Wednesday, 28 January 2009

A Cautionary Tale

About a week back, Saha and I went for a 12 km country walk from Box Hill (setting for the picnic scene in Emma) to Leatherhead, in the fair county of Surrey. Should you decide to follow in our exalted footsteps, this post is to tell you what you should not do.

Do not go by the ever-pessimistic BBC weather forecast and cancel your walk. Ours was planned for a Sunday. On Thursday, the forecast for Sunday said Cloudy Skies with Sunny Spells. On Friday, they changed it to Heavy Rain. On Saturday, they upgraded it further to Heavy Rain with Hail. On Sunday morning, we popped our heads out of the window and saw the sun beaming down from a cloudless blue sky. We didn’t check, but the BBC was probably predicting Apocalypse.

If you are in a hurry to get to the starting point of your hike, do not trust the printed travel itinerary given to you by the friendly lady at London Victoria Station enquiries. The route is as follows: train from Victoria to Leatherhead, connecting train from Leatherhead to Boxhill & Westhumble. Rather simple, you would think. But the computer that generates these itineraries has strange views about human nature. It thinks that passengers prefer not to reach their destination by the quickest routes and the fastest trains possible. The itinerary, therefore, involves deliberately missing the first three available trains that would take you to Leatherhead, and catching the fourth. Consequently, when you arrive at Leatherhead, you will find you’ve missed the earliest connecting train you could have taken and have to wait another 20 minutes for the next one. Of course, the itinerary will blithely advise to miss this one too and catch the one after, but by this time you will have learnt not to trust it.

Wear walking shoes if possible. My Adidas trainers are eminently suited to running on asphalt, but are not at their best when tackling steep slopes mushy from last night’s shower. They tend to slip.

If, like us, you are using the Time Out Book of Country Walks as your guidebook, be prepared for the occasional indecipherable instruction. “Fifty metres onwards from the multi-branched oak, bear right from the kissing gate towards Ashurst Rough (so marked on the OS Map), your direction 239 degrees.” As botany-illiterate men of the tropics, we couldn’t identify an oak tree if our lives depended on it. We had never seen a kissing gate. And we carried neither an Ordinance Survey Map nor a compass. We got lost a couple of times and took long detours.

Be prepared also for instructions that you cannot possibly follow. The suggested route required us at one point to take a path that was submerged under the River Mole, swollen by the recent rains. We needed a dangerous and borderline illegal detour to cross the river and get back on track.

Learn to tell the subtle differences between a bridleway, a footpath and a dirt track. If you can distinguish one from the other, you won’t get lost in the woods and meet a middle-aged commercial illustrator with a wonderful sense of humour who is out walking his dog.

In case you do meet said commercial illustrator, accept that he is a hardcore hiker and can stride up steep-ass White Hill without breaking sweat. Refrain from trying to do the same. Swallow your pride and fake an injury or something. We tried to match him step for step, we eventually did make it to the top at the same time as he did, but not before the strain had taken us to the verge of collapse.

Finally, pack more than two ham-and-lettuce sandwiches per person. Walking makes you hungry. You will pass a few pubs on your walk, but they are fiendishly expensive. The fact that they have log fires and the smell of grilled steak wafting out of their windows does not help either.

That is all the advice I can think of for now. Follow these, and your hike will go off more smoothly (if somewhat less eventfully) than ours.

Of course, it is probably better to not catch the hiking bug in the first place and take up some nice, non-taxing hobby like watching TV. Better still, you can nip the problem in the bud and never make friends with Rahul Saha. But no one warned me five years back.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Of Parodies

Saha has just published a post about an article on “parody and intellectual property” that we once co-authored in our giddy youth. I usually don’t like reproducing material that I have published elsewhere, but the post on parody, coupled with the fact that our college authorities have recently changed the attendance rules, gives me the perfect opportunity to recycle a parodic poem I once published in our college magazine.

The Ballad of a Serial Bunker

This winter morn, the world outside is freezing;
I can’t let them snatch my cozy world away;
The warmth between the blankets is amazing;
I think I will not go to class today.

To Friday morning puris I’m averse,
And I abjure from them; come what may.
Boredom’s bad, but hunger makes it worse;
I think I will not go to class today.

It’s pouring; there’s an atmosphere of gloom;
The road is muddy; the sky outside is grey;
My umbrella’s been stolen from my room;
I think I will not go to class today.

I’m reading, while my conscience wages
A losing war with Ernest Hemingway;
I haven’t read a better book in ages;
I think I will not go to class today.

In football season, to drag myself to class
Would be a waste, I’d much rather play.
I love to feel bare feet on dewy grass;
I think I will not go to class today.

Not a single lecture more can I withstand—
My truant spirit cries, and I obey;
Corp. Insolvency should be banned;
I think I will not go to class today.

From my room, I watch my batch-mates go
To write their tests, but in my room I stay;
My attendance has hit a record low;
I’m not allowed to write my test today.

The poem, if you haven’t figured it out yourself, parodies A Ballade of Suicide by G. K. Chesterton. Parodies and translations—both derivative works—are just about the only forms of poetry I seem remotely capable of writing, which probably goes to show that I’m not a very original thinker.

Sunday, 18 January 2009


I went for an Andy Warhol exhibition this week. Among the many interesting things at the exhibition was a huge wall with several large mirrors, each of which had an Andy Warhol quotation. There was a crew from a television channel interviewing random people who had come to see the exhibition. The first person I saw being interviewed was a graphic designer from Norway. She was on air, responding to questions like “What do you like about Andy Warhol?” and “How much would you pay to have an original Warhol in your living room?” On the mirror behind her was the line, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

Saha had gone for the same exhibition a few weeks back. He told me how he saw an absolutely gorgeous lady standing in front of the wall that had the mirrors. Apparently, this lady clearly saw Saha checking her out in the mirror, and very deliberately (and very sexily) adjusted her hair. The quotation on the mirror read, “I am a deeply superficial person.”

I love Warhol.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

My Hobby - 3

The female race should never have been let in on the Special Effects Brushes option in Photoshop.

The Cast So Far

Google Analytics tells me I have readers, among other places, in Turkey, Finland, Greece and Indonesia. I realise Google are probably lying just to keep me happy and retain my invaluable custom, but if I have even a handful of readers outside my circle of friends, I still think it’s unfair on them that I keep mentioning friends and acquaintances in my blog without any sort of introduction. Hence the need for a glossary of sorts.

At least, that’s my ostensible reason for the post. The real reason is that I like internal hyperlinks, and I needed an excuse to use them on my blog.

I have linked all prior mentions of my friends (as for example on this post) to the corresponding entry on the post you’re now reading. And each time I introduce a new character, I shall add their introduction as well. The cast so far comprises:

Half Mallu and half Bihari, Aastha is famous for her multiple chins, coffee addiction, a habit of talking to inanimate objects in her room, and coming up with a killer ending for a certain yearbook testimonial. She is also famous for a mean rendition of Yankee-doodle on the guitar. Unfortunately, this is the only tune she can play.
Most likely to
: be the first name in your phonebook
Sample quote: “Tum khaa kyun nahi rahe ho Sroyon?”

A compulsive socialite who knows every word of college gossip. Likes food, chatting in the library, and all other unproductive ways of spending time. To quote Douglas Adams, she loves deadlines, especially the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. Oh, and she wears pink specs.
Most likely to: talk the hind leg off a donkey
Sample quote: “Oh, guess who I saw holding hands at City Centre?”

Hawaiian shirt, rudraksh and bald pate—is it a freak? Is it a slob? Is it a walking-talking fashion disaster? All of the above—it’s Anuj! It’s excruciatingly hard to think of good things to say about him, but yeah I guess he knows his eating joints fairly well, and he’s the founder-neglecter of Cinephiles Anonymous. He pretends to be freaked out by much that I say and do, but I know—I just know—that behind that grumpy exterior, he’s actually enjoying it.
Most likely to: be featured on the cover of Vogue
Sample quote: “Someone please kill Sroyon before I do something worse to him.”

He is scared of girls and only eats vegetarian food, but he likes Paulo Coelho and corporate law. In other words, he has his preferences completely skewed. If you’re not sufficiently convinced that he’s a freak, sample this: he knocks on people’s doors before entering their hostel rooms, invites you to take a seat when you visit his, and always wears sneakers.
Most likely to: trip on a chair leg and apologise
Sample quote: “I found this really cool provision in the Takeover Code today…”

The youngest member on the editorial board of our college magazine, and the victim of almost incessant leg-pulling. Gets her revenge by taking cheap digs at me in front of her batchmates, thereby ensuring that as far as the first years are concerned, I have no reputation or dignity left to speak of. Famous for her Profound Statements, Victorian vocabulary and non-existent road sense.
Most likely to: lose her way returning from Food Bazaar
Sample quote: “There’s a thrill in winning which is absent in mere participation. That is the same difference between mumble mumblemumble…”

Bunty’s exploits in law school were many and varied: valuable cameos in the cricket tournament, thrilling moments on the football field, and who could ever forget the cycling expedition from Calcutta to Hyderabad. There is nobody Bunty doesn’t know, no event he hasn’t been somehow involved in. On an average day, Bunty will mangle five English words, try to chat up a minimum of six random girls, and propose at least three group outings/activities. These may range from Coke in Beliaghata to a batch trip to Bhutan.
Most likely to: say ‘yes’ to a plan
Sample quote: “Main karoonga”

Likes tea, polka dots, indie pop, lemon tarts and cats. Darshana somehow seems to have built up a reputation of being able to write well, though she can’t spell ‘privilege’ and has the vocabulary of a Mouseketeer. Oh and of course, she has a shrine dedicated to me. *ducks*
Most likely to: kill me for this post
Sample quote: “Okie dokie.”

Came up with the idea of having a Lexicon for the NUJS Blogs, defining NUJS-specific terms that might be unfamiliar to outsiders. So now you know where the idea for this post came from. She may be a cusp, and she may think that a desktop computer can run without a power supply, but her ideas with respect to page layout and punctuation are all in the right place. Karthy is therefore the only person other than Lahiri and myself whom I trust with the sacred task of formatting our college magazine.
Most likely to: quote from a 1967 Star Trek episode and expect everyone to get it
Sample quote: “Maybe I’m being obsessive, but don’t you think there should be a comma here?”

An infallible stopper and a superb free-kick taker, who can always be counted on to miss that crucial penalty. He is also the originator of the ‘doctrine of severability’—the less said about that the better. And no piece about Kisku is complete without mentioning this essential fact: His grin is the stuff that toothpaste commercials are made of.
Most likely to: cheat in a friendly match
Sample quote: “I did not steal your plate.” (This is a lie.)

He deserves a whole blog dedicated just to him. Famous for dropping, losing or tripping over objects, hard of hearing, incurably tactless, always bankrupt. An expert at formatting MS Word documents, imitating lizard calls, and having the dirtiest room in the whole of the boys’ hostel.
Most likely to: have already offended you
Sample quote: “Please justify the text. It hurts my eyes.”

She could have been the quintessential village girl, but in fact she is far from it. She used her Class Representative privileges to spam like nobody’s business, makes wailing kitten-like sounds while headbanging to heavy metal, and parties like a maniac. Back in her home town, she terrorises the natives by driving her Scooty at high speeds on congested roads.
Most likely to: show Bhubaneswar how to party
Sample quote: She doesn’t talk; she pinches

The older of the identical Varghese twins, and manager of M-Cube, a team in the NUJS Football League which I unfortunately happen to be part of. His promising sporting career was short by an anterior cruciate ligament tear, compounded by complete disregard for medical advice. This left him with a lasting bitterness towards all of mankind; so as team manager, he takes it out on us at practice, modelling his actions on those of an exceptionally heartless drill sergeant.
Most likely to: ignore his physician all the way to the wheelchair
Sample quote: (In response to me telling him I’ll die if he makes me do one more pushup) “Sroyon, an athlete peaks at 22.”

A law firm in London, in a spirit of fey madness, offered him a job, so he has mercifully left our shores. A man of many passions: Liverpool FC, cycling, stargazing and Article 19(1)(a), to name a few. Always has a crazy and physically-demanding plan up his sleeve, and an unhealthy knack of talking you into being part of it. Will go down in history, if for no other reason, as the man who encouraged me to start my blog.
Most likely to: run a marathon just for fun
Sample quote: “I’ve figured it out at last! Man’s purpose on earth is to domesticate the cow.”

With a name like that, and with his spartan habits and vow against using obscenities of any kind, it is not surprising that Shekhar Sumit is more commonly known as the Quaker. He is the brain behind the Assimilated Arsenal of Asinine Alliterations and the most infamous statement of facts in NUJS mooting history. Table tennis, normal tennis, chronic sesquipedalianism, and a strange obsession with the NUJS Law Review are other things he is known for. Finally, he is the most short-tempered person of my acquaintance.
Most likely to: poke you when annoyed
Sample quote: “Pox ’pon them.”

One of the best, if not the best quizzer our college has ever seen; knows all there is to know about the fashion world and other alien domains. Would rather help humanity than strangle her conscience and join corporate law firms like most of us do. Somehow always seems to be flustered, ends all her sentences with “I swear,” and has declared war on political incorrectness, MNCs and the male species in general.
Most likely to: know the answer
Sample quote: “I hope you know, what you’re wearing was probably stitched by child labourers in a Cambodian sweatshop.”

Sunday, 4 January 2009

The DHR - 2

At the fourth station on the 88 kilometre journey, this board caught my eye:

Observe the curious mishmash of FPS and SI units.

Friday, 2 January 2009


These kids live beside the tracks of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. Every day, twice a day, they see the train pass by. And still they wave.

And me? In our journey from NJP to Darjeeling, I passed at least twenty such groups of kids. And each time, I waved back.

People are strange.

I also think we (i.e. mankind) will outgrow our fascination for fast cars, planes and rockets before we outgrow our fascination for trains.

That’s me in the picture, aged eight months. Evidently, the fascination is not of recent origin.

A Proposed Jus Cogens Norm

Pictured above is the valley of the Relli river, 16 kilometres from Kalimpong. Unspoilt natural vista? Not really.

Here’s the same scene, shot from halfway up the mountain.

They are constructing a coffee shop, toilets and—this is what really kills me—a swimming pool. Tourism development, they call it.

Sometimes I think evolution is making us stupider.

I also think there should be a jus cogens norm against vandalising landscape.