Sunday, March 26, 2006

Laws of Successful Marriages...

1st Law: Law of Decision Making:

This is the most most most important law for a successful marriage. This would lay a strong foundation on which a solid marriage is built and also the other laws have been scripted. This law is fairly known and practiced all over by men; and has been found the most passed on advice from much-harried men to the man-on-the-threshold-of-marriage.

The law states thus: “Never, never let the women take important decisions. Important decisions are the domain of men. Women should only take very minor and unimportant decisions”. For example, the decision of what one’s country’s foreign policy should be, decision around the constitutional amendments, the composition of the nationals team, what should be the country’s fiscal budget is unequivocally the domain of men. Women of the household have no say in it – men decide it. However, all the unimportant decisions such as what should be the color of the blinds, what the furniture should look like, the paint colors should be that of women’s. Men typically should not worry about those.

2nd Law: Law of Financial Equality:

As they say a sound financial balance is bedrock of any relationship – be it business or personal. The same holds for a successful marriage. The financial income into the joint account should be men’s responsibility; whereas the financial outgo from the account is the responsibility of the women of the house. These two should be absolutely equal. Typically, the equation tends to change on the outgo; as the women do their part to raise the outgo, immediately, the men are expected to do their bit to raise the income and hence endeavoring to keep the equation balanced and restore financial equality. Men do contribute to the outgo, when they tend to gather around in a place, where a bunch of them meet to decide on important things and also that of newest toys that they could lay hands on. Most women also contribute to the income these days, which makes this law a bit more complicated to balance out; and hence the 3rd law.

3rd Law: Law of Quick Agreements:

We all know that one of the key ingredients of a marriage is “ours” thing. Most women would like to believe about the ours, whereas men are less likely to be so. So women really like to seek agreement on decisions so that they would believe that it was “our” decision. Men on the other hand really do not care much, as long as it does not come in the way of the few key and important things that are to them – like a good TV surfing session, a good wine and depending on the age (not really), gawking at other women. Given that, the best time for women to get an agreement is when the man is watching a cricket match intently – most preferable time would be when Tendulkar is on 99, facing Shoaib Akhtar. If that’s a rarity, choose such an alternate time, such as when 'Chaiya, Chaiya' song is on, on TV with the men admiring the scenic beauty of India North East. Men will agree to anything at such times.

For men, this is a bit tougher. Since they don’t have the decision making power in the unimportant things, he needs to plan (or scheme, depending on the point of view) a lot more to get an agreement. Few of the best bets is to do something that is ‘romantic’, which scale differs based on the agreement needed – the lowest on the scale would be coming home early from work and declare that you would be cooking today and set about and try and make something that is her favourite. In the middle of the scale would be flowers, with the cooking added; and on the high-end would be something precious, plus the flowers and plus the cooking. Once done, do not assume it is the time to pop the question to get the agreement; women’s mind is much sharper than that of men. You should repeat the above acts (or such similar) for a period of 2-3 months, before you would want to seek to ask the agreement-question. Which simply means that men can get women to agree about 4 times a year; whereas women can get men to agree when cricket is played, when there is an item number on the TV, when Roger Federer is in his sublime best… you get the drift, fairly any time they choose to.

4th Law: Law of Compromises:

Men tend to be loud from both the ends; through the day they really like to talk about all the important things and want to hold court with all their educated and well-read opinions on things that matter (refer to the 1st law). As the night falls, they tend to get vocally quiet from that end and noisy from the other end. Women should compromise and look at persevering through this as an occupational hazard instead of providing the man with an opportunity or excuse to ask questions around the unimportant things such as expenses etc.

Women, on the other hand, are extraordinarily quick at certain times when specific situation demands so. If men decide to go out on an impulse, the women can typically get ready in about half the time they usually take to get ready. For example, if the going out is for a movie, rest assured that the couple will get to the movie; it might not be the same show that the man had planned for, but most likely the same day. This is a worthwhile compromise for the man to make; as against having to shave twice while waiting for the wife to get ready or the movie actually gets moved out after its usual run in the theatres.

5th Law: Law of Control:

Men and women like control equally; particularly remotely. Women would like control. Period. So, during the early stages of marriages, when Men are away from home, women have this high need of what the men is upto, which is natural, given men’s interest spectrum. So it is typical for women to call in once in a while say nice things to the man and then casually slip in questions about her man’s whereabouts. Men during the earlier stage of marriage mistake it to be love. As we had proved earlier, men are smart, but women smarter. As men begin to realize it is not about love, it is several years into the marriage and the pattern has been habituated; and habits die hard. One can see such instances of men in watering holes, with their mobile phones ringing at exactly the time they enter the premises – it is as if women have GPS bug installed in the men; and the man speaking to the woman in the hushed tone and slowly developing a guilt; which in fact is yet another tool for women to get to quick agreements (refer to the 3rd Law)

Men too love control; specifically if its remote control, they would adore it. This is their one feeling of absolute control over everything they lord over – which is mostly the Television. If the attention of the men watching TV has to be got, then the first step would be to separate the remote from their hands. The men instantly go the phases of drug-withdrawal-like symptoms, some irrational behaviour and then settle down to listen, since that’s their only hope to get the remote back. The only time men feel threatened about the possession of remote control is when the son grows up and starts acquiring traits of regular man and gets into man’s territory; and fights for control of the remote. There are case-studies which shows, men have handled such usurpers with firmness much unlike the jungle rules; they have just go and buy the 2nd TV, so that they have their own ‘remote control’

The number of laws and the understanding of individual laws themselves are evolving and I’m sure there is lot more out there. I will keep this updated as I hear more.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Eye for an Eye for an Eye...

[This story was published on the Deccan Herald - the link is here:]

Rajendra Patel was nearing his destination; the train would reach where he wanted to go in about another twenty minutes. Rajendra felt strangely at peace; there was some stillness in his mind and his heart. He believed that he is actually coming to a logical conclusion and felt there was a closure in his life. He had been carrying a big cross for long and in tomorrow’s news paper he would see what he had lived for since that fateful 24th day of September 2002.

As Rajendra was looking out of his window seat, he saw the town sceneries go past; He saw a family in a scooter: man, his wife and their child. In his mind, it might as well be his wife of 6 years, Sonali, his 4year old child-son, Ankit and his would-have-been daughter, Ankita. Yes, it was, until that fateful day.

The distant past:

Rajendra was moderately successful businessman; he owned and ran a small chemicals factory, that supplied finished materials to various factories around Ahmedabad and Surat – his business was growing and he had found new customers in Mumbai. He had everything that he wanted; and when his son Ankit was born, he was over the moon and he doted over him. He had recently bought a nice house in a decent neighborhood and he had made friends across all faith. His joy was complete, when his wife announced to him that he would become a father all over again. His business was doing well and his family life was content and happy. He knew he has been blessed and his cup was full; until that fateful day.

It was Sonali’s wish that they pay a religious trip to the temple; thanking the lord for all the good things in their life. Rajendra had no heart to say no to her and he himself did not want to anger the Gods, whoever they were.

So on that day he had left his factory early, had asked Sonali’s brother, Suresh, to take care of things. The temple complex had some play-area and Sonali had wanted to go early so that Ankit can enjoy a bit more than just the prayers. It was around 4.30PM, had driven down to the temple with his family; and Ankit headed straight to the Tora-Tora area, with Sonali trying hard to keep up with Ankit. Rajendra left them there and sauntered off to the exhibition hall.

As he entered the hall, he glanced at his watch and it was around 4.45PM; he had wanted to quickly finish up and then go out for dinner. Then the hell broke loose; there was big commotion and he heard blasts outside and sound of what he had assumed to sound of crackers; then he saw two people running into the hall; it appeared completely incongruous to him and his keen mind immediately realized some thing was wrong and he wanted to rush back to where he left his family; but he just did not have time; he saw one of the men take out a gun and start shooting indiscriminately; a late middle aged woman ahead of him get shot and fall down bleeding; as she fell next to him, she grabbed his hand and pulled him along with her; perhaps that’s what saved him; Then he saw the two men run out of the exhibition hall towards the play-area; he desperately wanted to run ahead of them and ensure that no harm come to Sonali and Ankit; but the lady who had grabbed him was over him and had held to him tightly and there was no way he could have done it; in what appeared a short-time, he saw uniformed men come in and quickly and forcibly evacuate people who were alive and carry out the injured.

The next few hours and then days were a blur. He learned that both Sonali and Ankit never stood a chance when the grenade that lobbed went off just near them. He was thankful that they would have gone quickly. Once he heard about them, he had fervently wished that he was in the lady’s place and taken that bullet. He spent the few days in agony; and thought through several permutations on how he could have avoided the whole thing; he cried and anguished about various what ifs scenarios; what if Suresh had not turned up to relieve him that day ? What if he had not constantly reminded Suresh that he needed to be on time? What if he had stuck to the original plan of visiting the temple on the earlier Sunday, instead of choosing to snooze?

Over the next year or so, slowly, his anguish turned to anger and then to rage. He was also deeply disturbed on how the government and others went about; he being a sane man could see right through some of the designs of such guardians of public. He also saw similar events across the country and only found that they were being used for the politics of vote; having been one who has gone through, he felt felled by hopelessness. His sense of futility and from being someone who felt helpless, he metamorphized, inexorably, into a cold man; he had acquired something that was deep; both his parents, and in-laws just could not get through to him. Rajendra had become a complete recluse, not physically, but mentally. Rajendra’s conviction on what he needs to do strengthened, when he heard rumors around the terrorists and what they had done and who had protected them and helped them in their preparation – the preparation for the murder of his family – it added fire to his fury, that people who provided refuge and logistics to the terrorists were people who could have been part of his neighbourhood – and in his mind he blamed them for his irreparable loss; Rajendra was plotting revenge; he had sworn silently that his connections with God broke that day and he’d enter the temple of his favourite God – Bajrang Bali - only when the revenge was complete.

The recent Past:

It was nearly 3 years since he had lost his family – the first year was spent on grieving and being an automaton and going about his business; as his mental transformation happened, Rajendra had Suresh run the day-to-day business; and then the overall business itself. Suresh seemed very able and was growing his business steadily. Suresh was worried about Rajendra and had first refused to take care of the factory, so that it would force Rajendra come to work. He also had asked Rajendra to get married again – but every time, he was silently and very politely rebuffed in a way that Suresh did not feel any offence. Rajendra had told Suresh that he completely trusted Suresh to run the factory and he is going away on pilgrimages since he wanted some peace of mind. Rajendra used to disappear often from Ahmedabad and everyone would assume his visiting various temples. Reality was different; Rajendra was executing his plan: he had found dark corners in Mumbai, Lucknow and Bangalore where he could source raw materials for his plan. His chemical background was helpful and he was skilful in putting things together; he voraciously learned more about weapons of destruction – mass destruction in soft targets. Finally, he believed he found the perfect place where he can wreak maximum damage. He was also nearing in constructing his bomb. It costed him quite a bit, but he had so very well woven an intricate and well thought out story, Suresh had no idea that Rajendra was spending the money on it.

It was nearly six month since Rajendra had started execution of the project and it was now very close to fruition. He had found a mosque in a very crowded neighbourhood, which was just right – it was just right, since it had a very decrepit and a run-down, and barely surviving garage. The garage had a empty ground that was adjacent to the mosque; and nearer to the wall that separated the two property was a shell of an old car, with rust on it; the car shell was kind of planted into the ground; the years of decay through various seasons had rooted the shell and there was mound around it; in short it was a perfect place for Rajendra. His plan was almost done; he just needs to brush up some of his acting skills from his college days – a week later, he would have avenged the death of his family; its been more than 3 tortuous years; but it was worth waiting, in his mind. The fact that his plan would be executed in Bangalore, he was sure, would get it high attention and send out a message to everyone – ‘you mess in my neighbourhood, I mess in yours”

The Current Day:

It was two days ago, disguised as a drunken beggar, with scruffy and dirty clothes, with a garbage bag over his shoulders, Rajendra ambled into the garage compound and took refuge in the shell – presumably as a cover from rains – Rajendra assumed that Gods were in his favor: the unseasonal March showers in Bangalore came to his aid. The people around did not doubt his presence; it was common sight for them, perhaps. Over the night, he had expertly assembled the bomb, timed it to go in two days time; he then had ambled out of the place; later he was taking a train out of Bangalore.

Rajendra was jolted to the present; his train had stopped in the station. He checked his watch; it was close to 4PM. His revenge would be complete – the bomb would go off around 8.00PM today, the time when the crowd would be most dense; and the notice had also said the local community leader was to address a gathering in the ground of mosque. He was thousand miles away and he would read it in papers tomorrow

Rajendra was making good of his promise now; since his revenge would be complete, he was on his way to pay his thanks to the Gods – the one he had spurned over the past three years, but now its time for thanksgiving. Rajendra alighted the train, headed straight to one of the lodges that dotted the railway station area; he freshened himself up – asked the lodge help, Rehman, to get him some food and coffee. Having eaten, Rajendra headed straight to the temple.

At the temple he prayed fervently and thanked the God; he chose a silent spot and sat down to think – he strangely felt no elation and felt extremely empty. He felt cathartic inside the temple and tears started streaming down. For the first time, he seemed to doubt if his chosen path was the right one. He grieved again for his wife, his son and their unborn child. Along with them, he grieved for the lady who saved his life without her knowledge; and for her family, who lost a mother, wife and a daughter; and for hundred other such senseless losses. Amidst the stream of tears, he saw the face of the vagabond child in Bangalore who was around the mosque in Bangalore – he saw that face morph into the face of his son – that jolted him; he just wanted to get away from the temple now.

Rajendra Patel, completely confused of what he should be doing, stumbled out of the Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple in Varanasi at 6.15PM on 7th March 2006. 30 minutes later he heard about the bomb-blasts in the temple and railway station, killing the innocent people at both places. As he got out of his room, he found Rahman rushing off towards the station, taking some blankets, whatever supplies he could lay hand on, to help the injured.

Rajendra Patel knew he was given a second life by the Gods; he just needed to decide how he needs to use; after a brief thought, Rajendra left the lodge looking for a specific place, so that he can heed his calling.

Epilogue - Timeline:

24th day of September 2002: This was the day when two terrorist attacked Akshardam Complex near Ahmedabad and killed more than 50 people

7th March 2006 6.30PM: Two serial blasts rocks Varanasi killing more than 20 people

7th March 2006 7.50PM: Bomb disposal squad in Bangalore defuse a bomb in a garage in Bangalore adjacent to a mosque, based on anonymous tip received via a long distance phone call an hour earlier. It was believed that if the bombs had gone off, it would done considerable damage; and created widespread conflagrations across the country.

The Neo Barberians

Do you ever have this feeling that things around you are ever so slightly changing, slowly, innocuously, but suddenly one day you have ended up in a situation that is completely different; and you wake up and feel like you have been Ripped-Van-Winkled ?

I had one such experience a week ago. I had decided that I will have a hair-cut and as usual, paid a visit to the friendly neighborhood barber shop. My usual visit time is early mornings on a week day or later afternoon on weekends when his load is not at his peak. This time, however, I chose to go on a Saturday at 6PM – it was quite obvious to me that this was his ‘prime-time’ and he was running at his full capacity – all the three of them were busy with customers and there were two others waiting ahead of me. I too decided to wait.

…I wait; for the first time, I really look around the “shop”. There are lot more variety in magazines and news papers, than I could recall, with couple of English papers; also scattered around are must-in-every-barber-shop-two-months-old filmfare. I see he had upgraded his black and white TV to a color TV; a post-cricket match analysis was on. I watched that for a while; when those guys ‘returned to the studios’, after a bit of channel surfing, he settled for a music channel playing Hindi songs, where the VJ, with an accent, was trying to advise listeners on the ills of not having a steady ‘significant other’. I picked up a magazine and was trying to find out why King Khan felt he is not the numero uno in Bollywood, when my turn for the chair came. In response to the question from Barber #3, I told him I wanted a summer cut and settled down. Then something else caught my eye; in the chair farthest from me, barber #1 who had just finished a hair-cut, started applying some white solution on his customers face; Apparently, the customer was getting a facial. Through my hair-cut (I should call it styling; perhaps), I watched with fascination the whole process of facial – on the reflection, of course. B #3 was finishing up on the left side; then one of the phones rang; just like in the Airtel advertisement, each one of us reached for our mobile; and just like in the Airtel ad, all of us were left with sheepish grins, when the B#3 walked across to pick up his phone – a land line. He talked on the phone for a while, leaving me waiting.

In the meantime, in the adjacent chair, Barber #2 had finished the hair-cut and had gone on to the next one – it was not the usual shave – but apparently a “head massage”. He applied loads of oil on his customers head and went on to massage it, rub it, beat it, knock it in turns… it was a riveting sight to watch; I was amazed at the repertoire of services offered here; my barber returns from his call and proceeds on to finish; he asks me if I need a head or face massage, facial, shave … I reply in negative; for two reasons: I still need time to adjust and get used to this new era of hair-styling and men-makeovers; secondly, for a guy who used to go with 20 bucks to have hair-cut and then have a dosa at the nearby darshini, I’m not carrying enough corpus to buy any of the new services…

As I pay and exit, I ask for his phone number and store it in my mobile. Maybe the next time, I will have to make an appointment and actually carry my purse: I may choose to have a “make-over” than a simple summer crew-cut; got to change with the times.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


[This story was published in Sunday Deccan Herald under the title (linked) "Train to enlightment" ]

I was late. I had exactly about 30minutes to reach the Bangalore Cantonment station. My office was close to the Frazer town and somehow (and perhaps stupidly) I had assumed that Brindavan express would stop in Bangalore East, that was 5 minutes away. I worked in a small software company, along with 12 other guys that had a small office in Frazer town. We were all working on the next big thing that will give us a lot of fame and money; atleast that’s the dream that was dominating all of our waking time. We were working crazy hours – that typifies a start-up and set of people who are dreaming about the big pot-of-riches at the end of the IPO. I would steal hours wherever possible to get some work done. I travel to Chennai quite often, as a means to assuage my parents – they have this worry about me that I do not spend enough time with anyone other than work and still remain a bachelor, considering I will be 30 this coming Nov. Given the work pressure, I end up spending most of the time working even when I’m in Chennai; it was also perhaps my way of sub-consciously avoiding the topic that my parents always want to talk about.

I took by overnight tote-bag and packed my laptop and essentials into the tote-bag stuffed with clothes, came out of one of the rooms in the house (that was converted into an office) called out for my colleague, Rajeev, who had agreed to drop me at the station. Thanks to his skilful driving, I was at Cantonment station at designated platform just around the same time; I heard the horn of the engine coming into the distance. I got in along with the crowd that pushed me in, found my seat, which unfortunately was the middle-seat and settled down. I found that I had an old man about 65 already ready to doze off on my left at the window seat; and at the aisle seat another man about 40, very serious reading a book and not really interested in having a conversation. It suited me; I can complete the presentation I need to complete to meet a potential customer next Tuesday.

As the train started rolling out and picking up speed and once the din has settled down, I took out the laptop and the battery pack and began to work. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the old man’s interest peak up suddenly and was kind of craning to see as to what I was doing. I tried to ignore him to get on with the work. Supposedly, his patience ran out, he touched my forearm and asked,

“Nice computer, how much does it usually cost?”
“Its about a lakh”, I responded, perhaps tersely, so that I could get back to what I was doing
“That’s a lot, is it worthwhile?”
“Yes, I guess. Atleast it helps me to continue on my work, even when I travel”. I was hoping he would get the hint.
“I suppose so. I have a PC at home in Chennai”, he said.
He added, as an afterthought, “My son in the US had bought that for me”

I smiled and turned back to work.

After a brief silence, he asked, “Are you working in Bangalore or Chennai” ?
Bangalore”, really trying to come across as terse as possible.
“My son is working in San Jose, in California. He is also in the computer line”.

I remained silent, with the fading hope that the conversation would stop; I wished I could have swapped my place with reader on my right.

“Oh, by the way, he should be your age; he passed out from IIT-Chennai in 1994; Computer Science. Where did you study?”
I lost hope of getting back to work, “Guindy”
“Why, did you not get IIT?”

The conversation went on, on what seemed forever. I lost hope and closed my laptop. If I were to be in the middle of the conversation, I wished I had gotten a seat next to that 25ish year old, good looking women two rows behind me. Hopefully, the old-man will run out of steam after the barrage and if I could answer all of them to his satisfaction.

Within the next 15-20 minutes, I had the complete life history of Mr.Vaidyanathan and his family. Mr. Vaidyanathan is retired from Railways (hence he travels in AC chair car). He has been a widower for the past 5 years. His son (name is Keerthivasan) has been in the US for the past 8 years in California. ‘Keerthi’ has worked in various companies (“They all are after him”, he had declared very proudly), had made some money during the late 1990s (“around the same time his mother died”) and has now settled down in a big company. He has bought a house in the US, and his children are beginning to go to school. His daughter, who is married to another IIT-graduate, is in the other coast in the US. Mrs. Vaidyanathan after a very brief illness had passed away in 1999.

As I was being fed with the life-history of Mr.Vaidyanathan, the catering staff had started selling eats in the train. The cutlet looked quite tasty (and now I can understand why Rajeev prefers traveling AC chair car – it meets his taste and interests). I had asked for one plate and asked the old man if he’d have one too. He did, but insisted that he pay for his own.

As we dug into the cutlet, he continued the conversation,

“What do you work on? And why is that you are not interested to go in the US? I assume for people from Guindy also get some opportunities”.

I started enthusiastically about what we do, then saw distinct lack of interest and gave the reason as to why I did not work in the US like his son. I could see that he thought my excuse was pretty lame and it was just that I could not land a job in the US.

“Where do you stay in Chennai?” I told him.

After asking more about it, he declared that he stays in Besant Nagar. “Keerthi had bought the flat for me. It has all the amenities, including park for me to walk on. He has even arranged for a cook that comes in and cooks every day”. He then went on to say more about the good things his son had provided for him and comparing as to why only the brightest and best go to the US and rest of the undeserving few, like us, have to stay back…

He was getting to me. I found the old man not only vain bordering on arrogant ignorance, he was also keeping me away from my work.

I focused on my cutlet and finished it; the old man had already finished it and something outside had caught his attention. The reader had disappeared and the seat next to me was vacant. I had decided in my mind, that in the next few minutes, after dumping my used paper-plate, I will come back and clearly tell the old man that I have some work to finish and hence I cannot carry on with the conversation.

I got up, took my paper plate and asked the old man, if he had finished. He nodded. Wanting to optimize, so that I don’t have to get up once again when he wants to dispose his plates, I picked up his plate, went towards the toilets, dumped the plates in the bin (or what seemed to be one), and washed my hands. Dreading to go back, I stood near the door for a while, looking at the scenery, as train was about an hour away from Jolarpet.

10 minutes later, I returned to the seat; the reader was back and so was the old-man. The reader was back into his reading. As I eased into my seat, I found the old man lost in thought and face turned away. Perhaps he wants to doze, lucky me, I thought. I took out my laptop and opened it with a prayer that I am left alone…

Damnit, I thought; the old man touched my left forearm again, and tentatively called “Mr.Karthik”. Impatiently, I turned to look at him. What I saw was different, the old-man seemed completely subdued, completely devoid of bravado and I could have sworn that there were tears in his eyes.

He said, “What you did was very very touching, not many people do that”.
I was not sure what he was pointing out, but mumbled, “I did nothing”.
“No, no, not many people really do this – you cleared my soiled plate. These days even paid servants don’t do these. The last time someone did that to me was when my wife was alive. Mr. Karthik, you know, to the outside world, it looked like everything has been taken care of. There is one thing that never gets taken care of…”, he trailed off.

Realization struck me. I closed my lap-top; put it back in the tote-bag. Mr. Vaidyanathan no longer appeared to me as a proud and vain human being – just an extremely lonely old man. Perhaps I should give him something that he misses very badly, some companionship, atleast for the next two hours.

My IPO-riches can sure wait another 2 hours, perhaps another 2 days as I spend the weekend with my own parents...