Tuesday, December 29, 2015

To don't or not to don't

I'm 29 and less than five months away from turning 30. And still, there are SO MANY THINGS that i've not done yet.
  • learn to drive 
  • be sure about my signature
  • see/touch snow 
  • fuck herpetophobia
  • sleep like a baby
  • shave 
  • get into a fight
  • write a book/script
  • have a career 
  • block someone on Twitter
  • participate in full marathon 
  • last longer than Ron Jeremy
  • publish hidden poems 
  • visit Europe/Americas
  • play violin 
  • speak Urdu/French fluently 
  • take yoga seriously
  • drink/smoke/drugs/orgy etc
  • overcome gastronomical issues
  • adopt/raise a dog
  • read all the collected books
  • watch all the downloaded movies
  • ejaculate creativity 
  • argue instead of smile
  • teach college students 
  • watch Liverpool at Anfield
  • make dad retire
  • become VERY healthy
  • turn into a farmer 
  • become a shepherd
  • get crucified
  • become a messiah 

Waiting for the itch

Exactly seven years ago, i signed up on Twitter having no idea what it was all about. It had a famous character limit of 140 which i found exciting. I simply took it up as a challenge to condense my thoughts within the available space. My initial followers were some random “gay” bots from Australia. To make matters worse, i used to reply to them thinking they were for real. It took me a while to figure out what a bot was. This was way before i turned into one. But more interestingly, i was thrilled to be sharing a platform with the who's who of the world. My favourite Hollywood stars, footballers and other global personalities had Twitter handles. Wow. It was being invited to a VVVVIP party. Like a moron, i was shooting them tweets hoping they will read it. I wasn't expecting replies from them. My expectations have always been lower than my self-esteem. I remember once congratulating Stephen Fry on something, once XOXO-ing Monica Bellucci's fake account and once telling Dalai Lama that he was absolutely right! 


I often used to disagree with Deepak Chopra and made no bone about displaying my opinions in public. Taslima Nasreen once suggested that she'd love to adopt me. OK, she didn't. But she said something to the effect of becoming rich enough one day to let me tweet carelessly the way i did. She was one of the last Twitter folks i spoke to before turning silent in 2010. I used to converse with non-celebs. A lot, actually. About movies, music, football and life in general. Fortunately, i never got into an argument with anyone. Was too lazy to do that back then. Am too laziest to do that right now. Some things don't change. What really changed though is i don't attract trolls like i did back in '12 and '13. Maybe they've realized that there's no point nitpicking. Nobody wins in a battle involving me. Not me. Not them. What also changed is the way Twitter is functioning today, especially in our country. During my early days, there was a Christmasy positive spirit throughout the year. Brand contests were just picking up. People weren't into politics and used to have random conversations dictated by the trends in the West. Nowadays, Twitter India is more desi. There's a clear balance. If there are SRK fans hosting fanaticism on one hand, then there are Sallu fans on the other. The same is true for political party supporters. There are liberals as well as bhakts. The habit of labelling people just because they don't agree with your views is also fast catching steam. The level of humour is also swinging nicely. Of course, American tweeps can't be beaten when it comes to jokes written in English. One of the main reasons why this is so is, an Indian tweep would be more comfortable RT-ing a random Umreeki guy than an Indian one. There is a fetching circle within which most tweeps operate. I-scratch-your-back-and-you-scratch-mine attitude is in full display. Which is why even the most celebrated Indian tweeps aren't going global as such as their finest tweets remain within the pre-ordained circle. The easiest route out is to stay away from these circles like i do but your reach will be heavily compromised. Are you prepared for that? If yes, don't expect logic behind everything you read. You are better off on the other side. No, not with Adele. 

Speaking of the other side, i finally signed up on Instagram and Snapchat in 2015. For somebody who works in the social media sector, i'm damn slow. However, everyday is a lesson for me in how human behaviour is ridiculously different after the login button is hit. I see how people turn funny or righteous just because they believe their online avatar demands so. If you try to break the mould they'll mock you. An Akshar can't tweet philosophical stuff even if he wants to. He has to stick with awesome graphics and lame puns. There's no scope for evolution per se. You aren't supposed to change. Your old forgotten tweets and FB posts won't let you. Look at me. I haven't changed either. I was tad boring on the evening of December 29th, 2009. I still am. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Rise of the legend

Do you really want Leonardo DiCaprio to win an Oscar? No, seriously. You should be asking yourself this question because we are at that junction in history where an actor is acquiring legendary status. And it's a critical moment for humankind. (OK, i'm exaggerating here but you get the point.) He was in his teens when he first got nominated for this award (yes, we can always argue about the merit of an award decided by oldies but we can't come up with a bigger substitute for that golden baldie in the world of cinema) and he's 41 now. It's been a long ride for him. Going by his recent films, it's apparent that Robert De Niro doesn't care much about the script anymore. He's more into comedy nowadays and seems to enjoy having fun for a change. The same is true for Jack Nicholson, who hasn't given a TV interview in over four decades now! And Al Pacino. Gene Hackman hasn't appeared in a film in over a decade now. So, the male Hollywood actors who carved themselves a niche in the 1970s aren't around to bother. Their successors are going to be either in their early 40s or 50s. Which cuts down the table to the Brad Pitts, Tom Cruises and Johnny Depps of the world. Brad Pitt has done a great job of transcending from acting in good films to producing great films. Tom Cruise seems stuck in his Ethan Hunt persona which bodes well for BO. Johnny Depp can't be recognized in most of his films thanks to heavy makeup but how many of them stand out on his merit? There's no doubt that nobody comes close to Daniel Day Lewis in terms of thespian perfection. But then, how much can you grade an actor who has worked in only five films in 15 years? Hasn't his choosiness and knack for details worked against his opportunities to test himself more? On the other hand, DiCaprio worked in 15 films during this century, each film unique in its own way. Not a single role can be found cascaded into another. The argument isn't just about his amazing work rate but also his unperturbed dedication to his art. He comes across as a careless New Yorker in his real life who loves partying but when it comes to cinema, can you think of anyone who has pushed himself the way he has—at least in the 21st century? Take his latest venture, The Revenant (2015), for instance. The pain he showcases ain't very detached from the personal discomfort he appears to have experienced during the shooting of this film. Being submerged in freezing water for one scene while consuming raw meat (despite being a vegan) for another are just two of the several difficulties he must have gone through. I don't mean to give out spoilers here but i can tell you two things for sure: 

1. The Revenant is one of the finest films of all time and it is so because DiCaprio's dedication to the cinematographer's vision is incredible.
2. Technically, you shouldn't want DiCaprio to win an Oscar because there's a lingering fear that he might stop pushing himself if he wins one. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Caught in a lingual trap

People look at me suspiciously whenever i tell somebody that i don't watch an English film without its subtitles. And i do this despite working as a business transcriber for exactly four years. During which, i used to come across different accents as a routine. So much so i could distinguish where the speaker is from by the way s/he speaks. Boston English isn't the same as Yankee English. Finns speak English differently than Danes. Chinese and Japanese might look similar in appearance but their approach to English is as stark as their foreign policies. An Aussie speaks English with careless attitude while a Scot speaks the same language with a hidden disdain. These are some of the characteristics i picked up while transcribing conference calls of MNCs as well as smaller corporations. Despite all these vagaries, i STILL prefer to use subtitles while watching Hollywood films (British and Australian films as well). Simply because i can't pretend to understand something i don't. And if i miss a dialogue since i'm more verbally inclined than visually, then it bugs me. However, if i'm in line with the words spoken in a film, then i'm at peace. So, it's a personal reason. But what i've noticed among my friends and colleagues is they avoid subtitles because they don't like to read while watching a movie. That's also their excuse for overlooking non-English gems that come from the world of cinema. They'd rather pretend to act like they understood everything that they heard in an English film (when they haven't) than take the effort to read in sync with the movie. Which makes you wonder, what precisely is foreign for us Indians? English spoken by non-Indians or non-English spoken by non-English? 

Friday, December 25, 2015


Merry Xmas!

(All i want for Christmas is your share of snow. Gurgaon touched 4 degrees last night, didn't it?)

PS.  Like Jesus, Santa doesn't exist but festivity does so it's alright. 
PSS. Have a fab year ahead.  

Thursday, December 24, 2015

For some of us, winter never ends

I thought i was cold before i shifted to Gurgaon. The weather here is colder. And a lot of people, coldest. It's an utter disappointment for someone who hails from Bombay. That city in the middle of a sea has its share of vices. Heartless people with a misguided sense of superiority ain't one of them. The genuine warmth Mumbaikars exhibit can only be matched by the annoying humidity there. People back home smile without a hint of malice. Gurgaon, on the other end, is a city that's stuck between a concrete dream and a dusty nightmare. The only ones who seem truly content here are the pigs that roam with no fear whatsoever of turning into bacon. Intriguingly enough, they've built a great rapport with the stray cows on the road. They don't really have to share food but still, their co-existence is a classic lesson for us. Everyday is a lesson, come to think of it. If you are paying attention, that is. That admitted, i don't have much to learn from Gurgaon. The lessons have been repetitive for almost a year now. Yesterday, the temperature dipped to 6 degree Celsius and i woke up in the middle of the night. I was watching a plotless movie with my eyes closed when something snatched my drowsy attention. I woke up and heard a shrieking call from the balcony's end. As i got up to check through the curtains whether there was a bird, i noticed that noise was fading away. It must have been an owl. I don't believe in superstition but i'm quite scared of them. On top of that—quite literally—my left eyebrow has been twitching for more than two weeks now. What if there's a sign somewhere in this particular incident? You never know. What if the coldness you notice in others just another mirage by your own coldness? 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A rehabilitated mind

Since i don't really have anything to write about, i thought i'll recommend TED-Ed to you. I've benefited a lot from this site. It's an humbling experience. In any case, the TED platform seems like a great place to exchange ideas. But then, somebody told me that nothing is accomplished there other than talking. To which, i retorted that that's not true. There's a lot of listening going on there too.  

Speaking of which, we don't listen anymore. It's a dying art form. Everybody wants to be on the stage and nobody wants to be in the audience. A young boy who committed a horrible crime is about to work free in our country. The society is obviously scared as well as furious. But what's surprising here is the same society somehow manages to make peace with the unmentionable acts by our politicians and entertainers. Which is why it's time we revisited Red in that parole room of The Shawshank Redemption (1994), not only to understand what rehabilitation is all about but also why some wrongs can never be righted.  

Officer: "Ellis Boyd Redding, your files say you've served 40 years of a life sentence. Do you feel you've been rehabilitated?"
Red: "Rehabilitated? Well, now let me see. You know, I don't have any idea what that means."
Officer: "Well, it means that you're ready to rejoin society..."
Red: "I know what you think it means, sonny. To me, it's just a made up worda politician's wordso young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?"
Officer: "Well, are you?"
Red: "There's not a day goes by I don't feel regret. Not because I'm in here, because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can't. That kid's long gone, and this old man is all that's left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It's just a bullshit word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don't give a shit."

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Requiem for a reality

It's usually me asking (begging) others to watch so and so movies. But with Lucia (2013), things changed a bit. My dear friend Bee not only recommended this film to me but also took the trouble of sending me the DVD. This was two years ago. However, for some technical reasons, i couldn't watch this Kannada beaut. But that changed last night. I finally caught hold of this psychedelic caper with brilliant subtitles in place. And i must add that it's one of the finest films to come out of our country this decade. During my stint as a film journalist for mid-day, i remember interviewing Goutam Ghose. He was the head of the selection committee that chose the film to be sent for Oscars back in 2013. Since Lucia was one of the 22 shortlisted entries, i remember him praising the film when asked whether it was difficult to come to a unanimous decision. I'd agree with him now. Lucia is indeed enchanting. It's different from usual Kannada flicks and yet similar. Here, too, the hero wants to settle down with his beloved but his journey is not going to be normal. It's filled with a constant fight between dreams, realities and alternate realities. To their credit, the protagonists are brilliant on screen. The screenplay and the innovative camerawork staple your attention for good. The only problem is everybody seems to be in a hurry. The dialogues are so fast paced that the actors aren't allowed to remain in one tempo for long, making some scenes extremely theatrical. Which is quite ironic when the film affords to feature songs that do little to enhance the storyline. All things seen and judged, nothing can prepare you for the climax. No, not even repeated viewings of Fight Club. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

How long?

I once had an adorable colleague during my journalism days who would remain unfazed by whatever happened around. She rarely responded with words under such circumstances. In fact, her only response to any kind of change in the system was “Kab tak?” delivered with a stoic face. In her long career, she had seen all kinds of restructuring. Nothing surprised her anymore. The editor is changing? No big deal. The team is realigning? No big deal. The page formats are changing? No big deal. To her, permanence didn't exist. She would keep reminding me that nothing would remain the way it is. Sooner or later, somebody new will walk in with newer ideas and somebody old will be going out pretending to be awesome. Today, more than four years after i heard that question for the first time, i'm yet to come across two more powerful words. 

Lyrical twists and turns

...Hmm tere kohhre badan mein sil jaaungi re
Jab karwat lega tu khhil jaaungi re...♫ 

Bollywood songs are quite deceptive, not just because they go overboard with romance but also because they sound different to different people. Some will hear “...toh baat ban jaaye” while others will decipher “...toh baap ban jaaye” effortlessly. José Covaco knows what i'm talking about. It's almost funny if you overlook that medical condition called mondegreen. Google it, i'm not explaining it. What i'm going to explain though is how a song written by Gulzar for Omkara (2006) can turn into something more experimental if we change the way it sounds. FYI, i already did that with the aforementioned two verses. I changed dohhre to kohhre and chhil to khhil taking creative liberties which might make India more intolerant than necessary. The above two lines can make an inference to tattoos now. (No, i'm not into body art anymore, been 13 months since i got inked!) So, the lyrics suggest that the heroine would stitch herself into the hero's skin (like a tattoo?) and will showcase herself elegantly when he stretches his body (like tattoos do on taut skin?). 

Sorry, Gulzarsaab. 

Trivial pursuits

I've always been a trivia slut. I digged general knowledge/current affairs as a kid too although i've noticed that i don't remember a lot of the stuff that i read of late. I tend to overlap information too. Einstein even went to the extent of criticizing libraries. According to him, original ideas didn't culminate from trivia. He had more than just a point but i continue to collect utterly useless data just because i enjoy doing so. There's no gain in there. To make a situation worse, people don't even like you if you keep telling them stuff they didn't already know. I once read somewhere that knowledge is meant to spread. If only i had the wisdom to not believe such rubbish! 

Abetment to waking up

Yesterday, i finally watched Court (2015). Before you assume it's a Marathi film, it's not. It prominently features four languages—Marathi, Hindi, English and Gujarati—depending heavily on incomplete subtitles. If you haven't watched it, you know what you should do. No, not just download. Downloading is very easy. Hoarding movies is easier. Watching is the toughest part. Anyway, if you aren't aware yet, this film is also India's official entry to Oscar this year. Going by the buzz, it won't be harsh to keep our expectations low. It's not going to win the golden statue. The closest we got to winning was two years ago but then, we botched up by sending The Good Road instead of The Lunchbox. That's how it is in our country. And coming back to Court, it's a simple film that doesn't believe in oversimplifying the ways of the world. I don't remember the last time i saw a sessions court in an Indian film. To a majority of us, adaalat is how a court is supposed to look like. Bazinga! There are many more surprises in there.

Spoiler: If you haven't watched the film yet, don't read any further. When it comes to cinema, interpretations (and misinterpretations) are always going to be a part of the package. The final five minutes of Court delivers the gist of the entire story. A tight slap on the (sleepy) face of our judiciary. However, if I were to provide a different climax, i'd have made the protagonist commit suicide and pin the blame on the system (read: the judge) for misreading the events. That would have been interesting.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Brown & White

I binge-watched the first season of Master of None (which recently earned a Golden Globes nomination) yesterday and i'll suggest that you too do the same. Ten episodes. Half an hour each. Written, directed and acted by Aziz Ansari—mostly. All the episodes are funny but not your falling-off-the-chair funny. For a change, the joke isn't on the people but it's on the society. Otherwise, what we generally witness is a group of people getting targeted for the sake of humour. Fortunately, this Netflix creation is thoughtful and much more real. Yes, certain patches are more restrained (than necessary) and nicer (than usual) but that's also where the novelty lies. The last American show that successfully managed to go this route was Modern Family. I also like the idea of an Indian American comedian wanting to do something different. Although it's quite disturbing to know that his character is named Dev Shah while his onscreen parents—who also happen to be his real parents—speak with a strong Tamil accent. Yes, one can argue that what if his character's forefathers migrated to Tamil Nadu from Gujarat but those who actually migrated from Saurashtra have surnames like Kalastri and Patnoori, not Shah. This anomaly in detail is ironic because Aziz finds white actors playing brown characters in Hollywood films improper. That said, some of his finest jokes happen so subtly in the show that if you don't pay attention, you are to be blamed. It's a good start and it'd be awesome if Master of None continues for some more years. Lastly, i won't be surprised if Aziz is asked to host the white-dominated Oscars in the not-so-distant future.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Clean cut

"When Dickens came to the United States, he was on a train, and he thought it was snowing — but it was people spitting out the window. Spitting was so popular, you would step on a carpet and it would be saturated with tobacco spit..." - David O' Russell

Thought i should share this to throw light on certain realities of the past. The cleanliness in the modern Western world isn't a natural phenomenon. It took years for them to arrive at a point where social responsibility is taken seriously, unlike say in a country like India. We might be disgusted with the way our cities are (villages are comparatively more pleasing to eyes) but we shouldn't forget that we are a nation of 1.25 billion and this figure is scary because it's always increasing. So, expecting everyone to toe in line is quite a task unless we are in an authoritarian state like China. Regardless, cleanliness is a personal activity which is sometimes public in nature. 300 years ago, the streets of Paris used to be filled with mushy filth, almost covering one's ankles. But things changed, didn't they? Gradually, yes, but they did. All that's needed is effort and patience.

Time's up?

Wastage of time is the most depressing thing in the world. Be it anyone in question. Time shouldn't be squandered away. It's the greatest of all on the sheer merit of indispensability. It exists and yet doesn't exist. What you're doing at present is reading. What you had for breakfast was in the past. What you're going to have for lunch is in the future. Your present is fading away into past with a promise of the future. See? Time can't possibly be replaced. Which is why, if we don't do justice to it, it shall do the same to us. Those who managed to succeed in their lifetime were the ones who understood this reality. To time, it doesn't matter whether you are rich or poor. It's not into wealth or fame either. On the huge canvas of time, we are mere invisible tiny specks. So it's all about showcasing oneself as an entity detached from variables that drag us down in life. And for THAT to happen, realization on a very honest level is required. Every day is divided into hours and minutes and moments but time can't really be segmented. (Theory of relativity, anyone?) It's much easier to say that we are all victims of time. If that is so, the only way to succeed is to join hands with time. You can't beat it. Those who managed to create a niche for themselves tried to beat it before realizing their folly. They ultimately joined hands with time and moved forward—and how! However, we shouldn't let the Steve Jobs and the Elon Musks of our world define success for us. For a very simple reason: they didn't let anyone else define success for 'em. The only way to succeed in time is to accept some truths about oneself and work towards them, not away from them. If time is kind enough, it might deliver us from the trap called future.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Faith, lost and found

As you grow older, you become more and more convinced that you are wrong about a lot of things. You reluctantly become a part of this corrective program where everything you once believed in stops believing in you. It's an endless humbling process. Let's begin with faith. No, not the kind that is restored everytime you see a kind picture or a heartwarming video on the internet. I'm talking about the outside world. For instance, i used to be a religious kid who accompanied his mother to temple every Friday like mama's boy. At that time, my dad used to brainwash me—much to my ma's chagrin—that faith doesn't demand physical activity. According to him, true bhakti takes place in the heart. One's mind should be clean and clear about what one's body is doing. “What's the point in committing mistakes outside the temple and then going in begging for forgiveness?” That was his philosophy and i admired it from a distance. It was only after i moved to hostel for my engineering diploma that i lost touch with the places of worship. No more visiting mandirs. No more saluting masjids. No more crossing churches. No more flooring forehead in gurdwara. I was officially papa's boy. This happened a decade ago. As of now, i've realized that praying is not about instructing God what to do. It isn't about talking to oneself like a secret self-pep talk. It's about influencing the forces of nature. When you sit down or kneel or stand to pray, what you're basically doing is you're commanding the universe to pay attention to you. It's putting out your intentions in whatever form possible. One yogi's prayers are another man's meditation. It could sound like a cry for help or an assertion of the person you've become. But more importantly, it's about listening to what you want the greater powers to hear. When you pray, you should notice how active your entire body is. Your brain is superactive. You are calm but your senses are enlightened. Which is why, there is no such a thing as “Oh, i prayed so lazily today”.  According to psychology, only two human activities demand such heightened level of awareness: sex and music. Maybe praying should be added to the list. But before that happen, we need to attempt some etymological coups. Shouldn't those who pray be called prayers? Yes? Amen.

PS: My dad is a changed man today and visits temple every Monday (his weekly off) morning while i continue to blog on anthropological pursuits of our species. 

On top of the world

The year was 1974 and a French wire-walker named Philippe Petit wanted to walk on a wire. Not a big deal, right? Oui. The only problem being he wanted to do that between the two tallest buildings at that time: World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City. Both were at least 100 meters taller than Eiffel Tower to give you an idea how high they really were. Imagine the amount of vertigo that will induce in a human body no matter how trained it is. To make it more difficult, the act was not only dangerous but also illegal. He gathered few accomplices—that included his girlfriend—in France as well as the USA to make his crazy dream a reality. To cut a long story short, he pulled it off beautifully. One fine early morning, New Yorkers gathered on the streets below, looking up at the sky with their palms working as their visors, trying to understand what was going on. Why and how would a man walk on a rope stretched between two ugly buildings? Yes, ugly. What's little known about WTC is that New Yorkers didn't immediately fall in love with this monstrous piece of architecture. Most felt those two buildings were just bullying the sky behind by obstructing the sea view. Weren't they just two tall blocks with no external grace whatsoever? People's response to them was quite similar to what Mumbaikars felt about Ambani's Antilla. But, but, those who gathered on the street were relieved, if not ecstatic, when Philippe completed his stunt. They applauded in unison even when police arrested Philippe. Of course, his act became a global news eventually but what's worth noting here is he unwittingly played a key role in making New Yorkers love those twins. I wonder how he must have felt like when he saw them crumbling down on 9/11. After all, he was the only one who got the best view from those buildings.

NB. I wrote this blog post after watching The Walk (2015), which i feel everyone should. If not the entire movie, then at least the final half an hour. It's filled with moments that take you on his 280 feet journey across the wire. One step at a time. The climax marries art with philosophy so as to make us understand that he wasn't just defying gravity up there. There is a point when he feels absolute peace, something he admittedly never felt before or after. His initial fear turned into resolve, overlooking how close (given the distance from the ground!) he was to death. However, if you want to peel off the cinematic touches, then you should watch Man on Wire (2008) to see what drove him to this madness. If you remember, when this documentary won the Oscar, Philippe balanced the golden statue on his chin. What is not well known is he practised that move at Woody Allen's house on one of the many Oscars he had won. Yes, Philippe was THAT confident of his documentary winning the Oscar!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Puppy spirit

Who doesn't love puppies? Cue: That cute aggression you feel where you're confused whether to hug them gently or squeeze their pitiful face. When they are born, they are the epitome of innocence. As days pass by, they get furrier and cuter. Their competitive nature (“I'll eat/drink more than my siblings!) helps them shed their innocent image. They grow up quite fast though. Before you know, they've learnt a thing or two about the world. When they are very young, they'd walk up to anyone who bothers to exist. They won't hesitate to go to the cruelest of men to the scariest of canine. They will greet everyone they come across. But as they get bigger in size, they take note of their territorial boundaries. Dogs they are supposed to stick with and the ones they are supposed to fight. Everyday is a battle for nutrition, if not progeny. Once they are fully grown, they become one of the many faceless street dogs. Their good ol' days of puppiness have effectively vanished by then. However, there is always this one puppy among the litter who doesn't care much for food. S/he is least bothered about competing with his brothers and sisters. All s/he wants to do is run around and play. And this little fella—if at all s/he beats the harsh street conditions—manages to keep alive the puppy spirit throughout adulthood.  

Monday, December 7, 2015

Connecting the invisible dots

Have you ever been to a museum and stared at people staring at a painting? You aren't alone. I used to do that during my younger days. Most of the exhibitions i attended were marked by my curiosity about the people there more than the creations on display. For some reason, i couldn't figure out why so much importance was given to random strokes of colour. Or shapeless objects. I admired the visuals but somehow couldn't comprehend the hidden clues in them. It was beyond me. I was more fascinated by words. Still am. However, as i grew up, i also became attached to cinema. I can't explain how i ended up becoming a cinephile but it has something to do with the marriage of words and visuals. Movies provided me the window to peek into others' lives without having to pay the price. It was a perfect scheme. Over the years, i started reaping newer meanings from what i saw on the big screen. Many a times, the director wants you to notice a lot but you miss them because you are too busy watching the movie. Which is why it takes you a while to understand why certain characters behaved in a certain manner in certain films. For instance, it's only at the end of American Beauty (1999) that you realize Kevin Spacey's character spent about two hours of your life in finally acknowledging that he was seeking beauty, not love. Similarly, Al Pacino's Scarface is never going to be happy because he loves his sister way too much, to the point that he can't tolerate another man in her life. The only problem being he is restricted by incest to ever have her. On a different lane, Robert De Niro's war hero could have shot that deer at the climax of The Deer Hunter (1978) but you can't shoot a harmless creature after what you've been through in Vietnam. Brad Pitt's Tristan attains his adulthood by chopping off a bear's claws in Legend of the Fall (1994). Eventually, his life comes a full circle with a gruesome death by a grizzly bear. During the classic parole scene in The Shawshank Redemption (1994), the camera zooms in on Morgan Freeman's face but you don't even realize it. Dissimilarly, the camera is always shaky when Marlon Brando's face is in focus because even the camera is scared of the godfather. Christian Bale's different accents in different movies are more than just about showmanship. It's about building a character and that takes extra effort. It's a different story that Charlie Chaplin managed to do so even during the Silent Era as well. There are dots to be connected in great cinema. If you miss them, nothing would change but you'll remain oblivious to what great filmmaking is all about. To appreciate it, you'll have to stare at the right people.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Making a difference or staying indifferent?

I complete 10 months at Zomato in 10 days' time. And i've never been prouder of this company. It's one thing to be cool (which Zomato is by default, particularly on social media) but quite another to step up to a given situation. As you all know, Chennai was reeling (the conditions are comparatively better now) under intense rain last week. So what Zomato decided to do was create something called Chennai Flood Relief which encourages active participation from public. What it meant was, for every meal you buy for the affected people in Chennai, Zomato will buy one too. This was launched on the afternoon of December 2. The initial response turned out to be of mixed nature. Some people were more than happy to contribute while some were at their usual skeptical best. According to the latter, this was a gimmick by the company to grab eyeballs.

The only difference was it wasn't that.

On the contrary, it was a genuine effort to take charity to the next level. Yes, Zomato could have easily made donations to the relief funds but that wouldn't have aroused the interest or provoked awareness about what's going on in the southernmost metropolitan city of India. Besides, where do you get a meal for Rs50 nowadays? Of course, the subsidized cost we are talking about here is shouldered by Zomato for the most part. After all, it doesn't own a single restaurant and can't obviously expect the same charitable concerns from those who have agreed to cook food for the ones in need. But that's the problem with social media. People jump to conclusion because everybody wants to be the messiah who sees things through even with their eyes tight shut. However, by December 3, the response was overwhelmingly positive. The detractors were still squeaking their cynical songs but the general public at large continued to buy food packets in tens and hundreds and in some cases, thousands, for the affected souls in Chennai. Within 24 hours, on the afternoon of December 3, the donation window had to be paused. The reason was simple: the company was getting overwhelming amount of orders for Chennai. The idea was to ensure that the distribution of food packets keeps up with the orders made.

Zomato could have continued accepting orders but it didn't.

On the other hand, it scaled up on the distribution of food packets by engaging our teams in Bangalore and Chennai, Robin Hood Army volunteers, several NGOs in Chennai and Coimbatore and when things got really rough, even NDRF. But despite these measures, media picked up the misleading signals (as they usually do in our country) for the heck of it. Mint's headline did more than enough for this cause. It sounded like we weren't able to handle what we started. Instead of appreciating our integrity in not going overboard with orders, they decided to highlight something else. Think about it. Zomato could have continued to keep the donation window open but we didn't. What stopped it from milking money from the public in the name of grief/relief? I'll answer that. The word is called sincerity. When you want to make a difference, you try your level best on planning that the actions undertaken lead to desirable results. And you just do that by getting people in place and working against all kinds of obstacles.

Speaking of which, people sitting in their comfortable homes have no fucking idea how difficult things were on the ground in Chennai—if you could see it, that is. The waterlogged streets (extensive gutters?) were just one of the several problems we faced. Failing phone/data networks was another such scoundrel. The amount of frustration you feel when you aren't able to connect in order to relay crucial information is beyond words. Some kitchens that were supposed to cook food were flooded overnight, making us run around to reach out for other options. The circumstances could turn shitty within seconds (and they did in some cases) of downpour but our teams managed to keep their hopes high. They were the real heroes and are because they are STILL at work distributing thousands of food packets and other supplies. Reaching out to as many people as they can, not discriminating between anyone. Hands outstretched for food is never a pleasant sight but these are moments when you don't care much about etiquettes. I asked one of our point-of-contacts to send me pics and his reply was eye-opening: "We've got bigger issues here :) ...but we'll send whenever we can."

And they did. 

On the night of December 4, we reopened the donation window again. Moreover, this time around, we announced that Zomato didn't have the financial agility to match the meal-for-a-meal arithmetic. The public would have to do on their own, if they wish to. The cost per meal continued to remain low at Rs50 per food packet. As expected, people didn't care whether the company donated or not. Within the next three hours, 35000 meals were donated, averaging 600 every minute.

If you think, it was all rosy, you're mistaken.

Like i said, it always feels nicer to sit on a comfortable sofa and spew rubbish than get up and do some research. Something at least one journalist at Scroll would agree with. He wrote an article which is more of a theory than a story. According to him, we stopped the donation window on Dec 3rd. Mind you, stopped, not paused. To him, it was a PR stunt (What isn't a PR stunt in the big bad world of internet today? Isn't a journalist taking a byline for his article a PR stunt too?) to get people to loosen their pockets and then run away with the moolah. He didn't care to check whether the window was reopened or not and if yes, why was it closed in the first place. No. None of that. Just assuming because that's so much easier to do. I mean, i've been a journalist for 3.5 years and i've had my share of inaccurate reportage but never once did i poke my finger into a crisis that was bigger than my petty assumptions. We are talking about thousands of people stranded and foodless and whatnot. And here we're having journos lazy enough to not understand (not even try, in fact) what is going on out there. Everybody wants to be a hero nowadays. Very few want to be a part of something that might bring about a change for better. And those who actually make a difference don't care about having heavy opinion inside their skulls. They just quietly contribute and hope something good comes out of it.

If there is one thing that Chennai floods has taught me for posterity, it's the fact that there will always be more good-hearted people on this planet than the not-so-good-hearted ones. The doubting Thomases will continue to waste time while others will push the cart of humanity. That's what keeps this world spinning. Also, noble intention and great work travel far together. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Naan thaan Chennai

Remember that India-Pakistan test cricket match in Chennai which India lost narrowly? Yes, the one in 1999 at Chidambaram stadium. The entire stadium gave the winning team a standing ovation as Pakistani players reciprocated with a victory lap waving at the crowd. Something that never happened before. Something that never happened later in our country. I even remember watching the video of that crowd standing there. One guy with bloodshot eyes even had tears rolling down his face while his hands clapped. The atmosphere was soaked in dejection but still they did what needs to be done. [An attitude Chennai folks have displayed during the ongoing crisis there. Instead of whining about the lack of infrastructure, they've gotten down to solve the problem by chipping in whatever ways they can.] I'm fully aware of the emo-ness of this post but our planet needs more of such emo moments to go forward instead of backward.

Last month, we went overboard with Je suis Paris (justifiably so because we didn't feel for Paris overnight; it was a result of years of effort to make us fall in love with it) but you don't need a Naan thaan Chennai to love this city.

Factual crisis > Existential crisis

The last time i shared a video on this platform, Marlon Brando smirked in his coffin. This time, however, the topic at hand is a bit too serious. The student in the above video delivers a splendid speech if you understand Hindi/Urdu. But she ends up following the same script that people belonging to theocracy do: letting religion dictate the terms of nationalism. So much so that one particular religion becomes the overriding indicator of nationalism. I think that's the problem with the narrative nations found on the basis of religion stick to. Pakistan ain't alone in this basket. Israel too suffers from the same disorder. Both these countries were born out of insecurity and hatred for their neighbour. And it's showing even today. Almost seven decades after their birth. When you make religion the basis of your existence, it's difficult to differentiate between your personal and public identities. Which is also why culture as such suffers because one dominant narrative (which is severely flawed as can be noticed in that young girl's poetic speech) tries to overlook established historical facts.

For instance, she invokes the "Muslims" who died for the creation of Pakistan. First thing first, they didn't. Not a single Muslim died for its creation as such. The riots that ensued were solely a chaotic clash between communities who otherwise led peaceful co-existence for ages. None of the families that perished did so for martyrdom. They hesitantingly became victims of myopic political vision. Which brings us to the second point. She mentions Quaid-e-Azam's (Jinnah) vision. Again, his vision didn't really see far. His idea was so self-conflicting that a modern Islamic state that he wanted wouldn't have materialized anyway given the circumstances in which Pakistan was born. To make matters worse, he passed away within a year or so, leaving the newfound nation—world's first Islamic republic, mind you—vulnerable with no appropriate replacement, let alone a constitution to hold on to. India at least could rely on the likes of Nehru and Patel after Gandhiji was killed. And a guy like Ambedkar to draw up the constitution ASAP.

Lastly, the existential crisis so apparent in the video is true for any of us (as individuals) who refuse to accept certain inalienable facts about ourselves. Self-denial takes you far but not very far. The acceptance of ultimate truth helps sooner than later. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

All rise, silly!

Yes, the sun is intolerant. Nobody matches it when it comes to intolerance. Doesn't give a shit about what the season is. It's the greatest troll out there (a bigger troll than God herself) in India. Will make sure you don't have a great hair day. Will burn you, irrespective of what the Met Department wants. On second thought, our sun is a constant reminder of how we are as people. It is with us the way we are with our fellow humans. Aren't we a nation filled with silly people who refuse to stand up for national anthem only to heckled out of the room by over-patriotic sillies? It's a never-ending game of one person trying to outscore another's silliness. And while we are at it, a silly cartoon has offended a silly group of overzealous people who earlier cried foul that this country couldn't even ensure the safety of a great artist like MF Hussain. I hope everybody here gets a grip because the sun ain't going to budge under any circumstances.