Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Handwaving and the software proffesional

Everyday we witness strange rituals.

Strange amongst these are elections, where conservative elder statesmen
suddenly begin adorning various exotic hedgear (I mean, I have always seen
Vajpayee with a rather large bald spot. It makes me very uneasy to see him
on the TV nowadays, head covered in multi-coloured bathtowels, resplendent
in fascinating clothes and pontificating in general.)

Stranger amongst these are census events, where at the conclusion,
comissioners proudly announce that it has been discovered, ahem... that,
every sentient being in India has 3.5 legs and a hyena. Since this is
evidently untrue, census unfortunately do not happen nowadays, which is a
great pity because I do remember the time when the census taker was held
spell bound by my grandad's gleaming eye (much like the other chap in the
Ancient Mariner), while my grandad furiously racked his brain to remember
his great-granddaughter's name only to realize that well, he didn't have a
great grand daughter, was thinking of some one else, and had made a pretty
thorough ass of himself, besides making the census taker wait in the sun
for an hour and half. I count this among one of the high spots of my life.

But strangest amongst these is the handwaving that software proffesionals
in Tidel Park Chennai indulge in after a satisfying lunch.

Having stood in line, to offer the disembodied hand behind the window, any
leftovers, having thus appeased the gastronomic gods such as may be present
in Tidel, they then go on to the taps.

This is when the fun begins.

The engineers who designed the taps at Tidel, had rather a bright idea.
Aha! they thought to themselves. Let's put in sensors here, so that the
general populace will only have to put their hands before the taps and the
water shall break forth and erase any sins they have from their hands,
including the chicken tikka. Out, damned spot! and all that.

So they went forth and put in their sensors, only in a momentary oversight
caused by two extra large beers, and a rather heavy lunch they failed to
tell anybody where they had put in their sensors.

It wouldn't have mattered much if they had put it anywhere on or near the

But since it was after said, rather heavy lunch and the two beers, they
have been putting it in rather strange spots.

The first pair of sensors is embedded between the bottom of the escalator
stars and the doorstep of the ICICI bank.

This is not bad per se, that water spouts from the tap whenever somebody
rides an elevator up to the bank.

This is bad ( for the hand washer), and amusing for the spectators as the
hand washer, waves his arms, scratches the pipe, and then resorts to
assault and battery in order to get water out of the tap.

The second pair of sensors, in a dramatic break with tradition is connected
to the first tap. Well, all's well and fair you may say. But it is also
connected with the second tap.

Did I also mention that these sensors act a random amount of time after you
wave your hands in front of them. Many a times I have observed patrons turn
away with disgust from the second tap and as the next in line cautiously
approached the tap it would spurt out water at the guy.

But last of all is the third tap, my nemesis at office. Here the engineers
in a fit of devilry, embedded the sensors right in the washbasin, but made
it wander about the circumference of it. This has resulted in a lot of
people who have to wave their arms, in mounting frustration for this rather
errant god to provide water. And just as they are about to leave the god
obliges, with a spurt.

If fold your arms and pray, was the motto of my elders, the motto of this
generation seems to be wave and pray.

Btw, why is it that a line of software proffesionals waiting to wash their
hands eerily reminds me of our parents waiting in serpentine queues to get
into the temple?

Is it because they approach the taps with the same air of trepidation and longing, and subservience they usually reserve for the luckier of our gods like Sachin?

Morning Masala

My dad has a penchant for repairs.

By penchant I mean that he likes solving problems.

His success in such endeavours is a different matter altogether. Life to
him is a succession of feature starved gadgets and interesting puzzles that
he must piece together or take apart in order to understand, and make
better the quality of his life.

I would like to emphasize the 'his' here. Rarely has his tinkering improved
the quality of life of anyone else concerned. The rare exception was when
he used to drop any implement on his foot thereby enriching my vocabulory
with the choiciest of Tamil phrases and thereby improving the quality of my

There was a British poet who wrote a book called 'Daedaleus Removed'. Well
Daedaleus was the Greek inventor who was immortalized by his son Icarus who
was immortalized for flying too close to the sun. My mom having read the
entire story decided to make it into a tale of morals and cut out the time
i played in the afternoon. Well my dad couldn't be compared to Daedaleus
but more to a reticent and pugnacious Calvin, ready to go to battle with
any household implement that catches his eye.

If there is one lasting image of my dad, that i would pass onto my
grandchildren it is of him, stripped to his undies, and busily wrestling
with the water pipe and trying to replace a washer. He looked a splendid
workman, and had manfully succeeded in extracting the washer when Mom
opened the valve, and flooded him.
He walked out of the bathroom, dripping water, looking like Neptune, and as
angry as him.

Which reminds me. For a sufficient part of the day, our house is under
water. Living in Chennai, plumbing is strictly uneccesary. Since water
never comes in any tap except one, and that too for a matter of an hour,
most of the taps and the showers are showpieces. Do not attempt to wrench
those taps they may fall of and hit you on the head.

Early in the morning, when all is calm and life looks peaceful, and the sun
is just shining over the tree tops, and the little birds have gone to catch
their little breakfast, and all is well with the world, my family is busy
jumping up and around, scurrying around with a rubber hose and trying to
fill every single bucket, tumbler with water.

We leave the tap open when we go to sleep, so that at the sound of running
water we may jump to action posts and catch the water. Many an elderly
relative, has been frowned upon, when due to the exigencies of his age, he
was forced to errrrr.... pass in the morning and we would all rush up with
our hoses, and my dad would bellow in his rather large voice. "False Alarm!
False Alarm! It is only the bloddy so and so using the bloddy toilet. And
Ramesh you #@#$#!@!@ how many times do I have to tell you not to leave the
mike in the toilet!".

And so the day begins here, with Mom rushing about with a hose pipe and Dad
rushing about with buckets and accidentally tripping each other up. Must
say that these early morning sessions have contributed a lot to my

One of the primary differences between my mom and my dad is the fact that
dad is flustered by the details while mom enjoys them. Mom in fact is
meticulous and has the nasty habit of being a cleanliness freak. My dad's
idea of clean is rather skewed even by my standards (remind me to tell you
about the cake and the two dhotis one day).

Well, one day i remember that we had this special water crunch.

How special?

well one of my neighbours, ( a college kid and his chum who live right
above our flat), rushed out of the house with a Bisleri can while his
friend was crying out loud for all the world to hear "Bring the water! I
can't hold it in any longer!".

Sufficient to say, that Mom was harried. She was rushing about. Plus this
was one of the special days when Mom wouldn't allow any of us to touch her.
Whenever she gets frentically religious like this she would wander about
and not touch any of us. (Dad and I solve this problem by hugging her and
planting big wet kisses on her cheek.) So things were rather tense as
orders were shot off left and right to make us fill the water and all of a
sudden that fountain of happiness ( that single tap) choked and stopped


Mom was running about like a chicken, and dad was well being dad, cursing
Vajpayee, to the watchman and being of no use whatsoever.

All of a sudden he had the brainwave that well, the only thing to do was to
replace that tap.

Well there he did his famous comic changeover to superman, and pulled out
the tap, with a mighty heave of his wrench. Good! All was fine and dandy. I
had closed the valve and so, no water issued through. Dad now set to right
the tap. He pulled out it's innards, changed the grip, the valve, the
washer, the gooblecol, till what we had was a fresh new tap. In doing this
he was liberally spewing about dirt. I mean good solid dirt. And grease.
And oil. All over the place. All over mom's nice kitchen which she would
only cook in if it resembled PC chip making facilities. Mom was looking
more and more miserable, and the time was like 8.30 and today she had to go
to office and well, things weren't very pleasant...

All of a sudden he is like done. He flourishes the tap about, and is like,
well my boy. here is the way to do it. There you have it, a perfectly new
tap, all ready to get you more and more water.

He then fixed the tap back and made mother cry by putting his monkey wrench
bang right into the container which housed the rice, and tipping over the
sambar onto the floor.

Then he turned triumphantly to Mom and said the exact following words. "see
padma. all finished. the devil's in the details you know. now go along and
check how the water flows into the tub". My mom muttering black thoughts to
herself, left to go check whether the water was flowing into the tubs, when
all of a sudden dad and I were surprised by a startled squeak from Mom,
followed by a rather large thud, and the slosh of water.

Dad was joviallity himself.

"Go and check wether she has fallen into the tub", he said with a rather
fetching grin on his face.

I hadn't moved very far to the bathroom, just opened my bedroom door, when
I saw that the entire floor of my bedroom was about ankle deep in 3 inches
of water, mom had skidded and was wallowing about at the bottom of it all,
her neat silk saree all wet, hair bedraggled, and any number of lizards,
trying to vainly swim their way to safety, and regarding mom as the general
Noah's ark.

In all the enthusiasm of doing stuff, my dad had managed to sever the
rubber tube we used to fill water, with the result that all the water that
was supposed to be in the tub had neatly spurted away unbeknowst and had
innundated my room. In fact, the tap was not to blame it was working
perfectly well. We had absolutely no chance of sweeping away all that
water, in the next 10 minutes flat, and Mom was looking like Medusa herself
and balefully glaring away at Dad.

A man of extraordinary spirit, my dad offered to clean the room and "dove"
in, scrubbing away the floor under the watchful eye of my mother.

Daedaleus may have been saved while his son drowned in the Aegean Sea, but
not my dad! He would rather follow me.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Now this looks interesting

Networked thumb wrestling ;-)

The dance of Dad

Most people who know my dad, know him through his creations. One of
which is me. And like all of his other creations, I am in no way perfect.
Perfect! Forget that. I am in no way, functional. Besides being all knobby
kneed, and armed, I have a nose that looks like the front part of a boat.
On the whole I am ungaily, lumpy and look extremely odd, besides being
useless around the house. Perfectly normal, you think. In fact all boys do
resemble the above description to a large degree. Unfortunately so do most
pillows in my house.

Yes! My dad, one day in a fit of hubris, decided he could make
better pillows for all the household, than anything you could purchase in a
shop and made pillows. I had no idea about this till one day, I walked in
to the flat, and all round me floating in the air, getting into my
nostrils, sticking to me, were feathers. My conversation with my dad went
something like this:

Me: Dad, what did you do?

Dad: Nothing.

Me: then why does it look like some kind of poultry farms.

Dad: Nothing. don't lose your head.

Me: Me! Lose my head. It looks like a lot of chickens have. Don't tell me
you skinned them or turned them invisible. Even then why are they shedding
so many feathers.

Dad: Go away and bathe your head you @##!@#!@. You always blabber.

Me: O.K. Don't tell me. Mom's gonna come home in 5 minutes you can explain
it all to her.

At this point Dad panicked. Till now the thought had never crossed his mind
that the lady of the house could return and question his activities for the
day. As a side note, Mom didn't object to any of dad's activites provided
he cleaned up the mess he made. She wouldn't even mind if Dad slitted the
heads of a thousand chickens. What she objected to, was his habit of
slitting their throats and bleeding them all over the floor (speaking
metaphorically of course), dicing them throwing them all over the place,
making a sticky mess, and then reading the papers calmly as she came in,
and announcing- "Oh! I made a little mess on the floor today. Can you clean
it up?".

Mom was inclined to be a bit shirty about all this, since dad even
in the normal course of cutting up a carrot deemed it necessary to grease
the knife, set the table top right, level the floor, and would in the
execution of all this would leave a huge mess that would simply not be
worth the carrot that had been simply split into two. "Cut", had a
different meaning with my dad, then it had with the rest of the world. An
apocryphal tale around the house is of when mom asked him to "cut" a head
of cabbage, and 20 minutes later came back to find an equally divided
cabbage sitting on the table top.

Well of course, returning back to the pillows, I persuaded dad to
show me these new members of the gang of 'extremely useless household
articles that should have been buried at night, but are still being proudly
displayed by dad, as he is too bloddy minded to let anybody take it down'.
And there they were, standing 3 feet tall a piece, two huge beasts of

Well. Yes! That was/is their defining characteristic. Three feet
tall. I mean that they were 2 foot long, 1 foot wide, and BLODDY 3 FEET
TALL. I felt a cold shudder pass through my body. My dad, would now ask me
to use one.

"See.", said Dad, his voice a mixture of raw pride at his his awesome
handiwork and thill at having done this without my mom knowing it. The
ground benath my feet, looked like the slaying grounds for a large scale
genocide of chickens. There was enough fluff there. Plus he had turned on
the fan, so churning around and around in ever greater swirls, and
uncannily resembling snow drifts were mounds of feathers, that had also
been as a temporary measure also doused with chilled water. All around me
was thread, thread, thread, and sprinkled underfoot, amongst the thistles
as they were, was a battery of needles, and thimbles. My dad had pricked
himself in a fashion quite reminiscent of aborginal birthmarks. And there,
sitting there, announcing their entry to the entire world, were the
pillows. Three of them.

One for papa bear, mama bear, and little bear. I gently lifted one, and
found myself staggering at the sheer weight out of it. Just out of
curiosity, I asked my dad what he had stuffed into it.

Casually came back the reply, "About 3 kgs/ of all that packing material
your mom packs those dolls in". Great! And to top it all of, the covers for
these were made out of guess. Guess, Guess, Guess.


Yes! lying there was an old time canvas raincoat of mine.

So there were these pillows, canvas, stuffed, looking like a trio of
recalcitrant ducks, which were ready for the butcher shop, and the whole
house looking simply like some Texas Chainsaw Massacre scene, when Mom
walked in.

There she stood looking like some ancient queen viewing the remains of her
capital city sacked by barbarian hordes. In her very polite way she looked
at my father and said:

Mom: what did you do?

Dad: absolutely nothing. why don't you sit down here and have some tea?

Mom: Sit? on what?

Dad:Here on the sofa.

He regretted having said that. Mom took a look at our sofa and jumped to
the wrong conclusions.

Mom: Don't tell me you ripped the stuffing out of the sofa.

Dad: Nothing of that sort whatsoever. But I do have a surprise for you.

Mom: What! one more. Don't you think this is quite enough.

Dad: oh! DO wait a second. (He goes and fetches the things and was
standing there with one of the pillows in each hand, dressed only in his
undies, and looking like some kind of village wrestler/muscleman, a little
beyond his prime.)

Mom: what! dumbbells?

Dad: dumbbells. Dimwit. Here this is a whacking big pillow that I made.

Mom: Well the only thing that is correct about it is whacking big.

Dad: but see, here is a pillow

Mom: I do see the pillow. What I don't see is how I am going to rest my
head on it. You don't expect me to clamber onto it do you.

Dad: that's it. I refuse to help you people at all. You have no sense you
asses. Here I am, making perfectly good pillows and if you refuse to go and
sleep on it what can I do.

Well he was muttering about it quite a lot, and the house went into one of
those silences. Mom refused to speak to him, citing an extraordinary lack
of commonsense in him for refusing to see that you cannot sleep on a 6 foot

Dad refused to talk to mom, citing her lack of courage in adapting to
anything new.

All would have been well, if Mom hadn't pricked dad about setting the thing
right. And boy did he set it right...

It was late in the night and mom and I were sleeping in my room
with the AC on when we heard a slight thump outside. I woke up, since my
bedroom door was closed, it meant that the thump was actually pretty loud.
Mom also woke up and heard that thump. We had slept at about 1.30 in the
night that day, since cleaning all the feathers had been, a most
distasteful job. Suddenly the thumping increased in intensity and frequency
and well this is what we could hear.

thump, thump,thump,thump,thump....


then again....

thump, thump,thump,thump,thump....

terrified, Mom and I inched towards our bedroom door. We were scared about
burglars, mauraders, and worse my grannie, who could be raiding the
medicine cabinet at any time of day or night.

All of a sudden Mom hissed into my ear, "Dad. Dad's missing. they are
beating him up."

My dad's always been a light sleeper, so the first thought that came to me
was that he had been woken up by a possible burgulary gone to investigate
and was now being battered by a bevy of burgulars.

I told my mom: "grab the flashlight. I will throw open the door, and charge
them and you shine the light. It will blind them. At the same time start
shouting police. police or robbers very loudly."

So, proud of my master plan, I flung open the door, mom stepped out and
snapped on the flashlight, and what do we see.

There was my dad, beating, pumelling and dancing on the three pillows, in
order to thin them. Plus due to the extreme heat of Chennai, and the active
amount of work he was doing, clad as usual in his undies. We caught him one
leg raised about to administer a great kick to the pillow and caught in my
memory like Siva with one leg raised.

And mom in all her nervousness, couldn't figure out if those three life
sized lumps on the floor were pillows or robbers, yelled out for all the
world to hear "Police, Police, Robbers, Murder, Fire". Certainlly an
eclectic mix.

Our neighbours immediately turned on their lights and came rushing to the
balcony to be faced with the sight of my dad, all sweaty with a large stick
in his hand, three pillows on the ground, fluttering feathers here and
there. Mom bearing a beacon of light, and doing her best imitation of a
light house, and me mouth agape, staring with a look of disbelief at the

I have had many embarassing moments in my life, but that was certainlly the