Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cutlets in the alley

End of a hectic and eventful fortnight !!

(right Jaya's School Girls' Hostel)

First came Jaya's ICSE results at the dot of 3 pm on May 17th - which, of course, had all of us overjoyed. But, even before we could think of any celebrations - we rushed back to Mumbai to pack her bags for the new school ( The Valley - KFI) in Bangalore. In a way - it was for us like also saying a 'virtual' farewell to Mumbai - though we are yet to wind up our establishment at Phoenix Towers. All of us were a bit sad at that and before leaving Jaya asked - can't you get a transfer back to Mumbai? More than anything else - she'd miss the Phoenix Mall next door (High Street Phoenix)- which we had come to call "pasher bari" (the house next door - in Bengali).

We dropped her at school on Monday - the 23rd but went back there again the next day for a parents' orientation, when we got to spend some more time with her. And, after a lovely Khow-Suey and Single Malt evening at the C's - got back to Calcutta on Wednesday morning - to plunge head-long into work.

When the markets are down - you spend more time writing explanations than doing your job - which is, presumably, chasing sales numbers. But, it is a fine balance most professionals learn to strike over time.

But, what still amuses yours truly are the most ingenous stories people come up for low demand. After nearly 3 decades of working life - one has heard how poor grape crops in Hyderabad were affecting cattle-feed sales in other parts of the country or cold currents in the Atlantic were raising the price of fish in Bengal. Nowadays, of course, one has the 'one size fits all' theory of global warming that can be used any-which-way to suit an argument.

However, there may be a germ of truth in one of the factors being attributed to the slow-down of construction activities across the country. It is the scarcity of construction labour. Many believe that - poverty alleviation schemes like NREGA and cheap (Rs 2) rice are acting as dis-incentives for workers to leave their villages in search of work in the cities. It seems, many working in the cities have also got themsleves registered under MNREGA back home in their villages and have to keep returning there frequently to their names alive in the roster. The few who would still prefer to venture out - head for Mumbai and Delhi - where the earning and savings potential are higher. Not sure if this is merely anecdotal - but if it is borne out by some emperical studies - then we could be seeing a major sociological and demographic shift in the years to come.

One thing I do enjoy in my current job is, it takes me to places that I have never been before even within the city I grew up in. For example, today - I visited one of the largest cement whole-sale market in the country situated at the heart of Calcutta's most famous red-light district (Sonagachi). Savoured some divine "kacha-golla" sandesh - but was too full to have the Prawn Cutlet from Allen which caters especially to the elite clientele of the area.

And, something I hate on such trips - is the lack of toilet facilities at most of the establishments ( a basic necessity for a chronic patient of IBS - irritable bowel syndrome for the uninitiated). It makes me empathise so deeply with ladies who have to work in the markets. Even places in Bihar and Jharkahnd have better sanitation facilities. That, brings me to my favourite crib about the Bengali's poor sense of hygiene. But, will keep that for another day's post.

What's been given a convenient miss - with all the travel and long work schedule - over the last few months - is exercise. In an attempt at gentle pursuasion - the wife took me for a swim the other day to The Calcutta Club. ( click here for my bog on the clubs of India: Raj Redux) But, even before I had taken a dip, she came out in a huff from the Ladies Changing Room - saying it was stinking as someone had crapped in the shower.

I asked a friend's brother - a doc - who was there in the pool with us, whether it was a good idea to take a typhoid shot. He said - it's not going to be of much use. Micturition is a common problem in all swimming pools for which a Hepatitis Vaccine may work better. For the rest - just try not to swallow the water and hope that the chlorine would have done its job. But, the wife was firm in her ruling - no more swimming at the Cal Club from now on. Holy shit !!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Greedy and the Needy

Was having this rather stimulating quasi-philosophical discussion with the wife the other morning. Though it rendered me being incommunicado for a couple of days - it's still probably worth recounting for it's sheer existentialist import.

The context was the conviction of Raj Rajaratnam by the U S Trial Court in the Galleon Hedge Fund case and possible implication of his friend - Rajat Gupta,till just a few days ago the poster boy of - not just the Bongs - but the entire Indian diaspora - accused of leaking priviledged market sensitive information to him.

The question - obviously was - why should such a successful and respected professional like Gupta ("Ratan" - literally, meaning 'jewel'- to his friends and family ) falter thus (if true). The theory doing the rounds is - apparently, Gupta was suffering from "billionaires envy" and wanted to be in the charmed circle of Kravis (of Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co) and the likes (Read article).

Fresh from the parent's orientation at the Valley School - where we heard that, modern day life was all about "management of greed" - I was quick to pronounce it as a case of abject avarice.

But, then came the news of Dominique Strauss-Kahn - the IMF Chief, who it seems had gone a little beyond lifting the skirt of the hotel maid in his USD 3,000 suite in Manhattan. Was this also a case of 'greed' ?

Here, I had a point of difference. While the desire for money and power - can be attributed to 'greed' - sex is a matter of temptation. And, it is not just a matter of semantics, I argued (at my peril !!).

When Adam and Eve succumbed to the apple - it was not greed at work but sheer temptation. The same is true of alcohol or drugs. The temptation could lead tio craving and ultimately even to addiction - but the same can't be equated with greed.

There is another point of distinction to my mind - however, subtle. Temptation (or addiction) is the cause of undoing of the self - it seldom (at least directly) harms others. The same is not true of 'greed' , which is necessarily at the cost of others.

The owner of a publishing house I worked for, was rather tolerant of the sexual peccadiloes and drinking problem of his journalists. On being asked why - he used to say they were neither murderers nor thieves - whatever they were doing was at their own peril - so who was he to exercise his moral judgement upon what was, after all, a matter of their personal choice.

But,there is also the story of the honest prostitute who never took married clients -because she said her's was a noble profession to serve the 'needy' and not the 'greedy'.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Virgins don't (always) wear bras !!

My friend an cuz-in-law Aakar calls Advani the 'worst kind of extremist' because - he lacks sense of proportion and use the extreme end of language (Read Aakar's Column in Mint) By that token - Bengalis are congenitally extremists. See the euphoria after the Trinamool victory. There were similar jubilation in 1977 - when the Left Front came back to power and again 5 years back when Buddha was annointed as the new messiah of Bengal. Why do we have to always swing between 2 extremes ? Even if the Left had to be taught a lesson - did we have to decimate them so totally ? A little moderation would have been good for everyone. Perhaps, even the CPM wouldn't have gone so much off the handle - if they had a strong opposition in the assembly. We now run the same risk with Trinamool. But, then we have never been good at treading the middle-ground.

The front page of yesterday's The Telegraph, Calcutta's (still) leading English daily - is a symbol of such kind of 'extremism'. The same newspaper group had gone ga-ga over Buddha earlier (to the extent that, people started joking that their flagship iconic publication should be re-christened "Ananda-shakti" - a la Ganashakti - the official mouthpiece of CPM) and had backed him to the hilt on the Singur and Nano. (They have a history of 'extremism' tho' - one remembers the photograph of Sanjay Gandhi vertically straddling half of the ABP's front-page during the Emergency). But, yesterday's paper took the cake. Even the mast-head was relegated to the bottom of the page. All the inside pages were separately numbered in roman numerals and captioned "Green Revolution" with the Trinamool emblem embedded in it. To me, it looked almost like a paid advertorial supplement of Trinamool. (See The Telegraph - epaper)

I couldn't resist sending in my tuppence worth of reader feedback per SMS to my Oxford educated editor friend of the paper and , taking the liberty of, also marking a copy to his boss - the Editor-in-Chief. The friend was dismissive - he wrote back "Your opinion to which you are welcome". But, his boss - who always loves a good argument - was more indulgent. He replied that - even respected UK newspapers are known to do this if the occasion so demanded. He cited 9/11 and major royal events (death of Lady Di ?) and asked me to judge the paper by it's content (as to whether it read like a 'paid supplement' ) rather than go by the looks. I tried to stump him by asking - if pushing the mast-head down to the bottom of the page didn't tantamount to violating the "virginity" of the front-page of which I have known him to be fiercely protective. He was quick to retort - "agree it should be rare and far between but virginity doesn't mean one always has to wear a bra ". Touche !!

But, what I didn't persist in asking him is - if likening Mamata's ascendancy with 9/11 and Lady Di's demise - would augur well for the state.

Like someone tweeted : Mamata is West Bengal's punishment for the sins of CPM.

(Read my earlier post on Mamata and Trinamool - apropos Singur : Nano Vision by clicking here)