Saturday, December 20, 2008

What’s Up

We in the Magazine Committee, NUJS are developing The NUJS Blogs—a set of blogs showcasing life (for want of a better word) in college. (Don’t look for the blogs right now because they are still in an unfinished state. I’ll put them on my blogroll once they are formally inaugurated.)

The blog which carries extra-curricular news is called “What’s Up”. The Word document on my computer where all the posts are stored is likewise called “What’sUp”. With the extension, the filename reads What’sUp.doc. How cool is that?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Of Exhilarating Experiences

The pipe which drains the urinals on the third floor has started leaking into our toilet on the second floor. At all times of the day, small groups of boys may be seen staring in fascination at the urine dripping from the ceiling, saying “Eewww!” “Gro-o-o-oss!” and emitting other expressions of delight. Also, if you pee in the third floor urinal, sprint down two flights of stairs into the second floor toilet, and stand at the correct spot, and if you have timed it just right, you will have the rare treat of having peed on your own head.

In other news, I have come round to the view that this world has few greater pleasures to offer than riding down the E.M. Bypass on a cold December night on the footboard of an empty ST-6 driven by a lunatic driver. I did it yesterday, and I may still be seen grinning foolishly from time to time.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Evolution of MS Word spellcheck

Word 2002:

Word 2003:

Word 2007:
See? No squiggly red line!

Friday, November 28, 2008

I wonder how it feels...

…to have fans aged sixteen to sixty, and co-musicians half your age. To open in Calcutta when most—who am I kidding? all—major bands give us a miss. To set 2300 people clapping to the beat of a J. S. Bach chart topper written 300 years ago. To joke about how “I may not be as pretty as Anoushka, but I do jump around a bit more.” To introduce a glockenspiel on stage and mischievously call it “a heavy metal instrument”. To switch from flute to parlor guitar to harmonica to tambourine and back again to flute, all in the course of the same song. To never be too old to rock ’n’ roll.
I wonder how it feels, to be Mr. Ian Anderson.
And in case you’re still wondering: Yes, I went to the concert.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Telegraph: Monday, 24 November 2008

The Fine Print column, which always makes for interesting reading, informs me that Wishroom Shop, a Japanese online lingerie retailer, is selling bras and panties for cross-dressing men. I wanted to find out how and why men’s panties would be different from women’s panties, but a visit to their product page did not help.

The following section from an interview with N.R. Narayana Murthy caught my eye:
Favourite gadget? “I have the latest iPod, the latest mobile phone, the latest MP4 player, MP3 player.”
Favourite holiday? “I don’t go on holiday at all. On an average, I am traveling 20-22 days a month outside India, and the remaining seven-eight days in India I am very busy from morning to night.”
The International School of Business, Kolkata ran an advertisement which featured the following immortal line: “Why the World’s biggest Corporates are hunting Leaders?”
If I were a leader, I’d be running for cover right about now.

Note: Yes, I know the time of post is 2.01 a.m., 25 November, so the post is technically about yesterday’s newspaper. But we have football practice (also known as Rahul Varghese’s boot camp) in the morning, so I get time to read the paper only after dinner.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Third, Last and Longest Bombay Trip Post, OR The Byculla Soufflé

When I did my first internship in Bombay, in the autumn of 2007, I used to find myself at a loose end during the weekends because none of my friends were in the city. I was staying at a hostel in Byculla in Central Bombay, so in my ‘characteristic ever-joblessness’ (not my phrase, Bhavna’s) I would go to the Asiatic Society library, rummage among old books, and read up on Byculla history. It was thus that I stumbled upon a book called The Byculla Club: A History by Samuel T. Sheppard.

The book was written in 1916, four years before the Club ceased to exist, and it is a charming and delightful chronicle, if you happen to like that sort of thing. It has extracts from the Club Minute Book, invoices, croquet scores, lavish dinner menus, and many such fascinating things.

I found many a gem among its crumbling pages. I read an extract from the Club Complaint Book—an 1876 entry by one Mr. Inveracity—which reads: “The gentleman in the bedroom beneath mine is a beginner on the flute. As he has shown no signs of improvement during the last two months, I request that his attention be called to the rule against making voluntary noises in the Club.” I read the transcript of Sir Seymour Fitz Gerald’s speech at the farewell banquet in his honour in 1872, which he concluded by saying: “May the Byculla Club retain the enviable distinction which not only in this country but in other countries it enjoys! May the main drain shortly be covered over! May Byculla mosquitoes be reduced to some reasonable proportions!” (The last wish is one I myself have fervently expressed on many occasions.) But above all, in a chapter on food, I read about the Byculla Soufflé.

But, for the benefit of those who have eaten the fluffy delight, the recipe for the Byculla Soufflé may be disclosed. Take the yolks of six eggs, add three tablespoons of good white sugar, beat well till dry and keep aside. Take half a seer of cream and also beat till dry, now take half a packet of Isinglass well soaked, add one liqueur glass each of Kummel, Chartreuse, Curacao, and Benedictine. Mix the whole well together, then put into a mould, on the top put crumbs of mixed biscuit and keep in ice until wanted. To cooks who attempt to make the Soufflé and fail, a word of consolation may be offered: it can only be made to perfection in the Club kitchen.

At this point, I put down the book and resolved, come what may, to search out and consume the Byculla Soufflé.

This was in the last weekend of my internship, so I could start my quest in real earnest only after another five months, during my second internship in Bombay. After many fruitless efforts which I shall not bore you by describing, once again in the last weekend of my internship, I ran into some luck. Flipping through a food guide in a second hand bookstore, I found mention of Zareen Kotwal on Maharishi Karve Road, a confectioner known for her Byculla Soufflé.

After I recovered from the shock, I gave three rousing cheers and directed my footsteps to the address they had given, only to find that no such address existed. Reluctant to give up, I walked the whole length of Maharishi Karve Road from North to South—a good 6 kilometres—looking for any sign of a confectionery shop. I found nothing. Convinced that I had somehow missed the shop, I walked the entire stretch again from South to North. No luck again. I cursed freely for five whole minutes, and then gave up.

When I came home after the internship, I googled “Zareen Kotwal” and realized that the book had misprinted “1411” in place of “14/1”. So on this, my third visit to Bombay, I finally tracked down the address. To my surprise, it turned out to be a flat in a residential complex, with no signboards or advertisements of any kind. Not knowing what to expect, I rang the doorbell and found myself face to face with Ms. Kotwal herself. I told her my story, and she heard me out with a bemused expression.

“So do you make the Soufflé?” I asked her finally.

“I used to,” she said. “But not any more.”

“And is it available anywhere else?”

“Nowhere,” she said laughing. “Nowhere.”

I thanked her, and trudged away. In the second floor of an apartment block in a quiet corner of Churchgate, my quest for the Byculla Soufflé had run into a dead end.

In the final chapter of the book on the history of the Byculla Club, Sheppard describes the changing face of Bombay: “The Club cat, Freddy, sleeps peacefully on the lawn where the old race course ended and where jackals and hyaenas have sought their prey.”

If he had the gift of foresight, he could have said more. “Where Freddy took his afternoon nap,” he may well have added, “developers construct high-rises and raise ugly clouds of dust. And saddest of all, the Byculla Soufflé is made no more.”

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Second Bombay Trip Post, OR The Sub-Sleeper Classes

A veteran of many train journeys, I always knew that many of those who get up on a train compartment do not have reserved seats. Unlike certain ‘reserved’ passengers who cast cold looks and emit unfriendly grunts at their ‘unreserved’ brethren, I have even been uniformly accommodating towards them, moving up to make space and sharing my biscuits. This is perhaps because I have often been in their place myself: Vasudha and I were once Waiting List 131 and 132 on a train from Bangalore to Chennai, and on another occasion, five of us shared two and a half berths when returning from a field trip to North Bengal tea gardens.

But on the train to Bombay, I studied the phenomenon of unreserved travel more closely. I realized that there are hierarchies even among the unreserved. I call them, the Sub-Sleeper Classes.

Lowest in the hierarchy are those who have no tickets at all. They are mostly beggars and suchlike. They occupy the best seats in the compartment: on the floor right next to the open doors. The only drawback is that they get sprinkled with water by people who have just used the washbasin and are shaking their hands to dry them.

Above them are those who have tickets that entitle them to get up only on the General Compartment. Some of them (understandably) blanch at the prospect of a 36-hour GC journey and prefer to try their luck illegally in the relative comfort of the sleeper. They try to sidle into empty berths, and if you ask them for their ticket, they flourish it before your eyes very quickly, perhaps hoping that you won’t notice it’s not a sleeper ticket.

Higher still are the daily passengers with short distance passes. Their passes entitle them only to board express trains. To board, mind, and not to occupy seats. But these men are seasoned campaigners. Let them spot a small unoccupied part of a seat, and they home in on it and park themselves with a confidence that even we, legitimate ticket-holding travellers, are hard put to muster. But they travel only for a few stations.

Right at the top is the Waiting List brigade. Even among them there are subtle gradations: Waiting List 27 gets precedence over Waiting List 28 unless Waiting List 28 has bribed the TTE first. These hierarchies are jealously defended. The gentleman sitting next to us from Wardha onwards utilised every opportunity to advertise his status as Waiting List 9, making it abundantly clear that he would contest his claim with anyone in the double digits or higher. When a GC ticket holder (a whole two ranks below him) requested him to move up, the Waiting List man went on the offensive and completely demolished his rival. Himself a man without a reserved seat, he lashed out at the GC man, first in Hindi and then in Marathi, before sending him slinking back to his rightful compartment, humiliated and broken.

In other train-related news, they’ve introduced a side middle berth in some sleeper compartments. My Calcutta-Bombay trip was in such a compartment. I was on the side upper bunk. The ceiling’s so close, it’s like waking up in a coffin. And for the relatively simple operation of lowering the middle bunk for sleeping, they have a diagram so complicated it looks like the instructions for assembling Apollo 13. I wish I’d taken a picture of it so I could post it here.

Now I’m one of the staunchest fans of the Indian railways you are likely to encounter. One of my F.A.R.T.s (which Saha praised and everyone else hated) was in fact entirely about the Indian railways. But sometimes, they do things which sorely try my faith. Like introducing a side middle berth. Or not having dustbins in the sleeper compartments. But that’s a rant for another day.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The First Bombay Trip Post, OR My Purpose in Life

To round off my vacation, I went on a four day trip to Bombay, ostensibly to meet up with friends who were interning and seniors who are working in the city. The real purpose of the visit, however, was to eat. (Imho, Bombay is second only to Calcutta when it comes to food.)

I made a list of Places I Must Eat At In Bombay, but with only four days in hand, and generous and overpaid seniors queuing up to take us out for dinner, I sometimes had to eat six or seven meals a day to cover them all.

1. Breakfast Spread (Kyani and Co., Dhobi Talao)
2. Chicken Reshmi Tikka Biryani (Café Noorani, Haji Ali)
3. The All American (Pizzeria, Marine Drive)
4. Chicken Roll (Zaika, Sir J. J. Road)
5. Steak and Onions (Leopold’s Café, Colaba)
6. Mango Ice Cream (Naturals, Marine Drive)
7. Chicken Shawarma (Maroush, High Street Phoenix)
8. Berry Pulao (Britannia, Ballard Pier)
9. Jumbo Sugarcane Juice (Kala Ghoda)

Vegetarians and People who are not going to Bombay in the near future: eat your heart out.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

6-3

Yesterday, Villarreal beat Aalborg BK 6-3 at the Madrigal. It reminded me of a rather funny incident which took place about two months back, involving an identical scoreline.
This happened when I was travelling from Victoria to Gatwick Airport. With me in an otherwise empty compartment was a girl, about my age, maybe slightly older. (I’ll continue calling her “the girl” since, in the course of a 30-minute conversation, we didn’t think to exchange names.)
By and by, we began to chat, and I found out she’d been on a backpacking tour of Scotland. We fell to discussing the vicissitudes of being a lone traveller. In the mutual whining that ensued, I mentioned that on top of everything else, I’d missed part of the Olympics. The girl replied that this didn’t worry her a great deal, since her country doesn’t do so well at the Olympics, except for swimming and fencing. So I took an educated guess, and asked her if she was from Hungary, and it turned out she was. Accordingly I introduced the first topic that comes to my mind when I think about Hungary. I mentioned Ferenc Puskás.
At this stage, a brief background may be required for people who haven’t heard of Puskás. Normal people may skip the following paragraph and move on.
The Magical Magyars. Puskas is on the far left.
The Hungarian football team of the 1950s is one of the many things I happen to be crazy about. Puskás was captain of the team. They entered the 1954 World Cup with an unbeaten record stretching back to 1950: clear favourites to win the trophy. They waltzed through to the finals, playing fairytale football, and scoring twenty five goals in four matches. In the final, playing a West Germany team they had earlier beaten 8-3, they inexplicably lost 3-2. That was the last time the Magical Magyars would strut their stuff at a World Cup. For Hungary’s golden generation, there was to be no second chance. 1956 was the year of the Hungarian revolution, and the team was broken up.
Anyway, as soon as I mentioned Puskás, the conversation became more animated.
Girl: Oh! You’ve heard of Puskás? I didn’t think many people outside Hungary knew his name!
Me: Of course I’ve heard of Puskás. I’m crazy about that team. If there was one thing in football history that I could change, I’d change the outcome of the ’54 final.
Girl: We beat the Brits, you know?
Me: (speaking as of a personal triumph) I know, I know. 6-3!
Girl: And at Wembley too! Beat that!
And on cue, spontaneously, illogically, we high-fived.
Now there are a lot of things I don’t like about travelling alone. I often get lonely, I worry almost continuously, I hate taking all the decisions myself, and I have to ask strangers to watch over my luggage when I go to the airport toilet. But for all that, there are some good things about travelling alone. You talk to a lot of different people, and some rummy things happen.
On that trip itself, there were other incidents. In front of Harrods, when I was photographing a Gallardo, a distinguished old gentleman asked me, “Your car, son?” And at Abbey Road, I lent my camera batteries to an Italian couple who had made the pilgrimage to photograph each other crossing the road, but had run out of batteries at the crucial moment. I particularly noticed them because they were singing “Don’t Let Me Down” to their camera. But the Puskás incident remains my favourite.
Was it pointless, laughable, for two people, one from Budapest and one from Calcutta, to high-five on a southbound train to Gatwick, because 55 years ago, on a cold West London night, something special happened on a football field? Probably, yes. But the delight on her face, and the high-five: will I forget that in a hurry? I don’t think so.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Unfinished Art

There’s something about unfinished works of art that seems to fascinate us. Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B minor, Tintin and Alph-Art, Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible trilogy, La Sagrada Família, Sunset at Blandings—all of these tantalize us with their unrealized potential, goad us to speculate whether the finished work may perhaps have turned out to be the artist’s greatest ever. Sometimes, if you mediate long enough upon such a work, you feel you are indeed close to the artist. In your mind, you try to fill in the missing pieces, imagine what the complete work would have been like. But all the while you know that it is an exercise doomed to fail, that you will never truly know. To this ineffable mystique that surrounds unfinished works of art, you may trace a rather immodest desire that I have. Someday, I too would like to

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Internship Nostalgia

Extracts from emails sent to friends during various internships:

To Lahiri (Delhi, April 2007)

The four of us are a bit short on resources when it comes to cooking. We need to buy stuff everyday, and only now have I fully appreciated the importance of a fridge in the household. And I was my usual miserly self when I went out to hire utensils, which means that we have the bare minimum that is required to concoct dinner. Or significantly less than the bare minimum (if you go by what Kisku claims). But we improvise and get by. Kisku and I have discovered a method of toasting bread on a steel hanger which is nothing short of genius.

To Anindita (Bombay, March 2008)

Today in office, Lahiri was telling us what he had to go through to buy a ticket at VT. The demonstration involved him walking on all fours while gesticulating. At that point an associate entered our room.

To Darshana (Bombay, April 2008)

It was Lahiri (who else?) who first got into the habit of swiveling in his chair. Then Ayan picked it up, and also added one vital touch: shouting “Whee!” In a plush library high above downtown Mumbai, three interns sit in expensive chairs, reading magazines, browsing the net, chatting with each other, and sometimes working. Occasionally, they swivel in their chairs and shout “Whee!”

The title of the post may have surprised you initially. Of all things to get nostalgic about, you may well have thought, internships are the strangest.

But now you understand, don’t you? A little?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Honour Among Credit Derivatives Dealers

An emergency trading session was organized by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association on the day before Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Its purpose was to allow dealers in credit default swaps and other types of derivatives to unwind positions linked to Lehman, thereby reducing risk associated with a potential Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. Even though the trades technically became invalid when Lehman missed its deadline for bankruptcy filing by a few hours, credit derivatives dealers are agreeing among themselves “in the spirit of things” (to quote a London trader) to honour trades made at the session.

When fear grows too intense to handle,
We shrink into a private smile,
Surprised when here and there a candle
Drives back the dark a little while…

In other news pertaining to world financial markets, the National Debt Clock installed at Times Square in New York, has been forced to drop the dollar sign in the total figure to accommodate a ten trillion dollar figure.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Photomontage: London

My end-sem exams got over today, so I’ve finally found time to go through the countless photos from my London trip, select the least terrible ones, and upload them. I was too lazy to write captions for each one, so I’ll answer queries about the photos (if any) in the comments section. Click on the images for the larger versions, because some of the photos have funny text which is not visible in the thumbnails.

People


Places


Things

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Joys of Microsoft Publisher

In a dramatic break from tradition (actually the opening words were more dramatic than the actual break from tradition), we decided this year to do the layout and formatting of Writer’s Block in-house instead of getting it done by professionals. (For the uninitiated, Writer’s Block is our monthly college magazine. It has campus news, some creative writing, and the most jobless ed board in the world. Part of the September issue cover page is pictured below.)
This decision had many consequences. One consequence is that, for about one week every month, we become a permanent fixture in the recreation room and consume untold amounts of Coke. Another is that it revealed to me a Fundamental Truth: there are two kinds of people—those who love formatting and those who don’t.
Lahiri (who is also on the ed board) and I have long been aware that we belong to the former category, because law school, with its innumerable paper submissions and moot court memorials, gives you awesome opportunities to discover and then indulge your love. But when you’ve exhausted headers, footers and mark citation, there is only so much you can do with Microsoft Word. Microsoft Publisher, which we use for formatting Writer’s Block, is in a different league altogether.
To illustrate, we ensure that no page has empty spaces, and we’ve evolved a code of permitted and prohibited practices for achieving this objective. To illustrate further:
Permitted practices
Prohibited practices
1. Editing stuff written by ed board members
2. Changing the number of columns on a page (within acceptable limits)
3. Cropping photos
(continued…)
1. Editing general body contributions
2. Changing font size
3. Having pictures whose width is not an integral multiple of column width
(continued…)
That is the level at which we are talking. To cite other examples, we have been known to take policy decisions on whether headlines should be in title case or upper case, and whether kerning the masthead is an acceptable practice.
Not surprisingly, some ed board members have declared themselves unavailable for the formatting sessions because they couldn’t take it any more (or maybe just because they have a life). But the ones who do sit in are gradually coming under the sway of our obsessive tendencies. Once, upon inserting a paragraph break and watching the text fill up the text box perfectly, I cried, “I live for these moments,” and I distinctly remember Karthy giving me a funny look. These days, when such a thing happens, she gives high fives with as much gusto as the rest.
Only Anuj, our convener, claims to be above it all, and pretends that he doesn’t obsess over the magazine like we do. But the September issue came back from the printer yesterday, and when he thought no one was looking, he was observed cradling the issues in the crook of his arm and crooning, “My babies…”

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Hobby

I don’t know if you’ll be affected the same way, but in my experience, if you read the xkcd “My Hobby” series (my favourite ones are this, this and this), after a while you start noticing some quirky little hobbies of your own. I’ve therefore decided to start my own “My Hobby” series.

There's no autocorrect entry for 'law' :(

This is method #43 of entertaining yourself while writing research papers.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Genesis 1:28

This is from Richard Whish on Competition Law—a table on market share threshold and its consequences. I draw your attention to footnote 275.

It’s not often that something I see in a textbook on Antitrust Law makes me laugh, but this did.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Khandsari molasses

It is the night before (or more accurately, the morning of) my Indirect Tax viva voce, and I am trying to come to grips with reams of notes on what must surely be one of the driest subjects taught in law school. Around 3 am, just as I am warming to my task, the following Kafkaesque provision comes to my notice.

Rule 7 of the Central Excise Rules, 1944 states that the producer or manufacturer of excisable goods is liable to pay the duty leviable on such goods. The proviso to this rule, intriguingly states that nothing contained in the rule shall apply to khandsari molasses. In other words, for khandsari molasses, alone among the ranks of manufactured or produced goods, the excise duty is to be paid by the purchaser and not the manufacturer.

Why have an exception to the perfectly sensible rule that excise duty should be paid by the manufacturer? Why make it applicable to khandsari molasses alone? What, when it comes to that, are khandsari molasses?

I did what any red-blooded law student would do under the circumstances: put away my notes and directed my attention to answering these questions. When I eventually found a case (Ranson Industries v. Union of India) where the constitutionality of the exception was challenged, I thought my questions would be answered at last. But incredibly, the Division Bench of the J&K High Court, in a 5,070-word judgment, never once saw fit to answer the one question anyone might reasonably be interested in: Why has a special provision been made for khandsari molasses? The closest they came to an explanation was the lame-ass justification: “A duty on home produced goods will obviously be imposed at the stage which the authorities find to be the most convenient and the most lucrative.” Judges…

Anyhow, my researches led me to the Wikipedia article on molasses, which took me to Carob Tree, and thence to Simon bar Yochai and…well, you know how it goes. For the exam, the teacher asked me to speak on “taxable event”. On any other day, I’d have knocked ’em dead with my gripping account of the In Re Sea Customs Act case. As it happens, eyewitnesses say that my performance consisted of rubbing my eyes and mumbling brokenly about excise duty and molasses.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Of scientists and ‘normal’ people

On September 10, the world’s largest particle accelerator complex, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva, will finally be switched on.
By recreating energies and conditions last seen a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, scientists hope to gain insights into mysteries of the universe, ranging from dark matter to supersymmetric particles. Most enticingly, the LHC could produce the elusive Higgs boson, and supply a long-standing missing link in the Standard Model of particle physics: the question of why matter has mass.
It could also produce the end of the world as we know it. Some theorists claim that the LHC could create black holes which could consume the planet, or a strangelet that would convert earth into a dense dead lump of strange matter. Lawsuits seeking to halt the LHC’s startup have been filed before the District Court of Hawaii, and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. CERN dismisses such doomsday claims as unscientific bunkum. But frankly, anyone who knows enough physics to understand the risk would be too excited by the LHC’s possibilities to even dream about dismantling it.
I for one am all in favour of switching on the LHC. It has the potential to reveal wonderful new truths about our universe. And as any geek knows, microscopic black holes evaporate almost instantaneously due to Hawking radiation. Rather more concerning is the fact that owing to the random nature of quantum physics, there is always a minuscule, but nonzero, chance of anything occurring. Theoretically, the LHC could produce another Himesh. But if the LHC does indeed bring doomsday for our planet, we can at least reflect that being spaghettified by a black hole of our own creation is not an altogether uncool way to die.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Version 2.0

Version 2.0 retains all the features that you always loved, while making several significant improvements on older versions.
Its author is an older, wiser man. It does not have any posts about kangaroo courts and natural justice (at least, not yet). The blogroll has more names, and each name has a tag—some are funny, some are lame, some have already attracted death threats. And finally, the creators of The World According to Sroyon Version 2.0 promise you that this version will never get deleted.
Yeah, you can stop groaning now. Sheesh. What does it take to get a little encouragement around here?

I guess that takes the biscuit for the lamest opening post ever, but it’s the best I can do right now. I have a Human Rights Law viva voce in another ten hours. If you need more justification, please note that this was

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pythagoras and the Football Tournament

The basic tenet of the Pythagorean philosophy was this:
In this life, there are three kinds of men, just as there are three sorts of people who come to the Olympic games. The lowest class is made up of those who come to buy and sell, the next above them are those who compete. Best of all, however, are those who come simply to look on.
The Football Tournament started last Saturday. On Matchday One, I bought Gatorade. (Yes, I like the blue Gatorade. Yes, I know it looks like kerosene.)

I came on as left winger. Had a rather indifferent game, I might add.

From the sidelines, I watched our girls’ team play. We gave them half-time instructions and outlined strategy. As always, they gave us a patient hearing. As always, they went back on the pitch and played exactly as they wanted.

On Matchday One, therefore, I was by turns a consumer, competitor and spectator. Where does that place me in the Pythagorean scheme of the Universe? Pithy aphorisms are all very well in their way, but they tend to oversimplify things. Maybe our man should have stuck to more universal truths like the square on the hypotenuse.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Mystery of the Locked Loos

There’s nothing quite like a nice, juicy mystery to get the boys’ hostel excited. The last time I remember so many theories flying around was when a kleptomaniac stole cash, cell phones, watches and hard drives worth tens of thousands of rupees. The culprit was eventually discovered and brought to justice. This time, it’s something even more serious.

Since last Sunday, two out of the six loo cubicles in the second floor toilet have been locked. From the inside.

The first theory was, of course, that someone had hanged himself in there. But this explanation had its skeptics. What are the odds that two people would commit suicide on the same day in adjacent cubicles? Very slim. Again, why would anyone choose a loo cubicle as a suicide venue? Loo cubicles have their virtues, but they leave much to be desired in the way of cheerfulness and hygiene.

Anyway, the Suicide School of Thought has now been conclusively proved wrong. There is a narrow gap between the partition wall and the ceiling (hereinafter, “the gap”). Tall people have peered through this gap, and pronounced that there are no bodies. We have groaned in disappointment and moved on to other theories.

The Supernatural School has its own set of explanations. Some believe that the ghost of the Pink Lady, who for a time terrorised residents of the fifth floor, is now plying her trade on the second. Others babble wildly about people flushing themselves down the toilet, spontaneous combustion, dematerialisation and little green men. But no true investigator ever admits a supernatural explanation.

That leaves the field open for the Pragmatic School, who point at the gap (see picture below) as the key to the mystery.


The Gap Theory is indeed plausible. But consider for a moment what our mystery man would have to do to accomplish his feat. He would have to enter a cubicle, lock the door, scale a seven foot wall possibly using the commode and the window ledge for support, wriggle through the gap, drop seven feet down into the next cubicle, lock the door again, scale the wall again, wriggle through the gap again, and eventually drop to safety.

So this gives rise to a new set of questions. Who would do such a thing? And why? Was it one of the cleaners, trying to reduce the floor space he had to cover each day? Was it a late-riser who had to wait in the bathroom queue every morning and now wants everyone else to wait in line? Was it a resident of some other floor, jealous of the incredibly cool second floor, and trying to despoil our standard of living?

The morning queues grow longer, speculation grows more intense, and toilet goers grow ever more frustrated. But the locked doors are telling no tales. Silent and enigmatic, they stay as locked as ever.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Of lawlessness

The course structure of our college has undergone a reshuffling this year and a number of new optionals have been introduced. So our discussions these days often run on the lines of What Subjects Do You Have This Semester. My fellow students, when referring to a subject, often omit the word ‘law’. If you, a clueless layman, overhear one of these conversations and find yourself baffled, please remember that:

When a third year says, “I have Property,” he doesn’t mean that he belongs to the landed gentry.

When someone says, “I have Insurance,” the correct response is not to ask, “For what?”

When a fifth year says, “I had Human Rights yesterday,” he does not mean that a totalitarian regime has snatched away his human rights overnight.

When Manavi says, “I have Competition,” she doesn’t mean that some upstart is challenging her vertiginously high class rank.

But the best is yet to come. The third years have Labour Law next semester. What I’m really waiting for is for some girl to message her boyfriend from inside the classroom: Can’t meet you for lunch. I’m in Labour.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Imho

I recently read number9dream by David Mitchell, which introduced me to the word ‘imho’. But you, dear reader, since you peruse blogs’n’all, probably know already that ‘imho’ is leetspeak for ‘In My Humble Opinion’.

The acronym was probably novel around the time the book was written (2001), but today, a google search for imho throws up 30,100,000 hits. It has been around long enough to even spawn a variant: Imnsho (In My Not So Humble Opinion). But in the world according to Sroyon, a phrase only becomes cool when it has fallen hopelessly out of fashion. Dig that?

So in this post, I shall express three humble opinions. Each will give me a chance to use the magic word.

Imho, the scriptwriters of Friends may have come up with many good things, but Stevie the TV is one of their best inventions. When I have my own flat, I shall name the furniture. Abel the table, Claire the chair, Fred the bed, Hubbard the cupboard, Merton the curtain, Midge the fridge.

Imho, the Juno soundtrack is one of the best ever. Kimya Dawson is awesome, and anyone who hasn’t heard me singing, whistling or listening to Piazza, New York Catcher has probably not met me in the last two weeks. What a song! *goes into raptures*

Imho, girls look prettier in ice-cream parlours.

In other news, a leading psychiatrist has claimed that internet addiction should be recognised as a clinical disorder. What’s more, I appear to have all the symptoms. Fortunately, there’s plenty of help available online.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Of mondegreens and other variants

A mondegreen, as I suppose you already know, is a misinterpretation of a line or lyric in a song, caused by similarity in pronunciation. I am rather unsusceptible to mondegreens because of my habit of obsessively checking song lyrics online. Also, to come up with mondegreens like the famous ‘Michelle mondegreen’, I suppose you need much more imagination than I possess:
Incorrect version: Sunday monkey won’t play piano song
Correct version: Sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble
I ask you! Paul’s French isn’t that bad.

My favourite mondegreen is from another Beatles song – Hey Bulldog. There’s a line which goes “Some kind of happiness is measured out in miles.” For years I used to think that the last word is ‘smiles’. Taken together with lines like “Some kind of innocence is measured out in years,” ‘smiles’ seems to fit so much better.

Speaking of which, Saha has a lovely post about a personal mondegreen.

Also on the topic of mondegreens, consider the following snatch of conversation, and believe me when I tell you I didn’t make it up:
Prateek Shroff: I have a match with the VC tomorrow.
Lahiri: What! Nandan Nawn is taking extra classes?
This, however, is not technically a mondegreen. There is a word in the English language for it. It’s called deafness.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Of Banana Republics and Natural Justice

British mercenary Simon Mann, one of Africa's last ‘dogs of war’, went on trial in Equatorial Guinea on Tuesday for his role in a failed 2004 coup plot. He faces charges of crimes against the head of state, crimes against the government and crimes against the peace and independence of the state.

The right to an interpreter and translation is guaranteed by Article 440 of Equatorial Guinea’s Penal Procedure Code, as well as Article 14 (3) (f) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, the Reuters report on Simon Mann’s trial indicates that proceedings were conducted in Spanish without translation. Mann does not speak Spanish.

I mean I always knew that Equatorial Guinea is no picnic spot, but a trial in a language the defendant doesn’t understand? There is a natural justice principle which states that “justice must not only be done; it must also be seen to be done.” The courts of Equatorial Guinea have evidently never of it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

NPL

All throughout our internships we were pining to get back to college. Then college started, and not even a week had passed before we were all complaining of boredom. It was on a particularly idle afternoon, when we were discussing ways to liven things up, that the idea of the NPL was born. I reproduce below the Sports Committee notice that started it all.

The NUJS Premier League
An intra-college zonal T12 cricket tournament

This notice is to provide you with our official answers to the frequently asked questions on NPL. It’s the shorter version of the game, so we’ve kept the answers short.

Q1: So what is the NPL all about?
A: Controversy. A gripping auction of players. Scandal. A spicy weekly newsletter detailing events, real and fictitious. A lot of fun.
Q2: What? No cricket?
A: Oh, yeah. There will also be some cricket. But we shall endeavour to preserve IPL tradition and ensure that the cricket is all but forgotten in the glare of the attendant hype and controversy.
Q3: What’s the format like?
A: Twelve overs. Five teams on a zonal basis. Each team shall have five players from its respective zone, and eight players picked through auction. Detailed rules will be issued by the SportsCom tonight. Watch this space.
Q4: Is any money involved?
A: No real currency is involved in the auction process. Teams will have to pay a nominal entry fee which shall be utilised towards field booking and prize money.
Q5: Cheerleaders?
A: Honest answer: Alas, no. *wistful sigh* Official answer: Most certainly not. We in the SportsCom are strongly opposed to the vulgar objectification of women.
Q6: Won’t the NPL promote divisiveness?
A: The SportsCom emphatically condemns any form of regional divisiveness. We urge players to participate in a spirit of sportsmanship and maturity, purely for the love of the game.

For further information, contact Bunty, Davis, Kisku, Sarbajeet or Sroyon.

Now the only necessary expenditure for a team is the entry fee of Rs. 2,500. As of today, three days before the tournament begins, the West Zone team has raised Rs. 20,000. The money comes almost entirely from students wanting to be identified as owners of the team. Other teams are not far behind.

The maximum prize money that a team stands to win is Rs. 4,000. Furthermore, the teams each have more than ten ‘owners’, and the proceeds (if any) will be split among all the stakeholders. So the investment far exceeds the expected returns and makes no economic sense whatsoever. People evidently have more cash than they know what to do with.

As one of the originators of the NPL idea, I suppose I should be happy at these developments. In fact, I should probably be looking like this:
Excess cash is never bad for any enterprise. But this wanton squandering seems to have something obscene about it. Wasting money seems almost like an impiety, like throwing away bread. Also, the big money has turned the NPL into something I can no longer identify with. It has taken on a life of its own. You can almost see the dollar signs in its eyes. It is unrecognisable from a trifling diversion dreamed up by five friends on a lazy summer afternoon.

All That You Can't Leave Behind

It was Arthur Schopenhauer who famously said that every parting gives a foretaste of death. My philosophical vision being rather more limited (and less morbid), when the batch senior to us passed out, I got a foretaste not of death, but of the fact that my own days in college are numbered.

This post celebrates the things I love most about hostel life. By its very nature, it will probably be uninteresting to anyone but me. Especially for someone who hasn’t experienced NUJS hostel life and doesn’t know what the hell I’m talking about, it’ll probably be boring to the point of being unreadable. But as Saha says here, it’s been a good trip, and I think it’s important that one acknowledges that.

Daybreak: I take my time over my morning cup of tea. The first batch of tea that they make in the mess is always the best. I say cheery good mornings to fellow early-risers who for some reason all seem to be Tamilians. I like the peace and solitude, but better still I like to listen to Nokia alarms and Windows XP start-up music: the sound of the boys’ hostel waking up.

Morning: Sitting with people like Lahiri, Kisku and the Quaker makes classes not just bearable but fun. They come up with the funniest comments and do the weirdest things. Lahiri practises touch-typing without a keyboard (on my bag to be precise), and drives the Quaker to distraction with his lizard-call imitation. The Quaker punches his own thigh extremely hard from time to time. When classes get too boring, we chant “Su-phol, Su-phol” in an undertone. Suphol is the man who rings the bell.

Afternoon: Reading magazines in the library. I must have read every word of every issue of National Geographic and Time that came out since I joined college. Often, friends congregate; the magazines are forgotten, and we chat and laugh until Tutu Ma’am turns us out. Less frequently, juniors come and ask me for advice, and I do my best to misguide them.

Post-dinner: I say post-dinner, but in point of fact, our adda sessions have been known to continue till daybreak. Favoured accompaniments: Pure Magic and the Beatles. Once we recorded minutes. Topics discussed included the Battle of Taxis in the World War II, relative merits and demerits of the Choco Pyramid and Chocolate Éclairs from Escoffiere, and an extempore speech by Arjun on fan regulators. As Lahiri once wrote, projects submissions, vivas and end-sems are at most week-long events, to be sandwiched between the all-important continuance of adda.

Night: The orange light from the sodium-vapour lamps filters in through my window and casts shadows on the opposite wall. The trees create fuzzy moving shadows; the shadow of the window bars, by contrast, is darker, motionless and solid. It’s a beautiful show.

Then there are those things that can’t be fitted into a typical daily itinerary. Football practice in the morning; the fact that I can just pop over to someone’s room when I’m looking for toothpaste, a cell phone charger, a confidant; watching late night football games with the most dedicated and biased group of spectators ever to follow the sport; and (although this is going to sound majorly nerdy) even the 4 a.m. joint study sessions with Sarbajeet before exams (just after I’ve woken up and before he goes to sleep).

When I was in Bombay recently doing my interminable ten-week internship, I missed hostel much more than I thought I ever would. So when I got back, I resolved to enjoy, for the remaining one year, those bits of hostel life that I had hitherto loved without noticing.

I began this post with a quote; I’ll end it with another which is about reading, but applies equally well to hostel life. This is from To Kill a Mockingbird. “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

Harper Lee is a wiser and kinder philosopher than Schopenhauer.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Two Lists

FOUR THINGS I LIKE ABOUT BOMBAY

1. MARINE DRIVE: *long dreamy sigh*

Me sitting on Marine Drive

2. LOCAL TIME: The solar time in Bombay is just over an hour behind Calcutta. That meant I could get up later by the clock, and still catch the dawn – the best part of the day.

3. THE COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE: Gothic, art deco, neo-classical – you see it in all in South Bombay. And it’s not just the public buildings: some of the older private houses in Cuffe Parade are equally pretty, with wooden facades, sloping roofs and flowers in the window (such a lovelyday / I’m gladyoufeel the same). I spent hours taking long walking tours and gawking at the buildings, leaving an army of bemused pedestrians and irate motorists in my wake.

A building in the Fort Area where I did a due diligence

4. LOCAL TRAINS: No matter how rich you are, you can’t make traffic move faster. So in Bombay, there is only one human institution that makes a Bandra pub-hopper the equal of a Dharavi scavenger, that makes a Koli fisherwoman the equal of a Dalal Street investor. That institution is the local train.


FOUR THINGS I DON’T LIKE ABOUT BOMBAY

1. MODES OF ADDRESS: The two common methods that the natives use to attract people’s attention in Bombay are (a) shouting “Boss” and (b) making a squeaky whistling sound produced by puckering the lips and drawing the breath inward. For some reason, I find both of these intensely annoying. The latter sounds positively obscene.

2. NAMES OF STREETS AND CHOWKS: Bombay municipal authorities suffer from a perpetual frenzy of renaming. Almost all the roads and chowks are named after obscure people, and are therefore difficult to pronounce and impossible to remember. Fortunately, the new names remain on paper, while the old names, like ETEC diarrhoea and the sacred Vedas, are orally transmitted. There are therefore two Bombays – the road-map Bombay, and the Bombay that lives in people’s memories.

See what I'm talking about?

3. NO ROLLS: This is one of the things I missed most about Calcutta as a city. Bombay has its own version called the Frankie, which is a pale imitation of the real thing. A kind of roll is also sold in Muslim eateries which is a delicacy in its own right. But the absence of the roll from Bombay street-food leaves a gaping vacuum.

4. MULTIPLE BUS STOPS: This is the civic administration’s little prank upon the citizens. See Anuj’s blog for more details.

A BEST bus wondering where it ought to halt

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Media Analysis

Many months ago, I designed a poster inviting volunteers for our inter-law school sports fest, Invicta. It featured a parody of the Lord Kitchener recruitment poster (The SportsCom WANTS YOU), and a few lines of copy, most of which escapes my memory at the moment.

Aneek had complimented me on the artwork and the concept of the poster (yes, we’re jobless enough to subject Sports Committee posters to media analysis). But he expressed reservations about one sentence, which ran thus: While you’re standing here reading this notice, people are running around looking for sponsors, booking fields, and doing all kinds of cool stuff.

“It’s a golden rule that an advertisement should not take a jibe at the product it is trying to sell,” I remember Aneek telling me.

I agree with his principle as a general rule, but I still think that if the target audience is sufficiently mature, an ad can work quite well, even though it pokes gentle fun at the product it is trying to sell. Heck, it might even work better than an ad which eulogises a product in clichéd ways.

An ad I saw the other day reminded me of Aneek’s advice. McDonald’s has introduced wi-fi at some of its outlets. The advertisement for the facility features two people typing on laptops. Speech blurbs contain the text of their IM conversation:
John: Hey!!
Mira: ssup??
John: nm. n u??
Mira: :) nm
My first impression on reading this was that McDonald’s copywriters must have about as much imagination as a doorstop. Far be it for me to suggest that my own GTalk transcripts run on Aristotelian lines, but surely John and Mira had more to say to each other?

But halfway through my glass of Iced Tea, another thought struck me. Was the ad, in defiance of Aneek’s golden rule, consciously parodying the pointlessness and vacuity of modern-day modes of conversation? I’ll probably never know.

In other news, Abdul Karim Telgi has vehemently criticised Mudrank, the movie based on his stamp paper scam. In particular, he has criticised the item number by Rakhi Sawant. “The item number in the film is so obscene that I had to close my eyes,” says the politician.

Here is a man who has defrauded the exchequer of thousands of crores of rupees, and his sensibilities are shocked by a flash of midriff and bare thighs. Indiyaah!

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Little Morning Music

One morning about two weeks ago, I woke to the sound of someone whistling Spring from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The first thing that struck me was how wonderfully melodious the whistling was. The second thing that struck me was the incongruity of whistling Spring when it was thirty-three degrees in the shade. The third thing that struck me (for by then I had left my bed and stepped out into the corridor where the whistling was coming from) was a question: How in the world had a sweeper picked up a tune from a western classical concerto?

I’ve heard him on several mornings since then. He empties waste-bins and dabs at spots on the floor, while the music ripples and trills and arpeggioes with the wild, free grace of birdsong. Almost always, he whistles popular Bollywood tunes. The Spring Concerto appears to be the only classical piece in his repertoire. But there still remained the puzzling question of where he had picked it up.

Like Father Brown in The Point of a Pin, I solved this problem in my sleep. I was lying in bed vaguely wondering if it was time to get up yet, when through my layers of drowsiness, I heard that tune from the Spring Concerto floating in, not from the corridor, but through the window. And it was an electronic monophony, a pale shadow of the vivaciously whistled melody I’d become accustomed to hearing.

I rushed to the window. A car which stays parked below our hostel was reversing, and this was its warning music. The sweeper was not, after all, a closet connoisseur of Western classical.

“High” culture permeates our world in the strangest of ways.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How We Are All Losing It

Lahiri, like Dill, is a fellow whose head teems with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fancies. On the way to office last week, we saw a taxi – a Fiat Uno, unlike the Fiat Premier Padminis which overrun Bombay roads. On the back screen of the car was a sticker saying “Same Fare Taxi”. It was meant to assure the world that nobody would have to shell out extra fare for the privilege of travelling in a more advanced make of car. This much was obvious to all of us, but not to Lahiri. “Maybe it means that the taxi will charge the same fare, regardless of your destination,” Lahiri suggested. The next few minutes were spent in an interesting and pointless discussion on the possible ramifications and commercial viability of such a scheme. I think nine continuous weeks of law firm work are taking their toll: we are all starting to lose it.

If further proof is required, witness the slogan Mrunmayee and I came up with at lunchtime the other day: “Either you’re with us, (slight pause, sheepish look) or you’re not with us.” We both laughed our silly heads off, and repeated it to everyone in sight, but no one else found it funny. In fact, even I don’t find it that funny now. Oh dear.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Beautiful People

On Wednesday, Justine Henin, aged only 25 and ranked number one in the world, announced her retirement from competitive tennis at a press conference in her native Belgium. Her decision came as a shock to the tennis world, and left me wondering why it is that the sportspersons I love most have to leave the stage in such heartbreaking ways. This post is a tribute to my three favourite sportspersons.

Henin, at her best, would play her tennis in a different world from that of her opponents – a world without sweat or haste, where all is elegance and grace. Old-school tennis fans who swear by Borg and Chris Evert are often heard to lament the passing of the ‘golden age’ of tennis. Carbon-fibre rackets and advanced training techniques, we are told, have robbed the game of much of its beauty. Sometimes, you see a slugfest of a tennis match, and you feel inclined to believe them. And then, you watch Justine, and you know that all is well with tennis.

Jonty Rhodes, unlike my other two favourite sportspersons, has never been regarded as one of the real greats of his game. He did not amass centuries with the bat, or demolish batting orders with the ball. But often in a match, he would take a catch, stop a boundary or effect a run-out in such a manner that, in my eyes, all else that can be done on a cricket field would pale in comparison.

For me, Rhodes flying through the air to take a catch at backward point has always been one of the greatest sights in the world of sport. With an eleven-year-old’s enthusiasm, I strove to emulate him in gully cricket. As a surface, asphalt is much more unforgiving than grass, but with every bruised elbow and every torn trouser knee, I imagined that I was somehow closer to my idol.

In the 2003 World Cup against Kenya, Maurice Odumbe hit the ball in the air toward Rhodes. Rhodes dropped the catch and in the process broke his hand. The injury effectively ruled him out of the rest of the tournament. Rhodes never played for South Africa again. The greatest fielder in the world had left the game on a dropped catch.

Jonty Rhodes took 139 catches in Tests and ODIs combined. Many of them were outrageous, unforgettable. But the Rhodes legacy is at the same time simpler and much greater than anything that mere statistics can convey. Jonty Rhodes, quite simply, made fielding cool.

Zinedine Zidane is the third great artist to whom this post pays humble tribute. Simon Barnes described his style most appositely: “Always severe and serious, but with that strange sense of detachment. It was as if he were well aware of the absurdity of football and, for that matter, of life. All the same, he could still see no point in giving these absurdities anything less than his best.”

Zidane was the closest thing to a complete footballer that I have seen. He left us many great memories to savour. He orchestrated beautiful moves, and his double drag-back had the dreamy beauty of ballet. Against Brazil in the 2006 World Cup semi-final, he stamped his class on the game in a manner I have never seen before or since from any footballer at any level. In the final, he chipped Buffon from the penalty spot, and I remember gasping and whooping at the audacity of the man.

Considering all that, it is tragic that he will, above all, be remembered for a head butt. Zidane’s career as a player ended on a red card, when it could so easily have ended with the greatest prize of all. They did not even let him attend the awards ceremony.

Henin’s farewell left me sad and surprised, Jonty’s made me miserable for days, but Zidane’s brought tears to my eyes. L’Equipe asked: “It was your last image as a soccer player. What do we tell our children and all those for whom you were a living example?”

Tell them, I say, that Zidane made mistakes. But tell them also that he played the game with such grace that it took your breath away. Tell them that Zidane was human. The children will understand.

I will always remember Zidane for all the good things: his wonderfully Gallic sense of style, that volley in Glasgow, those headers in Madrid, as well as the modesty and humility that he brought to the game. Because Zidane was a hero to me, and a hero deserves no less.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Cafeteria Ketchup Conspiracy

The movie Kate and Leopold introduced me to this delightful little rhyme:
You shake and shake the ketchup bottle;
None will come, and then a lot’ll.
Such a thing is impossible at the cafeteria of the Law Firm. Every time, and I mean every single time you want ketchup, the bottle is almost, but never entirely, empty. You upend it and wait patiently as the last dregs of ketchup wend their weary way down. You shake, slap and curse the bottle. If you are patient and vigorous enough, you are eventually rewarded with a blob of bottom-dwelling ketchup, in consistency not unlike alluvium.

How can the bottle have the exact same amount of ketchup every time we visit the cafeteria? I have given much thought to the question, and there seems to be only one solution. The stingy rascals who run the pantry wish to prevent people from overusing ketchup. To ensure this, they have, at all times, two bottles of ketchup: one full and one empty. Before mealtimes, they pour a minute amount from the full bottle into the empty one, and set the latter on the table. The other bottle is returned to a secret place, whose location is known only to the evil Pantry Master.

I admit that it takes a devious mind to uncover such a conspiracy, but to dream it up calls for a mind which is positively diabolical. Anyhow, the Cafeteria Ketchup Conspiracy has been uncovered and laid bare. You read it here first.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Miracles

At the law firm where I’m interning, one of the computers in the upstairs library has a Perpetual Calendar. If you enter a date from any year, it’ll give you the day of the month. Some members of the library staff are fascinated by the program, and yesterday, one of them wanted to show it off to me. I for my part wanted to explain to him the elegant mathematical principles on which it works, but I caught myself just in time.

I refrained because I remembered an incident from my school days. A friend of mine was complaining that her birthday never fell on a Sunday. I told her that this was impossible, but she persisted with her claim, so I tried to prove to her that God or the Gregorian Calendar were not biased against her.

The proposition which I was trying to prove follows directly from elementary principles of modular arithmetic. The proof should be evident to any reader with a basic background in number theory.

But within three minutes of launching into my explanation, I could tell that I had lost her interest. In fact, she was giving me that disconcerting “What a freak you are” look that I sometimes get from people. An exercise book that I was using at the time had a sort of perpetual calendar, so I picked it up and tried to use it as a teaching aid. It was then that she commented that I was spoiling the magic of the perpetual calendar by explaining its working.

Yesterday’s incident made me think about her comment, and I am convinced now that she was wrong. A perpetual calendar is wonderful, but more wonderful still are the principles of modular arithmetic on which it is based. And most wonderful of all is the undying curiosity of the human mind that drives us to take apart cars, radios and atoms to find out what just what it is that makes them tick. As Brutha said about finding an aquifer in the desert, “just because you can explain it doesn't mean it’s not still a miracle.”

Thursday, May 1, 2008

One Month Down the Line

Today, The World According to Sroyon turns one month old.

April 1 is a strange day on which to be born. April 1 marks the commencement of the fiscal year. More pertinently, April 1 is All Fools’ Day: a day for frivolity and horseplay. April 1 is also a day whose history is riddled with mistakes. In 1873, the RMS Atlantic strayed 20 kilometres off course, ran onto rocks, and sank off the coast of Nova Scotia, killing 562 people. In 1944, US bombers strayed from German airspace into neutral Switzerland, and mistakenly bombed the sleepy town of Schaffhausen. This is a most disturbing trend. I will refrain from drawing inferences.

Nine posts in a month is not bad. There appears also to be a pleasant randomness in subject matter – among other things, I have written about beggars, free dinners, angler fish, shade cards and buses. What is more, there is actually a small group of people who claim to read the blog. Out of the goodness of their heart, some even go to the extent of leaving comments, and when this happens, I startle my co-interns with my ecstatic shouts when I check my mail in the morning and see the notifications (O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! He chortled in his joy.) My co-interns are all non-bloggers, and do not Understand.

I too was once counted among their ranks, but as of today, I have been a blogger for one whole month. And I still can’t think of neat conclusions.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

4-0908T

There’s a shade of paint called Bruised Lilac. I don’t know which paint company came up with it, but it seems like a clear indication that they had a poet in their Department for Nomenclature of Shades, or whatever it is that paint companies have.

Considering how easy it is to come up with poetic names for colours, it seems to me that paint companies do a deplorable job most of the time. Berger Paints for example has this beautiful shade of green.


For me, it evokes pine trees on a hillside on a foggy morning – a damp, cool shade, sort of fuzzy around the edges. They could have called it Misty Pine, or Smoky Cypress. Instead, they call it 4-0908T. I’m lost for words.

It must be remembered, of course, that Berger is the company that came up with the obnoxious pink and blue Taj Mahal for their ad campaign, so I suppose they don’t know any better. But 4-0908T still rankles.

In the world according to Sroyon, paint companies would not give names to shades that sound like an Asimov robot or a computer virus. In their Department for Nomenclature of Shades, they would employ (at a good salary) young poets trying to make their mark. And with luck and a little imagination, reading a shade card could be as much of a pleasure as looking at one.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Forgetfulness and BEST Buses

I got up on a BEST bus the other day which had a TV screen showing live video footage of the inside of the bus. If you were sitting in the right place, you could see yourself on the screen. The picture quality was bad, but the screen was the cynosure of all eyes. Grown-ups were covertly adjusting their hair. Children were doing the only sensible thing: smile, wave and make faces.

Then, abruptly, the screen went blank. People left off looking at the wonderful world inside the bus, and focussed their attention on the even more wonderful world outside. But the dark screen was a good reflector, and the interior of the bus was sufficiently bright. You could still see the inside of the bus. And the picture quality was slightly better.

In other news, this is the third time I left my shower-gel and shampoo in the shower cubicle in the hostel. All three times, the cleaners have found them and deposited them in the administrative office. Each time, I have got them back. The God of Absentmindedness is too kindhearted to be a good teacher.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Traffic Symphony

The hostel room where I’m staying in Bombay directly overlooks Sir J. J. Road. This is one of the busiest and most important roads in Bombay - a kind of backbone of the city. All day and all night, huge numbers of vehicles pass underneath our windows. The noise is continuous, unrelenting.

Noise, did I say? Music would be a more apposite word. If I stick my head out of the window, close my eyes and wave my arms in the night air, I can almost imagine I am conducting an orchestra. Taxis, trucks, buses and motorbikes ply up and down, allegro con brio. Lorry engines rumble in bass; brakes squeal in falsetto. A pathbreaking avant-garde composition: The Traffic Symphony for a million taxis and trucks.

We are lulled to sleep by the music of the city; the same music greets our ears when we wake up. I have grown so used to it that when we went for a weekend trip to the seaside village of Nagaon, the silence at night was deafening. Even more unsettling were the occasional howls and cries from dogs, owls and other assorted Creatures of the Night. We stayed awake till 4.30 in the morning, chatting and telling ghost stories. After that, I did fall asleep, but by that time I was so sleepy I could have comfortably dozed off at a rock concert.

So much for the peace and quiet of the countryside. Gimme the bustling city any day. The sound of a million people noisily going about their business is the sound I want to fall asleep to.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What a Girl Wants

When a male angler fish matures, his digestive system degenerates, making him incapable of feeding independently. This drives him to find a female angler fish. When he does find a female, he bites into her skin, and releases an enzyme that fuses the pair down to the blood-vessel level. The male then atrophies into nothing more than a pair of gonads. This extreme sexual dimorphism ensures that when the female is ready to spawn, she has a readily-available mate. Not to mention the ultimate guarantee against infidelity.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Hey There Delilah

Hey there Delilah / What’s it like in New York City? / I’m a thousand miles away / But girl, tonight you look so pretty / Yes you do / Times Square can’t shine as bright as you / I swear it’s true
I discovered yesterday that the song is not being sung by a guy in England to his girl in New York, as I’d initially thought. (Yes, I know you’re thinking “What kind of idiot would think that?” But I’m very clueless about distances in general). I made this important discovery when I looked up the distance between Calcutta and Mumbai, and found that it is all of 1227 miles. Hang on, I thought, so London-New York must be much greater, right? In fact, the distance between London and New York is no less than 3456 miles. So the guy’s probably somewhere in the United States as well. Which makes it all better somehow.

A thousand miles seems pretty far / But they’ve got planes and trains and cars...

All this reminded me of a story that Fenchurch relates to Arthur Dent in “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”.
When I was a kid I had this picture hanging over the foot of my bed. It was one of those pictures that children are supposed to like, but don’t. Full of endearing little animals doing endearing things, you know? There was a raft with rabbits, and assorted rats and owls. There may even have been a reindeer. And a boy was sitting on the raft.
The picture worried me, I must say. There was an otter swimming in front of the raft, and I used to lie awake at night worrying about this otter having to pull the raft, with all these wretched animals on it who shouldn’t even be on a raft, and the otter had such a thin tail to pull it with I thought it must hurt pulling it all the time. Worried me. Not badly, but just vaguely, all the time.
Then one day - and remember I’d been looking at this picture every night for years - I suddenly noticed that the raft had a sail. Never seen it before. The otter was fine, he was just swimming along.
It was just such a sudden revelation, years of almost unnoticed worry just dropping away, like taking off heavy weights, like black and white becoming colour, like a dry stick suddenly being watered. The sudden shift of perspective that says ‘Put away your worries, the world is a good and perfect place. It is in fact very easy.’
Now I’d read the book at the cynical age of fifteen, and I’d thought, “What a stupid story! What a load of fuss about a silly imaginary otter!” And this post is a load of fuss about a silly song about an imaginary girl. But at least I know what Fenchurch meant.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Two Beggars

Last Sunday near Victoria Terminus, I saw the most remarkable beggar I have ever seen in my life. He wore lipstick, an orange cap, and a black, orange and green windcheater. His teeth were in a state of abominable decay. His nails were painted in different colours. On his back was a spectacularly colourful patchwork sack; a mobile phone dangled from his neck.

Some little distance down Threadneedle Street, upon the left-hand side, there is, as you may have remarked, a small angle in the wall. There sat Neville St. Clair, alias Hugh Boone. A shock of orange hair, a pale face disfigured by a horrible scar, which, by its contraction, had turned up the outer edge of his upper lip, a bulldog chin, and a pair of very penetrating dark eyes: these were enough to mark him out from amid the common crowd of mendicants. But Neville St. Clair appeared in Conan Doyle’s fiction, set in bleak, grey London. In colourful South Bombay, obviously, stronger measures had been called for.

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Dinner

Around 8.30 in the evening, on days when there’s not too much work, we interns face an interesting choice. If we stay back for an hour, we can order out at any restaurant of our choice. The dinner will be billed to the law firm. We will also be entitled to claim cab fare. If we leave, no candy.

Every afternoon, visions of free pizzas and biryani float before our eyes. Every afternoon, Lahiri and I promise ourselves that tonight we shall be resolute. Every evening, as soon as the opportunity presents itself, we unceremoniously slip out.

We buy dinner, and go to Marine Drive, where we meet up with friends who are interning at other law firms in Bombay. We eat our packed dinner at the seafront, and enjoy the surf in our faces. We discuss moots, shopping, Wordsworth, swivel chairs, and many other unimportant things. We inhale the smell of the sea (which we compare favourably to that of Lahiri’s feet). We laugh a lot. When we’ve polished off the last of the chicken, we use Abira’s hand sanitiser. Just before midnight, we go home.

What can explain this economically inefficient behaviour, especially on the part of me and Lahiri - two dyed-in-the-wool devotees of free food? By doing what we choose to do, I know that we forgo our free dinner. I know that we spend anything from Rs. 40 to 60 on a dinner that is not a patch on what we would have got at the firm. And I know that tonight, unless some hard-hearted associate forces us to stay back late, we will slip out. Again.