Monday, February 23, 2009

Happiness for sale

A story from a few days ago. My cousin and her family had come over for the holidays and my snow white Maltese had just given birth to beautiful puppies and my nieces were very happy to welcome them into our family. But our parents said that they would not allow any more dogs in our home and with a heavy heart, we decided to give them away.

As we had bought our Maltese at a pet store, I only felt it fair to sell the puppies instead of giving them away for free. Also, I felt that this way I can ensure that the puppies go to a place where they'll be valued, where they would be cared for. So I started making arrangements for the sale.

I painted a nice sign board advertising my puppies and my kid-niece tried painting one of them onto it. I was nailing the board to a post in my garden when I felt a slight tug at my pants. I thought perhaps one of the puppies had managed to wiggle past the crack in their kennel door and turned to pick it up and take it back inside. Only to find a small boy with big eyes and a pleading smile looking up at me.

"Uncle," he said, "I want to have one of your puppies. (a longish) Please!!"

"Well bachu," I told him, "I am sorry but I am not giving away the puppies for free. If you want a puppy, you'll have to buy one!"

This took away a part of the smile. He dug into his pockets, apparently searching for corners hitherto unexplored, expecting some cash to appear there miraculously. After a good couple of minutes of scouring, he extracted some coins and held them out to me, "I have 7 rupees with me right now. Is that good enough?"

Although I personally would have preferred receiving a much bigger multiple of that amount, I did not want to break his little heart so I agreed. His smile returned, a small curve of his lips at first, then blossoming into a huge grin when I called out my dog and her puppies so that the boy could select his pet. He let out a squeal of joy when the four little fur-balls scampered up to him and started playing at his feet. His eyes danced with delight and it seemed he was having a tough time making up his mind on selecting one of them.

Just then, a fifth fur-ball appeared at the door of the kennel, and peeped out with its little bright eyes. It gave a shrill yelp and hobbled down to where its other brothers and sisters were playing. It was smaller than the others and had a slight limp due to which it couldn't walk well. Still it did the best it could and tried catching up with the rest.

"I want that one!" said the little boy pointing to the new entrant.

"But my dear, it is not like the other puppies," I told him. "Beautiful and cute it is no doubt, but he may not grow up to become a strong dog that can run and play with you like the others here," I said pointing to the other four who were now busy with some game of their own.

The boy ran to the small pup to pick it up. It was then that I noticed that he had a deformed left leg, and wasn't able to walk properly. Limping back to me snuggling the pup in his hands, he said, "As you can see uncle, I cannot run very well either. And when my friend here grows up, I'll be there for him so that he knows that it's not bad to be different from others. And at times when I feel bad about myself, he'll be there to teach me the same lesson. Thank you!" saying this he handed me the seven rupees and began limping away.

As I watched the twosome walk away happily, I couldn't help imagining just how many of us are searching for someone like ourselves, someone who can understand and accept us the way we are.

Friday, February 20, 2009


"... Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

"Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America," he said on the T.V.

"Change is here!" cried my sister in the background.

"Where change?" I asked.

This was how things were on January 20th this year, when I had slightly less than little clue of who Obama was. As is typical of us management consultants, I found out more about him only after the big thing happened - his inauguration, that too thanks to Google (again something characteristic of our kind). Reading about his life, both on the internet, and in the countless number of books that came up on the market as soon as he made President, I found enlightenment and decided I had to do something for him, as a mark of respect for his teachings.

So this is what I did.

Again in keeping with management consulting tradition, I needed a model to go alongwith my task. So I bought a 3 ft high statue of superman, painted it black and installed it near the main entrance to my apartment. I named it 'Our Oba-man of Hope' (to give it that saintly touch). I spread the word that this idol brings hope to the hopeless those who seek hope and shows one the path towards change. This idol went on to become a hit with the hopeless... many, but there were some who asked me the story behind it. Since I didn't have a story and needed one soon, I did what people in my profession do all the time. I made up one.

I told all visitors that our Oba-man is a shrine, who takes away our bad loans, creates more jobs, and puts in more money to save an economy that doesn't understand how to handle money. I told people to come to the shrine penniless and pray to the man for succour. And as happens with most made-up stories, mine went on to become a big hit! (ref. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the Bible etc.) People believed in the story and brought flowers for the statue and decorated it with pictures of The Man, as they now lovingly referred to 'Their Oba-man of Hope'. To add to the effect, I told people that the man always resided inside the statue in spirit, and can see within you to see if you really seek hope and change. That way I managed to fend off allegations against the credibility of my claims.

My effort finally discovered recognition through the sole medium that supports such useless noble causes - The Mumbai Mirror. Some good-for-nothing writer wrote a piece on Our Oba-man that was read by thousands of bored got-nothing-better-to-read/do readers and my mailbox was flooded with hundreds and thousands of requests from all over Mumbai asking where the shrine at is and how should one get there.

To make my endeavour seem more mysterious, I used to light lamps around the statue at night and hired some dancers to fake possession and dance around, especially on days when we had a good crowd. I even put up a donation box near the statue, inscribed with the message 'All proceeds go to the O.B.A.M - A.I.M foundation, which strives towards achieving Oba-man's main aim' (Though I never told anyone that it actually stands for 'Oh Boy! All this Money! And It's Mine!')

I finally wrote to Obama about this story one day, and asked him to come bless the statue, which would have brought in even more devotees (I even offered him a part of the O.B.A.M - A.I.M proceeds). But he said he was too busy pushing deals for putting even more money in the hands of incapable persons, and could not find the time to do so. The Mumbai Mirror writer referred to earlier got a wind of this and wrote another feature enlightening his readers with the fact that the Oba-man statue is unauthorised and that it doesn't have the blessings of The Man. This led to the dwindling of crowds first, and my alternate source of revenue thereafter.

Although the Oba-man idea may have failed, the black superman statue still stands tall near our apartment entrance, attesting the belief that we management consultants share - "I can always sell my idea. I only need a few fools to buy it."

Monday, February 2, 2009

Extinction of the pencils

Mumbai, Feb. 2nd

With all the hoopla over global warming, efforts are now on to help the environment. People are (assumed to be) doing all they can to reduce the harm that they are causing to nature. Although I had heard this from my grandmother long ago, it seems that only recently have scientists been able to prove that deforestation is contributing to global warming. Efforts are on to stop the irresponsible cutting down of trees. This, many scientists claim, will slow down global warming and thus avoid extinction of several species. Ironically though, the fall out of this step is the extinction of an entity dear to each one of us, sometime or the other in our lifetime - the pencil.

Until a decade ago, there were two main varieties of pencils - colour pencils and the boring ones. Only the boring ones now survive. Colour pencils lost out in the race for survival to fitter competitors such as markers and felt tip pens and the last confirmed account of a colour pencil sighting was in 1995 in 'Manibhai Steshanari - SSC books is on diskont' beside the Municipality school in my locality. Sparse sightings of colour pencils have been reported later on, but none are yet confirmed.

The boring pencils (those ones that are white outside, but black within - a fact that has also led some civilisations to name these pencils as 'politician pencils' or as the scientific name goes pencilus cheaterous) are facing tough competition from the digital revolution. Schools and offices are going digital, thus inevitably leading to wiping out of pencils in their boundaries. Other traditional habitats for pencils are now being overtaken by pens, xboxes and playstations.

To get an idea of what the world's reaction is to this calamity, I undertook a series of interviews, asking my audience what they think about this decline of pencils. A one and a half year old kid (who did not know his name) responded with a "Da da.... ga!" thus highlighting the seriousness of this issue. A six year old's mother responded "Good only no... now my beti use pen! I not uses pen in ischool. We usering chalk." These same thoughts were echoed by a teenager who was in a hurry and didn't say much - "Wtf?". Overall, all respondents agreed with one fact in particular - the world is more concerned with the paltry problem of global warming over the dire consequences of the mass extinction of pencils.

By now we all know that we live in an interconnected world and the extinction of pencils will have far reaching consequences. One species that would be directly affected is the pencils' main predator - the pencil sharpener. Sharpeners have already gone extinct in areas where pencils no longer exist and they are not expected to survive long after the last pencil is sharpened and worn out. The eraser won't be spared either. The pink coloured parasite that attaches itself to the top of each pencil won't find a host once all pencils are wiped out. This is expected to add to the boredom of school life which currently claims eraser chewing to be a major pastime activity.

Awareness of the dangers of pencil extinction are now growing and scientists are trying to invent some new theories (read, lies) to justify deforestation. One such claim has been made by a group working in a local college in Mumbai that says that replacing forests with grasslands will help reduce global warming, as the lighter coloured grass blades will reflect more light into space than do the dark green leaves of trees. This, they say, will cause lesser heating of the atmosphere than what is currently observed. In a recent experiment, the group (details witheld due to confidentiality issues) also demonstrated a large white colour plastic sheet reflects even more sunlight than do grass blades, thus setting in motion events that could lead to all forests on earth being replaced by white plastic sheets. When asked whether they have done no more than proving the already well established facts about light and heat, the scientists dismissed the meeting and invited me to a party in the adjacent room with free booze and Himeshbhai songs. I don't recall what happened next.

Endurance weekend

1. Was watching the amazing match between Verdasco and Nadal on Friday. Desperately wanted Verdasco to win, but Nadal is simply too good to be beaten. Though I think none has given him such a challenge as Verdasco did in that match. What makes it more special is that he cramped up in the third set, yet went on to play for 2 more hours to take the match into the fifth, dishing out some excellent tennis and matching Nadal stroke for stroke, only to end up losing to a double fault. I salute him for his endurance.

2. Was going to IIT on Saturday. Was waiting at the bus stop for the AC bus, for I cannot stand a 1.5 hour ride in the regular buses in the unforgiving afternoon heat in Mumbai. Saw an old man get down from some bus. He walked up to me and asked for an address, that was well over a couple of kilometers from where we were. I suggested he take an auto to go there, to which he simply replied - 'Arey beta, sharir budha hua hai, par pair to abhi jawan hai!' (My body has grown old son, but my legs are still young!) and proceeded to walk the way to his destination. Now he didn't look like someone who "couldn't" afford an auto ride, but was rather willing to foresake it, because he was confident that he could endure the walk in the sweltering heat. So moved I was by his determination that I ditched an AC bus that happened to arrive just then for a crowded regular bus trailing it. Sometimes we take for granted life's little luxuries so much so that we lack the will to endure its little challenges occasionally.

3. I usually go jogging for 4km daily (planning to raise the bar to 5km soon). Yesterday, my right leg cramped up before I had completed even my first 200m warmup round. Still I went on and ran the entire 4km as a tribute to Verdasco's superhuman efforts 2 days ago. Took me 40 mins against my usual 30. Foolhardy? Perhaps; but it was an amazing feeling I got when I completed the stretch. I know my attempt cannot compare to challenges that most of us have to put up with, but it's worth enduring them for the sense of achievement that you get at the end.