Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Art of Sleeping III

3. Geek Stance
In the first article of this series I mentioned how it is difficult to catch a good night's sleep in Mumbai. As I entered work life, I figured that the bookworm stance wasn't quite possible given the new settings where I am in a cubicle and a computer monitor stares at me. Of course since everyone around me is working seriously, sleeping should perhaps be the last thing on my mind. After all I get paid to work and not sleep. However often the lack of sleep in the rest of the day meant that I had to pay of my sleep debt somehow. That's when I learnt the power of Power Nap.

Put simply it is a short sleep of 10 - 15 mins taken during lunch breaks, tea breaks or simply breaks from work. The best way to do this is to simply put the head down on the desk, or sit back in the chair. However I soon learnt that not all colleagues / bosses are appreciative of power nap. So I invented the Geek stance. All one has to do is support the head with both palms and stare at the monitor. Then open some sort of document, code, spreadsheet, presentation, email etc. This gives an impression that one is actually reading / thinking through the document on screen. Then simply close the eyes and steal your power nap. This way the enemies of power nap think you are reading and you get your much needed nap.

Again there are pit falls and this stance may not work well if the cubicle walls are less than 5 feet since the lower height would mean someone could even spot your closed eyes from a distance. If someone stands behind for sufficiently long then that person would realize that you are not reading at all since the page hasn't moved. Of course a really long power point presentation may be used to offset this since the presentation is capable of turning pages automatically. In short given the office settings and their openness this stance requires a lot of alertness, lest some one might catch you. This strategy can of course cost you the job if the manager hates power naps so this is a "handle with care" type of strategy. Be sure to gauge your surroundings well before trying it out

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Offbeat Mainstream Bollywood

As the mall - multiplex culture engulfs the Urbane Indian, so does a new look Bollywood. Not that Bollywood is undergoing a plastic surgery of sorts but there is a subtle, seamless yet definite change that has arrived in Mainstream bollywood. An avid Hollywood fan would say that Bollywood is aping Hollywood, but the change I am talking about is perhaps not aping of Hollywood. It can't be denied however that the new look bollywood has started to produce movies with varied themes, Themes which till a few years ago were considered, by many Indians, as the forte only of Hollywood and something which was acceptable only in Indian "ART" Cinema.

We have grown up watching the formula bollywood movies. Thus any standard bollywood movies has one or more of the following elements from Shakespearean novels
  1. Merchant of Venice - Good Natured Hero Beats up the bad guys and saves (the world, his family, his village, himself, etc) or plain revenge. Now Antonio or Portia didn't really beat up Shylock but lets pull in Hamlet to add that twist.
  2. Romeo and Juliet - Rich girl falls in love with poor guy (or viceversa although I consider the formed to be more common) or girl and boy from rival families in love giving rise to family feuds etc.
  3. Twelfth Night - Brothers meet 20 years after being separated (in Kumbh Mela /due Murder of their parents by the Baddie /due to Father goes to jail for a crime he didn't do) etc. Actually even Sisters meet this way, but Brothers seem to be more common. This not truly Twelfth night but the separation - meet again part comes close.
  4. Last but not the least - Family melodrama involving quarrels (Saas - bahu, bhai bhai, baap beta etc) instigated by a internal baddie (Mama, Chacha, Step Mom etc) - I think this is more Indian with roots in Ramayana / Mahabharata than Shakespeare. Thinking of Shakespeare however reminds me that yeah there is King Lear which might prove some inspiration.
  5. Of course there are other novels who provide their bits like Macbeth, Othello etc (etc refers to the rest of the Shakespearean world / other authors I haven't really bothered reading)
Of course all of the above are completely Indianised with several song and dance sequences and lot of good old emotions. Thus a typical Bollywood move would have complete entertainment (or so they claim) with the customary happy ending (except for perhaps some Romeo - Juliet types) . Having grown up on an appetite of such cinema, Hollywood always provided the much required relief by providing themes that catered to the need to watch something different.

The mainstream Bollywood could be thus defined as cinema that sticks to the standards above and aims to make money. That films can also be a creative art is often ignored by the so defined mainstream. Thus creative art or social / current affairs based cinema was thrown out of the mainstream and branded as "ART" meaning don't bother looking at their Box office records or entertainment value, just appreciate the art.

However last few years I have observed that now mainstream cinema apart from the formula movies also produces some movies which are different and creative or based on social topics or even current affairs. These are produced with an eye at the box office and entertainment value.
So what sets them apart - simplicity, entertainment value, creativity, and most importantly different story lines. The story lines do not follow the mainstream that we have grown up with.

What really prompted me to write this article is the fact that number of these movies has increased so much that in last 4 weeks I watched 4 movies in the cinema halls and all of them were not really traditional mainstream. Given their entertainment value and box office returns they can't be branded "ART" either. Thus I came up with the word "Offbeat Mainstream"

So here are some takes on a few of the recent "Offbeat Mainstream"

1. Rang De Basanti - No intro needed, for any bollywood fan has probably seen it. A movie about contemporary carefree youth woken up by history and and a sense of duty to friendship and to the nation. Its one of those movies that really has inspired the Indian youth to take a look at doing something for the nation. The ending was realistic with all the main characters getting the poetic "immortality" albeit not a happy one. Yet the movie was a hit with an audience that loves happy endings.

2. Kabul Express - Not many liked this one. Yet it was a good attempt to bring out the reality of war ridden Afghanistan in an entertaining way. The reality brought out shakes you up but then again reality is never sweet as sugar.

3. Shootout at Lokhandwala - Now Gangster movies are not very new to bollywood and we have had a trend of those movies for quite a while now. What's new here however is the fact that this is a movie which tries to glorify ordinarily unknown real policemen who have gone beyond the corrupt image of police. It brings out real life heroes, without projecting them as larger than life characters. This is one very violent movie yet the violence, fights, shootouts are quite realistic. Although it does have elements from main stream bollywood (read romance, music, good guy beats the bad guy) its indeed a complete shoot out.

4. Life in a Metro - A movie about extra marital affairs. The plot has a nicely intertwined web of extra marital affairs which spans almost all the main characters. A great sound track and some great performances. A story about a section of society which looks beyond their lives for the happiness that eludes them within. Its not necessarily a story of you and me but definitely entertaining with some very hilarious moments and yes scenes perceived as "Very bold" for Indian cinema.

5. Khosla Ka Ghosla - This is a smart, humourous story about a bunch of middle class junta who swindle a nasty builder / businessmen to lay claim to the land which is rightfully theirs. A simple story line and ordinary characters like you and me, yet a very entertaining movie.

6. Bheja Fry - Now this one is very difficult to describe. Its a movie with no story but just a sequence of events that lead to a situational comedy. Its indeed a Bheja fry, for the one character responsible for the laughs in the movie can do exactly that to the brains if one of is lucky or unlucky enough to bump into one. A must watch for any one who likes the Garfield jokes where Odie is being kicked around.

7. Ek Chalis Ki Last Local - A movie about Mumbai. The dark side of the city very smartly brought out in a comedy. Its a movie which presents everything bad in Mumbai - overworked professionals, prostitution, gang wars, corruption, extortion, ladies bars, gambling etc and even some not so spoken about topics like homosexuality, eunuchs etc. All that quite explicitly and realistically in a single movie and yet at the end of it you come out laughing. A must watch for any Mumbaite and someone who doesn't mind a slightly adult comedy.

My list could go on. These however are a select few which I watched quite recently and have managed to entertain me (not that it is difficult to entertain me). However these are the movies that mark the acceptance of the Offbeat Mainstream Bollywood by the Indian audience.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Cook Like a Bachelor

In my post on Cook like a Lazy Bachelor, I published a process which was till now a closely guarded secret by lazy bachelors like me. Thus publishing some serious cooking tips for bachelors becomes imperative.
The next few tips will be useful if a "lazy bachelor" ends up with another lazy bachelor or a smart guy who can see through the plan. These may also be considered Survival tips .. to be used when other options are ruled out.

1. An onion a day, keeps the ophthalmologist away :
Whether you like cutting onions or not, onions are arguably the most important and universal ingredient of a bachelors recipe. They can be used to add taste and a little bit of that crunch to almost any vegetable. The Dal Tadka is incomplete without onions. Most egg preparations only taste better with onions.
Cutting onions is sometimes boring and does definitely make you cry. However given the onions importance I choose to look at the bright side. Crying means that my eyes will be cleaned up of any dirt and unwanted particles. So fewer trips to the ophthalmologist.

2. Ande ka Funda..
If Onion adds taste, the Anda (egg) saves the bachelor. If onions are the universal ingredients, Anda forms the universal content of the side dish(sometimes even the main). Eggs can be prepared into various preparations - half fry, full fry , boiled eggs, omelet, bhurji , egg curry and so on. They all go really well with bread, so you have bread omelet, bhurji pav, french toast etc. The best part is all the egg preparations are extremely easy to make and bread is available off the store shelf. Thus the combination of Bread and Eggs soon forms a important part of a Bachelor's diet. Those unfortunate souls who prefer being vegetarians, have learn cooking more complex dishes for they cannot buy the "Ande ka Funda".

3. You can't go wrong with "Two Minute Noodles" -
This is perhaps better known as Maggie. A Nestle brand which has become synonymous with 2 minute noodles. Easy to cook, hassle free, and fast, not to mention that reasonably nutritious too.
For a novice cook nothing is as straight forward as Maggie. As one learns more cooking this becomes the back up food as it is not as tasty if it were the only thing available in each of the 3 -4 meals in a day (breakfast, lunch, tea time, dinner).

4. Breakfast = Cornflakes / Bread Jam.
Corn flakes and milk or Bread and Jam - not many breakfast items can claim to be more nutritious and easy to prepare as these two. Again like all things mentioned so far, the key is simplicity, and easy to cook (read as I am too lazy to try cooking something else). US of course provides many more variations to this list in form of Texas toasts, break fast snacks, oat meals, cookies etc. With all those options available, whoever thought of anything else , would have to give up his claim to being lazy.

5. Masala = Put it all together -
For any Indian female who can cook (most of them can cook well), a masala is an assortment of spices - chili, turmeric, coriander leaves, cilantro, asafoetida and a wide variety of other spices that only my nose can smell but my vocabulary can't describe. These of course are used in carefully measured quantities and most women are so finicky that the slightest change in any content or quantity seems to spoil the whole meal. However for a bachelor a masala is literally put it all together. So my masala consisted of whatever of the above mentioned spices I could lay my hands on and in acceptably small non measured quantities. All of that thrown together so that it would taste different (hopefully edible) each of the time. That way the meal has a element of surprise and you don't have to hunt for new recipes each day. The same recipe can taste different seven days a week.

6. Fruits and Juices are good for health.
As Laziness reigns supreme the drive to cook goes down. On the other hand the sinful stomach (paapi peth) yearns for food. Often (especially weekend mornings) a clash between the two brings out the importance of having fruits. Fruits are nutritious, natural, wholesome food. Not to mention they are very good for health and are even known to have medicinal properties. With all those advantages mentioned, it is but natural that having only fruits on one of the days is definitely a good idea.

7. Married couples need others for company as well.
It is interesting how humans are social. That's one of the reasons most people marry is for companionship. However I think the companionship of just the spouse is sometimes to boring. Especially after a few years of marriage. As a bachelor, me and my roommate were sometimes getting invited to a dinner or so by married couples. That's when we realised that even married couples need other friends for company. Naturally we were ready to fill in that void. So soon after that realization dawned upon us we were inviting ourselves to dinner / lunch at other peoples places and then our hosts would be quite happy to feed us. This is one survival lesson that I learnt cause my roommate was as lazy a bachelor as me. Often neither of us wanted to cook and that's when this solution struck us.

8. Lazy Bachelors invented the Pizza delivery.
If nothing else works you can always call up the Pizza store and have a pizza. Nor really a very healthy food, but it tastes good and comes for a reasonable price. After all this is a last ditch effort to keep your hungry stomach at bay.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Art of Sleeping - II

2. Bookworm Stance
This style is particularly useful in college and school. It takes advantage of the fact that people who immerse themselves into books usually end up being considered as studious people or simply "bookworms".

To use this stance one needs to first find a place where this stance may be executed conveniently. Most lecturers tend to pay attention to people sleeping in the last benches. The front benchers on the other hand are usually people who like to raise their hands either to ask or answer questions. Thus both these places have fair amount of attention from the teachers. Thus the middle benches are most appropriate as most teachers end up ignoring these benches.

Once the place is selected, open a relevant page on text book and set yourself up in a position to read it. This means that you are now looking down into the book and no one can see your eyes. Next place your elbows on the desk and use your opened palms to support your head. This way even if you fall asleep your head won't move much to reveal your truth. The best part is that in this position every one else will think that you are concentrating real hard on the current lesson in the book. Most people don't want to disturb a bookworm immersed in his books and thus you are safe. A pair of spectacles if available with you will only add to the book worm feel.

The above set up seems perfect but there are pit falls.
  • If you are caught up on the same page for too long or if the chapter is changed, some one might realise that you are not reading.
  • If the teacher suddenly poses a question to you, you might be caught.
  • If the teacher doesn't like people opening the text book in the class and prefers students paying attention to the black board, then this style will make you an obvious target to questions.
In short, this style is more suited to cat naps upto 10 minutes or so and beyond that the probablity of getting caught sleeping increases exponentially with the amount of time spent sleeping. Thus this is one of those styles which you want to use with care, lest it reflect bad on your grades on getting caught .... (i can vouch for the bad grades)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Devotee

I have written a lot about my ex roommates. There have been various experiences but one of the most unique ones was the one with my first ever roommate.
We happened to be roommates by chance than choice when we had just joined a new company as trainees. The training was to be for a month and a half and we both ended up sharing a hotel room by pure random selection I guess.

So first thing, I started talking to him in my usual Bombayya hindi and after talking to him for some 5 minutes the first word he spoke was "What?". That's when I learnt that hindi even though the national language was still beyond the understanding of a whole lot of people from Tamil Nadu.

The next few days for me were spent talking in Bombayya and then translating all of that into plain English so that my tamil speaking roommate might understand. Soon I learnt that I could tolerate a lot of south Indian music and Kamal Hassan movie flicks were about to become my favorites. After all the only thing I couldn't understand in those movies was the language, otherwise they were all the good old dance around the trees, bash the bad guys, cry with your family kind melodrama.. Not too different from the menu of a bollywood masala flick.

On the first day to office, I was still struggling to come to terms with the dreaded alarm clock, my roomie almost scared me with some mumble jumble. I discovered that he was an devout follower of religion. For an agnostic like me any sort of rituals were best avoided. However with this guy as roommate I couldn't continue ignoring them for long. The first day he was up at 5: 00 am and was performing some pooja at that unearthly hour. I was too sleepy to pay any attention and told him to wake me up when he was done.

A few more days and I depended on him more than my alarm clock to wake me up in time to catch the morning bus. Now even though the mumble jumble of his pooja's and his early morning breathing excercises etc were scary for me on the first morning, my laziness reigned supreme. Soon I would wake up only when he or my alarm clock woke me. My laziness was contagious too. Towards the last few days of our 3 weeks (it was truncated due to some organizational reasons) of training, he was skipping his morning sessions for the much wanted sleep and on an odd day I would even wake up before him.

I couldn't get to know this guy too well like some of the other roommates. After all we spent only 3 weeks of which most of the time was either spent in office or sleeping for me. Thus the only real picture I can remember of this guy is that of a devotee in a squat position offering prayers in the middle of sleepy night (5:00 am is more like midnight for me)

The Art of Sleeping - I

Mumbai teaches one a lot of things. Every outsider is either shocked by or is raving about the fast life in the city. Some say it is a city where everyone is just running around. In a way it is true.People are running to catch the train or bus or flight almost all the time. The sprint is almost inevitable. However admist all the grind of the city where travel times can be as much as 4 hours every day, travelling is a significant part of the 24 hour day. Most small town people haven't known traveling times more than an hour and 4 hours .. that's huge. It also means that with the work day of >8 hours, the lunch, dinner breaks, getting ready and all ... there is hardly any time left to sleep.

For some one like me it is difficult to let go the precious 8 hours of sleep. With the hectic lifestyle I couldn't spend that much on my bed and thus I learnt the "art of sleeping".
Here are some golden words tips on how to get your days sleep...

1. Horse Stance
They say, horses can sleep while standing. I find it difficult to believe that those graceful beasts can stand after all the running they have to do for their owners, let alone sleeping while standing. However in Mumbai, this style of sleeping while standing is an art worth mastering. To do so, first thing you need to find is a crowded area. So crowded that there is barely space enough to stand on one foot. Yes, I am talking about the famous local trains. So once you have spotted such a crowded spot in the fast train (fast train because there are fewer stops), all you have to do is find a support handle overhead. Next grab the handle with both hands, rest your head on one of the shoulders and there you are ready to fall asleep. Some ignorant people may ask won't you fall when the train brakes or shakes ... That's where the crowd comes into play. The fast train will be so crowded that any movement by you will be easily offset by the crowd around you. Even if the train stops or your leg muscles give in to your weight .. you can't fall down.

If you have been starved of sleep during the rest of the day, these sleepy travel hours in the train can now help you attain the serenity of a Buddha amidst all of the crowd, the manly odour of sweat, the sound of the moving train etc..

In the subsequent posts on this series I'll spill out my beans on some other forms in the "art of sleeping"..
Till then happy sleeping ..