Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Of ritualistic eyeballing and the scent of wealth

About a week ago one noticed a Desipundit listing for a post that commented on the almost ritualistic eyeballing between two specimens of the brown kind. And a couple of days later this same post was picked up by that academic cum excellent blogger from Banglore, TA Abhinandan. Invoking that God of good natured self deprecatory humor and the supreme creator of the peerless Ajay Palvayanteeswaran, Abhi opined that things have changed since his time in the US, as a grad student. While one can't agree or disagree with that last line, it is certainly possible to add our own spin into the mix, which BTW, seems to be shared by at least a couple of commenters on Shake's post.

In the past few months that I have spent in desh away from desh, I have certainly experienced enough to identify with everything Shakes mentions. But at the same time, I have also seen things go farther, past the piercing stare stage. It goes like this. Back in the desh, if Pammi mongrel strays into the area ruled by Bunty mongrel, Bunty proceeds to size up Pammi from nose to tail. And then ritualistic sniffing occurs as Bunty seeks to identify what Pammi must have had for dinner the previous night. Some folks have claimed that Bunty is disgusting enough to risk a taste, but I am not being judgmental. For you gotta do what you gotta do. Anyways, if Bunty is satisfied that Pammi stinks just right, then friendship happens. Again whether Bunty gets some, later is beyond the scope of this discussion, but one can safely concur that the two wouldn't curl up with a DVD of Brokeback Mountain.

Okay, too much digression. What we are trying to say is that in most cases this staring ritual is not allowed to proceed. But if the ritual goes forward, the next stage in a large percentage of cases would be a ***drumrolls*** business proposal. Yes, the often lamented I-toiled-for-years-to-make-money-from-my- day-job-and-now-I-have-my-fortune-through-a-unique-business-opportunity-that-I-would -gladly-share-with -the-person-standing-in-front-of-me -at-the-grocery-store-billing-counter. Or the parking lot of the local strip mall. Or the rest room at the strip club. Wait, maybe not the last mentioned, since one has never seen the interior of a strip club. Ever.

This theory has been developed not by conjecture, but through experience - experience that has left us all wary of eye contact and has contributed toward the other common theory - desis will neither make eye contact nor small talk with strangers of the same kind in a constrained environment. This theory is as widespread as the whole A guy and a girl can never be "just" friends theory.

For example, some months, I parked my car in front of the local subzi mandi and seconds before I was to walk past this desi gentleman, I noticed him stopping and staring at me. I hesitated for a second and this was enough for him to start to say something. He started with a 'I have seen you somewhere'? line making me hesitate even more. His next question 'Where are you from'? Too shocked to be silent, I replied. The moment he found I was from Chennai, he switched to Tamil and soon he had shared with me that one of his cousins had graduated from the same college in Tamil Nadu 5 years before I got in. I was startled enough to reply truthfully to all his questions and soon came the standard line about a business opportunity that would let me make some extra money without much effort. He said that his company had a number of patents in biotech and this business opportunity was in cancer testing or something. By then I had started taking evasive measures. It made no difference to me that his idea seemed to be nothing like the ones I had heard so far.

Here is where I get to dispense with some advice. If you ever have to change your cell phone number, remember to never forget the old number. There are situations when such knowledge can help, like this one. My old phone number flew off my tongue without hesitation. It certainly helped that I had changed the number just a week before this incident, but I have resolved carry the memory of my 740 number to my grave, lest one of the pall-bearers hired to lay me down to rest is one such businessman.

If you think this was an isolated incident, here is one more anecdote. A few days ago, considerable part of a weekend day was spent walking around the Jacob K. Javits Convention 11ther, on 11th Avenue between 34th and 39th streets in NYC. Past 9 pm, tummy and soles complaining, we headed down Newark Avenue in Jersey City looking for a desi eatery to gorge on dosas and such. The food was ordered, and soon tummies were in the process of being placated when a tiny hand moved in our line of sight and dipped three thin fingers into a full plastic cup of water. Before we could react the child had run away.

Looking around to see who the kid's parents were, I found my eyes locking on a face that had a questioning look. It was the father (as we found out barely seconds later when the kid plonked itself on his lap). I averted my eyes, but not before feeling a twinge of disgust since the guy apparently did not care much about the fingers in our water. A couple of seconds later, I looked up to find the guy's eyes still locked on me. This time he croaked out a 'You went to the auto show'? I nodded and before long the guy was in the midst of a monologue, peppering us with questions and my talkative friend was soon opining about how there were no new car introductions this year.

Meanwhile sensors of a different sort had been kick-started and I was waiting to hear the line that I dreaded most. But I was made to wait. At different points, the monologue was interrupted by breaks when the guy got up to make small talk with the restaurant's owner and then with another family and so on. But he was always back after a couple of minutes, for another round. He managed to give us a two minute version of his life story and made sympathetic tut-tutt-ing sounds when my ever-talkative friend reciprocated with his. In between, I managed to evade some direct questions about my place of residence, but as is the norm, he managed to go one up and brought out the right answers out of my mouth, against my will and he proclaimed that one of his cousins had lived in the same apartment complex as me years ago when the sight of a desi in Pinebrook was as rare as the Caucasan complexion is on Newark Avenue in Jersey City. This exercise in chummy-ness continued till we were the only customers left,when he realized that it was time for him to leave (we were still gorging on dosas).

As a parting shot, he asked me for my card. I gave him my standard answer about being in the last in the food chain in my company and that I was years away from a business card of my own (actually not so long now, I think). The friends were quizzed for theirs and standard answers of denial were given. He gave us his card, which bore his name and the image of a pair of hands meeting for a shake, with a vague name for a company. My companions and I exchanged knowing looks after a glance at the card. He then asked for my phone number. My talkative friend gave him an office number while my cousin latched on to me and told him that my number was his contact as well. The guy then walked out of the restaurant, leaving us amused, with three cards to show for the 'yada yada yada' droning that we had to endure.

I am sure that if Shake's had witnessed this exchange, he'd tell us that his staring theory had been validated. But what is more important is that, my theory has been validated as well.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Commenting visitors on the beach

One just spent part of a sunny (and mostly warm) weekend in the beaches around Dover (DE). A couple of bumper to bumper drives along NJTP book-ended the trip leading to considerable fatigue. But wholesome fun was had nevertheless, with a group of friends and acquaintances, some of whom were met for the first time and yet gelled with each other like Brylcream on Denis Compton's hair. Legs were shaken and pulled. Tummies were filled to the brim with desi food and in some cases spirit as well. Photos were shot, which one will never post on here since posted pictures seem to take lives of their own, even a year after they were posted. But we cannot just resist this one since it seems to encapsulate the whole weekend.

Sometime during last week this blogger heard that news of this blog had been propagated to one and all in the family circles by the inspiration for what has come to be known as RCDM. So if you are one of those assorted family types who have landed here to see what Ravi is up to, please leave a comment. If such comments are seen, he will understand that stories of you having daily bed time accidents as a 5 year old (mostly imaginary and yet funny) or you falling into a compost/dung pit while trying to retrieve a cricket ball from that pile of "dirt" (true story) are to be avoided.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Can you crack it?

Can you do it? Not one, not two, but 12358 puzzles in all (nice numerical connection, no?). The very first one seems simple and I got it (could you please cut out the drum rolls?) at the first attempt. I am definitely waiting to see the rest.

Click on the picture to go directly to the page and as with all of Google's toys these days, you can add it to your personalized Google homepage (if you have a Gmail account and ergo a Google id) and keep track of your progress.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Chennai RTI updates

*****Sticky Post. Regular programming continues below.*****

A couple of weeks ago, I had posted here an announcement regarding the Chennai Right To Information (CRTI) initiative. On behalf of CRTI, I had requested a few other bloggers to plug this effort on their blogs and help us spread the word around. Thanks to all of you, CRTI is pleased to inform that we received a good response to the first meeting.

At the meeting, some organizational ground work to get the initiative off the ground was done. CRTI now has a very basic website that is slowly being updated with more and more information. We are in the process of setting up a blog as well. There has been some on the ground developments as well. Please visit the Latest News section on the CRTI webpage know more about what is going on.

As of now, the CRTI has several member/volunteers. We are looking for more people to help us get it going. Specifically we are looking forward to hearing from people in the media and the law to spread the word and also to advise on due process. Also, we would love to interact with a graphics designer to help us with some web/banner design. If you think you can make a difference in any way possible, please email us at chennairti@gmail.com.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The adventures of Asok

A couple of days ago, this happened.

And yesterday, this was the scene at a routine meeting.

And today we find where Asok is...

Scott, you rock dude.. you rock!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Pattiyal - The soundtrack

Pattiyal forms one half of a CD (self) titled Gangs of Chennai (the other album on that CD being Pudhupettai, which I am tripping on too) that’s looping on my car’s CD player these days. It is a mostly upbeat album, boasting of six numbers, packaged with the usual zest by the youngest scion of the Raja family.

However, invoking his father's name is probably a disservice to Yuvan who has become his own man in TFM. Though he does avail the service of his father as the voice for one number in this peppy soundtrack, the gulf between father and son is never more apparent than in this soundtrack. Again, I don’t mean this negatively. It is just that Yuvan seems to have touched genres that his father would probably never touch with a barge pole. Or may be not.

Dei namma
A regular voice in the Yuvan camp, Vijay Yesudas opens the album with a number whose mood reminds one of the title track from Gilli. While this is unfamiliar territory for Vijay Yesudas who in the past has been more known for soulful numbers, he passes the test with flying colors.

Kannai Vittu
Pattiyal is a movie with two leading pairs. So this number seems to be the customary romantic number used to develop the romance pairings. And since any soundtrack from Yuvan seems incomplete without hearing his voice (more on that later), Yuvan does the honors with this track with Swetha’s lilting voice humming on a parallel track (the melancholic effect being yet another Yuvan trademark). Despite Yuvan's voice, this is the pick of the album.

Kannai Vittu (Remix)
Going by recent trends, any soundtrack from Yuvan is never complete without a remixed hip hop version of one other song. Yuvan groupie Premji provides the additional hip-hop vocals in this remixed track that starts rather unimaginatively with the words Hey Yo, You heard the original. Now hear the remix... In the past, his remixes have tended to be faster in pace than the originals, but in this one, the changes in tempo are subtler.

Namma Kattula
This seems to be the most talked about track in this album, with Yuvan playing around with the old MSV/Kannadasan/MGR bhangra fest Aadaludan padal (from Kudiyirundha Kovil) and using it to drive the tempo of the number. Ilayaraja’s throaty rendition instantly took me on a flashback to Nila adhu vaanathu mele from Naayagan. Pa Vijay’s lyrics which contain lines like vilayaadu vilayaadu, vidiyum varai vilayaadu; kondaadu kondaadu kudichi kudichi kondaadu add to the mood.

But what almost everyone has missed is the first line, which loops trance-like through the whole song. A Google search of the first line (and a subsequent listen) confirms that Yuvan has sampled/remixed the first line from a Chitra Singh ghazal from the soundtrack of Saath Saath (music by Kuldeep Singh), which had a better known number in Tumko Dekha To Ye Khayaal Aaya, sung by the ghazal duo of Chitra and her husband Jagjit Singh. Has this loop/sample been credited to Kuldeep Singh / Chitra Singh in the original CD? Since I heard these tracks on Raaga which is notorious for screwing up credits, I have no way of knowing. But I think I am asking for too much.

Poga Poga
This is the second hip hop and R&B influenced number in this soundtrack. The track starts out like a typical R&B number till YSR’s instrumental arrangement takes over. He has proved in the past that he is no amatuer when it comes to interludes and this track is no exception. This time it is a nadaswaram / shehnai (or its electronic equivalent) that stands out. The four voices, Haricharan, Vijay Yesudas, Harini Sudhakar and Saindhavi are more than adequate for this number which seems to be the gung-ho song of this album.

This track seems to be the perfunctory melancholic number and as has been the norm, YSR chooses to sing it himself. This song ends up being the least impressive of the lot, with YSR’s voice contributing to this standing.

So, in total Sun TV istyle, should we conclude by saying: Pattiyal – Pattaiy-ya Kalappal? Well, sort of. Yuvan Shankar Raja is certainly no slouch as a music director, but as a singer he has a long way to go. Wait, he has nowhere to go. He has to accept that and let better singers sing. His high pitch whining is frankly getting to be ear-bleed inducing and would be the only factors that would pull this album down. In fact by singing two songs himself and featuring his father in another song, he has managed to lay a “speed-bump” on this album whose positive musical impact far outstrips that of his voice.

Yo Yuvan... you are the love doctor remember? Remember, you do it better than the all of us?