Grandma\’s Tales

January 31, 2007

The India-W.Indies ODI series ends on a happy note! But…

Filed under: Games People Play — Rajesh @ 6:07 pm

The overall picture of the decisive 160-run win today had several happy scenes built into it. Tendulkar’s 100 – the figure emerging dramatically off the last ball (forget Lara dropping him earlier).  Dhoni’s rub-your-eyes kind of impossible shots and his running between the wickets to make Tendulkar’s feat possible. Suresh Raina’s accurate throw. Yuvraj Singh’s brilliant catch. Agarkar’s bowling.
And above all, the brief period when Dada once again ruled the field as captain. There is a lesson in this for all of us. Have total confidence in your abilities. Work, show the world who you are. Don’t let people write you off. See how Ganguly played himself into the team! “Played” in more ways than one!
To me, the bitter part of the series was the set of totally repulsive, completely uncalled-for set of ads titled, “It’s not easy to be a West-Indian in India”. I have not seen anything more disgusting. Those who made it and those who allowed it to be telecast should have their nails extracted, one by one, without the benefit of anaesthesia. Did you see them?
In the first one, there is this boat carrying a West-Indian-looking guy with his girlfriend. The man rowing it is supposed to be a boatman you associate with those plying boats on the Ganges at Varanasi. In the middle of the river, he stands up, throws the pole into the vast river, takes off his vest, jumps into the water and presumably swims to the shore leaving the couple adrift. Moral? It’s not easy being a West-Indian in India. Ugh!
The second one: A settlement in the middle of Rajasthan. Obviously a hot day. A West-Indian is thirsty after eating something spicy. He desperately looks for a glass of water and he can’t get it. Why? Every time he reaches for a glass of water at various locations, a hand snatches it away. A set of dentures is dropped in one of the glasses. The poor guy reaches a tap and he just finds water dripping in tiny drops. Moral? You know it. All the UGHs are not enough to describe this.
I wonder if the “maji” (boatman) and the people of Rajasthan ever got to see these ads. Especially the endearingly hospitable people of Rajasthan. In a few seconds they were denounced as a group. And as a nation we should hang our head in shame. What do these ads tell the world about us? That we are invincible ? Or that we are sick, inhospitable, holier-than-thou jerks?
Today the ads were missing. Glad and relieved. But not for long. There is this new “series” all ready for the India-Sri Lanka matches starting Feb 8 at Eden Gardens. The first one was out today during the match. It shows a couple of Sri Lankan-looking guys in a forest trying to photograph a tiger. The tiger roars, they shiver. An army van passes by, backtracks and you see some words on “Tigers” written on the rear of the vehicle. Moral? It’s not easy being a Sri Lankan in India. We are brilliant in finding ways to be disgustingly offensive!

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January 30, 2007

Auto, auto! – 4

Filed under: Auto — Rajesh @ 10:21 pm

swami (Comment by swami) wrote this in response to my latest auto whine.
I heard auto business was affected by call-taxi’s, share van’s and such. And that auto drivers weren’t kings as they used to be. Did I hear wrong?
Don’t the share-auto, share-van types work out better?
Also, do you think the current meter rates in Chennai are fair? I don’t know what it is now. But when I was there (about 6 yrs ago) they worked out to Rs. 3.50 per km. And I thought it was too low if you get a good auto ride – which of course, was an impossibility. But then, I think when fixing rates for auto, you have to assume that it is a properly functioning auto with a decent driver (working to earn the honest buck) and other associated service levels. Thoughts?
Here they are swami.
A properly functioning auto, a decent driver – they must be around among the 50 thousand or so autos rattling the bones out of the Chennai population – but most of us haven’t met them.
The current fares are as follows. Rs. 14 for the first 2 kms and 6 for every extra km. These rates are already in force. But not enforced. Autos have been given 6 months to get their electronic meters going. In the meantime, each one has been given a printed card showing the difference in fares. There are also helplines. But there is no way to determine the distance. The automan just will not accept your measurements. And the fares thereof. You talk to them about the fare- cards and the standard answer is: “Ask the guy who printed them to drive you for those fares. Not me.”
This evening I asked the automan to take me to the beach which is exactly 2 kms away. I know because I had checked it while driving the car. The auto driver at the stand demanded Rs. 35. I said, “No, thank you,” and walked away. He began to abuse me. You don’t want to know what he said.
Yesterday, a guy saw me dressed in finery, guessed I was in a hurry to reach somewhere and demanded an exhorbitant amount. After rejecting three, I gave in. Did I say auto guys were actor-politicians (previous post)? I hang my head in shame. They are actor-politician-psychologists. Their capabilities are being wasted on Chennai roads.
Are the rates fair? Perhaps not. Then the best thing to do is to go on protest, represent and come to an agreement with the authorities. Not blackmail/abuse the public. Why did they accept the revised the fares? Because they know the fares will never be implemented. Please read these pages in six months’ time.
The guy I hired this morning had an electronic meter fixed. I asked him why it wasn’t functioning. He said he had six months to do it. I said it didn’t need six months to fix the meter. He mumbled something like, “The wires are gone.”
Competition from share autos? Not really. Since they have more space, they charge more. You need to be a group. If you are alone or there are two of you, you have to wait. These autos cruise along soliciting customers.
Vans and call taxis? Their fares have gone up. You have to book in advance, they turn up late and sometimes they don’t turn up at all. Happened to me. They cost roughly double of what the auto fare would put you back by.
Autos are cheaper (though their fares are arbitrary and illegal) compared to other modes of private travel. They are available at all times, except may be midnight. If it is just two of you, isn’t it better to hire an auto to the railway station rather than pay a call taxi?
The auto guys know all this. And they demand the fares far in excess of what they are allowed. Again, my argument: I pay you what you ask for, if it is not too over the top. But can you assure me a reasonably smooth ride in return?
This morning my automan crossed the signal on First Main Road, Gandhi Nagar on the pedestrian crossing while people were rushing across and went into a one-way street on the opposite side. He almost collided into an oncoming auto. We were saved by a whisker. My screams were of no avail.
This is demand outstripping supply. What we need is a topnotch public transport system. Air-conditioned buses/vans at all points of the city, on all main roads and major streets. Increase the fares, but assure us of safe, comfortable travel to work and back. How come this is never a poll promise for the poor-friendly governments?

January 29, 2007

Shilpa Shetty wins – in and outside the “house”!

Filed under: Society — Rajesh @ 9:17 pm

Not surprisingly, Shilpa won the Celebrity Big Brother reality show on Channel 4. And we all thought racism, or at least insulting behaviour was bad. Not for Shilpa. For her it was a bonanza, no less. She sashayed her way out with 100, 000 pounds added to her bank balance. As my husband pointed out (read previous post), what are a few condescending remarks if the prize for putting up with them is a pot of gold?
[Aside: When you have time, read Irving Wallace’s The Man. It was written in 1964. You will be amazed at Wallace’s use of the same psychology there.]
Shipa screamed in “surprise” when she heard the verdict. But it would have been the biggest surprise for all if she hadn’t known. The tide was clearly turning in her favour. As the racism charges were flying thick and fast, she “graciously” recorded a conciliatory note, saying the remarks weren’t really racist. The forgiving Shilpa? Naah.
It is mom Shetty who came up with the truth. She implied that her daughter knew what she was doing, knew how to manage any problem. A mother knows her daughter best!
The fallout: Shilpa has sacked her Indian publicist, gotten herself the best in the UK, and is rumoured to have been offered a Hollywood role. Any producer/director could have noticed what a consummate actor she is. And she has the looks to go places. All the best for her!
One point that gives me a happy chuckle: Shilpa is on the wrong side of 30, an age that has given her the maturity to take on the housemates of the “zoo”. The right age where a woman still has her looks while her wits have aged with experience. Shilpa knew how long she should hold with her patience and when to burst out and what to say. All her actor housemates, I’m sure, went home richer for watching Shilpa perform. Sweet are the uses of being 30+! Look at Aishwarya Rai, Preity Zinta…
Another significant point: Jermaine Jackson (brother of Michael Jackson – who?) was voted runner-up. The anxiety to set right a perceived wrong went that far!

January 28, 2007

Australian Open – a perfect 10 for Federer

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 5:00 pm

The Fedexpress rolled on and blew out the Red Hot Chile, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4. Yes, he won the tourament, (third Aussie Open) without dropping a set. Gonzales from Chile wasn’t hot enough today. He wasn’t expected to win, really not after you watched Federer make mincemeat of Roddick, but Gonzales had had a dream run to the final. A win by him would have put him up in the sky. It wasn’t to be. One can only remember what Federer said some time ago.
“I’m probably playing again on Rod Laver Arena. I play so well on that court, and with my experience and the way I finished the season and the way I’m coming into this – I don’t see why I should be vulnerable. It’s going to be really tough for people to beat me here.”
Call that confidence – honest or supreme. Pre-match, he agreed that Gonzales was playing well, he had played him in Madrid some time ago. But “it was one more day, one more game.” When Gonzales won the toss he decided to “receive”,  giving the serve to his opponent. Federer isn’t known to do that. He always takes the serve. A more complete, all-court player who’s also totally in control, unruffled, it’s hard to find.
The best comments came from commentators Alan and Vijay during the warm-up. “A time comes when a good player becomes great. Will Gonzales do it?” asked Vijay. “So he wouldn’t do it?” replied Alan. Vijay said, “I bet you 1 to 50. You didn’t take it. But Gonzales wouldn’t be alone if he lost. He would be joining a large group of players who lost to Federer.”
Rod Laver said, “Federer is in the middle of his career. Let’s not call him the greatest yet. Let him play more. There’s still time to judge him.”
The best repartee came when Miss Chang talked of astrological predictions. She said she had consulted an astrologist (I thought it was “astrologer”, but never mind) and her Hindi teacher (?)  about the outcome of the match. The astrologist thought Federer’s distractions would come from off the court :-). That would be due to his moon position. The Hindi teacher, however, had no doubts. Federer’s Jupiter was in a strong place and he was invincible.
Alan: Do you believe that?
Vijay: These are the same poeple who said Sharapova had her stars (actually, they are all planets!) in the right place. They said she was in a good position to win.
Alan: Do you believe in stars, Vijay?
Vijay: Yes, I do. But they are all in Bollywood!
Alan had no answer to that. He called for a commercial break.

You certainly missed Nadal today.

January 27, 2007

Auto, auto!

Filed under: Auto,Society — Rajesh @ 11:28 pm

The new auto rates came into force yesterday, 26 January. At least they should have. I hired an auto today (27 January) to see if everything was in place. For the 2 +1/2-km ride to the office I should be shelling out around 20 bucks. I pay Rs. 30. I hoped to gently inform the auto driver about this and get him to reduce the rates. Ok, don’t laugh so much.
I asked the guy if he knew about the new rates. He said he had seen it in the papers. So, could I pay according to the new rules? He began to laugh. Good comedy, he said. I said I was not joking. Nor was I, he said.
Chennai auto drivers are actor-politicians, just like those who govern us. The guy said, “I haven’t seen the exact rate calculations. I haven’t received any information or a card with the details. So I don’t know how distances are calculated.” If he had received the instructions he would no doubt have said, “I haven’t studied them in detail. I need to do that before I answer any questions.”
“How about the meter?” I asked. “Won’t you get caught?”
He shrugged. “Most autos are owned by policemen and politicos. Why do you think autos are never booked for traffic violations?” Mmm… this is unusual candour. He realised he’d talked too much. Quickly he added, “Who will pay the lakhs I need to get a permit? The cost of owning an auto? There’s no way we can have a meter. No way we’ll charge official rates.”
And why should he, as long as we are ready to pay?
My problems with the autos (refer to previous posts on this) don’t end there. Last week the automan I had the misfortune to hire was a well-connected one. He had a mobile phone choking with numbers. Numbers of people who would die if they didn’t have his voice sounding in their ears. During the 10-minute ride he had 5 calls. For the first three calls, he stopped the vehicle at the kerb and engaged in prolonged conversations. I protested. I said if I knew the ride would take me half an hour to reach home, I would have walked. Walking would take about the same time, may be less.
For the next two calls, he didn’t stop. He fished the ringing instrument out of the pocket, held it to his ear with one hand and drove the auto with the other. I begged him to stop and complete the talk.
At the end of the fifth, I said, “Why don’t you switch it off?”
He turned 180* to look me in the eye. “Look in front!” I shouted. He said calmly, “If I don’t take calls, I lose business. Will you pay?”

Now, hiring an auto means getting a lengthy questionnaire answered.
[1] Will you take me to the place I want?
[2] How much will you charge? (Not a single auto has a working meter.)
[3] Does the vehicle make a phut-phut-phut noise? (What a childish question, said one automan.)
[4] Does your meter work properly? (Stupid!)
[5] Do you have a cellphone? Is so, will you switch it off during the time of the ride?
[6] Do you have gas/diesel/petrol? Will you stop half-way at a petrol bunk and ask me to pay for it?
Actually, at the end of this rather extended conversation/grilling the automan and I should consider ourselves friends or sworn enemies depending on our humour quotients.
Some of them are genuinely surprised by all this talk. At least a couple of guys cruised by and said, “My auto doesn’t make that noise. Want to hop in?” Bliss!
Anyway, my argument generally clinches the issue. “I am not haggling over the charge. Shouldn’t you give me a comfortable ride to my destination in return?”

Australian Open – Serena did it!

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 11:57 am

Serena Williams came with her “under-dog” status to steamroll fashion queen Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-2 in 1 hour, 3 minutes to win the Australian Open tennis championships.  For most of the short game, Maria looked like she didn’t know what hit her. She took a long time  deliberating her serves. And where was her ability to cover the court? Missing.
In some of her ground strokes and serves, Serena resembled Federer. Is she, Ekalavya-style, taking lessons by watching his videos?  Don’t know, but her strategy worked. From”unseeded” and dismissed as “just a dangerous floater” to the championship win is a great climb. It also helped her move from 88 to 14 in rankings. The four-month lay-off has helped her to regroup physically and emotionally.
Serena said a few significant things.
When she lost a point, she told herself, “Keep moving forward,” mouthing the words slowly.
When she won the match she fell to the ground, stood and screamed, jumped, ran to the stands to accept handshakes, came back and said, “This is the third (Australian Open). I have others to break.”
Accepting the trophy, she said, “Thank you mom. For the last two weeks, I have been yelling at you. Saying things. I didn’t mean them. Thanks for putting up with me, standing by my side.” Now, where is the famous dad? To Maria, she said, “You have more years than me in the tournament. We’ll meet again.”
Serena dedicated her trophy to her sister Yetunde. “She’s not here but I love her very much,” she said tearfully. That sister was shot dead in Los Angeles in 2003.
The crowds were totally with her, and gave her a standing ovation. Well, Vijay Amritraj was proved true. He was very sure she would win. He said she was playing better and had the determination. At a point when Serena’s cross-court volley fell untouched, he said, “Can you believe this is an unseeded player against world No: 1?” Maria, BTW, retains that position.
Welcome, come-back kid. Hope to see more of you on court.

January 26, 2007

Amitabh Bachchan speaks to Sonia Singh

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 10:10 pm

I have no idea who gave the Big B speech lessons, but whoever it is (that is if there was one) deserves a Padma award. Bachchan senior was answering questions put to him by Sonia Singh on NDtv, a quiet interview, not the Karan Thapar brand, and it made for a rivetting half an hour.
Bachchan  of course spoke flawless English, choosing his words for precision, diplomacy and humour where it was appropriate. His clipped accent was neutral, and could be understood clearly.
He was asked questions about his highs and lows, his pride in his son’s achievement, what he found admirable in Aishwarya Rai, the wedding guest list, Shah Rukh’s performance at KBC, the two versions of Don, his friendship with Amar Singh, the alleged victimisation of him and Jaya for their closeness to Amar Singh and his own assessment of his life.
The answers rang truthful.  He was looking somewhere down to his right most of the time, perhaps thinking. It was to her credit that Singh let him form his thoughts when he seemed to be doing so. The result was an engrossing show.
Bachchan answered calmly in a well modulated voice, didn’t say a word that could be misunderstood.  He wouldn’t be dragged into controversy, said Jaya’s Office of Profit fracas and his own brush with IT officials had nothing to do with politics, he hadn’t yet made his guest list and so couldn’t say who would be invited to the wedding, he found a lot of beauty in Aishwarya that had nothing to do with her looks. Being an actor, facing the camera with different emotions was a kind of escape from what life throws at you. But life had to be faced and would the audiences view actors with a little more compassion?
He then narrated this story. He accompanied Mehmood, the comedian, to the hospital when his daughter was stillborn. Mehmood came out of the hospital carrying his lifeless daughter in arms and was walking to the car. The crowd waiting there shouted, “Mehmood, kuch bolo yaar. Say somehting funny, make us laugh!” Bachchan said, “I’ll never forget the expression that crossed Mehmood’s face at that moment.”
Did he watch Don? Yes, and had discussed the merits and demerits with King Khan. How about KBC? “Sorry, Shah Rukh Khan, if you’re watching this show, I haven’t. But I will and then we will talk.”

January 25, 2007

Buchwald and the art of writing

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 10:59 pm

Art Buchwald who kept us chuckling for decades is no more. Wherever he was published, his column was the first thing you read when you flipped through the pages. Why?
[1] His pieces were short.
[2] His style was simple – you didn’t have to google to find out what he was referrring to.
[3] He wrote with humour. Nothing was so sacred that he wouldn’t dip it in humour ink. [4] He picked his subjects from what was happening around him. Politics was staple fare and he loved lampooning politicians. Who doesn’t, but we all can’t be Art, can we?
“Dying is easy, parking is difficult,” he said. When he outlived the time given by doctors, he wrote, “I didn’t know death was so much fun.” He said that he had to scrap his funeral plans, rewrite his living will, buy a new cell phone and get on with his improbable life. “I also had to start worrying about Bush again,” he deadpanned.
Art Buchwald wrote for 50 years. He wrote nearly 8000 columns and 30 books. The movie “Coming to America” was based on his short story. He just wrote and wrote and wrote… Some quotes:
[1] People are broad-minded. They’ll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife beater and even a newspaperman, but if a man doesn’t drive, there’s something wrong with him.
[2] The buffalo isn’t as dangerous as everyone makes him out to be. Statistics prove that in the United States more Americans are killed in automobile accidents than are killed by buffalo.

[3] “If you attack the establishment long enough and hard enough, they will make you a member of it.”
[4]
“People ask what I am really trying to do with humour. The answer is, ’I’m getting even.’ … For me, being funny is the best revenge.”
[5] Service in the Marines taught Buchwald a fundamental lesson – “that the secret of a long life was to keep my mouth shut and never, ever, volunteer for a better assignment”
.
The least you can do to his memory is to avoid mistakes when you mourn his death in print.
One “letter to the editor” went like this:
In 1964, a friend took me to the apartment of the mother of Arthur Godfrey. There we not only met Arthur Godfrey but also Buchwald.
Dear writer of letter,
You not only “met” AG, but what else did you do to him? If your intention is to say that you met two people, your sentence should read, “There we met not only Arthur Godfrey but also Buchwald.” This means you met two people.
Buchwald, I’m sure, would have taken a crack at it.

January 24, 2007

Grammar – 26 Verb, won’t you agree? Quiz

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 10:47 pm

I sometimes wonder why I point them out. But it’s good to know the rules before you trample them underfoot. You need to know your enemy, right?
Some time ago, I did a workshop for teachers in a prominent school in Chennai. We took up Subject-Verb agreement and I wrote this sentence on the board.
The Gulmohar is one of the trees that _____ all over India. What will you fill the blank with? Grow or grows? I asked.
That’s when I discovered there was disagreement between the teachers and me. They all (except their French teacher) said “grows” and I said “grow”.
“It is ‘one of the trees’, so it should take the singular verb (grows),” they said.
“Sorry”, I said and went on to explain.
There are two parts to this sentence. The Gulmohar is one of the trees / that _____ all over India. The word “that” is a pronoun and connects the two parts. Now, “that” (pronoun) stands for which noun? The nearest of course. Which is “trees”. If “that” stands for the noun”trees”, it is plural. Therefore the second part of the sentence should take the plural verb “grow”. The Gulmohar is one of the trees that _grow_ all over India. It is the same as “Richard is a boy, he goes to school.”
That is the technical explanation.
Now look at the meaning of the sentence. It says there are many trees that grow all over India. The Gulmohar is one of them. Here is how you check if your choice is right or not when you have a similar sentence – with “one of the” and a plural followed by a “that” or another pronoun.
Recast the sentence. Start it with “Of”.
Of the trees that grow all over India, the Gulmohar is one. Right?

In spite of the French teacher (?) siding with me, I didn’t cut any ice with the class. In true Indian style, they “staged a walk-out” shouting they didn’t want me to darken their doors again. Fine.
Now apply that rule and correct these sentences. I found them in newspapers. As usual.
[1] Apax was one of the private equity firms that sold its ownership to Pune-based Suzlon Energy.
[2] It is one of the few government-run schools that has consistently produced good results.
[3] The speaker is one of the senators from Minnesota who was elected last year.

Clue: (a) The relative pronouns (who, whom, which, and that) are either singular or plural, depending on the words they refer to.
(b) Begin with “Of”. You can’t go wrong.

Bollywoood is everywhere!

Filed under: Society — Rajesh @ 9:55 pm

I remember the time when the bump and grind of Bollywoood movies was the preferred masala for a lot of wisecracks for movie pundits all over the world. Those movie mavens may not approve of the “escapism” still, but they can no longer affford to ignore its popularity, if they want a large, educated, paper-reading public in the west to pay attention to them. Thanks to the homesick desis, movie houses screening Bollywood potboilers set the cash registers ringing, and the sound and colour of money is as hard to resist as the Bollywood song-and-dance routines. Now local papers in the west carry reviews of Bollywood films. Not that any adverse comment can keep the diaspora away from the multiplexes with Hindi movie posters; talking about them is a must.
This week, Shah Rukh Khan was anointed successor of the Big B when he occupied the host’s chair in the Kaun Banega Crorepati (the Indian, but a far more colourful, drama-filled version of Who Wants to be a Milionaire) programme and it’s one event Comedy Central could ill-afford to by-pass. Read on and watch the report.

About the host: What The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is to evening news, The Colbert Report is to personality-driven pundit shows. Colbert brings his sarcastic charm to a half-hour report, tackling the important issues of the day and telling his guests why their opinions are just plain wrong.
It’s fun and don’t miss the crack about Preity Zinta!
Clip from Colbert Report…times have changed..
> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5itvvHGrmw

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