Twenty (Stupid) Questions

March 29, 2007
Here’s something I came up with one idle afternoon. I won’t say that all of them, or even any of them, are original, but I would say that all of them are pretty silly.

How do you…

(Feel free to add more options to the answers.)

  1. Put on socks and shoes: sock, sock, shoe, shoe, or sock, shoe, sock shoe?
  2. Put on a button-down shirt that is buttoned up: unbutton it and re-button it, or slip it over your head?
  3. Start your car: ignition, handbrake, seatbelt; handbrake, ignition, seatbelt; seatbelt, handbrake, ignition….(more…)
  4. Start your day: brush teeth, breakfast, tea/coffee; breakfast, beverage, brush…
  5. Eat grapes from a bowl: pick ‘em up one at a time, or grab a handful and put them in your mouth all at once?
  6. Eat a fried egg, sunny side up: break the yolk and let it run out, or pop the whole yolk in at one go?
  7. Interlace the fingers of your hands: left thumb goes over right thumb; right thumb goes over left thumb; sometimes one way, sometimes the other?
  8. Cut your fingernails: clip the nails of the left (secondary) hand first; clip the nails of the right (primary) hand first; a nail from each hand, alternatingly?
  9. Step up, step down: left foot first for both; right foot first for both; left foot first going up, right foot first going down; right foot first going up, left foot first going down?
  10. Write a blog entry: think it out, then write; think while writing; write without thinking?
  11. Approach a daunting set of tasks: worst thing first; best thing first; most time-consuming thing first; quickest thing first…
  12. Maintain your email Inbox: by scrupulously sorting and deleting email; letting everything sit in the inbox till it overflows?
  13. Keep track of your bank account/credit card account: track every transaction; verify monthly statements; know you’ve reached the limit when payments bounce…
  14. Address your mother: mom; mum; mama; amma; ma; mother…
  15. Fall asleep: on your back, on your tummy, on your side, curled up in a ball…
  16. Surf TV: 2 seconds per channel; 5 minutes per channel; sports and news channels get 5 minutes, entertainment gets 2 seconds; or the other way round…
  17. Drive: slow and relaxed (what’s the hurry?); fast but careful (why waste time?); aggressive and ruthless (I’ll get you before you get me!); supersonic (Schumacher needs competition…)
  18. Put your computer to bed: Standby; Hibernate; Shut Down; leave it running; just turn off the monitor
  19. Respond to beggars: give; don’t give; depends on mood; depends on beggar…
  20. Prepare for an event (such as a party, outing, travel) or deadline: well in advance; last minute; start well in advance but finish at the last minute…

Heck, no, I don’t expect you to sit and answer these stupid questions. More entertaining than answering them: why don’t you come up with some of your own?

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Never Say Yes

March 27, 2007
On Monday, Amit, who was recuperating from home, and I, who was working from home, sat down to a simple homemade meal at lunchtime, when the phone rang.

There was absolutely nothing noteworthy about this, because the phones – all four of ‘em – had been ringing off the hook with worried family members demanding hourly updates on his health. On this particular occasion, it was his Calcutta Aunt, who, yesterday, had wanted to know why our household hadn’t a thermometer to its name and had made it plain that this was a shortcoming to be rectified at the earliest opportunity. He therefore hastened to assure her that a thermometer (a digital one, with read-outs in both C and F) had indeed been procured, and, what’s more, had shown him (to my utter disbelief) to have no fever.

The Aunt, thereupon, suggested that a distant (not very distant “relatively” speaking – nor, unfortunately, geographically speaking) branch of the family resident in Bangalore be informed of the situation, so that they could provide succour – or something like it.

The thought so scared Amit that he immediately resolved to get well without further delay.

The situation with these rellies is such that when DDB visited Bangalore, though he is equally related to them and to us, he not only didn’t stay with them, he went to great lengths to stay away as much as possible. A great deal of energy went into plotting, scheming, and strategizing devious ways and means of encountering them for the minimum possible period of time. The main intention was to “drop in” without notice, create a lot of noise and confusion, and escape quickly before arrangements for a meal could be made. This escapade would also have to be carried out at the last possible moment in his stay, to avoid invitations to subsequent meals together that would inevitably ensue should they be given any advance notice of his presence in town.

In these endeavors, Amit was a willing and active participant. Though he sometimes agrees that we “should” be more sociable with this branch of the family, he never goes so far as to actually act according to this good intention. On the rare occasions that he is called upon to explain this reluctance, he says that developing any kind of warm relationship here would upset the delicate balance between various other factions of the family, including incurring the wrath of his father – something to be avoided at any cost as it always results in great damage to the phone bill and the ear drums.

So, he vehemently assured the Aunt that he would doubtless survive the day and it was only merely a small, tiny little passing flu and there was no need whatsoever to call in the heavy artillery and that he would call and tell her the moment he felt better or worse or just the same, so why bother these other folks.

The Aunt, who has learnt a few tricks to justify her white hair, demanded to speak to me.

The problem with my conversing with any member of Amit’s family is that they thoroughly overestimate my language skills and assume that I understand everything they say, when in fact my comprehension consists of 10% understanding, 80% inspired guesswork, and 10% non-committal replies to mask a total lack of comprehension. So, when the Aunt admonished me to keep her updated on the situation (or that’s what I thought she said, using inspired guesswork), I readily agreed. Only after a few moments did I realize that what she was actually asking me was whether I would update the distant rellies on the situation – and I had agreed!

I hastily recanted, and handed the phone back to Amit to do further damage control.

Moral of the story: Inspired guesswork is all very well, but never agree to do anything!


Archaeology – At Last!

March 18, 2007
I have lost count of the number of years that I have been fascinated by subjects like the origins of mankind, ancient civilizations, and even – to travel a wee bit further back in time – the origins of the universe.

I do remember that when I was in the VIth standard, we studied the Harappan civilization (way too briefly for my liking) and I was enthralled. It’s sad that after that, I never liked History (or, for that matter Geography) the way it was taught in school. But then again, when you consider that 90% of the History we studied in school had to do with the Indian struggle for freedom, you’ll get some idea of why the subject bored me to tears. Naturally, I never considered studying History in High School or college.

But Archaeology remained an area of interest ever since those days of Harappan studies.

A nagging desire to really study archaeology, whether formally or informally, has followed me around for many years. I remember discussing it with Amit once, must have been more than five years ago; and the number of times I’ve surfed the Net looking for full-time or correspondence courses on the subject doesn’t bear thinking about. Yet, I’ve never gotten around to doing it, partly because I’ve never found a correspondence course that really covered my areas of interest. It never occurred to me to study something “close to” Archaeology, such as Ancient History, or Linguistics, which can easily be done by distance education. So, I did a Masters in Psychology instead, which was never on the radar, but which I enjoyed immensely anyway (one of the few things I’m thankful to my former boss for, as she was the one who suggested it to me).

The other day, killing time in office, I started browsing the web for the nth time, looking for online courses in Archaeology, and this time I got lucky. I found a course that looked extremely interesting, and what’s more, didn’t require any face-to-face attendance whatsoever. What’s more, though it is offered by Leicester University in the UK (Indian Universities are not yet so sophisticated), it didn’t require any of the complicated paperwork like personal statement, letters of reference, TOEFL and all those other deterrents that foreign universities usually require. It is so self paced that you can complete six modules (each of three months’ duration) over a period of five years, and still be eligible for a Certificate; or you can go on to the next level and earn a Diploma. First and Second Levels (that is, Certificate and Diploma courses) are equivalent to first and second year of the undergraduate course, so if you want, you can actually join the final year in college and get a degree. Sounds perfect, and of the modules on offer at the entry level, there are six that look exactly tailor-made to my areas of interest.

Of course, it is expensive… but nothing compared to what going abroad to study costs. So today, I went and began the process of getting a draft to make the first payment. It looks like being an exciting journey. I can hardly wait to get started!


In Transit

March 16, 2007
We had planned to be in Binsar by yesterday, but the plan fell through when my other half (more like two-thirds, actually) decided to visit Beijing instead to attend an official meeting. He is not in my good books for doing this.

However, the situation has been partially redeemed by organizing a holiday in Thailand on the Good Friday weekend instead. Of course, Bangkok is not Binsar, but it’s better than nothing. So I spent several hours reserving flights online. Thai Air allows you to do this, but to make payment and get an actual ticket in your hand, you have to visit their city office.

Duly, I set off around “lunchtime” on a “work from home” day. What should have taken only an hour including driving time, ended up costing me three long hours and a lot of under-the-breath cursing, most of it directed at my better half.

As I was leaving home, it occurred to me that I might require some form of identification. When I thought it over for a moment, I decided that a passport might be a good idea. So I dug it out and took it along. It wasn’t until I was actually seated in the highly uncomfortable chairs in the Thai Air reception area, watching the proceedings with preceding customers, that I realized what an extremely good idea the passport had been – and why hadn’t I had the sense to bring both of them? Grrrrrrrrrrr… stupid. Stupid!

Anyhow, when my turn finally came, I confessed to the lady at the counter that I had only one passport for the two passengers, and went on to point out that, as the other was my legal husband, they could verify his name on my passport and that would suffice, wouldn’t it?

Apparently not. They were rule-bound to get a copy of every traveller’s passport. Could the said legal husband fax or email a copy of his passport?

This request was relayed to the L H, who immediately dragged himself out of a VERY IMPORTANT meeting to oblige.

Except, despite trying for more than half an hour, the fax refused to go through.

At this end, the Thai Air staff maintained that their fax machine was functioning perfectly and the problem must be from the other end.

So, the much beleaguered husband scurried out of office and to the nearest STD/ISD/Photocopy/Fax/Internet store to try from there… with the same result!

I, teetering on the verge of impatient explosion, tears, and fainting from hunger, was all set to give up and go home. The ticketing counter had closed for lunch, the staff had disappeared behind a solid wooden door, the lights in the reception area had been dimmed and the metal grille at the main door had been pulled to, indicating that this was the time for all honest people to depart for lunch and possibly a short afternoon snooze. Then, the ticketing counter reopened, staff reappeared, lights were turned on, the grille unbarred the main door, and the next torrent of customers came flooding in in a matter of minutes. Still, I sat, waiting, waiting for the fax that never came.

At last my better half changed tactics and tried to scan the passport and email it. The email reached – several hours later, or so the girl at the counter informed me when I called to enquire the next day.

By this time, I had been waiting for about two hours. At last, the Thai Air staff took pity on me and decided to issue the ticket anyway, breaking all the rules, for which I am eternally grateful to them. By the time I returned home and fell upon my lunch, it was 3.30.

But at least – we are going to Thailand.


Going Astray

March 10, 2007

For those of you who haven’t heard, a few days ago, a pack of stray dogs attacked and killed a small boy.

The dogs weren’t rabid – as far as is known – but were hanging around near a meatshop, which might account for their unduly aggressive behaviour.

This is the second such incident in a few months. The first was in a different area, and without the added provocation of a nearby meat shop.

The powers-that-be, in this case, BBMP (Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike) have reacted predictably, by launching a stray-dog-culling exercise. To this, the dogs have reacted, also predictably, by biting people – not necessarily limiting themselves to the BBMP stray-dog-catching people.

This bodes ill for the dogs.

As far as I can tell, there is currently no plan to “euthanize” (to put it politely) the dogs. The BBMP plans to put them in compounds, but they simply don’t have the space.

As a passionate dog lover – the type who snaps her fingers at a passing stray dog and immediately has a new friend – I wish there were some better solution to the problem. The sterilization drive that has been ongoing for some years now, is clearly not going to bring about a reduction in the stray dog population unless many more people and a lot more money is pumped into it. I don’t – in principle – agree with the sterilization plan either, but I do agree that it is more humane than simply rounding them up and injecting them with something lethal.

The fact is that we do need to do something about the strays. They breed like rabbits, and while I don’t go so far as to blame the existence of rabies or other diseases entirely on the stray dogs, it is true that rabid dogs are a serious menace. That apart, there is the traffic problem – the not infrequent, gruesome sight of dog remains on the road is a visible reminder that stray dogs don’t always thrive for long.

And when strays start attacking humans, whether merely biting or actually mauling and killing, I can’t find it in me to say that they should still be allowed to roam freely. I do feel that it is highly unusual and unlikely for strays to attack humans unprovoked – in the absence of rabies – but, if that is what they are doing, for whatever reason, then it obviously can’t be allowed to continue.

I don’t know what the best solution is. Killing them off is inhuman; sterilizing them will take a decade to show tangible results; putting them into compounds will not only require huge area and infrastructure, but will also probably lead to social and health problems in the compound. Dogs, though pack animals, aren’t used to living in packs of hundreds, and there certainly will be vicious fighting, and perhaps starvation, in-breeding, disease.

Clearly, whatever solution is implemented will take a substantial amount of time, money, human resources, skill, and patience. And, in whatever solution, ultimately the dogs are the losers. It’s sad… this is our attitude to dogs, man’s best friend.


The Lost Art of Letter Writing

March 5, 2007
I’ve never been much of a one for writing letters. As usual, I attribute this to sheer laziness.

Actually, it’s not the letter writing itself that I’m lazy about, it’s mainly the associated activities like finding an envelope, finding the address, inscribing the address on the envelope in a halfway legible manner, sealing the blasted envelope, traipsing down to the post office for stamps – all these activities usually take me at least a week to complete. Sometimes, they never get done, resulting in the letter just sitting around at home until it gets pushed under a pile of other junk.

When I was young, my mother would order me to write letters to both my grandmothers. In those days, I didn’t have to worry about the associated activities – I’d just scribble the letter and hand it over to my mother. I don’t think she was very proactive in those sundry chores required to actually dispatch the letter to the recipient either, so I don’t know how many of my missives ever reached their destinations, but what was important was that I had written, and I could squarely look my beloved grandmothers in the eye and declare (truthfully) that I had written, which would earn me brownie points, hugs, fond smiles, and hopefully, some sweets or chocolates as well.

When I moved from Chandigarh to Delhi when I was 10, I don’t think I made even a pretence of keeping in touch with old friends via letters. But when I moved from Delhi back to Chandigarh when I was 16, I had a long-standing exchange of letters with at least four or five friends. It helped, of course, that one of these was Amit, and I enjoyed to the hilt the adventure and romance of writing love letters.

As for the thrill of receiving them… In those days, we stayed in a little independent house on the ground floor. My bedroom, a cosy, sunny, room opened on to the front lawn. At the end of the front lawn was the driveway and at the end of the driveway, the gate. And at the gate, naturally, was a letter box. Every afternoon, I’d sit at my desk, studying (for the XIIth Standard boards) and keeping a sharp lookout for the postman. As soon as I saw or heard him drop something into our letter box, I’d quietly push open the screen door leading from my room into the garden, and stroll slowly, nonchalantly, to the letter box. If there was the familiar fat white envelope with multiple sheets of incredibly thin paper covered with his familiar scrawl, I’d scurry back grinning like mad. I’d take all the mail and sneak back into my room and quickly read that most important of letters first. If luck was with me, I’d get away with all this unobserved. Sometimes, though, my mother would be watching, and then I’d either have to conceal my delight, or read out the less scandalous bits of the letter to her… she always knew well enough not to ask about the other bits, of course!

Email in particular and the internet in general are a blessing for communications, but they did put an end to letter-writing – much to my relief! Love letters are nice, but hours spent chatting on some public chat room, via a dial-up modem, way back in 1991-92 – well, at least at that time, they seemed so much nicer!

My grandmothers were never inducted into the pleasures of email, but as long-distance telephone calls became less exorbitant, and as I became much less obedient to my mother’s wishes, the practice of letter writing slowly declined. We moved back to Delhi and I quickly lost touch with the few friends I’d exchanged letters with for years.

When I moved to Bangalore in 1998, and during our short stint in the US, I returned to letter-writing, but email was already the preferred means of communication by then. In the past seven or eight years, I would not have written more than five letters altogether.

This state of affairs might have continued indefinitely, but for two events. First, it became necessary to contact our Himalayan guide, who stays in a remote part of Uttarakhand where no phone is to be found in a radius of 30 km. A letter, it appeared, would have to be written, and, what’s more, in Hindi. If I haven’t written letters for a long time, it has been altogether an eternity since I last wrote anything in Hindi. I doubt if even I would be able to decipher my handwriting, were I to attempt to write in Hindi.

While I was still hemming and hawing about this, I was pleasantly surprised one day to receive a letter. It was from Lingshet, in Ladakh, three days’ walk from the nearest road. Lingshet is a “Finding Nemo” sort of place in that, if you leave the comfort and security of your own lovely little home and brave all the dangers that a long, lonely journey has to offer, you might at the end of the road find a big city full of busy people.

We had trekked to Lingshet last year, and while there, we had chatted with a wool weaver and taken some pictures (that’s him, at the top of this blog). When we got back, I had taken prints of the pictures and posted it to this man. That was more than six months ago. Meanwhile, winter had intervened, and doubtless no postman would have ventured over the 15000-ft passes on foot or horse, to drop off a letter at that remote village. But, in whatever manner it might have been, my photos had certainly reached this man and his letter had reached us. Talk about miracles.

Which brings me to the point: I have, naturally, had to write a letter back to him – in English, thank goodness. This I finished a few days ago. The precious scrap of paper is lying in my handbag at this moment, in company with a blank envelope and the man’s address. I have only to put it all together and get some stamps from the post office. Which, all said and done, will also require nothing short of a miracle.


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