Archive for July, 2008

Because this deserves a blog post…

I was just watching the AFC Challenge Cup game between India and Afghanistan. Not by design, merely by accident. But anyway, when I put it on, 89 minutes were already over and the match was heading into injury time (3 minutes) with the score at 0-0. This was apparently the 60th anniversary of the Indian football team and the commentators were dismayed that India couldn’t win to mark the occasion. Almost everyone had resigned themselves to the fact that this match would end as a bore draw. The coach Bob Houghton was asleep in the dug-out.

And then, in the 92nd minute, India threw everyone forward in one final attack at the Afghan goal. To the utter shock of everyone, including the coach (who had woken up), the players managed to string a few passes together and somehow get the ball in to the opposite D. After some goalmouth confusion, an Indian midfielder drove the ball into an empty net to score the match-winning goal with virtually the last kick of the game. It was over!! India had won the game in the final minute!!

That midfielder was this guy:

And his name, his ACTUAL name, (I swear I’m not kidding, this IS his REAL name) was: “CLIMAX Lawrence”!!



July 30, 2008 at 8:48 pm 31 comments

France ’98, Chewing Gum and DB10

The summer of 1998 changed my life.

Until that point in time, I was only vaguely acquainted with the beautiful game. I had watched bits and pieces of the 1994 World Cup, but with very little involvement, as I wasn’t familiar with any of the players or teams. The first time I watched football over a sustained period of time was two years later, during Euro ’96. The packed stadiums, the noisy fans and above all else, the heart-pounding, non-stop action (completely alien to someone who had grown up on cricket!) captured my young imagination.

At that time, the country’s leading sports magazine, ‘The Sportstar’, devoted a mere two pages, and sometimes not even that, to the world’s most popular sport. A column by Brian Glanville, or just a round up of the developments in the footballing world, usually restricted to England. Every week, as soon as I got my hands on the new issue, I would search out and feverishly devour those two pages, and then go on to spend the rest of the week thinking about what I’d read.

It was in one of those weekly doses of football news, at the beginning of the summer of ’98, that I read about how Arsenal, the challengers, under their sophisticated French manager Arsene Wenger (was the club named after him, I wondered, at the time) had dethroned the two time defending champions Manchester United, led by the ebullient Scot, Alex Ferguson and clinched the English Premier League title. I was a neutral then, and so this underdog victory thrilled me to bits. But I haven’t been a neutral ever since.

That was the singularity, the Big Bang, and after that, the football universe just exploded into life inside my head. ‘The Sportstar’ suddenly started running World Cup special issues to lead up to the footballing extravaganza that was to take place in France later that summer – The Holy Grail itself, the FIFA World Cup, dubbed France ‘98. After a few weeks of committed reading, I knew everything there was to know about the tournament – the teams, the managers, the superstars waiting to be crowned, the young turks looking to make an impression, the schedule, the venues, everything. I was ready for kick-off.

At the same time, a chewing gum company was running a World Cup related promotion, offering a free football card with every wad of a certain gum purchased. I spent a lot of time chewing gum that summer and soon, I had amassed 46 out of the 50 cards that were available for collection. On the front, there was the player’s image, and on the back, some information about him – his nationality, club, position, etc. I would gaze longingly at the images and then flip over the cards to read the names of the great clubs these superstars played for – Inter Milan, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Ajax – legendary names, with magnificent histories behind them.

Though I can’t find any of those cards now, the images printed on them will forever be embossed on my brain – Ronaldo was muscling his way through some hapless defence, Shearer had just given the ball a frightful thwack, Zidane was snarling away at some unfortunate soul and Schmeichel was screaming instructions at his defenders, his face contorted with rage. I was completely obsessed, staring at the cards for hours, weaving wondrous stories around these static but immortal images. However, even in the set, I had a few cards that I liked more than the others, and one in particular that I treasured over the rest of them. It featured a slightly built, blond Dutchman wearing a red and white shirt that said JVC on it. His name was Dennis Bergkamp.

The moment I flipped the Bergkamp card over, and found out that the club he played for was Arsenal; I think that’s when the real connection took place. I don’t quite remember whether I liked him because of the club or if my love for the club grew because of him, but either way, supporting any other club was absolutely out of the question now. France ‘98 finally kicked off, and I was overjoyed when the players I’d been seeing on cards all summer, suddenly appeared on my TV screen in the flesh, running around and kicking the ball. It was a thrill like nothing I’d ever felt before. Though all of the players excited me, the one player I looked forward to watching the most was the one on my favourite card – the peerless Bergkamp.

My admiration for the icy-cool assassin in orange rose to astronomical levels as the tournament progressed. His skill, elegance and intelligence captivated me, and in the dying minutes of the quarterfinal against Argentina, when he scored THAT goal, controlling the ball with ease, taking it inside Ayala and slotting it past Roa, I was up on my feet, clapping and screaming. For a player, to do that was difficult enough, but to do it at that crucial moment, at the business end of a knockout game in the world’s biggest tournament, that is the stuff schoolboy dreams are made of. And I was celebrating not only for the Netherlands that day, but also for Arsenal the following season. “We’ve Got Dennis Bergkamp, We’ve Got Dennis Bergkamp,” the Arsenal faithful would chant, for 11 glorious years.

For the Netherlands, he may have been Dennis Bergkamp, but for Arsenal, he was simply DB10. Blessed with quick feet, supernatural vision and exquisite technique, DB10 was Arsene Wenger’s template for the Arsenal teams he has built over the years. There was nothing he could not do on the football pitch – the little dinks, the eye-of-the-needle Hollywood passes, the curlers, the rockets, the tap-ins and the UNDESCRIBABLY BRILLIANT. And of course, as far as I was concerned, DB10 was the very foundation of my relationship with Arsenal. So it was that much more emotional for me when it was announced that the 2005-06 season would be his last, that he would be retiring from the game at the end of it. I just couldn’t believe that DB10 would be no more. 

In mid-2006, he finally packed his bags and left for home, to enjoy the pleasures of retirement, bringing to an end one of the most glorious chapters in Arsenal’s history, not just in terms of trophies won but also in terms of the football that was played. He may be gone now, never again to wear the famous red and white, but one thing is for certain. For Arsenal fans the world over, especially this one in Chennai, DB10 will live forever.

July 26, 2008 at 10:37 am 33 comments

One of the mistakes of my life?

Whenever I tell people I’m a research analyst in an equity research firm, they always react the same way: “Oh boy! That sounds really complicated, and tremendously boring!” And I tell them they’re right. It is all of that, except I prefer to describe it the way I do on my resume – challenging. On a typical office day, I’m sitting at my desk, in my cubicle, staring intently at my monitor and trying to solve important problems, such as: “Is that really the current worth of my portfolio? #$%@!” and “How the hell can I beat Australia in this stick cricket game?”

This is immensely challenging work, and I feel I’m grossly underpaid for doing it. Plus, with the Indian stock market behaving the way it has been this year, I really could use a little extra money. So I’ve decided to write a best-selling novel.

I’ve wanted to write a book ever since I was eleven, when I read Nancy Friday’s soul-stirring ‘Women on Top’. However, I haven’t seriously considered it until now, mainly because, deep down, I’ve always known that I’d never be as good a writer as any of those women. But recently, after reading about how Chetan Bhagat’s books sell 10 gazillion copies every minute, I’ve realized that a chronic inability to write well, make sense and positively impact the emotions of your readers is no longer a road block to becoming a successful novelist.

My book will be targeted at the youth of India, because the old can’t read any more and the little ones prefer Nickelodeon. It’s titled ‘One Night @ The Staff Quarters, Who Not To Do at IIM’, and it’s guaranteed to sell at least 44 billion copies, because I’m hoping all the IIM alumni, current students and aspirants buy it. I never went to an IIM myself, but I don’t see how that makes a difference to anything. Tolkien never battled any Orcs.

I also realize that the key to the success of my novel is word-of-mouth publicity. I don’t know what that word is yet, but I’m desperately hoping to figure it out by the time I’m done. Here’s what I have so far:

Chapter One

Hi, my name is Karan Malhotra. I’m an average guy. Not mean, but average. I have no outstanding qualities whatsoever. I’m neither a complete loser like my best friend Jimmy Cliff nor an uber-cool stud with an attitude problem like my other best friend Jalaluddin Akbar. In short, I am average. The three of us are the best of friends and, by some weird coincidence, named after the lead male characters in the last three Bollywood movies our author saw. All three of us are students at the greatest b-school in the world.

Now, the three of us will have some typical Indian Youth-y conversation.

Chapter Two

“Hi! Are you students here?” said the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was extremely pretty, and all three of us could immediately sense that she would be the lead female character in this novel.

“My name is Sophia,” she said.

I was in love. It felt like destiny that we should meet. I know I don’t know her all that well yet, but time is of the essence. There are only so many pages that can be printed for Rs. 95.

“Get inside the class! I’m your Management Accounting teacher,” she said, “and you have a surprise test right now.”

“Holy Cow!!” Akbar exclaimed, looking at me. “This is going to be a very big problem when you two have sex in Chapter 15!”

Chapter Seven

“This is incredible!!” exclaimed Jimmy. “I just cannot believe it! Just cannot!” he added, because most of India’s youth don’t know the meaning of ‘incredible’.

“What’s incredible?” asked Sophia. “The fact that in spite of being your teacher and possessing ravishing beauty, I still choose to always hang out with you idiots?”

“That’s a good point, but not what Jimmy was referring to,” said Akbar, because being best friends, the three of us always knew exactly what each other meant to say. It’s like an unspoken bond that goes unsaid.

“What is it, then?” asked Sophia, her beautiful face contorted with excitement and curiosity, which made her cuter in my hopelessly lovelorn eyes.

“The fact that after six inane chapters, people are still reading this piece of shit,” I completed.

Chapter Fifteen

“IT’S FINALLY HERE!!!” I yelled, “The part we’ve all been waiting for!! WOO HOO!!”

“You mean the part YOU have been waiting for?” said Jimmy, frowning at me with hatred, “We’re going to be stuck in our rooms, mugging for tomorrow’s mid-term.”

“Yeah, what do we have to gain from this chapter??” added Akbar, “we hardly even figure in it. It’s always only about you, Karan, isn’t it?”

“Guys,” I paused for dramatic effect. “Is this the part in the story where tension drives us apart for a while?”

“My God, this book is lame…” said Jimmy.

Just then, the earthquake struck.

Chapter Sixteen

“That was too close for comfort!” remarked Sophia. “Fortunately, the quake didn’t prevent us from having sex.’”

“Yeah, and the Academic Block got destroyed too. So I won’t have my mid-terms tomorrow! This quake was a God send!!”

To my surprise, Sophia looked surprised, “Yeah, but what about Akbar? He was injured in the quake, wasn’t he? Aren’t you worried about him?”

“Not until the next chapter,” I replied.

Chapter Eighteen

Now that the intercourse was over, I missed my two best friends. And when I found out, from other people, that Akbar still hadn’t been discharged from the hospital, I started getting worried.

That’s all I have so far. I’m itching to finish it, but with no publishing advance in sight yet, I can only work part-time for the time being. And there is plenty of challenging work to be done in the office. The market may be up today, but Australia is not going to beat itself, you know.

July 23, 2008 at 6:58 am 84 comments

Who will watch the watchmen?

As a blogger with his finger on the pulse of the nation, I was first going to write a post about how the proposed Indo-U.S. Nuclear Deal, or the ‘123 agreement’ will affect each Indian on a personal level, but then it occurred to me that I really don’t have the faintest idea. So instead I’m going to focus on the other problem that has been troubling me for the last few days – the psycho killer on the loose in Chennai.

If you’re a normal human being, or even an abnormally well-trained dog, then you probably just pick up the newspaper every morning and turn straight to the sports page, and then pick up the supplement to check the movie listings. So there’s a good chance you’ve missed this spine-chilling story. So here it is, in brief: There is a ‘psycho’ killer on the loose in parts of Chennai (Vadapalani, K.K. Nagar and Ashok Nagar) and he has committed as many as 9 murders in a span of 23 days, the latest victim a 45-year old watchman named Basha who was burnt alive after first having his head smashed in with a large stone. Gulp.

The poor man, who had signed up for the job only the previous day, had been hard at work, using the traditional watchman tactics for scaring away burglars – Heavy Drinking and Loud Snoring, when this ‘psycho’ killer apparently attacked. Over the last month, other watchmen, an auto driver, and a rag picker have suffered similarly morbid deaths involving giant stones and forced immolation. So the result is that the areas in question now have no watchmen, no auto-drivers and no rag pickers. All of this has lead to increased overall safety in the locality, sending rents and house prices rocketing up. This is turning out to be extremely bad news for anyone hoping to buy property there. So, obviously, something needs to be done about it, and fast.

Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha. Just a bit of highly insensitive humour to defuse the tension of the situation. Sorry. But all kidding aside, this is a really terrifying situation for a lot of people. How serious is this problem really? What are the police doing? These are probably the questions running through your head right now. The answer to the first one is: Very serious. Definitely not more serious than the SRK-Sallu spat at Kat’s birthday bash, but still reasonably serious. People have actually lost lives here. The second question was conveniently posed to the city’s Police Commissioner Mr. R. Sekar recently, who replied: “We enquired those persons who sleeping on the pavement”, proving that the police are indeed hard at work on this case, leaving them with no time to check their statements for grammar.

Now, I don’t know how to feel about this whole situation as I’ve never really cared too much for watchmen. Take the one in my own apartment, for example. I’m not completely sure yet whether he’s in full working order. For starters, he’s about 110 years old. When we first saw him, we thought he was extremely brave, purely on the basis of the fact that he had slanty eyes, like a Gurkha. It later turned out his name was Arumugam and he was actually from Coimbatore. His eyes had looked like that because he’d been half-asleep during the interview. And at first we had taken the absence of any meaningful response to our queries to imply a lack of understanding of Tamil, but have since realized he is almost completely deaf.

In fact, Arumugam still doesn’t even recognize me most of the time. He’s always telling me parking is for residents only and generally irritating the shit out of me every other day. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t mind it too much if the psycho killer targeted him one of these nights. I would even purchase the petrol required for the burning, actually. I’m guessing psycho killers don’t make much these days, and with the current fuel prices, it would be a strain on his pockets, which must already be sagging from the weight of the large stones.

Trust me, we’d be just fine without him. Some of my neighbour aunties would probably have to start going out to buy milk and vegetables themselves, but they can use the exercise. In Arumugam’s place, we’d hire a guy from one of those professional security services firms, with a name like ‘Black Dog Security’ or something like that, intended to send a chill down the spine of any intruder. When a burglar comes in, if he sees an old man sleeping wearing a name tag saying ‘Arumugam’, he’s probably thinking, ‘Ha, I can take this guy!’ but when he sees the same old geezer wearing a uniform that says ‘Black Dog Security’, with an image of a Black Dog frothing at the mouth to help drive home the point, he’s going to be wetting his pants.

But if this psycho killer is made of sterner stuff, and just goes ahead and kills this watchman too anyway, then we’d just get an actual black dog to keep watch. Or brown, we’re not really too concerned about the colour. We just don’t want one of those yelping Pomeranians. If my apartment got one of those, I might have to set fire to it myself. But I won’t, and neither will the psycho killer, because we both know that we’d immediately have all the PETA and Blue Cross people on our backs. Now they’re way more efficient than the police, who are still enquired those who sleeping on the pavement.

More seriously, I don’t think this killer is really psycho at all. My hunch is that he’s a normal guy with a respectable job who turns into this deranged maniac at night. And there IS one person I know who actually hates security guards that much. I have actually seen him scream his head off at watchmen without provocation and threaten them with actual bodily harm on a number of occasions. And I’ve always felt strongly that he was just a push away from mental instability. He claims to have a job in New Delhi, as a journalist, but I’m now starting to think that’s just a false cover to provide him with a strong alibi in case the police somehow trace the killings to him. Meanwhile, while he’s in Delhi, maybe he could just kill anyone who says anything about the nuclear deal ever again. Please. I’ll courier the stones.

July 21, 2008 at 7:11 am 24 comments

Two Guys, A Girl, And Paradise – Part 0

There comes a time in every man’s life when he feels the need to do things more exciting than excel sheets, to see things more beautiful than that Bliss wallpaper and to cut himself off from the rest of the world and go live by the sea. That time is 11:38 a.m on the 12th of March, because that’s when my school-mate and pocket-sized dynamo George Binoy called me.

“Dude,” he said, jolting my brain from its customary mid-workday slumber, “You wanna take a trip to the Andamans next month? You, me and another friend of mine from college.”

The Andaman Islands are a small group of islands, also called an archipelago (from the Greek ‘archi’ – ‘islands’, and ‘pelago’ – ‘no one can place on the map’), somewhere in the Bay Of Bengal. No one knows for sure where they are. Mapmakers routinely toss a coin to see where it falls on the map and mark that spot as the Andamans. This is why, in some maps, you can find them somewhere in the Scottish Highlands.

For a long time, all I knew about the Andamans was that it housed a famous prison where Mohanlal and Prabhu spent a bit of quality time licking Britishers’ boots and getting beaten up. Not exactly the kind of image you’d see in a tourist guide. But in 2005, TIME Magazine ran a feature naming the ‘Best Beach in Asia that you can get to’. The beach thus named was Beach No. 7 (Radhanagar Beach), on Havelock Island, in the Andamans, the article complete with an accompanying picture showing sun-kissed white sands and turquoise waters. My mind made itself up, realising there was a good chance to spot topless sunbathers on that kind of beach.

“Yep, sure, done.” I told George, “Just let me know when.”

The next month passed in making enquiries about accommodation and things to do on Havelock, identifying a suitable beach resort to stay in, calling said resort to make room reservations, struggling to get through because of the shady telephone connections on the island, finally getting through only to find that the resort owner was away diving somewhere off the coast of South East Asia, trying again after a couple of weeks, struggling to get through for a while before finally making our reservations. George did all of this. I did nothing, except wire the money.

All through the month, whenever I told people that I was going to the Andamans, they only had bright and cheery opinions to offer: “Isn’t that where the tsunami struck?” they’d ask, “Sounds like loads of fun!” or “I’ve heard there are some aborigines on those islands who’ve perfected the recipe for pickled human liver, it’s supposed to be a delicacy in those parts. You have fun there, okay! Miss me!”

The primary reason for this kind of apprehensive behaviour is that there’s a popular misconception that the no one returns from the Andamans alive, which is not strictly true. Some do. But it’s so bad that my dad insisted that I sign up for some life insurance before I left, prompting me to wonder if I’d been adopted. And when I called the agent and told him, “I’m going to the Andamans, I’d like to sign up for a policy”, he laughed loudly for a few minutes before hanging up on me.

Two days before we were to depart, George called again,

“You all set, dude?” he asked.

“Yup,” I said, while, behind me, my parents were picking out a nice photograph of me to enlarge, frame and garland after I was gone. God bless them.

“Be sure to get plenty of Odomos and sunblock,” he said, “Else, the trip will be hell.” I made a mental note of this, went to the nearest Spencer’s Daily, and picked out the first thing with the word ‘sunblock’ on it. This turned out to be a tube of ‘Fair & Handsome’, which sounded like an awfully good deal at the time. (I get to keep my sparkling complexion, and become handsome also?? Arre Wah! For only 45 rupees??) In all this excitement, I completely forgot about the Odomos. So, yes, one could say I was under prepared for the holiday.

And thus it came to be, that on April 18th, just over a month after George first called me about the trip, both of us found ourselves on Jet Airways flight 9W13 from Chennai to Port Blair, with George’s friend Tanaya Kilara. Outside, it was nice and sunny, and inside, George was shouting at me,

“TWO THINGS!”, he was yelling, “I tell you to remember to bring TWO THINGS! And you forget one of them! No way am I letting you use mine. NO WAY.”

At which point, Tanaya spoke up, “Good you both remembered to get sunblock! Hope you’ve got one of those with an ‘SPF-30’ at least, the others are apparently useless.” I gulped. SPF? WTF?

“I got SPF-40,” George said. He would’ve got SPF-500, if it’d been available. “Vinod, what about you?”

I smiled sheepishly.

(To be continued)

July 18, 2008 at 7:20 am 151 comments

A Fresh Start!

During the last few months, I’ve received a few e-mails, scraps and comments asking why I don’t blog any more. One of the most recent ones even asked: “is life no longer funny or have you found yourself a girlfriend, or worse gotten married (which, acc. to most guys, sucks all the joy out of life).”

The answer is, in short, no. In long, however, life continues to be immensely funny. Every movie I watch, I want to make fun of it on the blog and most things I see and experience daily, I want to point out the funny side here. But there is one major obstacle to this activity: the internet. Everytime I have an idea and sit myself down to type out a post on it, my mind is constantly telling me, that just one click away, is:

  • Youtube (with its magnificent collection of videos starring Vijaykanth, Balayya, T. Rajendherr and other members of the Sam Anderson school of acting)
  • Facebook (where multiple hours can be wasted on absolutely nothing)
  • Porn (which obviously needs no further explanation)

The internet is thus a major obstacle to what I need in order to come up with a post, namely a couple of hours of peace and quiet. And this just cannot happen if GTalk is constantly telling you someone wrote on your wall, or someone compared you to their friends and decided you have less mother potential. This is why Shakespeare was so successful. Seriously, if you think about it, all the great writers were around only when there was no Internet. Then the 90s arrived, the World Wide Web was invented, and BAM! We’re left with Chetan Bhagat.

Nevertheless, every now and then, there’s something I see or hear that I just HAVE TO blog about, and so I shut out all connectivity with the rest of the world and sit down to type. Like, for example, the end of 2007. I felt I just had to write a year summary and so, I started typing, “By most accounts, 2007 was a fascinating year. These accounts are, to use the correct technical term, wrong. Schoolboys of the future, when they read about 2007 in their history books, will regard it with a great deal of affection, because it will be the shortest chapter. And also because it will feature pictures of Britney Spears without her underwear.”

Now, as a blogger who takes his work very very seriously, I would never, NEVER make statements that are factually incorrect.* So obviously, I needed to verify my statement about Ms. Spears. And so I connected to the Internet again. And within seconds of typing out the required search string into Google, the unfinished post was only a distant memory. Now you see what happened there? This is how the World Wide Web slowly creeps up behind you, sucks you in and holds you by your sensitive parts till you promise you’ll never ever try to escape it again. That’s how hard this blogging business is.

The end result of all this is that I have a number of word documents on my computer that are about one paragraph long. There are maybe a couple of longer ones, but that’s only because my London neighbour, whose wireless Internet I was stealing, had turned off his router one evening. The rest of the time I just didn’t have any decent ideas. That’s why this blog is named ‘Mostly Thoughtless’.

However, I firmly believe, or at least want to, that this dry phase is over, now that Britney Spears has gone out of the public eye, and that the new distraction-free me will try to blog whenever he can. All those of you who still regularly check up on this blog, I cannot thank you enough. I needed a fresh start, and that’s why I’ve moved to WordPress. Do keep visiting, as always! Hopefully, things will get livelier from now on. Take care, everyone. Cheers!

* except when it suits me.

July 12, 2008 at 4:34 am 21 comments

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