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

(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?


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

(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.