One day in Madras

“A North Indian family that I know is coming to Chennai tomorrow. Their train is coming in at ten in the morning and they have until about 8 in the night. They want to see Chennai. Suggest some places, no?”
It is always a welcome distraction — questions like this from a colleague — on a Thursday afternoon when, as most Thursdays go, the morning has been less than, er, good. More onThursdays at a later point in time perhaps. Back to the now. The Thursday afternoon, I mean.

“Dai! That’s hardly 10 hours! What do they expect to see?”
“Can you tell me or should I ask someone else?”

The old pride was wounded. A consummate Chennaivasi (for all you millenials out there; Madrasi for all of you, Anna Nagar and north), is a creature of supreme pride in the city of Chennai (formerly, and probably still should be, known as Madras). He/ she is also a creature of an thin film of sweat on the person at all times but let’s not get into the metaphysical definition here.
Being one of the aforementioned species of Madrasis, I was half tempted to say, ”Take them to Sowcarpet; it’ll be like they never left home. Ha!” However, the threat of “asking someone else” loomed large and, hey, one must be of service when one can, what? Thus began the plan of a day in Madras.

“They come in at 10 AM. Right. So, breakfast then. Ratna Cafe. Perfect. Central Station to Triplicane (Thiruvallikeni, if you are so inclined) is not that far. Plus, there is sambhar in jugs. That is what they are known for” (Notice the ‘h’)
“Wait, what?! Sambhar in jugs, ah?” (Again, notice the ‘h’; we are hip like that.)
“Yes.” (Mild pride.)
“So, will they give only the sambhar or will it come with idli or dosai as well?” (Sly.)
“Well, generally, they charge for the idlis but if your salary is delayed, you could possibly go just for the sambhar.” (Ha!)

“Anyway, Ratna Cafe. Breakfast. Set. Next, Parthasarathy temple. Right next to Ratna Cafe only. Not too far. Coming all the way here. Might as well get some prasadam, I mean, punyam. But prasadam is quite good. So, would not necessarily not go for that. If you know what I mean”
I was met with a not-too-amused look. Ha! These non-Madras types. Don’t get the humour only.
“Anyway, the temple closes by noon, I think, so, they should be just in time.”
“OK. Then?!”

“Then, Marina beach. Noon sun. Good sunbathing. No, wait.”  (snigger)
“More seriously, Tere mere beach mein…” (more snigger)
“Dai nonsense!”
 “Alright alright. No beach. Too hot. No lighthouse also. That also too hot. Best. Santhome Basilica. It is old. It is historic. Most importantly, it will also be cool. “
“Right. Seems fair.”
“So, by the time they are done with this, time for lunch. Let’s see. Madras. Lunch. Definitely elai-saapaadu. Santhome, no? So, nearby… Yes. Cathedral Road. So, Saravana Bhavan or Woodlands. Although Woodlands, strictly, is Udupi but still it is a cult of Madras so, I guess that is acceptable. However, be warned. These are both light ah fraud elai-saapaadu. Because, well, technically, you do eat on an elai (banana leaf) but that is placed inside a steel plate. But then again, speaking most technically, it is indeed an elai so, we’re good there.”
“Are you done?”
“Not really; I do have strong feelings about leaves on steel plates masquerading as the real thing but I am guessing, from the look on your face, that you are not really interested in my opinion. So, final decision: Saravana Bhavan. Lunch. Full meals.” (Satisfied look on face; not unlike the look one has after demolishing a full meal)

“OK. So, it will become 2 by the time they have eaten. Let me get this straight. They have been in Chennai for a whole 4 hours and what they have done is this — drink sambhar, eat prasadam, eat lunch, and in between these meals, visited a temple that may or may not be open, and an age old basilica to keep cool.”

Uncalled for. Pride hurt. Yet, one must soldier on. Time to step it up a gear.

“Fine. Be that way. I will continue. Afternoon. Too hot to do anything outdoor. Semmozhi poonga perhaps. If any outdoor place is mildly tolerable, it should be this but then again, no outdoor. Ah! Best. Sathyam theatre. Middle of the week. Afternoon show. Ten rupee ticket also should be available. Tamil movie.”
“Alright. No movie then. Egmore Museum?”
Quizzical look.
“Birla Planetarium?”
Menacing look.
“Cafe Coffee Day?”
Murderous look.
“What? Did you know that there is a Cafe Coffee Day in Prague’s oldest station? No? Don’t care. Alright. Let me think, then. Fort St. George. History of Madras and all that. Done.”
“That is probably the first decent suggestion I have heard from you all day.”
“That’s probably because you are not listening properly. All my suggestions are excellent. Ha! Besides, what I actually wanted to suggest was that Agarwal chaat place in Parry’s but, er, thought better of it and stopped a couple of kilometres short of it.”

“Anyway, that should take take care of the afternoon. They should be done by 4:30 or so. Even if they are not, well, they’ll probably shut the museum and they’ll have to be done, anyway.” (Snigger)
Clearly, slapstick comedy is not appreciated. Sigh.
“OK then. They still have about two and a half hours. What next?”
“Marina beach. Bajji! Always. No, wait. On the way, evening coffee needs to be put. Since they are in the vicinity, they might as well go to Ratna Cafe. And while they’re at it, slyly put a couple of idlis as well, what? No? Idli only once a day? Have it your way. Only coffee. Then beach. Then bajji. I would still have had the idli but, well, suit yourself.”

I could see that there was much grimacing. Finally words emanated.

“Right. Marina beach. They will do the gun shooting and the sundry. And yes. Don’t remind me. THEY WILL EAT BAJJI. Then what?”
“Well, it will probably be time for them to traverse the city and go to Egmore station. They might just have time to slip in a dinner at Mathsya.”
“Right. Because they will be famished, no?”
“Well, I am not so sure of that but they need one for the road, no? Or, in this case, one for the tracks.” (Snigger)

“Of course, they will. Well, thank you so much for all that. I shall keep that in mind.”
“No, you need do no such thing. Here, this is for you.”

Unbeknownst to him, when he was grimacing and sighing and doing all of that, I had put the entire itinerary neatly on a piece of paper. I handed this to him with a flourish.
It was still Thursday afternoon but at least I had that good-samaritan-glow on me — the one that comes when one does a good turn for a fellow human.

It was Thursday evening. I was still pretty pleased as punch. After all, it is not everyday that one does not necessarily get to plan a family’s day-long itinerary, carefully craft it on a piece of paper and hand it over in the knowledge that the aforesaid artefact would be duly handed over to the tourists. I found a piece of paper that looked strikingly similar to the artefact in question. It was crumpled and on the floor. Men of weaker constitutions might well have despaired. I simply took one look at it, and headed off to Ratna Cafe. The evening sambhar actually is better than the morning sambhar is my theory, and the proof of the sambhar, as they say, is in the jugging. Or is that chugging?

“Vishwaroopam is only a trailer”

‘Vishwaroopam is not a movie at all. It is merely a trailer.’ This was the startling revelation, by a group of hoax slayers calling themselves The Grand Hoax Slayers Organization.

The spokesperson, Mr. Guna, said, ‘The whole thing is one big hoax perpetrated by Mr. Kamal Haasan  to keep his fans happy. It is a universal hoax; a grand larceny even.’ He continued, ‘see, the thing is quite clear, actually. We first heard of this mega movie of Mr. Haasan, Vishwaroopam, some time a couple of years ago. This came hot on the heels of two big mega movies called Marudhanayagam and Marmayogi that never were, as well. So, we here at the The Grand Hoax Slayers Organization were naturally piqued.

‘Upon digging deeper, we found that perhaps our fears were unfounded as we saw Vishwaroopam posters periodically but then again, this being Mr. Haasan, we were still very ginger. Then came the trailer with all the dancing and the bullets and we  really thought that a corner had been turned. We saw trailer 2 and more and more of our fears were allayed.

‘However, then came the whole skype-based trailer. That jump at the beginning of the video itself set all alarm bells ringing. That, along with the familiar thooya-tamil-in-New-Jersey-accent claims of Auro 3-D really set the cat amongst the pigeons for us. Then came the video of the making of the trailer. Very soon, there was one trailer of making as well.

“Once all this business was over, he then came up with this whole DTH business where he ruffled more than a few feathers. In retrospect, looking at how it played out, we believe that is was all stage-managed. There was no tie-up with DTH or anyone else. Once that had dies down, the first proposed release date had come and gone.

‘Now, people wanted to see the film and when the next release date loomed, the other controversy came up and now, the release has be re-postponed. Now, once is OK. Twice is acceptable but thrice? We smell a hoax. We believe that Mr. Haasan is strongly yearning for a hat-trick after the successful hoaxes that were Marudanayakam and Marmayogi (that filler – movie where the highlight was the popcorn at the interval – Manmadhan Ambu is not to be counted).

‘Seeing the trailer, we now know that Mr. Haasan is both a hero and a villain and that everyone in the movie has a double role. If you carefully look, the first trailer focussed more on the ‘hero’ Kamal Haasan and the second on the villain. The double role is thus justified. So too, the hero and villain part. 

‘Having seen all this conclusive evidence, all we can say that Vishwaroopam is nothing but a trailer and we at The Grand Hoax Slayers Organization have successfully slayed yet another hoax. On top of this, Mr. Haasan says that he has already started work on Vishwaroopam 2 as well. Ha!’

When Mr. Haasan was approached for comment, he said that he was considering renaming the film ‘summa.’

The water cooler is broken

The water cooler at the office is broken. It’s a sweltering 100 degrees outside. Damn. The cooler is still in one piece, if that’s what you’re asking. Quite simply, it does not dispense cold water. In that sense, it’s broken. No one seems to be bothered. Idiots!

Do I walk over to the next floor every time I want a drink of cold water? Not on your life. I am, of course, a man of action. I shall go and find someone to fix it. I send out an e-mail asking if anyone knows who I should contact. No reply. Morons! I call up security. Apparently, I need to file a complaint with the housekeeping department. Off I go.

I wait for the elevator. That’s probably the most counter-productive activity that employees engage in; waiting for the elevator. I twiddle my thumbs. I look up; I look down. I look sideways. No sign of the elevator. I look straight ahead. I haven’t pressed the button to call the elevator. Damn! I press the button. I look sideways. I look up; I look down. I look behind. God damn! It’s her! The one girl, in the presence of whom, I cannot bring myself to utter one coherent sentence. Of course, it makes it all the more stupid that she’s the one I fancy. Too many times have I been tongue tied. She probably thinks I’m an ass. Perhaps not. I shall take no chances.

I look to the left. Nothing. I look to the right. Photocopier room! Thank you, God! I get in. I close the door but leave it ajar. I look through the crack. She’s headed straight to me! Damn! Confined space. Nowhere to hide. Think! Think, damn it! Think! Too late. She’s come inside. Quick. Turn to the photocopier. Act busy. Well done. No wait. I have nothing to photocopy. Quick! Take the first thing that comes into your hand. A blank paper! Capital! Start the infernal machine already! Done. So I’m photocopying blank sheets. Brilliant!


Don’t turn around. It’s probably a figment of your imagination.


Most definitely not. She’s there and she’s seen you. Be cool. Cool as a freaking cucumber. Who made that phrase anyway? I turn. There’s no turning back now. God damn! I just realized. I have the photocopied blank sheet in my hand. And my hand is frozen. I can’t even hide it. Busted!

She smiles. That giggle! Congratulations, mate! You just moved from ‘ass’ to ‘the most idiotic moronic ass. Ever.’ Damage control time. Run!

Phew! Great escape. Oh God, no! The elevator door just closed. I just missed it. Useless! Do I wait? Can I risk it? One quick look taken at the photocopier room. She’s there. Damage control mode still activated. Run! SIX FLIGHTS OF STAIRS? Are you insane?! Answer: Yes. Johnny Walker. Keep walking. I walk. Six flights.

Housekeeping Department. Finally! Go in. You know that satisfaction that you get when you can see your target right there? Well, I don’t. The God damn thing is closed! God damn! Turn back. Go toward the elevator. Press the button. Ha! At least I’m not stupid. No, wait. What now? You have got to be kidding me! Fire drill in Building B and hence no elevators in buildings A and B work? Really? Where is the logic in that? Morons!

Blackberry beeping. The boss. ‘I want to meet you. Take your time but be at my desk in 3 minutes.’ Not all that bad. I can hitch a few minutes. Wait. Blackberry beeping. ‘Or consider finding another job.’ SIX FREAKING FLIGHTS OF STAIRS! Run! I’m running. One. Two. Five. Six. Made it! Phew! Quick check of the watch. Two minutes. Not bad. Not bad at all. Well done. Fish in right pocket. Fish in left pocket. Fish in suit pocket. God damn! No key card. God damn!

Perhaps I should consider that sound word of advice. Is my resume even current? Do I even have a resume? Damn! No, wait. Sliver of light. Try the door. It’s unlocked. The key card was not needed at all. Idiot! Run! Run past desk. Run to the end of the corridor. ‘Boss?’ Where is he? Well within 3 minutes. He’s not here?! I ran up SIX FREAKING GOD DAMN FLIGHTS OF STAIRS!

No, wait. Fish in pocket. Blackberry has flashed. I was too busy to notice. ‘Nothing urgent. Sorry for the trouble. Leaving for home. Will meet tomorrow.’ I’d rather not say the vocabulary building up in my mind at the moment. On the bright side, at least I don’t have to make a resume. Hold that thought. Might be good to keep one ready just in case.

Walk back to the desk. Switch on the computer. Message. ‘Since you left your computer unlocked and went outside your work area, the IT team has had to lock it for the time being. Please come to the IT department to unlock your account. The IT department is situated on the 19th floor. SEVEN FREAKING FLIGHTS OF STAIRS! God damn!

I need a drink. A stiff one. Wait. This is the office. No booze. Who came up with that idea, anyway? Idiots! Well, the next best thing. Walk to the cooler. Press the button. Aah! Water. Wait. Hold that thought.  I forgot. No cold water. God damn. Could something else go wrong? No way.

Hold that thought. I think I just saw her and she’s headed to the water cooler.

God damn.


‘Sir, orey prachanai sir.’
‘Yenna sir ungalukke prachanai?’
‘Ellam PINnale thaan sir.’
‘Pinnale ya? You mean backside le problem?’
‘Ada ille sir, neenga vere!’
‘Oh! Appona safety oosi aa?’
‘Sir! Comedy pannathenga sir!’
‘Pinne yenna thaan sir unga problem?’
‘Ellam PINnale thaan sir.’
‘Sir! Ippo neenga comedy pannathenga sir. Prachanaiye sollunga.’
‘Sir, intha ATM PIN nale thaan sir prachanai.’
‘Oh ho! Athu thaan “PINnale prachanai” nnu sonnengala. Right right. Ippo sollunga sir, PINnale ungalukku yenna prachanai.’
‘Ellam munaale ye vandha prachanai thaan sir.’
‘Sir! Kozhapaadhenga sir. Munaale prachanai aa PINnale prachanai aa?’
‘Sir! PINnale thaan sir prachanai but munaaleye vandha prachanai sir.’
‘Oh! munaale PINnale prachaney vandhurukko?’
‘Ada aaman sir! Orey prachanai thaan sir PINnale.’
‘Appo munaale?’
‘Munaaleyum ithe PINnale thaan sir prachanai.’
‘Oh ho! Seri PINnale yenna prachanai?’
‘Card blocked sir.’
‘Pinnale ?’
‘Aaman sir! PINnale thaan.’
‘Sir! Comedy pannathenga sir. I mean athukku pinnale?’
‘Athukku pinnale avala thaan sir.’
‘Appo athukku munaale?’
‘Yenna sir! Athukku munaale prachanai ille. Pinnale thaan prachanai.’
‘Sir! Munaaleyum intha PINnaale prachanai na, PINne maatha vendiyathu thane, sir?!’
‘Sir! Neenga vere! PINne maathinaa apparam vere PINnale prachanai varum sir! Oru PINnale prachanaiye porum sir!’
‘Sir! Aanalum neenga PINne maathirukkanom sir!’
‘Aaman sir. PINne pinnale maathikallamnu vitten sir.’
‘Sir! Yenna sir! Munneye PINne maathanomnnu theriyadhu?’
‘Sir! Athey thaan sir pinnale paathukkalaamnu vitten sir.’
‘Seri vidunga. Ippo yenna prachanai?’
‘Athey thaan sir. Munaale PINnale vandha prachanai. PINne thappa potten sir.’
‘Oh ho! Appo munne correctaa pottengalaa?’
‘Munne correctaa potten sir. But PINne pinne thappa pottadhu naale thaan sir intha prachanai.’
‘Seri, munaale PINnale nadandathey vidunga. Ippo yenna panna porenga?’
‘Munnadi yenna panneno athey thaan sir munaaleyum panna pogaren.’
‘Seri! Munnadi yenna pannenga?’
‘Munnadi phone panni unblock pannen sir.’
‘Seri, pinne atheye panna vendiyathu thaane?’
‘Athey pannarathukku thaan ATMkku pinnale poindhen but minaale neenga vandhenga so unga kitte pesinathukku pinnale panikkalamnu vitten.’
‘I am extremely sorry sir! Munne-pinne theriyathu ungalle aana neenga unga PINkku pinnale ulla kadahiye yen kitte sonnenga … Unmayaave indha ulagathukku oru munudhaaranam aiteenga sir! Unga avasaram theriyam unga minaale vandhu unga time waste panniten. Neenga munaadi poiy pinaadi aaga vendiya velaiye paarunga.’
‘Pinnale athey thaan sir panna poren. Appo naan varen.’
‘Right sir, all the best! Innimey intha maadri PINnale prachanai varaame paathukonga sir’

Footnote: This idea struck me when Jaga called me up last night and said that his PIN got blocked. Suddenly, there was potential for a crazy-ism on the lines of the Panchathantiram one. I must point out that I was helped, in no small measure, by Jaga. So if you liked it, the credit is as much his as it is mine. And if rotten eggs and tomatoes are the order of the day, then we shall take it together. Of course, I will let him stand in front of me. Nanben da!

It’s a watercooler wonder!

There are places at your workplace. There are your desks. There are lobbies with sofas. There are places where you sit and read the newspaper. There are loos. There are smoking zones. There are coffee machines. And then there is the water cooler. A place that is frequented by just about every employee and is yet one of those non descript places that is just there. It’s one of those places that, if it is there, you wouldn’t give it a second glance (well, unless you want to drink water, or there is a good looking girl standing there) but if it is absent, you will notice it’s absence. Yet, the water-cooler has this wonderfully magnetic personality. Every time you pass by it, it draws you toward it. Somehow, your throat gets dry and you are desperately in need of a small sip of water. Mystic.

The water cooler is also one of the most interesting places on the entire campus to look at human behaviour. It evokes such oddity in human behaviour that it’s absolutely astounding to behold. Normally rational and sane people, people who are part of a species, 70% of whose body is made up of water, would exhibit such erratic behaviour when in presence of the water cooler. Allow me to illustrate:

The residue removal syndrome

Ever go to a water cooler and wait for your turn? Well, if the answer is yes, chances are that you have witnessed people with or yourself are affected by the residue removal syndrome. There is usually a common glass that people use to drink water. Now you see the guy in front using the glass to drink water. You see clear daylight between the cup and the lip. There can be no slip. He drinks water, finishes his turn and hands over the glass to you. You smile politely, thank him and take the glass only to find that there is a little amount of water left in it. Now you have witnessed him drinking water and he hasn’t dropped dead. So, it’s safe to assume that the water is indeed safe for consumption. Yet, the small residue that remains in the glass is deemed unfit for consumption. No reason. It just is.
So you swirl it around to check for sediments, traces of arsenic, strands of algae, left over copper filings and all related material. You are not likely to find any anyway. You make sure, just in case, and satisfy yourself that the water is indeed clean. And then what do you do? Simple. You pour the contents out. Then you flip the switch to re-fill your glass and drink it. The residue removal syndrome claims another victim. Scientists have tried to work out the rationale behind this but have thus far reached no consensus. The possible causes have been cited to be stupidness, idiocy, bone-headedness and as one scientist puts it, ‘People! Pffft!’
The less enlightened among us say, ‘It’s a water cooler wonder!’

The food court cooler

At my workplace, there are water-coolers at the food court. Now, since the population is much higher in the food court (during meal times mostly but also at other times – after all, it is an IT company with the concept of a ‘bench’), the arrangement is slightly different. There are many glasses that are kept to prevent a long queue. Now the arrangement of these glasses is an interesting one. The glasses are kept on a two-tiered shelf. The bottom one has upturned glasses. These are the ‘fresh’ and ‘clean’ ones. They’re replaced periodically, as soon as the supply gets exhausted. Then, there is the other tier. The ‘unholy’ tier; where the ‘used’ glasses are placed, face up.
Now, people follow the following sequence:
1. Take a glass (an upturned one).
2. Proceed to the cooler (located 2 steps away)
3. Check for any impurities in the glass.
4. Satisfy yourself that there are none. In case there are, convince yourself that there are none.
5. Fill the glass with water up to the desired level.
6. Drink water.
7. Keep the glass on the ‘used’ shelf with the rim facing upwards to indicate that it has been used.
8. Walk away.

This is a sequence that is fairly common and requires little or no amount of dexterity, apart from quick thinking-on-the-feet ability and extreme decision making abilities to convince yourself that the glass is indeed clean. (Legend has it that the greatest managers of our generation have honed their decision making skills in the vicinity of a water-cooler. In fact, the famous One Minute Manager is rumored to be an extension of the water cooler management principle.) Retrace to step 6. Studies show that about 90% of the people who drink water from the cooler have a clear one foot cup-lip distance. There is no salival exchange between the living being and the cup. Yet, these glasses are considered ‘used’ and not deemed fit for future consumption. Why? Well, it’s a water cooler wonder!
<Addendum: If you try and reverse the trend by actually upturning a ‘used’ glass that is not really used, and try and put it back in the fresh glasses tier, the looks you receive are akin to the looks that a person gets when he goes to an agraharam in Kumbakonam and asks for chicken biryani.>


Yesterday’s water
One in every two employees has his own personal water bottle that he keeps at his desk. This water bottle is the subject of the incredible phenomenon of ‘yesterday’s water’. What is this? Allow me to explain.
The man walks in to the office, switches on his computer and while waiting for the system to start, goes out to refill his bottle. Ordinarily, a simple press of the switch to fill the remainder of the bottle would suffice ( research of course proves that 97% of all water bottles in an office have water left at the end of the day). But no. The water that remains must be decanted. The reason: ‘It’s yesterday’s water. It’s not fresh.’

I would like to take time out to explain the complex phenomenon that is, the water supply system: The water is present in a reservoir. This gets supplied to buildings where it is stored in tanks. It is from these that they find their way into the water cooler. It is indeed true that there is fresh water supply everyday but that does not mean that the tank is emptied every night because it contains ‘yesterday’s water.’ Home truth: The water that you fill from the water cooler is NOT today’s water. Repeat, NOT. The water may contain traces of water that might be days, weeks or even months old. What is then the reason is for disposing of ‘yesterday’s water’? Well, It’s a water-cooler wonder!