Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Physics of BP

Andhra Pradesh has a strange system of high school called as Junior Colleges. After 10th standard, students join these junior colleges where they do their 11th and 12th grades. In the summer of ‘97, I too joined one such Junior College. The Chairman looked scary and had a flair for expletives. He poached upon four lecturers from a nearby JC and used them to run his JC. BR and RP taught mathematics while BP and VK handled Physics and Chemistry respectively. In addition to teaching, each one was in-charge of a branch. Most JCs had many branches. All they needed was half-a-dozen rooms to start one.  
Among the four, BP was unforgettably bizarre. He wasn’t a great teacher. That was not a problem to us since good teachers, like good students, are a rare commodity. The problem was that he had an unshaken belief that he is an amazing teacher. He would announce his arrival mostly with his abdomen and sometimes with a raucous laughter. He looked as if Vikku Vinayakram buttoned up his shirt with his instrument. A tragicomedy in a state of perpetual motion, we often wondered why no external force was ever applied to disturb his inertia. He fancied himself to be a very engaging teacher and was convinced that his antics would etch the laws of motion forever in our memory. No one mustered courage to tell them that at his best he was plain irritating and at his worst he was self-derisive.
“When you throw a ball”, he would cry, enact and expect us turn our heads to follow the trajectory of the imaginary ball. Ninety percent of the class wouldn’t even bat an eyelid and look at him with a straight face. The rest threw themselves into slumber. Over the next two  years, with two hands, he threw projectiles, lifted weights, dropped masses, accelerated at 9.8 m/s2  , reflected light, refracted rays, heated rods, compressed gases, located centers of masses and gravity, propagated waves, transmitted electricity, inducted magnetism and his histrionics reached acme when he demonstrated dual nature of light. His pantomime had all the ingredients except silence. It was 1998. A good seven years before the Andhra Pradesh State Human Rights Commission would be constituted by the Government of Andhra Pradesh vide GO Ms No. 355, dated 11.08.2005 (General Administration (HRC) Dept.,) as per the provisions laid under Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.  And BP took the maximum advantage of its absence.
His confidence never waned. His energy never sapped. His voice never mellowed. His jokes never improved. Some of us visited the adjacent Hospital for Mental Health at Erragadda to enquire if they had any preventive medicines / therapies to check mental degeneration amidst such daily doses of planned persecution. They did not meet with any success but one of them claimed to have seen BP’s name in the register that had list of escapees. Though, that increased our fears, we decided to dismiss it as a hallucination borne out of his constant remembrance.  
Those days, unable to bear the misery, I used to bunk the post-lunch classes. The modus operandi was simple. We would confidently walk out of the main gate pretending to get a refill for my pen. Once outside, we would walk to the end of the wall from where my friends would toss my bag over the wall. The rest of the afternoon would be spent at peace in some cinema theater.
During one such escapade, BP spotted us strolling at a street near our college. We got terribly scared. He made us walk back and took us to BR, who was in-charge of our branch. BP explained the whole incident with extreme dramatics.  He would roll his eyes to explain how he spotted us. He would clutch his palms to show how he caught us. He would oscillate his elbows in simple harmonic motion to demonstrate how we tried to run away. Then, there was an encore of the whole performance in every class he took in the post-lunch session that day. The rest of college was thankful to us for causing the only entertaining class of BP ever, while we suffered countless brutal blows with a broken branch of tree. BP continued to showcase the whole episode as an act of immense gallantry. To make the incident more dramatic and thereby raise his heroics, he began to report that we jumped over the wall and were running while he chased us in his car and caught us. That hurt us. We were honorable brats who walked out though the main gate and when caught respectfully walked back. But we couldn’t do much about our character besmirch. I later learnt that, year after year, BP continued to narrate his concocted heroics to every batch of students and finally stopped only when he learnt how the forest brigand Veerappan was nabbed.
Though we cursed him then, we now realize that his contribution to our lives was sizable. The continuous exposure to his daily melodrama had unconsciously strengthened our endurance levels. After those two years, be it university or workplace, India or abroad, none of us found any human being intolerable. Shailendra, who is now a senior software engineer, chuckles “In my very first meeting I laughed so approvingly at my boss’ PPJs (Pathetic PJs) that I got promoted thrice in the next two years. Thanks to BP, while my colleagues struggle to conceal their irritation, I spontaneously break into laughter which makes my boss feel that he is a reincarnation of Chaplain.”
Not just at work, BP’s classes have filled marital lives with pure bliss. Gokul, who is married over two years, chokes with gratitude when he remembers BP. “Thanks to his classes, these days I can effortlessly display poise when my wife animatedly describes for over two hours the saree of her choice. I can even pretend to be naturally excited when she describes the design as a mix of light periwinkle and peachy pink with prints of alternating strokes of honeydew green and cantaloupe orange.
Hail BP!!!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Master of Sermon

A common ritual in most organizations is the periodic congregations of motley group of people where a wise man talks and the wiser men sleep. It comes in various flavours like conference, meeting, training, etc. The sizes vary, venues change, topics differ, but the proceedings remain largely the same. Time, while ushering in a few changes, buttressed some practices.

Like globalization flattened the world, technology flattened the audience. Earlier, those with spectacles had a differential undue advantage in the act of sleeping without being noticed. Thicker their glasses, greater the refractive index and better the cover. Thanks to the powerpoint presentations, these days all the lights are dimmed and irrespective of whether you have the cover of glasses or not, one can sleep in utmost peace.

There are other things that are immune from time. The stupidity of Sidhu’s jokes, length of Sawant’s skirt and refreshments served in a meeting. It is always a tea and biscuits. No coffee. No lemonade, even if it blazing hot outside and the AC is dead. And the biscuits always have to be Krackjack. As if it is a compromise formula between plain biscuits and salted ones. Cream biscuits must have been prohibited because they trigger an insatiable urge to separate the biscuits and lick the cream and the ensuing danger of the cream sticking to the tip of the nose. Not a very amusing sight for the speaker.

Occasionally, once in 12 years, an epicurean becomes in-charge of the arrangements and you would be served a samosa. Though such a change is welcome for the audience, it puts the speaker into a predicament. The aroma of the potato filling wades through the air and reaches the nostrils of the speaker. The sight of people gorging onto samosa makes it appear to the speaker more delicious than it actually is. Though he wants to dispassionately continue his sermon on the chosen topic with the dedication of celibate, the coordinated messages from his visual and olfactory nerves, allure him towards the seductive samosa.  Finally, succumbing to the sensual being in him, he decides to indulge himself. To avoid the embarrassment of appearing too eager to eat the samosa, he beckons the audience to have the samosa and says, “Please have”. It is almost a murmur. By now most of them are done with their samosa and are singularly watching him eat his. More embarrassment.

Snacks eaten. Tea Drunk. The small bottle of water also emptied. SMSs jokes received, read and forwarded. All possible activities that could be performed on chair have been exhausted. What next? Time to take a walk i.e. visit the loo. Those who are too lazy, decide to doze off. The speaker now feels the raising psychological pressure to force him declare a break. After spending a week preparing those 70 slides, he watches to his utter horror that he has barely managed to complete seven. It has always baffled me how did he aspire to complete 70 slides in two hours in the first place. Wasn’t he an audience in many such gatherings before graduating to a speaker? Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Finally, when he sees a yawn that would put a hippopotamus to shame, he declares a break.

Voila! The moribund room springs to life. Everyone is up and gather outside the hall. Gathering offers a wonderful opportunity for sociologists to study group behavior. The conservatives take the opportunity to pay obeisance to the seniors. They religiously surround a senior officer and reverentially reminisce about the glorious period when they had the fortune to work under him. It must be noted that the period could be as short as a day when they were both on an invigilation duty for an internal evaluation exam.

The liberals prefer forming groups with those of the same rank. They mock at the conservatives who chose to be with their erstwhile bosses. Their talk is characterized by a nihilistic view of the world in general and organization in particular. The voices are loud and intonation sarcastic.

The rules of engagement, however, are something that remains same for both the groups. While talking to those of the same rank, rant about the boss. While talking to those of higher rank, complain about the staff. If you are talking to those of lower rank, just shut up, listen to their pathos and nod sympathetically. Post-Munnabhai, an empathetic pat on the back can earn you admiration. However, the results are optimum when restricted to those from the same gender.  

Post-break, the audience reassembles with the reluctance of a kid on his first day at school. By now, the speaker nonchalance catches up with the audience’s. He is least bothered whether he goes beyond the 14th slide. As the clock ticks towards the closing time, he would rush through the slides at rate of 5 slides per second with a remark that he would leave a copy of the presentation for the audience to be viewed in leisure. The vote of thanks is proposed with the usual thank-you-for-taking-time-out-of-your-busy-schedule. It doesn’t matter even if the speaker is in a job where if he is not yawning, he is counting his forty winks. Both the audience and the speaker leave the hall happy as they have spent a day away from the office without taking a leave.  

Monday, July 12, 2010

D - 49

An attractive perk of working in the Government is the residential quarters. In metros getting a decent house on rent within the House Rent Allowance is like catching the Don - mushkil hi nahi, namumkin hai. Where in Hyderabad would I get a three bedroom house for Rs 6000? Often, the location of the quarters in upmarket areas, like Banjara Hills in Hyderabad, makes the deal more lucrative. So the first thing I did after joining at Hyderabad was to apply for a residential quarters. Thankfully, there were so many vacancies that I was given a list of vacant quarters to choose from.

I was told that I was entitled to a three bedroom house. When I entered, I found that all the rooms were of the same size. Small. It took me some time to grasp the functional utility of each room. After a careful examination, deep ponder and a silent sigh, I realized that the differentiation factor was the shelves. With some imaginative application of inductive logic, I deciphered the functional utility of each room. If the shelves are open, it is the living room. If the shelves have doors, it is a bedroom. If the shelves don’t have doors but have an adjoining sink, it is a kitchen. If there are no shelves, it is a bathroom.

Talking about the shelves, I must say that they are the biggest eyesore of the house. They have those sad unpolished black stone slabs which reminds you of a black leather shoe whose surface is dotted with fungus due prolonged disuse. Even if you decide to build a door to close them, you can’t. That is because the shelves are located in such strategic corners that there is no support for the hinges of the proposed doors. Just one look at them, you would realize how right Einstein was when he said, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.

Einstein reminded me to check the incubator of ideas and the birthplace of Eureka – the bathrooms. The attached bath has pipelines for water heater but no electrical lines; just like having irrigation canals without dams. The common bath, by an act of providence, has both the pipelines and electrical lines for a water heater. So like Jack and Jill, the couples who stay there, should daily fetch a pail of water and, consequently, one day fall down and break their crowns. There were two pipelines, an inlet and an outlet, protruding out from the wall of the common bath, which happens to adjoin the dining area. The caretaker informed me that I could use the provision either to fix a wash basin (which, I had to bring and I have no clue what I would do with it if I vacate the place) or a washing machine. I imagined my guests watching my undergarments churn inside the washing machine while their food undergoes a similar process inside their stomachs. Not a very appetizing sight.

The windows were an architectural atavism. Unlike the contemporary windows which have a steel grill fitted within a wooden frame, these windows have a steel frame which is embedded in the walls. May be it was the architectural expression of the metaphor that the bureaucracy is the steel frame of the nation. Not that I have problem with their artistic liberties. But, if I have to tinker with the window to fit my window air-conditioner, I would have to break the wall. Something that is difficult to undo when I vacate the place.

All windows have plain glass. I guess the message is transparency, like charity, begins at home. Since the house is on the ground floor, I would be forced to draw the curtains during the day to protect my modesty, lest there would be initiation of disciplinary proceedings for behavior unbecoming of an officer and penal proceedings under section 292 of the IPC for obscenity.

The whole design made me wonder if there was an ingenious engineering mind that applied undue diligence to ensure that every provision would be available but none of them can be utilized. Or is it just the native intelligence of an engineering department whose designing skills are molded by rules, laws, bye-laws and budget than science, common sense and ergonomics.

Sufficiently scared for the day, I decided to immediately call off further inspection of the house. I asked the caretaker to get it painted as a coat of paint is complimentary for the new incumbent. The choice of shade, like with your parents, boss, kids and 432,345,958 other things in life, does not lie with you. Nine upon ten occupants subsequently regret availing the service and conclude that they could have spent money from their pockets to get their homes painted.

It took me a week to arrive at the same conclusion. The painter, with a maniacal sense of duty, went ahead painting the whole house. In the process, he forgot to remove the keys of the wardrobe before painting it. The result? Upon drying, the paint transformed itself into an incredible adhesive. I can lock and unlock my wardrobe but cannot take the keys out. The wardrobes were the only utilities that were well-placed and adequately functional. Now that they have joined the bandwagon of dysfunctionals, the house is ready to be occupied.

Welcome to D-49, Income Tax Colony, Road No: 10, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Meals on Wheels

Though the quality of food on Indian trains has vastly improved, certain travelers refuse to give up the age-old ritual of elaborately packing food for their journey. Considering that we might soon have the Right to Food, disallowing these passengers from carrying their daily bread, which their mother on earth has prepared, would be against our democratic ethos. However, the collateral damage caused by the food to the neighboring passengers is neither too serious to complain nor too subtle to ignore. Just like the indigestion it causes to its vociferous consumers.

This is one among the plethora of grouses that we silently put up. I too remained so till I saw Rang De Basanti last night. Inspired by it, I thought I must take the initiative to prepare draft guidelines on dining in trains and fight for it with candles on streets till the candles melt the guidelines are prominently displayed in every compartment and a committee consisting of the TTE, Coach Attendant and the Guard are formed to oversee their implementation. So here they are.

Please do not carry more than 250 gm of food per passenger. The claustrophobic compartments should be the last place where you would want to have a seven course meal.

Please carry disposable plates. Train is not the place to flaunt the heirloom cutlery gifted by your parents / in-laws on the occasion of the colossal disaster, popularly remembered as your marriage.

Eat when necessary. Just because you have nothing to do, don’t keep munching like a camel chewing the cud.

Eat light. This is not your last supper and India is not a starving nation. There is going to be enough food at your destination.

It is not mandatory that you buy what every hawker sells. Give others an opportunity to satiate their hunger.

The wash basin is not your sink. Please don’t use it clean your heirloom cutlery. Watching your violent gluttony one of your co-passengers would want to throw-up. So, please keep the wash basin free.

Please clean the seat thoroughly after you eat. Pushing the spill-overs under the seat is not cleaning. It attract rodents which might have difficulty in distinguishing the remnant food from your foot after you put out the lights.

Sambhar, Rasam, Dal, Buttermilk etc are not anti-bacterial disinfectants. So, if you have spilt them, don’t spread them all over the floor with your dirty shoes.

Do not use the sheets supplied with bed rolls for cleaning. You might say that they are already stained. Remember, they are stained precisely because sometime back one of your ancestors used them to clean.

Carry some tissues. Don’t go around begging for newspapers. Not everyone spends time eating. When you can carry few tons of food and cutlery, the few grams of tissues should not matter.

If you still cannot control your urge to binge in trains, you may visit this place. It offers good food and the train ambiance.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

One Down

One year isn’t a very long time in one’s lifetime. But when I met my batchmates after a year, it seemed to be quite long considering the cumulative vicissitudes of their lives. Some gained weight while some remained the same. No one seemed to have lost weight, though. Some lost hair while one showed off his rejuvenated scalp. Some got married while I heard, sadly, a few are already heading for separation. And others like me are still sitting at the fence unsure of the kind of person to tie a knot with. Some became parents while one lost his kid. Those who were deafeningly silent during training spoke at length about their experiences in the field while those who were passionately argumentative failed to even make it to the batch reunion. A Teetotaler who despised our late night revelries during training was found clinking glasses with utmost gaiety. Some complained about life while some showed contentment. Some were so eager that they came two days in advance and left two days after the reunion was over. Some were so indifferent that they neither bothered to turn up nor offered any reason for their absence. It was fascinating to see what one year could do to a person.

We talked, talked and talked. Sometimes with our batchmates, sometimes with our faculty, sometimes with the support staff of the academy. During the day, during the night and into the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes with our mouths and sometimes with our eyes. Sometimes from the heart and sometimes from the mind. Sometimes in inebriation and sometimes in sobriety. Sometimes aloud, sometimes in a whisper and occasionally, in silence too.

Some emotionally went back to the doors of their erstwhile hostel rooms which were now locked as the present incumbents were away. Some like me wanted to but failed as their laziness got better of their emotions. Some donned their sports gear and went back to the sports complex in the evenings. Others like me just sat back surfing. Some trampled every inch of the roads in the academy recollecting their moments with those inches of space. Some faithfully went back to Poonam Chambers, the nearby shopping complex which catered to our day-to-day needs during our training days.

Someone said that when you look through the prism of nostalgia, everything appears beautiful. But one year is too short a time for nostalgia. So, I must admit, everything was not beautiful. Personal tragedies were too close in time to forget. Professional rivalries were too recent to forget. Comparisons, and the consequent envy, were not too subtle to miss. Some, unfortunately, still could not solve their issues on personal front. Contrary to the popular belief, selection in civil services is not a panacea to all the problems in one’s life.

But I believe, in the long run, we all get even and in the longer run, we all are dead. Till then, stay happy and keep smiling.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Who moved his cheese?

Last Sunday, I decided to break the tradition of spending weekends in bars and pubs. So, I decided that we would lunch at a restaurant. I pulled along three other friends, AC, PK and GV, and headed to an Italian restaurant in an upmarket area. It was brimming with people. Since, the owner was a good friend of my dad, we jumped the queue and found ourselves comfortably seated within a few minutes of our arrival. The first thing that we noticed was the gorgeous girl seated in the adjacent table. Tall, slender and with fine features, she looked like one of those characters from television serials, eternally beautifully irrespective of the time and place. We later noticed that across the table there was a guy too. He appeared too lost into the conversation with his date to notice our presence, which was good for us.

We got ourselves Mojitos and began our usual banter. Just then we heard a thud. GV, who was dragged from his bed, petulantly asked what it was. “The balloons. Today, is Valentine’s Day”, I replied. He sighed indifferently. All four of us were single since day we were born and do not see much hope in the near future either. Therefore, Valentine’s Day never meant much to us. We continued our banter. Suddenly, one of those moments when all of us were busy munching and none of us spoke, we were interrupted by loud plea from the adjacent table.

“Can’t there be a reason for a relationship other than marriage?”, the guy asked in a pitch that was difficult to ignore. I almost replied “Yes, there can be. Sex” But luckily, it was those rare moments where my sanity was in control of my mind and a situation that could have left the couple, my friends and owner of the restaurant in utter embarrassment was successfully averted. But the question, which appeared straight from a television chat show claiming to discuss serious problems confronting the nation, inadvertently got us hooked to the conversation.

Soon words like blood, heart, soul, love, feelings etc flowed with scant respect to logical possibility and grammatical correctness. While the words individually made sense, the sentences, depending on your level of artistic and scientific perceptibility, were either surreal or outright obscurant. Considering the Spartan intellectual capabilities that I am endowed with and my usual inability to put them to use, I decided, very wisely, to avoid any attempt to decipher them. It was the guy who mostly spoke and occasionally when we glanced at the girl, she had the standard expression of an air hostess; smile and nod, even when you say that the restroom is soiled.

The heat of the monologue soared. GV, who was till then utterly nonchalant, partly due to insufficient sleep and partly due to the mediocrity of the pasta, got alarmed. He bent across the table and in a grave voice confessed that he feared that he is likely to be a victim of collateral damage if the lady decides to respond to the diabolical rant with some physical action like splashing the cocktail or tossing the pasta on the guy’s face. I reassured him that the girl looked too genteel for such reaction. But deep inside, I knew that his fears were perfectly genuine and entirely within the realm of reality. I fervently prayed that even if GV had to be atoned for his sins, which were infinite in number and unpardonable in nature, let it be with the cocktail as the pasta was fresh from the pan. But, I guess, that was not his day of reckoning. The monologue tapered off and we heaved a sigh of relief.

The girl got up to order some pizzas from one of the live counters. She gave instructions to the chef with such an authority that she could easily pass off as a native Italian who binged on pizzas ever since her teeth erupted. When her dictation on the topping ended, she sharply instructed, “No Cheese, Please.” She turned to the guy and declared like a benevolent dictator, “You had too much of cheese.” The guy faintly protested with supreme humility in a whisper that was as silent as his own breath, “But, how can they make pizzas without cheese?”. Her reply began with an air of obviousness and ended in a condescending note. “Just spread the toppings without the cheese and bake. Simple. “ “ You could as well go to Paris and come back without seeing the Eiffel Tower ”, I told myself.

The guy was bewildered. For a moment I could see Edvard Munch’s The Scream etched out on his face. And just like the celebrated painting, this one, too, was muted. Conscious of the dangers that lied ahead if he continued the expression, he made desperate attempts to transform the instinctive countenance to the one that beamed gratitude and piety. His facial dexterity would have left even Kamal Hassan spellbound. I, With great difficulty, restrained myself from giving him a standing ovation.

Pizza without cheese? I was shocked by this blatant atrocity being committed in broad daylight. It was akin to watching Basic Instinct on Star Movies when you actually have the Director’s Cut DVD stashed away in your draw. I was wondering what could be the potential consequences of having a spouse with such fertile proclivity towards torture. The first thing that flashed on my mind was, “ You may go the pub but you shall have only mocktails and be home by nine”. It scared me so much that I decided to stop thinking further and concentrate on my pizza. It, thankfully, had a generous topping of cheese. At that moment I realized that, henceforth, I must thank the Father in heaven for giving me not just my daily bread, but also for having cheese on top of the bread.

Needless, to say, the guy feasted on the cheeseless pizza with same fervor the starving African children eat their occasional meal. The girl watched him triumphantly as if cheeseless pizza was gift to mankind which ranked next only to fire and wheel. By the time the guy finished it off, tears welled in my eyes. As they rose to head towards the dessert section, I could no longer contain myself. I left to get myself another drink. The dessert session, expectedly, did not last long. The calorie intake, I am sure, would have been calculated till the seventh decimal.

When they finally left, we unanimously concluded that staying single, though might sound insipid, is still the best prescription for a safe and healthy life. As we finished and rose to leave, another couple walked in. The innocent smile on the guy’s face evoked deep sympathy among us. However, we were emotionally drained and couldn’t bear to see another guy in misery. Even without waiting for the elevator, we fled the place taking the emergency exit stairs.