Sunday, December 26, 2010

Istanbul

On the shores of the Bosphorus, they once built a city beyond reproach.

Now the successors of Suleym─ün the Magnificent clamour for EU membership, and on their trams they put up warning posters such as these.


I thought it was a warning against wearing scary masks on public transport (or perhaps a reminder that what seems like a devil with horns on the 9.45 to Zeytinburnu may in fact be a chubby businessman with a juvenile sense of humour). But apparently the sign says Please give priority to passengers who are alighting.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Music, Food and Drink

My friend Saha once made a list of ten things he likes about London. As may be expected, the list was misguided and pretentious, and my own list – if I were to make one – would look completely different. Except for one item: Buskers on the Underground, which featured at no. 8.

At peak hour at Bank station, with hundreds of lawyers and bankers hurrying past, Simon and Garfunkel assume a special significance: Slow down, you move too fast / Got to make the moment last...

* * *

An eatery in Central London claims to have invented this snack which they call a ‘shwrap’, but which is basically unsliced Mazikushi. The packaging says:
Eating shwrap promotes peace and harmony, increases brain size and makes you more attractive to the opposite sex.*
*Or same sex – clever shwrap can determine orientation.
As if being blamed for tsunamis was not bad enough, gay people are also getting a limited choice of shwrap.

* * *

On Friday evening after work I had this conversation with my friend.

Me: I had a tough day at work. I came home and decided to drown my sorrows in drink.
Friend: What did you do?
Me: I ate a liqueur chocolate.
Friend: Nice. Manly thing to do.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

CARTOONIED

Language Log had this hilarious post last week, called A doubtful benevolence: Mark Twain on spelling. I was reading it today at work, and by the time I got to the part about sicisiors, I was laughing uncontrollably and causing heads to turn in consternation.

Nearly as hilarious is the passage where Twain talks about a Good Spelling prize that was awarded at his school, and it reminded me of a funny story from my own school days.

My friend and I went for an inter-school spelling competition, and we had a round where a scrambled word would come up on the screen. The teams had to hit the buzzer and come up with the right word (sometimes there was more than one right word, but any one would do).

One of the words on the screen was CARTOONIED. This can be rearranged to form both COORDINATE and DECORATION, and these were evidently the words they were looking for. My friend hit the buzzer a split second after the word came up, and said, “Carotenoid.” And the person who was conducting the competition didn’t even have the word on his card, and they had to check a dictionary to confirm that the word actually exists, and I will never forget the look on his face.

We didn’t win the competition that year – we came a close second – but that one perfect moment was worth more to me than a first prize.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Age of Convenience

I like people who, for no apparent reason, opt to do something the hard way. I don’t mean people who achieve heroic feats like climbing Everest without oxygen. For complex personal reasons, out of sheer bloodymindedness, or just for fun, ordinary people doing ordinary things sometimes reject the easy way out.

There are examples even on my blogroll. In his carpentry workshop, Tommy makes things out of wood, using lumber which he mills himself. Randall Munroe doesn’t allow ads on his website. When most of us chose soft corporate jobs, Anuj started out practising at the Delhi High Court, and if there is a harder way to make a living in the legal profession, I don’t know of it. My father types with two fingers – though (a) he is not on my blogroll, and (b) he doesn’t do it out of choice.

I rarely fall into this category myself because I am lazy. But in school I once solved all the problems in a Trigonometry textbook using nothing but Euclid. For a web site which I designed last year, I initially wrote the code from scratch, i.e. on Notepad, and I had fun doing it.

These days Sarbajeet and I work late and usually have dinner in the office. So we cook only on weekends, but on the other hand, we never cheat – which is to say, we never use ready-made sauces and pastes. Some of the more elaborate dishes occupy us for an entire evening: just shopping for mushroom bourguignon took us the better part of an hour.

Saha takes photographs on black-and-white film, on a camera with a dysfunctional light-meter. He took one of me a few months back, on Baker Street with a camera-strap round my neck and a fuzzy double-decker bus in the background. He had asked me to “pose, but not look like you are posing.” I hate it when people take photos of me, and usually I hate the results even more, but this photo is one of the few exceptions.

Saha had it developed in India, and this – not the photo itself, not the fact that it was taken on black-and-white film and developed by hand – was what I liked best: it arrived in an envelope which said “Thanks for indulging. - Saha.”