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…

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

F Book, I say.

There is a whole bunch of us here. Some we know professionally. Some personally. And a lot who occupy the vague space in between. Every once in a while one more joins us quietly. Not always though. Some don’t feel comfortable unless they have made their presence felt with an announcement.
Like: “It is rum & coke* weather.” (Coke is the registered trademark of a bunch of guys in South America and if you use it without paying them, you get your nose blown off.)
Not all those who make announcements are addicts of course. Some of them are very matter of fact and say stuff like: “It’s hot outside!”
Then there are some who quietly slink up to you and slide you a note that says, “Ha! Ha!! You have to watch this!!!” Why? Why do I have to watch this? What if I don’t? Oh, you are the illegitimate offspring of a coke trademark owner? Sure, will watch it. Or, “This is the funniest joke ever!” Funniest joke ever? Are you sure? Because the last I remember your sense of humour was suffering from a king-size tumour. But I am being harsh here. Or myself. Whichever is ruder.
Occasionally someone lands up who is deep, philosophical and brings a breath of death in with a curt: “God is dead.” Of course it was first said by Nietzsche (German name meaning, ‘One who gets psyched at night), but when you have such a depressing world view you don’t want to waste time giving credit. Of course the fact that Nietzsche is dead (like god), and has no connections in South America makes it easy to take credit and give none.
And don’t tell me you haven’t come across the one who comes in and despite the presence of hundreds of people thinks he is alone and speaks aloud to himself: “I can do this. I can change my destiny as if it were a diaper.” It is clear the guy has never changed a diaper in his life or he would know that changing destiny is sometimes as easy as changing your astrologer while diapers are a different smell game altogether. And yes, please use the disinfectant on your hands before you come in.
About those who can’t stop yapping, the less said the better. Their yaps can only be compared to a Pomeranian dog in heat who’s been sniffing that parcel from South America.
Then we have the strong silent ones who believe a picture is worth a thousand words and flood the place with the picture-equivalent of hundred thousand words a week – it is like watching a slideshow of their private lives.
Occasionally, to break the monotony (guy called Tony who believes in monogamy), a farmer lands up, worried about the health of his crops and wanting to borrow some fertiliser and willing to settle for that soiled diaper if you don’t have fertiliser.
Duck! For cover!! Here comes the mafia don, all guns blazing with an offer you cannot refuse: I am a farmer and I have a gun… Hey, how did you know I am from South America?

The perceptive reader (described as the one who has lasted up to this paragraph), has already realized that the topic of this blog post is Facebook. I have always wanted to write a candid (means, ‘I can so I did’), critique (French word for critic), of Facebook and the absurdities on its pages but desisted because I was still active on it. After all, I have a set of morals. I learned them in school through fear of punishment in the form of a wooden blackboard duster pretending it was a missile. Gosh, I still remember most of them. Like: Look before you leap. Practise what you preach. Always wear a condom. Okay, not the last one. I learned that in private tuition classes.

So there it is. I am off Facebook. And I have got the critique off my chest. (Yeah, a French one. Nice.) To conclude here’s a link to a video (thanks Prajakta for the link), that pokes (pun intended), fun at Facebook. You have to watch it. It is the funniest one ever. LOL.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Writer, blocked.

We are sitting around the table and there are glasses on the tables with amber coloured liquid in them and I can’t name the name of the liquid or I will be arrested. No, I am not underage. Here, in this great country of ours, it is not enough to be twenty-five years* of age to be eligible for drinking. You also need to have what is called a Liquor Permit. This wonderful thing, the Permit, is a hangover (smart of you to get that pun!), of a rule from the heady (yes, one more!) days that followed our independence from British rule. The rule says you can apply for and acquire a Liquor Permit if the doctor says that you are a confirmed alcoholic! Yes, you got that right. The powers that be in this great country believe in fighting fire with fire and alcoholism with alcoholism. “Here, have one more buddy. That way you will be so drunk that you will be unable to find your car and kill yourself and a few bystanders trying to drive back home or, be so pissed out of your body that you will not have the strength to beat up your poor wife.”

But let’s return to the table. We are sitting there and I am a few glasses down and start complaining: “I have got the writer’s block. I am writing stuff but it’s not making sense.”

There is stunned silence around the table. I am happy that I have such a considerate audience that is so concerned about my writing prowess deserting me that they can’t find words to express their sadness.

This illusion lasts for about three minutes. Then one of them starts laughing so uncontrollably that the neighbouring table is first staring and then ordering, ‘I will have what he is having.’

I can’t take it and I explode: “Shut the bad-word up will you? What’s so bad-wording funny about it?”
The guy finally calms down and recovers his breath enough to say: “But what you write never makes sense anyway! Never!”
I want to throw my unnamed drink in his face, the way they do in movies, but instead I gulp it down along with my anger. After all, he is paying for this one and the four I have had before this.

Again like in the movies, the scene suddenly shifts to me sitting at my work station and writing a blog post instead of working. I write with the new-found confidence that god or muse or the genie in the corner of the room or whoever it is that sends me inspiration and makes me write has decided that I will write nothing but rubbish. So here goes. Today’s blog post. Or a short exercise in rubbish.

Sorry. Looks like I have really lost it. No, not ‘it’, but the ability to write even rubbish. I have no option to go and search for rubbish in places outside my head and report the absurdities I come across. This is what I come back with:

1] In a by-lane of Bandra West there is a traffic jam outside one particular building every morning. Yeah, there is a traffic jam in all of Bandra West but this one is special because it is so early in the morning. It is caused by people driving to visit the gym located in the building. Yeah, members drive right up to the entrance of the building where the gym’s free valet service picks up the car. The members then go up to the gym to walk on a treadmill or some such. Every time I visit the building and wait for the lift to visit an office on the top floor the lift arrives and spills out men and women with perfectly sculpted bodies, glowing with health and smelling like gym towels. I have a feeling that they haven’t heard of a concept called staircases and if the lifts break down one day, they will call the fire brigade or jump out of the window. Into the waiting arms of the valets.

2] There is a photograph in a newspaper of the newly inaugurated* pedestrian skywalk at Andheri. The photograph is taken at night and shows a whole bunch of people sleeping on the skywalk. One health-conscious dude has rigged a mosquito net** and sleeps peacefully in the knowledge that he is protected from malaria, dengue and etc. The newspaper carrying the photograph is highly critical of this misuse of a public utility but I think it is just being plain blind to the great Indian logic:
The skywalk is built for railway commuters and pedestrians. At night neither are out on the road or the skywalk. So using it for sleeping, gambling or occasionally smoking up some brown sugar is making use of this public utility to the fullest. It is this great Indian logic of not letting anything go waste, finding new uses for old things and exploiting every bit to its fullest potential that will make India a great and green superpower one day.

*Writer’s note: Newly inaugurated is not the same as newly built. In this great country of ours, things are built and ready but that doesn’t mean we can use them. First the concerned (it is just a phrase, not the truth), department has to figure out which political party will take the credit for building the structure. Once that is figured out, the department starts right at the top in Delhi to find an appropriate person for the inauguration. If that doesn’t work out, it starts lowering its standards and begins to settle for less and less (which by the way is the story of our expectations from our political leaders), until someone suitable agrees. This takes a lot of time. If there is a coalition government in power, the time doubles or triples or quadruples (a word meaning questionable democratic scruples).

**Since the opposition parties couldn’t claim credit for the skywalk sooner or later one of them will start distributing free mosquito nets for these sleepwalkers, sorry, sleepers on the skywalk and install a plaque on every skywalk saying, ‘Donated by XYZ’ with pictures of twelve party leaders dressed in nothing but mosquito nets.

3] Getting 90% marks in your tenth standard exam does not guarantee you a seat in the college of your preference, says a headline in today’s newspaper. The report explains that this year’s 90% is like last year’s 85%. Very soon the education minister will join the finance minister and begin talking about inflation while quietly signing a document allowing his daughter-in-law to set up a college on a plot reserved for a skywalk.

4] India is a secular (word meaning state-sponsored enterprise for becoming popular), nation. Its secularity is best visible in the humble calendar, yes, those printed things with dates that our parents used to put up on the wall. If you don’t have one, please visit a bank or a bank employee’s home. There, marked in clear bold red numbers, is the proof of our secularity - Bank holidays for festivals of each and every caste, creed, community and religion. For example, a couple of weeks ago all banks, stock exchanges and government offices in the country were shut on the occasion of the Parsi New Year. What bigger proof do you need than this: A nation of 1.2 billion shutting down to pay a tribute to a community that numbers 1,00,000 or so.

5] ‘If it is your birthday today: You have to handle financial commitments and transactions carefully. Failure to verify second hand information could complicate matters. You may need to put in more efforts on the romantic front, getting complacent or taking your partner for granted will create unnecessary tensions.’
This a straight lift from the horoscope section in today’s newspaper. What it means is:
‘If it is not your birthday today: Handle financial commitments and transactions carelessly; sign that blank cheque and leave it on a table in a café. Believe every piece of gossip you hear. Take your partner for granted without fear of any repercussions.’
There is a reason why the daily horoscope and comic strips share the same page in a newspaper.

I am sorry but I have to go now. The office receptionist just called to say that the courier has a packet for me. Ah! My Liquor Permit is finally here.