Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Chak de, India!

I am an Indian cricket fan.

I cheer at cricket matches.

I cry at cricket matches.

I yell at cricket matches.

I take leave for cricket matches.

I only watch India's matches.

I don't like test cricket.

After the last World Cup, I don't even like one-dayers.

I love T20.

I could do without the silly cheerleaders though. Get out of the way - there's people who paid good money to watch the match, not your asses! Well, most people anyway.

I glare at people who dismiss the T20 format. T20 is like watching match highlights - every moment is exciting.

As far as I am concerned, T20 is the real World Cup. Those who think T20 is not serious enough, of course it's serious - it's in fact more serious than the one-day World Cup. Mandira Bedi is not there, you see.

I am extremely illogical, irrational and inconsistent as a fan.

I hurl (civil) abuses at my team when they lose.

I write spoof poetry insulting them when they let the country down.

I call them morons.

I love the Indian players. Mostly for their cricket.

I love some of the Pakistani players too, but that's a different kind of love.

I love Brett Lee. And Shane Bond. And Afridi. Not for their cricket though. Ahem.

Every year, I go through a phase when I completely lose interest in it. And then I bounce back. Without fail.

I tell my Singaporean friends how complicated a game cricket is. I exclaim, "You know there are ten ways in which a batsman can get out?" and watch them yawn.

Erm, I don't think I can name all ten ways. Seven or eight maybe.

I prefer watching the match on TV to watching it in the stadium.

I like to see the expressions on the faces of the players.

I am extremely superstitious when it comes to cricket.

I lock myself in my room for five minutes because the last time I went inside my room, Yuvi hit a six.

When Yuvi hits six sixes in an over, I promptly change my facebook status to corny lines like "Sayesha is sending some Yuvi protection to the burnt England team."

I sms the score to people who can't watch the match.

I yell at people who say the matches are fixed.

I don't know everything about the game, but I live with a walking-talking-playing cricket encyclopaedia.

Even though cricket is not big here, I'm proud of Viv for being in the Singapore national team.

I save birthday balloons from Clueless' surprise birthday party "to burst them when India wins the World Cup".

I know India will win the World Cup even before they start playing.

I believe the Indian cricket team was the best entertainer in this series.

I buy two boxes of Danish butter cookies and leave them at the common area in the office with a note 'GO, INDIA!' and send an email to 50 people in the office that says:

Dear all,

Please help yourselves to the butter cookies placed on the shelf next to S’s cubicle – I’m celebrating India’s victory at the finals of the T20 Cricket World Cup last night! Since most of you couldn’t care less about cricket – this is a championship involving teams from Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Scotland, Zimbabwe and India’s arch rivals Pakistan (whom we pulped in the finals last night!). The last time India took the Cricket World Cup home was when I was 3, so you can understand my utterly insane elation.


I get replies to my email from colleagues that go something like this:

Hi Sayesha,

Nope... still don't understand the elation, but I'll take advantage of the butter cookies.


I sing corny songs in my head on the way to work.

Anhoni ko honi kar de, honi ko anhoni
Ek jagah jab jamaa ho teenon
Gambhir... Pathan... aur Dhoni!

India in the finals? Whoa. India in the finals against Pakistan? Double whoa.

What a match. What a dream. What a win.

Last night, after the match, after screaming ourselves silly, the two of us sighed. We wished we were in India. Amidst the celebrations on the streets.
Amidst the firecrackers. Amidst the noise. Amidst the passionate discussions. Amidst our own people. People who know and understand what cricket truly means to us and others like us.

Twenty-four years. It has been a long wait.

We may not be home. But the Cup is.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Jaane kya hoga Rama re

In the last nine years that I've lived in Singapore, I've heard all sorts of things, theories and explanations about India that I never even knew about. For example, a Singaporean I know recently remarked that "all south Indians are dark-skinned but north Indians are fair because they have some Caucasian blood." Sheesh. Some of the stories and theories are so random, unheard of and out-of-the-blue that I actually have to go and google them up to get my facts right before I get into the argument. And just when I think I've heard everything, someone tells me something else about India that I had no idea about.

Recently, I heard something quite odd, and I've been thinking about it since. Someone at my workplace said that Diwali is celebrated in South India a day earlier than in North India because Lord Rama travelled from Lanka through southern India to his kingdom Ayodhya in the north. I had never heard of that before. The next thing I know - there will be a new theory that Diwali is celebrated in Singapore (on yet another day!) because Lord Rama probably had a detour at Singapore - perhaps Sita wanted to pick up a few things from Orchard Road - and Lakshman wanted an ipod from Mustafa. Sheesh. But then, trying to keep an open mind, I decided to do some investigation into this.

It sounded quite strange to me because from all my Amar Chitra Katha memory, Diwali is celebrated for a number of reasons - two of which are that Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after killing the demon Ravana, and his subjects lighted lamps to welcome him back; and that Lord Krishna killed Narakasura on this day. I would assume that either the whole of India would celebrate it on the same day (the day the bad guy died) to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, or they would have their own reasons to celebrate it on different days, such as the ones listed above.

So if this theory was true - if the people of the south did indeed welcome Lord Rama the way the people of Ayodhya did their exiled king and called it Diwali, wouldn't every other state that he passed on his way, also welcome him? And if so, how many Diwalis are we talking about then? Confused, I turned to the only one who I always turn to when I face eternal questions about life and other dilemmas - the Internet.

But then, Ramayana is a story, and just like any other story, has so many versions floating on the net that it is impossible to verify what the actual one is, unless a very frustrated Valmiki finds a way to intervene and clarify. So I tried to reason it out - and almost went insane in the process.

The first question I started thinking was - what was the mode of transport? I'd forgotten about the Puspak Viman bit when my brain was processing this. So I'll just take you through the thoughts that ran across my mind. If the theory was true and Rama did indeed go to Ayodhya through south India, he must have actually walked from the southern tip of India all the way up to Ayodhya (somewhere in present-day Uttar Pradesh). I paused to wonder why he walked though. Why didn't Hanuman offer to drop him off at Ayodhya, and do away with the stopovers? But then again, Hanuman's propeller had caught fire - actually, he had lit his propeller to destroy Lanka - and he was probably not in the best flying condition. Or maybe it was because he only had two shoulders - one for Ram and the other for Lakshman - and now there was Sita, who probably preferred walking to the unbelted flying experience on the rather unusual vehicle.

I don't remember seeing any picture of Lord Rama on horseback. So it did look like he walked home. The walking theory also makes sense if you look at the big gap between Dussehra (when Ravana was actually killed) and Diwali, unless the trio decided to take up a good holiday package for a Lanka tour before going home. Anyway, say that he walked. So according to this theory, he was in south India on Day 1 where Diwali v.1 was celebrated, and he had reached Ayodhya by Day 2 for Diwali v.2? Erm, that was some fast walking, considering India's area. Even if he, being the divine one that he was, walked that fast, what about Sita and Lakshman? And as far as I know, everyone arrived in Ayodhya together. I still remember pictures in chapters on Diwali, showing the people of Ayodhya lighting lamps with Rama, Sita and Lakshman walking towards them.

Even if we were to assume that Hanuman did drop them off at the border (perhaps he had no landing rights in Ayodhya) and they walked to their palace from there, surely it wouldn't have taken Hanuman 2 days to fly from the south to the north?

The only way I can explain this would be to assume that Rama & co. reached Rameshwaram first where he got the first welcome-back-party (Diwali v.1), rested the night and then Hanuman flew them all to Ayodhya the next day for welcome-back-party part II (Diwali v.2) the next day. However, this raises another question - what about the regions between Rameshwaram and Ayodhya? Why did the ones close to Rameshwaram decide to go with v.1, while the ones nearer to Ayodhya with v.2? Surely there was no north-south divide in those days? Wasn't the north-south divide invented in 1947 when the Indian people suddenly realised, "Oh shit! The British have left. Whom do we fight now? Damn! Oh oh I know I know! Let's fight each other!" (If you read the Rediff movies website the way I do, you will know what I am talking about - every frickin' article, even it's about the de-enhancement of Rakhi Sawant's enhanced assets, will end with comments where north Indians and south Indians are mud-slinging each other. And suddenly a non-Indian will drop by, laugh at everyone, and the comments will subside, only to arise in the next irrelevant article.)

Update: Thanks to information from TMaYaD and Cinderella, my memory was jogged. Apparently the trio went home in the Puspak viman, arranged by Ravana's brother Vibheeshan. Holy cow! Doesn't this mean that they never even set foot in south India after the Lanka battle? I would assume that the PV took off from Lanka and it was a direct flight to Ayodhya? Sheesh. So this still doesn't explain the 'theory'.

The more I thought - the crazier I went. Our generation still had some good sources of information when we were growing up. We had stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata in our school books. We had Amar Chitra Katha (which I thought was the most brilliant concept ever!). We also had Ramanand Sagar and BR Chopra (I wonder how faithful they were to the text though.) Then came movies like Asoka which tore apart history and literature by getting Kareena Kapoor in a wet half-sari frolicking around the so-not-Asoka-Asoka SRK. Everything is already all mixing up in my head. I'm wondering what muddled version of the ancient epics will be known to the next few generations.

Jaane kya hoga Rama re...

Friday, September 14, 2007

A man of his words

Fans of Viv's unconventional pictionary skills will be pleased to know that he has been working on a new talent. I call it 'killing the lyrics'; he calls it art.

So he was ironing, when I heard him hum these words.

"Chhota sa mann hai...
Mann mein hiran hai."

"Oye! It's not hiran, it's sanam." I corrected him. I can't stand people singing wrong lyrics, especially of Hindi songs.

"No, this is different. This has its own meaning." He said seriously. "Do you know what it means?"

"No, Viv, I don't. What does it mean?" I asked innocently, suppressing my laughter. This was going to be fun.

"It means that all the thoughts in my mind are hopping about like a hiran (deer)."

"Err.. a deer doesn't exactly hop about. A rabbit does. You should then sing "Mann mein khargosh (rabbit) hai." I did the classic 'Viv-killjoy-thing'.

He gave me the classic 'Sayesha-dagger-look.'

"You won't understand. This is an art. Only someone like Javed Akhtar will know the deep meaning and deep pain in my lyrics."

"I don't know about deep meaning, but I'm surely experiencing deep pain right now." I said.

He ignored me.

A while later, I heard him sing again.

Humko sirf tumse pyaar hai...
Humko sirf tumse pyaar hai...
*long pause*

Humko sirf tumse pyaar hai...
Humko sirf tumse pyaar hai...
*long pause*

"Hahahahaha! Aage nahin aata?" I laughed.

He continued.

"Dhoondte rahein tumko raat bhar
Kho gayi thi meri zindagi se bekhabar
Soch raha tha pyaar hai magar
Mera pyaar tha tumpe be-asar."

"Dude!" I asked. "What the hell was that?? You just about changed the entire paragraph! Do you even know what the word 'bekhabar' means?"

"Yeah. It means "without khabar - without news". You see, she left him without any news."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah. This is bascially the guy professing his love for someone who doesn't love him back, and left him without any news." He said with a serious face, while I clutched my tummy and laughed.

A little while later, it started again.

"Raat hamari toh...
chand ke sahaare hai...
andhera kyun hai aise..."

"What's the last line?" he said. "Can you sing it for me?"

"Aayi woh akeli hai." I sang.

"Oh yeah." He said. A few seconds later, he sang, "Current toh gayeli hai".


"This is about people protesting against the electricity board. That's why the raat is chand ke sahaare... no lights, you see." He explained.

"Ohhh, right." I said.

He continued to iron and sing away.

"Andheraaa... rootha hai... Sandesaaa... jhootha hai..."


"Arre, the hidden meaning is that the fax machine stopped working half-way through. So the sandesa is not correct."


He continued singing.

"Gumsum sa kone mein baitha hai..."

"And who's that?"

"The fax machine still. It is just sadly sitting there in the corner because there is no power."

"Masha allah! Go on." I encouraged.

"Kitne dinon ke baad aayegi paheli hai..." He rambled on.

"Dude! That doesn't even make sense." I said.

"That's because I haven't specified the punctuation."

"Oh right. The punctuation. Pray specify it."

"Kitne dinon ke baad aayegi dot-dot-dot paheli hai."


"As in - no one knows when the power supply will be back. It's a riddle. Paheli." He grinned.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

In my good books

Tagging an editor to blog about books is like asking a bartender at the end of a long hard day to go home and make a drink for himself/herself. However, Wendelin has 'booked' me so here I go!

The book that changed my life

Microelectronic Circuits
Authors - Sedra and Smith

Considered the bible of engineering students, this is one book that changed my life. When I was a student of engineering, the drawings of the various circuits, diodes vividly described in agonising detail in this book made me resolve that I shall not let my life be governed by the things shown in the book. And that is the story of how I left the world of engineering where everything makes annoyingly logical and mathematical sense, to the world of the arts where erm, nothing makes sense. But it is beautiful and I love it. And I have Sedra and Smith to thank for it.

Once I finished my degree, my first thought was - how do I get rid of this damning evidence of my utterly boring past? I put an ad on the university public folders to try and sell it to an unsuspecting junior. I got no responses. I lowered my asking price. No responses still. I buried it deep in the storeroom and forgot about it. Sometime last year, while packing to move into a new place, I discovered the book lying in a carton. Not wanting to lug the heavy book along, I advertised again, and this time I actually said I'll give it away free. I got one response. But the person never picked the book up. :

The books I've read more than once

The lost girl and the scallywags
Author - Demykina Galina

Jolly Family
Author - Nikolai Nosov

Ah. Two of my favourite childhood books. My sister and I read a lot of children's books by Russian authors and these were two of the best. Then we grew up and Dad locked all of the books up in what he calls "the bachpan box" for safekeeping for his grandchildren. Sheesh. I recently found the downloadable version of the second one here.

Book I would take to a deserted island

My sketchbook, of course!

Book that made me laugh

Dave Barry is not taking this sitting down
Author - Dave Barry

This is seriously the funniest book I've ever read. I remember chuckling out loud each time I read it. Barry is one serious funnyman.

Book that made me cry

Walk through cold fire
Author - Cin-Forshay Lunsford

I had just entered my teens and my friend lent me this 'trashy novel' - it was my first and only trashy novel - except that I did not find it so trashy. Ah the appeal of teenage rebellion to a teenager like me who was always "the good girl" both at school and at home. I loved the book to bits, but unfortunately for me, the friend had a good memory. Last year, I had a sudden craving to read it again, but the libraries and bookstores here did not have it. Amazon and E-bay were selling old copies but I wasn't sure I wanted it for a frickin' 69-bucks-plus-shipping.

Books I wish I had written

The Harry Potter series
Author - J.K. Rowling

No contest here. Not that I'm a fan of the HP books, or could have ever matched her writing in my dreams, but if I had written them I'd be rolling in the millions that Rowling is rolling in right now. Muahahaha! I may not possess the talent to write those books, but I certainly possess the talent of spending all that money! (any killjoy who attempts to point out that if I'd written the books, there wouldn't be the millions will really get it from my hypothetical rolled-up newspaper!) And with those millions and millions of dollars and pounds and other currencies, I'd have a bought a big house with a swimming pool and a big garden and a swing and... oh wait, that is a different tag!

Book I wish had never been written

Science PSLE Revision Guide
Authors - Three foolish editors who had great foresight for children but none for themselves

At my last company, where I was working as a children's book editor, a few years ago three of us editors conceptualised this amazing book for the PSLE (the PSLE is a scary examination that 12-year-olds in Singapore take that causes more anxiety attacks in Singaporean parents than any other cause.) The problem was that all the authors we approached freaked out at the deadlines and turned down the project. It was imperative that the book be out before the exam, so the three of us took a bold decision - to write it ourselves! Since the book was written by 'employees', we neither got royalties (only a small bonus), nor were we featured on the book cover (only on the title page). Since it was a new idea, we played safe and printed only 5000 copies in the first run. They were snapped up in no time, and reprints orders poured in two weeks after the book had released. The book sold 45000 copies in half a year and was declared the best-selling SM (Supplementary Material, a term used in the Singapore school books market) in Singapore of all time.

Damn I wish that book had never been written. :/

So that I could have written it now and pocketed the royalties. :D

Book I am currently reading

Second form at Malory Towers
Author - Enid Blyton

Even though she was born in 1897, Enid Blyton was like my Dad's third daughter. He had stocked up all her books when I was a kid, and my sister had I just couldn't seem to get enough of her books. Last year, I found the Malory Towers and St. Clares series going for a dollar each at Queensway. Needless to say, I snapped them up. I have been reading them again and again, and this morning, I was so engrossed in one that I almost forgot to bathe before going to work!

Book I've been meaning to read

Author - Candace Bushnell
I'm a big fan of the television series, and one of my bestest friends Starbreez even gifted me the book based on the series. But I am yet to read the book the series was based on! I've been scouring the libraries here and apparently all copies are lent out. People, will you return your books on time! :/

Book I have been meaning to finish

Atlas Shrugged
Author - Ayn Rand

My friend who's a big fan of Ayn Rand recommended the book to me, but when I took a look at his copy I refused to borrow it. I have a minimum font size requirement, you see. I refuse to read books that are set in a font size so tiny you wonder if the inside front cover had a magnifying glass stuck to it. So he gifted me the big font version of the book, which turned out to be so thick that I could not get past the first chapter. Someday when I have nothing to do, perhaps I will read it.

That's it, folks. And oh, I tag all my book editor friends. I shall not be the only bartender to go home and make her drink herself! :D

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The hat-trick

Last week, I did what I thought only suspicious wives stoop to doing -- I went through Viv's contact list on his mobile phone while he was watching TV.

Furious scrolling later, bingo! I found the numbers I wanted. I quickly copied them over to my phone. The next evening, before Viv came home, I made a few calls, and sent a few sms messages about operation hat-trick.

"Hi, this is Sayesha, Viv's wife. It's his birthday on sunday and I wanted to surprise him with a cricket-themed party in the evening. Would you be available and also, could you spread the word amongst his cricket buddies? I don't know any of them."

Now I don't really know his cricket buddies so I was careful enough to save their numbers as pseudonyms, in case they called or messaged back when I wasn't near the phone, and Viv happened to see it. So Chandru was saved as Chan - a harmless Chinese surname, and Pramod was saved as Pram. I had a decent response from them, and the planning was going well. Chan helped me a lot in putting the guest-list together.

Viv had cricket practice on saturday and a match on sunday, giving me ample time to shop, plan, cook and execute (the plan, not the people). Suddenly Chan called and told me that the sunday match was cancelled. I panicked. I needed a way to keep Viv out of the house on sunday afternoon so I could cook. Chan said he will try to get him out, but our house agent wanted to see us on sunday evening. Holy cow. Confusion confusion. Somehow the meeting with the agent was pushed to the afternoon. Viv also said he wanted to donate blood and I encouraged him that it would be a virtuous deed to do on his birthday. In all the madness, somehow I managed to prepare the timetable for the day. The problem was - he was still going to be around in the late afternoon when I planned to cook. So I told him I was gonna cook him a nice dinner on his birthday - just the two of us. His sister asked me how I was gonna get away with cooking dinner for an army right under his nose, but I said I'll manage somehow.

To execute the surprise to perfection, I needed to plan a 'normal birthday celebration' so he wouldn't sniff a thing. So I decided to have a normal cake-cutting ceremony at midnight, and get another cake for the cricket-themed party. I went from cake shop to cake shop asking them if I could order a customised cake that resembled a cricket field, and all I got was blank looks. "Cree-kate field ah? What's that?" was what I got most of the time. I even drew it for them and explained, "I want the top to be green with a grassy texture, and a rectangular brown strip in the centre with three candles at each end to represent the wickets."

They just didn't get it.

"You want green cake, ah? Buy pandan cake what!"

"I don't want a pandan cake! I want a cricket pitch cake!"

"Sorry cannot. You want green cake, I can make pandan cake for you. Cree-kate field cannot ah!"


So I decided - fine, if you can't do it, I will. :/

I set myself thinking. How could I make the top of the cake have a green grassy texture? If I used the green icing, it would have a flat, weird look. Mixing green colour with icing sugar would just make it clumpy. And that's when it struck me - I could mix green colour with sugar crystals, let the crystals dry and then grind them! That would give me dry edible green powder, which I could sprinkle on the cake using a tea-strainer, keeping a rectangular piece of paper in the centre to leave the pitch brown. Muahahaha! I was a genius. I told Shub my idea. She said I was a genius.

On Friday evening, I put together the menu in my head on the way back from office. I wanted to make matar paneer, but didn't have the courage to go to Mustafa on a Friday or Saturday by myself. So I decided to go to the Indian shop near my place that sometimes carries paneer. They didn't have it, so I decided to make rajma instead. I picked up a packet of rajma, and two packets of sev to make kheer. And that's when it happened. The packet of rajma slipped from my hands, and fell. Thousands of rajma beans exploded in all directions! For a minute, I just stared at it blankly, as if staring would take me back in time, and each rajma bean would slowly float up and go back to its initial position. The counter was manned by this person I refer to as 'large Indian lady who does not speak' (LILWDNS). The description is sufficient to justify why I stood there petrified. Then I noticed her helper guy looking at me. I looked back at him. He calmly took a broom and started sweeping. I wasn't even sure if they were going to charge me for the fallen rajma. They didn't, even though I was ready to plead guilty and accept the charges. So I paid for my stuff and went home, with a resolution to come back to the shop only when my hair had grown long so I wouldn't be recognised.

However, like what all foolish criminals do, the next day I returned to the scene of crime. That's how badly I wanted the paneer. And lo and behold - they had the paneer! What luck! I looked around furtively for the helper guy but he wasn't there. LILWDNS did not speak as usual. I paid for the paneer and came home.

Oh wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. This happened in the afternoon. In the morning, Viv and I played badminton just like we do on any saturday morning, after which he went for cricket practice. I told him I was going to order some photos to be printed, but I actually went to pick up the cakes - the decoy one from a cake shop, and the actual one from the supermarket (a simple cheesecake which I was gonna transform into Lords). I was so surprised that the supermarket did not have the tiny birthday candles that come free with cakes at cake shops! What kinda supermarket does not carry birthday candles? How was I supposed to make the wickets without the candles? So I decided to lie at the cake shop about Viv’s age just so I could get some extra candles. "39" I said, and the lady gave me three big candles and nine small ones.

Oh wait, before buying the cakes (gosh this is all going in reverse, like the movie Memento), I went to this pedicure place and got him an appointment for a men's pedicure, which was supposed to be my real birthday gift to him. The decoy birthday gift was a pair of shoes I bought him sometime last week. I'd said, "Dude, it's very difficult to shop for a guy. Since you're gonna buy shoes anyway, let me pay for them. Birthday gift, okay?" He agreed. He usually agrees to stuff I say, as long as it's logical. The tough task was to get him to agree to a pedicure. Though I would not let anyone touch my nails with a barge pole, personally, I believe that all guys need to get a professional pedicure done at least once in their lives, just to see the before and after of the removal of years and years of grime and dead skin. Do you know that pedicurists charge extra for guys? That's how thick-skinned you people are. Literally and otherwise.

So I booked the pedicure appointment for 7 pm, and a table at Margaritas for his decoy birthday celebration with his sis and me. I'd booked the table for 8.30 pm but I told him it was for 7.30, so I could get him to the pedicure place first. He was supposed to get back from cricket practice around 6. I told him that we would pick up the photos at 7 and then go for dinner at 7.30. The pedicure place was on the way to the photo place.

Of course, the dhakkan did all he could, albeit unintentionally, to ruin my plans. Around 6.15, just as I had wrapped up making his birthday kheer and concealing it in the fridge, I got a call from him. “I’m in bus number 16, and it goes past the photo place. I’ll pick up your photos and we can go straight for dinner.”

Gulp. Pick up my photos? What photos? There were no photos to be picked up!

“No, you can’t pick them up.”

“Why not?”

“Erm, I have the receipt.”

“Tell me the receipt number.”

“Oh they don’t do that. You have to show them the receipt.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah yeah. I have tried it in the past. They don’t.”

“Hmmm… okay, I’ll come home then.”

So he got home, took a quick bath and then off we set “to collect the photos”. I’d told his sister about the whole plan and asked her to meet us at the pedicure place. He was utterly surprised to see her “on the way to the photo shop” when she was supposed to directly “meet us for the 7.30 dinner”. Anyway, when we passed by the pedicure place, I went inside. He’d gone ahead, and then turned and came back, thinking I was making an enquiry.

It was only when he heard me say, “We have a 7 pm appointment for a men’s pedicure.” that it dawned on him what the heck was going on. Fortunately, he did not make a big fuss and agreed to be pedicured. The pedicurist scrubbed his feet for a full 45 minutes and may I just say that the results were phenomenal. I was kicking myself for not taking a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ picture. Guys, seriously, get it done. Once at least. I know you wanna, I just hope that you find a girl who will “force” you into it. ;)

Dinner was at Margaritas, a Mexican restaurant we’d been wanting to go to for ages. The food was fab and so were the blue margaritas. We came home and watched ‘O brother, where art thou?’ till it was about midnight or so, and I produced the decoy cake. The usual make-wish, blow-candle, sing-song later, I passed him a card and birthday moolah that his dad had given me to pass to him. “Too bad the celebration was a day before your birthday, but I planned everything on Saturday because you were supposed to be in a match on Sunday!” I told him. He bought it. He was really happy with his “surprise gift”, “cake” and “celebration” because he couldn’t stop grinning.

The next morning, I was mentally preparing my timetable for the evening’s party. I was like a duck – appeared calm on the surface, but was furiously paddling underneath the water. When he went to return the DVDs, I made the jaljeera, boiled the potatoes and the chickpeas for the chaat, and boiled the baby potatoes for the dum aloo. All this in record time. When he came back, the kitchen and I looked totally innocent. I had bought tons of tomatoes to use as a ‘wall’ to hide the ‘evidence’. I actually balanced the tomatoes one on top of another on the fridge shelves, just so that if he accidentally opened the fridge, no part of the cakes or the kheer would peek out.

In the afternoon we went to meet the house agent. It took longer than I expected, and I was getting really annoyed because I was running late on my sabzi schedule. We got home around 5.30 pm. On weekends we clean the house, and so he took out the vacuum cleaner and started off, while I told him I was gonna start cooking our dinner-for-two. Although he kept fleeting in and out of the kitchen, I made sure he did not see any humongous quantities. I even put small decoy quantities of peas and the paneer on display to throw him off. Soon, the matar-paneer, the dum aloo, the rice, the raita and the chaat were done.

Just when he had settled down to watch the F1 race in his singlet and shorts, the doorbell rang. Ah, what a priceless expression when he saw people he’d never dreamt would turn up at his doorstep on his birthday. He had such a stunned look that they actually came in and asked me, “It is today, right?” Words can’t describe the awesomeness of that moment, really. And they’d bought materials and equipment for pina colada. Soon the whole bunch was there - a living room full of cricketers - and Viv was bobbing about like a happy little boy who’d just got a bicycle for his 6th birthday.

Then I brought forth the cake, and there was a gush of silence and a collective ‘WHOA!’ from his buddies when they saw the cricket pitch and the ‘flaming wickets’. Though I did get laughed at for placing one of the 'umpires' (the bigger candles on the sides) in an incorrect position. Sheesh. Who cared - the idea of the cricket-themed cake was such a hit, technicalities didn't matter. Besides, it is the little imperfections that make things beautiful. The food and drinks were a hit too. We had a great great great time.

After everyone left, he said, “Okay now tell me everything. I wanna hear everything. How did you do all this? HOW???”

And I told him. Told him everything, and as I told him, I realised how much I had enjoyed myself. So I decided to document it so that years later, if I ever start thinking of a birthday as “just another day”, I could come back here and disagree with myself.

So that was it. Operation hat-trick – the decoy surprise gift vs the real surprise gift, the decoy cake vs the real cake and the decoy celebration vs the real celebration - had been a success, a real success, and I was as delighted as Viv was. Well, almost as delighted.

Happy birthday, buddy!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Singin' in the pain

So a friend at work is learning Hindi. I suggested that she listen to slow old Hindi songs to pick up the correct pronunciation of words, and at the same time enjoy some great melodies. I knew because that's where I picked up most of my Hindi pronunciation. Dad got a transfer to Bihar when I was all of six without a clue or a single Hindi word in my head. I grew up in Bihar/Jharkhand, picked up Hindi and spent twelve years of my life there without letting the local dialects mess up my Hindi pronunciation. I learnt to speak Hindi and Urdu primarily through songs and ghazals. Perhaps that's where my obsession with Hindi music stems from. They were not just songs - they were my teachers. Today I am proud of my Hindi. I know my method was effective, and I was willing to share. My friend readily agreed, and I told her I’ll look through my collection and recommend some good ones.

So I was sorting through my 'Nostalgia' folder (a huge database which had made quite a name for itself on the shared drive when I was in university), when I made a beautiful discovery. Re-discovery, rather.

Pukarta chala hoon main
Gali gali bahaar mein
Bas ek chhaon zulf ki
Bas ik nigaah pyaar ki

Oh my. I hadn't heard this song in a long time. It was absolutely mind-blowing. I listened to it on loop a couple of times before going to sleep. The next morning I loaded my ipod with all the songs I wanted her to listen to, and set off for office. I intended to play all of them during my bus journey, but ended up playing this particular song on loop the entire time. When I got to work, I played it the whole day, and I played it in the bus on the way back too. I tend to do this with some of the newer songs but the obsession never lasts. This was different. I was really breathing in the fine details of the song. Each time I listened to it, there was something new, something different I’d absorb.

The beauty of the song is that it's all about Rafi's voice. The song is a very simple one, with simple beats, and simple lyrics - all broken into syllables – deceptively sounding like something anyone can sing. With perhaps four instruments at most, the one thing that rises above everything is Rafi’s voice and the way he sings it. Go on, play the song, and listen - really listen - especially to the part where he sings, "Yehi toh baat ho rahi hai kaam ki". He sounds so amazing in these lines that you would never believe that the guy who looked like a khadoos school teacher could sound so incredibly sexy singing a song which on some levels is basically a song that a roadside lafunga is singing in search of the chick who will be willing to daalo him some ghaas. To turn a song like that into a seductive number, that, I guess, is the mark of a true legend.

And I started to think about legends. Lata, Asha, Kishore, Rafi, and a handful more. That's it? That's it. Oh my goodness, that's it. Some of the singers of today are no doubt, very good -- Sonu Nigam who is perhaps the best (does the fact that he admits to being inspired by Rafi have anything to do with it?), Sunidhi, Shreya, Kay Kay and Shaan. I personally love all of them, and they have very distinct styles, but come to think of it, would you call any of them 'legends'? I wouldn't. I prefer to call them the 'middle band' whose songs will perhaps be listened to as classics a decade later. But anyone newer than this batch just doesn't cut it. The maestros of the past have set the standards so high that anyone who has heard them would never use the term 'legends' for the new breed – especially the ones newer than Sonu, Kay Kay, et al. It's the way they used to sing in the old says - the heart and soul that went into it. The new guys just don't do it the same way. They can barely keep in step with the new songs, and they want to tread on the old ones too. Evident from the example of Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar where a bunch of the so-called very good singers systematically destroyed some beautiful old melodies.

And oh, don't even get me started on remixes, what with their 'Danny feat. Sophie' and what not. Who the heck are Danny and Sophie anyway? Who are these people who think that they’re making music by killing old songs and calling them 'Zubin feat. Zoya'? Who allows them to sing?

It is evident from the singing competitions on TV as well. The audience voting system has taken a toll on the discovery of real talent. Good-looking people make it to the top and even if the lack of talent can’t pull them through, technology makes them become famous singers. And the ones who can actually sing are deemed not pretty enough to make it. I was watching Indian Idol, and I noticed that almost every one of the so called 'awesome' singers falter at time and falter quite badly. And if someone like me who has no training at all in music can “spot the differences”, ah well. Real fans of the song know every bit, every high, every low of the song, and you can't fool us. Okay tell me - how many of the singers on Saregamapa and Indian Idol can you listen to and identify with your eyes closed? How many of them have that unique voice that touches you in a way that you go, "Ah, no one else can sing it this way!"?

And even if some new masterpieces do come about ('Tanhayee' from 'Dil Chahta Hai' would be one, and 'Tadap tadap' from 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' would be another) why aren't they memorable? Why is it that I can sing along when I listen to songs that were created when my parents were babies, but I can't tell you the lyrics of this year's chartbusters three weeks down the lane? Why are the songs so short-term? Whatever happened to evergreen melodies? Did we have a limited pool that got consumed sometime in the 70s and all we can do now is recycle them and come up with utterly forgettable melodies? Why don't we crave good songs anymore? Why don't we demand purity of melodies anymore? Why are we so content with what we have as long as it sells? Whatever happened to music as a beautiful form of art? It's depressing, the way we all go ‘Kaindi ponnnnnnnn!!’ for three minutes and then forget it before moving on to the next song that we can tap our feet to.

Why is it that in the old days, the singers had nothing but their voices and they sounded nothing short of golden, and today, when they have so much digital help, they just sound like something is missing? But then, maybe it's all the technology that's to blame. It has reduced the gap between the great singers and the ordinary mortals. In the old days, the singers had nothing but their voices, and that was a good thing. Today it's not. I read that for 'Kya janoon sajan' (the original from the movie 'Baharon Ke Sapne'), RD Burman made Lata put on headphones and recorded her singing over her own song playing in the recording room, to add the double voice effect. (Those who are familiar with the song will know what I'm talking about.) I have no doubt it was much easier for Kavitha who sang the newer version in Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar.

Looks like technology has made it a piece of cake - anyone can sing. And so everyone does. Annu Malik does. Himesh Reshammiya does. Mika does. Rakhi Sawant does. Oh. Let me say that again. Rakhi Sawant does.

Face it - the way we're headed, there is no stopping us. You and I will soon become great singers too.

God save the music.

Come, let's all bray together.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A cut above the rest

Finally I shrugged my shoulders and accepted it.

I will never have the haircut that Rani of VLCC gave me a couple of years ago. Flying back to Delhi for that haircut wasn't a very economical solution, and after a couple of very bad experiences, I had decided that Singapore stylists just can't cut my hair. At the end of a haircut that costs 45 dollars (yeah, I don't go for the 200-dollar cuts, though I am ashamed to say that I know people who do) at the minimum on a simple cut, if you come out looking like a scarecrow, something's wrong somewhere. It's not like I'm the only person in Singapore who has curly hair - and yet, somehow, the stylists here, perhaps used to the rod-straight typical Singaporean hair - just can't seem to do anything to get it under control. So about a year ago, I decided - no more cuts. I will let my hair grow wild and perhaps it will give up and sort itself out.

However, lately, it had been at its most adolescent behaviour, and I knew it was time to chop-chop. It was too long, too curly, and too damn irritating. To the point where I knew some of it had to go, and I did not care at whose hands they did. But I did know that I did not want to go back to Alan at Reds or any such place.

So I did the most daring thing that I've ever known any fashion-conscious girl to do.

I decided to get my hair cut by this Chinese guy who cuts Viv's hair.

I realised that after all my expensive misadventures at pretentious salons, I was ready for a cheap misadventure. At most, I would end up with an okay cut.

Before I could freak out and change my mind, I landed at the salon with Viv, where his haircut guy completely ignored me, thinking I was one of the girls who accompany their guys when they go for cuts.

"I'm the one." I said, in true matrix-y style.

"You want a haircut?" He asked, puzzled.


So he sat me down on one of the seats, each of which had a personalised mini screen playing Mr. Bean the cartoon, without any sound.

"Trim?" He asked.

"No, cut. Cut short."

"Short. How short?"

"Very short."

"Until shoulders?" He asked.


"Shorter than that?? Are you sure??"

This was a first. I have never had a stylist ask me if I was sure. They always seemed sure that they understood what I wanted. Sadly, they did not. And here was a guy who seemed as unsure about this whole deal as I was. Excellent. I felt right at home.

"I'm sure."

"But you will lose all the curls at the end... natural curls you know..." he said as if natural curls are a real rare species. But then, perhaps in Singapore they are.

"Don't worry, the ends will curl up again."

"Hmmm... how long you never cut your hair?" he said in typical Singlish.

"Cut or trim?"


"Errmm... I don't know... maybe a year?"

"One year you never cut your hair??" He seemed shocked.

I wanted to say, "Dude, I'm a girl. It's okay if we don't cut our hair for a year."

Anyway, he started. No muss. No fuss. No shampoo. No neck massage. No conditioner. No spritzing of water. No blow-drying. None of the nonsense that makes your hair look like a million dollars as you step out of the salon, but thirteen minutes later -- welcome to scarecrow central.

But this was real. What you see is what you get. I liked it.

And he started cutting. While cutting, he accidentally dropped the scissors. I watched him pick it up and put it in what I thought was a microwave oven, but found out that it was actually a steriliser. Whoa.

While I was getting my hair cut, another guy staggered in for a trim. The girl who was attending to him made him sit and asked, "Are you sure you want a haircut? You're drunk, right?"

How rude! I thought and turned to look at the guy's reaction at the accusation.

Holy cow. The guy really was drunk. Ahem. I gave Viv the "This is your haircut place?" look but he was deeply engrossed in the magazine which normally I'd find myself reading when he got his haircut.

"Yes." said drunk guy.

"Okay, how many fingers?" asked the girl. No cheekiness. She looked serious.

The drunk guy looked at her three raised fingers in the mirror and said, "Two."

"Okay, how many drinks did you have?" She asked.

"Three beers, one whiskey... one..." The guy mumbled something.


"Don't worry, we Filipinos can really drink." He said.

And then she started cutting his hair as if having a drunk customer on a saturday night was totally normal, while I gaped at my drunk co-customer.

"You boyfriend doesn't want cut?" I was distracted by my haircut guy.

"No, his isn't due yet."

"Haven't seen him in a while." He remarked.

"Don't worry, he'll be here soon. He always gets his hair cut by you. You always give him a great cut. Actually that's why I decided to come to you. I am sick of the fancy salons."

In the mirror in front of me, I saw the guy smile. I wondered if anyone ever complimented him on his haircut skills.

"So do girls ever come here for a cut?" I asked.

"Girls, ah?"

"Yeah. Not for a trim, but a cut?"

"Hmmm... some do... sometimes..." He said, and before I could go "Phew!" he added, "The little children."

I gulped. The little children??? I was the first female adult there?

Gulp. Well, there was no backing off now. I looked at the floor. My wild tresses that had once perched on my wild head were on the floor, and my head felt lighter. Ah well.

After he was done, he vacuumed my hair. Yes, he literally vacuumed out the little bits of hair from my hair and neck with a small vacuum cleaner attached to the wall.

"Okay!" He announced the end.

I gathered the courage to look at my hair. It looked fine. No wait, it looked good. Pretty darn good in fact. I was happy, and nothing else mattered.

And that's when it struck me how overrated girls' expensive haircut guys are and how way way underrated guys' cheap haircut guys are. I guess designer haircuts are like designer clothes. They may seem 'safe' just because of their atrocious pricetags or because everyone 'cool' has got one, but the hard truth is - they don't look good on everyone. The important thing is to find something that's your style, and not get too bothered about the price.

Even if it looks too cheap to be true.