Author: Tejas Nair

Tejas Nair is a freelance writer, small-time film critic, and literature student. He lives and works in Mumbai, India.

The Dark Of Authority

Young people have no respect for authority now...

Young people have no respect for authority nowadays (Photo credit: Alexandre Dulaunoy)

Every institution is administered by authority & that is more of a necessity as we all know. But what happens when you can’t change the Date & Time settings in a PC in a Signals & Systems laboratory? What happens when the dialog says “You don’t have proper privilege to access the settings?” What happens when you realize that a lab assistant needs “extra” authority to change a cable of an inkjet printer from one PC to another in an educational institution? What happens when you learn that the Server administrator is a lazy dork?

No, apocalypse is still elusive, you see. What happens is that the institution degrades. From all aspects.

Last day I logged into my account in the aforementioned lab. It is the type of account every other student has, except for some of the Students’ Council members who try to start a newspaper which is totally unbiased, yet the articles being shortlisted fall in parallel to what we find in TOI. I found the time set in the desktop to be shamelessly incorrect and tried to change it when that dialog appeared. MS Paint, thankfully wasn’t disabled.

So when the PC connected to the printer didn’t have MATLAB software in it, our professor asked us to summon the powerless lab assistant. His use of words empathized us (two of my batch-mates joined me to pause their frustration over the account limitations). “Kya Sir! Sirf do wire hi toh nikalke lagana hai!” to which he replied, “Mere paas authority nahi hai. Wo (server admin) daatega baadme…(sic).” Now what is the difference between us the hapless students of modern educational institutions and the wiser lab assistant who fetches CRO probes for our sake, as he tries to make ends meet?

The server admin turned out to be a contemptible person because he was seated in an air-conditioned room full of gizmos and piles of unwritten application forms that had the power to buy every goddamn electronic thing related to computers & servers. I guessed he suffered from hypertension when he started finding ways out of the problem instead of solving it. He asked us to –

  1. Print the experiment program from another lab.
  2. Fix it ourselves (for which we didn’t have the authority, of course)
  3. Do it next week!
  4. Use another software!
  5. Use a flash drive, perhaps?
  6. Swap the CPUs.
  7. Date his hideous daughter, instead! (I almost agreed when he said he would pay up)
  8. Convince our professor.
  9. Roam around
  10. Skedaddle!

Although some of the above were real, one of us wanted his job. This is authority. People who have it, abuse it and people who don’t, are busy with CRO probes. Damn!

Maybe it has something do with corruption, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

What I conclude from this anecdote is that people with power can do wonders. But they are busy warming swivel chair seats & brainstorming about how Sundays should also be working.

PS: No prize for guessing who wanted that Server Administrator job!

Dance Of The Meteorological Department

It is rather dishearteningly funny how the most sought-after department operates during monsoon. The Indian Meteorological Department and its near useless weather alerts have been ruining my commute plans since I began commuting here in Mumbai. It is assumed that people who work there know what they are doing . You might not have noticed it, but yes they are clever enough to do what they best do: dance!

English: Rain in navi mumbai (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Few years back before The Times of Navi Mumbai newspaper started pulling IMD’s leg, it was customary to include ‘the weather conditions will be normal in the next twenty-four hours’ in each of their news articles. Circa 1998, nobody cared about the service because the weather was kinder to us and we knew it (well, as we sow, so shall we reap). Enter 21st century and they start publicizing their reports, which unfortunately would be false. They would predict normality & the streets of Mumbai would inundate, they would report heavy rainfalls & intense photosynthesis would take place. Such was the practice, that people started slamming the department. I never actually paid heed (but I read them) to those reports because my school stood just around the corner. Damn!

I loved reading the daily comic strips in newspapers about how the Indian Meteorological Department fell prey to sarcasm. Those were the days in 2005 & later of constant & similar articles in the second or third pages of the same disastrously biased newspapers which ran the comic strips, continuously stating the opposite of reality. But then, 2013 occurred and a new dance step came into existence.

‘Although the local Met office has not predicted heavy rainfalls for the city in the next two days, officials cautioned that climatic conditions are prone to sudden change (sic),’ was what the Times of India had to say on Tuesday, July 23 2013. Now, this dance step is diplomatic as it is vague. First, they have not predicted what’s what & second, they blame it on the weather what come may. The ingenious Windows 8 weather app on my notebook is better than this sham. And to talk about reality, it is still raining cats & dogs, paralyzing public transit system and giving people a credible alibi to skip work as of Wednesday afternoon. As a matter of fact, if I hadn’t skipped college, this dance show analysis would’ve not come to our attention.

At least the Met office dances way better than some of our Bollywood newcomers & FYI, I saw Ramaiya Vastavaiya last week & it had a newcomer….

Related articles
Heavy rains in Mumbai, BMC asks people to step out only if necessary (ibnlive.in.com)

The Problem with Toothpaste Ads

buying toothpaste confusion

Colgate has more number of ads than it has unique products. And by products here, I mean the different types of toothpastes it manufactures. So does Pepsodent or Sensodyne or Meswak or Anchor or Ajay. (Who in the world brands a line of dental care products as Ajay?) There’s Vicco too. What about Babool or Aquafresh? There are plenty of toothpaste brands in India alone and the problem I have with them is the different versions of toothpastes.

A toothpaste is like coconut water; there’s just one type of it. Variation in its chemical formula may have some benefits or disadvantages but the basic idea and application remain the same. So, my question is: when a toothpaste brand launches a new toothpaste (say, something like ‘for sensitive teeth and gums’) does it render its previous products useless?

How is an average toothpaste user like me supposed to decide what toothpaste to go for? Why are there so many different types when everyone in the world need just one type? The type that cleans and disinfects their teeth and other parts of their mouth and protects them from germs and other forms of decay.

Toothpaste TVCs Don’t Care

I don’t usually watch television but when I do loud advertisements of people staring at or smelling the oval basin water closet receptacles of their neighbor’s toilet and then giving a high-five to their little ones flash in front of me. Or it is a couple resurrecting a dead cockroach in ad about anti-cockroach sprays. Or it shows voluptuous women falling for men who use a specific brand of deodorant, which of course, does not have gas. It just adds to the reasons why I don’t usually watch television.

But the most bizarre yet veritable commercial that I have seen is that of another toothpaste brand called Parodontax. It has the screen split into two. In the first, a person spits his brushed foam into the wash basin with a smudged red spot, while on the other the foam is spotless white. The ad ends with the conclusion that the toothpaste can help you overcome bleeding gums or some other organ that has the ability to bleed. Quite innovative, I should say.

In another toothpaste television commercial, a dentist father and his daughter are living in separate houses. But they are bonded together by their choice of toothpaste. Another one teaches you to brush twice a day, floss everyday[1]There’s no proof that dental floss helps in preventing gum diseases and cavities. The medical fraternity, however, refuse to believe so. (Medical benefits of dental floss unproven – Jeff Donn, The Associated Press, 2 August 2016), clean your tongue everyday and soft-sells its latest toothpaste sub-brand. Or consider the one which asks you to brush with high speed without thinking about the cleanliness. The ads are just beyond realism and borderline funny-slash-ridiculous these days.

The point I’m trying to make is how different brands have different types of toothpastes but no clarity on which one’s the best or most effective. For the sake of an argument, do you think Ajay the toothpaste brand can tell us which one is the best toothpaste out of the lot? If it can, what does it have to say about other toothpaste sub-brands that it manufactures?

I understand the types which are meant for sensitive teeth, but what about for someone who has normal teeth and gums? For instance, Colgate has five different types of toothpastes. According to their television advertisements, some of these will help you open your mouth wide to a stranger and make that stranger fall in love with you; some will help you brighten your teeth so that you can throw away all the light bulbs in your house (to borrow from a similar legendary ad by Happydent; some will have particles that do flossing, rinsing, and blanching and thereby turning your teeth into the whitest of white; some will have robots installed inside your mouth so you don’t smell like an open dustbin and trouble your boss and his hot assistant with halitosis. All these types, endorsed by actors, some of whom can’t get movie deals, have always baffled me. None of them give me an answer to the simple question: which toothpaste should I buy when I’m doing my monthly shopping at DMart? Should I stick with the one that I have been using since I was a child (the basic Germi Check+ one with pinkish white tone by Pepsodent)? What are these ads telling me? If they are not able to convince a regular toothpaste user like me who has recently started to brush twice a day to try out their new toothpaste sub-brands what is the point?

pepsodent basic toothpaste
The Pepsodent toothpaste I have been using for ages now

How Am I Supposed to React?

Let’s take the help of imagination to understand how these toothpaste ads should ideally be perceived by the aam junta.

Pankaj was using Colgate Max Fresh till the time a lady and her entourage of cameramen barged into the bathroom of his rented Mumbai apartment with a mic while he was brushing. After going through the ingredients listed on the backside of his toothpaste pack, he surrendered to them for not having salt in his toothpaste. He even blamed his mother in vain for not having done the shopping right because she evidently had brought the same old toothpaste they had been using since last December. Instead she spiraled into a reverie thinking how on earth did the lady and her team get in.

It was only a few months ago that Pankaj had stopped using Colgate Active Salt and changed to Colgate Total (before opting for the Max Fresh) which was suggested by her sister, judging the paste solely based on the moniker suffix. Then, few days later after the woman had barged into her bathroom, he bought Colgate Visible White to turn his teeth into pearl whites. Sonam Kapoor had made him believe in the toothpaste and today his teeth looks the same they were when he was on Miswak which the family had been using since 1997 when they migrated from Ahmedabad to Mumbai.

A few days later, Pankaj’s mother saw another advertisement, this time talking about the significance of having charcoal in it. To Pankaj’s amusement and subsequent irritation, he saw Ajay toothpaste in his bathroom the following day. The story goes on as long as there are toothpaste commercials.

Conclusion

All I want for these brands to do is clarify when releasing new products what consumers are supposed to do with their current toothpaste type, especially if they are from the same brand. Each new release has something new, something more, or something less in comparison. How do these variations fare when they are made to showcase their strengths and weaknesses? It seriously baffles me and I know taking toothpastes so seriously is bad for my mental health. But I can’t help it, considering how toothpaste commercials now pop up on mobile screens as well.

In an ideal scenario, ignoring whatever business models they are running on, brands should only manufacture a single type of toothpaste and if it wants, it can release new versions every few years. Just like cars and smartphone makers where they eventually say goodbye to older models. But toothpastes directly affect their customers’ dental health, so I expect a little bit of sensitivity on their part. Not talking about Sensodyne here, but the presence of a a bit of responsibility on the part of companies that own and market brands like Colgate (Colgate-Palmolive), Pepsodent and Close-Up (Unilever), and Aquafresh (GlaxoSmithKline) is expected especially when things are not looking for cash-hungry, new-gen apps like Zomato that directly affect my main health.[2]But as someone who has lived for more than two decades, I can attest that dental and general health go hand-in-hand.

I should probably stick with Pepsodent or start using Ayurvedic ones like Meswak, Babool, Dabur Red, or Vicco. At least I don’t think they have types. Did you know Crest and Oral-B make toothpastes too? But their toothbrushes are more popular. And those have different types too. TN.

Featured image courtesy: “Toothpaste anxiety” by Kevin McShane/Flickr via Creative Commons (apparently Kevin and I share this issue)

Update: fundamental copyedit; added image of my toothpaste; added featured image; added better conclusion. (19 September 2019)

footnotes   [ + ]

1. There’s no proof that dental floss helps in preventing gum diseases and cavities. The medical fraternity, however, refuse to believe so. (Medical benefits of dental floss unproven – Jeff Donn, The Associated Press, 2 August 2016)
2. But as someone who has lived for more than two decades, I can attest that dental and general health go hand-in-hand.

How to Survive the Initial Days Of Degree After Diploma?

A lot of people had to say a lot of things about an article that I wrote on why diploma before degree in Engineering might be a bad idea for most (in India). So, here’s a follow-up in case you still took the diploma route: a primer of sorts on how to survive the initial period of engineering degree (BE or B.Tech) after you have completed your diploma.

A friend of mine also just painfully completed three years of his life-changing four-year diploma course (which included a year of training as part of the curriculum) and he is kinda in a kettle of fish unable to cope up. This guide is for people like him.

What is the Degree Situation After Diploma?

You have just passed out of diploma and you aspire to enroll for an engineering degree course in some extremely fashionable college with decent education and faculty. SIES Graduate School of Technology in Nerul, Navi Mumbai, for instance. Mind you, every single college is different in its own way but when it comes to the quality of education and faculty and other ‘features’, things are almost the same across Mumbai. What matters is how you manage yourself and your studies while you are in college. I say this not because I have studied in different colleges, but because I have honest friends who all write or talk about them endlessly.

And you are worried about how you will cope up with a new group of students because you will be a direct second-year student. Worry not, because in no particular order, here are the things that you should worry about as well as how you can get past them…

Issues to Deal with in Your First Year of Engineering

  • Quota or No Quota: The online admission process sucks. You need to choose which one university you will opt for the next three years of your life. Some options are the politically controlled University of Mumbai, the unmindful Pune University, and some other state universities like the popular ones in Chennai and New Delhi. After you get out of the selection universe (that’s a bad pun), think about your ancestral origins. If your cast certificate (get one immediately if you don’t have it; domicile and creamy layer certificates are equally important; Aadhaar card too) says SC/ST/NT/OBC or any other caste that falls in the “minority” category you need not worry at all. Colleges will come to your doorstep. If you are one of those ‘open’ caste-wala, then we are rowing the same boat (although I reached the beach in 2015). Worry not, colleges like SIES, Father Agnel’s, and K J Somaiya have minority quota for the poor ‘open’ guys which means if you are a south-Indian or a Gujarati, procuring a seat will be slightly easier in these colleges. Consider all the choices you have. Do not consult your relatives
  • Scholarships: Your fees will be in the range of a few lakhs depending upon the admission criteria i.e. donation or no donation; in comparison, students who come in through the caste quota pay only a fraction of what you pay. Once you start attending the lectures, make sure you check for the websites of trusts which give scholarships. For Gujaratis, there are hundreds of community-run trusts. But we all – open folks – should be interested in the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust Scholarship, which will give you your full fees back, or at least 90% of it. Trust me, 90% people who apply for it get the cash. The good part is: you can apply every year; the bad part: you have to score above 80% aggregate. Your chances of getting the scholarship increases if you go beyond 90%
  • Extra Lectures: Most colleges who want their students to do well academically will conduct extra classes. Sit for these lectures and you won’t have anything to complain
  • Tuition/Classes/Mentors: I won’t suggest any of them. I have friends (who were toppers during diploma) that flunked in subjects even after giving thousands to those professors who have the most bumptious nicknames like “Don”, “Raja”, “RR” of RR classes, “Mangal”, “Hero”, and “Saviour”. They will eat your wallet and time. Many people who join these classes boast about how their professors had set the previous year’s paper and how they are sure they will get a whiff of what questions will come in the present year. They are either lying or being fooled by their tutors.[1]However, recently I have found that these claims are true. Especially professors who are tied to the University of Mumbai. They do act unscrupulously and list out questions that are bound to appear in the final board exams. People suggest you take extra classes for Mathematics, but I will recommend you to first get your basics clear by buying some reference books of first year engineering degree. They work if you study well. Also, do not rely on Techmax publications which only spoon-feed you the concepts and make you forget them when the need arises. Get hold of actual author books and things will be much different. I have read Bhargava’s Basic Electronic System two times and now years after I completed engineering, I still know how a BJT works. Or do I?
  • Efforts: Do a little (10%) more than what you did during your diploma times. That ten percent will give rise to about forty percent in degree, which is the minimum passing mark
  • Teacher’s Pet: This doesn’t work in degree. Teachers already have their pets, and diploma students are considered aliens. Your best bet is to eye a new-comer professor. He/She will support you like you will support him. And if he/she talks your mother’s tongue, bingo!
members of agnel polytechnic student council 2011
My time at the student council during diploma days helped me face the degree days. That’s me fourth from the left.
  • The Student Council: Try and join it. People (both teachers and students) will know you and soon, things will be nice and easy. This is by far the best thing to do in order to survive the initial period of degree after diploma in engineering. Because even if you cannot fare well in studies, these extracurricular activities will keep you going. After all, college life should be a mix of studies and fun.[2]As suggested by a close friend Sushanth Nair, it will take more than the student council to become popular in college. You will have to be lively and extremely social. You should know people, and above that, know how to interact with them. You also need not join a council to be popular among the people. Just skip the lectures and hang out around the canteen patting cats or dogs. If people notice you, bingo!

I won’t stretch this because I don’t have the power to turn an introvert into an extrovert. There’s one more soft rule that you can follow in your first few weeks in engineering degree: talk to as many people as you can and build healthy relationships. This could be with your classmates, college mates, professors, stationery shopkeepers, chaiwallas, etc. The more people you know the better you will swim out of your engineering course.

All I can say is, everyone can pull this off if they believe they really want to excel in this field. Concentration is key. If something doesn’t seem right, talk about it with your family. Or girlfriend. Or boyfriend. And then maybe change your career path. It is the 21st century and you don’t have to stick to a course if you don’t feel like it. TN.

Featured image courtesy: @rizsam (Unsplash)

Update: Copyedited; revised. (31 January 2019)

Update #2: Copyedited; removed stereotypes related to the caste system; added images. (19 September 2019)


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footnotes   [ + ]

1. However, recently I have found that these claims are true. Especially professors who are tied to the University of Mumbai. They do act unscrupulously and list out questions that are bound to appear in the final board exams.
2. As suggested by a close friend Sushanth Nair, it will take more than the student council to become popular in college. You will have to be lively and extremely social. You should know people, and above that, know how to interact with them. You also need not join a council to be popular among the people. Just skip the lectures and hang out around the canteen patting cats or dogs. If people notice you, bingo!

I Once Got Aroused By a Roadside Mannequin

mannequins

This is Mumbai which has been giving its fellow inhabitants daily updates of gonzo stories (a few more here and here). And this time around, we have a truly bizarre case: Ban the mannequins! They make our men ‘do that’!

These mannequins are encouraging men to ‘do that’; women aren’t safe,” states a Mumbai corporator defending her request to ban scantily-clad, lingerie-wearing mannequins on roadside shops. Too bad, I cannot imagine how will I ever find another way to get sexually aroused so that I can grope a couple of strangers while being diagnosed with psychosis? Because that sexy mannequin sporting tights outside a showroom of a global clothing brand (with its English title inscribed in Devanagari, mind you) excited the living daylights out of me. Imagine Sacha Baron Cohen’s character in the 2007 mockumentary Borat as he flies to the United States of America in search of capitalism.

But before I, as a singleton, boast about my illogical escapade, we should throw some light into finding out what that ‘do that’ means. It all started in Toronto, where the Slut Walk began, caused by a policeman’s wrong intentions or just wrongly phrased words. It even found its way to India (Delhi) a few years later, but the momentum was low. In this feminist movement, the aim was to pull down patriarchy and defend women’s rights. By the term ‘do that’ the corporator means the four letter word which also means a plant of the cabbage family with bright yellow flowers, especially a variety grown for its oil-rich seed and as stock-feed. She means rape.

Although I still haven’t found the actual reason what makes men to do that, I choose to believe it has something to do with how people in the world are spiralling into paranoia and shooting people, mainly due to loneliness or lack of companionship. The growth of the incel (involuntary celibate) is also attached to this phenomenon, where privileged young men feel like women should be falling for them and then having sex with them. But the uncontrollable urge inside those pants is way beyond my understanding. Is it because they can’t get a girlfriend? Or is it because they are not trying or are creepy in their attempt? There does not seem to be an answer in sight.

mannequins
Poor mannequins

But, I can say for sure that scantily clad mannequin (flashing lingerie) is not at all a cause which inspires men to ‘do that’. It doesn’t make an iota of sense for this corporator to ask for the ban of innocent mannequins. It actually obstructs the basic idea. People don’t actually have time to look at the threads a mannequin is wearing let alone analyse its sexual quotient. There can be many other references that could be made on a reverse attack, but I am afraid, the internet doesn’t allow me to, or this may replay that Palghar-Facebook incident. Also, does anyone remember that sex robot named Roxxxy that was introduced in the past decade?

While the real cause is elusive, we can only ask a perpetrator to answer what made him open his fly for an unconsenting and serious crime. History has shown us that these perpetrators are also not uneducated to not understand what they are doing, about to do, or have done. Answers may be cryptic, but I am sure we have people who can decrypt that. Twiterratis over the internet decoding our dear PM’s speechless expressions give me faith.

To conclude, banning mannequins is not even the last thing we can do to fight for women’s rights thusly to affirm their safety. If you cannot come up with an idea, just shut up. I seriously doubt the thinking facility of the people behind the request (the media says a former mayor is involved too), how minutely they have cooked up this topic.

But, the mannequin we have in question here, did really arouse me. It wasn’t the busty female version with cut hands and head, but the male one. And to be more specific, it was not its bod that aroused me, but the clothes it had worn; a white shirt with small red borders and a disastrous denim jean. I entered the showroom and bought the former for a couple of thousands (I am not bragging; clothes are very expensive these days). And now, after reading articles about how there is a daft request to ban the poor fibrous models, I fear some stranger may get aroused by the same clothes which had once aroused me and request to ban me. And literally, a ban on human beings. Now that’s an interesting idea.

Featured image courtesy: Unsplash

Update: Copyedited; added and removed a few words and links. (14 September 2019)