Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Are you a Brahmin? Or...at least a vegetarian?

I was looking for taking a flat on rent in Mylapore, Mandaveli, R.A. Puram or Adayar in Chennai about two months back. I went through the classifieds columns of neighborhood newspapers.

I shortlisted 5-6 ads and started calling the landlords. The queries of all the landlords were typical. Just listen to a conversation with the first landlord.

 “Sir, I saw your ad in …….Can you tell me something about your flat?

“Two bedroom, hall, kitchen flat…about 1100 sq ft. Covered car park….Modular kitchen, complete wood work in both the bedrooms….”

“That’s good. What is the rent?”

“What is your budget?”

After a couple of hide and seek questions, he mentioned the rent and advance. Then…

“How big is your family?”

Perhaps he does not like too big a family. “We are four.”

“Your parents are with you?”

“No. My wife and two sons…”

He sounded satisfied. Perhaps he does not want old people. “How old are your sons?”

May be, he is not happy with infants or too small children.”Elder son is 21 years and is planning to write CAT. Younger one is 15 years old.”

“Is your wife working?”

‘How does it matter?’ I thought.

He explained. “Working women generally do not maintain their house properly. I don’t want my flat to be spoilt.”

Strange logic! Anyway my wife is a housewife and I pass this test.

“Are you a Brahmin?”

What? I did not understand the relevance of the question.

He repeated “Are you a Brahmin?”

“Yes.” But how does it matter?

I called the next landlord. Same sequence of questions till whether I am a Brahmin.

For a change I said “No. Are you a Brahmin?”

“No. But at least are you a vegetarian?”

Again for a change, I said “No”

He disconnected.

My next call was answered by a broker, a guy called Stephen.

When he asked whether I was a Brahmin or at least a vegetarian, I retorted “How does it matter?”

“No one wants nonsense or nuisance.”

“What nonsense? What nuisance?”

“You know, sir.” He did not want to elaborate.

The fourth landlord was forthright.”When I want the tenant to vacate, a Brahmin accepts without a word. It’s a scared race. I raise the rent after a year. He meekly accepts. He keeps the house neat and clean.”

Why a vegetarian?

“Brahmins are generally vegetarians. Even otherwise vegetarians are better. Non vegetarians spoil the kitchen. They eat everywhere except the dining table. Dinner plates remain in the bedroom unwashed throughout night. Stench.”

“How do you know?”

“It happens in my house. I don’t want the same in my flat.”
My cousin who lives in KK Nagar said he also faced similar questions when he was looking for a flat.

At this point I wrote my conclusion. I showed it to my friend. After reading the article, he drew a conclusion exactly opposite to mine! And it was equally logical! A second friend brought out a point which both of us had missed out.

I deleted my conclusion. I decided to leave it to the readers.

There is more than one lesson. It depends on the way one looks at it.

How do you look at this?

PS: As I was posting this, I got a call from Arumugam, the caretaker of my flat in Coimbatore. I had requested him to look for a tenant. “Sir, shall I look for Brahmins? Or at least vegetarians?”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pride and Prejudice

My name is Arundhati Roy.

I was a non entity till 1996. I was doing all and sundry jobs. I acted in a couple of “no viewers” “no release” movies.

By an accident I wrote a novel, my only novel, The God of Small Things in 1996. By another accident the novel received Bookers Prize in 1997. Those beautiful two years! I started assuming that I was a cognizable, even an indispensable person in Indian politics and society.

But these ungrateful Indians ….

They ignored me. They sent me to political/social oblivion. I never pardoned them for this heinous crime.

I moved away from India. I filled the world with my opinions on 9/11 attacks, American invasion of Afghanistan, Palestinian issue, etc’.  Except “The Guardian”, no one took notice of me. What the hell has happened to the world? I learnt my first lesson- foreigners are no different from Indians.

Enough of international problems. I decided to turn back to Indian issues. After all, they are my fellow Indians….

I thrust myself into Narmada Dam issue. I participated in agitations I penned a series of inflammatory articles. I forced the Supreme Court to initiate contempt proceedings against me. Again ungrateful media- except the friendly Hindu and Frontline, no one gave a damn to these histrionics of mine. I could not take the place of Medha Patkar- Narmada Bachao Andolan was always associated with her name. I learnt my second lesson. Never work along with another social reformer, especially when the reformer is a genuine one.

Life was again miserable. India was moving forward without my help. I could not stand this. I had to force myself into some important issue. Some ungrateful Indians may call this the “attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome.”

I decided to focus on terrorism and naxalism. I had to say something which would catch media attention. I poured my wisdom on Afzal Guru matter- that he should not be hanged when the families of the security personnel who were killed in the Parliament attach were eagerly awaiting justice. What about the loss these families? Who cares? That’s not going to get me the eyeball.

Obviously this was not enough. I had to get more attention.

I turned to Naxals. I eulogized them as “Gandhians” and “patriots” while criticizing Indian Government action against them as terrorism. Who will sympathize with the victims of Nzaxals, some  serious-types questioned. I was simply rejoicing- Gosh, people have started taking note of me! At least they are taking my opinions seriously and responding.

I decided to venture into other terrorist related subjects. I argued for the Independence of Kashmir. Kasmir was never a part of India- another piece of wisdom from me. A howl went up from nationalists! Seditious speech! There were demands for my arrest. The government as usual was clueless. Why no action against Arundhati? Somebody woke Chidambaram out of his usual slumber and he uttered his wisdom “No action also is an action.”

This was towards the end of 2010. I was laughing my way to glory.

Little did I expect that this old man called Anna Hazare and his team would trample upon my new found fortune. They shot into limelight; more than that they continued to hog the limelight for over a year now. The media dropped me like hot potato. Has media become ungrateful again? I have to do something now. I bit my nails. Medha Patkar, my previous associate has joined “hail Anna” chorus. I bit my nails. Prashant Bhushan, again one more previous associate, has joined Anna’s Team. I bit my nails. Is every one ditching me?

I called The Hindu. At last one old friend who would stand by me. They confirmed that they had all the space in the world for my seditious, anti-national, communal views.

I poured scorn over Anna Hazare and his team. I questioned his secular credentials. Just as I saw the patriot in naxals, I managed to see the communal side of Anna- such a microscopic vision, which none of the 1.2 bill Indians can boast of! I compared Maoists armed attack with Anna Hazare’s drafting of Janlokpal Bill. Just because he has not said anything about Singur, Nandigram, Posco, etc, he doesn’t have any right to talk about corruption, I argued- a logic only a national newspaper like Hindu can appreciate!

I am happy with the result. There are hundreds of comments in the net, most of them critical of me, again most of them questioning my credentials.

I am still happy. I am being noticed!

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Manish Tewari has been missing from TV debates for the past one week. Did you notice? I am quite concerned; so are his longtime pals, the English News Channels. I decided to help them by placing this "Missing" ad:

Manish Tewari
Missing for
The last one week
Clothes worn by him when lost
·     Blue shirt and black trousers
·     Lekin nanga ho gaya (Anna Hazare ke bare mein anab-shanab bol ne ke badh)

46, but looks much older
Changes frequently
·     Pale, off late
·     Idiotic generally

Shortened by ego.

Surrounded by

Fattened by arrogance.

. Idiots generally.
. Jayanti Natarajan and Abhishek Manusinghvi in   particular.

Last seen
Blabbering incoherent things about Anna Hazare in TV Channels

If found
·     Please do not intimate anyone.
·     Certainly not the TV Channels

Reward for non-intimation
Blessings from 1.20 billion people of India.
Penalty for intimation
Curse, if not from 1.20 billion Indians, definitely from TV viewers.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


I am confused as anyone would be if he watched English News Channels for a few days. Could you please help me identify who of the following is arrogant, which of the following is arrogance?
  • Congress calls Team Anna arrogant because it wants its version of Lokapal bill passed; otherwise Anna would fast unto death.
  • Team Anna calls the government arrogant because it asserts only the parliament has the power to pass bills; every lallu and panju cannot draft bills and insist on adopting the same.

  •  Team Anna says it has faith in Parliament but not in parliamentarians.
  •  Karan Tapar asks in CNN IBN whether Anna’s movement would have survived without 24x7 news coverage.
  • P Chidambaram swears that Delhi Police, in its own wisdom and on its own authority, detained Anna because it feared that he would defy 144; it didn’t take any instruction from Home Ministry.
  •  PC was not content with the above; he opined that the conditions imposed by Delhi Police were reasonable! (Remember the 50cars, 5,000 people, 3 days fasting, etc. Of course Chidambaram is used to only 3 hours of fasting. Recall that Kalaignar fasted for 3 hours between breakfast and lunch on the Srilankan issue and Chidambaram, as Home Minister dutifully bailed him out by giving false information that Srilankan government had announced ceasefire!)
  • Tean Anna burnt copies of government’s draft of the Lokpal.
  •  Kapil Sibal, not to be left out, declares Anna’s stance undemocratic. (Even Kapil Sibal’s father, whoever he was or whatever locus standi he had, was critical of Anna Hazare!)
  •  Manish Tewari accuses Anna of siphoning Rs. 2.2 lacs (!) of public funds. Not just that; “A- Company” (that is how he calls Team Anna) consists of "armchair fascists, overground Maoists, closet anarchists ... lurking behind forces of right reaction and funded by invisible donors whose links may go back a long way abroad.''
  •  Shobaa De wants us to take TV cameras away and see what is left of Anna; and she justifies this as “reasonable, meaningfull cynicism.”
  •  Anna Hazare promptly called Manmohan Singh a liar when the latter felt that Prime Minister should be kept out of Lokpal ambit.
  •  Mohandoss Pai, a corporate executive teaches Team Anna what they should do viz. focus only on Lokpal Bill, nothing else- not good governance, not nuclear bill. “You are not meant to do that.”
  •  Amir Khan writes to Manmohan Singh on what he should do.

Is humble the one who calls others arrogant?  Or who being incompetent on an issue offers free advise to others who are experienced? Or who shows intolerance to others’ proposals?

Then I am happy I am not humble. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

It was not my cup of tea, perhaps....Part II

So we were two cooks short, post Diwali.

Parvathy moved into the kitchen herself. She suggested that we advertise a week of “Iyers Home Food.”She prepared rare South Indian delicacies which are not generally offered in restaurants. We would advertise the “Delicacy of the day” and the same used to be sold out in hours. We converted a challenge to an opportunity.

But it wasn’t easy for her. She had to prepare breakfast and pack lunch for our sons and send them to school; then rush to the restaurant. Working in the heat of a restaurant kitchen is one of the most unenviable, most trying jobs.

A week later, both the cooks retuned. They had spent the bonus money and wanted to resume duty!

“The electricity meter is tampered. This is a crime. Last one year the restaurant is paying only nominal bills. You need to pay a penalty of Rs. ……! Otherwise I may have to disconnect.” said the Electricity Board employee. I said I took over the business only the previous month; I was not aware of the issue; if there was any violation, the previous owner had to pay!

“But that is between you and other previous owner. Electricity Board is not concerned.”
Why did he not point out the tampering anytime during the last one year? No answer from him.

Pannayar did not even receive my calls! My attempts to meet him in his restaurant were futile.

“No Objection Certificate for this place expired 6 months back,” said the constable from Adyar Police Station. This was in January, 2004- three months after I took over the business. I showed him the NOC Pannayar had given me. “Date in this document is forged. This has already expired. You cannot run the restaurant.”

What to do now?

“You’ve to meet the AC; but I doubt whether he will renew the NOC…. See, you don’t have enough parking place.”

If there was no parking place, how was the NOC given in the first place? No answer from him.

I met the Assistant Commissioner who said in English what his constable had earlier told me in Tamil.

Next was the turn of the Food Inspector from Chennai Corporation.

The wholesale merchant who was giving me credit decided to stop it all of a sudden.

Some of the staff members alleged that Pannayar was behind all these. Their logic was: how could all these happen one after the other? I had no way of verifying this. Also how would it help if I found out he was involved?

Ambi, the “trusted friend” we had brought from my native place, the one who had sworn to be with us through the thick and thin, wanted to quit. He would not listen to our requests for staying back. He left one day without informing us.

I was running from Electricity Board to Police Station to Corporation. I was not able to sit in the restaurant. Parvathy filled in for me. She would send our sons to school early in the morning and sit in the restaurant from 9 in the morning to 5 in the evening. Most of the days, she would pack dinner for the children from the restaurant; most of the days, my sons had to manage their lunch from the school canteen; again most of the days they had to skip their breakfast.

Two months of this and we broke down- both physically and mentally.

“Krishna (my elder son) has fainted on the road. Please come immediately.” My neighbor informed me over phone.

The doctor diagnosed anemia; hemoglobin was at a precarious level. He had to be given blood immediately. We admitted him in the hospital. A few more tests revealed ulcers.
Krishna was treated in the hospital for 10 days.

Our daily routine became unmanageable- send Eshwar to school; rush to Police Station, Electricity Board or Corporation; attend to Krishna; supervise the restaurant.

The obvious question disturbing our minds was….

We decided to sell the restaurant. We advertised in the neighborhood newspapers. The response was not bad.

We chose one Chandrasekar. He owned a restaurant in Valasarawakkam, Chennai. Also he was importing and trading various products. His offer was 40% less than what I had paid to Pannayar. We didn’t have much choice. We accepted. He paid 20% advance; we agreed that he would pay the balance soon and then take possession of the restaurant. Meanwhile we would run the restaurant.

15 days were over since he paid the advance. We did not hear anything from Chandrasekar.

After 30 days, I talked to him over phone. He promised to pay in a week.
Another 15 days. No word from him. He did not receive my calls. When I went to his office, I was told that he had travelled.

Meanwhile I was finding it difficult to run the restaurant. Workers had guessed that I was trying to sell. They started leaving one by one. I had to pay rent to the landlord. There was hardly any crowd in the restaurant. I was incurring losses.

I sent a legal notice to Chandrasekar; if he did not pay in the next 15 days I would be forced to sell the restaurant to someone else. Bang came a threatening call from his aide daring me to try and sell to anyone else! Another 15 days of negotiations between my lawyer and Chandrasekar’s team; we returned his advance and got out of the agreement.
We were too tired, too exhausted, too diffident to try and find another buyer. We closed down the restaurant; handed over the premises to the land lord.

We returned the money my co-brother had invested. We were ashamed to tell him that we had failed in the project. We told him that I got a good opportunity back in Dar-es-Salaam and hence sold off the restaurant.

I did my best to compensate my brother, who had quit his regular job to help me in the restaurant. His loss was more than just financial and I could not compensate the same adequately.

At the end of this 6-7 months of misadventure-
  •           I had lost money; nearly 80% of my investment was lost.
  •           I lost my self confidence; I had successfully run a plastics company in Dar-es-Salaam and a bulk drug plant in Gujarat in the past; but I failed in running my restaurant.
  •           I lost faith in people; I lost faith in the system-Police, EB, Corporation and other departments.

But there was one unmistakable gain.


Eshwar, Parvathy and Krishna

Saturday, August 13, 2011

It was not my cup of tea, perhaps....

Year 2003. I had been heading a $20 mill plastics manufacturing company in Dar-es-Salaam for two and a half years. I wanted to return to Chennai. Instead of taking up a job, I wanted to do something on my own; wanted to run a restaurant!

I started going through the “classified” columns of The Hindu and some neighborhood newspapers. I spotted an ad offering a successfully running restaurant in Adyar for sale. A phone call from me and the self proclaimed consultant S.P. Nathan was at my doorsteps!

“Prime place in Adyar… Many call centers are around. Nalli is going to open a mega showroom just 100 metres away from the restaurant. You’re investing at the right time. You’ll have good crowd. …..” Nathan was smartly selling the project to me.

Why is the present owner selling, if it is running so successfully?

“Old age…sons are irresponsible. He wants to sell and retire.”

What price does he expect?


I was shocked.

“Goodwill, sir… goodwill! Daily collection will be easily Rs.………. 15 tables and 60 people can eat at a time…small and beautiful. Generator back up. Air conditioned. …….. 40% margin. You can recover your investment in 6 months.”

I visited the place one Sunday evening. There were about 15 people dining in the restaurant. “Sunday evening is generally a dull period…people watch movie in Sun TV…or go to beach… Fridays and Saturdays are busy days…similarly daily lunch…” Convincing, his reasoning was to me.

I consulted my wife, father and brother. They encouraged me. My co-brother said he had full faith in me and agreed to invest 40% in the equity. But one of my uncles volunteered his ‘Dimag karaab ho gaya kya? Vinaacha kale vibhareedha buddhi!’

Nathan took my brother and me to the seller- an old man by the name Muthu, fondly referred to as Pannayar by his aides. He wearing a simple white khadi dhoti and shirt, a long, heavy gold chain, diamond studded rings in 8 out of 10 fingers, chewing tobacco; he had all the essential ingredients of “Tamil big shot” Pannayar had two restaurants and was selling one of them to me.

We agreed on the price and other terms- lease deed for the premises to be transferred to my name, cook and other staff to remain with me, all licenses/ NOCs etc to be transferred to me, etc. Since I was new to running a restaurant, Pannayar would help me whenever I sought for the same.

Ambi, my brother’s childhood friend from my native place was unemployed. We wanted to help him. We offered him the job of supervising the kitchen. Padmini, my wife’s cousin volunteered to supervise the dining hall; another cousin said she would take care of billing. We had about 18 staff- cooks, servers, cleaning staff, etc.

We got the restaurant painted. Parvathy, my wife helped me choose uniform for workers, finalize menu.

Sunday, October 12, 2003. We performed a small puja and commenced operations. We had advertised in the neighborhood news papers about the inauguration.

Lunch time. Dining hall was full. People had to wait for their turn. Dinner time. Again a huge crowd. We found it difficult to service the customers. Parvathy and Eshwar, my son joined the workers in serving the customers. One of the customers lost his patience and created a ruckus. Around 11 pm when we closed the restaurant, though we were all physically tired, we were very happy with the customer turnout!

Next day also was good. The day after…and the day after…a full fortnight was good. Some customers said they were very happy with the personal attention we were giving. It was music to our ears.

“Sir, the cook is not to be found!” I got a call early in the morning from the restaurant. All the staff used to sleep in the restaurant. No one seemed to know when, where and how the cook left the premises! There were three cooks- Swaminathan specialized in South Indian cuisine, Satish was taking care of North Indian cuisine and Arputha Raj was a Dosa Master. Satish was missing.

I did not know what to do. I called Nathan and asked for help. “Don’t worry sir. I’ll speak to Pannayar and arrange a spare cook from his other restaurant. You need North Indian items only in the evening. We have time.”

He sent the replacement by 6 in the evening. Around 8, the dining hall was full. I was in the kitchen. I heard some commotion in the dining hall. I assumed that some customer was getting agitated because he had to wait. A few minutes later, Murugan, one of the servers brought back Paneer Butter Masala, the specialty of the restaurant from the Dining Hall. Customer had rejected it! Replacement was given to the customer. 10 minutes later, second rejection…thereafter third rejection…One customer wondered at the billing counter what had happened to the restaurant.

I was tensed, perspiring profusely. I called the new cook Nathan had sent and asked why there were so many rejections. He had joined Pannyar’s other restaurant only the previous week; he was not trained; if I wanted, I could call Satish who was working in Pannayar’s other restaurant.

What??? Satish is working in Pannayar’s restaurant! Both Nathan and Pananyar did not tell me. They gave a replacement as if they didn’t know anything. I was raging with fury. I called Nathan. He feigned ignorance. Then I called the Pannayar. He accepted that he had poached Satish by offering higher salary! That was not fair. Did I tell you that I would be fair, Pannayar shot back.

I did not know where to get a new cook from. Meanwhile there frequent complaints from customers. A week later Arputharaj took me to a dirty, stinking 10x10 bachelors’ room where 4-5 people were staying. He introduced a guy wearing a lungi and sporting a beedi in his mouth as an expert in North Indian cuisine! I took him to the restaurant and made him cook all the varieties in the menu card. We all tasted. He was no doubt a good cook; but I realized that in the previous 10-15 days, we had lost quite a few customers.

Over the next 10-15 days Parvathy, my brother and I visited the residents of the neighborhood and the employees of call centers and other offices and explained the problem we went through and the solution we found. We invited them to visit our restaurant again. These visits were unconventional- the owner family meeting the customers at their residence! Many of them liked our approach. Gradually we started getting back the crowd.

Diwali was approaching. The staff wanted to go to their respective native places. We paid them bonus (though it was not due) and closed the restaurant for two days. When we reopened after Diwali, two of the cooks did not return!

Did we manage to tide over this difficulty? Let’s see in Part II.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Secret CV of Kapil Sibal

Kapil Sibal is undoubtedly the blue eyed boy (?).The fact that he handles (?) so many ministries shows the trust that both Sonia and Manmohan have in him. However I feel that his full potential is not being exploited. Are Sonia and Manmohan underestimating Kapil or are they genuinely ignorant of his capabilities? Either case, it is my duty to enlighten them about Kapil’s capabilities. I have managed to lay my hands on Kapil’s CV. I am presenting the same for the benefit of Sonia and Manmohan:
Kapil Denial Sibal
Address for official purposes
19, Teen Murti Marg, New Delhi
Address for practical purposes
C/O. NDTV, New Delhi
Educational Qualification
·     LLM from Harvard School
·     Specialized in Law of Denial from Sonia School of Suppression
·     Doctorate in Applied Mathematics of Equating the Unequal

Current Position
·     Enviable
·     Minister for Science and Technology
·     Minister for Human Resources Development (after Arjun Singh was removed)
·     Minister for Telecommunication (after A Raja was removed)

Looking forward to
·     Corruption by other Ministers so that he can occupy their position
·     A barber who specializes in cutting eyebrows.

Normal Achievements
·     As HRD Minister, damaged the CBSE beyond repair. Special features of this damage are-
o    Do Class- X students write exams? Well, they can, if they want to; they don’t need to, if they don’t want to; they have to, if they want admission in other schools for Class-XI.
o    Do they get marks? No, they get grades. 91 is equal 98 is equal to Grade A! (Equating inequalities!)
·     As Communications Minister,
o    he proved that Rs. 1.76 lakh cr.= Zero.
o    in the same breath he also proved that Rs. 655 cr. = Rs. 5 cr.

Unique Achievements
·     Never handled Law Ministry, the subject in which he did his Masters.

·     Receiving Babas in the Airport.
·     Tricking them to write unsigned notes in closed rooms.
·     Diluting Lokpal Bill thinner than water and air.
·     “Brow”beating!

·     A Raja, C/O Tihar Jail, Delhi
·     Suresh Kalmadi, C/O Tihar Jail, Delhi

·     Ability to be consistently incorrigible.
·     Absolute shamelessness.

·     Obviously, truth.
Worried about
·     Competition from Jayanti Natarajan, Digvijay Singh and Manish Tiwari in shamelessness.