October 31, 2013

The Sleeper Class Protocol

The Sleeper Class Protocol
I was in a sleeper class compartment from Bangalore to Rajahmundry last week. I got an upper berth. A family of four occupied the two lowers and a middle – 4F (a little girl), 28F (her amma), and 55F (her ammamma) and 31M (her father). There was a 27M in the other middle berth and a 37M in the opposite upper.

The family of four, like any other family in a train, made themselves at home by occupying the entire place under the lower berths (3 large suitcases, 2 large bags, 3 small bags, 2 jute bags with bamboo handles, and a polythene bag), on the lower berths (hand bags, magazines, food, toys, stationery), and between the lower berths (footwear, 5L water can, stretched out legs, more food).

They didn’t just occupy physical place. They have created an emotional space around their two lower berths forcing the lone male passengers to the fringes. The 37M settled in his upper berth even though it was three in the afternoon and he was in no mood for a nap. The 27M with the middle berth occupied my upper berth and I sat on the side-lower with my legs stretched out.

29F, the side upper lady, got in at Whitefield. Her husband had a side upper in S5. We sat in our respective sides of the berth with our legs respectfully folded. I spent most of the afternoon and the evening staring out of the window looking at the rugged Rayalaseema landscape. The excellent monsoon this year has brought life to an otherwise barren Deccan landscape. It was nothing like the neatly manicured green of coastal Andhra or the wild greens further up north in Orissa but rather an inhibited green of wild grasses and semi-arid vegetation heroically growing out of the loose cracks in solid Deccan rock punctuated by large puddles of water in what used to be an excellent network of storage tanks. It was beautiful nonetheless.

The TTE came to check the tickets around dusk and that was when the side-upper lady realized that the side-lower berth was not mine. She immediately called her husband in S5 and told him that the side-lower is free even though I was sitting barely 2 feet away from her. I knew right away that she was planning to usurp me.

I went to the toilet, stood at the door for a little while and came back to see the side-upper lady encroach about six inches of my half of the berth, a subtle but noticeable assertion of territorial ambitions. I was cautious for the next one hour.

There was another joint family consisting of two brothers, their wives, kids, and a bachelor babai (chacha) having a nice family time in the next cabin playing Housie (Tambola) and munching on snacks. Their first few games were played just for fun but when they started playing for money, I felt like intruding. Now I couldn’t just go and ask them if I could join. It was a family thing. So I had to work my way into the game, first by teaching their little girl how to doodle Mickey Mouse, making an occasional eye contact with the players, smiling at their jokes once in a while until they got the point and invited me. Each ticket was 10 rupees.

For the next one and a half hours, I ate their food, played with their kids, made fun of the babai, and sucked at their game. I never thought it was possible to suck at Housie but now I know. I lost thirty rupees.

I returned to my seat to find the side-upper lady occupying almost three-fourths of the berth. I gestured the news of my arrival by clearing my throat and she responded to my gesture by reluctantly withdrawing into her half of the berth. The animosity was out in the open now. It’s funny how we knew nothing about each other except that the hatred is mutual.

Twenty minutes later, she called her husband and asked him to come for dinner. Her husband was not in the mood for dinner. He probably ate a few samosas at Kuppam. She asked him to "first come and then we can decide when we want to eat” in an impatient tone. Being an excellent eavesdropper, I knew right away what was happening and predictably her husband came and she requested me to sit somewhere else while they eat dinner. I could see the husband. I could smell the biryani. There was nothing I could do. I had to move.

I now sat on the side upper berth reading a book and they did not open the dinner for the next one hour. I knew it was unfair but what can I do. I can’t protest against a couple talking to each other. I read my book without being too worked up about it. Sometime later, the husband left and I thought I’ll go back to my side-lower. She was sitting with her legs stretched out comfortably and refused to move.

Me: Excuse me?
29F: What?
Me: I want to sit here
29F: Is this your berth?
Me: I was sitting here before you requested me to sit somewhere else while you had dinner. I notice that you have had dinner.
29F: Why don’t you sit in your place?
Me: The middle berth guy is sleeping in my berth. I’ve been sitting here since the beginning.
29F: This is not your berth.
Me: This is not your berth either.
29F: Mine is side-upper
The argument went back and forth for a few times. She claimed the right to the side-lower berth because she, as the side-upper berth passenger, already owns half the berth and it is logical that the other half belongs to her if it is free. I argued that someone was supposed to come to side-lower berth but did not. So the berth belongs to those who occupied it first, which in this case happens to be me. The side upper person only owns half the berth till 10PM after which the side-lower passenger has the right to ask the side-upper passenger to retire to her berth.

We agreed to disagree and sat on our respective halves of the berth intensely hating each other and plotting the next move. Half an hour later, she announced that she wants to sleep and that I should go to my berth. I told her I didn’t think so and took 45 minutes to eat 3 puris for the next 45 minutes while tweeting on my phone leisurely.

A gentleman from the next cabin who has been silently tracking the conflict since the beginning interfered. I reasoned with him my position that the Sleeper Class protocol states that an empty berth belongs to the first occupant. That is the rule in the general compartment. That is the rule with Waiting List tickets. Why would it be any different in this case? He agreed with me. A couple of guys from the Housie game also agreed with me. I was building the public opinion for me and was reasonably confident till she said, “Rules antha saray andi kaani ladies request chesthe koncam adjust avvaali kadha?” (Rules and all are fine but when “ladies” request, he should adjust a little don’t you think?)

The word “Ladies” has special status in Andhra culture. It’s a euphemism for respectable women and the plural is used even if it is just one woman. The rules of public behavior are very straight forward. “Ladies” should not be inconvenienced in anyway. 

I protested that she is a woman equal to me in all respects. She has no children traveling with her, she is not a senior citizen who has trouble getting to the upper berth, and she doesn’t have much luggage either but no one bought my feminism. There is no recovering from the L-bomb. My public support literally vanished and soon the public too.

I went to the wash basin to wash my hands and by the time I was back, the Evil side-upper lady has marked her territory by covering the side lower berth, my side lower berth, with a floral pattern bed sheet.

Less than ten minutes later the train stopped at Katpadi junction and the rightful owner of the side-lower, a lanky college student from Kakinada, showed his ticket and told the Evil side-upper lady that it is his berth. My lips automatically curled into a smirk which she noticed. The Katpadi junction college student from Kakinada had no chance. Some noble wars have inevitable collateral damage. He slept on side upper and I stole his side lower the moment she got down at Vijayawada.


Bonus (if you have come this far):

October 20, 2013

Don't be that guy 3

Don’t be that guy: The Awkward Wallpaper guy

Have you noticed that there are a lot of people who have "hot" pictures of models and actresses as desktop wallpapers? What's the deal with them? I understand if they are teenage students first time away from home and got a new computer in a Boys' Hostel but a mid-twenties guy with wallpapers like that on his work PC? What is the school of thought behind that?

Some guys even put a slideshow so that they don’t have to stare at the same picture all the time. It doesn't matter if it is early in the morning, late afternoon, just after dinner or past midnight, they just want to see cleavage all the time. Now they even have them on their phones. I find that fascinating.

At one level, I am impressed with their commitment and their perseverance but I always wonder, what exactly are they trying to tell the world with those wallpapers? That they are horny all the time? Or is it a subtle message to their parents that it is time for them to search for a suitable "traditional girl with modern outlook"?

Don’t be that guy: Consumer Loyalty Activist

Let me ask you a question. Do you really think Pantene shampoo has a unique pro-V formula that nourishes and protects your hair from deep within the roots? No? Then why do you think business people mean it when they say, “Customer is King”?

“Thank you for being a loyal customer” is typically the kind of bullshit they tell you when they are trick you into spending money you don’t have on things you don’t need. You shouldn’t have believed it in the first place. Common sense.

Besides why are you investing your loyalty on a corporation? Corporations don’t have ethics. They have mission statements and their objective is to make as much money as possible in whatever way possible without ever compromising on the bottom line (look it up). By definition they don’t give a shit about your loyalty, your rights, your safety, your health, your happiness or your general wellbeing. The only reason they say they do is because they are legally required to say that they do. Common sense again.

And did you just say consumer rights? What the hell are you talking about dude? You live in a country where Human Rights activists are whacked off by the police, where RTI activists routinely die in road “accidents”, where artists singing songs about songs about child malnutrition are arrested for “allegedly aiding and abetting Naxal activities”, where speaking out against superstitions can get you shot in the head by unidentified gun men and you want justice for a dispute over an online order consisting of a ballpoint pen with an LED flashlight cap? Which parallel universe are you from? Just walk across the street, stand in the queue and pay with cash like everyone else.

Don’t be the guy who uses ‘common’ when he means ‘come on’

Come on people, you shouldn't be making such common mistakes.

Don’t be that woman: The disruptive shopper

Don’t be that woman who goes shopping, makes the salesperson unfold 74 pieces of clothing before deciding that she didn't like any of them and moving on to the next section. I am probably entering dangerous territory here but why do you have to look at so many clothes, especially when you weren't even planning to buy anything in the first place?

I know window shopping is fun but what about the poor guy who has to fold all those things back?

Yes, it's his job but that doesn't mean you go to his workplace during office hours and give him more work. How would you feel if a stranger walks into your office and makes you sit through two hours of extra meetings for no reason?

Don’t be that guy who thinks he is saving the environment by taking notes on an iPad

An iPad requires about 15 kg of various raw minerals and 300 liters of water as raw material. An iPad weighs about 650g and the rest of the material goes to a landfill as toxic waste. Most of our gadgets require trace amounts of rare metals like Tantalum, Tin and Tungsten which is fueling a deadly war and genocide in Congo. The manufacturing process overall releases 15,000 liters of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Shipping is not free, so include the amount of fossil fuels burned to move the iPad from China to US and then to India through a cousin who is coming for the holidays.

Finally when Apple releases the next version, you "upgrade" yourselves by dumping it somewhere and it eventually makes its way to a slum near Delhi where the electronic trash is dismantled by hand by slum dwellers, often children, who are exposed to a range of toxic substances and we have no idea about the long term effects on their health for cleaning up the mess for us. And we'll never know because we don’t fund hospitals and researchers to study those kinds of things that happen to those kinds of people (unless they die in sufficiently large numbers for the media to milk a story on a slow news day).

But hey, the product comes neatly packed in a cardboard box that is made entirely of recyclable (but never recycled) materials. It even has a green colored picture of a tree on it. So we're cool!
Comic by Andy Singer
*All numbers from: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/04/04/opinion/04opchart.html?_r=0

[This is a public service announcement]

Don’t be that relative: The Wedding Small Talker

Don’t be that relative whose first (and only) question to any twenty-something year old woman is, “When are you getting married?”

I understand that you ask about her marriage with only the best intentions in mind. I know you want her to get married, settle down in the US, give birth to US, give them Anglicized Sanskrit names, invite the baby’s grandparents for babysitting, and live happily ever after but not all women believe in that American dream.

People these days tend to have different career trajectories, personal ambitions, education loans, childhood dreams, office shit, relationship stuff and a lot of other things to deal with before they can “settle down”. You really have no idea what is actually happening in her life, so you have no right to put peer pressure on her parents to marry her off before some imaginary Sravana Maasam based deadline. Such questions serve no purpose except causing extra stress for everyone.

You are basically the reason unmarried people don't like attending their cousins' weddings. The next time you run into a twenty-something-yet-to-be-married girl at a wedding, just compliment on her saree, inquire about her grandparents’ health and move on to the next person. If you want to extend the small talk further, you can discuss the weather, other relatives, your childhood stories, Telangana and something else.

[End of public service announcement]