30 June 2008

Spot The Happy Child

You have 3 choices in your life in my school:
  1. Good at math? Study science, join the elite and struggle to engineering.
  2. Not so good at math? Struggle and fail to study medicine, fall back on engineering.
  3. Suck at math? Study Commerce.

Commerce is the most looked down upon field of study in my school. If you choose commerce, then you accept defeat at the hands of the math gods. In some form of poetic justice, the Commerce studs that cleared the Chartered Accountancy exam got much better jobs than the average engineer from PS.

I hated accounts after watching my accountant parents discuss accounts every evening (later with my accountant brother). I was no math stud, but I fought my way in. It was the first time I competed academically for something that mattered. I don’t know why I did it, but it changed things.

I went on to study Mechanical Engineering, because I didn’t have the balls to take up Physics. Again, I don’t quite know why I did it, but it changed things.

After engineering I struggled with technical drawings during my 8 month stint at the valve factory. I only joined the factory because I had to do something – like get a job. I hated drawing.

In my last academic stunt, I joined IIM Indore, mainly to quit my drawing job and buy 2 years to think of what I wanted to do, at the end of which I failed to figure anything out, and grabbed the job which would take me around the world. It’s the closest I’ve got to doing what I wanted to do – travel.

For a long time, until much after school ended, I thought people could only become one of three things – Engineer, Doctor or Chartered Accountant.

When I met other professionals, like the electrician who fixed my home, I was confused. Where did these people come from? What choices did they have in high school? How did Carl Lewis start jumping? How did Gopal know he wanted to script ads? How did he go to sleep knowing that ideas will flow in the next day? How did Joy, who didn’t give a shit about anything, know everything about a camera?

In Vietnam, I was amazed to meet a senior from my school. It’s always fun to bitch about that school. In P.S., we had 4 sections:

A had the brightest, coolest brains, studying Hindi. My favourite chics then were in that section. D had the bright brains who chose to study Sanskrit. C was the Tamil section, with the uncoolest tambrahm babes (Cheenu would call them MPBs – Malli-Poo-Babes). B was for Bad. The very worst students, the Dawoods and Chota Shakeels and Rajans of that disciplined tambrahm school found their way to B section. B for Bad.

My school made sure that people who had fun got the worst scores. They made the equation clear. “You have fun now, you’ll suffer later!” It’s the life’s truth, we were taught. I wondered until what age I would have to be serious for a happy life afterwards. Without intent, it happened to be the year after I passed out of that school.

In another friend’s school in Bombay, students were mixed randomly once every 2 years, so that they grew up knowing everybody and embracing change. My school determined our classmates for the next 7 years when we were 10 year olds. Every second in that school was a battle with the brains you were pitted against. It was Darwinian, in that someone had to die. If everyone fared well, the next exam would correct it.

Some had to feel worse, in the hope of greater desire to become better. Of all the lessons my school tried to teach me, this one’s the hardest to forget.

I have fond memories of childhood, which I miss sometimes. The sense of purpose was stronger then. But my school makes me feel thrilled about where I am now.

28 June 2008


A good place to meet the rare breed of fat Vietnamese, the massage parlour employs towels that barely make the little path around my 30” waist. I think the massage is the best luxury money can buy in the developing world.

The massage girl smiled and said hi, in an erotic tone. Over the next hour I discovered that it was the only tone she knew. The conversation was plain and she massaged like mad, with the precision of a surgeon. Sometimes she stood on me, sometimes she sat, sometimes she sat beside.

It was strange lying naked but for a loose towel next to a chic I met a minute back. After an hour of clinical build-up, she asked me if I would like her to massage the one part left untouched. I smiled, nervous with embarrassment, and told her about the many women waiting for me in India.


I smiled in deeper embarrassment, and said nothing (almost never happens).

16 June 2008

IST + 01:30

As I walk along the beach at Varkala, Kerala, I see old grey-haired men pass time by the waves. Their history is the story of Kerala heard all over India. Worked in Dubai or Singapore, and returned home when their tired old limbs had fresh young ones for company, and competition.

After exchanging names and home-towns, we move on to things that matter.

“You have a job?”


“How much?”

I’m slightly embarrassed but I tell him the truth.

Then we talk about family. He explains how he’s married off his children. He’s a proud man, proud at having fulfilled his responsibilities. His wife is long dead, so he sits by the waves and listens to the coconut trees.

Now it’s my turn.

I tell him about my parents and elder brother.

“No sister?!”

In Tamil Nadu, if someone misbehaves with a chic in public, someone will yell “Weren’t you born with sisters?!” It’s the most embarrassing public allegation according to me, but maybe that’s because I try not to misbehave.

So I didn’t quite pick the intent behind the Old Mallu Man’s reaction to my sisterless existence and fumbled into confused silence.

“No expense! Your path is clear!”

Sister = Expense





In Vietnam, the factory is filled with women. This is especially strange to me, because my old factory in Madras had less than a dozen women lost in a sea of 500 men. They were Tamil-chics-who-wear-flowers-I’m-allergic-to, stacked away carefully in Accounts. I’ve never felt happier for not following my genes into Accountancy.

Here, the cashew and coffee factories are filled with women. The suppliers of trucks of coffee are women, all the restaurants have women… on the streets, in the stores… everywhere.

I walk into the Cashew Regrading Centre, where women sit around mountains of cashew, picking the good from the bad and the terrible. They all flash a big smile and say hi, with a bow of the head.

The older ones tease the young ones who glance at my brown skin. I think Indians and our brown skin has much greater value outside India.

I can’t stop blushing and smiling.

Later, I sit next to 35 year old Nga (Ngyya) and learn some documentation. We have 5 mutually understood words, and struggle with communication for half an hour. It’s fascinating, and at the end of it, I learn more Vietnamese than documentation.

They’re most curious about my age, not how much I earn. Two days back I was with a bike-taxi guy, waiting to score some, and we were generally talking… and he guessed my age correctly, without needing a second guess. I learn that he’ll turn 38 the next month. I told him that I was born in July too, and asked him the date… he frowned in thought and said “I don’t know… I’m so busy you know!”

15 June 2008

The Cost Of Living

$10 per girl per hour. You can pick and choose, like Mangoes. Flirt, cuddle, scratch, hold and dance. Sex is more expensive.

Fat old bald and slender young firm-breasts. Fat Old’s fat belly is the Slender One’s toy. She plays, He scratches. Edgily. He throws his head back, and revels in the attention.

He walks to a dance floor filled with Slender Ones and Old Balds. Slender One follows, hand in hand. Almost romantic.

Whisky is served in the place of Rum. I protest, nobody gives a fuck.

Hands are meshed, numbers are exchanged. Slender One’s been invited Home. Slender One says “One month I see you then Home”. It’s a balmy night in the lives of The First-Timers.

Me? I don't like paying.

5 June 2008

Rượu đế

In my old factory, lunch was the best part of the day (Work = Worship). We got to see the sun as we walked to the mess, listen to incessant gossip, and the food was delicious and subsidised (45 paise). The bad part was that we had all of 30 minutes for the many things we liked about the lunch.

Here in Vietnam, everyone takes an hour long nap after lunch.

Anyway, today my factory had a good day and so we went to a local place for a second lunch. The place was filthy as a state-run wine shop in Tamil Nadu... the floor was littered with half eaten pieces of meat and junk and they had two dogs instead of people to clean up the mess. The dogs roamed around freely, scavenging happily. Everyone was happy.

So I tasted the local rice toddy... harsh and nearly unpalatable, it brought back memories from kerala. Now I'm back at the coffee factory, trying to understand vouchers, ledgers and reports.

I love Vietnam, and I love the freedom.

2 June 2008

saigon - first impressions

today, for the first time, i treated myself to a foot massage. the 3 slight girls giggled, gossiped, flirted and massaged for 90 minutes. two feet, about the size of a man, were painted on the walls, showing which part of the foot is linked to which part of the body. it's hard to imagine, until she takes out each muscle, each pressure point, like a killer surgeon. their fingers are so strong that when she held my neck i felt meek; like she could kill me anytime she wanted to. by the end of it i felt intoxicated. after today i like vietnam a little more.

people are friendly and eager to smile and talk. often, they don't recognise even nouns in english. my dumb charades skills from college comes to my rescue. everyone laughs as i try to explain vegetarianism. the other day i wrote "chicken pork beef" and scored it off, and then wrote onion tomato egg beneath.

the girls laugh for absolutely everything. if you ever need an ego-boost come to vietnam. i feel much funnier after a week here.

the traffic here is the worst i've ever seen. nothing in india - not even kerala - can beat saigon. here the step-thru scooters have their way everywhere. the trucks don't bully around, and the small guys have more power, maybe thanks to socialism.

i experimented too much with the local food and wine, and shat blood a few days back. i went to meet a dr. jane. she apologised for being rude and asked me if id had anal sex recently. i thought of asking her why she thought that was rude.