Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Humor in courtroom

Just as in any other field, there are several funny anecdotes and jokes about courtroom exchanges.  There are some I have heard when I was in school and they still linger in the mind.

Just as it is difficult to face and answer a veteran lawyer during cross examination, it is difficult for the lawyers also to handle experienced witnesses.   Some of these witnesses are found frequently in court and as such they are called "Court-birds".  One such witness was being cross examined by an advocate.

"How far you were from the scene of the accident?"
"I was eighteen feet and three inches away?"
"How do you say so accurately?"
"I knew some stupid lawyer would ask me in the court and hence I actually measured it".

In another court a witness was always giving long replies and the examining attorney was exasperated.
"I do not want lengthy answers. Just answer "Yes" or "No"  to my questions"
"It is not possible to answer all questions with yes or no, Sir"
"Why it is not possible?"
"OK, I will ask a question and you answer yes or no"
The advocate feel for the trap. "Ask your question",  he said.
"Have you stopped beating your wife?",  the witness asked.

Several years ago, a friend sent me a selection of courtroom exchanges between witnesses and attorneys.  These are from a book called Disorder in the American Courts, and are things people actually said in court, word for word, taken down and now published by court reporters who had the torment of staying calm while these exchanges were actually taking place.   They make interesting reading and will evoke the same laughter when read with a gap in time.

Attorney:      What is your date of birth?
Witness :      July 18th.
Attorney:      What year?
Witness  :     Every year.

Attorney :    What gear were you in at the moment of  the  impact?
Witness  :    Gucci sweats and Reeboks.

Attorney    :    How old is your son, the one living with you?
Witness     :    Thirty-eight or thirty-five, I can't remember  which.
Attorney    :    How long has he lived with you?
Witness     :    Forty-five years.

Attorney    :    What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?
Witness     :    He said, "Where am I, Cathy?"
Attorney    :    And why did that upset you?
Witness     :    My name is Susan.

Attorney    :    Now doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't  know about it until the   next morning?
Witness     :    Did you actually pass the bar exam?

Attorney    :    The youngest son, the twenty-year-old, how old is  he?
Witness     :    Uh, he's twenty-one.

Attorney    :    Were you present when your picture was taken?
Witness     :    Would you repeat the question?

Attorney    :    So the date of conception (of the baby) was August  8th?
Witness     :    Yes.
Attorney    :    And what were you doing at that time?
Witness     :    Uh....

Attorney    :    She had three children, right?
Witness     :    Yes.
Attorney    :    How many were boys?
Witness     :    None.
Attorney    :    Were there any  girls?

Attorney    :    How was your first marriage terminated?
Witness     :    By death.
Attorney    :    And by whose death was it terminated?

Attorney    :    Can you describe the individual?
Witness     :    He was about medium height and had a beard.
Attorney    :    Was this a male or a female?

Attorney    :    Is your appearance here this morning  pursuant  to deposition notice which I sent to your  attorney?
Witness     :    No, this is how I dress when I go to work.

Attorney    :    Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on  dead  people?
Witness     :    All my autopsies are performed on dead people.

Attorney    :    ALL your  responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go  to?
Witness     :    Oral.

Attorney    :    Do you recall the  time that you examined the body?
Witness     :    The autopsy started around 8:30  p.m.
Attorney    :    And Mr. Denton was dead at the time?
Witness     :    No, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing  an autopsy on  him!

Attorney    :    Are you qualified to give a urine sample?
Witness     :    Huh

Attorney    :    Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check  for a  pulse?
Witness     :    No.
Attorney    :    Did you check for blood pressure?
Witness     :    No.
Attorney    :    Did you check for breathing?
Witness     :    No.
Attorney    :    So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when  you began the  autopsy?
Witness     :    No.
Attorney    :    How can you be so sure, Doctor?
Witness     :    Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
Attorney    :    But could the patient have still been alive,  nevertheless?
Witness     :    Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and  practicing  law!

Attorney    :    This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
Witness     :    Yes.
Attorney    :    And in what ways does it affect your memory?
Witness     :     I forget.
Attorney    :    You forget? Can you give us an example of something that you've forgotten?

There are thousands more.  Keeping us laughing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Nutcracker - The Ballet

Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) is considered as one of the largest and most highly regarded ballet companies in the United States.   The Company of nearly fifty dancers presents more than 100 performances each year of full-length and mixed repertory ballets at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall in Seattle and on tour. The Company has toured to Europe, Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada, and throughout the United States, with celebrated appearances at many important cities in the United States.  Founded in 1972 as Pacific Northwest Dance Association under the aegis of Seattle Opera Association, the Company became an independent organization in September 1977 and was renamed Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1978.   It's first Dancer transition program "Beyond Dance" was established and presently second stage dancers offer a variety of assistance that include continuing education grants, mentoring,  and an in-house program of university courses in cooperation with Seattle University.

PNB School has over 900 students and offers four types programs.  Children division trains kids from 2 years to 7 years age group.  Students Division enrolls students from 8 years age onwards and the  Professional Division offers training at a higher level with advanced instruction for those students planning a professional dance career. Students invited to the two-year Professional Division program concentrate on perfecting technique and developing artistry through intensive full-day instructions.  There is also a Open Program for 13 years and above.  Students are provided opportunity to participate in the public programs  at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall in Seattle.

The Marion Oliver McCaw Hall stands on the land donated in 1889 by Seattle pioneers David and Louisa Denny for "Public Use Forever".  A Civil Auditorium was built on this land in 1928 and was transformed into Seattle Opera House in 1962 for the World Fair and the "Seattle Space Needle" has come up close to the Hall.  The 1927 and 1962 buildings were stripped and 70% of the old construction was replaced by new construction in 2003 at a cost of 127 million dollars.  The building now consists of 295000 square foot hall with two auditoriums, 2900 seat main auditorium and 400 seat lecture hall, lobbies, backstage, orchestra pit, cafe and gift shop.  The orchestra pit can seat 90 performers and can be raised to stage level through a spiral lift,  if necessary.  The building is owned by the City of Seattle and has now become a key center for cultural activities.

"Nutcracker" is a ballet based on E. T.  A. Hoffman's "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King".  This performance during November-December this year has provided opportunity for over 200 children to perform alongside professional dancers and live music, literally at their feet as over 50 musicians perform live for the ballet sitting and standing just below the stage.

"Nutcracker" is set in the German town of Nuremberg and is a dream of a young girl Clara Stalbaum.  The story unfolds in two acts and five scenes.  The story being the dream of a young girl, there is adequate scope for imagination and fantasy.  The whole program had a family touch with half the viewers being children of various ages, mostly below 10 years.  When we arrived at the entrance of the theater we were welcome by beautifully dressed pretty girls with small baskets of candy in hands and thanking every visitor for coming to the event.  Almost every parent carried a additional seat cushion for seating the kids in the auditorium to enable them to have a clear view of the ballet.  There were giant Mannequins of Nutcracker, Mouse King and Clara's Godfather and a key role in the ballet, Herr Drosselmeir, displayed in the lobby.  Children were excited by the presence of these huge dolls and had their photos taken standing before them.  We were equally excited and had our photos also taken with the Nutcracker!

The auditorium was full and filled with the excited cries of joy of the children when we went to the show on Sunday, 27th November 2011.  All of us were provided with a book giving details of PNB, story of Nutcracker and the list of performers and write up about key persons behind the show.  It was very touching to see each mother or father accompanying the child read out and explain the story to the child in the few minutes before the beginning of the show.  The sets and costumes were fantastic and matching the dream and fantasy of a young girl.  The performance was a collective effort of over 100 dancers, from four year old children to adults, and the music support was admirable.  The sets and screen designs were of an excellent level and all the children as well as adult viewers enjoyed the show.  A scene in which the grown up Clara and the Prince sailing on a golden boat in the sea through vision of a magical land to an exotic port was the center piece of the whole show.  The view of fish jumping in the sea water was especially well received by the children as well as elders alike.  The movements were quick, orderly and well timed.  The scene in which the Master of Ceremonies in the island brings on one group of dancers after another to entertain his guests was a feast to the eyes.  The dance scenes of Moorish couple, a brilliant peacock in a golden cage, a Chinese tiger and his attendants, whirling daredevils, four tiny couples were performed with ease and precision.  The show provided a mix of performance of children being initiated to ballet as well as veteran performers.  All the performers received well deserved standing ovation at the end of the show.

We were privileged to see the dream of a German girl from Nuremberg in a city on the Pacific Coast.  The memory of viewing the ballet is sweeter than the candy bars given to us at the end of the show.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Black Friday or Mad Friday?

"Thanksgiving Day" is observed in various parts of the world and its origin is said to be in celebrating  the harvest and blessings of the previous year. Original celebrations were to direct thanks to the God and use the occasion for family togetherness, prayer and feasting. The tradition of celebration of harvest festival is  in practice throughout the Globe and examples of such celebrations are also available in Lohri, Pongal or Sankranti celebrated in various parts of India and SriLanka. This also is an occasion for getting together of the entire family before the winter months and enjoy the weekend. It is observed on the Second Monday of October in Canada, coinciding with "Columbus Day" in USA, and on the fourth Thursday of November in USA. The day is also called "Turkey Day", in recognition of the most common dish of the day being Oven Roasted Turkey. Statistics say that USA turkey growers raise nearly 300 million turkey birds which will be converted to 5 billion pounds of turkey costing over 10 billion dollars. I am told that an average turkey weighing 20 Pounds, costs 20 to 30 dollars and can feed 15 to 20 people, of course with other dishes thrown in. Turkey cooking for the Thanksgiving Day is said to be an art and many websites give different recipes, details of herbs to be added etc., and advice on the duration and method of cooking. The duration of the meal is also expected to be longer considering the merriment and family get together atmosphere.

"Black Friday" is the day following the "Thanksgiving Day". I was bewildered why a black day should follow such a wonderful day, a day on which members of a family converge at a place and enjoy the blessings and spend the day in an atmosphere of happiness. Usually the term  "Black Day" is associated with some disaster and thanksgiving is not expected to be a disaster at all. The most common "Black Day" reference is to the days of severe fall in the Stock Markets, but it has now become so common that almost every alternate day is a black day.  In fact, there is a opinion gaining strength against use of such a jargon as otherwise we may have to refer every single day as black day!    

The original reference to the day after "Thanksgiving Day" being called as a "Black Friday" started in Philadelphia, USA, in the 1960s to denote and describe the heavy pedestrian and vehicular traffic which occurred on the day following the Thanksgiving day, marking beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Marketing of products and services became the key words of the commercial world in the last few decades and hence "Black Friday" was later on given a different meaning, to signify the day on which retailers begin to earn profit or turn their books to black ink. Nobody wants an account book which is in red which signifies loss and every commercial organization wants its Balance Sheet or more particularly, the Profit and Loss account to be in black. Shops and sale outlets which would normally open at 9 AM or 10 AM on a normal working day started to open at 6 AM on Friday, a few years back drawing inspiration from proverb "Early bird catches the Worm". More enthusiastic people started opening even early at 4 AM and the competition ensured that last year outlets like Best Buy, Macy, Target, Kohl etc. opened at 12 Midnight itself. Thus "Black Friday" became the busiest shopping day of the year and the day on which maximum turnover was achieved on the day. Some estimates even suggest that nearly 40% of the annual sales is achieved on this day! This could as well be true in view of people waiting for the discounts and deals of the black day and thronging the shops in numbers at midnight. On line version of sale outlets did not want to left behind in this marketing race and introduced "Cyber Black Friday", the on-line version of Black Friday. This is indeed fitting in as much as the main attraction of the sale is of electronic items like computers,  laptops, TV sets, video games etc.

The unmanageable rush during such sale probably tempted the sale outlets to do something to ward off the rush on a single day and instead get it spread over a few days as this made better sense logistically. Thus evolved the concept of "Price Matching", which is an excellent feature of customer service. Prices change every week and many times even during a day. Therefore customers feel cheated when they buy an item at some price in a shop and then find that the price was lower in an outlet across the street. To prevent this, companies and outlets offer Price Matching and are prepared to sell an item at the competitor's lower price if there is credible source to show the price difference. During the last fortnight I have visited several such outlets and find the buyers armed with Internet enabled mobiles surfing the net standing in front of the item they want to buy and showing the price quoted there to the salesman standing in front of them. The price is matched, sale done at the lower price and everyone is happy. Then the question arises as to prices coming down a day or two after an item is bought. Sellers are now even prepared to refund the difference in price if the prices come down up to 14 days after the sale date!

There is a lot of talk about recession, job losses and hard days. But wherever we went in the last few days, we have seen a lot of buying going on in the shops and malls. I had a desire to see on the spot how people respond to Black Friday Sales this year. I joined a group of young enthusiasts and embarked on a fact finding mission on the night of Thursday, the thanksgiving day. My associates had assured me that the crowds would gather late in the evening as the priority would be the "Turkey Dinner" which generally extends till 4 PM on Thursday. We left at about 9.30 PM and went to a nearby Walmart outlet, with the firm belief that we would be among the early birds as the Black Friday was still more than two hours away. It had stopped raining and we were properly geared to meet the cold with overcoats, mufflers and hand gloves. When we reached the vicinity of the outlet, traffic was a crawl and parking place was difficult to find. Probably all the cars in the city were in shopping mall parking lots. After a fifteen minute struggle parking was possible. We walked briskly for nearly ten minutes to find the end of the line to entrance. Special security personnel were employed to man the lines and ensure there was no stampede. The line moved ever so slowly and the temperature was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 4 degrees centigrade. It could have been worse but we were lucky. Some wise persons in our group moved into the warm comforts of the car. Despite the gloves fingers became cold and i truly developed cold feet. I was strictly advised by my well wishers to move to the car after about an hour. But this was a lifetime experience and i did not want to miss it. After two hours we reached the gate for entering the place. The mart had a policy of allowing 100 persons at a time, after 100 persons left the place through the exit doors. The immediate comfort after entry was the warm atmosphere inside. There was hardly any moving place inside and there were shopping carts all round. Moving was with considerable effort and everyone was buying anything available, from T-shirts to footwear,  winter wear to toys. The biggest crowd was for TV sets and Laptops and computers. We spent about half an hour inside and decided it was enough. When we came out there was still a stream of incoming enthusiasts and the line was still at the point where we entered it.

Saturday's newspapers were full of reports about "Black Friday shopping", some funny and some disturbing. Shops had opened as early as 9 PM in many places, three hours before the actual day arrived. One person waited a Best Buy outlet since 4 PM on Wednesday for buying TVs and electronic items. He slept in a tent and dispensed with the Turkey Dinner. His wife brought scrambled eggs for his Thursday breakfast and the Thanksgiving dinner ended with only a "3 Musketeer Chocolate Bar". In many other places also people spent the previous day in tents waiting for being the first to enter the sale area. In Los Angeles Walmart area, a woman used pepper spray to keep away other Black Friday shoppers so that she could get an Xbox video game console at a huge discount, and turned herself in to police later. People screamed, shoved and elbowed each other to save a few dollars and buy things on sale. Deference to others was replaced by outburst of the beast in men and women. May be, next year there may be no thanksgiving day because Black Friday will extend to Wednesday itself and thus swallowing the all important Thanksgiving day!

Someone wrote today that "The pinnacle of western civilization has arrived". There is no difference in "Black Friday" and  "Mad Friday" anymore.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Gateway Steel Arch

While it was impossible to get a fleeting view of the "Old Faithful" from the aircraft on the flight from Denver to Seattle, I could get a clear view of the "Gateway Steel Arch" as our earlier flight from Chicago was landing at St. Louis, Missouri.   Again memories of our visit to the monument six years ago flooded the mind.

The city of  St. Louis has a historical significance in the evolution of the United States.  At the time of its formation and early years, the country was essentially confined to the eastern parts.  The third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson felt uneasy about the potential threat of France and Spain blocking the American trade access to the Port of New Orleans.  He introduced a scheme popularly known as "Louisiana Purchase" in 1803 according to which the Americans purchased 828,000 Square Miles of land on which the French had claims by paying an amount of 78 Million Francs (15 million dollars) including waiver of loans of 18 Million Francs.  St Louis was a key center of this action and Thomas Jefferson further commissioned an expedition called "Corps of Discovery Expedition" between 1804 and 1806.  This expedition is well known as the "Lewis and Clark Expedition", on the names of the leaders of the expedition Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.  The basic objective of the expedition was Scientific and Commercial study of the area's Plant and Animal Life with Geography to enable exploitation of these resources commercially.   Thus the City of St Louis has come to be identified with and as the "Gateway to the West".

The city of St Louis is located at the confluence of the two major rivers, Missouri and Mississippi.  In 1721, French explorer, Father Pierre Francois de Charlevoix, wrote of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers thus:  "I believe this is the finest confluence in the world. The two rivers are much the same breadth, each about half a league:  but the Missouri is by for the most rapid, and seems to enter the Mississippi like a conqueror, through which it carries its white waters to the opposite shore without mixing them, afterwards, it gives its color to the Mississippi which it never loses again but carries quite down to the sea ...".   Visitors can still witness the two rivers as they merge at the 1,118-acre park located on the north side of the Missouri River at its confluence with the Mississippi River north of St. Louis. The park was named after Pat and Edward “Ted” Jones, for their contributions to the "Missouri park system".  The Jones were largely responsible for the development of the 225-mile-long KATY Trail, a rails-to-trails project that created a trail that runs alongside the Missouri River and crosses the state.

The memorial was originally planned to revive the crumbling riverfront of the city and stimulate local economy.  Civic leader Luther Ely Smith was appointed as the Chairman of a non-profit organization "Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association".  There was a lot of resistance from the local people as well as elsewhere and many people told  Mr Smith that they needed more practical things, he would respond by saying that "Spiritual things were equally important".  His efforts are today duly rewarded and "The Gateway Steel Arch" is the centerpiece of the "Jefferson National Expansion Memorial", and erected as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States.  It is erected on the west bank of the Mississippi river and designed in 1947 by Finnish American Architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hanskarl Bandel.  Construction of the Arch started in February 1963 and was completed in October 1965.  Cost of construction was placed at 13 Million US Dollars.  Both width and height of the Arch are 630 feet and it is the tallest man made memorial in the world.  The cross section of the Arch is 54 feet at the bottom and 17 feet at the top.  The Arch shrinks 3 inches in winter and can swing 9 inches on either side and earthquake resistant.  It weighs about 40000 tons of which 26000 tons is cement concrete and 14000 tons of steel interior.  The legs are wider than the upper section to provide stability.   The arch is lighted in the night using special lighting system.  An average four million visitors come to the memorial every year of which one million go to the top viewing gallery inside the arch.

We visited the memorial on the morning of 28th June 2008.   As we entered the lush green park after parking the car, the imposing steel arch welcomed us.  The river, bridges and the boats on one side of the arch  were adding to its beauty.  At arch's base we passed through the security check and reached the visitor's center. As we had reached the arch early in the morning we could get tickets to go to the top of the arch immediately and in the very first batch.  The elevator system carrying the visitors to the top of the viewing gallery inside the arch is a specially designed one.  When the promoters approached well known elevator companies to design an elevator to go to the top of the steel arch, all of them refused due to the peculiar nature and curve of the arch. One person designed a vehicle to go to the top of the arch by using a combination of three different vehicles – tram, train and lift. The modified lift can accommodate a maximum of five persons who have to bend and enter the small chamber and sit in the chairs provided in the lift as it moves along the rails initially, then gets lifted and slides on the rails in the end.  The mechanism of the modified lift is very interesting and is an excellent innovation. We could feel the pushing, lifting and pulling motion sitting in the lift but nothing could be seen as it is covered on all sides. We reached the top of the 630 feet high arch and came out of the lift to the small viewing gallery at the top of the arch. As the arch is in the form of a steel tube, the viewing gallery is a small area and closed on all sides except for the viewing windows.  We had an excellent view of the city, river and ships sailing in it, bridges across the Mississippi river and the giant sports stadium.  Base of the arch was also visible. It was a wonderful sight to be on top of the steel arch and a visit to St. Louis is incomplete without a view from the top gallery. After spending a few minutes at the gallery and taking several photos we returned to the base of the arch in the lift.

The two auditorium at the base of the arch show short films on Lewis & Clark expedition and other important attractions. We viewed the film on Lewis and Clark expedition in the I MAX theater and it was a thrilling experience. The film is made in such a way that we get the experience of being on the boat in the river with the expedition team and rise and fall with the flow of the water.  There is a big museum in the base of the arch containing valuable information about Lewis & Clark expedition and progress made thereafter. We spent some time in the museum, park and riverfront.

Missouri and Mississippi and the City of St Louis always bring the feeling of being in Ganga-Yamuna Sangam at Allahabad. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The "Old Faithful"

As our plane from Denver to Seattle was flying Northwest over the side of Salt Lake City last week, on 15th November 2011,  a thought crossed my mind as to whether we could see the  "Yellow Stone National Park" and a fleeting view of the "Old Faithful".  It is probable that the flight just passed on the edge of the Park area, but there was no way to see the Geyser from 36,000 feet above the ground.  There was no such limitation to the mind and no controls can control its flight.   My memory took me instantly back by six years, when we were lucky to spend a whole day in this National Park and had our "Meeting with the Old Faithful" at 01.05 PM  on 20th June 2005.  I am specifically mentioning the date and time because "Old Faithful" is known for not missing any appointments.

After our stay in Rapid City for two days we proceeded on 19th June morning from Rapid City to a place called Gardiner on the edge of the Yellow Stone National Park.  It was a good ten hour drive with the usual stops for lunch and rest. As we moved from Rapid City towards Gardiner, the scenery changed from greenery to plain lands and then winding roads through the hills as we approached Gardiner. We saw a number of deer on the way and I kept on counting them and finally lost count.

An interesting thing happened on the way. We had stopped for lunch in a rest area and returned to out car to resume the journey.  An elderly gentleman walked up to us and handed over a scarf my wife Geetha had dropped near the place we had lunch.  When we returned to the car after coffee break three hours later,  the same person again came and returned the same scarf she had dropped for the second time.  He asked where we would stop next so that he can look for the scarf and return it to us for the third time!

We reached Gardiner in the evening and after checking in at the Hotel, we went out to the shops near the park entrance to buy some souvenirs.  As it was a Sunday, most of the shops were closed and only two shops were open.  We purchased some souvenirs in them, returned to the hotel and rested after supper. The scenery outside the hotel room was excellent and we enjoyed watching till sunset well past 8 PM.  We got greeting telephone calls from our children as it was Father's Day.   On the 20th June morning we checked out of the hotel at Gardiner and proceeded to Yellow Stone National Park. 

Yellow Stone National Park can be accessed through four gates in east, west, south and north. East, South and West entrances are closed in winter, but the North entrance from Gardiner from which we entered is open throughout the year.  However, snow tires and chains may be required in winter while using this entrance also due to heavy snowfall in the area. There are eight visitors' centers in the park providing necessary information and assistance to the visitors. The park extends to an area of over 2.2 million acres and attracts nearly three million visitors each year. It spreads over an area of 63 miles from North to South and 54 miles East to West.  The gross area of 3468 Square Miles or 8983 Square Kilometers is larger than the two states of USA, Delaware and Rhode Island put together.  One of the main lakes in the Park, Yellowstone Park Lake, itself occupies an area of 87,000 acres.  For a comparison, the entire area of Lal Bagh gardens in Bangalore is 240 acres and the lake alone is 360 times the area of Lalbagh.  A large part of the Park falls in the state of Wyoming (96%) with the remaining  small area belonging to Montana and Idaho states.

The park itself is said to have been formed due to a volcanic eruption some 6,40,000 years ago.  Geo thermal wonders such as the " Old Faithful" geysers are evidence of one of the world's largest volcanoes.  The park has most diverse and intact collection of geysers; hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles (steam vents).  There are more than 300 geysers in the park and it is said to account for over two thirds of all geysers on the earth. As the park has more geothermal features than any other place on earth, this has been described variously as Geyser land, Fairyland and Wonderland!

Geologists say that the rain or snow falling on the earth slowly percolates through porous layers in the earth to depths of nearly 10,000 feet. At this depth the water comes into contact with the hot rocks in the earth's crust and gets heated up to temperatures of 400 degrees Fahrenheit and yet remains in liquid form due to high pressure. This is similar to a pressure cooker and the hot water, steam and gases erupt through holes in the earth forming geysers. Sometimes the eruptions carry different deep and wonderful colors due to dissolved minerals and create a beautiful scene.

We entered the park through the north entrance and first visited the mammoth geysers. These geysers are spread over a very large area and there are eruptions in different places. The land beneath is hot and steamy. Wooden trails have been erected in the area for the visitors to enjoy its beauty, but caution boards are put up not to deviate from the wooden trails as there is danger of thermal eruptions. We saw some wonderful mud pots (boiling mud areas with different colors), fumaroles (steam vents), hot springs and geysers. One of the geysers was named as emerald geyser, due to its color.

One of the major attractions in the Yellow Stone National Park is the "Old Faithful".   Old faithful is the name given to one of the largest geysers in the park and derives its name due to its eruption periodically which is predicted and written on a notice board in the park. It is the first Geyser to receive a name and the Washburn-Longford-Doane expedition named it thus in 1870.  Visitors assemble near the geyser in anticipation of the eruption and enjoy is beauty. We reached there at 12.40 PM.  The next eruption was given on the notice board as 1.08 PM with five minutes on either side.  The "Old Faithful" did not disappoint us and erupted at 1.05 PM and the eruption lasted nearly four minutes.   It was indeed a wonderful sight as the hot water jet suddenly rose from the ground to a height of over 100 feet.

Even though Old Faithful is said to be predictable, its eruption length and height varies from time to time which is said to be due to earthquakes and continuous change in the earth formation. Its average height is said to be 130 feet and varying between 106 to 180 feet. Duration of eruption is said to vary between one and a half  to five minutes and average interval is 94 minutes.  Eruptions throw up 14000 to 32000 liters of boiling water to an average height of 145 feet.  Approximate time of eruption is predicted by the park authorities based on the length and height of the previous eruptions.

After the fantastic sight at the Old Faithful, we visited some more geysers, mud pots and fumaroles.  Steamboat Geyser is the tallest Geyser in the park.  The park is said to have over 300 Geysers and 290 waterfalls.  The 308 feet tall "Lower Falls" of the Yellow Stone River is a showpiece of the park.

Before coming out of the park through the south gate we got a sample of the animal life and on the way back we could see Bison, wild goats and deer. The many wonderful sights of the Yellow Stone National Park and our meeting with the "Old Faithful" are etched in our memory.



Saturday, November 19, 2011

We never insult Guests

Once a famous University invited a Guest speaker to give a lecture to its Senior Students.  The students had assembled in full numbers in anticipation of an excellent lecture.  Guest speaker was also encouraged by the full house and started his lecture in right earnest.  The lecture went on for about ten minutes.  The students could not make out what the guest speaker was trying to communicate.  There were some murmurs here and there and the atmosphere became uneasy.  One of the students in the last row got up and looked around.  He pulled out a curtain behind him and picked the curtain rod in his hand.  As the well built boy started coming down the gallery with the rod in his hand, the speaker started trembling and told the boy,  "Please stop. I will conclude my lecture".  The boy calmly told him, "Sir, Please continue the lecture.  I will not interfere.  We maintain highest traditions in this Institution.  We never insult guests.  I am only going in search of the Program Coordinator who has invited you here".  

In one of the classes the teacher was to cover a passage in Ramayana.  SriRama standing on the shores of Lanka looks at the Golden City of Ravana and tells Lakshmana:

अपि स्वर्नमयि लन्का न मे लक्ष्मण रोचते
जननि जन्मभूमिश्च स्वर्गादपि गरीयसि

Api swarnamayee Lanka na me Lakshmana rochate
Janani Janmabhoomischa swargaadapi gareeyasi

Lakshmana, This Lanka is a Golden City.  Even then I am not enthused by it.  Mother and Motherland are greater than even Heaven .

The teacher asked the students; "Who is greater than the mother?".  He expected the students to say "Motherland!".  That would give him the perfect footing for further expanding the lesson. All the students believed that Mother was the greatest in the world and were confused.  But one boy in the last bench got up and answered: "Teacher".  The teacher was slightly disappointed because he did not get the expected response.  But he also felt proud that he was recognised by the student.  He asked the student again: "Why?'.  Pat came the answer: "Mother can put only one child to sleep at a time, whereas the teacher can put the whole class to sleep at the same time".

In another class, a teacher asked a student to wake up a sleeping student, sitting next to him.  The student was known for being polite.  But this time he retorted,  "Why should I?  You put him to sleep.  You only wake him up".

One executive was suffering from over work and stress.  He was unable to sleep.  He went to consult a Doctor.  The doctor advised him to join an evening course and sit for an examination.  "Which course should I choose?",  the executive asked.  Doctor replied, "Join any damn course, that is not important.  What is important is that you go and sit in the class".

Another teacher found one girl fidgeting in the classroom.  Teacher was annoyed.  She told the girl, "Why are you fidgeting?  If you do not like my lecture you can go to sleep.  You know I do not object to that".  The girl replied,  "I know that Madam, and the whole class is thankful to you for not objecting.  But the girl next to me is snoring so heavily that I am unable to sleep".

Sleeping in a classroom or a meeting or a conference or even a concert is not uncommon.  It is also universal.  It is infectious as well.  Some top leaders are more known for sleeping in public meetings than their other accomplishments.  Just as the speaker has the right to speak, the listener has a right to sleep.  Once this rule is understood, both the speaker and listeners are at peace with each other.  This is all the more so if you are speaking in a after lunch session.  Otherwise one can attempt a dangerous trick.  Make friends with the Chef and ensure that the food is horrible so that the participants arrive half starved.

For sometime I was on training duties and was usually given post-lunch sessions.  Having been a victim myself on several such occasions, I was very indulgent with the trainees of both types.  Those who were sleeping and those who were unable to sleep.  I would always start my session with a general permission for any trainee to sleep.  Just like any sanction in a Bank, with conditions.  A bank sanction has many conditions running to several pages, but I had only two conditions.  Firstly, the sleeper should not snore; not because it disturbed me for I had trained myself to go on lecturing despite most of the trainees asleep, but because it would disturb the peaceful sleep of other trainees. Secondly, the sleeper should always keep his eyes open.  No need to be surprised.  Many people have perfected the art of sleeping with eyes wide open; whatever is being communicated will never reach them despite your best efforts.

Once I was in a Training program for Trainers, as a participant Trainer. All the speakers as well as participants were veterans;  those who had put trainees to sleep for years.  On the first day of the five day program half the participants were asleep.  During one of the breaks I told the fellow participants that a prize would be given to the participant who would remain awake throughout the program.  The number of sleepers kept on increasing despite this and would only marginally drop when a Senior Executive was the speaker.  By Friday afternoon, the fifth day, everyone except me had fallen asleep at one time or the other.  I managed to remain awake by asking some question, whether relevant or not, whenever there was an urge to sleep.  Unfortunately in the last session of the program I had also fallen asleep.  But fortunately, my fellow trainers were very considerate.  They woke me up from the deep sleep to announce that I should receive the prize for the distinction of being the last participant to fall asleep!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mathematics Problems

We first had the problem of   "17 Horses and 3 brothers".  Then there was the problem of "Necklace broke in Love-making".  Some friends have asked me to enroll them in the Mathematics class.  Some of them have put a condition that the problems to be solved in the class should be only like the ones similar to breaking of Necklace in Love making.

In view of the persistent demand for enrolling in the class, classes have to be started.  But in order to screen the applicants, there should be an entrance test.  When there are tests nowadays for parents to admit kids to LKG or UKG, we should necessarily have an entrance test.

Here are 12 Mathematics Problems.  Some are very simple.  Some are a little complex.  None of them are difficult. The entrance test begins now and you have 15 minutes to answer these questions.


It is an interesting exercise.  Pick up a paper and pencil if you want to. Quickly solve the problems.


01.     50  ÷ 2 = 100 ÷ x    What is the value of  x?

02.      - 8 = 2 - x           What is the value of  x?

03.      52- x2   + x = 10  What is the value of x?

04.      3  (π -0.14)  = ?

05.      1221  ÷  111 = ?

06.      198 divided by 66 = ?

07.      √4 = ?

08.    1/8 multiplied by 96/2 = ?

09.      6 x 2 = ?

10.     102413 - 102412  = ?

11.     √64 = ?

12.   630 ÷  126 = ?


This is not just a set of 12 problems.  There is something more to it! 

 After you have solved all the problems, click here for answers.

Mathematical Clock

Recently I visited the house of a friend  and found a wall clock, and it was a wall clock with a difference.  Instead of  numbers on the hour places, there are mathematical problems.  An image of the clock is given below:



The twelve questions given in the entrance test are the same as the questions on the clock.  Only the order of Questions is changed.  Naturally answers should be 1 to 12.

If you have answered the questions correctly, you will receive a communication for admission along with details of fee to be remitted etc.

Our next meeting will be in the Mathematics class!

"Seven Braids of Samson" and Delilah

After reading "Epic and Historical Haircuts", a friend has reminded me about another Epic haircut - the one of "Seven Braids of Samson".


Samson and Delilah are biblical figures and there are many versions of their story. The major details remain the same but there are some minor deviations about some of the details, as is the case with most of the epic characters. The common strands of the story revolve around the Superhuman strength of Samson, also called as Shimshon or Shamshoun, Beauty of Delilah, Samson's infatuation or love for Delilah, Secret of Samson's strength and Delilah's betrayal.  

Samson is said to be son of Manoah, a chieftain of the tribe of Dan in the city of Zorah. Manoah's wife did not conceive for a long time and  an angel appeared before Manoah and his wife  and informed them that a son will be born to them by the will of God, who will be of great strength and will deliver Israel from the Philistines. Samson was born subsequently and he took a "Nazirite Vow", a vow comprising of not taking alcoholic beverage and  shave the head. He grew up to be a handsome young man and his strength was at  superhuman levels. He fought an Asiatic Lion with bare hands, simply grabbed it and ripped it apart! He also slayed an entire army using the jawbone of an ass. There are stories that he tied burning torches to the tails of 300 foxes and leaving the panicked beasts to burn the crops of his enemies.

He was engaged to a Philistine girl by name Semadar, from the valley of Sorek. At their engagement, Samson lost a bet with his wedding guests, mainly due to the role played by Semadar, and attacked thirty Philistines to strip them of their cloaks to pay his betting debt.  Enraged by this, the Philistines killed Semadar and her father by burning them alive. Samson became a hunted man and in his fury he begins fighting the Philistines. The Saran of Gaza  imposed heavy taxes on the Dannites, with the purpose of having Samson betrayed by his own people. Saran's plan works, and frustrated Dannites hand over Samson to the Philistines, much to the joy of Delilah, Semadar's sister. (Some sources opine that Delilah was not Semadar's sister). Samson was chained and taken by the high general Ahtur and a regiment of Philistine troops. On the way to Gaza, Ahtur decides to taunt Samson. Samson rips apart his chains and ropes and begins to fight the Philistines, toppling Ahtur's war chariot and using the jawbone of an ass to club the Philistine soldiers to death.

Unable to know the source of Samson's strength and how to defeat him, Arthur and his other companions approached Delilah to seduce Samson and gain his confidence. Each of them offer Delilah a certain sum of money to help them in a scheme to uncover the secret of Samson's great strength so that they can find a remedy and defeat him. Samson visits Delilah frequently and each time she asks him about the source of his strength. First time he tells her that he can be tied up with  fresh bow strings. She ties him when he is asleep, but he breaks the strings and frees himself once he is awake. Second time when asked he tells her that he can be tied up with new ropes. She ties him with new ropes when asleep only to find that he frees himself after waking up. Third time when the same question is asked, he tells her that he can be defeated if his seven braids are woven together. She does the same but it has no effect on him. Each time he becomes suspicious about her motives, she parries him with good humor. Using her powers of seduction and deception, the beautiful Delilah persistently wears down Samson with repeated requests. In a weak moment, when asked fourth time, he tells her that his strength is in his seven braids of hair. Some sources say she cut the seven braids of hair when he was sleeping in her lap. Some say that she took the help of a servant while some others say she took the help of co-conspirators. But his seven braids were cut when he was asleep, and once subdued he was overpowered and captured.

Instead of killing him, his captors blind him by gouging out his eyes and consign him to hard labour in a prison. He was tied to a  Mill and made to grind grain and beaten with lashes repeatedly. He suffered the humiliation and in due course his hair again grows. His captors bask in the glory of their triumph and do not pay any attention to this. Having become humble now, Samson prays to God to restore his strength and his prayers are answered. Delilah is also now repentant and actually falls in love with him, but she is helpless.

During a Pagan sacrificial ritual, his captors parade him in the streets along their other prisoners. Samson requests his guards to take him to the two main pillars of the temple. Once he reaches the pillars he frees himself from the chains with his now reacquired power and bracing against the two pillars brings down the entire temple, thus killing all those in the temple and himself. Some versions say that he shouted at Delilah to run away from the temple before bringing it down, but she was also killed. It is said that he killed more enemies when he brought down the temple than in all his combats with them put together.

Samson's mission was to deliver Israel from the Philistine Oppression. Analysts say he was a failure but still accomplished his task to a great extent. Even today peace has not returned to Gaza area and bloodshed continues. Samson's tale has a sad ending. He is considered as a Demi-God like Hercules and Enkidu. He was buried near the tomb of his father in Tel Tzora in Israel, overlooking the Sorek valley.

Samson and Delilah have caught the imagination of the mankind over the years. Many paintings by well known painters are available and a painting by Carl Henrich and Rembrandt are quite famous. There is a life size wooden sculpture of Samson, tearing the lion's jaws from which the water flows, in a monument in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. There is also a marble sculpture by Giambologna in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. It is nearly seven feet high showing two nude men in combat, and representing Samson slaying a Philistine with the jaw of an ass. Six films have been made in the 90 year period starting from 1922 to till now on "Samson and Delilah". Cecil B DeMille, arguably one of the greatest filmmakers of all times, and maker of such films like "Ten Commandments", "Cleopatra"and "The Greatest Show on Earth", has himself produced two movies on the same subject, in 1923 and 1949. It is said that the two versions differ in many details. I have seen only the 1949 version, with Victor Mature as Samson and Hedy Lamarr as Delilah. Cecil B DeMille was known for his talent for directing "Thousands of Extras" and his creation of "Parting of Red Sea" in "Ten Commandments" and "Toppling of the Pagan Temple" in "Samson and Delilah" are among the finest scenes ever created in a movie, all the more so considering that the filming was some sixty years ago, when the technology had not advanced so much and there were no computers.

"As you sow, so you reap", goes the proverb.  "He who lives by the Sword dies by the Sword", says the Bible. Samson's supernatural strength itself ultimately became his undoing. "The seven braids of hair of Samson" and the story of "Samson and Delilah" remind us of this repeatedly.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Epic and Historical Haircuts

We have seen "Haircut and Stock Markets",  "Pure Haircuts and Cutters" and  "Haircut over the years".  Many haircuts (or sometimes lack of it) over the past several centuries have created history or changed its course.  There are references in our epics as well as incidents in history, when a haircut or lack of it achieved, impacted or changed the future of mankind.

One of the earliest references goes back to "Gangavatarana" or the bringing of  Divine Ganga from the heavens to the earth.  King Sagara, one of the Kings of Kosala and forefathers of Sri Rama, sent his sixty thousand (!) sons to find the sacred horse of Ashwamedha yaaga which went missing.  The princes found the horse next to a sage, Kapila, and accused him of being the thief.  Enraged by their misbehaviour,  Sage Kapila used his mystic powers and burnt them to ashes.  When King Bhagiratha, one of the descendants  of Sagara, did a long penance to bring the Divine Ganges to the Earth and make her flow over the ashes of Sixty Thousand sons ancestors and thereby provide them salvation, Ganga agreed to come down to the earth and meet his request.  Like all sanctions or approvals have some conditions, she challenged him to find a person to withstand the force of her flow from heaven.  Bhagiratha again did a long penance, this time meditating on Lord Shiva, to help him achieve this task.  Lord Shiva agreed and when Ganga jumped with all her force from heaven, he tied her in his long "Jata", long hair, and allowed further flow again only on Bhagiratha's request.  She still adorns Lord Shiva's head and any picture of his incomplete without Ganga in the middle of his hair.  Fortunately for Bhagiratha, Lord Shiva had kept long hair and this came in handy (or hairy) to stop the flow of mighty Ganga.  One can imagine Bhagiratha's plight if Lord Shiva was in the habit of getting regular haircuts.

Another reference we can see is in "Ramayana".  When SriRama is in Vanavaasa, his brother Bharata comes to the forest to request him to come back to Ayodhya.   Rama describes Bharata, prostrating before him on arrival in the forest, thus:

जटिलं चीरवसनं प्राञ्जलिं पतितं भुवि  ददर्श रामो दुदर्ष युगान्ते भास्करं यथा

"Jatilam cheeravasanam praanjalim patitam bhuvi, dadarsha ramo duradrsha yugantee bhaskaram yatha"

Bharata was a handsome prince.  But not having a hair dressing for several days had resulted in his hair turning into "Jataa",  a twisted mass of hair.  Coupled with his clothes ( Naarumadi or one used by sages living in the forest) this lack of hair dressing had made him a pathetic sight and Rama compares him with the Sun during the end of time, when the Sun loses his light and shine and looks dim and dull.  In many languages, including Sanskrit the word "Jatila",  meaning a twisted mass of hair which is difficult to comb and straighten, is used even today to describe problems which are very "difficult to resolve".  Of course, Lord Shiva is often described as "Jataajootadhari", one having a maze of twisted hair on his head.

Everyone knows that the root cause of the "Mahabharata" war was Draupadi's hair.  On the orders of his elder brother Duryoodhana, Dusshasana pulled Queen Draupadi by her hair and subsequent events led  to the Kurukshetra war.  But there is another important event that led to a famous haircut and other developments.  when the Paandavas were in the forest, during their Vanavaas, King Jayadratha or Saindhava, husband of Duryodhana's sister Dusshala, tried to kidnap Draupadi when the Paandavas were not around.  Paandavas arrived just in time, unlike our Police in most of the movies who arrive after the event, and Jayadratha was severely punished.  Since he was the husband of their cousin, his life was spared but his head was shaved off by Bhima as a punishment and he was unable to get back to his Kingdom for a long time until sufficient hair grew on his head.  There were further developments as a result of this episode which culminated in the killing of Abhimanyu and Jayadratha himself during the war.

It is a quirk of fate that while Jayadratha's haircut was due to attempted kidnap,  Rukmi's haircut was a result of attempt to prevent a kidnap.  Neither the kidnap attempt was successful nor the attempt to prevent it, but the heads of both the attempted kidnapper and attempter to prevent kidnap were shaved!  Krishna kidnapped Rukmini, sister of Rukmi, just before her marriage to the King of Chedi, Shishupala.  On learning of the kidnapping Rukmi followed Krishna, but was defeated by Krishna.  Krishna was about to kill him, but on a request by Rukmini to spare her brother's life, he tied up Rukmi with a strip of cloth and disfigured him by comically shaving him using the sword itself, leaving parts of the hair and mustache.   Rukmi was unable to go to his city until there was a full growth of hair on his head.  The episode is graphically described in the tenth chapter of  "Bhagavata".

There are many such reference to famous haircuts or lack of it in the Indian epics. In modern times also haircut has caught the imagination of mankind.  Hollywood movies have featured many personalities with famous and imaginative haircuts.  Yul Brynner, the Russian born  stage and film actor is well known for his clean shaven head.  He got his head shaved in 1951 to play the part of Mongkut, King of Siam in the musical play "The king and I" and appeared 4,525 times on stage in that role. This was a record for the "Most Durable Actor", until David Raven appeared  4,575 times as Major Metcalf  in  Agatha Christie's "Mousetrap".   Since he was appearing off and on on the stage, he carried the same clean shaven profile to his films as well and one cannot imagine Yul Brynner without a clean shaven head.  There were two movies, "The Haircut" in 1982 and  "Haircut" in 1995, besides an Album by George Thorogood by name "Haircut" in 1993.

The haircut of Rosy, played by Sarah Miles, in the David Lean film "Ryan's Daughter" is legendary.  Then there was  Persis Khambatta, Indian model and Actress and Beauty Queen.  Crowned as Miss India in 1965, she made waves when she appeared as Lieutenent Aliea in the 1979 firm "Startrek : The motion Picture".   We had our own bollywood film "Billoo Barber" and Indian version of Yul Brynner in Amarish Puri.  There was a film written, produced and directed by Kishore Kumar by name "Bhadti ka naam daadi" in which two characters played by Kishore Kumar and K N Singh fight for saving their beards and cutting off the others beard to win a "Long Beard" championship, only to be upstaged by a guest actor Ashok Kumar, in the end.

A recent report from Bangalore is a hair-cutter's success story.  Ramesh Babu was a seven year old boy when his father Gopal died.  Ramesh Babu's mother leased Gopal's hair cutting saloon for Rs. 5 per day and worked as a domestic help to bring up Ramesh Babu.  Ramesh Babu did his Diploma in Electronics, but went back to his father's saloon to work as a hair-cutter.  While working in the saloon he bought a "Maruti Omni" van and since he was in the saloon most of the time, started renting it out.   He found this profitable and then started "Ramesh Tours and Travels" and bought some more vehicles by borrowing from Banks.  Today, he is a billionaire and owns 90 vehicles including 27 luxury cars like Rolls Royce and  BMW.  He goes to work in a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, but cuts hair for Rs. 65.  He works in saloon from 8 AM to 10 AM and 4 Pm to 7 PM.  From 10 AM to 4PM he works in the travel agency and again comes back at 8 PM to wind up the day's business.  His drivers are well dressed and well behaved, follow traffic rules and pay fines whenever they have to do so.  All vehicles are always leased and rented out, ranging from Rs. 1000 to Rs. 50000 per day.  Despite all these, he went to Singapore to learn cutting women's hair and works even on Sunday's without taking a day's off.

If you want a hair cut for Rs. 65 by a billionaire,  go to "Inner Space" saloon in Bangalore and meet Ramesh Babu.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Haircut Over the years

I had made a reference to "Haircut" in "Haircuts and Stock Markets", the reference being in the context of Banking and Financial Markets.  There was also a reference to "Haircut" in "Of Pure Haircuts and Cutters",  which was purely in haircut context.  Of course, the story of "Baalwale Baba" was not due to haircut and rather a result of lack it.  Thinking in these backgrounds, the evolution of "Haircut" and "Hair Dressing Saloons"  makes a journey "Down Hairy Lane".  More so because the hairline has gone down substantially for many of us over the years.

My earliest memories of haircut dates back to the villages in late fifties.  There was no fixed place for the hair-cutters and they were actually one-man moving saloons.  The word "Saloon" actually means a place where alcoholic drinks are sold and drunk or a place of public entertainment.  It also means a large Public Room, used for a specific purpose like even a dancing saloon.  All Western movies invariably have a saloon scene, and if we consider the number of shooting that take place in these scenes, a saloon should also mean a public place for shooting and killing people!   Remember all the scenes from the films of such legends as John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Lee Van Cleef, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Yul Brynner and many others.  There are also scenes in which the Hero finds the intruder in the small mirror and shoots him down before we bat an eyelid.  But in the part of the world where I grew up, Saloon generally meant a hair cutting saloon only.  In my younger days I have seen these hair-cutters (barber was the generally used word) moving in the village streets in the morning with a bag containing their weapons, like knife and scissors with an aluminum pot or cup for keeping water etc., and hoping that some one will call them for a haircut or shaving so that they can earn their daily bread.  Life would never go on without them, but the society did not treat them properly.  But for their service to the society, there would have been many "Baalwale Baba" around us.  However, they made a very difficult living in those days and were never recognised as Artisans or Service providers like today when you have to meet them with appointments.  Their bag, usually a tin box or a leather bag, was their trade kit and whenever somebody calls them, they would sit on the stone bench or yard outside the house and open their kit displaying their wares.  They usually had either a leather belt or stone piece for instant sharpening of the knives.  Despite this he would be blamed either way, when the knife is sharp or not sharp enough.  If the knife was very sharp and inflicted small wounds, then he was not careful in his work.  If the knife was not sharp enough, then  for not caring for his implements of trade. Most people used their own piece of cloth, usually part of an old Dhoti or Lungi to cover themselves during the hair-cutting.  Shaving rounds had just come into use, a small round object with soap in it and a brush to generate lather to aid smoother shaving or cutting.  This was probably a gift from the British sahibs. The kit was called "Hadapa" in the local language.  Even today, whenever somebody opens his bag or briefcase and displays his wares or possessions, village elders use the expression "Oh, he has opened his Hadapa".  Hair cutting was usually followed by nail cutting or trimming.  The payment for their services was made mostly in the form of some grains and vegetables etc., as neither the served nor server had enough supply of coins with them.  As there was no prescribed fee which could be measured, the payment actually depended on the generosity of the giver and the persuasive capacity of the receiver.

There were certain days of the week or month considered as auspicious for hair-cutting and some other days considered as inauspicious.  The activity itself has a wonderful name - " आयुष्कर्म"  meaning  "An activity for increasing life span" and getting it done on an auspicious day was considered to result in longer life and one done on an inauspicious day was considered to reduce the life span.  What happens if it is unfortunately got done on an inauspicious day?  There is an easy remedy for this - getting it done again  immediately on the next available auspicious day!  Tuesdays were generally banned for such activity.  Even today many hair-cutting saloons have Tuesday as a weekly holiday for this reason.  It makes eminently good sense to have a holiday on a day when the business would be next to nothing.  Many people did not get it done on Fridays and New Moon Days or Full Moon Days.  It was not even to be thought of on days of Eclipse and on festival days.  People would even consult the local Astrologer or Priest for finding a suitable day for hair-cutting.  The barbers themselves kept a track of the auspicious day as they looked forward to them with great hope for prospects of good business.

The fixed place of business first apparently started in village fairs.  A group of villages had a fixed day of the week for the fair in their villages.  Between them, there would be a fair on almost all days of the week in their surroundings, thereby enabling the merchants to move from place to place and being busy throughout the week.  Each village had a specialty for the fair; some were well known for fruits and vegetables, some for sheep and fish, some for food grains etc, though there was no hard and fast rule for the items to be displayed and sold in such fairs.  The hair-cutters also used to move from village to village and sit in a regular place, usually below one of the trees for providing shade. This provided a place for the villagers to find the barber and there used to be brisk business for him throughout the day.  I have also seen fights among barbers when a regular place for one was occupied by another in such fairs.  The more enterprising ones and those tired of moving from village to village every day started hiring a small shop premises in bigger villages and towns and started the regular saloons.  The high legged chairs replaced the stone benches and razor blades took the place of long razors, though many still used the long razors for economic reasons.  Over a period of time they started using talcum powder at the end of the customer's session and aftershave lotions made their debut much later.  Certain types of plants were kept in earthen pots in front of the saloon and the place could be identified from the bend in the street itself by looking at these plants.  It is a sign of changing times that such plants like cactus, which were a trademark of hairdressing saloons, have now started adorning the living rooms of the affluent!  In due course of time other additions like Dyeing of hair, Head and back massaging have been added as value additions for visiting a saloon.

I remember going for a haircut once in two or three months to a saloon, walking all the way holding my father's finger and he always had some story to tell me on the way.  Walking with him was never dull and was always like moving with a library.  The barber would place a wooden plank on the hands of the chair for small boys like me to ensure that he could reach for the head without bending.  In the initial days my father had to hold me, especially when the knife was used so that jerks may not lead to injury.  Afterwards plank used to be there, but holding firm was not needed.  When we reached Middle School, we graduated from the plank to the main chair, thus marking a milestone in our growth.  My younger brother and myself were to go with my father on alternate trips.  Father and Son could have haircut on the same day, but not two brothers.  Brothers had hair-cutting  together only on two days in their life - on the funeral day of their mother and father.  After reaching the age of about 12 years, we were visiting the place alone carrying the prescribed fee safely in our pockets.  The saloons generally used to keep some newspapers and magazines for the customers to read before their turn came.  Some of them used to be even two weeks old and many pages missing.  The magazines I remember were "Janapragati" and  "Filmfare"weekly and "Chandamama" and "Kasturi" monthly.  In fact, reading these magazines while waiting for the turn at the chair developed the habit of reading magazines and books in me.

The persons manning these saloons were very talkative and always had something to discuss with their customers.  Some of them were remarkably well informed about the current affairs as well as epics and literature.  The topic they used to choose for discussion depended on their own knowledge and understanding of the customer.  It used to be Cinema or Agriculture for the general customers and more specific topics like Music and Epics for the more educated.  Some of the interesting topics discussed which I can recollect include the criminal case of the famed musician M K Thyagaraja Bhagavatar in Lakshmikantan murder case of 1944 and Belur Srinivasa Iyengar, who was murdered in 1956.  They were well informed about music and were also playing "Naadaswaram", a pipe instrument in functions like marriage etc.  They usually were addicted to drinking and those who did not have this habit made a decent living from their earnings.  They were also respected for their talents in music and one hairdresser I knew in my childhood was refered as Dr. Narasimhaiah in our household.  He was able to talk at length on Saints Purandaradasa and Thyagaraja and quote their compositions with raaga and taala etc.  The honorary doctorate was conferred on him by us, not any University, for his knowledge and the range of topics on which he could indulge in a discussion.  His brother Nagaraj suffered in comparison and was only given an honorary MA degree, due to his lack of knowledge in some areas. 

Today's Saloons have come a long way from those days.  Pictures of different hairstyles on the walls have been replaced by costly paintings.  Old magazines are replaced by fresh supply of dailies in many languages and chic magazines.  Bonsai plants have entered the cutting hall and cactus pots which exited from the outside itself.  Air-conditioning and revolving chairs are the norm now.  Running hot and cold water taps with large washing basins have replaced aluminum cups. The dressers talk less as they are busy watching cricket or football  matches or films in expensive colour TVS. Some of them offer Coffee or Tea as soon as you enter their premises.  They are also ready to get breakfast or lunch if you indicate.  Computer images have replaced printed catalogue of hair styles.  Some of them entertain you only with appointment.  Value added service like Sauna bath and body massaging services are thrown in.  Fresh towels and blades are provided for each customer to aid prevention of AIDS.  Today, there are Saloons ranging from providing basic and pure haircut to catering to luxurious hair styles and life style to those who are interested and capable of affording them.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Of Pure Haircuts and Cutters

After a piece on "Haircuts and Stock Markets", a piece or even two/three pieces (especially because the subject is one of cutting) on pure haircuts and hair cutters is indeed required.  Otherwise we may forget the original haircuts and remain confused that haircuts are purely for stock markets and investors and not for the human beings for whom a haircut is an important routine of life!

"Kasturi" is a monthly Kannada Magazine published from Hubli by "Lokashikshana Trust" which is also known for its Kannada daily newspaper "Samyukta Karnataka".  The trust is in existence for over 70 years and has rendered yeomen services to the people of Karnataka.  Veterans like Ranganatha Diwakara (R R Diwakara) and Pa. Vem. Acharya have guided the publication over the years. Kasturi has modeled itself on the lines of "Readers Digest" and is now in its 55th year of publication.  Pa. Vem. Acharya, who later on became the editor of the magazine also, used to write well informed but humorous articles in the magazine.  Some forty five years ago, I read an article written by him titled "Kalaprapoorna Ayushkarma Shaala" which would translate to "Artistic Hair Dressing Saloon".  Venkateswarudu, who was the Proprietor and only artiste in the Saloon, had a policy for attending to his customers.  He would not attend to any customer who directs him to cut the hair in any desired style or shape.  His logic was simple.  Any patient going to a Doctor does not suggest or demand that he should be given such and such medicine.  It is left to the doctor to diagnose and decide as to what is the disease and what medicine should be prescribed to remedy it.  The patient has no right to interfere with this freedom of the Doctor and should only place himself in the hands of the Doctor and leave the rest to him.  Similarly, the Hair Dresser is the sole and final authority to decide what type of hair dressing should be given to the "particular Head" placed literally and practically in his hands.  He is the artiste working on his subject, or the better word would be "the Model", and he would not brook any interference in his field of expertise.  The Story has a sad ending as the customers do not accept this line of thinking and Venkateswarudu had to close down his Saloon since he neither wanted to surrender his artistic freedom nor had any "Models" to work on. 

First haircut in his life for a boy is considered as an important event in parts of India and is celebrated with lot of fanfare by inviting near and dear ones.  It is called "Choodakarma" or "Chandika Mahotsava" and many people celebrate the event  by making a trip to their family deity.  This is one of the "Shodasha Karmas" or "Sixteen important Stages or rituals".  The actual area of head tonsured depends on the family custom.  Some people offer only a part of the hair on the head - said to be equal to a "Goshpaada", meaning an area equal to a cow's front feet, say about 12 square inches.  Some others do not have any such rule and the entire head is tonsured till the shining head in its entirety is clearly visible to every one.  I also know of families who believe in equality of gender, though they may not believe in it in other aspects of life, and get the head of a girl child also similarly tonsured.  A generous layer of "Srigandha" (sandalwood paste) is applied on the shaved head after a holy bath and before the  "Darshan" (viewing) of the family deity.  One of the reasons for applying this is due to its anti-septic quality and protect the tender skin of the child after a barbarous attack. A similar haircut is given to the boy before "Upanayanam"or the holy "Thread Ceremony" in some parts of the country. Tonsuring the head and keeping it that way thereafter is one of the basic rituals of "Sanyas" or "Renunciation", a passport for entering the priesthood or a monastic order and thereby conferring on a right to make all hairy heads bow before you thereafter.

A practice of offering the hair or tonsuring the head to some God or Goddess in accordance with one's belief to cure a disease or fulfill some wish is also prevalent, though the practice is fast losing its currency.  Tirupati is one such place where thousands offer their head (it is actually only hair on the head) to the Lord of Seven Hills.  The temple in Tirupati earns millions of dollars every year by sale and export of such hair offered by the devotees.  This hair is further used for manufacture hairy beauty products and one of the objectives of such products is to cover baldness.  "Tirupati Kshowra" (Head shaving in Tirupati) is a well known and oft quoted proverb or idiom when someone leaves a task unfinished and takes another job, thus leaving many unfinished tasks and causing irritation to others. Origin of this practice has a very interesting study.  In olden days, devotees had to purchase a token by making payment of a prescribed fee at the Temple and surrender the token to the person tonsuring the head. Hair shavers were later paid on the basis of tokens collected by them by multiplying the number of tokens by the amount payable for each token.  In order to ensure that they have sufficient "heads" and tokens, shavers used to cut a small portion of the hair and jump at grabbing the token from the next  "arrival" and prevent them from going to the next shaver.  the devotees had to perforce wait for this shaver only, as any other shaver would not accept the "Head" without a token.  I am told that this practice is now given up, though I have no personal experience of the same.  I was myself saved of this ordeal in my younger days since thankfully my family was not subscribing to this practice.

Tonsuring one's head is also a ritual practiced in several parts of the world, before embarking on holy rituals like cremation of a dead close relative.  "Garuda Puraana" states that such an act brings infinite happiness to the departed soul and we have to perforce believe it since no departed soul has yet come back to dispute it.  One practical aspect of such a practice as experienced by me and many others is that the shaved head provides protection against "common cold" during the days of rituals when innumerable baths have to be taken while performing rituals.  This also provides some uniformity among the persons (usually brothers) performing such religious tasks by giving them a "common look".  Of course, there is an associated problem of identifying our kith and kin when one goes to some holy places where number of such ceremonies are being done at the same time, as everyone performing these rituals appears to be close to us due to multitude of shaven heads.  This is best experienced when one visits Ttirupati or Gaya.

There was an inhuman practice of shaving off the head of a widow, at the death of her husband, presumably making her unattractive to look at.  Civilized world can heave a sigh of relief that this barbarous practice is no longer in existence, but for those who have seen such practice decades ago, this is still a scar in the memory lane.

While on the subject of haircuts, I am reminded of a delightful story I had heard from my grand uncle in my childhood.   This story had no title to it, but I have given it a title,  "Baalwale Baba", which roughly means "The sage with long Hair".  Roughly not because his hair was rough but because strict translation of such words is somewhat impossible.   In a village there was a very poor man who had no sources for getting two square meals a day.  Needless to say that he could not pay for a hair cut.  He was very irregular in taking haircuts.  His days became even more difficult, sometimes one wonders whether that was possible, and he could not take a hair cut for a very long time.  Once he went to a far away place on some work and unable to find a lodging place, he dozed off below a big tree.  When he got up from his slumber, he found that many people had kept fruits and small coins before him and some were even prostrating before him. The growth of hair on his head and beard became so much that people were mistaking him to be a holy man and this notion led to this spectacle.  He was happy that his immediate problem of food was solved!  He stayed there itself and in due course of time, the stream of visitors increased.  He became famous as "Baalwale Baba" as nobody knew his real nae and he did not care disturb his new found status by disclosing his past.  After some years he actually started meditating and found divine light and enlightenment!  Somewhat similar to a hunter turned sage, Vaalmeeki, the author of epic "Raamaayana".

The faster growth of hair and nails on human body is said to be a symbol of good health.   Of course, like two Economists, two Doctors may not agree with this statement.  The topics to be covered under "Haircuts" is also growing quite lengthy, with more and more related topics cropping up.  May be I have to cover them in two more pieces, titled "Historical Haircuts" and "Evolution of Hair-cutting Saloons".

Monday, November 7, 2011

Haircuts and Stock Markets

I had referred to some reasons attributed for the fall of the Stock markets in the piece titled "Stock Markets or Monkey Business".  Some of them were like earthquake in Japan, higher inflation going up still higher,  great difficulties of  Greece or even that there was not enough steam for markets to move up.  One reason I forgot to mention was Haircut!  

A friend has sent me a joke about haircut.  A high profile Hair Dresser in Delhi has regular VIP visitors.  In fact, he is reported to have exclusive rights on big heads, political and bureaucratic ones.   Nowadays, he has stopped attending to general public.  Like we used to have "Raajapurohitas" who would attend to rituals of the Royalty only and not accessible to the common man.  Not affordable as well.  This Hair Dresser had a visit by a high profile CBI official last week.  The Dresser greeted the official warmly and started to clean the already clean chair in an invitational gesture for a haircut or hair dressing.  The officer brushed him aside and curtly told him that he had not come for a haircut this time and he was so busy he had no time for a haircut.  He asked the Hair Dresser whether he was an agent of Baba Ramdev.  The surprised Hair Dresser said he was not.  The Officer asked him whether he was an agent of Anna Hazare.  The Dresser again replied he was not.  The officer now asked him why he was talking too much lately about Swiss Bank Accounts and asking too many questions  to VIPs about this.  The Hair Dresser politely replied, "Sir, the moment I ask these people about Swiss Banks, all their hair stand up and that makes my work very easy.  That is why I ask them question about Swiss Banks.  Otherwise I neither have an account in Swiss Banks nor I have any interest in Swiss Banks".  The Officer warned the Dresser against asking too many questions about Swiss Bank accounts in future.  The Dresser was surprised and enquired why it was so.  The Officer replied that the agencies were closely monitoring "Swiss Bank Issue" and since they could not make much headway with Swiss Banks, they were now concentrating on people who were asking questions about them.

Stock Markets all over the World had a heavy fall on 27th and 28th November 2011 on a report that European Banks had agreed to take a voluntary haircut of 50% on Greece bonds.  The Banks took a 50% voluntary haircut, but the small investor once again had the pleasure of an involuntary 100% haircut. 

In financial parlance, a haircut simply means the margin deducted from the market value of an asset accepted as a collateral.   It is the value deducted from the market value of the security for considering lending against it.  Higher the haircut, lower the amount of loan given.  Just like higher the length of the hair cut during dressing, lower the length of hair left on the head or wherever the hair is cut or kept.  The percentage of haircut is decided on the risk perception associated with the security.  Even when haircut is applied for deciding the amount of the loan, the lender has a full value of the security.   Lower haircuts allow for more leverage or higher entitlement for borrowing.  Haircut has an important role on many kinds of trades, for example for Repo or Reverse Repo transactions and borrowing from the Central Bank of a Country.

Then what actually happened when European Banks voluntarily accepted a haircut of 50%?.  Why should it affect us as investors?  When Euro zone was formed and a single currency was accepted by all the member countries, the fundamental strength or weakness of the economies of individual countries were set aside and the financial dealings became to be treated on an equal footing.  Borrowing of a Country and its entities depends on the "Rating of a Country" and a Country with higher rating can borrow higher amounts more easily on better terms.  Better terms like better interest rates as the risk of default is perceived to be low.  Financially weaker countries like Greece were bracketed with economically stronger countries like Germany and France and hence were able to borrow higher amounts at cheaper rates which they would not have been able to borrow on their own strengths.  This could not go on for ever and ultimately the borrower has to pay back the money and unless the economy is stronger and generates surpluses, the risk of default is always lurking in the corner.   By accepting higher haircuts, the lending against Greece securities would come down and thus partly remedy the situation.  But in market perception, holding such securities with even higher haircuts is risky and hence the consequent turbulence in the market.

The issue of haircut is technical and has assumed higher importance in view of Basel III norms, which is even more technical.  But for the small investor, whether it is technical or non-technical,  higher or lower, more important or less important,  haircut has resulted in a real cut of his investments.