Saturday, May 21

Golden years

As a kid, watching my grandpa slice a mango was the definite highlight of many a summer evening. Talk about simple times!

Back in the early 80's we lived with my grandparents in Bombay. My memories of that time are compartmentalised into special events; the colour of the candle on my 2nd birthday, watching my beaming mum wheel a red cycle through the building gate & slowly realising it was for me (I'm pretty slow that way), helping my grandma make vadaam for the year, the smell & colour of salt and chillies mixed with aavakaay in barani (porcelain) jars, the buzz around the house during Diwali and Avaniaatam...

It was a different life; one with games of chor-police, yellow plastic bat cricket, The World this Week on the telly and of course, mangoes in summer. My grandpa being the patriarch of our mob, would take on the very serious task of buying, cutting & distributing mangoes. A strict disciplinarian with generations of tam-brahmness behind him, he would approach the season in his own eclectic way. The event lasted as long as mangoes were available, starting with the tangy parrot-beak variety, shifting to the alphonso & culminating a few months later with another type which I don't remember anything about except the large size.

With all the grace & mystery of an extended tea ceremony session, my grandpa divided the process into clear stages; the extensive inspection of the fruit at the markets, Good-Bad-Ugly-esque calculated price bargaining and packing the raw mangoes in the rice drum till they ripened. I remember the numerous occasions I'd anxiously peep into the drum with a concern people usually reserve for newborns. When he deemed the mangoes ready, grandpa would take the ceremonial knife (or so I thought) and begin to sharpen it on a granite slab. If I were lucky, I'd get to help... and take my word for it, the rhythmic, rasping sound as steel brushed against stone was a lovely tone.

Post dinner, grandpa would seat himself in a corner of the room with a large steel plate, a couple of mangoes and the now-gleaming knife. The family would gather around, but pride of place (and the one closest to the action) was mine. Grandpa would pick up a mango, speculatively move it around in his hand for the best grip, take the knife, place it against the skin of the fruit and...

It was effortless. The yellow skin would come off in long, curling layers at remarkable speed. All the while, the fruit would be held perfectly - not a drop of juice would fall on the plate. Once completed, slices of yellow gold, in sizes and shapes alien to geometry, would begin to plop down on the plate, till there was only the seed left. The first piece was my grandpa's, but the second was always mine. The plate would get passed around till everyone took pity on me and gave it back; the carnage that followed would put hyenas to shame. 3 months of encore performances later, the season was over.

As long as I lived in that house, this was a summer ritual. Eventually, the family moved abroad for a while & then pitched the permanent tent in Pune. My fascination for mangoes & appreciation for grandpa's efforts began to fade.

Today, 20-odd summers on, I tried to skin a mango and failed to bring an iota of the finesse that my grandfather demonstrated all those years ago. I think about an 82 year old gentleman in Bombay who now suffers from Alzheimer's disease and hasn't cut a mango in years. I wonder about the many things life has given and taken away from us...

Thatha, I do not have your mango-cutting finesse. But I can write about it.

Song for the moment: Ajeeb dastaah hai yeh - Lata Mangeshkar (Dil apna aur preet parai)

Saturday, May 7

You rascal you

In two diabolically hellish weeks at work recently, I was often left staring at the laptop screen, dumbfounded. It'd reached a point where anything I did was wrong and even doing nothing was chastised in language that was vitriolic, to say the least. Remember the scenes where a group of people surround a guy and proceed to beat and kick him down till he's forced to curl into a ball, hoping to avoid further punishment ?

By last Friday evening, I had reached that figurative foetal position. The same few thoughts kept circling around - Why was every molehill being turned into a mountain ? Why was I putting up with this aggravation ? What was so enamouring about the job that I was shouldering so much invective & stress ? Heck, why didn't I just quit ? I had no answers. I do remember being surprised at how much fear was coursing through me and wondering what I was scared about. It was just a job, right ? So, why didn't I believe that ?

To get my mind off the shitstorm, I began a clean-up of the computer; the registry was cleaned, files backed up and the temporary files folder deleted. Lastly, I made my way to Program Files and began deleting the redundant stuff there when I came across a folder called SoftActivity (please get your mind out of the gutter). I couldn't recall ever installing or even seeing this name before so I went through it.

And found that this cute piece of work, installed on my laptop since July 2010, is a maha-funda, powerful keylogger software.

I've written previously about how I'm not particulary anxious to experience the high-falutin emotional descriptions much favoured by the writing fraternity. But there was an undeniable "mouth went dry and tongue became like sandpaper" experience going around.

Now, unlike a sizeable portion of what passes for human beings at the workplace, I don't waste my time on various social or game sites. I also don't visit job sites, hoping for a fast exit from what, in truth, is the professional equivalent of Gomorrah. I get along okay with the management & colleagues and do pretty good work. Or so I've thought while some third-rate mofo had been stealthily recording EVERY key I'd ever typed since last July.

I'll confess, just thinking about the sheer enormity of it made me need to sit down and collect my thoughts. To say I was stupefied would be putting it accurately. Every online chat session, every email, every bank account password... all of it had been compromised. Coupled with the maelstrom of work-related stress I was already carrying, it was a miracle I managed to even get home that night. Since sleep was out of the window, I spent the time figuring out what had to be done to salvage some of the wreck masquerading as my secure online information. And so it was that a marathon Saturday and Sunday session with me hunched over the house computer left the following:

One personal email account closed, after migrating everything that could be moved, to a new account. Two other personal email account details changed and left to the mercy of fate, since there's only so much information that I gave a damn about.
Blog, photos and analytics account details changed and migrated.
Bank account passwords changed, ATMs visited personally to change the pins and hope for the best.
Professional network account changed.

Basically, the life I'd been living online since 2006 had to vacate and find a new city.

The crap at work abated somewhat on Monday and I managed to get the software removed from the computer that evening. The management doesn't know who installed it since they supposedly didn't authorise it. The senior IT consultant in Hyderabad doesn't know anything about it either. So that leaves the junior in-house IT guy, who was on holiday all of last week. If he hasn't installed the software, I have to reconcile with the fact that some unknown entity has about 10 months of my data, with me unable to do a damn thing about it.

To say that I feel violated is putting it mildly. But I also realised just how much of my information is in cyberspace and how easy it is / would be for someone to steal this data, https or no https. So, while I'm waiting for the IT bloke to show up, for a little WTF were you thinking - frank heart-to-heart chat, maybe anyone reading this should inspect your work and home pc's for innocuous looking folders that could be much more.

I've stopped accessing personal stuff at work. Even if there is supposedly no software tracking anything, I just don't trust the system any more. Now, I access new information from a lot of other websites during office hours and limit the casual reader /mail / chat stuff to about an hour at home. Considering I got lucky while finding that software, learning a lesson this way was worth the inconvenience I guess.

It has also spurred me to renew my efforts to change workplaces. As the bloke said, "Some things you do, you can never take back..."

Song for the moment: Black dog - Led Zeppelin