Sigh Fie, Chen High, episode 3: A day in the life

Aadi 28, 3672

The Studio

7.30 am. tHTV (The Hindu TV), Mount Road.

ENROM kept itself busy, as work was rather light. It spent its spare CPU cycles detecting and documenting all the in-jokes in movies like MMKR and Kaadhala Kaadhala, to see if there was any credence to Mohan’s Law, which stated that any repeated viewing of a Crazy Mohan scripted movie will reveal N new jokes where N is an integer > 0.

Back in 3674 AD, when Wolfram Omicron finally passed the GQHMT test, every one wanted one. The Hindu TV channel named its new computing beast, ENROM. Once it arrived, it became obvious that managers and senior editors were obsolete. All one had to do was ask ENROM to make editorial or broadcasting decisions, and more often than not, it did a pretty good job (and when it did not, at least it didn’t try to cover its rear cooling vents and blame others)

“So ENROM, Situation 1 – we have 8 people dead from a very cool sounding, new virus called H1B1. It is a neural degenerative disease that causes people to stand in long lines under the hot sun outside the US consulate, just to be humiliated by a consular officer who tosses a coin underneath his table to decide whether or not to allow a human being access to a part of the world bounded by artificial lines called national boundaries.

“8 dead, and 5000 potentially infected as we speak.

“And situation 2 – 1000s are dying daily from drug resistant TB. By the 37th century, TB is not just drug resistant, but diagnosis-resistant.

“And situation 3 – Oh well, the usual stuff. Farmers committing suicide because Air Monsoon Inc, the rainwater irrigation company declined to deliver water to farmers who were not creditworthy.

“Tell us which story to run with.”

“Hmm. Go with 1. You see, news has to be fresh, it’s after all the plural of “new”. Dying farmers and TB is not news. It’s old hat, practically bowler, in fact.

“Thanks ENROM, good choice”

“And oh, one last thing – title your story “Death by Queue”, and feature dark ominous music in the background. Gustav Holst’s Mars: Bringer of War might be appropriate..”

The Club

11:00 am. T-Nagar quadrant

It was the day of the week when the Triskaideclub met at a ramshackle building that formerly housed the Hindi Prachaar Sabha in T-Nagar quadrant.
The Club of 13 was a group of Tamil people who could count in Hindi only till the number 13 because that’s as far as Madhuri Dixit gets to in the opening lines of her legendary hit, Ek Do Teen. Technically, she does get to 25 by the second stanza, but nobody remembers those lines anyway. Founded by a disgruntled linguist whose theory of language elegance was poo-poohed by the establishment, the Triskaideclub was seeing a upswing in interest in the recent past. Perhaps the re-re-release of the Ek Do Teen Re-Remix album had something to do with it

Manik Basha, the linguist in question, had, in his prime, introduced a new and controversial language elegance scale based on the number of unique words one had to learn in order to count from 0 to 100. An excerpt from his cult whitepaper –

“In Mandarin, one has to learn 12 words to count from 0 to 100 – Just the words for 0 through 10 and 100. All numbers in between use an elegant X * Y + Z formula, where for e.g, 45 would be represented as 4 (times) 10 (plus) 5 – Tsu Shu Wu

In Hindi, on the other hand, one has to learn almost 70 unique words to count till 100. For instance, 35 is Painthees, and 55 is Pachpan.

While Mandarin and Japanese were at the top of his leaderboard, Hindi was at the bottom because of its ridiculous system for numbers, and that was a problem with the university that employed him – the Advanced Metaphysical Institute for Trumpeting Hindi (AMITH), who fired him as soon as his white paper hit the front page of reddit (“Hindi sucks. Here’s proof (SFW)”)

He went on to found the Club of 13 as a 37th century equivalent of the Anti-Hindi movements of the mid-20th century, with one crucial difference. Unlike the  overly passionate and often illogical Dravidian ideologues who vehemently opposed the language back in the 1960s, members of the Club of 13 proudly displayed their utter disinterest in Hindi by refusing to learn Hindi numbers beyond 13. Thanks to Madhuri.

The Force

2.30 pm. Saidapet Hyperpolis

Back at the HQ of the Amit_123 Response and Interception Vanguard Unit (ARIVU), the alarms were beeping, and the boys were ready. What was it this time? A quality-of-chappathi complaint? A snide comment on the adipose excess in Tamil heroes? The squad typically beamed over to the scene of the crime and politely, but firmly explained to the guilty parties that ARIVU will not tolerate that sort of nonsense anymore.

But this time, something was different. The complaint read that the perp had claimed in public earshot that the Thirukkural was actually written by Rabindranath Tagore, but he chose to create a fictional character called Thiruvalluvar (with similar looks though) because of a concern for local cultural sensitivities.

This was different. This was an Omit_123 problem.

The Joke

6.45 pm. South Mada Hyperavenue Comedy Club

The stand-up comic sipped on his pansolaric coffeeblaster. If there was any nervousness, it was no where to be seen. This was a tough audience, they said. All of them social media empaths, with brains directly wired to the web, rss feeds of detailed show reviews emanating directly from the amygdala, opinions posted instantly on twitter with #(comicname)sux or #(comicname)rox tags. You crack this audience, you go viral, they told him.

It was almost time. He walked out on to the stage, to complete silence, just a smattering of tweets and facebook statuses emanating from the real hardcore blink reviewers, the ones who formed opinions at first sight. He took a deep breath and asked – “Did you guys know that geeky girls like mounting hard disks?”

There was a deep booming sound, as a large aquatic mammal held afloat by small birds wafted ( much as large aquatic mammals into the room. The Fail Whale looked him straight in the eye..well..about as much as whales can look a human straight in the eye. You see, they have eyes on the sides, but it did not really matter. When a whale wants you to think that it is looking you straight in the eye, you think it. End of matter. One does not mess with whales, especially not the Fail Whale.

“Mr Sankaranarayanan, is this your first gig?”

“Um. Yes. Is this about my opening joke?”

“Hmm. Yes. Joke, you say. Ok. Let’s christen that a joke, just for the moment, but I have to ask you this. Do you know what happens when elephants sneeze?”

“Um. Other elephants say ‘Bless you’?”

“No. when Elephants sneeze, little birds get alliteratively F-ed. First they get flustered, then they flutter, then fret, and finally fumble”

“Ah. ok, and your point being..”

“When you crack great jokes…”

“Ah Dhang you”

“Or cosmically atrocious ones like the one you just did..”


“These social media empaths go wild, and generate the equivalent of a consignment of elephant snot, to be expelled from the end of a trunk. They tweet (or is it really trumpet?) like crazy, and bring Twitter (and me) down”


“You see. Twitter is a little bird, not a reptile. It does not scale very well”

The Rap

10.00 pm. Thalappakattu Club, Santhome

The distinctly low-fi female voice was staccato, interspersed with pulse tones, but the smooth overlay of trance-inducing ambient synthesizers and syncopated trip-hop beats formed a unique counterpoint to the vocals. 10 DJs stood in a line, with mobile phone in one hand and operating DJ gear with the other. Some were dialing 121, others ICICI Bank’s customer care, and others BSNL, and so on. Their fingers were blurred as they pressed numbers of their keypad with practised ease and speed.

IVR Rap was the hottest new genre of music in town. The idea was to dial different Customer care/IVR systems and navigate rapidly to specific menus and parallelly slicing the options spoken into meaningful, often dark and ironic verse. And all of this had to be done live. Typically, it took at least 10 DJs, each one dialing different numbers, eliciting different menu options, and then editing the voice responses live, pausing, cutting, and overlaying that with synth and beats.

Press 1, Please press 1, Press 2, Please press 2
We value, value, we value, value, we value, your time
For new products, and outstanding amounts
Menu options have changed, welcome to the bill

The chorus went –

Any time, your estimated wait time is 5
press 9 to speak to a rep, good bye, good bye