Friday, February 18, 2005

Grunt, grunt...

Peals of laughter pierced my ears, and I held my phone away, looking at it in disbelief. I have my heart broken, my body drenched, and when I called Lavi to buoy my spirit, and narrated the episodes of the day, the aforementioned was what I heard from her end.

Fine, so my heart wasn't broken, but it was definitely dented. And the episode occurred about ten months ago, but those peals of laughter still sting as if fresh. It is rather painful when you narrate a tragedy in the first person to a friend, hoping the latter would point out the silver lining and all, and the old friend finds the episode funny. Distressing, to say the least. Not what one wants to hear when, having stepped out for a walk to clear the depressed mind, one gets drenched in a surprise shower, accompanied by winds that have the sense of humour to un-roof the tea-shack where one has sought shelter and some tea.

But I present the facts in a slightly haphazard manner. So I shall start at the beginning.

Before I joined the startup I'm working in right now, which, incidentally, is all-male (shucks), I used to work in a larger organization, which, though not exactly populated by members of the daintier sex, definitely had token amounts of the same. And among these was one lady - we shall, to maintain a pretense of gentlemanliness, call her Ms.P - who was, shall we say, rather fetching. Now, unfortunately, I am not one of those dashing young men who, at time=t, are observed approaching the woman they deem as the next conquest, and at time=t+3 minutes, are observed riding into the sunset with the lady perched on their horse/motorcycle/car/scooterette. Nope. Though I am not exactly the bumbling idiot when confronted by a lady, I do tend to bumble a bit when the lady happens to be someone who has a direct effect on my pulse rate. At any rate, I wasn't one you put your money on in the matter of accosting women.

Thus, I remained largely quiet apart from the occasional witticism over the lunch table, till one day, an expansive mood, plus a conversation with a colleague, tipped me over. The conversation ran as follows:

Colleague: Hey, Senti, check out this interesting forward! (turns her screen towards me, revealing mail detailing sun signs and what they say about your personality, your love life, and how you're going to trip over the steps on the way out after work)

Me: (Preserving an air of superiority) Don't tell me you believe in this muck. I'm sure another female has sent this to you. (Scanning document) Oh, yes - Ms.P! (Scanning the recipient list) Hmmm... all female recipients, I notice. So how is it that the Gemini twins always send forwards to only females?
(Note: Ms.P was seldom seen in the absence of another lady of a similar face and build, Ms.Q, though the latter looked rather forbidding. By the Gemini twins I alluded to this pair)

Colleague: (Raises eyebrow) How do you know they're Gemini?

Me: Argh, I was speaking figuratively, HR woman! (ducking under marker pen skilfully thrown by colleague) However, the question shall be immediately clarified.

And thus, without much further thought, I opened my mailbox, clicked on "compose", added the ladies' addresses to the recipient list, and, with brain firing on all eight cylinders, typed in the amazingly tactful question: " A random thought: are you both Gemini?", and clicked "send". Too late I realized that this was perhaps not the best tactic to strike up conversation.

Well, Ms.Q did not take very kindly to the probing by some chap she hardly knew the name of, and I got a rather strong-worded mail expressing her disapproval. However, Ms.P was kind enough to let me know that no, she was Aquarius, and what was my sun sign? Hastily thanking my stars that the underlying snide remark in the question went unnoticed by both parties, I applied myself to the task, and went on to ask the brilliant question all guys should ask the girls they are interested in when they want to avoid beating around the bush: "Do you like reading? My favourite happens to be Michael Crichton. Have you read any of his books?". Genius, I thought to myself about two minutes after sending the mail, head resting on both hands. If Natural Selection had its way, I would never procreate.

However, she was surprisingly tolerant, and remarked that though she had not had the opportunity to read any of Mr.Crichton's works, she was eager to start, and could I lend her any?

Patting myself on the back, I went back home and scanned my bookshelf, the only piece of furniture I have apart from my TV stand. I soon realized that I had been rather lax in claiming back the various Crichtons that I had lent friends, and was thus short of the best ones - Jurassic Park, Sphere, Prey, Disclosure, etc. Upon close scrutiny of the collection, I decided on Congo. It would have to do for now.

Early next morning, I hand over the book to the lady, who was looking as dazzling as ever. She smiled and walked away, and while I was still recovering my breath, I get a mail from her thanking me, and wasn't this the book that inspired the monster flick "King Congo"?

I reeled under the sudden blow. Ohmygod, please let this be a joke, I prayed fervently, as I replied politely, stating the facts: No, this did inspire a motion pic, but it was not "King Congo", but a slightly more intelligent flick called "Congo", after the book. I also mentioned that perhaps the movie she was referring to, which also had a Gorilla in it, was "King Kong". I then sat back, and hoped fervently for a mail bearing something similar to "Ha ha ha!" in the subject line.

Then the final crushing blow: it was no joke. The woman had genuinely mixed up the names. The name of a Michael Crichton novel mixed up with a SENSELESS B-GRADE MOVIE ABOUT AN OVERGROWN, HORNY GORILLA!

The next time I come across a woman who accelerates the pulse, etc, I think I shall go up to her, grunt, flare my nostrils, and twitch my ears. The results would not be very different, but shocks as described above can be avoided.

Incidentally, did Congo have a king at some point? Will check google...




Friday, February 11, 2005

Escapism

Another sleepless night. I envy those people who have an extraordinary drive to work, and sit working through nights, while I stay awake in bed, staring numbly at the TV, watching the late-night show of Terminator 2: Judgement day for the nth time, hardly registering it.

I have seen people who are so absorbed in their work, that even remarks like, "Hey, remember that book of yours that you thought you lost, and were upset enough about it to get drunk that night? Well, I found it!" end up falling on deaf ears. I have seen these chaps sit hunched over their computers, ignoring people around them, ignoring their own hunger ( "Ah, finally solved the problem. Wow, am I
hungry! What's the time? Two? Damn, I missed lunch and dinner. Hey, why are my trousers wet? What's that smell?" ) and other bio-functions. I have even, on one occasion, seen a guy sit and work, unflinching, through a Backstreet Boys song.

Such people scare the hell out of me. They give me guilt complexes. They make me feel I am inefficient, lacking in concentration, and am a burden on the company I work for. I usually like to keep up an active chatter while working, and I think the habit became a little compulsive - I have been caught talking to my computer, and occasionally have been censured for "loud, offkey singing at work". The singing, apparently, has stopped ever since I joined the company I work for now. I guess it is difficult to sing "You are my sunshine" when the speakers are blaring, "Fortune, fame, mirror vain, gone insane," etc.

If you were to meet my english teacher back from school, she would say, "Senthil? Laziness. That has always been his problem. It's going to do him in, one day." And sometimes, when I lie awake in bed, staring at the ceiling (the cable TV network conks off from time to time) and thinking about why my life is the way it is today, I eventually zero down on the above remark. Now, to be honest with you, though I would not call myself
lazy - that's too strong a word, I have noticed that I do have a substantial amount of inertia. I always needed superhuman effort to start a project. I believe the technical term is "getting down to it". That has always been my problem. When I was a kid, I remember sitting at the study table, staring at the homework, flicking my fountain-pen between my fingers, concentrating on a dog-ear on a page of the textbook, with one feeble part of my brain whispering insistently, "you will have to eventually get down to it, you know," while the stronger parts of the grey stuff were dwelling upon the latest episode of Johnny Sokko and the Flying Robot , till a sharp cry from my mother brought my astral projection slamming back into my body. Upon looking around for the source of her apprehension, I found the ink from my pen liberally sprayed over my homework, the table, my shirt, my face, and the facing wall, the droplets lying roughly in the plane of the flick. I had given an inadvertent demonstration of centrifugal force. The scene gave me a bit of a jolt, though I admit that my next reaction was to shift my point of concentration from the dog-ear on the page to the drops of ink splashed in almost a straight line over the book and the table. I thought it looked beautiful in a way, though my mother disagreed strongly.

That was another of my problems - concentration. I lacked the "mental anchor", to use another technical term. I was always drifting off, and found myself in the most awkward positions when the volume was suddenly turned up and I realized that either my mother or one of my teachers had been mouthing a question in my direction. In fact, even as I type, I realize that I have drifted off and have ended up projecting a contradictory image of the self. On the one hand, I am scared of people being absorbed in their work to the point of being impervious to external stimuli. On the other hand, I admit I have a problem drifting off. However, the astute reader may comprehend that there is a fine shade of difference between the two. While I do admit to being a little distracted in my childhood, it was
not at a time when I was working, or, more suitable to that period, studying. In fact, when I was actually studying, I was so in tune with my surroundings that I could hear a fly alight on some butter in the kitchen. No, the drifting off of mental faculties happened when I was trying to start studying.

So you can imagine my apprehension when I was having a beer with a friend of mine (who, incidentally, is one of the work-maketh-me-forget guys), and a friend of this chap joined us, and after the pleasantries had been exchanged, proceeded to ask us, "Do you sometimes feel like
not working?" Apparently he had been trying to work, but today was unlike any other day - he did not feel like working!

My friend admitted that yes, there have been occasions when he, too has felt the same.

They then turned to me.

I don't remember what I said. I had drifted off.



Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Mediocrity

Again, something that has plagued me through life. It has been my curse to be just above average in everything, and I mean everything. From academics to extra-curriculars to probably even wooing women (though the latter was not officially substantiated), I have been just above average. In my successes in the women-wooing department, again, I think I have been just above average, if you consider the sample space of engineers in the same social setting as yours truly.

Anyway, I was reminded of this because I took a "How nerdy are you" test, and the result:


I am nerdier than 77% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!


Thus, I think I'll truncate this ramble short, it's going to be one of my average entries on this page anyway.

Friday, February 04, 2005

...of kerosene and digital thermometers

The last two weeks have been rather...trying, for lack of a better word. First someone pulled the carpet out from under me and my bike, causing various injuries to man and machine, and then I landed up with some sort of "bronchal infection". I use this term because people freak out when I tell them, "I have a lung infection." The power of language.

The infection, though, put me in one particular spot where I became acutely aware of how confused people really are, and how often they say stuff they haven't a clue about, or are unable to express themselves when a lucid thought forms inside their crania.

Last Saturday, I had gone to work, believing that my troubles were over now that the doc had diagnosed what was wrong with me, and that I only had to follow the prescription and take regular meals and medicine to get better. Unfortunately, the human body turned out to be rather unpredictable.

Feeling feverish all of a sudden, I decided to call it a day. Now, have you ever had a fever where you could actually
feel the temperature rising? Rather scary. This was what was happening while I was riding my bike home, so I decided to stop at the local chemist's and pick up a thermometer. One of those digital ones. I'm always a little apprehensive about the analog ones, since I've had nightmares about biting down hard and swallowing mercury and shards of glass. I also am a little impatient when a thermometer is stuck in my mouth, and tend to pull out the thing before the temperature stabilizes. I believe this is also related to the thermometer-biting fear, though it could be just discomfort. Especially when those nurses jab the instrument deep and hard under the tongue, and prevent you from dislodging it into a more comfortable position, and make you sit there till your eyes start to tear.

So, it was a digital thermometer for me. The ones that go "beep-beep" when the reading stabilizes. Thus I walked into this chemist's shop and asked the lady, "Do you have a digital thermometer?"

"Which type?"

This threw me for a second. I wasn't aware that they were selling various types of digital thermometers. But I guess if they could have watches telling you your blood pressure, pulse rate, blood sugar, leucocyte count, melanin distribution of the skin directly under the dial and what not, then it would hardly be surprising that there are several types of digital thermometers. Preserving an air of
sang-froid, I inquired, "How many types do you have?"

"There is the type with mercury in it, and there is a digital one."

Realizing that any display of annoyance would be lost on the silly, inattentive lady, who was probably the wife of the chemist, the latter having perhaps taken off to attend to more important matters, I merely gritted my teeth and asked for the digital one.

With the grace and speed of a ballet dancer, the lady reached under the counter and picked out the instrument. After futile attempts to pull it out of the packaging, she gave up the task to me and my fevered, trembling hands as she attended to a couple who had just walked in.

"We need three of this and two of that", the male half of the couple said, indicating the prescription he handed over to Mrs.Chemist.

"These are antibiotics. I can only give you the exact prescribed number. Did the doctor ask you to get these?"

"No, that was the old doctor, but tomorrow we will take him to a new doctor, but now we need these. Three of this and two of that."

It was probably my fever, but I thought something was missing in the reasoning supplied.
Ours is not to question why, I muttered under my breath and tapped on the counter to indicate that I was indeed ready to make my purchase. The lady ambled over.

"Oh, yes." Pause. "Hmmm... I don't know the price of this model... I'll just call and find out."
By this time, my fever seemed to be in the red zone, and I was, understandably, at the end of my tether. "Can you please hurry?" I hissed, clutching the counter for support.

"DO YOU HAVE KEROSENE?" a voice roared from a point above and behind me. All eyes in the shop turned to the owner of the roar - a huge, middle-aged chap who looked like he had walked into medical stores and walked out with kerosene all the time.

"....kerosene?" Mrs.Chemist repeated in a small voice.

"NO, NO, Ka-ROSIN!"

"Ohhh.... Crocin!"

"YES, YES. SYRUP. FAAR MY FIVE-YEAR-OLD SON!"

I was by now rather far gone. I mumbled a protest to the lady, an act I would have considered suicidal under normal circumstances. Decapitation would be an easier death as compared to cooking at the counter.

"Er....the price?" I mumbled.

Eventually, handing the chap the bottle, the lady turned to the phone. After exchanging pleasantries, she got to the meat of the matter.

"So what is the price of this digital thermometer?" Pause. "The company is...." she flipped over the package, "...digital...thermometer."

"THIS IS FOR CHILDRAAN FRAAM ONE TO FOUR YEARS! MY BOY IS FAAIVE YEARS OLD!"

I winced. Amazing, the way nature allows such creatures to reproduce. The lady, however, was more tolerant.

"See, this is generally meant for children. It would be a mild dose for your child."

She got back to the phone while the huge guy pondered this, staring at the bottle.

"No, that is the company. Digital thermometer. There is nothing else on the cover."

"IT DOES NAAT HAVE PARACETAMOL!"

I had a feeling that she was beginning to lose it, too, with this guy. But she preserved an outward calm. Probably one of the things that are taught in the phamracy courses. "No, see? There you are. Under 'contents'. Paracetamol, see?"

My knees had started to buckle. What a way to die, I thought. Survive a crash on the bike at 80 kmph, and then die at the counter of a chemist, delayed by inane conversation. Not unlike that chap Humayun who fought endless battles and then broke his neck when he slipped on his library steps. I remembered reading about it at school and the first thought that occurred was that it was an awful way to be remembered.

"....and sixty rupees."

The mist cleared. I found the lady was trying to tell me something.

"Sorry?"

"Two hundred and sixty rupees."

Highway robbery, but I hardly had a choice. Paid up the amount, staggered out.

The next thing I remember was reading a hundred and three on my thermometer. Survived to tell the tale, though. Evidently.