Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Indian car buyers: a smarter generation

If you are an automobile manufacturer and want to launch a model in India, you albeit have to do a lot of market analysis. And the huge market in India provides a sea of data to base your analysis on. How many Mahindra Scorpios were sold versus how many Tata Safaris? What is the preference of any particular geography? Did more Safaris get sold in the Northern parts of India? If yes, why so? Does it have to do with the cultural preferences of a particular race? According to a market research agency, although a Mahindra Scorpio is more reliable and the service experience is infinitely better than at a Tata outlet, North Indians have shown the Safari preference over a Scorpio solely on the basis of aesthetics. Do Indians go by hearsay or do they make their own decisions? Is a place where potential customers gather their information from? How does it influence their final buying decision?

You can understand if a foreign manufacturer like Nissan or Renault have not had the chance to do a lot of research before coming into the market and hence some of their solo products are not even taking off. Nissan, for example, have sold only a handful of their Teana, which is a premium luxury sedan. On the other hand, Skoda could manage to sell a lot of their Superb in the same price bracket. The number has nothing to do with the quality of a premium product like that but with a customer's buying behavior. Now let's look at what influences an Indian customer's choice between Renault Fluence or Chevrolet Cruze. The Cruze is better marketed both in print and television ads, there are many Chevrolet outlets in your city, and a test drive can easily be arranged. Because there are other Cruze owners around, one can ask around about any quirks that their cars have shown. So, even if there are persistent clutch problems and climate control issues reported in a Cruze, a customer can be seen preferring it over a Fluence. If the customer, however, prefers elegant European designs over flashy American ones, she might think between the Fluence and the Skoda Laura and opt for the latter. "Let Renault sell some more cars without the help of Mahindra, let them set up a few more dealerships in my area/city, and I can think about it."

Chevrolet themselves couldn't get it right initially. They were launching petrol models one after another, and all of them tanked at the box office. The much publicized Aveo lost out to Ford Fiesta, which had a diesel variant coupled with aggressive sales. The U-VA was launched a few years ahead of its time when the Indian mindset was to buy hatchbacks priced only below Rs 4 lakhs or so. Their diesel Tavera did sell as a people mover, allowing them to stay afloat, but it was the launch of the Optra Magnum diesel that changed the game for them and brought them back to contention.

The only manufacturer that staunchly held on to its "only gasoline" cars was Honda. And in the current scenario, they have also been forced to slash the prices of their models drastically. When you get a Fluidic Verna crdi or a Ford Fiesta Kinetic TDCi for a similar price, why would you buy a petrol Honda? The Jazz, a premium hatchback, was frugal in terms of fuel efficiency (the 1.2 liter mill being a really efficient one), but the initial pricing was a huge mindblock for an Indian customer. "If I pay 8 lakhs, why should I go for a hatchback?" So the price cut on the Honda Jazz is the biggest we saw in recent times.

Did the Indian manufacturers have it easy? Take the case of Tata Aria, premium 4wd UV with 17" wheels and unlimited features. The people who did the market research for Tata got it all wrong. They launched a product at such a premium pricing that nobody who could afford to shell out that kind of money would want to settle for a Tata product. They could easily go for a Ford Endeavour, a Chevy Captiva, or more importantly, a Toyota Fortuner. More reliable, better plastics and interiors, better service. Why Aria? I will leave out the discussion about its design because it is just a little more inspiring to look at than the Innova, and the front grille looks straight out of an Indica. At least borrow the Safari's grille? But that's my personal opinion and nobody has to subscribe to it. So, after all this didn't warm up the Indian customer, they had to go back to the drawing board, take off a lot of the features, take away the 4wd transmission case, and relaunch it at a much lower price point. Within days of this rethinking, one could see many Arias on the road.

The Skoda Yeti 1.4 is coming, did you know? Another relaunch, another story of having read the Indian customer wrong. The price will be around 11 lakhs. The one available abroad delivers a peppy 122 ps so one can expect this 2wd beauty of a car to get a fresh lease of life on Indian shores. Surely the Indian car buyer can't be fooled no more. And there are some morons still building the Morris Oxford and trying to sell it to us.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Where to?

You ask me where to, and I don't have an answer really. Where to is a question that can be answered by people who have a specific destination. Like they would say, to the horizon, to the edge, to see the sun going down. I can't say that. I would laugh as I say that because knowledge lends a certain humor to things that are impossible. But then, sometimes you want to say things that don't make sense in general but make a lot of sense to you. For example, if I start writing about one of my experiences without any context, you wouldn't understand, but that would be writing for myself, without thinking of you. You, the reader, would cease to exist. Is that how one should ideally write, without any cognizance of there being a reader or a bunch of them later? The wine on an empty stomach burnt its way down and I felt I should have first had some butter at least for it to not affect me adversely. It fucked me up for a while, made me high-strung, temporarily. I am not high-strung. Is it hyphenated as a noun? Maybe not, but right now I can't check. The wine and then the acceptance speech for my Oscar. Yes, thanks guys for recognizing my talent. You have a lot more coming. Those wrinkles can't be hidden, but somehow they aren't hindering normal life. Did you know that? That despite wrinkles people like you and get attracted to you? That you don't have to listen to all that crap about ageing because ageing is natural and doesn't really mean ceasing to live? I didn't. I always thought I had to look good and then I couldn't live up to that expectation. I would look into the mirror and get a shock. And then gradually I stopped looking, stopped bothering about the crumpled shirt or that obstinate strand of hair. Stopped bothering about my body being not perfect, about the head being too big, about the nose being crooked (and now short after the surgery), about the love handles and the paunch, about the spindly legs. I realized I can still love myself with the flaws and the people who love me are not really bothered. They love me for other reasons and the flaws are just human in their eyes. For long, you know (yes, you are still writing for you and not just for myself), I was not high-strung. I never grew up knowing that it is okay to want. I was always told it is not okay to want something. So every time I wanted something, I told myself it was wrong to want. And somehow it became a habit to do what others wanted me to do. It is good to please others. Who said this, initially, for me to believe in it so strongly? Is it part of our culture to grow up to please others? So, along with doing things for people and conforming to their image of me, I also stopped believing in feelings. It is not right to feel. You are coldblooded, you can't feel. You can't feel love. If someone gives you love, love him back. Don't love by yourself. Loving means pain, and pain makes you high-strung. I quite like the hyphen by now.

But then the wine and the acceptance speech and a movie that makes you cry were together working toward opening me up. And I opened up. Only two drops? Is that all you can afford to cry? Isn't it okay to cry when you should? Home They Brought Her Warrior Dead, remember?
Like the other day when you left me alone and slammed the door behind you. That day when I could hear the click of your heels fading away into the distance. That day, I stayed back behind the closed door and thought if it has moved me. You took my hand and wrapped it around your waist. "See? Nothing happened, see?"

Well, perhaps nothing happened. Perhaps a lot happened. Perhaps the setting wasn't right for us because if I were at your place, I wouldn't have stopped there or taken my hand away. You worry about me being in love, but here I am telling you that I have been taught never to fall in love. I haven't even come close to falling. Women have come and gone, using me as I customized myself for them. Funnily, I was never paid. Right now, a striptease is in order. Just take away that mirror from this room because I don't like to see me again.

Monday, March 28, 2011

When you wait

When you are infinitely waiting, time loses its significance.

"When I was fifteen and you thirty, and your toes ran up my shin, you could control my heartbeat. You could make it go faster, and my mind race through smooth, reflecting corridors at breakneck speeds. You controlled me. You controlled the rush of blood to various points, you controlled how frequently I had to go relieve myself of my bursting-at-the-seams libido. That particular act by you, running your toes up my leg under the table (something they casually refer to as a footsie today) was enough to make me want to marry you, proclaim my lifelong love for you, and make love to your utterly white legs in the bright neon light. To your legs because then I probably didn't know what lay between them. I mustered up the courage and ran my hand up your legs one day after bath. You seemed to enjoy the journey as my palm caressed its way up to a crucial point and then suddenly held my hand. It was like holding up the red flag to an already delayed train. It was lust, you were convinced despite my all-out attempts to make you believe otherwise. To me it was love and I had already waited long enough."

At fifteen

Life brought your toes up my shin

Like the message in a bottle came to the shore

When I ran myself up your lane, though

Was it time for you to reason or run?

"And then, the permutations of age brought me to twenty-six and you became twenty-three or so. It was still you though, this time thrown in together with me at a crucial juncture of our lives. Traveling salesmen don't have it easy, and as we rode my scooter from one client to another in the summer, it was just us clutching on to each other for comfort. If my sales dwindled one month, you covered up for me, and I did the same for you. You were way smarter, just like you were ten years back and I happily became your sidekick. We traded clients, covered up for each other but nobody minded as long as the sales figures didn't go down. I knew I couldn't live without you but couldn't tell you so. You told me ten years later. Ten years too late, don't you think? And why? Your black Peshawar eyes still dance my blues away."

A button-less shirt that can hardly cover a bust, I wanted so you don't see the tears

Your voice through electricity, comes crackling,
I miss you, so do I, but what can I say?
Today definitely is not our day.

"I silently listened to your stories. The age gap had somehow been moving like an undecided scale. Now you were perhaps ten years younger, or more. I felt older, wiser. Wisdom can get you there, you know? If you weren't a teenager with a perpetual blood rush, you could still get it. The attention, I mean, and there you were, longing in your eyes, coming straight at me, making me feel heady, young, ready to hit the treadmill. You needed my advice, counseling you to cope with your trauma, holding my hand and keeping it on your chest to listen to your heartbeat. It had gone slow, with pain. I felt pain with you, silently listened to your stories. Coffee, ice-cream, known and unknown streets, your hand in mine, my grip on life silently slipping away.
It was my turn to talk one day. You kept your phone away."

I was here, promised to be
For a longish period of time,
But then giving has its day.

The road takes a U-turn, eventually
"But the map said another way?"

Maps have given way to GPS, dude, maps have given way to GPS long back only you didn't know about it. How will you? Stuck in your love stories, unfinished, you hardly had the time to catch up.

"And today, your hand on my lap is warm and inviting. It has a language of its own. You like reading me, you say, but then I hardly write. You like the way my mind works, but the only inlet you have is this blog, so that's hardly representative. It is trash, didn't I say? Your hand finds its way to my heart. It hasn't stopped yet. It has raced with you, slowed down with your pain, sobbed uncontrollably with your departure, and has slowed down for me now. Keep it there for a while as I pick up my pieces from the virtual world. Scattered also has a pattern, someone said."

As I walk in a trance,
a million pieces of light dance on the floor
would have called it a disco
had they not been showing me the way
around my life.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Of Gemini Minds

Who is that man in the red tee? He isn't particularly handsome, but has this really infectious smile. It is such a clean and disarming smile, you can't really not smile back at him. His eyes would get smaller, the crows feet would get prominently stretched, and his uneven teeth would peep out of his otherwise thin lips. He has very average features, but altogether they make an attractive picture. I caught myself not just smiling, but thinking about him even after he had gone.

Will he ask me my name? Will we meet again next week at Dr. Sushma Rao's clinic? Why does that man need therapy? He might be a single parent, but seems to be in control of himself. So why? Has he come to pick up a date? A psycho therapy workshop for single parents who're not being able to cope with things is a good place to pick up a date, isn't it? He hasn't done too badly for himself either, on the first day. He spoke about the trauma he went through when his wife died in a freak accident. And I could see two other ladies giving him the looks. I remember his account very vividly and kept wondering if I had come here to pick up a date as well? Haven't I? I am being able to cope pretty well with my single status because my mother has volunteered to step in and look after my Trisha, who's only two, but why did I want to come here? Poornima suggested Dr Rao. She felt I was going into depression and suggested I come for therapy. It is a workshop and the first day we took turns in talking about how we became single in the first place. We were not supposed to show any sympathy towards the person talking, the light would be focused only on him or her, and they would be made to talk to the darkness, pretending nobody was around. Weird, I thought. How true will the accounts be? Will they all be truthful? I, for myself, didn't talk about the absolute truth. I didn't tell them the real reason why Shobhan left me. I made up a nice story and put the blame subtly on him. I know it wasn't his fault at all. I was tired of him. I perpetually want to move on and I made things so impossible for him that he had to leave. He didn't want to go, but then, how long is love? For me, it has never lasted very long. Have I ever fallen in love ever? Do geminis fall? What is the name of this guy in the red tee? How will it be to make love to him? He has strong arms. Strong arms.

I woke up from my stupor with a shudder. What was I thinking? I didn't even know his name for god's sake! He is Three in the workshop. I am Four to him and to the others. I was impatient for the next session. Next Friday.

P.S. One spent his entire time today staring at me. A very handsome man with a hoarse voice. What was his problem? Why can't I remember?

The next Friday came and we had to put ourselves in each others' situations. Strange situations, really because how could I, for example, think that I am a man and my wife has left me? I was put in One's shoes and I had to play-act his part. After a while it started feeling good as the gender divides were broken and I started feeling very much like a man who's been spurned by his wife. One doesn't have a kid, so it is easy, but it was difficult to cope with the hurt. Today we were asked questions, and when Three (in a blue tee today) asked me questions aimed at One, it was a strange experience:

Three: So, how did you feel when your wife left you?

Me: I felt bad. I was in love with her and had absolutely NO clue that it wasn't working for her. What hurt most was how abrupt it was.

Three: Did it ever occur to you that you perhaps brought some arrogance into the relationship with your good looks? (he stared deep into my eyes he complimenting me? is he referring to One being handsome?)

Me (this was difficult to answer, posing as a handsome man!): I can't help being handsome and, by the way, where did you notice the arrogance? I was just doing my job as a husband. I used to buy her flowers, I took her out regularly, and even went with her to her concerts.

(We were given a lot of details about the characters we would have to pose as, and I did my bit of homework. One's wife plays the violin and often had these concerts at various places in India and abroad. She has even worked with Dr L. Subramaniam and Jean Luc Ponty, so I could see where the breach must have come from. One wasn't possibly as intellectually inclined or capable as her and probably couldn't provide her any stimulation or useful company. But being in his shoes, I had to defend him.)

Me: We married knowing our vastly different backgrounds because there was love. I can't appreciate Carnatic Classical music and she knew my limitations. But then she doesn't know about software either. I am one of the best programmers at Oracle and even have five patents in the US for my work on the Oracle 8 database. So the basic premise was love. If it had worn out for her so soon, she could have told me, given me a hint at least? You can't just walk out on someone just like that? I still can't believe it."

This entire exercise was very emotionally draining. We all had to shelve our own problems, read up about the other person, enact his/her role ignoring the fact that the person being discussed is present in that room, in the darkness, probably fuming. There were many gasps and grunts, and at one point when Three was enacting me, I protested. He had read me all wrong. He kept talking about how I pushed Shobhan away. I didn't want to agree with that, but Dr Rao asked me to sit quietly. Was this therapy? What shit was this? How could Three read into my mind so well? How the hell does he know that I was the one who drove Shobhan up the wall? Oh my god!

I hated him for this. I wanted to hit him on the head. I kept thinking about Three the entire evening and late into the night. Who is he? Why was he so cocksure? And as my tablets started taking effect the hatred turned into reluctant lust. I noticed his thighs today. And when he stared deep into my eyes, I could feel something stirring in my tummy. My friend Sohini says her tummy hurts when she's aroused. I was not thinking of him, I wasn't aroused. You just notice these things but then you don't really act on them, do you? One asked me if I really found him handsome, to which I said he should actually ask Three about it because it was him who brought it up. How irritating. No wonder his wife left him and is perhaps composing music in Luc Ponty's studio, sitting naked with him. Serves you right, you prick.

The classes were going on fine for many months and we were even given our real identities after that exercise on Trust. We were made to fall backward trusting the person behind us to break the fall. It takes a hell lot to let go. I waited for my turn to be held by Three and when I fell backward, he held me firmly from behind, making my knees buckle. He is Pranjal, an Assamese. He told me about the accident but wasn't very curious about my husband. I asked her why he assumed I was the one who drove Shobhan mad and he said he was just playacting and that unless he added some color, it would have got really boring. Should I tell him the truth? Never.

He has asked me out next week. We will go to CCD Jayanagar, perhaps. He says he will come over in his jeep and pick me up sometime in the morning. He wants to drive around aimlessly and also mentioned that he might "abduct" me, which I didn't understand quite. This wait, this anticipation is so exciting, I end up shaking my leg a lot. I do that when am excited. Don't you? I can't show him my excitement. Was I too hasty in saying yes? What will he make of it? What have I said yes to anyway? Nothing. He says he wants to abduct me. Does he mean keep me for good? Gotta wait and find out.


Ding dong.
"Hi, you're late."
"Yeah darling, what to do...the same bullshit did your Friday yoga classes go?"
"Oh those, Shobhan? Boring, as usual. Sushma is like good, but not brilliant."
"Hmm...why go then?"
"Just need to do something on Friday evenings, don't I? Did you get the veggies I asked you to?"
"Yeah, but I couldn't find those fat aubergines...what are those called? BT Brinjals?"

"Daddyyyyyyyyyy" a little girl runs into the room and straight into his lap.

"Oh Trisha baby, my woogly baby...lemme rinse me hands first?"

(conversation fades)

The Yellow Manila (a repost)

It was a lazy morning and all I could think of doing was to sift through stuff gathered over the last couple of years. And out came the yellow manila that I'd almost forgotten about. There was a picture of her draped in an orange sari and many other paper memories. Photos of some missions in California, some even looking like an old South Indian temple. Especially that of the Mission San Antonio De Padua, the third of California's 21 missions.

She'd scribbled descriptions of all the articles on post-its behind the postcards and photographs. There was one paper napkin she'd saved from our visit to Lori's Diner. Neatly folded and as white even after being mothballed in the yellow manila for more than two years now. That evening at Lori's Diner we ordered one banana split, which, when it arrived, had us gasping.

It was a very big banana.

And then there were these unused BART tickets that she never used. Just so I could save them as memories. All this prompted me to shoot off an e-mail to her. As I waited for a reply, I thought about the last evening we spent sitting on abandoned railroad tracks facing a lake.

"Why didn't I meet you in school?"

"Yeah, that would have been nice. You'd have been this tall girl two classes my senior, on whom I'd have had a crush. And we could have gone biking in abandoned wastelands."

"Why abandoned? Why not on streets with cars? Or people?"

"Then I wouldn't have to share you with anybody else's gaze. I could watch you in peace."

"Oks, let it be abandoned wastelands then."

We didn't speak for a long time after that. She was dropping me to the airport that night and I still hadn't packed.


I didn't get a reply to my e-mail the next day. The message came back saying there were permanent, fatal errors with the address.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bovine Confidence

When I dated her, I swore that I will make her drive a truck one day. It was almost like a mission I had taken up with a lot of conviction in the dictum "anyone can do anything." In my case, this anyone was someone who had forgotten to ride a bicycle, so you can guess the gradient of this uphill task. Cycling and swimming are things you never forget, and this anyone in question had forgotten the former and never learnt the latter even after two floral costumes and gallons of chlorinated water in her system. To make her drive a truck? Hopeless. Some literature students also mentioned that I will be left hapless, a word am yet to find the meaning of.

The first car came and went after four years. She never tried it. The second one was a relatively new jeep, which she tried driving a couple of times. She managed pretty well given the jeep's steering sends you zero feedback about the road and the brakes lend you no confidence at all. I was getting hopeful that one day from the jeep she will graduate to a truck. I was proving people wrong and would take videos of her at the helm, with the jeep doing most of the driving. Driving this jeep is like taking your St Bernard out to walk and letting him take control of you, so sometimes I wondered if she was driving at all or just sitting there, pretending to.

But she was the driver indeed, as all her four licenses (from four different Indian states) stated with authority. It is criminal to have more than one license in this country, but you can have as many as you like. This probably explains why she makes a U-turn every time there's a cop on the road. Once at this junction the traffic lights weren't working and the cop was managing the traffic. When he gestured towards us, she made a sudden U-turn, pushed the smallish car in the right lane onto the median, and sped back towards home. I realized most of our weekend outings would go waste if all we did was to go a certain distance and turn back because there were cops on the road. I took over. And she went to the passenger side.

Our child, who watches most of his classmates being ferried from home by their driving moms, was waiting to show off a jeep-driving mom, but that was not to be. Using the cops as an excuse, she gradually forgot to drive, like she forgot how to ride a bicycle. Unbelievable, but true. I tried reasoning that we should keep only the local license in the jeep and put the rest in the locker, but her fear of cops probably has something to do with her being a criminal in her past life, as her mother poignantly observed from the rear seat.

Meanwhile, people from the past, who had pitied me for having taken up such an impossible task, started showing up on various social networks. Some were fat, some were beautiful, some divorced, some married multiple times, and they were all suddenly curious (after having found me in the virtual world), how I was doing as far as buying a truck was concerned. I argued for a while that a jeep can also be called a truck, but that was what we had initially settled for years back when a truck meant a lorry.

I was generally burnt out with all this drivery I had to do and one fine day just dragged her to a car showroom and made her buy a car. The smallest available because she had forgotten how to handle the breadth of the jeep and wanted to start with a small car. Easy on the pocket in the long run, frugal, and peppy, so we were generally happy. Although it was a step backward (jeep > truck being the logical progression), I welcomed it with open arms. Finally someone is going to share some of the burden of driving and she can soon move from the small one to the jeep to eventually a truck. And then I will show my Facebook friends what a gentleman's promise really means. And she started driving.

First with a lot of trepidation, seat pulled to the front, eyes glued to the road, one foot on the clutch, one hand on the gearknob, one husband by her side. The husband in turn had one hand on the handbrake and the other held outside the window to warn all the other vehicles of a potential disaster. But gradually the husband learnt to relax and even breathe at times. One hand came in and the other one came off the handbrake. She moved from one gear to another, and settled for an optimal third, which can take you everywhere inside Bangalore pretty quickly.

All this while the little one was watching this progress from the rear seat. And yesterday when she did a 30 km stretch through relatively crowded roads from the south to the north of Bangalore, he decided to make a suggestion about how to handle the impatient, honking drivers behind you.

"You have to have the confidence of a cow, mamma."

"A cow?" I could almost see her eyebrows taking on this weird shape at this bovine hint. "What do you mean?"

"A cow, simply. What else? Haven't you seen how they don't budge from the road even if you honk? That's confidence. You should also ignore those guys honking behind you. Just like a cow."

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


"Sugar?" he exclaimed, quite taken aback by my suggestion of mixing some in my vodka. He doesn't like vodka because the Russian engineers at MAMC made him sample some crude Russian stuff, hardly distilled, mixed with nothing but water. No wonder he hates vodka and treats male vodka drinkers with a certain kind of if they may suddenly either turn queer or strip to their pink panties. And when the first of his daughters got married to one such male, he went into depression for quite some time. I can understand his feelings, can almost empathize, one can say. Almost like how I would feel if Aaron gets into a romantic liaison with a vegetarian Tambram. Wouldn't I be affected if something that monumentally catastrophic happens to my son? Wouldn't we all be? On top of that, this fellow is mixing some lime cordial and sugar into his vodka. Lime? Which respectable drinker worth his whiskey ever heard of mixing anything citric in his drink? Doesn't that entirely defeat the initial purpose? Of getting drunk?

Despite all these conflicts in his mind, and probably because he doesn't really have a choice when he's at my place, my pa-in-law has gradually started accepting this drinking aberration in me. Almost forgiven, after all these years. He quietly sits with his whiskey and watches me turn my drink into a sherbet. He can't help let out snorts from time to time, snorts of utter disdain at my absolute lack of drinking taste. But the snorts aren't audible perhaps burdened by the knowledge that I put up with his daughter in the first place.

"Hrrmmph...brave guy, after all. Hrrmmmph."

Tonight was one such night. He misses the husband of his second daughter, a man with impeccable taste in Scotch and Bourbon alike, a man who can really be called a man at last. Armed with the knowledge that his second daughter made the right choice and resigned to the fact that fifty percent success is not a bad score in life's intricate math after all, he appears mostly happy these days. Happy with his sudoku, crossword, and his grandson, who is showing all the right signs of growing up to be a whiskey drinker.

This happiness lasted many years, seven to be precise, when suddenly it was dealt another blow. The whiskey drinker son-in-law decided to move to London and move he did. And how. Every day over the internet voice chat wafts out stories of how the whiskey-drinker son-in-law is enjoying the various beautiful things the Scots have manufactured, packed in glass bottles of various shapes and sizes. He sounds so near over Skype, you can almost smell it all in the room. And that smell in your mind stirs memories. And memories can make you touched in the head at times.

So tonight. Yes, let me come to tonight finally. Tonight as I was frying a newly discovered fish in the kitchen and the atmosphere was thick with the smoke and smell of heavenly dinner, he let out one fairly audible snort. "Hrrmm...smells good...what's the point in having fish fry if not with something?" Before his words could fully come out, the whiskey and vodka bottles were out along with two glasses at speed that would have been jaw-dropping for Speedy Gonzales himself. Onions were finely chopped, the steaming fish (crisp and freshly fried) brought to the table, the rich sound of pouring liquid filled our senses, and the lights were dimmed. I could think of only "smooth" to describe the entire ambiance when suddenly there was a jarring note. My bad:

"Lemme mix some sugar in this."

"Sugar? Hrrmmmph."

But over the years his hrrmmphs have mellowed, have softened, have almost acquired this warm and caring tone. All the hrrmmmphs that followed tonight were of the same nature:

"So I will buy a Harley this year."


"I want sex. The new SX-4 diesel."


"Kids should be spanked by default every morning and evening."


"Am divorcing your daughter."


"Am pouring sugar into my vodka."

"Sugar? Ha ha. Pour me another one, wilya?"