My Uncle Damodaran

Trips back home are always a chance to catch up with the rest of the family, whether you like it or not. After a couple of months of hard work, there may be nothing you would want more on a visit home than to curl up in front of the TV, with a copy of Balabhoomi in your hands. However, mums find such opportunities irresistible. For them, such occasions are tailor made to go visit the relatives, if nothing else to show-off the latest version of their kids to the myriad uncles, aunties, nephews and grandmothers. Your wish to just de-stress at home has no impact on the outcome.

So it will be that you will often find yourself dressed up in your Sunday best, rushing from one relative to the other at break-neck speed to cover everyone. And it is vitally important to cover everyone. It’s just like spraying fertilizer on a field or getting a Brazilian wax. Once you commit to it, you need to go the full nine yards or else the results will be incomplete. There will be some patch left over, someone will complain, and you’ll have gone through a ton of pain for no real reason at all.

Most visits to relatives can be done on autopilot mode, smiling and nodding as little Unnikuttan or Mayamol is paraded before you and asked to recite the latest poem he learnt at school or the latest martial art move she studied after school. Make sure you mentally block out Unnikuttan’s flat rendering of Casablanca and physically protect your family jewels from Mayamol’s taekwondo, and you’re good.

Mostly.

There is a breed of relative that is far more difficult to manage. All of us will have one uncle who thinks he’s young enough to be our older brother. He will, invariably, ask the most uncomfortable questions or make the most cringing comments in his quest to be ‘with it’. Most will be direct assault salvos delivered in the presence of your mom, like ‘Appo mone, who is your girlfriend these days?’, or ‘ So, this new Fifty Shades of Grey movie seems to be quite an artistic exploration into the dynamics of human interaction under duress.’ You can avoid these by abruptly changing the subject by asking about his job, or lack thereof.

A few other lines of attack are less easy to manage. For instance:

  1. Knowledge of popular phrases – My uncle Damodaran, whom I call ‘Damu uncle’ when needed and not at all if I can help it, often throws in phrases used by millennials during our conversations. More often than not he doesn’t understand what they mean, which is often for the good. For instance, there was that occasion when he casually informed me that his daughter Savitri (my cousin) told him that she was going to her friend’s place to Netflix and chill that weekend. ‘It must be this new season of a series called House of Cards,’ he told me. ‘All her friends have been dying to see it.’ He seemed to understand it as a practice where a lot of friends get together over the weekend to binge watch Netflix shows. I smiled weakly and remarked that House of Cards was a great show worthy of chilling to.

 

  1. Archaic sense of overtime – Their grasp of work timings mostly date from the sarkar raj era where 10 am to 5pm were the nationally accepted work timings and any overtime suffered would be handsomely compensated, except if you drew the short straw for election duty. As such, they just cannot understand the virtue of any job which would demand work at 8.00 pm most nights when there was a major presentation due, without the carrot of overtime pay. Coming to think of it… neither can I. Closely tied to this issue is also the inability to grasp why anyone would want to quit a well paying job at one company to join another company. Most folks of their generation joined a company as one would a college, and left it only upon graduation (read retirement). To this day, Damu uncle refuses to believe I quit my first company of my own volition. He insists I must have been fired.

 

  1. Investing – To a man they all consider themselves experts on personal finance. Coming from an era where government jobs were the ultimate wet dream for any self-respecting graduate, their personal finance advice begins and ends with real estate. Compound that with mid-life, existential and a host of other Freudian crises, and they will often end up persuading you to buy apartments in Perumbavoor or potato farms in Coimbatore. Damu uncle’s investment pitch runs like this, ‘Do you know what investment means? Real estate, that’s what it means. All these funds and stocks are totally fraud. I invested some money ten years ago in Teak and Manjiyam plantations, and have not received a single rupee back. They are all fraud people, trying to sell you fraud things. You should only invest in land, I am telling you. Land will always be there for you. In fact, your Girija aunty’s son has just bought some potato farms in Coimbatore, why don’t you just take a look at something similar? He’s a smart boy, I am telling you.’

 

  1. Family planning – This is the worst of all. While one can understand the innate desire of these uncles to ensure the family name survives, it’s tough to understand their urgency. Increasingly stern reminders to quickly procreate punctuate each visit home. When gentle prodding fails, they resort to extolling the virtues of quick procreation. ‘Don’t delay these things, my boy. Have children as soon as you can. Otherwise you cannot enjoy being friends with them as they grow up. Look at me, if I hadn’t had Savitri as early as I did, I wouldn’t have been able to understand her when she tells me she’s going to Netflix and chill.’

There’s no easy way to dodge these bullets. If caught out in the field of fire, one option could be to replicate the tactic used to protect oneself against Mayamol’s taekwondo. Shield your jewels with your hands, and curl yourself up into a ball.

 

To suave or not to suave ?

Suave definition

I have an enormous amount of respect for folks who are naturally suave. You know the type – those who act as though they are to the manor born, while the rest of us muddle through life with all the sophistication of a lawn-mover. I have had the good fortune to meet a few of this species during my brief stint with this life. There were a couple in school, who managed to make beastly white shirts and navy blue trousers look cool, and who, although they could never solve a calculus problem nor remember why Prospero was angry with Ariel, nevertheless could be counted upon to shine during the dumb charades session come youth festival. These were the ones who were crowned Mr. Personality and Ms. Debonair.

Quick wit, repartee and confidence are all indicative of a certain command of language coupled with an active and quick intelligence. The former without the latter makes you look like Karna, who when push came to shove, could only stand in the mud and remonstrate Arjuna as he himself forgot how to fight. The latter without the former puts you in my league, where you can come up with sharp and biting replies to insults, though usually about 2 hours after the offending party has departed. Sometimes it takes up to 4 hours. But if you have both, you can really excel in your social life. Two examples that come to mind are Abraham Lincoln and a friend’s uncle. Lincoln gave a brilliant riposte to an inquisitive diplomat who walked into the president’s office and saw the great man shining his own shoes. The diplomat asked, “Mr President, you black your own boots?” “Yes,” said Lincoln. “Whose boots do you black?”. My friend’s uncle was a lawyer, not unlike Lincoln. Once directed by the judge to cross examine the witness, he rose, adjusted his gown and remarked, ‘I’ll examine the witness, your honour, but let me assure the court, I’m not at all cross.’

An excellent sense of sartorial style is another requirement. It’s what contributes to your polish and poise. You don’t need to wear expensive things, contrary to what Rohit Bal would have you believe. But you need to wear what you have with confidence. Me? I look like I’ve just stolen whatever I wear. I envy those folks who seem to be able to wear anything at all with elegance. And not just the thin, metabolically gifted models either. Even huge guys like Hafthor Bjornsson.

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Who’s your tailor now ?

Is being suave the only way to move ahead in life? Absolutely not. Donald Trump is now the most powerful man in the world. That ought to put paid to any such misconceptions. However, suavity is definitely a plus in being successful in life. Let’s do a thought exercise. Think of the three most successful people you know personally. Did you think of Thomas Kurien, Harish Kumar and Sreejith Menon? If you did, that’s because you are my mother. Else, I can bet you dollars to unniappams that at least two of whomever you thought of always manage to remain cool and collected under any circumstance, regardless of the severity. And that is a quality worth striving for. Me? I have a long way to go before I reach that state. Once, a particularly beautiful lady asked me directions to the nearest chemist, and in my panic, I told her how to get to my house. Although coming to think of it now….

 

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Spot the suave one out

Anyhow, chivalry and gallantry may be the only things I manage to pull off on a fairly regular basis. My level of chivalry though is limited to giving up my seat for kids and women in metro. But hey, what’s good enough for Keanu Reeves is good enough for me.

NB : For those who are still wondering why Prospero was angry with Ariel, here’s why.

Ariel had been a servant of Sycorax, a witch banished from Algiers (Algeria) and sent to a deserted island a long time ago. Ariel was too delicate a spirit to perform her horrible commands, so she imprisoned him in a “cloven pine”. Prospero released Ariel from that torment, and he was the only magician who could do so. He then proceeded to hold Ariel to that debt, forcing him to do his bidding. When Ariel complained that Prospero had promised him freedom, he proceeded to lose his shit and threw a tantrum, accusing Ariel of forgetting all that he had done for him. So, typical emotional blackmailing.

Why a career in clandestine services is not for me.

This post is rather special. I’m going to give a shout out here (the first one I’ve done, very exciting…) to a talented and upcoming artist Krishnan Venugopal. Like most talented and upcoming artists, he is fending off starvation currently by working at a cushy 9-5 job while spending an hour every night post dinner dreaming about owning his own design agency. When he is not doing either of those things, he keeps himself busy by putting together a portfolio of his work. You can see it by clicking on this link –  Krishnan Venugopal

He is the one to be credited with designing the images you see in this post, as well as the beautiful logo of this blog. Quite a talented chap. I also bear the distinctive honour of being his brother in law. Who says only Trump can do nepotism ?

Now, on to the post.

At the age of 10, like thousands of boys before me, and likely thousands more after me, I wanted to be James Bond. The glitz, glamour and sheer thrill of danger were too good to be missed out on. I couldn’t wait to grow up, finish my ICSE board exam and go join James Bond College. Over time, maturity sank in and I started to understand the truths of life. For instance, my dad told me that James Bond College took in only about 100 applicants every year, and selection exams were very tough. He convinced me that I had a better chance of getting into College of Engineering, Trivandrum.

Other than the sheer competition, there are, unfortunately, some  practical limitations that prevent me from becoming the next Bond. Please find attached below.

Direction impairment – I once drove round and round a butterfly flyover in Koramangala for half an hour trying to find an exit. I need a good view of the sun’s position and ten minutes of mental calculation to understand the cardinal directions. Imagine an emergency situation where a building is on fire and someone yells at me to “proceed out the east exit and then go half a block south “. I am far more likely to sit down where I am to try to get my head around things than to obey those instructions. Contrast this with spy films in which the hero, often wounded and carrying a civilian, speed reads an entire city map within seconds and then manages to find the right shortcuts, all the while negotiating rush hour traffic. Unbelievable.

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Inability to withstand torture – I find this the most disturbing of super spy requirements. Any 12 year old worth his salt (read, who has seen all episodes of ‘24’) knows that eventually, everyone breaks. So what’s the use of withstanding all the pain and embarrassment in the first place? If captured and questioned, I can be relied upon to volunteer any and all information, including the low down on the Kennedy assassination.

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Codes? What codes? – Studying and memorizing disjointed pieces of information to recall and connect them in future has always been utterly confusing for me. I can never for the life of me understand how trained agents do it on the fly. Memorizing phone numbers, license plates, PNR numbers and phonetic codes are basic job requirements for trainee agents. Such skills save lives. Me? I learnt the English alphabet with great difficulty.  The last time a travel agent asked me to tell him my PNR number, I had to put him on hold for 5 minutes while I hunted down the e-ticket. Then, with all the confidence born of ignorance, I proceeded to describe the PNR number EBP DUJ in NATO code. “Echo, Bravo……Erm… Police, Delhi…. Unnikkuttan…. Jellikattu”.

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Blind trust in beautiful women – I mean, in the lost unlikely scenario that a good-looking dame who is in the honey trapping business takes it upon herself to recruit me in order to pick my brains, who am I to disabuse her of her illusion that I have any? Brains, that is. If she asks me to proceed out the east exit, I might actually go to the trouble of asking someone else for directions, so as to impress her. If that doesn’t tell her the amount of brains I have to be picked, she deserves what’s coming her way.

Zero knowledge in poker, rummy or baccarat – Self-explanatory. All spies, irrespective of age, race or gender, play poker and win every hand. On the other hand (pun intended), I can’t differentiate between a straight flush and a manually operated one.

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Until I can figure all these things out, I am one step further away from being captured and tortured.