Friday, 7 December 2012

Travelpost: Lucknow

 To get a pre-paid auto at the Lucknow Railway station, passengers have to catch hold of an available auto, then coax the driver to take them to their desired destination. A man wearing a denim jacket and matching pants roams around brandishing a stick, performing the duties of the constabulary. There is no indication of him being there in official capacity. However, his prodding succeeds in convincing an autowallah, who we found after waiting for at least 20 minutes, to take us to our guesthouse in Aliganj.  

It is a thirty-minute ride, during which the auto stops four times. Twice to ask for directions, once for the driver to answer his mobile, and once for him to buy bananas that he eats while my parents worriedly ask around for directions. Never, at a traffic signal. There are none on the way. Vehicles seem to find a way out of the mess at the various intersections on their own, spewing out in all directions and on all sides. Apart from that, the ride is eventless.

The Guesthouse Campus

The guesthouse is situated within a residential complex for Government scientists. I have lived in one of those in Delhi, and all the memories make me smile. The campus is large and clean. I see no kids around though, a huge difference from the Delhi campus. The guesthouse is really a wing of the scientists’ hostel, with the rooms being more comfortably furnished than those of the latter. The caretaker is a mild mannered elderly man. I can almost hear the question mark in his voice after he tells us his own name. He informs us that there is no lunch available and that we should go to the restaurant nearby if we want any. My father grimaces at the signboard announcing the restaurant to be “100 per cent vegetarian”. We eat in silence.

We step out next morning for the usual round of sight-seeing. I am adamant that I want to see the city like a local. My dad agrees by refusing to book a cab. It wasn’t exactly what I meant, but I take it well since I enjoy using public transport. My mother grumbles. I do too, exactly half an hour later, when I realise that Lucknow has no legitimate public transport system. An exorbitantly priced auto ride later, we are at the gate of the Bada Imambada. Immediately touts surround us promising to show us the Imambada and other famous sights around the area in a horse pulled tonga for all of fifty rupees. We hop on.

Our first stop is the Chikan factory in the area. We realise we have been heckled, and that the tonga wala’s only aim is to earn a commission from the factory on our purchases. As a matter of principle, my parents refuse to buy anything from there. The tonga wala is all politeness even after the debacle, driving us to see the Chota imambada (the only one in the tonga wala’s itinerary). There is a clock tower on the way, whose photos I hastily click on my phone camera.

Clock Tower, Lucknow
At the Chota Imambada, we are met by a lone gatekeeper, who for thirty rupees also doubles up as the resident guide. My mother tells him how the people of Lucknow all seem to be very well spoken. Accordingly, he prattles off the history of the Shahi Hammam (the Royal Bath) in impeccable Urdu. We struggle to comprehend. The camera conks off and I worry about it, while he directs my parents to the royal lavatory and goes on to explain the mechanics of the 300 year old system. My mother is disgusted, my father impressed. The imambada itself houses a lot of chandeliers sourced from various parts of the world. We look around for some time before our tonga wala comes in to tell us it’s time. He drops us off at the gate of the Bada Imambada, with the directions to get a Government approved guide inside. I am famished and refuse to see anymore.

Shahi Hamam, Chota Imambada Complex
We go to Hazratganj, the posh market in Lucknow. It reminds us of C.P, only dirtier. Even when compared to the mess C.P currently is in. There is no room to complain about the food though. It is every bit as good as we had heard. We eat in silence again. A more satisfied silence than before.

Dad books a car for the next morning. The driver calls us half an hour after we are scheduled to leave, to tell us he is late. We cancel the booking and resignedly hail another overcharging auto to make our way to the Bada Imambada. The hecklers of the previous day recognise us and keep their distance.

Gateway to the Bada Imambada

The government-approved guide ignores the chart enumerating the government-approved guide rates. We point it out. He hastily revises the prices he quoted. Then hurries us through the Imambada building when we agree. He cackles impatiently as I stop to click photos. He tells us that the Imambada was built by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula as a project to generate employment for the poor during drought years. They would build during the day, and the Nawab would order his men to break the structures down by night. This went on for 11 years before the Nawab stopped his night-time destruction. It took another 11 years to build the structure.

Bada Imambada

The famous Bhool Bhulaiya (the Labyrinth) stands next to the Imambada building. It has 1024 ways, out of which only one is correct. Some of the routes can take you to Agra, Faizabad and as far as Delhi. Inside, the guide makes us stand with our ears pressed to the wall. He goes further down the corridor and softly says our name, his mouth facing the wall. We can hear him clearly. The guide puns about  “deewaro ke bhi kaan hote hain”. The saying might have originated there, I couldn’t tell you for sure. The view from the terrace is beautiful. The guide can’t tell us the names of some of the ruins I point out. And he seems too disinterested to cook up anything. I have to be satisfied by clicking photos.

Unnamed Ruin, as seen from the terrace of the Bhool Bhulaiya

We have a late lunch at the famous Chowk area, but not before being heckled some more. The restaurant owner suggests we hurry if we want to see the Residency. We obey. The residency is a group of ruins that housed the British General during his stay at Lucknow. The museum has interesting artefacts, including shards of porcelain vessels that were excavated as early as 2000. I want to explore some more, but it is nearly closing time and the guards hover nearby, discouraging anyone from looking too carefully. There are a few portraits of the Nawabs, but I don’t bother with those. I click pictures of some of the ruins. Each proclaims itself to have been of consequence during its glory days. Either a doctor’s residence or a begum’s quarters. I do not bother with those plaques either.

Ruins in the Residency Complex

Ruins in the Residency Complex

The next afternoon, on board the Shatabdi Express, my mother rues that there was no time to see the newer parts of Lucknow, the parks that are the ex Chief Minister’s legacy. She promises to go there the next time we visit. The train pulls out of the station.










Thursday, 4 October 2012

Case Study: What not to do in an Interview

The placement cell of my college recently organised an interview skills building workshop. Since I am so woefully short on those (which apparently does not deter me from keeping the title of the post, what it is), I shelled out the requisite 500 bucks and sacrificed a richly deserved weekend in order to enable myself to take a stab at employability.
The most important part of the workshop was a mock interview, to be recorded, and then shown to the participant, in order to analyse it, and to the point out the shortcomings in the interviewee. One would think, this could hardly be a problem to a veteran of (unsuccessful) interviews. But I seem to have become adept at failing to match even my own low standards.

The first question: ‘Tell me something about yourself.’

I inwardly smirked at the quality of the question. And suddenly lost interest.

“I am a graduate in economics, now pursuing my masters”, I replied. The interviewer waited for me to dazzle him with something interesting.

“I like reading...and enjoy writing too”, I continued, this time in an all American drawl.

The interviewer then asked me why I wanted to join the company I was interviewing for.  My precise words were, ‘I am not sure’. Then I flashed him a smile to make him forget what I had said. Instead, he stiffened and asked me what qualities I thought were important for the job profile in question. I gave generic responses like problem solving abilities, and an analytical bent of mind. He paraphrased his question. I gave the same answer using similar words. He repeated himself. An impatient look crossed my face (I know, since I saw the video). I pointed out that I had just answered the question twice already. He asked me if I had read the job profile. I said I had. Then gave a nervous smile that assured him that I had not.
 Perhaps that was the moment I realised things were not going well.  So instead of pulling up my socks to answer the subsequent  questions better, I just let things tumble downhill.

‘What are your strengths?’

‘I am very hard-working’. Followed with a shifty smile.

‘What do you consider to be your weakness?’

‘ times I tend to get obsessive about things I like’

Disconcerted, he steered the interview to less creepy waters.

‘What’s your dream job?’

Thoughtful stare into the distance.

“I haven’t figured that out yet”.

He decided he had had enough of me.

“Okay, do you have any questions I can answer?” he asked out of politeness, or habit.

“Yeah how easy it is to move within the company?”

If I had unknowingly given him any indication of my stability and loyalty to the job, that question removed all doubt.

Later during the (public) analysis of the video, my trainer asked me to point out five good and five bad things about the interview. I looked at him incredulously; waved my hands to show that I couldn’t. He sighed at my incompetence. Then said something to the effect that I was high on confidence, in spite of the terrible answers.  I nodded humbly. And kept quiet about his inability to list out the four others.







Monday, 3 September 2012

Last week I came across a list of books that a certain publishing house believed, were THE books to read while growing up. I disagreed with most of their choices. So here I list some of my own. These (listed in the order in which I first read them) aren't necessarily the most profound, or even my favourite. But they did define growing up for me.

1) Enid Blyton's school stories (Malory Towers and Saint Claire's)-Nobody discusses Enid Blyton anymore, unless it's with reference to the sexist-racist ideology that she seemed to peddle through her
books. I do not disagree with that evaluation, and it's important to recognise those themes. But the positive messages that she DID talk about, about friendship and loyalty and self belief, about
having values and sticking to them, and being proud of who you were, are also unfortunately sidelined when we do discuss those things, even though these are the messages that stay. This may be
because the books were never preachy-it was always the story and the clever plotting that helped you figure out the moral of the story. The girls were real, multidimensional people with interests and
ambitions: Irene with her love for math and music, Darell with her lacrosse, and Wilhelmina for horses. And they were fun too- playing truant, having midnight feasts, and being throroughly ingenuous when playing practical jokes on their unsuspecting French teacher. 

2) Hardy Boys Case Files- The reason I read the original mysteries at all was because my local library stocked up heavily on these blue hard-bound books, and little else. There were too many
characters - all weak, the mysteries were unimaginative, and most of the cases were solved only because the criminals had an amazing proclivity to advertise their existence to the boys.
And my takeway from those books? Well, American teenagers drove around in their fancy convertibles and ate a lot of junk food.
The case files were different however. For one, they were plotted better. But more importantly, they were my first brush with grown-up themes (albeit handled in American pot-boiler fashion) of death,

bereavement and revenge.

3) The Harry Potter series- I can't possibly say anything about these books that hasn't been said before, and better. But it's easily, even some ten-twelve years after I first read it, my favourite one. Harry, Ron and Hermione are not characters in a book any more, they are old friends I turn to whenever I feel down and out. And they never fail to cheer me up.

4) English, August- The first time I read this, I was in eleventh standard. I hated it then. Agastya, the titular character was an aimless, rambling pervert. I saw him as disinterested and lazy, quitting something, others would prize. And only because he was bored. I am not more mature now (I still get off walking through puddles, as a friend pointed out recently), but re-reading this three months ago, I realised that there never had been a fictional character before, who resonated as much. The book is also deviously funny but I think I liked it so much this time was because it reassured me that it didn't matter if I had reached a certain age, I could still take my time to grow up.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The front page of the Hindu reported on 22 August 2012  that the Government (and most other parties were in agreement) was mulling the need to amend the Constitution in order to enable states to provide reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in job promotions. Earlier attempts by states like U.P to usher in such a provision had been struck down by the Supreme Court. The report quoted the Prime Minister, saying, "You may be aware that the government had always been committed to protecting the interests of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and on certain occasions did not hesitate even to bring constitutional amendments".

The back page of the same newspaper reported that the Supreme Court had accused the Government of being "not serious" in putting an end to manual scavenging, practised primarily (as Satyemav Jayate informed us) by the lowest castes. This was in response to the Additional Solicitor General vacillating about when the Government would introduce a Bill to amend the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, currently a largely loose law since it does not address manual cleaning of septic tanks. The government has been promising to introduce the required Bill for the past six months, the article said.

Just saying.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Happy Janamashtami

The Composition period was a weekly fixture for about six years of my school life. They were meant to encourage creative writing among young students in both English and Hindi, but often their purpose was defeated, due to the lazy selection of topics. The year (especially in the Junior classes) invariably started with “Myself”, a pedantic account of who we were (age, class, physical description, parental occupations) and our interests (with studying being a most ubiquitous hobby). As the year progressed the teacher asked us to write on “Rainy Day” and “I wish I were...”.  And then, there was always the Indian calendar, crammed with festivals and national holidays to fall back on. However, I am quite sure Janmashtami never came up in all of those six years. Pity, since it was always my favourite festival (okay no, but it did come right behind Holi).

The fun started the night before, where we (a gaggle of ten 10-12 year old girls) would get together to strategise about our jhanki- a static representation of the scene of Lord Krishna’s kidnapping by his evil uncle.  And his subsequent rescue by someone else. I am still a little sketchy on the details to be honest. The meeting would involve taking stock of all the toys we could get to decorate the scene, besides the indispensable baby Krishna and his Uncle. People would volunteer to get earthen dolls, generally hand-painted to look like men and women from the Indian countryside, though sometimes an American Barbie would also make her presence felt. I am certain one year, someone said that they had a miniature version of a hand-pump that we could use.  We agreed. Mostly though, we tried to be historically accurate (more than some younger children, at any rate, who were not even shy of placing a car or two in the background). There were other bells and whistles too-if an old shoebox were available, we would fashion out a cradle (a reliable crowd puller) out of that.

The meeting was also important, in order to zero in on the best spot for our jhanki, among the ones available, in the colony’s courtyard. To prevent the favoured spot from being usurped by the other groups (especially our arch rivals-the boys in the same age group) we would solemnly promise to assemble at the crack of dawn, which at least some people claimed they took literally. I of course would saunter in a good 3 hours after everybody had set to work, and then immediately find fault with the way the mountain in the backdrop had been constructed. That would invite dirty looks from the others, and in some years, righteous angry words, or worse, the silent treatment. Of course, my tardiness would be forgiven and forgotten as soon as someone picked up a fight with the rival groups. These generally started with a Rohit making an uncomplimentary remark about our work. Padma would retaliate with a ruder assessment of theirs. Rohit would have disappeared by then. Arjun, who lacked the mental agility to come up with an adequately insulting repartee, would resort to mocking her Telugu accent. That was enough to open the floodgates of personal insults and sometimes even physical fights.

The evenings required sprucing up for the Puja, mainly conducted by one or two of those people in the group who knew a few devotional songs. The less spiritually inclined amongst us would stand at the back and mumble the words through, mind strongly focussed on the wonderful prasad that Akanksha’s mother would rustle up every year. That, and the afore-mentioned cradle were extremely important to bring in the crowds, as well as their donations.  My favourite bit, then, was when we counted all the money, inflated it by a certain amount and then made public to the rest of the groups. Since this creative accounting was quite popular among everybody, it didn’t matter much in deciding who the ‘winner’ was. There was a lot of preening involved if we won, but even if we didn’t, it never mattered. We distributed it amongst ourselves (with the exception of one year, I am regularly reminded), and then spent in on ice creams, while recounting the fun we had had during the day. I would promise at the end of the night that I would be the first person down, the next year. Someone would let out a disbelieving snort and raucous laughter would resume.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

I spent most of Saturday morning in self-pity. The beginning of the semester, after a three-month break, is never a happy occasion. It is altogether unbearable when marred by feeling about the general pointlessness of life, a feeling that even a 8th or 9th (I have lost count) re-viewing of Sherlock’s first episode couldn’t alleviate. Priyanka seemed to be in a similar mood. She was reading Poverty and the Un-British Rule in India, but I could see her heart was not in it. Twice, she put the book down and sighed audibly. I looked questioningly at her the second time, but she simply shook her head. I removed my headphones and paused the video, and waited. She would come around to whining eventually, I knew. This wasn’t a first.

“This is never going to end”, she said finally, staring at the book with infinite sadness in her eyes.

“It will. You want to discuss what you just read? That might help...” I offered.

“I haven’t been reading anything”, she replied.

I pointed out that it could hardly be the case, since she had been glued to the book for the past two days. That seemed to touch a soft spot.

“I haven’t been reading. I have been just staring at the words. Nothing seems to register”, she said with a strain in her voice.

“I am sure some of it has,” I tried to reason with her. “If nothing else, it will at least ease the second reading”, I said reassuringly.

That proved to be the last straw. Without warning, tears started pouring out of her eyes. I would say she was sobbing, but the more appropriate word would be wailing.

“I can’t read it again”, she spluttered through her tears.

“Don’t, don’t read it if you don’t like it”, I said worriedly. Then got up to move closer to her, and hesitatingly laid my hand on her shoulder. That seemed to only increase the sound of the wailing.

“I don’t want to read it ever again.”

“Don’t. I am sure it’s irrelevant. They will never ask you about all this.”

“I don’t want to read anything ever again. I hate all of it. ALL OF IT” she said, notching up the sound levels, just a bit more.

 “Listen, you study all the time. Just take a break, I am sure you will be fine”, I said, picking up the book from the floor and closing it.

“Why do I have to read any of this anyway?” she bemoaned.”What good will it ever do, if I am to become an administrator? Will I refer to books about the colonial period to solve the problems of the people under my administration? Will wading through middle school physics help them? Or writing interminable essays in impeccable English?”

“No but...”

 “I am not doing it anymore”, she said, with the same suddenness with which she had started crying. She wiped her tears. “I am not doing it anymore’, she repeated, this time her voice steadier.

 “Yeah, just let’s relax. Start preparing again from tomorrow”, I said encouragingly. That is how all her whining sessions ended. Not in tears generally, but with her taking a break, then getting back to studying vigorously, immediately after. With the firm determination to make up for any time lost.

“No. I am moving back home. I have gone through this torture once and I wasn’t good enough”.

I opened my mouth to object, to remind her that most didn’t do well in the first attempt. But she pre-empted me.

“Don’t worry. It’s a good thing it took me only a year to realise I am not good enough. At least I know I will find something that I AM good at. Most people go through their life, wallowing in mediocrity, just because they are afraid to leave the security of the path others have eked out for them.”

I momentarily wondered why she thought interminable essays in fancy English was not her forte. Then, opened my mouth to object again but she interrupted me.

“Get me my phone. I need to talk to my parents”, she said.

She took the first train home today. At 6 in the morning. It’s probably only a temporary breach in her resolve. She will be back before late, back to the grind, same as the others. I have already started looking for a new roommate though.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

As the scooter dangerously swerved towards my rickshaw, I closed my eyes and gripped the hand- rail ever so tightly. After five seconds and feeling no impact, I peered at the lane in front again.  Realising I was safe until the next maniac decided to ram into us, I bravely used my free hand to pry out my phone from my pocket. The digital clock on the screen showed that there were five minutes to go for my appointment. I looked at the labyrinth of traffic, interspersed with pedestrians and stray animals, crammed into that tiny by-lane of the Walled City again. The view unceremoniously informed me that I was going to be late.

 I looked upwards at the sky and thanked God for the pleasant weather. Then wondered at the incessant romanticisation of Old Delhi, especially, but not exclusively by Bolly-wood. The food is good, granted. But inadequate compensation for the congestion, the noise and occasionally, the foul stench one has to endure to get in sniffing distance of the same. Recent newspaper coverage again, is hardly a winning advertisement for its famous secularism. Then why do writers and lyricists wax eloquent about the magic of the place?  Why do sons of the soil (ranging from film stars to political leaders) yearn for a visit to what they still call home, and tourists tout it as a must-see, even as they have to brave the heat and the heckling at every step? At that moment, I failed to understand the charm.

I was ruminating thus, when it seemed like the source of this particular jam had been resolved, and the rickshaw stirred out of its stupor to start inching forward again. The two children in the rickshaw in front of mine cheered. Then one of them pointed at something on the other end of the road. Their mother, seated next to them, also leaned forward. I faithfully followed the child’s finger to see what he had seen. It looked like an old brown bag lying unclaimed next to a sleeping dog. On second glance however, I realised that what I thought was a bag, were the crumbled robes on the body of an emaciated old beggar. His face wasn’t visible- he had his head on his knees, and his curly grey hair were covered in a skull-cap of the same colour as his clothes. A begging bowl at his side, gave him up.

It seemed that the woman had seen the beggar before, for she quickly fished out a twenty-rupee note from her purse. I inwardly sighed, preparing myself for another delay while she got off and made her way through the melee to give out the alms. Instead, she let the rickshaw continue in its stride, while passing on the note to a man on a scooter next to her rickshaw. He accepted it but stared back at her in incomprehension. She indicated the old man. He nodded, and further passed on the money to another rickshaw-wallah, one going in the opposite direction. The rickshaw-wallah swiftly leaned over and passed on the note to the beggar. All of this happened in under a minute. The woman in the rickshaw had gone on ahead, without a backward glance. The beggar lifted his head and looked around to spot his benefactor as the rickshawallah pointed in the general direction. He saw me in stead, then smiled revealing a set of crooked, yellowing teeth. I smiled back. And understood.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012


With the sun training its arsenal at me, post a packed metro ride, it’s a rare morning that sees me smiling. Today was one such. That’s because I spent my first hour in college sipping ice tea while reading Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix. If you were born after 1980, it is likely you have discovered the pleasures of the latter (and if not, I really don’t know what the world is coming to, anymore). It’s possible of course, that you haven’t sampled the D School Ice Tea yet- a loss as big as any. When it’s ordinary, the tea's a wonderful antidote to the Delhi summer. When well made, it can inspire poetry. But commonplace or heavenly, it has in oodles, what other packaged and branded varieties sorely lack: character.

On any given day however (and especially if you are a first-timer) you may have to go through the following, to get a glimpse of that famous character.

Iced tea, Courtesy: JP Tea Stall, D School

Step one : You order a glass. The familiar bhaiyya at the tea stall tells you that you have to wait as no tumblers are available.

Step two: You look around and spot two people leisurely making their way through their drinks. The boys is wearing a loose t-shirt, and is periodically tucking in his long unkempt hair behind his ear. The kurta- clad girl has her hair tied in a tight bun, and her eyes are heavily lined with kohl. They are discussing something fervently, throwing around words like emancipation and feminisation. You silently will them to shut up and finish.

Step three: Once the glasses are returned, Bhaiyya takes them to a tap attached to the ground and half-fills them with water. Then unconcernedly gives the glasses the slightest shake. The glass cleaning ritual is over. You pray that the previous users maintained better hygiene than what appearances suggested- that they were free of flu inducing virus. Or worse, tuberculosis

Step four: Avoid voicing your concerns aloud. Reactions to such behaviour may range from Bhaiyya shaking his head disapprovingly, to his clientele contemptuously branding you a fuccha.

Step five: Wait for Bhaiyya to work his magic. Again, stop yourself from thinking about the source of water for the drink or the places where Bhaiyya’s hands went before he used them to dexterously break lumps of ice to put in the glass.

Step six: Behold the glass, admire the colour. Use the straw to stir the ice a little in order to cool the beverage down. Smell the tea.

Step seven: Take a sip. Wait to be surprised. Every single time.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Spoiler Alert: Don't read further if you haven't seen BBC's Sherlock. There are no plot giveaways, but it may ruin some surprises.

I was fifteen when I first saw a rerun of E.R on Hallmark. One episode and I was hooked. It used to air at five in the evening, and I meticulously planned my day around that one hour episode. It didn’t matter if I had an exam the next day. Or tuitions or social engagements. Five o’ clock on weekdays, I was unavailable. And weekends meant withdrawal symptoms.

Seven years later, the same thing is set to happen again. With BBC’s Sherlock.

When a friend told me about the series, I was sceptical. A modern adaptation of Holmes seemed a bad idea, especially since the Americans had disappointed me with their version of a gun-toting, testerone charged Holmes. But I knew my scepticism was ill founded as soon as Sherlock introduces himself to John Watson for the first time, and tells him the Central London address of the flat he wants to show him. 221B Baker Street.

The name is Sherlock Holmes and the address is 221B Baker Street

Sherlock is modern, yes. But he is still the detective I grew up reading about. Yes, he texts instead of using the wire. But still loathes legwork unless the “case is at least a seven”. Nicotine patches may have replaced the pipes, but he is as careful as ever, to delete trivial information from his‘hard drive’, lest the brain get needlessly crowded. And he doesn’t wear the deer stalker as comfortably as ACD might have hoped, but his condescension for Watson’s (and the Scotland Yard's) lack of observation is intact. Happily, so are his supreme deductive powers, whether he is using that to solve a case, or simply to show off. Technology is important to the extent that these are tools to help our hero (though he scoffs at the term himself) along. Not to forget the street urchins who continue to provide useful service.

Sherlock puts on the deer stalker as Watson looks on

What also keeps Sherlock from getting too new-agey to digest, is London. The famous black taxis step in for the hansom cabs. The buses, the roads, the buildings are a beautiful amalgam of the modern with the old-worldly. The sets evoke the same idea. The background score too, is pitch perfect, adding mood to every scene.


An adaptation such as this, always runs the risk of being labelled spoofy or silly. And if I said there was none of this on the show, I would be lying. In fact if I were to use one word to describe it, I would probably use 'fun'. But this does not take away anything from the clever dialogue, the well thought out characters (and their development), each with a back story of their own, and most importantly the relationships that the characters forge in the course of the series.
Freeman as Watson is perfect- intelligent, patient and staunchly loyal. When he meets Cumberbatch's Sherlock, he is first wary, then intrigued and then completely fascinated by the latter. But you can see that he is never awed. He is the friend, the reliable assistant, but never a sidekick. Together they share the best moments in the series, helped along by natural chemistry as well as wonderful dialogue.
In a particular scene set in the Buckingham Palace (with Sherlock dressed in a bedsheet),
John: Who are we to meet here? The Queen?
Sherlock (seeing his staid elder brother walk in): Apparently yes.
Both break into giggles.
They aren't even shy of giggling at crime scenes, though Watson does from time to time, attempt to rein in his flatmate's absolute jubilation at the occurrence of an intriguing crime. It's not just the frothy bits. Towards the end of the second season, when Sherlock accuses John of harbouring doubts about the former's integrity, John reassures him saying, "Nobody could pretend to be an absolute dick, all the time".
There are other important relationships as well- each of which, as in real life, evolve. Mrs Hudson, the kindly landlady (not housekeeper) and her 'boys'. Sherlock's uncomfortable relationship with his brother Mycroft, Watson's uncomfortable relationship with Mycroft. Sherlock and much of the Scotland Yard. In fact, after the last episode, I also began to appreciate the potential that Sherlock and Molly, the non descript lab assistant had.
Maybe this is where the movies went wrong. A two hour movie can never hope to have its characters grow on you, as a leisurely paced episodic series can. I will have to admit, that when I saw the first episode, my favourite character (and actor) was Watson. However by the end of it, I was well and truly a Cumberbitch. A discussion about Sherlock is grossly incomplete without a shout out to the actor who brings the titular character to life, with all his brilliance, his arrogance and his idiosyncrasies. For some reason, Cumberbatch's beautiful voice also lends credibility to the character. (Also, completely as an aside, he is extremely good looking, but as in the case of the character, you have to let that grow on you)
Probably my only issue with Sherlock, is that there is so little of it, with the shooting of season three slated to begin only in 2013. Till then of course, we have to settle with the repeat viewings of the previous seasons, not a completely unpleasant idea, come to think of it.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Hoohahahaha !!

        This commands pride of place in my refrigerator at the moment:

                                                       Amongst others....

                                                           Another view:



Thursday, 3 May 2012

 To compensate for all the time that she was ‘wasting’, Priyanka read the Hindu during the metro ride to Nehru Place while I shamelessly listened on to the conversation that two of my co passengers were having. She impatiently cackled at her watch when I wasted two minutes haggling with the auto wala outside the station. I ignored her.
I would not have recognised the building had I not been so sure of its location. The old structure appeared to have been pulled down and rebuilt completely, for not only was it taller than what I remembered, but also more modern and welcoming- a simple paint job could never have managed that. The chambers were still in the basement but the furnishing indicated that the doctor had prospered since I last saw him. He was inside, seeing patients in his office. He still seemed to spend as much time with each patient, as he did back in the day, and after every patient left, a pre recorded female voice asked the next patient to be ready to see the doctor.
Anticipating a long wait, Priyanka sighed loudly and flopped into a sofa, picking up an India Today from the pile of magazines on the coffee table placed in front. I craned my neck to watch a news channel that the receptionist was gawking at, on a television set perched on the wall. On mute.
After about an hour, when the disoriented female voice prompted, he pointed in our direction to tell us that the Doctor was ready to see us.
He looked the same as he had the last time I saw him. And he had the same genial smile, when he greeted me- as he had when I was ten. His hair looked much darker than before though. And more unnatural. But I managed to peel my eyes off his mane, to smile and introduce him to my friend. He checked her for around 10 minutes while continuously asking after the well-being of the rest of my family, and about what each one was doing, since his last consultation with them. For the three minutes in between that he didn’t, he was talking on the phone, with another patient, asking the person on the other end to come in with a chest X ray.
To Priyanka, he went on to prescribe a variation of the medication I had suggested to her, previously. I think our disappointment showed on our faces. So he enquired whether we always had a good breakfast before leaving for work. Priyanka replied that we seldom had the time.
“That is what is wrong”, he proclaimed, happily. “Here take a look at this”, he ordered, shoving pieces of glossy colourful paper in our hands.
A closer examination showed that the paper had DIET PLAN as the heading. Below, it listed all the essential micronutrients that the human body needed, and exactly what each of them did for the body. A table also enumerated the foods that were rich sources. I was quite sure I had seen that before in a fifth standard science lesson.
“What subject do you study?” the doctor asked Priyanka. She did not think that General Studies counted, so kept her silence. I helpfully said that I studied economics. He smiled then went on to lecture us about the role of carbohydrates and fats in our diets using banking terminology. My fifth standard teacher had been less patronising.  I nodded at regular intervals while Priyanka just looked around helplessly.
He let us go after thirty minutes, but not before adding a bunch of anti-oxidants to the prescription.  He also talked a little about the company that manufactured them, after express instructions from doctors and health care specialists like him. When Priyanka looked worried, he assured us that they were easily available. Heck, even his clinic stocked up on them- the receptionist would give them to us if we asked.
We asked. The pills were priced at 950 bucks a leaf. Both of us together did not have enough cash to cover that and the consultation fees.
“Anti-oxidants are fine, but I could just take tomorrow off?” She suggested. I concurred with her.
PS: After paying up the consultation fee, I had just enough money to buy us a chicken roll each, from Dadur Dokan in Market 2. Priyanka said she felt better even as she ate it.

Priyanka has had a fever for the last two days. I told her to pop a crocin and take it easy, but I think the latter is an alien concept to these civil service aspirants. Fever or not, the girl wakes up at four every morning to swot for the exams. She is still doing it when I leave for college, then sometime after that she leaves for her own classes. When I return at around five in the evening, she makes us chai, and we chit chat for a while. That is the only break she takes in her entire day. Even then, I am the one making the bulk of the conversation while she thumbs through the Times of India, the least taxing newspaper of the four that she reads in the course of the day. She is generally in bed by 11. That is when I sound a missed call to Maa to call me back.
I never really have much to tell her. I remember when Didi used to work in Hyderabad- Maa and she would talk for at least an hour every night, and the conversations were simply never ending on weekends. With me, I crib a little about the tough course, about how I have no life, and before exams, I tell her exactly how confident I am about failing. She has learnt to sidestep these issues over the months, and moves swiftly on to gossip about the family. Sometimes I listen with a lot of interest and ask her a lot of questions about everything. At other times, I mumble that I am sleepy, and then promptly spend the next two hours surfing through what is mostly drivel, on the internet.
Anyway, last night I told her about Priyanka’s fever. She suggested I take her to Doctor Bannerjee, our ex-family doctor. The ex part is because I am the only bit of the family left in Delhi now, and I have a surprisingly strong constitution. At least I don’t catch anything that a Crocin and taking it easy won’t treat. But I remember I used to love him as a child. His clinic was really the basement of a dreary grey forbidding bungalow that has father-in-law owned in C.R Park, right opposite Market 2.The doctor himself was the complete anti-thesis of the building he worked out of- young, cheerful, and sharing wonderful chemistry with all his patients. 

 The elderly would dote on him because he would make house calls for none but them, and charge lower fees for the retired, like for my grandma. I loved him because he would keep up a friendly stream of conversation especially when administering injections. And offer a toffee afterward. My dad, a sufferer of the White Coat Syndrome loved him for the same reason. For diverting him with the chatter while checking his blood pressure I mean, not the toffees. The women loved him too- his studious good looks may have had something to do with it. But also because he wasn’t like a lot of other jaded doctors at the big hospitals, who would spend less than a minute to check what was wrong and immediately pass judgement on the unhealthy lifestyle you led. Instead, he would laboriously explain what was actually wrong with us, with the help of pictorial depictions of the human body that hung from the walls of his office. Admittedly, that was when I would lose interest and start salivating about the varieties of rolls that Dadur Dokan in Market 2 offered, fully intending to throw a tantrum if my parents refused to buy me my choice of delicacy that day- fever or not.
Priyanka smiled when I reminisced thus, but baulked at the idea of going all the way to C R Park for just a fever. However, when the fever did not abate for the third day in a row, she acquiesced.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The ten-minute drizzle was enough to ensure that the traffic on Lake Town Road was inching forward slowly, and painstakingly. She waved at the 215 to slow down further, to let her board.  He whispered to her that it was unnecessary. She agreed, laughing, and started folding her umbrella, while he shielded her, with the black one he had in his hand. He waited while she got on, unperturbed by the honking motorists, signalling him to move.  He peeped in to see if she had found a seat. The conductor gruffly assured him that she had. The girl was young, about eighteen, the boy probably a year older.

She watched out for him until he had made his way back to the footpath. When he did, he turned to see if she was looking at him. They smiled at each other when their eyes met. Then he started walking in the same direction as the bus, still gazing at her. She smiled back at him, all the while that he did. The bus momentarily surged ahead.  She strained her neck to see if he had been left behind.  Not two minutes later, he caught up, the bus forced to wait, entrapped in the traffic.

It was the last signal before the narrow road met the wider V.I.P Road. The traffic would be easier ahead, the pace of the bus faster. He waved at her to tell her that they were finally to part ways. She nodded and waved back.  The light turned green and the bus picked up speed. He stood waiting till the bus was no longer discernible in the distance. Then he slowly turned to the left, continuing his lonely walk back home.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

I took a deep breath to deflate my stomach in order make the button slip into its designated hole. When that failed to yield results on the eleventh attempt, I decided I had had enough, and dejectedly extricated my legs from the fancy pair of slim fit jeans I had bought just  last month.  It had fit then, but an intervening month of exams between then and now had led my exercise schedule astray. With the result that twenty minutes later, I stepped out of the tiny one BHK Rajinder Nagar apartment I shared with Priyanka, in my regular, much soiled, pair.
My metro card showed that the thirty-minute ride to Khan Market had left me poorer by fifteen bucks. I did a mental calculation to reassure myself that the free lunch that awaited me would be enough compensation for these necessary expenses. Priyanka had insisted that it would be- it wasn’t everyday that a cousin anchored in the city and offered to take a penniless member of kin, especially one she did not take a particular shine to, out to lunch. To an abstractly named restaurant whose upmarket location promised it would be an expensive affair.  If nothing else, I could order the most expensive dishes on the menu and have the satisfaction of bleeding her dry of her month’s salary. And I could always go on my diet from the next day.
Malini di was waiting for me when I reached our designated meeting place. She was dressed in a lime green sleeve less kurta and a pair of slim fit jeans, and had clearly lost weight. That was enough to put me in a bad mood, made worse when she flashed me her dazzling smile. I attempted to smile back. But her expression showed that I had failed. I pointed to the sun to indicate that the heat had caused my sullenness, so she smiled again, this time a benign, kindly smile, and put her hand on my back ushering me into the cooler confines of the aforementioned abstractly named eatery.

A waitress proffered menu cards. I took one while Malini waved her hand to decline hers and asked for a pitcher of iced tea. She would have done well to check the price list before ordering that, I thought to myself.
“I am full, heavy breakfast at the hotel. You order”, she said.
I nodded and scanned the menu. I settled on a pasta and a slice of their famous mousse cake, fearing that she might not offer to buy dessert later.
“So, what’s up?” She beamed while waving her fingers in the air to indicate that the phrase was in quotes.
I did not want to confess to my eventless existence. So I vaguely hinted at a life filled with happening parties and glamorous friends, and then asked her what she was doing in the city.
“Oh, just a regular work assignment, “, she shrugged.
The conversation was flagging already. I racked my brains for other subjects we could talk about.  She fiddled with her mobile. I knew she was looking at the time.
“You have to go somewhere?” I asked helpfully.
“No, later. How do I get to the Modern Art Gallery, from here?” she enquired.
“Take an auto from C sec,” I replied.
She looked puzzled.
“Ummm...c sec?”
“The Central Secretariat Metro Station”, I intoned.
She beamed again.
“You and your short forms”, she said.
I immediately wanted to slap her for acting like she was from a different generation.
Thankfully, the arrival of the food diverted my mind. I began wolfing it down as soon as the waitress set it down while Malini di looked on. I reluctantly offered her a spoonful. She declined.
“I have been putting on weight like crazy”, she explained while pointing at her slim waist to underscore her point. I again had a burning desire to slap her.
“So, why do you want to go to the art gallery? Sight-seeing?” I asked, to stop her from staring at my food.
“Yeah, you could say that. There is an exhibition on by Dhrittiman Ray. ” She answered.
I shook my head to indicate I had never heard of him.
“I am not surprised. You have lived in Delhi, all your life”, she said, smiling her kindly smile again. I sensed an insult. So I asked her what she meant, a little roughly, I suspect.
She hurried to mollify me.
‘No I meant he is an upcoming artist in Kolkata. Everyone knows him there. He is lesser known here. And you know you have to accept that people from Delhi are a little you know....” she searched for the right word. I refused to help her.
“You know...caught up in their lives. And more likely to be found at the mall or at a Shah Rukh Khan movie, than an art gallery”, she opined.
“Yeah, I agree,” I nodded sagely. “People here work hard all week, so at the end of the week they don’t want to be attacked by an exercise in self aggrandisement by a pseudo intellectual artist whose understanding of art matches that of a six year old with a set of crayons” I finished. Then rued that I hadn’t wiggled my fingers to indicate that the word artist was in quotes.
She looked taken aback at my verbosity. I decided I didn’t want to say anything else to antagonise her. After all, she was paying for the food.
Four months later Maa told me over the phone that Malini was getting married. The whole extended family was jubilant at the news. I was singularly disinterested.
“He is an artist. Very famous around here.  Dhritimaan Ray,” Maa said.