Is That So?

I was putting together a list of things that none ever gives a second thought to. Here is what I came up with:

  1. Anorexia has a little known but aptly named antonym – bigorexia. This is the colloquial term for Muscle Dysmorphia, a disorder where you think of yourself as skinny and not muscular enough, but in reality you are more muscular than average.
  2. The Great Wall of China cannot be seen from the moon (Thanks, Kunal for pointing this out!). A legend that is taught to us as kids about the Great Wall being the only man-made structure visible from the moon, is apparently just that – a legend. The wall is less remarkable than most interstate highways in the US in terms of length, width,  continuity and linearity and doesn’t meet the criteria for visibility from the moon.
  3. The oft used term “Vicious cycle/circle” has an opposite – a “Virtuous cycle/circle”. Obviously, the vicious cycle is a feedback loop with bad results, while the latter is one with good results. I have seen very educated people either misuse “vicious cycle” or pause before saying “feedback loop”.
  4. Contrary to common belief, the satellites of Uranus are not all named Shakespearean characters. At the time of writing Uranus has 27 moons – 5 large ones (Titania, Ariel, Oberon, Miranda and Umbriel), 13 inner moons that form a part of the rings of Uranus (Cordelia, Ophelia, Bianca, Cressida, Desdemona, Juliet, Portia, Rosalind, Cupid, Belinda, Perdita, Puck and Mab) and 9 irregular moons that have enormous orbit sizes and lie way beyond Oberon (Sycorax, Trinculo, Francisco, Caliban, Stephano, Prospero, Setebos, Ferdinand and Margaret). Remarkably 25 of these are named after Shakespearean characters. Who are the exceptions? Umbriel (a large moon) and Belinda (an inner moon) both happen to be named after Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock”.
  5. Airports, or at least those in India, talk about “Immigration Check” for both, passengers going into India and leaving. The outbound channel should actually say “Emigration Check”.

Can you think of any more?

Who Died and Put You in Charge? (Part II)

In continuance of my previous “Who Died …” post, here are a few more gaffes

  • Sehwag Ki Ma (Sehwag’s Mother)
    Reliance was in the process of rolling out its mobile service in India roughly the same time as the 2003 Cricket World Cup. They had Virendra Sehwag as their brand ambassador. The ad went something like this: Sehwag isn’t batting very well and his fans are getting quite frustrated. A father and son among the spectators are pretty tense about the match. Then suddenly the father’s phone rings. The father says, “Sehwag ki Ma?” He then thinks what he should do. The son seizes the phone and runs into the field and lobs the phone to Sehwag. Sehwag’s mom tells him, “Viru beta, kar lo duniya mutthi mein” (Conquer the world). Sehwag blasts the next ball for a six.

    The ad was so *wrong* at so many levels. Why would Sehwag’s mother call up some random stranger (unless of course …)? Secondly, how would the stranger know straightaway that this was Sehwag’s mother (unless of course …)? Thirdly Sehwag’s form was an absolute disaster during the World Cup. He hardly made any noteworthy score apart from the finals. People began commenting “Sehwag apni ma ke phone ka intezaar kar raha hai” (Sehwag is waiting for his mother to call him) just to highlight how awful it was. Reliance probably realized how corny the ad sounded and changed the dialogue to “Sehwag ki Ma ka phone?”. Not that it made much of a difference.

    BTW, if you were wondering about the “unless of course …”, of course I mean “They were probably family friends”, or “Sehwag might have given the phone to them for safekeeping”, unless of course …

  • Kabhi mobile, kabhi computer (Sometimes a mobile, sometimes a computer)
  • At roughly the same time as Sehwag’s mother, Reliance hit upon another catchphrase – “Kabhi mobile, kabhi computer”, to highlight the fact that the phone was capable of a lot more than just making calls. This was actually a pretty good line. However, as is bound to happen with new technology, the phones faced teething problems. One of the problems was that they would overheat quite alarmingly. So the users started saying, “Kabhi mobile, kabhi toaster” (Sometimes a mobile, sometimes a toaster)

  • The Official Drink of the 1996 World Cup
    In the stakes for big advertising Coke managed to become the sponsor for the 1996 Cricket World Cup. They came up with the rather innocuous line, “The Official Drink of the 1996 World Cup”. Pepsi, though, smelt blood and went rather aggressively after Coke, marketing their drink with “Nothing Official About it!”. With its impressive array of brand ambassadors Pepsi won hands down. It took Coke a few years to recover from this and only with later ads of Thums Up and Sprite were they able to make fun of Pepsi to any extent whatsoever.

  • The Planning Commission’s map of India
    A few years back the Planning Commission of India released the Five Year Plan (I don’t recall if it was the 10th plan, starting 2002 or the 11th plan, starting 2007) with a map of India on the cover. The map showed a truncated Kashmir, which is in contradiction to India’s official stance of showing the disputed parts as Indian territory. This was really weird given that the Planning Commission botched this up. Wonder what they were smoking …

  • House numbers in Hyderabad
    The powers that be decided several years back that postal addresses in Hyderabad would be so weird that it would be futile to attempt to figure them out. So you have a house with address 7-1-40/B/1, Ameerpet or 16-3-41-1/C, Domalguda. It might have been okay if Ameerpet or Domalguda were small areas, but no – no locality is small enough. Plus most roads don’t have a name or number. Good luck finding that address.

  • Zzyzx and This
    During a trip from the Bay Area to Las Vegas we noticed a city named Zzyzx. The name wasn’t unfamiliar, since I used to watch Kyle XY. But it felt weird to actually see a city with this name. Well, there are grandiose reasons why you would want to name a city something such as this. Apparently the founders wanted this to be the lexicographically greatest city in the World. Fair enough. But then why would you like to have a city called D***o? Imagine saying, “Tremors measuring 4.3 on the Richter scale were felt in D***o today” or “Hi, I am Dick. And I work for D***o Construction Company” or “There was large-scale loss of wildlife in a raging bushfire in the region around D***o today”.

Who Died and Put You in Charge?

Here are a few things that really make you question the infinite sagacity of the folks in charge

  1. In cricket the first testicular guard was used in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1974. It took people over a hundred years to realize that the head is also very important.
  2. The rankings in Miss India contests used to be: Miss India, Miss India First Runner Up and Miss India Second Runner Up. The winner would go to Miss Universe, the First Runner Up to Miss World and the Second Runner Up to Miss Asia Pacific (or some other contest). Since 2007 the organization committee showed their wisdom. They renamed the titles as: Winner = Miss India World, First Runner Up = Miss India Universe and Second Runner Up = Miss India Earth. So Miss India World ranks ahead of Miss India Universe. Whoever knew that the World was larger than the Universe!
  3. “Dial M for Manipal” – Okay, I guess you would like a catchy tagline. So Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” could be morphed into “Dial M for Manipal”. But wait – this tagline is/was for Manipal hospital. So would you like to go to Manipal in an emergency and get murdered? I don’t know if and when the Manipal guys changed this line, but it really used to crack me up when I was in Bangalore from 2000 to 2002.
  4. It is common to have barf-bags in the seat pockets in front of you in flights. On a flight of Indigo Airlines in India last year for the first time I noticed a barf-bag with a message, “Hope you feel better soon”. Normally this wouldn’t be noticeable: who, after all, would go opening the barf-bags? But in this case the bags and the accompanying caption were conspicuously placed so that they would catch the eye of the passengers. It was as though they expected the passengers to fall sick!

Why So Serious?

For the few Indian readers that I have (not that I have any non-Indian readers), do you remember Flop Show? Do you remember the episode where Jaspal Bhatti made a TV serial?

He intended to make a tragedy, which unintentionally ended up becoming an award-winning comedy. A conversation with my brother Kokonad today sent me back to the days of Flop Show. Our conversation was through IM:

Koke: I like your blog… it’s really funny
Me: Thank you. I did not think there were too many funny entries there.
Koke: Style of writing sentences in general. :-). It’s like you truly seriously mean to say “…” (something in Bengali that I had remarked on our trip to LA and San Diego, which had Koke and Tanuka laughing uncontrollably) but it is funny to us!

So there you are – here I am, trying to seriously weigh two sides of every issue (unsuccessfully, of course) and people are having a laugh. This happens to me quite often. Remember Spontaneous Rotflosis? When I talk I am probably more serious than most people. If the Joker from The Dark Knight was present, he would probably have asked: “Why so serious?”

Heath Ledger as the Joker... Why so serious?
Heath Ledger as the Joker... Why so serious?

And yet, I wasn’t trying to be funny.

And There Goes My Confidence…

Have you come across any signs on the road or elsewhere that really scare you? This is a photo taken on a freeway near San Francisco. It is not a very uncommon road-sign and can be seen on several roads where there are sharp turns. I am sure the drivers of trucks feel very confident looking at such signs and the people passing them feel even more so.

Try Passing Me!
Try Passing Me!

Here is another that looks less risky, but when you think about it in a certain way, this sign at an airport sure looks like the plane is going to nosedive rather than arrive.

Plane Landing or Nosediving?
Plane Landing or Nosediving?

Thanks to Haldar for pointing these out.

Sun, Moon and Machu Picchu

This is something I have been wanting to post for a very long time. While watching Satyajit Ray’s last film Agantuk, featuring Utpal Dutt, I was very impressed with one observation. The reason I hadn’t published this so far was because I wanted people to watch this clip, and the VCD was not available at hand.

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For those not familiar with Bengali, here is the translation:

Utpal Dutt: … What did I say the name of the city was?
Kids: Machu Picchu!
Utpal Dutt: Machu Picchu… Here, take a look at this (shows photo)
Kids: Wow! Have you been to this place?
Utpal Dutt: Of course! It was I who took this picture. I had gone there 20 years back, riding a mule. Looking at the city I was awestruck. It was made entirely of stone, but there was no stone to be seen nearby. Where did they get the stone? How did they raise the stone up the mountains (the Andes)? Nobody knows. The Incas were a wonderful civilization.
Kids: Tell us another story.
Utpal Dutt: No, no more stories. Let me show you a magic trick (takes some coins out of a pouch)
Kids: What are these?
Utpal Dutt: I am going to ask you a few questions. Let’s see if you can answer correctly. Ready?
Kids: Ready!
Utpal Dutt: OK, which one is larger, the moon or the sun?
Kids: The sun!
Utpal Dutt: How did you know? Wait … (lays two coins of the same size side by side). This is the moon and this is the sun. They appear to be of the same size in the sky…
Kids: That’s because the sun is a lot further away.
Utpal Dutt: How far? Let me tell you. The sun is 95 million miles from the earth and the moon is just 500,000 miles away.
Kids: That is why they appear to be of the same size.
Utpal Dutt: Now let’s say that the moon wasn’t 500,000 miles away, but 200,000 miles away.
Kids: Then the moon would appear much larger.
Utpal Dutt: (Replaces the “moon” coin with a larger coin) Like this, right?
Kids: Yes
Utpal Dutt: And what if the moon was 800,000 miles away?
Kids: It would appear a lot smaller.
Utpal Dutt: (Replaces the “moon” coin with a smaller coin) Like this, right?
Kids: Yes
Utpal Dutt: But that did not happen. The moon was just far enough to appear to be of the same size as the sun (puts back the original “moon” coin). That is why when the moon comes in front of the sun and slowly covers it, the edges match up perfectly…
Kids: Solar eclipse!
Utpal Dutt: Total solar eclipse. And when the earth’s shadow covers the moon, again the edges match up perfectly.
Kids: Lunar eclipse.
Utpal Dutt: Total lunar eclipse. How does this happen? (The kids look at one another) Don’t know, right? Ask the greatest scholar on earth – even he wouldn’t be able to tell you. Nobody can tell you. This is a puzzle. In my opinion this is the biggest puzzle in the universe. The sun and the moon, the king of the day and the queen of the night, and the shadow of the earth on the moon – all circles of the same size. Magic!

I found this quite profound, and indeed a very big puzzle. Of course, some of you might argue that for the moon to cover the sun during a solar eclipse, the moon has to appear smaller than the sun, not the same size (think cones), but the fact remains that the moon covers the sun perfectly during the total solar eclipse. Intriguing, right?

Kids and the Darndest Things

Ever since my son Aikataan was born my wife Sutanuka and I have had a lot of moments to treasure. And wonder. Most have to do with the fascinating way a child’s mind goes to work.

Yes, it is all yours!
Is this all mine?

I am sure there are medical reasons for most things, but contrary to my nature this is one case where I don’t want to know the answers – the wonder of not knowing is much better than the satisfaction of knowing.

  • Almost as soon as the child is born, the mother is asked to feed him (I know I should be adding the “/her”, but that is too painful and I don’t want to refer to a child as “it”). How is it that the child knows he has to suck in or swallow?
  • How far can a child see when he is born (much to my consternation I was told the answer for this)? How far can he hear?
  • Is he afraid when he is still an infant? When slightly older, why do most babies feel afraid of the sound of hissing steam or a vacuum cleaner in action?
  • When does he start feeling protective of other babies?
  • One morning I was having my breakfast, when Aikataan was about one year old. Since we were training him to eat with cutlery, he could hold a fork in his hand and make attempts to eat. Also, he was in the habit of getting tiny morsels from us when we were eating. On the morning in discussion, I offered him something from my plate, on my fork. He refused and quickly ran away. A little while later he came back with a plastic fork in his hand, ready to eat by himself.
  • In what way do they miss people? Aikataan and Tanuka were in India for the last 4 months, with my parents and Tanuka’s. He rarely asked for me and always refused to talk to me on the phone. But it wasn’t like he had forgotten me, since he was quite enthusiastic during video chats. But once he returned to the US he refused to leave my side. He even shunned an outing with his mother to stay back with me and watch Superman Returns.
  • How well-developed are their memories? What are things that they remember? Aikataan has often helped find things that he had seen others misplace and I am sure other kids do the same.
  • My friend Arunda was telling me about this incident where he was assembling an air-pump for his son Ruman’s bicycle. Ruman is around 3.5 years old at present and he pointed out to his father by showing him the assembly manual that there was one component that was wrongly attached.