Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Delicious Debauchery

Read this post in my friend Gaurav Sabnis’s blog. He claims to be a "panipuri expert", but, as I pointed out to him, a career in consuming panipuris is never complete without the delicious phuchkas (panipuri) of Kolkata -pretty much like a batsman's accomplishments, which seldom command respect unless he scores a century in Perth, on a bouncy track in windy conditions, facing the greatest bowling attack in the world at present.

As all panipuri lovers know, there are three crucial components that go into the making of this truly indigenous innovation, namely:
1) the globe (called the "phuchka" in Kolkata)
2) the stuffing inside the globe (referred to as the "choormoor" in Kolkata)
3) the pani (referred to as "tetuljol"in Kolkata)

(What exactly is the Puri, then, I wonder. Can someone lend me a helping hand?)

The first, in keeping with the perfectly competitive nature of its market, is more or less homogeneous across the length and breadth of this country and hence seldom emerges as the differentiating factor, or, as we MBAs love to call it, the USP. The rough cricketing equivalent of this would be the cricket bat.

What makes the crucial difference are the second and third components, the rough cricketing equivalents of which would be the technique and the temperament. It is here that the true genius of the creator comes into play; it is here that He (the phuchkawala, often greatly revered in Kolkata) “pulls up his socks” and “shows his true mettle.”

One of the worst-kept secrets in the world is that the unique taste of Coca-Cola comes from the highly mysterious “Flavour X” and that the recipe has been protected safely in some bank vault in Atlanta for some zillion years. Years of scholastic (and occasionally frivolous) research indicate that it can be anything between liquid gold and bird shit.

As a result of our occidental obsession, there have been no similar deliberations on the secret ingredient in phuchkas. The detractors point out, with convoluted logic, that it cannot be anything other than the phuchkawala’s sweat. Not in a figurative sense, mind you, not that the buggers refer to the arduous toil of the creator- but in a rather literal and derogatory sense. The detractors back their claims by pointing out the numerous instances of gastronomic calamities, ranging from loose motion to diarrhoea, which usually follow this gastronomic delight.

True, phuchkas are not for the hygiene freaks. There will be the occasional revolutions in your stomach, but, as someone said, the set of gains has a one-to-one correspondence to the set of pains.

Today, after consuming panipuris across the country, I am firmly convinced that Kolkata phuchkas have a true touch of magic, a genuine secret ingredient which I’m sure the Baba phuchkawala hands to khoka phuchkawala on the (former’s) deathbed. Be rest assured, my unflinching efforts to unearth the secret will continue unabated. The day I succeed, I shall give up working and start my own phuchka chain selling processed phuchkas, which’d surely give me more money and greater job satisfaction that my current job.

Friday, March 18, 2005

8:57 Bandra Slow

8:57 Bandra Slow, running from Bandra to Churchgate. That was how Reeju's day began; yet another day, like any other day.

One bloody train that is less crowded, thought Reeju. Of course, less crowded didn't mean you could take a nap, lolling on the seats, just that you got a respectable square-foot of space to stand on, without your fellow human brethrens breathing down your neck. Reeju took out his book, 'The Catcher in the Rye'. The bespectacled guy next to him, in stiff office formals, trying his level best to look interested in the morning's ET, looked at him suspiciously. What a bloody loser in life, reading stuff utterly unrelated to his work, he must be thinking, thought Reeju.

A great pastime during Reeju's daily train journeys, studying co-passengers. He started eavesdropping on the animated conversation between the two guys standing opposite him. One, a middle-aged man with a disgusting potbelly, burping occasionally, reminiscing his oil-soaked breakfast, perhaps. The other, a meek, subservient guy of Reeju's age, listening in absolute awe to whatever the fat ass was blurting out between his pan-stained teeth. Must be the boss and the hapless subordinate, thought Reeju with considerable amusement.

....."arre, bhai, if a hot chick starts wooing you, who wouldn't falter, bolo?"

"Of course, sir. These channels have gone too far."

"Kya bolu, yaar, my girlfriend is refusing to have sex with me. She thinks there might be camera hidden somewhere. Ha, ha. "

You have a girlfriend, and she even agrees to have sex with you, my goodness. What's even more outrageous, you think you are famous (or infamous) enough to be filmed having sex. What a disgusting porn that'd be, Reeju couldn't help smiling. You look like a paanwala, you don't know when to use articles when you speak that bloody foreign tongue, you are old enough to be my father, had he married at the right age. Yet you have a girlfriend!

Life is one long story of injustice, thought Reeju as he ambled along to the cabstand, for his seat in the share taxi. How did they ensure unanimity in the sex you got in erstwhile communist Russia, he contemplated, deciding to mail the question to his Marxist friend, a major SFI activist, currently in Kolkata.

He reached office rather early. Everytime he'd reach office well in time, an occurrence that didn't happen too often, though, he'd be invariably reminded of one of his favourite Dilbert quotes, "The problem with being punctual is that there's no one around to appreciate it."

Sreejesh, his boss and also his 5-year senior at the hallowed institute where he did his MBA, walked in, smiling to himself. I'm screwed, realized Reeju, that faint smile usually meant some new joke; which consequently meant a polite laugh from Reeju.

If only he had the balls to give his boss a piece of his mind! In case he ever got a chance to do so, he would not be found wanting in practice. The latest in his practiced insults went like this: "look, you dickhead, I have been debating lately, what sucks more, you, your jokes, or the black hole."

Reeju started his day's work with utter distaste; the same old junk. He responded to a few mails, in wonderfully dull official language, promising one and all "suitable corrective actions would be initiated, the learnings from which would be duly and promptly incorporated into our future strategic decisions." Of course, he would have loved to respond differently, but he had a job to keep, though he didn't know why.

For example, there was a mail from Ms. Aparna Pandit from Velachery branch (is that the one we opened in Mars, Reeju wondered) detailing, in painstaking English, the sufferings of a certain indignant customer. The ass had gone to a Citibank ATM and had tried using "our" debit card, the PIN of which the ATM machine refused to accept. The ATM machine even went to the extent of capturing the card, after his PIN had been rejected thrice. "How that is possible sir, when cust. says the pi is correct?"

Reeju wrote back, "It seems that our valuable customer was in some confusion regarding the veracity of the PIN he entered. Citibank's ATM switch had connected to our switch, which had rejected the PIN. Our Central Processing Unit has confirmed that the PIN that was entered was indeed incorrect. Request you to communicate the same to the customer and also intimate him that he needs to apply for a fresh ATM Card, which would be chargeable as per the prevailing rates.

Please also find attached herewith a circular detailing the applicable rates for your ready reference. "

Of course, what he'd have loved to write in response would go something like this:

"Yes, pi is correct, it has always been so, and is estimated to be 3.14 as per the latest rumour. In case you didn't know, the number is so bloody transcendental that the digits after the decimal point refuse to recur, ever. Even God is not sure if He knows how they manage to behave in such insanely random a manner, which the Bank finds totally unacceptable.

But, unfortunately, the Pin is incorrect; I mean, the Pin that the customer had entered was incorrect. Why is it that to know something so fucking obvious, you have to bug me with e-mails, wasting valuable cyberspace, which is expected to be as crowded as Bombay by May 2018, at the ongoing rate of junk?

Tell the fucker to apply for a fresh Debit Card, which is charged at 500 bucks. In fact, you'd be delighted to know, as per my calculations, if 20% of our customers lose their Cards likewise, we shall meet our revenue targets with astonishing ease. Hence, I beseech you to confuse your customers, so that at least 20.2% (in case you are wondering about the extra 0.2%, that's just a cushion in case I got my calculations wrong) of them lose their cards. Try snatching the cards from them if they refuse to get confused.

In case you are under 30 and hot, please ignore whatever I said earlier. Would like to talk to you. Why don't you give your mobile number, so that we may have some official talk?"

Ah, finally a mail that'd be worth a read. Saibal has finally responded to his long, long mail. Reeju had "cribbed haajar" (which, as per the "Hitchhiker's Guide to College Proxy", means, "Sulked a thousand times") about his life in his e-mail and had expected a suitably long response from his long-time friend, which would help him kill some of his free time (also known as "Vella time" as per the aforementioned guide). All that Saibal had bothered to write was 2 lines, which went like, "If you don't like your job, quit. If you can't quit, shut up." The asshole didn't even acknowledge lifting it straight out of Reader's Digest.

A dejected Reeju left for lunch, alone. He enjoyed these moments, all alone by himself, no one to gossip with, savouring every bite of his beefsteak with onions and chips. Enough of this pointless existence, he told himself. Let me follow my dreams, and not those of my father's, and become whatever it is I want to be.

Reeju began his daydreams, imagining himself in his dream job, whatever that is. He would do "that" thing not in the way "he" does it, but in a way altogether different. Huh, that'd be quite an innovation.

2:30, and he was back in office, now busy making a strategy paper on a new product his Bank would shortly launch. Of course the paper would go in Sreejesh's name, and his contribution would be lost forever. He tried imagining himself as a tragic genius, boozing away to oblivion, while his villainous boss gets the Noble Prize in banking for his original contribution to the field of cards. He felt like a ghostwriter and realized that he was paid even less than ghostwriters, assuming, of course, that ghostwriters were paid more than him.

A few more hours, and Reeju's day was finally over. He scampered for the 6:40 Bandra Slow, from Churchgate to Bandra, that signalled the end of yet another unproductive day. He went back to his "the Catcher in the Rye" and soon got deeply engrossed.

He got down before Bandra. He knew where he had to go; he'd been intending to go there for the past one week, but sheer indolence had held him back. Now there was no going back; he had to take the plunge (not on a swimming pool, of course, he didn't know how to swim), irrespective of the consequences.

Night dawned on the city that never sleeps. The statement might lead to some obvious confusion, since, to the best of the chronicler's knowledge, both New York and Bombay claim never to sleep. Nevertheless, in this case, as should be evident from the preceding sections of the narrative, the city is Bombay. It could have been New York too-but the chronicler has never been to New York.

Reeju entered the theatre hall. He hadn't bothered to find out what was going on inside, he had just bought a ticket and gone in. The evening hasn't been as exciting as he had thought it'd be. Maybe his expectations had been too high; maybe he hated his current job a bit too much. Where had he gone in the evening, by the way? Reeju couldn't remember.

A piano concert was on inside the theatre, the last thing Reeju had expected. Not that he particularly disliked it, though. He'd never been to a piano concert before, but he found classical music soothing, sometimes. This was one such occasion. He identified only one piece of music, though-Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. He especially liked the final movement, "Ode to Joy". He suddenly realized the stunning parallels between "Ode to Joy" and masturbation. That same build up, heightened expectations, embalming of one's senses-all finally culminating in the long peak, the exalted feeling of joyous satisfaction.He could hear it,
"taaa-na-na-na-na-na-na-nah-nah-anah-nah...nah nah nah na na na na".....

The music was getting louder, simply refusing to end. The choirmaster was shouting, "bhaisaab, pass, please. Phone baj raha hain aapka."

Uh, huh. A dream, yet again. Only to wake up and find that he had long crossed Bandra, to find a menacing looking Ticket Checker asking for ticket, to find that he has just enough money to pay the fine (the buggers refuse to take a bribe, can you believe it?)

8:57 Bandra Slow, running from Bandra to Churchgate. That was how Reeju's day began; yet another day, half a grand poorer than yesterday.

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