Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My faux fireplace

When I moved into my current apartment a couple of years ago, it was the beginning of November. It was getting cold, but not cold enough to warrant turning on the heater. Two weeks later, it did turn cold (by California standards). I called up the gas company to make sure the heater pilot was turned on. They said it was. When I returned home that evening, I was happy that I could avail of the services of the heater.

Only thing was, I could not find the switch/knob or any other control to turn it on. I was quite confident that the contraption with the vented grill in the living room was the heater. But turning on all the nearby switches did not give the reassuring hum of a heater being started. Finally, I decided the controls must be discretely located in some secret place for aesthetic reasons (bah - what poor planning!) and decided to call up the apartment manager the next day to figure out where exactly this secret place was. I just wore extra sweaters that night.

The next day, the apartment manager told me that the heater controls were located right below the heater. Behind the panel apparently. Huh? What panel? I did not remember seeing any panel during my search of the previous evening. However I thanked her and decided to put aside my research to when I got home.

That evening I got home and stared long and hard at the heater. Where exactly was this panel she was talking about? I tried prying open the unit. No luck. Then I decided to try my luck with the lower half. I tugged at the grill and oooh, the grill came apart.

Upon further examination, I noticed two red knobs inside it - one to turn on the heater and another to control temperature. What the heck!!! Was this how I was supposed to turn on the heater each time I wanted it on? These controls looked like the plumbing controls insides some dark basement of the 40s! Waaah - I should have known better than to rent an apartment in a 30 year old building.

I tentatively turned on the heater. There was a sizzle and a pop - kinda like the sound you get when you turn on a gas-stove. And bang, my heater burst into flames. Not really - but I could see the flames burning bright and merry just above the knobs. Phew - so I could burn my hand too if I wanted to. Great!

The good part was, I at least had some heat now. However, it took me quite some amount of getting used to the heater. The visitors to my apartment had interesting reactions. When my friends A and S came over and I turned on the heater, they saw the flash of the flame and gasped, "Archu, be careful - you are going to set your hair on fire". Others asked me apprehensively if the apartment would burn down.

But me being me, I decided to look at the bright side. I had a "fireplace" thrown in as bonus in the apartment. True, the fireplace looked like it was inside a jail - but hey, I could actually see flames dancing merrily, right?

All this positive thinking however did not quell my fears that I was going to die of carbon monoxide poisoning and/or my apartment burning down. And I never let the heater be on when I am not at home or when I am alseep.

Why this pointless and rambling monologue about my heater? The other night, a slew of three fire trucks came swooping down the road next to my apartment complex to handle some emergency a couple of buildings away. After the initial novelty of gawking at the bright fire-engine lights wore off, I returned to my book and ipod.

A little later, I decided to retire to bed and bent down to turn off the heater. My hand was close to the heater control knob when I realized my ipod was still strapped to my wrist and was now dangerously close to the flames. I retracted my hand to remove the ipod first. As I took off the ipod, I calmly thought "Oh well, if there is a fire, all these fire trucks are right here!"

Looks like I am learning to co-exist with my heater.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


"But we have to foresee all sorts of unforeseen circumstances!"

I swear I am not making this up. One of my colleagues just said this during a heated discussion about whether it was possible to account for all kinds of user scenarios.

That's why you shouldn't put a bunch of stressed-out, discussing engineers in the same room for more than three hours!

Thursday, January 17, 2008


What rot! I know I ought to know better than read such stupid articles - but here is an excerpt from an article which talks about a wife catching her husband cheating on her with her best friend. This is the advice a psychologist has for the philandering husband:
Instead of looking back through his marriage for the root of his problems, Dr. Robin tells David to think back even further. "All of us get wounded in childhood. You did not create this kind of self-destruction in your life, in your wife's life, in the lives of your children without a wound starting in childhood," she says. "Who pulled the rug from underneath you? That's what you've done to your family, and we learn that behavior somewhere. … Someone teaches us how to be mean."
I would like to know how it has become so common these days to absolve yourself of responsibility for your own actions and instead conveniently place the blame on something "bad" that *could* have happened eons ago. These are adults we are talking about - not mentally retarded two year olds. If a person cannot handle the weight of responsibility for their own actions, then perhaps they are not fit to operate as an adult and need to be put under constant care 24 hours a day.

This convenient offloading of responsibility irritates me no end. So am I entitled to be the biggest jerk of the century because, um, in my childhood some kid ate apple pieces from my snack-box when I was not looking? Maybe psychologists need to find deep and hidden meanings for ordinary mean and unacceptable behavior just so that they can stay in business.

I thought growing up involved learning to have control over who you are and trying to make yourself a decent member of society. Not just getting the right to vote, drive, smoke and drink.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mickey Blue Eyes

I have never been a huge Hugh Grant fan (though I loved him in About a boy). Today I finished watching Mickey Blue Eyes. The movie by itself is a total timepass watch. But man, Hugh Grant is super funny. He is the best thing about the movie.

I was howling with laughter while watching one of the scenes where suave, proper Englishman Hugh Grant tries to learn to speak like an Italian gangster because he has been introduced as Little Big Mickey Blue Eyes (!?!) from Chicago to some members of the mafia. To spread the joy, I started to hunt for the clip. And guess what, the good old ever-dependable youtube had the entire sequence.

Spoiler warning: this sequence is perhaps the best in the entire movie. If you have not watched Mickey Blue Eyes before and plan to, don't watch. If you do watch the clip, the best bits are right towards the end. Enjoy!

And oh, Happy Pongal to everyone :-)!

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Life can never get so bad that it can't get worse. I have been working so sincerely the past few days. Coming in early. Going back beyond my usual work timings. Working really hard in between. Hardly doing any surfing or blog-hopping or news-reading or anything non-work related.

So how do I get rewarded? By a hard disk crash. I came in early yet again this morning - all set to finish my tasks. And pressed ctrl+alt+del to log on. The machine rebooted by itself and then died. I am now resetting everything from scratch on a temporary machine. And will later have to transfer all that work to a permanent machine. There goes one whole work day at the very least.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Why do I even bother trying to be a worker-bee in the first place?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Taare Zameen Par

At long last, after the rest of the world has already finished watching and praising the movie, I watched Taare Zameen Par (TZP). I liked the movie. I thought the first half of the movie was very well made: it was natural and powerful. Most of the second-half however took on a somewhat larger-than-life hue. Still the movie overall made a very decent watch. Do watch it if you already haven't!

But this post is not about TZP. This post is about boarding schools (or hostels, the more common terminology), memories of which were evoked while watching TZP. In the movie, the protagonist, eight-year-old Ishaan (an aside: the child playing Ishaan in the movie is simply brilliant in the role), is informed that he is going to be put in a boarding school so that he will be forced to work harder. Ishaan reacts to this news with horror and pleads with his mom to let him stay at home.

I wondered how I would have reacted to such news at a similar age. It is hard to say for sure, but I kinda guess, my reaction would have been: glee. You see, when we were kids, my sister and me were brought up on a diet of Enid Blyton's Malory Towers and St. Clare's books. Each of the books in these series featured boarding schools where the young residents seemed to have a ball of a time pretty much all the time: having midnight parties, playing tricks on teachers, hanging out with friends - the works.

In all, sis and me got the impression that boarding school was some kind of heaven where children got to do all kinds of fun stuff with minimal adult supervision (we conveniently forgot the teachers, matrons and so on who also appeared in these books).

Besides, in the Enid Blyton (and other books by western authors) books we read, the kids featured in all the stories invariably went to boarding schools, typically coming home only for the "summer" or for the "holidays". Going to boarding school seemed like a very normal part of childhood. So much so that we were sometimes secretly disappointed that we had to remain day-scholars!

My sister finally got her dream of going to a boarding-school fulfilled in high school. From all accounts, the first few months were pure hell. She quickly disabused me of my romanticized notions of boarding schools and I dimly began to comprehend how lucky I was to be able to go to school from home. But being in the hostel grew on her and she went on to create quite a lot of wonderful memories there.

My first chance to stay in a hostel came during my first year of undergrad. My college was located in Chennai whereas my dad was working in a different city. While I was nervous about staying away from home, I was also excited. Midnight parties and fun times, here I come! The excitement lasted till the time I shopped for new things, met my future room-mates and most importantly, was still with my parents. Finally, it was time to say adieu.

The car was in front of my hostel. The last of my packages had safely been deposited in my hostel room. The hostel watchman watched while I said goodbye to my mom and dad. I was grinning weakly. Then, all of a sudden, the tears simply tumbled from my eyes. And just wouldn't stop no matter how hard I tried. Darn - all those stupid books about fun times in the hostel never described just how hard it is to wave good-bye to the dearest and most loved people in your life. Even if the good-bye and the separation is only temporary.

And I stood there and cried and cried as though my heart would break (had I known any better, I would have shut up and done my howling in private. Parents get so upset by their children's tears). At long last, the watchman intervened. He advised me to go inside, saying kindly, "Don't worry, child. Before you know it, four years will be up." To my parents he added, "We will take good care of her. The students here are very busy studying and barely have the time to miss home. Please don't worry." And with heavy hearts, the final farewells were said.

All this happened when I was a wise seventeen years old. I could only imagine just how much more terrible eight-year-old Ishaan in TZP would have felt. Which was why I could barely hold back my tears when I watched this song and listened to the lyrics:

Kudos to the director!

Though being away from home was initially very difficult, I haven't regretted staying in the hostel. Being the youngest person in my house, I was babied a lot while at home. Hostel made me more independent. But that was just a fringe benefit. What I remember the most: midnight parties with cakes and dancing, all night gossip sessions, champion-eater competitions, movie-watching marathons, hair-cutting cum beautification sessions, surreptitious omlette making in the room, concocting plausible excuses for arriving after curfew again, buying chai at midnight for "studying" .... and doing a million other fun things with hostel-mates, some of whom have become friends for life. All this in between our "busy studying" schedules. Hostel was fun!

The hostel stay also prepared me for coming abroad. I think I adjusted much faster to being so far away from home than the poor souls who were doing that for the very first time in their lives. After all, I had already had a peek at the brighter side and knew that no matter how bleak the world looked at the time of farewell, it would not end and could only get better from there!

This is the best (according to me) picturized song from TZP. You can feel the child's wonder.