The thing about Sundays…

Elections are over. IPL has become predictable. It is too hot for a brunch. And all your worries about the Indian economy have been magically wiped out on May 16th. Now, what will you do with your Sundays? Aren’t you worried? You should be.

How about throwing in a haircut? What’s that? I struck a chord there? Of course. You can thank me later.

The thing about Sundays is that it can be the best and the worst day of the week for a hair cut. Best because you appreciate the rhythm of the scissors more on a Sunday. Your mind is open to it. On any other day, it almost sounds like channel music on an elevator – you hear it, but are really not listening to it (think Kenny G).

Why is it bad? Well, because it invariably ends with a mild head massage – one, which can vary from a prolonged, pleasurable event (if the barber in question believes you are a big tipper) to a mild dusting of the hair (if he is not sold), which is more like a faked orgasm or non-alcoholic beer. Now, if you got the former, you are gonna feel reasonably sleepy and if you live in a city of ‘chronically sensitive’ drivers like Delhi, you do not really want to venture walking by a road on a Sunday morning (*cough*hangovermornings*cough*).

But really, none of these are as important to the Sunday haircut ritual as your regular barber itself. Think of it like going to your most frequented watering hole in the city:

“Welcome sir” says the beaming bartender. He then vacates your ‘favourite’ table and pauses expectantly.

“The usual” you say in the most indifferent manner possible.

“Of course” says the bartender as he turns his attention to your date, who is by now expectedly impressed (significantly increasing the prospects of the evening).

Cut to the Hair Salon.

“Welcome” says the owner of the shop and calls out “Asif, Karthik Sir aaye huey hain”.

“Hello Sir” says a beaming Asif, as he walks you inside, completely indifferent to the 3 other people who have been waiting before you.

As you settle down on the chair and as Asif is done placing the ‘reverse super hero cape’ on you, he politely enquires “regular same sir ji?”.

Your most minimalistic smile is usually enough, so you can sit back, relax and enjoy the music.

So you can imagine my shock the other day, when I entered the place and the owner welcomed me and yelled “Naushad!”. He might have as well pulled out a Walther PPK .8 mm and pointed it at towards my left ventricle. My reaction would have been largely similar. Reading my mind, he said ‘Asif is on leave, sir’. The revolver was still pointed at me. So he added: ‘Naushad is excellent sir. Very good’.

When it comes to choosing between the opportunity to cut a queue and the prospect of an unknown barber, the human mind (of the Delhi variety) usually decides in favour of the former. You may think it is not a wise choice. But when you have spent multiple Sunday mornings of your growing up years waiting for ‘Uncles’ of varying sizes to bleach their skin, dye exactly 5 strands of hair, mow nasal lawns or clear dense ear tunnels, I am sure you will catch my drift.

So here I am, on the guillotine seat and Naushad has just caped me down, with something that has a L’oreal sign where there should have been a bat. And he is waiting expectantly for my orders. I mumble something about how it should be short overall and even shorter around the sides and the back of the head.

“Machine? Number 3?” he asked. And all my worst fears came true. Which self-respecting barber uses a machine? That is like Rembrandt using a stencil.

For years, I have scoured through hundreds of election manifestos of different political parties, looking for a specific combination of words – “We will standardize machine blade measurements across barber shops in this country”. No, along with Dalit rights, and sustainable energy, this issue continues to be largely ignored by the political class. Let me explain why this matters – if you got a #3 cut in ‘Ambuli Saloon’ in Chennai and if you got the same in “Hair we ‘R’” (real name) in Malviya Nagar, Delhi, the length of your hair vary between Malinga’s and Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s. In other words, I have no fucking idea what Naushad really means when he says ‘number 3’.

“Scissor se?” I say, with the same look that Rahul Gandhi had when Arnab asked him about the 1984 riots. And so it began. The symphony of metallic clicks suddenly felt like tremors of a 7.6 on the richter scale – with every sound, I had to check if there was a structural damage. After 7 minutes (which in earth quake time is about 47.2 years), Naushad moved away briefly and I surveyed the epicenter: for a moment, the whole head ‘seemed’ a bit….out of shape. It seemed like the backside of a Maruti Ritz or the façade of Antilla or the home page of IRCTC – you get the drift.

That sinking feeling that I will never look the same again crept it (I hear you say “dei, it is only 4 weeks max”, but rationale was not exactly in the top 5 priorities at that moment). I was framing an angry sentence in Hindi in my mind (a process that usually takes a minute when emotions are running high), when suddenly, an alternative thought revealed itself – “Dude. On fourth thoughts, it doesn’t look that bad. Wait…you might even like this, actually”. And then it happened. Like the Indian market embracing Hyundai Santro, like an average Rahman song growing on you, like how our senses learn to survive an Arnab News Hour, like how we started appreciating Nargis Fakhri for things besides acting, I found contentment in my new look.

Meanwhile, Naushad was back with his knife. Apparently he wasn’t done yet…

the unbearable cruelness of radio…

Wine was born in the middle east, exactly in the same countries where it is banned today. There was a time when people mixed wine to purify sea water and make it potable…

The rebel group in Syria asks:”why this outrage over chemical weapons? we have been dying for years and the ‘method’ they use to kill us is what really bothers the outside world now?”

Steven Soderbergh never did a screen test of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon for ‘Behind the Candelabra’. It could also be his last film ever, as he wants to take a sabbatical to ‘tear down everything he knows about film making’ and start as a ‘primitive’ again.

Jim Morrison did not write ‘light my fire’. Robby Krieger did and he composed its first version as well. But it is the tweaked Ray Manzarek version that eventually made it to our ears. Among his many inspirations for that piano riff was Johann Strauss.

Joseph Kennedy – the patriarch of the Kennedy family outlived nine of his children and also went through the mental illness of his daughter Rosemary, whose lobotomy he ordered when she was 23.

Pandit Ravi Shankar hated the Woodstock. He calls it an experience that he had to endure. He felt that the people in the audience were like ‘water buffaloes’.

Sarah Polley, who won multiple awards for her film ‘Stories we tell’, found out during the filming of this documentary that her father was not her biological father. The film was about the life of her mother, in the words of her family and friends who knew her.

For more than half a decade now, I have started a majority of my week days listening to anecdotes like these, in first person, thanks to a certain Terry Gross – the legendary host and executive producer of ‘Fresh air’, on NPR.

It is a radio experience like no other: the art of conversation so evolved that the audience becomes the third person at the table – whether they are driving on a San Francisco Interstate (where I first heard Terry on air) or passing the Sultanpur metro station. If you are one who likes the pursuit of information and experiences, then you will love the Terry experience – like how an entire generation before us did!

The art of interviewing is a delicate craft. Far beyond the worlds of Arnab Goswami or Charlie Rose or Simi Garewal or Tim Sebastian or even David Frost, there exists a realm where the interviewer has no ego. No temptation to judge. There is openness and wit, admiration and panache. Indulgence and Honesty, even. That is Terry’s realm. And you should take a trip there. It is a delightful place and I go there every morning, almost. And over the years, it sort of feels like the right thing to do while driving.

And then there are days when I forget to update the podcast or the phone runs out of juice. Well there is always the local Delhi FM, I assure myself. And with great indulgence and patience, I drift on from 91.1 to 105.7, patiently and intently waiting for that one sound. One sound that will hook me and make me take my finger off the scanner…..dinkachaka, realty ad, Ranbir’s last film’s song, prank call by RJ, realty ad, dinkachaka, ranbir’s new film’s song, prank call by ‘guest’ RJ….wait….what is this? wow….94.3 has changed programming to entirely English music? That is refreshing….at least a change from about 10 other stations playing the same genre….lets listen in….’Good morning! This is Kris, your host and coming up, Bryan Adams with Summer of 69…are you excited???’…..

On those days me and my car decide in favour of silence. Just us and the road. You should try it some time…

You ain’t got ‘Class’!

I took my first flight ever in 2001. One of the soft benefits of choosing a niche career in Internet security used to be the paid-for trips to “cryptography conclaves” across the country – the real life equivalent of a ‘Big Bang Theory episode’. I was making one such sojourn from Chennai to Bangalore. 300 Kilometers for a crow. 45 minutes for Boeing – not exactly ‘Bon voyage’ types, but hey it was my first time ever in an airplane! I was genuinely excited.

They had me at Fresh Lime.

It was a Jet Airways flight and I had a lot of thoughts about the journey before I boarded. But a welcome drink wasnt one of them. For someone whose travels to Bangalore hitherto have been either in a ‘state transport corporation’ bus or a sleeper coach in Brindavan Express, I wasnt used to in-flight ‘anything’. So when the radiant smile asked me “orange, fresh lime or butter milk?”, I made a random choice at the time – “fresh lime, thank you”. Little did I know that it was a ritual I would end up following for years to come. It was a beverage befitting a great airline – you could almost hear it say “sit back, relax and enjoy me”. I would never ever know how their orange juice and butter milk tasted.

A perfect start to a ten year affair. I was smitten by most things about Jet Airways from that day – the yellow on white, the radiant smile, the classy magazine and even their Pongal-Vadai. It is not easy for an airline to find ‘True Love’, in our times. If you are a frequent traveler, that means about 7-8 ‘magical dates’ in a month. And thats not easy, what with the taxes, fog, terrorism, share holders and governments – ask Cinderella! But over the last 11 years, Jet remained my first choice airline, since that first date – business, personal, domestic or international. The reason was simple. All airlines screw up and Jet would as well. However, there was always a minimum service level beneath which a 9W experience would never go. Which is why it quickly became one of the brands I would trust Blindly – like Bose, Royal Enfield, Hamam, Southwest Airlines, Samsonite and Alacrity.

And I got used to the love. Many of times that I would have an argument at the check-in, an upgrade would wait for me at the gate. Every time a Mumbai flight got delayed, the Clipper lounge would make me feel at home. Hell, I even have the airport manager’s cell phone number and she would always pick up the phone and make an effort to resolve. I was a content customer. Something drastic needed to happen to shake my loyalty.

And happen it did. A few months back, I was buying tickets for my sister and four-year old nephew from Chennai to Delhi and back. As any self-respecting ‘mama’ would, I wanted them to travel business class, using my upgrade vouchers. And I planned meticulously for this (people who know me would find that completely out of character, but that’s for another day). I called Jet Privilege roughly 8 weeks before the proposed date. Strangely, they told me that all ‘voucher quotas’ were filled up for ALL days. I was baffled – 56 days, 112 flights and not two seats in business? Why were so many people traveling from Chennai to Delhi? It wasn’t even 2G season yet. Still, I gave JA the benefit of doubt and stayed on the ‘waiting list’.

A few weeks went by and I got a call from JP, claiming that they have blocked a few dates and that I can buy the tickets now. I was delighted. I booked the tickets in 5 minutes flat, beaming. Only to be told later in the day that I apparently booked a wrong class. The conversation went something like this (not verbatim):

Me: What class? I booked the ticket on Yatra. They don’t tell me ‘class’.
Jet: That blows, man. Hey, you can always book it on our site. We got ‘class’
Me: How much would it cost me.
Jet: Rs. XXX
Me: What the hell! But that’s only Rs. 200 below the actual cost of business class. Isnt this supposed to be ‘free upgrade’?
Jet: Shit happens, dude.
Me: but I am a JP Gold member and all that shebang.
Jet: That’s pretty cool, man. But it is what it is.

I was baffled. The romance was developing cracks. My family traveled ‘on time’ by Indigo and my wallet remained a tad heavier. But I did not give up. I tried many times over the next few months to exhaust my pile of vouchers – 5 days before, ten days before, one month before, 45 minutes before – but it was always the same set of responses:

“your class isn’t A,#,$,%,^,&,Y. Not even #,$,%,^,&,* or (”.

“Quota over”. “Full flight”

What I have learnt through all this are two things. One – there probably is no system behind the usage of upgrade vouchers at JA. IF there is one, it definitely seems as complex as the algorithm for building a large hadron collider out of confetti. Nobody at JA clearly has a clue. Two – The purpose of the JP program is not customer delight. It is more of ‘how can we create a perception of delight, without actually having to add value. Any value.

I started seeing others. A few dates with Indigo and even got Kingfisher’s number. And just like that, we broke up. (FYI Jet, it dint help that you changed the Fresh lime to LMN). After 11 years.

In passing, I wanted to share something that happened 5 days back. It was 12:30 AM in the night and I was supposed to fly to Mumbai early next morning on Air India. But the meeting had just got cancelled. So I called Air India (I know, right? Who the hell is going to pick up the phone past mid night in a state run airline?). Not surprisingly, the call got cut. I was about to go to bed, when the phone rang: “Hello Sir, I guess you were trying to reach us? Sorry the call got cut. This is Air India. How can I help you?”.

Airlines calls back? At 12:40 AM? What the fuck? What else have I been missing?

On Time Arrival…

It sure is a Dying Art.

Since time immemorial, one of the toughest questions ever posed to mankind has been “What is the best time to reach the airport for a flight?”

Millions of homosapiens including scholars, mothers, politicians, the common woman and the uncommon man, have tried different strategies over the last century (which is kinda time immemorial), without any credible answer. But on this fine June morning, circa 2011 AD, I might have cried ‘Eureka’ – Not while in a bathtub, not while running naked from there, but while taking a piss in this unreasonably cramped Jet Airways 9W 822 toilet.

The answer my dear friends, has nothing to do with flights. In fact, it hardly has anything to do with travelling. ‘Be the last person to get in, without dissing anybody’ is IT and I request you to hold your applause for a moment.

Let me first explain.

Imagine that your friend invited you and another person over for coffee. Or better still, beer. Now, if your friend is anything like my friends, she is likely to reach the place 15 minutes early (its not about the beer. My friends are just made that way). And if You are anything like me, you are probably going to reach there ten minutes late. Of course this would have been caused by bad traffic (which, contrary to popular imagination can happen on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes.) or an asteroid missing you narrowly. And when you walk in, questions will be raised about your punctuality, repeat offending, birth, etc. I don’t blame them. But the real, logical truth of the matter is that your friend was 5 minutes more unpunctual than you. And you my beloved, are the only person in that room who arrived closest to the scheduled time.

Relax your brows.

Think about it honestly. When beer is being served at 3:00 PM, you should arrive as close to 3:00 PM as possible. By arriving 15 minutes early, you are taking the host for granted, you are running the risk of catching him unprepared, you are patronizing warmer beer, you are being non-optimal in the usage of your lifetime, you are being a global warmer, but most importantly, you are just being an ass. Now, how that is better than arriving at 3:10 PM, is beyond me. In fact, the guy arriving at 3:10 should reserve the right to criticize, make fun and question the birth of anybody who came more than 10 minutes early. I am sure your high school math teacher will agree with me.

By the same logic, the most punctual guy on a flight is the one to board on the dot, without dissing anybody. Not the guy in 16C, who boarded a full 37 minutes before take off. Loser. Now this is by no means an easy ask. Your loved ones at home are gonna experience some high BP. The cab guy who you asked to break neck, will curse your unborn children. You might end up havinga man-to-man chat with the guy at the check-in counter, who would claim that ‘Delhi is closed’, as though it was a fucking sandwich box. He will eventually let you check-in.The restless souls who have been in the security queue for hours will open their jaws in a synchronized manner when they see you ‘officially’ cut the queue, escorted by an airline staff. But then my friend, like Aamir Khan will tell you, you cannot aim for success, if you don’t have the stomach for excellence.

Like I said, it is a Dying Art. One that our friends and family, should help us revive.

PS: Please appreciate presence of the Salvador Dali picture on this post even though it doesnt have any bloody connection to the topic.

110 minutes

I love early morning flights. The alarm, hot shower, the sleepy good bye hug, the Meru ride to the airport, empty sodium vapour-lit roads, the bright smile of the check-in lady, the lazy yawn of the x-ray guy, the fresh brew of coffee at the Jet Airways lounge and the phone buzzing constantly with emails from countries that are about to sleep and those who have just gotten to work – pleasant reminders that all is well with my world.

The coffee had just hit its spot when the public address system announced the departure of my flight. Gate 12. This means I have about eleven minutes before they closed the gate. A five minute walk to the gate means I have another six for the ‘breakfast’. I begin to work my plate. Two of life’s greatest mysteries:
1. How the chefs in Jet lounges across the country, manage to make the most wonderful coconut chutneys, but just cannot make a single soft idli.

2. Why are airline fruit bowls always made of papayas and pineapples and the sourest of grapes? Is there a papaya lobby?

Pondering these, I grab 2 water bottles, put one in my bag, open the other and walk towards gate 12, which is comfortably placed right next to the escalator.

There is a spring in my step because I know that after today’s meeting in Mumbai, I am going on a week’s vacation for Deepavali. This also means I have till end of the day to wrap up all ‘work-related work’. So, the 2 and a half hours in the flight becomes very critical. Factoring in 40 minutes for take off and landing, I should have 110 minutes of quality time with my laptop. Even if I finish 50% of my to-do list, I will have a peaceful, non-pre-occupied vacation. That is the reason I am not carrying a book on this trip. I pat myself on the back for a wise decision and appreciate the relative lightness of my knapsack.

At the aerobridge, I do the customary ‘Indian aerobridge twist’ – a dance movement designed to show the guard your boarding pass and also the rubber stamp seal on the tag on your knapsack, in one fluid motion – crafted after years of practice. Remember Mallika Sherawat in ‘Dasavatharam’, bending down to show her rack and then twisting to jut her butt in your face? Now replace Mallika with me and a knapsack and you get the drift…

A couple of cabin-crew pleasantries later, I settle down into my usual seat. Now, there is a myth that there are only two classes in a domestic flight – business and (as Tharoor would put it) cattle class. That is a myth. There is a third ‘Trishanku’ class and that is the ‘rear exit row reclining aisles’ – quite a mouthful, but totally worth it! I am a man who is not particularly popular for doing things ahead of time, but over the years, I have come to appreciate planning for ‘Trishanku’ – because there are only two seats in this class (14C and 14D, if you are flying a 737) and you need to web check-in at least a day and a half before if you want to beat the other Trishanku-seekers.

What follows this is one of the main reasons I prefer to fly Jet or even fly, for that matter – The fresh lime juice. When it comes to my all time favourite liquids in the world, the Jet Airways fresh lime ranks in the top 5 – along with Kingfisher, the Big banyan Cabernet Sauvignon, the Kabaleeshwarar temple ‘thulasi theertham’ and water.

After savouring the last drop of it shamelessly, I get ready for the take off – which usually means a quick nap. As much as I appreciate my safety, I just cannot listen to another safety briefing again in life – even if it means that I will never again witness an attractive young woman, seductively put on a yellow mask, or even if this means that someday I will end up with a life jacket that I wouldn’t know how to blow into, in some faraway ocean that is rapidly freezing my balls.

Cruising altitude, seat belt signs are off and I jump to open my bag and pull the laptop out. And that is when it hit me.

There is a sign on the bottom-right part of my screen which tells me the amount of battery left in my laptop. Over the years, this particular piece of information has become more valuable to my life than stuff like blood pressure, love, world peace or sex. And presently, it is showing 3% and that means I have just about 10 minutes left – evidently, I have forgotten to put the switch on, after plugging the laptop for charging last night.

Ladies & Gentlemen, at this point, I need to clarify what this means to me. Not that I would not be able to finish my backlog before my vacation begins. Not that I will be missing a crucial deadline with a client. More than any of these, I am now left with 110 minutes and nothing to do. Not a fuckin thing! I pull out the magazine from the seat jacket, only to find that it is the same issue with the cover story on Sikkim tourism that I have read so many times, that I can recite it as a poem. I did not carry the iTouch because it is ‘unsocial’ on a family vacation. No book. No newspaper as this is a Jet Konnect flight. No nap, as unfortunately I had a good night’s sleep. The man to my left started snoring even before I boarded and so no scope for conversation.

My worst nightmare.

I try to close my eyes and think of something useful to do. The bladder isnt full and so a trip to the rest room will be pointless. Besides, they have just pulled the food trolley out and I wouldnt wanna wait behind it like a jackass. I briefly consider reading the safety instruction booklet and decide against it. It is funny how at 32, I am prepared for most things in life but not ‘Nothing’. In fact, it is quite scary. What the fuck will I do if I am ever 85, on a wheel chair, presumably blind and without a liver and in all likelihood, stuck with an unattractive mallu nurse? How will I kill time? I make a mental note to buy a pistol and a bullet on my 50th Birthday.

Back to present. The customary co-pilot announcement! (Message to co-pilots: Dear retards, let me tell you a couple of things. Stop waking people up in the middle of their naps to tell them your cruising altitude. We dont give a rat’s ass if you are flying at 30K feet or at 3 feet. We gave you loads of cash, so you can worry about this shit inside the cockpit and get me to my destination. And whats with the ‘outside temperature’ crap? Look around you. Do any of us look like we are about to open the door and take a walk in the clouds? Why the fuck should I care if the temperature outside is -25 degrees? )

Back at 14C, I am still awake and bewildered. I rearrange the contents of the seat jacket, dust off a spot on my trousers, uncross my legs and look at my watch again, hopefully. No luck – 70 minutes to go. Now I am seriously considering switching on my phone to play poker. My thoughts drift – wife, car, boss, obama, business idea, sachin, college hottie, deepavali…and magically, I relax. The to-do list fades into oblivion, the laptop gets stowed away, the legs gets stretched and I suddenly realize that I have not done this in a long time. I have not ‘just sat down’ and drifted along with my thoughts, without an agenda or a care, in a long long time. And boy it feels good. In fact, liberating! I indulge for a while and look at my watch again, reluctantly. No luck – it is landing time…

WTF moments of this week

Read this interesting piece the other day about the academy awards jury. This is scary. You know which part? That a bunch of wheelchaired seniles warmed up to Brokeback Mountain, not long ago! Ah, proves my theory that we always underestimate old people.
Totally enjoyed another interrupted YouTube coverage of an IPL match. This time, slightly more because of the CSK win. However almost fell off my chair the next morning when I read Dada’s comments. I have a question for him: Please explain to me the concept of ‘death bowling’ in a T20 match. With only 20 overs, isnt it more like a ‘Death Match’? Whats next? calling the last ball of the inning a ‘genocide ball’ and that of the match ‘the armageddon’?
And yes, how can you do a WTF segment without Mayawati! Read about the garland-gate yesterday. Cant help thinking it is probably up there among the funniest and the most ironic moments in Indian politics, especially coming after this press release. Ofcourse, the saddest tragedy of it all is that we can never be a caste-free nation, with people like her around. And most dont realize that.
Anyway, while on WTF, did anybody see that really annoying Hero Honda CBZ ad? The one where the guy says ‘Thinking is such a waste of time’? If that doesnt go off air in the next few days, I think India might lose interest in motorcycles altogether. and more people like me would puke during supper. PIL anyone?

one liners…

Its one of those Sunday mornings when you are generally looking around for something to sink your teeth in. This thing on TV might have just done it for me, I think 😉
So this HP commercial goes “Hi I am Sid and I love music”. That just cracks me up. I mean…someone is actually getting paid to come up with a line like “I love music”?
“Hi, nice to meet you. So what do you do for fun?”
“I love Music!”
“Sure, mate. How about that ‘breathing’ thing? Thats also pretty cool, no?”
While on annoying one-liners, there is the Ms. Alcohol Saint. You run into these characters in most parties.
“Hi, nice to meet you. Can I get you a drink?”
“oh no, thanks. I get high on life”
Feisty! Note she doesn’t just say “I dont drink, thanks”. No way! – that would be self-deprecating. And worse, would just answer the question. You gotta be more elaborate than that. You gotta have a STORY behind your teetotaling.
“Hi, nice to meet you. Can I get you a drink?”
“oh no, thanks. I get high on life”
“Thats just so sad, sweetie. Out here, we get high on life AND alcohol. na nana na na!”
Another oft-spotted-party-species is Mr. DadINeverHad. These guys usually are the hosts.
“Alrite, chief. I think we will head home now. Thanks for having us. Good night”
“Oh it is so late. Please call and let me know you guys reached OK”.
Now folks, I have had quite a few late nights in my life and met many Mr. DadINeverHads. And given the limited capabilities of my memory, I almost always forget to make ‘that’ call. I just find it strange that none of ’em have ever called me back, or come out looking for me or filed a police complaint, or even complained of losing sleep that night.
“Alrite, chief. I think we will head home now. Thanks for having us. Good night”
“Oh it is so late. Please call and let me know you guys reached OK”
“Sure. And you call me when Rakhi Sawant cracks mensa”.