My Travel Map

Saturday, March 07, 2015

What's holy about Holi?

I hate Holi. There I said it. Not that I hate it passionately or anything. Like the way I hate Greg Chappell, for instance. But still, in a kind of loose detached way. I just don’t like this festival. Somehow. Period.

I remember the dark days of my childhood when I really used to dread this holiday. Or Holi-day. Clichéd pun intended. I remember we used to stay in this rather quiet corner neighbourhood with not many children around. So my mother used to pack me and my brother off with a plastic bag of abir (gulaal or coloured powder) and a pichkari  each and literally pushed us out to play Holi with the kids in another adjoining colony. The lonely 10 minute walk to the other colony was terrible. It was torturous to imagine the horror of knocking on so many doors and interacting with adults and children akin. People who maybe you would stealthily walk past on a normal day. Your parents’ friends/ colleagues and their children. Not your friends. Is it necessary for the children of your parents’ friends to be your friends? Well my parents made that assumption at least in those early years.

Later, when I grew up a bit and we shifted out to another slightly higher class neighbourhood, I was able to talk my way out of playing Holi on most occasions. My parents would usually go out to the party hosted by the MD or ED or whoever, and I would chill. Ah the peace. By now, I think you are getting the drift. So let me make a small list why I just don’t get Holi.

Holi is not a festival for introverts

Yes, I am an introvert and I like it that way. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like hanging around with friends and family. In fact, that is probably the greatest pleasure in life. But getting felt up by friends of friends, acquaintances and strangers is not my cup of tea. On Holi, people seem to assume that you like being ragged. But nobody asks for limits. And everybody protests ragging in hostels. Ah the hypocrisy.

Holi encourages mob mentality

Now, did you assume then that I have never gone overboard with the colours bombs and monkey paint and so on? Of course, I have. But in a gang. Once you are part of a mob, you can take it out on any unsuspecting sissy the way you want. Drenching a sleeping guy and his room with pails of water just because he doesn’t want to come out and play? Check. Dunking someone in a dirty water tank? Check. Throwing water bombs at girls while riding pillion on a scooter? Check. When you are in a mob on this day, you feel all powerful, all conquering. During my college days, I was in that mob and we had fun. Its only now I realise that one man’s fun may be another man’s pain. The mob is not always right, but Holi teaches you otherwise.

Holi encourages substance abuse

What’s in that bhang anyway? And it’s so freely available and consumed during Holi, it blows my mind. Hey even the college canteens serve the stuff, if I am not mistaken. Why ban ganja then? To me, any intoxicant that tastes good will have to be evil. The easier it is to consume a drug, the less you know of the effect it will have on you. Many naïve ones have gotten so high on bhang once that they gave up the idea of getting responsibly high ever. So if you want to get high, work hard. Roll a joint. Drink some bangla. 60 up. Or if you have some money like me, drink the bitter stuff – beer and whisky. Get high on better days, and responsibly too.

Why do we have this festival anyway?

Yes, yes, I know Holi is probably the second most well known of India’s festivals globally, after Deepavali. It makes for some colourful photographs on travel brochures. But other than some mythological stories, I haven’t really understood why or when exactly we play Holi. It is festival of spring, sure, so it is played in the month of Vasant. But which day exactly, how is it determined is a mystery to me. It does not have any explicit religious significance either, unlike Deepavali (where the goddesses Lakshmi and Kali, among others, are worshipped in various parts of India), or the regional eponymous festivals dedicated to Durga or Ganesh. So why all the fervour, especially in the northern states of India? Is it the desi version of Valentine’s Day? One day when you can intermingle freely among the sexes and the tau will not protest? In Eastern India, we already have Saraswati Puja to usher in spring and for the boys to have a bit of fun. So maybe, Holi is not that important. What about the southern states? Do they even have a holiday?

All in all, I think it’s a festival that’s too in-your-face with an I enjoy it - you don’t enjoy- deal with it kind of mentality. Yes, it’s probably a great leveler but that’s about it. No great shakes.

P.S. To be taken with a pinch of salt. And maybe a slice of lemon. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Saluting a Hero

Heroes may retire but they don’t fade away. They will continue to inspire.

Everyone has his or her own childhood hero. My wife has had the good fortune to be inspired by one throughout her life – her father, and I have had the pleasure of knowing and admiring him from close quarters for the last 3 years or so.  Like all heroes, he does not talk too much, but believes in action. He takes the guise of an IPS officer. Yes, that much maligned and much lampooned protector of civil society. Yes, also that breed which most Bollywood reel action heroes belong to.  A police officer.  Earning less than maybe even some petty criminals and yet fighting every day to resist material temptations and bring them to book.

So we hero worship our Singhams, our Rowdy Rathores and our Chulbul Pandeys. But how do we repay our real heroes? Surely not the way our country has chosen to. As he stands on the cusp of his retirement today – a day he surely must have been looking forward to – to look back fondly in pride at his 30-plus years of achievements and accolades, he finds no joy. Only betrayal. By the same system he once embraced wholeheartedly and tried very hard to make a difference.

He tried to attempt what few police officers attempt to do – took the hard stance with crime, earned the respect of all and sundry, stayed fair, stayed clean and did not succumb to any undue pressure. He was good enough to instill fear, real fear in those who were in the wrong. Yes, he was a very high ranking police officer. But you don’t see his palatial houses being built in every corner of the state. You don’t see him standing next to the minister’s daughter at every wedding. Yet what was his strength becomes his weakness in the twilight of his career. The fact that he has curried favours with no one makes it all so easy for most to turn their backs and look the other way when he is dragged into a conspiracy.

A political conspiracy that we common people do not have the knowhow or resources to fight. Yes we have the will and we will fight. But it will be a long fight. And fight for what? The rights that were due to him to begin with? The respect that the department, the politicians and the judiciary should have accorded him?

I had always considered the civil services to be too much of an effort to consider pursuing. Like so many of my peers, I chose the easy way out – to graduate with some degrees from some institutes that were the flavour of the season. I left nation building and nation saving to people with stronger moral fibre and a more capable attitude. But I always appreciated the fact that intelligence should be channeled not towards making more money for people who already have loads of money – as we in the banking industry are wont to do – but towards the greater good that is at the core of civil service. I always thought I would encourage my children to gravitate towards that eventuality or at least be courageous enough to consider it.

But if this is the way we treat our countrymen who try to make a difference, I am starting to have second thoughts. Because our politicians, corrupt bureaus of investigation and judiciary are not made up of aliens from another land, they are just a reflection of our society and our lack of understanding and utter apathy towards those who are serving us tirelessly on meager handouts of tax payers’ money. We have to understand sooner or later that food bills and aadhar cards won’t save us. Judicial reforms and police reforms are the crying need of the hour, and is the only way forward to achieving a more just and balanced society.  Regret to say that till that day comes, we have to deal with life being indeed very unfair.

But he is not done yet. Far from it. When I started off, I said that today he may not feel any joy. But I think am wrong. I think here is a man who has nothing to fear, nothing left to prove, and everything to feel proud about. A man who has lived to his principles and touched the lives of everyone he has come in contact with, earning respect, love and admiration. To his family and friends and most importantly to himself, he will always be a hero. And that is all that it takes to be a happy man. The rest, we will continue to fight for. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A lilting ode to nothing

This is the story of 3 lost souls and how they spent a 4 day long weekend ... Chinese New Year in Singapore, doing next to nothing ... well well who's to define what is nothing?

The weekend was most importantly, one man's journey in search of love and how he found 2 knights on his way... they travelled miles and miles on foot ... getting help from well wishers ... our hero's passion kept the group moving forward... but our hero had nothing to gift to his loved one ... then mother earth told him to collect flowers from her gardens ... and make the girl a red bouquet ... and so they did with gay abandon ... while the quaint people of Lion City watched on in such astonishment ...

Then when our hero finally met his princess ... he sang songs for her ... and then there was a lot of eating and merry making for the entire village in this happy moment ...

And then there was also this unheard of incident of highest human compassion ... celebrating the existence of fellow co-inhabitants on this earth ... an elitisit celebration of life in every form ... even when the life is less intelligent than that of us ... so bourgeois yet so cute ...

And finally, the knights celebrated their valour with 2 days of rest ... punctuated by small feasts to celebrate the quaint people's new year, and a run feast at the garden of edens ...

They also ate orange fruits gifted by the strange men, and had visions of men staring at goats ... while one of them so valiantly tried to finish an odd shaped bottle ... filled with a shimmering amber liquid ...

P.S. All credit to Anoop. P.S.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Reinventing the wheel

Groan. Read this.

Using their super fertile minds, the supposed "crème de la crème" of our country have come up with this – an IPL style cricket league in an institute of national eminence boasting of regional undertones. Don’t get me wrong – I have no problems with glamourising the night cricket tournament. It used to be a pretty lame affair in Jokaland. Even the intra-hostel night cricket tournaments in IIT Kharagpur boasted of sponsors, sound systems, live commentary and most importantly, actual prizes at the end of a match. Yes, I know it was just 1.5L of Thums Up at best, and it usually went to the team of juniors who had lost the match in the all pervading “jahanpanah, tussi great ho, match ka tofah kabul karo” spirit – but what the heck, even a free cold drink used to have lots of value in those days.

However, coming to the point – what disappoints me most is this. According to the organizers of this meet, not only were the teams organized by region – Punjab, Delhi, Chennai and so on – but a 20 per cent discount was offered on teams bidding for players from their own region. Quoting the news report “The idea was to give the league a regional spin to hostel rivalry. If we have regional teams and players hailing from those parts in the squad, the competition would automatically go beyond who is from which hostel.” Oh my, oh my. Talk about taking a step backwards.

Why didn’t the institute set up separate hostels for separate regions in the first place? Or at least, separate wings? I though the whole idea of having hostels was to develop microcosms of a healthy functioning society - to put people from different backgrounds and cultures together, so that they would evolve into better human beings with a more holistic point of view. The regional ties always bind people together in any institute or place of work. You don’t need cricket competitions to foster the regional spirit. I always believed it is actually the inter-hostel competitions which automatically went beyond who is from which region, and fostered ties between people as diverse as chalk and cheese.

Yet, people out there seem hell bent on proving the reverse. If this is the way things are progressing, then I might have to rethink about what I had said in my previous post, about our “centres of excellence” contributing to character building.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Of idiots and their dreams

3 Idiots. The toast of the nation. First Hindi movie to gross more than 100 crore rupees in receipts. Let's come to the point. The movie was engrossing and entertaining – no two ways about it. However, it has provoked many to comment on the state of Indian education in general, and our IITs and IIMs in particular and the mad rush by parents to get their wards admitted in these premier institutes, regardless of the costs. The discussions at Suvro Sir’s blog have been further stimulating, and I would encourage readers to read the posts there before reading on here.

Now, I had been thinking about a suitable answer to Sir's post and the comments thereafter, but a logical coherent response has been very difficult to articulate. Having gone through the grind of IIT and then "wasting" it all by taking the CAT and getting into an IIM and landing an investment banking job thereafter, I must fall into the category most vilified in the movie and some of the commentators. However, from a purely emotional point of view, I would never want to distance myself from these so called "centres of excellence", because despite whatever misguided path I've taken in life up to now, the IIT and IIM have not been to blame. If anything, they have been huge positives. Of course, there are negatives as well, which I will point out. Overall, this will be a rather long, rambling and confused post. Please bear with me.

1. Why do some many people take the IITJEE exam despite not knowing what engineering really is? Because many of us just follow our parents' dreams, given the fact that we don't have any dreams ourselves. Because my parents come from a generation where they were not really assured of any financial backing, they wanted us to secure our finances first before thinking about dreams. The glamour of an IIT admission is not always the cause. More children in developed nations can easily think of alternative careers/ dreams/ passions because they can afford to, from childhood. They were brought up in a secure environment, whereas we were not. While that is not enough to kill dreams, the sad part is, at the point of my high school examinations, I had no idea where my dreams lay. Or my passions. All I knew was I found mathematics easy, I found languages interesting, I had an excellent short-term memory, I was speedy, accurate and efficient. I liked Chemistry as much as I did Geography. I had no idea where all this was pointing to. So I took the JEE, because I knew I could crack it. It gave me four more years to figure out what I wanted to do in life. It would give me a platform to pursue my dreams.

2. At this point of time, let me take the opportunity to share my loathing for all those who took one-two years off after their Class XII exams to attend some coaching centre in Delhi or Kota to make the cut. The advent and spread of these coaching institutes is the turning point where the quality of education in IITs took a nosedive. Before them, I believe only those children who consistently scored good marks in Mathematics and Science at school were “pressurized” to take the IITJEE. After Kota came, parents started to believe that two years and 3 lakhs investment could transform anyone into an IIT-ian. Of course, the quality of students does make a difference. I am not defending the Professors here, but why would the Professors take any interest in imparting quality education when the students themselves took no interest? For most students, clearing the entrance exam after two hard years of slogging is enough motivation to let their hair down and not care about academics any more. Thus, most would list their “Top 2 percentile rank in IITJEE” as an academic achievement in their CVs rather than a CGPA in excess of 8/10 in IIT.

3. I still believe the IITs and IIMs are centres of excellence as far as India is concerned. But, by no means are they the only centres of excellence. And it is up to the student to make full use of the facilities and infrastructure available at these institutes. The top IITs may or may not produce the best engineers of the country, but they do well enough on some other fronts. They instill a co-operative camaraderie among students as against the competitive framework that most parents strive to bring up their kids in. They do indeed promote the virtues of hard work, not only in academics, but in creative arts, drama, sports, technical skills, event organization, and even marketing and PR. All these are facets of active IIT life, which I have seen missing in most other institutes, where life is more about malls, motorbikes and women. And if smoking pot is a crime, I’m sure people in my father’s generation did it too, and they turned out to be some of the most dedicated engineers in their lifetime. Also, the fact that you meet people from all corners of the country, brilliant minds – some of whom are wholeheartedly involved in their thermodynamics and artificial intelligence and fuzzy logic, some who can speak in 9 languages and some who can convince Tata to part with 10 lakhs in sponsorship money by their glib talk – does help you broaden your horizons. That is, if you want to. If you don’t want to, you can stick to your South Point Calcutta classmates. But that isn’t the fault of the “centre of excellence”.

4. Are people wasting the Government subsidies by choosing to do an MBA and not using their engineering skills? Firstly, what exactly are the skills of an engineer – if you are saying screws and nuts and bolts, I beg to differ. I think it is the ability to approach a problem, analyse it logically and come to a scientific conclusion is what defines the critical skill for an engineer. And that should not necessarily be restricted to building bridges and assembling cars. In this context, let me also add, that speaking for the students of the Mechanical Engineering department, the first choice of jobs has always been among Tata Motors, Larsen & Toubro, ITC, Maruti Suzuki, Ashok Leyland et al. It is only because I did not qualify for any of these that I was forced to sit for IT companies like Accenture. And it was because I had no intention to pursue a job in the software industry and “waste” my talents that I opted to do an MBA, immediately after completing my graduation. Otherwise, I might have seriously considered honing my skills at any of the above companies. So why were there only 10-15 core sector jobs for the 50 odd students of the department, whereas there was no dearth of IT/ITES jobs for the whole institute? I am very sure I would have done more harm to my engineering degree by doing a coding job than what I am doing right now.

5. So why did I not get a job in an engineering services firm in spite of the fact that I was actually interested and was one of the few students who were able to secure the highest grade in the Comprehensive Viva Voce (the 30 minutes at the end of 4 years in the institute when you are grilled by 5 senior Professors on your cumulative engineering fundamentals)? It was because I was a complete zero as far as my soft skills were concerned. I was not able to communicate to the interviewer that I was passionate enough to do the job. That is where the Indian “centres of excellence” come a cropper, when compared to their international counterparts. The emphasis on grades, right from school, makes you feel that you are defined by your examination marks. Which, in the real world, is far from the truth. Thus, parents do not bother about the marks in “Elocution” in school as long as their kid scores 90+ in Mathematics. The first teacher who showed me the importance of this subject was of course, Suvro Sir, and thus, it was the first time in Class 9 that I got poor marks in Elocution. Unbelievable, but all the other teachers had just given me good marks in the subject because I was a “good student”, despite my all too obvious lack of speaking skills.

6. I have no complains with the underlying message of the movie “3 Idiots”, which is to follow your dreams or passions, if you are lucky enough to identify them early enough. However, I agree with Sir that hard work should not be undermined. And that the “centres of excellence” should not be the Mecca of all school goers and their parents’ ambitions. So, if our kids don’t really like dividing sin(theta) by cos(theta) or think integration is what the politicians of today sorely lack, lets not force them to the slaughter houses of Kota. But, lets not discourage them from a stint in the IITs and IIMs as well, if that’s what they want when they are out of ideas. They are not bad places. Maybe the greatest inventors and entrepreneurs have not emerged from the IITs in hordes yet. But, 4 years in IIT is a humbling experience. It produces good people, with hearts mostly in the right places. In terms of tangible achievements, there’s not much to write home about but I don’t believe that these institutions have been a complete failure, either. Contribution to nation building – ambiguous. Contribution to character building of individuals – definite.

P.S. Thoughts on the matter, anyone?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Just another day in paradise...

Evening, to be precise. Here's a gist of what unfolded on that fateful day.

Tuesday, 17th November 2009, 6:00 PM – Thinking of getting out of office early today. Not much work anyway. The match is boring as well. Sri Lankans batting like the asuras and raavanas combined together.

6:10 PM – Happen to look outside. Startled. The world outside the windowpane is pretty much pitch black in complexion. Like a scene straight out of Armageddon or Apocalypto or whatever those doomsday movies are called.

(Oh by the way, its not supposed to be pitch black, let along even a hint of black before 7 PM here)

6:30 PM – Take a long peek at the situation outside. Pondering how to manage getting home amidst this cataclysm. Need to go for a hair cut urgently. Have a wedding to attend next weekend, and I don’t want to look my best, lest I impress any nubile and impressionable young ladies down there.

6:40 PM – I am informed that someone is coming to get me and has a spare umbrella. Bless her. As you might have guessed by now, I don’t have an umbrella with me. I stopped carrying those contraptions long back, after I had magnanimously donated quite a few of those to the general unassuming public within a short frame of time, during my adolescence. I also don’t carry water bottles to school. Rather, I didn’t. Long story. Suffice to say, I am pretty much resistant to the worst of water today.

7:00 PM – Reach the subway (MRT). Bid adieu to my gracious saviour and board a train back home. The hair-cutting saloon is on the way from the MRT to my home. Its called Sri Kandi. Reminds of a rather delicious Maharashtrian dessert. Anyway, they charge only $8 per haircut and the ambience is rather like one you would find back in my hometown. Only air-conditioned. No massage to top it off, though. But the cheapest and best I could find.

7:15 PM – Hey how’s that possible? I walk out of the underground station and on to an implausibly dry sidewalk. No hint of rain. No stormy winds. Am I in the same city or what? Barely 10kms from where I boarded but the world is showing no signs of ending here! It’s all pretty balmy out here. Rather.

7:40 PM – Haircut is done and a satisfied customer walks out, having again unknowingly and magnanimously donated his newly borrowed blue umbrella to the unassuming Sri Kandan gentlemen. However, God smiles on those who do good deeds and such must be the traits of my previously described gracious saviour. So, my barber uncle (I hope I don’t have to call him hairdresser uncle) comes running out after me and completes the cycle of Good Karma. Thank God, I think – at least, my record with umbrellas stays intact.

7:45 PM – Walking through a football field on one side and an unused school building on the other – which defines the footpath leading into the estate where I live – I come across a rat scurrying for cover. Probably initially attracted by my Ganesha belly but later intimidated by my rather stuck-up and indifferent presence, the rat tries to escape into the football field through a wire mesh fence at least 4 times and fails. On the fifth try, he succeeds, obviously. Dumb rat, I think. But wait, this is the first time I’ve seen a rat in Singapore, I believe. Is this an omen?

7:50 PM – Trudging up the steps to my apartment block on Braddell Hill (yes, its rather hilly, by Singaporean standards - must be at least 10 meters above sea level), I again wonder why there is no hint of rain or storm or even any breeze. It’s just eerily quiet. And calm.

8:00 PM – I’m the first to reach home today. As I settle down on the couch in our living room, again the absence of a breeze is discernible. Usually, the cross ventilation in our 19th floor setup can lead to an unnecessarily windy scenario if both windows are open. Today, the silence is palpable. A baby lizard leaps off the window grille on to my thumb, as I open yet another shutter.

8: 10 PM – I can hear a dog howling rather loudly in a neighbouring building. Very unusual – even the dogs and the babies are well behaved in Singapore. Suddenly, even the koels aorund here start cooing. Out of nowhere, on a still November evening.

8:30 PM – Where is all this leading? Why are things so unnaturally calm and quiet? Not even a leaf is moving here, when just 10 km away, I valiantly escaped a storm that was supposedly about to wreak havoc in the Central Business District. Why are the animals behaving so oddly? Why so many firsts in one single evening?

And then it hits me. We are in the eye of a storm. A huge one is brewing. It’s on its way. A twister or tornado or something. A shiver of anticipation goes down my spine. This is going to be a lifetime experience. One I can surely write about. Tell my grandchildren. The works.

9:00 PM – Finish a good dinner of French Toast and Maggi Hot ‘n’ Sour Tomato Chill Sauce (“Its Different”) to help me prepare for the eventuality that is fast approaching.

9:10 PM – The sky is weirdly white. Not even red. Just a whitish orangish grayish haze. I know it’s coming. I message some of my friends about the impending catastrophe, warning them to stay clear of open spaces.

9:20 PM – The streaks of lightning are more noticeable now. My eyes are hooked on the sky with feverish anticipation. I know we can’t be in the eye for much longer.

9:30 PM – We must be almost there. I can visualize myself being branded a hero for having predicted this, and saved so many lives. Getting a Red & White bravery award or maybe the Marlboro Man award or some tobacco company award will be a breeze now.

9:40 PM – Are we there yet?

9:50 PM - Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

10:00 PM – NO we are not. Unfortunately, nothing happens. All my romanticizing comes to naught. It’s just another boring Singapore evening - and windless at that.

Nothing to shout about. Sighhh.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


We have all seen able men. We have all seen brave men. Or have we? I, for one, have not had to look very far. As my dad turns 60 today, let me take this opportunity to salute him and the other dads of his generation – who have given much but not taken much in return. Who have opted for stability, and never bothered about all the so-called “options” in life. And in turn, opened up all the options for the next generation – us – to choose from.

While it may seem facile to thank our parents, I will again take this opportunity. So, thanks, Baba, for being the perfect gentleman always and inspiring us to emulate your integrity and humility. Thanks for taking the pains to find the perfect ilish maach every time I came home and for inculcating the love of eating – well, almost anything. (There’s always time to compliment Ma’s cooking, of course). Thanks for writing some of the best English and Bengali I have come across in my life and letting us know that the languages will stay with us, equations will come and go. (Which also means thanks for ghostwriting so many homework essays during my school days).

Thanks for watching so many World Cups and Wimbledons with us and braving Ma’s protests in doing the same. Thanks for teaching us to drive, swim and ride a bike – especially the latter! And thanks for believing in us and not bothering about our exams and results too much, unless we got 60 odd in Mathematics. And finally, among countless other things, thanks for getting our priorities right and putting our hearts in the right place. So cheers and here’s hoping you enjoy the next phase of your life to the fullest as well! Happy 60th Birthday, Baba!