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.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

English as she should be spoke?

I've just read a news item reporting Prime Minister Tony Blair as having said that he would crack down on people "languishing on benefits" - quote But that will mean we have to spend less, particularly on areas where there are people who could work but who presently languish on benefits unquote.

Now, I'm not concerned with why he's cracking down on welfare, or the political atmosphere in this country. I'm just amazed that he actually said the words "languishing on benefits". Does he mean that people who are getting benefits are still going downhill, getting feebler or wasting away? I dont think so. I'm pretty sure what he meant was that the people on benefits are thriving - not languishing - on the hard work of others.

The word languish does not mean "to laze", and I've never heard or seen it used in that context, not even in slang or idiom. (If anybody has, please dont hesitate to let me know, and I'll stand corrected.)

Look at the official dictionary and thesaurus definitions of the word "languish":

1. languish v.
grow weak or feeble. • archaic pine with love or grief.
(From The Concise Oxford English Dictionary)

2. languish verb
the plants languished and died, weaken, deteriorate, decline; wither, droop, wilt, fade, waste away; informal go downhill.
(From The Oxford Paperback Thesaurus)
copyright Oxford University Press 2004

As far as I can see, according to those definitions, people cant "languish" in luxury - not unless they're lovesick or otherwise ill. I dont think Mr Blair meant that about the many people who are living as parasites off the welfare system and not doing a lick of work.

Just shows, doesnt it, the standard of the English language in the country of its birth! (I wont even begin to mention the clangers that President Bush has dropped - there are enough examples floating around on the Internet. But perhaps Bush can be excused on the grounds that not only is he an American, he's from Texas - y'all agree?).

I suppose we should really start looking to countries such as India for pointers on how to read and write correct English... after all, we're still pretty much a faithful reflection of British English as it used to be even 50 years ago!

Friday, October 15, 2004

The boss from hell

For the last couple of weeks, I've been going to a client's office with my husband. The client company has just installed Pete's new software and he has been assisting them with the changeover. My job is to help transfer data from the sales and purchase ledgers from the old software to the new. I also help with the training of the staff. But this is not work that takes up the whole day, so I've had a lot of time to observe what's going on around me.

For starters, there are laminated, home-made notices tacked on almost literally every open space, all of them signed "Steve".

Above the printer, this: "Ensure that you take out the EXACT amount of paper required for the day." And this: "Return all unused paper to the stock room."

Above the fax, this: "Do NOT use the fax as a copier. If you want to make copies, use the copier in my room." And this: "For every fax sent, write down the name of the sender and the recipient, the time and number of pages. Send the list to me at the end of the day."

Above the kitchen sink: "Do not wait for the janitor to wash up - dont hesitate to take your turn".

On each employee's desk: "Courtesy, hard work and responsibility are the mottos (sic) of this company and help make the office pleasant".

And above everything else, in large black lettering: "New company terminology: Henceforth, all employees will be known as Team Members, the Managers as Team Leaders, senior managers as Executive Officers and the Managing Director as Chief Executive Officer. All internal memos and correspondence shall reflect the changes."

It didnt need a genius to figure out that there was a control-freak around! And it didnt take much longer to conclude that the employees in this office have the bad luck to work for one of the very worst bosses I've EVER seen. And I've seen some bad ones, believe me.

The man in charge is Steve, the son of the founder who has retired in all but name. From all accounts, he was a good employer; unfortunately, his son inherited all the money and power but none of the humility, good sense or the people management abilities of his father.

Steve is the sort of man who has to have everybody obey his orders unconditionally and immediately. (He sneaks around and makes surprise visits to check this for himself.) He's unable to delegate, constantly interfering in everybody's work, petty-minded to a degree, contradictory and arrogant. His white-collar employees have the ability to work independently and well, and have done so under his father, but Steve has made demoralised them and made them insecure to the point that they have almost given up doing anything of their own accord. And he accomplishes all this havoc in the softest voice imaginable.

I might sound like I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. In the two weeks that I've been going there, several incidents took place which have made me very thankful that Steve isnt MY boss! Once, he switched off the office refrigerator on a Friday night, after the others had gone home. He didnt want the staff to use it for anything other than the day's snacks or food - that is, he didnt want them leaving food in the fridge over the weekend, or using it to store groceries for home, however temporarily. Of course, by Monday, whatever food there was in the fridge was unfit for consumption, the carpet in the kitchen area was soaked, and the fridge sported a new laminated notice reading "Food is NOT to be stored in the fridge beyond the day's requirement".

Another time, Pete and I found the staff frenziedly searching for the minutes of a meeting that had taken place with Steve a few months ago. According to UK government health rules for employees, they are obliged to take a break during the day, although employers are not obliged to pay the employees for that break. But at the staff meeting, Steve had apparently said they would still be paid for the break hour.

So, when he made a sudden announcement that they would be docked the hour's wages, the office manager protested that he was going back on his word. True to form, though, Steve denied having given his word at all.This was why they were searching so diligently - and sure enough, the minutes showed that Steve was a bare-faced liar. Not that it did the staff any good to be proved right... because the next day, they received an official circular saying that it was now a company policy decision to dock an hour's wages every day, with the added extra that any visits to the doctor or clinic during office hours, if lasting longer than an hour, would be deemed as "time off without pay" .

Talk about a petty boss.

There are a few dozen other rules that he imposes, ostensibly for the employees's own good, and in keeping with health and safety regulations. However, all the staff are made blatantly aware that Steve considers himself above all rules - whether the company's own, or the government's. He regularly parks his big Land Rover right by the double-yellow lines near the entrance to the office - exactly where parking is prohibited because vehicles would obstruct the 18-wheeler container lorries that regularly make their way in and out of the company's warehouses.

Could there be a worse example of a boss? I dont think so, but I'm willing to hear anybody out! Personally I'd rather have a good boss and bad pay, than the other way around. If nothing else, having a good boss increases your chances of better pay! A bad boss is like a vampire - good for sucking all the juice out of your happiness and work satisfaction, but not for much else.

I've had my share of bad bosses, but I've also been lucky enough to work with one or two who were truly inspiring. I will mention the man who was my boss in my very first job at the Indian Express - Mr C P Seshadri, affectionately and universally known as "Master". He was the backbone of the newspaper for over half a century, and I was privileged to have learnt the art of editing under his guidance.

However, I'm more than glad nowadays to be more or less my own boss. I've never worked for a better one and I suspect there isnt one better to be found!

Monday, October 11, 2004

Why do I HAVE to drive?

Maybe I was born to be chauffeured. I certainly think so, because I dont like to drive. Driving to me is not relaxing. It isnt fun. At best, it's utilitarian. Many many moons ago, when I was a student in India, I took a car driving course along with my cousin. It wasnt the best three weeks of my life, I can assure you. My cousin always went first and she took to driving like a fish to water. She barely needed teaching, and if the instructor had to repeat anything at all to her, it was "Not so fast".

I was a different kettle of fish - more like a fish out of water, actually. I never managed to start the car without stalling it at least a couple of times. And it always moved forward in a series of jerks that, more than anything else, was eloquent advertisement for having seatbelts and using them. I couldnt park unless there was a square km of space around me, I didnt dare to drive faster than 30kmph and, frankly, my passengers could have reached their destination quicker on foot and with far less nerve damage.

Which is why, I guess, the instructor decided that I would get my licence a lot more easily if I didnt go through the actual driving test. (On my honour and to my knowledge, his palm wasnt greased - it was an arbitrary decision on his part!) On the day of the driving test, I fully expected to make an ass of myself and fail miserably (in the test, that is - not in making an ass of myself). My cousin sailed through her test without a problem and came out wreathed in smiles. Imagine my surprise when the instructor came out of the registry wreathed in an even bigger smile and handed ME my brand-new driving licence! All I got from him by way of explanation was "You didnt need a test." As it turned out, I didnt really need a licence either, because I didnt drive even once in all the years that it was valid. Partly because I didnt want to, but also because I didnt have a car and nobody would trust me with theirs!

Anyway - back to the present. My sister, brother and various friends-and-cousins assured me that driving in the West was nothing like driving in India. They were certain that I would like it - wide roads, smoother traffic flow and adherence to traffic rules.

Well, guess what - I still dont like driving. As far as I'm concerned, it's just a case of swapping one set of terrors for another. In India, it was the potholes, people, cows and other assorted animals, and generally all locomotive objects. Here in the UK, it's cars, buses, lorries and traffic rules. And the roads themselves. Even my sister, a die-hard supporter of driving, agreed that things werent quite as comfortable here, especially in the countryside. Why? Because the roads are TINY - unlike in the USA, where even the smallest road, apparently, is as wide as a runway. In fact, American military aircraft returning from a "precision bombing" attack - also known as "friendly fire" to their allies - regularly land on normal roads if they get lost on the way home.

(Ok, I made up that last bit. But doesnt it seem plausible?)

Anyway, English country roads are usually only a car wide; the bigger ones can take two small cars side-by-side with a few inches to spare (basically, the width of the lane divider!). The car I drive (on the rare occasions that I'm forced to) is my husband's Range Rover - and it's a pretty big vehicle which takes up all of a country lane. So it's extremely unnerving, while driving on a narrow, winding road, to go around a bend and suddenly come face-to-face with a massive 18-wheeler truck. It tends to make me jump - NOT a good move when driving an extremely responsive car, believe me. I havent crushed anything yet, but I figure it's only a matter of time before some farmer finds an ersatz entrance into his field of sheep where formerly there was a hedge.

Besides, when I'm driving, I cant take in the scenery. Driving requires concentration, not just some of the time, but ALL the time. If I'm watching the road and other cars, I'm not watching anything else. The world would pass me by and I wouldnt be able to do anything about it. Being tied down to a vehicle - mentally if not literally - is not my idea of freedom on the road.

So, as I was saying, some people are born to be chauffeurs and others chauffees, if I may coin a word. That's me. I'm a chauffee, whereas my husband/sister/brother/friend/acquaintance/Tom/Dick/Harry are all chauffeurs, born to the driver's seat. I'm happy to sit in comfort in the back (or even in the front - I dont mind, I'm quite progressive that way) and look out at the world.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Weird world of UK law

And when I say weird, I really mean it. I dont know if this news reached anywhere outside the UK, but in case it didnt, let me give you the gist of it: A school headmaster has told his students that they can only play with conkers while in school if they wear sunglasses to protect their eyes.

(Conkers, just to make it clear, are horse-chestnuts, a traditional autumn plaything for children. They usually drill a hole through the dry nut, thread a string through it, and then swing it at conkers held by someone else. Not unsurprisingly, some conkers shatter on impact, and since they are fairly hard, there is tiny possibility of a shard piercing somebody.)

The surprising thing here is not that the headmaster has gone to such lengths to ensure the safety of the kids, but the REASON behind his action - which is the local school authority. It wanted to pass a law banning all schools from letting children play with conkers within the school premises. The headmaster said he didnt want to stop his students from enjoying themselves at break, stop a traditional activity, or make it difficult for children to be children.

The irony here is that laws or not, children WILL be children - they will play with conkers no matter who tells them not to. The bottomline is, it wasnt really the children that the headmaster was trying to protect; it was himself, the teachers and other school staff that he was worried about. And the reason for THAT is the increasing number of lawsuits brought by parents against teachers and schools in case of an accident to their child - say if he/she climbs a tree in the schoolyard, falls and gets hurt. The argument is that teachers and assistants are supposed to be looking after the students and it's their job to ensure that the kids dont hurt themselves. If the kids disobey the rules and get hurt - well, it's still the fault of the staff members and care-givers (and there's a term I hate).

Isnt it ridiculous? The country seems to have come to a situation where somebody has to be blamed for whatever happens - and, of course, with blame comes the greed for compensation. There are zillions of "no win no fee" organisations that are only too happy to help the parents' greed along, while fattening themselves on the proceeds. If you trip over an uneven bit on the footpath, it's not because you are careless or clumsy, or werent looking where you were going. Oh no. It's because the local council didnt bother to make the footpath safe - and therefore you've got the right to sue it and get compensated for your unbearable agony of mind and body!

But I digress. Everybody is perfectly aware of how difficult it is for parents to protect one child from inadvertent hurts and scrapes; how much more difficult, then, to control a whole schoolful of the disobedient, unruly little darlings with only a few staff!

Here's a thought - perhaps the parents should start suing one another if their child gets hurt at home while with one or the other of them. Or better yet, take the logic one step further and give children their suing rights as well. That way, if a child trips over a toy it left lying around, and sprains or breaks an ankle, it can then claim compensation for the injury from the parents. How about that! Pretty soon, children will never be let out of the home (except maybe on a leash) so that nobody can sue or get sued - and even at home, parents will have to ensure that there is nothing on which children can injure themselves. A padded room and a straitjacket seem to be called for.

Never had a diary online before...but there's always a first time and this is it

Well, here goes. I've got to confess rightaway that this blog thing is Ramya-inspired. If a super-busy overworking celeb journalist can find the time (and the energy) to blog, then I can give it the old college try too... even though we're not from the same college and anyway we were years apart!

The second confession is that I havent written anything in years. Not anything to be particularly proud of, that is - unless you consider a few seriously dumbed-down write-ups in Singapore. Maybe this blog will help get some thoughts down in writing - or typing, really.

Since Rums sent me the transcript of the Jayalalithaa interview by Karan Thapar, I've been kicking myself for missing it. Well, for not even knowing about it, to tell the truth. Looks like Jaya amma was at her petulant, arrogant, childish worst. God, I wish I'd watched her live! If Thapar did end up saying the same things about her as the rest of the press, she didnt exactly say anything to disprove it. I suppose her admirers will think she did a great job, though.