Thursday, August 28, 2008

Well, what did you expect?



i have come to the painful conclusion that ours is a nation of forbidding expectations when it comes to our personal lives, but of zero expectations when it comes to governance as we continue to crib and crib about all that's wrong with our great Republic, even as we take great pride in being staunchly proud, who-the-hell-wants-to-vote denizens of this great civilization. i say denizens, not citizens, for even as we continue to burden the system with our physical presence, our spirits reside elsewhere, most of us dreaming of the Great Escape.

back to expectations. check out any matrimonial ad and you will be hit by your marriage-material inadequacy as reflected in the long list of wanna this and wanna that, by all sorts of wannabes looking for that perfect mate.

it don't matter if the purported White Knight aka prospective groom is a dark as night former Kendriya Vidyalaya kabaddi centre forward, or a chocolatey, pink-lipped, gel haired Panjoo boy struggling as a salesman on Daddyji's pocket money, or the tied-to-mommy's-petticoat strings family man holding an MBA (Master of Banal Allocutions) correspondence degree from Rattanpur, he still wants the standard fare: "convented" (what the HELL is that anyway?), "fair" (could they mean like a referee with a perfect record of unbiased decisions? hah!), "b'ful" (boxfull? bashful? bountiful? ahh... beautiful!), AND "homely" girl, of just the right physical dimensions.

as for the girls, its simple: most of us gaze intently at the glossy cover of our favourite Mills and Boon, desperately willing the roguish brute to step out of its pages. alas! this is real-life and its back to choosing the lesser evil from the above-mentioned "catches". we all want more, so we continue to look beyond the ads column and some of us are lucky enough to find "the" man from among the boys. and if we don't, we crib some more, dream some more - always being very specific about what it is that we're looking for.

in fact i remember a time when one of my friends' moms asked a group of us (all single at that time, years ago) what exactly we were looking for in a perfect partner. after taking turns listening to us as we rattled off all the desired attributes of this "husband-material" type (it took us all through lunch and dessert to get to the bottom of it all, with some continuing over coffee!), she shook her head at us with a combination of shock and bemused exasperation and remarked : "tuade nakhre taa khota vi nahin chuk sakda!" (Even a donkey cannot bear the burden of your tantrums/expectations!).

luckily for us, and perhaps unluckily for them, we all managed to find husbands, and got hitched, after periodic intervals following the historic dining table conversation. what we all realised that in a marriage you must periodically reverse roles (the master and the donkey) to balance these high expectations.

Well most have survived, even flourished. I did not. But then that's another story for another day...!

my question is that even as most of us fail to budge or compromise as far as our personal lives are concerned, why do we prostrate ourselves at the altar of expectations, in abject dejection, when faced with bigger national problems affecting the quality of our lives? in my experience, we mostly react like this:

  • on a newly constructed road: "Arrey, abhi dekhna, baarish aayegi aur sadak khatam!" (Just you wait, one downpour, and that will be the end of the road!)
  • on a 'clean' politician (oxymoron? see, i knew you'd say that!): "Yeh to zyada din tikne wala nahin hai!" (He won't survive for long!)
  • on a day without a power cut : "Kyon bhai, koi bada saheb sheher ka daura karne mein aaye hai lagta hai!" (I wonder if some big shot government-type is here on a visit!)
  • on a project being completed before time (even on time is surprising here): "Suna hai Japani engineers ko contract diya tha banwanae ke liye!" (I've heard the contract was given to some Japanese engineers!)
  • on our team winning a cricket match: oh, nothing here, we're just really excited when they win sometimes :)
  • up until a day before our first individual gold in Olympics : "Pata nahin hum itna bada contingent bhejte kyon hain, jab ek bhi medal to kabhi mila nahin!" (Why do we send such a large Indian contingent when we have never won a medal!)
and finally:

  • on Aishwarya Rai marrying Abhishek Bachchan: "Suna hai woh gay hai aur pata nahin kyon usne shaadi ke liye haan kar di?" (I've heard he's gay and wonder why she agreed to marry him?) ooops!!! sorry! that was just most of my male friends/colleagues/family-members and all other Indian men, married or single, from the ages of 10 to 90 talking, while trying to plug the gaping hole in their hearts with comfort food that was just really a big bowl of sour grapes!
well, what did i just say about scary personal expectations? now, only if John Abraham was really seeking some "inner" beauty!! sigh....

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Homemade marmalade anyone?


yesterday, while a colleague and i were struggling to wrap things up for the day, we were startled out of our work-trance by a man who was, you will NEVER believe it, selling aam papad and churan! yes, smack dab in the heart of this great establishment, the hallowed portals of which are guarded against intruders by smart card entry-points, important looking securitymen and the forbiddingly brooding hangdog expressions that accompany most journos (FYI: since i'm a wannabe scribe, it don't apply to moi, and i manage to look charming, starry-eyed and altogether lovely, thank you!), my first thought was, how did the poor bugger get in?

so he asked us if we wanted to buy any of his premium homemade concoctions, from a huge bag, the mere sighting of which would've spurred most American offices to declare an istant code orange, or whatever suitably alarming colour is the Dept. of Homeland Securty's fave these days. aghast, i imagined myself in a dusty sarkari office in Bapu Chowk (there must be someplace in every city that's called that), where such an intrusion might be the highlight of one's day. but here, sitting in a semblance of corporate plush, my finer sensibilities were somewhat short-circuited.

now, i have nothing against flatulence-inducing tid-bits, and enjoy the odd anardana bombs that some colleagues chew all day (a revered indian post-meal tradition, mind you), absolutely love to hungrily wolf down all forms of Indian street food, and am a sucker for good bargains out of the bag. but having a jholawala salesman come up to my workstation to offer me gastronomical delights is a bit much to digest, won't you say?

so, we politely said no, thanks and the man moved on to entice someone with far better taste, i guess. upon which we mutely exchanged puzzled, semi-horrified glances and got on with the insipid tying-the-loose-ends routine of a not-at-all-insipid job. (and this ain't a pitch for a raise since the boss ain't on my mailing list!)

but, in retrospect, in this day and age when door-to-door selling is fast giving way to desktop-to-tabletop ordering in and mean looking coffee-machines spewing large lattes to go, i thought about this cute little tradition of peddling home made wares and felt a bit guilty about ditching my small-town persona (of the little girl who simply waited all week for the malai kulfi guy to come ringing his bell in the summers - most AWESOME treat ever!), in favour of the Delhiite's corporate starchiness, and felt kinda' bad that i didn't peek inside that bag.

let's just hope he got a few hits to make another pitch sometime soon. this time i'll be waiting with a few scrunched up notes from my pocket money :)

Hats off for a hero


It seems that not only are our politicians getting on the wrong side of historical facts, as far as Bhagat Singh is concerned, they have managed to get on the wrong side of style too. Miffed at being un-consulted by the government, the martyr’s family have got their knickers in a twist over his ‘look’ in a recently unveiled statue in Parliament. The look, apparently, is off by more than a mere whisker.

While de-Westernising his attire in favour of the respectable kurta pyjama, a hot favourite of our netas, the sculptors have generously mis-proportioned the firebrand to look too chubby for his family’s comfort. And they’re twirling their moustaches down in annoyance over the upturned tilt of his, which, evidently, doesn’t quite gel with his traditional Indian look.

Historians, too, are unhappy with the image, which seems to have been conjured out of a hat, depriving the freedom fighter of the European one he wore in the years before he was hanged. Also been found hair-raising is the abundance of fuzz on his face and the length of his locks, which he had shed along with all religious symbols including the turban adorning his head in the statue. History has been unkind to statues, generally the first casualty at the turn of every era. Let’s hope the row over a mere idol doesn’t overshadow the message of the man whose image we’re fighting over.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ennui


empty verses have no voice...
as for me, i'm waiting for something.

that reminds me....

there was this girl,
who was working all saturday

and then she went home
just to wake up on sunday.

and another one....

there was this guy
who wanted to be hip
so he changed into a girl
and started waxing his upper lip.

and now i can't stop...!

there were these people
who wanted a smokin' new caper
so they hired some hot stuff
and so you have this newspaper
so here we sit
yawning over tomorrow's news
while all this time
the world's havin' a snooze

ok, gotta go.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Taken as given


we all live with presumptions, none more potent than the ones we try and super-impose on our ideal-turned-reality of the perfect mate/spouse/soul-mate/better-half (really?).

in presuming that we are saving the other from a solitary fate, we are all too eager to set about restoring the lost balance in their lives. some people, in their rush to 'give all', take away the most important thing that truly made them fall in love with "the one": their spirit.

consider the words that most men and women choose as their silent (and sometimes ever too vocal) vows, before they are entangled in all too (un)holy matrimony.
the man's might go something like this:

"dress no longer in off-the-rack rags, and fear no more the dragon boss, m'lady, for, from this day hence , i shall be thy sole provider of riches, thy slayer of dishy dragons, the protector of thy virtue, and gatekeeper to thy soul, so that thy pure aura may never be sullied by the vile invasion of financial independence, the joy of employment and burning ambition. fear not the empty minutes, for i shall fill them with exalted household chores and vacuous pleasures worthy of the mistress of my heart and hearth."

the women, never to be left behind, might pledge the following:

" fear not, m'lord, i know thou shalt not lose focus on my welfare, for i shall gouge your eyes out if you make eyes at another, flood thy refusals with the rivers of my mascara'd tears, keep you fit and healthy by making you sweat to earn every penny that you squander on my upkeep, chase away the dewy-eyed damsels of your drunken dreams, slay the myriad pleasures of your bachelorhood, complete every thought you didn't even know you had and never leave your side long enough for you to have second thoughts."

ahhhh.. i know i am the reigning Queen of Hyperbole, or am i?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A nation on song



India needs a new anthem. no,no, of course i don't mean that we need to replace the great Jan Gan Man (still my fave tune in the whole wide world - there's something to be said for patriotic fervour!) i mean that other anthem that's been burning the airwaves for a while and is fast heading towards burnout - the title track of Chak de India!

i watched with fascination as about 150 of my colleagues stood in unison to cheer on the dishy Indian boxer, Vijender Singh, as he knocked a tired-looking man out, to reserve the bronze, if not the big G.O.L.D (or, Goddamned Olympics' Lame Ducks aka India) medal.... though none of us girls really knew what was going on, especially why the two men kept hugging each other in a very suspiciously gay fashion (eat that, Article 377!), we cheered when the men did. there was a thumping of desks, blasts of fervent clapping, cries of "start filing that copy..." etc etc etc.

but seriously, what is it with men and contact sports? or just plain contact? to my utter consternation, there is this one colleague who sort of slapped me on the back when i made a (squeaky clean) joke the other day, only to realise that my withering (or cock-eyed, depending on where you were standing) look did mean that i was trying to decide which kitchen knife to plunge into his neck when he next attempted the infuriatingly testosterone-induced gesture. he hasn't tried it since, but once was enough. eew! anyway, there was more hugging than punching and i find it hard to fathom why two sweaty men would want to repeatedly touch and hug each other with a million people cheering them on?

all to the tune of chak de oh chak de india on the haazar news channels...... i mean, now that we have medal winners coming out of the woodwork( two definite bronzes today, with scope 'n' hope for more), isn't it time for some new patriotic songwriters to stand up? oh, standing up reminds me: without demeaning the fervour and the occasion, i still chuckle at the memory of my friends and family, happily tipsy on our Independence Day party, forced to sing the REAL national anthem (THE Jan Gan Man), after two of us lustily broke out into the opening lines :)

thanks, you guys, for singin' with me my favorite song!

Chak de
... er..ummm ... i mean, Jai Hind!!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Are you being served?

what is the bloody matter with our hospitality industry? it seems to me that most of its minions are treading the thin line between extreme apathy towards the customer and downright stalking.

don't believe me? walk into any restaurant and you will meet two kinds of servers. for the statistical record, these two species make up about 99.653436 % of the fauna - the rest ( do the math, will ya!) belong to that near extinct species of "normal/ satisfactory" (and that once-in-a lifetime-GREAT) category and so are, well, extremely rare, as you might have (in)correctly tabulated. sightings are few and far between.

so, the first kind is obsequious to the point of resembling Lalita Pawar's bent-over Manthara from Mr Sagar's telly-Ramayana. faced with such colonial servitude, i often make it a point to switch to Hindi. why, you might ask? besides the fact that i find that this often puts them at instant ease, it also helps to dispel lingering doubts - just in case they are labouring under the misconception that i'm firang and expecting a larger-than-my-weekly-salary tip! i have found that this usually bores away the pretenders to the "customer-is God" throne. but, scarily enough, that leaves me with the real McCoy: the STALKER.

this specimen rushes to fill your glass every time you take a mini-sip (even if it is just to make over-the-rim eye contact with the hottie at the next table, a move that is effectively blocked out by the eager-beaver); jumps in with unsolicited information about the specials (our chef does a mean chilly chicken, madam!); or launches into a paean for the kind of grapes trampled into the house wine (usually the sullied Sula, the grovelling Grover or the revolting Riviera).

during the course of the meal, he keeps rushing over to serve you, like an over- enthusiastic Punjoo hostess, right up to the last babycorn from the misspelt, yet unpronounceable, recommendation that is really just a giant veggie cauldron of unrecognisable stuff; and continues to hover expectantly, as if ever-alert to help you complete even that naughty li'l thought you might have about the partially eclipsed hottie! frankly, by the end of the meal, when he comes up, for the umpteenth time, to ask me if he can get me anything else at all, i am all too ready to scream: "how about a restraining order, buddy? do you think you could manage to procure that in the amount of time it took you to get me a chilled beer?"

frankly, by the end of this extremely harrowing performance, i am already missing the snooty, apathetic, bored-since-i haven't seen-you-on-page-three, th(r)ong left behind by the fleeing British. for this is the second species, that exalted and exclusive set that epitomise 'fine dining' in our great nation. signs (not an exhaustive list) to know that you've hit the reigning hotspot include servers that:
  • don't give a damn if you get your menus (you tryin' to tell me you need a menu to order a bundle's worth of buttery lentils, chicken tika masala, assorted Indian bread and saffron rice, lady?);
  • keep pretending not to see you, as if you're the super-hot girl who laminated and prominently displayed their misspelt v-day card, for the world to see, in the fifth grade (for the record, i never did that. would've adored the vocab-challenged bugger! and nor was i super-hot);
  • silently damn you with the unmistakable arching of their supercilious brows for requesting 'regular' water over its sparkling or still bottled avatar and (horror of horrors!) to share a dish (never mind if you have just come from Mrs. Chadha's great-grandson's mundan and poolside chaat-party);
  • with relief writ large on their faces, place a long bill that includes a hefty service charge, well-knowing that you know, and also knowing that you know that they know that you ain't gonna pay a penny beyond the bottomline. hah! gotcha, cheapskate :)
  • to add a final insult to the injury, frown at your silver credit card. "don't believe in platinum, madam? oh, and would you like the giant half-eaten naan to go? for the mongrel at home, of course?"
that's it! i'm ordering in. that's a personal pan pizza, yes, just for one. no, i don't want the weekend jumbo special. what? you don't deliver under 500 Swiss francs? or over 200 metres? uh, well, thanks for nothing, pal!

hi, Ma! yeah, for how long do you boil those orange lentils to turn them into yellow dal?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chance pe dance


Got a flat tyre on your way to an important meeting? Most people would just curse, change it, curse some more and move on, after a few frantic calls to re-schedule. But heaven forbid if you’re a Russian diplomat called Yuri Popov. For, then, a flat tyre might just be the karmic blessing your country needs to go out and flatten a pesky neighbour.

If the British newspaper Sunday Telegraph is to be believed, it was this historic flat tyre that caused a Russian no-show at a crucial meeting, which punctured Georgian egos enough to launch a hasty offensive. So, while the world was busy watching the fireworks in Beijing, the eager Russians did what a hit Bollywood movie Jhankar Beats popularised as a “chance pe dance”, and unleashed some fireworks of their own. Just like the fate of the Roman Empire is believed to have been delicately balanced on the length of Cleopatra’s nose, the success or failure of many a military misadventure has hung on a delectable little thing called chance.

For chance is a dangerous thing. Ask the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. Gavrilo Princip, the sickly Serb high school drop-out, was only the last in a line-up of seven assassins – six of whom missed, who would ‘chance upon’ the royal couple, after they had missed a turn, and hastily shoot his way into history books as the man who possibly triggered World War I. Alas! Had they only hit a pothole and flattened a tyre, the world might have looked a lot different than it does today.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Smile and beer it


so, it finally hit me last night. i'm getting old. why, you ask, have i chosen to suddenly wake up to an ugly truth?

it's because my head's about to fall off after about 2 glasses of beer, that too, at my own party. TWO glasses! not bottles. not even mugs. no, not even two proper beer glasses (shudder!). but two measly, slim, harmless looking, benign water tumblers filled (not even to the brim. shame! shame!) with a Thai version of the divine liquid that are responsible for tumbling me throbbing-head first into a depression. all on account of undeniable proof of the shocking effects of aging on my capacity to shoot back the 'amateur' stuff. there! i said it. (oye, who's the amateur now?)

but now, sitting in my office, pleasantly hazy from dunking Tylenol with fresh spring water, semi-recovered and basking in the warm gooey feeling of a party-well-thrown (and well-attended, where guests stayed well-beyond the Cinderella hour), i've been able to gain a pretty balanced perspective on the events of last night (and this lousy morning).

it was the food. something, somewhere caused the brain pain. can't be the alcohol, now, can it? we're a family of seasoned drinkers (not drunkards, mind you). proud pros from the Land of the Five Rivers, who have withstood the assault of molasses and fermentation for centuries with a grin and a spin. what's two measly tumblers of Asian brew, huh? (it wasn't even the European stuff, man!). old? age ain't nothin' but the number of years your whiskey's been lying around in vats.

so, bring it on, its a new evening! and damn chicken biryani, that dodgy harbinger of bad news!!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What's in a name?


i'm shedding skin. and baggage. (alas, no pounds, yet!)
as i try to look beyond the greatest betrayal of my life, slowly inching my way towards yet another self-discovery, i've decided that such a journey can allow no baggage from the past, including a post- marital suffix to my maiden name. so, today, i took the semi-final step towards leaving the same by the wayside, along with motley dreams and the attachment to what definitely was a more Googleable entity. the cruel hand of fate, i say!

yes, this definitely is a confession of sorts and does mean that i DO admit to a certain narcissisim in Googling myself every now and then just to see where all i turn up and how often... besides, its good to know what kind of spooks are using your printed word to embellish or espouse their lofty (or shady) causes. but being blessed with an eminently (and horrendously) common Indian name-surname combo can surely throw a spanner in the works for Page 1 celeb status (on google search, of course), and to add isult to injury i ain't Page 3 material in any case. never will be, i strongly suspect :)

but i have to admit that this particular departure, in a long line of them over the last few months, has been an uplifting experience. feels like i am back from being the shadow of my former self, even though one may ask, what really is in a name? perhaps, for me, its the essence of who i had forgotten how to be in the last couple of years. its three syllables exemplify the craziness that my parents unleashed upon the world three score (and then some more) years ago; the sing-song way in which all my friends have cheerfully addressed me over the years (and continue to do, which makes newer acquaintances wonder why they ALWAYS insist on hitching the family name to my christian one while addressing me! for the record, that's a school thingy); AND, most importantly, it's just who i was before... well... before, it all went downhill. meaning that i must begin the excruciating climb up another hillside (new future, new home, new job, same holiday package, new twin-sharer... blah blah blah) before i go over the hill. but... boy! this has been one great descent into a pasture that's greener than i imagined:) but then let me not get ahead of myself.

in the last few weeks, a lot of people have tried to shore me up by saying that this is my trial-by-fire and what-not, some even going to the poetic extent of telling me that i am going to rise from the ashes, Sphinx-like, to reclaim all that's been lost. (oh, believe you me, i am NOT making this up!) i don't know too much about mythological morale-boosters, but what i do know is this: i'm doin' kinda ok. and that's the kind of optimism that goes with the name. and with the same, i hope that you will, as dedicated friends, keep scrolling down the search pages to reach a result that remotely hints at this poor ol' girl.
all this same, PS is clawing her way back up. and how!
see ya at the top :)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

An (al)right kind of Leftie

Harkishan Singh Surjeet passed away last week. The veteran Communist leader was different things to different people: king-maker, master strategist, power broker. But I will always remember him as a gruff but amiable Gandalf-like figure from scattered childhood memories.

Born months apart, my paternal grandfather – a fervent grassroots Commie, who moonlighted as a feudal landlord – and “Comrade Surjeet” met in Ludhiana, where he used to come and visit my granddad on a bicycle, and they sporadically kept in touch over the years. My grandfather was what you can call "progressive", not an active hands-on firebrand like his comrade, but more of a logistics, materiel and moral-support provider to the cause. Grandpa was perpetually berating us for being spoilt capitalist brats, to which I responded by haranguing him about all those “fake” Communists with their lavish lifestyles. I did this just to piss him off and this particular Comrade was usually his ace socialist-with-a-soul defense against my wild insinuations.

It was a battle without end and wherever the truth may lie, two incidents stick in my memory. The first was narrated by my dad, and the second I was witness to. Years ago, my father travelled with him to Kolkata by rail and he never tires of narrating as to how “Surjeet Uncle” stepped out at en-route stations to buy guavas and other goodies. Upon arrival, he patiently waited with dad to get a taxi, for well over an hour in the sweltering heat, even though he could have just asked for a party car.

Another time, while he was visiting us in Bareilly, my grandfather had to suddenly leave for the farm, leaving my mother in-charge of making our guest his (obscenely) early morning cuppa. She woke up, horrified at having missed the alarm, and rushed into the kitchen only to find him, on his knees, rummaging through newly bought rations for tea and sugar. He further humbled my deeply apologetic mom by insisting on making her a cup as well.

I have really been missing my grandfather, who passed away this March, merely to rib him about the mayhem in the Left’s ranks, at which I am sure he would have scoffed: “These are not Communists, these are Opportunists!” I somehow get the feeling that he is just waiting up there to pounce on his trusty old friend for some answers of his own. May their souls rest in peace.