Tuesday, July 25, 2006



The full title reads - "Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything". The authors, Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have justified the title of the book from prologue to epilogue. This books does exactly that which is generally not expected of many books from this genre - 'interests'. It discusses the subject and keeps the reader entertained at the same time. The economic principles are applied to topics as diverse as 'the art of parenting' and 'sumo wrestling'.

There are many contentions in the book that could be defied in toto by conventional Economists. But, the manner in which the authors have tried to convince their belief demonstrates the intelligent application of the subject to simple but not-so-straightforward everyday situations.

For people who haevn't read the book, here is a question. Do you agree with the adage - "Spare the rod and spoil the child?" The proverb is not to be taken literally, as in corporal punishment. But, if you agree that disciplining the child means giving the child a bright future, then your answer would be 'yes' to the question. If you did answer in the affirmative, then, accordint to the author, you are wrong. While, what the parents are (e.g. their education, socioeconomic status etc.) help their child achieve results, what the parents do (e.g. reading out books to the kid, taking the kids to museums etc.) means very little to the kid's development, claims Levitt with ample research data. There are scores of other arguments to challenge the generally accepted causes for the 'effect' in question. It is interesting to read their out-of-the-box thinking substantiated with adequate reasoning and data.

If you love Economics, you'll love this book anyway. If you hated Economics as a student, I can assure you, you'll still like this book, for you would've never known that Economics could be so much fun. It's freaky Economics, truly. Try it!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


The sublime white thing

While sour curd is something I detest completely, I seem to have developed a taste for sour cream. From potato chips to vegetable salad, there is no vegetarian dish in the North America that comes without sour cream. Even if it makes me feel that westerners lack imagination when it comes to variety in food, I don’t conclude against them. I give them the benefit of doubt because I have no idea about their non-vegetarian cuisine. Having relished sour cream for days, I wanted to find out what exactly goes into its preparation except cream-turned-sour. Eventually it turns out that there is nothing other than what its name suggests. Sour cream is simply the result of bacteria action on heavy cream and the fat content is a good 20%. After learning this, my taste for sour cream suddenly soured.

Then, there is this eternal confusion of setting curd Vs. buying curd. I stuck with Dannon like many others do. I started to fall in love with its consistency and flavour. I used it with everything, adai, dosai, idli, rice, upma, bread. As a result, I ran out of stock every other day and it made no point to visit the grocery store just for Dannon. Therefore, I resorted to setting curd. But, there was a slight problem. The set curd tasted like Dannon, but had a stringy consistency that made me hate the very idea of setting curd. Thus, my love for freshly set curd came to an abrupt end.

One fine day, my cousin invited me for dinner and the authentic taste of freshly set curd was amazing. She, another ‘thayir sadam’ like me had brought the culture of curd from India which she had carefully carried over for years together. I waited no longer to request a small box of curd and started to set curd at home since then. Believe me, there is nothing to beat the taste of freshly set curd. There is always a reserve box of curd lying somewhere in my fridge for the fear of losing the culture. Every morning, when I tilt the box of curd slightly to check if it is set properly, there is an enigmatic fear in the pessimistic part of me. But, day after day, the sublime white thing would sit there, still, ordering instant calmness in me.

Monday, July 17, 2006


The big bound notebook

On the 28th or 29th of each month, my dad would bring home with him a special brown cover sealed with cellophane, bearing his bank's seal on the top right corner. The packet would go into my mom's hands which would then lie in the 'puja' room until late at night. The following day, my mother, in her free time, would sit with a pen in hand, writing a few combinations of numbers in the long bound note book. She had learnt the knack of opening the bundle of currency from dad. It definitely looked like a rare art that only a few could manage gracefully. A strong hold and a swift twist. The bundle would break into loose sheets of currency. Every time my mom managed it in a single attempt, I derived a sense of achievement. Then, she would draw out cash from the bundle, bind a few notes together with a rubber band and wrap it with a titled slip of paper. The titles ranged from 'maligai saman' (groceries) to servant maid's salary. After finishing with hour-long binding and naming, mom would go to the bank to deposit the remainder. My curious questions about what she did were always answered in simpler terms than I anticipated. I understood the overall nature of the activity but never clearly understood why she did a specific thing until I was ten or more. Then, there was this strange thing my mom always did. A note or two would find its place underneath the newspaper spread on the shelves of the cupboard or sometimes, under the last saree in her wardrobe or in the 'paruppu dabba'. This, she classified as 'dash'. The dash, I later understood was unaccounted reserve for a quick outlay. Sometimes, the dashes would together make a singer sewing machine and at other times a valuable birthday gift for my dad.

Later, when my school curriculum taught me the concept of income, expenditure, saving, budgeting, interest etc., I realized I understood the meaning of each of those terms without much help from the text and teacher.

Years later, when I started to earn, I never received my salary in a packet nor did I draw cash from my bank account to hand it over to my mom. The plastic card took care of everything. There was no budget, nor an expense account to keep track of the long list of my expenses. The 'hidesign' leather bag never held its value because it was not earned from the saved dashes, unlike my mother's sewing machine. The number of my footwear, my father would humourously remark, was more than the number of his hand kerchiefs. I never took pain in a library account. If I needed to read a book, I had to own it. If I lost interest in a book within the first few pages, it would sit unopened on my shelf for the rest of its life or until an absent minded friend borrowed it without caring to return it.

Last week, as I checked my dwindling bank account online, I suddenly remembered the little pig toy I received from my dad as a gift for my tenth birthday and how I collected Re.1 everyday in the toy until it overflowed its way into my bank account. I remembered how I had enjoyed the toy swell with coins. I remembered my mother's huge bound note book and her crucial calculations. I recalled that my dad bought books too. A lot of them, in fact. But, he had a plan. He clearly set aside one-tenth of his monthly income for books. Intuitively, I decided to get back to my basics that I had learnt so perfectly well as a kid and eventually unlearned, as an adult. I went to "Barnes n Noble" and bought an Accountancy notebook.

This morning, when I spoke with my mom, she told me that she started using her debit card. For more than a year, it lay in the envelope it came in. She had come to this decision, after several months of my insistence. She confessed how easy it was and that she enjoyed swiping it in 'Food World'. "But, don't forget to make an entry in the big bound notebook." I added quickly. "Of course not," she said with absolute certainty. In her certainty, with unspoken words, she spelt out the importance of big bound notebook which has been an important part of our family for decades.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


I had a dream

I had a dream about you last night, early this morning, to be precise. It is not surprising because I have been reading through your archives and I still have a few more posts to go. So, for more than a week, your lines have been surfacing in my head every now and then. The thought seems to have ended up in a dream. The dream didn’t last more than a few minutes, I guess. I remember we spoke briefly over the phone. You inquire about what I made for dinner and I say arisi upma and you go ‘wow’. The reply I give may not be logical, but c’mon, it was a dream and I was not ‘lucid dreaming’. So, I was not in control of the things that I spoke. Well, what I said was, why do you go ‘wow’ every time I say ‘arisi upma’. I think even my sub conscious mind could not build a conversation on such an illogical statement. So we conveniently shift the subject. You ask me if I read about the art of doing laundry. I give a negative reply and you go on to explain something but the summer sky pokes my eyes through the blinds and I instantly realize that it was just a dream.

Later, as I had my breakfast, I recalled the inanity of our conversation. If it were not a dream, there are so many things I would've asked you. Like, where did you undergo training for the marathon, or whether you really changed your wardrobe after watching ‘what not to wear’ and if you actually got the job after accepting that you were ‘impetuous’. A person who won’t say a single kind word to others called you a wonderful parent:) Well, I now realize I should've asked you what you do to be a wonderful parent? I would've definitely told you that the piece I enjoyed the most in your blog was the one about husband and password. I would've confessed that I cried the whole day after losing my handbag in a train. I would’ve asked you how you could compose yourself and write a post about losing the bag. Ah, and I would’ve proudly beamed that I was lucky to get my bag back with all my stuff in tact. I would’ve expected to hear the same from you. Oh, at least I should've asked you if Ammani was a sobriquet your grand mom gave you. Finally, I would've definitely added that I was not the author of ‘Quick tale 148’, even though, I've felt the same about the 'SHEs' in your tale. But, I wouldn't have cared to ask you about that. There is so much more to know about you!

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?