Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Welcome the new leader of the house

Yesterday, in the morning, my ten-year old daughter was surprisingly engrossed in reading the front page of The Times of India. Surprising, because she normally reserves this kind of concentration for the front page of The Bombay Times. But before I could congratulate myself on her new found maturity and interest in current affairs, she got this look on her face that said Trouble. (When people say she has taken after her mother I only half-believe them. But when she gets this look I agree with them wholeheartedly.) Luckily, it was time for her to get to school so she couldn't translate the look into words.


The sigh of relief lasted only until the evening. Once I was back from work the daughter sat me down:

“It’s time for a little chat,” she declared.

I sat down of course. As a much married man, I know it is futile to battle The Look. 

“When we go visiting our relatives who gets the maximum attention?” she asked.
“You,” I replied.
“And your friends?” she continued.
“They positively shower you with attention, affection, kisses and gifts,” I replied. As a much married etc. I have realized the power of flattery and am not miserly in its use.
“Even perfect strangers, you'll admit, have gone gaga over me since I was so small,” she said holding her tiny palm a few inches above the floor.
“Yes indeed,” I admitted. I remembered with a pang the hugs and kisses she has received from attractive young ladies who were strangers and perfect at that. If only…
“I have been around for over ten years now and I have spent all that time being an integral part of the family. In fact, you can say that I am the face of the family. If you turn up at a family function without me, the first thing they enquire about is me, right?”
“Right,” I said, and this time I wasn't even flattering her. 

(Yes, she did use the word, ‘integral’. She is a precocious young lady, my daughter. Not long ago I had told her exactly that: You are a precocius young lady. To which she had replied, “Is that what your generation calls a young girl who is cool?” I had slapped my forehead in response. She had commented that we should move out of the suburbs; there are too many mosquitoes here. Again, it had taken a lot to stop myself from slapping my forehead. And her.)

I wasn’t sure where this was going but I didn’t have a good feeling about it. (Read earlier references to The Look.) So I decided to conclude the conversation with some more flattery.

“Hey, you are the face of the family, the cool one and what's more, you are the future!” I said, sure that this would help me escape now. And she could go back to watching music videos unsuitable for her age. And mine.

“I am glad you brought the future up,” she said without blinking. “Now that you agree with all that and given that I have ten years' hands-on experience in the family, you should step down and make me the leader of the family.”

It took me a few minutes to respond and even then, all I could manage was, “Huh?”
In response she gave me sweet smile and said, “My eleventh birthday is a couple of months away. We could start the new arrangement from then!”
“Hey-hey-hey!” I exclaimed, “Whoa!” I was so taken aback that I was still incapable of coherent speech and all could manage was a string of exclamations. Finally I took a deep breath and let loose: 

“Do you know what it takes to run a family? Do you think you can get up every morning, battle peak hour traffic, get to work, fight office politics, handle deadline pressures, all kinds of stress so you can earn some money and then make it last for a month? Do you think you can handle MOM? Do you have ANY IDEA what it takes?”

“Chill dad, there is no need to scream,” she replied without batting an eyelid, “you are doing a great job earning the bread, paying my cell phone bills, mom's credit card bills and handling the stress. Mom’s awesome at handling the home stuff. You guys keep up the good work. All I am saying is leave the leadership thing to me. After all, we need a young attractive face to show the world that we are cool family!”

“And why the,” I swallowed an expletive here, “Why do you think that it's necessary? And what makes you think you are qualified?”
“Wait here,” she said with quiet authority and walked away. She returned after a few moments (moments I spent doing breathing exercises), with the newspaper. “Here,” she said pointing at a news item on the front page, “Read this.”

I read:

“I think it is time that Rahul can become the prime minister,” (Digvijay) Singh was quoted… adding, “Rahul is now 40 and he has been working for the party for the last seven to eight years.”

I finished and without bothering to look at her triumphant face, walked away and burnt the newspaper. No, I didn't do that. Instead I went and looked at the calendar: I have one month and twenty nine days before I hand over the charge to my daughter on her birthday. After all, she is better qualified.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Fast tips to being a celebrity

Anna Hazare, the name that launched millions FB updates and thousands of celebrity tweets (not to be confused with the similar sounding ‘twits’), and whose deceptive spelling had the Western media imagining a lady named Anna with the impossible second name Hazare, has launched more than the Jan Lokpal movement. His unprecedented and unexpected success in creating mass and upper class hysteria, had Baba (a word inspired by the sound a sheep makes in the classic nursery rhyme), Ramdev (ram meaning male sheep, which explains the prefix baba), in contortions.


Baba: Here I am, getting up every morning at four and twisting my body into impossible shapes to get the attention of the nation, teaching the world to breathe and using desperate measures like declaring homosexuality to be a disease to get my face (yes, somewhere he has a face in that mass of tangled hair) in the news, and there comes an old man from a village and pulls the yoga mat from under my posture! Why, I even tried hitching my slow wagon to his fast train, but no, he continued to hog the limelight. Ram, ram, ram! (Said to rhyme with damn, damn, damn.) He even had all kinds of people wearing Anna cap (formerly known as the Gandhi cap), with the slogan, “Mai Anna Hazare” and marching up and down streets with candles as if there was a power outage in the city. But finally, there is some relief. As the saying goes, ‘Bhagwan ke ghar mein der hain, andher nahin’ (loosely translated, ‘There is delay in god’s house, not darkness’. With every religion having a ritual of lighting lamps, candles etc. but obviously there is no darkness.) The process of formulating the Lokpal Bill is all tangled up like a novice yoga practitioner attempting one of my asanas– what do you expect with me adding my two bits to it? But it is not enough! Anna might come before Baba, alphabetically speaking, but as the other saying goes, ‘Der aaye, durust aaye’, (loose translation – Came late, came correct), my time has to come. I have to make it come.

Saying this Baba did rapid breathing movements that created the effect of him being hit in the belly by rapid Tyson punches. This removal of hot air from his body calmed Baba somewhat. He decided to pray and began chanting, “Baba black sheep have you any fool?” until he reached a state of meditation where just one word remained in his consciousness – Black. Exhausted, he scratched his left ear with his left toe and exclaimed, “Black! That’s it! Anna, this will make you feel sheepish!”

The next moment he called a press conference (defined as the conference you get when you press the right buttons), and announced:

“Unless and until the government forms a committee (with me in it), to get all the black money stashed abroad, I will fast unto death!” Of course, he didn’t specify whose death. And as the cameras flashed and TV reporters thrust their microphones into his beard, he said to himself, ‘Just wait Anna. The day is not far when everyone from Rahul Bose to Priyanka Chopra will sport a beard like me with a tattoo on their foreheads – Mai Baba Ramdev’.

Breaking news – In a midnight operation, Baba and his followers were evicted by the police from the Ramlila Grounds. Baba escaped by jumping into the women’s section – but naturally, he doesn’t suffer from that disease called homosexuality. A Page 3 reporter spoke to one of his followers after the incident:

Page 3 reporter: Does Baba have a squint?
Follower: No, he just has one eye on the cameras.

Friday, 3 June 2011

No beauty without cruelty

In the Hollywood movie, Shallow Hal, Jack Black’s perception is altered and he begins seeing people for what they are inside and not for what they appear to be on the outside. As a result Jack sees a 300-pound woman as Gwyneth Paltrow and of course, falls in love with her. Towards the end of the movie, Jack’s perception is re-altered to normal and he sees the ‘real’ body of his lady love. Of course, he is put off and after the usual twists and turns in a Hollywood romantic comedy, returns to his senses and realizes the folly of judging people (and his lover), by their appearances. He reaches the conclusion that a she-elephant with a heart of gold is any day superior to a b* with a black heart.

What a load of bull.

I had watched the movie in bits and pieces on TV and decided to find out the name of the actress who played the 300-pounder. My search threw up (no puns intended), a number of web sites. But guess what – the weighty actress’s name didn’t show up in the cast. Here’s a link to the imdb web site; check it out for yourself. The sites list three names – Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jason Alexander. Period.

That made me wonder about the motivation behind the making of the movie. Maybe the directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly are fat and hence. But no. They aren’t. What about the writer, Sean Moynihan? Not him either. So what? Jack Black? He is plump, sure, but nowhere near the size of the Kung Fu Panda he lends his voice to.

So I sit back and imagine the discussion between the Studio Executives:

Studio Exec 1: It’s a thin plot.
SE 2: That’s a bad joke.
SE: Sorry, unintended. But who’d want to see Jack romance a mammoth?
SE 2: Now you are talking sense. But the beauty is, no one sees her, not even Jack, until the very end!
SE: Agreed, but listen up dude. I know it’s a romantic comedy and research has proven again and again that the average movie-goer is a moron – but with practically all industries and all media in the world spending billions of dollars promoting the toothpick figure as the ideal beauty, what chance do we have? I mean ask a man in the street if he is heard of Gandhi and he will say, ‘No’. But ask about Kate Moss… You know what I mean.
SE 2: All I know is you are talking like an intellectual and if the Board hears you, you will be fired. But wait. You said a relevant thing there.
SE: I did? What?
SE 2: Research. Let’s call in the research guy.
Researh Guy: Hmm. According to the last figures, 34% of the US population is obese. US has the highest obesity ratio in the world.
SE 2: That means, we have a captive audience of 34% Americans. Plus, if we cast a hot toothpick as the chick this guy sees with this altered perception, we have 100% men wanting to see the movie. We are doing this film.

But that’s my imagination so you can discount it. However what you cannot discount is the fact that our ideas of beauty are shaped by our environment and we are not born with them. Yeah, we don’t cry when we are born because we find the doctor or the mid-wife or the nurse ugly; we cry because the doctor slaps us on our bottom. I wish other professions had the luxury of slapping their sources of income; I know more than a few clients who could do with some butt-slapping.

Let's admit it. Every culture, every region and every society has its own definition of beauty. Like certain African tribes believed that the darker you were, the more beautiful you were. Which is also a prejudice of sorts because it implies that lighter complexions are not beautiful. Or in Burma, as it was called then, a tribe believed that longer a woman's neck the more attractive she was. Today, with the power of western money, corporations and media has led us to believe that beauty is thin, fair and young. Yeah, young too - ask the makers of Botox. Though I know men who find older women more attractive - they are usually described as kinky. I know women who find older men attractive too – they are described as bounty hunters.

So it is really this: Whether it is media, opinion leaders, the village elders or just some king with a kink (imagine the chaos if a Burmese tribal found his way to Africa and saw a giraffe!), it is always someone with power who decides what is good, what is bad, what is beautiful and what is not.

To bring this post to a quick conclusion (before I start a long rant on fairness and anti-ageing creams, weight loss clinics, gyms, silicone or a graphic description about the Burmese who saw a giraffe), here’s the problem with ‘Real’ beauty:

Every concept of beauty is inherently exclusive. When you define something as beautiful, you automatically condemn those who don't fit into the definition as ugly. And therein hides the tragedy.