Wednesday, May 31, 2006

If it ain't broke ...

Today was my last dentist visit for this season. I had never visited a dentist in my whole life, until a friend conned me six months ago. He had just returned from a dentist, sore, numb, and unable to speak. Paralyzed head to toe, he smiled feebly like a sorry little pimp and pimped his way into my brain. He lectured me about dental hygiene and orthodontics and reminded me how lousy my teeth were. Most importantly, he made me feel stupid about wasting hundreds of insurance dollars every year. He said “Arey yaar, you are paying for dental insurance any way, so why waste it? At least have your teeth cleaned. You are entitled to it.”

I bit his bait and made an appointment with a dentist, a buxom delightful flirtatious Indian woman who appeared to be permanently stuck at the tempting age of 40. After verifying my insurance records, she gleamed delightfully and invited me into her inner sanctum. There she introduced me to her slim and petite assistant who looked more like a Chinese masseuse than a dental intern. Oblivious of what was going to come, I took position at the reclining chair and followed their every order like a cobra captured by the swaying flute of a snake charmer. They beamed lights into my mouth, rammed needles into my gums, stuffed cotton into my throat, and took X-rays of my molars with the dexterity of fine professional photographers. She put scrap wood on my left cheek and vulcanized rubber on the other. I was twisted, tossed, rolled, sautéed, pan fried, bend over and more X rays were taken. Armed with enough X rays they huddled together and whispered. Little did they know that I was burning with unbearable anxiety. Do I have decaying teeth? Do I have gingivitis? Plaque, tartar, Oral cancer? Periodontal disease? Am I pregnant again?

After a long and agonizing wait they declared:
“You need deep cleaning, you have 3 cavities, you have impacted wisdom teeth, and after we finish cleaning, I will be able to look under the dirt and rubble and tell you if you need any extraction. Shall we start?”
Inexperienced, numb and semi unconscious from the anesthetic I nodded involuntarily. She sat next to me, spread her tool box across my body, turned on her machines and began the rituals. It was a long, arduous and painful process. At the draw of stumps, three cavities were found and filled, gum was cut for the impacted teeth to sprout, a mountain of plaque was dislodged, incisors on both sides were sharpened, and a suspected canine tooth was drilled and excavated. Under the dirt they found the remains of an ancient Egyptian city. I was told that my insurance did not cover geological surveys, so I had to pay $400. To cut the long story short, I was in pretty bad shape at the end – emotionally, dentally, and economically. The match continued the next day and the day following that. Final score: $900, one down teeth, and 4 stitches.

That was six months ago. This season was no different. To save dragging you through the gory details, here is the final score card: two agonizing appointments, one gum procedure, two stitches and $600 in bill.

Dentists are con artists. They know how to lay traps and set you up. It took thirty years for me to build all those plaque, and dirt and connective tissue that held all my dentures together. Happy little bacteria lived there that protected me. That depraved dentist woman spoiled all that in one day, just like that. So before you accept a dentist’s invitation for a filling, remember the golden rule – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

Being memorial day holiday I slept overtime. While I was lying awake and lazy the phone rang and I saw Mrs.B answering and slamming it on the cradle at the same time. She came to me and said one Sumi called “Byju Chettan” from a phone company in Kochi. I was beginning to forget Elizabeth Kuruvilla . Now I again have to be prepared for insomnia, dizziness,unwanted hair growth, memory loss, flash backs, hot flashes, night sweats, tachycardia, arachnaphobia, fear of flying , and the possibility of my wife leaving me.

Malayalam newspapers are feasting on this Rajan guy. I don’t know who he is. But I am certain he is one crook with class and finesse. He swindled the government of easily more than 50 crores and did that in style! Bungalows, estates, farm houses, commercial properties, house boats, fish farms, fancy cars - That is one hell of a loot! I want to grow up and become like him.

Newspapers also reluctantly printed news about Padmaja Venugopal. She was busted for stealing electricity. What a cheapo! It is like Gavaskar stealing a cricket ball, or Tom Cruise stealing used underwear on sale from a thrift store. If you are a crook, show some class for guruvayoor appan's sake.

Memorial Day. It seems to be just a ‘long weekend’ holiday; the kick-off for summer; backyard barbeque; burned tandoori chicken and spicy gossips. Who said this is a day of reflection; a day to honor the dead soldiers? The meaning seems to be lost. That reminds me of our own Gandhi Jayanthi. It use to be a day of reflection too. Schools observed “sevana vaaram”, and people volunteered for community services. It too is reduced to just a holiday, a day for mammaathu khaadar to slaughter an innocent goat, a day for empty khadar shirts to lay wreaths, a day for news paper companies to hesitantly print the old man’s picture on front pages. Sadly, the meaning seems to be lost.

Friday, May 26, 2006


My son is an Elmo addict. He watches the video over and over, non-stop 24x7, driving us insane. His addiction was so out of control that I feared he will soon trade me for an Elmo tape. We had to intervene to save him from the puppet, and more importantly to get us some quiet and peace of mind. So we bought him a Bharatha Natyam video. After two days of fighting, patience, and persistence he agreed to watch the new video. Now it is “thaka-dhimi, thaka-janu, thaka-dhimi, thaka-janu thaka-dhimi, thaka-janu ”, with the clippity-clap of wooden sticks.
Over and over and over.
24 x 7.
Day in and day out.
I am almost 99% mad.
I will soon trade him for prozac.

A helpless hungry unemployed teen mugs a rich dude for 2 bucks. He gets caught and spends time in jail. Two rich and fulfilled old men Andrew Fastow and Kenneth Lay mugged thousands of people of 11 BILLION dollars of their hard earned life savings. A jury convicts them, but they are out on bail. Not even under house arrest. This is unbelievable! Unbelievable.

Yours truly’s wife is graduating today. She is getting ready to go for the commencement ceremony. Before she went to her room she said to me that she wanted to look good, and it is a few hours since she went in. In a few minutes out will come a Chinese albino.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Come back to daddy

You have to be ridiculously rude to hate telemarketers. Although many perceive them as pestering creeps, I just love them. It is in the attitude. Unlike your close friends, these people do take the time to call you regularly, so why not reciprocate by sharing some quality time with them. I receive calls everyday from telemarketers of long distance phone companies. They call me from Bangalore, from Hybrabad, Delhi, Pune, Bombay, Chennai and Thoppumpadi. I specially love the calls from Thoppumpadi, because they speak in Malayalam, my mother tongue and thus have a soothing homely touch. The Thoppumpadi based international phone company has sweet young girls as telemarketers with sweet heavenly voice and sweet charming attitude. They have sweet bubbly personality to match their sweet playful disposition. By the end of a call you would need a heavy dose of industrial strength cow Insulin. Most callers have lovely names as well. Like Moly, Sherly, Sheela, Beena, Sofia, Chritstina Martinez, Steffie Graph and my favorite girl Elizabeth Kuruvilla.

Elizabeth is the best. Depending on her mood and the period of the month she would address me as “Sukumaran Sir”, “Sukumaran Chettan”, “Byju Uncle”, “Byju Chetta” or simply “Chettaaah” with a groaning “aah” that fades out into a whispery silence. My greatest excitement is when Elizabeth Kuruvilla wakes me up at sharp 6 AM on Saturday mornings.
“Hello Sukumaran Chettan undo”
“Yes, who is this?”
“Sir ithu Elizabeth Kuruvilla aaNu. You can call me Liz”
“Elizebeth.who ?”
“shhhhh…just call me Liz”
She would imitate the dialog in one of those technicolor Mohalal movies.
“Liz, wait let me go to the other room and get comfortable”
Thus begins a very pleasant, flirtatious, fun filled Saturday morning.

But I am a very sad man now. I am slowly sinking into a state of chronic depression. Elizabeth Kuruvilla has not called me in almost 3 days. She called me as usual at 6 AM sharp three days ago. The melody of the phone bell woke me up. I grabbed the phone before it rang again and woke my wife up. I ran to my rendezvous point, my bathroom, with a chest-full of pounding heart. Now that we have become intimate I wanted to tease her a bit. So I pretend to be a dumb guy with a defective gene, to give her the giggles. I planned to say nothing but “yeah” to what ever she says.

“Hello Sukumaran Sir”
“Yeah” – I said in a retarded voice like Dustin Hoffman in the famous movie Rain Man.
“Sir ithu Elizabeth Kuruvilla aaNu” She did the regular drill.
Then she went on to give me her five minute elevator pitch, and ended with the same usual question that tickles me every time.
“So what phone service do you use now sir”
Sleepishly I said “Yeah”
“Sir, sir yethu phone cevice aaNu use cheiyyunnathu”
“Sir can you hear me?”
I chose not to answer her. Perceiving a hearing problem she began to repeat her five minute elevator pitch. While the lady was eloquently articulating her well rehearsed speech hoping to brainwash me, I left my hand-set aside and washed my face, then took a bio break, and brushed my teeth, and carefully flossed my wisdom teeth before I picked up Liz Claiborne again. She finished her speech and asked.

“So what phone service do you use now sir”
said Dustin Hoffman
“Sir, njaan paRayunnathu sir-nu keLkkaavo ?
“Sir, can you hear me?
“So what phone service do you use now sir”
“Sir Reliance aaNo, AT&T aaNo upayogikkunnathu?”
“Sir, can you hear me?
“Sir yeah yeah ennu parayunnathu enikku keLkkamallo”

I thought I am having a bad breath. So I blew and smelled my breath and almost turned blue. I badly needed to gargle. I opened the Listerine and sprayed a mouth full.

“Sir” I could hear her desperation in the handset.
Damn, my mouth was burning like I consumed concentrated sulfuric acid.

“Sir” she was at a breaking point. I sensed her shivering voice.
“Yeah” Dustin Hoffman showed no signs of letting up.
“Sir, are you kidding?”
I mumbled , wincing and twitching with discomfort while extensive bacterial eradication was taking place in my mouth.

“Sukumaran Sir, enne kali aakuka aaNo? Sir Are you making fun of me?”
“Yeah” -
I said before breaking into a hysterical fit of laughter. Like the author says in the famous novel, I laughed like hell, and laughed like hell and laughed like hell and I rolled and laughed like hell again.
When I came back to my senses, the phone was dead. There was nothing but a deafening silence; an intense eerie loneliness. Poor Elizabeth was gone.

It is three days, since daddy ate or drank or talked or laughed. It is three days since I slept. I am having weird hallucinations. I am very irritable. I am having mood swings and panic attacks like pregnant wimmen. I have heart palpitation, no appetite, severe dehydration, and attention deficit disorder. I fear I have bipolar manic depression too. Every minute I wait for your call, I feel like ages. Since this morning I have started having post menstrual syndromes also.

So my dear Elizabeth Kuruvila, if you see this message, please call me. Come back to daddy.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


I hate going to public parks, especially when I am forced to ‘baby-sit’ cheriya kittunni. Not that I love small kittunni less, but I hate parks more (like Mark Antony once said). If there is something that I despise more, it is a barber shop. There is hair everywhere. The nauseating odor of cheap perming gel and burning hair coupled with vile vibrations of hair clippers make me insane. So when my wife wanted to have her hair cut yesterday I reluctantly agreed to oversee my son at the park.

As I was playing with my son, I noticed this lady seated on a stone bench staring at me. She smiled, and I smiled back. If I were not married, that would have been enough to keep my metabolism going for one whole week. I ignored the forbidden fruit and continued playing, but I could not help but notice the lady staring at me again and again. I tried not to heed to her sparkling steadfast eyes and her suggestive smiles. But she was in no mood to stop. She began speaking to me with her eyes, as if to insinuate a coded message, and lead my attention in her direction. Slowly her crazy eyed looks began to intimidate me. May be she was being nice. May be my antenna was picking up the wrong signals. I wasn’t sure. But it sure appeared as if she is opening her imaginary door and inviting me inside.

I cannot describe her minutely. She looked very much like an Indian lady, in her late 20s, in a sprawling velvety churidar. Her father could not have been anything but a superb engineer. She was structurally so impeccable! I am too ugly to be stared at in any romantic sort of way, so I thought there may be someone behind me who is the focus of her attention. I pretended playing and looked over my shoulder. But there was no one but me.

As I turned around, she stood up and began walking towards me with short but bubbly strides. As she came closer she resembled a trimmed down Neetu Kuruvilla on steroids. God! My mouth was dry already. I wanted to reach for Kittunni’s sippy-cup and drink a mouthful of water. Before I could move she invaded my private territory and said “Hi” . I just smiled, since my mouth was so freaking dry to utter a word.
“Do you come here every day?”
“No” I said “I took my son out since his mother is having a hair cut”
“Do you live nearby?”
She asked more with her eyes than with words.
“How old is your son”

I hope she is not a serial rapist. I hope she is not a psychopathic desperate housewife on a mission. I hope she is not a voodoo queen or one of my blog readers. Kittuni, blissfully unaware of the unfolding drama is running around, with a piece of broken plastic toy in his hand. He is ignorant of the fact that a strange women is torturing his dad, that his dad needs his help and protection.

I regained my composure and looked at her. She looked shy, dreamy, and languid, but had a ready smile. Before I could say anything she broke the silence.
“Malayali aaNu alley”
“I heard you talking to your son in malayalam. Where are you from?”
I said
“Ayyao thenney? nammaLum avidannu thanna. Neyyattingara. Wo...”

Monday, May 22, 2006


There was only one catch, and that was catch-22!

Catch-22 is a beautiful, beautiful book satirizing war. It is full of humor, insanity and outright absurdity. The story is set in Italy during World War II. Yossarian, the main character is a bomber who wants to escape war because of its inescapable danger. So does his friend and tent mate Orr. They device an easy way to ‘bunk’ – they pretend sick!

(My fellow Kazhaks can relate to this. Many a pretended sick reports, MI room visits, NAD reports)
Joseph Heller takes us through a range of emotions and stories, ranging from humor, insanity, pity, ridicule, hope, friendship, confusion, greed, gilt and the undeniable reality of war. The 450 page ‘saga’ is also stippled with hilarious characters, like Orr who constantly hopes to crash his plane and escape to Sweden, Colonel Cathcart a dejected colonel who volunteers his men for dangerous mission to become a general, Doctor Daneeka who resentfully avoids his duty being bitter that war took away from him a lucrative medical practice back home, Yossarian’s mischievous friend Dunbar who cultivates boredom to increase his life-span, Nately’s whore and her surly twelve-year-old kid sister who tries to imitate her.This novel will remain eternal so long as human beings wage war against each other.

Here is an excerpt:
The colonel dwelt in a vortex of specialists who were still specializing in trying to determine what was troubling him. They hurled lights in his eyes to see if he could see, rammed needles into nerves to hear if he could feel. There was a urologist for his urine, a lymphologist for his lymph, an endocrinologist for his endocrines, a psychologist for his psyche, a dermatologist for his derma; there was a pathologist for his pathos, a cystologist for his cysts, and a bald and pedantic cetologist from the zoology department at Harvard who had been shanghaied ruthlessly into the Medical Corps by a faulty anode in an I.B.M. machine and spent his sessions with the dying colonel trying to discuss Moby Dick with him.

The colonel had really been investigated. There was not an organ of his body that had not been drugged and derogated, dusted and dredged, fingered and photographed, removed, plundered and replaced. Neat, slender and erect, the woman touched him often as she sat by his bedside and was the epitome of stately sorrow each time she smiled. The colonel was tall, thin and stooped. When he rose to walk, he bent forward even more, making a deep cavity of his body, and placed his feet down very carefully, moving ahead by inches from the knees down. There were violet pools under his eyes. The woman spoke softly, softer even than the colonel coughed, and none of the men in the ward ever heard her voice.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

While Darfur is Burning

Last week there appeared a glimmer of hope, with encouraging news from Darfur. I was waiting to learn what followed it. Then, over the weekend media outlets were swamped with a series of significant, news worthy events that dwarfed any report from the godforsaken African villages. Jessica Simpson is madly in love with an unidentified 43 year old. Justin Timberlake is rumored to have skeletons in his closet. An American Idol wannabe was sent home prematurely for alleged skirmishes with Paula Abdul. Investigative journalists discovered that Paul McCartney was going through an expensive and ugly divorce. And to top it all, there were gallop poles after gallop poles on President Bush’s prime time address to the nation on illegal immigration. The dying civilians of Darfur appear to have been ‘put on the backburner’.

It is only a decade since the Rwandan genocide shamed the world; its bitter memories still haunting us. Twelve years later, history is repeating itself. Yet the world is playing fiddle while Darfur is burning. This lack of attention and intervention exposes the discriminating and stigmatizing attitude of the rich and powerful towards the poor and powerless. Everyday hundreds of innocent civilians are being killed. Government backed militia is on a killing spree, wiping out villages after villages by planned starvation, poisoning wells, torching huts, and kidnapping, raping and mutilating young girls - number of those affected are staggering. UN estimates that half a million has died so far. The situation continues with no end in sight.

United Nations and the developed world seem stoic and detached. They have their own problems to blame. There is the war in Iraq. Crazy dudes like Kim Jiao Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are making nuclear bombs. Millions of Illegal aliens are invading America. Israel is killing Palestinians and the courteous Palestinians are returning favor. India and Pakistan are playing cold war. Scientists and economists are worried about global warming and oil prices. Britney Spears seems to be having an identity crisis.

Although inundated with the abovementioned issues, United Nations officials are ‘working on Darfur’. African specialists are in the process of doing a cost-benefit analysis. UN linguists are researching if ‘Genocide’ is the right word to describe this madness. Kofi Annan is trimming his sparse yet stubborn mustache for the next media appearance. Media is busy courting Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. All these, while innocent civilians are being butchered like cattle everyday in Darfur.

Few years from now Kofi Annan will make a grandiloquent speech aptly titled ‘in retrospect’, uncontrollably dispensing his finest bosch and lomb tears. Hollywood will make a movie by name Hotel Darfur to be nominated for Oscars. They will sit around tables, sipping wine and nibbling on fruits and cake and chicken satay and crab dip watching images of burned villages and dead children. It is a shame for humanity that history is allowed to repeat itself again and again and again like an energizer bunny.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Burying an innocent child

Newspapers these days are sprinkled with gut wrenching stories and sad images. I have a low threshold for pain. So, I usually avoid such heart breaking news and close my eyes at haunting pictures. But I could not ignore this poignant image of a one month old baby, who was murdered by a group of men in Kannoor. These sand rats, vermin, animals of the lowest denominator beat a poor vagabond family and killed their little one month old. They took the life of this innocent child, to avenge his twelve year old sister’s refusal to entertain them.

Sorry for posting this picture here. I am a father and I feel just as helpless as this young mother and father in the picture. All they could do was to lay him on their cleanest mat, wrap him one last time in his mother’s sari, protect his tiny soul from the scorching heat of a cruel world around him, with a crippled umbrella. They sat by the road, picking morsels of sand, and cried. They held his tiny motionless body and begged the bystanders for a place to bury their son.

We will all forget this by next week. The murderers will go un-punished. There will be no police, no leader, no human gods, no social activist, no religious groups, no IAS officers, and no NGOs to spare a thought for this tiny baby. I am sure even his parents will get over their grief. This child just was a happy little angel like my son or your child. I am infuriated, deeply saddened and feel helpless that an innocent infant was denied his life in such a brutal and barbarous way.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Drug free zeros, Drug induced heros

Poor Barry Bonds! They have been shamelessly ‘walking’ him for the last few games now. The curmudgeons in the media are driving him into seclusion for his alleged drug use. I, like the San Francisco police, have been waiting impatiently to watch the bedlam unfold after he hit that home run to level Babe Ruth’s record. It is something like our Gavaskar’s 28th test century. Poor Bonds. Looks like they made him lost his mojo.

Why is drug a taboo? And why not make it legal? In my opinion, every sportsman, sportswomen and athlete, must be allowed to feast on an assortment of the finest performance enhancing drugs available. Let the best drug infused, knocked-out, bulge-eyed, watermelon testicled, hunk muscled superman win. After all, sports is an amusement and professional athletes are paid millions to entertain us. Fans, who pay insane amounts of money on tickets, deserve nothing but the very best. I don’t want to spent Rs.500 to watch Lady Ganguly bowled out on the very first ball, neither do I want to see her skirting around making 12 runs off 97 balls. I want Ganguly to perform like a firecracker. I want the babe to perform like a porn star on rocket fuel. If it takes performance-enhancing drugs to make that happen then so be it.

We are getting accustomed to mediocrity. We become euphoric and loose control when the princess of Calcutta score a four, or Mahendra Dhoni hit a sixer. Imagine the prospects of hitting the ball from Eden Gardens across the Howra Bridge out to the Bay of Bengal. Imagine Ben Jhonson’s clone finishing a 100 meter dash in 6 seconds. Imagine Sergee Bubka knocking down a news helicopter attempting to better his own previous record. Imagine Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson feasting on each other’s organs while exchanging punches for a whole day. Imagine Mohinder Amruthnath intimidating Sir. Bradman with seamers averaging 400 miles per hour. That is the power of drugs.

The benefits of steroids are clear like crystal meth. So why ban it ? Besides, however hard they enforce the ban, there are smart people who find ingenious ways to get around it. I don’t want South Africans to ‘have an edge’ and beat us in another one-day match. I don’t want our pool girl Karnam Malleswari to finish 3rd place to drug induced Chinese and Koreans. Let us level the playing field.

So, in the spirit of sportsmanship, I request governments across the world to make the magic powder legal. I want to see Ganguly build some muscle like Martina Navartilova and Mariam Johns. I want to see our baby grow some mustache and chest hair and intimidate the crap out of Inzamam Ul Haq. More importantly, as a fan, I want my moneys worth.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A day in the life of ...

Akaayil small kittunni, a.k.a my son Sriram, seems to be going through some sort of emotional crisis. Today was particularly bad. He woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Everything was wrong for him since. He did not want to use his regular tooth brush. Chutney was on the wrong side of the plate. He was served white idly, when he wanted purple ones. He did not like Iran’s defiant rhetoric.

I resisted my temptation to ‘handle’ him since I am not supposed to do so. I am told that spanking will only humiliate and hurt a child, and teaches him that physical intimidation is the real way to get what you want. I suppressed my anger and frustration and pretended to ignore him, resigning to witness the series of events that unfolded in front of me. He shredded my books, pulled down the window blinds, threw his toys at me, threw the remote control at the TV, spit on the carpet, pulled his mother’s hair, threatened to invade Iran – all while screaming at the top of his tiny lungs.

His mother and I remained calm and sober, like Gautam Budha after a bachelor’s party. His crying spell followed a well plotted sinuous curve. It peaked and declined, and peaked and declined again. At times it appeared as though he was processed by the evil spirit of Hugo Chavez. We waited for his ‘baadha’ to pass. And the chathan did leave eventually, after almost an hour.

When the smoke cleared, I looked at him with a poker face. He tried to smile and asked: “towel daddy..”, I played deaf. Then, as though I don’t understand English, he repeated his request in Malayalam “thorttu venam”, this time flashing more molars. Unable to attract any attention he wiped his tears in his shirt and said “I am done, I am done crying daddy”.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger is associated with red carpets and movie premiers, than with white color business conventions. I was assisting my journalist friend Krishna Kumar to cover the TiE conference, where I got a chance to listen to the Governor. I want to share with you a sound bite that is memorable and reveals the many facets of his personality. Here is what he said:

Austrians are generally not body builders. So when I wanted to be a body builder people laughed at me. But I did it. With my kind of body, a funny last name and a German accent everybody told me I can never be a movie star. But I did it. I was the highest paid actor in Hollywood. Being a foreigner and an action hero, no body thought I could be a Governor, but I did it

The lady who introduced the panel was a joke. Being a professional organization, TiE should have selected someone with enthusiasm, and more importantly someone who could pronounce the governor’s name correctly. The heavily made up, sari clad, ghostly aunty with feeble features was a turgid garbage.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Hamara Walmart

Today I was in Wal-Mart for paperclips. There were paperclips of every size, shape, brand, color, sex, religion and political affiliation. The variety overwhelmed me. For a brief moment my mind went back to my favorite stationary store in Trivandrum, Premier, where I use to visit religiously at least once every month. Although it was a closet sized ‘super store’, with fetid fragrance of a shop full of sweaty armpits, I felt special going to a store where the sales clerk recognized me and knew exactly what I wanted. With rumors afloat about Wal-Mart’s plan to setup shops in India, I wonder if shops like Premier would be a thing of the past.

It would be interesting to see how Wal-Mart’s entry into India will change our retail dynamics. There is already a brewing anti Wal-Mart campaign with flame throwers like Medha Patkar and Arunthathy Roy expected to join the band wagon soon. With scathing attack and overwhelmingly negative portrayal, media is also clearly not benevolent in its attitude toward the retail giant.

But, I am optimistic. Twenty years ago Hindusthan motors tricked Indians to believe that anything with four tires and a steering wheel is a car. Our state banks treated us like pesky little rodents. A new telephone connection required passing an IIT entrance examination, a rigorous SSB interview, thorough medical checkup, and the kindness and kinship of at least a peon at the department of telephones. This picture changed after India opened its market to foreign investors. Perhaps, Wal-Mart’s entry will set off a revolution in our retail sector as well.

Wal-Mart sells cheap, quotidian products in mind-boggling quantities, which evidently huge number of people are eager to buy. They sell everything; from cheap socks to designer Victoria secrets, from plastic buckets to Enfield rifles, Apple iPods to Microsoft Windows. This is very promising for Indian consumers; a market place with variety and quality. Wal-Mart also generates employment. (It employs 1.3 million people, more than 1% of American work force.) Most importantly, they will expose us to a new retail culture. This will inspire big boys in India, like Reliance, Tata and Communist Party of India, to start their own supermarket chains.

Propaganda that Wal-Mart threatens small shops is factious. Unlike in America, where Wal-Mart is common man’s super store, in India this will be the ‘Bloomingdales’ for the Santro driving upper middle class crowd, just like KFC, Mc Donnalds and Pizza hut. Regular jantha will still prefer local mom and pop shops.

So I am optimistic. When I do buy a Santro, I can go to my ‘local Wal-Mart’ to show off to my KSTRC riding neighbor. When my Santro breaks down, I can still go to my good old Premier and Potti annan will still recognize me and enquire if I want a Reynolds pen or an artist water color tube.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Madeleines, untainted by Flonase

Allergy is taking a toll on my sense of smell. I can only feel the awful odor of the nasal spray Flonase. My palette is tainted too, with an unpleasant taste of the medicine. Today it is particularly worse. Bored, frustrated and bound to my bed, I flipped through the worn out copy of Swann’s way, with quite a few yellow sticky notes and book marks. Like they say about music, some of these passages has a salutary effect. I feel better already ! Some consider Marcel Proust the greatest author who have ever lived. His writing is very simple and direct. It is magical. Here, taste for yourself:-

(From swann's way:)
My mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ’petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory–this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?

I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is losing its magic. It is plain that the object of my quest, the truth, lies not in the cup but in myself. The tea has called up in me, but does not itself understand, and can only repeat indefinitely with a gradual loss of strength, the same testimony; which I, too, cannot interpret, though I hope at least to be able to call upon the tea for it again and to find it there presently, intact and at my disposal, for my final enlightenment. I put down my cup and examine my own mind. It is for it to discover the truth. But how? What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the dark region through which it must go seeking, where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not so far exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What goes up

I began writing a piece on the sky rocketing real estate prices, especially in India. I was reflecting on how crazy the situation has become, and wondered if this 'bubble' is likely to burst. Two paragraphs into my reflections, I thought of viewing the whole trend a bit satirically. So I re-wrote my story, borrowed two actors, Akaayil Valya Kittunni Nair and his sidekick Chathans from the house of VKN, for dramatization. So here it goes:

Akaayil Valya Kuttuni Nair lay supine, in his low, coconut oil smothered easy chair, and thought about the rising land prices that are literally going through the roof. The prices are so high and ripe, that the fertile and frustrated big Kittunni, procreator of countless number of documented and undocumented children, and the owner of twice as many acres of land passed down to him by generations, dreamed about the possibility of selling all his property and moving to the islands of Hawaii.Cradling that dream, he thought about the prospects of joining the audacious breed of real estate tycoons and securing a spot in next years Fortune magazine. He hallucinated about playing golf with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, and dining with none other than her Excellency Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, president of the Philippines. For a moment he thought how inadequate and ugly his sidekick, Chathans, would be as a caddy. He became intoxicated with the thought of cranberry vodka and single malt whisky served on fine gray goose rocks. He rejoiced the comfort of a siesta in a hammock by the beach basked in warm Hawaiian sun. He made plans in his mind to issue a divorce notice to his obsessively irritating, traditionally build (to Kerala Automobiles, Pappanangodu, specification of 60-60-60), culturally uncouth-ed, bitter half and wished a live in arrangement with a blue eyed, blond haired, Berkley educated, Barbie doll look alike. He dreamed about owning a JetStream 41 and a Maybach 62. Both complete with a custom made signature murukkan chellam and vacuum operated thuppal receptacles made with the finest South African gold.

Reclining in those thoughts, the self proclaimed alpha male suddenly burst into a fit of eccentric laughter. The uncontrolled display of ecstasy made his larger than life man breasts wiggle. The easy chair creaked. Tharavadu reverberated. Seismographs at the institute of Geophysics in the University of Chicago registered a magnitude of 6.0. A sizable serving of the spittle infused beetle nut concoction flew up from his mouth, and landed right on his face. Chathans, his sidekick, who was at his master's feet all this time, later spoke to CNN's international correspondent Christian Amenpour about the incident.

Christian: "Chaathans, could you tell our viewers what happened"
Chatthappa: "Christian, from my vantage point it was hard to see. But I think 'what went up came down'".

PS: According to VKN, Akaayil Valiya Kittunni Nair once expressed his interest for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to Gen. Collin Powell.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Balamurali Krishna Concert

Yesterday was the much awaited kacheri by Dr.Balamurali Krishna. The scene outside the concert hall was enjoyably chaotic. Young ladies decked out in colorful costumes with sparkly jewelry to match. Even the pleasantly chubby, traditionally build, older women were seen replete with stunning silk saris. The scene was completely captivating to any testosterone overdosed, over-adrenalized male animal. There was a lady, in her mid 30s bathed in flowing silk and glittering gold that made me wonder if she was a maharani or at least a princess from India who just came straight from the SFO airport. For a few precious moments I conveniently pretended to be the old man Salim Ali.
Kacheri began an hour late. Dr.Balamurali Krishna entered the stage dressed like a King! (See the lousy picture I managed to take). He started with a keerthanam in Hamsadhwani. I felt blessed listening to his hauntingly beautiful renditions and his mellifluous voice that serenaded millions of music lovers around the world. The songs were genius and the music was happy and uplifting. I only wish he had sung more Thyagaraja, Deekhithar or Swathithurnal krithis than his own compositions.

On a scale of one to ten I would give him an eleven.

Post Scrip:
There is some thing about our flag. When an organizer unfurled the Indian tricolor and posted a banner adorned with “Vande Mataram", it gave me instant goose bumps.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Life has become a never ending rat race. Everyone is in a rush to buy the latest marvel of technology; the latest gadgets, fancy cars, and expensive homes. I struggle to understand the logic. Isn’t happiness about simple things in life? Happiness, at least to me, isn’t about gadgets or cars or houses or money. It is about feeling good, light, simple, happy and serene. It is not a rat race to one-up anyone.

Memories of childhood are stippled with simple things that made me happy. The simple joy of playing cricket till sunset, listening to my aunt reading aloud paico classics, watching Sanjay KD acting out mohanlal movies, playing tabala on plastic buckets at NCC camps, walking back from school with my brother along that tranquil creek sucking on rainbow striped cigarette candies we purchased from labba kakka’s murukkan kada. Happiness was in collecting monsoon drops that dripped off our thatch roof, summer vacations with achamma, playing seven tiles with friends, and eating thatha-chundan maambazham on hot summer afternoons.

Happiness was amma’s home made unni appam. And achamma’s ada pradhaman, rich with pure ghee and whole green cardamom. Oh! That taste.
Happiness was in the simple pleasure of wading the quiet creek by the paddy fields, with my brother. Fishing with dirty, oily, mildew laden bath towels. Knee deep, in the cool water, loose algae flowing past our bare legs, fish darting about as we disturbed their sanctuaries. Feeding the ones we caught and housed in horlicks jars. We fed them earth worms and crushed rice. The creek bottom was littered with shards and broken glasses. We cut our legs, and scrapped our knees. But the pleasure of fishing abated our pain. That was an adventure we enjoyed without Amma’s knowledge or consent. The secrecy of the adventure was more satisfying than the fun of fishing itself.

Pleasure was tromping through the coconut groves. Picking mulberries and thetti pazham. Watching little lazy silk worms nibbling tender mulberry leafs. Suckling honey from banana blossoms. Pelting stones at 8-acre musaliar’s mango trees. Sneaking out to Santhy’s home. Spinning tops made from tapioca seeds, and riding cycle tires days on end.

I wonder if my son will ever have such a childhood. I wonder if he will hear the soft sounds of the afternoon winds, the pleasure of picking guava, the art of fishing with a half torn bath towel, the thrill of playing hide and seek between hay stacks, the adventure of instigating strange cows, the beauty of pregnant creeks and green paddy fields drenched in monsoon rain, the sound of crickets and the sight of frog hunters with peevish petro-max lights. The delight of fresh warm ghee smothered unni appam. The silence and serenity of our small village.

Growing up, life was simple; we studied when we were told to. We played at every opportunity, and enjoyed most of it with boundless enthusiasm. Happiness was in simple things. I would give anything to have it back.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Where Misfortune Means a Fortune

Every time I walk into the local Borders bookstore, I am amazed to see dozens of neatly arranged books, in well decorated gold striped jackets delineate the entrance. I decided to take a quick roll call this weekend. There it was, primetime America’s who’s who. Colonel Karpinski, Medeleine halfbright( Albright), Edward Kennedy, Michael Savage, Thomas Friedman, Gen. Tommy Francs, Terri Schiavo. The list goes on.

As I do it every time, I flipped through some of those. The Guests of Ayatollah by Mark Bowden seemed compelling; the language and style was intoxicating. So was Thomas Friedman. Then, I moved on to Colonel Karpinski, and her account of the notorious Abu Gareb prison story. This woman was at the helm of the infamous scandal and here she is, profiting from the tragedy. Then, I read the back jacket of the Terri Schiavo book. I paused, and thought about the notion of a woman, having brutally killed her young children, gaining from that heinous act. And so are the big publishing houses.

That is America. You hear news about a man who accidentally shoots his friend while they both practiced shooting beer cans off each other’s head. Next month you are guaranteed three hard cover, gold striped, special edition books with an eye popping dust jacket and special extra thick glossy inlays packed with color photos and bonus material; one book by the guy who pulled the trigger, next by an eye witness and last, one written by the guy who got shot and died on the spot. (The dead man's book will invariably be the best seller). You can also see interviews with the authors on Larry King and Nancy (Dis)Grace. If one is incarcerated, the veteran anchors will beam live from the prison, on a special encore presentation of Larry Ling Live.

I must not ridicule people for profiting from tragedies. May be, it helps them ‘put things behind’ and to ‘move on’. May be, it helps the public to get a ‘new perspective’, a ‘first person account’, a ‘closer look’. What ever it is, I can only view it as a charade to milk from ones infamy or a tragedy.

Cartoon Quip:
Larry King to a woman who molested her 13 year old student: “How was the sex?”
Women: “It was wonderful; I have never had it better”

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Elections in Kerala

With barely a week left for the results to be announced, I am keeping my fingers tightly crossed. A landslide victory for the left coalition, LDF, is a given. The uncertainty is about the Chief Minister. Will it be:
a. VS Achuthanandan, the ebullient and charismatic leader of the masses.
b. Pinaray Vijayan, the unglamorous and sleepy half brother of Wen Jiabao
c. Paloli Muhammed Kutti, the feckless but wise looking communist veteran.

I think a single person being the chief minister is a stale and ineffective proposition. It is time we experiment some new ‘positions’. How about the unambiguously gay duo of VS and Pinaray both become chief ministers. To assuage the Malabari population, we could even have a threesome; milkman Muhammad Kutti can join the orgy and play a whip lashing dominatrix virago. Instead of the chief minister’s chair, we could consider having a large king sized comfort bed.

It might work. Vijayan’s “young” blood and VS’s reactionary venal sap may blend well, with a pinch of Palolian salt. Politics, for the common man, is after all alchemy. They don’t know if their political experimentation will yield glittering gold or just toxic fumes. Like the old alchemists, people are passionate about their experiment. Although they complain about politicians, they go wild and crazy on election day. They run to polling stations with out brushing their teeth, or feeding their kids, or even having their regular 50 ml of fine single malt arrack. Some of them even camp outside the booths the night before! The hardcore ones hang out at the poling stations much after the electoral officers have left, without food, or water but with a fervent piety that will eclipse the zealous devotion of vote seeking candidates themselves.

Personally I don’t have a predilection. VS is a bit too diehard and backward thinking. But he seems to care more. Apparently he has a clean image too, except for the allegations against his son. Pinary, on the other hand is touted as an extremely corrupt politician. He belongs to the class of Kunjali, Mani, Murali and Balakrishna Pillai. I frankly don’t know much about the third candidate, milk man Gandhi. So there you have it. I resign to my state of having my fingers crossed.

Note: I predict VS will be the CM, but Pinary and his men (who will make up most of the ministers) will run the show.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The house of green mangos

I spend most of my childhood in a military school. My earlier years in Sainik School were more eventful, than the later ones. It was boisterous and adventuresome, with most of us having accomplished a broken bone or a dislocated limb. Some of the more adventurous ones achieved more than that, thanks to their mischievousness and unadulterated penchant for the wilder side of life. Life at the dorm was highly entertaining and very unpredictable. Not a single day went by with out a fantastic event. Our school had plenty of mango trees, and the right to harvest mangos was sold off to individuals from outside the campus; this made it a forbidden fruit for us students. Nevertheless, the adventure of plucking mangos from school property was our favorite pastime.

Mr. P Kandaswami was our house master at that time. (I was his delivery boy, who brought and returned magazines for his wife from another teacher’s wife) . How he managed around 60 of us is a wonder. He was less than thrilled at our antics, specially the adventures we perfected, fueled by our appetite for fresh mangos during summer time. So he put our prefect, Santhosh KM, to keep an eye on the mango bandits. We were smarter. We gave a share of our harvest to the prefect in return for his silence. But occasionally he caught some of us and made us run rounds around the dorm, to convince the housemaster.
I don’t have a clear recollection of who the usual suspects were. Shankar, Girish, Sajeev, Sreevalsan,Anil ...But I still have the sour of green mangos on my tongue. One day, Mr. Kandaswami caught a few of us red handed – or rather green handed. The mangos were confiscated, and we were made to run rounds. Though robbed, exhausted and ashamed, we wondered what he did with those mangos, certain that he never threw those away. That evening he called me to his home to do the regular delivery rounds. I caught a glimpse of our hard earned harvest on his dining table!

I must say, though, that we had a wonderful time, filled with laughter, excitement and fun. Our teachers did a great job looking after us, for the most part, we turned into fairly respectable adults.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Old man and the horse

Disaster and blessing are born of each other and their transformation is hard to predict. Blessings can become disasters, which can then transform into blessings. The change is never ending, and its mystery is forever unrevealing.
Here is a nice story that illustrate it nicely.
Source: "Lessons in Human Life" in "Huai Nan Zi," compiled by Liu An (179 - 122 B.C.)

There once was an old man who lived at the northern border of the state. He was skilled at raising horses. One day he discovered that his horse had disappeared into the neighboring state of Hu. Neighbors felt sorry for him, but the old man said, "Who knows if this will turn into a blessing?"
A few months later, the missing horse suddenly returned, bringing back a fine horse with it. Neighbors came to congratulate the old man on his good luck. But the old man said, "Who knows if this will turn into a disaster?"
His son loved riding the fine horse, and one day he fell off the horse, broke his legs and crippled himself. Neighbors came to comfort the old man, who replied, "Who knows if this will turn into a blessing?"
A year later, the neighboring state of Hu invaded, and all the young and strong men were drafted to fight the war — nine in ten ended up being killed. The son, being crippled, stayed home and his life was spared.


This is an intriguing comment a friend made.
He said: “God gave us fine food. He gave us taste buds to savor it. God is also waiting to give diabetes and heart diseases for those who eat it. God is a real sadist”

Illegal Immigration

It is evident that America needs foreign workers. It is also evident that there is a copious supply of this scarce ‘commodity’ in neighboring Mexico and other South American countries. This, in my mind is a propitious scenario. But apparently the issue of immigrant workers has become the most troubling issue in America today.

An array of factors facilitated and contributed towards this worsening situation.
- There has been a mass exodus of illegal immigrants to the US over the last 15 years. US government pretended to be short-sighted and ignored the situation.
- Employers in US enthusiastically offered employment to illegal immigrants
- Attitude of the US media, barring a few exceptions, was panegyric. The press even invented euphemisms like “Undocumented workers” - which masked reality.
- Elected officials were soft on illegal immigration. Afterall illegal immigrants of today are tomorrow’s voters

Countries around the world have witnessed mass immigration of foreign laborers. Countries like United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are a Mecca for skilled and unskilled workers from Africa and South Asia. With strict enforcement of immigration laws, these countries have made good use of the abundant supply of man power. This symbiosis enriched both the host countries and the guest workers. Sadly, with no enforcement and no apparent plans, the simmering issue of illegal immigration has reached a point of boiling over, in America. If countries like UAE can control their borders and enforce the laws of their land, it is beyond time that US government pull up its sleeve and get to work.