March 18, 2016

Gym Blues

If only we could workout and move about in the gym in the proverbial personal bubble, that would be great, thank you very much. 21 socially awkward situations or frustrating things that qualitatively mar my gym experience, sometimes, quantitatively too: 1. When someone carries their cellphone to the gym, uses it between the sets and keeps it at various places around only to reach out quickly to it and start swiping ferociously. 2. Doing all that AND bringing along a charger. 3. When someone plays their own playlist on the music player, and nobody else in the gym seems to even feel slightest of the bother, so you just decide to walk out half-way from your workout. 4. When someone has Yo Yo Honey Singh songs on their playlist being played on the music player. 5. When someone lip-syncs to the Yo Yo Honey Singh songs while working out. 6. When someone lip-syncs to the Yo Yo Honey Singh songs while checking themselves out in the mirror between their sets, and you decide that you have had enough of exercise for the day and walk out. 7. Bring-Your-Kid-To-The-Gym Day. 8. When everyone in the gym dilly-dallies with the little kid of that member while he's working out like a bitch, and you wonder if you, too, should join the queue to exchange pleasantries with the kid to assure everyone well in advance that you weren't the one to complain about such habits in the suggestion box. 9. When someone hangs their moist napkin on any horizontal object, but never on the allotted hooks. 10. When someone leaves their moist napkin on your gym instrument, so you hover around the spot looking around if the owner will get the hint and pick it up. If he doesn't and you don't know whose it is, you try to figure out which part of the napkin is dry and germ-free enough to lift up from. 11. The boisterous camaraderie between some guys and the gym instructor, and when you try to act 'extra dude' when you call the instructor if you need some help with the weights. 12. When someone shadows you as an unsolicited workout partner especially when you are half way through your workout already, thus highly frustrating you in the course because they are using weights too heavy or too light, so that your rest between the sets is wasted in helping change all the weights for both of you. 13. Radio. Oh lord, the radio! 14. When the most demanding sets of your workout have to go along with the crappy ads on the radio. 15. The lame wall posters: I wish they could change the quote posters every week at least. Subjecting me to “Look in the mirror! That’s your competition!” throughout the year is going to piss the shizzles out of me when I look into the mirror. But worse are the unappetising photos of the ugly, muscled men and women who are anything but inspiring. I mean, no one works out at the gym to represent their state at a bodybuilding competition. 16. When you are a gym member for so long that you've seen a series of instructors come and go, and when a sweaty, fat cardio guy comes over and tells you how to do your weights the correct way - right in the middle of your set - and you don't know if you should accept their suggestion or just ignore them and complete your set as you please. 17. When someone's idea of “sweating it out hard” is not “pushing themselves to the extreme like a real man” but switching off the air-conditioning and the fans, and even when you shift your base to the cooler areas of the gym they invariably migrate over to you spreading the dreary hotness and discomfort. 18. That moment when a lady walks over to share your equipment and you have to impatiently switch on your gentleman mode and check if you're not leaving any sweat stains on the equipment even though you always wipe them, if any, or you're not profusely 'manspreading', or your deodorant is still effective, or your T-shirt is not being pulled up too much, or your hair isn't getting upset in the middle of your set so that you don't know if you should stop and run your fingers through your hair and continue again or just carry on, uncomfortably conscious that that lady is noticing your 'workout-face' made even funnier by your hair. 19. When you eventually lie down on a mattress for your abs workout and you don't realise when those 15 seconds of relaxation with your eyes closed becomes a short nap only to abruptly wake up with a jolt to check how long you dozed off for and if anyone saw what just happened, just acting as if you consciously decided to catch those 40 winks. 20. When you try to squeeze in as much of strenuous exercise as possible during a good song which just luckily starts playing on the unsupervised music player and that livid moment when someone shouts across the floor to change the music. 21. When an exceptionally burly gym member is making himself conspicuous in the gym with unabashedly loud grunting during his workout and - in spite of his workout buddies and the gym instructor encouraging him - you try not to make your displeasure apparent, but when you're pushing yourself with some modest, medium-heavy weights and you realise an irrepressible grunt coming up, you suddenly stop, faking some wrist discomfort, and walk around for a while flexing your wrist like this and like that. (PS: This article is based on the experiences in my old gym. I have moved on to a new, better gym now.)


March 23, 2014

For the Love of Fries!

My take on food is as informed as a Frenchman's on spiciness, thank you very much.

My friends can swear on the fact that I am the worst person to be taken along on a binge excursion, or if one is trying out a new restaurant or a new dish. It is true, though. I have a digestive system of a hamster. I am nauseated and feel a physical compulsion to throw up even if something strikes me even a tad funny-tasting. That's why I have grown an aversion to all the spongy foodstuffs like cakes and pastries just because I ate a cake on my birthday, as a kid, and realised I am allergic to eggs. That's why for a long time, I thought I was allergic to even cottage cheese because I ate some weird Chinese starter and threw up later. I realised after several years that I wasn't allergic to it, but my dislike for Chinese food still prevails. Anyway, so I have established that I am a fussy eater.

The upside, however, of being a fussy eater is that if there is stuff that you actually like, you'll love it enough to have it as your staple diet. Of all the several things I can think of, one of them is French Fries.

I judge a restaurant on the quality of French Fries it serves. Although no restaurant would give a fuck about the judgment of a Fussy Eater like me (yes, capital F and capital E!), I adamantly believe that French Fries are to a restaurant what socks are to an ensemble. Just like a sane man will never put much thoughts beyond playing it conventional with his socks while pulling off an attire even when he's dressing up for a special occasion, in the same way, most restaurants would hardly take any efforts to ensure their Fries are well-made. And when one says 'well-made', one doesn't need any validation by an eminent food blogger, neither does one need to be an omnivore or an omnidigestor. I always order French Fries at almost every restaurant I go to, especially the ones which are cuisine-oriented. These restaurants think that they might reap the benefits of their offres principales. and no one would care much about a side dish which you usually order as a distraction to your hands while you're chatting with your friends till the main course arrives. When someone wears an interesting pair of socks - even bordering on tastefully quirky - one can appreciate their efforts in putting in a thought behind a garment that's hardly going to be noticed or visible. My judgment of a restaurant is based on the same principle. 

Some of the best restaurants where I have ordered a plate of French Fries disappointed me. There were places where the Fries were served in miserly quantities in bowls smaller than a soup bowl, were at room temperature, could've been classified as fried potato shavings or were oily enough to tick off Gordon Ramsay. The French Fries can be made in a gourmet way as well, if you will, employing molecular gastronomy and all that. But by their own virtue, they are not the kind of food which - like wine - requires one to acquire taste over a period of time. So however fancy-ass the restaurant might be, if a Fussy Eater is not impressed by their French Fries, the French Fries are not good enough. Period. I shall leave the critique of the rest of their menu to the abler bellied.

But then, I have eaten the best of the French Fries at some nondescript restaurants as well. They were the kinds which actually distracted you from the conversation around the table and made the hand-to-mouth movement consciously voluntary and anticipating of flavour. I get a welcoming and an inclusive vibe from such restaurants which serve good Fries. They seem to have a motto which promises that no stone is left unturned while preparing even the least fancy dish.

Just to make my adulation for the Fries simpler and seem less crazier, allow me to share with you my criteria for good Fries. For them to be well-cooked, the Fries should (be):
  • adequately salted,
  • of right thickness, 
  • hot, 
  • taste as if your grandma is hiding in the kitchen personally frying you a batch, 
  • hot, 
  • whichever unit crispiness is measured in, that precise unit level of crispy, 
  • not be limp,
  • hot,
  • in such a large amount that you again feel that your hiding grandma used a bigger plate just so that she could throw in some extra fries for you,
  • present in a right secret ratio of crispy to crunchy (it's always a delight to find a surprising piece of French Fries crunch, but neither too often nor too few and far between),
  • very hot,
  • actually taste spicy, when they say spiced French Fries; and are not served with chilli flakes sprinkled on them as an excuse for the added price and adjective.
  • and hot. Have I mentioned it enough already?
Nothing can be more depressing than eating the first grab of Fries off the plate and realising it does not adhere to all the commandments listed above. You might as well order a pitcher of lemon iced tea and drink it without caring for the right balance between the lemony flavour and tea-ish flavour. If you find yourself in a situation where you get a bad plate of Fries and the short end of the stick, muster the courage to return the former. Because you have no idea the kind of happiness real French Fries can give you.

Pearls Before Swine: Describing French Fries in an apt way.

June 10, 2011

Do You Read the Newspaper?

I was asked this question by the two interviewers at my Personal Interview round of Common Entrance Test: Do you read the newspaper?

Now by general knowledge, I had learnt that this question is almost a trap. Before this question was brought up, we had discussed at length about my profession as a Marketing Executive, about some concepts of Marketing which I answered correctly and about my general opinion on what can make India a global economy. And hence the above question was posed as if to find a chink in my shining confidence which I had managed to portray.

I can very well imagine any other confident boy would have said 'yes' and that as well might have been true in his case (cheers!) and right upon this affirmation, the interviewers would have sprung a weird cosmology related question to that possibly gujju commerce graduate. He would have confessed his ignorance about the issue and the interviewers would have parroted their well-rehearsed back-lash, 'Oh! Then what do you read in the newspapers? Just Bombay Times and Mumbai Mirror, eh? (sic)' And that would have forced the poor chap to be defenceless against such allegation of cultural tackiness.

But I had decided that I shall be truthful. Even though I was barely prepared for the Group Discussion and Personal Interview rounds, not having read about the current events or 'hot topics' around the world, I had made up my mind that I shall face them with honesty and little of what I knew.

The reply I gave came out as quite genuine, I said, 'Frankly speaking, no, I barely get time to read the newspaper... even watch television for that matter -'

'And that's because you are busy?' interjected the blunt one.

I smugly replied, 'No, that's because I'm occupied!'

He did not pursue the argument further. My mum rebuked me for my audacity when I narrated this incident to her, but I must state that Honesty can never be completely conveyed if it is restrained by Modesty.

Hereupon, the other interviewer asks, 'But you are into marketing, don't you think, as a marketeer, you should be abreast with the current news?'

To which I furnished a reply, complete with drawing quotation marks in the air and what not, 'Yes, indeed. But the thing is, work keeps me occupied almost throughout the day. I cannot afford the luxury of setting aside a special hour during my breakfast to go through the entire newspaper. Honestly, I don't want to "encumber myself" with the political news, scams and scandals. I have lost my interest in watching news channels since they introduced background music while showing video telecasts. Having said that, I do have a general overview about who's who and who's done what and what's going on, it's just that these days, I don't want to pursue and follow each and every news item and form an opinion about it. As far as my being into marketing is concerned, I'm pretty much well read about different products and brands. Since I need to spend a lot of time online, I do read about such stuff and that, I daresay, is enough fodder for me.'

After I finished I had a sense of foreboding that they thought I was being too smart for my general appearance. Because barring a few glances that I permit myself to such news while surfing the internet, I'm not really much of an Economic Times breed of a reader. Shameful it is, I agree, but I just hope it's a phase or a passing bad habit. I am more of a P. G. Wodehouse, Stephan Pastis, Ayn Rand, J. K. Rowling type of reader: all of whom are at the unacceptable extremities of non-approved reading material providers for Government's public entrance exam.

Well, anyway, as if to hit me in the eye with a wet sock for showing such nerve, the lesser friendly interviewer further questioned, 'OK, then tell me: who is the Finance Minister of India?'

Imagine my face like the chat emoticon :|

'Pranab Mukherjee.'

'See now how do you think you know this?' he demanded with new-found vigour.

'But this is general knowledge,' I exclaimed with already-present fervour. 'I don't need to read the newspaper to know this! I'm not dumb!'

That was that on the issue of reading the newspaper. We exchanged formal pleasantries and I walked out, feeling happy about myself, not because I defended an unhealthy habit of not reading the newspaper, but because I defended those species of (nerdy) readers who sustain on a daily prescription of humour, fiction and fantasy and can still walk around as equals among the species of those omniscient readers, with the presence of just simple wit and stark honesty.


March 15, 2010

The Dirty Politics

"Is Mayvati fit to be the next Prime Minister?" asked a news channel. 'No' was the reflex answer that rang in my head. I did not follow the debate or the discussion since I was of the firm opinion that she should be kept away from anything that resembles power, public money, or politics. The next day I read in a news article that she was felicitated with a Rs 5o million worth garland made solely of Rs 1,000 notes. I was thoroughly disgusted: Sheer politics and desperate flamboyance which does not even suit the new beacon of dalits.

Mayavati Kumari, started off with petty posts in politics. Initially, behenji, coming from an humble background with oiled plaits and ponytails, fielded the dalits for their support and had an anti-upper caste mindset. This attitude changed (along with her hairstyle which now was a short bob) when she reached out for the support of Muslims and the upper-class Hindus in the 2007 elections. A person with more political knowledge than me may tag me to be prejudiced against her. But I am so. She may pose as an inspiration for the Dalits when she makes political achievements, but erecting her own statues all over the place is pure vanity. Now there was a Dr Ambedkar statue where she built a Rs 1o million police post with ultra modern facilities and interiors (at par a luxury hotel) just for its protection. A 700 metre road that led to that statue was lined with designer lamps. Her birthdays are a grand media event where money and spirit flow in parallel streams. If this is supposed to be an inspiration to the Dalits, I don't think so, in fact this is like waving a piece of meat in front of the famished animals.

Having stated this, can India, which is such a culturally diverse and religiously pluralistic country, afford to have a PM like her? We do not need a politician. We do not need a manipulator who is skilled only in one-upmanship. I'm sure, if she attains that post, her cabinet will be filled with only her loyalists. The criterion for portfolio allocation will be based on the favors they did her. Comparing her with the current Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, my prejudice against her only aggravates. The supremely educated and intelligent PM is the best representative India can have on the international platform. Be it the climate control policies or nuclear deals or border issues or global recession problems, I can imagine the embarrassment we might have faced had Mayawati been in his place. Can you imagine the way the woman, who is richly marinated in gutter politics, could have carried herself on the global stage as a premier representative of one of the most important countries of the world? The way Dr Singh financially revived the entire nation when he was the Finance Minister of India speaks volumes about his capacity as an able PM. He also happens to be the first non-political person to qualify as prime ministerial candidate of India. After a stupendous tenure, if India sees that dalit leader as its PM we'll be soon settling into times governed by caste supremacy and even more reservations.

As I said before, I am prejudiced against her, but not her dalit-ness. Responsibility of a nation is a tremendous and an all-inclusive responsibility and not an opportunity to glorify your petty agendas. Dr Ambedkar was born a dalit, and that meant he had to make do with limited financial resources, educational opportunities, social displeasure and so on. In spite of all that he strove hard and became highly educated. That was when he ceased being a dalit technically, never mind what he was born as. His attitude and forward thinking did not behove the Dalit tag. Mayawati was also born as a dalit, became literate with a few qualifications, amassed millions worth of assets but her blinkered outlook still make her a thorough dalit. What she is doing for the dalits is not going to help them much. She may give them concessions, provide for reservations, but in the end they will be remain dalits, in their own eyes, in the eyes of the rest of the people. Instead of uplifting them from the lower stratum of the society she is providing them with meagre supplies for a more comfortable stay there itself.

The brand equity Dr Singh imparts to India is unsurpassable, and election of a person lesser able than him will be a step down, while in behenji's case, a plunge down. The unsure nature of Indian Democracy worries me. Because it is hardly in the hands of the few knowledgeable and more in the hands of even fewer politicians. At the time when the world looks upon the India's stand and opinion on issues of terrorism and carbon control measures as pivotal between the developed and developing camps, we need to give that stand some substance of credibility. At the time when international universities are setting up campuses in India, we need to provide them a sophisticated academic atmosphere. Is it necessary to elaborate further who is the abler candidate?

Having written all this, I would not appeal to you, the reader, saying words like 'Let us look at the clearer picture' or 'Let us try to redefine our perception'. It is time you became self-opinionated and kept away from the herd mentality and took the right decision not only while voting but also while switching to a different television channel.

P.S. I would like to quote King Julian from Madagascar 2: Whatever happened to separation of classes?

January 15, 2010

The Strange Feelings

"The Uncomfortable Feeling" is the worst type of all the feelings I daresay. I can tolerate guilt, boredom, envy, inferiority complex, embarrassment and some other mild feelings, but The Uncomfortable Feeling wins hands down. I write about this because I did something in college - and I shall certainly not describe what - which has got me this itchy feeling. To be more clear, it was something which others might not have found stupid or strange, but I, for one, did find it so. I dunno if anyone of you ever did something goofy and then had this feeling at the back of your mind nudging you the entire day, reminding you of that moment making you wish you hadn't done it. And you are like 'Arrgh! Tomorrow, I'm gonna take some corrective steps and act really cool.' If only there was a mental eraser! I would have erased that incident first from others' memory and then mine.

Boredom is a valuable feeling. I can't say it for others, but when I am bored, I tend to introspect a lot. It can be probably because when you are so bored to do anything or can't think of what you can do, you just sit back and stare into space or potter about on Facebook. I advanced to a higher level of boredom some days back. I got bored even of Facebook. I couldn't stand reading what my friends were becoming fans of. Either it's 'someone became a fan of talking on the last bench' or '... became a fan of I don't like it when people don't reply to my messages quickly'. I am so sick of it that I don't care to elaborate on it further. Facebook really changed my daily life. Initially, with Orkut, where you had hardly anything to pass your time with, you couldn't get so addicted. And it was possible to log off after a while. But with Facebook I had this compulsive habit of commenting on some or the other post, diligently ploughing on Farmville, playing Social Interview and many other petty applications. I must really warn those who are reading this and if they can identify themselves with with this trait, that this habit can suck the real qualities out of you. I can't remember the last time when I read a book for at least two hours at a stretch. I have been trudging along with the fat novel Atlas Shrugged for almost an eternity now. The fact is, all this time, while I had been glued to Facebook, I did not realise that instead of curing my boredom I was aggravating it. I have nothing against Facebook, and don't even understand how this post strayed on to be so anti-FB but somehow Facebook and Boredom are two words I can easily co-relate. My reading habit has taken such a blow that I can actually see for myself that this post is the worst ever till now when it comes to content, creativity and style. Detestable!

Another feeling is the 'Yearning for Solitude'. Remember those times, when you were traveling to college or work, and just wanted to be busy with your thoughts when your hyper-enthusiastic friend appeared out of nowhere beaming like a Miss World? It's physically painful when the guy goes on blabbering on topics you are least interested to even think about. I sometimes wonder during such times if I, too, ever was so thick that I couldn't take the hint to shut up when the other person was keeping mum. This Yearning for Solitude Feeling may arise because of many things: a sour incident, bad mood, fight with someone and so on. And when you are in a blissful solitude you are actually nursing or self-healing your bad mood. When you have had a satisfactory time in solitude, you are fresh enough to be social again. However, this feeling should not be confused with reclusiveness. Yearning for Solitude is perfectly natural. For the ripples in the lake to settle into a still surface it is better if there blew not even a breeze.

December 18, 2009

The Simple Christmas

It was already eleven when Lock left the store. It was Christmas eve and he had to attend to several customers with their Christmas shopping that day. The store resembled an adorable shop from toy-land with strings of lights stretching along the walls and over the windows. They had a huge Christmas tree set right in the middle of the floor. It was grander than the last year's. Lock, the other assistants and the store-owner had decorated it together. At night, it looked so stunning through the windows that passers-by would actually come in to admire it.

When Lock stepped out in the December chill, he noticed the winter this year was less harsh. But it was cold enough to be a good company for his hot coffee at home. He was going to brew a steaming cup of coffee for himself, he had decided. The Christmas eve dinner at the store was filling; the store-owner had a good taste in wine.

That day Lock had bought a shiny Christmas tree star to place atop his Christmas tree. He was excited about it and he couldn't wait to show it to Lia. She would certainly love it. Their old one had to be powered by electricity and did not look much appealing. He was sure this one would light up the entire room on its own... and also Lia's eyes.

The living room looked warm in the glow of the Christmas tree. Lia had decorated the tree beautifully with colourful Christmas balls, light bulbs and tiny figurines of reindeer and a portly Santa Claus in a sledge. When Lock placed the new star at the top of the tree, it seemed as if Santa Claus with his entourage of reindeer were flying up towards it. He placed his gifts under the tree beside Lia's and looked around the room. He loved his home.

Lia had already dozed off in the bedroom while reading a book. Lock silently settled on the couch feeling the warm china cup and relishing the silent glow of the only ornament in the room: the Christmas tree. The warmth of the first draught that spread through his body was what he had longed for while walking back home.

Lia appeared at the living-room door.

'Hey, did I wake you up?' asked Lock.

'No, I was waiting for you. You seem to have had a long day.'

He nodded. Lia snuggled up with him in his arms.

'Try the coffee,' Lock offered. 'The beans are some new arrivals of the season at the store.'

'Mmm!' said Lia as she took a sip. 'They are perfectly roasted.'

A beep from his wristwatch told them it was midnight. It was Christmas. The glow of the new star now seemed magically radiant. He realised that it was the warmth of Lia against him that he had actually yearned for while walking back home.

'Happy Christmas, Lock,' whispered Lia, as she rested her head on his shoulders.

He lovingly kissed her hair, 'Happy Christmas, dearest.'