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!