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Read. Suffer. Try to Enjoy.

Fizzy (Headed) Pride

Sunday, November 27, 2005
The newest joy in my life is a series of ads by a cola major, a majority of which feature a sepoy mutinous (sic) actor, who strangely looks like he so badly wanted to be someplace else. My favourite part? The ultra-inspirational punch line. “Piyo sar uthaake”.

Well of course I would be proud (if that’s what you think the play on words is meant to be. If it’s not, stop reading here) to be sipping six/ten bucks worth of sweet fizzy stuff. It does show my spending power. The very best in life. I have truly arrived, and I need no further confirmation. Piyo sar uthaake.
(A Chappell Finger to all you doubters)

It is making my life better. Can’t quite tell you how - it is such an intangible thing, but it’s working. Piyo sar uthaake.

It is going to instill so much pride in me that I’m gonna be a totally new person once I plonk down that empty glass bottle. A sugar rush is one thing. A change in self-image is another. The twain are obviously supposed to meet. Piyo sar uthaake.

Why shouldn’t I drink, ‘sar uthaake’ anyways? Assuming I’ve paid or am gonna pay for the drink, I’m not gonna be exactly furtive about the act of drinking right? (Now if the cola’s been suitably refined with C2H5OH, and you are in a public place, that’s another story altogether. But let’s stick to the family version here). This evidently serves as another affirmation of your honesty. You are not cheating the shopkeeper. Piyo sar uthaake.

In one spot, we are helpfully informed that the cola is made the same way, irrespective of geographical location. This should probably make us feel fantastically on par with the rest of the world; at least as far as the cola making industry is concerned. Piyo sar uthaake.

The only catch is that the models all drink straight from the bottle, without a straw. Which mandates that one has to tilt one’s head slightly, and hold the bottle at a slightly elevated angle, to partake of the precious nectar being advertised. So the limitations of the human anatomy, the basic laws of physics and of course the ad, all come together to exhort you to (you guessed it…you’re getting good at this) piyo sar uthaake! Nahi to kaise aur kahaan se peeyega?!

Stunning. Of Course.

posted by Tapan at 7:12 PM

Hellish Glare And Inference

Monday, November 21, 2005
Was recently speaking to a friend who’s working in the States. Discussions drifted on to work, and I updated him on my working conditions here. One thing which really stood out from our convo was the fact that there are 45-year old programmers in his team out there. I couldn’t believe my ears…did you say 45 years?! Compare that with the IT industry in India. Spend 5 years in here, and if you are lucky (more on the lucky part later) enough to be still coding, invariably you are met with an incredulous
“Kya? Abhi bhi coding kar raha hai kya?! After 5 years?!”
on meeting up with someone slightly senior. His American friends could not believe that people became Technical (or otherwise) leads in as few as 3-4 years here. They were of the opinion that they actually started producing good code after 3 years, and were able to appreciate design nuances and other finer stuff after 5.

Strange isn’t it? The ‘TL’ brand… our fixation with the "I SHOULD be a Team Lead in 5 years" thing. That’s what drives most people, and they call it ‘growth’.

A busload of bull if you ask me.

If there was no coding, there would be nothing for one to ‘lead’. Why the emphasis on ‘leading’ people? Does anyone pause to ask whether a person really is cut out for ‘leading’ before asking him/her to head a team? Not everybody has the ‘it’ factor in them, to be good leaders. It’s this ‘majboori’ promotion thing that causes problems for the newer guys and the industry as a whole. Meritocracies do have a tendency to give due respect to the older hands sometimes.

Technical brilliance does not equal good leader. Period. Leading a team requires a slightly different bent of mind, the ability to be political as well as filial, often at the same time. Bringing people up the curve, especially the freshers, is not an easy task. A fine example of what a Team Lead should NOT be doing is as follows.

Team Lead (to impressionable fresher): Code padho, debug lagao, seekho… we don't have time… we have to do fastly.

Fresher : Err… debug?

Team Lead : Kya?! Tumhe debug nahi aata?

Fresher : No…

Team Lead : You have to learn all this very fast… kuch bhi doubt rahega to mereko poocho… ask me hundred times, I will tell hundred times.

Fresher suitably motivated, struggles for a while, goes to ask a doubt.

Fresher : I can't seem to understand, could you please tell me how to...

Team Lead(snapping) : Arre sab kuch main bataoon, to tumne kya kiya hai? You should be independent, and learn everything on your own. Code padho, seekho.

Fresher suitably stung, struggles for a while again, doesn’t go to ask the Omniscient TL this time.

Team Lead waits for an hour, before dialing the fresher’s number with such ferocity that the Liquid Crystal in the phone’s LCD display shatters the polycarbonate, jumps out and gives the fresher a third-degree burn on his answering arm.

Team Lead (letting it all out…) : Kya hua?! Who debug karke dekhne bola tha na maine?!! Kya hua uska?!!!

Fresher (defensively…first job) : Dekh raha hoon

Team Lead : Arre tumhe kuch samajh mein nahi aa raha hai to poocho na?!!! Haven’t I told you to ask me a hundred times?!!!! You know we don’t have time!

See what I mean? Not everybody’s cup of chai.

Most projects which I’ve seen do not involve rocket science. A little glib talk and (let’s put it very politely) ‘image building’ is all that is required to get ‘noticed’, and climb up the so-called ladder. Even if you don't do the above, if you stay sufficiently long enough thanks to a 'dependency' that you have artfully created, you will be offered at least one rung. The really brilliant technical guys are few and far between; say one or two per project. The rest are 'there' for the ride, side stars in the great big dope show. With quantity over quality being the name of the game as far as software workers (and projects) go…there’s very little emphasis on ACTUALLY ensuring that people learn and get to do something worthwile at work. Headcounts reached? People will figure it out and do it. Deadlines will ensure that. All that matters is that we should be in a position to make the ‘release’ on the day the client has decided. Someone will take care of blurring the lines between justifiable bugs and downright crapola amongst other Dilbertian manoeuvres.

Really can’t blame people for aspiring to be Team Leads though, because it’s the only way usually to better salaries. And of course, “Growth”. With more money, comes more unwieldy power. Here's how.

A classic definition of growth is - attending conference calls which often last well into the witching hours, getting an earful from the client, as well as the people who report to you (cause surprise surprise…they know how much you know), haggling over ‘billing’ and other niceties, acting as an unwilling sounding board to your happy subordinates and your happy superiors - which translates into growing insecurity as you spend more and more time doing the above.

Guess why?

Because your anaemic ‘skill set’ (which you have cultivated in your coding heydays) is positively on its death bed now. Spending some time doing thookpatti fixes does not give you any kind of insight into WHY things have been written the way they are. Why was this component designed this way? Chuck it, have to deliver this fix by day after. Who cares? Another set of if-then-elses later, you go home deluding yourself that you’ve coded today. And then one day you find, 5 years have passed you by, and you are a ‘mukaadam’ now leading a team of equally deluded ‘kadiyas’. And so it goes on, till you either reach the top, or are content to just watch the time go by (you can wait out your career here in IT, because the sheer number of duds that you find here, outnumber all other industries combined. Somebody ought to do a dissertation on this. Sure shot PhD material).

Thus, you have no option but to keep the show going. Or have you?

posted by Tapan at 10:04 PM

Short Story - Crimson

Monday, November 14, 2005
Dawn broke out in a crimson streak as the Commander stared at the blood red patterns over the pallid sky, through the dense foliage. The irony of the situation made him smile. Crimson was one colour he wished he’d never see again…never. As he shut his eyes again, he felt the wretched shivers run through his body, jarring his very being. He shook uncontrollably, as his febrile mind tried to recapitulate what had transpired over the last 36 hours…

He had been posted to this region to aid in fending off a group of Rebels who were agitating for a separationist moment. His earlier track record in eliminating such outfits had played a part in this. Ever since he had taken charge, he had assembled a crack team of his own men, and was doing an excellent job of “cleaning up this toilet bowl”, in his own words.

Establishing a strong network of informers had been his first priority, and the second was winning over the trust of the people. The first part was easy given how easily food was available in the wretched state; it was the second part that was proving to be a little difficult. The terrorists could be slain, but the ideals never died. They merely remained dormant, and waited to re-group and re-surface. The commander compared himself to an oncologist. Treatment had to be a continuous, non-localized affair.

The Rebel Leader had totally infected the psyches of the villagers, to the point where to hope for any sane communication with them was totally hopeless. It was a laborious process, building up a foundation, convincing them about his intentions, and empowering them to make a choice and think for themselves. The Rebel Leader was a very erudite and cunning opponent. He knew the rural human psyches well, and excelled at molding them to suit his needs. They had been engaged in a gory, yet fascinating game of chess over the past 6 months. Each had a fixed goal in sight, and neither gave the other an inch more than what was necessary.

So it was with mixed feelings that the Commander had received the news on that fateful evening stating that the Leader was attending a ceremony at a village not too far from his camp. It was dark and overcast when he and his trusted team of four left for another try. They were going to get him this time.

The company made their way through the dense jungle, silent and determined. It was almost impenetrable, and tested their skills to the maximum. Progress was laboriously slow, cutting through the underbrush, marking their path, and keeping their eyes peeled covering each other. As expected, there was a massive thunderbolt, and it started raining. Gently at first, then the barrage got heavier…steadily, but surely. The ambient noise increased making it harder for them to concentrate. The Leader was allegedly stationed in a village, which lay beyond a stream, which was the demarcation of the Rebel Occupied Land. The Rebel strength was already depleted due to the relentless operations carried out by the Commander. It was just a matter of time, the Commander felt, before the entire uprising was quashed. As per the tip-off, if the Leader was not going to be accompanied by his full band of followers, this would be easy.

Gradually the stream loomed into view. They could hardly make out the outline, because of the sheets of rain that kept battering everything in sight. The company huddled together, and charted out their course of action. Two commandos were to scout around to the left. The Commander and one more were to go to the right. One was to remain back and cover both the flanks. They would meet back in half an hour at the same point, and decide the point of entry.

The stream was in spate. It was like a wild animal under the moonlight, furious, barely restrained by the banks. Visibility was dim, the inky blackness broken by stray beams of moonlight, which filtered through the treetops. Trees lay uprooted all along the periphery, with branches and driftwood coursing through the stream. The Commander, straining his eyes for some activity on the other side of the stream, was compelled to marvel momentarily at the sight. Morbid beauty at it's best.

They started scouting the river bank, looking to cross over to the other side. They located a reasonably safe part to navigate. The Commander radioed the left flank. No response. He radioed the lone commando covering both the flanks. No response from him too. Definitely not what he expected. He asked his companion to stay put by the stream, out of sight near the bank, and headed back to check after the other three. He reached the point where they had branched out. The lone commando was sprawled hideously, his throat slit, two bullets in his chest. The Commander rushed to the left...to find them both dead too. He could smell his own fear now...a perfect ambush. They had walked right into it...how could that informant have done this to him?! He'd trusted him, and relied on him after checking his antecedents thoroughly enough. His earlier tips were always true. Half expecting the worst, he rushed back to the bank. His fears were confirmed, as the body of the remaining commando was slumped dangerously close to the water. Snipers, he thought to himself...they would be watching every move I make from now on. Silent, deadly assassins.

An orange burst pierced the murkiness. The bullet just missed his ear .He retaliated. The shots came from all directions facing him now, and he replied faithfully to every single one. The muffled sputters of the guns were barely audible over the roaring of the stream. In the frenzy, he hadn't noticed that a couple of bullets had grazed his left forearm, leaving behind a gaping flesh wound in their wake. A lull in firing made him suddenly aware of this, and it was all he could do to keep from screaming. He tried to retreat, since it was foolish to take them on all at once. He would round up support, and then make another try. Four of his best had already been lost. He did not want to be another statistic. He broke out into a brisk clip. The blood kept seeping through the flesh wound. He paused for a moment to apply a tourniquet with some bandage from his kit. It lessened the pain slightly, but the bleeding would not stop. He kept on running, careful not to push himself too hard. He then felt his legs give way and hit the wet ground with a muffled thud. His legs were shaking as he got up, and propped himself against a tree.

He tried to radio for backup. Static. He collapsed against the trunk of the tree, as his legs could not hold him up any longer.

The storm intensified. The steady battering of the rain had drowned out all other aural perception. The Commander tried his best to shield himself from the rain, but wasn’t too successful. The water kept soaking him through and through.

A maddening monotone.

And then along came silence. He was suddenly oblivious to the sound, the aquatic fury, the pain, everything.

The raindrops woke him up, with each drop feeling like a gunshot against his eardrum. Eyes watering, he groped about for his whereabouts. All he could feel and clasp was slush and dead leaves. Why did his arm hurt so much? It was just a flesh wound…

The darkness enveloped him again. He welcomed it this time. It was a lot more bearable.

The shivers were what actually woke him with a firmer purpose. He wasn’t going to rot away like this. No chance in hell. He would make it back to the base and get more troops. He struggled to his feet, disoriented and giddy. The rain had just let up as far as he could tell. He had to make the most of it.

He radioed again. Same old static.

He started to walk back towards the base, his instincts as sharp as they could be in the face of the dullness. The wound had not healed completely, since the rain had not let it dry. The bleeding was intermittent, but present. Out of breath, he sat down near a tree, dizzy.

He then heard the sound. Muffled sobs. Unmistakably a little girl crying. But what the hell was she doing here? Early in the morning, in this weather? He strained to hear more clearly. No question about it, it was a little girl. Cautiously he went nearer the origin of the sound. After around 50 feet, he saw her. Couldn’t have been older than 10. Clothes tattered, and bloodstained. Hunched against some underbrush, her frail body racked by those sobs. His instinct kicked in, making him do a quick recce to ensure that she was truly alone. He did not find anyone else. Panting from the effort, he went up to the girl, and touched her shoulder.

The kid leapt up with a shriek.

“Shh…relax, I’m here to help. What are you doing all alone here?!”

“My parents…they…there…they” the kid babbled incoherently, gesturing in the direction of the stream.

He knelt down beside her, and waited till she was a little more composed.

“They raided our village, and have killed everyone…but I know they haven’t killed my mother…”

“How do you know for sure?”

“I just know, I have to go back…please help me”

The Commander was in no physical condition to be of any use to her. But his heart went out to the poor waif. She reminded him of his daughter back home. He hadn’t seen her in two years. Two missed birthdays had been real hard to justify.

“I’ll come with you. Just do as I say”

As if on cue, it started to rain. He proceeded to tread through the slush and the rain, with the girl in tow. Altruism apart, he so badly wanted to take down a couple of the bastards who had killed his most trusted men, that it physically hurt him.

As they approached the stream, the girl started to lead the way. The commander’s footsteps were faltering. The exhaustion and the rage had drained all his reserves.

“My mother will be here, near the stream. She will be hiding here somewhere. This is where she had told me to run and get help…”

“Just wait, don’t rush”

“She has to be here…I know she just has to be! She told me she would wait for me. I cannot disappoint her. I promised her I would come!”

The commander was too weak to even try and restrain her. He followed, footsteps faltering even more.

The Rebel Sniper rubbed his eyes and stiffened. He could not believe his luck. Slowly from underneath the tarpaulin under which he was camouflaged, he captured the pale visage of the Commander in the crosshairs of his rifle. But it was hard to get a steady bead on the man. He was wandering so much, rambling loudly all the while. Didn’t he know that sound carried better across water? After scanning the areas behind the Commander, he was sure of the fact that he was alone. He confirmed this by radioing all the other snipers stationed across the stream.

There had to be some mistake. He was all alone.

With a philosophical shrug, the sniper took one final look through the scope, and pressed the trigger expertly. Once. Twice.

The bullets entered the Commander’s head with their intended accuracy. One through the forehead. One through the left temple.

“Long live the Revolution”, was the last thing that the Commander heard before his eyes were clouded by thick crimson streaks, as the girl seemed to spit on his face.

posted by Tapan at 9:36 PM


Sunday, November 13, 2005
Found these on a (non-matrimonial) portal while killing time online. Must say these are severe distractions. For a minute I forgot what I was planning to do next. Arresting.

“Male, looking for a life partner which is give more suggestions to our family and love people and nature”

? – Don’t your family members have minds of their own? Why are ‘suggestions’ so important that you want the bride to give more of them?! And yeah, loving people is fine, but the insistence on the nature part is something I really don’t get…unless you are a Jungle Warden or some such.

“Male, i am working as a computer operator in share brokor office. i want a smart and mixminded girl for me”

? - Brother, be careful what you wish for! A mixminded girl from all accounts can be very dangerous. At least I’ve never heard of anyone being mixminded ever before. Uncharted territory that.

“Male, looking for a handsome girl with traditional values supporting my family.all my efforts & should not bewillinmg to work outside”

? – Ahem, are you sure it’s a handsome girl you want? If you do, just make sure she’s not the Bearded Lady from the visiting circus…

Now that the smart repartees are over, I wonder why the whizkids who run these online matrimonial sites don’t have interfaces in regional languages. I don’t mean to put down the guys who have written the above introductions, but just think of the impression that a prospective match will have on reading this. Expressing yourself in a language you are more at home with makes a lot more sense, especially in cases like these where the written word is important in making a favourable first impression. English is not the be all and end all. For all you know, your mother tongue may describe stuff more aptly.

Only hope that somebody sees this type of content that’s being posted on these sites, and does the localization. This would surely increase traffic; definitely leave no scope for miscommunication, and very definitely not spawn a filler like this particular post.

posted by Tapan at 9:23 PM

Of Mind. Doesn't Really Matter.

Monday, November 07, 2005
Picture this:
A mental hospital. Slick on the outside, with American style drug-dispensing counters inside, where the patients walk up on hearing their names announced on a PA system for their meds. Plush wards, definitely air-conditioned. Fantastic bathrooms, would put many gymnasia to shame. Patients never had it so good in India. At least the Bollywood ones.

Till, one guy refuses to take his medicines. What next? A bunch of uniformed security guards walks in, American style ‘lathis’ in hand, joined by nurses and doctors, shouting out the following

“Abbe paagal”
“Abbe yede”
“Abbe bewakoof”
“Saala paagal”
“Maaro usko…maaro saale sarphire ko”

Then again in another scene, a patient spills ink on a doctor’s desk.
“You stupid idiot! Paagal! Dekho tumne kya kiya!!!!”

A fraction of the above might be true in overstretched, overworked public hospitals. But evidently, worse can happen in such an opulent private hospital, even if your relatives have given the authorities a blank cheque for treatment expenses. Ah well, the vagaries of etc etc.

In what must rank as the most sensitive depiction of how mental patients must be treated, in recent times, “Kyon Ki” comes across as a stellar achievement.

After all, what are poor, mentally sick persons there for? To entertain the classy, educated, urban audiences here who will laugh intelligently at their antics (The rural audiences will laugh even if you show them misspelt credits. Even if they cannot read). Bombard them with half an hour’s worth of ‘comedy’ in the form of a bunch of supposedly unhinged people who go at their insanity with such gusto, that there must have been a regional surplus of pork and associated products for the whole month while those rip-roaring scenes must have been shot… people will lap it all up. It’s a new age, multiplex audience after all.

It’s harmless comedy right? Our movies don't exactly make fun of the diseased or the terminally ill do they? But then, maybe they do… just think of all those AIDS, TB, cancer related jokes you would have seen.

You don’t exactly see our movies make fun of the disabled do you? But then again, maybe they do… Just think of all those langda, kaanya, behra, andhaa characters you would have seen. Think of all those stammering and other speech disorder afflicted characters, those guys with facial muscle tics and spasms. I'm laughing so hard, I can hardly type.

So what’s the big deal about poking fun at mental illnesses then? It's just extending the concept isn't it? People want to unwind, have a good time after slogging their sedentary behinds off all week. Even if it means doubling up at ANY available apology of an opportunity. So what better ploy than to have a deranged guy who also has a weight problem, and call him “Abbe maide ki bori…uth! Saala bewakoof” every alternate line. Stereotypes? Who said anything about stereotypes? It’s new-age entertainment brother.

Bring on the yedas, paagals and sarphiras then. We can’t get enough of this!

posted by Tapan at 12:04 AM

Truck Driver Suraj Ki Jai !!!!

Sunday, November 06, 2005
Finally got around to making some changes to the old website, and have put up a brand new page dedicated to the only hero there is. Mithun.
There is no scope for dissent here, I will have none of it.
Do check out The Temple Of The King

posted by Tapan at 5:53 PM