Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Reference Check

Person A calls me out of the blue one day and asks if I will provide character reference to a potential employer. No "please, can you?", no "it would mean a lot", just a straight question. This guy had worked with me in the past. He had quit the project without completing his assigned deliverables. I was more than a little surprised at his brazenness, but agreed. When the employer called me, I gave a neutral character reference (as in "yes, he worked with me for 4 months".) After the call was completed, Person A just disappeared. No phone call, no email, no "I appreciate your time".

Then there's Person B who does something really stupid. He uses me as a reference for landing a new gig and forgets to tell me about it. After the reference check is completed, he calls me to thank me. Classy.

Since most, if not all, blog readers are probably tech workers and The Heydays (as in "HEY, I can pay you more!") Are Back Again, guys, if you must provide a reference, could you please try and follow this simple sequence of steps?

1. Call/email your contact BEFORE you need a reference and ask him if he is comfortable providing a character reference. (Some people may not wish to vouch for your character, but could be comfortable in providing a "technical skill" reference.)

2. If the answer to your question is a YES, ask him if he prefers to talk on his work number or his cellphone. If the answer is "just ask them to email me the questions", do just that.

3. Ask your reference if he has a preferred time for taking this important call. Late night and dawn are both bad for doing references checks.

4. Share the Reference's Name, Title and the Preferred Time and Contact method with your prospective employer.

5. Tell your reference the name and title of the person who will be calling. (Or at least the name of the department.)

6. After the call, email your reference a thank-you note. Or thank him on the phone. Even if you don't get the job.

7. Upon signing that job offer, send your reference a check for a thousand dollars. Isn't that why it's called a reference check?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ai Meghla: A Song, A Rant, A Dirty Trick And Gratitude

It is hardly the season to be posting songs about clouds and rain, what with 12 weeks of Endless Summer just around the corner, but there's something in Hemant Kumar's voice - not quite the sunny abandon of Kishore, not quite the blues of a Saigal - which leaves me very happy and satisfied. Like comfort food, his voice is what I think of as comfort music. (If I were a cannibal, he'd be both comfort music and comfort food and that's an odd thought.)

I was searching for some music on Napster (which, as they tell you 3 years too late, is now free) and I came across an album by Hemanta Mukherjee titled "Ai Meghla Dine Ekla". When I clicked on the sole track available online, it turned out to be quite a song. Good music always finds me.

The song, a slight variation on the melody of "Clementine", is all soft light and cool monsoon breeze. The tune is contagious and when I heard it, I wanted to sing along too. But since I can understand only about three Bengali words (and one of them is "Apu!"), I googled for the lyrics to "Ai Meghla" and found nothing, which brings me to a rant.

One of the major losses of the WWW - thanks in some part to copyright laws - has been forums like Remember the supremely geeky pastime of posting lyrics, analysis, annotations and guitar tablature? That was not the Web of social networking bullshit and market capitalization. Just the Web of sharing unique information and expertise. You knew all the wrong chords to Stairway? No problem, you posted it anyway. Then someone would politely call you a moron and posted the correct chords. And that's how you learned.

In so many ways, blogging is a throwback to "that" Web (please shoot me if I sound like Jon Katz. Oh shoot, some of you won't even recognize that name.) So it was no surprise to me that I found the lyrics to the song on a blog (belonging to a blogger whose name I recognized from another blog, probably Uma's.) Unfortunately, the blogger had not posted the full lyrics. Should I ask her for the complete lyrics, I wondered? Doesn't seem right, I told myself and resigned to leading a life thinking of "Ai Meghla" as "that Bengali variation on Clementine". What a pity. All those sonorously rendered "O" sounds of Bengali would never meet the tongue and the larynx of a non-Bengali singer! How could the words not be known to ANYONE on the web?

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of all connections.

A few days after I heard this song, the same blogger with the part-lyrics commented on a post of mine asking me if it was "ok to link to this post". The cheap opportunist that I am, I carpe diemed with both my hands and immediately wrote to her. Post the full lyrics or Face The Wrath Of Copyright Violations!

The ploy worked and a few days later, she updated her original post and even offered to email me the song. As they say, it doesn't hurt to threaten anyone.

So while I revel in my inglorious evilness (AM I EVIL! YES I AM! God bless Diamond Head), you can listen to this beautiful song about clouds and rain and loneliness and read the lyrics at the same time. How cool is that. (Napster may require free registration but it's worth the trouble.)

Bidi-K, thank you for posting the lyrics and translating it. How's this for a favor returned, I will translate any death metal song of your choice into Finnish. There, I've already done it.

Ladies and gentlemen, once again, the Rain Song.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Terrorist Number 1

A pen may or may not be mightier than the sword, but it sure is stinkier than one.

"Terrorists have been communicating with one another in an innovative way - writing letters with urine-filled pens"...."Text written with urine cannot be read with the naked eye, but it can be seen under an infra-red lamp or ultra-violet rays"

Urine-filled pens? Sheer genius! (Note to self: check with broker if it is time to short ink companies' stocks.)

But how did these men first discover this unique method of transmitting messages? Was it trial and error? Let's try gin, no, doesn't work, ok, how about coconut water, too much work, plain water? bad idea, ok, let me just piss into my 100-dollar Mont Blanc. Perfect.

What about terrorists with wee-wee anxiety? Do they "borrow"? And how do these guys "aim"? I have enough trouble aiming into a toilet bowl with a 12-inch opening. Is that the admission test for new recruits? "Want to join? Ok, stand in line and fill up this Parker." (Gloves and hand-soap must be selling at a premium in that terrorist camp, I bet.)

And what happens when the inspiration to send out a message strikes and the pen just doesn't work? Happens all the time, right? Do they shake their pens and send "ink" flying all over the walls and their books? Nib-licking, I assume, is not a done thing either?

This revelation brought to you by courtesy of Hindustan Times, via

Scenes From A Marriage - 1

"I am drinking milk and you have to fart right here?!"

Friday, May 19, 2006

Does It Really Mean That?

Looking for Halwa in all the wrong places

Indian Net users may be topping the charts when it comes to searching for the old "in and out", but users in Muscat, Oman beat Indians hollow when it comes to searching for "HALWA". When the urge to eat some halwa strikes me, I either walk to the kitchen or drive up to a desi store. But Omanians prefer to to Google for it. Whatever floats your boat, man.

Here we are now, entertain us

Australia is the continent with the most bored people and India and Germany are at the bottom. (China simply executes its citizens should they ever admit to being bored.)

And finally, this one is a no contest.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Girls Just Wanna Have Hunt

To paraphrase J.B.S. Haldane Arthur Stanley Eddington, not only is India stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.

Where else can you see "women dress up as men and carry weapons [and are] out on the roads for a hunt. They hunt anything. Hens, pigs, goats and dogs." (Equally interesting: who decided this ritual could be observed only every 12 years?)

This is the festival of "Jaani Shikaar" (Such a literal but memorable name for a festival. It sounds like the opening of a Raj Kumar dialogue - as in "Jaani, shikaar to hum kar ke rehenge, lekin sher ka nahin, TUMHARA!" Transl.: Beloved, we will hunt, not Cher but Sonny.)

How little is known about rural and tribal Indian customs and how little of it is documented on the web (and the best source still is Kamat's Potpourri). Searching for "jani shikaar" on Goog brings up some uninformative results (including one resume in French, presumably of an anthropologist.)

But back to our girls gone wilderness. (The bad puns will keep coming at you like a deranged hunter after his prey till you all agree not to see "Da Vinci Code".) They hunt (non-dangerous) creatures and then what do they do? Why, party all night, of course. "They hunt rabbits and other eatable animals in the jungle and celebrate a born (sic) fire in the jungle. They cook the hunted animals, feast and dance all night." (link)

City girls they're all right but damn, these country girls are something else. Can you even imagine a group of (I would have said "bevy of women" if I was writing for a crappy Indian tabloid) city-bred women hunting, feasting and dancing in the woods?! If this does not put to rest the popular image of a girl leaping up on a table or a bed at the mere sight of a mouse or a cockroach (or even lobsters), I don't know what will. (Nevermind that I still shriek like a girl banshee at the mere sight of a gecko. Can't stand them.)

Now, before some of you start slobbering over your keyboard thinking about Girls With Guns and start making vacation plans involving this jungle party, we're told this very unique girls' night out is strictly a "ladies-only" affair.

Guys, we start the chorus of "discriminatory practice!" in 5...4...3

(OK, so I am ashamed at my Hindustan Times-ish headline. But it is a shade better than "wild and wetty", don't you think? Don't you?)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

No, His Name Isn't Kaplan

Dilip's post sent me searching for a shot-by-shot analysis of the famous crop-duster sequence from North By Northwest. I didn't have to go too deep into Google.

Enjoy the storyboard and learn about the suspenseful (and precise) beats of long shots, medium shots and closeups that constitute this classic sequence.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Ticket Collector

The ticket collector tallied the names on the chart with the faces. Everything looked A-OK. He put away his clipboard and took the seat opposite mine.

I think he must have been around 30. I was 19 that year. His "route" lay between two stations in Madhya Pradesh. I am a fan of trains and anyone associated with them is a big deal for me. So I started talking to him about trains and stations. I think he enjoyed my questions and asked me if I smoked. I said sure, and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. 19 and Charms, you know, 19 and cheap.

Not wanting to eradicate half of India's population with second-hand smoke, we decided to walk to the back of the carriage. It was nearly empty and we sat down. He pulled out a lunch-box and from it, some pakodas. We ate, summoned a chai-wallah, chain-smoked and happily shot the breeze.

I was a bit surprised when he started talking about literature. The discussion then turned to films and drama. Turned out the ticket collector worked with an amateur theatre group in his spare time. Mostly political stuff, he clarified. We kept up our smoking and talking. Everytime we lit a cigarette, he would say to me, "Don't lose your soul. Engineering, work, MBA, all that will go on, but you must hold on to what you have. Don't lose that spark". I thought it was just a conversation filler.

A couple of hours and two cigarette packs later, the flat, slow, dusty evening turned into a deep blue night with a kind of fluidity I've only seen from trains. The train pulled up at "his" station; we stubbed out our cigarettes on the side of the train, watched the abrupt shower of red sparks from the cigarette stubs, shook hands and wished each other luck. He went his way and I went back to my berth.

At 19, not only was it easy to be dimissive and suspicious of any advice, it was practically my modus operandi. What was the big deal, I remember thinking to myself that night. What spark, what soul? All that was so....effete, you know? At best, it sounded like a line out of "Karate Kid". I am just flabbergasted at how I lacked even the slightest ability to appreciate his words. I simply could not put myself in the ticket collector's shoes. At 19, how was I to know that pursuing any passion while keeping a day-job required serious commitment?

The reason I bring this up is because I am watching people around me and they are, like every living thing, growing old. Not old as in a number, but old as in "this is my job, this is my life". Old as in accepting a definition of life that has been handed down to them by someone else. Old as in "I am comfortable, why change?" Old as in "I have forgotten what it is I liked to do". Without exception, they are all caught between desire and fear. I am one of them, so I know.

There are times I can see the sparks dying out. That's when I panic and remember that train ride. Then I feel like I am stuck in a bad, inspirational movie - the kind critics call "uplifting" - based on a Kenny Rogers song.

Fade in. It is a train bound to nowhere. We are sitting and watching the vast, vacant, brown fields come and go. Sometimes we worry if we boarded the wrong train. But we are too afraid to jump off and correct our course. This sitting and watching is crushing our souls and the ticket collector's words come back to me. Fade to black.

I wonder if the ticket collector is still working that theatre gig and if he still rides the same train. I wonder if he held on to his soul. I wonder if he too felt the chill that I sometimes feel now. Maybe that's why he spoke to me.

So I am telling you now.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Ghost Suffers From Poor Signal, Wants To Change Calling Plans

Andy Summers, the guitarist with the Police (how splendidly bizarre it would be if police departments actually employed guitarists - "officer, we have a homicide. Send in someone who can play sweeping arpeggios!") had an appallingly funny song on their last outing ("Synchronicity") called "Mother". This ditty, probably co-written by The Police and the man who observed Mother's Day all year around - Norman Bates - was about the singer's dread of the phone and his (Andy's, not the phone's) mother. "If the telephone's ringing, must be my mother on the phone" went the lyrics. (Just why he dreads her he explains in the last 2 verses.)

I bear no such ill-feelings towards the Mater, but I recently discovered that like Mr. Summers, I too have developed a fear of the ringing phone. Here's why.

I am in the shower, relishing the sharp sting of the hot water. During the
vastly overrated (but important) soaping process, I am singing to a wild, ecstatic crowd of one and that's when I hear the phone ring. It's not the landline phone, but the cellphone. I hear about four rings and then the ringing stops. I continue my showering and singing. A few minutes later, the phone rings again. I turn the shower off and the cellphone stops ringing. At that exact moment. Freaky, but I am not worried yet.

Playing guitar and listening to loud music 24x7 has given me something more than just enjoyment. I sometimes experience a mild case of tinnitus in one ear. So when I first heard the phone ring, I blamed it on the tinnitus. But I knew the tinnitus tone has a very different quality. It's a thinner, "tinnier" (duh) sound and the sound I heard from the bedroom was, unmistakably, my cellphone.

So I check the cellphone screen. No missed calls, no voice mails, no text messages. This happens again and again over the next several mornings. Everyday, it's the same thing. The phone rings, I look at the screen, nothing there.

Sheer coincidence that around the time I first heard this mysterious ringing, I was reading a book about a famous schizophrenic. All those descriptions of Dr. Minor's delusions in the "The Professor And The Madman" started to scare me. Was I losing it? Why did that cellphone ring everytime I was in the bathroom? And if that damn ghost was so interested in talking to me, why couldn't he call me on the landline so I didn't lose precious minutes during the peak period? (Answer: he can't, because telemarketers are busy leaving me lengthy messages about lowering my mortgage rates, gifting me a plasma TV, sending me on a trip to Hawaii and buying me a new Hummer. Someone looks out for #1, I tell you.)

Well, I am not alone. They call this "phantom ringing" a "psycho-acoustic" phenomenon.

When experts attach "psycho" to another word to explain a strange phenomenon, it comes as such a relief. But I wonder how they will explain the blood-soaked arm that sometimes comes out from below my bed at night?


Thursday, May 04, 2006

This Land of Milk, Honey and Obscure Metaphors

Condi Rice says it's "time to shake the trees" over Darfur. I like the sound of that line. It's tough, it's direct and it inspires action. But I am a little curious about the resulting mail-trail in Ms. Rice's office:

Dear Staff members,

Re Darfur/Sudan, it's official: time to shake the trees.




Re your Darfur memo: which trees?



Dear Staff members,

The ones bearing large, hard fruit. What did you think?



No trees in Darfur match the description.



Dear Staff Members,

Never mind. Just send in the 101st Airborne.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Tukaram to Thyagaraja

An interview with vocalist extraordinaire Aruna Sairam. Definitely worth a recycle.

I spent all of last Sunday morning listening to one of her concert recordings. So what if the filter coffee was fake and came from a plastic jar, Aruna Sairam's singing is the real deal and nothing else matters.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Saw You Later, Alligator

Thanks to the tropical storm in Australia, mankind has finally found the answer to an age-old puzzler: If a 14.5-foot crocodile and a chainsaw fought each other, who would win?

Atta boy, Brutus. Now go back to improving your shining tail.

(First one to point out that the alligator and the crocodile are different creatures will be asked to read the Opal Mehta book. The "unedited" version. Aloud. Twice.)