Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Face(book) is the index of the mind!

     "In that direction," the Cat said, waving its right paw round, "lives a Hatter: and in that direction," waving the other paw, "lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they're both mad."
     "But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
     "How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."

    Three decades back, my uncle got married to my aunt. A couple of years down the line; they found my aunt’s cousin to be a nice, responsible young man and introduced him to my uncle’s youngest sister. They were married before long and they hardly knew each other. My mom was 18 and my dad close to 30.
     Fast forward twenty eight years. My brother met my sister-in-law after everyone else in our family had met her. They spoke for 10 minutes the first time around, got engaged the second time they met, and had shared their wedding vows within 6 months from their first meeting. Common factors? Plenty. The trend was set. And I was next in line.
     For those who don’t know me well enough, I’m the party pooper. I have not lived up to the expectations of my elders (remember those filmy dialogues, “beta thou shall follow my footsteps” – sure I will, but I’ll wear my own shoes and walk a different line). My mom was always worried that I would end up marrying someone from outside the community. And I gave her enough heart burns with my antics. Not that I intended to do it, but you never know, right? I wanted to marry someone after spending enough time knowing them. I wanted to end the trend, of getting married to the one my uncles/aunts/cousins/neighbours chose.
     And then it happened. When I least expected it. I added her on my Facebook friends list without knowing that it would change my life forever. Off the 500+ friends in my list, she was just another one. I had met her before at family gatherings and knew that we were related (clause: If Mallu A related to Mallu B, all mallus are related). But nothing more than that (in the background I could hear the song from Mohabbatein, on the violin).
     I still remember our initial conversation. I asked her if she had watched Dev-D. She blushed. I wasn’t embarrassed (Rule 1 in flirting; be downright shameless). And then the romance began. We built our farms next to each other (on Farmville, of course!) and sent each other chickens and goats. We poked each other and had pillow fights (we got to choose the pillows, totally love the options), fought her brother from the same side of the mafia and kept beating each other’s score on brain buddies till the time we got bored. She also put me to work on her café and I returned the favour. Sud-Suddenly we realized that our data and functions had been encapsulated in love and would remain like that forever. Our life on a social networking site was being downloaded into reality, and there was no firewall to stop us.
     Talk about love stories and perfect endings. We might not be the perfect couple, but we are better off than most others. 30 years back it might have been a crime to fall in love without your parents’ permission. Today my parents write on her wall and we get tagged in family photos. If Facebook hasn’t changed your life, hard luck! It surely has changed mine.

     “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tale of a degree

     "You can be obsessed by remorse all your life, not because you chose the wrong thing-- you can always repent, atone : but because you never had the chance to prove to yourself that you would have chosen the right thing. " - Umberto Eco, "Foucault's Pendulum"
     A lot of people are pleasantly surprised (read shocked) when I inform them of my engineering degree. For those who don't know what I do, I smuggle drugs and weapons into Eastern African countries (meant to be a joke, please don't report me). I'm a recruitment consultant (like the sound of it). I used to recruit candidates in the US for big American companies, the likes of Microsoft, Accenture and IBM. And when people question my shift in loyalties from engineering to management, I have my answer ready, like instant payasam. Well not exactly like instant payasam. I wasn't good at what I did. So i moved to something that might be better.
     I am a total dud. It took me 6 years to complete my engineering. And I ensured that the University had to evaluate an additional 44 answer sheets (apart from the 48 regular ones, of course). But after working for the last 4 years, I do console myself that it was the University's failure to reckon with my intelligence (stifling laughter). I joined the league of great men like Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln having spend nights studying in the faded lamps of railway coaches (history never spoke about their arrears/supplementary exams). Most others would have been embarassed when their fellow classmates donned the role of invigilators in the same college. But I wasn't ready to give in.
    The University had let me down when it mattered, and I wanted revenge, cold-blooded revenge. I took my yearly quota of leaves and ensured that I wrote every single exam the university conducted. The university tried their lowly-lying cheap tricks to deter me from my mission. The question papers got easier, but I persisted. And eventually they bent their knees and folded their arms in prayer. And like the mighty Gods, I granted them their freedom.
     This was two years back. Ever since I've been on the run again. To get my money's worth of education, the quest for the holy grail. For those who are familiar with a sick university in Kerala (namely University of Calicut), a degree is like a Karan Johar flick. A lot of emotion, drama and eventually there's nothing much in it. I applied for my provisional certificate 18 months back and after pushing around with my contacts (F company - before RGV gets there) in the University, I managed to get it. So I went ahead and submitted the application for my final year certificate, the laminated sheet of paper that turned up in my nightmares. I decided to opt for the fast track option (you would have to pay higher and wouldn't get anything better) and paid a Golden Gandhi.
     6 months later. I received a memo from the University that they had lost some of the documents that I sent them (thankfully those weren't originals, and they didn't admit they lost it). The memo said that if we didn't respond within the following week, the application would be rejected without further notice. And like Murphy would have it, I wasn't around to reply in time. When I got back a couple of months later, all that was left was a new application form and another 200 bucks.
     6 months later. I decided that enough was enough. Yours truly got to the University to set things straight. I approached the person in charge of the degree certificates and he had no idea of the whole matter. A couple of phone calls later, he seemed to have got the gist of affairs. I was sent to the postal department to figure out the delivery date of my application form. After a lot of chaos and confusion, the problem was figured. I wasn't supposed to send a new application form the second time around (as the lady remarked, "it said your application would be rejected. We didn't ask you to apply again."). So they've assured me that I would get it within 3 weeks. And the wait goes on. Maybe I should have gone with my heart and enrolled for a Bachelors in Arts. Someday I might get my shot to even out things with the University. Till then, like George Orwell mentioned in "1984", Big Brother is watching.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Hurt Locker

     “If you're not making mistakes, you're not taking risks, and that means you're not going anywhere. The key is to make mistakes faster than the competition, so you have more changes to learn and win.” – John W Holt.
     One of the reasons I was inspired by this year's Oscar for best movie was the concept. War veterans in the war plagued countries who swept out land mines. It got to a point when I could no longer resist the temptation of locating mines. I took the harder router, playing Windows' most distinguished game in majority of its operating systems.
The first time I played Minesweeper, the game seemed so dumb (the fox and the grapes flashes past; Ahem, don’t draw comparisons). I would randomly click across the board, and it didn’t require Einstein’s hypothesis to register my losses. In due course, a friend trained me on the objectives of the game. To locate the mines, and to flag the (locate meant “do not click” on them).
     The initial level is the simplest (profound – why would someone call it initial otherwise?). The ratio of spaces to mines is 8.1:1. The middle level, as expected has a higher amount of mines, and the ratio is 6.4:1. Both levels are easy to crack because the game allows us to automatically clear the spaces around the boxes that were open (hope the illustration helps!). The hardest level (my success ratio is approximately 1 out of every 80 attempts) is at a lowly 1:4.8 ratio. So, in short 1 out of every 6 boxes could be a mine (if this was a presentation, the room would be half empty by now).
      The rules of the game are pretty simple. Click on any square to start with. It would either be a mine or a number. The numeral in each square would depict the quantity of mines directly surrounding the square. The algorithm begins after the first square is tagged (so you could never be a golden duck). At times you might need to click on any second square as well. Move on; open the ones close to that square that logically won’t be accountable as mines. And keep clicking till all the mines are flagged (use right click to flag potential mine squares). The games isn’t all about calculated risks, it has its share of random selections. But that’s what makes it interesting. Sometimes the obvious choices aren’t the right ones.
     The biggest challenge in the game is to maintain our composure and look for the open opportunities. And therein lays the primary message. Patience is a virtue. Secondly, being instinctive people and there are a lot of instances where an alternate thought might change the game. The game is challenging because it involves a high level of concentration, and the human mind shouldn’t allow even the slightest deviation (Note: The following images might need parental guidance). There exists a viewpoint that failure by any measure is the same. But if failure and success are drawn out by such a thin line, does perfection come at such a hefty price?

     “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Living up to my Malluness

     There’s an old folklore that when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon he was shocked to see a Nair tea stall (check out the evidence). Mallus (a certain sect believe that they are the south Indian sardars) generally believe in pompous celebrations and gaiety. We’re earmarked for our drinking abilities (I’ve mentioned this before) and feast on meat like piranha.
      To be knighted a mallu, there are certain precautionary measures to be taken care of;
Rule #1: Should be born in Kerala to mallu parents. Our explanation of native location is pretty weird. Eg: Which part of Kerala are you from? Cochin. Oh nice. Actually not Cochin, about 200 kms from there (Objects in mirror appear closer than they actually are).
Rule#2: Coconut oil is a part of your diet, skincare (for the ignorant, hair is part of skin too), rituals and lubrication (for cranky parts, don’t get me wrong).
Rule#3: What’s in a name? A rose would smell as sweet even if known by another name. People look at my signature and guess that I’m a mallu (Proudly, pumping fists!). Ousepp, Chacko, Govindan could be first names, middle names or even surnames. I’ve had the ignominy of having my last name spelt in at least 10 different ways (for a 8 letter word, that’s pretty disgusting).
Rule#4: The annual census shows that you have to spend some part of your life either in the gelf (the pronunciation came up even before Lolakutty got out of her diapers) or in the states (Philadelphia or Florida; Canadians are not eligible to participate). We would work as paid labourers in either country, but wouldn't budge a muscle in our own state.
Rule#5: Malayali jokes arise from movies in the early 90’s. If you haven’t watched those, you’re going to be part of clueless conversations. The alternate option includes watching Priyadarshan directed hindi movies in the last 5 years.
Original joke: Gafoorkka: Caliphorniyayilekku charakku kettan pona uruvanu, ingakku randaalkummendi benangi njammalathu dubai kadappuram bazhi thirichu bidaam. (Elderly Gafur: yeh boat California ja rahe hain. Aapko chahiye tho dubai coast se hum jaa sakte hain).
The difference: In the Hindi version, the characters burst out in laughter. The hapless audience join in.
Rule#6: If you have it, you have to flaunt it. Be it a benz (we like to call it by its original name), huge mansions, or hairy legs (view permitted with the folding of traditional attire for men), the philosophy is the same. Sreesanth flaunts his shamelessness. We drink Rum or Brandy (or toddy). For the gelf people, Scotch is part of their daily diet.
Rule#7: Marriages are depicted by gold mines. The women are covered with so much gold that the ancient gold diggers would be astonished. We also love to cover everything in plastic. From remote controls to fridges.
Rule#8: The age old recipe to thick moustaches. With the advent of mallu heroes in their folded lungis (no frills version of the dhoti), we are proud of our whiskers. Our heroes also prefer English dialogues in the main scenes (scroll down to the bottom for additional info).
Rule#9: The most disconcerting factor of our language is the usage of 15 dialects in 14 states (each district has a numeric representation for vehicles based on their geographic positioning. KL-1 is Trivandrum and KL-14 is Kasargod. #15 is KSRTC – for the ignorant mallus). Only highly capable linguists can decipher the dialects.
Rule#10: Most importantly, we’re well-informed and have good memories. There’s no other way to recognize your mom’s third uncle’s wife’s second brother’s daughter’s father-in-law at an occasion and discuss old times.
Rule#11: I could have stopped at the last one. It was the perfect 10. But, there’s no way that I could leave this one out. Initially Kerala had 2 political parties. The Indian National congress and the Communist Party of India. And then we learnt English alphabets. INC (A), INC (B), INC (C)… If you didn’t like the leader of your party, fear not! There’s a party with your initial waiting to be created.
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US satellites have recently captured the secret formula for our Ingredient X
      So why is everyone so bothered about Mallus? Wherever I go, people talk about the mallu narrow mindedness, selfishness, oily hair (only Silpa Shetty is allowed shiny hair; humbug! Expect a shampoo to do coconut oil shininess) and of course our rapidly spoken language. People don’t realize that Allepey is just like every other part of Kerala, and culturally rich community. We respect all religions and celebrate our festivals with unity and harmony. And to be honest, I totally appreciate Mr. Tharoor's efforts to get us an IPL team. Maybe we have a MTI (mother tongue influenced) problem. But guess what? It’s because we speak in English, that it gets noticed. On the whole, God’s own country has its share of angels and devils. And our behavioural attributes have nothing to do with our oiled hair.

P.S: Why did the Mallu cross the road? – Simbly
(What did you say? Beggars? Maybe we are poor...coolies...trolley pullers...but we are not beggars! You enjoy this status in life bcoz of our sweat and blood! Let it be the last time...if you dare to say that word once more, I will pull out your bloody tongue!)