Sunday, December 11, 2011

Then & Now

India's Evolution Revolution
By Rupa Gulab

(Published in Brunch Quarterly, Hindustan Times, November 2011)


India is changing so fast, I can barely catch my ragged breath. In the last twenty years alone, these are just a few of the changes I’ve noticed.

Fitness
Then: The motivation to exercise came not just from the desire to look good but to protect ourselves from bullies at the beach who kicked sand in our faces – we were deeply influenced by foolish Charles Atlas ads in our parent’s trashy American mags. Our work-out was very simple: Hold a copy of a telephone directory in one hand and a copy of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy in the other hand. A few months later, you looked as menacing as an armoured truck.

Now: The motivation to exercise comes not just from the desire to look smoking hot but to save ourselves from public humiliation. Come on, who hasn’t been accosted at a ‘Medium’ section in a clothes store by an obsequious assistant with an invisible megaphone who helpfully hollers, “Madam, please go to the ‘Large’ section.” That’s the most important reason why, for most middle-class urban Indians, a personal trainer or yoga teacher is as vital as toothpaste. We’re willing to sell our kidneys to hire them and fortunately there are lots of buyers in the market these days: the millions who’ve damaged their kidneys on certain terribly fashionable high-protein, low-carb diets.

Porn
Then: It mainly consisted of backdated, well-thumbed issues of Playboy, Penthouse et cetera, usually discovered in the bottom shelf of your father’s cupboard under piles of income tax papers and government bonds. Also, books by authors like Harold Robbins, Jacqueline Susann, Sidney Sheldon and a Mills & Boon author called Anne Mather whom every girl in school suspected was a man – who else but a dirty, filthy man could write such steamy stuff, they agreed in awe-struck tones. And, of course, that Sharon Stone scene in Basic Instinct. Those were such innocent days, sigh.

Now: It’s mainly on the internet. We have no time for traditional porn – and no time at all to be moralistic about it either. All our scathing criticism is reserved for poverty porn, particularly after the movie Slumdog Millionaire and Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger. The only porn we universally approve of is food porn, which is on our channels 24x7. Hands up all those who haven’t ever flung their sensible calorie-restricted dinners into the bin while watching MasterChef Australia and ordered wicked takeaway instead.

Food:
Then: We had Indian, Chinese and Continental cuisine to choose from. The Chinese food tasted Indian (unless you lived in Calcutta) and the Continental food was mainly English with Fish & Chips, Roast Chicken/Mutton as the stars of the show. They were accompanied with soggy over-boiled veggies that even pigs would turn up their snouts at. Baked Alaska was the hottest item on the dessert menu and it makes me weep just to think of it.

Now: We have practically everything including French, Italian, Greek, Lebanese, Japanese, Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese and American food. Real English food, strangely enough, has dropped off the menu. I have to confess though, that life without Roly-Poly Pudding is not unbearable.

TV News Channels:

Then: We had just two news channels. The government-run channel was lacklustre, and the private channel was excitable. However, when we really wanted to know what was happening in India during the, say, Babri Masjid riots, we watched BBC and CNN.

Now: We have one terribly hush-hush colossal candle-manufacturing corporation that owns all the English news channels. Why else would news anchors repeatedly exhort us to light candles daily to protest against injustice? I can tell you this: once I find out the name of this secret company, I’m going to invest all my money in it and buy a pretty island somewhere.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The truth about Arvind Kejriwal

ANGST IN MY PANTS
(Published in Hardnews, Nov 2011)

I’m not particularly fond of Arvind Kejriwal, but I have to give the devil his due. For starters, he’s got everyone in the nation (corrupt people included) talking passionately about how corruption must be eradicated. I think that’s absolutely fantastic, even though I do not approve of Kejriwal’s flawed Jan Lokpal Bill or his shockingly dictatorial and undemocratic methods.

Kejriwal has other sterling qualities as well that have gone largely unnoticed, so I’d like to draw your attention to them:

1. He’s a magnificent con man: Way better than some of the brazen characters Leonardo DiCaprio frequently plays on screen. He fooled us beautifully by calling his movement India against Corruption, when it really should be called India against Secularism. Some of us suspected this for a long time – and we have to thank the RSS (god bless their bigoted souls) for confirming our worst fears in public. Along the way we discovered that several people associated with the movement belonged to a group called Friends of the BJP, my my! Eventually, Kejriwal let the cat out of the bag himself by exhorting people not to vote for the Congress in Hisar, since there were so many other delightfully corrupt politicians from other parties to choose from. Pay no heed to Kejriwal’s indignant squeaks of protest and denial. If we all had noses like Pinocchio that grew by inches every time we lied, Kejriwal’s would be longer than Mount Everest. Though less scenic, mind you.

2. He deserves full marks for creativity: Instead of getting a cute baby elephant or tiger cub as the mascot for his pan-India movement, he thought out of the box and got a doddering old man. Such a relief to move away from India’s predictable Appus and Sheroos to an Anna, isn’t it? Even better, Kejriwal declared that his mascot is above the Indian Constitution. Terrific – he’s made him so much more magical than a fairy tale character!

3. He makes Sonia Gandhi look timid: Kejriwal is not a man to be trifled with, make no mistake. First he forced his mascot to stop eating for days on end to twist the government’s already bruised arm. And now that his mascot keeps making embarrassing statements, he’s ordered him to stop talking altogether (of course Kejriwal has made it all fancy and honourable by calling it a maun vrat). And we call our prime minister Mrs. Gandhi’s puppet? Hah. I would really love to see Kejriwal in a remake of that fabulous Charlie Chaplin film: The Great Dictator. He would fit the hero’s role so well, down to his bristly little moustache.

4. He can spend hours with Kiran Bedi: Anyone who has witnessed Ms Bedi’s insanely wild side at the Ramlila grounds will understand just how much strength of character it would take to willingly spend even one second with her. Gosh, my poor dog whimpers and races out of the room when he sees her on TV these days. What I want to know is, where is that ghoongat Ms Bedi was horsing around with on the Ramlila stage? She needs it desperately, now that details of her grossly inflated airline bills to NGOs have emerged. And she has the cheek to say that she was just being a do-gooder by putting that money in her NGO! Hmm. Pinching money from other do gooders to make her own NGO better than theirs, huh? Now that’s a very interesting lesson in ethics for India’s youth.

5. He is already being treated like a politician: Sure, it was only a humble slipper someone hurled at Kejriwal and not a sophisticated shoe, but hey – many people dislike him already - that’s definitely a move in the right direction.

6. He can turn Rakhi Sawant into a super star: Kejriwal’s PR skills are amazing. Look how he’s got all the major news channels eating out of his hands – okay, we know that most of the news anchors are idiots, but even so. And ever noticed how quickly he reacts to the mood on social networking sites and tries to swing it back into his favour again? I’m dead certain that if he handled Rakhi Sawant’s career, she would outshine Bollywood A-listers and earn much more than them.

Honestly someday I’d like to meet Arvind Kejriwal, shake his hand warmly, and tell him what I really think of him.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When all else fails, try PR.

ANGST IN MY PANTS
(Published in Hardnews, October 2011)

Aha - the BJP has finally decided what cutting-edge strategy they’re going to use to win the next general elections: cosmetic surgery and PR services. Taking a cue from TMC party leader Mamata Banerjee who literally ran for the West Bengal elections on a treadmill to ensure that no unseemly triple chin marred her victory photographs, BJP Party President Nitin Gadkari recently signed up for bariatric surgery. His stomach has been stapled so that he can just about manage to consume one samosa with his evening cuppa instead of his usual 307 (I’m putting a modest estimate here). I’m dead certain no one is happier about this than his over-worked family cook – my heart goes out to the poor chap who has slaved over a hot stove from dawn to dusk to feed a bottomless pit. Several critics have sneered at the surgery, but of course: they’ve pointed out that Gadkari’s a lazy man with no self control - he just wants the easy way out. Hmm, they do have a point but let’s look on the bright side too: there may be no more food shortage in the country, hooray!

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wants an easier way out: an instant image makeover without surgery. Sad, because the only way secular Indians will even consider him as a human being is if he has a heart and brain transplant. A little bird on a news channel told me that he’s hired an American PR firm to whitewash his image – I think the PR dudes got the brief wrong because it seems more like an exercise in hogwash. Anyway, a report from the US Congressional Research Service has suddenly surfaced that says glowing things about Modi’s skills at development, including the fact that they expect to see him as one of the frontrunners for the post of prime minister in the 2014 general elections. If this really is true (you can never tell when PR agencies are involved), all I can say with a smirk is, America loves dealing with dictators. They’ve lost quite a few they were rather fond of in the oil-rich Middle East recently and replacements are required. Autocratic Modi would be an excellent choice, there’s no doubt about it. Admittedly he can’t deliver oil, but he’s got tremendous reserves of natural gas.

As a result of this PR exercise, the nation has been cruelly subjected to a couple of open letters from Modi, announcing his Sadbhavana Mission in terrible English. This Sadbhavana thingie turned out to be a public fast-for-harmony which was performed on a stage with deathly dull speeches by some of India’s creepiest fascists. I valiantly tried to watch this event on TV but it was the most boring freak show on earth ever. All my school girl notions about fascists being electrifying speakers have been dashed to smithereens. Weirder still, the nation was expected to applaud as controversial politicians like MNS leader Raj Thackeray gave Modi wonderful character certificates. On the final day of Modi’s extravagant party, one thing was clear - it’s not working. For starters, he looks like he needs bariatric surgery as well – his clothes still fit him rather too snugly for comfort even after three days of fasting – tsk, he’s probably been snacking on the sly. Also, let’s not forget that the 2002 riot victims and several activists who attempted to protest were detained - so much for mutual understanding and harmony, hah! And I’m not even going to get into the fact that some of the BJPs alliance partners like the Janata Dal-United absolutely refused to participate in this sham. Or that the VHP and RSS were not exactly enthusiastic about it either. Those are just minor details.

And now on to yet another wannabe prime minister from the BJP: LK Advani. He’s proved to be the laziest of them all by riding piggyback on the India against Corruption movement with grand plans for an anti- corruption rath yatra, yawn. If he really wants to make us sit up, he should participate in the Formula One Grand Prix in Noida instead. That will be more fun and who knows, it may do wonders for his image as a doddering old sod as well!

Ah well. Typical, isn’t it, that the BJP has to con us with tacky PR initiatives in an attempt to win elections?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

BJP come back!

ANGST IN MY PANTS
(Published in Hardnews, September 2011)

I just can’t wait for the Bharatiya Janata Party to come back to power again! They have proved to be a shockingly lazy opposition that prefers to disrupt proceedings rather than let Parliament function – if in power those shameless slackers will have to put in some amount of work whether they like it or not. Also, it may be wildly entertaining to have them in the spotlight, particularly if senior leader LK Advani is not made prime minister this time round again. I bet the jealous man will continue to make the same nasty personal remarks he frequently makes about prime minister Manmohan Singh against his party’s prime minister too. After which their erm, pleasantly plump party president Nitin Gadkari may have to squash him. I recommend a simple method: Gadkari should sit on him. Not a squeak will be heard out of Advani thereafter, I’m pretty sure of that.

However, the most important reason why I want the BJP back in power is because I have all these wonderful plans on how to fix them good and proper – I still haven’t forgiven them for their role in communal riots, and I never will. They’re beautifully pompous and sanctimonious right now with these jaw-dropping scams exploding in the UPAs face and the noisy Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement. They’ve even succeeded in fooling themselves that Hazare’s movement is targeted only at the UPA - and that’s so not true! I’d love to see the BJP in a position when the shoe is on the other foot.

For starters, I’m launching a movement called India against Communalism because I fervently believe in a secular India. It’s not difficult really –my panel will be made up of squeaky clean former Supreme Court/High Court judges, a former cop with a decent reputation and of course I’ll hire a professional faster like Anna Hazare as well. Not Hazare himself - it wouldn’t be appropriate considering that he has several right-wing buddies. Sad, because now he’s the nation’s hero - his caps are selling like hot cakes and many babies born recently have been named after him. I will have to find someone else who can effortlessly fast for many days so I guess I’ll have to settle for a professional model. Someone who already buys size zero will be shockingly skinny after a few days of fasting and this will make the government terribly anxious.

We will politely ask the BJP if we can hold a peaceful demonstration of over 5000 people at Rajghat – and we’ll warmly assure them that we won’t do vulgar things like dancing on Mahatma Gandhi’s symbolic grave like senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj (even though we dance much, much better than she can). If they deny us permission, perhaps their young leader Varun Gandhi will graciously offer us his house for our demonstration – hey, he did that for Anna Hazare. Oops no, I doubt it – I’ve just remembered some particularly vicious remarks he made about a certain religious community some years ago. Okay, so we’ll get a fab PR agency and go to the media who will scream and shout ceaselessly (particularly the nation’s permanently outraged superhero: Fatman of Times Now TV) and the government will eventually cave in and we’ll be offered many demonstration venues to choose from.

I’ve already written down two non-negotiable demands that Indian against Communalism will insist on:
1. A bill must be passed that ensures that any politician with even the merest whiff of a communal taint will be given life imprisonment. Only because I don’t believe in the death sentence. All their assets must be confiscated and handed over to families who have been victims of communal riots. We will not budge on this. Nasty people must not be allowed to roam freely in society – we must protect not just our innocent children but their innocent children as well!

2. All right-wing supporters who leave filthy messages on blogs and articles by secular citizens must be punished for profanity. Equally importantly, they must be arrested for their lousy grammar. I have never understood why their grammar is so dreadful, but then I cannot pretend to understand why people are bigots either. Perhaps it’s because only brainless people are bigots? That makes sense, somehow.

Right, I’m working very hard on my India against Communalism bill. I do hope you will join my movement, because personally I believe communalism is a more serious threat to India than corruption.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

India against Blackmailers, Dictators, Annarchists & Fasters

I've had it up to here with the blackmail, mass hysteria and mobocracy unleashed by the India against Corruption team. First they try to shove a bill down our throat by blackmail rather than serious debates in Parliament, then they lie with grandiose statements like, "All of India is with Anna" - the morons can't even do simple mathematics. Even worse I've been innundated with annoying text messages urging me to join their idiotic marches and yell that jingoistic Wagah border nonsense.

Hello, I'm as anti-corruption as they come and I do want a Lokpal bill but not their flawed one - and definitely not this slimy way.

After their movement dies down, here are a few suggestions for books they can write:

1. My Experiments with Blackmail by Anna Hazare

2. Get back at your former boss by making an old man starve to death by Arvind Kejriwal & Kiran Bedi.

And as I write this, I'm aware that supporters of this creepy movement will hurl insults at me. But I don't care - I live in a democracy and I too have the right to air my views. Meanwhile, please donate your old civics textbooks to India against Corruption. The poor things haven't a clue about parliamentary democracy, tsk.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Great-Grandson of Godawful Poetry Fortnight

http://zigzackly.blogspot.com/2011/08/great-grandson-of-godawful-poetry.html

(Go to zigzackly.blogspot.com for the sordid details)
And now (after I clear my throat) my humble contribution for 2011:

Cockroaches to the left of me, cockroaches to the right,
My blood it froze like popsicles at such a fearsome sight.
“Oh Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou,”
I screamed like Bianca Castafiore in my fright.
The sod was dive-bombing angry birds, and ignored my plight.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How not to turn a Bloody Mary into a Bloody Mess

Rule no. 1: Stay calm - I learnt this the hard way.
My hands were trembling with so much excitement as I prepared the mix, so inadvertently half a bottle of Worcestershire sauce sloshed into it. What I'm drinking now is not Bloody Mary. And, interestingly, not exactly a Bloody Mess either. I call it a Wooster Booster. It has its charms.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hell & damnation!

Changed my hotmail user id to gmail on the blog and now it says that my 2008 blog began today and my profile data et cetera have vanished! Really annoying. Fortunately the dates on all my posts remain the same, whew. Sometimes, just sometimes, I hate technology.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Delhi Belly rules!

Everyone who knows me knows that I have a gag reflex when it comes to Bollywood. I'd much rather have my toe nails pulled out, thank you very much. And everyone's given up on me apart from my husband. He accuses me of being an incurable snob (I'm not a snob really, I just have a different sensibility) and insists that I get a dose of popular culture every now and then. Thrice a year, is what I've reluctantly allowed him (marriage is about making compromises, innit?). Of course, I've NEVER forgiven him for dragging me to see that weird Dil Chahta Hai, which, critics raved, was a turning point in Indian cinema. I thought it was puerile, dishonest, lame, and wannabe cool. Hell, it still had that dreadful Bollywood sensibility - the first half of the movie was upbeat, the second half everyone was beating their breasts and weeping. Ew.

Admittedly, there are a few Bollywood flicks I rather liked in the recent past: Omkara, Welcome To Sajjanpur, Peepli Live and Love, Sex aur Dhoka. I walked out halfway through the first Munnabhai flick when the breast beating and mournful violins began - but I enjoyed the second Munnabhai movie - perhaps because Raju Hirani dumped that annoying half-half formula here. That's just five movies over a decade.

Naturally, I didn't want to see Delhi Belly. Particularly since critics were raving, once again, that it's a (yawn) turning point in Indian cinema. I was dragged, nonetheless, by a very determined husband and holy shit - I absolutely loved it! I loved EVERYTHING about it. Yes, it's gross and outrageous but it's also side-splittingly hilarious and so intelligently put together. Some of the scenes are amazingly memorable, I have a feeling I'll still be giggling over them in the years to come. The bread stick and paper bag scene is one of my favourites. And as for the profanity that's got many people pursing their lips grimly, I think I should quote my brother-in-law here, "The language in the film took me back to college. It all came back, the imagery and stuff. Shit we were so creative!"

The script writer (Akshat Varma) and the director (Abhinay Deo) did a fantastic job, the casting was superb, and now perhaps I won't let out a squeak when I'm forced to see a Bollywood flick again. But I'll only go if it's a collaborative effort between Akshat Varma and Abhinay Deo - what can I say? They've set the bar so high, it's going to be a tough act to follow. And why should I settle for less?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Baba Black Money

ANGST IN MY PANTS
(Published in Hardnews, July 2011)

A couple of months ago I earnestly wrote in this very magazine that I support Anna Hazare’s ‘India against Corruption’ movement. I take it back, and I have sent them a terse letter withdrawing my support. I’m not fickle by nature, but a rather peculiar man called Baba Ramdev made me see the light. He decided that he wanted to go on a fast against corruption as well, and who can blame him because fasting has become terribly fashionable in India these days.

For all those who were in a coma while Baba Ramdev went on a fast and trended on Twitter, here’s a brief bio:
Baba Ramdev is a TV actor who plays a shirtless yoga guru (sort of like a Bollywood hero in saffron robes) and promises his fans that he has a cure for cancer, homosexuality, blood pressure and oh my god practically everything apart from tennis elbow. I’d like to underline the fact that he has never ever mentioned tennis elbow - we absolutely must congratulate him for that admirable show of restraint. However, never forget that he’s just a TV actor, okay? Come on, he couldn’t control his own blood pressure after fasting for a few days. Even worse, he couldn’t continue his fast for more than eight days, for shame. This is shocking in a nation that has grown up seeing pictures of meditating Sadhus covered in gigantic anthills in Amar Chitra Katha comics. We now know that believing in Baba Ramdev’s yoga is as foolish as believing in Santa (Claus, not Singh).

Baba Ramdev is also a great comedian who specialises in spoofs. Instead of a solemn fast-unto-death, he delivered a hilarious farce-unto-death by raising completely ridiculous demands and acting like a buffoon. After this, I don’t imagine anyone in the country will take fasts seriously. I certainly won’t, and if Anna Hazare does carry out his threat of going on yet another fast in August, I may be tempted to call Domino’s and get piping hot pizzas delivered to him every hour on the hour. Just to remind him that there’s a large part of civil society that does not believe in blackmail. I’d urge Anna Hazare to try dialogue instead and stop behaving like an annoying diva.

But back to Baba Ramdev. Far from being a calm and spiritual person, Baba Ramdev is shockingly bloodthirsty. He believes that naughty people should get the death sentence instead of being served bread and water in jail for the rest of their sorry lives. Death by hanging is what he recommends, with a maniacal gleam in his eyes. It’s not surprising then that some of his friends include nasty people who destroy masjids and instigate communal riots that stain India’s streets with blood. His friends were there of course, cheering Baba Ramdev on when he refused to eat. That’s when I stopped laughing at Baba Ramdev’s antics and started weeping for India. Oddly enough, the sight of the saffron-clad Taliban at Delhi’s Ram Leela grounds evidently didn’t upset Anna Hazare and his gang as much as it upset me.

To be fair though, Baba Ramdev does have a softer, more feminine side. Sometimes he likes to dress like a girl and is extremely partial to pretty pink salwar kameezes. That’s perhaps why four senior UPA leaders were so eager to pick him up from the airport and begged him to spend quality time with them at posh hotels. Sorry, but I can think of no other explanation for their strange behaviour. Oh, and I guess we can safely assume that Baba Ramdev can’t cure cross-dressing either.

Finally, I’d like to remind you that while Baba Ramdev may have lost hundreds of yoga fans, he’s won thousands of saffron fans who more than make up for that loss. I’m dead certain his fan mail will continue to give Indian postmen severe back-aches. I may as well confess that I’m a huge fan of Baba Ramdev too. This man will go down in the history of modern India as a hero because he showed us how dangerous fasting as a blackmail tool can be. Not just for the health of the individual but the health of the nation.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

No Reality in Realty.

ANGST IN MY PANTS
(Published in Hardnews in Dec 2009 or Jan 2010. Can't remember which.)

Over the last few years, I’ve spotted more grimy cement mixers than posh Mercs and BMWs on the streets of Mumbai. The majority of the advertisements in leading dailies are from builders, promising ridiculously extravagant, never-experienced-before luxury and flamboyant amenities not just in metros but in small town India as well. Realty professionals seem to have completely lost touch with reality.

I thought I’d talk to a few builders to find out what the near future would be like for real estate in India. Excerpts from a few meetings are given below – I could not reproduce them in entirety because Hardnews is a respectable family magazine. Incidentally, the names of the builders have not been revealed to protect myself from brutal murder. I’m not taking chances - hello, I have a fair idea who their real partners and/or promoters are!

Prediction No. 1: 5-star hotels are going to look like shabby municipal playgrounds compared to Mumbai’s plush new building complexes.
(In conversation with Mr. A)

Me: These days a lot of builders, including you, are offering private swimming pools in every apartment.

Mr. A nodded, looking smug. I caught him admiring his reflection on his laptop screen.

Me: Why swimming pools? There’s a desperate water shortage in the city, with 15 to 30% cuts. Even 5-star hotels and malls haven’t been spared anymore.

Mr A: (Impatiently) So what’s your point, Madam?

Me: Those people who buy apartments with swimming pools, well, what on earth are they going to fill them with? Champagne?

Mr. A: (Bristling). Well, if they can afford to buy my fancy flats they can afford to splurge on truckloads of champagne as well!

Suddenly, Mr. A’s frown vanished. He broke into a wide grin and whacked an old-fashioned bell on his desk. A tie-clad flunky appeared within seconds.

Mr. A: Rao, tell the advertising agency to add ‘Private plunge pools filled with wildly expensive champagne’ in the advertisements. Not Indian made sparkling vinegar mind you, but the real thing from France, got it? Tell those lazy copywriters to browse the Internet and put the name of some expensive brand like Dom Perignon or something equally swanky.

The flunky let out a low whistle. His eyes were filled with admiration for Mr. A. ‘Sir,’ he gushed, ‘that will give us such a wonderful edge over the competition!’
Mr. A nodded, and rubbed his hands with glee. He turned to me with softer, gentler eyes, this time.

Mr. A: Next question, Madam?

Me: (Gasping) Do you have any idea how much one bottle, just one bottle of Dom Perignon costs? You’ll need about a trillion bottles to fill each darn pool. This is ridiculous! If I know anything about you builders, you’ll probably get some cheap white wine produced by some big shot politician who owns acres of vineyards. That way, he’ll be eternally grateful to you and you’ll get away with murder!

Mr. A didn’t bother to reply. He was enthusiastically summoning the tie-clad flunky by whacking the old-fashioned bell with great force again. His eyes were gleaming. I’m certain now that even if his children recklessly kill policemen while driving under the influence, they will spend more time partying out on bail than repenting in jail!

Prediction No. 2: The sales of Roget’s Thesaurus will go through the roof in India.
(In conversation with Mr. B)

Me: India’s builders have already pinched all the lovely words 5-star hotels and resorts use like serene, tranquil, plush, refined, sophisticated, distinguished, indulgent, luxurious, extravagant, well-appointed - (I paused here to catch my breath).

Mr. B: (Stifling a yawn). You’ve left out under-stated, ambience, privileged, senses, opulence, gold-standard, platinum-standard, world-class, regal, royal et cetera et cetera.

Me: Gosh, thanks. Okay, look, these words have been so shamelessly overused we don’t react to them anymore; they’re like a blind spot. How are you going to make us sit up and gasp with wonder in 2010?

Mr. B: (Stifling another yawn) Arrey, no problem, Madam. What is Rajat’s Thesaurus there for?

Me: (Thinking to myself: should I tell him all the synonyms have been used? Or should I let Dr. Peter Mark Roget’s royalty-receiving descendants enter the Forbes list of the richest people in the world?) Indeed. What is Rajat’s Thesaurus there for!

Prediction No. 3: Indian brides will be reduced to wearing imitation jewellery on the most special day of their lives – the price of gold will hit scary, inaccessible new heights.
In conversation with Mr. C, the most polished builder I’ve met so far. I mean, never once did he say, ‘Chad yaar,’ or utter crude alphabets like M,C,B & C during the interview.

Me: (Eyeing the brochure of Mr. C’s latest residential project, Silver Acres, with reverential awe. Heck, the cover is made of sterling silver – I can melt it and wear it!). So do you have any new projects coming up?

Mr. C: (Genially) Of course, of course. Six more in the pipeline, to begin with.

Me: (Suppressing a groan) Will they be for normal people like me or for the really, really, obscenely wealthy lot?

Mr. C: (Dismissing me as an eejit) For the really, really, really, really, really, obscenely wealthy lot, of course! I don’t believe in resting on my laurels. After Silver Acres, I have to attain new heights, right?

Me: You mean, like, Gold Acres and so on and so forth?

Mr. C: Absolutely!

Me: (Sarcastically) So your brochure cover for Gold Acres will be made of gold, I assume?

Mr. C: (Without blinking) 24-carat, sweetheart!

Me: (Not giving in without a fight) Correct me if I’m wrong, but after you’re done with gold and platinum, you still have 4 projects left to name?

Mr. C: That’s right.

Me: I hate to give you sleepless nights, but what astronomically priced metals are you going to name the remaining four projects with? After platinum, what?

Mr C: (Without blinking an eyelid) No problem, sweetheart. Faux French and Italian words are as up-market as expensive metals. Add a ‘la’ or a ‘beau’ or some fancy –sounding rubbish and you’ve got the public salivating.

Me: (Resolutely unconvinced) Give me an example.

Mr. C: (Doing a great imitation of Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau) How about this: Le Beau Laitue.

Me: Wow! What was that?

Mr. C: (Looking excessively pleased with himself) The Good Lettuce. Sounds a little more posh than Platinum Acres, right? And who knows and who cares what it really means in English.

Me: (Challenging him) Okay, so what will your brochure cover be made of, then? Lettuce leaves?

Mr. C: Now then, don’t be silly. I’d go with the colour, of course. Emerald or jade, perhaps.

Prediction No. 4: Skyscrapers will be old hat. Master plans will be on the anvil to create colossal Sky Impalers instead.
(In conversation with Mr. D.)

Me: (Trying hard not to giggle) I believe you’ve got a tiny, handkerchief-sized plot of land for your new project.

Mr. D: (Taking offence) It’s not tiny at all, Madam. Each apartment will be 3000 square feet.

Me: (Incredulously) How is that possible? According to the report, with the tiny space you’ve got, you can just about accommodate one 1000 square foot flat on each floor.

Mr. D: (Sniffily) So what? We must learn to be creative about space. First of all, I’m not selling down-market apartments - I’m selling villas! And each villa in my building will be an exclusive 3000 square foot triplex.

Me: (Silent, because I’ve got my comeuppance)

Mr. D: (Warming up to his triplex villa scheme) My building is going to be at least 400 storeys tall. It’s going to make Burj Dubai and Taipei 101 look like Snow White’s dwarfs!

Me: (Horrified) You can’t do that – what about planes?

Mr. D: (Disinterestedly) Planes can jolly well fly higher.

Me: What if they can’t fly higher – physics has to come into this, isn’t it?

Mr. D: (Playing a game on a hideous ivory and gold cellphone) Then people will just have to travel by spaceship.

Prediction No. 5: IT organisations will have branches in practically every building complex in India.
(In conversation with Mr. E)
Me: Your ad says IT professionals who buy apartments in your project can walk to work in about 5 minutes.
Mr. E: Yes, they can.
Me: (Scoffing) Are you telling me that all the IT companies on Planet Earth are a hop, skip and jump away from your 12 acre building complex?
Mr. E: (Icily) Most of them, yes.
Me: (With a hint of a sneer) Name them!
Mr. E: Infosys and TCS.
Me: And?
Mr. E: (Defiantly) And Infosys and TCS.
Me: Thought as much! So people who work at Wipro, Cognizant, Accenture, Satyam, HCL or Polaris, will have to live elsewhere then, I guess.
Mr. E: (Stubbornly) They could always join Infosys or TCS instead, if they know what’s good for them!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pritish Nandy vs Unbeloved Husband

Yesterday, Pritish Nandy wrote a rather insightful piece on fear in TOI. What he said (briefly) is that one man’s fear of creepy crawlies can induce the same gut-wrenching, heart-stopping anxiety as another man’s fear of say, rejection/failure/whatever. I appreciated it deeply because he understood that my anxiety over roaches/lizards/rats et cetera is not to be scoffed at. And particularly not with that idiotic testosterony line, “Stop acting idiotic, they’re smaller than you.” Good to know that not all men believe size matters.

And then last night I spotted a baby lizard in the bedroom. Baby lizards are worse than adult lizards because they’re horribly bouncy and leap all over the place in a frenzied manner. Sometimes (shudder) they also leap on you. Unbeloved husband ignored my piercing screams of terror – and the sod cannot be excused because Federer had already lost the match. Hell, I could have been murdered for all he cared. By the time he reluctantly got to the room the lizard had ducked for cover and that was that. He didn’t look remotely sorry (unbeloved husband, not the lizard) and raced back to watch more mindless crap on the telly. I was FORCED to spend the night in a room with a lizard, imagining its beady eyes staring at me while wondering if my toes tasted as good as moths. Had to pop an extra strong sleeping tablet to get through the damn night.

The morning after, my head hurts, my eyes are burning, my heart is still pounding dangerously, I have low grade fever and I’m seriously contemplating calling a divorce lawyer. After I call Pest Control India, of course – still waiting for their office to open. The lizard is more important than my sodding marriage. Thereafter, I shall figure out some way to punish unbeloved husband for his unsympathetic response to my trauma. Something that will hurt him even more than a smashed television set.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Not gushing over Mamata Banerjee - not yet!

Not everyone in West Bengal is thrilled that Mamata Banerjee has emerged as the Red Dragon slayer. Some of us find her hugely annoying and pretty much worthless when you consider that she did sweet f-all as Union Railways Minister. However, I'm really really glad that the Left was humiliated, and I'm willing to keep my cynicism in check and give her a chance to prove my misgivings wrong. I re-read an article I'd written in 2007 for Hardnews post Nandigram, and felt a little better about Mamatadi thereafter. 2007 article pasted below:

The shocking Nandigram massacre triggered memories of Arindam (name changed), a dreamy-eyed member of the All Bengal Students Association (ABSA). Arindam and his gang burst into a terrifically boring lecture on Old English poetry and demanded 10 minutes. The professor wearily consented and Arindam took centre-stage in an officious manner. He informed us in thunderous tones that ABSA had not been responsible for the soda-bottle bombs a few days earlier and really, people should stop giving them a bad name because they were working for the people, see? His fiery speech woke me up; it was more riveting than the professor’s lacklustre recitation of Beowulf. Truth is, at that exact moment in time, I’d have even found Chairman Mao’s ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend’ speech way more inspirational than ‘Grendel gongan, Godes yrre bær’ (yup, those are real Old English words, not gobbledegook). And my god, Arindam’s passion almost wiped the ‘Yeah, right!’ smirk off my face. Fascinated, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Mid-way through his oration, he caught my gaze and looked deep into my eyes. A cynic and an idealist had made a connection.

To the amusement of my filthy capitalist pig friends and the absolute horror of his red cronies, Arindam developed a crush on me. Sadly, it was a case of unrequited love. While I truly admired his passion for Lenin, I personally preferred Lennon, so it could never be. But we exchanged smiles and pleasantries when we chanced upon each other in college. The connection ended when he invited me out for a dirty weekend with the most original pick-up line I’ve heard yet: ‘Come with me to the village to educate the peasants.’ A soda-bottle bomb went off in my head when he said ‘educate the peasants’. Sorry, I don’t do brain-washes. I’m not that kind of girl.

Which brings me back to Nandigram. At the risk of annoying People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), I have to say this: I would have more respect for the CPM if they did elitist things like pheasant shooting instead of peasant shooting. Ironically, it took a Mamta Bannerji, a non-commie at that, to protect the people from the people’s party. For shame!

I’m no Luddite, but while Special Economic Zones (SEZs) may be great way to develop industry and accelerate India’s economic growth, they should not be implemented until the government comes up with a solid plan to minimise the inevitable human after-shocks. And an equally strong plan to drastically increase productivity in the leftover arable land. I’m terribly worried that with so much agricultural land going away, we’ll have nothing to eat! As a precautionary measure, I’ve decided to uproot my decorative potted ferns and replace them with wheat. And I guess I’ll have to germinate kidney beans on cotton wool like they taught us in junior biology class, for protein.

Till then, I think we should come up with other ways to develop the economy. After the success of the hurly-burly Arun-Liz wedding celebrations in Rajasthan, wedding tourism would be a good idea. We can even create a special package for Big Brother contestant Jade Goody in an honest to goodness slum, she really deserves it. Sure, an influx of wedding tourists may cause traffic jams and odd protests from the odd person or two, but I’m fairly certain that no human being will be harmed in the process. I’m not too sure about the pheasants though; I leave it to animal rights groups to save them from the big fat Indian wedding tandoor.

Marriage means worrying about the person who gets left behind

Every so often, Dad calls to reassure himself that we will look after Mum when he goes to that creepy place in the sky. And every so often, Mum calls as well to make sure that Dad will be taken care of when she goes to that creepy place in the sky - we have even been given the names of his vitamins. Erm, in all fairness, Dad has absolutely no clue what vitamins Mum takes, so we cannot foolishly assume that he loves her less.

And I worry about Beloved Husband too. Hope he still has a sense of humour - enough to charm some woman into living with him who lovingly ensures that he takes his tablets and scrubs his piggy filthy feet before he goes to bed after I join my cadaverous ancestors. Which could be as soon as tomorrow (she said in a gloomy voice). Have been listening to Pink Floyd in a fit of teen nostalgia and I know for sure that I'm "Shorter of breath and one day closer to death." Also that "One day you'll find, ten years have got behind you, no one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun" - or some such deep shit about the meaninglessness of life. All this has hit home a little harder because a friend's wife has been rushed for a brain tumour surgery and he's a gabbling mess.

Fortunately, I played The Who soon after, and am feeling decidedly exuberant (they always make me feel upbeat about life).

Monday, May 2, 2011

Recent Prozac moments across the world

Tunisia and Egypt sent dictators packing. India won the cricket world cup. The UK celebrated a royal wedding - and for a change both the bride and the groom weren't hideously ugly. And today the US announced the death of Osama bin Laden in a secret operation. All terrific flag-waving, national anthem-singing, beer-guzzling moments.

I don't think anyone in India was remotely astonished that Osama bin Laden wasn't found in a dark dank cave doodling mountain goats on the walls to alleviate over 9 years of boredom. We KNEW he'd be living in the lap of luxury in Pakistan, possibly in the ISI chief's guest bedroom getting foot massages daily. We weren't far wrong were we, considering that he was discovered in a posh neighbourhood with retired Pakistan army generals as neighbours. Personally, I don't believe that those retired generals were blind.

So Pakistan can holler as much as they want about their being part of the Kill Osama operation. Like hell Indians believe them. My theories:

a)Pakistan is shrieking that they were part of this operation as a face saving measure.

b) Pakistan was desperate for even more dollars. Perhaps the ISI chief's children/grand children need to study in the US? The fees are shockingly stupendous.

c) Osama died a natural death, so the greedy things handed his now useless dead body over for cash.

d) He's alive and still getting foot massages in the ISI chief's guest bedroom - possibly wolfing down biryani and kebabs as well to celebrate his 'death'. The entire operation was staged. Hey, the US needed to do something to gracefully exit Afghanistan and make its citizens feel happy. Or else explain the secret burial at sea! But we'll never know, will we? Wikileaks can't tell us anything about it because US diplomats have become a little more cautious about how they exchange information with each other these days.

Oh well. US President Obama can graciously say that it wouldn't have been possible without Pakistan's co-operation for all I care. He HAS to, because he still needs their help. He can fool practically everyone in the world into believing that the worm has turned. Except Indians. Heck, even if it's true, we wouldn't, couldn't believe it. We understand Pakistan better than America can.

And now I'm feeling very very very sorry for all those virgins in paradise. Osama was not exactly a hottie.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Voldemort lives in Maharashtra, India

The media is evidently petrified of NCP leader Sharad Pawar. When scams surface every two seconds and it's glaringly obvious (even to my dog) who is behind them, 'He Who Must Not Be Named' is coyly referred to as 'Senior Maharashtra Politicians'. The use of the plural is a polite way of referring to his size. After all, our local Voldemort takes up two airline seats, remember? Plush generously sized Business Class seats at that!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fair & Lovely aka India's Snow White

Written for and posted in unboxedwriters.com
http://unboxedwriters.com/2011/03/fair-lovely-aka-india%e2%80%99s-snow-white/

(And pasted below as well)

Once upon a time, in a sleepy little kingdom in the Deccan plateau, lived a tall, dark and average looking King, his dusky Queen and 365 concubines (one for each day of the year). This arrangement worked rather well because the Deccan Queen complained of headaches every night and claimed that her European doctor had advised complete single-bed rest. So the King and Queen happily went their own way, till disaster struck one day. The Queen was pregnant.

Now let’s establish some vitally important facts. The Queen wasn’t tall. Nor was she fair. Or even homely. And the less said about her tea-making and sitar-playing skills, the better. But she was ‘convent educated’. And it was this education that helped her to convince the King that it was Immaculate Conception. Since the King himself had gone to a Catholic day school instead of a posh boarding school for Indian princes, he bought the argument. And invited three wise men from the Vatican and the press from the Western world to witness the Second Coming.

The day dawned bright and clear. The King and Queen huffed and puffed out their natural birth lessons. When suddenly, a shrill cry rent the air. It was the King, who, thanks to his vantage point, first saw the baby’s head emerging from the womb. It was covered with tight blonde curls. And its eyes were emerald green.

Admittedly, the King had failed his Chartered Accountancy exams seven years in a row. But he could put two and two together: The European doctor had abruptly left the country nine months ago + he had tight blonde curls and emerald green eyes = Adultery.

The Queen was beheaded. And the baby was called Fair & Lovely. The King couldn’t bear to look at the Queen’s love child and packed her off to boarding school before she could say Papa. The courtiers tut-tutted and said that if the baby had been a boy, perhaps, but well, in his place they’d probably do the same thing.

The King remarried a fair skinned Anglo-Indian with English, Portuguese and Dutch blood flowing in her veins. Of course, she also had her fair share of Tamilian blood, but she kept that a dark secret.

She bore him a son and made him very happy. She was reasonably happy too, till Fair & Lovely returned at sweet 16 from boarding school. The cold mountain air had whipped up a gentle blush in her cheeks. Her blonde curls glittered in the sun. And her green eyes made the Step Queen turn green with envy. What really got to her, however, was the fact that it was whispered that her skin was at least three shades darker than Fair & Lovely’s.

‘Mirror, Mirror on the Wall,’ she screeched, ‘Who’s the fairest of them all?’ The mirror gulped and stuttered a reply. ‘I cannot tell a lie, it’s Fair & Lovely.’ The Step Queen turned purple with rage. She called Chota Elaichi in Dubai and agreed to pay him a king’s ransom (well, actually, the princess’s dowry) to do away with Fair & Lovely.

One dark evening, Chota Elaichi’s hoods arrived at the palace gardens and kidnapped Fair & Lovely. Unfortunately for the Step Queen, there was a shoot out with a rival mafia gang in the concrete jungle outside the palace and Fair & Lovely managed to escape. While fleeing, she sought refuge in the house of seven Sherpas who willingly took her in because their last maid hadn’t yet returned from a day’s leave six month’s ago. So she cleaned and cooked fancy meals for them and in return got a pittance as salary and free accomodation.

Meanwhile, the Step Queen had got a new consignment of Jolen bleach, sun screen with 50 SPF and a range of skin lightening creams from her smuggler sources. After taking the prescribed seven-day fairness course, she decided to consult her mirror for the latest beauty update. Once again, the answer was Fair & Lovely. She turned purple with rage yet again. And jetted her way to Dubai to confront Chota Elaichi. After getting her money back (with interest), she hatched a plot to get rid of Fair & Lovely herself.

She filled a vacuum cleaner with pest control spray, disguised herself as a door to door salesman and knocked at Fair & Lovely’s door. ‘Try this, Meddem,’ she said, ‘It sure takes the aches and pains out of a broom.’ Saying thus, she switched it on and accidentally knocked off her false spectacles, nose and moustache. Fair & Lovely exclaimed, “Why Step Mama…” but she was cut short by the noxious pest control spray. The Step Queen watched with glee as Fair & Lovely writhed on the floor convulsively, coughing and choking. And when, after a final twitch she lay prone, the Step Queen cackled and let herself out.

To say that the Sherpas were dismayed when they saw her lying on the floor would be the understatement of the century. She was a model maid. No salary. No leave. No demands. She even cleaned the ceiling fans without being asked. The best part was, she didn’t pinch their razors to shave her legs.

Sadly, they placed her body in a glass casket and put it in the garden as a lawn decoration piece. They stood back to admire it and were fairly pleased with the effect. Indeed, it looked far better than hedges shaped like giraffes and lions. They wrote to Better Homes & Gardens and a photographer, Raj Kumar, was sent forthwith to cover their new garden ornament for the magazine’s next issue.

The photographer instantly fell in love with Fair & Lovely’s high cheek bones. He opened the casket to take a closer peek, when a whiff of his strong cinnamon scented after-shave jolted Fair & Lovely awake. She opened her emerald eyes, thought she was in heaven and he was god. Needless to say, they got married and she worshipped him till she discovered that he spent quality time surfing the net for porn. After that, she treated him like an equal, which worked out much better for both of them.

As for the King and the Step Queen, they lost all their money at the races and put the palace up for sale. Fair & Lovely and Raj Kumar bought it with a housing loan and turned it into a 3 star hotel with hot and cold running water. They hired the 7 Sherpas as hotel staff and they all lived happily ever after.

Moral: Don’t bother to fret over the colour of skin- remember it’s the dark horses who always win!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

God, what fools some mortals be!

Was part of a panel discussion yesterday on how women are depicted in contemporary Indian (English) literature. Met a number of interesting women, some of whom I'd enjoy spending time with - and one insufferably pretentious woman I'd enjoy sparring with. She contemptuously trashed chick lit - not just the genre but the writers as well: "All of them write badly", she sneered. The poor judgemental dear probably also believes that all men beat their wives, all Muslims are terrorists, all Punjabis do the bhangra, etc. What do you say to foolish people like that?

Didn't have the heart to tell her that I'd struggled to read a rambling piece of fluffy rubbish she'd written a few days ago. Even bad chick lit writers are more engaging than this wannabe intellectual can ever be. And thank heavens for that!

Why are distressingly earnest people not offered euthanasia?

Why?

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Simple Desultory Memoir

(Published in 2009 in the Bandra festival mag)

Much as I shrink from opening sentences with the pompous ‘Contrary to popular belief’ cliché, I have no choice but to give in here. So, contrary to popular belief, I never heard the cheerful Birdie song even once during the year I lived in Bandra. Heck, I didn’t even hear Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight. I’m still in deep shock. Why weren’t the stereo players in the Catholic neighbourhood spinning stereotypes? Had the world changed so drastically when I wasn’t looking?

Oddly, it’s Simon & Garfunkel who always come to mind when I think back (fondly, of course) on my days as a ‘Bandra bugger’. I like to believe that I stumbled upon the inspiration for 7 O'Clock News / Silent Night in a leafy lane one evening. Christmas was round the corner, and choir singers were enthusiastically giving nightingales a terrible complex in one of the buildings on St. Cyril Road. A listless chauffeur in a car parked below was dreaming of dinner while listening to the Hindi news. The swell of the choir, the crackle of the radio and a staccato voice urgently delivering grim news, ooooh. It gave new life to a tired old phrase: Art Garfunkel imitates life. (Sorry Paul, deeply regret that I couldn’t fit you in).

Every bit as precious as the snatch of music I’ve waxed eloquently on above, is a snippet of conversation I overheard on another of my evening perambulations in the neighbourhood: an irate father sternly threatening his downcast son that he’d give him ‘good pasting’ when they got home. I struggled to contain the insane urge to hurl myself into the irate father’s hirsute arms. While that remark didn’t quite make up for the Birdie song, it reassured me that the good old Bandra was still there - somewhere.

Those experiences go into my crammed memory chest, along with my first meeting with Ernest Fernandes - who, incidentally, does not live up to his name, hallelujah. Mr. Fernandes was mine host in a charming Catholic quarter of Bandra, strategically situated within walking distance of Hearsch, Café Andora, Candies and Mac Craig – a prime location for incorrigible snackers like myself. We eyed each other wearily and warily as I entered his house. I’d seen about 50,896 unsuitable apartments in Bandra, he must have met an equal number of unsuitable prospective tenants, and really, we weren’t in the mood to have a cosy chat about life, the universe and everything. But God, as always, has other plans, and that’s exactly what we found ourselves engrossed in while the broker glanced frequently at her watch. She wasn’t doing it surreptitiously either, but I ignored the hint. It’s not every day that you enjoy stimulating conversations with complete strangers, after all.

What did we talk about? Mr. Fernandes’s karmic fear of being caught in dark alleys by vengeful copywriters he’d gleefully tortured during his marketing career. Wives of the stung copywriters would tearfully plead with their children to pay attention to Messrs Wren & Martin and Strunk & White or else that dreadful Mr. Fernandes would box their ears when they grew up. Legends get around and he was justifiably wary when it came to light that I happened to be a (shudder) copywriter too. I warmly assured Mr. Fernandes that I don’t carry nail files in my handbag, leave alone steak knives.

The conversation lazily drifted to the habits of nuns (my lips are primly sealed), and a book I’d just reviewed: Nalini Jones’s What They Call Winter. When Mr. Fernandes knowledgably informed me that the fictional Santa Clara in her book was based on this very area, and that her ancestral home was spitting distance away, those were not goose bumps I experienced, but goose hills. My inner Hindu surfaced and threw some soul-stirring questions at me: Was it the spirit of one of Nalini Jones’s ancestors who led me to this lovely house as thanks for the glowing review? And, more importantly, was it a Casper the Friendly Neighbourhood Ghost sort of spirit or more like something in The Exorcist?

Chez Nous (Our Home) - that was the name of well, our home in Bandra. It went down a treat with our Bordeaux and Brie friends, but it didn’t go down at all with many others. Picture this: it’s 3 am, a Meru cab is on its way to escort my drowsy husband to the airport, and the confused driver calls up - he’s been going round (and round and round and round and round) in circles looking for a building called Shaynu. He’s not exactly affable at this point – can’t blame him, can you? After dealing with that tedious issue, we brace ourselves for the next inevitable stumbling block: ‘Not Sant Squirrel Road, it’s Saint Cyril Road,’ we groan. Gosh, that was a terribly frustrating experience, but we giggled effervescently through it each time it happened. Admittedly, we laughed a lot that year.

When we eventually decided to a hunt for a home of our very own, we were extremely picky and choosy about certain things - for starters, we made darn well sure that even non-Alliance Française alumni could pronounce the name without stumbling. I have to wryly confess though, that when Meru cabbies come calling these days, it isn’t as much fun anymore. Sigh. Fortunately, Bandra is walking distance away, and if you see a shadowy figure lurking pensively around St. Cyril Road every now and then, please don’t give me good pasting - I’m just waiting to hear the Birdie song.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Scowling Buddha

OUT OF MY HEAD
(Published In The Bengal Post, 28th February 2011)

Do you really believe that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will emerge as the Laughing Buddha and that Mamata Banerjee’s high decibel banshee-like wails will be reduced to a piteous whimper after the results of West Bengal's assembly elections are declared? Do you also believe that little green men from Mars will take over Planet Earth?

Despite the fact that I’m not exactly crazy about Mamata Banerjee, I’m putting all the money in my piggy-bank on the Trinamool Party. I’m trying very hard to forget that once upon a time she did a stint in the communal BJP – hey, we all make terribly embarrassing mistakes. I’m also consoling myself with the fact that I thoroughly enjoy her wacko conspiracy theories, and I’m hoping that her team is relatively less cynical than members of the ruling Left and pretty much raring to go. Finally, in keeping with the spirit that’s sweeping across the Middle East and parts of Africa, leaders who do not deliver much apart from misery deserve to get lost.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I wonder if life really will be very different in West Bengal if Mamata’s Trinamool party wins? Consider the recent happenings in Barasat. I’ve been clucking so much since then, I sound like a hysterical hen. It began with the attempted molestation of poor Rinku Das and the murder of her brother Rajib. The apathetic cops and security guards she sobbingly appealed to in the vicinity could have saved him but hell, why bother? Come on, everyone knows that they’re not paid to work!

Typically the next day, members of practically every single political party rushed to the grieving family and offered condolences, money, jobs, flowers, cigars, a life time supply of cornflakes, whatever. The resourceful Trinamool party even offered a hearse and sweetly decorated Rajib’s stretcher with their colourful party flags. Good heavens - what a macabre way to get God’s blessings for the elections! A family friend, horrified at this crass display of political opportunism, tried to remove the flags on the stretcher. Upon which, a Trinamool party member (who is evidently an ardent fan of the Tom & Jerry School of Slapstick Violence) hit him repeatedly with a flagstick. Such a delightful playful chap, isn’t he? Oooh, I’m quite looking forward to the Trinamool ruling West Bengal – my nephews and nieces will love watching their hilarious antics on TV!

What I found most endearing though, was what local Trinamool MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar earnestly told Rinku as she tenderly patted her hand: “Why didn't you call me that night? Everyone has my number.” I silently wiped away a tear from my eye when I read that. What an absolutely wonderful, generous spirited woman, giving out her phone number to all the people in her constituency, is what I thought. Even my friendly neighbourhood doctor whom I’ve known since I was this high isn’t as forthcoming with his cell-phone number.

I was truly inspired to write a long flowing poem dedicated to Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar – a worthy successor to West Bengal’s warm-hearted Mother Teresa. It’s just as well that I never got around to it because a few days later, I did my alarmed hen imitation again when I read that a female constable was threatened, verbally abused and almost molested in Barasat about a kilometre away from the spot where Rinku was attacked. It was her fault entirely. The foolish woman had dared to stop Mamata Banerjee’s supporters (on their way to a big fat huge Trinamool rally) to make way for an ambulance. Imagine, she tried to save a life while Mamata was drumming up support – how naive.

What really upset me though was the shattering realisation that this cop was yet another person in Barasat who didn’t have Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar’s phone number! I must warn her that the people she hired to hand out her phone number did not do the job! The poor thing will be terribly disappointed – I feel her pain. I tried to find it on google but oddly enough, all I came up with was a telefax number. Not very helpful in an emergency, is it? But I shall not give up my search.
\
So you see, even a hard-boiled cynic like me is pretty impressed with Mamata’s gang. Look at it this way, West Bengal is already in such a mess, nobody can possibly make it worse.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Following Twits

OUT OF MY HEAD
(Published in The Bengal Post, 1st February 2011)

When I read in the newspapers that senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj was on Twitter, I couldn’t stop myself from gasping, “There goes the neighbourhood!” And I’m ashamed to confess that barely a second later, I logged on to the internet and became her follower. See, I’ve been an ardent fan of Ms Swaraj ever since she was Union Health Minister during the NDA regime. Her take on condoms in the fight against AIDS delighted me. The sweet old puritanical lady virtuously said who needs condoms when abstinence and fidelity is better? If the NDA had stayed in power longer, I’m certain she’d have graciously handed out free chastity belts to every Indian citizen with a charming Princess Diana smile.

Anyway, now that I’m a follower, I do not have to read the comics section in the papers everyday for a giggle. Swaraj’s tweets on the BJPs needless Tiranga Yatra drama had me in splits. Particularly the indignant one she posted on Republic Day: “Is it not unfortunate that both Leaders of Opposition were in jail on Republic day?” Jail, my foot! We’re well aware that both Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were cosily secured in a hotel with access to room service, TV and possibly a wifi connection. Perhaps a swimming pool as well! Not exactly on the same level as Gandhiji’s austere jail stints during the freedom struggle. Oddly enough, Swaraj can’t tell the difference – the poor dear is not exactly bright, is she? Gosh, I do so enjoy foolish people – as long as they’re not in a position of power, of course.

Which is why I’m terribly distressed that the ruling scam-ridden Congress party has put us off, and the largest opposition party in India is tightly controlled by regressive, troublemaking Hindu fundamentalists. What hope is there for our future?

I fell into a troubled sleep last night and woke up screaming. I dreamt that beautiful, wonderful secular India had become a Hindu rashtra and fundamentalist crazies were heavily influencing government policies – just like they do in Pakistan. Most of the nightmare was hazy but I clearly remember being offered a tetrapack of cow’s urine instead of the usual orange juice by a smiling flight attendant on an aircraft. I also recall using the air-sickness bag immediately thereafter.

This got me thinking what if (god forbid) India really does become a Hindu rashtra? I’ve sketched out a brief scenario and I fear that Indian women will suffer the most:

1. Matrimonial ads for wannabe brides would change drastically – convent-educated would be a big no no. “Husband wanted for tall, fair, non-convent educated girl who can recite the Bhagwad Gita backwards if need be” would be the buzz phrase.

2. Indian women would most likely be size zero, because we’d be forced to fast for our current husbands or future husbands several days a week. Throw in walks to temples daily, frequent treks to steep hilly places like Vaishnav Devi, bending down to touch other peoples feet ever so often, and what’s the bet our abs would be as flat as ironing boards? Hey, all of us could easily take part in the bikini round of the Miss India beauty pagent! Sadly however, we probably won’t be allowed to wear bikinis. Or skinny jeans. Or skimpy lycra tops. Even worse, Sushma Swaraj would be India’s version of international supermodel Kate Moss.

3. The glam Page 3 sections of newspapers would feature modestly-clad socialites and Bollywood stars touching the feet of Sadhus or sipping room temperature cow urine in elegant champagne flutes. The more daring, of course, could wear skimpy strapless blouses and low slung sarees just like sultry heroines in Amar Chitra Katha comics.

4. Indian girls will not have cool international-sounding names like Anya, Tanya or Sanya anymore. Deep and meaningful names like Damayanti, Draupadi etc would be back in fashion.

5. Indian chick lit will not feature hilarious adventures of sassy single women in search of Mr. Right. The books will be collections of prayers to help find a good husband.

So what I’m saying is, please can a bunch of citizens across the nation get together and form another secular party? The job isn’t very demanding, you can have a criminal background – hey, that’s normal, you can earn lots of money under the table, and better still, India will remain reassuringly secular!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cosmetic Changes

OUT OF MY HEAD
(Published in The Bengal Post, 18th Jan 2011)

I absolutely love the beginning of a new year because there’s so much hope in the air. Not just for us personally, but for the country’s future as well. I’m sure politicians make New Year resolutions as well – some of them do reveal human traits, after all. I mean, look at all the lovely things they steal from us to give to their beloved children – that’s solid proof that at least they care deeply for a few citizens!

We’re still in January and I’m delighted to report that changes have already started happening. Take a look at just a few:

The RSS has virtuously declared that it will give up leather belts for synthetic ones to hold up their baggy khaki shorts. Sources say that the change follows reservations expressed by members of a certain community about the use of leather as it is made from animal skin. I, however, have always been suspicious of the fundamentalist RSS and its dubious motives. No matter what they may say, I firmly believe that the real reason for the belt switchover is to accommodate a loyal foot soldier’s expanding girth. BJP President Nitin Gadkari makes Santa Claus look pathetically under-nourished - only super-resilient elastic belts will do for him.

And while on the subject of weight, Bollywood star Kareena Kapoor may not be India’s Size Zero poster girl anymore. Rumour has it that Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is running for the West Bengal assembly elections on a treadmill! All that huffing and puffing may well blow the ruling party away. I don’t blame her for wanting to look her best when she finally wrests power from the Left – so many wonderful photo opportunities as cover girl! I do have a few words of caution, though: I urge her to give up that strict diet she’s on or else she’ll be scowling furiously in all her photographs – hey, I know I would if I had to give up delicious mishti doi and fish. Now, if only she’d give the Indian Railways (a portfolio she aggressively fought to acquire in her capacity as union minister and thereafter studiously ignored) a badly needed makeover as well. For starters she could consult the same numerologist who advised her to add an extra alphabet to her name – yes, she now spells her name as Mamataa, sigh. Frankly, I don’t care if she re-names it Indiaan Railways or Indian Raailways as long as it runs without glitches! Bad spellings are more tolerable and forgivable than bad accidents.

And still on the subject of weight: India is increasingly becoming a desirable nation. Not just because it’s well on its way to becoming a heavyweight in the international political arena. With food prices shooting far north, we’re a nation of featherweights too. Indians today are as slender as wands with the freshest of fresh breath, untainted by stinky expensive onions and garlic – in short, we’re more attractive than we’ve ever been. Hollywood, here we come! And while I know that a lot of people secretly suspect that BJP president Nitin Gadkari has been hoarding our food supplies in his tummy (and who knows, they may be right), I think the ruling UPA can be equally blamed for this sorry state of affairs.

And finally, on to a ray of hope in the big bad world of politics. Political parties looking for fresh non-dynastic blood have reason to rejoice: a new talent has been recently discovered in India. A charming young man who goes by the name of Shivraj Puri swindled about 300 crore rupees from corporate houses and individuals while working as a relationship manager with Citibank. Pretty impressive, huh? He may eventually wind up in jail and I feel terribly sorry for him because the poor chap missed his true vocation in life. After he serves his sentence, I’m dead certain that the Congress, BJP and DMK will make desperate attempts to woo him. He may as well join one of them – that way he can continue to brazenly steal money from the public without fear of being banished to jail ever again. In my humble opinion, however, the BJP is his best option – they don’t even bother to sack corrupt party members. Take Karnataka Chief Minister Yeddyurappa, for example. He’s still there, smiling widely and cheerfully lining his deep pockets despite the shocking land scam expose.

Cheers to Colaba!

(Published in The Bengal Post, 16th Jan 2011)

“What, no Kalyani Black Label? Bah! ” Those six little words were expostulated frequently during my early days in Bombay in the mid 1980s. Hey, I was a good Calcutta girl – you can’t blame me for desperately missing my favourite brand of beer! And god knows I needed my beer badly because I was in a new city, struggling to come to grips with my first job in advertising as a copywriter – it didn’t help that I had a boss who just about barely managed to conceal her canine parentage. Admittedly, sometimes I did toy with the idea of telling her to roll over and play dead, and then I’d remember that the most important thing I wanted in life was the ability to pay my way through it. Grim realisations like that demand chilled beer. Lots of it!

It was just as well then that I was staying at a hostel in lively Colaba, within spitting distance of fine and not so fine establishments that serve alcohol. Oddly enough, I never took to the iconic Cafe Mondegar. It was and still is a cool place to hang out - but somehow I never connected with its soul. Leopold was pleasant but way too Tower of Babel touristy with a shabby hippie hangover. Besides it was a tad too expensive for trainees valiantly attempting to live it up on a shoe-string budget. Fortunately, my fellow impecunious hostelites had already cased the joint thoroughly and offered to introduce me to a watering hole in the neighbourhood with a seriously uncool name: Gokul.

“God no!” I protested vehemently, wrinkling my nose. “That sounds like a disgustingly wholesome place with the aroma of freshly churned butter and lassi wafting in the air. And I bet the tables are littered with ‘Get thee to the temple young lady!’ Hare Krishna pamphlets. Let’s go someplace else!” But I’m really really, really, really glad that they dug in their heels and refused give in to my petulant demand, because Gokul aka Gokul’s aka Gokes became one of my favourite haunts in the city.

I fell in love with Gokul at first sight! It looked like the sort of place where disgruntled clerical staff knocked back a quarter to forget their nit-picky superiors at work. It was a dank, dark, windowless basement thick with cigarette smoke that hung in the air like dense monsoon clouds. And when the clouds occasionally parted (very, very occasionally) you got a glimpse of yes, disgruntled clerical staff and, hold on – trendy young professionals mainly from the media as well! This to me was the real charm of some of Bombay’s popular and delightfully unpretentious bars and restaurants in the 1980s – clientele from almost all sections of society sat cheek by jowl. Robespierre, the mastermind of the French revolution, would have enthusiastically nodded his approval.

I didn’t faint although the stench of dead rat overpowered the reek of stale spirits. Hey, I was made of sterner stuff. After three years of stoically consuming what I strongly suspected were rat cutlets at the Presidency College canteen, the mere whiff of rat was nothing! And while on the subject of rat cutlets, the food at Gokul was pretty decent. Particularly if you enjoyed seafood. However, you didn’t have to order a morsel to feel as stuffed as a plump Thanksgiving turkey at the end of the evening. The snacks were on the house – and were promptly replaced with even more snacks and even more snacks and gosh, even more snacks till you paid the bill - the rickety tables groaned under the weight of chipped quarter plates. Gokul was a freeloader’s paradise – which is why it was the preferred dating destination of stingy mingy boys who cared more about money than love sweet love!

I have to confess though that I almost had a minor heart attack when, after my second beer, I discovered that Gokul was run by die-hard male chauvinists - there was no restroom for ladies on the premises! “No big deal,” my fellow hostelites informed me with smirks, “we powder our noses and touch up the lip-gloss in a far more hygienic and luxurious place than this grungy establishment can ever dream of offering.” And off we lurched to the Taj Mahal Hotel, a two minute walk from Gokul, with instructions to the amused waiters to keep our table. We received warm, conspiratorial smiles from the female staff at the Taj lobby – those were innocent terror-free days then, and they probably frequented Gokul on their nights off as well! Besides they were used to playing host to hostelites – every other night about ten of us would visit the Shamiana (the old 24-hour coffee shop) and split a pot of hot chocolate between us. It worked out to about a tablespoon and a half each. Ambrosia!

Many giggly walks to the Taj and back were made that night – it felt wonderful to inhale unpolluted sea breeze instead of cigarette smoke every now and then. And all agreed that it was a super way to keep beer calories down! But perhaps the most marvellous surprise of the evening was the bill. I gasped at how little it was. I was a regular thereafter (but of course) and spent many happy evenings unwinding there, particularly during the last week of every month while pining for pay day. On our more obstreperous nights, some of us would gang up and accost the mild-mannered manager with a stern lecture on the necessity of equal restroom rights with the fervour of Emily Pankhurst – the fiery leader of the women's suffragette movement. It is with deep regret that I inform you that he remained unmoved. He’d blush deeply though, to our immense satisfaction. We were only kidding, of course – we really enjoyed those walks to the Taj!

And then, in the early 1990s, pub culture took the city by storm. I shifted my loyalties to other watering holes in Colaba, like Tavern at Fariyas hotel and Leopold (the first floor was converted to a pub and the last of the hippies never went there despite the fact that the DJ occasionally played Woodstock classics). Call me fickle but hell, nothing beats the combination of hard liquor and hard rock! Many years have passed since and I haven’t been back to Gokul yet. You know what, I probably won’t ever. Only because my memories of my wild times there are so terrific, I want nothing to so much as gently ruffle them. Besides, I hear that they’ve got a restroom for ladies now and they’ve put on a few airs and graces as well. Now that’s what I call vandalism!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

In search of Intelligence

OUT OF MY HEAD
By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 4th Jan 2011)

I enter 2011 with the startling discovery that our Intelligence officials are smarter than I thought. They’ve recently issued a nation-wide terror alert – a clever way of disguising the fact that they have absolutely no idea where on earth terrorists may strike, and in the unfortunate event of an attack they can look superior and gravely say, “I told you so!” And perhaps even get a fat bonus for their superior sleuthing skills in the process, bah!

Every other day we read in the papers about how the USA, UK and other European countries successfully foil terrorist plots, and my frustration deepens. All we get (and that too, only occasionally) are sketches or photographs of a few Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists who have reportedly sneaked into our country and are never found! Not astonishing, because the sketches are vague and the photographs faded beyond recognition. Even if posters were nailed on every tree in India and pasted on every available inch of wall-space (which they’re not), we’d never recognise them. Not even if they sat directly across us at a dining table and asked us to pass the salt.

I guess that means we all have to look out for each other. So here’s how we can do it:
1. Don’t let security personnel flatter you: Never foolishly assume that they just about barely peer into your bags at banks, malls, cinema halls etc because you look beautifully innocent like a Botticelli angel. Most of the security guards are bone lazy, period! And don’t bother to feel sorry for them because their jobs are so tedious – proof-reading is as much a pain in the neck, okay? What has to be done must be done well! I do my little bit for the security of the nation by threatening to report slackers to management. As a result, my handbag is checked so thoroughly I sometimes find long lost treasures in its crevices like tiny squares of refreshing tic tac. Rest assured after you scrape off the lint, they taste pretty good.

2. Don’t feel embarrassed about reporting suspicious objects: I have on one occasion loudly (and sharply) remarked on an abandoned backpack while refuelling at a popcorn counter during the interval of a Harry Potter film. A young man guiltily picked it up and, scorched by the fiery glare in my narrowed eyes, hastily shrank into the crowd. My husband disappeared before you could say ‘Poof!’ as well – clearly embarrassment is as effective as Potter’s invisibility cloak. He continued to pretend he didn’t know me till we left the cinema hall later. But hey who knows, I may have saved many lives that day!

3. Choose your restaurants wisely: After the horrible Mumbai carnage I have learnt that terrorists keep changing their tactics, and that it’s best to stay in constant touch with family and friends because you never know when you will be saying your last goodbyes. I have also learnt to appreciate dining establishments that sport opaque table-cloths that gently swish and sweep the floors. Very, very important - just in case you need to duck and hide.

4. Always remember that terrorists come in all colours and accents: Consider David Coleman Headley, one of the conspirators in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. He didn’t look remotely like Osama bin Laden. His accent was a Donald Duck-ish drawl. His ‘United Colours of Benetton’ DNA never reflected on the outside. Can you blame the people he became chummy with in Mumbai for believing that he was as American as apple pie? Frankly the only thing stood out about him was the colour of his eyes – one blue and one brown, sort of like a cat. I really wish America had warned us about him before the attacks but evidently they don’t love us enough. However, even if they had, and a photograph had been helpfully inserted in the papers, it probably would have been in black & white, tsk – I fear there is no intelligent life out there! Look, I’m not saying don’t become friends with strangers, but do use Google search frequently. It’s not foolproof, but it may make your antennae twitch.

5. Think like a terrorist: To defeat your enemies, you’ve got to think like them. Oh my god, on second thought, please don’t! It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pakistan-sponsored terrorists are hopelessly insane.