Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Five-star nonsense

Last week I had to attend a work-related presentation at a five-star hotel.  This particular hotel has a grand name and a cramped lobby with a ceiling that might make the average basketball player sue it for damage to the top of his head. The lobby has a rather strange seating arrangement – four chairs sit at four corners of a rug that has a soleful look about it. (Soleful is not to be confused with ‘soulful’ and it means ‘something that has been trampled on by many soles’. No, ‘The stampede was a soleful sight’ is not correct usage and is in fact rather cruel and only the electronic media is allowed it.) The four lonely chairs seemed to be the hotel’s way of telling you not very subtly, ‘Sit here you freeloader and move onto the coffee shop when the person you are meeting arrives’. Well, these are difficult times and the recession might have receded here in shining India but not in the developed world where most of these starred hotels have their headquarters (defined as a place where ‘business heads count and cling onto every quarter’).

I was early for the presentation. I am a punctual kind of chap; when there’s free food and booze involved I prefer to start early. But the client was late because the grand hotel is near Mumbai’s international airport – a place where people spend two hours or more to reach, fighting their way through bad roads and crazy traffic so that they can reach three hours early for an aeroplane journey that sometimes lasts for a couple of hours.

But back to the hotel - Sitting there on my solitary chair I had nothing else to do but to observe the events happening in that microcosm of the world (defined as ‘a cramped place where people of various nationalities are forced to spend time waiting for someone to buy them a coffee at the cost of an airline ticket’). I decided to begin my observation by looking outside. No, I didn’t get up from my chair, lonely or not, at my age sitting on one beats standing on the old legs any day. For a while I admired the ramrod-straight back of the durban (Hindi word for ‘man who opens doors and wears a turban. Do not confuse with the city in South Africa with the same spelling), and also the valets, who are strange kind of spirits that appear magically when you drive into a hotel lobby and disappear magically when you want to hand them the ticket to get your car back. But I tired of the game soon enough. I could have continued staring outside - there is nothing to beat ‘Count the number of white versus black cars’ game while sitting in a five-star lobby but I only play it when the lobby has comfortable sofas and there is no danger of falling off when you begin dozing. Once I had shifted my gaze inwards, realization dawned up on me – I wasn’t alone. There were many soles trampling the rug and resting their weary feet by taking refuge in the chairs. A lady of advanced and indeterminate age hailing from that large and rich place called the Middle East (which is really the Middle West if you are in India but entire cultures have crumbled in the face of the American onslaught and in comparison, geographical accuracy is a minor casualty). The lady had a couple of large plastic bags which is understandable if you are a tourist– Indian culture is not without its influences and the lady must have succumbed to the uniquely Indian habit of carrying stuff around in plastic bags. Riddle:  Q. How do you recognise an Indian tourist abroad? A. By the plastic bag he/she is carrying. The stuff we carry in them when abroad ranges from water bottles, boxes with goodies from home, napkins, ketchup and other sachets picked up from flights, hotels and restaurants and clothes washed just before checking out from the hotel.

The Middle-Eastern lady reached deep into one of the bags and extricated a pair of sneakers from it. Obviously, she had been shopping. Or to Siddhivinayak Temple. She smiled at the sneakers and proceeded to try one. Her smile turned into a grin. Unable to bear so much happiness in one sole, I shifted my gaze to a bunch of Far Eastern gentlemen who debated loudly about – how am I supposed to know, they were talking in Far Eastern. And suddenly, out of nowhere, Santa Claus emerged wearing a silk sari and with two attendants in tow. She proceeded to the large Christmas tree strategically placed to hide a tear in the wallpaper and placed the gift boxes in her arms at its base. Her attendants followed suit. Her task done she turned around to face me and the light shone off her brass name tag and my apologies her name wasn’t Santa but the more Indian, Shanta. I wondered if I were to pick up a box would I find sneakers that fit me. But after a while I tired of this game too. The activity in the microcosm had became repetitive. The valets appeared and disappeared. Bell hops hopped. The front office girls parted their lips, showed their teeth and shut them, the chairs didn’t move a butt, sorry, a bit.

I decided to explore the men’s cloakroom (called rest room in four-star, bathroom in three-star, toilet in two-star, loo in one-star and raised little finger in no-star hotels). Now these five-star cloaks (that’s the fashionable abbreviation and not SMS lingo), are wonderful places and I have spent many a happy hour in them trying to figure out how to make the faucet work or where the flush lever is. No, there is never a plastic mug or a jet spray in these places so don’t even bother looking for one. I ambled gently towards the cloak, a smile of anticipation on my parched lips (unlike humbler places they don’t offer you free water here. In fact, most take it as a personal affront if you say no to bottled water and show faith in their in-house water purifier). I had visions of doing my business, washing my hands with fine perfumed liquid soap, splashing some water on my face, wiping both with three tiny napkins held out by a man wearing a uniform made from the same material as the napkins and after wiping, indulging in the act of dropping them into a wicker basket unmindful of the laundry bill. That, and having my shoes shined by an automatic shoe-shine machine free of charge. But I was in for a surprise. The grand hotel had outdone itself. There were TV screens inside. Mini ones, embedded in the wall above every alternate urinal and tuned into CNN! And they were showing the live telecast of the Nobel Prize Ceremony where ninety per cent of the screen time was spent on showing an empty chair where Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner from China was supposed to sit. (I am tempted to make a corny comment about my being pissed off about his absence but in the larger interest of Indo-Chinese relations, I will desist.)

I cursed myself for sitting outside for so long, wasting my time watching occupied chairs and trying to convince myself that like the great Somerset Maugham I was sitting in a hotel (he sat in the bar the lucky…), I was observing the world with a cynic’s eye. Damn! Never again shall I be tempted by solitary chair or cushy couch or Shanta Claus. This is where I will head to in the future – for entertainment and to take home a napkin as a memento. Who knows, they might soon have iPads in here and I will be able to read my blog - what better place, eh?!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

One story, two books and an award.

Every year since 2005, Penguin India publishes an anthology called ‘First Proof – The Penguin Book of New Writing’. The book comprises fiction, non-fiction and poetry by first-time writers, established writers writing in a new genre and translations from Indian languages. This year’s book was published in November 2010 and this is how the cover looks.

Northshire, a book store in Vermont, USA, is one of the few surviving independent book stores in the US and it held a contest earlier this year called ‘2010 Shires Press Short Story Contest’. The winners of the contest were declared a couple of months ago and a book containing the award-winning story and nine short-listed ones was released on December 8 in Vermont. This is how this book’s cover looks.

The two books have one story in common – ‘Aaba and Other Mysteries’ written by me.

Now for the award part. ‘Aaba’ is not only in the Shires book but it also won the top prize in the contest.

‘Aaba and Other Mysteries’ features in the fiction section of ‘First Proof’ and is a thinly disguised memoir; the story is set in the seventies and early eighties and told from a boy’s perspective as he grew up in the textile mill area of Mumbai.

Here's a short review of 'First Proof' from The Times of India:

‘First Proof’ was out in November but for reasons beyond the control of Penguin India, it is taking its time reaching book stores around the country. The last I checked it hadn’t reached Landmark, Crossword and Strand in Mumbai. A dear friend of mine stumbled upon two copies at the Crossword store at Bangalore airport and picked them up for me. I ordered mine on www.flipkart.com last Monday and they delivered them in 48 hours flat. If you want to buy a copy of the ‘First Proof’ I recommend www.flipkart.com – it also offers a discount of Rs.47 on the printed price. Click here if you would like to buy one.

I would love to send soft copies of the story to whoever cares but honestly I would rather not. Apart from my story ‘First Proof’ has many others and they are all exceptional in their own ways. ‘First Proof’ costs Rs. 250 (Rs. 203 on flipkart). That’s cheaper than the price of weekend ticket at most multiplexes. And unlike a movie it will last much longer than 2 hours and can be enjoyed by more than one person or many times over by the same person until the book falls apart. Or the person, whatever comes first.

Those in the USA can buy the book online from the Northshire site by clicking here - It costs a little more over there - $9.95. I don’t know if that’s a bargain, reasonable or expensive; I don’t know the price of a multiplex ticket in that country.

Happy reading.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Another (M)ad Piece

I make a living by writing for advertising and design. This gives me valuable insights into the workings of these industries. Yes, they are industries and not exotic places where long-haired men wearing earrings hang out with short-haired women wearing navel-rings and both use phrases like, ‘out of the box’, ‘creative’, ‘disruptive’, ‘big idea’ and ‘pass me the joint b* because I paid for it’. Though I must admit I chose this profession because like most people I believed that these exotic places and characters really existed. I was sadly disappointed of course. However I have to confess that I do use the phrase, ‘out of the box’ when I am asked, “Where do you live?” and I answer, “Like all residents of Mumbai I live in a box and I look forward to holidays when I can live out of the box”. For some reason people find this funny and they compliment me on my sense of humour.

In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that most people in Mumbai get up in the morning and rush to work only to they can escape the narrow confines they call home and reach the wide open and brightly lit air-conditioned spaces of their offices. That is also the reason why the average Mumbaikar reports to work even on the day after a bomb blast, riots and on December 6, when all the followers of Dr. Ambedkar in the whole world descend on the city to observe his death anniversary.

Baby Ambedkar follower: Dad, where are we going?
Daddy Ambedkar follower: Mumbai.
BAF: Why daddy?
DAF: Because the travel, accommodation and food are free.
MomAF: Don’t teach the kid wrong things! Baby, we are going to observe our dear Dr. Ambedkar’s death anniversary.
BAF: If we all do that, will it bring him back, Ma?

All that is set to change of course. No, not the hordes of mourning FAFs (Families of Ambedkar Followers), but the matchbox sizes of Mumbai apartments. Come on, don’t tell me you haven’t seen all those ads for residential buildings with apartments big enough to accommodate a dozen FAFs and each with an attached swimming pool since they all need to take a bath very badly.

But where did this piece start? Ah yes, advertising and design. To go back to the originally planned subject – insights into advertising and design – and the totally fictitious story behind the advertising campaign that has taken the whole country by cyclone. Yeah, the correct word would be ‘storm’ and not ‘cyclone’ but the first time I saw this particular ad campaign it was in the form of a cyclone cleaning up the home page of The Times of India online edition and settling down to form the shape of the new symbol of India’s largest cellular service provider.

(Needless to say, this is not the only ad or ad campaign I have an opinion on. I have one on every ad, just like Gavaskar has one on every ball that is bowled and every ball that is hit or not hit and every run that is taken or not taken and whether the bat was grounded and why the umpire didn’t refer to the third umpire and etc. Or even Sanjay Manjrekar for that matter who went to the same school as I did but I sat in the classroom and attended lectures and he went to the playground and played cricket and look where he is reached and if you have a kid send him to the ground because there is more money and fame in playing cricket, why even just talking about it – look at that MBA bloke called Harsha. Yes, life can be Harsha even if you have an MBA.)

The alert reader, defined as the one who keeps on reading my posts in the hope that someday there will be something worthwhile to read, must have realized which logo design and ad campaign I am referring to.  So here’s a malicious (defined as ‘delicious food made by ma’), and fictitious (defined as ‘all other food not made by ma and hence not delicious’), look at what transpired behind the scenes or, my version of the Radia (defined as ‘random stuff that gets leaked to the media’), tapes:

Tape 1
Design Firm Rep: I have just got out of the client meeting!
Design Firm Boss: Good news or Bad?
DFR: Bad! They chose the lousy logo design we had created to help us sell the good one!
DFB: That’s good news you moron!
DFR: How?
DFB: Because they have bought a logo design and now we can collect the full and final payment and both of us can collect our bonus!
DFR: I have so much to learn from you, Boss.

Tape 2
Ad Firm Rep: We have got the business boss.
Ad Firm Boss: Great now let’s change everything.
AFR: Why? They are doing great. They are number one. They are growing. They are going places, like to Africa.
AFB: Because, if they changed their ad agency, they did it because they hated all the advertising they have done so far – advertising that had been created by the earlier agency! How else do we justify our creative fees or plan our bonus, dude?
AFR: I have so much to learn from you, Boss.

Tape 3
AFR: I have a terrific insight into our newly acquired brand! So let’s brain-cyclone.
Junior AFR: What’s the insight?
AFR: Yesterday the client was chatting about their new logo! I asked, ‘So what is it called?’ And guess what, they had no clue!
AFR: So dude, we’ve shot the expensive commercials in exotic locations, used celebrities left, right and centre, taken all online and offline media by cyclone… basically used up every trick in the book. So where do we get our next set of revenues and bonus from?
JAFR: Where?
AFR: From a contest – We have a logo. It doesn’t have a name. Give it a name and win big prizes. Splashed across all online and offline media of course.
JAFR: I have so much to learn from you, Boss.

Sorry, I have to stop this piece now; a high court official is at the door and I have to hand over the tapes to him. And there is work to be done of course – my boss just called to say I have to write my next ad campaign. He is a great guy, my boss, there is so much to learn from him.

Friday, 19 November 2010

My toilet seat-shaped heart beats for shit

Today is World Toilet Day. No, I am not kidding. It is and I didn't know about it either. But when I picked up The Times of india this morning I saw an ad on the front page from a leading multinational for its brand of toilet cleaner. In the same ad, the brand claims it is, 'Proud to sponsor World Toilet Day'.

Just under that claim is a vaguely heart-shaped toilet seat - the symbol of World Toilet Organization.

There is crappy advertising and then there is more.

I am sure there will be more ads celebrating the day. On news channels probably. Ads by toilet makers that claim, 'Nobody takes shit better'. Or more.

Who knows there might even be an ad for a news channel itself - 'Nobody does shit better'. Or more.

But seriously, I wondered about this World Toilet Organization and searched for it on the internet. Not only does it exist, it also holds an annual summit. I imagine a large convention hall with commodes instead of chairs. (Do representatives from India, Turkey, Japan and some parts of Italy squat instead of sit? Yeah, we are not the only nation.)

The Organization also runs (no pun intended), the World Toilet College. I didn't see it on the site but I presume as you enter the college there is a coat of arms bearing the motto, 'Education is Shit'. A sentiment that will resound with many of my fellow Indians.

I am sure the WTO does a lot of good work. But since the objective of this blog is to be narrow-minded, prejudiced and generally insulting it is not listed here - in short, if this blog had a college its motto would have been, 'Give them shit'.   Those interested in getting a complete download (no pun on load), on WTO and its activities (no, not the one you are thinking), can visit the site here.

Needless to say the WTO has its office in Singapore, a country whose coat of arms has a unicorn and a lion hugging a broom with the motto,
'We love clean. And we are not bullshitting'.

Anyway, whether you think the idea stinks or not, it is World Toilet Day. So let's not be spoilsports and celebrate shit.

Come on, join me to celebrate:

Raja and 2G

Adarsh and every Tom, Ashok and Harry responsible

New Delhi Airport's T3 terminal that consumes ten times more electricity than the older one and handles only twice the number of passengers. It also has parking for 42000 cars and no space provided for public buses to drop or pick up passengers.

Gurgaon - The city with stunning malls but no basic utilities - from drinking water to sewage or garbage disposal, public transport or even sidewalks.

(The last two are from a column by Sunita Narain in today's Times of India. Couldn't find the column in the online edition, so sorry, no link.)

Mumbai - Where 65% of sewage (polite word for shit), goes untreated into the sea.

Shows like 'Bigg Boss' and 'Rakhi ka Insaaf' that appeal to the part of our psyche that hasn't changed since the Romans cheered lions a couple of thousand years ago.

The Government that thinks censorship is the best way of regulation.

The cars and two-wheelers who I saw yesterday - parked on a flyover so the occupants could get out and take pictures and videos of a fire in an adjacent high-rise from a vantage point.

Oh, there is so much to celebrate. Maybe WTO should consider celebrating for a week instead of a day.

November 19. World Toilet Day. Is it a coincidence that it is also the birth anniversary of the only Indian politician who dissolved the Parliament and imposed emergency on us?

Whatever the reason, let's be good sports and celebrate! I'd say, go ahead, hug a toilet today. Or a politician. Whatever is handy.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Big O. Now in India.

At an undisclosed location in the United States of America

“The day after you landed in Mumbai ‘Times of India’ Mumbai dedicated its first eleven pages to you Mr. President. ‘The Economic Times’ had a special supplement – a pull-out.”
“I am the President of the United States of America. I hate that word – pull-out – don’t you know?”
“Sorry Mr. President, this India visit has me all excited about your future.”
“It is just media hype…”
“No, no Mr. President! It can’t be just hype – there was genuine excitement! Where else have you seen TV reporters go asthmatic and breathless while reporting your visit? And the students – they are the future – they were over the moon! From the humble man in the street to the Man in the Mohan – they were all gripped by the Big O Fever!”
“Is that what they are calling it? Are you sure there is no pun on the Big O?”
“The excitement is real Mr. President. And so is the danger back home – it is clear and present and it cannot be wished away – the Republicans are thrashing us, we are losing ground as if it was being swallowed by Mumbai builders… Why, your kids have already started picking up mementos from the White House!”
“That is bad.”
“That’s an understatement Mr. President. Things are so bad that they are talking of Bobby Jindal having a better chance than you in the next elections.”
“Huh? Just when I was beginning to figure out that being top man was about hope for my individual future and change in my lifestyle…”
“But all is not lost Mr. President.”
“What are my options?”
“Reverse outsourcing.”
“Huh again dude.”
“The warm reception you received in India, the media and public frenzy, your instant connect with future voters in the guise of children – everything points to a simple thing. India is ready for you – you have to contest the next election in India.”
“But where does outsourcing come in?”
“You will take away the biggest job from the Indians – what a coup?!”
“Hmm. But do you think it will work?”
“McDonald’s, Pepsi, Coke, Apple, Nike… they love America around here.”
“It’s an argument. But not strong enough.”
“Well, the voters here really like it when their top man is controlled by a woman.”
“You have a point here. And do not think that I have not noticed that you have stopped calling me Mr. President.”
“Sorry Mr. President. But I want to practise calling you Obamaji.”
“Makes sense. So let’s get on with it. Call my speech writers, my PR machinery, the works. Let’s go for it.”
“Sorry Obamaji, but you might need a different set of consultants here.”
“A numerologist, a guru, a forgery expert to give you a criminal record, a Swiss bank account and lastly a genealogist.”
“I got the rest, but a genealogist?”
“Well, we will have to chart your family tree so we have enough evidence to change your name to Obama Gandhi.”
“You mean Obamaji Gandhiji.”
“You got me there Obamaji.”

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

BPO aka Business Prison Outsourcing

India is about to start its first ‘Jail IT BPO’ in Hyderabad, says this report in Indian Express. Obviously, congratulations are in order. We are taking hardened criminals, training them for an occupation and giving them a respectable way to earn a living. The company who came up with and is implementing this idea is basking in its own glorious act and giving out sound bytes about its Corporate Social Responsibility initiative and pointing out that while the standard daily wage for a prisoner is a measly Rs. 15, they will pay these poor guys a princely sum of Rs. 100 a day. The second prison the company has in its sights is the one that will soon house Raju, the man who built Satyam with his sweat and blood and then, sucked the blood of its shareholders to build his own fortune. Raju, according to a spokesperson of this wonderful company, is already a great inspiration to other inmates of this prison. And why not? After all, if you are in prison for stealing twenty four hundred rupees wouldn’t you find the guy who stole twenty four thousand crores an inspiration?

Looks like I am heading towards saying that I don’t think that this Jail BPO is a very good idea.  Yes, I am. And here’s why.

India, yes, the shining and incredible one, the heir apparent for the throne of Superpower, has almost forty per cent of its population living below the poverty line. That is, earning less than Rs. 15 a day in villages and Rs. 22 a day in cities. That is to say, one-third of the bloody country is trying to feed itself, pay rent and buy clothes (things that are free for a jailed convict) in Rs. 15/22 a day. The fact that some wise guy thinks that a person who has been sent to jail as punishment for an act that harmed either an individual or the society or the nation in some way deserves a better daily wage than one-third of the country does not make sense to me at all. 

Well, let me allow my imagination to run riot for a bit: 
Flashback to a brainstorming session at the said company’s headquarters:

“What do we pay a trainee these days?”
“Rs. 15,000/month”
“Haven’t you heard of the global recession? How are we going to be competitive with that kind of wage bill?”
“I have no idea.”
“I have one – idea.”
“Let’s train convicted criminals in IT. They currently get 15 bucks a day. We will pay them 100. Imagine the savings.”
“And we can claim CSR credits!!!”
“And they do it all the time in America.”
“That seals it! Can I kiss you?”
“Sir… I have a wife.”
“So do I; I was being figurative.”

Anyway, why am I complaining? The deed is done and the training is underway. Soon, Raju’s new colleagues will not only receive inspiration but also receive instruction from him. Who knows, after coming out of jail armed with this valuable education they might go on to outdo their master. Of course, the stock exchange might come down like a pack of cards. Which might not be such a bad idea – at least we will find out how the other one-third leads their lives.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Today's news

This morning something struck me. Things are always striking me in the morning because though I am up at 7AM I am rarely awake before 11 or so. But today was different; I wasn’t struck in the face or shin by a door frame or a piece of furniture but by the realization that advertising had replaced news. No, I am not referring to news on TV where reporters advertise asthma drugs and oxygen bars by constantly being out of breath.

By now the alert reader of this blog (defined as the one who is awake before 11 in the morning), has realized that I have a thing against breathless reporters. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the news channels either and recently I received an e-mail from one saying: ‘Our reporters do this to protest the effect of greenhouse emissions and depleting oxygen levels that threaten to end the world’.

This protest seems to be in the same category as those by PETA activists who take their clothes off at the drop of a leaf - That is to say I don't get the connection between what they are protesting and how they are protesting it.

Q. What does a PETA activist have in her wardrobe?
A. Salad dressing.

Now where was I? Ah, advertising replacing news. No, I am not referring to the daily colourful supplement full of BPs (short for Botox People, sorry, Beautiful People). That’s not advertising either, that’s public relations (defined as: people the public would like to have relations with).

The thing that struck me this morning was this: For the last few weeks, more than once the front page of the morning paper has been an advertisement. The advertisers are not the usual multinationals or Indian industry giants who have advertising budgets the size of Pamela Anderson. Instead they are builders whose names you hadn’t heard until a few years ago. I guess today these are the guys with deep pockets, so deep that if you reached deep enough you might even find a politician or two. One would also imagine that the real estate market in Mumbai is booming (no, not in the eighties sense when it was literally booming with guns going off in builders’ offices). And also that there are a lot of people in this city who have money equal to the annual government spend on primary education to buy a flat.

I don't think so.

Because if you dig deeper into these ads you will notice a quiet shift in the messages and tone of voice. Earlier the ads used to say stuff like, ‘Stay in the sky,’ leading to situations like:

“Was he unwell?”
“No, he went to buy a flat.”
“They told him the price and he went straight to the sky.”

Nowadays they have changed the tune and say things like: ‘Pay 10% now. And rest on possession.’ ‘Pay in instalments!’ ‘Special pre-booking price!’ ‘No premium for higher floors!’

Is there a trend here? Is the real estate market not as gung-ho as it seems? Have too many builders bought too much space for too much money and now can’t find buyers for villas in the sky, penthouses by the sea and duplexes in the heart of the city? (Heart of the city – no wonder this city seems mortally wounded.) Will this blog post be the first prophecy that saw the crash coming?

I really wish the prophecy comes true. For one, I would like the front page of my newspaper to carry news. (In case the guys who print it have forgotten there is a reason why it is called  ‘Newspaper’ and not ‘Ad Paper’.) Second, I would like a little indication that this city can be home to everyone and that you don’t have to be billionaire, millionaire or Kalmadi to afford a flat here. And third, I am tired of text messages on my phone from companies selling flats in Noida and reminding me that I will never be able to afford a flat in what I call my home city.

Friday, 8 October 2010

The Indian Fame Meter. Or, find out if you are truly famous.

“Is there any country in the world that is under foreign dominion?” Rahul (name changed to protect my safety), asked me. I had been introduced to him six minutes ago by his mother, “Rahul, this is Deven uncle. He writes”. With this curt introduction she had walked away to attend other guests and young Rahul had begun to interrogate me. Rahul is seven years old but I was not surprised by his question; he probably thought, ‘'This guy writes. He writes books. Books are filled with answers to questions...’
“Not that I know of,” I answered.
“Can you find out if there is?” Rahul was relentless. 
“Now? How?” I countered. 
“Why? You don't have internet on your phone?”

Rahul didn't look like the type who wrote a diary every night but had he been, today's entry would have read: Today was disappointing. I discovered writers don't know everything and don't make enough money - they can't even afford internet on the phone.

Rahul looked at me with a thoughtful expression. He decided to give me one more chance before giving up on me as a complete loser.

“So tell me,” he asked, “How does one become a minister in the government?”
“It is a long process. First you have to be twenty five years old. Then you have to contest an election... If you are a criminal but don't have a record (defined in this country as ‘arrested but never convicted’), your chances are better...”
“Damn!” Rahul cut me short and began chewing his lower lip. I got a little worried but decided to be ruthless and respond with questions of my own.
“Why do you ask?” 

Rahul gave me a look that he probably used on flea-infested dogs, crippled earthworms and cell phones without cameras. For a moment I thought he was going to tell what I had suspected when his mother introduced us to each other.“So I stay out of her hair and you stay away from other, important guests.” But no. Luckily Rahul had a deeper reason for his questions.

“The answer to your question is on every street corner; it is such a pity you can't see it.”' He gave me that look again. “But first, let’s rewind to the time of my birth. When I was born my father said, ‘I have made so much money that I actually don’t mind paying tax. Not that I pay it but you know the sentiment. Hmm. So where was I? Money, I have lots. Now my son has to go further; he has to become famous.’ That’s why.”

“But Rahul,” I began to protest and was cut sharply. “My name is not Rahul.” 
“I know but I need to protect my safety,” I replied sheepishly. 
“Then it’s okay I guess,” he replied. 
“But Rahul, there are so many other professions you can take up to become famous!” I continued, “You can become an actor, a musician, an astronaut, a scientist, a singer, a painter... Why you can even become a writer!”

This time he laughed outright and gave me a look reserved for cell phones without a camera and a radio.

 “That’s why nobody knows you,” he told me bluntly, “and nobody ever will. Only the truly intelligent people like Gandhi, Nehru, Gandhi, Gandhi and Gandhi knew exactly how to become famous and chose the right profession – and now the man in the street knows their name.” 
“But how can you say that Rohan?” (I suddenly realized that using the name Rahul was not a good idea. In fact it might endanger instead of protect my safety.) 
“Because, you bloody landline (he didn’t say that but that’s how it sounded), they are the only guys who are important enough to have their names given to streets, lanes, roads, highways, expressways, bridges and now, sea-links.”

He had forgotten to mention chowks but I knew he was right and that is why I will never be truly famous. And neither will Bachchan, Bachchan, Bachchan and Bachchan. 

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Eighteen years old and still not mature

In 1992:

The Bombay Stock Exchange crossed the Rs. 4,000 mark for the first time.

Rahul Gandhi was 22 years old.

Forget Google, there was no internet.

We got our first satellite TV channel, Zee TV.

There were no malls.

No plasma, LCD, LED, 3-D, not even flat-screen TVs.

Forget iPod, iPhone, Facebook, Twitter, BlackBerry, there were no cell phones.

Ranbir Kapoor was 9 years old.

Today roughly 31% of population of India is less than 14 years old. That is, more than 31% of Indians living today were not even born in 1992.

The world and the country have moved on in the eighteen years since Babri Masjid was demolished.

But a bunch of politicians, those old men and women sitting with their feet dangling over fresh-dug graves, refuse to move on and peer backwards while you and I want look forward to the future and keep pace with the world.
For them, for these deadly politicians, the demolition is still a ‘burning’ issue. And they have found able partners in the media, especially the so-called news channels for whom a mosquito crushed in a road accident is ‘Breaking News’.

As if the eighteen years taken by the judiciary for arriving at a decision wasn’t a cruel enough joke.

I wish the judgement reads like this:

This court orders all political leaders be collected and buried in the hole left behind by the demolition and plaques be planted around the perimeter saying, Toxic Landfill - Keep Away for Fear of Contamination.

Only that would be a fitting memorial.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

So who are you?

“I am not a muffin person,” she declares, not just to her friend but also to the world.

In the opposite corner of the room sits another woman. If you were to ask her she’d probably say:
“I am a sari person. I wear cotton saris made crisp by starch and pressed to achieve the consistency of shoe-box cardboard. It’s rough, this starched and pressed cotton-ness, but it is the price you pay for loving Art. Yes, even when I think of Art, I think of it with a capital ‘A’. I may not be an artist but I love Art and I need to wear this uniform, to do this daily penance, monk-in-hair-shirt-like, so I can belong to Art and hang out with Artists.”

Is that the secret behind the ‘muffin person’ declaration too?

There was a time, not too long ago, when we would simply declare, “I don’t like muffins”. Or, “I prefer the sea over the mountains”. Or, “I work better in the morning”. Or, some such preference that was a simple personal choice and not our whole personality.

(The old adage {word meaning advertising that became the truth with age}, ‘You are what you eat  has now been replaced by, ‘You are what you dont eat’. Look at Kareena for example. Of course, the first time I heard size zero I thought they were using it in the professional context, that is, acting ability = zero, but then clueless me soon figured {pun alert!} what it was. Todays Mumbai Mirror has a picture caption that defines ‘muffin top’ as flesh spilling off the top of the jeans. Ugh. After reading that I too would like to declare, “I am not a Muffin Person, not anymore”.  

But looks like ‘muffin person’ declarations are here to stay and have become short cuts to announce:
‘I belong to a group of people, a clan, a tribe that is united and characterised by its refusal of muffins which in itself is an ‘SMS (Short Messed-up Service) Way’ of announcing your refusal to indulge in food that makes you fat, or some such cool thing that’s currently in vogue
. And in Elle and Femina too.

So here’s a quick guide to some important labels floating around town. In 5 minutes (10 if you dont cheat and actually read this stuff), it will help you find out who you are (something that took our sages a lifetime or seven), seek out those who are like you and will ultimately lead to you joining a Facebook group of like-minded people - For example, ‘Unhappy to be Single. Desperate to Mingle.

The Labels

1] Wine Person: Urban, urbane (the difference between the two is an ‘e’), sophisticated, rich, classy, new age, well-travelled globe trotter and faking all of the above.

2] Wine & Cheese Person: Same as 1. Except fatter, plus a free-loader.

3] Single Malt Person: Same as 1, except filthy rich and old. In fact so old that cannot read the label of the bottle he is drinking from even before having a drink. Also add snobbish, male, very high up in management, so high that shareholders pay for the single malt.

4] Morning Person: Someone who wakes up so early in the morning that he/she has to turn on the lights. Gets sadistic pleasure in: 
i) Waking up rest of the household by being noisy in the bathroom. 
ii) Getting the building watchman sacked by catching him sleeping as he/she goes out for a walk, jog or game of tennis/squash where he/she meets more Morning Persons. 
iii) Reaching office before everyone and messing up everyone else’s appraisals.
Tell-tale sign: The one who can’t stay awake beyond 10PM or one drink, whichever comes first.

5] Peoples Person: I love the irony or contradiction or tautology or whatever’s the correct figure of speech (pun alert!!). He/she is the one whose mouth is moving in a non-stop chatter and is seeking out people even while they make futile attempts to escape.

6] Apple Person: No, not to be confused with the Diet Person, this one believes in God. Thinks God’s name is Steve Jobs.

Of course, there are more - Chocolate Person, Milk Person, Floaters Person, Sneakers Person, Jeans & T-shirt Person, Golf Person, Feather & Fur Person, Leather & Whips Person... We can go on and on. With the insights provided by this guide here, I hope you will look outside and find out who you are inside. On the basis of that self-realization you will be able to go out and join thousands of people like you and experience happiness. After all, human beings are social animals which is the same as party animals except party animals drink more and are not Morning Persons.

“I am not a muffin person,” she replies to her friend’s suggestion with a hint of snobbery and a look that says, ‘You don’t know… and you call yourself my friend?’ The friend bites her lip and looks out at the rain lashing the café window, probably wondering if she were to order a muffin for herself, would the already strained jeans withstand another assault? Sorry, I meant, already strained friendship. Or will she be one friend short on Facebook by end of the day?

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Grin & Bare It

There is a saying in Marathi, ‘अती झालं आणि हसू आलं ’, which means, ‘When pain, suffering or plain bad luck go beyond a point, you begin to laugh’. I have a feeling the saying came into being in the ancient times when our elders observed guys who couldn’t take it any more and started laughing, or to be politically incorrect, went mad.

If that is indeed the origin of this saying then this blog admits to insanity. Because things have come to a pass where the bad news in this country has gone beyond the breaking point and there is not much we can do except take refuge in the ridiculous. So here goes.

1] 45,000 children vanish without a trace in this country every year. That is, 5 children per hour, that is, 1 child every 10 minutes that is, by the time you finish reading this piece, another child would have vanished.
And let’s not even talk about child labour because we will never know the true figures.

2] 78,000 women die every year in this country before, during or in the first few days after child birth.  This is despite the government-run Integrated Mother & Child Development Care Programme since 1975.
And let’s not even talk about female foeticide or infanticide because, again, we will never know the true figures.

3] 1,300,000 tonnes of food grain went rotten in godowns (now you know why they are called go downs), in this country in the last ten years. That’s a figure given, no, not by the out-of-breath TV news reporters, but by government officials. That is, the Government of India has officially admitted that it wasted the food it was supposed to look after.

4] 30 crore people live below the poverty line in this country. That is, there are 30 crore people in this country who earn Rs. 10 or less every day. Of course, the grains had to go waste – close to one-third of the population never had and doesn’t have the money to buy it. This is despite the government-run National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme which under the guise of guaranteeing employment encourages people to sit where there are and not move their butt to save their arse. Obviously the Government hasn’t heard of the saying, ‘God helps those who help themselves’. Or maybe it believes in the modern-day adaptation, ‘God helps those who offer to help others and pocket the help themselves’.

5] 65% of the sewage generated in the city of Mumbai is released untreated into the Arabian Sea. That is because 60 years after independence the city relies largely on drainage and sewage systems built in the British era. So what did we do in these 60 years? One answer could be in these figures: In 1947 when this country achieved independence its population was 35 crore or 350 million. Today it stands at a proud 1.13 billion. Seems like we were playing the game, ‘Let’s pretend we are rabbits’ and were too busy being reproductive instead of productive.

The first fact is despite the city of Mumbai bursting at the seams with a government body (word used to describe a person when he/she is dead. For example, John is dead. Where is the body?), for anything and everything you can imagine. For example, we have BMC, MMRDA, BEST, BRTS, MTNL, SRA, CR, WR, MHADA, ACB, ASS (okay, not this one), the Collector’s office, the Registrar’s office, the Municipal Commissioner’s office and being the state capital, the Government of Maharashtra, the Secretariat, the Mantralaya, the High Court, Civil Court, the Blah and the Blah Blah Blah. In short, we have a body responsible for every little thing that provides an opportunity to take a bribe. Sorry, a body for every little need of the city. Pity, like John, they are all dead.
The second fact is despite having had a state-funded programme for promoting family planning that dates back to just after I was born. Luckily.

Now there is a pattern here: Whenever the government tries to do something, the result is exactly the opposite of what is intended.

But detractors of this blog always complain of its unwarranted (word meaning I can't be arrested for writing this), pessimism, cynicism and sarcasm. To answer them, let’s have some good news:

In 2014, less than 4 years from now, the richest person in the world will be an Indian citizen living in India, says a forecast by Forbes Magazine. No, it will not be Rahul G. or Sharad P. or Jaya L. This person’s net worth will be 62 billion US dollars. (Pity really, because even if he gave all his money away to his fellow citizens, each one would hardly get half a dollar.)

In the same report Forbes has also listed a number of events that could happen over the next 10 years in the field of politics, energy, medicine, finance, society and technology.
But the one forecast I love dearly from this report is, I quote:

Another forecast in the field of finance and economics is of fraudster Bernard Madoff's death in his prison cell in 2011. The convicted Ponzi-scheme perpetrator is found hanging in his cell and "prison officials will not rule out foul play."

(If you were worried that Paul the Octopus had been consigned to barbeque flames, worry not, he lives in a corner office at the Forbes headquarters.)

Now all that makes me laugh out loud - A real full throated laugh that can be heard across the road and not a virtual LOL that can be FB’ed across continents but is heard by no one. But hello, who are you sirs? Why do you want me to put on that jacket? Oh, it is so quiet in here and the walls of this room are so nice and soft…