On tea being served before a talk

Later this evening I’m planning to go for this talk on Temples of the Badami Chalukyas, being held at the Max Mueller Bhavan in Indiranagar.

The text of the invite (not present in the picture above) says that “tea will be served before the talk”. Now you might think that it’s no big deal – but in my opinion that’s one marker that sets apart what can be a high-quality fulfilling event for the audience member than one that is merely good.

There are two reasons that people go to talks like this one – one is for the talk itself. For example, the topic of today’s talk looks extremely promising and exciting, and inherent interest in the topic itself is likely to spur audience participation. The other reason people like to go for such talks is that they are good places to meet with other like-minded people, and that is where the tea before the talk comes into the picture.

At the Pratap Bhanu Mehta lecture at IISc two weekends back, there was no tea being served prior to the talk. As a consequence, everyone who arrived walked straight into the hall and took their seats. When I arrived there there seemed to be no conversation whatsoever taking place, and so I went and quietly took my seat. Looking around, however, I noticed a number of acquaintances, and people I wanted to get to connect to (people who could connect me to these people were also in the audience). However, there was no chance of going up and talking to them and indulging in what some people uncharitably call as “networking”. And after the event was over everyone was in a hurry to get home and there was no chance to talk!

This is where tea before the talk comes into the picture. When tea is being served, people usually stand around the service area (not to be confused with Cervezaria) and mill around talking. It’s a great occasion to catch up with old acquaintances who happen to be there, make new acquaintances (that both of you have come for the same (usually esoteric) lecture indicates that you have some common interests) and generally talk to people. And meeting interesting people (new or old) at an event is always a good thing and attendees go home much more satisfied than they would had they only consumed the lecture!

Hence it is of paramount importance that tea (or coffee or milk or water or beer) be served before the talk, for it gives an opportunity for people to talk to each other, to network and to get more out of other attendees than they would from the talk itself. And if you are the antisocial type who doesn’t want to meet other attendees, you can quietly go take your seat while others are having tea – they won’t even notice you!

Coasters are evil

I asked my cook to make me a cup of tea. He did so and placed the steel tumbler full of tea on a coaster on my dining table. I went to pick it up. As I picked up, the bottom of the tumbler seemed to get stuck to the coaster, because of which I couldn’t pick up the tumbler cleanly. And the tumbler came up along with the coaster, and toppled, spilling tea all over the dining table.

And so I had the task of cleaning up the dining table of all the tea spilt on it. Thankfully there was no tea on the floor, and I didn’t lose too much tea. Yet, none of this happens on most days when the cook places my teacup directly on the dining table without an intermediating coaster.

So it is all the coaster’s fault, I tell you. Coasters are evil.

Speaking of coasters, Monkee had once commented that coasters are the ultimate sign of domestication – curtains being an intermediate sign of domestication. And thinking about it, these coasters (one of which was responsible for the spilled tea today) were bought during my honeymoon!

Where you get coffee and tea

An old cranky professor once joked that “cafeteria” should be pronounced as “coffee tea area”, since it was the area where you got coffee and tea. We had laughed back then, both at the poor joke, and at the poor professor who attempted the poor joke. He was out of his wits as usual, we had assumed.

After my recent trip to Spain, though, I realise that he was not actually joking. “-eria”/”-aria” is a Spanish suffix that indicates a place where the prefix is sold. So a place where they sell Cerveza (beer) is a Cerveceria. A place where they sell Bombon (chocolate) is a Bomboneria. I even saw a “Churreria”, where they sold Churros.

So what is a cafeteria? The Spanish word for coffee is “cafe”. The Spanish word for tea is “te” (pronounced thay or something of that sort). So what would you call a place where you get cafe and te?

Cafeteria, of course! The old cranky professor wasn’t so cranky, after all.

Analyzing #LFC

It’s been yet another frustrating season as a Liverpool FC fan. You might say that this can be said but just about every season, but unlike in the last two seasons when we played shit and there was no hope, we have actually been playing well this season, and just haven’t been able to convert that into goals. I didn’t watch the loss to Fulham and I agree we ¬†were absolute shit against Spurs, but King Kenny’s statement that we “deserved” to have won every game apart from that Spurs game does have some merit.

I don’t remember the exact stats right now, but two things stand out. LFC has the maximum number of shots that have hit the post or crossbar this season (eighteen, if I’m not wrong). And we also have the lowest ratio in terms of goals to shots on goal. So basically it seems like we’ve been doing pretty well getting the ball into the D, but have been quite wasteful from there. The other notable stat that comes to mind is that we have conceded the least goals this season among all teams (13, I think), and that includes the time when Johnson and Agger were injured, when we had become somewhat porous. Now, with a settled back five, we seem to be doing quite well defensively despite the season-long loss of Lucas Leiva.

Despite the attacking opportunities and number of shots on goal that we’ve got, I’ve felt throughout this season that there has been something missing about this team. There’s something disjointed about the attacking moves. There’s a lack of cohesion. Back when we had Xabi, we had a natural route to switch flanks on the attack – simply pass the ball back to Xabi who will control the game. Unfortunately, good though he is, Adam is not in the same class, and so this route doesn’t seem to be that fluid.

For the first month, I thought the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle was Gerrard, and though he was good (against Man U, etc.) after seeing him play I realized he was not the answer I was looking for. To be absolutely frank, I don’t think his absence from the team (from a purely sporting perspective, without taking into account leadership and morale) has had that much of an impact.

The win against Aston Villa came quite easy (after the couple of early goals, the game was won on autopilot), but I think the big gain from the game was the performance of Jonjo Shelvey. Of course, he wasn’t involved too much, but the little I saw of him (including that back-heel that set up the first goal) showed immense promise, and hopefully he can be developed into a fine advanced midfielder. Speaking of which…

So, I think, the missing piece in the jigsaw is a clever advanced playmaker. A classic number ten, as they would call him in South America. Someone like Juan Roman Riquelme, or Mesut Ozil, or even Iniesta. Someone who plays high up the pitch, and can distribute intelligently and pass accurately. It seems now that Adam has taken on this role, but he seems a bit too slow at times, and not accurate enough. I think he is suited for a more withdrawn playmaking role, and a good number ten in front of him can do a great job of tying the team together.

It is for this reason that I was sad to see Raul Meireles go, for I thought he was someone who was quite capable of being developed for that role (I quite enjoyed how the Arsenal game transformed after he came on). Gerrard has the drive and ambition and pace and all that, but I don’t think he’s smart enough for that. Shelvey might be developed there but for now he’s too young. I’ve seen Henderson play there but again he seems to play much more like Gerrard and much less like an advanced playmaker.

That leaves two players in the squad who are capable of playing that role, but both are away on loan, and both displayed horrible form when they played for LFC. Hopefully the loan spell will help either or both of Joe Cole and Alberto Aquilani to get back to form, and hope that King Kenny and co realize that the advanced playmaker role is the one that they’ve been sorely missing, and are able to keep either or both of these two when it comes to next season.

For now, though, there are other worries, with Suarez having been banned for eight games. I guess the season will continue to frustrate.

Staggered surprises

When you have a number of things to surprise someone with, you can either flood them with that, or present it to them in a staggered manner. And based on recent experience with both forms, on both ends of the divide, I get the feeling that staggered surprises are superior and more effective than flooded surprises.

A year and half back, for my then girlfriend’s (now wife) birthday, I had got a bunch of things. There were clothes, food, a collage and even this laptop I’m writing this post on. And as soon as I entered the girlfriend’s house that day, I started producing these one by one. Before she could react to any of the gifts, I had produced another, and there was a flood. In hindsight, I thought the value of some of the things I’d got her were lost because I didn’t give her enough time to appreciate them while she was still surprised.

She played it differently at my birthday yesterday. Again, there was a bunch of things she had lined up. So at midnight yesterday, she says happy birthday and hands me a kurta. I try it out, and as soon as I’ve finished appreciating it (took a while) she makes me take it off, and gives me another. This way, over the course of the next ten minutes, she gives me five kurtas. And then a leather bag. And a box of tea. And some fancy paper to scribble on.

Giving gifts in a trickle, I think, works because of the expectations it sets. When Pinky produced the first Kurta, the natural thought in my head was, “oh she’s got me a kurta for my birthday”. I had expected one kurta. And when she slowly produced the next, I was surprised. You don’t generally expect someone to get you five kurtas, so each one she produced was met with a fair bit of surprise. The trickle had set my expectations low, and so the degree of surprise was high.

Pinky wasn’t done yet. She had solicited “happy birthday videos” from a number of my friends, from various stages of my life. Due to a personal tragedy (her grandfather passed away on Saturday) she hadn’t had time to put them together in a montage, but that helped her stagger-surprise me again. She first played videos from relatives, and after I had thought that was all to it, she played videos from friends. One by one. Not pushing expectations too high, and continually surprising me.

It was to play out similarly at the surprise party she had organized for me last night (after all the gifts and video messages, the last thing I had expected was a party). I had been told we’d be going out for dinner, when two of my oldest friends (I’ve known them for 25 years now) arrived. “Maybe she’s called my oldest friends to join us for dinner”, I thought. After a while they were followed by a friend from college who lives in the US now. I was truly shocked. He and his wife had dropped in while on their way to a wedding, I was told. I had no idea a party was on.

And then some quizzing friends appeared. And then some most recent colleagues (remember I don’t have any “current” colleagues). And Pinky, who had disappeared a while back, materialized with a cake. Soon enormous quantities of food appeared. I was already drinking by then and it was surreal. The best birthday ever, for sure. No, really! I don’t know if I would have been as happy had the surprises not been staggered.

PS: Ashwin and Vyshnavi responded to Pinky’s call for “happy birthday videos” with this one. It’s total kickass.

Coffee Cultures

I realize each place has its own coffee culture. And coffee culture varies remarkably across short geographical distances.

America likes it large and watery. Even our office coffee machine here describes “americano” as “espresso with hot water”.¬† And the less I say about the “traditional brewed American coffee” the better. Few people make coffee worse than these guys.

Oh and they like it large. The smallest size on the Starbucks menu is “tall”, though there is a “short” option available if you ask for it. I don’t know how often Americans like their coffee.

Turks like it really thick and strong, and in small quantities. It seems like they don’t like to filter their coffee. But whattan awesome coffee it is! Full in flavour, and the thickness means the taste lingers for a really long time.

Probably the best coffee I’ve had on this trip was at an Ethiopian restaurant (I’m thinking of going back there tonight) and it is not surprising since the coffee plant was first tamed there. Again it is strong and hot, and I was given the option of having it with a little milk and sugar. It is filtered I think, for there was little residue in the cup after I’d emptied it.

Madras likes it strong, with sugar and rich creamy milk (hence the “degree”). And Madras likes it large. I’m told most Madrasis have coffee just twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. The quality of milk, though, means that the Madrasi coffee looks light, though it’s quite strong.

I don’t remember too much about coffee in London, but I do remember that Costa’s there served fairly awesome coffee. Again it was all espresso based, which probably implied the quality. Though I do remember cribbing (maybe on this blog) about it. I remember drinking tea in my office there because I found the coffee not strong enough.

Bangalore likes it hot, strong, small and frequent. If I go to any of my father’s relatives’ houses, I usually have at least three coffees before I leave. All small shots. With a little milk and sugar.

At home, nowadays, I’ve been using a percolator I’d bought in Cafe Coffee Day to make my coffee (talking in singular since the wife thinks I make fairly horrible coffee). The problem with the thing though is that it keeps toppling over and I’ve to stand there holding it on the stove while the coffee brews. Any pointers as to where I can get better and more stable percolators will be appreciated.

I don’t know why but today as I was returning to my desk with half a glass of espresso and steamed milk (I’ve figurd out how to structure coffee in this office machine) I was thinking of Baba Budan. About how his efforts have made it possible for us in South India to enjoy this wonderful drink.

Jai Dattatreya.

The Switch

Cafe Coffee Day is among the most unromantic places to go on a first date, or so they say. But then you need to understand that the venue can do only so much when it comes to creating the right “atmosphere” for the date. So if you think you are yourselves capable enough of doing a good job of creating a good “atmosphere”, you don’t need to bother about trivialties such as how “romantic” a place is or how good it is in creating “atmosphere” and just pick a place that makes practical sense.

There has been so much of One Day International cricket of late that it is difficult to keep track of various series and tournaments. One tournament that similarly got lost, mostly because the ultimate result was unremarkable (Australia won yet again) was the Champions Trophy, which happened (I think) in South Africa. I don’t remember much of the tournament; I don’t think I watched much of it. All I remember was that there was a game where India played Australia, and that Australia batted first.

Seating arrangement plays an important factor on a first date. Optimal seating arrangement ensures the optimal arrangement of eye contact. Sitting beside each other means you need to put too much effort to establish eye contact, and that is way too much energy. Sitting opposite each other can lead to overexposure – if things aren’t going that well, it’s tough to keep looking into each other’s eyes and that can lead ot awkward moments. It might be interesting to do some academic research in this matter but my hunch is that for a first date a ninety-degree seating arrangement is optimal.

For a few months now I have been on a diet. It has not been without results – my weight has come down by almost a fourth in the last six months. I haven’t done anything drastic, just a set of simple principles. And one of them is “no sugar in coffee”. I’ve given up on tea altogether since I can’t have it without sugar. When you are on a date, however, it is not nice to show off that you are on a diet, especially if you are a guy. it doesn’t give a good picture. So a good strategy is to order something like espresso, which you can claim tastes best without sugar!

I think it was an appeal for LBW that triggered it, but I’m not sure. I do remember, however, that it was a strong appeal that was turned down, but I don’t remember the nature of dismissal. Ashish Nehra was bowling if I’m not wrong. I have no clue who was batting. Maybe it was Haddin, or was it Paine who was opening in that tournament? Not that it matters.

Onlookers might have thought that the move was choreographed given how well we executed it. I don’t even remember their being too much eye contact as it happened. I don’t remember there being any conversation about it as it happened. All I remember is that one moment I was being distracted by Ashish Nehra’s appeal, and the next I was sitting with my back to the TV, comfortably settled where she had been settled a moment earlier, with her having taken my original place.

And I remember that our coffees had also exchanged places along with us!