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

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

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!

A Bandh to Bandhs

By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 13th July 2010)

As I write this, I’m thinking fondly of Marie Antoinette. At least she had the grace to offer cake to starving French peasants when bread was hard to come by. All that our opposition parties generously offered us was a nation-wide bandh to protest against the price rise. We don’t even get cake crumbs! And now they’re blushing with pride because the bandh was an astounding success despite the fact that the prices weren’t rolled back. Here’s why:

• Very few humble citizens stepped out on the streets. Not because they staunchly supported the pointless bandh, oh no. They were merely cowering at home for fear of getting stoned to death by the very parties that claim to love them dearly. Countless citizens got severe flesh wounds by brutally kicking themselves for not having the foresight to stock up on beer and chips the day before. Dare I say that they deserved it?

• The nation’s economic loss was a staggering 13,000 crore (source: FICCI). Wonderful news, considering that now prices may rise even higher to make up for that shameful loss, and the opposition can call for another Bharat bandh soon – one more delightful opportunity to tell us that they care for us, yay! This time round, please do remember to stock up on beer and crunchy finger food. You have been warned.

• The opposition parties have proved beyond doubt that they are not wimps and are certainly not afraid to play with fire. Look at how fearlessly they burnt buses! And don’t you think that the colourful leaping flames burning buses cause are more spectacular than the ones that come from boring Diwali sparklers and rockets? Oooh, I’m inspired to launch an email campaign urging CEOs of all the Sivakasi fireworks factories to make miniature inflammable buses this Diwali. Come on, it’s patriotic to burn buses, right?

• I’m not that frightened of anti-State Maoists anymore. They seem almost the same as our patriotic Left and Right parties now. Honestly, after watching the violent bandh rampage on TV, I’m beginning to wonder if Maoists have infiltrated the opposition. Shouldn’t we mention this to the Union Home Minister?

• The bandh gave us a few good laughs too, particularly the TV footage of BJP leaders practically pleading to be arrested. I don’t know about you, but I was giggling helplessly while watching them smile smugly at the cameras when they were escorted to the police station by reluctant cops. I do feel a twinge of regret, though, that these arrests were just a sham. Come on, they must have pulled strings to go to jail, just to experience a beautiful Gandhiji moment. Too bad that they weren’t given rock-breaking duty like other convicts. Such a shame, considering that they’re so good at breaking bricks – take the Babri Masjid, for instance. Oh, how I wish we could keep them in jail forever! That’s the only positive way they can serve the nation.

• Finally I know who exactly to vote for in the next general election. The UPA government, of course! After watching the Left and the Right parties recklessly and gleefully destroying our nation in just one day, I shudder to think what they’d do over a period of 5 years. Also, I firmly believe that our cerebral Prime Minister Manmohan Singh understands economics better than that muscular lot! The way I look at it is, if there’s a price rise, there must be a darn good long term reason for it. Admittedly, I never understood the nuclear deal either or why Shashi Tharoor was briskly thrown out because of the IPL scam and yet Sharad Pawar was hugged and retained, but my faith in our prime minister remains unshaken.

• Frankly, unless someone comes up with an intelligent, non-destructive way to tackle this issue, we have no choice but to deal with the price rise in a positive manner. Who knows, it may be a good thing for diabetes-prone Indians. We will be forced to walk more and drive less. And to eat more raw salads instead of oily cooked food. Why, in a few months, we may actually be physically stronger, so the next time some self-righteous, begging-for-attention parties try to upset our nation with a bandh, we may be brave enough to defy it by stepping out of our homes and standing up to them!

Babla & Maradona

By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 6th July 2010)

Dear friends, please join me in proposing hearty three cheers to our very own Babla.
Babla is being very loyal Argentina fan and bhadralok also.
He is swearing and swearing to God that he will never eat ilish maach again
If God’s hand is making Argentina win 2010 FIFA world cup in exchange.
Just you think, how many Bengalese people will barter their souls like that?
His mother is bragging that now only the fairest girl in 24 Parganas will be worthy of him.
Only naturally born ‘before’ fair girl, mind it - not ‘after’ Fair & Lovely cream girl!

Babla is being very adventurous young lad – like Christopher Columbus.
He is going to South Africa to get Diego Maradona’s autograph –
Not just for himself (he is not shellfish boy) but for everyone in the para!
Tublu, Poltu and Mintu are begging him to get Shakira’s autograph also,
But Babla is getting very angry and calling them rascals and scoundrels.
Why for he will get autographs of non-Argentina peoples?
You see how hardly his heart beats for Argentina!

Babla’s loving mother is worrying very much because it is winter in South Africa
And Babla may get bad cuff and cold.
‘Maago, stop this nakami,’ Babla is arguing, ‘I have superior quality monkey cap, no?’
His loving father is very sanguine and fully agreeing that it is only little bit nippy in the air.
So many ladies is wearing just only bra and panties in stadium, he is nodding sagely.
He is urgently reminding Babla to carry extra film roll to get stadium shots also.
You see how supportive parents can shape a child’s character and destiny?

Babla is so brave, baba, he even got his ears pierced from top to bottom,
And filled them up with plastic diamond ear-rings from pavement stalls.
His mother is crying, and saying that her khoka has become cheap transvestite
And will shake his hips in vulgar Bollywood manner, eesh!
She is not listening to common sense: Babla has done it to protect his hero Maradona,
So that muggers in South Africa will leave Maradona alone and rob him instead.
What I can say - only Bengal can produce such noble souls!

Babla is very learned cultured boy, sanskriti always comes first for him.
He is very angered that people are calling vuvuzelas nonsense things.
He is saying that vuvuzelas are more advanced than truck horns cricket fans blow.
Dakh, vuvuzelas are not just breaking cultural barriers but sound barriers also!
Plus, vuvuzelas will give better boost to general knowledge than Horlicks.
If it wasn’t for them, how people would know that mosquitos are worshipped in South Africa?
By God, I am simply not understanding why Babla never got scholarship to Oxford or Cambridge!

Babla is not dreaded Maoist but has very strong social conscience – God promise.
He is carrying one extra-large empty suitcase - not for duty free mishti,
But to bring back hazaar vuvuzelas.
He is telling to me that he will organise fiery rally for humble citizens in Kolkata,
And blow vuvuzelas outside municipal corporation offices to remind authorities about mosquito menace.
With twinkle in both eyes he is saying, after that they surely can’t be deaf to our pleas, tai na ki?
Shoti, he is only committed fellow who can bring Nano back to amar shonar Bangla!

So let’s sing he’s a jolly good fellow for Babla,
And wish our son of Bengal a happy and safe journey towards Africa and backwards also.
One last thing I have to reveal with too much pride in my voice:
Even though Babla has mishti doi-coloured safari suit, he is not going on safari – na re baba, na!
He is loyally telling why he should see common loins when our Bengal has royal tigers?
Lastly, if you see photograph of Babla kissing Maradona on the cheek in foreign newspapers,
I am begging of you, don’t condemn it as immoral act and use big big words like moral turpitude.
Let us write aatel epic poems to celebrate Babla’s most glorious moment instead!

Schools of Thought

By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 29th June 2010)

I have to confess that I’m not on any of the ‘Support La Martinière’ groups that have suddenly mushroomed on Facebook. I must hasten to add that neither am I against La Martinière and I promise, hand on heart, that I’m not distorting the school song by lustily singing, “Hail, hail the name we disown”. I firmly believe that a couple of bad apples won’t spoil the whole bunch. La Martinière is a grand old institution and all that’s required is a spot of weeding. While a heated debate is raging, I’d like to toss a few random questions in as well. There are some things I really, really, really want to know!

1. Shouldn’t school teachers read newspapers? If Sunirmal Chakravarthy (the principal of La Martinière for Boys) had torn himself away from say, Homer’s Iliad, and focussed on current affairs occasionally, perhaps he’d have known that corporal punishment is banned (whew!) in India. Tsk. I certainly hope he doesn’t coach students for general knowledge quiz contests!

2. Should teachers be forced to attend anger management classes?

3. Admittedly, the principal broke the law and broke a cane, but is it fair to imply that he ran La Martinière like it was Guantánamo Bay? Is the media getting carried away?

4. Is this incident a wake-up call for parents as well? Shouldn’t families have dinner together with the television off – even if the latest hit series Castle is showing? Sometimes, desultory conversations like “pass the salt” can lead to more meaningful discussions on life, the universe and everything.

5. In addition to the school song, the canticle and sundry other uplifting hymns, shouldn’t La Martinière include a more contemporary song in the founder’s day celebrations? Like, the iconic song from Pink Floyd’s Wall. Consider these two lines: “No dark sarcasm in the classroom, teachers leave them kids alone.” Okay, so the grammar is a bit iffy (the teachers could gently tell the students that, without pinching canes from the blind) but the message certainly is strong. And even if teachers don’t read the papers, at least they’ll know that caning is very, very bad.

6. Where did Sanjay Smart, the teacher who allegedly demanded a laptop from a student in exchange for test papers, work before he joined La Martinière? Tick the correct answer:
A) The government, as a customs department official.
B) The government, as a home registration official.
C) Any other post in the government.

7. I was brought up to believe that bribery is worse than setting off stink bombs in class rooms. My parents and my moral science teacher at La Martinière taught me this. So tell me, did the principal cane Sanjay Smart as well? If yes, how hard? Did he make Sanjay smart?

8. Do you think Sanjay Smart knew the entire school song by heart? Or did he just go ‘Tumpty tumpty tum tra la la tiddly pom’ when the following line came on: “May our founder’s name endure, ever spotless, ever pure.”

9. Somehow, I don’t trust people who believe in the ‘spare the rod, spoil the child,’ maxim. If they’re mean to children, wouldn’t they probably be the sort to kick dogs as well - and set fire to their tails? In which case, shouldn’t we send a list of the names of corporal punishment offenders to PETA as well?

10. Some people (oddly enough, parents too) argue that caning is a character-building tool. Wouldn’t punishing naughty children by making them memorize really long and boring poems also build character and lots more? At least they’ll be able to insert quotes into corporate speeches when they grow up and make their colleagues feel inferior, insecure and illiterate in comparison?

11. The principal has warmly assured the media that he sleeps like a baby at night, despite the fact that he’s been implicated in the suicide of a child. Can I please have the name of the tranquillizer he’s taking? (What can I say, sometimes I have insomnia.)

12. The final question, now: The more I read Wordsworth’s Daffodils, the more I wonder whose couch he lay on in ‘vacant and pensive mood’. Was it his own? Or was it his shrink’s? The ecstasy he expressed over a bunch of flowers was unnatural and bordering on insanity. Do you think teachers are being viciously cruel by making students learn this poem?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Briefly seduced by Facebook

Yeah, so FB kind of distracted me in a big way. But less than 3 months later, I'm not sure if I even want to be on FB! Tired of the 'join this club and that club' and 'like this or dislike this' shit. And am not remotely interested in gawping at pictures of old friends - even if the women have grown moustaches and the men wear lipstick. I prefer to remember how they look in my head.

Miss the blog madly - because that really records how I think and feel - and I'm not playing to an audience here. Just writing for myself. To re-read when I'm old (okay, older) and practically dead (almost there!). Have made better friends on the blog, besides, like Saltwater Blues, and connected with my astute sister's friends, like Hornswoggle.

Have been busy, busy, busy on my next book and writing my new weekly column, Out of my Head, for a new newspaper, Bengal Post. Since they don't have a website yet, am going to paste my articles here.