Saturday, November 28, 2009


One of the games I wasn't too fond of as a kid was "pakkad dao" or as it is called in English, tag. It took me about half a minute to get tagged and become It. The painful process of trying to pass my infection continued till I came to the verge of passing out and some pal of mine with superior athletic ability (that meant everyone else) would take over out of sympathy or just to remind me of my lowly position on the pecking order of physical prowess. No wonder I kept the team cricket bat and ball securely at my flat. No one was going to get me to play tag if I had anything to do about it.

Nowadays I am an unwilling participant in another game of tag, one which I am glad to say is not enjoyed by the other participants too. The drastic fluctuations of temperature at the beginning of winter as the mercury dips low then jumps high within a couple of hours are setting up the right kind of conditions for the flu to spread. Swine flu thankfully is more hype than reality and as it is, the 'normal' strains of flu are bad enough. First to go down was the head honcho of the Inspection Lab where I am doing some training and he was It for a week. Then he tagged my instructor Rob who had his bout of aches and pains, a horribly sore throat and a general aura of 'unwell'. As in the bad old days, it took just one day for Rob to tag me and I found myself clogged nostril downwards to the depths of my lungs. For a couple of days, I decided to bank on my immune system but I soon found out that this bank was already very weak from a number of faulty loans it had given out.

If my past sporting records were any indication, it'd take my hospitalization to continue at this game so I finally displayed some common sense. You could call me a cheat at flu-tag but I went to a doctor (a Gujarati based in the US for the past 29 years) who happily jabbed two injections worth of medicine where it stings the most, a sharp temporary pain for a much greater gain. Sporting endeavours were never my forte anyway. I just couldn't play the damn game anymore.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A fool and his money...

I signed up for a game called Moneybhai on The reasons I haven't pinpointed yet but I suspect it might have something to do with the colleague who shares my cubicle encouraging me to invest in stocks throughout the workday. The good thing about Moneybhai is that the money is all virtual while the fluctuations and availability of a particular company's stock is real, right off the NSE and BSE indexes. So I started off with a corpus of a virtual 25 lakhs, and within my first day am running into a loss of about 80000 rupees on my capital. I just re-confirmed what I already knew. I ain't no Moneybhai!

What is most appalling is that I had bought stocks of companies that I had some sort of trust in. My chosen stocks included my motorcycle manufacturer, my Indian cellphone service provider, the glass company that made the window panes of my Calcutta house, the paint company that coloured it, my present employers etc. Within minutes of purchasing them, all of their values headed southwards and kept going that way. Was I placing my eggs in the wrong baskets or were the baskets getting the negative vibes of my inverse relationship with growing money? Maybe it is a sign for me to leave the nurture of money to those are capable of it. Maybe it is a way of letting me know that some things were never meant to be.

Cold steel

The weirdest right that America provides its citizens with has definitely got to be the right to bear arms. Wrapped in a do-it-yourself culture, it is probably the most extreme manifestation of wanting to take charge of one's own life. In effect, it is about not trusting anyone else with your security but yourself. Keep your own guns to protect yourself and your family from that intruder who may decide to break into your home one fine day! If this doesn't qualify Americans as clinic worthy cases of paranoids then what does? That said, I must confess to being totally fascinated with guns.

I am not a fan of violence and the terrible purposes that a gun has been designed for, but there is something remarkable about a firearm that commands attention and awe, apart from the fact that it can send you really quickly out to the Happy Hunting Grounds beyond this world. I had never held a gun before coming to the USA but after just cradling a few display rifles at a hunting supplies shop, I can appreciate why some people are such gun enthusiasts. The gleaming barrel, the cross hair of the rifle scope as you gaze at a magnified distant object and the power of destruction that emanates from the weapon appeals at a very primeval level. It draws on our animal past when we were hunters and the only way to exert power was total dominance or the ability to silence the opposition on a whim. Not the nicest of sentiments it must be admitted, but very deep rooted in the minds of all men. The power of the gun drives many a weak man to do horrible things as it seems to him as the only way to reclaim the respect which might not have been given to him otherwise and correct life's perceived injustices towards him. The real appeal of a gun, if you call it 'appeal' is not what it is doing but what it is capable of doing and indeed is purpose built to do.

The dirty feeling of power aside, guns are also poster boys of great engineering. Finished to perfection, with intricate mechanisms which had better be fool-proof, and their designs & materials operating at their very limits all add up to one of the best examples (highly debatable, this proclamation) of human ingenuity. The cold fact though is that an efficient design in the case of guns is measured by the ease with which it can dispatch off fellow living creatures, with the most accuracy and the least effort. The inventor/designer of the AK-47, Kalashnikhov recently celebrated his 90th birthday and was given a Russian state honour by the current President. His invention is a legend in the world of guns, as the most reliable automatic rifle around but forever maligned as the weapon of choice amongst most of the major terrorist groups around the world. What a fix poor Mr. Kalashnikhov (Poor he literally is. He has not received a single ruble from the insane volumes of sales that his gun has racked up) must find himself in! Opinion is split right down the middle on whether his creation is despicable or remarkable while all the while he was just a man intent on doing his job... really really well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Not another social networking tool (and another)

I recently received an invite for the 'new' Orkut (Which looks just like 'old' Facebook BTW, but is a lot more uglier if that were possible), followed closely by a request to 'wave' with Google Wave. On both these occasions, I convinced myself that I needed to get in touch with real people in the real world and not pal around with old friends from the past on virtual railway platforms. I did not need to spoil the surprise of meeting a person after 20 years accidentally at an airport by already knowing that he was in town, in fact knowing the last 10 towns/countries he had been to and all the ups and downs of his mundane or hopefully not-so-mundane life through methodically boring updates.

Needless to say, within a very short while I re-convinced myself to overcome my previous convictions about their un-necessariness and signed up for both these opportunities of online tomfoolery. If I hadn't FBed my life away already, I was going to 'new' Orkut it into disaster or drown myself trying to ride the next Google Wave. Borrowing from a popular group activity of Facebook lamenting the lack of enthusiasm/drive in one's life or celebrating an abundance of rotten luck, FML (which for the uninitiated expands to 'Expletive with an F' My Life)!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Come together

Hmm... I just can't seem to get the darned travel forum off my mind. Jeff Greenwald, one more of the travel luminaries at the forum, is another name which I hadn't heard of before Friday morning but within a few hours of hearing him talk, am now a devoted follower of. A journalist cum travel writer he has forayed far and wide into fields ranging from Buddhism to Star Trek and here is an interesting incident from his past.

Assigned to interview Arthur C. Clarke, the legendary science fiction writer, Jeff posed the greatest political problem of all to the author and asked him for what might be a possible solution. "What could bring all this fighting and feuding between fellow human beings to an end and bind us all together as one?" The answer was a very natural one for a science fiction writer but truer words have never been spoken. Arthur's answer "Only an invasion by the Martians."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cave of optimism

I have discovered where the fountain of ever-lasting happiness lies. I like to call it the cave of optimism because it is the only place in the world from where the world always seems like a great place. And that is from the inside of a warm blanket on a winter weekend morning. You can give it a shot if you disbelieve me. Whenever it is that your eyes naturally open, after your body cannot take even a minute more of the excess oversleep that you have gifted it with, and feel a tremble of slothful pleasure run through your spine, start thinking of all that you want in life. In my case, it'd mean hitting upon a master plan which'd lead to a garage packed with exotic cars and bikes; a passport and means to travel anywhere I want to anytime; actual, complete control over my finances and an exercise regime that is the envy of all that see it.

Then there are the niggly, little everyday things like doing the laundry, putting my house in order, getting through the dozens of unread novels bought but ignored since and getting in touch with all the friends that I should have been in touch with, targets which are within the realm of possibility. Nothing is impossible in those first few minutes of wakefulness when your toes are warm and comfortable against the velvety coziness of the blanket. A smile as wide as the Amazon ripples across your face at the thought of this day being the day when you'll finally get your small and big acts together. Of course, the moment you swing out of the blanket, you'll find that you are out of toothpaste, the laundry machines are broken/taken over by women with 25 kids, and you only have the same measly amount of money in your bank account as you had the night before. All these tasers of bitter truth need not be revealed to you right away. They can be delayed for a few more minutes yet. In the snugness of the magic cave formed by your lazy body and one super-capable blanket, the facts reach out with a groping hand and hit the Snooze button.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Another interesting person I came in contact with at the travel forum was the travel author Rolf Potts who has pioneered and promoted the cause of "vagabonding" as he calls it. The term is used to describe long term foreign travel, travel not just for a vacation but travel as an end in itself. He stresses that chucking your day job and spending an extensive amount of time, months maybe years on the road need not be the preserve of the filthy rich and neurotics who are incapable of figuring out what else they can do.

Wanting to leave the rigours of a daily existence for a new place is not to make a mockery of those who lead it but an inner desire which must be fulfilled for certain individuals. It's an itch which must be scratched, for the sake of the individual and for the sake of the society he/she lives in. It is definitely not about cutting yourself off from all the chains of society but more about satisfying your inner curiosity so that you can understand your life and your world better. No 2 week package tour around the world can substitute for being alone in just a single foreign location, looking for work or a way to sustain yourself and the immense feeling of growth and adventure that it provides. It is essential to understand that neither are they fools who choose to live the conventional life they want to and neither are those who don't need that kind of a life. It's not a game of oneupmanship or spiritual superiority but more a case of letting each man go his own way.

This is pretty convincing coming from a man who taught English for 2 years in Korea to support his stay there, walked across Australia and has done a variety of odd jobs across the Middle East on his trek through that region of the world. When I told him that I was from India, he told of his experiences in Diu where people from the 'dry' state of Gujarat sneak into to get their fix of alcohol and assured me that even if there were only one country worth vagabonding through then it'd be India. "It's a continent you have there", he said "You could spend your lifetime there and not see enough of it." Coming from a foreigner from the American heartland of Kansas, that is hardly a surprising statement. Having spent 24 of my 25 years on its soils, I still feel that I've barely scratched its surface. Of all the complaints that impede my life and grandiose plans, not knowing where to start should no longer be an issue.

Favourite place?

Here's another neat anecdote from the life of Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet publications. Someone once asked him that since he had seen most of the places in the world there were to see and probably a number of times over, which of them was his favourite? His answer was quite simple. "The departure lounge!", he said.

Toy safe

We have a grey Godrej steel almirah at home, a robust presence for the past 16 odd years. Inside the almirah, to the left at the centre is a locker with a broken handle. Toys and games were never in shortfall at my house, what with the stream of visiting relatives that we had and the annual birthday parties of my sister and me. Even in this collection, there was the elite core which in my case were the toy cars and action figures. I had a whole bunch of hand-me-downs from my elder brother (in remarkable condition, considering that they were almost 10 years older than me), plus my own collection was nothing to laugh about either.

Whenever dad would go on a business trip for 3-4 days he'd return with one model car/truck to make up for his absence. It was a brilliant deal as far as I was concerned. No threats of disciplinary action would be paid heed to during that period of time of his unavailability and then at the end of it all, a new addition to my stash! The special forces were thus given the honour of living in the locker while the common citizens of the board-game and toy world had to make do with the shelves outside.

Now that I think of it, I must have been a very lucky kid as most of my favourite toys from childhood withstood the brutality I had meted out to them. GI Joe figures were smooth talked into bungee jumping with infinitely long cords and cars were guided like cruise missiles into each other's faces. The wonder of it all is that I still have almost all of them and my locker is a popular hot-spot for all kiddos who come visiting home. Every year I open my locker to find another couple of them missing, victims to some pair of tiny hands not as blessed by fortune as mine but I can't be complaining.

I had a GI Joe figure (a baddie, a Cobra guy actually) ironically called The Ripper whose lower limbs I accidentally ripped off at the groin during one of his more vigorously physical face-offs with another Cobra figure. It was a rather emotionally stirring day for me two weeks later when I managed to put him back together by some miracle of chance and the Ripper could actually walk and fight again. But before life could send me hurtling down on the path to becoming a famous surgeon, a similar accident happened to He-Man, the most powerful man in the Universe. All the powers of Castle Grayskull couldn't put him back together and till today he languishes in the darkness of another smaller locker inside the locker where more traumatized toys like him lie. I couldn't repair them but neither could I find the courage to throw them away. I hope that the newest young enthusiasts for my toy locker will someday do what is next to impossible for me.