Gandhi

I was playing table tennis in my hostel at IIT with a friend who came from North India. At some point during a rally, the ball hit the edge of the table on his side, and moved far away, giving me the point. I apologised (when you normally do when you win a point by fluke), and said “Gandhi”. He didn’t understand what that meant.

It was then that I realised that using the word “Gandhi” as a euphemism for “fluke” is mostly a Bangalore thing. Back when I played table tennis during my school days, a let was called “Gandhi”, as was a ball hitting the edge of the table. It was the same case with comparable sports such as badminton or tennis or even volleyball. A basket that went in by fluke in basketball was also “Gandhi”.

Now, it might be hard for people to reconcile flukes with MK Gandhi, who was assassinated sixty eight years ago. Some people might also find it repugnant – that the great Mahatma’s name might be used to describe flukes. Looking at it as a fluke, however, is a shallow interpretation.

While it is hard to compare¬†Gandhi (the person) with flukes, it is not hard at all to look at him as a figure of benevolence. He was known for his non-violent methods, and for turning the proverbial “other cheek”. He pioneered the use of non-cooperation as a method of protest (which has unfortunately far outlived its utility) and showed that you could win by being extremely nice. This was channelled in a movie a decade ago which spoke about “Gandhigiri” as a strategy for world domination.

So when the table tennis ball hits the edge of the table and flies off, invoking Gandhi’s name is a sign of benevolence by the person who has lost the point, who implicitly says “you, bugger, didn’t deserve to win this point. But I’ll be benevolent like Gandhi and allow you to take it”. It is similar in other sporting contexts, such as a let or a freak basket.

The invocation of Gandhi’s name as a sign of benevolence is common in other fields as well. In 1991, my cousin had to miss her second standard annual exams as she had to fly to Bangalore on account of the death of the grandfather we shared. Her school, in an act of benevolence, promoted her anyway, an act that was described by other relatives in Bangalore as “Gandhi pass”.

If there is a Gandhi pass, there is a Gandhi class also (again I was surprised to know it’s not a thing in North India). Another of Gandhi’s defining characteristics was the simplicity of his life. Though he could afford to travel better, he would always travel third class, which had the cheapest ticket. As a consequence, the cheapest ticket came to be known as the “Gandhi class”.

The term (Gandhi class) is now most commonly used in the context of cinemas, referring to the front few rows for which tickets are the cheapest. Even though multiplexes have larger blocks nowadays, which means front row tickets are no cheaper than those a few rows behind, the nomenclature sticks. If you are unlucky enough to only get a seat in the first couple of rows, you proudly say you are in “Gandhi class”.

That his name has come to be associated with so many everyday occurrences, mostly in irreverence, illustrates the impact Gandhi has had. Some people might outrage (as the fashion is nowadays) about the irreverence, and “reduction” of Gandhi to these concepts.

I’m still surprised, though, that things like “Gandhi class”, “Gandhi pass” and “Gandhi” as a euphemism for fluke weren’t that prevalent in North India fifteen years ago.

Valuing a flexible week

For the last couple of weeks my wife has taken time off from work, and given that I’m freelancing, we as a couple now have a flexible week. Yesterday, we went shopping. We were at the Bangalore Central store in JP Nagar, and for the first time in a really long time, were able to shop without bumping into fellow-shoppers every other moment. My wife didn’t have to wait endless hours in the queue just to get into the trial rooms (yeah, this happens at large format apparel stores on weekends). We shopped at Food Bazaar sub-store, and could take our time in deciding what to buy, without sharing aisles with other shoppers. The checkout counter was empty, ABSOLUTELY EMPTY, and we had an extremely peaceful experience there. It was an awesome day of shopping.

There are certain things that are done so much easier on weekdays than on weekends. Shops are significantly less crowded. If you have to get work done in government offices, you are better off going there on a weekday than on Saturday (when there are more consumers, and the employees are pissed off at the end of a long week). You don’t need to book cinema tickets hours before. Restaurants aren’t crowded. If you go for a day trip, you can expect your destination to not be flooded with other tourists. Of course, there are activities which are so much easily done on weekends rather than on weekdays – this involves anything that involves driving across the city in “peak traffic” hours.

So it’s clear that the “flexible working week” that I have provides some intangible value. Of course, since my wife doesn’t have a flexible week, we as a couple don’t always get to enjoy my flexible week, but leave that aside for now. What I’m trying to understand is the extra value that I”m getting thanks to my having a flexible week, and if I can put a number on it.

One way I can think of valuing my flexible week is in terms of optionality. I’ve listed down some of the advantages of doing certain things on a weekday. Maybe I can quantify the value of each of them? Maybe the value of the time I save by not standing in a queue at a checkout counter? The economic value of buying more and better clothes because I can shop peacefully? The additional value I get by having the picnic spot to myself rather than sharing it with a hundred others. The option value of being able to walk into a movie hall and buy tickets a minute before the show. And so on. And all this multiplied, of course, by the probability of my wanting to do each of these activities. Sounds right?

Of course, I’m talking about a flexible week here, and not about a week where you have weekly holiday on a weekday, like my wife had earlier this year. Thanks to some power supply issues, the local electricity distribution company mandated different weekly holidays for heavy industries in different parts of the city, thanks to which my wife had her weekly off on Wednesdays. And they were among the two most disorienting months I’ve been through. We were unable to do all those things that we would have normally done on weekends (and which are more advantageous to be done on weekends). I couldn’t do a full day of work on Saturday to compensate for not working on Wednesday. And I would try to work on Wednesday but wouldn’t be able to because my wife had her weekly off that day. It was absolutely mindfucking.

So yeah, maybe the next time someone asks me how much I”m making as a freelancer, I must include the “value of a flexible week” in the number I tell them!

Bangalore Book Festival

So today I made my way to Gayatri Vihar in the Palace Grounds to visit the Bangalore Book Festival, on its last day. It was interesting, though a bit crowded (what would you expect on the last day of an exhibition? and that too, when it’s a Sunday?). I didn’t buy much (just picked up two books) given the massive unread pile that lies at home. However, there was much scope for pertinent observations. Like I always do when I have a large number of unrelated pertinent observations, I’ll write this in bullet point form.

  • There were some 200 stalls. Actually, there might have been more. I didn’t keep count, despite the stalls having been numbered. Yeah, you can say that I wasn’t very observant.
  • All the major bookshops in Bangalore barring the multicity ones had set up shop there. I don’t really know what they were doing there. Or were they just trying to capture the market that only buys in fairs? Or did they set up stall there just to advertise themselves?
  • It seems like a lot of shops were trying to use the fair to get rid of inventory they wanted to discard. All they had to do was to stack all of this on one table and put a common price tag (say Rs. 50) on every book in that collection, and it was enough to draw insane crowds
  • One interesting stall at the fair had been set up by pothi.com an online self-publishing company. I’ll probably check them out sometime next year when I might want to publish a blook. Seems like an interesting business model they’ve got. Print on demand!
  • I also met the flipkart.com guys at the fair. Once again, they were there for advertising themselves. Need to check them out sometime. Given the kind of books I buy, I think online is the best place to get long tail stuff.
  • There was an incredibly large number of islamic publishing houses at the fair! And have you guys seen the “want qur an? call 98xxxxxxxx for free copy” hoardings all over the city? Wonder why the Bajrang Dal doesn’t target those
  • There was large vernacular presence at the fair. I remember reading in the papers that there was a quota for Kannada publishers, but there was reasonable presence for other languages also, like Gult, Tam, Mellu, Hindi
  • A large number of stalls were ideology driven. Publishing houses attached to cults had set up stalls, probably to further the cause of their own cult. So there was an ISKCON stall, a Ramakrishna Mutt stall, a Ramana Maharshi stall, etc.
  • Attendance at most of these niche stalls was quite thin, as people mostly crowded the stalls being run by bookstores in order to hunt for bargains. Attendance was also mostly thin at publisher-run stalls, making me wonder why most of these people had bothered to come to the fair at all.
  • I saw one awesomely funny banner at the place. It was by “Dr Partha Bagchi, the world leader in stammering for last 20 years” or some such thing. Was too lazy to pull out my phone and click pic. But it was a masterpiece of a banner
  • Another interesting ideological publisher there was “Leftword books”. Their two sales reps were in kurtas and carrying jholas (ok I made the latter part up). And they were sellling all sorts of left-wing books. Wonder who funds them! And they were also selling posters of Che for 10 bucks each
  • I wonder what impact this fair will have on bookstores in Bangalore in the next few days. Or probably it was mostly the non-regular book buyers who did business at the fair and so the regulars will be back at their favourite shops tomorrow.

I bought two books. Vedam Jaishankar’s Casting A Spell: A history of Karnataka cricket (I got it at Rs. 200, as opposed to a list price of Rs 500) and Ravi Vasudevan’s “Making Meaning in Indian Cinema”.

The things we talk about

Following a conversation with Harbhajan last night, I was reminded of one of our earlier conversations, three years back. Mansoor had also been present at that conversation, and somehow for me that represented some sort of a landmark. Barring the odd stray conversation, that was the first time I had been involved in a deep conversation with other guys about the theory of relationships. I don’t know why but before that I somehow used to reserve such conversations only for women.

Back when we were getting to know each other, the only thing that Harbhajan and I would talk about was about JEE mugging, about problem number 487 in “Problems in General Physics” by I E Irodov, and occasionally mimicing the accent of one or the other profs in our JEE coaching factory. Going forward, we had talked about CGPA, very occasionally about careers, and of late (leading up to that day in April 2006) about investment banking interviews.

It was similar fare with Mansoor also, and also with most of the other guys I was good friends with. We would talk about the usual “conversation-makers” – cricket, football, politics and cinema. During my brief stay in England, weather also got added to the list of topics we talked about. And of course, there was bitching, which was something we all loved to do, and which I had taken a special liking for.

Conversations with women, however, used to be different. The bitching was definitely there – in fact I managed to impress quite a few women with my bitching skills (and I used the same skills to depress quite a few women also) – but the “usual stuff” was absent. What also got added, though, was stuff like theory of relationships. Stuff like cribbing about “life issues” (regarding “normal issues” i was an equal opportunity cribber – didn’t distinguish between various classes of cribbees). Trying to analyze relationships while leaving out the bitching aspect of it.

Because of this distinction of topic of conversation, the bar for a woman to become my friend was set extremely high, because of which I had few female friends. Using orkut classification, most of the women I knew were either acquaintances (most) or good friends (very few); there were few friends. Also, my refusal to discuss “life issues” with other guys (among whom I had a large number of both friends and “good friends”) meant that my options for conversation were limited when I wanted to discuss life issues.

What I don’t understand is how I got into that kind of a distinction in the first place. I fail to figure out why I used to make this distinction about topic of conversation between men and women. Moreover, I fail to figure out what happened to me that pleasant April night in Jayanagar when I opened up to Mansoor and Harbhajan. Since then, I’ve been treating women I have no romantic interest in on par with men, and I think that is the way things should be. Also, maybe things were the same over ten years back in higher secondary – no distinction.

I don’t know what had happened to me then, because of which I turned out the way I did. And I don’t know what happened to make me change back. All I know is that in the intervening period, I had some strange policies because of which I suffered. Oh, and I must mention that most of that “intervening period” was spent in IIT Madras, whose gender ratio is well-known.