Friday, October 09, 2009

This is Not an Obit

In the early 1970s, I used to be a resident of the YMCA Hostel on Chowringhee Road in Calcutta. I had just been transplanted from Kerala and knew as much English slang as an Austrian knew Ayurveda.
My roommate for a while was Ramu Salivati. (Then a sports journalist for the Statesman, he is no more.) He used to play cricket in the maidan on Sunday forenoons and kept his cricketing gear in the room. I knew nothing of that game then, I know nothing of that game now. (It was fifteen years later that my son, ten years old then, disabused me of my notion that the wicketkeeper is NOT the player standing behind the wickets, preventing them from falling when the guy in front of him swings the bat to hit the ball.)
One Saturday afternoon, Ramu put on his windcheater and enquired. ‘KT, are you going out anywhere today?’
I had no such plans. I had just bought a copy of Don’t fall off the mountain by actress Shirley Maclaine and had decided I would read it. I replied, 'No.’
‘A friend of mine will come looking for me. Ask him to wait, I’ll be back in half an hour,’ said Ramu.
A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door. I did not have to open it, for a man under thirty walked in.
‘Ramu?’ he asked.
I told him what I was told to. He said, ‘Balls! He won’t be back until after 10.’
If he really thought so, he should have gone away. Instead, he said to himself, ‘It’s drizzling and I don’t want to get wet. I’ll wait for him for a while and see if he comes.’
He took off his jacket and parking himself on a chair, lit a cigarette. I sneezed. I have this allergy for cigarette smoke. He knew it the moment I sneezed. He opened the door to the balcony, went out, finished his smoke and returned to his seat.
We got talking. Naturally, it veered round to cricket, a subject popular with youngsters. An Australian team was on its Indian tour and was scheduled to play in the Eden Gardens in a week. He asked me something about the prospects of the hosts or about Syed Kirmani or Brijesh Patel or some other player. I drew a blank. I told him I knew nothing of cricket.
‘Balls!’ he said again.
‘What was that?’ I asked.
‘I said Balls.’
'What about balls?’
‘Forget it,’ he said, and asked me, ‘Where are you from?’
After a while, he saw the book I was reading and said, ‘A cousin on mine had read this book and had recommended it.’
Without a by-your-leave, he took it and put it in the pocket of his jacket. I could not even say I had not yet gone beyond the second chapter. (The book never came back to me. A few years later, I bought another copy and read it.)
He went to the balcony, lit his second cigarette, puffed hard at it a few times and came back.
He did not occupy the chair. Yanking his jacket, he said, ‘I told you the bastard won’t come.’
Before leaving, he took out a book from his pocket and gave it to me, saying, ‘Read this. It will give you some idea about cricket.’
It was a copy of ‘Kiwis and Kangaroos’.
When Ramu came, later than predicted by his friend, he was sozzled. In a drunken drawl, he told me his friend who had came looking for him was the author of the book. He had written it when he was twenty-three. He was Rajan Bala. That was the only time I met him.
Rajan Bala died yesterday.
I never got to read ‘Kiwis and Kangaroos’. I don’t even know where it is now.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Oodles of Doodles of Google

Yesterday (7 Oct 2009) when I started surfing the net, I was perplexed ... and then petrified: had the security of my laptop been compromised? Instead of the familiar multi-colour logo, all I saw was an array of thick and thin black lines as in a bar code. I thought Google’s site had been hacked.

I heaved a sigh of relief when I discovered that my fears were misplaced. What I saw was the bar code for the word Google. That was Google’s way of celebrating the 57th anniversary of bar code.

Till Google told me yesterday. I did not know that I was only five years older than bar code. It had thought it was a much more recent 'invention' coinciding with the mall-supemarket culture. The patent (USP 2612994) for machine-readable representation of data using parallel lines of different widths at different spacings was awarded to Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver on 7 Oct 1952.

It has been Google's practice to experiment with its logo by changing it to commemorate what it deems as significant events. Many may not have noticed, but early this month, Google logo paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi by through its logo.

Another day, another logo. To the utter delight and glee of self-confessed doodle-watcher like me, Google keeps coming out with interesting logos. This was their logo for St Patrick's Day. It is not as if they are occident-centric. For Holi, they had come up with a splash of colors, complete with buckets. And the start of the Chinese Year of the Rat was celebrated with a most suited visual.

If you would like to see oodles of doodles of Google (Just can’t resist the temptation to talk in rhyme all the time), go to

Here’s a bonus from me: if you want to generate the barcode representing your name, please go to

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Strict Compliance


Those who hate officialese are well-advised to skip this post, for though I know it is not good form to use it, I cannot avoid it while narrating this story.


The concluding lines of any important letter from the boss and most circulars from the Head Office usually are: ‘Please confirm having noted the above instructions for strict compliance’. To the best of my knowledge and belief, nobody has ever confirmed having done so, but such a confirmation is implied and presumed. The notice calling for your explanation for having done (or not done) something would read: ‘In contravention of the instructions contained in our circular No. … dated …’


After a couple of years of service, this strict-compliance-business can get into your blood. Not only your blood, but of those around you, as the story of Kurien demonstrates.


I was relieved from the Head Office on a July Saturday with instructions to report to the Manager of Chalai branch as Accountant. When I went there, he was not present. I was told he had been admitted to the hospital. Anything serious? No, I was told. He had been bitten by a dog on Saturday night. Not to worry, it was his own pet and there was no fear of rabies.


A few days later, Kurien resumed duty. During a lunch recess, for want of anything else to talk about, I asked him about the canine assault he ad suffered. He said, ‘Oh, that? It was a Head Office dog.’ That was an inscrutable response, if there was one. Pressed for a reply, he elaborated.


After office-hours on that Saturday afternoon, Kurien had boarded a bus for Kottayam. He had a rubber plantation in the suburbs of the nearby Palai which, in his absence, his man Friday took care of. He had to go there, visit the plantation and see how well his directions were being implemented. He would stay there for the weekend and return on Monday morning. He would be back home only in the evening on Monday, he had told his wife.


There was nothing unusual in this. His family – wife Mariyamma, son Roymon and daughter Reenamol, why, even his dog Tiger, the scion of a cross between a mongrel and an Alsatian – was used to Kurien being away from Saturday morning to Monday evening during several weekends.


Mariyamma had an early dinner and tucked the children in the bed. She locked the wooden gate to the compound and unchained Tiger so that it could go round the house. Then she went to bed.


Monsoon was in full cry and the rivers in full spate. Somewhere between Kottayam and Palai, a bridge had been washed away and the bus Kurien was travelling by would not proceed further. The only option was to return. Which is exactly what Kurien did.


It was past midnight when Kurien reached back Trivandrum. The glow of the streetlights, thanks to the low voltage, barely lit the roads. He walked homewards as briskly as his legs would carry him, his handbag in his left hand and a umbrella, which proved grossly unequal to the occasion, in his right. As he turned into the lane where his house stood, power went off, plunging the area into total darkness.


Presently, Kurien reached home. The gate was, predictably, locked. Only after instinctively pressing the calling bell on the compound wall did he realise his foolishness in doing so when there was no power.


He knocked at the gate several times, but in the downpour, the deadened noise the wood made was not carried to the house. Kurien repented not having paid heed to Mariyamma’s advice to replace the wooden gate with a metallic one. The sound made by pounding on it would have woken her up.


Kurien called out, ‘Mariyaamme, Mariyaamme, Eti Mariyaammo … Ronmone, Eta Roymone … Reenamole, Eti Reenamole …!’ No response. If it was today, he could have used his cellphone to call them up, but we are talking of the 1970’s. All of them were under the blankets, in deep slumber,


How long to you wait in front of the gate of your own house, soaked to the undergarments, with no sign of let-up in the unremitting shower? Kurien made the big decision: he folded is mundu, and flinging his handbag and umbrella into the compound, he scaled the gate and jumped in.


The thud of the handbag had alerted Tiger. As soon as Kurien landed, Tiger pounced on him and thrust his incisors into Kurien’s left calf, Kurien concluded his story.


‘But then Tiger is your own dog, Mr Kurien?’


‘Yes, Mariyaamma had instructed Tiger to attack anyone who jumps into the compound, particularly in the night. Tiger was like branch managers who are supposed to ensure strict compliance with the instructions from the Head Office.’


That was how Kurien who had attempted a rather unconventional entry into is residence was punished by his own pet.


It's Verbal Circus!

There was this girl whom I knew when she was barely in her teens. Kicha was her nickname, the official monicker being Krishnaveni. She was a colleague's daughter. We used to live in the same neighbourhood; Kicha would come and spend a few hours during weekends with us.

In a year's time, transfer took me to a different city and occasions to meet became rare. In time, she got married and life took her to different climes. With efflux of time, we drifted.

Her parents were, of course, in touch with us. A surprise telephone call from them, a brief stopover in their home on our long drive to my hometown, a chance meeting at a wedding, we would get updated about each other's family, but we hardly got to see Kicha or her brother Anand.

Recently we ran into her - on Orkut - and shook hands. It transpired that she is interested in crosswords but was all thumbs when it came to solving them. She wanted a crash course in crosswords.

Unlike Euclid who is said to have replied to King Ptolemy who wanted an easier way to learn geometry that 'There is no royal road to geometry', I told her a simple, do-able technique. This was my recipe:

Take yesterday's puzzle, Compare with today's answer. Find out how the key relates to the clue. Like, if the clue is 'Flower with two banks (5)' and the answer is 'river', what is the connection? Nothing, at first sight.

Look hard. The river flows - therefore the river is a flow-er, a flower. The river has two banks. So there you are! 'Flower with two banks (5)' is indeed a 'river'.

Go on to the next clue. Do not give up till you connect the key to the clue. With this strategy, you need no guide.

Kicha seemed to like it. She cracked 'Plane crash in the mountains' and came up with 'Nepal'. She wanted a few more examples.

I believe that those who have proceeded beyond the fourth paragraph would be interested in my reply to Kitcha.

Here goes:

Clue: Coming from another country, I am from Michigan, shortly funding a refugee (9)
Route: I am >> I'm >> IM; ('Shortly' indicates that the preceding or the succeeding word has to be shortened) abbreviation of Michigan is MI; a GRANT funds a refugee. IM + MI + GRANT = IMMIGRANT, a person 'coming from another country'.

Clue: An all-pervasive number (5)
Solution: ETHER
Route: ETHER is supposed to be everywhere. ETHER is an anaesthetic, something that numbs your senses, a numb-er, a 'number'.

Clue: Operation sounds like Tom's friend (or enemy?) is knighted. (7)
Solution: SURGERY
Route: Tom's friend (of Tom and Jerry fame) >> Jerry. When knighted, he becomes SIR JERRY - ('Sounds like', 'say', 'it is heard', etc imply that it is a homophone) - sounds like SURGERY, an operation.

Clue: Confusion of the Spain actor (8)
Solution: THESPIAN
Route: ('Confusion' implies that it is an anagram.) The Spain >> THESPIAN, an actor.

Clue: Type of feline that has pride for headless scream (8)
Solution: CATEGORY
Route: Feline >> CAT; pride >> EGO; Scream >> CRY. ('Headless' implies that the first letter has to be dropped; therefore RY). CAT + EGO + RY >> CATEGORY which means 'type'.

Clue: Apparel Abhishek Bachchan's in-law intended, say, to wear? (7)
Solution: RAIMENT
Route: Abhishek Bachchan's in-law >> RAI; intended >> MEANT; 'say' implies homophone. therefore MENT. RAI + MENT >> RAIMENT means 'apparel'.

Clue: When Mercury soars without, ancient city finds gentle rain from heaven great kindness (5)
Solution: MERCY
Route: Ur was an ancient city. MERCURY without UR is MERCY, 'great kindness'.

Clue: Nothing to hold a spike (4)
Solution: NAIL
Route: Nothing >> NIL; NIL holding 'A' >> N(A)IL >> NAIL and a NAIL is a 'spike'.

Clue: Place roughly under top of vertical tree trunk (5)
Solution: TORSO
Route: Top of tree written verticaliy is T; roughly (as in 'roughly 1000' = '100 or so') is OR SO. T + OR SO = TORSO, which means 'trunk'.

Clue: Happy bishop turned on the light helium (6)
Solution: BLITHE
Route: in chess notation, bishop is represented by B; 'turned on the light' >> LIT; helium >> HE. Thus B + LIT + HE >> BLITHE which means 'happy'.

Clue: Only one insect not left. Explain! (7)
Solution: JUSTIFY
Route: Only >> JUST; one >> 1 >> I; insect >> FLY. ('Not left' indicates that L has to be dropped; so FY) JUST + I + FY >> JUSTIFY which means 'explain'.

Clue: One who does not mingle but is open about mangled clues (7)
Solution: Recluse
Route: About >> Regarding >> RE; 'clues' when mangled gives CLUSE; RE + CLUSE >> RECLUSE, a person 'who does not mingle much'.

Welcome to the fascinating world of evil circus brats, subarctic livers, visceral cut ribs, basic curl rivets, - I mean 'cruciverbalists'.