Wah, Ustaad Wah!

About the Author: “Mr K. C. Verma is a close friend, author of  “Stories I wouldn’t tell my mother” and ex-chief of R&AW.

I don’t know what to call myself, but some name like Malter Witty might be appropriate. You see, I have a serious mental affliction. Whenever I am struck by the neatness or simplicity of a solution, I enter into a Walter Mitty like trance. And it is not necessary that the solutions are only of big problems.

Why, just last winter I was at this important conference in Washington and I noticed that the name plates of every speaker were the ordinary printed card, folded in the usual tent shape so that the name is displayed on both sides. But one corner of every name card was pinched into a pleat. I was puzzled why this had been done and quite missed the proceedings of the conference till the lunch hour. And then it struck me! Of course! They had been tweaked in that manner to prevent the folded card from slumping flat on the table! I don’t know how many conferences I have attended where the name cards sink to lie flat on the tables like exhausted gladiators. But just fold one corner of the card and voila; the tent stays upright! I was marveling at this simple and elegant solution when I realized that the Chairman was saying something to me. Apparently he had already asked me three times to speak. So I missed my turn.

I wonder if it happens to others; but I keep rediscovering the wonders of human genius. Like the first time I saw the word “ƎƆИA⅃UᙠMA” written as a mirror image on an ambulance. I thought the painter had imbibed a bit too much and placed the stencil the wrong way round. In fact I complained about this to the paramedic who was in the ambulance. He must have had a lot of experience with patients, because he heard me patiently and equally patiently explained that the reason was that vehicles in front could easily read the word AMBULANCE in their rear view mirrors. I was flabbergasted! How clever! I wouldn’t have thought of it. Ever!

Another day, I was walking along the road when it struck me as odd that sewer manholes and their covers were round in shape. Why not square? Or rectangular? Or even triangular? Okay, maybe not triangular because such covers would be difficult to pack; but a square or rectangular shape would save much in manufacturing and transport costs.

The round shape was so inconvenient. Difficult to manufacture; awkward to transport!  The person who decided on the round shape must indeed have been stupid! Then I saw some municipal workers sliding a cover onto a manhole. Of course! A cover of any other shape could fall right in! The guy who thought of making manholes round in shape must have been a genius!

As I stood there in the middle of the road, admiring the idea of the round shape, I almost got run over by a bus!

The exact opposite of the round manhole is the ubiquitous SIM card that we all insert in the assigned slot in the cell phone. Had it been square, with no clipped corner, it could have been inserted in seven wrong ways. Even with one clipped corner, it could still have been inserted in two ways, one obviously wrong. But a rectangular shape with one clipped corner ensures that even the most intellectually challenged person is able to slide the SIM card correctly into the assigned slot. So ingenious!

There are other masterly solutions – small and big – that make me marvel at their elegance.  I cannot but say ‘Bravo!’ when I see the slight angle of a spanner or run my fingers along an imperceptible rim on a shelf that prevents bottles from slipping off. Ribs on a razor handle for a better grip! I was wonderstruck when I heard for the first time that water is used as a lubricant in pipes transporting crude oil. I could not but applaud the intricate reflector in the tail lamp of a car. Have you ever paused to admire the convenience of a magnetized screwdriver head? Two-sided sticky tape? Absolutely brilliant!

Simple, elegant solutions! Solutions that I would have never thought of!

Wah Ustaad! Wah!

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