‘Like’ You Care

You ‘like’, you re-tweet, you move on. And virtual life goes on. Your online personality spots something, it catches your attention momentarily, and by the time you have done this – click ‘like’, scroll, scroll – you’ve forgotten all about it. You’ve moved on: From your friend’s new profile picture to Adele’s Grammy video, from a Tehelka article on Kashmir to the photogenic guy at some marathon that’s become ridiculously popular (God knows how). And that’s all the attention and investment you need to make. Precisely for that time it takes you to read a line, a phase, a word even, and then click, scroll, scroll.
There’s no use cribbing about it, is there? If you have a remote, you won’t get up to use the buttons on the TV panel; what you can BBM, why would you call someone to tell? Fair enough. Technology changes, and you adapt.
By the same logic, on Facebook and Twitter, you only pay attention momentarily. Click photo album, next, next, next...; Jist of articles, boring, boring, maybe, ooh interesting, damn needs permissions and stuff, sigh, never mind. Moving on…
If you’ve actually clicked a New Yorker article and read through the 5,000 words, congratulations, you’re an exception. And perhaps a bit old-school too. Slow would be the word, bereft of euphemism. There are already 50 new tweets and 30 new stories begging for your attention, waiting for you to click, just one click, before it floods your monitor with new information, erasing away what’s now history (10 minutes was sooo long ago!). More pictures, bits of information, nuggets of personal or recycled wisdom, celebrity slapping videos, relationship status updates: It’s complicated, alright. There is so, so, so much going on, that to adapt means to scan through each thing for a few seconds only.
And though I lean a little towards that increasingly rare category of ‘slow’ people (which means I’m likely to make it through the first 2,000 words of the New Yorker piece), I am rather easily distracted too. Oh look, a former colleague just messaged me. I must reply. “Hey buddy, how you doing? Long time…” By now, I have forgotten about the article.  
Now, you must be thinking I am a tech cynic, one of those who say the internet is bad or some such thing just because he’s too slow to catch up. Well, not really (I mean the cynic bit, I am admittedly slow). I love the internet. Bless its invention, or journalism would be so much harder! Preparing questions for an interview would involve real ‘research’, writing an article would actually require me to ‘hunt’ for information. Now I can just ‘google’ it. Hey, look, Wikipedia says the actor played football in school; great, let’s throw in a question about that.
Writing no longer involves pen and paper, and reading increasingly involves no real books. It’s all virtual, all up there in the cloud. All lit-up glass screens and pixels. And you stop staring at one only to stare at another.
What’s my point, in all of this? Well, just that I think I sometimes miss the pre-technology-overload days. When you had to buy books, when you used encyclopedias to exercise your brain and your biceps in effect (Britannica’s stopped printing those mammoth volumes, signaling the death of another one of those things we grew up on), when games involved leaving the house, and when friendship involved meeting up and talking (no, I didn’t mean over Skype!).
But hey, as a friend says, nostalgia makes the past prettier than it really was. Would I exchange Google for the 32 volumes of Britannica? No, thank you very much. Would I meet friends without them violently punching on BlackBerrys? Yes, please.
Anyway, this rant is already longer than 600 words, so if you’ve reached this far, congratulations, you’re perhaps slow too. Welcome to the club. Oh, hang on, someone uploaded new vacation photos; aah, a new music video; wow, new restaurant in Bandra; oh, my friend’s pinging… Wait, what were we talking about?

Humble Garlic Bread

I go through the week thinking how I’m going to make my Saturdays useful. Sometimes I intend to sign up at the gym/ for driving classes (yes, at 26, I still don’t know how to drive)/ dance lessons. And sometimes I plan to cook – from elaborate Indian curries that Mum makes back home to fancy finger food, right down to that key-lime pie someone at work told me about. That’s usually the plan. Until Friday night.

Then Saturday comes, and this is what it actually is like: Get up in the morning (just about; anytime before 12 counts), make some tea, fry some eggs, check Facebook updates… Around now the sloth sets in, and the rest of the day is spent staring at the laptop screens, watching TV shows or movies. The cooking is restricted almost always to Maggi.

On a rare Saturday a few weeks back, however, gripped by a sudden desire to actually get away from the laptop, and to cook, I started rummaging for ingredients. The surprised refrigerator refused to comply, and all I found was some bread and Amul butter. Garlic? Is there any garlic? Yes.

No, it’s nothing elaborate. And yes, even a child can make garlic bread. But at 4pm on that Saturday, it was the most satisfying thing I could have asked for.


-Butter (Unsalted works better, but if Amul is all you have in the fridge, it will do)

-Bread (A baguette, ideally. I only had generic sliced bread)

-Garlic. 2-4 large cloves

-Parsley (I didn’t have any, so used some oregano)

Toast the garlic slightly over a flame to soften it. Then smash and mince and allow it to cool (If it’s not cool, it will melt the butter). Mix it then with a generous quantity of butter and sprinkle the parsley or oregano over it. Place on a slightly greased microwave tray and bake for about 10 minutes at medium-hot (375 degrees) till it turns golden brown. That’s it.

It’s as easy as it gets, and tastes better than what the pizza guy delivers.

Delhi 6

The Parathe Wali galli was everything I’d hoped for (and more, parathas, I mean)

It’s been a while since the last post, and I’m not sure anyone’s even following this blog anymore. But I’ve always had a single-digit following, so what the hell.

28 items on the menu. And they are all parathas! Ranging from the normal (aloo paratha, mooli, gobi) to the absolute insane (ever heard of a rabdi paratha or a kaju paratha?). This is the legenday Parathe-wali galli, and here, if it’s edible (veg only, mind you) and can be stuffed, they will stuff it. Parathas ranging Rs 30 to Rs 45, this is the gastronomic heart of the Old Delhi.

But first here’s what took me to the Dalhi.
Day 1: Official event, stay at the Taj (company-sponsored of course; twin-sharing, but I’m not complaining), and that meant, dip in the pool (on the shallow-side, because I can’t really swim), and the perfect, impossibly comfy bed. Perfect. Saturday was largely spent at DLF Emporio, watching an incredible number of people spend incredible sums of money.
Day 2: Shopping at Janpath, then milkshake at Keventers at Connaught Place, thanks to RG. Milk makes the Dalhi boys hatta gatta and Keventer’s serves it old-style—close to a litre of the chilled stuff (flavours ranging chocolate, coffee, pista, mango, it goes on) served in one of those old milk bottles with silver foil caps that you no longer get.
From CP, it was a short ride to Chandni Chowk.
Digression: I’m officially in love with the metro. It’s organised, state-of-the-art. And clean (you must understand the charm that has to someone who takes the Mumbai local train to work).
Now, Chandni Chowk. An incredibly crowded area that reminded me of the Charminar area of Hyderabad. And the legendary Parathe-wali galli is literally a galli (a metre-wide lane that magically accommodates thousands of pedestrians, two-wheelers and pushcarts of hot stuff simmering away in hot oil. Some of it looks suspect, but I was here for the parathas, and that is absolutely delightful. We chose one of the many lookalike hole-in-the-walls, this one called Babu Ram Parathe Wale (Regd). The menu of over two dozen parathas also told us that it was mandatory to order at least two parathas! Oh, and that the lassi was made from curd (Didn’t know another kind exists). My mixed paratha was brilliant, and RG’s interesting tomato paratha was, well, interesting. I rounded it off with a childhood comfort food, the sugar paratha. Yes, plain old caramelised sugar stuffed into a paratha. Heavenly.
We wolfed it down, paid Rs 90, and heeded all the signs on the wall, including ‘be careful of your belongings’ and ‘do not wash your hands in the plate’!
This was a food experience to cherish. Blueberry cheesecake at the Taj versus sugar paratha at Delhi 6? The choice is obvious.

Love, Sex Aur Dhokha... A bitter pill

A naive, Bollywood-inspired love story ends up not with a rosy ‘happily ever after’, but in a pit by the highway, murdered and chopped into pieces. This one’s different, and it’s cringe-worthily real. LSD isn’t going to drive the Box Office ecstatic. Rather, it might break a few conventions, on what makes a film, what makes a story, what can be told and what is taboo.

The purpose of art isn’t to please, but to reflect reality, often with a shock value. In that sense, Dibakar Benerjee is an artist, almost with a modern dystopian sense of the profane. All three stories in his digitally-shot, ‘pictures-may-be-shaky’ reality show aren’t meant to have safe, stylised, larger-than-life splendour. His stories are squalid, his characters realistically petty and powerless, pawns of a convoluted social fabric. His middle-class protagonists aren’t the all-mighty, all-challenging, fate-altering Bollywood hero. They are middle-class, sure, but ineffectual, with common, often delusional aspirations of falling in love, finding fame through a raunchy music video deal, and a shooting a prize-catch sting video.

Therefore, the DDLJ-inspired Rahul and his rich-dad’s-daughter girlfriend run away from home, not to be accepted later, but to be murdered brutally by the girl’s brother and party. The shock value of the story isn’t allowed to pathetically linger, though. We move on to the boy who seduces a ‘dark’, and therefore conventionally unattractive, girl, and records a ‘Store Scandal’ footage that sells for a ‘good’ price. The somewhat-cliched third story is that of the aspiring dancer and sting journalist out to blackmail and reveal a B-grade pop singer and the infamous casting couch. While the first two stories are essentially Delhi, the last seems to belong to Bollywood underbelly in Mumbai.

Shot on a handheld camera, a CCTV and a spy cam (a la Emotional Atyachaar), this is cinema made without a grand budget, glamorous stars or pretty camerawork. It’s rather a parody of the glittering dream that Bollywood sells: of romantic soliloquies, tube-well-uprooting action heroes and the morally upright common man. The ‘item number’ in LSD is also a crude parody of the Rakhi Sawant brand of cleavage and sex.

For those who call Love, Sex aur Dhokha crass and dirty, it is precisely that. But appropriately so, for so is the reality that surrounds us. A hidden camera (here, acting as the proverbial mirror) held up to society cannot be rose-tinted, and Emotional Atyachaar’s TRP ratings speak for our voyeuristic tastes. For those seeking safe, un-scandalising cinema, 3 Idiots will continue to define ‘realistic’ cinema.

For the unfortunate few who’ve had to endure my review/rant, go see the film. You’ll love it, or you’ll be shocked by the filmmaker’s guts. Either way, that’s the point.

Caught in a cell

‘So, you want postpaid?’


‘You have residence proof?’

What do you mean?

‘Ration card, Voter id, driving license?’

No. You see I’m not from Mum...

‘Electricity bill?’

Yes, but on the landlord’s name.

‘Sorry, not possible.’

Vodafone, Airtel, It’s the same conversation everywhere. ‘Sorry Sir, you’re not eligible for a postpaid connection.’ Why? Not because I’m a terrorist; not because my name is Khan (it’s not, it’s Ray, and it’s Bengali, though I’m not related to Satyajit Ray). It’s because I’m not from Bombay.

Good news, after 10 months in the city now, I am finally the proud owner of a postpaid Vodafone connection! Bad news, it took 10 months, harassment, a score of ‘your service has been disconnected’ and stupid conversations with stupid customer-care employees.

God bless that girl at the Fort Vodafone store though—she is smart, and with a positive IQ, quite a rarity with customer care execs. And bless my HR manager for the letter stating I could get my bill on the office address (it also stated, ‘However, the company will not be paying the bill’ just to make things clear).

So, if you’re new to Mumbai and want to get a postpaid connection without having to ‘please visit the Vodafone store near you for further assistance’ every time your line gets disconnected, here’s the checklist:

Are you from Mumbai and have an ID-proof with a city address? You’re eligible.

Are you a terrorist? Eligible, unless you tell them you’re going to use the connection to blow up their office perhaps. Provided, you have fake documents to prove you’re from the city. Or have bribed the driving school guy to get a real license.

Do you have a friend or colleague from Mumbai on whose address you can take the connection? Maybe/ maybe not. Depending on the Stupidity Quotient of the person who comes for address verification. My address verification, I was promptly informed, happened when no one was home and the verification inspector (woah) concluded I’m unworthy of the connection.

And finally. Is your HR, after some coaxing perhaps, willing to provide a letter stating you can get the bill on the office address? Yes! And that’s how I am finally a privileged Vodafone customer!

So there you go. In a nutshell, go to your HR. Or go to the driving school with a 200-rupee bribe. And do not take a postpaid connection casually, since all this hassling is being done to protect terrorists from sailing in a boat to Gateway, taking a 5-star hotel and railway station hostage and opening fire. Vodafone’s policy deters them severely.

Mr Terrorist, if you are using a postpaid connection with a Pakistan address and trying to call Al Qaeda to inform the body count, tough luck. You might hear the cheerful recorded Vodafone lady go ‘Sorry, your lines have been temporarily disconnected. Please visit the nearest Vodafone store or use the swarm of TV media outside the hotel to get your message across.’


One of the best ways to spend 50 rupees in Mumbai

Now, everyone will agree on this. Mumbai is an expensive city. Whether you’re like me, from another city, who at the first encounter with Bombay had a mini heart attack every other day; or if you’re from the city, a pakka Mumbaikar, everyone is unanimous on this one. Rent, food, chaat, street shopping, real estate... you’re in the most expensive city in India. Here’s for a bit of perspective: my friends in Hyderabad pay Rs 2,000 lesser rent than me for a 1,000-sq ft 2 bhk apartment! I, on the other hand, part with precious money every month for a 220-sq ft one-room-kitchen.

In a city, therefore, where ordering lunch everyday costs an average of Rs 100 (and that’s when I’m ordering ‘cheap’), the joy that a meagre 50 rupees can provide becomes remarkable.

Yes, I am aware of the statistic of the BPL in India and what a grand sum 50 rupees is to them. I also work in a fashion magazine from whose pages designerwear sporting 7-figure price tags stare back at me, giving me enough occasions to cringe.

And since not many from BPL India are likely to read my blog (not many above it read my blog either), 50 rupees is still bloody cheap.

By the way, have you seen the revamped version of the ‘Tel Malish’ song for the film Road, Movie? It’s way better than the revamped ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’, if there’s a comparison here at all. And no, I didn’t go for a Tel Maalish on Carter Road or Band Stand, if that’s what you’re thinking. Though they are really popular.

So, if you’re in Mumbai, and badly in the need for a haircut (without any intention of burning a 500-rupee hole in your pocket) have walked into one of those seemingly-safe places that charge Rs 50, ask if they do a head massage. Try it, for if your guy is anything close to being as skilled as the one at '5-star hair cutting salon' in Pali, Bandra, you will love it! Of course, if he’s done a bad job of the haircut, it might just be safe to walk out without letting yourself be subjected to further experiments.

So, that was my big discovery on a lazy Saturday afternoon, when I walked into the salon for a trim (Rs 50 is like the standard rate for any service here, it seems).

You will be asked for a choice: “Parachute or cool?” He means the choice of oil. I, being the brand victim I am, went for the former. Out come two full-size towels he puts over you. And then the skilled hands get to work.

For the standard 50-rupee rate, he gives you a fantabulously relaxing, sleep-inducing head massage. And the bonus is that here, the definition of ‘head’ seems more than that patch of crop at top. 'Head' extends to the back, shoulders and hands as well. And you won’t hear yourself complaining. After a good 15 minutes of this, he suggests using a machine. It’s a soild metal vibrator (disclaimer, refer below), that his palm apparently fits into and then he goes to work on your head again. It looked a tad intimidating, like the bared robot arm in Terminator 2. So I say 'No, thank you, I’ll avoid'. The nearly half-hour massage finishes with a towel soaked in hot water over your head.

I open my eyes and squint as the light after having been close to dosing off. I happily pull out the additional 50-rupee note and thank the man.

Just the other day I heard about a place in Juhu where a full-body massage and exotic oils therapy costs Rs 15,000! I try to calculate in my head how many head massages I could get for that amount and feel happy for the small joys.

Disclaimer: this post has no innuendos, so don’t over read. It’s a good old champi, that’s what this is. Though the experience, one may say, is extremely pleasurable.

The Avatar experience

Joyride warning: This is not for heart patients, people with claustrophobia, migraine problems, or those with any proven record of 3D-o-phobia.

So, I saw Avatar in IMAX 3D. And? Well, it made me want to throw up.

There. I’ve said it. It’s an honest admission, and no matter how hard I try to tell myself that it was the bad popcorn they served at the premier, 3D, the IMAX version at least, doesn’t quite suit me. It’s good to know that a few other film reviews and online posts I read expressed similar opinions. Phew, I am not a wimp, certainly not the only one. Apparently, it’s not such a nauseating experience for everyone. Good for them. That’s Cameron’s target audience. As for me, I prefer my characters to stick to the screen.

But between surges of nausea and double images (without the glasses which I took off for a good portion), it’s kudos to the graphics guys. This is the high point of special effects, with vivid forest scenes, out-of-this world creatures, and some of the most brilliant fight sequences.

That, and the hype that Cameron’s 3D publicity generated (right back to when the 15-minute trailer released), it's a perfect Hollywood formula for BO success. Avatar, as everyone had predicted, is set to be a huge grosser. After all, even if you’re one of those who gets that splitting headache (I fall comfortable into that category), you will discover it only after having bought the ticket. Technology has always been a Hollywood thing (remember Technicolor, or talkies for that matter), and with the first to do it, it often drives collections better than a storyline.

Cameron’s Avatar wouldn’t win an Oscar for original storyline (though one never can be certain). Blue-skinned 10-feet Na’vis (think of the blue-skinned god, Krishna, and that perhaps explains the film’s title) reside on the planet called Pandora. The evil, however, doesn’t reside within, but comes attacking from outside: in the form of humans. The clich├ęd ‘future’ means our own planet is a wasteland and we need new resources. But the iron-pumping baddy chief (Colonel I-can’t-spell-his-name) is not the adorably plump captain of the spaceship in Wall-E. “You have to stay tough,” he says, and does, till he dies in the climax.

Digression: Remember the 'Boss' from Virtual Cop? Yes, that point-and-fire computer game from the last millennia. 'Boss' was the one that fought the final battle and had the longest ‘life-meter’. Pretty much defines the villain of the Hollywood action film.

So, the humans come looking for a mineral called Unobtanium (yes, it remains unobtained), which is highly precious back on Earth. A war ensues, with gunships against bows and arrows. It’s that and the in-between developments—Jake Suly takes on the Na’vi avatar through a virtual reality programme (it’s not Johnny Quest, but similar), learns their ways and eventually fights for them—where Cameron spends his multi million dollars, creating fantastic, dream-like images.

Think Matrix on a hallucinogenic, and then think if something could beat that. As for the director, this is not Titanic, but a throwback to his Aliens and Terminator. Future, big fighting machines, super natural creatures—this is signature Cameron.

No pain, no gain. Guess that holds true. For as I walk out of the theatre, and the normal world comes back into focus, I know I have seen something new, yet glad it’s now over.

Future of animation and what projection technology can be? For sure. The future of all cinema? It’s a heady thought.

Unique Selling Product

As they say, the best USP there can be is the product itself. If that’s good, half the publicity is taken care of. Well, anyway, I’m no marketing guru, so I’ll steer away from this before someone grows suspicious of my expertise (lack of it, rather) on the subject.

Besides, that’s not what this post is about. It is about a product though. Two, actually. Every month, a new product sells on local trains in Bombay (are we still allowed to say Bombay?) like there’s no two questions about its necessity,

The first item that proved a heads-down winner was the head massager. Priced at a just-on-trains-exclusive Rs 10, looking oddly like an egg whisk, this sold through all of September to October. The success was obvious, for otherwise, there’s no way on ...err...train, that it would sell for 2 whole months. I ignored it at the moment and felt thoroughly like a ‘Boka Jamai’ (a Bengali tale about the foolish son-in-law who mistook kheer for rice and milk) later.

Having discovered its joys only much later, oddly enough on a visit to Hyderabad, I went looking for the head massager as soon as I was back in Bombay (oops, censored word again). To no avail though, not for the Standard Train Price at any rate (no pun, as usual).

For anyone desperately still seeking one, try Colaba (Rs 30! Insane) or the pavement in front of Jehangir Art Gallery (bargainable to Rs 20).

Anyway, the latest hot seller on the trains is as bizarre as it gets. Curious ear muffs, or their poorer cousins, in all patterns—leopard spots and zebra prints (animal prints are in, by the way)—and various colours, down to the conservative black (that’s in too).

Ok, now why is this bizarre? Isn’t it perfectly normal that people should want to buy ear muffs in November? Well, not really, not in Bom.. errm...You-Know-Where. Because You-know-Where doesn’t really have a winter, and the present mid-November temperature is 30 degrees! This city just pretends to have a winter for five days or so, between Christmas and New Year.

But I did see a young man wearing full-sleeved pullover on the train today. I thought only advocates and marketing executives had to pretend that it’s winter all year round, sweating in their black blazers and woollen suits, respectively.

The young executive in a formal striped shirt did check out the earmuff though, for pure curiosity’s sake I would imagine. I don’t think he’d fancy wearing them to work, or even at work, even if he has to sit right under the air conditioner!

So far then, the only ones wearing these funny earmuffs—and quite nonchalantly too, as if everyone else is foolish not to be—are the guys selling them. The price? Rs 10 of course.

Frankly, I don’t see this one making it for two months. Unless the Met department issues a heavy snowfall warning next (to top the cyclone warning earlier this month). I’m not buying one regardless. As for a Rs 10 deal on the head massager, I’m still on the lookout.

Note: FYI, the head massagers were manufactured in China. As is everything else, including fake ipods to hideously loud cellphones. That’d explain the peculiarity of the idea and design and the low pricing.

The Calcutta update

Alright. So part of the reason I’m writing this post is so that I can test the keypad on my new laptop. Even otherwise, though, back in Calcutta after 6 months, and back for the Durga Puja after 2 years, the need for an update is a bit of a necessity.
This is perhaps my longest stay in Cal since the time I moved out of the city, in 2006, to Hyderabad. It’s been a week so far, and everything around is quintessentially Calcutta (of course you dont expect things to change much in 6 months, especially in this city). That, of course, apart from the assault on my senses caused by the newfound DJs’ tunes (or so I think they’re supposed to be) during the idol immersion. We’ll come to that. But here’s to begin with:

Cricket fever, the odd Pakistan fan and Dada, the TV-show host
If you’re a Bong away from the mad cricket-loving people you left behind here, welcome back! I arrived bang in the middle of the Champions’ Trophy, with an India-Pakistan match on sched. As usual, the whole town’s talking, expecting a win and well... we lose! And if I were in Mumbai now, I might not even have known this bit of news till the next day’s newspaper. In Cal, however, my old reputation meant that the odd Pakistan fan who lives next door made a point to tell me the result, with a grin pasted firm across his face! Of course, there’s no way to tell him that I didn’t really care. So, I left him talking to himself about Pakistan being the inevitable champion, and their loss to Australia being “got up” (meaning fixed).
Arguing Bongs readily allude to odd things and to Sourav Ganguly. So, it was Dada again. Without cricket to talk about, since we were out of the tournament (you must understand by now, I had sat down to watch the next game... old habits and joblessness), Sourav’s show on TV is the talk of the town. I saw one episode, and I must admit he’s got more screen presence than the whole of the Indian team put together. He’s humorous, witty, diplomatic, and tactful with personal questions people ask. It’s not surprising though that half the quiz questions are about him—his records, his centuries, and video clips of him. Quite a TRP-stealer, I hear. As for the local news channels cursing Zee for this, they had their fair share of him on Dashami evening, with the ‘Breaking News’ being Ganguly dancing at the immersion and playing the Dhak (a kind of drums) for the cameras.
With so much publicity, dbe surprised if Rituporno Ghosh decides to cast him in his next! Don’t think a Hadippa (the Rani Mikherjee-Shahid Kapoor disaster) is down Ghosh’s lane, but if, say he does cast Ganguly as the coach, he could play Rani’s role himself: man playing woman playing man! (No pun on ‘playing’ intended).

Now, for the constants
The chicken roll at Hot Kati (on Park Street) still costs Rs 20! And it’s as good as ever. Not so pleasantly, the list of constants includes the airtime still given to Mamata Banerjee. The traffic-blocking, andolon-calling stuntwoman-turned-leader-and-now-Rail Minister is still at it. Cheap publicity remains her forte, and she’s still calling for the Government’s head, on new issues and old, pledging to start a ship service from Andamans for the poor passengers stuck there due to the Air India strike (she’s in apparent ignorance of the fact, of course, that the said ship service has always existed).
As for things only slightly more important, Badla’s 100-something-old grandmother is alive and bent! (She’s been this way for the last 20 years that I’ve seen her). The hot rosogollas (Rs 2 each), jalebis (Rs 1 each) and the bhoger polau (priceless), are still made in Cal like nowhere else!

Culture shock
Right, now to talk about the immersion on Dashami (10th and last day of the Durga Puja), and the accompanying ‘DJ’ on the truck with every locality’s immersion procession. He’s basically the guy who sings (yeah, this DJ sings), changes the track (he plays whole songs because it’s a long crowded road to the ghats) and not-quite-seamlessly switches from Bengali film music and pop to Vengaboys (I’m sure they’re still available, ’cuz the Mc D near VT station in Mumbai was playing them the last week).
For all those old-timers (and I weirdly enough stand with them on this one) who thought that dhak and Dhunuchi (ref. Sanjay Dutt dancing in Parineeta) was the way to see off Ma Durga and family, telling everyone “Aasche bochhor abar hobe” (“Till next year”), guess tastes have— in lack of a better expression—evolved.

PS for Durga, from Cal: Divine mother, please dont misunderstand. We were not recommending you visit Brazil for the Pujo vacations next year. We love you and hope to have evovled to Backstreet Boys next year.

Beware! Masked men about town

It’s the August of 2009 and there’s a new villain on the prowl. The crowd-and-sweat loving citizens of megatown Mumbai have a new menace wreaking hovoc, striking fear in their hearts. The swine is in the air!

And as the city pushes and shoves into the 9’o clock Borivili Fast, the dark new face of evil lurks surreptitiously about. Stretching its dark, invisible fingers, it reaches out for the unsuspecting victim in a striped shirt and tie, thumbing away on his blackberry and feasting on the vadapaw and samosa without a care in the world.

In a flash it reaches for the innocent victim. Only the healer can save him now, with the magical ingredient legend calls Tamiflu. But he’s hard to reach these days, since he’s doing overtime in neighbouring Pune.

The Daily Planet reports, voicing a general fury—“Swine kills 2 more! Where is Superman?”

The man of steel who had called it a day, retiring to Crypton after red innerwear over blue spandex went out of fashion in the ’70s was last seen in a theatre near you in 2006. The world’s safety is at stake and everyone is looking up to the skies.

But just as we thought the swine will reign as the new king of crime, there are new heroes among us. With level 6 pandemic comes great responsibility. And for the first time, resolute Mumbaikars are ready to step up to the task.

“Even on the brink of a shutdown, as a panicky government calls for malls and schools to shut down, heroic Mumbaikars don the masks,” The Planet announces with gusto. A young man in a Led Zepplin t-shirt and cropped hair steps into the medicine shop, asking for the mask. His face is solemn. He isn’t doing this by will or for fun, but because he must. At the risk of slimming down his chances of finding a girlfriend this season, he dons the mask. He’s ready to take on the swine!

So is the blackberry-punching corporate and the one-piece safari suit-donning Mr Shah.

Funnily, there are more masks in the First Class than in second. Some with handkerchiefs tied around their faces, I assume, are interning to be heroes. In a week, they too should qualify.

It’s mid-August now, and people are ebbing back to reopened theatres to see Fahid Kapoor’s Kaminey. Schools are gradually opening again. Normalcy seems to be returning to the megatown. Evil forces still exist, but they’re losing the battle. The masked men have succeeded. For now!

Disclaimer: This one might sound a little dated, thanks to engagements halfway though, and sheer laziness (Note: I was not struck by the swine, nor by anyone I’ve called by that name! I swear!)

Truth, anyone?

Let’s face the truth here. We really are better off with Ekta Kapoor (Gasp! Her name begins with ‘E’. She should call her self Kkekta Kapoor). Jobless women bitching about each other, running around the house hatching plots; going to sleep in couture and flashy jewellery; and crying without spoiling their make-up. ‘Suspension of disbelief’? Little did Coleridge know!

Why, you ask, must we put up with this make-believe soppy drama and episodes number 9,99,999, and eternally-living and eternally-sobbing saas-es and bahus? Because we’re not ready for anything better. Or so the government will have you believe. Eternally controlling what our naive TV-audience should watch, in a latest, they’ve decided Sach ka Samna, the Indian version of The Moment of Truth (Another ‘inspired’ show, of course) asks “obscene questions” and thereby corrupts our pure ‘Indian’ morality.

Well, what were you expecting? They’d extol the show for talking about sex, cheating, marital discord, drugs and single-motherhood on TV? Chhee, chhee… Shocking! That is just way too truthful and goes against everything Indian tradition and values stand for. It’s not about not staying away from any of these things… but about not admitting to them. You can do what you want, of course, that’s perfectly alright: polygamy, discrimination, domestic violence and drugs. But that doesn’t mean you be open about them… that too on national television!

It took our films decades to have actors kissing rather than the flowers doing it on their behalf, though Deepa Mehta and Nandita Das are still censored. MF Husain is unable to return to India and we still suck up to a farce of a film on homosexuality with a corny title Dostana (My Brother Nikhil is offbeat, so too bad, we don’t watch it). We can’t miss that 9,99,999th episode for anything.

Well then, for the poor audience we are, guess it is for granddads in parliament to decide what’s best for us. Your guardians have spoken. Finish your soap and off to bed!

Seeking sal(i)vation… even as the swine arrives

AAA… THOOO… There goes another one. A convoluted missile of saliva flies through the air as I dodge just in the nick of time to avoid it landing on my foot!

There would be no research necessary perhaps to establish that every single square inch of public space in Mumbai has been spat upon at some time or the other. It’s a joint effort that the people of this city collectively take credit for. No mean feat, mind you, considering the expanse of Mumbai… And yet, every morning, on their way to work, study, eat, drink or visit relatives, resolute Mumbaikars are ensuring they have made their contribution to the day’s quota of saliva on the street.

But maybe, just maybe, it’s time to give this noble cause a temporary rest. As the headlines on my morning newspaper announces the first case of swine flu in Mumbai, the unavoidable images of public ‘spitributors’ carrying on their mission to coat the city with saliva returns to haunt me. TB is, of course, just a small price to pay in the larger cause of a city seeking absolute salivation. But somehow, I’d have imagined the threat of swine flu to be a bigger deterrent.

But Mr A chewing paan and colouring the newly whitewashed walls of Bandra station (just-renovated and already beetle-tinged towards the base) knows he doesn’t have the flu, so it’s safe for him to be spitting. Meanwhile Mr B, who’s just come back from America the other day, rolls down his glass and lets out another wet missile… he’s not in quarantine, so he has the right too. Mr C, leaning out of the crowded Borivili-Churchgate local, of course, is a seasoned campaigner; so, even if he’s caught the headlines or is aware of the health hazards, he knows he spits with such precision (and sound, for good measure) that it lands metres away from anyone who might reprimand him for it.

Well, for me, I’m just glad for the temporary respite of a weekend. That means I don’t have to brave any saliva-attack today, neither from the ‘united-we-spit’ activists at VT Station, nor the sweeper running a covert operation at the Perry Cross Bus Stand at Bandra, going about his business on the spot that he’s just swept clean.

So, I stay indoors all morning and afternoon, while there’s invariably spit flying all over the city (Someone somewhere in Mumbai must be spitting right this second!).

The rare cloud cover (it hasn’t rained yet, so there isn’t spit-mixed water flooding the roads or getting into your shoes) finally inspires me to go out for a walk in the evening. And just as I step out, Mr D from the neighbouring building shows solidarity—in one fluid motion, he has stuck his face to the grills of his window and let it fly… ‘Duck!!’ Sigh… just in time again!

Shrinking world?

To write in a post that ‘the world is shrinking’ or that technology is bringing the world closer is to say nothing new. It’s almost like being a Gallileo-too-late and waking up to declare to the world that it…is actually round. ‘Yeah, what of it? What’s new?’ So, well, nothing ‘earth-moving’ in that (if you follow my desperate attempt at pun).
Yet, you wonder sometimes if we take these statements and progressive (or so I’m made to believe) proclamations—in technology, economy, or yoga practices—at face value, believing much too easily and without debate. So, what prompts me on a work-evening to launch into a sermon that will pull you out of the Matrix and make you see the conspiracy theory behind it all? Just a couple of articles I read, each startling in its right to either side of the spectrum (besides temporary joblessness).
One is about the latest social networking sensation (yeah, I know, ‘another one!’) called Twitter (GQ-British, May 2009) that allows you to tell the world ‘What you are doing’ in 140 characters.
The other is about the 11-year old ‘suicide bomber’ called Abdullah (police say he’s the youngest they’ve seen) who was caught, strapped in explosives, and who said when interrogated that he knew he’d be ‘in pieces.’ (TOI, Mumbai, 8 April 2009).
Twitter, according to the article, is a rage in the US and the UK, and a lot of celebs are ‘on it.’ The idea is to write out pint-sized texts of your day to day, nay, hour to hour activity. So, the ‘real Britney Spears,’ as Twitter promises, tells you what she’s doing right now, just as does Barack Obama, it seems. And thus, you get to follow other people’s lives. And you get to tell other people about such things of utmost importance as ‘sipping coffee,’ ‘lazing at work’ (if your Boss is not on your list), ‘going to sleep’ or ‘visiting my grandmother.’ I know you’re probably saying, ‘he’s late to the party,’ but it’s quite amazing for me to think that things I thought trivial, it seems, are now things that interests the entire world, if Twitter’s 1000 per cent rise of users is anything to go by. And in this mad rush to almost-voyeuristically peep into others’ lives and exhibition your own (obviously celebs love it), it seems that worlds and peoples are coming closer than ever before. I’m not ‘Tweeting’ yet, but my Facebook homepage tells me I can change my status message via sms. So, there’s already competition on the horizon to fuel a mad rush towards, what this writer calls, “a test of our powers of concentration” and what some would call, a fresh onslaught at privacy. Millions of lives and activities are closer to us than ever before. Truly technology is connecting us like never before, connecting people across time-zones, social boundaries and cultures. I can brose Google Maps to figure out my way from VT to Juhu, the gyms I am enquiring give me info on phone, and I can access my bank account online! Yay.
But even as my friend visiting Calcutta from London and taking a flight back from Hyderabad to Heathrow tells me about the convenience and reduced flight-rates, I know that the 11-year old suicide bomber and his country are less flying hours from Heathrow and yet, beyond my reach, physically, and in thought.
It’s amazing how in our happy bid to create out hi-fi little ‘global village,’ we left out people, races and regions entirely. Young Abdullah goes to a school where he’s taught how to use Kalashnikovs, and “about the foreigners coming to Muslim lands, killing women and children.” “When I’m older I’ll kill non-Muslims. If I don’t, they’ll come to our homes and kill us” is his warped image of our global village.
So, what went wrong, I think. Why, when everyone woke up to the happy, 20th Century modern world, did this boy and his entire race get left behind? Global politics, ignorance, or religious extremisim, I don’t know for sure. But our cocooned little worlds aren’t as pretty or as small as we think it to be. Abdullah is not on Twitter, but Google gives me 168,000 results for ‘Abdullah suicide bomber.’

Sonia Gandhi and the Hyd invasion!!

My farewell, a friend’s due birthday treat, a bucket of chicken wings at KFC and the last of the good times and people that I will miss about Hyd. [Here’s to the entire populace that keeps track of my blog (a number you can count on two fingers!) news that I am shifting to Bombay…sniff sniff.]
Anyway, so all goes well until guess who spoils the day…Sonia Gandhi! The Congress supremo is in town and everyone on the busy Begumpet crossing on a weekday is suddenly hauled to the side of the road and traffic is cleared with amazing efficacy. It’s pindrop silence (without any exaggeration) and Sonia Gandhi zips past in her bulletproof car and Z-category convoy. She waves as she goes, of course. And that one supposes should make me and everyone else who’s been rudely shoved to the side of the road vote for the Congress. ‘Oh, ma’am, you waved…you actually waved at …it’s deliverance!’ Worth me and the rest of earning India pay for her swank bullet-proof car and the Porsche Cayenne S that zips behind it? I have my reservations (no double-meaning intended).
As it goes, the big Congress extravaganza takes place in the heart of Hyderabad, at the Secunderabad Parade Grounds, and that means hell for all traffic in the city. Add to that the misfortune of being on the same stretch when the rally gets over.
A multitude pours out of the grounds and makes its way towards Secunderabad station, effectively throwing traffic out of gear at peak office-time. By the look of it, this invasion has been gathered from all over rural Andhra, perhaps at the promise of a biryani or electricity. Are these congress devotees or political hardliners who wouldn’t miss a word of Mrs Gandhi’s Italianised Hindi? Nay, I doubt, but huge vote banks, that they are.
So, here’s the proposed paradox. The Congress plays up 'Soniaji’s' visit, and professes it as the star-event in their pre-election campaign. She comes, brings the city to a grinding halt getting everyone to curse the traffic and whatever caused it…and they expect it to translate into votes in return. But wait, that’s isn’t the paradox I’m talking about…that’s in the fact that the translation probably does come true!
Iconic leadership, anyone? Oi, everyone start humming ‘Jai Ho!’

Up up and away to Chandni Chowk

Akshay Kumar after reportedly being attacked by bricks and bats by a bunch of haggard critics has come out to say in an interview, ‘I am not Superman,’ by which I think he means he would’ve willed all the bricks to fly in the opposite direction by mere eyesight and then fly away cape fluttering to the Great Wall of China.
Yes, almost all of China in Akshay’s Chandni Chowk seems to stretch from one end of the Great Wall to the other, and it also seems it’s perfectly alright to fall off it and survive; to throw chopsticks and kill people; to have mad double roles, coincidences and Asian Sky Shop products, including the amazing umbrella that’s bulletproof, stabproof and can fly. All in all…it’s completely mindless.
But since when did we Indians start complaining about mindless scripts? Our suspension of disbelief is in perfect condition when Sunny Deol uproots the tube-well to kill villains (Gadar), when Shah Rukh jumps off a tower and survives (Koyla) and of course, when Aamir Khan breaks chairs on his backs, slaps a deputy-of-a deputy-villain’s neck backwards, and kills 30 odd goons apparently within 15 mins (Ghajini).
The problem it seems then is when the message actually tells us to suspend disbelief, when we’re told beforehand to “leave your brains behind”. Shouldn’t have done that, Akshay…totally your faullt. It seems that offended the viewers – someone finally told them the close-guarded secret - most of what we watch has no sense and doesn’t require any brainpower…none, absolutely.
But hang on…the film’s done not so bad at the BO, but critics seem to be bashing it in unison. Did they then…oh, now we get it…it’s not us viewers, but you guys who got offended, who thought we were questioning your brains. So, here’s what I think you did (and Akshay might agree) – you didn’t heed the advice and brought your brains along, it obviously malfunctioned and then you wrote.
While you could digest Sanjay Singhania’s bizarre Ghulam-like office dressing (sleeves rolled up, mawalli style), to-be-doctor Jiah Khan’s (that’s already a laugh) pointless item number, and Aamir’s ability to remember to exercise every morning to kill the villain, you couldn’t accept a film that is, as the Hipposaur has said, “self-consciously” made.
The over-the-top humour, the v.v.v Bollywood judwaa behnein, bichhraa baap, and the fight sequences and cinematography done like a B-grade Chinese-to-Hollywood dub…are to me, very self-conscious. In fact, the hero fighting with a sickle and hammer, and the red tones (in case you don’t get it: think Communism) are quite brilliant.
The film does stretch and some portions aren’t all that entertaining, but the spoof is deliberate and the action sequences are as good as they get.
But SRK gets away poking fun at Bollywood because he’s SRK (I too liked OSO) and Aamir gets away with a mindless remade script because he’s Aamir…Akshay doesn’t, evidently, because he told-you-so beforehand.
Sorry Akki, you didn’t throw the right people off the wall before making the movie. And I gtg now, ‘cuz I see the zombie haggard critic looking for a brick.