Strategic Food Attack at Functions

While standing in line waiting rather impatiently for my dinner at Monkee’s engagement today, I was thinking of strategies that one can employ in order to get one’s food quickly in places where there are long lines. I’d faced the same question a couple of weeks back at Sharadha’s wedding, where again the lines were insanely long. On both occasions, I think I managed to figure out reasonable solutions.

The thing with most guests at functions like these is that they tend to approach the food in linear fashion. They start from one end and go through the whole line taking little bits of everything on the menu. Most people I know, especially from the older generation, don’t go back for a second helping. And so this means that they need to get everything the first time round.

The key to cracking the puzzle is to approach things in a non-linear fashion, as I realized at both Monkee’s and Sharadha’s functions. Like for example, today I managed to break down the queue into various sub-queues and with quick mental analysis understood the bottlenecks, and decided my diet for the night based on that.

For example, today I noticed that the main queue was for one table where you got the plates, pakodas, thair vade, jalebi and some salads. These things had all been arranged around a table which seemed non-intuitive to a lot of people because of which the crowd was heavy. And I realized that just to pick off the plate from the stack and scoot off, I could break the line without being impolite.

Next, analyzing the main course queues, I realized that one main line was at the dosa counter, and decided to forego it in the interests of getting my food quickly. Again I quickly ran this optimization algorithm in my head which told me that it was best to have rotis (involved a small wait) and curries in the first round and then rice in the second. It worked beautifully, and I had a hearty dinner without ever standing in line!

At Sharadha’s wedding too I had managed to spot and exploit arbitrage opportunities. For example, I realized that people never stood in queues to get second helpings, and that I could peacefully get around the line by taking the plate from the hardly-crowded salad counter and then going to the main line looking like I was going for second helpings.

The key at buffets is to keep your eyes and ears (yeah, I managed to “spot” that spoons had arrived by hearing their clanging) open to any sort of arbitrage opportunities, and once spotted to ruthlessly exploit them. And you need to be a little RG. If you try to take along too many people when you are implementing such plans, it will be self-defeating and your returns diminish.

And if you find yourself at a buffet which has lots of financial traders, I really pity you.

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”.

Don’t Binge on Books

The problem with binging on books is that your reading preferences are static, and given work and other considerations the amount you read is kinda fixed. So if it so happens that you go book-shopping and purchase a much larger number of books than what you can conceivably read in the next few weeks, there is the risk that by the time you get to some of the books among them, your preferences have changed and you don’t find the books interesting any more.

And because you have a pile of unread books at home (from your last few binges), you don’t feel like going and purchasing more books. And you might end up having nothing good to read. Even if you manage to overcome the sight of the stack of unread books and buy more, you will slowly accumulate a huge unread stack. Some of them might occasionally come of use later, but most just end up adorning your bookshelf. And when you are on a binge, there is a good chance that you’ve made enough poor choices that the books don’t even look good on the bookshelf.

And I just mentioned the other problem with a book binge – in your euphoria of having found so many long-awaited and exciting books, you end up picking up stuff that you would normally not pick up. You are likely to end up with a large number of good books, butÂ  they’ll also come along with a large number of poor books, thus giving a very average average to the quality of your binge. A more measured approach is less likely to result in purchase of bad books.

Of course I admit that some of the best books I’ve read are those that had been picked up accidentally during the course of some book binge. But that is far overshadowed by the number of bad books that I’ve picked up. Not necessarily “bad” but more like “not my type”. I need to restrain myself henceforth. Maybe I should give up shopping for books at book shops and switch to flipkart or something. I don’t know how that will help but I think it might.

PS: Ironically for the timing of this post, two days back, in a “measured approach” I bought one book from Crossword at Saket in Delhi (while waiting for Aadisht to turn up). A book called “7 secrets from Hindu Calendar Art” or something. Absolutely atrocious book. Zero fundaes. I suppose I got fooled by the cover and the general description and the few pages that I saw.

PS2: I wrote this post in my dreams. Well, almost. This morning I had this dream that I’m writing a post on this topic. And this was the general theme of that post. So I’ve decided to make my dream come true and am thus blogging this first thing in the morning.