Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Funny English

When I was teaching English in various colleges during the most part of 90s, my introductory lecture for the fresh batch of students always was on the importance of learning correct English as well as the craziness of the language. As anecdotes on the pitfalls of incorrect English, I used to regale the students with examples of grammatically wrong and incorrect spellings on sign boards. The opening example of how even missing an apostrophe could be disastrous used to be “ A bread shop owner by name Anu had a sign on his shop--- Anus bakery- The best loafers in town.” My students never missed the apostrophe again and were always careful with verbs. Child beer for Rs 50 only, Trespassers will be Persecuted, Pubic Phone- call charge Rs1/-, are some of the other examples I used to repeat year after year.

I also used to entertain the students with examples of how crazy the language is in spellings and pronunciations. Over the years, I compiled several hundreds of such examples. Here are a few of them to tickle your funny bone.

• The rule is that the rule doesn't always rule.

• There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

• When the stars are out, they are visible, but
When the lights are out, they are invisible.

• If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?

• Come on, let's polish the Polish furniture.

• The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

• Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

• How can 'A Slim Chance' and 'A Fat Chance' be the same?

• Why are 'A Wise man' and 'A Wise guy' opposites?

• The bandage was wound around the wound.

• She did not object to the object.

• The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

• Boxing rings are square.

• A guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor it is a pig.

• The traveler decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

• The farm was used to produce produce.

• If I speak of a foot and you show me your feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

• Although the masculine pronouns are he, his and him, we must be grateful that the feminine pronouns after 'She' don't become 'Shis' and 'Shim'.

• How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

• I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

• When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

• You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
in which your house can burn up as it burns down,
in which you fill in a form by filling it out
and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

• No sooner had my eye fallen upon the tear in the painting, then this eye of mine began to shed many a tear.

• It's not ridiculous, but entirely sensible to ship by truck and send cargo by ship.

Some other day, I will share funny Newspaper headlines.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Rang De Basanti- Film review

My two- week rest at home post hospitalization did some wonders to me. Though I have operated from home attending office work through Blackberry and Internet, it still gave me ample time to take care of the two German Shepherd pups that have just come to my home a week back and to watch movies in my home theatre. A friend of mine who dropped in left two dozen DVDs with me. I have watched a dozen, most of them the usual love triangles, separations and coming together at the end. But for one movie, Rang De Basanti. What a movie it is and how wonderfully it is told. Indian cinema has sure come of age.

Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra brilliantly merges three plots in the movie. The first is about a group of friends from completely different backgrounds , their bonding and the carefree lifestyle they lead. This is the generation X. The second plot is about the past, when freedom fighters sacrificed their lives during the struggle for Independence.. The third plot is the parallel drawn between Indians ruled by the British and Indians ruled by corrupt politicians today. The message is subtle at first , but echoes piercingly before it reaches its finale. The parallel is drawn so brilliantly that it neatly fits into the story.

The film opens with Sue McKinley (English actress Alice Patten) quits her cushy job in London and comes to India to film a documentary based on the lives of freedom fighters- Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Raj Guru, Azad and others. Her Indian contact, Sonia (Soha Ali Khan), introduces her to her own group of friends. They are DJ (Aamir Khan), who, despite having completed his studies five years earlier, still hangs out on campus, Karan (Siddharth), the son of a corrupt industrialist,(Anupam Kher), Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), who battles with his family which opposes his friendship with Hindus, and Sukhi (Sharman Joshi), a harmless half-wit who has everyone in stitches with his comical behaviour. Sue recognises something in the group that suggests they would make ideal participants in her documentary. Between them, four of the six roles are covered. For the fifth, Sue chooses a radical Hindu, Laxman (Atul Kulkarni), whose inclusion is not without tension, and Sonia takes the role of the only female revolutionary, Durga Vohra.

Initially the friends are indifferent to the subject, but along the way they are forced to confront their own attitudes, bringing about a remarkable metamorphosis. And when their common friend dies in MiG crash they are shattered. But more shattering was to come when the Defense Minister blames the pilot and defends the spare part suppliers. The friends plot and kill the defense minister. They then enter a radio station and confess their crime on radio and the reasons for doing it. The commandoes storm the building and kill all of them.

Without being in any way preachy or using worn out cliché dialogues, the director Raykesh Mehra turns the spotlight on the youth and exhorts it. Eventually, when we come out of the theatre , one message lingers. It is encapsulated in a line used by one of the characters in a moment of quiet contemplation and repeated in the climax. No country is perfect. It needs to be made perfect. The profound relevance of that line applies not only to India but to most of the world today. Be sure not to miss Rang De Basanti. It is a classic film without the pretensions of an art film.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Wounds can be healthy too !!

“Wound kaffee Achcha hai”, remarked the assistant to the doctor as he was dressing the fist-size cavity created by surgical removal of an abscess a few days ago from my body. Even in that moment of excruciating pain, I could not burst out laughing at the way each one of us looks at things from a different perspective depending on which side of the line we are. The assistant was puzzled and elaborated this time in English, “ I mean it is a healthy wound”. Still seeing the remnant of laughter etched on my pain-contorted face, he added “ I mean it is not infected. But you have to be careful.”

I could not agree more with the doctor’s assistant, not so much about the post-operative care procedures but more so on being careful in avoiding getting admitted into a corporate hospital. The crass commercialization and complete lack of robust processes in patient care are frightening.

It all began a week back. The young, sweet and confident looking doctor had one look at my condition and recommended immediate surgery to remove the abscess. I agreed. Then he leaned back and with doleful eyes oozing pity, asked me if I had insurance. The look implied that if I didn’t have a policy, I would for sure lose my shirt. Little did I realize how true it was, until the insurance section chief of the hospital gave me a rough estimate of the total cost for the minor surgery and a 2-day stay. The cost was equivalent to 3-month take home pay of my wife after 18 years of service in a bank or 2 years’ income for a medium land holding farmer back in my village. Startled, I expressed my concern at the cost. “ But you will get reimbursement”, was the answer I got. I paid the money and waited for an hour-and-a-half for the allocation of a room. Obviously, some other patient must have been discharged to accommodate me.

Two hours later, I was wheeled out of the room on a stretcher and I assumed it was to the Operation Room. Not so quite. I was parked outside the operation room still on the stretcher as the room was getting cleaned. I learnt later that the hospital has multiple operating rooms. I could see two others waiting in the same fashion but they were moved to Post-Operative recovery room after 20 minutes or so after two patients were moved from the recovery room to their respective beds. I was amused. The conveyor belt manufacturing process was being implemented for surgeries in such a robust way that Henry Ford would have gaped in wonderment. Finally, I was wheeled into the operating room.

The anaesthetician looked too young for me to allow him to inject anaesthetics into my spine without getting a second opinion. So I called one of my friends who is an anaesthetician himself. He assured me that my paralyzed lower half of the body will come back to normal after 3 hours. The surgery having completed, I was moved into the recovery room without any waiting period. My index finger was clipped to a machine to monitor the pulse rate and other essential metrics. There were about 4 others in the room. What do I do with 3 hours with an active mind and a paralyzed body. I began toying with the index finger and realized that if I wag it vigorously the monitor goes into a tizzy with its keek, keek , keek beep. The nurse rushed around the room the first time and zeroed in on me by the second time. When I repeated the prank the third time, she coolly walked to my bed side and in the guise of adjusting the saline, dropped the bottle on my crotch, gave a half apologetic smile and walked away. That has put to rest all my pranks.

I was wheeled into my room after 3 hours. I was discharged 2 days later. During the 2-day stay, I had to periodically remind the nurses of the medicines I need to take. If somewhere, these were recorded, at least several of the nurses were not aware. And everything is to be back to square one when the nurses change duty. It is apparent that the robust processes of conveyor belt model are being followed only for surgeries and not for post-operative care.

What struck me was the fact that less than two hundred million people have medical insurance in India. And all these corporate hospitals cater majorly to these insured people and prosper on insurance money payouts. Anyone without an insurance ever dares to enter these portals, be assured that the last drop of the financial juices will be slurped.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The FountainHead - Book review

If a question is ever posed to me on whether any author has so heavily influenced me as to drastically alter my life’s philosophy, I will answer, “ not one but two”. When I was in the budding twenties, I chanced upon The FountainHead by Ayn Rand in my university library. The book jolted me out of my several strong convictions and had turned me into a more logical, objective and individualistic person. I immersed myself immediately into devouring Ayn Rand’s books and once I read Atlas Shrugged my outlook was sealed. The other influential author was Richard Bach, introduced to me by one of my colleagues Prabhs, when I was in blossoming twenties. Bach made me turn more romantic and carefree about life. While the fictional Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged was my first love, the real Leslie Parrish, actress in 50’s to 60’s and soul mate of Bach immortalised through his novels, was my second and still going strong. Though both Bach and Leslie have broken my heart and a million others by calling it quits in 1999 after being soul mates for more than 20 years.

While I have re-read several books of Rand over the years, The FountainHead was one exception. The reason being that somewhere during the late 80’s, the book lost the first few pages. That has put me off from the book as I always read a book starting from the author’s foreword. I was also reluctant to buy the book again hoping that I will be able to retrieve the lost pages. Two-and-a-half decades later, when I realised Bach’s magic was not working in being able to retrieve the lost pages, I bought a freshly printed book a week back.

It is amazing that The FountainHead was published in 1943, weaving the main characters around the philosophy of objectivism, which even now several consider as a radical philosophy. The novel is about how individualism is a corner stone of human life and how the creator’s ego has to be taken care of. Howard Roark, an architect and the protagonist of objectivism is a creator par excellence. The heroine Dominique is his mirror ego. Roark lives his life on his own terms. Completely unpretentious by nature, he neither humbles nor gratifies himself. His work speaks for him. He is neither driven by compliments nor is flattered by a compliment. However, the world around him misinterprets the ego of this creator as arrogance. The world is sometimes too happy to celebrate the fall of a hero, who stands for what he believes. Even in the most extreme hardships, Roark doesn’t compromise on what he believes is right. This is the battle we all face every day of our lives and most of us all too soon cave in and hold on to self made justifications.

The main antagonists of objectivism are Ellsworth Toohey and Peter Keating. Ellsworth is the man who had identified the means to control and gain power by manipulating men. He uses the pretension of altruism to form a community of the weak minded second raters. He requires more and more power by breaking men. He instinctively senses and quashes the force of individuality in men. Individuality is something that he considers a threat to the society, a dark force that he detests. It is this force that he sees in large quantity being personified in the form of Howard Roark. Ellsworth personifies the society and Peter Keating the immoral second rater.

Peter Keating is that smart boy who is admired for being successful right from childhood. But he is never true to anybody, including himself. He needs somebody to help him make decisions as he is always unsure about what he wants. His insecurity leads him to committing sins, small ones at first, and as he moves on the ladder of success, he ruthlessly tramples on many people to reach his objective.

In the end Howard Roark triumphs.

The novel usually jolts people who feel the idea or philosophy behind the book, Objectivism, selfish. But as one thinks deeply and rationally it makes perfect sense. When we look at history, it is those people who defied authority, society and conventional thinking and who stood by their ideals and what they believed is right even at the prospect of death, it is those people who have charted the progress of humanity to a better future. Charles Darwin, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Bill Gates, Gorbachev, are some of the examples who stood fast in what they believed and caused a revolution in the progress of humanity. While every person cannot become a Gandhi or Gates, if the philosophy of objectivism is embraced by all, it can make the world and the workplace a better place.

Being a second rater or follower is not a sin. Lack of originality is also not a sin. But lack of originality with lack of integrity and contempt for the creator is an unpardonable sin.

This novel can change your life—for the good, as it has changed mine.