A short-story I wrote in dialogue form four years ago. The sentences in Hindi are translated in parentheses.

Bharatwrites

“Hey man…can you come over in an hour?”
“Ya sure…what’s up?”
“Aa jana phir batata hoon.” (I’ll tell you when you get here.)
“Okay, see you in an hour.”
“Accha sun, quarter leke aana.” (Bring a quarter liter of whiskey)
“Sure…Royal Stag?”
“Abbe kanjoos, abhi to note chaapne laga hai…bring JD at least!” (Cheapo! You’re making good money now. At least bring a Jack Daniels.)
Forty five minutes later…
“Early as usual!”
“Well, quarter ghar mein padi thi (I had some whiskey at home)…and traffic was low…”
“So, you came via Panch Pakhadi?”
“Yeah, but with a few unorthodox detours on the bike, I managed to avoid traffic…now tell me”
“Arre…let me make a small one first…soda for you?”
“Make mine with Coke, by the way, go slow, I brought only one quarter…”
Arre mera to on the rocks hone wala hai (dude, mine’s gonna be…

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For a few dollars more

I am famously cheap.

My friend regales crowds with the time he and I bought blank DVDs in Mumbai. Each one cost Rs. 12 (about 24 cents for the uninitiated), and I noticed that the DVDs were shiny on both sides without any drawings or logos. I had to ask, “Does this mean I can burn data on both sides?” The shopkeeper literally facepalmed and said, “Sir. How much do you expect for just Rs. 12?” He couldn’t tell what embarrassed him more—my ridiculous question or that he was more embarrassed with the exchange than I.

Coaxing dollars out of my wallet is a running dare among my friends. Every outing they propose to me begins with a ‘should you choose to pay for it’ clause. It’s not like they aren’t careful with money. They just don’t make it as obvious as I do. I have never been too embarrassed to ask, “But how much will it cost?” And that helps me negotiate with chemical vendors for lab supplies. It’s a real production. I dial up the Indian accent, play the poor immigrant card like a zither, and make them repeat every sentence until they surrender and dangle the biggest discount their supervisor can authorize. Occasionally I get busted because the guy at the other end is in a call center in Bangalore.

Now I know the stereotype in America—Indians are cheap. There is some truth to that. What distinguishes me is that my ‘Indian’ friends call me cheap. In restaurants that don’t split checks, I usually pay, and the next day my companions receive an Excel sheet in an email with what they owe me in bold. Social decorum rarely stops me from lecturing the friend who never orders anything and disposes of three plates of the free bread. Nor do I shy away from interrogating the friend who habitually leaves to answer nature’s call when the waiter approaches with the check. Why do I hang out with such douchebags?

A typical conversation should highlight my agony. I dislike going to Starbucks alone. So I call someone—

“Hey I’m going to get a coffee. Come with?”

“No man. I’m busy. But as you’re going, can you get me a Chai tea latte?”

“Certainly. I chug a 50-cent coffee refill while chauffeuring your $3 drink. Guess what? Next time I have a yen for coffee, you’re not invited.”

It’s no secret whence I acquired this character. My mom earns and spends without losing sleep. The World Bank lends India huge sums against mom’s sari collection. Dad on the other hand, as mom illustrates, enjoys money by having it. So as I gloss over my penny-pinching by waxing lyrical about abysmal stipends and the GINI coefficient, the truth is that it’s coded into my DNA to fret about the doubloons. My salary has doubled from almost nothing to nearly nothing over the last few years, but I have increased my spending just enough to let me salivate over something I can’t buy.

And what I can’t buy are usually possessions, even though studies suggest that buyer’s remorse is lower when you spend on experiences than on things—a crock if you ask me. Studies of happiness usually involve self-reporting, basically shoving a mic into someone’s face and asking them if they’re happy—a subjective concept if there ever was one. Anyway, as a guy, and a geeky one at that, I like splurging on tech stuff. Seriously, I have gadgetry that a person with twice my salary and half my debt should eschew.

It’s not like I won’t fork over for experiences. I can be weak too. I splurge on food. If you gave me ten thousand dollars and a month in NYC to spend it, I would see you in two weeks with blocked arteries and type II diabetes. And I tip well. I don’t eat in places where I can’t afford the meal plus at least 15% tip. And I’m not an asshole. I purchase my music from iTunes. Sure I grab every free iTunes card I can at the school Starbucks. But that’s essentially free money. A guy’s gotta eat.

My spending habits are paradoxical. I will order takeout instead of cooking for myself, but I’ll save the little napkins. I like eating at Chipotle, but when the ladle-wielding woman tells me that guacamole is extra—she can’t help it. It’s probably in her contract—I crumble and eat a soulless burrito bowl.

All because that little analog meter is perpetually running in my head. Like the MasterCard ad but without the corny ending.

Profiled by Sweet Mother!

Dear readers,
My caption on Sweet Mother‘s blog was selected as one of the top three, and she gave me a Reggie profile! Thanks SM!

Sweet Mother

Before, I get started with my original post intention here, I want to make special note of someone.  Portia of AustralianPerfumeJunkies is also a Mother of a Caption winner with her killer joke, “I haven’t used one of these since I had my tits packed, Maria.  Thank God, we kept our c*cks.”  (It was so good, I needed to say it again.)  She opted to win my CD and not the Reggie profile, but I’d like to give her a mention, nonetheless.  Portia is a LOVE and feckin’ hilarious.  Every comment she leaves for me has me reeling with gales of laughter.  For example, did you know that in Australia sometimes they call the vag a MOOT??!!  No?  It gives the expression, “moot point,” a whole other delightful meaning!!  Well, Portia will inform you of such wisdom.  I am here to say that if Portia visits your blog, you are…

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Canadica est à venir!

Hey everyone,

Canadica, the blog started by Sweet Mother is having its grand opening tomorrow. Every week, it will feature posts by bloggers from Canada and the USA, and it will be a blast. That’s right—maple leaf meets apple pie, and universal health care meets just-don’t-fall-ill-okay.

Some of you who know me are thinking—but Bharat isn’t American (Or Canadian for that matter.) Well, I live in America, and Sweet Mother says that’s enough. Hear that, Mr. President?

Anyway, the list of writers includes famous names like Le Clown and RoamAboutMike and about-to-be-famous names like ‘yours truly!’ If you haven’t already heard the buzz and followed, do it now! It promises to be a whopper.

And dear readers, I apologize for not posting for some time now. I will be back soon, and not to toot my own horn but, it will be good.

Black Friday blues

Thanksgiving has always impressed me. Growing up in Mumbai, I’m used to religious holidays; I was particularly egalitarian as a child because some Christian or Muslim or Parsi celebration meant that I could stay home from school. The other kind of holiday was the national kind, mandated by the government so we can remember Mahatma Gandhi or the Republic day or something like that. But those holidays weren’t really celebratory.

That’s what makes Thanksgiving interesting. The idea that people of many religions adopt a standardized turkey-based (and other trimmings) meal with beer and football games is incredible. Irreligious ritualistic celebration is refreshing. It marks a level of maturity that is indicative of an evolved people.

Then comes Black Friday.

So there I am, outside BestBuy with a buddy. Doors are supposed to open at 5 am, so we have five hours to kill. Nothing hurts the Indian sentiment more than paying retail for something that just went on sale, and what with it almost being winter break (when many of us go home acting as couriers for electronic devices for our relatives in India), there are many desis in the queue. It is  an electronic store, on perhaps the biggest discount day of the American year, so the line is disproportionately Asian.

We suddenly hear a stream of Gujarati from the group ahead of us. They are whispering loudly about the laptop they want, and going into specifics, logistics and schematics. I think I see a floor plan in their hand, and a bespectacled guy is handing out strict instructions to his friend and girl-friend. I get a sinking feeling that they’ve actually made at least one reconnaissance trip to BestBuy just to get the upper hand on the rest of us who were playing it by ear. They are stealing naps in turns. There is some science to this whole black friday shopping thing, and they are on to it.

I have never fully appreciated the horror of varicose veins until tonight. Alternating between standing and sitting cross-legged on the cold parking-lot floor is not my idea of fun. I think someone is smoking some reefer which is pissing off the NYPD. I didn’t inhale.

The cops are keeping a watch for unruly behavior. Apparently there have been stampedes in such situations, and occasionally a couple of casualties. But hey, as long as we can get 25% off on that air purifier! Of  course, anyone who has been a regular on a Mumbai local train will find the most beastly black friday queue a breeze.

Ah…we finally get in, and reach the place where they keep the laptops, wait…what? Only those with the ticket can buy  discounted laptops. And the ticket was a piece of paper handed out to the first twenty people in the line, which means we were never in the running for it anyway. There’s a little kid running around (not a day over twelve), selling tickets for twenty bucks. Wow…capitalism is so organic to us.

My friend’s already got the latest unlocked blackberry along with an external hard drive and a sandwich toaster under his arm, and a camera and some other stuff now under my arm. I’m just buying an external hard drive, but it’s nice and sleek. Products sold by Apple and Bose are price-controlled, so no store can undersell them even if they want! So the Bose in-ear headphones I wanted were jeering at me from a corner in all their retail arrogance.

Pitch black is turning into twilight as the day is breaking, I buy a mixed chicken-lamb with rice from a roadside vendor. You gotta love NYC.

A post on the lack thereof

I just checked my blog today, and found that my last post was on July 18th 2010. Two months ago! I used to be a lot more prolific. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what happened to the constant stream of thoughts followed by a lack of concern over what people would think, leading ultimately to a blog post. I noticed this slump around a month ago, when a blogger friend casually commented that I have become sporadic. I replied that I was too busy right then, and immediately got drenched in a wave of guilt as five google chrome tabs (facebook, google-chat, google reader, nytimes and stumbleupon.com) stared back at me. At that time I decided that writing regularly was a matter of priorities, and that one needed to make a snap-decision to set aside some time, and come up with a blog post.

And so, one month later, I am sitting at a computer, actually penning a draft, which might (and that includes the possibility that it might not) materialize into a post. Right now it is a piece of literary fetal tissue (thank god for Roe v. Wade). I am eager to see how it turns out though.

Not that I haven’t been trying. I first got a Plinky membership, which means I now get free ideas everyday to get rid of my writer’s block. That was as effective as my mother telling me to study hard during school days. Who knows what she was thinking! Anyway, Plinky was a dud, and then I decided to glance through my drafts section. There were some ideas there:

My magnum opus (blog version) on religion: I am risking getting scooped here, the plot of that post was a courtroom where a civil case for plagiarism was being filed against Mohammed, Jesus, Brahma, Yahwei and there were many co-defendants. Apparently they sued each other for lifting lines and ideas. There was no way to determine who copied from whom, as all could adroitly bend the space-time continuum at will. Actually, I did not run out of ideas on that one. I have to admit. I was afraid. Afraid of writing something humorous that would offend Muslim readers. (I know that with my current modest readership, I’m giving myself too much credit thinking I would actually offend someone, but these things travel faster that one imagines.) The problem is that when I offend Christians, Hindus, Jews and people of any group (be it religious or anything else), I never fear for my life. I fear censure, ostracism, many many arguments, but never death. When I criticize anything Muslim on a public forum, I do fear for my life. I know I am not nearly (nor will I ever be) as famous as Theo van Gogh or the creators of South Park, I do have the right to fear the lack of respect of some Muslim fundamentalists of the sanctity of the written word. So, I guess I will not be returning to that draft very soon.

The extremes of freedom: Here I was planning to explore the ambit of a free society. Anyone who merely skims this blog knows that I value freedom more than anything else, and every sacrifice of freedom and civil rights in the name of some greater good scares me a lot. I wanted to play Devil’s Advocate with myself, and wanted to think if there was any truth in the Indian laws which actually inhibit some free speech as that which can hurt national sentiments as well as national honor. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember what points I had accumulated in my head, or what prompted me to even think about writing that post. So, for the record, until I say otherwise, freedom is paramount, especially free speech!

The Obama presidency: I have always been a bit critical of President Obama, and I have received more than my fair share of rebukes. I do live in New York City, land of the free and home of the liberals. I do, however, want Obama to make some moves one way or the other. I lean slightly to the right in my politics, and wedge issues like minimum wage, stimulus plans, cutting spending, raising taxes, school vouchers etc are keywords that can get me onto a soapbox for days, until I run out of material or voluntary listeners, the latter being more likely. I have been thinking of a reason for not writing that post yet, but the sad truth is that I have not done enough legwork. I promise to return to this issue soon.

My dissociation from religion, Hannity, Limbaugh & Beck: As I said before, I tend to favor small government, but I would like to vent disgust at the immediate association with religion. As and when I go to economic blogs with a libertarian perspective, I find some or the other jagweed complaining about how liberals aren’t moral enough, or do not have enough faith. Those people who equate religiosity with center-right politics are as loony as religious people themselves. Those who know me personally also know that I do not endorse any religion, and sincerely hope that there will be a time in my lifetime, when we look back at our religious pasts with shame, like the way we look at times when we believed the earth was flat, or that it everything revolved around the earth. Let me also use this opportunity to explain the difference between libertarianism and what Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and lately Rand Paul preach. They are nuts. They are not libertarian. They believe in imposing their rules on others, just not others’ rules on them. Add Bill O’Reilly to that list while you’re at it.

Clinical trial ethics: I wrote a post with a similar topic a year or so ago. This one was prompted by a news piece I read yesterday of a clinical trial where two cousins with melanoma were included. One of them received only a placebo, and thus felt shortchanged. The truth is, placebos are required in a clinical trial, to ensure that any improvement from taking the actual medication is significantly superior to that which would result from the patient merely knowing that he took medication. The FDA states that in some cases involving patients with dangerous illnesses, where a placebo treatment could actually harm the patient’s chances of getting cured (as we would be wasting valuable time that could be used for treatment), it is actually unfair to keep people on placebo once we know that the drug does work. It makes some moral sense too. I mean, come on, even though the pharma companies are technically covered (patients sign an informed consent form where it is clearly stated that their taking part in an experiment) , but we must not forget that these are real patients, who could die. While I think that, the scientist in me reminds me coldly that clinical trials are experiments, the success of which could lead to the saving of millions of lives.

Morality: There was no such draft, but I have been thinking of writing something on this topic. Not religion, although that would need to be discussed, just morality. The genetic roots of moral thinking, the need to preserve one’s genetic identity, and social conditioning, all of which are inextricable from one’s moral values.

So, there! These are all the ideas in my mind. I do realize that rambling on about not getting enough ideas and then appending some drafts I’m too lazy to finish is a bit of a con-job, and I apologize. I will write something more. And soon.

Goes without saying

There are some things in this world that I take as a given, and feel that the energy required to convince others of it will sap what is left of my zany spunk (hah!). I am listing them out, so that people can subscribe to my viewpoints, or correct me where I need it:

  • Every kid in India should get education (thank UPA govt. for the Act; let’s see the execution though)
  • Developing countries sometimes have projects so large that only the government can handle them. For all the talk present on Ayn Rand’s facebook page, how many times has she eradicated polio or educated a growing young population?
  • Developed countries, on the other hand, have well established markets that can handle many projects better than a sluggish large governmental organization
  • Dishes must be washed right after they’re used; at all times the kitchen sink should be empty
  • Toilet paper must be torn at the perforated edge. That’s why they have it! Wouldn’t it have been easier to manufacture without the perforation? Surely it is there for a reason! There are some bohemians who seem to grab at it randomly, leaving a snowflake-like pattern that uncomfortably reminds the next user of how he is sharing an ass-wipe product with others
  • As Rutherford said, “All science is physics. The rest is merely stamp collecting.” What an ego! But, he might be right!
  • Parents who stay parents and avoid being their kids’ friends are the best
  • Fat 40″ waists immediately take away your right to chastise someone for their drinking/smoking in a sanctimonious way

I guess this list should be extremely long, but I’m on vacation! So, this is all I am gonna write for now!

Contract from America

The Boston Tea Party was an active resistance movement by colonists in Massachusetts against the British Empire as a refusal to submit to taxation without representation. By dumping tea into the Boston Harbor, a move towards democracy was initiated which of course culminated in the independence of the United States of America. Then, things got boring…

As is customary, things took a 237-year leap, and gave us Tea-party movement of today, which as parodies go, is not quite as funny. Let us forget the racist and downright inhuman behavior that some of the tea-partyers have shown. We do want this to be a serious discussion. The Tea-partyers (let’s call them TPs) seem to want is a strict adherence to the constitution that was adopted officially in Sep 1787. Most people cried when Apple release iPhone 3GS as it made their iPhone 3G obsolete, which kinda clashes with their campy fixation with a 223-year old parchment (which actually contains a recommendation to review and revise it regularly).

Constitutions can be amended, and they should be, for no founding father, no matter how brilliant could have imagined something like Moore’s law, which pretty much dictates that processor speeds will double roughly every two years. A cursory glance at the demands of the TPs (in their Contract from America) gives us an idea of how small minds work. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for limited government. I do believe that the government is a sluggish organization, and needs to be involved in as little as possible, but the TP demands are inexplicably simplistic, and not even truly libertarian, as they claim to be.

  1. Protect the constitution: Require each bill to identify the specific provision of the constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does. Here’s my problem with this line. First of all, someone must explain to these people that the US constitution is just like the Ten Commandments. Both were framed by people. People with their thoughts, intelligences, biases and circumstances. The constitution was framed to liberate people, while the commandments served the opposite purpose. But, why digress. As I’ve said before, if every legislative breakthrough is going to be scuttled in the name of a 200 year old document, we can forget any real progress. If an idea is too radical in the existing maelstrom, let it be put to a vote. If we vote on it, and you lose, suck it up. That’s part of being in a democracy. Sometimes you cannot get your way.
  2. Reject cap and trade: Stop costly new regulations that would increase unemployment, raise consumer prices, and weaken the nation’s global competitiveness with virtually no impact on global temperatures. Here, I would tend to agree. More government means more preferential access to government. No question of that. Hence, it would be agreeable to limit the hurdles to true commerce, and help make goods and services cheaper to the people. As for whether certain measures will impact global temperatures, well, I am doubtful myself. I do however, question the authority with which the TP’s have made this blanket statement.
  3. Demand a balanced budget: Begin the constitutional amendment process to require a balanced budget with a 2/3 majority needed for any tax-hike. Sounds good. As taxpayers, we are employers of the government (or rather the stockholders of democracy), and we have a right to see how our investment is being used. But, wait a second, constitutional amendment? So constitutions can be amended? Are the TPs flip-flopping on this one? Are they voting for amendment before they vote against it? (Kerry fans would like this one!)
  4. Enact fundamental tax reform: Adopt a simple and fair single-rate tax system by scrapping the internal revenue code and replacing it with one that is no longer than 4543 words: the length of the US constitution. The Obama administration (for all its flaws), has reduced the taxes of 98% of the US population. Only 12% of TPs seemed to know that. 24% actually thought their taxes increased under Obamanomics. This kind of ignorance should be criminal. If the TPs were demonstrating truly for individual liberty and loyalty to the concept of limited government, that would still be understandable. An entire quarter of this public seems to believe that their taxes have gone up and that’s what they’re fighting against. That is a contradiction to say the least. In a situation where jobs are being lost everyday, the least people can do is hear out the guy who is reducing the amount they have to spend. I do believe in libertarianism, but I might sacrifice it if my very survival was at stake. As for their arbitrary demand regarding limiting the number of words in the tax code, on another day I wouldn’t deign to respond to it. Today however…so let’s see, a simple, computing tax should be very simple. A flat rate based on income (rates reducing with increase in income) sounds good, but is it feasible? In any case, there are enough tax softwares make this job relatively easy. One doesn’t have to seek professional help.

There are many more such points which basically spell out freedom in many ways, but are giving way to jingoism and condoning racism. I do believe, that minimizing government involvement in most things reduces preferential access to government enjoyed by some people. True capitalism exists when people are allowed to buy and sell whatever they want, while being protected against fraud and trickery. Taxing them at higher rates simply because they’ve done well for themselves is a not true free-market. Having said that, when your company goes belly-up please don’t ask us for our spare change.