Monday 21 December 2009

Life in my cubicle

Reflected in the glass of my cubicle are two ZooZoos (which, appallingly, have a Wikipedia page of their own). As I typed that, another joined them to make three in all. I dislike ZooZoos. Clearly, the dude who sits in the cubicle next to mine, from whose computer screen the glass of my cubicle reflects the ZooZoos, doesn't share my lack of affection for the paunchy little things and their annoying speech-patterns.
Not that I have anything against paunches. I cannot afford to, for it would trap me in an unending maelstrom of self-loathing.
Also reflected in the glass of my cubicle are images from the India-Sri Lanka one day international at Cuttack. The positioning and alignment of my cubicle means that a majority of the cricket (and indeed all television) I watch while at office is laterally inverted. Which is great for the idle pondering of the role handedness plays in our aesthetic appreciation of sport, but not when you want to watch for an extended time-period.
As I type, a colleague yells, "The Sri Lankans are falling apart!" and then, "Kandamby gaali." (Gaali is a Tamil word that approximately means 'finished'. Thilina Kandamby is a left-handed Sri Lankan middle-order batsman who bats right-handed on the glass of my cubicle.)
My cubicle is partly glass, and partly the kind of laminate found in all cubicles, or at least the ones I have seen. In between, there's also a rectangular piece of softwood, ostensibly meant to function as a notice board. In the other cubicles in my office, this piece of softwood is covered with blue cloth. Mine's bare. This wasn't the case until about a month after I joined, when I arrived to see that the blue cloth had been ripped off, along with the picture of Hanuman pinned to it.
The picture of Hanuman, and the cubicle, had belonged before I arrived to the Deputy Sports Editor of the newspaper I work for. The cubicle now belongs to me, while the picture of Hanuman has returned to its rightful owner, who now sits in a cubicle diagonally opposite mine.
The occupant of the cubicle diagonally opposite mine is still the Deputy Sports Editor. His cubicle, however, does not have upon its exterior a brass plaque that reads 'Deputy Sports Editor'. Mine does.
Which is mildly embarrassing, because whoever walks into the office with the purpose of speaking to someone at or near the apex of its hierarchical pyramid stops at the door for a while, attempting to find in my entirely blameless visage a sign of deputy-sports-editor-hood, before making his or her uncertain way to my cubicle, only to be directed to the glowering occupant of the one diagonally opposite mine.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Not unridiculous

I need a haircut. It is beyond long overdue. Currently, my hair is at that stage of its life-cycle where it's begun to infiltrate my ears.
I do not like the irritating tickle of hair in my ears. It is, I think, the number one cause of headaches in humans.
Right now, I don't have a headache. This state of affairs, however, is dangerously impermanent.
Apart from infiltrating my ears, my hair's also begun to curl at the ends. But not uniformly.
If you criss-cross the top of my head with latitudes and longitudes, and if the dudes who came up with the Divine Ratio assign values to each co-ordinate point based on the aesthetic desirability of curly hair upon that point, the curliness of each hair on my head would be inversely proportional to its positional aesthetic value. Behind my ears, above the nape of my neck, and basically encompassing the latitude on my head that would roughly correspond to the Tropic of Cancer, are located the curliest strands of hair. Which, frankly, would look ridiculous on anyone. Framing an otherwise not-unridiculous face such as mine, it's even worse.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Am I a philistine?

The other day, a friend, a long-haired dude who has since shaved his head, a chap with a collection of hard drives full of movies and music, played a song on his laptop.
"You'll love it," he said.
Or maybe he didn't say anything, but that doesn't matter.
So he played this song. It was, I can now tell you, having asked this other friend who was around at the same time, and googled the line he remembered, Beautiful World by Colin Hay.
I like to go out beyond the white breakers
where a man can still be free (or a woman if you are one)
I like swimming in the sea
The tune was pleasant enough, the dude singing it had a nice voice, but my enthusiasm for it was only tepid. I said as much to my two friends.
"Listen to the lyrics properly da. It's awesome," one or both of them said.
And there in essence was my problem. More accurately the problem with me.
I'm incapable of appreciating songs whose appeal is primarily lyric-based. This I think is connected to my inability to really get poetry. I get funny stuff, like Ogden Nash, but that's about it. Unless you count something like this, the only lines of poetry I've ever stuck on a status message:
Like rattle of dry seeds in pods the warm crowd gently clapped,
The boys who came to watch their gods, the tired old men who napped.
And I surmise that I appreciate this poem (Cricket at Worcester, John Arlott) purely because it describes a cricket scene, i.e., something that's likely to strike an emotional chord anyway. And heck, it tells me clearly what it's talking about.
Unlike, say, this:
Tell her to make me a cambric shirt, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without no seams nor needlework, then she'll be a true love of mine
I heard this (Scarborough Fair, Simon and Garfunkel) thanks to another friend, a colleague at work who did crazy things with the internet settings to enable access to streaming video, found the song on YouTube and handed me a pair of headphones.
"The lyrics are awesome, right?" he asked me.
I nodded with a beatific smile, not because I thought the lyrics awesome (Honestly, I have no idea what the two dudes are going on about) but because I loved the song for the tune, and how the two voices, one high, one low, in perfect harmony, made me bask in some un-nameable emotion.
Beautiful World somehow didn't manage it, which perhaps isn't the song's failure but mine.
Read here what Mike Marqusee wrote rather more eloquently on a not entirely dissimilar theme. 

Monday 12 October 2009

Pilfered tennis balls

Perusing pilfered tennis balls should, you would imagine, induce in the peruser a wave of complex emotions, ranging from the urge to perform a celebratory jig to a desire to confess in a flood of tears and repentance. Not so in my case, however. All I feel now as I stare at the furry sphere on my floor is resentment.
I pilfered this ball about two months ago, from the cubicle of a reporter who works in the same newspaper as I, but a different department. "You're sure I can steal it?" I asked my friend, who works in the tennis ball dude's department. "Sure," she replied. The tennis ball dude, as you might imagine, wasn't around.
But all the conspiratorial thrill I felt when I dropped the ball in my bag evaporated when I lobbed it at the wall back in my room. For instead of zipping past the outside edge of my hesitantly thrusting bat upon bouncing on the floor, it (the ball) dribbled under its (the bat's) worn oil-hole.
For two months now, it has mocked me with its yellow leer and obstinate refusal to rise above my ankle, even when I've attempted to fling it out of my sight.
It's the very definition of irony, for the first, and only other, tennis ball I pilfered, back when I was in school, was tennis ball perfection, and remained in my possession about forty seven seconds, before my second backfoot punch sent it bouncing out of my balcony grille and bounding enthusiastically in a north-easterly direction, towards a happier place and, I'm sure, a better batsperson.

Saturday 12 September 2009

Transience

This world, and all the intriguing little thingies it contains, could do with a little more permanence.
Take for instance these things, which look in this picture like the most unremarkable kind of plasticky loopy objects imaginable - which is precisely what they are. 
It wasn't always so, however.
At a party I went to a few weeks ago, I was handed something out of a cylindrical box, a thing that to my eyes looked like a straw.
"Bend it," I was told.
And suddenly, the thing, having lost its straightness, now gained glowiness. Upon fastening its ends to a little flexible plastic tube, I had on my wrist a glow-in-the-dark bangle! Very soon, I had two!
You can imagine all the childlike wrist-wriggling that ensued - not just mine, but of all the others at the party similarly entranced. Especially enthusiastic, and even triumphant, I thought, was the wriggling of wrists circled in blue light. I admit now that I coveted the blue bangles. Mine, perfect in every other way, weren't blue, but green and orange.
The next day, the bangles glowed only feebly; the day after, not even that. They still sit in my shelf, ignored sometimes, looked at wistfully other times. My mum asked me the other day if she could use them to keep the curtains from flapping about.
I wonder what the others did with theirs. Especially the blue ones. Do they still glow?

Friday 21 August 2009

Why do we love sport?

Yesterday, I sat on a red plastic chair under a row of trees next to the tennis court at Loyola college and watched an inter-collegiate doubles final. On the far side of the court, the hockey team practiced on the hockey ground, to one side of which rose the steeple of Loyola church.
Against this backdrop, the quality of tennis wasn't great. Talent flickered intermittently, a crosscourt return winner here, a wristy half-volley there. Mostly though, the match was strewn with errors. Volleys failed to clear the tape, returns sailed beyond the baseline, one serve hit the perimeter fencing on the full.
For all that, this was a contest, and the players were deadly serious. One disputed line call took, or seemed to take, ten minutes to resolve, and the players plodded earnestly through excruciatingly drawn-out games full of misplaced first serves. Every game seemed to reach deuce. At one point in the second set, even the chirping of birds in the branches above grew restless.
When the third set began, everyone who had so far watched idly, chatting, sensed this heightened intensity and grew silent. The hockey players gathered at the far side of the court, leaving the playing of one sport behind to witness another.
This was much like periods in so much of the tennis-ball cricket I've played, on the streets, in backyards, on baking afternoons in dusty playgrounds, periods where nothing matters but bat and ball, runs and wickets. Charged particles fill the air - you don't necessarily have to pad up in an Ashes Test, or stand amidst the thousands holding up scarves or setting off flares in a Champions League final to feel them.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Walk when you talk

Whenever I take a bite out of a burger or a submarine sandwich, I cause the stuff inside to slide out the other end. I cannot twirl spaghetti or noodles with a fork without the stuff unravelling before I raise the thing to my mouth. I'm incapable of taming mozzarella. One of my shirts has a sambhar stain on it, another a toothpaste smear.
I once saw a friend do something I could never do. He reclined on his bed and brushed his teeth slowly, with measured brush strokes, for a serious length of time, without the tiniest drop of foam dribbling down his chin.
I could have given the chap a standing ovation.
One day in the Chemistry Lab in school, I held a test tube in one hand, a filter in the other, stuck the filter into the test tube, and let go with the wrong hand.
I seldom carried stationery to school. Whatever little notes I took down, and all the doodling I did, I did with borrowed pens. A lot of people, even close friends, eventually stopped lending me their pens, because I always returned them with their clips broken. I couldn't - I still can't - help fiddling with pen clips.
I cannot paint with watercolours. I use too much water, apply too much pressure with my brush, and end up leaving a silt-like deposit of bluish-brown papier mache on the paper's top surface. I haven't tried oils or acrylic or egg tempera or whatever, so I can't say with certainty that I'll suck at those too.
During the fixed-line-phone-only era, I presciently walked when I talked. It didn't do me, or the phone, any good.

Monday 29 June 2009

Such is life

In a shelf not far from where I sit is a notebook. Its cover says Sketch Book 100 Pages.
In another shelf, not far from the shelf in which the notebook lies, is a box. The box contains pencils, six in total, of different graphite-to-clay ratios. A sharpener – Twin Sharpener, the box says – came free with the box of pencils. The Twin Sharpener is actually two sharpeners, of different diameters, in one.
I haven’t put the notebook, the pencils, or the sharpener to use, yet.
Someday I will.
Someday, I shall pick up a pencil, most likely the HB, and with its sharp end make a pattern, a rudimentary curve, upon a page of the Sketch Book. That curve may cause other curves to materialise, or it may not.
It may instead cause me to look around frantically for an eraser. An eraser may exist in this house, maybe in a shelf not far from the shelf the Sketch Book lies in. Or it may not.
On the day the HB pencil and the Sketch Book come in contact with each other, no eraser will be found. What will happen is this – in vain I will search for an eraser, and upon finding none attempt on a new page to create a satisfactory rudimentary curve, fail, and put the Sketch Book back in its shelf, after tearing out the pages with the unsatisfactory rudimentary curves on them, crumpling them, and tossing them in the bin.
The sharpener and the five other pencils in the box will have served no purpose.
All night the visions of a completed sketch will dance in my brain, teasing, tormenting.
The next day, I will find an eraser, in a shelf not far from the Sketch Book and the box of pencils, a shelf whose every inch I would have probed the previous day. Faber Castell, it will say, or maybe Natraj. Or it may say nothing, and look and smell like a slice of cartoon lemon instead.
By then, the visions that had swirled on the page the previous day, orbiting the unsatisfactory rudimentary curve, will have departed the retina of my mind’s eye, forever, or till the next time the eraser disappears.

Thursday 4 June 2009

Rain

"Join Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad" read the sign on the wall. I was in a bus; the bus was in Kodambakkam; we had just crossed Meenakshi College. Thankfully for the impressionable youth of the city, the chaps who had scrawled this on the wall had overlooked the fact that this wall wasn't perhaps the most ideal wall for the purpose. For the wall - only about two feet high - bounded a transformer with DANGER painted in red across the grey of its steel shell. A pat on the back for the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board for doing its bit in the fight against far-right political outfits and their youth wings.
This was among the various sensory stimuli I was treated to on my bus journey from Vadapalani bus stand to my office - a distance of about eight kilometers that lasted just over two hours on this day in history. Before that, the auto journey that took me three kilometers from my place to Vadapalani consumed 45 minutes.
The trip lasted as long as it did because Arcot Road was the only navigable stretch of arterial road in the western part of the city, and buses and other vehicles that usually don't use this road were diverted into it. Other roads to its north and south were knee-deep in water from four days of rain that came in the wake of Cyclone Nisha's retreat - or advance, I'm not sure which - while the water on Arcot Road was merely shin-deep.
Strangely, after crossing the Kodambakkam bridge, all the other vehicles that had clogged up road-space alongside the bus I was on for an hour and a half seemed to disappear, and the horizon became visible again, after which the bus began to discover velocities it had given up as impossible - speeds of 15 and 20 kilometers an hour. Each time we turned left or right, I was thrown back and forth, centrifugal - or is it centripetal? - force causing vertical grab-poles* to jam into my right elbow, while simultaneously elongating my left arm clawing desperately at the parallel bars* on the bus's ceiling, threatening two hyper-extended arms at the end of the ride.
*How I wish I knew the technical terms for MTC bus design elements.
At the beginning of my journey, it had looked like it was going to be a typical post-rain Chennai afternoon. Bright sunshine, an expanse of blue sky punctuated by the odd, low-slung grey-tending-to-white cloud, and humongous humidity. Despite perspiring slightly, I was feeling good, for I thought one day of sunshine would bring a semblance of normalcy to the roads, and allow me to bring my bike back from the office in the evening, with only my rolled-up jeans suggesting anything in the realm of the abnormal.
As I got off the bus, however, the blue had faded to a deepish grey, the light was low, and a drizzle had begun. Oh well.
If it will do any good, I introduce into this text these wonderful verses:
Rain rain go away, Come again another day. Little Johnny wants to play; Rain, rain, go to Spain, Never show your face again!
I was made to understand that it was Little Tommy who wanted to play, but in Wikipedia I trust. And the Spain bit I had no clue about whatsoever.
According to the people at Wikipedia,
"Rain Rain Go Away" is a short children's rhyme. As with many nursery rhymes the origin and meaning of this rhyme is open for debate, but one theory dates it back to the reign of Elizabeth I of England. The invasion of the Spanish Armada was, in part, defeated by the stormy weather (which scattered the Armada fleet). A song, based on the rhyme, was co-written by Gloria Shayne Baker and Noel Regney, who were married at the time. Baker wrote the lyrics to the song, while Regney composed the music. Rain Rain Go Away was initially recorded by Bobby Vinton.
Bet you didn't know that.
Another thing you didn't know: The bus I travelled on today was an M17, but an M17 that in the past had been a 12B. How do I know? Well, Sathish, Prabha, Mukilan, Pradeep, Kumaravel, Vinoth and Rajan told me. Their names were scrawled below the words '12B guys' behind the last row of seats on the bus. On a journey of such temporal length, you tend to memorise, in order, lists of names that are only seven long.
But wait. Does this automatically suggest that it was a 12B in which the 12B guys were travelling at the time they declared their allegiance to the 12B? Were they perhaps recording for posterity that the 12B guys were, due to unavoidable circumstances, travelling in an M17?
By the way, the M17 isn't the same as the 17M. A couple of dudes who got on, and were told by the conductor to get off at the next stop and get onto a 17M, seemed to have made that assumption.
I wrote this late last November, sitting at the office after my epic bus journey.

Thursday 21 May 2009

Tomatoes

Tomatoes. I love them.
But this hasn't always been the case.
Take for example this nightmare I had when I was a kid. It wasn't a nightmare really, but a picture that played endlessly, over and over in my subconscious - or is it unconscious? - mind. It involved a chef wearing spotless chef's whites, a spotless chef's hat and an impossibly wide grin (imagine a slightly eerie version of Martin Yan, the host of the now sadly absent-from-Indian-TV cooking show Yan Can Cook), holding in one hand a humungous, all-purpose Chinese Chef's Knife...
...which moved slowly to and fro, slicing thinly an especially cheerful-looking specimen of the tomato family that oozed juice as the knife cut through its membranes, tissues and whatever else tomatoes contain. This description, I can sense, communicates none of the nameless dread that enveloped me then as I watched, unable to tear my eyes away, unaware that it was all just a dream.
At the time, I hated tomatoes. It wasn't the flavour - I didn't mind them pureed to within a micron of their lives - but the texture that so repulsed me and unfailingly brought forth the gag reflex as I accidentally ingested a piece that had somehow failed to lose all its structural integrity.
Suddenly, I don't know when exactly, I began to like tomatoes, in any form - raw, sliced thinly, thickly, diced into cubes tiny or chunky, carved expertly but unnecessarily into flower-like shapes. Even partially cooked, not entirely pureed tomatoes.
What I draw the line at is ketchup. Not ketchup per se - it's okay to dip the sharp end of a samosa or a point on the outer curve of a vada in a bit of ketchup - but the dousing, courtesy a red squeezy bottle, of such quantities of the ooze as to render the taste of whatever's being doused entirely negligible. Once, I even saw a friend of mine - heck, I sat next to him as he did the dastardly deed - draw squiggly patterns on a pizza with ketchup. How, I ask, did civilisation come to this?

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Aglets

Aglets. I bet you don't know what aglets are. I didn't either, until I was told what they are, by the same dude who told me what the philtrum is, on the same day. The aglet, he informed me, is the little thingy on the end of your shoelaces.
He didn't use those exact words, but if he did, he'd have been wrong. For my shoelaces that day would surely have long lost their aglets, through wear, tear, and my refusal to tie them properly.
Today, however, I wear shoes with laces that loudly assert their agletedness whenever they come undone, with a faint, but not so faint as to be un-discernible, tinkle. For my aglets are made of brass, or some similarly metallic substance. And they've remained steadfastly fastened to the end of my laces, partly because they're bonded on by some combination of superglue and opposite-charge attraction - in comparison to the faint-hearted transparent plastic aglets rolled around the laces of my school shoes - but mostly because I now redo my laces whenever they come undone.
That's partly because they look kinda nifty and I don't want to lose them, but mostly because of the tinkle.
The aglet that tinkles most lasts longest. My first contribution to the universe-sized fund of meaningless sayings. If this ever becomes popular, and gets recited in a hundred and seventy two countries in twenty thousand languages, I imagine that whoever reads about the dude who coined it - me - would imagine I had a beard.
(This is a response to Rajesh Madhini's response to my previous post)

Thursday 5 March 2009

More handkerchief nostalgia

When I was a kid, my laces were always undone. I was always told that I'd trip on them and break my fall by breaking my nose. It never happened.
I did once trip and fall and land on my jaw, however. One of my teeth broke.
But that wasn't due to a shoelace coming undone. What happened was, I was tripped from behind by a chap when he and I and a bunch of other chaps were playing football, on a basketball court, with a tennis ball.
Ah, the memories. Tasting blood, getting up, shaking off the dust from my person, reassuring my friends that I was okay to carry on, scoring a goal about five minutes later - a low shot driven into the bottom corner from the edge of the basketball D - going back home in a friend's car, feeling a mild sense of something not quite feeling right, putting food on my plate - lemon rice - putting a spoonful in my mouth, looking down to find a tooth on the plate.
Even now, I wear a false tooth. It's one of those false teeth which have a large bit that fits snugly into your upper-palate, a false tooth that you can pull out of your mouth when you brush your teeth, and apply the brush to separately. It was supposed to be temporarily in place until I went back to the dentist to get a permanent one fixed - permanently - in my mouth. I never got round to doing that. My dad - on one of his visits to the dentist - asked him if it's okay, and the dentist said it's okay.
Between losing my tooth and getting a false tooth, there was a gap of one day. And it was a weekday. And I went to school and freaked everyone out for a while before feeling embarrassed and speaking with my hanky clutched to my face.
There was another day in school when my hanky spent a lot of time clutched to my face, in a stationary, non-wiping-nose manner. That day, a zit appeared in probably the worst place for a zit to appear, right below the nose, on what's known as - and a friend of mine revealed this to me during one of those trivia-swapping sessions - the philtrum.
Trust me, you do not want a zit in your philtrum.