Rambling on….

about anything under the Sun!

Tag Archives: people

Can I have an extra napkin please?

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!

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Remembering Shankuntala

You know how we all have certain images that made their way into our brains for whatever reason, perched themselves in some remote corner, and never really go away? People…places…objects…events…you name it, and they are all there. Quite often, there isn’t a great deal of significance attached to these, but yet, they have become quite the permanent fixture and one struggles to understand why. And its not like they surface every other day – on the contrary, they rarely come up for air. And even when they do, its usually tied to some train of thought that eventually triggered pertinent memories. I’ve always had the urge to write about some of those lasting impressions in my life, and as is the norm with this blog, for no real reason of any value but write I shall! What better excuse than NaBbloWriMo to make that happen?

So yeah, I am going to make it a point to write about these images every now and then, and here is the first one – its about a lady who answers to the name Shakuntala. Absolutely no connection to Hindu mythology, this is someone that was very human, very alive and very active, at least until a few years ago when I used to know her. She was the maid at our neighbor’s – a strong, determined lady on the wrong side of 60, she would come into work every single day and religiously go about her chores. Worn down by age, fatigue and years of hard work, her face wrinkled beyond reason. She wasn’t exactly pleasant looking and had a fairly rude disposition, so one didn’t really venture into any normal conversations with her. But work hard she did, and that image is so fresh in my mind, even though its been almost 20 years since I last saw her. She would be there every morning, carrying two pots of water, one nestled in her left arm and rested on her hips, and the other hand clenching the second, making the long walk from the water pump to my neighbor’s house, with her typical hunched walk. Back in those days, Chennai was reeling under a perpetual scarcity of water and every morning involved a few trips for Shakuntala to store up water for the entire day’s usage. It was like clockwork, I could tell time simply by tracking her schedule. And it wasn’t easy work, she would make at least a dozen trips back and forth, and at her age, that spirit was inspiring, to say the least – or should have been inspiring, in any case.

Reality however, was different. The kids in the neighborhood were scared of her and back then, it was funny to watch them get in her way and promptly be at the receiving end of a fine lecture, with the choicest of words and expressions thrown in for good measure. We, the slightly older boys, always found ways to make fun of her, mock her and generally play a lot of practical pranks on her. No, I am most certainly not proud of those actions now, but back then, as an adolescent that was looking for some random entertainment, and she was an easy target. We would simply justify our gross insensitivity by reassuring ourselves that she was rude, and so probably deserved some payback! The poor thing would endure it all and scream out every now and then, but she knew it was all falling on deaf ears, so at some point I guess she just gave up. I don’t quite know why she has etched herself so firmly in my brain, its probably because there is some guilt laced with remorse there. Looking back, I feel bad…and I feel sad. Given her age, I doubt that she’s still around. But if she was, I’d want to go apologize to her – for all the things we did, for all the sad tricks we played and for just being plain old jerks. Sorry Shakuntala, you deserved better!

Facebook to Face-the-Book?

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 🙂

Auto upgrade?

So, effective yesterday, the Auto rickshaw fares in Bangalore went up…again. Possibly the first time in history that one was subject to two consecutive days of taxation, albeit in different forms?

I am usually very sympathetic towards the genial auto guy. Yes, they are a rare species and it takes some effort and a lot of luck to find one of those, but they do exist. And for their sake, I support this hike. If you think about it, it is not easy earning one’s livelihood having to spend the entire workday in Bangalore traffic – no one deserves that kinda punishment. So yes, please try and cut them some slack. As salaried folks, we expect the double-digit merit increases that are our birthright, every year. Sometimes, more often than once a year, and we think we are being completely rational and reasonable in our expectations. Of course! I always deserve to be paid more than they pay me! And yet, when these poor guys get their “salary” increases via a fare hike, we are all up in arms against the entire community. You should have seen the number of protest letters to the Editor in today’s newspaper. That doesn’t seem very fair?

It is not like their demand for a fare hike was without basis – there was a substantial increase in the price of fuel by about 20% very recently, and someone’s going to have to pay for that fuel. So it just seems a tad unfair that we label them all sorts of things for wanting better compensation. Yes, there are the bad apples in the lot but more often than not, they are just trying to earn a living like you and me? It is hard to argue that their jobs are at least as stressful as ours, if not more? And the risk element? Surely they deserve some respect (and compensation?) for putting themselves through all of that? So, I don’t care what anyone says, I am happy that they got the increase they deserved, and one that was long pending.

When I first paid the new fare out this morning, I realized the increase was about 30% – now that’s a hike that even an Infosys would be proud of. So maybe this should have been done in phases, but in any case, the government finally woke up and acted. And that got me thinking – would the increase in auto fares over the years be a fair indicator of inflation? When I was in college, the fare per km was Rs 2 – almost one-fifth what it is today. And I know it seems like it, but I am not that old. We are talking less than 15 years here, and that’s quite a change for that short a period of time. However, that change is also very reflective of the “real” inflation we’ve had to negotiate as a country? I mean, there is sufficient reason to believe auto fares would keep pace with inflation – after all, most of the autos in Chennai are owned by the honorable politicians that uphold the law, and their even more respectable cronies? Surely they are going to take advantage of every opportunity they get to make sure the fares keep pace with the rest of the economy? And if I compare what a respectable IT company (which is considered the de facto benchmark for our economy – no clue why) paid a fresh college grad back in 1995 to what they pay today, the ratio seems very comparable to how much auto fares have gone up.

So it just seems like a fair (fare?) distribution from both perspectives. So quit complaining people and pay up! And I hope this increase will at least temporarily encourage my dear, friendly, neighborhood auto dudes to desist from tampering with their meters, asking for a ridiculous “extra” charge for no rational reason, or trying any of the other rotten tricks they typically resort to. Maybe they should try being honest and polite for a change, and they might just pleasantly surprise themselves with how well people respond!

I p(r)ay to thee, my country….

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!

1-800-MURALI

Heroes don’t come along everyday, and when they do, they occupy a special place in our hearts. Their actions, their accomplishments, their spirited and persistent efforts to overcome the odds that were undoubtedly stacked against them, and the manner in which they carry themselves and their success after they have arrived – the rest of us draw inspiration from all of that, and that’s why it is easy to put them up on that pedestal. One such hero for me is the Smiling Assassin, the ever so cheerful Muttiah Muralitharan, who recently climbed a peak that no man ever has, and no man ever will. 800 wickets in test cricket, more than double the number of any other currently playing cricketer, averaging more than 6 wickets a game with each wicket costing a miserly 22.7 runs! Get this – if Murali were the only bowler to bowl for his team, what that means is the opponent would be bowled out for 227 runs on average! It is easy to understand why he won so many games single-handedly for Sri Lanka. And oh btw, he is also the world’s leading wicket-taker in the One-Day version of the game.

Murali recently announced his retirment from test cricket and it is sad to think about the fact that we will no longer see him in action in whites – the hunger in his eyes, his drive for perfection, his consistency and just his plain passion for the game – all of those will be dearly missed as will his disarming smile and the class with which he carried himself on and off the field. In Murali’s case, the numbers tell the story – but there is clearly much more to the man than just those statistics.

Born in Kandy in Sri Lanka and of Indian descent (his grandfather hailed from from Trichy in Tamil Nadu), Murali was a player from a minority community trying to make it in the big leagues. And any of us that has played cricket in the local circuits in the sub-continent, knows only too well how much of a challenge that can be. Forget being in the minority, just making it on the basis of your efforts was hard enough because it was never about just the talent or being in the right place at the right time; it was much more about who you knew and how well. Hell, back in those days in Chennai, if you weren’t from Santhome or Don Bosco or St Bedes, you hardly got a look-in; the selection trials were nothing more than a joke, a farce. So imagine not just having no advantage in terms of influential pull, but also coming from the minority Tamil community. A community that was increasingly detested in a region rife with conflict, with the Tamils at the center of it all. And now, to look back at how far along he has come, how much he has endeared himself to all of Sri Lanka and the rest of the cricketing world, and you realize he’s special.

A controversy that dogged him for a good part of his career was his bowling action – not just a needless distraction, it was also utterly disgusting and in very bad taste, on the part of the people that made it an issue. Of course, where else would something like that originate except Down Under? Umpire Darrell Hair, not a new face to controversy first no-balled him because Murali was “chucking”, in his eyes. Other notable cricketers joined in the chorus to quickly deride and dismiss Murali off, the crowds in Australia booed and jeered him whenever he took the field. In fact, on one of their tours, the Sri Lankan contingent once had eggs thrown at them as they were returning to their hotel after dinner. Of course, Murali in his typical style, dismissed the incident off saying “You expect those kinds of actions in Australia!” The Aussies have rarely shown the ability to acknowledge class when it was outside their shores. And this was understandable – Murali was destroying them with his bowling and this was the only retaliation they could possibly offer? Of course, Murali being Murali, took it all in stride. He undertook a series of bio-mechanical tests (which were conducted right in Australia); he had to actually bowl with a steel brace molded into his right arm as part of the test. And mind you, this was AFTER he had established himself as one of the game’s premier bowlers, not when he was starting out. Count on the Aussies to come up with something like this. Thankfully, the experts saw reason at the end of the day and blessed his action on the basis of those tests – that was good enough for the ICC to let him continue playing. Of course, the Aussies continue to complain but no one’s listening any more. (The great Don Bradman is an exception to that rule, of course – he actually ridiculed the entire episode, calling it one of the worst examples of Umpiring he had seen)

For me, it is also his actions outside the game that make him special. The man is a champion of social causes and puts his money and influence to telling effect in improving the lot of the impoverished people in Sri Lanka. Most notable amongst the causes he drives are his support of reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka post the Tsumani of 2004 that devastated large parts of the island nation. Among other things, his Foundation of Goodness has helped rebuild more than a 1000 houses in the Seenigama region in southern Sri Lanka. He also serves as an ambassador for the UN World Food Program, helping to fight hunger amongst school children. While we will no longer see him in action on the cricket field, something tells me we haven’t heard the last of him off the field; he is getting involved in a bunch of different causes across the island nation, and his exploits off the field might soon overshadow everything that he accomplished on it. The world needs more like you Murali, but sadly, we know there won’t be another like you. Adios, my hero – the world of cricket will certainly miss having you around.

The Beavis-Butthead show…Live @ 35000 ft

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? 🙂

Desis and eye contact?

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!