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.