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!