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Untitled November 17, 2009

Posted by fungus in Uncategorized.
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Put your guns down; you are fighting phantoms
The Revolution, it passed you by
The fall from the stars to the gutter
all happened in the blink of an eye

The bedrock that you stood proudly on
was nothing but a pile of dust
and the iron fist you once ruled with
has rotted and given to rust

Your silk totem, once resplendent
now tattered, flies half-mast
for the ideology that held it aloft
has floundered, failed and breathed its last

And, behold! The Golden Army
now just old men with broken backs
The flanks have fled, the rear crumbled
under Time’s relentless attacks

And your enemy’s outline is murky and gray
you no longer know who you are fighting or why
And there is much soul-searching to do
but you no longer have the energy to try

For if you did you would be forced to ask
What purpose with which to greet the coming morn?
But you shrug your shoulders and realize
Your only choice? To soldier blindly on.


Sub: Application for Clemency August 6, 2009

Posted by fungus in Uncategorized.
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Is it over yet? As in, has all that is to be said and done about this already happened and will every word written and uttered this point forth speak of “this” in the past tense? Or is there more to unfold in this tale of ours? In short, is there hope for us yet? Or are we done? More pointedly, are you done with me so completely that my not being done with you is, now, only of academic interest and that we are, in fact, done? History?

I ask, not from a lover’s point of view but from that of a writer’s – although, I would understand your confusion about the difference. Lovers aren’t allowed the luxury of knowing where their tales are headed. Theirs not to know the verdict on their existence. Theirs, only, to plunge blindly ahead. But, in my secondary role as my own chronicler I need to stay a little ahead of the curve.

As an author I have a responsibility towards my reader. My reader expects a plot, a variation in tempo, a twist in the narrative. Without that twist I am doomed. I am not a Dostoevsky who, with but a single emotion in mind could pen a classic like The Brothers Karamazov. And only too long has my story languished in the doldrums. What it needs is for a chapter to end and another to begin.

What would be best for the story, my readers tell me, is a little song and dance, some flowers and whole-hearted reciprocation of the professions of undying love we have already discussed in previous chapters. A lot of correspondence I receive from my adoring faithful complains of a feeling of being short-changed. Too long, they say, have I subjected them to dry spells of unrequited love on the part of our protagonist. The general trend the last few chapters have established is one of overall ineffectuality on his part. Our hero, it seems, runs a very real risk of being branded a Wuss.

Understandably, that was not the intention we started out with. When we began we had envisioned a Magnum Opus – the story of a Prince among Men, an Influencer of World Events, the Uber-Mensch Nietzsche spoke of. It is safe, now, to divulge that the story was supposed to pick up in his thirtieth year and, thereafter, he would have enjoyed the two most productive decades anyone has seen barring, perhaps, Einstein and da Vinci. We would never, explicitly, have spoken of The End and, after his fiftieth birthday, the narrative would have jumped to the next generation; kind of like how The Phantom is succeeded by The Son of The Phantom but the unsuspecting Public can never tell the difference. Such would have been our hero’s legacy.

In light of such an epic backdrop you can sense the chagrin of our readers seeing how the highlight of the last six years – certainly the entirety of our hero’s productive life – has been pining for a heroine they do not completely fathom. The blame, of course, lies squarely on the shoulders of this chronicler but, as I have pointed out previously, when protagonist and chronicler become one the waters of the narrative tend to muddy rather than clarify. It has been said that our hero seems in love more with a concept rather than an actual person and there is some substance to this charge.

In one of the ancillary volumes – to where we have relegated the less scintillating events of our hero’s biopic – we talked about how the two central characters have met only a handful of times and how most of the jolly back and forth has happened over, either, the telephone or the Internet. What we have neglected to mention, even in the secondary volumes, is how when our hero dreams of our heroine the dreams are, usually, about e-mails from here rather than of her in person. I will go so far as to reveal that he dreads these e-mails fearing that each may be the last.

This is no Internet Romance, however; in so much as it can be called a romance. There is substance to this below the, seemingly, non-descript facade. However, to exhibit the substance explicitly would be to undermine all that has been achieved thus far. The subtlety with which this Romance-of-the-Ages has played out has escaped all but the most discerning of my readership. And, surely, the reward for such insight cannot be for me to flush the subtlety down the proverbial drain.

All are in agreement, though, that our heroine is a keeper. The little we have glimpsed of her has been enough to convince all but the most ardent sceptics that our hero could not have found a worthier foil. There are hints of royalty in her blood – true royalty and not the, merely, titular, aspiring type – but not enough for her to lose the Common Touch. Her eyes, it is fabled, speak of mountain mists and ocean breezes, all at once. The wisps of her hair trail off as, surely, the manes of unicorns must. And to actually hear her speak must feel like being in the presence of God.

To try and answer the question of how our readers, or even our protagonist, know so much about the female lead of the series, who, to the casual reader, seems little more than a spectre till now, would warrant a lengthy foray into the art and science of subtlety, of smoke and mirrors and of Truth and Illusion themselves – an undertaking far too grand for a mere application for clemency, for that is all this humble piece of literature is. I ask you to trust me on this. For now.

And it isn’t only the feedback from the hitherto adoring masses that is giving me cause for concern. Of late the bulk of the communication from my publishers, restrained and deferential as it is, has been strained. And I understand only too well how this situation might be awkward for them.

When my original publishers had signed on to this project they had been assured of a handsome Return on Investment. Our hero had already established his credentials and they were only too certain that an episodic chronicle of his achievements fit all their equations. There was much nodding in agreement when the matter had come up before the Board. The verdict had been unanimous – their fledgling business had found its Cash Cow. A suitable liaison had been appointed and no more thought was given to it. After all, all said and done, over-achievers were a dime a dozen. Every publishing house worth its salt had a few to spare and, now, they had theirs.

It had been an over-zealous proof-reader who had brought it to the notice of his immediate superior who, in turn, informed his boss and so on so that, by a couple of weeks after the fact the entire company knew that the hero of their most successful franchise had found himself a love interest.

Not that that is so remarkable in itself. Why, even our hero, himself, had had a few dozen immediately preceding this. But this one read differently. It might be of interest to note, at this point, that the afore-mentioned proof-reader has, since, launched his own publishing house, outdoing his previous employers by several orders of magnitude. I only mention this now because this publishing mogul is soon to become a Person-of-Interest within this sequence of events.

Meanwhile, the original liaison was replaced by an Interface Team whose responsibilities now included monitoring the story, the subscription rates, reader feedback, market research designed to offer the biographer suggestions for developing the plot and, also, overseeing the dental and medical plans for the protagonist and maintaining his general well-being. They reasoned that, while they had a good things going, a solid romance could push the story into the realms of greatness. The proof-reader, the one I had mentioned earlier, quit to start his own publishing enterprise and brought in a team of Private Equity experts who, using complex methods of Debt-Restructuring, Balance Sheet Expression and Reverse Acquisitions, bought all the rights to The Franchise. The Interface Team came included.

Mr. Ex-Proof-Reader knew that he had gambled big on this one piece of Human Interest. He implemented measures that would help him monitor and protect his investment. Assessment Banks were set up to do real-time monitoring of the readership and public sentiment regarding our protagonist and his story. The leading lights in Public Psychology and Public Relations were employed to, respectively, figure out what sequence of events would best excite the masses and how these could be packaged. A discreet security detail was provided to the hero, without his knowledge or consent, and attractive and interesting women were discouraged from befriending our protagonist too much lest his attention wander.

Over time, these measures proved remarkably successful. Far from waning, public interest in The Story continued to grow. Marginal media like Twitter and Facebook came into the fore riding on the back of the largest ground swell of public sentiment since they discovered that the moon landing had been faked. This added to the sense of confidence of our young entrepreneur and, like all young, foolish men, he gambled bigger. Pledges were made, contracts signed and undertakings undertaken. Deals with the Devil, and other publishing houses, were made. Where it stands today is that, depending on where the main story goes from here, the publishing house of interest to us could, either, grow to become a juggernaut the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Department of Justice took such a dislike to monopolies or could crumble leaving a trail of destruction among Media, Investment Banks and Governments the likes of which we haven’t seen since, well, October 2008.

Our hero, meanwhile, continues to live an exemplary life. He is on the cusp of setting up a Food and Beverages empire. In the interim, he moonlights at a weekend job where, by all measures, he is a resounding success. My publishers, nonetheless, have cause for concern. The narrative, while nowhere near being a disaster, runs the real risk of being a has-been. Unless something momentous happens within it the public will just move on, not realizing the destruction their short attention spans could cause. They would find another fad to hang their eyelids on for the briefest moment. The next Facebook. Or Twitter. Or, gasp, even some MBA who fancies himself the next Cervantes.

And then there are the readers. What of them, you ask. Well, consider how most of them have grown up rooting for this Hercules of today. Imagine what learning you and I would have derived had the Aegean Stables flummoxed our hero in that tale. And then there is the entire class of people who have lived off the glory reflected off our protagonist. Their lives, should our hero fail in his endeavours, would collapse like Lehman Brothers.

Note how I ask you to spare no thought for the protagonist himself. He has no say in any of this. I hope I have resolved your confusion regarding the duality of my roles and you have seen how steadfastly objective I have been in keeping my roles insulated from each other.

Let’s take a minute to do a quick recap. At this point, what hangs in the balance are the careers and lives of thousands, if not millions, involved in the publishing industry and all associated fields like Finance and Media who have helped prop it up, the lives of the millions who depend on those already mentioned for food and sustenance, the billions of readers who hang by every turn of phrase our hero employs and the protagonist himself. No, scratch the protagonist.

I am sure the quandary is great and weighs heavily on your shoulders. But, being so closely associated with our protagonist has taught me two things. First, I never present problems I do not have solutions to. Secondly, I care deeply for your well-being. Keeping both these considerations in mind, I am happy to announce that I have a ready solution for this predicament.

I propose a December wedding – the kinds with lots of flowers but little pomp and show. A small, private affair with only the most close-knit in attendance. A honeymoon in New Zealand and an indefinitely long happily ever after.
The readers will never see it coming. Neither will Mr. Ex-Proof-Reader. And what little stock I hold in his company will soar through the roof and then some. What say?

Disservice December 20, 2007

Posted by fungus in Uncategorized.

I’m in Bombay these days. It is so nice to be back in Bombay – more than eleven months after I left. For the record, I’m here on work. Off the record, however, I’m just soaking it all back in. I’m put up with friends. So you can guess exactly how much work I’m getting done.

We go out a fair bit. In the sense it rains in Cherrapunji a fair bit. The other day Ravi suggested we try this Indian restaurant that everyone was talking about. Ravi is about as “in” as you can get so his recommendation counts for something with us, country bumpkins. Plus, I was tired of my daily diet of pizzas so I readily agreed. “Caravan Serai” is on Waterfield Road, Bandra, right above Red Box Cafe. It is beautifully done up and its patron-list boasts the Who’s-Who of Bombay.

We were lucky with our timing because we found seating as soon as we walked in. Our server turned out to be a weird mixture of indifference, baritone and laryngitis and the impression I got was that he enjoyed making us strain to hear him. We decided to skip the starters and proceed directly to the main course. Ravi ordered buttermilk to go with the food. Sidin ordered one too but when it was pointed out to him that he had a bad throat he asked the server to get him one at room temperature. The server shook his head. It took us a minute to understand that he meant that buttermilk could not be served “hot”. Cancel our order, we said. He pottered off only to come back with two buttermilks: both cold.

When we told him we had ordered only one he begged to differ. We asked him to take it back at which point he shrugged his shoulders and just stood there. It cheeses me off no end when a service establishment does not heed the customer. We weren’t about to make a scene, however, so we took the buttermilk. If that had been it, however, I wouldn’t be writing about it.

Our food arrived in a while. The meat was soft but drowned in seasoning. Not great, but edible. The breads were nice and soft. But it was the Dal that took the cake. Without going too much into the recipe let me just say that a nice Dal Bukhara uses a fair amount of tomato gravy. However, when tomato is all you can taste, Houston, we have a problem. We had already been rather accommodating on the buttermilk issue. The meat had further brought out our stoic side. The Dal, then, was the last straw. We called back the server and told him that the Dal was, well, tomato puree and little else. He shuffled off and returned with his manager.

We repeated our complaint.

But, sir, our Dal Bukhara is world-famous.

So is Dharavi, monsieur. But you wouldn’t want to live there, would you?

It took him forever to understand that this group was not going to put up with their Dal Bukhara.

I’ll have it made again, sir.

Yeah, right.

The next instalment, when it arrived, tasted exactly the same – hot tomato puree. It was at that point that we decided to retaliate.

There are several issues at stake here. There is, of course, the issue of a bad product in a restaurant. No one should have to put up with that. Especially when the restaurant operates on a plank of “good food”. There is the issue of a restaurant with potential being let down by apathetic staff. Servers, and managers, who drag their feet will drag any restaurant down with them, no matter how world-class the food and ambience. There is the issue of empowerment. The more the authority to make decisions at a lower level within the hierarchy the more responsive the service and this translates, directly, to customer satisfaction. The server should have been authorised to take back a below-par dish without consulting his superior. But what irks us the most is the fact that customer feedback, which is the driving principle of Kaizen (continuous improvement) within the service industry, is met with defensiveness and diffidence. If we had come in asking for their world-famous Dal we’d only have gotten what we deserved with that swill. However, when we asked for just the Dal – no titles attached – we expected a level of quality that, if not present, we had every right to reject. I haven’t even started my restaurant but I already know not to act in this disastrous manner.

Fortunately, there is a fair bit that the customer can do. We could have made a scene within the restaurant. We could have fought tooth-and-nail to have the offending items struck from the bill. We could have whispered to other patrons that they were being short-changed. But we didn’t do any of that. What we did was to pay exactly the bill amount – no tip. I have actually heard of someone who deducted the standard tip amount from the bill. Her explanation was that a Zero bill amount doesn’t punish bad service. It is like saying that while you will be rewarded for good behaviour there is no punishment for bad behaviour. I completely endorse her view. I guess I just don’t have the cojones to do what she did. Luckily, we had the exact change needed to make the amount. I just hope it was a statement that they didn’t miss.

My writing this blog entry is part of that retaliation too. There is no excuse for apathy at a restaurant. None, whatsoever. A product that is not up to expectations may yet go unnoticed. It is a documented fact that service complaints far outweigh food complaints across all types of eating establishments. Also, service dissatisfaction is more likely to make customers vow to never return than complaints with the food. It isn’t very difficult to understand these concepts. But, at the very least, you need staff and management who care about the restaurant and, consequently, the customer. Without that the road ahead is a dark, downward spiral.

Ruchika, Sidin and I headed to the nearest coffee shop to help get rid of the bad taste of tomato-Dal from our mouths. Ravi came to get rid of the vile taste of the complimentary Paan at “Caravan Serrai” which he had picked up to get rid of the taste of the tomato-Dal. Poor fellow! We tried to not ruin the night any more for him by pointing out that going there had been his idea in the first place. Oh, I just pointed it out, didn’t I? Oops. Sorry, Ravi.

Carry On, Fungus October 23, 2006

Posted by fungus in Uncategorized.

I thought it would be a lot tougher than this. People labour through fourteen years of school, four years of engineering, a couple of years doing an MBA and then much effort goes into making CVs, fitting into expensive-looking suits, fake smiles, misleading answers and misplaced expectations before you land that first job at the IIM. Corporate life, with all its allures, beckons. Different motives drive people to corporate life. Money would be the usual suspect but for most people it is because they’ve never actually thought seriously about any other way of living – our society seldom lets us think for ourselves anyway. Some have responsibilities that only a steady, salaried income can fulfil. For some the glamour of an Investment Bank or a Consulting Firm is irresistible. I always knew these were slots I didn’t fit into. But till very recently I didn’t know where it was that I belonged. I didn’t think I was ballsy enough to be an entrepreneur – they give up cushy jobs for a life of uncertainty and poverty (yeah, that’s what I thought). So that was out. Or so I thought.

I didn’t think I was going to be an entrepreneur. Sure, I’ve talked about it in the past. But everyone who has had a bad day at the office or the whiff of a better salary, or the desire for a new car or a better boss has threatened to walk out on it all and do something on his/her own. No one, actually, wants to be tied to a chair, or a company, or a boss, or a salary. We would rather all be there trying out new ideas, making tonnes of money and being our own bosses. We’d all, rather, be out there creating value and employment rather than seeking it. But most of us don’t have an idea that singular that we would risk our comfortable 9-to-whatever routines for, some don’t believe in themselves enough and most of the rest just don’t have the balls. There are some, it must be said, who exist to do salaried jobs. We need the Investment Bankers, the Consultants, the Brand Managers, the Sales Managers, the secretarial staff and all the others. Some people exist to be exactly what they are. But we all wish it could be different. We all complain. If only things weren’t tight right now I’d be out of here. If only this report didn’t have to go or these plans didn’t have to be made or this deal didn’t have to be struck I’d be exploring my options. And I thought I’d comfortably ride out the next few years, till I knew what I really wanted to do, making excuses for myself in the very same way. But then my bluff got called.

It wasn’t any one particular thing. It was a fortuitous series of events that led up to the Big One. A friend had passed through town a few days earlier and we had talked about his plans (already put into action) of quitting and starting something on his own. As always I had told him what it was what I would be doing if it weren’t for such and such. And, for the first time, I actually discussed the feasibility of my not-so-concrete plans with him. It made me feel a whole lot better because setting out on my own seemed a lot less scary and a lot more promising than it had in the past. The next day my Vice President of Sales came up to me and told me that he was shipping me out to a Sales role – something, he claimed, the others would kill for. I wasn’t particularly looking to leave the cosy confines of the Bombay office or those of my newly-acquired apartment. I was loving the easy routine that let me do this and that on the side, the facilities at the office and tonnes of personal space, not to mention easy access to a bunch of good friends who were in Bombay. I told my Boss I wasn’t particularly interested in going. He responded: if you want to stick around and make a career here it is best if you go. But I wasn’t particularly looking to make a career there. In fact I hadn’t, yet, thought of my job as a career and I had no intentions of doing so henceforth. I told him. What was it that I wanted to do, he asked. Well, in time, I wanted to do something on my own. He laughed. Of all the people who say they want to do “something on their own”, he said, hardly any ever got down to it. According to him, I should either quit straight away or resign myself to the fact that this was what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life and put up with it. I went home pensive. It didn’t take a lot of thinking, though. A couple of sick-days later I came in and told my Boss I was quitting.

I thought it would be a lot tougher than this. I had no qualms, no reservations and no second thoughts. There was no worry in my head. And all this not for any lack of knowing what I had to do. Oh, I knew. I called up my Mom and told her. Her reaction was most reassuring. When you need to sign up people, she said, go for the brains, the money will come. I told my Sales Vice-President. He couldn’t believe his ears. I almost felt bad telling someone who has been nothing but supportive and trusting albeit, in his own way, that I was leaving. The moment passed, however, and I was composed while I dealt the death-knell. It took a while for him to come around. He still looks at me wistfully at times and shakes his head as if to say I could have gone so far. Everyone else reacted in a different, but consistent, way. When I tell them I’m leaving they look at me in a manner most surprised, ask where I’m headed and shake their heads in disbelief when I tell them. Then they encourage me whole-heartedly and tell me that the World is mine for the taking. I tell them that I know it already. My gratitude to all who have been supportive and encouraging.

So, what is the plan, Fungus? Hmmm. Brace yourself. And if you’re expecting me to launch a strategy to take over the world I would ask you to sit this one out. The plan is to start my own restaurant in Delhi. A small, high-end, speciality cuisine place that promises you the best food in town. The key words are “small”, “high-end” and “speciality cuisine”. I want to cook myself but I’m open to other possibilities. This much I have decided. What I haven’t decided is what cuisine I’m serving, where in Delhi I’m going to set up shop or how I’m going to finance the whole shebang. Not the most trivial details, I know, but I have a lot of time to finalise them. You see, and here is where there is a twist in the tale, the plan is also to spend all of 2007 as an apprentice in a similar setup in Delhi and start 2008 with my own label. So that, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent of my plans. None of the details have been finalised but they will sort themselves out. Rather, I will sort them out but only if I have no options, so to speak. Desperation is a great motivator, especially in my case. So I’ve handed in my papers, packed my bags and am all set to make a triumphant return home.

Of course it is scary, the prospect of not having regular job, of not having a steady salary, or the prospect of having to, possibly, mooch off my parents for a year or, shudder, more. But Valhalla beckons. And, by Odin, I shall go there worthy of judgement.

I have one regret, however. In my habitual need to make more of my plans than necessary I have not informed a whole host of near and dear ones of my plans. Others I have told multiple times. There is one lady, in particular, who I haven’t kept posted with my life despite demanding to know what’s going on in hers. And for that I am sorry. But now you know about the Big One. Wish me luck.

Fighting the Good Fight May 26, 2006

Posted by fungus in Uncategorized.

I had the privilege of attending a General Body Meeting at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences two nights ago. First of all, hats off to the exceptional people I met there. Nothing I could put into words would ever do those great men and women justice. Consider this: We are all – well, mostly, anyway – extremely affronted by the way the government, nay the legislature, has approached the issue of reservation. Everyone, not just the ruling parties but also the Opposition for keeping silent, is at fault. I am not directly affected. Neither are the residents at AIIMS. What is at stake is a principle. Higher education is a responsibility only those who truly deserve can shoulder. Only those who can use it for the welfare of others, only those who can realise its true worth and only those who have earned it through sheer hard work and the gift of ability should have higher education granted to them. Ceteris Paribus there is no difference between a student of a lower caste and that of a higher one – why we still talk in terms of caste is a question that merits an entire piece to itself – so why reserve seats for either? The Government submits that since several students belonging to the OBCs have not had equal opportunities for quality education at the lower levels they have to be spoon-fed at the higher levels. So, if it is being freely admitted that the fault lies in the education system and infrastructure at the lower levels isn't that where the Government's focus should be? Why then, Mr. Prime Minister, are you ruining the lives of millions and making things no better for the rest? For, we know reservations don't work. Setting aside every fact and study Karan Thapar threw at Arjun Singh in their interview the other day – the interview was basically Arjun Singh harder and harder to look like an idiot and Karan Thapar trying desperately to get out of the way (both succeeded, by the way) – our experiences from our stints of graduation and post-graduation have shown us that reservations don't work. Whether it be Osama or Bush, the world around us seems to be telling us that the only way to survive is extremism. Whether it be religious extremism (bin Laden) or extremism of stupidity (Dubbya) all signs seem to be leading the UPA to believe that only by combining extremism in stupidity, denial and a general detachment with reality can it hope to celebrate another anniversary in office. So the UPA has done what it has done and is doing what it is doing despite every academic, corporate and semi-literate advising it to the contrary. False assurances were given of maintaining the number of General category seats in every institution and now those futile promises have also been renegued. Today's announcement of increasing quotas in one go without any mention of timeframe of increasing the total number of seats is a slap in the face of not just the hundreds of thousands of people protesting Reservations but in the face of justice and democracy itself. The Prime Minister states that, "The Reservation issue is settled." How could it be settled without accommodating, in the least bit, the rightful demands of the multitudes of students whose lives they have effectively ruined?

But hark, I digress. I must pay homage to the people at AIIMS and the other institutes, medical or otherwise, who have joined them in this movement. Every regressive, divisive step by the Government has created fresh doubts in the hearts of all those who still hold the principles of equality, meritocracy and the dignity of labour sacred. Every day has brought news of despair to their hearts. Yet they have stood resolute in their convictions. The only regret they have is that while they have been claiming their right their patients have been suffering. This is not to say that the striking residents have shunned their duties. Sleepless days have given way to sleepless nights and one sleepless week has led to another. The residents have maintained parallel OPDs and no critical patient has been denied care. The only consideration in their struggle with the Government is the welfare of their patients. However, on the whole, they realise that it is better to divert a few patients to other doors today than have the incompetence of the quota-products thrust upon them tomorrow and so they have stayed firm in their path. Special mention must be made of some of the other participants in this struggle which, surprisingly, has not found much organised support from the business and academic community but I will address that later. All Government medical colleges and several colleges of the Delhi University have joined hands with the striking residents at AIIMS. The students of IIT Delhi have devised several innovative means of "affirmative protests" including shining shoes and sweeping the streets to show the Government what the meritorious would be reduced to once the quota system kicks in. A hundred students have been on a hunger strike for the past thirteen days. Of the medical students on an indefinite hunger strike in Surat one student has been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and another has been diagnosed with acute renal failure. The media has either been gagged or has lost interest in the life and death of the only people determined to save this country from mediocrity and shame. I attended the GBM and pledged my personal support to their agitation and its demands. I swore that I would do what I could at my end. I write, but I am not content with merely writing on this issue. This is too big. This is too personal. I am working on a couple of other inititiatives but this is a fight that will ask a lot more from many more of us.

It was away from all this struggle and debate that the enormity of the situation really hit me. My grandmother passed away yesterday. She died at home, in the presence of all those who loved her and all those she had loved. But I talk of the time we had rushed her to the ICU a day earlier. With all the agitation at the Government hospitals and its effect on the services we had little choice but to take her to a private establishment. The doctor on duty at the time was not of the highest calibre and I feared for my Grandmother's life. It was then that it hit me. Once the quota system was in place and entire batches of non-merit students had joined the ranks of the doctors everyone bringing a loved one to the hospital would feel the same doubt and fear I felt for my Grandmother. When the very competence of the person in charge of a patient's life was in doubt what incentive would there be for the sick to come to the hospitals? For that matter, what faith would you repose in a bridge designed by a non-merit engineer? Would you feel safe in your car? Your home? Using your electrical appliances? Making an online transaction? Sending your children to school or college? After all, what kind of education would they receive if the competence of the teacher was suspect? What good would any education do your child anyway if you knew that he or she would end up competing with people who already had reservations in seats of higher education or private sector jobs? Wouldn't the queues move from the tuition centres to the registrar's office where you could get a caste certificate made? Albeit, for astronomical sums of money because, after all, tomorrow a caste certificate would be a guarantee of education, employment and who knows what else.

I am single-mindedly opposed to Reservation and I support every peaceful protest against it. If you wish to help go show your support to those who are fighting the good fight and ask how you can contribute. Write to your Member of Parliament and demand to know what he/she is doing about this. Write in to the newspapers and express your shame at the autocracy of the government and the dictatorial manner in which it has handled this issue and its dismal abandonment of the starving medicos. Organise groups and think of how you can help. As a last resort write to me and I promise I shall channelise your energies towards helping achieve a society based on merit. If you still haven't been moved to helping out you are either brain dead or worse – already a Member of Parliament, in which case I say Shame! Shame on you!

If you are fighting the good fight, however, I would say this to you. This cause is bigger than me. It is bigger than you. It is, possibly, the biggest cause our generation will ever have the chance to fight over. There is no putting a value to this cause. Is it worth 10 days of hunger strike? Most definitely. Is it worth 100? Absolutely? Is there a limit to how far we are willing to go to in this fight? None at all. Is it worth my life? A hundred times over. Only, you and I are most useful alive. Save your strength for we have promises to keep. And miles to go before we sleep. And miles to go before we sleep.

A Champions’ League final to savour? May 18, 2006

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In a befitting manner, it rained as Arsenal's hopes of claiming a first Champions' League title were washed away by a combination of bad refereeing, bad spirit and plain bad luck. Barcelona are to be congratulated for winning the Champions' League but if Ronaldinho's shirt stayed on and not even Barcelona fans cheered where we sat what service could such a game have possibly done to football? Eto'o and Giully and Deco and Puyol and Iniesta were all champions before they walked on to the turf in Paris. If anything, the pulp of their achievement was sucked out by the incompetence of the officials and their victory will seem hollow when they lie awake at night wondering if they were, actually, the best in Europe. So, did the best team win? I'd love to say No but, honestly, who can say? For the briefest period, when Arsenal had their first choice team of eleven on the pitch, they seemed the snazzier of the two. Arsenal went in the underdogs and they knew they would have had to put the pedal to the metal right at the start. They did. Henry had a wonderful chance in the third minute and, although the pace for the next ten minutes was controlled by Barcelona, Arsenal seemed ready for big things. Going ahead with ten men, after Lehman's sending off, was unthinkable so they did the unthinkable. They went ahead.

Lehman's sending off I will not argue. It could be argued that the advantage could have been played and Arsenal allowed to play with eleven players, albeit a goal down. However, no one can find fault with what the referee did. His exemption from blame, however, ends there. No replays of the Eto'o goal were ever shown from the sidelines to let us judge for ourselves whether there was a hint of offside. And doubt there was aplenty. To give Henry a yellow card for winning a tackle where he didn't even attack a Barcelona player and to ignore the various fouls committed by the men from the Nou Camp is nothing short of evil. While Arsenal were working their posteriors off defending and attacking with ten men Barcelona were unwittingly given a twelfth, and maybe a thirteenth and fourteenth, player in the form of the referee and his assistants.

Henry's comments after the game were noteworthy. Speaking of the referee he said, "If he didn't want us to win it he should have said so at the start." This from one of Europe's most soft-spoken footballers is more than an indictment of the travesty that was the officiating at the stadium of Paris.

It was a depressing game to watch. Of course it was depressing for every Arsenal fan. It wasn't very rewarding for the Barca fans either and the match was a disappointment for every fan of football. But, and take a moment to think about this, can you imagine how it must have felt for Robert Pires to have had to watch the match helplessly from the sidelines for no fault of his? For what it is worth, Pires, I am sorry.

The silver medals around the Arsenal necks must feel heavier than lead. The hearts are heavy. Henry may move to Barcelona. For all Arsenal fans out there one wonders what there is to look forward to, if anything at all. Congratulations, Rijkaard. Well done, Ronaldinho.

The Anthem of the Almost-mediocre March 28, 2006

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I have been having so much fun over the past few months that I’ve been in Bombay that I’m sure there must be a law against it somewhere. These extremely hectic weekends are mainly why I haven’t been able to update the blog. I would apologise but I’ve simply had too much fun to regret. You can read all about some of our adventures here and here. About the rest, you’ll simply have to take my word for it. Here’s a tip, though. Riding in the front seat of the upper tier of a double-decker through South Bombay in the evenings is, without a doubt, the most fascinating way of seeing the city. Take a camera with you. My slick DSC-T9 is always by my side. And some of the photographs we’ve managed are simply breathtaking. Have a look at some of them below:

We all muse in different ways. We have different ways of achieving our breakthroughs: those moments when you simply have to shout “Eureka”. When I start thinking I start dreaming. It isn’t till I have to put something into words that I actually force my brain to think constructively. Consequently, its often when I’m talking to friends that I come to significant realisations. Such a moment was sitting at the Gateway of India watching the boats dock, fill up with people and leave; watching the tide rise higher with every crashing wave and watching Orion tilt further into Sea. We were humming some stupid and some not-so-stupid songs when we got down to talking. Here’s the realisation I’ve reached. I call it “The Anthem of the Almost-Mediocre”.

I’m smart (this is, obviously, despite the title, not going to be a post drenched in modesty). I’m one of the smartest people I know. I say this confidently despite the fact that I know some very smart people. Actually, I think we all think the same way. We are smart. Very smart. Yet, we don’t think we’ll ever be great. The world will not remember us five hundred years from now. The only people we are likely to be heroes to are our families and friends. No books will be written about us. No poems and no songs. In all probability we are the 99 out of every 100 people who end up as a statistic. Our parents wanted us to be world-leaders. We will probably disappoint them.

We know we have responsibilities. We respect our responsibilities. But we will never let our responsibilities become the millstones around our necks that we see so many people bogged down with. We will never become slaves to the system. Not even when we control the system. And mark our words, we will.

Life is short. We know that. Too short to waste on hating people. Too short to waste on chasing money or fame or power or the adulation of the masses. Too short to look back every now and then and regret the choices we have made. Too short to worry about Heaven and Hell. Too short for political correctness. Too short to feel inferior or inadequate. Too short to waste sleeping. Too short to waste sitting in the sidelines. Too short to worry about tomorrow or the day after.

Life is a journey. To where? We don’t care. What we do know is that we are not going to spend it flying Business Class. Life is a huge grassland and we will run through it amok with the grass between our toes and the mud kicking up from our heels. Life is the sea and we will thrash our way through it, taking in huge mouthfuls of all it has to offer us. Life is the Crystal Maze and we will knock at every door to see what treasures are hidden behind it. Life is an orange and we plan on extracting every last drop of juice.

There are only three rules in our lives: First and most importantly – Be Good. Its a lot harder than it sounds. You can only do no evil if you mean no evil. So mean no evil. You must love the man on the street, the shover on the bus, the rude lady behind the counter, the guy whose trumpeting won’t let you sleep at night and (Gasp!) even your boss. Respect each and every one of them. Each of them is to his/her family what you are to yours. This rule defines your responsibility to what they call God. Treat every creature in God’s creation as part of that Supreme Being. Don’t do this because otherwise you will go to Hell. Do it because it is the right way of being.

Second – Take care of the people who love you and depend on you. Again, a lot harder than it seems. Its not about the money. If they love you they probably don’t care for the money. You must provide for them. But, more importantly, you must give yourself unto them. They all deserve your time, your effort, your respect, your admiration and your willingness to let go when they need to be free. That is, probably, the hardest. This rule defines your responsibility towards your kith and kin. This is the one that tells you that you must make a success of yourself if only to be able to provide for and take care of your loved ones.

Third – Enjoy yourself. This rule defines your responsibility to yourself. Read. Travel. Listen to music. Watch movies. Learn. Just for the heck of it. Make new friends. Dance. Paint. Write. Have opinions. Love. That above all else.

These rules are in the order for a specific reason. We will never have fun at the cost of taking care of our loved ones or by inconveniencing our fellow man.

The results of these rules are twofold: One, we are almost always happy. Simply because we realise that nothing is worth doing if it doesn’t make us happy. Two, we are not people of waste. We are either working our posteriors off or having fun like nobody’s business. We do not deal in moderation and we do not waste time languishing. We do not look for rest. We are fun. And when you are with us you have fun. Period.

So this, ladies and gentlemen, is the anthem we live by. We apologise if we have spoiled any plans. We are sorry if you are, in any way, inconvenienced. But the time has come for us to take our rightful place at the head of the pack. I declare today Independence Day.

The World’s Largest Fundamentalist State? February 9, 2006

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Consider the word “Fundamentalism”. Just let it run through your head for a bit. What are the images that come to your head? Osama bin Laden would be a common recurrence. If it is images of protests against supposedly derogatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish paper; of self-immolations and burning of embassies and high-commissions, I would not be surprised. If it is the sermons of the cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri talking about killing the “infidels” your brain would be on the right track. After all, all of this is fundamentalism. This is what has damaged the image of the religion – Islam, in this case – in the eyes of the world. But there is a more subtle and, hence, more dangerous type of fundamentalism operating in today’s world. One that operates slowly, demanding less, seemingly innocuous things with loftier aims and greater delusions than we dare speak of. One that speaks a more secular language that hides its cloak-and-dagger intentions. This fundamentalism lives in the corridors of power, in the living rooms of ordinary homes and the churches and schools regular people attend. It lurks in our shadows and looms large in front of our faces yet we do not recognise it. It wins elections, it starts wars, it kills blameless soldiers and it ruins the minds of succeeding generations. Welcome to the world of American Fundamentalism. Don’t confuse this with Christian Fundamentalism despite the fact that there is considerable overlap. The tenets of the two are very different and, hence, the motives and the desires are completely different too.

I wasn’t sure I’d be up to addressing something this big. At some level I realise that I’m not qualified to comment on fundamentalism, being an atheist myself. My knowledge of American society is all second-hand. If you feel these are big enough shortcomings feel free to ignore this post. That said, political commentary isn’t my thing either. My sole foray into something related was a lampooning of the White House trio of “Dubbya”, Rice and Powell in an earlier post. I don’t even comment on politics in India. No, political commentary is, definitely, not my thing. But social commentary is. I have strong beliefs about what is good and bad for society today and society tomorrow. The war has been talked about enough. Bush’s election does not bother people enough any more. Dead soldiers do not weigh heavily on anyone’s conscience. But what I will not accept is the interference with the minds of our next generation; the theistic subversion of Science. In short, I stand in direct opposition to the Intelligent Design Movement.

Again, do not confuse this with Intelligent Design. ID has fair claims to being a science, albeit one on the wrong side of proof and one I do not subscribe to. Its proponents believe that no amount of coincidence could be responsible for such great complexity in design in nature or gradual reduction in entropy that must have been at the heart of Evolution. Their agenda is limited to academic interest. The Intelligence Design Movement, on the other hand, is dedicated to “defeat the materialist world view as represented by Evolution” in favour of “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions”. To understand how this falls within the purview of American Fundamentalism, as I call it, let’s go back to the tenets of this fundamentalism. While all fundamentalism stems from chauvinism, American Fundamentalism goes that extra mile by believing that it is not just the White Man with his burden, it is the American White Man who bears the burden of furthering society and urbanising the rest of the “savage” world. And this burden stems, no less, from the divine right/responsibility bestowed on the American Man by God himself. That God being a far superior God to the British one or the French one; certainly superior to any God the Muslims might invoke; or the Hindus. And as the child of a greater God the American White Male is a human superior to any other out there. Evolution is the study of the chance events that led to life on this watery planet. And if life is the result of a series of fantastic coincidences it is devoid of purpose. Or so believe the Creationists. Evolution, thus, is in direct conflict with the American White Male’s belief that he was put on this Earth with a purpose – that of edifying the brutes that surround his homeland on all sides. It is the underlying assumption of America’s delusion of grandeur. And it is this delusion that sent American troops looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction that never existed. It is this delusion that has America forever looking outward, conveniently ignoring the problems that plague it at home. It is this delusion that Osama had the nerve to challenge. And it is this delusion that the American White Male is looking to pass on to the next generation through the study of Intelligent Design in the Science curriculum in primary schools.

My favourite dysfunctional cartoon character, “Dubbya”, did this debate no good when he went ahead and said, on record, that Intelligent Design should be taught alongside Evolution in schools. He added that students should be “exposed to different ideas”. Either he’s a complete idiot or he’s much smarter than most of us are able to fathom – I’m tending towards the former. The point that he’s missing here, as are most participants of the debate, is that one is a scientific view while the other is a religious one. And never the two should meet. The President’s irresponsible comments could easily be followed by a Government directive to introduce ID into the school syllabus making the position of the ID proponents all the more creditable.

The problem with arguing against Intelligent Design is that you run the risk of legitimatising their position. These people are smart. They’ve realised that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Every argument against ID is, in fact, a step towards a mainstream debate where it will not be the merits and demerits of ID as a science being discussed but a battle between two lobbies, which is what everything in America comes down to. With true scientists on one side and the Church and the State on the other – because it is, after all, they who are propagating the ID Movement – it is clear who will win. The ID Movement’s main backing seems to come from The Discovery Group but you can rest assured that as time passes, and this matter becomes more about passion and less about reason, the support and the lobbying for ID will only increase. America is caught in a downward spiral and there seems to be little anyone can do about it. Scientists have never been very good at PR or propaganda. What they need is the support or clear-headed people – clearly a dying breed in America.

Does it bother you that three out of four Americans don’t even believe in Evolution? That just under half of them believe that God created the world in six days as proposed in Genesis? That they believe that the Earth is only three thousand years old? Does it bother you that not only are they proposing to teach this religious propaganda in schools but under the science curriculum, of all places? And does it bother you that they’re getting away with it? That district after unsuspecting district is actually introducing creationism into its science syllabus? Well, it should.

Of exhaustion, cuisine and balls of steel January 19, 2006

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OK. So I’ve been under the weather these past few days. My doc says its all the exertion. Seems I’ve been living it a little too large these past few days. Do you blame me? There’s just so much to do in Bombay. Apart from the not-so-regular trips to the gym there’s movies, theatre, shopping and cooking. No, I’m not gay. Not even (ugh) metrosexual. I just happen to love coming up with new (and old) stuff in the kitchen. Last week, for example, I borrowed a recipe from Kylie Kwong, Discovery Travel and Living’s very own Cordon Bleu. I threw in some elements from Jamie Oliver’s sea-food recipes and came up with prawns in chilli-flour batter and cooked in honey and lemon and some basic tomato-based vegetable pasta. Add to that a bottle of decent white wine and good fun was had by all. Currently I’m being introduced as the “dude that kicks ass in the kitchen”. I love it.

We had a little soiree where I did this cooking. By little I mean, of course, an hour and a half of looking for all ingredients in the supermarket and another hour toiling over the stove trying to make do with all the equipment you’d normally find in a bachelor pad and making do without all the stuff (and there’s a lot of that) that you wouldn’t expect to find. Anyway, it was all worth it in the end, if the testimonials of the gang are anything to go by. Speaking of the gang, I must share a story of great grit and of balls of steel in these times of corporate whoring. I have tremendous respect for those who choose to do their own thing. For those who choose not to be chained to a desk or a title or, most importantly, the safety of a regular income. And above all, I respect those who have tasted success in the corporate sphere and choose to give it up anyway only because it wasn’t their calling.

Such a person is Sidin Sunny Vadukut. I have had the privilege of being his friend. The world has had the privilege of reading his blogs here and here. And now, Sidin has decided, we shall have the pleasure of curling up by the fire with yet another Sidin masterpiece. For Sidin has decided to write. Not scribble random thoughts and short pieces as he has been doing thus far. That shall continue, no doubt. What Mr. Vadukut has decided is to quit a well-paying, fab-sounding job as a consultant and dedicate himself to writing a book. What makes this most interesting is the fact that, as far as I know, he doesn’t know what the book is going to be about. Nevertheless he has taken the plunge and I wish him all the best. You can show your support by logging on to his blog and posting an encouraging comment. I’m sure he’d appreciate it. Hats off to you, Mr Fat Cat.

That’s all for now. I’ll see you guys soon.