College festivals life hacks – simple guide on how to have fun at them

Back in college, I attended a lot of ceremonies and fests– ranging from the annual solemn occasions like Independence day flag hoisting to the less solemn ones like transformer puja to mark the Electrical Engineering Department day at my college.

[Long aside: I kid you not, we had an Electrical Engineering Department day and it was kicked off by a professor solemnly offering puja to an ageing old transformer on the college campus. He would offer some prayers and then throw flowers into the metal cage, taking careful aim to avoid short circuiting any exposed wires with the damp flowers, while the students gathered around him and gazed in awe at the imposing machine, trying to identify the various parts, and failing miserably. To this day, the only thing I know about transformers is that they have something called a winding. Oh, and Bumblebee is the coolest of the lot.]

Those days left me with a keen sense of appreciation for college fests. They help to break the monotony of daily routine. The attendant work including preparation and post celebration clean up encourage bonding amongst students. I have, since my college days, tried my hand at volunteering to organize several celebrations and group events. I can’t speak for the bonding part, but I have really enjoyed having the monotony of life broken by these events. Also, the joy of being a part of a team trying to achieve a larger goal is tremendous. You really don’t need to do a lot of work, as long as you never stay in the same place for a long time. For instance, if you hang around the place where they are painting boards and signs for a college fest, eventually someone will hand you a paint-brush and a can of paint and ask you to paint within the dotted line. So don’t hang around there for too long. Go to the IT desk where they are trying to manually input all the participant names and phone numbers into an excel sheet. Again, don’t stay there long enough for someone to hand you the printed sheet and ask you to take over. Go over to the shamiyana tent. And so on and so forth.

With such life hacks, you can really enjoy a college fest without having to distress yourself by doing such mundane stuff like work. Here are a few more such hacks I have picked up along the way.

Life hack 1

Never offer to be the treasurer. It’s a thankless job. In the run up to the event, people will start complaining that you are being unnecessarily stingy with the money. By the time the event starts and people see the shoddy shamiyana that’s been rented, they  will start to think that you have been skimming money off the top. Once the event finishes and accounts are done, everyone will know for certain that you have had a bout of sticky fingers with the money. It’s not worth it. Don’t volunteer for the job.

Life Hack 2

Always be friendly to the girl hunting for sponsors. Always be willing to lend a sympathetic ear when she wants to complain about that arrogant senior from HUL who strung her along with promises of sponsorship money, wrangling concert tickets from her for him and his pals and then bailing out at the last moment on the cash. “I mean, yaar, like, what the hell yaar? It’s just not done. I gave him my bf’s tickets yaar.” Listen to it all. Eventually, she will be the one getting all the extra goodies from the sponsors. More croc shoes than she would know what to do with. More red bull cans than she can drink that semester. And if you are lucky and DUREX is a sponsor, well, more monster water balloons than you would know what to do with.

Life Hack 3

Always go watch any drama competition that’s on the cards. For no reason other than there’s something noble about going out there on the stage in front of hundreds of strangers and expressing your feelings, emotions and histrionics, not knowing whether you will be greeted with boos or cheers. The least we can do to support those brave souls is to give them the courtesy of watching their performance.

Life Hack 4

Always follow the Red Bull girl – this is more of a principle than a rigid dictum. She could be the Frooti girl. Or the Paper Boat guy. Or the Bira monkey. It doesn’t matter. Almost all college fests will have some sort of product placement done by companies desperate to cash in on the captive audience. These samples will mostly be free. Try to eat or drink as much as you can. If repeated visits are discouraged, invest in a fake moustache and wig. The investment will more than pay for itself. If nothing, those drama folks might take you on for a bit part.

Life Hack 5

Avoid the closing ceremony. This will mostly be attended by people congratulating each other for a job well done. Since you had nothing to do with any actual work, no one is likely to congratulate you. Why waste time ? Instead, make plans to ambush the sponsorship girl and beg her for the croc shoes.

Watch this space in the coming weeks for more rich stuff on college fests.

5 Things not to do at work – or why Jimikki Kammal is a bad idea

6 years and a career spanning multiple companies across multiple countries has taught me a few things. Here are the pearls of wisdom, arranged in no particular order, for your benefit. Read carefully. I have made these mistakes (and more) so you don’t have to.

Botch Conference calls
Read through the instructions carefully before you dial in. There is a reason why the good people at Cisco took the pains to create a 30 page user’s manual filled with hieroglyphics at single space type and size 3 font. You do not want to be in a conference room filled with your peers and seniors, dial some random numbers and hear this on the line, “Hello dear, this is Mollykutty. How is the weather in Gulf? When are you coming next? ”

Mix up Relatives

Keep track of all your relatives, whether you are on talking terms with them or not. They come in really handy on those Mondays when the previous night’s Heineken hasn’t metabolized in time for you to make it to the office. Remember their names, use an excel sheet if you must, but never, ever, make the mistake of killing your third uncle once removed two times in a year.

Choose the wrong ringtone

This is the simplest advice of all, and one that could so easily be overlooked. Cell phones have an annoying habit of ringing every time someone tries to call you. You do not want to be engaged in a deep conversation with your boss on how to improve the monthly sales of paper towels in Gurgaon and have your phone shout out “Jimikki Kammal” midway through the discussion. The song is great to build rapport with Jimmy Kimmel or to launch the careers of young dancers in Mollywood, but it tends to ruin the atmosphere when it comes to office decorum.

Get caught stealing stationery

Really. Grow up. Everyone knows that the easiest thing to do in any office is steal stationery. It’s a no risk, high gain deal. I myself have been running a very lucrative black market in office supplies, specializing in wet markers, for years now. I have a tried and tested method that has never failed to produce results. Of course, you might have to wait a bit if you want heavy duty items like paper shredders or scanners. And you would have to pay extra too, because I would have to work from the office on weekends to fulfil an order for a paper shredder. The real trick, however, is not to brag about it near the water cooler or on social forums. It’s how amateurs get caught.

Get drunk with your boss

This is the biggest no-no of all. The sort of professional debauchery that characterizes office space interaction nowadays will ensure that sooner or later you will find yourself sharing drinks with your superiors. The trick is to get them drunk without crossing the threshold yourself. The negative consequences of failing to keep count of your Heinekens could be many. For instance, you might start reminiscing, and blurt out how the last time you had this many Heinekens, you were so wasted the next day you didn’t feel like going to office, and had to kill off uncle Damodaran from Ottappalam.

The anthropological doldrums – or why I avoid some airport bookstores

Ages 30 – 35 are the worst for most folks of our generation. You tend to get the short end of the stick in all situations, foreign and domestic, professional and otherwise. You see, it’s a combined effect of the young age and your standing in society that does the trick. You are not young enough to qualify as a newbie anywhere, and you are not yet old enough to effortlessly exhibit gravitas. You are too old to be given the benefit of doubt typically reserved for the youth and yet you are too young to be above suspicion if something goes wrong in your general vicinity. It’s as if the moment you cross the age of 30, you enter a sort of anthropological doldrum where you are  aided by neither the fair winds of youth nor the anchor and gravity of middle age. You sort of coast around. You know that you have gained enough experience and life savvy to take an adult decision about somethings in life, but you are not yet sure what they are.

And it’s not as if your elders and betters help you. Your boss seems to think that you ought to take more responsibilities and start acting as if you own the company (whatever that means) whereas your mom calls you at night to check if you remembered to put the achaar she sent you in a ‘cool dark place, away from sunlight.’ The friendly young woman on TV reminds you that you ought to have started investing at least a good twenty years ago in order to afford a grocery store visit in your old age, whereas your dad thinks he ought to slip you 250 rupees every time you leave home because snacks. Your mother’s sister seems to labour under the belief that you ought to recall the name, age, marital status and vocation of any given member of your extended family at a moment’s notice (“My God, what is this, chechi ? Your daughter does not know that our cousin’s brother in law’s wife’s sister’s son is working in the same company as she is ? Why hasn’t she gone to visit him at his house yet ? What will they think of us ?”) whereas your dad steadfastly refuses to involve you in any discussion regarding a marriage proposal that has come for you ( “She only needs to know when she needs to know.”)

Even far from the marrying crowd, the society at large is not forgiving of this age bracket. I went shopping recently at an airport store. It is my habit, upon finishing check in process, to potter about the airport and wander into any place that sells books. In this case, it was a book cum curio store, one of those establishments that result when the owner is paying through his nose for floorspace at an airport and decides to cram in as many sellable items as he can, in a vain effort to increase revenue per footfall. The inevitable result, more often than not, is a crammed store that has barely any manoeuvring space. Let loose in such hazardous environments, I am more inclined than ever to render my personal impression of the bull in a china shop routine. So I am generally quite cautious and carry myself with much dignity and care in such situations.

In this particular case, I was about to leave the store after some pleasant browsing, when I happened to find myself at cross purposes with an elderly gentleman. Both of us wanted to cross a particularly narrow aisle at the same time, but in opposite directions. After a respectable period of mutual contemplation where we mentally took stock of the situation and tried to decide the best way to approach this mini standoff, we silently agreed that the best way forward for both of us was, in short, just that. So we contorted our bodies into a sort of mini pireutte, presenting the slimmest profile forward, and inched our way slowly through the aisle, careful not to bump into each other. This complex mini manoeuvre soon had the desired effect, leading the elderly gentleman further into the store’s interior, while at the same time safely depositing me near the exit. Or so it seemed.

For no sooner had I put one foot across the threshold when a tinkling, crashing sound reached me from within the store. One of the ornamental glass figurines stocked on that aisle had just crashed to the floor and lay strewn about in, if not a thousand, at least a few dozen pieces. The store clerk rushed over in short order and took stock of the situation. I and the elderly gentleman silently sized each other up over the wreckage. We were both equidistant from the scene of the crime, and as such, perpetuators of equal potential. We both silently threw accusatory glances at each other, each one visually entreating the other to man up and admit to the error. The store clerk, after inspecting the crime scene thoroughly, stood up, smoothed her skirt down, and looked askance at me. I felt offended. Why just me ? Why couldn’t it have been the elderly guy ? (The astute reader will observe that I have, by this point in the narrative, ceased to refer to the guy as a gentleman. For upon further reading, it will become clear that this guy was neither manly, nor gentle) .

The clerk refused to acknowledge what was a patently offended expression on my face and asked, ‘Sir?’ The question mark at the end was not a call for admission of guilt. No, guilt was assumed. The question mark instead meant ‘Cash or card?’. I refused to give in. ‘But, it could have been him as well,’ I blurted out. ‘Why do you assume it’s me?’. Finally, the clerk turned to the elderly guy, who put up a remarkable air of innocence and said ‘ Sorry my dear, I had already reached the end of the aisle when the sound came. And I see this young gentleman has a backpack with many loose straps and knots. Maybe one of them hitched on the curio without him noticing ? These things happen.’ I was indignant by now, especially since I realised that the clerk had started to side with the guy automatically. I was presumed guilty even before I had a chance to explain that I am usually quite careful in such situations and would not, could not, have done the deed. Moreover, the guy had not, as he stated, reached the end of the aisle when the sound came. He had moved there silently while the store clerk was busily inspecting the wreckage. I started protesting. But curiously, the more I started protesting, the more the clerk started believing it was me, and the more smug the guy started looking. It was a losing battle. His age conferred a maturity on him which signalled a certain level of dignity and honesty which was clearly fake. However, that veneer of respectability was good enough to fool the clerk, who looked at me as if I was an arrogant snob who looked rich enough to afford to pay damages, but was instead, black heart enough to refuse to do the right thing. Throughout all this exchange, the guy never had to utter more than 4 sentences.

Finally, the argument was drawn to a premature close by the boarding announcement for my flight. I had no option but to pay the cost of the ugly figurine, and rush for my departure gate. As I was turning to leave, I risked a glance at the guy. He smiled pleasantly at me.

Adulting is hard.

Sometimes, the bull is innocent.

The Evolution of Wedding Photography in Kerala

I attended the wedding of a close friend recently and was struck by how far we Mallus had come as a society when it came to the art of wedding photography. The bride and groom had arranged for separate professional wedding photographers, as well as a separate group of ‘candid’ photographers. On top of this, three friends each of the bride and the groom had bought DSLRs recently and fancied themselves modern day Steve McCurrys. To add icing to the cake, every guest had brought their own smartphones and were merrily clicking away throughout the event. Even the bride gave in to temptation and took a selfie before the pujari could object. Thankfully, she remembered to include the groom in the selfie titled ‘ Tradition meets Romance – My Big Day !’

All this gave pause to yours truly. Over the years, weddings had ceased to be about the subjects themselves and more about those who surrounded them. Union of hearts and souls till death did them part became not so much important as the union of relatives and long lost friends, who found weddings a great excuse to get a few days off work. Even so, these events continued to be contained within the immediate family and friend circles, which for Mallus is still about 200 strong for an average family. There used to be just one additional group of people who were invited enthusiastically into the inner circle – the wedding photographers.

They were given carte blanche to cover the wedding ceremony without hindrance; freely allowed to go where they pleased and take what shots they wanted. The purpose of their existence was to capture in graphic detail those precious moments in time which would hopefully give the family a lifetime of sado-masochistic pleasure. Mom would forevermore inflict the wedding album on all visitors to their house. Supriya would sneak a peek ever so often to sigh at how much thinner she looked as a bride. Sugunan would sneak a peek ever so often to marvel at that luxurious head of hair he had on his wedding day. Grandma would scan the album over tea and biscuits, finding faults with the design of the necklaces worn by the guests and remembering how brilliantly decked out she was on her own wedding day. The bride’s dad would sneak a peek ever so often to remind himself how much money he had to waste on the wedding, all to invite that good for nothing Sugunan into his family. In short, wedding photographers were custodians of time and memory.  And they used to execute their duty with care, dignity and a certain dispassionate , even clinical, professionalism. However, as with many things in life, the evolution of society took a toll on this ancient guardians of memories as well.

The era before digital cameras – In the name of the craft (1950 – 2000s)

During this idyllic era, weddings were all about the bride, groom and the bride’s aunt who insisted on being present in all the wedding photos. Photographers managed to distill the art of wedding photography to an exact and methodical science, often sacrificing aesthetics for functionality, all in the name of the craft. So much so that wedding photos often followed a formulaic pattern. It would begin on the morning of the wedding, with one set of photographers each at the bride’s and groom’s house. Both the families would have contracted one studio each for the event, and they would go about their duties, covering the bride and the groom individually and later, collectively. The photos were broadly classified into 4 groups:

  1. Pre wedding dakshina photos – these were primarily shots of the bride and the groom offering dakshina to the elders in their family. The process involves offering them a betel leaf, betel nut and a one rupee coin (pre demonetisation era) and then bending low to touch their feet in an unprecedented show of obeisance. These photos were all shot from the same angle, and if flipped forwards fast enough, would act as a flip-book with relatives replacing one another in animated fast motion. The bride and the groom would invariably have the same expression on all the photos – one of anticipatory panic, hoping against hope that that pesky mundu or loose saree would not fall off during all the bending and swooping.
  2. Wedding shots – the money shot would of course be the one in which the panicked groom attempts to tie the mangalsutra on the bride, praying to all the gods that he doesn’t screw up. The photographers would would form a protective cordon of strobing flashes around the newlyweds, trying to get as many clean shots as possible, often obscuring the entire event from the hundreds sitting in the viewing gallery, depriving them of even a momentary glimpse of the actual event that they had been invited to see.
  3. Sadya photos – this is where the photographers would earn their keep as professionals. They would have to roam around the sadya hall, trying to click half decent pictures of ravenous guests shovelling in mouthfuls of rice and sambar, all the while refraining from grabbing even a cup of water themselves. It’s a special kind of torture, having to watch people all around you eat gluttonously, having to smell all that tasty food surrounding you and yet have none of it. To top it off, you have to work as well. It’s no surprise that hungry and irritated photographers often resort to cheap shots like taking pictures of the groom with a big handful of rice soaked in sambar halfway up to his open mouth.

                        Sugunan’s Sadya moments
  4. Post wedding romantic photos – all photographers would attempt this finale, some with more finesse and élan than others. This part of the event is more or less akin to the improvisation in a Carnatic music performance, where the singers and the musicians suspend rules and regulationsfor a bit and dig deep down to unleash their creativity. Photographers would make the couple pose in embarrassing poses while they strived to achieve the perfect romantic shot. This is where the innate creativity of the most conservative and unimaginative studio photographer would wake up. Some have even been known to go crazy with props like umbrellas, chairs, flutes and on one memorable occasion, a full grown cow, with comically disastrous consequences.
                    Chin up, Smile, Look Romantic.

The era of digital cameras – Have camera, will shoot (2000 – 2010s)

Then came the wave of socialism that washed over the photography industry, short circuiting many a studio photographer’s career. Canon, Nikon and Sony started mass producing high quality digital cameras for relatively low prices, and almost every kid on the block bought one. Those who bought DSLRs immediately rushed out to take really close up pictures of ugly lizards sitting on backyard dumpsters and surprised ducks trying to cross the road – spending fifteen minutes on taking the photo and half an hour thinking up captions. Those who couldn’t be bothered with lizards and ducks went after more sedate subjects like fences, doors, the sky or even sleeping friends.

Have camera – will shoot 

These photographic endeavours extended to the wedding halls as well. You could see hordes of friends from both sides hovering around the bride and groom, clicking away merrily. Ex boyfriends trying to take pictures of the bride getting dressed (for old times’ sake) and soon to be ex friends trying to take pictures of the groom having that last hurried cigarette to calm his nerves now had the brush to paint the canvas of their imaginations. In their frenzy to get the perfect shot, these friends soon started falling over the professional photographers trying to cover the wedding.

Candid photos 

This era also saw the rise of guerrilla photography, often referred to as candid photography. It originated as a sort of rebellion against the formulaic predictability of the wedding photography techniques of the previous generation. Photographers, in their quest to reduce wedding photography to an exact science, had taken all the fun out of wedding albums, until there was little to no discernible difference between photos taken at your dad’s wedding and your own. In a bid to re-establish the ethos of creativity that ought to drive all photographic endeavours, people increasingly started turning to candid photography – i.e. photos taken without the direct knowledge of the subjects.

   Which could lead to cute moments such as this.

Candid photography also sought to capture the true essence of weddings – apathy leavened by bouts of panic. So it was that wedding albums came to be filled with pictures of the bride’s sister chatting up a friend of the groom, little lamps that mom thought would be a cute decorative addition to the mandapam but which almost ended up lighting the pujari on fire, dad’s panicked expression when the caterer told him the sadya would be late and the grandma nodding off backstage. Professional photographers started specialising in candid photos in a bid to keep pace with the times, and very soon became adept at taking photos of everything except the bride and the groom.

The era of drones – Missiles are optional extra (2010s – present)

Soon after the US military started using drones for reconnaissance and shooting missiles at the Taliban fighters doing potty behind Afghan rocks, commercial photographic studios realised that drones had other uses as well. They could be used to cover weddings too. The only difference between using a drone for military reconnaissance and wedding photography is that missiles are optional extra for the wedding. This then gave rise to the birth of the commercial drone photo and videography industry, where the wedding assumed secondary importance compared to the pre wedding destination photography. Hundreds of couples spent all the money they had saved up for the honeymoon on destination wedding preps, flying to Mauritius and the Andamans to have drones capture their fun filled frolics in knee deep ocean.

    But no drone can account for human stupidity.

Drones entered the wedding halls as well, buzzing merrily over guests hunched up to eat sadya. Sugunan could now empathise with the hapless Taliban fighter who wanted nothing more upon waking up in the morning than to answer nature’s call with some modicum of dignity and privacy , but instead was met with the loud fury of a drone hovering around his head. Such sort of nonsense can easily put one off feeding or potty.

It is hard to predict how wedding photography will continue to evolve. Technology may end up automating everything associated with weddings, with the unenviable result that wedding photographers may all have to retrain as drone operators in the near future. The only certainty is that Supriya’s dad will continue to be puzzled by what his daughter ever saw in that nincompoop Sugunan. The guy can’t even eat rice and sambar properly, for heaven’s sake.

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.


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.

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….


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.


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.


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”.


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.


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



The curious relationship between Indians and personal space

‘All generalizations are false, including this one’ – probably Mark Twain.

Indians have a curious relationship with personal space. We believe it’s negotiable. It’s not a reflection on our lack of etiquette or decorum, but simply an evolutionary necessity. When 1.3 bn people try to cram into a shared auto to go from Rajendranagar to Gachibowli or queue up to withdraw money from Chennai airport ATM, respect for personal space becomes a tradition more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

Personal space violators come in many forms. A few samples include

  1. Grocery Ganesan – you see him once a week at the grocery till. He will lurk behind you at the till, pushing through with his cart of Baggry’s oats, milk and brinjal at the exact moment you start unloading your cart onto the cashier’s counter. You may end up paying for his items too, by mistake. But it’s ok. He’s a gentleman and won’t complain.
  2. Ticket Thomas – He is the guy behind you in every queue in India. Except he’s not technically behind you, at least not in his view, since the concept of queuing is alien to his delicate sensibilities. You see, queuing requires maintaining an unhealthy distance from the person in front of you. A distance large enough to induce FOMO– the fear of missing out on a competition. So Ticket Thomas will stand as close as he can to you to maximize his chances of reaching the end of the queue quickly. And he won’t stand quietly. Like a good lover, he will spoon you from behind, the sides and sometimes, even above. I have had several instances where a third hand has miraculously evolved from the general area of my underarm and proceeded to pay the ticket collector at movie theatres. When I turn back in astonishment (I generally tend to get astonished upon noticing that I have sprouted an extra arm), Thomas usually smiles and nods his head in silent encouragement, as if to say, ‘It’s ok, carry on. I’ll just stand here quietly with my arm through yours. No big deal.’ It’s all the more worse when he gets the ticket before me.
  3. Escape Estheppan – He loves flying until the exact moment the plane lands on the tarmac and starts taxiing, at which instant he turns into an aviophobe. His sole purpose in life then becomes to exit the plane as fast as possible. The process of exiting a plane under normal circumstances is fairly simple, if elaborate. First, the pilot announces the temperature and wind condition outside the plane in case you had any plans of sailing out of the airport. Then he announces that you are supposed to keep your seatbelts on until the seatbelt sign goes off. That’s when Estheppan starts his disembarkation process. He unties his seatbelt and edges forward in his seat. When the taxiing plane comes to a halt he jumps up irrespective of whichever seat he happens to be in – window, middle or aisle. Once his head reaches the vertical vicinity of the overhead compartment, he proceeds to open it. After a few pieces of luggage showers onto the heads of his co-passengers, he manages to find his own cabin baggage, and clutches it to his chest. This is followed by a breathless wait for a chance to jump into the aisle, minutes filled with trembling excitement as he pushes against the inanimate body of Savitri ammal in the seat next to him, the said Ammal having been rendered unconscious by a shower of American Tourister bags on her head. Once he spies an opening, he rushes headlong to the exit, leaving the twitching bodies of Savitri ammal and a few miscellaneous children in his wake.
  4. Urinal Unni – Have you ever been to a men’s urinal in a movie theatre? Even if the entire urinal is free, Urinal Unni will insist on using the stall right next to you. There is a fine line between uncomfortable physical closeness and outright sexual harassment, and Urinal Unni draws and redraws that line constantly with a stream of urine. You get so engrossed in trying to ensure he isn’t sneaking a peek that you often forget to zip up after finishing your business.

So, tourists in this beautiful land of ours, do not get put off by Ganesans and Estheppans. This is how we are. You will find Ganesans in most grocery stores, and Estheppans on most flights. Have you ever walked down the crowded alleyways of Mumbai, and felt a light push against your tushy from the anonymity of the crowd? Have you ever stood in a crowded metro train and felt a third hand spouting from between your armpits? Congratulations – you have been pick-pocketed. Call the police.

If your wallet is intact, chalk the experience down to Indians negotiating your personal space. In a world where people are moving further away from each other along ideological lines, where Kapil Sharma and Sunil Grover have split up, where Karan Johar is refusing to speak to Kajol, a little benign invasion of personal space might be a good thing. Except with Trump and Korea. Or Trump and Mexico. Or Trump and Ivanka. Or Trump and human beings in general.

PS: Mrs. Domesticated Kid reminds me that I forget to zip up even if Urinal Unnis are absent from the scene. I must see someone about that. And make sure no one sees me in the meantime.

Nair on the highway – driving with confidence in Britain

I acquired my first driving license in India at the age of 18. Like every other teenager my age, it required teaming up with a driving school instructor who may or may not have had some nefarious dealings with the RTO officer. Sure, I drove the car in straight lines, curved lines, reversed it, parked it and changed a few gears, but none of those manoeuvres were executed under the pressure of real life consequences. I mostly drove around in a pristine dust field ringed by coconut trees, where the maximum damage you could do was to run the car into a mud bank. This suited the RTO driving inspector very well, since his primary concern was his own well-being, and mud banks are infinitely more pleasant obstacles to run into than other vehicles.

After they granted me the laminated 2×4 inch keycard to automotive freedom, I promptly forgot all about driving. Not out of a lack of interest, you see, but out of lack of opportunity. I never got a chance to drive a car for the next 10 years while I wandered all over India and Asia for study and work.

And then I came to the UK. The land where left side driving originated. Here’s a funny fact for you. When the erstwhile British empire started colonizing large parts of the subcontinent, they decided to teach the natives how to drive. It was more out of necessity than altruism; they could not afford to have their brand new Morris Minors crashing into bullock carts all the time. Lloyd’s insurance didn’t cover that. So they decided to teach all the Indians to drive on the left side of the road. Which worked well, until they realised that in order to complete the job, they would have to teach the bullocks as well. At which point they gave up, packed up and went home, leaving the Indians free to drive on whichever side of the road they fancied.

Contrary to popular belief, these guys won India her independence

Anyway, back to yours truly. After landing in the UK I realized that a car was an indispensable necessity in this country where trains can stop running on any given day without so much as a by your leave.  But after 10 years, I was quite sure I was rusty at driving. That put me in a rather uncomfortable position where the only way to meet the challenge was to dive headlong into it. Perhaps not the most apt analogy for re-learning driving, but you get the point.

I called up a driving instructor and asked him to help me out. After about 3 hours under his supervision, my latent driving skills surfaced and my confidence on the roads surged. I effortlessly increased my top speed from 10 mph to 20 mph. The instructor was not very impressed however, and gently pointed out that I was holding up an entire string of cars behind me. I refused to let it dampen my enthusiasm, letting him know in turn that a 100% improvement on anything is a stupendous performance.

After about 10 hours of training, my instructor felt confident enough to take his foot off the training brakes occasionally. By then I had cottoned onto the differences between driving in India and driving in the UK.

A comparative analysis (sort of) of the differences between driving in the UK and India

Karma rules

Indian driving relies less on proper signalling and car control and more on the basic principles of karma. You do the best you can, and never worry about the results. If for instance, you started out in the morning from Bannerghatta bound for your office in Whitefield, do not be appalled if you find yourself in Hebbal at the end of your drive. You were meant to be in Hebbal. Call in sick.

Karmic rules apply at all levels of driving. If you treated your dog well yesterday, that lorry driver will spare your life tomorrow. If you tipped the waiter 2 weeks ago, that cow will get up off the road and wander off, leaving you free to move forward. Just point the car in the right direction, start the engine, and pray. There are no atheists on Indian roads.

Trust your karma

Treatment of Traffic lights

Traffic lights demand unquestioned obedience in the UK, whereas in India, they are more like gentle suggestions. All UK drivers approach traffic lights gingerly. Violations add to your points and eventually, can result in your license being suspended. On the other hand, Indian drivers find the idea of traffic lights amusing at best. Unless they are accompanied by a traffic cop, they are treated as mere suggestions of vehicular propriety, to be observed only if your mother in law happens to be in the same car as you.

But beware if he happens to be on duty that day

Slowing down when approaching by-lanes

I used to slow down for every by-lane in my path, until my driving instructor told me it would be seen as a minor infraction in the UK. Apparently you are supposed to believe that any driver wishing to join the road would be equally aware of the rules, and would concede right of way to oncoming traffic. Hence, if you have right of way and still slow down, you are essentially impeding the traffic behind you. Fancy that. I, on the other hand, was all too aware that back in India, any by-lane was just an ambush point where anything from a hand cart piled high with vegetables to an errant football followed by a distracted child could jump out at you. Slowing down is not just a prudent precaution, it is an absolute necessity.

On tooting horns

Horns are considered to be bad taste and to be used only in an emergency in the UK. In fact, there is a section in the driving theory test booklet in the UK (oh yes, they have those) where the powers that be talk about the conditions under which a horn can be used. And that’s pretty much under no circumstances, except in an emergency to let someone know of your presence. The operative word here is ‘emergency’. In India too, the horn is used to let others know of your presence. But the word ‘emergency’ is glossed over. Creative uses of the horn can convey any message from ‘Look where you are going, you nincompoop,’ to ‘Hey Matthaikutty, I’m over here!! Fancy us pulling up at the same red light at the same time! What are the odds of that! Did your eldest son Sunnykutty get married?’. Other acceptable uses of the horn in India are as below, shown by context and intent:



When you want to pass someone

Here I am. This is me. I will pass you now. Thanks.

When someone passes you

I see you. You little jerk. How dare you pass me?

When you think someone might be thinking of passing you

I know what you are thinking. You little jerk. How dare you think of passing me?

When you want the car in front of you to go faster

Hey, you there. You do realize Volvo saw fit to give you an accelerator pedal for a reason, right? Use it.

When a pedestrian tries to cross the road in front of you

‘Ghar pe batake aaye ho na?’ Loosely translated, it means, ‘may you become a toad in your next life. I can help accelerate the transition if you want’

When you feel sleepy while driving at 60 mph down the highway into oncoming traffic

Oh shit.

Lane (in)discipline

Lane discipline means a lot to the drivers in the UK, and errant drivers are immediately brought to censure by fellow drivers. Changing lanes is a complex process involving looking all round your car including up through the sun roof to ensure there is no one nearby, putting on the right indicators at the right time without surprising anyone, and then gently sliding across the lane apologetically. It’s a dance, to be executed with grace, precision and a touch of piousness. Whereas in India, anyone who insists on following all these rules to change lanes to catch an exit would be forced to drive in more or less a straight line from Kanyakumari to Kashmir without success.

Lane discipline in India. The key is to avoid eye contact.

Tough conditions foster greater skills

The only redeeming feature of Indian system of driving is that the controlled chaos that exists on most roads ensure that most of the drivers who graduate from this school of driving are much more trained and skilled than your average British driver, who has grown soft due to complacency. For instance, my driving instructor candidly admitted to me that he could never drive on Indian roads. I felt a strong surge of patriotism as I heard those words. For all its faults, Indian traffic teaches drivers defensive driving skills normally reserved for Special Forces training in most other parts of the world.

All this knowledge did not, however, help me much with improving my skills beyond a point. I seemed destined to be one of those drivers who see a car as simply a mechanical instrument to transport you from point A to point B, with perhaps, an occasional breakdown near midway point C. Complex technical manoeuvres did not come easily to me. Neither did simple ones, for that matter. My instructor was a nervous wreck by the time he presented me to the driving inspector on the day of my test.  To cut a long story short, I did manage to pass the test and earn a UK driving license. It was a long and arduous 45 minutes of test driving, by the end of which all the three parties involved – my instructor, the driving inspector and I were all thoroughly exhausted. My driving inspector told me that he was taking the rest of the day off to recover. My instructor started sobbing silently and rocked gently back and forth in the passenger seat. They seemed to have used up all their stored good karma.

Anyway, I am now the proud holder of dual driving licenses. All I need to do now is obey the traffic lights, and buy a good horn.

Run for your life. Or why I am better than Aamir Khan.

Ideally once you decide to lose weight, learn a new skill and stop pronouncing Warner brothers without the quintessential Mallu accent with its emphasis on Waa instead of Whoa ( as my wife constantly reminds me whenever we go to see a movie ) the Universe should conspire to make it happen. However in my case the Universe has other plans. Namely, do the opposite of whatever shit the domesticated kid plans. I hadn’t learned any significant new skills for the past 3 years, despite whatever creative half-truths I jot down under ‘Personal Development’ section every year during my appraisals at work. When startled, I still refer to WB as ‘Waarner Bretherz’. I have documented my ongoing battle with weight elsewhere on this blog. On the BMI scale, I’m the outlier that always makes it hard for the doctors to clearly define the boundary between normal weight and overweight. For years bitter debates have raged in medical circles in Nagpur and Singapore on whether I’m slightly above normal or slightly below overweight. I’ve constantly lived on the edge.

And then came the news on the telly that Aamir Khan had piled on pounds of flesh to balloon upto 95 kg for the upcoming movie Dangal. He has difficulty breathing now, which I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND. But here comes the rub. The old wily actor fellow is going to lose it all for the same movie. Is he crazy or what? Doesn’t he realise that you can simultaneously act as an 80 year old paunched father and a 35 year old paunched superhero in the same movie? At the same time? Didn’t Mohanlal teach you anything? For shame.

Heavyweight actor
Bloody fellow 

Now, we need to call a spade a spade and a porotta a porotta. This is just Aamir Khan showing off he can gain and lose weight at will. The bastard. I, on the other hand, have the first part down pat. The second always trips me up. And not for lack of trying. Quite recently, some genius at my office decided it would be a great idea to issue us all with Fitbits, divide us into teams and pitch us against one another to see which team could burn the most calories, in a bizarre corporate version of biggest loser. A colleague from IIM Ahmedabad proposed my name for his group, quite possibly to derive sadistic pleasure from reading the next day’s Guardian by-line on page 3

“IIM Bangalore alumni collapses tragically on pavement during training run. Subsequently run over by 10 IIM Ahmedabad London Alumni runners”

The horror. 

[Domesticated Kid’s side note: Now listen to me very carefully. The first step in any fitness program is to consult an expert, to make sure you don’t hurt yourself. Go do it now.

Done? Are you now equipped with all the latest information on forecasted income statement, cash flow analysis and Price/Earnings ratio? Excellent. That’s because you consulted a chartered accountant by mistake. Do it again, correctly this time please] 

But I pulled together whatever reserves of courage I possessed and decided to go through with the ordeal. A masochistic streak runs through the Thayyil Nair family. My father had decided, after retirement, that he would grow vanilla for money. My mother recently decided she would switch her allegiance from Mammootty to Dulquer. 

I signed up.

I went to a total fitness program at a nearby gym where an impossibly fit lady told me I needed to buy customised jogging shoes, branded t shirts, protein powder, wrist GPS and a heart rate monitor watch. I asked her if all the new-fangled tech would help me win the competition. ‘No, she said’. ‘But I would get a commission on all your purchases.’ She seemed honestly convinced that I was what is commonly referred to in the fitness industry as an easy mark .But I burst her bubble and told her I was wise to all her wily ways. Upon which she broke down and admitted that she was in it purely for the money. Just like Aamir Khan. That’s when inspiration struck me. For half the price of the gear, she taught me how to hack the Fitbit so I could manipulate the count without having to pull a hamstring or curl up on the pavement.

I aced the contest at work and happily bought porottas with the prize money I earned. The only difference between me and Aamir Khan now is that while we both did it for the money, he had to eat broccoli and drink water instead of porottas and coke. To top it all, I learnt a new skill into the bargain – how to hack fitbit trackers. Now if only I can pronounce Warner Brothers correctly.