lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Missus Em goes job hunting

Curiosity: An overpowering instinct of cats, kids, women, scientists and other animals.

There are always a few ads in the Situations Vacant section, and they always read something like this:

Urgently required graduate telecallers with good experience in credit card calling for collections. Good Salary + Incentives.

Or, International Call centre at Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Gurgaon and Mumbai require 10+2 or graduate. Salary 10K to 25 K. Walk in on or before 30th June.

Or, MNC requires urgently graduates (age 25+) housewife, VRS, businessman for part/full time.

They are followed by contact numbers or Post Box numbers or email addresses. (Let's not go into the English. I don't want to get distracted.)

I'd been curious about these classified ads for so long, I decided to explore them and see what transpires. Curiosity killed the cat, as they say.

A non sequitur, here is a link to read about the history of the phrase and a tearjerker tale about Blackie, the cat

To get back to my adventure: I disregarded any ad that had age limits stated clearly, or asked for more computer literacy than I possessed, or required specialised skills. I mean, I might learn them in time, but I have no knowledge of Accountancy, System Analysis or Visual Basic or Java. It's Greek to me.

Most of these ads want fresh bright young and energetic people without any punctuation, and I am none of those. (I always knew there was something wrong with aging)

I ignored those that required previous experience. My only work experience is a month's trainee-ship in an advertising agency and free-lance journalism for a news rag in my youth.

I crossed off those that wanted beauticians or hairdressers or masseurs or therapists. That left a couple of ads that I could find out about. So I jotted the numbers down and called one.

A pleasant voice asked me about what skills I had to market. I said I write decent English, speak fluently and I can modestly call myself a good communicator. The voice then asked me my age, which, having been convinced by Ramayana and Mahabharata and the eighteen puranas, I gave truthfully.

Alas, said the voice. You speak wonderfully fluently but you are too old, it said. But, it added, there is an opening for counselors, where do you live? I told her. Ah, said the voice, it is too far for you to commute, especially as you are only thinking of part-time jobs. Why don't you write to us, the voice urged, giving me an address, and tell us about what skills you have, the kind of work you are looking for and your expectations? I resisted the temptation to tell her that I expect the moon. I jotted down the address, though; you never know.

Well, that was painless enough. So I called the other number: a scratchy reception and a young male voice. I was asked my age again. Sigh. The young man asked me what exactly I was looking for. I suppressed several irreverent responses that sprang to mind and said that I was considering getting part-time employment. He launched into a slightly incoherent explanation of what his company did, and suggested I go over to their office and find out further. He gave me the address.

I was between books and I had an afternoon to kill, so off I went to check this out further.

It was an insurance company. It was in the business district and the office was definitely stylish, even though the building itself was slightly decrepit, and the elevator definitely antediluvian.

I gave my name to an uniformed doorman, and barely sank into the plush sofa in the lobby before a neatly turned out young man came and ushered me into a large-ish office.

I was asked to fill a couple of forms, giving details about my qualifications (woefully few), experience (nil) and expectations (an afternoon's entertainment).

He then launched into a paean about the firm; talked a lot about "need-based" sales, and how I wasn't going to be a tele-caller or an insurance vendor but a provider of "need-based" solutions to a) my family b) my circle of friends c) my acquaintances d) my neighbourhood, and then e) the world.

He asked me if I understood what he was saying. I said that I'd gathered that selling insurance is providing "need-based" solutions in other words. I also pointed out that given my age, all my friends or acquaintances probably are already insured up to their gills.

Oh, its not so simple, he laughed, you will find out during training what a service you will be doing to the world, while making some effortless money.

He went on to say that if I worked four hours a day and contacted two people and managed fifty people in a month, and of which if ten per cent bought insurance I'd get thirty percent as commission (which he kept calling Incentive); then he quoted more numbers, and I tried not to get cross-eyed.

Then he whipped out a large form, and said I had to fill it up with names of family, friends and acquaintances. There were details to fill up: names, occupations, a rough guess of how much they earned in a year, their marital status, number of children, where they lived, what car they drove and where they vacationed last year. All right, I made up that last one.

Come back in three days with that filled up, and my superior will talk to you and you can start training, he said.

Sure, I said. I will talk this over with my husband, I said. Of course, he said. You will be making a contribution to your family income in a major way; of course you must talk it over with your husband.

I got up to leave. He pressed the form on me. You are forgetting this, he said. I will collect it when I come back, I said, crossing my fingers behind my back. You aren't comfortable with the proposal, are you, he asked.

I stopped hedging. I said I was not happy with the idea of compiling dossiers of people I know so his company can sell them "need based" solutions. I thanked him for the interview and the excellent tea and left.


Monday, June 26, 2006

Ozymandias and all that

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Friends, netizens and my dear readers. Lend me your eyes. I post not to praise the durability of things but to mourn the obsolescence that seems to wear objects out sooner than I tire of them.

If I had a hundred Rupees for every hand-bag I reluctantly stopped using, every favourite pair of footwear I despairingly abandoned, every comfy nightie I had to discard because it became threadbare with age, every wallet I bid a tearful farewell as I transferred cards and cash from… Well, um, I'd be some 50 K richer. Let's not go into lingerie, okay; I don't want to cry.

It's all very well for Theodore Tilton to say

“What is fame?
Fame is but a slow decay—
Even this shall pass away.”,

and Shelley to wax lyrical about the transience of material things; why couldn't they have written about getting used to a pair of shoes or a wallet or a handbag and having to discard the item because it gets so decrepit that isn't useful any more? It would strike more chords, I am sure.

Beloved footwear getting too old and needing more repairs; favoured handbags getting old, the lining giving up its ghost, straps falling off, buckles quitting; lucky wallets getting so tatty that your cards keep falling out: what do poets who sang about impermanence know about the pangs of parting with your favourite things?

I got used to cats; kittens even, dying on me. I was fairly well prepared when our pooch went to the long W A L K in the sky. I am used to changing things as they wear out, too. But it is a painful thing.

If it is footwear, you miss your older pair horribly and pine for them as you break in the new pair. You get new blisters and new chafing points and new corns.

You get used to handbags with different partitions and different zips. You start off fumbling but you get used to the different zips and compartments and all that.

I'd boasted about my 'still going strong after a decade' jeans which now walk into history. It turns out, now that I did the numbers, grr, that they are nine years old. They were bought about the time when Indian Independence was celebrating a golden Jubilee.

Today I found a rip in the saddle-stitch (for the uninitiated, it is the double row of stitches that grace most jeans) of the inseam of my jeans. Before anyone remarks about thunder-thighs and bulging, I want it made clear that I am actually thinner than I used to be when I bought them; and my jeans don't cling, they droop. Okay? Stop sniggering.

The wearing out at the ankles and the fraying was all part of aging, jeans and me together, no problem. But this is serious. I can't repair it, or get it repaired, because it will mean reconstructing the whole affair to match the stitching. No darn darning can take care of it.

Boo Hoo.

These jeans were what I wore when I went on my only holiday ever in Nepal; I wore them when I won enough from the one armed bandit to finance a side-trip to Chitwan; and I wore them when I went on bird-watching and tiger tracking trips. But I was dressed in my then favourite and ancient work out tights and a T-shirt emblazoned with yak yak yak yak yak and five heads of the beast when our trekking party was charged by a rhinoceros almost… But that is another story.


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Nothing to fear

Parents dote on their children, it is a given. When my baby son, just learning to articulate and struggling to speak, informed my husband about an incident that happened during his absence, we entertained visions of his becoming the next Arun Shourie.

My baby son took an interest in the wildlife that is still extant in cities, all urban homes and got spooked by a lizard. A lizard is a 'balli' in Telugu.

When my husband came home, weary and worn after flunking students and reducing them to quivering masses of fearful jelly (kidding), my son declaimed his first story.

"Ba," he said excitedly. "Ba!" he repeated and added succinctly, "Mummy shoo. Ba gone."

My husband remarked that our son had the makings of a great reporter. He didn't know that I was scared of lizards until I needed to reassure my son that they are harmless.

Lizards used to worry me. They scuttle around on the walls and make you feel you are being watched. I wasn't scared of them, exactly, but I didn't like them, either. This was my relationship with lizards. My sister had touched the golden lizard in Kanchi and she touched me; so what did I need to fear about lizards and omens of what their falling on which part of my body signified? Yet I was semi-spooked by them.

But my nervousness was overcome in a rush of protective love and trying to reassure my baby that the lizard is a perfectly harmless creature.

I am afraid (yeah, afraid) I have to admit I am scared of the creepy crawlies. I am dead scared of earwigs, centipedes, cockroaches and suchlike. They scare me out of my wits. I know it's irrational; silly, even, to be scared of things you are some zillion times bigger than and can squash, swat or step on and obliterate with no trouble. But I am.

I used to have an irrational fear of what my mother used to call a glass-worm, a teeny tiny millipede crawling into my ears while I slept. Maybe it's because we had a garden area where plants and worms flourished and the worms would persist in seeking dry areas in the monsoons. But I used to be petrified with that fear.

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
-Frank Herbert

This famous "Litany Against Fear" is a great motto for me. I invoke it when I have to do scary things, like figuring income tax returns or fiddling with my blog template, or crossing the street.

Being scared is a useful thing actually, as it triggers the fight or flight reflex and adrenaline rush, giving us impetus to act.

But there are other kinds of fears. Nah, we aren’t touching phobias as yet. Let's stick to simple fears.

Yesterday I saw a young man walking to meet his future; I could sense his apprehension. It is not really fear but a heightened state of awareness. I am sure he will do well, however nervous he feels.

There is stage fright, there is fear of making a fool of oneself, there is fear of commitment and there is fear of being alone. Fear comes in many forms.

Irrational fears or phobias are a different kettle of fish. Those afflicted suffer; tremble, hyperventilate, sweat, and feel nauseous and sometimes faint in throes of panic attacks. Phobias can be controlled to an extent, but never release their grip on the victims.

We all know about agoraphobia and acrophobia, claustrophobia and such.

In the days I used to chat obsessively online, I used to talk to an Australian ex-lawyer. We used to set each other puzzles to solve and riddles to figure out. For instance, he wouldn't say how old he was, but say that he was born 37 years after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. We used to bicker about cricket teams, bitch about time zones, trade obscure words and tease each other if we couldn't figure them out quickly enough.

I flummoxed him with arachibutyrophobia, and he got his revenge with medomalacuphobia. But then I made him wish he hadn't chosen that one by teasing him mercilessly about his being a sufferer.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Virgin no more

It was a major moment for Rick Delanty.

The first African-American astronaut, wondering if he was chosen for his race rather than ability, in Niven and Pournelle's excellent 'what if' novel: Lucifer's Hammer, about comet strike and how Earth might cope with the aftermath.

First to match completely with Hammerlab: Fire the Apollo's attitude jets in just the precise pattern, so that it would tumble with the target. Then move closer to the thing, waiting for the chance, until the big docking probe on Apollo could enter the matching hole in the end of Hammerlab…and they were in darkness again. Rick was amazed at how long it had taken him to fly what looked like far less than a mile. Of course they'd also come 14,000 miles in the same fifty minutes…

When dawn came Rick was ready, and made one pass, and a second, and cursed, and eased forward and felt the slight contact of the two ships, and the instruments showed contact at the center, and Rick drove forward, hard…

"Virgin no more!" he shouted.

"Houston, this is Apollo. We have docking. I say again, we have docking," Baker said.

"We know," a dry voice said from below. "Colonel Delanty's mike was live."

Doing anything the first time is scary. Whether it is deciding to learn to play veena or blogging it requires a kind of mental diving off the highest board and trusting to luck. I felt like a virgin when I first ventured upon the seas of blogosphere. I felt like a virgin when I tackled my first cryptic crossword, too, for that matter.

Beginning a sex-life is equally perturbing.

In my younger days it was taken for granted that 'good' boys and girls did not fool around and have sex. They waited to be safely married to people chosen by family elders and that was that, mostly. Your exploration of your own sexuality began and ended there; in your marriage. Theoretically, at least.

Nowadays things are different. Young people seem to indulge in fornication more casually and without a thought towards matrimony, if you believe the media. But I have a fair number of young friends and all of them agonise about sex. Most of them are desperate to shed their status as virgins, a few notable others are trying to cling to their virginity as a badge.

It is a bigger deal for women, of course. Or, it used to be. I don't want to do a Khushboo, but she had it right, I am certain.

A young friend of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous, had this to say in his blog (which is invitation only, but he gave me permission to quote him).

At twenty-four, I am still a virgin. I am not sure whether to feel proud or low about it. Guys in school are featuring on explicit MMS, and I am still lamenting my virginity! I feel like a loser when I read about scandals in schools. I cry foul, why do they get all the action? What is wrong with me? I even look better than those guys; what do I lack? Don't the girls have any taste?

He says he chooses to remain a virgin and reasons thusly:

Why should I feel low about it when I can make a virtue out of it. I can say the following:

I need to connect intellectually with the person before I have sex, and I can't sell myself short to just anyone who is willing.

I owe it to my wife .My wife deserves a *pure* husband. It is a sacrifice I am making for her.

Virginity will be the gift to the person I love .I am not an animal ready to sow its seed at every moment.

I have my rules, my values and my culture. I won't ape what others do.

Of course, he then spoils it all by saying that lack of opportunity plays a large part in virgins remaining virgins. He wonders if he had a chance to shed his virginity with a person he truly liked and desired, if he would still choose to remain a virgin.

Young people don't have privacy to indulge in amorous adventures in our country, for the most part. They have to sneak a few snogs in parks and be harassed by cops, heckled by hooligans and branded as promiscuous if they exchange a kiss in a discotheque. In such a moral climate, there is not much chance for them to shed their virginity in anything but a furtive fashion. How many young people can bring their significant others home and close the door of their room without their parents pitching a fit? How many young people have a room of their own, even?

Either way, philosophy always comes to your rescue. If I give in to my hormones, I can say that virginity is a state of mind and sex is the next big step in personal growth. I will always have words to justify my deeds, or the lack of it. (I will write later on the abuse of philosophy).

Till then let me be proud of being a virgin! One day, I will know if it was just pretence.

Shedding one's virginity is no joke. I sympathise with my young friend. I admire his honesty too, as he admits that he might choose to get deflowered before he is nicely and properly married. But I note that he says his virginity is a gift to a person he loves rather than a pesky formality to get through as he sows his wild oats.

I am not sure what young people think about the whole virginity issue, frankly. Media make it sound like they are emulating rabbits, sparrows and squirrels, but if that was the case, why would my young friend write as he did? Or the others, who are contemplating and debating the plunge, be so ambivalent about it?

Men have a need to spread their genes far and wide, and women have a need to find the best possible father for their children; it is mostly subconscious, but it is hard-wired, built into us.
But I must say most young people I know are a cautious lot, and are treating the first step into sexual adulthood as a major event, to be carefully thought out, as much as their careers and future plans are.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

What was that again?

Setting the scene

Traffic snarl-ups irritate some people. They get all worked up as they wait for the signal to change, to get back moving. They are people in a hurry. Not so me. I always carry a book to read and if I don't, there are always billboards to read, shop signs to look at and adverts on the walls and just about everywhere.

If there are no pickings in the billboards, there is always the prospect of figuring if the number on the registration plate of the car ahead of my cab is a prime or not. There is nothing like doing numbers in your head to keep boredom or frustration away. Er. Did I just say that? Scratch that; doing numbers is one surefire way of getting frustrated, but trying to figure prime numbers is not. Okay, so glad we settled that.

Here is the poser

Yesterday, I was stuck waiting for the signals to change. Seen at the Gariahat roundabout:

The Vini Vidi Vici code


Premiere Educational Institution

Really? You could have fooled me.

Advertising on billboards, a school that offers to educate students Class 9 onwards up to graduate degree levels gets it wrong in two languages.

Aargh! This is a school, educational institution, academy or whatever fancy name you want. And they get it so wrong in public?

I can grin and bear with the Latin mistake, just about. When it carries over to naming their endeavour Takshyasila, I despair. Do they actually expect parents to flock to their premises with a spelling like that? It is depressing to think of the children who make their way out into the wide world having been educated in places like this.

Since we are on the subject of billboards, here is another that makes me see red.


A billboard plugging jeans and menswear. This makes me grind my teeth every time I see it. I wouldn't be caught dead in one of theirs. Hoffmen forsooth.

To get back to the school that needs schooling itself, I have been thinking about it; about how such a mistake could be made.

My most charitable theory is that perhaps they thought the world in general spells it wrong, or is lax in spelling and they were getting it right.

Taksha means to chisel or sculpt. Takshasila means sculpted stone.

Takshasila, which changed its spelling as and when men wrote about it, was an ancient seat of learning. Huen Tsang wrote about it. It was where Mahabharata was first recited as a tale of ancestors to Janamejaya who was performing a sarpa yajna or a snake sacrifice to retaliate at Takshaka, a sorta famous snake. I imagine Takshaka was great at etchings and must have had some hot dates. Let's not go into all that.

If we are to take a similar sounding word laksha and the derivative lakshya, it makes some weird sense:

Laksha is not just one hundred thousand; it also means that which is observed, taken note of, attended to. Lakshya, on the other hand, is that which is to be achieved, a target, an end, a project to be undertaken. These are just some definitions among others, by the way. I won't bore you with all of them.

If one muses about it, one could say if takshana is to sculpt or chisel (or whittle) something, takshya will mean that which is to be sculpted or chiseled (or whittled). But, I am afraid there is no such word as takshya. Not in my dictionaries (which are fairly comprehensive), anyhow.

Perhaps that school has studied this and decided that since it is going to chisel money out of parents and carve a huge slab of profit, it would be apt to coin a word and call itself Takshyasila, where the parents will be chiselled out of their hard-earned funds?

After all, to chisel means to cheat or rip off, too.

Anything is possible.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Mathematicians do it by numbers

Fun is subjective, dear Reader.

When a crowd (three is the perfect number for a crowd) of mathematicians get together, it is a riot scene. Time flies and yes, I know about fruit flies and all that, so zip your lip.

It is not as though you'd notice, but mathematicians meeting after a long hiatus and catching up on news is hilarious. It is subtle and has its own beat and rhythm. But mathematicians have a great sense of humour and are a lot of fun.

And no, I am not saying it because I married a mathematician (I married an algebraic topologist), but because I was a hostess to a few today. Feast of reason et al, but lots of irreverence, too.

They are the only group of people who will discuss things passionately for some minutes and one of them says, that's trivial. Why were they arguing so heatedly, then?

(They tried to explain it and exponents too and I don't think they meant artists plying their craft but huge or tiny numbers, but it is Greek to me all the same.)

They start off by exchanging news of students and proteges. Honest. That's what they do. And then they do the 'who wrote what paper in collaboration with whom' round of formalities.

Oh, I forgot to mention, but mathematicians are very spiritual. All this conversation is greased into smooth segue by various spirits.

This particular reunion was driven by whiskey and beer. There are rum-bhaktas and vodka volunteers and the 'Lali, just make me your lemonade' brigade. But this was the meeting of whiskey souls with a beer heretic to enliven the mixture.

They always try to be nice to the hostess, : D they do. And mathematicians seem to be the only breed who get the joke or understand why crosswords are important. They laugh at my latest collection of the really good ones. They try to cap it and graciously yield that I have better crossword stories.

To a man, they are dears. So there was a tale of triumph I told, they listened and told tales of likewise things. And then they began in earnest.

All Indian mathematicians have favourite stories about CSS- Mrs. Malaprop and Spooner combined and tinged with a brush of Laurel and Hardy.

"Oh. I thought I saw you in the Interval, but it was somebody else." (CSS to a friend at the end of a concert.)

"Let me introduce you to one of my wives." (CSS introducing his guest, wife of a friend of his, to an artist.)

Those were just CSS gems.

And then there are stories about others, which if you believe tales about absent-minded professors, seem not only likely but entirely possible. All of these stories are of course true and can be verified by calling somebody and asking. Yeah, and pigs fly. But this lot of swine seem to be aviationally very adept.

Three mathematicians in a room and shaggy dog stories, hmm. It gets curiouser and curiouser.

There were ISI big guffaws, there were TIFR belly laughs, there were IISC jokes and there was naming names and calling names and talking turkey. Gobbledygook.

They had fun. So did I.

But when they started laughing themselves sick about a review or an introduction a respected mathematician (P R Halmos) wrote, I demanded it in writing. And they gave it; mind you, they gave it in writing.

Mathematicians think this is a fair and reasonable assessment, folks. Sit tight before you read it.

This is a paper devoted to valueless functions defined on pointless spaces.

Boggling aside, the mind also cringes.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Adrift and thinking

There are days when thoughts just skitter around, when it seems impossible to cogitate deeply; when the mind seems to run in many directions at once and makes no headway in any.

The mind is a monkey, a poet philosophised. If we were to stop and consider it, it rings true on many levels.

Conscious thought may be of higher order, but desires are subconscious and they drive us more than we realise. And at that level, our brain works on auto-pilot and decides things for us without our having to think about it.

I have had a bad day in office, folks. So I am fobbing you off with a poem instead of talking about amygdala and hindbrain or the primitive undercurrent that is present in all our so-called conscious actions.

I might do a post on haikus and how I contributed to dumbing down a generation of Telugu would-be poets by writing haikus and tankas in my mothertongue, but that is just a vague promise, not an actual threat, and certainly not today. :D

I solved a clue with a double definition that a couple of years ago: Having a meaning and having no purpose (6)

For my Tamil readers: think back to Ilayaraja and the oldies; Kaatril Endan Geetham, to get the tempo of the poem. (Yeah, plagiarism or inspiration, I wrote this while listening to that song. So sue me. :D)

In the breezes

Needing a star
To steer by

Flower-fragile ego
Glass-brittle self-esteem

On a sea of emotions
Seeking safe harbor

False alarms
Remorse regrets aplenty

Heartache in the wake

All alone

I don’t know who you are
I need you
You need me

Don’t want to be lost anymore


Don't bank on us, Part 2

Folks, I said I'd keep you informed about my bad bank notes

(For those of you who came in late: I tried to change my soiled and mutilated currency notes at my bank a couple of weeks ago; I was told I had to stick white paper on the tears and rips and repair them before they can be exchanged. I wrote to Reserve Bank of India and asked about their policy.)

Here is the letter I wrote:

Soiled mutilated currency notes

B Mahapatra,
Regional Director,
Reserve Bank of India,

Dear Sir,

Yesterday, I tried to exchange a few soiled and mutilated currency notes at the Southern Avenue Branch of State bank of India.

I was told that I had to stick white paper on the puncture from earlier staples that caused the mutilation, and do the same for cuts and torn edges before they could be exchanged.

Nowhere in your website did I come across any instructions to general public that they had to repair the notes in an amateur fashion before they could be exchanged.

Is this in fact a policy of the Reserve Bank? If so, why are there no notices about it in banks, so that customers can take note?

This is causing inconvenience and harassing the public, rather than a helpful service.

I'd be grateful to hear from you what my course of action should now be.

cc to P K Mahapatra, Grievance Redressal Cell

I got a mail yesterday from an official of the Reserve Bank of India:

Smt. Lalita Mukherjea


Exchange of soiled / mutilated notes

- the procedure to be followed by the customer

We acknowledge with thanks your e–mail dated May 30, 2006 on the above subject. With regard to your concerns about the deficiency in customer service extended by banks while exchanging of mutilated notes, we advise that the banks have instructions to provide good quality gum / papers for pasting mutilated notes as also to display a suitable notice in this regard. We have reiterated our instructions to all banks.

Yours faithfully ,

( S.N. Das )


Issue Department

I have several points to make:

The subject is 'procedures to be followed by the customer', but there is no mention of the procedures.

There is no reference to their policy at all.

The letter doesn't clearly state whether Reserve Bank of India expects mutilated currency to be patched up and mended before they will exchange it.

The letter does not even acknowledge my question, let alone answer it.

So RBI is going to make sure good quality gum and paper are in plentiful supply in all banks, and that is all. (Will they provide scissors too, or do they think people go about carrying them?) Is this a tacit admission that it is indeed their policy that customers must repair the currency notes before exchanging them?

Why not admit it and state it clearly?

It seems that they prefer, nay indeed expect, that an ordinary citizen to do cut out reasonable sized pieces of paper and stick them on to legal tender before any bank will deign to exchange them, but can't direct me to where it is written down in plain words.

In fact, my letter seems to have only made RBI send more circulars (if that) to all banks (more trees dying for bureaucracy and red tape). And all they will do is put up more notices about how to exchange mutilated or soiled currency.

So if I want those notes exchanged for good currency notes, I will have to sit down and devote time for a mending project. It will involve cut and paste, whether at home or at a counter in at the bank.

Is this for real?

Isn't tampering with currency notes some sort of a crime? I used to have an idea defacing a currency note was a something of a crime, but RBI is now advising me that I had better do that to exchange my bad notes.

What is wrong with this picture?

In writing this, I went back to the original post and found that one of the links I gave is opening, and another leading to 404 error.

I am mortified that some of you may have clicked on the links and been irritated by what happened next; I am mystified, too. I am not very well versed in this links stuff, so I double check before I post. I checked before I posted originally and they worked fine. I am giving the links here again, and can somebody tell me what I did wrong?,453,102,505


Sunday, June 11, 2006

Is it just me or...

They make me gnash my teeth and fume but I read the Sunday Telegraph's classified advertisements and Personal columns compulsively. Each Sunday I ponder these questions, so today I am putting an end to this. I am going to write it out of my system; perhaps I can stop myself reading these columns next week.

There are a lot of these: best body massage, relaxation and satisfaction.

There are constraints on number of words, I understand, but are there constraints on upper case letters, too? The best? Really? Who decided that? Can you show a certificate stating that? At least these are noncommittal and don't raise my hackles much.

best complete herbal body massage by well trained & expert high profile. AC Parking

No punctuation at all and well trained and expert would be two different things; does the client have to specify? High profile, huh? And you have an air-conditioned parking lot? Fantastic.

hot & spicy body massage by smart beautiful male/female massure (sic) Lots of extra enjoyment.

Do they smear chillie powder? Don't they have spell check? How does the beauty of the masseurs and masseuses matter? Extra enjoyment, and lots of it? Hmm.

best comfortable body massage by perfect & well trained. AC facility. Also hotel & home service.

Your masseurs have strange names, don't they?

Kolkata's top body massage by our new collection of hot attractive personalities. 100% enjoyment.

The first upper case letters in the series, but this really makes me wonder. You have a new collection of employees? The old ones got headhunted, did they? Is the turnover rate so high in the industry?

Top body massage By smart & new educated beautiful personality.

Educated, eh? Do they say gluteus maximus as they prod buttock?

Attract unisex bath tub, hot spicy massage give you full enjoyment by high profile. AC Room & escort.

This one flummoxes me. What is a bathtub for? To wash off the aforementioned chillie powder? Escort? Or do they mean a chaperone?

Body massage & excellent relaxation, peacefully atmosphere. A/c parking.

I am not making this up. Read today's Telegraph if you don't believe me.

do you interested total different full outstanding massage and full enjoyment with shock and hottest and best profile provided

I am not making this up, either. And this one worries me. Shock therapy? Do they have qualified doctors?

Monsoon dhamaka special body massage by the most exclusive profile and foreigners for the ultimate relaxation

So massage parlours have seasonal themes, now? Indian Government issues work permits to tourists? Do we even have a policy for it?

Anti Foreign double ice-cream massage unisex 4hrs enjoyment. Bath tub & beautiful personality. AC Room.

The 'anti' puzzles me. Perhaps the advertisers have Views against tourists and foreigners? Double ice cream? With the massage taking that long they do some catering, I suppose.

Attract unisex double full massage with chocolate ice cream & ice bath full pleasure & enjoyment. Smart fresh & cool profile.

No, honestly. This was the bit that pushed me over the edge into venting. Ice bath? They cater to orthopaedic patients, perhaps?

All these messages start with a number, 0 or 01. Some quote rates, too. I read about Thai style or sandwich massages and frankly, the mind boggles.

Maybe I have a dirty mind.


Saturday, June 10, 2006


The world seems to have gone mad.

Oh, yeah. Thank you so much, dear readers, for chipping in with recommendations. I think not. (Not you, Siva, you are a dear.)

Our idiot box is temperamental and shows colour under some intensely guarded private code. And my son is up in arms. Come on, mom, he says. Get this fixed, he says; supremely confident that mom can fix everything.

Why is he up in arms? Because he had to watch part of today's match in black and white, as our television set imposed its own censorship and ratings. And then the cable TV died.

Furious phone calls and frantic tuning into radio commentaries later, all is bliss. Husband: listening to cricket; son: watching football. Nirvana.

I pause in passing and remark that a goal seems to have been scored. "Nice, a goal." I say. My son looks pained. "Its an own goal, mom, " he says. "So? Isn't that the best kind, achieving one's goal? " I say.

Then I cringe at the glance of amused contempt my son spares me before turning his eyes back to the screen.

What's it with the world that men's chasing a ball is so fascinating?

Granted, it is good exercise. But how many calories are the spectators expending in screaming themselves hoarse? Are they losing pounds and pounds as the men who are running up and down do? And, why? It is so pointless.

And why should propelling the ball to one goalpost mean more than propelling it to the other? Why? Eh? Why aren't things equal?

The world has gone mad, I tell you.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Soft soap

"You look ravishing."

That was one of the nicest things said to me. It was the first compliment I received.

There were other gems:

"You are looking so good, I can't take my eyes off you." That one really boosted my confidence, and I needed it boosted just then.

"Hey, that was a wonderful meal." This comes once in a while, and it always gratifies.

"Let's do this again, it was such fun." That your company is appreciated and wanted is always good to know.

"I quit; you are going to win anyway." This is truly glee making.

The art of giving a compliment is not easy to learn and practise; and to pay a compliment sincerely without sounding fulsome or false is not something everybody can manage. But a genuine compliment warms the cockles of the recipient's heart.

Of course not all compliments have to be verbal. Belching after a meal for instance: while it isn't very polite, it is supposed to be a compliment to the cook. A smile conveys more than words can.

Some of us can do it without thinking about it and some of us are ham-handed when it comes to showing appreciation. That is what complimenting is all about, anyhow. Showing appreciation. Even supermodels need appreciation. Housewives of a certain age need it too, more than the models and celebrities.

When something I cooked to last for two meals gets demolished in one and I have to cook the second meal afresh, I take it as a compliment though no words are said. The occasional 'that was good' is icing on the cake.

When a pal insists on converting Twenty Questions to Five Questions because, he says, you are too smart and don't need that many - that is a left-handed compliment. It tickles

But there is a difference between sincere appreciation and flattery. Flattery is soft soap, and 90% lye. As GBS puts it, what really flatters a person is that you think them worth flattering. It should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

I have a carpenter, who drops in occasionally to see if I have any work for him. He used to say that even a small job commissioned by me always brought him luck and a big contract. "You bring me good luck," he used to say. It did used to feel nice being some one's good luck mascot. Then one day, a neighbour and I were chatting and she said, "He keeps coming around to ask if I have any small job for him; he says I bring him luck." Oh dear.

Here is a funny a definition, call it left-handed. Compliment: The applause that refreshes.

I have been blogging a while, solitary and all just Vesuvius venting. Now I have readers, and people remarking on my take on anything. That's a huge compliment. It is the applause that refreshes and keeps me motivated. I am touched when readers take the time to post a comment, make a quip or elaborate on some point. It is truly gratifying.

This post is dedicated to Praveen, who is an absolute angel. He is wickedly funny, and when you are done laughing he makes you think. He also paid me a wonderful compliment recently. :D


Monday, June 05, 2006

Knock on wood

When it happened the first time I was surprised and amused; now I get irritated.

Consider this: you are in a car in the residential sections of the city and a cat saunters across the street. The driver stops the car, reverses a little and then goes on.

Cabbies in Calcutta are big on this superstition. There are a lot of cats in my area and I use cabs all the time. Like Queen Victoria but in plebeian singular, I am not amused any more.

Superstitions are rife, and many are personal fetishes or talismans or a very private belief about tapping into a fount of good luck. We don't remember the origins or rationale that became a superstitious way doing any thing; yet we indulge in superstition, even now in the glorious twenty-first century.

Do you have a lucky shirt? Do you wish on the first star you see in the evenings? Do you throw a pinch of salt over your left shoulder to ward off bad luck when you spill salt? Do you say 'Gesundheit' when someone sneezes? Do you avoid cutting your nails after dusk? Do you avoid walking under ladders? Do you read your fortune for the day or the week in the papers or magazines? Do you add up numbers to see if they tally with your personal number? Do you knock on wood?

Some of these beliefs or superstitions can be traced back to some rationale. Spilling of salt, when it was a precious commodity would be considered unlucky, naturally. Clipping your nails after dark in days before electric lights would be a risky thing, so making it a taboo makes sense. Likewise walking under the ladder may invite a splash or a dropped bucket of paint and is sensible to refrain from. When it was believed that a sneeze could eject one's soul and let in evil spirits, saying 'Bless you' was to invoke protection for the sneezer.

Let's not discuss astrology or numerology. Wishing upon the first star you see may be romantic, but how can a rational person expect it to work? How can you bring yourself to believe mass-produced fortunes or think that numbers influence your life? How can changing the spelling of a name according to numerology change a person?

Expectant mothers with their due dates on the sixth of June are nervous, apparently. Some flippant or intrepid ones are joking about naming the baby, if male, Damien. Very brave of them, I'm sure.

06.06.06 - what's so ominous about this number? Or 666 even? This is the purported number of the beast, or Antichrist, who will appear on earth during the last days, according to Revelations.

"Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six." Revelation, 13:18

Based on this and the half-baked theories of numerology, people fear the number 666.

Read Eric W. Weisstein if you like, to see how this number has fascinated people and how many interesting things they have discovered about the properties of this number.

Or read the astrologically inclined beliefs about what is in store for the world on the day.

Considering that there are so many calendar systems, to attach importance to this day in one calendar system is ridiculous. Why can't people stop and think?

I look at stars but don't wish upon them. I just clean up if I spill salt. I clip my nails in the evening in good light. I walk under ladders if it looks safe. I don't need to know the forecast for the week, I have got it planned out. I don't worry about 06. 06. 06.

I was born on Friday the thirteenth, you see.


Saturday, June 03, 2006

Never mind

Here are a couple of left handed definitions.

Matter: never mind.
Mind: no matter.

Jokes aside, here is a poem:

Of times once and now

a diamond-like drop
hanging precariously on
darkling leaf, debating the question

each sound each sight
a trigger for a medley of remembrances
that scramble into cacophony

each rumbling of thunder
a reminder of things
like this rain-drenched evening
I’d rather pass by.


Friday, June 02, 2006

The perfect omelette

Hullo again, folks.

Here is a lovely clue: Corrupt fellow, I (7) Solution: lowlife. The beauty is in the economy of definition. It serves both as an anagram indicator and definition.

I have been accused of writing educational, instructive posts. Some of you have told me you are learning the use of the common comma and the misunderstood semicolon from my posts. Ah well. Since I can't be a siren, lemme be a cook.

Here is a lesson straight from Lali's Kitchen.

I must have made thousands of omelettes over the years. I can do the simple, basic version very well. I can make a version that is an omelette with 'bells and whistles' as my cousin used to call it that is truly out of this world. (Yeah, I am boasting, so sue me)

The origin of the word is interesting. It started off from the Latin lamella, a thin plate, the basic shape of the thing and evolved to allumelle and then allumelette, aumelette and so on. Himself prefers the 'ova mellitus' translating as eggs and honey version of etymology, but each to his own, I say. He likes my jam omelette, maybe that explains why he prefers that version; but that is for later.

Here is how to go about making the perfect fluffy meta-omelette a la Lali. I usually make two-egg omelettes, but you can do this with a single egg or with three, or more if you have a large enough pan.

The eggs must be at room temperature. This is important, as the egg whites will tend to coagulate or fleck otherwise. You techies and physics students know all about temperature and effects thereof anyway, right?

It is best if you use a non-stick pan.

Use butter. Yeah, I know all about cholesterol, but a dab of butter doesn't kill you, really.

You will need to chop a small onion, maybe the sambar vengayam variety, one or two green chillies depending on how much fire you want, and a sprig of coriander leaves fine. I mean really fine. The amounts depend on the number of eggs and on how much stuff you want in the omelette, basically.

You can add tomatoes, too, if you can chop them fine enough. But tomatoes tend to make an omelette runny, so don't attempt adding them until you know what you are doing. You can add stir fried mushrooms or parsley or sage, too, but let's not go overboard for now, okay and stick with the basics. :D

Crack the egg singular or eggs plural into a bowl, preferably a ceramic one. I haven't figured out why it works better with stoneware than a metal bowl. Perhaps the aforementioned techie readers can enlighten me? Anyway, the noise of fork in a metal bowl is grating and I dislike it. The bowl has to be wide at the top and narrower in the bottom. Think meteor crater. Think basins.

Use a fork and beat the eggs. Sadistic as it sounds, the beating of eggs is the secret of fluffiness in an omelette.

It is all about incorporating air into the whole mass. So you have to beat steadily and keep the entire mass in motion. Start slow and keep it steady. Slowly increase the tempo. Yeah, I know. Just like sex, making an omelette is all timing and tempi. :D

I have this trick of leaving the yolks untouched at first, just beating the whites until they start frothing.

Add a pinch of salt at this point. Pepper too, if you want. And beat the egg whites. When they are almost stiffening into peaks, start incorporating the yolks. Remember to keep the whole mass moving. You should be using a lifting and folding motion rather than a side to side agitating stroke, because the former incorporates more volume and is quicker. If you like to do it the hard way, more power to you.

Once the yolks are folded into the whites and the whole stuff looks creamy, take a break. Turn your gas stove on, heat the omelette pan, and melt a little butter.

While it is melting, add the chopped garnishes to the eggs and blend them in thoroughly. Yes. This is the best way to make an omelette with stuff in it. People think pouring the beaten eggs into the pan and then adding garnishes will work, but this works better.

Hey, don't let the butter heat up so much that it burns. Bad karma awaits you if you do things like that. Lower the flame if necessary. Roll the pan from side to side and make sure the butter is coated evenly all over the surface.

Turn the heat back on high, pour the eggs in, shake the pan gently to spread, and watch. Yes, I said watch. The omelette will fluff up because of the incorporated air.

Now it depends on you.

If you like your omelettes sorta runny, you shouldn't flip them and cook the other side. But some people like their eggs cooked to well set. Some even like them cooked to the point of burnt offerings. So it depends on how runny or firm or burnt you want your omelette.

This is the stage when I grate some cheese (Amul works, Vijaya is too salty and Britannia is too soft to grate) on top of the omelette and fold in half and serve it, if I was making it for my husband. If I were making it for my son I'd leave out the chillies and tomatoes. When I was making it for my boarders I used to pull out all stops. They liked the bells and whistles.

But decide how firm you want it and then use a spatula and either fold it, with cheese grated on the barely set mass or flip it over and cook the other side, adding the grated cheese or yesterday's leftovers as filling, fold it in half and serve.

Eat it quickly, because your basic omelette tends to deflate pretty soon. It becomes leathery then.

Jam omelettes. Okay, it is a tale for another day.


Call me, I'll call you back

You see them everywhere. Walking down the street, in restaurants, in the malls and hanging out. With hands clapped to their ears, talking away into their cell phones- the young and the older generation, alike.

I find it a bit in bad taste. I carry a cell phone, too. Yes. But that is to keep in touch with home when I am out. I certainly don't feel the pressing need to talk into a phone at bookshops or while eating out or walking down a street. And definitely not so loudly that details of your private life and arrangements can be heard by all those who have the misfortune to be near you. It is one thing to be able to call anyone from anywhere, but entirely another to do so indiscriminately.

Why do you never answer your phone, a friend accused me the other day. (He called in the middle of a facial, my phone was muted to it's softest ring and it was in my bag, which was out of reach; I didn't hear it and wouldn't have answered if I had. I was getting a facial, after all. I find that when someone wants to contact me in a hurry, the urgency is almost never mutual.)

It is my phone, for my convenience; not for yours, I wanted to tell him. I do return calls and answer text messages, but the world is not going to end if I don't answer my phone on the first ring. I check the missed calls log and return calls, but I don't let my phone dictate my life and permeate intrusively into all my activities.

Perhaps it is different for young people, who seem to live their lives chatting, whether into their phones or online.

I was going to theorise that all young people seem to have a pathological need to stay in touch and keep talking. But then I thought of my son, whose phone is always switched off, or out of charge, or misplaced or lost. My husband frets about it. But I have a more philosophical approach. He'll call if he needs anything, I say, and take comfort that no news from him means good news.


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