Murphy’s Law

Once upon a time, a wise man called Murphy, frustrated with his work and determined to find all that was wrong with the world, stated, with pithy accuracy: ‘If anything can go wrong, it will’. I present some minor variations of this law that have held true in my life with alarming consistency. 

The line you‘re in will always move at a snail’s pace

Whether I am lagging behind a trail of cars in a traffic jam, or simply queuing up for a railway ticket, I find that this rule has stood the test of time for me. In fact, I am amazed at how consistently this law asserts itself. 

But just this rule on its own is not enough. It has two very significant consequences. If I shift to the faster-moving line, my original line suddenly gets inspired to pick up pace and starts sprinting instead. This is its way of taking revenge on me for having changed my line in the first place. 

But if I don’t shift to the faster-moving line, my turn will come after four hours at the end of which the man at the counter would have gone for lunch or the traffic signal would have turned red. There is a handy phrase to describe this dilemma, which is, (paraphrasing politely): ‘You’re doomed if you do, you’re doomed if you don’t.’ 

You will remember something important that you forgot to do only many hours after you’ve left your house.

Oftentimes it has happened that the hubby and I have set out on a long drive to some scenic remote location, stopping at regular intervals only to hold hands, sing melodious ditties and refuel both the car and our hefty selves. When we’re halfway through the second stanza of the third song, it suddenly strikes me that I might have left the gas on, and that’s when the real fun starts.

After much thought and discussion, or rather much hair-tearing on the part of the worse half, we decide that it is best to return home to check on the gas. And after driving fifty kilometres back, we scramble into the kitchen to find that I had carefully turned off the knob after all, and that my precious house, contrary to all my expectations, has not crumbled into a pile of ashes. This is a good thing, but then I have to contend with the murderous looks thrown at me by the spouse who resents having driven around half the country in the space of one day. 

Any important deliveries that you have been anxiously awaiting will arrive just when you have left home

Have you run out of ammunition to cook your daily square meals? Are you biting your nails waiting for the delivery of the gas cylinder so that you may return in peace to cooking your rice and vegetables? Have no fear, for the delivery-man never turns up when he is expected. Call him, and he will state with the utmost confidence that he will arrive at your doorstep within the hour. When several hours have passed, you finally concede defeat and venture out of the house for a breath of fresh air, and that’s when the man himself turns up. As he will gladly tell you one month later when he comes the next time, he rang the bell for hours on end and eventually gave up the attempt. In truth, you know what really happened is that he was sitting outside your house and just waiting for you to leave so that he could say he had arrived when you were out. 

If you’re late getting to an important meeting/party/wedding, a million external factors will gleefully unite in their conspiracy to make you even later.

This rule is really a corollary of the oft-repeated proverb ‘Haste makes waste’. In your hurry to reach your destination, you may run into simple obstacles such as forgetting the mobile or the wallet and having to sprint back to the house to fetch it, traffic signals turning red at the precise moment that you approach them, and the ultimate factor in making a latecomer later – a broken down vehicle. The autorickshaw you were riding in would have run out of petrol or your car would be facing the mother of all breakdowns – a tyre puncture. Valuable minutes will be wasted in switching to a new auto or replacing the deflated tyre, thereby delaying you by another half-hour minimum. 

The least you can do to assuage your colleagues and friends when you do arrive at the meeting is, preface every sentence with a humble request for forgiveness. So even when you’re stating an opinion, you say, ‘‘Please accept my apologies for the delay, and I do agree that our team did a fantastic job of winning the World Cup.’ 

The book/CD/furniture item you were desperately searching for just ran out of stock.

In one corner pocket of my multi-tiered wallet, you will find, neatly folded up, a slip of paper listing items such as newly released books or movies or audio CDs that I would like to purchase. With this slip in hand, I enter a store and demand a title from the list. And almost always in this situation, there is a salesman who positively delights in informing me that he’s just run out of stock of the aforementioned item. In fact, he says, nearly rubbing his hands in glee, the last piece sold seconds before I walked into the store. 

If you’re in the bath and no-one else is at home, either the phone or the doorbell will definitely ring. 

When I am bathing, the phone and the doorbell pose as natural enemies – they don’t want me to shower in peace and I don’t want them to ring. Invariably, they do just that. 

If the phone is persistently bleating its shrill tone and I emerge from the bath dripping wet to answer it, it will stop ringing the moment my lathered hand rests on the receiver to pick it up. 

As for the doorbell, if I hurry out of the bath and scramble into my clothes in record time in an effort to open the door in time, all the while shouting ‘Coming!’, then by the time I reach the keyhole, my visitor will have disappeared. 

I have learnt my lesson, and nowadays steadfastly ignore all ringing sounds that I can hear while I am pouring mug-fuls of water on my head. 

Despite all the various combinations of Murphy’s Laws that befall me, I follow one good piece of advice that I read somewhere: ‘Smile, for tomorrow will be worse!’

What ho Author!

In honour of PGW’s 130th birth anniversary (which I remembered reading this post), I crafted the following letter. If Bertie Wooster launched a literary agency with Jeeves as his trusty assistant, what kind of rejection letter would good ol’ Bertie send to the hand-wringing writers? Fret not, friends! The answer lies below: 

What ho Author! 

Jolly good of you to send along your manuscript thingie, what?  

Of course I couldn’t read it without downing one of Jeeves’ life-saving bracers, but even that didn’t do the trick. The old lemon remained clouded several hours after turning the last of your pages. So I handed over the bally thing to Jeeves, who has a head the size of a melon. His brow flickered upon reading the opening paragraph, which, I hesitate to say, boded ill for the rest of the work. 

My judgment proved correct. After a detailed inspection of your material, Jeeves addressed me thus: ‘I fear, sir, that it would be injudicious on my part to advise you to undertake the championing of this manuscript. The prose does not merit praise, and the treatment of the subject matter has clearly not taken into account the psychology of the individual.’ 

I offered it to Aunt Dahlia, but she had occupied herself with writing an editorial for her magazine Milady’s Boudoir, to which I once contributed an article on ‘What the Well-dressed Man is Wearing’. You see, author old chap, I’ve written some tosh too, just like you brainy coves! 

Aunt Agatha refused to answer my call for help. I believe she was chewing on a broken bottle at the time of receiving my telegram. 

Fear not, author old boy, for this too shall pass, as Jeeves says. A stiff b and s is all you’ll need to recover. 

Toodle-oo,

Bertram Wilberforce Wooster

The World is Job-less, Illegal Operations and other Computer Hazards

In 2006, I bought my first ever iDevice – a first generation iPod Nano. That conked this year, no doubt to the violent manhandling or baby-handling by my daughter. So I promptly caved in and purchased an iPod Touch. My husband, not to be outdone, bought the iPhone 3GS and morphed into an Apple fanboy overnight. 

I wouldn’t dare compose a eulogy when far better ones are already out there. Instead, I offer the following piece that is technology-inspired: 

Illegal Operations

In 1998, the latest OS from the stable of Microsoft – Windows 98 – burst onto the scene. Its greatest contribution to the computing era has been, without a doubt, the ‘Illegal operation’ message. Every so often, regardless of what software I was tinkering with on the computer, it would suddenly spring forth the infamous ‘This program has performed an illegal operation and will shut down’, followed by a technical description of whatever heinous crime I had committed. This infuriated me at first, as I have never done anything illegal in my life. But gradually I learnt to take it in my stride. It is just one of those things you cannot avoid, like getting spanked by your boss for something you didn’t do (but were supposed to, of course).

But I liked the confidence behind the message. The computer insisted on shutting itself down and told you so in no uncertain terms, lest you harbour any hope of its recovery. But the advent of Windows 7 has eliminated that problem, so whatever you do on your computer you can rest assured that it is a legal operation. 

Once you have mastered the computer and its intricacies, there are other hazards to deal with, namely, e-mail. 

The E-mails versus the Females

An ingenious individual came up with the following variation on a quote by Rudyard Kipling: 

The email of the species is deadlier than the mail.

Mr. Kipling may or may not have been pleased to see his gems thus distorted, but upon reflection he would arrived at the same conclusion as millions of email users the world over – that it is nothing but the gospel truth.

While registering for an email account you glimpse an idea of exactly how many unfortunate souls in the world possess names similar to yours. Ten years ago when the internet started gaining popularity even in our power-starved cities, I believed that the number of people with my kind of name would be so few that I could count them on one hand. The email address gargimehra@emailprovider.com would be mine for the taking. But when all the popular email providers like Yahoo, Hotmail and Rediff declined to offer me the address of my choice, then I realized my ghastly name was commoner than I had thought. 

So I resorted to the only option left to me – stick in a few foreign objects like ‘_’ or ‘.’ between the names. I went with the underscore – I thought it added a bit of character to the address. 

But just having an email address is never enough. You have to circulate it amongst your friends to actually receive any mail. Announcing the address to the tech-savvy is effortless, but trying to explain it to a technophobe like my dear father is a different ball game altogether. 

Shortly after creating my spanking new email account, I needed some information from my father urgently. When I requested him for it he immediately outlined to me the standard procedure – he would dictate it to his secretary who would type it, take a printout, and courier it over to me ASAP. 

I dared to suggest to him that instead of sending across a single ream of paper two thousand miles, that too one that didn’t even require any signature, why didn’t he try sending the necessary information in an email instead? 

He hung up the phone, saying he would ask his secretary for more details. Ten minutes later he called to say that, lo and behold, he too had an official email address, but he just didn’t know it all this time! 

The conversation thenceforward proceeded as follows:

Me: So far so good, why don’t you take down my email address?

Dad: But when did you get your email address?

Me: When I was inDelhi, I registered for one.

Dad: But you are in Pune now, so don’t you need a new one?

Me(tearing hair) No, that’s the purpose. If I needed a new one here, how would it be different from a postal address?

Dad(befuddled): Ok ok, don’t tell me all this technical nonsense!

Me: I haven’t even got technical yet!

Dad: Ok doesn’t matter, now tell me your email address?

Me: Yes, it’s g-a-r-g-i-underscore…

Dad: Underscore? What underscore? Don’t tell me underscore shunderscore, just tell me the address.

Little wonder that I lost fifty percent of the hair on my head on that day itself. 

But not to worry, I lost the remainder of my silky tresses after a similar conversation, conducted not too long afterwards, with my mother: 

Mom: Beta, I have seen a wonderful job ad in the paper. They have even given an email address. Should I give it to you?

Me: Yes

Mom: Ok write it down, w-w-w-dot…

Me: What?? Are you giving me the website address or the email address?

Mom: There’s no difference, it’s all the same thing.

Me: No Mom, tell me the one that doesn’t start with the ‘www’.

Mom(after frantic searching): Ok it is, careers, c-a-r-e-e-r-s…

Me: Yes…

Mom: a inside a circle…

Me: What??? What is this about ‘a inside circles’?

Mom: I don’t know! That’s what’s written here, it’s a squiggly thing that looks like a circle with an ‘a’ sitting inside it.

Me: Oh God, Mom, that’s pronounced ‘at-the-rate’

The best thing about e-mail is how well it complements telephonic communication. With the advent of e-mail, people can not just send and receive messages through the internet, but they can also call each other up to talk about its contents! Wasn’t that some beautiful pink stationery they had used as the background? How well it suited the purple font of the message itself! 

But you must excuse me now – my boss is calling me to discuss the email proposal I sent him.

 

 

Agonies of an Aunt

Exactly twenty years minus one week – that’s the age gap between my niece and me. But Uma didn’t think so. From the moment she set eyes on me, she believed I was an overgrown baby come expressly to steal away her beloved mother’s attentions. To begin with, she took violent exception to my hugging her mother and charged towards me to remove the offending hand, her brows furrowed in fury. 

Strictly speaking, we had no cause for complain. She drove us to exercise more in a day than a week in a gym. We were sternly instructed to chase her (‘Run, Run!’), jump two steps at a time (‘Jump here!’) and skip all over the room. In no time at all we should soon be skilfully qualified to join the circus. As for the occupants of the apartment directly below us, they are, I’m sure, living in perpetual fear of the building falling on their heads.

There’s not enough Vaseline in the world to satisfy Uma, who generously smears her face with it, taking the concept of smoother skin to an altogether new level. The enthusiasm with which she rubs the lip-gloss all over clearly indicates that she is heading towards the world’s first zero-friction lips.

Under her reign, I lost the right to use most drinking glasses save one. The one glass I was permitted to use, she referred to it as ‘some glass.’ I relinquished my claim to the computer chair as she forced me to use the kitchen chair instead. She informed me that ‘teddy wanted to sit on the computer chair.’

Every evening, she returned from the crèche with my sister around six. While trudging up the stairs, she would say wearily ‘I don’t love you’ in her singsong Irish accent. I retorted that it did not matter in the least, as I did not love her either. With impeccable baby logic, she countered ‘Hey, no, you love me!’

From time to time she would point at my feet and say ‘you have got a smelly feet’, and, as an afterthought – ‘I haven’t got a smelly feet’.

And to add a dash of mystery to the whole affair, she started referring to me as ‘somebody’. So if you happened to visit us, you would hear her say things like ‘Somebody’s at home’, ‘Somebody’s sitting in my chair’ etc. 

But I’m glad to report that by applying some good old bureaucratic concepts like bribery, relations between aunt and niece improved considerably in the months to follow, so much so that when my birthday rolled around she sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me with no small measure of genuine pleasure in her voice.

Tribulations of a Tenant

On our arrival in Delhi after ten long years in Muscat, our first task was to find a house suitable for rent. So off my mom and I went house-hunting. The first flat we saw in Chittranjan Park (also called the mini-Calcutta of Delhi) appeared spacious enough to accommodate my two-year-old niece and her toys. No more, no less. My mother called it a railway compartment, which was a fairly apt description. We rejected it without much thought. 

The second flat we saw stood on the ground-floor, satisfactory in most ways, except that it was infested with ants. To my mind, it looked little more than a two-bedroom version of an ant-hill. The owner of this place invited us in and as soon as he was told that we were from Calcutta, he royally proclaimed that he disliked all people hailing from there. My father’s colleague, who was accompanying us, promptly replied that he also despised people staying inC.R.Park. At this, the landlord quickly said that he wouldn’t be able to vacate the premises before a month. As we could not be expected to spend this period on the roadside, this house was also struck off the list of prospective candidates. 

I must mention that the rent of neither of these flats was any the less because of their inherent disadvantages. 

Finally we came to a somewhat spacious three BHK accommodation on the first floor. It appeared to be the most attractive proposition for us, as it was located on the main road, and within walking distance of the market. The landlord was a wizened old man, and after some discussion, we soon fixed the deal. Within a few days, the agreements were made and duly signed. And so we started living in our first flat in Delhi. 

Like in V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas, we also discovered the disadvantages of the home soon after moving in. The plans of the ground and first floor were identical, and as such our voices carried easily to the ground floor, and vice versa. So we could not curse our landlords without their overhearing us. We also got no opportunity to marvel at the clothes they wore, which looked as though they had taken the hole in the ozone layer for inspiration. The attire they wore outside their home was still tolerable, but their household clothes bore gaping holes in them, and they proudly hung these Polo-type clothes out to dry in full view of the general public. 

We were taken aback by this kind of attitude. But apparently we hadn’t seen enough yet. Frequently, the wizened old man and his wife got into an argument, and used words that compelled my father to ask us, “Are we living in a slum or a civilized area?” 

After a goodish five years of mortal suffering at the hands of these intolerable people, we quit the house. My mother had fished out a good ad from the newspaper, and on seeing that this new flat was more spacious, convinced my father to shift in there. But as an old proverb goes, Old is Gold. So naturally, this house was destined to give us more trouble than the previous one. 

First of all the landlord was incurably rude. He could even make “Good Morning” sound like a swear-word. Secondly, there was an office situated next to the house. Lastly, and we had observed this in the previous house also, the landlord and his family were none too keen on socializing with us. We later found out from friends in that area that this was the general attitude of landowners towards their tenants. Leave aside talking to tenants, they said, the landlords didn’t even socialize amongst themselves. 

The landlord’s family consisted of himself, his wife, daughter and son. The daughter was just a bit older than me. This lot also argued incessantly. Sometimes the quarrels reached such proportions that we feared there would be a murder in the house. 

And here also the slum-talk did not abate. We once heard the daughter call her father a word, which I cannot and will not repeat here for fear of expulsion from Polite Society. 

Then there was the office. The chief of this office often used to come out into the open air outside our bedroom, with the purpose of carrying on a conversation on his mobile. The nature of his discussions and the tone of his voice suggested that he was just a little less powerful than the late Dhirubai Ambani

Within some months, I felt that I would be able to take over his business immediately, as I had gleaned all the details of his operations in India and elsewhere. 

Another source of entertainment here was that the wife was named after a famous painting, which she didn’t resemble at all. 

After a good deal of torment in this house also, my mother and I decided to shift again, and thus embarked on our second round of house-hunting. We were informed by a friend of a good flat nearby itself, and so we went to visit this place. It was on the first floor, and the landlord claimed it had three bedrooms. On going through a tour of the house, which took no more than five minutes, I found that it was curiously reminiscent of the ‘railway compartment’ flat, with the exception that it had three berths. The balcony attached to the living room afforded a magnificent view of the temple, and this was probably the only factor that prompted my mother to consider it as one of the most beautiful houses she had seen in her life. On reaching home I pointed out to her that if we took that flat it was likely that we would have to sleep out on the balcony, as the rest of the space inside the house would be taken up by our furniture. My mother was convinced, and after rejecting that flat, we went on to see another one which was arranged for by an agent.

After looking around the entire house, which took nearly half-an-hour, we came to the conclusion that it was large enough to comfortably accommodate up to five generations of our family. And if it didn’t have a sufficient number of occupants, it would be little more than what we called a bhoot-bungalow. In despair we turned to an old friend who was quite efficient in estate matters. Within days, he showed us a house which was spacious, decorated, and had all the facilities we could wish for. And thankfully, this time the flat-owners were a friendly Punjabi family. So right now, we’re living comfortably but are perpetually on tenterhooks because we never know when the landlords will change their mind and turn against us. 

This article was first published in Deccan Herald.

Unquotable Quotes

Some people in this world are gifted with the ability to come up with brilliant quotes and one-liners (some original, some not quite so) on the spur of the moment. In most cases the not-so-original quotations might induce the “turning in the grave” phenomena for the originators. I present to you some of the more memorable one-liners I have heard, which, at some point or other, will surely be useful to you in your life:

  • Don’t talk while I’m interrupting!

This admonition is guaranteed to stop that pompous fellow at your party from butting in on every one of your anecdotes to narrate some of his own. Ideally he should get the hint quite easily, and if he is the decent sort he will stifle his protests and unwillingly join in the laughter. If he doesn’t get it, though, you are welcome to cosh him on the head – a violent, but sometimes necessary, measure. 

  • If you can you can. If you cannot you cannot.

Not quite the one-liner you would adopt as the philosophy of life, but in spite of being blatantly obvious, this quote apparently possesses some idealistic value and no doubt makes perfect sense to some people (like my disillusioned brother-in-law) who claim to swear by it. But actually it only goes to show that its originator disagreed with Buddha’s philosophy of The Middle Path.
Corollary: There’s no such thing as more or less. If it’s more it’s more. If it’s less it’s less.
This is perfectly true, and should especially be avoided by writers for fear of being accused of verbiage. ‘More or less’ is indeed a redundant expression, and should certainly be rendered null and void.

  • What goes up must come down

These were probably the exact words voiced by Mr. Newton when the famed apple fell so unceremoniously on his head. Until then he had not quite realized the “gravity” of the situation. However my colleague coined this under very different circumstances. You see, the elevator at his workplace was designed to move in a direction exactly opposite to what he desired. I believe it is specially equipped with some artificial intelligence for this purpose. So one day when the elevator was exercising its usual ingenuity, he said reassuringly to himself, “Don’t worry! What goes up must come down!”

  • I’m a one-woman man

So many men say this to their wives to reassure them of their non-womanising nature. It is a feeble one-liner to convince their spouses that, should a leggy, noodle-strapped beauty flutter by, their eyes wouldn’t veer even once in her direction. Unhappily for one man, though, his wife was faster than him in catching on. She instantly quashed his quip by retorting, “But how many men are you?”

  • Am I right or am I right?

This is one of the most effective ways of stamping out any argument. It gives the opposition no choice but to agree with you. I have used it as a clincher to an argument innumerable times with great success. Unfortunately my friends do not allow me to get away with it. As soon as I utter the fatal words, they discard their social mannerisms, and wagging their finger at me in staunch disapproval, say straight to my face, “You are wrong”. At this moment I have noticed that it is useless to point out to them that I had not given them that option at all, they simply get more violent for some reason. 

  • Great minds think alike

Often two people in a conversation voice the same thought at precisely the same moment, leading one of them to say, with great condescension, ‘Great minds think alike.’ Each is miffed that the other stole the words from his mouth, so both parties resort to this phrase to console themselves. In reality this occurrence is nothing more than a coincidence, and an onlooker might well be tempted to state, ‘Feeble Minds think alike too’, which is a perfectly acceptable corollary to this statement.

  • What will happen will happen

A variation on the theme of Que Sera Sera, this sentence allows Individuals to disown their responsibilities and leave the consequences of their actions to providence instead. By itself it is a fairly reasonable thing to say, but in conjunction with Murphy’s Law – ‘Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong’, it foretells gloomy scenarios.

  • Better late than never

This is most often said by the guest who turns up for your party in the wee hours of the morning when the invitation cards clearly stated 8 pm. You may want to wring his neck but with admirable constraint you refrain from doing so and maintain the gracious-host persona that so becomes you. But for a particularly obnoxious guest whom you don’t want hanging around your celebrations and wish to dispose of anyway, the best option is to retort, ‘In your case, better never than late.’

 

So with each passing day we mortals add to our ever-increasing repertoire of unquotable quotes and one-liners. And remember what Samuel Johnson said – “Every quotation contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language”. So quote on, ladies and gentlemen – it’s never too late to start.

Things you’ll never hear them say

Here are some things you’ll never hear these celebrities say: 

I humbly declare that I alone do not deserve this coveted award. Considering the brilliance and talent of the other actors nominated along with me, I feel compelled to share this award with them. This one is for you, guys!

I know I am not drop-dead gorgeous. In fact I frequently gaze at the mirror and say to myself: “How dare you look so pitiful?” I don’t even dance too well and my directors are often forced to re-shoot some scenes. I have failed so many times on the first take. 

  • Salman Khan

I would like to clear this misconception that I love Aishwarya – I do not. Any affection I nurtured for her was of a friendly nature. I never pursued her with the hope of winning her love, and I certainly never subjected her to any physical abuse. Only once I had slapped her (though not very hard) when she steadfastly refused to hand over to me the last remaining bottle of whiskey in the house. She said if she gave it to me I would drink it and then promptly run over homeless people while driving. What Nonsense! When she knows I don’t care for anything but Big Bucks! 

Aishwarya? I don’t want to marry Aishwarya. Why do you think I would want to? Just because of what media people write? I have no such feelings for her.

By the way, you don’t happen to have her hotmail id do you? 

  • Aamir Khan, on winning a Best Actor award sponsored by any film magazine

I am delighted to accept this [Film Magazine] Best Actor award. I am a regular reader of [Film Magazine] and today I wish to salute them in their single-minded devotion to spreading malicious gossip to all remote corners of India. 

  • Bipasha Basu/Dino Morea/ Diya Mirza/Arjun Rampal

I agree that models cannot act. In fact it is time we accepted this fact and tried to improve our acting skills, as we cannot be expected to ride on our sex symbol status forever. 

Over the last few months, I have consciously taken the effort to spare some time and have finally finished watching all of Madhuri’s films. And I must say I give her credit for the quality of her acting and exposure, er, composure. 

I truly apologise to all those who feel offended in any way at my interpretation of the Sarat Chandra Chatterjee classic Devdas. Having devoted much thought to the matter, I now realize that my film focused excessively on the opulence and grandeur, rather than on the essence of the novel. 

Please add more of your own!