Humour

Is Your Family Complete?

When I gave birth to my second child, the words I heard most often from friends and family were, “Congratulations! Your family is complete!” My first child was a girl (woe betide me) and my second, a bonny baby boy. I had done something fantastic and achieved the apparently “perfect Indian combination” of children – one boy and one girl.

Judging by the overly effervescent greetings from of my most well-wishers, I am delighted to report that my family can now be classified as “having all the necessary or appropriate parts”, as per the dictionary definition of complete.

This underhanded compliment left me astounded, so much so that I penned an entire humour piece on it, which is now up on Arre:

Mum + Dad + Beta + Beti: Why Are Indians Obsessed With the Idea of a “Complete Family”?

Please have a read and let me know what you think!

Humour

The Unbearable Wetness of Rain

In countries all over the world, it rains. In some places, it showers, in others it pours, thunders and even drizzles. Over in the good old Indian subcontinent, we have the ‘monsoons’, a polite term for rain so heavy it feels like someone perched atop the roofs of buildings is emptying buckets of water on our heads.

But we’re used to it. We wouldn’t swap our monsoons for all the cutely-named hurricanes and typhoons raging anywhere else.

There is little to do in the monsoons, except to get drenched in the rain or better yet, stay indoors, play board games, eat monsoon-friendly food, watch movies and purchase an umbrella, a handy device for those days when you feel adventurous enough to brave the outdoors. Let’s look a closer look at these activities and their impact on our rain-filled lives.

Appetizers for a rainy day

The most favoured snacks during the monsoons consist of steaming cups of tea and pakoras (prepared by smothering miserable vegetables in a batter of gram flour and then deep-frying them).

Bengalis make khichdi, which an Indian author pandering to western audiences might describe as ‘an exquisite mixture of rice and lentils flavoured with onions and tomatoes’. They believe the simultaneous preparation of khichdi in a dozen households together creates a low-pressure area thus diverting the clouds’ attentions to other drought-prone locations. This works fine for day one, when the rain does indeed stop. Come day two, we are back to the rain pelting down on our windows and threatening to unscrew its hinges without manual intervention.

My mother has resolved this problem by persistently cooking khichdi every single day of the monsoons until the rains finally beat a prolonged retreat, at which point she takes full credit for the crystal-clear skies.

The Umbrella Phenomenon and Murphy’s Law

This year, for a month and ten days it rained. Continuously. I got drenched, while running from the bus to the office, the home to the auto stand, the auto to the shopping mall…you get the gist. After losing several kilos due to this sprinting activity, I started carrying an umbrella. The first day I armed myself with this shelter-bestowing device, it drizzled. The sky appeared grey and downcast, in no mood to pelt down lashes as it was accustomed to. On the second day it stopped raining altogether. A week of my umbrella-carrying and no-rain-occurring continued, at the end of which I left my umbrella at home, and the entire process repeated itself again.

The Bathers

A few ‘fun’ people actually used to welcome the monsoons. What an opportunity, they said, to not take a bath at home! On 26th July, 2005, after witnessing the city of Mumbai turn into an ocean, they changed their minds. The next day they signed up for swimming lessons, and have always bathed indoors ever since.

Rain in the films

Indian movies tend to give the impression that doing the salsa in the rain is one of the most pleasurable activities one can indulge in. It convinces people that things like pneumonia are but a figment of their imagination, and they need not fear the consequences of waltzing during a downpour and getting soaked to their skin. The sight of heroines wearing sarees or other transparent apparel that have the added advantage (much to the hero’s delight!) of clinging to her curves go a long way in confirming this view, with the result that clinics all over the country during the monsoons witness an unprecedented increase in the number of sneezing coughing patients.

Cricket in the monsoon

The unduly long monsoons that lash our country prevent cricketers from playing as much as they would like. Usually, this period is devoted to playing county cricket, so our players get to inflict their ghastly game on the English viewers. This is beneficial to the cricketers, but sadly, it deprives the BCCI from earning as much as they could have if they were able to set up a few exciting clashes with our rival teams. The BCCI, however, is innovative. This problem cannot stump them for too long. I think the day is not far when an article, such as the following, will grace the sports pages of national dailies:

Cricket in the rain

In a desperate bid to revive cricket frenzy in the country, the BCCI, in a fit of enthusiasm, declared yesterday that instead of abandoning a rain-threatened match, they would provide all the players with umbrellas to continue the game.

This meant that the batsman would have to take guard with an umbrella in one hand, and his bat in the other. But it would be inhuman to suppose that the bowler could bowl holding his own umbrella. Thus the 12th man would be utilized to perform this service, by holding it and running after the bowler in hot pursuit.

This step will have two distinct advantages:

  • The batsman would be considerably unnerved by the spectacle of two burly bowlers descending on him, and this would lead him to hit some rather shaky strokes.
  • The 12th man would justly earn his bread, as he would be required to run 50 overs per day. (In case of the opponents of the Indian team, this figure may be drastically reduced)

In addition to the above, it will be necessary for the wicket-keeper to catch all catches with one hand. But if he dislikes this activity, he is welcome to (on payment of a token fee) purchase a container in which he may catch the ball.

Of course, the best solution to all these situations, that would combine wholesome public entertainment together with great reduction in costs, would be for all the cricket-playing teams to purchase the CRUMB or the CRicket UMBrella. This is a simple device that attaches itself seamlessly to cricketers’ helmets, caps, turbans, and any other headgear they may choose to wear. Certainly the BCCI would be pleased to be able to offer the CRUMB at a fabulously discounted rate of US$150,000 per piece. The governing body of other cricket-playing nations may also choose to purchase a set of 15 CRUMBS at a nominal rate of US$5,000,000.

With each purchase, the following are free:

  1. Ear-piece – skin-coloured, waterproof and cleverly concealed in the lining, perfect for communication with the coach throughout the match
  2. Raincoat – automatically drops down from the CRUMB at the press of a button

We urge cricketers to place their orders for the CRUMBs before it’s too late. After all, the special offer stands only as long as stocks last!

The rain in India,

In mainly near the Vindhyas,

But the cricket in the monsoon,

For the board, ‘tis a boon!
 

As the poet Henry Longfellow said, ‘Into each life, some rain must fall’!

 

A slightly different version of this was originally published on Rediff.com

Bollywood, Humour

Hollywood to Bollywood in Five Steps

The Indian filmmaker lives a decidedly hectic life. The torrent ofHollywoodfilms released every Friday greatly strains him.  How is he supposed to churn out indigenous versions of all these movies at the pace at which they hit the screens? With utmost reluctance he selects from the innumerable smash hits only those that have set the Western Box Office on fire. Video in hand, he plunges into the world of “Lights! Camera! Action! ” 

But wait. Not just yet. There are five things he must do first. 

The Script

The producer must find an enterprising scriptwriter who will do justice to theHollywoodfilm, by retaining the Western theme and adding an Indian touch. But should the original screenplay be inspiring enough, then the scriptwriter may easily be dispensed with, and an efficient translator employed instead.

The translator’s job is simple. He/she simply has to purloin a duplicate of the original English script and copy it down word for word. In today’s day and age, the advent of sophisticated English-Hindi conversion software has rendered the human translator redundant. In the case of foreign language films, though, it is possible that a highly qualified interpreter will have to be hired.

The Cast of Characters

The next step in the filmmaker’s schedule is to assemble the cast. Actors and actresses that bear the most (or as much as surgically possible) resemblance to the real McCoy, must be signed up, and briefed on the character they have to portray.

This phase is accomplished swiftly, as all the actors’ tasks are cut out – literally, their role is neatly snipped out from the original film reel. 

Costume and Makeup

Though these two aspects are an integral part of the filmmaking process, they exert no real pressure on either the producer’s mind or his budget. The actors simply pick out some favourite outfits from their own wardrobe, and the actresses … well, one meter of cloth is usually enough to cover their needs. 

It is only when the producer dares to make a period film that he must hire a costume designer, whose job is somewhat difficult. It is not the designing of the costumes that agonizes him/her, but the prospect of clothing beautiful young women who are, from birth, allergic to any fabric, especially in areas like the midriff, legs, underarms etc. The costume designer must employ all the arts of flattery at his command to convince the nubile heroines to don such little-revealing dresses. 

On beholding the struggle of the costume designer, it is hardly surprising that the producer leaves the cosmetic wonders entirely to the experts. He need know only one thing about makeup, which is that most actors/actresses shed up to 5 kilos at the end of each day when the powder and paint is peeled off. 

The Shooting Stars

In the following weeks, the shooting of the film commences. The filmmaker arranges for the stars to be transported to the foreign location that has been chosen for shooting the romantic scenes. Once all the trees and greenery there have been exhausted for the dance sequences, the cast and crew return to the good old homeland where they continue their prancing in another scenic (but decidedly Indian) place.

When it is unanimously felt all around that an ample number of songs have been shot, the artists get down to serious business. They must now recall and deliver their dialogues that have been carefully translated from the original (with due regard to slang and other colloquialisms). The actors are seasoned professionals and thus require no more than fifteen takes per scene.

The Title is Vital

It falls to the producer’s lot to imaginatively baptize his film. ‘Tis not so easy as you think. Gone are the days when a simple Hindi word or phrase served as the film’s title. In the present day it is essential that this Hindi title be followed by a few choice English words that describe the central theme of the film, in keeping with the trend set by films like Daag – The Fire, Shakti – The Power, Karz – The Burden of Truth, and Dhund – The Fog, to quote some examples. 

This convention is followed, not with the purpose of catering to the vast English-speaking public of India, but to provide an adequately universal title so that when the day comes for the film to be viewed at the Oscars, the Academy members will have little or no trouble understanding its sensitive plot. 

Back to…

Thus in five stages the producer completes his flim, and can now take a well-deserved break of satisfaction, for his masterpiece is sure to be a winner at the BO (Box Office, not the other thing).

But then, who has time to wait and see its performance, when another zillion movies are out there just waiting to be Indianised?

Humour

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!’

Humour

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.

Humour

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.