Irom Sharmila NDTV

Will Irom Sharmila purchase her groceries?

When Irom Sharmila won a meager 90 votes in the recent Assembly elections in Manipur, she elicited two distinct reactions.

One, was liberals guilt-tripping the people of Manipur for not voting Irom Sharmila to power. The second reaction, mostly from right-wingers, was to mock her guts, to call her a media-created goddess. Irom Sharmila, who had spoken of her desire to get married, have children and lead a normal life after the elections, vowed never to contest elections ever again.

 

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS

Irom Sharmila (not ‘Iron’ Sharmila as a lot of people confuse her as) began her fast in the year 2000. Hrithik Roshan had made his debut and his film was still playing in some theatres. Govinda was a popular actor, and the Internet and mobile phones had just made inroads into India’s cities.

Her fast began on Nov. 3, 2000 and was triggered by the gunning down of 10 civilians while waiting for a bus. She demanded the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, that has been in force since 1958. Ironically, AFSPA owes its roots to the Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance of 1942, enforced by the British to quell the ‘Quit India’ movement.

The AFSPA gives the state extraordinary powers in order to retain the peace and harmony of the land. Currently enforced in five of the seven North-eastern states and Kashmir (and temporarily in Punjab), the nitty-gritties of AFSPA have been debated for decades now. 

Under AFSPA, congregations are illegal, the forces have the right to search, frisk, raid, arrest, interrogate and shoot at sight suspects without citing any reason or warrant. The Act also provides protection to the armed forces, as the steps taken are purported to be to in good faith. The Central Government’s intervention is needed for any prosecution of the armed forces/officers.

Times Of India

Times Of India

Since it was enforced in 1958, there have been a number of humanitarian mishaps attributed to the armed forces. There have been reviews, promises to repeal AFSPA in parts, commissions set up by Central governments to analyse the impact of the Act, and a number of extra-judiciary killings have been reported, in a country with a recurring judicial killings problem. It must be remembered that AFSPA can be repealed by the state governments, as seen in Punjab and Tripura, which successfully lifted AFSPA from their states.

IROM SHARMILA’S FAST

Irom Sharmila’s protest, where she vowed not to eat, drink or cut her hair till AFSPA was repealed in Manipur completely, made her the world’s longest hunger striker. Support and awards flowed in, editorials and interviews continued to be published in her name.

Irom Sharmila’s name featured in quizzes, GK Refresher booklets, posters in universities, and articles by foreign correspondents in India. For 16 years, Irom Sharmila presented herself in court every two weeks. For 16 years, Irom Sharmila protested against AFSPA and demanded its removal. It was a unique protest, one woman taking on the system through nonviolent means for 16 years.

Somewhere along the 16 years, her family turned its back on her. Somewhere along the 16 years, she fell in love with a man and got engaged to him. Somewhere along the line, support for her within Manipur reduced, with even death threats sent out for her choice in partner. For 16 years, Irom Sharmila was confined to a hospital ward, tubes running through her body as she was force-fed by the state since it is illegal to take one’s life.

And then, on August 9, 2016, Irom Sharmila decided to end her fast, and contest electoral politics.

DIFFERENT BALLGAME

In spite of offers from a few political parties, Irom Sharmila decided to fight it out alone.

She vowed to repeal AFSPA in Manipur if elected as the CM, and took on Okram Ibobi Singh, three time Chief Minister who was nicknamed ‘Mr. Ten Percent’ for every deal signed in the state, according to a leak by Wikileaks.

While it might have been a courageous move, it reeked of political immaturity. Politics, unlike people’s movements, is a different ballgame. No amount of visibility, experience or public life can guarantee political victory. It’s like Sachin Tendulkar competing in Table Tennis – he has to start from the basics all over again!

A protest is based on foundations of ideals, beliefs and devotion to an idea. Politics is based on nothing at all. No ideals, no principles, just numbers. Cold statistics. Going with the Congress was out of question, as the INC was in power for 10 of Irom Sharmila’s protest years. Partnering with BJP was impossible as it is the ruling party at the Centre.

Irom Sharmila formed her own party – People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance and took on the Chief Minister in his own den. On paper, it was a victory for the movement – the face of a movement who entered the political arena to take the battle to the domain of electoral politics. JP Narayan did it in 1977, as the nation bent under the Emergency enforced by Indira Gandhi. More recently, Arvind Kejriwal stormed to power, winning nearly every single seat in the Delhi Assembly elections. So it certainly wasn’t the first time.

But it had had happened too suddenly, and seven months in politics is equal to the blink of an eye. JP’s campaign was built from the grassroots through hundreds of rallies and arrests. Kejriwal’s routing at the Delhi elections came on the back of a nation-wide anti-corruption campaign that hogged headlines for weeks at stretch. Irom Sharmila got the support of intelligentsia, Kejriwal (who also gave her Rs. 50,000) and supporters in social media, magazines and journals.

Unfortunately though, India does not vote in the boardrooms of newspaper offices, or in university campuses. India votes in its zillas and gram panchayats. In government schools and lanes of roads wide and narrow. In government ration shops and dispensaries, in farms and factories, in huts and houses.

Irom Sharmila won only 90 votes. There were more NOTA (None of the above) votes than the votes she won. After 16 years, Irom Sharmila jumped on to a different domain and lost a heartbreaking election. Articles, memes and editorials guilted the people of Manipur for not choosing Irom Sharmila.

16 years of protests, brought to an end by one false move.

Irom Sharmila swore never to contest elections again. She fought the system for 16 years, but the world has changed in these 16 years.

Perhaps Irom Sharmila will get to lead a regular life now. Perhaps she will get married and have kids like she professed a few years ago. May be Irom Sharmila will get to enjoy the joys of regular life, of marital bliss, the reassuring banalities of everyday married life. Or will she?

Will Irom Sharmila lead a regular life? Is it possible to dive right back into a life that one gave up nearly two decades ago? Will Irom Sharmila be able to cook for herself and take an afternoon siesta?

Will Irom Sharmila buy her groceries?

***

Featured Image Courtesy: NDTV

Recommended Reading:

Armed Forces Special Powers Act – The Debate. By Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

AFSPA – A Soldier’s Perspective

Why I had to shut down my Start Up Company

2015.

Narendra Damodardas Modi had swept to power, his popularity at its highest peak. Modi was blazing across the world, encouraging investors, businessmen and conglomerates to ‘Make in India’.

Freshly admitted into the MPhil course at the University of Hyderabad, my department sent me on a trip to Gujarat for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, where I rubbed shoulders (and elbows and toes) with some of the biggest Indian business heads who chose not to live in India. Perhaps it was the exposure to their business heads that sowed the seed in my own head.

Or perhaps there was always a silent entrepreneur in me. I had never seen anyone run a business from close quarters, and all my transactions with friends were limited to drugs. But sometimes, you just know.

On that winter day in 2015, I basked in the confidence that there existed an entrepreneur in me. Silent, but strong.

*

Part 1 – The Idea

Every great business idea attacks the roots of a common problem, and we were no different. The University of Hyderabad offers its students a range of benefits – from taxpayer internet connection to taxpayer coconut chutney. However, the dining hall – appropriately called ‘mess’ – leaves a lot to be desired.

They serve breakfast till 9, which is when classes begin in the departments. Students have to rush for breakfast, and by 8.15 the line resembles a queue for National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Long winding lines for soggy bondas and liberal dosas that chose to transcend barriers of taste and feel. Food stalls on campus were all far away, and didn’t open till 11 AM. This was where me and my friend come into the picture.

Our plan was simple. We would deliver breakfast to rooms, on a daily, weekly and monthly subscription basis. There existed a number of vendors just outside the back gate, and since both me and my partner had access, we could provide fresh, hot, healthy breakfast to students for as cheap as 30 bucks.

We discussed the idea with a few friends, and got their approval. We printed posters and pasted them across the campus. Pamphlets were slipped under every door, WhatsApp and word of mouth publicity was also used to spread the word.

A few MBA friends spoke to me on the value of ‘scaling up’ and ‘claiming the verticals’. We discussed angel investors, mergers and 2nd round of funding’. Publicity material involving Jackie Shroff (with arguably regressive ideas) were circulated among friends and well-wishers.

Breakfast in Bed

In a week’s time, Breakfast in Bed was raring to go!

 

Part 2 – The Team

At this juncture, it is appropriate that I introduce you to my partner – Rahul – you must have heard the name. Rahul was a part time MPhil student, full time rockstar. He had Jimi Hendrix curly hair, wore yellow John Lennon shades at night, and lived life on his own terms. Rescuer of stray kittens, roller of pristine joints, and a daily challenger to Yama when he rode his bike.

We had met a few years earlier and connected over a common love for the holy herb, psychotropic substances, and all matters transcendental. It was his idea – and it must have been the conviction in his tone, or the dexterity in the joint – I agreed.

As a lurker of the subconscious terrain, it is important to note that a number of ideas strike you on a daily basis, but some stay longer and knock on the insides of your brain. In a few days, I saw the light of his argument. He was Steve, and I was Wozniak. He was Duckworth, and I was Lewis. I had no culinary experience, and my know-how was limited to the fact that I know how to eat; but I’d been a lifelong eater of dosas and vadas. I couldn’t make a good vada, but I could tell a good one from an excellent one. Roger Ebert never made a movie, but his contribution to cinema is far greater than most who did.

 

Part 3 – The Idea in action

And so we set off on this adventure of a venture, our only capital being confidence and the wishes of our friends. The plan was to have a vendor right outside the gate, take orders from customers, and deliver hot, fresh food within 25 minutes.  

Me and Rahul would share the load – alternating between taking orders and delivering them. Every half an hour, one of us would collect the orders (at a shop five minutes away), and deliver them to satisfied customers.

There was something inspiring about the process. For someone who lacks even an iota of discipline, this seemed like a cause worth waking up to. We would be up by 6, and wait for calls. They came slowly at first, and then in waves. One of us would roll a quick joint, while the other took three quick puffs and plunged into action.

Our customers – both friends and strangers – were glad to see us. We provided relief from the corrupted food in the mess, and they greeted us with sunshine smiles. ‘Don’t have change? No problem, bro! Give it tomorrow!’.

Hesitant teenagers who opened the door surreptitiously because their girlfriends lay inside thanked us for the few hours they got. Some customers invited us in –

‘Smoke one? Sure, bro!’

‘But I’ll have to leave early, huh? Have orders waiting…’

I understood what Nobel scientists meant when they said that their work wasn’t work at all. The smiles of customers, or the coy smiles of the girl in the pyjamas, who was surprised that a delivery boy spoke English like the Queen’s plumber.

I was a changed person. I’d wake up at 6 and ask my lady to leave as the orders would start pouring in. At night, I’d receive anonymous messages saying, ‘Hey, what’s for breakfast tomorrow? :-)’. I’d quickly put the phone on silent and go to sleep, for it would be a long day tomorrow.

Life was good, and there was a reason to wake up every morning.

 

Part 4 – The Bubble Bursts

2015 witnessed a number of economic crises, primary among them the Chinese stock market turbulence. Shanghai share index plummeted 8.49% of its value, and the billions lost in international stock markets were dubbed Black Monday and Black Tuesday by international media. The economy of Greece was also going through its bleakest phase, defaulting on a loan repayment of an International Monetary Fund loan.

All of this of course, had no impact on us. We picked up masala dosas and bondas from a small shop and delivered it to hungry students who smoked chhota Gold Flake. Our downfall was brought about by internal factors, rather than external agents.

It was in this process that I learnt the first hard lesson in doing business. It cannot be run when there are two partners, and they’re both sleeping partners. Since both of us were stoners, the morning proceedings began by rolling a joint. Since we’d partied the previous night, sleep was hard to fight off. The results had begun to show.

Orders were getting confused for each other. A horrified vegetarian professor complained about two bright yellow Egg Dosas that had shown up hungover on her table. When I messaged ‘Hey, tomorrow we have special Pongal for breakfast’ to my angel investor, I got no response. A customer complained that his dosa had some mud on it, a clear indication that it had touched the ground at least once. Rahul’s brother, who had graciously helped us with deliveries, refused to deliver in the Ladies Hostel, as his girlfriend had gotten suspicious of him getting breakfast for other girls.

Friends who’d supported us with weekly subscriptions, asked us to hang on for a bit. We mixed business and pleasure into a heady cocktail and took gigantic shots. We would sometimes gobble up a dosa with our friends, and stay back to smoke one, only to realise there were 17 missed calls on the phone!
Part 5 – How the High and mighty fall!

Breakfast in Bed, born from a million myriad mirrored dreams, began to unravel in front of our eyes. We were like Nokia, struggling to cope with a changing world. Meanwhile, evil capitalist money was being pumped in through organisations like Foodpanda and Swiggy. Our socialist-welfare model of cheap food and friendship (and one banana free!) couldn’t cope.

Like Ambassador and Gold Spot, we slowly faded out. Swiggy and Foodpanda had swanky bikes, uniformed-delivery agents with packaged food. Breakfast in Bed had two dope-heads with a bike, delivering food wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper.

And here is the second lesson I learnt from the experience – Accountancy. Rahul was a student of the liberal arts, and couldn’t be bothered with the debit-credit of things. But I was a Commerce graduate, with Honours in Accountancy.

In a month, our cash flow resembled the Hussain Sagar lake, our fund-flow the Musi river. The only incentive to deliver an order was that we could pocket the money, so thoroughly had we blurred the lines between revenues and pocket money! The orders began to dry up – the only orders were from friends who wanted Rahul to roll them their morning joints.

 

Part 6 – The Beginning?

With heavy hearts and light heads, we shut down Breakfast in Bed. It wasn’t ceremonial or momentous, rather like a cancer slowly playing out its destiny. We continued to get stray calls for a few weeks after, but the enterprise was more or less wound up.

Rahul was handling the vendors and suppliers, while I was battling the monsters within me. In a few days, I told the lady she didn’t need to leave early, and I couldn’t gauge if there was happiness or sadness on her face.

May be the business didn’t go all that well. But so was the case with Steve, Walt, and Spielberg. Rahul brought a kitten to the room, but like our customers, it left our room and returned to the Mess.

Maybe it was for the better! May be I wasn’t ready to handle the inevitable onslaught of Venture Capitalists and Mergers & Acquisitions that would follow. Maybe it was an indication that my Pixar awaits me in the future. May be there’s an idea lurking in the dark, waiting for me to stroll into the forest again.

*

Meanwhile, I hear the students of the University are struggling to buy cigarettes…

arunabhkumar-kSQE--621x414@LiveMint

TVF Snitchers

Ever since YouTube became a household necessity in India, if there’s one group that has revolutionised content consumption across the nation, it is TVF. The Viral Fever began in 2010, and in a couple of years, was churning out videos that were surging through YouTube Top 10 lists.

They were fresh, brazen, and irreverent. And unlike their biggest competitors – AIB – they were not a bunch of elite South Bombay dudes telling the nation how to behave. TVF’s videos, sketches, and webseries have now become a part of pop-culture folklore. Look at the comments on YouTube and you find content-thirsty youngsters baying for the next episode.

While India’s Startup story is much feted and celebrated, the sad truth is that the biggest Indian startups are simply clones of Western organisations. Ola, Flipkart, Oyo Rooms simply brought to the Indian population an idea that already existed in the West. TVF, however, was the unique Indian startup story. A bunch of IITians venturing into the archaic, nepotistic Indian entertainment industry to shake it up.

As a subscriber, you could be assured there was a fresh video in your list every week. In a nation with the largest youth population in the world, TVF revolutionised content creation in three major ways. 1. They recognised the apathy that youngsters harboured towards mainstream TV and films. 2. TVF placed their bets on a huge Indian population with YouTube on their phones and time on their hands. 3. They foresaw the entry of content platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Hotstar, and successfully created their own platform for content.

TVF’s primary target audience is the youth of the country – embarrassed by soap operas, and a little jaded by Netflix and Torrents. A population starving for local content, for there’s only so much pasta one can eat! TVF’s web series – Pitchers, Tripling, and (my favourite) The Making Of…have achieved cult status online. In a country where the most popular TV show features three men dressed as women, TVF provided humour that didn’t make youngsters cringe, or change the channel in disgust. Slowly but surely, TVF was elevated from just a YouTube channel, to a youth icon.

Which is why the allegations against Arunabh Kumar are so shocking. What began as an anonymous blog has grown to more than 50 allegations from different women. 50 allegations is no joke, and puts one in the company of Amrish Puri in Vishwatma. However, there is one sad truth in the entire case.

The court of law does not recognise blogs, Twitter threads or Facebook debates. For any action to be taken, an FIR will have to be lodged. Without that, there might be some loss of reputation, a few people might uninstall the TVF app, but it will be business as usual.

I do not agree with the call to ban TVF in totality. TVF is more than just Arunabh – TVF is Nidhi Bisht and Biswapati Sarkar, and Jeetu and Naveen, and all those wonderful people who run the channel – a bunch of 20 somethings who dared to shatter the nepotism and bureaucracy that passes off in the name of the Indian entertainment industry.

How TVF reacts to this case will go a long way in crystallising the perception of workplace sexual harassment in India for a long, long time. If action is taken on the basis of evidence and facts, it will be seen as hope in the minds of millions of young women of the country. If Kumar walks free, it will be seen as a victory of clout over doubt.

Trial by social media is a dangerous trend, and the last year witnessed two such massive cases. The case of the biker who abused an AAP volunteer, and the Delhi Metro policeman who was suspended for being drunk, whereas he had a heart attack – these are disturbing trends. I would like to reserve my judgement till the time there’s an actual FIR lodged.

It is difficult, and the lady who does it has to put a lot on the line. But like most of life’s tough decisions, there’s simply no other choice. It remains to be seen if TVF remains The Viral Fever. Or it comes to mean The Vulture’s Free.

Like Shah Rukh Khan says in his movies, FIR milenge, chalte chalte!

***

(Featured image courtesy: LiveMint)

farhan-akhtar-singing

Why the fuck is Farhan Akhtar considered a singer?

There used to be a show on Channel V called Love to Hate you, where celebrities would meet their haters and try to change their opinion. The show was mildly exciting, except for Arjun Rampal, also known in scientific circles as Saraca asoca.

In the episode starring Farhan Akhtar, his hater accused him of being a miserable singer, asking him to stick to directing. On that show, Farhan Akhtar said something really sensible – ‘There’s no particular reason why a person chooses to do something. You can’t question that choice – at that point, it seemed right to do it’. Firm logic.

Farhan Akhtar’s film Dil Chahta Hai in my opinion changed the way Hindi films are made today, turning the idea of a hero right on its head. I have lost track of the number of times I have watched the film, and learnt to mimic Saif Ali Khan just so I could say his lines from the movie. So, I have respect for the man.

I liked Lakshya and Don too, to an extent. And then, Farhan Akhtar started acting. Which again, is not a problem. He usually plays the witty South Bombay guy who writes poetry, like the coming-of-old-age film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Any film where he wasn’t that guy has flopped. It is with Farhan Akhtar’s singing that I have a problem.

THE GUY CAN’T FUCKING SING.

Ever since Rock On, with its pseudo-rock and quasi-profound lyrics came out, Farhan Akhtar has been portrayed as some sort of rockstar. Truth is, the songs in films are heavily auto-tuned. Take for example the scene from Rock On where they sing Saason ki zaroorat at a Garbha. A layman could tell the guy is missing the notes in those two lines.

I heard him live once, and it felt like two gnomes were fucking both my ears at the same time. He was off-key, managed to hold the tune for about half the songs, and left a grating feeling at the back of my head – like when the teacher would write on an old blackboard with chalk. Or when you run your nails against a wall that’s just been whitewashed.

The guy is barely what we call a ‘bathroom singer’, but nobody has told him that yet. He continues to sing songs in his raspy, friendly-pedophile voice, and does shows all over the country, while there are genuine musicians who have devoted decades to the art, and are as famous as Venkatpathy Raju.

In fact, so obsessed are we with Bollywood that even after nearly 70 years as an independent nation, we have no pop, rock or indie music scene in the country. Bollywood gobbled up the fledgling Indipop scene that thrived in the 90s, and all we have today is Arijit Singh covers of every song imaginable.

This obsession is the reason Pakistan’s Coke Studio sounds orgasmic whereas our version is like a semi-boner. Actors continue to sing songs without being able to tell the difference between Sa and Pa, and people go gaga over them because we can’t look beyond cricket and films in our country. Which is why you have Salman Khan singing for Fuckall Pancholi, Alia Bhatt piss over a Rahat Fateh Ali Khan song, and even Sanjay Dutt singing songs. Listen to these songs more than once, and you begin to feel you have piles in your ears.

Farhan Akhtar has featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, above names like Indian Ocean and Parikrama. Are you fucking kidding me? The only time Farhan Akhtar should feature in the magazine is if people were asked not to sing like him. He has featured on MTV Unplugged, a format that has been made legendary by bands and performers like Nirvana, Clapton, Led Zeppelin, and Rahman. Why is this guy even allowed on the same stage?

nh7-weekender-hyderabad

And what did he sing? His Meri laundry ka ek bill, I should freeze on Tiger Hill bullshit. Where he misses half the notes so that Shankar Ehsaan Loy can catch them. The icing on the cake was the poster for NH7 Weekender Hyderabad edition this year.

Plastered across the city are two people – Nucleya and Farhan Akhtar. Nucleya, who has created a unique sound of his own. Nucleya, who has attained a cult status over the years for his ability to beautifully mix EDM with Indian folk sounds. Has to share the stage with Meri Laundry ka ek bill, where can I find sleeping pill.

farhan-akhtar-and-nucleya_11470401678

This obsession with Bollywood is the reason a country of billion has about ten famous singers. It is the reason our taste in music is so limited, so cramped, so claustrophobic. But what the heck, Sindbad da sailor ek jahaaz mein nikla tha, mere yaaron sunlo sunlo.

masturbation-shame

November Masturbation Month

I don’t usually act upon readers’ mails. Partly because most of them ask me to get a life/get a job/grow some balls.

However, I received a mail from a teenager a few days back in which I was asked to write about masturbation. It had become a source of shame, guilt and embarrassment for the kid, and had led to lack of confidence and achievement in the person.

Nobody in the world could empathise more on the subject than me. And probably Louis CK.

I have long maintained that I have to enemies in my life – my M&Ms – Marijuana and Masturbation. I know what you’re thinking, it is sacrilege to talk about Marijuana as an enemy. Or even Masturbation for that matter. They are both harmless, and give a lot of pleasure, and have become a way of life for many people. And you’re right.

‘Enemies’ might be too strong a choice of words. Let’s call them friends who have overstayed their welcome. Friends who have become annoying and disappointing over the years.

I have never been an inspired/inspirational sort of person. I have detested terms like ‘changing the nation’ and ‘waking up to an idea’. However, if there is a subject matter that I’m some sort of an expert on, it has to Masturbation. I have been a proficient practitioner, having honed my skills through years and years of practice and self-exploration.

So this one is for you, Bro. (Or Sis, I’m not sure. The email ID didn’t reveal too much).

*

All through November, I will be writing a series of articles on masturbation.

I will write about how such a natural, harmless act has become a matter of taboo. For a nation that pretends that sex doesn’t exist, masturbation isn’t even acknowledged. It is treated like a futuristic idea in a Christopher Nolan movie. There is no mention of masturbation in our epics, our art, our books, our stories, our culture, or even our films.

12 years after I came into the world, I delved deep into the ocean of Masturbation. I unearthed gems, and often sank too deep. I came rushing up for breath at times, or boldly plunged into icy waters at other times. I will write about the many adventures that Masturbation took me on. And the times it led to sheer embarrassment, shame and ridicule. I have spent hours, days, weeks and months chasing the unicorn. Since masturbation happens in the battleground of the mind, I have fought off urges that would scar people forever, or banish me permanently to Creepoland.

If you’ve subscribed to my blog and receive a mail titled ‘My Favourite Masturbatory Moments’kindly do not panic. I will not attach pictures that might tempt you to spend some quality time with yourself. Nor will the mail contain words and paragraphs that will clang loudly against your office firewalls.

They will simply be a series of articles that revolve around the subject of masturbation. I hope the articles go some distance towards shedding the thick ghoongat around masturbation.

And dear dude/dudette who mailed me, I hope it makes you feel better.

I mean, not in that sense.

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Why do we allow Shiv Sena – MNS to bully us?

When Bal Thackeray passed away, I remember being thoroughly amused by the huge amounts of sympathy being poured out on social media. Not by Maharashtrians, or those who enjoyed any real benefits from living under his regime. But by people who grew up elsewhere, and were in no way affected by his policies, principles, or tenures.

I still don’t understand the Shiv Sena’s contribution to nation-building. I remember being enraged that a teenage girl was arrested on the basis of a Facebook post condemning the blocking of roads. I mean, if your greatness is shaken by a teenager’s Facebook post…

But one of the points raised by the fanboys was that Bal Thackeray was a strong leader who ‘stood up to Pakistan’. An interesting choice of words, because in India, when people say Pakistan, they surreptitiously mean ‘Muslims’. But even ignoring that, how really did Bal Thackeray stand up to Pakistan?

Did he personally pick, train, and send a specialist team of commandos to Pakistan? Did he bring into place groundbreaking policy and advocacy that changed people’s lives? Did he alter the fabric of the nation through his thoughts, ideas and laws?

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What the Shiv Sena did essentially, was throw a fit of tantrum. Remember that fat kid in school who would throw his geometry box around? Shiv Sena was that kid. Throughout their inception, they have run hate campaigns against communities, ethnicities, regions and languages. They have instituted a culture of beating people up, threatening them with dire consequences, and holding up law and order because Democracy is merely a cow from their father’s village.

Shiv Sena celebrates 50 years in 2016, and their history is studded with a range of ‘outsider villains’ – Communists in the 60s, ‘Madrasis’ in the 70s, UP-Biharis in this decade, and Pakistanis since their inception. Bal Thackeray has been indicted in criminal activities, provoking violence and riots, and yet, the man went to jail just once. A party that was created to uphold the interests of the local Marathis of Bombay, has become a backstreet bully without a sense of humour. How ironic that their founder started his career as a political cartoonist!

And when their voice isn’t heard, they go about behaving like a 4 year old girl on cocaine – break shops, smash hotels, vandalise media outlets – just do whatever the fuck they want till people listen to you. And if they don’t give in to your tantrums, just dig up the cricket pitch where the Test match is to be played. I mean, who benefited from that act?

Rashid Latif.

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This went on for decades, and has slowly seeped into other states and organisations too. The idea of violent protests has become a part of our mainstream. Take for instance the recent protests by Gujjars for reservations, or Kannadigas for Cauvery water. Or the true heir of Bal Thackeray – the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena – the only political party in the world with its foundations built on the principles of Sunny Deol in Ghayal. The modus operandi is one that is patented by the Shiv Sena – smash public property like it is your own advance dowry supply.

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These dudes have spent their entire political journey smashing things up. When was the last time you heard an MNS politician make a sensible statement? Or bring about any change in any real way? All these guys do is fret and burn, fuss and smash – just a bunch of pusillanimous dickheads.

It is shocking that no party ever takes any action against them. The Congress party didn’t do it because their entire bunch of leaders were doing Lingaabhishekam to Rahul Gandhi. And the ruling BJP won’t do it because it won’t get them 1700 gazillion dollars investment from Germany.

Why do we tolerate political parties like the Shiv Sena and MNS? Why do we give them the freedom to do what they please with the country? May be because we as a race are passive, we let things be. Which is why they know they can get away with it. What else could be the reason?

We have a fully functional police force, judiciary, law and order system, and yet nobody stands up to these bullies. It’s a democracy, motherfuckers! Not Raj Thackeray’s Bachelor Party. Who is he to decide that every film producer should pay 5 crores to the Army fund? I mean, what the fuck is going on?

MNS is a fringe party in Maharashtra, has no fucking role in our nation as such – why do we accord them so much importance? The Shiv Sena has 18 MPs in the Lok Sabha and 3 in the Rajya Sabha. Guess how many seats the MNS won in the 2014 Assembly Elections?

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Bobby Deol has double the number of hits in his career. Why are these parties taken so seriously? In spite of laws against vandalism, against disrupting the peace of the land, no party ever takes any action against them. Arnab Goswami never calls an MNS leader to his show because that would require actual balls – living, pumping sockets of scrotum that are not needed when you bring people to your show and shout at them.

The legacy of Bal Thackeray, for all his achievements, will essentially remain the firm entrenchment of chaos politics in India. Of letting loose goons on the road to silence and scare people – the lowliest form of realpolitik that one can adopt in the 21st century.

For all their hatred of Pakistan and Muslim countries, the Shiv Sena and MNS are the closest resemblance to Islamic fundamentalism in India. Their ideology is driven from the same racial superiority that makes Pakistan the failed state that it is today. It’s high time someone spoke up against these bullies. Showed them their negligible position in the nation’s scheme of things.

You might sit silent today. You might be too far removed from their politics in everyday life. But the poison of mob frenzy spreads quickly. And before you know it, a dumbass is smashing your car because Bipasha Basu’s cat ate fish on Karva Chauth.

You can choose to remain silent. But I’m going to say it.

Dear Shiv Sena and MNS,

You guys are high school bullies who refuse to grow up. You pick on the weakest, the outsiders, the fragile, simply because nobody wants to bother commenting on your brainless antics. You guys are fucking pussies. 

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The Slow Metamorphosis of my bike into a horse

As a heterosexual male, there have been a number of fascinations in my life. Minor and major desires that drove me towards actions that I’m either proud or ashamed of.

Among these fascinations are cricket trump cards, scandalous books, cricket bats, female company, marijuana, gaajar halwa, calligraphy pens, and cheap whiskey. However, not once in my life was I fascinated by vehicles and automobiles. The closest I came to was Abhay from the Agniputra Abhay comics, who had a motorcycle called Princess, whom he talked to, flirted with, and went out on adventures with. But even as a seven year old, I remember thinking ‘That’s fucking weird’.

When my school friends were gossipping about the latest bicycles as part of the school annual function, I was sashaying around in a drill called Stars and Horses. The first bicycle I rode was my sister’s BSA SLR Ladybird – a sleek, dainty bicycle in a shiny, shocking maroon colour. If you looked at it under the afternoon sun, the handlebar would gleam off light like a Samurai’s sword. When I first learnt to ride it, I felt on top of the world, only to have the colony guys say ‘Hahahaha Ladies Cycle hahahahaha’ to my face a few weeks later. The stint with the BSA SLR Ladybird ended the following year.

I was returning from a household chore, and in my head an exciting India vs Pakistan encounter was taking place. With a sudden rush of adrenaline, I raced forward…and banged into not one, but two vehicles at the same. The front and back wheels experienced sufficient damage and my cycling days were all but over.

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The next few years weren’t great by any margin. The vehicles I had the displeasure of riding were an old TVS Max 100, that cheeky bike that caused sufficient damage to the Ozone layer. And a friend’s LML Freedom which I was embarrassed to ride, having seen Zayed Khan ride it in Main Hoon Na.

And yet, ride I did, to disastrous results. At times, I would slip and fall on gravel. On other times, the bike would stutter and shudder to a stop right in front of the girl I was trying to impress. I have banged into trees, people, cows, vehicles parked by the road, and old pedestrians crossing the road. I have banged into women plucking flowers in the early hours of the morning, and minutely escaped children learning to ride a cycle.

And then, years later, I bought my first ever ride. A snazzy geared bicycle that cut a considerable hole in already shallow pockets, the bike stayed with me for a few weeks, and got stolen. And then, it was back to Bus No.11 – I would hitch rides, offer cigarettes to people who had bikes, ask for lift from everybody – even specially customised scooters for handicapped people.

When I finally landed myself a slightly cushy job, I decided it was time to get my own thing. Bahut ho gaya.

Some savings were tapped into, and I walked into the many noble companies that offer two-wheelers in our country. There were the Hondas and the Suzukis – efficient, hard-working engines that ran for years and decades, serving their masters loyally. But I opted out.

I struck out the Yamahas since they were out of my budget, and gave the TVS showroom a miss. Finally, I settled on the Bajaj showroom. Perhaps it was my background in advertising, the Humara Bajaj campaign having left an inedible mark on my being. Or perhaps, like most Indians, I wanted to spend less money and get a lot in return. For, Bajaj might not make the best bikes, but they make the best ads.

Like Abhimanyu, I waked into the showroom. With the knowledge that things were never going to be the same for me again. This was it. Fuck you, BSA SLR and LML Freedom. Fuck you, Ajay Devgan in Agneepath, and fuck all those people who denied me a lift on dark, lonely nights.

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I am going to get my own bike.

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I walked out of the showroom with a Bajaj Discover.

The first day was spent in looking at it from a distance, trying it out, getting advice from friends – ‘Before the first servicing, don’t go above 60’, ‘Always switch off the petrol’ . Words of advice that would fall on deaf ears and stoned eyes.

On the second day, I went out for beer with a beautiful woman. The beer was flat, but the conversation sparkled. She had hair that was slightly curly, and eyes that looked into my soul. And when she laughed, it turned me on. With all the confidence of a two-day old bike owner, I offered to drop her back to my home. Everything went smoothly – no banging, screeching, scraping – and I rode back home a contented man.

‘This is nice’, I thought, as the wind hit my face in all its glory. ‘Let me listen to some music’, I thought, and connected my earphones and rode on. I felt light and buzzed, like a hallucinating bumble bee. Then I crashed into a divider.

The bike went skidding from left to right, oscillating dangerously, like Moto GP riders just before they hit the ground. A man screeched to a halt next to me and said, ‘Kya mast sambhaaley, bhai. Main toh socha aap mar gaye’. I thanked him for his concern and gathered my phone and wits.

The screen had shattered. My bike’s rim was bent, the handle bent to an absurd angle, and the visor cracked. But this was just the beginning. In the next two years, I’d find out why the bike is called Bajaj Discover!

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In a few weeks, I hated my bike.

It is called Bajaj Discover because you discover a new problem every month. Bajaj bikes will run smoothly for two years (in my case, 6 months), and then reveal their true colours.

You can identify an old Bajaj bike just from its sound. Along with the humming of the running engine, there’ll be a ‘clink’ and a ‘clong’, a ‘ting’ and a ‘tong’ – shaky, broken parts rattling along with the bike.

A year on, riding the bike began to become a chore. As a pot smoker, I am lost in my thoughts, or humming a song, or thinking of a new stand up set. Amidst such lofty thoughts, to be brought back to reality to change the gear is cruelty. At times, I felt like Sisyphus, rolling a boulder up a hill. At other times, I felt like a slave tied to an oil mill.

My indifference and apathy took a toll on my bike, and it began to suffer from the Benjamin Button syndrome. People were shocked when I told them it was only two years old.

‘What? It looks at least 8 years old’.

‘Yes. Meet my bike, the Bajaj Benjamin’.

It is said that punishing circumstances change who we are deep within. That difficult times mould us into different people.

And right before my own eyes, my bike metamorphosed into a horse.

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An old, haggard horse that had enlisted in the army in spite of weak knees and worn out joints – kyunki us mein passion hai.

Like a horse, it had its own moods, mood swings and tantrums. On a day of its choice, it would refuse to start, stubbornly coughing out smoke. On other days, it would start, but stop halfway through the journey. On some days, it would decide to guzzle down double the fuel needed for its nourishment.

On some days, it would barely take anything – leaking out a deadly mixture of oil and petrol from the sides. If the winter was harsh, it would sit snug in the parking lot, refusing to even entertain the thought of stepping out. If the sun was too harsh, it would go into a shell, refusing to budge till it was taken for a check up.

There have been days when I would stop by the road and silently mutter prayers and pleadings to it. There have been days when I refused to touch it for weeks at stretch. I began to ignore it for cabs and friends, relegating it to mundane tasks like buying cigarettes and Reynolds Racer Gel pens.

A few weeks back, I decided I’d had enough. It was time to get rid of my old horse. Our journey together was short, albeit tumultuous. The two of us have met some wonderful people, and some not so wonderful people. All good things, they say, come to an end. And all bad things, need to be brought to an end.

I have found a person to sell my horse to. The man is a friend, a fellow stoner and co-adventurer into the unchartered territories of existential quagmires. I have explained to him that he must not expect a nayi naveli dulhan, for these are only societal benchmarks, and no real barometers of inner beauty. He tells me that his needs are frugal, and when I close my eyes, I can see him and my horse, trotting towards a cigarette shop.

Goodbye, Bajaj Discover! Hope you serve your new master well. Be nice to him, and he will take care of you. Be nasty, and he could be quite the taskmaster. Unlike me, he believes in living the fast life. He might take you out on treacherous journeys across hills, or into week-long adventures into marshy lands.

I tried looking out for you, Bajaj Discover. I guess it’s just you from now on.

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Odiya guys, you need to calm the fuck down!!

If you haven’t been following Markandeya Katju on social media, you aren’t missing much.

The former Chief Justice of India is a man with lively ideas, and doesn’t believe in mincing words. He strikes me as a 70 year old man who loves to talk, and has finally discovered a platform to communicate. Some of his opinions are progressive, some loony, and some amusing.

As part of Mr. Katju’s social media discourses, somebody nudged him for an opinion on Odiya people, and the man had this to say:

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What followed was…

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Well, surprise surprise, assholes!! If there’s one thing we love as Indians, it is taking offence. There is something about offence that draws us all towards it, like bees to a flower, like ants to sugar, like Fardeen Khan to a line of coke. 

Indian man taking offence. Www.heartranjan.com

When a journalist asked for my opinion, I was actually taken aback. Are you kidding me? An old man ranting on Facebook is now to be discussed and debated over? Some people burnt his effigy, slapped his photograph with many pairs of Khadim chappals and sandals, and dared him to enter the state.

I didn’t know if I should laugh, or bury my sorrows in a quarter of Director’s Special Premium XXX Whiskey. IT WAS A JOKE, GUYS. It clearly says so in the post. The man was having some fun – just let him be!

Which brings me to my second point. We attach too much importance to Facebook. Facebook has been fairly popular in India for about 8 years now, and one’d expect we’d take it for what it is – a glorified Orkut. But – nope! We take Facebook too fucking seriously.

In case you got outraged, here’s a subtle hint.

A Facebook post doesn’t mean jack shit. Stop taking it seriously.

A Facebook post means nothing. It has no constitutional weight, nor is it valid in a court of law. It isn’t even an informed opinion – it’s just a rant. Like your grandpa’s opinion on the deteriorating standards of cinema, or your uncle’s unhealthy fascination for Falguni Pathak. It’s the same thing. Earlier, your family members would merely shake their heads and walk away. Today, a million guys receive a notification on their smartphones during their lunch break. But it’s still just a rant.

You’d burn someone’s effigies, and threaten to beat up an old man on the basis of that? Really? Come on, man. I thought we were cool. I thought we might not have a thriving stock exchange, or SpaceX’s next capsule, but we always had a sense of humour.  

I tried reasoning with some people on Facebook about this, when I was met with a very learned question.

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Arey, what did he even say, man? That the poor chaps got dejected after getting a thrashing from Ashoka. And then proceeded to perform a rather lame wordplay pun on the words Patra and Mahapatra. Who gives a shit? Did that offend you guys?? Seriously? In Twenty Fucking Sixteen??

Have you looked around you? We live in troubled times. There are children beheading people in front of a camera in the name of God. Planes are being burst, crowds being run over. People are being called infidels, faithless bastards, traitors and animals. People wake up to suffering and beheadings and explosions, nations are exploding on the basis of tweets. And this Facebook post enraged you? Are you fucking kidding me??

Haven’t we all cracked Sardar jokes? Imagine if every time a Sardar joke was cracked, they took up arms and burnt effigies. That’s never going to happen because…1984. Or how about the whole ‘Marwari kanjoos hai’ jokes? Or the vast repository of ‘Madrasi sambhar peeyega’ jokes? Or those splendid ‘Bihari ganwaar’ range?

We have grown up making fun of people, being made fun of. As someone who has been performing stand up, and writing humour for about ten years now, I always took great pride in my sense of humour. That I belong to a community of people that can take a joke with grace. And then slam you down with a joke so vitriolic, you’d want to run back into your mother’s womb, asshole!

One of the first times my mind was blown was when I heard an explicit version of Ramayan in a hamlet near Berhampore. It wasn’t a YouTube video, or an MP3 track. Just oral renditions of the entire gist of Ramayana, involving foul language, delicious sarcasm, and unholy punchlines. I remember gaping in wonder, that such a healthy practice was still alive, and practiced by ‘palla’ dancers – traditional travelling stand up comedians (who didn’t get paid too much).

We were a cool state. Let’s worry about the real issues, my friend. Of which we know there are many. Let the old man rant. We need to calm the fuck down.

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I’m proud of you, Pan Bahar

I wasn’t terribly shocked to see Pierce Brosnan endorsing Pan Bahar on my newspaper.

If you’ve been following the Indian Premier League, you’d find a number of international cricketers selling local products like Lux Cozi, Paragon Chappal, and Karbonn Mobile. The idea isn’t completely new.

Look at most of our fashion brands, and you’ll find anglicised names and models selling products that are designed, produced and sold in India. Even established organisations like Madurai Garments and Aditya Birla Group have had to buy foreign brands like Allen Solly, Peter England, Van Huesen and Reid & Taylor to position themselves as up-market brands.

What surprised me however, was the trolling that the campaign was subjected to. Jokes on the same lines, memes with the same image, all mocking the fact that Pierce Brosnan was peddling Pan Bahar. But does the campaign deserve so much criticism?

If Pierce Brosnan was signed on to sell a product that was more in tune with rich Indians, the campaign would have been hailed. If he was selling ‘Only Vimal’, it would have been a matter of pride.

But alas, Pierce Brosnan was selling paan masala. A product that is relegated to the middle and poor class in India. A product that has been facing the wrath of state governments and administrations across the country. With the ban on gutkha, paan masala and supari, it makes sense that a paan masala brand would focus on the lack of unhealthy particles in the product.

But Pan Bahaar thought big. They positioned their product not on taste, but class. Something that was never associated with a pan masala brand.

I choose to look at the campaign through two prisms – a smoker, and an advertising professional.

As a smoker, I am on top of the food chain. I find it amusing how the government is constantly trying to put barriers for smokers. There are the silly disclaimers on television and film screens. Then there are the pretentious friends and relatives who’d rather stuff themselves with ghee and butter, but preach on about the harm caused by cigarettes. Then there are the cigarette packets, with pictures of a throat so badly affected by carcinogenic substances, that it looks shiny blue. Like Neelkanth gone through a mutant experiment.

And yet, ask smokers if it has deterred them from smoking, and the answer will be a resounding NO. That is because every smoker knows that they’re not the worst off. Below them, there are the dudes with the unfiltered cigarettes, followed by beedi, gutkha, supari and khaini. Pan masala doesn’t even figure in my spectrum of options, it isn’t even considered.

From the prism of an advertising professional, the campaign gets a few things right, and a few things wrong.  

Signing Pierce Brosnan was a masterstroke. Brosnan enjoys a huge following in India, probably because he was 007 when our economy opened up to the world. Also, he is not a beefy Bond like Daniel Craig or Sean Connery. Pierce Brosnan is more like Rajesh Khanna – a suave, dialogue-spewing man who is better at charming the women that stabbing the men.

But how far the campaign will go in establishing the brand among its competitors is another matter. Gutkha brands have run a number of campaigns for years to establish brand recall. Manikchand hosted the Filmfare awards for the longest time. Baba Gutkha had Ajay Devgan winking into the screen, now having shifted to Vimal Paan Masala. Rajnigandha has positioned themselves as the secret behind Silicon Valley giants. Pan Parag has immortalised itself with lines such as ‘Baraatiyon ka swagat Pan Parag se kiya jaata hai’.

The positioning is dicey too, because the target audience might not really know Pierce Brosnan, or understand his suaveness. And it is highly unlikely that an urban, yuppie youth would buy Pan Bahar after seeing Brosnan on a hoarding.

In such circumstances, it was important for the brand to establish that they were Pan Bahaar and not Pan Parag. This was even more pertinent as the two brands have the same brand colours, and similar sounding names. You can see it in the memes too. Most people are referring to it as Pan Parag.

Having said that, it is a big gigantic deal for India Inc. To get a British icon to endorse an indigenous brand is reverse colonisation made possible by a resurgent economy that is on a juggernaut.

The fact that it is pan masala, considered cheap and tacky by urban, upper class India doesn’t change the fact that it is a huge endorsement deal by an Indian brand. If we can celebrate Irrfan Khan and Priyanka Chopra when they put on hoaxy accents to act in Hollywood projects, what is wrong with Pierce Brosnan in a Sooryavamsham beard endorsing paan masala?

So, good job Pan Parag Bahaar. I might not pick up your product any time soon, but I appreciate the balls.

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The mediocrity of ‘Pink’

I watched Pink a few weeks after its release.

The dark, deep pink had faded to a weak, thin pink. A night show with families who brought their 2 year old kids along.

I usually stay away from films that are highly praised. For example, critics went raving mad about the film Fan, but it made me look for a rope. I don’t mean to sound like an elitist, pipe-smoking intellectual, but when the biggest films are shitfests, the bar is very low. It is so low that it is an underground bar with only Haywards 5000 and Knock Out available.

But I did go to watch Pink.

I dislike late night shows as I tend to fall asleep. The silence, darkness and joints earlier mix together in a heady, drowsy concoction. Thankfully, Pink is short, so 10 points to Gryffindor there!

If you compare the reviews of Pink, I find that most of them harp on the message of the movie. On how important the message is, and why it is absolutely relevant to the times we live in. None of them linger too much on the actual film.

Probably because Pink takes its message seriously. So seriously in fact, that it doesn’t bother with basics like fleshing out characters. We know nothing about the protagonists – the three girls are Hindu, Muslim and Christian, and we are supposed to go along with the Amira Akbari Antoinette palette. Nothing is known of the antagonist, except that he’s a rich spoilt brat. There’s no explanation for Amitabh Bachchan taking up the girls’ case. Pink is so hell-bent on hammering home the point that it the message seemed to loom over the film like a gigantic Dementor.

The second aspect where it fails is in the genre of courtroom drama.

At the very outset, it is important to mention that courtroom dramas are not really Hindi cinema’s strong suit. We have been churning out hammy, illogical courtroom drama for decades now. Our courtroom dramas are deeply emotional, loud, and dramatic – every court scene is elevated to the heightened drama of a Draupadi Vastraharan scene.

From the dramatic Damini to the snoozefest Veer Zara. I’ve even watched a film where Anil Kapoor drinks poison to win the case, only to vomit and take antidotes when the case is adjourned. The only exceptions I can think of are Court and Shahid.

Which is why I wasn’t biting my nails waiting for the courtroom scene. And the film proved me right. The court scenes pack neither tension nor provoke thought. Amitabh Bachchan’s points don’t really make any sense, except to highlight drama. Showing the accused a Facebook picture of his sister in a bar to prove that girls from ‘good’ families also drink, sounds laughably lame. The wonderful Piyush Mishra’s character is only a caricature, and the villains are constantly glaring, threatening and intimidating.

As I expected, the courtroom scene ended with Mr. Bachchan delivering a speech. The only difference here was that it wasn’t loud and punctuated with words like M’Lord, Kanoon, and andhaa.

Pink did nothing for me.

It didn’t seem inspirational, because I had no personal connection with any character, they’re not living, fleshed out characters but names with faces. Pink ends up as a two hour Public Service Announcement.

It delivers a very important message, yes. But does little else in the process.

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