Thursday, November 10, 2016


After the two shocking events I wrote about yesterday – election of Trump and demonetisation of 500/1000 rupee notes in India – my mind is searching for answers, which are hard to come by. My post about the latter has invited a lot of comments from friends and trolls, praising the PM for his bold move, overnight transformation of the economy, et al. A lot of people are put to needless harassment and loss and people in well-paying jobs are saying: it’s for the good, so grin and bear it. So, you, urban middle-class office workers, what do you know about the rural villager who has to walk a few kilometres to the nearest bank, and, when there, he is handicapped as he doesn’t know how to fill in a form? We are living in frightening times where every day brings some new revelations, or, news of revelations not made. Therefore, here are some rambling thoughts on democracy and development.

When you dig deeper, you find that the malady lies buried down in several layers of a deep gorge of misdeeds in this unipolar world. Is there a disregard for democratic norms? Is there a lack of proper understanding of how democracy works? Was democratic institutions compromised? Is the one who is better at compromising democratic norms the winner in an election? If so, what have we done to safeguard democracy? Is communism the better alternative, in a world where the world’s leading communist countries have turned capitalists with a vengeance?

It’s a fearful world we inhabit. First let me deal with the election of Trump to the highest office of the world. There were allegations of Russians having hacked into Clinton’s emails. It’s quite possible. Maybe, even Clinton had rigged the Democratic nomination to be the nominee. As I said it’s a fearful and distressful world we inhabit. The winner could be the one who knows how to subvert the democratic process. As the Wikileaks revelations reveal the world is not a safe place for governments and corporations anymore. However, the Wikileaks revelations came too late, didn’t it? By the time it came out everything was over. Anything could happen today. We are probably experiencing the first shocks of this horrid future as demonstrated by recent incidents.

There’s no doubt that the America (By America I mean the U.S.A.) that stands for truth and democracy may be truly compromising its democratic ideals. To get ahead it is willing to sacrifice anything, as Obama’s support for fracking and the Keystone pipe line shows. Around the world also, America says it has interests, meaning private business interests, not interest of a free and democratic world. The point is, America is no longer interested in propagating its democratic ideology, nor is the leadership here in India, as seen by the oppression of minorities in recent times.

In its quest to be a world economic leader, China has created one of the biggest commercial-industrial complexes in the world, leading to pollution of its air, water, and cities. We have to ask ourselves if this is the development we want and aspire for. Our present dispensation wants to follow the path shown by China, i.e., development at all costs: smart cities, superfast trains, industrial corridors, exploitation of earth for minerals, etc. There are some pitfalls here, which we aren’t aware of.
After plundering its countryside for coal, iron, copper, gold, and bauxite, China is aggressively seeking mining licences in Africa and less developed economies. At the forefront of development, China is today the world’s largest economy and is increasingly being belligerent militarily also. And, discreetly, America and Russia are partners in China’s growth.

Meanwhile, the vast military-industrial complex in America keeps wars going on in Asia and other parts because it’s in their interest to do so. There used to be a sacrosanct rule that militaries will not attack civilian targets and places where people lived. These days, wars are going on in city neighbourhoods putting the women and children there to unnecessary trauma as the wars in Homs, Aleppo, and Mosul in Syria show. Soldiers and militia-men are pictured blasting whole towns and neighbourhoods.

America is perhaps one of the few countries where arms can be manufactured and exported to foreign countries freely. There is the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) by which the President can stop export of arms, but it’s rarely enforced, because, as often seen, the President himself acts as the salesman for American arms. There are curbs on exporting arms to groups who are of an extremist ideology, but these rules are conveniently overlooked. The military-industrial complex and its lobbyists see that the flow of arms to even extreme groups is maintained.

In India, when we have development as the foremost ideal to generate jobs, we tend to overlook the pitfalls into which America and China fell. We are following them in the mad scramble for development, giving mining rights in our pristine lands to Chinese corporations, buying arms from America, and generally revelling in our new friendship with America. But, do not forget, America only has interests, meaning business interests. Once this is kept aside America will consider India on par with Pakistan, even favour the latter.

America is a big user of biotechnology. Many believe that biotechnology is an advancement of science and its use can alleviate world hunger. In fact, this fallacy has no basis in truth. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may give marginally increased production for a few years, but take a heavy toll on the soil on which cultivation is done. The pesticides that form a part of GMO-based cultivation have been proved to cause cancer and birth defects. American corporations have used biotechnology with disastrous results in the developing world, spreading poisonous pesticides, giving birth to mentally-challenged children, and increasing the number of sick people in the world.

The powerful GMO lobby in the US can bend laws to their advantage, and appoint chairmen to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) which regulates biotechnology. Over the years, it has been found that top executives of GMO companies are appointed as chairmen of FDA because, ironically, they are experts and have the knowledge. They, in turn, turn a blind eye to the doings of GMO corporations with the result that today harmful carcinogens like Glyphosate are widely used in America. Obama assumed office with the promise of labelling GMO products on their covers, but, as he remits office, he has signed into law, a proposal that precludes the labelling of GMO products.

The GMO lobby sees India as a big market and is waiting to introduce their products through legislation in India. The danger to India is that GMOs may be seen as bringing about development and, therefore, adopted, as a part of the development agenda. So also is the condoning of the demonetisation of 500/1000 rupee notes. It’s a part of development, isn’t it? It’s because of the stiff fight put up by activists such as Vandana Shiva and others that, so far, India hasn’t become a GMO-cultivating nation like Argentina. Argentina has discovered, albeit late, that GMOs are harmful because of the increasing cases of birth defects in its child population. Venezuela has totally banned GMO products from the country, after its bitter experience with its usage. In India, BT cotton is the only GMO product that has been approved for cultivation, and has caused untold sufferings to farmers in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

More in the next instalment of “Random Musings of a Solitary Walker.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Will Chicklit and Dudelit Destroy Indian Writing in English?

 The problem with IIT-ians writing these days is that there are too many of them, and mostly they are men. If they wanted to write novels why didn’t they do BA literature and an MFA? No. They would rather go to IIT where all the smart people can be found doing smart things, and then they will see what they want to do. In the meantime, they want to try writing a novel. So, they write a kind of DUDELIT – of and by dudes – akin to CHICKLIT, the genre about girls facing growing up pangs. There’s heartbreak in between terms, there are those mischievous episodes, laboratory shenanigans, wild parties where alcohol is consumed, and dread of coming exams, which all of them pass. They drift to their management jobs, family businesses or go to IIM (Indian Institute of Management) to learn management. Then they will be called the “Double Aiis”. Basically, they are very confused about their career choices.

Do Dudelit writers know that the government is subsidising Rupees two to three hundred thousand for their education every year? What has the Indian government gained by making Chetan Bhagat a mechanical engineer when he went on to become a banker and then a writer of pulp novels? Yes, he pays taxes, but didn’t he deprive a poor deserving candidate of a seat in the prestigious IIT, who would have gone on to pay taxes and invented better railway coaches, or, better toilets?

The United States has a system by which meritorious students get scholarships and grants for studying in prestigious institutions. Therefore they realise the benefits of hard work and progress in life using the lessons they have learnt using these scholarships. They do not abandon their engineering degrees, but work in them for years as dedicated engineers. Here our government – not universities – provides the subsidies, the hostel accommodation, purportedly to create excellent engineers, but ends up getting an individual who writes pulp novels.

So what does it all say to those beholden readers who approach the dude’s Dudelit book with a reverent look, and a feeling of trepidation? “Look we are cool. Dude, we made it. And, believe us, it’s no big deal. Most of all, we had fun.” An IIT-ian enters his career with an advantage. Irrespective of whether he has done mechanical, civil, or, chemical engineering, he is directly recruited into a management position without having to go through the grind. Yes, life is unfair. From my personal experience, I rotted in middle management jobs all my life where I did all the work and had to report to such IIM managers who didn’t know an “artwork” from a “work of art.” And when it came to promotions and increments I wasn’t given any and they became vice-presidents overnight.

There have been many novels in this genre including ones by India’s most successful indigenous Dudelit writer, Chetan Bhagat. In the US literature about the growing up pains of girls is called Chicklit, Dudelit is something similar. There is growing up pains, problems with teachers, problems with girlfriends, a bit of allusion to books and famous writers, a lot of technical stuff which a lay reader won’t understand, the heavenly tea at the nearby kiosk, and, ultimately, heartbreak.
Dudelit and its sister Chicklit have done much damage to Indian literature. They have rather successfully closed the doors for a few emerging literary writers, translators, occupying their space with titles such as “Half Girlfriend,” and “An Indian Girl.” Love and heartbreak occupies a major chunk of the narrative, though a sanitised kind of love. Now you can find novels with titles such as “Why I will always love you,” “Endlessly in Love,” and “I can’t but love you.” In other words, it’s the deliberate pandering to a low taste by publishers and their agents who deal in pure tripe. Sometimes, the dumbing down is deliberate, a lowly attempt to titillate the reader to browse through the book and then buy, as it is priced cheaply. These novels are empty of any intellectual content because they are written in a hurry and are badly edited. The authors of these books regularly appear on television shows and in literary festivals and even endorse corporate entities. Eager news channels give them that opportunity.

Reading these novels one would almost think India is a land of well-heeled middle-class people who address each other as “dude,” and “guy.” [Some also address each other as “laudey” meaning, phallus.] There would be no mention of the raging problems which can be seen in IITs like suicide and casteism. Their worlds are sequestered and the huge gorilla in the living room of poverty and environmental changes are never mentioned. Reading them you will believe love is the panacea to all ills of society. Publishers are making the mistake that Indian film industry made years ago, i.e., give the audience what they want and forget about the art of film-making and scripting.

It’s painful to see the slow decline of what authors such as Khushwant Singh, Anita Desai, Kiran Nagarkar, Shashi Deshpande, Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, Anita Nair, Amit Chaudhari, CP Surendran, et al have tried to build up, i.e., a tentative fledgling identity for Indian writing in English. I am not including Salman Rushdie, or, Vikram Seth because they are expatriate writers and their points of view are unique and extraneous. It was a small beginning which should have led to something bigger and better. One almost thought that there would be a lot of translations of prolific regional language writers and poets. But this dream remains a dream. Today, regional writers would consider themselves lucky to be published by Sahitya Akademi, if at all. Even those authors published by the Akademi have not been successful in establishing a readership because of Chicklit and Dudelit novels.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Confession of a Failed Writer

You start out with a lot of hope. Hope is integral to your belief that you can write. But the world thinks otherwise. The first thing they tell you point blank is that you can’t write. The truth, of course, is that the world doesn’t like the idea of writing. But they don’t tell you that. Instead they tell you will never make it good as a writer, so do something else. The second thing they will tell you is to choose a trade; tapping toddy, or something.

That something for me was selling space. I had set out to become a journalist as a first stop on my way to become a writer. I thought the Times of India (TOI) was the paper. I was wrong, of course. Ah, well, I have been wrong so many times. Well, anyway, TOI wouldn’t have me, in spite of the learned letters I wrote in its letters column starting with “Apropos of Mr. Hard-to-comprehend’s article of November 5, 1980.” And I thought, what the hell, I’ll become a space seller in publishing. It’s easy to get a job as a space seller because nobody wants the job. Nobody wants the job because it’s the hardest job in the world. Imagine walking into an office and asking them to advertise in your newspaper. “Tell me, why should we give you aadvertishment? From where do we get money to aadvertishe in your rag?” Suddenly you feel very small as if it would have been better if you were selling brooms, toilet cleaners, or, door mats.

I stuck it out for a while, worked for various publishing companies. It’s not difficult to retain a job in space selling, and, even rise to be supervisor. All you do is bribe your mole in advertising agencies to let you know when an ad is coming. You go there, collect the release order and wave it around in the office saying, “I did it. I sold a full page.” They applaud your patience and courage in doing a peon’s job. But deep down I was still looking for a break as a journalist.

Then wandering through life, by fluke, I become a journalist. O tempora o mores! I was sub-editing proofs in a fortnightly when the features team quit en masse and went to another fortnightly. Don’t ask me, such things happen in publishing. I was recruited to writing features. Ah, this is my dream job! That is when they say the most subversive thing that can be said to a writer. They say you can’t write to save your life. I found that it’s more difficult to hold on to feature writing than space selling. For example, sources will not talk to you, people who matter will avoid you, the high and mighty will not return your calls, and they only talk to people who are in their old-boys network. As if applying chilli paste over your wounded ego, you have a nit-picking features editor, who insults you in editorial meetings.

But I go on writing, thinking one day the big break will come. It never does. Then I switch professions. Seeing as to how much my copywriting friends are getting I switch to copywriting for corporations. I discover that I am in a vacuum, and I sense emptiness. Nobody in the organisation knows how to write a straight clear sentence in English. Yet, they all presume they are Shakespeares waiting to be discovered.

I write copy for them to approve. I wait quiveringly for their approval and their pay check. I correct their atrocious English, gritting my teeth and cursing my fate. See, they are guys who don’t know the difference between “loose” and “lose” and “your” and “you’re.” And, anxious as I am for their approval, they put me down in the worst manner possible. “It doesn’t have flow.” Pray, do tell me what is flow? Does Ginsberg’s Howl have flow? Does Kerouac’s On the Road have flow? And, you, who can’t write a decent sentence, are telling me about flow? Every time they say that the writer inside me dies a little. The writer in me fails. The dream clock ticks in reverse. I get funny demands on my time. A website has to go up in four days, a brochure has to be written and printed in two days, a brand manual has to be completed in a week. These are laborious works requiring days of proof checking. I race against time, I forget to eat my food, I binge on fast food, I drink to drown my recurring nightmares of the sales going down because the copywriter screwed up. I take my work home on Sundays and on holidays. I can’t believe I could be blackmailed into doing all this.

They heap the worst indignities on me. Even the IIT/Ms can’t write, and they lecture me on grammar. They send me emails from their blackberries, emails such as, “I thk u hv gt t ‘ll wrng. Tis don’ hv no flo.” What’s the great flow of words you are talking about? Ilyad? The Upanishads? I suppress a scream and sit in their cabins with my head down. By the time I get my pay check I am a wreck. And, I realise my pay check will not pay for lost pride, and, most importantly, will not last for the month. It won’t pay my son’s fees in engineering college. No, I don’t want him to be a writer, engineering is better. The world doesn’t need writers, they need engineers more. They give me a miserly increment while my colleagues in sales get bonuses and trips abroad. I cry silently, I despise what I have become. I become a number in their employee list, I become an inhuman resource. My teeth fall off, my head becomes bald, my skin is sallow, I get cramps in the night, and I spend days in hospital ICUs.

When my son gets a job, I give up. I have failed, but not completely. I have some fight left in me and this is what I want to salvage. I sit for hours and write, trying to get back my skill, get back myself, get back what I believe in. I pick up my pen and write and write and write; writing is my revenge. I pick up the wasted skeins of my thoughts and feelings and shape them into words. I write poems, articles, plays, short fiction, and work on a novel. That’s when I am convinced I can do it, that I can write again.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Two Worlds in One Country

They materialised out of nowhere, by stealth, like guerrilla fighters in the jungle, except that this was the urban jungle. They were unwashed and their shiny, dark faces had a beauty of their own, something gypsies and troubadours have.

They sat on the platform in Andheri station as I was waiting for a train to CBD Belapur, and I, too, quite stealthily took out my mobile phone and captured them and here’s the result. None of them seemed to have an iota of education, and none of them would qualify for a job, except that of scrounging for plastic in garbage bins and selling them to businesses that recycled plastic, which is what they seemed to do as they had metal hooks they used as implements. They were well built and able-bodied with well-shaped arms and legs and seemed dangerous. I guess even the black-coated ticket checker daren’t ask them for tickets as they knew the consequences.

In this relentless monsoon where will they stay? Who knows? May be in plastic hovels held up with sticks in some dumping ground. This is one aspect of India that remains hidden from the television cameras, the movie cameras, the one that the privileged do not even acknowledge. This is the truth of India.

If I ask them there would be a story that would shock and awe me. Truly, these are the sort of people who are at the receiving end of globalisation which the diametrically opposite faction is tom-toming as the future of India, the India of “India Shining”, “Twenty-first century India”, and “Yuppie India.” And they aren’t going away anywhere. They multiply like the opposite camp does and democracy has taught them that they too have rights. They may have been displaced for dams and expressways, but they survive all right, even if it means eking a precarious existence by selling plastic scrounged from garbage bins.

Two days later I was in Centre One in Vashi, New Bombay. I saw another face of India, the consumerist face. People are buying, buying, buying! Trolleys are full of snacks, fruit juices, anything and everything is available. I can’t even believe it is India because I see tinned baked beans in tomato sauce, sauerkraut (cabbage something or the other), and a whole lot of stuff; I don’t even remember what they are.

On the other hand, exercising my grey cells, as I am rarely wont to do, I do remember: scented candles with candle stands, wine and champagne glasses, rows of shampoos, and vitamin enriched shaving foam (this one’s a marvel at Rs 100 for a can, the last one I bought from Reliance Fresh was Rs 250 a can), at prices so cheap. Which makes me want to kick that damn fool Bush for saying India is consuming all the world’s food, when his country is dumping baked beans and sauerkraut on us!

I digress, and when I digress, I digress bad. Damn! Coming back to the mall, this is the affluent India of call centres, mercenary marketers and brand managers, and FMCG executives who offer you a sachet of shampoo and comb with every pack of the fairness cream, etc. etc. The men all have harassed looks, and the women a glow from all the freebies on offer. Such as the following:

Free razors if you have a shave (several unshaven guys queuing up here); a free pack of cappuccino if you taste one for free; two packs of potato chips for the price of one. And a sign says blithely in bold 250 sanserif Arial print: “The Only Way to Save Money is to Buy More.”

Buy… buy… buy….

A salesgirl sidles up to me as I am admiring a John Miller shirt and we start talking. I like the design, the colour, the stitching, the works, except that the price is Rs 1125, for which I can buy two decent shirts of a lower brand.

“But sir, it’s the brand. You will stand out in a John Miller shirt.”

“Oh, will I?” I ask and she isn’t bad looking too.

“Yes, sir, this shirt will look very good on you.”

Then I have my doubts and I look her in the eye, smile and thank her and walk away. Suddenly, as if on cue, her face droops and she loses all interest in me. Gosh, I thought she liked me.

Now this guy John Miller (with whom I share a first name) must have been some very inventive guy to sell shirts at double the price. “Wot men,” my friend Anthonybhai would have said, “aaj kal, aisaich hai, no value for money, men. Those richie-rich buggers who throw money have it so good, no men?”

He should know because he is neither the privileged one, nor the forsaken one. Neither am I.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Nedumbassery Airport, Cochin

At Cochin’s Nedumbassery Airport I am divested of my multipurpose Swiss knife. Baah, it’s sad day for me. I love that knife, a reliable travelling companion, and just today had cut and eaten an apple with it. The woman in security is so efficient, ‘There’s a Swiss knife sir,’ she says with confident arrogance. Again my bag goes into the scanner. ‘There’s a packet of blade in it,’ and I produce that too, rather sheepishly, I might add. I will miss you my sweet Swiss knife.

That said; I am a great lover of airport lounges. I don’t mind flights being delayed, as I don’t want the journey to begin, far less, to end. The ideal air journey for me is an unending wait at the airport lounge, a smooth take off, and oh! I don’t like landings and the thought of going home or anywhere else, that would be an end to the bliss of watching so many types of people, so many technologies at work, so many giant birds taking off in flight, the smooth docking, the flurry of ancillary vehicles, the uniformed attendants and stewardesses. One such celestial beauty in a pant and suit of spotless red is gallivanting rather pertly with her panty lines showing. All adds to the experience of an airport lounge, I might say here for posterity.

Nedumbassery Airport is spic compared to the railway stations I have been through. At Panvel, on the way to Kerala, I cringe to find the three-tier air-conditioned coach crowded with children and passengers on reservation against cancellation (RAC), that a haze comes over my eyes. I am not even in RAC, I am in waiting list, and don’t have a right to be there. I cringe some more. My wife has excellent public relations, which comes handy in such situations. (She can remember [teacher, being she] names, faces, names of children, where they are studying, in which standard, etc. etc.) My public relations is non-existent, and I hardly know anyone in the compartment, though I am supposed to be a writer, poet and blogger. Fame has evaded me thus far. Grumble! Grumble!

Two families known to my wife are in the compartment and spring to her help and offer her seats with them. She accepts the offer of a friend from Belapur and adjustments are made. My son becomes friendly with the friend’s son, leaving me friendless, sitting at the door of the train in my Kakadu shorts (the memory of “Animal” of Indra Sinha’s “Animal’s People” still lingers in the memory). Sometimes I stand at the space near the toilet and talk to another guy who, a member of the ultra-religious Pentecostal sect, actually confesses to me that he runs a used-car racket in Kerala. Some confession by a professed believer!

Oh, misery thy name is Indian Railways! The small compartment is humming with the talk of so many people, almost like a beehive: young, old, and the little monsters. One such monster, sitting beside me, terrorises his mother and even publicly beats her up, yet she doesn’t scold him. A man says, ‘In our days, we never used to stir in front of our parents.’ Is it a sign of the times? There are a few monsters down the aisle and the monsters are conspiring to take over and spread chaos on the train, but sleep mercifully confines a few to their berths. What a lucky escape!

A woman is talking Mack English in a persistently high-pitched tone. Her words are simple commands to her children like, “I told you so many times to wash your hands, no, you don’t listen only.” The odd thing is: the way it comes out, it seems forced and self-conscious in the extreme. Does she ever shut her mouth for a few minutes? As author Yann Martel once famously asked, “Do they have periods of silence in their lives, periods when they think, introspect, read, and write something? I don’t know. I guess we Indians have sacrificed the art conversation to the urgent need to make ourselves understood.

I had a few glorious days at my wife’s sister’s beautiful house in Keezhvaipur. The stillness of the morning, warmth of the afternoon, and the convectional rainfall in the evening lull me into a soporific feeling when I sprawl on the easy chair in the porch. The rain in the evening makes the thickly populated topography even greener than it was a day before. From where I am comfortably ensconced I can see teak, rubber, coconut palm, arecanut and jackfruit trees. (My online friend Chryselle tells me that Jackfruit is derived from the Malayalam word “Chakka”, which became “Jaca” in Portuguese and was again corrupted to Jackfruit in English.) These are the ones I can identify, there’s a forest-like profusion of trees around me. It is pleasantly cool, even cold in the night. Nights are full of the cheeping, droning sounds of frogs and crickets and morning come alive with the call of the Cuckoo.

Ah, in this paradise, truly god’s country, full of his heavenly munificence, there’s frustration, too. The causes cannot be elaborated in full here, or anywhere. Why is the Malalyali such a demon for drinks and addictions? Why has Kerala become a land of unfulfillment though it is fulfilled by nature? Every Malayali these days are into some kind of addition, no, multiple ones. At Aluva I see a man walk into a shop demanding to be served lemonade. His eyes are bloodshot, popping out like eggs, and below it are bags that can easily hold a pouch of tobacco, which he orders next. Obviously, he is trying to control last night’s excessive consumption of the local potion – arrack.

I have seen men become so disoriented that they consume in excess with a vengeance, as if drinking can exorcise the demons. And there are sad stories plenty for the migrant workers who have returned from the Persian Gulf, Bombay, Delhi and other parts of the world: malignment, persecution and ill treatment. Women are distraught when their men get together for a tipple as the result is over-drinking and over-eating that eventually lands up in a hospital bed.

The truth is Kerala has a big addiction problem that keeps the liquor, medical and local mafias in business. The mafia has its hands in everything. A ‘quotation’ racket is unearthed, the television at Nedumbassery Airport informs me. ‘Quotation’ is the name given to contract killing. It is easy to get somebody killed in Kerala; all it takes is a few thousand rupees and the services of a few goons like the ones I am watching now. Finito! Life is cheap.

At Aluva I spend a night in a roach-infested hotel, which boasts of an air-conditioner, which wheezes but doesn’t reduce the temperature a bit. There aren’t rooms to be had anywhere else. The next day I see the new Kerala at Nedumbassery Airport, from where I am writing this. There are well-dressed people everywhere. Even the Mundus and saris are carefully starched and worn with √©lan. There are smells of expensive perfumes, and the waiting lounge glitters in the glow of a thousand fluorescent tubes.

At last my flight DN 819 to Mumbai is announced. I am now shutting my Word file on my Nokia E61i with some reluctance. My bird is ready and the journey back to the daily grind has begun.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Essay: What Goes of Your Father?

Nothing much to write about today, except this piece, which details the daily gauntlet I run to get to the office. It’s a mad scramble, as you know. Today is a typical day in my life, full of the irritating uncertainty of living in a big city. There aren’t any rickshaws to take me to the railway station at Belapur, and I wring my hands, and then call my son and ask him to drop me to the station on his Hero Honda CBZ, which he does. As I ride I wonder how nice it would be to be dropped everyday, but sonny is sleeping when I leave and I don’t want to disturb him.

At the station, as I enter it huffing, the train is just slithering away, the last few compartments still temptingly on the platform. A vain thought, I run after it, knowing fully well that it’s no use, and the train just slides away smooth as an eel, unattainable. Damn! Then there’s the wait for the next train, which arrives, and I jump in even before it stops. It’s dangerous, I know, but I need to sit down in that damn thing, or I will be standing till Andheri. And, lo and behold, the seats are all taken. Like a damn fool I stand while my poker-faced audience (yes they all look so, so blank) look at me and sneer at my discomfort. Drat!

Then a guy gets up and offers another guy a seat. What the heck? What did I do not to deserve that seat? Then I fish out Indra Sinha’s “Animal’s People" and begin to read. It’s a good book and I am lost in its beautiful prose, the cynical argot of Animal, the boy-man who is full of erotic love for Nisha, and I chuckle, I smile, and I read on. (Do buy this book and read, I assure you, word of honour, etc. you will never regret it).

But then my smile turns to grimace. The reason is, I feel a terrible urge to urinate. It’s terrible and it’s because of some medication that I am taking. I squirm in my seat. Andheri is half an hour away, and I try to read deeply, with a lot of involvement to avoid my bladders bursting.

Finally the train arrives at Andheri, I make a beeline for the toilet on platform one and see that a queue has already formed, and it isn’t moving forward. The toilet stinks, there’s water on the floor, the cobwebs hang from the ceiling, there are shabbily stuck posters everywhere (learn fast, fast English in one month, Rs 1000 only et al), and still the line isn’t moving.I hold some more, shifting uncomfortably. And then, I am inside and I see one of the receptacles (what else do you call them?) empty. I rush to it.

The man beside me stops me. Reason? Ahhhhh! There’s a pile of shit lying on it. I shout to the red-shirted attendant, a tall, gangling guy who is joking about it.“Koi raat ko kiya hoga. Control kar nahi paya, light bhi nahi the, tho bus kar diya.”Somebody must have done it in the night. Couldn’t control, and there were no lights. I think of Annie Zaidi’s post:

“My foot squelched and sank into something soft. It took a couple of seconds to register what the mess was - it was about two inches of shit. Human shit all over the floor.” Truly a very disconcerting, and humiliating experience. Then I think of VS Naipaul who wrote:“Indians shit everywhere.”

I don’t blame him, he is right, I mean, Naipaul. There is a toilet a few feet away from the urinal, and all that the miscreant had to do was hold on a little longer, walk those two steps, and sit inside the toilet. He was a few feet away from the toilet (and decency, I suppose) and still he shat on the steps of the urinal. Could you believe that? We still haven’t made the switch from village to the city, from crudeness to decency and for some people the rationale is even one of prestige:“Thumhara baap ka kya jata hai?”What goes of your father?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

ESSAY: Stop this frivolity in the AV media

Any channel I surf these days has a profusion of laugher shows: the great Indian laughter challenge, laughter champion, comedy circus, etc. There’s so much laughter; it isn’t funny anymore. Either it’s a laugher show or its rival in frivolity, a music show, with celebrity judges. I am not saying laughter is bad, but how much can we laugh? How much can a character shouting ‘Wah, guru’ keep laughing his head off, high fiving his glamorous star judges, and even performing the bhangra. ‘Hahahahaha… hehehe…,’ he goes every time an inane jokes are cracked. What makes him so easily tickle-able, I am left wondering most of the time?

And now they have a certain lady, the ‘smile on hire for all occasions’ judging laughter competitions. She’s been on a roll for some time, cricket, TV serials, and now laughter shows. In none of the shows mentioned does she have anything intelligent to contribute. Except Shekhar Suman, who looks sleep deprived, the judges have nothing to say, no intelligent analysis, tips, etc. That would mean it’s laughter for laughter’s sake, empty, without purpose, like canned laughter.

Music shows aren’t any better. The typical reaction of the brainless celebrity judge is mind numbing; ‘Mind blowing’ is the most favourite words on these shows. It’s irritating how they say ‘Mind blowing’ and ‘fantastic’, ‘superb’ in one breath. Or it’s ‘miiiiinnnnnnddd bloooowwiiing’. And minor children aren’t exempted from the vagaries of competing in music awards. Appalling, as it might seem there are shows like ‘little champs’ targeted at the minor segment, and it’s heart rending to hear them trying their best to win awards, prodded by their parents. I think, my own jaundiced view, there should be a ban on minors performing in such shows.

Now who has these music shows discovered? Indian Idol Abjijeet Sawant is still struggling to find his slot, and the others have either dropped out, or been eliminated in the mad stampede towards recording contracts. Laughter stars Raju Shrivastava (my favourite) and Sunil Pal (second in line) have become typecast and are overworked producing the same type of staid stuff. So are the others. The Pakistanis across the border are a really talented lot when it comes to tickling the funny bone. Irfan Malik and Ali Hassan are a riot; I love their act.

However, there’s a lot at fault here. A society that is frivolous enough to value laughter and dance more than hard news, learning and literature is doomed to fail. The news media, the watchdogs, are no longer the bull terriers they used to be, rather tame shoe-licking, tail-wagging Pomeranians. And, no wonder, that’s already happening. Disillusioned, people are using religious faith to prop and leverage their position in society. They are becoming more intolerant than a decade ago. To my horror I found that one of my friends is these days viewing to the discs of a fundamentalist Baba something, I forget the name. Are we going the way of Yugoslavia where the Catholic Croatia, the Eastern Orthdox Serbia and the Muslim Bosnia Herzegovina split into a schizophrenic trinity, while leaving pockets of these communities stranded in enemy territory?

That reminds me of something more disturbing, that I have been ruminating about writing for a long, long time, which I will mention here in passing. The irony is what strikes you dumb: the government is writing off loans given to farmers on the one hand and on the other it is creating special economic zones for the already rich, while the media is full of laughter and music. Who will, at least, speak for the common man and his burdens? Who will hold this candle that has been lighted at both ends? Any guesses?

No, I won’t hazard a guess.