September 30, 2012

Taming Hindi

One of the positive impacts Bollywood has had on me are the free rides it provided me in my quest of learning Hindi. Mithun Chakraborty, Poonam Dhillon and Kimi Katkar along with Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patil and Girish Karnad spoke to me in Hindi through movies on the Doordarshan and through numerous video cassettes hired from the local video store. My ceaseless (and annoying - as I now realize) questions of “Ima, kei haino?” (“Mother, what is he/she saying?”) posed to my mother have acted as the earliest way of understanding Hindi for me, long before I ever opened a Hindi dictionary. As I progressed, I started asking meanings of specific words rather than all-encompassing “What is he saying?” questions. 

Amusingly, songs hardly contributed to my vocabulary, even though I was subjected to numerous Hindi songs – my mother used to hum Lata songs all the time, our audio cassette collection consisted of an eclectic mix of albums ranging from Dance Dance, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak to Silsila, Akhir Kyon. I hummed the songs along without understanding the lyrics which were, unsurprisingly, often wrong.

Hindi grammar lessons came from my grandfather. A schoolteacher by profession, he had attended a training programme in Hindi once (I never asked him when, but I am putting it around the 50’s- “after the war”, as he mentioned). Through him, I learned subtler grammatical details of Hindi, most notably the lack of the neuter gender. Pushtak is male, kitaab is female, he taught. And each of the following: aeroplane, bus, ship, car – is either masculine or feminine. In addition, verbs too reflected masculinity/femininity (karta hai vs karti hai). This was a most confusing aspect of Hindi to me and remains so till this day.

My grandfather had a peculiar pronunciation which I deduced was the result of having learnt Manipuri, then English, then Bengali and finally some Hindi, usually through people who knew them as second languages. For instance, “main” (I) was pronounced “mei” with a much more prominent ‘n’ sound; “baarah” (twelve) was pronounced more as “baaraha”.

It was a revelation when one of my Hindi teachers explained that the ‘d’ sound in ‘darr’ (fear) and in ‘do’ (two) are two different phonemes. This was as late as my 7th class and she was our first Hindi-speaking Hindi teacher. Our teacher made us learn how to pronounce the murdhanya sounds – , ठ, ड, ढ , ण, ष. In Manipuri, the murdhanya sound is completely absent. There is only one d sound and only a single s sound (as opposed to the talavya, murdhanya and dantya s sounds in Hindi). Even s and sh don’t make a difference in Manipuri (you will find many pronouncing sheep as ‘seep’).  Similarly, v and f do not exist in Manipuri and in many cases (especially older speakers), it will be pronounced as b (as in Bineet) , bh (bheri for very),  ph (phair for fair) etc.

Learning a new phoneme may be considerably harder as age advances. For example, the Manipuri language uses words beginning with ‘ng’ as in ‘ngaa’ (fish).  The ‘ng’ sound is as found in words like ‘thing’, ‘sing’ but only in the beginning of the word. It is near impossible for someone to learn how to pronounce a word like ‘ngaa’ once one crosses, say, twenty years of age if he did not learn it earlier. Also, for someone not used to tonal languages, it will be difficult to imagine how tones differentiate meaning of words in Manipuri. For example, ‘kaaba’ can mean different things (climb or burnt) depending on the tone of the first syllable. Similar are the cases when Manipuris have difficulty learning sounds like the murdhanya d, get confused between different sa’s and even pronouncing v, f etc. Needless to say, for someone who learns first a vernacular language with a very different subset of phonemes, it is a paradigm shift when he later learns English and/or Hindi.

To confuse things further, Manipuri as written in the Bengali script makes some irrational uses of letters primarily to make use of the extra ones in the alphabet. Shan (cow) uses murdanya sa and murdanya na (mudeino as pronounced in Manipuri). When I asked teachers about this particular spelling, the answer was tradition. Words derived from Hindi retain their original spelling, e.g. thelagari. The Bengali script was useful for reading Sanskrit or Bengali but it was unsuitable for Manipuri. This has been cleared to some extent with the recent popularisation of the original Manipuri script.

My Hindi was subjected to much closer scrutiny as late as after my secondary school when I started mingling with predominantly Hindi speaking people. Features of Hindi which were exotic to me like the difference between r and d were now elements of humour to my friends, sometimes even tease, say, when I mispronounced r for d or vice versa. The confusion between masculinity and feminity of verbs too was brought to the fore. While I managed to speak right for most of the time, slips of tongue occurred. I would say slips of tongue because there were very few cases where I was really unaware – when I didn't know what I was supposed to say.

I have crossed many bridges and many passes but haven’t conquered Hindi yet. It has been an intriguing journey; I may rest but I shall not retire from my quest. Mainly because, to me, Hindi is a phunny language!

August 11, 2012

Good news, everyone!

Each year for the past ten years or so, I visit home a couple of times; each time 2-3 weeks. In these vacations, I get an opportunity to while away my time leisurely, and more importantly completely free myself of the daily drudgery at work. Playing with my little cousins, niece, nephew; spending time expressing my culinary skills; sleeping with a book flattened across my chest. And sometimes, sieving through heaps of guilt.

A background. Where I stay, electricity is a sham. Electricity (or lack of it) dictates daily activity. My mother stopped watching any TV series as she would miss the show every alternate day or so. She is reluctant to watch any movie as it cannot not go off for the length of the movie. She makes sure she uses the electric rice cooker while the electricity comes as it may go off any time. Our refrigerator is useless as it will be off more than it is switched on. At prime-time, the voltage is not high enough to run the refrigerator.

Water has to be bought regularly through tankers and stored in "Sintex" containers. This is in addition to the water that we harvest during rains. The government supplied water comes in the form of one tap which gives water for 2-3 hours in a day. This one tap caters to a neighbourhood of at least 15-20 households.

This situation prevails at a place hardly 10 km away from the capital. I can go on about other shortcomings but I fear the original intent of the post would be lost: each year, when I visit home, hardly anything changes. It is the same kacha road, the same thankless state of water and electricity, randomly sky-rocketing prices (think petrol and LPG prices at 4-5 times the national price, that too rationed.)

Equally disturbing is the resignation on people's faces. My mother calmly proceeds to the meifu when there is no more cooking gas available (to buy, that is). My dad starts running the motor and pulls water from the pool when water runs low.

One question that I end up continually keep asking myself is, "What am I going to do about this?" It is a question that has often haunted me, been asked many times, and caused rifts in a relationship. It was time I tried to provide an honest answer to the question. I see my potential future in my current organization and I am not too keen on pursuing it. My contribution pales in comparison to what I could potentially contribute back home.

I have not fully considered what happens if this does not work out. I know the risk is huge, a lot is at stake, the competition is tough and the pressure is enormous. But I will be happier and less guilty when I sit down to write my autobiography some day.

May 06, 2012

Avenger Adventure

Late night, Friday:

BC: Let's watch it tomorrow morning. 11:00 show. I will come with AK. You are going to stay at VD's place?
Me: OK. I will come directly from VD's place.

10:00 AM, 10:30 AM Saturday:

I call up BC. Doesn't pick up.

11:05 AM, Saturday:

BC calls me up.
BC: I am with AK at the Gas place. We won't be able to make it to the 11 show.
Me: Sure, we will go in the afternoon then. There is a show at 2:00 PM.
BC: AK says he has some work till 3:30 PM. Is there any show after that?
Me: Let me check. There is one at 4:45 PM. Fame.
BC: That should be fine.
Me: OK.

3:45 PM, Saturday:

BC calls me up.
BC: Are we still going for the 4:45 PM show? Or do you want to go tomorrow?
Me: We will go for the 4:45 one. Why?
BC: We might be [sic] little late.
Me: Dude, it is still one hour till the show begins.
BC: Yeah. I will be taking bath and all. Can you call up AK too?
Me: Sure. Will do.

3:50 PM, Saturday:

I call up AK.
Me: You are coming, right?
AK: Ya. I will just ask BC to pick me up.
Me: Actually, that would be a problem. I am back from VD's place. So one of us has to go in an auto.
AK: Aapki aawaz sunai nahi deh rahi.
Me: I can hear you. Hello? Hello?

I message AK.
Me: Reach there by 4:45. We will buy the tickets there. We haven't booked online.

4:15 PM, Saturday:

I get ready. I call up BC. Doesn't pick up.

4:20, 4:36 PM, Saturday:

Call BC again. Still doesn't pick up. My phone goes dead.

4:45 PM, Saturday:

I hear a doorbell. BC is at the door.
BC: Let's go, let's go. We are getting late.
Me: What have you been doing?
BC: I was talking on phone. I went to take a bath at 4:30PM.

We leave.

4:57 PM, Saturday:

BC's bike runs out of petrol.
BC: You take an auto. I will not come.
Me: Are you sure?
BC: Yeah.

I take an auto.

5:05 PM, Saturday:

I reach Fame. AK is nowhere to be seen. My phone is dead and I am unable to call him. I ask the security guy if anyone left a ticket with him. He says no. Doesn't really make sense for me to go in now. I leave.

Later in the evening, Saturday:

BC and AK come to my place.
BC: I saw the movie. The petrol place was pretty near. So I filled petrol in my bike and went. Where were you?
Me: I came back.
BC: Why?
I explained.

BC: I just bought a ticket and went in. Good thing that we didn't book the tickets in advance.
AK: Actually, I bought tickets for you guys too. I waited till 5:00, man. I couldn't have done more.
Me: Hehe.

October 10, 2010

In search of the perfect Bollywood action/comedy script - Preface

For quite sometime, I have been thinking how the script of the perfect bollywood action-comedy film would turn out to be. I am talking wholesome entertainment - action, comedy, story-telling, interesting conversations,, characters with depth and above all kick-assiness. I have seen a fair amount of Bollywood movies till date and but it is difficult for me to point out movies that have really entertained me. That being said, Sholay stands out and I can see how it made an impact (perhaps, and still does) on the Indian movie scene. I can see how it must have changed the then established kick-assiness of movies. However, with the movies that I grew up with, this certainly got diluted as the theme became beaten to death over and over again.

Then, Dabangg happened. A movie with unmatched entertainment and a fitting title. Not often do we get to see a movie driven by conversations. If the dialogues were not witty, they were downright funny. If there was no action sequence, the dialogues brandished swords and slashed each other. Veteran and new actors in short roles gave fine wings to what was a Chulbul-e roller-coaster. Dabangg's review in itself deserves another post. There are definitely things I would have liked to improve in Dabangg but let us just agree for now that this was the closest to the perfect Bollywood script that I have been dreaming of.

What, then, would the perfect Bollywood script of my dreams have? Let me begin with a few prerequisites:
  • Conversations: The dialogue needs to be the soul of the movie. It will be the thread that ties the entire movie together.
  • Character development: Character definitions will deepen as the story progresses.
  • Kick-assiness: There will be confident characters thrown all over who speak for themselves. There would be no attempt to hide flaws of characters.
  • Action: There will be hard-core as well as light-hearted action.
  • Comedy: This is a tricky area. Suffice to say, there will be less slapstick and more driven by dialogues and situations.
Some of the things which are definitely not pre-requisites:
  • Point/theme: The movie won't necessarily have a point. People asking what the point of the movie will be given specific directions to hell.
  • Songs: Songs, if included at all, will be purely to titillate or/and as a medium to display kickassiness.
These are purely guidelines and in no form become rules. The script will evolve by itself; the characters will draw themselves. If the script wants it, any of these guidelines can be thrown out of the window. 

September 21, 2010

A theory of communication

A: It's incredible how you guys manage to communicate with your bai. She speaks only Telugu, and none of you speak Telugu.
B: Ya. It is ok most of the time. We just need to tell her how many cups of tea she has to make in the morning and how many chappatis  for lunch.
A: But how does it work out when she has to tell a more complex thing. Like just now when she was telling you this story about why she came late and you had no bloody clue what she was talking about.
B: Haha. That's why I asked C to listen to her. He knows a bit more Telugu than me but he can also have a hard time understanding her.
A: I have a theory! When she tells a story, you try to pick up certain keywords that you understand and try to construct a story of your own. If the story you construct makes sense, you think that you know the story when you could be entirely wrong.
B: Now also, all I got was a few words - she mentioned something about keys and some money but I could not make any sense out of it.
A: Maybe you don't have enough data points to construct the story. If you had to plot the deviation from the truth of the story you were trying to construct, it will form a straight line if it makes sense. If it was the exact story she was telling, it would be the x-axis. Otherwise, it will have a slope.

C enters

B: What is she saying?
C: She says she fainted on the way back from the market and could not find her purse later. It must have fallen down somewhere. She had some Rs 100 in her purse and our room key. She had to go back find the purse again.
B: That's how she got late.
A: I wonder if you understood everything she said.
C: Haha. I could not make out everything. This may not be the complete story.

Doorbell. C exits to answer.

B: I wonder how this fits into your theory.
A: I guess he must have got those keywords - market, Rs 100, purse, room key etc. And maybe some actions too. At least the story is believable!
B: Maybe the plot is a straight line in this case. But it could have a slope.
A: When you try to fit in the rest of the missing stuff, if you make a plot, it will certainly reflect your understanding. Like if it comes out as a straight line, you think you are getting the story. It is when suddenly one point deviates from the curve that you realize something is wrong with your understanding.
B: What if the plot is a smooth curve and not a straight line?
A: No idea. I am guessing as long as it is smooth, it will not really make a difference.

C re-enters

C: I know the full story now. She went to the market to buy some vegetables. On the way back she realized that she had left her purse at the groceries'. She had our room key and Rs 100 in her purse. She rushed back at the groceries' and asked for her purse. The guy at the groceries' told her she didn't leave any purse but she was confident she did. She finally asked him to give back the key at least. The guy did just that.

One among strangers

If there is one thing that brought me joy more than anything else, it was disappearing into the crowd - getting to meet myriads of people in their myriads of moods. Gokul, the painter and teacher who was kind enough to gift me a painting. His nephew, who had never visited Pune and wanted to do so because he had heard so much about the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations there. The two brothers from Toranmal in Nandurbar district who had traveled over 300 kms to visit a hospital. The old Belgian lady in Dharamsala who followed her master across countries. The auto-rickshaw driver who was kind enough to oblige when I asked him to take me to the best saste me tikau restaurant in Aurangabad, and who waited till my meal was over because he wanted to know if I liked the food ! The Tibetan who talked about everything under the sun at a tea shop and who later ensured I took something as a memento from the place. The girl in blue dress who I mistook for a Spanish tourist, then replied in chaste Hindi when I talked to her and turned out to be an Indian from California. The two kids who guided me with the light from their cell-phones inside the dark stairs of a fort. The Tibetan momo-making instructor who taught me how to eat momos, and who, with a breath of sadness, explained how they had to India to escape Chinese atrocities. The guy who mistook me for a Korean and gave me a lift on his bicycle for over a kilometer. The American lady who had been a teacher in Thailand for the past 10 years and was taking a vacation in Dharamsala. The hotel boy who sneaked in beer and chicken for me in a Jaipur hotel. The kind people who treated me like family during my stay in Hampi. The three friends who were drunk/stoned like fuck and provided wholesome entertainment for one entire afternoon in Mussoorie. Every couple, children and family who agreed to pose for photographs.

I owe my sanity to each one of them. I admit it was by no means an easy thing to do. I had no plan of action - call it a sense of adventure or sheer silliness! But it surprisingly turned out fairly well in the end. I used my cellphone and the internet to stay in touch with people I knew, but it was pretty scarce. I was alone otherwise and I had my books to keep me company. I caught up with my reading for a whole year during the trip. Here was I who had read about 3 books the previous year. In the trip alone, I ended up gobbling up some 6 of them. Books were definitely a faithful companion during the trip.

I sometimes wonder how it would have gone had I taken the trip with a bunch of friends. A lot of people have asked me about that too - why I did it alone. I don't have a good answer to that. Perhaps it could have been a lot more fun and more replete with activities. While being alone, I spent a lot of time just sitting around ruminating or just reading a book at some secluded place -  not really doing anything. This, and having no plans was in a way quite liberating and I doubt if going with a bunch of friends would have given me that. That being said, I went with a bunch of friends to Kasauli before I moved on from Delhi to elsewhere and it was a pretty amazing trip. (Except for the stupid cable car for which we had to part with 500 bucks each!) But I doubt if I could have enjoyed dragging along with them for a full month or more. I could be completely wrong about that. Perhaps we should plan a trip to prove me wrong. Or right.


April 27, 2010

Ek seedha saadha sadhu

"Kitna hua?", I ask the driver at the end of the journey in the Vikram.
"Fifty," he replies.

The sadhu perched beside him in the front looks at me and shakes his head silently. I know what he means and stare at him for a few moments. He puts up three of his fingers.

"Tees hi dete hai hamesha." I didn't tell him it was my first ride in a Vikram in that route.

"Nahi. Fifty lete hai."

The sadhu turns to the driver and tells him something that I cannot hear.

"Yeh lelo," I tell him giving 35 rupees worth of notes. "Is se zyaada nahi de raha." I see the sadhu continuing to talk to the driver as I walk away.


The government had created taps of water virtually everywhere along the roads to facilitate pilgrims. One sadhu is cleaning his feet with water from one of these Another one across the road is looking over something cooking on a temporary fire that was created using dried twigs from the forest. As I walk past them, the one who was washing his feet asks, "Maharaj, dal ubal gaya kya?"


"Ek chai milega?" I ask no one in particular in the tea shop. There is a middle-aged man and a woman sitting on a bench. An older man is sitting on a bench, sipping tea. A teenage girl is combing her hair nonchalantly. I fail to figure out who the owner of the tea-shop is.

"Ek chai banado, " the middle-aged guy tells the teenage girl. "Baitho, " and he points to a seat beside him. I thank him and sit down.

I see that the girl is in no mood of making the tea as I observe. Probably afraid that her hair will dry up as she continues to comb it.

"Japan? Korea? " the guy seated beside me asks as if to divert my attention.

"Korea," I replied and added, "South" to make it more convincing.

The guy nods in approval.

Meanwhile, a sadhu arrives asking for tea. However, his lack of teeth, misshapen mouth and a possibly faulty vocal chord have conspired against him to produce just a wheeze of a noise instead of a well-formed question. The girl who probably has seen him more than I have mimics him. I realize the girl has a surprisingly grungy voice making the mimicry pretty successful. Or at least as funny.

The sadhu takes out a steel cup of his own and gives it to the girl. The girl tells him, "Give me money. Fast. Fast." The sadhu lets out a sentence in the form of another wheeze as the girl continues to mimic him and laughs. The sadhu sits down on the road. There is a dog playing around and the sadhu prods the dog with a tong that he brought along with him.

"Kya kar rahe ho?" the girl shouts. The sadhu lets out another wheeze. "Anjal," says the guy beside me. "Dog name, " providing me the final useful bit of information to complete the jigsaw.

"Is angrez ko chai dedo," the girl tells her mom (the woman seated on the same bench as mine. I figured the man and the woman seated beside me are her parents) . I didn't even realize she had started making tea. I stand up to receive the cup of tea from the woman.

Meanwhile, the sadhu makes a mocking noise in the tune of a lengthy "Om" to a foreign lady walking past us. And smiles. The girl shouts," Ek kheech ke maaregi na, to naam bhool jayega." And laughs.

My tea gets over. I try play on with the girl's earlier comment about the angrez.

"Kitna ho gaya?" I ask her, gauging her reaction at the same time.

"Paanch, " she replies without flinching a wink.

I pay her quietly, accepting defeat and walk away.

April 16, 2010


Writing this post is akin to start writing a book from the middle. The only saving grace, perhaps, is that this story can begin anywhere and it won't matter much.

I have been facing a writer's block as far as this trip is concerned. Going places, meeting people, eating everywhere - it is an experience that is difficult to put down in words, more so when you are in the midst of the experience! But try I shall.

So far it has been like living a dream. A dream I have harbored for long. Strangely, it is quite surprising how less lonely you feel when you are traveling alone. It is liberating; as if the whole world has embraced you with its arms. It is there for you to explore in its entirety - without prejudice, without anyone to judge you, without anyone to confront you. It is you and you alone.

December 20, 2009

To-do list

Where do we even start?

Let's make a todo list. A list of things that I need to do. Or undo. In which case it won't be a to-do list anymore. It will be more like a to-undo list.

Making the later is definitely tougher. It is easy to find things that you want to do. For an undo list, you have to look deeper inside yourself, find things that you hate. Be honest with yourself. Find ways of ripping out. It is like losing a part of your individuality. Usually, whether we like it or not, certain attributes become a part of us. Even if an attribute falls into the definition of our 'bad', it is so rooted into our being, doing away with it would cause our individuality to react in an adverse manner. ..

(to be continued)

September 20, 2009

Logging out

He woke up to the loud and annoyed home system. It had started hurling abuses left and right, at an elevated voice. He had failed to wake up on its earlier wake up calls and pissed it off. It took him some time to calm him down and he asked for his mails, prioritized. He picked up the first. It was from Sarah, a pissed Sarah at that - even if he muted the mail, it would have been evident from the animated expressions she was making. It was her usual complaint - him not being able to give time to her, and a detailed tirade accompanying that. He disappointed her by giving no reply, no explanation. It wasn't that he didn't care about her. He had something else to take care of first.

He remembered the meme he had created to woo her. It wasn't a complicated one, but he was careful to leave no stone unturned and it took him two days to finally make it. He left it in her inbox and she traced it back to him. It was a game of memetic volley-ball made by the finest craftsman of memes and there was no looking back. He created more and soon, she was head over heels in love with him. He felt wonderful in thinking that he was able to make her feel wonderful. Until recently, when he started thinking what he did was manipulating her.

He opened his visuals and took a look at the charts. Some new kids on the block had hit high on the charts. Incredible speed and endurance. Some were able to hit the front pages in minutes and stay on there for months. It reminded him of himself in his heyday. He was responsible for creating one of the best in his time. That's how he had been employed at the G as early as when he was fourteen. He continued to make waves with his ideas and he enjoyed the adulation he garnered. Until he realized something was really wrong.

He realized it was wrong for people's fate to be decided by a bunch of algorithms. Wrong to disclose every idea, every thought that passed through one's mind. Wrong to be fed his next line of thought, something recommended for him depending on what his prior thoughts have been. He realized it was wrong to kill free will. And he did not want to be a part of such a crime anymore.

He had decided he had to stop it at any cost. But he could not do it alone. He needed people, an army. Thus, he began crafting feelers. It was a long, tedious process but he knew his patience would pay off. It did, and the few he found, he mentored them well. Slowly, but steadily, his army grew in size. It was gratifying, but he still had concerns. He was not getting any younger, and he needed someone else. Someone who could emulate and exceed him. Someone he could trust enough to pass the baton to.

The visuals beeped, snapping him out of his trance. He jumped in anticipation. He quickly sent a trace. His fingers tapped frantically trying to dissipate his excitement as he waited the seconds. Taiwan. More seconds as he ran the decryption, tested the signature. Positive. Rerun. Positive.

It was a kid, fourteen, just as he had been. And he had found him. It felt like discovering one's own son and finding out what a proud father he was.

Finally, he could log out.

June 14, 2009

The song is 'Ode to my Family'. By the Cranberries; and it is haunting. But that's not the point of this post.

it is one of those moments when i need some retrospection/introspection. this post aspires to do precisely that. before i begin, let me define the mood - 1:21 am, all my flat-mates asleep, a can of beer already drowned, and i have been surfing over orkut people from my school, whom i have no contact whatsoever for all these years.

it is funny. most of them haven't changed much. at least not much in how they look. if they came in front of me, it is quite probable that i would recognize their faces, if not their faces along with their names. that could be difficult. and to think of it, it's been almost a decade since i left school. a decade.

there is some tits and bits of information that you can gather from the scraps, or whatever is visible of them. and it is incredible how everyone has pretty similar stories to tell.

to be contd....

May 10, 2009

Lazy Sunday

First post after making the CSS changes. But still too lazy to write anything longer than this. Best viewed in CSS3 compliant browser.

April 26, 2009


Joining the twitter revolution. My thoughts don't fit in to sentences longer than 140 chars anymore.


Learning how to draw manga. Proficiency: 1/10. Now know how to draw eyes, lips, hair.

December 02, 2008

i have got nothing to say. thought i will blog about it.