Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mars attacks and Venus fly traps

I had mentioned in an earlier post how I continue to get these toxic mails from a bunch of pro-male, anti-female, feminism-bashing, rabid misogynists, posing as knights to the rescue of the "Indian Family", following a piece I wrote for HT some months ago. (Don't bother clicking on this link if you did read this recent blog post, or you'll accuse me of nauseating cause-promotion.) Well, to reiterate a point, comments are sometimes cleaned out from the HT site, but oh how I wish they weren't. They were, to say the least. 

One commentator even threatened to get me locked up in a jail cell, and another very generously asked me to marry him, promising that he will 'not be cruel' while most missed the point of the argument entirely, either being so wrapped up in their own misery or having become prisoners of an idea a la Inception. And they kept calling me a "feminist" who doesn't know when to keep her mouth shut.

I guess I should empathise because I know how difficult it is to resist the lure of extremes. Like how I just L-O-V-E my morning cup of tea. How I H-A-T-E sleeping early. How it's just so W-R-O-N-G to wear a black spaghetti top inside out and over a pink shirt and brown trousers (as spotted yesterday); and how Nirula's still has the M-O-S-T  B-E-S-T-E-S-T nut butterscotch ice cream.  

On to other extreme sentiments. This, quoted below, is the latest in a string of comments that I received earlier in my mail today, the kind that come as footnotes to sundry articles with the mere whiff of domestic strife/ issues -- or even if they contain the word 'dowry' or, god forbid, 'women'. Here's what one gentleman wrote:
Now under the name [of] Voilence [sic] against women, men are reduced to castrated animals. Men have only duties and obligations just to donate sperms [sic]. [The] familiy [sic] system is alresy [sic] destroyed in USA in the name [of] indiviudal [sic] rights and women['s] empowerment. Soon USA from being a fatherless society would become a feminist society where only stud men would be available to donate sperms!! India will be the first country from where anti feminism will be exported as the society has not accepted the feminist way of family destruction!!

(Whatever our imagined crimes, this person must first be charged with mutilation...of the English language, of course!)

So, let's, for the sake of argument define a feminist as these dudes understand it: a frustrated, man hater who is a free electron type, tilting at established social mores, abusing 'women-friendly' laws to get back at a world full of poor innocent suckers.

Now, in their world, or even in the real, real world, I am not what you would strictly call a militant feminist by any stretch of the imagination, nor am I a man-hater with some poor sod in the cross-hairs of my shotgun, but even if I was, this is all just plain ridiculous. And to defend the objects of attack against this tirade would be to drag down the debate to the lowest common denominator: the personal-experience-fueled bitter frustrations of a few. Why is it that anyone who does not respect the tight little squares that some people have chosen to slot the world in is stamped with a red label of caution instead? Why can't some people read between the lines, see the greys and just get used to the idea that the world is not fair and that sometimes it doles out a whole lot of crap when you least expect it and that more often than not the system we live in sputters, coughs and breaks down, leaving us stranded in a pile load of the above-mentioned crap?

And, most importantly, that "feminists", whatever that term embodies, are neither the damn enemy, nor the sole flag bearers of women's empowerment. Does such a powerful beast even exist? 

Mind you, this is not to say that there aren't women who abuse the social sway they might have or the legal rights available to them, whatever be their motivation. To deny that sad truth would be wrong. Just as it would be wrong to say that all men are insensitive, philandering, alcoholic, wife-beaters, or that true love is only about la-la-la candlelight dinners and expensive flowers. Which, in turn, is much like the fact that not all moms-in-law (barring those in Ekta Kapoor soaps) are evil; or the misconception that not all children are angelic (barring the one you're pretending to coo over right this moment). Quite the contrary. 

My argument with those who moan about the perversity of the legal system, the social contract, the rules of relationships or even life in general has always been that just because something goes against popular (or personal) belief; is the exception; is abused; or doesn't work as planned, doesn't negate the logic (or reality) of its existence. Like open marriages. Or the joint family. Or flexible working hours. Or restricted access to social networking sites at the workplace. Or single-scoop Hot Chocolate Fudge. Just because it doesn't always go in your favour, or according to plan, doesn't mean it M-U-S-T  D-I-E! It works for (or even makes a whole lot of sense to) someone, somewhere. 

Well, despite evidence to the contrary, and the majority opinion, I don't even like ice cream all that much. But I'l let it freeze-dry my brain once in a while, or even give me therapeutic succour when I'm down and out. See? Just because it doesn't always work for you doesn't give you the right to trash it. 

So it is with the law. The argument that dowry- and domestic violence- related legislation is anti-men or pro-women is like saying child abuse laws are anti-adult. Or that sunscreens are out to get the solar system. Or that condoms are baby-killers. Or that hate is anti-love. Would you care to hate things you don't give a damn about?

Special laws exist because there is a logic for their existence. Dowry-related deaths are not a figment of the female imagination. Wife beaters don't just exist in the darkness of a paralell cinema set in claustrophic middle class milieus. Yes, every good thing is abused. Ask those who eat Iodex on toast to get high, but then the solution is not to ban Iodex! What would people with genuine back-aches do? The purpose of all empowering legislations, like the Domestic Violence Act, is to deal with precisely the kind of fallout that stems from a different kind of abuse of power, which in turn stems from the social imbalance in our country.    

Going back to this gentleman's bizarre analogy: Castrated animals? How would that still make you less of a nuisance in a world of ' family-killer feminists'? Tell me, when you neuter a dog, does it not bark? Or rip your favourite pants to shreds? Or yap incessantly into the night? Besides, how does that psycho babble even make physiological sense, especially when your emasculated puppy is also fulfilling its 'duties and obligations to donate sperms [sic]'? 

And what might be the 'feminist way of family destruction'? I must confess to having a silly giggle at the thought of an incendiary bra-burning, Fab-India wearing terror-monger setting the marital home on fire, while in the process of taking a man to task. Or a menopausal type running amok with the lawn mower. See, how easy it is to generalise? 

The problem as I see it, is -- to borrow jargon from my earlier days of strategic enlightenment -- is seeing everything that exists between a man and a woman as a zero-sum game...I lose if you win so I'm going to try my damndest to kick you in the head if you try to use it to tell me I'm being a jerk. Really?

Be it serious crime or stupidity, they're gender-neutral. Such levels of stupidity should be a crime and a crime is a crime.

As for me, I'm tired of the options thrust upon me sometimes, and of having to choose between being or behaving like a "nice, homely girl" or "aggro, over-independent, feminist bitch". I may be "aunty" to the neighbourhood kids and still be "baby" to my old boarding school "bearer-jees" and "guard-jees", but I'm not going to choose between the black and white tags these so-called activists run around with. I reserve my right to be a bit of both, thank you. And to change my mind, if I please; all the time, weaving in and out of your two end-zones, while making sure that I'm not stepping on your dainty toes. Not all the time and not too much, anyway. 

So I will allow a boy to pay for my meal (sometimes) but not take my better driving skills off the table for another, cussing at him and showing him who's boss if he foolishly tries to cut me off near the India Gate circle. I will fight tooth and nail for the right to my financial independence but still hesitate just a second longer to allow a man to hold open the door for me. I might ask one to help me carry my shopping bags, yet not stare at some poor, exhausted man with the heavy briefcase to get up and offer me his hard-won seat in the "reserved for women" section on public transport. I will let you tell me I'm being silly, but equally expect you to not go all touchy on me if I tell you that pumpkin isn't really your colour (even if you don't know that pumpkin, baby, is so much more than a vegetable!) I will not wait and play games like how long before I return your call, and invite you out to dinner myself while secretly hoping you do it first. 

Still, when the dude above says that "India...has not accepted the feminist way of family destruction", I tip my hat right back at him for this one. For I'm sure there are more like me who have not accepted your narrow definition of feminism at all, dear sir, or your idea of the 'feminist' barracuda. The one that exists solely to make men's lives miserable. The one that is the killer of happily-ever-after family dreams. The one that is out to get all those guys who never had a date in college and blame the entire female species for their misfortune. The one that is out to demolish your particular version of a "happy married life", the one that doesn't understand the difference between "disciplining your woman" and domestic abuse (there isn't one, by the way).

But I will say this: the day we succumb to the Pygmalion Effect, if only as a direct consequence of your strange accusations, hang us, if you will, but do make sure we're not wearing pumpkin, will you? It's soooo not our colour, either.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Emperor has no clothes!

Leaking roofs and coffers with holes
Stadiums standing on faith and totem poles
India awaits its turn on the auction block
No time, none even to take stock
Money spent, records not even in a dusty register
Where are you, Mr.Prime Minister?

Red flags running amok in jungles beyond reach
Everyone's an expert, thanks to that freedom of speech
Hollow victories built on dispensable lives
Bidders all, exchanging high fives
Sore wounds left alone to fester
Where did you go to, Mr. Prime Minister?

Floods that wash away memories of years-long drought
Want money for food? Well, come on, show us that clout
Fields lie waste, grains left outside to brave the weather
While burning tears rain on hides of leather
A nation caught in the eye of a twister
Where might you be, Mr. Prime Minister?

The Valley burns, but there's no fire in the hearth
As your well-fed minions steadily add to their girth
The sick await doctors you didn't hire
While our taxes merrily burn in this hellfire
Look up your job if you will in Webster's
And tell us, what must you do Mr. Prime Minster?

Besides putting that foot in the mouth
In some conference room up West, or down South
We're trying to level the diplomatic scores
Even as the enemy lies in wait at our shores
I guess we'll patiently wait for the next disaster
To see what you'll do Mr. Prime Minister.

Angry voices float above your head
But you choose to ignore them instead
Watching in a Zen-like state
As we battle it out with our wretched fate
Who knew silence could be so sinister?
Till you showed us it is, Mr. Prime Minister.

But then, why must you listen to our stifled screams
When you're building the India of our dreams
One that's powered by energy, nuclear and clean
So you turn away from what's burning up your screen
It's us, Sir, wondering from here on to Twitter
Whatever the hell happened to our Prime Minister?

NOTE: The views expressed are extremely personal

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Are you game enough? My very own Commonwealth Games advisory: Vol. I

Someone emailed me this picture as part of a chain mail.
Credit to whoever took it. Thanks!  
Countries are issuing advisories all the time...don't go here, you might get killed; don't go there, you might discover no one in your family cares enough to pay a ransom to get your little pinkie back; don't go anywhere, you paranoid bugger, they might worship cows but they WILL sell you for a buffalo; don't stay put, no one here likes you anyway, you burden on our recession-hit social security benefits, and so on...and on...

Now, by now everyone knows that the Commonwealth Games (CWG) are going to be a complete washout, what with a few people who think-like-me praying for that exact same outcome . Now I don't know if Mr. Aiyar really has the same reasons for thinking like me, since he studied in the same city I did -- under a similarly physical-activity obsessed bunch of Nazis who had probably been similarly tortured in their salad days, before moving on to torture children in countless boarding schools across the country -- but my perpetual prayer in those days was something along these lines, repeated like a mantra every time the dormitory gong sounded at precisely 5 am (those Nazi buggers!):

"Let it rain, please. I can't go for 5 am PT yet another day. Please Lord Indra, I will die if I have to run around in that field one more time, squelching those slow-moving snails under my pale-yellow-from-too-much-choona-polishing fleet shoes...Please, Indra-ji. I will not drink fizzy drinks for two whole weeks. Please...I will wash my socks every alternate day. Please...I will eat all my spooky, tastes-like-my-own-blood Ferradol iron supplement and not slip it to those over-fed athletes who will eat almost anything. Please...I will make my own topography sheets in Geog class. Please, Indra, my man...I will participate in more extra-curricular activities, and go beyond clicking my own pictures in the photography class, or lying to my half-deaf Sitar guruji. Please..."

And so I prayed. Every single day. But there was some sort of evil force in that town. No matter how bad the deluge, it always, always stopped raining in time for PT at 5 in the dawn and games at 4 in the playground-cum-lawn every evening. Always. But I digress.

So, going back to the CWG, I would like to issue an advisory of my own, which, I feel, it is my public duty as an Aamir Khan-inspired Indian who must treat guests to her country -- like most five-star hotels do, even as they do their best to dodge inquiring looks from all the native brown people -- as demi-gods. Atithi Devo Bhava and some such. So here's my prayer for the unsuspecting foreign visitor -- the one nervously hanging on to that air ticket that's bound to land him or her in a soup at IGI's 'swanky' new Terminal 3, or that Games ticket to the stadia from hell.

I'm not sure if this might help you navigate our country better, but what the hey, eh?! I'm just doing my duty as a citizen who has had to live with the constant nuisance of navigating a city that resembles a scene from the movie 2012, all for your visiting pleasure of course. Still, I will do the right thing and here's a teaser-trailer of what to expect if you do survive Terminator, uh, Terminal 3:

  • If someone asks you to hop into their cab for half the price that's being advertised by legit cab operators, make sure that you are an impoverished student who plans to bunk down at a dodgy 'lodge' in Paharganj for the entire duration of your stay in our beautifully under-priced country, and are willing to sell the clothes on your back for a masala dosa and a cutting chai at Amar's Vaishno Dhaba.
  • If you are not fit enough to carry your own luggage, leave it behind before boarding the plane to this, our great country of 100001 magic tricks. Again, be prepared to sell your VIP gallery pass for board and lodging at Paharganj and get used to watery sambar (lentil soup) with floating objects that may or may not be organic vegetables, fertilised au naturel along the banks of the Yamuna, if you know what I mean.
  • Now, do lock your doors at night, especially if not in Paharganj, or else you might just wake up on the banks of the Yamuna! 
  • If you do happen to see Indian men holding hands and walking along the roadside after their late night meals, in Che Guevara tees and boxers, please do not panic. This is not a prelude to revolutionary streetside indecent exposure. They think they're wearing respectably lengthy shorts, or nikkar, and they have absolutely no idea who Che was. They might believe he is Kishenji the bad-ass Naxal or Prakash Karat, the badder-ass Commie for all we know. And if you see a woman in a cotton/ handloom nightie and there are any headlights around, look away. Quickly. It won't be a pleasant sight.
  • Do not cross the road anywhere. At any time. Ever. Even if the traffic light is red and there is no one gunning their engine or slinking slowly across the stop line while being parked atop the pedestrian crossing and even if the traffic cop's calisthenics tell you it's your right of way. It's not. It never is in this marvellous land of we-have-pedestrians-for breakfast motorists. My advice? Plan all your activities on one side of the road if you are from a poor country that took the recession to heart and cannot afford a big, black, overcharging taxicab. Shop, eat, and make merry in a straight line. Or hire a bullock cart. They have right of way everywhere in India. Deck it up with colourful ribbons and god-pictures and no one will EVER cross your path for fear of starting a race riot with a poor pilgrim with spiritual powers.
  • If you plan to drive, you better know how to play Grand Theft Auto well. Really well. Driving in India is like a video game and you better be good at it, or else. We keep no score and we take no prisoners.     
  • While ordering at a restaurant, make sure you don't go for dishes that have elaborate descriptions underneath. Just like you would ignore a French menu that doesn't list crepes with minimal fanfare, don't fall for the frills. They are usually pretentious and measly offerings. I love the descriptions though. They're so darn cute. Tip: Eavesdrop on some desi-occupied tables around you and pick what sounds best and is said with a brook-no-argument kind of authority by the male head of the family. Ignore the whiny kids; they're probably whining for desi versions of firang food. It probably will be a Chindian version of your best-loved Oriental take out. Preferably find a table full of Punjabis and, for best results, sip something from a can while you wait for their food to arrive. Use your senses (and their good sense) to guide you. They know their food as well as the Italians, or the Irish. Oh yeah, we do
  • While taking any mode of public transport, do not emulate the locals. They often prefer open-air accommodation, with a lot of swinging from a ledge to the edge of danger. Spidey could. We can. You can't. Get over it.
  • Ask for directions only if you are willing to discover 15 ways of getting to one place, all at once, spoken in unison. We love giving people directions and sometimes tend to forget that they might not be going where we are. If you use a map, rely on landmarks such as "Raju's corner cigarette shop", "Sakhubai's Ladiss and Giants Booty Parlar" and "Kitty's Kirana Korner" or "Scotland High Public School: we have no branches". Chances are you'll find it in a few hours. Road signs are passé and a needless waste of public space, in times of an acute shortage of free retail space. 
  • Finally, to wrap up this first edition of the advisory, when you're getting all those immunization shots to guard you against the vagaries of our 'Developing, Third World' existence, do get a booster dose of 'patience plus' and a couple extra of 'whatever' and I promise you you'll be fine. You might even have fun, and go on to invest in non-existent, sub-judice real estate, right after making hooch-induced blood pacts to visit again. 
Now that you have the first edition of this easy-peasy guide, please do come. We're working very hard to make our lives miserable for a few greenbacks you'll throw at us and all because of our Stockholm-syndrome type sense of belonging to our erstwhile colonial masters.

We love you, our brave guests from distant shores. Sometimes even too much, because we don't quite like most of our neighbours. They suck and the exchange rate up north ain't too great, unless we're over there and standing and haggling for a kebab. Besides, you think we would ever take the effort to show them the flashing neon light and make their lives easier? No, each their own hell.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Family ties and what not

I get a lot of spam from these male activists who say they are fighting for the rights of men/fathers/brothers everywhere. It started out as vitriolic hate mail after a piece I wrote for HT a few months ago and then they just never stopped. Apparently, as a fellow journalist warned me after reading some of the online comments on the piece (too bad the website's dusted and cleaned every few weeks; they were priceless), I'm on "Le LIST" for all of eternity now.

Anyway, in the most recent mail one of them was, as usual, frothing at the mouth about yet another 'feminazi' (their word, not mine - though I must admit, sadly, to being familiar with the breed). After wondering why she has turned against her own by justifying high-end prostitution as a matter of 'democratic choice' (a claim that linked to a 2008 article, no longer available, and which I have no idea why I was being told about 2 years later), the author of the original mail went on to ask: "Would she say this, if her sister entered this trade at the high end?"

So here's my thing: Why must we always drag the family into it? Like a bunch of mafia bosses at a who-will-whack-whom-into-extinction-first gala. 

Sample these:
Observation: You're not supposed to use these water bowls for washing your hands, you know!
Burn!: Would you be saying this if my hands were your grandfather's dentures? Would you, freak?

O: You should stay away from his girl. There'll be nothing but trouble.
B: Would you rather I try with your wife instead? Huh? How would you feel then, loser?

O: Kids at the beach? No, I think we should use a picture of girls in bikinis for that resort promo.
B: You want a chick in a bikini, do you, you wanker? How about we just put your sister's picture there?

O: I think it might rain today...
B: Why, is your dad the fuckin' weatherman?

O: These apples don't look too crunchy. Are they old?
B: I picked them from your mom's backyard. Why don't you go ask her when they were born?

Oh, I could go on... Only to get back to that original question: why must we always bring the family into it?

I am so tired of driving past a gazillion traffic spats on Delhi's roads every single day. Somehow, above all that bumper-to-bumper indignation and honky-tonk, a few lines always manage to float in through my rolled-up window with a warm and fuzzy familiarity:

Tere baap ki sadak hai kya, saale? (Is it being your father's road or what, bro-in-law?)

Or, sometimes, it's that favoured cliché that has spawned a hundred spoofs, along with its own family-inspired repartee:

Q: Tu jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai? (Are you happening to be knowing who my father is?)
B: Kyon, tujhe nahin pata tera baap kaun hai? Ja apni maa se ja ke poochch! (Why, are you not happening to know your own patrilineal lineage? Why be not asking your own Mummy?)

There you have it. The Great Indian Family Drama.

What? Lazy post? Maybe. Mere baap ka blog hai; main jo bhi likhun! (Blog of my father, I'm doing what I'm please!)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Of clunky reporters and Chunky Pandey

It never fails to amuse me that people still use the words 'concubine', and 'paramour' (special mention: 'danseuse'?). This is why a metro news item that would have inspired nothing more than a quick glance and casual solemnity, made me want to slap on some eau de cologne, hop onto a Vespa and ask someone for directions to the Fifties.

Still, I read on. And soon that one word wasn't the problem any more.

After establishing the fact that a lady lawyer had been brutally stabbed and killed by her 'paramour', the reporter went on to add that:

"After committing the crime, the accused had attempted suicide by slitting his throat at the murder scene. However, he ran away from the spot when his colleagues tried to catch him and entered a retroom[sic] in the court where he consumed pesticide."

Now, I just don't get this. How evil and inept can a 'paramour' be?

All through this, I couldn't help but think of the poor woman who was murdered, may her soul rest in peace. But the reporter seemed hell-bent on not allowing the reader enough solemn space to appreciate the gravity of said paramour's crime. Here's the coup de grace:

"Both were wearing black robes when the incident occurred, sources of the High Court police station said."

Huh? The crime was committed on the premises of the state's highest court, no less, and the deceased was a lawyer, for crying out loud. You don't need anonymous 'sources' to provide that crucial piece of crime scene trivia, much less include it in your misspelt report. What did you expect them to be wearing? Soccer jerseys? Black lace and bootstraps?

Ah, the joys of in-depth reporting in this country, what with our diligent note-taking and ear for detail.

Talking of soccer, the great game is at the heart of my top two of the week.

Soccer-crazy husband of a friend to another friend: Hey our TV's not working. Can we drop in at your place to watch the semi-finals at night?

The other friend who just does not get soccer (and most other sports): Well you could, but we usually turn in really early, so you'll be on your own. Anyway, relax. I'm sure you can catch a repeat show or something in the morning.

[Repeat show of the once-in-four-years FIFA World Cup semi final between Germany and Spain? Images of Marie Antoinette flash before my eyes, documentary-style...let them eat cake...]

Anyway, soon the scene shifts to my place, where we're watching the semis, desperately praying for a breakthrough so that we may use our fists and mouth to ceremoniously punch the air and shout happy obscenities, respectively, instead of using them to stuff empty calories into our faces... About ten bowlfuls of chips and fifteen Diet Cokes later, Puyol nets a neat header and there's a right ruckus in my bedroom, while I shoot dirty glares in the direction of the red-shirt sporting secret Spanish fan to my right.

Friend who has been asleep for the last 73 minutes of the game: What? Chunky Pandey scored?!!

Well, let us all have bloody cakes.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dementia, now!

Snippets from the morning meeting:

Someone: So, what's behind this big ban on all these militant outfits by Pakistan?

Someone else: Just Punjab...Blah blah blah... the US has... blah blah... bad-ass Taliban... blah blah....(some one says, "but where the hell is that Zardari?")... blah blah.... Sharif brothers... blah blah blah ... Tehrik-i-Taliban... blah blah blah....after Benazir... blah blah...the son...blah blah...Sindh... Punjab... blah blah

Another person: The son? I think he might have much trickier issues to deal with beyond what's going on in Pakistan. BTW, does anyone remember this (biographer/ hack/ someone) *guy* who once interviewed Benazir? Apparently, (and, of course, like some of our meeting anecdotes, this can neither be confirmed, nor denied) Bhutto told him that she was rather worried about her son prancing about the hall in a tutu and ballerina shoes.

Person busy with a phone smarter than mine: Huh? Benazir Bhutto's son, that Zardari boy, uh, Bilawal chap? Are you serious?

[Now, what we just love doing in our meetings (NOTE: only after we have finished debating loftier issues of national importance, that is), is to up stray comments a notch...]

That person: Yeah, I can just imagine the headlines: "Baluchistan Bolshoi", starring Bilawal Bhutto.

This person: Umm, not Baluchistan, Sindh.

The same person: No, no. It doesn't have the same ring to it... you know, the alliteration appeal?

The other person: Ah yes, and what might it be called?

Me: Swat Lake? (and, with a flourish) "The Baluchistan Bolshoi presents...Bilawal in Swat Lake!"

[You see what I'm doing here. Taking credit. I thought it sounded good. Even a little funny, perhaps?]

Someone who's had enough of the Bilawal groupies: So, tell me, how did the Court really decide who George Fernandes should go home with? I mean, he's got Alzheimer's, for God's sake. He couldn't have been all that competent to choose between lady-who-wants-to-wash-the-dog-while-demanding-her-furniture-back and lady-who's-locked-him-up-in-the-house-and-won't-let-his-brothers-see-him, can he, now?

Someone other than me: I hear they had a Konkani lawyer present, something to do with regression therapy or some such thing, thinking he might regress enough to start babbling in Konkani or something. The judge said he wished to "know his mind".

[Good luck with that, Horatio.]

Still another person: Well, I guess that didn't work. I mean he's 80, suffering from both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's...apparently he appeared confused and disoriented and when asked how many brothers he had, might have mumbled "six".

[He has three, poor thing. I mean this is the same guy who visited Siachen, at the age of 70, no less. It makes me sad. Still...]

Me: It's just as well the Judge was smart enough not to ask him how many wives he had. That could have gotten ugly.

[There. I did it again. Even though I felt sad, I just couldn't help myself.]  

Context: Most of our meetings seem to follow a similar path after the day's business has been dealt with, eventually waltzing into every-man's land of nonsense -- a ten-minute warm-up for the rest of the day, over truly awful coffee.

Explanation: The inane keeps us sane amid the mundane. (I just can't help myself!)

Against better judgement:  It ain't no crime to rhyme.

Inner Voice: Oh, please do stop, get on your paws and beg for mercy.

POSTSCRIPT: I just hope that when I lose my mind, there's no judge willing to lead a treasure hunt to find it. I'm just saying.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Strangers in the night

Quite like this corny next line,
It was a dark and stormy night;
A bit like having make-up sex,
In the middle of an unresolved fight.

Thence upon a time,
They had a go at it twice;
Only because the first time he fumbled,
Not unlike the three blind mice.

With her thoughts far, far away,
She lay awake to watch him sleep;
A smile played on her scarlet lips
Lost, he looked, like Little Beau Peep’s sheep.

There lies my boy, she thought,
As she smoothed his furrowed brow;
Now that we might have found love,
Where the hell do we go from here now?

As her baby slept,
The innocent sleep of a child;
She updated her Facebook status,
And smoked a Classic Mild.

Shaken by the questions that plagued her,
Not stirred, as you might note;
She tried hard to battle the demons,
And dug a pencil out of her Kookai tote.

As the shopping list made its way down the sheet,
The silhouette in the bed began stirring;
No, I’m not ready for you to wake up just yet,
She thought, with her mind whirring.

One night, oh lord,
One night is not what it takes;
I need to know if this is the real thing,
Before that man in my bed awakes.

He mumbled a word in his sleep,
She strained her ears to hear;
And on her worried face,
A cute little frown did appear.

Say that again, will you,
I’m not sure I heard you, my eternal flame;
What the hell did you just say, asshole?
That’s not even my friggin’ name!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hanging by a word

I'm a little worried about my reading habits these days. Gone is the time when I would, very wisely, pepper my gourmet (albeit eclectic) diet of the printed word with just the right amount of junk food: moving from the Hardy Boys, to sneaking in the odd Victoria Holt from the senior school library, right on to smuggled Irving Wallace, Ken Follett, Jackie Collins and Judith Krantz and a late but very brief brush with Mills and Boon (in my defense I read my first 'MB' at the age of 21 and continue to doggedly resist that sappy Danielle Steel woman).

All this, unthreateningly tucked into the middle of some serious heavy-duty reading of whatever on the bookshelves caught my fleeting fancy.

All the authors I mention, however, had a very important role to play in our sequestered all-girls' boarding school life. Special mention must go out to a few:

  1. The Hardy Boys got me comfortable with the idea of male chemistry, and taught me that not all "buddy boys" are necessarily gay. It's different, of course, for women. After all, we own the word 'girly', and are often expected to hold hands and giggle.
  2. Victoria Holt. Hmmm...That lady taught me that when you try to dramatically read aloud a love scene -- from a book you were not supposed to have checked out from the library in the first place -- in front of your entire 7th grade, duly emphasising the rrrrippping of shirts and the thudddding of hearts coming together as one, do look over your shoulder after a minute or two to check if the very propah English teacher is not watching with a practised glare (and barely concealed amusement)
  3. Then, beyond the near-Victorian love scenes of the Holtian world, had it not been for Ms. Collins and her authentic Hollywood fare, we might never have known what lay beyond the sanitised menu of school-level sex education (or the clumsy stories of the class's legendary half-a-boyfriend-old slut) 
  4. But for Ms. Krantz, I might never have hit upon that ultimate flu-fighting remedy: vodka and orange juice. And it works, though not by the jugful as I might have imagined in those heady days. In fact, now, after some headache days following that bit of advice, I'd definitely advise a little caution.  
  5. Irving Wallace? That man showed me the power of the double role, leading to a lifelong love affair with hammy Govinda/ Suniel Shetty movies. 
  6. My first brush with Ken Follett taught me to improvise on everyday household items to fight off cold-blooded international spies. Not sure when that might come in handy though, but then we learn and live, my friends.   
  7. Mills and Boon... Honesty now. Every girl deserves a foolish dream. And the even more foolish ideal of the (im?)perfect man. Sigh.

Now this brings me to my current obsession with fly-by-night thrillers. That old fascination with the treacherous world of Frederick Forsyth, John Le Carre, Wilbur Smith and the rest has now metamorphosed into a love for the criminally insane. Criminal Minds, Castle and Law and Order apart, I am now a proud fan of the likes of that grand dame of crime thrillers -- Mary Higgins Clark -- having tracked down every one of her books with the dogged determination of a crime-fighting forensics expert à la CSI; of the mostly hammy and sometimes brilliant Tess Gerritsen; and of those Scandinavian crusaders against crime -- like Inspector Wallander of Henning Mankell, VanVeeteren of Håkan Nesser, along with that strange and addictive duo: the delinquent Lisbeth Salander and that lucky sod (according to men who might wonder why he gets all the babes), Mikael (Kalle) Blomkvist, both creations of the man who died too young (and unsung): Stieg Larsson.

So, as I feverishly move from page to page and from one murder mystery to another, I feel I'm spinning out of control, being flung into a parallel universe in which I must stay high on some kind of adrenaline, periodically injected into my system by espresso shots of suspense. Gone are the days when I read all that stuff of 'substance'. Now its more like a whole lot of substance abuse, what with this gnawing need to pick up yet another crime thriller. Just one more ride and I'll be done...I swear. One more...

Well, that surely can't be too good in the long run, what with all the wise men and women at work lapping up the latest climate change caper or those monotonous political monologues. Back home, the ignored bookshelf is sagging with sagacity and silently crying out to be relieved of its burden of the seriously written word: tomes that have been foisted upon it by guilt trips to the bookshop, every time a new thriller winked on the horizon.

Hang in there fella. I'll get to you. Just after this one chapter, I promise...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Bhangra in the Bible belt

Years ago, on a beach in Langkawi, I heard a Malaysian boy-girl band butcher Sade and her smoky rendition of this song. Not that it is a favourite or anything, but I can still hear them in my head, as clearly as if they were here with me, whispering feverishly into my new Sony headphones: "He's a Smooth Operaaator; Smooooooooth Operaaaaatorrrr...Coast to coast, LA to Cheee-caaago/ Across the north and south to Keeee Laaago..."

Yes, Cheee-caaago, which is where I was this past weekend, for a Sardaron ki Shaadi no less. My cousin brother got married, amid the following near life-altering experiences/ realisations:
  • a long, long...long flight, during which I thought I was dying of tetanus; 
  • the treachery of having my travel agent set me up for a "Hindoo Meal" on all legs of the journey (still, a small price to pay for all those aisle seats, I guess);
  • two aborted landings before the one that worked out (which seems to be par for the course for me in American airspace, if previous experiences are taken into account);
  • my first stretch limousine ride ever (with the Panjoos in their Hummer/ Pajeros wondering why the blasted "Limmo" driver was so slow);
  • the scribbling of ugly henna on my hand by a sleep-deprived laborious Gujju aunty, undeterred by my jet-lagged nod-offs in between;
  • posing for photographs with the most well-decorated albeit stinkiest mare known to man -- fussed over  by a cool-shades sporting firang couple in ill-fitting traditional Indian finery; 
  • being treated like a minor overseas celebrity: "Oh, you've come aaaallll the way from India for this... wah!"
  • brushing up on my rusty, pseudo-accented, Bend-it-Like Beckham-ish Punjabi;
  • breaking a fairly high pair of heels during the bhangra blast that followed the beautiful Gurudwara ceremony, and dancing along with the rest of the mob to my favourite kind of music nevertheless;
  • the heart-sinking awareness that all the cute men (correction: boys) worth flirting with (as is compulsory at weddings) were at least 10 (to15!!) years younger;
  • learning that Starbucks can never replace the good, old fashioned, non-branded cold-coffee sold in unmarked milk bottles, despite serving up an awfully good latte;
  • the cosy realisation that I can feel comfortably at home in any old corner of the civilised world armed with a backpack and some greenbacks;
  • re-discovering that grand old temple of consumerism, where retail therapy definitely has lots going for it. In fact, there's a very real chance that a coalition of the billing, headed by Wal-mart may yet take over the world;
  • hearing my friend's four year old cite New Delhi weather updates from his dad's iPhone after every few hours and gleefully basking in the knowledge that three/four-year-olds find me amusing (yay!); and 
  • cautiously discovering that a fresh flower can actually taste pretty good in champagne, especially when you're trading old war stories over the rim.
and then some more...
    So, well-fed, well-travelled and much pampered by overseas relatives and a special, special friend (my very own personal genie), I'm back, freshly armed with the knowledge that ----

    • you can take the Indian out of Punjab but never take the Punjabi out of any true-blue "Kanedda" or "New Yark" expat; 
    • that despite his preference for turkey sandwiches and parrot green silk shirts, he'll still shake a leg (or two left ones) to "Apna Punjab" while wearing that eternally wistful look on his smoothly shaven face; 
    • that elasticised petticoats apart, the glitter of "gota" and gold is only bound to increase as you move Westwards; 
    • that no limousine, no matter how swanky or big, can hold the rustic Punjabi spirit in check for longer than it takes the driver to maneuver it past the next curb; 
    • that there's a strange serenity in watching freshly scrubbed children sincerely reciting the 'Hanuman Chalisa' in a Yankee accent before going to bed; 
    • that a strange new city can smell your fear, so the trick is to feel none, even if you get evicted from a shopping mall following a bomb scare, without a cell phone to call for a pick up; no, not even then.
    • that you have to ask for those different dips with your buffalo wings takeaway and that it is no longer all that plebeian to ask for some Dunkin' Donuts coffee; and 
    • that some women are genetically programmed to hate all other women who might get into an interesting discussion with their husbands, even if the said interaction is limited to a genuinely sanguine debate on the oil spill in the Gulf of M.

    So, all this is what I finally pushed past the green channel at customs clearance back home, besides sundry other memories from a holiday that wasn't supposed to be. I didn't carry a camera and made no other travel  arrangements, yet I landed up sleeping under six different roofs in a week-and-a-half long visit. Such is the power of spontaneity... and good friends. Especially those who live in the 'nap-towns' of the great American mid-west and are genuinely excited about your humble presence in their palatial suburban homes, even if all you do is sit on the patio and giggle over old school photographs.

    I love you guys, but the next time I'm going to Vegas.

    Friday, May 21, 2010

    What if beggars became choosers?

    Office party. The usual suspects doing the unusual dancing and making merry like there was a nationwide merry shortage. It's fun though, this ritual of putting people who you work with in a semi-dark room with 80s music,  free grub and booze, while expecting them to relax and forget all about low pay packets, stalled increments and all those bad hair days at work in a single night of drunken swaying. This can have a particularly surreal (eerie?) quality to it. Especially if the hallowed venue happens to be the House of Horrors, where they "do not serve anything Indian" and the kebab-like apparitions are referred to as "chicken charcoal", in awed whispers, if you please. Where pizzas are thin and tongues get fat, pretty soon, with second-rate vodka.

    So this place? It's a temple of kitsch where pseudo-faithful devotees can pay obeisance to Panjoo excesses. Well, the faux Adonis & David statues aside, the lighting is upscale dhaba, and the dining room at the back makes you feel that any moment soon you'd have someone's head served to you on a platter. Preferably one that you've been meaning to off for a while now! Then there's that fountain of giant mutant grapes and water spray fans that generate so much mist that it's entertaining enough to watch people stumble in and fumble their way towards the "party". Oh, and every time you open your mouth to speak, it tastes like you swallowed a mouthful at Marine Drive (which, by the by, I did, once -- but then that's another story for another day). As some one said, "If Veda is an old world brothel, then this is all leather and chains". I believe there is a Rohit Bal connection here as well. It figures. Though I do wish I could claim that line as my own. Sigh.

    Still, I like office parties. They're so overrated. That's why they're so much fun. As it is with most overrated things. Like having sex with the most popular boy in school. I'm just saying. Or designer labels. Well, you won't see anyone swinging an Hermes Birkin bag complain about what an unwelcome burden it is, will you? Me? I'm just saying.

    Popping bubble wrap. Now, that's still waiting to get its rightful place in the world. We need a revolution.

    Ok, time out. We just got our annual appraisal letters, so this blog post must be cut short. Something about me being an open book and all that. Besides, I did think about scratching out all of the above, it might come out sounding like I'm hurt if the news ain't good.

    Which, by the way, I already am. And this is what I have learnt from the experience: intense pain is the most effective antidote to extreme embarrassment.

    Don't believe me? Try falling down on your hands and knees at a big traffic crossing, bang in front of your office, and then valiantly walk in to your place of work -- all covered in mud with a bloodied knee and a big tear in your dark lycra churidar through which said knee is winking mortification at the world -- and you'll know what I mean. Oh, and on top of that extreme physical and emotional ordeal, add the fact that someone from a local bus asks you "Arrey, kya hua, Medem?", as you wince and try to recover your dark glasses from where they are now precariously perched, on the bridge of your nose no less, while bravely lifting and dusting yourself off, all the while trying hard not to cry at the unfairness of it all, especially after a savvy lunch at one of the city's finest restaurants where you gave some heavy-duty gyan to a foreign diplomat and THEN you'll know what I really  mean. Damn CP and its muddy pavements and scattered stones and errant wires that lurk beneath them -- pure evil in Delhi's darkened heart.

    But the pain, it rescues you. It lifts you up from the immediacy of the humiliation and transports you to a place where you wave a dusty palm in a sheepish hello to sundry colleagues who stare at a muddy you -- aghast at the possibilities -- and politely wonder what hit you. This, right after you pop a cotton ball on the bloody knee, using the hole in your pants to access what's going to be a nasty, nasty bruise the day after. Let's not even go into how the rest of your mortal frame might feel after a day of re-living the fall followed by a night 's worth of fitful sleep after a few mind (if not pain)-numbing drinks with an old friend.

    So, yes, I'm in pain. Truly. May the tetanus shot be damned.

    And the letter? Oh, that? Hmmm... As I said, I'm in pain.

    Monday, May 17, 2010

    Karma kicker

    Just this morning, a friend and I were discussing the embarrassment potential of parents. I bet I am not alone in this universe for having to endlessly endure the telling of cringe-worthy tales from my childhood, often narrated with a kind of absent-minded relish by my over-adoring parents. Unfortunate references to long-forgotten baby-talk, bloopers all the way from kindergarten right up to my braces days and beyond have a way of turning up at the most unfortunate of times, often in the midst of a civilised discussion on turnips.

    Imagine my 30-something brain trying to process the insult of having an over-zealous parent asking me whether I remembered to wish a particular acquaintance who I had dutifully been chatting with for about five minutes before said parent appeared, making me look all indignant and say, “Err, of course, Dad!” To add insult to injury, this usually is a cause for laughter all around, followed by a cutesy little tale about my unfortunate antics as a child that inevitably follows, as night does day, while I slink away to fume. Parents, I tell you!

    What I find most amazing (and somewhat adorable, if you come to think about it on your good days) is how parents continue to treat you like a kid while forever asking you to grow up. So even while they’re asking you to pull up your socks or your grades, they continue to tell those tales to all those on whom you wish a make a grown-up impression about you peeing in your pants when you were two. Adding to their tales are often those pesky relatives who remember seeing you last when you were just a wee lad or lass and who can’t get over the fact that evolution has a way of making you get off your hands and knees to become a responsible and respectable bi-pedal person who can do without being constantly reminded of just how much they have grown, horizontally or vertically!    

    Now, even if anyone were to deny this fact, all they would have to do is to take a look around them at the battle of popular culture down the ages, which seems to scream on about this tussle between two seemingly harassed generations. On the one hand are those lovable but crazy folks, trying to understand why their sweet little girl listens to noise as compared to actual lyrics; while on the other are their kids who are desperately trying to find a way to explain the Internet to a generation that still continues to remind them to ‘post’ an Archies card by mail to an auntie in the US whose birthday is more than a month away.

    The other day I was listening to that Linkin Park song called ‘Numb’ (yes, some people as old as me also like them…a lot), along with my friend’s eight-year old son (yes, some as young as that also listen to them). Well, he wondered if I had any of the band’s tracks and here I must admit to feeling immensely ‘cool’ that I did have it on my iPod – cool (or silly) enough to try and show off my entire Linkin Park to an eight-year old by playing it on the short drive to a mall.

    And, to my sudden horror, I remembered my parents trying to casually drop phrases like ‘pep up’ into conversations with me in my wannabe years. There I was, trying to push my coolness down the throat of a little boy, who I remember as a day-old baby and whose embarrassing stories I am sure I will repeat to at least one girlfriend in the future.

    This is the beauty of life, I thought. We become what we ridicule. Its God’s little joke on all those who have, at some time or another, looked at their parents as if they were aliens.  

    So, as I start to resemble my mother more and more each day (and here I am talking about more than facial features) I realise that it is these pulls and pressures that define the topsy-turvy world of kids and grown-ups. What’s more, it is the bewilderment of one generation about the habits of another that continues to give us some of the most hilarious (and annoying) moments of our lives. And you know what the best part is? If we’re lucky, we’ll get to experience the madness from both ends. So, bring it on mom and dad, I don’t think I’m all that afraid anymore!    

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    They're on to us or Bawl, baby, bawl

    There are certain things that should have remained in the domain they were intended to, but have found their way across the gender divide to shake up things as we know (and prefer) them. Like checked shirts worn by Marlboro-ish wannabes. I admit I gave them a test drive in the 90s when I was into this weird college-dressing revolt thing of mine. But then I moved on and began investing in slimming blacks and flattering reds and have not looked back since, thank the Lord. 

    And what's with men and phone charms? Wrap a locket on a chain or a bobbing Hanuman on your rear-view mirror and be done with it, now. Why must we have to endure the harsh glare of that diamond encrusted alphabet hanging off your phone along with the one playing peek-a-boo from underneath your baniyan, all on top of that annoying Bollywood ringtone? Ever been startled awake at six in the morning, while travelling in a train from India's Wild East to the tune of Altaf Raja begging someone to please answer their goddamn phone? It ain't pretty.

    But I guess we can make our peace with that. Boys will be boys and all that. But what feels like a direct assault on all that's good about this division of assets is when boys want to be girls. I am referring to men crying in public. As if Baby Sreesanth was not enough, we now have more live emotainment from that other playground favoured by Indians: politics.        

    It appears that the Madhya Pradesh state Assembly Speaker, not knowing what to do about protesting Congressmen who have been holding a parallel assembly session, which he has no control over, wept daintily into his bushy moustache. Like, shed actual tears. Caught-on-camera tears. Why? Because those mean boys taunted a lady from the lotus-eaters' party for being late, blaming it on a visit to the beauty parlour. Well, I had warned about this enslavement to vanity in an earlier post, people. And look how even a harmless mention of that neighbourhood temple of makeovers has come to bite us in the behind.  

    I guess it's payback time, and we should have seen it coming. We never should have left the warm comfort of the hearth to slow-drive our way to the office, wearing pleated trousers. Or tried to bend it like Becks. Should have continued to  quietly spend it like Posh. What a mess we've made of things.

    As if taunting us with paternity leave was not enough, they went ahead and started waxing their chests, before moving on to pink shirts and pedicures -- facials even! And look at this, they're crying openly now. Where does it end? It's war. Looting and pillage. What will they take away from us next?

    I just hope it is not my sparkly Saturday flip-flops! They don't do too well with toe hair. Oh, but they're into waxing them now. Time to wave the white flag and surrender. Sigh. Enjoy your bubble bath, you weepy little bugger. I'm off to share a frosted one with my buddies.

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    Squeeze me, please?

    "Thank you, thank nice of you".

    These eight words are like a time machine. They take me back to a time when people started letters with "I beg to state, Sir...", which ended with "Yours faithfully...".

    Somehow, these words, they seem a bit out of place in this century of conversation wrap-ups like "will do" or "sure", "no problem" and "see ya", or, if you must, email deal sealers like, "cheers", "warm regards" or "best".

    My first and only reaction is an irrepressible urge to giggle every time those eight words are uttered -- by a man of indeterminate age, who I have to liaise with sometimes, and who uses them to respond to my every 'thank you, Mr. T.'
    Well, I guess my reaction to him is probably akin to what I imagine it would be if my boss turned up in a tuxedo to work. The  thought belies all reality and even our team's collective wild imagination. And of course inspires that chuckle. Unless, of course, the boss is reading this and grim meeting is to ensue. Hmmm, be that as it may (ah, that expression now!), the boss-in-a-tuxedo is what you might call a comforting thought, with its warm certainty of  'not likely to happen'. Like, ever? Surely there's comfort in such thoughts.

    Now I wonder why some expressions endure, and reasons people choose to use them. I must admit to feeling a wee bit insecure every time I have to use an emotionally loaded "bloody hell" -- my absolute favourite. I fear that one day I'll find out that my star expression has gone the scary way of Dolph Lundgren and Sunny Deol and is not even in the B-league anymore. And that upon my uttering it, someone on the other end of the line would be helplessly chuckling at my anachronistic way of expressing extreme emotion while trying to imagine their boss in a lungi or kilt...or something. And I'm suddenly acquainted with the dread that lovers of 'peace, bro' must have to live with constantly.

    Unless I have it all backwards anyway and 'bloody hell' never even made it to anyone else's B-league. There's some comfort in that too. It's all mine.

    And then there's that favourite come-back word that all lecherous men in crowded Delhi subways/ pedestrian walkways/ movie theatres/ malls and grocery stroes use to brutal effect. It usually is uttered in response to a distracted "excuse me" on your part , one that magically transforms itself into a very focused, top-to-toe survey by the one blocking your way and ends with him muttering a cheeky "excuuuuused...."  back.
    Now, what's with that?

    Bloody hell. I beg to state that this might be the lamest blog post ever. But Mr. T's niceties needed to be acknowledged. My heart was bursting with his generous proclamations of my niceness, even as he deftly continues to avoid doing any work for me at all.

    Many thanks for reading, anyway.
    Sincere regards.
    So, so very nice of you...

    Saturday, February 27, 2010


    Delhiites don't know how to deal with celebrities.

    Actually all non-Mumbaikars don't know how to behave when there's a celebrity around, no matter how minor. Heaven help you if the said person is seriously famous. My heart goes out to you, buddy!

    Now, I say this from recent experience. Last week, I was in Bombay and happened to find my way to a tattered couch at that hookah-coffee lounge called Mocha @ Oshiwara. Now here's a thought: Mumbaikars treat their celebrities like Mocha treats its upholstery, by simply not acknowledging its presence, taking the glitz and the rips in their stride.

    Not poor ol' me. I was with some friends who, after introducing  me to a minor celebrity (a childhood buddy, no less), promptly walked off to find a corner to smoke. All of them. Together. Now, I should perhaps be happy about the fact that they thought I could well hold my own when faced with a stranger (given my curse of the gab), but heck! I am a warm-blooded Dilliwala, and for us Bollywood sightings are few and far between, and are usually restricted to situations where we can get away with pretending to be more famous than the poor sucker, what with the delicately-perched Diors over our perfectly coiffed hair.

    Not in Bombay. And definitely not on holiday from the primness of Delhi. There I was, in a pair of purple capris (hate that word -- calf-length casual pants?), with their limply hanging strings struggling to touch my black beachy flip-flops (i have been told I should drop the pretense and just call them chappals!) and a crumpled shirt that had seen a better morning. And there he was, in all his Woodland-shoes-white-shirt-blue jeans casualness. Now, with just one Bollywood hit to his name (that too of the "parallel movie" variety), I should have been able to deal with the celebrity vibes (poor soul, not that he was aware he was emitting any), but my made-in-Delhi celebritometer started spinning like crazy.

    Do I ask "So, what do you do?" and kick him in the nuts with my total lack of recognition?
    Or do I act cool and pretend I know who he is but am respecting his right to be at a coffee shop with an old buddy's star-stuck acquaintance without his celebrityhood being called to attention? Huh?
    I took the bull by the thorns: "I really liked your work in****** It was a disturbing movie. I wonder why Bollywood can't stick to song and dance". There. Three sentiments for the shame of one.

    He smiled ruefully and said: "It was close to reality and that's disturbing sometimes." Touche. Little did he know he was in very close proximity of yet another disturbing reality: well... me. But I soldiered on, trying to be so breezy as to border into the weightless inanity of the mundane, making my hard work painfully obvious to even the waiter who chose to ignore us altogether. Till my friends decided to give their lungs a well-deserved break and rescued me. So, we shook hands and I politely wished him all the best in his future endeavours. I could give "lame" a real run for its money. But then I am no Mumbaikar, am I?    

    Now it's a different matter that I saw Chetan Bhagat at a curb near a coffee shop somewhere near Andheri, and had this irrepressible urge to run him over...But then that doesn't count, does it?

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    MIA: Bombay's balls. RIP?

    Mumbai. Bombay. Khan. Thackeray. Amar. Mulayam. Kidney. Dustbin. Rahul. Italian. Mummy. Sena. Trash. Insults. Lena-dena.  This has been quite a week for us and our politicians, and it's just Thursday. Nothing new about that, I suppose, since most weeks are quite something here in the murky underbelly of Indian politics, but even politically apathetic PS is overwhelmed.

    From Amar Singh asking Mulayam for his "kidney back" in return for the former's Rajya Sabha seat; to Bal Thackeray throwing the gauntlet to "deluded" Rahul baba's "Italian mummy"; with Manohar Joshi providing some 'threatening' background music like "Whether it's Shah Rukh or anyone else, when the Shiv Sena says he must take back his comments, he'll have to do it " all the way to the SP Gen. Secy. Ram Yadav saying the party has thrown its "trash" in the "dustbin" [a.k.a the probably-recyclable Amar and the very-biodegradable Jaya, whose designer surname ain't got much brand value left] to the Congress guys saying they are not interested in being a "waste basket" [again, for the redoubtable Amar], poetic eloquence (or that much flatulence?) is the order of the day. All this as Pachauri goes around flaunting his "Chhaddha &Co." suits, which must surely be synthetic (or recycled, environment-friendly plastic?) to cost just over a pair of my snug Lee jeans.

    Who woulda thunk?

    Now, from the war of words between the Senapatis and the First Family over Mumbai, as well as the Amar Chitra Katha saga from the badlands of UP, what stands out is the sterling quality of debate in this kindergarten playground that is Indian politics: "You stink"... "No, you stink"... "Your mommy's a bad girl"... "No, your daddy's a bad boy"... "You're a loser"... "No, you're a loser" (Yes, if a friend with a cocky six-year-old is to be believed, kids do use such big words these days)... and so on.... and on... and on.....

    The other thing that stands out in stark contrast to all this Mumbai for Indians vs. Bombay for Mumbaikars ping-pong of the last few months is the silence in the streets and parks of the city in question. Just this morning, while reading the papers, my sister commented "I'm telling you, Delhi has more balls than Bombay!"  The fact that she is a die-hard fan of the one whose name is Khan has but little to do with her outrage at the Sena's latest petulance. It has to do with what I'm sure is uppermost in most people's mind ever since the the various moral armies started marching all over everything that's good and free (speech, expression, etc.), and which dates back to the time before the pink chaddis, before news of the near-curfew conditions that are to be imposed on Pune during V-day next week, before the poster-burning gangs went on the rampage, way before the Khans began to feel the heat. Which is: what the bloody hell is going on?

    In all fairness, I know that Delhi can't lay claim to being the bravest, for it is still the capital city of a nation that swears by two words: "whatever, dude". But the marginally-ballsy Delhi does feel for its beleaguered buddy Mumbai and is waiting to jump into the fight (like all true Delhiites do) -- one that has to be started by all you over there in Bombay. We're looking at you, guys, and waiting for you to do something we can jump into. After all, its amchi Mumbai -- fondly known here as the sadda Bombay of humid hangovers and kuchch bhi ho sakta hai optimism. Now, who can forget the shots of VT station without remembering the opening lines of so many movies, with a dreamy, steady voice-over extolling the virtues of the Maximum City?  

    So, yeah, I feel Mumbai's pain much more than Amar Singh suddenly feels Mayawati's, with the city holding more than just a special place in my heart: it holds the key to all that's good and fair and fun about India Unrestrained. Tell me, where else can you travel in your "party-going" rags in a local train at 10:30 pm with nary a leery comment? Where else would you find women balancing their behinds on a one-square-foot space in a super-fast local, chopping vegetables and gossiping with reckless abandon? Where might you get trapped in a traffic jam at 3 AM but in the original city that never sleeps?

    But napping it is now. I remember a time from my first visit to Bombay, way back in 2000. It was nearly morning and we were coming back from a party/friend's place (wee bit drunk then, eh?) in a taxi (unthinkable in Delhi!), and I saw a line of people walking barefoot along the road. This baffled Dilliwala was told that they were off to the Siddhi Vinayak temple, and she could't help but think that it took some kinda crazy devotion for anyone in their right mind to trawl the dirty  streets to visit a shrine. I know that a lot of people in India do this, in so many different parts of this crazy, crazy country, but somehow seeing it in a mad, merry metropolis seemed to leave a lasting impression on yours truly. It was an enduring image of tenacity, of fervour, of faith and, most importantly, action. I don't know too many people who brisk-walk every week to a temple before sunrise. Just like, I don't know of daredevils like the commuters on Mumbai locals. Yeah, there are lots of those.

    I wonder where all these people are nowadays? The ones who would fight tooth and nail about their metropolis being better than ours. The ones who would not take an insult to their city lying down, even as they moan about their bad chaat and butter chicken, while talking longingly about Moti Mahal. The ones who go ailaa at me when I talk all snooty like Delhi...

    The ones I bet that jolly ol' idol in that famous temple is wondering about too. As am I. And we're probably thinking the same thing, AGAIN: saala, yeh Mumbai ko gussa kyon nahin aata hai?

    Saturday, January 30, 2010

    Performance anxiety

    The buzz was that the Goa government planned to ban bikinis on the beach. No, actually they just want to ban ads that show all those bikini babes on the beach. But what people like me heard was "ban bikinis" and we chose not to read the rest of the story. Hmmm... Now I know that all the libertarians of the world are preparing to get together and frown down those silly people who think that banning bikini ads is going to prevent men from outraging the modesty of immodestly dressed women, or much worse, raping little girls.

    Truth be told, to most rational people it would all sound very Talibanesque. What's going on? I mean, it's Goa, not Swat for heaven's sake. Goa beaches, they're our version of the Strip in Vegas -- the strip show to beat all stage shows. One that often inspires crash dieting and frequent trips to the mirror, often in the middle of the night.
    It's Goa. The sunny spotlight's on you. Let's see what you've got.

    There. Having said all that, I must confess to feeling a much larger than small measure of glee. Yes, glee. Why, you may ask, right before you decide to bring down that studded club over my pretty, medium-sized head. You see, I'm off to Goa next month and have been petrified of the S-word. Swimwear, people. What's wrong with you? Well, er... It's all very well to bundle up during Dilli ki sardi and then glide around wear pretty loose flowing summery robes in pastel colours during the summer looking all pretty and stuff (ahem!) but Goa? That place lays your soul bare. Among other things. So I have been busy building the whole "Oh, I'm not much of a water person" (and you're going to Goa, because...?) and "I'm just going to enjoy the beach from the appropriate distance. I'm shit scared of water, you know. In fact, this one time..." (Oh, we see where you're going with can't fool us, Pudgy!)

    So, my most pressing question for the moment is: is it just going to be the ads. And (with hope...) will the ban extend to 'real life'? If so, then will only those obnoxious, skimpy little bikinis be banned or will this monstrous idea extend to maillots, the frock-wala costumes that you get in the Gujju-Maru shops of Mumbai, biking shorts-type Speedos and the like, as well?

    I mean, given such a ban, will we finally be united by a truly desi dress code like those people we used to see in the Essel World ads? Or in the ones for Fun 'n' Food Village, which is a Rrrrrrrrrollicking water park-type place on the Jaipur-Gurgaon highway, all ye who haven't been fortunate enough to behold yellow stickers on many many NCR cars -- proud souvenirs of a Sunday well-spent with the extended family and colony wallahs?

    So will we all have to then dress like those Auntyjis in all their Mandakini-in-the-Maili-Ganga glory or the we're-all-jolly-good-fellows Unclejis romping about in the shallow end wearing drawstring chaddis with stripes or paisley designs in psychedelic shades? Oh and, not to forget, the dark shades on their mugs too, if only to accessorise the dark, dark, dark, dark, dark (stop!) chest hair, in which gently nestled a gold medallion with religious alphabets or a horrified Hanumanji, dangling solidly at the end of a thick, thick, thick, thick, thick, thick (STOP!!) g-o-l-d chaineeee. But I digress.

    So, it seems to me that, if we do get that ban, Goa might go on to resemble the Appu Ghar Water Park, which is good news for all those of you in Delhi & Suburbs who must miss it terribly.

    As for me, I guess I can heave a huge sigh of relief and safely pack those demure shorts and loose tees for an unholy dip.

    Don't want to break the law now, do we? Nah ji Na...

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    "Are you hurted?"

    Yes. Very much. You see, my tummy hurted from loughing outs lowdly (aka lolz. hw i h8 tht trm!) and my eyeballses had lots of waters from gapping aghasted at the nuclear de-coupling on the idiotic box.

    Sample this:
    A Smug Man and a Skeptical Man start the evening by watching innocuous shots of Smug Man and Girl Friend (recorded voluntarily by Smug Man, without knowledge of Girl Friend) watching the sunset and cooing sweet nothings into each other's ears on a dimly lit balcony....

    Later in a studio someplace, Skeptical Man turns on a video as Smug Man relinquishes smugness to gradually become Stunned Man. Skeptical Man slowly transforms into new Smug Man, watching big sweat rivulets that soon begin to drip from the horror-stricken, crushed, confused and near-crumpled mug of Stunned Man.
    Cocky hope gives way to reluctant horror...

    Meanwhile on a couch somewhere in the bowels of Saddi Dilli, Skeptical Woman chances upon yet another reality show on TV, not prepared to give an inch. They all suck, don't they? Ahh. Clearly, she is not prepared for what follows, for little does she know, her life is about to change forever.

    Apparently, a decoy ("That Lucky Bastard", as some men might prefer to call him) has been sent to lure Girl Friend (in true MTV Bakra fashion), solely to convince all those poor sods who believe in happy endings that they are truly, and sadly, mistaken.

    Now sample some sordid snatches:

    That Lucky Bastard (in a car with hidden camera): Well, what am I to you?
    Blah Blah Bakri: Why, you're my coochie coo, puppy doll, cho chweet baba.
    TLB: So will you go to Dubai with me?
    BBB: Abhi nahin.... do char mahine baad. 
    TLB: Ok. So then, what do you want to do right now?
    BBB: I want to [bleeeep] you.
    TLB (with a leery smile, making sure the hidden mike catches it): You want to [bleeeep] me?
    BBB: Yes. Why, you want me to say it again and again? I want to {bleeeep} you, I want to [bleeeep you]...come here nah, baba. 

    She then proceeds to open his shirt buttons and kiss him lustily...
    Well, I am no Mills and Boon fan or else this might have come out as "She drank in his musky scent and undoing the buttons on his crisp white shirt to reveal soft curly hair that only enhanced his rugged masculinity, ran her hand over his gleaming torso, raining sweet kisses that left a trail of fire in their wake...awakening long-buried feelings he had safely kept hidden in a dark corner of his shattered heart... ")

    Ok, now hole on to that thought you sappy types. Real life doesn't work like that. Just to make sure we're clear about that, we go back on screen, where...

    Slightly Less Smug and Semi-Apologetic Man is stealing pitying glances at what is now Super Stunned Man as the latter's glistening face gets even sweatier (while feeling quite self-satisfied about the guaranteed-to-raise-TRPs "real-life" act that's playing out on the cam). Three days worth of pre-recorded flashback ensues, as Stunned Man's dying love life flashes before his eyes...

    "PppChhh....PpppppChhhhhh.... " sounds of slobbery kissing follow, shot at venues ranging from an indisticnt pub-type place, the car and Marine Drive, we presume, as a pixelated patch covers point of impact.

    Stunned Man looks distinctly like he's wishing he'd never been born, or at least had never made the call that is now changing life-as-he-knows-it right before his unbelieving eyes...
    And just about then Smug Man asks him an oh-so-terribly-redundant question, which I catch as the flashing subtitles on my screen.

    Three words that will ring in our ears long after the screen has faded to black: "Are you hurted?"

    Meanwhile, back home, Skeptical Woman is slowly turning into Stunned Woman off-screen, for she cannot believe she is already making a mental note to catch the next episode. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

    On screen, things are moving towards a shattering climax... people with hand-held GPRS monitors are closing in on TLB and BBB, who are, as we watch, locked in an amorous embrace behind a suspicious-looking statue near a deserted swimming pool within a gated community of sorts, one of them blissfully unaware of impending doom. Well, TLB -- the all-knowing one -- obviously wants to make the most of these last few moments before his cover is blown. He grinds his face into BBB's.

    The marching army is almost upon them. It includes a purposeful (visibly hurted and thus, angry and confused) Stunned Man, along with GPRS-wielding Smug Man.
    Confrontation ensues. And everyone asks everyone else what they're doing there. Err...

    BBB (shoving the hell out of TLB): What the fuck is this, huh? Answer me, dammit what the fuck is this? (And then she S-LA-P-S Stunned Man, who's trying to grope her now, or hold her or something)
    Stunned Man: (Clumsily slapping her back, having lost the element of surprise with her first strike)
    [Some gobbledygook about 'you two-timing something or other']
    BBB: You loser! How dare you make my personal life public!! Who the fuck do you think you are? 
    (and then to TLB, who is just smirking dumbly, looking a bit doozy) What the fuck is going on?
    SM: [Some more ygdhygfhvhcf about you... you... you something or the other]
    BBB: You're such a loser! I can't believe this! You had to go and get your pathetic life on TV... you loser! Fuck off! 

    She stomps off. He shakes his head...runs his hands through hair atop a stunned head.
    But then, ladies and gentlemen, the show must move on. And it does. Cut to the anchor, aka the Smuggest Man. If you think your partner or fiance might be cheating on you, you can call/mail/write to us, or phone into blahblah radio station and we will....

    And I am left with these thoughts.
    • I can't believe I enjoyed watching this. What's wrong with me? Maybe I'm just like everyone else, I feed off the misery of others. (But a battle rages inside my head) Oh, come on, that chick was right. What losers! Don't people like this deserve what they get? 
    • So many ways to contact the makers of a TV show. And just the one to deal with your cheating partner? 
    Well, that's Emotional Atyachar for you.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    That foggy, foggy bottom

    If there's anything worse than flying into, or out of Delhi these days, it's crossing one of the three bridges that link "Jamnapaar" with the rest of civilisation. I now know this for a fact because I made the mistake of doing exactly that last evening.

    Now, time is a treacherous thing -- almost as treacherous as the view of the outside world is from a window that hasn't seen a washcloth (much less a decent wash) in decades. So, while looking out, around the time I only know as 'early evening', at the deceptive view from the window next to my workstation (and being far, far away from, and hence blissfully unaware of, the mist that had started to gather on and around three bridges a few miles away), I promised a friend that I'll drop in for dinner. Alas! If, only I could have been 'dropped' in, literally, this from one of the scores of airplanes waiting for clearance to land at IGI/Palam that are per force circling the badlands of UP as a consequence at any given time, the evening might have turned out differently.

    It was 8:26 pm when I finally steered my way towards the DND "flyway". Only to realise that, leave alone the unique pleasure of hitting the speed limit on my favourite toll road, even the slightest inattention of the tiniest second that it takes to change the track on my iPod, may really lead me to fly away into the Yamuna or into the backside of my fellow travellers. So I joined the slow crawl of bumper-to-bumper vehicles, a strangely subdued convoy of NCRwallahs inching their way forward in the face of something straight out of a John Carpenter movie. Or the "Aaaaaaaaaa Aa" version of the Zee Horror Show, if you please. I could almost hear a voice from the backseat whisper into my ear... "Montyyyyyyyyiiiiiiiiii..........."


    So after almost bumping into the toll barrier and shelling out 20 bucks with semi-frozen fingers, my heart started beating even faster at the prospect of finding the second exit, while I nervously switched from my distress lights to the indicator, as confused as a man with Alzheimer's who can't remember whether he's put on his pants and diapers, and the order in which they're worn. And just when I thought I might have found the blessed road to my part of Noida, the track on my Pod threw everything but the memory of a lonely, rainy drive somewhere on an American motorway out the window... remember "Total eclipse of the heart"? More importantly, remember Bonnie Tyler whispering "turn around...." in Urban Legend? 

    Sheer horror resulting in total eclipse of the heartbeat. Or maybe that had something to do with me being a pawn in the battle between the heat of the windshield de-fogger inside and the cold, evil, swirling fog trying to get in through the partially open window outside, the latter open in a desperate bid to navigate and judge approximate distance from nearest driving neighbour.

    So, at the next complete jam, also known as invisible-to-the-fogged-eye traffic signal, I made a desperate call to friend for an alternate route that would help me avoid traversing the totally dodgy part of Mayaland in near-darkness and eerie special effects. And she, oh-so-very-helpfully, told me to ignore the next roundabout (Where? What's that round shape? Oh, it's just the sari-clad bum of a lady blindly trying to cross the road while totally giving my bonnet the shove.) and continue till I reached the fourth red light, uh...the major one not the sidey ones along the way. Ah, I think THAT distinction should be a piece of cake in frosted, unfamiliar Noida, especially while I try my best not to run into the stolid, grey Metro pillars along the way.

    Uh oh. Another thought hits me. It's past 9 already on a Grey's Anatomy day. Again. Hrrrmph! Delhi roads are not Anatomy-friendly. So after carefully rolling my windows up and down to check out the stature of the traffic lights AND keeping count at the same time, I manage to finally navigate my way into my friend's freshly-mowed lawn, narrowly missing one of the dogs. Paneer-something-or-the-other awaits my temporarily vegetarian self, as do freshly-scrubbed children watching Roadies on the couch. Are they allowed to watch that crap, I ask? Ah yes, it's better than Splitsvilla. Duh uh! (Who are all these weird people, anyway?)

    So, after deciding that I am NOT driving back home post-dinner but borrowing a tooth brush, we finally draw the curtains against that monster lurking on three bridges (and then some more), and bury ourselves in the warmth of downy quilts to talk of sunnier times; battening down the hatches, knowing we'll have to fight the foggy fiend yet another day.

    Well, maybe... next time I think I'll just hang out at the airport.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    Change is inevitable. Say, what?

    I've realised that no amount of sunshine /IT sops/ resigned ignorance of their itchy ways/ extra elaichi-adrak in their morning chai/ etc etc. will make men you pass along the short walk from parking lot  to work place abandon their morning dose of MC/BC. From the nukkad chaiwallah to the office boy, the parking dude with his long unwashed tresses and stone-washed jeans to the credit card "execs" in their subway-selection ties, to the patties-with-kaddu-ketchup-and-jam-topped-cream-roll man; from the men loading or unloading (offloading?) stuff in the building's 'backside'... to even (here we transcend gender) the lady who sells fruit next to our building (and fights with anyone who even dares to dream of parking their car within a kilometre of her stall), they're all at it. Like its Rig Veda chanting time in Aryanic Dilli. Well, of course, we're all Brahmins here.

    So, with age -- or constant fuck-ups, depending on your mortal trajectory -- comes the knowledge that there will always be things that you cannot change. Here's a list of a few from recent life experiences, marking a brief (and pleasurable?) return to bullet points, like in the Friday Fundas of yore and more:
    •  Slow IT response times in office. Also the mysterious, Paranormal Activity-type occurrence that when you report a really "serious" problem, it somehow resolves itself either just after your tenth call or just before they actually get to your desk.
    • Genetically grumpy colleagues
    • Jarring 'hold' music on lines you are forced to hold the longest. Like Meru Cabs. Also, who can ever run fast enough or hide long enough from that tortured monotone of "iss route ki sabhi linein vyast hain..." Linein. Is that even a real word?
    • Practised ignorance
    • The Management's constant need to send reassuring emails of progress made and targets achieved, filled with jargon that bears no resemblance to sense and does not correspond, directly or indirectly, to even a marginal increase in the bottom line on your paycheck, which, incidentally, is indirectly proportional to the rising fortunes of the company, following encouraging quarterly results that are taking it from strength to strength while inspiring eternal confidence in the market and in the hearts of shareholders and is reflected in the gleaming steel 'n' alloy gracing the reserved parking slots of higher (than you) management.
    • Pompous verbosity
    • (seemingly, of course) the foggy conditions freezing, blinding and pissing-off Delhiites right this moment
    • People aiming for the right lane at a traffic signal, when what they really want to do is go left. It's like basketball. Or hockey. Or soccer. Don't drive here if you like cricket or golf.
    • Short tempers
    • Long pauses
    • Clothes marked XL, which wouldn't fit a chihuahua. What's with that?
    • Getting lost while taking shortcuts 
    • A long succession of green lights, when all you need is a bloody red to freshen your lipstick before a date.
    •  The exact position of the long-forgotten gym stuff in the locker day after day...after day.
    • Your mom's habit of discussing (at length) what you're having/had/will have/could have had/should have had/might have had for lunch/breakfast/dinner today/tomorrow/yesterday, especially when you're trying to keep your voice down and impatience in check while trying not to hurt her feelings-- all this in the middle of an open-plan office. And that too on a day you skipped breakfast and hastily washed down a McChicken (w/-cheese!) with a large Coke for lunch. Hmmm...What's a fruit, you  wonder, right around the time she gets to your daily vitamin supplements. 
    • the lure of bullet points every now and then....