Friday, August 29, 2008

A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry - A Review

I have just finished reading 'A Fine Balance' by Rohinton Mistry and though not the one to do book reviews I find it impossible to not talk about this book. At 600 odd pages the book might seem like an onerous read but it is not. Once you start reading you never know how time flies but only revel in how wonderfully the writer etches out the lives of each of the four characters and seamlessly integrates them to give us a masterpiece of a book.

The book is set in 1975 Indira Gandhi’s regime at the time of the emergency and is set in an “unnamed place by the sea” and it takes you little time to figure out that the author is talking about Bombay. And it talks about the lives of four people (two tailors, a widow and a student) who are innocent victims of the emergency, and how they co-exist under the same roof. Mistry defines the lives and background of each of the four characters beautifully and spends a lot of time building up the plot. By the time the book ends you don’t complain about the size of the book but wish there was more to read.

This is one book which can make you sit up and think. There are many parts in the book where you will go “Chiiii, disgusting!!” and you will try flipping pages to reach a good part and ignore the bad part when a small voice inside you will tell you that however disgusting it is and how much ever you try to ignore it, it is true and your not reading it wont change it. You realize that though the characters are fictitious their lives and stories are those of real people.

It portrays India in its rawest form, telling us about its villages, telling us horrific stories about how the lower castes were/are oppressed by the upper castes, telling us about the unscrupulous politicians, corrupt police officers, life in the chawls of Bombay. I could just keep going on. Mistry is such a wonderful storyteller that at many points in the book you find yourself almost pleading Mistry to make the protagonists have a happy life. The book is painful, depressing, sad, thought provoking and is bloody brilliant.

There is a particular line in the book where the widow asks someone if she should inform the police, which will always stay with me.

This is the conversation between them.

“Should I make a complaint to the police” asked Dina.
He gave her a weary look. “If you like. But you might as well complain to that crow on the window.” The bird cawed and flew away, he felt vindicated.

The sarcasm, light humor and irony of the line hits you right on the face

After shantaram this is one book which I badly wanted to write a review about. After kite runner this is one book which has made me cry, after thousand splendid suns this is one book which has made me empathize with the characters and after a long long time a book has made me sit up three nights in a row to complete it and I don’t regret it.

Do NOT pick this book up if you are looking for some light reading because this book will make you brood and think and give u sleepless nights, making your question your own insensitivity and blissful ignorance to so many crying issues in this country. This book gives you the raw truth the way no other book does.

Waiting to read Family Matters by Mistry

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Snap out of it - part II - The ordeal of passport size photos!!

Inspired by arun I decided to write a sequel to “THIS”. I forgot to write about the one situation which sends shivers down my spine even as I think of it.

Passport photographs: now I have never really understood the concept behind taking passport size photos. Right from class 6th onwards when I got my first passport size photograph taken, I have dreaded sitting in front of some unknown person who asks me to lift my chin, smile a little, straighten my hair, hide my bald pate etc. I don’t understand. Why do u need passport size photos for exam application forms? I mean ok. If u know you are going to top the state and expect to see ur picture in the paper with a caption below which reads “Srinivasan Ananthakrishnan (errr.yeah. These toppers, I have noticed, usually have names like that!! :P) has topped the state with a whooping 495/500 and the last time he saw a TV or read something other than subject books was when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated”.

Ok. I know I am being sarcastic but coming back to the point if you know you are state topper material then it makes sense to paste ur photo in the application form. For normal folks like me who get the 1258748th rank in state and the only way we can have our picture in the paper is, if someone is kind enough to write an obituary with a picture for u. why the hell do I need passport size photos? I am not exaggerating when I say that not even one passport size photo of mine looks decent. In most of them I look like some serial killer who gets pleasure out of gouging out the eyes of her victims, drinking their blood and wearing a chain made of eye balls. And remember I am not exaggerating.

And it doesn’t help that I get my passport size photos taken at this place in adyar which is run by a woman and a man who loathe smiling as much as I loathe being photographed. I mean they NEVER give any expression. They have this deadpan expression on their face all the time which betrays no emotion and even a person as charming as me has been unable to penetrate their thick skins!! :P. Most of the times this is the conversation between us

Me: passport size photo?

Lady: mhmmh kum ulla oklum

Me: (thinking) errr. Sorry ma’am I don’t understand Swahili, or was that Maori?

Me: eh? Sorry?

Lady: mhmmh kum ulla oklum

She says again pointing to a dark room at the rear of the studio.

(sitting on a small stool in a dark room staring at a man who looks like he has never seen sun light in his life)

Man: look at the red light

I sincerely look at the red light

Man: chin up, eyes down

I Chin up and look down.

Man: small smile please

I mentally strangle him, slit his throat and gouge his eyes out. The image gives me a lot of happiness and a smile creeps on my face

Man: give good smile please

Me (mentally): eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!! Baring all my teeth

Man: look to the left and straighten ur shoulders.

Finally after giving me approximately 45637 instructions he clicks, the flash blinds my eye and I close them.

Man: one more photo ku okkarunga. You have closed ur eyes in this one.

After about 20 minutes which would even test the patience of mother teresa the ordeal is over and the result is a photo which would fit perfectly in the wanted list in the police stations and looks nothing like a person who wants to apply for admission into a prestigious university!! :-\

Till date I strongly believe that I didn’t get admission into any of the colleges that I wished for only because of my photo. :-P.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I suck!! :(

I cant talk to relatives. It gives me the heebie jeebies. With friends I am in my element. I can talk about that latest PGW book or she can tell me about the cute guy in her office who has been giving her the looks or about the sad lunch in office or about where to go this weekend and which movie to watch or about the latest pepe jeans, 60%(GASP!!) off sale in adyar or soooooooooo many other things. I never run out of things to talk about when I m talking to friends. I may run out of time (mostly), energy (rarely), patience (hardly) but I never run out of ideas.

But what do u talk about to a person whom you meet once in 2 years. What do u ask about after u have finished talking to them about the weather in their country, the weather in your country, your work, their work, their college, their trip etc. though these might seem like a lot of topics to talk about talking about all of this takes exactly 2 minutes and 33 seconds

Them: So, how’s work Shruthi?

Me: Yeah!! Good!! *GRIN*(I cant tell them that the query I tried to run did everything but run. It crawled, it stumbled, it walked, it made me cry but didn’t run. I cant tell them that the guy at on site has a certain funny of speaking and ends each sentence with a sound which errr sounds like a release of gas and most of the times I am caught laughing like crazy when I ought to be listening seriously. I cant tell them any of this so I say good.) you?

Them: yeah good. (they again cant tell me about so many things primarily because I wont understand)

Me: *GRIN*

Them: hmm. So nice weather in India

Me: yeah. Rains. How is London?

Them: good good. It always rains there

Me: *GRIN*

See. Maybe I was exaggerating when I said it takes 2 mins and 33 seconds. It takes even less.

It was different and great when Preethi (my sis) was here. we had a deal. Preethi would do the talking and I would do the grinning. No two ways about it. only the questions which were addressed to me would be answered by me otherwise by default it would be her answering. It worked perfectly. I didn’t have to listen to complaints from home about how I never visited relatives and neither did I have to talk much when i went visiting. But now with Preethi in Dubai I have to do it all alone. I mean imagine having to do the grinning and talking all alone!! :(

I miss Preethi. She is amazing. She loves to talk. She can talk to ANYONE. There is never a lull in the conversation when she is talking. Most of the times I just google at her in amazement. I mean how can anyone talk so much so easily. She will talk to them about office, about home, about how she has been putting on weight (while happily munching the chocolates they bring) about how she still uses something which they bought her 4 years back (how does she even remember things like this??) etc etc.

Like a cousin of mine says “Preethi loves everyone and everyone loves Preethi. You can either love her or really really love her. No two ways about it” . Needless to say all my relatives love her and feel uncomfortable around me and I don’t blame them. Its an irony. She loves it when relatives come visiting and spends the better part of the year waiting for my uncles to visit. She is crying buckets now coz she is in dubai and cannot be in india to visit my relatives. I on the other hand don’t exactly look forward to their visits the way she does. Mind you, I love them and all that but I cant talk. I can grin, I can smile and I can nod in agreement and even make little grunting noises but I cant talk.

So yesterday before visiting a couple of relatives, I thought I would ask Preethi for some tips on how to talk and this was how the conversation went

Me(mailing her): Preeethi. Call!!

(Tring Tring)

Me: Hello

Preethi: hmmm. Bol. Kya hua?

Me: (almost hysterical) Preethi. Help!!! I am visiting ABC and XYZ today and I have no clue what to talk about. I am going alone, all ALONE. Help!!! come to india NOW!!

Preethi: Shut up Shruthi. Is this why u asked me to call? I cant believe I am wasting an international call on this. Shruthi. They are ur relatives. You have known them all ur life. They have done do much for us. Why cant you talk to them. You are insensitive and ungrateful and cold and sarcastic and..

Me: hey hey!! Easy on the praises ok? I didn’t call you to get a lecture from you on my character

Preethi: see. That’s your problem. you are sooooo sarcastic. I don’t understand you man. you can talk so easily to friends. It’s the same with relatives. I have seen, you always do this. On the phone you will give the phone to someone else and run away, you wont talk or give straight replies. Maybe you should stop writing blogs. that seems to fuel ur cynicism. Frankly shruthi, what is your problem?

Me: ok. How about we have the “Lets psychoanalyze Shruthi” class later? Can u help me out or not?

Preethi: you are impossible. I cannot talk to someone who is as stubborn and receptive as a 100 inch thick wall. I might as well talk to the nearest wall than talk to you

Me: Right!! Thanks for being so helpful

Preethi: oh. Don’t mention it!!

Me: bye

Preethi: bye!! HUMPH!! :-\

So I went yesterday and made a fool of myself and came back. :-\. Not my fault. My sister wasn’t helpful!!

If any of my relatives are reading this, I am sorry I am such a boring and frigid person and I am sorry you have to put up with me. I love you guys, but I cant talk!!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I am jinxed

I am jinxed. I am soooooooo jinxed. Why why why why why me? Why is it always me? Why does Murphy like to **** (four letter English word starting with ‘F’ and rhyming with duck and truck to be inserted here) my life up always.

When I board planes they get cancelled, when I try to get into trains I don’t get a reservation, when I get into buses the bus will break down 9 times out of ten, when I go to withdraw money at the ATM the ATM will run out of money, my only favorite thing on the office lunch menu will miraculously get over EXACTLY when my turn comes. When I am driving the signal is always red, when I am walking the pedestrian crossing is always red, when I watch saina nehwal play a match, she loses, when I ask for a particular book at the book store it is never there, when I write code it, never works, when I am typing a mail or a post and forget to save it, 10 times out of 10 I will accidentally switch the main switch off with my leg, when I sometimes blog/read blogs from office my manager will pass by, when I do an exam well everyone in the entire country does it well, when I do an exam poorly everyone in the entire country again does it well.

I am SICK and TIRED of my wretched unlucky life.

The other day I had to withdraw some money from the ATM and went to the ATM machine in office. The machine worked perfectly for the person just in front of me. my turn came, I went in put my card inside and what does the blasted ATM machine do? It eats up my god damned card and says “Sorry, this ATM is temporarily out of service”. Here I am standing outside the machine without a single penny in hand and there the ATM machine happily gobbles up my card and expresses regret over doing so. I kicked the machine, pressed the cancel button, pressed the exit button, pressed the cancel and exit button together, pressed the cancel button and the exit button in quick succession but to no avail. So I called up the darned bank told them that their ATM machine has this weird problem of gobbling up cards and not giving it back, blocked my card and turned around and what do I see? The machine is working PERFECTLY and the person who was standing behind me is putting his card in, withdrawing money and giving me a condescending look which says “Jeeez, 22 years old and u cant even withdraw money without goofing up?”

I mean it could have happened to the person in front of me, it could have happened to the person behind me, it could have not happened at all but no. even inanimate objects like ATM machine sense a jinxed person and start acting up.

2 days back a friend and I were watching saina nehwal play against some Indonesian player. And she lost and I am like “Jeez. Maybe we shouldn’t watch when India plays in the Olympics. Thank god we didn’t watch Bindra shoot man. Heh heh!!” and my friend says “Actually no, I watched bindra’s shooting live. hmmm’. and I am like “ :-\. Ok great!! Then its just me.” Poor Nehwal she was leading by 9 points when i switched on the TV to watch her play. I mean heights.

I try my level best to be positive and optimistic and try telling myself that it could have happened to just about everyone. I try telling myself that there must be people whose mobiles fall into the lift shaft from the fourth floor EVERYDAY, that there must be people whose buses break down at 12.00 in the afternoon on a really really hot day EVERYDAY, that there must be people who get caught by their manager for having embarrassing messages on their communicator windows EVERYDAY , that there sure must be people whose ipod gets infected by a deadly virus and they end up losing 800 songs everyday!! :-\

I am tired of being optimistic also. I am tired of thinking that there will be a day when I will get up in the morning, open the tap in our house and find water coming out and not rush to my grandmothers house everyday to take a bath, tired of thinking that there will be a day when I will step out of the house and not have my white salwar splattered with dirty water by an insensitive motorist, tired of thinking that there will be a day when I will reach office smoothly without the bus breaking down or getting caught in traffic, that there will be a day when I will enter the restroom in office and find both tissues and soap present (everyday either one will be missing!!), that there will be a day when my code will run without issues, that there will be a day when I don’t accidentally switch off my comp.

I am not being pessimistic, neither am I being optimistic. I am just being practical when I get up everyday in the morning and remind myself that there will be no such day and tell myself “Your day is gonna suck Revs. You might as well be prepared for it and brace yourself.”. This at least makes me value the small things which bring happiness into my jinxed life, like a courier from a friend with a lovely note and a chocolate, a mail from another friend over the seas, a silly chat with my sister, chain mails from college friends, a word of praise from a reader, an uuuu from a friend, music by Rehman, Atif Aslam’s voice. Hmmmm
You know what? Life aint all that bad!! :)

P.S: Read Part I and Part II of Jinxed HERE and HERE.
Sigh!! Now i have started a series!! :(

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I dont care!! :-\

I was not born to optimize SQL queries. My parents DID NOT give birth to me 22 years back for me to sit and optimize queries. I don’t care if a blasted query takes 200 seconds to run or 187 seconds to run. The fact that the queries I write are even running is a big thing and now I need to optimize it??? I don’t care if I overload the server because the pathetic queries I write tend to run twice as longer than queries that size are usually supposed to run. I don’t care if the left outer join I wrote cannot give good results, I don’t care about the number of seconds which can be saved by using an inner join instead of a normal join, I don’t care about the difference between a right outer, left outer, inner and equi join.

For all I care the wretched query can run all my life, overload the server, hang the database, kill all operations and sabotage the entire project. I DON’T CARE!!

Writing optimum queries and good code does not give me a kick. I DON’T CARE!!

I do not shed happy tears when I see “Query executed successfully” on my screen. Given the fact that I have to run 20 more similar queries which will take their own sweet time to run, the only tears I feel like shedding are the ones Sreesanth shed when Bajji slapped him. I DON’T CARE!!


P.S: I started writing this post and running a miserable query at the same time. I am done with the post. Mr.Miserable query is still running!! :-\
P.P.S: it ought to be a crime to have more than 4 lakh records in a database!! :-\

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Operation Sunrise - II and a perfect weekend :)

Read Part I of Operation Sunrise HERE

Sometimes in life there are moments which are so beautiful and perfect and their beauty is accentuated by the fact that they are so commonplace, so simple that you would miss them if u blinked. I had many such moments this weekend

Perfect moment 1: 2 o clock in the afternoon, four friends sitting in the theatre and watching dark knight, mouths wide open, eyes wide open and with one single thought in their mind. “Please please let Joker win at the end and batman can go take a hike”. Heath Ledger, I cannot understand what possessed you take your life after that absolutely mind blowing performance as joker in dark knight. Lets put a smile on that face!! Sigh!! Move over George(clooney), heath has my attention now.

Perfect moment 2: 6 o clock in the evening, three friends in a garment shop holding up a shirt, falling in love with it, trying it on, realizing that since they are errr horizontally challenged they cant get into it and looking wistfully at another girl who looks like she has a carrot for breakfast, cabbage for lunch and water for dinner reject the shirt because it is too big for her. Sighhhhh!!!

Perfect moment 3: 7 o clock in the evening two friends in odyssey, buying books left right and center without a care about the price tags (something which we have never done). Reason: errr. We were supposed to be buying books for my sister and she was paying for it. (ok Preethi. close that mouth of yours. i just spent some 2000 bucks of your money. you cant be angry with me for that?? *making shrek pussy cat eyes*)

Perfect Moment 4: 9 o clock in the night, five friends sitting in ascendas drawing a errr ummm graph writing in centre the name of the guys from college whom we liked as much as mallika sherwat likes clothes, china likes democracy and karunanidhi likes jayalalitha, and connecting their names to each other and giggling like a bunch of hyenas while commenting on the four losers sitting in our adjacent table who all had laptops open on their tables and were pretending to be really busy working. Further investigation told us that one of them was orkutting, another was chatting on yahoo and the others were errr watching pics not suitable for children under the age of 18!! :-\

Perfect Moment 5: 12 o clock in the night five friends watching re runs of Friends, laughing at Joey and the craziest of them screaming “Its twelve guys. Happy Friendship Day!!!” and all of them falling on top of each other in an attempt to wish each other happy friendship day.

Perfect Moment 6: 2 o clock in the morning five friends, one dressed in pajamas too tight for her, one dressed in pajamas too loose for her, another errr not very dressed, and the rest still wearing their dirty jeans and not changing out of sheer laziness, talking about extremely profound things like our single and happy status, about why XYZ and ABC who were going around were a not so perfect match and why PQR who told us about it and heard about it from LMN should probably tell EFG that she loves him but was EFG in turn in love with JKL who was broken hearted because UVW had ditched her and ended their relationship when college ended? And the sleepiest friend came up with the brilliant suggestion that maybe PQR wasn’t errr straight and liked people of the same gender!! :P

Perfect moment 7: 3 o clock in the morning, five friends in a dingy kitchen, one making maggi noodles and acting like she is making aloo gobi and butter naan, another one taking a video of her making maggi noodles and acting like she is PC sriram shooting a movie with the top hero and heroine in the industry, another taking an interview of her and acting like she is simi garewal interviewing tarla dalal, and the rest giggling like there is no tomorrow.

Perfect Moment 8: 5 o clock in the morning three sleepy heads falling over each other, one sleepy head complaining that she has to write a mock CAT and needs her intellectual sleep if not beauty sleep, one kozhupu edutha nai (errr. roughly translated as fat filled dog) who kicks the other four in unmentionable places to wake them up and says “Lets finish operation sunrise II. Lets go to the beach and watch the sunrise” and five friends stumble out of the house and walk to the beach to watch the sun rise over the bay of Bengal

Perfect Moment 9: 6 o clock in the morning five friends sitting on the beach, the waves touching their feet, not a word spoken between them, admiring the break of dawn something which we saw during the last operation sunrise an year and a half back and wishing the moment would freeze like that forever.

Perfect Moment 10: 6 o clock in the evening two friends at the beach surrounded by some acquaintances, looking at each other and asking “Where do we go for dinner”, both thinking for a minute, smiling and going “MIK” in unison. Errr. for the uninitiated MIK stands for Murugan Idly Kadai on besant nagar beach and if you haven’t had the butter onion utthapam and Sakkara pongal there you are missing out something big in life.

Is it plagiarism if you borrow a couple of lines from a friend and paste it on your blog??? Naaah. Its just called borrowing and never returning something which we guys have been doing for ages now!! ;)
So quoting Milinta from her post on THIS unforgettable weekend “Give me some memories, give me some laughter and give me some chatter. Or just give me my friends.”
Here’s to another successful Operation Sunrise, another great weekend and a great set of Friends!! :)