Wednesday, April 26, 2006

SMS (Saying it Madras Style)

Beep beep! Beep beep!!

The cell phone rang and blinked beside my pillow. I half woke up from my sleep and picked it up to read the message.

"Hi, this is Anti Sleeping Association. Our main motto is to disturb people when they are in deep sleep. Come join our club. Log on to "

The sender was Spandana, one of the girls who had joined the company with me and was undergoing training in Chennai. We had come to know each other that very day. The time was four minutes past midnight. I was too sleepy to get irritated or amused. I put down the phone and went to back to sleep. When I woke up to drink water at three in the morning, I sent a “Good Morning” SMS to her before going to sleep again. This was just the beginning, for we had just learnt that text messaging was free in Chennai.

In the two months that followed, my cell phone (see photo) probably sent and received more messages than an average person’s cell phone does throughout its lifetime. Today the combined number of messages sent and received in my cell phone is almost touching 14000, and the bulk of this figure was reached in the two months I spent in Chennai. A day would not be complete without Good Morning and Good Night SMSs from my training friends. I, of course, returned the favour. Apart from this, the phone beeped numerous times throughout the day. This post is to remember those happy days of count-free SMSing.

When I started SMSing, there were three types of messages doing the rounds among our friends. The first was the normal personal message… like Spandana’s “Had dinner?” every night and “Had lunch?” every afternoon (even when we were sitting in the same room). This also includes the standard “I’m feeling sleepy” and “That guy is looking funny” kind of stuff that Uma and Spandana exchanged with me during the training sessions. This never worked with Sonali however, because her service provider and mine had some delivery problems, and as a result she received most messages several hours later. I, Amit, Naveen and Shreevallabh lived in the same locality and spent most of our time together. So we often used to ‘chat’ using SMSs. Probably by far the most common message was “Meet at the signal in ten mins” or something to that effect.

Naveen’s messages were special. He used the dictionary feature on his phone, but never stopped to see what he was typing, and sent the first words that the dictionary suggested. He also frequently misplaced spaces. So when a message came saying “ibm in cup”, we would have to understand that he meant “I am in bus”. Another classic was his “ankle at the jeans” sent to Shreevallabh. This one remained undeciphered until Naveen himself told us that it was meant to be “collect the jeans (from the ironer’s)”.

Then there was the second category of messages which were used as small greetings. Cute little poems, in Hindi, Urdu or English declared the sender’s friendship towards the receiver often in a funny way and wished him/her a Good night’s sleep or a wonderful day or Happy Janmashtami/Ganesh Chaturthi as the case may be. These were also the most boring messages, though they were the most in number. I don’t think I need to write further about these messages, for there was hardly anything personal about them.

The third category was pranks or jokes played on the unsuspecting receiver. Obviously I won’t be writing them down here, as I haven’t used them yet on all my friends who read this blog. But most striking among these was Nisha’s message “Everything between you and me is over…” that I have used to fool several of my friends till date. Swati actually messaged me back and asked me what’s wrong after I sent her that message.

I added a fourth category to these, namely “thought of the day” messages, or Quote SMSs. I used to look up good quotes by famous personalities and converted them into SMSs. Abhijit was another person who used to do this. The very first such message that I made by copying from an advertisement in a newspaper was:

The heights great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were climbing upwards in the night.

I remember I was overjoyed when I found this message doing the rounds a few days later.

Apart from the abovementioned people, others with whom messaging was memorable were Sushil (who always sent the most wonderful Urdu poems), Samiraj (he sent very few messages, but all he sent were good), Kapil, Om Prakash and Madhusudhan. Nishamathi was of course the queen of messaging. She was the first to discover that it was not “unlimited free SMSs” after all: there was a limit of 150 SMSs per day after which the network refused to send any more messages!

As I have written in another post, I have many memories associated with Chennai; some funny and some sad. Same applies to SMSing. I can never forget Tandav’s frantic SOS message one night “How can we get a rat out of a western style toilet?” to which Amit and I devilishly replied (in several installments) “Put a wooden plank into the toilet and let the rat climb onto it. If coefficient of friction between rat and plank is mu then the frictional force is given by (mu)M.g(cos theta) where theta = angle made by plank with the horizontal and M is the mass of the rat and g is acceleration due to gravity. To maximize friction minimize theta, i.e plank should be horizontal” Needless to say, Tandav never messaged me again that night. Another night when the fan in my room was kaput and the fuse in Spandana’s room had blown and mosquitoes were keeping both of us awake, we chatted on SMS from 12:30 to 2:00 in the night. We would have continued, but my battery chose that moment to get discharged. Due to heavy SMSing, my battery charge used to last only two days in Chennai, though on holidays I sometimes managed to discharge it in one day. I also received some wonderful ringtones from friends during this time. And I developed another hobby: creating picture messages with characters.

A sad memory associated with SMSs is of the night when I got the news of my uncle’s death. I was composing a Good Night message at the time. While trying to recover from the news, I was absent-mindedly playing around with my mobile and sent a message containing only “Good Night” to everyone. Archana and Sweta were two people who made fun of my SMSs everyday in the office, yet that night these two were the only people who messaged me back and asked what was wrong. And the next day in office, Tandav, Arpit, Praveen and Piyush decided to take revenge on me (for sending greeting SMSs daily) oblivious of the tragedy that had occurred in my family. They together sent a message about thirty times and I had to continuously and repeatedly delete it to keep my inbox from overflowing.

The habit was quite hard to get rid of even after I came to Hyderabad and had to pay Rs2.00 for every outstation message. As a result, in the first month, the messaging cost was more than calling cost in my phone bill. I learnt to reduce the bill in subsequent months, but even now I keep in touch with my friends all over India via SMS. I get 100 local messages free here, and most of them are spent in saying Good Morning and Good Night to Smita and my other friends. But SMSing is no longer the fun it used to be in Chennai.

And if any of my friends are reading this, and sulking that I don't message them as often as I should, I would like to say:

Har khushi me aapki baat karte hain,
Aap salamat rahein yahi fariyad karte hain,
Ab ek SMS se kya batayein...
Ki hum aapko kitna yaad karte hain!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Statutory Warning


Although I believe blog posts should not be personal messages written for a select group of people, this is a post that I’ve been planning to write for quite some time now. I hope it will serve 3 purposes:

  1. Silence the people who say “Ganguly can’t play on the leg side” kind of stuff about my writing. Not that somebody has actually said that, but why take chances?
  2. Prove to a certain person (I’ve been threatened with dire consequences by another individual if I divulge the name of the person) that writing styles can be changed or imitated. To extend the parallel drawn in point 1, I can say that if Ganguly wants, he can in fact play in a style that is very different from his own and similar to another player, say Rahul Dravid for example.
  3. Remove some misconceptions from the minds of people with whom I have to interact daily. Lately I’ve been told that I haven’t come up to their expectations. I can’t bear to disappoint them and so must make sure that they reduce their expectations accordingly.

Hence this post.

It's my life
It's now or never
I ain't gonna live forever
I just want to live while I'm alive
(It's my life)

~Song by Bon Jovi

Beware of me. I’m selfish, dictatorial and rude. Don’t try to be my friend; I’ll hurt you beyond repair.

I’m an egoist if there ever was one, or an “I specialist” as my flatmate puts it. How else can you explain the fact that I have my own photo in my wallet instead of my girlfriend’s? Ok, I don’t have a girlfriend, but I could put somebody else’s photo there other than mine, right? What’s worse, I have put my photo in my website, my blogger profile, my Orkut profile, Orkut album and even my cell phone. What’s wrong with relatives, cricket players, movie stars, cartoon characters, gods and goddesses, cute unknown babies, flowers or even or even toffees? But I won’t use their photos, simply because I feel that I’m the only person in the whole wide world whose face is worth looking at. It is of course an entirely different matter that when I go to some new place or a party with the camera there are hardly any photographs showing me. That’s because I don’t give the camera to others (for taking my photo) due to two reasons: firstly I don’t think anyone else has enough brains to use a camera, and secondly I don’t want to share the credit of taking all the photographs.

I’m a perfect tyrant when it comes to taking decisions. I can go to any length to enforce my decisions to those around me. Anybody can verify this fact by asking my companions. It is true that I have often ended up following their wrong decisions (like coming out of Salar Jung after half day because they wanted to eat out and see a movie, which they eventually didn’t see), but that is only when I felt like experimenting. The worst part is, I like to act, to leap and then look. Thus when I see a long and fast growing serpentine queue for meals at the office cafeteria, I stand in the queue first and then think whether to eat there or not. Not like my colleagues, who think about whether to join the queue until it’s too long, and then they go and take hamburgers or pizzas from a shorter queue. Being an autocrat, I always try to convince the others that my approach is better. Now consider this: the time I take to eventually get the meal is actually shorter than or equal to the time they take to think, act and get the hamburger. And the food I get is healthy whereas theirs is… See, I’ve started enforcing my decision on the readers as well. But then, my point of view is the right one, isn’t it? I have proved it in so many arguments, yet they say I argue only to prove myself right even when I’m wrong.

Coming to rudeness, I’m impertinence personified. I often embarrass my co-workers by arguing with them in public, or calling them names. So what if they do the same to me? I ought not to do it. According to some, it is an unforgivable offence (Ms. Rowling, if you are reading this, please forgive me for using that adjective) on my part, and they have stopped all communication with me due to this bad habit. But I’m incorrigible. I prefer to call a spade a spade, and if necessary, in public.

I’ve never helped anybody in my life, other than “helping myself” at the buffet. From time to time I try to show off a little helpful behaviour, of course, but my acquaintances are so familiar with my character that they see through my ploy at once. So when I sit up till nine in the office to write somebody else’s program, they can tell at once that I did it only because I wanted to prove myself good at programming. When I explain a concept to someone, it’s only to improve my own understanding. When I wake up early and cook something and take it for my colleagues in office, it’s just to show off my culinary abilities. At this rate, it is becoming more and more difficult every day to find new and innovative ways to appear helpful while nurturing a hidden motive behind it.

No wonder I don’t have any friend at work. I have a lot of colleagues, co-workers and companions, but no friends. And I prefer not to have any. Friends are a lot of trouble… they borrow money, want help with work and studies and expect me to accompany them to tea and lunch, to teach them Origami, to call them when they get bored on weekends. Moreover, they get hurt if I say something wrong, and I get hurt when they retaliate. It has happened in the past, and if I’m not careful, it may happen in the future too. So I avoid making friends (except on Orkut). Don’t try to become my friend unless you are ready to run away cut and bleeding soon. As some of my previous ‘friends’ put it, “I have so many friends, but you are the worst one that I have ever met.” One even went on to add that “Looking at your face in the morning spoils my whole day!”

Of course, if you are a former Miss India or something, you can be my friend without any worries. I think the only kind of girls that are worth being friendly with are the beautiful ones. I stay away from all girls that are not good looking (by my definition). After all, if a girl does not have looks, why should I care about her mind? It is true that I have befriended several girls in the past who were not exactly breathtakingly beautiful, but to err is human… I was young and foolish then. I did not consider looks before making friends (though I must confess that all my female friends used to look beautiful in their own way in those days). Not any more. I have learnt from my mistakes now. I’ll not make those again.

I hope this post has made it clear to the readers and especially those around me what kind of a person I am and what to expect from me. This should reduce the number of misunderstandings in the future. After all, though I pretend to be a tough guy, those misunderstandings hurt me as much as, and sometimes even more than, the other person. Better not to have them at all.

Now, coming to the end of this post, I suddenly realize that I have failed to achieve objective 2: the style of this post, though unlike mine, is not a bit like that of the person whose style I set out to copy in the first place. I don’t care. In any case, mine is the only style that is worth copying.

A friend in need is a great nuisance.
Help a person when he is in trouble and he will never forget you, especially the next time he is in trouble.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Beautiful Mind

[The incident narrated below is a completely true incident from my own life. Although written from memory, I have tried to write the dialogues exactly as I remember them.]

“We’ll tell him to take us inside our lane”, said Ananda in English.

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea. Unless we get down on the main road, he’ll ask for a rupee more. As it is, we are already paying him extra”, I replied, also in English.

“We are paying him extra. That’s why I want him to go inside”, he said.

I and my cousin brother Ananda were returning from my uncle’s house in Chinsurah to our house in Hooghly on the night of 30th June 2002. The above conversation was in English lest the rickshaw puller, the subject of our conversation, understands it. A few hours ago, Brazil had beaten Germany 2:0 in the FIFA World Cup final, and we had gone to enjoy the match with our other cousins. After having our dinner at my uncle’s house, we were now returning home on a cycle-rickshaw.

We were passing through one of the narrowest but busiest roads of the old town. The roads were deserted by now and littered with paper shreds from burst crackers. Brazilian flags were hanging from strings everywhere and some were lying on the ground. A bicycle rider came from the opposite direction, lost his balance, and almost collided with our rickshaw, before stabilizing himself and going away. One of us remarked (in Bengali) how recklessly he rode.

Kichhu uttejok podartho pete porechhe bodhoy”, remarked our rickshaw puller (It means “Some stimulating stuff must have gone into his stomach”).

Now this language struck me as a little too good for a rickshaw puller. Anyway, we started talking with him. All further conversations are in Bengali unless otherwise mentioned.

I: That’s quite possible. Brazil won, you know…

Rickshaw puller (RP): Today there was a big match, isn’t it so Sir?

Ananda: Yes. And Brazil won it.

RP: Brazilians play well, don’t they?

I: Yes.

RP: And who else plays well?

I (eager to show off my negligible knowledge in soccer): Germany, Argentina, England, France, er… (forgot other names)

Ananda:Italy, Holland, Paraguay, Columbia.

RP: And India? Don’t we play well?

I: No!

RP: But we hear so much about Mohunbagan and East Bengal… don’t they go to the World Cup?

Ananda (probably shuddering at the idea): No. Their standards are much much lower than the world standards.

RP: Oh… so most people support Brazil here?

I: Yes, and Argentina too.

RP: Where is Argentina, Sir? Is it in America?

I: Yes, it is.

RP: North America or South America?

I again felt a little odd… did the average rickshaw puller in Hooghly know about the two Americas? Maybe he did, I had never cared to know before. Anyway, I answered it was South America, and we proceeded in silence for some time. Then near our home, RP asks us, “What do you do? Study?”

I said I studied “Engineering” and Ananda said he studied “Science” (saying bigyan in Bengali so that the man understands). Then the rickshaw puller asked whether we believed in God. Even without thinking, we unanimously replied that we did.

And why?” he asked in English.

We were too stunned to speak for a few seconds.

The first thought that came to my mind was that he must have heard and understood all our 'secret' conversation, and had been actually playing with us when he was asking us all that rubbish about soccer and Mohunbagan and America.

Ananda was the first to recover. Though all he could do was to repeat the man’s question to him. Then he replied, “I believe in God because I feel that God has always helped me take the right decisions in life.” (This was said in Bengali again… he had not recovered enough to start in English right then. Further conversations were in Bengali and English mixed. And RP’s English was definitely as good as ours).

RP: I don’t believe in God. I am a science graduate. I had a good job in a big company. My brother cheated me and made me lose that job. Now I pull this rickshaw and teach students of class fifth to tenth at my home. If you go to so-and-so place and ask my name (alas, I don’t remember his name or the place now) or ask for “Master-da’s” house, anybody will show you my house. I’m not as well known as the other famous Master-da (freedom fighter Surjya Sen), but people know me. I have been struggling like this to keep my family alive for some years now. I’m not dishonest or lazy. If there was a God, would this happen to me? And my brother is living in peace. So I don’t believe in God anymore.

By now we had reached inside our lane and were standing in front of our house. And we, one engineering student and one chemistry graduation student, were trying to convince a poor rickshaw puller that there was a God.

Ananda: Scientists do not deny the existence of God. Einstein himself believed in God.

RP: But his General Theory of Relativity and Special Theory of Relativity do not account for God, do they? Nor does his explanation of photo electric effect.

I: Have you heard the name Stephen Hawking? In his book he says “God said let there be light, and there were gamma rays. We can’t explain the conditions before the Big Bang in any other way.”

RP: Something can’t be explained right now doesn’t mean it is done by God. Have you heard the name Erich von Daniken?

I (swallowing): Sure I have. (Ananda later told me that he hadn’t and it would have been extremely embarrassing if I hadn’t heard it either)

RP: In his book “Chariots of the Gods” he explains how the so called ‘divine’ occurrences could have been actually alien visits to Earth. So inexplicable doesn’t mean divine, does it?

I: Er… No, it doesn’t.

Ananda (letting go of science and clutching at religion): But Ramakrishna and Vivekananda believed in God, right? They said God exists.

RP: Ramakrishna and Vivekananda said that service of man is the service of God. They were great men. But Vivekananda believed, “God is present in every jiva (creature); there is no other God besides that.”

I (desperate): But… but in Gita Shree Krishna says that… er.. “Yada yada…” (I struggled to finish it)

RP: Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati bharata,
Abhuthyanam adarmasya tadaatmaanam srijamyaham.
Paritranaya saadhunaam vinashaya cha dushkritaam,
Dharmasamstha punatthaya sambhavami yuge yuge.

(In these Sanskrit verses Lord Krishna says “Whenever there is downfall of goodness and growth of evil, I reincarnate myself. To save the good people and to destroy the evil ones, I come again and again”)

Both of us:

RP: Yeah! I've read that. So what? Krishna was a great human being. But Mahabharata is an epic. How does it prove that God exists where we can’t even prove that that epic itself is true? So I don’t believe in God. If there was a God, I wouldn’t suffer so much.

Ananda: Well, OK…if you say so! Anyway, you are honest and hardworking. You teach so many children. So you should continue the good work, without thinking about what you get for it. In the Gita it is written that you should do your work without desire of the result…

RP: Karmanye vadhikarasthe, Ma phaleshu kadachana ... Yes, I follow that, and that is why I’m able to live.

By this time, my grandma came out of the house to our rescue. Seeing her, we bade farewell to the man saying it was a nice discussion and we had enjoyed it. He said that he had felt likewise. We said that if he wanted to continue on the topic, he could come to our house one day and spend some time. He accepted the invitation, but never turned up. I never saw or heard anything about this remarkable rickshaw puller since that day. But this incident got imprinted in my memory so clearly that even after four years I almost remember each dialogue accurately.

And whenever I feel that my job isn't good enough for my qualifications, I try to compare my situation with that of the rickshaw puller. That never fails to make me feel that I'm in heaven.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Love at first sight

I always held a strong opinion about love at first sight. I argued that such a phenomenon does not exist outside movies. Then I saw her, and my strong opinion was proved wrong in an instant.

She was standing in front of a mirror, wearing a flowing dress, her face turned to one side and she was looking down. A transparent veil was drawn over her face and body, but her beautiful face was plainly visible through that veil. When I saw her first, I was out of words. How could one be so beautiful? As the day progressed, I returned again and again to that same room with the mirror, to stand and gaze at her face. She did not move away, because she was rooted to that spot, literally!

Yes, I’m talking about the Veiled Rebecca, an amazing marble statue by Italian sculptor Benzoni, the most beautiful sculpture that I have seen in my life. Not that I have seen many, but I have at least seen some detailed photographs of world famous sculptures. I can say that this statue is as good as, if not better than them. It may not have the anatomical perfection of David and Venus, or the elaborate details of Moses and Pieta, but Rebecca’s simple veil beats them all… a transparent veil made of opaque stone. And as you are looking at it, you suddenly realize that you have forgotten that the veil is made of marble. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any good pictures of this statue on the Internet, so you have to see it yourself to understand what I mean.

But this post is not about Rebecca only. There’s much more to write about. Only I didn’t know where to start.

On my first Saturday in Hyderabad, I went to the Salar Jung Museum with two of my friends. It is a museum which houses works of art collected almost entirely by one person. I like works of art, so that was the first place I wanted to visit in Hyderabad. However, after going through the first few galleries, while I was speechless, both my friends got bored to death. One of them plainly said so to someone on the phone (yes, he was talking on the cell phone most of the time!), and the other one was more diplomatic and said he could not appreciate so much art in a single day. When they saw at the lunch time that the food at the museum cafeteria was not very good, they said they couldn’t stay there any longer. I could have done very well with that food, or even without food for that matter, for eating meant wasting time when you are in a building that can be called the Louvre of India. Bowing to public pressure, I had to leave that day, but I returned the next day. Alone. And I spent the whole day there, only to understand that I would have to return again and again to appreciate the whole thing.

For most people, and especially children, the biggest attraction of the museum is a large clock that is kept in the courtyard. Every second is marked by a small figure of a blacksmith hammering away. Every hour a door opens and another figure comes out. He strikes the hour on a gong with his hammer and goes back in. There are beautiful paintings, sculptures, exquisitely carved furniture, delicate ornamental crockery, arms, garments, books, clocks and watches, mirrors, embroidery, carpets, cutlery, dolls, stuffed birds, jewels… the list is endless. And these things are from all over the world. There are entire rooms dedicated to single countries like Japan, China, France and Egypt. The European gallery has a beautiful wooden statue that is a double figure representing Mephistopheles on one side and Margaretta on the other. This is also kept in front of a mirror.

The Salar Jung is a huge building as can be seen in this picture from Google Earth. By the end of the day my legs were refusing to carry me, and I was sitting down frequently on the seats that they have very wisely put all over the place. At this time I realized that it was really difficult to take in so much art at one go, because I found my attention drifting. While looking at one exhibit I was thinking about the previous one. And this was happening in spite of the fact that one section was closed for renovation. I returned several times to stand and stare at Rebecca, of course, and I watched that clock strike every hour from ten to four.

Finally, it was time to leave. It had been a memorable day. I plan to go there again, because one and a half days are too less to see Salar Jung. If I have not gone there again in the last seven months, it is only because I did not find a like-minded person to go with. What is the use of looking at something beautiful if I can’t call my companions and point it out to them? But I’ll definitely go there soon, even if I have to go alone again.

Because I find I have spent quite a lot of time in this city without seeing her. I can’t endure it much longer.

[Author's note added later: After reading this post my friend Abhijit posted this on his blog.]