Thursday, March 26, 2009

(i am the princess of Hawaiki and i have a pet koala bear named lemon soda.)

Just when I was convinced there was nothing that could disgust me more than the sight of a software engineer, I got an email from the HR department, which showed me how utterly ludicrous my assumptions were.

I think you'd better take a look at this.

Dear All,

We have continuously brought to your attention that your safety is of paramount importance to us and we have taken several measures to ensure your safety.

Recently, we have observed that few employees are not using the company night transport facility provided for them to reach home after their work. The reason being offered is because they stay in nearby locations, they prefer walking to their residences. We have also observed that some employees get down half way through and take detours during the night, possibly someone picks them up midway to drop them home.

Please note that the company views this as unsafe for an employee to be taking such risks and warns against such shortcuts to safety regulations. With immediate effect, we request you to please use the night transport facility, that has been provided by the company, for it is meant for your safety. Avoid walking alone in the night to evade any possible threat to you. Please go home early and avoid staying back late on campus if you are not on duty.

Incase we find employees violating the safety instructions, disciplinary action will be initiated against them.


Human Resources Team

And this - 

If I were to believe this HR propaganda, I'd think my biggest worries in life were how to pacify an angry computer and how to walk back home safely at 10 in the night without getting raped.

Yeah, right.

I admit I have...umm..."modified" many facts in this blog. I sometimes do that to enhance the aesthetic clout, if you know what I mean. But I swear by the souls of my dead ancestors that I am not making any of this up -

* I once had a super-cool motorcycle accident at 60kmph when going back to college from the Nandankanan forest. It was in the middle of nowhere at 11 PM on a dark night. (Don't ask me what I was doing alone in a forest at 11 PM on a motorcycle. I do that sort of thing from time to time.) Head on collision with another motorist. I was not wearing a helmet. Not a soul was around. I was unharmed except for a few minor bruises, but my old motorcycle was reduced to a knot of twisted metal. It broke my heart.

* I've slept alone in a cave. In the wild. Panther territory. (ok, the nearest panther sighting was 7 km away, but it still counts.)

* I've driven a Tata 407 truck from Chungathara to Manjeri in a sloshed state, to put it mildly. To not put it mildly, I was schnockered like there was no tomorrow. 20 km of treacherous ghat roads and steep cliffs. And I was absolutely plastered. I was the one who had to drive because in our group of 4, I was the most sober. I made it downhill alive and at an average speed of 20 km/hr. There wasn't a scratch on the brand new truck.

* I once travelled 90 km on the Mangalore-Kannur highway in a 9-Tonne truck with the driver hopped up on Hashish. It was the most thrilling 75 minutes ever. It was like a time-warp - blaring horns and green aliens and flashing headlight beams-carnival of mallu music and exploding colours. I came out of it with a sense of mild nausea and a new-found respect for life.

* I have been involved in a man-hunt for a criminal accused under IPC 420 and IPC 307 (the latter being attempt to murder).

* I have received 2 death threats and several kidnapping threats. I have also been involved as a mediator in a kidnapping drama that involved car chases, police brutality, rioting workers, trade union negotiations, and a furious rally of bureaucratic emails. The latter being the most traumatic.

So I told Nimisha-from-HR where she could stick her new directive. Nimisha or Anita or whatever her name was. (all those 3 syllable names ending with -A ...I really cannot tell one from another.) We live in different worlds, Nim...and my idea of occupational hazard is slightly different from yours. I don't expect you to understand the chasm, but merely to acknowledge that it exists and to respect it. That's all I ask. But that is obviously beyond you.

How I wish I could show you, Monisha. I wish I could introduce you to the many delights of diving head-first into the 30ft deep Chaliyar at the Tamarassery ghat. I wish I could get you to read my 800-page treatise on the art of living, entitled "1001 ways to sing short-haul shanties with friends on empty city roads at 2 AM with half a gallon of Smirnoff and THC in your bloodstream, lie down on the grass, stare at the sky and try to connect the dots, finally stumble back home and try to argue with the door and convince it that you were actually in the library and were dropped home by an anorexic Unicorn named Zzed who happened to be passing by."

How I wish I could tell you that in life, there is always the risk of death, but that's neither unusual nor unreasonable. ( And in my case - irresistible). Everyone dies. You can't say I haven't tried, Nimisha. I have tried to show you. But it has always been an exercise in futility. I have always been dogged by failure. Like I was teaching Algebra to a cow. I am tired of having to put up with you, Priyanka. You, with your handbag and your coloured straightened hair, disgust me. I don't even know your name!

I've decided I'm not even going to protest. I swear to God, next time I will just put a .357 Magnum to your head and spray your brain on the wall. Never mind that it would be the biggest Health & Safety disaster since the Amoco Cadiz spilled 230000 tonnes of crude oil into the English Channel. Only this time I would spill some lard on the wall.

One more email, I'm warning you… just ONE more, and the camel will go home with a herniated disc.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

(you don't really notice what i type here, do you?)

Look at this picture. 

This is the evening rush at the bus bay in the “development centre” of a famous software company, or, as the Asmat cannibal-tribals of Papua New Guinea would call it, Buffet.

And you can stop scanning the picture now. You will not find me there. Unless I am swishing a diesel-powered chainsaw, wearing a maniacal grin on my face or standing in a corner with an Ebola syringe contemplating the importance of life, I will NOT walk with that crowd. If I see one software engineer, I have seen one too many for the decade. The salivating, nose-picking sleazebags. Look at them! Herded like livestock into cattle-class buses and food courts. 

So, I am sure you are beginning to get an idea of how much I hate being even in the same postal code as one of these software engineers. But ……there is one thing that makes this sea of fat, sweaty farm animals more inviting than an empty 5-star swimming pool on a hot summer day. 

Yes. There is something which, if it was my only other option, would send me running gleefully towards the nearest crowd of software engineers like a little boy on summer vacation, taking my shirt off and diving right in.

I have just suffered exposure to it. So at the moment I am a bit busy reeling. I will tell you about it later.

What part of "Sod Off" don't you understand?

Let me make a few things very clear.

I don’t like cuddly puppies. I don’t break into song when I see the sun set. I don’t sing songs in the rain. I don't like receiving email forwards with macro-angle, soft-focus photographs of smiling babies, telling me how wonderful friendship is. I don't like babies. I don't think just sitting around and burbling incoherently is a worthy pursuit. Nor is it attractive in the least bit. I don't think babies know much about friendship, either. I can't stand the sight of starry-eyed lovers who gift each other soft toys and key chains with initials. I believe they should be bound and thrown head-first off a tall building, the lot of them. I don't keep soft cushions on my dressing table. I don't have a dressing table. I don't dress. Nor am I especially fond of tables. I am not gay. I don't ever say good morning. But I always humour people who say good morning to me, although I privately sneer at the absurdity of passing a personal value judgement on what is a customary diurnal astronomical occurrence.

I don't become speechless and misty-eyed with gratitude when I see a picture of the Grand Canyon with a message assuring me that there is hope in the world and that tomorrow will be a better day. I don't like lovesick puppies. But what I dislike even more than "cute" email-forwarding morons is people who can’t mind their own effing business. The self-appointed moral police, who make it their business to go around springing nasty surprises on couples in beaches and parks. My political views range from extreme right to extreme left depending on the issue in question. I am not a pig-headed moron who takes one principle or opinion and stretches it to fit all known situations. Take off your silly scarves. What cuddly toys and predominantly pink-greeting cards brain-dead morons give other brain-dead morons is entirely the problem of the brain-dead morons in question. Not yours. So, get the eff off it and stop bothering the lovesick dung-beetles. If you want to keep yourself busy, go and figure out how we ended up with 2 billion mouths to feed in our country. (Let me give you a hint - It is because of people giving each other something. And it is not greeting cards.)

I know some of the things I said may have offended you. I am not sorry at all. I couldn't be less bothered. If you have a problem with me, it's entirely your problem.

Normal service is resumed. Happy Valentine's Day, suckers.

Monday, March 16, 2009

For whatever it is worth, I offer my soul…

You are going to think I am crazy. What follows may not make any sense to you at all. Or it may make such beautiful sense that it will break your heart. In either case I can't say I have much of a reputation to keep up, and if you don't already think I am crazy, by the time you finish reading this, you might have made up your mind one way or the other. Since I have nothing to lose, here goes...

What do you see when you hear a song? 

Do you have to hear to understand? Speak to tell? Do you have to understand a song to love it?

Do me a favour and download this song and listen to it before you read any further.

I absolutely love this song. I don't even know what it means. And you know what? I don't even want to know! I don't want to go to the bother of getting it translated only to find out that it is about a goat eating a cabbage. Even so, it is such a beautiful song that it wouldn't make a grain of difference. Language is inadequate. Words are not at all important.

Rani maak il youm
Ghir il maktoub heelaqeena

Such passion and earnestness in the voice as can only be shown by someone who has discovered some great secret and wants to share it with you in all earnest; show you the reason and the purpose, but you are blind and you don't see. Hence there is a vain desperation in the voice.

You realize, without anyone ever having to tell you that this is a song of the desert. The cymbals, the strings and the drums. The Oud and the tambourines. Beads and trinkets. Sheepskin water bags. Little ornamental thimbles. Alabaster. Riches and treasures of the desert. Winters in Cairo. Faya-Largeau. The bazaars of Alexandria. Yet…

1:25 to 1:46 - This could not have come from people who had never seen water. This came from people who knew water, had held it and cherished it. I know what it is. This is the music of waves crashing against rocks. This is a country where people soak up the early morning dew from desert grass in a piece of linen and then carefully wring out the water droplets into a vessel. This came from people who worshipped water.

1:46 Wihiyah
A solitary shining pebble on the beach. Just like the way you can spot a shiny red ball in a sea of beige, you can catch that one word - Wihiyah! And when you throw that pebble into the ocean, no matter where it lands, the ripples spread out from there and it becomes the geometric centre of the ocean and the Universe! Go back to that one second when he says it. 1:46 -that is the pivotal moment. The "anyway..." of the song, the see-saw on which it rocks back and forth...

2:42-2:44 Ghir il maktoub heelaqeena
The voice quavering as it trails off, like the thrashing tail of a fish. The rear end of the car twitching nervously under heavy braking. Springs contracting, red hot valves opening and closing many hundred times a second.

How the voice randomly slithers like an electric eel under a layer of divinity! Mere words cannot capture it. It flits in and out between sheets of music.

Oo rani nebki winnoh
Magotli il sheqb il maatrooh

1:25Ma…trooh. Throttle over-run. That most beautiful of all motor racing sounds! That blip on down-shift, the engine howling as the cogs rev furiously for a brief moment. The slurping manifold intake noise. Backfire, tongues of flame leaping from the tailpipes.

2:10 to 2:21
Lonely desert nights. Inky black sky. Caravans. Camels resting beside palm trees under a scintillating ocean of stars. Canvas tents. People dancing and singing around bonfires to the hypnotic sounds of the oud and the flutes. Nights of merry dancing and celebration. Swirling skirts of the Bedouin girls. Camelskin tambourines. Flashes of skin in the light of the camp fire.

The vibrations transmitted back through the tyres and suspension arms and steering column back to the wheel, which frantically vibrates, and the helmet thrashes around in the cockpit. The chassis flexing by an almost imperceptible margin as the car slips out of the tug-stream, leaning on tyre grip, cornering as if it were on rails.
2:21 to 2:44
What impeccable modulation and control! The voice blends in inconspicuously with the surrounding, as a backdrop to the night's bonfire and revelries. An accompaniment to the cold desert night and the glittering crescent of the Mediterranean moon. Shadows and silhouettes dancing on the tent walls. The smells and the sounds of the desert. Dry river beds. Sand dunes. Acacia. Sand storms. Oases; fertile islands in arid limestone plateaux. Phantoms of water. Bedouins and their sheep. 

Weight shifting to the front right tyre, as the highly sprung rear suspension is rapidly unloaded, approaching the far limits of mechanical grip as it just about begins to lock up, then ease off the brake and bring the rear end back in line, riding the kerbs as the left and then the right dampers are stressed, and finally emerging sideways in a tidal wave of savage power with the rear wheels spinning away, frantically grappling for traction, soft compound slick tyres scrubbing on the road. Hint of opposite lock to catch the rear stepping out of line for a heart-stopping moment. A calculated slide. Controlled rage though every corner, 26 times a lap, lap after unforgiving lap, 78 times. The deep blue of the Mediterranean crashing on the cliffs of Algiers and Annaba. Peace. Quiet. Solitude.

1:02 – 
Shtaydeer il galb il khaali
Shtaydeer ha dellali

Wonderfully dynamic patterns, repeating endlessly, as if you are looking down at the tarmac from a plane while it is taking off, except that it never takes off, but runs along the tarmac endlessly as if in a dream. Patterns repeating themselves endlessly. Non-deterministic, recursive Mandelbrot fractals. You can never escape them. You cannot flee from order. Mathematics always catches up. The faster you go, the more fragile you become.

3:06 to 3:50
Waala dirtiha biya
Megwani nebki megwani
Ana illi dirt inniya
Widnoubi aleek intiya

Falling rain. Mist hanging around huge trees. Sweeping corners. Spirals and great arcs. Rainbows. Slick tires scrubbing on the tarmac making screeching noises, leaving great black arcs of rubber. Cars vanishing as quickly as they appear.

3:36 - 3:47
Maqbool - the rasping, metallic shriek of the 3 litre V12 as the taps are opened for just a fraction of a second and the twelve featherlight pistons flare and the crank revs up to 19500 rpm and then back to an idle 5000 in the blink of an eye, as if nothing ever happened. And revved back up and down again and again thrice in a fraction of a second.

Hasnou awni dima maghboul
Hadi hiya halet l'amour

It is a place in your mind which is isolated from hurt or passion. You are lonely there, living with your memory, consciousness, anger and fear. Nothing from the past can hurt you. Not the ecstasy of reunion, nor the trauma of betrayal.

Pushing to the extreme limit of adhesion and grip. Delicately balancing the chassis with the throttle and the steering wheel. Balancing extremely high-sprung machinery on a knife edge at 180mph. Feeling the dampers push the wheels on to the tarmac just so, making minute modulations of the throttle so as not to upset the natural harmony of the springs unloading, leaning into the corner. "The faster you go, the more fragile you become." In that one orgasmic moment, you realise the absurdity of all art. There IS order in the Universe. Total discipline and method. When there is no chaos, how can there be any art? It is absurd, because you cannot subject a deterministic entity like the Universe to value judgement. There is no pleasantness or unpleasantness. There are only consequences. How can you criticise a consequence? And since everything we know is a consequence of something else, how can you criticise anything at all? How can you judge something that is deterministic and inevitable? Beauty only arises out of comparison; There is no beauty without criticism. In a slotted world, how then can something ever be called beautiful? The mysterious desert, with its untold myths and rumours. Pigeons and doves flying with the limestone-white minarets of Ghardaïa in the background, deafening whispers echoing across the centuries in its courtyards . It cannot be real! It is just too…beautiful! Are these mere shadows dancing in the mind? These are expressions of irrationality! But how can something so beautiful be so irrational?!

Each little thing pushing the next little thing. Every little ratchet, valve, pushrod and pinion all working in an absolute harmony of engineering precision. It is clockwork. How can it possibly be so beautiful?! The quintessential dichotomy of our lives!

Shtaydeer il galb il khali
Oo rani zayt fi hleli

The sustained assault on the senses. The heat and the exhaustion. Dehydration and the G-forces straining the muscles. Focus and concentration. 900 bhp. And in the midst of all the noise and vibration, in the survival cell, in that sacred place in your memory and consciousness, inside the helmet there is calmness. Way beyond the threshold of pain and agony, you are floating in stillness. In solitude and peace. You are untouchable. You have Control. Power.

Music, Mathematics, poetry and metaphysics are not fundamentally different things. They are just different frameworks for seeing and understanding the same essential thing. This view and understanding finds expression in different forms - in an otherworldly song or in evocative words or in expressive engineering. 

Whatever you can imagine is real. 

I imagine perfect harmony. I wish I could show you, but words are a poor excuse. Words are not enough. My most sincere apologies.

What do you see when you hear a song?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Serendipity! Part 2

Since the last post, I've had nightmares of a power-crazed, attention deprived psychomaniac of a software engineer tying me up in a chair and giving me an Ebola culture injection, while telecasting it live on as a warning to people who make fun of software engineers. And I always wake up and realise that in such a situation, the Ebola is actually a deal-sweetener. Ebola is fatal 99.998% of the time. So, obviously when I am bound and gagged and have no choice but to listen to a software engineer talk, an Ebola injection can only improve my chances of survival.

On the way back to Adyar Bakery last weekend after the evening's mental exertions, wondering whether any more brainwaves were to be had that day, I saw an old man on the road. He had a bald head and a great white beard.

The contradiction occurred to me right then. Imagine my surprise! It was Charles Darwin this time. He was wrong. He had to be! I quickly drove back home to write about it. I've had neither the time, nor the patience nor the inclination to write about it, but since I promised that I would tell you about it, here it is...

This God person they keep talking about... he cant be very smart, can he? He makes living beings in his own image and then they go and evolve on their own and become something else. Have you ever wondered whether God looked at evolution with a growing sense of unease that all was not going according to plan? If He had wanted us to be the way we are now, he would have made us this way 100000 years ago, wouldn't he? I mean, if he really is omnipotent and all that.

I am already losing my patience. Don't ask me to explain. My theory has got something to do with why the prettiest woman in every population set chooses to date/marry the man who looks most like an orangutan. (Coleen McLoughlin & Wayne Rooney, Elisabetta Gregoraci & Flavio Briatore...I could go on. I will, later.) This primordial attraction to men teetering on lower rungs of the evolutionary ladder indicates that maybe women are genetically resisting evolution. Maybe reverse-evolution is the most natural course.


Keep the change. Really. Can't be bothered to explain any further. Figure it out for yourselves, for once. Go away.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Serendipity! Part 1 of 2

The following account is loosely based on a true incident. 

I was standing by the side of the bar at Adyar bakery last evening eating éclairs, quietly minding my own business. Three pretty girls walked in through the door from where they could see me across the crowded sitting area. From a distance, they just stared at me for what seemed like a whole minute.

I am not the prettiest of sights when I am eating éclairs at Adyar bakery. (I am not the prettiest of sights even otherwise.) But still, they seemed to look at me unflinchingly. Suddenly I stopped eating. The cogs in my brain started whirring, churning out ideas at an alarming rate. The possibilities were overwhelming!

And then it happened.  

The prettiest of the three stepped forward and smiled at me. Time stood still. A slow heartbeat later, the penny dropped. I could feel the excitement building up. She floated past me in what seemed like slow motion as I ran out screaming “It all makes sense now! Murphy was wrong! Murphy was wrong!”

Murphy’s 117th law states “We always have the least of what we need the most.” A direct contradiction to this remarkable law occurred to me when I was sitting in AB yesterday. See, if scientists are to be believed, there are 500 million Ebola viruses on the head of a pin. And since we have only about 3.5 lakh software professionals in the whole of India, it means only one thing. Murphy was way off the mark. Edward Murphy was actually, really, really wrong! The theory I am going to propound might scream sacrilege at hordes of bumming aficionados and intellectuals alike. But every great theory worth its salt is greeted with denunciation when it is born. So, here it is -

“We sometimes have the least of what we need least.” 

(Yes, this means that the list of things I would do to avoid seeing/talking to /meeting a software professional includes, among more horrifying things, getting an intravenous injection of the deadly Ebola strain.)

I cannot replace one of Murphy’s laws. My intellect is too small and insignificant for a feat of that magnitude. I can at best put forward a corollary. It could be my contribution to science! Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Vimal-Murphy exposition
We always have the most of what we need the least. We may also have the least of what we need the least. Except when we have the least of what we need the most, or most of what we need most.”

Except that it wouldn’t be an exposition so much as a mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive set of effectually arbitrary pronouncements, and is a contribution to Science no more than Alice in Wonderland was to the Russian revolution. But at the end of the day, who can honestly say most other scientific theories aren’t?

PS: If you didn’t understand my other claim to fame, watch “The Beautiful Mind”. You will realise how great I am. If I tell you what revolutionary theory I stumbled upon when I returned to AB a couple of hours later, which I will - in another post, you will genuflect.