Thursday, December 25, 2008

XXXxxxx...... mas is here!

It's Christmas and I am getting just a wee bit nostalgic.

I don't like being away from home, and not being able to hang my smelly socks in my parents' loo. Come to think of it, that's the same reason that I'm not too happy being over the big Three-Oh. I mean, if I was to hark back to a fuzzy yonder and put my smelly socks up in gleeful anticipation, some people might think it to be a sign of either late retardation or early dementia.

Whatever you may think, I miss that happy little custom, though I'm sure Dad (Ooops! I mean, Santa.. nudge nudge, wink wink!) must be heaving a sigh of relief, year upon year, and sending a prayer to the North Pole that his pesky kids don't get extended Christmas breaks from their quest for bread n wine to come knocking on his loo door anymore. In any case, by the time the tradition tapered off, as we flew off to faraway Christmases, in pursuit of our dreams, he had started stuffing crisp notes in our not-so-crisp discards, and everyone woke up happy on Christmas morning.

I just remembered... Why did I never get that xylophone I pestered Santa for ... in fact, it's the one item on my list that failed to find it's way into my stinky stocking, year after disappointing year. Maybe I gave him too many OR... OR... options, in neat alphabetical order, and we never did get to the X? Hold on a sec, did he never bother to read the entire list EVER, always stopping at A??? No wonder I got Appalacian springs water, Aroma candles, Alcoholics Anonymous t-shirts, Apple flavour ganja, Aamir's headband from QSQT, Anil Kapoor's chest hair.... etc etc, but never the damn Xylophone! Too late to start a backwards list, you think? Sigh..

Then in boarding school Christmas came a month early as we kickstarted the cheer before leaving for the winter holidays... Sweet ol' Mrs. John would dress up as Santa and come riding through the dining room at dinnertime, throwing paan flavoured sweets and orange candies all around the benches, while I stoically refrained from lunging at the goodies, given my strict rule: "Thou shalt not get excited by free food", the one thing I never did outgrow, despite having joined a profession that frowns upon such terribly non-aggressive starvation-by-choice type behaviour. Most journos, like lawyers, should suffix three letters to their names, L.L.F.... a.k.a Long Live Freebies! Me? I'm a stubborn fake.

Sometimes I think of the way Christmas is changing and will continue to change over the years, as we Indians clumsily embrace it in a giant bear hug. I just heard of a bakery, with branches in the Punjoo heartlands of Karol Bagh and Rajouri Garden no less, which offers the best Christmas cake in town. Imagine that, amid the chhola bhatooras, tikki bhalla papri chaat Roshan di kulfi and mixed froot joos, and you know that here it's a very Brown Christmas. Oops! Have i crossed the LoPC - the Line of Political Correctness?

Can you think of a PC X-mas? Santa would have to either shape up or ship out. And I mean that both literally and figuratively. See, we can't call him fat, for that would amount to outraging the sensibilities of the weight-challenged, and even if we addressed the reality suitably, these high cholesterol, hypertensive, junk-the-junk times that we are living in demand that he start sending out a more.... errr.... be-FIT-ting message to the mortal millions. Maybe we could help by putting out digestive sugar free cookies with some soy milk for the ol' man.

A more svelte Santa? Nah.... But then do spare a thought to those poor reindeer, lugging him and the presents around. Animal rights, shmaminal rights, you say! I say maybe it's time to start demanding e-vouchers to cut down on shipment costs and give the red-nosed one and his friends a break. Besides, global warming will soon ensure that they have no snow to run in and the given the abomination of, and social censure attached to, parking in the PH spots, Santa'd have absolutely no place to park his sleigh... unless he's willing to pay the congestion charges up there and the MCD's overnight rates down here. Ah, the sleight of fate!

And finally, do you really think it's advisable to go shouting Ho-Ho-Ho in the streets these days? But then the proof of the (Christmas) pudding is in the eating right? Go try it, I say!

Oh Oh Ohhhhh......

Merry Christmas, y'all ;)

Monday, December 1, 2008

We, the 'notion'

I’ve been too upset to write. Smile even. How would you feel if armed men barged into your living room and took you hostage; merely because you were pig-headed enough to allow those responsible for your security to make you believe that no one could get to you at home? It’s what I have been feeling ever since I turned on my TV on Wednesday night. Enraged. Helpless. Vulnerable. Violent. Violated. And intensely stupid for allowing things to get to a point where a bunch of sadistic men could drag a country like ours down to its knees.

In the last few days, I have sat at my workstation as blaring televisions and uncaring news anchors wove a tragic web around what I consider as the most serious affront to our nation, unable to go through words that needed my attention, yet unable to tear my eyes away from the events (and their reportage) long enough to have a good cry. I have sat stunned with friends who, with their eyes brimming with tears, have variously screamed obscenities at politicians of all faiths, the central government, Islamic fundamentalists, Hindu apologists, Pakistan, the intelligence apparatus and even defunct metal detectors and dopey security guards. But somehow I can’t shake off the feeling that the blame must lie collectively with all of us who call ourselves Indian. It’s all very well to blame Pakistan and lament the futile inhumanity of terrorism, but we have enough self-goals on the board to disqualify as the deserving citizens of a mature democracy. Without any help from the Pakis. And this is our wake-up call.

I ask myself this. How can we blame our leaders for politicising terror, while we continue to allow incendiary politicians to ghettoise us against those with whom we don’t share a caste, state or religious beliefs? Can we really blame the electronic media for allowing crucial rescue operations to be compromised, even as we are so apathetic that accident victims lie on roads for hours while we all try to overtake ambulances carrying critical patients? How can we blame terrorists for leveraging the indifference of a nation, while we continue to feed the frenzy of 24 hour news updates, yet don’t report swerving drunks flashing beer bottles in cars to the nearest police post for potentially endangering lives?

How can we completely dismiss the notion that some of our own might be involved when we all have, at some time in the past, argued with or thrown big names and petty cash at a policeman simply for violating traffic rules? How can we theorise about porous borders while we continue to balk at security checks in public places? How can we blame corrupt and inefficient politicians even as we continue to think that it’s okay to not vote for all the difference that it won’t make? Most of all, how can we allow ourselves to forget that this has happened before and will happen again, lest we forget.

Through all the despair, the courage of ordinary people, doing what they do best – whether it is protecting, defending or serving others – is what I wish to choose as my enduring memory from the horror of the past days. In fact, I was most struck by a statement made by a British gentleman who was rescued from the Trident/Oberoi. After praising the hotel staff for their courage and service, under fire, he said something to the effect that it is this Indian spirit that the tourism industry should flaunt as its USP. I use the word 'spirit' in as far removed a manner as it has been (ab)used by our impotent politicians. I speak of it as our only hope. For the tragedy and loss is not Mumbai's cross to bear alone. Nor is the ‘spirit’. And that is something we tend to forget too often.

A recent personal experience has made me realise that neither the arrogance of ‘this can’t happen to me’ nor the confused vulnerability of ‘why me’, can shield us from what lies in store, or prepare us for the tough battle ahead. Sadly, we in India have chosen for too long to be victims of both.