Friday, December 5, 2008

A Valuable post

The only advantage of living in the past is that the rents are much cheaper

Money is a serious matter and often, people are willing to kill each other over it. Money is always there, but the pockets change. Still, that doesn't stop bringing a chuckle or two to me when I mull over my financial condition, which can be best described as fluid, because it is always running down the drain. But after all, we all need some giggles in our lives – on a regular basis – and money, or rather the quest for it, often provides me mine.

Some people think money cannot buy happiness. Is it possible that they did not know where to shop? But my contention is that it is a bad argument for neither can happiness buy you money. My point is that if money cannot buy happiness, it at least can make the misery more enjoyable. My boss keeps reminding me that I should not work for the money and I am always tempted to reply, 'Give me a chance to prove that I don't work for the money by giving me more'.

We would not have had the current paper money system if the barter system was not overthrown (I believe if ebay was around then, we would still be living in a barter system). And we would all have been happy. But devil infringed upon society with the abstract money concept, and so much that banks started pulling out money from thin air through securitisation, leveraging, etc (oh, don't get me going on this!)

As an accountant one of the first things I learned was about the time value of money, i.e. the value of money is going down; every year, every day, every minute. In fact, by the time you finish reading this blog, your personal wealth would have diminished in value. You will realise how fast the value of money is eroding when you see youngsters today getting salaries in their first job what you dreamed of getting by the end of your career.

I always wondered how it was possible for money to lose its value. Then I realized that though you ‘gave your two cents’, but it's only a ‘penny for your thoughts’? See how one penny vanished in the bargain. Guess who takes it – government, in the form of inflation, by printing more currency.

Inflation is like sin; every government denounces it but every government practices it. Inflation is when you pay fifteen dollars for the ten-dollar haircut you used to get for five dollars when you had hair. I explained inflation to my wife as: "When we got married, you measured 32-26-34. Now you're 36-34-40. There is more of you, but you are not worth as much!" I wonder if I could invest in inflation in some way because it seems to be the only thing going up these days.

After making a lifetime of savings my mother-in-law has enough money to last the rest of her lifetime; unless she buys something. If this is the condition, I wonder how much money is considered enough money? My wife and I always, after doing complex calculations on multiple spreadsheets, arrive at it as ‘just a little bit more’. It is winter here and they have moved the clock an hour back. But I don't mind going back to daylight saving time. With inflation, the hour will be the only thing I've saved all year.

It is said that a college education can add many thousands of dollars to a man's lifetime income - which he then spends sending his son to college. Reminds me of the joke - A tour guide was showing a tourist around Washington DC. The guide pointed out the place where George Washington supposedly threw a dollar across the Potomac River. "That's impossible," said the tourist. "No one could throw a coin that far!" "You have to remember," answered the guide. "A dollar went a lot farther in those days."

Making ends meet has been the biggest struggle for mankind. I have always found that by the time I earn enough to do so, somebody keeps moving the ends. In fact, I am living so far beyond my income that we may almost be said to be living apart.

I'm tired of hearing about money, money, money, money, money. I just want to travel in my private jet to my island, play golf, drink some exotic wine, wear Armani and relax in the pool in my mansion. Am I asking too much?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The growing electronic menace

The idea behind power point presentations is to sit through 100 slides with our eyes glazed over, and then to do what all military organizations hope for ... to surrender to an overwhelming mass. – Richard Danzig, Navy Secretary

Corporate productivity was reasonably high till Microsoft invented Powerpoint. Ever since, it has been on a steady decline. It has reached a stage that when an employee wants to go on a vacation he has to make a presentation to his boss, which includes slides for title, need/occassion, reason for attendance, transition/backup, expected return, contact numbers at destination, thank you. What do you call it when you generate a 10 megabyte presentation that strains the bandwidth of the internet and clogs mailboxes in 2 hours, which could be communicated in a 2 minute conversation? Ah yes, technological advancement.

Before there were presentations, there were conversations, which were a little like presentations but people used fewer bullet points, no colours and charts and no one had to dim the lights. Powerpoint presentation is a triumph of process over product. It is more deadly than computer virus and is spreading very fast across the world in darkened rooms with overhead projectors. The genius of it is that it was designed for any idiot to use. You know, I learned it in a few hours! And by the way, these days, you can't ‘speak’ to senior management without having a PowerPoint presentation. Ever since the advent of Powerpoint, more bad plans with good slides have been approved over good plans with no slides.

Powerpoint has become a great tool for camouflaging lack of knowledge. No points for guessing why I love it. My knowledge levels on subjects can be classified as expert, moderate, low and Powerpoint-deep, in decreasing order of knowledge. Powerpoint can give an illusion of coherence and content to any topic which does not have it. And if you can add colour, graphs and graphics, you have a killer in your hands. You can make any point, otherwise irrelevant and illogical, relevant and logical, if made to dance in colour on a Powerpoint presentation.

Walking into a meeting without a PowerPoint presentation is like walking in without clothes. Earlier people used to kill meetings; these days Powerpoints do it more successfully. It has become the most effective sleeping pill, particularly when administered on a group of people. Powerpoint presentations too often resemble a school play - very loud, very slow, and very simple. It is only a matter of time before it will be used for anesthesia in hospitals and for torture in prisons.

But despite the complaints about Powerpoints, people don’t hesitate to inflict this upon others. Anybody who gets a powerpoint with good graphics immediately forwards it to all contacts in his address book, even before going through it fully. A classic case of ‘do unto others what you don’t want them to do to you’.

It is said that a good presentation should be like a woman's skirt: short enough to arouse interest but long enough to cover the essentials. However, I believe that the way to make a great presentation is to have a good beginning and a good ending, and then having the two as close together as possible. I feel that if one cannot explain things in two to three slides, then it is highly likely that it is bullshit. I don’t think I need to analyse and present 100 possible courses of action, when I am only going to recommend one or two.

The last presentation I made was to update the management about the last update I gave them on the meeting we had, to discuss what to cover in the upcoming organizational event, where we would discuss the future priorities. I hope you understand how easy it was for me to make the presentation when the topic was so simple!

The most amusing presentation I ever made was in one of my previous organizations where the appraisal was supposed to be accompanied by a presentation. Imagine the possibilities (of lies!) and the length of the presentations. When my boss asked me to add firepower to my presentation, I added photos of guns and bombs in the presentation and even attached a photo of a nuclear explosion. I am sure I don’t have to tell you that I was promoted that year.

Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems once famously quoted, "We had 12.9 gigabytes of (Microsoft) PowerPoint slides on our network. And I thought, 'What a huge waste of corporate productivity.' So we banned it. And we've had three unbelievable record-breaking fiscal quarters since we banned PowerPoint. Now, I would argue that every company in the world, if they would just ban PowerPoint, would see their earnings skyrocket. Employees would stand around going, 'What do I do? Guess I've got to go to work.'"

If power corrupts, then Powerpoint corrupts absolutely!

Monday, October 20, 2008

As banks go ‘bank’rupt, here’s something you can bank on!

(I have received many enquiries about a blog on the collapse of banks since I work closely with the investment banking community. But I felt that enough has been written on the topic that I chose to write on banks in general)

A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining and wants it back the minute it begins to rain - Mark Twain

The impression of a banker, for me, was that of a risk-averse, pin-stripe suited guy. Well, if I were to consider the way banks are falling like nine pins on Wall Street (they are planning to rename it as Fall Street!), it is time I created exactly the opposite impression. I feel the phrase bankrupt has become ironic; shouldn’t bank mean ‘bank'rupt now? By the way, the safest bank these days seems to be the Piggy Bank. But I am not that worried about all these banks closing down. If the banks are closed, I just use the ATM.

Banks are intermediaries who take one person’s money (in the form of deposits) and lend to another (in the form of loans). Banks charge you high interest to borrow your neighbour’s money which you could have borrowed directly at much lesser interest rates, if you had not thrown stones at his dog or shouted at his children when they stole fruits from your garden. As per traditional theory there are three rules to become a successful banker - First, don't lend money to those who don't have any; second, don't lend money to those who need it; and third, don't lend your own money.

Lending is the main activity of banks, because that is how they make money. You have to prove to the bank to ‘its satisfaction’ that you would be able to repay the loan. Practically what it means is that you will have to prove that you actually don’t need the money. I never knew why banks called the loan I took a ‘personal loan’ till I missed couple of my payments. And boy, did they get personal! But you may want to be careful with those calendars banks give you to help you keep track of your payments; some have more than 12 months on them! A word of caution for borrowers - you may be turned down a loan if you are good friends with many collection agencies.

When I learned that I could borrow against assets, I approached my bank to lend me money to buy a car against my intellectual property and knowledge assets. And that is when I learned their true worth! Of course, my job also reminds me of it often. After influencing higher ups of my bank, they finally offered a loan of $10,000 to buy a car that was worth $20,000, after ensuring that I have income to repay a $100,000 loan, against the guarantee of two people who have assets worth $250,000 each. That is when I realized that there is more truth than humour in the joke “if I owed the bank $10,000, it is my problem; but if I owed the bank $1 million, then it is the bank's problem”.

Banks, like trees, have branches but no leaves grow on them. Before the internet revolution, a bank’s worth was directly proportional to the number of branches; but today it is proportional to the number of online frauds. As a kid whenever I asked for an expensive toy I was always told that money doesn’t grow on trees. But if money doesn't grow on trees then why do banks have branches?

A bank teller is the person who tells (tales) why he can’t do things that you expect him to do. But I found that most of the time tellers don’t tell much. Last time I tried to encash my cheque, the teller told me that I had forgotten to dot the "i" in Salil. I asked him, "Can't you do that for me?" The teller replied, "Sorry sir. It must be in the same handwriting." Another time the teller asked me to identify myself. I immediately looked into the mirror and confirmed that it was me who was at the bank. And the teller was satisfied! Also if bankers could count, why do they always have ten windows and two tellers?

Swiss banks, known for their privacy and safety, are where people hoard their ‘black’ money (see, I told you there is racism among the rich!). Woody Allen once remarked “If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank”. I wonder where the bankers store all the money, with the way it is multiplying exponentially across the world. That makes me want to start a Swiss bank. My readers are all welcome to invest their hard(ly)-earned money in it.

Luther George Simjian once asked for money from his friend through a window. This gave him the idea of creating a hole-in-the-wall machine that would allow customers to make financial transactions, which eventually led to the invention of ATM machine. But whenever I have tried to check my account balance at the ATM, instead of printing out the receipt, the machine laughs out loud, gives a message ‘Not worth wasting paper’ and ejects the card.

Call centers are inventions of banks to check if you really have a problem. If you can call 13 times and wait for 45 minutes each, listening to the bank’s vision and mission statements, before you get through to a human, who of course is not in a position to help you, then it could be that you have a problem. Else, you are person with a complaining nature. I am not saying that the customer service in my bank is bad, but when I went in the other day and asked the clerk to check my balance ... she leaned over and pushed me.

Science has been working for long to develop neutron bomb that destroys people and leaves buildings intact. However, banks beat them to it by inventing mortgages. There were 5-year rest loans, interest-only loans, 30-year loans, you name it. The way things were going, I was looking for the day when banks would start giving 100 year loans to buy a house.

Meanwhile my online bank seems to have gone offline… with my account!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Keep your head down and spread your legs a bit more..

Golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at. And no matter how bad you are, it is always possible to get worse.

Mark Twain is one of my most-respected writers and most of the respect he gets from me is because of his famous quote ‘Golf is a good walk spoiled’. With due respect, he has a lot of other reasons to be respected. But ever since I heard that, I respect my walks a lot more, which incidentally have never been on a Golf course. See how much of respect I have used in this paragraph. I told you, I am a respectable fellow.

Golf is a game where you put a very small ball into an even smaller hole. Research shows that the average age of a golf player is 51 years (my research; but remember, my blog). I guess that explains why golf is such a thrilling game keeping you at the edge of your seat always. Any more excitement and the percentage of elders in the population will drastically reduce.

What is it with senior management and Golf? Golf is 20 percent talent and 80 percent management. Again my research suggests that the favourite game of 94% of senior management is Golf. There are so many better games and you are pardoned if you thought that the law of averages should suggest that those games might also be popular among the senior management. But alas, that is not the case. By the way, do you know the ideal score for a senior management golfer? It is 90. If he is better than that, he is neglecting his company. And if he is worse, he is neglecting his Golf.

Talking about golf and senior management reminds me of this joke:
The game of choice for junior employees is basketball.
The game of choice for frontline employees is football.
The game of choice for middle management is tennis.
The game of choice for CEOs and executives is golf.
Conclusion: Higher up the corporate ladder you are, smaller your balls are.

But I am still not sure if one takes up Golf after becoming senior management or if one takes up Golf to become senior management. If the sample of one of my senior colleague, who recently moved up to senior management, is only considered, it would suggest the former.

A senior colleague of mine explained his liking for Golf as thus, “You are not only playing with other players, but with yourself too. There are natural complexities also that you encounter which makes the game very interesting.” I found that explanation puzzling since it was no different in other sports too. My confusion was resolved when I learned later that Golf is the only sport he plays.

I asked a friend of mine, who is learning the game, how his game was shaping up. His reply was, “It has improved a lot. I am hitting fewer trees now.” A senior executive of our company has all the gadgets to play golf better; he now just needs to learn to play the game. Golf sure is a mysterious game that raises so many conundrums. He makes me wonder ‘do you buy the gadgets to improve the game or do you improve your game and then make use of the gadgets?’

Another colleague in senior management died for the cause, sorry, died on the course. But we weren’t surprised; he was so fanatic about the game. He got a hole in one before he even learned the game. There is another fanatic follower of the game in our senior management, who beats everybody so miserably that if he collected a dollar for every win, he would have been richer than Bill Gates by now.

I have not taken to the game due to its obvious lack of excitement over an eighteen-hole marathon walk of close to four hours. The other problem is that it takes you so far away from the clubhouse unlike other games. H G Wells once remarked that the uglier a man's legs are, the better he plays golf. By that logic, I should actually be a great golf player. Cricket builds character, soccer reveals it and golf exposes it; and that is another reason I keep away from up the game. My only handicap in Golf is the grass, woods and irons - I don’t know about them!

How can any write-up on golf not mention Tiger Woods? If fifty years ago, 100 white men chasing one black man across a field was called the Ku Klux Klan. Today it's called the PGA Tour.

If golf is all about putting things into holes, caroms, anyone?

Friday, September 26, 2008

There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else there is credit card

A man’s credit card was stolen, but he decided not to report it because the thief was spending less than his wife did. The last I heard of this guy, he was divorced.

When Alexander Parkes invented plastic, I am sure he did not imagine it would be used to make money. If he knew, he would not have died a poor man (Actually I don’t know if he died a poor man, but it is not a lie to use a fact without knowing if it is true or false). While we are on plastic, if I cut up my credit cards, did I do a plastic surgery?

The advantage of a credit card is that you don’t have to carry large amount of cash in bags and sacks (the way people shop these days) while shopping and eating out. However, people are not aware that they are spending money they have not earned. Heard of debit cards, anyone?

Smart (read ‘evil’) credit card companies somehow seem to know how to tempt people to increase their credit card use. First, they came up with points for your spending. Only 1% (my own estimate using a highly scientific statistical model called ‘inky pinky ponky’) of card holders actually redeem those points. Then came pre-approved credit cards. I feel people consider being pre-approved for a credit card mean they have to apply for it! Then they came up with add-on cards. It became prestigious to give add-on cards to your spouse and children. I have even given one each to my servant and driver.

I have mastered the trick to evade sales people who jump at you while leaving big stores like Big Bazaar or Food World and are willing to give you a credit card with an ID proof and invoice as the income proof. Now you know why I would never work for a credit card company. It also amuses me that they would not give me a credit card if I came to buy only bread in the morning (because then the bill will be only for Rs 15) even though my salary is Rs 25 lakhs. (I did not want to reveal my real salary; so I have mentioned only half of it!). Please don’t assume that I went to buy bread in the morning because I fought with my wife and she refused to cook breakfast for me.

An interesting thing I noticed about credit card holders is the number of cards they carry. If it is for convenience, then you need only one credit card. If it is for acceptance at multiple outlets, then you need two or three of Visa, Master, Amex, etc. If it is for drawing as much credit as possible, then you need more than two and the willingness to relocate often. And if it is to impress women and to lure them to go on date with you, then you definitely need a dozen.

The sad part, however, is that most of us are walking around with more plastic debt than we can repay in paper. Expecting the credit card companies to be fair is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian. The mantra these days seems to be that the way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it!

Millions of credit cards have enabled millions of people to get mired in millions of debt and have led to millions of bankruptcies. Without credit cards, people wouldn't owe millions of dollars to millions of credit card companies, on which they're being charged millions of interest. (If you wondered why I have used so many millions, I don’t know any number larger than that).

One big problem with credit cards is the enormous possibility of misuse. The statistics on credit card frauds are that one out of every five credit card is misused. Speak to four of your friends. If they don’t seem to have a problem, then it's you who is misusing a credit card! It is interesting that credit card companies always process the payments no matter how you signed the receipts.

An anecdote I read: “I was signing the receipt for my credit card purchase when the clerk noticed I had never signed my name on the back of the credit card. She informed me that she could not complete the transaction unless the card was signed. When I asked why, she explained that it was necessary to compare the signature I had just signed on the receipt with the one on the card. So I signed the credit card in front of her. She carefully compared the signature to the one I had just signed on the receipt. As luck would have it, they matched.”

The most affected people due to the credit card usage obviously must be the street side beggars, what with people no longer going around with change. The next would be the adult and instant entertainment sites, who would be saddled with a very high rate of charge reversals from visitors who claim to their wives when the statement comes that they never signed up for the service and that it must have been some prank or mistake.

While Larry King was interviewing Satan on his TV show, King asked Satan to describe the foulest deed he had ever done. Satan refused to name one, pointing out that there had been so much destruction over the years, so many lives cut short, and so many wars and calamities that none stood out. But King kept pestering. “Surely, if you think hard enough, there must be one dastardly deed you are most proud of.” Satan thought for a moment, his eyes brightened, and he replied, “Well, yes. I guess if I have to pick just one particularly evil thing I'm proudest of, it would be this: Several years ago, I invented credit cards.”

If you aren't saddled with credit card debt, congratulations, you are only a few steps away from sainthood!

Making a friend read my blog ….. $ 10
Buying a reader software that will read out the blog ….. $ 100
Having readers like you who keep coming back for more ….. Priceless!

Friday, September 19, 2008

I am sorry, are you sorry?

The only correct actions are those that demand no explanation and no apology – Red Auerbach

The word sorry is so abused these days that people no longer mean it when they say, like ‘sorry we are closed’ or ‘sorry I kept you waiting’. I was introduced to meaningless apologies by Doordarshan when they frequently interrupted the telecast (it was the only channel those days and one couldn’t even change channels) and used to apologise with a screen that said ‘sorry for the interruption’. In fact, it has reached a stage where if you really mean it you have to specifically say so, like ‘I am sorry and I really mean it’ or ‘I am really sorry’. By the way, I am really sorry I don’t know who Red Auerbach, whom I have quoted above, is.

People are willing to offer apologies for practically anything these days. Apologies don’t cost money and neither is there a tax on it. And it comes with the added advantage of making the other person happy. So the cunning ones (read salesmen, lawyers, bankers, etc; no, not accountants, they are a nice lot) are handing them out like fliers. Like the woman apologizing to her man that she was sorry she beat him up! However, there is still is a small set of uptight folks who are not all that forthcoming with it. They think that it is beneath their self-respect to apologise, however wrong they might be!

My policy on this is very simple. I, like everyone else, at times (ok, ok, most of the times), do things that bother or hurt others, like forgetting something or making an irritable remark. If my actions have caused any harm, offence, discomfort or inconvenience to a person, I apologise straightaway. Like when I met my wife, I told her that I am sorry I came into her life. I am sorry to my parents that I was born to them. I feel sorry to myself for my present condition. Coming to think of it, I apologise to you for this blog.

The timing of an apology is very important. If you delay, the issue could get complicated and the injured party might be less open to forgiving you. But you would always be able to better Vatican’s timing, which apologises a few hundred years after the deed when the injured parties are no longer around, like when it apologized to Galileo in 1992 after 359 years. Another thing to note is that if you don’t ask forgiveness now, it is quite possible that tomorrow you may no longer feel guilty!

There is a set of smart people who are good at giving false apology, which sounds like a real apology without taking any blame for the action. For example, my girlfriend tells me often, ‘I am sorry that you feel that way.’ She is only sorry for my feeling about her action and not her action per se. Similarly when my wife gets angry, she always apologizes saying she is sorry that I made her angry. Another example is the thief who was sorry that he is to be hanged; not that he is a thief.

Then there is the set of folks who get angry if the apology is not accepted. Like this guy who was caught two-timing and was shouting at his girlfriend, “I told you I am sorry. NOW what is your problem?” Another tactic is to resort to the intent excuse. I used it with my neighbor when I shot his annoying dog, “I am sorry, but I didn’t intend to shoot your dog. The gun somehow used its artificial intelligence and fired at the dog.” Don’t ask me what intent has got to do with the harm caused, but it seems to work somehow.

In the corporate world in particular the art that is followed is called ‘it is easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.’ Another trick followed is to apologise after stabbing your colleague from behind. That is when I admire my true friends; they don’t stab you from behind, they do it in the front.

A really good method of apologizing is to seek forgiveness by appealing to the other person’s good self. Probably getting a little emotional also helps. Like when I screwed up my wife’s plants I told her, “I am really sorry, but I know with your kind-hearted personality you will forgive me. You know how much I love you and care for you, honey.”

When you are apologizing to a woman, the best bet, of course, is flowers. You get two benefits with a bouquet attached with ‘I am sorry’ note – you get forgiveness for certain, while being actually sorry to the flowers!

I have had a very successful marriage so far and one of the prime reasons for the success has been our willingness to apologise to each other. Whenever I am wrong, I apologise to my wife; and whenever she is wrong, I apologise to her (like a true happily married man). In fact, I have found that an apology is a good way to have the last word!

But the best way to correct wrong actions is to try lying, blaming others, making excuses or justifying our actions. If nothing works, use one of the techniques of apologizing mentioned above and you might get away. Or, you could try singing this.

Friday, September 12, 2008

You da man, Maveli

[Legend has it that Maveli, aka Mahabali, ruled the state of Kerala in India, and was renowned for the justice and goodness of his rule. As Maveli was an asura (demon), devas (divine) felt threatened and plotted to end his reign; much like in the corporate world where established power centers plots against upcoming ones. Vishnu, the protector among Hindu gods, disguised as a poor Brahmin called Vamana, approached Maveli and asked for three steps of land. Just as the generous Maveli agreed, Vamana increased in size to cosmic proportions. With his first step, Vamana covered earth and with the second, he covered skies. Maveli, with nothing left, offered his head for the last step and Vamana pushed him down to Patala, the nether world. Vishnu, pleased with Maveli, granted his wish to be allowed to visit Kerala once a year to see if his people were happy and content. Onam, the biggest festival of Kerala, marks the annual visit of Maveli]

Our story happens in the United States of America. Maveli has lost hope on Kerala owing to his bad experiences with mosquitoes, strikes, transport bus, ration shops, monsoon, pollution and thattu kadaas (road-side eateries) in god’s own country. Armed with a special invitation from Bush (not WMD), Maveli decided to visit US this Onam to see the welfare of Keralites in US.

Maveli took the Air India (being ex-government, he insists on using government services) non-stop flight from Mumbai to New York. He wondered why the lemonade served on the flight tasted so horrible, not knowing that it was beer. Maveli asked the stewardess for a massage and could not understand why she refused, as devadasis (he was an asura king, remember?) in his Patal Force One flight used to give him a nice Ayurvedic massage.

Finding a mallu family in the back row, Maveli tried to engage into a conversation. To the question if he knew Onam, the teenager in the family replied, “There was this dude called Maveli, like he was really cool king and stuff, but some guy squashed him unda’ the ground. He comes visiting them Keralites every yea’, you know, and they celebrate Onam.”

At the New York airport, Maveli asked the blonde behind the information desk, “Can you tell me the time difference between India and US?” She replied, “One second.” Maveli replied, “Ok, thank you” and rushed to collect his luggage. Though Maveli did not know English, he carried an electronic translator that his friend James Bond had gifted him. Maveli had attempted TOEFL after reading the book ‘Spoken English in 32 days’ that he bought from Kottayam bus stand, but failed miserably.

Maveli was impressed with the developments made by America. He felt proud of the fact that while Americans made turbines work using steam, Keralites atleast had found that steam can be used to make idlis. Maveli bought the latest 3G iPhone and immediately send an SMS joke to his friend in Patala (not to Sidhu; that is his friend in Patiala) - “Do you know at what time Keralites and Americans stand on one leg? Scroll down for the answer…… when they are wearing their underwear.”

Maveli was amazed at the two shiny silver walls that moved apart and back together again by themselves. He saw an old woman walking up to them, pressing a button, the walls opening and the lady entering a small room. The walls closed and Maveli saw small circles lit up above the walls. The walls opened up again and, lo behold, a beautiful twenty-something-old woman stepped out. Maveli noted in his mental diary to remember to bring his wife the next time he visited US.

But Maveli found it strange that people were kissing in the public, which was a very private affair in Patala. He even found that the reaction of the women were different. While all women in US were responding “kiss me gently”, “kiss me softly”, “kiss me like there’s no tomorrow”, the reaction he got while kissing in Patala were “don’t tell anybody” or “don’t tell my husband”.

Maveli went to visit the Statue of Liberty since he had heard a lot about it. As he stood admiring the crown on the statue, a Mexican told him that it is for sale for $1000. When Maveli gave him the money, the Mexican said he will get a ladder to remove the crown and never returned. When Maveli passed by in the evening he again couldn’t help admiring the crown. The same Mexican came and told that it is still available for sale for $1000. Maveli becoming wise this time gave him the $1000 and asked the Mexican to wait and said he will get the ladder this time.

Maveli then proceeded to Washington DC to meet Bush, where he signed an agreement to supply oil to US in return for uranium to power the proposed nuclear plant in Patala. The prices of oil fell dramatically and Bush was forced to make a public statement: “They misunderestimated me. There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again.” [these are actual public statements made by Bush]

Maveli then proceeded to meet Keralites. He asked a young Keralite who was a heavy smoker, “Don’t you know that smoking is injurious to health?” The Keralite replied “I came to know the dangers of smoking after reading newspaper. Therefore, I have stopped..; reading newspapers, that is.”

Maveli subsequently went to Charlotte as he knew that Salil’s cousin lived there. Since he reached late in the evening, he visited a bar. The man on his right ordered, “Johny Walker, single”. The man on his left ordered, “Peter Scotch, single”. So Maveli ordered, “King Mahabali, married'. Maveli then flew to Fremont to visit Salil. But unfortunately, Salil was on his usual cross-country IR trips. So Maveli left a voice message and returned to Patala.

After returning to Patala, it is reported that Maveli has started using nope (for ‘no’) and yep (for ‘yes’) to answer questions. He has started saying hey (instead of ‘hello’) and eating candies (instead of ‘chocolates’), cookies (instead of ‘biscuits’) and yogurt (instead of ‘curd’). He has switched to diet coke (instead of ‘buttermilk’) and pizza (instead of ‘dosa’) for dinner. He has started taking cabs (instead of ‘taxi’) to go on the freeway (instead of ‘highway’) even if he has got to go (instead of ‘have to go’) to a place less than a mile (instead of ‘kilometer’). And it seems these days when Maveli listens to music, he says ‘yo man’ often.

God save US.. sorry Maveli!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I Don't Forget Anniversaries

“Memory is what tells a man his wedding anniversary was yesterday”

Today is my marriage anniversary. I have been married for n years (I won’t tell you the value of n as it is a very large number and you will start guessing my age!). Coincidentally, Ambika, my wife, has also been married for the same number of years.

Ambika has been the best thing that has happened to me. If you wonder if she feels the same way, feel free to ask her and I am confident she too will agree that she has been the best thing that has happened to me. I am glad that I fell in love with Ambika over the few other girls I thought I loved. I am told by my women friends that the reason why god created man first and woman second was because he needed to have a rough draft before he made a masterpiece. If one sample couple can prove the hypothesis, look no further.

I met Ambika at a Chartered Accountancy class. I did not want to fall in love then, as I thought that it would be like learning how to cycle – would take a lot of time and would get injured in the process. But to my surprise, it was love at first sight. Then I took a second look. And a third. I have never looked back again. On our first date, like all men, I told her a bunch of lies which got her interested enough to go for future dates.

Being an extraordinarily handsome man, I assumed it my responsibility to marry the perfect woman so that we could produce children beyond comparison. So I immediately decided to marry Ambika. Of course, she decided a lot later. Ambika believed that the poorest people are the happiest. And now that she is married to me, we are the happiest couple. We used to always hold hands after marriage because we wanted to make sure the rings did not fall off since we paid good money for them.

We have been sharing things ever since – we use the same toothpaste though different toothbrushes, the same bath soap though different bath towels, the same dining table though different plates, the same closet though different clothes, the same television though different shows, the same bed…. Sorry, this is a family blog, remember?

All married men contend that marriage is not a word but a sentence. However I don’t agree; I would like to look at it as an ‘investment’ that pays big ‘dividends’ if you manage to keep up the ‘interest’ (from this you would have guessed my profession – yes, I am an accountant). My wife and I always compromise which has been the secret behind our co-existence; I admit that I am wrong and she agrees with me.

We have had a very successful marriage so far, because I practice in my life what I preach at work. I work for an outsourcing company and as a true-blood loyal employee I have outsourced the decision-making process to my wife. She is the boss in our house. I have seen the kind of things she does in the house as part of this job and honestly, I do not want it.

This does not mean that we have not had our rough times, like when I send my wife an SMS ‘I wish you were here’ thinking that it was a smart thing to do, but mistakenly missed the last e in ‘here’, or when I forgot my wife’s birthday. I realized at that time that our marriage can be defined as the alliance of two people; one who never remembers birthdays, and the other who never forgets them. During the process I found that the best way to remember my wife’s birthday is to forget it thrice. But I cannot ‘remember’ the last time I ‘forgot’ her birthday.

We have stuck together during the good and bad times all these years. Just a note of caution for the readers – families that stick together should bathe more often. We have a little girl amongst us now, our daughter Niharika. The store had run out of the big ones. And even the little one took nine months to download. O that note, the child experts say that men should not have children after 35. It may sound very restrictive, but they say that there is research evidence to support this. 35 children are enough!

Finally, you may ask what the gifts that we exchanged today were. My wife, a wonderful and great lady that she is (no, no, believe me, I am not saying this because of the gift!), gifted me a $1,500 digital SLR camera with multiple lenses and other accessories. And I returned it with an even more costly one – this blog! (because ‘little time is a lot of money’; yes I added additional words, but remember this is my blog?)

PS: If you assume that I was coerced by my wife to write this blog dedicated to her, then you should be married. Oh by the way, didn’t I mention that this is dedicated to her!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I suffer from Shopophobia Mallfeorosis

We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls. – Bill Bryson

Shopping as an activity was something that did not exist in my life for a very long time. When I was a kid I used to jump at the opportunity to buy a litre of milk, a kilo of sugar, etc during emergencies (read ‘unexpected visitors’) at home and used to think that I was an eager shopper. But now when I look back, I realise my motivation was the odd 25 or 50 paise that I could make in the exercise. I probably never shopped for more than an hour or for more than Rs.1,000 of groceries till I got married. Since then, however, household and grocery shopping has become one of the biggest activities of my life.

I read about people who are in the search for the purpose of life or understanding women. I feel that they are still in the lower stages of their philosophical quest compared to me, since I am already seeking answer to the bigger problem of how shopping can be enjoyable. I have also not been able to find the answer to the question, ‘if I am shopping for windows would I be window-shopping’?

One major thing that irks me about shopping is the increasing cost of living these days. I am so worried that I could launch into a tirade about prices these days, covering everything from gas to chocolates. However, when I accidentally mentioned it to a store salesman, he retorted, “Sir, if cost of living is so high and obviously offensive to you, then why do you bother?” (to live, that is) After that, I have wisely kept my feelings on cost to myself.

I found a different approach to counter the rising costs. This is a secret and I would appreciate if you would keep this to yourself. Last time I went shopping at a store, I asked the vendor, "How much are these oranges?" "Two for ten rupees," answered the vendor. "How much is just one?" I asked. "Six rupees," answered the vendor. "Then I'll take the other one," I said.

Since I detest shopping, my wife, the nice and wonderful woman that she is, has volunteered to do shopping for the entire family. This sounds great, right? I too felt the same when I heard it. I thought I had figured out the solution for my life’s suffering. That is… until I found the catch. I had to drive her to the shops, accompany her down the aisles while she made up her mind deciding if chocolate coated almond cookies were better than peanut butter nut cookies, and – here comes the tough part – also offer my suggestions.

The last time I refused to accompany my wife to the store, the billing clerk at the store had a good laugh. After putting the stuff my wife bought in three hours into some thirty seven plastic bags, he asked her, “Cash or card, madam?" As she fumbled for her wallet, he noticed a television remote control in her purse. "Do you always carry your television remote?" he asked. She replied, "No, only when my husband refuses to come shopping with me. Since the India-Pakistan cricket match is going on, this was a sweet revenge." The genius that I am, I took the opportunity to call up my girl friend and asked her if I could come over to watch the match saying my television broke down – but then that is a story for a different blog.

The other thing that I find difficult is the vast areas that shops and shopping malls cover. I doubt if shopping as an activity existed during the times of Mark Twain. Otherwise he would have remarked that ‘shopping is a good walk spoiled’ rather than ‘golf is a good walk spoiled’. I often get lost in the vast shopping malls, which annoys my wife as evident from her question which I encounter when I catch up with her later on, “Why on earth can’t you keep pace with me, you snail?” (On that note, do you know why they don’t serve snails in McDonalds? Because McDonalds is a 'fast' food joint.)

Hence I have devised an ingenious method. Whenever I get lost in a supermarket, I approach the nearest beautiful woman and ask, "You know, I've lost my wife here in the supermarket. Can I talk to you for a couple of minutes?" You may wonder why; because it so happens that every time I talk to a beautiful woman my wife appears out of nowhere.

I thought my aversion to household shopping was a peculiar psychological condition that I suffered from. I was thinking about getting medical help, when I learned that all harried (read ‘married’; I somehow find it impossible to spell the first m in ‘married men’!) men experience from the same condition. I wonder if there are any shopping malls in Mars. I guess not…

This is the era of outsourcing and I would like to outsource my shopping activities. Those interested may write to me separately with references.

Friday, August 22, 2008

My Marriage to Aishwarya Ray

I married Aishwarya Ray (Aish) last month yielding to her relentless request. Little did I know at that time what was in store for me!

Within the first week of our marriage, I faced death threats from Salman Kaun, Vivek Kabirai and Abhishek Pachpan. If that was not enough, I escaped two attempts at my life and after each incident, all of them called to say that they were not behind it. I even wonder if Salman saw me as a ‘black buck’...

We went to London, Venice and Paris for our honeymoon. We avoided Switzerland since I knew that Abhishek’s chacha lived there. And Vivek was already hiding in the hills of Scotland – wide awake, though 'avivek'.

I did everything you would expect a newly-married groom to do on a honeymoon – book the tickets, open the door, and even make tea in the morning, and expecting Aish only to help me colour-coordinate my dress in return (what did your evil mind think?). But not only did she not do so, but she ruined me by shopping from every shop in the places we visited. Before marriage, I used to catch her in my arms but afterwards I started catching her in my pockets.

Whenever she embarks on one of her shopping expeditions, she used to announce, "I am going to do some shopping. I will be back in about $50,000 or so." Probably I am being too harsh on her; I must admit that she shopped only twice during the week - once for three days, once for four.

The demands went soaring from London itself when Aish asked for the Kohinoor diamond. I should have seen it coming from the bluish green (or was it grayish violet?) glint in her eyes when we were headed for the Tower of London. I got out of the situation by saying that we would have to negotiate with the Queen, which I assured her we will do while visiting Buckingham Palace (I am sure you have guessed by now that we did not visit Buckingham Palace later).

When I hailed a cab and told the cabbie, “The lady wants to go to Macy’s”. The cabbie, who I realize now was an intelligent chap, gave me a quizzical look and asked, "And the gentleman? Does he want to go to the bank before?" I still did not take the cue. On the way when Aish saw YMCA, she remarked, “Look, they spelled MACY’S wrong!”

It was a moonlit evening in Paris and we were atop the Eiffel Tower, when Aish, on spotting Louvre, said that she wanted to buy the Monalisa for her dadi in India. Imagine having to explain to the stewardess the reason for carrying the world’s most famous painting in the cabin! In Venice, she wondered if we could take couple of Gondolas to India. I had a tough time convincing her that our yachts in India were far superior. To cut the short story further short, I have become bankrupt due to Aish. I am visiting Paris next month to appear for the hearing of my bankruptcy application. My luck has become so bad that even my bank is in trouble. They returned my cheque with the comment 'insufficient funds'.

This is the kind of incident I believed would happen to someone else; but unfortunately I did not realise that I was also 'someone else' to someone else. I am sure harried (read ‘married’) men, who have had similar shocking (read ‘shopping’) experiences with their wives will empathize with me. I have served the divorce notice to Aish, considering that Christmas is just few months away. I am going to be more careful in future while considering marriage with Angelina Dolie and Sushmita Pen, who are pestering me. If you know about their shopping habits, please do drop me a 'line offline' (I liked the rhyme); I will be indebted to you and not to my financiers as I am now.

In case, somebody thinks that this post is a result of my imagination, I have attached a photo of Aish and me kissing, taken during our honeymoon. That should probably convince all doubting Thomases, Peters, Pauls, Joneses, et al.

[Disclaimer: Any resemblance to people alive, dead or not yet born may or may not be coincidental, but is definitely not intentional]

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Letter from Death

“When you were born, you cried, and the world rejoiced.
Live your life in such a manner that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice – Kabir”


I am death.

If you are scared of me, I suggest you continue reading till the very end. Believe me, what I say here might be helpful to you. Else, you may stop reading and leave now because there is nothing more you need to know to live.

I visit everyone in the world once in their lifetime and will visit you too. But you deny my existence. The society you live in also does the same and encourages you to do so. However, the truth is that I am inevitable. I am the only certainty in life. I keep happening all around you. Why do you prefer to close our eyes to me? Accept me as I am and don’t fight me. It is the denial of my existence that is responsible for your empty and meaningless life. You live your life as if it is never-ending, worrying about the future or buried in the past, and in the meantime, you lose your present.

And then you will start to see life in a whole different paradigm. If you live your life realizing and embracing mortality, I assure you that you will enjoy every moment of it. Just take the moment and make the best of it since you don’t know what is going to happen next. Stop doing things that you don't enjoy and pursue long-term goals that make you happy. Be grateful for what you have. Learn to forgive and forget. Don't take anything too seriously and don’t over analyze anything. Tell your family and friends how much they mean to you. Live every day as if it is your last!

You have a good life.

Be seeing you...


[PS : This blog was triggered by the sad and sudden demise of our CFO two days back and is dedicated to him. May his soul rest in peace!]

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Should we celebrate Bindra’s win?

[‘Sports’ in this post excludes Cricket, ‘sportsmen’ excludes cricketers and ‘we’ includes yours truly]

I am a ‘proud’ Indian today, thanks to Abhinav Bindra. But then, am I?

India is the seventh largest country by geographical area, the second most populous country, and the most populous democracy in the world. India has the world's twelfth largest economy at market exchange rates and the fourth largest in purchasing power. However, till now India did not have an individual Olympic gold medal to its credit.

But it all changed on August 11, 2008. India clinched its first ever individual Olympic gold medal in 108 years history of modern Olympic Games, when the 25-year-old, Abhinav Bindra, won the 10 meter air rifle event. A historic feat indeed! Probably facts changed, but did things really change?

Would this achievement, which has made a country of more than billion people proud, change India’s we-don’t-care-about-sports attitude? Does a country with so many claims to fame on other matters offer any support at all to sportsmen other than cricketers?

Do people who celebrate the incredible win and partied all night know the event for which Abhinav won the medal? A handful may know that it is shooting, but do they know that it was for the 10 meter air rifle?

More importantly, did they know about Abhinav before the Beijing Olympics? Did they consider him a medal prospect? Did they know that he almost won it in Athens Olympics four years ago? Did they know that he is also the first Indian to win a World Championship gold medal in Croatia in 2006? Did they know that he was a Commonwealth Games gold medalist in 2002?

Governments, sports authorities and private organizations have doled out prize monies and rewards to Bindra; including BCCI (shouldn’t they be funding Cricket or modernizing Cricket stadiums and Cricket training facilities?). But shouldn’t they have been funding him and other medal hopefuls earlier?

Bindra, whose family is well-off, has an MBA, runs his own company, and has extensive training facilities in his house at Chandigarh. Has he won all these events because he could manage his own training and expenses? Are other sportsmen who represent India able to afford good training? Are they able to ignore their means of livelihood for training?

How many stadiums in India can proudly host international events? If not many, do we have a roadmap to develop world class sporting facilities?

Do we have a policy for our sports in the country? Do we have a vision for India in terms of achievements in sporting events?

Do we have a professional mechanism of running sports in the country? Do we have a merit-based system of identifying sportsmen in the country?

Have people conducted protests outside the houses of people who run sports in the country after every dismal performance in Olympics, like the way they did when India lost in the Cricket World cup (a tournament for a sport played by some 10-12 countries and not followed by the World)? Do they burn effigies of sports minister, coaches and officials, like they do of Chappell, Ganguly and Dravid? Where does the Indian pride disappear during the Olympics?

Do children who know the strike rate of Sehwag to the second decimal, know when India won its last medal at Olympics? They know how often Formula 1 events are held and where but do they know how often, forget where, Olympics are held?

Lakshmi Mittal, one of the richest men in the world and the chairman of the world's largest steelmaker Arcelor Mittal, has set up a Mittal Champions Trust for $10 million to help support a few Indian athletes with an eye toward the 2012 Olympics since it is going to be held in London. Would he be willing to spend the money otherwise? Would any other corporate or wealthy individuals spend on the development of sports without any commercial interest?

How many of us know that the Commonwealth Games in 2010 is being hosted by India? India will be only the third developing nation to host the Commonwealth Games, after Jamaica in 1966 and Malaysia in 1998.

Questions remain and I am the first to admit that I am unaware of the answers myself. But I am courageous enough to admit it in a public forum. However is the Indian public, including you, willing to do so? Are we collectively willing to take the blame instead of pointing fingers at sports authorities, government officials, media, education system, etc? And then my friend, we will start finding answers to these questions.

So is there a need to celebrate Bindra’s win? Are we even entitled to do so? Have we, Indians, really achieved something or is it a ‘personal’ achievement of Bindra? More questions…

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Does Tendulkar have the best timing?

The Board room was heating up although the air-conditioning was working fine. I did not like the business case Jack Belch was pushing like all his previous ideas. Jack wanted us to acquire Moon Holmes, a company proposing to sell real estate in Moon (or was it Mars since that is where all men came from?). As a Chairman, I had already lost my faith in him. Moon Holmes indeed; they could not even spell ‘homes’ right! Also I did not like his pink tie nor did I, mildly put, appreciate the fact that he was having an affair with my secretary.

He was ranting on, “Salil, acquiring Moon is going to take us to the next level beyond the reach of any other player in the world.”

“If my memory serves me right, that is what you said the last time too, Jack”, I replied giving a wink to Warren Duffet, my CFO. Not that I liked him either, but he was the only guy who would come with me to play golf every weekend even though I would beat him miserably.

“But Salil, this time it’s different”, Jack said, passing a mysorepaku for me. He was doing his best to convince me.

“And that is exactly how you referred last time about your earlier so-called-strategic-move”, I had to be emphatic this time. I wondered how Sree Krishna sweets alone made mysorepaku so well when even Nike is duplicated better in Ulhasnagar and China.

At that point, everybody fell silent. Not because I raised my voice, but the room was echoing with “Choli ke peeche kya hai, choli ke peeche..”.

I picked up my mobile phone to see who was calling. It was Bill Mates, my best buddy, who was working as the COO in our biggest competitor, Lycrasoft, but who would not work for me stating that it would sour our personal relationship. I disconnected his call wondering why he called me knowing well that I was in the Board meeting.

Jack continued, “Salil, this is the opportunity of our life-time. I think we should go ahead and buy Moon. Though it is has no customers or business plan as of now, the founders are confident that they will find a way by searching on google. It seems anything can be found on google these days.” I noticed that the painting hanging on the wall behind him was also slanting like his logic.

“Choli ke peeche kya hai, choli ke peeche..” again

Sensing urgency, (because Bill would not call me twice during the Board meeting) I answered his call. Bill did not wait for the usual exchange of niceties or let me speak. He whispered “Jack has negotiated a deal to join us as the CEO starting next quarter. He is pushing the Moon acquisition to ruin you guys and keep you out of the competition once he takes over Lycrasoft.” The only thing I managed to say was, “Bill, I love you da.” This left the Board member sitting to my left wondering if I was gay.

I looked Jack in the eye and said in my sweetest voice ever, “You have made your point, Jack. Moon Holmes is an attractive investment and I think you should definitely acquire it after joining Lycrasoft.”

Without saying anything further, I got up and walked to the door. On the way out, I noticed that the Italian director I inducted last month was actually nodding his head to the music from his iPod and not to the discussions as I had thought. I shouted over my shoulder, “Jack, you are fired”, while I appreciated myself for sending the senior executives on mandatory vacation of three weeks since it helped me identify whom I can do without.

As I banged the door of the Board room, I woke up....

Now tell me doesn't Bill Mates have a better timing than Sachin Tendulkar?

[Disclaimer: Any resemblance to people alive, dead or yet to be born may or may not be coincidental, but is definitely not intentional]

Thursday, July 31, 2008

What's cooking?

This blog is going to be a shock for people who know me well. My wife had a mild heart attack and other family members are still laughing so hard that we are contemplating medical measures.

Cooking, I am told, is an art. And I am becoming an artist these days.

For more than thirty years of my life, I had only cooked stories and numbers. I STRONGLY believed that cooking food is a waste of time and effort. I looked forward to the day when eating food would mean taking a few tablets. I maintained that I would rather die of hunger than cook for myself. I have lived alone on many occasions (in India!) and never considered cooking.

Time is one of the best change-agents © (Now that is an original quote and I intend to patent it. Any attempts at copying this without my written permission is illegal). People change, circumstances change, opinions change, beliefs change, over time.

So 'time' (read 'health') has made me cook in the past few months since I reached US in early 2008. I started off with ready-to-eat and easy-to-make stuff like noodles, pasta, french toast, omelette, upma, seva, dal, etc. And over the last few weeks, I have graduated to attempt my hand at dishes like potato subji, tomato curry, green peas masala, etc.

However, what gave heart attack to my wife was when I wanted to make bitter-gourd ('karela') fry this week. This is because I have never eaten bitter-gourd in my life, which is four or five times, without pouting and blaming my family of conspiring against me. Fortunately, I was able to give her cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) virtually since we were chatting on Skype when I popped the question.

I chose it because I eat my rice with curd and pickle and was thinking about options that would go with it. I had also got tired with eating potatoes and tomatoes only. My first attempt at bitter-gourd was not that bad, though it did get slightly burned (picture attached).

Considering that I hardly had any prior experience or inclination in cooking, I have made significant progress in the art of cooking (read 'culinary skills'). Therefore, I claim to be the upcoming artist to watch for.

Bitter-gourd fry may be one small step in the eyes of people who know me, but it is one giant leap for me!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Power of Mmmmm…..

Whoever thinks that the sound mmmmm….. (increasing in pitch) is just that, a sound mmmmm…..., is hugely mistaken.

My daughter, Niharika, who is now one year and five months old, has started talking proper words since the last couple of weeks (she even calls me and my wife by our names). However, for almost four to five months before that, all she would say apart from amma, acha, etc, if you did not guess it by now, was mmmmm….

If you therefore thought that she was not able to communicate, you are mistaken again. With just that sound she would very clearly communicate with everybody at home what she wants. Mmmmm….. in her language meant ‘I want that’, ‘I want to come to you’, ‘I am hungry’, ‘I am sleepy’, ‘I want to get down’, ‘I want to be picked up’, ‘I want milk’, ‘I want that toy’, ‘I want to go out’, ‘I prefer to stay back’, ‘I don’t like that food’, etc.

Moral of the story - Language is not a barrier if you are amongst your loved ones!

Where Left is Not Right

I got my US license in April after almost a month of driving. And within the first couple of weeks of getting my license, I managed to get my first ticket.

It was 6 am and I assure you folks I was fully awake. I had an overwhelming day ahead filled with meetings in San Francisco. I was to leave my car, considering my driving skills in US, in my senior colleague’s house, which is two miles away from mine, and to go in his car from there.

From Alvarado Boulevard, a road with reasonable traffic though empty at that hour, I turned left into Lowry. For almost 12 years before coming to US, I have driven in India where vehicles are driven on the left side of the road. Lowry too was empty and does not have a divider in the middle to separate the lanes. I, by habit and already thinking about the meetings, turned into the left side of the road. I was later on told by my US friends and colleagues that all of them had done this in the past, but then you are wrong only if you get caught. And like the rabbit that was unlucky and was killed for its foot, inspite of having more than one rabbit’s foot, I was unlucky too.

A cop was coming from the opposite direction in Alvarado Boulevard and he turned into Lowry behind me with his lights on. I, not realizing the mistake, drove on for about 15-20 seconds thinking about the day ahead, before I noticed the cop’s car on my right side (the ‘correct’ lane, by the way). My first reaction was to look for a vehicle ahead that the cop might be chasing. Not finding one, I looked at the cop’s car again in my rear view mirror to if he had his lights on. And at that moment, to my horror, it dawned on me that it was me whom he was chasing. And guess what, I am driving on the wrong side of the road!

By then I had reached the turn to my colleague’s house. I turned right into Larkway and kept to the right side (the ‘correct’ lane) of the road this time. I ‘hopelessly’ hoped that the cop would not be chasing me or that he would leave me seeing that I am on the right lane this time. But he came right behind me and stopped after I had stopped in front of my colleague’s house.

I stayed in the car and rolled down the windows, as I was well informed about the process thanks to my colleagues. The cop came up to me and asked in a polite tone whether I realized why I was pulled up. On my admittance that I knew, his tone changed to surprise as he asked why I did that. And when I replied that I am from India where we drive on the left side and that I was new to US, his tone changed to amusement when he replied that I could do that in India or even in UK but not in US. He told me that it was dangerous driving and it could have resulted in a head-on collision with a vehicle on the left lane that would not have expected me to enter that lane.

He took my licence and the registration/insurance of the car. He went back to his car and for the next 15 minutes was on his comp and cell, busy talking and keying away. I guess he was checking the information on the registration and licence. He came back, handed back the documents, showed me a slip which he said was not an acknowledgement of the mistake and wanted me to sign. I signed without reading as I wanted to get away as soon as I could. And the cop went his way.

My colleague, during the most part of our drive to San Francisco, admitted that he had done more mistakes in the first few months of driving in US (but he “did not get caught”!) and narrated incidents where he was caught, thinking it would make me feel better. But I felt miserable throughout the day and also the following few days, whenever I thought about it.

I received a notice by post after couple of weeks and had to go to the Court and pay a fine of $188. I also have agreed to take a driving class to avoid the points to get onto my licence.

Moral of the story – In US, right is right and 'left' is always wrong. Ask a Chinese or a Russian!

My Life's Jaunt So Far

My meaningless but eventful life has been a great roller coaster ride with very steep highs and very steep lows. Did I enjoy the ride? Till about 5-6 years ago, I think most of the time (even during some of the highs) I did not. But since then, I have started enjoying it and after my daughter was born 17 months ago, I love every moment of it.

I lived most of the first 17 years of my life in Ernakulam (or ‘Cochin’). The highs and lows of the ride were not very steep during those years. But life was not as placid as it was for most of my friends – it was action-packed with events like falling in love at an young age, stealing the question paper in class XI, organizing large-scale cultural and sports activities, dad becoming bankrupt, etc.

However the ride during the next 11 years was backbreaking with very steep highs and lows. Life really tested me with significant challenges during that period – derailment of my engineering education due to NDA admission which I eventually opted out, falling in love again, getting married, losing my mom, moving to five different places and working in six different firms (counting the two firms where I did my internship). Being highly sentient in nature, I developed both mental (stress, pressure, trauma) and physical (stess-related blood pressure, varicose veins, waist line expansion, lack of physical activities, etc) problems.

Life had stabilized in the past few years. But again, it has now reached a turning point with the US relocation. Is it for good or bad? Only time will tell.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gratitude Note

My sympathies lie with the kind souls who are willing (in most cases ‘emotionally blackmailed’) to read my ramblings in the form of blogs here.