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There is apparently a crisis of massive proportions brewing in the nouveau fast food nation that’s India – apparently, the custodians of the industry seem to have a severe paucity of napkins, paper towels, tissues, whatever you want to call them. How else do you explain why these are doled out with about as much generosity as Bumble, the Beadle of Oliver Twist fame? The staff manning the counter at these fast food outlets never cease to amaze me with how well they have perfected the art form of handing out as minimal a number of square inches of tissue as is humanly possible without physically damaging the napkin. And yes, the experience is consistent across outlets, across brands, in case you are wondering.
Now, if these fast food conglomerates so much as care about the consumer, clearly they should realize a few things that they need to consider?
Firstly, we Indians are known for putting our bare hands to liberal use when it comes to eating. That is why most Indian homes have a wash basin right in the dining area? While this is a part of our cultural identify as a nation, on a relative scale, the folks in the North score a tad better on the clumsiness front, and that’s largely a function of the diet. The staple Roti dons the role of an organic glove, used to pick up other dishes from one’s plate, thereby effectively insulating one’s fingers from any culinary stains. Net result – the hands tend to be reasonably clean when the meal is done. One notable exception is the Madrasi that was mistakenly planted in the North – no guarantees of any sort there because the glove suddenly seems to become porous in such a scenario. And coming to the native South Indian in his home turf, well, it is not called the Land of Idli-Sambar without reason. The food in these parts is typically squashed with a violent passion, bordering almost on extreme use of the hand, before it can be considered ready for consumption. Net result in this case? The hand looks absolutely disgusting until one is done with the post-meal stain-removal process. So yes, that culture is not going to vanish overnight simply because McDonald’s and Domino’s decided to set up shop here?
Secondly, there is the desi-fication of dishes that seems to come with a predefined mandate for the chefs that run these joints – grease is free, throw it in at will. There is probably more lubricant in any of these fast food dishes than there is in a brand new can of Castrol. And while we can ponder over the benefits of getting that into your body on a different thread, the more immediate problem is that you have a sorry pair of hands to show for dinner. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that one will need multiple, heavy-duty napkins to clean that up?
Can you blame poor Mr. Srinivasan for eating Pizza like he would devour his dear dosa? For, that is what he has grown up on over the years – Hold down with the ring finger and rip apart with the index finger, and voila, you have a piece small enough to fit in the mouth. It doesn’t matter that there is now more cheese stuck to the fingers and more sauce dripping down his forearm than on the slice of pizza, that is how that shall be eaten. And after an ordeal that can only be described as a blood bath, you give the man a single, tiny napkin? To me, that’s ample justification for a lawsuit to counter the mental agony that the poor soul is subjected to.
And what is their problem anyway? The dudes at the counter will not give you an extra napkin if your life depended on it. And more often than not, it does! You can try asking, pleading, screaming, and sadly even offering to pay money, but they are not going to part with his treasure. They hand out other freebies that I am sure cost more (ketchup, mustard, spoons, forks, you name it) in such liberal fashion, so clearly the protectionist syndrome when it comes to paper napkins cannot be blamed on fiscal discipline? Do they not realize that napkins actually help with their brand messaging as well? It is the only freebie that has the brand’s name prominently on it, and any marketer worth his salt should know that these things tend to stick in peoples’ minds? So yeah, I’ll never understand why they do what they do, but I am not going to stop me asking for a couple of extras even knowing fully well that it isn’t going to yield any results. Someday, I’ll get my way!
Yes, today marks the culmination of 9 days of glorious (golu-rious) celebration in the Hindu calendar, aptly named Navaratri, meaning Nine Nights. While we have typically let other not-so-important priorities get in the way in past years and largely let this festival pass us by, we weren’t as successful this time. For reasons that were mostly made up and contrived, we decided to celebrate Golu this year after a reasonably long gap.
Ironically, today is the 10th day of a Nine-day festival, called Vijayadasami (Vijaya – victorious, Dasami – 10th day) and that’s when the curtains come down on those Golu celebrations for the year. And for the record, its officially a festival for women, of women, and by women!
As I was putting the wraps on those dolls, I couldn’t help but wonder whether all of the effort that had gone into the Golu was truly worthwhile. I honestly think the event has lost its sheen, the celebrations have become passe. This time around, it was hardly a social event, which kinda defeats the whole purpose. There were folks trickling in every other day, but no real gathering as such. The Sundal, which is one of the few benefits that the guys get out of this event, has now just become boring! No, don’t get me wrong, its not like its gone down in taste or anything but expectations have gone up and the poor Sundal hasn’t kept up – even if it comes in a variety of shapes and sizes every day, it just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore for what has now become a greedy, International palate.
And to top it all off, the festival now has zero entertainment value for the vast majority of us. But despite all this, there is so much labor that goes into organizing the whole thing that it feels like you are hosting a Superbowl party every day for those nine days. Just 2 problems though: 1. There is no Superbowl and 2. No Chips and Salsa, or beer either. Sorry, this is still very much a religious, rich-in-traditions kinda gig, so we can’t have none of that.
But it wasn’t always like this. Looking back, I can recall times when the festival was actually a lot of fun. Clearly, it had to do with expectations back then when we were kids – pretty girls decked up in the finest traditional clothes, singing their hearts out for a bowl of Sundal and some freebies that got doled out provided the entertainment. Setting up the Golu itself used to be exciting, and you tried to get creative every year by weaving in the latest fad into your Valley of Dolls – sometimes it was a cricket stadium in town, or a fancy park, or the new Metro in town – basically, something folks could relate to. Yeah, that sure was a lot of fun! Simple expectations, Simple needs I guess?
In any case, I think the event needs some sprucing up, some spice added to the variety, and I am not talking about just the Sundal. Maybe they should consider having a theme for every night and have folks lend color to the theme.
A game night maybe? How cool would that be? Yeah, we have these dolls on these shelves etc, and you can take a good look at em, but really, lets get down to a nice round of Pictionary…or Taboo, if that suits your fancy? The food could use a face-lift too. Don’t get me wrong, Sundal is great and healthy and all that, but come on…in a world where are all frying our way to cholesterol hell, how can you not have some of those deep-fried bad boys? And throw some good dessert options for good measure. And they really should do something about the entertainment – maybe a Salsa night? Other variants? The ladies up north seem to have figured this out a long time ago – and thus was born the Garba.
So yeah, the southern cousins needs to act, and act quickly. The occasion is too good to pass up, and unless something is done, it’ll just wither away. And while they are at it, I hope they find some fun ways for the guys to get involved too, beyond just unpacking and packing dolls.
We are proud of our roads in India and of how chaos rules those roads. As an ardent believer in gross generalization of anything and everything, I put Indian road users into three broad categories: Those that honestly don’t know or believe that road rules exist in the country, those that know that rules exist but believe they are meant for the Others and finally the Rest, or as I like to refer to this last group, the Idiots. (And yes, I count myself in that group)
In an ideal world, here is what an Indian driving license test would look like if it were to reflect the skills that one needs to survive here:
Please answer Yes/No to the questions below. Can you:
1. Go hurtling down the wrong side of a one-way street with no hesitation, concern or guilt?
2. Drive right through a traffic light that is clearly blazing red, with scant regard for other vehicles crossing the intersection?
3. Halt for the light in what is quite clearly a Left-only lane and block traffic when you intend to go straight? Of course, you should only do this when you know there is a cop waiting on the other side to catch you jumping the light as in #2 above, right?
(Hint: 2 points if you answer Yes to both questions)
4. Brake suddenly while driving on the left lane in rush-hour traffic, make what looks like a natural right turn right through flowing traffic and deftly execute a U-turn maneuver because you realized you should be heading the other way? And 1 bonus point if you manage to do this while still staying upright.
5. Park your vehicle in the geometric center of a No Parking zone blocking at least one lane of traffic behind you?
6. Honk really, really loudly for no apparent reason, and with no real purpose? The intent should be to simply convey that the light is Red, traffic is stopped and you are not happy.
7. Do your best to block an ambulance with wailing sirens from passing through, thereby helping to contain our country’s growing population?
8. Weave a complex helical pattern within a span of 25 ft on a crowded street with at least 3 completely needless lane changes? Yes, in case you are wondering, this replaces the infamous “Can you weave a number 8?” part of the Driving test. I had always wondered why they make you do that, now after driving in Bangalore, I know better.
9. Insist that you will only drive with the high-beam lights on even on a well-lit highway so you can successfully blind every vehicle that’s coming in the opposite direction?
Every question that you answered with a Yes fetches you 1 point. If you manage to score at least 3 out of 9, you are eligible to appear for the driving test and prove your mettle at the wheel. Score over 5, and the driving test is waived and your license granted. You clearly have far too much skill that is going waste every minute you are not on the road and driving. And if you scored less than 3, please go get yourself a bus pass, you are clearly not qualified to drive your own vehicle.
Yeah, that sadly is the state of affairs – road rules and etiquette have indeed become a joke as we so passionately embrace Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest theory on the streets of Bangalore. Thankfully, there was always hope – there are folks that religiously follow these rules and try to set an example. Yes, they are very much in the minority and easily look like the fools that don’t know better . And as someone that belongs in that group, I have always been super frustrated. I am at a huge disadvantage simply because I take the high road, pun intended? And it irked me no end that there was seemingly nothing one could do to counter – the only option to fight the battle seemed to be stoop down to those same deplorable levels. Until now that is…Our good friend, Mark Zuckerberg and his pals @ Facebook are giving us a break? New Delhi’s finest might have found us just the weapon we need, taking advantage of Facebook and the explosive growth of camera phones in India to give us a fighting chance.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Start your engines, whip your cameras out and start shooting! I only ask that you stick to capturing just traffic violations and do so without putting yourself at risk on the street, and without holding up traffic yourself 🙂
Jul 31…that’s like the Income Tax department’s Valentine’s Day in India. I am sure it is the only day most of us are forced to think about them and acknowledge how “special” they are. Of course, given that efficiency is my middle name, I don’t believe in filing my taxes even a day earlier than it absolutely needs to get done. So there I was, queuing up at my Chartered Accountant’s office this morning to make sure I got my returns filed on time. Needless to say, this is the one day that the Chartered Accountant’s office has a semblance of a cool place to hang out in. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to get done with my paperwork as quickly as possible and get the hell out of there. But today was the first time I saw more than visitors there than employees. And I am sure the accountants felt like superheroes today – mine even had a mask and cape on!
But all jokes apart, I am thankful for the service that these wonderful folks provide. I can’t imagine their jobs being fun – every single individual that comes along waits till the deadline is minutes away like yours truly, they usually have a good bit of their paperwork missing and they ask the dumbest possible questions – here are a few choice ones that I overheard today while I was there…
Oh, I am supposed to bring my Form-16? You didn’t tell me that when I called you (The Form-16 is the Indian version of the W-2)
No, you genius. The CA will magically figure out your Income statement and file.
Sir, this is my first year in a job. Do I have to count my entire salary as income?
There is something to be said about the Desi discount mentality – it is a core part of our DNA
I got married last year and spent quite a bit on my wedding. Am I allowed to deduct that? After all, I am taking up more responsibility, you know?
Yeah buddy, know the feeling. Pretty soon, paying taxes will be the least of your worries
So yeah, I didn’t know whether I was more amused or amazed, but I certainly don’t envy those poor CAs – superheroes or not, am sure they can’t wait for Aug 1 to show up so they won’t have to deal with these clowns for a while. And thank you once again, my dear CA for bailing me out at the eleventh hour, like you always do. We only meet once a year, and I never cease to be amazed at how well we are able to pick up from where we left off (and finish the next year’s returns). I can’t say the same for some of my best friends even.
All that aside, there is something to be said about some perspectives that one is privy to on this day though – for one, it is probably the only time of the year that you closely examine a compounded statement of everything you earned the previous year. And like it or not, it is a direct quantification of the work that you did. And you thought nothing would depress you more than just the thought of having to pay taxes? Think again.
As I was looking at my filing, I also realized how much money I pay the government, and with virtually no expectations for how that money will get spent. It is easily the single biggest expense of the year and yet I expect nothing in return? How sad is that? It is amazing how well our Netas have trained me to just donate that money away and not question it. If I had the freedom of putting that money to use, I know it will probably support a 100 families for the year. And if I extrapolate that to all the tax payers in the country, that could seriously bridge the rich-poor divide that our politicians so fondly speak of on every podium that’ll take their weight. Of course, the only class that pays Income taxes in India is the salaried class, so we can’t really count in the hundreds of millions here. But even then, this should add up to a serious chunk of money and will most certainly be put to better use than it currently is if smarter, more honest people were at the helm? I believe in paying my dues, and I am happy to do that – I really am, and always have been, but I only wish there was more accountability in the system and that the hard-earned money that people pay as taxes gets its due by being spent on better causes.
I will continue to hope and pray, but until a brighter day dawns, I guess the taxes I pay will sadly remain a write(right)-off!
We all know why the Cat died, right? Curiosity killed it, of course. That seems a little unfair though, no? I mean, its not just the Cat that’s curious? For reasons that’ll become obvious in a bit, this proverb has piqued my interest in recent times. So I decided it was time for some extensive research on the subject, which these days amounts to running about four queries on a Search engine of choice. And if that research is anything to go by, the experts tell me that the true origins of the proverb aren’t traceable. Go figure!
I guess it helps that the Cat has nine lives? I’d like to think that they get killed a few times, say 3 or 4, and eventually learn their lesson and stop being curious so they can live happily ever after? Maybe that’s why Cats were chosen as the victims here? Really, after having seen dogs and cats up close, it is quite obvious to me that Dogs are way more curious. If there was anyone that need to be taught a lesson for being curious, it would have to be man’s loyal canine companion. Anytime you walk in the door, Z will absolutely want to know everything you are carrying. It could be a bag, a box or even a ticking time bomb – does not matter, we will want to sniff it to death. And if the said subject is moving, then we will practically go crazy trying to figure out what it is, why it is where it is, how many different angles can we approach it from, will it attack, can I eat it etc – just an endless list of questions. It is why I think God gave Dogs their long snouts, don’t you? They really were meant to be probes that help to satisfy their curiosity. When was the last time you saw a Cat with a Snout? Good, so we agree?
If you don’t, I am sure a walk with Z will put any doubts to rest. She will stick her nose in every possible bush and want to explore it inside out – I’ve actually followed her into some of these bushes myself, and I kid you not, there is absolutely nothing there. Yet, we could pass the exact same bush tomorrow, and I know we’ll go thru the whole ritual all over again, and with the same excitement and passion as our very first trip to that bush.
And don’t even get me started on any wet spots on the road. The rain is bad enough, but if the spots were left behind by another four-legged friend, then I might as well get a chair and sit down. The walk is about to come to a grinding half, and we aren’t leaving anytime soon. We will need to thoroughly analyze every single whiff and trace the family tree of the dog that had dared to relieve itself on the street. Yes, in a weird sense it is a tad repulsive but when she’s your own, its also somewhat endearing because you realize this is one of the few effective ways they have to relate to each other.
Yeah, so curious or not, Dogs are adorable after all! I am glad Curiosity decided to go after the Cat instead 🙂
On a recent long-haul flight across the Atlantic, I witnessed a live demonstration of how wonderfully human beings can co-exist…or not! There were these two clowns who seemed pretty insistent on making sure the rest of us were well entertained. Lets just call them Beavis and Butthead to keep things simple…and real.
Beavis was a middle-aged, ill-tempered man and seemed generally unhappy with pretty much anything in life – I had the pleasure of sitting next to him and even as we were waiting for the plane to taxi out from the gate, he was constantly muttering to himself in apparent disgust at something or the other. And as for Butthead, he was returning back to the States with his family (wife and 2 young daughters), presumably after a nice vacation back home. And we all know how happy someone in that state would be, right? So clearly, the stage was set and the players motivated…all we needed was a spark to get B & B going.
And who else but Butthead’s elder daughter to the rescue. You must know that I usually adore kids and am very tolerant of their bratty behavior. But in a public place, I expect the parents to show some respect for the others in the room, exercise their control and draw up some boundaries. Butthead thought otherwise, of course. The elder daughter was just screaming her lungs out about the movies she wanted to watch, the food she wanted to eat, games she wanted to play etc. It was annoying, to say the least, but that wasn’t quite the problem. She kept kicking the seat in front of her rather violently – she was either sugared up, or just plain excited about being on an airplane, or was listening to music that I need to get my hands on. And yes, you guessed right, she was sitting right behind Beavis and driving him up the wall.
So here’s how the rest of the conversation goes:
Beavis: Hey kid, you are BOTHERING me with your kicking, please STOP it!
Butthead’s daughter either doesn’t hear it, or hears it and ignores Beavis anyway. And yes, of course she continues kicking for the next several minutes. Meanwhile, Butthead is watching and chooses to ignore Beavis (bad idea!). And me thinks he’s actually enjoying the fact that his daughter is heading down this brave path, and quite proud of it.
Another 10 minutes pass, and we are still waiting at the gate. One passenger was yet to board, and the pilot decides to wait for him – am sure he was a surgeon saving someone’s life next to the liquor shelves at the Duty Free store in Terminal 3. Of course we should wait for him, good call! Only problem? Beavis’s blood is boiling some more and I can actually see it bubbling up under his skin. It was scary, and I wasn’t even the one kicking the back of his chair. In one swift motion, he gets up, turns around and goes off on the little one
Beavis: Goddamnit kid! Can you not listen when I tell you? How many times do I have to tell you to stop bothering me with your kicking? Do it one more time and watch what I do to you.
Wow, real class – Yelling at the 6-yr old was bad enough, but he had to top it off by using his size and temper to intimidate her. Moron!
Butthead finally gets into the act…starting slowly but quickly getting into the act
Butthead: Sir, she is just a little kid. Please don’t be so rude.
When he notices that Beavis isn’t retaliating, he gets a little braver
Butthead: You don’t talk to a kid like that. I don’t want you talking to my daughter.
Beavis: But I did tell her 15 minutes ago to not kick my chair. She wouldn’t stop!
Butthead: You are a nasty fellow. How can you talk to a little child like that? Have you ever been around children? I am sure you have never had children yourself. You are nasty, your behavior is nasty. Very nasty!
Beavis starts to ignore him…of course, the poor kid is terrified by now and thankfully the kicking has stopped. But Butthead is not done just as yet.
Butthead: If you talk to her again, I will call the stewardess and tell her about your behavior. Yes, you are nasty!
Wow! I was sure his next move was going to be calling Beavis’s Mommy and telling off on him. Thank God for small mercies, that did not happen. By now, Beavis was clearly done and pretended to go off to sleep
Butthead (to his wife, in his native tongue): He has never been around kids, I am sure. He is a bad man, shouting at kids like that.
Of course, there is no mention of the kid’s behavior (which from where I sat – actually I was sitting dangerously close to an angry Beavis, so maybe I am a tad biased here) was certainly out of line and needed some correction on the parents’ part. And that’s when Butthead’s wife pulled one out of the hat…
Butthead’s wife (to her kid): sweetie, you didnt do anything wrong. You have nothing to be afraid of, so you continue to ignore this man and enjoy your flight. He is a bad man and you don’t have to worry about him.
I couldn’t believe it…everyone was really stooping to see how low they could go. This had all the makings of an outstanding live entertainer. I was about to return my headsets, this was going to be way more fun to watch…at some personal risk to my life, of course, given where I was perched. Alas, nothing of that sort happened. Beavis went off to sleep and the kid did heed his warning, I think. And poor Butthead resigned himself to watching some Bollywood classics. The next 15 hours turned out to be pretty uneventful and boring. Quite the letdown after such an exciting build-up!
How can one not love Emirates? 🙂
Every time I visit home, I get this incredibly special treatment from Mom. She treats me like I deserve to be treated (yeah!), and my wish is her command. The day begins with a nice, steaming cup of Mom-made Leo filter coffee and a copy of “The Hindu”, the local newspaper, to go with it. It is one of the reasons I enjoy coming home. Trust me, no matter how far you get in life, this is one pleasure you always yearn for.
Lately however, things seemed to have changed. My mom has this fascination for something that is getting much more of her attention than I ever did – the daily Sudoku puzzle in the paper. Thanks to this monster, I neither get the paper (she will solve every Sudoku puzzle she can get her hands on before she lets go of the paper – the rest of the stuff in the Newspaper is irrelevant apparently) nor my early morning coffee. To say she is addicted to Sudoku would be an understatement. And if she steps away for a second and I so much as glance at the paper (I could be looking at some old issue from the previous week, and it still wouldn’t matter) and she will reappear with a fury that can shake the bravest of men. All you would hear is a “Don’t you even think about touching my Sudoku!!” Yeah mom, THAT is what I was planning to do. Please, give me a break!
Really, whats with the whole Sudoku craze? Don’t get me wrong, I do like solving those puzzles, and I think they are fun. But the kind of excitement I see around me – is it for real? What is it about this puzzle that’s driving this frenzy? I wonder if someone is making any money on this addiction. There has gotta be some compelling business proposition in there. I can’t wait for crazy contraptions to show up at Pondy Bazaar that are based on it. The day that happens, I’ll have to start foregoing my lunch and dinner at home as well, not just the Coffee. Poor mom will be so buried under all of it and we’ll probably end up getting the local Saravana Bhavan to deliver our food every day. Come to think of it though, that might not be so bad after all 🙂
Vague title? I know…but read on. I have a theory about non-resident desis and the eye contact they make with fellow countrymen they run into for the first time. And that’s what this post is about. Of course, my expertise is limited to those in the US since that’s the only breed I have exposure to, but I suspect a broader generalization might still be valid. This is a pet peeve of mine and used to bother me greatly while I lived in the US. Since moving back home, not so much – except on my trips back to the States. On a recent trip back here, I was walking down the street, and the memories came flooding back. It did help that the Bay area abounds in desis and they are a truly representative sample! I believe that on the subject of eye contact, Desis fall in 3 broad buckets – yes, 3 buckets and no more.
The first is the kind that wants to pretend that they haven’t seen or noticed you at all but in reality they accomplish a lot more than that. They see right through you or better yet, look the other way and communicate in no uncertain terms that they want nothing to do with you. Insulting as that is, this group is the safest bunch because they will cause you no further harm.
The second is the one that gives you an angry, unhappy stare – its a strange combination of a “I just swallowed a goat and I think its moving inside me” and a “How on earth did they let someone like you inside this country”? Not pleasant by any stretch of imagination, and leaves you wondering if you left home without your pants, or if you showered this morning or other shady thoughts along those lines. It leaves you with a bruised ego the first few times you subject yourself to this treatment, and other than briefly questioning yourself, no more harm will come of this group either.
The third category is seemingly the friendliest and most cheerful of the lot – but beware, it is not without reason that appearances are said to be deceptive. They try and make eye contact and maybe even eke out a smile. More often than not, these close encounters of the third kind typically happen in the aisles of a Walmart or a Safeway. As they get closer, that smile gets broader and you can almost feel their warmth. That’s a sign to get your antennae up – soon, you are going to be asked if you’ve met before or told that you look very familiar. Rude as it may seem, turn around and run as fast as you can for you are about to be sold on the virtues of joining Amway Corporation. Chances are you have been at the receiving end of one of those sales pitches before, but count your blessings if you haven’t and save yourself while you can.
So…in summary, regular eye contact between 2 strangers in the Desi community is a myth – and no eye contact is a better, safer place to be. Lesson learned from true, traumatic experiences over the years. And a survival tip? Beat them at their own game – quickly put yourself in one of the above categories and show them how its done. Just do it!