffee would be good," said Amit, the man behind the fabulous India Uncut, sometime on Tuesday after we had finished watching MS Dhoni play a fine innings at the Wankhede Stadium.

He ordered the 'Cafe Viennoise' at the Marine Plaza. Dude, this ain't a beverage. It's manna: a blast of espresso with a layer of whipped cream topped with chocolate shavings. How could something this good not be known to people? Why, when I asked for good coffee for three long years, did people suggest names such as "Cafe Coffee Day Cappuccino" or "the Cafe Mochaccino"? Did no one know of the existence of the 'Cafe Viennoise', a delightful blend of all that is good on earth? In a way I'm glad only a few know of it.

Amit seemed suitably pleased with his choice of coffee. Indeed he should be. It was delightful.

The nonsense generator

So there I am, suitably puzzled by the definition of 'deconstruction' on It's that time of the year when I want to educate myself in an accelerated burst rather than the slow learning that is so much more comfortable. So I ask Amit Varma, once-boss now-friend, what the heck it means. With a dismissive wave of the hand and that squinty look (he doesn't know his nose does this strange compression thing where it becomes all wrinkled when he doesn't like something), he says, "all nonsense", which breaks my heart. I had spent half an hour trying to figure out this sentence:
The central move of a deconstructive analysis is to look at binary oppositions within a text (for instance, maleness and femaleness, or homosexuality and heterosexuality) and to show how, instead of describing a rigid set of categories, the two opposing terms are actually fluid and impossible to separate fully. The conclusion from this, generally, is that the categories do not actually exist in any rigid or absolute sense.
So basically, what I 'understood' was that deconstructionism was supposed to make things grey purposely. It sounded profound, and I wondered if I had missed a trick somewhere. You know, like, perhaps I hadn't matured enough as a thinker to understand this deep thought. But then Amit - may the god of atheists bless him - introduces me to this writer who makes sense of all this rubbish by saying that a lot of this stuff is unintelligble because it's basically all fluff; there's nothing concrete behind these big words and confusing language. Which kind of makes sense to me. I used that ploy in advertising to sell an idea I thought would clearly not work.

While reading all this, I came across something called 'The Postmodern Generator'. It's this nonsense machine that creates a nonsense essay everytime you hit the 'reload' button. I love it. Here's something it threw up on - I love this - ' Subtextual cultural theory in the works of Gaiman':
It could be said that the characteristic theme of the works of Gaiman is the bridge between class and society. The subject is contextualised into a subtextual cultural theory that includes consciousness as a whole.
But my subconscious being conflicted with external internalities implying a malfunction of confident behavioural patterns.

An inner voice pleads with its possessor to halt this immediately.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Baby pictures

It is a tale of angst, social turmoil and destructive relationships that spiral out of control. But an IMDB reviewer has a better take on Paapi Gudiya, a film that, in a way, could be Karishma Kapoor's Naked Baby Picture.

This movie tells the story of a black magic practicer [sic] (Shakti Kapoor), who, before dying, transfers his soul into a doll who finally gets into the hands of Karishma Kapoor's brother. This evil doll has plans of his to get into a new body before he permenantly gets stuck into the dolls body [many sics].

What happens then? Find out in Bride of Chucky.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Night train

The 11:55pm Andheri train was late, but the people milling on Mumbai Central's platform No. 1 were oblivious to the lost time. Some were absorbed in a game of cards between shawl-wrapped men with no train to catch. Some stared into the vacant space Mumbai nights create for the late traveller. Others, like the man who took care to not step on cracks between tiles, went about doing the very things that would have suffered from an absence of space a few hours ago. Even opening up a newspaper wide can be an unfamiliar act during the day. But at night, aha, at night liberties are taken, and satisfaction derived from the understanding that the space we thirst for daily is so easily available after the crowds return home.

Then, close to midnight, it arrived with a rattle and a burst of cool air. When it came to a halt, there was no frentic rush for seats. But habits don't die, and I ran for a window seat anyway. The last traces of winter in Mumbai are worth the fight. Enjoy, boy, enjoy the wind, this cool here-today-gone-tomorrow wind that whips across your face, making your eyes water, easing you into a deep sleep, because when it leaves, one more season will have passed, leaving you older and wondering where the winter went.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Losing my religion

Once upon a time, you often hear in India, we had a fine tradition of plays and music. I could be wrong (very likely), but the tradition naturally progressed to black and white musicals, and so forth. But with the introduction of 'formula' films, which have been around for longer than our parents care to remember, theater had to compete with cinema, which has bigger budgets, and bigger everything. The one count on which most plays won this hopeless battle hands down, was with their story. That has been the case with most plays. But if 'Zen Katha', which played at Prithvi over the weekend, ever had a case, it would be thrown out of court without a hearing.

For 6000 unthinkably slow seconds (1 hour 40 minutes) , we watch Dharma's life unfold like a snot-filled tissue. Dharma, we are told, by his guru - who stares into the vast black space above the audience when the dialogue demands introspection, or resolve, or seriousness, or humour, or anything - is a quick man whose quest to expand his knowledge is without limit.

Too bad then, that Dharma is played by the thickest log seen in these parts since Big Moose. He is a troubled child, afflicted by asthma, but grows to become the greatest fighter in his father's kingdom. Nearly killed by his father when he was born undernourished, Dharma sets his sights on bumming about the world after he's done with studying. He does so, and returns to India years later a new man. But he stays for only a short while, departing for China soon after, much to the horror of Sandhya Mridhul, who likes the guy and can't take no for an answer. They first meet with a lavish temple set behind them, and later in front of vinyl printouts of Chinese mountains, which signifies how far they've come.

You know what happens then. I hope you do, because at some point the characters got more interesting than the play and I was - quite frankly - more interested in the Chinese emperor who not long ago was playing Dharma's guru and presently had the misfortune of losing half his elaborate moustache before a distracted audience. The giggles were delightful.

Then there was the tantric who later turned up in two other roles that required a quick change of dress. Each time he exited the stage in a hurry, you just knew he'd be back in a few minutes in a new costume. So unfortunate was the play that he'll be remembered as the man who got into a fight with Dharma and had to utter nonsense such as, "Aha, the chicken move! Aha, the snake move! Aha, the lion move I see!" followed by, "I will not forget this humiliation," which more or less summed it up for him. What historical pulp must have been excavated for these lines.

Lilette Dubey, the director of the play, requires a new canvas. Between scenes, the actors rearranged the furniture for the following scene. It didn't help the tantric's cause at all. Little wonder he lost his scrap. And then there was the original score, which sounded like it would take off at some points, but stayed at synthesiser level most of the time. However, it only added to the play, building up with the suspense (will this play end or not?) right until Dharma dies just before the end. Not being a keen student of mythology, religion or Indian history, from the mumbling on stage I could tell he had disappeared in a wisp of smoke. Upon learning this (about Dharma), the Chinese emperor - now with firmly glued facial hair after a short stint backstage - suffered palpitations and agreed Dharma was the real deal. He stared into the distance and, in an accent reserved for racist jokes in college canteens, declared Dharma's teaching true.

Moral: Lilette Dubey's Dharma exports religion to China, and our markets are flooded with cheap goods in return ever since.

So where did good theater go? Where's the charm and the originality of English theater? Lavish budgets, this play proved conclusively, make for a better set, but not much else. Critics will believe and harp on how theater needs an inflow of cash. Sure it does. But an inflow of ideas, for a start, could help their own cause. As a medium, it's dynamic, it's personal, and it's absolutely engaging. In Finding Neverland, Dustin Hoffman, playing a financer who just lost a lot of money on a JM Barrie play, stares at the stage being dismantled and tells Barrie, "They...the critics...they changed the meaning of it. What's it called?"

"A play."

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Bill Withers

A walk on Mount Mary road at night, with the wind blowing downhill. A walk with a friend. Talking. Being ourselves. Forgetting ourselves. Lovely day.