Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Twinkle Twinkle real star

I saw Twinkle Khanna in flesh for the first time in 2012 while covering an event in Bombay. I was basically a scribe back then who rarely missed Bollywood-related invitations. She came across as very elegant and i thought to myself “she was a terrible actress but she is a sorted person…”

Fast forward to last night.

I watched Koffee with Karan (episode 10), featuring Twinkle with Akshay Kumar, and this is the second time i noted her this decade (in flesh or otherwise). She was nowhere to be seen otherwise. She doesn’t endorse products on TV. She is reclusive to some extent although you keep hearing about how awesome she is thanks to her witty tweets and apparent formidable personality. She is an author of two books now—both kindly-received by critics and fans alike—and you can’t help but admire her while watching the aforementioned episode. Political correctness is not for her although she is wise in concealing things that’d make her appear partial. She cracks jokes at her husband’s expense, Johar’s expense, and her self—repeatedly with admirable ease. If you follow BuzzFeed or ScoopWhoop, you must have already seen clippings from this interview that accentuates her clarity of thoughts. She leaves little space for bullshit. And that’s what makes her humourous, i guess. When you accept yourself completely for the person you are or going to be, you don’t feel the need to pretend. And when that happens, the doors of humour not only open up but also welcome you with an Aladdin carpet. Granted that Twinkle is not a comedian but the trait of a good comic can be seen in her: good jokes occur when the truth is allowed to absorb you.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Cardiac acquital

Your heart is an idiot. It makes you do everything you weren't supposed to. The most despicable bit being it keeps you alive. Pump. Pump. Pump. Shock. Pump. Sneeze. Pump. Pump. It doesn't give up on you, now, does it? As bloody as it is, the heart emoji paints a rosy picture of something that is—pardon my Italian—mafially gross. Blame it on the poets. Poetry has a way of painting an image that doesn't stick to reality. Heartbreak. Heartache. Heartthrob. No disrespect to pancreas, liver, spleen or lungs but heart received a preference. The Aztecs used to rip beating hearts out of captives and presented them to sun god. Of course, the sun god didn't care for such kind gestures. It had bigger things to do with time and space. On the contrary, humans continued to stay fascinated by a tick-tock machine inside us. In some ways, it's a practical reaction to an organ that is so consistent with its music. Even your stomach grumbles whenever it feels like. There's no set pattern in there. Perhaps heart deserves the attention it gets. For what it's worth, every single breath you take is a tribute to an orchestra called life.

Errata: Your heart is an idiotic musician.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

There if

There is hope,
if you believe in be.
There is justice,
if you accept the truth.
There is memory,
if you establish the facts.
There is warmth,
if you burn yourself for love.
There is calmness,
if you notice the storm on time.
There is excellence,
if you appreciate all those talents.
There is compassion,
if you don’t get carried away by hate.
There is awareness,
if you keep your senses open to cosmos.
There is nothingness,
if you continue to pray to the material gods.
There is enlightenment,
if you remove your ridiculous halo of arrogance.

Memories of a carpet

I haven’t been sleeping well lately. And not a night goes by i don’t think of Biswa’s joke. In one of his shows, he made a socio-economic quip on how people keep the fan on at top speed before pulling up the blanket. He took an obvious dig at us and our privileged attitude as far as wasting resources is concerned. Now, my case is different. I keep the fan at the lowest pace possible to scatter away my enemies. Also, i feel cold despite the blanket. It’s weird. Adding injury to insult, mosquitos don’t give up on me although the repellant has given up on them. This has been the case since the temperature dropped in Gurgaon. It made me ask myself “when was the last time i slept like a dead baby?” The answer lies in early 2010. After moving to a new office building (8th floor) in Vashi during an off season, i often found myself done with work by 3 am. And the first train arrived at 4 am so to kill time, i used to sleep in the conference room. I used to feel a strange variety of calmness while lying on that carpeted floor. Instead of waking up before 4, i used to doze off late into 7-ish am, an hour before the morning shift people entered in. The level of relaxation i felt on waking up remains unmatched. I felt fresher than a daisy. The only downside was i failed to sleep properly once i reached home. Maybe it had something to do with that carpet. I don’t know for sure.

Sound sleep matters. Memories of sound sleep, more so.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Endanger alert!

I move on from one being to another. What this behaviour entails is hours spent on tempering my curiosity about a particular animal/bird/insect/etc. There was a phase when i was highly intrigued by jellyfish (they are practically immortal), before which there were octopus (they are awkwardly awesome) and butterflies (they prove Darwin wrong; it’s the survival of the smartest) and raccoons (they can open almost all the locks with their claws) and tardigrades (cockroaches may survive a nuclear holocaust but these dudes can survive ANYTHING) and the list goes on and on. My current creature of fascination happen to be the black-and-white panda. So much so i believe it’s my spirit animal. The only difference being, my ugly beard doesn’t make me cuddly—not even close. Otherwise, we are quite similar. Extremely lazy and doing things that don’t really yield much of a result. What i admire the most about these species is their continued effort at endangering themselves. It looks like they are dying to be an endangered species! Even the Parsis appear cautious compared to them. The amount of carelessness that they exhibit is adorable as well as numbing. Small surprise why there are only 1600 left of them. One reason is their utter lack of interest in mating and if at all a panda delivers two cubs, she’ll probably abandon one at the birthplace itself. Weird, yes. Ununderstandable, no. Fortunately, every single one of the pandas alive today belong to the Chinese government. This massively boosts the conservation project. If you spot a giant panda at a zoo in New York, just make a mental note that China is responsible for their well-being. If you observe them closely—on YouTube videos, of course—you’ll notice that they are very nihilistic in their outlook. Simply put, they don’t give a fuck. It’s just about them, them and them only. They’ll spend their whole day eating, playing, eating again, falling asleep wherever they feel sleepy—this dangerous evolutionary characteristic contributed to their decline—only to wake up and repeat the cycle. They get attracted to objects around them, both living as well as non-living, very easily. Whatever it is, they believe in hugging it whether it’s a bucket or a human leg. And that’s the part i love the most about pandas.

Monday, November 21, 2016

War is a horrible joke

It’s 2016 and there are more than enough warmongers amongst us. The worst revelation being the otherwise calm folks who vent their deepest angst on social media. To them, war is a solution, not a problem. It’s sad how people can jump to a fatal conclusion like that. Slow down a bit. What’s the most barbaric thing you can think of? Whatever your guess, war comprises almost every fucked-up thing imaginable. Just that we don’t get to experience any of it from the sideline. Glory, honour, patriotism, etc. are some of the words decorated with war, conveniently overlooking the fact that war is nothing but our collective failure at employing our greatest asset: words. Sometimes, even kids grow up thinking that there is an enemy out there, all thanks to the conversations shining on the W-word. If only somebody told the kid what the ground reality is like; how overzealous young men tend to lose their bellicose thrill within a few days of entering the war zone. There’s no fun in smelling blood and shit. It doesn’t take long to realize that they are basically going through crap to entertain the ego of the powers-to-be. Regardless, they are expected to shoot at people they’ve never met before; people they have nothing against personally. No wonder WW1 witnessed soldiers—on both sides—shooting over their so-called enemies’ helmets. If there can be a miracle on the battlefield—no, Hitler surviving WW1 wasn’t a miracle, that was pure fate—this phenomenon was it. Excessive exposure to bullets makes one weary and brings out the kindest as well as wildest out of you. Soldiers are known to act out of character in their blood-stained uniforms. Speaking of which, it’s often ignored how war becomes synonymous with rape. There isn’t a war in human history which didn’t record soldiers violating the womenfolk from the other side. We don’t have to go to WW2 to check how it ended with the Russian soldiers raping German women; it happened in Afghanistan, Iraq and most recently in Syria. The price of conflict is often borne by those who have the least to do with it. Unfortunately, we neither talk about it nor acknowledge we don’t have the capacity to make our children see how things are. How words like ransacked, seized, defeated, captured, annexed in their history books have broader implications. And there is nothing glorious about them.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Presumption of guilt

The Americans had their JFK moment. The world as we know it today has its 9/11 moment. If you ask people around—even the so-called millennials—where they were when those two buildings crumbled, they'd tell you about the earliest instance they saw/heard the news. It's the singlemost effective event in recent history for a reason. The dust might have settled and the debris must have given way to a taller structure but the ramifications of that attack still resonate in world politics. To me, nevertheless, that event is more of a blur. I used to read The Asian Age (TAA) back then, mainly because it was priced at one rupee. I used to get three rupees on a daily basis: one for going to school, another for coming back and one for emergency. I used to spend the emergency allowance on buying myself a newspaper. I absolutely loved TAA. It was edited by MJ Akbar and featured splendid columns from not only an Indian perspective but also international (they had a syndicated collaboration with the New York Times). And my earliest memory of following an event per se was the execution of Timothy McVeigh. I read TOI in passing at my tutor's place but nobody else, i'm quite sure, covered the aftermath of Oklahoma bombing as acutely as TAA did. I can recollect reading an entire broadsheet about McVeigh's upbringing, his difficult times during the Gulf War, his ideological shift to extremism, also how he cared for kindle (a group of kittens) as a little boy only to grow up and be responsible for the death of 168 people. I remember reading that his last meal consisted of icecream, his favourite thing in the world. I read all of these exactly three months before 9/11. He was executed on June 11, 2011. When the news of 9/11 reached me, i immediately presumed someone like McVeigh must have attempted such a horrific action. The building in Oklahoma wasn't very tall, so i felt maybe the attackers were aiming higher this time.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Political beings

I used to be one of those who blamed politicians for everything that’s wrong with our society. This was before i wised up a bit. The so-called apolitical people do a lot of damage in the name of fencesitting. Turns out blaming politicians—or in that vein, politics—is like blaming oxygen for slowly killing us. Politics is everywhere around us. It begins in the kindergarten playground where kids form their own little groups. It never ends though. We are, for lack of a finer term, political beings. The sooner we accept it, the better. For some reason (let’s call it ignorance), we tend to associate politics and politicians only with corruption and debauchery. When we do that, we are only asserting our unwillingness to make a difference by staying unaware. It’s quite similar to standing on the side of the road ostracizing the monsoon for causing an accident instead of helping the guy whose motorcycle slid. Moreover, the weather isn’t in our control but our future certainly is. Being aware of the guys who are running for office and the kind of work they are doing at the local level could be a good start. But then, we don’t even want to know who the corporator in our neighbourhood is, let alone confront him/her on issues that is close to your heart. We only want to crack jokes on the NaMos, RaGas and Kejris of the world. Democracy might not be perfect but it has proved again and again why it’s the least of all evil systems out there. If people show as much interest in knowing/discussing the powers-to-be at a level that’s closer to home, we’ll certainly reach a stage where the government would consist of people who genuinely care. Right now, it’s defined by people who stand in the queue because they don’t have a voice and are so helpless that they feel only a ballot or a bribe can change their lives for better. And that’s the political order we should be aiming against.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Once upon a cheap night

By the time they reached the station, it was quite late at night. On top of that, the vacation season was on so they couldn't get a place as every available hotel was booked. Being an Indian tourist isn't easy in India. It's always advisable to book in advance but our heroes were of the adventurous type. In other words, lazy. Approaching midnight, the four of them were clearly running out of options. It was chilly and they didn't know what to do. To their good luck, an elderly man covered in a blanket walked towards them, didn't say a word and directed them to a narrow street. The boys took the cue and found a mansion-y place at the end of the street. Turns out it was a hotel with rooms! Lucky indeed. If that wasn't awesome enough, a room costed 100 bucks per night. "Seriously?" gasped the four in unison. Overjoyed, two rooms were booked; two guys in each. Exhausted, all of them decided to hit the sack.  The boys got up late in the morning and sounded excited about the hill station. What followed remains etched in their memories though. As a prank, three of them locked the fourth one inside the bathroom while he was doing his business. They even turned off the light. Those on the outside thought he'd freak out but something strange was to be. After a while, they opened the door and the locked boy got out looking quite pissed. Sensing anger, the boys immediately apologized for the prank. The boy wasn't looking for a sorry. He had a straightforward question: "Did you guys hear my screams?" To which, the boys said no. At this point, all of them were about to understand why that place was so darn cheap. "The moment you guys switched off the light, somebody from behind placed his hand on my right shoulder and whispered Shhhhhhh....."

In the course of time

I grew up in a slum in Bombay. The kind of place everybody wants to escape only to end up in a place—Nashik/New-Bombay/Pune/Gurgaon—that makes you nostalgic about your past. It had everything imaginable. The good. The bad. The makeup. People from all the three communities were present (nope, never met a Sikh/Parsi/Jew/etc there—perhaps the place was too poor for them). We never witnessed a riot, not even during Babri demolition or the following bomb blasts of ‘93. We may not have had the basic rights but we had our basics right. We respected and cared for each other. There was no scope for naarebazi. The Hindus in the neighbourhood lent their carpets for the grand namaaz on Friday afternoon while the Muslims helped with the pandals during Ganeshotsav and participated in the Holi pyramid. Well, the Christian community was the icon for the rest as far as the importance of education (read: literacy) was concerned. We effortlessly embodied the spirit of basti. People, back then, loved the city for accepting them the way they were—broken, luckless and hardworking. It’s easy to sit in an air-conditioned room in 2016 and blah about secularism while conveniently forgetting that the Western idea of secularism is bound to be counter-productive for a country like ours where religion is practically woven into our consciousness whether a person is rural or urbane. What these misguided conversations usually highlight is the distance between reality and notion. Fortunately, the chawl i was/am from didn’t care for such labels. Maybe that’s why there was no tension regarding who ate what or who prayed to whom. The Hindus were happy with their vegetarian/meat diet while the Muslims relished their beef and the Christians fearlessly showed their soft corner for pork. Non-Hindu kids gathered for prasad whereas the non-Muslim kids gathered for niyaaz. What mattered was the sweetness of the food offered, not the mumbo-jumbo of myths behind it. There was noise everywhere and yet, in that chaos, we found a diverse semblance. Things changed only after 9/11, thus proving once again the power (of narrative) USA enjoys. Suddenly, the conversations during lunch/dinner began to turn bitter and paranoid. Still, on the surface, there was no evident animosity. The walls that united the one-room houses remained polite but then, manufactured anguish has a way with our species. Interestingly, i left the place and moved to Nashik in 2002, the year that remains significant. My family moved to New-Bombay within two summers. I revisited my slum (the thing about this word is it sticks with you irrespective of the buildings that mushroom over time) in 2007 to teach secondary school kids English. I carried on till 2011, the year i joined journalism full-time. I haven’t rerevisited the place since. But what i noticed during those four years, in touch with the kids i taught, was the drastic shift in attitude. Something was clearly missing. When i was a kid, the friendship we built with our neighbouring kids triumphed our differences. The kids i encountered on a daily basis in a tiny classroom back then seemed to have let their differences triumph. Armed with with their limited vocabulary, they couldn’t even hide their prejudices. A perverted version of religion had become the norm. Some Hindu kids were suddenly proud of their perceived greatness. Some Muslim kids were seeking a hero in Zakir Naik. Some Christian kids were clearly brainwashed about the superiority of their God. And ‘some’ is more than enough to make the ‘most’ divided. An idea or an ideator refines with time, yes. However, if it’s not for the better, what’s the point of evolution? If it instills unwarranted fear of the unknown in children’s minds during their formative years, what good can possibly come out of it? Facts are going to be abused in places like these. The chawl i remembered was the one where only one thing got abused on a daily basis: English. We called chewing-gum ching-gum, station taeshun, brown-pao burun-pao, slice-pao si-lace-pao, lantern lal-turn, bottle baa-tal… the list goes on.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Meta level

2015 ended and 2016 is nearing its closure but i haven't come across a statement deeper than what Rakhi Sawant made last year.

Monday, November 14, 2016

From sure to shore

We often read about a startup getting funded by a bigshot investment group. For some reason, we tend to assume that it’s a recent fad. Companies like Google and Facebook, with their roots in Silicon Valley, make us believe that entrepreneurship needs to have a technological touch. This might not be the case always but the glowing stars in the Internet Era are often the ones who accepted technology wholeheartedly. And they continue to inspire budding entrepreneurs to take risk. Most often, the road to success gets cockblocked by the lack of capital. Which is where the investment groups enter the picture. Convincing the financiers that their investment would be worth it (read: profitable) is not a child’s play. Serial funding lies in the future. In most cases, the young entrepreneurs fail to even bag a discussion room with the moneybags. Nowadays, we read about companies that are based in XYZ country but is funded by people who are based in MNO country while the market for the final product is in ABC country. We call it globalization. However, wasn’t this the case, say, 500 years ago? When the European powers were rising mainly because of their curiosity to know what lies on the other side of the sea (a curiosity that the Asian powers didn’t harbour; no pun intended), a lot of navigators came forward with their business proposals. They were sure about the riches that laid bare open on foreign shores but the tough part was to get someone to fund their exploration. They went from the kings to the merchants to the banks—whoever was willing to listen to their ideas—so as to fund their naval trips. In this scheme of things, the explorers weren’t any different from the entrepreneurs of today. They too vied for a dream that could result in a nightmare while firmly hoping it didn’t. They too wanted sugar daddies to help them put up the hull. Which might explain why an Italian guy named Christopher Columbus got funded by the Spanish monarch for an idea that had more to do with India than anywhere else.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Show me the money!

Maybe it's a good time to talk about money. Black, white, colored, all sorts. There are some lessons i learnt after moving to Gurgaon. Back in Bombay, i didn't care much for money mainly because i didn't have expenses. When you're living with your family, you don't care about raashan. I barely went out or had any habits to support. There were magazines to buy, Internet bills to pay, film festivals/cultural events to attend, occasional weekend Chinese with Tushar and Anu. That's it. Maybe that's why i could take a 50% salary cut to try myself at journalism. I was touching 25 then and was offered 13K a month. Not a huge amount when you consider i didn't get any conveyance from the publication, not for the travels required, nope for the calls dialled. After the deductions, less than 10K reached my pocket. But then, i got myself some proud bylines. Lots of them, actually, for someone who never went to an esteemed J-school. Also, experience. Loads of that too. By the time i gave up journalism, after spending close to 3.5 years, i was back at the very salary i quit my previous job!

That was then. I'm a bit wiser now.

The thing about money is it requires understanding. Not very different from the way we deal with kids. They are unpredictable. My friend, Rudra, once told me that one of the reasons i'll remain gareeb is because i'm afraid of money. I didn't gauge the depth of that statement. He was right. When you have remarkably low income, you somehow find comfort in that zone. You look at people with higher income and the troubles they've added to their list by buying a house or a car on loan. You see that they have willingly become a slave to the bank. You begin to see those aspects (at least i did) as avoidable headaches. Irrevocably, you get stuck in your zone. And before you acknowledge it, you are getting old and starting to feel sorry for yourself because not a week goes by you don't compare your fate with the kids you grew up with. They are doing great—not merely going by their FB pics—while you are nearing 30 and neither have a career nor savings.

Savings. That's the word.

How does one save money? If you ask an expert, they'll drain out the difference between save and invest. Since i'm not an expert, i feel saving can be done better when you set your priorities right. Where is your money going? If i find myself in an accident tomorrow, will i be able to get through without disrupting others' lives? Which hill station am i visiting next? Do you want to retire in a mansion? Maintaining a diary about expenses (daily/weekly/monthly) helps. I don't earn a lot (more on that later) so whatever i get gets divided equally into brackets. Precisely how i want things to be for now. Let's put it this way: I neither feel bad about shelling out ₹20 extra to an autowallah/sabziwallah nor do i get robbed by malls. I'm at ease. I do my bits here and there from time to time for people and the environment. I miss participating in sapling projects though but i'm sure my current state of health won't permit it either.

Money happens to be a psychological trick and it's interesting how much imagination it captures. What's more in store is the endless pursuit of it. There's no such a thing as enough when it comes to income. Precisely why we should have a second income flow. It could be anything from freelancing to baking to anything else that you're good at and won't need more than a few hours a day/week. That amount fortifies your future. I've been planning to write a book since my late-teens. At this rate, it seems like a distant dream. However, if i manage to get something going for myself in the field of writing, then i might be able to sustain better. Buy insurances, maybe? Fixed deposits, too? Who knows? A steadier flow of income makes you imaginative. 

Until a month ago, i was the only earning member from my family back in Bombay. When you are in a position like i was, you are constantly reminded of your responsibilities. You can't randomly leave your job and pursue your distant dream. You try to settle with as much caution as possible. I look at some of my colleagues who can't do without parties and excessive spending. So much so their online retail therapy doesn't pause. They can afford that because their families don't look forward to their month-end deposits. Things are different for different people. Also, you decide your value in the market and the sooner you realize this, the better. If not, chances are you'll feel lost in the rat race to be financially secure because that's a bloody oxymoron.

PS. No matter what, pay your taxes because a pyre made of black money is a fucking disgrace.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Missus on point

I don't like going out much. In fact, i never show up at a party lest i'll have engage with people in hollow small talks. On the other hand, i love talking to my wife. That's something that hasn't changed in over three years now. It's a delight to converse with her about random things. Our conversations belie our romantic shortcomings as we are both tad boring in departments most couples otherwise boast. At the end of the day, we talk about things that are mostly based on what we read or watched recently. 

One such episode from the recent past is quite noteworthy, if not hilarious by all means.

Me: "If you were given a chance, would you accept the role of the POTUS?"
She: "Of course!"
Me: "You won't be nervous or something?"
She: "Hmm... nope."
Me: "Wow. What would be the first thing that you'd do or change on becoming the POTUS?"
She: "I'll appoint Obama as my official advisor."
Me: "Well, as a rule, you can't do that as an ex-prez isn't supposed to hold official titles."
She: "In that case, I'd like to change that rule."

Paranoia, please don't scare me

Democracy is funny but the joke is lost on those who believe in it.

Americans have elected Donald Trump as their president. It’s official. Understandably, there is a massive wave of despair among the people (both from the USA as well as the rest of the world) about an uncertain future. Given his repertoire for loose words, it’s going to be interesting how his tenure as the POTUS will be. But let’s stick to now, shall we? He hasn’t even taken the oath as the president yet and there is already more than enough panic in the world, especially on social media. It’s almost as if the world is going to end. Here’s the worst part: It’s not going to. I wish it did. I wish if somebody just pushed the Restart button. But that’s not happening. So, we need to deal with it practically. This is what is going to happen: Trump is going to assume the office in mid-January and we’ll have to wait and see if anything drastic takes place. On a political level, there will be presumably a lot of (attempted) changes to the set narrative by the previous government. Whatever ensues, it’s only going to highlight the fact that our species are connected like never before. The world, as the ancient wise people from India suggested, is indeed one big family. What happens in doesn’t stay there anymore. Everything affects everything. This is our new digital reality. And when a man-child like Trump assumes the highest office of the world’s strongest democracy, worries are natural. However, they shouldn’t be the cause of irrational fear or untenable paranoia. In a democracy, one party loses and another wins. That’s the rule of game. Instead of wasting time on spreading panic, maybe it’s time to understand the factors that made us believe that Trump didn’t stand a chance. The greater question should be, how disconnected are we with the realities of this world where we form our opinions based on the enlightened views of the few?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

We need to talk about Caste

There’s a famous quote vis-a-vis Indian politics and election: “Indians don’t cast their votes; they vote their castes.”

The only problem with the above statement is nothing’s going to change unless we address the core issue of our society. Caste, whether you like it or not, is incredibly strong. It's beyond religion. In fact, much stickier than that. Cluelessness only makes it stronger. Especially if you grew up in urban India and never bothered to know why the labourers in the city generally belong to the downtrodden caste or for that matter, where your maid/help comes from, then you—and not the institutions in place—are partly to be blamed for your ignorance. The burden of privilege ensures that you stay away from the C-word. So much so you don’t even want to talk about it. Your excuse could be anything from “It’s irrelevant!” (Yes, it’s irrelevant because the generations that preceded you made sure of that but if you’re going to discuss the conditions in our country, you better do your homework) to “It makes me uncomfortable!” (Well, that proves the extent of your comfort more than anything else, sweetheart). The point being, not talking about something by calling it regressive is giving too much power to the regressiveness of the subject. Caste is all around us. It’s so prevalent that if you can notice the pattern, it’s almost there all around you be it urban or rural India. So why talk about it? And what difference would it make? Words are a powerful tool, if backed by facts and data. It can be a weapon of mass destruction too, if backed by falsehood and propaganda. That said, if we—the ones who have the voice to make a gradual difference—don’t try to understand the correlation between a person’s caste and his profession (or the lack of it), then who is going to? The politicians? Well, they are busy exploiting our ignorance for close to seven decades now. If we don’t sit up and see how caste affects the entire subcontinent—yes, it’s not limited to only India as Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka also have a steady caste system in order—that’s a major chunk of 1.68 billion people on the planet—then we are only fooling ourselves. If we’re going to stay aloof instead of digging deeper (like we do with the trends/memes that catch our imagination on the Internet) into the surface of a disease that has been making our society hollow for ages, then what’s the point in criticizing caste politics?

That loud F-word

This happened in 1999. I was 13 and went to a friend’s place for dinner. Maybe it was lunch. I don’t remember. What i can recollect though is the event that took place while we were eating. Amid a discussion, my friend’s dad let out a loud fart. Absolute silence followed the act. Grain drop silence, if you may. Nobody said anything. But at the same time, we couldn’t pretend as if nothing happened. My friend’s mom and sister were visibly aghast while i was highly amused. Within the next 60 seconds, my friend revealed his embarrassment. After all, his best friend was there and he didn’t ask for this private/public humiliation. With hardly anything left to blurt, he could only manage a “Papa!” in his I-am-disappointed-in-you tone. His father responded immediately. His words, expressed with absolutely clarity, still ring in my head. “What? I didn’t do anything. Besides, this is my house and I can fart whenever and wherever I want. If I come to YOUR house someday and fart, do let me know.”

We went back to our plates.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What happens in 20s stays forever

Newton proposed the Binomial Theorem at 22. That was also the age at which Charles Darwin gave up on his religious dreams by embarking on a ship to Galapagos Island, ultimately paving the path for modern science with his Theory of Evolution. Bhagat Singh kissed the noose at the age of 23, thus patenting the title Shaheed (martyr) for himself. Einstein proposed his groundbreaking Theory of Relativity at 26. John Keats was gone even before he turned 26 while leaving behind a body of fabulous poetry. Hawking proposed Black Hole theory at 28. Ramanujan's greatest work occurred in his mid-20s. There are a lot of people from the world of entertainment too who left a mark in their 20s. Be it Tupac who was killed at the age of 25 or James Dean who crashed at 24. Or the whole members of the esteemed Club 27. Heath Ledger drew his finest portrayal as The Joker before bidding adieu at 28. Of course, not everybody had to die in their 20s but the few names that are mentioned above (and the thousands of names that aren't) achieved the most in their 20s. Siddhartha (before turning into Buddha) left his palace at the age of 29. Schubert might have died at 31 but the reason why we still remember him is because of his work from his last decade. It's mostly true nowadays for a sportsperson to mature in their 20s and dusk away in the 30s. But shouldn't that be true for everyone else too?

The point is, if you are 30, like i am, you don't have the luxury of the thriving 20s anymore. And you should be asking yourself a very tough question: If you die today while walking on the footpath (crossing the road can be fatal), what will you be remembered for? Or for that matter, forgotten for? What has been your potential? Did you manage to convert to kinetic? Even if you don't care about legacy, there are things that go beyond you. It could be anything from a design of a building that you came up with to a programming code you wrote for an app to an anthology nobody seems to decipher yet. Since i haven't stayed true to my original before-30 plan of earning a PhD in linguistics/anthropology or writing at least one fine book, i can only hope i'm not remembered as that guy who wrote THAT chai-biskoot tweet.

Monday, November 7, 2016

From school to streets

The boy had escaped the boarding school. He was 14, barely interested in studies, chased butterflies, low on attention, high on daydreaming and a huge Rajesh Khanna fan. Not sure how but he ended up in Bombay. When a group of people questioned the seemingly lost kid, he revealed he was hungry. They took him to their neighbourhood. He hadn't seen a chawl before. Coming from a background of plenty, he was evidently taken back by the warmth of those strangers. People he saw growing up work for people like him. The only difference being he didn't know he was kidnapped by the time he entered a stranger's house. They fed him and treated him nicely. Over the course of a day, they even dug out information about his parents. The next thing we know: they called his worried dad to tell him that the boy is OK provided they get some reward in return. No harm in getting paid for kindness, right? Charity begins at home. The father took the next possible flight and landed in the neighbourhood. He was distinct in the crowd—obviously—with his sunglasses and jacket. They shepherded him to a hut-like place. And therein, he saw his son about to strike. Nope, no guns involved. He was engrossed in a carrom game with some boys wearing creamy baniyans. After the settlement, the father waited till they reached the airport to ask the pertinent question. "Why did you run away from school?" Pat came the reply, "I thought it'd be easier to become a film star."

Change is a lingual constant too

I called English a mythical language some days ago. 

And all hell broke loose.

Apparently, mythical is something which doesn't exist. Like God. Or Atlantis. Their arguments preened toward establishing that if i call English mythical, then so are Sanskrit or Malayalam or any Germanic languages. Which is a fair point because language evolve exactly the way we do. Words change. Tones change. Pronunciations change. The whole vocabulary changes with time. But that's the thing about a majority of languages that undergo this process. They die. Unlike English. Hence, here are some questions worth pondering over: does English really exist anymore in its essence? Or is it a fiction that is wholeheartedly accepted across the world be it the Nordic nations or the Francophone ones? Doesn't this acceptance validate the greatest empire—British—of all time? If no, would you claim to understand the "English" Chaucer wrote in? Or for that matter, Shakespeare (or Marlowe, whoever that was!)? English, as we know today, is not what it was barely 400 years ago. Can you say the same for languages like Arabic or Tulu? From what we know, if you are to time travel to England a few centuries back, you won't understand a word on the street. No, no, not because of the accent (which is true for the present day as well; you can't understand shite when Cockneys are speaking) but because of the syntax. The very structure of the words used were enormously different back then. If you called someone nice, they'll trash you because there was a point in history when that word meant an idiot. And if you called that person a bully for trashing you, he'll trash you again because bully was once the equivalent of today's bae. People would blankly blink at your "What's up?" expression. A different language altogether perhaps. Too many influences perhaps. Recently, a Tamil word 'aiyoh' made it to the Oxford Dictionary. It's certainly not the first south Indian to have the honour, nor would it be the last. That's how integral the English language is—or should we assume, has always been. There are myriad words with Latin and Greek roots. So much so, more than 80% of the English words today have something to do with French; either in its formation or its pronunciation. At the same time, then are lots of words with non-European roots as well. What does that tell you? I believe it shows us (more than just telling us) the immense power of a language. A tongue that refuses to stagnate or wither away. It's growing like a myth that keeps changing its mythology every passing generation. Which is why you pick up the phone and say 'hello' without bothering to know its origin or say OK without bothering to know that it doesn't really have an origin.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Leopard print

We were regaled by several stories about leopards. The hills were known for tigers once upon a time. The British did a pretty good job in ensuring that that ain't the case anymore. Today, you'll only hear tales of leopards spotted—no pun intended—every now and then. The Kumaoni hills are enticing for different reasons. Its legends about the four-legged predator is one of them. The leopards don't generally attack two-legged ones the way tigers used to, mainly because they get their fill from stealing cattle, poultry and dogs (in some some cases). If you're lucky, you'll see them sitting on the side of the curvy road not giving a fly about your presence. If you're REALLY lucky, you'll get to click a picture. In my case, my (bad) luck remained consistent. But to my credit, i woke up to the view on the right side. My slipper had a print that would make you wonder whether a leopard was sitting outside our tent but you know it didn't.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ride and prejudice

PR is everything nowadays. Hardly anybody cares about the truth anymore. You neither have the time nor the patience required for it. Which is why you rely on labels. You jump to conclusions. You don't want to read fat books but would call someone fat without even knowing the person. Labels. We've come a long way from Stone Age (which was actually Wood Age because our ancestors did more kaarigari with wooden objects compared to stone) to Label Age. We throw words at others without giving them the benefit of doubt. The same benefit of doubt that we easily give ourselves or the ones we like. For instance, there has always been a growing resentment against Dilliwallahs for being too flashy about their wealth. This is a perfect case of blanket banality because we don't know for sure whether a majority of the residents are like that. Yet, we tend to smear the entire city with one stroke of prejudice. When i was in Mumbai, i used to hear a lot of incidents where young women don't offer their seats to the elder ones; which isn't the case in the general (there's no gents compartment) dabba. More often than not, you'll see young men giving up their seats for the older guys. Again, how are we supposed to declare a broadband judgement without an empirical data to support our bias?

PS. On our way to Anand Vihar (Delhi), my wife offered her seat to an older lady. She gracefully declined the offer before inquisitively commenting to her husband standing next to her: "She can't be from here?"

Three days, two nights

Terrible roads. Steep trails. Dangerous curves. Awesome topview. Foggy mornings. Gentle people. Shy personalities. Good souls. Bulbuls everywhere. Long-tailed beauties. Exotic birds. Breathless moments. Strong tea. Stronger coffee. Comfy tent. Less privacy. Sturdy bed. Warm quilt (daytime). Damp quilt (nighttime). Butterfly museum. Enlightening af. Huge spiders. Overfriendly dogs. Bushy tails. Leopard stories. Legendary tales. 90s songs. Firecrackers galore. Echoing hills. Crowded market. Fresh produce. Sattal lake. Freezing water. Kayaking stunt. Finger injury. Anthropological spiel. Understanding wife. Authentic food. Upward climb. Downward walk. Plastic alert. Grapefruit trees. Cucumber plants. Short day. Long night. Clear sky. Shooting stars. Bright constellations. Guitar guy. Singing lady. Bonfire throughout.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016


Have you noticed the decline in crows and sparrows around you? If you haven't, don't read any further. They used to make so much noise not so long ago. Not anymore. Most of them seem to be on their way out of the city. This place of ours that we take pride in calling urban is getting unlivable for a reason. Yes, we can blame the pollution for this trend but we shouldn't forget that the real pollution begins with our mind. We overlook the basic tenets of life and end up endangering the nature as we've been doing for ages now. There is hardly anything out of the textbook here. We harm our surrounding by taking it for granted but in truth, we are taking our grandchildren for granted. They are going to inhabit this planet and the question is, do we want them to wake up to chirpy noise made by birds arguing who has better feathers? I used to wake up to these birds every single morning when i stayed in Bombay (followed by New-Bombay) mainly because my amma would feed them at the window. Yes, both the crows as well as the sparrows. But as of today, their frequency of visits has gone down drastically. They seldom show up in the morning. At this rate, we'll be left with those assholes called pigeons who shit on us for being like them.