Archive for April, 2009

The Comedy Store, which was first started by Don Ward in London in 1979, will shortly be opening a new outpost in Mumbai. It will be a joint venture by Ward and Indian entrepreneur Amar Agarwal and will introduce stand-up comedy to Indian audiences for practically the first time.Well known British comedians such as Paul Tonkinson , known for his physical comedy, and Ian Stone ,a Jewish comic , will perform in the Palladium Building  in trendy Phoenix High Street. Other comedians who will be slotted in later include Russel Peters, a Canadian -Indian stand-up, and Paul Sinha, a gay doctor, who will be pushing the envelope with jokes about homosexuality.The shows will be compered by Sean Meo who will also perform a comedy routine. Shows will  have open mike slots and nights for local comedians.

How will the British comedians prepare for the gig ?  Ward says that they will be reading Mumbai newspapers to acclimatise themselves to the local culture and to search out current topics that will lend themselves to comedy. In addition, the comics will head out to Mumbai a few days before they are to perform.

Stand-up comedy is probably the most difficult form of humor. It takes a lot of guts to go out night after night to  different audiences and get them to laugh at your jokes. Not only does the comic have to wind up the audience and get it going but the laughs have to come thick and fast. It is not enough to be funny. The stand-up has to be quick to gauge the mood of the audience, get it to start laughing and be prepared to deal with wiseguy hecklers of whom there are always a few.It must be the most horrible feeling to stand in front of a mike and have your jokes fall flat. Under the best of circumstances, it is hellishly difficult to get the audience to laugh and to attempt to do so in India…. well, it takes a very brave man to do it. Best of luck, guys !!

One problem is that Indians are by nature very serious and are somewhat inhibited , unused to laughing out loudly. In general, they LOL only in their e-mails , not in real life.They have a different sense of humor and are relatively new to stand up comedy.Only lately have there been Indian TV shows like “Comedy Circus” that are devoted purely to comedy. Seeing such shows one gets the impression that much of Indian comedy is either of the slapstick variety or mere mimicry. The jokes are either recycled chestnuts or are painfully unfunny. There is precious little original material and much of it is forgettable. One other problem is that Indian audiences are not accustomed to laughing out loudly when they hear something funny . They are afraid of being disruptive or impolite. This can be a major problem since stand up comedians feed off their audience ; without a steady drumbeat of laughs, stand-up  routines lose steam and fall flat.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression with my comments about the state of Indian comedy. There are several Indian -American comedians who are making a good living in the US and I have listened to a few of them, either live or on TV. Perhaps the best known of them is Russel Peters who can be very funny though there is a mean streak to his humor. I have also listened to Dan Nainan, the son of a Keralite Father and Japanese mother,who gave up a career in IT to become a stand-up, and Vidur Kapoor, a  gay Manhattan based comic , much of whose humor has to do with his upbringing and his orientation. During  his live performance, Nainan was handicapped by a poor sound system and was not particularly impressive. However, I later saw him on Comedy Central and he was fabulous, original and clever and very funny. Another Indian -American comic who is getting rave reviews is Viji Nathan , a woman now  in her forties , who performs all over the country.There are a number of others on the comedy circuit which goes to show that no longer are Indians just doctors or lawyers or IT professionals. In fact I know one successful doctor who bemoans the fact that he was not able to pursue a career in comedy. He has to content himself   with performing his jokes at his friends’ parties.

Stand up comedy was born in America and many of it’s foremost practitioners were the Jewish comedians who used to perform in the Catskills resorts. They were a step up from the baggy pants comedians who used to perform in burlesque revues. Their humor was more cerebral though it was often just as racy. Who can forget Henny Youngman , Milton Berle, Jack Benny and Bob Hope and , more recently, Robin Williams and Steve Martin. From America , stand-up comedy has made the jump overseas to Britain and Australia and other foreign climes largely due to the efforts of people like Don Ward. Audiences there have learned to love stand-up and I think Indian audiences will too…. once they get used to a different type of humor than they have been accustomed to.

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Ireland has a relatively low national debt but with the 2009 deficit projected at about 10% of it’s GDP, there will be some tough times ahead.Consequently, the financial regulator for Ireland has some tips for it’s citizens on how to survive the recession. Here are some of them which he estimates could result in savings of about $ 4,000 a year:

Bring your lunch from home.

Cut back on the little luxuries. Skip the latte.

Buy fewer magazines.

Don’t take on more debt.

Shop around for cheaper insurance.

Nothing earth shaking .Stuff that we have definitely heard before  here in the US. However, the fact that he needed to repeat these tips must mean that we haven’t subscribed to it in the past.

For whatever reason, the idea of saving for the future is an idea foreign to many of us. Nationally the savings rate has been steadily declining until it bottomed out at less than 1% . Compare with 10% plus in Japan. With blue collar workers in non-unionized jobs ,savings may be out of the question as all the income is needed just to survive but many of the more affluent seem to spend with no thought for the morrow. The prevalent attitude seems to be : “I want it and I want it now.”

I am reminded of an experiment carried out with a group of second graders. Theywere given a choice: One piece of candy now OR two pieces if  you wait twenty minutes. Two-thirds of the youngsters decided that they couldn’t wait even for twenty minutes and opted to have one piece of candy immediately. This need for instant gratification seems to have become ingrained in our society and many of us live to the limit of our incomes. Admittedly, much of this is due to aggressive advertising  and the easy availability of credit. One New York man is a poster boy for this attitude to spending and life. He has an income of $ 80, 000 / year , three children, credit card debt of around $ 40,000 and is in danger of losing his house to foreclosure since he is several months behind on his mortgage payments.

Not eveyone is like that. My role model is a former colleague whom I will call ” Hank”. Hank always used to brown bag his lunch every day though, once a fortnight,he would treat himself to an inexpensive  lunch in Chinatown. No fancy chai or latte from Starbucks for Hank. Each morning  he would get a teabag from home and use an immersion heater to make himself a cup of tea . He lived in the same house for 26 yearsuntil he retired and moved to Florida. He and his wife would stick with their cars as long as they could. They drove sensible , reliable cars with and always took good care of them. Even though he never earned more than $ 50,000 a year and his wife earned about half as much, they were both able to retire early . Now both  past 80, they live the good life in Florida doing the things they want to do and with a nest egg of several million.

A few years ago,there was a best selling book called ” The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas J. Stanley andWilliam D. Danko  that described people who have become wealthy by practicing many of the things that Hank did. …. watching their expenses, staying away from flashy cars and frequent upgrades to their house, and staying married.When I was reading the book it seemed to me that the authors were describing Hank. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend that you do. If I had my way , I would make it required reading for all high schoolers . In fact , I would like to see a mandatory course on ” How to Manage your Finances” for ninth or tenth graders. It would teach them about things like how much they  need to live on, taxes, saving, insurance, the cost of maintaining a car, home mortgages , how to save and invest etc. It’s  badly needed knowledge since , at present, students get exactly the wrong ideas from their free-spending parents. These youngsters are the future and it is important that they have the right idea about how to save and be financially independent.

With the onset of the recession, people seem to be changing their spending habits, however slowly. The national savings rate has ” climbed ” to 3%. A modest increase but at least we seem to headed in the right direction. I do hope the trend continues and that we don’t revert to our spendthrift ways. I well remember how , when gas prices went to $ 4 per gallon, the public started moving to smaller , fuel -efficient cars only to reverse themselves as soon as gas prices fell.

A final thought: The rich plan three generations ahead ; the poor plan for Saturday night.” I don’t remember who said it but it is a memorable line and has a lot of truth in it. Think about it.

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India in NZ: The third and final test is just over and I’m glad that it ended in a draw. This may sound odd coming from an Indian supporter but I felt a) A gallant , outgunned NZ side deserved some reward for the stout fight they put up and for the exemplary sportsmanship they displayed throughout the series and b) India did not try hard enough to win .

 What a contrast between the New Zealanders and Ponting’s Aussies!  NZ tried hard and ,even though they lost both the ODI’s and the Test series, they still retained their poise. This is a young side and I wish them all success in the future.  As for India , Dhoni did all the right things except at the tailend of India’s second innings. After Yuvraj Singh departed, I thought Dhoni would go for some quick runs , set NZ as large a target as possible and declare ASAP. Instead, he dithered for an axtra 30-45 minutes during which his strike rate actually went down.It was well-known that rain had been forecast on the fifth day and I thought Dhoni should have kept this in mind and given his bowlers enough time to bowl out NZ. Dhoni has been an exceptional captain espescially in the ODI’s and T-20 matches but , in the Tests, he often seems playing “not to lose” rather than to win.  He was not always thus.Perhaps this  is a reaction to the expectations of the fickle Indian public and press which treats every loss as a disaster.

Though India won both the ODI series and the Tests, the achievement was somewhat tarnished by the docility of the pitches. Surprisingly, the pitches were placid featherbeds that posed few challenges to the Indian batsmen, accustomed as they were to such pitches back home. Consequently, the team still has questionmarks .For instance,how good are our batsmen on fast, bouncy pitches like the ones in South Africa or Australia ?  We still don’t know. What was proven was that Yuvraj , even at this stage in his career, is just not a Test batsman. He’s fine for the ODIs and he’s formidable in the Twenty20 format but he just doesn’t have either the footwork or the technique against spinners to be consistently successful at the Test level. Sachin, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman performed well but ,once again, it was against a mediocre attack  in friendly conditions.I’m very glad that Rahul Dravid got the record for the Most Catches ( career) and I hope it nudges him into retirement. For a couple of years now, his form has been on the decline. Even when he scores a fifty or a hundred, he doesn’t play too many attacking strokes and his strike rate is abysmal.  On the other hand the Indian pacemen , espescially Zaheer Kan, performed heroically. Munaf Patel, who still looks lackadaisical, provided valuable support at the other end though I expected a bit more from Ishant Sharma. Harbhajan far exceeded my expectations as the #1 and only spinner in the side. I wish though that ,once the ODI series was decided that the reserves had been given a chance. It would have given them experience and encouragement and we ‘d have found out what they’re capable of. As it was, Ojha,Balaji and Dhawal Kulkarni did not get a sniff and we don’t know how good they are. What we do know is that Dinesh Kartik is not a keeper; time to try someone else. Parthiv Patel ? Wriddiman Saha?

Dhoni, Sehwag and the captaincy.  Dhoni, Graeme Smith and Ponting ( in no particular order) are the three best captains in the world and it is no surprise that their teams are at the top of the table. Captaining a cricket team is a lot more demanding than being a team captain in any other sport. In soccer, volleyball, US football or other sports most of the decisions are made on the sidelines and the overall boss is the team manager or coach, not the captain. Not so in cricket where the player-captain has to make all the decisions in the field. He may have  the benefit of the manager’s and coaches experience when it comes to decisions like whether to bat first or when to declare  the innings but when it comes to things like field placements and bowling changes he is on his own. Dhoni has a remarkably cool head on his shoulders, commands the respect of his players, makes all the right decisions and seems to know exactly what is to be done in a given situation. He is a cheerleader who gets the best out of his men. He is not afraid to take chances and it helps that they almost always seem to pan out. He is the one indispensible man on the team, a  fact that became apparent when he was sidelined by injury and Virender Sehwag captained the side for the Second Test. What a disaster ! The team just wasn’t the same and we were lucky to escape with a draw. The only positive about the match was that the players, for once, did not throw in the towel when placed in a difficult position. They showed considerable backbone in battling to a draw from what appeared to be a certain loss with a day and a half to go. Even here Sehwag ‘s performance as a batsman was reprehensible ;more sobecause he was the acting captain nand should have set an  example. In the first innings, facing a 600+ total, he batted as if it was a Twenty20 match and threw his wicket away. He repeated that performance in the second inning when India were following on and batting to save the match. His field placings, bowling changes and man management have been roundly criticised by sportswriters and I won’t say any more about them. What this one test proved is that Sehwag is not fit to be a vice-captain, let alone a captain. The trouble is that there is hardly anyone else in the side that could step into Dhoni’s shoes in a pinch. Tendulkar and Dravid ? Been there , done that, don’t want to any more. Laxman and Harbhajan don’t have the temperament. Zaheer Khan and the other pacemen get injured from time to time and can’t be relied on. Other than Gautam Gambhir, there is no one else whose place in the side is assured . One more reason for some of the seniors to retire/be eased out so that we can get in some new blood and groom the next captain. As it is , if M.S. Dhoni is injured, we are sunk.

There has been a lot of criticism about Sehwag’s irresponsible batting. At one time , he was somewhat more patient in his Test innings and that’s when he amassed his big scores. Now he seems to have reverted to the ‘old’ Sehwag ,determined to knock the stufing out of the ball, a la Afridi. It is tue that when he’s on song, he can be a matchwinner . However, he equally capable of throwing his wicket away . Has the time come perhaps to keep him for the ODIs and T20 and try someone else ,less spectacular but more reliable, in the Tests? I think so, particularly because Gautam Gambhir has developed into a genuine opener in all phases of the game, curbing his natural aggression and playing according to the needs of the situation. His spot seems to be setand we can afford to look for a proper partner for him.We keep hearing about the wealth of talent in India ; why not give someone  among them a chance ? Virat Kohli ? M.Vijay?

Australia- SA ODI series. Anyone out there want to hazard a guess as to the winner ? The Aussies won the first match without breaking a sweat and South Africa returned the favor in the second. I’m rooting for South Africa but , no matter who wins, this is one humdinger of a series. It looks as though reports of the Aussies decline were greatly exaggerated. They look as strong as ever and Symonds , Shane Watson and Lee are waiting to come back in and make them even stronger.What gets me is the seemingly inexhaustible supply of talent they seem to have. South Africa too; this Wayne Parnell seems like a real find. I note that Parnell made his debut in the U-19 World Championship just a couple of years ago and is already making his presence felt at the senior level.  The Indian juniors won that championship and we have nobody ?

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 A recent article in  BBC News listed the favorite foods of several centenarians.There were some  odd responses. You would think that living to the 100 and beyond would necessitate a “healthy ‘, even a spartan ,diet. Not so. For instance, Britain’s oldest living woman, Florence Baldwin, still going strong at 113 ,is partial to a fried egg sandwich every day.

Here are some of the other responses ( * indicates that the person is still living) :

Hendricke van Andel-Schipper ( Netherlands 115 ) …Herring and a daily glass of orange juice.

Marian Amash ( Israeli Arab, 120*) … Lots of vegetables.

Mitoyo Kawate ( Japan,114)…Custard cakes . Custard cakes ?!!

Lucy D’Abreu ( Scotland, 113)…A brandy and ginger ale every evening .

Hryhoriy Nestor ( Ukraine 100+) … Sausage in  a bread roll.

Ada Mason( Britain, 111)… Bread and dripping.

Annie Knight (Scotland,111)… Porridge.

Yukichi Chuganji ( Japan, 114*)… Boiled rice and Chicken. Hates vegetables.

Sakhan Dosova( Kazakhstan, 130? *) … Cottage cheese, no sweets.

Maria Esther de Capovilla ( Ecuador,116) Donkey milk .

Some of these food choices are known to be good for you ( vegetables, porridge, herring,orange juices ) while others are anything but ( Custard cakes, dripping ,sausages).Any dietitian worth her salt would throw up her hands at the foods from the second group. How then can we explain their presence in the regular diets of these centenarians?

Perhaps one reader hit the nail on the head when he responded that these foods did not prove harmful because they were eaten in small quantities and regularly.This made a lot of sense to me particularly when I remembered the diet of Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, a Japanese physician going strong at 97+ . Every day for breakfast he had coffee, toast, and orange juice with a teaspoon of olive oil. Lunch , when he had time for it, was milk and cookies… or nothing. Dinner was veggies,rice and a bit of fish  and ,twice a week, 100 grams of lean meat. The good doctor’s diet doesn’t seem like fun.He doesn’t appear to be fond of  food , as these people do.

Another thing to remember is that diet is only one of several factors affecting health and longevity.Genes/heredity, mental stress, and exercise habits are some of the others. Ultimately, it is upto each of us to make our own choices in each area of life .

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Just like last year,  there are three top candidates for MVP. Last year , it was Kobe Bryant , Chris Paul and Lebron James.This year, Chris Paul has fallen off a little and Dwight Howard is not quite up there ; D-Wade, Kobe and LeBron are the pick of the field. An argument can be made for any of the three since there is so little to separate them. D-Wade has perhaps the weakest supporting cast and a rookie head coach guiding the team. Besides the Miami roster has been in a state of flux with several major changes since the beginning of the season.Through it all, D-Wade has been the sparkplug scoring at will, getting an impressive number of rebounds , playing tight defense and having some monster games as he has led the Heat into the playoffs and a probable #5 seed . Kobe occasionally tries to do too much but he has been getting his team mates more involved in the game, doing whatever is necessary for the Lakers to win. He no longer plays every night with abandon as D-Wade does because he is mature enough to realise that as he gets older he cannot make the same demands on his body as he could a few years earlier. LeBron is LeBron . He does everything – score, rebound and pass – and that is reflected in the number of triple doubles he has. Even his defense has improved .

Shane Battier of the Rockets remarked that  the three are so close that the  MVP should probably go to the one whose team has the best regular season record. At the time of writing, that would be LBJ since the Cavaliers have a slim one game lead over the Lakers with six games remaining. Fair or unfair,that I think is how most voters will make their choice ,unfortunately for D-Wade.Both the Cavaliers and Lakers have two tough games in the remaining six. Should they be have identical records at the end of the regular season, the Lakers would get the home court advantage since they won the regular season series with the Cavaliers 2-0.

As a Laker fan, I am naturally biased in favor of Kobe. True , he has the better supporting cast but , on the other hand, the Western Conference has by far the better teams top to bottom . If one considers the quality of the opposition, acheiving the same Won-Lost record in the West is more creditable than in the East. Still, people will vote the way they feel and not always according to logic. Kobe will , I’m sure, lose some votes because a) he won lost year and b) because of his off-the court problems of a few years ago. Lebron I think will win the MVP this year and I don’t really care as long as the Lakers win the NBA title…. something I think will happen only if Andrew Bynum returns at something close to full strength.

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I was feeling pretty good about my predictions after the second round since I’d picked 13 correctly out of a possible 16. What followed was a disaster as I only managed to pick one Final Four team correctly ( North Carolina) .The other three picks ( Duke, Louisvlle and Memphis) all flamed out, two of them failing to make it to Elite Eight. President Obama did just as badly since he had picked Louisville, Pittsburgh and Memphis in addition to North Carolina. The only difference is that he had North Carolina winning it all while I had them losing in the final to Memphis.

My biggest mistake was in discounting the Big East Conference, three of whose teams had been seeded # 1 . Even though I went to West Virginia and even though I knew more about this conference than any other, I have this  lingering awe of the ACC . North Carolina and Duke have been perennial powerhouses and I thought that they were shoo-ins for the Final Four. UNC fulfilled expectaions but I couldn’t believe how thoroughly Villanova outclassed Duke. Nothing that Coach K did seemed to work and Duke must have been relieved when the final buzzer sounded and it was all over. Villanova’s victory over Pittsburgh can’t be classified as that much of an upset since it was close ; besides, it was a repeat of the regular season meeting between the two teams. I’m thoroughly impressed with Villanova, a very well coached team that plays tough.

For me , the other big surprise was Louisville losing to Michigan State. Louisville had appeared a complete team as they won the Big East Championship and I didn’t think Michigan Stae would be able to dethrone them … mostly because I didn’t know much about Michigan State.Connecticut looked formidable as they disposed of Missouri ( which had earlier upset my pick to win it all, Memphis) and they have a good big man in the middle in Thabeet.

Having done so badly with my picks, I don’t feel right about choosing a winner. I will however be rooting for Villanova because I like the team, not that I feel they are the best team left . I hope this isn’t the kiss of death !

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