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.