Dec 31, 2002

And goodbye to the longest six months of my life...!
I've been continually asked what the best moment of the Mastermind experience was, to which I would always say "None in particular". But the best moment just happened: I got a call from R.K.Laxman this morning telling me he watched the show!
I'll permit myself one "whoppee" for this :)

Dec 27, 2002

" "Hello. We're looking for someone who can make a fool of himself. Do you think you would be interested?" At which point the mysterious chemicals that bubble in my brain, having interpreted it as a good thing, something that would be fun to do, something that had to be done for social approval. relayed the message to the vocal chords: go forth and concur. And now it's time to go forth into the spotlight and proceed to complete the promise.I shall make a fool of myself, as advertised! But no martyr's badge for you, you volunteered..."
The not-so-secret canon of B. Wisenheimer
I have to learn to like all kinds of people more! One of the biggest problems is not being able to do that consistently. "And yes, don't get into something without assuring yourself who else will be in that activity" & "Go solo in creation,my boy! Freedom beckons. Else learn to get along." I forgot the lesson and shall pay for it.

Dec 25, 2002

"I know it's a random arrangement of muscles, skin, eyes, facial tissue (me no medical schoolboy, disregard the factual errors), nose, ears, curiously eddying points, clefts, arrangement of stuff made of keratin, melanin chromatics and other such stuff, but some of the faces are so interesting! Not necessarily stunning, but interesting! Not driving me mad, but distracting attention atleast for more than an instant. Worth the second glance, making me smile to myself. A look around at the refreshments table for those that do it, the moment of satisfaction, of the knowledge that beauty can be hidden, personal and in small enough packets to intrigue."
- The not-so-secret canon of B. Wisenheimer
Almost forgot: The semi final goes on air tomorrow on BBC at 10.00 pm with "repitt" (aah! woh pyaare din Workshop aur Fitting ke! COEPians will go into paroxysms of nostalgia) telecast on Sunday at dus, subah aur shyam. I enjoyed this round out of all the 3 best, mostly because my fellow contestants were such fine people to know. We got rather friendly and we were actually doing something that would approximate to a haka (within Mastermind decorum of course) just before the shoot. I wouldn't have minded losing to any one of them, they were that nice. So here's a toast to Meenakshi Ramesh of Mumbai, J. Krishnamurthi of Hyderabad and colleague Amit Garde of Pune (was representing Bangalore on MMI).
This definitely does not meet the Niranjan-Rule of blogworthiness, but it's a sorrow off my chest:
I'm so disappointed we didn't make the top two of the collage contest (PSPL's having a cultural week with a lot of different activities). This was the first time I'd done collage and I liked our effort. But let me be unfair and say that our shot must've gone over their heads. There was so much symbolism and arrangement. Damn!
Funnily, there has been a lot of "first time I've taken part in" in the last six months: turncoat debate, Antakshari (yep, never been there before), all with a good degree of success. So "law of averages" or "unprecedented luck" or "beginner's luck": one of you has got to take the blame...
How much I cry! Shame... Unsatisfied ingrate...
Where's the masala?
Ajit is an old COEP friend of mine. Almost all of my college-mates have very little interest in my blogging judging by their patronage of this blog (weep, weep) despite my many entreaties. So when Ajit seemed to have some free time (he hardly has any usually), it came as a surprise to me that he chose to check my blog out. Atleast that's what he told me. And what he further told me was interesting: that he was looking for something to start flaming on (he being an old warrior on the arson-friendly RMIM wastelands), but was disappointed by the lack of anything controversial worth his time. Some more background is that Ajit, Nikhil & I were project partners in our final year. We spent a lot of time (being rather of argumentative bents of mind with some very strident opinions in certain domains) arguing (at high decibel levels) about many points: the caste system, Tendulkar (i mean Vijay) & Nana Phadnavis, Lata Mangeshkar, Anuradha Paudwal, Amitabh & KBC are the ones that come to mind. (We did get the project done and still can stand the sight of each other, so we didn't come out it too bruised!) Interestingly, only two of us would spar, the third would somehow have a neutral view on that topic or simply refrain in the interest of refereeing. It was a most interesting phase. So I can understand Ajit's comment.
Which brings me to an aspect that I've tried to analyse: have I gone soft? Am I no longer defending my choices? Or are my choices too status quoist? Over the last few years, I've consciously done more "listen-to-the-other-side" empathy: did that affect me to the point where I'm only good enough to moderate, not to throw a punch? Or have I simply shrugged my shoulders and quit the controver-seat? Maybe that's what explains the lack of visitors :) Does that mean an Outlook-like makeover with exposés each day? Or let me take the snob-about-town approach: "you see, there aren't topics that *I* can be bothered about".
Ajit: NikhiI and I usually agree on a lot of things these days and I don't like to bring in the combative questions to the party, Maybe I will concoct an imaginary one for your benefit. Till then, it's back to spewing fire at RMIM for you...
The horror, the horror
I have no other words to describe these words, but as "haunting". For some reason, they seem very moving, maybe because they can be applied to so many occurences and experiences. If not a full-fledged horror, atleast several minor ones. In fact, the film Apocalypse Now somehow affects me indescribably. I'll confess I haven't really been able to comprehend it in its entirety, but somehow I feel drawn to watching the shadows of Brando's enormous appearance, the hunter visage of Sheen rising through the swirling smoke, the sacrificial buffalo, the claustrophobic and poisonous surroundings that can only come in a tropical jungle, the orange plumes in a collage of their own. It seems to have a mystical appeal I cannot explain. I still haven't got around to reading the original Conrad in Heart of Darkness. Maybe I just don't have the intellectual capacity to take it all in, chew it up and digest it. But it's worth the taste. And what is there in the Redux version remains to be seen.
Simply taken as a set of frames of scenes, it still appeals to me. I find it to be one of those films that just sock you with the power of the medium. Add to this heady mix one of the few Western music groups that have instantly appealed to me (ask anyone in the BC quizdom what a dud I am on the subject): The Doors. When the strains of This is the end appears in the background, it adds further dimension (Here's where the lack of any (semi-)formal training in the language of cinema hinders one: I find it difficult to use the correct expression of feeling) to the film. Well, it lost to Kramer vs. Kramer in the Oscar race, but no Hindi film-copier can really lift Apocalypse Now unlike the victor (Akele Hum Akele Tum), for these films have to arise out of something that has been felt and has affected the maker to be of any worth, one feels. When you watch it,it's an experience: maybe you don't get it, but that doesn't distract from the beauty of it. So an appropriate end to this post: The beauty. The beauty.

Dec 23, 2002

I think I better cash in on my 15 minutes: link here to a news article on this year's MasterMind contest (Thanks Gopal for the link!).
YACCS is experiencing some trouble. Pardon the side-effects of the commenting system

Dec 19, 2002

Lazy blogging:
I've heard of pyschological techniques like free association where you simply hold pen to paper and write the words that come into your head. There are a host of variants in that line of thought (I've seen one in an Agatha Christie novel too), all aiming to uncover the dark secrets of the subconscious.
I just found it to be an interesting excuse for a blog post, I've got all these things to say but they're not all crystallized yet. Also, random terms, thoughts and phrases swirl as the jetsam-flotsam of my mind. So here goes an attempt at a random swipe of a spoon in that chop-suey which yielded:
Blankness, writer's block, marriages, upper berths, colds, pulmonary is the lung word, lane regulators, matricide, memento, instant messenging, solitude, loneliness, sterling silver, excuses in success, Stephen Fleming, juvenile diabetes, betrayal, confusion, Hindu Rashtra, invasion, parties, psychological demons, tamil serials, sore losers, ignorance & indifference, stoicism, workability, the Ultimate answer, no feedback here, too much feedback there, new scooters, bugging relatives, Google searches, Mysore pak, family gossip, corpulence, yellow & orange, blatherskite wisenheimer, rain affection, code words, shortcut to my connection, pretty faces, convention-breaking, 10 o'clock shows, reunions, happy Saturday afternoons, atrophied muscles, organized religion, richard attenborough, prudence cowley, dubashi, film appreciation, mise-en-scene, turncoat debate, damn gentle reminders, breathing exercises, recalcitrant nieces & unconcerned nephews...
Uff! Enough for the day!

Dec 18, 2002

My visit to Madras was the more significant of my two visits: both in terms of time spent and in the mental department. And several items seemed to excite the now ever-sensitive blog-antennae.

M's the word
In the whole name-mangling that would've excited your avid C++ compiler that happened to some of our major cities in the late 90s, Madras became Chennai. I've never adjusted to the new names of Mumbai & Madras: that's the personal preference. But I'm not completely able to draw a parallel between these two of my foster-cities, for I find a great number of native Mumbaikars or Maharashtrians that did refer to Bombay by the un-Anglicised version even before the change. So in that respect, it was a more ambivalent change to make. Whereas, though Madras was always Chennai in the DD news bulletins when I was living there, to the common tongue, it remained Madras, the opening word in a childish joke that wedded Calcutta after it to produce 3 not-so-polite words. And the point is: it still is Madras for the folks there and can't claim to have been adopted by too many. And the lack of an Amman Sena organization to espouse this nomenclatural cause there means there is not much energy wasted on a non-issue. I have seen non-Madras people easily slipping the C-word into their tongues, but I haven't seen the Chennai-karan taking to be anything else than a Madrasi.

Triply-cane, anybody?
Triply, because three things seemed glaringly, and pleasantly, different on this trip: the water, the autos and the sweat. The first by its presence, the last by its absence and the middle by its willingness to adopt common sense.
Live in Madras for a while and you'll understand why 2 atoms of Hydrogen and 1 of Oxygen can provide a reason for strife, for fasting and can sustain governments. Madras must be the world's largest consumer of plastic buckets, all in iridiscent colours: all to provide the foulmouthed ladies with a colourful excuse to battle in the queue for the waterpump. The salt water may provide keen sociological insights into the bitterness of the local lingo. But this time around, a strange deluge of rain, as if all the water denied to the city in the last decade was let loose in one go, poured forth a new set of problems, much more pleasant in comparison. The sobering note in all this is that the mun. corp. don't think this is enough to keep the city from lapsing into dehydration once again, more needs to be done.

The autos in Madras are legendary for their curmudgeonity, you need to be a Rocky of the ghettoes to battle them. It all used to centre around the pottu kudunga (give more over) business model : they ask liberally after reaching a destination. Their meters probably only serve a lesson in geography: most of them are made in the peths of Pune. But the introduction of competitors in call-taxis that have meters that actually run (and in digital mode, which automatically makes them seem impressive) means that the auto-drivers are willing to meet you halfway. It would seem familiar to fellow-watchers of MTV's One Tight Slap promos: it is as if someone waved a giant paw across the collective windshields of the bristly auto-men.

The biggest surprise was the complete un-sweatiness of the weather. I've always thought it a cruel joke by Nature that people of the city produced such copious quantities of salt-water when surrounded by even more massive and unusable quantities in various degrees. I'm talking particularly about the sweat that used to pour off even in one's most inactive positions. Perhaps there is a well-to-do meteorological explanation for the current blissful state, but I was too scared to ask, lest I disturb some fragile balance in an act of Heisenbergian measurement. Everyone's probably wanting to enjoy it while it lasts. The only time I can remember that I sweated in the inert state was in the departing train stationed on the 3rd platform at Central. Just a warning to check the euphoria, probably.

All over, finally. No more topics to choose and no more train-timetables to scour for the most convenient timings. No more chunks of leave to ponder over and no dress combinations to prepare to defend. No ties, no suits, no demeaning of books by attempts to memorise their contents. Relief!
Many of you out there know the results of Mastermind India 2002. Some of you don't. Why not keep it that way, so that atleast you can watch it without the analytical dissection that seems to accompany perusals of anything whose outcome is known.
More MMI reflections later maybe?
Back and in search of a rest...

Dec 5, 2002

This blog may be silent for the next 2 weeks: a result of a couple of trips I'm taking southwards. Interestingly, in the last six months I've travelled (or am about to) to about 6 different cities, much more than I might've done in the 3-4 years before that. It can pour when you just think it's a drizzle.
Anyway, the new kids on the block should make for entertaining reading: Niranjan & Harish have entered the building. And the ever-dependable George & Gaurav will always have a lot to say. Maybe even Rahul & Samrat may translate their ever-ready tongues to html.
The odd line may come, but I'm expecting a read-only phase for some time now.
And him too
And they keep coming thick and fast: Harish steams in with his own new blog

Dec 3, 2002

Alert! Niranjan
Divine presence to be felt in blogsphere... More coming up...

Dec 1, 2002

And worth mentioning in a blog:
Movie: Kuruthi Punal, Kamalahassan's remake of Govind Nihalani's Drohkaal featuring some reliable actors attempting quasi-realistic portrayals of policework. The underrated Nasser (can't understand why he hasn't won major awards) is match for Kamal, who usually makes it a point to cast Nasser in his movies. A very riveting and unexpected climax.

Song: O Bhanwré from the Ram Gopal Varma super "D(a)ud" is sung by Asha Bhonsle (who had become Urmila Matondkar's voice courtesy the same pair of RGV & ARR) and what I consider the most unlikely combination I can think of: The great K.J. Yesudas singing for Sanjay Dutt. Very nice interludes with a variety of instruments featured. But the song picturization is another example of manic-movie-madness: with Urmila at the nadir of her baggage-lost-no-clothes-left phase and Sanjay Dutt violently shrugging one shoulder in a possible attempt to dislodge a roach somewhere in his sleeveless shirt!

Book: Stephen Hawking's Black Holes and Baby Universes and other essays is next on the reading list, another find in the bargain-bazaar.

Oh! Is that Pune's Own Laxman?
The Pune Times has this irritating byline to the legendary "You Said It": "By Pune's Own Laxman". It is in keeping with their general tone of writing which largely consists of appropriation, appeasement and advertisement of a whole gamut of people. For example, if some flutterby celebrity was to reveal her baby-powder was once bought in a Pune store, it would probably suffice for the PTOI to claim her one of Pune's. And fall all over themselves, when such flavours-of-the-week passed by.
But PTOI-bashing can wait, as I humbly wish to attend to Gaurav's request to tell-all about the RKL visit last week to PSPL which had made deliciousl fare, considering I had earlier in the month successfully mugged a lot about RKL and recalled many in Ajmer.
Before that, a history lesson: A story I wish to record here and probably will give to people who want to know "why RKL?". It's not really about him being a fellow Iyer or part-Punekar, which are incidental coincidences. So, the fade-in begins and we ...

Cut to self in Second Year of engg. engaged in wheedling (and ghostwriting) articles for the college mag (more of a "college rag" these days, did I start the slide?) Abhiyanta. The customary interview for the English section was afoot and a tapping of my uncle's resources resulted in a set of phone numbers being obtained from freelance Film Journo Deepa Gahlot, she being well-known to my uncle's family. This included RKL's number and a couple of calls resulted in the great man granting us a quick mulakaat at his TOI office. But alas, I was unable to go for it and could only supply some research material. The interview turned out to be mostly stuff that we couldn't directly use, for he had digressed and called a few leading politicians some uncomplimentary names. But he had granted us blanket approval to dig into his autobiography to fill the pages. I could atleast transcribe the tape and add the rest from The Tunnel of Time. But the missed opportunity rankled. <end_flashback_in_sepia_tone>

But the gods had a sense of humour. A year later and thankfully I had made it to T.E.! It turned out that RKL would be one of the chief guests at the college's social gathering and I was witness to RKL's trademark speech, with the barbs at the politicians and anecdotes. When the invitation arose to ask him questions, I reacted with unprecedented decisiveness and was on stage asking him questions. A handshake ensued too and a week later, I had a copy of my photo with the master cartoonist. <end_flashback_in_eastman_colour>

<And in 2002 A.D>
When the process began to choose a topic for my semi, it just struck me that I knew quite a bit about this man and it might be fun to do this topic. It had a happy ending. But I didn't know there would be an appropriate post-script around the corner. I mentioned this curious fact to the big-wigs at work, but I was cautious, since I'm not supposed to give too many details about the as-yet untelecasted semi in public.The saab-log at work thought it would be appropriate that I present the traditional memento to him (a silver Ganesha, BTW, something that would have pleased the Ganpati-loving cartoonist). RKL seemed a bit surprised when I materialized from behind the stage to do so, probably he was expecting the even more traditional girl-in-sari to do the honours. But Anand made the announcement about the reasons why as I walked down and RKL seemed suitably interested. Amit Garde suggested that even RKL would find it a teeny-bit flattering, something I didn't quite find out. So, Gaurav, there was no Peri Pauna namaskarams and I hardly exchanged a word with one of my subjects (I shouldn't say this myself, but that's a fun-pun!). I plan to send him a postcard asking him to watch the show on the 26th, though.
There remained two unanswered questions:
Was he getting bored of being asked to draw caricatures each time he was invited to speak? and the more important one: When was he born? (I found 2 different years of birth from 2 equally reliable sources, and was dreading this question, which never came in MMI). I refrained from asking this in the Q&A that had followed his speech: asking this would have seemed incredibly trivial, but it is the singlemost important fact I want to know!
His speech was on expected lines and I had heard most of the things before, so I was too familiar to be dazzled. He was a bit more nice than I have experienced earlier, though he did say he didn't like any of the other Indian cartoonists. I was most interested by one point: his cartoons do not go for editorial sanction at the TOI, "they", to paraphrase him, "read it in the next day's paper"!
Whatever he's like, very few people can claim to be at the top of their career for so long and with such widespread and unchallenged success.

If ever anyone should write an official biography of Rasipuram Krishnaswami Laxman, I think I should be the among the ones considered. Said in true Laxman-like immodesty!

The pice vice
We had cause to spend a little money last week. Perhaps the money plant was flowering.

The first involved further expense on the MMI account, which as one ex-participant warned one would probably end up losing money on. The reasoning is rather simple, though one is reimbursed for travel expenses, the books and clothes expenses do mean entries on the debit side. Since no one really gets any prize money, one can write it off financially. This last point often shocks, astounds and surprises (depending on how much TV they've watched and how little quizzing they've done) many people I know. Can't blame their KBC-ed minds. My mother told me of this one incident in which a guest was shown my MMI momento (every participant gets one) and eagerly wanted to know what/how much I got as prizes. This lady seemed most unimpressed at the lack of such reward, what kind of a TV quiz offers no money? Must be some low-budgeted B-grade workable quiz filled with KBC-rejects (I'm being unfair to that lady, I'm sure she didn't think these things). My quizzing life is littered with successes at contests that have an overall budget of Rs. 100 and managing to fail at quizzes where even the guy in 83rd place gets a Ferrari. I have a durable excuse: the good quizzes never have any good prizes and vice versa. But that's a thumb rule with some degree of success, I can only cite the "ESPN-Star School Sports quiz" as a decent example against that.
Anyway, digressing back t o the topic, the object of the MMI-intended purchase was to sew a suit for me. If any purchase was likely to yield less value-for-money, it would be this. Not because the material would be bad or the tailoring would be debatable (both of which were amply taken care of by a discerning father), but because the intended mannequin, viz. me can't think of any occasion beyond the MMI final where I would wear it. I wanted to think in the direction of some Indian-wear for this "momentous occasion" (and I'm laughing here) but the dictates of a long-term possibility tilted the scales to the suit. It will probably be kept handsome company by the mothballs after its début, so be it. Probably it won't mind serving as the scapegoat too.

The other, more massive, expense was a general upliftment of the home PC. It now seemingly runs faster, at the behest of the 1.7 GHz CPU (If I was Tim "The Toolman" Taylor, I would grunt in approval) and the generosity of the 128 MB R.A.M (note the stops in the earlier acronym - prevents an ugly nomenclatural confusion with self) and some 40-odd GB of hard disk. A more swanky cabinet does for its innards what the afore-mentioned suit would be expected to perform. But an upgrade means reinstalls, wallpaper re-instatements, font foraging and general tinkering with the up-settings. A work in progress to achieve the old familiarity, but alas, a piece of it will probably never come back.
Inaugurated the sounds with the RDB playlist and some very familiar songs play a comforting tune. And how could those butcher-remixers cut up a song as beautiful as "Yeh Vaada Raha"?

"You were right, it is golden"
PSPL has got a big building, one of three on the same road. This building called Bhageerath (the third in a series of interestingly named places, after Kapilavastu & Panini) boasts of a pretty nifty auditorium with gadgets befitting a tech. company, and more importantly, has decent acoustics too. But when the builders were dishing out the acoustic capabilities, they probably stole from the badminton court to feed the audi. Not to be ungrateful, but it is rather deafening in there. I play my badminton at the WIE complex and haven't used the company facilities too much, it being heavily patronised as one would expect. But when I do, I get the feeling someone, somewhere, somehow goofed and the court has become a collection of hill-station-echo-points, more what a colleague would call, "broad echo surfaces". The reverberations make one feel like Chuck Yeager was breaking the sound barrier in a while loop and one was caught right below it. All this has the effect of making one completely value the worth of silence. If the Sicilians had turned up demanding the imposition of omerta, they would receive my wholesome approval and aye-ballot. Christie, in her spoof of Thornley Colton the Blind Problemist in Partners in Crime, referred to the Keyboard of Silence. Tap away...
Couldn't refuse the offer
Mario Puzo's epic "The Godfather" finally found its way to my reading list and left an immutable effect on my vocabulary. Words like pezzonovante, caporegime, Moustachio Pete and Consigliere among others made a forceful entry.
While on the subject, it is so hard to believe that some of the books I'm reading from the Tommy & Tuppence series are set during the same period as "The Godfather", around the War years. While the former takes a roseate, cavalier adventure spirit and hardly gets its hands dirty, the latter comes from the other end of the realism scale, observing that crime and depravity have always existed, often underscored by lines of scarlet. No better reflection of the two authors' respective backgrounds: Christie from a staunch English household with dogs, buns and butlers for atmosphere, while Puzo roasted in New York's Hell's Kitchen and the inevitable futility of it all.