Friday, 28 December 2012

That Post About Religion

I have always believed that religion has been an essential part of human evolution and has played a defining role in all spheres of life – scientific, military, spiritual, cultural etc. But when people stick too closely to it and forget the reason for its existence in the first place, it becomes a little frustrating and very humorous.

Forget everything that I just said. The bottom-line is: Religious fanatics are hilarious.

Every time I reach this part of the world, I am fortunate enough to be subjected to a diatribe or two about the higher values of life and our raison d’être.  The last time it happened, I was walking down a crowded marketplace in downtown Cairo when a bunch of hawkers stopped me and began coaching me about the truths of life. Back then, I was a naïve fool and I was so stunned by their actions that I failed to recognize the humour in the incident. Well, this time was different.

I began my innocuous walk back to the tea-room along with my engineer-friend to make myself a refreshing cup of piping hot chai after another day of brute-force labour when I ran into the Equipment Operator I shall henceforth refer to only as Mr. M. He had, several times in the past, tried to incite me into conversing with him about religion but I tactfully evaded the talk every single time. This time he took a very direct approach.

Mr. M: You know, Anirudh, I used to preach before to those who are blind. And I’d like to use this opportunity to tell you a little about the truth about God and life. I only want to open your eyes.

I was shocked by the sudden manner in which he brought up the topic and I managed to spill copious amounts of boiling hot liquid on my coveralls. Thank God (whichever one you choose to believe in) for making Nomex coveralls thick!

Mr. M: (quickly correcting himself) No, no… Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean you cannot see this cup of tea or this table in front of you. I want to enlighten your mind. There is nothing wrong in being blind; I too was blind before (he consoled me).

Me: What about this guy? (I asked pointing at my engineer friend) Don’t you want to give him eyes as well?

Mr. M: (Pointing to the other engineer in the room) My friend here is from a holy city and a land of several preachers. I am sure that there are several people more learned than me who can teach him. If he remains blind even after that, then I cannot help him anyway. But you, my friend… You are from the distant land of India and it is my duty to enlighten you.

Me: (I chuckled involuntarily) So you think that the distant land of India is dark and people there are blind? Let me tell you one thing, Mr. M… No one in this world is blind. There are people who believe in the same things as you do and there are people who believe differently. There is no reason to call people different from you as blind!

Mr. M: You don’t understand me fully… We are all one and we all evolved from the same people. But somewhere along the line, some of us went astray. Do you realize that this is why we have conflicts these days? Imagine if we all followed the same religion and the one true God… Imagine how peaceful and powerful we will be!

Me: (nonchalantly) Okay then, why don’t you follow my religion? Then also, we can be peaceful, as you say.

Mr. M: (thoroughly shocked) No! Your religion does not follow the code… Tell me what is good about your religion?

Me: There are several things good and bad about any religion. What specifically do you want to know?

Mr. M: Does your God tell you the way of the righteous man? Does He tell you how to live?

Me: Of course, we have two magnificent concepts called dharma­ – which is the definition of the righteous path – and karma – which defines the fruits of your actions. (Realizing that I was getting way too philosophical) I can explain these in detail if you want, but that’s the gist.

Mr. M: Is this Dharma your God?

Me: No, it is the path of righteousness. Why should you care about God if your religion defines a good way to live? Isn’t that the entire point?

Mr. M: No, your God defines everything. Let me educate you… What do you know about your origins?
I was confused now. Did he want me to talk about Darwinian evolution, about the Aryan invasion of India, about Zoroastrianism and Hinduism in the pre-Vedic times? Luckily, he qualified the question further.

Mr. M: Do you know about Adam and Eve?
Of course, I should have guessed – Adam and Eve! The problem with any kind of debate is that in order to create any sort of meaningful clash, you need to agree on some topic in the first place. This is Debating 101. Using that point as a mutually agreed position, you can go on to debate everything else. However, if there is no meeting place, then both parties can go on endless tirades, all of which will be futile. Sigh, so I have to agree with Adam and Eve now.

Me: Yes, we too have a first man. It’s just that we call him Manu and not Adam. They probably gave him an Indian name to make him sound local.

Mr. M: How can you have a first man of a different name? This is not true then!

Me: Dude, my religion came up with all these stories some four-thousand years ago. I have no idea how they traced people back to the first man with his name. That being said, your version of the origin of Man came some two-thousand years after mine. I wonder why they changed his name in your tale?

Mr. M: Okay, okay (he said in a hurry) So far, you have agreed upon the fact that we all came from the same origin. Now, why do you insist on believing something different? Come to our path…

My Engineer Friend: (turning this into a tag-team match) You understand that every new religion came in order to make up for a void left by another, right? I accept that your faith dates back to several thousand years ago but think about this… Judaism came first, and then Christianity, and finally Islam. Each one filled the gap left by the rest. Same applies to your faith too.

Me: Maybe, whatever you say applies to Abrahamic religions but India is some three thousand miles away. None of this filled a void in India and China back then! Anyway, for the sake of argument, let’s consider that what you say is right. Then, I should believe in Scientology, no? That’s the latest religion, not Islam.

My Engineer Friend: That’s blasphemy. They ought to be killed!

Mr. M to My Engineer Friend: (in Arabic) Scientology aish?

My Engineer Friend: Humans came from aliens, not from Adaam.
They both laugh heartily.

Mr. M: These fellows are funnier than the Chinese guys! (Then, turning to me) Do you know Chinese don’t believe in Adam? They think we just came into this world, like it was no one’s business… Like we evolved from camels or something.
I smiled and put my hands on Mr. M’s shoulder.

Me: I sincerely believe that all people of any faith, if they are completely true to what has been preached to them, can do no wrong. Wrongdoers are anomalies of a system and not the results of them.

Mr. M: That is a wrong belief, my friend… Look at the western society! If people see the light, then we won’t have the evils of the West plaguing us! If you go to the beach, you have to see naked ladies taking bath in the sea… They need to be reformed.
Sigh, now I have to accept that bikinis are bad for this world.

Me: Are you trying to tell me that the church tells these women to wear bikinis to the beach? I don’t think so… I think the Pope will be very upset if he hears this. (My engineer friend laughed) But just for the sake of conversation, if you think women dress badly, what about the men?

Mr. M: For men, it is different, my Indian friend. But when women dress like that and when they go nude, they trigger many evils in the society. We are filled with bad emotions and this will lead to the downfall of Mankind.

Me: Aren’t you supposed to control yourself? I mean – how is a woman responsible if you are the one committing the evils?

Mr. M: All that you speak now – they are the Devil’s words. This desire that they trigger in us is the Devil’s work as well. It is all written in the code: if only you will understand.

Me: As I told you, everyone talks about the same things… These stories are just packaged differently to suit local needs. All I ask of you is not try to impose your faith on me. Believing in the same thing is not a prerequisite for harmonious existence. I come from a secular nation and I can assure you that much. I never once have tried to enlighten you… I only ask you to similarly keep your views unto yourself.
Mr. M gave up on his efforts to make me see the true path of light and glory. For today.

Mr. M: One day, my friend… We will all truly be brothers.

Me: But we are already brothers.

Mr. M: I don’t believe it.

Me: Well, I do.

P.S. On a normal day, I wouldn't give a damn about religion and faith. But these conversations have a strange way about them. They make you want to desperately return to your roots although you aren't all that passionate about it. These religious people – they make you religious too, by one way or the other. God save Humanity.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Peacock Horizon

The sky was turning into the most magnificent combination of crimson and gold. The moon, beaming down upon the earth with its rays of white light, appeared lonely now. A few clouds gathered by the horizon, making a statement of beauty and splendor to our thirsty eyes. The winter wind blew cold and frosty, bursting through the dunes and valleys of the desert, as I held on tightly to my light jacket.

The clouds appeared violet in a blood red sky as the smell of freshly brewed chai was carried by the wind. Short men who cowered from the relentless wind appeared tall and powerful in their shadows. Somewhere an engine was started; perhaps that of a car or maybe a generator to help battle the cold.

A few birds flew in the direction of the sun, flying so fast you would think the end was nigh. Everything in the desert had changed colour in an instant – with the sand turning from rust to deep shade of amber and with the sky now appearing blue and black. You could watch all this a million times and still it wouldn't cease to enchant.

You will fall in love with the desert twice a day – once when the Sun gets up in the East and then when it goes away in the evening. If you take away the experiences prior to them and those which come after, the two instants when you see the Sun peeking over the end of the world are entirely indistinguishable from each other. You cannot know if what will follow will be a day of bright sun or ten hours of darkness.

But you do not care about what will ensue as you are bound by the enthralling colours of the world around you. It doesn't matter what will come next as you know that it doesn't get any more beautiful than this. The desert allows you to live through one of those few rare moments when all that matters to you is only the present - not what came before and not what will come after.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Northern Star

I was seated next to Vishnu, dressed identically of course, in a spotless white shirt and blue shorts. I thanked God (and the school-administration) for not making a tie part of the uniform as it was sweltering outside; the air-conditioner in the classroom fooled us. I believe it was English class as I vaguely recall the Anglo-Indian lady teacher who stood before us that day - D'Mello, I believe her name was.

I usually have an abysmal memory but something about that day will never let me forget... I think it was what she said to Vishnu during the course of her lecture about great leaders:
'Who is your role-model?' she asked him. I looked at him quickly as he prepared his response and then back at the teacher. The question wasn't, I recall perfectly, 'Do you have a role model?' No! She had decided that part for him... Instead, she asked the poor lad who the person was.

I must give full credit to the lad seated next to me of course, as he answered promptly with a socially acceptable response. I don't remember who exactly the person was; it was probably M.K. Gandhi, Abe Lincoln or his dad. I will never know whether he truly meant what he said or whether he said it just to ensure peace and sanity in the class. All the same, I began wondering who I wanted to emulate in life and it wasn't long before I arrived at the horrifying truth. There was no one.

Over the years, I've tried hard to find that person who I found perfect in most ways, but then I've failed miserably in the endeavour. People often say that it is out of conceit and vanity that I harbour such views, but they can be no further from the truth. I believe that the day I find a rock - an immutable human being, who won't transform overnight under the pressure of society and the force of circumstance - my search will end. The day I meet someone who tells me the one thing he/she believes in most strongly and upholds this belief   even as time and circumstances break him/her down, I will look no further. Unfortunately, however, such a person is an imaginary thing and I can no longer hope to find someone I can idolize.

But over the years, I have found a substitute to fill this widening void in life. Places, unlike people, do not  change at the blink of an eye. There is an air of constancy even in our mighty cities with their rising buildings. Even if the skylines do change, the foundations upon which they were built are unshakable. Better still are the places still untouched by man - high in the mountains or in the middle of the sea - where you can return year after year and be assured that you'll be greeted by the same magnificent sights you saw before. Places let you build memories, good or bad, which aren't really influenced by the subsequent memories of them. You can rationally separate them without getting them into a sticky, unintelligible tangle. People don't let you do all these things.

Call me a fool, but even after travelling to so many places, I can no longer tell you which place is better and which place is worse. I remain a terrible tourist-guide for I can only see difference and not good and bad. Places don't judge me and I shan't judge them. I think it is unfair, for every place offers the same amount of good. Time and again, I hear places being abused and sometimes, I cannot understand why. Comfort and discomfort are parts of a traveler's life but only ones he calls upon himself. And most places I have traveled to, probably like most places you've visited, are places inhabited by Man. How then, I ask you, can one group of people find it conducive for life when you can revile it with all your heart?

It is only a matter of perspective... The very perspective which changes so quickly under circumstances ensuring that you are tomorrow, no longer the man you are today. The moment you can look over all this and realize that everything lies in your mind and not outside, you become as steady as a mountain and tranquil as the sea.

The world you see is in your mind. It's not out there.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Undeserving

Dark brown powder quickly dispersed in the boiling water which rapidly flooded his cup. He stirred the brimming cup with the ease of a man who was accustomed to making his own coffee every morning. Spiking his hair with his wet palms, he quickly walked out of the canteen to join the morning meeting, late as he usually was.

Everyone else was already there, waiting impatiently for him to come. As he approached the group, he noticed that every seat was occupied. 'Coming late clearly has its disadvantages', he thought. 'I will probably have to stand through all of it.' But hardly had he embarked upon that thought when the elderly man closest to him rose from his seat to offer it to him. He nodded nonchalantly and took the seat without a though, as if by right. He then looked around at the others expectantly, as if to say 'Get on with it already!'

His eyes met those of the leader's ephemerally and he quickly averted his gaze. The leader had made it clear during the previous meeting that latecomers wouldn't be tolerated and he wished he would be excused once again. The leader spoke next, anger showing in his voice - 'My friend,' he said. 'If I see anyone late next time, you shan't be allowed to sit in this meeting.'

The latecomer looked up sheepishly, ready to apologize but to his surprise, he realized that the chief wasn't talking to him at all! Instead, he was speaking to the man who had just given up his seat for him. Although he understood that the lecture was meant for him, he found comfort in the fact that he wasn't being rebuked in public. The words of warning uttered were harsh, but they were conveyed to him through a third person. All the while, the elderly man standing next to him nodded apologetically for no fault of his own.

The only difference between man who sipped his coffee coolly and the man who had to give up his seat for him was education. The young man with spiked hair was obviously well educated and although he had joined the firm only a few months ago, he deserved the respect afforded to him whereas the older man who had worked his entire life for the organization was already used to the chastising words thrown at him time and again. So no one was hurt badly by the events which took place that morning except for one particular spectator who wanted to throw up.

I find it terribly hard to digest the fact that some people lay claim to common resources at the expense of others simply because they can. Actually, I think it is stupid that they can in the first place. But then, it is something society has been affording them from time immemorial and it would be insane to think that there is a cure for it. However, we all do have the option of saying that we do not want that undeserved right. If you are late for a meeting, then stand. If you are on the wrong-side of a long queue, then wait your turn. Don't delude yourself into believing that you deserve anything more.

'It's okay,' said the leader at the end of the meeting, patting the elderly man on his back. 'This time, I will forgive everyone. Now, will you make me some tea?'

Monday, 29 October 2012

Déjà Vu

Sometimes, we write stories. We imagine things and then try putting them into words. We pen our dreams, our deepest ambitions and our worst fears. We build a protagonist who endures, who climbs out of chasms and then surfs the crests.

Sometimes, that story becomes our own. And then you wonder why you wrote the story in the first place.

On that note, I absolutely loathe Novembers.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Rime Of The Modern Oilman

The wind here blows twice a day
From the blades of a chopper that comes and leaves-
The only time the ocean ebbs or heaves,
As the men that pray are whisk'd away.

On-board come fresh muscles and blood
With pumping hearts which yearn to return-
As the wheels turn and the oils burn;
As the drill-bit churns out the ocean's mud.

The show must go on - come sun or rains
As the world can't be of oil starved
Even if machines conk or arms be half'd
Or if man o'erboard to seek mermaidens.

There are pigeons on this floating pile of steel
Unreal birds which have never sighted land
They were born here, they will die here and
They'll never be birds whose chirps are real.

Men, unlike birds, have at least the freedom-dream
Through TeleVs, telephones and data-cords,
Lost in the voices of lovers, wives and wards
And in the occasional laugh at an internet meme.

As the clock ticks a month, routine sets in
The drills go on and bodies are toned
But too long at sea and the mind is torn
As the engine's sound is your merriest din.

Eventually tired of the same porks, chickens, beefs
Your Cap'n calls - 'Go home, now you may.'
For the wind here still blows twice a day
From the blades of a chopper that comes and leaves.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

October Post

 I'm blank.

After aeons on this blog, I'm finally out of ideas to put into this Rich Text Editor window! It's something to do with work-life, I'm sure. Almost every blog I've followed ardently has met its bitter end once its author has gone through a major life-changing event, and I'm afraid that the this one too might go mainstream. Combating for survival and to retain this tiny speck of space I've got on the www, I embark upon this blog-entry, brilliantly and innovatively titled 'October Post'.

I'm sure that you, dear reader, are wondering what major life-changing event I might be going through that I'm pondering about sacrilegious acts such as abandoning the blog. If nothing of that sort crept into your head, you should probably stop here.

Since you are here, I'll let you in on the deal - it's work-life. And no, I'm not changing jobs. But work-life started over a year ago, you tell me. What's so life changing? Well, it just kicked in.

With the immense experience of one year at work, I've concluded that there are three important days in any employee's life: (1) The day you join, (2) The day 'it kicks in' and (3) The day you think you can't/won't do it any more. Today's probably the day 'it kicked in'.

I walked out of work today at 7 pm, as opposed to the routine 4:30, beaming joyfully at everyone I crossed. Many claim they hate morning-people, but let me tell you what people hate more - someone who leaves the office beaming. Anyway, having deftly evaded the watchman's cold stares, I went to the spot where I was supposed to have a bus waiting to whisk me away to sweet oblivion. But alas, there was nothing there save for the remains of a few cigarettes someone had smoked before they had boarded the bus .

This is the point where I'd have normally cursed and fumed. But no, today the positive forces within took me by surprise. I called Meru Cabs and the operator promptly put me on hold for eight minutes and thirty-seven seconds. I waited patiently and when the helpful executive finally came on line, I didn't abuse him. But then, he told me that the next Meru Cab would be available at my location at 9:30 pm. 'Can you wait for two and a half hours, sir?' he had the nerve to ask.

I got home using a series of auto-rickshaws, because no one would go the whole way. And when I reached, I still had a smile on my face. I think I've finally been institutionalized. I have finally accepted work-life for what it is. I think it has finally kicked-in.

Or maybe this story is something about the shiny new white-hat they bestowed upon me today, more out of pity than anything else.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Let The Games Begin

I turn twenty-three tomorrow. You hear that?! Twenty-three! If I was a footballer, I'd be considered mature by now, even old by some, as most of my vital parameters have stabilized - with the body refusing to get any better than it is now. But I'm not a footballer, except on my PC, and I've got none of those things to worry about. I'm still that starry-eyed kid I was when I turned twenty, with most dreams which I harbored back then still remaining unfulfilled.

Despite what I've promised myself time and again, I'm seeing myself metamorphose into that very creature which I once abhorred - a creature with many goals but with no determination to follow-up on them, with many ideas all of which soon turn boring, with a powerful desire to change the world but with no ability to do so. I'm an  effervescent mass of unchannelized energy with a zero-attention span.

A few weeks ago, I convinced myself that quitting Facebook would be the end of my worries, but no. Even quitting the habit didn't change much - what if there is no Facebook? There are other things you can waste your time on! I have developed the insane need of having to check my phone every two and a half minutes and my email every half-hour. I stopped watching Cricket long ago because, let's face it, it goes on and on... but now, I cannot watch a game of Football without simultaneously staying online or chatting on WhatsApp or worse, both. Why, I can't even pen a decent blog-post without a meaningless soap running on the TV in front of me!

While work-life is whatever it promised to be - a high-pressure, hectic, interesting job with emails relentlessly attacking the inbox every fifteen minutes - I always knew it'd not be something which would be ultimately satisfying. And it remains that way. Sadly however, I always assumed that there'd be a magician out there, somewhere, who'd wave his wand and foretell my destiny. But no, I remain as lost as I used to be, with entrepreneurial ideas remaining a phantasmogoria and my trysts with writing inevitably ending in frustration.

Well, it is possible that I am not destined for such greatness and that I will become that normal-next-door uncle who spends his weeknights lounging in front of the Television watching kids falling into manholes on the evening News... yes, that uncle who tries to play Cricket on Sunday afternoons but fails miserably as he cannot bring the bat down nearly soon enough. But then, if I do become that guy, I cannot hope to be as happy as he is... because, as I hear, there is no cure for ambition.

I'm then left with one choice - to achieve. And it shouldn't be that difficult, right? Once I've set a few things straight, I mean. Changes in lifestyle are difficult only when you have a choice. When there is no choice, everything is easy - because you do or you die. That period of life where everything was in 'Take thou what course thou wilt' mode is now at an end. If I have to sleep at eleven and get up at half-past-five, so be it.

There's a whole world out there waiting to be taken. Life is calling and if I continue in the same vein, I figure that, in the great Didier's words, it'd be 'a f*cking disgrace'. Today, I shall make my peace with Football Manager and with late-night chats, tweets and Facebook. There is no need to stay awake until 1 AM wondering why news channels are as useless as they are and why the UPA isn't doing anything worthwhile. There is no point cribbing about the fact that a stupid thing some hot chick said got the attention of hundred and seventy-nine people, and then going on to like one of those things yourself. You're not going to meet anyone more interesting after 10 PM than you do during the day. So sleep, dammit! And wake up to the quiet sunshine... Live life the way it is supposed to be lived.

If there is a problem, don't crib about it - find a solution. If there is nothing you can come up with, shut up. That will be a beginning. Something tells me I will stumble upon something. Some day. Until then, I figure that I'm going to have to cut-off a number of materialistic bonds, get my head down and start working.

Most things we all do today are done to please people we don't really care about and to get their attention. And there is nothing wrong with that, as long as you're pleasing yourself in the process. But they'll gradually move away anyway, unless of course, you're of some use to them. Or if you're successful.

So, most of us will move away in the coming years, but the next time you remember me, I hope to God it'll be for the latter reason. I'm really done with this job of being useful to people... But today I promise you this - you will find the need to seek out where I am sometime in the future. Why, you ask me?

Because when I have arrived, you will know.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Gandhi Consequence

"Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the father of our nation, through his selfless struggle against all odds, single-handedly brought us deliverance from over two hundred years of British oppression. Using only truth and ahimsa as his weapons, he overthrew the mighty colonial power, triggering a series of successful peaceful freedom struggles across the globe."

These were the words that were fed to us by Social Studies textbooks back in our middle-school days. Year after year, History lessons taught us one thing - MK Gandhi was the greatest man that ever lived, and without him we'd still be serving our British sahibs. Those were times when most of us looked up at the man in the white dhoti with awe and veneration; times when we were told stories about how a man who was once kicked out of a train in South Africa for not being white went on to liberate 500 million Indians and Pakistanis.

But since then, times have changed and opinions have changed. We cried foul as we challenged the lies we were being fed slowly and continuously by the Indian Government! Since then we've watched movies about Bhagat Singh and the revolutionary war against the British which drew no sympathy whatsoever from Mohandas Karamchand, leading to the martyrdom of a bunch of young revolutionaries. We've read articles about Nehru-Gandhi conspiracy theories and about how Gandhi's favouritsm for Nehru lost us Pakistan. My Experiments With Truth, which was once seen as a masterpiece still remains one, but one that indicts Gandhi for many of his crimes and kinky indulgences. Basically, much of urban India has formed an anti-Gandhi club and with good reason.

But today's post isn't about Gandhi-bashing which has become all too common these days, but about how Gandhi's actions, however selfish, have helped shaped this country and make it the India we know today. I maintain that our freedom in 1947 was largely due to the political scenario post-World War II and not plainly because a few thousand people showed the other cheek having been slapped once already. I refuse to believe that a person who wants to hit you will stop hitting you and start considering you his role-model once you start accepting his beatings. However, Gandhi was a genius for having realized the power of people in numbers, in an age when people believed that there is no power without weapons.

I am certain that our freedom would have been achieved faster and more effectively had we fought the British with petrol bombs and country pistols, like Bhagat Singh and co believed. But I shudder to imagine what would have happened to a nation as diverse as ours had we won our freedom 'with blood' as so many people believe we should have! We are, after all, what our history has shaped us to be and violence only begets violence.

There would be no place for the Anna Hazares of this country had we bombed our way into independence. It was perhaps the first and most important example of a peaceful non-cooperation movement which ended successfully, without which none of us would have faith in peaceful methods of change. Some of us are saying that the hunger strikes held by Team Anna must be outlawed as it holds the Government to ransom, but imagine if these protests got violent! - We'd end up like Syria with free-peoples' armies fighting the national army and thousands dying in the process. The Syrian revolt itself began as a protest against corruption, after all!

On the other hand, there could arise a situation where the protesters remain peaceful while the Government uses brute force and military tanks to crush the rebellion and kill millions in the process, like in Tiananmen (1989). Both these scenarios are highly unlikely in India because of the large disincentive for the party that takes up the violent route. We, as a people, will not accept unprovoked violence, no matter how just the cause. And that's why I believe we're lucky to have lost Pakistan in 1947. Thank you, MKG and Nehru, for being that selfish.

The important thing we have learnt subconsciously is to fight for our rights and not for revenge. We may have a pathetic Police and an even more abysmal justice system, which keeps the Kasabs of this world alive for decades, but we believe in the system. We will crib and we will demonstrate to bring about change, but Indians don't take the law into their own hands.

And that is why we have never had a civil war in our colourful 65 year history. In a country of 1.2 billion people with half a dozen major religions, two dozen languages and several different ethnic groups, it is truly a miracle that we've come out of a state of absolute chaos without too many scratches. And if the Indian had taken up the gun at the turn of the 19th century, scratches are all that we'd have got!

So, dear MKG, while I do not much appreciate the fact that you slept with a different naked virgin every night for whatever twisted desire of yours, I thank you for having our people drop their weapons and stand for their rights. Without the World War, your methods might not have been so successful, but in hindsight, it all seems right.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Ugly, Black People

"Today's lesson is on self-respect," said Captain Mehta, as he walked into the class with a smile. "Apne aap ko kisi se kam nahin sochna (don't think that you are inferior to anybody)", he told the class and I believed that this lecture would be far more interesting than the previous one we had on 'Communication Skills'.

"No matter who you are and immaterial of what job you do, you must always believe in yourself. Whenever you feel down and low, just say these words to yourself - 'I am also great.' " Makes sense, I thought. He was speaking about the same things which are talked about in spiritual texts, self-help books and personality development courses.

Then, directing his gaze at the frail lad sitting in the first row, he asked him to stand up. He subsequently asked the guy next to him, Rohan, to stand up as well. Rohan stood at about six feet and with dark, curly hair, he had a wheatish complexion. Captain Mehta then asked the frail Marathi lad on the left, "Kunal, tu yeh bata (tell me)... who among you both has a greater personality?" (as if it a quantity you can measure using the sabzi-wala's beam-balance)

Kunal looked at Cpt. Mehta with his bright, dark eyes and he laughed. "Mera hi better hai, sir!" (I have a better personality)

Clearly, Kunal had understood the lesson in Self-respect and I was about to clap as I thought the experiment  was complete. But Cpt. Mehta spoke once more: "Kya hai yeh, Kunal! How can you say you have a better personality... Look at yourself - you're small and black. And look at him - he's well built, muscular, has great complexion and he looks so confident."

Kunal nodded. There was nothing much else he could do. Then Captain Mehta said, "But tumhe aisa sochna hi nahin hai (you mustn't think like this)... So what if you are dark? You must think that you are equal to others... And THAT, Gentlemen, is Self-Respect." He said that last line with great pride.

So that's the lesson we're teaching people these days, eh? It's OKAY if you're dark. It's not your mistake if you're black. Or, as another gentleman phrased it a few days ago, "Bhagwaan ne banaya hum sab ko (God made us all) And sometimes, he wants to put us in our place... Not always can he give us all that we want." And then I thought about what I read on Quora a few days ago, "We're definitely not a racist country. Look at all the values we are brought up with." Values, indeed.

While I thought that this lesson on 'self-respect' was the worst one I had ever been taught, what made my blood boil was the subsequent lecture we had. "Hi, my name is S.K. Sra," said the man who hobbled into class. I forget what the content of his lecture was about because I couldn't get over this one 'example' he talked about:

"When I was in Barnala, Punjab, in my youth, I used to be a teacher in a school... and I got to interact with many little children. But there is this one incident I remember about this little girl," he said. "She was the daughter of a Commanding Officer and he was my friend. She was from Tamil Nadu, and like a lot of people from the south, she was very dark... And to make matters worse, she was surrounded by beautiful girls from Punjab. I observed her for a while and she looked very sad... I knew at once what was the problem..."

I knew where he was heading but I controlled myself. He continued - "I told her that it doesn't matter if she was black... All she had to do was be smart. Be intelligent. And she could have friends... So what if you are dark? You can overcome your difficulties by being smart. Everyone loves smart people and besides, we don't discriminate on the basis of skin colour!"

"You fucking idiot, if this is not discrimination, then what is it? People don't want your pity for being dark - they are as pretty as you are; prettier actually, as their stomachs aren't falling out of their pants like yours." I don't know if people understand this - but if PITY is the emotion you feel for people darker than you, then you are a racist.

Sometimes, I wish I'd been born as dark as coal, just so that I could have heard someone try to be condescending to my face... And then I'd have carved his guts out using a kitchen knife. I'm sure the courts would see the violence as provoked. And it'd be totally worth the Prison time.

All these incidents has one looking at other aspects of this ugly society: cosmetic products which promise to make you white, our abysmal attitude towards African tourists, the fact that most of our 'backward castes' are dark-skinned... The list goes on.

Ultimately, one looks at the ruling class and is left bewildered: there aren't many dark-skinned politicians in a country where a massive portion of the people are dark, and I'm not talking just of South India. Many people from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal are as dark as people from the South. So, why no dark leaders? (except for Mayawati and a couple of others) Are we really a forward-thinking people? Or do we still think it's below our dignity to be ruled by a man or woman who is darker than us?

On that note, I wonder how many votes Mayawati got from the fairer upper classes of Uttar Pradesh when she won...

Apart from politics, what provides a snapshot of India's zeitgeist better than the media does! I turned to the Television Channels and Bollywood, with only one question in my mind - 'Are we really that racist?' I'll let you answer that question yourself but first I'd like you to name five Bollywood heroes who are darker than the average Indian. Wait, forget that: Name two Bollywood heroes who are as dark as the average Indian. There's no point talking about heroines here as the darkest lady is probably Bipasha Basu, and she covers herself with enough paint so that she can fool the audience.

As a country, we are proud of calling ourselves secular and we boast about our religious tolerance. We say that we are empowering women and alleviating gender inequality. We talk about taking steps to remove caste-ism in the society. But what about racism? We are racists even before we know what caste someone belongs to. Why don't we acknowledge that?

If we weren't: We'd have had a few black news-readers by now. We'd have had a black prime minister. And what the hell, we would have a black Bollywood heroine.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The IIT Phenomenon

The entire hullabaloo about the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) has dimmed down at long last as the Indian Institutes of Technology have finally reached a consensus with the genius revolutionary that is Kapil Sibal [sarcasm sign]. While I'm quite glad that insane suggestions of doing away with the JEE altogether have been put to rest, I disagree with the way many of the 'intellectual elite' of the country argued their case.

I heard many rise up in fury, saying that the Joint Entrance Exam is the only possible way to gauge intelligence and problem solving skills, and that all other exams are doing little more than burdening the students with extra workload. They said, and I quote, 'I know people from remote villages of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh who did abysmally in their respective school board exams despite acing the JEE and making it into the IITs.' This, they said, is proof that our board exams misrepresent how intelligent people really are.

This is not really an argument; if it is, it's rather feeble - laughable, even. I can retort by saying that I know a whole lot of people who did perfectly well in both the tests and that all these cases cannot simply be dismissed as mere coincidences. Or it could be argued that a fair portion of intelligent junta do extremely well in a lot of other challenging tests but fail to crack the JEE simply because they aren't good enough on the day. Surely, there is an element of luck involved - in some cases, more than in others.

Many people who consider themselves part of the Indian intelligentsia have a ready response to this though: 'There is no luck involved,' they say. 'The board exams are looking for all the wrong qualities in a prospective engineer. There is a lot of rote involved and innovative problem solving is not something they test.' This statement if true, at least in part, but what takes away a lot of its credibility is what happens to students once they are inside the IITs. Aren't Cumulative Grade Point Averages largely dependent on how much a student learns by rote? I know a handful of absolutely brilliant students who'd derive formulae during exams and solve them only to hear from peers after the test that the professor had given them the formula in class the previous day. So, if learning formulae by rote is all that's required to make it out of an IIT with decent grades, shouldn't board exams be sufficient for getting into them in the first place?

But I suppose that with limited seats being available, it is in the interest of the institutes and in the interest of the country in general, if people who pass what is acknowledged to be a difficult test take up the aforementioned seats. What this does not say however is that people who don't make it through these tests are imbeciles who cannot discover water in an ocean. People have told me that the JEE is a greatest thing because it removes all inequalities. They say that in a nation with such economic and academic disparity, it is impossible to compare a person studying in poor schooling conditions in Jharkhand with a person who enjoys the best schooling facilities available in New Delhi, if not for the JEE. While the first part of the statement is entirely true, 'inequality' is an issue which the JEE tackles very poorly, if at all.

It is still impossible to compare students studying in IITian manufacturing centres in Kota and Andhra Pradesh with students without these facilities in certain other parts of the country. Besides, there can be no monitor for 'innate intelligence'; no matter what we do, we will remain victims of circumstance. What the JEE does tackle, however, is another issue altogether. The various boards across the country - the state boards, the CBSE, the ICSE etc - have such different standards that an even comparison cannot be made using tests conducted by these bodies. This is fairly true even if a percentile based system is used across all these boards. So a common test which everyone strives to ace is a justifiable solution.

So, while the JEE is seen as the ultimate prize for people outside the system, especially people still waiting for their chance to have a go at 'glory', IITians see it as something entirely different. It is a life-giver - a source of immense confidence and something which tells us that we are capable of doing anything. Sometimes, even in the most impossible situations, I tell myself - 'This can't be hard. This can't be harder than the JEE anyway.' What the JEE in effect does is bring together a group of fairly talented, immensely confident people. And frankly, this is what makes IITs so very special.

What is disturbing, however, is to see this confidence turn into vanity and vainglory. While it can be argued that it's one of the toughest engineering exams in the world, it isn't very smart to say that people from the IITs will be the best options for any available job profile. No, it isn't possible to argue that by putting in a few hours into 'Accountancy', an IITian could so easily become a Chartered Accountant, whereas a CA couldn't hope to get into an IIT no matter how much 'Integral Calculus' he/she studies.

I wonder if I'd be wrong in saying that a majority of the people still fresh out of one of the seven, enter the world thinking that they are worth more than someone from another institution. And I think it is deplorable that two people doing the exact same job should be paid on different scales just because one person is from an IIT. The fact that this happens only stands testimony to the point I'm trying to make.

There is still another attitude almost as disturbing as vanity, but worse for growth - Complacency. Today, so many IITians are so happy with what they have 'achieved' that they think there is nothing else worth getting in life. Sadly, these people see IIT as a goal and not as means to one. A group of institutions which has developed a reputation based on the hard-work, determination and skill should expect more from its people or risk dying as a brand. 

So, while it is an indisputable fact that certain IITians have brought about significant change to the country we live in, there is so much left to be desired from people who claim to be the nation's most talented people. Maybe it is time to forget vanity and that falsely based sense of greatness, and believe that we still have everything left to prove to the world. What the IITs have given you is something precious. Please let it not be wasted on you.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Bondage, Dominance, S & M

Every great conqueror irreversibly changes the course of human evolution and leaves his undying fingerprints on the destinies of every generation yet to inhabit the planet. Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan, Timur, Chandragupta Maurya, Hernan Cortez: this list is endless. Not only did these men bring great empires to their knees and stamp their authority upon the lives of millions of people, they changed the way these people behave and the way they think.

Some of these people have been forgotten but their influence lives on in our lives even today - we just don't think about it. Alexander still has a city named after him, not in Greece or Macedonia, but in Islamic Egypt. Cortez is almost the sole reason why the fourth largest continent is today called 'Latin America'. Without Adolf Hitler, there would be no reason for Israel's existence and Antisemitism would hardly be looked down upon even today. Maurya is said to have been one of the first people to have dreamed of Akhand Bhaarat. So each of these people have unquestionably changed the world for better or for worse... but no one has shaped the world as we know it today more than the British Crown.

Conquering is one thing, but consolidating territories and integrating people is a different ball-game altogether and the British perfected this art. You simply have to look around you today to notice the magnitude of the impact they have made. Well, I am making this post in English - if not for them, this would never have happened!

One of the most significant events in modern history is undoubtedly the shift of power in the erstwhile New World - why most of us say 'United States of America' and not 'Estados Unidos Americanos' or 'États-Unis d'Amérique'. Over time, this has ultimately come to mean that English is the language of the world - not Spanish, Mandarin or French. And language supremacy is one of the most primary measures used in achieving full and complete control.

Once the language of the land is established, you can easily say to a non-speaker, "C'mon, don't tell me you don't know English! You need to learn. And you need to learn it fast." On the other hand, he cannot tell you to learn Afrikaans, because you'll simply laugh condescendingly and say, "Fat chance I'm learning that!" He won't understand what 'fat chance' means... and that means more power to you.

A couple of years ago, I was sitting with a few friends in a canteen in Roorkee, discussing something - in cannot recall what - in Hindi. A fresher I'd met sometime earlier came up to me and asked me something in Tamil. Now when someone asks you a question in your mother-tongue, you answer in the same language. However, halfway into my answer, I found that I was speaking Hindi - a language which came naturally to neither him nor me. For a long while, it bothered me and to say that I was ashamed of that incident would be understating matters.

But then, a few days ago, in Abu Dhabi, I was talking to a friend in Hindi once again, when a few more people (mostly non-Indians) joined us at the table. This time, I was halfway into a sentence when I changed everything to English. Finally, my behavior two years ago made perfect sense! You cannot sustain a conversation in a language a majority of the people do not speak. The language of the land has long been established and there is nothing you can do about it.

And language is just the beginning. When I look around Dubai, I instinctively know that it is an extension of America, or maybe Europe. There is nothing Arab here: American bars made for American tourists who can pay American monetary equivalents. And you don't have to go to America to know this. Well, it's a brilliant business model - there is no questioning that! And the Emiratis make loads of money at the end of the day, but they remain incapable of selling their own culture.

On the other hand, you go to America to live like an American. Where you are from doesn't matter - you will become part of the culture there... People will argue that it's the most culturally accepting country in the world - a world full of immigrants; but really, no matter where you are from, you will end up accepting the local way of life. That's the most beautiful part of cultural domination - you set the rules. In Dubai and in so many other places, the tourists set the rules and the place adapts!

Cultural domination extends to most other aspects of life as well - the food we eat, the TV shows we watch, the books we read, the music we listen to, the clothes we wear... this is another infinite list. But what's more brilliant? - each of these aspects actually reinforces the dominating culture. So, while it might be seen as a criminal error when I say I don't know the difference between a Steakhouse burger and a Quarter-pounder, it's only expected that people of the international community don't know the difference between paneer and tofu.

Well, there's nothing much we people can do but to accept these changes, try to learn everything there is to be learnt and constantly try to excel at everything we do... and then one day, we'll be good enough. And then we will set the rules.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Change, For The Sake Of It

“Each person’s task in life is to become an increasingly better person.” -Leo Tolstoy
"Vote for change" - Barrack Obama
"New is always better" - Barney Stinson

Nothing is constant but change. I do not think there is a truer statement when it comes to describing the Universe as seen by Man. And we play no small role in this change, as most change perceived by us is in fact brought about by us. We have to bring change - it is our default setting.

I've often wondered if there's a single factor which could explain most of our behaviour; I don't think there is any clear winner... But boredom and monotony come close to hitting the jackpot. Think about it: you have a job and you're not happy with it. Now let's try figuring out why you can't be happy.

Option A: It's shite. It isn't something you like doing or maybe you aren't good at it... Or better still, maybe you don't want to be good at it. Perhaps, you aren't realizing your potential (whatever that means)
Option B: This is a far more interesting option. You're doing something you like, you're good at it and you're making a difference to the world around you. But you're still unhappy. If you aren't, wait another couple of months. You will be. We detest monotony, however happy it may be.

Oh, and that's why people travel: to escape the rut. It's also the reason why people always reminisce about their childhood - it's the time when you undergo the maximum change, ergo it sticks in your head. Monotony explains a whole lot of other things too... And I shall try to make a convincing argument here.

When we're toddlers, we're experiencing a world of change: we're learning to walk, we're starting to communicate and we're going through that endless list of firsts. Everyday seems like a new year. However, as we grow, the rate of change slows down and by the time we're in our teens, we've learnt quite a bit. Suddenly, new things are hard to come by. Luckily, however, we have this period called adolescence when the known world suddenly seems changed and different.

You know what I'm talking about: that stage in life when you don't know whether you're a kid or a grown-up, that stage in life when you don't hate girls any more and are doing stupid things to get their attention instead... Some folks get through this phase quickly too and things begin to stagnate: Enter booze, sex, cars, money and the real world.

Now, over the past few millennia, Man has struggled to make the world a vastly complex place. The more complex the place is, the longer it takes you to break the code... Thus, it can keep you entertained for a longer period! Sooner or later, you end up figuring out the rules and then you start reading the code... That's when it starts getting boring. It's like playing a game with cheats, over and over again. There's no fun in playing with 'God-Mode' on!

I believe that's why people get married. Because Life isn't challenging any more! I'm almost tempted to quote a highly sexist Charlie Harper here: "If you have someone to clean your house and do your shopping, and you get some action on a regular basis, the only reason you need a wife is if you have some sick compulsion to give away half your stuff." Well, I don't mean it in a Male-centric way, of course... I'm just commenting on the way Marriage changes our lives. You can go all holier-than-thou and tell me about the sanctity of love; I'll just show you a happy couple before marriage and then I'll laugh.

That's why Marriage was invented, I tell you! You have to be more responsible and accommodate a whole new person in your life. The game becomes fun again - someone has changed the cheats! However, this only brings me to the most important exponent of the theory - kids. Any family is changed when a child enters this world. And that is the brilliance of the scheme of things - this desire to change our lives keeps our race alive.

It is in human nature to change the people around us as much as we change ourselves. And that makes the game far more interesting! Changing something you do not have direct control over but can only influence and manipulate is far more challenging and hence, satisfying. I'm sure that the pride you take in your child's success far outweighs the pleasure you experience while celebrating your own.

Gradually, the children grow up and things slow down. But what do you know: retirement is here! That's change too, right? So you enjoy that for a while... and then there are grand-kids. Finally, you realize that there is only so much you can change. Thank goodness Medicine hasn't progressed far enough to let you experience this low for too long. Thank god for Death.

Who knows what change comes after that?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Reality Check

India, the seventh largest country on the globe and the second most populous, currently lies just outside the top-ten list of countries ranked by GDP. India boasts of one of the earliest civilizations on the planet - Mohenjo-daro and Harappa dating back to around 3000 BCE, but I'm sure you know all these things... And I'm positive it's not something you will miss telling your foreigner pals while hanging out in a bar. I am also certain that you say it with so much pride, you are almost taking credit for establishing the Indus Valley Civilization! There's nothing wrong with that, of course... Every nation must be proud of its history.

But it doesn't end there, does it? You inevitably mention a few more fabulous aspects about the nation hoping to leave your differently skinned friends reeling in awe. Let me give you a few examples: (1) The Republic of India has the third largest military force in the world. (2) Along with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and a few other tidbits, India forms the only subcontinent in the world - replete with every fathomable geographical feature; mountains, plains, marshes, plateaus, deserts, rivers, lakes and seas - we've got the lot. (3) We have the third largest pool of qualified engineers in the world! (yes, I bet you didn't know that) (4) And we're one of those elite few with nuclear power - wait, Pakistan's got that too, no? Okay, we've gone to Space. Ha ha, take that!

I suppose we're also the world's largest producer of wheat and the second largest producer of rice... but since we eat all of it, it mustn't count. The only things which get out of the country, unconsumed by the billion people, are cotton, textiles, diamonds and jewelry; not much else. Anyway, all this doesn't matter. Because I'm going to tell you today how all these stories are well-worded 'feel-good' statements which mask the ugly truths which lie underneath.

Listed really high in the National GDP chart, India does really poorly on the per capita basis. Well, you knew that... And I knew that. But I didn't know it was this bad: $1389/capita-year according to the IMF puts us in the 140th place in a list of 182 countries. It only gets worse as the Rupee continues its plunge towards 60 to a Dollar.

Let's talk about the military forces now: most of us start feeling secure listening to the 'third largest military force' quip time and again. However, it must be known that as soon as you divide this number by the number of people inhabiting the country, we end up with the following ratio: 1.1 Active soldiers per thousand citizens, which is incidentally ranked 149th in the world. Alright, we don't have to be North Korea which has nearly 50 per thousand, but this extreme is equally crazy.

Long gone are the days when the subcontinent was protected from foreign invaders by a wall of high mountains in the north and the mighty seas in the south. No longer can the way the earth is sculpted be considered a serious security measure, but these geographical features offer us a plethora of other opportunities - all of which we have failed to grasp. Tourism and agriculture are two activities we have ceaselessly contrived to fail at - and we've done it in style!

Most credible tourism companies don't even give India a rank when it comes to international visitors! Despite being one of the oldest continuously inhabited places, having some of the most picturesque places and boasting of some of the most evolved cultures known to man, India manages a paltry five million international tourists every year. Contrast that with China which sees over fifty-three million visitors annually; no, we must stop comparing ourselves with the Chinese. All those India-China surveys are lies - and we're not catching up.

Agriculture and allied sectors like forestry, logging and fishing accounted for 15.7% of the GDP in 2009–10, employed 52.1% of the total workforce; all this with the most naturally fertile land in the world. When we talk about revolutions in the sector which employs more than half of the people in India, we shouldn't have to quote MS Swaminathan's Green Revolution (1963) as the last good thing that happened. Actually, Dr. Swaminathan, with all due respect was only responsible for implementing the methods of Dr. Norman Borlaug, an American agronomist, who was actually responsible for the revolution.

So what exactly are these one billion Indians achieving? Becoming engineers in hordes, I suppose. Third largest squad of engineers in the world... and what have we got to show for it? The foremost institutions in the country, the IITs, are completely unknown once you exit the borders. And why should they be known? It's not like they're doing any remarkable research or transforming India into an engineering superpower. Mostly, engineering institutions across the nation are producing unambitious people who just want to do management or worse, who join one of those companies which outsource work from the United States and allied countries. Well, the Outsourcing industry does contribute around 28% of our total GDP, but isn't it a very temporary solution? I don't think a country's development can be based entirely on how much work it can do for another. We need to start producing things. Ourselves.

And now that we've established that we've got a surplus of farmers and engineers, how're the other professions doing? According to a recent survey, there are around 50 physicians per 100,000 Indians and I shouldn't have to tell you how bad that is. According to the World Health Organisation, 900,000 Indians die each year from drinking contaminated water or breathing polluted air. And why wouldn't they die?

So, you see, it's not a case of excelling in one field and thus failing in another. We're sucking across the whole gamut, with the exception of Bollywood, which the world knows for its colours and dance routines and Cricket, which is followed closely by a few people in 12 different countries.

File:World Map Index of perception of corruption 2010.svg
This is not a time for incremental change - it is time for a full scale revolution. And we, as a people, are more than capable of making it happen. We've achieved far more difficult things in the past and there is no reason this revolution will not come. Sixty years ago, there was no tangible connection between the different people who inhabited this country - no common language, no common origin, not even the same religion - yet, we have survived. Not just survived, we have grown... without any major civil war! That's a credible achievement to say the least. In 1950, the world was worried about leaving such a large country completely in the hands of a few people who had never known the meaning of freedom until then. Today, we can look back proudly and say we've made it. This is a real achievement and no one can take anything away from it.

The fact that we're doing so poorly on so many fronts must not deter us one bit! Every thing we are lagging at is a serious business opportunity. No longer must we rely on governments bringing legislation to improve the condition of the people, only to be completely undone by the subsequent government. True, legislation is the easiest and most successful way to bring about change. But we shouldn't sit on our backsides and hope that change will come! Scams will happen, corruption will continue and red-tape will make things very difficult for the common man. But there is still a way. Sleep six hours instead of eight. Forget about that extra one million rupees in profits and do something for the country. And don't wait for the goddamned government to bring the revolution. You must do it yourself.

As M.K.Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Girl, why did you change so much?

The turn of the millennium saw me in standard five, as a gawky kid with over-sized spectacles matching an over-sized head. And as we all know, fifth grade is a turning point in any kid's life. I found it no different, as having returned to India after four long years, the system of making the boys and girls sit separately on opposite sides of the class was new and confounding. More disconcerting however, was the fact that talking to people of the opposite sex was no longer a punishment but a privilege. In fact, I vividly recall some fellows coming up with random excuses so that they could leave our table at lunch and spend a few minutes with the giggling girl by the window.

In science class, the teacher was talking about Entamoeba Histolytica when I found the guy seated next to me staring at the window - at least, that's what I thought at first. Doing a double take, I realized that he wasn't, in fact, looking at the big boys playing volleyball outside... He had somehow locked eyes with the girl in the front row, who was struggling to keep her head constantly turned at some eighty-seven degrees. "Snap out of it, man!" I said to him. To no avail.

Those were the days when hearts could be won with nothing more than a smile, or a soiled note which said "1-4-3" on it. Those were the days when you could poke a girl with a pencil or hit her with a box on one day, and have her fall in love with you the very next. 'Love' was a word which came so easily to our mouths. It was then a word which still carried meaning.

Fast forward - five years: The world was quite the same, except you couldn't hit girls any more without being branded a boor. 'Love affairs' didn't scandalize anyone anymore, but somehow whenever you wanted to talk to a girl really badly, you would be searching for all the right words. And then, they would never come out. Still, those were enjoyable times, made even more fantastic by the plans and strategies we used to come up with to win her heart!

Most plans failed, but some did succeed and V.G. Siddhartha ended up making a truck-load of cash. In fact, as the years ticked by, Cafes' earnings went up exponentially... as it was no longer socially acceptable to enjoy a Pepsi and a Vegetable Puff while standing outside 'Royal Bakery' with her. No. The grander the place you took her to, the happier she felt.

Enter college and there was still some semblance of normalcy in this world... In engineering school - and especially in IITs - girls come in really, really small numbers. But then again, humans are made in two sexes for a reason, I suppose. And so, even though society contrived to make it as difficult for us as possible, you always ended up finding that one perfect someone. Well, a whole lot of us acted upon the feeling, and a vast majority of us failed. And some people I know didn't even get started, as society by now had established so many rules, restrictions, ethics, morals and so many other things I don't even know the names of, that made even the approach an impossibility.

I found that people were no longer as 'easy' as they used to be before. They had changed - well not entirely, definitely not from within... But now, there was layer after layer of 'personality' shrouding what she really was. My god, it was difficult! But there was still music in the background and lights in the air when everything about you knew that she was the one for you.

And now, I have spent the last one year outside college, in strange cities, stranger bars and the strangest place of all, Facebook. This one year has destroyed the world as I knew it not so long ago. In March, last year, I remember deriding my neighbour when he said that 'love' is an act of the hormones and that there is no place called the Heart. Today, I'm ready to go back to him and apologize, for I wholeheartedly agree. Last year, I held so many notions which so many girls would have called 'romantic' and so many guys would have called 'gay'. I've shed all of them today.

The world is not the beautiful, life-affirming song we once knew, but a bitter dirge taking us a step closer to the end. We are afraid to say those three beautiful words because we know that commitment isn't something we can give to the person who means the most to us in the whole, wide world. Besides, it's not about love any more!

Watching the full yellow moon hide behind the Cumulus or taking a long stroll on the sands by the seashore mean nothing anymore. It's more about how much vodka you can load her with, or how you can smoke ganja together. It's about glitz and glamour these days - how high up in society's ladder are you? Let me tell you this - the girl, a few rungs lower, will most probably accept your proposal.

Tell me, if people really believed in romance and love, would they need you to buy them ten tequila shots before they go down with you? Or would it matter what power you wielded over people and how much money you had?

You know the world is coming to an end if you can't even get you heart properly broken.

Friday, 27 April 2012


There was blood that night, with pain and sweat
And each jagged rock would draw some more
As they eased their way into his every step,
Until they’d take all his blood away.

He continued the climb unhindered by pain-
Wounded flesh is dead to a sore mind.
He knew the end was not too far
And his prayers would be answered good.

The temple of the gods was now in sight
With its great iron gate dwarfing the sky
And walls of black stone capturing the moon.
His prayers would be answered tonight.

As he dragged his dying body within
He mouthed a prayer to appease the lord
And looking to the heavens, he said out loud,
“This is my wish. Just let it be!”

There was thunder and there was rain
The ink was torn by battling clouds
Waters froze and the wind howled.
The dying man took shelter and he smiled.

He began his return along the same path
Now glistening in the moon, red, with blood
Fresh wounds were made and now there was pain–
To the fulfilled mind, every pin a sword.

He returned home as a contented man.
Once his dream, was now for real
He knew he needed nothing else in life.
That was the day the Wish-giver smiled.

For he knew no wish is a wish forever.
A granted wish changes the world we know
In such a way we cannot yet perceive
Until we no longer want the change.

A few days later, an unfulfilled man died.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Pissing On The Motherland

Surely, no one has missed the fact that I have been going around India's Weirdest Places with the enthusiasm of  the quintessential nomad. And I am sure that I've told you innumerable times already about how beautiful it is to speak to the wind and dance with the sunset. Well, I keep putting stuff like that on Facebook and somehow end up getting more likes than some people announcing the arrival of their first-born! (It's time to revise the algorithm, Mark.) Anyway, I digress. While I hurl all the routine stories into cyberspace via social networks, I reserve the more important ones for a more sacred, rather respected area, viz. this blog. (Bah, who am I kidding... I'm going to post this link on Facebook anyway!)

It so happens that all interesting stories involve other human beings, and this story is no different. This tale is about the Indian Idol (II) and his three sidekicks; the Prophetic Arab (PA), the Intelligent NRI (IN) and I. Alone, each one of us wasn't somebody you would take notice of... But together? Together, it was like the Justice League.

The story begins at Samalkota Railway Station, Andhra Pradesh - sometime early in the morning. It was no different from any other Indian train station: a poor woman was sweeping the dirt off the platform, the old rag-picker had collapsed in the sun after collecting two bagfuls of empty water bottles and plastic bags, and a bunch of gutka-chewing fellows were busy ogling at the backside of the young lady who had just walked into the station.

Upon entering, PA asked, "Hey, do you guys mind waiting a little bit... I'll just light this cigarette?"
II (scandalized): "Whoa whoa... We have rules in India, man. No smoking in public areas - it's injurious to health. We are health conscious, unlike many other countries."
IN (in agreement): "Yes, yes... Even in Singapore, it's like this."
The arab shrugs and says, "Alright then, let's go catch the train!" And so we went.

While three of us took the long, arduous path up and down the overhead bridge to reach platform number three, Indian Idol simply jumped onto the tracks and strolled across in style. As we reached him, a little out of breath, he flashed us a wise smile.

II: "You fools... You guys climbed all the way up. I just walked across. See? Being Indian is about being smart."
PA: "Isn't that breaking the rules as well - just like the 'No Smoking' rule you talked about so proudly?"
II (in defiance): "You tell me where it's written... Where does it say I cannot cross the tracks?"
PA looks around. Alas, there is no board. The Idol smiles, very content with the happenings so far.
Then the NRI says - "In Singapore... And in most western countries, we have escalators! This is horrible. What are we? Animals?"

Hungry as we were, I bought a few samosas and chilly bajjis from the nearby IRCTC counter. All four of us were soon munching in a hurry, trying to finish off the food before the train arrived. Upon finishing, the Indian Idol promptly rolled the paper plates together in a ball and dropped them on the floor. The arab was pretty scandalized by the behaviour and bent to pick it up...

II: "Hey, what are you doing?"
PA: "There's a dust-bin right there man... I'll put the plates there! We really shouldn't litter the platform."
II (laughing) : "That's not our job, man! That's hers." He points at the shabbily dressed woman sweeping the floor.
PA: "Come on, man... She's tired and she's doing so much work already. We can do this much, right?"
II: "You foreigners will never understand, man. If you clean up behind yourself, then what work will she have?! She will be unemployed!"
PA: "Are you crazy?! If everyone cleans up behind themselves, then she wouldn't be a cleaner... She'd be doing something more worthwhile - contributing something else to society."
II: "These people are illiterate. They don't know anything. What work will they do? They can do cleaning work only. Let them do their job."
IN (cutting in to the conversation): "In Singapore, they have fines for littering in public. You can't even spit in public... They can put you in prison for that! I don't know why they don't have such measures in India. Stupid government!"
PA: "You are saying that you will continue this behaviour until the day they threaten you with fines?"
II: "In India, there are so many people... Without Government rules, how can anything change? Even if I change, what is the point? One billion more people will do the same thing... You won't understand, man."

By now, we realize that the train is late. The Intelligent NRI is outraged! This would never have happened in Singapore.
IN (looking at his watch): "Disgusting. Disgusting."
I (trying to calm him down): "Chill man... It'll be here in a while."
IN: "This isn't the way they should treat us. Trains are late, stations are dirty... there are no toilets. Tell me, where's the toilet here?"
I: "Must be on platform one... Or maybe, there's another one at the other end of this one!"
IN: "This is horrible. Why can't they space them out properly? This never happens in the west."
I: "If you want to go the toilet, go ahead man. I'm sure the train will take a little while longer."
Indian Idol (interrupts): "No, no... Don 't do that. You can piss right here."
PA (mortified at the suggestion): "Here?!"
II (laughing) : "Yeah, man. On the tracks... We're men. We don't need to go into hiding to pee! Look at that man over there!"

Yes, there was a man over there who was emptying his bladder into the air in front of him.

PA: "You guys object to me smoking in public and then piss in the open? I'm never going to understand this."
II: "It's simple man... If you smoke, it harms people around you. It's scientifically proven. But my piss hurt nobody!" Everyone laughs.
"Okay then, are you going to join me or not?" says the Idol. "Come on, man... There's nothing to be afraid of. You should never hold it in! It's not good for health."
IN: "You are right... Thank god this isn't Singapore. I'd be punished for such behaviour, there."

And so they pissed with a true sense of freedom.