Sunday, May 27, 2007

"A short dictionary of misunderstood words" (part two)

45% in MA English Literature: Just stand up and salute if you come across someone who has scored these marks from Calcutta University. Because, for all you know, this person can write ten dissertations on anything starting from Chaucer down to Saul Bellow or even Toni Morrisson. He/she is nothing short of a genius. This person will also tell you everything about one Zimmermann, and probably play the harmonica or the guitar better than your neighbor in California. This person will also put New Orleans to shame with his/her knowledge of jazz music. You see many of them working for The Statesman or The Telegraph. Such men are bearded and wear glasses. The women wear glasses and sport khadi kurtas.

Such a person will perpetually be found smoking rolled tobacco. They are Democrats.

Sourav Ganguly: My weakness too. Horribly sinned against by the rest of the regional cricket boards in India, this former captain of the Indian cricket team is very unIndian in his charisma and strength of character. Someday will be the Prime Minister of India. Amen.

Bearded fellow: While in the rest of India a beard is almost synonymous to being a Mussalman, in Calcutta it signifies the urge to be known as an intellectual. Anybody who wears a beard is either dabbling in poetry or the arts of some kind. Do not discourage them. At least that keeps them from being communal.

Poet: Everybody has tried poetry, so don't go around saying you are a poet. Everybody is a poet in Calcutta. And believe me, this is the only city where anthologies find buyers. Be it Bishnu De, Sunil Ganguly, Allen Ginsberg, or Jim Morrisson, Calcuttans read all poets.

Artist: Again...a generic plague. Everybody is an artist. Everybody can be seen doodling in class. Except for the ones who come to Calcutta to study engineering.

Books: I mean, if a book hasn't sold in Mexico? It will still find many buyers in Calcutta. They are suckers for the printed word.

Godmen: Conmen

America: God's own country

Calcutta: Now this is the toughest term, man. Every Calcuttan thinks Calcutta is very prominent in the world map. Like Sourav Ganguly, Calcutta was once the capital of British India. (Calcuttans love everything British btw. Even a Calcuttan who opens his umbrella when it rains in Beijing would love the idea of speaking perfect RP. Try telling him that RP is long dead, but nobody is listening.) And now, New Delhi, a place that belongs to nobody and is ruled by the aggressive, uneducated, and philistine Northies, happens to be the capital of India.

Someday, Calcuttans would love to bring it back to Calcutta. That status, the glory of being the only emancipated city in India.

"A short dictionary of misunderstood words" -- Milan Kundera

If you come to Calcutta in 2008, Strunk, here's a short dictionary of Bengali terms for you. It is not in any order and is in no way comprehensive. But a start, nonetheless.

Communication gap (occupational hazard for a Calcuttan): This happens quite often in Calcutta. The buses go on strike or the metrorail service between Tollygunge and Dumdum is suspended. People, who mostly use public transport, panic about a sudden communication gap. Otherwise, the communication inside Calcutta is pretty okay. Public communication, I mean.

Do not use the term "commute." You may be held as a CIA spy trying to find out about the Communists in Calcutta.

Presentation (n.): If you find someone fretting about what presentation to give, do not offer him/her any help. I know you would be tempted to from your vast experience in giving presentations everywhere from your college to all the STC conferences in the world, but you know zilch about how to give a presentation in Calcutta. In Calcutta, a presentation is a gift. And every wedding season you can find people scratching their heads about what presentation to give. Nothing to do with PowerPoint, lemme tell you.

Markin/Markini (adj): There will be many podia on which people can be seen calling America and George Bush names. Never go near those gatherings. In West Bengal you can get votes and stay in power for more than forty years if you keep shouting slogans against Markini Capitalism and Oppression. Markini is "American," by the way. Bengalis will side with the Cubans, the Talibans, the Bamiyans, the Iraqis, the Democrats, the Russians, the Chinese, but send their children only to Republican America to study and work. (I wonder what harm the Americans have done to the Bengali Communists. Can you find out?)

Samrajyabadi: The guys who talk about Samrajyabadi are most often seen at the foreign exchange counters selling the dollars sent by their children. I still haven't figured what it means, but it is used in a derog sense. If you are not begging on the streets or are not a laborer waiting outside a locked out factory, you are a samrajyabadi. And that is very bad, lemme tell you. Hey you, you have money? You are a samrajyabadi. (I agree with Russell Peters that being called Samrajyabadi is way better than being called a "fucking blow job" for which there is no good comeback, but being called samrajyabadi is almost equally bad.)

*someone translated for me: it means a capitalist. You do NOT wanna be called a capitalist in Communist Calcutta.

Jewish: Equivalent to Christians to Calcuttans.

"I put my daughter in The Jewish Girls' School."

"Oh, really? Good thing, bhai. She will learn good Christian values. They do have a chapel inside, I believe? With an organ? I am looking at the AG Mission school for my son. These Catholic missionary schools teach good English."

(And obviously you can see that the difference between Catholic and Protestant is lost to an average Calcuttan.)

White: Christian

European: Hippie/backpacker/Salvation Army Guest House

American: "You fucking Samrajyabadi!!"

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


I forget how a Lamda looks like and neither do I want to look it up on the net. But I cannot forget our Lamda, Amitava, who had a crazy monkey kinda smile. Dunno if he was called Lamda because of his stretched smile or because he always studied Math, but he was our Lamda. I hated him. I hated him because he was always with a girl whom I fancied since I was in standard V. They were just friends, but I just couldn't stand the sight of him. Look at the privileged bugger who always gets to go meet her. They often studied together as I cycled up and down their street in frustration waiting for a glimpse. There were many times when I could see her standing in the garden, but could never muster enough courage to look her in the eye. Lamda had no such worries. He wasn't in love with her and could just walk up to her, give her a pat on the bum, and sit with their Math.

Bloody Math. Why do you think I hate Math so much?

April, 1989. It was time for our higher secondary exam and an unknown fear gripped me. I hadn't studied as much as I had cycled in front of her house. My legs were strong by then but not my Physics and Chemistry. I had, by then, decided that Math was not for me and had taken up Biology, a subject I quite liked. And there were no Lamdas in Biology. Neither did our Lamda like the subject much. I had to somehow manage to pass Physics and Chemistry, but I was clueless about how.

The first day when I saw my allotted seat in the exam hall, I almost fainted. Had it been in a movie, I surely would have. I was on the first bench, seated next to Hyder Ali, someone I didn't quite look up to as far as studies were concerned. Hyder, unlike his namesake, was no fierce fighter even. He was a mild, dumb guy, who studied hard but couldn't fathom anything. That kind of placed both of us on the same boat. Two people who knew virtually nothing about Physics and Chemistry, seated next to each other, as if by Providence, on the first bench.

The first exam was on Bengali language and literature and I fared pretty well, although by now I was certain I would fail in the main exam. The next day was our English exam. Again, not much of a problem. After four days of that, on the 10th of April, 1989, was the Physics exam. There were guys like me praying before entering the hall. And I did not have anybody to pray to and felt rather helpless. I prayed to Hyder "please, help me pass, boss" and he gave me a puzzled look. He had kind of accepted his fate. He wouldn't cheat or copy from someone else. He knew he would fail. And keep trying to pass every year. The blank look in his eyes compounded my fear because after the chapter on Vectors, I had stopped going to school. The exam commenced and I slid toward Hyder and copied everything from him blindly. I must have written his answers in correct English at the most. But that day is still hazy in my mind. Fear can cloud your memory, take it from me. And the fear of failing board exams is bigger than the fear of being shot dead by a Taliban terrorist. Believe me, it was nothing short of death.

And Lamda died that night. I mean, he went all the way to Burdwan (some 60 kms from where we stayed) and committed suicide by laying his head before an oncoming train. When they later discovered his body, his hands were placed calmly on his chest. He hadn't made a last-ditch attempt to clamber away from the track. And they also found his head on the other side of the track, his eyes closed and his face determined.

We had four days before the next exam and news of Amitava's death had spread among all the students. I heard that my crush had even cried for those four days and couldn't study. But somehow my hatred for Amitava had vanished and I couldn't refer to him as Lamda any more.

I don't remember how the rest of the exams got over. But the invigilators were lenient. They wouldn't mind if I copied from Hyder or Sujoy from the second row. They didn't want another boy to die.

I passed, thanks to Hyder. Hyder failed, like he knew he would. And Amitava passed his Physics exam with really good marks. I want to meet and tell him that he passed and that he can come back from wherever he is. But he chose to go really far away, I think.


Crazy, you know, all this talk about the Himalayas melting and the polar ice caps melting one day soon. How can I ride a bicycle to the office? But if they are true, Aaron will witness a huge flood in his lifetime. And maybe many will survive because there will be another Noah.
How come all religions have a reference to a great flood? Did someone survive to tell the story?
Crazy fucking swimmers they musta been, what? Of swimming sir, there are these summer camps where they throw you deep into the water and make you utterly paranoid about water.

Learn to ride a tsunami, i guess. buy a surfboard and start practising.
WFP is the World Food Program. We will eat the vegetarians when there is an acute food shortage someday.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A ride to the land of beef momos

After our weekend trip to Bylakuppe, Sayantani and I want to convert to Buddhism, but Aaron doesn’t seem very convinced. Born to an atheist dad and a Hindu mom, and armed with a Jewish name, he cannot be more confused. His reason: that stall selling your dinner stinks. Don’t believe him, that curd-rice eater, because that stall selling our dinner smelled of awesome, fresh beef momos. (Tip to couples thinking of producing babies in Bangalore: do it at the risk of your child turning into a vegetarian!!)

We started on Saturday thinking we will come back from Mysore if Aaron can’t take the ride. At four years and 10 months, he is not yet a rider, even if he is strapped to me and sits in front holding the handlebar. He tends to fall asleep and that’s when our woes begin. But this time we started early, at around 5.45 a.m., and reached IndraDhanush (next to Shivali restaurant on Mysore Road) by 7.30.
There he got enough time to eat, relax, and even play around before we started toward Bylakuppe again at 8.30. It was a longish stop, but we owed him that much. He had to digest the idlis. We didn’t eat much, keeping our stomachs ready for the gastronomic delight awaiting us at Bylakuppe.

After Srirangapatna, the road turns right towards the Ranganthittu Bird (and Crocodile) Sanctuary. And that is the road leading to Madikeri, the locals told us. The speed came down drastically because the road is narrow and a single carriageway, but the beauty all around kept us absolutely cool. I mean “cool,” because for the next 20 kilometers we had huge trees on both sides of the road keeping the sun out. After that the road is almost made and we could make up for lost time doing good speeds till Hunsur and even beyond Hunsur. Just before Bylakuppe, say about a kilometer before, the bad road starts. It continues to be bad till Madikeri, as we discovered the next day.

Bylakuppe at 10.40 a.m. Not bad, the sun’s still not hot, we could keep our jackets on throughout the ride. Six kilometers inside the Tibetan camp is the Namdorling monastery, and the Paljor Dhorgey Ling guest house on the opposite side. Dhorgey is pronounced dorjey. The room we got was decent enough with two beds and a nice attached toilet. All for Rs 350. Now, that’s what I call sasta tikau. The lama at the reception, Dawa, doesn't smile much, but is pretty hospitable otherwise.

A frantic search for curd rice took us to an Indian restaurant downstairs, Shanthi (with the “h”). We fed Aaron there and rushed to look for momos. Inside the monastery there is a canteen that serves Tibetan food. We had our lunch there, but found better momos that evening at Yakar hotel (first camp, a kilometer inside the main gate).

Sunday we headed for Madikeri and both Sayantani and I came back with aching bones. The ride was very bumpy and Madikeri in the middle of the day is not as pretty as we remembered it from 2003. It is hot, sunny, and the view nothing spectacular. Took some boring pictures from Raja’s Seat and headed back. Again, for momos. Thank Lord Buddha for the MRF Nylogrip Meteor rear tyre I got for my bike. It is 4.3 inches wide and bore the brunt of the potholes.

Sunday afternoon was spent relaxing in the Tibetan camp, riding our bike throughout the camp and buying some Tibetan prayer items and CDs. I also bought a couple of nakli adidas tees, that wife thinks are too bright to be worn in Bangalore. But I will give them a try some time for sure.

After stuffing ourselves with almost 100 momos each in those two days (am exaggerating, musta been around 80 each), we headed back to Bangalore on Monday. Early morning, again. Reached Bangalore around 10.50 in the morning and called up office to say am not coming in. Why? Because I am still having momos in Bylakuppe. Shh!

P.S. Momos are dumplings with minced beef stuffed in them. Enough to make you want to be a Buddhist and support the cause of Tibet.