Things that just continue to evade you

I don’t know about most of you, but there are loads of thing that continue to evade me. As much as I try to catch them, they whizz past me making a whooshing sound. If I were to make a list, even a quarter of it would be longer than ‘War and Peace’. (BTW … Peace is another thing that evades the world today. But that’s a topic for the newspapers of the world to write about)
Ok, coming back to my list.

This picture, that I recently saw in a magazine reminded me of one of those things. Actually it is a skill, and the lack of it gas been reaffirmed over the last couple of weekends – An utterly evident inability to get a coal barbecue going! What would I give to get a roaring BBQ like this one going –

Anything at all.

I have tried every trick in the book, on Weber grill company’s website, every type of coal, lighting fluid, kindling and brand of matchsticks available in every supermarket. Every nook and corner in the garden has been experimented with to shade or expose the grill to or from sun, wind, shadows, birds, bees or pollen in the air. I have even tried changing the chemical composition of the air surrounding my house. But nothing has worked. To get a BBQ dinner ready for 7 in the evening, I have to get started at 9 in the morning. But come dinnertime, there is one pathetic little piece of coal weakly glowing in the corner of the grill while I am caked in soot and surrounded by heaps of meat and veggies beautifully marinated with the choices seasonings and a bunch of friends rumbling stomachs standing around grumbling with empty plates in their hands, staring at me.

After a few hours and many beers, one of them will usually come over and yank the tongs out of my hands. And in less than 10 seconds, there will be a roaring fire and that empty grill top will be groaning under the weight of meat and veggies sizzling away to glory.

When the same thing happened last weekend, I quietly slipped away and tried to hide my face in the latest copy of ‘The New Yorker’ (which for the life of me, I still don’t remember why did I subscribe to). There another picture stared at me. This one ….


In one swift stroke, this brutally swept aside every other item on my list and perched itself right on top.

At first I thought this was a joke. But no, this magical thing really exists. Apparently here’s how it works – You can order a big stack of DVDs, run through them on your expensive HD blu-ray player and 4K TV, and a few hours later, you will emerge a connoisseur of fine art! As simple as that.

Really?

It’s mindboggling that there are organisations that spend their time making stuff like this.  And more importantly people are willing to spend their money on this?

As I continue devote every Sunday evening for the rest of my life trying to get that BBQ going, I will stay happy and content in my ignorance of why does Monalisa’s smirk make it the best painting ever made.

Dylan said “Don’t criticise what you don’t understand.” While I fully agree with this philosophy, I will make an exception for this one. I have bigger fish to fry … or rather, grill.

Have a great spring.

The sinister plan behind daylight savings time (the one that they dont wan’t you to know)

If you live in Europe, you would have noticed that Daylight Saving Time (DST) started last Sunday and the clocks moved forward by an hour. Well, not all of them – only the super intelligent electronic clocks moved forward on their own. If you still have some old-fashioned analog clocks, they were blissfully unaware of this phenomenon till you reached up to them, dislodged them momentarily from their hanging place and turned a small knob of some kind. That circular motion moved a cylinder helically around its axis, which turned the arms of the clock to display the proper time.

Of course, all the above was true if you were aware of the fact that DST started yesterday.It is possible that hundreds of people were blissfully unaware of this (much like the clunky analog clocks) and only realized this fact when they missed an appointment, a plane or a soccer game. The whooshing sound made by that mysterious missing hour in the day, as it rushes past you, is a puzzling sensation. Having experienced it a few years back when we moved to Europe, I can vouch for it.

But why does this happen? Why should we move our clocks forward an hour in Spring and move them back an hour in the Autumn? You can blame it on William Willett an Englishman, who was one of the first and most vociferous supporters of DST back in early 1900s. He argued that it saves energy, promotes outdoor leisure activity in the evening, reduces crime etc.  Many people are in favour of this, the most obvious choices being retailers, outdoor sports enthusiasts etc. But in reality, the most enthusiastic supporters of this concept are sleepwalkers. The extra hour of sunlight helps those early owls to ‘see’ better as they embark on their sleep walking rituals. This enables them to reach the altar of Hypnos (the god of sleep) bright and early and be among the first ones to collect the juiciest dreams being doled out, before Morpheus (the god of dreams) barges in. It is a widely known fact that Morpheus does not own an electronic clock and does not read newspapers, thus is never on time anyway. 

And of course, there are the opponents to DST. They argue that actual energy savings are inconclusive, it disrupts morning activities, causes people to lose sleep and is generally a hassle. I am firmly in their corner. The most obvious opponents of DST are burglars. The added extra hour of sunlight robs them of the opportunity to rob other people of their precious belongings. Because of their nature of work, the burglars cannot afford to be too vociferous, so they tend to keep it quiet and grudgingly live with this inconvenience. The only time their voices are heard is around springtime when some dumb burglars, who do not own an electronic clock (much like our man Morpheus), land up at their robbing rendezvous an hour earlier than planned and are pummeled unconscious by the puzzled homeowners who have sat there wondering why can’t they get sleep and why have the burglars arrived early today?

All this conjecture is fine, but we seem to be digressing from the point of this post. What is the real reason for DST? Let me get back to that ….

DST was not introduced because of all this hullaballoo about saving energy etc. This was an idea thought up by clock manufacturers to boost their sales, after the famous ‘Clock depression’ that prevailed through the 19th century. Many theories exist about why the ‘Clock depression’ happened. The foremost being that in the 19th century people were generally starting to come to the conclusion that time and space are an illusion and the time for clocks had passed. So to keep track of an illusionary thing, no one was buying real clocks. Another reason doing the rounds was that clocks, with their incessant sound of ‘tick-tock, tick-tock’ were the prime cause of untimely insanity among the masses. So doctors started prescribing patients to get rid of their clocks and put sun-dials inside their houses instead. But once people put a sun-dial inside the house, it did not show the time of the day as it did not get any sun. So it further reaffirmed the first belief that time is really an illusion, and the vicious circle continued.

Once people had a clock, there was no need for them to replace it. It just stayed nailed to the wall, tick-tocking away. Typically the clock didn’t break or start smelling after a few years, so the clock manufacturers had little repeat business. But all of this changed when Mr Willett,  a builder by day and a clock manufacturer by night, came up a with cunning plan. This nefarious plan rested on two arms.

  • Firstly, we should artificially change the time a couple of times of year. He figured if it is given a scientific sounding acronym like DST, which has the word ‘saving’ in it, people will think it is of paramount importance and will agree to follow it.
  • Secondly, he introduced a new global design standard for clocks. The new standard ruled that the knob which you need to turn to change the time would now be placed at the back of the clock, and not on the side. And the hole or the hook by which the clock is hung to the nail on the wall, should be made inconceivably small and be hidden away in an unreachable place so that it is practically impossible for you to hang the clock back on the wall, once you have taken it off.

Both these standards were passed unanimously in the annual horological conference of 1907 and have worked like a charm since then. Every year, millions of people try to change the time on their clocks around spring and autumn. Having successfully fiddled with the small knob and changed the time, they are then unable to hang the clock back properly on the nail where it was originally stationed. The imperfect alignment of the nail and the hole, induces the Newtonian laws of gravity and causes the clock to fall to the ground, spectacularly smashing it to smithereens and giving people a small glimpse of what ‘Big Bang’ would have been like. The guilty man (another statistically proven fact – it is always the man who performs this annual ritual) then looks to redeem his honour in front of his family by buying another clock and hammering a new nail. The vicious circle continues and the clock manufacturers continue to rake in the moolah.

I was one of the people who fell prey to this ancient nefarious plan and smashed our clock last sunday. On my twitter feed, I read about this exact accident being repeated in places around the globe. The otherwise pristine streets of Zürich were riddled with broken clocks being thrown out of their windows by the disgruntled owners. All this was celebrated by the clock manufactures at their lavish parties at the glitzy ski resort of St. Moritz. 

The clock makers have made billions out of this annual ritual and are now the secret owners of the many of the largest holding companies in the world. One of the lesser chronicled sagas of global business is the economic rise of the clock manufactures in the 20th century. The following graph shows the rise in fortunes of the clockmakers since these momentous changes were introduced.

 

Apple, never the one to lose out on a business opportunity, has quickly recognized this and is said to be working on an iClock. Since they yet do not own the patents for the clock design passed in 1907, the iClock will have some cunning features to overcome the issues faced by folks like you and me.

  • To honour Steve Jobs, it will be surrounded by a black rubber casing (like his turtleneck sweaters) to cushion the inevitable falls
  • The user will be able to circumvent the knob and change the time via an app (though the app will only run on the iPad 5, which you will need to buy separately)
  • The entire back side of the clock will be a giant black hole, which will be backward compatible with any nails or walls manufactured since 1907

All the clock-breakers and Apple fans the world over have hailed this revolutionary move and crowds have already started thronging outside Apple stores, waiting to get their hands on the iClock.

The clock makers on the other hand, are reportedly building a new super telescope so that they can spot Darth Vader’s ‘Death Star’ in the far reaches of the galaxy. They hope to convince him to use the dark side of the force to make sure that Apple’s plan does not work and the clocks still continue to fall and break around DST. 

Who will win, only time will tell. Till then, leave those clocks alone and enjoy the extra hour of sunshine and the beautiful spring weather.

Morning encounters with noisy goblins

There are times when you are stuck between the devil and the deep sea. On a hot summer day this choice is easy to make. I would take the sea over the devil any day. Sipping a cool drink on beach while the waves of the sea gently lap at your heels,  is a much pleasant alternative to the red skinned, two horned devil pricking you with a pitchfork.

But the choice between pink goblins or noisy ones is a slightly more tricky one…sometimes even a non-choice, as you cannot really avoid any of them. You see, both of them invade into your early morning slumber. The slumber tastes especially sweet on a cold winter morning when it’s -10 degrees outside and just the thought of stepping down from the bed sends a chill down your bones. If you have a daughter, you are bound to run into the pink goblins sooner or later (famously elaborated in my last post). And if you live in Switzerland, then on every last school day of the year before the christmas holidays there is no escape from the noisy ones. Try what you may, they will track you down faster and more accurately than a heat seeking missile.

Switzerland and noise are like chalk and cheese … hardly to be spoken about in the same breath. Yet once a year at precisely 6 AM in the morning, the streets of practically every town in Switzerland turn into a cacophonous orgy of noise, clang and din. Rumor has it that Martians and other funny looking bug-eyed aliens routinely bypass earth on this day for the fear of their delicate spaceship controls being fried off by the high-pitched noises emerging from an otherwise calm alpine nation.

Some of you must be wondering what could the possible source of this noise be? Fret not, as you are not alone. Many theories have been put forward to explain this phenomena over the last few years. Some of the common misconceptions that typically do the rounds are as follows :

  • All the Swiss cows fart in unison on that day
  • The millions of cheese factories have their annual cheese cauldron cleaning day
  • A secret chip implanted in all the cuckoo clocks gets activated and they go off simultaneously
  • The funkily named subatomic particles have a head on colliding party inside the Large Hadron Collider
  • All the swiss watchmakers throwing down their delicate tools with a relief that over the upcoming holidays they will not have to work on those darned minuscule watch parts
  • All the bankers count their gold coins together trying to prove off that ‘My pile is higher than yours’

But as you have guessed by now, these theories as interesting as they may sound, are nowhere near the truth. The real reason that yours truly has discovered is as follows. On the last school day of the year before christmas holidays, the swiss school kids get a license to shock the hell out of poor souls peacefully slumbering in their beds. A typical street scene on that morning looks like this.

All the kids dress up in their warmest clothes, bring out the noisiest substance in their home (which is often themselves) and run to their school in the wee hours in the morning when all is still dark. There they are greeted by the teachers who wait for this day eagerly every year. On this day the teachers, who have suffered all year round at the hands of the kids, have the possibility to give it back to their parents, using their own kids as a means. Carl Jung called this syndrome ‘You oughtta know!‘. Alanis Morissette then famously plagiarized the words of his theory and conjured up a smash hit.

And smash and hit is what the kids have a license for that morning. The otherwise docile kids walk around all the streets banging away at their metallic instruments and screaming at the top of their voices. The louder they clang, the more appreciation they get from their teachers and other kids. The wackier the instruments they use the produce the sounds, the higher up the kids move up on the ‘Cool wall’. If you want to make it big on that day and be a star, old pots and pans banged together will not do. If your dad happens to be a heavy beer drinker or your mom an obsessive tomato sauce freak, the byproducts of their passion can come in very handy that morning as well.

Drunk on the motley sounds gleefully produced by their noisy orchestra, they march on. The procession continues till the time the kids either grow ravenously hungry or their instruments break or every single person in town is woken up and comes out begging and pleading for some peace and quiet. The kids are then rounded up by the teachers and led back to the schools for a hearty breakfast before they are unleashed on their parents for the rest of the vacation.

This tradition has been apparently going on for a few hundred years is lovingly called ‘Schulsilvester’. The intent being to welcome the new year and drive away the old one.  How far that is true is anyone’s guess, but the streets are surely a lively place to be on that morning.

Here’s to a smashing 2012 !

Morning encounters with pink goblins

Thursday and Friday mornings in the Luthra household are not for the faint-hearted. Compared to what the hapless dad has to go through on these two fateful days, Frodo’s journey across Mordor in the ‘Lord of the rings’ was a cakewalk. The invasion of Normandy beach was a stroll in the park. The ascent of Mt. Everest was easy as pie. History needs to be corrected. Each of these and many other similar feats are wrongly lauded as epic achievements, stories of success achieved against insurmountable odds. After I finish this post, I will get to work to correct the Wikipedia entries for each of these so-called achievements to set the record straight once and for all.

The real achievement that should be lauded is for a dad to get a 5 yr old beauty queen ready for kindergarten in the morning. I am not just talking about throwing on some clothes, a jacket, a pair of shoes, stuffing the snack box into a satchel and packing her off. No sir… we are dealing with the reincarnation of Kate moss here. (The perfectionist bean counters out there will immediately retort that Kate Moss is still alive – but they will be missing the point)

The ritual has to start the previous evening. A UN committee meeting is called before bedtime to scan the entire wardrobe and present at least 3 dress options to her highness. The choices need to possess the right mix of eclectic flamboyance, colour co-ordination and panache. You have to foresee the frame of mind that she might be the next morning and will the hues match the aura that will be surrounding her when she arises from her beauty sleep? And if any of your hapless proposals contain any shade of pink, blue, red, green, mauve, beige, purple that she might have touched in the last week – they will be shot down with a nonchalant wave of the hand. This will be carried out while she is focussed on the ‘5 minute princess tales’ and admiring the necklaces and scarves of Rapunzel, Ariel, Snow-white or any of the perfect princesses and mermaids sketched out in their full gleaming glory.

And if you are having a really bad day, one of the princesses’ sketches will be shown to you across the room and you will be asked to choose a skirt that is of the same colour as the Mulan’s bracelet. Mind you – you have to be quick. The picture will be shown to you for exactly 2 nanoseconds from across the room, at an awkward angle, while the book is being waved around. And you don’t get a second look. I guess 2 nanoseconds might be enough for Karl Lagerfeld or Coco Chanel, but certainly not for yours truly. Plus it does not help that the almighty decided to bestow upon me the gift of a slight case of color blindness which ensures the inability to distinguish between certain shades of red and green.

This lethal combination of fleeting image recognition misapprehension and genetic chromatic cognition disability leads to a blue skirt being produced for her highness’s inspection. But the demand was for a light purple one with a hint of mauve. The choice is shot down faster than Billy the kid’s ‘quick-draw, shoot’ ritual. Then comes a sigh – “Ok, I will choose it myself”. The cosy comfort of the bed fluffed with a hundred cushions is temporarily relinquished. The floor is blessed by the touch of her feet as she saunters across to the cupboard with feline grace. In a flash the correct  drawer is smoothly pulled out and the light purple skirt with a hint of mauve is delicately produced and a triumphant proclamation laced with a hint of slight exasperation is announced  “Papa, this was the one I wanted”.

The dad thanks his stars, gives a goodnight peck to the daughter, arranges the chosen clothes neatly, breathes a sigh of relief, turns off the light and walks out the room to join his wife in the living room. ……. But as he walks out, he cannot hear the faint laughter of a million little pink goblins that reside in the bottom shelf of her highness’ cupboard. “The real ordeal awaits him in the morning …. heh, heh, heh….”

The million pink goblins live in this …

pink goblins residing among a million frilly bands, hair clips and other indescribable things

Come the next morning, after the chosen clothes have been adorned, the next gauntlet in thrown. ‘Papa, can you pls choose the right hair clip/band that will match my dress?’

Gingerly, the bottom most drawer is opened by the dad. He stares into it like a hapless to-be victim staring into the eyes of shooting squad. As the dad reaches into this treasure trove containing a million frilly bands, hair clips and other indescribable things, the pink goblins living inside this drawer get to work. They take the matching hair band that will pass her highness’ approval and hide it right at the bottom of this bottomless pit. Try what he might, the dad cannot produce the correct accessory. The pink goblins feast on his helplessness and prolong his fruitless search by continually changing the hiding place of that perfect hair band.

Time ticks on…. the uber-punctual swiss train that dad is supposed to catch to his office thunders towards the station. Desperation starts to creep in and his pulse quickens. With one eye on the clock and the other eye on this bottomless accessory pit … he continues to struggle against the goblins. Because the veins near his temples that are now throbbing at full pressure, he cannot hear the laughter of the pink goblins which has now reached a crescendo. If he had a third eye behind his head, he would notice that her highness is busy browsing through ‘The tales of mermaid Ariel’ to choose the colour of her dress for tomorrow.

As point break approaches, he calls out for help. Her highness drops her book with a sigh, reaches into the accessory pit and in an instant pulls out a light pink frilly hairband adorned with purple and silver stars which will provide the perfect contrast to her skirt and jacket. Dad mutters a quick prayer to all the 27 million Indian gods and a handful of the western ones as well. The pink goblins have been defeated once again. They retreat to their frilly dungeons and plan for the next morning’s assault.

Dad and little Ms. Kate Moss emerge triumphant into to crisp winter air. The daughter, decked up in her full resplendent glory, sashays down the path to her kindergarten while the dad rushes along hoping to get to the station before the train gets there. All is well with the world again.

______________________________________________________________

Today was a thursday and battle was won. As I sit here and write this in the still of the night, I can hear the pink goblins whispering and plotting. I must now go to bed to ensure my energy is conserved, as another epic tussle awaits us in the morning……

The subtle art of getting ready for a vacation

We all go for vacations. Some of less, some more often. This modern age has burnt it into our mindset that that holidays are a mighty important part of our lives. And as with anything else, the human race has this uncanny ability to master skills and arts that were hitherto alien to it. Darwin, if  he were alive today would surely agree with me.

For the sake of conjencture, let’s take a simple example : the widely practised art of vegetating during holidays. The ancient man was hopelessly lacking in this skill, and would not have been caught dead vegetating. On the other hands, if he was caught vegetating in a jungle by a  beast, he would be dead in an instant. Anyway, the important part is that we have perfected this skill over the centuries and now practise it at  the first given opportunity. Some experts say that  the romans were the first to propogate the virtues of vegetating by indulging  in their famous orgies, but i think it is a safe bet to say that that no vegetables ever saw the inside of an orgie hall. Another school considers the politicians the world over as the real masters of vegetating. The jury is still out on this one.

Throw a cursory glance around any beach resort and you will see hundreds of otherwise frantically active men and women, lying face down, waiting for nirvana to arrive in the form of the hapless steward who has been assigned the unenviable task of patrolling the beach and satisfy the most primitive of all human needs – alcoholic beverages. This steward has undoubtedly mastered the art of being able to conduct numerous rounds, but expertly avoiding the areas where the thirtiest or the greediest tourists are to be found. But there is a also a high likelyhood that he will encounter the battle and sunhardened tourist, who has developed the knack of being able to distinguish the sound of the steward’s footsteps from the one of the fellow tourist. And to add to the steward’s misery, this tourist has also mastered the art of raising his hand just at the right angle at the appropriate moment so as to catch the steward’s eye but spend the least amount of energy in doing so.

But we are digressing here a bit. The topic here is how to get ready for a vacation, so let’s get back to that shall we?

First things first – You got to know where you are going. By saying this I don’t mean that there are people who land up at the airport abd wonder ….”hmmm …. so where should we go. Sydney, Paris or New york?” But there are many folks who would block their holidays in their calendars, but not have a clue till a week before the d-day where they will actually land up. Such folks are of paramount importance to the sustenance of travel agents and the airlines. Their desperation to find suitable vacation spot means that the travel agent can usually sell the drabbest location, the crappiest room and he most inconvenient flight to them at a ridiculous price.  All under the fancy name of ‘Last minute specials’. And having done so, he or she can then use that mark-up to ensure that his/her vacation is spent at the ritziest resort, while the ‘last minute special’ customer rots in a room with broken air conditioning.

Now once you know where you are going well in advance, the next step is to get ready for the trip. To be able to do so well, you need to be able to hone your delegation skills. Yes, as strange as this corporate euphemism may sound in the context of a holiday, it’s applicability is unquestioned. If your spouse happens to be supremely organized with a list of items to take on every trip, special bags for the odds and ends neatly ready, clothes predetermined and segregated week in advance (like my wifey), pls delegate the getting ready part to him/her. But the subtlety here lies in the art of keeping yourself (seemingly) busy, while he/she is doing the heavy lifting. There are many activities that you can indulge in, which will safely give off this impression. These can range from trying to find the perfect restaurant for the perfect dinner. You have to be able to convey the message that this restaurant that you are hunting for is the hidden gem and completely different from the other tourist traps that you otherwise might get sucked into. Another sure-fire cover is the research for the most romantic of the spots where you can watch the sunset over the ocean while enjoying a bottle of the local wine. Such activities and pretexts can and will not be refuted by a sensible partner, and will ensure that your energy is conserved for the beach.

The next logical activity that you then need to engage in is the act of announcing to people that you are now actually leaving for the holiday. In today’s world there are many ways  of doing so. These range from a message on your facebook wall announcing your vacation location accompanied by an exotic looking photograph of the best beach or mountain resort that you can find over the internet.  The other more obvious ones are an out of office message on your email or voice mail. But as in all things, you can forge your own way. One the best alternatives is to convince your wife and kids that a 10 min walk to the railway station to catch the train to the airport is an important part of the vacation warm-up. Then you need to ensure that you provide your kids with trolleys to pull that make the maximum amount of noise when pulled on  the road. This will ensure that all your neighbours will be attracted by the ruckus your kids are creating on the otherwise balmy and lazy afternoon. For additional special effects you can have the kids wave back to them as they look out irritably from their windows. If you really want to be mean, you can have them sing a made up song describing the wonders of the holiday location that you are going to. This will ensure that your vacation date and venue is indelibly marked in the neighbour’s memories and will give them a topic to talk about while you enjoy your holidays. Though with this tactic, you need bring some souvenirs back for them, to ensure you are invited back to their garden parties. The 20 francs of the taxi fare you saved by walking to the station can then be spent in buying refrigerator magnets for them which they will cherish forever.

Now with all this effort that you have taken to get ready for the vacation, make sure you enjoy it. Do take your wife to that mythical sunset spot, turn off your blackberry, vegetate on the beach as much as you can, do not go to tourist trap restaurants with menus translated into 15 languages. And whole you are at it, keep a look out for that steward on the beach. Chances are he has has somehow read this post and is even more determined to avoid you now.

Enjoy your summer!

An ode to the exclamation mark ‘!’

The poor old exclamation mark is probably the most misused and exploited of all the punctuation marks that the English language has bestowed upon us. Just the sheer form that it comes in lends itself to the ruthless exploitation it is subjected to.  How can one resist that temptation to end a sentence that will otherwise go unnoticed, by this little thingy which is the closest relative in the English language to a ‘jack in the box’ – a line jumping out a hole. It is bound to attract attention. It screams – look at me, love me or hate me but you can’t ignore me.

In spite if it being so ubiquitous in nature, what attracted my attention to our very own J.I.B (Jack In the Box – as i will choose to refer to our little friend, the exclamation mark, in this piece) was a word in a book i recently started reading. This book ‘About a boy‘ from Nick Hornby who is also the author of the quirky ‘High Fidelity‘, contains a word which epitomizes the effect of the exclamation mark. The word is  – ‘S.P.A.T !’ …. see the effect of our friend , the J.I.B. It instantaneously transforms the otherwise meaningless word to the equivalent of a 60 meter electronic flashing billboard screaming at you on a desert highway. All for a fraction of its cost, trouble and carbon footprint. This word in the book is an acronym for a Single parents association or some such banal meeting that the protagonist of the book is going to. Why was the ‘!’ meaninglessly appended to the end of the acronym is anyone’s guess. But it ensures tremendous recall value, while no-so-subtly accentuating the frivolity of the meeting’s purpose.

One other famous misuse that springs to mind immediately is –  ‘WHAM!’ the now defunct pop group from the 80’s whose success was completely down to the successful inclusion of ‘!’ in their name. Now that WHAM! is no more, look where the lack of an exclamation mark in George Michael’s name has led him to. He is now reduced to drawing audiences to his concerts with a misleading promise of  an orchestral performance and then proceeds to torture them with his yodeling. He doesn’t let go of them till they are sing out in unison – “Wake me up, before you go-go! … “

In literature, the addition of our friend the J.I.B, at the end of the one-line review blurbs usually found on the back covers of the books, has tremendous commercial value and is responsible for the sustaining of the lavish lifestyles of many authors. More the number of sentences that end with the !’, the more subliminal messages that are passed on to the casual reader – This is book is of profound importance and impact. Miss the chance to read this book at your own peril…etc…etc. How else can one explain the success of millions of self-help books that are sold the world over, whose back and front pages are splattered with the ‘!’.

Stephen Hawking (by no means a self help book author) was told by his publishers – any equation that he includes in his seminal work – ‘A brief history of time’ , will cut the sales by half. What his publishers did not tell him was that inclusion of a ‘!’ in the title or on the back page will more than cover up for the loss of sales because of that one damn equation. Maybe his publishers should have consulted ‘WHAM!’

In politics as well, it has served great value over the years. George Bush & Silvio Berloscuni are two prime examples of leaders whose election to office was lubricated by the generous use of ‘!’ in their campaigns, speeches and actions.


We bow to your power – the great J.I.B, the great uplifter of the mundane and the harbinger of promised excitement. We vow to continue to unabashedly abuse your power. Till such time that the Oxford dictionary bans your usage and Microsoft word’s spell check starts to draw squiggly red lines under you – your followers will continue to grow and prosper. Amen!

Age old Indian traditions to be observed when spending time on a Swiss mountaintop

The Indian penchant for following traditions is universally recognized. To the uninitiated or the clichéd mind, these traditions may relate to mundane stuff like family values, cultural dabbling in exotic sounding dances, music etc.

Then there are some lesser known, but equally widely followed set of traditional practices that are repeated by us Indians given the first opportunity. Any of us who have had a chance to travel to a swiss mountain top for a ‘sightseeing tour’ belong to this subset and are duty bound by our genes to follow these traditions. Not surprisingly, these practices get amplified in a group larger than 2.

Some of the more prominent ones that I have noticed are as follows:

  1. Drink ‘masala chai’ : A normal cup of tea when pimped with a mysterious combination of spices, whose real recipe is even a more heavily guarded secret than the recipe for Coca-cola becomes the mythical ‘masala chai’. It is rumoured to be the most widely drunk beverage on earth. Statistics compiled by the ICC (International Chai Confederation), estimate that 639.51 million litres of masala chai are consumed every day. Out of this nearly 40% is consumed at the Jungfarojoch train station by thousands of Indian chartered groups who take the treacherous and arduous journey of travelling in the comforts of the impeccable swiss trains over a 5 hour one way trip to reach the one of the highest point in Europe. Upon reaching there, rather than take in the views, the first thing that the groups do is make a beeline for the chai stall. This stall is usually manned by a flustered little swiss girl who stands there wide eyed, amazed by the ability of the horde to polish off multiple cups of this strange beverage. Now-a-days, thanks to technological advances, this privilege can be enjoyed by going to a nice restaurant & asking for just a cup of hot water. Then surreptitiously pouring a powder from a small sachet into the cup and enjoying the Chai for free. All this, while observing the apathy of the steward who is flabbergasted by the sudden conversion of the plain hot water to a steaming brown liquid.
  2. Search desperately for Indian food : A good indian meal and masala chai is a match made in culinary heaven. But this combination can be quite elusive when you leave the fragrant soil of India. But that does not deter the battle hardened Indian tourist from the quest of finding an Indian restaurant in the remotest of the swiss alpine valleys. Research has shown that the median time elapsed between finishing breakfast and starting the search for Indian food for lunch ranges between 7 to 63 mins. All efforts are made by tourist guides to ensure that the itineraries do not take the group more than 2 kms away from an Indian restaurant. The moment this distance increases, withdrawal symptoms appear in forms of nausea or loud grumblings from the stomach that sound like samosas being fried. The tourist guides are trained to immediately recognize these and lead their herds back into the protective circle, lest they should lose their business.
  3. Compare the food to the real thing back home : Now that the elusive restaurant is located and the seats with best views to the mountains are hastily occupied, it is time to get down to business. The best path to an Indian man’s heart is through his stomach. The man’s mom has a perennial lease on that path and no restaurant or chef cooking Indian food in Switzerland can ever hope to better mums’ cooking.  The moment the food arrives at the table, it is polished off in record time. Then it is time to burp and criticize how watery that Dal makhani was, how that Chicken tikka masala really was nothing but boiled chicken pieces thrown in a tomato puree. The conversation does not stop till every dish is compared to how it is made back home or at one’s favorite restaurant down the road from their house. The food just eaten at that Swiss Indian restaurant is emphatically declared to be the worst Indian food ever eaten. But while leaving the restaurant, the various inevitable factions that have been formed in the groups, make secretive plans to return to this restaurant at the first opportunity to escape from the drab swiss food that might be served elsewhere on the trip.
  4. Grumble about the prices – Ofcourse, no trip to switzerland is complete without grumbling about the prices. A few things like Rolex Daytona at 7000 francs or a pair of Bally loafers at 1500 francs are indeed good value. But hours are spent in the Sprungli cafe at Paradeplatz grumbling about the 12 franc sandwich, 7 franc tram ticket or the 5 francs for a bottle of water. Of course after all this grumbling, hundreds of francs are happily spent at the airport souvenir shop stocking up on Swiss farmer bells, all the time gushing about the quality of their craftsmanship (while ignoring the small Made in China tag stuck on them.)
  5. Look for a place to fill up that water bottle – Talking about water, no self-respecting Indian tourist (officially certified as the thirstiest tourists in the world) may be seen in public without a bottle of mineral water . But of-course this is no ordinary bottle of water. This bottle has to be Evian, no other brand. Typically it was bought in a fit of desperation at the Interlaken main station for 5 francs where no free water tap was in sight for miles around. Now that a fortune has been spent on what is essentially a hollow tube of plastic filled with melted snow from the french alps, it needs to be guarded fiercely and full paisa vasooli (derive maximum value for the money spent) needs to be ensured. This bottle will be carried to the remotest and the highest of the alpine peaks, washed & refilled at the first possible opportunity. When the label on the bottle starts to come off after multiple washings, it will be repaired with pieces of tape borrowed from the hotel reception. When it gets left behind at a café, the whole bus or the train will be kept waiting, while an army of kids will be dispatched to find the precious bottle. In the end it will be bid a tearful farewell at the security gate at the airport, where only the most persistent security guard will be able to convince the owner to part with it. But not before all the water is glugged down in a show of proud defiance.
  6. Let screaming kids run riot in a restaurant – This is one tradition which is sadly dying. The good old days of hordes of kids running about in a restaurant, dodging the stewards and bumping into the harrowed old swiss couples sitting there in an unsuccessful search of some peace and quiet  are slowly disappearing. Now-a-days one is most likely to find kids screaming in whoops of delight in crossing the million points mark in Angry birds being played on their personal iPad or fighting over the  earphones. Sigh … another example of tradition falling prey to technology.
  7. Ask for a fondue with less cheese – Now this is as good as it gets. Just because one is on vacation, does not mean that all the money spent in Sharmaji’s weight loss clinic should be wasted. Following the diet plan set by overweight nutrition expert back in Kanpur is a must to ensure that one still fits into the ‘I love Switzerland’ T-shirt bought in Luzern. If that means asking for the bewildered restaurant owner for a fondue with a little less cheese, so be it. After all the customer is king.
While these are the most important and universally practiced traditions listed here, it is possible that some other popular ones may been omitted. Pls be reassured that the omission was purely unintentional. If you have experienced or practiced any others, pls drop me a line and they will be promtly listed here.