Monday, July 31, 2006

'Phunnee' Language

I guess all of us have our own favorite stories about teachers destroying the English langauge. Indeed, anecdotes of 'open the windows; let the air-force come in' and such are commonplace by now. Here I present a few of my own favourite college anecdotes:

This happened during my MCA, in my juniors' class. This was a new prof (for Networking, of all things), and the students were understandably a bit cagey, not sure of what to expect of this new chap. The prof, dressed impeccably, strutted up and down the class, doing the usual introduction session. Then he asked for the class-rep and walked down to the blackboard. 'Tommorow, I want some charcoal in this class!', the prof thundered.

'Charcoal !!', wondered the flabbergasted students. The hapless class-rep threw some panicked glances toward the class-toppers, but they seemed equally bewildered. So the poor guy ventured an incredulous 'Charcoal, sir ?'. The prof, by now beginning to get quite impatient with the inability of this class to take in a simple command, reiterated in an ominous tone 'Yes, yes, charcoal!'.

By now, it was clear to everybody that the guy was a hopeless nut. One of the guys threw caution to the winds, and asked the prof: 'What do you need charcoal for, sir ?'. The highly irritated professor exclaimed, 'What do you mean, what for? I want to maintain a daily bulletin !'. By now, it had dawned on the prof that he was cursed with a class of imbeciles, and a peculiar calm descended on him. He took pity on the gaping students and said: 'Of course, all of you have to contribute to make this a success'.

The class-rep finally had an inkling of what the prof wanted by now. He ventured a guess: 'Sir, do you mean thermocol by any chance ?'. 'Exactly, you hit the nail on the head, my dear boy !', exclaimed the by-now beaming professor. Needless to mention, the story was out within hours, and was the subject of much hilarity for at least a week.

There were lots of other incidents with this prof, but this one became truly famous in campus. Of course, the guy was christened 'Charcoal' ever after. The strange thing was that at times he would speak coherently, and then he would go and utter something really wierd, which would have everybody around him in splits.

This was during one of those infamous model-exams that we had every semester. The girls were writing furiously, as if their lives depended on it. Some of the guys were copying desperately, while some of the others (including me) just couldn't be bothered. The teachers (invigilators, so to speak) in charge of that particular hour were a couple of new guys.

Now, these guys were really peculiar - they moved around as if they were Siamese twins. I mean, you just couldn't spot one without the other. They also dressed sorta alike - cream/white shirts, khakees and a smear of ash on their foreheads. And neither of them could use more than two words of English in a sentence.

The pair almost caught a girl copying; she managed to get rid of the chits just in time, and staunchly denied it, of course. The duo proceeded to ask the one question that every person getting caught copying at exams should be asked: 'You true or false?'. Now, we were final-years, and not really in a mood to write exams and all that. As a result, this ingenious question threw the class into hysterics. The poor girl, whom the question was directed at, was gaping at the guy like a goldfish in a bowl. Unfortunately, while laughing the loudest little did I know that I was the next bakra in line (all of us think they were asking the girl whether she was saying the truth or lying, but to this day we are not sure!).

The exams were getting over, and everybody was slowly getting up. The new teachers meticulously collected everybody's papers, and asked for the class-representative (me). Then they asked me: 'Who hand?'. Startled at this sudden question directed at me, it took a moment for me to process the meaning. After a moment of speculating whether he meant Maradona's 'Hand of God' or something like that, I politely (as politely as I could manage) said that I did not understand. They tried to make things clearer: 'Paper who hand?'. The class was once again in hysterics, and I was trying hard not to smile myself. I thought they wanted to know who to hand over the answer-sheets to, and asked them whether that was what they meant. They nodded in unison: No!

By now, the entire class wanted to go, and began shouting out suggestions. A brainwave struck one of my friends, and he shouted out truimphantly: 'Who handles this paper! They want to know who is handling this paper!'. Looking at them for confirmation, both of them were nodding their head approvingly. Mightily relieved, I told them the name and ran away from there.

But seriously, I often wonder how such candidates get through interviews. After all, isn't at least a minimal conversational ability in English a must for a teacher (that too, at a post-graduate level)? Some of the teachers we have been forced to endure wouldn't get past the first stage of an interview of one of our IT firms (which is probably why they have opted for the teaching profession, I suspect).

Just to make things clear, I have had some great teachers during my college life, and I remain grateful to all of them. However, I have also had to endure many insufferable and incompetent teachers purely for the sake of internal marks (which they keep reminding you of whenever they suspect you are getting a bit superior). Isn't it time we get rid of the much-revered guru-shishya model (where a student is supposed to respect and adore his teacher irrespective of whether (s)he is good, bad or ugly) and adopt a more professional approach of evaluating our teachers based on students' feedback?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Before Omkara, there was Kaliyattam (M)!

I have not seen any new movies. But I do want to see Vishal Bharadwaj's 'Omkara' - for several reasons. Both 'Makdee' and 'Maqbool' made for some engrossing cinema (though I did find the former a tad amateurish, but the director more than made up for it in the latter), and IMO Vishal is certainly a talent to watch out for. In his latest venture, the director has managed to assemble a bunch of talented actors (yes, I do believe Kareena is talented - watch her in 'Chameli' and 'Dev', for instance). Most of all, I want to know whether Vishal surpasses one of my own favourite movies - 'Kaliyattam', an attempted by ace director Jayaraj (who is no staranger to Shakespeare adaptations, btw).

A bit of history about the title first: the Malayalam word 'kaliyattam' is actually the name of an art-form that is often refered to as the predecessor of Kathakali (which, I hope, needs no introduction). Kaliyattam is a temple art-form performed in front of temples - mostly owned/managed by celestal homesteads in the time this art-form used to flourish - as an inaugural function, and also as a kind of annual pooja for social and/or familial safety. Each character is the staging of a kaliyattam is called a kolam (form). To distinguish between the type of character (heroic, wicked, comedic), each kolam employs special styles of face-painting. Of course, being a temple art-form, the chief kolam is usually the god/goddess of the temple. Rumour has it that at the time of performing the kaliyattam, the spirit of the god/goddess enters into the person assuming the kolam. Hence the person who assumes the lead kolam, so to speak, has rigorous processes to follow and is held in great esteem by everybody.

Jayaraj places Shakespeare's 'Othello' into this religious & artistic milleu. Othello, of course, is the person who enacts the chief 'kolam'. In a masterly performance, Suresh Gopi enacts the insecurities of Othello with masterly command. However, Lal (a popular director, forced into acting by Jayaraj in what would prove to be a stroke of genuis) as Iago steals the honours right from under Gopi's nose. As the scheming, ingratiating and evil Iago, Lal gives a performance of a lifetime. Manju Warrier plays Desdemona straight, with none of her usual quick repartees that the audience of Kerala had come to love by then (indeed, IMO she is one of the finest young actresses to have graced the Indian screen). The rest of the cast perform competently.

I read in a recent interview with Vishaal that he had opted not to put in the song that Desdemona songs on the night that she is killed. Bad decision, I think. In the Malayalam version, this is a beautiful number that goes ennodenthinu pinakkam...(Why are you upset with me...) that has gone on to become an immortal song for Kerala cine-goers. Bipasha's items numbers currently blaring on screen haven't really impressed me much, but let us see whether Vishal manages to upstage Jayaraj.

Update: There is now an article 'Kaliyattom' on Rediff. Click here to read it.

My World This Month

Blogging has hit a severe roadblock; the organization I work for has decided to block every single site in the world. Wonder why we have the Internet, after all - the org might as well remove all connectivity, for all the good that being connected does us. IMO, if the purpose of such mass-blocking of sites is to increase productivity, then they certainly have their policies all wrong.

Anyway, due to such hindrances at work I decided to opt for a broadband connection. But the Airtel customer-service being what it is, I truly do not know when I will get a connection (a visit to the Airtel office has already proved futile).

It's been an eventful month, certainly. On the personal front, hectic wedding preparations are going on. And of course, this has not been the quietest of months otherwise either. First we had the RD (Reader's Digest) survey on rudeness (which, it appears, was really a survey on courtesy) which hit the news. There were a lot of Mumbaikars vehemently protesting against the methods of survey, against the results and even recommending 'ruder' cities. The last I heard, the Shiv Sena were planning to burn all shops that sell RD (hopefully, they won't really do it; I am just kidding!).

And then we had the Mumbai blasts. Of course, for all our government has done about it, the blasts might never have happened at all. I remember what happened when there was an attack on Parliament; military operations on the border were instantly escalated, and remained intensified for a couple of months. Moral of the story, I guess, is that our government will act against terrorists only they are targetted personally. Wah, government ho to aisi!

Many people also praised the 'spirit of Mumbai', and remarked that this was an apt rejoinder to poor RD. The poor Mumbaikar attempts to get on with his life as best as he can, and even that is politicised. Could people please stop talking about this indomitable spirit, at least at this time? Any other city in the world would have responded in the same way in the face of such devastating tragedy (e.g. NY during 9/11, the affected areas during the tsunamis etc). Instead, hit out at our inability to do anything about this continual terrorist threat.

For all our criticism of America's policies on terror, remember one thing: they have not had another terrorist attack on their soil. I am sure thay'd rather take on all the criticism than face another 9/11. Most unfortunately, our government seems to believe in the reverse - hence the sorry state of affairs.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

To Read Or Not To Read - Is That A Question?

Not to me. From childhood, ever since a teacher (bless her) thrust a well-worn Enid Blyton book at me, I have never been without books. Despite my mom's best attempts to coerce me away from books at least at mealtimes, the habit has persevered. Indeed, I am quite the laughing-stock at several restaurants in Chennai, for plonking myself on an unoccupied table and reading away to abandon. IMO, the excietement of reading a thriller is paramount when you are either eating, or in the loo (yeah, I am wierd, I know!). I am so wierd that in our house every loo has inbuilt bookshelves!

Some of the books that I have read over the past few months have been quite interesting, and some others have been outright trashy. Here I describe a few of the interesting ones:

'We need to talk about Kevin' by Lionel Shriver is a humdinger of a book, though morbid at times. The book worked for me at several levels: as a commentary on society's perceived notions of the mother, as an interpretation of the possible motives that compel a teenager to kill his peers and most of all, the more-than-ample suggestions that the narrator may not be presenting an entirely unbiased account. The book is about Kevin Katchadourian, who kills 10 people at his school when he is just 15. The tale is narrated by Eva, Kevin's dysfunctional mom. To the author's credit, neither Kevin nor Eva ever descend to being merely stereotypical characters - they are complex, difficult (even hateful) characters sometimes, but on the other hand even Kevin is endearing sometimes. For those of you who enjoy serious reading, this is an amazing read.

'The Poisonwood Bible' by Barbara Kingsolver is an interesting read, but IMO falls short of being great. The book narrates the tale of a fiery evangelist who tears his family away from everything they are used to, and hauls them away to the politically volatile Congo. The story moves forward through the viewpoints of the preacher's daughters. Despite a great plot, the book really fails to propel itself to a modern classic. Kingsolver failes to bring alive the Congo, the way Wilbur Smith used to bring alive Africa in some of his earlier works (or as Khaled Hosseini did Afghanistan so eloquently in the wonderful 'The Kite Runner'). Also, one of the protagonists - Rachel - has no character graph at all. I did enjoy all the biblical references, though (I am a big fan of all biblical fiction).

'The Pilot's Wife' by Anita Shreve is highly overrated, IMO. I could foresee where the book was going almost from the beginning; was almost like one of those cheesy 80's Jeetendra-Rekha-Jayaprada potboilers. I did like the way she conveyed the way the family copes with the sudden tragedy, but the other-woman-angle (sorry!) was uncalled for. Recommended only for staunch followers of Danielle Steele and the like.

'Like Water for Chocolate' by Laura Esquivel is more like a re-telling of a legend (like somebody narrating the Ramayana, for instance), and less of a conventional novel. Once this fact was firmly entrenched in my mind, I was absolutely entranced by this novel. First of all, the book follows a unique, rivetting format: every chapter begins with the recipe of a dish that Tita is currently preparing, and then dissolves into the actual plot. And the Mexican recipes (especially the quail in rose-petal sauce one) sound really yummy, I have to admit (but my being a glutton has nothing to do with the quality of the book!). This is a great, great book - just have to see the movie version too.

I am currently reading:

'Hangman's Journal' by Shashi Warrier: This boasts of a plot that seems (at least in the initial stages) similar to Adoor Gopalakrishnan's latest masterpiece 'Nizhalkuthu' (Interplay of Shadows). The books got some good reviews, and Shashi Warrier has written some decent stuff before ('Night of the Krait', 'The Orphan' etc).

'A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian' by Marina Lewycka is next on my list. This too has been heavily recommended to me, and is supposed to be a damn good read; let's wait and see!

P.S.: Excuse the bastardization of the great Bard's work!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Benevolent Bhaji

The lady stood by, crestfallen, as the entire Indian team went by without even looking at her. Dissapointed, and more than a little pissed-off, tears of anger and frustration clouded her eyes. Just as she prepared to work her way out of the ground, a a gentle voice beckoned her:

tusi ro rahe ho? You no cry. I give what you want!

It was our own Bhaji, whose tender heart could not bear the sight of the misty-eyed foreigner. Apna Turbanator promptly proceeded to give her his own autograph, and was promptly rewarded by a 100-watt smile.

Of course, the clothes (sic!) had nothing to do with it!

(Image Courtesy Cricinfo)

Monday, July 03, 2006

My Big Fat Mallu Wedding - Part I (Invitation Cards)

After the engagement hungama, now its time to begin fussing about the marriage itself - aug 26 sounds ominously proximate, darn it!

Now, being the bridegroom, I find myself in the fortunate position of having to do almost nothing! One of the few things that I did need to take care of was choosing a decent invitation card . Upon making some 'discreet enquiries', I was convinced that my choices in Chennai boiled down to either 'Menaka Wedding Cards (Kodampakkom)' or 'Olympic Cards (Parry's)'. Now, I just knew that Kodampakkom is somewhere close to the dreaded Panagal Park zone, that area in Chennai where even the most seasoned drivers venture into only with trepidation. However, emboldened by my friends' comments on how the traffic was 'much better nowadays', I made the foolhardy decision of trying to reach the damn place on my two-wheeler.

Several hours and half a dozen flouted traffic rules later, I finally found myself weary and drained at the entrance of Menaka Cards. The showroom itself offered a bewildering array of choices, not exactly a reassuring sight to somebody who had just drained himself by participating in traffic that seemed straight out of a Matthew Reilly book. For reasons best known to the proprietor(s), they did not have an organized catalog of wedding cards; instead they just had the huge collection displayed on the walls, whose texture and text you could personalize. The kahani mein twist, however, was that these displayed cards could apparently be switched daily (randomly). I mean, if I'd chosen a card and come back the next day with my fiancee to show her the card of my choice, there's have been the distinct possibility that I'd have driven myself crazy hunting for the damn card. Seems to me an extremely inefficient and inorganized way of doing business, but then they are the biggest suppliers of wedding cards in Chennai; so I guess their friggin' system works, after all. Anyway, due to this queer idiosyncrasy, I found myself in the rather unenviable position of having to make a second trip to the bloody place, this time with Smitha in tow (she wanted around 100 cards too), so that we could choose a template and give the order.

This time around, I wisely keep my bike at a friend's place, and continue the journey by an auto (Chennai autowallahs are not exactly paragons of virtue, but anybody who can navigate through that kind of traffic for a living has earned his money alright, IMO). After several breathtaking kamikaze moves (through which Smitha has her eyes tightly shut), the auto-driver gets us to the above-mentioned cardshop within 20 mins. I tip the guy, who's puzzled face suddenly breaks into a beatific grin. He asks me whether he should wait. I tell him not to ride his luck too hard, and venture inside the cardshop for the second time in the week.

To tell you the truth, they do have an awful lot of good cards. I was rather keen on a wonderful card with MGR on the main-page, with a stamp-sized beaming Jayalalitha on the right-bottom corner (it had red-gold borders too), but unfortunately my fiancee did not quite see things my way. Neither of us wanted the huge newspaper-style cards, and hence we desisted from even going near that section of the store. The card that we chose finally was pretty decent, after all (in spite of me, I should say). My only grouse was that the card had one Ganpati too many, but I was quickly overridden and hushed up, so the Ganpatis stay, I guess! We studiously avoid all those horrible cliches - 'Compliments, beloved sister Nimmie', 'Ensure presence & avoid presents' and other such crap.

A week later, I am back at the store - this time to collect the cards (by auto again, of course). I am horrorstruck to note that the cards are not in their respective envelopes - drat it! I guess I have a couple of hours of folding to do too - makes me think we could have avoided the envelopes, but what the heck!

P.S.: This is my 100th post on this blog - wow!!!! I do hope there has been some improvement in the quality as well!!!