Thursday, September 30, 2004

Morning Miscellany

Fifteen things that are exactly and approximately accurate today
1. I am creatively dead
2. I write a blog
3. Point 2 does not change point 1
4. Mount St. Helens is seeing a lot of siesmic activity. I am a 150 miles away from a possible volcanic eruption
5. Four people in the world read this blog
6. I am one out of those four
7. I occasionally watch pathetic serials on Zee TV since that is the only Indian serial I can get my hands on
8. I take a month to read a book that I would have read in 4 days, a few years back
9. I am a big fan of the White Chocolate Mocha from Starbucks
10. I think I will struggle to stay up all night to watch the India-Australia matches
11. I bring too much bottom hand into my cricketing shots, especially when I hit on the leg side
12. I tried my hand at cereals once more, with all sincerity, but I still hate the taste
13. I am hooked onto the music of Veer-Zaara right now
14. I can't pronounce certain words as I used to. My pronounciations are Americanized
15. Spell check has doomed by spelling

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Lata forever: Dulcet tones from a great soul

I was watching 'Once upon a time in Mexico' last night (for Johnny Depp, who was a letdown in the movie). A piano teacher is explaining to a mafia boss (what was the pianist thinking?) that a purity of soul is important to achieve depth in music. Of course, his hands went downhill, as did rest of the movie.

Cut to the present. Today, in fact. Lata Mangeshkar turned 75. All of five and seventy. Just a week back, I wrote up this post about the comeback of Lata with Veer-Zaara. Comeback? Who am I kidding? She owns this place, she owns this generation, and the one before that, and the one before that. She owns the highest pedestal for a civilian in India, she owns the respect of one and all in the country, even those who don't listen to old songs, even those who don't listen to Hindi songs, she owns the respect of many outside the country, she owns the mornings of people who faithfully tune into All India Radio and enjoy her voice, she owns the mornings of people who don't need a radio jockey to play them Lata songs, she owns the emotions that she evokes with her voice every time I listen to 'Lag Jaa Gale' or 'Sili Hawa Choo Gayi', she owns the success of a million Latas that sprung up in India solely inspired by her, she owns the heights that Rafi would never have scaled had he not got the company of Lata, she owns the success of music directors who composed for her voice and till date compose songs with her in mind; she owns our senses for the five minutes her dulcet tones surround us during a song. For one so rich, it is only her greatness as her person that she still has the same values that helped her on the road to fame and success: humility, determination, effort!

There is nothing I can really say about her that hasn't been said before. But, on this, her 75th birthday, I sincerely wish that this melodious journey continues on and on.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Are first impressions over-rated?

Are first impression meant to be last impressions or simply, lasting impressions (long or short)? I guess a behavioral psychiatrist would comment on it better, but I wonder what it means to a layman. We all meet new people day-in day-out (unless you are in solitary confinement, or aboard the international space station) and often times, the meetings are for very small periods of time. This is especially true in interviews that I have started conducting off late. I realized that to make an objective assessment of the interviewee without letting a subjective personality analysis is tough. Of course, the more I interview, the better it gets, but I wonder where the improvement will end. Aren't factors like body language, confidence, eye contact, enthusiasm etc. items of subjective assessment? However, can you completely overlook all of these factors and focus only on the answers the interviewee gives?

That was of course an experience at work. What about personal life? I have sometimes formed an opinion about a person, changed it over a course of time, and changed it again (sounds like John Kerry on Iraq? :-)) It makes me wonder about the value of the first impression. Certainly, it is not the last impression you will have of the person. In fact, I don't think it will even be a long-lasting one. If you meet people with an infrequent regularity, chances are you keep creating first impressions repeatedly.

Third example. Dates. It is the ultimate impressionating or impersonating game. The objective is to present your best foot forward and at the same time conduct an evaluation of the subject opposite you. You are a patient and a shrink at the same time :-)

Treat this as an experiment. If this is your first visit to the blog, form an impression and see if it actually sustains over a period of time or changes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

To name a storm or two

I am saturated right now. With fats, work, caffeine and other exigencies of modern-day living. The past few days made me realize why blogging cannot be a daily affair. Its one thing to have content to write everyday and another to have time to do so. Of course, if I could rant about my work, I’d be blogging 24 hours a day, but am bound by the non-disclosure agreement :-) Actually, work has been pretty interesting off late.

Anyway, to get to the point. It is hurricane season in America.

‘Ivan comes, Charlie goes;
This will break my house, don’t you know’

No, this isn’t mine. I remember these juvenile lyrics of a song called ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’ from a long time ago. Just tweaked them around a little.

I was curious to know how they name these hurricanes. After all, not all people with the name ‘Charlie’ could be singled out for such special recognition. What’s wrong with the name Parth? Turns out that the weather guys have a system for it. All hurricanes are given names to help us identify storms and track them as they move across the ocean. But what’s the reason that they have names? Remember, there can be more than one hurricane at a time and without naming them, we could get confused and not know which storm we're talking about. The World Meteorological Organization is responsible for the names. The most destructive names (oops, hurricane names) are retired. It is almost like retiring the number 10 jersey because there would only be one of its kind.

This system was started in 1953. Sailors then named storms after their girlfriends, wives, mothers-in-law. "Presumably these storms shared personality traits with the namesakes," jokes Frank Lepore, spokesman for the Hurricane Center. This system stuck. Forecasters found that when storms were personified, they had an easier time telling them apart. This held until 1979 when Florida feminist Roxcy Bolton badgered the Hurricane Center until officials agreed to stop naming hurricanes exclusively after women. The female of the species hurricanus horriblus is equally destructive!!!

The next time you hear that Charlie swept her off her feet, or Sheila rocked my world, do not forget to consult this article.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Triumphant return of Madan Mohan

I have always been a great Madan Mohan fan. In my opinion, he is one of the best composers to have given music to Hindi cinema. He was the one to gain maximum success with ghazals, reserved his best for Lata Mangeshkar and gave us unforgettable music. Sadly, this great man was never given his due respect when he was alive. Who can ever forget the music in movies like Mera Saaya, Woh Kaun Thi, Anpadh, Heer Ranjha, Haqeeqat, Mausam .... the list is huge and the so is the quality and variety of songs he composed. Read this interesting article by his son Sanjeev which gives you a brief inside look at his life and times.

Yash Chopra's films have always been associated with good music. Whether you agree to the content of his films, its hard to disagree with his music. Melodious, soulful, eminently hummable. Yash Chopra has come up with an interesting experiment this time. Madan Mohan left behind various unutilized compositions, which could not be recorded by him during his lifetime. Yash Chopra and Sanjeev Kohli went through the recordings and pencilled 11 of those compositions for his forthcoming movie 'Veer-Zaara'. The highlight being the presence of Lata Mangeshkar on this sound-track. At the age of 75, she has recorded 9 songs for Madan Mohan, and only true connoisseurs of Hindi film music can understand how significant this reunion is.

I have been eagerly waiting for a few months for the sound-track to come out. For the past two days, I have been listening to the songs repeatedly to get a feel of the music and answer the crucial question: Was this experiment successful? I'd have to answer yes. Before you listen to the music and make up your mind, please note the following factors.
1. The composer has been dead for the past 30 years, and has no active input in the songs
2. The director is the one responsible for picking the tunes. He has no way of knowing what the composer really thought of what was essentially, trial work.
3. While Javed Akhtar is a very good lyricist, I am a great believer in composer-lyricist teams. Frankly, he is not Raja Mehndi Ali Khan.
4. The music arrangements have been done by the composer's son. There is a conscious attempt to make the music sound 'contemporary'. It tests how timeless the compositions are, and frankly, can have mixed results.

Ok, here's the deal. The entire album is full of soft, melodious songs. There is a distinct lack of any 'fast' or 'peppy' numbers. This is more on the lines of Silsila or Lamhe. Lata Mangeshkar sounds really sweet and melodious at her age. Hopefully, this should shut the traps of those who have been criticising her voice quality for the past few years. You miss Rafi so badly in some of the tracks .... Udit and Sonu can only try to fill that void. It will take time for the songs to grow on you, so give it more than one hearing. Here are the songs that you should really watch out for.
1. Tere Liye (Terrific composition, Roop Kumar's rendition is not a let-down)
2. Yeh Hum Aa Gaye (Tujhe Dekha to yeh ... wannabe, this is easily the breeziest track of the album)
3. Main Yahaan Hoon (Udit tries hard, really hard ... make your own mind up about his success here)
4. Do Pal (very good composition)
5. Aaya Tere Dar Par (a qawalli without a difference, probably situational)
6. Tum Paas Aa Rahe Ho (bonus track, Lata and Jagjit ... I am a sucker for slow compositions like these)
7. Jaane Kyon (Lata solo ... rejoice)

The remaining 4 are also good, but I thought I'd suggest a few from the list that I liked the most. This work is not of the same calibre as Madan Mohan's earlier work, but in the context of the aforementioned points, I would call this album a success. Come Nov 12th (this is a Diwali release), I am going to be in the theatre humming these songs.

Before I forget, you can listen to the songs at this link. Find more information about the movie 'Veer-Zaara' on

Friday, September 17, 2004

Outdated dreams

I was reading this post by Tarun about the phasing out of Maruti 800s in India. It brought a momentary frown on my face. Let me explain.

We never had a car in my house in Bombay. Never needed one. The bus and train services were brilliant besides the auto-rickshaws and the taxis, and you could get from one place to another, day or night without any discomfort. But a car is a car is a car. Everyone wants one, especially if you are 16, fresh in Engineering, and moving around in a friend's car reasonably regularly. A desire/dream/ambition formulated in my mind. I had a new object of desire: A Maruti 800. I was fascinated by the car. It looked small, but could fit five persons, it could be parked anywhere (you should have lived in Bombay to realise the import of this statement) and it was (for lack of Santros, and presence of such cars as the Fiat and the Ambassador other such cars) at that time: hold your breath -- COOL!!!

I was very clear about my choice. I wanted the first car that I bought to be a Maruti 800, dark blue in color, with Air-conditioning and a great music system. I would have compromised on the air-conditioning, but no chance I'd do the same with the sound system. I have believed all along that the sound system in a car is the best environment for listening to music. I was so sure about it. Of course, at that time, CD players weren't in the picture (for those who are wondering by now what era I am talking about, its circa 1995). Oh, what would I have given to drive down to the beach with a latest Hindi film song blasting on my stereo!!

I graduated in 1999 and took up a job with Mahindra British Telecom as a software engineer. They paid me enough to be able to realize my dream. Alas, a Masters in USA beckoned. By the time I joined MBT, I was already applying to universities in the US, and it didn't make much sense for me to buy a car with a year to go.

Now, I am a Volkswagen Passat owner. It is black in color, is a fabulous car, and has a great sound system, not to forget the AC. There is little chance of my moving to India immediately, and after reading the post (and based on my recent trip to India), buying a Maruti 800 seems like a pipe dream. Oh well ... some dreams are impossible to achieve. Some, it seems, have an expiry date. If only everytime you dream, there should be a disclaimer that says "Best before .... 10/2006"

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Crimes of India

This is it. This is the last straw. They can't possibly go crassier and cornier. From now on, The Times of India online is my uber-tabloid. Look at the sample headlines they have today:
1. Why Sachin Tendulkar should say goodbye?
2. Tell us how India can beat Pak.
3. Michael Douglas' Fatal Attraction (no, its not about a movie of that name)
4. Sachin does not play for India
5. Thongs face the downward slope
6. Lingerie lust: Season's flavor

Thank you so much. I have got my share of news. I am completely upto speed with what is happening in the world right now.

To top it all, they actually have a Tabloid section now (can you beat this irony?) They call it Tabloid-Shabloid. Sample this: My first sexual encounter Are you kidding me or are you kidding me?

I know, I know, the online edition has always been that way. But I can't help but be frustrated. As a kid growing up in India, this is the newspaper that I read everyday. I was comfortable with the format, the reportage, the coverage etc. It was but natural that I would catch the same newspaper online. But I am done ... done with a capital D.

I will be exploring other options: Indian Express or The Hindu. If you have any suggestions, do let me know.

Alright, Bollywood trivia pop quiz: In which movie will you come across a newspaper named 'The Crimes of India'? Since this is a tough one, I'll drop a hint. The heroine plays a journalist in the movie, and the editor is one cranky fellow who gets misdirected calls on his desk.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Hacking in the 21st century

I was discussing the rise of biometric readers with a colleague yesterday. One application of the same is to basically scan your thumb print each time so that you don't have to remember your password.

Made me think. A new wicked way of breaking into someone' s system would be to take an axe and chop off someone's thumb. That would give a new definition to the term 'hacking' as we know it :-) Hackers of the world, please take note.

Now that I think of it, wasn't the concept explored in 'Minority Report'. Remember the eyeball replacement surgery on Tom Cruise?

Monday, September 13, 2004

Dil-e-nadaan tujhe hua kya hai

dil-e-naadaaN tujhe huaa kya hai ?
aaKHir is dard kee dawa kya hai

ham haiN mushtaaq aur woh bezaar
ya ilaahee ! yeh maajra kya hai ?

jab ki tujh bin naheeN koee maujood **
fir ye hangaama, 'ei KHuda ! kya hai

hamko unse wafa ki hai ummeed **
jo naheeN jaante wafa kya hai

jaan tum par nisaar karta hooN
maiN naheeN jaanata duaa kya hai

maiNe maana ki kuchch naheeN 'GHalib'
muft haath aaye to bura kya hai ?

* This is a selectively edited ghazal. I have retained my favorite paragraphs.
** Extra star for my favorite shers in the ghazal

If anyone wants a translation, ping me. If you understand the words, bask in their brilliance.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Who's next?

Taking a cue from someone else's blog, I committed myself to a session of random 'blog surfing'. There is a button on top which points to the "next blog". I decided to follow this for a few blogs to see what I hit on the road. The first five gave me a thorough insight into the wide variety of things that people write about, or simply occupy webspace for.
1. The first one was set in Canada by a girl who had pictures of her latest weekend excursion with the family where they collected live crabs, killed, battered and cooked them. She had pictures of the crabs in all stages of their, what I'd call 'reverse evolution'
2. The second one had free porn movies (no, I am not providing a link to that blog, do your dirty hard work yourself)
3. The third was about the oil crisis around the world and had tons of articles about it
4. The fourth one turned out to be a Bush supporter (she seemed more anti-Kerry than pro-Bush, looking at a few posts on her page)
5. The fifth was exactly opposite, it was by three guys (off which two were desis Srinivas Ayyagari and Shankar Duraiswamy) and their political views. They were frustrated and without a shade of doubt, pro-Kerry

Of course, this is but a tiny snapshot, but it does tell me that mine is an in-between blog. With no clear direction. Off no fixed address (if you tell me who is the author of a book by that title, I'll send you a free copy of the second movie he has made) Would also love to hear from people as and when they do crash-land on this site.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

We aren't the best, until so says the west

'Ash gets waxed at Tussauds'. Sorry, it was too difficult to pass that opportunity. This has to be the corniest headline I have come across in a while. Actually, tabloid journalists do have a flair for pun and wit, even if the content matter is disgusting at times.

However, I was thinking of something else. We seem to be blown away by the so-called recognition that Aishwarya Rai is getting. It is with a degree of redemption that we observe her 'acceptance' by the western world, her break-through in Hollywood, her appearance on American TV in a L'Oreal ad. I am singling her out because she is a shining example of this trend. We are so uplifted morally when Bradman singles out Tendulkar as his replica, and write letters of frustration when Wisden leaves him out in their top 100 innings. (I agree with Bradman's assessment, but that's besides the point). We hold writers like Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy in high esteem because of their success in the West.

I am not making a point here, just raising a doubt. Are we a bunch of under-confident people who need to be told by the West that we are good? Is the hang-over of the burra-sahib mentality from the Raj days still omnipresent? Are our movies good only when they make it to the Oscars? Are Indians bright only when they make it to the finals of the Spelling Bee? Is our food good only when it makes its presence felt in the Western world? Do we need the Western media to pat us on the back for being the vibrant democracy that we are?

I think we as a country still suffer from an inferiority complex. We are over-awed by the power, stature and grandeur of the west. We look upto the West for everything, forgetting conveniently that the sun rises in the east. Take Japan as an example. Their attitude is one of self-confidence and self-awareness. We are like that kid in class who is waiting for the most popular guy to take him in his group of friends.

I think this needs to change. India has seen a resurgence off late, which is unparalleled in its history. No need to follow the class leader. Form your own group, and watch your following grow. I think its time that we moved away from pandering to the Western pallete to believeing and doing our own thing. Move away from asking them the question "Am I good?" to telling them "I am good"

Monday, September 06, 2004

Under-graduated, over-excited

I was at the State University of New York at Buffalo yesterday, en route to the Niagara falls. I was driving over from Akron, Ohio, which is a 4-hour drive from Buffalo. The intent was two-fold. One, to meet Avinash's sister, who has recently come for her Masters, and two, to start early the next morning for Niagara falls, before the crowds start to swell.

It was a terrific experience to meet up with Medha and her room-mate. They turned the clock back four years for me. For most, coming to the US is the first stab at leading an independent life. When you come to the United States as a graduate student, it is a mixture of many things. An adventure, a responsibility, an exploration of self, charting a path in life .... they are all bedfellows in your stay here, and you are more than likely to meet them at each step in the way. The attitude with which you approach this experience is the most important ally you will have in this country. The key component is facing this with an open mind. Everyone has one gripe which is more painful than the others. Some are homesick, some worry about funding, some have issues adjusting with room-mates ... the list is huge. How you tackle this is the best learning experience you will get. For me, the experience here was a Masters in Becoming Independent.

I was really happy to see the way Medha has adjusted to this life. Extremely enthusiastic, terrific zest for life, and the satisfaction of having worked hard and coming through the initial period of struggle. She brought back memories of my intial days in my Masters. Deciding whom you are going to stay with, the initial days of staying with seniors with 15-20 days before we got our own apartment, our adventures with cooking, scavenging the trash can areas for used furniture, those Friday night dinner parties, walking the campus in the harsh sun looking for jobs, that rehearsed speech "My name is Parth Pandya and I am an international graudate student who have come this Fall ....", those blunt refusals, those polite refusals, those refusals, the 'inside information' about an open position, the trips to Walmart to set-up the apartment .... the list is long. I realised how far I have come from 27th July 2000 when I stepped onto the plane to come to the US. I guess I have mellowed over time, the enthusiasm tempered with experiences I have had, and the maturity that comes with the experiences you face makes you less of a child. But meeting those kids was great. Their enthusiasm was infectious. It wasn't circa 2004 any longer. I felt I was back in July 2000 and within a matter of a day, relived the first few months of my stay in the US. ......"My name is Parth Pandya and I..." :-)

Friday, September 03, 2004


Couldn't resist this one. A friend of mine got a new cell phone number in India, and came up with an unforgettable number: 1234-SUSHIL (I have replaced the first few digits with some random numbers so that no one can give him blank calls. Of course, if you are on the lookout for a dashing, handsome, smart software engineer ..... you wouldn't be interested in this number anyway :-)) .... Sushil, please don't murder me for this!!!) Whether he got this number by design or choice, I do not know. If he got the number and then came up with this mnemonic, then ..... smart thinking Sushil. If he ever gives his phone number to a girl and she forgets it, there are two benefits. One, she can never say that she forgot the number for want of admitting that she is pretty dumb. Two, if she really forgets the number, Sushil knows that it might be time to graciously disengage.

Jokes apart, some of these 1-800 numbers are really interesting. In fact, it would be an interesting excercise to come up with an algorithm that takes any 1-800 number and finds a meaningful mnemonic out of it. You can verify the word that you generate against a dictionary.

I don't know if this phenomenon has started in India, but in the US, it is an unescapable part of life. It is pretty handy too. I believe the toll free numbers in UK are numbered differently. The outsourcing phenomenon has not left this area untouched. You could call a Dell toll-free number and you would end up in Bangalore talking to Srinivas, or similarly named gentlemen or gentle ladies. Some people use this to an undue advantage. I heard a case of a student in the US whose other half was at a service center in India. A toll-free number would ring the phone at his desk directly and they could talk for a long time, on an international call, free of charge!!!

Of course, I am equating a valid cell phone number that Sushil has to 1-800 numbers, which isn't fair. But I like the concept of mnemonic based personal numbers. How about 425-BUG-PARTH?