Friday, 27 December 2013

Odds and Ends

Towards Zero (by Agatha Christie) very cleverly uses Poirot, without him being physically present in the story. For that alone (and the dedication), the book is worth it.

I re-read Crooked House (by Christie, who else). I generally never remember plot points, especially of a book that I read only once, way back in school. I remembered this one though-may be because when I read it first, the only kid-detectives I knew were in the Enid Blyton-created world. Would I recommend it?
Ummm... what kind of a stupid question is that?

Speaking of stupid, I chose Calcutta to spend my Christmas-New Year break, over Bombay.

Two weekends back, I went to Jaipur. Sight-saw Amer Fort, where the guide pulled me up for not paying enough attention. Had cups of chai to relieve a head ache (I am getting so old). Re-lived a lot of memories with a childhood friend. She called the Dhoom franchise a five year employment-guarantee scheme for Uday Chopra and Abhishek Bachchan.

I liked Dhoom 3 (to nobody's surprise).

Why is Silver Linings Playbook such a great film? I didn’t root for the protagonists at all, didn’t understand how Tiffany was mentally ill, and found the “twist”, where Pat realises that Tiffany had written the letter extremely…for the lack of a better word…lame.

Why can’t people be old and frail without being worriers/ naggers?

I was getting sick of doing drills in guitar class, so my tutor showed me how to play the Karz tune. Also “Ajeeb dastan hai yeh”. He was going to show “Chura liya hai tumne jo” too but my co-learner put her foot down at that. I can’t actually play any of these since I do not practise.

The other day I roamed around aimlessly in Gurgaon’s cyber-city. Still hate it.

Why can’t I do a PhD in Agatha Christie studies?

Saturday, 23 November 2013

You Know You have a Masters Degree in Economics When...

  • You haven’t bought a text book in three years-all three of which were spent as a student.
  • You look at the contents of a textbook (the ones you bought the first time in three years), and disappointedly conclude, “Meh…undergraduate stuff”.
  • You feel dissatisfied with your understanding of a concept (any concept) until you have worked out the math.
  • You remember more about Keynes’ love life than his economics.
  • You categorise fantasy fiction into two types- One, including the works of Tolkein and Rowling. The other, more whimsical type covering development models.
  • You understand that for a lot people (not necessarily economists), “in fact” means roughly the same thing as “in my opinion”.
  • You are the only person in social gatherings who does not feel outraged by how low the poverty line is. (It’s a only a measurement benchmark people, relax!)
  • People who studied physics are more likely to have solutions to the country’s economic problems than you. 
  • Your friend circle can be neatly classified into people who read the Hindu and those who read the Economics Times.
    (Secretly, you would rather just read the Times of India.) 
  • You think sociologists/ political scientists/schoolteachers have glamourous jobs.

Monday, 11 November 2013

In Which I Try My Hand at Blogging About Economics

I was initially going to bitch about how  this article in the Economic Times is badly written and badly edited, and why I hate the newspaper. Then I decided that it would be a little rich coming from a person who was going to try their hand at writing an economics blogpost (without making fun of the subject) for the first time.

(By the way, this has nothing to do with my lack of real blogging ideas, promise.)

What is BASEL?
 BASEL, or more accurately the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) sets standards for prudential regulations in the banking sector. Member countries are not legally obliged to follow these regulations. However, since the Committee comprises representatives from the Central Banks of the various countries, who formulate and agree to these, adherence is normally expected.
BASEL III is the latest set of regulations that countries are expected to enforce.
In particular, the BASEL III document lists the various capital requirements on banks.

What is capital?
Capital refers to those components of a bank's balance sheet that do not have to be repaid, and thus can be used to cover losses (due to loans that are defaulted on, for example). Capital is categorised according to tiers. "Tier 1" capital is the strongest, and includes things like common shares (that do not have legal requirements on dividends) and are repaid only in the case of liquidation, that too after all other claimants (like bond holders) are paid first. Higher the tier number, broader are the definitions of capital that apply.

What does BASEL say about capital?
BASEL and most countries have minimum capital requirements from banks. This requirement is expressed in terms of risk-weighted assets* and hovers around 8-10 per cent. BASEL III stipulates the requirement in terms of various types of capital. So 4.5 per cent of a bank's risk weighted assets are to be maintained in the form of Common Equity Tier 1 Capital (the strongest type of capital within Tier 1 capital), 6 per cent in terms of Tier 1 capital and and 8 per cent in terms of Tier 2 capital.

Are minimum capital requirements enough?
BASEL III also imposes an additional requirement of 2.5 per cent of Common Equity Tier 1 capital as a proportion of risk weighted assets. This is over and above the minimum requirement. If a bank fails to meet it, then restrictions are imposed on the manner in which it distributes its profits in the subsequent financial year. According to the BASEL requirements then, banks have to maintain Common Equity Tier 1 Capital to the tune of 7 per cent of risk weighted assets. If a bank's actual maintenance is 5 per cent then it may distribute x per cent of its profits in a manner it deems fit. If the number is 6 per cent, then it may distribute y per cent (y>x) of its profits the way it wants to.
This buffer can be drawn down in cases where the bank faces financial stresses.

So what it the article saying?
The RBI's requirements of banks are a little more stringent than the BASEL ones. Banks have to maintain Common Equity Tier 1 Capital to the tune of 5.5 per cent, total Tier 1 Capital equaling 7 per cent and total capital equal to 9 per cent of its risk weighted assets. The capital conservation buffer is put at 2.5 per cent of Common equity Tier 1 capital, which makes the total requirement of Common Equity Tier 1 capital at 8 per cent (hence the 8 per cent you see in the article). If the capital falls below this requirement then restrictions on the way the bank distributes its profits kick in. Effectively, this has increased the capital requirements on banks. However, this is being implemented in phases and the full strength of the restrictions will only be felt by 2018.
Hence, banks are now implementing measures to augment their capital. This includes introducing BASEL III compliant instruments which entail the risk to investors of non-payment of coupon (when a bank's Common Equity Tier 1 Capital falls below the 8 per cent mark).
The United Bank of India has introduced exactly this type of instrument earlier this year.

If you are wondering what the headline to the article is about, then refer to the last two paragraphs. Which have nothing to do with capital requirements-what the columnist spends 90 per cent of the newsprint on.

Are bank level capital requirements enough?
No. In their haste to maintain minimum capital requirements, banks often end up reinforcing pro-cyclicality in lending. This may happen because of falling bank profits (which figure in the calculation of capital) or due to increasing risk weights to assets (on account of higher risk of default that an economic downturn invariably entails). Instead of taking measures to enhance capital, banks end up lending less, which in turn leads to a further downturn in economic activity. To guard against this, BASEL III moots the concept of a counter-cyclical capital buffer.

How does the Counter cyclical capital buffer work?

The buffer gets activated in 'good times' when banks can afford to jack up their capital, and this can be drawn down in 'bad times' to ensure that the additional losses during the adverse economic situations can be covered. This may lead to banks not lowering their lending just to meet their capital requirements (though they may lower it anyway, if they are very risk averse).
The signal for the good times-i.e. for the bank to start increasing its capital is based on the movement of a macro-economic indicator. For example, the aggregate credit to GDP is recommended by BASEL III. If this exceeds the long term trend value by more than a pre-decided threshold, banks have to start increasing their capital. This is why the counter-cyclical buffer is called a macro-prudential instruments, as against the micro-prudential or bank specific requirements that are made under the conservation buffer (i.e. the drawing down begins when the individual bank is in trouble). The signal for drawing down the buffer may be different from the one that signals building up.
BASEL III envisages the buffer as an additional requirement of 2.5 per cent of capital over and above the minimum and the conservation buffer requirements. If a bank fails to meet the additional requirement (during the times it is meant to), then restrictions are imposed on the manner in which it may dispose off its profits in the subsequent financial year.

There is no small print?
There are actually lots of terms and conditions for the buffer to work well.
The most important being the choice of indicator that signals to banks to start increasing their capital. For example, according to a Countercyclical Capital Buffer Guidance for India (June 2012), the credit to GDP ratio in India was low and stable (with very little variation) up until 2002-03. Using the long term trend of the ratio as benchmark would also be misleading since financial repression in the past has meant that the trend itself if very low. Any deviation from that does not necessarily imply overheating or over-leveraging. This may simply be due to desirable financial deepening, a switch from informal to formal credit sources, priority lending, and increased lending to the manufacturing sector (which the Government aims to develop) where credit intensity is higher. This is possibly true of most emerging market economies. Indeed, the BASEL guidance document itself urges regulators to exercise their discretion when asking banks to increase capital.

This also the approach recommended by UK'S Draft Policy Statement on the Financial Policy Committee and its power to direct regulators on countercyclical capital buffers and sectoral capital requirements. In particular, FPC, intends to monitor 17 indicators including credit to GDP ratio,leverage ratios (capital to unweighted assets), returns on assets before tax (as a measure of bank profitability), loans to deposit ratio (indicative of stable source of funding for banks), bank debt measures like subordinated debt spreads (decreasing spreads during recessions may signal improvement in climate),nominal credit to the private sector, net foreign assets, gross external liabilities (where debt liability may be more risky than foreign direct investment),current account (reflecting possible imbalances in borrowing), metrics reflecting volatility in equity and debt markets, global spreads in debt markets (a spread that is too low may indicate that the premium on risk is not high- hence may trigger increased CCB to build resilience, the same occurrence during a downturn may reflect improvement in conditions and lower risks) etc. The FPC also rejects an "automatic buffer" which the BASEL guidance document recommends (automatic in the sense that as soon as a certain mark on the indicator is breached, the countercyclical buffer should increase or decrease). This is supported by EU recommendations.

The decision on the threshold of the variable (crossing which would signal banks to increase capital) is another matter of concern. The threshold should be low enough, and early enough for banks to start jacking up the capital in time. This is especially relevant as the banks would get 12 months after the trigger to meet requirements under the counter cyclical capital buffer. Drawing down can begin immediately.

How the adjustment should take place-i.e. how a threshold  translates into a particular capital requirement may depend on how badly banks would be affected in terms of a crisis (this is done through a simulation). Whether the minimum capital requirement is pro-cyclical at all is also an important consideration.

Yet another criticism of the countercyclical capital buffer is its crudeness. This means that the tool requires higher capital provisioning for all classes of assets, regardless of whether these are actually contributing to increased risks. This is addressed by imposing cyclical buffers relative to loans to specific "culprit" sectors. For example, Switzerland in January 2013, asked its banks to increase capital provisioning by 1 percentage point as a proportion of mortgage positions held (in risk weighted terms).

Does India have a countercyclical capital buffer?
Not yet. BASEL allows countries to start the buffer from 2016, implementing it in phases. Completion is expected only in 2019. UK and Switzerland are early birds in this respect. End November will likely see the release of a report by a B Mahapatra led committee, set up to look into the operationalise the buffer in India.

*That implies that riskier the asset- i.e. higher the possibility of default of a loan, higher the capital provisioning that has to be made.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Who I Wanted to Be

Who I Hoped I Would Be

Who I thought I Could Be

Who I am Expected to Be

Who I Actually Am

Saturday, 7 September 2013

If I Were a Book Consultant...

  1. Nobody, I repeat, nobody does crime better than Christie.
  2. Hype (due to a famous author) sells more books. I would have never paid 600 for John Galbraith’s debut novel.
  3. Higher expectations (due to a famous author or hype) take away from the fun. Especially if your book is not about a boy-wizard called Harry.
  4. Cuckoo’s Calling is not about a boy-wizard called Harry.
  5. It’s about Cormoran Strike, the most insipid British detective I have met. Prosthetic leg and chequered past notwithstanding.
  6. Strike’s sidekick, Robin is more interesting. She is a stand-in for everybody who grew up wanting to be a detective but got saddled with a more realistic career.
  7. No, that is different from just being less brilliant than the protagonist.
  8. Rowling should use the light touch she brought to the early Potter books, if she wants to continue this series. More so, if the actual plot is weak.
  9. (Sorry to harp about this, but learn from Christie!)
  10. Higher expectations can also diminish the enjoyment of books by Agatha Christie, as sad as I am to report.
  11. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is not Christie’s masterpiece. The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side is.
  12. Forget I said that. Just read.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Born to Whine

Whining is cathartic.
Nothing matches the relief of vocalising your complaints about your life to someone. The listener should :

  • Know you well enough to know that you whine. A lot. About everything. And nothing.
  • Take you seriously enough to know that your complaints are genuine.
  • Not take you seriously enough to start worrying about your future.
  • Not be a parent.
  • Not be a smug, content-with-life type.
  • Preferably draw parallels between his/ her life and yours, letting you know that life is a b***h in general.

The problem with being a whiner is, that you aren't sure whether you are truly unhappy or if you are just whining out of habit. And you will probably never have the courage to do anything but the conventional. Because what if you risk everything for the unconventional and still want to whine?

PS: When I say you...
PPS: I meant bitch when I wrote b***h. The blog will not become subject to mental filters.

Friday, 9 August 2013

The Oddest School in the World (No, not Hogwarts)

This was brought on by a friend's blog post.

Apparently, working people sleep whenever they can. I saw this in my father, see it in my sister, and see it every day in the cab I take to and from work. The first two-three days I was taken aback at the lack of conversation among colleagues, now I understand. I sleep for most of the hour too. Except for two minutes in the evening when I unfailingly awaken every day. It happens on a stretch of road known as the Benito Juarez Marg. The road that has my old school, sitting by its side. (This probably explains my love for K3G, but that’s not important here.)
The funny thing is, I didn’t particularly like my school while I was in it. Or even now. I don’t really miss it or anything, but every time I think of it, I remember some oddity that makes me smile.
For example, this ritual we had of ‘cleaning duty’. Every day a ‘cleaning duty monitor’ (one of the most influential members of the class), would designate four people to broom the class-room after school. It was supposed to be a character building exercise. We thought the school was too cheap to hire help. Or was allowing us to explore alternative career options, a very popular opinion, given the quality of some of the teachers.
To be fair, we had some excellent teachers. But they were almost always hamstrung by the lack of time. Brought on by the range of extra-curricular activities-so important for character building-that the school encouraged. Activities included an Africa Week, an annual celebration of our friendship with the continent. Through the week, we would write (essay, poetry competitions), talk (assemblies), draw (poster making competitions) on topics around the theme. Then on the last day, there would be a proper cultural programme with song and dance (the same one every time). African dignitaries would be guests. For all the wonderful education that the students were receiving, they weren’t shy of poking fun at the clothes and the girths, and sadly, the complexions, that our guests sported. 
We weren’t limited to Africa though. There was a Palestine Club, with 15 year old members dedicated to the cause. So what if they were foggy about what the cause exactly was. And then there was the, even broader in scope, International Evening. The Evening featured a ballet of some sort, but my abiding memory is that of a handful of foreign students dancing to “Heal the World”, while the Indian kids stood around with candles in their hands.

 The only function that the students (local and international) really looked forward to, was School Birthday. The closest equivalent, if you went to a sane school would be Founders’ Day. From what I hear, the latter is a stiff formal function attended by Very Important People with a proclivity for long speeches. In some, prizes are given out and the proud history of the school recited. There might be a sombre lunch or an off day for the students in the more generous schools. We on the other hand, had a School Birthday Party- complete with its very own birthday ditty, and a cake cutting ceremony. Some of the kids, who had their birthdays in the same week (or who could convincingly lie about it being so) would go up on stage to help the matronly Founder Principal do the honours. They would also get a bite of the cake on stage, which they claimed was much nicer than the one all of us got in class, later.

In junior school, the main event was the fancy dress competition.  Which was always painful, mostly due to my unimaginative parents.  But also in part due the over-ambitious mothers and zealous elder sisters some of the other kids in the class had. Once I remember, I had a huge bruise on my cheek after falling down from the swing. My parents still made me a fairy. Because that would involve dressing me up in the lone frilly frock I had, and handing me a magic wand my father had fashioned out of a twig and aluminium foil, a couple of School Birthdays back. The same year, the boy next to me in the queue came dressed as a witch. In third standard, the fattest boy in class came dressed as a woman, wearing a green spaghetti top, a black skirt and chandelier earrings (clearly, parents were less squeamish, back in the 90s). I went dressed as a fairy, in case you were wondering. 

No chance of a win, year after year, after year. May be they did manage to build character after all.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

When people eulogise the West for scientific advancements, the computer and the internet, I don’t turn around and say “But we gave the world the zero!”
When Rajnath Singh denounces the use of English, I don’t take to the streets in my saffron robes in support.
I don’t blame all of society’s ills from corruption to violence against women to inflation on the insidious Western culture.
But I still don’t understand the transplanting of every Western custom, especially when some of these are not natural fits.
In the West, people refer to each other by their first names. Neighbours, friends’ parents, in-laws. So it’s natural for them to address each other similarly even at work.
Here, everyone who is older gets a familial suffix. People make generous use of Uncles and Aunties. Friends’ parents, parents’ friends, neighbours, shopkeepers, domestic help all get one of the two. Friends’ siblings, younger neighbours, older children of parents’ friends, the children of domestic help have a ‘didi’ or ‘bhaiya’ attached. And even this is the more generic nomenclature in Delhi. In Bengal for instance, mother’s friends would be mama/ mashi, dad’s friends would be pishi/ kaku. Neighbours slightly older to your dad would be Jethu, Jethima; neighbours slightly younger would be kaku/ kakima.
Yet, when we go to work, we are expected to forget all that and address people considerably older by their first names. Why can’t I call someone senior Sir/ Ma’am, why is that so offensive? Such a form of address is not a mark of servility in India, just a mark of respect. Why is professionalism confused so much with Westernisation? Why do people forget context?
Take McDonalds. Every time you go in, a staff member smiles at you, enquires after your well-being (in English) and then proceeds to take your order. I am not arguing against hospitality or good manners. In its initial days, I am sure McDonald got a more niche clientele, but since then things have got more inclusive. The patron more often is not English-speaking (though he/she may be English-understanding and English-reading). The servers too are hardly ever comfortable with the language, beyond the two-three niceties they are expected to mouth. Is this, not then, a cultural imposition?
But while I recognise the importance of context in the above instances, I am sometimes less willing to consider it in others. Feminism, for example. It seems wrong when people talk about how important women are in society, with respect to their position as mother, wife or daughter. Yet, in India, everyone (men and women) are defined according to their relationships with others...So do I suddenly agree with that school of thought?

Just ruminating. 

Friday, 26 July 2013

The 25 Step Guide to Getting Your Passport

1)    Register yourself on the website Download the e-form required to make a fresh application, and skim through it to see the details required. It looks easy enough. So close the form and procrastinate.
2)      Get prodded at work to expedite the process. Rush to complete the form the same day, upload it where it needs to be uploaded.
3)      An appointment with your nearest Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) needs to be scheduled. Make an online payment of the passport fee. Encounter a glitch in the process and panic.
4)      The glitch gets resolved. Relax.
5)      Relax some more as no appointments are available.
6)      Log in the next day, five minutes after the time at which the appointment booking for your PSK starts. All appointments have been taken already.
7)      Next time you try, log in half an hour before the appointment booking starts. Practice the process twice, so that you can be really quick. Succeed at booking appointment, finally. It’s in two days.
8)      Look at the ‘Document Advisor’ link at the website.
i)        Realise that your parents have no idea as to where your birth certificate is, necessary for everyone born after 1989. Begin frantic search.
ii)       Scour the neighbourhood for notaries who can help prepare an affidavit for you, attesting to your address and identity. 9 times out of ten, they also double up as passport touts.
iii)     Rack your brains about Government servants you know, who can vouch for your good moral character, deemed a necessity for those applying under the Tatkal Scheme. The government servant needs to be at least a rank of Undersecretary to the government. Conclude that the only person you know (of), that high up is Umbridge.
iv)     Get your misconceptions corrected. Undersecretary is not that high up.
v)      Appreciate your tardiness in not consulting the Advisor before taking an appointment.
9)      Organise your documents the morning of your appointment. Notice that your father’s name on the character certificate (issued by the government servant), is written incorrectly. Panic.
10)   Rush to the office of the government servant, in the opposite corner of the city. Reach before the peon has unlocked the cabin and the secretary has arrived at her desk.
11)   Hover over the secretary’s computer getting the changes made. Silently will the government servant to hurry up and sign. Shoot down his offers of tea, and make your way to the PSK, again to the other end of the city.
12)   Mentally abuse the driver for following traffic rules.
13)   Reach the PSK 15 minutes late, then pray while in the queue of people waiting to be told whether they have the required documents. Notice people being sent back. Pray more fervently.
14)   Reach the top of the queue after a 45 minute wait. The guy at the counter will ask for a ton of things, none of which were mentioned on the website. Thank God for giving you the sense to carry all the documents (really, all) you accumulated since you were born.
15)   Get approved. Enter the waiting area to await your turn with the passport officers.
16)   Wait.
17)   Wait some more.
18)   Meet the first guy in the process. He will scan your fingerprints, check your details and snark about you being late, conveniently forgetting the three hours you have waited subsequently for the process to begin.
19)   Wait again. Meet the second guy. He will ask to see some of your originals again. As you dive into your folder to extricate them, he will grow impatient, and tell you to let it be. Move to the final stage.
20)   Notice people being sent back even in the third stage, about six hours into the start of the process. You will be too exhausted to worry, just wait your turn.
21)   The guy at the third stage will notice something amiss in your documents. Examine them minutely to find a way out while he threatens to send you back. Succeed at convincing him.
22)   Leave the PSK with a receipt.
23)   Two days later, get a visit from the post-man. He will have your passport. And will want a ‘dakshina’ from you to hand it over. Be humble, do not remind him that he is just doing his job, not granting you a personal favour. Pay up.
24)   Behold your passport.

25) A few days later, you will get a visit from the neighbourhood policeman, as part of the verification process. He will be nice enough, filling up a form, stapling photocopies of your documents together (again not bothering with the originals), refusing offers of tea and water. Then before leaving, he will glance sideways, averting eye contact, and ask with a smile "Kuch denge nahi?"
What can I say, when in India, always pay up.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Second Day at Work

It doesn’t quite register the first day.
You are too worried about whether you have all the documents, that you haven’t gone through all the “Culture at the Workplace” videos diligently enough, that you don’t have an inkling of what the job entails, you don’t have an inkling of what the day entails, that you aren’t good enough, you got through by a fluke, that the job isn’t good enough, it’s going to bore you, maybe academics was your forte.
The second day, the other things seem to matter a little less. You know the set of people you will be spending the day with, and you figure you will worry about the work when it starts. It sounded good when you first heard of it, you couldn’t take another day in the classroom you are now so nostalgic about, these people must have been hiring for years, they wouldn’t take you if you were that undeserving.
With all that sorted in your head, as you enter the gleaming office building, the second day, that’s when it hits you-the happiness, the almost-pride. You have to dig your fingernails into your hand, to prevent yourself from smiling like an idiot, as you go through the glass door, as your heels click smartly on the marbled floor, as others in the elevator notice the tag you are wearing. That’s when it hits you-the pleasure of starting your first job.

(This was written after the second day at work-which was actually a day of training. I didn’t know then that I would spend the two actual working days, after the three-day training period, in a state of perpetual confusion, or that I would be working most of my weekend, again being all confused, and unsure of even whether I was working correctly. But still.)

Saturday, 6 July 2013

My Grist with Western Formals

  • It's the first step by Corporations at homogenising people, throttling overt displays of individuality.
  • A kurta clad, jhola toting individual does not have to be a rabble-rousing commie. So don't give me shaky logic about reflecting 'professionalism'. (Also, anybody who believes that it's the first step by Corporations at homogenising people, does not have to be a rabble-rousing commie)
  • They are shit expensive
  • They are really not suited to the Indian body type. At least to not a person with an Indian body type with curves thrown in at exactly the wrong spots.
  • Related to the previous point, they have a way of making a person with an Indian body type (with curves thrown in at exactly the wrong spots) feel really bad about herself. A Fabindia Medium can barely squeeze into a Van Heusen Extra Large.
  • There is not enough choice for women. (If someone with access to all the brands that post-1991 India has to offer, says this, he/she is definitely not a rabble-rousing commie).

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Travelpost: Bhubaneswar and Puri

 22 June 2013. 5:15 am. Kolkata. In front of sister’s apartment building.
“Will you come down today, at all?” I bark into the phone.
I hear sister suppress a giggle on the other side.
“Yes, 5 minutes e aaschi”, she says.
I repeat this to mother. She looks worriedly at the taxi driver.
“We will reach Howrah in time, won’t we?” she asks, seeking reassurance.
“What time is your train?”
“6. Dhouli Express”, father answers.
The driver looks into his watch, then sees our expressions. With noticeable relish, he says, “Can’t say for sure”.
I forgive him instantly. If I had been called at 4:30 in the morning and made to wait for 45 minutes subsequently, I would have said something to similar effect.

22 June 2013. 7:00 am. On board the Dhouli Express, making its way to Bhubaneswar.
“Breakfast khaben?”the Odiya train conductor asks in Bengali.
Parents opt for vegetarian fare. Sister wants an omelette. She eggs brother-in-law and me to choose chicken cutlets.
Apparently one can go wrong with chicken, we realise within the next half-hour.

22 June 2013. 6:00 pm. Bhubaneswar. In front of the Lingaraj Temple.
Sister screws up at her nose at the stench. Brother-in-law screws up his nose at the idea of visiting a temple.
She leaves him to guard our shoes outside while we make a whirlwind tour of the complex. It’s beautiful, but the floor hasn’t been maintained well. So walking bare feet is a pain, quite literally. The door of the main deity is scheduled to open shortly, but we don’t stay.

22 June 2013. 10 pm. Bhubaneswar. At the guest house.
Mother is pointing at the wall, her eyes glassy with fear.
She has just spotted a mouse in the room.
The care-taker of the guest house says unconcernedly, “kaatega nahi”.
He is lying, we realise a while later, as one of the other guests recounts stories of cable wires being destroyed and human ears being nibbled.
“There are only temples to see here in Bhubaneswar,” brother-in-law chimes in helpfully.
Our minds are made. We are going to Puri. (Famous for its Jagganath Temple, but nobody points that out).

23 June 2013. 9 am. Bhubaneswar. At the guest house.
Father is pacing the length of the room. He glances at his watch periodically, checking it with the wall clock in the room at the same time.
The car is at the gate. It’s supposed to take us to Chilka Lake first. Then drop us to a hotel in Puri.
Mother and I have finished packing.
There is no word from sister’s room yet.
Mother mutters under her breath. I think she is vowing to never plan a trip with her elder daughter again.

23 June 2013. 12:30 pm. Chilka Lake. On the steamer, on our way to a Kali Bari in the middle of the lake.
Brother-in-law is bounding about the boat, using windows to enter and exit at will. Mother watches him with a terrorised expression on her face. She glances at me sideways. I smile at her. I can see she is glad she has two daughters. Her gladness evaporates soon enough, as sister and I decide to climb up on the deck as well.
We have prawns and bhetki later for lunch. Odisha is the only place outside of Bengal, where the parents will allow this.

23 June. 8:00 pm. Puri. Hotel Dreamland.
“The name practically tells you that the hotel will be no good”, sister says while looking around the room in disgust.
It is a medium sized room, decorated in the style of a Bollywood film set from the 70s, I notice with considerable pleasure. Complete with a wall mirror facing the bed, and red velvet curtains. Plus the view of the sea is divine. The dogs and the cows on the beach, notwithstanding.

24 June. 2 pm. Puri. On board our mode of transportation- a battered old phatphat.
Our driver doubles up as the guide, tells us he will take us to a Gour Vihar and Mohuna.
He also informs us that the Jagganath Temple is closed for 15 days, a yearly period when the God is ‘sick’ and sees no visitors. Nobody says anything, but the glee in the atmosphere is palpable.
On the other hand, Gour Vihar, to nobody’s surprise turns out to be a temple-cum-ashram, dedicated to Shri Chaitanya Deva, a disciple of Lord Krishna. Father mumbles something about him also being an avatar of the latter. Then gets thrown off by the depiction of the two of them together, as also my persistent queries of how that was possible. I look to mother for clarification, but she quickly averts my gaze.
Father turns out to be right. It wasn’t Chaitanya Dev in the depiction.
It still seems improper to me, almost narcissistic that Chaitanya was pretending to be his own disciple.
Mother whispers to me to shut up. “Everyone understands Bangla here. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings”.
A very rough ride later, the phatphat stops in the middle of nowhere, and the driver points to a tree. I can see an orange coloured deity there, sitting in a tiny little shrine of its own.
“Mohuna is a temple? A tiny temple?”, brother-in-law asks, his voice straining to remain polite.
“No saab, walk up there, you will see”, the driver smiles, pointing at a slope.
We do. And remain spell-bound. If I were a better writer or simply less lazy, my fancy flowery words would let you know that it’s the most beautiful place I have seen. As the case is, you have to be satisfied with pictures, pictures that do no justice to the beauty on display.

Mohuna, the place where the Mahanadi and the Bay of Bengal converge

The entire trip is immediately deemed a success.

25 June. 10 pm. Kolkata. Grandparents’ place.
Grandmother stares at us. Her face betrays feelings of disbelief and pity at the same time.
“You couldn’t see the Jagannath temple?”, she asks aloud finally, with stress on the 'couldn’t'.
“Eeesh”, she commiserates.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

I had decided I would be more socially responsible in my blogging. Stop talking about things that happen to me and discuss things that happen to people around me. Discuss things of relevance, of importance to everyone, things in the news.
But my newspaper is filled with the news of a CM losing her marbles...
What opinion can you have about that besides agreeing (or less likely, disagreeing)...
So much for social responsibility.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

In the News- 19 June 2013

A study finds that Harry Potter fans are less authoritarian, more tolerant of differences, and more politically active than non-fans.
The article doesn't discuss the methodology in too much detail but two points-
1) correlation does not mean causation (which the above article acknowledges)
2) Kids who read more in general (and hence have a greater likelihood of reading Harry Potter) may be less authoritarian, more tolerant of differences etc.
Moreover, it's possible that kids who relate more to the themes of equality, justice, tolerance underlying the seven-part series are more likely to recognize themselves as fans.

But, let's not nitpick too much, okay?

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Chink in Agatha Christie's Armour

 In college, my Monday afternoons went towards attending meetings of the Quiz Society. At the starting of the year, we divided up into groups of two, each group responsible for conducting about one quiz every two months on a rotational basis. The rest of the society would participate.
A bad quiz to my eyes, were those coming under the broad heading of Pop Culture quizzes, concentrating almost exclusively on the Godfather films (that I hadn’t seen), and a couple of bands I had never heard (okay fine, I don’t really listen to anything besides Bollywood).
A good quiz on the other hand was universally recognized as one with questions that were workout-able. The emphasis was on how much the quizzers could figure out from the clues in the question, rather than how much they knew.
The same metric should equally be applicable to detective fiction. After all, the primary pleasure in reading these arises from solving the mystery, along with the detective.  By this standard, anything that Agatha Christie wrote would come out tops. It helped that her detectives were regular people, amateurs and even when not, they relied more on order and method than on brilliance. In contrast, if Sherlock Holmes were to occupy a guest-bedroom in Styles Court or Chimneys, the solution would be forthcoming in a matter of minutes. Thus, it’s only right that he features in fantastical settings where his intelligence is suitably challenged. And where readers have no inkling as to where things are heading.
Going back to Christie, a delightful aspect of her writing is her repertoire of heroines. As is to be expected, they are morally upright but in a very unprincipled sort of way. While they pursue noble ends-to clear the name of a fiancé, or to seek the truth in their quest for adventure, they are not shy of fibbing or outright manipulation, when these are required. Even the secondary female characters are interesting. Consider Ms. Percehouse in the Sittaford Mystery. When her nephew talks of her, she comes across as a caricature of the typical old spinster-a lonely curmudgeon. When the readers see her for the first time however, you realise that she is a curmudgeon, but only in the eyes of her nephew, who she sets to work around her home. She herself wishes that the nephew stood up to her bullying at times. He would appear more sincere if he did. Moreover, she combines this good judgement of character with a healthy curiosity, making her altogether a most real person.
The problem arises when the readers start expecting every female character to be ‘strong’. And suspecting everyone who is not.  So, when an elderly spinster is described as intelligent at the beginning, and she says “Men are deeper thinkers than women”, you can’t help but feel that she is being disingenuous, and you are already on your guard. Or when others commiserate with a character who is helpless, described as having “no money or place to go”, you wonder why she also lacks initiative. And true enough, she turns out to have that in abundance. So much so, that she turns out to be the master-mind of the entire problem.
Then again, in the Sittaford mystery, I kept suspecting the Willett mother-daughter duo have to be culpable somehow, since the daughter couldn’t just be a “pretty girl-scraggy,” who took to squealing and fainting, when something slightly sinister happened.
Yes, I could have titled the post: "Christie can do no Wrong"

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

At the Bookstore

The Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi.
No but what if I don't take to the genre.

Khaled Hossieni's And the Mountains Echoed.
Not in the right mood for a certified tear jerker.

Dan Brown's Inferno.
 Too formulaic.

Vikas Swarup's Accidental Apprentice.
 I don't know if it's any good. Plus I will finish it in a day, then what?

Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.
Classic. Everybody under the sun has read it. I haven't.
Hmmm... do I really want to read it. Will I go home and tear into it?

Satyajit Ray's Complete Feluda Stories.
This I will definitely tear into. But what if the translation isn't good enough?

So I end up buying...

Aaah, the comfort of familiar pleasures...

Everything You Really Need to Know about the Delhi School of Economics

There’s a lot to hate about the Delhi School of Economics.

Delhi School of Economics Campus
Its course content in the first year- mostly revolving around mathematics.

Teachers who appear inaccessible.

The huge class size.

The (initial) daily struggle to get good seats.

Some of the teaching assistants.

The weekends. When followed by a mid-term.

The exams themselves, especially when the professors play tricks. (Beware when the teacher announces something as ‘not important from the exam-point-of-view’. That is exactly what will be tested in the form of a question worth 35 marks).

The pressure, the lack of time to really absorb what you’re learning.

But thankfully, there’s also a lot to love.

The Good Professors- God knows that every institution, however great, has its share of mediocre faculty. This is true for D-School as well. However, the brilliance of some of them in the classroom will startle you. There are professors who can explain the most convoluted concepts with the most ridiculous examples (so imperfect capital mobility becomes akin to taking coins out of your torn pocket slowly). There are others who will revel in students questioning assumptions and explanations, will go back and think through those objections, then physically search for students in the corridors, to clarify the concepts again. A few professors will discuss things in class that appear more advanced than the (considerably difficult) texts. And then yet others who understand your life is difficult anyway, without “wasting valuable hard-disk space” memorising things.

The Very Efficient Photocopy Shop (till some kill-joys entered the fray)- Prem Bhaiya knows more than you do. Period.  Your life’s going to be much easier if you curtail the habit of arguing with him about readings. And bear with it when he incredulously asks, “Padoge kab??”, when you want to buy LADW after the math mid-sem is over. He means well.

The Ratan Tata Library-is certainly well stocked. But as with everything in DSE, it’s the people who make it as good as it is. There are catalogues of course, but don’t bother with those if you want a text-book. The two elderly gentle men at the desk have an encyclopaedic memory of every book that has passed their hands. And they will take it as a personal insult if you can’t locate a book that is less-asked for (as every non-text-book is likely to be). On the flip side, they issue books for a very short time. If you are a regular though, you only get gently chided for being late.

The Infrastructure- the Lecture Theatre is fantastic. The loos have been recently beautified (and get users from as far as Ramjas). The air-conditioning in the CDE will put an end to your constant whining about how hot/ cold it is in Delhi. The speed of the computers could be better. But the staff certainly couldn’t be (especially now that I have realised their shared dislike of a certain faculty member).

The D-school canteen- According to some students the quality of the food is unsatisfactory. Ignore them, they are stupid. The food’s fine (though unholy rumours abound about the source of the meat in the mutton dosas). The ambience is better. The service, if nothing else, is entertaining.
Ask Baba how much you need to pay. He confidently says, “Pachasi (eighty five)”
Kaise, Baba? (How come)”, you ask.
Arre, pachas hi (fifty only).”

JP Tea Stall and its Iced Tea- I have already waxed eloquent about it before. And I have nothing new to add. Unless you want to know I choked up just a little, while having my last glass there.

The peer group- there are 180 students in a batch. It’s very unlikely you won’t find friends here.
Though very lucky to find the friends I did-
·         A Bong who shares my enthusiasm for films and music (though her tastes are more evolved than mine will ever be). Also an authority on photography (in our group, anyway).
·         A Bong enthusiast who thinks she speaks better Bangla that I do (she most certainly does not) and whose studious look belies her chatterbox self, as well as her appreciation of Prakash Raj
·         A smartass with an enviable collection of ‘videos’ and a brain that can solve problem sets from courses she did not have
·         A freakishly quick reader, who frequently uses words like ‘syapa’ (though in her defence, D school provides for many occasions for such words to be used). Also thinks that the world is divided into good people and rapists.
·         An introvert who can be incredibly fun to be with when she opens up. Also, what notes‼
·         An eternal optimist, who maintains ‘sab ho jayega’, when I assail her with my whining. Likes JP iced tea, so didn’t take long for me to really like her.
Besides the 180 are going to include people from your college, most of whom share a similar work ethic and a passion for discussing Singham. Their reassurances of also not knowing any linear algebra, helps as well. As do other people you find (even if it’s a little late in the course to know them very well) to talk to due to courses you have in common, during lunch hours or when you are killing time at JP.

Overall, even though it's not something you ever believe yourself to be capable of feeling during the two years at DSE, you are going to miss the place only a few days into your hard-earned holidays.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Travelpost: 10 Things about Kolkata, from an Outsider's Perspective

Wikipedia enumerates the following steps to be followed in the process of doing research
·         Identification of research problem
·         Literature review
·         Specifying the purpose of research
·         Determine specific research questions or hypotheses
·         Data collection
·         Analyzing and interpreting the data
·         Reporting and evaluating research
Since I don't think I have the right orientation for this kind of work anyway (I am after all quoting Wikipedia), I will dispense with any pretence at a scientific enquiry. The following are my (sometimes biased) observations about Kolkata, formed through a lifetime of summer holidays I have spent here.
v  Kolkata is only a different type of hot. While Delhi’s heat will announce itself to you, with its nasty sun and the infamous loo, Kolkata’s will sneak up from behind and take you by surprise. The sweet wind that appears to be blowing outside, when you are at home will conspire to stand still as soon as you step out, and reduce you to a sweaty mess, in the first ten steps you take.
v  Getting work done here, especially in the first attempt, is a near impossibility. This would normally be fine, except when you are working according to Delhi deadlines.
v  One of the reasons for the above is the interminable lunch hour(s) that shops here follow. Long enough, to ensure that the worst administration departments of the best Delhi University colleges are a distant second.
           Last week I needed to use the cyber cafe here for a few printouts. Admittedly, I reached the market at 3:30, and was justly informed that I would have to wait for the shop to open. At 4, I spied the owner entering the market, a man I had known since I was 10 (having overheard him planning a ganja party over the phone, but I digress). When I limped after him to ask when he would open, he waved me away, saying ‘later’.
 I went again to the cafe at 4:25, thinking it was sufficiently ‘later’. He had the shop open and most of the computers on too. I smiled. He grunted and said ‘Come at 4:30’.
I showed him my watch, pleading there were only 5 minutes for that.
He turned around now facing me properly for the first time. He seemed to hesitate first, then something in my eager, pleading face helped him make up his mind. Taking a deep breath, he leaned forward and said, “4:30 means 5.”
An important life lesson learnt.
v  People are unnaturally chatty here. Especially in comparison to Delhi, where even the Metro keeps reminding you to not befriend any strangers (lest you get drugged and raped/ drugged and looted/ not drugged but still sweet-talked into parting with all your money etc.).
The chattiness can sometimes be nice, when you receive a nugget of absolutely irrelevant information. When it takes the form of unsolicited advice, then it can be a little infuriating.
v  Kolkata is second to known, when it comes to political awareness among its citizens. Domestic help/ guardsmen/ vendors etc. take en-masse leave during election season to go back to their native villages to cast their vote. A few years back, my three year old cousin examined my fingernails and disappointedly surmised that I hadn’t voted.
v  Children are very precocious here. Okay no, children are precocious everywhere.
v  Kolkata kids (students) are very hard working. At the tender age of nine when their Delhi counterparts don’t know what an essay is, these kids are mugging up dozens of them every week. When a Delhi kid has difficulty pronouncing participle , the Kolkata kid is far past the stage where he/she wrote the participles of 10 verbs every day. The Kolkata kid, as soon as he/ she enters class eight, is reminded of the impending Board examinations. Life outside school ceases in class 9. That’s when they start going for two tuitions for every subject. And if you have a cousin in Kolkata who is in tenth standard, the same year as you, then besides all the studying/mugging/ tuition-taking, he/she will also make life very miserable for you.
v  People (adults) have a lot of time on their hands. Markets, have dedicated spaces here, where people congregate to chat, have tea, while away their afternoons/ evenings. In fact no time is sacrosanct.
Today, at 12:15 pm, I saw two youngish-men, dressed in formals, at the neighbourhood park, SWINGING. Yes, on those contraptions designed for kids-which they no longer need, given how busy they are, studying or just being precocious.
Mind you, these were bhodrolok, not the unemployed youth who loll about in Delhi’s Central Park.
v  Scatological humour is big here. This is tied in to the general pre-occupation about one’s digestive systems and food.
v  Food’s everywhere here. And relatively cheap.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

5 June 2013

It was the beginning of my second week into D school. My only friend from college there, had decided she wanted to go to JNU. I hadn't bothered making any new ones, too busy realising I wasn't really cut out for the place, that I did not have the self assurance to leave. You get the idea...I was miserable, and alone on my way back home in the metro. Desperately in need of a friend.

Nearing Rajiv Chowk, I messaged you asking where you were. You were already there, on your way home and in the company of another friend. I wanted you to wait for me, hear me whine. But I knew you did not get to meet him that often. It wouldn't be fair on you to tell you to wait. So I didn't. You messaged back saying you were carrying on.

I think that's the problem with us introverts. It's legitimate that we don't have a very large network. It's perfectly fine if we don't want to always talk. Not even with our closest friends. It's okay to be happy alone. But being unhappy and alone-not such a great idea.

Anyway, I got off at the station and made my way to the platform above. Walking slowly towards the ladies coach. Glad that the bad day over was over. But equally aware that the week was only starting.
And then from nowhere, you appeared, smiling and cheerful. Telling me you had stayed.

It's okay to be an introvert, if they have a friend like you.
Thank you.
Happy Birthday.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Random thoughts of a demented mind (attached to a leg with a twisted tendon)

  • Doctors should be legally mandated to take calls at all hours. And make home visits when required.
  • Nobody quite gets me except the guy who comes to collect the garbage everyday. He admitted to crying loudly and all the time, when the same thing happened to him. I immediately felt like less of an entitled cry baby.
  • If I ever get a husband/ live-in partner/platonic room-mate, it will have to be an orthopedic specialist.
  • A friend recently wondered aloud how wonderful it would be if we could excise certain body parts when possible, to be attachable, whenever convenient. She was talking in the context of a certain female body part. Should be equally applicable to your legs.
  • You think/ say a lot of crap when in pain.