Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Beer diplomacy!

This one would definitely be filed away in media history as a case that was utterly blown out of proportion. Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley and his team went to Harvard Prof. Henry Gates's home on July 16th in response to a call from a passer-by, who reported that two black men were breaking into a house. Gates, 58, had returned home from an overseas trip to find the door to his home jammed, so he tried to force the front door open. When police arrived, Gates was inside and refused to give the officer any identification initially, but he later complied.

That's the story in a nutshell. Before I delve into the 'he said he said' drama (people, mental note please: it's not always 'he said she said' or 'she said she said'. thank you), here's a trivia: How do you know when an inconsequential matter has assumed unreal magnitude? When the President has to get involved, silly.

The reason it assumed drastic proportions was because Prof. Gates was furious and outraged at what he saw as an aggressive intrusion into his house. Crowley of course had a different story to tell. He said the professor refused to step outside, shouting accusations of racism and making derogatory remarks about Crowley's mother. Neither parties probably took a second to think and consider what this encounter might have looked like from the other person's aspect. So the situation escalated.

The other reason it assumed drastic proportions was because racism, an issue that has long haunted this country, was suddenly at the heart of this matter. Obama of course heard about it and decided to address it, especially since he knew Prof. Gates from his Harvard days. At a news conference, Obama said Cambridge police "acted stupidly" in arresting Gates for disorderly conduct. Crowley and his gang got super annoyed and demanded that the president apologize. And the fun began.

Obama, the otherwise super articulate Harvard scholar, had goofed up this time. So he did everything he could short of an apology. He admitted that he should have calibrated his worlds differently and that both Gates and Crowley overreacted to the situation. Nice move. He further tried to defuse the controversy by saying he talked to the police officer involved and believes him to be "a good man." Praise, even better! To conclude the matters, Mr. President, in a totally unexpected move that has the beer makers of the world smirking, has extended an invitation to both Crowley and Gates to come to the White House for a pint. Beer diplomacy? Brilliant.

Moral of the story: The best of us can goof-up. The trick lies in coming up with innovative ideas to resolve sensitive matters. I'm gonna try that the next time I regret saying something (which btw I'm sure will happen any minute from now).

Hopefully the first dog (Bo is his name) will overhear stories of the three men and their beers tomorrow and let us in on it someday.

Monday, July 27, 2009

So then it's true

The 22nd of July witnessed a rare celestial event. There was a total solar eclipse visible in many Asian countries including China and India. It is a spectacular natural phenomenon and so many nature and science lovers travel to remote locations to observe one. Zillions gathered in Varanasi to catch a glimpse of it. I caught a breathtaking view on TV as the intensely bright sun got replaced by the silhouette of the moon. They said it won't happen again for another 105 years. This was a rather significant eclipse since it lasted 5 times in duration as compared to a regular solar eclipse.

In ancient times solar eclipses were attributed to supernatural causes. Total solar eclipses can be frightening for people who are unaware of their astronomical explanation, as the Sun seems to disappear in the middle of the day and the sky darkens in a matter of minutes. Asian countries always attach the angle of astrology to eclipses. Typically, the belief is that eclipses bring some adverse effects in the area that it happens. The general rule of thumb is that it is better to do charity on this day and especially indulge in free distribution of food after the eclipse is over which relieves people of their sins of the present and the previous births. All the others should continuously chant a name of their favorite god, which would give manifold effect. The idea is to pray for the blessings of ancestors who've left the earth. If you happen to be in India around that time, you’d get countless other forms of unsolicited advice.

On a scale on 1 to 10, my superstition level would be negative 2. Except for a black kitty crossing my road. I have never been able to get over that one. But other than that, I'm a negative 2 ;) The day that followed the eclipse brought about some rather strange turn of events. They weren't run of the mill things going wrong but really strange things. My baby sitter’s car got punctured (I've never heard of it happening here) and as soon as she fixed it and got home, the second tire busted. My co-worker was stranded somewhere without money and found out that her credit card got cancelled due to bad credit. Later it was established that someone with her same name and a different city had bad credit and they randomly canceled her’s. My acquaintance in Texas got bit by a snake while watering her plants in her backyard. She lives in the city not the suburbs. My toe nail broke at the gym while I had shoes on and my finger nail broke the next morning. I have the strongest nails ever.

Tell me this is normal!

Strangely enough, I’m loving the idea of correlating unpleasant events with extraneous occurrences. My DVD player is on life support and I’m on the lookout for something to blame it on.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Got milk? Got coupons?

If you start thinking about non-detrimental worst case scenarios, countless may come to mind. Mine occured in the form of me realizing that I was out of milk at 9:30 pm on a Sunday night. Sunday nights have something against me. Every undone errand, every unmet necessity, every unkept commitment perpetually gives me a light bulb moment exactly at 9:30 pm on Sunday nights. No wonder I'm invariably late on Mondays. Mondays and rest of the days but Mondays specifically.

God only knows how miserable my day goes if it doesn't get off on a right start aka a refreshing cup of chai. So I run to a nearby grocery store, pick it up in a split sec and queue up in the only open cashier line. Just two peeps in front of me ain't bad, I note mentally. I pick up the latest issue of InStyle and start going through summer trends. Scanning a little and flipping a little, I kill time happily. Few pages later, I look up and the first person is still glued so I begin some more scanning and flipping. I make great progress and land up on the Fall preview section soon after. I begin to admire the hitch dresses and the military jackets and the accessories that Fall will be filled with. A tiny smile flashes on my face as I start sporting those looks in my imagination. I suddenly hear a woman barking and look up to realize that the same person is still glued where she was 15 minutes back and now arguing with the cashier about a coupon that didn't ring. I notice that she has almost 30 odd coupons in her hand. Another painful 5 minutes later, she gets done with a grand total of 300 bucks. It was remarkable that there was no alcohol (the only pricey item in a grocery store) amongst the gazillion things she bought.

Without sounding like ms. preachy, I have a few suggestions on the subject. If people are going to stock up stuff for 6 weeks or shop for a party (what else justifies 300 dollars worth of ingredients) shouldn't they should pick a better time like noon on a Sunday when the rest of the world is at church or watching a football game or doing laundry? Or may be midnight on a Sunday where no one but bums and guys picking up emergency alcohol or emergency sthng else will be around. And maybe there should be a rule for using coupons. Like an expense report... neatly cut, grouped by category and stapled on a white paper so you won't have to juggle countless coupons at once. If you think it's an overkill, have your kids do it. They'll love it. And those planning on using checks, please have mercy. Most cashiers (college kids doing their 3rd job for the day) don't even know how to process them. Heard of a cc? Trust me no one's gonna steal your identity.

Hopefully the bulb in my head will go off a few hours earlier next Sunday and I won't have to complain.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sneak peek at ESPYs

Wednesday late afternoon was the live taping of the ESPY (just found out it stands for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly) awards 2009 at the Nokia Theatre in LA. 75% of the crowd was 'invitees' so needless to mention, I was far far behind. If you were one of the presenters on the stage, I would appear as a faceless dot to you. But thanks to my telephoto lens that I sneaked past several bald eagle visioned security peeps, I was at least able to get some just-about-average shots for my collection. Oh and Derek Fisher bumped into me (literally) on my way in but me no fan.

From the minute it started, it was a Samuel Jackson show. Seriously, it was more his show than the award show. He came on the stage, began to introduce the awards and himself and the prompter broke! So it went from "hello and welcome to the" to "how the hell are ya people". It was hilarious. The prompter bailed out on him quite a few times and he emerged funnier each time, displaying the true skills of an entertainer. As he went through the first row where the stars of that night were seated, he cracked several fake twitter jokes. Like Phelps supposedly tweeting "Can't believe I lost the Arthur Ashe Award to Nelson Mandela. I can swim circles around that guy.", like Samuel Jackson himself tweeting "I am bored at the ESPYs" and some big time athlete whose name I can't recall right now tweeting "outside Nokia and can't freaking get in". Twitter was present in spirit all throughout the show and it ain't making money. Yeah right.

The mercury was soaring inside Nokia with the likes of Demi Moore, Miranda Kerr (the Victoria Secret cutie), Natalie Gulbis, Olivia Wilde and Marisa Miller presenting awards in elegant designer pieces. And I have two words for the gown Kobe's wife wore. Actually I got no words for it.

They had a cute video skit on Justin Timberlake and Samuel Jackson fighting about who deserves to host the show this year, since JT hosted it last year. JT challenged SJ to a game of golf and they did some crazy things like "my ball can go to the garbage can 2 miles away", "my ball can reach the 18th hole after touching that satellite in space" and finally SJ instructing the ball to go in the hole and the ball obeying him!

Michael Phelps was undoubtedly the winner of the evening. I think he won everything that wasn't listed in the 'female' category. LA of course won two awards, one for Phil Jackson as the Lakers coach (woo woo) and Lakers as the best team (woo woo again). I am going to conveniently omit the fact that LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers was named the NBA’s Best Player. Pittsburgh Steelers, very deservedly won two trophies for best game and best play. One of the surprising events in sports this year for US has been the United States soccer team beating Spain in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup. And the very excited US soccer team proudly went home with the “Best Upset” award. Gymnast Nastia Liukin was named the Best Female Athlete and I can't remember the rest of the awards, nominees or winners to save my life.

The ceremony was very politically heavy. Obama send a video message, Neilson Mandela's daughter and grandson gave a nice lill speech and Condoleezza (is that how you spell her name?) Rice gave away the award for the best female athlete. Does anyone else think she walks like a duck in heels? Seth Meyers and Andy Samberg were representing the funny world and cracked people up.

Stuart Scott did an interactive segment with the audiences where he'd instruct us to "laugh slightly", "laugh your heart out", "scream like gas has gone down to a dollar", "scream like you saw a bear next to you", etc. all as a part of a TV segment they would air for audiences reaction to Stuart as Samuel Jackson. I'm curious to see how that turns out.

Overall, it turned out to be was quite a fun experience for a Wednesday evening. I've heard people say that the ESPYs are contrived and that no sports fan or athlete really puts much stock into them. But at least it’s some level of entertainment on an otherwise dead day.

Catch it on ESPN Sunday night at 9 pm EST/6 pm PST.

Are your parents on Facebook?

This was published in The South Asian Times on July 18th, 2009.


If you know who Amy Winehouse or Ne-Yo is, you probably have a FB profile. If you were on Orkut or MySpace in your past life, you probably have a FB profile. If you are a toddler's mom, a professional dog walker, a Sanskrit tutor or anyone under 40 years of age, you probably have a FB profile.

Being on FB went from being a fad to an obsession and now comfortably rests in our lives as a necessity. Some of us are torn between FB and Twitter but FB takes the cake.

Here's the twist. The cat is out of the bag and everyone has heard how fun it is, including our parents. If you are in your teens or slightly older and still live at home, your mom has definitely heard from her book club or from the langar at gurudwara or her day out at the beauty salon that it's the perfect spy machine. Your dad has heard it too from his colleagues or his financial analyst or his property broker that it is a great networking tool. So boom they decide to get a piece of the pie and the first thing they do is to ask YOU to help create their profile. Getting chills even hearing about it, you do everything in your power to dodge their request until they give up on you and get an older, nicer and more supportive sibling/cousin to help out.

And there, your worst nightmare has taken shape. It begins to take form as mom and dad add every uncle and aunty in their inner and extended social circles and absolutely shock you by having numerous legit people as friends on day two of their profile going live. Of course you get the first friend request but ignore it, while immediately thinking of strategies to emerge unharmed from the situation. Soon some unsuspecting cousins get trapped and before you know it, you are the only one NOT on their friend list. Mom and dad get super excited about their new online life and talk incessantly about it at dinner table or at breakfast, giving you a massive headache and possibly an eating disorder. Casually, they remind you time and again and you know you can only use the "i'm really busy with my assignments and haven't logged onto FB" a certain number of times before they start waggling their left eyebrow. It's only a matter of time before they make you do it at gun point and then may god bless you. Don't even try to add them to your 'limited profile' list where they can't see any updates or pictures because they will figure it out from the other aunties who've been victims of it.

The scenario is slightly different if you're in your 20s or 30s and live away from home. You have an unending list of friends and co-workers and possibly romantic prospects on your FB. You update statuses a few times a day and post pictures from all your official and social gatherings and night outs. Perhaps you won't mind having mom as your friend. Having dad as a friend might be pushing it a little since every 2 out of 3 pictures you post might seem questionable or possibly objectionable to him. Even if he is a cool dad, you want to be respectful and not worry about using slangs accidentally. With mom alone, it can still get tricky. Imagine your status being "off to a happy hour with office gang" and her immediately replying "beta don't drink too much and go home early. i'll call at 7. enjoy". Any guesses who's gonna be dogged all throughout the happy hour?

If you're in your 40s, there's a very dim chance that your parents will ever join FB. You would actually love it if they did. In fact, you will be at the other end of the spectrum. All the little ones in your family think of you as their favorite elder cousin or favorite uncle/aunt and you love fact that you have easy access to their online lives. And you've promised them that you won't judge them.

Lastly, if you are the parents of teens, you might have the purest intentions of genuinely befriending your kids online, being involved in all aspects of their lives and not spying at all but good luck convincing them. Give them another 10 years and they'll understand.

I guess that's how the circle of life works in the FB world. I'll leave you with an interesting statistic. 30% of people on FB are between the ages of 35-65.

Happy Facebooking.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bernie goes to jail

I was reading 'Noddy goes to Toyland' to the baby on Tuesday when I heard the news story that 'Bernie goes to jail'. The 150 year sentence that the federal court subjected Bernard Madoff to, for charges related to his Ponzi scheme started on Tuesday.

Both 'men' have interesting life stories to tell.

Noddy was carved by a woodsman but ran away after the man began to make a wooden lion, which Noddy was scared of. Noddy was kind and honest, but he often got in trouble, either through his own misunderstandings, or because someone played a trick on him.

Bernie had a brain carved with immense intelligence and ran away from law school to become a stock broker, giving up his job as a plumber. Bernie was a prominent philanthropist, served on boards of several nonprofit institutions and took to charity.

As Noddy wandered through the woods, with no clothes, money or home, he met Big Ears, a friendly brownie. Big Ears decided that Noddy was a toy and took him to live in Toyland. He generously provided Noddy with a set of clothing and bought a build-it-yourself house for him.

As Bernie tried his luck through Wall Street, establishing his firm BLM investment securities, he found a business partner in his father-in-law, who referred a circle of friends and families making his business grow by leaps and bounds.

While Noddy was quite happy to be a toy, the citizens of Toyland were not sure that he was actually one. They put Noddy on trial and examined whether he was a toy or an ornament. Eventually, Noddy was declared a toy, but still had to convince the court that he was a good toy. The judge accepted that Noddy was good after a doll told the court that he saved her little girl from a lion; and he was allowed to stay in Toyland.

While the people who trusted Bernie with their life savings were quite happy with him, Bernie was not too sure that what he had was enough. Bernie got into several wrong doings including federal crimes, securities fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, perjury and making false filings with the SEC either through his own smartness or because other people were too gullible. Eventually, Bernie was declared a criminal, after the judge called him "extraordinary evil" and referred to his crime as "not a bloodless crime". He declared that Bernie deserved the maximum allowable penalty after reading letters of many victims and hearing from some of them in court; and he was sentenced for 150 years.

Rarely do I come across two completely opposite stories, even if one of them is fictional. It intrigued me as I noted that our fate is a function of our motives and behavior. The message here is crystal clear so I won't even bother writing it.

Noddy - you're the cutest.
Bernie - enjoy your new orange jumpsuit and 6x6 space in North Carolina.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Plain Pamela

I came across a hilarious "report" on The Onion today about a new doll on the fancy crystal shelves in toy stores. The report comes amidst the celebrations of 50 years of Barbie and moms fearing that the new version of Dora the explorer is reportedly too hot to handle.

The doll is called, full marks for guessing here, Plain Pamela. She is "pale, unsightly plaything, which has a plastic torso scaled to the proportions of a 5-foot-4, 179-pound woman in her mid-30s" and the objective is "to raise the sense of physical and emotional self-worth in preteen females."

I love the idea of it. If such innovative products don't hit the market every now and again, the talented product marketing genes will be out of work or at the very least struggle with job satisfaction.

Mattel (the maker of Barbie) has been criticized in the past for promoting unrealistic standards of beauty. So Mattel CEO talks about the need for dolls that offer an alternative body image and describes Plain Pamela as "drab, dumpy, nothing to write home about and will make the girls of America feel like beauty queens." I presume the underlying assumption here is that the girls of America are superficial and shallow. Bingo. Convenient theories are always a winner.

Of course, the fun doesn't end there. They've weaved every thinkable emotional and physical aspect into it so girls can have fun deciding how they can manipulate Pamela to make them look prettier by comparison.

Some fantastic ego-enhancing features are:
- A button at the base of the doll's pudgy neck that randomly plays one of 24 pre-programmed phrases, including "I wish I was pretty like you," "That's okay, you go out and have fun without me," and "Ugh." (Every guy should learn the middle one)
- Four interchangeable hairstyles: Just-woke-up, Too-long, Too-short, and what's-the-point-of-even-trying-anymore-it's-not-like-it's-going-to-make-a-difference. (We’ve all suffered on that front)
- Her size 14 doll pants and refillable 'tears' for her swollen face. (A stroke of genius)
- A variety of unflattering and ill-fitting blouses to drape over her shapeless torso, as well as a packet of paste-on psoriasis spots to apply along her arms and back. (haha psoriasis, seriously?)

I wonder if she's a doll version of Ugly Betty. Wasn't that the whole point of Ugly Betty? I just googled ‘what do women want’ and saw 96 million hits. I haven’t tried ‘what do preteen girls want' but I know the answer is Plain Pamela!

p.s. It's from The Onion so needless to mention, it's a fictional report.
p.s2 Perhaps Mattel should hire some creative brains from The Onion to diversify their product line.
p.s3 I never have to worry about buying dolls again. The last one I bought was smacked brutally to death by my little one.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The maid of honor

I was at a lovely wedding reception last evening. The venue was beautiful with bamboos plants, water bodies and wet black rocks within. The cake looked like a mini building, delightfully adorned. The DJ was rocking the party and one after another, the couples from the wedding party electrified the mood making grand entries with signature moves.

Soon the couple assumed their thrones and it was time for speeches. The best man introduced himself and made a quick and funny speech. Everyone raised their champagne glasses to toast with him. The servers poured some fine wine with warm bread. My table was far from the thrones and it was an outdoor party. A tall and elegant maid of honor dressed in a breathtaking midnight blue number walked up the stage. She started the speech sharing some sweet memories from her 16 years of knowing the bride. We had some fun people on the table with us and the conversations were quite enjoyable. So was the wine and the hors d'oeuvres that were being served piping hot.

A few minutes later, one of the guys on my table cracked a joke about how the bridesmaid was still on the 2nd page of her speech. My back was facing her and the water stream indoors made it hard to hear clearly. I turned around and there she was, still on the stage, still speaking. I tried to hear intently. It had a range of emotions from funny to touchy to subtle-attack-on-the-groom. Colorful salads got served as conversations got funnier. Halfway through the salad, all sorts of anecdotes about speeches-gone-bad episodes from previous weddings filled the air. Suddenly we heard everyone clap and very mechanically, we did too. I looked behind and the maid of honor was now speaking with sobs and tears rolling down her face. Her tears had elicited a huge applause. I noticed that she was holding a thick set of several pages of paper that she was reading from.

Entree serving had initiated a while later. She had spoken for approximately 25 minutes and still going strong and everyone but the newlyweds and the videographer were doing their own thing. The men far outnumbered the women on my table so needless to say the jokes were getting funnier and meaner. I did my part in not letting them roll with it since I felt for the poor girl crying her heart out at this point but that hardly worked. I have no idea when she finally wrapped up.

It was the perfect case of men are from mars and women are from venus. It's second nature to men to express everything on their mind succinctly sans the drama. And women are just emotional and elaborately expressive souls. They can recall even the minutest details from decades ago and describe in extreme detail when relevant. Both approaches are good in their place but it's definitely fun watching women get carried away.

I’ll hold it against her that I had to leave without the cake ;)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Beckoning from afar - monsoon

Heard from mom yesterday that the first rain of monsoon has finally arrived after 110 plus weather for 4 straight months. Much to the relief of those who suffered almost third degree burns on two wheelers. Much to the relief of those who had planted hundreds of shrubs in their giant backyards. Much to the relief of those who love to get drenched in the warm droplets from up there.

Rains in India are much awaited coz it compliments life in so many ways. Apart from the scientific benefits, it makes life so much more pleasurable. The lovely mist in the air, the soothing sound of rain drops on the porch, the fragrance of moisture on dry soil, the shining foliage, sexy tangled hair, fried spicy appetizers that make it worth eating all that fat, bright colored raincoats, hiding out under massive trees and non-stop chatter over steaming hot beverages. What's not to like?

I have such fun memories of the rain.

My ancient car once stalled in 4 feet high waters and I marched home from my university, walking on flooded streets against muddy waters (better than any cardio) along with hundreds of others, while it was pouring cats and dogs. It took me 4 hours and loved every minute of it.

I lived by the river bank and one fateful day, our area got flooded with 8 feet high waters in our houses. The anticipation of those forceful waters breaking open our doors lasted a day prior to the actual flooding. It was nothing short of a block party on the streets. A team of youngsters and strong men from the neighborhood were going around each house, helping move furniture and other important stuff to the 2nd level. Ladies from the neighborhood collaborated on the food front and enough was made for three days and safely put away. As the floods hit our houses, we watched it from the vantage point of the terraces with the best view in the neighborhood and despite the damage, I don't recall one sad memory.

I'll never forget the mystical rain dance sessions. One as a party of a spiritual retreat that I attended. Simply indescribable. And some as a part of the famous rain dance parties.

There are countless such incidents that come to mind making me miss it even more coz I am always deprived of the pleasure of soaking in the rain here. For one, it's super chilly and secondly, people would look at me like I'm a fool. I guess rain is not as romanticized and dramatized in this country as back home. Hence the lack of fun factor.

For now, I’ll go back to enjoying my dry 100 degrees but like someone once said “I love the rain. I want the feeling of it on my face.”

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The statue lady

Mayavati is not my favorite politician but she's certainly a politician I like to follow for assorted reasons. She always seems to be in news for the wrong thing. Rather I only tend to read her stories when it's something 'interesting' aka controversial.

Most politicians are associated in the public eye with certain qualities. Rahul Gandhi with his flawless white kurtas, Amar Singh with his glitterati obsession and Lalluji with his inseparability from buffalos, ear hair and a distinctively entertaining diction. For some politicians, even upon taking hiatus, their associated qualities live on forever. For instance, I'll never forget how I could finish dinner and move onto cold coffee before Vajpayee could finish his sentence. I'll put Mayavati in that category for her love of statues, her own!

Every little girl dreams of being an iconic figure when she grows up. Some dream to be like Barbie, some like Britney Spears, some like Priyanka Gandhi. Any chance Mayavati thought to herself as a little girl "one day I want to be a statue" ?

I've had the pleasure of visiting Lucknow several times. She has far from a blink and miss presence in the city. In fact she has a blink-all-you-want-but-you-can-never-miss presence. The city is painted in her color. Literally. Parks named after her, billboards, statues, pamphlets, t-shirts with her picture and what not. She's the lifeline of Lucknow. And why not? She's done some phenomenal work there. Ask any Dalit and he'll claim he nearly worships her. But that's not what this post is about.

She's once again in the limelight since the Supreme Court has asked her government to explain its statue-building spree at the cost of the exchequer. Between 2007 and 2009, Mayavati has built 40 statues of Dalit icons, including that of Kanshi Ram (her god), herself (her goddess!!!) and 60 marble elephants (her party’s symbol). The Mayavati government never comes out with any statements on the cost of building statues and renovating parks meant to be memorials to Dalit icons. But documents have been found that prove that the statues of Mayavati and Kanshi Ram near the Ambedkar Park cost Rs 7 crores and the 60 marble elephants 52 crores. As if that wasn't enough, the UP government is now constructing a concrete complex along a 2-3 km stretch within the city which currently includes parks and a bird sanctuary. The noble cause of this construction is to erect more statues of Mayavati, Kanshi Ram and B.R. Ambedkar and the project cost is estimated to be a mere 187 crores. She is fighting back the opposition claims that central funds meant for welfare projects are being diverted to build statues.

To compensate for building concrete complexes on a green belt, she has proposed to move a jail from the city to the outskirts with a ton of facilities. Two birds, one stone. The area freed by the old jail will be turned into an ecological park and the new "swanky" jail (that even has video conferencing facility) will have a lot more facilities for 210 crores (yes she only rolls in crores), thereby enticing every small time criminal to do something bigger so he can be jailed! Btw, if every small time criminal goes to jail in Lucknow, wouldn’t it suddenly feel vacant? ;)

Now I know she's a sensible woman and a sharp politician. She must have been convinced that the hundreds of crores being spent on statues could NOT have been put to better use like helping to wipe out poverty, provide basic amenities to the less fortunate and take stronger education initiatives. I believe that. What about her image though? Couldn't that money have been at least spent to get some top notch designers to change her ghastly dresses, bata chappals and appalling gold earrings?

I can only hope that at least her statues have a designer outfit.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The unprecedented MJ memorial

This was published in The South Asian Times on July 11th, 2009.


Today was perhaps the first and the last time I saw something of this magnitude.

I did my part in getting up at 5:45 this morning and heading out to work soon after, only to realize it wasn't gonna be easy. Streets in half a mile radius of Staples Center were declared high security zone and completely shut down and getting to my parking lot required a lot more than patience. I would have nearly killed someone if there weren't a zillion cops around. Too many check points later, I got in, flashing my badge at every step.

As I took a stroll around at 7:30 am or so, I noticed thousands of media folks with truck loads of equipment lined up for a mile. At a first glance, one could easily think of it as Michael Jackson's comeback concert, but it was a very different environment inside the venue.

The slightly-further-away streets that were shut down had turned into somewhat of a mini street fair. First there were the food vendors selling everything from hot dogs, water, muffins, ice cream and what not. The second set of vendors was all about the Jackson memorabilia: giant posters, badges, buttons, bad quality t-shirts, stickers and ancient circular records for a lot more money that you'd want to pay. Of course there was a gang of Michael Jackson impersonators. Why? Then there was the crazy category. A white car with RIP MJ written all over, a clown with balloons (what on earth?), a woman proclaiming on the corner that she is "the smooth criminal Michael Jackson" and a kid trying to sell a cute black rabbit in a cage. Lastly, there was the not-so-popular-media-peeps category. Those who weren't recognized as 'popular media' perhaps didn't get a coveted spot in the main area and had to hang around far away. I saw lotsa 2-people teams: a cameraman accompanied by a teenage girl with a mike trying to ask people if they were available for an interview. Since every onlooker was getting interviewed by a variety of known news channels across the world, they were getting picky and not giving interviews to the small fellas far away!

The memorial service was a remarkable and a highly dignified event with several touching moments that captured the humanity of the greatest musician of all times.

There were quite a few things I liked about the memorial service. The Staples Center set up that was different than every other time I've seen it. The blue dim lights that reminded me of the hindi movie Sawariyaan. The glass podium with beautiful spring flowers underneath. The uniformity of all of Michael Jackson's brothers sporting yellow ties paired with sparkly white gloves. The exquisite gold casket on wheels covered in red flowers and wreaths carrying Michael Jackson as they sang Hallelujah. Mariah Carey's 'I'll be there' song that gave me goose bumps. Stevie Wonder saying he didn't wanna be alive to see this day. That's deep. Brooke Shields being so genuine with a straight-from-the-heart speech. Magic Johnson cracking a joke about Michael Jackson loving chicken wings from KFC to lighten it up. Michael Jackson's video montage that blew me away. The fact that the casket wasn’t open. I have seen one and never wanna see another. Usher attributing his success to Michael Jackson. And the guitar that John Mayor played. How cool was that? I want it!

There were also a few things I could have lived without. Brooke Shields reading every line of her very emotional speech. Michael Jackson's elder son chewing gum. Speech by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson. I just didn't get why she was speaking. I would have loved to hear Janet Jackson instead. Michael Jackson's little girl Paris's speech. It was heartbreaking. And learning that Michael Jackson's third kid is named Blanket!

I had countless mascara smearing moments. And I wasn't alone. Emotions were overflowing from all around today. Made me wonder if what Kanye West once said is true "People never get the flowers while they can still smell them."

Here's raising a gloved hand in remembrance of you Michael.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Buh bye Ms. Palin

"I didn't want to be a lame duck" is what she offered as an excuse (ok justification/ explanation/ reasoning) for quitting with 18 months still left in her term. Someone please explain to me this: wouldn't she be a lame duck (governor) if she had 3-4 months remaining in her term and the replacing governor would already have been chosen, thereby not giving her enough 'right' to make major amendments? How can someone pull off that term so far behind in the game?

I have a question for you Ms. Sarah Palin. Why don't we say it like it is? You clearly have bigger things going for you such as prepping for the presidential elections (have you found someone who makes tiaras for presidents on special orders yet?) in 2012 and governorship is turning out to be a distraction (errr burden perhaps?) at best. I bet you've been spotting lotsa moose lately with no time to go hunting. Plus its summer so I'm sure the kids are home and out of control. We get all that. But is it worth creating such uproar? We had already gotten over the ethics complaints that were dogging your tenure a while back so I hope that wasn't it. It's a move condemned by not just democrats but fellow republicans as well. Everyone's becoming a critic and bestowing you generously with a range of epithets from a "quitter" to a "political sociopath". Wouldn't that be putting too much at stake? Sorry I lied. I had one too many questions.

It was quite a jaw-dropping announcement when I heard about it on Friday. Who knows the real logic behind this risky cut-and-run strategy? It's certainly not setting a good example if you don't stick to your obligations as governor to your state and the people who voted for you. She probably got tired of the accusations and criticism from people of Alaska who didn't seem too pleased to have her back. I'd be very interested in seeing how this political suicide affects her presidential campaigns.

Anyways for now, we (Joe six-packs and soccer moms included) will miss her dearly. Unless Tina Fey agrees to take over her position. She'd be far from a lame duck and politics would be fun again.

Wink wink.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The other woman

My enjoyable hanging-upside-down-from-the-couch-and-reading-newspaper session this afternoon was interrupted by a question from hubby about whether I wanted to join him to see a car we had to buy. He gave me all of 10 minutes to pack myself and a sleeping baby in the car since someone was waiting 30 miles away. I made it in time, packing a zillion and one things for the little one as usual.

A prelude to this was the fact that our second car broke down quite prematurely and abruptly forcing us to buy another one this weekend.

Off we went to Westwood, a posh locality surrounding UCLA. We pulled up in what seemed to be a luxurious complex with a line of valet and other attendants and good looking people with tiny exotic dogs. A dude showed us his girl friend's SUV. It was a beautiful machine in excellent condition and we fell for it after taking it for a spin. Soon it was time to negotiate so our guy called his girl friend to get there. I saw her and nearly collapsed.

We spent the next 5 hours with that couple, discussing the car, checking the paperwork, taking it to the dealership for inspection, waiting waiting waiting, and finalizing the contract. All this time, I saw them, three of them, the couple and my hubby, talking, laughing and having fun while I watched them from a distance. They seemed to get along like a house on fire while I was pretending to be busy with the baby or my phone. Later I learnt that he had just sold his internet advertising company and she worked at a high end shoe boutique. She was upgrading to a convertible after driving this car for a year and a half.

The thing was, when I saw the girl, I was quite taken aback. I hadn't even looked into the mirror when I had left my place this morning. It was my day off and I was being at home in my summery unfitted dress that I had found somewhere from a pile of clothes. It sure hung on me but it felt so comfy. She was an LA 9 (a self explanatory term that describes the hotness of a girl on a scale of 1 to 10 per LA standards) and I was an LA disqualified today. She wore a tube top and matching capris with a peacock print that I swear I'd come across in a fashion mag somewhere, and I wore an old dress that hung on me. She had neon nail polish (!!!) and I had chipped color. She wore glam gladiator heels and I was in worn out black slippers. She had blow dried and colored hair and my head looked like a bird's nest.

I am not an insecure person for the most part. But this was just plain unfair. Unfair coz at the minimum, I am always presentable. But today was a miss. She looked like a movie star and I couldn't even pass for an illegal baby sitter. So I hid myself, for 5 long hours, while hubby probably discussed everything from burgers to beaches. She perhaps thought of me as a super domesticated mom who couldn't even talk English.

But she seemed nice. So nice that she wanted us to drive her car before even signing the papers, on the way to her place in Beverly Hills to pick up the pink slip. Of course she had forgotten it. And of course the boyfriend jumped in and asked us to follow her instead. Hubby only seemed too happy that he was allowed to legitimately follow a hot girl with wifey in the passenger seat for 3 miles. All's well that ends well I guess. We got the car and I never have to see her again.

As for the rest of the weekend, I'm gonna burn some clothes tomorrow that I haven't used in a long time.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Well if the queen says

If you are in dire need of a raise or facing a cash crisis this year, you're not alone. The queen of England is with you on that. She wants an extra £4 million a year to pay for repairs and improvements to her homes, including Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and St James's Palace. I know you were probably thinking of a few thousand dollars when you read the first line but I'll introduce you to disparity later.

So the story goes that she gets £7.9 million a year from the government as revenue. About 70 per cent of her Civil List revenue is spent on staff salaries. The rest goes on entertaining. The current revenue was agreed in 1990 and Tony Blair's government refused to sanction an increase 10 years later. So that makes her the only person I've heard of receiving the same 'salary' for 20 years. Her peeps are putting up a hard fight against the government saying there aren't many who haven’t received a raise in 20 years. But then there aren't many who live in a palace in England, wear a new fancy hat and red lipstick everyday and have cute blonde grandkids and call them prince. So much for that argument.

Now now, granted that palaces need to be updated and of course only royal material is deemed fit to go on royal walls but how about introducing the queen to the concept of cutting corners. It's become public knowledge that Prince Andrew spent £55,269 on a one-way flight from London to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to co-chair the World Economic Forum. I'm pretty sure that could have cost him around £300 in coach and £1200 in first class on Dubai Air or something. There's an endless list of her and her family's unfathomable travel and entertainment expenses on the internet, not just in her gold plated books.

I think she's completely oblivious to the fact that not many have the courage to ask for a raise in these testing times. But then she's the queen. What does it matter to her what the plebeians do.

Someone on an accounts committee who reviews palace finances made a good point. "They should be looking at what could be done to open up the occupied palaces and their priceless treasures to the public and in the process generate more revenue." He said that if the White House could open for most of the year then Buckingham Palace should too, instead of just 2 months.

So your highness, with all due respect, let us both vow to be more self reliant and less greedy.