Thursday, 5 March 2015

PRIDE (AND NO PREJUDICE)

I am going to be a grandparent any time now. When the news got out, I was deluged with an outpouring of congratulatory messages. As if I had something to do with it. Whatever I have to do with it, first happened a couple of decades ago and then when I said yes to my daughter's choice for a husband. They took it from there and here we are, awaiting a grandchild. In their enthusiasm to be seen to be friendly / enthusiastic / polite or whatever, people mistakenly congratulate me.

People, if you must congratulate someone, please do that to the parents-to-be.

Get it right people. When X and Y get married (or are engaged to be married), or when X or Y (or both) get a Nobel prize or or when their yet to be conceived child makes it to that prestigious coaching class for the hard-to-get-in IIT or something like that, or when they win a few hundred million dollar lottery, or when they achieve something worthwhile, go ahead and congratulate them. Don't pollute the earth with stupid, meaningless and unfelt messages of happiness just because you have an electronic device that can commit mass-murder of this type and you don't wish to be seen not expressing your (fake) happiness at the happy event.

It is so typically Indian. You don't want to be seen to be missing the action. For example, my mum always found reasons why I should attend some wedding of the fourth grandchild of a fifth cousin six times removed. She used to say, you can miss anything, but not a happy occasion like this. When that fifth cousin six times removed died, I would be told you can even miss a wedding, but not the last rites. The central point was, you don't want to stand out in anyway; blend in, be one in the crowd, don't draw attention to yourself. I suspect this remains a central theme of Tambram existence.

This is similar to the typically Indian English usages like your good name please, your good self, please clarify, can we pre-pone the meeting, etc etc which irritate me no end. When I started working,  official letters mostly started with "I beg having to advise you that your account is now overdrawn....", and ending with "yours faithfully" if one was in the private sector. If one were writing  as a civil servant, he would claim to "have been directed to inform you".

I was warned more than once that if I continued to begin letters - especially the ones to the Head Office - with I should like to inform you that blah blah blah... and end them with yours truly instead of begging to advise them and remaining faithful to them, my career would remain in the doldrums. My attempts to convince them that I was neither married to my boss to be faithful nor owed him / her allegiance beyond the call of duty fell on deaf years. It was thus that my letter of resignation began with "I beg to advise you that I am unable to continue in your employment..." and ended with "Yours faithfully". The irony was lost on them.

I am irked no end by  Emails and postings in Facebook showing "Proud grand parents" with the hapless newborn. For god's sake one should be proud when one has achieved something worthwhile. What exactly did the grand parents do to get a grandchild? Other than nagging their poor daughter / daughter-in-law to beget a child to keep up the family honour - Family Honour! Or badgering sixty four million Hindu deities resident in historic towns - or even in the illegal street corner temple that sprang up last year - for the favour?

Proud? Why? What did the poor little bawling, squirming thing do except get out of a dark prison that was quickly getting too small for it? Yes, the poor girl who had to support the little one inside for 10 months and then has to do it lifelong outside, she has something to be proud of as we have of her.  Even the father of the little one, for having put up with "the hormones" for ten long months and who has to endure interrupted sleep for ten more, even he has something to be proud of. Parents of the new mother can justifiably be proud of their daughter for all the hardship she has already endured and which probably has just begun.

One can be happy that the birth happened without any glitches or complications. One can even be happy at the baby's  good looks although the matter of looks in newborns is highly exaggerated. All newborns look like newborns and do not rank very high in the looks department. That happens later. Some are happy that they now have an heir for their (dubious) legacy. One can be genuinely happy that the girl's ordeal of pregnancy with all its manifold risks is finally over. That  relief is justifiable as is the resultant happiness.

I am all too aware that this rant notwithstanding, my phone lines are going to get jammed and my email boxes are going to overflow with messages congratulating me on the birth of a grandchild. I am going to be labelled a proud grandparent.

Let me assure everyone that I am a proud parent (for what my children have achieved in their young lives) and will be given many more reasons to be proud. The grandchild might even make me proud by reciting something aged two - Vishnu Shahasranamam is a Tambram favourite.  Calculating the mass of Higgs Boson a la Homer Simpson, might do it for me.

For the moment, though, my pride is where it rightfully belongs - my daughter.

Monday, 2 February 2015

TRANSFORMATION, INVARIANCE AND CONSERVATION

To those concerned that this post might delve into esoteric areas of Physics let me say, I put in all those fancy words in the title just for effects. However let me also admit that I am not above a bit of posing, posturing and showboating when it comes to that. So some references to Physics and Mathematics will be presented so as to impress the reader. Today you can find anything by googling. You must, however, know what to look for though.

We were taught in school that there is a Law of Conservation of Energy. Who has not memorized the words, "energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be destroyed" without even understanding what it really meant or how it really worked. We were told that chemical energy from coal can be transformed into heat energy of steam which then can be transformed into kinetic energy by driving a great big engine. We accepted all that without questioning, despite also learning that these transformations were not 100% efficient and that there were always losses. Ah, those were the good days when you could accept something uncritically on the say so of teachers and elders. The problem is, today we are the elders and I am not sure what to say..

We were also told that the Law of Conservation of Momentum made billiard balls fall into different pockets or that in a line of suspended steel balls it made only the balls at the end move, or, in a macabre twist, prevented motor cars from stopping before travelling a certain distance when brakes were applied. The most mysterious of all was how Physicists divined the existence of unseen and unseeable particles and their properties based just on this Law.

We were told that there existed a whole menagerie of particles with all sorts of exotic names and possessed of weird properties. These were thought to exist based almost entirely on the conservation of something or the  other. In the 1960s mankind's understanding of the universe was held together by gossamer threads linking weird particles, fields, forces, and suchlike, most of which one could not hear, see, feel or touch, only talk about. But we accepted their existence nevertheless, and the universe they represented.

At the centre of our knowledge was conservation of something or the other, which came about because of the "invariance" of some properties under certain "transformations". A very smart young lady, a rare female mathematician in a field overrun with men, came up with an original thought in the second decade of the twentieth century.  Emmy Noether's work stated that if any system remained invariant under certain transformations, some property of it was conserved. The words are mine and admittedly imprecise.

For example if a system remained invariant under linear transformation in space or time, its linear momentum is conserved. If a system remained invariant  under rotation then its angular momentum is conserved. And so on and so forth. Using mathematics Noether proved that Laws of Conservation were the result of invariance under transformation. The important thing to remember is that Conservation of something resulted from invariance under transformation.

Nearly a hundred years after Emmy Noether propounded her eponymous theorem, and many many particles, properties and universes later we have another type of  Law of Conservation. This one is propounded and maintained by  another female, albeit one of considerably inferior academic achievements, so inferior that you don't speak of this person and academic achievements in the same breath. Whereas Emmy was born to a mathematician father her modern-day equivalent was born to a bricklayer of shady credentials. Emmy was invited to University of Gottingen by luminaries such as  David Hilbert and Felix Klein. Her modern day equivalent paid her way through a language school in Cambridge. The contrast couldn't be starker.

Both Emmy and her modern-day equivalent posited their own theories of  conservation. For Emmy Conservation resulted from Invariance under Transformation.

For Sonia, conservation of family power is central to any transformation. Only transformations that ensure invariance of family power and which conserve family dynasty are allowed.





LOVE IS BLIND

Time and again we have been told that Love is blind. Movie empires have been built on that notion. We have also experienced and encountered in our own lives events situations which appear to validate this. Examples of this usually involve pretty girls falling for plug-ugly men with no prospects, and occasionally the other way round.

Sometimes this maxim is invoked to explain one or the other party overlooking or being oblivious to the  faults of the other party which are only too evident to all. This might be a case of what Margaret Heffernan calls Willful Blindness.  She argues that  we choose, sometimes consciously but mostly not, to remain unseeing in situations where “we could know, and should know, but don’t know because it makes us feel better not to know.”  Don't women close their eyes while kissing while the man in the kiss has his eyes wide open and is scoping out his next victim(s)? Women just don't want to know what the guy is up to lest their worst fears are confirmed...

Dan Ariely of Duke University performed some experiments involving the brightest and the best at MIT, some arithmetic, and a few smutty magazines. Guys - yes, they were all men - who could ace SAT, GRE and GMAT all at the same time with half their brains removed, had difficulty getting basic arithmetic right after a few minutes with the lissome lasses of those glossies. Suffice it to say that boys have a difficult time coping with anything after some mental stimulation of the prurient kind.

We are told that women are not like that. Aren't they?  

For a start they kiss with their eyes closed, symbolic of their ostrich syndrome.
They buy into the most implausible of stories from their boyfriends / fiances / husbands, stories whose link with truth is tenuous at best. They are blind to even simple economics when it comes to their men as the following story will attest.

Our maid is a very unfortunate young 26 year old. She lost her parents early and was brought up by a kindly aunt whom she calls "mother". She met and married a young man at 14, against the advice of her "mother", and had three boys by him by the time she was 18.  After the birth of the boys, her husband predictably began losing interest in her.

By the time she came to work for us two years ago the loss of interest was total and complete. His loss of interest in her did not extend to her earnings. He took to a life of ease in front of a TV purchased with loans she was made to sign for. His notion of working conditions are much more generous than even what the French have. In short he was willing to offer his lack of skills for the wages of a hedge fund manager.

The poor maid pays for his every whim by working in a number of households. The whims include a TV, a VCR, movie rentals everyday, copious amounts of alcohol and other women. The last category has at various times included a college-girl and a fifty year old cougar.

The college girl appears to have been smitten by him, however fleetingly, blinding herself to the realities of a wife, three kids, no work and lots of drinking. And then again she may have been experimenting, being a college girl and all. She even used to gallivant around town, giving him rides on the back of her scooter, in a clear case of role reversal. It appears that the poor wife even paid for his treating his college-girl paramour in various eateries around town, even as she herself starved many days. She would not confirm if she paid for the petrol as well.

It appears that when the college girl had learnt whatever he had to teach her, she got tired and dumped him. This brought on many a lachrymose bender all paid for by the hapless, dutiful, wife.

Thereafter the Michelangelo-in-waiting - for this lothario is a painter of buildings and walls - figured, in a Stephen Vizinczey-esque moment, that older women were possibly a better bet. The cougar's reasons for taking up with him are for the present obscure. The presence of an obliging wife to pick up the bills must be a great attraction, almost as powerful as receiving the attentions of the much younger man. 

The poor wife confronting him proved to be of no avail. The painter would threaten suicide when asked to end his affair with other women. From the wife he wanted a roof and food, not to mention TV, VCR, and movies, all paid for by her, and the freedom to pursue women of his choice. This is what most men dream of but are unable to achieve. Life indeed is strange, for it denies the seekers and rewards those who thumb their noses at it.

Then one day, tiring of mere threats, he cut his wrist. What he intended as a life threatening severing of veins and arteries turned out to be just a superficial cut inflicted with the blunt edge of a kitchen knife. Neither life nor much blood was lost, but the incident had the desired effect - the wife was distraught, borrowed even more money for the treatment and recovery  and promised him all that he desired. The cougar wisely ducked and stayed out of sight for a while. Wise woman, that one, who may yet disprove all my theories - and those of Heffernan - about women, love, and blindness.

After recuperating on a diet of good food and many movies, all paid for by wife's borrowings, our indefatigable Lothario was on the move again. For reasons I am unable to fathom, he took up with the same cougar. Perhaps the supply of willing, credulous or willingly credulous college girls with scooters had dried up suddenly. The cougar's lack of wisdom, however, is more baffling. Is she merely willfully blind or is she playing a game beyond ordinary comprehension?

Many more threats followed, all of which turned out to be empty. Our hero couldn't  even nick himself with a safety razor let alone terminally injure himself .

Then one day the putative painter decided to trade his paintbrush for a sickle.

The sickle, in other parts of the world, is an agricultural implement. Here in Tamilnadu it is the weapon of choice, if you believe the Tamil tabloid press, of cuckolded husbands and irate fathers of wronged girls. It is the symbol of manhood for any red-blooded Tamilian and is an essential part of student attire at a few Chennai college. They may come to college without pens, paper, pencils and books, but to be seen without a sickle dangling from the collar is a sign that screams "Wimp". Tamil movies and TV soaps do their bit to reinforce this image.

Armed with a sickle and fortified with his favourite brew, the intrepid painter went out onto the street to proclaim his intent to decapitate someone, anyone. While he was thus raving and ranting without harming anyone, the police arrived. These gentlemen of the law normally passively spectated when the painter beat up his hapless wife  advising instead that as the wife, she must practice "give" while the husband took. That day perhaps they had had too much of sickle-waving booze-induced bravado.

The painter was arrested and charged with creating public disorder, threatening with a dangerous weapon etc etc. Public drunkenness is NOT a crime here; on the contrary it is required of all Tamil men. He was booked under a number of offenses and carted off to a prison.

After a week or so the cougar brought news that the bail has been set at ten thousand rupees, a near-impossible sum for the wife to raise. She advised the wife to raise yet another loan and bail him out.

The wife did. 



Wednesday, 21 January 2015

A FIDDLER ON THE FLOOR AND A DANCER ON THE ROOF

"When the only sound in the empty street
Is the heavy tread of the heavy feet
That belong to a lonesome cop 
I open shop",

Wrote Cole Porter 


"When the moon so long has been gazing down
On the wayward ways of this wayward town
That her smile becomes a smirk, 

I go to work"

I dont know what town Porter had in mind. New York? LA?  Peoria, IL, perhaps? He may well have meant Chennai had he known my neighbours.

One of my neighbours goes to work long before the moon begins to gaze down on the wayward ways of this wayward town, and well after its smile becomes a smirk. But not before his morning ablutions which, most days, include a stern dressing down of his hapless wife. These  days the prayers have doubled to accommodate the ones meant to speed up his father's recently departed soul which, without some help, might lose its way and hover around its earlier haunts. With nine ancestors waiting for a forward nudge from the most recently departed soul, the latter's failure to join the astral queue could be calamitous.

Then he begins to fiddle. Literally. My neighbour is in the process of learning, at an advanced age, to play the violin. His effort is commendable. His talent, alas, is not. More often than not he also sings the notes he is supposed to play on the violin. His stentorian voice lends itself admirably to scaring a business rival or a hapless wife, but not to the tonal discipline of Indian classical music. "Off-key" is putting it mildly. 100% for effort, 0 for results. Now I understand how Lord Macaulay's view of Indian music  ("caterwauls") might have been formed.

There are no cops, lonesome or otherwise, leaden-footed or light of feet, on our street at night. Occasionally they cruise by in their newly acquired SUVs with the flashing blue and red beacons. Mercifully their sirens don't work owing to their serviceable batteries having been exchanged for the dead ones in their bosses' private vehicles. Else they would have been turned on at full volume; we in Chennai do like to be heard. In general our Chennai cops are too busy attending to VIPs when not consuming free food or alcohol to plod the lonesome streets.

The heavy tread of heavy feet are those of the neighbour living directly above me. It is an interesting household which appears to be founded on the principle that a working marriage requires the spouses spending the least time together - a very sound idea, I might add. It is also a household that, like vampires, appears dead through the day and comes alive only at night. The latter is interesting in a town where the days ended at 6 p.m. and only lights went out at night.

Things have changed a bit since Madras became Chennai and coding took over from manufacturing as the principal provider of family incomes. With an eatery around every street corner - some streets have quite a few - eating out has become the main post-sunset activity. It is only second to drinking. Drinking here is not to loosen inhibitions and tongues sufficiently enough to have a good time fully conscious; the object of drinking in Chennai is to get inebriated as quickly and as cheaply as possible. It is all about the efficiency of inebriation. All that malarkey about fruity notes, smoky hints and clean finishes are for those who do not care for the quick oblivion that the Chennai man favours. But I stray.

The lovely family above me comes alive after 11 p.m. While my fiddling neighbour has gone to bed, no doubt after administering another tongue-lashing to his wife, the one above begins to dance. Sometimes it's ballet leaps, sometime the rhythmic Kathak and yet some other times a Bharathanatyam piece, but always involving heavy foot-stamping. I used to think that they played squash in their living room, but the arrangement of furniture ruled that out, unless of course they have invented an interesting variation involving playing the ball off items of furniture. The later the hour, the more intense it gets.

Is it, as Miroslav Holub put it, "hundred miles from wall to wall", recalling a love that was lost? Or two?  Or is one running from it while the other is chasing?  Whatever it is, for me it is an "eternity and a half of vigils" every night.

Believe me when I say it is NOT beautiful.





Saturday, 17 January 2015

MORAL RELATIVITY

"None of the actors in the programme encourage or endorse smoking" proclaimed a public interest advert on the telly, more out of a legal obligation to do so than out of conviction. I would imagine that it should be quite easy not to show on-screen smoking or drinking. Don't non-smoking villains and vamps exist? Judging by Indian movies, it would be difficult to conceive of villains and vamps who do not smoke or drink.

Could it be that the Indian mind associates smoking or drinking with badness / moral decay?

When I was growing up in Madras, the association between smoking and eternal damnation was very clear and straight forward: most believed, especially among Tambrams, that smoking led to drinking, drinking led to chasing women and chasing women led straight to Hell. Mathematically inclined that the Tambrams were (and still are), the equation was plain and simple: Smoking equals Damnation with a constant thrown in (S = D+k).

Not chasing women might have gone down well with the 60's and earlier generations, but today it might well be symptom of a malaise deserving a worse Hell than the normal one in the Tambram scheme of things. This raises the notion of different grades of Hell - a relatively less disagreeable one for minor infractions, worse ones for husband-beaters (wife-beating seems to be approved behaviour), progressing on to the deepest and hottest level for those guilty of "Moral Turpitude".

What constituted the aforementioned MT  changes with the times. All you have to do is invent worse forms of behaviour for previously unacceptable ones to become tolerable ones. Standards of "public morality" and public behaviour are lightening. Faced with the spectre of same-sex couples in PDAs, the general public is willing to "tolerate" PDAs between opposite sexes. I also see around me attitudes to inter-caste or inter-religious marriages relaxing - the possibility of the son / daughter taking up with a man / woman boggles many a mind.

The opposite is sometimes true, as captured in a mischievous email joke about a grandmother's relief  that her grandson's love interest is a boy from the same caste as opposed to a girl from a different caste!

The truth is when faced with a worse possibility, we are willing to accept what was earlier unacceptable.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

HOW TO ......?

This is going to be easily the shortest post I've ever made, including the title.

I was trying to understand how to speed up my laptop running Ubuntu Linux 14.04 loftily named "Trusty Tahr". For those uninitiated into the wonderful world of Discovery Channel, Tahr is a a sort of mountain goat, only bigger and very elusive. I once spent nearly a whole day on the misty slopes of Anai Mudi near Munnar hoping to get a glimpse of  one. To the considerable irritation of the children there was only mist rolling in, they were getting very hungry, and our driver was getting increasingly concerned about the visibility on the way back if the most kept rolling in. There was no Tahr, trusty or otherwise.

Be that as it may, I was trying to understand how to speed up my tiring old laptop with a spanking new version of Linux. As in all other matters, the best way to do anything today is to start with Google. Time was when we would start with a "Vinayagar suzhi" or a "Ganesh doodle" and hope the elephant-headed god would guide all our endeavours, such as untangling the mysteries of  high-school history paper or the esoteric world of Quantum Electro Dynamics.

 It is a different matter that God helps those who help themselves and that I did not help myself very much when it came to QED which was very different from faffing on about historical events. Besides, I was artistically and faith-wise challenged and couldn't do the special doodle signifying Lord Ganesh. It was thus that I was reduced to figuring out how to lend more money to those that didn't deserve it instead of figuring Higgs Boson's behaviour.

The ever-helpful Google got to work even as I started typing and by the time I had gotten to "How To" it had come up with the following suggestions:

  • How to kiss
  • How to get pregnant
  • How to lose weight
  • How to download Youtube videos
I am stunned by the genius of the good people at google. Not only they knew how to lead me to the answers I was seeking, but they could also list the answers before I completed my questions and put things in the proper sequence as well: kisses (presumably google kisses happen only between members of the opposite sex) could lead to pregnancy (eventually) which leads to baby fat, necessitating the loss thereof. Eventually one would need to download Youtube videos to learn parenting, to keep the little ones entertained (in order to get some "mum-time"), keep the mothers entertained, and finally to learn how to manage the little monsters.

My mind boggles to think what my grand parents, parents of a whole dozen,  could have achieved had they Googled and not just doodled.

As for the Tahr, it remains as slow as the real one is elusive.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

AIR INDIA ANTICS 2

Air India today cancelled its Chicago flight in favour of the one to New York. This reminded me of  what happened  a decade ago. By the way, after my recent travails with a ticket to Chicago on Air India - such as an economy ticket costing as much as a business class one, but with only economy class privileges -  I was happy I was not booked to fly on that airline after all.

To the decade-old story:
I was booked on Air India in order to attend the once a year board meeting in Paris (France, not Texas). I always had a healthy dislike of Air India, but had to fly the airline thanks to our collaborators who were constrained to only use it for overseas travel. I was not a big fan of Air France either but it had its positives: the wine was excellent as was the champagne; it arrived in Paris at 8 a.m. enabling a full day at work.

I was even less fond of Delta, which I sometimes found myself flying unwittingly without meaning to, thanks to their code-sharing arrangement with Air France.  While it was generally far easier to be understood on Delta - if you spoke American, that is - the wine was far inferior and the beer execrable. How the Americans call Budweiser a beer is something I'll never fathom. But the clincher against traveling Delta was their security arrangements at Paris airport. While Delta and Air France passengers to Bombay / Delhi boarded the same aircraft operated by one or the other, the security that one had to go through was like chalk and cheese, the cheese being AF.

Once the Delta security staff was so offensive that I swore I shall never travel Delta if I could afford another airline. The African-American security officer asked me all sorts of offensive questions and it sounded as if he doubted my right to fly Business and indeed fly at all instead of riding a bullock cart. Some say Indians look down upon African Americans. I'd say that we look down upon them and they resent us. I think the officer was enjoying himself, over and above the call of duty. While the Delta security staff were trying their best to discourage passengers traveling Delta, the security queue was getting longer and longer and the danger of missing the flight was getting more real by the second. I feigned an incoming business call, made a smart about-turn and joined the Air France queue and breezed through.

Traveling Air France had its problems too and little English, albeit cutely accented, was just one of them. Obtaining vegetarian meal was another - whenever I requested it, I was given vegan meals sans everything and alcohol. Usually even these were allowed to be hijacked by some enterprising Jain family in the back of the bus. I am of the view that if God had wanted me to eat raw leaves and vegetables He would have endowed me with four legs, solid molars, four stomachs and a tail. And some horns, while we are at it. All I want is a wholesome meal without any flesh of any sort - walking, flying or swimming - lots of wine and no melted cheese.

To me the redeeming aspect of traveling Air France, minus Delta of course, was that not once was a flight delayed / cancelled / diverted or postponed or "merged" with another for reasons that the fourth nephew of the third cousin (twice-removed) of M.Mitterand / M.Chirac / M.Sarkozy  was travelling or was unable to travel on it. If one were sufficiently handsome in some dissipated French way, one did get extra attention from the stewardesses. That didn't matter to me since they were all matronly and past their sell-by date in this route. Flights were cancelled / delayed / diverted for reasons that the Unions were up in arms against the management, the Government, the people, the Americans, the Europeans, the English, the French, or that it was too cold, or too hot, etc; but never for the reason that someone known to the high and mighty was / wasn't on it.

Back to Air India:

I was travelling to Paris with our business partners for a board meeting. I wasn't looking forward to this particular visit as it involved the onerous task of chaperoning our board members through Parisian evenings punctuated by mandatory visits to French cultural and gastronomic icons like the Lido, Moulin Rouge, Eiffel tower and sundry Indian restaurants. Some times it got particularly embarrassing as when the topless and feathered Lido girls decided to high-kick in our face. But all that was after we landed at Paris. First we had to get there.

We boarded the flight at Mumbai to be informed that there would be a "technical delay". We settled in and started reading - mostly fiction regarding how we were going to make our firm the biggest and the baddest. The flight purser turned up to shoo us from our business class seats - to the First class. We were quite pleased at this good fortune and assumed our new seats before the purser changed his mind. Thereupon he uncorked some champagne and offered it to us which was a bit surprising considering it was 9 a.m. The purser might have been used to the French ways like drinking champagne at 9 a.m. but we were all of solid middle class stock, mostly Tambram, and the only thing we drank at that time of day was holy water (prasadam in other words).

Notwithstanding our protests that it was too early for a drink, the purser managed to persuade one or two weak ones among us  and grabbed one himself. Proceeding to  make himself comfortable in a nearby seat, he started regaling us with idle chat and gossip. To remind the pest of his station I inquired about the delay and when the steering might be fixed so we could get airborne. He floored me saying "there is no technical problem with the plane". Seeing the look of surprise on my face he proceeded to refill his champagne flute and explain what was really going on.

It seems that the previous day's flight had been cancelled due to "technical reasons". The passengers from that flight had been accommodated in our flight which explained our being bumped up to first class. The delay was due to boarding  these passengers. Assuming a conspiratorial look, he further explained that after our flight took off, the previous day's aircraft would effect a miraculous recovery  and would be fit to fly later in the day. Minus fare-paying passengers of course. The simpleton that I was, I pointed out the illogicality of this whereupon he gave a pitying look and explained further: a certain minister would make a last minute booking for him and his family from Mumbai to New York and the Jumbo jet capable of carrying 400+ passengers would take off with about 40 members of the Mantriji's family.

The twists and turns of the story of the delayed flight beat anything I had read until then; even our own stories to our Board.