Sunday, December 26, 2004

Oops, Santa didnt get outta the way quick enough!

Hehehehe, I absolutely LOVED this photo! It makes the PERFECT ending to Christmas! Not that I had a bad Christmas - got LOTSA gifts, gave even more gifts, ate a lotta good food (minus the turkey), and threw a snowball at Pete. Yes, A snowball. One. Singular. That's because it never snows more than that in Shrewsbury! It very nearly wasnt a white Christmas here, in spite of the weather forecast (lotsa snow, they said). But around 9pm, when I looked out of the window, it had snowed quietly and whitely, enough to cover the ground in a thin layer. And there was enough snow on the car bonnet and roof for me to gather it up and make a snowball to throw at Pete. I didnt miss - but he made a bigger, better snowball... and he didnt miss either. Didnt love the snow quite so much when it got down my sweater, so I went back inside the nice warm house and looked out at the snow in the moonlight. Nice!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Ant-eresting questions...

Ok, I'll say it before y'all do - that was a (very) laboured pun! But still a fun pun, made only because this post is about ants. BuggieYep, those pesky little insects that are so common in tropical countries (or when the weather is hot). What caught my interest in the first place was this piece of trivia: The ant can lift 50 times its own weight, can pull 30 times its own weight and always falls over on its right side when intoxicated.

Stretch a point, and I can visualise how some enterprising insect-specialist (what are they called?) must have weighed an ant on microscopic scales, then loaded it with increasing amounts of some minuscule material until it (the ant, not the material) collapsed. Thus arriving at the conclusion that an average ant can carry 50 times its own weight.

Then, to test its pulling abilities, the specialist probably harnessed the ant (same one? different one? who knows!) to a micro-cart and kept loading it with ant-sized material until it (the ant, not the material) couldnt move any further. Thereby, yet again, arriving at the conclusion that the average ant can pull 30 times its own weight.

With me so far? That was a reasonable exercise in imagination, wasnt it?

But getting an ant intoxicated - that boggled my imagination rather. Ok, so it always falls over on its right side when it's intoxicated. That's just the bare fact. There is so much more that has been left out, things we dont know about intoxicating and intoxicated ants. How DOES one get an ant intoxicated? On what? How much of whatever liquor does it take? Does it prefer beer to spirits? What sort of a glass does it use? Does it prefer a straw? How does one keep an ant merely (and possibly merrily) intoxicated without it going over into the blind raving drunk zone? Would the ant prefer a bar or a pub, or would it be pleased to spend Happy Hour in a lab, in a spirit of scientific endeavour?

So many details, so few facts!

PS. Just remembered what insect-specialists are called - entomologists! There, that's one fact to start with. Orange Mix

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Advertisements - lies couched in hyperbole wrapped in statistics

Ah, the joys of Christmas... the season of lies, lies and more lies. This is the time in the UK that spawns an extraordinary number of advertisements that are 100% more nauseating than at any other time in the year. You get to see ads at Christmas time (or during the 30-45 day build-up to The Day) that never get aired at other times - and I cant tell you how thankful I am for that! Now if only they'd stop showing them at Christmas as well...

All advertisements, if you ask me, are a crock of lies. Some more than others. I mean the ones that use picture-perfect, stick-thin, flawless models to advertise skin cosmetics, hair-care products and perfume - those are especially blatant in their claims and/or dim-witted in concept and execution.

I dont actually MIND watching someone like Natalie Imbruglia (an Australian pop-star and actress) sing the praises of some wrinkle de-creaser on TV - she's flawlessly lovely. Or Claudia Schiffer, for that matter, telling the world that she would have lifeless blond hair if she didnt use a certain conditioner. Or Andie McDowell coming out coyly with the information that she covers up ALL the grey in her hair by the regular use of a home hair colouring agent.

But to imply that Natalie would have wrinkles if she didnt use Product A, or Claudia would have crunchy dry hair if she didnt use Product B... well, how stupid are we common, wrinkled, crunchy-haired people supposed to BE? Could you imagine, for even ONE moment, that a model as rich and famous as Claudia Schiffer would suffer even ONE strand of dry hair on her head? Ha! She probably has a whole beauty salon worth of minions just to look after her crowning glory! And as for Andie - of course she colours her hair at home herself. Could there be any other possibility for a famous movie star???

What I hate about "real" advertisements featuring "regular" women is that they LIE! Blatantly, openly and obviously lie while trying to make out that they're speaking gospel truth. And what's worse, they use dubious statistics to back it all up. For instance: "89% of women who used our de-wrinkler agreed that their wrinkles improved after 6 weeks". Very impressive - until you read the small print which says that a total of 50 women were surveyed. Yep, that certainly represents the majority of women in the country!

And perfumes... perfume adverts mostly lie low for most of the year. But at the moment, there are about a dozen adverts for perfume on TV, and ALL of them drive me crazy. My favourite blood-pressure-raiser has a sylph-like creature, clad in a minimal pink floaty dress, leaping dreamily up trying to catch pink balloons in a particularly dim-witted manner... if you saw anybody do that in reality, I guarantee you'd make an emergency call to the nearest loony shelter.

I DO like some ads - humorous ones, for example, are always welcome. Those that are NOT based on reality, those that rely on exaggeration for emphasis are cool. Since nobody who watches television can escape advertisements, at the very least, the ads should be watchable. I like ads that are totally deviant from reality - at least nobody's pretending to be telling the truth, and everybody has a good time. Watchers included. Especially me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Just FYI, for those who own credit cards!

I asked my friend, who works for HSBC, about credit card fraud, customer responsibility, bank liability, etc, and here's what he had to say. (I'm giving it verbatim from his email... I'm not about to take any chances with 'kolarufying' any explanation I might try on my own! Goofy)

So here goes:
"In terms of fraud transactions, yes you are always safe/covered, because the moment you dispute the transaction the onus is always on the other party (i.e. in this case the acquiring bank - the one who collects the transaction from the merchant - and in turn the merchant to prove that you actually carried out the transaction) to prove that it is genuine. Only hassle is your bank (called the issuing bank in tech jargon) may reissue you with a new piece of plastic to avoid further misuse of your old which in turn is a hassle since you have to change card numbers, pins, wait for the period before you get a new one, monitor your statements for a while carefully etc.

Oh and this is the same doesnt matter whether you are in India or the UK.

About the lost card, you are right that the liability shift kicks in the moment you report the loss to the bank. ( Shift from you to the bank i.e.) Until then you are responsible, its no different from someone misusing a signed cheque due to your negligence. Obviously with a card there are more measures like fraud prevention,many security measures to mitigate this risk.

Also, most banks offer insurance as part of their vanilla product. This will help you to cover fraud transactions (on a lost/stolen card) to a certain amount. But these days, most banks make you pay separately for this (Just like care and mortgage insurances) and the terms & conditions of what is/isnt covered are in the very fine print!!!!

And that's how it is... I guess reading the very fine print is always a good idea!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Blogging rules!

Why is it that when something is new(ish) and fun and provides an unrestricted, entertaining outlet for reader and writer alike, somebody, somewhere, has to come up with "tips" that - no matter how well-meant - immediately constrict and restrict that freedom?

I'm talking about an article by one
Priya Shah that I reached by following a link from another blog (and it has some nice pics, this blog!). I've nothing against the style of the article, it's well-written and to-the-point. It's just some of the contents to which I object.

For starters, Ms Shah says: "Opinions are fine, but unless you're the CEO of Microsoft, very few people will want to know what you ate for breakfast." I beg to differ on that. The normal everyday events of some stranger's life CAN be interesting, even riveting, as long as that stranger can write in such a way as to engage your interest. Humour works for me, as it probably does for a lot of people. I'm perfectly happy to read about things, places, people and events that are of no relevance to me, if it's written in an amusing, casual style. I'm sure it would be the same for others too.

The next line is: "If you started your blog to air your raves and rants about the latest movie you saw, better mention movies in at least every post you write." Whoa! I dont THINK so! Not unless the blog was meant for movie reviews only, and nothing else. Imagine someone whose first post was about a movie, being forced to think up ways to mention movies in EVERY post thereafter even if the topics were as varied as Bill Gates' super-duper mansion or George Bush's latest verbal faux pas!

The whole point about starting a blog is the sheer freedom of being able to do so, and write about anything you want, however you want, as much as you want and NOT FOLLOW A SINGLE RULE OF GRAMMAR - if, of course, that's what you want. To be fair, I wouldnt recommend incomprehensibility because it would put readers off. But if you dont care about readers, BE incomprehensible! It's your right as a blogger.

Ms Shah then says: "The worst sin you can commit is to bore your readers." Ah, but if one were to worry about boring potential readers, nobody would write at all! There's bound to be somebody who objects to your writing, somebody who thinks it's a waste of time, somebody who finds it boring. The plus side is that it's equally likely that you'll find some fans. Still, there's no way of pleasing everybody all the time, or everybody some of the time, or even anybody sometimes! So the best thing to do is please yourself. Which, if you ask me, IS the point of a personal blog. It's the one place where you do not face restrictions from editors, reporters, ad people, column space or any of the zillion other things that affect media writers in their official capacity.

And finally: "If you think you can meet the requirements above, and know your why, then like the shoe people say - just do it." And if you cant, what then? You dont deserve to have a blog at all? I dont think so! I say (like the aforementioned shoe people): Just do it anyway.
Blogs are for the freedom to write for the heck of it, for the joy of it, to express personal opinions and views, to share feelings and emotions, comment on everyday happenings or world-changing events - and not worry once about censorship, readership, penmanship or, for that matter, the time and space continuum. Blogging rules are unnecessary... and that is why blogging rules!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Slugger Santas

The idea was to set a world record for the most number of Santas in one place, to raise money for charity. What it nearly ended up as was a world record for the most number of Santas involved in a street brawl! It would be depressing if it wasnt amusing (or should that be the other way around?).

About 4000 Santas took part in a charity run in a place called Newtown, in Wales. It appeared that the race was run in correct festive cheer, but Christmas goodwill disappeared at some point a few hours later... perhaps because festive spirits were drowned in alcoholic spirits. Police had to use teargas and batons on the brawling Santas to break up the fight.

I cant help wondering about the effect this would've had on the children of Newtown, though... first of all, the shock of seeing thousands of Santas where they would've expected only one. All the stories about Santa Claus only mention ONE of him, right?

And to top that off, the trauma of seeing the Santas fighting... fertile ground for a future rise in the number of adults who will require intensive counselling because of their suppressed childhood memories of watching Santas slugging away at each other. (Phew, what a mouthful!) Heh heh.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Art as mathematics (or mathematics as art)

Maths is not, never has been, and never will be my favourite subject. But occasionally, some things in that exalted realm catch my attention because they are so weird, and therefore interesting. The nuts-and-bolts of mathematics dont interest me, but the innovative use of mathematical properties... well, that is definitely something to bother about.

One such facet of mathematics is topology, and it appeals to me mainly because of the Mobius strip, about which I learnt when I was fairly young (but old enough to hate maths!). The Mobius strop is basically a strip of paper that has only one side and one edge despite pretending to have two of both. I made it once, under instructions from my father, who challenged me to paint it in two colours. I couldnt believe it didnt have two sides. Doesnt EVERYTHING have at least two sides? Nope. Not the Mobius strip. Yet I couldnt believe it even after I found out that it had only one side.

This brilliant, inexplicable (ok, perhaps it's explicable, to coin a word, but I still find it unbelievable) phenomenon stayed in my mind - although it didnt bring me any closer to loving mathematics. So I was really pleased to come across a site that not only explains topology but has the fantastic drawings of Mauritz Cornelius Escher. I believe mathematicians in the 1950s were greatly impressed with M C Escher because his astonishing drawings visualised and made original use of mathematical properties. Actually, Escher has plenty of modern admirers as well, who have followed in his footsteps and created their own weird drawings (but possibly with the help of computers, I dunno).

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Christmas cheer

Looks like Madame Tussaud's, the famous waxworks museum, has got into the spirit of the Christmas season. The news is that they have re-created the Nativity scene (birth of Jesus) with some of their more famous waxwork models.

So, Joseph and Mary are "played" by David and Victoria Beckham (!) and Kylie Minogue is the Guardian Angel hovering above. The three shepherds are represented by Samuel L Jackson, Hugh Grant and Graham Norton (a very flamboyantly gay chat show presenter from Ireland). All absurd enough.

But when I got to Madame Tussaud's representation of the Three Wise Men, I cracked up... whoever thought up the idea either has a very lively sense of irony, or else is totally cuckoo. I prefer to think the former. Wanna know why? Because the Three Wise Men are - wait for it - Tony Blair (!), Prince Philip (!) and George W Bush (!!!)! Rolly 2

One other thing, I dont think the Baby Jesus is represented by a waxwork of anybody real, maybe because there isnt any wax model of a famous baby...

The Nativity Scene, as recreated by Madame Tussaud's in London (photo courtesy The Age)
(From left: Samuel L Jackson, Hugh Grant, Graham Norton (the three shepherds); David Beckham (Joseph), Victoria Beckham (Mary); Tony Blair, Prince Philip, George W Bush (the Three Wise Men). Above: Kylie Minogue (the Guardian Angel). Below: Unknown (Baby Jesus).

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Permission to go to war, SIR!

I came across a PTI news report in The Times of India dated Dec 1, which set me thinking. The report said that a high-ranking international UN panel has recommended that the approval of the United Nations Security Council is required before any country (I assume member-country) can make a "pre-emptive" or "preventive" attack on another country. The panel is of the opinion that violence against civilians cannot be justified by arguments that basically dismiss civilian deaths as "collateral damage" or "in a good cause" during a war of liberation.

All very well and good, but there are a couple of things to note... One, the panel did not debate the legality of the US coalition attack on Iraq ("it's a forward looking report", apparently). Never mind that the violence still isnt over in Iraq and the coalition forces havent yet left, so the issue cannot be dismissed with the explanation that it's history. It isnt. It's still happening. End result - once again the USA gets away with its atrocities.

Two, there's still a loophole - "humanitarian intervention", the panel says, is justified where a state is unable or unwilling to stop genocide, ethnic cleansing or violation of humanitarian laws. But isnt that what the attack on Iraq was toted to be? The US-led coalition didnt attack just because of the dubious - and tenuous - "link" between Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and 911, right? They attacked because they couldnt stand by any more while Saddam continued his "ethnic cleansing". Right? Awww, the whole war was because the USA was upholding humanitarian principles. Well, with this loophole, it can continue doing so.

The right to choose death

If ever I'm so ill that I'm completely dependent on the kindness of other people or machines to do the simplest things, like breathing, I hope to be able to go to Switzerland, to a charity called Dignitas. That is one place where I'll be able to die with dignity, without inflicting suffering on myself or others. Morbid, perhaps, but the thought of living as a vegetable - and worse, a vegetable in pain - is infinitely more frightening than the oblivion which is brought on of MY choosing. As it is, death is not something I'm afraid of, except for the side effect it has of bringing grief to friends and family.

Dignitas was formed in 1998, and has so far helped nearly 150 people to die. Its motto is "Live with dignity, die with dignity" - a reassuringly practical and understanding outlook on life, as far as I'm concerned. I do not agree with people who think that euthanasia is murder. If someone who is in great pain that cannot be alleviated, or is suffering from a degenerative disease that will inevitably lead to total dependency, for instance, wants to die while they're still in control of their mind, if not their body - well, I think their wish should be carried out. If dogs can eased into death because of a terminal, incurable, painful disease, why cannot the same humane facility be afforded to human beings, who actually have a voice with which to convey their decision about their own future, who have the right to decide if they want to live or not? If it's acceptable for people to have control of their life, it should be acceptable for them to have control of their death, too.

Swiss law has what could be considered a loophole - the gist of it is that assisted death is not a crime as long as the person who did the assisting is not motivated by self-interest and does not personally profit from the death. That is why Dignitas is a charity. Its staff are all volunteers, specialists who ensure that there is no conflict of interest. I consider it a social service that they are doing, despite some opposition from a few Swiss who feel that their country might become a destination for people looking to die.

Actually I think that all countries should offer this option to their citizens, exactly as Dignitas is doing. If the UK had such a law in place, people wouldnt need to travel to Switzerland in search of a permanent solution to their agony. Still, a landmark decision has been made by a High Court Family Division judge here, in a case where a man was banned from taking his terminally-ill and physically incapacitated wife to Switzerland for an assisted suicide. Mr Justice Hedley ruled that it was up to the police to do what they thought best in the circumstances and it was not for a court to decide. The woman in question died last Wednesday in Zurich, so it's pretty clear that the police decided not to prevent them from travelling.

However, her husband could still face police charges here in the UK, because while suicide itself is legal, assisting a suicide is a crime. But, like I said, with some luck that might soon change, because the Assisted Dying Bill is in discussion in the House of Lords. I'm hoping they pass the Bill.

Because if I ever come to a situation where death would be preferable to life, I would hope to go gentle into that good night, instead of raging against the dying of the light. Dylan Thomas, you were wrong.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Recipe for creme caramel, by popular request

Well, there were at least two! I'm not proud, even ONE request would have had me scrambling for the recipe in my jumble. (Yes, jumble. It's not a folder, it's not a file, it's not a book. It's just a random collection of pieces of paper with sometimes handwritten and sometimes printed recipes.) In politically-correctspeak, I guess the description would be "differently organised".

Anyway, on with the show, as it were...



2 cups milk (about 500 ml/half-litre)
3 eggs
1-1/2 cups sugar (24 tablespoons!)
1 tsp vanilla essence/2 tbsp rosewater/1/2 tsp cardamom powder (choose one, not all)
2 tbsp sugar for caramel


1. Beat/cream egg and sugar till light and creamy.

2. Add milk in a thin stream while stirring continuously, until it's all mixed in.

3. Cook over a double boiler on a low flame, until the mixture begins to thicken. Keep stirring often. This should take about 10-12 minutes, I guess.

4. Once it's fairly thick, take it off the flame and set aside.

To caramelise the sugar, place it along with 2 tbsp water in the custard mould (preferably a stainless steel vessel, or something that can be placed directly on the flame.) Let it cook over a low flame, swirling it occasionally, until the sugar melts and becomes a beautiful golden brown. Swirl the caramel so that it coats the bottom AND sides of the mould, take it off the flame and let it harden for 5-10 minutes.

Now add whatever essence you are using to the egg mixture and stir it in. Pour the mixture into the mould. You can cover it with aluminium foil, in which a few small holes have been made, so that the steam can escape.

Steam in a pressure cooker (without the weight) for 20 minutes. Let the custard cool completely in the pressure cooker (this is important). Then remove the foil and put the mould in the fridge to cool for a few hours, or overnight (this is important too). Unmould the creme caramel carefully in a serving dish. If the custard hasnt pulled away from the sides of the mould, insert a thin knife (or spatula) around the edge and loosen gently before unmoulding.

(To unmould, I put a serving dish over the mould and quickly turn it upside down... it usually works! If it doesnt, it still tastes good even if it looks like.... um, I wont say what it looks like, I'm sure you'll come up with your own imagery! But it WILL taste gooooooooood.)

Chef 2
PS. If you dont have a double-boiler, do this: Half-fill a big vessel with hot water, and cook the egg mixture in another, smaller vessel which is placed in the big one. The idea is that the mixture cooks in the heat from the boiling water, instead of directly on the flame. I prefer to hold the smaller vessel with a potholder to ensure that it doesnt even touch the bottom of the big one.

Update on UK law

Well, looks like somebody is at last realising that UK laws are skewed in favour of housebreakers rather than the householder. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens, the UK's most senior police officer, has said that householders should be able to use whatever force is necessary to defend themselves against intruders, even if it means killing them. And about time, too, if you ask me!

Apparently, a householder who defends his/her home and family should only be prosecuted only in "extreme circumstances" (like if there's an armed burglar in the house?) and if it can be proved that they used "gratuitous violence" (like armed burglars do?). Well, at least somebody in authority has actually SAID it, which I guess is a step in the right direction.

Said Sir John in The Daily Telegraph: "My own view is that people should be allowed to use what force is necessary and that they should be allowed to do so without any risk of prosecution."

Very commendable of Sir John, I'm sure... but why couldnt he have said this - AND done something about implementing it - earlier in his tenure instead of a month or so before he retires? Yep, that's right - he retires in February 2005. Evidently that's why he has suddenly discovered the gaping hole in the law... because now it will be up to his successor to actually do something about it.

I know, I KNOW... it's a really cynical attitude (and I'm talking about me, not Sir John) but politicians anywhere raise my hackles, I'm afraid.

Can it be true?

Are the radical language-chauvinists in Karnataka's film industry actually serious about banning new movies that arent in their language and made in their State? Can the Kannada film industry actually carry out such a moratorium? I take it this means that Hindi, Tamil and English movies are all "banned". Is it true that in Bangalore the police are frisking movie-goers who want to see Veer-Zaara to make sure that nobody is carrying weapons? I'm appalled!

I read in the BBC that the film industry thinks the moratorium is justified because of dwindling audiences and huge losses. Well, all I can tell those sad losers in the Kannada movie business is that the answer to that is to improve the movies THEY make, instead of banning other, better, movies in other languages! If people watch Kannada movies only by virtue of the fact that there isnt anything else to see, what sort of improvement will THAT be? This is the point where all those "ships" sail in - censorship, dictatorship, etc. Besides, I'm pretty sure that the local Kannadigas will rise up against this ridiculous ban after a while... wouldnt it get boring to be able to see only Kannada movies on the big screen?

However, I cant help wondering if this radical step is just another in the running feud between Kannadigas and Tamils. It's such a shame that there seems to be so much intolerance of Tamils. (I can understand if they target the autorickshaw drivers from Tamil Nadu who are plying their extortionate trade in Bangalore - they're making it nearly as bad as Chennai!)

But I dont understand the fear of Kannadigas that they will become a minority in their own State. So what? Are they afraid that Tamil Nadu has plans to annex Karnataka or something? As if, once Tamils are officially greater in number, Tamil will become the official language and Kannada will be forgotten. Protecting a language is all very well, but it has to be done in a proactive manner. Banning other languages isnt the way to do it, just as banning other-language movies isnt the way to promote Kannada movies. Well, it's certainly not the sensible way.

Besides, if it's that easy for a language to become defunct, then perhaps it deserves to go the way of the dinosaurs. If a language cant change with the times, cant adapt, that's all it deserves. This applies to the Tamil language as well, and language chauvinists from Tamil Nadu. What's the point having signs and bus destinations and road names in Tamil only, or Kannada only? If multinationals are to be lured here, with their attendant jobs and investment and prosperity, the way to do it isnt to ban English! That is a huge step backward - not only that, it practically guarantees isolation.

Besides, isnt it mostly those who havent had an education in the English medium who are the most vocal supporters of language chauvinism? If they cant come up, they'll bring it all down to their level. These ridiculous, short-sighted radicals are poisoning the very waters in which they live.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Cool optical illusions

Something to divert your attention, if it doesnt give you a headache first (but if you get a headache, can you consider that as attention diverted?)

Buns and beef

Nope, this isnt a girl's take on that eternal male favourite, Baywatch. Cant stand that Hasselhof person, anyway :) This is just a beef I have about something that, strictly speaking, is absolutely none of my business at all whatsoever (note all the extra emphasis). But what's a blog for, if not to beef about things that stick in my craw? :)

You'd think that Americans would be more careful about eating what's offered in their restaurants, and that the restaurants would be more careful about what they offer their customers. Especially considering that America is the fattest nation in the world. Or rather, it has the most number of not just fat, but morbidly obese, people in the world. Seems like the Americans take their claim really seriously. What claim, you ask? The one where they say that the US has the biggest and best of everything. I'll go with "biggest", but unfortunately "biggest" isnt necessarily, or always, the best.

Wondering what my beef is about? Well, it's about THEIR beef - the bovine variety, that is. I'm not complaining about the culinary skills involved in cooking it or the finished product (I'm vegetarian and prefer to stay that way). I'm just trying to understand why they have to offer half a cow's worth of meat in ONE burger!

Imagine eating something that has 1400 calories and would lard you up with over 100 grams of fat. This is just ONE burger. If you're vegetarian, I suggest you dont imagine EATING the burger... just imagine the burger itself: Two one-third-pound (totalling about 1/4 kilo) beef patties, four strips of bacon, three slices of cheese, topped with mayonnaise on a buttered sesame seed bun.

And the restaurant chain that offers this gourmet's delight is Hardee's. It's evidently one of America's finest, advertising the delicate taste and nutritive value of its creations rather than catering to the gluttony of its potential customers. Or not.

If you think THAT wasnt bad enough, here's more. It's a super monster burger, and the meat content in it is more than most babies weigh at birth! Just think of it - one person eating a baby-sized portion of meat (not counting the rest of the items that make up the burger). The whole thing consists of six pounds (that's about two KILOS!) of beef, one large onion, two whole tomatoes, a half a head of lettuce, 1-1/4 pounds (a little more than 1/2 kilo) of cheese and a cup each of mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, relish, banana peppers and some pickles. Oh, and the top and bottom buns that keep all this together.

And the pub that offers this dainty creation: Denny's Beer Barrel Pub, in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. I bet that McDonald's, which has come in for a lot of criticism for its high-fat-content junk food, is muttering evilly to itself about how these places, which offer a lot worse food than it does, arent being pilloried by the press! After all, their biggest Big Mac, in comparison, would be (b)eaten hands down. On the other hand, I suppose McD's are much more prevalent worldwide than Hardee's, so "Supersize Me" is still valid criticism.

Apropos of nothing - it's amazing the things that a Google search unearths!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


I think I've become an easy target for credit card fraud.

About a month back, my credit card was hacked and used to buy software and computer peripherals, apparently somewhere in the USA. This was done online, so there was nobody physically present while using my card. The bank, informed that I hadnt made those purchases, cancelled the credit card and issued me another. I was told that I wasnt liable for the theft - and a good thing, too! - and that the stolen money would be credited back to me. The refund would show up on my next statement from the bank. So that seemed all right.

Only, it wasnt.

I got my newly issued credit card within about 10 days and validated it as normal. I used it only once in the next couple of weeks, to buy a book on Amazon UK. Imagine my shock when I checked my credit card account online after 3-4 days, and found that somebody had been merrily using it to buy telecom items from a merchant in Istanbul, Turkey! What's more, it turned out that my new card had been hacked practically the day it had been issued - well before I got around to using it myself.

Again informed of the hacking, the bank said that the Turkish merchant hadnt been suspicious because the hacker's expenditure had been just below the store's maximum (beyond that amount, the store would, apparently, have checked the authenticity of the card before accepting it). And the bank could do nothing about tracking down the hacker, even though this time the purchases had been made with the "cardholder" present.

It's a good thing that the authentic cardholders arent held liable for falling prey to online hacking, and also that the banks reimburse the money lost in fraudulent transactions. Of course, if cardholders WERE held liable, credit cards would very quickly become useless. Who would bother with using credit cards if it meant that they could lose money to thieves? It's in the banks' interest to keep the customer happy and take on the responsibility for the fraud. (That way, they can keep making money from the interest on card purchases while still making customers feel that credit cards are an asset!)

So, dont make the mistake of feeling grateful to the banks or thinking that the banks are doing customers a favour. Banks dont take the loss themselves. They are doing nobody any favours. They make sure to get back the money from the shops or retailers who accepted the hacked cards as authentic in the first place.

In the end, it's really the high street retailers and shopowners who must bear the costs of credit card fraud... but then they should be more careful about what they accept. If their greed for higher sales figures overcomes caution and subverts security precautions, it would serve them right to be defrauded. The time and methods required to check the authenticity of cards might be a pain for customers and shopowners alike, but it would make fraud that much more difficult.
Debit cards would seem a better option, but they have a downside too. If you use your debit card online and it gets hacked, the money will not be refunded by the bank! Debit cards do not have the fraud protection (of sorts) that a credit card does, so any money stolen by unauthorised usage will remain stolen. Debit card holders need to be very careful when they use it online!

Anyway, once again the bank and I have been through the entire cancel-reissue-submit-revalidate process, and now I'm the rather nervous owner of a new credit card, third re-issue! Hopefully, when I get my next statement, it will only show my own use and not dozens of unfamiliar purchases made in Latvia or Peru. Maybe I'll be third time lucky - if I'm lucky!

Friday, November 26, 2004

Arrrrrgh, the spammers have found me again!

I thought I'd kept one email account free from junk email - I didnt subscribe to any outside websites, I didnt give my email out as a contact address to anybody but a few friends (on strict condition that they never send forwarded or junk emails there - no matter how funny they thought it was). Naive me, I thought those basic precautions would keep me safe from spam. But no, there's no getting away. Nobody and nothing is safe from those spambots and serial junk mailers! I HATE them! HATE HATE HATE! Grrr

Now I have to spend ages deleting crap emails before I can get down to reading the few genuine emails I get (and very few they are, too... why doesnt anybody WRITE to me any more? It's so petty to not write just because I havent... *sheepish grin*). If I dont delete the crap emails, they accumulate at a horrifying speed and take over all the mailbox space. There's no point putting word filters in, because those b*stard spammers alter the words just enough that the original word isnt recognised (V!AGRA, for instance - very enterprising). There's no point even blocking spam-email addresses because they keep coming up with new ones. What are people supposed to DO?

Man, those junk emails are really something... especially the sort that tell me I can get zonked out on Vicodin or Prozac or whatever, without a prescription. Or those that ask if I want my johnson (well, that's not really what they call it but you know what I mean) enlarged so that I can satisfy "any woman partner". Never mind that I dont personally dont possess a johnson. Or, for that matter, have any women partners.

Do people actually, really get taken in by these spam ads? Would people really part with a few dozen dollars/pounds/whatever currency just because some anonymous seller says the pills/new diet/weight-loss remedy/reproductive-organ enlargers/etc are genuine? Would people really believe the testimony of some anonymous person who swears blind that the product is efficacious? Does anybody actually know of someone who's done that? I'd like to give such buyers this award:

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Floored by a board :)

Recently, while driving through Whitchurch, a historic market town (a small aside: Every other town in England is a "historic market town", so I wouldnt attach too much importance to that tag!), I happened upon a local carpeting manufacturer and installer's billboard advertising the shop's services. The ad as such was standard hyperbole (we sell the finest Persian carpets, have the biggest variety of designs and prices, we install thick pile carpeting in your home at competitive rates, blah blah) but what floored me was this line in big bold letters after their phone number: "AVAILABLE 24 HOURS".

I couldnt help trying to imagine what sort of carpeting emergencies the shop owners were visualising while putting up that particular sign. Perhaps young adults at a rave, calling at 2.30am: "Help, we need a carpet urgently! We only have the floor on which to spill booze and drop unextinguished cigarette ends!"?

Yep, I can imagine the carpet shop's owners rallying to the call, jumping out of bed (or merely out of their office chair) and collecting their supplies of carpet rolls, measuring tape, hammers, nails, etc, arriving at the scene of the carpet emergency in their van, all lights flashing, ready to take on the worst. Inspiring or what? :)

24-hour carpeting? WHY? Raise The Roof 2

The worst of parenting

Sometimes I wonder at what are considered priorities in this world. If you want to open a new bank account, or apply for a government loan, or do something equally mundane like that, there are half a dozen criteria you have to meet before your application will even be considered by the bank or the government department. There's no end of red tape involved.

And yet, there are no rules, no criteria, no basic minimum requirements to be fulfilled for someone to do something as momentous as having a child. A 14-year-old who deliberately gets pregnant is allowed to keep her child because she "wants" one. Is a child a doll or a plaything that a pre-teen can be allowed to have just because she wants it? Pro-life/anti-abortion people will probably come out with a resounding "YES", but unless they can personally guarantee that every accidentally or irresponsibly conceived child can and will be brought up without lacking for anything, I think they should shut up and mind their own business.

It's all very well to say that there is foster care or orphanages for abandoned or unwanted children - but we all know how well THOSE work, most of the time. There are children who are prescribed therapy and psychological care because they're stressed out by school, or because the family moved home, or whatever. And these are children with a supposedly stable family and financial structure, who lack for nothing in the way of love or care. If even such children can be stressed by perfectly normal circumstances, what about the mental and emotional health of those children who have been abandoned, who've never known what it is to have a family, who are subject to whatever treatment is meted out in foster homes or orphanages? Is there an army of psychologists lining up to offer THEM therapy? In the main, I dont think there are, or will ever be.

Okay, I've wandered right away from what I originally set out to write about! What I meant to say was that quite a few adults should be proscribed from parenthood, never mind pre-teenagers. Neglect, cruelty and malnutrition (especially with regards to children) are endemic in India and other third-world countries. But poverty, ignorance and overpopulation play major roles there. There simply isnt much choice for the poor, despite the help provided by the charities and social workers. That, of course, is no excuse. It's merely the explanation for conditions being what they are.

But when you hear of something like that happening in a western country, it's all the more reprehensible because there is plenty of support from social services, government and from private organisations - especially when it comes to children. AND you cant claim ignorance or lack of education. The latest abuse story from Sheffield is a case in point.

David Askew and Sarah Whitaker, both 24, were found guilty of having starved and neglected their FIVE children, almost to the point of death for one of them. The children were apparently living in absolute squalor - animal and human excrement smeared on their bedroom floors, urine-soaked mattresses, rubbish all over the place, etc. The oldest of the children is just 8; the youngest are 12-month-old twins. A doctor who treated the twins said it was the worst case of malnutrition he had seen outside of the developing world.

The cinching factor that this neglect was deliberate - the couple's living room was spotlessly clean and furbished with the latest in hi-tech leisure equipment - two DVD players, a big-screen TV, a Sony PlayStation and stereo as well as dozens of DVDs, video games and more than 100 CDs. And yet they were sentenced to only 7 years in prison.

What are the odds that they will be out in less than half that time for "good behaviour", having demonstrated "sufficient remorse" to please some bleeding heart judge, and demanding to be reunited with their beloved children? I wouldnt place any bet on it, that's for sure.

Monday, November 22, 2004

A spot of self-advertisement

I've decided to just do it - start a new blog, that is. Travelblog it's called. (Yes I know - imaginative name) Teethy Keep an eye on it for new posts and pix (starting next Monday, I expect), since I'm off to Edinburgh for the weekend. Rugby match. Live. Hooray, I think. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about watching bull-like men try to crush each other to pulp while trying to get their hands on an elliptical ball... but I'm taking my husband's word for it that I will enjoy it :) If nothing else, the atmosphere ought to be electric. I shall go well insulated. *wink*


Thursday, November 18, 2004

See? THIS is why I admire Bill Gates

Users of Microsoft products might curse and revile Bill Gates the gazillionaire (I admit I've done some cursing myself, and my husband does it fervently and often... heheheh), but I still think he's worth a bit of admiration for the unassuming life he leads. I dont mean that he lives frugally all the time, but whatever gazillionaire-type excesses he and his family get up to are kept private. They're not splashed out in every two-bit magazine! Admittedly, some eagle-eyed person with a camera spotted Bill Gates, but that's hardly as if he invited hordes of paparazzi to gawk at him just so he could be in the news :)

More plastic than human

Sometimes it's really depressing to see movie stars and celebrities looking picture-perfect... so here's a link which might just change a bad mood from blue to orange! (I associate the colour orange with liveliness and enthusiasm.) :-)

Now you know how the stars manage to look perfect... and how they ruin that fleeting perfection with overkill. Who would have thought Meg Ryan could look like a hag? And I guess the most horrible, monsterish transformation is that of Whacko Jacko... poor Michael Jackson. All that talent, all those millions... and all he could do was make himself look like a freak.

No more words from me since pictures are supposed to be worth a thousand words... so here goes:

PS. I know I said no more words from me, but I just had a thought... with all the plastic that's in their bodies, shouldnt celebrities and movie stars be declared as potentially harmful to the environment? If they die and are buried, god knows how long the plastic will take to decompose... if at all!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

More on the weird world of UK laws

A recent screening of "Alien vs. Predator" set me thinking about some of the more blatantly unfair UK laws. Not that the movie itself put me on that track - it was more the warning that came up before the movie started.

(A minor aside, for those who care - the movie itself was surprisingly watchable. The Alien and its offspring were just as gooey and disgusting and corrosively slimy as ever, and the Predator(s)... well, they were ugly too, but at least they didnt slop acid slime everywhere - and they wore helmets that hid most of their ugliness! Also, all but one of the human characters were eliminated even quicker than is standard for a horror flick!)

Anyway, getting back to what got my attention... it was a warning to the public not to make illegal copies of the movie by using a videocam, camera or other recording equipment, on pain of being banned from cinema theatres, imprisoned AND having an "unlimited fine" imposed.

Would you call that overkill for such a trivial offence? I certainly would. In the larger scheme of things, a crime such as making an illegal copy of a movie before it's available in video and DVD should be negligible - robberies, burglaries, violence and murder are FAR more deserving of really stiff punishment.

But that doesnt always happen. I recently read about a case where two (rich) men who were racing each other in their cars down a single-lane country road hit a motorcyclist and pillion rider coming the other way. The pillion rider, the motorcyclist's bride of three months, was killed. The motorcyclist himself lost both legs. The merry racers were sentenced to 6 years imprisonment - which, according to me, is nowhere near enough. That wasnt the worst bit, though.

The worst was when a bleeding heart judge cut their sentence by two years because he felt that it had been "unduly harsh". He said the two men had "shown sufficient remorse" and what was more, they were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. No kidding. My heart just melted with sympathy for the suffering of those unlucky, irresponsible rich boys - NOT! Nowhere in the article was there a mention of the poor man who had lost his wife AND both his legs. What about the suffering and stress that he underwent? Nobody seemed to care.

There was another case in 1999, which might be more well-known - concerning Tony Martin, a farmer who was jailed for killing a teenage burglar and wounding another when three of them broke into his isolated farmhouse. It didnt seem to matter to the prosecution that Tony Martin was defending his home, that he had been burgled more than 7 times, and that all the burglars had previous offences. Instead of being commended for having rid the world of a repeat offender and temporarily incapacitated another, the farmer was actually arrested - and imprisoned - for murder! If the farmer had been killed instead, I doubt the burglars would have been prosecuted with half as much fervour.

The mother of Fred Barras, the teenage burglar who was killed, defended her only son's activities by saying something to the effect that he only turned to crime didnt have much to do and that he had a "heart of gold", he was a boy "who would never steal from family". What a gem!

As for Brendan Fearon, the 33-year-old burglar who was injured in the legs and groin - he actually sued Tony Martin for "loss of income" and because he couldnt function properly as a man any more. Isnt that just the final irony - a burglar who has never had a proper legal job, suing a hard-working farmer for "loss of income"? Yet the authorities didnt seem to find this strange. As for Fearon's - hopefully permanent - impotence... that's all for the good! Who needs another potential burglar in this world?

To top it off, Tony Martin was at first denied early release because of the risk he posed to Britain's burglars. Yes, really! Talk about screwed up... an innocent man kept in jail so that burglars could go about their business in safety.

And here are some more "cant-do"s based on the human rights of criminals (my husband says it's all true):

- Householders cannot use barbed wire or pieces of glass on the top of even high compound walls because those could cause injury. As I see it, only those with criminal intent would be injured... any normal honest person wouldnt think of trying to climb over people's walls, right? However, there's an exception - every foot of the compound walls of Buckingham Palace is covered with four-five rows of outcurving, dangerous razor wire. I guess Royalty has more right to security than the common people.

- If a householder has a security dog inside the house or yard, but does not have a visible warning board to that effect, any burglar who is injured by it while trying to burgle, has the right to sue the householder. The householder could also be arrested for possessing an undisclosed "dangerous dog". And the dog, of course, would have to be put down for doing its job.

- If a householder were to electrify the windows/walls on the upper floor of his house, and a burglar were to get a shock and fall, thereby injuring himself, the householder could be arrested for manslaughter. If the burglar died, it would be a murder case. Never mind that only somebody with unlawful intentions would be trying to enter a home from the top floor or the roof!

Apparently you cant even have security measures inside your house that might injure the uninvited nocturnal visitor. If you do, you have to put up warnings. Why not just lay out the red carpet for thieves and burglars, then? With large-scale maps of the house's contents and big arrows pointing out the way (in case they cant read). That would ensure that criminals dont get hurt while going about their unlawful business.

Human rights activists tend to get on my nerves when they go to great lengths to support the rights of criminals. What about the rights of those who have been mugged, burgled, beaten up, murdered? Why isnt there a VOCAL human rights group that demands severe punishment for criminals, that takes up the fight on behalf of victims who cant prosecute because they're dead? Human rights... hah!

To my mind, anybody who deliberately breaks the law should automatically forfeit some or all of his/her human rights prerogatives, in the eyes of the law. And that should be that. But I dont suppose that would be implemented anywhere but in Utopia. And then again, Utopia wouldnt have crime, would it?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The "kanja pisnari" attitude

The sincerity, unobtrusiveness and general hard-working mentality of British Indians (or those from the Indian sub-continent, not necessarily only India) has been well-documented - and indeed their reputation is well-deserved. There are no harder working people, I'm sure. Where most British shops only open around 9am and down shutters exactly at 5.30pm, Indian-owned shops seem to go on and on and on (rather like the Duracell rabbit).

There's a little corner shop near where I live, owned by Punjabis. They open at 6am and close at 8pm - every single day of the year, including Christmas and New Year's! It would appear that they never take a holiday, something that puzzles the British very much. (I must admit it puzzles me too.) The Brits might make fun of this tendency to overwork, but they have to admit that it's an extremely convenient service for everyday emergencies!

That said, though, there is another tendency among "Indian" shop-owners which is not quite so well documented - that of penny-pinching wherever possible! The "kanja pisnari" trait is one that REALLY irritates me, especially when it's not required or justified.

For instance, when I was in Hyderabad the year before, I had to get a few documents photocopied, for which I went to a local Xerox shop. The full-page documents were fine. But when it came to making individual copies of certain pages in my passport, the woman at the machine actually tore up an A4 sheet of paper into four, making it just about the size of the passport pages.

It was extremely annoying for more than one reason - the first being her ridiculous, over-the-top miserly attitude. The second was that those bits of paper obviously didnt fit in with the size of the other documents that I had, making it difficult to collate. (For all I knew, the nit-picking UK embassy low-lifes might have rejected my application purely on that point alone, and I didnt want to prolong the process if I could help it.)

Now I'm not a wasteful person (not to hear my mom on that topic... heheh) but I felt that she was taking frugality too far, even assuming she was a follower of Gandhi (which I dont believe she was). To top it off, as I stood there simmering with annoyance, she gave me the bill - and each bit of paper was counted as a full A4 sheet.

I dont usually check bills anywhere, but that time I sure did. And boy - I went from a gentle simmer to a rolling boil in less than a second... suffice it to say that we soon reached an agreement - I would pay for the A4 sheet that was torn up (even though it was useless to me), as long as she made me proper full-size copies of the pages I needed, thereby justifying her bill. It wasnt that *I* was penny-pinching - it was just the principle of the thing. I dont think she liked me very much, but she ended up doing what I asked. Anyway, I didnt like her either.

Irritating though that episode was, I could sort of understand the attitude. The ordinary person in India needs to cut corners where possible - it's not only required, it's an ingrained instinct. I just expected that the instinct would have become watered down after a generation or two in the UK. But no... the local Indian shopkeepers might have British passports and local accents, but their penny-pinching, surly attitude is as freshly Indian as it could ever be!

It isnt just the little shops which are like that. The Indian supermarkets in Birmingham (where I go once every 3 months for Indian groceries) are just the same. They dole out their plastic bags as if they're made of gold. In fact, the bags are handed out one by one by the person at the till - you cant just grab a few and start packing your groceries like in any normal "western" supermarket.

And that local Punjabi corner-shop I was talking about... they get on my nerves every time I go there. Basically, the problem is shopping bags. They have two kinds of plastic bags for customers - one is thin and white and would hold about two puffs of air before splitting under the strain; the other is blue and comparatively sturdier. The thing is, no matter how much I buy, I ALWAYS have to ASK for a bag for my purchases. It has never been offered. They seem to think that I can carry two 2-litre bottles of cold milk, a dozen eggs, and a couple of cans or two just in my hands.

Thus far I have held on to my temper (well, the shop IS convenient for emergency provisions, and I wouldnt like to have to walk 20 minutes instead of just 5!)... but I make sure to ask them for a bag even if all I've bought is a toothbrush.

It might be petty, but I certainly feel the better for it! :)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The REAL soul food

For those of you who are in India, or have easy access to authentic Indian snacks and fast-food... let me tell you straightaway that you will probably wonder what all the fuss is about. When you are surrounded by all the food that you love and can get any time, you tend get a bit blase about it all (this is the voice of experience speaking). But those who are abroad - especially in places where they cant get "real" Indian food - will very likely identify with this paean of a post!

Believe me, even the ubiquitous potato crisp loses its attraction because you cant get a simple "chilli" flavour - instead, you have strange flavours like feta and tomato, roast lamb and mint, honeyed ham and mustard, cheddar cheese and onion, beef wellington, grilled sausage... just weird. Imagine trying to provide the flavours of traditional English meals in a bag of crisps - especially when all you're looking for is something simple and spicy-hot. When you're in that position, even the normally ordinary idli begins to seem like a gourmet's dream. I KNOW this for a fact - I'd been fantasising about idlis for over a year before my previous trip to India... so when I did get to Chennai, demand almost overcame supply ;-)

However, lately, all I've been seeing in my mind's eye are spicy, piping hot samosas... perfect for cold, wet, wintry weather. And the samosas arent just any old samosas either. The ones that I have in mind are specifically those from a stall about five minutes' walk from Kasturi Buildings, when I worked for The Hindu Business Line.

This shop was only a "temporary" one in the shelter of the pedestrian subway exit, more or less across from the big Bata store at the crossroads (cant remember the name of the building that was directly opposite the stall, but there's a leather shop in the basement. And a Bengali emporium.) I hope SOMEbody would have placed it by now. I'm not sure that the stall still exists, but I'm hoping it does because I intend paying it a visit on my next trip to India.

Anyway... back to the samosa theme. The sad approximations of samosas that I've seen here are enough to bring tears of anguish to my eyes. They have a filling of diced carrots, potatoes and sweetcorn kernels... the kind that you get pre-cut in the frozen section of the local supermarket. They taste of curry powder (what the British use to make "Indian curries"). They dont sit up on their base in temptingly 3-dimensional triangles; instead, they are flat, oily things made with phyllo pastry. They look a bit like the little "Irani kadai" samosas but taste godawful. Especially to someone who knows what the real thing looks and tastes like.

I have VERY nostalgic memories about the samosas in my favourite road-side stall. They were absolutely perfect - the casing crisp, smooth and bubble-free and, in some mysterious way, NEVER oozing oil. And the filling... spicy, hot, just perfect! No carrots, no sweetcorn, no spinach, nothing remotely healthy. Just potatoes, onions and whatever divine spices/masala that the master-cook used in the filling.

Forget Sanjeev Kapoor, forget Tarla Dalal, forget all the 5-star chefs and their 5-star ideas of cuisine (and even more, their 5-star prices!). They dont hold a candle to the genius of this unknown samosa-stall man. Chicken soup for the soul? No thanks - but I'll take a samosa (or two or three) anyday!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Deepavali crackers a few days early

November 5 was Guy Fawkes Night, otherwise known as Bonfire night. It has been celebrated for the last 400 years, ever since Guy Fawkes - one of England's most famous traitors - tried (unsuccessfully) to blow up the Houses of Parliament... sometime in 1605, I think. Tradition has it that the Londoners lit bonfires that same year for joy that his plan didnt succeed (and that he was tortured and executed - bloodthirsty folks they were!). And that tradition has been followed ever since, only with ever more elaborate fireworks displays in addition to the bonfire. Personally, I tend to wonder if the whole thing started not in celebration of Guy Fawkes' execution, but as a (sneaky) way to honour his attempt to do away with the government!

Whatever the truth, Fireworks Night is something I really enjoy. I also see it privately as an early celebration of Deepavali. After all, crackers are set off well before the actual Deepavali night in Chennai! When I was in India, my favourite "patas" were the ones that looked lovely while going off and didnt make too much noise - flowerpots especially, that looked like fountains of gold and silver when they were lit, pattering back to the ground in pearls of fire. They never lasted long enough for me and there were never enough of them bought. Left to me, I would have spent every last paisa on big flowerpots alone!

I also liked "tharai chakrams" (catherine wheels?), sparklers and rockets. What I HATED absolutely were the sarams, atom bombs and hydrogen bombs that temporarily deafened anybody within hearing range. The sarams especially made me want to scream abuse at those who set them off. (Well, actually I DID scream abuse - only nobody ever heard me because of the damn noise!)

The fireworks display that I went to see here yesterday night was absolutely fantastic. Made better by the fact that it was a clear night despite having been a cloudy, drizzly day. No rain to make the fireworks display a damp squib (pun alert!) ;-) What I like best about the fireworks here is that people cant just set off crackers anywhere they please - it has to be done in an open area, preferably in a field with no houses close by. So that cuts down on the noise level straightaway and thank GOODNESS for that.

But by far the most pleasing factor is that people dont seem to bother with the saram-type of ear-splittingly noisy crackers (probably because of the noise pollution laws). They go in for rockets instead - and oh what beautiful patterns those rockets make in the sky. I wonder how fireworks are made so that they form specific patterns when they explode - chrysanthemums, stars, etc. I mean, they cant be controlled to do specific things... once they're lit, it's literally out of human hands. And then there are the slightly time-delayed explosions as well, where the rocket goes up and scatters into a dozen little red lights which fall for a few seconds - then those lights explode in a shower of multi-coloured or gold and silver stars.

I could have watched those fireworks all night, they were so beautiful - and like so many beautiful things, so ephemeral.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Writing for amusement

"Only amateurs say that they write for their own amusement. Writing is not an amusing occupation. It is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain climbing, treadmill and childbirth. Writing may be interesting, absorbing, exhilarating, racking, relieving. But amusing? Never!".... ...Edna Ferber, A Peculiar Treasure, ch. 1 (1939).

I suppose Edna Ferber was talking about the actual physical act of writing as never being amusing - and I have to say I agree. I also feel that quite a lot of the time, the end product of that particular occupation - especially when meant to be humorous - falls painfully short of its aim. Then again, humour is such a subjective thing. What one person thinks is funny could easily whoosh right past another, completely unchuckled at.

I have many, many heroes in the humour section - Mark Twain, with his droll humour; Charles Dickens for his debut novel, The Pickwick Papers; P G Wodehouse, with his unexpected and hilarious turns of phrase; Jerome K Jerome, for solemn silliness; Tom Sharpe, for his trouble-prone protagonist, Wilt; Terry Pratchett, for almost literally every book he's ever written and every single terrible pun in it... the list is really endless.

One of my favourite authors - and it's very, very, VERY difficult to find copies of his books nowadays, especially in English - is Giovanni Guareschi. I was first drawn to his writings when I was in the 8th standard, through an extract from his book "The House that Nino Built". I found it very funny indeed, and it stayed funny despite my English teacher's ham-handedly sincere efforts to make the unappreciative students "understand" the humour in the writing by giving examples (!!)

It was only when I was in college (or even later, perhaps) that I managed to come across a tattered old copy of another of his books, "The Little World of Don Camillo", in what used to be Moore Market in Chennai. That was all it took to get me completely hooked. The short stories of a Catholic Priest, Don Camillo and his ideological run-ins with the Communist mayor Peppone, were hilarious and gently satirical. What impressed me was the ease with which Giovanni Guareschi distilled two huge ideologies and their ramifications into two basically simple characters and what seems like their little, local disputes. Eventually I got to read "The House that Nino Built" as well, and it was just as funny and sweet as I remembered it from all those years back.

I dont know if anybody will agree with me about this - but the author that GG most reminds me of is probably R K Narayan and his "Malgudi Days". There is something very universal at the heart of his stories that somehow make it appealing - and empathetic - to readers from any country. And that, I feel, is Giovanni Guareschi's appeal as well.

PS. When I did a search on the Net for Giovanni Guareschi, it came up with a link to a website set up by Vajrang Parvate (god bless him!) dedicated to GG. There are quite a few stories here, so happy reading!

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Doesnt this say it all?  Posted by Hello

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

My kind of holiday

Yesterday, while I was trawling through the travel blogs of strangers (out of idle interest), I came across two that caught my attention - one was by an Indian guy about his holiday in Europe. He seemed to get a lot of pleasure in the fact that he managed to "do" 10 countries in 12 days, or some such ridiculous time-frame - and he emphasised his thrill at having got "maximum travel" (his words) for his money. It made me wonder just what he could have seen or experienced in that whirlwind of a tour... there simply could not have been an occasion to SAVOUR anything because there wouldnt have been any time left for leisurely sight-seeing or exploring. So what's the point of going on one of these whirlwind package tours?

I'm not being uppity here. Intellectually, I CAN see the reasoning behind such trips - if a holiday in the West is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, with not much chance of making another like it again, then I guess the idea would be to get as much value as possible out of the money paid for the trip, and see as many sights as possible, however fleetingly.

It's just that emotionally, a package tour wouldnt satisfy me. In other words, package tours are not my idea of a holiday (thought I'd make that clear, just in case I hadnt belaboured my point enough, haha). Whether it's in India or abroad, I prefer to spend a week or 10 days in one place (depending on how big it is, of course, and what it has to offer), walk around, take the local transport where feasible and generally get to know the place on a more personal basis. (Mind you, this only works if the weather's conducive to being on foot. In hot places, I'm afraid my inner explorer curls up inside the outer tourist, and both prefer to luxuriate in an air-conditioned vehicle!)

And talking of vehicles - hang on while I re-board my original train of thought... Right, the travel blog that actually caught my interest was by young American currently in Paris, who's taken a year off to travel around Europe. Lucky guy, to have the time, enthusiasm and possibly money, to do something like that. Apparently, he's been in Paris for two weeks already and describes a whole lot of interesting things that are totally off the beaten tourist track. To be able to spend that much time in one city - and it's an elegantly beautiful city - and get to know its hidden secrets... that's my idea of travel heaven.

Mind you, Ramya and I did more or less that, two years back. Spent about 5 days in Paris on a shoestring budget, with a list of offbeat places that had free entry (I did say shoestring). It was great fun because the Metro can get you within easy walking distance of almost anywhere in Paris - or so it seemed. Admittedly, we did do the touristy bits as well - braving massive queues to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower (and what a crush it was, sweaty and crowded in peak summer), walking what seemed like miles inside the Louvre (and braving still more crowds) to get to the Mona Lisa (a rather disappointingly small painting and a very disappointingly brief view - a bit like waiting hours to get to the sanctum sanctorum in Tirupati and then being shoved away after two seconds' glimpse), etc. But we saw more of everyday Paris - the less posh areas - because of the student hostels we stayed at. I wouldnt recommend the hostels, but I would and DO recommend getting away from the mainstream tourist interests.

My first-ever self-financed trip abroad was to New Zealand. It was an unforgettable 10 days and someday - hopefully soon - I'll be able to go back there with my husband. He regularly kindles my smouldering envy into a roaring blaze because he's travelled so much and done so much... I dont suppose I can catch up with him (for instance, I dont see myself braving suicidal terrorists, guns and bombs to go to Jerusalem), but I'm certainly going to have a whole lotta fun trying. Besides, he hasnt been to New Zealand, and I have (so there).

But I'm dreaming of a driving holiday next (where I'm not the driver, naturally). Leisurely drives through one country to get to another, and then another, and maybe yet another after that; to be able to see the villages and the countryside, to stop where I like and spend as much time as I wish wherever I want - could there be anything better?

How personal IS your blog when it is public?

I dont think there are any rules or official policies about what you can post in your blog, whether it's words or pictures. In theory, your blog is your blog and nobody should be able to dictate what you say or show there. It's like a personal diary for your thoughts and opinions, right? Not quite, I'd say. A diary is not only personal, it's private. A blog, on the other hand, IS personal but not exactly private if you dont keep it that way. So what you say on there CAN run the risk of getting you into trouble. As Ellen Simonetti, an airline attendant in the US, found out.

Her employer, Delta Airlines, didnt seem to have any objection when she began her blog "Queen of the Sky", for three reasons - one, it was semi-fictional; two, the airline wasnt mentioned by name anywhere; and three, the city where Ellen Simonetti was based wasnt mentioned either. So far, so good.

But then she decided to inject some reality into her blog by posting photos of herself in uniform - showing a bit of leg, and one showing her flight "wings". I'm not sure which of these transgressions was the worse in the eyes of Delta Airlines, but they took the drastic action of firing her! Ellen Simonetti is now fighting her dismissal because the company doesnt have a clear policy about employees' photos while in uniform on PERSONAL websites.

So, looks like blogging can be hazardous to your employment status. Be afraid, bloggers. Be very very afraid. Or better yet, be careful. Be very, very careful!

Here's the link:

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

A question of colour

I bet y'all think this is going to be about racism and such-like heavy topics :) Nope - it's about the colours I'm using on my blog! Somebody wants me to tone them down.

I dont know if he/she meant the blog skin itself, or the different colours I use for my posts. If it's the blog skin - nope, no way I'm going to change that. I LIKE pink. If it's the colour of my posts...well, dear respected and revered Anonymous critic, I acknowledge the truth in your comment with regards to one post. So I will admit that the one titled "Stars 'n their millions" was a rather eye-watering turquoise. It didnt look that bad in the colour-choice list, to tell the truth. Anyway, be that as it may, I've changed it to a more reader-friendly blue. :)

But as for my other posts - they stay as they are. I like variety in everything, and hey, this IS my blog!

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Check out this site

Ridiculous new words, some VERY contrived and others really amusing.

The trasher trashed

A while back, I read Lynne Truss' book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation". I found it very funny and as a sometime editor, I could empathise with what she said about incorrectly punctuated signs and literature. Things like "Childrens Menu's available" on a menu card, or "potatoe's sold here" at a greengrocer's, or "Your not right".

Homonyms are a real boobytrap for people who spell phonetically. There are too many words that sound alike but are spelt differently and mean different things. However, since all this has been said before - and perhaps said better - by many people, I'll get down to what caught my attention.

Lynne Truss, in her amusing book, trashed trashy language and guesswork punctuation. The New Yorker, perhaps taking umbrage to some of her potshots at American "English", has trashed her book, and oh SO comprehensively, pointing out what appears to be plenty of guesswork punctuation on her part in her own book! That was roughly the first half of the review by Louis Menand; the second half is a rather pompous lecture about what defines good writing, and how writers have to find their "voice" and how that "voice" can be defined.

Anyway... if Ms Truss has read the review (and chances are she has - this was in the New Yorker, after all), she's probably been kicking herself for not editing her own writing and checking for punctuation...

The link:

The stars 'n their millions...

Argh, it's so annoying that JUST when I feel like blogging away, I dont have the time to sit down and do it. To think of all the time that I've sat around twiddling my thumbs, not wanting to blog at all whatsoever... bah! Anyway, I'm here now and I WILL blog! Or should that be I WILL post in my blog? (correct me, somebody... preferably a certain glam celeb journo that I know in The Hindu...) :))

I'm totally out of the Indian cinema scene and have been for a few years... when I tell you that the last Hindi movie I saw was Lagaan, two years ago in Paris, you can imagine how far back I've fallen. Just a couple of days back I heard that Aamir Khan was divorced and even had a love-child - which really quite shocked me because I was under the impression that he was "different" from the other stars, more "family oriented". Or at least, that was the impression he gave. Looks like that has flown out of the window. I suppose I should be grateful that he isnt also recovering from alcohol and drug abuse, like 99.99% of the celebrities here (that is, in the West).

Literally the only celebrity that I know of, who has not been in the news for abuse of alcohol, drugs or women - EVER - is that evergreen singer, Cliff Richard. (A bit of trivia while we're on the topic of Sir Cliff - he's almost totally unknown in the US, yet he has sold more records than The Beatles and Elvis Presley combined! This is absolutely true. Wow, huh? Just shows his popularity in the rest of the world - "world" as defined in normal terms, not in American, where world = USA) :)

So what is it with these super-rich celebrities? Why do they ALL have to be addicts of some kind? Does fame and fortune really bring so little in the way of happiness that they have to resort to the same things as the average down-and-out, impoverished homeless person? Why do they all have to get divorced? Because they can? Because there's so much choice out there and they have to sample it all? Because the "perfect person" or "perfect relationship" is always around the corner and with someone else? Perhaps they will never find satisfaction because they're just greedy for more and more. The more they have, the more they want - and money is no object.

Here's a horrible thought - perhaps they really see their lives as something to be put under the spotlight, preferably for some scandalous reason, and nothing more. Is it naivete that makes them splash out vulgar millions on weddings, when they and everybody else KNOW that the marriage will not last? And why, when they are married to someone stunningly beautiful or handsome, do they have affairs?? Why do they bother with marriage at all? Especially as large chunks of their fortune are lost in alimony.

Think of Lionel Richie who's currently paying out something like $175,000 a MONTH to his ex-wife! (It's another matter that she asked for almost double that!). Or David and Victoria (Posh Spice) Beckham, the First Couple of UK celebrities, whose marriage is in trouble because of David's affairs with other women. I cant even BEGIN to imagine how much alimony David Beckham will have to part with considering the incredible millions he earns as pay and from advertising. I guess that's why he's been strenuously denying the affairs... divorce should be pretty well unthinkable for him, at least in monetary terms.

That said, though, I wish I had a few hundred millions myself... I'm sure I would be a very sensible quadrillionaire. Bill Gates is my hero for going one better and being a gazillionaire and yet keeping his private life private. That's how it should be. Never mind how he earned his gazillions.