Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Useful Christmas Presents

OUT OF MY HEAD
Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 21st Dec 2010)

Christmas is the season of goodwill, and in keeping with the cheerful ho ho ho spirit I have presents for many people – including those I may have had some differences with. Unlike Santa Claus, I do not discriminate between who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.

For US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: The only time my respect for Hillary wavers is when I see her in hideous egg-yolk yellow pant suits and fire-engine red pant suits – heck, why fuddy-duddy pant suits to begin with? I admire the way she skilfully masks her hypocrisy in plain speak and I’m deeply distressed that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s revelations may have put paid to her favourite hobby – a vast international collection of DNA strands to help her, erm, get to know foreign diplomats better. To cheer her up, I’ve decided to give her a pretty heart-shaped plastic locket (it’s recession time, she’ll understand) with a fragrant ,freshly-shampooed lock of my hair. Okay so I’m not a VIP, but who knows some day I may well be. These days with so many whistleblowers around you can never tell who’s going up in life and who’s coming down with a resounding thud, right?

For Sarah Appalling (aka Palin), former Governor of Alaska: The race hasn’t ended for John McCain’s vice-presidential running mate – she still believes she’s got a good chance of becoming the next president of the USA, ha ha. Part of me hopes that she succeeds because she’s more entertaining than George W. Bush – he’s seems sombre, distinguished and remarkably erudite in comparison. I propose to send her a prospectus of a good school because it’s apparent that she’s in desperate need of education. While I can’t refudiate (sorry, repudiate – pardon my Palinisms) the fact that she’s an expert on Russia since she can see it from her bedroom window on a clear day, I have to reasonably point out that she can’t see every single country from all the windows in her house, can she? So suggestions on a good nursery school (for starters) will be welcome – baby steps, remember?

For WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange: Hugs, best wishes, lots of support, a pack of industrial-strength prophylactics and a few tips on understanding women better. Starting with, never get cosy with two women who know each other – especially within days of each other. That only works in James Bond movies!

For Pakistan: Even a beauty contest bimbo will agree that a stable Pakistan can lead to peace on earth – or in India, at any rate. Which is why I’m planning to gift wrap a team of international psychiatrists to help Pakistan’s politicians, generals and intelligence chaps get over their unhealthy obsession with India. I sincerely hope that they will stop thinking of us from the time they wake up to the time they kiss their possibly toxic Made-in-China teddy bears goodnight. This creepy stalker-like mentality has got to stop. Get over us, guys – concentrate on thinking about your own citizens instead. That way lies progress!

For the UPA Government: Sigh. What can you give people who have so much of everything that belongs to us? Nothing more, right? The scam-rich UPA is off my X’mas list this year – in fact, off it for my lifetime. My stony heart will not melt – not even if the charming Rahul Gandhi flashes his dimples at me.

For the BJP: I wish I had the power to grant them a JPC on the 2G scam. Not because I love them (oh please - perish the thought!) but because I simply cannot bear to see and hear the pompous Arun Jaitley go on and on and on about it on every single news channel practically every second of the day in the most annoying self-righteous manner. Thanks to him, I’ve stopped watching Indian news channels completely. I’m seriously considering giving them a miniature glass house instead, with a framed photograph of their corrupt Karnataka chief minister Yeddyurappa. Just to remind them that Indian citizens aren’t stupid.

For Arnab Goswami, the talking head of Times Now: A pair of lycra superhero tights, a pair of lycra underpants and a collapsible mobile telephone booth to hastily change in – Goswami is certainly working hard to earn them. He evidently believes that he can do for India what Batman did for Gotham city. Now that’s what you call the audacity of hope!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Eek another leak!

OUT OF MY HEAD
Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 7th Dec 2010)

This is possibly the hottest winter the US has ever suffered in my lifetime – and it’s got precious little to do with global warming or comely PETA activists bravely shedding designer wear to fight for animal rights. Once again, WikiLeaks is slowly and tortuously making the US sweat with the gradual release of about a quarter-million diplomatic cables that expose back-room bargaining by US embassies around the world, and assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats among other things. Revelations so far have proved that the whistleblowers are not just whistling Dixie. Better still, the cables are liberally sprinkled with candid and often witty impressions of the most powerful people in the world.

India’s Silk Smitha and the Beatles’ Polythene Pam can take a backseat: we now have Teflon Merkel – a mildly unflattering portrait of the allegedly unimaginative German Chancellor. French President Sarkozy is referred to as ‘the emperor without clothes’ – and if you remember that grim fairy tale you’ll agree that as character assassinations go, this is terrifically brutal. The kindest barb is the moniker for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin: Alpha Dog. That sounds pretty cool because it’s sort of like a name of a heavy metal band or a thriller starring Bruce Willis. Heck, I wouldn’t take umbrage if I were him. Now if they’d called Putin Alpha Rat instead, he’d have reason to complain. My, don’t you just love it when poker-faced diplomats reveal their tactless sides?

The gossipy tidbits on Pakistan so far have been the most boring of the lot. We have always known that America regards it as a ‘headache’, a ‘nightmare’ and other synonyms under the word ‘troublesome’ in Roget’s Thesaurus. We also know that no amount of dollars will persuade Pakistan to stop funding terrorist groups. Tell us something new!

Naturally, I’m waiting longingly for more steaming hot gossip (on India in particular) as the rest of the cables are released. Shockingly, some people are outraged at America’s double standards – hey, weren’t they aware of this before? Others are worried about the repercussions these disclosures could have on their own foreign policies – a little bit of tweaking may be called for. And then you have shamelessly irresponsible people like me rolling on the floor with mirth. Honestly, this is the most I’ve laughed since Bill Clinton inadvertently made cigars sexy. I still maintain it’s a shame that the cigar industry didn’t reward him handsomely for free global advertising.

Meanwhile, India has had its own version of WikiLeaks playing out for a few weeks now: recordings and transcripts of PR goddess Niira Radia’s telephone conversations that expose somewhat unsavoury links between political parties, hot shot corporate houses and star journalists are available on the internet. As a result of which social networking sites became unbearably sanctimonious for a few days. I must say that I find this expose disturbing for several reasons too:

1. I always thought my teenage niece would win the prize for nattering incessantly on the phone. She has been beaten hollow – and by a middle-aged woman at that, tsk. I will never let her live this down!

2. It’s just as well that Ms. Radia was working for two of the wealthiest corporate chiefs, Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata. Good heavens, her phone bills must have been staggering – perhaps even more than the loss India suffered thanks to the telecom scam.

3. This expose has been a truly humbling experience and I must say I feel the most humbled of the lot. I’m hanging my head in shame as I confess that Niira Radia did not call me – not even once as a wrong number. I’m just a tragic nobody.

4. Never ever be smug because Fate can play cruel tricks. Just a few days after Ratan Tata gave a disarming speech on how staunchly ethical he was by refusing to bribe a minister to get clearance for an airline and all that goody goody moral science class blah, the Niira Radia lobbying-for-an-amenable-telecom-minister tapes surfaced – and his name came up. His shiny halo faded gently with her husky hello. He may still be regarded as Mr. Clean by the bemused Indian public, but certainly not Mr. Squeaky Clean.

5. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Do not take numerology seriously. Hands up all those who still believe that the extra ‘i’ in Niira’s name brought her good luck!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Weight-Watcher’s Diary

Written for Verve, published July 2010
Read it here for the nice illustrations:
http://www.verveonline.com/87/life/fiction.shtml

Also pasted below:

11th June

Have discovered Mothercare! Stepped in to buy pressie for Bubbles' baby and saw fab clothes. In my size, hooray! Rushed to changing room with 13 clothes – at least. Skinny Salesgirl very annoying, though. Smiled widely and asked how many months preggers I was. Did not want to embarrass self so lied and said seven months. She gasped and said I looked ready to pop, was I going to have twins? Pretended I was deaf and sailed to billing counter with purchases. Nasty Skinny Salesgirl followed and asked if I’d like nursing bras as well. I could hit her! Was in such a hurry to get away from her, forgot to buy pressie for Bubbles' baby after all. Damn.

Nasty Skinny Salesgirl’s rude remarks rankled, so decided to go on strict fruit diet. Consumed: 4 bananas, 6 mangoes and 6 chikoos for lunch and dinner. Halo shining. Can’t wait to check my weight tomorrow morning!

12th June

Help! Weighed self and almost wept – am now 1 kg heavier than yesterday! Bloody diets don’t work, that’s what! Called Fatty and whined. She sneered and said I ate the wrong fruits – mangoes, chikoos and bananas are sugar rich. Should have eaten watermelon instead. Don’t like Fatty very much. Think she patronises me because she weighs just 85 kgs. Shan’t hang out with her anymore. She probably uses me so she can look slim in comparison.

So depressed, decided to have a diet club sandwich without bread for brekker: ham, bacon, cheese, half fried egg, lettuce, tomato and cucumber. To make it exciting, had low-fat chips with it. Boiled potatoes first, then cut them in thick slices and lightly fried them in non-stick pan. Yum! Maybe I can write diet cookbook called Tasty Way to Lose Weight, and become famous Bollywood dietician. I will be rich, rich rich! So rich that I can buy Mothercare Franchise and sack Nasty Skinny Salesgirl!

21st June
Bloody, bloody diets don’t bloody work! Been starving self on breadless club sandwich with chips and have put on even more weight. If Nasty Skinny Salesgirl sees me now bet she’ll want to know if I’m having triplets! Hate everybody, especially Fatty. She called yesterday to say she’s on new diet and has lost 2 kgs in 3 days. Show off! Know that she’s DYING for me to ask for the diet, but won’t give her the satisfaction. She laughed meanly when I told her about my low fat chips and said even monkeys know that carbs are a big no no. Will go for one hour walk in evening and lose more weight than her, so there! I’ll show her!

22nd June
Could not bring self to go for walk yesterday. Too hot. Put AC on in living room and decided to walk up and down like caged tiger through an entire episode of cooking programme, Jamie at Home, and succeeded, yay! Ran up and down for a few rounds as well but had to stop because neighbour in flat below intercommed and screamed because I ruined her afternoon nap: she sternly reminded me that we are not permitted to shift heavy furniture during 2 to 4 pm and has threatened to complain to the building society secretary. Told her to go to hell!

Felt much thinner and decided to treat self to what Jamie was cooking: chicken in rich cheese sauce. Both proteins, so should work. Fatty called and wanted to come over to show off her new thin self: she says her tummy is one inch thinner. Coldly told her I was going out. Do not wish to associate with creeps.

29th June
Have stopped taking Fatty’s calls altogether. She can’t take a hint though. Has started sending me text messages of her new weight: According to the latest one, she now weighs 79.6 kgs. Wants to know if we can go out to celebrate. Will not respond. Am in despair, though. Weight-loss pacing sessions with Jamie Oliver not working. Looking at all that lovely food inspires me to cook it too. Haven’t lost an ounce. Think perhaps I have thyroid problem. Called friendly neighbourhood doctor for details on thyroid test. Very easy, just a blood test. Will do it first thing tomorrow.

2nd July
Gloom and doom. Got thyroid test report. My thyroid is fine, damn. Friendly neighbourhood doctor is not very friendly. Says I should go on strict diet and exercise daily. Told her I already am, and she scoffed when I gave her the details. Told me to stick to watermelon for a week and walk in the park for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening – at least. Did not like the tone of her voice. Hate everybody, especially Fatty. Her latest text message says she now weighs 76 kgs. Cretin!

3rd July
Tried watermelon diet for half a day and felt dizzy and sick. Had to call Dominos for pepperoni pizza. Ordered a small and then had to order a large an hour later. Feeling slightly better now. Diets make me ill.

7th July

There’s hope yet! Page 2 of newspaper carried article of lady with 8 kg cyst in stomach. Was successfully operated on and is 8 kgs lighter in less than two days! Am certain I have cyst too. That’s why diets and exercise don’t work for me. Will fix appointment with doctor – not unfriendly neighbourhood doctor but another one. After surgery will take Fatty’s calls and invite her over to see MY new body. Will probably weigh 50 kgs then, yay!

11th July
New doctor very warm and sympathetic. She said I must certainly do ultrasound and recommended a few more tests as well at her husband’s clinic. Had to pay hefty sum of money (now Rs. 25,000 poorer) but who cares? I will be thin and sexy!

13th July
Ultrasound horrible. Was made to drink gallons of water and not allowed to pee till examination was over. Asked sourpuss technician if she could see the cyst but she refused to tell me. Said to wait for report tomorrow. Treated self to biryani and gelato. Have to be strong for cyst surgery. New text message from Fatty. Says she’s now 71 kg. Hah! Wait till my surgery is over. Then we’ll talk!

14th July
Sympathetic new doctor even more sympathetic. No cyst, but she recommended bariatric surgery at her brother-in-law’s nursing home. Almost fainted when she told me how much it costs. Told her I’d think about it. Very depressed. Had 55 pani puris to feel better. Noticed that pani puri-man has bad cold and uses the same cloth to blow nose and wipe his hands on. Don’t care. Maybe I’ll get his germs, fall ill and lose weight. Or maybe I’ll get worms from eating unsanitary roadside food and they’ll eat my weight away. Desperate now. Fatty called at least 11 times today. Ignored all calls. Sent 20 text messages too, begging me to see her. Says she’s very ill, possibly dying. Ignored text messages. Hah! This is just a ruse to get me to view and envy her new 71 kg body. People can be so slimy.

17th July

Fatty called at least 50 times today. Ignored her calls.

21st July
Am in shock! Read newspaper article today that says that people put on oodles of weight if their friends are fat! Now nobody will talk to me ever again! Not even Fatty! Will die alone and friendless! Maybe I’ll have to rob bank and have shockingly expensive bariatric surgery.

22nd July
Whew! Fatty called this morning, and this time I answered phone at first ring. Relieved to have at least one friend in the world. She cried and cried and cried. Says she is almost bald – her new diet has made her hair fall in clumps. Rushed to meet her. God, she looked awful. We both agreed that diets are silly and we are happier being fat. Ordered four large pepperoni pizzas – to help Fatty’s hair grow back faster. Told Fatty about Mothercare’s roomy XXXXXL clothes and we’re going to go there in August. Will just have to tell Nasty Skinny Salesgirl that the twins were safely delivered and am pregnant again!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Today is Annual Make Nasty Jokes About Pakistan's ISI Day

26/11 anniversary. Hindustan Times Mumbai has thoughtfully given a little candle with a copy of their paper today. Wish I could light mine up the ISIs arse. Yes, I said arse. It is not nice. Neither is Pakistan's ISI.

I'm going to spend the ENTIRE day making nasty cracks about those evil muscle-brained lunatics, since we can't bomb them. India is a responsible nation. Unlike other Western nations we cannot attack countries that attack us because only Western countries are allowed to be irresponsible, see? Some like the US are so irresponsible they even supply truck-loads of money and arms to countries that breed terrorists. Hmm.

Anyway, here's an article I wrote a few months ago when talks between India and Pakistan collapsed. It was published in Hardnews in my monthly column Angst in my Pants.

The Shah of Blah

Every time the papers and news channels excitedly announce peace talks between India and Pakistan, I shake my head sadly. Particularly after I saw Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on TV a day after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. He was in New Delhi when the attacks occurred and he delivered the usual over the top Pakistani bluster, of course: roared with rage, clenched his fists dramatically till his knuckles turned white, and thundered that we had no business to blame Pakistan for the attacks – it was very mean and small-minded of us, he fumed. He was terrifically angry and I suspect that it’s because the poor chap had no time to buy DVDs of the latest Bollywood flicks for his family and friends since he had to leave in such a tearing hurry. Tsk. Too bad the ISI never warned him in advance – they were way too busy directing the horrific attacks to waste time on pathetic little puppets.

Since then we have reams of evidence, but the Pakistani government absolutely refuses to believe us. We even have audio tapes just in case they can’t read - hey, I’m willing to bet their President Asif Ali Zardari can’t. He makes former US President George W. Bush seem like an intellectual. After watching him lead his nation, I’m beginning to believe that his nickname, Mr. Ten Percent, still holds true – he just has 10% of a normal human brain, that is.

Despite the fact that David Headley, one of the chief 26/11 planners, is singing soulfully like an American Idol contestant in US custody, Pakistan is stubbornly playing deaf. During the recent ‘peace’ talks, Qureshi metaphorically jammed his pudgy little fingers in his ears and screamed “Nyaah, nyaah nyaah, I can’t hear you and you guys are mean and nasty too la la la la, so there!” He pretended to be really upset that Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna got a few phone-calls from India and accused the Indian government of directing the peace talks. Hello, Mr. Qureshi, they were not instructing SM Krishna to brutally murder everyone in the room like your beloved ISI. If it was them at all, they were probably saying, “Just because these ISI puppets are uncivilized boors, don’t stoop to their level and lose your sophistication and cool.” Or perhaps they were merely translating Qureshi’s weird ‘clipped Brit meets guttural Punjabi’ accent? I don’t blame Mr. Krishna – it takes me ages to understand what Qureshi’s saying.

Honestly, the only positive thing I have to say about Qureshi is that he’s a natty dresser. But fine feathers don’t always make fine birds and I think a few classes in manners are what he desperately requires. For starters, will someone please teach Qureshi how to shake hands nicely? The moment a hand is extended, he assumes it’s for a hand-wrestling match and eagerly starts playing panja with it. Not exactly ‘mine host’ material.

I have a pertinent question: What is Qureshi so arrogant about? Everyone in world is aware that Pakistan is a failed nation and it depends on hefty hand-outs from the gullible US to survive.

While I love the idea of peace with a neighbour, particularly an extremely nasty tempered one with more nuclear weapons than sense, I don’t believe I’ll be ringing his doorbell with a bottle of chilled wine and a peace pipe. I’d much rather avoid him instead and go so far as to take the stairs if he’s in the elevator. It’s not possible to have rational discussions with irrational beings, is it? Sort of like locking yourself in a cage with a starving, snarling man-eating lion and soothingly saying, “Here kitty, here, here kitty, I’ve come to discuss the possibility of peaceful co-existence.”

And in case you’re wondering, I’m not against the Aman ki Asha citizens for peace initiative. I will continue to read books by Pakistani authors I enjoy like Mohammed Hanif. I will continue to encourage cricket matches between India and Pakistan. I have nothing against the people – even the brain-washed, uneducated ones who spit out anti-India epithets. It is Pakistan’s machivellan ISI and their weak, prevaricating politicians who make me sick. And so, I have one fervent plea for the Indian government: please don’t get into a ‘Have you hugged a Pakistani politician today?’ mode. Not till they deliver justice on the 26/11 attacks, at the very least.

Barack Obama's India Diary

OUT OF MY HEAD
Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post,23rd Nov 2010)

6th Nov

Landed in Mumbai and boy, was it hot! Was greeted by a gangsta dude wearing dark glasses – it was Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan. Briefly wondered if wearing dark glasses is against protocol but charitably dismissed it. Remembered that Secret Service fellas had discreetly informed me that the dude was accused of pinching apartments from war widows and would be axed soon after I left – he’d probably spent the entire night diluting his glass of Bourbon with tears. Nonetheless, checked back pocket after we got into the chopper for the Taj. My wallet was still there, whew.

Made pretty speech at the Taj to survivors of the 26/11 terrorist attack – it was so moving I felt tears rush to my eyes but brushed them away in case vision got blurred and I couldn’t read the teleprompter. Was warmly applauded.

Visited Mani Bhavan, my idol’s (Mahatama Gandhi’s) former house. Deeply impressed everyone by not mispronouncing Gandhi as Ghandy.

Made pretty speech to win business for America at Trident hotel. Was applauded a little less warmly.

Elation faded when saw self on TV later that night. Indian news channels were attacking me like a pack of savage wolves for not calling Pakistan a terrorist state. Particularly a chap called something like Doorknob. Have they absolutely no idea of US foreign policy or are they shockingly naive?

7th Nov
Spent the morning with children. First went to a school in Colaba and was treated to a cultural program by the students. Got the fidgets after 2nd song and dance - jaws were also aching from bestowing wide smiles of appreciation. Fortunately this was not as long as Bollywood films. Michelle got the fidgets too and leapt up to dance – she’s still got it!

I was dragged to floor and gamely imitated their moves. Heard kids snigger behind my back. They said something like, “Pappu can’t dance saala”. Poor Pappu, whoever he is.

Met Mumbai University students at St. Xavier’s College. It was so hot, had to take off jacket. Wished I could take off shirt as well. Now I know why male Bollywood stars frequently bare their chests. Michelle wowed them first with her usual heart-warming spiel on her humble beginnings and then I was introduced. Made pretty speech and then took questions. Was thrown. Must warn America yet again that Indian kids are v. smart – more forcefully this time. Had to skirt question on Pakistan of course, and was made to pay for it. Indian News channels started attacking me viciously again, particularly Doorknob. He’s started pouting as well, quite like Marilyn Monroe.

Boarded Air Force One for Delhi. Looked forward to meeting my buddy Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Hoped I wouldn’t meet a fella called Suresh Kalmadi who referred to Prince Charles’ current wife Camilla as Princess Diana. He’s quite capable of addressing me as President Osama.

Was warmly greeted by the Prime Minister and his wife. All four of us exchanged hugs and kisses. On the way to Humayun’s tomb, Secret Service hissed that we made a big faux pas. Effigies of Richard Gere were burnt because he planted a chaste kiss on the cheeks of some Bollywood starlet a few years ago. Ooops!

Indian News Channels still maligning me. Thought I’d escaped from the battering at home, but I get even worse treatment here! Nobody loves me! Must give India something to make those news hounds shut up.

8th Nov
Had lots of important meetings today. Shook so many hands I fear that my shoulder may be dislocated.

Met a v. strange lady called Sushma Swaraj from the BJP. She sternly and repeatedly told me that the BJP had initiated friendship with the US first. That is the only thing she had to say.

Grand finale: my address to both houses of parliament. Over 50% of the politicians present looked like thugs – wouldn’t ever want to meet them in dark alleys. Made v. pretty speech about India, threw in lots of Indian words and gave them a grand present that cost me nothing: support for a permanent seat at the UNSC. Now everybody in India loves me, including Doorknob!

Lovely dinner and now have to pack for our trip to Indonesia. It is a nightmare. Every VIP I met gave me big fat coffee table books. Thank god I don’t have to pay for excess baggage!

All cleaned up for Diwali

OUT OF MY HEAD
Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 9th Nov 2010)

As I write this, Mumbai is gearing up for Diwali like never before. We’re expecting two very important guests this year: our all-time favourite Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth, and Barack Obama, the President of the USA as well. Security is going to be tight with many annoying restrictions in place and people who live in the area around the Taj hotel (where Obama is staying) are particularly bitter. So many fattening mithais to eat and nowhere to walk them off! We’re hoping that all the president’s men do not prevent Laxmi from entering our freshly spruced up homes. And while on the subject of cleanliness, the state government claims that it’s going flat out to clean up the city. Sadly, the only clean up we can see is of the city’s coffers.

Mumbaikars are bristling with rage at the Adarsh Housing Society scam where a bunch of greedy politicians, bureaucrats and (golly gosh) defence personnel in Mumbai joined hands to snatch homes from Kargil war widows. A number of interesting observations have emerged from this:

1. Suresh Kalmadi, President of the Commonwealth Games organising committee, has started smiling widely again. He is not alone in his ignominy, hallelujah. Overcharging for toilet paper is not as big an offence as stealing from war widows, see? His future in the Congress party may well be secure again.

2. Ashok Chavan, prime suspect in the Adarsh scam and Maharashtra chief minister, raised a very important point when he was accused of nepotism for allotting a flat to his mother-in-law. He grimly stated through gritted teeth that his mother-in-law was not a part of his family, how dare anyone even suggest it! For the first time since the scam was exposed, he looked more outraged and offended than TV reporters who were interviewing him. Not surprisingly, he has endeared himself to innumerable men with insufferable mothers-in-law.

3. If you believe in numerology, pay attention to this: never consult Ashok Chavan’s personal numerologist. The chap urged Chavan to add the word ‘Rao’ to his name to improve the quality of his life. Accordingly, a shiny new name plate was attached to his front door. A few days later, the Adarsh scam was exposed. To be scrupulously fair, perhaps the numerologist was not to blame – there’s always the possibility that Chavan mistakenly spelt the word ‘rao’ as ‘row’.

4. This scam brought home the fact that bureaucrats would make excellent waiters. They’re so used to the larger part of their income coming from lavish tips. Besides, they’re so well-educated I’m sure they can pronounce the names of French dishes like Coq au Vin and Ratatouille without stumbling.

5. The retired defence chaps who were interviewed on TV sounded truly devastated that the army had a few rotten eggs. I don’t know about you, but I found their reaction astonishing. Come on, had they not heard of the Kargil body bag scam or the more recent Sukhna shocker?

6. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram may learn something vitally important from this: perhaps the best way to defeat Maoists is not to arrest them but to arrest his own party members who steal from widows, the helpless and the homeless, and as a result turn sane people into insane Maoist sympathisers.

7. And, just in case the Congress does eventually decide to send its guilty politicians to jail (ha ha, as if – despite the fact that we’re reminded every now and then that Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to corruption), I make one humble request: please, please, please build a state-of-the-art hospital in the jail they’re housed in too. Or else, strange flutters of the heart may occur and the party’s criminals will once again inconvenience citizens by occupying precious hospital beds throughout the duration of their sentence.

8. The BJP of course is over the moon with joy. With the Congress party in a scambolic state (CWG, telecom and now this), they are filled with the fond hope that the next general elections will bring them joy. I hate to rain on their parade, but let’s not forget that their mother ship (the RSS) is alleged to have terror links. So the next time you cast your vote, do consider this: would you prefer a party that snatches money or a party that snatches lives?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Nearer my god to thee

Was cleaning up a cupboard and laughed myself silly when I discovered the things we'd acquired in recent years:

1. A neck brace
2. A back brace
3. A knee sock
4. A wrist brace
5. An ankle brace
6. Sundry physiotherapy aids
7. Kgs of X-rays and MRI scans

Soon Beloved Husband and I will have supports for each and every body part including the index finger (which I tend to exercise so frequently it's bound to get fractured or at least severely sprained). We can go to fancy dress balls dressed as exo-skeletons. Growing old and decrepit can be rather amusing! So far, the 40s have brought much mirth. Hope the 50s and 60s will be as entertaining. Am not thinking about the 70s. Not yet!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A day in the life of Arundhati Roy (As imagined by the writer)

OUT OF MY HEAD
Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 2nd November 2010)

Alarm went off at 6 am. Leapt out of bed and rushed to the mirror. Screeched when I noticed several ugly red spots on my face. Swore never to visit those nasty mosquito-infested jungles without carrying Odomos. This is just too bad, considering that I have to give a speech to other like-minded intellectuals this afternoon - like-minded when it comes to issues only, of course. Intellectually I’m far more superior than those morons can ever hope to be - have they won the Booker ever, ha ha? Jumped back into bed – more beauty sleep is urgently required. Must live up to my reputation of being beautiful inside-out.
***
Great Revolutionary Leader called at 7.30 am, interrupting my sleep. He sounded more outraged than Arnab Goswami of Times Now. ‘Have you read today’s papers?’ he spluttered. ‘The Government of India is building a school in a tribal village. Those creeps, how dare they!’ he thundered. Really, how dare they? After all the hard work we’ve put in to persuade tribals about the wickedness of the Government of India, they’re now trying to show us up! The cheek! Consoled Great Revolutionary Leader. Told him he could always bomb it after it’s built. Preferably while school children are in it. That will make superb headlines, and I will be invited as guest speaker to many more intellectual dos. Great Revolutionary Leader chuckled. He told me how beautiful I was inside-out.
***
Had toast with honey (good for skin) for brekker – not commercial honey but the real McCoy stuff from the tribals. Had to fish some wings and hairy legs out of it, yuck. Glanced through newspapers. Am filled with rage – not a single article on me, not even a teeny-weeny mention! What is this country coming to? No wonder it’s a failed State!
***
Consoled self by Googling my name. About a zillion mentions on blogs, yay! Clicked a blog at random. The blogger said that someone called Adrian Mole was a more convincing and likeable intellectual than I am. Googled Adrian Mole – he’s a thirteen and a half year old fictional pseudo-intellectual who writes a diary. Read an excerpt of the diary: He has acne, loves ABBA, writes lousy poetry and sounds like a half-wit. How dare that nasty blog writer say that Adrian Mole is better than I am? Browsed through another blog also written by a fool - she says that I should be called a megalomaniac anarchist not a selfless activist. Another stupid woman has said that, “If she hates India so much why doesn’t she just get the hell out and leave us in peace.” Rot – I have as much right as she has to live in this country and overthrow the State if I wish – this is a democracy after all! They’re just plain jealous that I’m beautiful inside-out. Will fix these people when we crush India and create our own beautiful country. Will torture them before we behead them. Dissent will not be tolerated.
***
Was v. depressed all afternoon. Just as well that these heckling bloggers are never invited to events where I make speeches. They are not intellectuals - they just don’t understand that ideas are more important than people losing lives and limbs. Bimbos!
***
Turned on TV news and discovered to my joy that I may be booked for sedition because I echoed a hardline separatist’s views on Kashmir! More publicity, hooray! Phone never stopped ringing thereafter, with other intellectuals warmly congratulating me. They’re so insincere really – I could not fail to detect envy in their voices. Wonder what to wear when the TV wallahs come calling with their cameras for my reaction?
***
Put a Beatles CD on while going through my extensive wardrobe. Have selected several pretty saris and some ethnic skirts with lots of chunky tribal jewellery. Cannot be photographed in the same outfit for different TV channels after all. Have also applied foundation to hide the ugly red mosquito bites. Doorbell rang, so I hastily changed the music to a rousing tribal beat before I opened the door.
***
Celebration party tonight! Have got several jerry cans of heady mahua from the tribals. Will serve mahuatinis (dash of mahua and lots of sweetened orange juice to disguise the terrible taste). They are super potent and in the eyes of my inebriated companions I will look even more beautiful inside-out!

Much ado about nothing

OUT OF MY HEAD
Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 26th October 2010)

We can never thank young Aditya Thackeray enough for helping Mumbai rediscover the joys of reading fiction – particularly Rohinton Mistry’s Such A Long Journey. A friend has been kind enough to lend me her copy, so I’ve been spared the trauma of fidgeting, sweating and fainting in serpentine queues outside bookshops. Let this be a lesson to all authors who want to hit the bestseller list – get rabble-rousing politicians to ban/burn your book, instead of begging glitzy filmstars to launch it.

I have to confess that I didn’t gasp loudly the way people do at the sight of a hairy cockroach floating lazily in their soup when I read some of the passages in Mistry’s book that the thin-skinned Shiv Sena violently objected to. Sure, his fictional character raved and ranted about things that annoyed him – everything from the Congress to the Shiv Sena to different communities, but so what? Everyone has the right to his opinion. And frankly, his ‘insulting’ remarks were mild compared to the vitriolic statements the Thackerays frequently (and loudly) dish out about people and communities – a lot of it is uncalled for personal remarks like ‘Rahul Gandhi is a frustrated bachelor’ and some very unsavoury things about prime minister Manmohan Singh which I do not choose to repeat here.

Honestly if you take that into account, Mistry has every right to burn copies of the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna in return for the shabby treatment doled out to his book. Fortunately, Mistry is such a good hearted chap, really. Instead of criticising Aditya for not actually reading his book before burning it, he is being rather paternal about it by playing mentor to him. Mistry has warmly urged Aditya to read a couple of books to become a better political leader instead of following the same old fuddy duddy tactics as his grandfather: Joseph Conrad’s grim Heart of Darkness ‘in order to consider the options: step back from the abyss, or go over the edge’, and Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, particularly for the stirring lines of this verse, ‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free.’ I doubt that knowledge will seep in however, since every time the young lad is given a book he excitedly fumbles in his pockets for a matchbox.

Incidentally, Aditya Thackeray is a writer himself – he’s got two volumes of poetry under his belt, one of which is set to music (by some of India’s finest musicians and singers, of course – they loved it so much they just couldn’t say no) and launched by Bollywood star and chief Shiv Sena aficionado Amitabh Bachchan a few years ago. If you haven’t heard of them, it’s because his loving family thoughtlessly did not ban/burn his book and album. Tsk. One would think that they’d have figured out marketing tactics by now, considering that almost everything they ban/burn turns to gold. Even that forgettable movie, My Name is Khan.

Do read Such A Long Journey. Not only for the sensational bits, which, like I’ve said before, aren’t remotely sensational at all. I recommend it because it truly is a warm, engrossing and well-written story. Such a pity that it had to be sacrificed to launch Aditya’s political career. Couldn’t the Shiv Sena have hired the chaps who put together the fantastic opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games to launch the Yuva Sena instead? That way, we may have appreciated the show and the grandson of (yawn) yet another political dynasty better. Spunky messages on T-shirts with a spin on the Shiv Sena’s tiger symbol (like ‘You bring out the tiger in me’) are not enough to prove that you’re cool and with it, dude! As the En Vogue song goes, ‘Free your mind, and the rest will follow.’

So what I’m wondering now is, what will Aditya Thackeray’s estranged uncle Raj Thackeray do? Raj (leader of the dreaded Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) is highly competitive and pretty much given to ‘me too’ tactics. Will he make his young son burn another book? Yippie, I’m dying to know which one so I can buy it before the bookshop queues begin! Also, since the MNS symbol is a railway engine, will his son sport T-shirts with the message, ‘You bring out the choo choo train in me’ or, ‘Let me take you for a ride’? Ooh, just can’t wait!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rahul Gandhi

OUT OF MY HEAD
(Published in Bengal Post, 19th October 2010)

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m growing fonder and fonder of Rahul Gandhi with every passing second. And it’s got absolutely nothing to do with his dimples! He’s been like a Jack-in-the-box over the last few years, popping up in different parts of the nation, sometimes armed with a toothbrush for a surprise pyjama party in a village. His mere presence makes his political rivals (and also his allies, as we’ve seen recently with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee) feel terribly insecure. Which, in a way, is a good thing. Hopefully, they’ll feel threatened enough to do a better job.

I started taking him a lot more seriously after he dropped in to Mumbai during the ridiculous My Name is Khan fracas and smoothly ensured that Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan did not have to massage the Shiv Sena supremo’s XL ego. One whispered word in the dithering Maharashtra chief minister’s ear and practically the entire state machinery was deployed to foil the Shiv Sena ban. It worked like a charm, hooray, and it certainly showed the local bullies who’s the boss! If he can do this for a silly movie, imagine what wonderful things he can do with more important issues? We desperately need him back in Mumbai right now because the Shiv Sena supremo’s grandson has just got Rohinton Mistry’s Such A Long Journey withdrawn from the university syllabus; apparently Mistry made unflattering remarks in the book about the Shiv Sena. He got copies of it burnt as well. Don’t waste your time wondering if pyromania runs in the family. Some people burst crackers to launch their political careers, other people burn books.

Anyway, back to the scion of the genteel Gandhi family. Now Rahul Gandhi’s gone and said exactly what I’ve been thinking for years: “I know only that both SIMI and the RSS are fanatical and hold fundamentalist views.” It was great fun listening to the BJP, RSS and other Hindutva parties respond to this statement. I analysed their irate comments deeply and this is what I’ve come up with: Hindutva parties aren’t really in tune with each other. Some called him immature, others said he was senile (good heaven’s, they think he’s LK Advani’s age) and a few others called him insane. Surely they don’t think all three words mean the same thing, do they? Granted that if you browse through Roget’s Thesaurus you’ll find all these words on the same page, but they do have different meanings. I find it very worrying that they don’t get nuances, and this is the ten thousand and thirty first reason why I will never subscribe to Hindutva.

RSS spokesman Ram Madhav pompously added that people who make such statements have to first understand India and Indian society well. “It’s not enough to know only Italy and Colombia,” he said, smirking at his own jibe. Or maybe he was just grinning from ear to ear because he got a fabulous chance to be on TV and look frightfully important. By the way, in case the Columbia bit escaped you, he was slyly referring to one of Rahul Gandhi’s former girlfriends. Tragic, isn’t it, that foreign blood is the only stick they can beat the Gandhi family with - I don’t know about you, but it’s beginning to bore me to tears. Also, has it escaped his notice that Rahul Gandhi has Indian blood as well and was born and brought up in India? But then you never can expect fundamentalists to be rational, tut.

Interestingly, during the last few years, Rahul Gandhi has just given us a trailer of what he can do for the country. He’s left us (well, me at least) waiting eagerly for the actual movie to begin. Oddly enough, I hope that he’s not starring in it as prime minister of India. His mother has proved that the Gandhi family does much, much better work back stage - I believe they really do care about the nation, perhaps as much as the other legendary Gandhi whom they’re not related to. There are still loads of things to be accomplished and they should not waste precious time shaking hands, drinking tea and making small talk with leaders of other nations. I also believe that not becoming prime minister ever is Rahul Gandhi’s secret plan – fully endorsed by his mother. I may be wrong, but I hope I’m not.

People Watching

OUT OF MY HEAD
(Published in Bengal Post, 12th October 2010)

It’s been a few days since the grand Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, and I’m still feeling incredibly warm and fuzzy. Unlike the fickle media though, I’m not fuzzy enough to forgive Suresh Kalmadi (chairman of the CWG Organising Committee) with all my heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas and lungs. Call me Ice Maiden, but I still want all those allegations of corruption to be microscopically examined. Inflation notwithstanding, a roll of toilet paper cannot cost Rs. 4000. Not even if has been designed by say, Louis Vuitton.

However, I must give the devil his due. So I thank Kalmadi from the bottom of my heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas and lungs for outsourcing the spectacular opening show to slick professionals from the entertainment industry. If his bumbling core team had been in charge, the superb aerostat may have come crashing down on our hopes, dreams and credibility. Oh, and ego, as well!

The theme (unity in diversity) was not just warm and inclusive – it was also very, very clever. Bunging most of our states together in a series of events was a smart move: it shortened the proceedings considerably. That’s perhaps why all the Indian politicians present stayed wide awake during the show. I’m so used to seeing them yawning shamelessly or snoozing through Republic Day parades, particularly when floats representing each and every one of India’s twenty-something states (frankly, I’ve lost count) trundle down. That’s when I’m dead certain that vociferous demands for new, separate states will be deviously squashed. Incidentally, I’m with the sleepy politicians on this!

But I digress. Back to the CWG opening ceremony. I think we are all agreed that it was a show that did Indians proud. Even more heart-warming, it was the Indians at the show who did India proud.Here’s why:

1. Consider the loud cheers that went up for Pakistan’s contingent. Do you think Palestinians would have done the same for their traditional enemy Israel, or vice versa? Either the India-Pakistan citizens for peace initiative (Aman ki Asha) is working wonderfully well, or we’re just exceptionally lovely people. Apart, of course, from a few local political parties in Mumbai who are trying to stop Pakistani nationals from participating in idiotic reality shows. What a tragic way to attempt to get your photograph in the papers!

2. Also consider the deafening applause that went up for former president Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. Proof that it doesn’t matter what religion anyone in our secular nation belongs to. Young Indians respect achievers - more so if they’re honest and humble. Our divisive politicians would do well to remember that! Since Kalmadi is fairly hard-boiled, let’s give him an easier task: he can start by remembering Kalam’s correct name, at the very least! My jaw dropped to my knees when he got it wrong at the opening ceremony. But I forgave him a few days later when he got Prince Charles’s name and sex wrong. He referred to him as Princess Diana at a press conference– and no, I’m not making this up! The poor chap is so stressed he appears to be losing his mind. I think we should be compassionate and relieve him of all his duties the second the games are over. Let us donate generously towards his retirement fund – oh wait – he’s got loads of our money already, right?

3. As far as I’m concerned, the CWG Delhi opening ceremony was a bigger treat and more memorable than the inauguration ceremony at the Beijing Olympics. Not just because of the show, but because of the enthusiastic jeers reserved for Kalmadi alone. If public criticism against a politician had happened in Beijing, China’s jails may have be packed sardine-tight throughout the entire duration of the Olympics. I do hope that all the hawk-eyed international economists and investors who (we are repeatedly told) are watching these games closely, have taken note of the loud booing. It speaks volumes about India’s healthy democracy. Of course, some Indian citizens are muttering “tsk tsk” and primly saying that the spectators made a spectacle of themselves. They maintain that it was in bad taste, particularly with foreign dignitaries around. I disagree. I was bought up to believe that corruption is worse than irreverence. And I’m glad young Indians are being vocal about their displeasure. This is a brave new India and I salute it!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cry, the beloved country

OUT OF MY HEAD
By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal post, 5th October 2010)

Not all of us are as fortunate as senior Congress leader Manishankar Aiyar aka Suresh Kalmadi’s bĂȘte noire. Aiyar has cheerfully announced that he’s “getting the hell out of the country” before the Commonwealth Games begin. I assume he’ll be going in disguise as an Arab sheikh perhaps, to cleverly conceal his Indian identity. It’s not nice to go abroad and have the natives sniggering at you.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are thinking of creative ways to punish Kalmadi for making us look like a third-world nation – mainly because we are dead certain that Kalmadi will never be brought to justice. The wily old Congress party loyalist has been given enough time (he already has the money and resources) to destroy all evidence of corruption. Perhaps that’s why he says with so much conviction, “Hang me if you find me guilty.”

Hopefully every unimaginative school teacher’s favourite essay subjects (1. What I did on my summer/diwali/winter holidays, 2. My cow, 3. The elephant is a wondrous animal) will be replaced by a lively ‘What should we do to make Suresh Kalmadi cry like a baby?’ Children come up with the most marvellous out-of-the-box solutions.

However, there is one thing we must acknowledge and appreciate while we’re passionately flinging shoes at the TV screen every time Kalmadi shows up: The exercise is good for our arm muscles – our biceps and triceps may never sag. Seriously though, the shoddy organisation of the CWG games has thrown up valuable lessons that every Indian would do well to remember:

1. Pakistan is not India’s Enemy No. 1 – this title belongs to our inept politicians.

2. When working on a project always keep in mind that the execution must be as good as the idea. By which I’m definitely not implying that Kalmadi should have a grand execution ceremony, inaugurated jointly (after acrimonious TV debates) by India’s President Pratibha Patil and Britain’s Prince Charles. I would much rather have him alive and squirming like the rest of us are right now.

3. Corruption can be forgiven and forgotten – only if the corrupt deliver!

4. Money can’t buy you class. Approx. 70,000 crore has been squandered on the games (and still counting – remember, housekeeping hasn’t been accounted for yet). At the end of which we look third-world (I’m never going to get over this, sigh).

5. Always double-check every little detail no matter how tedious it may be. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh has just discovered that the elephant featured in an Incredible India ad is African and not an Indian tusker! Fortunately, heads are rolling for a change.

6. It is much healthier to spend time outdoors – ceilings fall.

7. Never hire Sports Minister MS Gill to organise a wedding in your family. Never! Not even a child’s birthday party.

8. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit is the ideal person to endorse anti-anxiety pills. Bridges may collapse, ceilings may fall yet she continues to smile sweetly, warmly assuring us that there’s nothing to worry about. What is she on?

9. The next time India dares to host another sporting event, we should not just sell broadcast rights to news channels – channels like National Geographic and Animal Planet should be part of the media package as well. Thus far, we’ve seen Great Indian Mongrels frolicking on beds, a snake in the residential village and a cobra in a stadium. Pretty impressive, huh? And it’s getting much better: Langoors have been hired to chase smaller monkeys away from the stadiums (incidentally, these small monkeys are the ones that bureaucrats depend on to eat and destroy vitally important government files, which is why the poor things can never be given a holiday). Anyway, I’m certain that other species of Indian wildlife will find a way in. Rest assured that if sportsmen won’t go to Corbett National Park, Corbett National Park will have to go to sportsmen. We are Jungle Book country, after all!

10. When you spend the night in a government rest house, place a feather on your guest bed to test its strength. It could save your life.

These are lessons we must never ever forget. So, let’s give the devil his due and put up statues of Suresh Kalmadi across the length and breadth of India. I think it would be appropriate to let pigeons do to him what he has done to India’s image.

Going Cuckoo

OUT OF MY HEAD
By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 28th September 2010)

When I think of the current state of the nation, I fall into a deep gloom: There’s Kashmir, Maoists, other terrorists, inflation, poverty, scams, and so much more to moan and groan about, sigh. Which is why I’m so grateful to a couple of politicians who have made me smile over the last few days.

Political analysts don’t often agree with each other, but there seems to be a general consensus when they air their lofty views on Trinamool Congress chief and Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee:
1. She is moody and unpredictable: she changes her mind as often as pop-star Madonna changes her hairstyle.
2. She is a terribly insecure person: her favourite words are “conspiracy” and “sabotage”.
3. She screeches like a banshee.

And now, ever since Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi paid fleeting visits to Kolkata, a fourth trait has come to light: Mamata Banerjee is a poet. An honest to goodness ‘nature’ poet, in the noble tradition of William Wordsworth and other Romantics.
Inspired by her muse (Rahul Gandhi), she has kept me very amused. She hath verily said:

- There are people who come like a koel (cuckoo) before an election and disappear after chirping ‘kuhu kuhu’ once spring is over. (Now imagine if she’d said this in iambic pentameter, what a beautiful poem this may have been?)

- I am not a seasonal flower that is rarely seen. (Sadly, she did not specify which flower, but since Wordsworth has already taken daffodils, I do so hope she chooses something else – a local flower perhaps?)

- I do not do politics from a bed of gold, I do it standing on the ground round the year... holding rallies in the summer heat and the monsoon rain. (Hmm. A bit like the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, you know the, “When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning or in rain,” part.

I’m just ashamed that I hadn’t figured out before where Mamata’s true talent lies. It was so glaringly obvious, really. Put together temperamental, insecure and banshee, and everybody knows that what you get is a gifted poet, not a politician. Another dead giveaway is the fact that Mamata is wildly rebellious and unconventional. She sounded almost like a hip beatnik poet when she defiantly said, “I wear hawai chappals because I like wearing them and not because someone says so.”

I think it’s time for political analysts to bow out and literary critics to start commenting on Mamata’s illustrious career. I’m sure West Bengal’s jittery ruling party would be delighted to encourage Mamata’s true calling. Incidentally, Rahul Gandhi is absolutely certain that Mamata Banerjee wasn’t referring to him because (he firmly says) he does not look like a bird. The prosaic chap just doesn’t get literary allusions, tsk. But this must be said: if Mamata continues to write poetry on him, I’m certain he’ll go cuckoo.

***

Suresh Kalmadi (chairman of the CWG Organising Committee) had better get Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak as soon as possible or else he’ll have to face the music – not just AR Rahman’s dead boring anthem for the Commonwealth Games, but India’s entire population hurling invectives at him. Do you recall that he promised us that the grand show he’d put up for the Commonwealth Games would make India proud? And that all the Indians who were relentlessly criticizing him for the shoddily put together games were shockingly unpatriotic? Well, the supposedly world-class Commonwealth Games Village was recently unveiled, and New Zealand, Canada, Scotland and Ireland have expressed grave misgivings at the horrible mess the accommodation is in. They insist that their contingents be put up in hotels instead. It seems that Kalmadi squandered so much money on the toilet paper (Rs. 4000 a roll, remember?) that he couldn’t afford to hire housekeeping to clean the toilets. Meanwhile a foot over-bridge leading to the Nehru stadium has just collapsed and a false ceiling has caved in. I have a strange feeling that all the foreign teams will run away before the games even begin. I wonder if they’ll make new sprint records on the way to Indira Gandhi International Airport? Okay, I know I really should be crying with shame but I’m rolling on the floor with mirth instead. My friendly neighbourhood psychiatrist has warned me that this is a classic text-book sign of hysteria.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bookworms of the world unite

OUT OF MY HEAD
By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 21st September 2010)

I grew up in a house that had more books than furniture. Sometimes when guests came over, we had to offer them stacks of books on sit on. Only the ones we didn’t love, mind you, and were dead certain we’d never read again - not even if we were paid.

Now that e-books have entered the publishing fray, tsunami-like waves of nostalgia are sweeping over the bookworm fraternity. The aroma of paper, fresh ink and the rustle of pages are being romanticised to ridiculous extents. If it carries on like this, we may soon have passionate sonnets dedicated to paper books: “Shall I compare thee to an e-book? Thou art more rustly and smell more divine.” I thoroughly disapprove of this mawkishness. The debate is pointless because e-books can never ever replace paper books. There are practical reasons to own paper books. Consider a few of my arguments:

1. What do you slap a blood-sucking mosquito against a wall with, huh? Try it with an e-book and you’ll hear a sickening crash instead of a satisfying splat. That’s about 13 grand down the drain. It’s cheaper to cure Malaria. Even when you add up those little thank you boxes of chocolate for the hospital nurses.

2. How on earth can you prop up rickety legs of tables or chairs if there are no paper books handy?

3. You can eat like a slob while reading a paper book. It rests so beautifully on the table when aligned with your plate - you don’t require a stand to hold it up. You can’t ever dream of doing this with an e-book, can you? Particularly not if splishy sploshy soup or dal is on the menu.

4. If everybody switches to e-books, how can we tell what people are really, really like? Homes without bookshelves offer no vital personality clues. For example, if you see a line up of books on serial killers, like say, A Criminal History of Mankind, Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper etc, on a colleague’s bookshelf, would you really want to be alone with this person after dark?

5. When you really love a book, you want to share it with your family and close friends. And you can’t lend an e-book unless you part with the entire device. What if the people you’ve lent your Kindle or iPad to are annoyingly slow readers?

6. Can you imagine swearing on an e-book in a court of law?

To be scrupulously fair though, I have to concede that e-books do have some positives. For starters, there are no nasty wriggly silverfish squished between the pages (whew). They are also a boon for people with transferable jobs. You won’t have to pay the packers a small fortune to transport your books – you can carry thousands of them with you in your handbag. You can order them from the comfort of your home and get them instantly, without moping at home for weeks, ageing considerably while you’re waiting for the tardy courier chappie to deliver.

But the most important advantage to my mind is, you may never have to visit a bookshop again. Whenever I visit a bookshop these days, I’m reminded of the movie, You’ve got mail, in which a small independent bookstore run by a family of charming bookworms goes out of business because of competition from a mega bookstore chain that pops up in the neighbourhood. That movie brought scalding tears to my eyes – not because of the soppy love story (well, not just), but because those impersonal bookstore chains are mushrooming in India as well. None of the uniformed assistants at India’s largest bookstores appear to have read any of the books – and when they irritably do a search on the in-house computer for a book you’re looking for, you begin to wonder if some of them can read at all. Sad, because you lose out on warm recommendations and cosy chats and perhaps even an introduction to a brilliant, quirky book you’ve never heard of – that’s what it used to be like in the good old days.

The truth is, it’s not technology that may eventually drive me to e-books, but unhelpful, uninformed bookstore assistants. Bring the cosy bookstores back, and I swear with my hand on a holy paper book that I will never even flirt with the idea of e-books again.

Let there be light

OUT OF MY HEAD
By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 14th September 2010)

I spent most of last week in quiet meditation. Not under a tree like Amar Chitra Katha yogis though – please, I do not wish to be attacked by soldier ants and other creepy crawlies. Take my word for it - lying on the bed staring at the ceiling fan can lead to enlightenment as well. Okay, so I haven’t hit upon an inspiring new religion yet, but I have had a few startling revelations.

Tony Blair will be remembered for owning more shoes than the entire female cast in Sex and the City: Everyone and his dog is writing a book these days. Why, George W. Bush’s poodle has just published one too. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s tell all memoirs (Tony Blair: A Journey) was recently launched. When Blair appeared for the first leg of his international signing tour at a book store in Dublin, anti-war protesters hurled shoes and eggs at him. There are a lot more anti-war protestors across the world eagerly waiting for him with shoes polished and poised. The Queen of England will probably toss her royal slippers at him too for revealing private conversations and exposing her inner-housewife. Why he had to tell us that Her Majesty dons rubber gloves and does the dishes every now and then, beats me. Fellow Labour Party member Gordon Brown is bound to hurl army boots stuffed with rocks at Blair as well for making him look ridiculous while pretending to praise him. From the excerpt I’ve read, I have to concede that Blair cleverly did to him what Mark Anthony did to Brutus. It’s a win-win situation for Blair, really: if the book’s royalties eventually don’t add up to much, rest assured he can make a killing by organising a quaint English jumble sale with all those shoes.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi would have approved of Facebook: I have been giggling appreciatively at the non-violent protests of a Facebook group that has recently sprung to life. It urges people to "subversively move Tony Blair's memoirs to the crime section in book shops" and has over 7,000 enthusiastic members so far. The protest is a huge success and members have uploaded cheeky shots of the book in the fantasy, true crime and horror shelves at bookstores, tee hee. Now, if only I’d thought of this when BJP leader LK Advani’s autobiography (My Country My Life) was launched! It’s never too late though - if ever I chance upon copies of Advani’s memoirs, rest assured I’ll put them where they really belong. That’s the least I can do as a secular Indian.

There’s a glaring typographical error in Indian medical textbooks: Admittedly I haven’t seen it myself, but I strongly suspect that the solemn term ‘Hippocratic Oath’ is misspelt as ‘Hypocritic Oath’. I have always been opposed to the idea of doctors going on strike while patients (particularly the underpriviliged ones) suffer. Sure their problems must be addressed but there are humane ways to settle scores, for God’s sake. As I write this, a strike by 1200 resident doctors in Rajasthan has entered its third day. I have just been informed by a breathless and justifiably horrified TV reporter that over 50 ailing people have died so far thanks to medical negligence. The charming Dr. Nitin Dwivedi (President of the Resident Doctor’s Association) was interviewed and he airily brushed aside the reporter’s concern saying that the figures were titchy and absolutely nothing to worry about. More people than that die every single day when the doctors are on duty, he calmly assured her in his most comforting bedside manner. Hmm. I’m pretty certain now that if I so much as sneeze while holidaying in Rajasthan, I’m taking the next flight out.

There’s a new star on the horizon: While I was idly surfing through television channels the other day, I caught sight of a disgruntled middle-aged woman with eyes scrunched into slits shrieking into the camera. I shuddered, assuming that I’d stumbled upon one of those dreadful saas-bahu serials. And then I recognised her – it was BJP leader Sushma Swaraj live in Parliament! My God, Ekta Kapoor absolutely must sign her on as a TV mother-in-law – Sushma’s a natural. She’s got the right expressions, the right tonal pitch, the right clothes and the right manhole-sized bindi, as well. Why should only members of parliament enjoy her fabulous histrionics?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A chick’s-eye view of cricket

OUT OF MY HEAD
By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 7th September 2010)


I remember the good old days when cricket was regarded as a gentleman’s game. The only vulgar and ungentlemanly thing about it is was the groin guard batsmen used to protect their erm, manhood (helpful tip: when squeamish about referring to certain parts of the human anatomy, always fall back on idiotic Mills & Boon euphemisms). I always found it terribly embarrassing when players would nonchalantly adjust their groin guard mid-game. Had they forgotten that many viewers were carrying binoculars? Or were they merely sickos? That’s why, I guess, I never had even a fleeting crush on a cricketer. Heroes don’t fidget with their underwear in public. Superman never did that - and if he ever got the urge, he discreetly disappeared into a telephone booth.

Admittedly what I know about cricket can be written on a grain of rice by a ham-fisted amateur calligraphist: it’s a deathly dull game where sweaty men wearing shiny lip-gloss get paid loads of money to hang around on a field all day adjusting their underwear when not trying to hit or throw a small hard ball – it’s sort of like playing ‘fetch’ with a dog. During off-season those sweaty players are still on our television screens (they never ever go away –sigh) telling us what brand of toothpaste they use – like I care! Why that inspires crowds of gorgeous women to fling themselves at the feet of mainly appearance-challenged men and lustily beg, “Take me, take me!” beats me. Perhaps because they are assured that the players have good dental hygiene?

When the term ‘Aussie sledging’ came about, the picture that immediately popped into my head was the Aussie team dramatically thundering into the cricket pitch on a sleigh while cheerfully singing “Jingle bells”. I was a tad disappointed when my husband corrected me with a sneer – ah come on, players skidding on reindeer droppings would have been vastly entertaining. I had to amuse myself by peering at the TV screen trying to lip-read instead: was it the nasty F-word or the innocuous S-word an irate player muttered?

My faint interest in cricket flickered to life again during the ‘racism’ scandal implicating members of our own team. I recall thinking that Harbhajan Singh could have been a great replacement for Jade Goody on Big Brother. Since then, I have sternly warned my three nephews and only niece that the F-word is okay, but if they ever use the M-word (m**key) I will make them gargle with a harsh toilet cleaner. They are not even allowed to use it at a zoo.

And now another match-fixing or rather, spot-fixing scandal has reared its ugly head. This is way more embarrassing and ungentlemanly than those gosh-darned antics with groin guards. While the cricketing fraternity is up in arms against a few allegedly guilty Pakistani players, I wish they’d concentrate on corrupt cricket boards, betting syndicates and all those politicians sneakily involved instead. Go after them. Throw those nasty spoil sports into vats of boiling oil. Better still, lodge them in an Indian jail – they’ll boil there just as well during summer, because there are no fans. Since we’re on the subject of betting, I’m willing to bet there’s an Indian connection to this (we’ve seen this before, remember) despite what ICC president Sharad Pawar claims. I have never had reason to believe a single word Pawar has said in his political avtaar. He plays his own game. And that game, I’m afraid, is not cricket.

That’s why I didn’t mutter darkly about racism when former English captain Mike Atherton said that a total eradication of corruption from the game is highly unlikely because of financially strong countries like India's dominance in the International Cricket Council. Like him I really wish cricket could be cleaned up. Hey, I may not love this game but my husband does - and without the assurance of fair-play he’ll probably wither away and die broken-hearted.

Sadly, all that we can realistically expect those inept cricket boards to do is keep feeding us hogwash till we’re bored to tears. The only thing I’m eagerly looking forward to is a face-off between the Pakistan Cricket Board and the International Cricket Council. What’s the bet that the president of the PCB will aggressively tell the president of the ICC, “We will not discuss anything till the issue of Kashmir is settled.”?

Donate generously to the rich.

OUT OF MY HEAD
By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 31st August 2010)

If you have loose cash to spare, I have a hot tip for you: invest it in companies that manufacture antacids and you may become as gloriously rich as the members of India’s Commonwealth Games organising committee. Sales of antacids have been going through the roof ever since members of parliament proposed a massive, massive, massive wage hike for themselves. These days, ordinary tax-paying citizens like me are way too bilious for a morning cuppa – most of us morosely glug Digene or Gelucil while reading the newspapers instead. I must say that I’ve grown rather fond of the orange flavour– it tastes a tad less chalky than the rest.

But tell me again, why do our MPs need a wage hike? Honestly, I wouldn’t be up in arms about this if their salaries were all they earned. But as even innocent little children know, many of them (apart from an honourable handful, admittedly) liberally help themselves to everything they can grab: disaster aid, food for the poor, cattle-feed etc. Many have become obscenely wealthy despite their shocking lack of education because they’ve sneakily gained control of India’s biggest money spinners: real estate, mines and cricket, to name a few. Every week we hear of a new scam being exposed. Heck, corrupt MPs could always afford the exclusive Suresh Kalmadi brand of CWG toilet paper at Rs. 4000 grand a roll!

Gosh, the thought of much more of my hard-earned money going into, say, Suresh Kalmadi’s crisply starched khadi pocket is making my bile rise again. Perhaps we should organise a national citizen strike the day the bill is slated to be passed to register our protest against corrupt MPs getting more cash. We must keep in mind, however, that the tone of the strike is all important and must be debated seriously on Twitter or Facebook. Here are a few options we could consider:

1. We could wear black arm-bands and perform a silent march from India Gate to Parliament bearing lit candles. Very beautiful and dignified indeed but the only hitch is, it’s way too subtle for them. Remember, some of our MPs are not particularly bright and they’ll probably assume that we’re celebrating Diwali earlier this year. Also, dripping wax can cause severe burns.

2. We could do to corrupt MPs what their party goons do to us: scream slogans, burn effigies, bar their entry, torch their cars etc. We can also do what they enjoy doing to each other: hurl shoes (only old torn ones, mind you – why waste good things on those rotters) and shatter flower pots. Don’t worry, we won’t be arrested for this – well, not for over a few hours at any rate. All we have to do is solemnly give the judge the regular goonda political party spiel: say (in an aggrieved tone of voice, of course) that it was a spontaneous reaction and we did it because our sentiments were severely wounded. Add the bit about inflation as well (in thundering, self-righteous tones this time). And bingo, we’ll be scot free and home in time for dinner and champagne!

3. Alternatively, we could speak to corrupt MPs in the only language they understand: Rupees. Suppose, just suppose we refuse to pay our taxes till all the tainted MPs are axed? It could spark off another freedom struggle with jails bursting at the seams, and culture reaching new heights with fiery songs of revolution replacing rubbishy Bollywood hits. Oh, the works! Better still, at the end of it all, at least a dozen statues of UP Chief Minister Mayawati determinedly clutching a handbag may be demolished to make way for ours!

4. What may really work, however, is if we forget the strike (too tedious) and concentrate on shaming them into doing their jobs conscientiously. For starters, identify corrupt MPs and organise a film show in their individual constituencies. On D-Day we tie the corrupt MPs to chairs and make them watch Peepli Live (Anusha Rizvi’s fantastic film that exposes India’s sickeningly slimy politicians and supremely indifferent bureaucrats) with their voters. A Q&A session must follow, with the voters grilling them in the manner of CNN-IBNs Karan Thapar: very ,very grimly, through gritted teeth. Of course, this may not work either, but the joy – oh the joy of watching them squirm! I’m willing to pay their hefty salaries just for that.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

White Lies

OUT OF MY HEAD
By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 24th August 2010)

I’m really superbugged about the superbug The Lancet is going to town (or rather, the universe) about. That a nasty superbug may have originated in India is one thing – it’s a dead serious allegation and must be investigated as soon as possible. Naming it after New Delhi, however, is discriminatory. A sneaky and spiteful way of putting us down, isn’t it? Personally, I don’t care if patients from the western world stop coming to India for high quality (and relatively cheaper) medical treatment – it’s more their loss than ours. What makes my blood boil is the public slur that has been cast on India as a bug-infested nation - by one of the world’s most respected medical journals at that! I don’t have one racist bone in my body, but I’ve just had it with this ‘white is supremely right’ nonsense. Hello, we can be as finicky about their germs as they are about ours - fair’s fair, right?
So here’s a helpful little travel advisory for Indians who holiday in the west. And, might I add (in a dignified and mature manner) so there!

1. Do not use community washing machines or hotel laundry services: Keep in mind that you’ll temporarily be living with people who use flimsy toilet paper, not good old hygienic soap and water. That, erm, streaky underwear lands up in washing machines – get the picture? There is a good reason why very few Indians have affairs with whites – and honestly it has very little to do with race or religion! If this doesn’t demystify sexy Hollywood actors, nothing will. Anyway, do personally wash your clothes by hand if you travel west.

2. Do not dip even your little toe into swimming pools for one second: Perish the thought. Desist even if it’s boiling hot and the swimming pool looks very inviting. Remember two formidable little words: toilet paper.

3. Avoid physical contact with natives of western countries: Rumour has it that they bathe as many times in a week as we do every single day, particularly during winter. Sure, perfumes mask odours - but do they kill germs? If you must shake hands, do make liberal use of a hand sanitizer (as discreetly as possible, of course – we must be polite). Better still, execute the traditional germ-free Namaste.

4. Carry several family-size packs of antiseptic liquid: Sure you may have to hand out fistfuls of money for excess baggage but trust me, it’s worth it. Suppose, just suppose, your hotel doesn’t have a shower? Do scrub the bathtub down with gallons of antiseptic liquid. And if you’re feeling lazy, remember four shudder-inducing words: ‘toilet paper’ and ‘infrequent baths’.

5. Watch what you eat: Supermarket shelves in the west are packed with heat and eat convenience foods. These contain vast quantities of preservatives. Do you really want to ingest nasty chemicals that could do horrible, terrible things to your body? Heck, you may as well do your grocery shopping at a taxidermist’s.

6. Order your food wisely: When we cook meat in India, we cook it thoroughly and add a pinch of turmeric because of its super antiseptic properties. People in the west, however, appear to prefer undercooked meat. Even well done steaks are not as well done as they are in India. Stick a fork into a rare steak and chances are all that blood may make you feel squeamish and faint. If you can deal with it, why not just take a bite out of a live animal’s juicy rear instead and order sauce on the side?

7. Take all the tips I mentioned above with a generous pinch of salt: I’m just angry and I needed to let off steam, okay? Mainly because of the unfairness of it all. There is a mathematical explanation for the hysteria being generated in the west: a bypass surgery in India costs about $8000 while in the west it’s approximately $30,000. Now do you understand why droves of intelligent (and clearly there are many) western patients flock to India leaving lots of over paid, under-skilled speciality doctors in the UK with nothing to do but invent new germs when they’re bored of hanging out on Facebook? The doctors/researchers who named the superbug after New Delhi must be made aware of the fact that people who live in glass houses (even white people, darlings) shouldn’t throw stones!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's godawful poetry fortnight

For the sordid details, visit: http://zigzackly.blogspot.com/2010/08/grandson-of-godawful-poetry-fortnight.html
My annual contribution:
GORD ORFUL POTTERY
Death by BMC

T’was not the soppy nightingale nor the wet-blanket lark
When the life insurance agent espied her limp, lifeless body
Under the hideous gilt-touched plaster-of-paris monstrosity –
- A ridiculous, shamefully tacky, cringe-inducing faux-Gothic arch.

‘Bloody BMC philistines have ruined this park,
Do these morons think this crap is high art?’
While examining her pulse his thoughts were like Bourneville
- intensely and horribly, terribly dull and depressingly dark.

A sweaty, smelly doctor wheezed and jogged past,
Then reversed his steps to deliver a life-saving blast.
He administered CPR in vain, then glared at the arch,
- ‘These sods have killed her – haven’t they heard of Zay Zay School of Art?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mercy me!

OUT OF MY HEAD
By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 10th August 2010)

Golly! That’s what I yelped when I read that Enid Blyton’s publishers are set to update the language of the original Famous Five series so that today’s children don’t find 1940s British slang a stumbling block. To cite a few examples, "mercy me!" will now be a dull "oh no!", "fellow" will be replaced by the dreary "old man" and "it's all very peculiar" will be "it's all very strange". If you ask me, it’s a ghastly idea, and when I recover from the shock, I plan to send a stinker to her publishers with the stern message, “You will jolly well not change a word!” Chances are that they will ignore my pleas (sadly, profits are more compelling than sentiments), and the only consolation I can hang on to is the fact that the publishers have stated, hand on heart, that they will make the changes “sensitively” and will not replace dated slang with its modern equivalent or text message language. Whew! Honestly, I think I’d throw up if I read the following:

“OMG,” Anne clutched George’s arm, “I hear this, like, rustling in the, like, undergrowth or something.”
“Hey chill,” George replied, “That’s just Timmy doing his thing. I guess, like, it’s time to get the pooper-scooper out.”
“Cool!”Anne heaved a sigh of relief and got back to checking her cellphone for text messages. Her brow creased as she pondered deeply over a cryptic message from Julian that stated, “Lmao n rotf - ttyl.”
She sent him a terse reply: WTF?


In all seriousness though, I really am very alarmed at this move. After they finish cleaning up the text, all we’ll have left is a racy story without Blyton’s unique flavouring that makes it all the more special. Sort of like unsalted popcorn. Am I the only one who believes that today’s children are being cheated instead of pampered?

Dash it all, if we allow this sort of thing to happen, PG Wodehouse’s publishers may do likewise – and imagine reading Wodehouse without all that “Pip pip and tally ho old chap” stuff. Will a staid “I feel good” make you giggle as much as “Feeling boomps-a-daisy”? And will the lovely phrases from hymns like “As pants the hart for cooling streams” (when one of the characters is yearning for a spot of alcohol) be changed to a prosaic, “I feel like a drink”? I can assure you that vultures will gnaw at my bosom if this happens!

By Toutatis, this modernisation disease could spread to Asterix comics as well – all the Latin phrases (like “alea jacta est”) will probably be deleted and clever puns may be brutally bumped off too. Who knows, Shakespeare may follow (to the delight of zillions of frustrated students) and one of Lady Macbeth’s most memorable lines may well read like this: “Out out damned stain, out I say! All the perfumes manufactured by France will not make my hands smell nicer.” Zounds!

It doesn’t end there - once people start fiddling around, everything eventually goes wrong. A few years ago, golliwogs were removed from Blyton’s Noddy series on the grounds of “racial offensiveness.” I remembering thinking that it was rather odd, considering that the golliwogs were not shown in a poor light at all – they were just as charming as Noddy himself! In fact, I loved them so much, my mum even made me one for my 7th birthday. So be warned: more silly politically correct acts are bound to follow. Here are a few of my predictions:
1. First the ham sandwiches that the Famous Five love so much will go – in case, in the new multicultural Britain, it may offend certain religious sects. They will probably be replaced with chicken sandwiches since beef is also taboo. (Please note that the bread will be whole wheat, of course.)
2. Then the chicken sandwiches may be replaced by cheese if groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals win more converts.
3. Dairy-eschewing vegans may object, and the starving Famous Five may be left with boring cucumber sandwiches. Or mustard and cress.
4. And so on and so forth.

I have one small question for Blyton’s publishers: Have you forgotten that today’s children have the Internet? Hey, if they can learn to make bombs from their mums cosmetics in 5 minutes, they can jolly well go to Google and discover that peculiar means strange!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Other Rahul

OUT OF MY HEAD
By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 10th August 2010)

I remember BJP leader Pramod Mahajan’s funeral clearly, as though it happened yesterday. It was aired lived on TV and as BJP members were tearfully bidding farewell to the great man who taught them how to make power point presentations (yes, apparently this was his most noteworthy achievement), they were also shrewdly wondering how they could use his tragic and sensational death to their advantage. Serendipity was at work - they discovered the answer at the funeral itself. A stoic Rahul Mahajan performing his father’s last rites was eerily reminiscent of Rahul Gandhi doing likewise when his father was assassinated many years ago. So what if Pramod Mahajan was shot by his own brother in a petty family squabble and not brutally murdered by a suicide bomber? The BJP was absolutely certain that waves of sympathy votes would sink the Congress and immediately drew up grand plans for their new crown prince, Rahul Mahajan.

The BJPs fond dreams went up in smoke soon after, when Rahul Mahajan was discovered deliriously happy on coke (not the innocuous cola – heck, he’s a big boy) on his way to immerse his father’s ashes in the holy Ganges. I must add here that I was terribly worried about the fate of his father’s ashes. Raving Rahul was apparently so far gone, could he have told the difference between two pale powdery substances? It’s quite possible that the fish in the Ganges were tripping the light fantastic for weeks thereafter and listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the moon.

A few years later, Raving Rahul’s first wife walked (sorry, ran) out of the marriage with tell tale bruises. It is rumoured that the poor girl was too frightened to press charges of domestic abuse in case Rahul’s brash political buddies brutally pressed the living breath out of her in retaliation. That’s when the BJP finally gave up and started distancing itself from him. Whew - I must thank them for that from the bottom of my heart.

Raving Rahul, however, lived happily ever after and reinvented himself on a TV freak show where he had a dalliance with a dreaded gangster’s moll among other weirdos. He made such an ass of himself that the media naturally fell madly in love with him. TV channels were so excited, they vied with each other to get the moron on their shows. So Raving Rahul got a freak show of his very own where he was made to choose a bride – imagine, a prize idiot was being given as a prize! To our astonishment, many pretty little Indian girls were urged by their pushy, exploitative middle-class parents to participate in it - despite Raving Rahul’s much publicised notoriety. Girls would have turned up in droves even if the TV producers had been honest and called the show, Who wants to marry an alleged schizophrenic wife-beating drug addict? Sad, isn’t it, how many Indian parents want their daughters to get killed?

As we all know, Raving Rahul chose a comely Bengali lass called Dimpy Ganguly but alas, Dimpy made her great escape a few days ago and coyly lifted her skirt to show the media a few bruises. Then her loving, caring father intervened and ordered her to get right back to her alleged schizophrenic wife-beating drug addict husband. What’s he waiting for – Raving Rahul to murder his daughter first before he contemplates the idea of divorce? With fathers like these, who needs sadists.

The TV channel that produced Raving Rahul’s wedding show must be over the moon with joy. They’re hunting for a new freak to do a swayamvar this season, and if Dimpy goes against her loving, caring father’s wishes and bravely divorces Raving Rahul, they can use him again, and perhaps every season thereafter, seeing how often his wives run away screaming. I even have an appropriate title in mind: Who wants to be Rahul Mahajan’s next victim?

My plea to all General Entertainment TV channels, however, is please may we have a little integrity? If you must use Raving Rahul, create fabulous shows with leading psychiatrists and rehab councillors as contestants. I have some concepts to toss at you: Who can reform a nasty wife-beater? Or, Who can rehabilitate a crazy coke-head? Now, those are the sort of freak shows I would definitely watch with great satisfaction and buckets of popcorn!

All that glitters is not 24 Karat gold

OUT OF MY HEAD
By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 3rd August 2010)

Of all the preachy proverbs we were made to learn at school, the one that frightened me the most was, “Pride comes before a fall.” I continue to have deep respect for it because I actually saw how dramatically it worked in July 2008, after the Left had arrogantly (and utterly foolishly) withdrawn support to UPA-I over the Indo-US nuclear deal. Now, while we didn’t understand much (okay, why lie - we didn’t understand anything) about the nuclear deal, one thing was crystal clear: the America-unfriendly Left had absolutely no idea that the Cold War was over! How much faith can you have in a party that hasn’t bothered to read the newspapers for years? Naturally, we backed UPA-I, and to our great joy, the Left lost not just that battle but many more to come. Better still, CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat, he who was most stridently and vociferously against the deal, was left with a generous helping of egg on his face. Most of us agreed that he looked so much more attractive this way - and not just because egg white tightens unseemly pores.

During the lively vote of confidence drama on television it was clear that while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the victor (yay) and Rahul Gandhi and Omar Abdulla were decidedly the best looking chaps in Parliament (sigh), the real hero of the day was Lok Sabha Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee. We were aware that he had been sternly ordered by his Left comrades to resign from the post of speaker before the vote of confidence. We were also aware that he’d spent several sleepless nights mulling over this arbitrary decision – racoon-like dark circles tell tales.

To our amazement, Chatterjee conscientiously stayed on, staunchly maintaining that a speaker plays an impartial role, so that was exactly what he was going to do, yah boo sucks to you! This thrilled the nation to bits. Good heavens, a man with integrity in Indian politics! Was he an alien? Was this a dream? As the highly charged drama unfolded on our television screens, we were delighted by Chatterjee’s unique style of humour (so much more entertaining than a 2000th re-run of Friends), enjoyed his lovely old fashioned reprimands, and applauded the commanding way in which he violently thumped the table to silence raucous dissent. And how we gasped with outrage when soon after the Left (well, Karat really) viciously expelled Chatterjee for upholding the principles of the constitution instead of toeing the petty party line. Such poor losers, tsk.

A year later, in the run up to the general elections, someone (it evidently wasn’t God) came to Karat in a dream and inspired him to create the Third Front: a rag tag bunch of regional parties who were naive enough to believe that they would knock out all chances of the UPA coming back to power. Karat had such delusions of grandeur – he really, really believed this would work and it gave us so much amusement to see him huffing and puffing in a self-important manner. Of course, when the results were declared, he avoided answering questions and mumbled some rubbish about the party getting into introspection mode, while wiping a fresh batch of eggs off his face. I don’t know if you noticed, but there was a shortage of eggs in the nation for weeks thereafter. I suppressed the overpowering urge to dash off a letter saying, “What's to introspect, Dude? You're the biggest problem in the party!”

But back to my hero, Somnath Chatterjee. His tell all autobiography, Keeping the Faith: Memoirs of a Parliamentarian, is set to be released on 21st August. To rub salt into Karat’s egg-encrusted face, it will be launched by his bĂȘte noire, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. If we go by the pre-launch excerpts, Chatterjee has some rather interesting and unflattering things to say about Karat. Gosh, this is one book I’m certainly going to smash my piggy bank to buy – and I hereby solemnly declare that I will not rest till I get it autographed as well!

Poor, poor Karat. Pride indeed does come before a fall. And what a fall there was my countrymen! All along I merely believed that he would go down in history as the walking, talking omelette. Chatterjee’s memoirs, however, may make him toast.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

It's steaming hot soup weather, yay!

Oh why can't it be lovely and rainy and grey every single day of the year! Have decided that I hate the sun more than I hate paneer - much, much more. Cannot even bear to listen to the Beatles cheerfully singing, Here comes the sun. Want an Indian version, Here comes the rain! Any of our made-in-India bands up to it?

Grim Fairy Tales

OUT OF MY HEAD
By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 27th July 2010)

As I write this, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has landed in Pakistan, and this image of Little Red Riding Hood just popped into my head. There goes Hillary innocently tripping through terrorist-ridden terrain with a basket packed with goodies for an ailing country. Of course, just like in the original fairytale, the ailing country won’t get the goodies – it will be intercepted by Pakistan’s ISI who do an Oscar-worthy impersonation of the big bad wolf (way better than Robert De Niro possibly can). Hillary still hasn’t arrived at the suspicious, “Grandma what sharp teeth you have,” stage. We have to wait and see if she eventually figures out who she’s really dealing with. Tell me again, why do so many Indians want to study in America? Americans are not that smart, see?

Well, that got me thinking about how a lot of our politicians are like characters in children’s stories as well. Here’s a list of a few:

The Sleeping Beauty: Nobody plays this as soulfully as Trinamool Congress Leader Mamata Banerjee. There have been 7 gruesome railway accidents since she took over as Union Railway Minister last May. Sadly, whenever the noise of a crash disturbs her sleep, she sleepily mumbles something incoherent about sabotage and goes right back to the Land of Nod. To be fair, maybe she’s just muttering ‘collision’ and cynics like me hear it as ‘collusion’? What is most endearing about her is that the poor dear can’t even stay awake long enough to make a grand gesture: offer to resign from her post. Perhaps it’s time for someone to wake her up with coffee? Anyone brave enough to give her a kiss? Ah, go on – do it for the country!

Cinderella: Once upon a time there was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed little girl called Mayawati who met Kanshi Ram, a people’s prince. He invited her to his party, and she’s been having a ball ever since! We don’t know if she carelessly left one of her shoes behind when the clock struck midnight, but fortunately, Kanshi Ram was even more chivalrous than the prince in the fairytale: he gallantly asked her to step into his shoes. The UP chief minister lives happily ever after and possibly owns more diamonds than the Queen of England. She’s become a trend-setter as well and wears garlands made of rupee notes when she goes to parties – so much more stylish than Armani, wouldn’t you agree? Now if only the people she represents were living happily ever after too, her story could have been as magical as a fairy tale.

Little Lord Fauntleroy: This has just got to be Shashi Tharoor! Affected, mildly pompous, privileged, a natty dresser, and ever so charming. Okay, so he doesn’t have divine ringlets, but his hair looks pretty good too! If ever I get to interview him, the first question I’m probably going to eagerly ask (in the interests of the nation, of course) is, “What shampoo and conditioner do you use?” Don’t you just love the way his glossy hair bounces and gleams, just like in a shampoo ad? The man has never had a bad hair day – heck, not even when he was politely induced to resign over somewhat shady IPL deals. Bring him back Mr. Manmohan Singh, please bring him back – he’s such a joy to look at – so much more attractive than the Bollywood actresses in Parliament!

The Prince and the Pauper: Rahul Gandhi in a classic Bollywood double-role, of course. While desperate apple-polishers in his party project him as the future king, and jealous opposition parties who are stuck with his grumpy, non-dimpled cousin sneer that of course he will be king, dynasty politics and all that mutter mutter, our hero appears to have different plans for himself. For starters, he would rather play the pauper and stay in village huts rather than the posh 5-star hotels most politicians prefer. Well, well – this has started out as a rather interesting story and I hope it has a happy ending for the nation.

Robin Hood: Ha ha, bet you thought I was foolishly going to say the Left parties, right? Sorry, but as we all know, there are no Robin Hood clones in our country. All our politicians are very democratic - they steal from both the rich and the poor. Some like RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav have even stolen fodder from cattle. Bah!

Mera Bharat Mahaan

OUT OF MY HEAD
By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 20th July 2010)

Life’s strange. Apart from Paul the charming psychic octopus, who would have thought that I would exhale into a ‘Made in China’ Argentina-branded vuvuzela to cheer Spain on in the FIFA World Cup 2010 finals? Even more staggering, who would have believed that thoughts of Indian politicians would cross my mind while holidaying in South Africa? If anyone, including Paul the psychic octopus had predicted this, I’d have delivered my favourite quote from one of the most memorable characters in English Literature: “Go’an boil yer ‘ed and fry yer face too!” No, it’s not Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but Blyton’s Ern Goon from the Five Findouters and Dog series.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is an exception, of course. I’m always reminded of him when I’m anywhere in the West because he still hasn’t gone out of fashion on trendy t-shirts and spectacle frames. But to see photographs of him in Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum made me feel 10 feet tall and oh so proud to be an Indian. It really was more inspiring than seeing his signature on exclusive, expensive non-khadi Montblanc pens.

The streets of South Africa have another inspiring story to tell. You spot about as many Mahindra Scorpios and Tata Indicas as you do in India – and they look so much more impressive there because the roads are wider and spotlessly clean. Locals said the most flattering things about these cars and praised them sky high for being trustworthy. They’re waiting now with bated breath for the Nano, perhaps the world’s most affordable car. I suspect my husband drove them to binge drinking when he told them (regretfully) that they had a long wait, since the demand in India is exceeding high. That’s when Trinamool Congress chief, Mamata Banerjee, popped into my head. I clenched my fists at the thought of how her spine-chilling banshee-like wails had driven this little money-spinner out of my state. Yes, West Bengal is desperately seeking a change of governance, but shouldn’t that change be a positive one? Seriously, one of the most important reasons why I shudder at the idea of Mamata Banerjee reigning over West Bengal are her screechy wails. Worse than a chorus of vuvuzelas, oh infinitely worse. If she does manage to overthrow the Left, I’m certain sales of ear-plugs will rise in West Bengal. Oh well, at least the state will have some business that way. Every cloud has a silver lining, and all that!

Interestingly, IPL creator and former chief, Lalit Modi, has achieved what all the aggressive Mumbai Thackerays combined couldn’t do: stop us from using the word Bombay! When in South Africa, my husband and I dared to say the word ‘Bombay’ out loud – we said it frequently and fearlessly without looking over our shoulders for fear of being thrashed to pulp by the Sena and MNS. It was a super emotional release! Astonishingly, we were corrected by locals, who firmly told us it’s Mumbai. Most of them were fans of Mumbai Indians, see? Perhaps after Lalit Modi finishes his IPL war he should run for elections in Maharashtra. Sure he may be a crook, but then aren’t 99.8% of our politicians criminals as well? And least Lalit Modi doesn’t wear ugly safari suits – such a relief!

The UPA gave me reason to feel good too, when locals enviously told us how wonderful it was that the global recession hadn’t hit India that badly. And oh, I have something valuable to contribute to that Incredible India tourism campaign that’s being aired: instead of just talking about cold monuments, we should talk about our warm hospitality – because it really is incredible. We’ve stayed at some of the best hotels around the world, but the courtesy and facilities pale in comparison to what India’s second best hotels offer. Perhaps the reason why we treat guests so well in India is because we fear they may be some God or Goddess in disguise testing us by ringing our doorbells and asking for a glass of water or some rubbish. Whatever the reason, however, we truly excel in the field of hospitality. This is our strength and we must never lose it!

So all in all, I went abroad and came back feeling immensely pleased to be an Indian. Of course, when we landed and drove out of the airport, the smells and sights on the streets made me want to take the next flight out of the country!