Sunday, October 21, 2007

Salaam ,Istanbul

The Sophia Haggia is a remarkable monument. The Blue Mosque awe inspiring. And Istanbul ? Normal. Clean, wide boulevards. Cafes on promenades. Bookshops around every corner. 3 out of 4 are under the age of 30.Everyone smokes. All look as if they are either dressed to go to college (they probably are) or dressed to party (more likely). Its just about lunchtime.The city is buzzing. The air is crisp, and is soon filled with the call to the faithful from the mosques that dot the city's skyline. It is Ramadan. I too walk into (The Blue) Mosque. And watch the people as they come in. Men in cargos and gelled hair. Women in tees,streaked blonde,brunette... They bow, they pray, they leave. Once outside, they quickly fill up the bars, cafes and cars. Snatches of Akon, Linkin Park, 50 Cents mixed with excited chatter and ringing mobiles as they whiz away. Turkey is secular. Wearing religious head dress in Government offices is prohibited. As is in schools and colleges.Incidentally, nine out of ten follow Islam. As I said, Istanbul is normal. Why should it surprise you ?

"Everything Must Go"

A few weeks ago , finding a 2 hour gap between meetings , my colleague and I decide to spend it wisely . We research Oxford Street's newest retail trends.

Though am not much of a clothes person, I enjoyed watching my colleague check out the latest that M/S Hugo & Ilk had disgorged. And between his visits to the changing room, I avoided the shop assistants' disdainful look (methinks 5-year old ColorPlus Chinos take away from me) leafing through the stores glossies.

One glossy -"Suits for Hire" (Yes, and I was getting heat from Mr Snooty Tight Pants for wearing my own Chinos) was intriguing. Having made a note to myself " So,this is how HRH's Subjects get natty ", I FFWD to Intriguing part.

One of the priciest morning suits on hire was the Nehru jacket.I asked Mr STP nonchalantly if anyone indeed did hire these Nehru jackets. Dismissing my query with a haughty "Yes " he added with practised ease,"And no, its not Indians. But by gentlemen with better taste"(than Mr ColorPlus Chinos, presumably).

Hmmm. After a lifetime of trying to foist(!) Marxist ideals Che ends up as coffee mug merchandise in wannabe Starbucks. And The Architect(!) of Socialist India as a jacket for hire in Oxford Street. A free world leads to a Free Market, I suppose. Or is it the other way around ?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Privileged Leave

Among the many things the Brits left behind is a litany of curious terms and phrases. The ones to top my RankleList - "Yours Obediently" (yup, look up Wren & Martin), "Gripe Water" and ..."Privileged Leave". I suppose most of their origins could be worked out. What's been a little puzzling for me has been the last one. Try as I might, no leads. Till last Sunday.

The watchman knocks, and informs me, "Mangala( our maid) ne khabar diya.. aaj woh nahi aayegi. Parson se zaroor aayegi." Noticing me turn sullen he added, helpfully, "Unki beti guzar gayi, kal raat".

And true enough Mangala was at work Wednesday morning, 8 am (half hour late). No melodrama. No tears. Just rang the bell, walked-in and quietly resumed her routine.

Mangala is what you would call fashionably, a Single Working Mom.
4 kids. Alcoholic/missing/abusive/all-of-the-above husband. Father - cancer, at her home. A year ago, her 8 year old (and brightest) daughter is also diagnosed with cancer. For a whole year she has taken her for chemo. She couldn't afford chemo for her father and daughter. She, stoically, chose daughter. Never once did she discuss her plight or hint at an "advance". Never once did she skip work for this reason. Until it was all over. And until she took 3 days off from work.

I think I now know what Privileged Leave means. Privileged to give her Leave.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

"..and the seat next to me is empty."

Almost all noble souls who have attained Nirvana have listed years of rigor and penance as Syllabus for its attainment . I have had it easy. It came and slapped me on my face and went on its way.

There was this Lakme ad that ran on TV a few years ago. Its set in a plane. Our Hero is sitting right at the back ( in Economy , didn't telecheck earlier for front seat, loser ). And he sees a woman enter the plane . And can't help notice how beautiful she is , and as she walks closer he is hoping she'll sit next to him in the empty seat... yadda yadda yadda.( To cut a long story s, she does).

Cut to me . A decade later. Sitting in the Subway.Riding upto Penn Station from SoHo ,no less. Lady WASP gets in carrying groceries . All seats are taken save the couple next to me. She rides 10 minutes. All the way to Penn . And doesn't take the empty seat.
My friend smirks when I recount later. "Its not you", he says. "Its your beard". Being brown and bearded in NY today is tough. How would I know? I am just a paapan who grew up in Madras.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Terminal Sweetness

Hearing a commotion at the check-in counter, Salman Khan bounds up and offers help for this Dubai bound duo in distress at the Mumbai airport. (What’s the world coming to – Pete Doherty stops by to help an accident victim. Gold Coast Hospital wants to give the good doc his job back. And now this?) Back to the Distressed Duo. Their source of distress – inability to pay excess baggage. And so the ever generous Mr. Khan offers to have the ‘excess’ luggage tagged onto his name as he was traveling light. Duo delighted. Staff happy. Salman a hero. Muaah,muaah all around. Now I have a question – did the airline lady ask Salman "Have you packed the bags yourself ,Sir? Has anyone given you anything to carry ?"Half my kingdom for the answer.

PS: Of course the ‘excess’ luggage presumably gets priority cleared in Dubai (VIP luggage (sic!) after all). Duo then collects luggage. And are on their way. Interesting to know what was in them suitcases !

To err is human .To erase ,er..divine

Having been brought up in old school advertising, there was a shibboleth that was drilled into every one of us who had strayed into the agency business. It went something like this – a Doctor's mistake is buried six feet below the ground, a lawyer's hangs six feet above and , hold your breath , an AE’s is there in the morning paper for the whole world to laugh at .

Yup. And am referring to that four-letter abbrev which sent shivers down every self respecting AE/AD/Copywriter/CD of yore. The TYPO. So what’s the big deal? You may well ask. Today correct spelling is perhaps as antiquated a concept as Kores Whitening fluid. (Sniff, sniff, miss it so much).

Anyway to cut a long story s, there’s one in the Mango blog. And was pointed out politely by a well wisher. (He is now officially entitled to one more drink!) . Since he was kind enough to do it offline, I am tempted to thank him offline. When pointing it out, he also (gently, mind you) pointed out that we bloggers (that’s right, we) don’t quietly use the aforementioned Kores product, but actually use a pen, and scratch it out or overwrite on it. (Now I know why Kores went kaput). So, without further ado, I correct the error of my ways. Thank you, Mr. Anant Ranagaswami. ( But spelt Rangaswami !)You are the wind beneath this pig’s wings.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

In Edison, will there always be Light ?

Edison , New Jersey. Yes ,it is true. You can pick up a handful of soil here and (gleefully) sing "mere desh ki dharti".Its Sunday , August 12. And the main street is closed for India Day Parade. Banners and posters herald 60 glorious years of Independence, urge patriotic ( L1 's , B 1's married to H1B's also welcome ) citizens to turn up and participate in the parade and make the community proud.And since there is no free lunch in these parts , a tryst with Urmila Matondkar and Manish Malhotra is promised as a token of appreciation at the ensuing Carnival. (The Henderson's will dance and sing as Mr Kite flies through the ring , don't be late ").

The Parade was quite entertaining. Lots of Floats. And music . And the usual costume drama.

Along came the kicker . A Float titled "Shivji ka Rath " . Chants. Clangs. Clamour et al.And riding on the float was the erstwhile resident of Kailash . Looking distinctly uncomfortable (and perhaps regretting having traded his Carbon-neutral abode for the Garden State) was what looked like a blue-painted young lad. The neo-Liberal in me was angry . This is not India . Especially not 60-glorious-year-Independent-India ( Even a school kid knows, the India we we want to showcase is Carter Road Coffee Day ). "How will this look if NYT or Time cover this?", I muttered under my breath.

I stop for some beer.

And make my way to the Carnival . Which is being held in a nice open yard. At the corner of the yard , under the shade of an Oak tree is a statue . Of St Cecilia. A plaque on the statue politely notifies us that the yard belongs to the Roman Catholic Church , Edison. And offers ( in addition to salvation ), free use of its yard. Parked next to the statue is The Float. Leaning against the float ,under the shade of the Oak tree ,next to the statue, is a blue-painted young lad. Gurgling a ( Large) Coke.

Hang in there ,Cecilia .

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Apples and Oranges..and Mangoes for good measure

Last weekend, I am at the Fresh Produce section in a supermarket - Somerset, NJ - helping my friend get his groceries. I notice heaps of golden Alphonso's ( read as Alphonsos). Happily cushioned in confetti . Stacked next to these mangoes are these bright red and yellow cartons emblazoned "Indian Nectar" with pictures of Mangoes looking like something a 6-year old would draw. ( Yup, that's our branding for you). But that's not the point. They were being retailed at USD 6/- per dozen . And Granny Smith apples from Washington being sold at USD 10 per dozen !! So the Indian mangoes grown in the bowels of Maharashtra ,trucked and air freighted 8000 miles across the globe sells lower than apples grown in NJ's backyard ( OK, figuratively speaking) . My wise friend tells me that's market forces at play . Well, I return ( to Bombay), wiser .

We go shopping to Spencer's in Bandra. ( I know what you're thinking. Between visits to grocers , I do go manage to go to office ). And Washington Apples are being sold at Rs 80/Kg. And Shimla apples - Rs 120 /kg ! More market forces at play !

Bananas , anyone ?

Friday, August 3, 2007

Sorry Amar.Sorry Akbar.Anthony is the Chosen One

Every now and then there is the e mail that does the rounds...x % of Microsoft employees are Indians, y % of Intel scientists are Indians , Z % of IBM are Indians, w % of NASA scientists are Indians.....blah blah. New age jingoism ,I suppose. While the numbers look decidedly suspicious its effect on the products they develop is iffy. Sure Microsoft spells it Chennai ( not Madras) , Mumbai ( oh ,you get the drift ,don't you ?) ,Kolkota . Hmmmm...not surprised if there are allegedly so many Indians out there. Now Nokia T9 . That's another story. It 'spells'John. Paul.George.Mary( And yes, Anthony). So the dictionary is preloaded with these names. But try spelling Ramesh, Suresh,Ganesh,Ali,Ahmed,Yusuf.... And you need to start using your ingenuity to spell them.Hello, Nokia. 60% + share in India. And one would have thought spelling the names of customers right is Direct Marketing 101 ! By the way neither does Blogger /Google spellcheck recognize any of the 'Asian' names. No Indians there or wot ?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

It's the music, stupid

Over the weekend the Aquaguard service engineer came over to renew the AMC. He inspected the Aquaguard, cluck-clucked a bit on opening the device. And made some comments on the state of the water supply. According to him the Municipal Corporation should clean their pipes more often . ( More often ? Dude, after the Brits built it 200 years ago ,no one has even given it a looksee. And besides what will you clean the water pipes with ? Water ? Aquaguard water ,I suppose . Nice .) Now he continues to fiddle around with the device and pronounces that the musical ring tone chip needs to be replaced as its gone kaput.

We've had the Aquaguard for about 15 years ,I think. Most of our friends ,relatives, office pantries ...all have this contraption. A friend of mine sold these as a part-time job while still in college .And that was 20 years ago. The point I am making is that in all these years I have not come across anyone who has used the music button .

That button ,when pressed gently, belts out a tune. Is it a famous tune ? Beethoven ? If it is , its a pretty watered down version :) . The tune is at best a few notches lower in irritation quotient than the "Attention-Please-This -Car-is-Backing-Out" that was so popular among the Puppies' Marutis not so long ago .

What is the music there for ?
It doesn't turn itself on/off when the water overflows .
It doesn't go off when the AMC is due .
It doesn't chirrup when the water supply is back.
Ok, it lets out a dual-chirrup every time the power goes on and off. So I know when the power is back. Thank You, Aqua.
But still ,why ?

I await the eureka moment.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Kursi ki peti baandh lijiye...

In the good old days , there was only one domestic airline. Indian Airlines . And naturally everything they did ( and still do) followed Government diktats. Right down to the in-flight magazine being Hindi-English, the dog-eared-wrinkly-laminated- safety- leaflet being Hindi-English and ,needless to say ,the in-flight announcements being Hindi-English. Fair enough ( stupid, but fair).
A couple of months ago I flew from Coimbatore to Trivandrum. By Air Deccan. The aircraft was virtually full. And the buzz - clearly from many excited first time travellers - was hard to ignore. I smiled. It was one thing to read all those articles about the airline revolution in the Press . And another to actually experience it. Rows of eager faces peering through the windows. Delightful clamour of various dialects of Tamil and Malayalam and the odd broken English. Till it was shattered by the air stewards announcement. "Namaskar .Air Deccan aapka swagat karta hai ..." . Needless to say the opening line and what followed ( ironically the safety announcements)was completely lost on the passengers.
I realized on subsequent flights -Jet , Kingfisher, Sahara - in AP - also do only Hindi-English announcements . And I suspect the same holds true in the rest of India as well ( Aizawl-Kohima ,for example. At least the folks over there understand English. So what are they cribbing about ! )
Now why would all these savvy airline marketers do such a thing ? Indifference ? Unlikely.
Is it a guideline from Civil Aviation ?
What use are safety announcements in a language no one understands ?
Methinks ATC communicates to pilots in Hindi first and then in English ! Now I know why some of the Russian pilots flying with the private airlines landed on the wrong airfields !
Enough . Time for some dahi-chawal .