It’s a tough job having a hire purpose in life.

September 15, 2011 4 comments

“Sheesh!”, I hear you exclaim. “What’s with the pathetic pun in the title?”, I hear you ask… (rather droll, don’t you think?). If you’ve managed to overlook that and are getting ready to dive in, I’d like to warn you that this isn’t one of those Deepak Chopra-like articles that dishes out banality in bucketfuls and peddles pious platitudes in plenty. This is really much much worse. I do not have Mr. Chopra’s rhetorical flair, nor his astounding gift for nuanced nonsense. I rely however on the unintentional (I assume) comic genius of Bangalore’s best and brightest, as they attempt to persuade me that I should hire them.

It has been well over a year since I left the comfortable confines of a large German software giant to try my luck at running an organization from a small house that should officially be declared unfit for human habitation – but works just fine for software engineers. Mine was a sheltered life until then. I hadn’t dealt with the multitude of mundane yet maddening struggles that comprise a day in the life of someone trying to setup and operate an offshore development center in Bangalore. Well… 18 months into herding cats for a living, I seem to be holding my own…for the most part. Actually, running an outfit in Bangalore is really pretty much all fun and games… but more fun in some aspects than you can even begin to imagine. Some of the best laughs of my life have come from interviewing the teeming masses of people I need to closely examine, to grow a team 6-fold.

The setup is usually the same…there’s the obligatory “phone screen” courtship, followed by the always entertaining “f2f” engagement, the “offer letter” pre-nup dance and culminating in the employee standing us up at the altar by almost always not showing up on the first day of work after signing the pre-nup. Phone interviews unerringly start with me speaking in an unnecessarily grave and ponderously deep voice to lend gravitas to the solemn occasion and sound appropriately middle-aged and sufficiently weighed down with responsibility. Following this, with very little provocation from me, the candidate speaks exceedingly highly of himself or herself, with glowing accounts of entirely fictitious (or borrowed) achievements at their current workplace and me oohing and aaahing at the opportune moments to express affected admiration. Life is good in these initial few minutes. I’m limbering up for the sucker-punch… the candidate is on a roll extolling many of his or her imaginary virtues. The sun is shining gloriously… and then I unfortunately feel compelled to strike the jarring note by asking them to do some thinking. At which point, what seemed to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, sputters to a halt entirely.

My first taste of the magnitude of the task that lay ahead of me in growing our little brood from six to thirty-six came when I was putting the finishing touches on what looked like the successful hiring of someone I’ll call “Bachelor #1”. Beaming benevolently at B1, I told him I looked forward to him joining. He beamed back competitively and said he looked forward to it as well. And then, suddenly, with the melancholic air of a man who has realized that unto each life some rain must often fall, B1 told me he can’t join me. I continued to beam (I like to have the last beam) and asked him why he was inserting the negative note in this happy scene. “I want to get married”, he replied, blushing like an excited beetroot and quickly averted his gaze to conduct a close examination of the (somewhat dusty) floor. This seemed like a puzzling non sequitur to me… neither here nor there. Jumping onto the nearest conclusion that happened to be passing by, my beaming took on an avuncular and sympathetic air as I graciously conceded that even the best of us makes colossal mistakes in life and that as a married man myself, I would be out of a job if I imposed an “only-singles-can-work-here” policy at work. While cautioning him against unnecessary rashness, I reassured him that I would still like to have him as an employee even if he did get married. I had apparently missed the point by a mile and B1 set me right quickly. Given the down-market chic, non-shiny digs we were in… and given that our company was not called “Infosys”, B1 did not fancy his chances of finding a prospective father-in-law rash enough to give him his daughter’s hand in marriage. I prefer to not go into the difficulties I’ve had in convincing my management to invest in a new office (or court acquisition by Infosys – whichever is simpler, I’m flexible like that) for the simple reason that our employees need to get married. We’ll save that sitcom for another day.

After this bracing episode, things have only gotten better. I’ve dealt with situations that seem to get funnier by the day. Next up on deck to have me in splits was Mr. Respectful – a very obsequious and somewhat timid young man. Having done himself credit in the written test I had administered to test his mettle, he waxed eloquent about how it would be a privilege for him to work in our organization. Considering that he had never heard about my company till he walked in for his interview that afternoon, I was impressed at this instant admiration for us. We bantered amiably for a few minutes and he took my leave promising to send me the signed offer letter after he took his grand-dad’s blessings. Touching… this expression of Gen-Y affection for the aged relative. Given that it was a Friday evening, I expected to hear back from him only on Monday or later. He called me from his native village outside Bangalore on Saturday. After the customary pleasantries (in the west this usually takes the form of small talk about the weather… in India it is always the all important question “have you had lunch?”), Mr. Respectful breathlessly asked in a hopeful voice… “Guru, do you speak Telugu?”. I’m usually unflappable in the face of bizarre questions… but this was a bit much. I reeled. “Cough… gulp… what?”, I managed to splutter. He repeated his question and I answered that I could manage a few sentences in the language (like – “have you had lunch?”), but that I didn’t see where this was going. He abruptly said “Great! I’ll hand the phone to my grand-dad. He isn’t OK with me working for anybody other than Infosys and I think you can convince him!”. Whoa! I really wanted to hire the guy, but not that desperately! Bye-Bye…

In the course of my adventures, I’ve met potential employees of all hues. Some are laconic to a fault. Like one gentleman who when confronted with the statement from me over email that he had not shown up for a previously scheduled f2f interview, merely responded with a short and sweet “Ya” (yeah). I guess the fault was mine… I didn’t frame it as a question, but as a statement. I got my just desserts. And another was when I (in my usual ponderously deep voice) had this back and forth with one guy

Me: “From your resume, I can see you work at XYZ Software Solutions”
He: “Ya”
Me: “Great! What do you do for XYZ Software Solutions?” (as you can see I’m slowly learning to ask, not just state)
He (with the patient air of someone dealing with a retard): “I *work* at XYZ Software Solutions”

And then there are those who are extremely inventive in the way they try to explain technical concepts. The following back and forth, with a gentleman from a neighboring state, maybe a bit technical for those fortunate enough to have not dealt with software for a living, but I’m wagering you’ll understand the fundamental underpinnings of Object Oriented Programming Systems (fondly known as OOPS to the Indian cognoscenti – or “woops” to some as I found out) after you read this.

Me: “Under the assumption that I don’t know a damn thing about OO Programming, convince me about the need for polymorphism.”
He: “Do you at least know superclass-subclass?”
Me: “No” (and I quickly add , lest he starts to think he’s interviewing for a job with someone who is utterly ignorant) “Just assume I don’t… ”.
He: “Tchah…” (with disappointment writ large in the tone)
He: “If you don’t even know that, I must explain things from the beginning…”
Me: “Yes, that’s always a good place to start”
He: “We have *woops* concepts in Java. Super class is like the father. Subclass is like the child”
Me: “Awesome…*woops*!!”
He: “You will inherit property and money from your father.”
Me (thinking sadly to myself): “Sighhh… that’s not really true for everybody, y’know…”
He: “The same way in *woops*, subclass also inherits property from the superclass”
He: “In real life inheritance is good. In programming also it is the same way. That’s why we need polymorphism”
Me: “Woops!!”

Since most of my interviews are technical, I have loads of other anecdotes that are sure to regale those of you who understand enough about Java programming to appreciate the unintentional humor behind some of the answers I’ve got. I’ll not bore the general populace with this.

I’m beginning to realize that the super-hot job market in Bangalore engenders a sense of invincibility in the people most in demand – the worker bees in the 3-7 yr experience bracket. How else would you explain the brash honesty and devil-may-care nonchalance displayed by a Mr. Sleepy in the episode below? I called Sleepy at a previously scheduled slot at 10 AM that my recruiter had setup. After letting the phone ring for an eternity, Sleepy deigned to answer the phone

S (sounding groggy): “Hullohhh?”
Me (in a non-deep, chirpy, top-O-the-mornin-to-ya voice): “Blah blah blah… calling for our phone interview”
S: “I slept really late last night and am sleepy… can you call back at 2 PM?”
Me: Speechless
S: <click>

However, with these episodes getting increasingly humorous. a sneaky suspicion is beginning to dawn on me…I think these guys are having some fun at my expense rather than the other way round. Here’s one for the ages from a week ago that really makes me think the joke is firmly and entirely on me… I called a chap we will refer to as Mr. Outdoors who worked at XYZ Consulting.. He asked me to call him back in 5 minutes because he was not in “a comfortable position to talk”… I caught him in flagrante delicto, I guess…
I called him back and asked him about his work at XYZ Consulting… he gave me the usual BS…

And then came the sucker punch – from him to me….

Me: “Looks like you have worked for XYZ for just 9 months, what’s making you look outside XYZ?”
Mr. O: “Are you are asking me why I am looking outside XYZ?”
Me: “Absolutely wonderful how you like to get instant feedback on your understanding of the question. Yes… that’s exactly what I want to know.”
Mr. O (in a conspiratorial stage whisper): “Actually, I am on the rooftop cafeteria of the XYZ building for this phone interview and it is an open cafeteria and I am near the edge… that’s why I am looking outside XYZ.”
Me: (after two minutes of silent struggle trying to not guffaw…tears rolling down my cheek) “That explains everything… thanks!”

Over the course of these months of mirth and merriment, I have unfortunately managed to hire many excellent folks (albeit lacking the comic talents of the above mentioned beauties). Unfortunate because, with each new hire who actually comes on board, the future for the reliable comic relief afforded by the hiring process looks bleak. I guess I will now have to look elsewhere for my daily dose of helpless laughter. Wish me luck!!

Categories: Hiring, Musings

The Out-Nadaling of Rafael Nadal

July 4, 2011 Leave a comment

This has to count as a first! Me writing about tennis when Federer isn’t in the mix! Had to happen one day… my love for tennis isn’t going to suffer the demise that any one man’s dominance on top of this beautiful sport was bound to eventually experience. Folks – this post is going to be bereft of the tears and the drama that is inevitable when writing about a Federer victory (or loss) these days. I’m going to pontificate on yesterday’s match and its technicalities in a tediously verbose manner, sounding like I know what I’m talking about – dispensing analysis while still seated snugly in my armchair of amateur tennis mediocrity.

Still reading? I’ll take that as evidence that you love me unconditionally *and* have tons of time to spare.

Many things in life provide a pleasure vastly disproportionate to their discernible importance (or lack thereof, as the case is). The preening sense of triumph with which one gives in to the temptation of saying “I told you so” must rank very high amongst these pleasures. In my last post in September last year, I heralded (rightly, I have to point out) the arrival of a new force in men’s tennis and events this year have proven me right :). This new force has emphatically underlined his presence by grabbing both the #1 spot, and the Wimbledon crown from Rafa in three days. But how? How in the world did Djoker manage this gargantuan feat? I think I know. He just out-Nadaled Nadal! We saw Djokovic take Nadal’s playbook and execute it much better than the man himself.

Let’s deconstruct the dismantling of that which was hither-to resistant to dismantling. Djoker seemed so goddamn self-assured on the court. Sports an aura of invincibility these days, if you will. He no longer seems intimidated by or in awe of Nadal – which was a marked difference in his demeanor from last year’s US Open finals. Djokovic betrays absolutely no weakness off either wings. His ability to rip winners seems to emanate from both the forehand and backhand side – which is something Federer cannot consistently do from the backhand side. With Roger, Rafa found his kryptonite and attacked his backhand relentlessly till it broke down. With Djoker, he is up against someone who has no apparent weakness – other than having the odd “off day”. While Rog does play some incredible single-handed backhands, one always gets the feeling that the next dump-into-the-net or shoot-off-the-frame-into-the-tramlines backhand, is around the corner when he plays Nadal. He simply cannot deal with the high ball to his comparatively weak backhand. In sharp contrast Djoker can actually hit clean winners off this otherwise potent weapon of Rafa’s. He takes the ball early and his perfect double-handed technique neutralizes Rafa’s top-spin and renders any threat from the looping backhand pretty mild if not entirely non-existent. And thanks to being absolutely on top of his game on both wings, Djokovic has the ability and confidence to disguise his shots until the very last minute – denying a defensive genius like Rafa that all-important read on where the next ball is going – which can make the difference between looking like you can get to every ball – and looking like you’re a milli-second slower than usual. All tennis players are taught the all-important “split-step” before they make their journey towards the ball. Against most players whose moves he can easily read, Rafa combines the split-step and the start of the journey towards the ball into one physically impossible twisting-turning-moving motion. With Djokovic, his split-step was just that and no more – robbing him of that extra millisecond of movement in the right direction.

The Djokovic of old had a decent serve, but one that was readable and not remarkable in any way. After a tumultuous period of change where he brought in Todd Martin to fix his game, ended up worse for the coaching and barely clung onto his #3 ranking for most of 2010, he seems to have found all the answers rapidly in the second half of 2010. His serve has more bite now – and he can place it anywhere in the box seemingly at will without giving the positioning away in his toss. Nadal, who thrives on reading what people are going to do with the ball, was left flatfooted on Djoker’s serve and many other shots. On the deuce court, Djoker’s serve was pretty much always placed wide to Nadal’s backhand. And since Rafa doesn’t usually dictate play with his backhand, Djok was able to dictate terms the minute the return came floating in. In sharp contrast, Djok was able to oftentimes jump all over Rafa’s wide-slice serve and denied him the setup Rafa so often relies on to pretty much never lose his service games.

Djoker’s speed, never shabby to begin with, is astounding now – as is his ability to hit while on the run. He tracked down pretty much every ball that Nadal hit yesterday, seemed to be everywhere all at once and messed with Rafa’s gameplan in much the same way that Rafa messes with all other hapless opponents. For me, the play that broke the camel’s back was at the end of the first set, when Djokovic ran down a phenomenal Rafa drop shot – and put it out of reach of the man who gets to every ball.

We now move on to the hard-court season, to what is Djokovic’s supposed strongest surface. After what I saw yesterday at Wimbledon, if I were Rafa or Roger, I’d be afraid. Very very afraid.

Categories: Tennis Tags:

Into each life tons of rain must fall

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

I know, I know… I know what you’re thinking. The dude stopped writing about tennis the minute Roger stopped winning. Fair enough. I accept the accusation.  How about I make amends for this by writing about tennis after what I consider to be Roger’s worst loss? For the record, I didn’t watch the match. I am glad I didn’t. Watching Roger these days is a combination of marveling at his virtuosity and cursing his idiocy, within seconds of each other. Did my heart a world of good to not watch the match. From all accounts of it on the numerous tennis websites I peruse, I might not have lived to pen this tale, had I been rash enough to watch.

What motivates me to write is not Roger’s loss. Far from it. It is no secret that I am miserably unhappy when he loses to anybody but Rafa. If there is one person on the planet who deserves to beat Roger, it is Rafa – not because he is a more skilled proponent of the game – no, he isn’t – and I say this on the authority of wielding a not-half-bad racquet myself.  He deserves to beat Roger because a more tenacious, bulldog-like, well-muscled, hardworking, constant-wedgie-inducing-shorts-wearing warrior of a SOB I am yet to see. I admire this more than I’ll admire God-given-practice-honed talent any day (not the ill-fitting-shorts – I’ll give that a miss). I am motivated to write about tennis today because of a text message I was woken up by at 4:24 AM on Sunday morning. From a friend who said “Was worth losing sleep today – to see FED losing!”. Got me thinking, it did. Also got me riled to the point of partaking from the same well of insomnia that my friend seemed to have sipped from – albeit with markedly less enthusiasm about the sleep-deprivation being worth it.  Got me thinking about why a talent like Federer’s inspires dumbstruck love in the masses – and *virulent* hatred in a few others. Why is it that the spectacle of someone who plays tennis with such beauty, precision and effortlessness (I say this on authority of being someone who labors mightily for every point I’ve ever played) can induce such disgust in some? Is it the same in other sports? Did the Khans of squash contend with similar animosity while they spent the better part of a decade kicking everybody’s butt on the parquet? Does Sachin Tendulkar, God that he undoubtedly is, contend with mere mortals spitting in contempt at his achievements? Maybe such is the case and the reason I don’t know is because I don’t follow any other sport with a hundredth of the passion I follow tennis with.

In pursuance of my ill-advised research into the complex workings of the human mind that make it possible to hate a phenomenon like Rog, I asked the gent who sent the insomnia-inducing sms why he hated Roger thus. He responded to say, “As talented as Fed is – I always thought he got a free run – surrounded by players who had the skill but not the balls to think he is beatable – until Nadal came along and now there are more who think they can beat Fed. In my books someone like Sampras is way ahead of Fed.”. I will discount this as wing-nut-speak right away. The stats belie this fatuous argument. *Nobody* can possibly get to 23 consecutive grand-slam semi finals and 22 grand slam finals and win 16 of them purely because the skilled “men” on the other side of the net were riddled with testicular deficiencies. That Fed continued to win everywhere else in spite of getting his rear kicked by Nadal at the French, weakens the argument further. To say that these fine athletes, who practice day in and day out to be the very best at their chosen trade, lost simply because they were scared that they couldn’t win against the scary monster of a Federer on the other side of the net, is grotesquely nonsensical at best. As for Sampras – before Roger came on the scene, I was a die-hard devotee of Pete. Far be it from me to say anything against him. To me, he will always be the best grass court player ever. Roger on his best day would have had to be seriously inspired to beat Pete at Wimbledon. But that being said,  Pete just couldn’t cut the mustard on clay while Roger, to his credit has been second best to only the best clay-courter of all time.

I guess the truth is that greatness invokes a visceral response – adoring or otherwise. The reasons are immaterial and in some cases may be laughably bereft of logic, as most emotional reactions are.  To the person on the opposite side of the fence, me waxing eloquent and singing hosannas about Roger’s virtuosity might come across as the illogical rambling of a deranged fan. The fact that a Roger or a Tendulkar or a certain philandering golfer has sometimes-rabid detractors is circumstantial evidence of their individual greatness.  Before the Rafa die-hards protest at his exclusion from the list – fear not, I count myself a fan too. I have seen Rafa detractors who insist that Del Potro is the true blue champ. And I know Del Potro haters who can’t fathom why everybody doesn’t love Andy Roddick or David Nalbandian as the Chosen One. But… I digress. I really shouldn’t be bringing up the names of these supposedly anatomically unblessed scaredy-cats.

Back to the beautiful game. In missing Djoker vs Federer, I guess I missed an inflection point in the world of tennis. We are most certainly witnessing the beginning of sunset in a champion’s life. The old must give way to the new and into each life tons of rain must fall.   I truly believe that Roger will win a grandslam or two – he definitely has enough skill for that. Anybody who watched him play at this year’s open can’t believe that he is over the hill for good. But he is not the Roger of old. I don’t see him ever challenging for the #1 spot, if Nadal’s knees remain healthy. His timing is a tad off, the spirit isn’t as willing and the flesh is definitely weak (compared to the nipping younger 20-somethings who now take bite sized chunks off his heels). He still finds himself in the right spot effortlessly most of the time. But when he gets there, it isn’t the slam-dunk ripping winner along the sidelines any more. More often than I’d like, it’s a ball ricocheting off the frame into the tramlines or beyond. 66 unforced errors  in a match is so un-Roger-like that it is scarcely believable. All credit to Djokovic though – saving two matchpoints with magical shots, suggests that he is finally coming of age. It is the manner in which Fed seems to have lost, that suggests a turning point. A point where those of us who are no longer in our early twenties like Djoker or Rafa, empathize with the trauma and the travails of an older genius succumbing and coming to terms with life’s inevitabilities.  All I hope is that following the time-tested formula of old, he doesn’t retire into the sunset way before his time when he wins his next grandslam. He surely has a few more years of beautiful tennis left in him. I want to watch him play – even if it is a wondrous experience mixed with the emotions of a cat navigating a hot tin roof. Tennis is greater than the man and this is not the time to whine about the fading of a champ. New and  better ones will emerge. Djokovic seems to have transformed into a force this year and maybe Murray will give some hope to the perennially whining Brits next year. Rafa will continue to amaze and the others will only get better and better, in large part because of the high bar that Roger has set.

Sure… tennis is just a game and we should all watch/play it for a couple of hours and put it out of our heads.  But then, how is it possible for the experience to not linger when you witness something done to perfection? Wouldn’t the strains of a musical concert where musicians outdo themselves just as likely to continue to chime in the inner recesses of your mind or between pursed lips? The wing-nuts may disagree, but I as a player will aver that Roger’s game at its peak was painfully beautiful. Beautiful because of the perfection of form, mechanics, timing and tactics that made him invincible to all but one left-hander armed with the perfect kryptonite of shots. Painful because all perfection is fragile and ephemeral and we all knew there had to come a time when the rain fell during the sunset, to mix metaphors liberally. Some of us looked forward to it rubbing our hands in glee. And others like me biting their nails while praying for postponement of the inevitable. Unless Djoker produces some sublime, yet pugnacious tennis on Monday, it is the day when Rafa begins his true reign as an all-slam winner. I wager that his reign isn’t likely to be as long or as painfully elegant as Roger’s was. But if ever there was a guy capable of intimidating skilled men across the net into emasculation, Rafa is the one. Long live the King.

Rafa… one request…please buy some better fitting shorts that don’t constantly ride up your butt. And yes, please eat Djoker for lunch on Monday.

Categories: Musings, Tennis

The elephants ain’t got Jesus…

April 5, 2010 1 comment

Caesar and the rest of the conquering types must be so glad they didn’t have someone like me gumming up the works with long articles to read just as they’re getting ready to go out and do their bit to reduce the human population by massacring a few thousand soldiers. I haven’t written anything in ages, so quit complaining and read along, will ya?!

Thought I’d ramble on inconsequentially about the thoroughly enjoyable birthday weekend trip the girls and I took to the Orange County Resort on the Kabini river near Mysore. The trip worked out perfectly. The place was *AMAZING*. The cottage we stayed in had a courtyard pool was simply awesome and as expected, the kids and adults had a BLAST.

We had an elephant interaction event on the second day. The elephant was a ponderous looking 47 year old female who is counted as part of the resort staff :). And befitting her status as member of the staff, she gets a big barn alongside the staff quarters, in the same compound :). We first had a ride on the elephant, which was a fun experience. Since we were four on the elephant, with me sitting on the tail end of the beast, I had very little space on the cushion on top of the elephant. I was forced to sit half on the cushion and half on the backbone/tail-end of the elephant. I was shocked at how very unlike a limo-ride it was. First – the hair is poky and not fun when wearing shorts. Second, the elephantine backbone has a mind of its own and moves in mysterious ways its wonders to perform. Sitting on it was ticklish in the extreme. I tried taking Jesus’ excellent advice and turned the other cheek – and then the other. It was of no use. Obviously not in tune with Jesus’ teachings, these elephants. I was laughing uncontrollably all the while – and the elephant, sensing something on its rear-end, and unable to appreciate my mirth, kept swatting me with its tail. Quite a sting it packed, I can tell you from experience!!. After the ride, the elephant, monosyllabic mahout and us, all trudged to the river, where the elephant just plonked itself into the water and proceeded to wallow in the shallows and cool off, glad no doubt to be rid of my annoying presence on its back. After a few minutes of this, the mahout suggested I take Akshara and sit on its back. Seeing that he was armed with a sharp looking instrument, I did as instructed – and the damn pachyderm, without giving me as much as a gentle warning, got sweet revenge by filling its trunk with water and soaking me to the BONE with the filthy muck in which it had just frolicked!! . And having relished the experience, proceeded to do this three more times. By the time we were done, I admitted defeat – and Akshara bawled her lungs out in fright. Alekhya, the daredevil in the family, went next and thoroughly enjoyed getting soaked with water and slush. Definitely the highlight of her trip!

We took the boat safari in the evening – lot of fun, but all we saw were bored looking elephants (probably envying their captive sister who managed to soak humans for fun) and a few grazing deer. The resort guys have a good scam going. First they build the suspense up when you reach by having their walkie-talkies crackle incomprehensibly. They look up at you with a grave expression and say things like – “ooh, excuse me sir. I’m getting alerts about a Tiger/crocodile/leopard sighting.” (What he forgot to mention was that this was a Tigger doll that some kid had taken along on the safari). This gets one all excited and the next thing you know, you’re signing up for the safari, convinced that you’re going to spot a tiger or leopard, secretly hoping that you can watch it feasting on one of the plump and overfed tourists from one of the other resorts in the vicinity. With this happy thought in mind, we boarded the boat and off we went. We saw some “spotted deer” on the way – i.e. deer that have been spotted many times, love being spotted and will continue being spotted and are hence called spotted deer. Explains why there is no such thing as a “spotted tiger” – nobody has spotted one! We saw a herd of elephants grazing absent-mindedly. The best part was a teeny tiny tot that was part of the herd. Barely a few months old, the little critter kept hiding between his/her parents’ legs and for their part, they were fiercely protective of his/her super-natural cuteness and didn’t let us take too long a look at him/her. It was a wonderful scene to see them enjoying their food in the wild. Sort of made us feel very happy to see animals in the wild. All’s well with the world and all that, if you know what I mean. But we did not see any tigers. There was this one time when the (spotted) guide on our boat sat upright in his seat and said in a hoarse whisper – “Did you hear that?!!!”. “What?”, I asked, rather cluelessly. “That was the roar of a (unspotted) tiger”, he said, resorting to that dramatic stage whisper again. The rest of the tourist herd looked suitably impressed. I didn’t dare tell them that it was actually my stomach rumbling in anticipation of the evening meal – much like the tiger’s stomach upon sighting that oft-spotted-deer.

After we got back, there was the evening festivities to look forward to. At 7:30 every alternate day, the resort has a “tribal dance”. An event aimed squarely at those either white in the skin or those a little soft in the head. A bunch of morose looking blokes gathered around a fire, squatting and muttering amongst themselves. We were all seated around tables in the open, being plied liberally with beer and fried stuff of indeterminate, but tasty origin. The lake/river shimmered nicely in the full moon. All in all, a pleasant scene. Suddenly one of the blokes called for our attention. Introduced himself as a tribal – a “Kaadu Kuruba” he said. Said his brethren were going to entertain us with a few tribal dances. Rambled on in broken English for a few minutes, liberally using the phrase “very spiritual dance” many times during his monologue. He had a knack for the dog and pony show. Really knew how to use the term “spiritual dance” whenever the audience’s enthusiasm was flagging. The dudes gathered around the fire. One of them started beating the drum and the other played a musical instrument that seemed to have passed its use-by date several decades ago, putting out a particularly mournful tune that had me wishing I was in the jaws of a crocodile. The blokes linked hands and started shaking their legs, moving around the fire in circles as they hooted, made guttural sounds and seemed to shout what unmistakably sounded like “Aaaaiii-Yaaaayyiiii-YYYooooo” said in a mocking tone. This being done and photographs clicked by some of the more gullible tourists, the talking tribal elder came up and again said a lot about spiritual dancing. Full of spirit he was, I could tell (and smell). The second dance began – and what do you know… I couldn’t tell one spiritual dance from the others. Same sound, same moves, same whistling and shouting. These spiritual dances are subtle in their differences. I couldn’t tell what these differences were. I guess the spirit wasn’t with me. The talking man did some more talking and the message was the same – spiritual dance, blah blah, spiritual dance, yakety-yak, spiritual-dance, hey-nonynony, thank the Gods for future years. And… you guessed it. Same dance, same song, same spirituality. Mysterious. Baffling. I looked at the note on my table. It read “Please refrain from giving money to the tribals because it may offend their sentiments, If you wish to help them, please hand over the notes (preferably in crisp $100 bills) to the manager of the resort”. Nice eh? OK – I jest about the $100 bills, but the rest is true.

Sheesh – I pick nits a little too liberally. The whole experience was fantastic. The boat ride, sans tiger sightings, was awesome. The elephant encounter was worth the price of admission. The pool in the room was PHEW! AWESOME. The whole resort is beautifully landscaped and perfect to the last detail. There was a reading room next to the water that was serene. Water all around, birds chirping, the distant sound of resident naturalists bull-shitting about tribal living to foreign tourists. Perfect. The only jarring note as we sat there was this guy yaking away on his cell phone about God-knows-what. Felt like clobbering him on the head and feeding him to the nearest (un-spotted) tiger or leopard.

The food!!!! It was simply amazing. Every meal was a humongous spread of cuisine from every part of India and outside. The local cuisine was particularly amazing. Meat, vegetables and dessert cooked in the local style, an array of dishes from various parts of India, Pasta made to order, fresh fish, the list goes on. This was the best part of the whole experience. I must have undoubtedly gained a few pounds on this trip. I saw the resident elephant eyeing my round shape with undisguised envy on the last day as she sulked ashamedly about not tucking into enough of the fatty foods on offer. Taking notes, she was…I could tell.

There is an emerging class of resorts in India that can compare with any around the world. This was one of them. The service was impeccable. Cleanliness and attention to detail on par with any other place I’ve seen. Absolutely fantastic. Definitely two thumbs up.

Categories: Uncategorized

Holy Pumpkins!!

November 3, 2009 2 comments

Time to fess up. Yes, I’ve been promiscuous. I’ve been seduced by a few beauties, developed an intimacy with them with a just vague understanding of what they’re all about and then discarded them in an egregious embrace of the use-and-throw culture we all know and universally seem to love. Not a single attempt to understand, to discover the inner meaning, to build a lasting relationship. Sigh… there’ll be hell to pay (and enter, endure?) at the pearly gates, I’m sure.

OK – I’ve titillated your imagination enough – I’m talking about *words* you filthy-minded louts!! I’ve used words without really understanding them, is what I’m saying :-). But… strike one word from this list of one night stands! For I now finally know what the word “surreal” means. I’ve used surreal without ever realizing what surreal means – rather surreal that a self-confessed word-nerd can confess to such a terrible crime, right?

It’s the experience of witnessing Halloween in India that finally cleared a few of the cobwebs from the largely empty upper chamber. Whodathunkit!! Halloween in India?! Yes sir – as the brothers Merriam or even Noah Webster might have said, the event was certainly “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream”. Surreal, you might say, if you’re fond of condensing a sentence into one word. I certainly did say that. But more on that a little later.

For those unfamiliar with Bangalore – a quick 360 degree view: There’s a south (that I identify myself with) populated with dosa devotees, a nerdy north (mistakenly) laying claim to a truer-bluer-than-thou Bangalore-ness over the south, a west I have very little idea about and an east increasingly populated with those reversing the go-west-young-man mantra on its axis. Hardened dosa-lover though I am, I’ve headed east and now live among these erstwhile denizens of San Jose, Sunnyvale and other surrounding towns and a select few like myself from places like Boston on the other coast, who didn’t go far enough west when we were young men and women.

Having spent a large portion of the two years I’ve been back in south Bangalore, I wasn’t quite anticipating that Halloween would be quite the do it turned out to be. In south Bangalore, the few that have heard of Halloween look on it as another evidence of western craziness that should be sniggered at and tolerated. Halloween? Nyet. Not a sign of it anywhere in south Bangalore. I was hence pretty unprepared for the frenzy that Oct. 31st turned out to be, in East Bangalore. The powers-that-be in the apartment complex where I live were obviously better men and women than I. They had anticipated the numbers involved and had organized the event to perfection. The little and not-so-little goons ( and pirates, fairies, princesses, etc.) were segregated by age group and had an age-specific, pre-assigned order in which they would traverse the five apartment towers. The less sporting of residents who wanted out of the madness were given a shot at not being disturbed, by requiring that those residents wanting to hand out candy would advertize their choice by putting up a sign on their doors welcoming trick-o-treaters. There was even a pumpkin-carving contest. Not really sure how that turned out – the local pumpkins are rather small and undernourished compared to the gargantuan specimens that North America seems to produce.

Just how many kids came a-calling? I lost count at about 200 (I’m serious!). They came in droves and droves. I quickly realized that closing the door after each group of kids would be a surefire way to kill my calling-bell. I decided to simply stand outside the door and distribute candy, while eating most of it in a tearing hurry. It was a fantastic social event. The kids had a rollicking time tearing across five towers of apartments with ten floors each. Adults bore it with an admirable, smiling fortitude. And some of us ate more candy than we distributed. In short, a grand old time was had by all. I’m *very* surprised that chocolate makers like Cadbury aren’t pushing to make this an urban-India-wide phenom.

But wait, here comes the gory end. Among the last set of kids to come my way was a LARGE group of teenage girls. All of them funnily enough, dressed in exactly the same way. I foolishly left my foot precariously hanging near my mouth by asking one of them what the costume was all about. “We’re all Bella!”, she said. I should have nodded wisely at this point, handed over the candy and waved goodbye. Instead, the sucker for punishment that I am, I persisted in pushing the size 10 boot firmly down my throat. “Bella??”, I asked, displaying what I thought was an endearing and refreshing inquisitiveness. “From Twilight!!”, she responded, her tone indicating that this should be clear to even the meanest intelligence (i.e. mine). And with more than a touch of insolent impatience, I might add. I was obviously eating up precious candy-collecting minutes  with this display of abject ignorance. The poor girl was struggling – she obviously wanted to kick me in the shin (or maybe higher, you never know) and hotfoot it. One of the other Bellas in the group came to the rescue. With a upward roll of the eyes that only teenage girls seem well-equipped to perform with panache, she swept the crowd onward, saying “Forget it! *He* won’t know”. Surreal? Nope – very painfully real.

Categories: Uncategorized

Mum’s the word and a new crown-prince is born

September 15, 2009 2 comments

As the old truism goes – all good things come to an end. An important bit is left unsaid, IMO. All good things come to an end because the old must give way to the new. A year that began with a flood of embarrassing tears for Roger Federer and hit the highs of a first French title and sixth Wimbledon victory, ended with a 5-set loss to a younger, hungrier and on the day, better player. No shame in that. Ask Roddick – he’d give an arm and a leg to have just one bad year of Federer’s. A year ago, a Fed loss would have me acting like a petulant school-kid for the better part of a week. Thanks to #14 and #15 in the bag, not so any more. He can’t win ‘em all and heck, for any potential crown-prince to become a powerful king, he shouldn’t win ‘em all.

The stats are staggering. 17 of the last 18 Grand Slam finals, 21 overall. 22 straight Grand Slam semi finals. The list goes on. Has he had bad days during his tenure at the top? – of course, in plenty. However, as it turns out, he has them very rarely in a Grand Slam and they usually do not coincide with the guy on the other side playing out of his skin. With the laws of physics and averages looming large, he had to go down sometime – and he did last night. Del Potro has been playing incredible hard-court tennis all season. His height, serves and booming returns off both wings are a force for anybody to reckon with even if he’s having a bad day. This fortnight, his has been an inspired, free-wheeling brand of tennis and he was too hot for Roger to handle. That – and Roger’s serve letting him down when he needed it the most. I don’t recall when I last saw Rog serve so poorly – just 50% on his first serve for the entire match and 11 double faults?? When was the last time we saw Roger do that? How about… never!  Rog was also uncharacteristically woeful on break points – only 5 of 22 converted. He played abysmally against a guy who was not afraid to knock the stuffing out of the ball on each shot and quite deservedly paid the price. Testament to the quality of his game that he still made it a 5-setter in spite of playing badly by his standards. No sweat. Roger will be back to win more slams. He will still win more matches against Del Potro than vice versa. Roger on a good day is too smart and has too many weapons. The win is good for DP – he’ll now start believing more in himself, having tasted blood and I predict will be a future #1. I hope he blends a little more variety into his game and will find a way to not lose to the likes of Andy Murray, the other crown-prince designate (though most of the noise is from sorry-ass Brits wailing for their first champ since Fred Perry).

An annoying side-effect of this win by Del Potro has been the resurgence of the Federer naysayers in public and private life. Hate the man, by all means. I personally can’t understand it. Maybe it’s his hair, his tears of joy and pain (I find that quite annoying too, to be honest), his preternatural calm (most of the time. Not yesterday though.), his uncanny knack of figuring most opponents out. The list probably goes on. I have no idea, but whatever it is – I find all of these reasons good enough to not be a fan and to revel in his losses. However, it has been my misfortune to meet some who disagree about his tennis being of a sublime quality. They attribute his success largely to luck – and seem to have missed a crucial part of their education where probability theory was taught. Such people don’t really understand the game beautiful and the exquisite shot-making that has pushed all the others into playing better. Boil your heads. Nuff said.

For me, the real feel-good story of this open was Kim Clijsters. What’s not to like about a former champ with a golden locked toddler coming back out of retirement to beat a bunch of women with over-sized egos (and one with an over-sized foul mouth and over-sized everything).  As Bud Collins might have said – (if he were as big a sucker for alliteration as I am) – this mighty mamma made many misty-eyed. I don’t follow the women’s game much – other than a perfunctory peek at a particularly pretty Russian or Czech once in a while. Whatever one’s opinion might be on the quality of the current women’s game, it takes quite a lot to come out of retirement, baby in tow and win a Grand Slam. Way to go Kim!  My money is on Justine Henin putting her tennis shoes back on. I’d surely pay to watch that backhand again.

Categories: Tennis

Sick transit on a glorious Monday (sic)

August 25, 2009 Leave a comment

Well, you’re about to do it again – waste a few minutes of your apparently-not-so-precious time reading the tripe that I put out. Hey, hey, just kidding! Get the mouse pointer away from the back button!!

‘Tis the season folks – of swine flu, that is. If you’ve had to depart from one of India’s airports during the past week, you’ve doubtless seen the upsurge in the number of people wanting to look like “The Phantom”. So it was last Monday when I headed out on a manic itinerary that took 36 hours to get me from BLR to BOS. The airport was awash with masks of all shapes, sizes and hues. It really was quite a tall order to not get caught up in the hysteria, to eschew all human contact altogether and aim for the security line only when no one else is in sight. All this of course, only to sit in a confined space with no ventilation for the better part of two days. Still, I can’t complain – with countless episodes of “The Simpsons” to keep me busy and a super-skinny flu-free and kid-free dude next to me, my seemingly interminable hours of airborne existence were thankfully uneventful.  This weekend, I get to go through the rigmarole in reverse – SFO to BLR. Hope Emirates has reloaded its video collection for the long haul. Swine flu, enjoy your day in the sun. As they said in the (real) old days  – sic transit gloria mundi.

The real find of the trip for me has been Google Voice. Prior to the trip, I was stoked about handing out my Google Voice number to all and sundry and have cool stuff like voicemail available on the cloud, as is de rigueur these days. Little did I realize the comic possibilities of transcribed voicemail messages. The good QA folks at Google haven’t really given this baby a spin with Indian voices, accents and names, I can tell. I may be Guru to you folks. However, Google prefers, for reasons best left unexamined, to call me Andrew, Joe or Lou. In one message, I got a pretty edgy moniker as “Group”. But in the next message, I was brought crashing back to earth when Goog called me a “Girl”.  Pretty humiliating, I can tell you – being rechristened a “Girl” by a nameless (but not voiceless) computer.  

ROTFL? You bet! Here’s an example to get you rolling: I didn’t quite get the drift when, at the end of a long message, a friend seemed to say : There is a little pork I’m going to try and place next to the house. When are you coming over to defend our house?”. Ominous. What’s with the pork, I thought and why place it next to the house when the house needs defending? Live free or die sounds good on a number plate, but I didn’t sign up for this porcine defense. Later, I heard the voicemail on the Google Voice website, where the message was a far more benign: “There is a poker game planned tonight in Raj’s house. When are you coming over to Jatinder’s house?” Go figure…

 

I encourage all my friends to call and call often – and if you’re Indian, Chinese, German, French, Bulgarian, Russian – or in any way blessed with an exotic accent, please, do leave a message. Please.

So folks, If you aren’t on Google voice, you have to sign up quick – before the spoilsports at Google fine-tune, “improve” and take the fun out of transcription.

Categories: Uncategorized