Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Whose Land Is It Anyway?

There's a new scam involving Indians at some duty-free shops abroad. Indians shopping at duty-free shops in Dubai or Bangkok are being targeted for extortion and here is how it works. When you buy stuff and are at the billing counter, the billing assistant will slip in another package that you haven't bought. Once you come out of the shop, the police will accost you and want to see the receipt. When they find the item not paid for, they will arrest you for shoplifting and detain you. In your desperation, you will pay all your cash to get a release. And that cash is enjoyed by the shopowner, billing assistant, and the airport police. There have been quite a number of such cases according to one email floating around. And all these cases are involving Indians.

I know what you are thinking. Maybe the Indian fellow did shoplift after all? I thought so too.

We all think, despite being Indians ourselves, that Indians will haggle, steal, and cheat. That is the general perception of Indians abroad, making unsuspecting and innocent Indians the target of a smooth nexus like this. If the Indian embassy hears that guy's plea, every single Indian working in the embassy will believe the story...he must have done it, man.

The world works on such perceptions, and perceptions are formed from real stories. Maybe there are many such repetitive real incidents that help others form a general perception about a community or set of people. When a Dutch guy in Mahabalipuram is caught for being a pedophile, everybody believes it. From Amsterdam, no? Must be a pedophile. Maybe he is, maybe it is a true story, but then, the general perception about the Dutch or most Europeans is that they are here for the sex industry. There are thousands of Europeans who come as photographers, travelers, seekers of spiritual freedom, but they are mostly branded together in one slot. Because that's how our minds work and we love generalizations. That gives our lazy, unthinking minds something to talk about: Malayalis are always yapping away in Malayalam, all Bengalis wear balaclavas, all Punjabi women have well-endowed derrieres, or all Gujaratis pronounce "hole" for "hall."

We are all afflicted by such single stories of races and cultures, and believing in these generalizations makes us very narrow-thinking individuals. This is not a spiel to say I am above all this, because we grow up on stories and generalizations that are handed down to us by our parents, neighbors, and society and it is very hard to come out of such mindsets. I cannot, but I will try.

Last month I saw novelist Chimamanda Adichie's talk on the dangers of a single story and remembered the movie Crash, about which I had written earlier. It shows the workings of a society that lives just on single stories about other races or cultures. So, all I borrow from Ms Adichie is the phrase "single story," which is a very catchy and apt phrase indeed.

How do we come out of it? Where do we get the proper education to be global citizens or at least Indians instead of being Brahmins, Marwaris, Sindhis, Malayalis, or Marathis? How do we ensure that entire India doesn't start hating Biharis just because MNS in Maharashtra is throwing them out. They are hardworking east Indians who had to leave their state to find livelihood. And they went to other parts of India, their own country. MNS calls them "north Indians" and throws them out of Bombay, because Bombay belongs only to the Marathis. Who said Biharis are all unscrupulous cheats? If you look back into the history of the eastern region through the eyes of popular literature in Bengal, you will find that the delicate babus from Bengal relied on the strong Biharis to protect them from dacoits and thugs. All the watchmen were from the "West" (meaning UP and Bihar). All this talk about Biharis being thrown out shows the MNS and die-hard Marathis in bad light, but it also damages the already damaged reputation of Biharis in the mind of the Indian.

In our cross-cultural workshops where we are taught about respecting other cultures, we leave out one basic thing: respecting ourselves as Indians. We learn about the gun-weilding cowboys (another stereotype), about all Americans going dutch with their restaurant bills, but we are not taught to mingle, mix, and learn to respect other Indians. "The Tamilian Brahmins, no matter how vehemently Swaminathan Aiyar tries to deny it, try to instill Brahminism in their kids and make them stay away from other bad influences like Bengalis and Malayalis, who introduce little Tambrams to the pleasures of beef, fish, and whisky." That is my single story, a story I believe in, although I know many Tam Brams who aren't religious (some are atheists), many bongs who don't have beef, and many mallus who don't drink at all.

I see the solution in marrying people from other castes, religions, and languages. And that can happen when young men and women from one state go to other states for education. I can cite the example of West Bengal, which started experiencing a student exodus since the early nineties. Same from Kerala. (For the uninitiated, these two states were under the communist rule for ages, and have stopped functioning altogether... education sucks, there are no jobs, and in West Bengal the law and order is in the hands of the extreme leftists). These young people, coming out of their states, venture into greener pastures, mix with other people and often marry people from other races, castes, and religions. If you see a tall Punjabi man walking with his short, rotund son, you know he married a short, fat Bengali woman. Like that. Fluids, blood, sweat, everything is getting mixed these days and along with that the accents. Thick regional accents are giving way to a more cosmopolitan lingo. This trend has to be encouraged. Go out, meet others, and multiply so that one day you have Gujjus who aren't selling diamonds, marwaris who aren't staring at the sensex, bengalis who aren't writing poems, and malayalis who aren't forming political parties. You may one day even find a Sindhi in a charitable organization.

I am eternally hopeful.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Two Conversations


"Hello? Asif?"
It's been quite a while since we discussed his exploits with the latest girl, but I could hear someone panting on the other side. Did sound like Asif, but couldn't tell for sure.
"Yeah, it's me all right. Why do you call at such odd hours?"
"Nothing unearthly about 3.00 in the afternoon...I thought you would be at work? Are you like...at it? Right now? WITH WHOM, MAN!"
"Don't be crazy, dammit, am on the run, boss, am on the run. And all because of you."
"ME!"
"Yeah, had you not asked me to target Sunaina, I wouldn't be in this position today."

Sunaina is hot. And of course beautiful, intelligent, his colleague, a divorcee, and someone I'd helped him set his eyes on. She had short hair when I saw her last in Bombay, well-endowed, and pink. In this age when all the girls are trying to go zero, Sunaina was proudly extra large and loving it.

"What happened? I thought you enjoyed every moment with her? She was lonely, fantasized about making love to ghosts, and you were a flesh and blood person, her colleague, and handsome too. Single even! What was the problem? Why are you on the run?"

"Oye, you forgot about my girlfriend, did you? She got to know. And am on the run now, will talk later." Asif disconnected the phone.
We have always kept our conversations very focused till now, only both of us had forgotten that he was officially seeing someone else, another friend of ours from the college, Jasmine. How could we forget about her when we targeted Sunaina? I felt responsible for having landed Asif in a mess. It was I who made him notice what Sunaina was made of, how she was all about the sun, scorching our eyes, and waiting for someone to come to her life. Why did I notice her and why didn't I go for her instead? I've always sacrificed the best girls for Asif...always...and ended up playing Cupid for him. And he managed to screw up every bloody relation! Takes some caliber to do it, man!

I thought of Jasmine. Sweet, good-natured, and loves Asif with her life. I accept she is a little pushy at times, but which woman isn't with her boyfriend? Jasmine is the kind of girl you wouldn't want to hit on if you knew she was already seeing someone else. Unlike most of us guys and girls from college, she believed in sticking on, in commitment, and all that old-world romantic stuff that books are filled with. I often want to associate the term morality with her, but can't call her names, can I? After all we shared many coffees together growing up. Calling her a girl with morality might make her look like a geek in the eyes of the others. Even to you guys who are reading this. (Frankly? I changed her name. Her name is not Jasmine.) When I got Asif introduced to Jasmine, I really believed he would change his ways and stick on to this sweetheart of a girl. What business did I have showing him Sunaina's charms three years down the line?

Ashamed at myself, a feeling that usually lasts not more than a few minutes, I hung my head down in shame. My shoes shone brilliantly in the late afternoon sun. Calcutta, in December, is the place to be. I longed for the company of Asif again, at least on Christmas eve, to be on Park Street together. I remembered the time we had seen Victor Banerjee and Lillette Dubey shooting for Bow Barracks. It was Christmas eve too, and we were headed to Someplace Else in The Park.

Right now, I was on Park Street again, walking up from the graveyard toward St Xavier's College. I took care to shine my shoes this morning, but didn't end up at the venue of the interview. I do not want to work in the services sector, no matter how enticing the money sounded. I do not want to ... work. Not that I have to, really. I don't have a dire need to take up a job. I can waste my degree walking on the streets, or perhaps pass on whatever I learned to the kids. I stopped in front of the yellow building of St. Xavier's college. Teaching here won't be a bad idea. But they don't need me. Asif, on the other hand, needed the job. He and Jasmine were planning to get married, and probably have kids too. Shucks! Asif... kids... just the thought made me cringe for him, empathizing with his pain. But Jasmine made him take up the job in Bombay and took him away from me, putting an untimely stop to our numerous escapades with the marwari and bengali girls that we had constant access to. Without Asif, I don't feel complete. When is the bugger coming back?

I sat on the ledge of the wall. It's uncomfortable and not really meant to rest your bum on, but then, I was lonely, hadn't gone for the interview, and could think only of Subhasishda to make a call to. No point going home now, too early to get into Peter Cat for a beer, and what's a beer unless you have friends with you? So it was the uncomfortable ledge of the St. Xavier's College wall for me.

"Hello? Subhoda?"
"Arre, tell me man, nice of you to call. I would have called you anyway tonight."
"So, what's up? How was your day?"
"Oh, very, very fulfilling indeed. I could make Eamon count the beats with me today."

Subhoda has set up his own school for the special children in a village called Adisaptagram, and is the music teacher there. He keeps telling me about Beethoven's 9th, Vivaldi's Summer, and all the other music that he has tried as therapy on his kids. He treats all the kids as his and exults in joy every time there's some significant improvement as the result of his therapy. I sometimes wonder why I can almost feel his joy sitting out here. Maybe because I love him so much.

"Eamon doesn't usually respond to his dad. And today, when I tried the scale of C on the keyboard, he sang along... hummed really."
I keep listening when Subhoda speaks because an inspired dialogue shouldn't ideally be interrupted. And gradually I could see the gleam in his excited eyes as he talked to me over the phone.
"Did I tell you about the guy who plays the chand-sarangi on the Bandel line?"
"No, you didn't."
"That man plays old Bengali songs so soulfully on his sarangi, you would think someone's actually singing them. And he seems oblivious of the surroundings. Who notices him on crowded trains? He goes unnoticed just as Joshua Bell went unnoticed playing his violin on a NY subway. But for Bell it was an experiment on the human psyche. Apparently some children wanted to listen to him play. Whereas, our man here, who is perhaps as talented or as passionate about his music, goes unnoticed every day. How much money does he make by pursuing his creativity? By being a mendicant whom people sympathize with? I mean, couldn't he have ploughed the land or pulled a hand-cart for sustenance? He probably could have. But then that wouldn't have made him happy.
Adi, if I am doing this here today, it is much like that. Pursuing what my heart has sent me for. Every time a child responds to my music, I feel I have earned a few millions."

Maybe I will think like him some day too. Learn to pursue what my heart sends me for.

After we spoke for almost an hour, my battery ran out, and I got up from my uncomfortable seat. Got up and walked back to where I came from, not transformed or enlightened, not a changed man, but toward the graveyard on the other end of Park Street.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Compact Diesel SUVs in India

With the Gypsy gone and the Bolero Crde being priced on the steeper side, the market for sub 7-lakh SUVs is a huge vacant space. Suzuki could have launched the Jimny to fill this void with the same 1.3 liter multijet engine doing duty on the diesel Swift, D-Zire, Indica Vista, Fiat Palio, Linea, Grande Punto, etc, but they haven't.
(Suzuki Jimny)

And suddenly you have Premier Automobiles, a company that is faded from our collective memory, launching just the thing: a sub-7-lakh diesel SUV with the same old Peugeot IDI engine that was used in the 309 GLD. Apparently they were always there and didn't die out. All these days they had a strategic collaboration with Tata Motors to provide specialized engineering services.





Here's an image of the Premier Rio. Cute, small, lovable, and an SUV for the common man. An IDI engine means you have to wait for a glow plug to go off before ignition. The car is a small Daihatsu, made by Zoyte Motors of China, with the legacy French mill that can well be called Indian now. In an age where multijet diesels are ruling the market, launching an IDI engine from the prehistoric era may sound a strategic blunder, but if you look at the price tag, you know who the Rio is targeting. All the auto mags this month are carrying stories about the Rio, so we have to wait and watch where this story heads.



Am sure other auto majors are gonna wait and watch this story like us, and I won't be surprised if this attempt at resurgence by PAL is sabotaged by other companies. What we would want is a healthy competition from Suzuki with the Jimny 4x4, which has a better finish anyday. Maybe Mahindra will launch the Classic in a compact avatar again (think Jeep Wrangler Sahara) and price it at that band? The choice of engine will have to be the 2500 cc, 97 bhp engine from the Bolero Crde.









(Jeep Wrangler Sahara)


And that would give prospective buyers of the Skoda Yeti (to be priced at 12 lakhs on road) a chance to think twice. And the Yeti will die a slow death like the Fabia even before it is born.

Way to go, Premier.








(Skoda Yeti)


Images from:
http://blog.cochesalaventa.com/_fotos/Skoda-Yeti-SUV-to-enter-production_77061_1.jpg
http://www.theautochannel.com/media/photos/jeep/1998/98_jeep_wrangler_sahara.jpg
http://allworldcars.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/suzuki_jimny_1.jpg
http://www.ithappensinindia.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Premier-RiO-1.jpg

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Rumor of Angels*

I brought you some blue whisky glasses. Really beautiful ones.
I realized it was absolutely out of place to say that at someone's funeral pyre, but that's what I blurted out. And whisky glasses are never blue.

The body was placed on the floor, covered in white cloth. The feet were jutting out, so I sat there and felt them. The same old white feet, only whiter. I ran my forefinger along her cracked heels and smiled. She was still there, and I couldn't tell if she were just sleeping, in coma, or dead. One of her toes had twitched a day before. That wasn't there any more. She was dead after all, then. It is the end. And very soon her ashes will fit into an urn that you could hold in your both hands. The strangeness of death, from so close, was lost on me. There were people all around. "They've all come to see you." And they were all there indeed. Cousins I hadn't met in a long time and probably wouldn't meet again. All of them.

I could overhear someone discussing me. About how cold and unfeeling I had become. But then death was always just another phase to me, like the period at the end of a sentence.

This time when I went to visit my cousin who looked after my comatose mother for over a month, I saw those glasses again. She had stacked them up in a glass cupboard, one after another, like sentinel on duty. There was one missing though.

"You brought me those."
"I know. That was to say thanks. Dunno really how to..."
"I know."

And we were quiet for a while. If she hadn't taken ma to her hospital, we would be bankrupt by now. And ma would still be dead.

I walked back from her Rail Vihar apartment to our house. The otherwise broad road was crowded with shops and people and garbage. There was a bus pushing its way through the crowd, the conductor calling out for passengers to Howrah. All the noise fused together after a while, like a viscous lump one could easily stash into a can and close shut, savor the void for a few seconds, and open it again, slowly allowing the fused lump of various noises to get back to their distinct shapes again. One of the shapes could well be the clink of the missing blue glass.

*A Rumor of Angels is a beautiful American film starring Vanessa Redgrave.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Friendship Drive






The friendship drive is something I have always secretly desired all these years. It is about touching base with all my friends in India, old and new. It would be a drive all around India, starting from Bangalore.
The drive from Bangalore to Calcutta (2000 kms) will take me about 2.5 days. In Calcutta I will meet four people:

Arup: a partner in crime since 1990, Arup and I are often mistaken as brothers. I can't tell you what all we did together in our hostel room. Even today when we start exchanging notes on various matters of interest, time flies by unnoticed. I love this guy. If I were gay, he would have been my (rather unfaithful) partner.

Gargi: a chat mate turned soul mate whom I met in 1999 in the Kolkata chatroom of 123india and have a long association since. We are what they call "poles apart" in our nature, outlook, and worldview. She is suave, sophisticated, in a black business suit, and never utters anything untoward, while I am just the opposite. We complement each other and thus are the best of friends.

Gora: from bunking school to watch porn to ogling at all the girls at the univ (where Arup joined us to form the unholy trinity) Gora and I have a strange association. Found him after a gap of 15 years in 2008. I hate him with all my heart at times for all his untimely spilling of beans, but can't think of not giving him a bear hug every time I meet.

Bubunda: (Lazyani, the blogger) this is the longest association, of 31 years... we grew up together, me trying to idolize and emulate him and never succeeding. My first cricket and football captain, and also my first hero. Bubunda also has the distinction of being the first one to tell me about sex.

then I move on to Durgapur, where I meet:

Meghadoot da: again from the university, Meghadoot da filled the void left by Bubunda when I went to Banaras. a musician from his heart (and a master esraaj player), an avid listener of hindustani classical and jazz, meghadoot da epitomized the craziness hiding in all of us. We still have one-hour phone calls almost every week, often with him singing from the other end and discussing music. Right now he is in love with Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, the Azerbaijani pianist and jazz vocalist. I just hope he never stops falling in love because that will be the end of him.


The Kolkata to Durgapur drive is only about two hours, so I next go all the way to Banaras, some 500 kms from Durgapur. There I meet:

Banibrat: A junior at the Univ, Banibrat Mahanta was one guy who had a lot of potential in him. A quiet, good student, Bani is now a prof of English at BHU. Have to have tea at Lanka with him.

Prof Vanashree Tripathi: A lady who had more faith in me than I myself did. She instilled in me a lot of confidence and also was a great friend. It is another matter that as a young student I had a mild crush on her. It was more awe than a crush. Am sure she was so busy discussing Michel Foucault that she didn't even realize.


From Banaras, it would be a trip to Delhi, some 800 kms away. This will take me an entire day.

The Delhi list is long, so I will keep the descriptions short:

Manini Chatterjee: she is famous, might not have time to meet me. But I have to buy her a copy of Da Vinci Code, which she deliberately never read.

Manjari Rathi: My "saaala" colleague. She saalas me and I saala her. The most apolitical colleague ever, she has a special place in my heart. She disapproves of everything I do and dislikes everything I write, but am sure will be grinning from ear to ear when she sees me in Delhi.

Ritu Malhotra: I have a love-hate relation with this girl (now a mother of two) since 1998. Having joined together as Assistant Editors at OUP, Ritu and I were friends with clashing egos. We fought about everything, but used to ride together in the Delhi rains. We have fond memories at work. Am very fond of her even now, but have a suspicion it might be more for her striking beauty than anything else :-P. We will meet for the OUP lunch at Berco's.


Sourav Dutta: This neo-Nazi guy has been a buddy since 1996. He is the famous blogger velvetgunther and has a very eclectic taste in history, art, music, and literature. He is a fascist of the first order and hates Asians of all hues. I share this hatred and love him for it. He also drives a Merc.

Dilreen Kaur: A brief 2-year association with Dilreen was enough to remember her for life. Clearly the most beautiful girl I've ever worked with, Dilreen was funny, gullible, and very feminine. Found her again in 2009. We will have lunch at Berco's, CP.

Soma Goswami: She made me start smoking again at the age of 27, ten years after I had quit. She and her husband Gaurav are the best hosts I have ever seen. We share a hatred for one particular boss, but we can't talk about her now. If Soma and I get together, we will bitch about Dilreen, Ritu, Hari, Mithlesh, Abhijeet, Mr Bhowmik, and a few others. And also get very very drunk in the process. Soma is in the UK now and says she will come down for that lunch at Berco's CP.


Shikha Gupta: Missing since 1999, she is an integral part of our OUP memories. Many of us swooned over her. And she would often come to my desk to be able to breathe (she sat in the same room with the boss). She was fond of the lightning-struck tree in the backyard of the YMCA building. We have to find her out and bring her for that lunch at Berco's, CP.

Arindam: My ever-enthu bro-in-law, who is closer to me than to his cousin (Sayantani)

Udayan: He is some bigshot with Penguin Books, so I can't possibly write that he resembles someone from the Italian mafia. But his is a strange face with the coldest eyes and the warmest smile you can imagine. Another foodie, we used to heap chicken bones on a separate plate as Smriti Vohra looked on. He was also our steady supplier of Tintin, Asterix, and hindi movies. Apparently he now has a lab called Pluto, whom I must hug too.

From Delhi...now this is a stretch because already am worrying about how many leaves I have left still... I must make a trip to Kumaon and one to Ludhiana and Manali.

In Kumaon, I want to meet:

Vinay Badola: the owner of www.otterreserves.com, Vinay was the first man to initiate me into Royal Enfields. Sourav and I rode with Vinay and Revati to the Himachal in 2000. Forever smiling, this pahari from Dehradoon is what a true leader is made of. He might be available near the Kali river in Kumaon.


In Ludhiana:

Mampi: a new friend from blogland, mampi's humor, enthusiasm, and absolutely punjabi approach to everything in life is very refreshing. She is a bad cook, apparently, so I will have a lassi at her place and also meet her family...she can yap, yap, and yap... a perfect match for me. She is a professor of English with Punjab Univ, but we won't discuss Jane Austen for sure.

In Manali, it will be:

Rimli Borooah: Clearly the Gwyneth of India, or Mary Stuart Masterson. quiet, beautiful, serene like the landscape of Manali, she can also be like the sea, I heard. Although I first saw her in 1998, our friendship started after I left Delhi in 2001, over emails. A foodie and a great pal to drink with. She is a writer and I envy her that.


Delhi to Bombay is a great drive, Anirban tells me. He had done it once in his Fiat Adventure in two days. In Bombay:

Anirban: Kind of like my Arup of DK days. Can talk about almost anything. Well read, passionate about cars and a gizmo freak. We, however, restrict our conversations to cars, women, absynthe, and Irish cream. He might join me in this drive.

Amala: Sweetheart of a woman. She has worked with Resul Pookutty and has also recorded the sound for Aamir Khan's Ghajini. A woman in a man's domain (sound recording), Amala was the first one who inspired me to walk in to Penguin Books for an interview in April 1997. I owe her a couple of large whiskies on the rocks.

Titin: A chat mate turned chum. She calls herself the universal mother, and apparently her friends agree. Met her once when she came to Bangalore and we drank till 3 in the morning with James. Will come to James later. In Bombay, we plan to drink till 4 in the morning. She might join Anirban and me in this drive.

Alpa: She goes by various names: Estelle, Wild Cat Charms, and a whole lot more. Neurotic, hippy, poet, fairy tale romance, poet, cold, sexy, psychic, clairvoyant, poet, are some words you can associate with her at various points in time. She will take me to Marine Drive.

Harikrishnan Menon: I met him probably only thrice in my life. But his was the first Royal Enfield that I rode inside the YMCA compound in New Delhi. He left OUP a little before Ritu and I joined, but used to keep coming to check out the hottest women in Delhi. We met again in Bangalore (we had rabbit meat at Ponnuswamy) and this time we want to have Ridley turtle fry in front of the Greenpeace activists in Bombay.

Ujjal and Benu: Out of all the times I played Cupid, only this succeeded. Ujjal and I were in BHU together, and I met Benu later at DK. Both were single, I passed the email IDs, and the next thing I knew, Benu flew to Calcutta to meet him!! They are yet to buy me a pair of Levi's, which was Cupid's contract.


And then, the 1000 km run back to Bangalore will start, probably alone because by then Anirban and Titin would have been dropped back to Bombay. I might just make a slight detour to Goa to meet:

Brian Mendonca: a friend, a poet (his second anthology being published now), a guitarist...Brian cooks awesome pork and lives like a hermit. He recently left Delhi for Goa, so it will be a poetry reading session on the beach some evening with him. With port, fenny, and fish fry.

In Bangalore, at LoR, I will meet the following:

(cartoon courtesy James)

James: ten years and still going strong, James and I have been to San Francisco together. Need I say more? This bugger is a guitarist, cartoonist, adventurer, and now a fitness freak. Great company, anywhere, anytime.


Shuvo (whom I spend all my weekends with): My bro whom I met in 96, on the streets of Calcutta, often bumping into each other at the same interview venue. His sense of humor is unparalleled and he has the class to lace even a bawdy joke with British humor that makes it sound very sophisticated. He married Sayantani's sister and we never mix his whisky with my vodka.

Raja da and Khukudi: Bubunda's cuz, Rajada and I were playmates as children and later met in Banaras again. We have also been together in Delhi and now he has come to Bangalore. Their's is one place I can go to without a prior appointment and still expect a great meal. Both of them excel in their culinary skills and both can drink like tanks, Khukudi in a more unassuming, matter-of-fact manner.



And then, I will go to meet my biking group buddies, probably the next weekend, on our bikes.

Rocky/Pal, Love, Prateek, and Doc: This is a close biking group, with Rocky and Pallavi being the initiators. They got us all together. And Rocky and Pallavi are probably going to grow old with us in Bangalore. Rocky is to me here what Bubunda was to me when I was a child. Rocky also made me fall in love with Mahindra's slow and steady workhorse, the Bolero. He went and picked up a faster, crde version later. Pallavi is my stand-up comedy partner.

Prateek rode with us to the Himalayas and that's when I realized what a great soul he is. A quiet, firm guy of principles, Prateek has done epic solo rides. He has the dubious distinction of owning two Enfield 500s!!

Love and Tana are young and sweet, and very much in love. Love has tattoos all over and is boisterous. Tana can match him. And I love to compete whenever we meet. We literally talk nonstop.

Doc, while extracting my teeth, never speaks of bikes, and while riding, never speaks of my cavities. I want to grow up to be like him, a steady, solo rider. He has done Ladakh alone on his Eliminator.

And then, one day on Church Street:

Atanu: He is back in Bangalore after two years in Pune. We worked in four companies together: Apex, OUP, DK, and Oracle. At Oracle, we became buddies, and our early morning tea sessions discussing everything from George Bush to Sourav Ganguly are to die for. He has a sweet tooth and even sweeter children. I will meet Atanu at Blossom Book Store on Church Street. He will buy some LPs, and then we will walk to Empire International for some succulent kababs.

And finally, back home, I will narrate my experiences to my best friends ever:
Sayantani and Aaron.

Sayantani will sulk for not taking her along, and Aaron will want to go out on a bike ride with me right then, but I will explain to them why it was necessary for me to touch base with all the others that I love. Life is too short, so I had to go ahead and say hello to all the people who matter to me in my life.

Disclaimer: sisters, cousins, children, wives, dads, moms, etc. are out of this because this is about friends only.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Tights versus Pajamas




After the cycling helmet and the headlight, I naturally added cycling tights to my list. This met with vehement opposition from my wife, who felt it would be absolutely unnecessary to show the bulge around. Now that's one good way of reminding myself at this age that I am a man, I argued, but she wouldn't have any of it. She even cited an example of cycling shorts being banned in Utah for being obscene. Apparently, the Citizens for Decent Attire are trying to ban cycling shorts in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I was surprised to see this because in a country that hosts the World Naked Bike Ride, calling a pair of cycling tights indecent was taking things a bit too far. Undeterred by my wife's protests, I asked my bro (the anon who leaves cocky comments on my blog every now and then) to check out some cycling tights when he went to buy his tennis gear. He called saying there's one L, which he didn't think would fit me. According to him, my crotch would asphyxiate and die inside the L. Please don't get ideas as these tights are sold by the waist size and not any other size. Going by my waist size (or how it has become over the last couple of months), XL would be a safer bet, we both decided.

As children, most boys wanted to wear their briefs outside à la Superman. I was no exception. I spent numerous afternoons prancing around in front of our mirror dressed like that. My critics (mainly my dad and mom and later my wife) hold that this particular activity in front of the mirror for many years cost me my grades in school. I have always disagreed with them. You should ALWAYS disagree with someone who points out errors in you. After all, your life is too short to while away trying to conform to what others think is right. So I kept wearing my briefs outside, but never outdoors.

After having bought the bicycle I felt the time has come to live my childhood dream. If not briefs, at least through my cycling shorts. Beware Bangalore, SupAri has arrived. (this cartoon is courtesy James, who has always nurtured a clandestine desire to see me in the nude)


And so I finally went out in them one day, the bulge notwithstanding. Some people noticed, some didn't, some kids were bothered only about the "geared bike," and some others noticed only Aaron's Firefox with its headlights. The ultimate macho dad of Aaron was riding next to him, showing off his thighs and crotch, expecting all the moms in the neighborhood to swoon, when suddenly he was chased by a pack of hungry dogs who sensed something new in this attire. Whether the dogs chased my feminine legs or the bulge, I cannot tell, but riding away from them that day was my fastest run so far. It was so maddeningly fast, I can't even emulate it if you ask me to.

So now I don't wear them tights any more. I preserve whatever I have inside baggy shorts and ride next to the same dogs who don't even cock an ear when I ride by. Gone are the dreams of being Robin or Superman. I have settled to be a decent husband instead, fetching groceries on my bike like my dad used to many years back, wearing pajamas if possible.














Let the Ram Sene guys take over for all I care. At least I can send them a pack of wild pets if not pink panties.

(image from http://reviews.roadbikereview.com)
(for the MOST hilarious pic, check out http://www.funnycoolstuff.com/2006/09/18/why-bicycle-shorts-are-always-black/)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Stuck at the Y

E&Y E&Y and the Bay the Bay the Bay
the red red sedan
that she drove away
the french fries scattered on a plate

are images that won't walk out the door

get me more than Frost at this strange Y
get me a bench under a tree
tell me am I any richer today

or am I forever poor?

vestiges of my mind
neatly packed, to be taken away
are back in their appointed corners

never one less never one more

away didn't work yesterday,
a U-turn did
away works for her

as she goes away for sure.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

Malthusian Disaster

In 1996 I read a long article about the Malthusian disaster, predicted by Robert Malthus, in which he said that by 2015 most third world countries will cease to function. They will be there, but there will be utter chaos reigning. As in, to take India for example, we can safely predict it will cease to function as a nation. The reasons he cited had nothing to do with stars colliding with each other or any blind astrological or religious faith. His reasons were sociological, economic, and political, and very valid ones at that. He mentioned the mass rise of the poor against the haves, he mentioned religious intolerance, various epidemics that spread faster than you can produce a cure for them, and of course floods and other natural calamities.

And then we had the earthquakes, followed by plague, the rising religious intolerance resulting in various state-sponsored terrorist activities (from the Babri masjid demolition by the kar sevaks to the Pakistan-funded attacks on India), the tragic tsunami, the epidemics that are coming, e.g. H1N1, which will affect 33 million Indians in two years, or dengue, the naxal uprising that seems uncontrollable, and the natural calamities that are ravaging Taiwan and South East Asia now.

According to his estimate, it would all settle down by around 2050. I kind of believed him. You all believe in certain things and that belief is inexplicable at times. The most rational of beings can be seen standing with their hands folded in front of symbols of strength, be it the idol of a goddess, or a monkey god, or the statue of some great leader who lived 5000 years ago. They quietly avoid any reference to their belief, which can be called irrational, beyond reason, or something sacred. Sacred means beyond the purview of reason. No questions asked. My belief in that article about Robert Malthus' theories is also sacrosanct. If The Holy Bible is true to you, that article, which appeared on the op-ed page of The Statesman way back in 1996, is true to me.
Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of that, but whatever I read that day sounded so true and possible, I didn't want to question it.

It is all coming true and am sure this is just the beginning of a lot of shit that is about to happen to us. It is only about how we prepare ourselves to face it. Some of us have kids so we have an added responsibility to ensure as much safety for them as we can. Some of us are single, so are covered. Whatever maybe the situation, we shouldn't lose hope. We shouldn't write articles about the Malthusian disaster and act as irresponsible bloggers. We shouldn't provoke people to read about him and his predictions, or about the H1N1 now. We shouldn't scare others by saying we bought the last three available masks from a nearby pharmacy. We shouldn't create panic by proclaiming to have witnessed the sale of tamiflu in the black market. I am not gonna do any of this despite knowing I can very well be one of the 33 million Indians who will be affected by the virus in the next two years.

I only hope you all are as responsible citizens as I am.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Being Nikhat Kazmi



By wielding merely a pen, one can write off a person's year-long effort with a snort.

An average Bollywood movie takes about 10 months to 1 year to complete, during which a huge amount of money changes hands, the dancers and spot boys wipe a lot of sweat and manage to earn their bread, the heroes make an ugly amount of money, the heroines make a little less, the producer keeps hoping he would get to sleep with the heroine or at least the lead dancer... the sound recordists, the studio guys, the editors, the cinematographers are kept so busy that they either grow their beards for lack of time or go sleepless for weeks. The psychiatrists make hay soon after as fresh people fill in the looney gap. The businesses of the drug peddlers, from the drug companies to our street-side vendor selling brown sugar or at least hash, can stay afloat. Not to mention that midnight pao bhaji bar or frankfurter seller. The film magazines, ad agencies, marketing consultants, web designers can be seen working overtime to meet this huge demand. Someone wants to market a film, someone wants to market a film with a scandal, someone wants just a scandal, someone wants a web site made.

Bollywood is on 24/7 and can beat any outsourcing unit hollow with its constant flow of business and services. Now when a person, let's say someone like Rajat Kapoor, who has always had a dream of making his script into a movie gets a chance to make one eventually, he/she spends an average of 12 months to get everything going. Can be more. Put yourself in that person's shoes: the dream, the script, the arranging funds, the actors, the tantrums, the heartbreaks, the scandals, the paparazzi, and finally the big day of release.

What happens next? You have the critic waiting outside to pounce on you. I don't know what the typical critic looks like, but I would put her as a hormonal, middle-aged spinster or a constipated, sex-starved wannabe of a man. Both of them are veterans. Digging into their pasts you will see that the woman was the assistant to a director but could never make it big and the man was so much of a failure that he could gather only vitriol so far. They are bitter, frowning, and have mastered sarcasm to such an extent that the pen spews acid and the keyboard is rickety with violent abuse.

The critic rips apart the film and if you are stoic about it, you can ignore it and move on. If you are Sajid Nadiadwala, you can laugh at them and keep producing the trashiest stuff. If you are a filmgoer, relying on the critic's appraisal of a movie, you end up reading books instead.

Why Nikhat Kazmi? This person (of whose gender I am unaware...will assume Nikhat, which means pure, is a woman) has made a harsh critic like me sit up and take notice of Hindi movies. She has, with constant practice, mastered the art of willing suspension of disbelief. When she enters a screening, she enters with a free mind, ready to enjoy, ready to be entertained... almost like, "hey, lemme see if you can please me tonight." And she has been generous with some movies, showering praise where it deserved and being critical where she needed to point out a flaw. She never went to a screening with any baggage like huh, this is no Fellini, this is no Ray, so lemme write it off. She is like the perfect kindergarten teacher happily encouraging Indian commercial cinema as it takes its first baby steps toward maturity. We get to see an unconvetional Vinay Pathak steal our hearts in Dasvidanya, Bheja Fry, or Straight. We also get feel-good romantic movies like Jab We Met from the stable of Imtiaz Ali. We do have Akki too, but then someone has to entertain the braindead as well.

She enjoyed Dev-D like any of us and was so kicked, she even gave it a 5-star. I mean, WHY NOT, Nikhat! We love you for being one of the first critics ever to hit the theater with a normal filmgoer's mind. A discerning one too. She knew that New York has a lot of basic flaws in the script and also lacks any locus standi per se, but she gave it a 4-star because she enjoyed it like we all did. New York has unrealistic characters that don't get any time to blossom under the pressure of glam. So we gloss over that bit and try to see if there's any message in the film. Someone asked why this movie had to be set abroad. Why not! Why not abroad? And the message, in fact the messages, can be sieved from the glam and held up to dry ... they will eventually seep in.

  • One was that post 9/11 the US govt went into merciless ethnic profiling and held almost 1200 people for just being Muslims. This in turn created a new breed of terrorists.
  • A second message, coming from the lips of powerful Irrfan Khan was that only Muslims can work toward repairing the image of the Muslims in the minds of the world.
  • The third was, in the last scene, where young kids playing baseball have the son of a terrorist on their shoulders, celebrating their victory... and as Irrfan Khan puts it... it is possible only in the US of A.

Being Nikhat Kazmi is not easy. She caters to normal audiences like us. And we love her for that. She doesn't expect a Bollywood movie to be at par with Crash or The Departed. She does not have any intellectual hangovers. She does not draw unnecessary parallels but treats Bollywood as unique and evolving. Am sure she can choose to be the hormonal spinster and suddenly rip everything apart by comparing Barah Anna with Ray's Protidwondi (late 1960s classic also available as The Adversary) because both are primarily about survival. But she hasn't lost her marbles yet. When she writes for the readers of The Times of India, she writes for the Indian filmgoer who doesn't mind commercial cinema along with a late night dekko of Into the Wild. For the Indian who can listen to the brass band version of "Emotional Attyachar" and also "Kind of Blue" off vintage vinyl, one after the other, and enjoy both.

She has successfully stepped into the shoes of Shobha de and Santosh Desai, who probably first started the trend of calling a spade a spade and not denouncing it for not being a sceptre.

P.S. If Nikhat is a he, replace all the "she"s with "he"s...

Pics from: imageshack.us, dhingana.com, amazon.com, blogspot.com

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Are we meeting tomorrow?

"Are we meeting tomorrow?"
"Where?"
"Anywhere you say, I can pick you up?"
"My pups? I have two now..."
"We take them along?"
"Hah, like you mean it...what if..."
"What if what... what if we..."
"We what?"
"You said 'what if'"
"And you assumed..."
"What did I assume? Would the pups mind if I kissed you?"
"That was past tense, you should ask, 'will the pups mind if I kiss you?'"
"Ahem... do I assume you will allow me to kiss you then?"
"I can't drink though, I gotta go to work in the evening."
"You didn't answer my question, do I get to?"
"How about coffee?"
"Coffee meaning what it actually means?"
"Do you have a one-track mind? I meant cappucino or latte or whatever"
"Do I?"
"Like coffee?"
"Have a one-track mind?"
"So when is it?"
"I thought you said tomorrow?"
"No, I seriously can't take the pups."
"Okay, when they grow up, or when you get them a nanny. I want to abduct you."
"And?"
"And take you somewhere far."

Michael calls it forbidden. I call it a dream. He calls it reality and puts on his doc martens, with a smirk on his face. Who gave the bearded philistine the confidence to shape his life with his own hands? Michael still calls it forbidden.

And then they met one day when her children were home. It rained as they drove on aimlessly toward the sea. The radio played Ghost Story by Sting. He thought of touching the tattoo on her thigh peeping out of her sarong and she didn't think about anything. The dogs, perhaps? Or about when he said he will abduct her? His breathing was heavy. A creaky door closed behind them that day that perhaps won't open again, definitely not to let them in, because they had chosen a path together. A path that went straight to the Western sky, where the sun was sinking.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Nailclippers

Why did we have to have cities, I wonder? Weren't we happy in our villages, herding sheep and cattle, collecting dry wood and having our nails clipped at the local barber's? I have seen a village belle come and clip the nails of my granny, who used to sit like a matriarch in her huge verandah with two German Shepherds guarding her. Earlier in the day I would take the dogs out for their morning crap session, and they would drag me all around the village, Maheshpur. Maheshpur is now in Jharkhand, about two hours from Dhanbad in the mining heartlands, but those days it was in Bihar.

Sundar da (although a Bihari, he spent 40 years at our place and turned Bengali) asked me if I would like to go with him to fetch milk. I would jump at the opportunity. There weren't any other kids to play with at my granny's place and I would get bored playing with the dogs, who didn't think much of me as a playmate. We would walk to the khataal, a place where the cattle were, humongous black buffaloes mostly. The milkman would give us a canful of frothy, creamy milk that we carried home. Back to the dogs. The dogs ate beef and rice every day and hated taking bath. But we would tie them to a post next to the well and give them a nice bath every Sunday. Sundar'da managed this alone as I watched from the steps.

My granny was big, black, and wore black spectacles. I was told stories of how she once caught a robber on a running train and handed him over to the police at the next station. She sat alone, watching the road, huge stick in her hand, with Betty and Darling on both sides, ready to lick the world to protect her. She was sad. Four of her five children were away. Her youngest son was the only one who lived with her. My mom and I would visit often because we lived about 100 kms away in a neighboring state. Often she would lift her thick glasses and wipe her eyes. I couldn't understand why as tears always made me uncomfortable, but I lay there, at her feet, playing with a toy, perhaps, and thinking why the others couldn't come to see her. They did come, once a year, and those were times when I had a lot of fun. Four boys and three girls, we made quite a bunch, but I guess we all got together only twice in our lives. Those are memories to die for.

The food was fresh, we had a kitchen garden where we grew some veggies, and Maya di managed the kitchen. I remember her perpetually making rotis. She had a room in the garden and she would read Gopal Bhar stories to me. She wasn't as friendly as Sundar da, who had a golden heart. He came as a young boy to our place and died much later, some say of cancer. I never saw him not smiling.

Today when I bit my nail too close to the skin and shrieked in pain, it all came back to me. The girl who would come to clip our nails, making life so easy. Someone to cook for you, someone to look after your dogs, open the gate for you and close all the doors after you have gone to sleep. These relations were symbiotic. Poor people whom our government did nothing for survived on employment created by the middle class. Fresh milk, vegetables from your own garden, trucks carrying coal, the postman coming at 1.00 in the afternoon with letters from Australia, Madhya Pradesh, or Durgapur.

No such luxury in a city. Here you are handed a nailclipper, which you are too lazy to use. You end up biting your nails to their right length and shape. And sometimes, it is too close for comfort.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Prior Knowledge of Death

I was trying to gauge how we react to the death of an unknown person who isn't even remotely related to us. And the difference in reaction between knowing the person is "going to die" and the reaction when you know "the person is dead."

Recently, a fellow blogger Titin posted on her FB profile some pics of an art exhibition held in Mumbai. The painter, 17 year old Shobhit, looked a little strange: unusually thin, head shaved, and with death in his eyes. The paintings were nice, his family was around him and everybody was happy and smiling. Titin informed me that Shobhit is terminally ill and has only a few days/weeks to live. I looked at his pics, the smiles on the faces around him, and also at his smile. And, despite not knowing him, I was affected by the knowledge that he may die any moment, any day. I kept thinking how he is or if he is alive at all. I asked Titin a week later and they said he is in pain and on morphine. I wondered if he had ever enjoyed some essential things in life. Does he have a Munnabhai next to him to make him enjoy his last few days? Would a kind woman make love to him to show him how life began? Does that woman necessarily have to be on hire? The next time I asked her, he had passed away. Everybody seemed to be relieved to see him not in pain anymore. Sometimes, we wish death came faster.

When you see his pics with the knowledge that he is already dead, it probably doesn't affect you much. But if you knew about it before he died, you would have tossed and turned in your sleep. When Dhananjay (the lift operator who raped and killed a girl in Kolkata) was hanged, and we were all waiting for it, I woke up on two nights thinking whether he is dead yet! Such is the power of impending death. Of anybody. To know that Saddam will be killed tomorrow will make you more uneasy than the news of his death greeting you the next day.

Here are some pics taken by a plane crash victim moments before he himself died. The plane was hit by another one and broke into two. This guy managed to click some last pics, in one of which you get to see a man flying off. Look at the anguish on their faces, not knowing what hit them, with not even split seconds to react. There's not even fear on some of the faces, just plain bewilderment. How soon did they die, I wonder? I hope they died before realizing that they are about to die. These two pics were so disturbing that I deleted the email which brought them. But there was also this morbid desire to see the pics again. I guess the only time I was so affected was when I saw Daniel Pearl's death on video. The most gruesome, although you can derive solace from the fact that his pain lasted not even a second. But he knew he was dying, right? How did he cope with that knowledge?

And suddenly one day my brother sent back these air crash pics to us confirming these are hoax pictures. There was a sense of relief, much like you are probably feeling right now.

One of my aunts who died of a painful throat cancer used to maintain a diary on her deathbed. She addressed all her letters to my dad, and sometimes I am curious to find out if she had mentioned death in those letters. How do you get ready for death? And if you meet death in the eye, how do you ready yourself? What do you think? Any last ditch attempt to jump out of a plane at 37,000 ft?

I feel it is much easier to cope with death that's already happened than with death that's about to. A friend of mine says "pass on" to imply there's still some world for the spirit to go to. I guess I need to start believing in a whiteness post death where my spirit can live without the bodily pleasures.
Until then, I will be shit scared of death.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Futre vous

What all can you buy with 350 euros? A lot, if you convert it into INR. It is almost 19 K, with which you can buy a lot, for example, groceries for eight months, etc. If I get hold of that money, I will definitely buy a sidecar for my motorcycle. However, the 55 Indian passengers of the Air France flight who faced racial discrimination on their flight back to India, are not too happy with that money.

Being Indians, I wonder how they felt bad at being racially discriminated against! I mean, hello? The Air France guys are not only white, they are French as well, culturally the most advanced race in the world, boasting of the best artists, best museums, and owners of the most rich language, French. They are even smart enough to pronounce difficult spellings in their indigenous way that nobody else can understand. They are the French. They have all the right to be obnoxious. Even Rowan Atkinson, in his stand up about welcoming people to Hell, categorizes the French as being naturally disposed to get entry into Hell just by virtue of being French.

We Indians were supposed to be farmers and bicycle repairmen. But suddenly we decide to make a trip abroad. Why do you expect the French will give you chairs to sit and loos to defecate in? No wonder they treated us Indians as Indians should be treated. We can't blame the French now, can we? We should gladly accept the 350 euros they have offered to each passenger and buy eight months' worth of groceries, feeling happy that we saved one-way fare.

But no. The Indians, very uncharacteristically, felt insulted. And they are going further, pressing charges at the international court. I mean, HELLO... the father of your nation, Mr MK Gandhi, was thrown out of a train in South Africa only a few decades ago. For being Indian. What gall, I say! To stand up against racial discrimination? What has happened to us? This problem of gross insubordination to the whites (and especially to the French) makes me wonder if we are in the midst of a metamorphosis. Are we turning human after all from being Indian?

To sign off, lemme put it in French: Futre Vous, France... may those 55 Indians shove the 350 euros up your culturally rich asses and give you constipation for 350 days.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

White Chicken in a Thick Cashew Gravy

Around 7.00 in the night, have a glass of red wine.

There are quite a few things that I want to write about but right now it is difficult to remember all. In fact, after having had the chicken in cashew gravy, my mind has gotten even number. But that doesn’t stop me from writing about the chicken in cashew gravy.

Marinate a kg of chicken in 500 ml curd and ginger-garlic paste overnight. In two teaspoonfuls of olive oil, fry some finely chopped onions and cinnamon in a rice cooker until the onion turns brown. Pour the marinated chicken, add some sugar and salt, and close the lid. Let it cook for about 30 minutes. Keep checking the level of water because if you don’t add water, sometimes the gravy may get too dry. Add half a cup of water after every 15 minutes. After about 30 minutes, add the cashew paste (about 100 gms of cashew ground in milk to form a thick, white paste). Stir a little. Your white chicken in cashew paste is ready.

As Bengalis, we add a couple of potatoes in a kg of chicken. Just cut the potatoes in half and put them in with the chicken. They ensure your gravy is even thicker.

To serve with this, you need either gobindobhog rice, which is found only in West Bengal, CR Park (New Delhi), and most places in the US, or zeera samba rice, which is found in Bangalore. Both the varieties have small grains with a beautiful aroma that can waylay an otherwise determined hunger striker. Rumor has it that Karunanidhi recently had to break his half-day hunger strike after some supporter of Jayalalitha started cooking zeera rice in the vicinity.

Mix the two and eat more than your usual intake. Expect a little flatulence and a heavy feeling that starts with your eyelids. The dreams following such a meal are often rather primordial in nature. You may see yourself giving successful chase to some nubile nymphets. A closed deal like that in a dream can obviously result in a little bit of wetness, which is pardonable. But remember to start with a glass of red wine around 7.00 in the night.

Good night.

The Congress Has Won Again

Here's an article posted and later taken off the blog on May 12, 2009. The Congress has won at the center, but my leader, Krishna Byregowda, has lost by a margin of 37,000 votes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Of Mostly Ugly Leaders: Who Will Lead India?
Difficult question given that a major part of the last 62 years has seen the Congress ruling India. From the welfare government setting up heavy industries and recruiting 500% more labor than necessary in the fifties, the Congress government has come a long way. We can see biracial faces as leaders in Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. They are well educated, can speak chaste English (and even other European languages am told), are from a family of leaders, and look nothing like the common Indians. When the beautiful daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru married Parsi Feroze, the political career of the Nehrus would have been in jeopardy if our Gandhiji didn't accept Feroze as his son and give him his name. What strikes me as funny is why the rather handsome children of Feroze and Indira chose to keep the name of Mr Gandhi, who was decidedly ugly and very misguided. So now, we have as our leaders the Gandhis, who should ideally be called the Khans.

Befitting surname for a goodlooking family. I would have loved that. India's royal family, the Khans. After Rajiv Khan (Gandhi) was killed by the LTTE terrorists, it seemed that the royal family won't rule the Congress any more. But we Indians had served the Mughal kings, British kings, and the Queen for a long time and we needed that to continue. So, the beleagured and corrupt Congress leaders (I especially remember Sitaram Kesri, possibly the only man uglier than Gandhi and even Dhanno, the woman who killed Rajiv Khan) went and fell at the feet of Rajiv Khan's widow, Sonia. They wanted a queen to lead our famous democrazy. The people of India were divided on this issue...Sonia is an Italian Catholic. How can we let her lead the leading party of India, was the question people were asking. As a twenty-year old then, I didn't have an opinion about this. All I could say was, why not her? She is better looking than the Sitaram Kesris of the world and is also the mother of my childhood crush Priyanka Khan.

The Jansangh was another party that was coming up. About its history, please ask Manini Chatterjee. She knows a lot about their past. Apart from the fact that Shyamaprasad Mukherji was their founder leader, I didn't know much. I also knew that Shyamaprasad Mukherji was allegedly murdered in Russia. People in West Bengal will tell you it was Jawaharlal Nehru who plotted this murder, but who has proof? It is also alleged that Nehru got our fighter leader Subhas Chandra Bose captured and locked up in Russia till his death much later. But who knows all this for sure? So, the Jansangh later became the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and gradually turned into a formidable opposition under the able leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

So, what did the Congress do about the basic things that a country needs? Let's talk about industry, infrastructure, education, population control, creating employment opportunities, telecommunications, energy (electricity, hydro, renewable, solar, nuclear, etc.). Or let's not. For 62 years, a lot has happened. A lot that could have happened, hasn't. Everybody has a cellphone in India now, so it can be safely predicted that the number of Indians with brain tumors will soon reach manic proportions. Some states have prospered, some haven't, but we cannot generalize and squarely blame the Congress party for all that has gone wrong. For example, in West Bengal and Kerala, the communists have ruled. If these states don't have any roads, jobs, hospitals, schools, etc. you cannot blame the Congress for it, can you? But they do, the communists. The Congress had set up heavy industries in every state. In West Bengal there were steel plants and mining machinery to name a couple. But the communists ensured that these industries close down. They have the hammer and the sickle in their emblem, but all they ask their followers is to lay down the hammer and the sickle and just pick up red flags instead. Don't work, is their slogan. Don't work, but fight for your rights. Ask for more wages, ask for leave, ask for better working conditions. In a state of beggars where getting work itself is like striking gold, can you choose your working hours? About a hundred years before that, when the Industrial Revolution happened in the UK, people thronged the cities, lived in squalor and filth and choking drains, died in epidemics, sacrificed everything for a developed nation to be born. It would have been a lot better here, had it not been for the communists. If we worked when we should have worked, this nation would have gone a few more rungs up the ladder toward being called developed. But, thankfully, they couldn't spread their cancer to any other state and were beaten hollow elsewhere. They could survive only in the hot and humid states of Kerala and West Bengal, where people are genetically and geographically inclined to laziness. No wonder these states welcomed the communists as the entrepreneurs fled and the government institutions suffered a slow death.

They don't feature anywhere in the greater scheme of things, so we will not waste another paragraph talking about this misguided lot (rot), some of whose clean-shaven brethren in Delhi can be seen jumping around like midgets in the Parliament. They have no agenda, no qualms, no ideologies, except for jumping around against the ruling party. Oh, there's also a third front in India, where these insignificant idiots have found sympathizers. Oh lord, may the commies and the Third Front come under the great feet of Kumbhkarn one day, is our only prayer. If they ever come to power, they will all die fighting each other over portfolios. Imagine if PK held the external affairs portfolio? He would single-handedly screw up our relations with every other nation in the world. Our only friends will be Huge Chavez and Infidel Castro. Nothing against them... in fact I like them for giving it to Jr Bush, but hello, can we survive today by befriending these countries? The communists (secular, atheist, etc.) also like radical muslims a lot and have let them build terror schools in the name of madrassas all over West Bengal and Kerala. Why do you think no Muslim bombs are going off in these states?

Shit, those were two paragraphs of venting out my frustration. No way, will come back to the Congress and the BJP now.The Congress is a behemoth with one part of the body unaware of another. This party has attracted casual crooks who don't steal too much and are moderately corrupt, but don't have any ideology to talk about. The sarkari babus ask for chai paani, the police ask for bribes, and the wheel moves. Some people complain, but life goes on under the Congress. The Royal Family of the Khans humor us by trying to appear Indian in kurta/pajama and sari when they make a public appearance and it is a safe kingdom to live in if you can cover your eyes and ears at times.

There is no visible anti-incumbency to talk about, the rich are rich and the poor are poor. There is no insubordination whatsoever. Your maid listens to you and works like a slave the entire day for a pittance without a complaint. And you smilingly give her child your son's old bicycle. The peace and happiness is almost like an English fairy tale. How to topple them? How to bring discontent in the minds of people? How to usurp the throne? In comes the BJP with a new agenda: Hindutva.

Yeah, so what did the BJP do to come to power in 1999? How did this so called right-wing party manage to topple the Congress government? Well, they brought with them the trump card of Hindutva. Not a bad one, that. It appealed to many as they painstakingly started with how Gandhi was the first communal leader of India and appeased the Muslims in the name of secularism. This emotional tickling of the average Hindu yielded results in the cow belt. It is called the cow belt not because most Hindi-speaking people think like cows, but because in the states of Bihar, UP, MP, Rajasthan, etc. people worship the cow as one of their gods. We do have staunch Hindus in Maharastra and Gujarat as well, but they aren't part of the cow belt because they don't speak Hindi. I must find out more about the association of the cow with our national language.

Meanwhile, the small time crooks of the Congress party were aiming for higher levels of corruption and some of them got caught. Even poor Rajiv Khan got embroiled in a controversy involving the Bofors anti-aircraft guns deal. Apparently there were many kickbacks and some people got rich (it is still a nebulous thing to me) and there was another Italian involved who either made money or gave money or slept with somebody. We would never know. This gave BJP another trump card. They left no stone unturned to malign the name of the Congress in people's minds and came up to be reckoned as a powerful opposition. To keep their Hindu votes alive they also went and demolished a historical monument protected by the Archaeological Survey of India. 1992 was the darkest year for us. (The Talibans later emulated us and destroyed the great Bamiyan Budhha statues in the mountains of Afghanistan.)

It so happens that one Mr Valmiki once wrote an epic called the Ramayana. It was a good versus evil story in which the mythological character Rama wins over Ravana.
So, this Valmiki bloke wrote his story and many hundreds of years later it grew into an epic. Because most folklore traveled by mouth, new subplots were added at various points of time until this story became like a legend and Rama became a god to the people living in the cow belt.

Now, if Rama is god, the story becomes god's story. The places mentioned in the story gain more religious than historical significance. Valmiki, poor guy, mentioned a place called Ayodhya as Rama's birthplace. The BJP did some research and figured that the mosque in Ayodhya built by Emperor Babar in the 16th century was built upon an erstwhile Ram Temple. And they hit a jackpot. Let's tell the people of India that Rama was born here.

You should have seen what happened when they hatched this plot. It sounds absurd, doesn't it? But millions of people from all over the cow belt went to Ayodhya and demolished the Babri mosque, which you might have otherwise visited as a historical monument. The BJP was seen as a capable party who can "do" something. And this incident made India an unsafe place after 1992. With the Congress at the center doing nothing to stop this barbaric act, the Muslims were estranged and threatened. The petty and big criminals among them, who were busy smuggling and extorting money, got furious and funded the first serial bomb blasts in Bombay... in 93.

The picture of India started changing since then. If you see the Hindi movies made back in the 70s, we had smugglers to fight against. That place was taken over by the terrorists in the 90s. The Muslims needed a voice and some of them found it in the form of terrorism. Sadly, they didn't target the perpetrators of the crime but targeted the common Indian, who had nothing to do with the demolition of the Babri mosque. The BJP surged to power in 1999 with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the Prime Minister of India. If you look at it objectively, those weren't bad years for Indian business. The finance portfolio was held by Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh and they were not like Chidambaram of Congress. Chidambaram has always cut the wings of the common man by taxing him the maximum. BJP brought tax sops, made home loans cheaper, increased the forex reserves manifold and brought down the inflation. They started major infrastructure projects, one of which is the Golden Quadrilateral, connecting India by road. And what roads those were! All this made us wonder what was their need to come to power using the Hindutva bandwagon. They could have chanted the mantra of progress, prosperity, and industrialization instead. Foreign direct investment increased during their tenure and there were jobs created in India by multinational companies.

All was well save the Hindutva part. The right-wingers within BJP grew into Frankensteins and started going around as self proclaimed culture cops. If you think about it, these guys are even more misguided than the communists and are equally if not more dangerous. They captured liberal and forward thinking places like Goa and Bangalore and attacked the revellers there. And as part of their agenda to make these "western" places into regressive and backward places, they succeeded in spoiling BJP's game. In the name of Hinduism, which has always been the most tolerant of religions after Buddhism, they tried spreading fear and superstition in the minds of people. Sample this: our CM says on national television that one Mr Deve Gowda wants to kill him with black magic! There's more: funds allocated for the state government of Karnataka are publicly directed to Hindu temples! This is gradually getting worse than living in medieval Europe!

The other fallout of the Hindutva angle is the ire of the Muslim terrorists. They are constantly planting bombs under our asses almost in jest. You don't know when you will blow up. It is like a game of musical chairs. Who dies first?

So, whom did you choose? I chose a clean shaven Krishna Byregowda for Bangalore South. He has studied International relations in Washington, D.C., does not wear a white mark on his forehead proclaiming to be a Hindu, does not have a criminal record, and is just the kind of leader we should all go for: young, educated, clean, and with a purpose. He isn't as ugly as the others either. Let the wheel amble on, let there be corrupt officials (we can't change that because its human nature to be corrupt), let there be no roads, let there be no electricity...let life go on as it was in India all these years. Let's clutch our cellphones in the dark and for once not be afraid of being a woman, a Muslim, a Christian, or an atheist in India. Let's hope these young leaders (viz. Rahul Gandhi Khan, Omar Abdullah, Krishna Byregowda) take our country on another course and gradually change the way things work. I am eternally hopeful. I didn't have to live in any fear when I grew up under Congress rule. And that made me vote for the Congress again. Let's be back to being Indians.

P.S.: The Congress got a thumping majority. The country has voted out the regressive BJP and their Hindutva stand has bitten the dust. The earlier red bastion, West Bengal, has voted the Congress and its allies to power. Are the times changing? An African ruler of the world, Prabhakaran dead, the Talibans being hammered from both ends... is it all true?

Friday, April 17, 2009

aiween ee

1. Jayanagar, despite being branded as a Hindu Brahmin area (people from North Bangalore look down upon it because of its vegetarian influence), is where a huge Muslim population do their business. I get to interact with mostly the cloth merchants and tailors, and this pic was clicked from outside one dupatta shop in the basement, called Lu Lu Dupatta shop. They have all the colors on earth, and despite the area being rather dark with fumes from petrol gensets all around, I couldn't resist clicking this.





2. Later that day, again in Jayanagar, Aaron was waiting for Mr Victor Albert (his piano teacher) to come back from the Church. It was Easter, and we could understand his being late by about 30 minutes. Aaron, meanwhile, checked out the lingerie shop downstairs. When I was his age, a pic of a woman in her lingerie would be hard to come by, and most ads in the magazines and newspapers were sketches. Today, models are fighting to grab a plum role for a leading brand. "Daddy, your Jockey is available here," he announced pretty innocently (and loudly). Strangely, he was looking at women's innerwear!
3. Tawa toast, if made with a lot of patience on a thick tawa, tastes better than bread from an electric toaster. Not uniformly toasted, with some parts a little burnt and some parts nicely toasted, they go very well with marmalade and darjeeling tea early in the morning. Like they serve you in a forest rest house or maybe in some Army canteen... tawa toast, a lump of butter, and black tea.

A 2 mp phone camera gives you pixelated pics that look hazy when blown up. But there's some fun in being able to click at random. Much handier than your digital camera, which you don't carry always... I have also taken some pretty weird pics with this, stuff I dare not share... and am freaking out.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Of slippers and slipping away

Have you seen those jute Osho sandals? They are cool, eco friendly, and loved by all the white tourists who come to India. Not just the hippies, but also the normal tourist who wants to wear flipflops and "feel" India. I bought a pair in 2005, but this story is about 1992, when I had no idea where these beautiful jute sandals came from. In Banaras I had seen the white tourists wear these and a disturbing urge of flicking a pair from someone was rearing its ugly head inside my mind. Where do you have sandals lying unattended? Outside a temple, of course. And which temple do most of the tourists visit? Why, it is our very own Sankatmochan!

"Meghadoot da, have you heard Dil Gira Dafatan? It is from Dilli 6." Now, among my musically inclined friends, mentioning AR gets me brickbats. AR Rahman produces stereotypes, and makes music for the musically challenged masses of India. Remember Muqabla? Well, that's what he is capable of. Talk about music, they will insist. But I took a chance. I had to tell Meghadoot da about AR's music in Dilli 6. Although it is at times signature AR, it is beautiful and various. It has the smell of Dilli in it, it has Masakkali, it has fresh voices like Ash King's or Mohit Chauhan's... it definitely has the poetry of Prasoon Joshi (who IS this guy and how many women are running after him now?), and AR has poured out his best in this album. His soul is captured in this album.
"You know... there's something about the tempo of this song... the fast guitar in the background and the magically slow vocals by Ash King in the foreground... which creates a temporal confusion in your brain...that's akin to being stoned after quality pot... I feel stoned every time I listen to that track.

"I also listened to Lopamudra's Krishnakali right after that, but after a while, I switched to Dilli 6 again. Is it because I can't understand Tagore's music? Why doesn't it appeal to me?

And then he told me about how, if you are not a singer with a range like Lata or Asha, you can't do justice to all kinds of Tagore's songs. The different moods, the variation in the tempo according to the mood, the absolute melancholy in one song that aligns with your grief today and the fresh hope in the next, is what Tagore is all about. Unfortunately, the new generation of singers have not been able to grasp and render that same variety in their albums. There's a whole dimension missing, that of the depth. The emotional depth. If one fails to do that, one fails to grasp the attention of a potential listener like me.

"Remember Sankatmochan?" I remembered Sankatmochan. This old temple with an expansive courtyard hosts a classical music conference every year. It is nothing like your Dover Lane Music Conference in Calcutta. It has a charm that is known to have waylaid many lay persons and made music lovers out of them. It is free, and it has the best classical musicians performing every year.

Knowing I would find the nice Osho sandals there, I went with some other students one night to the Sankatmochan temple. It is about a kilometer from the university entrance and we went barefeet, determined to get nice sandals for ourselves from the piled up footwear outside the main hall. The mood of the place made me curious. There were families from villages who had come from long distances on their bullock carts and there were hundreds of European tourists among the thousands of Banarasis. They were waiting for the stalwarts to perform.

"Yes, I remember Sankatmochan. I distinctly remember Pt V.G. Jog and Mme Sisirkana perform, and I also remember how Pt Jasraj started late in the night and sang the raga bhairavi to usher in the morning. But did I tell you about this, Meghadoot da? I liked Sisirkana's violin recital a lot more than VG Jog's. She used a viola, five strings, and would sometimes play two strings in harmony with each other. That made her rendition a lot more soulful. I couldn't identify the raga, am a layman, but the soul of her music still reverberates within. It is gonna be there for a long time."

Meghadoot da doesn't know perhaps that I went to flick a pair of Osho sandals from a music conference. But he also doesn't know that I came back barefeet that year. And every year after that till 1995, a potential thief, waylaid.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tasmanian Devil

When you are married to someone whom you've known from school, you happen to act like schoolkids at times even though you are on the wrong side of 40. You cuddle, hug, pick them up, or sometimes dive into the bed together. These are mostly asexual acts, and can also pass off as wrestling maneuvers if the WWF bosses are asked to judge: "There, there, he has pinned her to the bed and what is this? What is this? She has kicked him in his balls. OOOOH, that must've hurt!" Moral of the story is, buy a bed with strong legs.
So, these things keep happening. I have seen my neighbors do it. I have seen their Labrador, Buddy, trying to snuggle in between his sparring human parents. And here sneaks in the subject of my article today. What if you have a hyphen at home? A hyphen that questions this public display of affection? Yesterday, during one such crazy moment, Aaron came in between us, pushed me away, and called me a Tasmanian Devil. If you are used to watching Looney Tunes, you know what a Tasmanian Devil is. It is this horrible beast that all animals in the jungle are scared of. Save Bugs Bunny, of course. He somehow manages to trick this Devil into submission.
But, despite being a real dumbass, it is a scary looking monster no doubt.

(image from www.webweaver.nu/clipart/cartoon2.shtml)

Now this guy is really afraid of the Tasmanian Devil. Every time the animals announce that the Devil is approaching, you can see him cower, cringe, and try to hide behind a curtain. To him, it is the ultimate fear factor. And he called me a Tasmanian Devil.

I tried telling him that it is a politically incorrect term and that the Tasmanians, if they could speak English, would have had serious reservations about this animal being called a Tasmanian. But to no avail. He wanted me to stay away from his mom. That got me thinking: how much show of affection is okay in front of kids? I know of one really horny couple who used to make out in front of their little kid, resulting in the kid turning out to be a real psycho. They happened to be Bengalis too, much to our embarrassment. When a kid sees his parents in an embrace or loving each other, it feels insecure and left out. But that doesn't mean you don't kiss or wrestle, right?

I called up our psychoanalyst Meghadoot da. Although he has a postgraduate degree in Horticulture, he seems to be really good with my brain. He has counseled me many times and I sincerely rely on his advice. For example, the time when I wanted to get admitted to a hospital to get a girl's attention, he dissuaded me from it, saying it won't really help. He also helped me find a girl of my mental level, which is difficult in a university of such repute. So, this urgent call to Meghadoot da found him in the midst of a drinking binge. He had mixed vodka and rum, and was flying when I called.
"Shuvo...did I tell you about Asha?"
"Ah...Asha? But how do you know about her? She works with us here."
"Ah, i mean Asha Puthli."
"Who is she? I don't seem to remember."
"A jazz great. She was hot on the music scene in the 70s. Find her out on youtube."

And there ended our conversation with Meghadoot da perhaps going back to his imaginary duet with her. But my question wasn't answered. How much display of affection in front of kids? A peck and not a kiss? How long? What about the times when you want to push her down the stairs? What about her kicking my ass? Aren't we supposed to do all this?

And then i found my answer. "Do as the Tasmanian Devil does," a divine voice inside my mind seemed to tell me. I picked him up and threw him into the bed. He sank into the pillows and by the time he could recover, I had thrown her into the bed as well.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Cross Dressing Woes of a Bengali Gentleman

Of all the occasions when I wore a woman's clothes, the first time was very involuntary. In fact I had no say about it at all. My mom bought me a couple of white, embroidered pennies to wear at home. There weren't any diapers those days and paddling all around the house wearing pennies meant I could pee anywhere, any time. What was a thing of convenience for my mom turned out to be something people like to call a psychological aberration today. Not that I always cross dress, but the sudden act of running around the house in my wife's negligee scares the holy almighty out of my son, for sure. Maybe one reason why he doesn't trust the gods too much. (I wonder if the first skeptic had a cross dresser dad too.)

My friends from all the different stages of my life have had the good fortune of seeing me cross dress for some reason or the other. You may remember the time I inadvertently wore a pair of panties to my office, but that was, as I said, inadvertent and completely unintentional. Panties, by their sheer flimsy nature, are not technically fit for men. And I am not referring to that episode at all. The first time I came out wearing a pair of jeans and a tee, dressed as a girl with short hair, was when I was about 14. The seeds that my mom sowed way back in 1971 were bearing healthy fruit, you can say, because apart from my cohorts, most of our other classmates were fooled hollow. Many of them tried to follow us (three boys and a new girl!) on their bicycles that evening. The secret was never revealed and if any of them are writing their autobiographies today, you may read about their first crush being a girl in a blue tee and fiery red lipstick. If they remember, she had a slight hint of boobs too, probably the size of ping pong balls. Poor guys.

Experimenting sexually with boys was very in, and although most of them have grown mustaches and are helping their wives make babies by the dozen now, we were a collective gay community those days. Everybody had measured everybody in that clandestine group and we were ready for the women. Unfortunately, girls were hard to come by. So we went back to measuring each other.

As we grew up and started transforming from boys to men, we were repulsed by each other. The feminine curves were gone, we sprouted hair at unwanted places, and suddenly we discovered the joys of cricket. Yuck, was our collective sigh, but by then the external tuition classes had started and the girls were within easy access. By access I mean to talk to. That high, believe me, was much more than what an entire bottle of Jack Daniels can give me today. Atasi, our principal's daughter, was yet to walk into puberty, but she was the only one who spoke with all the boys. We used to sit all around a cot on little cane stools, and while our teacher would try to teach us physics, almost a dozen legs would reach out for Atasi's under the cot. The silent melee that this resulted in under the cot, with all of us maintaining straight faces above it, was no less than a battle of Panipat. I don't remember who managed to reach Atasi's leg, but I never did. The max I had gone was upto Subham's legs, who enjoyed an hour-long tickle without protesting, thus giving me the idea that Atasi liked me a lot and would probably make babies with me later. Unfortunately, I could not find Subham later to give him a fitting reply.

By the time we reached the university, most of us had been able to do what all American boys are rumored to have achieved on their prom nights. We were men now, but much to my amusement, that strange streak of cross dressing hadn't left me yet. One winter day in Varanasi, as we waited for the girls to come and cut the fruits for Saraswati Puja, it struck me again. Soumitro was taller and I made him my boyfriend as I came out wearing a huge red sweater, a longish bandana and jeans. By now, the ping pongs had given way to earthen bhaars meant for curds. He held me by the waist as we sauntered around in the garden, waiting for the girls to make an entry. I was very curious to know their reaction as I could feel many pairs of eyes trying to check out my bottom through the long, red sweater.

This was a huge success because all the girls who had their eyes set on Soumitro were pretty much bothered. In fact, when I made a normal entry later, some of them asked me who the girl was. It was a strange moment for me. None of the girls were interested in me. I was trying to attract their attention. As another woman! It was time for introspection. What was I upto? Am I growing up all right? Do I need to sit with Meghadoot da for a counseling session?

Many years later we had an ethnic-wear day for one of our office parties. I nonchalantly took out one of my wife's kurta-churidar sets, donned a banjara cap, wore a necklace and went rather boldly to the party, expecting I would attract some attention. Many years of being in the oblivion of trousers and shirts had brought out the rebel in me. I made an entry. Almost in slo-mo, I walked into the huge ballroom of Leela. The crowd had gathered somewhere else. People were discussing something in hushed tones. The entire atmosphere of the place was pregnant with the possibility of a sudden outburst of laughter. A little more into the crowd and I saw what they were all about to laugh at. At the center of the hall was one of our Bengali colleagues, in a traditional Bengali kurta with some khajuraho paintings on it. It would have been a prized exhibit in the wardrobe of any woman, but on that guy, it looked downright hideous. It was a red kurta with a golden statuette painted on it. It was something all Bengali men wear whenever they want to look handsome. And mine was just a plain blue one with shirt collars.

And I realized, I was never a cross dresser. Always a true-blue Bengali.